Today I will set out the Government’s response to the recommendations I received from the InterAction Action Plan Review Group on the provision of financial redress for victims and survivors of abuse in care.
I am pleased to see many of the Review Group’s members in the public gallery. The First Minister and I met the Group before coming to the Chamber and thanked them personally for their commitment, their time, and their collaborative approach to this work.
I recognise that for many survivors their campaign for justice began a long time ago, and this has added to their suffering. I am keenly aware that some who began that process are sadly no longer with us. We remember them today in this statement.
In November 2016, I made a commitment to a formal process of consultation and engagement on the matter of financial redress. I asked the Review Group to take this forward, in partnership with the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS).
The Review Group oversees the implementation of the Action Plan for Justice for Victims of Historic Abuse in Care which was published in 2014. Members of the Group include survivors, some representing groups and others independent, a care provider representative, Social Work Scotland, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, CELCIS and the Scottish Government. The Review Group reported to me on 5th September.
I commend the Review Group for the substantial work it has carried out in arriving at its recommendations.
Together, they have designed and carried out a national consultation with survivors, researched redress schemes in other countries, and had engagement with providers of care services to gather their initial high-level views. They have drawn on the findings of each of these to agree recommendations, taking the time to work through difficult issues in a collaborative and constructive way. There has been a strong survivor voice and presence throughout the whole process.
In addressing the Group’s recommendations, we wholeheartedly accept the need to acknowledge and provide tangible recognition of the terrible harm that was done to children who were abused in care by those who were entrusted to look after them.
The main recommendation is to establish a financial redress scheme and to pass legislation before the end of this Parliamentary term. The Scottish Government accepts this recommendation and commits to do so, subject to Parliamentary approval.
The Review Group also recommends that advance payments are made as soon as possible to survivors who may not live long enough to apply to a statutory scheme due to either ill-health or age.
Further information from the Review Group indicates that for ill-health, a definition of ‘approaching end of life’ should be used, based on advice from medical professionals. And that for age, the threshold should be set at age 70 and over, and subject to review. We accept those recommendations for an advance payments scheme.
The other recommendations were about important aspects of the design of the statutory redress scheme which the Review Group has asked are considered in the next steps. These were issues that were important to survivors who took part in the consultation and we agree they will be given full consideration in the detailed and complex work that lies ahead.
As part of this work, the Review Group has given very careful and specific consideration, with advice from the Scottish Human Rights Commission, to the position of survivors whose abuse occurred before 26 September 1964. Despite the introduction of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Scotland Act 2017, those survivors whose rights to compensation were extinguished through the law of prescription are unable to pursue their case through the civil court.
The Review Group’s letter states that the recommendation to establish a financial redress scheme would provide an alternative compensation mechanism to the civil courts. It also states that it is important that a redress compensation mechanism is open to all survivors of in care abuse as there are many reasons a survivor may not be able to access civil justice.
The letter recognises that the implementation of a statutory redress scheme will take some time. It is in that context that the Review Group recommends advance payments for survivors who may not live long enough to apply to a statutory scheme, many of whom will be pre-64 survivors.
So, Scotland will establish a financial redress scheme for survivors of abuse in care, and it will be open to all in care survivors regardless of when that abuse took place. We will progress, without delay, to detailed design of a redress scheme, ensuring we learn lessons from other countries and, subject to Parliamentary approval, the legislation will be passed by the end of this Parliamentary term.
We will also begin discussions with providers of care services to consider ways in which we can respect the recommendation that all those responsible should contribute to a redress scheme.
We will move to make advance payments as soon as we possibly can. While some months will be required to develop and set up the scheme, we will do so with urgency.
I will update Parliament with progress on our implementation of the Review Group’s recommendations in January.
Presiding Officer, we set up the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry in 2015 to investigate the nature and extent of the abuse of children whilst in care in Scotland, and the failures which allowed it to happen.
The Inquiry is making significant progress, it has published its first findings, and opening statements for its third case study began this morning. We have heard harrowing evidence of the appalling mistreatment and abuse of children in care settings all across Scotland.
In due course the Inquiry will publish its final report and will make recommendations to improve legislation, policy and practice. We do not need to wait until then to recognise we failed victims and survivors. It is clear we did. We must acknowledge that, and respond with compassion and humility.
In 2004, the then First Minister Jack McConnell offered a sincere apology, on behalf of the people of Scotland, to those who were subject to abuse and neglect while in care in Scotland.
Today, on behalf of the Scottish Government, I offer an unreserved and heartfelt apology to everyone who suffered abuse in care in Scotland. We are deeply ashamed of what happened.
I know that nothing can ever make up for the suffering which survivors have endured. Nonetheless, they have told us that redress is an important element of justice and that it would provide some degree of recognition and acknowledgement. That is why we will have a redress scheme in Scotland, one which treats survivors with sensitivity and respect.
As the Inquiry progresses, the detailed nature of failings on the part of institutions, both public and private, will become clearer. We as a Government, indeed we as a Parliament, will be listening and learning. We will want to apologise again to survivors and their families when the full extent and nature of those failings are known, as the Australian Prime Minister did so powerfully yesterday.
The courage and determination of survivors to speak out for justice, and to protect children today and in the future from experiencing the abuse that they suffered, is inspiring and has been unwavering.
Presiding Officer, I want to address survivors directly and say to them today, we believe you, and we are sorry.