Minister suggests Brexit ‘soap opera’ delaying response to child abuse report

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Focus on the Brexit “soap opera” has delayed the Government’s response to a report examining abuse of British children sent overseas, a minister has suggested.

Jackie Doyle-Price thanked Labour’s Lisa Nandy (Wigan) for bringing forward the debate on the Child Migration Programmes, telling MPs it would help her “focus the mind” of some of her colleagues given that the issue involves more than one department.

The health minister had acknowledged it was four months since the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) – set up by Theresa May – published a detailed report into the programmes, noting “eyes have been taken off the ball” due to Brexit.

Ms Nandy had told ministers to “end the deafening silence” and act on the report.

She urged action to address the “shameful” policy which saw 130,000 children forced from the UK to former British colonies under Child Migration Programmes between the 1920s and 1970s.

The inquiry heard from various former migrants who claimed they and others suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of those running the schools and orphanages they were sent to.

The inquiry’s report said all former child migrants should receive compensation – whether or not they were sexually abused – because all had been put at risk of sexual abuse.

Ms Doyle-Price, replying to the Westminster Hall debate, said: “(Ms Nandy) is right, it’s very difficult for me to stand up and disagree with anything she’s said, really.

“It is four months since the report came out. Dare I say we’re all a bit distracted by the soap opera that is Brexit and so on, which means that the eyes have been taken off the ball with some of these issues.

“But one of the reasons I’m grateful to her for raising this debate is it helps me focus the mind of some of my colleagues, because she’ll appreciate, as she’s alluded to, this is an issue which impacts more than just my department and we need to get some agreement across Government.”

Ms Doyle-Price said the child migration policy was “so misguided, so harmful, caused such suffering and distress”, adding: “It actually beggars belief for us as Members of Parliament in the 21st century to think that any British Government could actually think this was a reasonable policy.”

She said she wanted to formally respond to MPs over the report before the summer recess.

Opening the debate, Ms Nandy – who has persistently raised the issue – said the silence had been “deafening” from the Government since the report’s publication.

Ms Nandy told ministers the child programmes were a “state-sponsored system of child abuse”, adding: “Many of those of children were physically and sexually abused, children as young as 12 were subjected to back-breaking work, many were psychologically tortured.

“Some of those children were as young as three years old, they were separated from parents and siblings and many were wrongly told that their families were dead.”

The Wigan MP said successive Governments had failed to act as “the politics of the day” had been consistently prioritised.

She said: “The Government didn’t want to risk its relations with Australia, it didn’t want to offend those voluntary societies who participated in the scheme, Government ministers over successive Governments were cowed by the patronage and the power of those who were involved in these schemes.”

Ms Nandy told ministers that since the publication of the report four months ago, 10 survivors had died.

She said: “This has been one of the most shameful episodes in British history – for 30 years we have known about this scandal, but failed to act.

“The harm that was done then is compounded by our knowledge that this is continuing to cause harm to people in this country and across the world, but still nothing is done.”

The IICSA recommended in their report that the Government should pay the thousands of former migrants who are still alive within 12 months.

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