top of page

I Helped Smuggle Children Used For Slavery And Sex

Lord James of Blackheath Conservative Lord James of Blackheath: I Helped Smuggle Children Used For Slavery And Sex - AUSTRALIAN CIVIL SERVICE IN LONDON

My Lords, my Amendment 6 is in the same group. I suspect that the followers of Amendment 5 are now well past number 11 and following on in the second innings, so I wonder if I could be forgiven for taking over to speak to my Amendment 6. It is the consequence of a long-running dialogue between the Minister and I, where we have failed to agree having had a long time together on the subject, so I have brought this amendment back from its first appearance in the early stages. Your Lordships will recall that I first raised this subject when I was reminded of my experience in working for the AUSTRALIAN CIVIL SERVICE IN LONDON. I recounted in Committee that I was deeply suspicious of the circumstances in which I was being required to herd small children on to boats at Tilbury for transportation to Australia. They did not have names; they did not know who their parents were, or where they came from, and they were completely terrified. I was suspicious that these children were improper migrants—that they did not have the proper authority to go—and it was a very strange position. Since then, I have done a lot more research and a lot of very interesting things have come to me in the post, including a little hate mail, which was actually very useful. Because of the fact that I had admitted overseeing the transportation of some 2,500 children, I was accused of being worse than Jimmy Savile. I think that Jimmy Savile might have been quite offended at that because he is being accused in relation to 300 children, whereas I have about 2,500 on my slate. However, in the circumstances that was interesting because it raises two questions. First, was it illegal at the time that these children were being transported and, secondly, is it something which could occur again? My own belief is now, emphatically, that it was illegal and that there was no proper authority for the transportation of those children. It involved many tens of thousands of children over 15 years; we should be deeply ashamed of it, and make sure that the Bill cannot talk about controlling slavery without making it absolutely certain that we can never again repeat this dirty little secret of our history. I need to give a bit more detail. I am going to quote the reference for a committee report that was brought to my attention by the Child Migrants Trust, and which I was initially told by the Library no longer existed. However, I am happy to say that our wonderful Library found the only copy that it thinks officially exists today. I will read its number into the record for the House: HC 755 I and II in volume XCVI, 1997-98. That report has now been found and is on the shelf behind the inquiry desk in the Library for any noble Lords who want to verify it. I have mentioned this at the start of what I am going to say because everything I will say is verifiable somewhere in that huge book. The committee in question was a Department of Health committee from 1997 to 1998. It was a rare committee because it was funded to travel to Australia to carry out its investigations on the ground for nine days. I am afraid we do not have committees like that any longer. The story starts at Christmas 1944, when the Prime Minister of Australia contacted the coalition Government in England and said, “You’re getting towards the end of a war and you’re going to be overrun with orphans. We want to help you. We’d like to take 17,500 orphans from you every year for the next 15 years. We want at least 150,000”. The British Government thought about this for a while and said, “We’ll talk about it”. Then they brought in the orphanages and social services. Of course these were coalition times, so Herbert Morrison was in charge. By a quaint quirk of fate, I knew Herbert Morrison very well later on because he was president of a cricket club where I was the secretary, and I could not have asked for a man of greater integrity, personal charm or dedication. He was a very human being indeed, and I cannot believe that he would ever have done anything disreputable whatever. However, what happened under his hands was appalling. They set about getting together a policy to find 17,500 children a year who could be given to the Australians. They brought in the heads of the orphanages and got Dr Barnardo’s to head the exercise. They got the local councils to get their heads of their child agencies, which I suspect was then an industry somewhat in its infancy compared with what it is now, and started to put the process together. Then came an election. The Labour Party won it with the very high promise of Beveridge’s social reforms, including the National Health Service. I do not remember anyone telling the electorate at that time that if they wanted a health service they would have to accept that we were going to dispose of 195,000 of our children to a foreign country without trace or record being kept, but that is in fact what happened. As the head of Barnardo’s says in a clear and precise statement at the opening of the committee, “It was an economic necessity. We couldn’t afford to look after the children we had. There were too many of them. We hadn’t got enough beds and couldn’t feed them. We had to do it. It was a Government-led initiative which we had to do”. That is an interesting comment and someone might want to look it up on the record one day. So they did it. On the face of it, things were going to be fine because the Australian Government were falling over backwards to be helpful. They said, “You send the children to us. We will have prearranged adoption homes and domestic places for each of the children and we will ship them off directly as soon as they land, after giving them a medical check, and we will then give a maintenance cash allowance to every home that takes one to look after these children. Then we’ll get the adoption process carried through the courts”. So the British Government said, “Sounds fine to us”. However, Morrison said, “We will insist upon the British Home Office maintaining an oversight responsibility for their welfare afterwards”. We need to remember that because there is no evidence that it was ever done, and we need to see what happened to that. A change of Government having taken place, Morrison steps aside and Chuter Ede becomes Home Secretary. There was nothing wrong with Chuter Ede but there might have been something wrong with a few of his servants. The process goes like this: the Labour Government take office on 26 July 1945, and on 16 September that year the first ship sails full of children, 2,000 of them. The 2,000 children set off into the blue and are the first of 155,000 who are sent between that date and the end of 1960. After 1960, another 120,000 are sent, bringing about a total in aggregate of 295,000 children, all from orphanages and local council overspills, which could not cope with them. These children, having been sent away, were supposed to have been going to homes. Unfortunately, disaster struck as soon as the first boat reached Australia. The courts immediately refused to sanction a single adoption on the grounds that there was no parental consent for any of them. Without parental consent, the Australian courts did what a British court would have done and said there could not be adoption. Consequently the Australian Government cut off the supply of maintenance to the households that were going to pick them up and the households threw the kids out on the street, where a great many of them have been ever since to this very day. That is the issue. On any actuarial basis, as we sit here today debating this, some 25,000 to 30,000 of those children are sleeping somewhere rough in the semi-outback of Australia tonight. We had better think about them a bit. There is a real, ongoing problem. When the Minister says that we do not need to ban child transportation because it will never happen again, we cannot be sure. All right, we have a coalition Government at the moment who certainly would not do it. I hope that if we get a Government represented by the Benches opposite back in, they will have learnt the lesson of last time and would not do it again, but we do not know that by next time round, perhaps in two or three years’ time, we are not going to have little purple men from Mars in power the way things are going on in this country at the moment. For all I know, they may be better than the options available to us, but for the moment we have to put up with what we have. We cannot trust the moral hazard of leaving this as an issue that could recur in future. It got worse after the court would not sanction the adoptions. The worst thing possible happened: two charitable organisations stepped forward and said they would look after the children, that they were very rich and that they would take control. They were the Sisters of Mercy, an organisation of Catholic nuns, which was very improperly named, and the Christian Brothers, who were already known in government service as the “Christian buggers”. They took control of the whole process and created two networks of homes, one for girls and one for boys, state by state across Australia, with an average of 350 people in each. The Christian Brothers published their rules. The homes were to be run as strictly as possible like borstal institutions in England. These children had not done anything wrong and should not have been in a borstal of any sort, but they were being subjected to this. The rules of a Christian Brothers home were that if you were abused by one of the holy fathers, that was an act of god, and if you complained about the holy father, that was a sin against god and you would be flogged for it. By the way, the flogging was with a metal hacksaw replacement blade. It did not leave much of a kid. This went on. Eventually, after 150,000 of these children had gone, the penny dropped that there was something wrong with it. The Government of the day could not look back today and say that they did not know about this abuse because something called the society of social workers or social advisers—something like that; I have written it down as I had never heard of it before yesterday—told the Labour Government in 1948 what was going on in Perth at the Christian Brothers home, and there was no doubt from that moment on. Any ship that was allowed to sail from that date on was allowed to sail in the knowledge that the inmates were going to be raped and abused. That is beyond just simple migration. Still nothing was done to demand from the Australian Government that they brought this thing up to date or did something about it. Nothing was done to stop the transportations. They went on and on. In the vast resources I have now been allowed to read on this subject, there are just four stories I am going to tell which illustrate how awful this was. They are four out of more than 600. Before the committee got to Australia, the Australian Government agreed that they would write to every known migrant and ask them to write an account of their experience. They could find only 600 out of 295,000 to write to. They got those replies. Those reports, uncorrected as to spelling or grammar, are in the report which is in the Library. They are all cross-referenced by code number and name, but they are there as they are written. I will quote four little stories from there. The first one, to make clear how dreadful it was, happened not in Australia but in Sheffield. A single parent and her daughter, seven years old, are already known to the local child authority—we do not know why. They get a message that they are to report one day to a council office in the centre of Sheffield, taking nothing with them. They do that, and at the office they find four nuns waiting for them, who pounce upon the two of them. They pin the mother to the ground while they tie a clothesline or something like it round the daughter, binding her very securely, and proceed to drag her through the streets of Sheffield to the railway station, where she is mixed up with a lot of other girls, taken on the train to Liverpool, put on the boat that night, and sails away. Mother and daughter have never said a word to each other from that day to this. That is how the councils worked, and there are many other examples like that; it is not an isolated example, although it is a terrible one. For me, the worst story in the entire book is that when the committee was going through this, it asked to meet the authors of selected reports, and the Australian authorities set up 263 interviews for them. They ran for an hour each, and the committee broke itself into units of two and three to get maximum productivity. They walked in to meet a man who was 50 years old at the time—this was in 1997—and he was in tears over the table. “What’s wrong?” they said. “Go away—don’t talk to me. Please go away”, he said. “What’s wrong?” they asked again. “No, you mustn’t talk to me—you’ll destroy everything”. They asked why, and gradually got it out of him. He had been in the Perth home of the Christian Brothers and had got away at the age of 18 and got lucky—he got a job with a timber merchant. The timber merchant had been very kind to him; he fed him and let him sleep in his shed. He got paid a wage, and eventually he married a local girl. Twenty years later, they have two boys, who have finished their schooling and have places at university. He explained, “If it gets out that I have been interviewed by you, it’ll be known that I am a migrant child and we will never again be allowed to work for—”


https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2015-02-23a.1408.5&s=speaker%3A13880#g1429.2

188 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page