Scotland politics

Swinney 'considering' child abuse inquiry extension

John Swinney Image copyright Andrew Cowan
Image caption Mr Swinney said he had personally spoken to Lady Smith about extending the remit of the inquiry

John Swinney is "considering" extending the remit of the Scottish child abuse inquiry, he has told MSPs.

The education secretary said he had discussed the matter with the inquiry chairwoman Lady Smith, amid criticism from abuse survivor groups that the remit of the investigation is "fixed".

Mr Swinney said he was "wrestling" with the issue as an extended remit would "inevitably" prolong the inquiry.

The probe of historical allegations of abuse is expected to last four years.

The inquiry, which is tasked with investigating the nature and extent of abuse of children in care in Scotland, has been dogged by problems from the outset.

Original chairwoman Susan O'Brien QC quit the post in July, complaining of government interference. A second member of the inquiry panel, Prof Michael Lamb, also resigned claiming the inquiry was "doomed".

The panel now consists of Lady Smith and Glenn Houston, although Mr Swinney has consulted Lady Smith on whether a third panel member should be recruited to replace Prof Lamb.

The remit of the inquiry has also been an issue, with Mr Swinney's predecessor Angela Constance defending it in February after claims some institutions such as the Catholic Church would be "let off the hook".

More recently there have been claims from survivors' groups that there had been "no discussions" about the remit of the inquiry, which they said was described by Lady Smith as "fixed".

Image copyright Scottish government
Image caption Lady Smith was appointed to chair the inquiry after the resignation of Susan O'Brien QC

However, Mr Swinney refuted this when questioned by Labour's Johann Lamont at the education committee.

He said: "I have personally discussed the question of extending the remit of the inquiry with Lady Smith.

"I said to people I would look at the extension of the remit, I'm considering that and taking steps to address that."

He continued: "I take it very seriously. But I have to be mindful that if I extend the remit of the inquiry, I would inevitably be extending the length of the inquiry. And I have to be mindful of the views of survivors who want this exercise to be proceeded with and not something that becomes longer than it needs to be, because they want to get answers on this.

"So the dilemmas on this are not easy, because they ultimately come down to that question that it's unavoidable that the length of time of the inquiry will be extended if I decide to extend the remit. That's a significant issue with which I am wrestling."

Mr Swinney also addressed the idea of government interference in the independent inquiry, saying he had "no desire" for the government to have any inappropriate involvement.

And he said the question of redress for victims was actively being explored.

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