Scotland politics

No change to focus of child abuse inquiry, Swinney says

john Swinney
Image caption Mr Swinney told MSPs that he would not be expanding the inquiry to include abuse in non-residential settings

The Scottish child abuse inquiry will remain focused solely on the abuse of children who were in care, John Swinney has confirmed.

The education secretary told MSPs he would amend the terms of reference of the inquiry to "clarify" its remit.

He said including abuse in non-residential settings would make the inquiry take much longer.

A bill was also introduced at Holyrood removing any time bar on people seeking damages over childhood abuse.

The probe into the nature and extent of abuse of children in care in Scotland is expected to last four years.

The inquiry has been dogged by problems from the outset, with the original chairwoman, Susan O'Brien, quitting the post in July complaining of government interference - a charge rejected by Mr Swinney.

A second panel member, Prof Michael Lamb, also resigned claiming the inquiry was "doomed".

Mr Swinney said he was confident that the inquiry did not need a third panel member to replace Prof Lamb, although he said experts could be called in from time to time to assist Lady Smith and Glenn Houston.

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

The remit of the inquiry has also been an issue, with survivors' groups claiming some abusers could be "let off the hook" if children's' organisations, clubs and local parish churches are not specifically included in the probe.

Earlier in the month, Mr Swinney told MSPs that he was "considering" expanding the remit, and said he had discussed this with Lady Smith.

However, he told MSPs that he had concluded that the inquiry should focus solely on "in-care settings", which had always been the government's intent.

He said: "It is clear that there is not unanimity on this issue across survivors - some are strongly in favour of no change, and others are strongly in favour of extensive change.

"It has always been the government's intention that the abuse of children and young people in care is to be taken into account, wherever it occurred, and I want to put that matter beyond any doubt. I have consulted Lady Smith and I have amended the Terms of Reference to clarify this point.

"That is the only change I intend to make to the remit of the Inquiry."

'Reasonable timescale'

Scottish Labour's Iain Gray said: "Many survivors have pursued a wider remit for the inquiry because they believe it unjust that most survivors of abuse will not be caught by the scope of the inquiry at all."

He then asked Mr Swinney: "The cabinet secretary has clarified the remit today, but will he confirm that he has not extended it, that he has not brought any survivors into his ambit who were not in his view already included?"

The education secretary replied that "I confirm Mr Gray's point".

He said he had to ensure the inquiry had a remit that was "deliverable within a reasonable timescale", and had "concluded there is a clear distinctions between in-care settings and non in-care settings".

Mr Swinney said "terrible crimes" had been committed in other settings, such as day schools and youth groups, but said criminal behaviour should be referred to the police and would be "energetically pursued through the criminal courts" where evidence exists.

Mr Gray later said that the "refusal to widen the remit" of the inquiry was a "mistake" which would "leave survivors feeling let down".

Image caption Labour's Iain Gray said it was a mistake not to expand the remit of the inquiry

Mr Swinney told members that the question of redress for victims was actively being explored, with a formal consultation to be carried out.

A bill has also been introduced at Holyrood to remove the limitation period for people to seek damages over personal injuries resulting from childhood abuse.

Mr Swinney said: "This government made a clear commitment to lift the three-year limitation period that constrains survivors of child abuse from taking civil actions. Some 18 months on, following detailed consultation on this complex area of law, I am pleased the legislation to deliver that is now published."

The deputy first minister rejected claims there had been interference with the probe, saying he was "determined" the inquiry would be independent.

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