Extending child abuse inquiry’s remit will lengthen process, warns minister

The Education Secretary has insisted he is still “wrestling” with whether to extend the remit of Scotland’s historical child abuse inquiry.

John Swinney told Holyrood’s Education Committee he has held discussions with the inquiry’s chair, judge Lady Smith, about expanding its scope.

However, he warned MSPs that widening the inquiry will inevitably extend the length of time it takes to conclude.

Ministers set up the inquiry in 2014 to examine allegations of abuse from youngsters placed in children’s homes and foster care, as well as those cared for by faith-based organisations or in long-term hospital care and boarding schools. Survivor groups have called for the remit to be extended to cover abuse that took place out with residential settings, but in comments made last month Lady Smith said the terms had been set when the inquiry began.

In a letter to the committee, the In Care Abuse Survivors group (Incas) accused the Scottish Government of “dancing around” the issue, which it said was a “major concern” for survivors.

“It is clear from recent pronouncements from Lady Smith that there have been no discussions with her about the remit of the inquiry, which she described as fixed,” it said.

“We fail to understand why discussions have not taken place, as Mr Swinney has a clear responsibility to undertake those discussions.” Responding to the letter, Mr Swinney told MSPs it was “incorrect” on that point.

He said: “I have personally discussed the question of extending the remit with Lady Smith. I ask the committee to understand that whilst I appreciate strong things are said, some of them aren’t accurate.

“I said to people I would look at the extension of the remit and I’m considering that point and I’ve taken steps to address that.”

He added: “I take it very seriously but I have to be mindful of a number of questions in relation to the remit.

“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 to be something that becomes longer than it needs to be, because they want to get progress on these questions. “So the dilemmas on this are not easy because they ultimately will come down to that question that is unavoidable, that the length of time of the inquiry will be extended if I decide to extend the remit and that’s a significant issue with which I’m wrestling.”

Lady Smith was appointed to head the inquiry after the resignation of her predecessor Susan O’Brien QC following claims she had made comments that were ”offensive” to survivors.

Another panel member – Professor Michael Lamb – had already stepped down, saying the review was ”doomed” due to interference by ministers. SOURCE