When walking in the beautiful countryside near to where I live one morning, I was enraged by a news item which appeared on the Radio 4 Today programme, the headline for which was that, unlike the Welsh, Scottish, and Irish Governments, Rishi Sunak, on behalf of the British Government, had refused to apologise to mothers who, between the1950’s and the 1970’s had suffered adoptions because “the state did not actively support these practices.”
To quote the Morning Star
A GROUP of MPs has criticised the government’s refusal to issue a formal apology to unmarried mothers who were forced to give up their children by the state.
Between 1949 and 1979, an estimated 185,000 children were taken from unmarried mothers in England and Wales and given up for adoption.
In a report last July, the joint committee on human rights had called on ministers to apologise to the women, after finding that the government “bears ultimate responsibility” for the practice.
Responding today, the government said that it was sorry for the way women had been treated by society — but did not think a formal apology was appropriate “since the state did not actively support these practices.”
The adoption practices during those decades were mainly the responsibility of local authorities, and religious organisations, it added.
But committee chairwoman Joanna Cherry said it was disappointing the government had chosen not to issue a formal apology “in recognition of the appalling treatment that unmarried mothers suffered during that time.”
She added however that she was pleased that the government had acknowledged that what happened to mothers was profoundly wrong.Morning Star
I then did some more research and listened to an excellent programme on File on 4 by comedian Jon Holmes who was himself adopted. He was intrigued to find in a DNA test that he was Irish, and started researching into the issue. In the programme he covers many issues:-
- The Irish Government apologised for their part in the forced adoption of children during the same period, and in particular the Magdalene Laundries where unmarried mothers were sent to work, and were parted from their children forcibly at a young age, so shameful was it to have a child out of wedlock. One will remember the film Philomena starring Judi Dench in 2013 which highlighted the issue.
- Both the Scottish and Welsh governments apologised for their part. In March, Nicola Sturgeon, the then Scottish first minister, issued a “sincere, heartfelt and unreserved” apology to those affected, saying it was time to “acknowledge the terrible wrongs that have been done”. In April, Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for social services of the Welsh government said it was “truly sorry” for the “cruelty” of forced adoptions.
- A Group Action against the British Government by a firm of solicitors might be considered in that as long ago as 2018 they were acting for the group of wronged mothers, and were calling for a Public Enquiry, which has never happened.
- A cross party group of MP’s has considered the issue in 2022 – Last year, a parliamentary committee on human rights headed by Harriet Harman concluded that the government bore ultimate responsibility for the pain and suffering caused by public institutions and state employees involved in “cruel and brutal” forced adoptions. It called for an official government apology.
- Numerous examples were cited of mothers who have suffered irreparable psychological damage by being subjected to separation from their children at such a young age. Indeed there is a pressure group called “The Adult Adoptee Movement”.
- Jon looked at the evidence which supported the British Government’s statement that it “did not actively support such practices “, and ought not to apologise. He found communications between elevated offficers of HM Government and the Adoption Society, which showed that the Government were well aware that children were being forcibly removed from unmarried mothers, yet did nothing to stop the practice.
What do I think?
- To rip a mother from her child, albeit at a vulnerable age, was undoubtedly a wrongful and cruel practice.
- The available evidence suggests that the British Government should apologise in a similar way to the Scottish and Irish Governments.
- Why is it that Britain lags behind our smaller neighbours when it comes to child care issues, eg.
- I hesitate to suggest that the reasons the British Government have not apologised or granted a public inquiry are several
- Fear of Litigation
- A general unwillingness to apologise, and to defend at all costs for fear of loss of votes
- A repeated procession of Conservative Governments who want to save the cost of a public inquiry and to the public purse in an age of austerity.
- A left leaning government in both Scotland and Wales rather than a right of centre government in Westminster
- It is almost impossible to fairly judge a practice which was considered morally correct in the late 1950’s by the standards of 2023.
- Having a child out of wedlock was not only socially taboo, frowned upon by society, but was almost a criminal offence. It was certainly immoral, and brought shame upon families, largely due to the teachings, and influence of the church.
- Abortion was illegal in England & Scotland until 1967. It is still illegal in Ireland and only legal up to 12 weeks in Northern Ireland. When there was no alternative, a desperate mother might turn to the underground medical backstreet clinic, which could result in the death of either the mother and/or the child. Thus the option of adoption might have been the least worst option.
In 1996, I threatened the then Conservative British Government with judicial review if they refused to order a public inquiry into the growing scandal, which was and is child abuse. They turned me down. It took until 2015 for the government to set up IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse). I hope that we do not have to wait another 19 years before this government announce a public inquiry and a redress scheme for the distraught mothers