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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK

UK Politics

Uncovering 'Britain's most shameful secret'

Children in care were forcibly deported until 1967

British officials have been involved in a "top level cover-up" over the forced migration of vulnerable children, a Labour MP claimed on Wednesday.

David Hinchliffe, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, told the House of Commons that 150,000 children in care had been shipped to Australia and New Zealand as part of an experiment in child migration which he called "Britain's most shameful secret".

The practice of shipping orphans to Britain's former colonies began in 1618 and only ended in 1967.

It has only recently come to light and the Health Select Committee has been investigating it.

Its members travelled to Australia and New Zealand to meet people who had been affected.

[ image: David Hinchliffe says the deportation scheme was
David Hinchliffe says the deportation scheme was "Britain's most shameful secret"
Mr Hinchliffe said it was "ostensibly" to give the children better lives, but many had ended up physically and sexually abused or used as cheap labour.

He claimed the policy had clear racist undertones in that it aimed to take children from orphanages and increase the proportion of white people in the former colonies.

Mr Hinchliffe said he had heard "tale after tale" of brother being separated from sister and never seeing one another again, particularly in Australia.

"The reality was years of suffering, years of degradation, years of denial of the fact that most actually had parents.

"For the natural parents who were often persuaded to part with their off-spring on the pretext of them being adopted in good circumstances, the reality was frankly of years of lies and deceit," he stated in a Commons debate on the subject.

Britain's responsibility

Calling the policy "one of the most shameful secrets of Britain's recent past", he said Britain had effectively washed its hands of responsibility for its own citizens with often horrendous consequences.

He added that the scheme was supported by local agencies and successive central government administrations.

"They were, and still are, our responsibility," he stated.

He welcomed the fact that the government has announced a 1m fund to help relatives trace and visit their families.

But he said more shoud be invested in organisations such as the Child Migrants Trust which help to rehabilitate victims.

"I believe the debate today is about what we do now to help those whose lives were affected and, in many cases, ruined by the child migration schemes," he said.

But junior health minister John Hutton said no more money was available, although he expressed "deep regret" about the policy.

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