The former prime minister Gordon Brown has described the forced migration of British children as a bigger sex abuse scandal than that perpetrated by Jimmy Savile.
Giving evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Brown said the mass transportation of 130,000 British children overseas between the 1940s and 70s amounted to “government-enforced trafficking”.
He said: “This seems to me as probably the biggest national sex abuse scandal.
Bigger than what people have alleged about Savile.
Bigger than what people have alleged about individual children’s homes.
“Bigger in scale, bigger in geographical spread, and bigger in the length of time that it went on undetected. I’m shocked about the information that I have seen.”
Brown, who issued a national apology to migrants in 2010, told the inquiry that a government minister should be hauled before it to explain why nothing had been done over “sickening” new evidence of abuse that has come to light in the past seven years.
“We now know that the apology was only half the story, and we have yet to do something to remedy and to deal with the consequences of what is the other part of the story, which is as significant, perhaps more … the abuse of so many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children.”
Brown said he had not been aware of the scale of the abuse when he delivered his national apology in 2010.
The former PM said the surviving 2,000 victims of the migrant programmes, which continued until the 1970s, should be compensated as a matter of urgency.
Brown said the forced transportation programmes were a “violation of human rights”.
He said: “Clearly, successive governments have failed in a duty of care. And that is a source of shame.
“Children were denied a childhood, an identity, a family and any sense of belonging. Many, some as young as three, were sent abroad, often having been falsely told their parents were dead.
“In Australia, a national redress scheme may offer up to A$150,000 (£90,000) to abused migrants.
It is for Australian and other Commonwealth countries to compensate for the failure to protect and prosecute when children came to their country.
“In the recent Northern Ireland Inquiry, compensation has also been recommended.
At a minimum, we should match Northern Ireland in what would be a £40m fund for national redress.”
Another former prime minister, Sir John Major, did not appear in person at the inquiry but provided a written statement in which he said his government took the approach that mistreatment of British children sent abroad was primarily a matter for the country concerned.