A view of the BBC TV studio in Kent

Border chaos, forced adoption and Gatwick expansion

In November last year the BBC asked whether I’d appear again on Sunday Politics South East. I said I would, as long as they covered forced adoption, a topic close to my heart.

Between the 1950s and late 70s an estimated 185,000 women were coerced into giving up their children for adoption. The social stigma of pregnancy outside wedlock drove an ‘industry’ centred around mother and baby homes. Often run by The Church, but sanctioned by the UK Government, these homes took in ‘fallen’ women so that the shame of their pregnancy could be hidden until the child was born.

Many women were reluctant inmates of the mother and baby homes. They were sent away by their embarrassed families, often to locations great distances from home. Whilst there, pressure would be exerted to ensure the mother signed away her baby after birth.

As someone who experienced this, but luckily kept hold of my son, I am now using my political leverage to highlight a hidden scandal. I want the women to receive the official apology they deserve. This has been achieved in Scotland and Wales, but Westminster, for some reason, is digging its heals in. That apology is now urgent. If my party, Labour win, I want a commitment to issue the apology within the first six months of the new government.

I am currently writing a book, ‘Kept Unkept Surrendered’, that will tell the tales of mothers and of now-adult adoptees. In researching this hidden social history I am talking to many women who passed through the homes. The stories are often harrowing and the methods of coercion sometimes barbaric, but they must be told.

If you have a story to share or know of someone who has, please take a look at my dedicated mother and baby home stories web page, where you will find more details on the project.

In other news…

Three years of Operation BROCK

Also on the programme we discussed how the imminent introduction of strengthened EU border controls will likely play havoc with Kent’s traffic.

Expected to be switched on in October, the Entry/Exit System (EES) requires those travelling to EU countries from outside to be registered. Registration will require biometric data for each person to be captured. This includes fingerprinting.

So imagine the delays at Dover as every man woman and child has to get out of their vehicle to provide fingerprints, photos and more. Kent County Council is predicting a permanent use of Operation BROCK for up to three years!

This has not come out of the blue. Our government knew this was coming even before the BREXIT vote, but appears to have had their head in the sand. In this election year, Brussels officials are now unlikely to be open to fresh negotiations with Westminster. After all, why talk to an administration that is constantly chopping and changing and is expected to be out of the door in a few months’ time?

Expansion at Gatwick Airport

The final topic in Sunday’s programme was Gatwick. Changes in the airport’s plans could mean a second runway and a doubling of passenger numbers.

I’m all for additional employment and economic growth, but not at any cost. How are we expected to reduce UK carbon emissions if more flights are the way we fuel the growth?

In mainland Europe there is concerted effort to reduce the number of short haul flights taken. France has even banned domestic journeys under two and a half hours. They encourage the use of their extensive high speed rail network.

Likewise, in Spain, Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez has slashed rail fares to help with the cost of living and promote greener travel.

Here in the UK we have an obviously anti-rail leadership. For them, private jets and helicopters are the order of the day, whilst the rest of us battle with unreliable train services on congested tracks for which we pay ferociously high fares.

Watch the programme

The edition of BBC Sunday Politics South East aired on 14 January 2024. You can view a recording of the programme below.