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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 6, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 06 September 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Michelle’s Law Campaign, Programme for Government 2018-19, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Parole System (Victims and Families)

On Tuesday, the First Minister said that she would improve the information and support that is available to victims when prisoners are released, and that she would increase the transparency of the parole system, but we need the detail. Will victims and their families be able to give their testimony to the Parole Board for Scotland in person? Will the law be changed so that the safety and welfare of victims is explicitly taken into account in decisions on early release and on parole? What is the timescale for getting the changes that victims and families demand? We had no clarity from the First Minister on Tuesday, so can she give us some today?

We will consult on all those matters shortly. As I said on Tuesday, some of that consultation will take place before the end of this year, and other aspects of the consultation will be in the early part of next year.

To answer some of the content of Ruth Davidson’s question, it is the case right now that the Parole Board for Scotland, and the Scottish Prison Service in cases of temporary release, can and should take into account the views of and the impact on victims of crime. What we want to do is consider whether there is a need to extend that. We also recognise that there is a need for greater transparency around the decisions that the Parole Board takes, and about where decisions on temporary release are being made. I look forward to hearing the views of people across the Parliament and those with an interest in the issue from outside the Parliament, so that we get those things right.

The final point that I want to make is one that I make frequently in this chamber. Although it is absolutely the case that it is for the Government, and in a wider sense for the Parliament, to set the policy around these issues, the decisions—whether on parole, bail or temporary release—are rightly for the independent authorities to take, and I hope that that is something that Ruth Davidson would agree with.

I am sure that the First Minister would acknowledge that I am asking about the framework. This is an issue that I have raised with the First Minister before. Families who feel that they are being treated as an afterthought have come to this Parliament. They have met with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and their requests for change have been denied. That is why the Stewart family, who lost their daughter Michelle, are now campaigning for greater rights. They received a letter from Humza Yousaf yesterday, and they had this to say about the Scottish National Party’s plans:

“Lots of warm words. But nothing concrete.”

That is their verdict on what the First Minister is proposing. Are they not right?

Humza Yousaf met the Stewart family on 3 August to discuss their understandable concerns over the treatment of victims in the justice system. I can tell Ruth Davidson, members in the chamber and, most important, the Stewart family themselves that we are actively considering in detail the Stewart family’s proposals and other calls for improvements. We are already in discussion with the Parole Board on further reforms and possible development of its rules of procedure, and that must include whether any changes are necessary following the Worboys case in England.

As I understand it, the Stewart family have raised three broad areas where they think that reform is necessary. The first is the safety and welfare of victims when parole and early release decisions are being taken, and it is important that we consider that fully and carefully. The second is increasing the use of exclusion zones into which serious prisoners are not allowed to be relocated when freed. Conditions such as that can already be put on licences, but it is important to look at whether more can be done. Thirdly, they call for toughening of the victim notification scheme. All those things have been taken into account and will continue to be considered in full by the Government. I hope that we will get the views of the Stewart family and of other families who have views on those matters, as well as views from parties across the chamber.

The issue here is that it is not just about one case. It goes far, far wider. Over the summer, we were contacted by other families, including the Carsons from Harthill. Their dad, Mike Mosey, a former policeman, was bludgeoned to death in his kitchen. The killer was sentenced to 18 years, which was reduced to just 13 on appeal. This June, after being told of rumours that he was to be released early, they wrote to the Scottish Prison Service and were told that that was not the case. Then, just six weeks later, they received another letter informing them that, in fact, he had already been approved for temporary release—a letter that coincided with the anniversary of Mike’s murder.

The family have been left traumatised and feel that the system has totally let them down. I know that the First Minister will agree that such a case is unacceptable but does that not simply demonstrate the need to act decisively now to show victims and their families that we are listening?

The case that Ruth Davidson cited is unacceptable. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice would be happy to meet that family if they wanted to do that.

We have already taken a range of actions in this policy area. For example, we have changed the rules on automatic early release to reduce the circumstances in which prisoners can be released earlier. Some of the issues that Ruth Davidson rightly raises can and should already be taken into account by the Parole Board in decisions on parole or by the Scottish Prison Service in decisions on early release. However, because of the kind of experience that she narrated in her last question, we need to look at what more needs to be done to ensure that victims and families of victims are given proper notice and, where appropriate, properly consulted when such decisions are taken.

It is right that we set out the package of reforms that we set out earlier this week. We will now take those forward, taking full consideration of the views of victims, families of victims and members around the chamber. That is the right way to proceed and we will do it as quickly as possible.

The Stewarts, the Carsons and families like them are not asking for the world; they just ask to be heard when the killers of their loved ones are released. They feel that criminals have more rights than victims, and they want the law to be changed so that victims are put at the heart of the justice system, which is where they should be. Those families are in the Parliament today because they want their experience to help others. When will the Government do right by them, end the warm words without concrete action and finally adopt Michelle’s law in full?

I am not clear whether the Stewart family are in the chamber. If they are, I welcome them and assure them that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and I are very happy and willing to continue to liaise with them about the changes that they think require to be made.

Two things are important. It is important that we stress the things that the Parole Board or the Scottish Prison Service can already do that families understandably think should be done, and that we make sure that they are done consistently. For example, the Scottish Prison Service and Parole Board can and should already take account of the impact on victims when decisions are taken. The Parole Board can also already impose licence conditions that prevent offenders from going to specific places or contacting specific people.

Let us make sure that the provisions that are already in place are applied properly and appropriately but let us also ensure that we listen to people who think that there are further things that we need to do. That is exactly what we are doing and will continue to do. The Stewart family and any other family with concerns of that nature have my absolute assurance on that.

Yammer (Pornographic Images)

Over the recess, under freedom of information legislation, an email dated 30 April was published. It was from the chief executive of Education Scotland to the Deputy First Minister and it revealed that a pornographic image had been shared on Yammer, the social media app that is used in Scotland’s schools, including primary schools. The image had been viewed 100 times and viewed by children.

The Deputy First Minister asked for the guidance of his officials. He was told by civil servants that

“it is inevitable that young people will be exposed at some point to inappropriate material”,

so he took no action. Why did the Yammer app stay online for a further six weeks after that incident? (S5F-02539)

As I understand it, when that image appeared and was drawn to officials’ attention, it was removed. Yammer remains offline for pupils while the relevant issues are examined in detail as part of the review that Education Scotland is undertaking. That is because we take the safeguarding of children, information security and data protection very seriously. I hope that Richard Leonard will welcome the action that was taken and the fact that we continue to take a precautionary approach to the matter, because pupils cannot access Yammer right now and will not be able to do so until we are satisfied that the issues have been properly resolved.

I accept that the First Minister took the app down, but that happened only on 11 June, after parents raised concerns with her. The Deputy First Minister was told about the matter on 30 April and, for six weeks, he did not act. What is more, the app is now back online, yet the Government has not installed proper safeguarding measures. Who authorised the decision to put the app back online? Was it the First Minister of the Deputy First Minister?

As I understand it, Yammer is currently available only to staff and is offline to pupils. That is an important matter.

On the issues that were drawn to the attention of Education Scotland and then the Deputy First Minister, in April, they were alerted to a single inappropriate image on Yammer. As I understand it, that image was removed. In June, we were alerted to another incident, and it became clear that the suspension of the Yammer network was required until all of the issues could be properly resolved. That process is under way.

I think that the right precautionary actions have been taken, and I hope that everyone across the chamber understands, as we do, that we have to strike the right balance between the educational benefits of such online systems and the safety of young people. That balance is critically important and we are acting in a way that will ensure that we can strike exactly that balance.

To recap, here is what we know: the Deputy First Minister was told about pornographic material on this app in April, and the app remained online until June. The Government is only now looking for a safeguarding product for Yammer, with the specification expected to be issued tomorrow at the earliest. So, not only did the Government relaunch the app without proper safeguarding, it relaunched it without knowing what proper safeguarding looks like. Teachers and parents continue to be concerned, and they are right to be. They deserve straight answers.

Will the First Minister today order an urgent investigation into her Government’s handling of this matter, and will she report back to Parliament all of the findings in full?

I am not sure whether Richard Leonard heard some of my previous answers. An investigation and review is already underway, being carried out by Education Scotland. Yammer is offline to pupils—they cannot currently access it and they will not be able to access it until we are satisfied that those issues are resolved. I think that that is the responsible and appropriate action to have taken.

In terms of the actions of the Deputy First Minister, let me recap. In April, a single inappropriate image was identified. It was immediately removed. At that point, there was no indication that there was any concern about wider, systemic issues to do with Yammer. However, when a second incident was reported in June, not only was the image removed, but Yammer was taken offline for pupils. I think that that is absolutely the right action to have been taken and I am surprised that Richard Leonard is not welcoming it.

We will continue to ensure that the safety of children is paramount by ensuring that Yammer is not accessible to pupils until we are absolutely satisfied that all of the issues have been properly resolved. I believe that that is the appropriate action for the Deputy First Minister to have taken, and I would hope that members would agree with it.

We have a number of constituency supplementary questions. We will see how much progress we make.

Transvaginal Mesh Implants

Today, The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News highlight the tragic death of 75-year-old Mrs Eileen Baxter from Loanhead in my region. Listed as one of the contributing factors in her death is a mesh implant. I believe that this is the first time that mesh has been specifically cited as one of the underlying causes of a woman’s death in Scotland.

With this new information, will the First Minister instruct an inquiry into Mrs Baxter’s death? Will she instruct national health service boards not to buy one more box of mesh implants? Will she instruct the NHS to clear its shelves of all mesh? And will she ensure that not one more implant is carried out in Scotland using this grotesque and deadly product?

I thank Neil Findlay for raising that extremely serious issue.

First of all, I convey my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ms Baxter.

The Scottish Government does not, of course, hold information on individual patients or their treatment but, if we are supplied with information on Ms Baxter’s case, we will give that very careful consideration and consider whether any further review or inquiry into that specific case is required.

On the issue of mesh more generally—I will discuss the issue further later today with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport—its use other than in exceptional circumstances remains under suspension in NHS Scotland. The number of such operations has fallen dramatically. In the six months to March this year, 33 were carried out; that compares with more than 1,100 in the similar period in 2013-14.

We will continue to have that suspension in place until the chief medical officer is satisfied. The chief medical officer also announced further actions following the Public Petitions Committee’s report.

Medical devices across the United Kingdom are, of course, regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and the matter is reserved. However, we will continue to work within the health service to ensure that we are taking appropriate action.

As I said at the outset of my answer, I will discuss the issue further later on with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, who will keep Parliament fully updated.

TMD Friction (Job Losses)

The First Minister will be aware of the announcement by TMD Friction in Hurlford in my constituency that 86 jobs are to be lost as the company moves its operation to England. What help, if any, can we provide to the company and the staff affected by that devastating news? What assistance can the Scottish Government provide to support Scottish manufacturing companies to improve their competitiveness at this time, when European manufacturing is under significant cost pressures from emerging markets?

I was disappointed to learn of the proposed closure of the TMD Friction site in Hurlford in Willie Coffey’s constituency. Obviously, that is a blow to the local area, and this will be an anxious time for the affected employees.

Scottish Enterprise is already engaging with the company, and it will meet local management as soon as possible to discuss the decision. Partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—will meet TMD Friction today to discuss support for employees who face redundancy. Obviously, PACE will aim to minimise the time that any individuals who are affected by redundancy are out of work.

On manufacturing more generally, our manufacturing action plan reaffirms our commitment to growing and investing in the sector and putting innovation at the heart of the growth in the manufacturing sector. That is why we are investing £48 million in developing the new national manufacturing institute for Scotland, which will be an industry-led international centre of advanced manufacturing expertise and skills and which can help to secure Scotland’s place as a global leader in advanced manufacturing.

Kweku Adoboli (Deportation)

On Monday, my constituent Kweku Adoboli was detained by the Home Office. He is now in Dungavel detention centre facing imminent deportation to Ghana. In 2012, he was convicted of financial fraud as a result of systemic recklessness in the banking industry. He has now served his sentence and has been making a positive contribution to society by working with industry leaders and politicians. What support can the Scottish Government provide to Mr Adoboli, who is being forcibly removed from his home to a country that he barely knows? Does the First Minister regard that as a proportionate decision in light of Mr Adoboli’s long-established residence in the United Kingdom and, in recent years, in Scotland?

I have concerns about that case and frequently have concerns about how immigration cases are treated. I appreciate that this will be an extremely stressful and difficult time for Mr Adoboli and his friends and family.

I think that most people would accept that it stands to reason that it is right that questions of character and criminality should be a factor in any immigration system, but it is also important that the UK Government gives due consideration to individual circumstances. In this case, that would include the positive contribution that the individual has made to life in Scotland.

The Scottish Government welcomes non-UK citizens from all over the world and their contribution to our country, so we will continue to push generally for an immigration system that recognises individual circumstances and provides a welcoming environment. We are, of course, always willing to consider whether we can give assistance in individual cases, and I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs would be happy to discuss that constituency case directly with Mr Wightman.


Glasgow Fire Recovery Fund

The First Minister will be only too aware of the devastating Glasgow School of Art fire and its effect on residents and businesses on Sauchiehall Street. I thank her for personally intervening to set up a £5 million fund to help affected businesses. However, she might know that the Centre for Contemporary Arts, which has been closed since the fire, was due to reopen on 14 September but now has no opening date, has still to receive the £25,000 that it applied for and is in grave danger of closing. Will the First Minister act today to release that money? Will she agree to meet me and some of the businesses, including Bagelmania, that have not been able to access the fund at all? Will she consider whether any money that is left in the fund could go towards the businesses that feel that they may go out of business because of the fire?

I thank Pauline McNeill for raising what is a very important issue in the city of Glasgow. It is also an important national issue.

The Government and I considered that it was right to set up a fund—as we did over the summer—to help the businesses that were most directly affected by the impact of the Glasgow School of Art fire and by the earlier fire o Sauchiehall Street. We will try to be as flexible as possible with applications to the fund, so that if there are particular businesses that are not initially eligible, and which Pauline McNeill wants to bring to our attention, I will ensure that they are given proper consideration.

I am aware of the particular difficulties that the CCA is experiencing. It already receives public funding as an arts organisation, which has meant that more time has been needed to process its application for money from the fund. I will personally seek an update on that today and will ensure that Pauline McNeill gets the information as soon as possible.

More generally, we will continue to work with Glasgow City Council and to do everything we can to reduce the impact of the two devastating fires on businesses and individuals in the city of Glasgow.

Programme for Government

Elements of the new programme for government are certainly welcome—for example, the continued commitment to a fairer system of income tax, the creation of a south of Scotland enterprise agency and a young carers grant. Many of them are things that the Greens proposed.

However, big problems remain. Teaching unions, for example, have been deeply disappointed by the lack of a plan to tackle the growing teacher shortage, and of a commitment to a fair pay deal. In addition, the Government’s own figures that were published this week show that public satisfaction with local services is in deep decline. Satisfaction with local health services and public transport is in deep decline, and there is a big decline in satisfaction with schools. The First Minister must agree that the situation is not acceptable. What needs to change so that the services in our local communities, which we all rely on, are protected and delivered to the high standards that people deserve?

Patrick Harvie has raised a range of issues.

On education, the teachers’ pay negotiations are under way as we speak. I hope that they will be resolved well in the near future. I note that the Educational Institute of Scotland said the other day that there were some very welcome statements in the programme for government, and listed many of them.

On satisfaction with public services, if we look at the figures that were published the other day on people’s use of our public services, for local health services the satisfaction rate is more than 80 per cent, for local schools the rate is almost 90 per cent and for public transport the rate is well over 70 per cent. That is a good basis, but our priority is to continue to protect and to support services.

Patrick Harvie asked me what needs to change: we need to continue what we are doing. In this year’s budget, we delivered a real-terms increase for local authority resources, we are delivering more money to ensure that we are closing the attainment gap in our schools and we are taking action on our railways to ensure, for example, that passenger services improve. We will continue to take a range of actions to ensure that this country has the public services that it needs and deserves.

Of course, those are not separate issues; they are brought together by a single situation. Local service providers and, in particular, local councils, face rising demand and do not have the financial powers that they need to meet that demand fairly. All too often, they are left having to make decisions about whether to cut services or to increase fees and charges.

Free swimming lessons have been cut, there have been increases to childcare charges, and councils have been forced to increase transport costs and to introduce new charges for music tuition, which has led to a huge number of children losing out.

Our polling shows that 85 per cent of people in Scotland want their councils to have better powers to raise funds fairly. Does the First Minister not agree that cutting services or hiking fees and charges is the least fair, least progressive and least sensible way of paying for local services in communities across Scotland?

The Scottish Government’s job is to ensure that we give fair funding settlements to local government. It is then for local government to take the decisions that it thinks appropriate in communities.

The settlement for this year’s budget delivered for local authorities a real-terms increase in their revenue and capital budgets. That is before we take account of the resources that local authorities can raise themselves through council tax, for example. We will continue to ensure a fair settlement for local government, within the context of the Scottish Government’s budget continuing to be subject to pressures and cuts from the Westminster Government.

The wider question that Patrick Harvie was getting at, on whether local authorities should have more powers to decide themselves what revenue to raise, is a discussion that Parliament will have in the run-up to the draft budget this year and the final budget next year. The Government is certainly open to suggestions, as we have been in previous budget rounds, and will continue to consider carefully ideas and suggestions that are brought forward, whether they come from parties in Parliament or from local government itself.

There is room for additional questions. The first is from John Mason.

Orange Order Marches

The First Minister may be aware of the incident that allegedly happened at St Alphonsus RC church in my constituency, stemming from an Orange order march. There can be more than 200 such marches in a year. Does the First Minister agree that restrictions are needed on the number and routes of such marches?

First, I was appalled—as, I am sure, was everyone across the chamber—by the incident that took place outside St Alphonsus church. Absolutely nobody should ever be a target of hatred because of their faith. The Scottish Government will always be very clear about that in our responses.

I understand the concerns that have been raised and which John Mason has reflected in the chamber. Responsibility for regulation of marches and parades rests with local authorities, and it is important that they work with Police Scotland, because they are best placed to make decisions that balance the rights of people to march with—very importantly—the rights of others in our communities.

We always encourage action that brings the different parties involved together to try to find constructive ways forward.

Guru Nanak Gurdwara Edinburgh (Attack)

Last week, there was a petrol-bomb attack on Edinburgh’s gurdwara. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but there was considerable smoke damage and there is no doubt that the attack has left people feeling fearful, upset and alarmed.

The multicultural and diverse community of Leith has rallied in support. I ask the First Minister what her Government can and will do to allay the fears of the Sikh community, to crack down on all crimes that are fuelled by hate and to promote a culture of inclusion and respect.

Everything that we do, not just as a Government but right across the Parliament and our country, should ensure that everybody, regardless of their faith, race, background or culture, feels safe and secure in Scotland. It is incumbent on all of us that we have zero tolerance of any attack on any person that is motivated by hatred of that person’s faith or race.

Last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government engaged with the Sikh community to try to allay its understandable concerns. We will continue to do that.

As we announced in the programme for government, we are about to undertake a review of hate crime law. That is a welcome opportunity to consider whether further protections are necessary.

I know the impact that attacks like the reprehensible attack that Kezia Dugdale has raised have on communities. There is more than one gurdwara in my constituency; they were impacted by what happened in Edinburgh.

It is important that we all stand in solidarity and side by side with all the wonderful communities that make up our wonderfully diverse country.


Figures out today show that Scottish exports have increased by 7 per cent to £28.8 billion. That growth is faster than in any other nation in the UK. There is, however, significant untapped potential. How will the Scottish Government capitalise on it? How will we tackle the threat that is posed by the UK Government dragging Scotland out of the world’s largest single market, which will have a negative impact on Scotland, including my South Scotland constituents?

Today’s export figures are excellent. There has been a 7 per cent increase in Scottish exports which, as Emma Harper said, represents the fastest growth of any United Kingdom nation. Yesterday, we heard about growth in tourism figures; in particular, growth in the number of European Union visitors coming to Scotland when the number is declining elsewhere in the UK. That underlines the importance to us of continued membership of the single market.

We are doing well on exports, but as I said on Tuesday when I announced the programme for government, we need to do even better. That is why I announced a £20 million package, on which we will work with business, to ensure that we encourage and support our businesses to export even more.

Ayr Station (Alternative Parking at Prestwick Airport)

The First Minister will be aware of the dangerous state of the Station hotel in Ayr, which is causing disruption to rail services across the west of Scotland. The most recent plans to mitigate the problem include bringing longer trains from Glasgow and stopping them at Prestwick Town station, where car parking space is very limited. In order to relieve congestion at Prestwick Town station on a temporary basis, would the First Minister consider asking Prestwick airport to make parking available at the airport free of charge to rail passengers until the present crisis is resolved and normal services are resumed, so that they can use the Prestwick Airport stop as well?

As regards the general issue with the Station hotel in Ayr, I know the area very well. I was in the chamber on Tuesday when Michael Matheson answered a question about the important issues around that.

I think that the specific suggestion that John Scott has made sounds very good, on hearing it for the first time, so I undertake to take it away, discuss it with relevant officials and get back to him as quickly as possible. It certainly seems like a positive suggestion and I cannot immediately think of any objection that anybody could have to it, but I would obviously have to discuss—[Laughter.] That is not something that I can often say about suggestions that come from Mr Scott’s side of the chamber.

In all seriousness, we know how much pressure the current situation is putting on commuters, so we will take John Scott’s positive suggestion away and come back to him as quickly as we can.

Young People (Mental Wellbeing)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government will take to support the mental wellbeing of young people. (S5F-02556)

This week in the programme for government, we set out a package of measures to do more to support positive mental health, to prevent ill health and to ensure that those people who need specialist care can access it more quickly. Those new actions build on our mental health strategy and will be backed by £0.25 billion of additional investment, starting this year and increasing over the subsequent four years. That includes £50 million to improve perinatal mental health, more than £60 million for additional counselling services, £20 million for school nurses and £65 million to develop a community mental wellbeing service for five to 24-year-olds that will offer immediate access to counselling and to family and peer support.

I recently held a children and young people’s mental health event in my constituency, at which local and national stakeholders came together with local young people for a constructive discussion. One of the issues that came to the fore was an apparent lack of access to community child and adolescent mental health services for those aged between 16 and 18 who are not in education.

Can the First Minister confirm that the provision of the expanded community mental wellbeing services that were outlined this week in the programme for government will be an opportunity for national health service boards to ensure that all young people, including those who are outwith school or college, can get the support that they require?

Yes. Community mental wellbeing services must be designed in such a way that it is easier for children and young people, and their families and carers, to access the help that they need, when they need it. They must not be designed around criteria such as whether the young person is still in school. I would expect all NHS boards to provide age-appropriate mental health services for young people, including those who are not in education.

More generally, it is the expansion of community services, including services in schools, that is the key to dramatically improving services for young people. We know from the statistics that were published the other day that, over the past quarter, more young people were seen by the specialist CAMH service and more were seen within 18 weeks. The percentage fell because demand is rising so fast.

We need to make sure that young people are not being referred to the specialist CAMH service because of a lack of community provision. That is what the focus of the investment that I announced the other day will be on. If we get that right, we will also make sure that those young people who are suffering from the most serious ill health get access to specialist services as quickly as possible.

Coming in the week in which Scotland posted its worst-ever waiting time statistics for child and adolescent mental health services, the programme for government money is of course welcome. However, does the First Minister recognise that the issue is about not just health services but training educationists to understand the very specific mental health needs of children who are suffering trauma, attachment disorder and loss?

Yes, I do. I specifically mentioned on Tuesday that some of the investment that we have now dedicated will go to ensuring that teachers have the materials that they need and that all local authorities have access to mental health first-aid training for teachers, which is a really important part of this. Equipping those who are working with young people, making sure that there is a range of services available in the community and making sure that our specialist services are available as quickly as possible to those who most need them are the three prongs of the approach that we want to take.

I repeat again—and I am not trying to shy away from the figures that were published on Tuesday—that when we look at the detail of those figures it is clear that the system is doing more. It is seeing more people, and seeing more of them within 18 weeks, but rising demand is outstripping the capacity to deliver, so we need to reform as well as invest. We have invested a lot in mental health services—with increased funding and an increased number of staff—but reform to make sure that more community services are available is key to making sure that we get this right for every young person who needs those services.

A few days after celebrating Christmas with his partner Karen and their two young children, my constituent Luke Henderson completed suicide. As reported in the Sunday Post, Luke pleaded with health services for help eight times in the six days directly before he died, but was either turned away or referred elsewhere. Nothing will bring Luke back, but his family desperately wants to know that lessons have been learned from the catalogue of failures that led to his preventable death.

Will the First Minister please ask the Minister for Mental Health to meet Karen McKeown and take urgent action to review suicide prevention procedures in NHS Lanarkshire?

The Minister for Mental Health will, of course, be willing to meet Luke’s family. If Monica Lennon gives us the details, we will set up that meeting as quickly as possible. If there are lessons that need to be learned from this or any case, by any NHS board, it is essential that that is done. Over the summer we published the suicide prevention plan, which is looking at the additional actions that we need to take to make sure that the number of suicides in Scotland continues to reduce, and we have set another target for reduction.

I am always aware that when we talk about statistics around suicide we should never forget that one suicide is one too many and leaves a bereaved family in its wake. We must all make sure that we do everything possible to reduce the numbers and to learn lessons where that is required, so the Minister for Mental Health will, of course, be happy to meet Luke’s family.


To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland’s call for an increase in the use of the thrombectomy procedure. (S5F-02546)

We recognise the benefits of thrombectomy, which can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for people who have had an ischaemic stroke by avoiding, or reducing the level of, disability. That is why the directors of planning thrombectomy advisory group is progressing the development of a national planning framework for its provision in Scotland. That group is due to report in spring next year.

The procedure has recently been withdrawn from NHS Lothian. The Scottish Government has said that up to 600 stroke patients across Scotland a year could benefit from the procedure, which would help to avoid significant levels of disability caused by stroke, as the First Minister said. Although I welcome the fact that a plan has been developed, when does the First Minister believe that a deadline has to be in place to see a national thrombectomy service in Scotland, as is already the case in England and Northern Ireland?

Before giving that date, it is important to allow the advisory group to do its work. As I said in my original answer, that group will report in spring next year. Its recommendations will then be taken forward as quickly as possible. Miles Briggs referred to NHS Lothian. The issues experienced in NHS Lothian underline the importance of developing a national planning framework for the provision of the procedure. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to keep the member fully updated as that work progresses.

Drug Deaths

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to the rising number of drug deaths. (S5F-02574)

Addressing drug-related deaths is a public health priority for the Government—and I use the term “public health priority” deliberately. Today, we are sharing a draft version of our new alcohol and drugs strategy with stakeholders from across the sector. That will inform a process of engagement by the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing to inform the final strategy, which will be published in the autumn. The strategy will look at how services can adapt to find the people who are most in need and deliver services that address their specific circumstances. We have also set out detailed actions for reducing the number of drug-related deaths.

We have just released further funding, bringing the total provided for alcohol and drug partnerships to over £70 million in this financial year, to help reduce the harms that are caused by alcohol and drugs. That further £20 million of investment has been allocated to support new approaches that respond to the needs of those who are most at risk in a more joined-up and person-centred way.

I am sure that the strategy will be welcome, but the First Minister knows that drug treatment can reduce deaths. In some European countries, 80 per cent of problem drug users are in treatment, and in England 60 per cent are treated, but in Scotland we treat only 40 per cent. Our death toll, which rose in the past year, shows the human cost of this public health failure. There is nothing in the First Minister’s programme for government this week to tackle that huge public health crisis. The human cost is immeasurable, so what will the First Minister do to increase treatment rates and reduce the death toll across Scotland?

I agree about the importance of getting people into treatment, which is why we have allocated the additional funding that I spoke about in my initial answer, to expand services’ ability to cater for people who need treatment. It is important to say that drug and alcohol treatment waiting times have greatly reduced, with almost 94 per cent of people now being seen within three weeks of referral.

It is not true that there is nothing in the Scottish Government’s programme for government. The strategy that I spoke about earlier is extremely important on-going work in the area. Of course, we are keen to support health services and local authorities with more innovative approaches. For example, the programme for government discusses our support for the proposals in Glasgow for a safer drug consumption facility. Unfortunately, right now, it is not within the Parliament’s power to set that up, which is why we hope to encourage the United Kingdom Government to move forward on that.

Across a range of issues, it is vital that we ensure that people have access to services, and the additional funding and the reduction in waiting times are both important measures in that respect.

Scottish National Standardised Assessments

To ask the First Minister, in light of the comment by the Educational Institute of Scotland that the recent review’s recommendations “will do little to allay the very serious concerns held by many teachers”, whether the Scottish Government plans further changes to the Scottish national standardised assessments. (S5F-02550)

In the first year of the Scottish national standardised assessments, over 578,000 assessments were completed, which was a completion rate of 94 per cent. The user review report reflects on the experience of the first year and lists a number of important enhancements, including the establishment of a primary 1 practitioners forum. Moving forward, case studies will be shared with teachers on interpreting the data that is provided by the assessment system and using it for improvement purposes. Feedback questions will be added to the system to allow children and young people and teachers to share their experience of the assessments. The intelligence that is gained from those enhancements to the system will be used to inform the continuous improvement of the assessments.

When the Parliament votes to stop the testing of four and five-year-olds in primary 1 classes across Scotland, will the Government accept that decision?

We will continue to make the case for what we are doing. It is important to take a calm look at the issue. Assessments are not new in Scottish education. Twenty-nine of 32 councils were already doing primary 1 assessments; in fact, the majority of councils did two a year. What the Scottish Government has done is to standardise the assessments, so that all councils are using the same tool, and we have made them more relevant to the curriculum for excellence levels.

The assessments provide important diagnostic information to inform teacher judgments on how children are developing. That is important to ensure that, if there are areas where children need extra help, they get that extra help as quickly as possible. The assessments are not high stakes and they are not tests—there is no pass or fail. Of course, if a teacher thinks that a young person should not undertake the assessment, that is within their discretion.

The assessments are about ensuring that we get the best possible help to children as early as possible, which of course is an important part of raising standards in our schools and closing the attainment gap.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Before we move to members’ business, there will be a short suspension to allow people to leave the public gallery and others to come in.

12:44 Meeting suspended.  

12:47 On resuming—