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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 08 December 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Redress Scheme, Urgent Question, Scotland Loves Local, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, East Kilbride Rail Line Dualling


Contents


Scotland’s Redress Scheme

The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on Scotland’s redress scheme. The Deputy First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

14:48  

As a Parliament, we have pledged to keep the promise that all of Scotland’s children will grow up loved, safe and respected, but a rightly ambitious future should not obscure the need to shine light into darkness where it existed in the past.

On 11 March, the Parliament unanimously passed the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Act 2021. I said then that it was one of the most important pieces of legislation that the Scottish Parliament would consider in its lifetime, and I gave a commitment that Scotland’s redress scheme would open for applications by the end of this year.

Today, we are honouring that commitment and opening the scheme. From this afternoon, survivors of historical child abuse in care can apply for the redress that they deserve—a redress package that includes a payment of between £10,000 and £100,000 and access to support and apology. In some circumstances, next of kin can also apply for a redress payment of £10,000.

Across party lines, we have come together to confront the scale and horror of the abuse that Scotland’s vulnerable children suffered. We cannot make up for that pain, and we cannot take away the devastating impact that it has had on people’s lives, but we can, from today, provide acknowledgement and tangible recognition of the harm that has been caused, by offering redress to survivors through Scotland’s redress scheme.

As a nation, we are taking this step together to acknowledge and address the injustices of the past. I hope that survivors and the families of those who are no longer with us, whose tenacity and determination have led us to this milestone, feel a sense of justice today. Out of the horror that they endured and the silence that they were forced to keep in childhood and beyond, they fought for recognition. Part of that recognition is delivered, today, by this scheme.

In September, Lady Smith, the chair of the Scottish child abuse inquiry, said:

“For far too long survivors’ voices were not listened to, nor heard; they were treated as if their views did not matter and as if they were not worth listening to, just as when they were abused in care.”

We accept that the steps that the Government took to respond to survivors between 2002 and 2014—a period that spanned different Administrations—happened too slowly and did not go far enough. During that period, a significant number of survivors of childhood abuse in care in Scotland died. Lady Smith said:

“For them, justice delayed was justice denied.”

Today, the Scottish Government apologises unreservedly that it did not respond more appropriately and sooner to the concerns of survivors of abuse in care who called for a public inquiry. We apologise to the families of survivors who died before the inquiry began its work and before the redress scheme opened.

We know that many survivors are advancing in age and are seeing their health decline. That is why we launched the advance payment scheme in April 2019, which has now made payments to more than 700 survivors. That, too, is why we have worked as hard as we could to open the scheme as soon as possible after the legislation was passed.

The scheme will be delivered by the Scottish Government, which will be the main point of contact for applicants, and by Redress Scotland, which is the new independent body that will make decisions on eligibility and levels of redress payments that are to be offered to applicants. Everyone who is involved in both organisations carries with them a commitment that those who apply to the scheme will be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. Those three principles will be the hallmark of Scotland’s redress scheme.

I invite all survivors who are eligible for the scheme to consider applying, if it is the right choice for them. That is a personal choice, and there is funding for independent legal advice to help survivors to make the right choice for them.

Support is available at every stage of the application process. Caseworkers in the Scottish Government have been carefully recruited and understand that applying for redress is not an administrative task. For some applicants, it will be deeply emotional as they come to terms with their childhood and navigate the sensitivity in disclosing to others what they endured. Caseworkers will offer help on how to obtain supporting documents, advise on completing the application form and answer any questions that applicants may have.

We recognise that some people may decide that they need additional emotional support or feel that they would benefit from additional practical support, such as specialist help to access records. In those circumstances, caseworkers will be able to refer applicants to the redress support service, which is a new, bespoke service that can provide access to external specialist services that use existing networks developed by the in-care survivors alliance. We also recognise that some applicants will want the independent support of a solicitor of their choosing. The redress scheme will pay fees for a solicitor to support applicants with their application.

There has been a strong survivor voice throughout the process of designing and developing the scheme, and I extend my sincere thanks to all survivors who have contributed their time, commitment and insight. Their input has been crucial in so many aspects, including developing the service, testing application forms and other materials, and helping in the selection of panel members for Redress Scotland. The first 20 panel members for Redress Scotland have been appointed through the public appointments process and come from a range of diverse backgrounds. Each panel member has undergone training to build on their experience and apply it to redress.

A huge volume of work has been undertaken at pace for the scheme to open for applications today. As the scheme becomes established in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to work with survivors. We will listen and respond to the experience of applicants and refine and improve how the scheme operates.

A new survivor forum will be established early next year to ensure that applicants have a mechanism through which to continue to provide feedback and recommend improvements. There have been a number of opportunities for survivors to contribute their thoughts and ideas on shaping the survivor forum, which have included workshops and a questionnaire. Everyone who applies to the redress scheme can, if they wish, become a member of the survivor forum. It will be inclusive and accessible to all and will offer a range of ways to participate.

The scheme will be open for at least five years and we will raise awareness of it among survivors and their families so that as many as possible who are eligible have the opportunity to apply. That will build on the work that we have done to involve and engage survivors so far and on the learning that has been gained and the connections that have been established with relevant organisations and survivors through the advance payment scheme. As of today, that scheme will close to new applications. Applications that have already been received will continue to be processed.

Organisations that were responsible for the care of children at the time of the abuse have been asked to participate in Scotland’s redress scheme and to make fair and meaningful financial contributions to redress payments for survivors. In successive consultations, survivors have told us that that is what they want. Those with a responsibility for the failings of the past have a responsibility to do the right thing today. This is a national endeavour and it is morally imperative that, collectively, we join together to believe and support those who were not believed and supported in the past.

The statement of principles according to which fair and meaningful contributions are assessed was published last week, in preparation for the launch. I welcome the organisations that are on the list of scheme contributors, which is published on the Scottish Government website today, and those that are finalising participation and will join imminently. Discussions with other organisations continue. I am confident that more will follow in addressing their legacy by joining our collective response in the days and weeks ahead.

The redress scheme is now open. Those who want to find out more can find application forms and guidance online at mygov.scot/redress. From 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, phone lines will open for those who would like hard-copy application packs to be posted to them. They can call 0808 175 0808 for survivor applications or 0808 281 7777 for next-of-kin applications. A team of specially trained caseworkers, working on behalf of the Scottish Government, will stand ready to help all applicants at each stage of the application process. The lines will be open from 10 am to 4 pm every Monday to Thursday until 21 December, when we will close the lines for the Christmas and new year break. They will reopen on 5 January.

When I announced in the Scottish Parliament that there would be a financial redress scheme, I also offered an unreserved apology on the Scottish Government’s behalf to everyone who suffered abuse in care in Scotland. Today, I reiterate that apology to survivors and their families. Although we know that we cannot fully make up for the harm that was done and for our failure to take action sooner, we hope that that acknowledgment goes some way to redressing those wrongs.

Survivors of childhood abuse have had to endure unbearable pain. Today, by opening the redress scheme, we as a country take a further step in addressing that suffering, in the hope that our actions now will begin to address the failings of the past.

The Deputy First Minister will now take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business. I would be grateful if members who wish to ask a question could press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible, or type the letter R in the chat function.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for advance sight of his statement. I add my absolute support. As he mentioned, we remain committed on a cross-party basis to the on-going success of the redress scheme as it opens. The issue rightly brought us together as a Parliament, and I am proud to have played my own small but meaningful part in the legislation.

There is much to welcome in the statement, which reflects the calls and asks of the survivor community—next-of-kin payments, funding for independent legal advice, a promise of a survivors forum and a commitment to the underlying principles of dignity, respect and compassion. More important, there has been a reiteration of the apology, to which I add the voice of members on the Conservative benches.

However, let me ask the Deputy First Minister a few specific questions on issues that I feel were not addressed. What forecasting has taken place regarding the potential scale and volume of the financial redress that may be sought and indeed paid out, given that the Government will underwrite the majority of the low-band payments?

What level of funding has been committed by those organisations that have rightly decided to participate in order to ensure that they pay a fair and meaningful share of the redress? How many organisations have failed to rise to the occasion and have shamefully refused to participate in the scheme?

Lastly, I will ask about the nature of local authority participation, as many authorities will be wondering about the effect that the scheme might have on them. What discussions have taken place with local authorities about their participation in the scheme so that they can participate in it meaningfully and do the right thing without jeopardising their ability to provide vital services to young people in our communities today?

I thank Mr Greene for his questions and I acknowledge the enormously helpful role that he played in the bill’s passage through Parliament in the previous session. That was appreciated by me and by all members of the Parliament.

Mr Greene asked about forecasting. We have not changed our position from what was set out in the financial memorandum on the bill, which gave estimates—they will always be rough estimates, by their nature—of the volume of investment that will be required. He is correct that our financial approach is to pursue contributions from organisations, although the Government expects to make a substantial financial contribution to the scheme over a number of years.

On the contributions that have been achieved to date, I note that more than £115 million has been committed to the scheme, of which £100 million is coming from Scottish local authorities. I welcome the contribution that local authorities are prepared to make to the scheme. The list of contributors is published on the Government’s website today. We will continue to update it, as a number of contributions are specifically being negotiated at present. I therefore expect the list to change and develop over time. Some organisations will have waited to see the scheme get off the ground and to see others being prepared to take decisions to contribute. I thank those that have made contributions already, and we will pursue further discussions with individual parties.

Local authorities have been very constructive about the issue in their discussions, and we have come to an agreement that the local authority contribution will essentially be top-sliced from the Government’s contribution to local authority funding over a number of years in order to spread the burden appropriately.

Mr Greene makes a valid point on an issue that, as he will know from the passage of the bill, we wrestled with at length in the legislative process, and this is where the thinking around fair and meaningful contributions comes in. We must take care to ensure that, while we pursue legitimate contributions for the past, we do not jeopardise the ability of organisations to provide vital services on which young people depend today. That sensitive balance will be applied by the Government.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for advance sight of his statement. I associate Labour members and the Labour Party with his eloquent and heartfelt words, and I reiterate the importance of the apology that has just been made. I hope that survivors may now feel, even in part, that they have been listened to and heard.

Today marks welcome progress in redressing the abuse that survivors have suffered, and it is welcome news that the scheme is now operational. What actions is the Government taking to further publicise the scheme in order to ensure maximum participation?

I thank Mr Marra for his comments. He is right to characterise the matter in that way and express the hope that survivors will feel listened to at this stage. As I placed on the record in answer to an urgent question on this point some weeks ago from Pauline McNeill, if my memory serves me correctly, the paragraph that I quoted from the report by Lady Smith is one of the most uncomfortable paragraphs written about Government that I have had to respond to. I hope that survivors feel that we are now properly addressing the issues that they raised.

On publicity, an awareness campaign will be rolled out as part of the scheme’s launch in order to maximise awareness and understanding of its existence. I am heartened that we had 700 applications to the advance payment scheme, as that suggests that word was able to get out. The advance payment scheme was available to only a limited proportion of the survivor community, and the fact that there were 700 successful applications gives me hope that we can get the message out. Nevertheless, we will put in a great deal of effort to ensure that that happens. I invite members of Parliament to support us in that endeavour, because it is vital that individuals are aware of the scheme so that they can make applications as appropriate.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his statement—not just its content, marking the milestones of applications to Redress Scotland, but his reiteration of the all-important apology to victims of historical child abuse. What reassurance can he give historical child abuse victims that they will be treated with dignity, respect and compassion throughout the application process?

I am not in any way surprised that Clare Adamson has put that question to me, because it was an amendment that she lodged, in her capacity as convener of the Education and Skills Committee in the previous session of Parliament, that inserted the words “dignity, respect and compassion” into the 2021 act as part of the founding principles of Redress Scotland and Scotland’s redress scheme. I said at the time that that wording was an important addition because it would ensure that, in establishing the scheme, we would get off on exactly the right footing, whereby every individual will be treated with dignity, respect and compassion.

A couple of weeks ago—or it may have been only last week, now that I think about it—I had the pleasure of meeting the staff who will administer the scheme. I made the point to them that, from the first moment that a phone call from a survivor is answered in a Government office, that survivor must feel that there is dignity, respect and compassion. Having spoken to those members of staff, I know how committed they are to that work, which they view as an important task.

I have set out the importance that the Government attaches to the work being done properly, aided by the wording that Clare Adamson’s amendment inserted in the legislation to ensure that the right values and ethos would underpin the scheme. I am confident that our staff will apply those values.

In response to the Deputy First Minister’s previous update on the scheme in June, it was noted that 25 per cent of applications to the advance payment scheme had been rejected. How will the Government continue to support survivors who struggle to access the appropriate records? Does the Deputy First Minister expect that that rate of rejection of applications will continue?

We wrestled with slightly different issues in the advance payment scheme, simply because of the eligibility criteria that it involved. I assure Meghan Gallacher and Parliament that we will support individuals in accessing records, because I recognise that that is a significant and potentially very stressful experience for them, and we want to minimise the risk of lack of availability of records being an obstacle to individuals accessing the scheme. That support will be there.

In addition, wider support for wellbeing will be available through a number of channels—I recounted some of them in my statement—in recognition of the fact that individuals may need non-financial support to enable them to navigate their way through what I recognise will be a very challenging period for them.

What legal advice will be available to applicants who are going through the process?

Applicants will be able to obtain independent legal advice, and we have set out a framework as the basis on which that will be available to enable individuals to make a judgment about the scheme. As I indicated in my statement—we wrestled with the issue at length during the legislative process—the scheme is not for everybody. It may not be appropriate for certain people, but individuals must be able to make an informed judgment about whether it is or not, and that is an important part of the availability of legal advice.

I welcome the statement and in particular the apologies that have been made by the Scottish Government to survivors. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that, for many survivors, the additional practical and emotional support will be even more important that any financial compensation, and could he outline what work is being done to establish the redress support service, how much it is likely to cost and how we can ensure that it is properly resourced?

I accept Katy Clark’s point that the surrounding support will be just as important for many individuals, and in some circumstances more important, than the available financial support. I hope that this move is viewed by survivors as another means of helping to address their suffering, but I do not for a moment believe that financial compensation does that; if the wider support can do that, we will have helped people in a meaningful way.

The services need to be supported financially on an on-going basis. I do not have the sum of money to hand, but I will confirm it to Katy Clark in writing. The Government financially supports a range of schemes through which individuals are able to access support and assistance in coming to terms with their suffering, and the Government has given a long-term commitment to those endeavours.

What steps has the Scottish Government taken to ensure that the waiver scheme is fair?

The waiver scheme is a sensitive part of the scheme, and it was sensitive during the passage of the legislation. In the Government’s view, and ultimately in the Parliament’s view, it was the right measure to enable us to secure contributions. We have to make sure that, when individuals are making applications, they are doing so with the full knowledge and understanding of the issues with which they have to wrestle. Independent legal advice is crucial in equipping individuals to make a judgment on whether the scheme is appropriate for them and whether the waiver is appropriate for them to sign.

I am pleased that Scotland’s redress scheme has been established so quickly since the passing of the historic legislation at the end of the last parliamentary session. I also acknowledge the Deputy First Minister’s apology, which he has repeated again today. We all agree that applicants should be treated with dignity, respect and compassion, and it is important that survivors have access to the survivors forum. How will Redress Scotland ensure that applicants are not retraumatised, and what plans does the Scottish Government have to continue raising awareness among survivors and families of the scheme during its lifetime?

There will be an on-going campaign to make sure that awareness is high. We will monitor the pattern of applications, and we have a good benchmark from the advance payment scheme of what may be a reasonable expectation of applications to come forward. We have to make sure that the work that surrounds the survivors forum is inclusive and gives a platform for survivors to have their input. I hope that what I have said today gives reassurance that the Government is interested on a continual basis to listen to survivors and understand how we can support the enhancement of the delivery of the scheme to make the maximum impact on individuals who have suffered in the past.

James Dornan joins us remotely.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for all his hard work in getting us to this point, along with the work of many others, of course. How were the newly appointed panel of 20 experts selected and what steps were taken to ensure that the recruitment vetting process was rigorous?

I thank Mr Dornan for his kind remarks. They prompt me to thank a range of civil servants who have worked extraordinarily hard since the passage of the act in March to ensure that we arrive at this moment. A huge amount of complex work has been undertaken. I gave them a timescale that, I suspect, was described in civil service parlance as heroic. They have risen to that heroic challenge and I am profoundly grateful to all of them for what they have contributed.

Redress Scotland recruited the panel of experts through the normal Scottish Government public appointments process, so those individuals were subject to a range of scrutiny. I had the pleasure of meeting the first grouping of panellists in the past couple of weeks. A very broad and diverse range of skills, experience and perspectives, including lived experience, has been brought into the panel. We will be well served by those individuals.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for sight of his statement and welcome the opening of the scheme this week. I also associate myself and my group with his heartfelt words. I hope that survivors will continue to feel heard throughout the operation of the scheme.

I also thank the Deputy First Minister for his recognition of the importance of providing non-financial redress, such as emotional and therapeutic support. I, too, would be interested in the information that he has agreed to provide to Katy Clark.

Will the Deputy First Minister give further details about the arrangements for reviewing the impacts of the waiver during the scheme’s first 18 months of operation?

I will write to Katy Clark and place the letter in the Scottish Parliament information centre so that all members can have access to the information.

During the legislative process, I committed to a review of the waiver being undertaken; indeed, it is part of the legislation. Over the first 18 months, we will gather information and evidence to support the review. We will learn from individuals’ experience about the effect of the waiver and will be keen to ensure that we understand and apply it in the review. I will be happy to update Parliament about the progress of that review in due course.

I welcome the fact that a survivors forum will be established early next year. What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that the forum’s views and opinions will be acted on, along with any recommendations for improvement? Will the Deputy First Minister provide any further information on when the forum will be launched?

The forum will be launched swiftly once we begin to build up the engagement with survivors. I assure Mr Stewart that it will be able to submit its thoughts and views to Redress Scotland and the Scottish Government.

To go back to the point that I made to Mr Marra earlier, we must ensure that the voice of survivors is heard loud and clear in the process. If we have failed on that in the past, we cannot fail on it in future. That is uppermost in my thinking about how we engage survivors to learn of their perspective on the issues.

I thank the Deputy First Minister for clarification on the panel’s selection. How will the newly appointed panel of 20 experts aid in delivering the redress scheme?

There will be two elements to that. First, the panellists will determine the applications independently of Government. The Government will do a lot of the work to prepare applications and support individuals to be application ready, but the decisions will be taken independently of Government in Redress Scotland.

The second element is that the panellists will be able to bring a fantastic range of expertise from a number of disciplines—social work, clinical psychology and legal services—and lived experience to the scheme’s operation. It is important that we hear and understand those messages.

Is it possible for the Deputy First Minister to outline how constituents can apply for support from caseworkers and independent legal support as mentioned in his statement? It would be very helpful if he could do that so that we could signpost it to our constituents.

The contact points that I mentioned in my statement will be available for individuals. However, I will write to all members to provide the necessary information that Sarah Boyack requests. It fits in with Mr Marra’s point about the importance of there being wide awareness of the scheme. I will write to all members shortly with all those details so that they can share the information widely in their local interactions.