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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)16 February 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Point of Order, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Budget Update, Adult Social Care (Independent Review), Decision Time


Topical Question Time

Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football

1. Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report of the independent review of sexual abuse in Scottish football. (S5T-02658)

The report provides appalling and harrowing testimonies of historical sexual abuse and it will be shocking for anyone who reads it, including those who follow Scottish football. I commend the courage of all the individuals who came forward to tell their stories. The independent review found that most of the people who suffered sexual abuse did not tell anyone else at the time and that on the rare occasions when it was reported to organisations or clubs little or no action was taken. That is tremendously distressing and has had a profound and long-lasting impact on those who were abused.

The review accepts that knowledge and practices were markedly different in the past than they are now and recognises the recent efforts of the Scottish Football Association and its members to put in place a child protection and wellbeing strategy. It makes clear that continuing culture change is imperative. That includes continuing to work closely with those affected to improve processes, thereby challenging distorted thinking about sexual conduct or violence and creating positive attitudes to mental health. We fully support those aims.

We also support the work of police and prosecutors in investigating allegations to bring perpetrators to justice. A number of individuals responsible have now been convicted and sentenced and there are also live criminal and civil proceedings still on-going. We encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse to come forward, if they feel comfortable doing so, to access the help available to them.

The safety and wellbeing of all children and young people is paramount, as is ensuring that victims of abuse are supported through the justice system and beyond. We will carefully—but with urgency—consider the report and we will continue to engage with the Scottish FA and other key partners to ensure that the findings are acted on.

I thank the minister for that detailed response. As she alluded to, the report is very detailed. It contains 97 recommendations, all of which are substantial. They include a proposed raft of measures to improve and enhance safeguarding, wellbeing and protection policies and procedures at all levels of the game.

There are also specific recommendations. One is to consider setting up a fund to support and assist those affected. How important does the minister think it is that those recommendations are implemented by the football authorities, and will the Scottish Government offer support to implement them where appropriate?

What the member said is absolutely right. It is vital that those recommendations are implemented by football authorities. I am encouraged by the Scottish FA’s initial response to the report.

I am sure that the individuals affected by this and their families would absolutely agree with that. They will be watching to ensure that robust and meaningful action is taken.

Given that the report is lengthy and there are a lot of complex and sensitive issues in it, we will consider it very carefully. However, I also want to highlight the urgency with which we will undertake that work.

I recognise that the nature of the issues raised means that they cut across a number of other areas. Therefore, I will discuss with my ministerial colleagues, as well as other partners, what more can be done to ensure that all possible steps are taken.

As the minister said, some of the testimonies recorded in the report are harrowing to say the least. They include that of Mr Malcolm Rodger, who is from my constituency. Those involved were children who were forced to experience the most horrific abuse while playing the game they loved. Most of us will never be able to imagine the permanent scarring that that will have caused to survivors.

Recommendation 1 of the report is that the clubs and organisations involved should offer an “unequivocal and unreserved” apology to those who have been affected. How important is it that those apologies are made sincerely, and that they are made directly where that is possible, so that the individuals who were abused can find at least some closure for the trauma that they were subjected to?

Fulton MacGregor is right. The testimonies in the report are harrowing.

The review makes it clear that all organisations and clubs that failed young people in the past should apologise. That is the least that the individuals and families who were impacted can expect. I welcome the comments by the Scottish FA chief executive, Ian Maxwell, who said:

“I reiterate my sincerest apology on behalf of Scottish football to all who have experienced abuse in our national game.”

I know that some clubs have also now apologised in response to the report or have expressed regret about what happened.

The abuse that those young people were subjected to was abhorrent. I can only imagine the impact that it has had on them and on their families. Any clubs where young people suffered such abuse should apologise, and they should do so unreservedly.

Does the minister agree that the Scottish Government investigation into historical sexual abuse in care settings and the compensation scheme that has emerged from that, although extremely welcome, is discriminatory against those who have suffered similar horrendous abuse in other settings such as sport and education, and that it may contravene the human rights of those in that situation? Does she agree that an investigation and compensation scheme should be expanded to include all those who have suffered such abuse in other settings?

The member raises a number of issues and I would be happy to respond to him in more detail.

There are many recommendations in the report that we are discussing. We are carefully considering many complex issues, some of which cut across other areas of Scottish Government responsibility. We will work urgently to respond and to take action.

I first called for a review of sexual abuse in Scottish football back in 2016. I am delighted that the long-awaited report has now been published. I pay tribute to all those who campaigned on the matter. Although I warmly welcome the SFA’s report, we must now see it drive positive change throughout football.

What steps can be taken by the SFA or by the Scottish Government to ensure that football clubs take full responsibility for the abuse that happened on their watch, and that they are not allowed to escape that responsibility? Some may try to claim that the boys club connected to their club is not connected to them, or they may say that the club in which the abuse was committed went into liquidation and that it is no longer the responsibility of the existing club. Warm words are fine, but the clubs must take responsibility.

I reiterate that it is of paramount importance for the Scottish Government to ensure that every child can play football—or any other sport—in a safe and secure environment.

Football is now a very different environment. Strong progress has been made in recent years. However, the review demonstrates the terrible human cost of getting things wrong. I believe that the Scottish FA is determined to do all it can to address the issues in the report. As I said in my response to Fulton MacGregor, I am encouraged by the SFA’s initial response. Some clubs have also made statements apologising for historical abuse.

As I said, we will work with the SFA and with other key organisations and partners to ensure that all necessary steps are taken. Given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues, and the need to carefully consider Martin Henry’s long and detailed report, I cannot yet give a timescale for that work. We recognise that time has elapsed since the interim report was published and that urgency is now required. We are working on that.

Hotel Quarantine

2. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what arrangements are in place to ensure that passengers entering Scotland from non-red list countries via airports in England are quarantined in approved hotels. (S5T-02673)

The Scottish Government’s policy on international travel is based on expert advice from the scientific advisory group for emergencies on the need for a comprehensive approach. Although we recognise that a four-nations approach would be preferable, the partial approach adopted by the United Kingdom Government risks allowing new variants to enter the country. Currently, anyone who lands at an airport elsewhere in the UK from a non-red list country and then travels to Scotland will not go into a quarantine hotel.

We will continue to press the UK Government to adopt a more comprehensive approach and to require all international travellers to go into a quarantine hotel. The measures that we have introduced are designed to safeguard communities in Scotland, and I again urge UK ministers to work with us on that important task.

The cabinet secretary did not really address the specific question. There is a predictable loophole around passengers arriving in Scotland via English airports being asked to quarantine by the Scottish Government in managed hotels in England. When exactly did the cabinet secretary or other Scottish Government ministers make a formal request to the UK Government for that loophole to be closed?

In the absence of an agreement, the Scottish Government has said that it does not rule out closing the Scotland-England border. Twenty-two roads and two railways cross the border, and every day thousands of people travel across it, mainly from the south of Scotland to the north of England and back for work, healthcare and education. Can the cabinet secretary therefore enlighten us as to the Government’s thinking on how our already overstretched police can enforce the closure of the border to try to stop someone who landed at, say, Manchester airport without stopping everyone carrying out legitimate essential travel?

In relation to Mr Smith’s first point, Jeane Freeman, the health secretary, the First Minister and I all engaged with UK ministers last week on the issue. We highlighted the need to make sure that robust action is taken in order to ensure that a comprehensive system of hotel quarantine is introduced across UK. We also highlighted that, in failing to do that and in following the red-list approach, which it is implementing, the UK Government risked leaving loopholes allowing people to circumvent the comprehensive system that we have introduced in Scotland. To date, I am still waiting for a formal response from the UK Government on that request, but we will continue to press it on the matter in order to try to address the loophole that its approach has created.

On Colin Smyth’s second question, he will recognise the importance of ensuring that we listen to the expert clinical advice on the most effective way in which to deal with the risk of new variants being introduced into the country. No one should be in any doubt that the most effective way of doing that is through a comprehensive quarantine system. That is why we are looking at other options to address the issue if the UK Government does not move in the direction of that clinical advice. I assure Mr Smyth that we are looking at all options to ensure that we minimise the potential risk of the introduction of new variants of Covid-19 into Scotland, which could compromise our vaccination programme.

When the cabinet secretary announced the quarantine policy last week, he also said that there would be a managed isolation welfare fund for travellers who might struggle to meet the charges associated with quarantine—for example, for those for whom travel is essential on compassionate grounds. Can he tell us why that fund has not been set up and what families who face hardship should do when they need to travel on compassionate grounds?

The arrangements for the welfare fund are in the online portal that is used when someone books their managed quarantine facility. If they are unable to meet the associated costs, rather than pay in advance, they can indicate that and their individual case is than assessed. The arrangements have therefore been put in place in the portal that has been created by the UK Government. However, if Colin Smyth has constituency cases that he is concerned about, he should feel free to send the details to me, and I will ensure that those individual cases are fully considered.

Six members want to ask supplementaries. It will be impossible to get through them all, I am afraid.

I am glad to hear the cabinet secretary talk about individual cases. An elderly constituent of mine has been in the Canary Islands since last December. Through no fault of their own, flights have been repeatedly cancelled and they might overstay the 90-day residency rule for that part of Europe.

When my constituent eventually returns to Scotland, they will need to enter managed self-isolation in a hotel, which will be financially challenging. Can the cabinet secretary provide details of any hardship support or deferred payment schemes? Will those be exclusively for those who are on certain benefits, or will flexibility be shown?

When someone goes on to the online portal looking to book their managed quarantine facility, there is an option to highlight that they might not be able to meet the up-front costs and to indicate why that is the case.

Presently, the policy is linked to benefits. However, I am, again, more than happy to listen to any individual constituency cases that Bob Doris may have.

I very much regret that we are having to introduce such a quarantine scheme. I assure members that the measures that we are introducing, whose purpose is to make sure that our borders are as robust as possible and deal with the threat of new variants, will be in place only for as long as is required and that we will look to lift them at the earliest opportunity. However, I reiterate that, at the present time, no one should be undertaking international travel unless it is absolutely essential. I encourage anyone who is considering travelling to avoid doing so if it is not essential.

I spoke this morning to a constituent who, along with her five-year-old daughter, is in Finland where her partner is receiving hyperbaric oxygen treatment following a severe brain injury. With school now about to restart for their five-year-old, the family wants to return to Scotland. However, they now face a 10-day period of hotel quarantine. In the circumstances, which includes coping with the side effects of a brain injury, such as seizures, and caring for a five-year-old, my constituent believes hotel quarantine to be practically impossible. What dispensations to the quarantine regulations can be made for the family, given their uniquely challenging situation?

I think that there was almost certainly too much howl around the audio feed for the cabinet secretary to hear that. Did you hear any of that question, Mr Matheson?

Yes, I think that I heard most of it, Presiding Officer.

I ask Mr Scott to write to me with the details. There are provisions in the exemptions for individuals who, for medical reasons, would be unable to stay in a managed quarantine facility. If he sends the details on to me, I will ensure that officials look into the issue for him.

On the issue of vulnerable people who may be unable to afford the quarantine fee, yesterday I was contacted by the British Red Cross, which is concerned about the lack of guidance for people travelling to Scotland to reunite with loved ones on refugee family reunion visas, including unaccompanied refugee children. I note the cabinet secretary’s comments about the portal, but the British Red Cross would like to know when full and clearer guidance on the managed isolation welfare fund will be published.

I believe that the information that the British Red Cross is looking for was provided to it earlier today. It included the information that it may require about those who hold refugee status and the exemptions in the existing regime for dealing with such issues.

I apologise to the three members whom I was unable to call. I am conscious that we have a statement on Covid-19 from the First Minister coming up. It might be that they can rephrase their question in a way that can be put to the First Minister after her statement.