Meeting date: Thursday, February 22, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 22 February 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Stone Group, Prestwick Airport, Population Needs and Migration Policy, Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Scottish Stone Group
- Prestwick Airport
- Population Needs and Migration Policy
- Financial Guidance and Claims Bill
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Earlier today, killer Robbie McIntosh was sentenced for the attempted murder of Linda McDonald in Dundee—a crime committed while he was on home leave awaiting parole. Does the First Minister agree that that appalling case raises further questions about our justice system and why killers who should be in jail are instead allowed to walk free before the Parole Board has even ruled that they are safe to do so?
Ruth Davidson raises a very important issue. The case that she raises is extremely distressing and my thoughts—and, I am sure, the thoughts of all of us—are with the victim of what was a horrific attack.
Obviously, I cannot comment directly on the decision that the court has taken on sentencing. However, I can confirm in factual terms what the sentence handed down today means. Robbie McIntosh has today been given an order for lifelong restriction. That means that he will not be considered for release until he has served the punishment part of his sentence. After that, consideration of release would be a matter for the Parole Board for Scotland. Any decision would be made on the basis of the need to protect the public, but if Robbie McIntosh were to be released at any point in the future, he would be subject to intensive supervision for the rest of his life.
As Ruth Davidson will be aware, a system of home leave has existed for life sentence prisoners for many, many years. It is a well-established part of the rehabilitation process. A rigorous risk assessment is undertaken by the Scottish Prison Service before any offender is granted any form of unescorted leave. That involves psychological assessment, social work reports and reports on the time that they have spent in prison. Home leave is also always granted with very strict conditions applied.
On the application of that system to this case, which I understand raises concerns, the Scottish Prison Service has undertaken an incident review, which has considered all stages of the individual’s progression through the prison system. It has also reviewed the risk assessments undertaken to make sure that any lessons from the case are learned. That report has been shared with the multi-agency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—strategic oversight group in Tayside, which initiated a significant case review. That will consider the circumstances of the case and identify where any improvements that are needed can and will be made.
I fully understand that the circumstances of the case raise such concerns. However, I hope that the information that I have shared with the chamber today will be of some reassurance, not just to members but to the wider public.
I thank the First Minister for her response. She is right to say that it is rare that we raise individual criminal cases in the chamber, but this example merits it. McIntosh had been out of prison just five days before he tried to kill again. As his victim’s husband, Matthew, said:
“Given his past conviction for a brutal murder I can’t believe the Scottish Prison Service deemed that this sick individual, who attempted to murder my wife, was allowed to be in the public domain.”
The family says that it is not enough for the Scottish Prison Service and the Parole Board for Scotland just to look at what went wrong in this case, through, for example, the incident review that the First Minister mentioned, and that they must re-examine their criteria for assessment and release of all such criminals on home leave. Does the First Minister agree that that must now take place?
Absolutely. As I indicated in my previous answer, any lessons that require to be learned from the case require to be applied in the future as well. That is absolutely the case, so I agree with Ruth Davidson on that specific point. I entirely understand and sympathise with the views of the family. If I was in the shoes of the victim’s family members, I would be saying exactly the same things. All of us recognise that.
No doubt Ruth Davidson will tell me if I get this wrong, but I assume that she is not arguing that there should not be provision in our criminal justice system for home leave. As I said, home leave has been an established part of the rehabilitation process for a long time. However, it is right that the most rigorous of risk assessments are undertaken by the Prison Service—it is the Prison Service, not the Parole Board, that decides on home leave matters. It is also important that strict conditions are applied. The kind of conditions that are often applied restrict where a prisoner can visit and stipulate what time they must be at their residence, for example. If there are lessons to be learned from this case—undoubtedly, there will be—those lessons must, of course, be applied in the future.
I accept that this is an extreme case, but it taps into a wider public concern. Under current rules, prisoners can be allowed out of jail before their official release. As the First Minister said, that is called temporary release, and it means that prisoners can be let out into the community without supervision.
Through a freedom of information request, we have discovered that there were more than 4,000 cases in the past year alone in which—as in McIntosh’s case—prisoners were granted such leave. Of course, in a small fraction of cases, such as those that involve compassionate leave, that might be appropriate. However, does the First Minister agree that, when 4,000 convicted criminals walk out of prison before they have even been considered for parole, we should perhaps look at the matter again?
We should look at whether there are lessons to be learned from cases such as this one, to change or tighten the way in which risk assessments are carried out in the future. I absolutely agree with that. I accept that such discussions can be difficult. They are difficult not just for members of this Parliament but for the public.
However, home leave has been an important part of the rehabilitation and reintegration process for a long time. In part, home leave allows an individual to be tested on how and whether they can adapt to living in the community. For life sentence prisoners, home leave is the final stage in a phased programme of increasing their freedoms. Often, it helps to inform the Parole Board’s decisions on a prisoner’s suitability for release. Home leave will be granted only after the prisoner has progressed successfully through the prison system. In principle, it is important to have such a system, but we must learn lessons from individual cases—albeit that they are extreme cases—to ensure that a continuous system of learning is in place. I am absolutely committed—as I know the Scottish Prison Service is—to ensuring that any appropriate lessons are learned.
It is not unreasonable for the public to expect prisoners to serve their time. When cases such as the one that I have mentioned today emerge, the question from the public is: “Why again?” Why is a killer let loose to try to kill again? Why are the dice loaded against victims and in favour of criminals again? Why do we act only when another family is left to pick up the pieces of their lives again? Home leave for convicted murderers—free to walk the streets before they even face the Parole Board—should be reviewed. Is it not that simple?
With the greatest of respect, I say to Ruth Davidson that I do not think that the issue is that simple.
Ruth Davidson says that the public have a right to expect that prisoners serve their time and, in principle, I agree. In fact, it is this Government that finally took steps to restrict automatic early release of prisoners. However, when prisoners are to be released, we owe it to the public to make sure that appropriate steps have been taken to reintegrate those prisoners into society, because it is those steps that reduce the risk of prisoners reoffending.
The worst thing that the Prison Service and the Parole Board could do in terms of wider public safety would be simply to release a prisoner on the last day of their sentence without taking any steps gradually, over a period of time, to rehabilitate and reintegrate them. That is why a system of home leave, however difficult it can sometimes be to discuss and debate, is a really important part of the criminal justice system.
At the heart of Ruth Davidson’s question—although, as is often the case with the Conservatives, their actions in government do not quite match their rhetoric in opposition—is the notion that, somehow, Scotland’s justice system is soft touch. Frankly, the facts do not bear that out. We have one of the highest prison populations in the whole of Europe. Of course serious criminals should be locked up—that is not in doubt—but the bigger challenge for our criminal justice system is how we rehabilitate prisoners, where appropriate, so that there is less risk of them reoffending.
With the greatest of respect, I say to Ruth Davidson that these are not simple issues; these are really complex issues. We have a duty to recognise that complexity and discuss it with the public. That does not take away from the fact that when something goes wrong in a case—as will always happen in any system, unfortunately—we must make sure that the views of the family are listened to and that lessons are learned. That is exactly the process that will be followed in this situation.
Early Learning and Childcare Provision
The First Minister’s own poverty adviser, Naomi Eisenstadt, has said that investment in good quality and affordable early learning and childcare is crucial. It is crucial because of the difference that it can make to children from poorer backgrounds. It was therefore a matter of grave concern to read Audit Scotland’s latest report last week criticising the Government’s progress in expanding early learning and childcare provision. It says that there is no national leadership, no sense of urgency, and a £160 million funding gap. How does the First Minister answer that damning criticism?
First, let me share with members the very first paragraph of that Audit Scotland report. It states:
“The Scottish Government’s policy to increase funded early learning and childcare (ELC) is consistent with national strategic objectives around improving the lives of children and their families. The Scottish Government and councils have worked well together to expand provision. Parents are positive about the benefits”.
We have, of course, already expanded early learning and childcare provision from the situation that was inherited from the last Labour-Liberal Administration. The plans that we are pursuing are the most ambitious plans to extend childcare and early learning that the Parliament has ever seen. Inherent in ambitious plans are challenges, but we are working through those challenges and are on track to deliver the expansion.
We are discussing with councils a multiyear funding package. It is not unusual with such policies for there to be initial disagreements between local government and the national Government about the amount of money that is required. We plan to have full agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the matter by the end of April.
Let us not forget the purpose of the policy: it is to improve the experience in the early years of our children and to prepare them better for their school years and beyond, and it is about helping parents to work without having massive childcare costs to pay. It is the right policy. Delivery of a policy at this scale has challenges, but we are determined—as we were with the expansion to 600 hours a year—to deliver it because it is in the interests of young people the length and breadth of this country.
It is there in paragraph 66 of the Audit Scotland report, which states:
“The Scottish Government has not led a national approach to help the expansion in funded hours”.
However, not just the depth, but the breadth of the problems in the Government’s early learning and childcare policy are cause for concern. Audit Scotland also reports that the Government
“has not yet done enough to ensure”
that the 12,000 additional staff who are needed to deliver the new entitlement
“will be in place in time”.
Where is the First Minister’s plan to find the additional 12,000 nursery workers who are needed to meet her childcare promise?
On the overall policy, I remember when Labour members—not Richard Leonard, I say to be fair, because he was not a member of the Parliament at the time—told us that we would not deliver the 600 hours a year to which we had committed. We delivered it; we have shown a track record in delivering expanded childcare, and we are on track to deliver the next expansion.
On the workforce, Richard Leonard asked, “Where’s the plan?” The question could be asked of every aspect of Scottish Labour’s policies, but we will leave that to one side. Let me outline the workforce plan. First, the national recruitment campaign was launched in October last year, and we are developing phase 2, which focuses on carer changers, for summer this year.
We have increased capacity in early years courses in colleges and universities in order to support the first phase of the workforce expansion. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council is offering about 1,500 additional places on a one-year higher national certificate course in 2018-19, and there are 400 additional graduate-level places. We are also funding 435 additional graduates to work in nurseries in our most deprived areas and island councils by August this year.
Skills Development Scotland has committed to increasing the number of modern apprenticeships in early years and childcare by 10 per cent—
It is all going swimmingly, then. Audit Scotland is wrong.
We note that when Labour members get a detailed answer to the question, they do not want to hear it. [Interruption.]
Let me go back to the answer. Skills Development Scotland is increasing the number of modern apprenticeships in early years and childcare by 10 per cent, year on year, up to 2020. Of course, we are also enabling payment of the living wage to all childcare staff who deliver the funded entitlement.
I say clearly to Richard Leonard: there is the plan.
In among that avalanche of statistics—[Interruption.]
The First Minister did not even address the huge shortfall in capital funding. Councils need almost £750 million to buy land and to adapt or build all the premises that will be needed to deliver the policy, but the money is not there for that, either.
This Government rightly made childcare its flagship policy, but as things stand there is not enough money, there are not enough staff and there are not enough buildings to enable it to keep that promise.
Scotland’s parents cannot even access their existing rights. One parent told the fair funding for our kids campaign group:
“It costs so much to have the kids looked after while I’m working, it’s not worth working.”
Another parent said:
“When I had my second child it was cheaper for me to be at home than at work.”
The policy might well fit on an election leaflet, but the First Minister’s delivery of it is not fit for purpose. No one can believe her childcare promises for the future, because her policies in the present are failing. Local councils say it, parents say it, and Audit Scotland says it. When will she start to listen?
I apologise to Richard Leonard for providing in my previous answer more facts than he could cope with, and for giving him more of a plan than he actually wanted. Unfortunately I am going to do the same all over again.
On our past commitments, we delivered the 600 hours a year to which we committed. Flexibility is increasing; the proportion of council settings that provide funded care before, during and after school has increased, as has the proportion of council settings that operate during school holidays. Of course, it is in order to increase flexibility further that we are going from 600 hours a year to the 1,140 hours a year to which we are committed.
The funding will be delivered over a number of years, up to 2020, so in the year that is about to start, we will provide £76 million in revenue funding to local authorities. Of that, £52 million is new.
Richard Leonard talked about building premises. For 2018-19, we are providing £150 million in capital funding specifically to support the next phase of infrastructure investment.
Finally, I have to say that it is a bit rich for Richard Leonard to come here today and complain about the funding for this policy, given that yesterday he and all his colleagues voted against the funding for the coming financial year that I have just outlined.
There are a number of constituency supplementary questions.
Recent figures that have been revealed by The Press and Journal show that my region, North East Scotland, had the highest number of school pupils caught with knives. I have here a letter from December 2017 in which the Cabinet Secretary for Justice promised me that he would publish in January 2018 statistics on school exclusions for carrying weapons. As of today’s date, those statistics have not been published. Why not?
I will ask the justice secretary to write to update the member. Liam Kerr and I have had exchanges on the issue previously, and I have had exchanges on it with Ruth Davidson.
We now publish more statistics on carrying of weapons in schools. Police Scotland statistics now distinguish between different categories, which is right and proper. Equally important is publication of the data.
We have a number of programmes of work, many of which are funded by the Government, to reduce violence on the part of young people, and not just in our schools, but generally. It is important work and I will ask the justice secretary to give Liam Kerr an update on the specific point that he raised. I am sure that members across the chamber are united in committing to doing as much as we can to tackle and challenge the problem.
Orkney Ferry Services
Under the contract between the Scottish Government and Serco NorthLink, Orkney’s lifeline ferry service across the Pentland Firth has been provided by a freight vessel in recent weeks. Does the First Minister believe that that is acceptable? If not, can she explain what steps her Government has taken to ensure that a more appropriate replacement vessel is identified?
Will the First Minister also apologise to those who have been unable to travel on the route during the refit, including my constituent Terri-Jane White, a University of the Highlands and Islands student representative who has fibromyalgia, who asks the legitimate question:
“How is a replacement ferry in 2018 not accessible for wheelchair users?”
Other than what Liam McArthur has just shared, I do not know the details of his constituency case. However, it is deeply regrettable if any person, particularly someone who has a disability, feels that they are not getting the standard of transport system that they have the right to expect. We want and expect the highest standards, whether on NorthLink Ferries or any other part of our transport system.
On the specific issue of the type of vessel being used during a refit of the normal vessel, Serco will have had to consider a number of issues. I am more than happy to ask the transport minister to speak with Serco on that point and communicate directly with the member on the detail.
This week, “Channel 4 News” led with a heart-breaking report. Our city suffered 12 drug deaths in January alone, compared to 38 in the whole of 2016. Dundee has the highest rate of drug deaths in Scotland, Scotland’s rate is far above the United Kingdom average, and the UK’s drug death rate far exceeds the European average.
This is a human crisis deep in the heart of our communities. What can the First Minister’s Government do to help reduce drug deaths in Dundee and across the country?
This is an important issue. Everyone would be distressed at any drug death and at the contents of the “Channel 4 News” report earlier this week. I will address Dundee specifically first.
Jenny Marra will be aware that Dundee alcohol and drug partnership proposes to hold a commission specifically on drug misuse in Dundee, to identify best practice and consider issues that have an impact on drug use, including mental health, deprivation and social inclusion. That move is to be welcomed.
I know that the issue has previously been debated widely in Parliament. Data indicates that the rise in the number of drug deaths is predominantly driven by a cohort of older chaotic drug users experiencing multiple co-morbidities. Last year’s NHS Scotland report established links between the rise in the number of drug deaths and the legacy of social policies going back to the 1980s.
It is absolutely important that we do everything that we can now to tackle and address that rise, which is why we take a public health approach to problem drug misuse. We are reviewing our national drug strategy so that it is founded on the principles of seek, keep and treat. The nature of Scotland’s drug problem has changed, which is one of the reasons for our introducing a combined drug and alcohol treatment strategy. We are also investing significant sums of money in tackling problem drug and alcohol misuse. In the budget, we announced additional funding for alcohol and drug treatment services. Drug and alcohol misuse are important issues, and we must work as hard as we can to tackle them.
I end on a more positive note that should give us encouragement for the future. The latest figures indicate that drug taking in the general population is actually falling, and it remains low for young people. In the past year, the number of adults aged 16 to 59 who use drugs has decreased. I am not saying that that should make us complacent, but it does underline the fact that the issue is about a legacy of older drug users who are now suffering serious health problems. That must help us to target the interventions that we need to make to address that more effectively.
I am with the First Minister on her ambition to expand nursery education. However, I am deeply concerned that she will not be able to deliver it. I hope that she understands that, when so many organisations have spoken out recently. Let us look at who has done so. The fair funding for our kids campaign has talked about a lack of flexibility. The Accounts Commission has spoken of “significant risks”, a lack of clarity, poor planning and a funding shortfall. The Scottish Childminding Association has said that the sector is potentially facing a crisis. Why does the First Minister think that all those organisations are wrong?
That is a mischaracterisation of my position and of that of the Government. We are working closely with local authorities and will fully address all the recommendations of last week’s Audit Scotland report. In fact, childminders will be absolutely central to delivering the expanded provision to which we are committed and that we have already talked about today.
On the lack of flexibility—as Willie Rennie describes it—as I said earlier, we are seeing increasing flexibility in the current system. However, the recognition that the current system is not flexible enough is one of the things that led us to give the commitment to doubling provision. It stands to reason that if we have whole-day provision as a matter of right, the ability to provide nursery education more flexibly increases.
I readily acknowledge—as we did when we made the commitment—the challenges in delivering such an ambitious policy. However, it is one of many policies to which the Government is committed that have the potential to be genuinely transformational. Therefore we will continue to take the action and put in place the plans—even if they are more detailed than Richard Leonard wants them to be—to make sure that, by working with our local authority partners, this commitment will be delivered, just as our previous one was delivered, because it is for the benefit of young people in every part of the country.
I repeat that I agree with the First Minister’s ambition. I really want the policy to work. However, if everything is okay, why are so many organisations speaking out? When fair funding for our kids warned her in 2015, the First Minister said that she would fix it. In 2016, it warned her again, and the First Minister simply repeated the same words—and they are back again this year. At the current rate of progress, it will take another 20 years to recruit the staff needed and 45 years before places are available everywhere during the school holidays. Three years after the First Minister made that promise, why is the Government so far behind?
We are not far behind. I have to say that some of the claims that Willie Rennie has just made are ridiculous, and will be seen to be so in a few years’ time when we have delivered this commitment, just as we delivered the one on 600 hours when many people across the chamber were sceptical that we would do so.
I do not want to put words into the mouth of the fair funding for our kids campaign—it will speak for itself—but many of the frustrations that it has are about the current system and its lack of flexibility. Earlier, I gave Richard Leonard statistics about the increase in flexibility that we have seen over the past few years, but that does not go far enough. It is the recognition of that that has led to our commitment to double provision. We want to increase the provision in the way that we have set out, and to make it inherently more flexible. Crucially—interestingly, neither Richard Leonard nor Willie Rennie raised this today—we want to make sure that the provision is of a very high quality because, although the benefits to parents are important, the policy is fundamentally about improving the early years experience of our youngest children.
This is one of the key policies of this Government and I fully expect its delivery to be scrutinised as we go through the next few years, but we are determined to deliver it and determined to put the funding and planning in place to make sure that we do so.
We have some further supplementary questions. The first is from Ivan McKee.
Scottish Members of Parliament
Just eight months ago, the Scottish Tories boasted about championing Scottish interests at Westminster, but now it transpires that their members of Parliament take their marching orders from Jacob Rees-Mogg, not Ruth Davidson. How can any Scottish MP justify to their constituents support for the hardest of hard Brexits?
The member is entitled to make a point, but it is not massively a question for the First Minister.
Is Brexit not a question for me, Presiding Officer?
The First Minister may respond briefly, but she will have an opportunity under the next question to respond at length on Brexit.
With the greatest respect, I think that Brexit is very much a matter for the First Minister, given the risks that it poses.
The question was phrased about Conservative MPs, and I do not believe that you are responsible for them, First Minister. You will have a chance to answer the question in a few minutes. We will move on to the next supplementary question, which is from Jackson Carlaw.
Asian Community (Attacks)
At a recent meeting with the Asian community—[Interruption.]
Please be quiet and let Mr Carlaw speak.
At a recent meeting with the Asian community in my Eastwood constituency, Police Scotland confirmed that there has been a sustained series of forensically aware, gang-related, targeted attacks on Asian households in, I understand, Eastwood and East Dunbartonshire. The attacks are taking place between 12 pm and 6 pm, fortunately but not exclusively when properties have not been occupied.
My constituents make no complaint about the actions of Police Scotland or the efforts that it is making, but Police Scotland has made the point that there is a reluctance on the part of the public to come forward, as they believe that the information that they may have will be regarded as either trivial or circumstantial. Will the First Minister join me in assuring people that they are not wasting police time and that, if we are going to tackle this particular, very pernicious attack on the Asian community, it requires all members of the public to give whatever information they have to the police immediately so that they can act on it?
Yes. As Jackson Carlaw is aware, I represent a very large Asian population in my constituency, and I am well aware of the issue and these attacks, which are targeted on the Asian community. They are absolutely unacceptable and should be completely condemned by all of us. I personally know people who have been targeted in that way in recent weeks. It is a serious issue and one that, on a constituency basis, I will be raising again with Police Scotland, although it works very hard to support the community.
Jackson Carlaw is right to say that anybody within the community who has concerns should come forward and share those concerns. The information that they give will never be treated as trivial, because it is not trivial. The attacks are pernicious and must be tackled. I know that Police Scotland is determined to do all that it can to tackle them, and all of us should give all the support that we possibly can to a very valued and valuable part of our community as they face attacks on them that are completely unacceptable.
In 2017, a rare and beautiful young golden eagle was raised in the Scottish borders by the only pair of breeding adults there. He was satellite tagged, and last month he left home for the first time. Less than a week later, he disappeared in the Pentland hills near Currie. His tag stopped sending data for three days, then started again, this time in the North Sea off St Andrews. RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution UK regard the disappearance as highly suspicious, and I believe it is likely that the young eagle has been illegally killed.
Donald Dewar described the persecution of birds of prey as “a national disgrace”, but it is still going on. What is the Scottish Government doing in response to the reports? Will the First Minister finally commit to a licensing regime for game bird shooting?
First, I agree that the persecution of birds of prey is unacceptable, and I absolutely associate myself with the comments that Alison Johnstone has made in that regard. The Government treats this and sees it as an extremely serious issue.
As Alison Johnstone will be aware, a group was set up following a report on the issue that was commissioned and published last year, and it is looking at various aspects such as licensing and the impact of grouse shooting. I—and, I am sure, Roseanna Cunningham as the responsible minister—will be happy to meet Alison Johnstone to discuss that work in more detail. I am sure that all of us across the chamber are united in agreeing that this is unacceptable and requires to be tackled robustly.
Scotland’s Place in Europe
To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will provide an update on negotiations regarding Scotland’s place in Europe. (S5F-02068)
The joint ministerial committee (European negotiations) met this morning. I understand that the meeting broke up just before this session of First Minister’s questions and that there will be another meeting next week.
In our discussions with the United Kingdom Government, we continue at all times to seek to protect both the devolution settlement and Scotland’s place in Europe. That said, the UK Government is still refusing to listen to the case for retaining single market membership, despite the clear evidence, including from the UK Government itself, of the damage that will be caused by a hard Brexit.
Decisions on the future relationship with the European Union continue to be taken without the proper involvement of all the Governments of the UK. Although I wrote to the Prime Minister on this very issue on 6 February, I am sorry to say that I have yet to receive a response.
I want to focus on the devolution element, because a founding principle of devolution is that the powers of this Parliament can be amended only with the consent of this Parliament. The Finance and Constitution Committee’s cross-party report made it clear that, as it currently stands, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
“is incompatible with the devolution settlement in Scotland.”
In the First Minister’s view, are the UK Government’s new proposals, which would essentially give it a supervisory role over Holyrood, now compatible with devolution?
No, I do not think so. It is right to recall the Parliament’s unanimous view that clause 11 of the withdrawal bill is incompatible with devolution. There has been movement from the UK Government, and I welcome that, because I think that it is a recognition of how unacceptable the initial proposals were. However, that movement does not yet go far enough.
Perhaps I can simplify things by saying that what is proposed would not just give the UK Government oversight of this Parliament and Government but, in matters that are devolved to this Parliament, effectively give it powers of imposition or veto. I do not think that that is acceptable, and the Government of Wales does not believe it to be acceptable. That is why there must be further movement from the UK Government if we are going to reach the agreement that I hope we can reach.
I think that we are being asked by the UK Government to take it on trust that it will not exercise those powers in an unacceptable way. I am not casting aspersions on the good faith of any individual, but we should not forget that this is a UK Government that, at times, seems willing to ride roughshod over the Northern Irish Good Friday agreement. I do not think that we can simply take it on trust that the same Government would always respect the devolution settlement.
That is why we must have guarantees that this Parliament, its powers and the devolution settlement will be protected. No Scottish Government worth its salt would accept anything less.
Will the First Minister respond to the report that came out this week from Scotland’s Rural College, which, on the issue of leaving the EU, found that
“in every scenario Scotland’s farmers would be worse off compared to under the current trade arrangement, with some or all producers facing lower returns”?
There is absolutely no doubt that Brexit will have a significant impact on the day-to-day running of every farm and croft across the country, and this important study reaffirms what previous studies from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute and Quality Meat Scotland have shown. It is further confirmation that the Scottish Government’s position of remaining in the EU—or, failing that, of staying in the single market and customs union—would be in the best interests of not just Scotland but the whole of the UK.
That is why it has beggared belief to see a third of Scottish Tory MPs this week signing a letter that effectively calls for the hardest possible no-deal Brexit. That is absolutely shameful, because it is against the interests of the country that they are supposed to represent.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the recent Audit Scotland report, which states that its childcare plans face “significant challenges”. (S5F-02057)
Our commitment to double the number of hours of free nursery education is the most ambitious expansion of funded early learning and childcare that this country has ever seen. It provides all three-year-olds and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds, with 1,140 hours of nursery education and will ensure that children get the best possible start in life, while supporting parents and families into work, training and education.
We will of course carefully consider the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report and address the issues that it raises. We remain on track to deliver our expansion plans, and I welcome Audit Scotland’s recognition of our good working relationship with local authorities and other partners to deliver our shared objective. I am assured that we will reach agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on a multiyear funding package by the end of April.
As the First Minister indicated earlier, the quality of childcare provision depends on the quality and availability of good staff. The Scottish Government has estimated that it needs between 6,000 and 8,000 additional whole-time equivalent staff to deliver the planned expansion and, presumably, the Government’s funding estimates are based on that. However, Audit Scotland’s report reveals that the councils’ estimates place the number required significantly higher at 12,000 additional staff. Will the First Minister tell me which figure is correct?
The figures that the Scottish Government has put forward are those that we believe are required. As I said to Richard Leonard, we have a detailed plan in place to recruit the additional staff that are required for the policy, and we will continue to discuss the issue with COSLA.
We must not miss the massive opportunity that is presented by the policy. As I said earlier, it is about improving the early years experience of children, which will help them with attainment in school later on, and about making it easier for parents to get into work. However, it is also a massive opportunity in relation to the greater availability of jobs in that sector, particularly—but not just—for young people. Every aspect of the policy is positive. Yes, challenges are inherent in the policy because of its ambitious nature and scale, but we will continue to work to make sure that, just like the previous commitment that we gave, it will be delivered in full.
Abusive Behaviour and Misconduct (Third Sector)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator is aware of multiple allegations of abusive behaviour and misconduct in the third sector. (S5F-02049)
Like everyone, I have been appalled to hear reports of abuse and misconduct by staff in the third sector. I am clear that the Scottish Government will not tolerate human rights abuses, wherever they take place. We expect all organisations to monitor their work closely, and any reported incident must be dealt with firmly and thoroughly.
OSCR’s regulatory focus is to ensure that charity trustees appropriately deal with any allegations of misconduct or other serious incidents affecting their charity. Where complaints have been made to OSCR, I am assured that the trustees have acted promptly and in line with their legal responsibilities, and that safeguarding policies have been put in place.
Scotland’s charity sector plays an important role in creating a fairer Scotland, and we are all grateful to charities for the work that they do.
Recent reports about sexual misconduct in Scottish charities have been worrying. There is no legal requirement for charities to report notifiable events to OSCR, so it is left open to charities to decide whether an event merits reporting. Since 2016, 8 per cent of all cases notified to OSCR have related to sexual misconduct. We know that stigma and poor understanding of legal rights prevent victims from reporting sexual harm and, coupled with charities applying discretion to what they tell OSCR, that means that the true scale of sexual misconduct in the charity sector could be larger.
What steps will the First Minister consider taking to ensure that the current charity regulations and OSCR procedures are robust and fit for purpose? Will she update the Parliament on other steps that the Government is taking to speed up a change in culture that ensures that sexual harassment and sexual assaults are not played down or rooted in victim blaming?
On the first part of Monica Lennon’s question, we will continue to discuss the issue with OSCR and to listen to its views about any changes that it considers to be necessary to the procedures that are in place. As I said, it already has a regulatory focus to ensure that charity trustees appropriately deal with any allegations of misconduct.
My second point is one that Monica Lennon alluded to. Notwithstanding the quite horrendous revelations that we have been reading and hearing about in recent weeks, we must remember the good work that our charity sector does. Literally thousands of people the length and breadth of the country, many of them volunteers, contribute their time and efforts to help to make this country a better place. I was very proud yesterday, as I was last year, to officially open the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations gathering event in Glasgow, which is an opportunity to recognise the efforts of our charities and our third sector generally.
Finally, on the more general point, all of us have an obligation in this regard. At the moment, we face allegations in politics one week or Hollywood the next, and more recently they have been in the charity sector. However, underlying all that is not a particular sector or organisation; it is the fact that in our society we have a culture where some men—I stress that it is some—still abuse positions of power that they hold. That is unacceptable. These things are not easy for any of us, but we all have a duty to stand up and do the right things to ensure that we challenge that fundamental underlying culture and change it for good.
In the light of the recent reports, does the First Minister agree that, while children die from lack of food and while men, women and children across the world are disadvantaged in ways that we cannot begin to imagine, we cannot allow the appalling behaviour of the few to jeopardise the aid commitment to those who need it the most?
Absolutely. I hope that every member of this chamber would unite behind that. We should never condone or diminish individual cases such as the ones that we have heard of, but our charity sector generally and our international aid sector in particular do valued, valuable and vital work and we must support them in that. We all know that some politicians—not in this chamber, I hope, but perhaps in other parts of the United Kingdom—would use those revelations to undermine the very commitment to international aid that we are proud of. We must not allow that to happen. We have a duty to help the most vulnerable and poorest across the world, and I want us to continue to do that.