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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Arthritis (Access to Work Scheme Survey), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Energy Efficient Scotland, Scotland’s Economic Future and Economic Data, Decision Time, Correction


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time


To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will consider installing automated external defibrillators in, or on the external walls of, MSP constituency offices. (S5O-02604)

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body considered the matter on 14 June, when the member first raised it. It advised him that, although the SPCB is supportive of having public access defibrillators available across Scotland, the first principle of the reimbursement of members’ expenses scheme is to meet expenses incurred by members in “carrying out parliamentary duties.” Therefore, the defibrillators cannot be funded through the scheme. Similarly, there is no provision in the Scotland Act 1998 for the SPCB to meet such costs directly.

I appreciate the letter that was sent to me on the date mentioned. I take this opportunity to praise the work that has been carried out on the matter in my local area by the Airdrie and Coatbridge first responders, Dunbeth Football Club and Mount Ellen golf club.

If we installed such devices, not only would they be available for parliamentary staff who are working in constituency offices, but, if it were possible to install them on the external walls of MSP offices, they would be available 24 hours a day. I ask Jackson Carlaw whether the SPCB will reconsider its decision.

I fully appreciate the value of public access defibrillators and I participated in schemes in my constituency with voluntary organisations and community councils, which have worked to raise the funding to install them on buildings such as public libraries. The British Heart Foundation made the point that, when a defibrillator is installed, it must be a permanently available resource, because people might come to anticipate that it is there and rely on it. It is not necessarily the case that MSPs’ parliamentary offices are a permanently available resource—elections can lead to changes in representation and MSPs can be inclined to change offices. For a number of reasons, I am not sure that the office of an MSP is the most suitable place to house a defibrillator. In any event, the SPCB is not permitted to look at means to fund those access opportunities.

If we could please have very quick supplementary questions and answers, we will manage to fit them all in.

The key issue around defibrillators is ensuring that people know how to use them when they are required to. The SPCB will be aware of campaigning by St Andrew’s First Aid and others to ensure that we all have the life-saving skills required when the occasion arises. Will the SPCB explore the possibility of rolling out a programme of first aid training for MSP and parliamentary staff? It is a skill that literally saves lives and it would send a strong message that the SPCB and the Scottish Parliament are responsible employers.

I am happy to take that suggestion back to the SPCB, although I did, as a member, recently participate in exactly such training. I think that it was available to all members and staff and it dealt with how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Defibrillators are an additional resource and, from my understanding of those that I have seen in action, they have an assist button and a direct connection to a helpline, which will advise people who are unfamiliar with the use of a defibrillator how to use it. Anyone who is trained in its use is able to act more rapidly and we know that lives have been saved as a result. We all support and encourage the widest possible access to defibrillators and I will take the member’s point back to the SPCB to see whether there is more that it can do on training in the Parliament.

I appreciate that funding is not available for MSPs to have defibrillators outside their offices, but if MSPs were able to source them by other means, such as charitable measures, would the SPCB in principle support having defibrillators outside MSP offices, particularly if there are restrictions around signage and what the offices can be used for?

I do not think that we would have an objection to that, but members should bear in mind the advice from the British Heart Foundation that we should not build up public expectation of a resource being available only for people to find that, within a relatively short time, it is not. Working with community councils and other voluntary groups is the right way to proceed.

Kathleen Orr from the Jayden’s Rainbow campaign presented her petition to the Public Petitions Committee in the Scottish Parliament this morning. Afterwards, when we had a discussion about the session, she raised a point about the Scottish Parliament’s lack of signage for defibrillators.

Will the corporate body tell me how many defibrillators there are in the Parliament, and will it improve the signage for them?

That point is noted and will be taken back to the SPCB. I thank Mr McMillan for his question.

Before we move on to question 2, I say to members that although I know that that was an important issue, there seems to be a misunderstanding about what a “quick supplementary” means. Could members bear my request in mind?

Freedom of Information (Disclosure Log)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body for what reason the freedom of information disclosure log has not been updated. (S5O-02605)

The Scottish Parliament put in place its freedom of information disclosure log in 2005, shortly after the freedom of information legislation came into effect. As part of our normal practices, we inform requesters that information released to them may be posted on the Parliament’s disclosure log within 24 hours.

Unfortunately, as I think the member is aware, the disclosure log has not been updated recently, as the staff responsible have had to focus on the work required to fulfil our statutory freedom of information and data protection obligations. In addition, the team has been providing on-going advice and guidance on data protection requirements following on from the implementation of the 2016 general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

The SPCB, however, recognises the importance of freedom of information and has taken steps to ensure that the disclosure log will return to its regular updating cycle early in the new year when a vacant post within the team responsible for updating the log will be filled.

I believe that the Parliament should lead by example. It is now about three months since the disclosure log was last updated. Would the member agree that we should endeavour to update it at the earliest opportunity? Could he clarify the number of outstanding requests that would otherwise have been disclosed?

As I said in my initial answer, the disclosure log will be back up and running to its regular cycle in January. The member notes that we should be leading by example. We were, if not the first public authority, certainly among the first to voluntarily publish a disclosure log. As the member knows, that is not a statutory requirement but it is good practice. The Parliament has had one since 2005.

I cannot give the member a direct answer on how many freedom of information requests are not on the log because of the delay that has built up. The Parliament replied to 140 freedom of information requests in 2018. We have only two that are currently under review. There have been no appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner so far in 2018.

Employment Schemes (Offenders)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what employment schemes it runs for offenders in order to improve their skills, reduce reoffending and increase its recruitment of ex-offenders. (S5O-02606)

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body actively promotes equality of opportunity for all with the right mix of talent, skills and potential, and it welcomes applications from all sections of society.

The SPCB policy on the employment of ex-offenders commits us to ensuring that no job applicant or member of staff will receive less favourable treatment than others because of her or his offending background, or any other characteristic not relevant to the role.

We do not have any immediate plans to prioritise the creation of a programme exclusively for the recruitment of people with offending backgrounds, but we continue to review the extent to which our recruitment arrangements deliver fairness and ensure that no groups are excluded.

My question was lodged following a discussion with a modern studies class at Greenfaulds high school in Cumbernauld, which is currently looking into justice issues, so it is really that class’s question.

One of the things that the class is looking into is restorative justice and schemes such as release Scotland and those that are run by Timpson, which now recruits 10 per cent of its staff directly from prisons through a selection, training and mentoring programme. Timpson’s chief executive chairs the employers forum for reducing reoffending, which is a group that offers a second chance to people with a criminal conviction and encourages other employers to be more willing to recruit ex-offenders.

What plans does the corporate body have to join organisations including Greggs, the Scottish Government and Timpson by becoming a member of release Scotland? Will it write to Greenfaulds high school’s modern studies class to set out how it will come to any decision?

We are aware of release Scotland and the work that it does across the private sector—Mark Griffin is right to acknowledge the work of Greggs and Timpson—and in the public and third sectors to promote the employment of people with offending backgrounds. I am sure that Mr Griffin is aware that a third of men and 9 per cent of women have a past conviction, yet 75 per cent of employers say that they would not employ someone with an offending history.

The corporate body is pretty confident that it does not discriminate against offenders. For example, we do not require people to disclose their offending background on job application forms, and we not hold any such information in employment records. We would be keen to know what membership of release Scotland would add to our current systems before we committed to joining.

Asking the corporate body to write to a school is an unusual request, but I will personally endeavour to respond to the pupils at Greenfaulds high school to ensure that they receive an appropriate answer. I will do that either in a formal capacity, through the corporate body, or in a personal capacity, depending on what is deemed most appropriate by the corporate body.

Cyberattacks (Protection)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what measures it takes to protect the Parliament from cyberattacks. (S5O-02607)

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body fully recognises that the importance of cyberresilience for all organisations has never been greater. Digital technologies are vital to the successful operation of all modern organisations, and the SPCB has put in place a variety of tools, technologies and procedures to protect the Parliament from a successful attack. Our critical cybersecurity controls have recently undergone an independent assessment of their effectiveness, which has led to the Parliament being awarded cyber essentials plus certification.

In addition to the technical measures and controls that have been put in place, an on-going campaign to raise awareness of cybersecurity issues will help to ensure that all network users are mindful of how they can contribute to defending our Parliament from cyberattacks.

The corporate body will be aware of the Russian ambassador’s upcoming visit to the Scottish Parliament. Given that Russia is a hostile state that has not only killed citizens on United Kingdom soil but engaged in extensive cyberattacks against political parties, Governments and other institutions across the world, could the corporate body provide further detail on the specific measures and assessments that have been undertaken in advance of the ambassador’s visit?

Just this morning, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body received a briefing from the national cyber security centre. We will use the information that we receive on threats and vulnerabilities to ensure that our cyber defences evolve to best manage the risks that we face, wherever—I emphasise this point—they come from. We have not taken action this morning in response to any specific attack from Russia; we received the briefing to ensure that the procedures that we have in place are as up to date and as well resourced as they possibly can be. I hope that that offers Ross Greer the reassurance that he is looking for.

Home Security Assessments

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what discussions it has had with Police Scotland regarding the provision of home security assessment reports for members. (S5O-02608)

Members’ personal safety is an issue that the corporate body takes very seriously. To ensure that support to members reflects the security risks that members face, the corporate body works closely with Police Scotland and other security partners to make that assessment.

The security of members at their homes and at their Edinburgh accommodation has been discussed by the corporate body but, on assessment, the focus for making security enhancements has been on local offices and surgeries. The corporate body has approved a budget, which members can access, to upgrade the security at their local offices, based on recommendations that were taken from surveys that were undertaken by local crime prevention officers. The corporate body has also purchased lone-worker devices, which are available to members and their staff, as an additional security measure. Police Scotland and the security office also provide personal safety briefings to members and their staff on request.

Members can contact Police Scotland for an assessment of their home security. Police Scotland will undertake a survey, similar to that provided at local offices, and will make recommendations to members for simple measures that can be put in place to improve their home security. The corporate body does not, at the moment, provide a fund that members can access for the implementation of any security measures that are recommended, as home security is not currently assessed as being the main area of risk.

I am grateful to Mr Carlaw for his reply. I place on record my thanks to the corporate body for the provision of security for members’ offices, and I encourage my colleagues who have not activated that to do so as soon as possible.

Mr Carlaw will be aware that the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Security has commissioned an independent review of MPs’ personal home security. Notwithstanding Mr Carlaw’s reply, will the corporate body consider, at the very least, a request to Police Scotland to undertake a review of security of MSPs’ homes, as a precursor to a wider strategy on member and staff security?

I concur with Mr Stewart’s view that every member should take advantage of the opportunity to have their constituency premises surveyed by Police Scotland so that any recommendations or risks can be addressed.

We are aware of and have discussed the fact that the Welsh Assembly and Westminster have introduced home security arrangements for members. We have focused on what we feel are the main areas of risk, and we have taken advice throughout from Police Scotland. That does not preclude members from contacting Police Scotland or the security office to arrange a review of their home security, if that would provide them with additional reassurance. I would only say that, at this time, the SPCB would expect a member to meet the costs of upgrading their home security, although in circumstances in which there are particular concerns for a member’s personal safety, the SPCB would naturally consider any applications for funding of home security.