Meeting date: Thursday, January 25, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 25 January 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Electric Shock Training Collars, Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Presiding Officer’s Statement, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Electric Shock Training Collars
- Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Presiding Officer’s Statement
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Scottish Police Authority
Last week, I asked the First Minister about the Cabinet Secretary for Justice’s involvement in the decision to prevent the chief constable from returning to work. She said nine times that all Michael Matheson did was ask questions of the Scottish Police Authority’s decision. However, in evidence this morning to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, the former chair of the SPA revealed that Mr Matheson’s involvement went far beyond that. He said that, in their private meeting, the justice secretary told him that the SPA had made a bad decision. Which version of events is true?
I have heard extracts of this morning’s committee session. I have not managed to listen to all of it, but I do not think that Ruth Davidson is correct in her characterisation of the evidence that was heard this morning. Andrew Flanagan said, for example, that the justice secretary did not request that he change his decision. What the justice secretary did was ask questions about the steps that had been taken. Andrew Flanagan also expressly said that he was not directed by the justice secretary.
As I said last week, there is a clear distinction here between, on the one hand, the operational independence of the SPA and, of course, of the police in matters that no justice secretary should intervene in and, on the other hand, the proper role of a justice secretary in making sure that due process is followed. Michael Matheson asked legitimate questions about the steps that had been taken leading up to the decision to ask the chief constable to return to work. For example, had the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner been asked whether his return to work would compromise the on-going investigation? Secondly, had the senior command been notified? We heard the acting chief constable say earlier in the week that that was not the case. Thirdly, had plans been put in place for the welfare of officers who had raised concerns?
The reason, as I heard it this morning, why Andrew Flanagan felt that he had no option but to change his decision was that he could not answer those questions about process. It is entirely legitimate, and I think that the public would have expected it, for the cabinet secretary to do what he did.
I come back finally to the point that Ruth Davidson could not address last week. If her position is that the justice secretary should not have asked those legitimate questions, is she saying that she thinks that the chief constable should have returned to work without any of those issues having been properly explained? I am prepared to bet that, if that had happened, she would have been standing up in the chamber saying how outrageous that was. In those circumstances, she might actually have been right.
The evidence that emerged this morning might be inconvenient for the First Minister, but she cannot pretend that it does not contradict her earlier answers. This morning, the former chair of the SPA was asked whether he felt that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice had made “a value judgment” on the decision, and he said yes. Just hours after their one-to-one, Michael Matheson hauled the chair of the SPA back in for another meeting—this time with civil servants—in which he raised issues of process that would prevent the chief constable’s return. The chair of the SPA called that a “one-sided” meeting and said that he felt that he had “no choice” but to reverse the decision of his independent board. He said that he changed his mind based on the cabinet secretary being unhappy.
The independent chair of an independent body had two meetings with the justice secretary. In the first, he was told that he had made a bad decision. After the second meeting, he was left in no doubt that he had to reverse that decision. How can that possibly tally with what Scottish National Party ministers have claimed in recent weeks?
The key aspects of the evidence are clearly inconvenient for Ruth Davidson. As I said earlier, Andrew Flanagan clearly said that he had not been requested by the justice secretary to change his decision and that he was not directed to do so. Questions were asked and, as I said last week—I repeat it today—I absolutely take the view that the justice secretary was right to ask those questions.
I again invite Ruth Davidson to address this point. If she does not take the view that a decision to invite the chief constable to return to work without asking the PIRC whether that would compromise an on-going investigation, without telling the acting chief constable and the rest of the senior command, and without putting in place any plan for the welfare of officers who had raised concerns and made complaints would be a defective one, is it her position that it would have been a good decision and that the chief constable should have returned to work the following day?
I think that it was right to ask those questions, and I again put it to members and the Scottish people that, if the justice secretary had not asked any of those questions and the chief constable had turned up to report for work at Tulliallan the next morning, Ruth Davidson and other Opposition leaders would have come to the chamber and demanded statements, and no doubt demanded that the justice secretary consider his position. There is rank hypocrisy at play, and everybody can see it.
The First Minister asked what I would have done. I would have ensured that my justice secretary let the Parliament and the country know about the decisions that he was making.
The most damning thing of all is that now—on 25 January—we are still having to piece together the details of what happened at the beginning of November, when the Government was involved in one of the most important policing decisions that it has taken since it came to office. We are only now getting formal evidence that the justice secretary was absolutely instrumental in preventing the chief constable’s return. If it had not been for reports in the press, the whole thing would have been kept under wraps and the Parliament would have been kept in the dark.
When the national force was set up, we were told that transparency would be its watchword. Can the First Minister really stand there and claim that this episode has shown that to be true?
We are getting a clear picture that, in the unlikely event that Ruth Davidson was First Minister, the chief constable would have come back to work that day without any relevant questions being asked. That is not the kind of governance that the people of Scotland expect and deserve.
On the issue of what Parliament knows, there is nothing that Ruth Davidson has brought to Parliament today that is different from what she brought to it last week. The reason for that is that there was nothing in what we heard this morning that changes what was already known. The justice secretary came to Parliament, gave a full statement and answered questions from across the chamber about exactly what had happened, and nothing that we have heard since then has changed the facts that the justice secretary put to Parliament. We also had a debate in the chamber yesterday, brought by the Tories, on which they lost the vote because they had not made the argument that they are trying to make.
The point is that the justice secretary, discharging his responsibilities, asked legitimate questions. If those who say that he should not have asked those legitimate questions really take that position, they have to explain to the Scottish people why they think that it would have been right for the chief constable to return to work without any consultation with the organisation that is carrying out an investigation, without the acting chief constable even being told about it and without any concern for the welfare of other officers. That may be Ruth Davidson’s position; it is not my position, which is that the justice secretary acted entirely appropriately.
Let us cut through all of this. Last week the First Minister stood there and told the chamber nine times that her justice secretary did nothing but ask a few questions. We now know that that is not true. We know that he made it clear that the SPA’s decision was wrong. She says that Mr Matheson did not instruct the process, but we now know that the SPA’s former chair left his second meeting with the justice secretary feeling that he had no choice but to overturn the authority’s decision. Last week, the First Minister stood there and told me that Michael Matheson did not intervene, but does the evidence this morning not show that there is a different story? Does it not make it clear that—bluntly—the justice secretary leaned on the SPA?
With the greatest of respect, it shows no such thing. Andrew Flanagan, the former chair of the SPA, said at the committee this morning that he had not been requested by the justice secretary to change his decision. He had no option—in his view—but to change his decision, because he could not answer the most basic questions about the process that had been followed.
Again, we come back to the nub of the issue. Ruth Davidson has changed ground with every question that she has asked today, but the nub of the issue is this. If she is saying that the justice secretary should not have asked those questions and acted in the way that he did, by definition she must be saying that the chief constable should simply have been allowed to return to work, no matter that none of those basic steps had been followed.
Ruth Davidson keeps saying that, last week, I said nine times that I thought the justice secretary had behaved entirely appropriately. I have said it several times again today, so let me say it one more time: the justice secretary acted entirely appropriately, he acted in the interests of the people of Scotland and, faced with the same circumstances again, he would do the same and ask the same legitimate questions all over again.
Save Our Bield Campaign
Last week I raised with the First Minister the save our Bield campaign. Elderly people are facing eviction from their homes. The First Minister said that her health secretary would meet with the campaigners as a matter of urgency, but today’s The Courier newspaper reports that campaigners are still waiting. Can the First Minister update the chamber on what progress has been made?
Yes, I can. Shona Robison’s private office has, over the past week, made a number of offers of meeting times that the group was—no doubt for understandable reasons—unable to accept. Last night, the health secretary spoke directly to one of the campaigners, seeking to organise a meeting. She wanted to ensure that she had their views before she met Bield, which she did earlier this morning. During that meeting the health secretary arranged to meet representatives of the campaign, and that meeting will take place on 6 February.
I hope that we can see an early and satisfactory resolution to the matter, because when a Government makes a promise to the people, it is important that the promise is kept. [Interruption.]
Order. Let us hear the question.
It is important, not least when it comes to the wellbeing of people’s families.
On 1 May 2016, the First Minister told Gordon Clark on national television that there were no proposals to close the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley. Now, less than two years later, her Government is closing the children’s ward. Mr Clark is here today, in the gallery. Will the First Minister take this opportunity to apologise to Mr Clark for misleading him?
It is interesting that Richard Leonard says today that back in May 2016 I gave a commitment about the Royal Alexandra hospital and the children’s ward there, because this is what Labour said about that after that debate: Labour said that during the debate I had been asked to give a guarantee to protect those services and I had refused to give the guarantee. [Interruption.] That was Neil Bibby, for the avoidance of doubt.
On the substance of the issue—because this issue is far more important than political exchanges—the health secretary updated the Parliament earlier this week on the decision on ward 15 at the Royal Alexandra hospital. She said—and I think that she was right to say it—that it had been possibly the most difficult decision that she had had to make as health secretary. That is entirely understandable; every decision that affects the interests and particularly the health of children should be a difficult one for ministers to make. She arrived at the decision having taken into account a range of views, including the very important views of parents, and she arrived at it based on clinical evidence.
It is worth noting what the lead paediatric clinicians and chief nurse for paediatrics at the Royal Alexandra and the Royal hospital for children said earlier this week. They think that the change will help to implement the standard that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health set to ensure that high-quality healthcare is delivered to children, and that the implementation of those standards will contribute to better outcomes for children and young people. That is the clinical advice that drove the decision.
Of course, the health secretary attached conditions to the decision: first, that the health board must maintain and develop community-based paediatric services and maximise local provision; and secondly, that it must work directly with families in the Paisley area on specific, individual treatment plans, which must be in place before any service change is made. As the matter moves forward, the interests and health of children will be paramount at every stage.
Well, I hope that the First Minister listens to expert opinion when it comes to, for example, mesh implants, too.
The First Minister needs to understand the depth of anger about the decision. This is not just about party politics—it is about her integrity. People feel betrayed, with good reason. Campaigners were accused of lying. Scottish National Party politicians were more interested in saving the local McDonald’s than they were in saving the local children’s ward. When a decision was finally made, it was sneaked out on a Friday afternoon. The Government tried to bury bad news in the middle of a snowstorm.
Will the First Minister say why the people who depend on the Vale of Leven hospital or the parents who depend on the children’s ward at St John’s hospital should trust her now, and why the people of Paisley should ever trust her again?
First, on the manner of the announcement, the health secretary stood up in this chamber earlier this week, set out the reasons for her decision and answered a range of questions from members from across the Parliament. That is right and proper.
On the issue of substance, as we have always done—as we did when we were first in Government and saved the accident and emergency services at Monklands and Ayr hospitals from the closures that Labour planned—we take decisions on the basis of best clinical evidence. These are never easy decisions, for any health secretary.
Let me quote Philip Davies, a consultant paediatrician, who was interviewed after the health secretary announced the decision. He said that if children are seriously unwell,
“having the back-up facilities of things like the paediatric intensive care unit, theatres, specialist medical and surgical specialties at the Royal hospital for children”—
things that are not available in ward 15—
“means that we can start definitive care for sick children at a much earlier stage”.
That is the clinical evidence that underpinned and drove the decision.
The charity Action for Sick Children Scotland said:
“The most compelling argument is that clinical standards are there to support the best quality healthcare ... and we feel that this would be best achieved by moving Ward 15 to the Royal Hospital for children.”
That is the evidence that drove the health secretary’s decision.
The concern about local access is an important one, and the concerns of parents absolutely require to continue to be addressed, which is why the conditions that the health secretary attached to the decision are so important. The first was on the development of community-based services and the second was the board’s requirement to work with individual families on individual treatment plans. Those conditions are important, and the health secretary will ensure that they are both met before any service change proposal goes ahead.
Murray & Murray Ltd (Closure)
We have a couple of constituency questions, the first of which is from Jenny Gilruth.
On Monday, Murray & Murray Ltd, a kitchens manufacturer in Glenrothes, went into liquidation, with the loss of 40 jobs. The company has left several customers in the lurch, as it demanded up-front payment.
What support can the Scottish Government give to those of my constituents who are affected by those job losses and by Murray & Murray’s unfinished work?
I thank Jenny Gilruth for raising the issue. At a time like this, our thoughts are with those who work for a company in such a situation—in this case, Murray & Murray.
We will look to work with the company to minimise any threat to employment and, if redundancies are in prospect, PACE—partnership action for continuing employment—the organisation that deals with such matters, will work with affected employees to make sure that we help them into alternative employment. This is a difficult time for all concerned, and the Scottish Government will do everything that it possibly can to assist.
NHS Grampian (Pain Clinic Waiting Times)
The latest quarterly figures show that, of 536 referrals to a pain clinic in NHS Grampian, only 51 were seen for the first appointment within the 18-week target. Clinicians in NHS Grampian have confirmed that the waiting time for new routine appointments is now 40 weeks. When should patients expect to see reductions in their waiting times?
The Scottish Government will continue to work with health boards to make sure that patients who need care achieve that care timeously. I know how important it is for patients to access the services of pain clinics and to access them speedily. I will ask the health secretary to look into the specific issue that the member has raised and to reply to him in writing. I readily acknowledge that the issues that he has raised are important.
Royal Alexandra Hospital (Children’s Ward)
The First Minister hides when she has been found out. She usually hides behind the national health service in England or Wales. Today it is a new low. She is hiding behind Scotland’s doctors. Doctors may have advised her to close the children’s ward at Paisley. They did not force her to lie in an election television debate. Is she not ashamed of blaming the doctors for her broken promise? [Interruption.]
Order, please. Mr Rennie, be careful with the use of your language, please. You can finish the question. I am not sure that anyone heard the end of your question, as there was so much noise. Please finish the end of your question.
I will ask the end of my question again. Is the First Minister not ashamed of blaming the doctors for her broken promise?
All we have learned from that question is that Willie Rennie is a pathetic attention seeker. Given the state of his party, that is perhaps not surprising.
Let me return to the substance of the issue. First, the proposal on the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra hospital came to the Scottish Government almost a full year after the debate that Willie Rennie is talking about.
Secondly, Willie Rennie accuses me of hiding. I am standing in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament, answering questions on this issue and a range of other issues.
I was health secretary for five years. Maybe this is just a difference between Willie Rennie and me, but I happen to think that when decisions are being taken about really important matters of health service provision, it is important to listen to the experts on the front line. With the greatest of respect to Willie Rennie, it is important to listen to the doctors and the nurses, who probably know more than he does about how best to care for some of the sickest children in our society. Yes, we listened to the doctors; I am sorry if that upsets Willie Rennie, but I am not prepared to apologise for listening to doctors, who know best about how to treat sick children in this country. [Applause.]
Order. I am sorry, but indulging in that level of clapping does not impress anybody. Please keep it to a minimum.
I say to both participants and to the chamber that the use of such language does no one any favours. In particular, Mr Rennie, “lying” is a word that you have to be extremely careful about, although it does not help if the First Minister rebuts that by using personal accusations—[Interruption.] I should not have to remind anybody in the chamber that they should treat one another with respect. You are here to talk about the issues and not to indulge in personal accusations across the chamber. Please would both participants bear that in mind in framing both the question and the answer.
Presiding Officer, I was there. I was standing right next to Nicola Sturgeon when she said what she said. The First Minister led everyone to believe that the children’s ward at Paisley was safe in her hands. That is what was pathetic. She said that she would always stand up for local services, but now she is shutting them down. Let me ask her this: does she feel guilty for misleading the parents of sick children?
What I said in that debate was that there was no proposal on the ward. At the time, there was no proposal on the ward; no clinical evidence had been presented. That changed over the course of the months that followed.
This is quite a similar exchange to the one that I had with Ruth Davidson. The Opposition parties are so intent on attacking the Government—as is their job—that they fail to follow through on the logic of what they are saying. Ruth Davidson is so keen to attack Michael Matheson that she forgets that the logic of her question is that she would have allowed something indefensible to happen.
What Willie Rennie is saying is that the health secretary should have stood against all the clinical evidence from the nurses and paediatricians who care for sick children. I know how difficult these issues are, and I know how difficult they are for parents. There can be nothing worse than being the parent of a desperately sick child, but that makes it all the more important that we listen to expert advice to make sure that we have the best possible services in place for sick children, and that is what the health secretary has done.
There are a number of supplementary questions.
This week has proven to be quite a miserable one for rail travellers in Scotland. A landslip has closed the Glasgow to Edinburgh line; the west Highland line was closed after a derailment; landslides are affecting cross-country services near Kilmarnock; and flooding and debris are causing problems right across the network. All of that is causing disruption to tens of thousands of commuters. We cannot control the weather, but is the First Minister confident that our rail network was adequately winter-proofed and ready for the adverse weather? Can she provide an update to Parliament on when those services will be operational again?
It has been an incredibly difficult week for those who work on our railways and for those who travel on them. The member went through some of the reasons for that, which are mainly weather related. That is why it is such a tribute to those who work on our railways that, as of 8.30 this morning, performance across the Scottish network—with the exception of the Edinburgh to Glasgow line, which I will come on to in a second—against the performance measure was 91 per cent. That is good performance, and those who have delivered it deserve credit from us.
Of course there have been challenges caused by the weather, the most serious and significant of which is the closure of the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line because of the landslip that occurred in a cutting near the village of Philpstoun, which was caused by very heavy rainfall at around noon yesterday. A work plan has been agreed and implemented for the reinstatement of the railway. That is planned to be completed this afternoon but, as members will understand, that will be subject to an inspection of the signalling cables that were buried in the landslip.
These are difficult circumstances for passengers. I thank the travelling public for the patience that they display. I deeply regret it when inconvenience is caused, but I am sure that most reasonable people know that some of these weather-related incidents cannot be avoided. Our job is to ensure that things get back on track as quickly as possible, and that is exactly what is happening.
Scottish Sports Association
The Scottish Sports Association is an independent member-led organisation that supports voluntary sport, and the Government’s decision to remove its funding has been met with widespread dismay and anger, with every single Opposition member of the Parliament signing a motion to that effect. Given that there is no majority in the chamber for that decision, will the First Minister urgently revisit that cut and live by her personal promise to champion Scottish sport?
The Scottish Government has a good relationship with the SSA and we strongly appreciate the support that it provides. This week, the Minister for Public Health and Sport met the SSA and representatives of the cross-party group on sport to discuss how we develop a sustainable financial future for the SSA. Aileen Campbell has been clear that we continue to consider ways in which the SSA can have a sustainable future that supports collaborative working to create the active Scotland that we all want. We will continue to take forward those deliberations, and I hope that we can get to a position that is good for the SSA and for sport in general.
I remind members that we invest heavily in sport generally, and that the draft budget is committed to increasing the funding for sportscotland by £2 million. We have also pledged to underwrite any potential shortfall in national lottery funding for sportscotland of up to £3.4 million to provide certainty for the sport sector in the absence of action from the United Kingdom Government. We will continue to take decisions that are in the interests of developing sport across our country.
General Practitioner Contract
General practitioners across Scotland, especially in rural Scotland, are concerned about the impact that the new GP contract will have on their practices. Under the proposed contract, one rural GP in Argyll and Bute is set to lose 87 per cent of their funding. All of us would agree that that is an unacceptable situation. Many GPs feel that the Scottish Government is setting rural GPs against urban GPs. I therefore make a positive suggestion to the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport: they should pause the contract process until the Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee has had the opportunity to properly scrutinise the new contract in order to ensure that it does not further destabilise a situation that is already a crisis for general practice across Scotland.
Last week, the overwhelming majority of GPs voted to accept the new GP contract, which I warmly welcome. It is good for the profession and it will also be good for patients.
Of course we must listen to the issues for rural GPs, which is why a short-life working group has been established to look specifically at those issues. Members do not simply have to listen to the Scottish Government on this; it is the British Medical Association’s position that the concerns that are being expressed by rural GPs are unfounded and that no GP will lose funding as a result of the new contract. That is the reality of the situation, but I accept that we have to convince rural GPs that that is the case, and we will continue to work collaboratively with them to seek to do exactly that.
Cervical Cancer (Screening)
To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to increase the uptake of screening for early diagnosis of cervical cancer. (S5F-01963)
Cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives a year and prevents up to eight out of 10 cervical cancers. We have invested in a national campaign to promote screening generally, and £5 million of funding from our cancer strategy has been invested in our screening programmes, including cervical screening, to encourage those who are eligible to take up their invitation. We are also supporting the work of charities such as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to increase awareness of screening and address the barriers. To enable that charity to extend its reach, we are funding its new outreach service, which targets women who are less likely to attend. Thanks to cervical screening and the human papillomavirus vaccination programme, cervical cancer is now preventable, and that is a good thing.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged under 35, yet a recent survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that more than three out of five—some 61 per cent—of those women are unaware that they are in the most at-risk age group for the disease. A quarter of eligible women aged 25 to 64 do not currently take up their invitation to have a smear test, and the figure rises to one third among 25 to 29-year-olds. The reasons behind that are largely to do with self-consciousness and embarrassment.
Are any measures being taken to reduce the stigma that seems to surround cervical screening, especially among younger women? Does the First Minister agree with the health secretary that, quite simply, screening saves lives?
I absolutely agree with that. We know that there are barriers to women accessing cervical screening. Those barriers include fear, pain and, often, embarrassment. As a woman, I not only understand those concerns but identify with them. It is important that we continue to talk to each other and support and encourage each other to understand the importance of screening.
At a Government level, to help to overcome those barriers, as I said a moment ago, we are investing in a high-profile awareness-raising campaign to generate conversations about the issues. We are also supporting local activities in communities to open up a dialogue about cervical screening, to help women to fully understand why the test is so important and to make it the norm for women to attend when appointment letters are issued.
We will continue to raise awareness and will work to address the stigma, as taking up screening is, for many women, nothing short of a matter of life and death.
Mental Health Support (Schools)
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to reports that two thirds of teachers do not feel that they have been sufficiently trained in supporting the mental health needs of pupils. (S5F-01948)
We believe that every child and young person should have access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in schools, so we want to ensure that all teachers and staff are confident in supporting their needs.
Mental health first aid training is currently being delivered to staff in secondary school communities by Education Scotland in partnership with NHS Health Scotland. In addition, as part of the 10-year mental health strategy, we have begun work to implement an improved mental health training service for everyone who supports young people in schools.
I would like to push the First Minister a bit more on that, if I may. Schools across Scotland are understaffed and overstretched, and teachers want nothing more than to support their pupils. Given that only one in 100 teachers recalls doing any detailed work on mental health in their initial teacher training, will the Scottish Government give a commitment to this chamber that mental health will be comprehensively covered in all teacher education?
I will ask the education secretary to see what more we can do around teacher training. It is an important point. It is vital that teachers, at the earliest stage of their career, understand the importance of mental health.
We continue to take the action that I spoke about earlier. In December, we announced funding for a youth commission on mental health services, which will be delivered in partnership with the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Young Scot. The commission will provide recommendations on the way forward for child and adolescent mental health services and support. We also provide funding to Childline Scotland to provide confidential advice and information to children and young people.
These are important matters that we will continue to take forward. It is because they are important that we are putting forward a budget to this Parliament that increases funding for our national health service and ensures that teachers get more funding going directly to them in our schools.
If the member believes that our schools are overstretched, as he said, I ask him to please not support proposals in the forthcoming budget discussions that would remove £500 million from the amount of money that the Government has to invest.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—I am a registered mental health nurse.
Can the First Minister outline what other actions her Government is taking to improve the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people and what role the mental health strategy plays in that?
The mental health strategy plays a key role in that. The strategy is backed by investment of £150 million over five years, and it sets out how we can improve early intervention and ensure better access to services, including for young people. As I said in response to the previous question, we are also funding a range of initiatives to involve young people in the discussions around mental health, including the funding for the youth commission and for Childline that I spoke about a moment ago. We will continue to take such steps to ensure not only that we are focusing on prevention—which is the most important thing—but that we have the services in place for those who need them.
Royal Alexandra Hospital (Children’s Ward)
To ask the First Minister when the children’s ward at the Royal Alexandra hospital will close. (S5F-01952)
As I said earlier, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport approved NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s proposals on two conditions: first, that the health board maintains and develops community-based paediatric services and maximises local provision: and, secondly, that the board must work directly with families on specific individual treatment plans. Those plans must be in place before any service changes are made and will ensure that there is full understanding of what services and support will be available to local families and where. The board has given the assurance that there will be no change made to the service until the individual patient plans are in place.
My community understands that there is a debate to be had about localisation and specialisation, but in an area as sensitive as children’s services the least that people deserve is an honest debate. During an election campaign, the First Minister gave a calculated and cynical answer that she thought she could get away with. She is right that I did not trust her answer: I thought that she was trying to mislead people and I have been proved right.
Last week, the health secretary tried to sneak her decision out on a Friday afternoon, and local Scottish National Party politicians who once accused campaigners of scaremongering now applaud the decision in Parliament. On two occasions, the health secretary has snubbed an invitation to meet the parents who will have to live with her decision. Does the First Minister understand why so many people—including Gordon Clark, who is in the gallery today—feel betrayed? What will she learn and change from the disgraceful way that her Government and party have treated the people of Paisley?
I do not agree with or accept that characterisation. The substance of the issue is what matters most. The health secretary met parents twice before making the decision, and I understand that the chair of the health board wants to organise a meeting with parents to discuss the individual patient plans that are to be put in place. The health secretary is happy to attend that meeting. On-going engagement with parents is vital.
Neil Bibby asked me what lessons have been learned. As everybody who has been in the position of taking such decisions knows, they are never easy. Health secretaries have to look at the evidence in the round. The views of parents are hugely important but, ultimately, it is about providing the best services for sick children.
I have already quoted a number of clinicians. I am sorry, but I do not think that such views from experts and specialist clinicians should be ignored. They were the basis for the decision. However, the community services that are to be provided are also important, and on that I think parents are absolutely right to continue to ask questions. That is why the conditions that are attached to the decision are so important and why the health secretary will make sure that both are met in full before any service change proceeds.
Holocaust Memorial Day
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking Holocaust memorial day. (S5F-01972)
We must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides around the world, which are a stark reminder of the inhumanity and violence that bigotry and intolerance can wreak if left unchallenged. Last night, I was honoured to speak at this year’s national event to mark international Holocaust memorial day, which took place at Glasgow Caledonian University. I commend Interfaith Scotland and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their excellent work in organising that event. I know that members across the chamber will be marking the day in different ways. We must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder in challenging hatred and promoting a world where everyone lives with fundamental human dignity.
I thank the First Minister for that answer and acknowledge the support that the Scottish Government gives to the Holocaust Educational Trust. I will also thank, if he does not mind my doing so, the Presiding Officer for his support of the Holocaust Educational Trust in Parliament this week.
I stated earlier that the Deputy First Minister was deeply affected by his recent visit to Auschwitz with 200 Scottish school pupils. Colleagues from across the chamber have been moved by their visits to Srebrenica and to other sites of genocide and persecution across the world. Such terrible atrocities remind us of man’s inhumanity to man, but those who have been lost to us will never be forgotten. Will the Government continue to support projects in our schools that give Scotland’s young people the chance to remember, learn and play their part in consigning intolerance and genocide to the history books forever?
As the Deputy First Minister said just before First Minister’s questions, the role of education is vital and can never be overstated. Last night, I listened again to a very impressive young woman who was part of the programme of schools visits to Auschwitz. I have heard the testimony of many of those young people who have visited and it never fails to have an impact and to move me deeply.
I have not yet had an opportunity to visit Auschwitz—the Deputy First Minister visited recently—but I hope to do so in the future. Around 18 months ago, I took the opportunity to visit Srebrenica. I knew a lot about the Bosnian genocide in theory, but it was not until I visited the site and the memorial and talked to people who had been affected—some of the bereaved and survivors—that I felt the true impact. I know that other members have had similar experiences. It will live with me for the rest of my life.
With every year that passes, since the second world war in particular, it becomes more important that remembrance continues: we must ensure that the next generation never forgets. That is why Holocaust memorial day and all the events around it are so important. This year’s theme is the power of words. We have been reminded today that we can all learn lessons about that. Words have great power, so we should all be careful how we choose them.
At the very end of today’s First Minister’s questions, notwithstanding all the many things that divide us as a Parliament, a country and a society, we should come together to remember the power of our common humanity. This is Holocaust memorial week, but today is also the day on which we celebrate the birthday of our national bard. It is appropriate that those things are in such close proximity, because in many ways, Robert Burns personified that humanity in saying:
“That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.”