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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Fireworks, Social Security (Disability Assistance), Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, Asda Walmart (Contract Imposition)


Topical Question Time

Human Trafficking and Exploitation

To ask the Scottish Government what resources it is allocating to address human trafficking and exploitation. (S5T-01840)

The horrifying discovery in Essex last week underlines in the gravest terms the seriousness of the issue. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members in passing on our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who so tragically lost their lives.

Migrant Help and the trafficking awareness raising alliance—which is known as TARA—are funded by the Scottish Government to support victims of human trafficking and exploitation. TARA supports women who have been trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, and Migrant Help supports all other adult victims of human trafficking and exploitation. The organisations will share more than £3 million across the financial years 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21.

We are also providing funding of £120,000 this financial year to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, to provide a national psychological trauma support service to adult trafficking victims.

We are providing £300,000 to the Aberlour Child Care Trust and the Scottish Refugee Council to deliver the Scottish guardianship service in this financial year.

A wide range of partners throughout Scotland also dedicate resources, under the framework of the collaborative approach that is set out in our human trafficking and exploitation strategy, which was published in May 2017.

The support that is available is welcome, given the horrendous exploitation that people who have been trafficked have faced. Will the Scottish Government ensure that the figures on victims of trafficking are broken down by police division and area so that local authorities can deliver an adequately funded response and give people who have been trafficked the support that they need across the whole of the country?

I will certainly consider that suggestion, which is very worth while. I have attended many a conference on the dangers of human trafficking, and the last couple that I have attended have been at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan. As our partners, the police are heavily involved in the important work to tackle the issue. I will certainly look at Sarah Boyack’s suggestion about providing a further breakdown of the trafficking figures—perhaps we can do that through the national referral mechanism—and will get back to her on the detail of what is possible in that regard. The more detail we can give in the figures, the better that will be for local action.

I very much welcome that commitment. I understand that for people who have been trafficked, the absolute priority is to get somewhere safe and to get some support. For people who have been through the experience of being trafficked, particularly if the traffickers have employed them in this country and they are vulnerable, not just because of the journey but because of their new experience, access to affordable housing in another part of the country might be the first part of the way forward. Therefore, could the cabinet secretary look at the issue of policing by locality and the follow-on issue of safe housing, which would release people from a horrendous and miserable experience?

Again, I would not disagree with any of what Sarah Boyack has said. I have taken part in a number of conversations and round-table discussions on human trafficking. Migrant Help and TARA will work closely with local authorities on such issues. Although much of their support will be in and around dealing with the psychological trauma, which can be vast, they will also work closely with local authorities on housing. I will speak to the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, on the housing issue. If there is more that we can do on the housing side with our local authority partners, in getting the victims of trafficking into a safe place, we will do all that we can.

From guidance for health workers and businesses to help them to identify signs of human trafficking and a proposed legal duty on public authorities to notify the police about suspected human trafficking, to increased support for organisations that support victims and the imposition of serious crime prevention orders on individuals who are involved in such organised crime, does the cabinet secretary agree that the Government’s message is clear: Scotland rejects the horrific crime of human trafficking and we must do everything to support the victims of this appalling abuse of their human rights?

Yes, of course I agree with that. I am pleased that there is a strong cross-party consensus on tackling the abhorrent crime of human trafficking. Those of us who have talked to members of the public about modern-day slavery, as I have done, will know that they think that we are talking about countries on another continent. We are not. We know that such slavery and exploitation, which includes commercial sexual exploitation and labour exploitation, happens right under our nose on our very doorstep. Therefore, we will continue with our initiatives.

The important point to make, which is clear from Angus MacDonald’s question, is that there is no single measure or magic bullet that will be a panacea in tackling the problem, but we are taking a range of measures to address it. We are certainly not resting on our laurels. Last week’s horrific tragedy has shown that the threat is all too real and that we must redouble our efforts to make sure that not a single person is exploited in that way.

We heard it reported on the news on Saturday that one Vietnamese woman or child victim was making her way to Glasgow to be met by friends. The cabinet secretary will know that I have been asking about the entitlement to guardianship for unaccompanied children who arrive in Scotland that exists under section 11 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, which the Parliament passed four years ago. Can he commit to inclusive implementation of that by 1 April 2020? What consideration is the Scottish Government giving to a Scottish national referral mechanism, which would take identification and decision making out of the hands of the Home Office and its hostile environment?

There are two parts of that question; I will take the last one first and come back to the first part. We are working closely with the United Kingdom Government on this. I cannot confirm whether those reports are true but certainly, going by the example that Jenny Marra gave, it is important that we continue co-operation with the UK Government and of course other Governments and police forces across the UK and internationally.

We are working with the UK Government to ensure that reforms to the national referral mechanism lead to an NRM that works for Scotland and reflects our distinct systems and, indeed, our distinct legislation.

If, from the resulting conversation, it appears that there should be a separate NRM and that that would make sense for the victims of this tragic and abhorrent crime, we will of course be open minded to that. In some respects, because of the nature of human trafficking, and with the example of the terrible tragedy that has unfolded in Essex, it may make sense to continue as part of the UK NRM. However, I do not dismiss what Jenny Marra says.

On the first part of the question, I pay credit to Jenny Marra for her work on human trafficking, in particular her support for the victims of child trafficking. She and I had a meeting on that issue, along with the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd. Our timelines are absolutely the same as they were then—they have not shifted. In terms of the Scottish guardianship service, which I mentioned in my answer to Sarah Boyack, there is no gap in provision for young people who may be victims of child trafficking. If there is an update, I will provide that after the consultation has closed.

Degenerative Brain Disease (Former Professional Footballers)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the University of Glasgow research finding that former professional football players are three and a half times more likely to die of degenerative brain disease than the general population. (S5T-01851)

This important Scotland-based study strengthens our understanding of lifelong health outcomes in former professional footballers, in particular in the areas of dementia and neurodegenerative disease. It is crucial that all adults and children can participate in football safely and a range of actions have already been taken in Scotland, which was the first country to produce national guidance on dealing with concussion in sport. We remain in close contact with experts at the sportscotland institute of sport and the chief medical officer at the Scottish Football Association and we will work with partners, including the Professional Footballers Association Scotland, to carefully consider the study and any action that is required.

This was a robust study of 7,676 male ex-professional footballers in Scotland born before 1977. Although not assessed specifically, heading footballs is assumed to have had an impact, with 1.7 per cent of ex-footballers having died of neurodegenerative disease compared with 0.5 per cent of the general population.

Does the cabinet secretary share my view that, in banning the heading of balls by under-12s, which is likely to happen from next year, the Scottish Football Association has taken a welcome step forward, joining the United States Soccer Federation, which is currently the only organisation in the world to take that positive decision?

The survey, which included goalkeepers as well as outfield players, does not confirm whether heading footballs is to blame for the increased incidence of neurodegenerative disease among former professional footballers compared with the general population. The study talks about factors in that increased incidence; head trauma, for example, may also be a factor. Nor are its findings highlighting any unique issues with football in Scotland. It is only the start of understanding the relationship between football and neurodegenerative disease, and further research is required before we have definitive answers. However, the SFA is considering whether to reduce heading training for younger players and, although no decision has yet been taken, I agree with the member that the SFA has responded positively to this important piece of work.

The study also found that former footballers are less likely to die of other common problems, such as heart disease and some cancers, and that they live on average three and a quarter years longer than those in the general population. Does the cabinet secretary therefore agree with Dr Carol Routledge, the director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, when she says that the benefits of playing football outweigh the disadvantages and that

“good heart health is the best way to keep the brain healthy, so when played safely,”


“is still a great way to stay mentally and physically active”?

That question highlights one of the important approaches that we need to take to what is an important study, and that is to recognise that we are talking about how football can be played safely. Mr Gibson is right to point out that the study confirmed the benefits of physical activity for other aspects of life, particularly the reduction in heart disease and some cancers. Football remains an excellent way for people to stay mentally and physically active. Many members across the chamber will have seen its value for some of our older citizens, including those suffering from dementia, through some of the work of community football trusts. There are benefits to people of all ages—boys and men, and women and girls—from participating in the game. Our role is to consider, with the stakeholders that I mentioned, how we can achieve more safety in the way in which the game is played and, in particular, how young people are engaged and trained to be football players.

Malcolm Steele is a 56-year-old Aberdonian who, four years ago, received the shock diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He is an Aberdeen fan who played street football from the age of five or six and who wanted to play every day. He began playing in his primary school team and continued subsequently at amateur level. His advice to others with dementia is

“just to keep going, and never give up”.

How can we protect not just professional players but the many amateur players from possible neurodegenerative disorders?

That is an important point. The study looked at professional players, but many people play football outwith that purely professional role. My response is similar to the one that I gave to Mr Gibson’s first question: we need to look carefully with those key stakeholders that I mentioned at all the outcomes of the study and what more might need to be done across football playing as a whole and not just in the professional arena. We must consider any additional steps that need to be taken so that people can continue to play football and gain the enjoyment and other benefits from that physical activity but in a way that gives increased protection and safety, if that is what is required.

As well as the welcome research by the University of Glasgow, there has been significant research in the United States by the United States Soccer Federation, which Kenny Gibson alluded to, showing that soccer is the third-biggest contributor to accelerating neurological conditions, behind American football and ice hockey. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in deciding how to approach the issue, it is important that we take into account the evidence in its entirety? In the USA, consideration is being given to banning heading footballs among those under 14.

Yes, I agree. I am grateful to Mr Gibson and Mr Whittle for their reasoned approach to this important issue. We have the University of Glasgow research as well as the international evidence, particularly from the United States. We want to find a way in which people can continue to engage in this physical activity, which has significant benefits, but in a way that increases their safety, so that the activity is preventative while also producing benefits. We need to take time to work with sportscotland’s institute of sport, the chief medical officer of the SFA, our partners in PFA Scotland and others to consider what additional steps they might sensibly take and where we in the Government can assist them in doing that.

What guidance and support could be given to physical education teachers in schools to raise awareness of the potential risk and to reinforce the important role that schools play in keeping young people fit?

Schools play a critical role in keeping young people fit. The introduction to physical activity that they gain at school stays with them, in one way or another, throughout the rest of their lives. I have to confess that my own introduction was remarkably poor and I have been working against that ever since. However, it makes a big difference for many people. As members will know, all sorts of physical activity now take place in schools. The guidance that we might give to schools at this point in relation to this study will be informed by the further work that we need to undertake with sportscotland and the other organisations that I have mentioned. However, Mary Fee is right to say that it is a critical area of work and to pick up on the point that was made earlier that, in this context, we are not talking solely about professional football players.

Prison Conditions

To ask the Scottish Government what changes it will make in light of the recent report by the Council of Europe’s committee for the prevention of torture and its finding of an “emergency” in Scotland’s prisons. (S5T-01848)

The Scottish Government published its response to the committee’s recommendations earlier this month. Since the committee’s visit in October 2018, many of the issues that it raised either have been or are in the progress of being actioned, including the treatment of women with mental health issues.

I have been clear that recent increases in the prison population are having an impact on our prisons and, in particular, on the conditions at HMP Barlinnie. The Scottish Government has provided additional funding for the Scottish Prison Service in the current financial year and has been working with a range of agencies. The Scottish Government and the SPS are currently looking at interim measures to address conditions at HMP Barlinnie ahead of its replacement.

The cabinet secretary mentioned mental health. The CPT concluded that the solitary confinement sections of Cornton Vale, including in Ross house, are

“totally inappropriate environments for holding seriously mentally ill women”.

The stories are nothing short of horrific. The report said that

“One woman had bitten through the skin and muscle of her arm down to the bone”,

while another

“sat in isolation surrounded by blood and faeces on the wall”

and a third

“set fire to her own hair in-cell”.

In the words of the CPT, these women and others

“should not have been in a prison environment, let alone segregated for extended periods in solitary confinement”.

My former colleague Alison McInnes warned the Scottish Government about the situation more than five years ago. Why is it still happening?

I thank Liam McArthur for raising those important issues. I read the CPT’s report in full. Christina McKelvie and I also met the members of its delegation when they came here, and we were as shocked as Liam McArthur would be at some of the very graphic case examples that we were given. To give him some level of reassurance, I say that the Scottish Government is adopting progressive justice reforms that it hopes will reduce the number of women in our prisons full stop. I know that he is a supporter of such reforms, including the presumption against short sentences. Some 90 per cent of women in our custody are there for 12 months or less, so, first and foremost, we hope to reduce the number of women coming into our prisons.

We take mental health extraordinarily seriously, through our mental health strategy and the announcement of further funding. I confirm that there has been a further increase in the number of mental health workers in our prisons, which I hope will give Liam McArthur further reassurance. He will also be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, who is sitting on my left, is reviewing the delivery of forensic mental health services in Scotland, which will very much include the provision in prisons. That review is expected to report by the end of June 2020. Of course, I will work closely with the cabinet secretary to consider any recommendations that the review might make for people in prisons.

Members should be in no doubt at all that the Scottish Government—and I, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice—take the CPT’s report very seriously. I hope that the actions that I have outlined will make a drastic difference to the women who are in our care.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response. The CPT found people being segregated for months “and occasionally years”, with people becoming institutionalised to solitary confinement. Effectively, reintegration does not happen. Governors sign off orders, made under rule 95 of the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011, to remove prisoners from the general prison population for 72 hours. Such extensions are signed off by the SPS in the justice secretary’s name. The CPT also found that some prisoners were being given minutes to appeal, and were informed only by slips of paper being put under their cell doors. Is the cabinet secretary comfortable with how separation and reintegration units are being used, and will he confirm his precise role in the process?

I will write to Liam McArthur with further detail, but one of the actions that we decided to take on the back of the CPT report was to look at the very element that he has talked about.

It is important to put the CPT report into a bit of context. It was a very critical report. There is no getting away from that and I am certainly not taking away from it, but it is worth saying that the majority of prisoners stated that they were treated correctly, and the delegation received no allegations of deliberate ill-treatment of prisoners by staff. The CPT was very encouraged by the progressive policy changes that were under way, particularly around female offenders, which Liam McArthur touched on.

On his specific points, I am sure that we can give him a copy of our response to the CPT report. If I cannot give him it in full, I will certainly give him a summarised version, and I am happy to have further dialogue with him on the specific issues that he raised.

I apologise to Liam Kerr and James Kelly, who have waited patiently through all the questions, as I am afraid that there is not enough time available for me to call them.