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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 03 October 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Unconventional Oil and Gas, Education Reform, Universal Credit (Roll-out), Decision Time, Garbh Allt Community Initiative


Topical Question Time

Catalonia (Independence Referendum)

1. Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the statement that it issued on 16 September, what its response is to the violence that took place during the independence referendum in Catalonia. (S5T-00699)

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop)

The Scottish Government is very concerned about events in recent days in Catalonia. The violent scenes witnessed on Sunday were shocking and unnecessary. That is a view shared among the international community.

The Scottish Government is particularly disappointed by the response of the United Kingdom Government to the violent scenes. Yesterday, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, urging the UK as a friend and ally of Spain to issue a more robust statement, unequivocally condemning the use of violence by the Spanish police to suppress the peaceful expression of political views in Catalonia and communicating in the strongest possible terms our serious concerns.

The Scottish Government now hopes that there is a process of dialogue that will allow both the Spanish Government and the Catalonian Government to find a way forward that respects the rule of law and democracy but also the right of the people of Catalonia to decide the future of their country.

Sandra White

I thank the cabinet secretary for her reply and agree with all that she has said.

The cabinet secretary mentioned that she had written to the Foreign Secretary at Westminster. Are any other meetings being proposed? What would be discussed at any further meetings? Has she had any correspondence with the Spanish and Catalonian Governments?

Fiona Hyslop

On the last point, there has been no correspondence, although I had a brief opportunity to speak to the Spanish consul general when he was in the Parliament last week.

The importance of dialogue, communication and mediation is clear. If we look at the comments from foreign ministers from across the European Union, we can see that their message has been to desist from violence and to progress dialogue. That is a responsibility particularly of European institutions but also of other international bodies, and that is the best way forward. We can express our views, but we have always said that we understand that the constitutional and legal situation in Spain is different.

This is a basic issue of human rights and democracy. The ability of people to express their political will and their political views without fear of violence is something that all of us as internationalists and, more importantly, as democrats, must uphold.

Sandra White

I agree that dialogue is essential, as does the Catalonian Government. Having witnessed the horrific violence by the Spanish police against innocent civilians exercising their democratic right to vote, does the cabinet secretary agree with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said:

“I am very disturbed by the violence in Catalonia on Sunday. With hundreds of people reported injured, I urge the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence ... I call on the Government of Spain to accept without delay the requests by relevant UN human rights experts to visit.”

Fiona Hyslop

I do indeed. The intervention from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was welcome, appropriate and measured. Human rights abuses, wherever they take place, must be investigated to respect the international perspective. It is also important to respect human rights as part of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the responsibilities therein.

That is one of the ways forward to address the scenes—scenes that shocked so many people across the globe—of very brutal violence by the Spanish police, under the instruction of the Spanish authorities, against people going about the democratic exercising of their right to vote, which is something that all of us in this country take for granted.

It is not our job to tell the people of Catalonia how to vote, but they most certainly should have the right to be allowed to vote. A way forward should be found that respects differences when there is a clash between the fundamental rights that are desired and which should be exercised by the Catalonian people, and the constitution and law of the Spanish state. Those are not irreconcilable differences, but it will take international measures to address them. That is why the EU institutions or the UN have a responsibility to take that forward.

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, whatever the thinking of the authorities and Government of Spain, there was clearly little rational about it, and that, whatever intentions they might have had, their actions will prove to have been wholly counterproductive? Does she agree that this is potentially deeply damaging to the reputation of Spain, a country for which many of us have the fondest and most high regard?

Fiona Hyslop

I do indeed agree, and I respect Jackson Carlaw’s comments. The actions by the Spanish Government have done it a disservice and will eventually prove to have been counterproductive. It is important that the Spanish Government addresses that and, indeed, engages in the dialogue that I have discussed in my previous replies. It is essential that the current situation is not allowed to pass and that it does not pass. I know that diplomatic statements have been made, but I hope that in the quietness of the private conversations that can and should take place, Spain can be brought to a more commonsense and respectful position than has been the case up to now.

Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

As we have seen from the violent scenes on Sunday, perpetrated by the Spanish Government’s civil guards, there seems to be little regard for the upholding of civil liberties and human rights. Does the Scottish Government agree with me, and with article 2 of the Lisbon treaty, that we are all bound by the fundamental principles of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, and that those principles should always be the foundations on which we uphold the rights of European citizens?

Fiona Hyslop

The member is indeed correct. In this Parliament, where we embrace the importance of human rights across a number of parliamentary committees—not least the one of which the member is the convener—we recognise those aspects of article 2 as one of the strengths of the European Union. Now is the time, when people are looking to the European Union for some leadership, to recognise that the expression and understanding of those rights in the current context could be best served by mediation or negotiation and by some involvement by European Union institutions, in order to resolve what is currently an intractable situation, but one that must be resolved by dialogue peacefully and democratically.

Prescription of Stimulants (Under-10s)

2. Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that there are almost twice as many under-10s being prescribed stimulants than there were in 2010. (S5T-00707)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

The Scottish Government has worked with a number of organisations to help reduce the stigma faced by people with mental health problems. As that stigma has reduced, it is welcome that more people and families have come forward for help with mental health problems. We believe that that is a positive sign that people feel more able to come forward to get help.

The rise in the number of prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is reflective of the general increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health services. The majority of young people with ADHD are not receiving medication as part of their treatment but are, instead, receiving alternative support as set out in the Scottish intercollegiate guidelines network guideline 112. The most important consideration is that people with any mental illness should expect and receive the same standard of care as people with physical illness. Any prescribing is a professional, clinical decision for a patient’s doctor and it should be appraised on a regular basis.

Daniel Johnson

I received my diagnosis of ADHD later in life, at the age of 35. My diagnosis and subsequent therapy have transformed my life. However, the most important element of that therapy is the medication that I take on a daily basis. My only regret is that I did not receive that diagnosis and, indeed, that therapy earlier in life. The minister will have seen the coverage in yesterday’s The Herald, which is part of a weekly series that the newspaper is running on Scotland’s supposed overreliance on drugs. However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is clear that, if anything, we are probably underdiagnosing children with ADHD, with the rate of prescribing being roughly one third that of the children with the most serious form of ADHD.

Does the minister agree that such sensationalist coverage and comments from the Conservatives are unhelpful and that we should be seeking to promote understanding of the condition and not stigmatising children who take medication for ADHD or other mental health and neurological conditions?

Maureen Watt

I thank the member very much for sharing his experience of ADHD with the Parliament this afternoon. He is absolutely right. More children and young people have ADHD than are coming forward. Fewer people are prescribed drugs and more are given alternative therapies. I thank the member for showing that medication has an important part to play, but I re-emphasise that it is prescribed in consultation with the person’s general practitioner, and hopefully it can be reduced if that is the right thing to do.

I totally agree with the member’s observation about the Opposition.

Daniel Johnson

Again, I thank the minister for that response. I agree with her about the need to emphasise the importance of medication.

Responding to the coverage, the Scottish ADHD Coalition mentioned the need for better training of our teachers and access to child and adolescent mental health services. We know from the Education and Skills Committee’s recent work that teachers are not adequately trained in additional support needs, and although there are counsellors in schools across the rest of the United Kingdom, in Scotland’s schools there is no guarantee of such provision. What steps will be taken to improve training for teachers in dealing with children with ADHD and other additional support needs? Will the minister meet my party’s call for every school to have access to a counsellor?

Maureen Watt

As the member knows, the first of the 40 actions in the mental health strategy is a review of personal and social education in schools. Some schools already provide access to school-based counselling while others use the skills of pastoral staff and liaise with educational psychology services.

We want to make sure that all children and young people get the support that they need to reach their full potential, and the additional support for learning legislation places on education authorities duties to identify, provide for and review additional support needs. We are taking forward the PSE review as expeditiously as possible.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Is the minister confident that families across Scotland are always being offered access to high-quality behavioural therapists? What additional action does the Scottish Government plan to take to increase the number of behavioural therapists who are available to support parents and primary-age children and to reduce waiting times for that therapy?

Maureen Watt

As I said in my answer to Daniel Johnson, access to services is available through schools. The Scottish Government has worked with NHS Education for Scotland to produce “The Matrix: A Guide to Delivering Evidence-Based Psychological Therapies in Scotland”, a section in which is dedicated to ADHD. Drugs for ADHD are prescribed in line with good clinical practice, under on-going supervision and where appropriate. As I said, they are used alongside other treatments such as counselling and psychological therapies.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I thank Daniel Johnson for sharing his story of diagnosis and treatment. It is vital that those of us in the Parliament break down the stigma surrounding mental illness at all ages.

What change has there been in the number of CAMHS professionals under this Government? In particular, what change has there been in the number of CAMHS psychology posts?

Maureen Watt

Under this Government, the number of CAMHS psychological posts has more than doubled and the overall number of CAMHS professionals has increased by 65 per cent to almost 1,000 full-time equivalent staff.

Stillbirths and Neonatal Deaths

3. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the health secretary’s comment in June that the country’s “stillbirth rates and neonatal death rates continue to decline”, what its response is to the recent report by the National Records of Scotland, which suggests an increase in the rate in 2016. (S5T-00706)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

In my statement to Parliament in June, I highlighted the findings of the MBRRACE—mothers and babies: reducing risk through audits and confidential enquiries—perinatal report on the 2015 data, which had been published a few days previously, on 22 June. That report highlighted the lowest-ever stillbirth rates for Scotland and an analysis of variation across the United Kingdom at national and health board levels.

The provisional 2016 data from the National Records of Scotland show a rise in both stillbirth and neonatal death rates in 2016. Although that is disappointing, it is against a long-term trend of reducing rates. NRS data for the past 10 years show that, since 2006, the stillbirth rate in Scotland has fallen by 19 per cent and the neonatal death rate has fallen by 16 per cent. That represents good news for families and good progress by the hard-working staff in maternity and neonatal units across Scotland.

Brian Whittle

Given that the NRS report was available to the cabinet secretary at the time of her statement, why did she choose to use the MBRRACE report from 2015? The MBRRACE report does not include statistics for multiple births and home births, for example.

Shona Robison

The MBRRACE perinatal report on the 2015 data had been published just a few days previously, on 22 June, so it was the most recent MBRRACE perinatal report. That is, of course, the gold standard of reports. It compares rates across the UK and between health boards.

The provisional 2016 NRS data was first published on 8 March, but the data remains provisional for a full year because there is sometimes a delay in data being reported and sometimes the data needs to be cleansed. The data becomes finalised after the end of a year—that will be in March 2018—and it will feature in the MBRRACE perinatal surveillance report that is to be published next summer. That will be based on the 2016 NRS data and will provide an indication of the relative rates of stillbirth and neonatal deaths across the UK.

I hope that that provides an explanation for Mr Whittle.