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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 04 September 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, One Minute’s Silence, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Programme for Government 2018-19, Programme for Government 2018-19, Junior Minister, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, European Championships 2018


Topical Question Time

British Transport Police and Police Scotland (Integration)

1. Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the integration of the British Transport Police and Police Scotland. (S5T-01185)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

Throughout the replanning process commissioned by the Scottish ministers, we have committed to listening to stakeholders. As part of that replan, recent advice from Police Scotland on a range of issues and the timing of implementation, particularly relating to information and communications technology, has emerged. Based on that information, I have decided that we will re-examine all options for the devolution of railway policing with clear governance structures that ensure accountability to the Scottish Parliament.

The full integration of railway policing into Police Scotland, as legislated for by the Scottish Parliament, remains a long-term goal, and we will keep the commencement date of the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 under review. However, there is clearly a need to identify interim arrangements that can give effect more quickly to the Smith commission’s cross-party recommendation that railway policing be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The absolute priority for all those involved is the safety and security of officers, staff and, of course, those who use Scotland’s railways. I pay tribute to the on-going commitment of officers and staff of both police services, whom I look forward to engaging with on the matter in the very near future.

I commit, of course, to keeping Parliament fully updated on progress.

Daniel Johnson

I welcome the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice to his position and look forward to our future exchanges.

The cabinet secretary deserves credit for listening to experts, unions and officers in reviewing the future of the devolution of railway policing, but if he was really listening, he would know that full integration is not possible or, at the very least, that both its costs and timescales are a complete mystery. That was the message from the Scottish Police Authority board meeting last week. In the cabinet secretary’s review, will he not just put off full integration on an interim basis but rule it out altogether?

Humza Yousaf

As I have said, the current and immediate priority is to find interim arrangements. I think that there are cross-party concerns about, for example, the accountability to the Parliament—or lack thereof—of the British Transport Police, and that has to be rectified. That is the immediate priority.

The long-term goal is to keep full integration under review. That is the sensible thing to do, because there are benefits to full integration, such as having a single command structure, which came out in the evidence sessions, during the debate and in evidence from stakeholders. However, that is not the immediate priority. The immediate priority—in order to give certainty to staff, including officers and others, and, very importantly, to ensure that there is democratic accountability of the BTP—is to come to interim solutions. In that respect, my door is open to stakeholders; it is also open to all members of the Opposition who wish to engage, so that I can listen to any ideas that might come forward from other parties in the chamber.

Daniel Johnson

The cabinet secretary knows that, if there was a viable route forward for full integration, it would have been found by now. Two years on, we are no closer to knowing the costs or the timescales to make it happen. A review of two months simply will not find an answer in that timescale. Does he not recognise that, as long as full integration remains on the table, there is great uncertainty for officers and other staff? If he does recognise that, and if the conclusion of his review is inevitable, all he is doing is prolonging the uncertainty, which is ultimately unnecessary.

Humza Yousaf

No. I disagree with Daniel Johnson’s analysis for a couple of reasons. One is that the review that we will be undertaking and the engagement that we will have with stakeholders will not be focused on finding a timetable for full integration; the purpose of the engagement will be about the other options that we can explore to give effect to the Smith commission’s cross-party recommendations on the devolution of railway policing to Scotland.

As I have said, full integration, which remains the long-term goal, will be kept under review. Therefore, if Daniel Johnson and those who oppose full integration are right, that is something that will be kept under review. Full integration is not the immediate priority. The immediate priority is to find other options that will give effect to the Smith commission’s recommendations. I put that challenge to the member. He and I spoke during my first week in this role. He knows that my approach will be to look for good ideas, wherever they come from in the chamber. I look forward to hearing his proposals on the other options to give effect to the Smith commission’s recommendations.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the commission’s service model, which he previously opposed, is very much on the table?

Humza Yousaf

I do not want to prejudge the engagement that I am about to have with stakeholders. Some of that engagement between officials and stakeholders is taking place today and tomorrow. I will personally engage with stakeholders, too. We should be looking for good ideas irrespective where they come from.

I know the commission’s model. Reservations were made about it, which are legitimate to express. As I have said, I do not want to prejudge the issue, but we will look at and re-examine all the options that have been considered before. If there are other options that have not been considered, they should be brought forward and examined as part of the process.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, congratulate the cabinet secretary on his new appointment. Does he not regret rejecting the amendment that I lodged at stage 3 to delay the implementation of the merger? Will he assure the Parliament that detailed business plans will be developed on any options that are consulted on and that the Parliament will have a role in determining how we go forward, given the chief constable of Police Scotland’s clear views about the risk to public safety of pressing ahead with the merger?

Humza Yousaf

Liam McArthur’s point is exceptionally important. I made my decision based on the advice of Police Scotland. It would have been foolish of me to ignore that advice and to ignore its concerns about ICT alignment and so on. It is important to keep that at the heart of this process.

On the member’s other asks about business cases and so on, whatever option we come forward with—which we will do in consultation with stakeholders—it is important to give as much confidence about the model that we choose to explore, so I am happy to commit to ensuring that there is as much scrutiny as possible of that option in the Parliament and as much transparency about it as possible.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Does the Scottish Government remain committed to working fully with stakeholders, as it has done so far?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, of course. I will look to do that, especially with those that have been opposed to full integration and those across the chamber. It is certainly worth keeping that engagement going. Following my announcement that I will re-examine the options, a number of organisations have already told me that they want to engage. My door will be very much open to that engagement, and I look forward to seeing what that engagement concludes about the process for the future.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The cabinet secretary has failed to address legitimate and on-going concerns of BTP officers and staff. What role has that failure played in his failure to deliver on the will of the Parliament on this important issue?

Humza Yousaf

If I had gone against Police Scotland’s advice to me about the difficulties of getting a timescale for full integration, in relation to the primary concern—ICT—and other concerns, John Finnie would probably have been the first member to pull me up on that in the Parliament. He will have to accept, as I have done after a period of reflection early on in my role, that although full integration was the intention of the Government and the will of the Parliament, supported by his party, it would be foolish to ignore Police Scotland’s advice.

Of course, I am more than happy to speak to John Finnie and any other member in more detail about their concerns. The path that I have chosen to go down is very much based on the advice that Police Scotland has given me. To give more certainty to officers and staff in BTP, the sooner we can get on with examining the other options for devolution of railway policing in Scotland, the better.

Ayr Railway Station (Exclusion Zone)

2. Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with ScotRail and South Ayrshire Council regarding the implemented exclusion zone around Ayr railway station, which is causing disruption for many passengers, including those travelling south of Ayr to Girvan and Stranraer. (S5T-01190)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

I discussed the situation with the leader and chief executive of South Ayrshire Council last week, and Transport Scotland officials have engaged with senior officials at the ScotRail Alliance and South Ayrshire Council on several occasions since the exclusion zone at Ayr station affected platforms 3 and 4.

In addition, Transport Scotland established a new task force, which includes other relevant Scottish Government directorates, to support South Ayrshire Council in identifying solutions to the immediate safety concerns.

The key objective is to ensure that a full rail service can be restored safely, as soon as possible; it is also an objective that any long-term solution contributes to the economic prosperity of the town centre and other affected areas.

Emma Harper

The Ayr Station hotel and railway building is majority owned by a Malaysian businessman, Mr Ung, along with Network Rail. I understand that Mr Ung has refused to engage with South Ayrshire Council on work to make the structure safe. That has resulted in platforms 3 and 4 being closed altogether, which means that trains are unable to run between Ayr, Maybole, Girvan and Stranraer.

Will the cabinet secretary say what, if any, action the Scottish Government can take to make Mr Ung accountable for one of his many United Kingdom properties?

Michael Matheson

I recognise the significant disruption that the platform closure is causing at Ayr station and a number of other stations, particularly Maybole, Girvan and Stranraer.

As things stand, the Scottish Government has no powers to take action against the owner of the building. However, the local authority has powers under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 to take action against an owner where their building has become dangerous or fallen into a state of disrepair. South Ayrshire Council has used those powers to serve a dangerous buildings notice and is currently working to make the building safe and allow the platforms to reopen as soon as possible.

The member will appreciate that building owners are ultimately responsible for the upkeep and safety of the buildings that they own.

Emma Harper

Many constituents have contacted me about the disruption, including a young constituent in Stranraer who is unable to get the train to university and constituents who are unable to get to work. Will the cabinet secretary give a commitment that the Scottish Government will ensure that appropriate alternative transport links are put in place and monitored while the situation at Ayr station is on-going?

Michael Matheson

I can give the member that assurance. ScotRail is currently providing a replacement bus for rail passengers who wish to travel on to Stranraer from Ayr. Passengers who wish to travel to Stranraer from Kilmarnock or vice versa are being provided with taxis to and from Ayr station. ScotRail will continue to keep the situation under review and consider whether it could take further action to reduce inconvenience to the travelling public.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

The minister will be well aware of the much-reduced rail service between Ayr and Glasgow, which affects my constituents in Ayr, Prestwick and Troon, and many others on the Ayr to Glasgow railway line. While I appreciate that circumstances cannot change and that different options cannot be taken before a structural engineers’ report is produced, will the minister tell Parliament when such a report will be produced and what his plans are for the services on this line if the Station hotel at Ayr has to be demolished? If, on the other hand, the building can be saved, what support could the Scottish Government give for the restoration or development of the hotel?

Michael Matheson

ScotRail is continuing to keep the present emergency timetable in place. That is under review and ScotRail is looking at whether it could take further measures—such as adding carriages at a later stage—to address issues with the number of people who are trying to use the service as it moves towards Glasgow Central, particularly around the Paisley area.

I can assure John Scott that responsibility for the decision to apply an exclusion zone lies with the local authority. Any change to such a zone is also a matter for the local authority. The assistance that the task force is providing is to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to identify what action could be taken in order to reduce that exclusion zone. At present, that work is on-going in consultation with engineers. Once South Ayrshire Council has the report, it will share it with the task force in order to look at what action can then be taken to make sure that any measures that can be implemented are progressed as quickly as possible.

We will continue to support South Ayrshire Council in addressing those issues. We are providing it with legal advice and advice on buildings from our experts in the Scottish Government, so that it understands all its responsibilities and the actions that it can take. The engineers’ report will allow a decision to be made on whether the exclusion zone can be reduced, which will be a matter for South Ayrshire Council. We will support it and provide it with whatever assistance we can to progress that action once the report has been completed.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

In April, I chaired a public meeting at Ayr town hall that had been organised by local campaigner Esther Clark. It was packed out with residents who were frustrated at the demise of Ayr Station hotel. Does the cabinet secretary understand the anger in the community over the utter neglect of the former hotel? Will the Scottish Government take action not only to ensure that the building is made safe so that we can end the current rail chaos but to put in place a long-term plan to bring the historic building back into use for the benefit of the local community?

Michael Matheson

As Colin Smyth will appreciate, responsibility for the condition of the building lies with its private owner, who has clearly neglected it over a very extended period. I recognise that, earlier in the year, South Ayrshire Council took action to try to address those issues by engaging effectively with the owner of the building, but without success.

As I have just mentioned in replying to John Scott, the decision to apply an exclusion zone is the responsibility of the local authority. The plans that it then has for the use of the building, working with the owner and the wider town centre redevelopment are a matter for South Ayrshire Council. We are providing it with the support and assistance that it requires in order to make sure that we understand what action can be taken to reduce the exclusion zone, reopen the platforms, and have the train station back to operating at its normal capacity as soon as possible. Once South Ayrshire Council has the completed report and is able to share it with the task force, it will be provided with additional support to make sure that that action is taken as quickly as possible so that we can see the station return to its normal function.

National Health Service (Surgical Practices)

3. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how NHS boards ensure that patients’ concerns regarding surgical practices are properly addressed. (S5T-01186)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

National health service boards have governance and appraisal mechanisms for their clinicians, which include boards being responsible for a system for appraisal and job planning for each consultant. In 2017-18, boards implemented the revised NHS complaints procedure, which provides a formal route for patients and their families to raise concerns. The organisational duty of candour legislation came into force in Scotland on 1 April 2018. It also requires organisations to provide an apology to those who have been harmed, and to involve them in identifying organisational learning and improvements where necessary.

Murdo Fraser

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response, and I welcome her to her new role.

This week, shocking details relating to the case of the NHS Tayside surgeon Professor Sam Eljamel were disclosed in a BBC investigation. Professor Eljamel is accused of making a series of mistakes while operating on patients at NHS Tayside. At the time, an external investigation concluded that he was injuring patients but, despite that, he was allowed to continue operating. It appears that NHS Tayside had in place neither audit systems to pick up on his mistakes nor a decisive senior management team to prevent them from happening.

What assurance can the cabinet secretary give us that, in other Scottish health boards, we will not see similar incidents, in which surgeons are free to operate despite concerns being raised about their abilities?

Jeane Freeman

As I am sure that members will appreciate, there is a degree to which I am limited in what I can express here, but I make it clear to Mr Fraser and to the chamber that any instance of harm incurred by any patient in our health service is a matter that I take extremely seriously.

We have a number of measures in place that boards should be following. It is worth mentioning the globally recognised Scottish patient safety programme, which has had surgical safety as one of its workstreams since it began and which has led to a reduction of more than 20 per cent in surgical mortality across Scotland. Today, I have asked for a joint assurance from the chairs and chief executives of all our health boards that all the steps that the Scottish Government expects them to be following in terms of compliance with those measures and others are indeed being followed. Our chief medical officer and others will continue to pursue those matters to ensure that we have the best patient safety that we can have in this country.

Murdo Fraser

I thank the cabinet secretary for that full and very helpful response. I do not know whether she watched last night’s BBC documentary. If she did, she will have felt angry and sad—as I did—for the patients who recounted their personal stories in that programme.

Today, we learned from The Courier newspaper that Professor Eljamel is still holding himself out as working at Ninewells hospital, despite the fact that his contract there has been severed. In the wake of all the new evidence that is coming out, does the Scottish Government accept that there is now a case for holding a fully independent investigation into the issue?

Jeane Freeman

What I accept, as I said before, is that any instance of harm to a patient in our national health service is a matter of considerable concern, which I take very seriously.

I am reviewing the situation with respect to the instance in question, as well as looking more widely across our boards. In that process, I will give due consideration to what further steps we might sensibly take to ensure that we have the level of patient safety across Scotland that we aim for and which our statistics currently indicate that we have overall across the NHS.