Meeting date: Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 08 June 2021
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Point of Order, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Tackling Poverty and Building a Fairer Scotland, Business Motion, Decision Time, Tariff-free Trade Deals
- Time for Reflection
- Point of Order
- Topical Question Time
- Tackling Poverty and Building a Fairer Scotland
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Tariff-free Trade Deals
Topical Question Time
The next item of business is topical question time. As ever, in order to get in as many people as possible, I would prefer succinct questions and answers.
Secure Accommodation (Unlawful Detention of At-risk Children)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent report by the Scottish Children and Young People’s Commissioner, which suggests that some at-risk children might have been detained unlawfully in secure accommodation. (S6T-00043)
Secure care is one of the most intensive and restrictive forms of alternative care in Scotland. Depriving a child of their liberty in secure units, even when that is essential for their safety and welfare, has a profound effect on them and such decisions should always be legally justifiable, rights proofed and transparent. Following the examination of 119 cases of children who were placed in secure accommodation across 27 local authorities during 2018 and 2019, the commissioner’s report highlights significant procedural and notification issues for local authorities and chief social work officers.
The report also highlights good practice in some areas and points to encouraging remedial activities since the fieldwork took place. I am concerned, however, that every child’s statutory rights may not have been protected during that time, so I wrote to chief social work officers yesterday both to offer support and to seek reassurance that they have, if necessary, amended procedures to comply fully with all regulations. I am also looking to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities at the earliest opportunity to discuss the matter further.
That is simply not good enough. As the minister highlighted, the investigator examined the cases of 118 children between August 2018 and 2019 and found that a significant number had been held unlawfully for at least part of that detention. Some children had been held for 570 days. Critically, the report found that children’s human rights were breached.
A litany of failures has taken place, including a severe lack of consultation with the child after their hearing, with little communication to help them understand why they had been detained and how they could have appealed the decision that was made about them. Not only have children been let down, their rights have been infringed, which is totally unacceptable and morally wrong. Will the minister make a public apology today to those children who the Government has so badly let down?
I am sure that the member is aware that it is for local authorities to ensure that they comply with the law and that chief social work officers fulfil their duties. The commissioner’s report highlights inconsistencies in the recording of the engagement with children and young people, but I did not detect concerns from it about the necessity or appropriateness of placement decisions. However, timely notifications and record keeping are important aspects of the process.
So—no apology from the minister.
The investigation concluded that there is
“a scrutiny gap in relation to compliance with ... legal duties”
and the commissioner found it
“challenging in many cases to piece together the”
“events and decisions”.
The report points to short-term and longer-term actions that must take place to improve that situation, which cannot happen again to any child. We need to see change and the full implementation of the report’s recommendations. The Government must act quickly to resolve that situation and prevent further unlawful detentions.
We on these benches echo calls from the children’s commissioner for an urgent review of practices of local authorities. Will the minister commit to that process in earnest to ensure that both inspection and scrutiny mechanisms are fit for purpose, so that they comply fully with the relevant legal duties and human rights obligations?
The report asks that the Scottish Government work with partners to consider whether the existing law is compatible with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and make any necessary amendments to strengthen legal protections of children’s rights. It is important that we get it right for every child, regardless of his or her circumstances. We will work closely with COSLA and other partners to ensure that robust scrutiny and accountability mechanisms are in place through individual organisations, multiagency partnerships and national inspection arrangements.
I am pleased to hear that the minister will write to all chief social work officers across Scotland to seek assurance that they have, where necessary, amended their procedure to comply with regulations. Is the minister aware of any local authorities and chief social work officers that have already taken steps to review or amend their policies?
I understand from the report that, during the investigation, 17 local authorities had already taken steps to review their policy and practice, which is welcome. However, all local authorities must ensure that they have undertaken a similar process.
Euro 2020 (Preparations and Fan Zone)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its preparations for Euro 2020, including the fan zone. (S6T-00055)
We are working closely with the Scottish Football Association, Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland and other partners on preparations for Euro 2020, including the four matches at Hampden park and the Glasgow Green fan zone. The situation with the virus will be continually reviewed in the run-up to and during the tournament, with account being taken of the latest scientific and clinical advice and the local information that we get on the ground.
I understand the concerns that some people have expressed about the fan zone, in light of the hard sacrifices that everyone has made. The proposal for a fan zone is not about prioritising football over other issues; it is about seeking to cater in as safe a way as possible for fans who want to watch the matches. I give an assurance that decisions in that regard are taken carefully, with full account taken of clinical advice. The fan zone will provide an outdoor, highly regulated space in which fans may watch the matches. Although up to 3,000 people per session will attend, they will be in a large outdoor space that has a normal capacity of up to 80,000 people. Necessary physical distancing and hygiene measures will of course be in place.
We are encouraging everyone to make regular use of lateral flow tests. We are discussing with Glasgow City Council how to reinforce that message for everyone in attendance, including the fans.
I make clear that the situation with the virus, the application of necessary mitigations and the experience of the event will be monitored on an on-going basis and that any change that is considered necessary will be made, up to and including withdrawing permission should significant concerns arise.
We are just days away from Scotland’s men’s team appearing at its first tournament for 23 years—and at Hampden, of all places. That should kick-start a summer of great sport and activity, from grass-roots to elite level. After 15 months of being locked out of events, people are excited by the prospect, but they expect things to be done in the safest way possible.
Asymptomatic testing has been an integral part of trial events across the United Kingdom, including entry to the FA cup final last month. Euro 2020 events are being advertised as taking place in a Covid-secure environment, but there is no way on earth of verifying that without knowing the Covid status of every participant. Why has the Government decided that mandatory testing is not necessary for attendance at the fan zone or the games at Hampden?
I would appreciate short questions and answers, please.
We will continue the discussions with Glasgow City Council in that regard. However, there are issues to do with mandatory testing that cannot be ignored. For example, some people cannot take a test, perhaps because of a medical condition or disability. In addition, there are ethical considerations, which the member’s party has raised in relation to Covid vaccination certificates. Some of the same concerns apply when it comes to making tests mandatory. There are equality issues.
There are also issues to do with digital exclusion. If people have to present a text or email that confirms a negative test, that will affect people who are digitally excluded.
We have to work through such issues. With Glasgow City Council, we will reinforce the message about testing before arrival—indeed, I spoke to the council this morning. The council will email every ticket holder via the ticketing company not only to encourage individuals to test before arrival but to provide a link so that they can order lateral flow devices. I encourage every person who has a ticket to any session in the fan zone to test before arrival, please. People can order lateral flow devices to be delivered to their homes or they can pick them up from multiple sites across the country.
With respect, all the human rights and inclusion issues have been successfully resolved south of the border.
Hospitality businesses in Scotland, especially in Glasgow, have had a punishing time. They have invested thousands of pounds in safety measures only to be shut for months. The rules remain tight and businesses are not even allowed to advertise the fact that they are showing the tournament. The last thing that they want is for the progress that we have made to be undone by a third wave. The cabinet secretary can understand their concern about a temporary event on their doorstep that is able to accommodate thousands of people for 31 days straight. What reassurance will the Government give to those businesses? What additional measures will it take to mitigate the impact on them if a third wave hits Glasgow as a result of the existence of the fan zone?
Of course I recognise the concerns that have been raised by hospitality businesses in Glasgow. A range of mitigations is in place. Again, I emphasise that, although there will be 3,000 people per session, the space is large enough to accommodate 80,000. Do not think of the space as a traditional fan zone, which might have been seen during the champions league final a couple of weeks ago, for example. It is a family event. There will be areas in which families can participate. Football pitches and tennis courts will be available, for example, and there will be a picnic area in which people can sit in their family bubbles.
There is a lot of mitigation. I know that there are concerns about the serving of alcohol, but there will be table service only, for example. No queueing at bars will be allowed, and no spirits will be served on a match day. As members would imagine, all spectators will have to complete test and protect information. The clinical advice that I have received is that, with all those mitigations in place—I am happy to write to Alex Cole-Hamilton with further details of all the mitigations that are in place—the event should be a low-risk one.
I go back to my original answer. We will monitor on an on-going basis, and we will introduce even further mitigation if that is necessary. Of course, if we have serious concerns, we reserve the right to withdraw permission for the fan zone.
Online Child Sex Abuse
To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to increase Police Scotland’s capacity to tackle online crime, in light of reports of a 6 per cent year-on-year increase in online child sex abuse crimes. (S6T-00044)
We continue to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation by building on the work that has been delivered over the past four years through the “National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation”.
Additional funding was made available to Police Scotland for enhanced enforcement activity in direct response to the increase in reporting of online child sexual abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Scottish Government continues to support Police Scotland’s response, ensuring that hundreds of children have been safeguarded by police enforcement.
We are also collaborating with third sector and operational partners to engage the public and raise awareness about the dangers of online abuse, including running successful communications campaigns earlier this year that connected with hundreds of thousands of Scots.
Pauline McNeill will know that the regulation of the internet and online service providers remains a reserved matter, but we continue to work closely with the United Kingdom Government and Ofcom in developing proposals to introduce better safety measures online. That includes close liaison with the UK Government on the forthcoming online safety legislation.
Finally, Pauline McNeill will know that operational decisions in relation to specific offences are for the chief constable.
A total of 1,966 online child sex abuse crimes were logged by Police Scotland. That is 25 per cent greater than the five-year average, which is concerning. Police officers have warned that parents should be particularly vigilant when it comes to apps such as TikTok. BuzzFeed recently reported:
“One of the most popular kinds of videos from TikTok’s users, who are mostly young and female, are lip-synch videos, where they dance and sing along with their favorite songs. These performances are sometimes sexualized by older men who lurk on the app, sending the young creators explicit messages”.
What is the Government doing to increase awareness among parents and children of online grooming on sites such as TikTok to ensure that children develop online safety skills? It is clear that the figures are not coming down.
I have already mentioned the communications campaigns that Police Scotland have run, and they will continue to run.
To address some of the points that Pauline McNeill has raised, she may be aware of some of the proposed provisions in the UK Government’s draft Online Safety Bill that will seek to address some of those issues. There are sanctions of 10 per cent of turnover, and there is the blocking of sites for firms that fail to protect users. The UK will reserve the power for senior managers to be held liable. There are also new regulations that apply to any company in the world that hosts user-generated content online that is accessible by people in the UK or enables them to privately or publicly interact with others online. That goes back to the point that Pauline McNeill made.
We are very supportive of that approach. The NSPCC, which may have prompted Pauline McNeill’s question through an article in The Herald, has also raised the issue and is very clear that the UK Government should proceed with the bill and deliver on its promise. We will encourage it to do just that.
I thank the cabinet secretary for answering what would have been my supplementary question.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that the chairman of Amber Alert Europe, Frank Hoen, said:
“Often the signs remain unnoticed until it’s too late. We want to make sure children are aware of the fact that online not everything is what it seems”.
I welcome the fact that, finally, the UK has introduced the bill. Will the cabinet secretary commit to updating the Parliament on the progress of that bill and to ensuring that the Scottish Government is fully satisfied that it deals with those points?
I am more than happy to give that commitment to Pauline McNeill. In the meantime, as I have said, we will continue to ensure that the police have the resources that they want to support their independence in relation to the issue, increase the communications campaign about the danger to young people, which Pauline McNeill and I have mentioned, and encourage the UK Government to progress the Online Safety Bill, which it has committed to providing.
That concludes topical questions. The next item of business—
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Topical questions are on topics that are current and require urgent answers. I appreciate that, at the start of topical questions, there were a couple of points of order that had to be dealt with, but there has to be flexibility in the programme to allow us to ask the questions that our constituents have asked us to ask the Government. It cannot be right that topical question time is cut by as much as it has been.
I thank Mr Whittle for his point of order, and I appreciate his frustration. We had a couple of points of order that did indeed bite into the time for topical questions and I will give his comments full consideration.