Meeting date: Thursday, June 14, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 14 June 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, One Minute’s Silence, First Minister’s Question Time, Mossmorran Flaring, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Human Trafficking (Annual Progress Report), National Council of Rural Advisers, Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct Inquiry, Point of Order, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- One Minute’s Silence
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Mossmorran Flaring
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time
- Human Trafficking (Annual Progress Report)
- National Council of Rural Advisers
- Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct Inquiry
- Point of Order
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Management of Offenders
Last week, I called on the First Minister to put on hold her plans to increase the number of criminals being tagged in the community rather than being kept in prison, and I want to return to that issue this week. Does she think that she has the confidence of victims and the wider public for those plans? (S5F-02449)
As I said last week, two full reviews instructed by the justice secretary, one by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland and one by HM prisons inspectorate for Scotland, will look at the circumstances of the case that we discussed in the chamber last week. Any recommendations from those reviews will be properly acted on by the Scottish Government.
Beyond that, it is important that we have a justice system that punishes people properly for the crimes that they commit, but also works to rehabilitate people when possible. That is why some of the processes and systems that we discussed last week are in place. They are not simply for the benefit of those who commit crimes but, more importantly, are in place for the benefit of wider society. We know that better rehabilitation helps to reduce reoffending. That is something that Ruth Davidson’s colleagues in the United Kingdom Government south of the border recognise, and I believe that that is something that most people across Scotland also recognise.
The truth is that it is not at all clear how the Government’s plans that are contained in the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill will put victims first.
I will give an example. The First Minister is proposing to release more criminals back into communities. Under those plans, a serious offender could be released from prison, given a tag, cut that tag off, breach the terms of their release and yet, incredibly, that would not automatically be considered an offence. That is what it says in the bill. I think that that is plain wrong; does the First Minister?
As Ruth Davidson has indicated in the way in which she has characterised her question, we are talking about a bill that is before Parliament for proper debate, scrutiny, discussion and, in due course, appropriate amendment. It is, of course, the case that breaches of home detention curfew are taken seriously by the current processes. There are clear processes in place that mean that when an individual fails to comply with the conditions of their curfew and those conditions are considered to be breached, the Scottish Prison Service will revoke the individual’s licence and issue a recall order. Police Scotland is notified and will make arrangements to apprehend the prisoner. There are processes in place.
It is, however, important that we always keep those processes under review so that, when cases such as the one that we talked about last week happen—thankfully they are rare, although that offers no comfort to the family that was affected in that case—we review them properly and, if there are lessons to be learned or changes that require to be made, we take action to do that.
I hope that that was a hint—even if it was a soft hint—that the First Minister is prepared to listen on this specific issue, because it is not just me who is calling for change here but groups such as Scottish Women’s Aid, which represents the victims of domestic violence. SWA says that the
“safety and security of individual victims of crime must be the critical considerations when assessing suitability for release on”
electronic monitoring. On the specific issue of tagging, SWA says that to be
“a credible deterrent, breach of the”
“condition must be an automatic criminal offence.”
I believe that Scottish Women’s Aid is right on both points. Will the First Minister give a commitment now to amend the bill to ensure that the breach of electronic tagging is treated for what it should be, which is a crime?
I agree that where people breach any conditions on which they are released into the community, the situation should be that they are returned to prison. Those decisions are rightly taken in some cases by the Scottish Prison Service and in other cases by the Parole Board for Scotland, and, of course, in many cases they are decisions for the independent judiciary. We will listen to the case for any proposed amendments to the bill and I hope that the Parliament will discuss that bill in an open and mature way.
It is important to point out that home detention curfew, for example, is used only with a very small proportion of the prison population. Approximately 4 per cent of the prison population at any time will be on home detention curfew, which, as I understand it, is the same as the proportion of prisoners on home detention curfew in England and Wales. Home detention curfew is therefore not used for the majority of prisoners, but where a case is made for its use, it can help to aid rehabilitation.
Ruth Davidson asked me whether I agreed with the organisation that she cited. In terms of the substance of those quotes, I agree with the sentiment expressed there and we will debate the detail of that. However, I agree very much with this quote as well:
“Of course, the rehabilitation of criminals is a vital part of the justice system. That is why we have parole and home detention. The aim is to ensure that criminals are reintegrated with their communities so we avoid the kind of revolving door that sees criminals returning to jail over and over again”.
I agree with that quote, which is a quote from Ruth Davidson on 6 June this year.
We are absolutely happy on these benches to lodge such amendments on this issue, but I want to know whether the First Minister will back them. This Government is planning to release more convicted criminals into the community, and victims are asking why perpetrators are being put back on the streets. The First Minister admitted last week that there are scores of offenders in the community who should be being monitored but are, instead, unlawfully at large. Now, her Government has introduced a bill that aims to increase the number of offenders being released, and it says to them, “Take off your tag, breach the terms of your licence, but no need to worry, because you’ll face no further charges.”
We have a chance here to rebuild trust in our justice system, but to do so we need not an offenders bill but a victims bill. Is not it time that the First Minister went back to the drawing board and began again with a bill that will show victims that their rights come before criminals’ rights for once?
My first point is that Ruth Davidson has completely mischaracterised the proposals that the Scottish Government has brought forward. My second point is that, having read out and shared with the chamber a moment ago the quote from Ruth Davidson and having listened to her just now, I am not sure whether the Tories know what their position is on these matters. So, before we properly debate the bill, perhaps the Tories will sort out their own position before they try to persuade the chamber of anything.
We will look carefully at and properly consider any amendment that is lodged. It stands to reason that I am not going to give commitments right now to support amendments that the Government and I have not even seen. However, we will look carefully at and consider all amendments. They will be properly debated in this chamber and I certainly hope that the parliamentary authorities will allow more than 15 minutes debate for all of those important issues.
We will take decisions that are in the best interests of the victims of crime and of wider society. It is absolutely right and proper that we have a justice system—in which, I believe, there is trust in this country—that punishes those who commit crimes. The idea that Scotland, with one of the highest prison populations in the whole of western Europe, is a soft touch when it comes to justice simply does not bear scrutiny. We will ensure that we have a justice system that punishes criminals and also aids the wider interest of the rehabilitation of offenders because, as Ruth Davidson herself said, that is in the interests of victims of crime and of the country as a whole. We will continue to take all those matters into account in a mature and responsible way.
Standardised Assessment Tests (Five-year-olds)
Can the First Minister give us another word for a hummingbird’s beak?
Not immediately, no.
That is rather unfortunate, because the hummingbird’s beak question is one of the Government’s standardised assessment literacy questions for five-year-olds. Little wonder that Scotland’s teachers have told me how young and confident children are crushed by those tests. There have been reports of children being driven to tears. The educational charity Upstart Scotland says that the tests are not only “pointless” and “highly counterproductive”, but, worse, they are an “adverse childhood experience”, and yet, at the Scottish National Party conference six days ago, John Swinney claimed
“a renaissance in Scottish education”.
What kind of renaissance is it that includes five-year-olds being driven to tears?
I do not know what Richard Leonard was doing yesterday—perhaps he can tell us later. Yesterday morning, I spent time in two primary schools, as well as a secondary school and an early years centre—all part of the fantastic new Largs campus—which make up some of the more than 750 schools that have been built or modernised under this Government. I talked to a range of primary school children, including some five-year-olds. I did not meet any who were in tears or see any who looked crushed. I saw confident, bright and enthusiastic young people.
Some of those primary school children showed me computer coding and others were speaking Mandarin to me—that is how confident they were. Others took me outside to show me what they were doing in their outdoor nursery. They were confident young people showing the best of Scottish education. It is shameful for Richard Leonard to come to the chamber and talk about our young people in the way that he just has.
Let me also say this: we are determined, as I have said on so many occasions, to continue to raise standards in our schools and to close the attainment gap. Being able to assess in an appropriate and age-appropriate way how our young people are doing in school is an important part of that. We will continue to work hard to make sure that we do that, in a way that is entirely appropriate. I am proud of what I saw in Largs yesterday and I am proud of what is happening across Scottish education.
These tests have been flawed from the very start. They were delivered late, £2 million over budget and cause weeks of valuable teaching time to be lost. This morning, I spoke to a primary 1 teacher from Edinburgh. She is in school every day of the week and she said:
“Administering these tests to our 54 primary 1 children took approximately 30 hours of teacher time for numeracy and 40 hours for literacy.”
“Having watched the children complete the tests ... I also have no confidence in the validity of the assessment. ... I cannot use the data from these tests to support my teaching in any way. It does not provide reliable information on any aspect of my children’s learning or development.”
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills once promised that teachers could stop doing anything that did not support learning. First Minister, will you stop standardised testing for five-year-olds now and put pupils first?
We will continue to listen to teachers and to consider the feedback of teachers.
You do not listen.
You do not.
Perhaps Labour will listen to the answer. It is because we listened to teachers before the assessments were introduced that we took the decision not to insist that they were carried out at a particular point of the year. Teachers can use their judgment and discretion around that.
Almost 600,000 assessments have been successfully carried out so far. As I understand it, the vast majority of teacher feedback has been positive about the depth of the diagnostic information available. The assessments are not high-stakes assessments; there is not a pass or a fail for them. They are one part of a range of evidence that a teacher will gather on the progress of a child or young person.
I do not know about Richard Leonard, but I think that it is right that we are able to assess the progress of children in our schools. At a fundamental level, if we do not know how our young people are performing, how can we make sure that we are taking action to improve standards in our schools?
We have been very clear that teacher judgment continues to be the priority, but this is another area in which teachers can inform that judgment. We are determined that we will continue to raise standards and close the attainment gap.
Week after week, we hear members on the Labour benches calling for that to be done, but they manage to oppose almost everything that we do to bring it about. It is about willing the ends but not having the ability or the courage to will the means. We are determined to take the action, not just talk the talk, as Labour so often does.
We now have some constituency supplementaries, the first of which is from Finlay Carson.
M Corson’s (Redundancies)
This week we have unfortunately seen yet more job losses in Dumfries and Galloway. The owners of M Corson’s, a much-loved, family-run business with more than 400 years of history, have taken the tough decision to close their four shops in my constituency, resulting in 34 redundancies. Thirty-four jobs might not be a huge figure in Scotland-wide terms, but in a small rural community, losses of that level are significant. In other circumstances, help is being provided. Will the First Minister outline what support the Scottish Government can give to the company and workers facing redundancy?
I thank Finlay Carson for raising this important issue. It is deeply regrettable that the decision that he has outlined has been taken by Corson’s. As in all these situations, the Scottish Government will offer any assistance that we can to the company to try to mitigate job losses, but we will also ensure that our partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—initiative is working with any affected employees to help them into alternative employment. I am more than happy to ask the economy minister to correspond directly with the member to set out in more detail what can be done and to listen to any suggestions as to what the Scottish Government can do.
Although they do not take away from the impact in this particular case, this week’s labour market statistics show that employment in Scotland continues to rise and unemployment remains at a very low level. That is a good overall position, but, within that, we will continue to take whatever action we can to support individual businesses and groups of employees.
My constituent 10-year-old Giorgi Kakava tragically lost his mother Sophie in February, while going through the United Kingdom asylum process. Giorgi knows only Springburn and Scotland, having been here since he was three years old. He attends the local school and has good friends and the community wants to protect and support him. Some 70,000 people have signed a petition calling for Giorgi not to be deported and to stay in Scotland with his gran, Ketino.
Does the First Minister agree that the Home Office must conduct Giorgi’s case with compassion and that it must move quickly to give certainty, safety and security to Giorgi? I ask the First Minister to make representations to the Home Secretary—as I have done—making the case that Scotland is Giorgi’s home and is where he should grow up.
This is a really tragic situation and it is absolutely heartbreaking to hear what Giorgi has been through. That said, I have been deeply touched—as I am sure that everyone else has—to hear how the local community in Springburn has rallied round, really proving that people make Glasgow.
In achieving more than 70,000 signatures, the Rev Brian Casey’s petition shows the strength of feeling that people have for a child who has lost his parents and has only ever known Scotland, our country, as his home.
Giorgi’s case needs common sense, but, above all, it needs compassion. I hope that the Home Office will urgently review it with Giorgi’s best interests at the heart of its decision making—in fact, with Giorgi’s best interests as the only factor in its decision making. I hope that the outcome of the case is that Giorgi is allowed to stay here and grow up here and, as he does so, to make a fantastic contribution to the country that he not only calls home but which considers itself to be his home.
First Bus Services (West Lothian)
Across West Lothian, First is reducing the frequency of bus services and cutting routes, which is impacting on thousands of passengers who rely on buses for work, to reach public services such as hospitals and general practitioner surgeries, or for shopping and socialising.
Bus passengers and communities appear to have no rights when it comes to service reductions. Can the First Minister advise what passengers can do in the here and now to prevent these cuts to services, or do they just have to accept them?
I will ask the transport minister to look at the specific situation in West Lothian and correspond with Neil Findlay. I know that in my constituency I regularly take up complaints, issues and concerns about bus services with bus companies and I am sure that all local members do the same.
Of course, this week saw the introduction of the new Transport (Scotland) Bill, which has the issue of bus services at its heart. I hope that all members will engage constructively with that bill as we ensure that we do everything possible to encourage more people to use buses and to encourage local authorities and bus companies to provide the services that people want and need.
NHS Lothian Orthopaedic Waiting Times
My office has been inundated with emails and letters from patients across Lothian who are facing a wait of up to 45 weeks just for an initial orthopaedic appointment, before they can even be added to the operations waiting list.
The health secretary assured me repeatedly that improvements would be made by April of this year. Will the First Minister now apologise to my constituents who need hip and knee replacements? Given the orthopaedic crisis that we see across NHS Lothian, what does she suggest that I tell my constituents, who are waiting in pain at the hands of this Scottish National Party Government?
First, I apologise to any patient who waits longer for treatment on the health service than they should do. As Miles Briggs is aware, the health secretary is working hard with local health boards, including NHS Lothian, to reduce waiting times and orthopaedics is a priority area. The health secretary recently announced additional funding to help local health boards to do exactly that—reduce waiting times. According to the most recent statistics, the additional funding that was invested to reduce outpatient waiting times has had an impact, and we obviously want to focus on elective in-patient treatment as well.
If Miles Briggs wants to write to the health secretary with details of individual constituency cases, I am more than happy to ask the health secretary to look into them in particular. We will continue to take action through investment and reform of our health service to make sure that waiting times come down and patients continue to get the services that they need.
Sustainable Growth Commission
I am not hugely surprised that neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party chose to raise the current constitutional crisis and the decision by the United Kingdom Government to unilaterally abolish the principle of devolved consent. The situation has understandably led to anger at Westminster, and I think that none of Scotland’s representatives should show any patience with the contempt that is being shown.
The situation greatly increases the urgency around giving the people of Scotland the ability to control their own future instead of dragging them into the chaos of Brexit Britain. In that context, does the First Minister understand the concerns expressed by many that the Scottish National Party’s growth commission has taken too many lessons from a right-of-centre economic agenda—such as that of the previous New Zealand Government—which cannot offer the transformative alternative that is needed if we are going to inspire the people of Scotland to choose a better future?
No, I do not, actually. I think that the growth commission offers the alternative to austerity that this country so badly needs and a future that is based on hope, not the despair of Brexit.
I will say this to Patrick Harvie: when Scotland is independent, he will be perfectly entitled to propose different ideas and the people of Scotland can choose. That is what independence is about: it is about allowing the people of Scotland to decide their own future, not have it decided for us by a Tory Government at Westminster.
On developments this week, what we saw this week was the most clear and powerful evidence so far that the Westminster system simply does not work for Scotland. The Tories plan to remove powers from this Parliament without the consent of this Parliament. [Interruption.] They ripped up the convention that has underpinned devolution for nigh on 20 years. They did so in the most contemptuous way possible, with a 15-minute debate and no opportunity for a single Scottish member of Parliament to get to speak. They hoped that nobody would notice. Thanks to SNP MPs doing their job and standing up for Scotland, people have noticed. [Interruption.]
People are angry. They are talking about it and are expressing their anger in different ways. Since lunch time yesterday, 5,085 of them have expressed their anger by joining the SNP.
Adam Tomkins, who was shouting from a sedentary position, recently said:
“The political price of enacting legislation without consent might be quite significant.”
I think that the Tories are about to find out just how right on that issue he is.
I am sure that the First Minister did not mean to ignore the questions on the growth commission that I raised. She says that we should offer new ideas in the future, once we are independent. We will do that, but we are doing so already.
In fact, New Zealand, which is one of the countries on which the growth commission relies for its argument, is already putting new ideas into practice. I refer to the comments about the growth commission from Gareth Hughes, a Green MP from New Zealand, who says that, after being
“one of the most egalitarian countries”,
New Zealand witnessed
“the fastest growth of inequality in the developed world.”
“a dramatic rise in homelessness, precarious working conditions and child poverty”
as a result of
“light-handed regulation, a smaller role for the state”
“punitive welfare reforms”.
Now New Zealand has a new Government and a new direction that is focused on the fair distribution of wealth, the Government returning to the task of supporting housing instead of leaving it to a failed market,
“an ambitious zero carbon goal”
and looking beyond simplistic measures such as gross domestic product growth. Gareth Hughes said:
“After decades of a trickle-down, austerity-ideology we’re changing direction.”
Is it not clear that the New Zealand of today offers a more forward-looking, progressive model than the failed, dead-end agenda that the growth commission has drawn from?
Forgive me, but I am more interested in the Scotland of today and the Scotland of tomorrow, which can be so much better with the powers of independence.
Let us look at the growth commission. If its recommendations had been applied in the years since the Tories came to power at Westminster, the reduction that we have seen in public spending in Scotland would have been wiped out. Actually, it would have been more than wiped out; that reduction would have been turned into an increase in public spending and the eradication of austerity.
This is about how we get an alternative to austerity. It is about having a debate about how we maximise the vast potential of this great country of ours. Is that not a much better alternative to constantly talking about the despair of Brexit? Let us have that debate. It is a debate about hope and optimism. It is one that more and more people across Scotland are desperate to have. I really look forward to that.
Presiding Officer, 14 June 2017 is a date that will live in infamy. The Grenfell tower disaster claimed 72 lives. Does the First Minister share my view that the best way to honour the 72 lives that were lost is to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again? Will she support my proposed member’s bill to provide sprinklers in all new social housing?
I thank David Stewart for his question. All our thoughts today are with the people who lost loved ones, those who were injured and those who were made homeless in Grenfell a year ago today. Our hearts break for them every day, but particularly today as they mark the one-year anniversary.
The importance of the issues has been brought home to us—certainly, it has been brought home to me—today with the fire in the tower block in the Gorbals in my constituency. Having spoken to the chief fire officer this morning, I am glad to say that the fire is under control. I put on record my thanks to all our firefighters for the work that they did in containing and extinguishing it. As the local MSP, I will certainly work to offer help to the people who, I understand, may have to be rehoused because of understandable water damage that has been done to the property.
That incident brings home the importance of ensuring that we have robust fire safety procedures in place, particularly in high-rise tower blocks. As David Stewart is aware, the two review panels that were set up in the wake of Grenfell to advise the Scottish Government reported their recommendations yesterday. The ministerial working group has accepted the panels’ recommendations, which are wide ranging. I cannot go into them all right now, but one of the proposals is to expand the use of sprinkler systems to improve fire safety.
I am aware of David Stewart’s member’s bill proposal and I thank him for bringing it forward. The Scottish Government is considering his final proposal and, as I believe he knows, we will inform Parliament of our decision in that regard by the 21 June deadline that has been set. I hope that we can work constructively with him to ensure that, on the issue of sprinklers, as on the other issues that are covered by the two reports, we are taking all appropriate action to make sure that people are safe from fire and that all appropriate steps are in place. For now, I thank him for raising that very important and topical issue today.
The First Minister will be aware of the havoc that storm Hector is causing around Scotland, with many lifeline ferry services, trains and flights cancelled or delayed, roads blocked and many people in our island and rural communities cut off. In my region, there are no ferries or trains operating out of Ardrossan. Given that this patch of adverse weather was forecast—in the words of the transport minister, it was “predicted”—and that it is not unusual weather for Scotland, what Government planning has gone into ensuring that our transport and road networks are resilient enough to cope with such difficult weather? What contingency plans are in place to assist those who are affected, with a view to getting Scotland moving again?
Our resilience arrangements always include steps to ensure that we are as well prepared as we can be for adverse weather. Most people in this country realise that, even when bad weather is predicted and all due contingency plans are in place, it is not possible to stop all the impacts of the bad weather. Public safety always has to come first, which is why, regrettably, decisions often have to be taken to cancel ferries or other transport services. We—and resilience officials and the transport minister, in particular—will be working to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum and that services get back to normal as quickly as possible. In my experience, although nobody wants weather-related inconvenience, the vast majority of the public understand the situation that arises in such circumstances and are very patient with the arrangements that have to be put in place, for which I thank them.
The First Minister will be aware that it is five years this month since Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland announced that he had directed Police Scotland to inquire into the vile practice of rendition, under which people were abducted and transported for torture.
Various Scottish airports were implicated, including Inverness and Wick in my region, both of which are operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd on behalf of the Scottish ministers, as the First Minister knows. Will the First Minister provide a progress report on the inquiry and request that the Lord Advocate comes to the chamber to provide a detailed update?
The Lord Advocate carries out such investigations completely independently of ministers. It is right and proper that he does so, and it would not be appropriate for me to seek to instruct him in any aspect of his independent role.
However, I will pass on John Finnie’s comments to the Lord Advocate. I am sure that the Lord Advocate will be listening carefully or, at least, that these comments will be reported to him, but I will ensure that he is aware of them, and I will ask him to get in touch with John Finnie to give a progress report to the extent that he is able to. I hope that that will be helpful to the member.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on the impact of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Scotland. (S5F-02470)
The most immediate impact is that, this week, the United Kingdom Government, for the first time since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, decided to press ahead with legislation on devolved matters without the consent of this Parliament. In doing so, it has taken an unprecedented step and overturned the rules of our constitutional arrangements, which have never before been broken in the history of devolution. The fact that the overwhelming vote in this Parliament was casually cast aside in just 15 minutes in the House of Commons without any debate or a single Scottish MP having the opportunity to speak demonstrates beyond all doubt the utter contempt that the Tories have for devolution and the interests of the people of Scotland.
Does the First Minister agree that the Tories never wanted devolution in the first place, and that their latest democratic outrage proves that they are prepared to undermine devolution purely to suit Tory party needs, regardless of the consequences for Scotland? Does she also agree that Ruth Davidson’s Tories will pay a heavy price for supporting the naked power grab of devolved responsibilities?
I think that it has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Tories cannot be trusted with devolution. They cannot be trusted now or ever with the Scottish Parliament. The Tories campaigned against devolution 20 years ago. We now know, of course, that Ruth Davidson was furious at the vow that suggested more powers for this Parliament. They did not even want this Parliament to have extended powers. Of course, the architect of the vow, today, has said that he now supports independence, so disgusted is he at the power grab of the Conservatives.
The fact of the matter is that the Tories are trying to take powers away from this Parliament without the consent of this Parliament. They are doing it in areas that matter—fishing, agriculture, trade, environmental protections, consumer protections and food safety. Those are issues that matter. It is simply not acceptable for the powers of this Parliament to be constrained for up to seven years without our consent. That is what the Tories thought they could get away with this week. Well, it turns out that they cannot get away with it. I think that they are going to pay a very, very heavy political price indeed, and they will thoroughly deserve to.
Yammer Social Network
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that Yammer, which is a social network available in every school, is being used to target vulnerable children. (S5F-02460)
I take the safeguarding of children, information security and data protection very seriously. It is not acceptable for any child to be exposed to inappropriate content online. However, I want to be very clear that we have no indication that vulnerable children are being targeted through Yammer in the glow system.
It is critical that offensive material is reported and removed as soon as it is identified. While all relevant issues are examined, and as a precaution, access to Yammer was removed on Friday 8 June while Education Scotland undertakes a full review. Education Scotland officials also met the parent who first raised concerns and the school to discuss the issue.
I thank the First Minister for that answer, but teachers raised concerns over 18 months ago, the system’s risk assessment noted that pupils could be subject to individuals who wished to do harm to them, and parents tried to raise issues with Education Scotland and their local education staff. I ask the First Minister, in simple terms, why the warnings were not listened to, who is responsible and how we will ensure that individuals are accountable.
The issue first came to my attention, if memory serves me correctly, last Thursday, when a parent emailed me. The system was taken down on Friday while the concerns were fully investigated. On the oversight of this and the review, Education Scotland is responsible. As I understand it, the levels of access to glow and to Yammer are decided at a local authority level, but the site has been taken down, and it is right that that action has been taken, because we must act on the precautionary basis when the safety of children is concerned.
However, I want to be very clear that, based on the information that is available to me right now, there is no evidence to suggest that glow has been compromised. The offending content that was identified by the parent, as far as I understand it, was not put there by an unauthorised user of the system. It was created by a secondary school-aged pupil who has since been removed from glow, as has the content that was put there.
This is a serious issue and nobody in the Government or in Education Scotland is trying to underplay it, but it is important that a proper review takes place. We know that there are educational benefits to giving young people access to such systems, but we must absolutely make sure that safety is a priority, and that is what we will continue to do.
At a recent meeting that I had with Barnardo’s in Aberdeen, it told me that it estimates that about 46 per cent of children who use various social media apps and online platforms have their settings at “public”. Of course, that means that anyone can see their content and contact them. Does the First Minister think that we can do more to highlight online safety to children at a young age, given that so many have access to social media before the age that is required by the platforms?
Yes, I do. The point that Gillian Martin has raised is very important. It would be good for all of us to think about online conduct and safety and, particularly where children are concerned, for parents to have access to the advice and information that allows them to ensure that children are using social media in a way that prioritises their safety.
I certainly give an undertaking today that the Scottish Government will consider whether there is more that we can do to ensure that parents, teachers and anyone who works with young people have the knowledge and understanding to enable them to give appropriate advice to young people.
We have discussed those issues before in the chamber, and they are important. On balance, the internet and social media are forces for good; they open a world to children that they may not otherwise be able to experience. However, they potentially give access to those who would want to do harm to children, so we must ensure that safety is the absolute priority. Since those concerns were raised last week, that is what Education Scotland and the Government have sought to do—the Deputy First Minister has been very involved in discussions with Education Scotland—and that is what we will continue to do.
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking carers week. (S5F-02474)
This week, carers week, marks the remarkable contribution that all the 788,000 carers across Scotland make in caring for their friends and family and in wider society. I appreciate all that carers do, and we are committed to supporting them as much as we can. That is why we have invested nearly £143 million in a range of carer support since 2007 and we will spend a further £30 million a year increasing carers allowance from this summer, which will benefit 70,000 carers. From next year, we will introduce the new £300 young carer grant.
To mark carers week, the Minister for Public Health opened Voice of Carers Across Lothian’s new carers hub in Leith, which will improve the support that VOCAL can offer to carers across Edinburgh and Midlothian. Our Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 has established new rights for carers since April, which organisations such as VOCAL and local carers centres across the country are crucial in delivering.
I am sure that everyone in the chamber welcomes the commitment to increase carers allowance in Scotland to £500 a year—an increase that will be backdated to April. Does the First Minister agree that that is recognition for the valuable jobs that carers do? Will she set out how else her Government plans to support carers through the course of the Parliament and how she will encourage members to sign up to be carer-friendly employers?
We will continue to take action to support carers as much as possible. A range of support is available under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which gives carers the right to have a plan for their own needs. That is a major advance in carers’ rights, and it remains a priority for the Government to make sure that it delivers real change for carers across the country.
As well as providing the carers allowance supplement, which I have spoken about, we will increase carers allowance in line with inflation each year. We are also committed to delivering an additional payment to carers of more than one disabled child. I have mentioned the new young carer grant of £300 for young people who are aged over 16 and who have significant caring responsibilities. That will be part of a package of support including free bus travel for young carers who are not in receipt of carers allowance. We are also introducing a carers element to the Young Scot national entitlement card, to provide non-cash benefits to young carers between the ages of 11 and 18. We will continue to promote the carer positive scheme, which encourages employers to create supportive working environments for carers.
We can never fully repay the debt that we, as a country, owe carers. It is our duty to support them as much as possible in all the ways that I have talked about and in any other ways that we can.
The First Minister has highlighted many very welcome changes during carers week. Labour colleagues and members across the chamber support the increase in carers allowance that she has referred to, which brings it to the same level as jobseekers allowance. Having been a young carer myself, and as a co-convener with Graeme Dey of the cross-party group on carers, I am keenly aware of the challenges that they face.
There has been some confusion about carers allowance. As the First Minister put it,
“One of the biggest debts we owe as a country is to unpaid carers.”
In 2015, she said that the uplift would be worth £600. However, after three years of Tory benefit freezes, the Scottish Government website says that it is just £221 every six months. On Saturday, at the SNP conference, she said that it will be £500 a year. Will the First Minister clarify what the down payment will be worth to Scotland’s unpaid carers—if not now, in writing to the cross-party group? That would bring some reassurance.
This summer, when we start paying what will be the first benefit to be paid through the new social security provisions, the change will bring carers allowance up to the level of jobseekers allowance, as Claudia Beamish has said. That will increase it from £64.60 per week to £73.10 per week. That money will be backdated to April and will be paid in two lump sums a year. It will put almost £500 into carers’ pockets this year. It is a total investment of £30 million a year and will benefit more than 70,000 carers across Scotland.
If there is any further information that would be helpful to the member, I would be happy to make it available. We will work hard to ensure that everyone who is eligible for carers allowance is aware of it and can access it.
That is all separate from the new young carer grant of £300, which is for young people who have significant caring responsibilities. The grant is part of a wider package of support that we intend to make available to young carers.
I hope that that information is helpful. I will ask the Minister for Social Security to contact the member to see whether there is any further information that she would find helpful.12:45 Meeting suspended.
12:48 On resuming—