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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 23, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 23 March 2017

Agenda: Presiding Officer’s Statement, Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Justice for Yazidi People, Early Learning and Childcare, British Sign Language (Draft National Plan), Standing Order Rule Changes (Acting Conveners), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Violence Against Women in Prostitution

1. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle violence against women in prostitution. (S5O-00817)

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (Annabelle Ewing)

I associate myself and my colleagues with the Presiding Officer’s earlier remarks.

The Scottish Government is committed to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls, including women in prostitution. The Scottish Government supports a range of measures that can help to reduce the harm that is caused by prostitution, and encourages the enforcement of existing laws against those who seek to exploit others through prostitution.

The questions of how to deal with prostitution in the longer term, and whether any specific approach can or does reduce the inherent harm associated with it, are very complex, and policy decisions should be evidence based. That is why we commissioned research in 2015 to consider the reliability of the evidence base internationally on the impacts of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, and research that explored the available knowledge and evidence of prostitution in Scotland. That research was published by the Scottish Government on 24 February to further inform the debate. We look forward to hearing views on the findings of the research around what is a highly complex and contested area.

John Mason

I have heard a number of survivors of prostitution speak about their experiences—not least last Friday, at the Scottish National Party conference—and it has been very moving. Even survivors who worked in a brothel in Edinburgh that was tacitly approved continued to be abused by pimps and others. Will the minister agree to meet some survivors of prostitution and hear of their experiences?

Annabelle Ewing

It is important that we listen to the views of everybody who is involved, including the views of sex workers, on both sides of the debate—those who are in favour of criminalisation and those who are opposed to it. I would be happy to meet current and former sex workers to listen to their views on the findings of the research and to hear of their experiences, in order that they might help to inform future policy considerations.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I welcome the policy decision on commercial sexual exploitation that was taken by the Scottish National Party conference at the weekend, which is similar to the Scottish Labour Party’s stance. Both policy positions are in line with “Equally Safe”, the Scottish Government’s violence against women strategy, which was endorsed by Parliament.

However, we need to take action now to stop such exploitation. I am glad that the minister has agreed to meet survivors to learn about the devastating effects that their experiences have had on them. I asked the First Minister and the minister to meet survivors some time ago. Will such a meeting now take place and will the Government put in place a plan of action to deal with commercial sexual exploitation and promote equality?

Annabelle Ewing

I acknowledge Rhoda Grant’s long-standing interest in the subject. Work on the matter has been on-going for some time. The immediate next steps that we plan to take are to allow all interested stakeholders, including current sex workers and people who have exited prostitution, to digest the detailed research that we published about four weeks ago on 24 February, and to engage further with those stakeholders to obtain their views on that research. I have asked officials to hold meetings with key stakeholders after the Easter recess in order to try to understand their current views and to hear whether their views have changed since that research. I am happy to have meetings with current and former sex workers and will ensure that officials put meetings in place in the weeks to come.

The Presiding Officer

Question 2 has not been lodged.

Yorkhill Minor Injuries Unit

3. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to reopen the Yorkhill minor injuries unit and, if so, on what date it will do so. (S5O-00819)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

The planning and provision of local services are the responsibility of national health service boards and integration partnerships, in line with national policies and frameworks. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has confirmed that the closure of the minor injuries unit at Yorkhill is a temporary measure to ensure that there is robust unscheduled care cover across the city.

After a meeting of the acute services committee this week, the board will carry out a review to determine the best location for a replacement service for the west of Glasgow to best meet the needs of local people.

Anas Sarwar

The minor injuries unit closed two days before Christmas, with no notice having been given to local people except a sign at the entrance. At that time, the local public were reassured that the closure was just a temporary measure to cover the peak during winter, which was confirmed by the First Minister at First Minister’s question time.

However, as of today, the unit has still not reopened. I have a letter from the chief executive of the health board stating that, due to the continued pressures at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, the minor injuries unit will remain closed, and will stay closed during the period of the review into whether we should have a minor injuries unit service at Yorkhill at all. That has been decided without any consultation of the public. The public have been given no information, there has been no consultation and no due process of service reform has been gone through. That is simply not acceptable, is it?

Shona Robison

I reiterate what I said in my first answer, which I hope Anas Sarwar listened to. The closure is a temporary measure that has been taken to help to provide unscheduled care cover across the city.

However, as I have said, the acute services committee agreed this week to review where the best location in the west of Glasgow would be for a minor injuries service.

As Anas Sarwar would know if he paid attention to the detail, the Yorkhill minor injuries unit was always an interim step as part of the migration of services in Glasgow in recent years. It might be that there is a better permanent location for a minor injuries unit that would better serve the people of the west of Glasgow. I would have thought that Anas Sarwar would agree that that work should go on.

On Anas Sarwar’s point about consultation, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde should be discussing with local people where the best location for the unit in the west of Glasgow should be. I will certainly encourage the board to do that.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary mentioned a review that is being carried out. Can she confirm whether NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is looking at sites—for example, Gartnavel—other than Yorkhill for a minor injuries unit in the west of the city?

Shona Robison

Yes. In considering where the west of Glasgow service should be provided, the board will need to go through a process to identify the most appropriate location for that service, and both Gartnavel and Yorkhill will be looked at to assess which would better meet the needs of local people. I have asked the board to keep Sandra White informed of the timing and the process. I certainly encourage her to engage further with the board on the matter and to ensure that the views of the local people whom she represents on the best location are conveyed to the board.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

There have been reports that the closure at Yorkhill was due to staff shortages over Christmas. Between December 2011 and December 2016, nursing and midwifery vacancies in Glasgow rose from 0.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent, which equates to 541 vacant posts. What will the cabinet secretary do to ensure that there are enough nurses in Glasgow to provide urgent care?

Shona Robison

On workforce growth over the past 10 years, the number of qualified nurses and midwives in Glasgow is up by 5.5 per cent, or 597 whole-time equivalents. However, it is clear that demand has also increased. It is very important that services are delivered in the best way to meet not just current demands, but future demands. Demand for unscheduled care has grown not only in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, but across Scotland, so it is very important that services continue to meet demand. The minor injuries service and potential services around that provide a very important part of the unscheduled care service in the west of the city of Glasgow.

I hope that Annie Wells supports what I have said. If she wants to meet the board to discuss the matter in more detail, I am sure that it would be willing to do that.

Railway Policing

4. Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the comments by the divisional commander of British Transport Police in Scotland that its proposed merger with Police Scotland risks reducing the effectiveness of railway policing. (S5O-00820)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

Police Scotland has confirmed to the Scottish Parliament that its intention would be to maintain a specialist railway policing function within the broader Police Scotland structure. That will retain the skills, knowledge and experience that BTP officers and staff have built and embed railway policing within the wider local, specialist and national resources of Police Scotland.

Graham Simpson

The Justice Committee has heard that up to 40 per cent of British Transport Police officers could leave the service if the merger goes ahead. That is a huge concern to operators such as Virgin Trains and CrossCountry and, indeed, to all of us.

The British Transport Police Federation chairman, Nigel Goodband, told that organisation’s conference in Cardiff yesterday that the plans are driven by “nationalistic jingoism”, amount to a “childish wish” from the Scottish National Party

“to play with their own train set”,

and are not based on any evidence. Expert after expert says that the BTP is not broken. Chief Superintendent John McBride, whom I referred to in my question, told MSPs that when other police are involved in rail incidents, it takes 50 per cent longer to investigate and get trains moving again. Does the minister dismiss the views of Mr McBride and others, or is he going to listen?

Michael Matheson

We have engaged extensively with the British Transport Police Federation and others in railway policing on a whole variety of issues that relate to the intention to integrate railway policing in Scotland into Police Scotland.

As I mentioned, Police Scotland has been very clear about its intention to maintain a specialist railway policing function within it and to do so under a single strategic command structure. That will allow us to ensure that we maintain that specialist resource and that railway services and passengers receive the quality of service that they require and believe is necessary, and also increase their capacity to draw on a national, specialist resource in a way that they are currently not able to do to the same extent.

In addition, to provide reassurance to the staff in the BTP, we have made it clear to the British Transport Police Federation and the staff unions that we have offered a triple lock, which guarantees security of job, pay and pension conditions. We will continue to work with those bodies as we proceed with the proposed legislation in the Scottish Parliament, to provide them with the reassurance that they and the public require about the way in which specialist railway policing will continue to be delivered if Parliament supports our proposed legislation.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins of Police Scotland and Chief Constable Crowther of British Transport Police both told the Justice Committee that Police Scotland has the specialisms and resources that it needs to take over policing of railways in Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary agree, and would he like to reiterate his earlier comments on that?

Michael Matheson

Assistant Chief Constable Higgins, in his evidence to the Justice Committee, was clear about Police Scotland’s ability to deliver specialist policing in a range of areas. For example, we already have specialist police functions relating to airports and ports, underwater matters and other areas such as firearms. There is no doubt that the assurances that ACC Higgins provided demonstrate a commitment to maintaining the specialist function of railway policing should the integration of the BTP into Police Scotland be agreed by the Parliament.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

I know that, whatever differences we have in the chamber, we will all want to pay tribute to the work of all our brave police officers, wherever they are, and that PC Keith Palmer will be in our thoughts.

Major rail unions have warned that they are prepared to consider industrial action if the Scottish Government pushes ahead with the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill and the break-up of the British Transport Police. Is the justice secretary prepared to risk yet more disruption on Scotland’s railways for a merger that workers do not want, that the public do not need and that those who represent British Transport Police officers have said is supported by

“no logic, no reason and ... no evidence”?—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 45.]

Michael Matheson

I can assure the member that I and my colleague Humza Yousaf will continue to engage with the variety of stakeholders who have an interest in how policing is delivered on our railways, including the unions, to provide them with the assurance that they are looking for on how policing will be delivered should integration be agreed by the Parliament. We will provide them with an assurance that they will continue to receive the level of service that they expect and that is provided at present. Ultimately, it will be for the Parliament to decide whether integration takes place by choosing whether or not to approve our proposed legislation. It will be for the Labour Party to set out its position on that but, ultimately, it will be for Parliament to decide whether integration takes place.

Organ Donation (Consultation)

5. Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its timetable is for proceeding with the results of the consultation on increasing the number of organ donations. (S5O-00821)

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

The independent analysis of the consultation on increasing the number of organ and tissue donations will be submitted to the Scottish Government in May this year. A decision informed by the outcome of the consultation will be made shortly after that.

Mark Griffin

I welcome the minister’s previous comments on a presumption in favour of moving to an opt-out system of organ donation. Does the minister agree that there would need to be a major public awareness and education campaign around an opt-out system; that there would understandably be a long lead-in time before that system was up and running and saving lives; and that, as a result, swift action is essential?

Aileen Campbell

I take on board the member’s comments. The crucial thing is to ensure that we get this right and take the time to properly consider the 863 consultation responses. Alongside the work on the soft opt-out—the member is right that we set out our presumption in favour of a soft opt-out system in the consultation—a significant amount of work has been done to increase the rate of donors. We have the highest rate of donors per million of population of any part of the United Kingdom and we have had the highest-ever number of deceased donors in this financial year. Alongside the careful work that needs to be taken forward relating to the soft opt-out, significant work is on-going to increase the rate of donors. We want to ensure that we proceed with the sensitivity that the issue requires. We will take time to go through the consultation responses, and we will keep the member and the Parliament updated on progress on the legislation.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Will the minister please advise members on how many people are currently awaiting a transplant in Scotland and how many people died while waiting for a transplant in the most recent year for which figures are available?

Aileen Campbell

I can get back to the member on some of the detail that he seeks. I can tell him that the active transplant waiting list has decreased by 20 per cent and that, since 2008, the number of donors in Scotland has increased by 131 per cent. Moreover, as I said in response to Mark Griffin, we have the highest rate of donors per million of population of any country in the UK.

Alongside the careful work that we are undertaking on legislating for the presumption of a soft opt-out, on which we have consulted, we are taking forward a significant number of other areas of work to ensure that people get transplants when they need them and that we increase the number of donors across the country.