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
- 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
First Minister’s Question Time
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01070)
Let me express, on behalf of the Parliament and our country, my shock and sadness at the heinous attack on Westminster yesterday afternoon. We send our heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones and our thoughts to all those who sustained injuries.
Many of us in this chamber have friends and colleagues—indeed, some of us have family members—who work in the Palace of Westminster: parliamentarians, staff and journalists. Yesterday was a harrowing day for all of them, and they have our support and good wishes. Above all, we stand in solidarity with London, a vibrant, diverse, wonderful city, which will never be cowed by mindless acts of violence.
This attack stands, of course, as a stark reminder of the dangerous jobs that our emergency services do every day on our behalf. Yesterday, a Metropolitan Police officer went to work to protect and defend democracy, and did not return home. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of PC Keith Palmer.
Today, we should also express our appreciation to policemen and women across the country, who risk their lives every day in the line of duty. To the police and security staff who keep us safe here in our own Parliament, we say thank you.
In the aftermath of the attack yesterday, I was updated by the national security adviser and updated also on the immediate actions that were taken by Police Scotland. I convened a meeting of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee last night. That was an opportunity to review what was known about the events in London, consider any implications for Scotland and hear directly from the chief constable and other senior officers about their response. I am grateful to the chief executive of our Parliament for taking part in that meeting. I have been updated again by Police Scotland this morning.
It is important to stress that there is no intelligence of any increased threat or risk to Scotland. However, as a precautionary measure, Police Scotland has increased security at key locations, including our Parliament, and will keep those arrangements under review. The public should also remain vigilant but go about their everyday business as normal.
We know that, at times like these, it can be all too easy to look for someone to blame. It is important, therefore, that we are very clear about this: acts of terrorism are not the responsibility of any one faith or section of our society; the only people to blame for acts of terrorism are the individuals who plan and perpetrate them.
Let me end by echoing and endorsing the words of the Prime Minister. Terrorists seek to undermine our values and destroy our way of life. They will not succeed. Whatever our disagreements, in this chamber or any other, we stand united in our core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Those values are strong and they will endure. [Applause.]
On behalf of members on these benches, I express our deep shock at yesterday’s events in Westminster. We, too, send our deep condolences to those whose loved ones were lost or injured yesterday. Once again, we express our gratitude to the police officers and security guards who, at Westminster and here at Holyrood, work to keep us safe, and whose bravery we seem only to truly appreciate at a time like this—people such as PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life yesterday doing his job, doing his duty.
Yesterday, a coward killed three innocent people and injured many more in an attempt to attack the symbol of our country’s democracy. His attack on our values failed as he died—the paramedics demonstrated what a civilised society is by trying to save him. His attack on our freedom will fail again today, as we show our resolve by returning to work and getting on with our lives.
Does the First Minister agree that, as representatives of democracy, we best demonstrate our defiance by showing—here in Edinburgh and at Westminster—that we will not be silenced and we will not be cowed? Does she agree that we best strike back against terrorism by staying true to our own values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law?
I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments expressed by Ruth Davidson. Those of us who have had the opportunity to see some of the proceedings in the House of Commons this morning cannot fail to have been moved by the poignancy of what we witnessed. All of us feel very deeply the impact of what happened yesterday on our colleagues and friends in the House of Commons and in wider Westminster. Going back to work today must have been difficult and harrowing, but the dignity that was expressed by the Prime Minister and by other members of Parliament gives us all an example to follow.
We have many disagreements. That is the nature of democracy. We have seen that in our own Parliament over the past couple of days. However, it is our ability to express those disagreements, often very passionately, that is the hallmark of our democracy. It is the values of democracy, human rights, freedom and the rule of law that terrorists seek to strike at. Whatever our disagreements—and, before too long, we will undoubtedly return to them, here and in other places—we have had the opportunity in the past 24 hours to remind ourselves that we are all united by our common humanity, and that it is democracy that defends our ability to have such disagreements and express them in the way we do.
Can I ask the First Minister about the measures to protect people since yesterday’s events? This morning, a deputy chief constable at Police Scotland outlined some of the measures that have already been taken since yesterday’s attacks. As the First Minister has indicated, those include an increased police presence in our major conurbations and a substantial armed presence on our streets. The deputy chief constable also described how, yesterday, Police Scotland officers dropped everything to be in the right place. Again, we thank them for their actions. Can the First Minister today assure the chamber that the police will be given all the support that they need to tackle this threat, so that the public are given the reassurances that they require?
I am happy to give that assurance. I have indeed been assured by the chief constable that he has the resources that he requires to respond appropriately. There will continue to be—as, I should say, there always is—on-going dialogue between the Scottish Government and our police service to ensure that the police have the resources that are required.
The police have well-developed plans in place that enable them to increase security in response to incidents such as the one that we witnessed yesterday. Those plans were activated by Police Scotland yesterday and put into place immediately. There is an increased police presence around our major conurbations and that includes, as people would expect, an increase in the presence of armed officers.
For reasons that I am sure the whole chamber will understand, I will not go into precise detail about the police tactical response. It would be inappropriate and counterproductive for me to do so. However, that response involves a substantial uplift in armed officers on duty and a configuration of resources to ensure that there has been a high-profile, non-armed police presence across the country. I am sure that many members of the public will have seen evidence of that this morning as they travelled to work.
As I said in my initial remarks, I have already spoken to Deputy Chief Constable Gwynne this morning, to be updated and also to continue to be briefed on how the police are responding. The arrangements that have been put in place will remain in place for the foreseeable future, but the police will continue to keep those arrangements under review. I am confident, and therefore want to reassure the public, that the police are doing everything that is appropriate to ensure the protection of the public.
Finally, I reiterate a point that I made earlier. The public—as should be the case at all times—should be vigilant. If they have concerns about anything, they should trust their instincts and contact the police, but the public should get on with their daily business, as we in this Parliament are getting on with ours. That, after all, is the best response to terrorists.
I thank the First Minister for the information that she is able to give the chamber. As has been noted again today, we can never guard against attacks like yesterday’s by building ever-higher walls or bigger defences, and nor, as a free and liberal society here in the United Kingdom, should we wish to do so even if it did work. As the deputy chief constable also said this morning, the best defence against terror is a cohesive society that self-polices against the threat of extremism, a society that itself stops extremism from taking root and from poisoning vulnerable minds. What practical efforts is the Scottish Government making to ensure that we have the right community engagement in place to strengthen us all?
I agree that there will always be a limit to what can be done to provide guarantees of protection, but whatever can be done should be done. I have already outlined the increased police presence that Police Scotland is making available. Those who heard the deputy chief constable on the radio this morning will also have heard him talking about the specialist advice that is available to the police, including counterterrorist security advisers to advise on physical security—for example, barriers in place at key locations—and it is important that we trust our police to take the right decisions in that regard.
The fundamental point is that our best resilience comes from community resilience and the vigilance of the public. The police have been in contact with faith groups already, over the course of yesterday, last night and this morning. The chief constable has today issued a message of reassurance to communities. The Scottish Government, as we do on an on-going basis, will also be making contact with key groups in our society and key faith communities, to underline the important message of cohesion. Terrorists, by their very nature, seek to divide. Their intention and their objective is to lead us to turn on each other and to look to blame people in our own society. We must not do that. No faith group and no section of our society is responsible for what happened on the streets of London yesterday. Just as it is the best response to terrorism to go about our daily business confidently and defiantly, so, too, is it the right response to terrorism to unite as a society and to use that cohesion as a strength.
I thank the First Minister once again for her response. This has been a week when we have been reminded that terrorism has many faces. In Northern Ireland, the passing of a former Deputy First Minister there has brought back memories of the sickening violence that has played out in that part of the United Kingdom. The events in Westminster yesterday reminded us of the new terror threat that has dogged the United Kingdom and our allies internationally over the past two decades. Terror has come to our country in many forms and guises. It has come not from one religion or one group but from the twisted world view of individuals. Does the First Minister agree that the lesson here is not to tar one religion or one group in the coming days but to tackle the evil of terrorist ideology itself, and not to vilify or blame whole communities but instead to show that we all stand united against terror and stand united in defeating it?
The best and strongest message that we can send out from our Parliament today, in solidarity with our sister Parliament in Westminster, and with the people of London and other parts of our world that have been blighted by the acts of terrorists, is exactly that one. Whatever legitimate disagreements we have, we are united in those core values that we hold dear, and at times like this it is more important than ever that we come together to express those values and express our determination that terrorists will not divide us.
Perhaps there is another lesson, and perhaps it is one that is particularly resonant for us here in this chamber at this time. We resolve disagreements by debate, by discussion and by dialogue. That is what democracy is all about. Whatever we disagree on, what we all agree on is the vital importance of a vibrant democracy. Let that message ring out loudly from our Parliament today.
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-01069)
I have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.
I add the thoughts and prayers of these benches and this party to all those who were affected by yesterday’s attack on Westminster, including the families of those who have died. In particular, I pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who died doing what he did every single day: keeping people safe.
Westminster means different things to different people. Our houses of Parliament are a beacon of democracy for many around the world. They represent freedom, tolerance and the rule of law. However, Westminster is also a place of work for cleaners, catering staff, janitors, journalists, police officers, administrators and many more. Many people are going to work today concerned about the safety of others, such as the police officers in Scotland who are watching guard at train stations, the nurses who put themselves at risk every day and those in our schools who dedicate their careers to the enrichment of others. What assurances can the First Minister give us that everything that can be done is being done to ensure public safety?
Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that, yesterday, we were all reminded that Parliament at Westminster, just like our Parliament here, is not just a symbol of our politics and democracy, although Parliaments the world over are exactly that, but a place where human beings go to work. Some of my oldest friends in life work within the Palace of Westminster, and there will be many others in this chamber who can say exactly the same. I will not be the only one whose first thoughts yesterday were about people who I love and people who I count among my dearest friends. That is a reminder that politicians are human, as are the staff who work for them and the journalists who report on us. At moments like this, it is that humanity that we are reminded of. Last night, I read a wonderful piece by the journalist Jonathan Freedland, who made that precise point. I recommend it to anyone who has not read it.
I have already outlined to Ruth Davidson the steps that Police Scotland has taken and will continue to take to ensure that it guarantees public safety, as far as can be done. However, it is also important to work hard to guarantee public assurance. The police presence that many people will be witnessing on our streets today is higher profile than normal. I stress—it is important to continue to stress this—that that is not because there is any intelligence whatsoever of an increased threat to Scotland; it is about assurance. Understandably, the public feel nervous and anxious in the wake of events like this, and part of the job of the police is not only to keep us safe but to contribute to a sense of assurance. Police Scotland and all of us will continue to do that in the days ahead.
London is a microcosm of the world. We know from the Prime Minister’s statement just an hour ago that those who were injured yesterday were British, French, Romanian, South Korean, Greek, German, Polish and Irish. London is an open and multicultural city that is home to people of all faiths and from many different and diverse nations. It is a city that, last year, elected Europe’s first Muslim mayor. Therefore, no matter the religion, nationality or identity of the attacker or of those arrested earlier this morning, this cannot and must not turn into a war on any one community. Bringing people together must be part of the solution to combating terror. Will the First Minister join me in sending a strong message that Britain remains an open, tolerant nation that is home to people of all faiths and all nationalities?
Yes, that is an extremely important message. London is one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Two weeks ago today, I walked across Westminster bridge on my way to the memorial service for Afghanistan and Iraq. On that morning, the bridge was packed, as it is every morning, with people of all nationalities and all ages, including school parties excited to be witnessing the Palace of Westminster and everything that the wonderful city of London has to offer.
We must remind ourselves that the victims of yesterday’s attack would and could have been of any nationality. However, it is also important to remind ourselves—as Kezia Dugdale has just done—that the responsibility for this attack does not lie with any faith or nationality. Terrorists seek to pervert religions and we should not, in any way, contribute to their ability to do so. This is an important moment for us to stand united and to send that message.
One of the issues that I discussed both last night and again this morning with the deputy chief constable was the need to be vigilant against any increase in hate crime in the days ahead. All of us in this Parliament should unite to send the message that the only people responsible for terrorism are the terrorists. Let us make sure that that message is heard loudly and clearly. [Applause.]
This is of course the second time in less than a year that we have faced an attack on our democracy here in Britain. We have watched in angst as terror has struck around the world, from Belgium to Nigeria. In the days following the brutal murder of Jo Cox, we resolved that we have more in common than that which divides us, so does the First Minister agree that the best message that we can send following this terrorist attack is that we will remain true to the values of tolerance and integration, freedom and solidarity?
Yes, I agree whole-heartedly with that. I am sure that many people yesterday, in the immediate aftermath of the attack in London, thought of Jo Cox and the incredible dignity with which her husband and her family reacted in the days immediately following her murder. I had the privilege of speaking to Brendan Cox last week to pledge the support of the Scottish Government for the activities that he is planning to commemorate the anniversary of her murder.
This is an opportunity for us all to remind ourselves of the values that Jo Cox encapsulated and the values that all of us hold so dear. These are the values that terrorists seek to strike at. Their whole motivation is to divide, to undermine, and to destroy the way of life that we hold dear. Just as we all did in the aftermath of the murder of Jo Cox, let us again today send the message to those who would commit acts of terrorism anywhere in the world that they will not succeed because whatever we disagree on, we are united by a rock-solid commitment to the values that Kezia Dugdale has articulated.
To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-01072)
The Cabinet will next meet on Tuesday.
I add, on behalf of my party, our deep concern for all those who were affected by yesterday’s horrific events, our deepest sympathies for the friends and families of PC Palmer and all those who were killed yesterday, the respect and gratitude that we all feel towards those who stepped forward in such circumstances, both bystanders who helped the injured and the emergency services who showed professionalism and dedication, and our hopes for the recovery of those who have been injured.
The lasting injury that some people wish to inflict upon us all is the destruction of the empathy and solidarity that our society depends on, so we must all be united in expressing and building that empathy and solidarity—in particular, in challenging those who would seek to blame, stigmatise and alienate people on the basis of their religion.
There are, sadly, those in our society, in our media and in our politics—in this country and in others—who are today reacting to these events by continuing to express racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments. As well as reflecting on the First Minister’s comments about the actions that are necessary to address security concerns, I welcome the assurance that the First Minister has just given that the Government will also respond robustly to any increase in hate crime and prejudice. Does the First Minister agree that we must continue to confront any presence of such far right threats in our society?
Yes, I agree. Just as we have to stand strong against the terrorists, so too do we have to stand strong against anyone who would seek to exploit the acts of terrorists to sow division in our society.
At such times, I think that we are all acutely aware of the feelings of people in our Muslim community in particular, who feel as horrified, shocked and distressed as any of us do about the attack that happened yesterday, and who often have the additional burden of feeling that some in our society seek to blame them for such acts. At such moments in time, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with them. I know from my constituency—which, as members are aware, has a very high Muslim population—just how important it is to do that at this time.
That takes a number of forms. It is a question of reaching out. As I have already said, the police and the Scottish Government will do that across all faith communities in the days that lie ahead. It is also a question of calling out anybody who seeks to respond to what happened in London yesterday with racism, intolerance or anti-immigrant sentiment, and of making sure that we are vigilant against hate crime and that the police respond vigorously to any crimes of that nature. As I said earlier, I have had an assurance this morning from the police that they will do exactly that.
This is a moment for remembering what unites us as human beings, and that—in all the different ways and forms that we have been discussing it this morning—is the most important message that we can send.
I ask the First Minister to reflect on the children and young people who are growing up at this time, who must also be looking on at these events. Their experiences not only of what they see in the news coverage of the Westminster attack and other such attacks but of our response as a society will shape their understanding of the world around them.
I grew up at a time when the cold war created fears and insecurity—there was fear of violent destruction on an unimaginable scale. I can barely imagine the impact of the brutal reality of yesterday’s attack, and others, on those who are growing up today.
What does the First Minister believe that we can do in our education system and in our wider society to overcome those fears and ensure that young people grow up with those values of respect and empathy that we have all spoken of, and with confidence in the capacity of humanity to stand together?
Patrick Harvie raises a very important point. Like Patrick Harvie and many other members, I grew up during the cold war at a time when the terrorism that people were afraid of was Irish terrorism. As many members will do, I remember how real that felt at times.
However, what we did not have to contend with, which young people today have to contend with, is the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week conveyance of news on social media—on sites such as Twitter and Facebook—which I think we all recognise makes everything seem so much more acute every second of every day. We must be conscious of the impact of that on young people.
The other side of that is that social media makes the world smaller and gives our young people the ability to reach out to people on the other side of the world to build common cause on those things that unite us as human beings. It is important that our education system ensures that we instil those common values that all of us hold dear, but we should also seek to lead by example in the way in which we respond, and I think that all members in all parties feel a responsibility to do that.
To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-01064)
Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.
For four years, I walked up Kennington Road and over Westminster bridge. I looked up at Big Ben and then down at the Thames. I dodged past the tourists who were taking pictures of that iconic scene, which is recognised right across the globe. I descended the steps and went into the palace of Westminster, nodding at the police officer, who nodded in return—“Morning, Mr Rennie”; it was the personal touch.
I do not think that I will be able to walk that route again without thinking of the people who were run over, the woman in the river, the police and the other people who were injured or the three people who died. Perhaps some of those people were tourists who were taking pictures. I will think of the officer who sought to defend democracy and who lost his life in the process.
However, I do want to be free to walk that route again. Getting the balance right between security and freedom is difficult. Does the First Minister agree that we must act on the basis of security, expertise, evidence and intelligence and not fear?
Yes, I agree very strongly indeed with that. Willie Rennie has very movingly just recounted his experience of making the journey that many of those who work within Westminster would have made yesterday morning. Those of us who have never worked within Westminster, though, can relate to our own experiences of coming to work in this building and nodding and saying good morning to the police officers and the security staff, many of whom have been with us since the beginning of the Parliament in 1999, as those of us who have been here since then will know. They are people who we have come to think of not just as colleagues but as friends. They work every day around the perimeters of the building and within it to keep us safe. Yesterday was a reminder of just how much we owe each and every one of them.
Willie Rennie is right that at times like this there is, of course, a desire on the part of the public to know that the police and the security services are doing as he indicated. We have not mentioned the security services yet, but the rarity of yesterday’s shocking events is a tribute to the security and intelligence workers who keep the country safe at all times. However, it is understandable that in response to an attack like yesterday’s, people’s instinct is to worry about security. That is right and proper, and I feel very strongly the responsibility that I have shared with others as First Minister to ensure that we are doing everything that we possibly can to guarantee the security of the public.
However, the balance has to be right. I do not want—and I do not believe that anybody wants—to live in a country where we allow the fear and threat of terrorism to restrict and undermine how we live our lives, because that would be allowing the terrorists to get what they want. We therefore have to ensure that there is a balance and proportionality in what the police do. Having discussed matters yesterday and today with the police—I discuss periodically with the police the plans that are in place—I am confident that they have that balance very firmly in mind. We have to keep the public safe, but above all else that means keeping the public safe for a purpose: to allow them to get on with their day-to-day lives because that is the most important thing.
Yesterday’s events were particularly horrific because the scene was so familiar: we have all seen it on our televisions or have witnessed it ourselves. However, acts of terrorism happen abroad as well as at home, and they happen almost every day. We must do all that we can to protect our open, free and liberal society; never generalising or stigmatising, though, but reaching out to all faiths, religions, countries and creeds. Although yesterday’s attacker was born here, his violent ideology is one that pervades the globe. That is why we must act together with our partners wherever they are in the world. It is about defence, security and intelligence, but it is also about soft power through international aid, diplomacy and partnerships. Does the First Minister agree?
Yes, I do. There are two points there that are worth underlining, the first of which is the first one that Willie Rennie made. Of course acts of terrorism that happen here at home on our own shores or on the shores of our nearest neighbours will always impact more forcibly on us than acts of terrorism that happen further afield. However, it is really important that we recognise that many countries across the world deal with events like yesterday’s on a regular basis. Yesterday, when watching the television, I was struck by an interview with a tourist from Turkey, who made the point that he was shocked by what had happened but that he came from a country where such incidents were, sadly, a regular occurrence. That is a reminder that we probably all have an obligation to give more attention to acts like yesterday’s that happen in other parts of our world.
The second point that I think is worth underlining—this is again a point that is resonant in the age that we live in—is that whatever relationships there may be at any time between different countries, it is vital for all countries to work together on security, on defence and on intelligence. Again, perhaps, the theme of our discussions this morning, if we were to draw one out, is this: whatever our disagreements and whatever different relationships we may want from time to time, there are many, many things, regardless of all of that, that unite us—not just the human values that we have spoken about, but the common interest that we all have to work together to combat terrorism and keep our population safe.
I thank the First Minister and all our party leaders for their contributions. We now move to supplementary questions with a question from Miles Briggs.
This morning, the Edinburgh Evening News revealed that national health service staff, patients and visitors will face an increase in parking charges from £7 to £15 per day. Does the First Minister think that it is fair for our hard-working NHS staff to face a more than doubling of parking charges to go to their work? What advice does the Scottish Government give NHS boards on parking charges for NHS staff? Will the First Minister back my call for NHS Lothian to scrap this staggering 114 per cent increase in parking charges?
I share the member’s concern and I actually agree with him—I do not think that the situation is fair to patients at or visitors to Edinburgh royal infirmary. As some members will recall, when I was the health secretary, we abolished parking charges at all NHS-run car parks across the country. There is a small number of sites—Edinburgh royal infirmary is one of them—where it was not possible to do that because of the private finance initiative schemes that were in place. The cost would have been out of proportion to any sense of affordability.
I know that, in years gone by, NHS Lothian has looked closely at the matter, as have Scottish Government officials. I will happily ask the health secretary to discuss the matter again with NHS Lothian. The contracts—I am not seeking to make a political point; today is not the day for that—predate the life of this Government, but we will continue to look and look again at whether anything can be done. I hope that that helps to explain the context for the important issue that the member has raised.
Ageing Population (Planning)
I do not know whether I should declare an interest.
To ask the First Minister what forward planning is in place to meet the demographic challenges of an ageing population. (S5F-01079)
I think that Christine Grahame should almost certainly declare an interest.
I will pay a heavy price for that attempt at lightening the mood in the chamber.
Scotland’s ageing population is one of our most significant challenges as a society, but it is also—we do not make this point often enough—one of our most significant assets. We want to ensure that older people can continue to contribute and participate to their fullest potential. That is why, across the Government, the needs of our ageing population have been embedded into all our planning. We continue to work with National Records of Scotland on population projections. From health and social care, planning and housing to combating social isolation and supporting people who want to keep on working, we are doing all that we can to support people to enjoy a thriving third age.
I thank the First Minister for her reply, in part.
I congratulate The Herald on its grey matters campaign, which we surely all endorse. Given that 17 per cent of the Scottish population is under 16 whereas 18 per cent is over 65 and given that, over the coming 25 years, the number of over-65s is predicted to rise by 53 per cent and the number of over-80s is predicted to rise from 77,000 to 200,000—that is impacting even now and will impact in the future, as the First Minister has understood, on housing, health, transport and so on—will the First Minister commit to appointing a dedicated minister for older people to work across all Government portfolios to provide the best support that we can provide for older people in Scotland?
For the avoidance of doubt, I say to the First Minister that that was not a job application.
But if asked, I am sure—anyway. I will consider that proposal, although, because the issue cuts across every responsibility of the Government, it is the responsibility of all ministers to make sure that it is embedded in our planning.
I, too, commend the grey matters series of articles that has been running in The Herald this week, which has been an excellent contribution to raising the profile of the many different issues that are involved. I agree with Christine Grahame’s comments and I reiterate that, across all responsibilities of the Government, we are mindful of how we respond to what is a challenge and an opportunity.
There is obviously a crossover with the debate about migration and freedom of movement. I feel strongly that we all have a responsibility not to dismiss people’s concerns about immigration, which we should address, but to focus people’s minds on the economic necessity for us as a country to grow our population, because of the demographics that Christine Grahame outlined. The contribution of some of the best and brightest talents from across Europe and the world has a significant part to play in that.
The Government has a responsibility to take forward many issues. We will make sure that we do that and that we do so in consultation with others across the Parliament.
In November, it was my great privilege to chair a meeting of the Scottish older people’s assembly in the chamber. At one point, I asked those present what they were most worried or anxious about, and I was surprised to learn that fear of falling topped the list. A few weeks ago, Parliament agreed to an amendment in my name that called for a national falls strategy to build on the work of the 2014 falls framework, with resources and adequate awareness-raising capability. What steps does the First Minister’s Government plan to take on that?
I will ask the health secretary to write to Alex Cole-Hamilton with the detail of how we are working in a co-ordinated way across the Government, and in partnership with local authorities, health boards and the voluntary sector, to combat the fear, risk and consequences of falls among older people.
It does not surprise me to hear that older people expressed that fear most often. Many people have an increased risk of falling as they get older, and that in itself is a source of fear. For many older people, the consequences of having a fall can be severe and can have a significant impact on their ability to live independently, so it is important that we take an approach to falling that not only is first and foremost preventative but deals quickly and appropriately with the implications and consequences of falls, so that older people retain the ability to live independently, notwithstanding that they have suffered a fall.
I will ask the health secretary to write to Alex Cole-Hamilton with more detail about the specific work that we are taking forward.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Referrals)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government's response is to reports that, in 2015, around one in five referrals to child and adolescent mental health services were rejected and, over the last three years, approximately 17,000 children and young people have been affected. (S5F-01073)
All children who are referred to specialist child and adolescent mental health services are assessed on an individual basis. If, as a result of an assessment, a clinician did not believe that CAMHS was the best course, we would expect the child to be referred to an appropriate service.
As the chamber is aware, the Minister for Mental Health will next week bring forward our new 10-year mental health strategy. I am able to tell the chamber today that an early action of that strategy will be to commission an audit of rejected referrals. Its findings will help to ensure that children are being referred to the right services and that those services can provide the help that children need.
I thank the First Minister for that answer, which is encouraging. Half of all adults who are mentally ill experience the onset of their mental health problems by the age of 15 so, if we can identify and support young people early, we can make a difference. According to the Scottish Association for Mental Health, three in 10 young people in classrooms across Scotland have a mental health problem. We will not close the attainment gap unless we address the mental health needs of children and young people.
Children and young people live in five NHS board areas—including mine, NHS Lanarkshire—where the 18-week target is not being met. One NHS board—Lothian—reports a median wait of 20 weeks. SAMH has called for mental health waiting time targets to be reduced to 12 weeks, in line with other waiting time targets. Does the First Minister think that that is achievable?
I agree with the general thrust of Graham Simpson’s question. If we can identify mental health problems in younger people, we prevent problems deteriorating later in life. That view will ensure that CAHMS is a central part of the strategy that we will outline next week.
The member is right to raise the issue of waiting times. Progress is being made towards meeting the 18-week waiting time; some boards are further behind than others, and we are working closely with them to support them in accelerating progress.
As I have said before in the chamber, one of the things that we should be positive about—counterintuitive though it often sounds—is that more people, young and old, are being identified with mental health issues and are coming forward for support. As I have said before, that means that the stigma that has often prevented people from seeking support in the past is fading, and that is a good thing that we should all welcome.
However, that places a responsibility on the shoulders of the Government and services across the country. Encouraging people to come forward for help is counterproductive if they cannot then access that help timeously. That is why the aspects that I have talked about—Maureen Watt will outline others next week—are so important. We are increasing support for mental health services; indeed, I announced at the weekend moves that we are making not just in the health service but in our criminal justice system.
Mental health is one of the most important issues that we face not just in our health service but across our society. I am sure that the strategy will receive a lot of robust scrutiny when it is outlined next week, but I hope that we can also build a lot of consensus about what it will seek to do.