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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 29, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 29 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Apprenticeship Week, Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018 to 2022 , UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Bellgrove Hotel (Discussions)

1. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde regarding the Bellgrove Hotel. (S5O-01957)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Discussions between the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council remain on-going, as we consider that the wellbeing of the Bellgrove’s residents would be best met through adopting a wider approach to address issues such as the provision of homelessness services for those with the most complex needs.

The homelessness and rough sleeping action group published its recommendations for ending rough sleeping earlier this month. They contain measures to support vulnerable homeless people with complex needs, who include many of those who reside at the Bellgrove. The measures include proposals to move to a rapid rehousing model and a housing first approach to people experiencing homelessness, which seeks to support those with needs such as mental health or addiction needs.

We have accepted all the recommendations in principle and will work closely with our partners to implement them. That includes continuing to work with Glasgow City Council to improve options and outcomes for those who currently use the Bellgrove Hotel.

John Mason

I welcome any progress to provide more support for what can be up to 140 vulnerable men in that establishment.

Does the minister agree that we also need a change in regulations? Either we need to tighten up on houses in multiple occupation licensing, or the Care Inspectorate needs to be given more power so that it can go into places such as the Bellgrove.

Kevin Stewart

The Bellgrove Hotel is not typical of homelessness accommodation. The case involves many complex issues, as Mr Mason is well aware. For that reason, I think that legislative change is unlikely to achieve the desired result.

It is the responsibility of local authorities to administer the licensing of HMOs, and they have a duty to take into account the condition of the living accommodation, as well as the safety and security of persons likely to occupy it. Glasgow City Council has previously taken action through HMO licensing to compel the owners of the Bellgrove Hotel to improve electrical safety and bathroom facilities.

The Care Inspectorate, which Mr Mason also mentioned, regulates the provision of care services as defined in schedule 12 to the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. However, as the Bellgrove Hotel is privately owned and the owners do not provide any care to the residents, there is no requirement for regulation by the Care Inspectorate.

That is why both the Government and the council believe that the solution has to be part of the wider delivery of homelessness services in the city. In that regard, the measures recommended by the homelessness and rough sleeping action group will play a vital role in resolving the situation at the Bellgrove.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Question 2 was not lodged.

Council Tenants’ Rights (Communal Repairs)

3. Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to protect the rights of council tenants who are in a minority position regarding essential communal repairs. (S5O-01959)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Local authorities are required under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to keep the houses that they let

“wind and watertight and in all other respects reasonably fit for human habitation.”

They are also required, under the Scottish social housing charter, to ensure that homes let by them in their capacity as a registered social landlord comply with the Scottish housing quality standard.

Where the local authority owns of some the flats in a tenement, it should work with other owners to maintain any part of the building that provides support or shelter to any other part. Local authorities have the same rights as other owners to enforce common works and carry out emergency works, and they also have recourse to their general powers to require owners in tenements to carry out work to repair or maintain substandard housing by serving work notices and maintenance orders.

Angus MacDonald

The power to recover what is referred to as “missing shares”, which was introduced in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014, is very welcome. However, if local authorities are not prepared to use that power, tenants are left living for considerable periods in often unacceptable conditions. Responding to Ben Macpherson’s members’ business debate on 9 January, the minister stated that he intended to extend the missing shares powers later in the year. What progress has been made on that, and what more can the Scottish Government do to ensure that local authorities use the powers that they already have under the 2014 act to address the issue?

Kevin Stewart

Missing shares powers are available only if a majority of owners agree to carry out works. With substandard housing, all local authorities have powers to require owners to carry out work to bring houses up to standard. If housing is below the tolerable standard, the local authority has a statutory duty to ensure that it is closed, demolished or brought up to standard within a reasonable period.

Regulations to extend missing shares powers to permit registered social landlords to recover missing shares for common works are being drafted and will be laid before Parliament shortly.

It is for local authorities to determine how best to make use of their statutory powers to meet local conditions and priorities. However, I commend the work that is being taken forward by Scotland’s Housing Network to share best practice and encourage the effective use of the new powers. I hope that all local authorities will take account of what the Scottish Housing Network is doing in that sharing of best practice.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Councils are largely not using the powers that they have because they see doing so as a risk That aside, the minister will be aware that a cross-party working group is being established, co-convened by Ben Macpherson and me, to look at the very complex issues around tenement repairs. Will the minister pledge to work closely with our group as we develop proposals to solve the problems?

Kevin Stewart

On Graham Simpson’s comment about councils’ use of their powers, I am pleased to say that some councils that previously were not using missing shares powers are now doing so. I encourage all local authorities to use those powers to help the citizens in their areas.

I am more than willing to listen to the views of the group established by Ben Macpherson, and I will continue to work co-operatively and collaboratively with everyone on the issue. I wish the group well in its deliberations and I look forward to hearing in the very near future what it is up to.

The Presiding Officer

Question 4 was not lodged.

Bullying (School Environment)

5. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that, in instances of bullying, schools act to protect both parties and ensure that the school environment remains a safe place. (S5O-01961)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Bullying of any kind is entirely unacceptable and must be addressed swiftly and effectively whenever it arises in schools. The Government has fully funded the respectme service, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, since its inception. In 2018-19, we will provide more than £280,000 to respectme. That is direct support to all those working with children and young people to address all types of bullying effectively.

To support schools and local authorities, in November 2017 the Government published “Respect for All: The National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People”, which provides an overarching framework and context for all anti-bullying work undertaken in Scotland. It reflects the getting it right for every child approach and promotes working with children and young people to help change their behaviour.

Brian Whittle

I agree that the vast majority of schools act swiftly and appropriately to deal with instances of bullying. I raise the matter because of a disturbing case of a constituent’s daughter who has been bullied for the past six years, in and out of school. Can the cabinet secretary tell me what recourse is available to parents when a school has not acted on bullying in the way that he would wish?

John Swinney

The approach that I set out in my original answer is designed to provide the reassurance that in all schools there is good practice that refers to and takes account of the “Respect for All” approach and the services that are available from respectme. If Mr Whittle wishes to raise the specific circumstances with me, I will look into them and raise the necessary concerns with the local authority and the school concerned to make sure that they are properly addressed.

Just the other week, the respectme organisation marked its 10th anniversary with an event in Parliament, which I attended. That evening, there was a presentation from Holy Cross high school in Hamilton on the new approach that the school is taking to tackling bullying. It is, in my estimation, one of the finest examples of a cohesive strategy to tackle bullying and to make sure that schools are the safe places that all of us want them to be.

There is excellent practice out there in Scottish schools. As with all challenges in education, the challenge is to make sure that such practice is systemic, so that all young people in all circumstances have access to high-quality support in resolving these issues.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

What measures are in place in schools to educate pupils about the damage caused by insidious online bullying, which of course follows pupils from school to their bedroom?

John Swinney

Christine Grahame raises a very significant development in this area. Young people might have felt that they would have some protection at home from some of the experiences of bullying that they might fear in the community or at school, but digital connectivity and social media have now established the further connection that Christine Grahame mentioned.

I assure Christine Grahame that, in “Respect for All”, further steps have been taken to ensure that the behaviour that she quite rightly highlighted is fully incorporated into our thinking. The example that I cited to Mr Whittle of the experience in Holy Cross high school in Hamilton is a very good example of how the digital dimension has been fully incorporated into the approaches and support that are envisaged in the anti-bullying policies that are being pioneered in our schools.

Review of Corroboration (Sexual Crimes)

6. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its plans to review the requirement for corroboration in relation to prosecuting reported sexual crimes. (S5O-01962)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

We proposed abolishing the requirement for corroboration in all criminal cases during the passage of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. At that time, however, there was no legal or parliamentary consensus for the abolition.

We therefore asked Lord Bonomy to review what additional safeguards might be required if the corroboration rule were to be removed. The review recommended a wide range of substantive and constructive criminal justice reforms. One of the key recommendations of Lord Bonomy’s group was that research into jury reasoning and decision making should be undertaken, so that any changes to our jury system are informed by evidence that could point to safeguards if the rule were to be abolished. We took forward that recommendation, and that research is now well under way and is due to be completed in autumn 2019.

Any future consideration of corroboration reforms needs to await the findings of that important research and needs to be considered in the wider context of that recommendation and the other recommendations of the Lord Bonomy report.

Monica Lennon

Emma Bryson is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who recently bravely told her story to The Scotsman. Her case could not be prosecuted due to the requirement for corroboration. Rape Crisis Scotland says that that is the most common reason that is given to rape survivors for there being no prosecution. As the cabinet secretary is aware, in 2016-17 only 13 per cent of reported and attempted rape cases were prosecuted.

It has been three years since the Scottish Government made the commitment to review corroboration, to which the cabinet secretary referred. I welcome the update that the cabinet secretary has given, but survivors of rape want justice now. What decisive steps will the Government take to improve prosecution rates for this abhorrent crime?

Michael Matheson

I accept that the conviction rate for rape continues to be low in comparison with the rate for other offences. That reflects, in part, the challenging evidential requirements of proving rape, which includes the requirement for corroboration.

Monica Lennon will be aware that when the Scottish Government introduced the proposal to Parliament, her party opposed the abolition of corroboration—and in a very vigorous fashion. However, we have taken practical measures to address some of the issues in respect of improving the rate of convictions in rape cases. For example, we strengthened the law on sexual crime with the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, which introduced for the first time a statutory definition of consent in rape cases. Just last year, we also introduced a new requirement for statutory jury directions to be provided by judges in rape trials.

It is worth pointing out that, overall, although the number of cases in which there are convictions remains too low, they are at twice the level they were at 10 years ago, and the level has nearly tripled since 2010-11. A key part of the work that has been done to help to address the issue is to make sure that we have enough advocacy workers to work with women who report rape, which is why we have continued to give funding to Rape Crisis Scotland to provide advocacy workers.

I hope that, as appears to be the case from the tone of the question that has been asked by Monica Lennon, there has been a change of heart in respect of the Labour Party’s position on corroboration, and that it will support any future proposals to abolish it, if the Government introduces them.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary outline what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce levels of domestic and sexual crime, and what support is given to the victims of such crimes?

Michael Matheson

We work with a range of stakeholders on matters relating to domestic abuse and sexual offences. As I have mentioned, we have already strengthened the legislation on definition in rape cases. In the past few months, we have also taken action with the passage of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which provides an extended definition of domestic abuse that includes psychological, coercive and controlling behaviour.

Police Scotland has a domestic abuse task force that targets prolific offenders in domestic abuse, and it has introduced a domestic abuse disclosure scheme that has been operating since October 2015, with some 900 people having been told that their partners have histories of abusive behaviour.

As I also mentioned, advocacy workers have an important part to play in working with individuals who have experienced sexual crime, which is why we have provided £1.85 million to Rape Crisis Scotland to allow it to pursue an advocacy project to provide advocacy workers across Scotland—including, for the first time, in our island communities on Shetland and Orkney. Just last month, I announced an extension of that funding in order for Rape Crisis not only to continue the existing advocacy project but to increase support in areas where there is greatest demand.

We will continue to work with a range of organisations to ensure that we are doing everything possible to tackle domestic abuse and sexual crime.

Cannabis-derived Therapies (National Health Service)

8. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the prescription of cannabis-derived therapies on the NHS. (S5O-01964)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

Regulation for the licensing, safety and efficacy of medicines is currently reserved to the United Kingdom Government, and is the responsibility of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which operates on a UK-wide basis. All medicinal products must be fully tested and researched before they can be licensed by either the MHRA or the European Medicines Agency. If a pharmaceutical company obtains such a licence, it is for it to make a submission to the Scottish Medicines Consortium, requesting that the medicine be considered for routine or restricted use in NHS Scotland.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I am very grateful to the cabinet secretary for that answer. My constituent Murray Gray suffers many violent seizures every single day, due to a rare form of epilepsy. He is just five years old. The only relief that can be afforded to Murray is in the properties of the cannabis derivative cannabidiol—also known as CBD—which is legal, but is not currently available on the national health service, for the reasons that have been outlined by the cabinet secretary.

Murray’s mother Karen is willing to procure and administer cannabidiol herself, but wants medical support and advice in order that she can do so safely. Will the cabinet secretary work with NHS Scotland to permit the family’s neurologist to support it in safe use of the therapy, and will she agree to meet Karen and myself to discuss the wider issues around Murray’s situation?

Shona Robison

I have every sympathy for Murray Gray and his family and, of course, I would be happy to meet them. However, I see that in an interview that he gave to The Scotsman on 22 March, Alex Cole-Hamilton said that the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland will not approve a licence for cannabidiol’s use. I hope that, in my first answer, I made it clear to Alex Cole-Hamilton that it is not the Scottish Government or the NHS that approves licences for use of such products. He was simply wrong about that. Under the terms of the current United Kingdom-wide regulations, manufacturers of medicinal products must, for good safety reasons, have a licence for their medicine before it can be placed on the market in the UK.

Currently, no licences for cannabidiol products have been obtained. At the moment, Sativex is the only medicine containing cannabis extracts that has been granted a licence for use in the UK. In order for it to be made available on the NHS in Scotland, a submission has to be made to the SMC, as I said in my first answer. A decision on whether to make a submission is entirely for the company, and it has so far chosen not to do so.

I am happy to continue a dialogue with Alex Cole-Hamilton, but it is important that we get the facts straight about where licences are issued. That is not done by the Scottish Government or the NHS in Scotland. I am happy to meet the member and the family that he mentioned to discuss the issue further.