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Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 23, 2023


Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-11381, in the name of Pam Duncan-Glancy, on the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. I invite members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak button. I call Pam Duncan-Glancy to speak to and move the motion.


Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer.

“Thank God for that; now I can be your mum again.”

Those were my mum’s words when we heard that my transition to adulthood had—at last—been agreed. After a lifetime of fighting, wading through swathes of policy and papers that would put a library to shame, being up at the school more often than I was and watching me defer entry to university for two years because of the lack of a transitions plan, my mum could finally retire as the project manager that she had been forced to be. We were exhausted by the time, energy, brain and body power needed simply to give me a fighting chance of fulfilling my dreams.

That was 23 years ago, but there are still hundreds of thousands of families like mine, voiceless and struggling to get the fighting chance that they deserve. It is for them that I have introduced the bill and it is incumbent on all of us to be their voice today and every day and to make laws that improve their lives. They do not need warm words or good will—they need laws to clearly set out that they have rights.

Johann Lamont MSP knew that in session 5 of this Parliament when she first introduced the bill, and I put my thanks to her on the record today.

I also thank Inclusion Scotland and Camphill Scotland for their support. They can see that the current system is failing, and it takes only a quick glance at the evidence to see just how badly. When Jamie Hepburn MSP asked a parliamentary question on the subject in 2008, disabled people were three times more likely than others not to be in education, employment or training; 15 years later, there is little evidence that that has changed. Disabled people are still considerably more likely than their non-disabled peers to have no qualifications, the disability employment gap for young disabled people is 31 per cent, and only 7 per cent of learning-disabled people are in work.

Those are damning indictments of a systemic failure that is locking disabled people out of opportunity and holding our country back. The fact that I find the hardest to hear is that young disabled people have the same aspirations as their peers at age 16, but, by 26, believe that nothing that they can do will change their lives. At a time when they should be excited about their future, we are stripping them of hope.

Two decades ago, my mum described that as falling off a cliff. Just two months ago, a disabled young person described it to me in similar terms. She said:

“It’s like being thrown in the deep end and expected to know how to swim.”

So little has changed.

We all agree that inaction is not an option, and my inbox is full of the reasons why. It is full of messages from young disabled people who are preparing to leave school with no plans and no options. I particularly thank the mums and dads, disabled people, Differabled Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance, Children’s Hospices Across Scotland, Enable Scotland, Diabetes Scotland, Inclusion Scotland, Spina Bifida Scotland and many more organisations, many of which are represented in the gallery here today, for highlighting the lived experience of disabled people in Scotland. Their experience tells us what the Education, Children and Young People Committee’s report concluded, which is that existing approaches are complex, cluttered and difficult to navigate, disconnected, stressful and ultimately not delivering a Scotland where disabled people can flourish.

The bill before us is an opportunity to fix that, which is why I am deeply disappointed that the Government said on Tuesday that it does not intend to support it today. I hope to use the remaining time that I have in the debate to convince all members to listen to disabled people and their families and to do what they are asking, which is to change the law. It is not too late to do the right thing.

I put on record my thanks to the committee for its work on the bill, and to the countless disabled people and their families who responded to the inquiry, told their stories and shared their worst fears. If nothing else convinces colleagues that we should act, their tenacity in fighting for change should. I hugely welcome the light that has been shone on the issue and the work that the committee did, and I welcome many of the committee’s conclusions about the need for change. Indeed, such is the case for change that the committee report could be described as a dossier of the failures in the current system.

There are many ways to change that and I welcome the minister’s offer to work together to identify collective solutions. However, I remain firmly of the opinion that, although the proposed changes in practice and policy are sorely needed, we will not change disabled people’s lives unless we change the law.

I say to the minister that I am disappointed by her letter to the committee. It seems that the offer to work together will rely on me being content to ask families to wait and see whether existing non-legislative routes will work, although it is clear that they do not. That has been clear for years, and I am not content to ask people to wait any longer. Disabled people cannot keep waiting and seeing whether the next strategy will work or whether good practice will magically spread. Angela Morgan’s review of additional support for learning concluded that the system is overly dependent on committed individuals, that it is fragmented and inconsistent and, crucially, that ASL is treated as being someone else’s problem. That someone else is usually a parent, a carer or an overworked member of staff.

The bill that is before us today seeks to change that. It gives a minister responsibility for transitions; it puts a strategy to sort this out in law; it gives young disabled people a right to a plan for their transition from school; and it empowers organisations to work together to lighten the load of overburdened families.

The rights and opportunities of young people should not be left to chance or rest on their luck in finding a sympathetic ear or having a carer or parent who has the resources, energy and time to keep fighting. It should also not rest on manifesto commitments and ministers acting in good faith. The SNP manifesto in 2016 committed to a national transitions strategy. Young disabled people who went to school then have now left with no strategy, almost all of them with no plan and with their future in tatters.

It is fair to say that the legislative landscape is cluttered and complex. I ask the Government, “Why not take the opportunity of this bill to clarify it?” However, as well as being complex, I agree with Angela Morgan that it is full of loopholes, which is why we need new law. One such loophole concerns the right to a plan. The committee’s report and the Government rely on provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. The provision in the 2014 act that is referred to is about children’s plans. The relevant section of that act was never brought into force and the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill, if passed, will repeal it. There is therefore no statutory basis for such plans.

The provision in the ASL act that is cited is about co-ordinated support plans. Only 0.2% of eligible children access such a plan, and their provision is limited by whether a local authority sees fit to exchange information with the agency about an individual child. There is no absolute right to a transition plan or a requirement to start them early, and the plans are not focused on transitions or disabled people. Nothing in existing law does what I propose in the bill.

Nothing of substance has changed since the Government proposed its strategy seven years ago. The system is still broken. The committee described many of those failures as an “implementation gap”. The Government’s response says that it will spread good practice to address that, but what its response does not say is that the evaluation of the principles into practice approach found that, when resources were tight, pressure on staff and services meant that they had to prioritise other work above the principles into practice work. Without a statutory framework for a strategy, how will transitions be protected in tough times?

I say that not to underplay the importance of that work, but to highlight that a non-statutory approach piloted in 10 authorities—which has shown that, when resources are tight, its work is sidelined—is not enough. This is not an argument against legislation, but one that shows what good work could be done if it was underpinned by legislation.

Disabled people are sick and tired of their rights hinging on good will. Today, on international carers day, we could transform not just the lives of young disabled people, but the lives of carers, too, because we know that incredible stress is put on family and parents. When I was elected, I promised to put the ladder or the ramp out for other disabled people to follow. That starts by making sure that they have a clear right to a future in law, with mechanisms to hold people to account and make sure that disabled people have a fighting chance.

We have an opportunity today to do that—to get ahead of the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and move from reliance on some good people to some good law. Today, we can put principles not just into practice, but into legislation, too. Today, we have an opportunity to vote to change the lives of every young disabled person in the country. We should take it, and I sincerely hope that we will.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill.

I call Sue Webber to speak on behalf of the Education, Children and Young People Committee.


Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

I am pleased to be speaking on behalf of the Education, Children and Young People Committee. First, I thank the member in charge for introducing the bill, which has given us the opportunity to discuss both at committee and, importantly, here in the chamber today the important issue of how to improve the opportunities for disabled children and young people as they grow up.

I thank colleagues for their detailed consideration of the bill and all the people and organisations who provided evidence, either in person or by responding to our call for views. ARC Scotland helped us to organise informative, informal sessions involving young disabled people called divergent influencers, a group of parents and carers of disabled and young people and a group of practitioners who are involved in improving the experiences of young people as they make the vital transition to young adult life.

I also thank the pupils at Buchanan high school, which is an additional support needs secondary school in Coatbridge, who hosted an extremely informative visit and told us about their preparations for leaving the school that year. Speaking to all those pupils was invaluable and it gave us a great insight into the issues that children and young people are facing.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

I was one of the members who had the privilege of being on that visit. Does Sue Webber agree that what was outstanding from that visit was the quality of the leadership that was being shown in that school, in terms of their attitude towards their accountability to those young people?

Sue Webber

I agree. We have found many times that the people who are having an impact and making positive changes to disabled people as they transition into adulthood are the individuals who take leadership roles in their communities.

I thank the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee—I bet that it does not get many thanks—and the Finance and Public Administration Committee for their work in scrutinising the bill and for sharing their conclusions and recommendations.

Given the complexities involved in the bill, we took the unusual step of writing to both the Government and the member in charge with our findings, seeking a response before finalising our report. I thank the Government and Pam Duncan-Glancy for their helpful and extensive responses.

I would like to say at the outset that the members of the committee were not convinced that the general principles of the bill should be agreed to, with the exception of Martin Whitfield, who attended as committee substitute for the member in charge. Today, I intend to set out briefly some of the reasons why the committee came to that conclusion. I want to be clear, though—and I cannot reinforce this position enough—that we argued that doing nothing in relation to improving outcomes for disabled children and young people in their transition to adulthood was not an option. We were extremely concerned when we heard evidence of the poor experiences of transitions for many disabled young people. We agreed that things must change, and they must change quickly.

The bill requires the Scottish Government to introduce and implement a national transitions strategy for improving transitions to adulthood for disabled children and young people. It also says that there should be a transitions plan for every disabled child or young person. Going from what we heard, the committee agreed that a national transitions strategy was needed. Importantly, we were aware that the Government was already working on it, so we pressed the Government for a committed timeline and further information on its development.

We were deeply concerned to hear that young people and their families were not always being listened to by professionals. Some young people told us that their transition was often built around what people thought was right for them, rather than what they wanted to do. That is not acceptable.

The committee recommended that the experiences of those who have been through transitions should be at the heart of the design of any national strategy. That should help to ensure that negative outcomes are avoided and that a person-centred approach is built on.

The Government has now published its statement of intent, which summarises its research and engagement on the strategy and sets out what the Scottish Government should focus on now.

Can the member set out whether the committee has had confirmation of when the strategy will be published?

Sue Webber

I have not yet had that detail. Perhaps the Government can make that clear in its contributions during the debate.

Make no mistake, we intend to return to the issue of the transitions strategy, and we will be pressing the Government to move more quickly on introducing and implementing an appropriate and robust national strategy. It will not be an option for the strategy to lie on a shelf, gathering dust.

The committee heard concerns about the legislative competence of the bill’s provisions on the assigning of a minister with special responsibility, and about the accuracy of the costs associated with the bill. The member in charge responded to those points.

A major concern for us was how the bill, if it became an act, would interact with the laws that are already in place in this area. For example, the existing legislative framework refers to additional support needs rather than disability, and we felt that it was unclear whom exactly would be covered by the bill.

The committee was also concerned about the need for a diagnosis in order for young people to access support as set out in the bill, even though the definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010, which is used in the bill, does not require a diagnosis to be made.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Ms Webber will remember that, in recognition of that fact, I said in the committee that I could amend the bill at stage 2 to take the part about diagnosis out. The member will also recognise that, for the bill, we chose the definition of disabled people that is used in the Equality Act 2010, because the bill is about that specific group of people.

I can give Ms Webber a wee bit of time back.

Sue Webber

The inability to define that formed part of the crux of the challenges that we faced regarding the accuracy of the financial memorandum. We know now—and we already knew—about the challenges faced by young people with additional support needs who are desperate for a diagnosis and about the waits that are required.

We felt that the bill would introduce conflict into an already cluttered legislative landscape. The committee heard that many children and young people, as I have just said, face long waiting times for diagnoses, and that some young people do not wish to pursue a diagnosis or view themselves as disabled or as having a disability.

For those reasons, the committee is concerned that the bill would place a statutory duty on local authorities to provide transition plans to disabled people and young people, but with a lack of clarity on how they would identify the eligible children in the area.

Worryingly, we heard that the current legislation has not had the positive impact that was envisaged. Many witnesses described it as complex, cluttered and difficult to navigate for young people and their families.

Several stakeholders highlighted local authorities’ poor deployment of co-ordinated support plans, despite their statutory nature. Many stakeholders spoke about the considerable difficulties that are faced by those who work to support young people in their transition to adulthood, with extreme pressures on resources in local authorities and health and social care systems, and the precarious nature of funding in the third sector.

We heard about issues around organisational cultures, particularly regarding the differences between children’s and adult services and the difficulties with information sharing. We do not believe that the bill would resolve those issues with resourcing or the interactions between children’s and adult services. However, we agreed that urgent action must be taken to address those issues, and the Government must ensure that that happens.

I have not had time to cover all the issues that were raised during our scrutiny of the bill, but I look forward to hearing from other members of the committee during the debate.

The Education, Children and Young People Committee supports the aims behind the bill and commends Pam Duncan-Glancy for bringing the bill before us. However, for the reasons that were set out in our report and in my comments, we were not convinced that it should progress beyond stage 1.


The Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise (Natalie Don)

I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy for the spotlight that her bill has shone on transitions to adulthood for disabled people and for setting out her personal experience in her contribution today. I also pay tribute to those who have worked with her on developing the bill.

I express my appreciation to the convener, Sue Webber, and all the members of the Education, Children and Young People Committee for their thorough consideration of the bill and for their comprehensive report.

Like everyone here, I whole-heartedly share Pam Duncan-Glancy’s ambitions to improve the experiences of and outcomes for disabled young people as they make the transition to young adult life. Becoming an adult is an extremely important time in any young person’s life. It can be exciting, but it can also be daunting. It can be a time of hope, but it can also be a time of uncertainty.

There are already examples of good practice across Scotland. For example, the committee heard about the benefits of transitions co-ordinators, the experiences that young people are having at Buchanan high school, which the committee visited, and the work of the Association for Real Change Scottish Transitions Forum and the Enable Works stepping up programme, which are both funded by the Scottish Government.

However, we absolutely recognise that, at the moment, too many disabled young people are not getting the support that they need. I have followed closely the stage 1 evidence on the bill and have heard young people, their families and practitioners share experiences that fall well short of what they need and have the right to expect.

The Scottish Government is deeply committed to improving transitions for disabled young people, so that they can all have a positive and supported experience. We recognise the challenges that were raised in the committee’s evidence in relation to disabled young people’s experiences of their transition to adulthood, and we are resolutely determined to do more.

We have already given non-statutory effect to two of the bill’s main provisions. That has been done through the joint ministerial leadership for transitions by me and the Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, and through the commitment to introduce Scotland’s first national transitions to adulthood strategy.

In response to Pam Duncan-Glancy’s question, I am pleased to confirm that we will aim to publish the strategy by the end of next year. That is an integral part of our work to improve transitions for disabled young people. On 28 September 2023, we published our statement of intent on the strategy. That sets out the proposed scope of, and vision and priorities for, the strategy, which are based on what we have heard through research and stakeholder engagement to date. Accompanying the published statement of intent is an online survey that will be open until the end of November 2023. The survey provides a vital opportunity for us to hear directly from more people with lived experience, and we are keen to capture the widest possible feedback.

Stephen Kerr

If the strategy is to be published by the end of next year, when, in the minister’s estimation, will there be a change in young people’s life experience as they make that transition? When will something arrive that will make a material difference to their experience?

Natalie Don

We are already taking action now, through the statement of intent. We are listening to feedback and encouraging further action. As I said, the strategy, which will be published by the end of next year, will involve direct input from the statement of intent.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I thank the minister for clarifying the publication date for the strategy. However, I still think that it is too late, and I echo the concerns of my colleague Stephen Kerr about how soon change will happen. As my bill sets out the structure for change, how will the strategy be monitored, how will it be scrutinised by the Parliament and how will we know whether it is working?

Natalie Don

I will come on to much of that later in my speech. If Pam Duncan-Glancy is happy for me to do so, I will set that out as I go along. I absolutely want things to happen faster, and where I can push for further change, I absolutely will.

I will now turn to the bill and say why, despite my gratitude to Pam Duncan-Glancy and those who have supported her in her work, I agree with the committee’s conclusion that the bill is unlikely to be the most effective way to make the required improvements. In its stage 1 report, the Education, Children and Young People Committee raised a number of important questions about the bill, including, in particular, how it would work in practice and whether it would deliver on its intended goals. Sue Webber has just highlighted some of those concerns, and the Government shares many of them. In particular, the bill would require local authorities to develop an individual transition plan for each disabled young person in a local authority area, but it remains unclear exactly who would be covered by the bill and how they would be identified.

The definition of who will be covered by the bill is the same as that proposed by the Government in its strategy.

I can give the minister a bit of time back for interventions.

Natalie Don

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

With apologies to Pam Duncan-Glancy, as I said earlier, I will come on to those points. For now, I am just laying out my concerns, which were reiterated by the committee’s convener.

It is also unclear who would be responsible for managing and implementing individual transition plans, particularly when a young person has left school. The bill mandates a plan for each young person, even if a young person does not want one. I believe that planning should be person led and that it should adapt flexibly to what the young person finds most helpful.

The committee has also recognised concerns, which the Government highlighted in its evidence at stage 1, about

“duplication and overlap of key aspects of existing legislation”.

The committee’s report concludes that the bill risks creating

“additional complexity and confusion”


“disabled young people and their families, as well as for professionals trying to navigate this landscape”.

That has been mirrored in feedback from stakeholders; many stakeholders who responded to the committee’s call for views or provided evidence raised similar concerns. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said that it

“does not support the call for a new Bill as there is significant Legislation already in place.”

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland suggested that

“there is reasonable and appropriate legislation already in place”.

The Association for Real Change Scotland said that it continues

“to have multiple concerns about whether the Bill in its present form will meet its intended aims.”

We agree with the findings of the committee, and many of those who provided views to it, including COSLA and a number of local authorities and integration joint boards, on the uncertainty of the bill’s cost implications and the likely underestimation in the financial memorandum.

It is clear that, should the bill progress to stage 2, it would require substantial amendment to address the legal and practical issues that have been raised.

I reiterate my thanks to Pam Duncan-Glancy for her tireless work on this important matter. I will continue to work with her on our shared ambition of improving transitions for disabled young people, regardless of the outcome of today’s debate. However, for the reasons that I have set out, the Scottish Government agrees with the committee’s conclusions and with the view—which has been expressed by COSLA, organisations such as the Association for Real Change Scotland and others—that the bill will not necessarily deliver on its laudable aim of resolving the issues that are experienced by disabled young people. I am sure that the focus and the priority that we are taking forward will do that.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I have come late to the bill, consideration of which was well in train by the time I joined the Education, Children and Young People Committee right before the summer recess. My initial thoughts were very positive. Improving outcomes for disabled children and young people in the transition to adulthood is absolutely the right thing to do, particularly given the poor experiences of transitions that many disabled young people have, which I heard about through the committee. Statistics from Inclusion Scotland showed that, one year after leaving school, young people with impairment-related additional support needs are more than twice as likely to be unemployed and that—Pam Duncan-Glancy brought this up earlier—by the age of 19, young people with impairments are three times as likely to be not in employment, education or training. In addition, the committee’s conclusion that there is currently no systematic data on children and young people’s experiences of transitions to adulthood is deeply troubling.

I commend Pam Duncan-Glancy for introducing her bill and for fighting to give people a voice. She has highlighted the fact that, yet again, it has been left to the Opposition to proactively seek solutions to the challenges that the people of Scotland face and to force action from the Scottish Government.

However, we must get this right. We owe it to the people who gave evidence, to those who have lived experience of what is not going right and to those who, one day, will need to make such transitions. My coming late to the bill allowed me to ask myself several questions. The first question that I asked myself was whether legislation per se is the best way to improve transitions for disabled children and young people. The evidence that was provided to the committee’s inquiry seems to suggest that it might not be.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Education, Children and Young People Committee, members heard from people impacted by the failure to make more progress on the Promise, as well as the agencies that have been charged with delivering it. They told us that the addition to an already cluttered landscape, where financial clarity and resources are lacking, of ever more legislation that has challenges in how it interrelates with pre-existing legislative frameworks has led to the current difficulties with the Scottish Government’s achievement of what are laudable aims.

That was exactly what the National Deaf Children’s Society seemed to be saying when it told the committee that there might be duplication between the outcomes of the bill, the co-ordinated support plans, the individualised educational programmes and the child’s plan under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. It also flagged up its concerns about duplication between the national transitions strategy and part 3 of the 2014 act. That is in a context in which, as the committee heard, the current complex, cluttered landscape is already difficult to navigate for young people and their families. Indeed, the Scottish Transitions Forum told the committee that

“the Scottish Government’s resources would be better deployed in clarifying, simplifying and supporting the full implementation of its existing policy framework”.

I then asked myself whether, if I was wrong and more legislation is needed to improve outcomes for disabled children and young people in making transitions, the bill before us is that legislation. Will the bill achieve the changes that Pam Duncan-Glancy highlights are needed and that she rightly demands?

Although I have come to the bill later than colleagues, I come to it as a solicitor who has spent the best part of 20 years interpreting legislation—in particular, aspects of the Equality Act 2010—as well as drafting complex legal documents.

From the report, the evidence, the Law Society of Scotland’s submission and my own analysis, among that of others, it is clear that, alongside the concerns raised by the likes of COSLA on the financial memorandum and those raised by the NASUWT on the workload and burden on teachers, there are significant concerns around definitions and drafting. For example, as we have heard, the need for a diagnosis of disability for young people to access support feels retrograde to me, as well as potentially difficult to achieve in the current situation in Scotland, given the interplay with section 6 of the Equality Act 2010.

I come back to some of the organisations that, like me, unequivocally support the intention of the bill but have concerns about implementation. The Royal College of Occupational Therapists raised concerns that poor information technology systems will have a negative impact on transition planning, and, under this Government, those IT systems will not change any time soon. Enable Scotland flagged a risk that the bill might lead to the

“imposition of a ‘one size fits all’ approach”.

Scottish Autism felt that the bill risked diverting attention and resources from a broader whole-life approach. Crucially, the National Deaf Children’s Society raised concerns that the bill might have a “detrimental” impact on transition support in early years.

If that is right—or, more accurately, if the witnesses and the committee’s conclusions, following extensive examination, on what the bill proposes are right—I cannot help but conclude that, even if we accept that legislating is the proper way forward to achieve what we all hope to achieve, the bill might not get it right for the people who need our support.

That brings me back to the Scottish Government. As I said, I admire Pam Duncan-Glancy for introducing the bill, for giving people a voice and for forcing the Government’s hand. Earlier this week, we received a detailed letter purporting that the changes needed and the committee’s recommendations will be implemented. Although, like Pam Duncan-Glancy, I remain deeply wary of anything that the Government says it will commit to, it strikes me that the best way to achieve the important, worthy principles and intentions that she rightly demands is not through the bill but by continuing her proactive and positive engagement with the committee and the Government and by holding it to account to deliver the much-needed reforms that it has promised and have been legislated for but which have failed to be delivered. That will achieve all that we all want to see.


Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is a great pleasure to open the debate on the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill on behalf of Scottish Labour. That is particularly so because I have on me the acute and wise eyes of my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy, who is sat to my right.

However, I speak now because this is a stage 1 debate on the general principles of a bill. The next stage for the bill in Parliament would be for it to go to stage 2 for investigation and the addition and subtraction of sections and amendments. During that stage, I think that we would see some of the answers to the previous speakers’ questions. In particular, a number of speakers have raised questions about costs and about the financial memorandum that attaches to the bill. It would, of course, be at stage 2 that an updated memorandum would be issued, so that there would be an understanding of the financial implications.

Here we are, in the throes of talking about the minutiae of a bill’s financial implications and the process of its progress through the Scottish Parliament, when what we are actually talking about is people. We are talking about disabled children and young people.

As my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy stated, this matter goes back to the previous session. Indeed, it goes back long before that, to when our colleague Johann Lamont introduced a bill that fell because it ran out of time. It is fascinating that, in the outreach for evidence that she undertook, part of the response from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland was:

“Young people often report experiencing abrupt loss of support at the point they leave school or formal education, a concern which has been raised with our office by young people and their parents”.

The fragmentation of current planning processes negatively impacts disabled children’s rights. This bill would require the Scottish Government to have a strategy explaining how it will improve the opportunities of disabled children and young people and to put a Scottish Government minister in charge of improving opportunities for disabled children and young people moving into adulthood. It would require local authorities to have plans for each disabled child and young person as they move into adulthood. Why? Because transitions are challenging at the best of times. Everyone goes through different transitions in their lives, but we are asking a group of young people who have a disability to do that in a landscape that is truly and utterly chaotic.

Many organisations, representatives, parents and disabled children are watching today. It is important that we recognise the audience that is watching this, including the audience from overseas, which looks to the bill as a signpost to how to do things better.

Stephen Kerr

I agree with everyone who has spoken about the bill’s laudable aims, but the question is how it will actually change the experience of the young people who are at the centre of our concerns. How do we stop this becoming a tick-box exercise? What will we do about the culture that undermines such initiatives and many other laudable initiatives?

Martin Whitfield

The Scottish Government would be required to have a strategy to explain. It would have to appoint a minister to take responsibility, and local authorities would need to have plans in place for each disabled child and young person as they moved into adulthood. That is where the responsibility would lie, and that is where a young person, their family, their friends and their communities could turn to and say, “How are you doing it?”

Earlier today, we talked about the Promise. We still reiterate the agreement on the importance of completing the Promise. There is an appalling phrase, but I will use it. We have a subset of the human race who we are treating poorly. Every speaker so far has talked about the chaos that is the current landscape. We have seen good practice, but for every element of good practice, there is bad practice.

A parent said that starting the transitions process

“has been the most stressful year of my life. To put that into context my daughter went through brain surgery at 8 years old, but this was more stressful.”

We have been told:

“We are given the excuse our young people are too complex, previously they wouldn’t have lived into adulthood and that’s their excuse for the awful care offered.”

I want a contribution about a 23-year-old man to be taken account of—I am conscious of the time, Deputy Presiding Officer. That man is now a University of Glasgow graduate. His parent said:

“I ... had to approach the university admissions department myself to ask about adjustments to entry qualifications and information about the ASN supports he would need and receive. The careers service actually advised him ‘not to waste a line on his application applying to University of Glasgow’”—

Will the member give way?

I can allow time for the intervention, if the member wishes to take it.

Martin Whitfield

Let me finish this. My apologies.

The parent said:

“strangely enough, this was where he successfully graduated with a 2:1”.

If we fail our disabled young people and fail to give them an environment in which they are supported to achieve what they can quite easily achieve with the proper support, we not only do a disservice to that individual; we do a disservice to Scotland and the future that we need.

I hope that, in summing up, the minister is able to articulate the steps going forward with the strategy, because we need to remember that the fact that it is being published towards the end of next year means that the first children it could possibly apply to are currently in secondary 2. A lot of children will transition before that date without support in many areas of Scotland.

I am grateful for your indulgence, Deputy Presiding Officer. I can confirm that Scottish Labour will support the bill at stage 1.


Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

When I first became a member of Parliament for Dunfermline, I met the parents involved in something called the Diamond Association. They were the most ferocious group of parents I have ever met, and they had to be. They had to be ferocious because they had to fight every single day to get those who are now disabled adults—the parents were increasingly elderly—the rights that they deserved. That has stuck with me for ever, because they should not have had to fight so hard to get what they were entitled to.

However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are not going to support the bill, because the evidence that the committee heard was overwhelming.

Members may ask: who would not want to support a bill that would improve the life chances of the people at the Diamond Association in Dunfermline, who I have just been talking about? That is why the committee went out of its way—probably quite unusually—to spend a lot of time trying to get the member and the Government to reach some kind of compromise on a way ahead.

Who would not want to support such a bill? It does not look good that we are rejecting, on the basis that I have outlined, a bill that is trying to improve the rights of disabled people through transition. Nevertheless, it is an embarrassment that it has taken so long for the Government to understand that the current system is not adequate. I know that the minister is new to her post, so the legacy is not really her responsibility, but this situation has been going on for years. It should not have taken Pam Duncan-Glancy introducing a bill to Parliament to get the Government to start producing a strategy, which might not come until the end of next year. That is a long time, and it should have been done before now.

It is shameful that we are in this position. To be honest, I am also embarrassed that the Parliament has not, until now, stepped up and done more.

Does the member agree that it is a shame that the first commitment that we had from the Government on the issue was in 2016, and we are still waiting?

Willie Rennie

That is one of the reasons why I am conflicted about the bill. I understand: legislation is permanent—it is there on the statute book and it creates a compulsion for Government to act, whereas strategies, motions and debates are fleeting, and although an issue might be at the top of the agenda today, tomorrow it might be forgotten.

I worry that by not agreeing to the bill, we might just be giving the Government a pass to move on. I know that the Government has a lot of other competing issues to deal with, and it does not dispense its responsibility lightly, so I worry about that.

Fundamentally, however, the bill is flawed. We understand that the landscape is conflicted and confusing, and that there is a lot of overlapping legislation. However, the evidence that the committee heard, as Liam Kerr set out, was pretty clear: witnesses thought that the bill would make the situation worse. There is no point in pussyfooting around that—it would make things worse. The last thing that we need is to make the situation worse, and set people and organisations back on the plans that they already have in place.

Pam Duncan-Glancy and Martin Whitfield are right that the issues of diagnosis, scope and costings can probably all be sorted out. However, the fundamental problem is that all the legislation is already in conflict, and the bill would make it worse. That is why I cannot, in all honesty, support the bill, but I suppose that it is a warning from the Parliament to the Government that, if we are back here again in five years’ time, we will be pushing for legislation.

The minister referred quite clearly, in her letter to the committee, to

“duplication and overlap of key aspects of existing legislation”.

Why is the Government not sorting that? It should have put forward its own bill to sort out the overlap and the duplication, if it is already worried about that. I know that addressing that would be complex, because it would involve looking at all the other pieces of legislation. Nonetheless, the Government should be looking into the existing landscape to try to bring some clarity to that, so that we can move forward with a bit more purpose.

We should return to the matter if the Government does not produce the strategy or if it is not effective, or if I visit the Diamond Association again and find that the parents there are just as ferocious as they were back in 2006.

I will give one final example. I visited the Usual Place in Dumfries, which many members will have heard of. It does fantastic work in training people with disabilities and getting them on the employment ladder, and passing them on to other employers who can see the fantastic individuals who have been moulded by that organisation. It is a great cafe and visitor centre—it is a tremendous place. However, it almost closed this year. We should not be facing a circumstance in which organisations such as the Usual Place, which are getting it right, are closing due to a lack of funding.

Why do we not have a funding stream—almost like that for the apprenticeships scheme—that guarantees funding for organisations that do such work? They have to beg and borrow; they have to go from one block grant to another; and they have to go from one charity to another to get the funding to keep going. The Usual Place should be guaranteed a future with guaranteed funding, so that it can guarantee young people a decent transition. That is what this is all about—it is about priorities for people.

We should be giving greater priority to a group of people who—to be blunt—have been let down. We can look at the figures. Enable provided the figure that, of 175,000 people with a learning disability in Scotland, only 7 per cent have paid employment. That is a shameful position for Scotland to be in.

I will not support the bill, but let us resolve to come back and hold the Government’s feet to the fire so that we are not back here in five years’ time contemplating whether we should have such a bill.

We move to the open debate. I remind members that speeches are to be of up to six minutes, please.


Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I am grateful to Pam Duncan-Glancy for bringing the bill to our Parliament and keeping us focused on the important issue of the poor experience of transitions for many disabled young people. I make it clear to colleagues and the Government that there is a need to act promptly on the issues and to improve the experiences of transitions that disabled children and young people have. Pam Duncan-Glancy is absolutely right that inaction is not an option. If we do not get this right, we are not only impeding individuals; the country is also losing out on a host of talent.

Witnesses told the Education, Children and Young People Committee that professionals do not always listen to young people and their families, that there is a disconnect between children’s services and adult services, that there is poor communication across agencies and with young people and their families, and that there is often no clear person to take the lead on transitions, which leads to parents and young people having to advocate for themselves. We also heard of pockets of good practice. I acknowledge and thank the swathes of committed individuals who are maintaining kind, thoughtful and effective practice in a system that is under huge strain.

Despite those pockets of good practice, the current situation is affecting far too many children and young people and their families. That is not good enough. On Monday, I was at an event on tackling poverty and inequality in the early years, where someone used an interesting phrase. They said that, if the only tool that someone has is a hammer, they can end up thinking that everything is a nail.

Many witnesses described the current legislative landscape as complex, cluttered and difficult to navigate for young people and their families and, in some instances, for the professionals who work to support them. In Scotland, we have some world-leading legislation and gold-standard policy—we really do. We have consensus that a human rights-based approach should be taken to policy making, but that is meaningful only when it makes a material difference to the lives of the citizens we represent and when they can not only access their rights but seek redress when public bodies are not delivering on their duty.

The committee heard that there was an implementation gap for existing laws and policy. There are issues relating to resources, inconsistent practice, access to services across Scotland and organisational cultures—particularly the differences between children’s services and adult services—and there is difficulty with information sharing. The answer to that implementation gap is not more legislation.

That general principle aside, there are a number of reasons why the committee could not support the bill. The bill differs from the existing legislative framework, which refers to additional support needs rather than disability. It was unclear exactly who the bill would cover and how they would be identified. Using the Equality Act 2010 definition of disability would be likely to entitle a larger cohort of young people to a transitions plan than the number who social services currently support.

The committee heard that many disabled children and young people and their families cannot receive much-needed support from social services because of pressures on resources and staffing. That has implications for how the bill could work in practice, as it states that transitions plans should be managed by an officer of the local authority.

As colleagues have mentioned, the Education, Children and Young People Committee was concerned about the need for a diagnosis in order for young people to access support. We know from evidence that many young people and children face a long waiting time for diagnosis, and some young people do not wish to pursue a diagnosis or to view themselves as disabled or having a disability. Requiring a diagnosis to access the provisions of the bill would present an additional barrier to receiving support for a number of young people at a crucial stage of their lives.

I know how passionately the member—and other members—believe in the issue. The member knows, however, that I gave evidence to the committee saying that I would amend the bill with regard to diagnosis.

Ruth Maguire

I acknowledge that amendments could be made at stage 2. In general terms, however, the bill is just not fit yet, and the amount of amendment that would be needed is just not practical. There are also issues with the financial memorandum, as we have heard. Without clarity on who exactly would be entitled to a transitions plan under the bill, it is impossible to get accurate estimates of cost and resource implications, and that poses problems for implementation.

Concerns were also expressed about the capacity of teachers to manage much of the initial planning process as part of their existing responsibilities, as envisaged in the bill. For young people with more complex needs and transitions spanning health, social care, education, housing, the third sector and a number of different agencies, there is a question of how appropriate it would be for a teacher to take on such a role.

I see that I am running out of time, but there is a lot to discuss on the bill. I will set out what I wish to ask of the Government and of the minister in closing the debate. It is a bit dismaying that the strategy will be implemented only by the end of next year. I wonder whether there are things that the minister could do to press for change as we are going along towards the launch of that strategy. It does not feel right to wait that long. Children and young people having their rights not realised is not acceptable—it is an injustice to the individuals concerned and our country is missing out on all that talent.


Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. Again, I make no apologies—and I do this every time—for using my short time in Parliament to consistently stand up for the rights of all children, whether they are care experienced, struggling with their mental health or transitioning into adulthood. The aims of the bill relating to disabled children and young people are undoubtedly admirable, and I applaud Pam Duncan-Glancy for driving it forward.

I note Scottish Autism’s support for the principle of the bill in its submission to the Education, Children and Young People Committee. As it said,

“The aims of the Bill are laudable, and we welcome any moves to smooth transitions for disabled children and young people into adulthood, thus removing the ‘cliff edge’ which exists for too many as they leave full-time education.”

I agree. That cliff edge is indeed felt by many. We know that care-experienced children, when they transition out of their care support network into a non-structured one, are in the same situation when it comes to accessing on-going support, which has a negative impact on their lives. We recognise that, and we have the Promise as a road map for young people to actively achieve their prospects, but where is the road map for children with disabilities?

When it comes to the impact of a disability on the life chances of a child or young person, the facts are clear and well understood. We know that young people with a declared disability are less likely than those without disability to enter work after leaving school and twice as likely to be unemployed after leaving school, and that the acceptance rate into university for Scottish students with a declared disability is lower than that for students with a declared disability in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I agree with the committee’s stage 1 report, which concludes that more work must be done to support those transitioning into adulthood. The report says:

“those with responsibility for transitions must do more to ensure that there is a focus and urgency around improving the experiences of disabled children and young people transitioning into adulthood. This includes, but is not limited to, the Scottish Government, Local Authorities, education, health and social care services, and the NHS.”

We know what the problems are, but is the bill the right vehicle to deliver meaningful change for children and young people with a disability? Would the stated intention of the bill, which is

“to introduce, and to implement, a ... National Transitions Strategy to improve outcomes for disabled children and young people in the transition to adulthood”,

actually deliver clarity to agencies that would be tasked with delivering those plans? Again, I highlight the submission from Scottish Autism, which states:

“Whether the Bill can meet these aims, however, will depend upon how legislation is implemented once enacted, and how the agencies responsible for delivering the legislation are held to account for those responsibilities.”

I would like to be in a position to support the bill today but, unfortunately, in its current form, it lacks detail on costings and raises many issues regarding who is responsible for the transition plans, the additional strain on local authority resources and how the intentions could be implemented in practice.

I have deep concerns about the financial memorandum associated with the bill, which has been mentioned. Those concerns were raised in the Education, Children and Young People Committee’s stage 1 report. I want to pull out one part of that. Without clarity on exactly who would be entitled to a transition plan under the bill, it is not possible to estimate accurately the cost and resource implications associated with implementing the bill.

Those concerns about costings matter, especially on delivery. If the bill is not properly costed, we cannot deliver for disabled children and young people and improve their life chances by providing a smoother transition into adulthood. In fact, we would be doing the opposite—we would be failing them. Processes would ultimately be put under immense strain, and the laudable goal of the bill to actively change the lives of many disabled young children and young people would simply not be achieved.

I so wanted to support the principles of the bill. I certainly agree with the concept of supporting disabled children through difficult and challenging times in their lives, and I would challenge anyone to disagree with it. Why, then, has Pam Duncan-Glancy, as a disabled member of Scottish society, had to introduce a member’s bill in order to highlight the transition from childhood to adulthood? We know that members’ bills do not have the full force of the structures that are behind other bills. Civil service support and financial will are in the Scottish Government’s hands, and it is shameful that the Government has been in power for 16 years and yet disabled children are not further up the priority list for this SNP-Green Administration.

Although the bill’s concept is commendable and its aims admirable, in its current form, it has too many flaws to make it workable. I dearly wanted to support it in principle at stage 1 and lodge amendments at stages 2 and 3 but, sadly, that is not possible.


Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I, too, am pleased to speak in the debate as a member of the Education, Children and Young People Committee. As others have done, I thank all the people who generously gave evidence to the committee, and I thank my colleagues and the committee clerks for all their hard work. In particular, I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy for her tireless campaigning, which truly champions the rights of disabled people. That campaigning goes beyond the bill.

From the outset, I have been supportive of the need to address the huge challenges around transition. Although I am not convinced that the general principles of the bill are the right approach, I whole-heartedly agree that the Scottish Government must, as a matter of urgency, address the real and serious challenges.

In evidence sessions, our committee learned that transition planning for disabled people is often an afterthought, with overlooked or rushed transition plans resulting in many young individuals being directed down paths that do not really align with their personal aspirations. In truth, it is difficult to see those as positive destinations. Transitions can happen organically, with time incorporated to explore more meaningful avenues that pave the way for achieving individual goals and aspirations.

During our committee visit to Buchanan high school in North Lanarkshire, which has been mentioned a couple of times in the debate, we saw that working at ground level. I vividly remember that inspiring example of multi-agency teams working together to guide pupils through sustainable and positive destinations that went beyond school. One example was an autistic pupil with dreams of becoming an airline pilot. The school arranged a visit to the airport. As well as being fascinated by the planes, that young man was intrigued by the baggage system, and is now happily working as a baggage handler. I am sure that we would all agree that that is an excellent outcome.

Although I acknowledge that the bill underscores the importance of taking a person-centred approach to transition planning, I believe that legislative measures alone cannot capture the essence of such examples of kindness and relationships that truly make a difference in a young person’s life. Throughout our evidence sessions, we heard again and again that families had good experiences when individuals stepped up to support them—individuals who listened and focused on their views and their wishes. Embedding strategies with a holistic focus on advocacy and supportive relationships will be key in moving forward. The successful principles into practice trials emphasise that need for young people to develop stable relationships, and the learning from those pilots needs to be fed into the Scottish Government’s national transitions to adulthood strategy. An important aspect that we must also address is accountability, so I am keen to hear more from the minister on that.

Other members have commented on legislation. Lead Scotland told the committee:

“Despite the existing legislation and expectations on professionals, poor transition experiences are still regularly reported ... we do not believe introducing a new law can be a silver bullet to overcome the layers of complexity transitions presents.”

The truth is that the additional legislation that is outlined in the bill will not bring about the changes that I feel that Pam Duncan-Glancy desires.

We have heard today that, with the best will in the world, a transition plan is only as meaningful as the resources that are allocated to back up its delivery. That was also highlighted in evidence. To quote the National Autistic Society, the success of any strategy depends on

“the quality of services and support”—

and education and training options—

“currently available in a local authority area.”

We need to be clear that the Scottish Government’s transitions strategy must robustly address resourcing.

The reality is that we need not a new law but a fresh approach that develops a supportive culture and ethos combined with the resources that are needed to plan, co-ordinate and deliver services. To close the gaps that disabled people face, the Scottish Government must listen carefully, take disabled young people’s views seriously and embed a strategy that works for and with them. It also needs to be flexible. That is real empowerment.

Although I am not convinced that the bill in its current form will meaningfully address that gap, it is fantastic to see cross-party support for the intentions behind the bill. I am grateful to Pam Duncan-Glancy for all her work. The bill, and the evidence that has been gathered, have provided the momentum for changes that must be at the core of the Scottish Government’s work in the area. As others have asked, I ask what can be done now as we wait for the full strategy next year.


Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I commend my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy on her efforts to bring her bill to such an important stage. As my other colleagues did, I encourage the Government to seriously reconsider its position. The debate is about support for the general principles of the bill, and across the chamber, we can see agreement on those principles. Pam Duncan-Glancy has made every effort, and will continue to make every effort, to amend and adapt the bill as we go through other stages. I therefore start from the point of view of being glad to hear support in this area, but I am disappointed that it appears that we cannot get the bill through at stage 1.

I know how important the bill is to Pam Duncan-Glancy. She has been a strong campaigner on these issues for many years, working with many groups of disabled children and young people, and their families, to give them a fighting chance. I was struck by some of the case studies. Martin Whitfield used the example of a family that said that starting the transition process was the most stressful thing that had ever happened to them—their child had had brain surgery at eight years old, but it was more stressful than that. It is clear to me that parents and young people back the bill at this stage, albeit that we might have to make some amendments.

I believe that the bill provides an opportunity to move things forward. That is absolutely what we hear. Things have not moved forward for so many years.

Liam Kerr

The member is unquestionably right about that, but the issue is that the evidence that the committee heard is that there would be a severe difficulty with the practical implementation of the legislation. Does the member agree that we have to get change rather than just putting in place more law that, ultimately, does not deliver what she is absolutely right about, which is that we have to move things forward?

Carol Mochan

Like other members, I was not on the committee, but I have researched the bill, and I have been in the Parliament for two years now, and I do not think that any legislation would be easily implemented.

The bill could place duties in legislation to support and enhance the transitions of children and young people, and, given the willingness of Pam Duncan-Glancy to work with people at stage 1, it is disappointing that we cannot get to a point where the bill could proceed through Parliament, so that we could try to pull what people describe as “cluttered” legislation together to get it to a point where we could deliver for people. We are here because we are not delivering for people.

Parents, children and young people have been working with Pam Duncan-Glancy on the bill, and they have found that the current system of support to help develop a transition plan is unclear and that support for parents is lacking.

I worked in the area that the bill covers more than 16 years ago. I remember the situation for parents and families, and that situation has not changed at all in the 16 years since I did my research. Strategies are not working, and committees talking to one another is not working, but the bill provides us with an opportunity.

Martin Whitfield

The committee agreed that the draft law had already made a difference by highlighting people’s experiences, and it acknowledged that the current arrangements for disabled young people planning their transition to adulthood cannot be allowed to continue. The bill is a legislative vehicle that we could use to make that change.

Carol Mochan

The member’s intervention leads me to my next point, which is why—when an ideal opportunity, which would give people a bit of clarity that they desperately seek on legislative changes, has been put on the table—is the Government so reluctant to at least move to stage 2?

If I am honest, that is a recurring theme in the Parliament. I have said before that the Government is no stranger to a strategy, but it is very poor at delivering them. That is the truth of the Parliament. This is an opportunity to change that.

Natalie Don

The member said that the Government does not want to take the bill to stage 2, but clearly she is hearing concerns, not only from the committee but from across the chamber, about how the legislation is not necessarily the right way to achieve the aims.

Carol Mochan

I have said that stage 1 provides us with an opportunity, and Pam Duncan-Glancy has said that there would be ways in which we could get the legislation to work. Deep down, young people, parents and families have asked us to stop delaying, and we need to try and move things on for people.

I wanted to make so many points, but the main one is that young disabled people do not have the right to a transition plan early enough. There is little that focuses specifically on them, and there is no statutory duty on the Government to develop a strategy for their future. Families are saying that the system is not working for them. We are saying that that has been going on for years and years, and this is a missed opportunity to move on to stage 2.


Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy’s Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions to Adulthood) (Scotland) Bill. I begin by paying tribute to Ms Duncan-Glancy for her hard work, dedication and undoubted heartfelt interest in the issue.

Lodging a member’s bill is no easy task—as the member will no doubt attest to. However, in many cases, it is the cornerstone of the work that MSPs can do in the Parliament. I was reminded of that only yesterday when I met primary 7 pupils from Jordanhill school in my constituency, whose probing questions could have taught us all a thing or two. One that particularly stuck in my mind was when they asked what had got us into politics. Sandesh Gulhane summed that up nicely by saying that he wanted to effect change on a national level and to have the opportunity to change the lives of many through our work. My reply, and that of Patrick Harvie, echoed those sentiments.

Although we may often debate without agreement here in this chamber, I hope that we can all agree that introducing legislation that can effect real change is one of the most rewarding, and perhaps demanding, aspects of our position. It might not always go as smoothly as we would hope, but, if we can be part of the process of change, we should be proud to do that.

I remember my colleague Joe FitzPatrick’s proposal to introduce the responsible parking (Scotland) bill in 2012. The bill sought to ensure that people in wheelchairs, parents with pushchairs, older adults and those with sight loss and other conditions would be able to navigate their way safely around the streets without fear of being forced into oncoming traffic by vehicles blocking their path. The proposed bill was seen as being outside the competence of this Parliament. It was subsequently taken up by my former colleague Sandra White. In 2015, the then Presiding Officer confirmed our Parliament’s lack of powers to pass such a bill and the Government sought to amend the Scotland Act 1998, with the support of the then Scotland minister Lord Dunlop. In 2016, a workable bill was reintroduced, only to fall at the end of that session of Parliament, which is similar to what happened to Johann Lamont’s version of the bill. Work to introduce the legislation continued in the fifth session of Parliament and, in 2018, the Government took it over as part of its overall Transport (Scotland) Bill, when those initial proposals were finally realised. The legislation came into effect just this autumn, so the whole process took more than a decade.

I say that to highlight not the seemingly glacial pace of new legislation but its complexity. Even if we are met with roadblocks at first—if members will pardon the pun—by never giving up and by working together, we can ensure that a member’s initial aims can bear fruit. I hope that, whatever happens here, that will give confidence to our colleague, who I am sure will continue fighting the multitude of challenges that disabled children and young people in Scotland face, particularly in relation to their transition to adulthood. I am confident that she will continue expertly advocating for change and I am sure that she can, and will, be successful. As we have heard today, we all share the member’s ambition to improve the experiences and outcomes for disabled young people as they make the transition to young adult life.

However, as we have also heard, there are still a number of issues with the proposals. Those have been highlighted by the committee and by the Government in its response. They mean that, in its present form, the bill will not have sufficient support at this stage of scrutiny. I say to the member that she should not be too disheartened but should see that in context as part of the process of new legislation—a process that she has initiated and should be congratulated on.

I am also heartened that the Government has agreed to take on the member’s work and has recognised the need for change, stating:

“The Scottish Government agrees that the current situation in respect of disabled young people’s experiences of their transitions to adult life needs to improve, and that doing nothing is not an option.”

As a committee member, and as someone who has great respect for my colleague, I assure her that I too will press for her hard work to lead to positive change.

We move to the closing speeches.


Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to close this very important debate on behalf of Scottish Labour. I begin by reminding members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which says that I am a member and former employee of Enable Scotland.

I pay warm tribute to my colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy for her work on the bill, which is a sentiment that we have heard in speeches from all parties. Bringing a member’s bill can be challenging. I have seen at close quarters her Herculean effort over two and a half years. As we heard in her opening speech, her work is based not only on her personal experience but on her fierce advocacy for other disabled young people and their families.

Pam Duncan-Glancy speaks with authenticity on these issues, and today she has taken another step in using her hammer to break the glass ceilings and glass staircases that she said she would break when she came into this place. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her work on the bill.

It is clear from the debate that there is frustration about how we can move the agenda forward, find a way to ensure that transitions for disabled children and young people become far more comprehensive and easier to manage, and ensure that they are able to get the life chances that we would want for everyone across Scotland. We heard from several colleagues—Carol Mochan outlined this clearly—that there is frustration that non-legislative interventions have not worked and are not working, and there is a sense that there has been resistance to change over a long period.

I will speak about my experience. I had the good fortune to work in the learning disability sector, for Enable Scotland, for more than seven years. For much of that time, I worked on issues such as the one that we are discussing, and particularly in relation to Johann Lamont’s bill in the previous session of Parliament. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to her for her efforts in that regard. Labour is particularly proud of the efforts of our members to advance these issues and to drive them forward.

When working at Enable Scotland, I heard conversations time and time again—members across the chamber have also recounted this today, in different ways—about the fact that families felt that it was an absolute battle just to get the right support services when their young people were moving into adult life. I met countless families who were on the brink and found it really difficult that they had to be a manager of all the issues in someone’s life. Pam Duncan-Glancy spoke about that in her speech.

Liam Kerr picked up on a number of issues and highlighted some really stark statistics, which Willie Rennie also referred to. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, according to Enable Scotland, 9 per cent of school leavers who have a learning disability progress to university, compared with 45 per cent of all school leavers. Only 50 per cent of disabled people are in employment, compared with 82 per cent of the overall population, and, for every £1 that a non-disabled person makes, a disabled person earns just 83p. We can see some of the really stark barriers and challenges that exist for young people who have a disability and are entering their adult lives. That is why these issues are so important and it is why everyone is united in wanting change.

It has become apparent—this is no secret—that the bill does not enjoy majority support in Parliament and it will not pass stage 1. That is disappointing. I recognise the issues that members have raised. The convener of the Education, Children and Young People Committee, Sue Webber, and other members of the committee have outlined their concerns. They wanted more detail on the financial memorandum, on what the bill sought to do and on the definition of disabled people, as Ruth Maguire, Stephanie Callaghan and others outlined.

It is crucial that we respect the fact that the member in charge of the bill has been willing at every stage to engage on those issues in a very serious way. She has offered to amend the bill and find the space to improve the definitions and to make them clearer and, indeed, to investigate and look again at the financial memorandum. I return to a point that Carol Mochan made: it is important to respect the fact that, at stage 1, we are asked to agree to the general principles of a bill, and we can develop it at stages 2 and 3.

Liam Kerr

I am reluctant to intervene because I am enjoying the member’s speech very much. However, a lot of what the committee heard was not just about amending the bill. Stakeholders said that practical implementation on the ground would be very difficult, if not impossible. That was one of the things that concerned many members greatly.

Paul O’Kane

I thank Liam Kerr for his intervention and for his kind words about my speech. I hear what he says. However, I have heard that throughout my professional life, and I think that it comes back to the challenge of the cluttered landscape. Regardless of whether the bill progresses—as I said, it is clear that it will not—we will have to deal with that cluttered landscape. There have been opportunities to begin to deal with it, and the Government has to reflect clearly on its role in that regard.

I am conscious of time, so I will go back to where I started. Many people are frustrated because they feel that we should legislate because it would hold people’s feet to the proverbial fire, force the issue and make it clear that we must have statutory requirements on people to deal with some of the barriers that I described in the really stark terms and statistics that I read out.

There is much more that I could say, but time is against me. Labour will support the bill this evening. Once again, we pay tribute to Pam Duncan-Glancy. Whatever happens from here on, we as a Parliament must be serious about getting these issues right, because many young people depend on that.


Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

I, too, pay tribute to Pam Duncan-Glancy, who—typically—made a quality contribution to the debate in her opening speech. The truth is that, in our consciences, none of us in the chamber can disagree with the substance of what she said. We are living in a situation in which people in our country are being robbed of hope. That really is an untenable situation. The committee’s report, which we have been referring to throughout the debate, can be quite accurately described as a dossier of failure—that sums up the situation rather well.

Frankly, I struggle with the idea of yet another strategy. A couple of weeks ago, there was a piece in The Sunday Times that said that research that had been done into the number of strategies and consultations that the SNP Government has engaged in over the past 10 years had found that the figure averaged something like more than one a week. The bulk of those strategies lie gathering dust on a shelf and have not meant that lives have been improved.

I was impressed with what Bill Kidd said, because it caused me to think, why are we here at all if it is not to improve the lives and life chances of our fellow Scots? That has got to be why we are here. That is why Willie Rennie was right when he said that our position on the bill is not a good look, because it looks as though we are saying something that, really, we are not saying at all. What we are saying is that we want real, substantive change. We want an end to the idea that we are robbing Scotland’s disabled young people of their hope, which, as I said earlier, is exactly what we have been doing.

Does Mr Kerr have confidence that the vehicle exists in this Parliament to reach where he wants to go without legislation?

Stephen Kerr

Legislation is not always the answer. I would say to Martin Whitfield that it is tempting to fall into that class of politician who says that something must be done, and the something that must be done is that we have another bill or another law. We already have a cluttered landscape—that is the phrase that everyone has been reaching for this afternoon—of legislation as things stand. What we need is a change of culture and approach.

Earlier, in relation to the visit that we made to Coatbridge, we heard that agencies, different levels of government, different functions of government, the third sector and businesses are all working together to put the needs of a disabled young person at the centre of their concern and activity and to give them opportunities. Ruth Maguire strikingly concluded her remarks by talking about what Scotland is losing—what we are all losing—because of our inability to create equality of opportunity for young people who are disabled. Robbing us of that talent is not just a social loss or a personal loss for the individual concerned; it is also an economic loss, and we cannot ignore that situation.

When I hear the minister say that it will be the end of next year before the Government can publish a strategy, I am alarmed at that. I think that it was Ruth Maguire, again, who said that we cannot wait for another year before we see that sort of strategy and hear of the action and outcomes that the strategy is intended to deliver.

Going back to the article in The Sunday Times, I am afraid that that strategy will be kicked down the road and that it will be another one of the 500 or 600 strategies that the Government has produced in the past 10 years that do nothing for anyone and do not improve anyone’s life experience.

After listening to the evidence that was presented to the committee when I had the privilege of serving on it, I can say that it is heart-rending. We all have constituents who have had that experience. It is draining for the parents, who have nowhere to go—they do not have a single point of help or someone to look to, so they are often left with the almost full-time task of looking out for their son or daughter. They would do so anyway, but it is a struggle. Our responsibility as parliamentarians is to find a way to lessen the struggle, ease the way and maximise the equality of opportunity that should exist.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I recognise that I am almost out of time and I have not even referred to my prepared remarks.

Liam Kerr gave a first-class speech this afternoon. With his forensic skills, my colleague was able to define exactly why we will not be able to support the bill at stage 1, despite the fact that its intentions and desired outcomes are all honourable. I cannot speak highly enough of Pam Duncan-Glancy, whose impact on the Parliament has been quite remarkable in the two and a half years that we have all been here. I congratulate her on that and on being able to dislodge the Government and get it to move in the right direction. Something has been started by Pam Duncan-Glancy, and those of us who are in the chamber at the moment—especially those of us who have spoken in this debate—have a responsibility to see that something happens. The essence of Liam Kerr’s speech was that something has to change, and another strategy or tick-box exercise is not going to cut it.


Natalie Don

I thank all the members who have contributed to the debate. It is clear that there is cross-party consensus that we should do everything that we can to improve the experience of transitions to adulthood for disabled young people.

With transitions to adulthood sometimes being described—as they have been in the chamber today—as a cliff edge, it is clear that the current situation in respect of disabled young people’s experiences of their transitions needs to improve. As I stated earlier, I am grateful for the evidence that was provided to the committee as it brought together its stage 1 report. I assure members that we are absolutely alive to some of the concerns that have been raised in that report, as well as the concerns that have been raised in the chamber today.

I have already stated that we are committed to improving the transitions experiences of disabled young people. Although I have clearly heard that the whole chamber agrees with the aims of the bill, I agree with the committee and the many stakeholder groups that the bill is not the best way to deliver those aims.

I will respond to some of the comments that have been made during today’s debate. Willie Rennie and other members asked whether we are doing anything to clear the landscape. The answer is yes. We have stated very clearly in the statement of intent that we want a strategy that can complement and help bring a more co-ordinated and joined-up approach to the broad landscape, so that young people, their families and practitioners who support them are better able to navigate it. One way of doing that is through our cross-policy working group to ensure that our policies are better joined up. We have also provided funding to ARC to develop Compass, to help young families and practitioners navigate those transitions more smoothly. Going forward, transitions planning and support should be person centred, responding flexibly to the unique needs and aspirations of each young person.

Pam Duncan-Glancy asked about similarities between who the bill would cover and who the strategy will cover. Although the statement of intent proposes the Equality Act 2010 definition of disability, it does not require a diagnosis, but the bill, as drafted, does. We have heard the concerns that have been raised around that today. The non-statutory nature of the strategy means that it does not impose transitions plans on young people who do not need or want them, nor does it explain how local authorities would identify disabled young people in order to fulfil its duties.

Possibly every member who has contributed to the debate has, rightly, raised concerns about what we are doing now. They have asked how young disabled people will benefit prior to the publication of the strategy.

The Government is working to improve transitions, because we have heard, loudly and clearly, the voices of those who have told us that more needs to be done. We have supported the Association for Real Change Scotland’s principles into practice programme. The purpose of that is to improve the lived experiences of young people who need additional support to make the transition to young adult life, and to ensure that young people are at the centre of planning for their future.

We have committed a further two years of funding to the Association for Real Change Scotland, through the children, young people, families and adult learning third sector fund, to continue that work, alongside supporting other projects. We also continue to support Independent Living Fund Scotland’s transition fund to assist young disabled people in making a smoother transition from childhood to adulthood by promoting independence, community participation, social inclusion and confidence. Since 2017, more than £10 million has been awarded to more than 5,000 young people.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Thank you for taking my intervention—I realise that time is short. All those initiatives, including the independent living funding, are welcome. The bill does not undo any of that; it just provides a statutory underpinning to keep all of it going so that another minister cannot come along and undo it.

Natalie Don

That is not what I am arguing here. During the debate, we have heard clearly the concerns that have been raised about the bill. I am just answering members’ comments about what we are doing now, ahead of the publication of the strategy next year.

In October 2023, we published our “Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC): child’s plan” practice statement. It includes new guidance for transitions, which outlines that particular consideration should be given to disabled children and young people. The GIRFEC child’s plan could be used—

Stephen Kerr

All the words that the minister has used are commendable—they are lovely words—but there is a question about resources. What is being described is a function that will often have to be carried out by local authorities. Along with the strategy, and all the intentions that the minister has described, will there be funding?

Minister, I can give you the time back.

Natalie Don

That is something that will be worked out, so I cannot confirm it today. I am sure that the member will appreciate that. How much funding will be available for that will be worked out as co-ordination of the strategy is developed.

Building on GIRFEC best practice, the Scottish Government is co-designing getting it right for everyone—GIRFE—with place-based pathfinder teams across Scotland for people at all stages from young adulthood to end-of-life care. Through GIRFEC and GIRFE, we are absolutely committed to improving transitions between children’s and adult services for disabled children and young people.

Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Am I able to get the time back, Presiding Officer?

I can give you a bit of that time back as well, minister.

Can the minister explain why the groups of disabled people’s organisations walked away from the GIRFEC strategy group that they were on, because they did not believe that it was delivering for them?

Natalie Don

I am sorry to hear that that is the case. As I have said, I am setting out the range of actions that we are taking, but we appreciate that we absolutely need to go further. As I have said, that will be a result of the proposed strategy.

We have continued to provide funding to enable the stepping up transitions programme, which connects disabled young people with fair work, education and productive activities that are designed to support a successful transition into adult life and work. We are committed, by 2026, to helping all school leavers to access the transition support that they need to achieve their potential, and to ensuring that young people can further their education or secure a job or training place. We have implemented the introduction of developing the young workforce school co-ordinators across all 32 local authorities, and we will have more.

We are supporting improved implementation of existing statutory duties for planning under the legislation on additional support for learning. We are also working with local government partners to deliver the additional support for learning action plan by the end of this parliamentary term.

Further actions include updating the transition planning advice in our statutory guidance and improving the information that is provided to young people and their parents on accessing their rights. The feedback that we have heard through that process will directly inform the delivery of the work and will help to ensure that transitions planning happens more consistently and at an early enough stage.

Of course, we are also bringing forward Scotland’s first national transitions to adulthood strategy, which we aim to publish by the end of 2024. I understand the concerns of Pam Duncan-Glancy and many others about how we know that that strategy will make the change that we all want to see, when actions of the past have not necessarily got us to where we want to be. The strategy will be subject to robust and regular monitoring and review to ensure that it delivers on its intended aims and remains in focus.

Today, I commit to making the strategy available to Parliament so that it can benefit from the scrutiny of members across the chamber and the input of their collective expertise. To that end, I again recognise the work that Pam Duncan-Glancy has done on the bill and reiterate my commitment to working closely with her as we develop the strategy.

Each of us in the chamber shares the same goal of improving the lives of disabled children and young people in Scotland. The debate has highlighted where progress needs to be made. This Government is resolutely committed to delivering that progress, and we will work collaboratively with people inside and outside the Parliament in doing so. By working together, we can ensure that all disabled young people making the transition to adulthood in Scotland are empowered to achieve their full potential.

I call Pam Duncan-Glancy to wind up the debate. I would be grateful if you could take us up to just before 5 o’clock, please.


Pam Duncan-Glancy

I thank members from across the chamber for their contributions to the debate and for their kind words, especially my Labour colleagues Paul O’Kane, Carol Mochan and Martin Whitfield. Crucially, I thank everyone in the public gallery and all the organisations that have reached out to me in support and to contribute to the bill and the campaign for it to succeed. I know that you have waited a lifetime for change in this area, and it was my honour to take your fight to this Parliament.

This afternoon, I and Labour colleagues, and others across the chamber, have highlighted the human impact that inaction—the inaction that my colleague Ruth Maguire and others have pointed out—is having on the lives of disabled people right across the country. The reality is that disabled people are being failed on almost every front, and they have been for years.

Willie Rennie said that we had better not be back here on this issue in five years’ time. I sincerely hope that we are not, because I have been here before, but I suspect that we might be. I gave evidence to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee on the issue in 2005. We were here then, and we are here now.

There is no denying that what is in place right now is not working. The lived experience and the stats make that clear. From what I have heard today, I am confident that most colleagues agree with the general principles of what I am proposing, despite any disagreement on the finer detail. Indeed, some people looking on might find it difficult to reconcile the final vote with what they have heard members say. I would hazard a guess that some members may face a similar difficulty. I remind colleagues that, in this stage 1 debate, it is the general principles of the legislation that we are discussing, and it is not too late to support them.

Let me now address some of the issues that colleagues have raised. First, I again thank members for their kind words about the bill, especially Stephen Kerr, who really moved me in his contribution. However, this is not about me; it is actually too late for me. This is about all the other disabled people who came after me and who will come after me. It can be lonely fighting for disabled people’s rights in this Parliament.

I welcome Sue Webber’s speech on behalf of the Education, Children and Young People Committee, especially the bit about ensuring that the strategy does not sit on the shelf. I gently remind members that, as we sit here, no strategy has been developed, so it has not yet reached the printer, let alone the shelf.

Stephanie Callaghan and Roz McCall both spoke of social justice, and I know how much passion those members have for the issue. I welcome Liam Kerr’s recognition of the issues with data. We need to monitor the situation and shine a light in the dark corners, and I hope that we can do that together.

Among the welcome recognition of the issues, there are some conclusions that will disappoint disabled people and their families who are watching. There is a colloquialism in Glasgow that we often use when people have been tiresomely repeating themselves, and it is this: “Heard it.” Sadly, I think that that is how many disabled people and their families will feel today.

On the definition that is used in the bill—oh, how we have heard this before—defining a disability has long since been a bugbear of the disability movement and of policy makers. As disabled people, we almost have to have a crisis of identity. We are expected to convince employers that we are fine while convincing benefit assessors that we are not.

I have always said that this was about disabled people. I was unapologetic about that, which is why I used the definition in the Equality Act 2010, as the Government does. I have said on the record—I will say it again, for what it is worth—that I would amend the bill and take out the bit about diagnosis.

On what has been said about the financial memorandum, we have heard that, too—we are always too expensive. That is why I worked hard to get the costings right. I took the committee’s advice to look again at the figures. I and a small team of four people in my office—who I thank for everything that they have done—worked tirelessly with trade unions, COSLA and ADES to update the figures. I wrote to the committee with those updates. I could not present a financial memorandum to it, because I cannot do that until stage 2.

In this area, I have to say that it looks a bit like the Government is holding me to a higher standard than the one to which it holds itself. I have asked in parliamentary questions how much the Government spends on transitions and been told that the Government cannot extrapolate that. Conversely, I worked tirelessly to cost the bill as best I could, because I did not want to short-change services or local government. I presented figures and re-presented updated ones, but the Government cannot tell us what its approach will cost.

What we face is not, or certainly should not be, a decision about being cost neutral or even paying for failure by the Government, compared to a costly approach under my bill. The reality is that supporting disabled people to enjoy their human rights costs money. However, I remind members that the National Audit Office has said that good support can save £1 million per person. We are talking about an investment that would save money in the longer term, and I will always fight for that.

On the question from Liam Kerr, Stephen Kerr and others on how the bill could be implemented, Carol Mochan was absolutely right that it would be hard—it always is—but that has never stopped Carol Mochan or me or my party or disabled people or their families. My gran once told me that hard work is not easy, and easy work is hard to find. I seem to find it pretty easy to find hard work. I really appreciate members’ support for the work that I have put into the bill, and that families and organisations have put in, too. I particularly appreciate Bill Kidd’s contribution today—thank you.

My colleague Stephen Kerr asked how the bill would change lives. The minister and others have said that the bill overlaps and confuses. I attempted to address that in my opening speech. It should suffice for me to say again that the child’s plan is not in statute and will not be. There are no legal rights in this space, and it is not just me who says that—the Law Society said that

“significant improvement is unlikely ... without legislative measures”.

Colleges Scotland said that what is “unique” is that the bill would be actual legislation,

“so there is a right to what it provides, but there is also a framework for parents and young people to work within”.—[Official Report, Education, Children and Young People Committee , 8 February 2023; c 11.]

The children’s commissioner said that they welcomed

“the potential introduction of legal duties”.

The rights and opportunities of young people should not be left to chance or rest on their luck in having a carer or parent who has the resources, tenacity, energy and time to keep going and fighting. The reality is that that is what is happening just now, and it is not working. I ask the Government and other members: if not this bill, then what? Disabled people are sick and tired of their rights hinging on a wing and a prayer.

It is for them that I am here today, so I will use my closing moments to say this. I introduced the bill because young disabled people have been let down for far too long. As my colleague Paul O’Kane said, families have been on the brink, left stranded without the support that they need, denied their dreams and aspirations, and set up to fail. Without the significant change that I am proposing, I fear that thousands will be failed in generations to come.

I came to the debate today under no illusions of the scale of the challenge. Change for disabled people is possible, but history—especially recent history—tells us that it is also glacial. I have known for some time that the Government was unlikely to fix the law in this area. Nonetheless, I remained hopeful and, because I am an optimist, I still am.

To my MSP colleagues, I say this. You have a responsibility to stand up for people who are underrepresented and who need you the most. Please use that responsibility well. The world is watching. Do the right thing. History will remember.

To the minister, I say: how will you be accountable, how will the Government measure success, and how will the Government change things? Those are the measures to which we and disabled people will hold you.

To everyone in the public gallery, to all the organisations that have reached out to me in support and to contribute to the bill, and to disabled people and their families watching us today, I say this. I know that you have waited for a change in this area for a lifetime. I know that some of what you will have heard today will be disappointing. For as long as I have the privilege to sit in this place, your fight will be my fight. I will not rest until your children and your children’s children have the opportunity to flourish in the land of opportunity that we know Scotland can be. That is because I made a promise that, when I got elected, I would put the ladder, or the ramp, out for other disabled people to follow and make sure that they have a fighting chance at a future. I will do that.

My party and I will again vote for change today. I am sad that others might not. However, colleagues should rest assured that, tomorrow, the fight for a fighting chance will go on. We will hold the Government to account for the change that it promises every day, and I will do that every day that I am here, because everyone needs that, and it is our job to give them it.