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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, May 25, 2023


Fornethy House Survivors

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I encourage MSPs who are leaving the chamber and members of the public who are leaving the gallery to do so as quickly and quietly as possible.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-06729, in the name of Colin Smyth, on justice for Fornethy House survivors. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible. I also reiterate that, as the note that was circulated to members said, sub judice issues apply to the matters that are to be debated.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it considers as the inspirational women who have bravely come forward to highlight the plight of the reported hundreds of survivors of physical, mental and sexual abuse at Fornethy House Residential School, in Angus, when they attended to convalesce or for short breaks between 1960 and the 1990s; notes reports that over 200 women have revealed the appalling abuse that they suffered at Fornethy House when they were young girls; commends these women for what it sees as their determined and admirable campaign for justice; recognises the reported challenges that survivors of Fornethy House have experienced in qualifying for Scotland’s Redress Scheme due to the eligibility criteria excluding those abused in short-term respite care; notes the reported difficulties that the survivors have had in obtaining personal records that were held by the owners of Fornethy House at the time, which were Glasgow Corporation and Strathclyde Regional Council; further notes the ongoing Police Scotland investigation, but regrets that, to date, none of the alleged perpetrators of the abuse have been brought to justice, and notes the view that these women deserve both justice and recognition for the appalling abuse that they suffered at Fornethy House Residential School.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Presiding Officer, I will quote.

“I travelled in a black cab to Fornethy from Riddrie, where I lived at the time when I was a wee girl. I was taken in through the big arch door, and as soon as the door closed, that’s when my nightmare began. Six weeks of hell I’ve carried with me all of my life.”

Those are the words of my constituent Marion Reid from Carluke, who was sent to Fornethy House residential school in the summer of 1965, when she was eight years old. She was one of hundreds—maybe even thousands—of women who were sent by the state to Fornethy as wee girls. Many were the same age as my two daughters are now. They thought that they were going to rest and recuperate, but instead they were abused physically, mentally and—in some cases—sexually.

Dozens of those brave survivors are in the public gallery today. They cannot speak in the chamber, so I want to share their story—a story that needs to be heard. I want to give a voice to those women’s fight for justice. I want to help to ensure that what happened to those wee girls at Fornethy is finally properly acknowledged. I am grateful to the many MSPs from every party in Parliament who have signed the motion and are showing their support to those brave survivors.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it started when Fornethy House in Angus was gifted to Glasgow City Council, which was then Glasgow Corporation, in the 1960s, but the impact goes way beyond the day on which it closed its doors in June 1993. Under the agreement, Fornethy House was to be used to support disadvantaged girls, but rather than being supported and rather than being nurtured, those wee girls were subjected to a catalogue of unimaginable abuse that has stayed with them to this day.

Fiona was sent to Fornethy when she was seven, in 1970-71. She recalls:

“I remember girls being force fed, and if it made them sick they were then force fed their own vomit.”

Rosina was sent to Fornethy three times from the age of eight in 1968. She said:

“There was a wee lassie there. She had what we now call eczema. When I think of that wee lassie and the pain she used to go through, I just want to cry. They scrubbed her ’til she was bleeding. She would cry, so they hit her for screaming.

If you wet the bed, you got a doing for that, and there were certain things you didn’t get. I wasn’t allowed a drink of milk. One time I was so desperate for a drink, when it came to brushing my teeth I rinsed my mouth out and tried to take a wee drink of water. I was seen doing it, I was hit in the back of the head, my teeth went into my top lip and it started to bleed. I was slapped for making a mess because I was bleeding into the sink. I was made to sit out in the hallway, not allowed to go to bed. I sat there petrified. You were a wee wean.”

Survivor Elaine, who was sent to Fornethy in the 1970s, recalls:

“We were forced to write postcards home that said, ‘Having a great time. Fornethy is fabulous.’ It was written on a blackboard for us to write out.”

Another survivor, Helen, said:

“I was crying. I wanted to go home. It was a nightmare. I was touched by an older woman in places I shouldn’t have been. I tried to approach the head of Fornethy. I was told children should be seen and not heard.”

I wish I could share every story, but hundreds of women have now spoken up. Yet, despite so many testimonies and so many devastating stories, not one of the perpetrators of those horrific crimes has yet been fully brought to justice. I appreciate the complexities and challenges, and I welcome the fact that in recent days there has been some progress in bringing one case to court. I am conscious that there is still a live police investigation, but it has been live for years and time is running out.

Many of the people who should have been jailed have died, including Fornethy’s first headmistress, Nellie Bremner, and its longest serving headmistress, Margaret Fletcher. They ruled Fornethy with, as one survivor said, “brutality and cruelty”, and some of those perpetrators died years after their crimes were first reported to the police. They should have been brought to justice before now.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Does Colin Smyth agree that, as well as being denied natural justice through the courts of law, the Fornethy survivors have fallen between the two stools of our approach to historical abuse, in that the historical abuse inquiry did not cover respite care but was, rather, focused on residential schooling? As such, they have been denied justice from that quarter, as well.

I can give you the time back, Mr Smyth.

Colin Smyth

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

Alex Cole Hamilton has made a very valid point. Time after time, blocks have been put in the way of the women, whether in relation to justice, for acknowledgment or to hear their story. My appeal to the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is that, in the time that we have left, they should leave no stone unturned until those women get justice before it is too late, because they have had nothing but barriers put in their way when they should have had answers.

Before they were sent to Fornethy, the girls all had medicals, but they were never told why they were sent and, according to Glasgow City Council, no records of those girls’ time at Fornethy now exist. I asked the council to meet me and the women to discuss why it refused. The council said that it would not be appropriate to have such a meeting. The records are likely to have been destroyed, we are told.

Despite the many acts, statutes, regulations and supervisory bodies, and despite it being described by the council in Glasgow at the time as a residential school, it seems that Fornethy escaped inspection. No one, it seems, properly established that the place where they were sending thousands of girls was safe. What a litany of failure.

The women need answers. Why were they sent there? Why was that allowed to happen? If the matter needs an independent inquiry, so be it.

The final issue that I want to raise is one that has never been raised with me by any of the women survivors; for them, this is about justice and about acknowledgment. However, it is a scandal that the Government’s redress scheme appears to exclude Fornethy survivors; indeed, it claims that the abuse took place during what has been described as

“short-term respite or holiday care”

and that they were still in the care of their parents when they were sent to Fornethy. Both criteria exclude them from the scheme. However, Fornethy was a residential school, and the wee girls were sent there not by their parents but as a result of the council’s intervention. When they were there, they were in the care of the council. It was state-sponsored abuse.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Colin Smyth on securing the debate. I congratulate, too, the people who join us in the gallery and all the survivors—and those who have not survived until now—for coming forward to make that point.

Does the member agree that to treat victims of such heinous crimes differently from other victims simply because of the period of time that they were in that horrendous environment is a stain both on this Parliament and the Scottish Government?

Colin Smyth

Martin Whitfield makes a valid point. The failure to explicitly include what happened in Fornethy in, for example, the redress scheme, sends a signal that that horrific serial abuse was somehow less serious than other forms of abuse that took place under the so-called care of the state, and that the state was somehow less responsible for it. If a change needs to be made in the redress regulations to right that wrong—as the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee has called for—Parliament should make that change.

I finish by paying tribute to the women who have come forward to share their stories. We meet many people in our role as MSPs, but I doubt that I will ever meet a braver group of women than the Fornethy survivors. It is not for me to tell anyone that they must come forward when they have been the victim of abuse—I cannot imagine how difficult that must be. All I can do is share what I have seen.

The women who have spoken out now know that they are not alone, and the love and care that they have been able to share with fellow survivors has given them such immense strength. It is now our job to give them the answers, the justice and the acknowledgement that their bravery deserves. [Applause.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, Mr Smyth. I encourage people in the gallery not to participate. I understand the temptation very well and I certainly understand your desire to have your voices heard. However, we discourage participation, and that includes applause.

We now move to the open debate. I invite Rona Mackay to speak for around four minutes.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I welcome the debate, which highlights the truly terrible experiences of women who were sent to Fornethy House residential school. I congratulate Colin Smyth on having secured the debate and on the work that he has undertaken to highlight the plight of those women and his extremely moving speech.

The women who are involved have demonstrated incredible courage in coming forward to put in the public domain the physical, emotional and sexual abuse that they suffered, and to make such a powerful case for justice. It is vital that those women be listened to by everyone who can act to address the serious and legitimate issues that they raise.

That is why the debate is important and why the petition that is currently being considered by the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee is significant, too. The suffering that the women endured happened over a period of at least 30 years between the 1960s and the 1990s. Despite the fact that that suffering happened some years ago, it is vital that justice be delivered; indeed, that the suffering happened many years ago makes it all the more critical that justice be delivered. That should include any perpetrator being brought to justice. I note, as Colin Smyth did, that an arrest has been made in connection with the issues.

I also think that our country should recognise the suffering that the women endured. The Scottish child abuse inquiry has undertaken powerful and painful work to confront the truly awful suffering of so many children who were in the care of the state in the past.

It strikes me that the suffering of the Fornethy survivors would benefit from being confronted with the rigour that has been demonstrated by the Scottish child abuse inquiry. I understand that some of the women have met the Scottish Government to set out their concerns, and I welcome the constructive dialogue that has already taken place with the Government in a meeting between some of the women and the former Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who was and is passionate in his determination to see justice for survivors of those terrible crimes.

In a letter to the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee in February this year, the former Deputy First Minister set out actions that were being taken by the Scottish Government to address many of the issues that are raised in Colin Smyth’s motion. The letter stated that the Scottish Government believed that the eligibility criteria of the redress scheme could include Fornethy survivors, and the Government gave the assurance that it would consider further whether that was the case. I believe that that indicates a willingness to be as helpful as possible to the affected women, and I hope that, in closing, the minister will be able to give us an update on the Government’s view on that question.

I know that survivors have had great difficulty in accessing records relating to the time that they spent in Fornethy. Having access to original documentary information would, without doubt, strengthen applications for redress, so I take this opportunity to ask Glasgow City Council to intensify its work to identify whether any information is still held by the council, as the successor to the Glasgow Corporation and Strathclyde Regional Council, that might help any individual in their quest for justice.

The physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children is a difficult subject for any society to confront, but that difficulty is nothing compared to the suffering of the children, and we have an obligation to air and confront the issues and to do all that we can to remedy their suffering. Important work is being undertaken in Scotland today to do that, and I hope that the debate helps to ensure that that work addresses the experiences of women who suffered at Fornethy House, because the Fornethy women deserve justice. Indeed, that is the least that they deserve.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I pay a warm tribute to Colin Smyth for his moving speech, and I warmly welcome the people who are in the public gallery. I know that it is not easy to listen to members recount your stories so publicly, but it is very important that we do so in order that the world can hear the wrongs that happened to you.

There are few things in the Parliament that unite us as politicians of various political colours and with various views of the world. However, the work that we have done over the past few years to address some of the wrongs of the past has been among the most important work that we have ever done—it is certainly the work that I am most proud of participating in over the past seven years as a member of the Parliament.

I am going to talk specifically about the redress scheme in my speech. It is an issue that is close to my heart. I worked on that legislation as my party’s spokesperson on education at the time and as a member of the relevant committee. I worked closely with Government ministers and members from right across the political spectrum to get the redress scheme into as good a place as possible, but, as we have heard today, it is clearly still not there. I will talk a little bit about that.

I do not want to rehash the horrific stories of what happened at Fornethy House. They do not need to be repeated by me. However, I make the point that what was supposed to be a place for recovery, care and convalescence for many young people turned into harrowing stories of abuse, suffering and sorrow. Such stories live with people for their entire life. I simply cannot imagine the mental and physical effects of that, but I am hugely moved and touched to hear the horrific stories of what happened.

We think and hope that such things do not happen in this day and age, but they happened far too often to far too many people in years gone by. We owe a huge amount of gratitude to the survivors, campaigners and activists—whom we speak of and hear from so often in the Parliament—for the courage that it has taken for them to come forward and fight for justice in whichever way that they can achieve it. Justice can be achieved in many ways—through apologies, compensation, support or simply an acknowledgement from their Parliament and Government that wrong has happened and that we are sorry for that.

As I said, I worked on the redress scheme, and I was disappointed by some of its elements when the bill was passed. It was clear from the outset that redress would not be available for everyone, and it was clear that the scheme had shortcomings.

I am deeply disappointed and angered by the fact that so many organisations that were responsible for abuse during that period did not even participate in the scheme. Shame on them for hiding from the truths of their own pasts.

I do not have a lot of time left and I want to be positive in my closing comments. I want the Government to respond to the very specific calls from the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee, the survivors in the gallery and members across the chamber and to say how the redress scheme, given the limitations on its operation, can be used to offer some form of justice to people who were abused in short-term care. I understand that the nature of the scheme is such that it was not set up to cover people in that position, but it offers a tried-and-tested mechanism for offering some form of justice. I know that the scheme has had teething problems, but it is improving.

We also need to offer a public apology, which needs to come straight from the heart of Government. We need to tell those ladies in the gallery not just that we are sorry but that we are going to do something. They have heard a lot of warm words from people over the years, and they will have met a lot of nice politicians who will have shaken their hands and said how sorry they were. The Government needs to tell us what action it will take and how the mechanisms that are currently in place will be used to offer some form of justice, whether through the justice system, apologies, financial compensation or support for mental or physical health.

Whatever we do, we must say exactly what Colin Smyth said to those people: you are not alone, the Parliament is with you and it will support you. If we can say it, the Government can say it. That is what I want to hear.


Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to add my voice to those of the other members who have spoken in tribute to the Fornethy survivors—those in the gallery and those who cannot be with us today—as well as those whom we have lost over the years.

As a representative of the north-east of Scotland, where Fornethy House is located, I have had the privilege to meet and speak to some of the survivors. Like Jamie Greene, I will not seek to relay their testimony, which Colin Smyth gave a very powerful account of. The fortitude and tenacity of those women in fighting for not just themselves but so many others is deeply moving. Their stories are harrowing, and we will carry them with us after we have gone home tonight.

I have raised the issue of the redress scheme with the former Deputy First Minister, John Swinney—I did so at the Education, Children and Young People Committee’s meeting on 12 January, when I pressed him on the eligibility question that members have raised. He told me that it was possible for Fornethy survivors to be successful in applying under the scheme, but he went on to explain that there were some challenges and difficulties relating to individual cases, due to privacy issues. The way in which the Government represented the situation to me was that it was difficult to talk about how many of those women might have been successful or, indeed, whether any of them had been successful. The Government must think about how it can communicate appropriately to the Fornethy survivors that the redress scheme is open to them, that they can make use of it and that, through it, they can have a small portion of justice.

The system that we have put in place has created a hierarchy of abuse. In the Government’s view and in the view of Parliament, when it passed the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, which was prior to my time in Parliament, that might have been unavoidable. However, there is no doubt that the Fornethy women feel that their exclusion from the redress scheme has created a different tier of justice for them.

Jamie Greene

I share that concern—it was one that I had when the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill was passed. We wanted to create a simplified process but, in doing so, we created a hierarchy. The scheme was designed to offer direct access without complex legal assistance, but we have heard that many people who go through the redress scheme still have to speak to lawyers. Lawyers are taking fees and percentages of awards under the compensation scheme, which goes entirely against the grain of what the scheme was designed to do. Surely the Government should also address that area of concern.

Michael Marra

I share those concerns. There are questions about the practical operation of the scheme and about who is included or excluded, but there is also the genuine emotional harm that is done by the hierarchy that has been created, in which one form of abuse is seen as lesser than or different from another.

I know that the Government faces a difficult challenge in balancing the responsibility of the state in connection with historical abuse. I echo Colin Smyth’s observations and those of my colleague Martin Whitfield about the time bar and the question of whether a period of six weeks should qualify for redress. To quote one survivor:

“To a child, six weeks feels like a year.”

The abuse that took place in those weeks is no different from any other. Those words also have a double meaning, because they speak to the horror endured by those young women for what might seem to us like a short summer holiday but for them felt like a large part of their life. That horror has stayed with them as a result.

I close by echoing Rona Mackay’s comments about Glasgow City Council. I hope that we can send a very strong message from the Parliament and from the Government that the council must engage fully, openly and to the best of its ability with survivors and with the MSPs who are pursuing the issue. There should be full disclosure and we should have a full account of what happened.


Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I, too, congratulate Colin Smyth on securing the debate and welcome the survivors, many of whom I have come to know well in recent months, to the gallery.

Fornethy is not in my constituency and, to the best of my knowledge, none of its survivors are my constituents. However, 18 months ago, I was walking past the Parliament when I saw a small group of survivors huddled under the awning. They brought me over to tell me their stories, which hurt me to my heart and made me want to go to war for those women.

I speak today on behalf of the hundreds of women who are survivors of the horrendous abuse that took place there. The accounts of the abuse that they suffered as children at the hands of those who were ostensibly there to care for them are truly harrowing and utterly disgusting, but it is important that we hear some of those accounts, so I will delineate some of them in my remarks.

Children as young as eight or nine—largely from Protestant families, as the women have pointed out—were taken to a remote area with the promise of a summer holiday and respite for their parents. Right out of the trap, things were not as they should have been. The constant cruelty of those running the house turned what should have been a pleasant summer getaway into the worst ordeal imaginable.

When the time came to write home to their parents, the children were forced to copy word for word from a blackboard, giving false accounts that suggested an idyllic and tranquil experience, whereas the reality was day after day of chores and brutality. If they dared to deviate from the text on the blackboard, they would be screamed at and their letters would be torn up in front of their faces or sometimes even fed to them. That practice of letter writing shows the chilling organisation and forethought that went into the abuse.

The abuse at Fornethy did not come to light at the time of the great revelations about historical and sexual child abuse in this country, in part because the women did not at first understand the nature of their victimhood. They were there for only six weeks at a time, and they came from different communities and therefore did not often have contact with the other girls after they left Fornethy.

Another reason why it took so long to understand the nature of their abuse is that they might routinely have been drugged at bed time. Some women remember being given a biscuit or a particular drink for supper, which some now believe contained a sedative. Some women still remember waking from unnatural slumber to find themselves in rooms filled with pipe smoke where they were being sexually assaulted by tweed-clad men. That bears the hallmarks of highly organised paedophilia on an industrial scale.

The women’s stories are burned into me and keep me awake at night. Their trauma has impacted every aspect of their lives and relationships. What is worse is that, as we have heard, the women are now being forced to endure a failure of justice. Many of those who abused them have since died without justice being served.

The women have fallen between the stools of our national effort to confront historical abuse. They are outside the ambit of the inquiry into historical sexual abuse and the redress scheme because, as we have heard, abuse in respite care is not covered. They are not in this for compensation, although they certainly deserve it; they seek only recognition, belief and justice.

Some of the survivors are sitting in the gallery, and they do so at a high price. Each time they recount the abuse that they suffered, they are forced to relive it. I thank them for coming, and I say to them: we hear you, we believe you, we are on your side and we will stand with you in your fight for justice. You have dealt with this for far too long alone—well, you are not alone any more.

On the last Monday in June, Colin Smyth, I and other members will take many of the survivors back to Fornethy. We will do so with trained mental health counsellors and, I hope, with the nation’s media, so that we can help them all along the road to national recognition, to justice and finally, perhaps, to peace.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Colin Smyth for bringing to the chamber a debate in which we once again tackle the horrendous topic of historical sexual abuse.

It is a topic that, when I came into this place, I did not expect to know about as much as I do. I started with a sexual abuse case that constituents brought to me, and I tried to take them on a journey to get some sort of redress. However, here we are, still talking about this. I know some of the Fornethy survivors very well, and it is really great to see them here in the chamber, but as Alex Cole-Hamilton has said, every time we discuss these things, we are scratching at an open wound.

It is fair to say that, in the seven years that I have been here, progress has been made. I remember when the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill came to the Health and Sport Committee. Colin Smyth and Alex Cole-Hamilton were members of that committee, too, and we heard in private from survivors of childhood abuse. We know the trauma that we felt, listening to those stories, and we were hearing them at second hand. How on earth do people deal with these things at first hand?

As for the redress scheme, which has been talked about, I pushed the then Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, to expand it, because it is very limited. We continually heard that it was about parental responsibility in care homes and that parental responsibility had to be an element; however, my constituent was abused in school, and I kept going back to the education bill which says, “in loco parentis”—that means that parental responsibility is temporarily handed over to teachers.

Moreover, if we are talking about the six weeks’ respite, surely to goodness that “in loco parentis” provision must be absolutely cast iron and locked in. The ability to access that should not even be an argument.

I have talked about this before, but I think that, although the redress scheme represents progress, it breaks United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child law, because of the way in which it is limited. That said, I think that that is something that will be tackled somewhere down the line.

I should also point out that, before the redress scheme, people were able to apply for redress through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, and those who got it were still able to take a civil case to court. If they won, the money that had been given through the CICA would be repaid. That provision has been taken away in the redress scheme.

Therefore, although the Parliament has made significant progress in tackling the abhorrent subject of historical sexual abuse, I think that there is still an awful long way to go. To me, abuse is abuse, no matter the setting, and we need to consider how legislation can be expanded to ensure that those who have suffered this horrendous crime are recognised so that they can somehow start down the road to recovery and healing.

Once again, I commend the Fornethy survivors for their resourcefulness in the way that they have campaigned and, as other members in the chamber have done, I assure them that they are not alone. You have the support of this place.


The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

I want to begin by thanking Colin Smyth for lodging this important motion. Survivors of Fornethy are in the public gallery; I welcome their attendance and recognise their bravery.

The abhorrent abuse that children suffered while resident in Fornethy House is shocking. Today, we have heard some of the testimony through the voices of members. The survivors have shown incredible bravery in sharing their stories as they seek justice for the abuse that they endured as children. No child should ever have to go through what those women have. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to meet the Fornethy survivors group, I have arranged to do so on 7 June. The First Minister has confirmed that he will also meet with the group in due course. I very much want to hear first-hand about their experiences and to offer my support.

Since taking up my current post, I have been made aware of the range of issues that surround Fornethy House, and the survivors have my personal commitment that those matters will be explored further and acted on. I will set out the work that will be undertaken to ensure that matters relating to Fornethy House are fully explored.

Sadly, we know that for decades some children in residential care in Scotland were failed by those who were entrusted to look after them. That is why Scotland took steps to face up to those failings of the past by establishing Scotland’s redress scheme. The scheme is designed to be swifter and less adversarial than court action. Although nothing can ever make up for the suffering that survivors have endured, as others have said, the scheme is making a real difference to many survivors, as it goes some way to providing acknowledgement and recognition of the harm that was caused.

Survivors are at the heart of the scheme. It is built on three principles: dignity, respect and compassion. Those principles are set out in the legislation, and they remain as relevant today as they did when the scheme was designed. The scheme has helped a number of people, with £25 million of payments made directly to survivors or their families.

Although the abuse of children in any setting or circumstance is wrong, as other members have said, there requires to be eligibility criteria for Scotland’s redress scheme. The scheme is designed primarily for vulnerable children who were in long-term care and who were often isolated with limited or no contact with their families. The scheme requires that the care setting and the reason for the stay are taken into consideration when making an assessment on eligibility.

As others have done, it is important to say that Fornethy survivors are not automatically precluded from applying for redress but, as Michael Marra said, that has not always been an easy process. The circumstances in which individuals came to be at Fornethy House vary, and therefore it has not so far been possible to determine eligibility for the group as a whole.

In his letter to the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee dated 6 February 2023, my predecessor committed to further testing the existing eligibility criteria and guidance for the redress scheme in relation to Fornethy. I fully support his position, and put on record my commitment to exploring that matter as quickly as possible and to keep members updated on progress.

In light of what the Deputy First Minister has just said, I want to ask whether the Government would be prepared to review the impact of the redress scheme against what it was intended to do?

Shona Robison

First and foremost, we need to focus on the matters in relation to Fornethy to try to find a way to make progress. I do not want to prejudge what that will lead to, but that is my focus at the moment.

We recognise that accessing records and providing evidence of historical abuse is a challenge that many survivors face when applying for redress. That has been an important issue for the survivors of Fornethy. It is important that the scheme is robust and credible to ensure that survivors, providers and others can have confidence in its processes and outcomes.

Redress Scotland is the independent decision maker and takes into account the individual facts and circumstances of each application when making its decision. Funding of up to £2.4 million per annum is provided specifically to support applicants with things such as records searches, as well as practical and emotional support. That support is available to all applicants.

I understand that the limited records in respect of Fornethy House are a particular challenge. My officials have commenced inquiries with Glasgow City Council to explore the limited records and establish the circumstances in which children were placed in Fornethy House. I have directed my officials to instruct an independent person to support those inquiries, and Glasgow City Council has confirmed that that individual will be permitted access to the relevant archives.

Although I cannot direct Glasgow City Council, I have written to the council leader to express my expectation that those inquiries will be supported by Glasgow City Council.

Jamie Greene

I thank the cabinet secretary for that helpful progress on the issue. Is there not a wider point on the redress scheme, or any other scheme that the Government sets up, that we have to put trust and faith in the survivors who come forward? It is very traumatising for them. We are not talking about thousands of people applying for millions of pounds. In some cases, the eligibility bands are very small, and the compensation levels are relatively low in redress schemes. Can the people who run the scheme just put faith and trust in what they hear from survivors?

Shona Robison

I hear what Jamie Greene says, and I have enormous sympathy for it. We are trying to be solution focused in finding a way forward. I will continue to consider the possible routes forward.

On another matter, I note that the motion refers to a criminal investigation. Members will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on a live police investigation, but Police Scotland has committed to working with the Crown Office to keep the relevant parties updated on progress, which is important.

I recognise Parliament’s very deep interest in the matter, and I will of course provide the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee with an update on all these matters when they are concluded.

I also note Jamie Greene’s comments about other potential ways of recognising the harm done, and I undertake to consider those very carefully.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

The cabinet secretary rightly talks about the process of criminal justice, and there is finally a process under way, which I hope will start to shed light on what happened at Fornethy. One reason why the survivors have been denied justice for so long is that we still do not know the full extent of what happened there, for how long and by whom. That is why I lend my voice to Colin Smyth’s call for a public inquiry. Because of the nature of the state involvement—the referrals by social work and the Glasgow Corporation, and the complete absence of documentation around that—would the cabinet secretary support such an inquiry?

Shona Robison

I want to consider all routes to try to help the survivors to get the recognition and justice that they seek. The importance of finding records is why I have helped to push that forward in relation to Glasgow City Council. We will see what records can be found and accessed.

The only point that I would make about a public inquiry is that, as Alex Cole-Hamilton will know, it would take a long time, and there is no guarantee that people will get the answers that they are looking for at the end of it. However, we should keep all options on the table.

I conclude by again recognising the bravery of the women who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issues surrounding Fornethy House in their quest for answers. I hope that the level of interest that Parliament has in the issue, together with my commitment to the work I have outlined today, means that those who are here today leave the Parliament with confidence that the matters that they have raised are being taken very seriously indeed and will be addressed as far as is humanly possible.

13:34 Meeting suspended.  

14:00 On resuming—