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Meeting date: Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 17 May 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Carbon Neutral Islands, Point of Order, Decision Time, Marine Life (Unexploded Ordnance)


Topical Question Time

The next item of business is topical question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would be grateful for short and succinct questions, and responses to match.

Neonatal Deaths

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the investigation into the recent spike in deaths of newborn babies. (S6T-00711)

First, I offer my condolences to all the families affected. Although we might expect to see natural fluctuations throughout the year, given the high level of deaths noted in March, we intend to investigate further.

All national health service boards use the perinatal mortality review tool to support high-quality, standardised review of each neonatal death. In addition, some deaths may be subject to a more in-depth review as part of the “Maternity and neonatal (perinatal) adverse event review process for Scotland”.

In addition to those local reviews of each case, the Scottish Government, jointly with Healthcare Improvement Scotland, the Scottish Perinatal Network and Public Health Scotland, will undertake further investigations into the potential causes of the increased neonatal deaths to understand and address any possible contributing factors, so that we can continue to improve the care of the smallest and sickest babies in Scotland.

I, too, pass on my condolences to all the families who are affected.

Although so little is known about the deaths, it is important that health visits run as normal, despite the huge pressures facing our national health service. Do we have the right resources in place to deliver the three home visits, as outlined in the health visitors home visiting pathway? What mitigations are being put in place while we investigate the causal factors behind these tragic baby deaths?

Throughout the pandemic, although staff were being moved around at all times, maternity, neonatal care and family care were prioritised. Therefore, people in midwifery and health visiting roles were not moved to the same extent as people in other roles in hospitals, because we know just how important their work is.

Although the deaths are absolutely tragic, the number is thankfully small, which makes it particularly difficult to pick up on trends and what the underlying causes might be. However, we are looking carefully at the rate of death in March, and we will absolutely learn any lessons that can possibly be learned. We will ensure that, if any particular institutional lessons need to be learned, they will be taken forward.

I call Sue Webber.

Unfortunately, Presiding Officer, I had only one supplementary question.

Thank you, Ms Webber.

I, too, send my condolences to anyone who has lost a baby—these cases are indeed tragedies.

The Government is right to make it clear that there is no link to neonatal Covid or to the Covid-19 vaccine, but Dr Sarah Stock, who co-led the Covid-19 in pregnancy Scotland study, has said that further research is required to understand the effects of Covid-19 in pregnancy, because it can cause complications such as early birth. She has also said that the wider impacts of Covid-19 on the NHS workforce and services need to be looked at.

Can the minister confirm that the inquiry will examine those issues? When does she anticipate updating the Parliament further on the matter?

Several surveillance programmes are under way that are focusing on the direct impact of Covid-19 on pregnant women and babies. Those include the CoPS and British Paediatric Surveillance Unit studies, both of which are looking in detail at population-level monitoring and analysis of the occurrence and outcomes of Covid-19 infection in pregnancy.

Worldwide, the vaccine has been used in millions of pregnant women. I know that there has been a lot of concern about using the vaccine in pregnancy, but the evidence thus far suggests that the virus is significantly more dangerous to pregnant mums and babies, and that the vaccine improves safety. I want to give reassurance on that front.

Undoubtedly, the situation is evolving and it is important that we think about all the factors that might have contributed to the current rise in neonatal deaths. Those include the pressures on the workforce, given that the peak in deaths occurred when the workforce was under the most immense stress that it experienced throughout the pandemic. We will look at those issues as well.

It is important that we learn lessons and make changes, as far as we can, to ensure that we deal with any preventable factors that may have contributed to the neonatal deaths.

Police Scotland (Compensation Payments)

To ask the Scottish Government what its reaction is to the reported awarding of almost £1 million compensation from Police Scotland to an ex-officer following an employment tribunal ruling of victimisation. (S6T-00722)

The Scottish Government takes extremely seriously any concerns that are raised about Police Scotland, whether they are raised by the public or by officers. When things go wrong and mistakes are made, the police must be held to account, lessons must be learned and improvements must be made.

The findings of the employment tribunal clearly demonstrate that Ms Malone’s experiences were wholly unacceptable, which has been fully recognised by the chief constable. He has apologised to the claimant, making it clear that misogyny, sexism and discrimination of any kind are deplorable and have no place in society or policing, and emphasising his personal commitment to leading change in policing in Scotland.

The minister is right: the police must be held to account. The situation that Rhona Malone faced—bullying, harassment and, ultimately, the suppression of her complaint—was underpinned by a culture that was described at the tribunal as an “old boys club”.

Nobody should be under any illusion that the situation was isolated or unavoidable. Dame Elish Angiolini’s report on complaints handling highlighted the treatment of minority groups and officers leaving on account of the culture that they faced. It is avoidable. I personally took the account of a whistleblower to the most senior levels of the police, including to a meeting at which I described the situation to the chief constable, yet nothing took place.

Although I acknowledge the chief constable’s commitment to change and the forthcoming report by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, I have written to ask him to review the circumstances that led to Ms Malone’s departure from the police force and to hold to account those who failed to examine her complaint and those who suppressed it. Will the minister and the Scottish Government join me in making that call on the chief constable?

I thank Daniel Johnson for raising his personal experience with Police Scotland in reporting an incident such as this. I would expect the chief constable to reflect carefully on what Daniel Johnson has said in the chamber today.

On the substance of the question, in the days after the judgment was issued, the chief constable made the commitment to commission an external police service to carry out an independent review of this particular employment tribunal decision and to make recommendations on performance, culture or conduct that will require action by Police Scotland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is finalising that work.

Police Scotland has recognised that improvements are needed, and it has established a strategic oversight board to push forward the progress that is needed on equality and diversity in policing.

We must enhance complaints handling procedures for police officers who make complaints about the service in which they serve. The Angiolini review made some good points, but the latest thematic progress report was published at the end of 2021.

In this circumstance, at least one other police officer has left directly because of these complaints, and other officers have left armed policing. Will the minister commit to expediting implementation of the recommendations of the Angiolini review, with a renewed focus on complaints handling and whistleblowing, and the creation of a third-party organisation to handle that? Will she commit to enhancing the powers of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner around practice and policy review and the power to call in complaints when the PIRC no longer has confidence in the police force’s handling of them?

Many of the things that Daniel Johnson has just mentioned are under consideration by the Government. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans to respond in detail to the points that Daniel Johnson has raised.

The Angiolini review was an action that the Scottish Government took—in 2018, admittedly—to review police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct in Scotland, recognising that there was a potential issue in that regard. The Scottish Government accepted the majority of the recommendations, and we will shortly consult on legislative proposals with a view to delivering new laws to improve transparency and further strengthen public confidence in the police. We will consult on areas such as the duty of candour and co-operation, gross misconduct proceedings and adopting barred and advisory lists to strengthen Police Scotland’s vetting processes. Those measures would aim to ensure that anyone who did not meet the required high standards would not be able to continue working in policing.

I note Daniel Johnson’s comments about the implementation of the Angiolini review recommendations, although I gently note that it has been less than six months since the latest thematic report. A significant amount of work has been under way on implementation, with 34 of the recommendations having been implemented to date.

I have been investigating Scotland’s police complaints system for years. It is broken and unjust, with taxpayers’ money being used to crush and silence officers and the public. Police Scotland tried to buy Rhona Malone’s silence with a non-disclosure agreement. Other officers signed gagging orders because they did not have the strength or the money to fight for justice. Given that safeguards already exist to protect victims and sensitive information without the need for NDAs, will the minister commit to ending their use in policing?

It is my understanding that no NDA was used in the final settlement of the case that we are discussing. I would also say that the use of NDAs is part of United Kingdom employment law and that there are some legitimate uses for NDAs, but they should not be used to cover up discriminatory behaviour, misconduct or anything of that nature.

The chief constable has responded to this particular case by apologising to the claimant, making it clear that sexism and discrimination have no place in policing and making a personal commitment to lead change in policing in Scotland.

I think we would all agree that the majority of police officers work hard to protect our communities. However, the member is right that, when things go wrong, as they have done in this case, we must have robust and transparent mechanisms in place to investigate complaints. A great deal of work has already been done—I have responded to Daniel Johnson regarding the Angiolini review—but more must be done. The service has accepted that. We will keep Parliament informed of the work done and progress made.

As the minister said, the Scottish Government has already taken steps to improve transparency by introducing the organisational duty of candour in 2018. Will the minister outline the further steps that the Scottish Government is taking to improve transparency and to further strengthen public confidence in the police? As she has suggested, when the standard of delivery in public services falls short, individuals and their families should rightly be able to get answers and justice.

In 2018, we commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini to review police complaints handling investigations and misconduct in Scotland. Her recommendations provide a strong platform from which to drive forward meaningful improvement in collaboration with our partners across the policing sector in Scotland.

We will soon consult on further legislative proposals, with a view to delivering new laws that will improve transparency and further strengthen confidence in the police. Those measures will aim to ensure that anyone who does not meet the high standards that are required will not be able to continue working in policing.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

This issue is only the latest such example in Police Scotland, and there are many cases of bullying and victimisation of whistleblowers in other public services, including, as has been widely reported, the national health service. Does the minister agree that those examples make the case for the establishment, by statute, of an independent office of the whistleblower for Scotland?

I would have to give that proposal some consideration. I will come back to the member on that point.

In general, we have a high-quality police service in Scotland, but it is right that Police Scotland must be held to account and lessons must be learned when things go wrong. I assure members that the chief constable has taken responsibility and has personally committed to driving and leading change in policing in Scotland to ensure that lessons are learned and improvements are made.

Ferries (Delivery Date)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the anticipated delivery date of the ferries under construction at Ferguson Marine, in light of recent reports that the number of faults in the two vessels has risen. (S6T-00713)

The letter sent by Ferguson Marine to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee at the end of March sets out the new timetable and costs for the vessels, following the legacy cabling issue. Critically, that new schedule has been developed in partnership with Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, and CMAL has endorsed the timetable.

Vessel 801 will be delivered between March and May 2023 and 802 will be delivered between October and December 2023.

At the request of the NZET Committee, the Ferguson Marine chief executive updates the committee quarterly. The next update is due at the end of June.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. It represents a very welcome shift in tone from the SNP after the disgraceful comments that were made by one of the SNP’s MPs at Westminster, who asserted that we somehow need to change the record and stop talking about ferries. I say to the Government that the islanders of Arran whom I spoke to this morning are furious and want us to do anything but change the record on the issue of ferries.

Sadly, what I heard from the minister was repetition of what we heard months ago, and was not an answer to the question about the increased number of faults in the vessels. I want a cast-iron guarantee—so do our islanders—that vessel 801 will be in service by this time next year and that vessel 802 will be in service by the autumn of next year. We all wish the new chief executive of Ferguson’s the very best of luck in delivering the vessels, but our islanders want to know whether their vessels will actually be in service.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident is the cabinet secretary that the Glen Sannox will be sailing passengers to Brodick by this time next year? In the spirit of taking responsibility, will she put her job on the line, if it is not?

I remind Jamie Greene that I represent a community that is set to benefit from one of the vessels and I was on Skye as recently as Friday speaking to people there. He is not the only member who represents island communities.

I will specifically address the faults that he mentioned. A senior member of the Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd team has recently been seconded to Ferguson Marine’s senior management, and CMAL’s owner observation reports—which I think are what the member is referring to—are now being treated as the snagging and defects list. That is typical of any large construction or shipbuilding project. There was a list of 237 OORs in March, and as engagement and the relationships between CMAL and Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Ltd and between the respective teams have improved, good progress is being made on clearing those issues.

The list of OORs was assessed; 119 were assessed as being category 1, with the rest being minor snagging. There are engineering solutions for 83 of the 119, which leaves 36 still being worked on. Solutions are expected progressively and without delays or impacts on the programme.

That work is being led by the FMPG compliance director. Until recently, he was also employed by Lloyds Register of Shipping—the classification society that surveys both the Glen Sannox and vessel 802. The chief executive officer is a naval architect and a classification surveyor by background. He is also personally engaged in the process—in particular, with issues relating to stability and safety.

Solving all the issues is crucial. It is part of the programme, and I think that we have got the best people on the ground to do that.

We have good people, but we do not have an answer. There was no cast-iron guarantee and, once again, no one in the SNP is willing to take full responsibility for delivery of the project or the vessels.

Of course, this stems back to the miraculous missing email. The First Minister gleefully attributes all the blame to Derek Mackay. The email magically appeared in the opening minutes of an Opposition debate, but it still, in the eyes of Audit Scotland, does not answer key questions. Why did the contract pass two rounds of due diligence, contrary to legal advice? Why was 80 per cent of the agreed price for the ships paid when the progress on building the ships was anything but progress? Did the First Minister herself give the go-ahead for the contract to be awarded to her friend Mr McColl?

There clearly remains a very real risk that the ferries will not be delivered. It is more than five years since their due date and the cost has spiralled to more than a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money.

If the cabinet secretary cannot answer those questions, which Audit Scotland wants answers to, will she answer these two from me? Will the Government commit today to the Deputy First Minister making a full statement to Parliament on his role in all this? Secondly, will the Government agree to a full public inquiry into its handling of the shambles?

I am here once again, in another week, answering questions on Ferguson Marine, so the scrutiny in this way for the past two months has probably exceeded any other form of scrutiny.

On whether there will be a public inquiry, we have, of course, accepted the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report, among which are that we persevere with getting the boats delivered, and that we do an in-depth lessons-learned exercise after they have been delivered. The Audit Scotland report comes after the cross-party inquiry that was led by the then Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. There is already a comprehensive overview of the situation, with more than 200 documents having been published.

On the specific question, I have been absolutely crystal clear on what I expect from Ferguson Marine in completing the vessels. What resulted in delayed construction to the vessels was not a document but a question of construction. Jamie Greene does not need to believe me on that; he just needs to read the Audit Scotland report, which is quite clear that the reason why the vessels are overdue and over budget is a matter of their construction. That is why my priority—I was at Ferguson Marine as recently as last week—is to make sure that the boats are delivered not just for his constituents, but for mine.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Ferguson’s workforce is entitled to expect better than constant attacks from the Tories—given that Mr Greene was in the yard only last month and heard exactly what was said by the managing director—and from Labour, which, in the words of the GMB, has treated the issue “as a political football”?

Stuart McMillan is absolutely right. Again, this is not about what I say or what the Government says, but about what the workers say. To hear the GMB blasting the Labour Party, and the Conservatives dismissing the concerns of workers, is really problematic. I was at Ferguson Marine last week and spoke directly to union representatives and to the workers. Their morale is being eroded and the future of the yard is being questioned as a result of elements of the discussion that is going on among politicians.

It is absolutely right that the Opposition holds the Government to account, and that the Government ensures that plans are in place to resolve the issues. That is why I am here answering questions again, and why we have had several debates on the issue. It is one thing to criticise the Government; it is quite another to constantly erode the morale of the workers who have jobs that are based on their skills and talent.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of a report in the press today of an email that was sent from Derek Mackay to Stuart McMillan. She knows that one of the issues has been the lack of a full refund guarantee. According to the email from Mr Mackay, which was sent in February 2015,

“While CMAL’s board in line with standard industry practice has a preference for refund guarantees it has on occasion taken alternative approaches to ensure that shipyards, including Ferguson under its previous owners, were not excluded from bidding for those government contracts.”

What does the cabinet secretary have to say to that, and will she explain why the Government has been taking such a cavalier approach to ferry procurement?

Because—I am sure—Graham Simpson has read the Audit Scotland report in great detail, he will be aware that it identifies areas in which the Government has already made changes; for example, in Government investment in private companies, and in procurement. An example of that is very clearly to be seen in the most recent contract that has been awarded.

The contract was awarded by CMAL in its capacity as procuring authority. That is well known and well documented. Because of documentation that has been in the public domain for almost two years, it is also well known and well documented that CMAL expressed concerns about a full refund guarantee. It took the Opposition quite a while to find that. The critical email, of 8 October, shows that mitigations were put in place to combat the lack of a full refund guarantee, including CMAL taking ownership of all equipment and materials that were supplied to the yard, all suppliers having to ensure that they had full refund guarantees, and the schedule of payments being changed.

The cabinet secretary said that she expects the vessels to be completed next year. It is clear that islands communities expect a national ferry-building programme to create a modern and resilient ferry fleet. The next stage of replacement of the ferry fleet will be to replace smaller ferries—work that could easily be done at Ferguson’s.

On supporting the workforce, will the cabinet secretary confirm that it is the Government’s intention, assuming that current timescales are met, to award the contract for replacement CalMac ferries to the yard, or will that work be going abroad to Turkey, too?

I thank Neil Bibby for that question, because I think that it is the first time that he has asked me a question about the future of Ferguson Marine. It is critical right now that we ensure that there is a pipeline of work at the yard.

The yard is actively pursuing opportunities for future vessel contracts. I do not know whether Neil Bibby joined the cross-party delegation of MSPs that went to the yard last month, at which the chief executive probably outlined what the yard is doing to secure future work. We will do all that we can to help the yard to secure opportunities.

Neil Bibby is right to identify that a £580 million ferry investment programme is under way, which will include the small vessels replacement programme. The conversations are actively on-going. This is the kind of territory that we should be in if we want to boost the morale of the workers.

That concludes topical question time.