Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:59 am on 14 June 2007.

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Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 11:59, 14 June 2007

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S3F-52)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The next meeting of the Cabinet will discuss a range of issues of importance to Scotland and the Scottish people.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I heard the First Minister's answer to the question about the referral system relating to Kerelaw. Is the Executive satisfied that it knows the names of all the staff about whom Glasgow City Council is concerned and which have been thrown up by its inquiry into the Kerelaw residential unit? Are any of those staff currently working with children in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

A confidential process on such matters is used between the referring organisation, the individual and the Government. I have already indicated that Glasgow City Council, following its report, took action by referring a number of individuals to the DWCL. I am sure that Nicol Stephen, given his legal background, will understand why I cannot go into further specifics; I have strong advice on that. However, I can assure him that when the independent review reports and makes general policy recommendations, the Government will speedily and effectively implement them.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I understand the difficult circumstances, and it seems that the findings in Glasgow City Council's report are grim. The First Minister's answer offers some reassurance, and I thank him for what he has been able to say.

The children in question have had bad starts in life, which have been made worse by the way in which the state has looked after them. Too often, our most vulnerable children are the ones who are let down the most. What steps will the First Minister take to examine the serious failings that are being identified? What commitments can he make to ensure that the lessons of the report are learned by everyone with responsibility for looked-after children across Scotland? What efforts will he make to ensure that this never happens again and that nobody who is implicated in these incidents can find a legal loophole that will allow them to continue to work with children in any part of the United Kingdom?

From what we know, it seems clear that the seriousness of the findings in the report requires action to be taken immediately rather than simply waiting until September or October.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I asked for a report on this matter this morning. There is a part of the process just now that allows referred individuals who have jobs at the time of the referral to continue to work, even during the provisional listing stage. I am asking to look at that aspect, because it seems to be anomalous and not equivalent to what happens in other organisations. For example, teachers are often suspended from duty in such circumstances.

As the former Deputy First Minister knows, I have to be extremely careful not to make policy on the hoof. However, I think that the independent review group that the previous First Minister established must be allowed to do its work. We should not try to second-guess its findings or interfere by making decisions now that might be crossed over by its report in September.

Given the details in the newspaper reports today, I understand why people think it is urgent that immediate action be taken. I will look, in particular, at the point that I have stressed. However, I ask everyone in the chamber to let the independent review group that has been established get on with its work and then speedily—as parliamentarians—to implement its recommendations.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

The First Minister will be aware of the announcement today by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that, following concerns over the assessment and diagnosis of possible breast cancer symptoms at Inverclyde royal hospital, the cases of 1,600 women have had to be reviewed and that, of those, nearly 200 patients must now be re-examined.

Although, of course, the first priority will be to reassure every woman involved as quickly as possible—I am assured that every ounce of capacity in the entire NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area is being focused on that—will the First Minister instruct the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, as a matter of urgency, to initiate a full inquiry into what has gone wrong and how a reoccurrence will be prevented? Will he assure me and my constituents that any solution will be based on improving the quality of the services at Inverclyde royal hospital and not on removing them?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Duncan McNeil is correct to say that 200 patients have been asked to attend specifically arranged clinics for further checks. Nicola Sturgeon has today asked NHS Quality Improvement Scotland to accelerate the completion of the current review of clinical standards for breast cancer services.

All of us were hugely concerned to learn that patients attending clinics at Inverclyde royal hospital have not received the highest standards of care that are available to women in other parts of Scotland. I welcome the urgent action that has already been taken by the board and I am sure that everyone in the chamber will welcome the action that has been taken today by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

What will be the Government's response to the decision in Perth sheriff court on Tuesday 13 June, approving an exemption from the right to roam that is enshrined in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003? I appreciate that the First Minister is unlikely to have read the entire judgment, but given that he, like me, represents an area that contains many large estates, does he share my concern that, if the judgment is sound and similar decisions follow, the 2003 act might need to be revisited?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I have not read the full sheriff's opinion but I have read a summary of it, which all members in the chamber should have a look at. As Roseanna Cunningham knows, at the moment we have a sheriff's opinion. There is an indication from the council that it will take the matter to appeal, in which case we will get a determination. Another case in Stirling sheriff court relates to the same issues.

I suggest that we should at least wait until the case reaches the court of appeal and consider whether the judgment points to serious deficiencies in the structure of the 2003 act. If it does, and case evidence builds up, only then should the Parliament consider whether any legislative changes are required to repair deficiencies that may exist in an act that was passed under the previous Administration.