Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

2. To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S4F-01420)

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Last year, people were shocked by the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal. We now know that the issues that arose in Edinburgh have spread to Glasgow and Aberdeen. Calls from the increasing number of affected parents for a public inquiry are growing ever louder. Will the First Minister order a full public inquiry?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

As Ruth Davidson knows, the position is that the Edinburgh inquiry is proceeding, and there is co-ordination from councils across Scotland to give an explanation. That is an effective way to proceed, but the cabinet secretary is always prepared to listen to positive suggestions on the matter. The inquiry in Edinburgh is proceeding, and there is confidence in how it is being conducted. Other councils have now responded sympathetically and with understanding to the concerns of parents across Scotland.

The issue is being handled sensitively. If Ruth Davidson wants to make the case for why a national public inquiry would benefit the bereaved parents, we will of course look at that. However, there is a big argument for proceeding with the inquiry in the way in which it is now being carried out, for the sake of speed, in order to give people the answers that they want and so that we can have the correct policies, which have now been released in guidelines across the country.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I appreciate the steps that have been taken, but they are increasingly being overtaken by events. The Edinburgh inquiry is indeed proceeding. There is also Lord Bonomy’s commission, although it has no direct representation from parents, despite their being promised as much. On Friday, Lord Bonomy said that parents would be able to make written submissions until 19 July. However, it has emerged this week that the independent audit of what went on in Aberdeen will not be presented until 24 September. That means that affected parents in one area of the country will have no voice in the process.

I agree with the First Minister that new protections have to be put in place, but parents are asking for answers about what happened to their children, and the commission is not designed to provide that. In light of the new information, the only way to get what everybody in the Parliament wants, which is justice for the affected families across Scotland, is a full public inquiry. Will the First Minister please reconsider?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I will correct a couple of things that Ruth Davidson said. The Bonomy review’s purpose is to get proper procedures in place, which we think is the overwhelming priority. Procedures should be put in place now that should have been but were not in place in some local authority areas. There should be no delay in correcting that position.

I do not think that Ruth Davidson is correct about parental representation for the Bonomy review. I can give her information about that—she should be aware of it. That review is not the same thing as the investigation that is taking place in Edinburgh or the measures that might take place elsewhere. Those investigations are intended to look at the past and find out exactly what happened.

There is a role for what Lord Bonomy is doing, which is to correct the position right now to ensure that, in the future, procedures are correctly applied, and not to wait for the inquiry to recommend that, because it is pretty clear on the basis of the evidence that exists what the correct procedures should be. That should be done. We will by all means look at the arguments on the nature of the inquiry, but there is a substantial advantage in proceeding as quickly as we are doing and meeting the concerns of parents and the wider community.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

The First Minister will be aware of reports that police staff without the appropriate qualifications have been taking fingerprints in Dundee and Arbroath. Has he had reports of that happening anywhere else in Scotland? Will he reassure people in my region that the review will be conducted as swiftly and as thoroughly as possible, as there is a grave danger that evidence could be dismissed in serious cases because of that breach of protocol?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes, I can provide that reassurance. The review will be conducted as swiftly as possible, and any lessons that are learned from it will be applied across the country. I hope that Jenny Marra will accept that reassurance.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Neil Findlay has a supplementary question.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

BAM Construction and Balfour Beatty are contractors that are bidding to build the new Edinburgh sick kids hospital. Those two companies have been up to their necks in the blacklisting of more than 3,000 United Kingdom and 500 Scottish construction workers. Will the First Minister use his influence with those companies to get them to own up to what they have done, apologise to those involved and agree to pay compensation for ruined lives and careers? Does he agree that, if those companies do not do that, they should not be awarded any public sector contracts?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I do not know whether the member is familiar with the points that I made at the Scottish Trades Union Congress conference, but I am happy to send him a copy of the remarks. I addressed in particular what we believe that the Government can do in terms of public sector contracts to ensure that blacklisting is eradicated from the Scottish labour market.