Prime Minister (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 June 2013.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

2. To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister. (S4F-01434)

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Last week, I asked the First Minister whether he would establish a public inquiry into the unfolding baby ashes scandal. In response, he replied that if I wanted to

“make the case for why a national public inquiry would benefit the bereaved parents” he would

“of course look at that.”—[Official Report, 30 May 2013; c 20505.]

This week, I wrote to him laying out that case. Parents are calling for a public inquiry and they are upset that they are not directly involved in Lord Bonomy’s review. Further, it has emerged this week that crematorium workers who were involved in the disposal of babies’ remains will not be called to give evidence. Lord Bonomy’s review will not give those who have suffered loss the answers that they need and deserve. Does the First Minister agree that, in those circumstances, the case for a public inquiry is now stronger than ever?

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

I received Ruth Davidson’s letter to me, which is dated 5 June, last night and I will give it due consideration, as she would expect.

From initially looking at her letter, I notice that Ruth Davidson has corrected her position from last week, when she suggested that parents are not represented on the Bonomy commission. In fact, the charities Sands and the Miscarriage Association are represented on the commission. Ruth Davidson will of course remember that it was a representative of Sands in Edinburgh who first brought the whole issue to light. I do not think that she can just dismiss those two important charities, which are represented along with other interests on the Bonomy commission.

The Bonomy commission has been established to take evidence, with that broad-based panel, so that we can get the situation across Scotland into order as quickly as possible. Lord Bonomy will report by the end of this year. It is about the future, best practice and the things that should be done so that, if necessary, we can have them in legislation to assure people that such activity and grief for parents will not happen again. That is really important.

On giving parents the answers to their concerns, that is of course what Elish Angiolini is doing in the independent inquiry in Edinburgh. Audits are taking place in the other places across Scotland that are affected. I have the most enormous confidence in Dame Elish Angiolini, who was formerly Scotland’s top law officer. There is no evidence whatsoever that her inquiry is being hindered in any possible way at present. When her inquiry is complete and when we have the proposals of the Bonomy commission, we will of course look to ensure that everything has been done correctly and that people have had their questions answered, as they are entitled.

I hope that, now that Ruth Davidson has that information, she will concede, first, that the Bonomy commission is indeed a broad-based commission and, secondly, that substantial efforts are being made to give parents answers, particularly in Edinburgh. I hope that she will also concede that the Bonomy commission has been charged with the responsibility of sorting out the position for the whole of Scotland.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I thank the First Minister for that answer, but he does not appreciate that neither the Bonomy commission nor Dame Elish’s investigation is looking at individual cases or from an historical perspective. The people who are involved and who are asking for answers want to find out what happened to the remains of their children. They understand the timeframe that is involved in a public inquiry and they are asking for one anyway, because they want answers on what happened to their children.

This is not a party political issue, and it is not the Scottish Conservatives’ wont to call for public inquiries lightly, but I know that the First Minister has listened to such calls previously. Under him, his Government has held four public inquiries, two of which are on-going—one into hospital-acquired infections and one into contaminated blood products. Therefore, I want to press the First Minister. There are issues that are not covered either by Lord Bonomy’s investigation or by Elish Angiolini’s investigation, which is looking primarily at Edinburgh.

On reflection, the First Minister must surely agree that this matter, which has caused so much distress to hundreds of families right across Scotland and not just in Edinburgh and the Lothians, should have the kind of investigation on a similar scale that we had under the public inquiries that he set up in the past.

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

I believe that we can have confidence in Elish Angiolini’s investigation in relation to Edinburgh and that it will indeed try to get parents the answers that they desire. The inquiry is under way. I have checked and found no evidence that it is being blocked in any way by a lack of information. We should have confidence that Elish Angiolini will conduct the inquiry as we know she can and in the way that she has demonstrated many times in Scottish public life.

On a point of detail, in her letter of last night Ruth Davidson expressed concern about whether parents in Aberdeen will have the opportunity to make submissions to Lord Bonomy’s review. I can confirm that they will do. The date that she believed was the date for finalising the audit in Aberdeen is actually the date for the council debate; it is intended that the audit be finalised by the end of this month, and Lord Bonomy’s commission will have the time and opportunity to take any submissions from parents in Aberdeen that come out of that audit. I hope that that gives Ruth Davidson some reassurance.

When Elish Angiolini has reported and the Bonomy commission has established for this Parliament the best practice that can quickly be introduced across Scotland, to assure us that this sort of thing shall not happen again, we will of course carefully weigh up whether outstanding matters require to be further investigated.

I think that the balance of interests for parents and for society is in allowing Elish Angiolini to get on with her work and the Bonomy commission to establish best practice for Scotland, and then in carefully and sensitively weighing up what is best to be done, given that information.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There is a regional question from Rhoda Grant.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

The First Minister will be aware that a judicial review has ruled that the Scottish Government should not have stopped the Western Isles schools reorganisation. Will he reimburse the council for its lost savings and legal fees in pursuing the review, so that it can invest the money in the community?

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

I am not quite certain of where Rhoda Grant is going on this. The Scottish Government, in good faith, applied legislation because we were trying to establish that the correct procedures had been followed so that communities had, as is right and proper, the right to make submissions against school closures.

The judgment is as it is, and we are considering it in terms of, first, how to react, and secondly, whether improved legislation is needed, to get the balance of interests between the rights of councils that are looking to close schools and the rights of parents and others to object to closure and be given the proper reference for doing so. I am sure that Rhoda Grant wants parents to have those rights and that she will support legislation that ensures that they do. We will consider the judgment from the court and take appropriate action.