FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon under fire over prison families

Nicola Sturgeon today came under pressure not to overturn a Holyrood decision aimed at helping thousands of vulnerable children whose parents are jailed.

Nicola Sturgeon addresses fellow MSPs during FMQs. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon addresses fellow MSPs during FMQs. Picture: PA

Over 20,000 children in Scotland have to deal with this every year - but the exact number is unknown because it’s not recorded.

Labour today demanded Ms Sturgeon back an amendment to the Criminal Justice bill passed at Holyrood’s justice committee this week which would mean they are counted. The move is backed by charities like Barnardo’s and the NSPCC.

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Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said during First Ministers Questions today that Ms Sturgeon could use the “full force of her majority” to remove that amendment at the final stage of the Bill when it comes back before MSPs.

She urged Ms Sturgeon to “respect the committee and promise not to do that.”

“The First Minister and I both talk a lot about closing the attainment gap. These children, affected by parental imprisonment, are as much on the wrong side of that gap as you possibly can be.”

They have a higher chance of having mental health issues and ending up in jail, she added.

“We don’t know exactly how many (there are) because we don’t bother to count them,” Ms Dugdale added.

“If we can find those children we can support them and we can help them achieve their potential - not any predetermined destiny,” the Labour leader added.

The First Minister pledged to give “full consideration” to the change which was passed by the committee.

“We will consider whether or not that amendment best meets out our objectives to help the children of those sent to prison,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“I hope Kezia Dugdale would recognise the sincerity and determination of the Government - firstly to make sure we’re not sending people to prison who don’t need to be in prison.”

The First Minister said she was taking a “responsible and rational” approach in the aftermath of the committee vote.

“I’m happy to discuss with Kezia Dugdale or any member of the Parliament so that collectively we can come to the right decision as a Parliament on how we best support children and young people.”

Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland said: “We very much welcome the fact that the issues faced by these children are being debated on the national stage and that Kezia Dugdale has raised this issue. We also welcome the fact that the First Minister has committed to considering the amendment and to do the right thing by these children.

“We know from our work with families that children affected by parental imprisonment are an extremely vulnerable group who often suffer in silence, unseen and unheard.”