Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)
Meeting date: Thursday, April 28, 2022
Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Global Intergenerational Week 2022, Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Census 2022, Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- Point of Order
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Global Intergenerational Week 2022
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scotland’s Census 2022
- Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Ferry Procurement (Documentation)
Last week, the Auditor General criticised the Scottish National Party for failing to record the crucial decision to go ahead with ferry contracts that have, so far, cost the taxpayer a quarter of a billion pounds. In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said:
“A thorough search has been conducted and the paperwork ... cannot be located.”
That is laughable. A few weeks ago, the First Minister was telling us that a big boy did it and ran away. Now, the dog has eaten all her homework. Those excuses would not cut it in a primary school classroom. Does the First Minister really expect anyone to believe that? Will she tell us where that crucial document has gone?
More than 200 documents, amounting to more than 1,500 pages, relating to the decisions are already in the public domain. They were published by the Scottish Government and they have been there for quite some time for anyone to read and scrutinise. One piece of documentation is not there, which is the formal record of the decision to proceed with the final contract award. That is, absolutely, a key decision.
There are two further points that it is important to make. First, there is no evidence that the paperwork has been withheld. [Interruption.] Well, let me quote the Auditor General, who said at last week’s committee meeting:
“our judgment is not that evidence has been withheld from us during the course of our audit work but, rather, that an important piece of documentary evidence was not prepared in relation to the judgment that ministers arrived at”.—[Official Report, Public Audit Committee, 21 April 2022; c 31.]
That is the first point.
Secondly, what is missing is a note confirming that ministers have considered the issues and have decided to proceed. However, that decision is clear in all the surrounding documentation. There was advice to ministers on 8 October, which said—I am summarising—
“We would welcome the Minister’s confirmation that he has ... considered the CMAL note,”
“aware of the ... procurement and financial risks”
“content to give approval to CMAL to proceed.”
The day after that, on 9 October, Transport Scotland wrote to CMAL and said:
“The Scottish Ministers have also seen and understood that”
“paper and have noted and accepted the various technical and commercial risks identified and assessed by CMAL and have indicated that they are content for CMAL to proceed with the award of the Contracts.”
So, the minister’s decision is narrated in the letter that Transport Scotland wrote.
There is one link in the chain that is missing, but one can still very clearly follow the chain of events—something that Douglas Ross clearly has not tried to do.
Let us try to get this straight. At the time, Nicola Sturgeon said that this was
“one of the achievements we are most proud of”.
Now, we are expected to believe that there is not a shred of evidence about the crucial final decision. The SNP was so proud of it that it did not want anyone to know about it.
Given the First Minister’s pride, that should have been hanging on her wall. Maybe that is it—maybe the document is hanging on Nicola Sturgeon’s wall in Bute house. The excuse that we have just heard from the First Minister is that there are hundreds of documents available but—wow!—not the one that we need and that the Auditor General was looking for. The vital document has vanished into thin air.
Can the First Minister say, with a straight face, that this does not look like an almighty cover-up? I will also ask again, because she did not answer: where has that document gone?
That document would have been an email or a note that said, “The ministers are content on the basis of the reasons set out”.
I will say, first of all, that it was and is an achievement to have saved almost 400 jobs. As we speak, 400 people are working in Ferguson’s shipyard, earning a wage and supporting their families. I know that jobs do not matter much to the Conservatives, but they matter to this Government and they always will.
Let me run through it again. On 8 October 2015, a submission goes to ministers, asking for confirmation that ministers have considered the CMAL note and are aware of the potential procurement and financial risks—of course, the mitigations are set out in the submission—and that ministers are content to proceed. The next day, Transport Scotland writes to CMAL and says that
“Scottish Ministers have ... seen and understood”
the risk paper,
“have noted and accepted the ... technical and commercial risks”
and have decided “to proceed”. The decision is recorded there. The bit that is missing is the link in the chain between those two things that says simply that the ministers were content. However, the fact that the ministers were content is narrated in the document from the next day.
I suggest to Douglas Ross that it might be a good use of his time to read the 200 documents—the 1,500 pages—that are published on the Scottish Government’s website.
I say to the First Minister that it might be a good use of her time, and Parliament’s time, if she answers the question. Again, there is nothing—[Interruption.] Nicola Sturgeon has more ministers than ever before, more special advisers than ever before and more communications staff than ever before, and none of them can find the vital link—as she has called it—that is missing.
The First Minister claims to be a master of detail right up until the point at which the Government makes a mistake. Then, her memory is like a sieve. Every time the going gets tough, we hear, “She can’t recall,” “She doesn’t know,” “She’s not sure.” We are supposed to believe that a quarter-of-a-billion-pound decision either was never written down, has vanished or has been illegally destroyed.
The First Minister has botched this and covered up mistakes. Those who are trying to get to the bottom of the matter have been unable to do so because Ferguson Marine employees cannot speak openly, because of Scottish National Party gagging orders. The First Minister could change that. Will she tell us—as she is rifling through her folder—how many gagging orders were issued? Will she waive them all today to end the secrecy? I am also going to keep asking: where has the vital document gone?
The email, as the Auditor General said last week, has not been “withheld”. It was, in his judgment, “not prepared”. I am answering that question.
Let me set it out again. On 8 October 2015, a submission goes to ministers, setting out CMAL’s concerns, the issues with the guarantee and the steps that have been taken to mitigate those risks. That is what ministers considered. On 9 October—the very next day—Transport Scotland narrates to CMAL—
This is the third time.
Yes, it is the third time, because Douglas Ross does not seem to want to understand it. I am going to read it—
I am sorry to interrupt, First Minister.
When people are asking or responding to questions, I would be grateful if everyone else could keep from contributing. Thank you.
Let me read it again, a bit more slowly:
“The Scottish Ministers have also seen and understood”
the CMAL risk paper
“and have noted and accepted the various technical and commercial risks identified and assessed by CMAL and have indicated that they are content for CMAL to proceed with the award of the Contracts.”
On the basis of the advice on 8 October, that is the decision that was narrated to CMAL on 9 October.
On the issue of non-disclosure agreements, it was the Scottish Government that negotiated with the FMEL—Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd, which was the previous owner of the yard—administrators to secure the release of FMEL’s employees, who gave evidence to the inquiry, from their terms and conditions of employment confidentiality obligations. The Scottish Government complied fully with Audit Scotland’s inquiry and will encourage everybody to comply fully with any future investigations or inquiries.
Again, I am asking questions that Nicola Sturgeon will not answer. I asked specifically—[Interruption.] SNP members do not want to hear this, but I asked how many gagging orders are in place—how many are there?—and whether the First Minister will agree to waive them today. She has quoted the Auditor General from last week. Let us quote him from this morning. He told the Public Audit Committee that he would speak to Ferguson employees if those gagging orders were removed. Let us allow him to do his job.
Last week, the Auditor General also said:
“we recommend that there needs to be a fuller review—lessons learned feels too glib to describe the circumstances before us.”
All we have heard from Nicola Sturgeon is one glib statement after another. When asked to apologise to the islanders, she dismissively said, “Och, for goodness’ sake.” That was the response from Nicola Sturgeon to islanders who are struggling right now. Her feeble excuse for wasting a quarter of a billion pounds on the ferries is that it is regrettable. It is not regrettable—it is absolutely scandalous.
We know that advice was given to Government ministers not to go ahead with the deal, and we know that they ignored it. Will the First Minister finally come clean and tell us this: she mentions Government ministers, but did she personally see that advice not to proceed with the deal before the decision was made? And, for the fourth and final time today, I ask: will she tell us where that vital piece of documentation is?
The Tory leadership is in some difficulty, but this really is desperate stuff. I have quoted from the advice that was given to ministers and from the Transport Scotland letter that went to CMAL, narrating the decision that ministers took.
Let me go back to the issue of non-disclosure agreements. I will say this very clearly: nobody in the employment of Ferguson’s shipyard will be prevented in any way, shape or form from speaking in full to Audit Scotland. [Interruption.] I point again to the fact that it was the Scottish Government that negotiated with FMEL’s administrators to release employees from the confidentiality obligations that they had back then. Therefore, everybody will be fully free and enabled to speak to Audit Scotland.
On my views on island communities, I think—I will be corrected if I am wrong—that the Official Report will show the regret that I expressed about the impact on those communities.
In terms of a fuller review, in the first exchange that we had on the issue after the Audit Scotland report was published, I pointed to the recommendation about having a fuller review and said that we would consider the terms of that. However, I think—and I think that the Auditor General said this last week—that the focus and priority now must be on completing the ferries. A key milestone in that vein was delivered yesterday.
I take full responsibility for everything that this Government does, and I always will. Perhaps that is the difference between me and some other leaders across these islands.
Patient Discharges to Care Homes
Today is workers memorial day. We pause to remember all those who have lost their lives simply doing their jobs and resolve to campaign for workplaces free from harm.
Yesterday, a judge at the High Court in England ruled that the policy of discharging positive and untested Covid patients into care homes was “unlawful”, unreasonable and “irrational”. It was described as
“one of the most ... devastating policy failures in the modern era”
that cost lives. Does the First Minister accept that her decision to send untested and positive patients into care homes in Scotland was unlawful, unreasonable and irrational and that it cost lives?
No, I do not accept that. However, those matters will now, rightly and properly, be scrutinised by the public inquiry that is under way in Scotland and, of course, the parallel public inquiry that will take place into those matters UK-wide. Those matters will, rightly and properly, be scrutinised should any legal cases be brought in Scotland.
The most important thing I want to say is that my thoughts are with every single family who has lost a loved one during the pandemic, either in a care home or, indeed, across wider society. We are obviously aware of the ruling at the High Court yesterday regarding decisions made for England by the UK secretary of state.
During the pandemic, the priority for all of us has been to save lives at all points, and we have sought to make the best decisions on the basis of the best scientific and clinical evidence we have at any given time. All nations developed guidance on the basis of what we understood at the time. The guidance in Scotland was broadly similar to the guidance that was in place in England, but it was not identical; there were some differences in versions of the guidance. Our guidance from 13 March 2020 and 26 March 2020 emphasised that care home residents should remain in their rooms as far as possible and that routine visiting should be suspended. From 26 March, we also required the isolation of anyone discharged to a care home who had been in contact with Covid cases, even if they were not displaying symptoms. It is right and proper that these matters are fully scrutinised by the public inquiry.
The last thing I will say—and I have said it before—is that there is nothing anybody in this chamber can say to me that will make me feel the weight of those decisions any heavier than I already do, and I will do so for the rest of my life. I took all of those decisions, as did my ministers and the Government, in good faith and on the basis of the best information we had at the time.
I am sorry—that last part might be fine in words, but it is extraordinary and unthinkable for the First Minister to say that she does not accept the judgment, particularly when an almost identical thing happened in Scotland. Let us look at what the judgment makes clear: it says that what happened was “irrational”, “unlawful” and unreasonable, given what Governments knew.
Let us look at what happened in Scotland. As early as 4 February 2020, this Government’s advisers suggested that asymptomatic transmission was a possibility. On 13 February 2020, this Government’s advisers said that asymptomatic transmission was likely. On 13 March 2020, despite warnings from care home staff, this Government’s guidance said discharge from hospitals should not be hindered.
On 26 March 2020, this Government’s guidance said:
“Individuals being discharged from hospital do not routinely need confirmation of a negative Covid test.”
As late as 17 April 2020, this Government’s health secretary was saying that there was still not a strong case for testing patients before discharge, even though testing guidelines had changed in England on 15 April 2020.
By the time the Scottish Government changed its guidance and guidelines on 21 April, nearly 3,000 untested people and 75 known positive cases had already been transferred into Scotland’s care homes. Does the First Minister accept—in the words of the families who are affected and impacted—that this was a shameful, unforgivable, criminal act that cost lives in Scotland?
My thoughts will be with the bereaved families every single day for the rest of my life.
This is not about not accepting a judgment. The Scottish Government will look very carefully at the terms of yesterday’s judgment—we have already started that process—but this was not a case about the situation in Scotland. Therefore, it is only a statement of fact and not a judgment about the situation in Scotland. It is not about us not accepting the judgment; it is about recognising that very important fact.
As I have said, and as anybody can see, the guidance in Scotland was broadly similar to that in England—and, indeed, in Wales, which has a Labour Government, so this is nothing to do with politics. However, there were some differences. For example, at a time when there were mixed views—to put it mildly—about the risk of asymptomatic transmission, our guidance from as early as 13 March 2020 recommended that residents remain in their rooms. From 26 March, the guidance recommended 14-day isolation of anyone discharged to a care home even if they did not have symptoms. The risk of asymptomatic transmission was clearly in mind, to some extent, at that point.
These are matters that will be fully scrutinised by the public inquiry under the convenership of Lady Poole, a High Court judge in Scotland. If other processes are brought in in Scotland, scrutiny will be brought to bear on those, too.
Analysis of discharges to care homes has been undertaken by Public Health Scotland, and the finding was that there was no clear statistical evidence that hospital discharges were associated with care home outbreaks. Instead, it was care home size that was more strongly related to outbreaks. That is the analysis that has been done so far, but it is right that we have full analysis and scrutiny by the independent public inquiry, whose work is now getting under way.
I remind the First Minister that families will be hearing the sympathy that she has expressed, but they will hear the ducking and diving that she has expressed, too.
This is a disgrace.
I am sorry, but Mr Swinney is right—it is a disgrace that people lost loved ones in care homes.
I have already narrated the timeline for what happened in Scotland. Let us look at the consequences of the shameful decision. In the first wave of the pandemic, 4,073 people died with Covid in Scotland, 1,900 of whom were in care homes. That is almost 50 per cent. By the time that the Government acted, half of all care homes in Scotland had a Covid outbreak.
Families have been through the heartbreak of losing a loved one, and many of them could not be there at the final moments, yet it seems that the First Minister is suggesting that those families should perhaps go through the Scottish court system to get to the truth. Do not force those families to relive their heartache all over again by being dragged through the courts, with the emotional toll that comes with that, and having to spend thousands of pounds to get the First Minister to admit the truth. Does she accept that her Government’s decisions and actions were unlawful, unreasonable and irrational and that they cost lives?
On an issue as serious as this, Anas Sarwar is shamefully misrepresenting my words. I did not suggest that people should have to go to court. What I recognised was that people have a right, if they so choose, to go to court, and that they might choose to do that. It was not a suggestion that they should. I believe that people should get the answers to the questions that they have around all aspects of the handling of the pandemic without having to do that, which is why this Government has set up an independent public inquiry that is chaired by a High Court judge.
I refer Jackie Baillie to the Inquiries Act 2005. The conduct of the public inquiry, the rhythm of reporting and the time taken for it to report are entirely matters for the independence of the inquiry and not for ministers. Jackie Baillie should stop indulging in political commentary from a sedentary position and engage with the importance of the issues.
I do not have to be reminded of the numbers and consequences of the pandemic. The facts and figures and the human consequences are embedded in my soul and always will be. That does not mean that my decisions and actions and those of my Government should not be subject to scrutiny; they should be subject to full, independent scrutiny, which is exactly what the independent public inquiry will do. That is what families deserve, and they deserve a process that takes place in a proper way. I am determined that they will get that.
We move to supplementary questions.
Cost of Living
It was reported this week that, despite soaring energy prices, the United Kingdom Government’s working group that was set up to address the cost of living has not met since the start of the partygate scandal. It was also reported that the chancellor has said that it was “silly” to boost support for energy bills. Does the First Minister share the view expressed this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the UK Government’s response to the crisis has been “woefully inadequate”?
Yes, I share that view. The UK Government’s response has been woefully inadequate. Most of the resources and levers to tackle the crisis lie with the UK Government. Some—not all, I accept—of the factors that are driving the crisis have happened at the hand of the UK Government, not least the impact and implications of Brexit and the removal of universal credit from the most vulnerable families. It is time that the UK Government stepped up and responded properly.
The chancellor’s comment that it would be “silly” to provide help for people is deeply offensive to those across Scotland and all other parts of the UK who, right now, are struggling to heat their homes and feed their children. It is time for Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and the UK Government to step up and to act.
A young woman called Jess Insall believes that she was spiked during a night out in Glasgow and she has bravely spoken publicly about her distressing ordeal as a warning to others. However, because of a 34-hour delay in police taking a sample, she will most likely never know what happened to her, let alone get justice. Instead of setting up yet more SNP talking shops, can the First Minister tell us when her Government will start to take this dangerous and predatory crime seriously?
We do take it seriously. Let me put on the record my sympathies to the young woman for her experience. Every woman in the country understands how serious such offences are and the consequences of the impact that they have on people’s lives.
How the police conduct criminal investigations is a matter for the police and, rightly, not for ministers. I am willing to correspond with the chief constable on this case to seek any explanation that he is able to give for the situation that has been narrated in the chamber, and to ask the justice secretary to write to the member in due course. These are serious crimes and I know that the police take them seriously, as does the Government.
Delayed discharge is increasing. The number of people who are dying while waiting to be discharged is also increasing—almost 400 people died in the last year alone. Those statistics represent loved ones who died while unable to get the care package that they needed. The SNP promised more than seven years ago to end delayed discharge but, three health ministers later, they have simply failed to do so. I am sure that we will hear a list of initiatives from the First Minister but, despite them, delayed discharge has gone up by 57 per cent; they are clearly not working. Does the First Minister agree that this is a scandal and that it is the human cost of the SNP’s failure to take effective action?
Jackie Baillie says that we are three health ministers later, but she omits to mention that we are a global pandemic later. That has impacted on such issues in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and probably in every country in the world.
Delayed discharge is unacceptable, which is why Jackie Baillie is right to say that I will talk about the actions that we are taking, because they are important. We have spent £62 million to enhance care at home, £48 million to increase the pay of those who work in the social care sector, £40 million to support interim care arrangements and £20 million to enhance multidisciplinary teams. Two new programmes—the interface care programme and the discharge without delay programme—have been launched and are supported by a further £10 million.
We will continue to take action and make investments to get delayed discharge down in our national health service as we recover across society from the impact of the global pandemic.
Brexit (Shortage Occupations)
Borders Buses has had to restrict its timetables—an essential service in my rural constituency—because of a shortage of bus drivers following Brexit. The United Kingdom Government refuses to place bus drivers on its shortage occupation list, as the UK Migration Advisory Committee does not consider that the occupation meets the threshold. That is completely wrong. Does the First Minister agree?
Christine Grahame highlights an issue that is relevant to her local authority area, but it is sadly all too evident in other areas and industries. We are experiencing shortages of bus drivers and haulage drivers, as well as workers from many parts of the food and drink industry, the health service and social care.
As we warned, Scotland is paying the price for a Brexit that we did not vote for. Despite repeatedly asking for a formal role in determining in what occupations there is a shortage in the devolved nations, we have been denied that and so we have been unable to ensure that bus drivers are included on the shortage occupations list. I understand that the UK Government will review that list later in the year and we have asked for full involvement in that process.
We have also set up our own group, which includes the operators, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other public agencies to find ways of resolving such workforce issues. Those issues have been caused by Brexit. They are the fault of the Conservative Government and it is high time that it took action to address them.
College Lecturers (Strike)
I have been contacted by many students who feel sick with worry because of the decision of their college lecturers to go on strike during the most critical phase of their studies, just before their final assessments and exams. With classes being suspended, students face the prospect of getting no feedback on assessments, they are unsure whether exams will go ahead as planned and they even face the prospect of taking exams without having completed their courses. It is clear to see that students are the real victims in this dispute.
What support is the Scottish Government prepared to offer students who have been left hanging for the second year in a row as a result of the failure of management and unions to settle their dispute?
Colleges—as, I know, the member is aware—are independent institutions. It is for employers to negotiate pay and conditions with unions, and I would expect employers to get round the table with the college unions and come to an agreement that takes away the risk and the reality of strike action.
The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with all parties to ensure that there is a process that involves constructive conversations on both sides, but I say to colleges, which are the employers here, that they should ensure that they are engaging to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. We will continue to support students in every way that we can, but the best way in which we can support students is to ensure that employers get round the table with the unions and resolve the dispute.
Global Seafood Alliance (2024 Conference)
In making a successful bid to host the Global Seafood Alliance conference in autumn 2024, Scotland has been selected to host a major international event, which will put a spotlight on the world-class and highly sought-after produce that comes from Scotland’s seas and oceans. Last night, I had the pleasure of sponsoring an event in the Parliament to celebrate the tastes, sounds and culture of the island of Bute, including smoked trout and salmon.
Will the First Minister join me in congratulating Seafood Scotland on putting together the bid and wishing it well in showcasing some of the very best seafood available anywhere on the planet?
I thank Jenni Minto for that question and take the opportunity to congratulate Seafood Scotland. Thanks to its work, the prestigious event to which she referred will be held in Scotland in 2024, which will be the first time that it has been held anywhere in the United Kingdom. It will be a global showcase for Scotland at its best.
The seafood sector has faced enormous challenges as a result of Brexit, and it is really heartening that our investment in delivering innovation, sustainability and quality has been recognised internationally. Our recent launch of the “Blue Economy Vision for Scotland” underpins our commitment to help producers to continue to deliver high-quality produce from clean, well-managed Scottish waters.
Scotland’s hosting of the conference represents a great recognition of the dedication that our seafood producers have demonstrated, and it will be a platform for Scotland to continue to shine globally. I hope that everyone in the chamber will join me in congratulating Seafood Scotland on such a success.
Police Scotland (Domestic Abuse Training)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on whether Police Scotland’s procedures and training for responding to cases of domestic abuse are sufficient. (S6F-01029)
The training and development of officers and the operational delivery of policing are matters for the chief constable. That said, I am assured that Police Scotland is committed to proactively targeting perpetrators and protecting victims and their families from the horrors of domestic abuse and the significant harm that it does.
To support implementation of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, the Scottish Government provided funding for the training of 14,000 police officers and staff, and the appointment of 700 domestic abuse champions to embed training and sustain organisational change. Officers in Scotland are therefore now more aware of and informed about the dynamics of domestic abuse.
Police Scotland is also undertaking divisional reviews of its policing response to domestic abuse across the country, and that process includes partnership and multi-agency engagement and working.
Today, Caroline Lyon, the mother of Louise Aitchison, who was murdered in 2020 by her boyfriend, who had convictions for abusing women, is here in Parliament. She is calling for a swift fatal accident inquiry, after Police Scotland admitted to 18 separate errors, which meant that her daughter was never notified of her partner’s violent history.
Does the First Minister agree that the current system is simply not doing enough to keep victims safe, and that a measure such as a domestic abuse register is needed to ensure that any potential victim knows when they are at risk?
I take the opportunity to welcome Louise’s mum to the chamber, although I am sure that she does not want to be here in these circumstances. I absolutely understand her desire for a fatal accident inquiry and for that fatal accident inquiry to be taken forward as quickly as possible.
It is the case—I know that members across the chamber understand this—that the Lord Advocate is constitutionally responsible for the investigation of deaths in Scotland and conducts that responsibility independently of Government. Decisions on whether a fatal accident inquiry is held and the timing of the initiation of such an inquiry are also matters for the Lord Advocate. I will ensure that the detail of this exchange is brought to the attention of the Lord Advocate later today.
The other parts of the question are entirely reasonable. On the proposal for a domestic abuse offender register, we keep the law under continual review and are always open to exploring options to reduce crime, particularly crime of this nature. We will look carefully at the detail of any measure that is put forward and I know that the justice secretary would be happy to engage on that.
A domestic abuse disclosure scheme is already in place in Scotland. The purpose of that scheme is to allow people to make informed decisions about their situation when they may be at risk in a relationship. The scheme also allows Police Scotland to tell people that they may be at risk. That information can be given even if it has not been asked for.
Finally, I think that we always have to be open to improvements here. There is a real need for us to do everything possible to protect women and children in particular—because they are most often the victims of domestic abuse—as much as possible. The Government will remain open to any suggestions and proposals that are brought forward.
On this particular case, it is, of course, right that any issues are properly scrutinised in the course of the fatal accident inquiry process which is, as I said, a matter for the Lord Advocate.
It is a privilege for me, as their regional MSP, to host Louise Aitchison’s family in Parliament today, on what is the second anniversary of Louise’s death. I thank them for giving all of us the opportunity to remember Louise, because she is the person who matters today. In life, Louise gave much love, care and service to others. This photograph—this is Louise. We should remember her. Saving other women’s lives will be her legacy.
As Louise’s family are in the gallery today—they look forward to meeting other MSPs after question time—will the First Minister join me in paying tribute to Louise’s mother, Caroline Lyon, and to Marion Scott and The Sunday Post, for their work in securing the important fatal accident inquiry? The First Minister has recognised the importance of that work starting with urgent pace, so that lessons can be learned. Will she also confirm when domestic homicide reviews will be introduced?
I will return to the member with a specific answer on that latter point so that I give the right information.
I thank Monica Lennon for remembering Louise in the chamber in the way that she has. I pay tribute to Louise’s family not only for being here today, but for raising the issues. I can only imagine how incredibly difficult it must be for any family that has been bereaved in such circumstances to do that, but doing it ensures that we can act to reduce the risk that other women will be subjected to domestic abuse and suffer as Louise did. Therefore, I want not only to pay tribute to them but to thank them for the courage and bravery that they are showing.
There are clearly questions about Louise’s situation. We have heard those already in this exchange. That is why it is right that a fatal accident inquiry takes place. It is also right for me to say that the conduct of that must be allowed to be independent. I hope that it gives the family answers and comfort.
For my part, I will continue to ensure that the Government acts in all possible ways to do everything that we can to protect women from domestic abuse. I believe that the bravery and courage of Louise’s family at such a sad time, and on such a sad day for them, will help with that. I did not know Louise, but I am sure not only that she was a wonderful young woman but that she would be very proud of her family today. [Applause.]
Climate Changemakers Report
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Climate Changemakers impact report from the Scottish Children’s Parliament. (S6F-01042)
I welcome the impact report. A fundamental part of Scotland’s Climate Assembly process was the involvement of children. I am pleased that the impact report recognises the Government’s work to ensure that children’s voices are heard. We are committed to upholding children’s rights, as is demonstrated, of course, by our approach to the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That inclusion of children reflects our commitment to empower children and to respect, protect and fulfil their rights.
In the impact report, children ask us to do more, and that is what we intend to do. At the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—I committed to on-going and meaningful engagement between the Scottish Government and children and young people, and I remain committed to that.
I am grateful for the children’s hard work and for their creativity and commitment.
I thank the First Minister for her answer and extend a warm welcome to all the young people in the gallery today.
More broadly, what role does the First Minister see organisations such as the Children’s Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament playing in shaping future policy, particularly in areas such as addressing the climate emergency, in relation to which we see, time and again, the value of bringing younger generations into the conversation?
The Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children’s Parliament do a fantastic job and have a key role to play. I hope that our annual Cabinet meeting with children and young people demonstrates the on-going commitment of the Government at the highest level to meaningfully engage with them on the issues that matter most to them.
Scottish Government core funding of more than £580,000 this financial year for the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children’s Parliament will continue to support children and young people to participate in climate decision making.
The Scottish Youth Parliament’s work at COP26 was very successful. It included partnership working with the Scottish Parliament and the Children’s Parliament on the Moment. The work of young people as Scottish delegates to the conference of youth led to the public commitment that I gave to work with children and young people to tackle climate change going forward, and I want to reiterate that strong commitment today.
Glasgow Gender Specialist Clinic (Children’s Referrals)
To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will investigate the reported increasing number of children being referred to the gender specialist clinic in Glasgow, in light of reports of a similar inquiry planned by the United Kingdom Government. (S6F-01022)
We are aware that referrals to young people’s gender identity services have increased in Scotland, as they have throughout the United Kingdom. The recent interim report of the Cass review of the services in the national health service in England highlighted the importance of robust data collection and the impact of long waiting times.
In Scotland, we have already recognised the need to improve services, including those for young people. That is why we plan to provide £9 million over three years to support improvement in service delivery, data collection, research and support. We do not look to replicate the work of the Cass review, but, as we have previously said, we will carefully consider its findings in the context of NHS Scotland’s services.
According to recent reports, 263 patients under the age of 18 are being treated at the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow, and almost 1,000, including 86 pre-pubescent children, are on the waiting list for their first appointment. At least 98 per cent of children who consent to take puberty blockers go on to have sex hormone treatment that can cause irreversible changes to their bodies. Those figures are alarming.
We must balance the need to help those who are definitely suffering from gender dysphoria with the need to protect vulnerable young people who are unsure of their identity and risk embarking on gender hormone treatment prematurely.
Will the First Minister commit to a similar inquiry to that which has been announced by the UK Government, to ensure that our children are safeguarded?
I think that safeguarding is important, but I think that it is also important that we understand and apply principles of safeguarding properly.
I hope that everyone recognises, as the Scottish Government does, that it is important and right that trans people or anyone who is questioning their gender identity should have access to the right support at the right time for them. One of the biggest issues in this area is that of the waiting times for access to NHS gender identity services, for adults as well as for young people. That is why we are making the investments that I referenced in my original answer.
It is also important to recognise that, in Scotland—as a matter of law under the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991, which predates the life of this Parliament—any person under 16 can consent to a medical procedure or treatment when the qualified medical practitioner attending them considers that they are
“capable of understanding the nature and possible consequences of the procedure or treatment.”
Rightly, any decision on the type of treatment to prescribe is for the clinician to make, in consultation with the patient, following an individual assessment.
On the issue of puberty blockers, it is also important to narrate that the Sandyford young people’s services reported that, during the 11 years from 2011 to 2021, fewer than 100 young people in total—93—were referred for an appointment with a hormone specialist. That is an average of eight per year. The number of young people who were prescribed hormones was even smaller than that.
We must take these issues seriously, but we owe it to everybody also to treat these issues incredibly sensitively and, in doing so, to have at the heart of it the rights of all young people to get the advice that they need at the time that is right for them.
Women Standing for Elected Office
To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government can take to encourage more women to stand for elected office. (S6F-01044)
It is important to record the good news that the Parliament now has a record number of women MSPs, although the proportion who are women is not yet at 50 per cent. We should aspire to all our Parliaments having representation at national and local levels that properly represents the society that we live in.
There is no doubt that women in society, including those in public life, continue to face unacceptable levels of sexist and misogynistic behaviour. That can—and does, I believe—put many women off standing for elected office. It harms democracy; it harms all of us; and it is completely unacceptable. Those things need to change. To change them, we need men to end their sexist and misogynistic behaviour and to be much more aware of their actions and words and of the impact of them.
The Scottish Government funds projects to support and equip women to stand for elected office. That includes Engender’s equal representation project to help political parties to increase their diversity, and the young women lead programme and Elect Her, which empower women to stand for elected office.
The comments that were directed at Angela Rayner, as reported at the weekend, were deeply sexist and misogynistic. Women face misogyny not just in elected office but in everyday life. Will the First Minister outline what work is under way to eliminate prejudice and misogyny in Scotland, and will she join me in condemning the comments that were made towards Angela Rayner? [Applause.]
Yes. I am glad to hear the support from across the chamber for Angela Rayner. I certainly stand in solidarity with her and condemn unreservedly the comments that were reported on Sunday. Like everybody else—or most other people—I was absolutely appalled both by the male Conservative MP who thought that it was okay to make those pathetic and derogatory comments and by the fact that we still live in a society in which it is deemed acceptable for such a story to be published in a major newspaper. A lot of reflection is needed on both of those points.
Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with—in my case—the Daily Mail’s tactics of attempting to reduce women politicians to their legs. To the best of my knowledge, such tactics are never used to dismiss and degrade male politicians in the way that that happens to female politicians.
Sadly and depressingly, the story highlighted what women already know and what many women already experience daily, which is deep-seated sexism and misogyny in society. That needs to be addressed.
We will continue to take the actions that I set out in my earlier answer, but I am also pleased that in our response to the work of Baroness Kennedy’s misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland working group, we committed to consult on draft legislation in advance of introducing a bill to specifically tackle misogyny.
This is something for all of us—but for men, in particular—to reflect on. We will rue the day that we make it more difficult and less attractive for women to come forward for election to public office. It is time to draw a line in the sand, and it is time for men—not all men are misogynists, but misogyny comes from men—to change.
That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a brief pause before the next item of business.