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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, June 30, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Decision Time, Action Mesothelioma Day 2022, Dundee Drugs Commission


First Minister’s Question Time

Policing (Spending Priority)

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I declare an interest, as my wife is a serving police officer in Moray.

Last week, the chief constable of Police Scotland, Sir Iain Livingstone, said that the Scottish Government had

“clearly set out its spending priorities”

and that

“Policing is not among those stated priorities”.

Is he right?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Policing is very clearly a priority for the Government, and it has been every day, month and year in which the Government has been in office. That is demonstrated by the fact that, in Scotland, we have 32 officers per 10,000 population, compared with the situation in England—where, of course, the Conservatives are currently in government—where there are just 23 police officers per 10,000 population. That speaks for itself. In this financial year, we are increasing the policing budget by £40.5 million. That brings the total budget to almost £1.4 billion. That budget maintains our commitment to protecting the police resource budget in real terms.

I will make two points about the resource spending review. First, it does not represent budgets; it projects ahead, based on the financial information that we have right now. It is the Government’s responsibility each and every year to put forward a budget, and it is the Parliament’s responsibility to scrutinise and pass that budget.

The second point that I will make is one that I have made before in the chamber. The resource spending review, with the projections that have been made based on the information that we had, is, of course, constrained by the fact that our budget is largely set by Westminster Governments and, right now, those budgets are not keeping pace with inflation. If Douglas Ross wants more money for the Scottish Government to allocate—I hope very much that we will be in that position—perhaps as well as, not instead of, asking me questions, he might want to make one or two representations to his boss at Westminster.

Douglas Ross

It is not the questions that I am worried about—it is the answers. The First Minister has just ignored a dire warning from the chief constable of Police Scotland. She deflected by saying we should look elsewhere and look at the issues in the rest of the United Kingdom. Look at the issues here in Scotland right now.

They were hollow words from the First Minister when she said that policing is a priority. Front-line officers are telling a very different story. This morning, I spoke with a police constable who is frustrated by the state of policing in Scotland. He told me that

“Staffing is horrendous. Too many officers have been left single-crewed and covering entire towns on their own.”

Evidence to the Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee confirms what we have been told. There is a very strong letter from the Scottish Police Federation. Has the First Minister read it? If not, here is what it says. It says that the federation’s members—the men and women who serve our communities—“are overworked and undervalued”. The letter continues:

“They tell us they are carrying more and more risk”

and that

“they feel unsafe at their work”.

Does the First Minister accept that front-line officers in Scotland do not believe that policing is a priority for her and her Government?

The First Minister

I absolutely accept that front-line police officers are under pressures, and I take any views that are expressed by those who are on the front line in the police—or, indeed, in any public service—very seriously. My duty, and the duty of my Government, is to ensure that we are working with our public services to support them to the fullest possible extent. I again take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our police officers and the staff who support them throughout the country every single day.

In my previous answer, I referred very directly to the situation in Scotland. The facts—[Interruption.]. The facts, Presiding Officer, demonstrate the priority that we attach to policing. I readily accept that it is the duty of the Government to demonstrate that each and every single day.

For example, the total number of officers in Scotland now is higher than the number of officers in the situation that we inherited. Of course, that should be compared with a 20,000 reduction in police officers where the Conservatives are in Government. There are 32 officers per 10,000 head of population in Scotland, compared with 23 officers per 10,000 in England and Wales. This relates directly to the understandable feeling of pressure that police officers are under right now: Police Scotland has plans in train to recruit an additional 300 officers in July—in other words, the month that is about to start.

On for our police officers, which is one of the issues that the Scottish Police Federation wrote about, the negotiations are on-going and it is important that they are given space to continue and, I hope, to conclude positively. However, if we look again—this relates directly to the question, Presiding Officer, because it is about the value and the priority that we attach to policing—at England and Wales, the lowest starting salary for a police officer is £21,654, while in Scotland—[Interruption.]

Members—we will hear the First Minister. First Minister, I ask you to conclude.

The First Minister

This is important, Presiding Officer: it is in answer to the question. I repeat, the starting salary in England and Wales is £21,654, just in case Douglas Ross missed that figure, while in Scotland, a new police constable starts on £26,737. [Interruption.]

Last year—this is my final point, Presiding Officer—officers in Scotland received a £700 pay uplift and a separate non-consolidated payment of £250. In England and Wales, where the Conservatives are in power, the majority of police officers received no increase in pay whatsoever. That is the difference in the priority of policing.

Douglas Ross

If we listen to that answer from the First Minister, it is as though our police officers should be congratulating her on everything that she is doing. I am sorry, but that is not the reality outwith the First Minister’s bubble in Bute house, and clearly her spinners are working in overdrive, because the facts are clear. Police officer numbers in Scotland are now at their lowest since 2008. I repeat—their lowest since 2008.

Again, in the hard-hitting letter from the Scottish Police Federation, the police officers whom the First Minister is speaking about have said that all that they see from the Government are self-congratulatory narratives that disguise reality. We have seen that all over again today.

The First Minister mentioned pay. The SPF described the Scottish National Party Government’s latest pay offer as “derisory”. It says that

“Officers are incandescent at the current pay offer. They are beyond angry at how insulting it is.”

I think that they will be even more insulted to have heard the First Minister’s response today.

In response to the Government’s lowball offer, SPF members will take action from 5 pm tomorrow. The federation said this morning that this is

“the most overt demonstration of action by our members in over 100 years.”

Has the Government considered the impact on front-line policing and public safety of its decision to make such a low offer to our police officers?

The First Minister

The other point that we should recognise is that police officers—like nurses, doctors, and everybody else across Scotland—are suffering from the cost of living crisis, which has been exacerbated by a Conservative Government.

Let me return to the important issues—[Interruption.] I think that anybody can compare the public sector pay offers that are being made in Scotland with those that are being made by the Conservatives, and can draw conclusions about the higher value that we attach to public sector workers here, but let me return to the detail of the questions.

I do not expect any police officer or any public sector worker to congratulate the Government; the gratitude and congratulations are entirely from the Government to those who are working hard across our country. However, Douglas Ross is asking me about the value and the priority that we attach to policing. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and, indeed, necessary for me to point out the facts. We have a higher number of police officers in Scotland than when this Government took office. Three hundred new officers are about to be recruited, from next month. We are increasing the budget for the police, and police officers, generally speaking, are paid more in Scotland than they are elsewhere in the UK.

There is a pay negotiation under way. I fully expect the Scottish Police Federation, or any trade union or professional organisation, to stand up for its members during a pay negotiation. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans met the Scottish Police Federation, either earlier this week or last week, and there was a constructive discussion. I hope that all sides will continue to work together constructively to ensure that a fair and affordable pay increase can be agreed for our police officers. Our police officers deserve that, and we will continue to value them and give policing the priority that it deserves.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister is on a different planet. She says that it was a “constructive” meeting between her justice secretary and the federation, but the federation said this morning that its members are now taking

“the most overt demonstration of action ... in over than 100 years.”

I asked a very specific question. I asked the First Minister—this is what I said—whether the Government has considered the impact on front-line policing and public safety. She never even answered that. Again, her answer was looking at the issues elsewhere.

The Government has taken its eye off the ball. Resources are being used elsewhere. Policing and justice are clearly not priorities any more, and we can see the impact on public safety.

Violent crime has risen to the highest-ever level since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister. That is a consequence of a distracted Government—a Government that does not focus on what really matters. It is what happens when the country’s top priorities are set aside and when campaigning is put ahead of governing. Surely it is time for the First Minister to focus fully on supporting our police officers and keeping our streets safe and free of crime.

The First Minister

I will run through the key points. First, on the impact of the SPF action, that is, of course, an operational matter for the chief constable. I would have thought that Douglas Ross might know that the chief constable has advised—[Interruption.]

Members, we would all like to hear the response. Thank you.

The First Minister

—that the action can be effectively managed in the short term via Police Scotland’s operational capacity and resilience sub-group.

Secondly, I would have thought that any reasonable person would have welcomed that constructive pay negotiations are on-going. I appreciate that that is not the way that Tories go about things with public sector workers. They just offer them zero and tell them to go away. We sit down and have constructive pay negotiations.

Lastly, on crime levels, the crime levels in this country are at their lowest since, I think, 1974—[Interruption.]


—and that is partly because—[Interruption.]

Members, I cannot hear the First Minister, therefore I can only assume that other people cannot hear. I would be grateful if we could hear the First Minister. Thank you.

The First Minister

The Conservatives do not want people to hear the answers, Presiding Officer, because the answers do not suit the narrative of the Scottish Conservatives. That is the reality.

Crime levels are among the lowest since 1974. That is partly because of the value that we attach to policing but, more than that, it is due to the great work that our police officers and their support staff do, which is why we will continue to support them, in stark contrast to the part of the UK where the Conservatives are in government.

Waiting Times (Cancer)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

On Tuesday, the Scottish Government published figures that show the worst cancer waiting times on record. Even during Covid, cancer remained Scotland’s biggest killer, with over 36,000 Scots having died of cancer since the start of the pandemic, in March 2020. Can the First Minister tell us how many patients in the past year have missed the 62-day standard for starting cancer treatment?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

In terms of the cancer waiting times, as Anas Sarwar knows, there are two key waiting time standards. I will come to the 62-day one in a moment. The first is, of course, the target of 31 days from a decision to treat to the first treatment starting. That target—again, as is shown in the statistics this week—is being met. Indeed, the median time for treatment starting after a decision to treat has been made is four days.

On the 62-day pathway, that target is not being met. However, in the most recent quarter, as is shown in the statistics this week, the national health service increased the number of patients who are being treated on the 62-day pathway by more than 4 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2019. We continue to see an increasing number of eligible cancer referrals, and the priority is to ensure that those patients receive the care that they need quickly. As I said a moment ago, once the decision to treat is made, patients wait, on average, just four days to start cancer treatment.

Of course, we recognise that improvements require to be made, particularly on the 62-day pathway, which is why we are investing £40 million over five years to support cancer services, to improve cancer waiting times and to ensure earlier detection of cancer.

Anas Sarwar

The answer that the First Minister was looking for is 3,057. Since the election campaign last year, when Nicola Sturgeon made a promise to focus on Covid recovery and cancer catch-up, more than 3,000 cancer patients have not started their treatment on time. That problem predates the pandemic. In the eight years that Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister, she has never met the 62-day treatment standard. Things are so bad that, last week, The Lancet revealed that senior staff at the Beatson west of Scotland cancer centre had to consider rationing chemotherapy because they do not have the resources that they need. This Government is entirely responsible for that situation.

We know that the earlier people are diagnosed and the quicker they start treatment, the more likely it is that they will survive. That is true for cancer and for many other conditions. How many people, who are currently waiting for a diagnostic test—including for cancer—have already waited longer than the six-week standard?

The First Minister

Many people are waiting for longer than the six-week standard. I am happy to provide that figure later, but it is important to address the substance of the issue.

The latest diagnostic statistics, which were released at the end of May, showed that 155,000 people were waiting for one of eight key diagnostic tests. Of course, not all those people had been waiting for longer than the target time, but we are investing significantly in endoscopy and radiology services to bring those waiting times down. For example, to specifically support scope-based diagnostics, we have published the £70 million “Endoscopy and Urology Diagnostic Recovery and Renewal Plan”. We are also investing £9 million in this financial year to support diagnostic imaging capacity.

The overall situation with the 62-day pathway is that more patients are being seen within that pathway, which means that more patients are being treated as being eligible for that pathway. The 31-day target has been met, and, although the 62-day target has not been met, more patients are being seen on that pathway and the median wait is 47 days.

We recognise the pressure that NHS staff are under with regard to resourcing, but, under this Government, there has been a 95 per cent increase in consultant oncologists and a 63 per cent increase in consultant radiologists. That is testament to this Government’s commitment.

Finally, we absolutely accept the importance of early diagnosis, which is why we continue to invest in the £44 million detect cancer early programme, and it is why we are investing in early detection centres around the country.

Anas Sarwar

The answer that the First Minister was looking for is that 78,310 people have waited more than six weeks for a diagnostic test. I asked the First Minister the exact same question a year ago, and the answer then was 44,516. Therefore, there has been an increase of 76 per cent. When I told the First Minister that number last year, she said that Covid recovery

“has been my focus and the focus of the Government literally seven days a week, sometimes what has felt like almost 24 hours a day ... That will be the case for as long as is necessary.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2021; c 11.]

That was pandemic Nicola, who also promised that Covid recovery would be her priority in this parliamentary session. However, on Tuesday this week, the worst cancer waiting times on record were released. On Wednesday, the outgoing chair of the British Medical Association Scotland begged the Scottish Government for the tools to make the health service work. Today, on the front page of the Daily Record, nurses warn that working on hospital wards is like “hell on earth”. The recovery has not even started yet. In fact, things have got worse. Instead, we have gone back to divisive Nicola Sturgeon, who is now spending seven days a week—sometimes what feels like 24 hours a day—focusing on what she cares about, which is dividing our people and breaking up our country, not rebuilding it.

Before I call the First Minister, I remind all members of the requirement to use first names and surnames.

The First Minister

I think that it is perhaps Anas Sarwar who has lost a bit of focus over the last period, because, first, he seems to forget that, during the period that he is talking about, there have been three further waves of a pandemic and we have seen staff absences impacting on—[Interruption.] Staff absences have been impacting on the performance of the national health service.

Secondly, Anas Sarwar talks about tools for the national health service, so I will focus a bit on the tools that this Government is providing to the NHS. NHS staffing is up by just under 30,000 whole-time equivalents—23.5 per cent—to a record high under this Government. We have higher staffing per head than in NHS England, record funding for our national health service, the best-performing—although there are still challenges—accident and emergency service anywhere in the United Kingdom for six years running, and higher spend per head than anywhere else in the UK. Those are the tools that we are giving our front-line staff, and, as is the case with police officers, in Scotland we are paying front-line staff more than those in England and Wales are paid.

Thirdly, I will address Anas Sarwar’s political point. He wants to back up the Conservatives on this point; I want to free Scotland from the Conservatives. The worst thing that could ever happen to our NHS is continuing to have Conservative Governments cutting the budget of this Government and this Parliament—[Interruption.]


That is why having the powers of independence is good for our country, including our national health service.

We move to supplementary questions.

Aviation Industry (Summer Period)

What discussions has the Scottish Government had with the aviation industry in Scotland regarding the busy summer period?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The transport minister is in regular contact with the aviation sector and has recently had discussions on services during the summer holidays.

Back in May, the minister wrote to the United Kingdom Government about the significant delays at some airports in England, noting that they would concern people in Scotland who planned to travel soon from them. She sought assurances that the UK Government is taking action to ensure that there is no repetition this summer of the inconvenience that has been caused to passengers and business. We have had no response yet, but we continue to press UK ministers to ensure that there is adequate staffing in place at international border controls at Scottish airports. Part of the challenge is that there are now controls in place for visits to and from European Union countries, which is yet another consequence of a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for and another reason for us to be charge of our own future.

Teacher Numbers (Rural Areas)

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

This week, The Press and Journal reported that Aberdeenshire Council requested 49 new secondary school teachers to start in August but secured only 25. There is a problem in attracting new teachers to our rural areas up and down the country, whereas other parts of the country have received more new teaching graduates than they need. What steps will the Government take to help rural authorities to attract the new teaching staff that they need, to ensure that our pupils in the north-east are not left behind?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that teacher recruitment is supported. Of course, local authorities are responsible for both recruitment and deployment of their staff, but it is ultimately for teachers to decide where they work. No minister can dictate that. Probationer teachers choose five local authorities for which they would be willing to work as they complete their probation year, and they are allocated a place by balancing their choice with local need. Local authorities also have the autonomy to provide incentives to attract teachers to their areas, and some have already offered initiatives such as free housing for an extended period.

Cancer Care Services

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

At the end of last week, The Lancet reported on the crisis at the Beatson west of Scotland cancer centre. There were leaked emails about a system that is stretched to the limits of endurance, and other cancer centres across Scotland were described as being at breaking point. The causes of that pre-date the pandemic. This is what one consultant oncologist had to say:

“Due to the lack of staff, run-down equipment and failure to plan for the future, this current situation of rationing cancer care was entirely predictable.”

He went on to say:

“The NHS and cancer care is run like a budget airline and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spends more time firefighting than forward thinking.”

The First Minister’s Government is in charge of the national health service in Scotland. She has been warned again and again by clinicians, patients and, indeed, politicians, but she simply does not listen. According to the consultant whom I quoted, the £10 million budget allocated for cancer waiting times has been cut to just £1.5 million. I ask the First Minister why.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I know that Jackie Baillie would not want to distress patients in any way. I know how hard consultants are working and I take their comments very seriously. However, it is also important to make the point that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has confirmed that

“there are no plans to increase schedule length, stop treatments early or interrupt schedules.”

In addition,


service delivery

“suggestions that could be detrimental to patients were immediately ... rejected”.

I confirm that, as outlined in our “Health and social care: national workforce strategy”, we are investing £10 million in our cancer therapy and acute oncology workforce to keep up with the growing demand on services. We have also convened a national oncology task force that brings together boards’ chief executives and medical directors to consider further national solutions. We are taking the issue seriously and will continue to do so.

My final point, which I think that I also made in response to Anas Sarwar, is that, since the Government took office, there has been a more than 90 per cent increase in consultant oncologists working in our national health service. That is an indication of the priority that we attach to cancer services. We will continue to work with the workforce to support it in delivering services to patients.

DriveAbility Scotland

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

DriveAbility Scotland, which is based in my constituency, provides essential driving assessments for disabled drivers and offers them support and advice. It takes as short a time as six weeks to secure an appointment, whereas doing so using the national health service national facility in Lothian might take more than six months. DriveAbility Scotland might be forced to close later this year, which would increase NHS waiting times for disabled drivers who desperately need assessments. I have raised that matter with the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport.

I ask the First Minister to do what she can urgently to secure at least some form of bridging funding for DriveAbility Scotland to allow it to continue to operate for the benefit of disabled drivers while the NHS reviews its own current, under-pressure provision—which I hope will in future involve using DriveAbility Scotland.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish Government has already been engaged on the issue. We have been working with the DriveAbility Scotland service to explore different options. I understand that NHS Lothian’s driving assessment team has prepared a draft business plan for the establishment of an additional centre in Glasgow and that that is currently being considered by NHS National Services Scotland. The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport will keep Bob Doris apprised when NSS reaches its conclusion on the proposal.

Residential Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

In 2005-06, 1,929 people were admitted to residential drug and alcohol services in Scotland but, in 2021-22, only 511 placements were approved. That is a drop of nearly 75 per cent. I have heard time and again that rehabilitation gives people the hope that they need for their recovery. Drug-related deaths have spiralled out of control, so why do successive Scottish National Party Governments continue to fail some of our most vulnerable people by slashing capacity in residential rehab by three quarters? Will the First Minister finally throw her weight behind our proposed right to addiction recovery bill, which will enshrine in law the right to residential rehab?

If Sue Webber is telling me that that bill has been published this morning, I welcome that, because I cannot throw my weight behind a bill that I literally have not seen.

You actually have until today to support it.

I cannot agree to a bill unless I have seen it, so if Douglas Ross wants to publish the bill—[Interruption.]


The First Minister

I have said in the chamber on many occasions that I have an open mind and want to give as much support to the bill as possible. However, most reasonable people would understand that I cannot support a bill that I literally have not seen because it has not been published.

You can read the proposal.

Mr Ross!

The First Minister

Important though Sue Webber’s question on residential rehab is, it does not take account of the recent investments and developments in that sphere. We are providing additional funding of £250 million over this session of the Parliament in part to support residential rehab. We are working with alcohol and drug partnerships across Scotland to develop clearer and more consistent pathways into and from rehab because we know that people with problem drug or alcohol use often have other needs. Therefore, we have allocated £20 million of additional funding for residential rehab, £5 million of which is being channelled directly to ADPs to support pathways and placements.

Police (Cost of Living)

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

In the past two weeks, I have received many reports from constituents who are serving police officers in the Lothian region. As they are serving officers, I shall not name them. They include a single mother who has been hit hard by rising childcare, food and energy costs that she can meet only by borrowing from her parents; a young police officer who has been forced to move back in with his parents because he cannot afford rent; and police officers forced to rely on food banks. Does the First Minister think that having a police force in that state is healthy in a developed nation, and what is the Scottish Government going to do about it?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

No, I do not think that that is acceptable, but nor do I think it is acceptable for anybody, particularly those in any of our public services, to be dealing with a situation where inflation is at almost 10 per cent. Food prices are rising, energy prices are rising and the powers to deal effectively with that do not lie with this Parliament.

What does lie with this Government, of course, is work around police officer pay, and I have already said that the process of negotiation is under way. I hope that it will conclude constructively and fairly, very soon. It starts from a base whereby police officers in Scotland coming into the force are already paid more than those in England and Wales, and last year, in Scotland, they got a pay uplift that the majority of officers elsewhere in the United Kingdom did not get.

That does not make life easy for our police officers or any other public sector worker, but we will continue to value them not just in rhetoric but in action. However, we need to see action taken on the cost of living, to reduce the pressures on police officers and everybody else across our country.

Ferry Services

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce breakdowns on ferry services to Scotland’s islands. (S6F-01290)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We fully understand the frustrations encountered by passengers during disruptions and therefore remain committed to on-going support for vital lifeline services. Since 2018, we have made £14.5 million of funding available for upgrades on the CalMac Ferries vessels through the introduction of the ferries resilience fund. That has helped primarily to replace obsolete systems and reduce the likelihood of breakdown on older vessels. We are also committed to investing a further £580 million in the infrastructure investment plan.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd has been tasked with finding suitable additional second-hand tonnage for use on both ferry networks. That has led, for example, to the successful introduction of the MV Loch Frisa on the Mull route.

Overall, since 2007, this Government has invested more than £2 billion in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service, the northern isles ferry service and ferry infrastructure.

Jamie Greene

“Frustration” is an underestimation of the strength of feeling in our island communities—one needs only to go to the islands and ask those communities what they feel about the ferry services to know that.

The problem is that more than half of the CalMac fleet is way beyond its 25-year life expectancy. The average age of a vessel in Scotland is now 24 years—almost a generation—and the cost of ageing vessels is £84 million of repairs over five years. It is not two new vessels that CalMac needs, but nearly two dozen.

The problem is that the Government has known that and seen it coming for many years, and it has not been building that pipeline of ferries that we need to replace those ageing vessels. The chair of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee said, on the record, that

“Scotland has one of the worst public ferry systems in the world”.

Does the First Minister agree with that comment and, if not, why not?

Secondly, I know that the First Minister has 19 October next year pencilled into her diary, apparently. Will the two new vessels sitting at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow be sailing and serving passengers by 19 October 2023, or does the First Minister perhaps have other things on her mind?

The First Minister

The completion timetable for the two ferries is, of course, a matter in the public domain and work is taking place to deliver that. Yes, the ferry fleet is ageing; that is the whole point of the resilience fund that was established in 2018 and partly the point of the infrastructure investment plan, which of course is backed by a further £580 million. It is vital that our island communities have access to reliable ferries, and that is exactly what the Government will continue to be focused on delivering.

Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

I was impacted by a ferry breakdown on Monday, but thanks to the excellent CalMac staff, I and other ferry users were able to get on later ferries. Does the First Minister agree that the staff of CalMac work tirelessly to help all their customers when breakdowns happen?

The First Minister

Absolutely. The CalMac staff do an excellent job, often in really difficult circumstances, so I want to recognise and acknowledge that—[Interruption.] The Conservatives clearly do not want to hear me thank those who work on the CalMac services—[Interruption.]

Members, we will hear the First Minister.

Thank you, Presiding Officer, because I want to take the opportunity to thank everybody who works in CalMac for the excellent service that they provide to the travelling public.

LGBT Inclusive Education

To ask the First Minister, as the end of pride month approaches, whether she will provide an update on the implementation of Scotland’s reportedly world-leading LGBT-inclusive education. (S6F-01289)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The recommendations of the LGBTI inclusive education working group were published in November 2019 and accepted in full by the Scottish Government. The LGBT inclusive education implementation group has made good progress in delivering on the recommendations. The implementation group has, in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, promoted effective delivery of LGBT-inclusive education in all Scottish schools and engaged with young people to seek their views and experiences.

The website is an important resource that contains a toolkit of inclusive education resources and a basic awareness e-learning course for education staff on LGBT-inclusive education. The implementation group plans to deliver the remaining recommendations by the end of the next academic year.

Joe FitzPatrick

I put on record my thanks to the Time for Inclusive Education campaign for all its work in making Scotland the first country in the world to embed LGBT-inclusive education across the school curriculum. How will the Scottish Government ensure consistency of delivery in all schools across Scotland?

The First Minister

I, too, take the opportunity to pay tribute to the TIE campaign. I am proud to be wearing its badge today and I see that many members are wearing its lanyards. TIE has done a great job and made Scotland the first country in the world to have LGBT-inclusive education.

On consistency, we want all pupils to benefit from LGBT-inclusive education, so resources and services have been developed to support consistent delivery and are freely provided to schools on the website. It is, of course, for local authorities and individual schools to decide what resources they use to deliver the curriculum. However, a national framework of communication is under development, which will set out national expectations in this area, as part of the on-going efforts to ensure consistency of uptake and principles for effective teaching and learning.

“A New Deal for Tenants”

5. Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what progress the Scottish Government is making towards introducing an effective national system of rent controls by the end of 2025 as set out in its strategy, “A New Deal for Tenants”. (S6F-01309)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

This week, Parliament agreed our proposals for strengthened protections for private tenants against eviction. Rising rents cause tenants hardship, which is why we have already committed to introducing rent controls during this session. We are currently working to ensure that the model that is delivered is evidence-based and robust, thereby giving long-lasting benefit to tenants. We are carefully considering around 930 responses and more than 8,000 campaign responses to the “A New Deal for Tenants” consultation. We are also meeting key stakeholders, which is an essential step in delivering a system that actually works, and we will undertake further consultation on the detail.

We continue to support tenants now, including through committing £83 million in discretionary housing payments this year.

Mercedes Villalba

A cost of living emergency is engulfing the country. As we speak, tenants are being forced out of their homes by eye-watering rent hikes. Every single one of us in Parliament has a responsibility to act with urgency. What practical intervention will the Scottish Government make this year, in 2022, to cap or at least limit rent increases?

The First Minister

I agree with much of the sentiment of the question and that we have a duty to act urgently—I will come back to what the Government is doing in a moment—but we also have a duty to act legally, otherwise what we do will not benefit tenants in the way that we intend it to.

Through the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, we already have the strongest tenancy protections of anywhere in the United Kingdom. Landlords are already under a number of limitations, and we are committed to introducing a housing bill that will further strengthen existing rights by improving rent adjudication and setting out the framework for the delivery of new rent controls. It is important that we get that right, because if we do not, and a legal challenge were successful, we would not be helping tenants in the way that I accept that Mercedes Villalba wants to.

On what we are doing now, this Government is investing almost £3 billion this year in helping people with the cost of living. That includes £83 million for discretionary housing payments, which supports the mitigation of the bedroom tax and helps with wider housing costs. That investment is a really important tool that is used to safeguard tenancies.

We continue to lead the way in the UK on protecting the rights of and supporting tenants. Of course, if we did not have to mitigate things such as the bedroom tax, and we had more powers to deal with these issues and the root causes of the cost of living crisis, rather than the powers remaining—as the Labour member seems to want them to—in the hands of Conservative Governments in Westminster, this Parliament would be able to do so much more.

Asylum Seekers (Accommodation)

To ask the First Minister what recent discussions the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers based in Scotland. (S6F-01293)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government spoke to the UK Government immigration minister in April, when he set out a change in policy to assume one of full asylum dispersal across the UK. In May, the Home Office began an informal consultation on implementation, to which we will respond.

The Scottish Government supports widened asylum dispersal in principle—of course we do—but participation must be voluntary for local authorities, and the Home Office must work in partnership with them, as well as support third sector support organisations that provide vital assistance to people who seek asylum.

Although the funding for local authorities that has been announced is a positive step, it must be sustainable over the long term and be at a level that provides support for asylum seekers and local communities.

Maggie Chapman

The First Minister will be aware that there are now 450 refugees and asylum seekers who are housed in hotels in Aberdeen. She will also be aware of the dreadful acceleration in loss of life in the UK asylum accommodation system, whereby hotels are becoming institutional accommodation for vulnerable people.

Given that mental health and the investigation of deaths are devolved matters, will the First Minister support the design and implementation of a Scottish monitoring and lessons-learned system for all deaths in Scotland of people in asylum accommodation or immigration detention?

Additionally, will the First Minister commit her Government to participate fully in phase 2 of Baroness Helena Kennedy QC’s inquiry into the Glasgow asylum seeker deaths, and signal her expectation that other Scottish public agencies will do likewise?

The First Minister

I thank Maggie Chapman for that question. As is demonstrated in the actions that we take, this Government will always seek to use our devolved powers to the full to support asylum seekers, wherever and whenever we can.

Asylum and immigration are reserved matters, so we have raised a variety of issues directly with the UK Government on our real and growing concerns over the accommodation and treatment of asylum seekers. That includes accommodation and appropriate support, as well as adequate funding to public services.

We have repeatedly requested detail of any investigation that is undertaken by the Home Office following deaths in asylum accommodation in Glasgow, and we have requested an update on the status of recommendations in an internal Home Office report on asylum accommodation during the pandemic. The report appeared in the media in April, but has not yet been made public.

We have not yet received any approach to participate in the inquiry that is led by Baroness Kennedy, but should we do so we will, of course, respond positively and appropriately.

Rural Workers (Abuse)

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will respond to reported calls by the industry to establish a gamekeeping task force to tackle abuse of rural workers. (S6F-01286)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Abuse of any worker, including gamekeepers and other rural workers, is totally unacceptable. The Scottish Government has no plans at this stage to establish a specific task force on that issue. However, we are committed to engaging with gamekeepers and other land managers on the issues that they face.

The Minister for Environment and Land Reform, alongside Scottish Government officials, regularly meets land management stakeholders, including organisations that directly represent gamekeepers. I expect that engagement, including discussions on specific issues relating to gamekeeping, to continue now and as we move forward with tackling the biodiversity and climate emergencies.

Rachael Hamilton

Scottish Government-commissioned research from Scotland’s Rural College revealed staggering levels of abuse and vitriol suffered by those rural workers. In light of that, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation Scotland has made a renewed call for the creation of a gamekeeping task force.

Rural workers are Scotland’s de facto countryside custodians, protecting biodiversity and tackling climate change. With avian flu and the on-going cost of living crisis, there are significant pressures on the mental health of rural workers. I renew my call on the First Minister to meet me, rural workers and rural representatives to set the wheels in motion for giving them the protection that they rightly deserve.

The First Minister

I agree whole-heartedly with the member’s points about the importance of rural workers to our rural communities and to the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our country overall. I made many of those points personally when I had the pleasure of attending the Royal Highland Show at the end of last week.

I said in my opening answer that the Government has no plans to establish a specific gamekeeping task force. However, in the interests of trying to get consensus here, given that the issue has been raised and a renewed request has been made, I will ask the environment minister to consider whether such a task force might have a part to play, and I will revert to the member in due course. Notwithstanding what any decision on that might be, however, I ask the member to accept that we absolutely prioritise on-going engagement with land management stakeholders, including gamekeepers. That engagement will continue, and we will continue to respond to concerns that are raised and work to resolve them. I will also ask the environment minister to meet the member to update her on these matters.

The issue is important. We might disagree on the exact structures and formats through which we will resolve the issues, but I hope that there will be complete unity around the fact that we need to resolve them and support those who work in our rural communities.

That concludes First Minister’s questions.