Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, March 2, 2023
Official Report 1161KB pdf
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023, Portfolio Question Time, Policing, Caledonian Sleeper Train, Scotland’s Links with the Arctic, Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Point of Order
- Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023
- Portfolio Question Time
- Caledonian Sleeper Train
- Scotland’s Links with the Arctic
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Deposit Return Scheme
By midnight on Tuesday, businesses in Scotland were legally required to sign up to the Scottish National Party-Green deposit return scheme. Thousands of producers rightly decided not to, because the scheme is an absolute shambles. Lorna Slater, the minister in charge, said that just 664 businesses had registered, but she refused six times in the chamber yesterday to say how many businesses should have signed up.
Will the First Minister give us that answer now—how many businesses should have signed up to her Government’s deposit return scheme?
First, when a big change is introduced, it is understandable that there will be concerns about it. I have deep respect for the concerns that have been raised by business, and the Government will continue to work with business to address those concerns, but, frankly, the sheer opportunism of some Opposition parties that have rightly supported a deposit—[Interruption.]
Let us hear the First Minister. Thank you.
They have rightly supported a deposit return scheme and have previously criticised the Government for taking too long to introduce one, so their opportunism in now indulging in knee-jerk opposition is frankly breathtaking. So, too—I will use a parliamentary term that I believe is polite enough—is the blatant distortion of some Opposition politicians. Yes, I am talking about Alister Jack in particular.
To come back to the point—this is an important point—the number of companies in the drinks industry inevitably changes over time. At the outset of introducing the scheme, it was estimated that there were about 4,500 companies—[Interruption.]
Members, let us hear the First Minister. Thank you.
However, significantly fewer than that will have to register because, once groups of companies registering under one registration are identified, the estimated number of individual producers and importers will be less than 2,000. However, that is not actually the most relevant statistic. The most relevant statistic is the share of the market—the percentage of products that are included—and more than 90 per cent are now included in the scheme. [Interruption.]
Finally, if I were to state that in the opposite way—if I were to stand here and say that 90 per cent of producers were registered but that that covered only about 20 per cent of the market—that would be a problem, because that would be a seriously problematic way of approaching this.
We will continue to progress with the scheme—
—because it is for the benefit of our environment, and we will do that responsibly, because that is what people across Scotland have a right to expect.
First Minister, when you are in a hole, stop digging. Surely, either you or some of your many, many officials watched Lorna Slater—
Please speak through the chair.
—being absolutely unable to answer a basic, but very important, question yesterday. We need to know how many businesses and producers the First Minister’s Government expected to sign up to the scheme, given that we know that only 664 did so by the deadline. It is a very simple number. Either the First Minister knows it but is refusing to tell members in the chamber, or she does not know, and I think that members deserve an answer.
The First Minister says that she has “deep respect” for businesses across Scotland. Well, businesses are giving the Government a message, loud and clear: the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme is a complete disaster. The Scottish Wholesale Association said that it could be a “car crash”; UKHospitality Scotland says that the scheme is “flawed”; Innis & Gunn says that it is “unworkable”; and, last night, after listening to the minister’s statement, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce stated that businesses’ concerns have been “completely ignored”— a “car crash”, “flawed” and “unworkable”, with the voice of businesses across Scotland “ignored”.
Even at this late stage, will the First Minister finally, just once, listen to Scottish businesses and pause the scheme?
The last time that the Government announced a delay to the scheme, necessitated by the pandemic, Conservatives were among the first to criticise it. That is what I mean when I talk about sheer opportunism and knee-jerk opposition. However, that is what we have come to expect from the Conservatives. We will continue to act responsibly.
I come back to the central point in Douglas Ross’s question, because it is important. I gave him an answer in my first response, and I also pointed out that anyone who looks at this rationally will see that it is the number of bottles or the percentage of products that are covered that matters the most. The vast majority of products are produced by a relatively small number of producers. As of yesterday, more than 90 per cent of the market share was covered—[Interruption.]
That is the crucial point. If it were the reverse, that would be a problem.
We will continue to do as we have been doing. A range of concerns have already been responded to in order to reduce costs. Producer fees are 8 per cent, 30 per cent or 40 per cent lower than originally planned for glass, plastic or metal containers. Day 1 payments for producers have been reduced, and we will continue to liaise with business responsibly and sensibly.
Let us not lose sight of the central point, which is the scheme’s purpose and objectives. It will reduce littering by a third, increase recycling rates of single-use drinks containers towards 90 per cent and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4 million tonnes over 25 years, which is the equivalent of taking 83,000 cars off the road. This is about the environment. It used to be the case that the Conservatives pretended to care about the environment—
—but it seems that those days are long gone.
It is very clear that the First Minister is ignoring Scottish businesses again. She says that the opposition to the scheme and the calls to pause it are sheer political opportunism, so I would hate to be the health secretary sat next to her—there is going to be some more finger wagging coming in a minute. We know that Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan and Kate Forbes have all said that the deposit return scheme should be delayed—that is political opportunism at the heart of the Scottish Government. [Interruption.]
I suspend business.12:08 Meeting suspended.
12:09 On resuming—
We will recommence. I call Douglas Ross for his third question.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I have to say that these constant interruptions to First Minister’s question time are getting very tiresome. We are here, as democratically elected MSPs, to put questions to the First Minister. The people who are watching and who want to hear the questions and answers are getting pretty fed up with this childish behaviour, which means that questions get disrupted like that.
I was kind of on a roll, explaining the total political opportunism of the SNP. We spoke about Humza Yousaf. We spoke about Ash Regan. Let us now speak about Kate Forbes.
Kate Forbes said that the deposit return scheme, which the First Minister has just defended over the past two questions, could create “economic carnage”—and that is, in fact, one of the more tame things that Kate Forbes has said about the SNP’s record. There is just one wee problem: Kate Forbes is the SNP’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy. The SNP’s record is Kate Forbes’s record.
When the SNP Government was slow in paying out Covid grants to businesses, Kate Forbes was running the schemes; when companies demanded that the SNP reset its anti-business agenda, Kate Forbes was the minister who was not listening; and when the ferry scandal ran even further aground, Kate Forbes was fully on board.
The new Kate Forbes seems to be saying that the old Kate Forbes is not up to the job. So, I ask the First Minister: which one does she agree with—the Kate Forbes with a terrible record in government or the Kate Forbes who says that this Government has a terrible record?
First, Douglas Ross said that he was “on a roll”. I am not sure whether he meant rolling down the hill, but that seems to be what that question was. [Interruption.]
Excuse me, First Minister. We will hear the First Minister.
I said last week that Douglas Ross was seeming awful scared of Humza Yousaf. This week, it seems that he is also very scared of Kate Forbes, which says to me that whoever is standing here in my place in a few weeks’ time will keep the Conservatives firmly where they belong: in opposition in Scottish politics.
To go back to the deposit return scheme, this Government—and I, for as long as I am First Minister—will continue to work to introduce sensible schemes that protect the interests of business but that also protect our environment, because we have a deep responsibility to do that.
I also point out, again, that the introduction of a deposit return scheme is in no way unprecedented. Similar schemes are already operational in many countries and territories around the world. Indeed, I understand that some of the companies that are raising concerns—as they have a right to do here in Scotland—are part of the schemes in other countries around the world. I read in the newspaper today that the Conservative United Kingdom Government is about to announce its own scheme, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, which no doubt will have Douglas Ross squirming, as he often does when his colleagues in London make life difficult for him.
We will continue to be responsible. We will liaise and engage with business, but we will also take steps to protect our environment and make sure that the cost of dealing with waste—which, of course, has to be met—is dealt with fairly. That is what this is all about.
May I begin this question with an apology, Presiding Officer? It has been brought to my attention that I perhaps used industrial language in response to the protesters who interrupted the session earlier. To you, to members and to everyone listening—including, probably, my mother—I apologise for that. [Interruption.] Christine Grahame is asking what I said, but I promise that I will not repeat it. I just wanted to apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to members.
Let us get back to where we were. I was asking the First Minister about the leadership election and the SNP candidates, which the First Minister does not seem to want to talk about. That is no wonder, because the contest is an absolute bin fire. The SNP is so split and divided that it even tried to ban the media from watching the hustings. The only thing that unites the candidates who are seeking to replace Nicola Sturgeon is independence, and the candidates’ plans are even more reckless than Nicola Sturgeon’s de facto referendum.
Last night, Kate Forbes revealed that she wants to hold a referendum just three months after the next general election—three months—when there are so many bigger issues facing the country. Kate Forbes thinks that a deposit return scheme would cause “economic carnage” but that holding another referendum to break up a 300-year-old union would be a breeze. Does the First Minister really think that anybody in Scotland will find Kate Forbes’s plans credible?
What we found out in that question from Douglas Ross is that his so-called “roll” came to a crashing halt pretty quickly.
I will share some news with Douglas Ross, the chamber and, indeed, the country, although I am not sure that it will come as any surprise to the country. The SNP is united in favouring Scottish independence, and I think that we are going to see the country increasingly united behind independence as the best way to free ourselves from the impact of Tory Governments—or, indeed, from the impact of Labour Governments, which are often indistinguishable from Tory Governments—and be in charge of our own affairs and destiny, for example, by getting back into the European Union. I very much look forward to the vigour of that debate in the years to come. I am also confident that whoever stands here in my place in just a few weeks’ time will continue the SNP’s outstanding record of success. [Interruption.]
Thank you, members.
Whoever stands here in my place will make sure that the SNP continues to occupy these benches and take forward decisions for the good of the people of Scotland, even when those are tough decisions. Douglas Ross and his colleagues will stay where they are, or—who knows?—perhaps, in years to come, they will be over there.
Scottish National Party Leadership Election
We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis that is hitting people hard; a national health service crisis that is pushing staff to breaking point and putting patients’ lives at risk; and a wider economic crisis that is leading to business closures across Scotland. That crisis has been made worse by a flawed and chaotic deposit return scheme, which is led by an incompetent Government. At the same time, the SNP has turned in on itself, because its members are more interested in scoring political points against each other than in focusing on the people’s priorities. At this time of crisis for business, families and patients, why is it that people in Scotland see only a Government that is divided and in chaos?
Maybe somebody here can help me, but I have lost count of the number of leadership elections that have taken place in the Conservative and Labour parties in the years that I have stood here as First Minister.
I think that people in Scotland will welcome seeing a robust debate about the future of our country, covering all of the things that Anas Sarwar has just talked about. They will appreciate seeing candidates for leadership setting out proposals to build on the actions that this Government has taken in recent years.
Anas Sarwar talks about the cost of living crisis. One of the things that I am proudest of—and always will be proud of—in my time as First Minister is the game-changing Scottish child payment, which is transformational for families and children across the country and is doing more than anything across these islands to lift children out of poverty. I am proud of that, and I am confident that whoever succeeds me as First Minister will continue with that record of success.
It will be interesting to hear whether Nicola Sturgeon is proud of the candidates, over the past couple of weeks, trashing her record in Government. The choice that the SNP is offering to the people of Scotland to replace Nicola Sturgeon is woeful. We have a health secretary who is closing an intensive care unit in Ayr, after promising to save it just a few weeks ago; a finance secretary who repeatedly blocked £15 an hour for care workers, but is now miraculously calling for it; and Ash Regan, who thinks that Scotland could set up a central bank within weeks. Three candidates are falling over each other to distance themselves from their Government’s policies. They are all U-turning on the flawed deposit return scheme; they all want to hit the brakes on a national care service; and all of them are all over the place on independence.
Nicola Sturgeon gave all of those candidates their first steps up in politics. With the benefit of hindsight, which candidate does the First Minister most regret appointing?
I am proud of all of the Governments that I have led and I am proud of those who have served in them.
With regard to the record of Government, I said on the day that I announced that I would be stepping down as First Minister that nobody would entice me into expressing a preference for my successor, and Anas Sarwar will not manage to do that, either. However, I am confident that whoever succeeds me will continue with that record of success. Ultimately, my record—and that of my ministerial team—in Government will be judged not by Anas Sarwar or Douglas Ross but by the people of Scotland. [Interruption.]
Let us hear the First Minister.
In my time as First Minister, that record has been judged by the people of Scotland on no fewer than eight occasions, and we have had eight landslide election victories. That is the vote of confidence in my record as First Minister that I will continue to be proud of.
At the start of this contest, Nicola Sturgeon told us that it would be a chance for Scotland to see the best talent that the SNP has to offer. Here we are with the top three: Ash Regan, backed by Alex Salmond; Kate Forbes, backed by Jacob Rees-Mogg; and the Scottish Greens’ candidate, Humza Yousaf, backed by Peter Murrell.
It might be funny, but this is really serious. We have 770,000 on an NHS waiting list, we have families struggling to put food on the table and pay their bills, and businesses are shutting down because of this Government’s incompetence and anti-business agenda. At this time of national crisis, when people need a competent Government that is on their side, is this really the best that the SNP has to offer?
It is quite hard for me to imagine this but, if I was in the shoes of Anas Sarwar or Douglas Ross, what I would be more worried about than whatever is happening in the SNP leadership election campaign is why the only political game in town remains the SNP, and why I was lagging so far behind after 16 years of an SNP Government. That says that the people of Scotland continue to put their trust in us.
Why do they do that? Employment in Scotland is at its highest level, I think, on record, and unemployment is at its lowest level. In a very challenging time for our national health service, we are seeing an increase in the number of patients who are being treated and the longest waits are falling. We are seeing—
I hear Christine Grahame saying that there have been no strikes in our national health service, which makes us the only nation in the United Kingdom to have achieved that.
We continue to be the best-performing part of the UK outside of London when it comes to attracting inward investment into our country. We are lifting more children out of poverty than any other part of the UK is. That is why the Scottish people continue to trust the SNP in government. That is true today, and I believe that, no matter who succeeds me as First Minister, it will continue to be true for a long time to come, as we continue and complete the journey to Scotland becoming an independent country.
To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-01855)
I am very grateful for that reply.
St Andrews Wine Company champions small and local producers. Its mission is to offer interesting and lesser-known brands to its customers. Its owner, Peter, estimates that, because so few producers have signed up to the deposit return scheme, three quarters of his stock will become unavailable. All that the company will have left is what can be bought in a supermarket. It is a family-run business that is being thrown under the bus, and there are thousands more businesses like it. Jobs are on the line, and the scheme is starting to cause real harm.
Fergus Ewing, a loyalist of 50 years, has called the DRS “wilfully reckless”. The First Minister’s finance secretary, Kate Forbes, has called it “economic carnage”. Government incompetence is undermining the very case for the DRS, which could massively reduce our waste and emissions, but only if it works.
This is a moment of real jeopardy. It cannot wait for the next First Minister, because irreversible business decisions are being made right now. Nicola Sturgeon calls it “opportunism”; I call it scrutiny, backed up by an avalanche of industry concerns. If the First Minister can halt the chaos of the national care service, why can she not pause this?
We are not halting progress on the national care service; we are taking time to receive the report from the lead committee in the Parliament and consider it. If we did anything else, Alex Cole-Hamilton and others would rightly be the first to criticise us for that.
As First Minister, I will continue to take all of my responsibilities very seriously for as long as I am in this job. One of those responsibilities is to ensure that my Government continues to engage with businesses on their concerns about the deposit return scheme or anything else, to address those concerns and to allay fears that businesses such as the one that was cited by Alex Cole-Hamilton have put forward. We will do that sensibly, responsibly and in a way that ensures that we can introduce a scheme that is necessary for and beneficial to our environment, just as many other countries have already done, and as the United Kingdom Government is about to do.
I think that that is what people expect from their Government on tough issues as well as on less tough issues. That is the approach that I have always taken to being First Minister, and I will continue to do so.
To ask First Minister whether she will provide an update on the Scottish Government’s response to on-going food shortages currently affecting Scotland. (S6F-01851)
We engage regularly with all the main retailers. We are aware that some are currently experiencing temporary disruption to certain off-season fresh vegetables. Some retailers have introduced a buying limit as a short-term preventative measure to avoid bulk buying and ensure that customers can get what they need. Retailers have provided assurances that there is currently enough stock available for customers if everyone continues to shop responsibly and that the situation is expected to improve week on week. Of course we are monitoring this closely.
Given the pressure on food and drinks supply chains that have been caused by Covid, Brexit and war in Ukraine, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands wrote to the United Kingdom Government last year to raise the cumulative impact of labour and skills shortages and rising costs. No response was received to that, so the cabinet secretary has written again, as recent events have clearly highlighted the vulnerability and importance of supply chains.
Former chief executive of Sainsbury’s Justin King has said:
“I hate to say it ... but it’s a sector that has been hurt horribly by Brexit”.
Liz Webster, chair of Save British Farming, said:
“The reason we have food shortages in Britain—and they don’t have food shortages in Spain or anywhere else in the EU—is because of Brexit”.
The views from industry are clear. The shortage of basic nutritional necessities is attributable to a deliberate act of Tory policy. Does the First Minister share my utter dismay that the Tories refuse to acknowledge and apologise for the fundamental harms they have visited on people?
Karen Adam is absolutely right, and the voices that she has quoted underline that. The food and drinks sector in Scotland, and indeed across the whole of the UK, has borne the brunt not just of Brexit but of the very hard Brexit that has been pursued by the UK Government, particularly through the loss of free trade and free movement.
Although it is the case that poor harvest conditions in Spain and Morocco are a key factor in some shortages, the situation is not helped by the UK Government’s approach to Brexit, because of which our food and drinks sector has lost many of the benefits that it had when trading with the European Union. The loss of free trade has, for example, increased the additional paperwork that is required to import to the UK, and thus increased the cost of trade. I think that anybody who denies that is, frankly, not living in the real world.
Brexit was a mistake, and the way in which it has been pursued by the UK Government has compounded that error. It is, of course, one of the many reasons why the sooner Scotland is independent and able to rejoin the European Union, the better it will be for everyone.
Schools (Bullying and Harassment)
To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on what discussions she has had with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in relation to bullying and harassment in schools. (S6F-01869)
I am very clear—and I am sure that this view is shared by everyone across the chamber—that bullying and harassment anywhere, but particularly in schools, is completely unacceptable. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I are committed to further work to help address that.
Just last week, Education Scotland published a thematic inspection report that we commissioned on the recording and monitoring of bullying in schools. We have since announced and commenced a review of the national anti-bullying guidance. Respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, is part of that work, and we have invited teachers, parents and young people’s representatives to be involved in it as well.
Later this month, we will seek the advice of the teacher panel and the advisory group on relationships and behaviour in schools, to further inform our approach.
A pupil in my region has been subjected to repeated instances of bullying and violence, sometimes even involving weapons. The parents have complained to the school, the police, the council and even the ombudsman. They are running out of options.
On further investigation, the parents were appalled to find out that incidents of bullying had not been recorded. The response to a freedom of information request shows that underrecording of bullying is commonplace in our schools. This neglectful Scottish National Party Government is throwing pupils to the wolves. Does the First Minister acknowledge that underreporting of bullying incidents in schools is an issue, and will she act on the desperate pleas from parents and pupils by implementing an enforcement mechanism to ensure that schools are accurately reporting incidents?
First, it is important that instances of bullying are recorded properly and comprehensively, and that bullying is monitored. That is why, as I said in my initial answer, we commissioned a report on the recording and monitoring of bullying in schools. Education Scotland published the report that was the result of that thematic inspection just last week. It is an important point, but one on which, as I have said, action is being taken.
Secondly, it is important to say that, although, obviously, I cannot comment on individual cases, the experience that was recounted by the member is unacceptable. It will also be the case that that will be repeated many times over in schools across the country. Bullying is unacceptable wherever it occurs, but we are talking here about schools and, given that it is young people who are in schools, it is particularly unacceptable there. We should have zero tolerance to it. I think that all of us would accept that it is not a new issue in our schools. However, the modern world, particularly the role of social media in the modern world, means that bullying often takes different forms, and very pernicious forms, today compared with some years ago.
The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with local government, recognising the lead responsibility of government, but we all have a responsibility. The Daily Record campaign, which I applaud, is very clear about that and the fact there is a role for social media companies. Frankly, there is a role for all of us, as adults in our own communities, to make sure that children and young people are safeguarded and respected.
This is a serious issue and one that I want to assure people in the chamber and the country that the Scottish Government takes extremely seriously.
Schools do not take responsibility for what happens to young people on their journeys to and from school, so what steps will the First Minister take to make sure that children are protected at that time, and what steps are the police taking to track down the videos of incidents—they are videoed from before the start of the attack, so they are obviously pre-planned—and hold everyone who is responsible to account?
Rhoda Grant is right and she gets to the heart of what is a societal problem, which therefore has to be addressed on a societal basis. Obviously, we are focusing a lot, rightly, on what happens in schools. It is important that we do that and that local government and individual schools focus on that, but of course schools cannot be responsible—certainly not solely responsible—for what happens outside schools.
The police, of course, have a key role to play and I know that they take that role very seriously. As I said in my previous answer, all of us, as adults in communities, have a responsibility and a role to play to make sure that children are properly cared for and safeguarded. It is, in some ways, a complex problem, but we should not allow that to take us away from the collective responsibility that we have to tackle it. Government—national and local—has to be in the lead in that, but we all have a part to play and I am sure that all of us take that seriously.
The First Minister knows that I have deep concerns about the increase in violence in schools. It has always been there, but it has certainly increased since the pandemic. There is a lot of distressed behaviour in schools. However, teachers report that they are sick and fed up with having to pick up the pieces of that. They do not think that there are sufficient resources to be able to manage it, so, as part of the reviews that the First Minister has set out, will additional resources be available to help schools to cope with the crisis?
I pay tribute to Willie Rennie for the work that he has done on the issue. It has been very good and very important. I will give him a commitment that resources will be part of the consideration. The Daily Record has drawn attention to the need for funding to make sure that there are places for young people to go, but I know that Willie Rennie is particularly talking about resources in schools.
Teachers are often at the front line of the situation, particularly when bullying is happening in schools, and we must take account of that. However, that should not take away from the fact that this is not just about what happens in our schools; it is a wider issue about how young people are coping with the pressures of modern life, particularly over the past few years. Mental health support—another issue that Willie Rennie has raised often in the chamber—is an important part of that. However, making sure that those who work most closely with young people, which obviously includes teachers, have the right support and resources to do that job is an important part of it, and I will have further discussions with the education secretary, over my remaining few weeks in this post, about exactly that issue.
Hospital Discharge (Capacity in Care Homes)
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking, in light of reports that individuals are unable to be discharged from hospital due to a lack of available spaces in care homes. (S6F-01864)
We have provided an additional £8 million to health and social care partnerships to secure provision of 300 extra interim care home beds so that places can be purchased above the national care home contract rate. That has resulted so far in 331 people being able to be discharged from hospitals to those placements, with a total of 581 people currently benefiting from an interim care placement.
As part of the work of our ministerial advisory group on health and social care pressures, we are supporting local systems to gain a better understanding of care homes data, and supporting partnerships to understand local availability and the suitability of care home places for people in their care.
Our plans for a national care service, to which I alluded earlier, represent the biggest public sector reform in Scotland since the Parliament was established. They will help to ensure consistency and fairness at a national level, with services being designed and delivered locally.
Last week, the Scottish Government issued refreshed guidance on hospital discharge to care homes. The “Guidance on Choosing a Care Home on Discharge from Hospital” policy states:
“Where the preferred choice(s) of care home is not immediately available the person will be required to make a temporary ... move to another home with a suitable vacancy to wait.”
My constituent John Findlay has progressive multiple sclerosis. He has been in hospital for seven months, and is desperate to get out and into a suitable care home. John is 58 years old, and many care homes will not admit people of that age, so the pool of places that he can go to is significantly reduced. The new guidance could see him forced into accepting a place either in a home that is very far away from his community and support network, or in a home with a very poor track record of care. Will the First Minister tell us how that is putting patients at the centre, and why people like John are denied their rights because of the Scottish Government’s failure to deal with social care?
Foysol Choudhury raises an important issue. I am happy to respond in more detail if he wants to send me the details of that individual case, but what I am about to say has general applicability.
First, no one should be denied their rights or forced into a place that is inappropriate for their needs. What the guidance seeks to do is, first, recognise that hospital is not the best place for any patient who is a delayed discharge, so being in another setting is better for them. Although partnerships obviously want to meet preferences, they also need to consider what the best place, relative to a hospital, for somebody would be. Individual preferences are important. However, the case that has been raised with me is about not just preference but need, given the condition involved.
That takes me on to another point. I referred to the work that is under way to gain a better understanding of care homes data. This is not just about the total number of places that are available but about the type of care that individual care homes are offering. These issues are complex but important and, as we continue to reform health and social care and better integrate it to ensure that people get the care that they need in the best place, we need to continue to grapple with those issues to get the right outcome.
That is a general response, but I am happy to amplify some of that in relation to the individual case of John—I think that that is the member’s constituent’s name—in order, I hope, to give some reassurance about the matters that have been raised with me.
We move to constituency questions and general supplementaries.
Benefits (Standard of Living)
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the food bank network the Trussell Trust have stated that inadequate benefits are the main reason for a sharp increase in destitution and food bank use in recent months. Research has reportedly revealed that basic benefits that are given to low-income households are at least £140 a month below the real cost of food, energy and everyday items.
Does the First Minister share my view that history will record with shame how the Tories’ inaction and indifference has caused people in one of the richest countries in the world to face that dire standard of living?
I agree very much with Emma Roddick. I think that the Conservatives should be deeply ashamed of the impact of their welfare policies. We have known for a long time that the current United Kingdom Government benefits system is not fit for purpose. People across the country are paying the price for that every day in ways that Emma Roddick has pointed out.
Over many years, we have called for improvements. For example, there should be an immediate uplift to universal credit and other means-tested benefits, and we should see the scrapping of the unjust and cruel two-child limit and benefit cap. The latter two policies alone were singled out in a recent report by the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe. The report said that the policies
“continue to exacerbate child poverty.”
For our part, we will continue to seek to do the right things through our social security system and, in particular, the Scottish child payment, which is lifting children out of poverty at the same time as the policies of the UK Government push them deeper into poverty. If we were able to join up all those approaches and have all social security powers under the ambit of this Parliament, we could do so much more for the people who need our help most.
A year ago, I asked about dozens of registered sex offenders being allowed to change their names. It turns out that it is not dozens but hundreds of sex offenders who are hiding their identities. People have no idea whether the person next door is a dangerous predator. Does Nicola Sturgeon agree that that is wrong, and will she outline what her Government intends to do about it?
I am happy to write to Russell Findlay or ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans to write to him again to provide details of the arrangements that are in place. We have well-established arrangements—not least the multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA, system—to ensure that the public have protections from registered sex offenders. There are requirements on people who change their name to give notification that they have done so, so it is not about people being able to hide.
I will, of course, happily remind Russell Findlay of the arrangements in a letter that I will arrange to have written to him.
Legal Age of Marriage
This week, the legal age of marriage in England and Wales has increased to 18. The rise aims to prevent vulnerable children and young people from being forced into marriage. Scotland retains the legal age of marriage of 16. What evaluation has the Scottish Government made of the appropriateness of that age, in the light of concerns about forced marriage and coercion? Does the First Minister agree with the comments this week of Dr Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid that marriage under 18 is a mechanism for abuse in the worst-case scenarios?
I have not seen Dr Marsha Scott’s comments on that, but I have huge respect for her, and I always pay close attention to anything that she says. We are, of course, aware of the change of law in England and will continue to consider the implications for Scotland and the case for change. The relevant minister will keep the Parliament updated as those considerations progress.
Energy Price Cap
Households across Scotland continue to face an incredibly challenging time at the moment. They will be rightly baffled as to why their energy bills are set to go up, despite energy prices falling. Does the First Minister agree that the Tory United Kingdom Government must now pass on the reduction in wholesale gas prices to consumers, bring down Westminster’s cap on bills to £2,000 a year and devolve energy regulation powers to this Parliament? [Interruption.]
I am bemused that Conservative members seem to think that it is not appropriate for the Parliament to consider issues such as the energy costs that the people of Scotland are having to pay right now. That is exactly the kind of issue that we should be discussing, and Paul McLennan is right to raise it.
The new price cap strengthens the case for the UK Government to reverse its plan to increase the guarantee for an average household from April. We estimate that such an increase would result in there being around 980,000 fuel-poor households in Scotland, which is a significant increase compared with estimates for this winter with the price cap set at £2,500. We have called on the UK Government to provide additional support, and we will continue to do so, because people need that support and they need it now.
School Health and Wellbeing Surveys
Yesterday, the results of the controversial school sex survey were released. The total participation rate for children and young people was 58.3 per cent in the local authorities that took part. Of those who were eligible to answer the questions relating to sexual activity, only a tiny fraction of school pupils answered. The data proves what I and other members said all along: our children and young people do not feel comfortable answering such invasive questions. Will the First Minister finally agree that those inappropriate questions should be removed from all future health and wellbeing surveys in our schools?
I think that those surveys are really important. We have just had exchanges in the chamber about the need to record and monitor instances of bullying. Because the—in my view, manufactured—controversy around the survey led to some local authorities pulling out of it, we did not get as much information on bullying from the survey as we might have wanted to.
We all need to be responsible and make sure that we gather information about the real-life experiences of young people that allows local authorities, schools and national Government to take decisions about protecting their welfare and wellbeing. It is really important that we do that, and that we do it in a way—frankly—that avoids any temptation to get dragged into another Conservative culture war.
The member talks about “controversial” questions. Questions of that nature—which relate to smoking, alcohol, substance use and, yes, sexual health—have been included in health and wellbeing surveys for years. It is only recently that they have become politicised.
Questions about sexual health are asked in the equivalent surveys in England, where—in case the member has not noticed it—the Scottish National Party is not in government; another party is.
Historical Forced Adoption
People affected by historical forced adoption have been campaigning for recognition, support and a formal apology for a very long time, and they have support from MSPs in every party in the Parliament. Is the First Minister—having heard their calls—considering making a formal apology and, if so, when?
I thank Monica Lennon for raising the issue, which I have commented on before in the chamber. I have expressed my huge sympathy with the calls for a formal apology. I have also—rightly—talked about the legal complexities that Government has to work through. We are actively considering a conclusion of that work right now. Although it is, of course, for the business bureau to timetable such matters, I am very hopeful that I will be able to give an indication of the outcome of that work while I am still First Minister.
Shore Recycling Centre (Fire)
I am sure that the First Minister will join me in offering the Parliament’s sincere condolences to the family and friends of all those impacted by the tragic fire at the Shore Recycling centre in Perth early on Tuesday morning. That devastating incident is deeply concerning, not least because it is the second fire in six months at the site.
In the days to come, our emergency services will attempt to establish the facts of the situation. Does the First Minister agree that, following Tuesday’s incident, there must be an investigation into the circumstances of the fire to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again?
I extend my deepest sympathies to the family of the individual who, sadly, passed away following the fire at the Shore Recycling plant in Perth.
Early on 28 February, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was alerted to reports of a large fire within the plant. It mobilised six fire appliances and specialist resources to tackle the fire, which involved approximately 200 tonnes of scrap material. It worked alongside partners to maintain safety on and off the site. The last appliance left at 9 pm last night, and the fire service will return for a routine check today.
I put on record my gratitude to our fire service and all who worked at the scene of the fire. The fire service confirmed that previous incidents resulted in on-site fire safety measures being reviewed. It initiated a joint investigation with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Police Scotland. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further until that investigation has been concluded, but it is important that investigations take place.
Public Libraries (Closures)
Today is world book day. The First Minister is well known as a self-identified avid reader so, as she leaves office, how does she feel about being responsible for closing more public libraries than any of her predecessors?
I am proud of the support that the Scottish Government gives to libraries. Many libraries in my constituency and across the country had to close during the pandemic, but I have watched them reopen and become vital parts of local communities.
I will continue to support libraries, and I will continue to support everything associated with the wonderful world of books. Perhaps I even look forward to having a bit more time to read books in future.
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