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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, September 7, 2023


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time.

Temporary Accommodation and Social Housing (Edinburgh) (Government Support)

1. Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the City of Edinburgh Council and other organisations to provide suitable temporary accommodation and more social housing in Edinburgh. (S6O-02480)

The Minister for Housing (Paul McLennan)

We are investing £752 million this year through the affordable housing supply programme to support the delivery of more social and affordable homes, towards our target of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032. We are working with social landlords to make the best use of existing homes, and we are implementing targeted partnership plans with the local authorities that are facing the greatest pressure.

Since 2007, we have supported the delivery of 6,255 social homes in Edinburgh. I have met Edinburgh’s housing convener several times to discuss the council’s proposals to improve temporary accommodation and increase housing supply, which will inform a partnership plan.

Ben Macpherson

I am grateful for that answer and welcome all of it. However, the minister will be aware of the severity of the situation in Edinburgh. Shelter Scotland has called it an “emergency”, and I am increasingly concerned about the correspondence that I am receiving from constituents. The number of homelessness applications has increased by more than 20 per cent. Can the Scottish Government provide any additional help to the City of Edinburgh Council and other relevant organisations for providing more suitable temporary accommodation? Can the Scottish Government do more to fund and prioritise the building and delivery of more social housing in Edinburgh, given the current pressures and projected population growth?

Paul McLennan

Our aim is to prevent homelessness. However, when it occurs, we take a housing-led response in order to provide households with settled homes as quickly as possible. We provide local authorities with an annual allocation of £8 million of rapid rehousing transition plan funding to support people into settled accommodation, and we provide £30.5 million for their work to prevent homelessness, with the City of Edinburgh Council receiving more than £3.8 million in 2023-24.

During this parliamentary session, to maximise the delivery of social and affordable homes to support strategic housing investment plan priorities, we are making a record £230 million available to the City of Edinburgh Council, with an additional £10 million being allocated this year.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I agree with Ben Macpherson. In Edinburgh, the number of children who are currently living in temporary accommodation stands at 2,755, which is an increase of 13 per cent on last year. That is almost one third of the total number of children in Scotland who are currently living in temporary accommodation. The situation is escalating out of control. It is time for Scottish National Party and Green ministers to take responsibility and to declare a housing emergency. Will the minister agree urgently to chair a cross-Government temporary-accommodation task force to help to address the situation in the capital?

Paul McLennan

I refer to my previous answer. I have been working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council since being in post, including by looking at the relevant partnership plan, which I mentioned earlier. We have been discussing proposals, and we continue to do so. Miles Briggs will be aware that I attended a housing summit in Edinburgh, which was brought together by Alex Cole-Hamilton. I understand that there will be a further meeting, beyond that. I am happy to meet Miles Briggs to discuss the proposals.

We are looking at opportunities for things that we need to do in Edinburgh, and at how we can bring forward additional social housing in the city. I am happy to discuss that further with Miles Briggs.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I declare an interest, which is my former work with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

There has been a series of cross-party meetings this year on the urgent issue of Edinburgh’s housing crisis. It needs leadership and funding. The gap is £418 million. What will the Scottish Government do now to tackle the scale of homelessness, the lack of affordable housing and—critically, this month—the lack of affordable housing for students?

Paul McLennan

As I have said, we have already attended the housing summit that was brought together by Alex Cole-Hamilton; I understand that a follow-up meeting is planned. As I also said, I have already met Edinburgh’s housing convener on a number of occasions and, at the moment, we are discussing specific proposals. I am happy to discuss that further with Sarah Boyack.

Driving Offences (Alternatives to Prosecution)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made towards the introduction of speed awareness courses, among other diversion schemes for driving offences, as an alternative to prosecution. (S6O-02481)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

The Scottish Government supports the principle of driver education as an alternative to prosecution, where that is appropriate.

The Lord Advocate has agreed in principle to the introduction in Scotland of road traffic diversionary courses, including speed awareness courses. A multi-agency working group that comprises key delivery partners has been set up to oversee the delivery of that initiative.

The Scottish Government continues to discuss with Police Scotland, as the lead partner for delivery, the importance of implementing speed awareness courses, and Police Scotland is currently reviewing the project’s timings.

Collette Stevenson

Does the cabinet secretary agree that speed awareness courses are a good way of reaching offenders and challenging their driving behaviour, given that research from down south shows that the people who go on such courses tend to be less likely to reoffend?

Angela Constance

I agree with Collette Stevenson. The Scottish Government agrees that speed awareness courses will have a positive impact on driver behaviour through effective education. The published research on the matter is very important; it shows that such interventions reduce reoffending by people who have attended the courses. They also have a longer-term impact by improving driver behaviour. That is why the Government is working with our key partners to deliver this important road safety initiative to make our roads safer.

Personal Injury Damages (Scottish Law Commission Consultation)

To ask the Scottish Government when it anticipates it will receive the Scottish Law Commission’s findings and recommendations arising from its consultation on damages for personal injury. (S6O-02482)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

The Scottish Law Commission’s “Discussion Paper on Damages for Personal Injury” was published on 23 February 2022, and the consultation period ended on 30 June 2022. The commission is currently in the process of analysing the consultee views that were submitted in response to the discussion paper, and formulating policy with the aim of publishing its findings and its report, which will include an accompanying draft bill, by mid-2024.

Marie McNair

The Scottish Law Commission’s recommendations will cover the issue of the time bar on some routes to compensation for people who seek damages for exposure to asbestos. Will the minister make representations to the SLC to request that its report be published as soon as possible? Will she commit to taking early action on the report’s recommendations? Finally, will the minister meet me and representatives of the Clydebank Asbestos Group to hear their testimony about how the current injustice is impacting on the group’s members?

Siobhian Brown

It is for the Scottish Law Commission to establish a timetable for its work, but I expect the commission to publish its recommendations by mid-2024. The Scottish Government will, of course, give careful consideration to those recommendations, and I will be happy to meet Marie McNair and the Clydebank Asbestos Group to discuss them when we receive them.

Football (Introduction of Strict Liability)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the potential introduction of strict liability in Scottish football. (S6O-02483)

The Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport (Maree Todd)

We have never ruled out strict liability as an option. However, our preferred solution has always been that the footballing authorities in Scotland proactively shape and deliver a robust and meaningful solution to tackle any unacceptable conduct by what is a minority of supporters.

John Mason

In recent times, we have had a huge amount of antisocial behaviour in Glasgow, including in my constituency, by some football fans, particularly around George Square, by Rangers fans, and Glasgow Cross, by Celtic fans. Does the minister agree that the clubs need to take more responsibility, as they do when there is a European championship?

Maree Todd

Although the vast majority of football supporters are well behaved, it is clear that a problem remains, which everyone who is able to exert an influence or to bring about change must work together to eradicate. It is important that we do not lose sight of the need for collective action to achieve a zero-tolerance approach to any offences or antisocial behaviour. That includes the footballing authorities and the clubs, as well as everyone else.

As I have said, our preferred solution has always been that the footballing authorities in Scotland proactively shape and deliver a robust and meaningful solution to tackle any unacceptable conduct by what is definitely a minority of supporters. However, we have never ruled out strict liability as an option, and we are well aware that clubs are subject to strict liability when they participate in UEFA-run competitions.

We will continue to work with the footballing authorities, Police Scotland and fans’ groups to address issues and to ensure that football matches are an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Sexual Harassment in Schools (Elimination)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to eliminate sexual harassment in schools. (S6O-02484)

The Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees (Emma Roddick)

The Scottish Government is clear that harassment or abuse in any form, whether in the workplace, at school, at home or in society in general, is completely reprehensible and must stop.

As set out in the 2023-24 programme for government, we are committed to publishing a national framework at the end of this year to better support schools in tackling gender-based violence and sexual harassment. That will help to ensure that consistent messages on sexual harassment and gender-based violence are given to everyone working with children and young people and will support our commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Ross Greer

I welcome the steps that the minister has outlined. The principle of consent is an essential component of effective sex and relationships education, but we know from evidence previously heard in Parliament that many young people receive sex and relationships education without the issue of consent being covered. All children and young people, particularly boys and young men, should receive education on the importance of consent. Does the minister agree that that is essential if we are to tackle so-called “rape culture” and sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, both in schools and in wider society?

Emma Roddick

I absolutely agree with the member. Consent is a critical component of our commitment to tackling violence against women and girls. Through our relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, our children and young people learn about gender equality, consent and the law, as well as about sexual harassment. Those are key topics in helping children and young people develop their knowledge and understanding of how to have better, healthier relationships.

The Government also published a resource to help professionals support young people aged 11 to 18. “Key Messages for Young People on Healthy Relationships and Consent” sets out that relationships should be mutually respectful, consensual, positive, healthy and enjoyable.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

In 2020, the Government conducted a consultation on challenging men’s demand for prostitution, working to reduce the harms that are associated with prostitution and helping women to exit prostitution. How has that shaped the Government’s approach to ending sexual violence against women and girls?

Emma Roddick

The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to ending violence against women and girls and we are focused on delivering a framework that effectively tackles and challenges men’s demand for prostitution and on seeing that framework operating and tested to the full. That aligns with the equally safe strategy’s definition of violence against women and girls. I direct the member to my justice colleagues, who can give any more information that she might require.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

We should, of course, have zero tolerance of sexual harassment, but we should have zero tolerance of all harassment, especially in schools. Why has it taken the cabinet secretary five months to organise the summit on school violence that she said she would hold?

Emma Roddick

Good progress has recently been made on drafting a national framework and the expectation is that the framework will be published early in the new year. The working group that we have set up is currently engaging directly with stakeholders who have key interests in areas that are covered by the framework. I reassure the member that we take the issue absolutely seriously, which is something that we can share.

National Health Service Dentistry

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that increasing numbers of dentists are leaving the NHS. (S6O-02485)

The Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health (Jenni Minto)

The First Minister’s policy prospectus sets out the Government’s primary objective of sustaining and improving patient access to national health service dental services.

Reform of the payment system is essential to the sustainability of patient access to NHS dental services. In that connection, I wrote to the dental sector on 27 July 2023 to provide details of changes to be introduced on 1 November this year.

Willie Rennie

I am a bit surprised that the minister did not begin with an apology that the Scottish National Party has ditched another manifesto commitment, to abolish NHS dental charges. In fact, charges are not staying static—they are going up. Can the minister tell members how many dentists will join the NHS and do more NHS work as a result of those changes? She knows that NHS dentistry is on its knees.

Jenni Minto

I point out that NHS dentists are working incredibly hard, with many working at pre-pandemic levels. When we made our announcement on 27 July, I was clear that that was the first step towards reforming dental practices, payments and governance and the dental workforce. We are working incredibly hard with NHS boards and dentists to ensure that we understand and can move forward to improve how dentists come into the NHS.

We currently have 183 students going through dental training, and Willie Rennie will remember that we lost 160 as a result of the Covid pandemic, but we aim to try and return more dentists to the sector so that we maintain the incredibly important NHS dental services that support people in Scotland to ensure that they have good oral health.

NHS Fife (Hospital Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve hospital services across NHS Fife. (S6O-02486)

The Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care (Michael Matheson)

I expect all health boards, including NHS Fife, to keep their services under review to ensure that they are of the highest quality and that they meet the needs of local people while remaining consistent with national policies and frameworks.

Roz McCall

The people of Dunfermline are rightly proud of their new-found city status. The city’s population is now one of the fastest growing in the United Kingdom, with another 1,400 homes due for construction.

Unfortunately, the city’s health provision at Queen Margaret hospital is not reflected in that. Its chemotherapy unit closed and relocated to Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy, its accident and emergency department closed, as did its maternity unit. People are suffering unnecessarily due to such service centralisations. My question to the cabinet secretary is quite simple: when will the people of Scotland’s new city get the hospital services that they deserve?

Michael Matheson

As we do with other health boards, we expect NHS Fife to work in partnership with its local planning partners to look at how it can configure services to meet the needs of the local community, including in the way in which services are divided between Victoria hospital and Queen Margaret hospital.

The member will be aware that we have made significant investment in Queen Margaret hospital in recent years. We put in state-of-the-art surgical and diagnostics provision and a new minor injuries unit, we created a new community and child services centre and we provided for a comprehensive antenatal and postnatal care service for the local community. I have got no doubt that NHS Fife will want to continue to review its services to ensure that it meets the needs of the local community.

NHS Highland (Additional Resources for Overspend)

To ask the Scottish Government what additional resources will be made available to NHS Highland, in the light of reports of an estimated annual overspend of over £55 million. (S6O-02487)

The Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care (Michael Matheson)

The 2023-24 budget provides increased investment of £42.5 million for NHS Highland, meaning that the board’s funding has increased by over 83 per cent since 2006-07. In addition, a further £14.6 million has been provided in year to support financial sustainability. The Scottish Government continues to work with all NHS boards to monitor their financial performance and to support the delivery of fiscal sustainability, including by providing additional support to NHS Highland to support financial recovery.

Edward Mountain

I am not sure what additional support that answer laid out. The consequence of the position that we are in is the cancellation of elective surgery. Added to that, a lack of an interventional radiologist and now the lack of a cardiovascular surgeon means that a perfect storm is brewing. How is the Government really going to help NHS Highland tackle those problems?

Michael Matheson

I have just set out the additional financial support that we have given this year and also the additional £14.6 million that we provided for this financial year to support financial sustainability. We continue to engage with NHS Highland about the financial challenges that it faces and to support it in meeting some of its recruitment challenges.

The member will also be aware of the very significant investment that we recently made in NHS Highland though one of our national treatment centres, which is a facility of more than £40 million that is providing improvements in the way in which care is provided to patients in a range of elective procedures.