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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 10, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Mental Health (Workplace Stigma), Portfolio Question Time, Alternative Pathways to Primary Care, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Good morning. The first item of business is general question time. Question 1 has not been lodged.

Childminders (Reduction in Numbers)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported reduction in the number of childminders working in Scotland. (S6O-01533)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Clare Haughey)

The Scottish Government recognises that childminders are an important element of the Scottish childcare sector, offering families a high-quality, unique and flexible experience of childcare. That is why we are supporting an innovative childminder recruitment pilot, which the Scottish Childminding Association and its partners are leading and which aims to recruit and train more than 100 new childminders in remote and rural areas. With the recruitment of those additional childminders, up to 900 childcare places may be created. We have also provided targeted financial support to childminders during the pandemic, including issuing more than 3,000 grants, each worth £950, through the childcare sector omicron impacts fund.

We will continue to work with our partners to increase the number of childminders in Scotland through the implementation of our commitment to childminding action plan, which was published in 2021.

Stuart McMillan

I warmly welcome the fact that the Scottish Government’s policy of providing 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare is saving families an average of £5,000 per child per year. However, it is also crucial that free early learning and childcare is flexible so that it meets the needs of parents, which is why the loss of 1,671 childminding businesses in Scotland over the past five years is extremely worrying. Will the minister outline what further steps the Scottish Government is taking to increase the ELC workforce, as we will need private and voluntary childcare settings, including childminders, if we are to continue to expand free funded childcare for children and families?

Clare Haughey

We want families to be able to access the flexible, supportive and high-quality childcare that childminders can provide, including as part of the funded early learning and childcare entitlement.

It was encouraging that the Scottish Childminding Association’s 2020-21 audit showed an annual increase in the number of childminders delivering funded ELC. We are working with the national childminding sector to explore how to encourage more childminders to offer ELC, including by identifying opportunities for reducing burdens on childminders that might prevent them from offering such provision. We are also working to identify the reasons for the decline in the number of childminders, including by ensuring that the sector’s interests are represented on national forums such as the childcare sector working group and the new national provider forum. Such work helps us to identify where practical support can be provided across the sector.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

Will the minister go further by explaining how its outreach to the childminding sector and private providers within the ELC arrangements is occurring? Will she also confirm that the correct weight will be given to that evidence? The crisis in early years provision is getting worse. As we move into the winter period, and especially as the cost of living crisis hits businesses, we could see a massive drop in the number of places happening very quickly.

Clare Haughey

I apologise to the member if I have misunderstood his question. We support ELC providers and childminding businesses across the piece through our national forums. We ensure that their representative bodies are included on the forums, which look at the training and development needed to ensure that there is a highly skilled workforce across the sector that we can recruit and retain. If I have misunderstood the member’s question, I will be more than happy to write to him.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Funded ELC entitlement can be used at childminders, nurseries or playgroups, but parental choice is limited by the availability of such services in their area. The value of childminding for children’s development should not be ignored. It has low adult to child ratios and enables children of different ages to learn and play together. What further support can the Scottish Government offer to ensure that there is adequate childminding provision across the country, including in Shetland, where there are now only three childminders?

Clare Haughey

I am very aware of the support that we are providing to remote and rural communities with regard to access to childcare. We will continue to work with partners and local authorities to understand the needs of our remote, rural and island communities. Those needs will be taken into account as we develop our strategic framework for Scotland’s childcare profession, in which we will explore with partners a range of issues under themes such as recruitment and retention of ELC professionals across Scotland.

The member might also be—

Briefly, minister.

—interested to know that I will be visiting the ELC and childminding sectors in remote and rural communities before Christmas and engaging and hearing from ELC professionals directly.

Capital Projects (Inflation and Public Sector Spending Reductions)

3. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of whether inflation and any possible reductions to public sector spending by the United Kingdom Government will impact on prospective capital projects in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale. (S6O-01534)

The Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (Tom Arthur)

The level of inflation seen over the past few months is unprecedented in modern times. That, combined with increases in delivery times for materials due to the combined effects of Covid, Brexit and the illegal war in Ukraine, is placing significant pressure on budgets and the delivery of infrastructure projects across the country, including those in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale. That will be reflected in our latest six-monthly reporting on major capital projects, which will be published in the coming weeks.

Any reduction to our capital budget by the UK Government would exacerbate the situation further. I therefore urge the UK Government to protect and enhance Scotland’s capital allocation in the upcoming autumn statement to allow our capital programmes to continue at the required pace.

Christine Grahame

Two such projects in the Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale constituency that spring to mind are the proposed extension to the Borders railway and the redesign and construction of the Sheriffhall roundabout. I know that the minister is going to report on the issue, but can he advise whether there will be any specific impact on those projects as a result of raging inflation following the Conservatives’ mismanagement of the UK economy?

Tom Arthur

Despite the UK Government’s cuts to Scotland’s capital allocation and uncertainty with regard to future allocations, the Scottish Government remains committed to investing in road improvements such as the grade separation of the Sheriffhall roundabout. Transport Scotland continues to progress the proposed scheme through the statutory process, and the public inquiry is now scheduled to start on 30 January 2023 for a period of two weeks.

The same is true of our commitment to decarbonising our railways, with the decarbonisation of the existing Borders railway estimated to commence in 2023.

Fire and Rescue Officers (Decontamination Facilities)

4. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that all fire and rescue officers have the appropriate decontamination facilities available to them. (S6O-01535)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

The safety and wellbeing of all fire and rescue officers is of utmost importance to the Scottish Government. This year, we increased funding to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service by £9.5 million, but decisions on the allocation of its £352.7 million budget is a matter for the SFRS board and chief officer.

I am aware that the SFRS has been engaged with the Fire Brigades Union and the work undertaken by the University of Central Lancashire for a number of years now, and its well-established contamination working group has taken action across all aspects of operations to reduce exposure to harmful contaminants, including investment in new fire appliances and fire station facilities.

Pauline McNeill

I take this opportunity to welcome the new minister to her post.

Last week, Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire presented to MSPs the shocking results of her research into the impact of contaminants on firefighters, showing that United Kingdom firefighters are four times more likely to get cancer during their lifetime than the general population. Moreover, the World Health Organization has classified firefighting as a carcinogenic occupation. Canada, the USA and Poland have put in place presumptive legislation that tracks links between the workplace and exposure to carcinogens. What action is being taken to ensure that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service protects firefighters, and is the minister prepared to discuss with me the possibility of pursuing presumptive legislation?

Elena Whitham

I am aware of Professor Stec’s work and its valuable contribution to building our knowledge and understanding of contaminants that could be harmful to firefighters, and I am absolutely happy to meet the member and discuss the issue further. I know that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has implemented enhanced cancer-focused screenings, with questions being asked and discussions had during routine medical assessments, and the health and wellbeing department continues to provide a service for post-diagnosis support in relation to employees with cancer. As I have said, I am very happy to meet the member to discuss the issue further.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I, too, welcome the new minister to her role.

Scottish National Party budget cuts could lead to one in four firefighters being axed and one in four fire engines being taken off the road. More than £500 million is needed just to bring buildings up to scratch, with 14 stations being in a dangerous condition.

In light of those realities, is it not the case that firefighters will be sceptical of whatever decontamination commitments they might hear from the new minister today?

Elena Whitham

As the member knows, any negotiations for pay are done at a United Kingdom level. As things stand, our budget allocation for the fire service has increased year on year. As yet, we are not engaged in budget negotiations.

Equally Safe Strategy

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with its commitment to challenge men's demand for prostitution, as part of the equally safe strategy. (S6O-01536)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

We are taking work forward through a framework for Scotland to challenge men’s demand for prostitution and support those with experience of prostitution. To underpin the framework, we have worked with an expert group of stakeholders to develop fundamental principles that will ensure that equality, human rights and safety are at its heart. Work is progressing well and, once finalised, the principles will be adopted and published.

In designing the framework, we will reflect the key aims of the equally safe strategy and the vision for justice in Scotland, including how best to effect delivery.

Bill Kidd

I thank the new minister for that response. All Scottish National Party Governments have clearly stated that sexual exploitation—including pornography, strip dancing and prostitution—is a form of violence against women and girls. That exploitation can stem from power inequalities, poverty, coercion such as threatening the lives of relatives, abusive relationships that become pimping, and sexual trafficking, whether that be domestic or international.

Significant work has already been done through the equally safe strategy. Can the minister confirm whether she will meet the organisers of the “A Model for Scotland” campaign before the next parliamentary recess in order to hear from the voices of trafficking survivors about how that exploitation can be effectively tackled?

Elena Whitham

First, I want to take this opportunity to thank those who are involved in the “A Model for Scotland” campaign group for their work in raising awareness of this key issue. I am aware that they have representation on the reference group that has supported the development of the fundamental principles that, once finalised, will underpin our future framework for Scotland to challenge men’s demand for prostitution and support those who experience it.

I am committed to continuing to work across the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and stakeholders as our collective approach to tackling prostitution further develops, contributing to our aim to be a society that treats all with kindness, dignity and compassion. That will, of course, include continuing to engage with the “A Model for Scotland” campaign. I look forward to continuing that work with the campaign, and I will meet the people involved in it, and those with lived experience, as soon as I can.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I, too, welcome the minister to her new role.

The minister might be aware that, earlier this year, the City of Edinburgh Council decided to put in place a nil cap as part of its sexual entertainment licence scheme. Since that decision was taken, the council has faced challenges, including in court, on its policy. Given that stripping is classified by the Scottish Government, under its equally safe policy, as violence against women, what support is the Government providing to councils that have taken the decision to put in place a nil cap as part of their licensing scheme, but are now being challenged for doing so?

Elena Whitham

The Scottish Government provided new powers to local authorities specifically to make the sort of decisions about sexual entertainment venues in their areas that the member has outlined, and I am committed to ensuring that we can take the legislation forward and support local authorities on the way. I would be happy to meet local authorities to discuss that matter.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

In September, Thai and Chinese women who suffered a horrendous ordeal as they were prostituted in brothels across Glasgow saw justice as their traffickers were convicted in the High Court. I am sure that the minister will join me in commending the bravery of the women who testified against their abusers and the care and professionalism of those who supported them to do that, and in welcoming the convictions.

Does the minister agree that, to end the violence of prostitution, we must end the male demand that fuels that cruel trade?

Elena Whitham

I join Ruth Maguire in commending the bravery of any victim of sexual exploitation in coming forward with their experiences—I know how hard that is—and I commend the work across the public sector and the third sector to support them. Any form of sexual exploitation is completely unacceptable.

I am equally of the view that prostitution cannot be considered in isolation. The developing framework to challenge men’s demand for prostitution and support those with experience of prostitution will have direct relevance to tackling wider forms of commercial sexual exploitation, including human trafficking.

Hydrogen Innovation Scheme (Uptake)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the uptake of the hydrogen innovation scheme by private companies, since its launch in June 2022. (S6O-01537)

The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (Ivan McKee)

The application window for the hydrogen innovation scheme, which was launched to support innovation in renewable hydrogen production, storage and distribution, closed on 31 October. The scheme received a high level of interest from private companies as well as academic institutions, with more than 70 applications received in total. Applications to the fund are currently being processed, and successful projects will be announced in the new year.

Marie McNair

Residents in my Clydebank and Milngavie constituency have approached me with concerns about the application that has been submitted by Peel NRE to build a plastic-to-hydrogen facility and hydrogen vehicle-refuelling station in Clydebank. The proposed developments include a thermal conversion plant that will utilise an advanced thermal treatment process involving gasification to convert waste plastic into hydrogen, electricity and potentially heat. Many of the concerns that have been raised have been about the potential hazards and the unknown level of pollution that that might cause. I am on the side of my constituents, who also feel that they have not been consulted on the proposal. Does the minister agree that the views of my constituents are of paramount importance in considering that proposal?

Ivan McKee

As outlined in our draft hydrogen action plan, which was published last year, our £100 million hydrogen investment programme is targeted at supporting renewable hydrogen production projects only. For the purposes of our hydrogen innovation scheme, we have defined that as hydrogen that is produced using renewable energy and zero carbon at the point of production. Therefore, all applications to the hydrogen innovation scheme will be assessed against their potential environmental, societal and economic impacts. Those may include impacts on areas such as carbon emissions reduction, jobs or skills creation, export potential, contribution to achieving a just transition, and the development of the hydrogen economy in Scotland.

Fatal Accident Inquiries

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether fatal accident inquiries are fit for purpose. (S6O-01538)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

We have every confidence in the system that is in place for fatal accident inquiries. We keep matters under review in consultation with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and we continually consider and evaluate whether there are ways in which the system can be improved further.

The Crown Office has significantly reformed its processes to reduce the time taken to investigate deaths and to bring FAIs to court more quickly. Those reforms have already resulted in reductions in the duration of death investigations, and it is expected that they will continue to do so. Parliament considered and modernised the law on FAIs in 2016, and there are currently no plans to revisit the legislation.

Richard Leonard

Over a year ago, when I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans a question about the entirely avoidable death in custody of Allan Marshall, he said:

“Improvements have already been made, further improvements are being made and we will continue to improve the system.”—[Official Report, 6 October 2021; c 10.]

Can the minister tell us what improvements have been made in the past year, what confidence we can have that further improvements are being made, and what exactly is being done to prevent the deaths of those in custody?

Elena Whitham

I have deep sympathy for the family in that tragic case. However, that is a matter for the Lord Advocate. As Richard Leonard said, separate work is being carried out in relation to deaths in custody.

Each death investigation that is over two years old and every death in custody is carefully managed through the now well-established case management panel process. In addition to the new Covid deaths investigation team, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has recently set up a specialist custody deaths unit to investigate deaths in custody. The Scottish fatalities investigation unit has significantly modernised its processes to reduce the time taken to investigate all deaths and to bring FAIs to court more quickly. A similar project has commenced in relation to the health and safety investigation unit.

The views of a family are always taken into consideration and account in deciding whether a discretionary FAI should be held.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The leading cause of death in custody, sadly, is suicide. I am particularly concerned about young people in custody. We know that, in Cornton Vale, we have one mental health nurse per 25 residents; in Polmont, it I believe that it is one mental health nurse per 81 residents. The disparity is quite stark. We are simply not supporting those young people enough and the suicide rate is far too high. What is the minister going to do about it?

Elena Whitham

I would agree that any death in custody needs to be taken seriously and we have to pay cognisance to the fact that mental health issues while in custody are very important. I will undertake to do everything that I can to ensure that we make progress on that matter.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. That concludes general question time. Before we move to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to the gallery the Hon Anthony Rota MP, Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada. [Applause.]