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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Presiding Officer’s Statement, Point of Order, Topical Question Time, Gaelic and Scots, Decision Time, Neurological Conditions


Contents


Topical Question Time


Offshore Wind

1. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that its claim that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential lacks evidence and that it knew that there was no basis for it. (S6T-00960)

The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

The figure relating to Scotland having 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential was first set out in a 2010 publication, and it is now outdated. However, that does not change the fact that Scotland already has an important offshore wind sector, and that we have huge potential to grow it and become a global leader, with over 40GW of potential offshore wind developments already in the pipeline.

Liam Kerr

I am afraid that the minister has completely missed the point. Everyone wants the renewables industry to succeed, but that will not be achieved by ministers putting out dodgy data. Only a couple of weeks ago, I raised a point of order, because the First Minister had misrepresented Scotland’s energy consumption from renewables. Instead of doing the honourable thing and publicly admitting her mistake, she quietly amended the Official Report. It seems that misrepresentation and misuse of data might be endemic within the Government. Apparently, the civil service knew that the data was not true several years ago. When did ministers first become aware that they were using a figure that, to quote Scottish Government officials, had not “been properly sourced”?

Lorna Slater

Ministers became aware of the issue on Tuesday 8 November ahead of the publication of the report by These Islands. What does not change with regard to the statistic is the amount of renewable energy potential that Scotland has, which is still significant and will be part of Scotland’s future energy provision both now and as an independent country. Over 40GW is in the pipeline already, presuming the outcome of planning decisions and routes to market being found, and that is the equivalent of producing enough electricity to power every home in Scotland for 17 years.

Liam Kerr

Once again, the minister has completely missed the point. The claim was that Scotland has 25 per cent of the potential, and a bogus statistic that civil servants and ministers knew was wrong has been repeated ad nauseam. Members in the chamber have heard it either in the chamber or in the course of their duties from First Minister Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister Swinney, Minister Todd, Minister Macpherson, Minister Robison, Minister Matheson and Minister Slater.

Section 1.3.(c) of the ministerial code says:

“It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister”.

Now that I am raising the issue with the member, as the Presiding Officer has just asked us to do, what action is the minister taking to ensure that the ministerial code is always complied with?

Lorna Slater

At the time when they cited it, Scottish ministers understood that statistic to be accurate. Now that it has come to our attention that it is not, we are working to update the statistics on how our offshore wind potential compares with that of other countries. We will update the Parliament once that is done and, at that point, we will consider how any legacy documents might need to be updated. The key point, however, is that Scotland’s enormous potential for offshore wind has not changed. [Interruption.]

Members!

In fact, we have made big progress in recent years, As I have said, 40 GW is now in the pipeline.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

We know that the claim that Scotland had 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind was always untrue, as is the Government’s constantly-repeated claim that nearly 100 per cent of the electricity that we consume comes from renewables.

However, I want to turn to another figure. The Scottish Government promised that, by 2020, there would be 120,000 jobs per year in renewables. Was that target reached? Is it still the target? Finally, how many supply chain jobs arising from the offshoring of ScotWind leases will be created in Scottish, not foreign-owned, businesses?

Lorna Slater

We are all keen to ensure that the development of the offshore wind industry benefits Scotland’s businesses and our economy. Initial supply chain commitments with regard to ScotWind indicate an average of £1.4 billion of investment in Scotland per project, which equates to £28 billion of investment across the 20 projects.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

I hope that we are all here not to play politics with the past but to propel progress in the future. To that end, I would just reflect that, when I was energy minister, one of my most frustrating experiences was finding out that it could take 12 years to get consents for an onshore wind farm that it took 12 months to construct.

I therefore suggest to the minister that the Scottish Government review the processes for obtaining permissions, licences and consents for onshore and offshore developments, subsea cables and, in particular, grid connections, with a view to simplifying, shortening and streamlining them; and that, in order to achieve success throughout these islands, the Scottish Government engage with the United Kingdom Government to identify one lead body to guide the process. I fear that, otherwise, many of the projects that we all wish to see might be thwarted and jeopardised through delay.

I thank Fergus Ewing for his question, but it bears no relation to the substantive question on the paper. I therefore ask the minister not to respond.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Now that the Scottish Government has admitted to cooking the books—something that did the renewables sector no favours—does the minister believe that it is advisable for Scottish National Party MPs to double down on the statistic that it has been admitted is not true, as they did in the House of Commons earlier this afternoon? Does she not believe that that will simply spread further fake news about the state of the sector?

Lorna Slater

I welcome my Liberal Democrat colleague’s new-found interest in statistical rigour, which, I am sure, he will also bring to any future election materials.

I repeat that, when they cited it, Scottish ministers understood the statistic to be accurate. Now that it has come to our attention that it is not, we are working to update the statistics on how our offshore wind potential compares with that of other countries. What has changed is not that potential, but merely how we report it in comparison with that of other countries, which we will update in due course.


Independent Commission of Inquiry into Asylum Provision in Scotland

2. Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Baroness Helena Kennedy KC’s final report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into Asylum Provision in Scotland, published on Friday, which highlights avoidable failings in the provision of care to new Scots during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6T-00961)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

I thank Baroness Kennedy and Asylum Inquiry Scotland for their work. The report is a shocking indictment of the United Kingdom’s broken asylum system. It highlights the need for fundamental change, so that the United Kingdom upholds its responsibility to recognise and protect people who have been forced to flee persecution, and treats them with compassion, dignity and human decency at all times.

The Scottish Government will respond to the inquiry report. Moreover, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government has written to the Home Secretary seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the inquiry’s findings about the asylum system.

Maggie Chapman

Of course, the tragic death of Badreddin Abdalla Adam and the injuries that he caused to others were preventable. He had called the Home Office and two of their contractors 72 times seeking help.

The use of institutional-style accommodation such as hotels is clearly not enabling the right support to get to people in a timely way. What more can the Scottish Government do while people are here to ensure that vulnerable adults and children, including survivors of trafficking, are not left in grossly inadequate institutional-style accommodation for indefinite periods, without the vital specialist mental health support that they need?

Angus Robertson

As Maggie Chapman knows, asylum is a matter reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. The UK Home Office is responsible for the provision of asylum accommodation and support to people who are awaiting the decision on their asylum application. People seeking asylum should be accommodated within communities, with access to the support and services that they need to rebuild their lives, and the Scottish Government will continue to raise concerns and press for improvements to the UK asylum system.

Maggie Chapman

It is clear that, here in Scotland, we are trying to do better than appears to be the case south of the border. The hostile environment rhetoric of invasions and deportation flights to Rwanda is not replicated by our Government, but there is still more to do and there are things that we can do here.

The report of Helena Kennedy’s inquiry has some clear recommendations for Scotland to act on. Will the cabinet secretary and perhaps even the First Minister agree to meet Refugees for Justice, the survivors of the Park Inn tragedy and Baroness Kennedy to discuss immediate actions and future strategies that will better secure the rights of refugees?

Angus Robertson

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government met Baroness Kennedy last week and has previously met representatives of Refugees for Justice. Furthermore, the Scottish Government and our partners at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Refugee Council are preparing to undertake an engagement to inform the refresh of our new Scots refugee integration strategy, which we intend to publish next year.

At the new Scots national conference last Friday, we asked people with lived experience and support services how we could enable people, communities and organisations to participate in engagement to shape that strategy. The new Scots refugee integration strategy will continue to set out our partnership-led approach to supporting refugees who are seeking asylum—and, indeed, supporting our communities—from day 1 of arrival.

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I am the constituency MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, where the unfortunate tragedies, which the commission referred to as “avoidable”, took place, and I was able to attend the launch of the final report at the Merchants house. Will the Scottish Government join me in pursuing recommendation 6, which calls on asylum accommodation support and care providers to immediately ring fence a fund of £5 million per annum for

“asylum seeker wellbeing and mental and emotional health support”

and treatment of trauma? Does the cabinet secretary agree that there should be no profiteering from pain?

Angus Robertson

I commend Kaukab Stewart, the constituency member of the Scottish Parliament, for her dogged pursuit of justice on this matter.

I reiterate that the Scottish Government has still to respond to the inquiry. We will do that in good time, but I will make sure that my cabinet secretary colleague with ministerial responsibility for this area looks very closely at the points that Ms Stewart has made and that, if they are not dealt with in the response to the inquiry, she writes to the member to update her on the Scottish Government’s position and the priorities that she is calling to our attention.


Nursing Staff (Queen Elizabeth University Hospital)

3. Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that nursing staff at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital are routinely left in charge of up to 30 patients and are forced to conduct 5 am bed washes due to staff shortages. (S6T-00975)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government expects health boards to ensure that at all times there are sufficient suitably qualified staff to support the provision of high-quality care. That includes reviewing staffing levels daily, with decisions regarding real-time staffing being made throughout the day.

It is my understanding that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde does not ask nursing staff to carry out any non-essential care for patients in the night-time hours or early morning. Doing so is not its policy and that remains the case. The board supplements wards with healthcare support workers to support tasks at appropriate times as part of the wider care team.

Paul Sweeney

The cabinet secretary will be well aware of the wider problems that our national health service faces. Spiralling waiting times, missed targets and, indeed, impending strike action due to low pay have been routinely discussed in the chamber and are common knowledge.

Just last week, a whistleblower contacted me to express their grave concerns about the conditions that nurses and patients face at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. They explained that nurses are

“frequently left in charge of up to 30 patients”,

and how they are forced, despite having raised concerns with management, to conduct deeply inhumane 5 am bed washes of vulnerable patients due to severe understaffing. Was the cabinet secretary aware of that prior to the press reports on Sunday? If he was, does he think that either scenario is acceptable?

Humza Yousaf

Of course I am aware, and the Government is aware, of the extreme pressures right across our acute sites, including the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. Having heard the allegations that have been made, we sought immediate assurance from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which, I repeat, has said that the policy remains that it does not ask nurses to carry out any non-essential care for patients—including bed washes—during the night or in the early morning. That is not the policy.

That said, if Paul Sweeney has details of those allegations, I will be happy to speak to him. Indeed, I would also be happy to speak to the whistleblower, off table, in a confidential space.

Whistleblowing is important. I have met the whistleblowing champion in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Charles Vincent, and I reiterated to him the importance that I attach to whistleblowing. If the issues in question have been raised with senior management and have not been rectified, that would concern me. However, as I said, I sought assurances from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and it has told me that that is not routine practice.

Paul Sweeney

I appreciate that, prior to the press reports, the cabinet secretary might have been unaware of the practice, but I urge him to investigate the matter further, and I welcome his offer to meet me and, potentially, the whistleblower, should they be interested in having such a meeting.

Since the publication of that story in The Sunday Times, current and former NHS staff have contacted me to say that the practice has been going on for years and is not exclusive to the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. The reality is that

“Nurse staffing levels across Scotland’s health and social care services are dangerously low and patient care is suffering as a result.”

Those are not my words; they are the words of the director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, Colin Poolman.

As well as acknowledging that the issue requires immediate investigation, will the cabinet secretary accept with some humility the fact that it is the decisions that his Government has taken over the past 14 years in which it has been in power that have resulted in staff being demoralised and overstretched to the point of taking industrial action, and which have left us with a system in our health service in which staffing levels are so low that staff are being forced to conduct such inhumane practices, despite the fact that it risks impeding patients’ recovery?

Humza Yousaf

If we look over the past 10 years, we can see that nursing and midwifery student intake numbers have increased over consecutive years. In fact, they have almost doubled over that decade.

I acknowledge that staffing—nursing staffing in particular, in the case of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde—has been a problem and continues to be an issue. That is why I was really pleased to see nearly 600 newly qualified nurses and midwives being welcomed to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and starting their jobs in the past few weeks. That has helped to reduce the vacancy level.

Under this Government, we have record levels of staffing in the NHS and, of course, we have the best paid staff anywhere in the United Kingdom. However, neither I nor anyone else in the Government is complacent about the staffing challenges that exist, which is why I will—as Mr Sweeney would expect—get back round the table with our trade unions and our staff side representatives to make sure that we do everything in our power to avoid strike action, which I know would be catastrophic for the NHS in the course of this winter.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

Nurses are doing their best in trying to deliver care at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, but they are at breaking point. Overtime is up and the Scottish Government is responsible. The Scottish Government does not have their backs, and any semblance of trust that staff and patients had in the cabinet secretary has evaporated. Working conditions in the NHS are so bad that 70 per cent of nurses said that they felt that their most recent shift had been unsafe and that patient care had been compromised. With an NHS winter crisis fast approaching, the situation seems unlikely to improve.

What specific action will the cabinet secretary announce today? Rather than a woolly announcement, we need action that he can guarantee will improve the working conditions of nurses and thus patient safety, which was woeful before Covid, when there were a record 6,000 vacancies.

Humza Yousaf

I reiterate that neither I nor this Government is in any way complacent about the challenges that face our NHS staff in Scotland. Those problems are faced by health services across the United Kingdom, but it is worth noting that we have more qualified nurses and midwives per 1,000 of the population than in England. For example, we have 8.3 qualified nurses and midwives per 1,000 people in Scotland, in comparison with 6 in England. We also have higher staffing per head than other parts of the UK.

Notwithstanding that, the rate of vacancies is too high. That is why I stood in the chamber a number of weeks ago and committed additional funding to international recruitment of 750 overseas nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

If Sandesh Gulhane had any influence whatsoever, it would be better if he demanded that his party provided the Scottish Government with additional funding, because it is due to that party’s economic incompetence that my budget is now worth £650 million less.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

It is clear that, in the current climate, the NHS faces recruitment challenges across the four nations in attracting people with the right skills from outwith the UK. Does the health secretary agree that comments such as those of Mr Sweeney’s UK party leader, Keir Starmer, do not reflect the welcoming nature of Scotland’s NHS, and that Brexit, which Labour now clearly backs, is a further barrier to recruitment in our NHS?

Humza Yousaf

I do, but in fairness I do not think, knowing Paul Sweeney and Scottish Labour as I do, that those remarks from Keir Starmer reflect their position. I know from having spoken to many Scottish Labour members that they are pro-immigration, which is why I think that they would share my, and Emma Harper’s, disappointment at Keir Starmer’s very divisive rhetoric.

There are three elements to helping with our staffing crisis. One is increasing the pipeline of graduates; I have spoken about that already. The second is domestic recruitment. The third prong, which is really important, is overseas recruitment, and I make it clear on my behalf, and on the Scottish Government’s behalf, that the contribution of every overseas worker in our NHS is greatly valued.

That concludes topical question time.