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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, December 15, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Points of Order, Year of Disabled Workers 2022, Portfolio Question Time, Budget 2023-24, Asset Transfers and Community Empowerment, Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Devolution Settlement

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether any changes to the current devolution settlement should only be implemented with the explicit democratic consent of the Scottish people. (S6O-01700)

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

The Scottish devolution settlement is founded on the principle that the people of Scotland are governed only with their consent. The devolution settlement built in a requirement that changes to this Parliament’s powers should be made only with the agreement of this Parliament, either by approval of section 30 orders or by legislative consent under the Sewel convention. Unfortunately, the current United Kingdom Government has failed to adhere to the democratic principle and has restricted the powers of this Parliament without its agreement.

Kenneth Gibson

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, says that winning the next UK general election would deliver a mandate for his party to implement constitutional change but refuses to recognise that a pro-independence victory across Scotland would deliver a similar mandate. What does that say about Labour’s credentials as a democratic party? Does the cabinet secretary have any confidence that the Labour Party’s timid and compliant branch office in Scotland might evolve a different view that respects the democratically expressed wishes of the Scottish people?

Angus Robertson

That double standard undermines the credibility of Labour’s recent constitutional report. It would be unacceptable for changes to devolution to be made without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament. Proceeding to implement proposals to change the devolution settlement on the basis of a manifesto pledge, while denying the right of a Scottish Government—which is elected on the same basis—to hold a referendum on independence, would further undermine Scottish democracy.

In passing, I note that, yesterday, the House of Commons debated measures that could have ensured that this Parliament would have the power to hold a referendum on Scotland’s future. The Tories voted to block Scottish democracy and the Labour Party abstained.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Over recent weeks, I have repeatedly asked questions in this Parliament on currency, Europe and border checks for an independent Scotland, but ministers have been unable to answer any of them. Is the cabinet secretary sure that he is ready for a referendum?

Angus Robertson

I would be delighted to have a referendum and delighted to have the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ support for us to hold a referendum in Scotland. Perhaps Willie Rennie could confirm how Liberal Democrat MPs voted in yesterday’s vote in the House of Commons. I suspect that they bravely abstained.

Question 2 was withdrawn.

National Treatment Centre Highland

To ask the Scottish Government when the national treatment centre Highland will be fully operational. (S6O-01702)

NTC Highland is on track to open in April 2023.

Edward Mountain

I welcome the long-overdue national treatment centre in Inverness and the fact that it is nearing completion only 18 months late. Patients need that facility now more than ever, especially as research shows that there is a risk of a seven-year wait for orthopaedic treatment. Unacceptable waiting times will not begin to reduce until the national treatment centre has a full workforce in place, but 30 per cent of the staff are still to be recruited. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the national treatment centre will not only open on 3 April but be fully operational on 3 April?

Humza Yousaf

I know that it is the season, but the member should not be such a Grinch when it comes to the fantastic investment that the Scottish National Party-led Government is making in Inverness and Highland. He should welcome the fact that we are on track to deliver 1,350 orthopaedic procedures in the first year of NTC Highland opening. He should be grateful for the investment that the SNP is making in Highland, which is the right thing to do. Of course, we announced our NTC programme pre-pandemic, but it is now even more important, given the pressures of the pandemic.

Staffing and recruitment is on-going. Edward Mountain gave some figures for the workforce to be recruited by NHS Highland; recruitment efforts are on-going. As he would expect in relation to a project of this size and scale, the centre will open in a phased manner, and rightly so. However, it will meet the target that I set out in October of 1,350 orthopaedic procedures in the first financial year.

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

It may be panto season, but I am not sure that the audience bought that answer.

One in seven Scots are currently languishing on waiting lists. It was reported earlier this year that half the Government’s NTCs would be delayed. This is therefore not only an issue in Highland. Does the cabinet secretary accept that jam tomorrow is not good enough, and will he tell us whether he expects any further slippage in the current timetable elsewhere in the country?

Humza Yousaf

I gave a recent update on national treatment centres and their opening dates. I am happy to write to Paul O’Kane if he has not seen that in order to provide the latest in that regard.

The Government is taking steps to deal with those long waits. What was missing from pantomime villain Paul O’Kane’s question was the fact that the pandemic has had a huge impact. He is simply burying his head in the sand if he does not recognise the impact and effect of the biggest shock our national health service has ever faced in its 74-year existence.

We have seen some progress in reducing the longest waits right up and down the country, which is the relentless focus of my role and of the Government as a whole.

Scottish Resilience Partnership

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has recently had with the Scottish resilience partnership in preparation for the winter. (S6O-01703)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

The Scottish resilience partnership is a strategic policy forum for resilience issues that takes a common approach to setting a strategic direction and priorities for resilience in Scotland. I confirm that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans attended the most recent SRP meeting on 25 October 2022 and discussed with partners their updates on the preparations that they were taking for winter, including learning from previous severe weather events and testing and exercising. The SRP chair, Jim Savege, was present at the SGoRR(M)—Scottish Government resilience room ministerial—meeting on Wednesday 2 November and provided a brief update. The SRP deputy, Deputy Chief Constable Graham was present on Thursday 8 December to represent the SRP.

Audrey Nicoll

Throughout this week, Scotland has seen a significant drop in temperatures, with associated yellow weather warnings issued. Industrial action south of the border has moved travellers on to roads, Shetland householders have been without power and, tragically, the risks around frozen ice on lakes were highlighted earlier in the week. Will the cabinet secretary outline what steps our constituents should take this winter to ensure that they stay safe during adverse weather events, and where they can find the best available information and advice?

Michael Matheson

The best location for constituents to seek advice on what they should do during periods of adverse weather is the Scottish Government’s Ready Scotland website at It provides information for the public on how to prepare and stay safe during periods of severe winter weather, including a warning to people not to venture on to frozen water. The advice also includes keeping up to date with the latest weather warnings, checking on vulnerable neighbours, and calling 105 free of charge in the event of a power failure for help and advice. I encourage anyone who is seeking advice to access that resource, which provides a range of different information on what action can be taken during adverse weather.

Promise Scotland

5. Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of the Promise Scotland. (S6O-01704)

The Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

The Promise Scotland produced “Plan 21-24”, which sets the outcomes that must be achieved by organisations across Scotland by 2024. It is engaged in key national work on the children’s hearings system redesign and the development of a model for lifelong advocacy, and it is involved in work to understand the best models of governance and financial arrangements for care. At the local level, it is working with children’s services partnerships and national bodies through its role in delivering “Plan 21-24” and bringing together and supporting common interests and activities.

Will the minister please outline the financial and family support that is available to adopted children in Scotland?

Jamie Hepburn

A range of financial and practical support is available to adopted children, young people and their families. All local authorities have a legal duty to provide support to meet the needs of adoptive families, which could include an adoption allowance in certain circumstances.

We are also taking direct action. This year, we have initiated the whole-family wellbeing programme to transform delivery of holistic family support. That includes investment of £2 million through children’s services planning partnerships, and we are supporting them in driving that work at the local level. We have also provided £350,000 to third sector organisations that support adopted children, young people and their families. That money has been used to fund Adoption UK Scotland to provide a national helpline and to fund Birthlink to provide and maintain an adoption contact register to support contact between adopted people and their birth parents and relatives.

Barra and Vatersay Community Campus Project

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the progress of the Barra and Vatersay community campus project. (S6O-01705)

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

We are pleased that there has been extended engagement with the community and service delivery partners on a range of approaches, and the preferred cluster approach will ensure that a community hub is created.

NHS Western Isles has submitted to the Scottish Government its outline business case for the replacement of St Brendan’s hospital. The business case will be reviewed and assessed by the NHS capital investment group at its next meeting in January. Following that review, we will make a decision on next steps, based on the group’s recommendation.

Scottish Government officials and the Scottish Futures Trust remain in close contact with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and NHS Western Isles regarding delivery of that vital project, which will serve the Barra community.

Alasdair Allan

I welcome the progress on this much-needed facility. Is the cabinet secretary able to confirm when the next stages in the process of approving finance will take place and when more detailed architects’ drawings might be available for the community to see?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

In relation to the health elements of the campus, after the business case has been reviewed by the NHS capital investment group in the new year, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care will decide on the next steps in approval of finance.

Funding for the school elements of the campus has already been approved through phase 1 of the learning estate investment programme. Further detailed discussions are on-going as the project develops.

The design proposals were shared publicly earlier this year as part of the planning process. The feedback was very positive, which allowed the process to continue with expected wide community support. Following approval to proceed to the next stage of development in the new year, the design information will be made available to the community for comment through the planning process.

Specialist Medical Equipment (Procurement)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that national health service boards comply with public procurement rules in relation to the purchase and operation of specialist medical equipment. (S6O-01706)

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

Specialist medical equipment is purchased from regulated procurement frameworks, where available, or under new procurement tenders that are initiated in accordance with the relevant legislation. Health boards employ specialist procurement professionals to ensure compliance with procurement rules. NHS standing financial instructions stipulate the required governance concerning the procurement of all products and services. The Scottish Government provides procurement guidance and support to all health boards via its procurement website, procurement policy notes and the Scottish procurement policy handbook.

Murdo Fraser

My constituent Jason Donnelly, of Medical Devices UK, has raised very serious concerns with me about failures in procurement practice, breaches of freedom of information legislation and potentially unsafe working practices in NHS Grampian. I believe that he has also raised those concerns with his constituency MSP, John Swinney.

Mr Swinney wrote to the health secretary raising the concerns on 8 March this year, but, to my knowledge, there has not been a response to that letter. I wrote to the health secretary on 13 June and again on 30 September, but I have not had a response.

Given the very serious matters that my constituent has raised, when will I receive a reply to my letters? Will the health secretary institute an urgent inquiry into the concerns that have been raised that affect patient safety?

Humza Yousaf

I will, of course, look into any reasons why Mr Fraser has not received a response, and I apologise if a response has been unnecessarily delayed. The issues that have been raised by his constituent—he is correct that the Deputy First Minister has also raised them with me—involve pretty serious allegations relating to quite a long and complex procurement issue. Therefore, I can confirm to Murdo Fraser that I have asked NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to carry out an external review in relation to the allegations and the concerns that have been raised, and it is to report back to me by the end of January. I will keep Murdo Fraser and, indeed, the constituency MSP, John Swinney, updated on the outcome of that external review.

Does the cabinet secretary agree and accept that the Scottish Government can learn from the potentially fraudulent mistakes of the United Kingdom Government by ruling out the use of VIP procurement lanes?

Humza Yousaf

Absolutely. VIP lanes were introduced by the UK Government during the pandemic to procure personal protective equipment. They were used by Government officials, ministers, MPs, members of the House of Lords and health professionals to submit offers of PPE. That was perhaps problematic in itself, but there are further concerns that proper due diligence—to put it mildly—was not carried out on some of the VIP lane submissions. We are used to jobs for the boys when it comes to the Conservatives; perhaps it is jobs for the baronesses, too.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Freedom of information requests have shown that previous Scottish National Party health secretaries were aware of the wrongdoing by NHS Grampian that Mr Donnelly refers to. Can the cabinet secretary explain why the Government has taken so long to take action in this very serious case?

Humza Yousaf

I would be careful in that regard. If Ms Baillie has concrete evidence that there was wrongdoing, I hope that she will be happy to provide that to me and, indeed, to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which will be conducting the external review. It is important that we allow NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to conduct that review, which, as I said, I have asked to be completed by the end of January next year. I can keep Ms Baillie updated on its outcome.

Abortion Clinics (Buffer Zones)

8. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what the next steps are in implementing buffer zones outside abortion clinics in Scotland, in light of the United Kingdom Supreme Court judgment on this issue handed down on 7 December 2022. (S6O-01707)

The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Maree Todd)

The Scottish Government welcomes the UK Supreme Court’s judgment. We are carefully considering the judgment in the Scottish context, and we remain committed to supporting Gillian Mackay with the development of her member’s bill to safeguard access for women in Scotland to healthcare facilities that provide abortion services, without fear, harassment or intimidation.

Colin Beattie

It is vital that people are able to access healthcare services without being harassed, and I hope that our commitment to work cross party on the issue will continue. Now that the UK Supreme Court has clarified the legal situation on buffer zones, when does the Scottish Government expect to convene the next abortion summit?

Maree Todd

We remain committed to working with other parties across the chamber to ensure that women can access fundamental health services without feeling harassed or intimidated, as is their right. Officials are exploring potential dates for the summit on abortion care, which is currently expected to take place in February 2023.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes general question time. There will be a short pause before we move to First Minister’s question time.

I confirm that, under the next item of business, members who wish to ask constituency or general supplementaries should press their buttons during question 2, and that members who wish to ask supplementaries on questions 3 to 6 should press their buttons during the relevant question.