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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 17, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Points of Order, Higher Education Workers Dispute, Portfolio Question Time, Brexit (Impact on Devolution), Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Shipbuilding (United Kingdom Government Contract)

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Earlier this week Rishi Sunak announced a £4.2 billion contract to build five type 26 frigates on the Clyde. It is a decision that will protect and strengthen our Scottish shipbuilding industry. The UK Government contract will support 1,700 jobs at Govan and Scotstoun alone, with a further 2,300 jobs in the wider supply chain. Will the First Minister join me in whole-heartedly welcoming this huge investment in Scottish jobs and our economy by the UK Government?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I do welcome the announcement, and I welcome the recognition of the skills, the talent and the expertise on the River Clyde. Of course, while the relevant responsibilities continue to lie in the hands of the UK Government—albeit with Scottish taxpayers contributing to the cost—it is absolutely vital that Scotland benefits fully.

I welcome the decision, and I take the opportunity to congratulate BAE Systems. I have campaigned over many years for the future of Govan shipyard, which used to be in my constituency and is now in the constituency of Humza Yousaf. However, although I welcome the award of the contract, I am duty-bound to note that the original proposal, back in 2010, was not for five new vessels; it was actually for 13 new vessels. It was said then that all that work would be undertaken on the Clyde.

Therefore, let us welcome the award of the contract but let us not rewrite history in the process.

Douglas Ross

I will take that—that is about as good as it gets when it comes to the First Minister supporting decisions by the UK Government.

The award of the contract represents a massive boost to Scottish shipbuilding, and it is possible only because we are part of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Scottish National Party members do not like it, but an investment of such a scale in engineering and manufacturing jobs would not be possible if the SNP got its way. If the nationalists ever managed to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, these Royal Navy ships would almost certainly be built elsewhere and the highly skilled Scottish jobs lost.

Members should not just take our word for it. Earlier this week, we heard from Keith Hartley, who is a professor of economics and a defence expert. He has advised the United Nations, the European Commission and the European Defence Agency. He said:

“I don’t see a future for a Scottish warship building industry in an independent Scotland.”

First Minister, he is right, is he not?

The First Minister

Before I go on to the detail of that, I will make a general point that I have made before in the chamber. If Douglas Ross wants to have a debate about the benefits or—as he would see it—otherwise of independence, I would really welcome that. Let us have that debate and then let us let the people of Scotland decide the outcome in a referendum. If Douglas Ross was really confident in his arguments, he would have the courage to have that debate not just in the safety of the parliamentary debating chamber, but out there, in towns, villages and communities all over Scotland.

I believe that the expertise and the skills of our shipbuilders on the River Clyde are world class, and I believe that they would compete successfully for work across the world, regardless of the constitutional future of Scotland. That is the confidence that I have in our shipbuilding industry.

Before Douglas Ross tries to argue against that, I point out in relation to some of the work that was announced this week for Harland & Wolff, for example, that, at one point, the UK Government intended to hand all of that overseas and to complete the contract internationally. Therefore, the point has been made on that matter.

Of course, an independent Scotland, like independent countries all over the world, would, as a full member of NATO, have naval capabilities of its own—capabilities that could and would be served and improved on by our world-renowned shipbuilding industry and expertise. The difference between me and Douglas Ross is that I have confidence in our industry in all circumstances—he clearly does not.

Douglas Ross

So, who should the public trust on the economics of shipbuilding—a First Minister who cannot build a single ferry for £250 million or a defence expert who has advised the United Nations?

Of course, the First Minister has to deny the facts, because the independence movement is sinking—it is absolutely sinking. [Interruption.] She is up separation creek without a paddle. We know that there would not be any major ships built if she got her way.

Let us look at the First Minister’s appalling record on failing to build essential ferries for Scotland’s island communities. The UK Government has delivered seven ships in Scotland during Nicola Sturgeon’s time as First Minister. How many has the SNP Scottish Government delivered over the same period?

The First Minister

Douglas Ross regularly and rightly challenges me on the delay to the delivery of the ferries, but he should perhaps be careful what he wishes for in the exchange that we are having today. On the vessels that he is lauding and that I have welcomed the announcements on, back in 2013, the UK Government said that the first of those vessels would come into service around 2020. Earlier this month, it was reported that the first type 26 will not come into service until October 2028. That is eight years after the proposed date. [Interruption.]

Members.

There we go, on timescales.

Let us hear one another, please.

The First Minister

Let us turn to costs. The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, has said that, over the lifetime of the programme, the cost will be £233 million more than was forecast. Perhaps Douglas Ross should turn some of these questions to his colleagues south of the border if he wants to come here and make a big issue of these things in the chamber.

Answer the question.

I have just answered the question. Douglas Ross asked me about delays in costs. [Interruption.]

Thank you, members.

The First Minister

I think that I have just answered his question pretty fully.

I have two final points to make. First, if Douglas Ross really believed what he just said about Scotland’s independence movement, he would be desperate for an independence referendum. The fact that he is running scared of an independence referendum proves him wrong.

Secondly, I welcome the announcements this week for the Clyde, but it is a fact that most people across Scotland and, indeed, the UK who are watching television right now will be watching the chancellor on his feet in the House of Commons announcing significant, deep, real-terms cuts and tax rises. That is the price of a Tory Government, and that is why an increasing number of people in Scotland want this country to be independent. [Applause.]

Thank you, members.

Douglas Ross

Anyone who is watching the chancellor’s autumn statement will look at what that is delivering rather than the narrative from the fibbing First Minister, who has been caught out many times. The narrative from the chancellor today is about a UK Government that is increasing benefits and pensions in line with inflation, increasing spending on health and education, delivering £1.5 billion of extra support to Scotland, and investing in the future of our economy.

The First Minister had a very long narrative but zero answers. What I am desperate for in the chamber is, finally, an answer from Nicola Sturgeon. She did not answer the question because her Government has delivered one ferry in the same time in which the UK Government has delivered seven warships. That is seven warships compared with one ferry. The UK Government will now build another five frigates in Scotland, but we do not know when the SNP will complete and deliver a ferry.

The SNP’s failure is having a real impact on people and livelihoods throughout Scotland.

Really?

Yes, really. [Interruption.]

Excuse me, but I am simply not having members shouting at one another across the aisles. Can we please hear one another when we are speaking?

Douglas Ross

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government is not just shouting at me; she is shouting at the island communities, which are crying out for support from the First Minister and the Government.

Before I was interrupted by the cabinet secretary, I was going to say that half of Highlands and Islands businesses have said that ferry cancellations are posing a risk to their future. Just this week, we have heard from islanders who are again enduring food shortages. The First Minister might not want to admit that her shipbuilding record has sunk the case for independence, but will she at least accept that her Government’s failure to replace lifeline ferries is doing massive damage to our island communities?

The First Minister

I have said on many occasions that the impact on our island communities of the delays to the ferries is deeply regrettable, which is why the Government, with Ferguson’s shipyard, is putting so much focus on delivering the ferries.

When Douglas Ross comes to the chamber and lauds five type 26 frigates, he is right to do so—I have welcomed that announcement—but, before trying to make a comparison with ferries, he probably should have reflected on the fact that the first of those type 26 vessels will come into service eight years after it was planned to do so and at a significant cost overrun. If he wants to trade these things, he should at least understand the facts that he is basing his arguments on.

I have already talked about the impact on our island communities, and I repeat that, but what is having a significant impact on the lives and the livelihoods of people across Scotland is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently setting out in the House of Commons. If Douglas Ross wants to talk about the interruption to food supplies across the whole of the UK that has been caused by Brexit, perhaps we might focus on that—[Interruption.]—or on the £55 billion black hole at the heart of the UK finances, caused largely by a combination of Brexit and Tory economic mismanagement, which the chancellor has just said is being filled by tax rises and spending cuts—more than half of it by spending cuts. Budgets for this Government, set at a time when inflation was 3 per cent, are now being eroded by inflation at more than 10 per cent, which is having a devastating impact on people, businesses and public services across our country—

Briefly, First Minister.

The First Minister

When we consider all of that, Presiding Officer, it is no wonder at all that Douglas Ross did not want to come to this chamber and talk about any of the harm that the Conservatives are doing to people across Scotland.

Before we move to question 2, I advise members that I would prefer it if members would please avoid language that suggests that other members are being deliberately untruthful.


General Practitioners (Vacancies)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

This week, the British Medical Association in Scotland sounded an alarm about the state of GP practices across the country. The BMA says that practices are struggling with vacancies and that GPs are

“exhausted, burnt out and cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

People across the country are sick of phone lines ringing out when they call their GP first thing in the morning. Does the First Minister agree with BMA Scotland and accept its criticism that this Government is not doing enough to tackle the GP crisis?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will come on in a second to what we are doing to tackle the situation with GP services, in particular, but I accept what the BMA says about the pressure on our GPs. The national health service as a whole is under very significant pressure—greater pressure, perhaps, than at any time in the history of the NHS. That is true for those who work in our acute sector and it is also true for those who work in primary care, including GPs, so I absolutely accept those comments from the BMA.

That, of course, is exactly why—starting from a base where we already have proportionately higher staffing in the NHS in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom, and proportionately higher funding for our NHS—we have a target of recruiting 800 additional GPs in headcount terms over the next few years. So far, since 2017, we have recruited 277 of them.

In addition to that, we are supporting the wider primary care team. In recent times, we have recruited over 3,000 primary care multidisciplinary team members to help with the pressure on GPs, and NHS Pharmacy First Scotland has provided almost 3 million consultations across its network. We continue to take action to support not only GPs but the wider teams in which GPs operate, and it is right and proper that we do so.

Anas Sarwar

The First Minister says that more GPs are being recruited and that she is listening to what the BMA has to say about the pressures that GPs face, but she is clearly not listening to what the BMA has to say about the recruitment crisis that we have in the national health service, which predates the pandemic. She talks about the 277 new GPs who have been recruited; the BMA is saying that we are 1,000 GPs short right now. That means unbearable pressure on existing GPs, and it means that many patients are unable to access a GP. On the First Minister’s target of 800 additional GPs, we are well short. The BMA has made it clear that missing the target would be

“disastrous for Scotland and our patients.”

At the same time, the First Minister has decided to cut the budget for primary care by £65 million. That cut means taking away the ability to recruit the health professionals that GP practices need to support their patients. Dr Buist says that the cut:

“threatens to undermine practices, at the exact moment when we should be doing the opposite”.

Will the First Minister reverse the cut, truly listen to the BMA and support Scotland’s NHS staff?

The First Minister

Those are important issues. I will address the budgetary issue first. I do not like the budget situation that the Scottish Government faces, but the hard reality is that, this year, our budget has been eroded to the tune of £1.7 billion because of inflation. Our budget is effectively fixed: we have no levers to increase the revenue that is available to us within this financial year, so we have to make very difficult decisions. We have been open with the chamber about those decisions and, if any member thinks that we should make different ones, they can put the case to us. What they cannot do is magic up more money for this financial year.

That is the reality that Anas Sarwar’s colleagues in Wales openly recognise. They are facing tough decisions as well and are making clear that, without additional funding from the UK Government, tough decisions are inescapable. That is the reality that we face: none of us likes it, but we cannot escape it.

We have more GPs per head of population than other parts of the UK do, but we want to grow our GP workforce, which is why the target that I have spoken about and the progress that has been made against it is so important—as is the redesign and reform work that we are doing that relates to wider primary care teams. None of those things is easy. All of us acutely understand their impact on patients and the pressure on our NHS.

We will continue to support people who work in our national health service, and we will try to recruit from overseas as much as we can, which is something that Labour, inexplicably, seems to have set its face against. We will continue to take steps to support our NHS during these tough times, because that is what it deserves and what the people of Scotland expect from us.

Anas Sarwar

The First Minister wants to pretend that she has not been in government for 15 years and that she has not been in charge of setting the NHS’s budget for 15 years. Those problems predate the challenges with the budget and the inflation crisis. I recognise that there is an inflation crisis, which is why, when the Deputy First Minister set out the emergency budget review in the chamber two months ago, we said that we would work constructively with the Government if it opened the books. It has failed to do so; it would rather hide and play politics than do right by the people of Scotland.

Those decisions have consequences. The Deputy First Minister called the £65 million cut for GP practices, which are already short staffed and under pressure, a “reprioritisation”. Let us call it what it is: a cut that is having devastating consequences for staff and patients. At the same time that he is cutting funds for GP practices, the health secretary is telling people to go to their GP instead of going to accident and emergency. That is another case of the SNP telling NHS staff to do more with less, leaving patients waiting longer to be seen, diagnosed and treated.

The SNP has been in charge of our NHS for 15 years and there is a crisis in every part of it: our GP practices, our accident and emergency departments and our hospitals. Staff are crying out for help and patients are dying. Does the First Minister accept that it is the worst it has ever been, all happening on her and Humza Yousaf’s watch?

The First Minister

Nothing that I have said today, or at any time, takes away from the fact that the management of the NHS is a responsibility of mine and of my Government. I accept that absolutely and I take that responsibility seriously. Is the pressure on the NHS greater than it has been at any time in its history? Yes, it is—and I think that I said that myself earlier. The pressure that the NHS faces has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic, but there are other factors at play, such as the changing demographic of our population. Governments have to work through those significant challenges.

The fact of the matter is that, although management of the NHS is our responsibility, the amount that we are able to invest in the national health service is determined by funding decisions that are taken at Westminster—funding decisions of the kind that are being set out in the House of Commons as we speak.

Labour’s health minister in Wales has said:

“the fact is our hands are tied by the amount of money that we get from the UK Government, and that’s the situation we’re in.”

How is it that Labour in Wales recognises that, but Labour in Scotland is blind to the reality, because it is so thirled to defending the Conservatives at the expense of setting out the reality?

On primary care funding, the primary care improvement fund has still increased in value to £170 million.

Open the books!

We have opened the books. The Deputy First Minister has made two statements setting out the savings that we are required to make to balance our books because of inflation.

Briefly, First Minister.

The First Minister

Anybody can say that we should do things differently, but they cannot deny the reality. Even within that reality, Scotland has proportionately higher funding for our national health service than have other parts of the UK—including Wales, where Labour is in government—and Scotland has higher staffing levels. That is the measure of the priority that this Government gives, and always will give, to the national health service.

The Presiding Officer

I intend to take general and supplementary questions after question 6. I ask members who have pressed their request-to-speak buttons for a supplementary to please not re-press their buttons. However, members who want to ask a supplementary to questions 4 to 6 should please press their buttons at the relevant point.


Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-01528)

Tuesday.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

We see the cost of Conservative incompetence measured out in the budget today, which will be punishing for families and public services alike. Those on the lowest incomes are most exposed. That includes many who work in our social care sector, but the First Minister is asking all of them to wait four years for the wrong solution. Organisations are now lining up to condemn the creation of the deceptively named national care service; this week, Barnardo’s was the latest organisation to warn that the huge spend that will be required risks diverting resources from front-line services.

Such organisations are right—the cost of this vast and unnecessary bureaucracy is up to £1.3 billion already and is rising, and that is before Scottish ministers trigger a massive VAT bill through centralisation. If the First Minister has £1 billion to spare, every care worker in Scotland can think of better ways to spend it. Will she withdraw the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill today and put the money for it into services and staff?

The First Minister

As is his right, Alex Cole-Hamilton has opposed the national care service since before parliamentary scrutiny began. That is his position, but he should not stand up here and say that he takes it because of comments that have been made in the course of parliamentary scrutiny so far. We will listen and are listening carefully to comments, and it is important that we allow the scrutiny process to continue.

The national care service is about ending the postcode lottery in adult social care, which I think all of us accept is not acceptable. It is also about better valuing those who work in our social care system. That is what we want to do, and we will of course listen to the comments that are made during parliamentary scrutiny of the bill.

In the meantime, we will continue to take action to address the challenges in social care. We have committed to increasing the spend on social care by 25 per cent by the end of the parliamentary session, and we are increasing the wages of those who work in social care. We will continue to take that action, as we will continue to progress the bill through Parliament, while listening carefully to the comments that are made along the way.


Autumn Budget Statement (Impact)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government anticipates the impact will be on Scotland of today’s autumn statement. (S6F-01522)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The chancellor had only really begun to go into the detail of his statement when I left the office to come to the chamber, so I have not yet seen all the detail. We will assess the impact fully, but it is clear from what we know and from what the chancellor indicated before getting to his feet today that the United Kingdom Government is repeating the mistakes of the past. It appears to be reintroducing austerity, which does not work and will have significant consequences for people, businesses and public services.

The plans are likely to worsen the extreme pressures that are already being faced as a result of inflation and rising interest rates. We have called for an alternative approach that avoids prolonging the recession that the Bank of England forecasts—I understand that the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed today that the UK is currently in recession. I hope that that alternative approach is listened to. The UK is almost unique among wealthier countries in reintroducing austerity. It is the wrong approach and it will have a significantly adverse impact on people and public services across Scotland.

Kenneth Gibson

On the morning of the most recent disastrous Tory budget, former Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, told the Financial Times that

“in 2016 the British economy was 90 per cent the size of Germany’s. Now it is less than 70 per cent.”

Following that budget, £65,000 million—almost £1,000 for every person in the UK—was needed to stop a pensions fund collapse. Does the First Minister agree that the economic incompetence of successive UK Governments is why household incomes have languished since 2008 and failed to keep pace with inflation, as we face rising taxes and swingeing cuts to public spending? Can she advise us of the alternative to UK stagnation that will deliver a more prosperous, equal and fair Scotland?

The First Minister

Kenny Gibson is absolutely right to talk about the impact of Tory mismanagement. From the chancellor today, we are hearing about tax rises and spending cuts. According to the chancellor, more than half of the black hole will be filled by spending cuts, which will have a significant impact on public services, including the national health service.

We know that, although global factors are at play, much of that stagnation is caused by UK-specific factors. Brexit is a long-term and permanent drag on the UK economy; its effects are catastrophic. Of course, Tory mismanagement through the mini-budget—which the Scottish Conservatives now like to pretend never happened—is exacerbating that impact. People, businesses and public services are paying the price for all of that.

Finally, the alternative to Tory mismanagement of our economy is self-management of our economy, otherwise known as independence.

Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

As the First Minister has pointed out, research has proven that, far from working, the UK Government austerity programme after the 2008 financial crisis resulted in one of the lengthiest and slowest recoveries, but the UK Government seems determined to repeat the same mistakes.

Does the First Minister agree that, given that economic evidence proves that smaller, independent states recover best, the only sensible choice is to follow their path and gain full control of our economy?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree. Right now, we are experiencing what happens when we allow others to take decisions for us instead of taking those decisions for ourselves.

No matter how the Tories try to dress up today’s statement with all of the spin that they will use, they are reintroducing austerity and they are doing so at a time when our public services have not yet properly recovered from the last period of Tory austerity. That is the reality, and the Conservatives cannot deny that.

Of course, countries across the world go through difficult times, and some of these issues are global, but most countries do better when they control their own destinies and future. That, too, will be true when Scotland becomes independent.


Domestic Abuse Register

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government supports the introduction of a domestic abuse register. (S6F-01534)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am aware of the consultation on a proposed domestic abuse bill and I confirm that, when the consultation has concluded, we will consider any proposals that would further our commitment to do more to support victims of domestic abuse. Of course, it will be important to look at how proposals would interlink with implementation of our equally safe strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls. Certainly, we are open minded to any reasonable proposals that come forward.

Pam Gosal

The consultation for my bill, which would introduce a domestic abuse register, closes on Monday. The proposed bill would help to protect victims of that appalling crime. I will give an example: I have spoken to one woman who told me that she suffered numerous acts of violence and awful physical abuse for years. Her abuser has allegedly attacked five other women, and she believes that my proposed bill could have prevented some of those women from going through a horrific ordeal. Will the First Minister agree to meet me and that brave woman to hear why a domestic abuse register is necessary?

The First Minister

Of course, we will listen to and meet, when appropriate, anybody who wants to make such suggestions, and I absolutely understand that somebody who is in that situation would consider that such a proposal would make a difference.

The justice secretary met Pam Gosal, I believe at the end of August, to discuss the launch of the consultation on her proposed domestic abuse bill. We will consider the proposals in the consultation when the consultation has closed, which will happen shortly, and when they have been properly analysed. We are open minded to that.

The Police Scotland disclosure scheme for domestic abuse is in place right now. It has an important impact, but absolutely none of us should be complacent about domestic abuse or the need to do more to protect victims and potential victims of domestic abuse.

I hope that the member will take my comments in the spirit in which they are intended, which is to signify a genuinely open mind. We have a number of initiatives in place, many of them under the ambit of the equally safe strategy, which are about protecting women and girls. We need to consider carefully any proposals to ensure that they fit with that, but our minds are open and we will have further discussions as appropriate.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Almost 80 per cent of women prisoners in Scotland have a history of significant head injury, mostly through domestic abuse. The University of Glasgow research has shown that 66 per cent of female inmates have suffered repeat head injuries for many years, and 89 per cent of participants said that domestic violence was the most common cause. It is concerning that many of those women might return to their abusers on release from prison. What further action can the Scottish Government take on the specific issue of female prisoners who have a history of being a victim of domestic abuse, while they are in prison and, importantly, when they are released from prison?

The First Minister

I am happy to give further consideration to that point and to look carefully at the research that underpins Pauline McNeill’s question. I think that it is the case—and that it is well understood—that many women who are in prison will be the victims of abuse and will be vulnerable in many respects. There are similar vulnerabilities for many men who are in prison as well, but we are, rightly, focusing on the issue of women right now.

The number of women in prison has reduced over recent years, and we want to see that trend continue so that those who offend are treated appropriately. The points about the support for women who have suffered domestic abuse while they are in prison and also upon their release are important, so I undertake to give the points that Pauline McNeill has raised today proper consideration and come back to her once we have had the opportunity to do so.


“Health Inequalities in Scotland”

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the report “Health Inequalities in Scotland” by the Fraser of Allander Institute. (S6F-01535)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The report confirms what I suspect most of us already know, which is that socioeconomic inequalities drive wider inequalities. That is exactly why this Government is using the powers and resources that we have to tackle that within the limits in which we operate. We are doing that in a range of ways—through social security, including the Scottish child payment; the provision of free childcare, free school meals, concessionary travel and free prescriptions; and investment in affordable housing.

We are doing that—this is just a statement of fact—with one hand tied behind our backs and without the full powers to tackle poverty while we are shackled to a Westminster system and a Tory Government that has caused economic chaos and savage reductions in real terms in our budget. I hope that we will hear something different today from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but, as I said earlier, I fear that the continued or reintroduced austerity that we are hearing about today will deepen those impacts, while strengthening the case for more of those decisions and powers to lie in the hands of this Parliament.

Richard Leonard

This week’s report confirmed that almost half of Scotland’s personal wealth is owned by just 10 per cent of households and that there is a direct link between extreme wealth inequality and health inequality. Does the First Minister accept that the Scottish Government has the power to redistribute land ownership and wealth but has not used that power; that the Scottish Government has the power to abolish the regressive council tax, introduce a land value tax and make land and buildings transaction taxes much more progressive, but has failed to do so; and that a wealth tax, set and administered by the Scottish Parliament through an order of council, could be pursued, but she has decided not to? When will the First Minister use the tax powers that the Scottish Government has got to reduce Scotland’s extreme inequalities of wealth and fund our public services properly and progressively?

The First Minister

I agree with a lot of what Richard Leonard has said. I suspect that I agree with more of it than Anas Sarwar does; his face has been pretty impassive as Richard Leonard has recounted all those policies, which I suspect are not Scottish Labour policies.

The fact of the matter is that, with the very limited—[Interruption.] If it is Scottish Labour’s policy to replace the council tax with a land value tax, I will be happy to hear that and to hear the detail of that. However, the fact of the matter is that—with our limited tax powers, of course—we have a more progressive system of tax. Our income tax, which is the tax over which we have our main tax power, although it is far too limited in terms of the overall suite of tax powers, means that, if you earn more in Scotland, you pay slightly more, and if you earn the least, then you pay slightly less tax than you would elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

If Richard Leonard wants us to be able to consider and introduce a wealth tax, he really needs to argue for the powers to lie in this Parliament to do exactly that. We will always favour progressive taxation, but we need more powers over taxation in this Parliament to give effect to that.

What we have done this week is both increase the value of and extend the reach of the unique Scottish child payment, putting money directly into the pockets of those who are at the lowest end of the income spectrum and lifting children out of poverty. That is a shining example of how we can use powers when we have powers in the hands of this Parliament.

We move to supplementary questions.


Scottish Child Payment

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

As the First Minister has just mentioned, the Scottish child payment has been increased to £25 and extended to under-16s this week. That has been described as a watershed moment by anti-poverty campaigners. However, does the First Minister share my frustration that, although the Scottish Government is using the limited powers that it has to support people, those efforts are frequently undermined by the actions of the United Kingdom Tory Government?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes. That is not just a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. While we are putting £25 a week per child into the pockets of the lowest-income families, a Tory Government is in power that not long ago took £20 a week away from the poorest through the clawback of the universal credit uplift. That is just a fact. We will continue to act to use the powers that we have.

This week was a watershed moment. That child payment does not exist anywhere else in the UK, and it is an example of what can be done when we prioritise lifting children out of poverty and investing in their future. As anti-poverty campaigners have said this week, if the Scottish Government can do that, why on earth cannot the UK Government follow suit?


War Memorials (Vandalism)

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

In the early hours of Monday morning, a war memorial in front of the City of Edinburgh Council was vandalised in what was a mindless act and an appalling insult to our fallen war heroes. It has shocked and angered the local community in Edinburgh, and I hope that those who are responsible will be held to account in due course. Sadly, however, attacks on war memorials are increasing in Scotland. That is why my Scottish Conservative colleague Meghan Gallacher is bringing forward a bill to impose tougher penalties on those who attack and deface war memorials. Will the First Minister agree to consider Scottish Conservative proposals on this issue? What update can she provide on the investigation of Monday’s incident?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, we will consider any proposals that are brought forward. I have not seen the detail of those proposals yet, but when they appear, we will give them due consideration. That is certainly important to do.

With regard to the attack on the war memorial in Edinburgh, less than 24 hours before that despicable attack took place, I, among others, was privileged to lay a wreath at that war memorial in remembrance of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country and to allow us to enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted today.

What happened in the early hours of Monday morning is almost beyond words—absolutely despicable, sickening and disgusting. It is beyond my comprehension—I am sure that it is beyond the comprehension of any of us in the chamber—how anybody could attack a war memorial at any time of the year, but particularly just hours after remembrance Sunday. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on an on-going police investigation; obviously, that is for the police to take forward. Where I will end these remarks, in agreement with the member, is that I really hope that those who are responsible for that despicable attack are identified and face the full force of justice.


World Cup (Human Rights)

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

On Sunday, international teams will begin to compete for the biggest prize in world football, but they will do so in a state that denies the rights of LGBT+ people, suppresses the rights of women and has demonstrated quite clearly that it has no regard for the lives or wellbeing of migrant workers. Only a few weeks ago, Qatar’s world cup ambassador branded being gay as “damage in the mind”.

Senior figures of the Scottish Football Association will be attending world cup events on the day the tournament kicks off. LGBT+ people, many of whom are passionate football fans, our allies in stands across the country, the tartan army, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Zander Murray of Gala Fairydean Rovers, of whom I think we should all be immensely proud, have voiced concern and disapproval about this world cup and have called on the SFA to think again.

The SFA has said that it is

“supportive of all measures to improve human rights conditions in Qatar”,

but does the First Minister believe that members of our football governing body attending this world cup can send any other message than a validation of the human rights record of Qatar, and what message does she think that it sends to LGBT+ people, in particular, in Scotland?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, as the world cup gets under way later this week in Qatar, I think that it is a really important moment for all of us, regardless of party or anything else that might divide us, to stand in solidarity with the LGBT+ community in Scotland, in the United Kingdom, in Europe and right across the world. I hope that that will unite all of us.

The attendance or otherwise of SFA officials is a matter for the SFA. Governments should not intervene in decisions that sports governing bodies take, but I would certainly hope that anybody attending the world cup in Qatar in any capacity will take the opportunity to express solidarity with our LGBT+ community. I think that, over the next few weeks, it is even more important than sport that we take the opportunity to stand up for human rights and the dignity of those in that community, and that we unite around that sentiment today and right throughout the period of the competition in Qatar.


Department for Work and Pensions (Sanctions)

Natalie Don (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)

Figures published this week show that the number of young Scots aged 18 to 24 sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions has nearly doubled since 2019. That is more than 2,500 young people being denied vital support in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Does the First Minister share my view that that is immoral and that the welfare system should be there to support people, not penalise them?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I do. Natalie Don is absolutely right to raise the issue. Those figures are really alarming. They are DWP figures and they show that the universal credit sanction rate is more than double the pre-pandemic level, with more than 42,000 sanctions being applied across all claims in July this year. The data also shows that sanctions are applied most to young people between the ages of 18 and 24. Despite substantial evidence showing that sanctions simply do not work and that they have long-term detrimental effects, the United Kingdom Government’s sanctions policy is pushing more people into hardship and doing that during a cost of living crisis.

I take the opportunity to call on the UK Government to urgently review its sanctions policy along with the other punitive policies within the universal credit system such as the five-week wait, the two-child limit and the benefit cap, and to focus instead on supporting people rather than punishing them when they are already struggling so much.


Forth Valley Hospital

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The First Minister will be aware of the difficulties that are being faced by Forth Valley hospital, with five consultants leaving in the space of two weeks and the facility being described as a “war zone” and a “toxic” environment. The health board says that any concerns raised by clinical or other staff groups are taken seriously and that there is no attempt to cover up, but the reality is that I continue to have to make representations to the board as further whistleblowers come forward seeking assistance. They are saying that the culture within the hospital regarding bullying continues and that there is no meaningful change by the senior management. That is, frankly, a shocking situation to occur in any hospital, so what action can be put in place to ensure that the facility is safe and fit for purpose?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The safety of any hospital is paramount, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care is engaged fully on those issues.

I will make two points: first, when a whistleblower raises concern, that concern must be treated with the utmost seriousness and thoroughly investigated. Secondly, the chief operating officer of NHS Scotland has met NHS Forth Valley’s chief executive to discuss the concerns that were raised.

The Scottish Government is supporting Forth Valley to develop a robust and cohesive action plan for improvement, and a national planning and performance oversight group met earlier this month to discuss the next steps. I know that the health secretary will continue to keep members updated.

That concludes First Minister’s question time.