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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, June 23, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Celebrating Success of Rugby, Portfolio Question Time, Provisional Outturn 2021-22, Medication Assisted Treatment Standards, Business Motion, Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Sexual Harassment (Support for Victims)

Does the First Minister agree that every victim of sexual harassment should be fully supported?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I do. I believe that very strongly. When a victim of sexual harassment considers that that has not been the case, whatever organisation is involved should reflect very seriously on that and make any necessary changes. That is how I intend to proceed regarding issues relating to the Scottish National Party.

Douglas Ross

If everything that the First Minister has just said is true and she really believes that victims of sexual harassment should be fully supported, why has Patrick Grady, who is one of her members of the United Kingdom Parliament, and who has been found guilty of sexual harassment, still got the backing of the First Minister?

The First Minister

I have already been clear about that issue and I am certainly very willing to be so again today.

Patrick Grady’s behaviour was wrong. I have said it before and I will repeat it: I am very sorry that a member of the Westminster SNP group staff was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance. It should not have happened. It is important to be very clear about that.

Patrick Grady’s behaviour was investigated by an independent process—an independent process that all parties in the House of Commons are signed up to. The findings of that independent process were, of course, published, as is right and proper, and a sanction was imposed—a sanction that was recommended by that independent process and replicated by the SNP Westminster group.

In this situation, there is also a victim who clearly feels that they were not properly supported in that process. Indeed, the victim in the case believes that the process exacerbated the trauma that they experienced. It is absolutely incumbent on any organisation that is in that position to take views of that nature very seriously. As I have said before, and as I have said again today, that is a matter that the SNP must and will reflect on.

Ian Blackford, who is the leader of our group at Westminster, has already confirmed that there will be an external review of the Westminster group processes. I think that that, too, is right and proper.

The last thing that I will say, Presiding Officer, is this: I take these issues very seriously. It is incumbent on me to do so. However, the issues are not unique to the SNP. All parties have faced such issues and all parties have, at times, been criticised for their handling of them. We all have lessons to learn. Obviously, I am only responsible—in a party-political sense—for the SNP, but all of us, in the society that we live in, have lessons to learn and it is incumbent on all of us to do so. For my part, I am determined that that will be the case.

Douglas Ross

There was a ruling and a sanction from the independent complaints and grievance system within the United Kingdom Parliament, but the same sanction does not have to be adopted by the SNP parliamentary party at Westminster. Patrick Grady has served just two days of suspension from the SNP at Westminster. Two days is an insult.

Throughout the process, the victim has been disregarded. I hope that the First Minister listened to what he had to say this morning. The victim feels betrayed. He said that Patrick Grady and Ian Blackford tried to take

“advantage of me being young and inexperienced”,

and that the party

“did the bare minimum of investigation.”

He described his life as a result of the ordeal as “torture” and “a living hell”. Most depressingly of all, he said that the SNP is

“punishing any victim of this sort of behaviour and ... punishing anyone that has come forward with a similar complaint to mine.”

This morning, the victim also said that there are lots of questions for the First Minister to answer and he made it clear that those questions are not being answered. He said:

“I would like to see Nicola say more on the subject.”

Will the First Minister now tell the victim what her reaction was when she heard the leaked recording in which Ian Blackford encouraged SNP MPs to support the guilty party instead of the victim?

The First Minister

Some days ago, in a written message, I said sorry directly to the victim in the case. I have also confirmed my willingness to meet the victim directly and personally. When—as I hope it will—that interaction takes place, I will say that I am sorry in person. It is not my behaviour that was investigated, but I am the leader of the SNP and I take that responsibility very seriously.

The recording of the Westminster group meeting reveals part of what was wrong in that case. Indeed, some of the individuals who were recorded at that meeting have already said that themselves. I was not at the meeting, so I cannot comment on whether it is an accurate overall reflection of the discussion, but what I have heard suggests that more concern was shown for the perpetrator of the behaviour than for its victim. That is utterly unacceptable and I will be very clear about that.

I will repeat the point that I made earlier. Thankfully, we now live in a society in which behaviour of that nature is not accepted and, rightly, is not brushed under the carpet, as it used to be. I am sure that everybody in the chamber remembers the two years—I think that it was two years, in total—during which I was subjected to pretty gruelling investigations about separate instances. I would argue that that came about because I refused to brush certain things under the carpet.

It is important that there is transparency and that any organisation that is facing such issues reflects on and fully faces up to them. I will ensure that that happens for the SNP.

I will make this my final point: all parties have faced such situations. Two Westminster by-elections are happening today because of behaviour by Conservative MPs. All parties have faced that and all parties have been criticised, including in those cases, for their handling of matters.

It is important for all of us, but I will speak only for myself. A person who is in my position should not sit in a glass house throwing stones about such things. We should sort such things out when they arise in our parties. That is what I intend to do for the SNP, and that is what all leaders should do when the issue arises in their parties.

I know that the First Minister wants to make this about other parties and other parts of the country—[Interruption.]


Douglas Ross

However, we have two by-elections today because Conservative MPs have been suspended and have resigned from Parliament. Patrick Grady has been suspended for 48 hours. The First Minister called the recording of the SNP group meeting “utterly unacceptable”. The recording has been public for almost a week, but this is the first that we are hearing from the First Minister about it.

The First Minister’s apology will be welcome, but this morning the victim rejected Ian Blackford’s apology. He called it “a cop-out” and “a publicity stunt”. The victim said that Ian Blackford has apologised only to protect his own position. He said:

“It seems like the SNP under Ian Blackford at Westminster hasn’t learned a thing and they’re still trying to close ranks and discredit the victim by not really addressing any of the issues.”

He added that nobody can really seriously believe that the SNP will make improvements to the procedure as long as Ian Blackford is still in post. The First Minister has to answer that charge. It is a deep systemic problem in the governing party here in Scotland, and it is an all-too-familiar tale.

Last year, in similar circumstances, Nicola Sturgeon stood up and said in this chamber:

“It will be a priority for me, for as long as I am First Minister, to ensure that lessons are learned and that trust is re-established so that anyone who considers in the future that they have suffered sexual harassment has the confidence to come forward and knows that their concerns will be listened to and addressed.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2021; c 34.]

I ask the First Minister, having listened to her words from a year ago and to the victim’s words today, is it not the case that no lessons have been learned?

The First Minister

No, that is not the case, and I stand by every single word that has just been quoted. The particular issue that we are discussing today is not a Scottish Government issue—it is an SNP issue—but in the Scottish Government, we have a new complaints process that was put in place after very elaborate consultation of trade unions to ensure that we have a process that people have confidence in and feel able to use. It is important that we reflect on the situation to ensure that if changes need to be made to the process, those changes are made.

On sanctions, as I said, an independent process investigated the matter in detail and recommended the sanction that it considered was appropriate in this case. It is an independent process that all parties are signed up to, and that all parties should respect.

My final point is that Douglas Ross will characterise whatever I say in whatever way he chooses—that is up to him—but I think that people who are listening will hear that I take the issues extremely seriously. I do not think that they will have heard me try to make it all about other parties; they will have heard me say something on which we should all reflect. If I was standing here saying that the SNP has no issues, and it is all about the Conservatives or Labour, I would be showing that I do not understand the systemic nature of the issues.

Douglas Ross is rightly raising issues with me when they arise with the SNP, but if he is really saying that it is somehow a problem that is unique to the SNP, I would argue that he is demonstrating that he does not understand the systemic society-wide nature of the issues.

I will take the issues very seriously whenever the Scottish Government or the SNP is accused of having people who have behaved inappropriately. As I said a moment ago, I went through some of the most difficult times of my whole time in politics because I was not prepared to have simply swept under the carpet allegations that had been made against somebody who had been very close to me.

It is really important that we all face up to this. For my part, I will do so, and I encourage everybody else to do likewise.

Investigation of Complaints (Publication)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Last week, an investigation in the United Kingdom Parliament was made public, and it concluded that a senior Scottish National Party MP was guilty of making an unwanted sexual advance to a teenage member of staff. In response to Douglas Ross, the First Minister has just said that it was right and proper that those investigations were published.

More than a month ago, I asked the First Minister to make public the outcome of investigations against ministers in her own Government. She refused, instead claiming that it could not be revealed due to the general data protection regulation. That was despite the SNP rightly demanding the publication of investigations into Priti Patel. Those investigations were made public, and the outcome of the investigation into Patrick Grady was made public by the UK Parliament. Why will the First Minister not make public the outcomes of investigations by the Scottish Government into the conduct of Scottish ministers? Do the Scottish people not deserve the same transparency?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I do think that people deserve transparency, and I am grateful to Anas Sarwar for raising the matter, because it gives me the opportunity to update members on what I said when he last raised the issue with me.

What I said in the chamber then is true: it is absolutely the case that we are limited in what we can publish by legal requirements on data protection and confidentiality issues. That is not a situation that I am comfortable with. I was not comfortable with it—as people could probably see—when I answered questions the last time that I was asked about it.

As a result of that, I sought further advice. I asked for advice on whether, in the future, there would be ways of making it possible for us to report publicly the outcome of complaints involving ministers and whether there was a way of doing that without breaching the legal requirements that I have referred to. The advice that I have now, which I have only very recently had, is that, although we cannot apply this retrospectively, there is a way to do that in relation to future complaints. I can confirm to the chamber that that will involve changes to the ministerial code and probably also to the complaints procedure that is in place. Work is now under way to make the necessary changes to facilitate that happening in the future.

Anas Sarwar

I welcome that response from the First Minister, but it is convenient that the response talks about future investigations and not previous ones.

Let us take the advice of Nick McKerrell, a law lecturer at the University of Glasgow, who said in response to this issue:

“As public officials ministers would expect all their activity and decisions to be open to scrutiny. Even in the realm of employment law, this would be the case”.

Clearly, legal experts believe—and, as the First Minister has a law degree and used to be a solicitor, she should know—that there is no case for hiding behind GDPR here. No one is asking her to publish personal details of the victim. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Scottish Government to make clear the outcome of investigations of Scottish ministers.

A pattern has emerged when it comes to the SNP: close ranks, do as little as you can and hope that the difficult questions go away. On Sunday, Angus Robertson described an SNP member of Parliament making unwanted sexual advances towards a teenager as not “career ending”. We heard a leaked recording in which SNP MPs were cheering and applauding Ian Blackford’s call for them to rally round Patrick Grady. The SNP chief whip then threatened legal action against whistleblowers. There is support for the perpetrator and no support for the victim.

First Minister, do you agree with Ian Blackford and your SNP MPs? Do you agree with the words of Angus Robertson? Do you agree with your SNP chief whip that it is more important to protect the SNP than it is to protect the victim?

The First Minister

Nobody has said that it is more important to protect the SNP than it is to protect the victim. I think that, today, I have made my view very clear that support for victims of sexual harassment must come first. If that does not happen, and if a victim feels that they have not been supported, the obligation is on the organisation—in this case, that is the SNP—to reflect on that and not somehow to suggest that it is the victim who is at fault. I could not be clearer about that.

I want to have the conversation directly with the victim in this case, to make sure that I have as deep an understanding as possible of the exact experience in this case, so that I can reflect on what changes are needed. I do not in any way shy away from that.

In relation to the wider issue, yes, I do have a law degree. Not only that, Nick McKerrell and I were in the same class at Glasgow university when we studied law. He obviously has a wealth of expertise, but I have to rely on the advice that I get as the First Minister, and that advice is clear about retrospective situations. However, I was not prepared to accept that for the future without challenge, which is why I sought further advice. It is why I asked for advice on the ways in which we could be consistent with our legal obligations but also with what I believe is the important obligation of transparency. That is why we will move forward now to make necessary changes to the ministerial code and to the procedure, to allow information to be published in the future.

I think that it is important in any situation like this that somebody in my position takes these things seriously. I am doing that, and I will make whatever changes are necessary to get to a position for my party and my Government whereby we live up to the standards that all of us expect. I think that every organisation, including all political parties, has an obligation to do likewise.

Anas Sarwar

I can only imagine Nicola Sturgeon’s response if the Tories were making the same defence of Priti Patel, in terms of her allegations, as she is making of the Scottish ministers in this Parliament.

The Patrick Grady incident happened six years ago and only now is there talk of change. In those six years, Patrick Grady has been an SNP candidate twice, he has been promoted to chief whip and he actually led a debate on harassment while being investigated for harassment.

It has taken the victim going to the press for the First Minister to talk about taking action—an all-too-familiar story when it comes to the SNP. After 15 years in government, there is a culture of secrecy and cover-up at the heart of this Government. This is a First Minister who is unforgiving when it comes to her opponents or anyone who disagrees with her, but who expects forgiveness from everyone else.

In 2002, Nicola Sturgeon said of the then Government that it had been in power for so long that it no longer thought that it was accountable to anybody. There could be no better description of this Government. Why does Nicola Sturgeon believe that there is one standard for her and another standard for everyone else?

The First Minister

The reality is that I do not. Of course, how long any party remains in government in Scotland, the UK or any country—well, most other countries—in the world is entirely down to the electorate. That will be true of my Government, just as it is true of any other Government in the UK.

I just do not think that what Anas Sarwar describes as a pattern is in any way substantiated. I have answered questions in the chamber in relation to other cases, and I have been absolutely clear that I would not brush things under the carpet or be defensive when it came to reflecting on and facing up to changes.

I refused to brush things under the carpet when allegations were made about somebody who was closer to me in politics than anybody else had been. I was subjected to rigorous investigations. Many members in the chamber talked about it being career ending for me. Would I do anything differently? Obviously, I would learn lessons from that process, based on everything that we know about it, but would I change the judgment that I made that it is important not to brush these things under the carpet but to face up to them? No, I would not.

Perhaps this is what distinguishes me from some other politicians in some other places, but I am not going to stand here and defend the indefensible. If things are wrong and represent failures in processes, I will take the action to put them right, just as the Scottish Government did when the issues were raised about the Scottish Government. I will make sure that that happens with the SNP as well.

Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-01248)

On Tuesday.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I am very grateful for that reply.

The crisis in our national health service is directly linked to what is going on right now in social care. Top doctors are saying that delayed discharges are the worst that they have ever seen. There are currently 1,800 patients who are well enough to leave hospital but who cannot, in large part because there is no care package to help them home. That is the equivalent of all the patients in Caithness general hospital, Borders general hospital, the sick kids hospital, Dumfries and Galloway royal infirmary and Edinburgh royal infirmary put together.

The Government’s solution to that is a ministerial takeover of social care, which my party has opposed from the start. Let us remember that it was Scottish National Party ministers who discharged Covid-positive patients into our care homes. We cannot afford to wait four years for the wrong solution. The crisis is at our gates right now. Why will the First Minister not meet that crisis now with proper pay, fair conditions and local reform?

The First Minister

I think that it is right to move towards a national care service. Of course, the Parliament will scrutinise and debate the legislation that has been put forward, which is about improving the quality and consistency of services and—yes—improving the terms and conditions of those who work in our social care sector.

However, we are not waiting to establish a national care service in order to make those improvements now. We are already increasing the wages of people who work in the adult social care sector. In April this year, the minimum hourly rate increased. That represents a 12.9 per cent increase for those workers in just over a year and, for a full-time adult social care worker, an uplift of more than £1,600 over the course of the financial year. Those are minimum rates of pay, of course; many employers will pay more than those minimums. We are taking action on that now.

In the overall funding of social care, we are taking action. We are in the process of increasing funding for social care by 25 per cent—or in the region of £800 million—over this session of Parliament.

Parliament will scrutinise the legislation for the national care service. Let me read out the views of some people this week on the publication of that legislation. Carers Scotland’s director said:

“We welcome the publication of this new bill ... not least that it sets out in legislation”


“for carers”.

Tommy Whitelaw, who is the national lead on caring for the Alliance Scotland, said that he is

“Really looking forward to the co-design of the national care service”.

The coalition of carers in Scotland said that the introduction of the

“right to short breaks ... is very welcome”,

and carer voices had similar comments.

There is a broad base of support for the bill, but it is important that we get the detail right. That is what the parliamentary process is for and what the co-design process is intended to deliver.

We move to constituency and general supplementaries.

Uig Harbour Closure

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Essential infrastructure works are due to start at Uig harbour this October. The interim arrangements that CalMac put forward would see the removal of all ferry services to Tarbert and the loss of a third of the capacity to Lochmaddy during the six-month closure period. Given that there are still a great many unknowns and unresolved issues, what consideration has the Scottish Government given to the option of postponing the works until viable interim arrangements can be put in place?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I know that the Minister for Transport is very aware of the concerns that communities have in relation to the planned Uig harbour closure. That project is ultimately led by Highland Council, but I understand that the Transport Minister has agreed to meet with Alasdair Allan, in addition to meeting with the community board, to discuss what further mitigations we might be able to support. The suggestion of postponing the port closure and delaying the completion of works is an option that continues to be considered, but it comes with considerable risks.

The clear focus of the project remains the safe and efficient replacement of infrastructure that is “life-expired”—to use the technical term—and improvement of the capacity, reliability and resilience of the port at Uig for the longer-term benefits of routes to the Western Isles.

Transvaginal Mesh Care

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

My constituent Samantha received a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care on 20 June, stating his reassurance that

“Both the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland remain committed to ensuring women who have experienced complications as a result of transvaginal mesh have access to the best possible care.”

That letter left Samantha upset and lost for words. She told me:

“I was heartbroken when I tried to access this care, only for my hospital gynaecology department to tell me the NHS would not honour most of the measures. They were unwilling to refer me to the Glasgow unit, and scared me half to death by saying people like me will never be 100 per cent mesh-free. It’s as if they are trying to put us off mesh removal surgery.”

The First Minister has stated:

“we will do everything possible to get these women the treatment and the care that they need.”

Where is the evidence that that is happening?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

A wealth of measures have been taken to improve the experience of women who have suffered because of mesh, including, for example, a complex pelvic mesh removal service. We continue to take forward changes to improve that experience to ensure that women have access to the treatment that they need.

I met with groups of women with the then chief medical officer and the then health secretary, and I continue to be committed to taking forward all those changes.

I am obviously not aware of Samantha’s particular circumstances, nor have I seen the letter that she received from the health secretary. However, I am happy to look at that correspondence. If we can provide further information that would be of assistance to Samantha, I am happy to ensure that that is done.

Uig Harbour Closure (Freight Capacity)

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The First Minister must agree that it is totally unacceptable for freight capacity to Uist to be cut by a third during the six months when Uig harbour will be closed for re-development. There is a solution—it is possible to put in place a temporary link span during that time. Will she commit to that today to ensure that ferries can operate to their normal timetable while the harbour is being redeveloped?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will not repeat everything that I have said to Alasdair Allan, except to say that I understand the importance of the issue and the concerns that communities have.

I will not commit today to a particular solution without the proper consideration that that would require and merit. As I said in my answer to Alasdair Allan, any options and solutions that are put forward will be properly considered, which is why the transport minister has agreed to meet not just Alasdair Allan but the ferries community board.

Any possible mitigations that the Government might be able to support will be properly considered. When consideration of the specific suggestion that Rhoda Grant put forward has taken place, I am happy to ask the transport minister to feed back directly to her.

Railway Dispute

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

British railways are in chaos and, referring to the Westminster Tory Government’s intransigence, an RMT representative has said:

“Perhaps the UK Government should take a feather out of the Scottish Government’s hat and propose 5 per cent, along with a five-year no-compulsory-redundancy agreement”.

Does the First Minister recall that, some weeks ago at First Minister’s question time, I warned of the United Kingdom Government’s deeply damaging approach to industrial relations? Now we learn that it proposes to legislate to allow the use of agency workers during legally balloted strike action. Does the First Minister share my view that that is dangerous Tory ideology that is designed to inflame rather than resolve this extremely damaging dispute?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I recall very well Fiona Hyslop’s warning about the danger of the dispute escalating if it was not resolved; of course, people across the UK are paying the price for that now. They are paying the price for Tory anti-trade union rhetoric—in fact, Tory anti-trade unionism, which I completely deprecate. We should respect workers across our economy; we should respect public sector workers; and we should seek to negotiate fair resolutions to disputes, particularly at a time of soaring inflation—inflation being so exacerbated in the UK by the folly of Brexit.

The rail strike that is crippling the UK right now is not the result of a dispute with ScotRail; it is a dispute with Network Rail and English train operating companies. Therefore, it is entirely a reserved matter.

Another thing that I remember from a few weeks’ ago in the chamber, when there was the potential for a ScotRail dispute, is Tory MSPs getting up and demanding intervention by this Government to resolve it.

I repeat the call for the UK Government to start doing its job: it must get around the table to bring a resolution to the dispute, and it must drop its anti-trade unionism and show some respect for workers across the economy.

Scottish Justice System (Parole)

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Last week, The Courier’s headline, “Dundee killer Robbie McIntosh to get parole hearing this summer”, related to a murderer who, in 2017, while on home leave from serving a life sentence, carried out a brutal attempt to murder a random, lone, female dog walker in Templeton woods in Dundee. In October 2017, he was sentenced to a lifelong restriction order, with a minimum of five years before being considered for release on licence. We now learn that that dangerous individual will be given a parole hearing on or around 8 August, which is the day after the anniversary of the attack and less than five years from sentencing. What message does that send to women such as the victim of that shocking attack, other than that this Government’s justice system will not protect them?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Before responding to the question, I acknowledge again Mrs McDonald’s bravery in continuing to raise the issues. I know that she wants to ensure that all parties learn from the case; that is certainly what I want and what I am determined will happen.

There was a significant case review of the matter, and the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service accepted all the review’s recommendations for them. The SPS has already taken a range of actions to respond to those recommendations.

Home leave for prisoners—I am not talking about this particular case at the moment; I am talking about the situation in general—is a necessary and accepted part of the rehabilitation process. Rightly, prisoners are subject to assessment and review, and when a situation arises that shows that that has not gone in the way that it should have done, it is absolutely vital that lessons are learned.

On parole hearings, the sentence imposed following conviction in any case is a matter for a court. In turn, that determines when someone who is sentenced to an order for lifelong restriction may be considered for parole under licence conditions. It is then a matter for the independent parole board to consider when and whether an individual can be released.

Covid-19 (Spring Booster Vaccination)

To ask the First Minister, in light of the increase in Covid-19 cases, what measures the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that everyone eligible for the spring booster vaccine receives it. (S6F-01272)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As at 20 June, 91 per cent of those aged 75 and over, and 86 per cent of elderly care home residents, have received a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine, the majority of which have been administered as part of the spring booster programme. Again, I express my gratitude to all NHS staff and partners who helped to achieve that uptake.

We have been working closely with health boards to encourage uptake, and have introduced a range of outreach activities to build trust or remove barriers for people who might not otherwise take up the vaccination offer. Those include using mobile outreach units that have been provided by the Scottish Ambulance Service, creating “Covid sense” posters in multiple languages and formats, and developing a culturally sensitive vaccine explainer video that is informed by insights from organisations that represent various communities.

Given the high number of cases that we are seeing right now, I take this opportunity to urge all those who are eligible for the vaccine, including the spring booster, to come forward and get that protection.

Christine Grahame

I thank the First Minister for her detailed answer. As someone who has had her spring booster, I endorse the statement that she has made, especially as we are now seeing cases rising.

Further to that, with cases reportedly being at one in 30—undoubtedly, that is an underestimate—and the number of hospital admissions rising, we can all see where we might be heading if we throw caution to the winds. I am as sick of restrictions as the next person, but what should we be doing, as individuals and in commercial situations, to try to nip this in the bud and prevent ourselves from heading towards a restricted winter?

The First Minister

We are seeing a rising trend in cases at the moment. We consider that it is being driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron. It is important that we continue to monitor that, so the Scottish Government will continue to monitor it very closely. None of us wants a return to restrictions of any nature.

At this stage, we are not seeing the translation into hospital cases that we saw at earlier stages of the pandemic, particularly before there were vaccinations, but that does not mean that the illness is mild for everyone. Having recently had Covid, I know that it is a nasty virus and that it can affect people seriously. Christine Grahame is therefore right to remind us that it is important to continue to take precautions in order to try to limit potential transmission of the virus. Above all, it is important that people who are eligible for any dose of the vaccine but have not had yet had that dose get it, because it provides significant protection against serious illness.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Covid cases have been rising, hospital admissions are rising and long Covid cases are going up. It is more than six months since many people had their third vaccination, including people who are in the shielding category because of health conditions. Protection through vaccination is, therefore, now waning.

Will the First Minister bring forward the autumn vaccination programme to the summer, given that we are facing another wave of Covid infection? In the light of the press conference that was held by Long Covid Scotland today, what urgent action will she take to improve services for and research into the condition?

The First Minister

We continue to monitor very carefully the effects of vaccination, informed by expert scientific and clinical opinion. It is important to be responsible about the terminology and the language that we use about the impact of vaccinations.

On the timing and coverage of a vaccination programme, or phase of a vaccination programme—this applies to the autumn campaign—we will continue to be guided by the advice and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. That is the responsible thing to do. The Government has acted quickly to ensure that recommended vaccinations get to all eligible people as quickly as possible, and we will continue to do that.

On long Covid, we are investing this year to support NHS boards and partners to improve the care and support that is available for people with long Covid. The investment that we are making will, for example, enable boards to introduce care co-ordinator roles so that there is a single point of contact for people with long Covid. It will provide extra resource to support person-centred thorough assessments of the needs of people with long Covid to ensure that they can be supported to access the most appropriate support for them. It will also provide additional capacity for community rehabilitation services to support people who are suffering from long Covid with the issues that affect their day-to-day lives.

NHS Scotland (Bullying)

To ask the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made of reports that incidents of bullying in NHS Scotland have risen by nearly 50 per cent in five years. (S6F-01255)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Bullying is always unacceptable. We want people to have available in health boards avenues to raise any experiences or concerns that they have.

In 2020, a new bullying policy was introduced to ensure that more support was available. The Government also commissioned John Sturrock QC to review the culture in NHS Highland, in particular. One outcome of that was the establishment of a ministerial working group to examine the issues of culture more broadly. That work was impacted by Covid.

However, I can confirm that we are now developing a new national leadership development programme so that the health, social work and social care sectors can carry that work on, and to help to foster an open, welcoming and supportive culture in the national health service, whereby all staff are valued and treated with dignity and respect.

Tess White

The picture is particularly alarming in the north-east, with reported cases having tripled in NHS Tayside and doubled in NHS Grampian. Those cases will have had a deeply damaging effect on the mental health of staff at a time when recruitment and retention are endemic issues in our NHS.

The First Minister mentioned the Sturrock review. What assessment has been made of whether lessons from the Sturrock review of bullying in NHS Highland have been implemented by health boards? What urgent steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that health boards foster an open and tolerant workplace culture in the future?

The First Minister

Before I come back to the very serious issue that has been raised, I acknowledge that recruitment is a challenge in the NHS, as it is in many parts of our public services and, indeed, our economy more generally. One of the reasons why recruitment is such a challenge—it is appropriate to say this, because it is six years to the day since the Brexit referendum—is Brexit and the ending of free movement, for example. The issues that we are discussing should remind us all of that folly. I hope that Conservatives, in particular, are reminded of it.

On bullying in the national health service, we should all be very clear that bullying is unacceptable. It has no place anywhere, and it certainly has no place in the NHS. As politicians, we should unite to send that message loudly and clearly.

On the specific question that was asked about John Sturrock’s review of cultural issues in NHS Highland, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care asked all health boards to consider the recommendations, to review their internal assurance mechanisms and to advise the Government of actions that they had taken. We will continue to monitor progress on that closely. As I said in my original answer, we are also developing a new national leadership development programme, which we will launch later this year.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

In the previous session of the Parliament, the First Minister’s Government agreed to debate the Sturrock report. In fact, it also agreed to do so in the current session of the Parliament. Does the First Minister think that the fact that the Government has not debated the Sturrock report has not helped to tackle bullying in the NHS, and that she should now fulfil her promise and provide time for the report to be debated, as she has undertaken to do twice before?

The First Minister

I am certainly happy to consider giving Government time for that. Of course, Opposition parties can choose to debate any issue that they want to debate in their time.

It is important that we have vigorous and robust debate on such issues in the Parliament, but it is as important that we ensure that the recommendations from John Sturrock’s review are actually implemented. That is why the work that I referred to in my earlier answer is so important.

Such issues matter. It is vital for everybody who works in our NHS that it has a culture that supports them—not one that in any way allows them to be bullied or intimidated. John Sturrock’s recommendations will certainly help to ensure that that is the case.

Women’s Health Champion

To ask the First Minister when the Scottish Government plans to appoint a women’s health champion, in light of the appointment of a women’s health ambassador for England. (S6F-01264)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will appoint a women’s health champion or ambassador this summer, which will be an important step in the delivery of our “Women’s Health Plan—A plan for 2021-2024”, which was, of course, the first women’s health plan to be published by a Government in the United Kingdom. I understand that the UK Government is still developing its women’s health strategy for England, and the Welsh Government has committed to drafting a women’s health plan, but that has not yet been done.

Through the Scottish plan, we have prioritised improving services and information for women, including initiating new research on endometriosis, launching a new women’s health platform on NHS Inform and increasing the choices that women have to access contraception at community pharmacies.

Carol Mochan

Women across Scotland face the significant challenges of health inequalities on a daily basis. For many women, those inequalities can define their lives—in some cases, simply because they are women, and in others, because they are women who live in areas where there are higher levels of deprivation. It is clear that women need many of the short-term and medium-term actions in “Women’s Health Plan”.

I thank the First Minister for confirming that the appointment will be made. If the First Minister truly recognises the urgency of the matter, will she give women across Scotland the answer that they not only want but need, and ensure that the appointment will be meaningful and will take forward the important short-term actions in “Women’s Health Plan” that have not been forthcoming so far?

The First Minister

Yes—the appointment will be meaningful. I am not entirely sure what was intended by that question: of course it will be meaningful. Whoever is appointed to the role will have the required expertise.

It is important that we take forward all the action points and recommendations in “Women’s Health Plan”. As I said, we were the first Government in the UK to produce a plan for women’s health. Since the launch of the plan, progress has been made on a range of actions. The development of the women’s health platform on NHS Inform is an important source of information, and the research call, which is jointly funded with Wellbeing of Women, on endometriosis is also important.

We have established a menopause specialist network, which meets regularly to provide peer support and support for primary care teams, which is really important. We have made progress on access to contraception in pharmacies and on action on menstrual health. Menopause is now included in the Scottish curriculum.

A range of things have already happened, but it is important that we drive forward all the recommendations in “Women’s Health Plan”, which is why the appointment of a women’s health champion is such a key part of the plan. As I said in my original answer, that appointment will be made this summer.

I will return briefly to general and constituency supplementary questions and take a final question from Maggie Chapman.

British Bill of Rights

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

Yesterday in the House of Commons, the Deputy Prime Minister laid out his plans for a so-called British bill of rights. In reality, it is a rights-removal bill that would rip the European Court on Human Rights from domestic law and rewrite the Scotland Act 1998. In their place, we are supposed to rely on Mr Raab’s common sense.

It becomes clearer every day that only by becoming independent can we build a fairer and more equal Scotland. Will the First Minister join me in opposing those dangerous plans, and can she outline what impact they might have on our plans to introduce a Scottish human rights bill during this parliamentary session?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I could hear the discomfort of Conservative members as Maggie Chapman spoke. I am not surprised that they are so deeply uncomfortable. Our having a UK Government that Scotland did not elect, which has taken us out of the European Union against our will and is now ripping up, removing or at the very least diluting human rights, is absolutely yet another argument for Scotland becoming independent.

The bill will impact on devolved responsibilities. It is therefore important that the UK Government properly consults us, but I do not hold much hope that that will happen in reality. We have plans for a human rights bill, and we remain committed to taking them forward over the course of this parliamentary session.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a brief pause before we move to members’ business.