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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, March 28, 2024


First Minister’s Question Time

Hate Incidents (Recording)

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

I remind members that my wife is a serving officer with Police Scotland.

My colleague Murdo Fraser was the subject of a spurious complaint about a social media post that was critical of the Scottish National Party Government. He discovered that Police Scotland had recorded the complaint against him as a non-crime hate incident. No crime was committed, but he is now on the police record as a perceived offender in a supposed hate incident, despite never having been charged, tried, convicted or even informed that the police had a file on him.

How can it be right that innocent people are put on the police record when they have done nothing wrong?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will try to provide some context on the issue that Douglas Ross raises. It is important that, when we talk about hate, hatred, hate crime or, indeed, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, we do so in a way that is not just considered but ensures that we stick to the facts.

First, we should remember that the recording of non-crime hate incidents came as a direct result of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. It was contained in recommendations 12 to 17 of the Macpherson report. The recording of non-crime incidents has been around for many years.

Secondly, as well as having been around for many years, the recording of non-crime incidents is done for other incidents that do not meet a criminal threshold, such as domestic abuse incidents. I do not know whether Douglas Ross is suggesting that domestic abuse incidents should not be recorded if they do not meet a criminal threshold, or whether his views apply only in relation to hate crime.

Thirdly, I will be clear: the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 is not yet in force, and nothing within it changes how hate crime or, indeed, a non-crime hate incident is recorded. I will make that point by quoting Professor James Chalmers, who is well known to members. He says that the recording of non-crime hate incidents

“is a long-standing feature of police practice. Communicating clearly just how little the Act changes is essential to avoid both undue fears about its impact and any attempts to abuse it.”

Lastly—I know that this is a substantial issue—notwithstanding what I have quoted, Police Scotland made it clear last year, and again recently because of press inquiries, that it will review how non-crime hate incidents are recorded, in cognisance of the changes that have been made in England and Wales.

I go back to the central point that I started with. There is far too much hatred in our society. We all accept that and we should all come together to help to tackle it. I urge the Conservatives in particular, notwithstanding Douglas Ross’s legitimate questions, to come together in that effort to support the 2021 act and a zero-tolerance approach to hatred in our society.

Douglas Ross

We all have a zero-tolerance approach to hatred in society, but my question—which the First Minister took more than two minutes to try to answer—was whether innocent people should have a police record when they have done nothing wrong. It sounds from Humza Yousaf’s answer that he believes that they should.

He said previously that the issue is about monitoring and about gathering data, but what will the value of that data be if, as we now see, individuals can put forward multiple complaints with little or no substance to them and data about those will be stored and recorded in the way that has been the case with Murdo Fraser?

That unacceptable incident is just the tip of the iceberg. The SNP’s hate crime act will come into force in just a few days’ time and could lead to more such cases. The controversial new law is ripe for abuse. In a letter to this Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents said that some individuals will

“seek to weaponise the new legislation and associated police investigation.”

Does Humza Yousaf agree with some of the most senior police officers in Scotland, and does he accept that this law could be weaponised?

The First Minister

Douglas Ross says that we all have a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime. However, when one takes money from a racist misogynist and then refuses to give it back, I am not entirely convinced that that is a zero-tolerance approach whatsoever.

On the issue of non-crime hate incidents, their impact and effect, and the purpose of their recording, I refer Douglas Ross to the chief constable, who was very clear at the Scottish Police Authority board meeting last week about the value of the recording of hate incidents. She said that:

“on recording and reporting hate incidents, they can and do give us a sense, initially, of community tensions. So they are useful to us in terms of engaging with communities, engaging with different groups in communities and being able to understand where there is potential for tensions to be raised.”

There is an understanding of the reasons and rationale why hate incidents are recorded. That is precisely why the Macpherson report recommended them in the first place around 25 years ago.

In relation to the hate crime act, we of course take seriously what is said by the Scottish Police Federation, ASPS and any other representative organisation that represents police officers.

However, it is incumbent on me to say that this act and the new offences in relation to stirring up are hugely important. Those stirring-up offences have existed in relation to racial hatred since 1986. We are simply extending those protections to other marginalised groups.

It is important for Douglas Ross to be honest and tell members in the chamber and the people of Scotland who it is that he thinks are not deserving of those protections, in the same way that I have been protected because of my race since 1986.

Douglas Ross

The problem is that people will not be protected if the police cannot do their job. We have had warnings, week after week, from officers on the front line, the Police Federation and now the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents. The line at the top of its letterhead says:

“representing the operational leaders of the police service in Scotland”.

It is giving as stark a warning as possible to this SNP Government that the act is flawed. It is not going to do what MSPs who supported it wanted it to do. Those warnings are being ignored by Humza Yousaf.

Let us see whether he will also ignore others. Katharina Kasper is the chair of the Scottish Police Authority’s complaints and conduct committee. She said that an investigation itself

“can become a punishment which may have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression.”

Humza Yousaf has directed his comments today at me, as Conservative leader, and at the Conservative Party. What does he say to one of his most senior SNP MPs, Joanna Cherry KC? She said:

“for many, the process will be the punishment. Being under police investigation will be stressful, costly, damaging to reputations and could lead to problems in the workplace.”

The police should not be dispatched to people’s doors to check their thinking. Does the First Minister not recognise the chilling effect that his law will have on free speech?

The First Minister

These issues were rehearsed last week, but I emphasise and reiterate to Douglas Ross that explicit protections for freedom of expression and freedom of speech are, of course, in the bill. In fact, there is a triple-lock protection, because, first, there is explicit reference in the bill to freedom of expression. That was a matter of compromise between the Government and members of the Opposition, which was a good example of how we do legislation in this Parliament. There is also, of course, a reasonable person defence in the legislation, and our legislation has to comply with the European convention on human rights and its important articles in relation to freedom of expression.

I have absolute faith in the police’s ability to weed out vexatious complaints. Unfortunately, they have to deal with vexatious complaints across a whole range of legal matters and right across the legal landscape. I have absolute faith in the police’s ability to address those issues in ways that are appropriate.

I go back to the central point that stirring-up offences are not new. They have existed since 1986—so for most of my entire life—therefore I have absolute confidence in Police Scotland’s ability to police new stirring-up offences in ways that are appropriate.

I say again to Douglas Ross that his party, the Conservatives, supported the extension of stirring-up offences for England and Wales at Westminster. If they are okay to protect people in England and Wales, why are they not okay to protect people here in Scotland? If Douglas Ross believes in a zero-tolerance approach, and if he believes that someone who is Jewish, elderly, gay or disabled should be protected from behaviour that is threatening, abusive or intended to stir up hatred, why is he opposing the legislation? From my point of view, it certainly looks as though it is just for the sake of opposition.

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

Before we move to Mr Ross’s next question, I advise the chamber that many members would like the opportunity to put questions to the First Minister today, therefore I would be grateful if we could have more concise questions and responses.

Douglas Ross

Humza Yousaf can see absolutely no flaw in the legislation that he took through the Parliament, despite the overwhelming evidence that we are getting from front-line officers and many others. The hate crime act will come into force on April fool’s day, but it is no joke. The Scottish Conservatives opposed it when it was passed and we still do.

The act is so flawed that, whatever its intentions, it is likely to create more division. Overworked and underresourced police officers will be forced to deal with hundreds of malicious complaints. Humza Yousaf’s law could be weaponised against people with opposing views. Police investigations will tarnish the names of innocent people and could silence them. That law is overreach by the Scottish National Party. How long will it take before the hate crime act goes the same way as the legislation on named persons, offensive behaviour at football matches and gender recognition reform and every other flawed Scottish National Party law?

The First Minister

Not only am I proud of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021; the entire Parliament should be proud of it. Every single political party came together to support that act, except the Scottish Conservatives. Why should members be proud of it? They should be proud of it because it was supported by a number of groups that represent some of the most marginalised people in our communities. The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities stated:

“We ... strongly support both the introduction of this new offence”—

that is, the stirring-up offence—

“and its application across all protected characteristics.”

Why is that important? It is important because Lord Bracadale, who led the independent review that helped us to develop the hate crime act, said:

“Stirring up of hatred may lead to violence or public disorder. It may incite people to commit offences such as assault”.

He called such conduct “morally wrong”, and he was absolutely right to do so.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 contains provisions that protect people’s right to freedom of expression. However, it also ensures that Scotland, the Parliament and this country send a message to people who are often the targets of hatred that we truly have a zero-tolerance approach. That is something that I am very proud of indeed.

Scottish Government Leadership

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Our country faces serious challenges that demand serious leadership. However, in the past year, we have had a Government led by Humza Yousaf with no vision, no strategy and no plan. Those are not my words but those of many people in his own party and leading figures across the country. On the two biggest issues that our country faces, Audit Scotland has said that the First Minister’s Government has no vision for the national health service and lacks political leadership on the economy. In the midst of a housing crisis, Shelter Scotland has said that the First Minister has “no credibility”. As our country grapples with a climate crisis, the Climate Change Committee says that the Government has “no comprehensive strategy” and no credible plan. Does the First Minister agree with the verdict of the experts that this is a Government with no strategy, no vision and no plan?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I tend to believe in the verdict of the Scottish people, who, time and again, have trusted the Scottish National Party to be the Government of Scotland and have rejected Anas Sarwar and Scottish Labour. Anas Sarwar, who is famed for his hubris, is already putting up the bunting and telling the people of Scotland that their votes have been taken for granted, whereas the Scottish Government and the party that I lead will never, ever take the people of Scotland for granted in any election.

I say to Anas Sarwar that, on some of the issues that he has mentioned—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Opposition members do not want to hear the record of this Government. Let me tell them about that record.

We have record investment of more than £19.5 billion in the national health service, and statistics this week show that we have record numbers of junior doctors joining the NHS. There are record levels of staffing in the NHS under this Government. We are making improvements to help our NHS through recovery. How? By investing in our NHS staff to the point where they are the best-paid staff anywhere in the UK—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

What is markedly different in Scotland, compared to Conservative-run England or Labour-run Wales, is that, in Scotland, we have not lost a single day of NHS activity to strike action.

Anas Sarwar

There are record levels of denial and bluster from the First Minister. There is no vision, no strategy and no plan—that is failing on the basics of Government.

That incompetence has consequences. In health, NHS waiting lists have gone up in the past year, with tens of thousands more people being added. On the economy, there has been a complete failure to deliver growth. Businesses are struggling and are cancelling investment. In justice, plans to let crimes go uninvestigated are being green-lighted and, across the country, police stations are closing. In education, standards are falling, violence is rising and teacher numbers are being cut. In housing, there is a cut of £190 million when, tonight, nearly 10,000 children will go to sleep without a home to call their own.

This is the First Minister’s record after just a year in the job. How can Scotland afford another two years of this?

The First Minister

My record in the past year is that an estimated 100,000 children are being lifted out of poverty in Scotland. A record number of junior doctors are joining the NHS in Scotland and we have the best-paid NHS staff anywhere in the UK. My record is that not a single day of NHS activity has been lost to strike action, which is very different from Labour-run Wales, where, this week, junior doctors have once again been forced to go on strike.

On the key economic indicators under this Government, gross domestic product per head has increased in Scotland at a greater rate than in the UK. Productivity has increased at a greater rate per head in comparison with the rest of the UK. Just last month, statistics showed that we have greater private sector employment growth than there is in any other nation or region of the UK.

What is Anas Sarwar’s record? The only consistency over the past year is that he is completely inconsistent. He has U-turned, dumped every single principle or policy and fallen into line behind Keir Starmer.

Even SNP members are feeling sorry for the First Minister.

Members: Oh!

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

He does not seem to want to listen to me or to experts or business leaders across Scotland, but maybe he will listen to his own side. In just a year of his leadership, there have been three defections, nine SNP members of Parliament have abandoned ship, and his own deputy leader has said that SNP MPs might not turn up to work. He has been called authoritarian by one of his longest-serving MSPs, has been accused of lacking vision by Kate Forbes, and has been called

“a commentator ... and not a leader”

by Alex Neil, while his general election strategy has been trashed by Pete Wishart, his party’s longest-serving MP. In one short year, Humza Yousaf has lost every electoral test that he has been set. Is he worried that the people of Scotland, like many people sitting behind him, believe that Alex Neil is right and that the strategy is “mince”?

The First Minister

There is another display of Anas Sarwar’s famed arrogance and hubris in the chamber, taking the people of Scotland for granted. He talks about vision—[Interruption.]—but he is getting support from the Conservatives, which tells you everything you need to know—[Interruption.]

First Minister, if you might sit.

Colleagues, let us ensure that we can hear one another.

The First Minister

When it comes to vision, let me remind Anas Sarwar that it was just last week that his colleagues in UK Labour were praising Margaret Thatcher for her vision. I can stand here and say that, in the year that I have been First Minister, I have stood by my values and my principles.

Those values and principles will see an estimated 100,000 children lifted out of poverty. Those values will see record investment in our NHS and record numbers of junior doctors joining it. They have seen the implementation of a fully funded council tax freeze, despite Labour’s best efforts to thwart it. Those values have seen private sector employment grow in Scotland more than in any other UK nation.

As I have said, the only consistency that Anas Sarwar has is his inconsistency—his U-turning and dumping of policies, from the two-child limit to the lifting of the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Most shamefully, there is the latest betrayal of Women Against State Pension Inequality—WASPI. Anas Sarwar promised to campaign for the WASPI women, but he has now turned his back on them. That is unforgivable. The WASPI women will not forget and they will not forgive.

Artificial Pitches (Infill)

3. Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government plans to take following the publication of the University of Stirling study highlighting the reported risk of crumb rubber infill on artificial pitches. (S6F-02979)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Local sport and leisure facilities, including artificial grass pitches, are vital in supporting the physical and mental health of the nation. We will, of course, give full consideration to the new research in that area, and we are supportive of efforts to examine evidence that has been commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the wider impacts of microplastics. That report, which is expected early next year, will be material in helping to shape regulation that we will take forward in that area.

One factor that will also help to shape our future action is the work of the European Union to phase out the use of rubber crumb in 2031. Sportscotland is also working with others to explore alternative artificial pitch systems and more suitable infill products to replace the spread of microplastics in the environment.

Stephen Kerr

It is important to say that we are not talking about all artificial playing surfaces. For example, there is an excellent new artificial pitch at Falkirk stadium, which was installed after the United Kingdom Government, working with the Scottish Football Association, provided funding through the levelling up fund. We are talking about one particular type of artificial pitch that uses artificial turf crumb rubber infill from shredded end-of-life vehicle tyres. That is terrible for microplastics and, as is highlighted in the University of Stirling report, it is potentially bad for health.

The obvious question is: do we know exactly how many such pitches there are and, indeed, where they are? Will the First Minister commit the Scottish Government to co-ordinating and working with local authorities to determine the state of artificial pitches across Scotland and to publishing the results of that?

The First Minister

I will seriously consider Stephen Kerr’s suggestion, and we will look to see whether that is a worthwhile endeavour, given the recent research that he has indicated.

I go back to my response to Stephen Kerr’s opening question. We are very supportive of the efforts to examine the evidence, and work is being undertaken by DEFRA on the wider impacts of microplastics. I understand that sportscotland is also working with other home nation sports associations to explore what alternative artificial pitch systems are more sustainable in the longer term. That work is on-going.

I am happy to ensure that the appropriate minister writes to Stephen Kerr with the details of the work that is already being undertaken, even while we are waiting for that research. However, we are supportive of the research to understand the impacts of crumb rubber infill and we are getting a better understanding of its use across Scotland.

XL Bully-type Dogs (Definition)

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

I declare an interest as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare.

To ask the First Minister, further to the regulations relating to XL bully-type dogs coming into force, to whom a dog owner can apply for advice on whether their dog fits the conformation of the XL bully-type, in light of reports that a substantial number of dog owners in England are now applying to deregister their dogs having established retrospectively that their pet does not conform to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs definition of an XL bully-type dog. (S6F-02987)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government’s website provides the definition used for an XL bully dog. It also provides a guide for owners to check whether their dog falls within the definition of an XL bully, if they are not sure, and whether they need to apply for an exemption certificate by the end of July. The Minister for Victims and Community Safety has written to all MSPs to provide further information about the exemption scheme, which opens on Monday 1 April and goes all the way to 31 July.

Christine Grahame

In England and Wales, 55,000 applications for registration have been made and 300 healthy and well-behaved dogs have been put down as a result of knee-jerk UK legislation, following horrendous, but very few, fatal dog attacks that were not even wholly attributable to an XL bully-type dog.

There is, as yet, no UK guidance on how to deregister. The pet owner decides whether their pet conforms to the DEFRA definition—20 inches in height for a dog, and 19 inches for a bitch—to be registered. If the animal does not conform to that, the owner need not check the other confirmation characteristics.

I respectfully suggest that the Scottish Government provide clear guidance to the public at large, in a publicity scheme, on the definition, and on deregistration, given that we are stuck—to be frank—with this wholly unnecessary and unjust legislation.

The First Minister

I note Christine Grahame’s criticisms of the way in which the UK Government introduced the legislation. I know that she also has concerns about the Scottish Government action in this regard, but she has nonetheless been constructive in her challenge, and I welcome her approach.

On her ask for the Scottish Government to be crystal clear about the guidance and to look at some kind of publicity campaign, I will absolutely take that away and give it weighty consideration. I know that the member is passionate about the issue. As she recognises, we are seeking to close a loophole that has been created by the UK Government legislation; it is, therefore, important that the definition of an XL bully dog is consistent across the UK.

On the deregistering and exemption process, we are, again, looking to have a consistent approach across the UK, and we are in discussions with the UK Government on that. Nonetheless, I will take away what Christine Grahame has said, and her suggestion for crystal-clear guidance and any potential publicity campaign that we can undertake around that.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Much of the current confusion could have been avoided if Scotland had kept pace with other parts of the UK on regulations of this nature. Yesterday, the Minister for Victims and Community Safety reiterated the Scottish Government’s position that it’s concern is about deed, not breed.

However, the legislation is, by its very nature, breed specific. Over a number of weeks, we have seen attacks on people; dogs have been killed; armed police have had to restrain this type of dog; and there have been a series of very serious incidents, some of which have been fatal to humans and to other pets. The problem is clear.

How can the Government maintain its current position that it is about deed, not breed? More importantly, what will the Government do to enforce the new regulations and to ensure that there is clarity for the public?

The First Minister

Jamie Greene makes the point that we did not keep pace with the United Kingdom legislation—well, we were not informed about the UK legislation. The first that we were ever told about it was via the BBC News website, on 15 September, as it was being reported. It was two weeks later, on 29 September, that the Scottish Government received a letter from the UK Government on the actual issue, but that gave no detail at all of the specific approach and, crucially, no detail of the potential impact on Scotland.

On 14 November, the Minister for Victims and Community Safety wrote to the UK Government to seek clarity on controls on English and Welsh XL bully dogs in terms of selling or gifting dogs in Scotland. On 14 December, a month later, the relevant UK Government minister replied, giving no clarity whatsoever on the issue.

As the member knows, Scotland has a dog control notice regime, which does not exist in England and Wales. I have great confidence in that system. There are currently more than 1,200 active dog control notices, and XL bully dogs represent 2 per cent of the DCNs that are in force.

I stand by the position of deed, not breed. The decision to depart from that approach is not one that we have taken lightly at all; we have had to respond to circumstances in other parts of the UK. What would make our lives materially much easier, and enable us to be more consistent in our approach, would be if the UK Government were not to simply announce, without telling us, legislation that could have an impact in Scotland, but actually engaged with us beforehand.

Glasgow School of Art (Restoration)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to expedite the restoration of the Glasgow School of Art, in light of it being nearly a decade since the first fire. (S6F-02995)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government recognises the cultural and historical significance of the Mackintosh building; its world-renowned status; and the importance of the Mack to the Glasgow School of Art, to the city of Glasgow and to Scotland as a whole.

We have welcomed the Glasgow School of Art’s plan for a faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh building. The building is owned by the Glasgow School of Art, which has responsibility for its own strategic and operational decision making. The Glasgow School of Art’s ambition to rebuild the Mack and eventually reopen it as a graduate school for the benefit of staff, students, the local community and the city will, I am sure, be welcomed right across the chamber.

Paul Sweeney

The Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building is indeed one of the world’s most revered art nouveau buildings. It is an intrinsic part of Glasgow’s identity, yet the shell of the building has been left languishing for 10 years after the devastating second fire of June 2018, as chronicled by The Herald newspaper this week.

As the French President did with Notre-Dame, will the First Minister personally intervene to expedite the restoration of the Glasgow School of Art by following international best practice? Will he establish a new statutory delivery authority with specific responsibility for developing and delivering the restoration project, in concert with the Glasgow School of Art, by 2030?

The First Minister

I recognise the good work that Paul Sweeney does as a trustee of Glasgow City Heritage Trust. I know that he has a genuine interest, as we all do, in seeing the building restored for the benefit of the city and the country as a whole. There are differences between the Mack building and Notre-Dame cathedral; the cathedral is owned by the French Government, while the Mack is owned by the Glasgow School of Art.

It is absolutely right for Paul Sweeney and other members to question the length of time that the restoration is taking. As part of the context, it would be fair to say that, for a number of years, the building was under the control of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service as it conducted its investigation into the fire, which took a number of years because of the complexities. The Glasgow School of Art continues to have responsibility for the Mack. I do not think that the Scottish Government commandeering the building is the right approach.

In its outline business case, the Glasgow School of Art has explained that it expects funding for the Mackintosh building to come from a range of sources, such as fire insurance proceeds, donations and pledges, capital receipts and reserves. It has not made a request to the Government at this stage, but we will look to ensure that we can support the Glasgow School of Art in the restoration of the Mack, because it is of critical importance. After First Minister’s questions, I will ensure that we continue to reach out to the Glasgow School of Art to see what further support we can provide.

New Deal for Tenants

To ask the First Minister whether he will provide an update on what action the Scottish Government is taking to deliver the new deal for tenants. (S6F-02974)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I am delighted that, on Tuesday this week, the Housing (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Parliament, marking a huge milestone in our commitment to deliver the new deal for tenants, of which we are extremely proud. The bill creates new tenants’ rights, introduces powers for longer-term private sector rent controls and new duties that are aimed at the prevention of homelessness. A fairer, well-regulated private rented sector is in the interests of both tenants and responsible landlords. Our proposals will help to improve affordability for tenants in the private rented sector, while recognising the importance of landlords investing in the quality of their properties.

Maggie Chapman

The publication of the housing bill is an important step in delivering the new deal for tenants. It includes key policies that the Scottish Greens consider vital, such as protections against evictions, a framework for long-term rent controls and new rights for tenants to have pets and decorate their homes. I know that many want it to go further, but vested interests say that it is already too radical. How has the Scottish Government sought to make those proposals robust against legal challenge? Will the First Minister commit to ensuring that the voices of tenants are heard as loudly as those of property investors?

The First Minister

I am very proud of the Housing (Scotland) Bill and the additional protections that we are introducing for tenants. It is important to recognise that the vast majority of landlords are responsible and will undoubtedly have a good relationship with their tenants.

I am grateful for everybody’s engagement—tenants, landlords, the private rented sector, investors and others—over the past two years, since we first consulted on the new deal for tenants. We will continue to listen to the voices of tenants, as we have done throughout. Tenants having clear rights, which they know how to exercise and feel empowered to use, is not just good for tenants but, as I have mentioned, is good for landlords and, I suggest, good for letting agents, too.

I recognise that there are strong feelings about some of the measures that are being proposed in the bill. However, the Government believes that the rented sector reform measures continue to safeguard the reasonable and proportionate use of landlords’ property for rental purposes, seeking to deliver a fair balance between protection for tenants, which we all accept, agree on and support, and the rights of landlords. I hope that we can all agree that a fairer, well-regulated rented sector is good for both tenants and responsible landlords.

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Yesterday, the national tenants union, Living Rent, described the Housing (Scotland) Bill as a huge step forward for tenants. Will the First Minister outline how the new legislation will help to prevent homelessness and build on Scotland’s already strong housing legislation?

The First Minister

Scotland already has the strongest rights in the United Kingdom for people who are homeless, but we know that we can do more. We want to build on that record—hence, the legislation that has been introduced. The bill brings a renewed focus on prevention, so that households do not have to go through the trauma and disruption of homelessness in the first place. Relevant bodies, such as health boards, will be required to ask about and act on a person’s housing situation, and local authorities will be required to act earlier to prevent homelessness.

Matt Downie, the chief executive of Crisis, has “strongly welcomed” the bill, saying that the plans hold the potential to create a truly world-leading homelessness system. Our job, of course, is to ensure that that potential translates into reality. We are committed to working closely with stakeholders to ensure that the guidance and training to support the new prevention duties will be fit for purpose.

We move to constituency and general supplementary questions. Let us keep the questions and the responses concise.

People with Learning Difficulties and Complex Needs (Care)

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Two years ago, in the “Coming Home” report, ministers pledged that, by March 2024, we would see real change, with out-of-area residential placements and inappropriate hospital stays for young people ending, and that we would see a proper care package put in place for families, with families and individuals having that choice taken into account. However, the Government has failed to deliver that, so I ask the First Minister when he will update Parliament on that promise, which was made to some of the most vulnerable people in our country and their families.

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I recognise that Miles Briggs has a long-standing interest in the issue. He has raised it many times and I remember him raising it with me in previous ministerial guises. I say to him that we take the issue incredibly seriously. I will look at the latest progress in relation to the update that we have promised, but we want to make sure that we are doing it right in terms of providing proper care packages and that those who are most vulnerable—as Miles Briggs rightly describes them—are given the appropriate care. I will ensure that he is given a written update after First Minister’s question time.

South Lanarkshire Care Homes (Closure)

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

This week, South Lanarkshire health and social care partnership voted to close two care homes, including McClymont House in Lanark, to help to plug a £33 million funding shortfall. The closures will save just £600,000 next year, but they are devastating for residents—older, vulnerable people who now face being kicked out of their homes. The partnership, which includes councillors in the First Minister’s party, has written to the Scottish Government with a last-minute appeal for it to provide additional support to save those care homes. Will the First Minister do the right thing? Will he listen to families whose loved ones will soon lose their homes? Will he intervene and save McClymont House and Dewar House care homes?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

On the closure of Dewar House and McClymont House in South Lanarkshire, nobody wants to see the closure of good-quality care homes. The context of the issue is that we have increased the local government settlement for 2024-25, and we have met our ambition to increase social care spend by 25 per cent two years earlier than we said we would. Nobody wants to see the closure of good-quality care homes, but we know that care homes can close for a number of reasons. That is why we are committed to the national care service, which will provide national, consistent and high-quality social care support.

It is disappointing that South Lanarkshire Council, which is run by Colin Smyth’s party, is choosing to disinvest. We will seek assurances that alternative arrangements are being put in place to support the people of South Lanarkshire. I go back to the point that we are giving a real-terms increase to local government in the budget for 2024-25.

Valve Components Ltd (Redundancies)

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

The First Minister may be aware that Glenalmond Group Ltd went into administration earlier this month. That led to almost 100 people being made redundant with no notice, including 94 people at Valve Components Ltd in East Kilbride. Will the First Minister outline what support has been, or can be, provided to the workers there, and will he also talk about his vision for the future of manufacturing in Scotland? It is a proud part of our history and a sector with a key role to play in our future.

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I am very concerned to hear that Valve Components Ltd, which is part of the Glenalmond Group, has entered administration, with 95 immediate job losses. Of course, my immediate thoughts are with the affected employees and their families at such a difficult time. Scottish Enterprise has been liaising with the administrators and has alerted them to a number of businesses in the East Kilbride area that have, at this time, expressed an interest in recruiting some of the impacted staff.

In addition to partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—information being provided to employees, a PACE event was held last week with a view to minimising the time that individuals who are affected by redundancy are out of work.

On the broader vision, I am happy for the appropriate cabinet secretary to write to Collette Stevenson with details, but we are investing in the manufacturing sector’s future—notably £75 million in the flagship building of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, which I was proud to open last June.

Aye Write Book Festival (Funding)

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

The Aye Write book festival, which has been running in Glasgow for nearly 20 years, has been cancelled this year, just weeks before it was due to return, after its funding bid was rejected by Creative Scotland. That comes just weeks after it was revealed that the quango had initially awarded £85,000 for an explicit film. Can the First Minister clarify Creative Scotland’s prioritisation process in cultural funding decisions? What steps is the Scottish Government taking to safeguard the diversity and vibrancy of Glasgow’s cultural landscape?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Aye Write is a fantastic festival. Anybody who has had the pleasure of attending its events knows the value that it brings, not just to the city but, I suggest, to the country as a whole.

Annie Wells will be aware that those decisions are for Creative Scotland to make, independently of Scottish Government ministers. Nonetheless, having been alerted to the news, I will look at what support the Scottish Government could provide, because Annie Wells is right—Aye Write is a fantastic festival, and I would say that it is something of a cultural icon and an institution within our festival and cultural landscape. I will examine the issue and I will be happy to keep the member updated.

Salmon Exports (Impact of Brexit)

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

How does the First Minister respond to reports today that Brexit has cost Scotland up to £100 million a year in salmon exports? Companies have faced increased costs due to the hard Brexit that the Tories forced on Scotland, and Labour, too, has now reportedly rowed back on its pledge to renegotiate the United Kingdom’s Brexit deal. Does the First Minister agree that, in continuing to endorse Brexit, both the Tories and Labour are showing little regard for that vital industry?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I could not agree more. There is no doubt—and almost all of the independent research shows—that Brexit has been an unmitigated, complete and utter disaster for our economy. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast suggests that the UK economy will reduce by 4 per cent because of the impacts of Brexit.

I expect the Conservatives, who are hard Brexiteers, to continue down that disastrous path, but I cannot understand why Labour is falling in behind the Conservatives and supporting a hard Brexit. Scotland’s food and drink sector has borne the brunt of Brexit, which has disrupted supply chains, created new barriers to trade and driven up food prices. [Interruption.] Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie are laughing at the damage that has been done to the food and drink sector. It is no laughing matter, because it is crystal clear that there is a Westminster consensus in favour of Brexit, no matter what the cost to Scotland is. The only way to stop that damage and rejoin the European Union is for Scotland to become an independent nation.

National Union of Journalists (Industrial Action)

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Good journalism is crucial to a healthy democracy. No member in the chamber would claim to relish being confronted with a microphone held by the likes of Bernard Ponsonby. Over the past 34 years, he has shortened the career of many politicians, but we all recognise the crucial job that he has done and that his excellent colleagues across our media continue to do.

However, normal service will be disrupted today, as National Union of Journalists members at STV take strike action for the first time in more than 20 years. I understand that, counter to perceptions, half of the newsroom staff are paid less than a teacher’s starting salary. Despite STV posting £20 million of profits, it is the only broadcaster that is not passing on to all of its workers a percentage pay increase that meets inflation. In the context of its fair work responsibilities, what representations has the Government made to STV on the matter, in order to encourage meaningful negotiations, a fair deal for the journalists and an end to the dispute?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will start where Neil Bibby, rightly, started, by praising and paying tribute to Bernard Ponsonby and his long-standing career of more than 30 years in journalism. I wish him well in his retirement, and I am grateful that I no longer have to be on the other end of a tough interview by him.

Although it is not for the Scottish Government to directly intervene in the dispute, I absolutely urge STV, as Neil Bibby has asked me to do, to get around the table with the employees and their union to try to ensure that a satisfactory outcome can be reached. Just yesterday, I was speaking to some STV journalists—again, on the other end of an interview—and I was told that one of the reasons for concern is the disparity between how ITV is treating its employees and how STV is doing so.

It is our long-standing position that a progressive approach to industrial relations, along with stronger protections for workers and fair pay, is at the very heart of a more successful society. We will continue to support trade unions across a variety of sectors, and we encourage STV in this instance to immediately get back around the table in order to get a fair pay settlement for STV employees including, crucially, journalists.

VisitScotland Information Centres

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Yesterday’s news that VisitScotland plans to close its iCentre network across the country by 2026 and pursue a digital-first strategy has come as a shock in the northern isles, which rely on tourism. Does the First Minister share the view of some in the tourism sector that that is a retrograde step, and is he able to indicate whether any impact assessment has been conducted on island communities that are affected by VisitScotland’s decision?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

It is important for VisitScotland to continue its engagement with the tourism sector, which it has done in relation to the decision. VisitScotland’s research shows that 99 per cent of visitors now book accommodation in advance of travelling, and that 67 per cent of global travellers book their whole itinerary in advance of arriving at their destination by using online tools, social media or travel intermediaries.

The number of visitors using iCentres has dropped significantly over several years, particularly after Covid. The decrease from 2019 to 2023 ranges from 16 per cent to 57 per cent across 25 locations. Notwithstanding that, Beatrice Wishart’s points are important, and I expect VisitScotland to continue to engage in what is an important sector for Scotland—the tourism industry—which is worth so much to us and which opens Scotland up to the rest of the world.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a short suspension to allow those who are leaving the chamber and the public gallery to do so.

12:47 Meeting suspended.  

12:48 On resuming—