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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, November 30, 2023


First Minister’s Question Time

Michael Matheson (Expenses)

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

The Deputy First Minister was interviewed last week about Michael Matheson’s dishonesty. She was asked whether Scottish National Party ministers always tell the truth. She was given multiple opportunities to answer with a simple yes, but she did not. I will give her another opportunity today. Do Scottish Government ministers always tell the truth?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

Before I answer Douglas Ross’s question, I pay tribute to the late Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. Lord James had a long and distinguished career as a public servant in three parliamentary chambers, including this one, of course. Those of us who served alongside him in the Scottish Parliament remember a kind, funny and warm gentleman who embodied the spirit of cross-party friendship and collaboration, which is part of the ethos of the Parliament and has served us well. On behalf of the Scottish Government, I offer my condolences to Lord James’s family and his friends. [Applause.]

It is, of course, for Douglas Ross to decide on his questions, but it is very telling that, for weeks now, he has had nothing to say on the Tory autumn statement, which has been devastating for Scotland’s public services; nothing to say on the cost of living crisis; nothing to say on Grangemouth; and nothing to say on the climate emergency, as leaders gather to discuss the biggest challenge of our age. Of course, these are Tory priorities.

I will answer Douglas Ross’s question about what I said. Of course, ministers should tell the truth. I was referring to the fact that, sometimes, people get things wrong and make mistakes, including Douglas Ross, who made a mistake worth around £28,000 when he was late with his outside earnings. Of course, ministers should always tell the truth.

Douglas Ross

I will begin on an area on which we agree. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was a true gentleman and a friend to everyone he worked with, not just in Holyrood and at Westminster as a minister, an MP and a member of the House of Lords but as a local councillor, where he started his career in public service. The tributes that we have seen from across the political spectrum have helped his wife, Susie, their children and the wider family at this difficult time. They are all in our thoughts today.

The Deputy First Minister’s answer was telling. She was basically saying that there are more important issues than a Government minister claiming £11,000 of taxpayers’ money and thinking that he could get away with it. That is why this issue is important.

The simple question was: do Scottish Government ministers always tell the truth? We still have not had a yes or no answer. We have had the conditional answer that they would try to but that, sometimes, they make mistakes. However, that is not what is at the heart of the issue. It is about what Michael Matheson claimed for. It is about what he said, what he did and then the cover-up. It is now quite clear that the SNP Government defends dishonesty. Michael Matheson claimed taxpayers’ money when he should not have done. He changed his story. He made up ludicrous excuses. Does the Deputy First Minister seriously believe that Michael Matheson has been 100 per cent honest throughout this scandal?

Shona Robison

Michael Matheson has reimbursed the Parliament in full for the costs that were incurred. He also set out his position in detail in his personal statement and he has, of course, referred himself to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. Importantly, he has recognised that he should have handled the situation better, he has accepted responsibility and he has rightly apologised in full.

The appropriate thing now is to allow the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to look into the matter, and I am sure that it will do so with the pace that is required.

Douglas Ross

Of course, Michael Matheson could have handled the situation better—he could have told the truth; he could have been honest. We cannot park the issue with the Scottish Parliament’s investigation, because it is looking at the claim that was made for taxpayers to pay £11,000 for a bill; it is not looking at the statements that Michael Matheson made, which now seem to have been dishonest.

Let us remember that Michael Matheson is the MSP who once bragged about watching six football matches in a single weekend, but now he wants us to believe that, when he was on holiday, he never watched the games, he never knew that the football was on, he never spoke to anyone about it and, when a giant bill came in, he was completely clueless about it. Does the Deputy First Minister seriously expect the public to believe a word of that story?

Shona Robison

As I have said, Michael Matheson set out the circumstances and the way in which he handled them in his personal statement. As for the matters that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body will look into, those are matters for it. Obviously, it can refer the matter elsewhere if it feels that that would be the appropriate thing to do.

Michael Matheson has given a full account to the Parliament; he also opened himself up to questions from members of the Parliament. He has accepted that he should have handled the situation better, he has accepted responsibility and he has rightly apologised. The appropriate thing now is to allow the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to look into the matter.

I said what I said at the beginning about Douglas Ross’s priorities because he has had nothing to say about a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement that has given no money whatsoever to this Government or this country for our public services for next year. I think that the public are pretty concerned about that, because it will impact on every part of the public sector across Scotland. If the Tories do not care about that, the Scottish National Party certainly does.

Douglas Ross

Of course, I have spoken about the autumn statement and the £545 million of extra money that is coming to the Scottish Government to spend on public services, but the public are also speaking about how one of the most senior members of the SNP Government—one of the highest-paid ministers in Scotland—tried to claim £11,000 of taxpayers’ money for his iPad bill.

The problem for the SNP Government is that the public do not believe Michael Matheson. Yesterday, a poll showed that the vast majority of Scots believe that he should stand down, and that included a majority of SNP voters. They believe that Michael Matheson needs to go. They can see that he is not focused on the day job. In the middle of a national health service crisis, the public need to trust the health secretary, but they do not. When nurses and doctors meet him, they need to know that he is honest, but he is not. The health secretary has lost the confidence of the country and he needs to go for the good of our NHS.

This week, the Deputy First Minister said that the public sector workforce would need to shrink. Should that not start with the sacking of Michael Matheson?

Shona Robison

What Douglas Ross did not refer to was the fact that the poll found that 72 per cent were dissatisfied with Rishi Sunak’s performance as Prime Minister and that 54 per cent of people support independence for Scotland.

Michael Matheson is getting on with the job of being health secretary ahead of what is expected to be a challenging winter for the health service. If Douglas Ross cared at all about the NHS, he would be objecting to the fact that only £10.8 million has been given to the NHS in Scotland for next year by the United Kingdom Tory Government—less than £11 million. [Interruption.]


Shona Robison

I think that actions speak louder than words. I do not think that Douglas Ross and the Tories care about the NHS if they are prepared to support the Tory Government on that matter.

This week, the health secretary has announced £42 million of funding for an extra 153 training places for doctors next year, which is the largest annual expansion on record, and he met the Royal College of Nursing to discuss our agenda for change and to hear about the issues that nurses face. On that point, there is, of course, no money for agenda for change pay for next year from this Tory Government, which is an absolute outrage.

National Health Service (Waiting Lists)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I begin by echoing the comments about the sad passing of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and send condolences to his family. I never had the privilege of meeting him, but I think we can tell from the comments made from across the political spectrum that he was held in high regard.

For weeks now, the health secretary has been trying to save his job while the crisis in the national health service continues. Things are getting worse: in one week, more than 1,000 patients waited for more than 12 hours to be seen at accident and emergency. Tens of thousands of people are waiting for crucial diagnostic tests, including for cancer, and waiting lists are now the longest that they have ever been, with 828,398 Scots now on an NHS waiting list. More than 80,000 of them have been waiting for more than a year. Tragically, many will never receive treatment. Can the Deputy First Minister tell us how many people died last year while on an NHS waiting list?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

The Government and I take those matters very seriously indeed. Those are challenging figures and we know that, behind those figures, are people who are waiting too long for treatment.

Long waits are regrettable. We have seen a significant reduction in the longest waits since those targets were announced and we have also seen some improvement in waiting times for diagnosis. The latest figures also show that NHS activity has increased.

We are committed to making further reductions in waiting times through our £1 billion investment in the NHS recovery plan, which will increase capacity and help the NHS to recover from the impact of Covid. In each of the next three years, we will provide NHS boards with £100 million to help reduce in-patient and day case waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients and to deliver year-on-year reductions.

None of that is made easier by the complete lack of funding from the United Kingdom Tory Government for next year’s NHS requirements.

Anas Sarwar

The Government has its head in the sand. There are 828,398 of our fellow Scots on NHS waiting lists, yet that pathetic answer is what we get from the Government.

The answers to our freedom of information requests to health boards showed that, in the past year, 24,567 people died while on an NHS waiting list. Many of those people waited anxiously, often in pain, for potentially life-saving tests and operations.

Two years ago, Humza Yousaf launched an NHS recovery plan that has failed. Things have got worse, not better, but, rather than having a Government that focuses on those problems, we have a First Minister and a health secretary who are going from crisis to crisis. When lives are being lost, we need a health secretary and a Government that are focused on doing their jobs, not saving their jobs.

Shona Robison

The health secretary, and the entire Government, is focused on the NHS because those are serious statistics and because, as I said earlier, behind every statistic is a person and a family. I deeply regret the fact that anyone has lost their life while on an NHS waiting list.

However, those issues and challenges are not unique to the Scottish health service. Every health system is under the same amount of challenge. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Welsh health minister said:

“The NHS in Wales, like other healthcare systems, is facing the most challenging financial pressure in recent history. This is due to the impact of continued increasing demand on services, persistently high inflation on costs including energy, medicines, and pay related pressures, in addition to the impact of the pandemic and on-going COVID-related costs.”

We are all facing these challenges.

I set out in my first answer some of the actions that we are taking, including the £1 billion NHS recovery plan and the £300 million investment over the next three years to bring down in-patient and day-case waiting lists. [Interruption.] I would have thought that Jackie Baillie would welcome that, rather than talking from a sedentary position.

None of this is made easier by the £10.8 million that we have received, or will receive, in consequentials for the NHS next year—

Thank you, Deputy First Minister.

Let me be clear—

I call Anas Sarwar. We need to move on. Mr Sarwar, please ask your next question.

Anas Sarwar

It is not working. People are dying and waiting lists are going up. Our NHS is in crisis. Patients are being failed and staff are burnt out. We have a health secretary fighting to save his job. [Interruption.] I say to SNP back benchers that it is their constituents on NHS waiting lists and that perhaps they should show some care for them.

After 16 years of SNP Government, it keeps getting worse, not better. Shona Robison was the health secretary who promised to end delayed discharge, but numbers are still on the rise. Humza Yousaf was the health secretary who promised to bring down waiting lists, but, in the two years since his failed recovery plan, they have gone up by 28 per cent. That is 182,000 more people on NHS waiting lists. Michael Matheson was appointed to fix the mess, but today we reveal that more than 24,000 people have died on an NHS waiting list in the past year.

Will the Deputy First Minister not accept that NHS patients and staff cannot afford yet another winter with a failing SNP health secretary and a failing SNP Government?

Shona Robison

As I said earlier, these challenges—and they are challenges—are affecting every healthcare system in these islands. There is nothing exceptional about the Scottish health service or the challenges that it faces, even though Labour would try to make it so. If the member looks at the comments that I mentioned from the Labour health minister in Wales, he will see that it is facing exactly the same problems. There is nothing exceptional about the problems that the NHS in Scotland is facing.

In my previous answer, I set out the action that we are taking. We are investing and we will continue to invest. We will continue to make sure that funding goes to the front line and we will not follow Tory spending plans.

What would not help, though, is Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting’s answer, which seems to be to open the door for the private sector to come into the NHS. [Interruption.] I do not think that that is the answer for Scotland’s health service going forward. This Government will invest in a publicly funded—[Interruption.]


—and publicly run health service. We will not be privatising it.

World AIDS Day

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to tackle any stigma associated with disclosing a diagnosis of HIV, in light of world AIDS day on 1 December. (S6F-02595)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

Tackling stigma is a significant part of our work towards HIV transmission elimination by 2030. It is good to see so many members across the chamber wearing their red ribbons today. That commitment is clear in the sexual health and blood-borne virus action plan, which was published this week, and the HIV transmission elimination plan, which will follow shortly.

We funded the excellent anti-stigma campaign that was developed by the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is the UK’s first television campaign on HIV-AIDS in nearly four decades. The Terrence Higgins Trust estimates that it has already reached almost 10.5 million UK viewers and listeners throughout broadcast media, and 43 per cent of the adult population in the STV region.

Building on that, we will continue to work with healthcare professionals and the public to raise awareness and to dispel myths around HIV so that people living with the virus can do so without fear of stigma and discrimination.

Clare Haughey

During the debate marking world AIDS day this week, it was very welcome that members across the chamber were united in their will to end HIV transmission in Scotland by 2030. Can the Deputy First Minister say any more about the steps that the Scottish Government is taking to achieve that ambitious goal?

Shona Robison

A vast amount of work is under way as part of the sexual health and blood borne virus action plan, which was published on Tuesday, and under the HIV delivery plan, which will be published shortly. That includes working with three NHS boards to pilot HIV opt-out testing in accident and emergency departments, developing an ePrEP clinic and supporting our third sector partners in continued community engagement, including through fast-track cities.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Let us never forget that the H in HIV stands for “human”. There are not enough minutes in the day to name even a handful of the people the world has lost to AIDS over the past 40 years. Many suffered the illness in the face of prejudice, ignorance and bigotry, I am afraid to say. It is good to see that the science has come on so well in the past 40 years, but there is still so much more to do.

Will the Deputy First Minister ensure that the Scottish Government pulls out all the stops to ensure that we end new transmissions of HIV by 2030? In doing so, will the Government pay tribute to the incredible organisations that work day in, day out, to tackle that danger that is much greater than the virus itself—the danger of stigma?

Shona Robison

I very much agree with Jamie Greene. I very much wish to join him in paying tribute to those organisations that have worked for many decades from what were really difficult times, when stigma was commonplace in every walk of life, to a position now when, thankfully, we have moved on a lot from that stigma—although too many people still suffer from it. That is why the present campaign is so important for breaking down those barriers—and it stands in stark contrast to some of the media campaigns from decades ago.

I join Jamie Greene and others as we play our role, as leaders in the Parliament and in Scotland, in breaking down that stigma even further.

A96 Corridor Review

To ask the First Minister when the Scottish Government will publish the results of the A96 corridor review. (S6F-02577)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

The Government remains committed to making improvements to the A96, including dualling the road from Inverness to Nairn and the Nairn bypass, despite the stark challenges to our capital budget that we now face as a result of the United Kingdom Government’s autumn statement, which, taking into account inflation, is forecast to result in an almost 10 per cent real-terms cut in—[Interruption.]

Members, we need to hear the Deputy First Minister.

Shona Robison

Just in case members did not hear that, there has been nearly a 10 per cent real-terms cut in our capital funding.

I am acutely aware of the importance of the route to those who live and work in the north and north-east of Scotland. The current plan is to fully dual the route, and, as part of that process, we are undertaking the corridor review. The review’s initial consultation generated 11,000 different options for improving the corridor, and it is only right that they be fully appraised. I am expecting Transport Scotland’s advice on the emerging outcomes before the end of the year. Following consideration by ministers, there will be a consultation on the outcomes, and an update on timings that will be provided by the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition in due course.

Liam Kerr

The review, which was ordered simply to appease the Green Party, was supposed to be published more than a year ago. In 2011, the Scottish National Party promised the people of the north-east that the A96 would be dualled fully by 2030. More than a decade of prevarication, millions of taxpayer pounds and endless excuses later, there is nothing—not even a mention of Aberdeen to Huntly—in the programme for government. The people of the north-east want a straight answer. Will the SNP fulfil the promise to fully dual the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen by 2030—yes or no?

Shona Robison

Liam Kerr is, in fact, being pretty insulting to the consultation, which has generated 11,000 different options to improve the corridor. It is a bit insulting to all those who have taken the time to contribute to that consultation, which, given the level of interest, I would suggest was the right thing to do.

As I said in my initial answer, I expect Transport Scotland’s advice on the emerging outcomes before the end of the year. Following that, the cabinet secretary will provide an update in due course. I have said that we remain committed to making the improvements to the A96, including dualling Inverness to Nairn and the Nairn bypass.

However, if Liam Kerr is serious about the importance of infrastructure, why is he supporting Tory spending plans that cut capital by 10 per cent over the next five years? Capital is required to build roads and other infrastructure projects. The Tories are cutting the amount of money available to do those things, but they are making no objection, as I see it, to their Tory Government down south. I would call that hypocrisy.

May I ask the Deputy First Minister a simple question? By what year will the construction of the Nairn bypass be completed?

Shona Robison

As the First Minister confirmed to the member during the programme for government statement to Parliament on 5 September—and as I reiterate now—we are fully committed to making improvements to the A96. That includes dualling the Inverness to Nairn section, including the Nairn bypass, which already has ministerial consent following a public local inquiry. I can also advise that Transport Scotland continues to progress the significant work required to prepare for the publication of made orders, including the compulsory purchase order, with a view to completing the statutory process as soon as possible.

In relation to our infrastructure investment plan, I have said that we will set out that plan alongside the budget in light of the changes that will have to be made, given the cut to our capital budget of 10 per cent over the next five years. However, I say to Fergus Ewing that the commitments that I have laid out in my answer are commitments that we will meet.

Reading Skills (Young People)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that some young people are leaving school struggling to read. (S6F-02596)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

It is important to look at the facts, which are that pass rates this year for English national 5, higher and advanced higher are the same as, or higher than, pass rates in 2019, or before the pandemic. The programme for international student assessment 2018 reading results, which looked at the reading abilities of 15-year-olds, confirmed that Scotland was above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and that 82 per cent of pupils who left school in 2021-22 had achieved Scottish credit and qualifications framework level 5 or above in literacy.

Clearly, any young person leaving school struggling to read is unacceptable, but the evidence shows that our young people are continuing to achieve well in literacy and English, and their achievements should not be downplayed at all. We should be celebrating them.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I agree that reading and writing are fundamental to the future and to unlocking a young person’s potential, but I am really worried about that response, because one in three children in Scotland are struggling to read. The Educational Institute of Scotland says that early years teachers are reporting an increase in the number of children presenting in primary 1 with delayed development and poorer minimal speech and language skills. Moreover, the national primary school literacy attainment gap has grown to its highest since 2018.

Of course, the Deputy First Minister will also be aware of reports over the weekend highlighting concerns from Scottish teachers that students are leaving secondary school functionally unable to read—a situation that former teacher Anne Glennie has described as “unforgivable”. Does the Deputy First Minister recognise that this is a growing problem, and will she set out what the Government intends to do about it?

Shona Robison

First of all, on a point of agreement with Pam Duncan-Glancy, there has obviously been an impact from the pandemic on the development of many children’s speech and language, in particular. We understand that, which is why it is important to ensure that supports are in place to help those young people catch up on the developmental skills that they require.

On results, as I said in my earlier answer, this year’s pass rates for national 5s, highers and advanced highers in English are the same as, or higher than, those for 2019, which was before the pandemic, so we are talking about slightly different things.

I acknowledge absolutely Ms Duncan-Glancy’s point about developmental needs, including, importantly, speech and language therapy. However, we should not talk down the results of our young people, which in the circumstances are very good indeed, and we should congratulate them on achieving them.

Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

It is very challenging to deliver good outcomes for children who leave secondary school struggling to read if we do not address literacy in early years and primary. The latest statistics show that one in five primary 1 pupils failed to achieve the expected level in reading. I note the Deputy First Minister’s comments about Covid. However, as it is her job, and that of the Scottish Government, to deal with the after-effects of the pandemic, where is the appropriate investment in our schools to ensure that no child is left behind, as per the Government’s Promise?

Well, not a penny of investment for schools was given in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn statement—not one penny. Tory members, almost to a person, have—[Interruption.]

Deputy First Minister, please resume your seat for a second.

Members, we need to hear the Deputy First Minister’s response.

Shona Robison

Tory members, almost to a person, have advised—actually, they have demanded—that I follow Tory spending plans, as set out in the chancellor’s autumn statement. If I were to do so, it would mean not a penny of extra investment in our schools or public services, apart from the £10.8 million for the national health service, which is a drop in the ocean.

The Scottish Government will not follow Tory spending plans, because we recognise the need to invest in our schools, our hospitals and our police service. We will set out our budget plans on 19 December, but they certainly will not replicate the reckless disinvestment in public services that we see from the Tory UK Government, supported by members on the Conservative benches here.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to mark the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. (S6F-02606)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

We should all be shocked that, in the 21st century, violence, abuse and harassment remain everyday occurrences for women and girls. We continue to have to take action to prevent and tackle them domestically and globally, as a Government, as a society and as individuals.

I heard yesterday’s informed debate, which I thought was very good. Next week, alongside the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, we will publish a refresh of our equally safe strategy, which aims to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls and will focus on early intervention, prevention and providing support services. Some £19 million of annual funding from our delivering equally safe fund supports 121 projects from 112 organisations; almost 32,000 people benefited from those support services last year.

Rona Mackay

During yesterday’s debate on the 16 days of activism, we heard about the need for perpetrators of abuse and violence to change their behaviour, but we know that it continues. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that it is therefore vital that we change our justice system, including establishing a sexual offences court, so that victims of sexual abuse no longer feel that they are retraumatised by the court process, which they have told the Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee happens to many of them?

Shona Robison

Rona Mackay makes an important point: there absolutely is a need for reform. I recognise the bravery of survivors of sexual violence who have spoken out to call for change. They have been clear that the personal cost of pursuing justice is too high, and that the process has left many of them retraumatised. That is why the proposals contained in the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, such as establishing a sexual offences court, are so important. Collectively, the reforms put victims at the heart of a criminal justice system that will recognise and respond to the trauma experienced by victims and survivors, to ensure that victims maintain confidence in our justice system.

We move to constituency and general supplementaries.

Clutha Bar (Tributes)

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

Yesterday marked 10 years since a police helicopter crashed into the Clutha bar in Glasgow city centre, in my constituency of Glasgow Kelvin, tragically killing 10 people and injuring 31. The Clutha bar was rebuilt and opened again in 2015. A subsequent air accident investigation informed improvements to aircraft safety regulations, but the painful memory of that disaster still runs deep among my local communities. Will the Deputy First Minister join me in paying tribute to the emergency services, the families and the wider Glasgow community who pulled together in the face of such a tragedy, as we remember all those affected?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

I absolutely will, and I thank Kaukab Stewart for the question. The events of 10 years ago are still fresh in my mind—I remember them really well, and I am sure that they are fresh in the minds of everyone in the chamber. My thoughts continue to go out to everyone who was impacted by what happened that night—those who were injured and those who tragically lost loved ones—and to the members of the emergency services, who showed such bravery in trying to save lives.

I also remember the way in which the community came together to show solidarity with all those affected by the disaster. In the hardest of times, the people of Glasgow showed a strength and compassion that we will never forget. It is right that, 10 years on, we remember those who are affected by the loss of life, but also the communities that are impacted to this day.

Mobile Phone Use in Schools

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

The use of mobile phones has been highlighted as one of the most frequent and disruptive behaviours in schools. Lisa Kerr, headteacher of Gordonstoun, has stated:

“Teenagers rarely thank adults for placing boundaries, but we will never forgive ourselves if we don’t act now.”

The evidence is there. For the sake of our children’s futures and our teachers’ wellbeing, will the Deputy First Minister commit to taking immediate steps to ban and restrict mobile phone use in our schools as soon as possible?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

As I understand it, councils are already able to do that, but we will make sure that Sue Webber gets a full response to her question. She raises a reasonable point, which is that mobile phones can be disruptive. In her statement yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills set out many of the issues regarding behaviour in our schools. We will make sure that she writes to Sue Webber with further details on the issue.

Rough Sleeping

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Anyone who walked from the bus or train station this morning will have passed homeless people sleeping in the street. We now know that, last year, 244 of our fellow citizens in Scotland died while homeless. With 15,000 Scots currently homeless, what steps is the Scottish Government taking to support people who will be rough sleeping over the coming festive period?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

Alex Rowley raises a really important point. It is our ambition to eradicate rough sleeping from our streets, and we are taking a number of actions to do so.

On the issue of homelessness more broadly, Scotland has the strongest rights in the UK for people who experience homelessness. We have taken action on local connection and on extending unsuitable accommodation orders. In addition to the funding that goes through local government, we are giving councils £30.5 million each year to help to prevent homelessness, and we are providing £100 million from our multiyear ending homelessness together fund. Further, we have given councils money to try to reduce the use of temporary accommodation. The housing first approach is also being funded to help people with complex needs, which we know many people have.

On the estimated 244 deaths, I regret every one of them. It is a tragedy. Behind each of those figures is a person and a family, and we should remember that.

NHS Orkney (Government Assistance)

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Earlier this week, NHS Orkney was moved to the first stage of formal escalation by the Scottish Government. NHS Orkney is far from being the only health board in Scotland whose financial position is precarious, with debt levels rising, but it faces particular challenges as a small island health board. Will the Deputy First Minister confirm that the Government will respond positively to any request for assistance from NHS Orkney, and will every effort be made to help NHS Orkney to achieve financial stability as soon as possible while, at the same time, ensuring that patient needs and staff wellbeing are safeguarded?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

Those are important matters. The Scottish Government is directly engaging with NHS Orkney, and we will be looking to provide tailored support to the board. As we enter winter, it is important that NHS Orkney, alongside other boards, is well prepared to meet the challenges that winter will bring. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care will be happy to update Liam McArthur with further details about the support that will be provided.

McClure Solicitors

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

After First Minister’s question time, I will meet campaigners who have been fighting to get a fair deal for the clients of McClure Solicitors following the firm going bust in 2021. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 people could be impacted United Kingdom-wide. The complaints that I have received include complaints about what are considered to be exorbitant fees that have been charged by McClure Solicitors to remedy errors or to make changes to trusts as well as complaints about families discovering that trusts were never set up by the firm despite fees having been paid. How can the Scottish Government seek to support impacted families? What reforms can be considered to prevent such failings happening in the future?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

I am aware of the issues that Bob Doris has raised and the number of families that face difficulties as a result of McClure Solicitors going into administration. I cannot comment on individual cases, but the Scottish Government has taken proactive steps to help to mitigate such situations. Such cases show the need for legal regulation that centres on the public interest and protection of the consumer.

The Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will introduce the authorisation of legal businesses. That will bring benefits such as consistency in how legal firms are regulated, with all entities having to meet the same high standards, and a greater collation of data, which will enable the regulator and the legal profession to identify and address deficiencies early and take the necessary preventative action.

XL Bully Dogs (Ban)

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

The United Kingdom Government is banning XL bully dogs after a spate of horrific attacks, some of which were fatal. However, the Scottish National Party has refused to sign up to that plan. It looks like it is willing to risk public safety just to diverge from the rest of the UK. Will the Deputy First Minister U-turn and ban XL bully dogs before more people get hurt?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

That is a complete misrepresentation of the facts by Russell Findlay. Let me say what is actually happening.

We are carefully considering the evidence on XL bully dogs and whether similar changes to ban the breed should be applied in Scotland. Public safety is paramount in our deliberations. Scotland already has a dog control notice regime that is unique in the UK and which is focused on preventing dog attacks from happening in the first place. However, we remain concerned about the reported attacks and deaths due to suspected XL bully dogs.

The UK Government, of course, announced the proposal to ban XL bully dogs without giving any notice to the Scottish Government and with no consultation. Perhaps that was not the most helpful way to proceed.

We are carefully considering the evidence and meeting a range of stakeholders and animal welfare organisations, and we will take forward those considerations as swiftly as we can. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will update Parliament on the matter in due course.

Western Gateway (School)

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Eight years ago, the construction of hundreds of houses began in the Western Gateway area of Dundee. Those who were buying homes were promised a school, and they paid an additional £5,000 on a roof tax to help to pay for it. After the failure of Scottish National Party councillors to secure funding, it appears that there is now no plan for how to get that school built.

This week, I received a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills that reassured me that the Scottish Government remains committed to working with the council. However, without a funding commitment, that is just empty words. If the SNP in Dundee fails to deliver that school, it will have failed the community. Will the Deputy First Minister commit to the Government finding a way forward to get the school built?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

When the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills set out the latest round of learning estate investment programme funding, she had looked at schools that were in the bottom categories in requiring to be refurbished. She took into account reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete issues that have been raised in the chamber in coming to conclusions on the priorities that should be given in the latest round of LEIP funding, and she set out that there would be further discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in order to determine what will come next in the funding of the school estate.

This Government has, over the past few years, invested hugely in the school estate to bring schools across the country up to scratch. The number of schools remaining in the poorest category is now much smaller than it was when this Government came to power.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Today, world leaders are gathering for the 28th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP28—and the stakes could not be higher. The UN has warned that current climate pledges are “falling short” of the action that we need, and that we are on course for a brutal 3° of global heating this century. It is deeply concerning, therefore, to hear reports that the United Arab Emirates is attempting to strike fossil-fuel deals at COP, which will worsen climate injustice for people who are already living on the brink of disaster. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that at COP28, we need to see a just and credible plan for the end of fossil fuels, not secretive backroom deals?

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance (Shona Robison)

At COP26, we were the first global north Government to commit funding to address loss and damage. A year ago, at COP27, there was both a breakthrough agreement on a loss and damage fund and a disappointing lack of progress in reducing emissions and keeping 1.5°C alive.

No nation has all the answers or the means to respond to the problem of climate change alone, which is why bringing together the global community at COP28 is so important. Scotland has much to offer at COP28. The First Minister is participating in this year’s summit to demonstrate once again our commitment to tackling the twin crises of climate change and nature loss in tandem, in a way that is just and fair for all. We will also ensure that Scotland continues to play a bridging role in ensuring that the voices of women, young people and the global south influence debate and action.

That concludes First Minister’s questions.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  

12:48 On resuming—