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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 2, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 02 May 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Rwandan Genocide (25th Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Motion without Notice, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Independent Scotland (Currency)

In the independence referendum campaign just a few short years ago, the First Minister pledged that we would keep the United Kingdom pound permanently and for ever, because—in her words—that was in the “best interests” of Scotland. Yet, this week, she and the Scottish National Party voted to ditch the UK pound. Can the First Minister tell me how on earth dumping the pound is in the best interests of Scotland?

An independent Scotland, which I look forward to happening very soon—

Members: Hear, hear.

An independent Scotland would use the pound while that was in our interests and until such time as the conditions were right to move to a different arrangement. That is the benefit of independence: we would take decisions that are right for our interests in Scotland, rather than have decisions that are against our interests being imposed on us by Westminster.

In some ways, I admire Jackson Carlaw: it is very, very brave of him to stand up in here and talk about currency. Purely in the interests of transparency, when he next gets to his feet, would he care to share with members how much of the pound’s value has been lost in the past couple of years directly as a result of Tory policy on Brexit?

True to the last, the First Minister is practising for two years from now, when she will be sitting here as leader of the Opposition. Her answer boils down to this: five years ago, it was, “Keep the pound for ever,” but today it is, “Ditch the pound as soon as possible.”

I hope that the First Minister has the six tests written down in front of her, because yesterday she had a wee bit of a problem remembering what they were. One of them, which she forgot yesterday, is this:

“Would a separate currency meet the needs of Scottish residents and businesses for stability and continuity of their financial arrangements, and would it command wide support?”

She failed yesterday, but I offer the First Minister a chance to redeem herself today. Will she name a single business representative body or trade union that has given its support to scrapping the pound?

I am sure that businesses and trade unions around the country will want a Scottish Parliament that has the ability to do what is right for Scotland.

If Jackson Carlaw wants to hear some views, let us hear the views of businesses and others about the immediate threat that Scotland is facing. How about the Institute of Directors, which has said:

“It’s difficult to imagine a policy that inflicts more economic harm on ... Scotland”

than Brexit? The Resolution Foundation has said that

“Household incomes are around £1,500 a year lower today”

as a result of Brexit, and the Federation of Small Businesses has said that

“The recent months of turmoil, political uncertainty, ... economic uncertainty have had a negative impact on business confidence”.

The former chair of Standard Life said that

“Brexit ... is ... an unmitigated disaster”;

and the principal of the University of Glasgow said that

“Brexit is the single biggest public crisis we’ve had to face in living memory”.

It is because that disaster is being imposed on Scotland that Scotland needs the power to take its own decisions. The Tories are laughing about it, but it is no laughing matter for businesses and individuals the length and breadth of the country.

Lastly, Jackson Carlaw talked about who will be in Opposition and in Government in a couple of years. I should today congratulate him on his period of acting leadership of the Conservative Party, because polls at the weekend suggested that the Tories have, under his stewardship, gone from second place to third place and, in one poll, to fourth place in Scottish politics. Those of us in the SNP seats thoroughly endorse Jackson Carlaw’s record in office.

That is customarily generous of the First Minister. I assure her that, unlike some people, I will not be coming to her for a reference, but I have a sister-in-law who works in human resources who can help to polish up the CV that the First Minister apparently has sitting with the United Nations, where she is looking for a future job opportunity. Let me wish her well in the two years—or perhaps significantly less time—that is left to her before the next election, which will be two years today.

Perhaps there is a reason why, in that great big long list of quotations, Nicola Sturgeon did not list one from anybody who is in favour of scrapping the pound. Perhaps that is because Nicola Sturgeon’s plan from day 1 of independence could lead to an estimated 45,000 Scottish homes being pushed into negative equity, which would be similar to what was seen during the 2008 financial crisis. I know that Scottish National Party members do not like to hear it, but—unfortunately for them—that is not just our view; it was also the verdict this week of Richard Marsh, who is one of the First Minister’s economic experts. Has he—he is an adviser to her growth commission—just got it all wrong?

The essence of independence is that we would take decisions in this Parliament that are right for Scotland, so that we would not have to have imposed on us by Westminster decisions that damage our interests. The real threat to Scotland right now is the damage to our economy that is coming from Brexit, which is described as a disaster by so many businesses, individuals and academics the length and breadth of the country. We see support for independence increasing, support for this Government increasing and support for the Scottish Conservatives starting to fall through the floor because people in Scotland know that the time is coming when we will need to get rid of Tory Governments once and for all, and take control of our future into our own hands.

We have a plan by the First Minister to ditch the pound and create a new Scottish currency. Yesterday she could not remember the six tests that she had set for it. It is not supported by any impartial business groups or trade unions, and her party’s growth commission adviser thinks that it is a turkey.

The First Minister was right when she said that permanently keeping the UK pound is in the “best interests” of Scotland. Is not it just a simple fact that the best way to keep Scotland successful, to protect our pensions and to boost jobs is for Scotland is to have nothing whatsoever to do with Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for a breakaway currency, to keep our UK pound and to keep Scotland in the UK?

People who have slightly longer memories than Jackson Carlaw seems to have will recall that he and his colleagues told Scotland in 2014 that we would not be allowed to keep the UK pound. There is not a shred of consistency in their arguments. Independence would mean that we would take decisions that are right for the interests of businesses and individuals the length and breadth of our country. It would mean that we would not have to face the prospect of decisions like Brexit being imposed on us by Westminster. That is why we see support for independence rising and why we see the terror in the eyes of Jackson Carlaw and his colleagues as they see that the writing is well and truly on the wall.

Climate Change (Jobs)

The Scottish Labour Party welcomes today’s commitment from the Scottish Government to meet ambitious climate change targets. It is the future of our planet and we need emergency action now. We also need to ensure that the transition to a net zero greenhouse gas economy is a just transition—one that is socially just and which benefits working people in Scotland. The First Minister’s predecessor promised that renewable energy and the low-carbon economy would deliver 130,000 jobs for Scotland by 2020. Can the First Minister tell us whether that promise will be delivered?

First, I welcome Richard Leonard’s focus on climate change. I hope that everybody across the chamber welcomes the fact that, in the commitments that we are making today, Scotland is not just continuing its role as a world leader but redefining the bar for world leadership. Everybody in Scotland should be proud of that.

Richard Leonard is right to talk about a just transition. That is why the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has already established a just transition commission—something that we were encouraged to do by the Scottish Trades Union Congress. The work of that commission will be extremely important.

Meeting the targets will mean that we have to up our ambition and action across the whole range of Government responsibilities. That also puts a responsibility on the shoulders of Opposition parties not to have a knee-jerk opposition to everything that is tough or challenging, as we have seen Labour and other Opposition parties do in recent times.

On jobs, there are, today, around 50,000 jobs across our economy as a result of the move to renewable and low-carbon energy. The turnover from that sector is around £11 billion a year, but I have been very frank that Scotland is not yet doing as well on that front as we should be. That is why, this morning, at our initiative, a summit has been taking place—it includes the unions—to look at how we can increase the supply chain benefits of big renewable energy projects. I hope that we will have the support of all parties across the chamber as we make sure that, as we do the morally right thing on climate change, we also deliver all the economic benefits in Scotland that people want to see.

According to the Scottish TUC, only 46,000 jobs have been created in the sector, where the Government promised 130,000—that is just over one third of the number promised. We all know that the figure would be much higher if contract after contract for wind turbines had not been awarded to supply chains overseas. Moving to a low-carbon, renewables-focused economy should lead to a jobs windfall for Scotland, not Spain, Belgium or the United Arab Emirates.

Today’s Scottish Government meeting with the companies and unions in the offshore sector is welcome, but does the First Minister recognise that what we need is not simply a one-off summit, but the establishment of a permanent council for the sector to develop a strategy for the industry and a forward-looking action plan? Will the First Minister establish such a body?

If that is one of the reasonable recommendations that come from the summit, of course we will fully consider it. I would certainly not be opposed to that kind of initiative. I want to make sure that we are doing everything possible to capture the maximum economic benefit from the renewables and low-carbon revolution. It is in all our interests to do that.

This Government has shown its willingness to act. There are big challenges for companies such as Burntisland Fabrications, which is one of the reasons why we are having the summit today. However, BiFab would no longer exist right now if it had not been for this Government’s intervention.

We are determined to see the benefit in our economy’s supply chain. One factor—it is not the only one—is that we do not hold all the levers, which is why we invited the United Kingdom Government to take part in the summit today. I hope that I would have Richard Leonard’s support if we have to ask for greater powers to deal with that issue, but I want to see us take action now. I want us to maximise the levers that are at our disposal and to see that number of around 50,000 jobs, which aligns with the figures from the trade unions, increase dramatically over the years to come. There is a massive opportunity, and I am determined that we seize it with both hands.

The First Minister talks of action and ambition, and she has a bold climate change target. However, her boldest climate change policy is a £150 million tax cut that benefits the richest people most and drives up emissions. The First Minister tells us that she has factored that in, but that is simply not good enough. If she is serious about the climate emergency, will she, once and for all, drop her commitment to cut air departure tax?

First, for reasons that members across the chamber are aware of, the reduction in air departure tax is not going ahead this year.

A moment ago, I said that the increase today in the scale of our ambition means that we will need to reconsider policies across the range of our responsibilities. We have committed to publishing a revised climate change plan within six months of the passage of the new legislation, as the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee asked us to do. Right across the range of our responsibilities, we will need to look at where we will increase the scale of our ambition. That is a discussion in which I hope all parties in the chamber will be involved.

As global experts have commented just today, one of the things that set Scotland’s targets apart from those in other countries—even before today’s announcement—is that we include things that other countries do not, one of which is emissions from aviation. If, for whatever reason, we see an increase there, we must offset that from a decrease elsewhere. That is one of the many things that make our targets genuinely world leading. We do not shy away from our responsibilities.

However—and I say this to Richard Leonard seriously, given his opposition to things such as the suggestion of giving councils more power over workplace parking—if Richard Leonard wants to be taken seriously on climate change, he must rethink some of his positions as well. If we are all prepared to do that, not only will Scotland be a world leader in setting targets, but, over the next few years, Scotland will be a world leader in meeting those targets.

We have a lot of interest in constituency questions. Alex Neil has the first.

Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd

What are the consequences of the liquidation of Healthcare Environmental Services Ltd last Friday and the loss of 150 jobs in Shotts? Will the First Minister do all that she can to ensure that all the ex-employees of that company receive all the back pay and other moneys that they are still owed, which amounts to an estimated total of £1 million? When will the 250 tonnes of medical waste that are still stored at the Shotts site be removed? Finally, will the First Minister raise with the United Kingdom Government the need to deal with the inadequacies of the companies legislation and the Companies Act 2006, which were highlighted by the demise of Healthcare Environmental Services?

Now that Healthcare Environmental Services has formally entered insolvency, the redundancy payments service will be in touch with the liquidators to put a process in place to enable ex-employees to claim for unpaid wages and holiday pay, up to statutory limits.

With regard to Alex Neil’s question about waste, recent Scottish Environment Protection Agency inspections have not identified significant environmental risk or any risk to the wellbeing of local communities from the storage of waste. However, we will continue to work with SEPA to ensure that the sites are cleared safely and that all waste is disposed of appropriately, should that become necessary.

With regard to the last aspect of Alex Neil’s questions, in light of the case and all the experience that arises from it, we will consider whether any changes are required to company law. That is a reserved matter; if necessary, we will communicate the suggested changes to the UK Government.

Infection Control (Hospitals)

Following the Easter weekend, pigeons were found roosting inside the Vale of Leven hospital. Given that Cryptococcus, an infection that is derived from pigeon droppings, contributed to the deaths of two patients at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, I am sure that the First Minister will appreciate my constituents’ concerns. Will she therefore ensure that there is a review of infection control measures across all Scottish hospitals, so that we deal effectively with the problem and improve patient safety?

I thank Jackie Baillie for raising that issue. I understand that pigeons were found in a public area of the hospital that was not in use at the time. The facilities team removed them immediately after the incident was reported and the room was then thoroughly cleaned with the products that are recommended for that type of incident. The steps that the board took to manage that incident were appropriate. Staff have been reminded to keep the windows closed, to ensure that it does not happen again. On the wider lessons to be learned and the on-going reviews around hospital infection arising from the situation in Glasgow, we will make sure that all appropriate lessons are fed into the reviews and that they are learned.

Places of Worship (Vandalism)

The First Minister will be aware of the mindless acts of vandalism that were carried out this week on St Simon’s Roman Catholic church in Partick in my constituency. The shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa, which has been part of the church since the 1940s and is much loved by the Polish congregation, was desecrated. Can the First Minister offer guidance on what the Scottish Government can provide places of worship with to deter these senseless acts of vandalism?

The vandalism of St Simon’s church is absolutely appalling and a complete outrage, and I am sure that everybody is of that view. Although it is for the police to investigate such incidents, including any motivation for them, we should all be clear that such anti-Catholic—and, in this case, possibly anti-Polish—discrimination must not be tolerated. Just like antisemitism or Islamophobia, anti-Catholic discrimination is a scourge on our society, and it must be eradicated. All places of worship, whether they be Christian churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, must be places of peace and sanctuary, and that is why the justice secretary and I have committed to exploring further what the Scottish Government can do to ensure safety and security for all faith communities and their places of worship.

Hairmyres Hospital (Payroll Changes)

Workers from Hairmyres hospital in East Kilbride are protesting outside the Parliament right now against payroll changes by ISS UK that will result in a week’s pay being withheld from them. These workers—hospital cleaners, porters and catering, maintenance and domestic staff—are low paid and are being forced to apply for payday loans. Richard Leonard and I addressed the rally on the way to the chamber, but will the First Minister and the health secretary go outside and listen to the GMB, Unison and the workers and commit to doing all that they can to take the matter up with ISS UK and NHS Lanarkshire?

Because it involves a private finance initiative hospital with a PFI contract signed by a Labour Government, this is, unfortunately, an issue between a private contractor and its staff first and foremost. That said, NHS Lanarkshire is actively trying to resolve the issue.

Our concern is for the staff involved, who are valued members of the local healthcare team, and it is vital to ensure that this situation does not impact on the hospital’s ability to provide services to patients. The health secretary has today written to the chief executive of ISS UK, asking that it seek an urgent resolution to this dispute in partnership with the board and the trade union. I understand that the health board has put forward solutions, and I urge the company to react positively in that respect. The health secretary has also asked to meet the chief executive in order to encourage him in person to follow the proposal from NHS Lanarkshire, and I understand that she has also offered to meet the trade unions to discuss what action the Government will take in light of this situation.

However, this is one example and illustration of why the type of PFI contracts that were signed under previous Labour Administrations were such a big mistake. I hope that Labour has learned lots of lessons from them.

Deaths Abroad (Support for Families)

It is now two years since my constituent Kirsty Maxwell died in Benidorm. Having met her family, the First Minister is, I know, well aware of their ordeal. Notwithstanding the central role that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office plays in this, I believe that there is more that we in this Parliament can do to support families such as Kirsty’s, whose loved one has been killed abroad. Will the First Minister commit to ensuring that, before this year is out, we can offer families such as Kirsty’s something more than our condolences—say, a service that provides practical, emotional and perhaps even financial support?

I agree very much with Angela Constance’s comments. I take this opportunity to once again pass on my sincere condolences to Kirsty Maxwell’s family. My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and I have met Kirsty’s family and indeed other families who have been affected by the death of a loved one abroad, and after hearing their experiences directly, I take a view similar to that expressed by Angela Constance that the current system of support is not entirely satisfactory. I am very keen that we continue to explore the issue further, particularly in the context of the victims task force and the forthcoming report from the United Kingdom all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad and consular services.

Of course, any improvements will require change across a number of services, and I continue to welcome input from members and stakeholders on how that might best be achieved. I think that all of us want to ensure that we hear about these experiences and do everything in our power to ease, as far as we possibly can, the suffering of families in these circumstances.

Climate Emergency

I congratulate the First Minister on her change of heart in declaring a climate emergency, just weeks after voting against the Green motion to do just that. I welcome her change of heart and her commitment to introducing more ambitious climate targets.

I am also pleased to hear of Richard Leonard’s passion for renewables jobs in light of his party’s recent approval of a new coal mine.

An emergency demands immediate action. The world’s climate scientists have warned that we have a decade to deliver the change that we need to avoid climate catastrophe, so what immediate changes in Government policy does the First Minister plan to make, now that she has recognised the climate emergency?

There is no change of heart—as the chairman of the Committee on Climate Change said this morning,

“Scotland has been a leader within the UK with many of its policies to tackle climate change.”

We said that we would act on the updated advice and that is exactly what we have done. The other parts of the United Kingdom, as far as I am aware, have not yet made commitments or reacted to the report that the CCC published this morning.

On our commitment to recognise the climate emergency, the first thing that we have done is to increase the scale of our targets. We will now look at our climate change plan and bring out a revised plan within six months of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill becoming an act.

As I said to Richard Leonard, we will look across our whole range of responsibilities to make sure that we continue with the policies that are under way and that we increase action where that is necessary. The advice of the CCC and of non-governmental organisations will be important to us as we do that.

Targets, policies and plans are essential and important, but we need action. Investing in public transport and safer streets has a crucial role to play in tackling the climate emergency. This Government boasts that it has doubled spending on walking and cycling, but that spending is still just 3 per cent of the transport budget, so is it a surprise that journeys by bike in Scotland currently make up just 1 per cent of all journeys made in Scotland? That is a woeful statistic.

In telling contrast, the Scottish Government continues to pursue a climate-busting tax cut worth £160 billion that would benefit wealthy frequent flyers the most. Young climate campaigners will not understand how the First Minister can support that. Now that the First Minister has recognised the climate emergency, will she abandon that unfair and environmentally damaging proposal and invest the money in active travel and in the public transport that people use every day?

It is because of the actions that we have been taking across a whole range of areas that we have already almost halved our emissions in Scotland. The record in Scotland is a good one and it is recognised globally as such.

However, all of us—me included—recognise that we have to do more and we have to do it faster, which is why we have made the commitment that we have today.

We have doubled the active travel budget. Alison Johnstone can dismiss that, but it was widely welcomed at the time and it is an important statement of our intent. Working with the Greens, we have come forward with a plan to give councils more power to raise more revenue to invest more in public transport—again, something that has been welcomed by those who care about the environment.

The air departure tax is not happening this year, for reasons that the Parliament is aware of. Right across all areas of our responsibility, the renewed commitment that we have made today means that we have to look carefully at every single policy.

I absolutely agree with Alison Johnstone that setting targets is one thing, but having the policy programme in place to meet them is what really matters. That is what this Government is committed to doing and I look forward to those plans being scrutinised by parties across the chamber.

It is probably not fair to say this during a Green question—it is directed more at some of the other parties in the chamber—but I hope that all parties are prepared to rise to the challenge, to drop the knee-jerk opposition that suits short-term politics and to unite behind doing what is right for the future of our planet.

End to Nuclear Weapons Petition

What is the Scottish Government’s position regarding the 9.4 million signatures gathered in support of the hibakusha petition calling for an end to nuclear weapons across the world?

Our view, which is a statement of the obvious, is that the use of nuclear weapons would be indiscriminate and devastating and would bring unspeakable human suffering and widespread and lasting environmental damage. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have made clear our opposition to nuclear weapons, and we need to do all that we can to create the conditions for a safer world without them. It is therefore encouraging to see the number of signatories in support of the petition that Bill Kidd referred to. I call again on the United Kingdom Government and all those who have not yet taken steps to rid the world of these dreadful weapons of mass destruction to reconsider their position urgently.

Rape Victims (Disclosure of Data)

This week, women in England and Wales were told that their entire email, message and photograph history would be subjected to police examination if they reported a rape to the police. Whether the issue is what they wear, their sexual history or who they text, women are again being forced to choose between their privacy and the pursuit of justice. Will the First Minister explain what safeguards are in place to ensure that that does not and could not happen in Scotland?

I thank Kezia Dugdale for raising the issue. In all the justice reforms that we are undertaking to tackle violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, we must place at centre stage the rights of women and those who are attacked and abused, and we must not make it more difficult, more intimidating or more off-putting for women to come forward. However, like Kezia Dugdale, I fear that the announcements elsewhere in the United Kingdom might do that. We will ensure that those considerations are at the heart of all our justice policy, and I am sure that the Parliament will work with us to create exactly such an environment.

Official Secrets Act

Has the Scottish Government reviewed, or does it intend to review, the potential impact on Scotland of leaks from the National Security Council? Does the First Minister agree that as all service personnel—including members of my old unit, 45 Commando, some of whom are in the public gallery—and many others must sign and abide by the Official Secrets Act, any breach of the act by a member of the NSC should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law?

I think that most people agree with the sentiments that Keith Brown articulated. It is for the police to determine what criminal investigations they will undertake and what the progress of those investigations is; it would not be appropriate for me to comment on that. However, as a politician, I think that it is reprehensible that there were leaks from the National Security Council. That is a sign of the complete dysfunction that is at the heart of the United Kingdom Government.

It is right for any minister who is found guilty of such a leak to lose their job. All politicians who are in government should recognise the responsibility and the privileges that we carry and should not act for their own selfish political ends, as Gavin Williamson appears to have.

Immigration (Social and Economic Impacts)

To ask the First Minister what the social and economic impacts are of immigration. (S5F-03299)

All of Scotland’s future population growth is projected to come from migration, which is essential for our future prosperity and the delivery of our public services. All of us have a duty to dispel the many myths that exist about migration. People who come to live and work in Scotland typically contribute more through tax revenues than they consume in public services. Research that Oxford Economics published last year found that people who arrived in the United Kingdom in 2016 were projected to make a total net positive contribution of just under £27 billion to the UK’s public finances over their entire stay. We should be proud that people have chosen to make Scotland their home and we should welcome the ways in which they shape our culture, our communities and our country.

Hundreds of European Union nationals have chosen to make my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency their home, which enriches the community. Does the First Minister agree that it is incumbent on every Scottish politician to stand up for migrants in our communities and highlight the huge contribution that they make not only culturally but economically, as the statistics that the Federation of Small Businesses provided this morning show? Does she also agree that the upcoming EU elections provide an opportunity to show that Scotland is open and welcoming by ensuring that anti-immigration parties such as the UK Independence Party, the Brexit Party and the Tories do not represent Scotland in Europe?

I encourage members not to actively campaign for the European elections when they are imminent.

I agree with everything that Stuart McMillan said. The statistics that the Federation of Small Businesses released today show that one in 10 businesses in Scotland are led by a migrant entrepreneur; those firms contribute more than £13 billion to the Scottish economy and provide more than 100,000 jobs.

Those statistics bring into sharp focus the catastrophic effect of the UK Government’s obsession with ending free movement, and the effect that that could have on small businesses and our general economic wellbeing. It is now vital and urgent for the Parliament to have the additional powers we need to enable the design of migration policies that meet the needs of Scottish businesses, communities and public services and to send a clear message, wherever we choose to send it, that the Tories’ hostile immigration environment is not welcome in Scotland and it is time for it to end.

Glasgow Connectivity Commission (Infrastructure Recommendations)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the long-term infrastructure recommendations of the Glasgow connectivity commission. (S5F-03298)

The publication of the commission’s report is very timely, as Transport Scotland is currently undertaking a nationwide assessment of transport requirements. That is being done through an updated national transport strategy and the second strategic transport projects review. The strategic review will look at what infrastructure is needed to provide Scotland with a transport network fit for the future and will advise ministers on future investments.

We will consider the commission’s recommendations as part of that appraisal, which will allow us to balance the needs of communities around the country.

I commend the work of Professor David Begg and his team in producing the sort of ambitious and forward-thinking plan that the Glasgow region is crying out for. It could transform how people travel and commute around Glasgow, and it also has a number of proposals that offer a real economic upside to the entire west of Scotland.

The report deserves proper scrutiny and debate, given the scale of its proposals and the importance to Glasgow. Can the First Minister indicate how the Government will address and respond to each recommendation that is made in the report and ensure that the report does not simply gather dust on the shelves of Glasgow City Council?

I think that I did that in my original answer. I am happy to agree with Jamie Greene’s assessment of the commission’s report. I also welcome and pay tribute to the work of Professor David Begg and to the vision of the administration in Glasgow City Council for commissioning the piece of work. It has great potential—as a Glasgow MSP and a Glasgow resident, I can see the potential of many of its recommendations.

It is right that the report is now considered in full and in the context of the broader strategic work that Transport Scotland will undertake. The commitment I give today is that that will happen. That will allow the Government to consider all the commission’s recommendations and look not just at how they will benefit Glasgow and the west of Scotland, but at how they will fit into a strategy that benefits the whole of the country. I am sure that Parliament will be kept updated as the work proceeds.

Climate Change

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to address climate change. (S5F-03294)

As we have already debated today, there is a climate emergency, and we must all act accordingly. That is why the Scottish Government embraces today’s report from the Committee on Climate Change and all that it contains. This morning, we lodged amendments to the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill that, if supported by Parliament, will set a net zero emissions target for 2045, meaning that Scotland’s contribution to climate change will end within a generation. The amendments will also make us carbon neutral by 2040.

The committee’s advice is clear: achieving those targets will depend on action by the United Kingdom Government as well as by the Scottish Government. Therefore, we have today written to the UK ministers, requesting an urgent meeting and a collaborative approach. I have already confirmed this morning that we will also update the current climate change plan within six months of the bill receiving royal assent, as has been recommended by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee.

I welcome the flurry of announcements from politicians including the First Minister, declaring a climate emergency. Will the First Minister advise how appalling bus and train services, an abstention by her members of Parliament on the Heathrow expansion, the failure to legislate for a ban on fracking, support for the expansion of air travel and a policy to cut and then scrap air departure tax contribute to addressing the climate emergency or could ever be described as “world leading”?

It is global experts who describe Scotland’s actions as world leading, and today they are lining up to do exactly that, while encouraging us to go further. All parties should get behind that. Of course, we will continue to have disagreements on individual policies, but the scale of ambition in the targets puts us way ahead of any other country in the world, redefines the bar of world leadership and is something of which all of us should be proud.

I ask Neil Findlay, as I asked Richard Leonard, if Labour members want—as I believe they sincerely do—to see greater investment in bus travel, for example, why on earth are they so opposed to the proposal to give councils the power to raise the revenue to do exactly that and to help to get people out of cars and on to public transport? There is a glaring inconsistency at the heart of Labour’s position. Until it sorts that out, Labour will lack credibility in asking the kind of questions that Neil Findlay has just asked.

I welcome the ambition on tackling climate change. However, the Scottish National Party Government is set to miss its recycling target by 12 years, it has barely moved on reducing transport emissions and its lack of planning for a landfill ban could cost taxpayers £1 billion. Given those failures and a host of others, how can the Parliament have confidence that future targets will be met by the SNP Government?

We are meeting the current climate change targets, and we are upping the scale of our ambition so that we will do even more in the future. On a day when the Committee on Climate Change has issued advice not just to the Scottish Government but to the UK and Welsh Governments, the Scottish Government has immediately accepted that advice. I have not heard the UK Government accept the advice that it has been given, and the Welsh Government said this morning that it might respond to the Committee on Climate Change by the end of next year. We are taking the world-leading action that people expect us to take, and we will ensure that we have in place the policies to meet the targets.

We all have a responsibility to tackle climate change, so I say to the Tories, as I have said to Labour, that we all need to step up to the plate. In the months and years to come, people will watch closely to see what the Government does, but they will also pay close attention to Tory policies. I suspect that the Tories, thus far, will be found wanting. I hope that that changes, so that, together, we can ensure that Scotland is a world leader not just in the targets that we set but in meeting those targets. That is something of which this generation and future generations will be proud.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats welcome the Scottish Government’s revised commitment to there being net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. However, last week, the First Minister told Willie Rennie that she would not drop her plans for a £250 million tax cut for the aviation industry. Instead, she boasted that the Government would just measure the extra emissions. She repeated that response this week. This morning, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change said:

“It would help immensely with the emissions challenge there is in Scotland”

if the Government does not choose to cut taxes to boost flight numbers. Will she accept that advice and scrap the proposed aviation tax cut?

As I have said two or three times already today, the change is not happening this year, for reasons that have been well set out. We will consider our policies across the whole range of Government responsibilities, because that is what is required in the light of the advice that we are accepting today. We take that responsibility seriously.

I say to the Liberals, as I have said to Labour and the Tories, that, when Parliament returns to discussing workplace parking, over the next few weeks, I will remember this discussion at First Minister’s question time. Those parties cannot have it both ways: they cannot call for the Government to set world-leading targets and introduce policies but then simply oppose everything that the Government comes forward with, for knee-jerk reasons. The responsibility is on all of us, so let us see whether the other parties are willing to rise to the challenge.

Opiate Addiction

To ask the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made regarding the level of opiate addiction. (S5F-03284)

Achieving a comprehensive picture of addictive opiate use is challenging, not least due to the nature of illicit drug taking, which means that there will always be a degree of estimation.

David Stewart has previously raised legitimate concerns about the impact of addiction to prescribed opioids, given the potentially highly addictive properties of such medicines. Those concerns were reflected in our chronic pain strategy and in our refreshed polypharmacy guidance, which was published last year.

Through the national therapeutic indicators, we monitor the number of people who are prescribed strong opioids over a long period, and that is informing the establishment by the chief medical officer of a short-life working group that will examine the prescribing trends in Scotland.

Will the First Minister join me in congratulating The Sunday Times on its first-class campaign, which highlights the marked spiral in the number of prescriptions for opiates and the serious associated problems of addiction and overdose? Opiates contributed to 815 drug deaths in Scotland in 2017. Does the First Minister share my serious concerns about addiction that is created by super-strength opiate painkillers, which have a dark side and can ruin lives every bit as much as illegal drugs can?

Yes, I share that concern, and I congratulate The Sunday Times and others on raising that important issue.

Opioid prescribing can be appropriate for short-term pain if it is part of an evidence-based clinical decision. However, for longer-term pain, clinicians are and should be advised to discuss alternatives with patients as part of a quality primary care prescribing strategy.

We published our first chronic pain strategy last year, and one of its aims is to tackle the issue of overtreatment. As I said, the chief medical officer for Scotland is convening a short-life working group of experts to examine prescribing trends in Scotland, which will complement work that is being undertaken by Public Health England on the evidence for dependence on and withdrawal from prescribed medicines.

These are important issues, and it is important that we take them seriously. I give the assurance today that the Scottish Government and our clinical advisers will continue to do so.

That concludes First Minister’s questions. We will shortly move on to a members’ business debate in the name of Iain Gray, on the 25th anniversary commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Before that, we will have a short suspension to allow members and ministers to change seats.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  

12:49 On resuming—