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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, November 4, 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones, Portfolio Question Time, Social Security Benefits, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is First Minister’s question time. I intend to take constituency and general supplementary questions after question 2. Members who wish to ask such questions should press their request-to-speak buttons during question 2. On questions 3 to 7, members who wish to ask a supplementary should press during the specific question.

Drug Deaths (Prisons)

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

I start by wishing everyone across Scotland a very happy Diwali.

Scotland has the highest drug death rate in Europe. Every solution should be considered in order to tackle that crisis, and should be considered urgently. Why did it take 10 overdoses this weekend in a single prison for the Government to accept Scottish Conservative proposals to cut down on the supply of drugs in our prisons?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I, too, wish those who are celebrating across the country a very happy and peaceful Diwali.

I have been very open about this. We have a significant challenge when it comes to drugs deaths, and we are determined to make sure that we are open to ideas and suggestions and that we are genuinely doing everything reasonable that we can to turn that around.

Within that overall challenge, there is a particular challenge in our prisons. I think that we all understand the different factors that are at play. I would hope that members from across the chamber could come together to welcome the ways in which we are seeking to change past practice and to recognise where perhaps we should have done things differently in the past and should do them differently in the future. I hope that there is an appetite to build consensus on that.

To that end, as I have said to the leader of the Conservative party before, I am open to suggestions. That, of course, includes, as I have said many times in the chamber, consideration of the Conservatives’ wider proposals in their proposal for draft legislation. I continue to be open minded, and we will continue to seek to do the right things, backed by investment, to turn the situation around.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister has said that she has been “very open” about the issue—and she has. She has accepted that she took her eye off the ball with Scotland’s drug deaths. However, the eye is still off the ball.

For months, we have highlighted the issue of drugs reaching prisoners through mail, and we offered a solution. Russell Findlay raised the issue with the Government five times over two months. When he raised it in the chamber with the Minister for Drugs Policy, Angela Constance—this is a direct quote, and I am reminded that the First Minister has just said that we need to work together and be consensual—the First Minister’s own drugs minister said:

“Mr Findlay is a big boy now, and does not need his mammy to hold his hand; I am sure that he will be able to address any outstanding matters that he has with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans.”—[Official Report, 29 September 2021; c 76.]

This issue is about drug overdoses and people dying. Was that response worthy of a Government minister?

The First Minister

On such a serious issue, although I am absolutely sure that members of parties across the chamber will not agree with everything that Angela Constance or I say on the issue, I hope that they would agree that Angela Constance in particular has not just been open to different approaches but has already in her tenure as drugs minister taken forward many different approaches to tackling this challenge.

On the specific point about the situation in prisons and, in particular, the issue of the photocopying of prisoner mail, the Scottish Prison Service has, rightly, taken time to consider the range of very serious operational and legal considerations. That includes taking into account prisoners’ rights, which are often determined through court judgments, on the handling of their correspondence. That is a fundamental consideration. As the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans outlined to the Parliament on Tuesday, the Prison Service will, after detailed operational consideration, be implementing that change.

I recognise that, particularly on such important issues, everybody wants the Government to operate and move with speed, and I share that view. However, when we are dealing with such serious issues, it is important that we take the time to consider all the implications, particularly when those implications involve legal considerations. That is what has happened, and I hope that members from across the chamber, who have been calling for the measure, will welcome the progress that we are able to make.

Douglas Ross

It is not just Angela Constance. Another Government minister, Lorna Slater, recently said that drugs are “not inherently dangerous”, and, this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Keith Brown, dismissed another serious concern that we raised.

I have here the standard operating procedure to which prison officers have to work. It says that prisoners have the option to have items that are contaminated with drugs safely stored and returned to them on their release. Prison officers are telling us that they are having to hand drugs back to prisoners as they leave. The First Minister’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans refused to give a serious response to that issue. Will she commit to ending the practice immediately?

The First Minister

In the spirit of openness, I will certainly look at that. Prisoners have rights, which are often upheld in courts of law, and we have to consider the issues carefully in ensuring that we address them properly.

There is a deeper issue that, in the spirit of openness and sincerity about trying to find the solutions to the matter, I ask Douglas Ross to consider. I accept his sincerity on the issue without doubt or equivocation, but it is too easy for all of us in the Parliament to oversimplify some of the issues in quoting ministers and to forget to understand the nuances of the matter. The factors behind the drugs crisis are complex. We all understand that, so let us not oversimplify or take quotes out of context. Let us focus on the substance of solutions, as Douglas Ross has been doing, and try to find maximum consensus.

I will go away and look in detail at the particular issue that he raised. If we consider that a change is necessary, appropriate and possible to make, I undertake that we will give it due and serious consideration.

Douglas Ross

I am not taking quotes out of context. I have reminded the First Minister of the response that we have had from three members of her Government.

The Government must finally start treating the crisis with the urgency that it deserves. The Prison Officers Association Scotland has told us that it has been overwhelmed with unprecedented levels of drug abuse in our prisons. Her Government is making it harder for them to do their job. It gave prisoners £2.7 million-worth of unhackable phones that were then hacked and used to deal drugs. Scottish Prison Service documents show that there have been more than 2,200 incidents of prisoners misusing those devices. Given the obvious abuse of those phones for criminal activity, will she now commit to removing the phones that have been hacked from Scotland’s prisons?

The First Minister

We are treating the issue seriously and with urgency. Sometimes, there are complex situations and issues that have to be properly considered and thought through. That is what we will do, because—to be frank—we do not progress anything if we fail to do that.

On the issue of mobile phones, it is important to remember the context. In the absence of in-person contact with loved ones over a sustained period during, in particular, the early stages of the pandemic, the provision of mobile phones has been vital in addressing the negative impact of Covid in our prisons not only for prisoners but for staff and families—in particular, children who are impacted by the imprisonment of parents.

The vast majority of the more than 10,000 phones that were issued were used entirely as intended. The breaches of the rules are taken very seriously by the Prison Service. Robust monitoring, which detected where there were breaches, detected that a small minority of handsets—around 7 per cent—had been tampered with. That is not acceptable, but the robust monitoring detected it and allowed steps to be taken to prevent it in the future.

The issues are serious, and they are often complex. I hope that all of us will treat them in that way as we face up to and address drugs deaths in society generally and in our prisons, in particular.

National Health Service (Staffing)

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)



I join other members in wishing a happy Diwali to everyone who is celebrating it. In coming through these dark times, it is poignant that families will be celebrating the festival of light.

This week, emergency doctors have told us that there have been 231 excess deaths due to delays at accident and emergency departments. Those are 231 people who could have survived if our hospitals were properly resourced.

The Royal College of Nursing tells us that its members are overworked. We have even heard stories of nurses going home crying, and many are leaving the profession early. That is because our NHS is 3,500 nurses short.

On top of that, our A and E waiting times are the worst they have ever been. The First Minister’s response is not to fix the problem, but to tell people that they are the problem and that they should not go to A and E. The Scottish Government has been warned repeatedly; it is in denial and lives are being lost. When will the First Minister take personal responsibility and act?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I take personal responsibility for everything that the Government is responsible for, every single day.

Anas Sarwar’s question raised three related issues; I will address them in turn. First, our NHS is working under extreme pressure right now. I recognise that. I pay tribute and express my gratitude to everyone who works in our national health service.

Nursing and midwifery staffing in Scotland is currently at a record high. Since the SNP Government has been in office there has been an 11.7 per cent increase in qualified nurses and midwives. The number of qualified nursing and midwifery staff working in our NHS has increased for nine consecutive years. We have a higher per head staffing ratio than other parts of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, we have 8.4 qualified nurses and midwives per 1,000 of the population, compared with just 5.9 per 1,000 in England.

That is the SNP Government’s record—but, of course, we need to do more because of the current pressure. That is why we are investing in greater recruitment and supporting health boards across the country to recruit more nurses and other professionals into our national health service.

On what the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said, it published research this week, on which we will engage with the college in order to better understand it. The analysis appears to use research findings from England from four years ago to make extrapolations from Scotland-only data now. We want to understand that in more detail.

However, that said, everyone recognises the relationship between long waits in A and E that are not clinically justified and increased risk of harm to patients. Nobody can or should deny that, which is why we are investing to try to cut A and E waiting times and to improve flow through our hospitals.

That brings me to the new guidance that has been issued for A and E. This is where Anas Sarwar cannot quote the Royal College of Emergency Medicine when it suits him and ignore its views when they do not suit him. We are not turning anyone away from accident and emergency departments—it is about ensuring that people get the right care in the right place. The vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said that the RCEM supports the guidance and that, in order to ensure that all patients receive

“the right care, at the right time, in the right place, it will on occasion be appropriate to signpost ... some people who have presented to an emergency department—but do not require after an”


“assessment to be seen there—to another part of the healthcare system.”

That is appropriate and is a change in guidance that was, I think, made in England some time ago. It is about ensuring that patients get the best care in the right place, which is something that everyone should support.

I would be grateful for succinct questions and responses. I appreciate that we are discussing complex issues.

Anas Sarwar

I will come back to the quotations in a moment. We have heard the same excuses week after week. The situation across our NHS is getting worse. Why does Nicola Sturgeon think that she knows better than the professionals on the front line? We have heard the quote from the First Minister, now let me quote Colin Poolman from the Royal College of Nursing. He has said that

“Despite the Scottish Government’s talk about record levels of staffing, these figures show that the shortfall in registered nurses needed to run NHS services has never been higher.”

The Royal College of Nursing says that there is a shortfall of almost 3,500 nurses.

The First Minister talked about selective quoting of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. I will quote the words of Dr John Thomson directly. He said:

“What we are seeing: ambulance handover delays; dangerous crowding; long stays ... put patient safety at risk and can lead to harm or avoidable deaths.”

Nicola Sturgeon wants to pretend that it is a recent problem, but it is a crisis that has been years in the making. Why does she think that she is right, but that the professionals on the front line, who are delivering our high-quality healthcare and are the people whom we applaud as our heroes, are wrong?

The First Minister

I do not think that. If Anas Sarwar had listened to what I said, he would have heard me say that we are listening to the front-line professionals. The nurse numbers that I cited are facts: there has been an 11 per cent increase in nurses and midwives since we took office. I went on to say that that is not enough, because the pressure on our health service has increased. We are listening to the people on the front line and we are supporting health boards with additional investment to recruit more staff into the health service in order to deal with the pressure.

Anas Sarwar said that we are somehow not listening to the people on the front line by—in his words—turning people away from accident and emergency services. That is not the case. We recognise the pressure on accident and emergency services and we recognise the need to ensure that people get the right care in the right place, and we are trying to find the solutions.

The part of the solution that is encapsulated in the new guidance is supported by the people on the front line. It is supported by the very person whom Anas Sarwar quoted—the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, John Thomson. He said that the approach is the right thing to do to ensure that patients get

“the right care, at the right time, in the right place”.

We absolutely recognise the challenge, but we are listening to those on the front line in coming up with the best and the right solutions.

Anas Sarwar

Nicola Sturgeon’s rhetoric cannot hide the reality. The Scottish National Party has been in government for 14 years. She was Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing for four years, and she has been the First Minister for seven years. There must come a point when it cannot be somebody else’s fault.

Let us look at Nicola Sturgeon’s record. Nicola Sturgeon cut nurse training places, as health secretary. We now have a shortage of 3,500 nurses in our NHS. Nicola Sturgeon has cut hospital beds by almost 1,500 in the past decade, and we are now chronically short of NHS beds. Nicola Sturgeon has been warned for months about the challenges that A and E services face, and people are now dying because of record A and E waiting times.

Earlier this week, the First Minister described Scotland as a “nation in waiting”. She is right: it is waiting on record long NHS treatment lists, waiting for an ambulance, waiting at A and E, and waiting for her to take responsibility. When will Nicola Sturgeon get a grip of the NHS crisis?

The First Minister

I take responsibility every day. With respect to Anas Sarwar, I note that I have held the positions that I have held for as long as I have only because, on several occasions, I have put before the people of Scotland my record in the ministerial posts that I have held, and the record of the Government, and have been re-elected with the trust of the people of Scotland to face up to these challenges.

In the years that we have spent in government, there has been an 11 per cent increase in the number of nurses and midwives working in our national health service. We have increased training of nurses; the overall intake for pre-registration nursing and midwifery increased by 5.8 per cent this year.

That is what we are doing. We recognise the acute challenges in our national health service. Those challenges are shared by health services across the world, largely because of the Covid pandemic. We are bringing forward solutions to support the people who work on the front line and patients throughout the country. That is what the people of Scotland have entrusted us to continue to do.

We will move on to supplementary questions.

Guardian (Job Losses)

Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

I am sure that the First Minister shares my disappointment and deep concern at the announcement by Rocialle Healthcare Ltd that its Guardian surgical textiles facility in Girvan, which is in my constituency, will close in 2022, with the loss of 75 jobs over the next four months. That is a long-established business and employer that provides the national health service with surgical drapes, gowns and tray wraps, as well as having provided personal protective equipment during the pandemic. I would be grateful for the First Minister’s advice on what the Scottish Government can do to support that very skilled workforce and our very fragile rural economy, which will be hugely impacted by the closure decision.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Elena Whitham for raising what is, I know, a very important constituency issue for her. I was certainly concerned to learn that Guardian had announced the closure of its factory in Girvan and its warehouse in Ayr, and I know that this will be a difficult time for the company’s staff, their families and the local areas that are affected, especially at this time of uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

I can advise Parliament that the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise has spoken with the company to explore available options for the sites and its workers. Scottish Enterprise will continue to engage with the company to discuss alternatives to closure. Obviously, the individuals who will be affected are our immediate priority. We have already provided information on the support that is available for affected employees through the partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—initiative. I will ask the business minister to keep Elena Whitham, and members more widely, updated on the matter.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Delays)

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Earlier this week, I was contacted by a constituent whose adopted daughter was referred to child and adolescent mental health services in early 2017. Since then, she has been passed from case worker to case worker, and each time her parents have felt that they were starting from scratch.

After five years of that, without receiving a confirmed diagnosis, they were told that their daughter would likely require medical intervention and so must be seen by a child psychologist. The waiting time for that is, apparently, at least three years. By that time, that young girl will have spent almost eight years in the CAMHS system without a proper diagnosis or access to appropriate treatment.

Does the First Minister believe that it is acceptable for any child to be referred to CAMHS in primary 1 and potentially not to receive treatment until they are in secondary 2? What can she do to assist that family and any others who have been forced to wait for such an obscenely long time for help?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

No, I do not think that that is remotely acceptable. I am not able to comment on the individual case, although if Brian Whittle wants to write to me or to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, we will look into it and liaise with the health board. I absolutely understand the distress and added anxiety that will have been caused by waiting that length of time for appropriate intervention.

More generally, we are investing heavily in CAMHS and we are redesigning how mental health support is provided to children and adolescents. We are investing more in early intervention and support—for example, counsellors in schools and the wellbeing service that is being rolled out—in order to ensure that young people get help earlier and that specialist services are there for those who need them most. That is a significant priority area, so that we can get to a position in which every young person who needs the support of mental health services gets the right support timeously. I would be happy to look into the individual case in question.

Nursing (Vacancies)

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

In response to Anas Sarwar’s question, the First Minister engaged on the Royal College of Nursing report that was published today, which shows that, this year, we have seen the highest ever shortfall in nursing, with more than 3,400 nursing vacancies.

With vague promises of only 1,000 health and care workers in the national health service, the winter plan scarcely begins to address the challenge. Nurses say that the shortfalls add to the significant pressure on them, which is why they are currently considering industrial action. When will the First Minister engage with the RCN’s demands to pay our nurses fairly, and when will she tell her cabinet secretary to fix his inadequate recovery plan?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Government engages with the RCN and other unions and professional bodies regularly; the health secretary is telling me that he met with the RCN as part of a staff-side engagement just yesterday, so that engagement is on-going.

I absolutely recognise the significant pressures that nurses and others in our health service are working under. There are significant recruitment challenges across not just our national health service and social care but our whole economy, exacerbated by other developments around Brexit. We are focused on supporting health boards to recruit more people—not only nurses, but other professionals—into our health service, and we will continue to engage with unions and others as we do so.

Bird Flu (Angus)

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

The First Minister will be aware of the outbreak of bird flu in Angus and the cull of a flock of birds that is taking place as we speak. Can she provide an update on that issue and let us know what guidance is being issued to local communities?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

That is an important issue, and I know that it will be causing concern. A small premises near Arbroath has tested positive for avian influenza. Public health advice remains that the risk to human health is very low, and food standards bodies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for consumers and does not affect the consumption of poultry products, including eggs.

In order to limit any further spread of disease among birds, appropriate restrictions have been imposed on the affected premises, and public health staff are liaising with others such as Health Protection Scotland to ensure that the correct protocols are followed. There were some surviving birds on the premises, and those were euthanised on welfare grounds, with on-going support being provided to the owner.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands will be happy to engage with any member who wishes to have further information on the steps that are being taken.

I call Jackie Dunbar.

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is working to ensure that, during COP26, it provides a platform for unheard voices, including citizens, young people and those from the global south.

The Scottish Government has been working—

The Presiding Officer

Sorry, First Minister—I will just interrupt there. I think that there has been a misunderstanding; I am taking supplementary questions at the moment, Ms Dunbar, but we will reach your question in due course.

I call Jamie Greene.

Vaccinations (Booster Programme)

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I have been contacted this week by many worried constituents. One is Ron Cooper from Ardrossan, who works in a care home. He had his second Covid vaccine in March, but he has been waiting for more than a month for his booster due to problems both online and with the telephone system. Another is an 89-year-old lady, who should be on the home-bound booster vaccination list but has been struggling to get an appointment. We believe that there may be hundreds of similar people in North Ayrshire who are in the same boat. Many of those people are elderly or vulnerable, and they are concerned—rightly, I think—as they look ahead to winter while awaiting those much-needed jabs.

In the light of those examples, what reassurance can the First Minister offer the wider public that this year’s winter flu and Covid booster programme has been adequately planned and is being executed successfully?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Those are important issues. Any member who hears reports about people in their constituencies or regions finding it difficult to access either the Covid booster jag or the flu vaccination should raise those with the health secretary so that they can be looked into.

Both vaccination programmes, which are being delivered on an integrated basis, are generally going extremely well. More than 850,000 people aged over 12 have received a third dose or a booster vaccination. Last week, more than 500,000 combined flu and Covid doses were delivered. We are ahead of some other parts of the United Kingdom on delivering that.

The programme is going extremely well overall, thanks to the dedication of those working on it across the country. As I have said before, there will be instances of individuals experiencing difficulty and it is important that those are raised so that they can be addressed as quickly as possible.

Fireworks (Public Advice)

To ask the First Minister what public advice the Scottish Government has issued regarding the discharge of fireworks, given that new regulations came into force on 30 June 2021. (S6F-00411)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We have taken several steps to highlight the nuisances and risks associated with fireworks and the new limitations on when they can be used. Outwith organised displays, fireworks can be used only between 6 pm and midnight on bonfire night itself and between 6 pm and 11 pm on most other nights of the year. We have funded three targeted publicity campaigns as well as promoting key messages on social media. We have also funded extra engagement with retailers by trading standards officers.

Others are also playing an important role. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police Scotland, community safety partnerships and charities—from Crimestoppers to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—are putting huge effort into advisory activity to minimise distress and harm to people and animals across Scotland.

Christine Grahame

I declare an interest as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare and as the owner of Mr Smokey, a rescue cat.

The regulations limiting the sale and discharge of fireworks are much welcomed by animal welfare organisations and by pet owners—particularly those who are less experienced, having become an owner during Covid. The increasing use of fireworks previously made it impossible to keep animals safe, even indoors. Fireworks also affect livestock. All animals have more acute senses than we do, and fireworks cause them suffering, stress and anxiety. Too many farm animals come to harm or even die, so the regulations are also welcomed by the farming community.

Will the First Minister explain how the impact of the regulations will be monitored and what the maximum penalties are for breaching them?

The First Minister

I agree with Christine Grahame about the well-known harm caused to animals and livestock by the misuse of fireworks. It is a serious issue. Misuse of fireworks also causes harm, distress and anxiety to humans in communities across the country. In recent years, parts of my own constituency have been affected by that and I have seen the distress caused. I hope that the changes will help to alleviate the situation.

We are working with trading standards officers to assess the impact of the restrictions and will engage with Police Scotland and other partners in monitoring their impact. We will also take input from animal welfare organisations such as the SSPCA and the British Veterinary Association, which played a constructive role as members of the firework review group.

The penalties for breaching the new regulations include imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of up to £5,000. Other offences with higher penalties may also be relevant to cases of serious misuse.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Every year, in the run-up to bonfire night, the fire brigade responds to hundreds of calls about the uncontrolled bonfires and misuse of fireworks that terrorise communities at this time of year. We thank the Fire and Rescue Service for protecting our communities.

As part of my casework in Glasgow, I have been sent videos of fireworks being launched horizontally down streets, causing damage to property and even trapping residents in their homes until either the police arrive or those who are responsible move on. I whole-heartedly welcome the new regulations and the work that the minister, Ash Regan, has done on the issue. If we see the same patterns in our communities this year, with residents being terrorised by the misuse of fireworks, how tough is the First Minister prepared to be to protect our communities from that misuse?

The First Minister

I have developed, largely because of experience in my own constituency, a bit of a zero-tolerance attitude to fireworks over the years. I have seen instances, like those that Pauline McNeill outlined, in the Pollokshields area of my constituency. I have worked on a local basis with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the police and others to try to alleviate some of that impact. I think that the new restrictions that are in place will make a difference. If they do not make a sufficient difference, we will be willing to look at going further and being tougher.

I say this simply as a statement of fact, but there is a devolved/reserved split of responsibilities that means that the Scottish Government cannot necessarily go as far as we might like to go. There has been liaison and I know that my constituency MP colleague, Alison Thewliss, raised the issue in the House of Commons to try to get more collaboration between the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments in tackling it. We will be willing to look at the issue if this year’s changes do not have the desired impact.

Obviously, people want to enjoy bonfire night, which is tomorrow, but I say to people across the country to do that responsibly and to remember the impact that the misuse of fireworks can have. At best, the impact is inconvenience, anxiety and distress; at worst, it can be serious injury and even death. Therefore, it is absolutely paramount that everyone acts responsibly.

Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

A few weeks ago, there was a tragic explosion in my constituency in Kincaidston in Ayr, and a family of four remain in hospital. Within days of the explosion, some members of the public let off fireworks, which caused the community a lot of fear and concern. What discussions has the Scottish Government had with Police Scotland in relation to enforcing the new firework regulations?

The First Minister

As I outlined, the Scottish Government had extensive engagement and consultation with the police and other partners and stakeholders over a long period of time in coming to the new, tighter restrictions that are now in place. We will continue that engagement in terms of the enforcement and assessment of the restrictions.

I appreciate the local issue that has been raised. I think that any of us who saw the pictures on social media that evening of the explosion in Siobhian Brown’s constituency understand the shock and that therefore there will be particular sensitivity in the area around fireworks this bonfire night. I will ask the relevant minister to engage with the police locally and nationally, and with Siobhian Brown as well.

I call Jackie Baillie.

To ask the First Minister what immediate steps the Scottish Government is taking to address the reported continuing inequalities in cancer—

I am sorry Ms Baillie, but I am still taking supplementary questions at the moment. We will get to you in due course.

We move on to question 4, from Stephen Kerr.

Carbon Emissions (2045 Net Zero Target)

To ask the First Minister whether Scotland is on track to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045. (S6F-00402)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I think that we are, but I do not think that it will be easy and I do not think that we can take success for granted. We will have to work hard to achieve it. The scale of the challenge to bridge the global emissions gap is immense. In Scotland right now, we are over halfway to net zero and we have decarbonised faster than any G20 country, but we have much more to do. Through our updated climate change plan and associated commitments, we have set out a comprehensive credible package of policies for reducing emissions over the next decade, putting us on track—I believe—for a just transition to net zero by 2045. Our priority is obviously to deliver on those policies.

Of course, the recent United Kingdom Government decision not to support the Scottish carbon capture and storage cluster does not make that easier and is a serious mistake. I am therefore today writing to the Prime Minister calling on him to reverse that decision and accelerate the Scottish cluster to full track 1 status without delay.

Stephen Kerr

The First Minister’s climate change strategy stated that local authorities are on the front line of Scotland’s response to the climate emergency, but an extensive piece of published research by my own office reveals that the Scottish Government—[Laughter.]

Do continue, Mr Kerr.

Stephen Kerr

Some members may laugh at this research, but I think that they should take it seriously. Research by my office reveals that the Scottish Government has given little or no support to councils in preparing their plans, has agreed no targets and has not even bothered to read them. Why, then, does the First Minister have any confidence that local authority plans will deliver cuts to emissions when she and her Government have shown so little interest in them?

The First Minister

I do not think that that is true, but I would be fascinated to read the research that Stephen Kerr’s office has prepared, and I mean that genuinely. I am sure that he will send me a copy and I give a commitment to read it in full and come back to him with any comments that I feel are appropriate.

Local government has a big part to play in meeting the targets, and I have confidence in the priority that councils across the country are giving to that. I have had discussions with council members in the context of the United Nations climate change conference of the parties this week and, more generally, I have also had the privilege of meeting local government representatives from other parts of the UK. Yesterday, I met the mayors of London and Paris. All local governments are grappling with those challenges, and there is a real intent to share good and best practice.

However, our responsibility is to meet our targets. We are halfway there, but the next part of the journey will be more difficult, so we cannot afford to be undermined on any of the key strands of our work. In return for my commitment to read the research that his office prepared, I wonder whether Stephen Kerr would join me today in writing to the Prime Minister to ask for the short-sighted decision on the Acorn project and the Scottish cluster to be overturned, so that we can get back on track with carbon capture and not allow his Tory colleagues to take the feet from under us on that. Perhaps he will give consideration to that.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Meeting our net zero target by 2045 requires us to hit the interim target in 2030, which was designed to be ambitious but achievable and depends on Government action. Given that the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee believes that the target now looks “overcooked”, and the Scottish Government has already missed the last three emissions targets, what does the First Minister plan to do differently to get us back on track to meet that interim target?

The First Minister

First, it is right that we are ambitious. The target of a 75 per cent reduction by 2030 was a decision of Parliament, and I would rather that this Parliament was said to be overambitious than underambitious, because that charge could be levelled at too many Governments around the negotiating table at COP. If memory serves me correctly, the Committee on Climate Change expressed its reservations about the 75 per cent target when Parliament was considering it, but Parliament took a decision to be that ambitious, and I think that it was right to do so. It is now incumbent on the Government to lead by example, and all of us must do everything necessary to meet that target.

With regard to the missed targets, again, to be open, our targets are stretching and, in the past three years, we have fallen short of quite meeting them. To hit our targets, we should have cut emissions by 55 per cent. We have not done that, but we have cut them by 51.5 per cent. That is halfway to net zero, and we have decarbonised faster than any G20 country.

Scotland is leading by example, but we must do more. We set out details of what we are doing differently in our climate change update plan, and the catch-up plan was published last week. The most recent target was for 2019, so much of what we are doing to catch up on that, which we are legally bound to do, has already been set out in the Parliament. The plans and targets are ambitious, but we all have a responsibility to step up and make sure that we are meeting that challenge head on.

Cancer Mortality Rates (Inequalities)

To ask the First Minister what immediate steps the Government is taking to address the reported continuing inequalities in cancer mortality rates across Scotland. (S6F-00410)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We continue to focus on ensuring equitable access to cancer services throughout the pandemic. For example, mutual aid across health boards means that every patient is seen according to their priority. We continue to provide support through the screening inequalities fund, in order to increase screening rates across all groups in our society, and we have recently completed a second funding round of our more than £100 million national cancer plan, where the impact on equalities was a key criterion in the award of funding. Finally, the most effective means to reduce mortality from cancer is early detection, which is why we continue to invest in our detect cancer early programme.

Jackie Baillie

Public Health Scotland published cancer figures for 2019 that showed that 28 per cent of people who live in deprived areas are more likely to get cancer, and a staggering 66 per cent are more likely to die from cancer, and that was before the pandemic. There is a substantial backlog in screening; early detection rates are falling; health boards are cancelling operations due to the pressure; and more people are likely to die, simply because they are being diagnosed too late. Will the First Minister ensure that, at the very least, cancer surgery and treatment is not cancelled or delayed this winter? Will she take urgent action to improve cancer outcomes for everyone, including those who are the most disadvantaged in our society? Frankly, those figures are a national scandal.

The First Minister

First, to be very clear, cancer treatment and surgery is always prioritised by health boards, and I would hope that Jackie Baillie would recognise that. Indeed, any operation for cancer would be cancelled only in the most extreme circumstances. Health boards have given that a priority right throughout the pandemic.

Jackie Baillie is right to point out the Public Health Scotland mortality statistics that were published this week. I will not repeat the statistics that she has quoted, because they were absolutely correct, but it is important to give the context. The statistics also show that the overall risk of dying from cancer in 2019 fell by nearly 10 per cent. That is positive, but there are significant inequalities in outcomes from cancer. That is why a range of work is under way that we must make sure gets the priority that it merits. It aims to raise awareness, provide equitable access to screening, and—yes—catch up on the backlogs that have been caused by Covid. It includes early detection and making sure that early detection efforts are focused not just on the most common symptoms of cancer but on some of the less common symptoms as well. The early cancer diagnostic centres have been set up to ensure that that happens.

Jackie Baillie is right to raise the importance of the matter, and the Government is right to have the focus that we do on putting forward solutions and ensuring the priority of cancer care.

COP26 (Platform for Unheard Voices)

6. Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is working to ensure that, during COP26, it provides a platform for unheard voices, including citizens, young people and those from the global south. (S6F-00418)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish Government is committed to amplifying the voices of young people and those who are experiencing the worst impacts of climate change in the global south. We have provided almost £950,000 of funding to support young people of all backgrounds to participate meaningfully at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and beyond. That includes £300,000 for the conference of youth, which will present its global statement to COP26 tomorrow. We are also ensuring that the representatives from the global south are heard through the global climate assembly, the Glasgow climate dialogues and events, including a youth-focused event with Malawi climate leaders that will take place on Monday.

Jackie Dunbar

Women and girls are likely to suffer disproportionately as a result of the climate crisis, which is why the Glasgow women’s leadership statement, jointly sponsored by the Scottish Government and UN Women, is so important. It recognises that women must be part of the response. Does the First Minister hope that, when small nations lead, it will galvanise other organisations and world leaders to follow by making similar ambitious statements and commitments during COP26?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree with Jackie Dunbar about the importance of the issue. We know that women and girls across the world are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but we also know that they must be more involved in the solutions to it. I have been delighted to work in recent times with UN Women to put forward the Glasgow women’s leadership statement, which we launched at COP26 earlier this week. I did that alongside women leaders from both large and small nations, and I have been very encouraged by the response, with more and more signatures representing Governments and civil society that have come forward to join the initiative.

I am also looking forward to taking part in gender day at COP next Tuesday, when I hope that we will see many more countries come forward with very strong commitments on gender-responsive climate action.

Glasgow City Council (Industrial Action)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to Glasgow City Council cleansing workers taking strike action from 1 November and throughout COP26 due to low pay. (S6F-00412)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I recognise and appreciate the extraordinary efforts of council workers at all times, but particularly over the past 18 months. That is why, although the Scottish Government has no formal role in the local government pay negotiations, we supported efforts to find a solution, with a one-off offer of additional funding of £30 million. I was pleased to see that that intervention, along with a contribution from councils, enabled the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to submit a significantly improved pay offer to trade unions last Friday. The unions subsequently confirmed that they would suspend strike action while members voted on the revised offer. I welcome that.

It is therefore disappointing that the GMB in Glasgow has chosen to pursue strike action at this stage, although of course I respect its right to do so. I urge all parties in Glasgow to quickly find a resolution.

Paul Sweeney

As a member of the GMB trade union, I think that Glasgow City Council threatening to union bust by using anti-trade union laws and busing in blackleg private contractors to try to break the strike is disgraceful and a paltry short-term fix to this long-running dispute. If the First Minister agrees with that position, will she please intervene and provide the leadership that has sorely been lacking so far and, if necessary, commit additional financial resources so that COSLA and Glasgow City Council can settle that dispute, pay those key workers fairly and treat them with respect?

The First Minister

The things that Paul Sweeney talks about would be disgraceful if they were happening, but let us be clear that they are not. As I understand it, although I am not party to the matter, Glasgow City Council made clear last Friday that it would not take legal action.

On the suggestion of breaking the strike, I know that the council issued a statement last night and that it has a concern about bonfire night posing an additional fire risk if rubbish is not collected. Although it is considering cover to mitigate those risks, it is not considering the use of contractors to fulfil the regular duties of striking staff. Labour should know all about the latter, because that is what it did during the cleansing strike under the Labour administration in 2009, so perhaps a bit of reflection on the Labour benches would be welcome.

The situation in Glasgow has arisen out of a national pay dispute. The Government made additional resources available last week to allow COSLA to make a renewed offer, which it has done. The unions rightly suspended strike action to allow members to vote on that renewed offer, and that process should be allowed to take its course.

I have the utmost respect for cleansing workers in Glasgow—those who do that job in my constituency and across the city—so I hope that Glasgow City Council and the union can get around the table and find a resolution that puts an end to the dispute and allows industrial relations to move forward positively.

That concludes First Minister’s questions.

Paul Sweeney

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The First Minister mentioned that strike-breaking activity took place in 2009. For the record, no such strike-breaking action took place, and the statement that the Glasgow City Council issued to that effect is inaccurate. I would be happy for the chair to confirm that that is the case.

The member will be aware that the content of members’ contributions is not a matter for the chair. A mechanism exists however, by which members can correct any inaccurate information.