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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 September 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Doors Open Days 2019, Portfolio Question Time, Drug-related Deaths, European Union Exit (No Deal), Points of Order, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


European Union Exit

The bill that Opposition parties in the House of Commons passed yesterday once again seeks to delay the decision to leave the European Union. It gives the United Kingdom until 19 October to get a deal with the European Union. I still hope that we and the other 27 countries in the EU can reach an agreement. Does the First Minister?

First, I will tell Jackson Carlaw something that I think he should know by now. I do not want to see Scotland have to leave the European Union at all. There is a simple, democratic reason for that: Scotland did not vote to leave the European Union. I think that any self-respecting Scottish politician would stand up for what people in Scotland voted for in the EU referendum.

Secondly, we hear all this talk from Boris Johnson about trying to get a deal, but in the past couple of days we have also seen evidence that suggests very strongly that no meaningful negotiation is going on right now. “Sham” is the word that has been used about that, and it was attributed—rightly or wrongly, I do not know—to a member of the Prime Minister’s inner circle.

If Jackson Carlaw is privy to information that the rest of us do not have and can tell us, right now, the detail of the deal that Boris Johnson is trying to strike with the European Union, perhaps he will share that with us and we will all have the opportunity to give our views on it.

It does not sound as though the First Minister is very interested in an agreement. [Interruption.] Yet, her MPs voted last night for the bill that gives a deadline of 19 October to negotiate an orderly exit—something that I think would deliver what most people in Britain want, which is to go on with delivering Brexit in line with the referendum decision that we took. I ask again: does the First Minister actually want a deal or not?

I cannot say this any more simply, so I will try to say it a bit more slowly and perhaps a bit more loudly. I do not want Scotland to leave the European Union, because 62 per cent of people in Scotland voted against leaving the European Union. I guess that, if that vote was held again today, the percentage would be even higher.

I come back to the point about a deal. If Jackson Carlaw is asking me to give an opinion on some mythical deal that he—unlike most other people—believes that Boris Johnson is on the verge of agreeing with the European Union, he should tell us what he thinks the content of that deal is, and then I will happily give him an opinion on it.

Right now, there are no negotiations that we know of, the so-called efforts to strike a deal have been described as a “sham” and the European Union does not appear to know of the negotiations that are making progress in the way that Boris Johnson tries to tell us they are. Clearly, Jackson Carlaw is suggesting that he knows something that the rest of us do not know. Let him share it with us now, and then we can have a meaningful discussion about it.

Let us spell it out. The First Minister does not really want to see successful negotiations between the UK and the EU. She has just said as much. She wants the negotiations to fail. It is not in her interests to strengthen the UK’s hand in those talks; she wants to weaken the UK’s hand in those talks. [Interruption.]

The First Minister does not want people in Scotland to be able to move on from this; she is determined to keep it dragging on and on and on. Is it the case that this First Minister has never seen a referendum result that she does not want to overturn?

I do not want to overturn the Scottish Brexit referendum result; I want to see it honoured. People in Scotland voted to remain in the EU.

I say gently to Jackson Carlaw that the Tories, and Theresa May in particular, should perhaps have been willing to listen as far back as December 2016, when the Scottish Government published “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, in which we said expressly that, notwithstanding our opposition to Brexit, we were putting forward the compromise option of single market and customs union membership. We put that on the table as a potential compromise option and it was completely disregarded.

Ruth Davidson once challenged me to support continued single market membership, but, when her Westminster bosses told her that that was not the policy, she decided otherwise. So, I will take no lessons from Jackson Carlaw on attempting to find compromise on Brexit.

I say again that we do not want Scotland to be dragged out of the European Union against our will. I absolutely will not stand by while we have a no-deal exit imposed on us, because I know how catastrophic that would be.

I end by putting a challenge to Jackson Carlaw and the Conservatives. In this chamber this afternoon, we all have the opportunity to say that a no-deal exit is unacceptable in all circumstances. I and my colleagues will be voting for that. Will Jackson Carlaw be voting for that?

We respect the results of all referendums—the First Minister should give that a try.

Perhaps there is one thing on which we can agree: a general election may be required to sort out the issue. First Minister, Scottish Conservatives will stand up for and stand by our decision to remain in the United Kingdom and to back the decision that people across the UK made to leave the European Union, to ensure that this country can move on. If people want more years of division, they should vote for Nicola Sturgeon. If they want to get back to things that matter—the people’s business: schools, jobs and the police—they should vote for us. That is the clear choice that Scotland now faces.

I cannot help thinking that, if the Conservatives had any confidence whatsoever in that message, Ruth Davidson would still be standing where Jackson Carlaw is standing right now. She cannot stomach the direction that Boris Johnson is taking this country in—Boris Johnson’s own brother cannot stomach the direction that he is taking the country in—so the question is, why should the people of Scotland be forced to put up with that?

I really relish the prospect of a general election. The Scottish National Party will beat the Tories in a general election, just as we have done in the past number of elections. Unashamedly and unapologetically, in that election, the SNP’s message will be clear: we stand up for Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and we stand up for Scotland having the right to choose our own future and not to have a future imposed on us by Boris Johnson.


Freedom of the Press

What value does the First Minister place on the freedom of the press?

I place huge value on the freedom of the press, as I hope that every democrat and member of Parliament does. Perhaps that is a note of consensus that we will be able to strike in this question session.

Let me examine recent events. On 25 August, the Sunday Mail published the shocking story of Allan Marshall, who died after being held in custody in Saughton prison. At the fatal accident inquiry, the sheriff ruled that Allan’s death was “entirely preventable”. When the Sunday Mail sought to shine a light on that in the public interest, Scottish ministers went to court in the middle of the night, seeking an interdict to prevent the newspaper from reaching the news-stands. The Government’s case collapsed and was dropped. The paper was published.

Will the First Minister tell us when it was decided to serve the interdict to ban the publication of the Sunday Mail on 25 August? When did she become aware of the interdict being served? Did she authorise the legal action? Was it the Cabinet Secretary for Justice? Was it both of them?

It was neither. The decision was taken by the Scottish Prison Service, and it decided later not to proceed with the action in the circumstances. I think that that decision was the right one.

First and foremost, my condolences—and, I am sure, all our condolences—go to the family and friends of Allan Marshall.

When any individual is in the custody of the state, serious obligations lie on the state to respect the dignity and human rights of that individual. When concerns are raised, it is important that they are properly considered and scrutinised. That is what has happened and will continue to happen in that case. There has been a fatal accident inquiry, and the outcome of that inquiry has led to a number of recommendations, which the Scottish Prison Service is now considering fully. It has a matter of weeks within which to put forward its response. The Scottish Prison Service is also taking a number of other actions to ensure that lessons are learned for the future policy of our prison service.

That is the right way to proceed, although none of that takes anything away from the grief and anguish of Allan Marshall’s family. As I said at the outset, my thoughts remain very much with them.

A week later, the Sunday Mail reported:

“It’s understood Mr Yousaf was informed at 11.30pm on Saturday night. Lawyers acting for the Scottish Prison Service rejected attempts to resolve the matter out of court after that point.”

Let us be clear: Allan Marshall died following a shocking incident in prison service custody. The sheriff says that his death was “entirely preventable”. The Government went to court in the dead of night to keep it out of the public eye. Does the First Minister regret that heavy-handed interference in the freedom of the press? Will she apologise to the members of Allan Marshall’s family who are in the public gallery today? Will the First Minister agree to a full, independent investigation into her Government’s actions, including how much money was wasted, her role and the role of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the matter, and will she publish the findings?

First, I had no role in it. The decision to initiate court action was taken by the Scottish Prison Service, as an employer, to allow for a fuller consideration to be undertaken. The Scottish Prison Service then decided not to proceed with that action, which I think was the right decision.

The closed-circuit television footage was viewed by the fatal accident inquiry. I have since viewed the CCTV footage in full, and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has offered to meet Allan Marshall’s family. I repeat my deepest condolences to them.

I take such matters extremely seriously because I take very seriously the responsibilities of the state when individuals are in custody. Their human rights continue to require to be protected and respected. Therefore, in such situations, if there are lessons to be learned, it is vital that they are learned. The fatal accident inquiry was a critical part of that. HM inspectorate of prisons for Scotland has been asked to oversee the further work that the Scottish Prison Service is undertaking so that any lessons that require to be learned are learned.

It is up to this Parliament’s committees to decide whether they want to carry out further inquiries into what happened; it is not for me to interfere with that. However, Richard Leonard should be under no illusions about the seriousness with which my Government and I treat such issues.


Levenmouth Rail Link

On 8 August, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity travelled across the River Forth to the magnificent kingdom of Fife to announce that Leven’s railway is set to return after 50 years, confirming £75 million of investment from the Scottish Government to reopen the line. Will the First Minister join me in congratulating the resolute dedication and commitment of the Levenmouth rail campaign?

Absolutely. I commend the commitment of stakeholders, including the Levenmouth rail campaign, who engaged with the Levenmouth sustainable transport study. I also pay tribute to Jenny Gilruth for her determination on the issue on behalf of her constituents.

From the study, it emerged that the decision to reopen the rail link to Levenmouth, alongside new bus and active travel provision, was right. The study concluded that that integrated solution would best meet the needs of people and businesses in the Levenmouth area. Earlier this month, the Government instructed Network Rail to proceed with the next stages of design development. We have also committed an additional £5 million to a Levenmouth blueprint fund, which is available to partners, to maximise the benefits of the Government investment in the area. We look forward to working with Fife Council on that.


Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

I was recently contacted by a constituent whose teenage daughter has been left waiting by NHS Lothian for over 35 weeks for child and adolescent mental health services treatment. Meanwhile, her mental health has continued to deteriorate to a point where she is no longer able to attend school. The Scottish Government standard states that 90 per cent of children and young people should start treatment within 18 weeks of referral. Does the First Minister agree that this delay is unacceptable and will she intervene to ensure that my constituent’s daughter receives treatment immediately?

I thank Jeremy Balfour for raising the issue. Yes, I agree that waits of that length are not acceptable. If he wants to share the details with me—with his constituent’s permission—I will ensure that the health secretary looks into the case as a matter of urgency.

As I have said before, and as I said again when I launched the programme for Government, long waits for CAMHS are not acceptable. That is why we have set out a programme of work to reduce those waiting times, which includes additional investment and substantial reform of how we deliver services for young people who need mental health care and treatment. The wellbeing service that we are implementing over the next year is a crucial part of making sure that there are early intervention and preventative services available. That then helps to ensure that specialist services are available for those who need them most. This programme of work is extremely important and it is a priority for the Government. In the meantime, I would be happy to have Jeane Freeman look into the case.


Shetland Ferry Service (Capacity)

Presiding Officer, it is good to be here. During the by-election, the First Minister experienced first-hand the struggles that people in Shetland have with capacity for freight, cabins and cars on our lifeline ferry service to Aberdeen. What are her priorities for action?

As I did on Tuesday, I congratulate Beatrice Wishart on her election success and I welcome her to the Scottish Parliament. I wish her well in representing the good people of Shetland.

I will also take this opportunity to congratulate my party’s candidate in the by-election, Tom Wills, for an outstanding result in increasing the Scottish National Party share of the vote. He and indeed other candidates in the by-election made some sensible proposals about how we can continue the work of this Government to improve ferry services, in particular, to the northern isles.

I look forward to having discussions with Beatrice Wishart and her colleagues as we get towards the budget and perhaps I can also look forward to the support of Beatrice Wishart for the budget when we continue to deliver for the people of Shetland on all these matters.


Cystic Fibrosis (Orkambi and Symkevi)

The First Minister will be aware that Orkambi and Symkevi were both rejected by the Scottish Medicines Consortium on 12 August. She will also be aware that these life-changing drugs for cystic fibrosis sufferers have been the subject of a long campaign by my constituent Kelli Gallacher. Can the First Minister advise the chamber how she will ensure that Orkambi and Symkevi are available to all cystic fibrosis sufferers in Scotland?

First, I want to get to a position where that is the case and I hope that Jackie Baillie recognises that. I know that Jackie Baillie also recognises the fact that the Scottish Medicines Consortium takes decisions independently of ministers. However, I also know she is aware, because I understand that the health secretary has written to her and has agreed to meet her about this, that we are continuing discussions with the manufacturers of these drugs to get to a position as quickly as possible where the drugs are routinely available to cystic fibrosis sufferers. I hope that we will continue to have the support of Jackie Baillie and other members across the chamber on making progress as quickly as possible with the manufacturers.


Müller Milk & Ingredients (Jobs)

In the light of Müller Milk & Ingredients’ decision to review its depot operations in my constituency of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, potentially leading to the closure of the depot and up to 50 job losses, can the First Minister confirm that the Scottish Government has offered the services of the partnership action for continuing employment team and that the offer has been taken up?

I thank Maureen Watt for raising an issue that I know will be of significant concern to her constituents. In all such situations where job losses are a risk, we offer the services of the PACE team and we will certainly do that in this case. I will ask the economy minister to correspond directly with Maureen Watt and to keep her posted on the progress of discussions between the Scottish Government, the PACE team and the company.

First and foremost, we always try to avert and avoid redundancies, but where that is not possible, for whatever reason, we want to ensure that the right support is available for affected workers.


Scottish Green New Deal

These are extraordinary times, but the climate emergency cannot wait. I commend the Scottish Government for the small steps forward that it is taking in its programme for government, but it has to do much more, and it has to do much more now.

Last week, we launched our proposals for a Scottish green new deal—a transformative programme of change that contrasts with the Scottish Government’s lack of ambition. For example, we propose that the hundreds of millions of pounds that are being spent on new roads be redirected into public transport, cycling and walking. An independent review of the Scottish Government’s clean air strategy that was published last week supports that. Will the First Minister be bold and take funds out of new, big road projects and invest them in public transport instead?

Yes, we will be bold. We are bold in the programme for government, and I said that that is not the sum total of our actions. A number of pieces of work will come forward over the next 12 months, all of which will form our comprehensive response to the climate emergency.

I simply quote WWF Scotland’s comments about the programme for government:

“This ... shows real leadership on the climate emergency ... these commitments will slash emissions and deliver benefits to people and the Scottish environment now and for years to come.”

Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, said:

“Scotland has led the UK in reducing its emissions and has ambitions to lead the world in tackling climate change ... that vision is alive and well ... Scotland is serious about its commitment.”

Those were comments about the programme for government.

It is right that the Government and all governments are challenged to do more and to do it faster, and we are up for that challenge, but I do not think that it does the cause, which both she and I are committed to, any real justice to try to downplay the significance of what was announced in the programme for government. Instead, let us get behind it and work together to see how we can do more and do it even faster.

I certainly cannot get behind a Government that freezes investment in cycling and walking in the face of a climate emergency.

However, it is not all about transport. Reforesting Scotland is a critical component of the Scottish green new deal but, even under the Scottish Government’s new plans, which were released this week, it will reach its modest target of 21 per cent of Scotland being forested eight years late. It would not reach the Scottish Greens’ target of 40 per cent, which is the European average, for 150 years. There is no shortage of opportunity. Almost a fifth of Scotland is a grouse moor—burnt, degraded and managed so that a few people can enjoy blood sports. Will the First Minister be bold, carry out an urgent review and adopt plans to really reforest Scotland to tackle the climate emergency?

First, on grouse moors, we have the Werritty report coming in a few weeks’ time, and in the programme for government we set out proposals around regional land use partnerships to look at how we use our land in a way that meets our climate ambitions.

On forestry, I am absolutely committed to increasing our ambitions and the delivery of those ambitions, but let us take a moment to reflect on the fact that, last year, Scotland was responsible for 84 per cent—I think that I am getting that figure right—of all trees that were planted across the United Kingdom. We exceeded the target that we set last year. That is why we have increased it from 10,000 hectares to 12,000 hectares, with an additional £5 million. There is no lack of ambition here.

On active travel, we doubled the active travel budget, so, whereas the member talked about freezing it, we are maintaining it at doubled levels. I see the benefits of that in my constituency, and I would be happy to talk to Alison Johnstone more about the Glasgow south city way, which is revolutionising active travel in my constituency. Patrick Harvie should be well aware of that. There are currently about 11 of these projects across the country.

We have set out bold plans and we will continue to do that. Even if the Greens cannot quite bring themselves to admit this, all international experts—in fact, many experts in the UK and in Scotland—recognise that Scotland is actually leading the world.

We have some more supplementary questions. The first is from Christine Grahame.


Food Promotions

Ninety per cent of parents who responded to a recent survey blamed food promotions such as “buy one, get one free”—BOGOF—for increases in obesity. That is of concern, especially as one in five four and five-year-olds is obese. Does this week’s announcement, under the programme for government, of a good food bill provide scope to ban such promotions?

I welcome the results of the survey that Christine Grahame cited. Time and again, we see such surveys: that reaffirms the need to take action to help families to make healthier choices.

The case for taking mandatory action has been made. This week’s programme for government sets out our commitment to introduce a bill on restricting food promotions before the end of the current session of Parliament. That bill is in addition to the good food nation bill, which also gives us the opportunity, as a country, to translate our excellence in food and drink produce into better diets. However, there is no doubt that restricting point-of-sale junk food promotions that encourage overconsumption and impulse buying of junk food has a very important role to play in meeting our target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.


Empty Homes

What will the Scottish Government do about the 39,100 empty homes across Scotland, now that it has abandoned its manifesto commitment to introduce compulsory sale orders?

As Kevin Stewart outlined at committee this week, given the constraints on the legislative programme space and, particularly, given the potential implications of Brexit, unfortunately we do not, at this stage, expect to be in a position to progress our compulsory sale order power in this parliamentary session. However, we remain committed to introducing that power for local authorities. There have been a number of issues and challenges with the current proposals that we have to think through a bit more—not least, in order to ensure that any proposal is compatible with the European convention on human rights.

Local authorities have other options, of course. Many local authorities already use their compulsory purchase order powers to tackle empty homes. I think that over the past three years, 13 CPOs have been submitted under housing legislation, and all 13 have been approved. Nine involved compulsory acquisition of empty homes, in some form.

We will continue to work closely with the Scottish empty homes partnership to support authorities to use their existing powers, as we continue to plan to introduce the new powers to which we previously committed.


Stone of Destiny

The Scottish Government has opened a consultation on the possible relocation of the stone of destiny from Edinburgh castle to Perth, where it would form the centrepiece of a new cultural centre in Perth city halls, which is a development of huge economic importance to Perth and the surrounding area. When is a decision likely to be made on the future of the stone of Scone? Does the First Minister agree that it is time that the stone came home to Perthshire?

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has reminded me that I have Perthshire members of the Scottish Parliament surrounding me.

Murdo Fraser has put his case on the record. I hope that he will understand that, as one of the commissioners for safeguarding the regalia who will take that decision and not, in this case, as First Minister, it is very important that I do not express a view while the consultation is on-going. The commissioners will have to look at the outcome of the consultation and all the other evidence, then reach a decision. I hope that that decision is reached soon after the consultation ends. However, I am sure that Murdo Fraser will be pleased to have put his argument on the record.


European Union Farming Funding

At long last, the United Kingdom Government is paying back the £160 million that it stole from Scottish farmers. Despite rural payments being the responsibility of the Scottish Government, which has already said that that cash will go straight to farmers, the UK Government has sought to decree how that money should be ring fenced. Does the UK Government’s seeking to dictate to Holyrood on spending represent the thin end of the wedge? Does the First Minister reject such attempts to erode the powers of the Scottish Parliament?

I agree very much with Emma Harper and thank her for raising that important issue.

I welcome the fact that, at long last, farmers are getting back the money that was stolen from them by a Conservative Government. Just think about the logic of it. The Conservative Government nicked that money from our farmers then spent six long years refusing to give it back, and when it was finally shamed into having to give it back, it tried to claim credit for doing so. That is absolutely absurd. I am thankful that the farmers will now get their money. The Scottish Government will continue to do the right thing by Scotland’s farmers.


Dundee Drugs Commission

The First Minister will know that the Dundee drugs commission reported on 16 August. The report showed that the character of Dundee’s drugs problem is different from that in the rest of Scotland, in that more young people are tragically dying there, poly drug use is far more common, and the people who die are more likely to have lived in poverty.

The report was scathing about the national health service drugs service. It is isolated, unaccountable, maverick, punitive and wilfully ignores national and regional best practice. That service is directly under the Government’s control. How can the First Minister make the Dundee drugs service better for our citizens, and reduce the number of deaths?

I welcome the work of the drugs commission. Its work is obviously very important in the context of Dundee. Points about differing contexts in some circumstances have been well made and have to be considered properly. I also think that the recommendations in the commission’s report will have wider relevance to Scotland more generally.

The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing has already met the chair of the Dundee drugs commission to discuss the report, and we are considering the recommendations for Government carefully. Obviously the recommendations will feed in to the wider work that the Government is leading. We have commissioned the new drugs task force, and I announced additional funding earlier this week. The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing will make a statement to Parliament this afternoon to update members on that work. I am sure that the contents of that statement will be of interest to Jenny Marra and other members from across the chamber.


Rape (Early Stages of Dating)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to Police Scotland figures that show that more than 160 people have reported being raped in the very early stages of dating in 2018-19. (S5F-03499)

All forms of violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights and must not be tolerated. I welcome Police Scotland’s new campaign, which seeks to tackle sexual violence head on and to make it clear that sex without consent is always rape.

We are working with schools, colleges, universities and employers to deliver prevention programmes through our equally safe strategy. We continue to pilot, with Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance, a whole-school approach to tackling gender-based violence. We also support Rape Crisis Scotland’s national sexual violence prevention programme, which has been expanded to all Scottish local authorities.

However, only by tackling outdated attitudes in society can we create the conditions for sexual violence to be reduced and, ultimately, eradicated, which should be an aim for all of us.

I recognise that the #GetConsent campaign is aimed primarily at men aged between 18 and 35 because that is the peak age for offending. However, does the First Minister agree that informed discussions about sex and consent need to take place in school settings in order to prevent sexual crime in the first place?

I agree strongly with that, which is why the work that I referred to in my earlier answer is so important. Education and prevention are the clear focus of the equally safe strategy, for the reasons that Stuart McMillan talked about.

We want every child and young person in Scotland to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other children, young people and adults. In the summer, we published a resource for professionals that aims to help them to support young people in their understanding of healthy relationships and consent. In addition, national guidance for schools will be developed to set out the range of support, and the practical prevention and intervention measures that are available to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children and young people.


Sectarian Behaviour

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government will take in response to the sectarian disorder in Glasgow at the weekend. (S5F-03500)

First, I take this opportunity to praise Police Scotland for the swift and effective way in which it managed an extremely difficult and challenging situation.

The Government has been clear and will continue to be clear that the right to peaceful and lawful assembly is an important part of our democracy, but we are equally clear that violent and sectarian disruption is not part of our democracy and should never be tolerated. That is why the justice secretary is working with Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland to ensure that we do all that we can to avoid that kind of behaviour being repeated.

As we have already stated, we remain open to giving full consideration to any proposals to tackle sectarianism in addition to the work that we are already undertaking, and to working with all partners to eradicate the scourge of sectarianism from our society once and for all.

I understand that Police Scotland has advised that this weekend’s marches should go ahead because, after last week’s disgrace, it thinks that people will turn up anyway. We have to understand how we got here.

How on earth did an Scottish National Party Glasgow City Council leader think it was a good idea to let a republican march go through Govan on an old firm weekend? Anyone in Glasgow could have told her that that was a bad idea.

Everyone here condemns the unacceptable behaviour that shamed our city last week. Does the First Minister think that Susan Aitken was right to let that march go ahead?

I think that a really bad idea—probably the worst idea of all in this context—is to try to turn such a serious issue into a party-political bun fight in the way that Annie Wells has done. I say to her in all seriousness that she should reflect very carefully on the content and tone of the question that she has just asked. I suggest to the interim leader of the Scottish Conservatives that he might want to do likewise. This is not a party-political issue; it is a long-standing and challenging issue, but we are determined to eradicate it.

First and foremost, the people who are responsible for the outrageous and unacceptable scenes on the streets of Govan last Friday night are the people who behaved in an unacceptable, violent and sectarian way.

Glasgow City Council operates within the law on the basis of police and other advice. It takes the decisions that it is advised are the right ones to take. We are having discussions with Glasgow City Council to develop an understanding of whether the council has the powers that it needs within the existing law or whether changes to the law might be required. We will continue to take forward those discussions in a responsible way.

We will continue to invest heavily in projects and initiatives to tackle sectarianism. In this chamber, we opposed the repeal of the legislation that was trying to deal with the issue at football matches. I regret the fact that Opposition parties repealed that legislation, but Parliament took its decision.

Above all, we will listen and talk to anybody in considering how we deal effectively with a societal problem that has no place in modern Scotland. It is a scourge in our society. Politicians who are serious about tackling the problem will come together, so that we speak with one voice and do not engage in the tactics that Annie Wells has disgracefully used.

The First Minister might know that, of the two marches that are planned for this Saturday, one is starting is my constituency and one is finishing there. Can she give any reassurance to my constituents that they will be able to go about their normal lives on Saturday without being disrupted?

Citizens, whether they are in John Mason’s constituency, my constituency or any other constituency, have a right to go about their normal business. I have a duty—we all have a duty—to stand up for the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The two marches that will take place in Glasgow this weekend have been given approval. I strongly support Police Scotland to take the necessary action to facilitate the marches. I appeal to all those who will be involved to conduct themselves in an orderly manner and to demonstrate that the right to march and demonstrate can be exercised without being abused.

A strong framework of legislation is already in place but, as I said to Annie Wells, we will look carefully at where improvements can be made. Dr Michael Rosie, an independent adviser, has been asked to review the implementation of the 2016 recommendations on marches, parades and static demonstrations, and he will put forward proposals on what more might be needed. Of course, legislation has an important part to play, but it is not the only way to tackle such problems. The discussions that the justice secretary will have with Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland will not be limited to looking only at legislative measures.

The scenes that we witnessed in Govan on Friday night were unacceptable and shocking. Bigotry and intolerance have no place in a modern progressive society. In reacting to those events, we all have a responsibility to be careful about our language and tone.

In response to Lord McConnell’s comments that more can be done to tackle sectarianism, what is being done to work with parties across Parliament and with groups across Scotland to tackle bigotry and intolerance?

In one respect, Lord McConnell is right: when we see the scenes that we saw on Friday night, it is self-evident that more needs to be done. First and foremost, there is a responsibility on Government, through its work with councils, but I am glad to hear James Kelly agree that there is a responsibility on all of us. Cross-party and non-political leadership is needed on the issue.

We have invested heavily by increasing the funding that goes to anti-sectarian education projects in schools, prisons, workplaces and communities, and we will continue to do that. We will also continue to work with those who are doing very good work in this area.

James Kelly said that he wants to work with us. I welcome that. I recall that when the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 was being repealed, he said that he would develop an anti-sectarianism strategy that was fit for 2018. I am not aware of him having brought forward such a strategy yet, but I make an open offer to him: if he does so, we will consider that, in addition to the work that we are already doing and the further work that we are considering doing. I believe that the issue is one that we should come together to tackle. If James Kelly wants to bring forward his proposals, I am happy to give him an assurance that we will consider them fully.


ScotRail Services

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the recent disruption on ScotRail services. (S5F-03513)

The overall reliability of ScotRail services has improved this year—for example, the number of train crew-related cancellations has reduced by 91 per cent. That said, the recent disruption to services, including on the last weekend of the Edinburgh festival, when passengers were significantly inconvenienced as a result of services being overwhelmed by demand, was clearly unacceptable and lessons must be learned from that. A review by the ScotRail Alliance is under way to identify actions that will strengthen planning for future events.

In March, the First Minister said that ScotRail’s first remedial plan was “the last chance saloon”. Since then, as the First Minister said, passengers suffered utter chaos at Waverley station on the last day of the Edinburgh festival. Last month’s ScotRail performance figures were the worst for August since the franchise began. We are talking about a franchise that has been breached by ScotRail three times on the First Minister’s watch. It is no wonder that 79 per cent of Scottish National Party voters want ScotRail to be returned to public ownership.

It is now time for the First Minister to make a decision. This month, the Government must begin the process of deciding whether to renew the Abellio franchise until 2025 or to stand up for passengers and agree to bring it to an end at its first expiry date in 2022. Which will it be, First Minister? Will you end this failing franchise at the earliest opportunity—yes or no?

First, we will continue to work with ScotRail to make sure that, where improvements need to be made, they are made. That is first and foremost in the interests of the travelling public. Secondly, we will take decisions about the future of the franchise in an orderly and responsible manner, and we will update Parliament as we take those decisions.

However, although Labour has talked about public ownership and public control of the railways, it has been the Scottish Government that has acted. We acted to bring to the Scottish Parliament the powers—the most recent Labour Government blocked this for years—that mean that we now have the ability to consider public sector bids for the franchise. As I said, Labour blocked that step forward for years.

When it comes to nationalisation of the railways, the Parliament still does not have the powers that would allow us to do that. Before we get much further into a discussion about the matter, I invite Labour to say whether it wants to join us in calling for all the powers over rail to be devolved to this Parliament so that that discussion becomes meaningful rather than abstract. I think that I am still waiting for an answer to that question from Labour.

Can the First Minister give an indication of what proportion of train delays are attributable to Network Rail? Does she agree that, as I have said previously in the chamber, Colin Smyth and his colleagues might want to heed the advice of their former transport minister and support our request for the functions of Network Rail to be devolved so that it, too, is answerable to the Scottish Government?

Richard Lyle raises a really important point, which I know that the other parties do not want to address. Where problems—there are plenty of them—are the responsibility of ScotRail, we need to deal with that and resolve those problems. That is our responsibility, and we take it seriously.

However, over the past few months, more than half of all delays on the ScotRail network have been the responsibility of Network Rail, which does not report to me or to the transport minister in this Parliament; it reports to the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Transport. If we are to have the same ability to resolve problems with Network Rail that we have with ScotRail, we need to make sure that all the powers in question lie with this Parliament. I do not know why Opposition parties would continue to oppose that. When we have that ability, we can have more meaningful discussions about the long-term future and ownership of the railway network.

I say again to Labour: it is an open door; come with us and we will go together to the Tories at Westminster to demand that powers for railways be completely devolved to this Parliament.

It is a shame that the First Minister was not at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee yesterday, where she would have learned that the managing director of ScotRail already has the additional devolved powers that she has been calling for. If she had been there, maybe she would have reflected on her answer before responding to Mr Lyle.

Given that the incidents that were experienced by ScotRail passengers in Edinburgh over the summer were a disgrace, is it not the case that the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity should take responsibility for ensuring that there is greater co-operation between the rail companies, the police and the local authorities when managing big events? It is his responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again.

Of course we take responsibility for ensuring that. We work with ScotRail to ensure that passengers are not let down in the way that I agree they were at the end of the Edinburgh festival. However, it is simply a statement of fact that Network Rail reports to UK ministers and not to ministers in this Parliament. It would make sense to have those powers fully joined up.

On the member’s first comment, I am happy to come to his committee and talk about those or any other matters, any time that he wants to invite me—there you go.

On that consensual note, we conclude First Minister’s question time.

12:47 On resuming—