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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 6, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 06 February 2020

Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Cancer Day 2020, Education, Portfolio Question Time, Budget 2020-21, Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill: Stage 1, Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

We turn to First Minister’s questions, but before I call Jackson Carlaw to ask the first question, the First Minister would like to make a brief statement.

Presiding Officer, before I take questions, I am grateful for the opportunity to make a very short statement.

Members will be aware that I have accepted the resignation of Derek Mackay as finance secretary. Derek Mackay has apologised unreservedly for his conduct and recognised, as I do, that it was unacceptable and falls seriously below the standard required of a minister. I can also advise that he has this morning been suspended from both the SNP and our parliamentary group, pending further investigation.

However, I also wanted to formally confirm to Parliament that the Government will proceed, as planned, with the Scottish budget this afternoon. It will be delivered by the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes, and it will set out our plans to sustainably grow our economy, support our public services and step up action to tackle the climate emergency. All of that continues to be the very clear focus of the Scottish Government.

Thank you, First Minister. We turn to the first question, from Jackson Carlaw.

Finance Secretary (Resignation)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I had fully intended to ask questions on other matters this afternoon, but the First Minister’s short statement does require follow-up by way of questions.

Given the evidence of the texts that are now in the public domain, what does the First Minister believe the behaviour of her former finance secretary does for the reputation of her Government, this Parliament and Scottish politics generally?

I think the conduct is unacceptable and I will not make any attempt to say otherwise or to minimise in any way its seriousness. Based on what I knew about this last night, it was clear to me then that Derek Mackay’s conduct fell far short of what is expected of a minister. Indeed, he offered his resignation to me and I accepted. It was not an option for him to remain in Government.

This morning, of course, I have read the full transcript that was published in The Sun, and it is on that basis that he has also been suspended from both the SNP and the parliamentary group pending further investigation. Having taken that action, which I think is appropriate in the circumstances, it is now not just reasonable but important to allow that further investigation and consideration to take place without me pre-empting it. I hope that members will accept that course of action.

As Mr Mackay has 26,000 followers on Twitter alone, many parents will be concerned about what assurances the First Minister has received that this is the only example of his unacceptable behaviour and whether she believes that any assurances received are credible.

The victim in all this is a 16-year-old boy and I have heard no mention of his welfare. What contact has either the SNP or the First Minister’s office had, or will they be having, with him and/or his family at any point, and what support has been offered?

I say very clearly that I am not aware of any further allegations or any conduct of a similar nature, but I should stress that I was not aware of this until last evening. I very much hope that Jackson Carlaw will accept that.

I very much want to make clear—I hope that members would accept that this is my view without me saying it, but I think that it is important that I do say it—that I do not condone in any way, shape or form conduct of this nature. I, and, I think, all politicians have to reflect on the need for us to say that when it is our opponents who are accused of such behaviour and also when it is people on our own side, in our own parties. I think that all of us have to be consistent in that, and I will always strive to be so.

Of course there is the issue, which is raised by these particular allegations and what is published in the newspaper this morning, of the welfare of a 16-year-old boy. I am not aware of the identity or the contact details of the family. If the family or the individual concerned wanted to speak to me, I would of course be happy to speak to them. That is my position.

All parties have in recent times faced difficult allegations about their own members. We all have to be prepared to apply high standards when allegations are about our own colleagues, and make sure that the action that we are demanding of our opponents is action that we apply ourselves. That is what I will strive to do.

Whatever questions are posed to me today, there will be no sense in which I seek to minimise the serious nature of what we are discussing.

I take that to be confirmation that neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish National Party has had any independent contact with the young man or his family: their identity is not known, so that would not be possible.

The First Minister has previously said in the chamber that

“the internet can often be an unsafe place for young people. All MSPs can play our part in our communities in raising awareness and helping to educate parents about the steps that they can take to keep their children safe online.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2017; c 19-20.]

The Parliament has taken issues of exploitation seriously. I ask the First Minister whether the reputation of Scottish politics and of the Parliament can be maintained with the full confidence of the public, or even of Mr Mackay’s constituents, if he remains a member?

Clearly, there are issues that Derek Mackay will need to reflect on. I am responsible for the actions that I take, firstly as First Minister in terms of the Scottish ministerial code. Based on what I knew last night, as I have already said, it was clear to me that Derek Mackay’s remaining in Government was simply not an option. In any event—to be very clear—he offered his resignation, because he recognised that as well. The fuller detail of what appeared in the newspaper this morning having been seen, further action has been taken in terms of his membership of the SNP and of our parliamentary group.

There is a point to make that, no matter how upset and shocked we all are when faced with such situations, there is also a need for due process, and therefore Derek Mackay has been suspended pending further investigation—I believe that it is right and proper to allow that to happen. I do not in any way want to pre-empt the outcome of that investigation.

Clearly, there are very serious matters for me as First Minister to have had to deal with, contend with and respond to over the past few hours, and there will be matters that Derek Mackay himself is, I am sure, reflecting on, and will continue to have to reflect on.

First Minister, I appreciate the difficulty. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children defines grooming as follows:

“Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a ... young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them ... young people can be groomed online ... by ... someone who has targeted them ... This could be ... a dominant and persistent figure”

through the use of

“social media networks ... text messages and ... apps, like Whatsapp”


“Whether online or in person, groomers can use tactics like ... taking them on trips, outings or holidays ... young people may not understand they’ve been groomed. They may have complicated feelings, like loyalty”



That is the NSPCC definition of grooming. I understand that the First Minister wants to defer to an investigation, but the full content of the text exchanges between Mr Mackay and the young man are available online. How difficult is it not to reconcile Derek Mackay’s conduct with the very worst connotation?

I am not sure whether Jackson Carlaw has been paying proper and close attention to my answers. I am in no way minimising the seriousness of what we are discussing. It is not the case that I am deferring to an investigation before action has been taken. Derek Mackay is no longer a member of my Government. He is suspended from my party; he is currently suspended from my parliamentary group. From the action that has been taken already, it should be obvious to everybody how seriously I, my Government and my party treat the matter.

In terms of further action, for anyone in any circumstances where others have to consider future action, there is a degree of due process that has to be gone through. That would be the case for a member of Mr Carlaw’s party just as it is for a member of mine.

From the action that has already been taken, I do not think that anybody could reasonably doubt the seriousness with which I treat, and will continue to treat, the matter.

NHS Tayside (Mental Health Services Inquiry)

This morning, Derek Mackay described his behaviour as “foolish”, but Derek Mackay’s actions towards a schoolboy are beyond foolish. They are an abuse of power and nothing short of predatory, so the matter is serious. His suspension from the Scottish National Party is welcome, but he should go as a member of the Scottish Parliament.

I turn to another serious matter. This week, the long-awaited report from Dr David Strang, following his independent inquiry into mental health services in NHS Tayside, was published. It was released on the fifth anniversary of the funeral of Mandy McLaren’s son Dale. He was 28 years old. The report vindicates Mandy, Gillian Murray and the other courageous families. It shows that, time and time again, NHS Tayside ignored their concerns and was defensive and dismissive in its dealings with them. Will the First Minister apologise today to Mandy McLaren, Gillian Murray and the other families, and will she give them a guarantee that all 51 recommendations in the report that was published this week will be implemented in full?

As I have said previously in the chamber—I readily and unreservedly say it again—I offer apologies to any patients or families, including the families mentioned by Richard Leonard today, who have been in any way let down by the national health service. I know that the publication of the report will have been extremely difficult for those families, and my thoughts and sympathies remain with them and with all families who have been bereaved through suicide.

Richard Leonard will be aware that NHS Tayside has accepted in full the recommendations in the report. Those recommendations must be implemented and the concerns that the report sets out must be addressed. We expect NHS Tayside and its partners to respond with a plan describing how they will deliver the necessary improvements by the end of this month. We have made it very clear to the board and others how seriously we treat the report and that they must deliver the change that is required. The Minister for Mental Health will retain very close oversight of the actions that the board takes in the weeks ahead.

The reason why I ask for a guarantee on the implementation of all 51 recommendations is that I spoke to Gillian Murray this morning and she said:

“It is terrifying that these are only recommendations.”

NHS Tayside has a history of evading scrutiny, deflecting criticism and resisting change. It has repeatedly ignored recommendations from Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland. This week, Dr Strang revealed that the one and only recommendation of his interim report has still not been delivered. When I raised the matter with the First Minister last October, she said:

“I expect NHS Tayside to take account of the recommendations that David Strang has made thus far”. —[Official Report, 3 October 2019; c 13.]

It has not done that, so what confidence can families have that anything will be any different this time round?

We will continue to work with the health board and make that expectation very clear. I know that the Minister for Mental Health is willing and keen to make a statement on the issue after next week’s parliamentary recess. The Government has asked Dr David Strang to carry out an update on his report after a period of time, to make sure that the recommendations are being implemented, which we expect to happen. We expect the full, detailed plan from NHS Tayside and its partners, setting out exactly how that will happen, by the end of this month. That will allow them to be held fully to account for those actions.

I absolutely understand the desire of the families to know how matters are being taken forward. The Minister for Mental Health will keep Parliament updated as the actions proceed.

We must listen to the families. David Strang’s report is entitled “Trust and Respect”. The families have told us that they have no respect for the health board or trust in it to deliver on the recommendations that are made in the report. They are angry that nothing will change. We know that those families have shown immense courage. It is now time for the First Minister to repay that courage.

Will the First Minister commit to giving real teeth to Healthcare Improvement Scotland, to the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland and to fatal accident inquiries so that their recommendations are enforceable? Will she instruct her cabinet secretary to re-escalate NHS Tayside’s mental health services to level 5 so that her Government steps in to drive the transformation of mental health services in Tayside? Will she do the right thing and put patients first so that no other families have to suffer in the way that these families have suffered?

The Government will continue to take the action that is already under way, which I think is appropriate, and we will consider all suggestions. In my view, the bodies that Richard Leonard cited have “teeth”, to use his term, but we will always be open to suggestions about how the powers that they have can be strengthened.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has already met some of the families, and she continues to be very willing to engage with them and to keep them updated as this work continues. We will continue to monitor the progress of NHS Tayside through the continuation of the Tayside oversight group, which is an important part of the picture here. As I said, the Minister for Mental Health will keep Parliament updated. We have proactively asked Dr David Strang to review the situation after a year and to provide an update on the progress that has been made.

The Government will continue to be very closely involved in the matter, with the Minister for Mental Health having direct oversight of it. As I said, she is very keen to make a statement to Parliament after the recess, when members across the chamber will have the opportunity to consider these issues in even more detail.

We have a number of supplementary questions.

NHS Lothian (Negligent Diagnosis and Treatment)

Two weeks ago, my constituent Darren Conquer was awarded £500,000 in damages following negligent diagnosis and treatment of an injury that he sustained. The First Minister will recognise Mr Conquer’s name, because he highlighted his concerns about his treatment to her as far back as 2007, when she was the health secretary.

Why were Mr Conquer’s concerns not investigated? Given the circumstances surrounding the case, will the First Minister agree to an independent review?

I am sure that Miles Briggs’s constituent raised the issue with me when I was the health secretary, and I am happy to look into exactly what happened after that. As Miles Briggs will appreciate, I do not have the detail of that before me, but I will be happy to review the case and look at what action the Scottish Government took. I will get back to him with the detail of that, and I would be very happy to enter into further discussion about what lessons can be learned from his constituent’s experience.

NHS Lothian (Resignation and Special Measures)

This week’s appalling report on mental health services at NHS Tayside is evidence of the need for openness and transparency in our greatest public service, the national health service.

In that vein, does the First Minister agree that patients and staff of NHS Lothian have the right to know why the chair of the board has resigned and, more important, why the health board that spends their taxes and treats their children has been put into special measures? On Tuesday, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport refused to answer questions from members across the chamber on that extremely important issue. Will the First Minister now instruct the health secretary to release all information on Mr Houston’s resignation and, more important, on the decision to invoke special measures for NHS Lothian?

As I understand it, the chair of NHS Lothian resigned because he disagreed with the assessment of his performance as chair that had been made by the chief executive of NHS Scotland.

Regarding the decisions around the escalation to level 4 of aspects of NHS Lothian’s performance, the health secretary has spoken about that on many occasions in the chamber, and she continues to be prepared to answer members’ questions. I give an assurance that, if there is particular information that the chamber wants, that information will be made available.

Low-emission Zone (Bearsden Cross)

Two weeks ago, in response to questions from Rachael Hamilton, the First Minister confirmed that, although progress was being made on tackling air pollution around some schools across Scotland, it is not being made everywhere.

One of the places where progress is not being made is Bearsden primary school, in my region, where nitrogen dioxide levels have actually gone up in the past year and have breached the safe legal limit for at least 49 hours, often coinciding with the times when the children would be entering and leaving the school. A potential solution to air pollution that was mentioned by the First Minister two weeks ago is a low-emission zone. Will she therefore agree with me that East Dunbartonshire Council should consider implementing a low-emission zone at Bearsden Cross as soon as is possible?

It is certainly open to the council to consider that, and the Government will be happy to discuss with the council how we can support it.

As Ross Greer is aware, we have already set out our plans in working with councils in our key cities to introduce low-emission zones, but there is no doubt that that is the start of a process, not the end. The Government and the environment secretary will be happy to discuss with that council—or with any council—the plans it wishes to take forward.

Fatal Accident Inquiries

It has been seven years since four people died in a helicopter that crashed while approaching Sumburgh airport, and seven years without a fatal accident inquiry. Families need to know what happened to their loved ones. Lessons cannot be learned, recollections fade and, all the while, people in Shetland and those who work in the oil and gas industry in the North Sea are anxious. At a preliminary hearing, Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle condemned the Crown Office for the delay and said that the wait for the families should be “deplored”. Will the First Minister apologise? Is this not further evidence that the Crown Office is completely incapable of handling fatal accident inquiries and that it should be removed from its responsibilities?

I start by conveying my thoughts and sympathies to the families concerned. I know how difficult the past seven years will have been for them, and I do not think that anybody can say anything—I certainly cannot—that will detract from their suffering.

Decisions on fatal accident inquiries are not for me. I do not say that in order to not answer the question but, constitutionally, decisions on fatal accident inquiries are for the Crown Office and the law officers. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to comment in any detail on the decision-making process, other than to say that we all appreciate that every specific fatal accident inquiry has its own associated facts and challenges.

I am sure that the Lord Advocate will take careful note of what the sheriff principal has said in this case and that he is fully aware of the impact on the victims of any delays in the justice system. I know that the Lord Advocate is committed to ensuring that everything possible that can be done is done to ensure the completion of these complex investigations as quickly as possible, and I am sure that he will be happy to correspond and discuss the matter further with the member on behalf of her constituents.

Hospital Opening Delays (Aberdeen)

The new Foresterhill cancer centre and family hospital in Aberdeen are now more than £60 million over budget. The cancer centre has been delayed for one year and the family hospital, which is to replace the city’s maternity unit, has been delayed for two years. The overall cost of the work has increased by more than 40 per cent on the original estimates. Does the First Minister think that those delays and spiralling costs are acceptable? Does she regret the fact that the huge problems that have been uncovered in new hospitals in Glasgow and Edinburgh have caused my constituents to lose out on those vital facilities for a significant period of time?

It is because of this Government’s investment in the health service that new facilities such as those will go ahead. We have made sure that there has been a close review of the costs on that particular project, and I am sure that the health secretary would be happy to write to the member with further details of that. We are committed to the completion and delivery of new health facilities for the benefit of patients in the member’s constituency and in other parts of Scotland.

NHS Waiting Times

I am in no doubt that Derek Mackay’s behaviour is appalling, and I appreciate that the First Minister does not yet know who the young man is, but it is essential that he and his family receive all the support they need.

Behind this week’s statistics showing more people waiting longer at accident and emergency departments are stories that show the human impact that that is having on patients, doctors and staff. On Tuesday, we heard from a junior doctor about her experience of working one night in a Scottish emergency department. She said:

“Staff shortages, me and just 3 junior colleagues ... we can do busy, but when the department is so full ... there are no beds for any of these patients and I can’t help but think I’m not giving patients the care they need. It’s not safe.”

The fact of the matter is that we are short of beds in hospitals and we are short of social care packages, community services and general practitioner appointments. Despite the heroic efforts of those working in our national health service, the system as a whole is not working, is it?

No, I do not agree with that. I absolutely recognise the intense pressures on our national health service and, as the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has rightly said, it is a whole-systems challenge, so we must bring to bear whole-systems solutions, which is entirely what the Scottish Government is working with health boards to do. As will be seen again in the budget this afternoon, we are investing in our national health service to the maximum of our ability.

I know that Alison Johnstone will recognise, as I do, the impact on the national health service of 10 years of austerity, which has not been the choice of this Government or this Parliament. However, we continue to make sure that there is record investment, and we continue to make sure that there are record numbers of staff working in our health service, including accident and emergency consultants and other staff who support the outstanding jobs that they do.

The reasons for the pressures in our health service are understood, and it is partly due to the changing demographics of our population. It is worth noting that, in the year to December 2019, the number of patients who were seen within four hours was at the highest level in any year since 2012—more than 1.5 million patients were treated within four hours. Although waiting times against our four-hour target are not where this Government wants them to be, we are working with health boards to improve them significantly. The context is also important: our waiting times for the month of December were above 80 per cent against the four-hour target, compared with under 70 per cent elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We have to do better, but because of the efforts of the staff and the investment of this Government, we continue to make sure that we will see an improving picture in our accident and emergency departments.

NHS staff do indeed do an incredible job. My concern is the impact that the strain is having on them. In 2011, when she was health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon published her 2020 vision, which pledged to deliver healthcare at home and in communities. Well, 2020 has arrived and, instead, A and E departments are busier than ever because people cannot get GP appointments. The community health facilities are simply not sufficient. Delayed discharge is as bad as it has ever been, as people wait for the social care packages that they need to enable them to leave hospital. Instead of having people treated at home, we have a health system that leaves people with no option but to go to hospital and then prevents them from leaving. That is another gap between the Scottish Government’s rhetoric and its action. Can the First Minister see that her 2020 vision has failed?

No, I do not agree. More people are being treated in the community than ever before, and more procedures and operations are done on a day-case basis than ever before. Of course, that has an impact on the judgments that health boards make about the number of in-patient beds that are required. We have rising demand for our health service—that is not just the case in Scotland; it is the case across the UK and many other countries.

The other thing that has changed since 2011 is the decade of austerity that has been imposed on our budget and, by extension, our health service. We will continue with the investment in our NHS and we will see further evidence of that this afternoon, and we will continue to support record numbers of staff. We will also continue the hard work of reform to make sure that more people, where appropriate, are treated in the community and that our in-patient services are there for those who need them. We will work to make sure that that is done in the most effective way possible, which is why we are creating new elective care centres.

The situation is challenging in a climate of a changing demography and constrained resources: nobody suggests otherwise. That is the case not just in Scotland and, although there are big challenges that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and I take responsibility for in Scotland, I think that, comparatively, our health service deserves a great deal of credit for dealing with and facing up to those challenges much better than health services in many other parts of the world.

Post-Brexit Fish Exports

A policy paper from Professor David Bell says that, post-Brexit, fish exports from the United Kingdom

“are likely to face a mixture of tariffs and regulation that will inevitably add to their costs, making them less competitive.”

The report highlights the “strong bargaining chip” that the European Union holds in negotiations over fishing, as continental markets are

“the principal destination both for fish caught by UK boats and for farmed fish.”

Does the First Minister have any confidence that the Tory party can keep the promises that it made to Scotland’s fishermen?

No, I do not have a great deal of confidence in that. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that the promises that the Conservatives made to our fishing communities will be broken in the months ahead.

Of course, it is important that we support our fishermen in their ability to catch fish in Scottish waters, but it is also important that we protect the export market, so that the fish can be sold into those markets. We must also retain the ability to attract labour to our country, so that the fish can be processed. This Government will continue to stand up for our fishing industry and we will continue to do all that we can to protect it from yet another round of broken promises from Conservative Governments.

Homeless Mortality Rate

Figures that the National Records of Scotland released yesterday showed that 195 homeless people died in 2018, which is four people every week. With a rate more than twice that of England and Wales, Scotland now has the highest homeless mortality rate in the United Kingdom. It is a home-grown problem. Drug and alcohol use, suicide and exposure were the main reasons for those deaths. Nobody should be forced to sleep on our streets. The figures point to a problem, not just around housing or drug treatment but around how we support people who leave care, prison and our armed services—groups that are disproportionately represented in those tragic figures. What additional action will the First Minister take to bring those numbers down?

I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for raising this serious issue. The figures, which were published yesterday, are completely and utterly unacceptable. I inject one note of caution—they are experimental figures and, therefore, there is a degree of estimation. However, that does not change the headline that we are discussing.

On the comparisons, the figures also showed an increase in other parts of the UK, and there has been a bigger increase in England and Wales than in Scotland, but the levels in Scotland are not acceptable. In terms of the work that we are already doing, the ending homelessness together fund is important, as is the work that we are doing on drugs deaths. Yesterday, I stood in this spot and talked about the work that we are doing to stop young people going into care and to support them as they come out of care. That is all interlinked. I assure the member and the chamber that—across all areas of this Government’s work—it is a priority to address these figures.

We cannot escape the fact that one of the driving reasons for a rise in homelessness has been welfare cuts and austerity. We have to deal with the consequences of that but it is our responsibility and it is vital that we deal with those consequences. We are focused on doing that.

Glasgow School of Art (Governance)

Gordon Gibb, the former head of professional studies in architecture, was instantly sacked for allegedly bringing Glasgow School of Art’s reputation into disrepute, when he voiced his opinion on failings within the school, as he has said,

“after a bust-up with chair, Muriel Gray.”

Surely it is the leadership of the board that has presided over reputational damage: 40 people have resigned from the school, Tom Inns was sacked without explanation, another seven people have been sacked and 30 people have been made redundant. Will the First Minister remind the chair of Glasgow School of Art that it is a public institution and that whistleblowing is not a sacking offence?

Will she also remind the school’s leadership that it is accountable to the Government? Does the First Minister agree that it is time for the Government to step in, to use its powers to steady the ship and to review the governance of that widely loved institution?

Pauline McNeill is aware that Glasgow School of Art is an independent organisation. It receives funding from the Scottish Government through the Scottish Funding Council. The Scottish Funding Council is able to monitor the performance of Glasgow School of Art and other institutions that it funds, but Glasgow School of Art is independent of Government and is accountable to its own board.

In that or any other context, I have no hesitation in reinforcing the importance of whistleblowing and protecting whistleblowers. I unreservedly and clearly do that, whether the message is to Glasgow School of Art or any other institution. It is important that everybody who acts in any position in a public authority is mindful of that.

Environmental Standards (European Alignment)

To ask the First Minister, in light of the Prime Minister’s statement that the United Kingdom will refuse close alignment with EU rules, whether the Scottish Government will remain aligned with EU environmental standards. (S5F-03928)

Yes, we will. We have already made clear our intention to maintain or exceed environmental standards after European Union is a means to encourage trade or investment. As his predecessor did, the Prime Minister has set out a negotiating position, without any consultation of the devolved Governments, that offers no guarantees on environmental standards and which would take us out of the European single market and severely hit our economy, jobs and living standards.

Does the First Minister regret the failure by the Prime Minister to recognise that, far from creating opportunities, divergence from shared policies that have delivered benefits to workers, the environment and other policy areas will cost jobs, and that it is in the interests of Scotland to remain aligned with pan-national rules on such matters?

Yes, I very strongly agree with Stewart Stevenson on that. Whenever we hear UK Government ministers talk about the ability to diverge, we have to ask ourselves what the purpose of that divergence would be. The purpose would be to allow a race to the bottom, whether on environmental protections, consumer protections or workers’ rights. That is absolutely the wrong direction of travel.

Although the EU is not perfect, EU membership has—in my view—been good for Scotland. It has helped to ensure that we have high environmental standards, significant consumer protections, and protection for workers. Those standards and protections apply consistently to all member states. A level playing field in law, based on existing EU standards, will provide certainty and continuity for our economy and businesses, and help our progress towards a net zero emissions economy.

I am determined that Scotland will remain aligned with our European partners on devolved matters. We will not accept any regression of protections, and I still hope that we will see the same approach being taken across the UK.

The Scottish National Party is set to miss a range of environmental targets this year, from biodiversity and active travel, to recycling and low-carbon vehicles. Why?

The SNP—I am sorry, the Scottish Government [Interruption.] The Scottish Government is a world leader on a range of environmental issues. We continue to make progress, and, where we have to accelerate that progress, we are open and frank about the need to do so.

However, we are talking about my desire, as First Minister and leader of the SNP, to remain within a context that obliges us to meet those high EU standards, and I am being questioned on that by a member of a party that wants to diverge from those standards and to lower those protections. I prefer my approach, which is to keep moving things up the way, in the right direction, and to resist the race to the bottom on the environment, workers’ rights and everything else, which the Tories want.

When will interim measures be put in place to replicate the oversight and enforcement roles of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice on environmental issues such as air pollution, in order to protect properly the future of Scotland’s people and nature?

We will announce such measures very soon. The Cabinet this week discussed the issue in detail and looked at our final proposals on it at our regular meeting. We will outline the direction that we intend to take as soon as possible. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will confirm the precise date of that announcement shortly.

Mental Health Issues (Young People)

5. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to support young people dealing with mental health issues. (S5F-03948)

We are determined to ensure that any young person who requires support for their mental health has their needs meet. We are taking forward a programme of work to transform the children and young people’s mental health system, with a focus on prevention and early intervention. We have invested £250 million over five years to support positive mental health for children and young people, in addition to £58 million over the past four years, specifically to improve access to child and adolescent mental health services.

This week, we launched a new national CAMHS service specification, which was developed in partnership with young people and their families, and which outlines the level of provision that they can—and should—expect to receive when they are referred for help within the national health service. We will work closely with NHS boards on implementation of the specification.

Currently, one in five young people is rejected from CAMHS, and about 20 per cent have to seek multiple referrals in their attempts to get help. The audit of rejected referrals recommended that a multi-agency assessment system should be developed, which would, in effect, end multiple referrals. This week, the Government published its new CAMHS specification framework, which does not mention a multi-agency assessment system, gives no clarity on the referral criteria for CAMHS and offers no guarantee of a face-to-face assessment. Given those significant omissions, what assurances can the First Minister give to young people that they will get the help that they need at the first time of asking?

As I said in my original answer, this week we have launched the new service specification, which has been developed in partnership with young people and their families. I am sure that the Minister for Mental Health would be happy to have further discussion on particular details of that, if the member wants to pursue that.

More generally, I readily recognise the issues of rejected referrals and long waiting times for access to specialist child and adult mental health services. That is exactly why we are not just investing, but are seeking to transform, the nature of those services, so that more support is available for young people in the community. We are investing in more counsellors in schools, and in the creation of the new national wellbeing service, so that young people who need specialist services get quicker access to them, and so that those who do not need them are treated in the community. Currently, some young people are being referred to CAMHS because there is no adequate community provision. We are working on and investing in rebalancing that.

Studies from across the United Kingdom have shown that a significant proportion of individuals who are being treated with antidepressants actually have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Given the Government’s failure to tackle long waits for CAMHS, what will the Government do to ensure that young people receive appropriate mental health diagnoses and the specialist support that they need?

As Mary Fee will recognise, it is not for me, as a politician, to comment on prescribing decisions. It is important that clinicians decide on the appropriate prescriptions for patients. In essence, my response is the same as the one that I gave to Brian Whittle: we recognise the need for a broader range of services being available for people with mental health challenges, and for more services to be available in the community, which is particularly important for young people. That is why the investment—which I have already spoken about—in rebalancing provision of mental health treatment services is so important. As I said, individual prescribing decisions will always be for clinicians, but I hope that, in the longer term, that investment helps to address the issue that Mary Fee has raised.

Police Scotland Surveillance Officers (Centralisation)

6. Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that Police Scotland is centralising specialist surveillance officer posts away from Dumfries and Galloway. (S5F-03930)

Obviously, keeping Scotland’s communities safe from people who are involved in criminal activity remains Police Scotland’s top priority. Decisions on how to allocate police resources are, of course, for the chief constable. Police Scotland has stated that the decision would not mean any reduction in the service from local policing, as officers continue to do their job to keep communities safe.

Although a final decision on the location has yet to be taken, specialist police surveillance resources that are fully capable of preventing and detecting a range of crimes will still operate fully and continue to support the fight against individuals and groups that threaten our communities.

When Police Scotland was established, Dumfries and Galloway was the first region to lose its police control centre, with the loss of 34 jobs. Anyone who walks the corridors of the police headquarters in Dumfries will not bump into many people, because so many local support jobs have been axed.

We now hear that the axe is about to land on the local surveillance unit, with yet more jobs being centralised and taken away from a region that is the gateway to Scotland and is on the front line in the battle against drugs. Why is the First Minister’s message to young people in my region that they need to move out of the area and into the cities if they want a career in Police Scotland? Surely any definition of a national police force needs to include that force having a fairer distribution of specialist jobs in every part of Scotland—or is South Scotland not part of the First Minister’s Scotland?

I say with the greatest of respect that that is a ridiculous thing to say, and that it is not my message. Through our investment decisions, the Government is maintaining record high numbers of police officers in every part of our country. That is extremely important in relation to discharging our responsibility to keep communities safe.

It is also the case that it is—and must be—for the chief constable to make operational decisions about deployment of resources, including specialist resources, in different parts of the country. If I sought to dictate to the chief constable how he should deploy the resources that are at his disposal, I am sure that some members who criticise me at the moment would be up on their feet in the chamber saying how outrageous that was. I trust the chief constable and our operational police force to make the right decisions on deployment of resources, and to use those resources to maximise the safety of our communities. All members should trust them, likewise.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will move on shortly to a members’ business debate in the name of Monica Lennon, on world cancer day 2020. We will have a short suspension to allow members, ministers and people in the public gallery to change seats.

12:45 Meeting suspended.  

12:47 On resuming—