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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 7, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 07 November 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Nuclear Test Veterans, Portfolio Question Time, Referendums (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Referendums (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Curriculum for Excellence (Subject Choice)

Does the First Minister now accept that there has been a decline in the choice of subjects taken and achieved since the curriculum for excellence was introduced?

No, I do not. As we have pointed out when we have had previous exchanges on this, we have a three-year senior phase—which is, of course, going to be subject to a review. In fact, I believe that the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills will write to the Education and Skills Committee today giving it the opportunity to comment on the remit for that review.

There is a wide variety of choices available to young people in our schools. As I have often said before, we should look to judge our education system on the results and qualifications—the outcomes, in other words—that young people are leaving school with. A higher proportion of young people are now leaving school with a level 5 qualification; that is true for those who have one, two, three, four, five, six or seven passes. When we look at highers—at level 6 qualifications—the same picture emerges: a higher proportion of young people are leaving with those qualifications.

Those are the outcomes from our education system. I know that that does not chime with the picture of our education system that the Conservatives want to paint, but it happens to be the reality.

There was me so full of hope after the contribution from the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in the chamber yesterday. I should have known that denial would be the First Minister’s mantra.

Here is what the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, told the Education and Skills Committee in May:

“I do not think that there has been ... a narrowing of choice”.—[Official Report, Education and Skills Committee, 29 May 2019; c 15.]

In June, the First Minister told members in the chamber the same thing, brushing off concerns as lacking any evidence.

This week, however, we learned the truth. Now we discover that, just before those claims were made, civil servants confirmed to Government ministers that:

“A range of data and information confirms that there are, on average, fewer subjects taken by pupils now than was the case prior to the introduction of ... the new qualifications.”

In May, the First Minister was told that this was an issue, as specified in that quote. In June, she told us that it was not. Why did the First Minister and her education secretary mislead the Parliament?

As Jackson Carlaw knows—or should know if he understands the information that he is putting forward—that is not the case. There is a wider choice available to young people today, and that is borne out by the statistics that I have already given in the chamber.

Whether we look at level 5 or level 6 qualifications, we see that a higher percentage of young people are leaving school with qualifications. There is not just a higher percentage leaving with one level 5 or level 6 qualification; the percentage has increased for pupils leaving with two and three qualifications, right through to seven qualifications. That simply does not chime with the picture that Jackson Carlaw wants to paint of our education system, or indeed of the achievements of young people.

In fact, I saw Michael Gove tweeting on that point yesterday, which was interesting, given that he was formerly Secretary of State for Education in England. The Sutton Trust looked at this issue in England recently.

Jackson Carlaw might want to hear about that. Contrary to what he says about Scotland, he is more on the money if we look at the education system in England. A survey of more than 1,600 teachers found that, because of Tory funding cuts, 47 per cent of school leavers had to cut back on subject choices.

There was denial about Aberdeen last week, and there is denial about education this week. Nicola Sturgeon likes to argue that it does not matter how many subjects a child studies at any age. Her claim has been that only the number of qualifications matters. Unfortunately for her, despite what she has just said, her civil servants also looked at that claim. They found that, before curriculum for excellence was introduced, on average, pupils used to leave school with 10 qualifications at level 5; now, they leave with eight. Even on her preferred measure, she is failing. She knew that full well the previous time she made that claim in Parliament. I realise that numeracy standards might have slipped, but can the First Minister remind us—is 10 subjects achieved more or fewer than eight subjects achieved?

Perhaps Jackson Carlaw should have spoken to his education spokesperson. When the Education and Skills Committee discussed that recently, Liz Smith said that young people today have more choice than they used to have in days gone by—[Interruption.]

Order, please.

Performance at levels 5 and 6 has improved. More young people are obtaining vocational qualifications now than ever before. In 2012, 25,000 skill-based qualifications were achieved; today, that figure is 54,000. Record numbers of school leavers are in work, training or study. That is the reality of our education system. If we add the fact that, whether at level 5 or 6, the attainment gap is also narrowing, people can see how wide of the mark Jackson Carlaw is.

It is worth recalling that, when she came to office, she accepted that there was a problem with Scottish education.

Members: She?

When the First Minister came to office, she accepted that there was a problem with Scottish education. The First Minister had the good will and support of this Parliament to grasp the issue. Education was to be her “number 1 priority”. Instead, and again today, she retreated to her comfort zone of spin and denial.

Scotland faces a choice. We could be honest about the challenges that face education. We could focus on what matters and redouble our efforts to restore Scotland’s schools to their rightful reputation for providing a broad education, or we could hope that hosting a march and shouting into a megaphone will magic Scotland’s problems away.

After a decade of division, is it not time that the First Minister put Scotland’s schools first?

I am not sure why Jackson Carlaw chose to end that question with a reference to the division that the Tories have caused over Brexit, but we will leave that to one side. He wants to talk about the period since I became First Minister. Let us do that. Let us put to one side the fact that there are more than 1,000 more teachers in our schools now than there were when I became First Minister.

Let us look at higher passes and level 6 qualifications. I became First Minister at the end of 2014. In 2013-14, 58 per cent of young people left school with one or more higher pass. Today, that figure is more than 62 per cent. In 2013-14, 48.6 per cent left with two passes or more. Today, that figure is 52.4 per cent. Let us go to the other end of the scale. In 2013-14, 8.3 per cent of young people left with seven higher passes or more. Today, that figure is 9.6 per cent. The attainment gap for level 6 qualifications is at a record low. That is the record of this Government. It stands in marked contrast to that of our predecessors and it stands in even starker contrast to the record of the Tory Government at Westminster.


St John’s Hospital (Children’s Ward)

Back in January, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport made “an absolute commitment” to members of the Scottish Parliament that the children’s ward at St John’s hospital in Livingston would be open 24/7 by October this year. When October came around, she told Parliament that that did not constitute “a promise” but was simply “a commitment”—so it was not even “an absolute commitment” any more. It is now November and St John’s children’s ward remains closed three nights a week. When will it finally be open to those sick children who need it 24/7?

The ward will be open 24/7 as soon as it is clinically safe for it to be so for children and when the recruitment levels, which have been difficult, reach a level at which it can be open. Richard Leonard may correct me if I am wrong, but I assume that he is not arguing that the ward should be open when it is not clinically safe for children. That is the answer to Richard Leonard’s question and he might want to accept it.

The First Minister knew about the problems seven years ago. Surely by now she should have ensured that that hospital is safe and it is reasonable to have it functional for children again. However, it is not just children who need to stay in hospital who are being let down by the Government; it is out-patients too. Here is what 12-year-old Erin from Whitburn told us:

“I’m visually impaired. This means I attend hospital appointments for my eyes. Ever since I was nine months old these appointments were at St Johns in Livingston.”

Last month, though, Erin was sent to Edinburgh, which means, in her words,

“missing a whole day of school which I am not pleased about. This sudden change of location is unfair.”

Erin might not have a vote yet, but she does have a voice and she deserves an answer. Will the First Minister therefore explain to Erin why she has to miss a whole day of school and why she cannot get an appointment at her local hospital?

I am sure that Richard Leonard knows this, but separate from the work that is going on to reopen the in-patient service at St John’s, there is a strand of work to take appointments back from Edinburgh to St John’s. My answer to Erin would be this: of course we want her to be treated in her local hospital, St John’s, but it is vital that she gets the best possible treatment. There are recruitment challenges involved that are not unique to Scotland but are United Kingdom-wide and, often, Europe-wide challenges.

Our first responsibility and obligation is to ensure that there is clinically safe, high-quality care for any young person who needs it, which is what we will continue to focus on. I understand that the health secretary and Angela Constance met families this week to discuss those issues, and we will continue to keep them fully updated.

The consequence out in the real world is this: it is another winter for families with sick children travelling into Edinburgh at night, with all the additional costs and stress that that brings. We now also have out-patients such as Erin facing the same ordeal. Meanwhile, we have a children’s hospital in Edinburgh costing £1.4 million a month that cannot open its doors until October 2020. Does the First Minister not understand how angry parents and patients, including children, are over her Government’s failure to protect and deliver children’s health services? Is it not clear that the Scottish National Party cannot be trusted with the national health service? Will the First Minister apologise to Erin and all those children and their families who rightly expect local, accessible treatment and care? Will she act urgently to reinstate that at St John’s in Livingston?

We will continue to ensure that our health service gets the investment and the number of staff that it needs. We will not shy away from difficult issues such as recruitment challenges but will always ensure that we are supporting clinically safe, high-quality treatment as close to people’s homes as possible. However, the first priority is always patient safety.

Regarding the SNP’s record in this area, when the SNP came into office in 2007, I was the health secretary. At the time, a number of local hospitals were under threat, whether it was the Vale of Leven in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board area or, indeed, St John’s hospital. If they had been left on the track that Labour had them on, those hospitals would probably not be open at all right now. That is the reality. The accident and emergency units at Monklands and Ayr would have been closed. We have protected local services, and we will continue to support them, but we will continue to prioritise patient safety, because that is what any responsible Government does—and that is something that I do not know Richard Leonard will ever get the opportunity to be.

I have a number of constituency supplementaries.


Dairy Contracts (Aberdeenshire)

I declare an interest as a partner in a farming business.

Is the First Minister aware of the serious situation facing 14 dairy farmers in Aberdeenshire? They comprise the bulk of the dairy industry north of Aberdeen, and they have been told by their milk buyer, Müller, that they have one year to find a new buyer, after which their contracts will cease. There is no obvious processor to take up the contracts. Are there any plans to help those farmers?

Yes, we will do everything we can to give assistance to those farmers. I can well understand their anxiety and concern at that development. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy to make contact with the member and, by extension, with the farmers, to ensure that the Scottish Government is offering whatever assistance we can.


Saleem Family (Leave to Remain)

The Saleem family—Muhammad, Razia, Fatima and Saira—have been resident in the Dumfries area for the past 13 years, but they are currently being spilt up by the Home Office, which has granted temporary leave to remain to only one member of the family, the youngest daughter. The family are attending immigration court tomorrow in Glasgow, where staff from my office will be attending to speak in support of the case for their right to remain in Scotland together as a family. In the absence of any sense from either the Home Office or the Secretary of State for Scotland, can the First Minister join me in fully condemning the actions of the Home Office in this case, and can she confirm that, in an independent Scotland, we will have a humane, dignified and person-centred approach to immigration?

I thank Emma Harper for raising the issue. In fact, I think that I may have met the Saleem family on Monday when I visited Dumfries. If their case is before a court over the next few days, I will be limited and careful in what I say, but I will say that they seemed a lovely family and a credit to this country. More generally, I want Scotland to have an immigration and asylum system that is humane and that encourages people to make a home in Scotland and a contribution to Scotland. One of the many benefits of Scotland being independent is that we get the chance to build that kind of country and that kind of society, with that kind of approach to immigration, which would be much better and very different from the disgraceful hostile environment that the Tories preside over.


NHS Highland

The Auditor General for Scotland has just produced a very critical report on the finances of NHS Highland, and patients are rightly very concerned. It is clear that the board needs significantly more help to achieve its objectives. Will the First Minister ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport provides that help, without placing NHS Highland in level 5 of the escalation process?

We will continue, as we always do, to work closely with health boards to ensure that they are managing their budgets and that they are providing the quality of patient care that they have a responsibility to provide. NHS Highland’s resource budget for this financial year increased by 2.9 per cent. The health budget overall is increasing and is now at record levels.

We will continue to properly resource our national health service. It will always work within pressures, and that has particularly been the case in recent years. We will work closely with NHS Highland and other boards to ensure that they deliver the services that patients need.


Mossmorran (Flaring)

Last Friday, NHS Fife published a long-awaited report on the health impacts of flaring at Mossmorran. It said that flaring

“has not been acceptable and could plausibly affect health in the widest sense.”

Does the First Minister now believe that communities living in the shadow of Mossmorran should be compensated?

We will always consider issues or suggestions like that. I certainly understand people’s concerns and anxieties about flaring. That is why the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has taken the issue so seriously and will continue to consider its options around enforcement action. Health impacts are of course very important, and we will consider the evidence that Mark Ruskell has mentioned carefully. We will do so in consultation with the local community, as we would always seek to do.


NHS Grampian

The people of the north-east have for years been poorly served by a lack of funding and support to NHS Grampian. An update on the current infrastructure investment plan says that the main construction work on the Baird family hospital and Anchor centre will take place “later than previously reported”. The work was supposed to be completed by 2021. Given concerns about cost and recent incidents in the wider national health service estate, will the First Minister give the people of the north-east a realistic timeline for the opening of that vital facility?

We need to make sure that the services are the right services, delivered in line with budgets.

We are increasing health budgets for NHS Grampian and health boards across the country. I again point out to the Conservatives, as I frequently do when spending on health, education, justice or any other matter is raised, that if we had followed the strictures and recommendations of the Conservatives when it came to setting our budgets and had prioritised tax cuts for the richest in our country instead of extra funding for the national health service, our health service would, right now, have more than £500 million less in its budget than it currently has.


Instrumental Tuition (Dumfries and Galloway)

Given the serious concerns that have been expressed by the Education and Skills Committee and by members in the chamber, does the First Minister agree that it is deeply worrying that Dumfries and Galloway Council is planning to axe all instrumental tuition in schools for pupils who are not sitting Scottish Qualifications Authority exams? Will she urgently raise the issue with her Scottish National Party colleagues in the council administration?

The Government has made its view clear—in particular, the education secretary has made his view clear—on music tuition. We strongly encourage all local authorities to maintain their music tuition and not to reduce it. That goes for Dumfries and Galloway Council, as it does for other local authorities across the country.


National Health Service (Government Record)

This week, NHS Highland told patients to seek treatment elsewhere because Raigmore hospital is nearly full. After 12 years running our national health service, is the First Minister proud of that record? (S5F-03685)

Our health service is seeing more patients than ever before. If we look just at accident and emergency services for the country overall, we can see that, despite the pressures, so far this year more people are being admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours than in the previous year. We have record funding and record numbers of staff.

Of course, we want to encourage patients to seek help and treatment in the best place for them. That is not always in hospital; it is often in primary care or in the community.

The health service is doing more now than it has ever done, for which it deserves our grateful thanks.

There was not one recognition of the problem at Raigmore hospital from the First Minister. Not one. That is astonishing.

Telling people just to go away seems to be a pretty shabby way to deal with waiting times. That is happening not just in the Highlands but in the Borders, in Paisley, in East Kilbride and in every part of the country—and that is before the winter crisis hits.

People rely on the NHS, but they are being let down by the Government. Thousands of people are—despite the solemn promise from the Government—stuck in hospital even though they are fit to go home. Audit Scotland says that the NHS is critically short of staff. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine says that we are hundreds of A and E beds short. The waiting time guarantee is broken every hour of every day. After 12 years in power, has the First Minister got any more excuses?

The Audit Scotland report said that the NHS is treating more patients than ever before and that performance against most of the waiting times targets is improving.

I want to challenge Willie Rennie very directly, because I think that some of his language was deeply regrettable. The NHS does not tell anyone to “go away”. It is deeply irresponsible for any member of Parliament to suggest that it does. What the NHS does—it does so in the interests of patients, in which, frankly, every member of this Parliament should support it—is encourage patients to seek treatment in the place that is best for them. That might be at a general practitioner surgery, a pharmacist or another community service. Hospitals and accident and emergency departments are not always the best places to seek treatment.

At the start of this week, I visited a community pharmacy in Rutherglen, which is expanding its services and getting the benefit of seeing more patients who would otherwise go to GPs or acute care. That is the sensible and responsible way to redesign our health service, as we make record investment in it.

That a representative of the party that was the co-architect of austerity gets up here and talks about spending in our health service really takes the biscuit.

Thank you. We have further supplementary questions [Interruption.] Have members finished?


Flu Vaccinations

I understand that as a result of United Kingdom-wide delays of Fluenz Tetra, which is procured by Public Health England, NHS Grampian has decided to prioritise available vaccine for people who are most at risk and children aged two to five years old. What action has been taken to ensure that all eligible children get their flu vaccine as soon as possible?

I thank Gillian Martin for raising the issue. There is a delay in the supply of a proportion of the children’s vaccine, which is procured by Public Health England on behalf of the whole UK, and the delay is affecting all parts of the UK.

I take the opportunity to reassure parents and families that we are doing everything possible to minimise disruption that is caused by the delay. We are working with Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland, health boards and other relevant partners to ensure that all eligible children get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.

We have decided that initially those who are most at risk and children aged two to five will be prioritised, with health boards working to ensure that all other eligible children, including children at primary school, receive their vaccine as quickly as possible.


Aberdeen Art Gallery

I remind colleagues that I am a councillor in Aberdeen City Council.

Last week the First Minister told me that Aberdeen City Council had never applied for funding for the new art gallery, calling my question “a bit rich”.

However, at 10pm on Friday night, the First Minister’s spokesperson confirmed that in fact the council had applied during the planning stage in 2013. The First Minister was forced to correct the Official Report late yesterday. Will the First Minister take this chance to apologise for misleading Parliament?

I have already written to Tom Mason and the Presiding Officer. It is the case that no approach was made to the Scottish Government or Historic Environment Scotland in the planning phase or business-case stage. An application was made to Creative Scotland. [Interruption.] I am trying to answer the question, if Conservative members want to listen.

An application was made to Creative Scotland in 2013, which was not successful. I was not aware of that application when I answered the question. I apologise for that.

However, the allegation that was made last week in Aberdeen that somehow there was political motivation on the part of this Government for funding the Victoria and Albert museum in Dundee but not Aberdeen art gallery is absolutely not true, and I hope that nobody will repeat that accusation.


Austerity

I know first hand the devastating impact that Tory austerity has had in my constituency of Dundee East. Rising numbers of children are fed from food banks, families of European Union citizens are unsure whether they can stay here and businesses and jobs are on the line. Does the First Minister agree that the first words out of Boris Johnson’s mouth as he lands in Scotland today should be, “I’m sorry”?

Yes, I do. It is a serious issue. When Boris Johnson comes to Scotland for a fleeting visit, which I think he is describing as a regional visit, no doubt to give the Scottish Tories their marching orders for the remainder of the election campaign, he should take the opportunity to apologise for Tory austerity, for Tory welfare cuts, for the mess and the chaos of Brexit, and for the misery that has been heaped on Scottish people by the Tories for too many years now.

So confident am I that Boris Johnson will not go down very well with Scottish voters in the election, that my words to him as he leaves Scotland this afternoon might be, “Haste ye back.”

I was hoping that we could get through questions without a direct reference to the general election. I remind all members to try not to do direct campaigning in the chamber.


Remembrance Sunday

As remembrance Sunday approaches this weekend, will the First Minister join me in expressing the deep gratitude of this Parliament to men and women of our British armed forces who, over the years, have defended our nation, and for those who pay the ultimate sacrifice? Will she also acknowledge the families who have supported those members of the armed forces so well?

I whole-heartedly associate myself with Maurice Corry’s remarks. As I always am, I will be very proud and privileged to represent the Government, and indeed the country, at the national remembrance service here in Edinburgh, on Sunday morning. I will certainly be remembering and paying tribute to all those in our armed forces down the years, who have made sacrifices and often paid the ultimate sacrifice, not only to keep us safe, but to allow us to enjoy the freedoms that today we take for granted.

I will also be paying tribute, as we all do, to serving personnel and their families. The life of the family of a member of our armed forces is, I am sure, not an easy one. Our gratitude goes to them, just as it does to those who have served, and who continue to serve, in our armed forces.


Oncology Services (Tayside)

Last week, I raised the issue of the Tayside breast oncologists’ right to reply submission to the Healthcare Improvement Scotland report that was published in April. The oncologists made their right to reply submission at the end of April this year, but it has never seen the light of day and it has never been published.

In response to my written question, I received a delayed answer from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, who says that this is not a matter for the Scottish Government; it is a matter for Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

Can the First Minister confirm the cabinet secretary’s view that the fact that the oncologists’ response has never been published is not a matter for her Government and that it is not something that she will demand that Healthcare Improvement Scotland publishes?

The independent report by Healthcare Improvement Scotland had input from experts locally and nationally, including from the chief medical officer and the chief pharmaceutical officer, who directly reported to HIS concerns that had been raised by local oncologists earlier this year.

The process by which HIS conducted the review was independent of the Scottish Government and we would expect it to consider all feedback that it received. However, I say to Jenny Marra—I mean this sincerely—that, if she imagines another context in which I was instructing Healthcare Improvement Scotland about an inquiry that it was carrying out, understandable and legitimate concerns would be raised, no doubt by members in the chamber, about Government interference. If we have independent inquiries, it is crucial that their independence is respected, and usually I have members demanding of the Scottish Government that that is the case.


Education

It has been more than two years since the Government brought a debate on anything to do with our schools to the chamber. If the First Minister is so confident of the Government’s record on education, will there be a debate before the end of the year? If not, why not?

There are regular debates on education. [Interruption.] The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills gives regular statements and I get questioned on education. I am absolutely certain that, before the end of this year, there will be further debate in the chamber about education matters.


Real Living Wage

I hope to bring a zen quality to proceedings after this afternoon’s turmoil.

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to recent figures showing that the number of workers earning less than the real living wage has decreased by 13 per cent in the last year. (S5F-03702)

I welcome the analysis that was published by the Office for National Statistics last week, showing that the number of employees who earn less than the real living wage in Scotland has decreased by 15 per cent, from 473,000 in 2018 to 400,000 in 2019. That means that 83.1 per cent of all employees over the age of 18 in Scotland are earning the real living wage or more. Scotland, of course, remains the best performing of all four United Kingdom countries, with the highest proportion of employees paid the real living wage or more. There is work to be done, but I hope that that progress is welcomed by members across the chamber.

Such progress is welcome. However, in Scotland, 11 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men in full-time work, and one third of women and 40 per cent of men in part-time work, still earn less than the hourly real living wage. How can the Scottish Government, with the very limited powers that it has in that area of policy, ensure that more and more paid workers earn at least the real living wage? Does the First Minister agree that it is time for Opposition members, who often express concern about the issue, to back the devolution of powers over the real living wage to this Parliament?

Yes, we will continue to call for the devolution of employment law to ensure that workers receive at least the real living wage. Last year, I gave a commitment that, by the end of this parliamentary session, we will attach fair work first criteria to as many grants and funding streams as possible, and we will extend the range of public contracts to which the criteria will apply. Our fair work first approach commits employers to a number of fair work criteria, including, crucially, payment of the real living wage.

We will continue to work with the Poverty Alliance to promote the living wage. There are currently more than 16,000 accredited living wage employers in Scotland, and this Monday will see the start of living wage week, when a new living wage rate will be announced.

Although we are doing good work in the area, there is absolutely no doubt that there is more to do. We would be able to do more and to be even more effective if control over employment law lay in the hands of this Parliament, not in the hands of a Tory Government at Westminster.

It is clear that the Scottish Government is still not doing enough to make Scotland a living wage nation, with one in five people, the vast majority of whom are women, still earning less than £9 an hour. In a statement to Parliament yesterday, it was made clear that Government procurement contracts are still being let without insistence that the real living wage be paid. When will the Scottish Government ensure that all its contracts embrace the real living wage?

In my response to Kenny Gibson, I set out the action that we are taking through our fair work first approach, which Labour members will warmly welcome, I hope. We are doing everything that we can to extend payment of the living wage. We have to do that largely on a voluntary basis for one very important reason: we do not have power over employment law. We cannot, by statute, set the level of the living wage and mandate, by law, employers to pay it. If Labour members are now saying that they want to join us in demanding the devolution of employment law, I say, “Better late than never.” Let us get on with it and put the powers in the hands of this Parliament.


National Health Service Staff (Attacks)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that attacks on staff at six NHS boards increased in the last year. (S5F-03687)

Nobody should be the victim of any attack for doing their job, not least our hardworking NHS staff, who do so much to care for people across the country. We have been very clear that health boards must take appropriate action against anyone who assaults a staff member. That will include criminal proceedings when that is appropriate, but such matters are always for the Crown. Any violence or aggression towards NHS staff is unacceptable, which is one of the reasons why we extended the provisions in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 to give legal protection to all NHS Scotland staff.

I am in total agreement with the First Minister’s comments. Our NHS and public service staff work extremely hard to look after us in our hour of need but, increasingly, they face threats. Since 2014, Scottish NHS boards alone have had to spend an extra 40 per cent on private security. NHS Lothian has spent almost £7 million on private security contractors since 2014. Does the First Minister agree that it is unacceptable that our NHS boards, which are in financial difficulty, are having to spend increasing sums on private security?

Yes, I do. The message that should come from all of us, in a united fashion, is that any attack on any member of our NHS staff is absolutely unacceptable, and we should have zero tolerance of such behaviour.

The 2005 act, which was passed initially under a previous Administration, was extended when I was health secretary. We extended the provisions of that act, which provided legal protection to ambulance workers, doctors, nurses and midwives who were working in a hospital or responding to an emergency, to cover health service staff even when they are working in the community.

The legal protections are there and the penalty can involve a jail sentence, a hefty fine or both, but the message that should come from all of us is that anybody who attacks any member of our NHS staff is attacking our precious national health service. It is not acceptable; it should never be seen as acceptable and we should send that message in a very united and loud fashion from the chamber today.


Children with Additional Support Needs (Safety and Wellbeing)

6. Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children with additional support needs. (S5F-03688)

We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all Scotland’s children and young people, along with local authorities, which are responsible for the care, safety and welfare of pupils in school. A range of guidance and approaches is available to support local authorities and schools. Physical intervention—physical restraint and seclusion—should only ever be used as an absolute last resort and only when it is in the best interests of the child or young person, never for disciplinary purposes. The unlawful use of physical intervention or seclusion is completely unacceptable and every intervention should be carefully monitored and reviewed.

In December last year, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland published a report on the use of restraint and seclusion. It identified 2,674 such incidents in 2017-18, experienced by 386 children. That is an average of seven per child. If that is an average, it means that, for some children, being physically restrained is just part of their typical school week or even their typical school day and, according to the commissioner, that is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

We are one year on and we have seen no action. That is why Enable Scotland has launched its in safe hands campaign. Will the First Minister commit to a formal Government response to Enable’s calls for the Government to bring forward specific guidance on the use of restraint in schools, to establish a duty to report and to provide transparency around such practices? Will she consider putting those duties into law? Finally, does she agree that children have a right to education and a right to be protected from violence? The real meaning of the use of seclusion and restraint is that children are being denied those rights in Scottish schools every day.

First, I agree with the point on a right to education and a right to be protected from physical intervention or violence; that is an important point to make. It is not the case that no action has been taken. We published guidance on restraint and seclusion back in June 2017 and that is currently being revised to take into account recommendations made by the children’s commissioner and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We want to work in partnership with education authorities, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure that we get that right and that the correct approach is taken to recording and monitoring, as well as making sure that we have a situation in which physical intervention or restraint and seclusion is a last resort and is used only in the best interests of children.

Daniel Johnson made a point about putting that on a statutory footing, which is certainly something that we would be happy to consider as we undertake the review. The recommendations that were made by Enable Scotland this week in its report will be carefully considered by the Scottish Government and all the recommendations will feed into the work that we are doing to review the guidance. I will ask the Deputy First Minister to keep Daniel Johnson updated as that work progresses.

12:43 Meeting suspended.  

12:45 On resuming—