Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, February 10, 2022

Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Online Pimping, Portfolio Question Time, Professional Qualifications Bill, Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Health and Care Bill, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

Before we move to questions, I have agreed to allow the First Minister to give a brief update on Covid-19. At my request, the First Minister wrote to party leaders to provide details of the update as far in advance as possible, so that members would have the opportunity to consider it and to ask questions. I will extend the session in order to facilitate that.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Thank you for that, Presiding Officer.

Before I update the Parliament on Covid protections in schools, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, following the 70th anniversary of her accession. Becoming the first monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee represents a unique and remarkable record of service. [Applause.]

In recent weeks—and as recently as Tuesday—I have committed to keeping the Parliament and school communities updated on Covid protections in schools, including the use of face coverings in classrooms. I have been clear that we do not want to keep those measures or any others in place for longer than is necessary but that we must continue to be led by scientific and expert advice and must put the safety of our young people first.

On Tuesday, the advisory sub-group on education met to discuss a number of issues, including the use of face coverings. The group reiterated its previous position that the removal of mitigations in schools should be phased. It also advised that the next step of the phased approach could begin after the February half-term break, starting with the removal of the requirement to wear face coverings in the classroom.

The sub-group has advised that that change should apply to both pupils and staff in classrooms and should take effect from 28 February, when all schools will have returned from the half-term break. That change will reduce barriers to communication in the classroom and reduce any wellbeing impacts that arise from the use of face coverings—for example, through their use in support learning and teaching. Of course—and it is a point that I stress—any young person or staff member who wishes to still wear a face covering in the classroom should be fully supported in doing so.

We currently expect that face coverings will still be required outside the classroom, in indoor communal areas of schools, for a period after 28 February. However, that will be kept under regular review.

In arriving at its recommendation, the advisory sub-group pointed to reducing case rates for secondary-age pupils, which is a recent development; falling hospitalisation rates across all age categories; and the fact that, at this stage, the estimated reproduction rate is below 1. In addition, vaccination rates for young people continue to increase.

In recognition of that encouraging situation, the sub-group also advised that the remaining restrictions on school assemblies should be lifted, and that school visits that are linked to transitions—for example, primary 7 children visiting their new secondary school—should be given greater priority.

Those changes were all discussed with the Covid-19 education recovery group this morning. Our guidance will be updated next week, but I wanted to confirm the decision today in order to give children and young people, their families and school staff certainty about the forthcoming changes before the February break. They represent a further step in allowing children and young people to return to a more normal experience in school after many months of sacrifice. I hope that they will be welcomed not just across the chamber but, more importantly, across the country.


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

Like the First Minister, I pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen and her incredible service over the past 70 years. I was in the chamber yesterday when my colleague Stephen Kerr led a debate on that subject and I was pleased that almost every member who participated in that debate was able to recognise the incredible service of Her Majesty the Queen.

With regard to the statement that we have just heard from the First Minister, Scottish Conservatives have urged for weeks that young people should no longer be forced to wear face coverings in classrooms for seven hours a day. Young people’s education has been unnecessarily disrupted for far too long. Finally, after weeks of refusing to budge, the Government has U-turned and, although that is welcome, it has taken far longer than necessary.

However, today, I will ask about another pressing issue. Earlier this week, ScotRail confirmed that it is going ahead with planned cuts to 250 services across Scotland from May of this year. In April, the Scottish National Party Government will take charge of Scotland’s railways. Will the First Minister commit today to cancel those cuts?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, in response to Douglas Ross’s comments about my statement a few moments ago, I say that the fact that he has been urging that change for weeks is not a demonstration that he has been right; it is a demonstration of his deep irresponsibility. Had we made the change weeks ago, we would have done so at a time of soaring infection rates among school-age children and put school-age children and those who work with them in schools at greater risk. Secondly, had we done it before today, we would have been acting against expert and scientific advice, so it would have been the wrong thing to do. We are doing it now at the right time and in line with advice, and that marks the responsibility of the Government, in contrast to the irresponsibility of the main Opposition.

On the issue of ScotRail, first, I welcome the Minister for Transport’s confirmation yesterday that ScotRail will come into public ownership on 1 April; that upholds a manifesto commitment of this Government, which was overwhelmingly elected just under a year ago. We will continue to do what ScotRail is already doing—making sure that we have a railway that is fit for the future.

Travel patterns and the numbers of passengers have substantially and significantly changed in the course of the pandemic, so the pattern of rail services needs to reflect that, but we also need to keep that under review. Therefore, although we are still in a period of hybrid working, as people begin to go back to the office and passenger numbers increase on our railways, we need to ensure that the timetable and routes that are serviced by ScotRail remain fit for purpose. The Government will take on that responsibility to make sure that we have a railway that is fit for the future and is of the type and quality that the public have a right to expect.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister welcomed the transport minister’s statement yesterday. Does she also welcome what the transport minister said about those cuts being “not acceptable” when they were announced in her local area? I am interested to see whether the First Minister agrees with that previous comment from her transport minister.

The problem is that the Government says that it wants more members of the public to use public transport, but it does not do enough to improve services or bring down rising ticket prices. What is the use in nationalising services if the SNP is just going to do the exact same thing as ScotRail? The First Minister has just accepted that she will continue with the cuts that ScotRail is planning. If the First Minister will not change those cuts that are planned, will she at least guarantee that, when the Scottish Government assumes control of ScotRail, not one further service will be cut?

The First Minister

First, let us talk in terms of reality rather than the mischaracterisation and misrepresentation that we have just heard. The timetable—[Interruption.] I know that Douglas Ross will not want to hear this, but I will persevere in answering the question. The timetable, which was initially supposed to add 100 extra services compared with December 2021, is now adding nearly 150 services, following the consultations. From May 2022, ScotRail will operate around 2,150 daily services, providing almost 600,000 seats.

However, the key point is that I am not sure whether Douglas Ross or anybody else in the chamber is suggesting that there should not be changes to ScotRail timetables to reflect changes in passenger usage. We saw a significant and substantial change in that during the pandemic, and that change will continue to some extent after the pandemic. Usage of services might also revert to being more like it was before the pandemic, and the timetable will need to adapt to that. That is the sensible and responsible approach to take.

We will continue to take steps to keep rail fares affordable. That will be one of the key benefits of public ownership in the years to come. I will end this answer with a reminder that rail fares on average are significantly lower already in Scotland than they are where the Conservatives are in power in England.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister urged me to listen to her answer—which I did—but it had nothing to do with the question that I posed to her. She went on for quite a while after I asked whether she would commit to guarantee that her Government will not cut any services, but there was nothing about that in her answer.

To defend the changes that are coming in May based on what was happening in December 2021—well, we know what was happening in December 2021: the First Minister was warning about the tsunami of cases and urging people not to go out of their house or to work. It is not fair to compare December 2021 with the situation that we are in today.

All that the First Minister is doing is replacing ScotRail with SNP rail. There will be a different owner but the same problems, and while public transport services are being cut, her Government has turned against drivers as well. She has abandoned plans to improve roads, and now she is putting in the workplace parking tax, without any cap on the amount that people will be forced to pay. When it was first proposed, organisations such as the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation and Unite the union warned about the costs that would fall on teachers, police officers, care staff and shift workers. All those warnings were completely ignored by Nicola Sturgeon and her Government.

This week, the Scottish Retail Consortium said that the workplace parking tax is

“a recipe for extra cost and complexity”,

and today the AA is warning that

“workers are going to be hit with . . . levies of as much as £1,000”.

People are already on the brink, with bills increasing and the cost of living rising. Why is the Government in favour of a costly workplace parking tax at the same time?

Before the First Minister responds, I remind colleagues that I would very much like to hear both questions and responses.

The First Minister

Many people in this country are right now on the brink because of benefit cuts and tax rises that are being imposed by the Conservative Government at Westminster and because of its complete failure to respond appropriately or accordingly.

Let me address the points on ScotRail first. What I guarantee is that, when the Scottish Government takes ownership of ScotRail, we will operate a timetable that is reflective of the usage of the railways by passengers. That is about the real-world running of a railway that is fit for purpose.

Secondly, we will continue to ensure that we have affordable rail fares—we will take action to ensure that they are affordable. Let me remind Douglas Ross that rail fares right now are, I think, 20 per cent cheaper on average in Scotland than they are in the rest of the United Kingdom. I would suggest that that is a good foundation on which to build.

Let me turn to the workplace parking levy. I remind Douglas Ross that it gives a discretionary power to local authorities. They do not have to use it if they do not want to or if they do not think that it reflects their local circumstances. Of course, I would remind Douglas Ross that, in the Tories’ last local government manifesto—although I grant that this was before he was leader of the Scottish Conservatives—they said:

“We need to empower councils and give them a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.”

We are giving discretionary powers to local authorities and what do we have? The Scottish Conservatives opposing it and moaning about it.

The second point is that the workplace parking levy is simply giving local authorities in Scotland a power that local authorities in England have had for a decade and more, which is allowed to them by the Conservative Government. Not for the first time, there is a deep hypocrisy at the heart of Douglas Ross’s question.

Lastly, here we are again. All parties across the chamber are, rightly, signed up to our climate change objectives and our net zero ambition, and we need to get people out of cars. We need to get people on to public transport, which is why public ownership of the railways is a good thing and why free bus travel for under-22s, which has been introduced by this SNP-Green Government, is a good thing. We will not just set the targets but take the action to help meet those targets, and we will leave Douglas Ross and his colleagues whining as usual on the sidelines.

Douglas Ross

Here is the difference between me and the First Minister: I want to empower councils; she wants to use them as a shield. Last week, she was using councils as her shield about chopping the bottom off doors and this week she is using them as a shield against her tax rises. It will be councils that are led by the SNP and the Labour Party that will introduce the car park levies, because I can assure her that Scottish Conservative councils will not.

The First Minister’s Government is anti-driver. She does not seem to understand that many people, particularly those living in rural areas, need their car to get to work. Instead of delivering better public transport to make up for the difference, her Government is going to nationalise the railways and make no improvements to the services. What can people expect from a nationalised railway service from the same Government that cannot even build a ferry, which launches ferries with painted-on windows and which sends ferry contracts to Romania instead of Port Glasgow? Are trains going to go the same way as ferries under the First Minister’s Government?

The First Minister

First, on railways, this Government has connected or reconnected more of Scotland to the railways in the past number of years. Since 2009, the communities of Alloa, Laurencekirk, Armadale, Blackridge, Caldercruix, Conon Bridge, Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels, Tweedbank and Kintore have all been reconnected to the railways through the reversal of Beeching cuts. In the next three years, Reston, East Linton, Dalcross, Cameron Bridge and Leven will all follow in being reconnected to the railways. This Government has a record to be proud of and we will build on that record.

Going back to the workplace charging issue, I think that, from listening to Douglas Ross, it is quite clear what his approach is. He will empower local authorities—if he ever gets the chance, which I humbly suggest is unlikely—only if they then do exactly what he instructs them to do. That is not empowerment. We have given powers to local authorities. It is up to them to judge whether and to what extent to use them, in line with their local circumstances. That is empowerment.

We will get on with improving public transport and meeting our net zero targets. That is why people continue to put their trust in this Government.

Oil and Gas Windfall Tax

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I join others in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen for her 70 years of dedicated commitment and service to the public of this country.

I welcome the development on the wearing of face masks, but, after almost two years, it will add anxiety for staff and workers in schools, as well as for parents, and it makes ventilation and high-efficiency particulate air—HEPA—filters even more crucial in our schools. We need a credible plan from the Government on those issues.

We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. At the same time, energy giants are posting record profits. Shell has posted a £14 billion profit and BP has posted a £9.5 billion profit this year. Combined, that is more than £44,000 a minute. At the same time, household energy bills are going up by almost £700. We need a windfall tax on energy companies, with the money going into people’s pockets. It is unbelievable that SNP and Tory MPs are refusing to back that and that the SNP and Tories are also failing to do so in this Parliament. The SNP Government knew that the crisis was coming, so why, despite months of pleading for action, are people still waiting for help?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

This line of questioning by Anas Sarwar is incredible. It is serious, and I will come to its serious point about the cost of living crisis in a second.

He asked me about a windfall levy on oil and gas companies last week, and I have made it clear that I have no objection to that. I said again yesterday that companies that see rising profits should contribute more, but it is for the United Kingdom Government to come forward with proposals on the matter.

Anas Sarwar is asking me about something that, regrettably, I have no power to do. Rather than ask me about things that I lack the power to do, he should join me in seeking those powers for the Parliament, so that we can actually do those things as opposed to just talking about them.

It is not the case that the Government has not taken action. We have taken a range of measures to help people in poverty. We set up the Scottish child payment and recently announced plans to double it, and we have already taken action to help people with the cost of winter and rising fuel costs.

Although the matter is still to be finalised, we believe that last week’s announcements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not deliver any net increase to what we already expected to have in the Scottish Government’s budget. Despite that situation, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will, this afternoon, set out further plans to help those who are struggling with the rising cost of energy, and we will continue to do everything that we can to help.

Looking to the future, would it not be better if more of those powers lay in the hands of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament instead of their being left to Westminster, in the hands of Conservative Governments?

Anas Sarwar

Forgive me, Presiding Officer, but that is classic SNP—say one thing, do another. The SNP MPs had a chance last week to vote for a windfall tax and failed to do so. I asked the First Minister about what the Government plans to do because, while she is scrambling to put together a last-minute plan, we set out proposals months ago that could have been helping people now.

In response to the deepening crisis, we have published plans to support hard-pressed Scots, which include a UK windfall tax that provides most households with £200, and a further 815,000 households with £600, off their bills. The First Minister says that she will set out plans for Scotland this afternoon. We have already set out detailed plans that would help more than half a million of the hardest-hit Scots by providing £400 to people who receive council tax reduction, pension credit, child winter heating assistance or carers allowance and a top-up to the Scottish welfare fund, which would give councils the ability to award £400 to those whom the scheme does not cover but who struggle to pay their bills. Will the First Minister support those plans?

The First Minister

The finance secretary will set out additional plans this afternoon. We will, of course, consider carefully any proposals that come from Labour or anybody else. Like most Labour proposals, that plan lacks any indication of how it should be paid for—the Scottish Government has to fund the things that we do.

We have already taken significant action. For example, we have provided pandemic support payments to more than half a million households; delivered the Scottish child payment and bridging payments for older children; continued to increase funding for discretionary housing payments—that is, of course, how we mitigate the Tory bedroom tax, which would not even be there if more powers were in the hands of the Parliament; delivered our £41 million winter support fund to help people to heat their homes and meet the rising cost of food; and continued investment in the Scottish welfare fund. We also support debt and welfare advice services.

We are taking a range of actions on the back of the chancellor’s announcement last week. We assumed that additional money would come to the Scottish Government, but it now looks as though a net increase will not take place. Notwithstanding that, we have committed—and stand by the commitment—to deliver an additional £290 million-worth of support, which would be the equivalent of the consequentials had they been passed on to us.

The finance secretary will set out the details of that commitment this afternoon, balancing helping as many people as possible with getting the support to people as quickly as possible. We will continue to do everything that is within our power and our financial resources to help people.

Anas Sarwar

We have published a fully costed plan that goes alongside the £290 million that the First Minister has just quoted, because we knew that the problem was coming. The Government has just set a £44 billion budget—why was the problem not a priority when we knew that we were in the midst of a cost of living crisis?

We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis and Scots are being failed by two Governments that just do not get it. The Tories cut universal credit and put up national insurance, yet they have written off billions in fraud. The SNP increases water charges, increases rail fares while taxing people to park at work, and squanders hundreds of millions of pounds of public money due to incompetence and mismanagement. Both Governments fail to back a windfall tax on energy companies that are raking in billions of pounds while bills go up for millions of people. We have known about the crisis for months, yet both Governments have failed to support people across the country who are struggling.

The First Minister’s answers are not good enough. If she really wants to help family budgets, will she reverse her decisions to increase rail fares and water charges, and will she back Labour’s plan?

The First Minister

Both rail fares and water charges are, on average, lower in Scotland than they are elsewhere in the UK.

Let us go back to the point about votes on budgets and the use of our budget. It is only a few weeks since we had the stage 1 vote in this Parliament on next year’s budget. It is a budget that includes plans and the money to double the Scottish child payment, which will be game changing in helping to lift children out of poverty. However, Scottish Labour voted against the budget that will double the Scottish child payment. It will be interesting to see whether Labour members vote for or against the budget at its final stage, this afternoon. If they vote against it or fail to support it, they will be voting against the doubling of the Scottish child payment. [Interruption.] Anas Sarwar is telling me that that is not how it works, but I am afraid that it is. If he wants money for a child payment to lift people out of poverty, he has to vote for it in the budget. That is exactly how it works.

The support in Scotland for people in poverty exceeds the support for people in other parts of the UK, including, in many respects, in Wales, where Labour is in government. We do everything that is within our power and resources to help, and that will continue.

Labour will lack credibility on the issue for as long as it teams up with the Tories to keep vital powers over benefits and energy in the hands of Conservatives at Westminster instead of arguing for the powers to lie here, where we can use them to do more to help the most vulnerable people in our society.

We move to supplementary questions.

Animal Welfare

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

What is the First Minister’s response to the actions of Kurt Zouma, the Premier League footballer for West Ham, who tormented one of his cats for fun and posted a video of his actions on social media for the entertainment of others? Does she consider that the laws on animal welfare in Scotland are sufficiently robust to deal with such horrific actions should they occur here?

The First Minister

From what I know about it, which I am sure is the same as what everybody else knows about it, that incident was absolutely appalling and sickening.

In Scotland, we have one of the most robust animal welfare frameworks anywhere in the world, and we continue to strengthen and develop the measures that are in place to protect animals and enable effective enforcement action. The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 provides sufficient powers to take enforcement action in a case such as that, and to remove animals from abusive keepers.

Ferries (Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd)

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

The latest bombshell from Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd is that cables on one of the ferries that it is allegedly building are too short and will have to be replaced. The First Minister will be familiar with the ferry, because it is the one that she launched in 2017. How much extra will it cost, and how long will the delay be?

The First Minister

This is an issue around cabling that was installed by FMEL contractors in late 2018 and early 2019, prior to the shipyard coming into public ownership. The Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy will be working closely with the yard to ensure that the problem is rectified as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. The finance secretary will, of course, keep the Parliament fully updated.

Trinity Tower (Support for Households)

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

The First Minister will be aware of the situation at Trinity tower in Glasgow, and might know that 100 households in my region have been evacuated as a result of risk from that dangerous structure. Despite being advised that the evacuation could last for two to three months, my constituents are being told by insurers that, because no damage has been done to their homes, alternative accommodation will not be provided.

In June 2018, following the Glasgow School of Art fire, the Government made £1,500 of emergency funding available for each household that was displaced, and that funding was matched by Glasgow City Council. My constituents are anxious and distressed about being moved away from their homes and possessions. Will the Government take action to ensure that similar support is provided to them?

The First Minister

First, this is an incredibly difficult situation for residents of Trinity tower and those who have been evacuated from their homes in surrounding buildings and remain out of their homes. I know that Kaukab Stewart, the constituency MSP, and Alison Thewliss, the constituency MP, have been and will continue to be involved in supporting their constituents.

We will continue to liaise with Glasgow City Council and offer any reasonable support that we can to rectify the situation and get people back into their houses as soon as possible.

LGBT History Month

3. Gillian Mackay (Central Scotland) (Green)

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking LGBT history month. (S6F-00803)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish Government has a strong commitment to advancing LGBTI equality, inclusion and rights. We work closely with national LGBTI organisations to protect, promote and improve equality. We also show support for key events, such as LGBT Youth Scotland’s annual fundraising day, purple Friday.

We recognise that many people feel that they are underrepresented or misrepresented in history, so LGBT history month gives us an opportunity to reinforce the sense of belonging, value and respect that everyone has a right to feel. It is also a time to reflect on what more we need to do as a society to ensure that Scotland is truly equal and inclusive, and a place where everyone feels safe and valued for who they are.

Gillian Mackay

LGBT history month gives us an opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s diversity and reflect on historic injustice and persecution. Let us be clear: Scotland is an inclusive nation, and our commitment to human rights must not waver. That is why it is so shocking for many that bigotry and damaging practices such as conversion therapy still happen in this country. This week, it was revealed that crimes against LGBT people accounted for more than one third of all hate crimes that were reported to the British Transport Police in the nine months to January this year.

Will the First Minister stand with the LGBT community, condemn those hate crimes, and outline what more she and her Government can do to tackle anti-LGBT discrimination in Scotland?

The First Minister

I agree very strongly with the sentiments and the substance of that question. I condemn all hate crimes and all forms of hate crime, prejudice and discrimination. We should never be complacent, and it is an important lesson for Scotland and many other countries, right now, at this moment in history, that we should never assume that progress is not reversible. We have to fight for progress each and every single day.

The Scottish Government and, I am sure, everyone in the chamber stands shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTI community in condemning any and all hate crime.

Later this year, the Scottish Government will work with partners to publish a new hate crime strategy to guide how we tackle hatred and prejudice, including when it is directed at LGBTI communities. We will also work with the Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee to introduce legislation that is as comprehensive as possible within our devolved powers to ban conversion practices by the end of next year. They are harmful, discriminatory practices that have no place whatsoever in our society.

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

I associate myself with Gillian Mackay’s comments and those of the First Minister as we celebrate LGBT history month.

Access to sport for LGBT+ people has been historically challenging, and it remains so today because of barriers caused by stigma and discrimination. If we have made progress on sporting role models globally, we still have a long way to go, with many professional footballers in this country speaking of the barriers that remain to players coming out. Does the First Minister agree that the work of organisations such as Leadership, Equality and Active Participation in Sports Scotland—LEAP Sports—and campaigns such as Stonewall’s rainbow laces are vital in supporting LGBT+ people to participate in and enjoy watching sport? What more will the Government do to support that important work?

The First Minister

I thank Paul O’Kane for that question and take the opportunity to support the organisations and campaigns that he has cited. They are important.

There is continuing stigma in our society and in sport. Perhaps in some sports in particular, that stigma remains strong. All sportspeople should be encouraged to be themselves and to be open about themselves and, when they do, it is incumbent on us all to show them full support and stand shoulder to shoulder with them against any discrimination and stigma.

We will continue to work with a range of organisations to consider what more the Scottish Government can do to support that. I know that many of us, and I include myself, feel passionately that there is still work to do, and the Scottish Government is committed to playing its full part.

Football (Protection of Women and Girls)

To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with professional footballing authorities regarding the protection of women and girls within football. (S6F-00794)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Violence and abuse against women and girls is abhorrent and unacceptable. Football, of course, has a very special place in our society, which is why it is vital that football authorities and clubs ensure that they and their players are positive role models for children and adults across the country.

Scottish Government officials have recently discussed these issues with the Scottish Football Association, which has advised that it has safeguarding policies and guidance in place for players and coaches. Scottish Women’s Football also has comprehensive policies in place. The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport will meet the football authorities in the near future to discuss what further steps they could take to support women and girls in the sport more generally.

Michelle Thomson

Now that Raith Rovers has withdrawn its offer to David Goodwillie, the immediate media storm has died down, but an issue remains in a footballing environment in which two clubs felt it appropriate to offer a job to a proven rapist, despite there having been no apology or contrition. Furthermore, claims have been made that no payment was ever made to the victim, Denise Clair.

First, given the leadership role that footballers have in our society, does the First Minister support the concept—floated by Val McDermid—of an independent regulator that could, for example, undertake a fit and proper person test for footballers? Secondly, what steps can the Scottish Government take to support a change in the misogynistic culture of football, in which scoring goals is awarded a higher priority than the safety of women?

The First Minister

I think that Val McDermid’s proposal merits further consideration. In the interests of full transparency, I should mention that Val McDermid is a friend of mine. Notwithstanding that, I think that she has said many sensible things on the issue.

Football clubs have a particular responsibility that reflects their special place within our society. A bit like being a politician, but for different reasons, being a footballer is not an ordinary job. People look up to footballers—that is perhaps not always true of politicians—and there is a responsibility on football clubs to make sure that those who play for them are role models for the wee boys and the wee girls who look up to them and see them as heroes. That is an important responsibility, and I think that the football authorities perhaps need to reflect on recent events and ask the question about whether the current rules and regulations are sufficient.

Of course, there is a deeper culture in our society, which is reflected in football. We need to tackle misogyny. Right now, Helena Kennedy is looking at the issue for the Scottish Government. She is due to report relatively soon, and we will reflect carefully on all of that. That is a more general response, but it obviously has particular questions for football.

Comment has been made, including around my comments on the matter, about the fact that when the player in question signed for Clyde, the same outrage was not expressed. It is the case that there are things that went uncommented on in past years that are now called out. That is progress, and it shows us that there is less of a tolerance for misogyny and less of a tolerance for violence against women, but there is not yet zero tolerance, and it is zero tolerance that we have a responsibility to achieve.

Restoration of Peatland (Net Zero Targets)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to restore peatland as part of its net zero targets. (S6F-00797)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Since 2012, we have funded the restoration of 30,000 hectares of degraded peat. We are committed to significantly increasing that activity to help meet net zero targets.

In 2020, we announced a record funding package of £250 million to support the restoration of 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030. That commitment is helping to grow a new industry. It is supporting a pipeline of multiyear landscape-scale restoration projects, it is boosting the confidence of contractors to invest in the people, skills and machinery that are needed to get the job done, it is attracting private finance into the sector and, by supporting green jobs in communities across rural Scotland, it is helping our just transition to net zero.

Rachael Hamilton

I thank the First Minister for that answer, but we know that her Government’s desktop approach to rural areas is failing. For the past four years, peatland targets have been missed. Emissions targets for five key sectors have been missed. Since 1994, 50 per cent of Scotland’s iconic species have vanished. Lord Deben has said:

“the credibility of the Scottish climate framework is in jeopardy.”

When will the First Minister’s Scottish National Party-Green coalition take climate change seriously—[Interruption.]—and produce a robust moorland strategy to save Scotland’s iconic species and protect biodiversity—[Interruption.]

Ms Hamilton, I could not hear your question and I am not convinced that the First Minister would have been able to hear it. Would you be good enough to repeat the end of your question?

When will the SNP-Green coalition take climate change seriously and produce a robust moorland strategy to save Scotland’s iconic species and protect biodiversity and rural jobs and livelihoods?

The First Minister

It actually beggars belief that a Tory MSP is getting up to talk about taking climate change seriously. [Interruption.] Clearly, they were not listening to the questioning by their leader at an earlier stage. The Conservatives’ approach is, of course, to say that we should take climate change seriously but then opportunistically oppose every measure that we take to tackle climate change when it suits them to do so. We saw that very clearly earlier.

This Government’s record on peatland restoration is a good one. I have already spoken about the restoration of 30,000 hectares and the record funding package and all that it is enabling. We will continue to get on with taking the actions to tackle climate change. Perhaps it is the Conservatives who need to learn to take it a bit more seriously.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Will the First Minister outline what funding has been made available for the 45 hectares of peatlands at Langlands Moss? Does she agree that the work undertaken by the Friends of Langlands Moss has been a huge factor in promoting the local environment and improving people’s health?

The First Minister

In 2019-20, the peatland restoration programme funded by the Scottish Government funded work at Langlands Moss to the value of £63,800. I certainly agree that the Friends of Langlands Moss is an excellent example of the type of partnership that is needed to allow communities to make decisions about the management of their local environment and to help address the twin climate and biodiversity crises.

Delayed Discharge

6. Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce delayed discharge from hospitals, in light of reports that it is at the highest recorded level since the Covid-19 pandemic began. (S6F-00789)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish Government is committed to reducing the number of people delayed in hospital. In October, the health secretary announced an investment of £300 million to help address winter pressures. That included £40 million to support alternative interim care arrangements and £62 million to enhance care at home. Part of that funding is being used to rapidly scale up hospital at home services, first and foremost to provide better care but also to help alleviate pressures on acute services.

There have been significant recent developments, with new services launched in Ayrshire and Arran and in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. We have also recently launched the discharge without delay programme, backed by £5 million, to help local health and social care partnerships improve discharge planning arrangements in the longer term.

Jackie Baillie

We know that ending delayed discharge frees up bed capacity in hospitals, has a positive effect on waiting times in accident and emergency and even has a positive effect on the number of ambulances queuing at the front door.

The First Minister is right to say that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care has set out his plan to help the national health service through the anticipated winter crisis. Given the record high levels of delayed discharge, does she believe that her cabinet secretary’s strategy has worked? Why is it that, seven years on from the Scottish National Party promising to end delayed discharge completely, more than 1,600 people are unnecessarily stuck in hospital?

The First Minister

I do believe that the actions that we are taking are the right ones, but we are not complacent and we will continue to take whatever steps we can to address the issue. In fact, the health secretary, senior officials and I will have a session this afternoon to look at progress on the issue and what further steps we need to take.

It is worth noting that the average number of beds occupied by people whose discharge was delayed in 2020-21 reduced by 34 per cent on the previous year, but that is still too high. This is a whole-system challenge and we are very focused on addressing it. It requires steps to be taken across the whole health and care system. The longer-term work to establish a national care service is also important in this context.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Waiting Times)

7. Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on what steps the Scottish Government is taking to improve child and adolescent mental health services waiting times. (S6F-00792)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We know that the pandemic has been exceptionally difficult for the mental health and wellbeing of many children, young people and families. We have allocated almost £40 million of additional funding in 2021-22 to national health service boards to improve CAMHS. That comes from our overall recovery and renewal fund. More than £4 million of that allocation is directly focused on offering treatment to those who are already on CAMHS waiting lists, in order to tackle the longest waits. We are working closely with all national health service boards, particularly those with the most significant challenges, to develop and implement detailed local improvement plans to clear backlogs and meet targets.

Martin Whitfield

I thank the First Minister for her answer. This week, the Royal College of Psychiatrists called on the Scottish Government to

“pull out all the stops”

and explain how it will meet its target for investing in mental health services for our children and young people.

I was contacted by a teacher, who is more than happy to meet the First Minister, and she asked me to ask the First Minister

“to rescind the free bus travel, stop giving out laptops and put some money into mental health provisions for our young people.”

She said:

“What good is a laptop and a free bus pass when you’re in a deep state of anxiety and depression?”

Will the First Minister agree to meet that teacher to find out what CAMHS delays feel like for those who are left to support our young people through the waiting period?

The First Minister

First, of course I or the health secretary will be happy to speak to the teacher who was quoted, or indeed any professional who is working with young people. This is a really serious issue. I am not entirely sure whether the member is seriously asking me, or just quoting somebody else asking me, to rescind free bus travel. I think that that would be the wrong thing to do for the broader wellbeing of our young people. Perhaps that is something that the member could clarify at some stage in the future.

On the action that we are taking, the NHS recovery plan commits to providing extra funding for more than 300 additional staff in CAMHS over the coming years. That has the potential to increase the capacity to see cases by more than 10,000. Long waits are always unacceptable, but it is important to stress that long waits are not the norm. The median wait nationally for a first treatment appointment in CAMHS was seven weeks, and of course almost eight out of 10 children and young people—which is not good enough—are seen within the target that we set.

The final point that I make is that, while the investment that I am speaking about to tackle longer waits is really important, there is a bigger challenge here, which is to redesign and reform CAMHS so that there is more preventative treatment and more early intervention. That is why counsellors in schools are so important, along with the approach to a national wellbeing service and, indeed, policies such as free bus travel, which supports the overall wellbeing of young people.

This is something that we need to address on all those fronts, and this Government is doing exactly that.

Face Coverings in Schools

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

I acknowledge that today’s announcement on face masks in schools was made on the basis of clinical advice, but for many clinically vulnerable staff and pupils in our schools, it will only increase their anxiety. I ask the First Minister to confirm that no school or council should seek to prevent any pupil or member of staff who wishes to wear a face covering from continuing to do so.

The First Minister

That is a really important point, so I am grateful to Ross Greer for giving me the opportunity to underline it. The requirement to wear face coverings in classrooms will be removed from the end of February, but any young person or indeed any member of staff who feels safer wearing a face covering and would prefer to continue to wear one should absolutely be fully supported in doing so.

In all the decisions that are we are taking right now, it is important that we balance the understandable and perfectly legitimate desire to get back to normal with understanding that those who are more clinically vulnerable have a real sense of anxiety. We need to consider their needs and concerns as well, so that is a really important point, and I am glad to have the opportunity to underline and emphasise it.

Early Learning and Childcare (Funding)

Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

More than 200 nurseries wrote to the First Minister this week to raise concerns relating to the roll-out of the 1,140 hours and the funding inequity between the private and voluntary industry and local authority nurseries. Private nurseries have warned that there are serious flaws in the delivery of the 1,140 hours and that, if they are not addressed, many will have to reduce opening hours or close completely.

Will the First Minister respond immediately to the concerns that are contained in the letter? Will the Scottish Government commit to an audit of early learning and childcare funding that compares best value between all sectors?

The First Minister

Of course we will respond to and indeed listen carefully to the views that are expressed in that communication, but I am really proud of the fact that, since last August, all councils have been offering 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare to all eligible children and that the private, third and childminding sectors are playing a vital role in the delivery of that, and are increasing choice and flexibility for parents. I thank everybody across the sector for that.

We are investing more than £1 billion in early learning and childcare in the current financial year. It is important to stress that the funding agreement between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities enables local authorities to pay sustainable rates to private nurseries that provide free early learning and childcare places, as well as to childminders. That is an important principle, but of course we will play close attention to the points that are made in the letter and respond as quickly as possible.