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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 15, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 15 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Proposed European Union Withdrawal Agreement, Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

European Union (Brexit)

We have learned over the past two years that the First Minister has become a great fan of unions. Can she explain why it would be in Scotland’s interests to fracture the one union that matters most to us—our own with the rest of the United Kingdom?

The European Union is a union of independent countries and look how it has stood by and stood up for Ireland over the past two years. By contrast, as I said to the Prime Minister on the telephone just last night, the United Kingdom Government—which has ignored Scotland, sidelined Scotland, cast aside Scotland’s interests—now stands on the brink of not just taking us out of the European Union against our will and taking us out of the single market against our interest but placing Scotland at a competitive disadvantage to Northern Ireland.

That is not an academic or an abstract argument. That will have implications for jobs, living standards and investment in Scotland. I do not think that the Tories care a jot about that. It is not so long ago that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives said that, if there were to be separate relationships for the UK and Northern Ireland, they would resign. Where is David Mundell today? [Interruption.]

Order, please.

Let me be crystal clear: others may be abandoning their posts, but none of us on the Scottish Conservative benches is going anywhere. We will be staying right here every day, every week, holding the First Minister and the Scottish Government to account. I will also be clear that Ruth Davidson and David Mundell have spent the past year fighting for the United Kingdom. They are not going to take any lessons from anyone else—not from any carpetbagger who has come late to the defence of the United Kingdom and certainly not from the First Minister.

I will try to strike one note of consensus. I agree with Jackson Carlaw when he says that the Tories are staying exactly where they are—it is called opposition, and they do not deserve to be anywhere else. I always thought that it was an odd position for Ruth Davidson and David Mundell to argue against Northern Ireland getting a deal that protects its vital interests, instead of arguing for Scotland to get a similar deal. They were standing up for the Democratic Unionist Party rather than standing up for Scotland. Having chosen that red line, it is hard to see how they can stay in office after today with a shred of credibility.

Let me quote from the letter that David Mundell and Ruth Davidson sent just a few weeks ago. It states that any deal that undermines

“the integrity of our UK internal market”

or of the United Kingdom is a red line. They were briefing that that would be a resignation issue. Today, we have Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary who has been involved in these negotiations, being very clear that this deal

“presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom”,

and we have Esther McVey saying exactly the same. If I were as cynical and self-serving as the Tories, that might tempt me to vote for this deal, but I am not. However, it is absolutely unclear to me how David Mundell or Ruth Davidson can have any other option but to follow through on the principled commitment that they made. Let us see over the course of today whether they have any principles or whether they have a backbone between them. I suspect that the answer to that will be a resounding no.

The First Minister and I should be candid with the chamber. She and I have one particular thing in common: neither of us will be First Minister after the next Scottish election. I know a woman who will be, and I am just keeping her seat warm.

Fracturing the UK internal market is exactly what the First Minister proposes. If Scotland were to have a different trading arrangement from England, as night follows day we would create a problem where no problem currently exists: a border at Berwick, with Scotland facing restrictions in a trading market that is four times as important to us as the EU. How is that standing up for Scotland? How can it possibly help our country to prosper?

Jackson Carlaw used to have a reputation for making half-decent jokes, but that reputation has been shattered during this meeting. He has just stood there and uttered the phrase “no problem currently exists”. Is he watching what is happening in the House of Commons right now? The Tory Government is imploding as we speak. People the length and breadth of the UK are seriously worried about their jobs and living standards, all of which are on the line because of the ideology of this Tory Government and the complete shambles that it has made of the negotiations. How dare Jackson Carlaw stand in this chamber and say that there is no problem?

There is a big problem for Scotland. Let me spell it out. Scotland faces being taken out of the European Union against our democratic wishes and being taken out of the single market against our economic interests. We now face being put at a competitive disadvantage to Northern Ireland. That is what the Tories are presiding over, and Jackson Carlaw and every single member of the Tory party should be ashamed of themselves.

It is the same tired old lines from the same tired old First Minister. This First Minister made her priorities clear on the morning after the 2016 referendum. Before the votes had even been counted, her first action was to get on to her civil servants and demand that they start drafting a bill for an independence referendum. It has been that grudge and grievance agenda that has seen her act in a way that is nothing other than destructive to the negotiations that have been taking place during the past two years.

Everything that the First Minister has said and done since has been in relentless pursuance of the goal that she has in mind, even now using the history of Northern Ireland, with all the desperate turmoil that that has involved, for her singular political advantage. That is the disgrace today. To turn the First Minister’s cliché on its head, it is she who should be thoroughly ashamed of herself.

That the First Minister is exploiting the coming days to pursue her own goals, as she has done over and over again in recent months, is fundamentally against the country’s interests. We need a First Minister who acts for all of Scotland. Is it not time that she acted in the national interest and not the nationalist interest? With everything that is going on, will she acknowledge that and take her threat of a second independence referendum and all the additional disruption that that would cause off the table? Will she do that—yes or no?

Talk about tired old rhetoric. There is only one person in the chamber indulging in that today. What a nerve for Jackson Carlaw to come here and talk about the importance of finding solutions for Northern Ireland. It was David Mundell and Ruth Davidson who wrote to the Prime Minister to oppose a separate deal for Northern Ireland. All I am asking is that, if Northern Ireland is to get a separate deal for very good reasons—I would support that—Scotland should not be placed at a disadvantage as a result.

As for Jackson Carlaw’s statement that the Scottish Government has been “destructive to the negotiations”, Scotland has not been allowed into the negotiations. We have not had the opportunity to be destructive to the negotiations.

I support remaining in the European Union—I have been consistent about that—but from day 1 I have put forward compromises. I have put forward the compromise of the UK staying in the single market and the customs union. I have lost count of the number of times I have asked the Prime Minister to consider that sensible option, but she has been too busy pandering to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg. Well, I think that the chickens are probably going to come home to roost on that today as Jacob Rees-Mogg and his colleagues bring her down.

I am pretty confident, because I will put my case to the Scottish people, that I will be First Minister after the next Scottish election. I am not confident that the Prime Minister will be in office by the end of today, such is the shambles that she has created in the negotiations. As I said earlier, she should be ashamed of that, Jackson Carlaw should be ashamed of that and every single Tory in the country should be ashamed of the mess that they are creating for people the length and breadth of the UK.

United Kingdom Government

Theresa May’s Government is falling apart before our very eyes. The Northern Ireland minister has gone, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has gone and even the secretary of state for Brexit has gone. Does the First Minister agree with me that it is time for the wretched Tory Government to go as well?


Nothing is more emblematic of the Tory Government’s bankruptcy than universal credit. The roll-out of the flawed universal credit is not only socially unjust; it is morally wrong. It is pushing people into poverty, homelessness and debt. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has just resigned. Why? Because of David Cameron’s arrogance in calling a referendum and because of Theresa May’s desperation in making promises that she knew she could never keep. Will the First Minister instruct her Government this afternoon to urgently contact the Department for Work and Pensions to press again for the roll-out of universal credit to be halted?

If Richard Leonard wants me to do that, I will do that, but I have lost count of the number of times that the Scottish Government has contacted the DWP, asking for universal credit to be scrapped—for the roll-out to be halted.

Can I make a better suggestion to Richard Leonard? I ask that he join me—we can do it this afternoon—in writing a joint letter to the Prime Minister, if she is still in office, to her successor or to the DWP, asking for power over universal credit to be taken out of the hands of the Tories and put into the hands of this Parliament. That is a better suggestion.

I know that this is First Minister’s question time, but I ask the Presiding Officer to indulge me and allow me to ask Richard Leonard a question. Will he join me in making that call this afternoon?

I say to the First Minister that I have a better idea: let us call for a general election. The First Minister and I do not agree on many things, but I think we agree that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is a bad deal. That is why Labour members of Parliament will vote against the deal and why, as I understand it, SNP MPs will do the same. It is my firm belief that the deal will not be agreed to by the House of Commons, that the shambolic Tory Government needs to go and that the people need more than anything a general election as a matter of urgency. Will the First Minister join with Labour to defeat the deal, and will she back an early general election?

Let me unpack this step by sorry step. First, I think that we have just had confirmation—yet again—that Richard Leonard would rather leave powers over welfare in the hands of a Tory Government than bring them back to this Parliament. Shame on him for that. As people suffer under universal credit and all these welfare cuts, they will look at Labour and wonder why that is the case.

Let me turn to the Brexit deal. If memory serves me correctly, the SNP made it clear—I made it clear to Willie Rennie in the chamber this afternoon—that our MPs would vote against this deal. I think that we did that before Labour did, so it is perhaps a case of Labour joining with the SNP. I hope that no party in the House of Commons falls for the Prime Minister’s spin—that it is a case of accepting a bad deal for fear of having no deal. It is not inevitable that we will have no deal if this bad deal is voted down.

One question remains to be answered: if that happens, what is Labour’s position on Brexit? I do not know whether Richard Leonard has another question, but perhaps he can enlighten us: does Labour favour our membership of a single market and customs union? Does it favour another vote? What exactly would Labour do on Brexit that is different from what Theresa May is doing? I do not have a clue, so maybe Richard Leonard can tell us.

We have a number of constituency supplementary questions.

Contaminated Blood

The First Minister is all too aware of the terrible impact of the contaminated blood scandal on many Scottish people and their families. Indeed, the First Minister has played an important role in seeking to address the disgraceful injustice that many people have suffered and, critically, in confirming that she and her Government accepted the moral responsibility to provide support, including financial support, to all victims.

One of my constituents met me this week to highlight her concerns and those of the Scottish Infected Blood Forum and Haemophilia Scotland about imminent decisions by the Scottish Government on financial support, which are in danger of continuing the inconsistent approach to financial support for advanced sufferers as opposed to those who are chronically infected, which has created a gap that is unjustifiable.

I ask the First Minister to reflect on the distress that is being caused by reports that decisions on financial entitlement may be determined not by the clear evidence of need but by predetermined budget constraints. Given Scotland’s important role in seeking justice for victims, will the First Minister agree to meet my constituent and me as well as those who have supported victims so that we, in Scotland, live up to our moral responsibility to all victims of contaminated blood?

I thank Johann Lamont for raising an issue in which I have had a long-standing involvement. I campaigned on it when I was in opposition, and I have retained that interest as the health minister and, latterly, as the First Minister. I know many of the people who have been affected, and I understand the issues very clearly from the experience of one of my own constituents. I want to see justice delivered, and the Scottish Government is determined that that will happen. I will ask the health secretary to meet Johann Lamont to discuss our progress on amended payments, and we will listen to the representations that her constituent has made to her and that my constituents make to me. I will ensure that that meeting happens as quickly as possible.

Talgo Announcement

Does the First Minister agree that the decision by Talgo to choose Longannet as a site for its train manufacturing base, creating 1,000 jobs, could be a wonderful legacy for the communities who served the power station? Does she believe that reopening the Alloa to Dunfermline rail route to passengers should also be part of that legacy for workers and their communities?

I warmly welcome Talgo’s announcement this week. Michael Matheson was in London for the announcement, and I met senior executives of Talgo some time ago to make the case for Scotland. I think that we are all delighted that the announcement has been made. It is good news for Longannet and the surrounding area.

Mark Ruskell is right to talk about the legacy benefits, of which transport links will be a key part. We will consider all of that as we work with Talgo to make the preparations. Of course, the decision is, to some extent, dependent on the company winning the contract for high speed 2, for which it is bidding. However, regardless of the outcome of that bid, we hope that we can persuade Talgo to go ahead with that manufacturing site for all the benefits that we know that it will bring, including those that Mark Ruskell has raised.

Galloway (National Park)

Given the huge success of the Galloway National Park Association’s conference and the overwhelming support from young and not-so-young constituents of Galloway and West Dumfries, will the First Minister recognise the association’s work and commit to initiating preliminary investigations into the feasibility of a kingdom of Galloway national park, which clearly has community and local authority support?

I thank the member for raising an issue in which our late Presiding Officer took a close interest and that he worked hard to progress. I understand and appreciate the arguments for a Galloway national park. We want to give full consideration to the proposal, and I am happy to ask the relevant minister to engage with the member and others who have an interest on how we can take the matter forward properly.

National Health Service (Infant Food Intolerance)

I want to raise the case of Sebastian Skelton, a 13-month-old infant whose mother, Siobhan, is struggling to get the treatment that he needs from our national health service. Days after he was born, Sebastian developed food intolerances; indeed, they have now developed considerably. However, more than a year later, he has still not been seen by the allergy specialist and is still going without an NHS prescription for the medication that he needs. His mother, Siobhan, has been forced to take matters into her own hands and has sought help from private specialist doctors in London and Glasgow. I wrote to the health secretary seven weeks ago, seeking urgent intervention and support, but I have yet to receive a response. Will the First Minister look into Sebastian’s case and give him and his family the help that they urgently need?

I give that undertaking today. I do not know the full details of Sebastian’s case beyond what Mark Griffin has narrated just now, but we are clearly talking about a young baby, so I understand his parents’ distress. We will all want the baby to get the treatment that he needs as quickly as possible. I will ask the health secretary to look into this as a matter of urgency and will come back to the member as soon as she has had the opportunity to do so. I also ask Mr Griffin to convey my very best wishes to Sebastian and his family.

Brexit (Scottish Independence)

Another day, another dose of Brexit chaos. The Prime Minister’s so-called deal satisfies almost nobody, from Brexiteers to remainers; it is unlikely to pass at Westminster, and the public must ultimately be given the chance to kill off Brexit in a people’s vote.

However, if the last two years have made anything clear, it is that Scotland’s future is best secured as a full, independent, European Union member state. In summer last year, the First Minister stated in the chamber:

“At the end of the period of negotiation with the EU ... when the terms of Brexit will be clearer, we will come back to Parliament to set out our judgment on the best way forward at that time, including our view on the precise timescale for offering people a choice over the country’s future.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2017; c 14.]

Jackson Carlaw might not want to know the answer in that respect, but I do and I do not think that I am alone in that. Will the First Minister now confirm to us that Scotland will be given that choice and tell us when?

As I said at the time that Patrick Harvie has alluded to, I will come back to the chamber and set out my views on the precise detail when we have clarity. We have now seen the terms of the deal, but it remains to be seen whether it will make it to a vote in the House of Commons over the next couple of weeks. When we see how the whole sorry saga plays out, I will undertake my commitment as I said I would.

However, I want to say a couple of things in addition. I have no doubt that Scotland will get an opportunity to choose again on the question of independence, and when it does, I am confident that it will choose to be an independent country. With what has happened over the past two years—from the decision that risked taking us out of the EU against our will, to the way in which the Scottish Government, in trying to represent Scotland’s interests, has been sidelined, to the way in which the powers of this Parliament have been undermined—the case for independence has grown stronger each and every day. The sooner this Parliament and this country are independent and are no longer at the mercy of Tory Governments that do not have our interests at heart, the better. That time will come and when it does, I have no doubt that the people of Scotland will choose to be independent.

The First Minister is right to say that we have only just seen the deal, and it is conceivable—though, I think, highly unlikely—that MPs will vote for it. However, surely there is already enough clarity to make a judgment, given that there is nothing in Theresa May’s plan that protects our social, economic and workplace rights and our environmental rights and protections, or that guarantees the future rights of EU citizens living here or our ability to attract more of the people whom we need for the strength of the economy, the delivery of our public services and the diversity of our society.

There is no reference to Scotland in either the withdrawal agreement or the absurdly simplistic paper on the future relationship. The chaos of Brexit was inevitable, but we need to face up to the equally inevitable fact that Scotland will only get the strong future relationship that we want with Europe—which the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland voted for—if we get out there, campaign for it and persuade people to vote for Scotland to become a full, independent EU member country. The Greens are ready to start that campaign; is the First Minister?

The Scottish National Party started that a long time ago and has never stopped campaigning for independence, so my message to Patrick Harvie is, “What’s holding you back? Get out there and make the case for Scotland to be an independent country.”

I agree with everything that Patrick Harvie said. The case for independence, which I have long thought has been made, has got stronger every day over the past two years. In terms of the precise timing of Scotland having that opportunity to choose, people deserve clarity about what else might unfold over the next period. Are we going to have another general election? Is there going to be a second EU referendum? It is reasonable to wait and allow that to play out over the next few weeks.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that this country will become an independent country, and when it does, it will be a far more prosperous, fairer and better country. It will be able to choose its own place in the world. It will be able to make its own decisions. Undoubtedly, it will make its own mistakes, but it will not be at the mercy of a Tory Government imposing policies on us that we did not vote for. That will be a far stronger position for this generation and for future generations.

Brexit (People’s Vote)

We were promised that Northern Ireland would not be affected, but it is; that there would be a free-trade deal, but there is not; that the United Kingdom would not be subject to European Union laws, but it will be; that our fishing grounds would be protected, but they will not be. The biggest lie of all is that there is not an extra £350 million a week for the national health service. The people have been cheated. Can the First Minister think of a single reason why there should not be a people’s vote so that we can stop Brexit now?

I have made my views on that matter clear. Willie Rennie and I have had that exchange many times. If there is a proposal for a people’s vote, we should support that. People across the UK should have that opportunity.

However, the question that I posed to Willie Rennie remains: what if the result of a second referendum is the same as it was in 2016, with Scotland voting overwhelmingly—probably even more overwhelmingly—to remain in the EU, but the UK as a whole voting to leave? I will posit that again to Willie Rennie: what would he suggest Scotland does in those circumstances?

The First Minister knows that I think that we can win this people’s vote. I want to keep the United Kingdom together and I want to keep us in the European Union as well.

The future of the deal could lie in the hands of Scottish Conservative MPs. They have been ignored on fishing and on Northern Ireland, but still they do nothing. They are as useless as a piano in a pigsty. As ministers resign on principle, where are the principles of the Scottish Conservatives?

The Prime Minister said that stopping Brexit is now an option. With the cabinet divided and the Parliament split, the case for a people’s vote grows stronger every day. Now is the best chance. Does the First Minister agree that this Parliament and her Government’s first priority should be to secure that people’s vote?

I have a feeling that there was an insult to pigs somewhere in Willie Rennie’s question, but I cannot quite work out what it was, so I probably should not go any further down that road.

If Willie Rennie is right, and the future of the deal and the country depends on the 13 Conservative MPs, we are all doomed, because they have demonstrated that they do not have a backbone between them and that they will sell Scotland out as quickly as anything.

On the issue in his question, yes, I think that if there is an opportunity to stop Brexit in its tracks across the whole of the United Kingdom, we should take that. I have no doubt in my mind about that, because, in most cases, the promises that were made in 2016 have been proven to be lies, the negotiation has been shambolic and we are left in the position that we are in today, where there is a bad deal, and the Prime Minister, having spent the past two years saying that no deal is better than a bad deal, is now in the ridiculous and pathetic position of saying that a bad deal is better than no deal. So, if that opportunity to stop it in its tracks is there, I think that people across the UK should take it.

However, I want to do more. I want to ensure that, as well as hopefully stopping Brexit in its tracks, we can ensure that never, ever again will Scotland be put in the position of facing something like Brexit against our democratic wishes, and although a second EU referendum might stop Brexit, it would not guarantee that that would be the case.

Willie Rennie dodged the question the first time but he cannot continue to dodge it. I will support a people’s vote to stop Brexit, but if Scotland finds itself facing Brexit against its will yet again, will Willie Rennie support independence so that we can take control of our own future?

There is a lot of interest in asking supplementary questions.

Fixed-odds Betting Terminals (Problem Gambling)

Does the First Minister welcome the U-turn by the British Government and the reduction to £2—at long last—of the stakes at fixed-odds betting terminals, which will finally be introduced by April 2019? What steps will the Scottish Government take to tackle the issue of problem gambling, particularly in respect of young people?

I welcome the U-turn—although it is long overdue. I congratulate Stuart McMillan on all the good hard work that he has done on the issue. We have been clear for a long time that such action is needed. Earlier this month, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs wrote to the United Kingdom Government expressing concern about the delay in implementation of the policy. I commend Stuart McMillan and all who have campaigned on the issue for their sustained and effective campaign for the change.

The Scottish Government encourages any action that can help to reduce the harmful impact of problem gambling, which is why we are seeking to deliver faster access to psychological therapies for people with mental illnesses, including people who have problems with gambling. People who seek clinical support will also benefit from the work that is being done in the mental health strategy.

The Scottish Government will continue to take action where it can, but we look to the UK Government to take action on FOBTs. That action is long overdue, and I am glad that it is now happening.

British Indian Army (Memorial)

Today, the first multifaith remembrance service will be held in Kingussie for the soldiers of the British Indian Army whose graves have been discovered there and elsewhere in Scotland. These 13 young men came to Scotland having been evacuated from Dunkirk during the second world war and they are our forgotten heroes: Ali Bahadur, Bari Sher, Dadan Khan, Fazl Ali, Khan Muhammad, Khushi Muhammad, Muhammad, Muhammad Sadiq, Mushtaq Ahmad, Mir Zaman, Abdul Rakhman, Ghulam Nabi and Karam Dad.

Does the First Minister agree that their names should be forgotten no more and that there should be a permanent memorial in Scotland to commemorate their lives and the 161,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who lost their lives in defence of our country, so that their contribution is remembered for generations to come? [Applause.]

I agree with Anas Sarwar. I thank him for raising the issue and for how he has done so. He is right to say that those men were forgotten heroes. Today, as a result of Anas Sarwar’s question, their names are in the Official Report of the Scottish Parliament, so they will be forgotten no longer. I thank him for that.

I welcome the multifaith remembrance service that is taking place today. It is very fitting. It is an opportunity to remember with gratitude the contribution of the British Indian Army to the war effort. We have just passed armistice day, on which we commemorated the centenary of the end of the first world war and remembered all those who lost their lives in conflicts throughout the past century. When we do such things, we should ensure that we remember everyone.

I would be happy to take forward discussions about the possibility of a permanent memorial. I will ask the relevant minister to contact Anas Sarwar to kick-off those discussions as soon as possible.

Brexit (Single Market and Customs Union)

Given that it is now clear that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead in the water and cannot command a majority in the House of Commons, will the First Minister commit to working with others to replace the current Westminster chaos with a commonsense plan to keep Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in the single market and the customs union? The people of our country, who are very worried about what is going on at the moment, deserve a pragmatic and sensible solution. How can the First Minister help?

Bruce Crawford is right to say that the deal that the Prime Minister has brought forward is “dead in the water”. She does not need me to tell her that—her own back benchers have been lining up in the House of Commons this morning to do so.

Let me say a word about the Prime Minister. She deserves a degree of respect for the resilience that she has shown in trying to bring forward a deal that she thought was right. I gladly say that about her, but she must recognise the reality of the position that she faces: the deal will not get through the House of Commons.

It is, however, wrong for anybody to suggest that that means that crashing out with no deal on 29 March next year is inevitable. There is now a duty on everyone—principally members in the House of Commons, because that is where the decisions on the matter are taken—to come together to look at sensible alternatives.

I have consistently said that membership of the single market and the customs union for the whole UK would be the best possible compromise position. It is not my top preference—I would prefer that we stayed in the European Union—but if we are looking at compromises, that is the best one. It is also the only compromise in respect of which I can see a path to a majority at the House of Commons—although I say readily that there is no guarantee of that.

This is the moment for people to put party interests aside and to come together to find a way through. Simply blundering on with a deal that is destined to fail is not putting the interests of the country first, so I appeal to the Prime Minister not to do that.

Secure Accommodation (Request for Urgent Review)

The tragic death of 16-year-old William Lindsay in Polmont prison while on remand raises many sharp questions about our criminal justice system—in particular, on availability of secure accommodation. I am sure that the First Minister will join me in offering condolences to William’s family.

Is the First Minister aware that, by all accounts, the people who worked with William said that he was crying out for help and that prison was not the right place for a young man who had spent his life in care? Will she explain why the 2016-17 figures show a reduction of 11 per cent in the number of secure places, the complete closure of one unit and a 29 per cent decline in the use of residence in Scotland? Does she agree that, for those and many more reasons, there is an urgent need to review the availability of secure accommodation?

This is a serious issue that has to be looked at seriously. The Cabinet discussed the issue on Tuesday in the context of the tragic case that Pauline McNeill has raised.

I record my sincere condolences to the family of William Lindsay, who was also known as William Brown. I also take the opportunity to offer my condolences to the family of Katie Allan, who also died in Polmont recently. Earlier this week, Humza Yousaf met her family; I am grateful to them for taking the time to attend the meeting and for allowing us to hear their views about their dreadful experience. None of us can imagine the distress that both those families are going through.

We are determined that any lessons that need to be learned will be learned. All appropriate agencies must look closely at what happened.

There will be mandatory fatal accident inquiries in both cases. While processes are on-going, it is not appropriate for me to get into the details of the individual cases, but in William Lindsay’s case in particular, there are a number of things that I, as First Minister, want to address and ensure that we look at properly. Those matters include experiences of the care system; we have the independent review of the care system under way. Secure care provision is certainly among the issues, as are consideration of how we can do even more to keep young people out of the criminal justice system altogether, and mental health support in Polmont. Those are all issues that the Scottish Government is considering.

As I have said, there will be mandatory FAIs in both cases—rightly so—but we will not wait for those before we take action that we consider to be necessary in order to ensure that issues are properly addressed.

Illegal Scallop Dredging

The First Minister may be aware of two instances of illegal scallop dredging in the Wester Ross marine protected area. I have consistently raised the issue of marine protection and enforcement, particularly in the context of expansion of MPAs and Brexit. I have been assured that the matter is under review. Does the First Minister agree with Open Seas that there is a clear case for robust tamper-proof vessel tracking?

I have seen this morning reports of the instances that John Finnie has raised. I have not yet had the opportunity to look into the detail. The suggestion that John Finnie has made is worthy of our consideration. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform to look into the issue in more depth and to contact him to discuss the matter further.

Anti-bullying Week

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking anti-bullying week. (S5F-02792)

Anti-bullying week 2018 provides us with the opportunity to send a clear and positive message that bullying of any kind is totally unacceptable and that when it happens we all have a responsibility to address it. The theme is “choose respect”, which reinforces the messages of respect, positive relationships and empathy, and I encourage everyone to spread those messages.

I was particularly pleased that, in time for the start of anti-bullying week last Thursday, the Deputy First Minister was able to announce that we have accepted in full the recommendations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex inclusive education working group report, including its recommendations on tackling bullying. That is just the latest substantial step forward that we are taking. I am sure that the whole chamber will agree that we must always look to instil the values of tolerance and respect in our children and young people, to help them develop positive relationships.

We know that bullying can have an extremely damaging effect on a young person’s mental health, and that in some tragic cases it can result in suicide or attempted suicide. What can be done to assist schools to better support those who are bullied at school, as well as those who perpetrate bullying, who may be experiencing difficulties elsewhere?

Fulton MacGregor is right to raise the issue. We take child and adolescent mental health very seriously. We have discussed in this chamber many times the challenges of making sure that services are there, in the right places for young people. Our commitment to invest more than £60 million in additional school counselling services, supporting 350 counsellors, will, however, help to ensure that that support is in place.

“Respect for All”, our national approach to preventing and responding to bullying incidents, makes it clear that bullying is the responsibility not just of schools but of all adults involved in the lives of young people. That includes supporting the child who is experiencing bullying and the child who is displaying bullying behaviour. “Respect for All” includes an expectation that all schools will develop and implement an anti-bullying policy, which should be reviewed and updated regularly.

Seven weeks ago, the First Minister would not agree to a full independent inquiry into allegations of bullying at NHS Highland. Given that we are now going to have an independent inquiry, can she confirm that the Scottish Government will encourage all those people whom it believes were bullied, including any who have signed non-disclosure agreements, to give evidence?

I encourage—not just encourage, but support—anybody who has experience of bullying at NHS Highland or anywhere else to come forward and discuss their experience. I absolutely agree with that and hope that all in the chamber will welcome the action that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is taking, which sends a very clear message that we will not tolerate bullying in any organisation.

Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing (Impact on Sales)

6. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what plans the Scottish Government has to evaluate the impact on sales of minimum unit pricing of alcohol. (S5F-02779)

Scotland’s world-leading minimum pricing measure targets the low-cost, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage to our communities. It has been in place for just six months. Our reason for introducing minimum unit pricing is specifically to reduce alcohol-related harm. Of course, it will be at least a couple of years before the necessary data is available to analyse the impacts robustly. Our extensive monitoring and evaluation programme, which is being led by NHS Health Scotland, includes examining implementation and compliance, price and product range, alcohol sales and consumption, alcohol-related harm and the economic impact on industry. I look forward to seeing full and robust data when considering the range of impacts that the policy is having.

I thank the First Minister for the confirmation of that on-going monitoring. She may be aware that, since the legislation came into effect six months ago, sales of one well-known and potent drink have increased by 11 per cent, in what some people regard as a trade-off as drinkers move from one high-strength product to another. We all hope that that is not an unintended consequence of the policy.

Although the policy benefited from cross-party support at the time, that was conditional on a sensible sunset clause to ensure that a facts-based approach forms the basis of the success or otherwise of the legislation. What public health targets were set in relation to the introduction of minimum unit pricing, and are those targets being met?

It was to the credit of the Tories, and Jackson Carlaw in particular, that they supported minimum unit pricing. They did so before Labour did—I do not know whether Labour supports it yet. Minimum unit pricing has been in place for less than six months and already Jamie Greene appears to be shaping up to criticise it. For goodness’ sake, let us give it a chance. The sunset clause was put in place—I think that it was Jackson Carlaw who lodged the amendment for that, which the Government accepted. We put in place robust monitoring and review procedures, and all the indicators around the policy will be properly monitored. The experts themselves point out that it is far too early to start to judge the success of the policy.

We have seen some indication of a substantial rise in alcohol sales in England—more than in Scotland. If there are any early indications, they might be that minimum unit pricing has helped to peg back alcohol sales in Scotland.

I hope that we continue to have the support of the Scottish Conservatives. This is an important policy, and it was a brave move by this Parliament to put it in place. I believe that it will work, but let us give it a chance and do the monitoring in the proper and full way.

That concludes First Minister’s questions. Before we move to members’ business, we will have a short suspension to allow the gallery to clear and members and ministers to change seats.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  

12:50 On resuming—