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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 24, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 24 January 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Remembering the Holocaust, Committees’ Pre-budget Scrutiny, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Before we start First Minister’s question time, members will be aware of reports in the media this morning that the former First Minister Alex Salmond has been arrested. As I hope members will also be aware, and as applies with all such matters, that means that the parliamentary rules on sub judice apply, as the case is now active.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Review

The Queen Elizabeth university hospital was the largest new hospital in Europe when it opened and it is important to say that, in the years since, tens of thousands of Scots have been born and treated there, safely and successfully, by some of the world’s leading clinicians and by an extraordinary number of dedicated staff. However, they and anyone visiting the hospital are entitled to operate in a safe environment and the latest reporting of tragic events this week has shaken confidence, so we welcome the review that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has set up.

Last year, Professor Alison Britton published her findings on the way in which all future national health service reviews should be conducted and made 46 key recommendations. Will the First Minister confirm that the review into the Queen Elizabeth university hospital will meet those tests?

Yes, we will ensure that Professor Britton’s recommendations are fully taken account of in the remit and the conduct of the review announced by the health secretary earlier this week. The remit and the personnel for that review will be announced in the coming days.

I thank Jackson Carlaw for the tenor of his question. Queen Elizabeth university hospital has treated thousands upon thousands of people safely, as dedicated staff do an excellent job day in, day out. However, the incidents that have been reported in recent times are serious and they must be treated seriously. I hope that not just members across the chamber but members of the public will take some assurance from the actions that the health secretary has taken this week. She visited the hospital this week and was updated on the steps that the health board has taken in light of the Cryptococcus infection incident. Additional infection control measures are in place and the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate has been asked to review the incident.

Given that incident and other unrelated incidents that have been reported recently, it is considered appropriate that a more general review of the construction, commissioning and maintenance of the hospital is undertaken and it is right that that is undertaken in a way that is consistent with the recommendations that Jackson Carlaw referred to.

I thank the First Minister for the assurances that she has given. It is important that the recommendations established under Professor Britton are followed in the reviews that take place.

I am also grateful to the First Minister for advising that the review will be independent and will extend beyond the immediate incident and the incidents that have been reported in the recent past. Beyond that, however—because obviously, some of the immediate concerns require immediate action—can the First Minister confirm that actions are being taken now that will address some of the considerable and serious concerns that have given cause for public anxiety?

Yes, I can give that assurance. The health secretary, when she answered a question in the chamber on Tuesday, gave some of that information, which I am happy to go over again for the benefit of members in the chamber and those among the public who may be listening.

In terms of the Cryptococcus incident, which has arisen from bacteria from pigeons, one of the things that the health secretary was updated on by the health board was on the additional infection control measures that have been put in place since that incident. Those measures include the provision of prophylactic medication to the relevant group of vulnerable patients and the provision of high-efficiency particulate air—HEPA—filter machines to ensure clean and clear air, as well as additional air monitoring. Those are important steps. As the health secretary said earlier this week, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a general infection control problem at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. The statistics do not suggest that that is the case. Nevertheless, it is a very serious incident that must be and is being treated seriously.

At the outset—I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole Parliament—I should have placed on record my deepest condolences to the families of the two patients who contracted the infection and who have subsequently died. In one of those cases, which was tragically that of a child, it was found that the infection was a contributory factor in their death.

I assure Jackson Carlaw and the Parliament that all appropriate steps will be taken. As I said, separately from the general review that the health secretary announced, she has asked the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate to review that particular incident fully and to recommend any further steps that should be taken.

I thank the First Minister for that assurance. As the largest hospital in Europe, the Queen Elizabeth university hospital has a tremendous catchment area of patients who depend on it. All of my constituents depend on the assurance that it is a safe and secure environment.

However, this alarming story has raised wider questions about the Government’s record on the NHS. There is a £900 million maintenance backlog on NHS buildings, including hospitals, in Scotland. Almost 45 per cent of that is defined by the Scottish Government as being high risk. Is it any wonder that we see problems emerging not just at the Queen Elizabeth but at other hospitals across Scotland? In the words of Audit Scotland, why is it that the Scottish Government has “not planned” what investment will be needed?

In terms of the assurances on the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, Jackson Carlaw said that all of his constituents rely on the services of the hospital—so do my constituents. The hospital used to be in my constituency and I am acutely aware of the importance of the hospital and of confidence in it to the population across Glasgow and further afield.

At any given time there will be maintenance requirements in the health service estate and the Scottish Government works closely with health boards, through our capital allocations to health boards, to make sure that we are providing, as far as we can within the resources available to us, capital provision to do that. In recent years, one of the ways that we have chosen to deal with maintenance issues in older hospital buildings is by reproviding new, purpose-built hospitals—the Queen Elizabeth university hospital is an example of that. The Queen Elizabeth brings together in one location hospital services that previously were split across multiple, older sites in Glasgow.

Jackson Carlaw referred to Audit Scotland. The Scottish Government works to respond to all Audit Scotland recommendations. Obviously, in recent times, the Scottish Government has set out a lot of information around medium-term financial planning and other medium to long-term plans for the health service. Capital allocations and making sure that the estate is in fit condition will continue to be key considerations.

I will not go into party-political exchanges on this issue; it is too serious for that. However, obviously, we work within a financial envelope. Everybody knows that that has been under pressure in recent years and everybody knows the reasons for that, but, within that envelope, we have prioritised spending on the health service and we will continue to do so.

The capital budget has increased and it is going to increase further. The First Minister is right that there is always a maintenance backlog that must be addressed. When I was spokesperson on health and exchanged with her when she was health secretary, it was a £400 million backlog. It is now a £900 million backlog. According to Audit Scotland, a lot of that is down to a lack of planning. Audit Scotland says that there is no long-term plan and no coherent proposals to bring our NHS estate up to the standard, so that we can be assured.

The health secretary’s review will get to the bottom of what is happening at that flagship hospital and without delay. However, is it not the case that Scotland needs the record investment that we know is coming to underpin a plan that commands support across this chamber, that puts the NHS on a sustainable footing and that we can all support for the long term? Will the Government commit to do that?

I assume that Jackson Carlaw knows this, but I will give the information, just in case it is not known to him or to the wider Parliament: there is a commitment to bring forward a capital investment plan before the end of this financial year. The health secretary has publicly committed to that. That is a commitment that will be fulfilled, and that plan will be available to the Parliament for discussion and scrutiny in the normal way. That will sit alongside the other plans, including the medium-term financial plan that I have already referred to.

These are difficult times for public finance. One of the reasons why we prioritise investment in our health service over, for example, cutting tax for higher-paid income earners is that we want to be able to maximise the resources that go to front-line health services, and we will continue to do that. That does not make it easy for those who work on the front line of our health service, but in the budget that the Parliament will discuss and vote on in the next few weeks, the priority that we have given to the health service is there for all to see. I assure the chamber that we will continue to give it that priority, because that is what patients and the public the length and breadth of Scotland expect and deserve.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (Infection Control)

The awful news that two patients, including a child, died after contracting an infection at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital in Glasgow has shocked us all. Our sympathies and thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones. This simply should never have happened. This morning, we see reports of a second infection leaving a patient in a serious condition. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport said yesterday that she believed that infection control at the hospital was good enough. Does the First Minister agree?

I will set out what the health secretary’s comments, which I agree with, were about. First, she was rightly making the point that the evidence and the statistics on point prevalence of infection in our hospitals or hospital standardised mortality do not suggest that there is a general problem with infection control at the Queen Elizabeth hospital or across Glasgow more generally.

Secondly, the health secretary was making the point and seeking to assure the chamber that, based on her visit on Tuesday, she was satisfied that the additional infection control measures that the hospital had put in place in light of the Cryptococcus infection incident were sufficient. Those are the control measures that I mentioned to Jackson Carlaw: the prophylactic medication and the additional filters. That was the context for the health secretary’s comments. In no way, shape or form were those comments intended to suggest that the incident in question or the unrelated infection incident that Richard Leonard has alluded to is not very serious and is not being treated seriously. I hope that the health secretary’s actions this week have underlined how seriously the Government is taking the matter.

A difficult thing for anybody to come to terms with—I experienced this on several occasions when I was health secretary—is that, unfortunately and regrettably, on occasion infections do happen in hospitals, and the implications of that for acutely ill patients can be very severe. That is why we work so hard to reduce infection and to have the appropriate infection control measures in place. When events such as the one that we are discussing happen, it is right that we review those arrangements intensely to make sure that any additional steps that are required are taken. I can give Richard Leonard and the chamber the assurance that Jeane Freeman—who has kept me extremely updated on the situation over recent days—and I will continue to ensure that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is taking all the steps that people would expect it to take.

So the answer to my question is that the First Minister does think that infection control at the hospital is good enough.

The health secretary visited the hospital on Tuesday. Can the First Minister explain why, as of last night, the facilities management workers, including the hospital’s cleaners, had still not received a briefing from infection control?

I will ask the health secretary to look into that. If that is the case, it is clear that those workers should have received such a briefing. I expect people who work in this field in any hospital across any part of the health service to be properly briefed on the challenges that are faced.

I say in all seriousness to Richard Leonard that he has mischaracterised what the health secretary and I have said. What the health secretary said, which I have repeated today, is that the evidence suggests that there is no general problem with infection control. We are not complacent about that and we will continue to monitor all the relevant statistics—not just for the Queen Elizabeth university hospital but for all hospitals—very carefully. In particular, the health secretary was talking about the additional measures that have been put in place in light of the Cryptococcus infection incident. I think that she was taken to see some of the measures that had been taken and was satisfied, on the basis of the advice that was given to her, that those were the appropriate steps to have been taken. There will be no complacency at all.

If Jackie Baillie is in the chamber, she will recall that I was health secretary during the Clostridium difficile outbreak at the Vale of Leven hospital. I know how devastating such outbreaks are for families and hospital staff, and how damaging they can be to confidence in the health service. The current health secretary, Jeane Freeman, and the entire Government will always treat such instances with the utmost seriousness. I hope that Richard Leonard will take that assurance in the good faith in which it is offered.

The First Minister says that she is not complacent, but this is Scotland’s biggest hospital and it is not even four years old. In October 2015, within months of the hospital opening, there were reports of elderly patients having to lie in their own excrement because there was no clean linen. Just a few weeks later, in November 2015, a premature baby died after picking up an infection in the neonatal unit. In February 2016, sewage leaks forced the cancellation of operations. In January 2017, an inspection found traces of blood and faeces on patient trolleys and mattresses. In March 2018, 22 children became infected as a result of bacteria in the water supply. Last October, chemotherapy for 16 children had to be cancelled because of contaminated drains at the hospital. This week, we learn that there have been further infection outbreaks at the hospital.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport thinks that this is good enough, and the First Minister thinks that this is good enough, but does the First Minister really expect the public to believe that this is good enough?

I say in all sincerity to Richard Leonard that I think that he is better than that last statement. Nobody, on any side of the chamber or in any part of the political spectrum thinks, to quote Richard Leonard, that it is “good enough” when there are infection outbreaks in a hospital. That is why we take these issues so extremely seriously. Generally—I am not talking about these incidents in particular—since the Vale of Leven C diff outbreak, infection rates in Scotland have fallen dramatically because of the infection control measures and policies that have been put in place. These are issues that everybody, across Government and the health service, treats with the utmost seriousness. Although it is absolutely right and proper that we debate such incidents and that there is a lot of scrutiny of them, I hope that we can all recognise that nobody thinks that it is “good enough” for any patient to get an infection in hospital.

As I said a moment ago, and it is difficult to say this, infections do happen in hospitals. There is probably not a hospital anywhere that has not had some kind of infection outbreak. The implications of that for very ill patients can be severe, which is why it is so important that everything possible is done to reduce infection. In this case, everything possible will be done to ensure that there is no repetition of this outbreak.

Richard Leonard cited a range of unrelated instances, none of which is acceptable—I am not saying that they are. It is because there have been a number of unrelated incidents in this hospital that Jeane Freeman announced the more general review to look at the design, commissioning and maintenance of the hospital in order that, first, if there are any systemic problems, they are identified and rectified and, if there are not, we can, through the process of that review, give the public the assurance that they deserve. I would absolutely expect scrutiny to continue, but I hope that every member across the chamber will recognise and appreciate the seriousness with which not just the Government but everybody across the health service is responding to these serious incidents.

Macrae Edinburgh (Job Losses)

Yesterday, West Lothian received yet more devastating news on the jobs front as Macrae Edinburgh, which is owned by Young’s Seafood, announced its plans to shed 50 jobs. Although the company confirmed its on-going commitment to Livingston and attributes the proposed job losses not to a loss of business but to an investment in machinery, that will be of no comfort to 50 families who are now facing an uncertain future, and it raises important questions about the role of automation in our economy. Can the First Minister confirm that Scottish ministers will engage personally and directly with Young’s and others to ensure that everything possible is done to support the workforce and boost the West Lothian economy at this difficult time?

I thank Angela Constance for raising an issue of extreme importance in her constituency. I absolutely agree with her comment that, when we face a situation in which jobs are lost, the reasons for those job losses are never any comfort to those who potentially face them. Because of that, my thoughts are very much with the Macrae Edinburgh workforce at what will be a very worrying time for them and for all of Young’s employees.

I assure Angela Constance that the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills spoke to Young’s yesterday to discuss the implications for the workforce and to ensure that the staff are being properly supported, and our multi-agency partnership action for continuing employment team stands ready to support the workforce, too. I assure her that, as is the case in all such situations, the Scottish Government will do everything possible not only to try to minimise job losses but to support anybody who faces losing their job.

Delayed Discharges

A constituent of mine, Margaret Borthwick, has been a patient in the Royal Victoria hospital for more than 18 weeks. The hospital acknowledges that although she was well enough to return home in November, the lack of an appropriate care package has prevented her discharge. Recent figures show that three quarters of delayed discharges are for health and social care reasons. As the progress of integration joint boards continues, how can the Scottish Government ensure that the money invested in integration will bring about a consistent level of improvement? Moreover, will the First Minister intervene on behalf of my constituent, so that she can go home and be with her family?

I will deal first with the general issue and then come on to the specific constituency case that Jeremy Balfour has raised.

On the general point, reducing delayed discharges is a high priority and progress is being made on it. One of the reasons for integrating health and social care is to make them work more seamlessly so that people do not fall through the gaps, and we are seeing improvements in how delayed discharges are dealt with and are minimised. We will continue to invest in and support integration authorities in order to continue that work.

Obviously I do not know all the details of the constituency case that the member has highlighted, but if he, with the consent of his constituent, wishes to make those details available to the health secretary, I undertake today that we will look into the matter and discuss it with the integration authority to see whether any further action can be taken to assist with the case. I hope that that offer is helpful.

Fife Gingerbread (Funding)

The First Minister might be aware that Fife Gingerbread, an award-winning organisation that she has worked closely with, is facing a funding crisis after what it has described as a “perfect storm”. More than half the workforce might lose their jobs, and 253 of the 348 vulnerable families whom it currently supports—or almost two thirds—might see that vital help end. Is there any support that the First Minister’s Government can provide to Fife Gingerbread and the families that it helps? Moreover, will she commit to working with Fife Council and relevant partners on finding a solution?

Claire Baker is right to say that I know about the good work that Fife Gingerbread does, how important it is and how many families rely on the services that it provides. I do not know all of the details that lie behind the situation that she has outlined, but I will ask the communities secretary to engage with Fife Gingerbread as well as Fife Council to see whether the Scottish Government can provide any further support to ensure that the organisation can continue to do its valuable work. I will also ask the communities secretary to liaise with Claire Baker once we have had the opportunity to do that.

Moray Council (Finances)

The First Minister will be aware of the perilous financial state of Moray Council. Clearly, the Scottish Government has a role to play here, so will she outline the steps that will be taken to ensure that my constituents enjoy essential council services?

Obviously Moray Council is responsible for the decisions that it takes, but with the combination of the draft budget resources that are being provided and, indeed, its own potential with regard to council tax, it will have £4.3 million more in revenue funding in the coming year than it had in the previous financial year. However, as I said in another context to Jackson Carlaw, these are difficult financial times, and I understand the pressures that local councils, including Moray, are operating under.

As I have said many times in the chamber, we have sought in the draft budget to protect local government as far as we can within the resources that are available to us. We are approaching the next stages of consideration of the budget, and we remain open. I know that discussions have been had with others about whether there are other areas of the budget that we can redirect money from to help councils further, but as I have said before—and it is simply a statement of fact—we have no unallocated money. If we are going to increase the money to local authorities, that money has to come from somewhere else in the budget. I am sure that these discussions will continue over the next couple of weeks.

Age of Criminal Responsibility

I support action that works to change the behaviour of young people who get into trouble. I do not support 13-year-olds being branded as criminals for the rest of their lives for mistakes that they make in their childhood. From everything that the Government has said, next week the First Minister will instruct her MSPs to vote against our amendment to the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old. Is that true?

That is under consideration. As Willie Rennie knows, we have proposed raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12. I know that some across the chamber think that that goes too far and that there are others who think that it should go further, to 14. It is a legitimate debate to have and we will continue to listen to views and to the evidence that is brought forward. In deciding between 12 and 14, there are not just issues of principle but practical issues in terms of the sheer volume of cases that would be affected by the decision. The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills is looking carefully at that and the Cabinet and I will continue to look carefully at it, too. Our balanced judgment at the moment is that, at this stage, 12 is the right age, but of course we remain open to hearing views and opinions from Willie Rennie and others.

That is incredibly disappointing. The First Minister had better make up her mind pretty soon because the bill will be considered by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee next week.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland said this week that Scotland is

“failing children and falling far behind international standards.”

Indeed, Scotland will be behind those bastions of human rights, Russia and China. The United Nations and the European Commissioner for Human Rights have pleaded with the Scottish Government to see sense.

Just last year, Nicola Sturgeon claimed that Scotland would be a world leader on human rights, but the First Minister should know that we cannot lead the world from the back of the pack. Therefore, will she think again? Will she raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, or will she stand isolated in the world on human rights?

I do not think that Willie Rennie’s argument does the issue much justice—pardon the pun. It completely misrepresents and mischaracterises the overall way in which Scotland deals with young people who commit offences. This week, I spent Monday afternoon visiting Kibble secure unit and saw for myself how we deal with young people—some of them there on welfare grounds and some who had committed offences. I was told by the staff there that, in that broader sense, Scotland is seen as a world leader in dealing with young people who offend. The age of criminal responsibility is important, but how we deal with young people in the system overall is what is really important.

On the decision between 12 and 14, I simply point out that when we consulted on the matter, 88 per cent of respondents were in favour of age 12; but we will continue to listen. When the Lord Advocate gave evidence to the committee at stage 2 of the bill, he mentioned one of the considerations that we require to take into account, which is a practical consideration as well as being one of principle: if we are to move to a higher age, we must have confidence that the responses that are available in the children’s hearings system are sufficient for any case, even the gravest of cases.

This is an important, serious and, at times, sensitive issue. I appeal to members across the chamber, who have different views in both directions: let us all be grown up about how we deal with these issues and treat them with the respect that they deserve.

Edinburgh Airport (Airport Departure Tax)

Edinburgh airport in the region of Lothian is Scotland’s busiest airport and, at the weekend, its chief executive called for a cut to air departure tax, which is a policy that the Scottish National Party previously supported. Will the First Minister end the excuses, confirm that the SNP will meet its manifesto commitment and cut ADT in this parliamentary session?

Cutting ADT remains our policy but, as Gordon Lindhurst is aware, we cannot do that right now. Without going into all the technical details, the United Kingdom Government has devolved the matter in an unfit state because of the state aid issues around the Highlands and Islands exemption. We continue to try to persuade the UK Government to work with us to resolve that.

If Gordon Lindhurst wants us to move more quickly, perhaps he could pick up the phone, speak to his colleagues in the Tory Government in Westminster and ask them to get their finger out to help us to resolve it.

EY Brexit Report

This week, EY’s new report showed us that every single one of the Scottish businesses and trade associations that were consulted have concerns over Brexit. They highlighted

“risks to competitiveness, profitability and, in some cases,”

their survival. For the sake of Scottish jobs, is it not high time that the Tories ruled out no deal?

The EY study that Maureen Watt refers to was stark, although it should come as no surprise to anyone. Concerns about the implications of Brexit have been long-standing, but they are growing with every day that passes.

There is growing concern about the prospect of no deal, which is a concern that could be removed by the United Kingdom Government, if it decided to take no deal off the table and say that it will not allow the UK to leave the European Union with no deal. Mike Russell and I made that case again when we met the Prime Minister and David Lidington yesterday, but the Prime Minister refused to do it, just as she has refused to listen to any of the concerns that have been expressed in Scotland and more widely.

It is time for no deal to be taken off the table, it is time for a request to extend article 50 and it is time to put the issue back to the electorate, so that people can choose not to have Brexit at all, and so that Scotland and, hopefully, the whole of the UK can stay in the European Union.


Glasgow’s Evening Times has reported that one homeless person a month dies sleeping rough on the city’s streets. Last Thursday morning, a young woman who had been living in a tent was found dead in the Gallowgate. In addition, Glasgow City Council reports that, between October 2017 and October 2018, 47 people with open homeless assessments died.

It is a shocking situation, which should concern Nicola Sturgeon not only as First Minister but as a Glasgow MSP. What action will the Government take in its budget to properly fund homelessness services to put an end to the scandal of people dying on our streets?

I agree with James Kelly on this. It is of huge concern to me that anybody in any civilised country dies while sleeping on the streets or being homeless. While there is one person in that position, none of us should tolerate the situation.

In terms of action, James Kelly is aware of the work that we have been doing through the homelessness and rough sleeping taskforce, which has come up with a number of recommendations on tackling the issue. On the question about budgetary steps, we have established the £50 million tackling homelessness fund, which is about tackling the problem in a targeted and direct way. Some of the best experts in the field have been helping us to bring forward the recommendations.

There is a determination on the part of Glasgow City Council and local authorities around the country, backed by the third sector and the Scottish Government, to get to a point at which we eradicate homelessness and rough sleeping. It has no place in any civilised society and, as First Minister, I will not rest on the issue until we get to that point. I hope that we have the support of members across the chamber.

Holocaust Memorial Day

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is marking Holocaust memorial day. (S5F-03010)

We must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides around the world, which are a stark reminder of the inhumanity and violence that bigotry and intolerance can cause if left unchallenged.

Last year, as I have noted in the chamber before, I joined young people from 89 Scottish schools on a Holocaust Educational Trust visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I will never forget what I saw there and I am sure that neither will the young people who were with me. We must never forget what antisemitism can lead to if it is not challenged and why education about tolerance, compassion and respect is so important.

Next week, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government will speak at this year’s national event to mark international Holocaust memorial day, which will take place in East Renfrewshire. I know that a members’ business debate on the subject will take place later today. I also had the honour of signing the Holocaust memorial day book of commitment in Parliament earlier this week.

Two of the most important lessons of the Holocaust are about the capacity of human beings to systematically inflict suffering and death on other human beings and about the fact that such actions could take place in what had been regarded as an advanced society.

A third lesson, which the First Minister referred to, is about the consequences of leaving hate and discrimination unchallenged. What began with casual antisemitism, laced with conspiracy theories and pseudo-science, traversed a darkening spectrum of increasing social and economic marginalisation that led ultimately to the factories of death at Chelmno, Majdanek, Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibór and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

As the Holocaust slowly passes from living memory, will the First Minister advise the Parliament on how the Scottish Government will continue to support work to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved for future generations and that future generations are taught those lessons, which we must never forget?

I thank Tom Arthur for reminding us so eloquently and powerfully of the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides and for reminding us, particularly in the world that we live in today, of the importance of no one being a bystander in the face of intolerance and hate.

When we stand at the end of the railway line in Birkenau, as many in the chamber have done, we realise powerfully that the Holocaust did not start there; it ended there. It got to that stage because hatred, antisemitism and intolerance were tolerated by many people. As we mark Holocaust memorial day this year, the most important message is that we must not be bystanders.

As the Holocaust passes out of living memory, it is vital that the next generations remember and learn the lessons. Learning about the Holocaust is part of international citizenship education, which is central to curriculum for excellence.

In addition, the Scottish Government supports the Holocaust Educational Trust’s lessons from Auschwitz programme, which includes a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and aims to increase knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust. I have made a very public commitment to the trust that, as long as I am the First Minister, we will continue that support. I am sure that all parties are committed to continuing that support long into the future.

Students who participate in the programme become Holocaust ambassadors in their schools and communities, and they do excellent work to keep remembrance alive. In our roles as constituency and regional MSPs, it is important for us all to support those fantastic young ambassadors, who not only keep the memory of the Holocaust alive but help to pass on to the next generation and beyond the message about not tolerating hatred.

Funded Childcare (Partner Providers)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that partner providers are part of a sustainable solution for the roll-out of 1,140 hours of funded childcare. (S5F-03006)

I make it clear that we value highly the role of private providers in delivering high-quality and flexible early learning and childcare to families across Scotland. The funding-follows-the-child model empowers parents to access their child’s 1,140 hours entitlement from any high-quality setting in the public, private or third sector that meets our new provider-neutral national standard.

We have established a partnership forum to ensure that providers’ voices are heard and responded to. In our delivery support plan, which was published in December, we set out a range of actions to help providers to transition to 2020.

The funding deal that we reached with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to deliver the expansion secures sustainable and significantly increased funding rates for all providers. That is exactly what providers called for in a recent member survey from the National Day Nurseries Association.

I assure the First Minister that Conservative members fully support the principle of increasing support for childcare and recognise the crucial role, which she referred to, that partner providers must play if the policy is to succeed.

I bring to the attention of the First Minister and the Scottish Government the fact that the investment that they have provided for the policy is not in many cases creating collaborative working between councils and partner providers. It has repeatedly been brought to the attention of me and my colleagues that partner providers are being frozen out of the process and valued at a rate that is far lower than that for council-run facilities. The result is that they and after-school care providers are losing key staff to council-run facilities at an alarming rate. In short, the remuneration that they receive for the excellent service that they continue to provide does not allow them to compete with the salaries that are being paid in the public sector. With that in mind, will the First Minister further commit her Government to ensuring that, as part of the 1,140 hours childcare roll-out, partner providers across all councils are treated fairly? If we lose them, this important policy will fail.

Again, I do not disagree with the substance of the question. I am aware that there are concerns on the part of private providers about the roll-out of the policy and its potential implications for them. That is why we are working through some of the arrangements that I spoke about during my initial answer to make sure that there is proper collaboration between local authorities and providers in the private and third sectors. This policy will be delivered only with the contribution of the different sectors. Maree Todd is leading that work for the Government and she is working hard to ensure that the concerns are understood, recognised and responded to.

The funding agreement with COSLA took a lot of time and negotiation, and involved the Government giving more money than had originally been considered. It includes funding for the payment of sustainable rates to providers from 2020. Hourly rates across the country will increase significantly during the period to 2020. The funding package is underpinned by a shared commitment to paying sustainable rates to providers in the private and third sectors that reflect the cost of delivery. That is an important part of assuring providers in the private sector that they will remain competitive when it comes to attracting staff.

We recognise those concerns and I hope that the member will be assured that a considerable amount of work is being done to recognise those concerns and to respond to them appropriately.

Many private providers in nursery education regrettably cannot match the staffing costs of local authorities. If a partner provider pays the living wage, that could increase the cost of childcare over and above the 1,140 free hours, especially for children who are below the age threshold for a funded placement. What specific steps can the Scottish Government take to stop childcare costs rising in private nurseries as a result of providers paying the living wage?

The funding settlement that we reached with COSLA has a commitment to pay the living wage to staff in any sector who are providing the 1,140 hours. That is an important commitment and it is supported by members from across the chamber.

That commitment will involve an increase in the hourly rates that are paid to private providers. That is inevitably for discussion between individual local authorities and providers in their areas, but the funding settlement envisages that increase in hourly rates in order that private or third sector providers are able to pay the living wage and are being paid at a sustainable level so that they can attract the staff and deliver the quality service that we are asking them to deliver.

I reiterate this point because it is important. It is in everybody’s interests for us to take private providers with us on this journey, because the policy will not be delivered without their valuable contribution. We recognise the anxieties and concerns and we will continue to work with providers to address and respond to them in a systematic and patient way. I hope that members take some assurance from that commitment.

European Union Settlement Scheme

To ask the First Minister what assistance the Scottish Government is giving European Union nationals to apply to the European Union settlement scheme. (S5F-02994)

I am pleased that the Prime Minister has—belatedly—seen sense and has accepted our argument that the unfair settled status fee should be scrapped.

We are very clear that we want EU citizens to stay in Scotland. There is still a requirement to apply for settled status, and I do not think that there should be a requirement for people who already have their home in Scotland to apply for the right to stay here. That is grotesque. However, while there is that requirement, the Scottish Government’s advice service, which will be delivered in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland, will help to ensure that EU citizens feel welcomed, supported and valued. In addition, we have funded the EU citizens rights project to deliver outreach and awareness-raising events with EU citizens across the country.

Of course, as I said a moment ago, dropping the fee does not change the fact that the United Kingdom Government is making EU citizens apply to retain their current rights. The Prime Minister’s approach to that and to migration generally makes it all the more clear that it is time for this Parliament to have powers over immigration.

I can see that the First Minister agrees with me that the approach of the UK Government to European citizens who have made their home in Scotland and the UK is a slap in the face considering their commitment to the UK. Many of them have lived in Scotland longer than they lived in their country of birth, but the UK Government does not seem to recognise the rejection that those EU citizens feel.

Jill Rutter, the director of the Britain’s Future think tank, says:

“The Home Office must invest in getting the EU settlement scheme right from the start. Failure to do so could cause massive problems in years to come, on a far bigger scale than the Windrush scandal.”

In view of that, can the First Minister assure me and the Parliament that everything will be done within the powers that are at her disposal to ensure that those who are hardest to reach—many people will not be documented when the scheme is finished, especially the elderly and those who have language barriers—are able to stay here?

I can give that assurance. Since the day after the Brexit referendum, I have been at pains to say to EU citizens that they are welcome here, that this is their home and that we want them to stay. As far as we can within our limited powers in this area, we will back that rhetoric up with the kind of action that I have spoken about.

I regret deeply the fact that people who have made their homes here—people who consider this to be their home as much as I do or any of us in the chamber does—are being made to apply for the right to stay here. I think that that is awful, and I cannot begin to imagine how that makes an EU national feel.

There is also the practical point—the point that Michael Russell and I made again to the Prime Minster yesterday, although, unfortunately, she did not appear to be listening to it—that we need people to want to come to Scotland to live, work and study here. We need to grow our working-age population. Therefore, as well as the fact that what the UK Government is doing is wrong in principle, it is also practically damaging for Scotland. That is why, as I say, the sooner that we get these matters into our own hands and are able to take decisions in Scotland instead of having these decisions taken at Westminster, the better for all of us.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Before we move to members’ business, we will have a brief suspension to allow the galleries to clear.

12:47 Meeting suspended.  

12:50 On resuming—