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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, November 25, 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage, Portfolio Question Time, Violence against Women, Decision Time, Correction


First Minister’s Question Time

Violence Against Women

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

Today, we stood together in a minute’s silence to mark international violence against women day. Tragically, in Scotland, more and more women each year become victims of crime. Last year saw the largest year-on-year rise in the number of domestic abuse charges, and the number of sexual crimes has more than doubled since 2007. We know that women suffer those horrific crimes far more than men do. It is the first task of this and any Government to keep the public safe. Does the First Minister have confidence in her Government’s ability to keep women across Scotland safe?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am not complacent about the risks and the threats of abuse, harassment and often very serious violence that women are subjected to in Scotland and around the world every single day. That is why, with a sense of great regret that it is necessary, I welcome the United Nations international day for the elimination of violence against women and the 16 days of action that will follow.

I do not believe that any Government in the United Kingdom or across the world is doing enough to protect women. Of course, the source of violence against women is men who commit those acts of violence. I do, however, believe that this Government is taking important action. For example, Douglas Ross rightly pointed out the increase in reports of domestic abuse, but that has come about partly because we extended the law to classify more examples of behaviour as domestic abuse. It is to the credit of the Parliament that it did so, and it is an important step forward. It means that behaviour that was not previously criminalised is now criminalised. We have also increased funding for the organisations that work on behalf of women. It is also important that courts treat seriously the actions that lead to convictions.

I believe that the Scottish Government and Parliament are taking important steps forward, but I believe even more strongly that there is much more still to be done.

Douglas Ross

I absolutely agree that much more still needs to be done.

Last week, I raised the case of Esther Brown. She was raped and murdered by a criminal with a long and appalling history of violence against women. Just this morning, we heard that arrests have finally been made in connection with the murder of schoolgirl Caroline Glachan, which took place more than 25 years ago. She was found dead on the morning of her mother’s 40th birthday.

Another tragic loss of life that we have raised numerous times in the chamber is that of Michelle Stewart, who was murdered in 2008 near her home in Ayrshire. Just a few weeks ago, her sister Lisa wrote to the First Minister’s justice secretary to ask for an update on Michelle’s law, which is a series of reforms to toughen up the justice system that my party supports. Specifically, Lisa asked about the tagging and GPS monitoring of those who have committed serious and violent crimes but who are released on licence. She said that the former justice secretary, who is speaking to the First Minister right now, committed to having a scheme up and running by November 2021. With one week to go, will that promise to a grieving family be kept?

The First Minister

First, in relation to the arrests that were reported this morning, in common with all members, I cannot comment on the substance of that matter, but it is an important indication that, no matter how many years pass after a horrendous crime is committed, those who are responsible will be brought to justice whenever possible. On this day in particular, that sends an important message.

On Michelle Stewart, I will ensure that the letter that has been written receives a full response. We have taken forward a number of reforms in response to calls that were made in the wake of that and other tragic cases. I will write to Douglas Ross about the progress and timing of the reform that he is asking for, and I will place the letter in the Scottish Parliament information centre.

I do not want to say definitively that this is the case here, but everybody in the chamber knows that certain commitments and certain strands of work have unavoidably been affected because of what, collectively, we have been dealing with over the past two years. However, those are important measures that we need to continue to take or to keep our minds open about taking, in order that we do all that we can to keep women safe, to ensure that those who commit acts of violence against women are brought to justice and to deal with much more effectively in that future than society has done in the past the underlying cause of violence against women, which is the behaviour of some men in our society.

Douglas Ross

I will appreciate any response that I get from the First Minister in a letter or in any other way, but a promise was made to a family who have gone through the worst of circumstances, which none of us can imagine, and, with less than a week to go, it sounds as though that promise is not going to be kept.

That is not the only promise to the Stewart family and others like them that has been broken. Just a few weeks ago, Lisa Stewart said this about her sister’s murderer:

“We get no warning that he is out in our local area. What happens if we come across him; is any thought given to the victims?”

Again, that is not an isolated example. Victims are routinely left in the dark about where the criminal who ruined their lives ends up and when they will be let out. Right now, around 4,500 criminals who are serving sentences of up to 18 months for crimes including sexual assault and domestic violence have a release date that their victim could be told about. That means that there are 4,500 victims of crime who could be informed of when the offender in their case will be released from prison. How many of those victims have, in fact, been notified?

The First Minister

The reason I said that I would write in detail to Douglas Ross and make the terms of that letter available in SPICe—which, in effect, will make that information available publicly—is that I want to make sure that I give proper, detailed answers on the very important points that he has raised. We are taking forward work on all those strands. It is the case—this frustrates me as much as it frustrates other politicians, although, of course, it does not frustrate us nearly as much as I know it will frustrate the families of victims of crime—that the reforms in question are often complex reforms that have to be done properly in order that our overall justice system performs in the way that we want it to.

For example, part of the work on notification has involved making changes to the victim notification scheme to ensure that victims receive proper notice when that is appropriate—so that, for example, there is the ability for victims to be notified when people are on parole. I want to make sure that we set out in detail where all the different strands of that work have got to. I do not believe that it is the case that we are not taking forward important changes and reforms in this area—we are. Rightly, we have talked about those changes and reforms many times before in the chamber.

I know that I speak on behalf of many people—many women, in particular—across the country when I say that there are few issues that I care more passionately about than doing everything possible to keep women in our society safer from the violence that, too often, women are subjected to. There is more that we need to do, and there is more that we are doing. The issue is one that I take extremely seriously, and I know that that view is shared across my Government and, indeed, across the Parliament.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister said that victims have to have proper notice. The answer to my question, which was about how many of the 4,500 victims of the offences that I mentioned have been notified, is 37. At the moment, 37 of those victims are aware of where the offender in their case is and when they will be released. Less than 1 per cent of those victims know when the criminal who ruined their life will get out.

How can women who suffer the most horrific crimes and their families feel safe when they are kept in the dark about the release of dangerous offenders? They have no idea of whether, when they are walking down the street in their own community, they might come face to face with their attacker.

The justice system is stacked against victims. We have to change that to prevent another case such as what happened to Caroline Glachan, what happened to Esther Brown and what happened to Michelle Stewart. When will the First Minister’s Government finally take the action that is desperately needed to keep women safe from such crimes?

The First Minister

Those are important issues. I do not believe that it is a fair representation of the justice system to say that it is stacked against victims. However, I do believe that the justice system, like all parts of society, must change to respond better to the needs of women who are subject to violence. I readily accept that responsibility.

The Government is taking forward a range of changes and reforms because some of what Douglas Ross has cited is not good enough. Victim notification is one of those areas. I do not say that they are in the majority, but it is important to say that some victims of crime do not want that information, for reasons that are important to them. It is important that, in all of those things, the needs and wants of victims are to the fore and that the justice system is responsive and not defensive. We must always look at how we reform and change the justice system to address those legitimate concerns.

My final point in no way downplays the issues that we are discussing. The justice system responds to crimes after they have been committed, and it must do so appropriately and effectively. This applies not only to Scotland but globally: we all have a duty to do much more to prevent violence happening to women in the first place. That means profoundly changing the culture that exists in many countries.

I am glad that the issue has been raised, given what today represents. I accept my responsibility in Scotland to ensure that all those issues are addressed and that we take forward the changes and reforms, because we all have a duty to do everything that we can to keep women as safe from violence as possible.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Last week, I raised the case of Andrew Slorance, who died in the Queen Elizabeth university hospital in Glasgow after contracting a fungal infection, Aspergillus, that is linked to water and the environment. After raising that in the chamber last week, I was contacted by a senior clinician at the hospital, who revealed that there was another case of Aspergillus in a child cancer patient at around the same time and in the same ward as Andrew. Tragically, that child died.

When a hospital reports a serious infection such as Aspergillus, a red report should be filed and the health secretary informed. Did that happen? Was the First Minister aware of that death? What action was taken?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will look into that specific issue and I will come back to Anas Sarwar. Those are important issues. I do not have the details of the case that he raises, but I will make it a priority to look into that.

Since last week’s exchanges, and after serious concerns were raised by Louise Slorance, Andrew’s wife, the Government has taken further action. Those concerns require full and proper investigation. I have written to Louise Slorance today to confirm the initial actions that are being taken in the light of the concerns. Those actions include an independent external review of Andrew’s case notes.

Regarding the more general concerns about Aspergillus infections at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, the health secretary has asked Healthcare Improvement Scotland to carry out a wider review. Any necessary action will be taken as a result of those strands of work.

On the additional case that Anas Sarwar has raised, I undertake to look into that as a matter of urgency and I will write to him once I have had the opportunity to do so.

Anas Sarwar

That sounds like a no. What is the point of a Scottish Government oversight board? The First Minister says that there will be a review. Waiting for a public inquiry, or talking more about process, will not save people’s lives. That response is simply not good enough. Public inquiries and reviews did not prevent the deaths of Andrew Slorance or that child from Aspergillus.

Most devastating of all, infections are still happening right now. A second clinician, who is afraid to speak out because of bullying and intimidation, has told me that, in the past two months, another child acquired a waterborne infection, as Milly Main did, and died. That is another case in the past two months and another dead child. Holding answers are no longer good enough. This is gross negligence. The First Minister must act now, stop infections and save lives.

Let me say very clearly and bluntly that it is really important that no clinician should fear bullying or intimidation in coming forward.

They have been.

The First Minister

Anas Sarwar says that they have been, so it is incumbent on me as First Minister to say clearly that that will not be tolerated in our national health service. When concerns are raised, it is important that there is proper and full investigation to determine whether there are relationships between infections—a considerable amount of work to reduce the incidence of which is under way on a daily basis in the national health service—and people becoming seriously ill and dying.

It is important to say that proper investigation is under way so that we establish the facts, which will inform the actions that require to be taken. That is vital. It is also vital to recognise that it is absolutely correct that processes are established to ensure proper wider investigation and scrutiny. That is why the independent review and the case note review that were undertaken previously, and now the independent statutory public inquiry, are important. However, it is simply not the case that nothing else is being done while we await the findings. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is right now at the highest level of escalation of the health board performance framework; it is at stage 4, which is often referred to as special measures. That means that a significant amount of work is under way to address infection in hospitals and reduce the incidence of infection.

These are important matters. However, when concerns are raised, it is really important, and it is not about trying to deny responsibility, to say that real and serious investigation to establish the facts is important. I hope that Anas Sarwar will accept that. [The First Minister has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

Anas Sarwar

That answer is simply unacceptable and complacent. Milly Main died in 2017. Two months ago, there was a similar infection in a child, who lost their life. Hiding behind process will not bring people back to life or stop infections right now. I remind the First Minister that she has been in charge of this scandal from start to finish. This has happened, and continues to happen, on her watch.

Right now, the health board is attempting to deflect blame on to clinical staff. This is a failure of leadership. The health board has failed, the Scottish Government oversight board has failed and, frankly, the First Minister continues to fail. Staff are being bullied and intimidated now. I have been raising the issue in the chamber for years and I have heard the same answers and excuses. Infections are happening now. Patients are dying now. Last week, the cause of Andrew Slorance’s death was revealed; this week, we hear of the death of two children. Another week of dithering and inaction simply will not cut it. The First Minister should sack the leadership of the health board today, sack the oversight board today, and use her emergency powers to take control of that hospital. How many more families will have to be devastated before the First Minister does the right thing?

The First Minister

Sacking a health board does not change overnight the practice in a hospital. That is why the actual work has to be done. When concerns are raised about the cause of someone’s death, it has to be properly investigated so that the action that is taken as a result of that is the right action. It is not right to say that no action has been taken over four years.

Anas Sarwar says that I should use my emergency powers to take control of the hospital. As I said, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is at the highest level of escalation, and will remain there while all the issues are investigated and action is taken. [The First Minister has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

These are serious matters, which all of us should take seriously. However, we do not do justice to the families concerned if we simply call for action that is not based on proper investigation, proper scrutiny and proper consideration. That is the duty of Government, and the duty that we will continue to take seriously.

We move to supplementary questions.

English Channel (Deaths)

Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

In light of the appalling loss of life off the coast of France yesterday, will the First Minister make the strongest possible representations to the United Kingdom Government to do whatever is required to prevent such needless tragedies from happening again?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I take the opportunity to express my deepest sympathies at the loss of 27 lives in the English Channel yesterday. It was a tragic and shocking loss that will be felt deeply not just here in the UK but across the world. Those seeking refuge are human beings. They are driven out of desperation into boats crossing the channel and by a lack of humanitarian alternative routes.

I believe that it is important that those issues are addressed and done so with the needs of human beings in mind. We should be working together to ensure that those seeking refuge get protection from exploitation rather than punishment or criminalisation. They need rescue, not diversion back into treacherous waters. Scottish ministers have repeatedly called for a much more humane approach to asylum, and we will continue to do so in the wake of this dreadful tragedy.

Long Covid

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

A constituent in my region has contacted me in distress, as her 16-year-old vaccinated daughter has now contracted long Covid. She is struggling to access treatment for the condition and has been absent from school since September. Her general practitioner wrote to NHS Forth Valley and was advised that it could not treat her, as

“they do not support Long Covid”.

That is a shocking situation for any constituent and any child who feels that they are being abandoned by the health system. What action can be taken to ensure that the situation is rectified as a matter of urgency?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I have not seen the terms of the correspondence from NHS Forth Valley that the member refers to, but obviously all health boards have a duty to support patients who have long Covid. We have made significant investment to develop services for people with long Covid, including children, whose needs will often be very particular. It is, of course, for clinicians to determine the correct treatment and services, but if the member wishes to write to the health secretary with details of the constituent’s case, I know that he will look into that and respond further.

Care Home Deaths (Publication of Statistics)

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The examination of deaths in care homes where residents were admitted without being tested deserves to be illuminated with good and timely statistics, without manipulation from Government ministers, but we know that two ministers interfered to delay the publication of a report. Does the First Minister not understand that suspicion about interference is swirling around, and that the best way to deal with that suspicion is to publish the report into care home deaths now?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I absolutely do not accept that characterisation and I think that it does a great disservice not to Scottish ministers but to those who are working hard—and have worked so incredibly hard over the past months—in Public Health Scotland.

Public Health Scotland has made it absolutely clear that no data was withheld. Data on deaths in care homes was incorporated into the “Discharges from NHSScotland hospitals to care homes” report that was published on 21 April. Of course, deaths in care homes, in common with all aspects of the handling of the pandemic, will be the subject of the independent inquiry, and we will shortly announce further details of that.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

As we have heard, the report on care home deaths due to Covid was not published prior to the election. The First Minister is aware that there was no barrier to Public Health Scotland publishing that report then, as its own guidance states that it can publish information even in an election, so it seems that the report was suppressed for political reasons. We know that secrecy and spin are at the very heart of the Scottish National Party, but they seem to have infected Public Health Scotland too. Why did it need to protect the SNP Government? Will the First Minister ensure that the report is now published?

The First Minister

That is a slur on the good people who work in Public Health Scotland day in and day out, trying to help their country through—[Interruption.] Jackie Baillie referred to Public Health Scotland’s reputation, as well as that of ministers. I readily accept criticism of ministers in the chamber—that is a proper part of the democratic process—but those working in Public Health Scotland do not deserve that, and I put on record my thanks to them.

I am not sure whether Jackie Baillie heard the terms of my answer to Willie Rennie, but let me repeat it. Public Health Scotland has made it clear that no data was withheld. Data on deaths in care homes was incorporated into the “Discharges from NHSScotland hospitals to care homes” report that was published on 21 April, which, if memory serves me correctly, was before the election.

Child Disability Payment

Can the First Minister give an initial update on the roll-out of the child disability payment?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Social Security Scotland began accepting applications for the child disability payment on Monday, following a successful pilot in Dundee City, Perth and Kinross, and the Western Isles. That is another important milestone in the devolution of social security powers for disability benefits. Statistics on uptake will be published in the normal manner, but initial information shows that it is going well. That is important, and I encourage anyone listening who thinks that they might eligible for that payment to make inquiries and apply.

Out-patient Appointments (NHS Tayside)

Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

NHS Tayside has raised serious concerns about missed out-patient appointments, with 1,846 people failing to attend last week alone—almost 10 per cent of bookings. Given the implications for cost, delayed treatment and waiting times, what action is the Scottish Government taking to encourage people to attend their national health service appointments?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We encourage people to attend the appointments that they are given. We know, largely because of the Covid experience, that there are significant waiting times both for out-patient and for in-patient elective care. It is therefore very important that, when people get appointments, they attend those appointments. If they cannot attend those appointments, they should contact their health board to rearrange, so that that slot can be allocated to someone else.

We will always take steps to encourage that but, more fundamentally, we are taking steps, backed by significant investment, to increase the overall capacity of the NHS, to ensure that more appointments are available and we can start to tackle the backlog in waiting times that has developed over the past two years.

Rape Crisis Scotland Report (Response)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to Rape Crisis Scotland’s “Survivor Reference Group Police Responses in Scotland Report”. (S6F-00500)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We welcome the publication of the report by the survivor reference group and commend the courage of those who have come forward to share their experience. We will consider the findings in the report, although some of its recommendations are an operational matter for Police Scotland. We are determined to ensure that the justice system responds better to the needs of survivors in Scotland, and we will continue to prioritise support for victims of sexual crime, as well as work to identify ways to prevent offending in the first place. We recognise the key role that advocacy services such as Rape Crisis Scotland play in helping victims to come forward and engage with the justice process, which is why we fully fund Rape Crisis Scotland’s national advocacy project.

Maggie Chapman

I thank the First Minister for that response and acknowledge how seriously she takes the issue.

Today is the international day for the elimination of violence against women, and we will be debating that later. Sexism and misogyny remain entrenched in our society, and the rise in reports of domestic abuse and sexual crimes should ring alarm bells for us all. The Rape Crisis Scotland survivor reference group report reveals concerns about how reports of domestic violence and sexual crimes are dealt with by police. It makes it clear how important understanding and awareness of trauma is both for justice and for recovery. It also makes it clear that survivors of colour, or those from different cultural backgrounds, are least able to access justice.

In the First Minister’s view, what can we all do to ensure that our criminal justice system does not prevent minoritised and marginalised women in particular from being given fair and equal access to pursue justice?

The First Minister

First, we have to recognise what Maggie Chapman has outlined. All women suffer sexism and misogyny in some way, shape or form at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, too many women suffer very serious violence, abuse and harassment. Within that, though, women of colour and other minority groups not only suffer disproportionately but, in some cases, find access to justice even more difficult. That is something that all aspects of the justice system have to take very seriously. I know that Police Scotland does take that seriously and will take very seriously the recommendations for it in the report.

This is something that, at all levels, all of us must do more to address, in order that the next generations of girls growing up in Scotland and around the world do not suffer the same as those who have gone before them.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I have previously raised the often tortuous journey of women who are navigating their way through the judicial system and who have been brave enough to come forward and report when they have been victims of sexual crime. That includes the retraumatisation and secondary abuse heaped upon them by the continual retelling of their story to the agencies involved. Does the First Minister agree that it is imperative that victims have full confidence in the reporting process and that the judicial system treats them with dignity and compassion? Will she commit to reviewing those procedures to ensure that victims feel able to approach the police without delay or hesitation, because, all too often, that is not the experience that is being reported?

The First Minister

Yes, I absolutely agree with that. We must ensure that women have the confidence to come forward, that they feel that they will be appropriately treated when they come forward, that their concerns and reports will be taken seriously, that all due process will be applied and that their needs will be treated sensitively and sympathetically.

As politicians, we all have a duty, when we are talking about these things, to ensure that how we talk about them does not inadvertently put women off coming forward. All parts of the justice system need to consider the processes and systems that they have in place, ensuring that that is not just rhetoric but is reality. I know that the Crown Office and the police take that seriously, and I know absolutely that it is something that the Government takes very seriously.

We are funding a number of the organisations that work directly with women to support them through the criminal justice process. In the first 100 days after the re-election of this Government, we directed new funding to rape crisis centres and domestic abuse services to help cut the waiting lists in specialist support services.

Across all parts of our justice system and all parts of society, there are many things that all of us need to do to ensure that the experience of women is improved when they suffer violence and abuse. Of course, we must do more to prevent that in the first place.

Transition to Net Zero (Nuclear Power)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on whether nuclear power is an essential part of Scotland’s transition to net zero. (S6F-00522)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish energy strategy, which was published in 2017, confirmed the Scottish Government’s continued opposition to new nuclear power stations under current technologies. Significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture means that they provide the best pathway to net zero by 2045 and will deliver the decarbonisation that we need to happen across industry, heat and transport.

We believe that nuclear power represents poor value for consumers, as is strongly evidenced by the contract awarded by the United Kingdom Government to Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in 2016, which will result in energy consumers subsidising its operation until 2060. To date, the project costs for Hinkley have soared from £18 billion in 2016 to £23 billion today, while the first generation from the site is not expected until June 2026, six months later than planned.

Bill Kidd

The people of Scotland have consistently voted for a Government that does not support the creation of new nuclear power stations. In the light of the comments made by the leader of Scottish Labour on nuclear energy, does the Scottish Government consider it necessary that taxpayers fund the creation of new nuclear power, given the time and the significant costs associated with it, when Scotland is already a renewables powerhouse?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree with Bill Kidd that we have to invest in the energy sources that will get us to net zero while delivering the best deal for taxpayers and energy consumers. Renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provide us with the best pathway to net zero—not an easy pathway, but the best pathway—by 2045. Nuclear power is a really bad deal for the bill payer, and that is before we take account of the fact that waste is incredibly difficult to deal with.

I have already spoken about the increased costs of Hinkley Point C. Internal analysis shows that, in 2030 alone, Hinkley could add almost £40 a year to a consumer’s bill, while the equivalent offshore wind farm would reduce consumer bills by £8 a year. Let us invest in the clean sources of energy that will get us to net zero and deliver a better deal for bill payers now and in the future.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

I look forward to the publication of that internal research.

Hunterston B stopped recruiting apprentices three years ago. Torness is moving towards the end of its life under present conditions. What does the First Minister say to all those apprentices who should be learning the skills and the technology and who should be leading Scotland forward in its economic recovery?

The First Minister

I want to see massive opportunities for apprentices, new workers and workers who are already employed in oil and gas and nuclear in the low-carbon, green technologies of the future, including in renewable energy, where Scotland has vast potential, in hydrogen and in carbon capture, which has unfortunately been dealt a blow by the UK Government in the Scottish context.

Those are the sources of energy that we should be supporting and investing heavily in, because they are better for our environment and they will offer jobs and opportunities for young people now and in the future. That is what the Government is behin. I hope that the whole Parliament will get behind that, too.

Access to Postal and Banking Services (Vulnerable Customers)

5. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what discussions have taken place between the Scottish Government and the postal and banking sectors regarding the continued access to everyday services, particularly for rural, digitally excluded and vulnerable customers. (S6F-00519)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Access to banking and postal services, particularly for rural communities and vulnerable or digitally excluded consumers, is vital. Any reduction in branch numbers raises concerns regarding the ability to access such services.

The regulation of financial and postal services is reserved to the United Kingdom Government. Scottish ministers are therefore restricted in our intervention. However, we regularly engage with the financial services sector, and I will re-emphasise the importance of the issue when I convene the Financial Services Advisory Board shortly.

We have made it clear repeatedly to the UK Government and Post Office Ltd that they have a duty to ensure that existing postal services are maintained rather than reduced.

Jamie Greene

The First Minister will be aware that more than half of local bank branches in Scotland have been lost since 2010. Customers were sent to post offices for their everyday banking instead. However, we are now losing many post offices, too. In my region alone, we have lost post offices in Greenock, Irvine, Port Glasgow and Wemyss Bay.

I appreciate that temporary measures have been introduced in some areas. That is most welcome. However, it is unclear what the long-term plans are, particularly for rural and elderly customers, for whom such services are vital, as the First Minister rightly pointed out. I appreciate that such decisions are commercially driven in many cases.

What constructive and positive conversations could the Scottish Government and the UK Government have with those sectors and local communities to ensure that no one is left behind?

The First Minister

The Scottish Government will continue to engage with financial services companies and the Post Office. As I reiterated today, we will raise the issue with the Financial Services Advisory Board at its next meeting.

I have had discussions, as have my ministers, about how those services can best be delivered, particularly in rural areas, to ensure that people have equitable access. Those decisions are often commercially driven, but it is important that businesses remember the wider needs of their customers and consumers.

On discussions with the UK Government, I would be delighted to be joined by Jamie Greene in asking the UK Government to do more to better regulate financial services and postal services in that area. Perhaps he can make those representations alongside the Scottish Government. If the UK Government is not willing to do that—it has not been so far—perhaps it could devolve the powers to the Scottish Parliament so that we can build on the consensus that clearly exists here and do something about it ourselves.

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

More must be done to support post office provision not only in rural communities but in town centres. The town of Port Glasgow, in my region, has no post office, which is remarkable in a town of almost 15,000 people.

When post offices close, community groups and local development trusts often wish to take the services on but cannot get off the ground due to funding or resourcing issues. Will the First Minister look at how we might better fund community capacity to offer such services and retain them in communities?

The First Minister

We will always look at that. We already look at how we can support communities to take assets into community ownership—not just in this area, but more generally. That is a constructive way that the Government can use its powers and resources.

However, as is so often the case, the Scottish Government frequently ends up being called upon to put a sticking plaster on the actions—or inactions—of the UK Government. Perhaps the Opposition member will join those of us in the Government in asking why it would not be better to take those powers and responsibilities into the hands of the Scottish Parliament, so that we can tackle some of the root causes, instead of constantly having to provide a sticking plaster in response to the actions—or inactions—of the Tory Government at Westminster.

Illegal Export of Household Waste

6. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to a Scottish Environment Protection Agency investigation uncovering the single largest illegal export of household waste from Scotland, resulting in Saica Natur UK Limited being fined £20,000. (S6F-00501)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

That kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable. The company’s actions were illegal and environmentally damaging. They also undermine Scotland’s wider recycling efforts. The prosecution sends a clear signal to everyone that waste must be managed responsibly and sustainably.

As it did in that case, SEPA routinely carries out proactive inspections at Scottish ports and loading sites to ensure compliance with the strict waste shipment regulations. SEPA will continue to prioritise the regulation of waste exports from Scotland to ensure that the environment is protected. It is, of course, for the courts to decide what level of fine is appropriate in any case.

Monica Lennon

I pay tribute to the SEPA officers involved in detecting that serious and, frankly, disgusting environmental crime. What were supposed to be bales of waste paper included used nappies, period products, dog excrement and plastic packaging. Dozens of those containers were intercepted in Antwerp and in transit to China.

I appreciate that the fine is a matter for the courts, but does the First Minister agree that £20,000 is a paltry fine for that filthy crime and that we need more robust punishment in order to deter such crimes? What action will the Scottish Government take to ensure that our regulatory and legal frameworks are fit for purpose and that we can show leadership on environmental justice and fulfil our moral and legal obligations not to export our pollution to other countries?

The First Minister

It is important to say—I think that Monica Lennon recognised this—that that case is a sign that our regulatory framework is working. It is a credit to SEPA that that illegal export of waste was intercepted and identified and that there was a prosecution and a punishment fine.

It is for the court—for the sheriff, in this case—to decide the appropriate level of fine. I know that the sheriff in the case highlighted some of the reasons why the fine was set at that level. There is a possible sentencing range, so the fine could have been much higher than that. However, it is for the sheriff to take account of the circumstances and decide what is appropriate. Although we all want to see such cases appropriately dealt with, it would be really wrong for me to second guess the sentencing decisions of any sheriff or judge in the country.

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Given that 98 per cent of plastic waste is not recycled here, will the First Minister back Scottish Conservative calls to reduce waste exports and create jobs by building a new recycling plant for plastics in Scotland?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We want to take a range of actions to ensure that we reduce waste and increase recycling. In fact, just last week, the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity announced the first of the investments from the £70 million recycling improvement fund to increase the quantity and quality of recycling. That marks the beginning of one of the biggest investments in recycling in Scotland.

We will continue to consider suggestions, wherever they come from, so that we fully play our part in reducing and appropriately dealing with waste in Scotland. That is an important part of fulfilling our environmental imperative.

I call Gillian Mackay.

Apologies, Presiding Officer. I think that the request was for an earlier question.

Millbrae Care Home (Covid-19 Vaccinations)

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

The First Minister will be aware that, in December last year, 11 residents at Millbrae care home, which is in my constituency, were mistakenly given a saline solution instead of the Covid-19 vaccination. I understand that the situation was quickly rectified by NHS Lanarkshire and that no harm was caused to residents, but can the First Minister offer reassurance that that incident was an isolated case and that all the affected residents and their families were offered the appropriate support at the time?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I am able to offer that assurance. I know that the health board has apologised for any distress that was caused by the incident at Millbrae care home, and I can confirm that the health board gave an assurance to us at the time that no harm was caused. All the affected residents, along with their families, were notified, and they received the appropriate vaccine on the same day, with no adverse effects. Vaccinators in the health board area were made aware of the error, with incident reporting being strengthened in the Lanarkshire system, and measures were put in place immediately by health boards to prevent any similar incidents in the future.

Covid-19 and Flu Vaccinations

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Several of my Lothian constituents have written to me to complain about the Covid-19 booster and flu vaccination roll-out. One constituent who wrote to me said:

“I have been on the NHS website to try and book a flu and Covid booster jag but there are no appointments in either Armadale, Bathgate or Livingston for the foreseeable future. Can you help?”

Will the First Minister help my constituent? What measures will be put in place to ensure that the flu vaccination and Covid-19 booster roll-out is faster, to outpace the delta variant and ensure that we will not head into winter with vulnerable people left unprotected?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

It is really important that, as I said in my statement earlier this week, we continue to accelerate the pace of the vaccination programme. We have had concerns raised about the roll-out in Lothian, and officials have been engaging with NHS Lothian, which is making improvements in that regard. More appointments—not simply in Lothian, but countrywide—are being made available through the online booking system every day. I encourage people, if they are about to pass the 24-week point since their second dose, to go online to book their booster and their flu vaccine. I did it myself yesterday and, in doing so, I saw the number of appointments that were flowing through the system.

It is the case that the vaccination programme is going well. We are the most vaccinated part of the UK, and I think that we are running as fast as the delta variant in that respect right now, but we cannot be complacent. We need to get as many people as we can vaccinated with first, second, third and booster doses, and flu vaccines, as fast as possible, and we are making that an absolute focus every day.

That concludes First Minister’s question time.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Earlier, the First Minister said:

“Greater Glasgow and Clyde is ... at the highest level of escalation”.

That is simply incorrect. I am genuinely surprised that she got it wrong, given that she was formerly the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is at stage 4 of the escalation framework. The highest level is stage 5, which involves the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care using ministerial powers of intervention under the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978. The last time that those powers were used was in 2018, to remove the chief executive of NHS Tayside.

The First Minister is wrong. Will she correct the record, and will she now act before families are devastated by the loss of loved ones?

The member will be aware that the content of members’ contributions is not normally a matter for the chair. A mechanism exists by which members can correct any inaccuracies.