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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, April 26, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 26 April 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motion, Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Standards Commission for Scotland (Appointment of Member), Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Post-Brexit Powers

Earlier this week, three of our leading business groups in Scotland said that they are not that concerned about where the powers that will come back to the United Kingdom after Brexit ultimately reside; they just want the UK and Scottish Governments to work together on a shared approach that maintains the UK single market. Can the First Minister really say that her actions this week have achieved that goal?

I am and always have been prepared to work with the UK Government on a shared basis and on the basis of mutual respect. That is not what is happening.

I have said all along that the consent of the Scottish Parliament to any removal of its powers, even for a temporary period, must be a matter of fundamental principle. I want to spell out to the chamber what it is that the Parliament is being asked to sign up to. We are being asked to sign up to an agreement that would allow the Parliament’s powers, in areas that really matter, such as agriculture, fishing, the environment, state aid and public procurement, to be removed for a period of up to seven years without the Parliament’s consent. I think that every member of this Parliament must consider that.

Instead of the nonsense from Ruth Davidson about the fact—according to her—that the Scottish Government is somehow being unreasonable, surely there is a duty on all those MSPs who think that we should sign up to the agreement to set out clearly and in substance why they think that it is reasonable. I give Ruth Davidson such an opportunity. If she thinks that the agreement that we are being asked to sign up to is reasonable, will she read out the sections of the UK Government’s amendments that deal with the consent of this Parliament? I challenge her to do that. Let us see whether she is confident enough.

The powers in dispute are powers in areas that the First Minister wants to send directly back to Brussels. If she thinks that she has helped to provide certainty this week, why has she blocked a deal that would have done exactly that? Why is she putting her own political goals first?

The UK Government did not get everything that it wanted this week, nor did the Welsh Government. Yesterday, the Welsh finance secretary, Mark Drakeford, said:

“It has meant compromise on both sides.”

That, he said, is the

“art of negotiation ... and I believe the outcome is a mature agreement between governments which is respectful of each other’s interests.”

It sounds reasonable to everyone else. Why is it that the First Minister alone does not get that?

Ruth Davidson asks why this matters, so let me give a few examples of the real implications of us agreeing to what has been put before us. If we were to agree to this, it would allow the UK Government to dictate new arrangements for farm support in Scotland for a period of up to seven years; it would allow the UK Government to force us, perhaps, to lift our ban on genetically modified crops, which is so important to our environment and the reputation of our food and drink; it could restrict our ability during that period to properly tackle obesity and alcohol misuse—[Interruption.] The Conservatives do not like hearing this. It could force us to relax food standards regulations and perhaps open the door to US chlorinated chicken and anything else that was demanded in a trade deal. Those are just some examples of the real implications.

I note that Ruth Davidson did not accept the opportunity to read out the sections of the UK amendments. Let me do that. It is important, because this is what this Parliament is being asked to agree to. The amendments say that the UK Government cannot lay regulations to take away the powers of this Parliament unless the Scottish Parliament has made a “consent decision”. So far, so fair, perhaps, but they go on to define what a “consent decision” is. That would be

“a decision”

of the Scottish Parliament

“to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the”

regulations;

“a decision not to agree a motion consenting to the laying of the”

regulations; or

“a decision to agree a motion refusing to consent to the”

regulations. If we say yes, UK ministers will take that as consent; if we say no, they will take that as consent; and if we say nothing at all, they can take that as consent. It is heads they win and tails we lose.

I do not think that any self-respecting member of this Parliament should give those proposals the time of day, and this Government will not do that. Presiding Officer, if that means that we are the only party that is prepared to stand up for the rights and powers of this Scottish Parliament, so be it.

I am not sure that the First Minister did herself or her argument any favours in saying that this would stop her tackling obesity in Scotland. She is the only First Minister in history who wants to talk about the powers that she does not have.

The bizarre thing is that the Scottish National Party could have claimed victory this week. It asked for powers to be devolved to Holyrood and not all held in Westminster and it got it. It asked for a sunset clause in regulations on devolved powers and it got it. It asked and demanded that any deal be by agreement and it got it.

All of us in this chamber expressed concerns about the original proposals that were put forward but, as Lord Hope—one of Scotland’s foremost judges—said this morning, those are now being addressed in the amendments. Is it not the case that it does not suit the First Minister’s political purposes to make a deal so she is dancing on the head of a pin in order to find reasons not to?

Ruth Davidson said that what we have been offered is an agreement where our consent would be needed. That is manifestly not true. I point her again to the amendments that have now been lodged, which would allow the UK Government, whether we agreed or not, to go ahead and restrict the powers of this Parliament in vital areas for a period of up to seven years.

It is for every member of this Parliament to decide whether they think that it is reasonable for the powers of this Parliament to be removed for a period of seven years without our consent. That is the question that each and every one of us is going to have to answer. I think that, as we do that, we are going to see what every party in this chamber is made of and where its priorities lie.

The fact of the matter is that I have said that consent is fundamental at every stage of this process, and I stick to that. I will not sign up to the restriction of the powers of this Parliament for a period of seven years without our consent.

We have also, of course, offered solutions. There are two of them. Clause 11 could be removed, and the effect of that would be that we would agree to sign a voluntary agreement, which is what the UK Government is saying it will do, so there would be equity and respect on both sides; or clause 11 could be amended to give this Parliament the proper right to consent. If the UK Government does either of those things, we have a deal. That is perfectly reasonable.

Let us see whether Ruth Davidson has any influence whatsoever on her UK colleagues, or whether—as usual—she is simply going to do whatever she is told.

The First Minister has talked multiple times about claiming to be reasonable, but the reality that we have seen this week is nationalist MPs on the floor of the House of Commons turning on their erstwhile friends in Wales and accusing them of capitulating. Does that sound reasonable to her? We have seen the SNP revert to type this week, with the same tired old lines from a party that is not even trying any more to reach out to people across Scotland. There is a deal to be done here. The Welsh have backed it, other parties in this chamber back it, and business wants her to back it, so will the First Minister for once do a deal in the national interest and not in her nationalist interest?

This deal is not in the national interest. That is why I will not sign up to it, and that is the difference between me and Ruth Davidson. I do not agree with the decision that Wales has arrived at, but I respect the right of Welsh politicians to take that decision. That is the nature of devolution. Surely Ruth Davidson is not suggesting that the policy of this Parliament should be decided by the Welsh Labour Party, for goodness’ sake.

Ruth Davidson appears to be oblivious to the current constitutional settlement. Right now, before a section 30 order can be passed, changing the nature of the powers of this Parliament, this Parliament has to agree to it. It cannot be done without our consent. All that we are reasonably proposing is that the same rule should apply to any regulations restricting the powers of our Parliament because of Brexit.

I know that Ruth Davidson’s view is that we should simply let Westminster do what it wants. That is why Ruth Davidson is so shamefully silent while her party deports British citizens and while her party imposes the rape clause on women and forces more people to food banks. It is bad enough to put up with grotesque Tory policies in areas that are outwith our responsibility, but we should never open the door to that in areas that are our responsibility, and this Government will not do that. As I said, if that makes us the only or the last party prepared to stand up for the rights and powers of this Scottish Parliament, that is exactly what we will do.


Emergency Ambulance Response Times

Last year in Scotland, on how many occasions did an emergency 999 ambulance take longer than one hour to arrive on the scene?

I do not have that precise information to hand, but I will write to Richard Leonard with it.

What I do know is that our Scottish Ambulance Service does an excellent job for patients across the country, and that in doing so it is joined by all those who work in our national health service. This Government is supporting our national health service with additional resources and there are more staff working in our national health service. We will continue to support our NHS, including those who work so hard in our Scottish Ambulance Service.

The answer to the question that I asked is 16,865: more than 16,000 people waited more than an hour for an emergency ambulance. They were people who were in serious need of urgent care.

They are people such as Margaret Goodman, from Sauchie in Clackmannanshire. Margaret is receiving palliative care for brain cancer. She has told me that just before midnight on Saturday 9 April, her husband Gavin found her curled up in excruciating pain. Her palliative care nurses came, declared an emergency and phoned for an ambulance. Three times they phoned, and two hours they waited, so with no ambulance in sight, Gavin got in his car and drove Margaret to Forth Valley hospital in Larbert himself. Because they turned up on their own, rather than in an ambulance, Margaret was not automatically admitted. She had to wait in a packed accident and emergency department late on a Saturday night, so she was not treated with morphine until 3 o’clock in the morning, and did not see a doctor until 7 o’clock. That is simply unacceptable, is it not?

Yes—the circumstances that Richard Leonard has outlined are unacceptable. Clearly, I do not know all the circumstances, although Richard Leonard shared a great deal of information. I undertake personally to look into the case, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will do likewise.

We expect the highest standards of care for patients throughout the country. On occasions when that does not happen, it is very important that lessons are learned and applied for the future. As Richard Leonard will no doubt be aware, the Scottish Ambulance Service has recently implemented a new response model that is designed to ensure that ambulances get to the more serious cases as quickly as possible. The second phase of that model was implemented in October last year.

The issues that Richard Leonard has raised are, of course, hugely important. As I said, I will look into the matter personally and will be happy to correspond with him once I have had the opportunity to do so.

I say to the First Minister that Margaret Goodman is in the gallery. The debate about our NHS is not just about statistics; in the end, it is about real lives and real people like Margaret.

In the real world, Scotland’s health service staff—the district nurses, our hospital doctors and the ambulance crews—are all being failed by the First Minister’s Government. Scotland’s patients, including people like Margaret Goodman, are being failed as well. How much more failure must people endure before the First Minister finally realises that we need a change in our national health service, starting with a change of Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport?

I acknowledge Mrs Goodman’s attendance. If the care that she received was not of the standard that she expected—from what Richard Leonard has outlined, that certainly appears to be the case—of course she deserves an apology, so I offer that to her. I will arrange for the health secretary to meet Mrs Goodman personally this afternoon, if she wishes to take up that offer.

More generally, however, I do not accept Richard Leonard’s characterisation. Of course I accept that the people who work in our NHS are working under extreme pressure. That has always been and continues to be the case, but we are putting record sums of money into the health service and record numbers of people are working in it.

As demand on the health service increases, we need not only to invest in it, but to reform how it works. I understand that, next week, the third part of our national workforce plan will be published. It focuses particularly on primary care and the wider primary care team, which includes district nurses, whom Richard Leonard mentioned.

A great deal of work is under way to ensure that our NHS is able to meet the challenges. The Government will continue to support it every step of the way.

We have three constituency questions.


Fatal Accident Inquiries (2012 Tornado Crash)

The First Minister will recall that, in 2016, we passed legislation making fatal accident inquiries mandatory for military deaths. As a result, my constituent Jimmy Jones and I are meeting the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on Tuesday to put to it the case that there should now be an FAI into the Royal Air Force Tornado crash in the Moray Firth in 2012, which tragically claimed the lives of three aircrew. We will present new evidence to make the case for the issues to be examined properly in a Scottish court in a fully transparent manner, following the internal inquiry that the Military Aviation Authority conducted.

Although I appreciate that decisions on FAIs are solely a matter for the Lord Advocate, will the First Minister acknowledge, and join me in paying tribute to, the tenacious and determined campaign by Mr Jones, who has the support of the bereaved families?

My thoughts—and, I am sure, the thoughts of us all—remain primarily and firmly with the families of the victims of the Tornado crash. Such tragedies are a reminder of the risks that our armed services personnel undertake even away from the front line. We should all have that in mind at all times.

As Richard Lochhead noted, decisions regarding fatal accident inquiries are for the Lord Advocate, as is right. However, I hope that the meeting to which he referred is productive. I am very happy to recognise publicly in Parliament the contribution that Jimmy Jones made to the framing of the legislation that was passed in 2016.


Fire Appliance Cover (North East Scotland)

As reported in today’s Press and Journal, in my region there is serious public concern about the shortage of fire engine cover in Aberdeen, with appliances routinely being stood down due to crew shortages. Today’s joint statement from the Fire Brigades Union and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service states that processes will be improved. Will the First Minister tell the public what those processes are and what the improvements will be? Does she agree with Assistant Chief Officer Ramsay that action should be taken to strengthen local decision making, because more centralisation is not the answer?

I believe in the importance of local decision making. Deployment decisions, including on provision of fire appliances, are an operational matter for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The service has described the situation in Aberdeen as a short-term issue, and has confirmed—this is very important—that there has been no situation in which crews have not arrived as quickly as possible to incidents. I understand that the fire service has met the Fire Brigades Union to discuss the issue in Aberdeen, and that the north divisional organiser of the union has said:

“following our meetings, and the assurances we have been given, we think things are now moving in the right direction.”

I hope that Liam Kerr will welcome that. As I said in relation to national health service staff in previous answers, we all have a duty to support our firefighters in the vital work that they do.


Creamery Closures (First Milk)

First Milk has announced that it will sell Torrylinn creamery on the Isle of Arran—which was opened by King George VI in 1946—and Mull of Kintyre creamery, which has left workers and suppliers “shell-shocked”, in the words of the NFU Scotland. Torrylinn produces high-quality traditionally made cheeses, and won a best cheddar in the world award in 2013. What is the Scottish Government’s response to those successful creameries and premium brands being sold and their operations moved to Wales and Cumbria? What can be done to minimise the impact on the people who work at the creameries and in the local supply chain, including Arran and Kintyre farms?

The announcement by First Milk to sell Campbeltown and Arran creameries is very disappointing. By its admission, the iconic products that are produced by those creameries do not fit in its longer-term strategy.

However, the sale of the sites offers an opportunity for the right approach to be taken by future owners to achieve a sustainable future for the creameries, farmers and local communities. The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity is already working with officials to explore all possible options to save the creameries. That involves engaging fully with local agencies, partners and—which is important—the farmers, on work with potential investors, so that we can try to find a sustainable and viable way forward. I know that the cabinet secretary would be happy to meet with Kenneth Gibson to discuss the matter further.


Scottish Enterprise (Support for Raytheon)

People everywhere have been shocked and disturbed at the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which is regarded as the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis at present with tens of millions of people in need of help. It is directly caused by Saudi Arabia’s blockade and bombing campaign. The Scottish Government has contributed public money to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal in response to that humanitarian crisis and members of the First Minister’s party have joined Greens and others to oppose the United Kingdom Government’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which will continue to make the situation worse.

Why is Scottish Enterprise giving public money to the world’s largest guided missile manufacturer, Raytheon, which supplies Saudi Arabia? Is there not an immense contradiction between showing legitimate and urgent concern for the victims of a humanitarian crisis caused by the brutality of the arms industry and still funding the arms industry?

I agree with Patrick Harvie’s comments about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and its causes; I do not think that there is any disagreement between us there.

I turn to Patrick Harvie’s specific question about Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government’s responsibilities. I will be very clear about this. We have to recognise the importance to the Scottish economy of the aerospace and shipbuilding sectors, which employed 16,000 people in 2016. However—this is an important point—the Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies do not provide funding for the manufacture of munitions. Our agencies’ support is focused on helping firms to diversify and to develop non-military applications for their technology.

We have been very clear in our expectation that the UK Government should properly police the export of arms and investigate whenever concerns are raised. I am always happy to discuss these issues with individual members of Parliament and would be happy to discuss the matter further with Patrick Harvie. I hope that that is of some reassurance to him.

There must be a great many businesses, of all shapes and sizes, throughout Scotland that could benefit from that public investment in non-military activity, thereby generating jobs and economic activity without the consequences of funding the arms industry. Raytheon is not the only example. There is still a lack of clarity in the detail that the Scottish Government publishes, but a significant amount of money—£6 million, reportedly—was received by Leonardo, which was previously known as Selex. Again, that money came from Scottish Enterprise. That company is involved in supplying the weapons that Turkey is using against the Kurds in Afrin and elsewhere.

There is an immense contradiction, surely, between what we say about the world stage, humanitarian crises and the need to move away from military interventions that make situations worse, not better, and continuing to fund the self-same businesses that profit from such activity. Apparently, Glasgow City Council is also promoting an arms fair, which includes undersea weapons technology, yet the Scottish Government and many of the rest of us continue to oppose those in the form of Trident. Surely it is time for an ethical investment policy that moves away from the arms trade wholesale and invests instead in sustainable and ethical businesses.

First, it is important to focus on what the investment of the Scottish Government and, in particular, Scottish Enterprise, does. As I have said, the Scottish Government and our enterprise agencies do not provide funding for the manufacture of munitions. We have been very clear that our support is focused on helping firms to diversify and to develop non-military applications for the technology that they use.

Patrick Harvie mentioned Leonardo, which featured in the media at the weekend. Scottish Enterprise has supported that Edinburgh-based company to diversify into non-military markets. The investment included supporting the company to target opportunities in blue light and civilian markets. Through that funding, Leonardo developed a radar system for launch by the Norwegian search and rescue service. It also helped the company to secure a contract with the Royal Canadian Air Force for a system that protects aircraft from heat-seeking missiles—a defensive and not offensive use of technology.

I absolutely recognise that Patrick Harvie raises important issues, but if we are to have a proper debate—one that recognises our ethical responsibilities, which I take very seriously, and our responsibilities towards economic development—it is important to be clear about what Scottish Enterprise investment does. I hope that Patrick Harvie will reflect on what I have said today, but I am, of course, willing to continue to discuss the issues, as Scottish Enterprise will be, with members of Parliament who are interested in them.


Maternity Services (Caithness)

When Caithness maternity unit was downgraded, local mothers were promised that there would be enough capacity at Raigmore hospital in Inverness. However, last week we heard that Emma Moffat was forced to endure a 260-mile journey to the central belt to give birth because Raigmore was full. I have raised this issue before and was told by the First Minister that safety was the priority, but how can a six-hour journey down the A9 be safe for an expectant mother? Can the First Minister answer that?

It is important to recognise—I know that Willie Rennie will accept this point; I think that he accepted it the last time—that the decision to change the status of Caithness maternity unit was made not by ministers, but by NHS Highland, and that it did so on safety grounds. That decision was informed by a review that NHS Highland had commissioned after the death of a child in September 2015. It is important to stress that mothers who are deemed to be at low risk will be able to give birth locally, but mothers who are at higher risk will give birth at Raigmore. As I said, that decision was taken on safety grounds. Any mother who is required to travel any distance will be advised by midwifery staff about transportation, and advice is available in other formats.

Again, the issues that are being raised are important, but it is important that we understand the safety imperative that lies behind the decision. NHS Highland is cognisant of the needs and the concerns of those who have to travel to Inverness when, understandably, they would prefer to give birth locally.

Ministers promised people in Caithness that Raigmore would be strengthened. Little did people know that that meant them being sent to Livingston. Campaigners say that parents are now thinking twice about whether to have a family. What a devastating failure of Government health policy that is.

At the weekend, the chair of the British Medical Association said that services across Scotland are deteriorating and patients are suffering. Ninety-nine general practitioner practices are closed to new patients. Last week, I raised the tragic failures in mental health services and others raised failures in primary care and emergency care—even Scottish National Party back benchers spoke out—and today we have heard of the case of Margaret Goodman. Then, of course, there is the closure of the children’s ward at Paisley.

How bad does it have to get for the national health service before the First Minister accepts that change is needed at the top? The health secretary has got to go.

Willie Rennie quoted the BMA. The views of clinicians are hugely important, and I think that his quoting of the BMA suggests that he thinks so, too. He also mentioned the closure of the children’s ward at Paisley, which was a decision that was informed by the views of the clinicians who work with sick children. Willie Rennie cannot have it both ways.

At the weekend, the BMA also said that it recognised the record resources in staffing in our national health service. Yes, there are pressures in our national health service. Demand is rising on health services not only in Scotland but across the developed world. That is why we are investing record sums, and it is also why we are doing the hard work to ensure that our health service delivers. The last part of our workforce plan, which I mentioned earlier and which will be published next week, is concerned with the multidisciplinary teams that are needed, particularly in primary care.

To return to the important issue of maternity services in Caithness, I hope that all of us agree that what is most important is that pregnant women receive safe and high-quality care. When women and babies are required to travel to ensure that they receive that best possible care, we have a network of special baby care units. The specialist transport and retrieval—SCOTSTAR—service, which is operated by the Scottish Ambulance Service, provides a safe and effective service for patients who require support from an augmented clinical team.

These are important issues, but safety and the views of clinicians have to be given priority. I, the health secretary and the whole Government will focus on supporting our NHS through the investment and reform that it needs in order to provide the high-quality services that it does—services that continue to attract record levels of high patient satisfaction.


Breast Cancer Drugs (Perjeta)

This week, breast cancer patients, including my constituents in Lothian, stepped up their campaign to make the secondary breast cancer drug Perjeta available on the national health service. Women in England have access to that drug, but Scottish patients still do not.

More than a year ago, the Scottish Government committed to introducing a better system of negotiation with regard to the costs of the new medicine. When will that new system be put in place? What can the Scottish Government do right now to bring about a deal that will make Perjeta available to Scottish women?

To make a point that I have made several times in this chamber before, decisions on access to medicines are taken not by ministers, but through the independent processes that are in place, and through the Scottish Medicines Consortium in particular. The member mentions that the drug that he is talking about is available in England but not in Scotland, and there will be other drugs in relation to which the situation is reversed. The processes are independent, and all of us should respect that independence.

Of course, it is the responsibility of Government to provide proper funding. Since 2014, we have invested nearly £200 million in our new medicines fund. That has seen access to new medicines increase in recent years, and we continue to work with the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry to build on that as we implement the recommendations of the Montgomery review.

I absolutely understand the views of cancer patients who want access to this particular drug. Officials are undertaking discussions with the pharmaceutical company to try to achieve a solution. The company needs to continue the dialogue with national procurement in order to bring forward a submission at a fair and transparent price that is no worse than the price that it has offered in England and Wales.

As I said earlier, these decisions are independent, and rightly so. However, through its funding and the reforms of the Montgomery process, this Government will continue to do everything that we can to ensure that patients have access to the medicines that they need.


Gypsy Travellers

Members of a brand new Young Gypsy Travellers Assembly are watching from the public gallery today. I welcome them to the Parliament and say that the Equalities and Human Rights Committee is looking forward to meeting them in the future. I know that they will also meet the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities this afternoon. Does the First Minister agree that it is time that we ensure that, in Scotland, the well-used phrase that “discrimination against Gypsy Travellers is the last acceptable form of racism” should become a phrase of the past?

Let me offer a warm welcome to the young Gypsy Travellers who are with us in the public gallery. The Gypsy Traveller community continues to face prejudice and discrimination. I hope that, across this chamber, we can all agree that that is absolutely unacceptable and has no place whatsoever in a modern and inclusive Scotland.

As Christina McKelvie knows, we have set up a new ministerial working group to drive improvements for that community at a faster pace. I am delighted that the Young Gypsy Travellers Assembly has been invited to speak at the meeting of that group next week. The cabinet secretary will meet our visitors this afternoon, and I hope that members of the young Gypsy Traveller community will be regular visitors to the Parliament in the future, because they are most welcome.


General Practitioners

At the Breich Valley medical practice in my region, all the general practitioners have resigned and there are zero applicants to take over from them. Patients from Stoneyburn will no longer have a GP in their local health centre. If they do not have a car, they will be forced to travel on the bus—at a cost of £4.50 a time—to another health centre that is already under pressure. Across Lothian, 40 per cent of GPs have closed their waiting lists, training places go unfilled and the system would collapse without locums. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has overseen a disaster in general practice in our communities. For the sake of patients in places like Stoneyburn, will the First Minister ask her to stand aside and bring in someone who will get a grip of that disaster?

While the Opposition might want to continue to play politics with us, we will continue to focus on the hard work of supporting our national health service and delivering for patients. The health secretary is taking a range of actions to boost recruitment in general practice. We are also working to build the multidisciplinary teams that support GPs. Of course, the new GP contract will go a considerable way towards addressing some of the concerns that they have been expressing. Neil Findlay mentioned training places: I do not have the exact figures in front of me but, if memory serves me correctly, the fill rate for training places for this year is higher than it was last year, which suggests that those actions are starting to have effect.

There are challenges facing health services all over the United Kingdom and, indeed, all over Europe and the world. However, we will continue to focus on providing the investment and taking the action that allows us to address such challenges and to ensure that patients continue to have record high levels of satisfaction with the services on which they depend.


Rosyth to Zeebrugge Ferry Service

On Monday, it was announced that the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry service is to be scrapped, following a fire on the current vessel. The ferry service has operated since 2002—first, as a passenger and freight service and, latterly, purely for freight. Its loss will be a significant blow to the Fife economy and the wider economy of the east of Scotland and will reduce connectivity between Scotland and the export markets in Europe. What discussions has the Scottish Government had, either with the current operator of the service, DFDS, or, indeed, with any other operator, about the possibility of reinstating this important link?

First, the Minister for Transport and the Islands spoke to DFDS, the ferry’s current operator, earlier this week. His officials have had discussions with Forth Ports to look at the range of options that might be available. It is deeply disappointing and regrettable that the service has been withdrawn by the current operator. Not long after I became First Minister, I was involved in discussions with that company to secure its future. The fire was obviously an unforeseen circumstance. We want to make sure that we explore all options to get a service running again. I give an undertaking that the transport minister will keep members updated on the progress of his discussions. However, I can say that there is an absolute determination to see a service run again if that is at all possible.


European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

To ask the First Minister whether the United Kingdom Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been adequately amended to meet the approval of the Scottish Government. (S5F-02282)

No. We are today lodging in the Parliament a legislative consent memorandum that will set out in detail our remaining concerns about the UK Government’s proposals. Crucially, it will also offer solutions that would protect devolution, be consistent with the current devolution settlement and enable us to reach agreement.

The bill has so far not been adequately amended. As I said earlier on, the latest changes allow Westminster to override the Scottish Parliament and constrain its powers for up to seven years. Even if the Scottish Parliament voted not to give consent, the UK Government could turn that refusal into what it calls a “consent decision” in order to overrule the will of Parliament. The Scottish Government could not recommend approval of a measure that would undermine devolution in such a fundamental way, but we will continue to work to see whether agreement can be reached. Even now, I hope that we can reach an agreement.

If I understand it correctly, according to the amendments that were published yesterday, even if the Scottish Parliament expressly refused consent—let us say that every single MSP voted against having the Parliament’s hands tied by Westminster on matters to do with fishing, the environment or genetically modified crops—the UK Government could take that express refusal as the green light that it needed to go ahead and impose restrictions anyway. Surely no party that has any respect for the Scottish Parliament or the devolution settlement could sign up to that.

Ash Denham is right in her interpretation. [Interruption.] Well, the amendments are public and I hope that, before there is any vote on the matter, every member will pay close attention to them. Under the amendments, it is not a requirement for the UK Government to obtain our consent; there is simply a requirement for the UK Government to allow us to make a “consent decision”. However, a “consent decision” could include a decision by the Parliament to refuse consent. So if we say no, the UK Government can go ahead and do it anyway. That is a pretty strange definition of consent, and not one that I have previously been familiar with.

We have put forward two potential solutions. When I put them forward before, I think that I heard Jackson Carlaw say that we want a veto. Actually, under one of those proposals, if clause 11 were amended to allow for the consent of the Scottish Parliament, that would simply reflect what is already the arrangement for other orders, such as section 30 orders. Therefore, that is not something that is unprecedented and does not exist. If clause 11 were simply removed, we would enter into a voluntary agreement, which is what the UK Government is offering to do for us. Therefore, we would both trust each other. However, the UK Government wants it to have a voluntary agreement and us to have our powers restricted by law for seven years. No self-respecting MSP could sign up to that.

If we were to come together and make clear to the UK Government the basis on which a deal could be done, we would get a deal. I can understand why the Tories are not bothered about this, as they want Westminster to be in charge. However, I cannot for the life of me understand why Labour would agree to what has been proposed.

We hear a lot about the supposed influence of Ruth Davidson. We have an opportunity to put that to the test. If Ruth Davidson has an ounce of influence, we will get a deal, but I suspect that she will just roll over and do whatever her Westminster bosses tell her—as usual.


Children (Parental Substance Misuse)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to support children from families with a parent who has an alcohol or drug addiction. (S5F-02274)

We are currently providing £600,000 a year to the Corra Foundation, which supports Scottish voluntary organisations to deliver vital on-the-ground support to children and families across Scotland who are affected by substance and alcohol use. The investment that we are making in strengthening child and adolescent mental health services will further improve the support that is available.

It is, of course, better to seek to prevent the damage from occurring in the first place than to treat it, which is why any response to alcohol harm needs to include preventative measures such as minimum unit pricing, which will, I am pleased to say, be in force in Scotland from Tuesday next week.

We have to accept that Scotland has a poor relationship with alcohol and drugs. We know that dependency is often a contributing factor where families are experiencing domestic abuse and neglect. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children says that, in the past year, there has been a 30 per cent increase in calls to its helpline over the welfare of a child due to a parent misusing alcohol. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, supported by the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, recently announced a £6 million package of funding to help children with alcoholic parents to get support and advice. Will the First Minister consider doing likewise for children in Scotland and will she perhaps go even further and include children whose parents have other similarly destructive addictions?

As I said in my original answer, we already provide funding to organisations working in the field. I mentioned the Corra Foundation, which receives £600,000 a year to support children and families facing such issues. We are also providing £280,000 in this year to Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs to support families across Scotland that are affected by a loved one’s substance misuse. That includes signposting children and families to services and contacts in their local area. We already fund a range of organisations to do that work and we will continue to look at ways in which we can support them.

It is absolutely right to raise the impact of drug and alcohol misuse, and I absolutely recognise the Government’s responsibility to take action in that regard but, as I said, prevention is better than cure, which is why the comprehensive nature of our strategy to tackle alcohol misuse is so important and why the introduction of minimum pricing next week, after a delay of so many years as a result of it being caught up in the courts, is such a positive step forward. In years to come, that will be something that the Parliament is really proud of.

Does the First Minister agree that third sector organisations such as Safe Families for Children, which operates in the east end of Glasgow, have an important role to play, as families are often more willing to engage with the third sector?

Yes, I agree strongly with that. I appreciate all that our third sector and voluntary organisations do and the support that they provide, and I see evidence of that in my constituency. As I have said, alongside important local partnerships, the Scottish Government provides funding for a number of organisations at national level, including Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs, which supports families across Scotland who are dealing with these issues. They are important organisations, and those working at local level are just as important as the national organisations that I have referred to.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Parliament will be suspended and business will resume at 2.30, but I invite all members to gather again in the chamber for 1 o’clock, when we will hear from President Mutharika.

12:47 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—