Meeting date: Thursday, September 26, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 26 September 2019
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motor Neurone Disease (Blue Badge Scheme), Portfolio Question Time, Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Stage 1, Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Motor Neurone Disease (Blue Badge Scheme)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Stage 1
- Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Financial Resolution
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Today, I will ask about Scottish Conservative plans to introduce whole-life custody. In February 2017, Nicola Sturgeon said that she was “open minded” about proposals to guarantee that the most appalling criminals are never released from prison. Is that still her position?
I have always been open minded about anything that improves our justice system and ensures that victims get the justice that they require and deserve.
As I have said previously in the chamber, there is nothing to prevent a court from imposing a sentence that would cover the natural life of a prisoner. I think that it is best that sentencing be a matter for courts—not politicians. Although I am absolutely of the view that serious offenders should be sent to prison for long periods, the general challenge in our justice system is not that we send too few people to prison; it is how we make sentencing more effective, so that we continue to reduce reoffending and continue to see a downward trend in crime overall.
Let me be very clear: judges do not already have that power, otherwise charities such as the Howard League Scotland would not be calling the policy “radical”.
From her answer, we know that Nicola Sturgeon’s position has changed since 2017, because she ordered her MSPs to vote against our proposal for whole-life custody in June this year. My colleague Liam Kerr proposed a change in the law, such that “life” would, indeed, mean “life” for the worst offenders. Today, he has published some of the consultation responses that he received from ordinary members of the public. A former police officer said:
“It is an affront to see serious offenders released to re-offend, particularly in cases where the offender has stated their intention to reoffend upon release. For the good of society and to keep the law abiding majority safe, the worst must never be released.”
He is right, so does the First Minister regret voting against whole-life custody?
It is open to a court to impose on a person a sentence that would span their natural life, if the court considers that to be necessary and appropriate. An example that is sometimes used of a case in which that happened is the World’s End murders, for which Angus Sinclair had a sentence imposed on him that would have taken him beyond his natural life.
I do not want to misquote the Scottish Sentencing Council, but I recollect that it has made the point that courts already have that power. The Parole Board for Scotland also has a role to play in deciding when it is safe—and when it is not safe or not in the public interest—for prisoners to be released from prison.
The arrangements are right: it is right for sentencing to be a matter for the courts. Of course, it is right and proper for politicians to put in place the correct legislative framework, which I believe is what has happened. It is absolutely correct for the most serious offenders to go to prison for lengthy periods, but what the correct period should be in an individual case is, rightly and properly, a matter for the independent court system.
The problem is that many people who should not be released are released. It is all very well to talk academically about risk management, but the Scottish public need a guarantee that, if the crime is serious enough, there will be no parole and no release. That is what our proposal would deliver. One response to the consultation, which must remain anonymous, is very difficult to read—indeed, it is difficult for me to articulate—but I think that members need to hear it. It says:
“I was raped ... Rapists, paedophiles and murderers destroy lives. So long as families of people murdered, or people who have been sexually assaulted know the person who ripped apart their life can be allowed to roam free, how ... do you think we can ever rest easily?”
For the sake of such victims, I urge the First Minister to change her mind again, to support whole-life custody and to give victims the justice that they deserve.
I fully understand the views and opinions that are expressed by people who have been victims of crime—I will not stand here and presume to disagree with opinions that come from deep personal experience.
However, it is incumbent on me—and on all of us—to be very clear, and not to inadvertently mislead people about the law as it stands. The law right now is clear: the punishment part of a life sentence can extend beyond the rest of a person’s life. Therefore, it is possible for a court to impose a sentence that extends beyond a person’s life.
It is also important to understand that a prisoner is not automatically released when the punishment part of their sentence expires. Release becomes a matter for the independent Parole Board to determine. As part of that determination, it must assess risk to the public. That is the law, and those are the arrangements as they stand, at the moment.
I absolutely understand that people who have experienced the most serious and heinous crimes will always think that we should look to change the law. We should never close our minds to that, but it is important to be clear about what the law says right now. I hope that, now that I have done that, Jackson Carlaw will reflect on what he is saying.
It is absolutely correct to say that we must not “inadvertently mislead”. Therefore, it is important not to assert—because it is not true—that it is possible to impose a whole-life sentence. It is not.
This week, most of us were shocked to learn that violent crime in Scotland has risen by 10 per cent in just one year, and is now at its highest level for seven years. I am not sure that the communities across Scotland that are blighted by violent crime will be satisfied by what the First Minister has said.
Linda McDonald was attacked in Dundee by a convicted murderer who had been released on home leave. She has this to say:
“Whole life sentences give justice for victims and families who have suffered at the hands of these violent, sick, dangerous criminals. It gives reassurance that the public are safe. Gives us confidence that life means the whole of their life ... If dangerous killers are not given a second chance, and released, they cannot get the opportunity to kill again.”
Police officers, prison officers and victims have all backed our proposal—but not Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party. It is a simple choice. Whose rights, ultimately, should be put first? Should it be the rights of the victims of crime or those of the criminal? We choose to put the victims’ rights first. Is it not time that the First Minister and her Government, through the force of their actions, did the same?
I understand why people who are affected in individual cases make the case for changes to the law, and I will never criticise any individual who does so. Indeed, I and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice always stand ready to meet anybody who has been a victim of crime so that we have the deepest possible understanding of the experiences that they have been through.
I recall that in 2015—I will not read out the quotation, because I do not want this to turn into that kind of exchange—Jackson Carlaw warned politicians against using individual cases to make broader points. I would have agreed with him then. I ask him to reflect carefully on how he uses such cases to make his case.
The situation right now is as I have set out: the punishment part of a life sentence can extend beyond the rest of a person’s life. Over the past 10 years, the punishment part of life sentences has increased from 12 to 13 years to 18 to 19 years. Whether a prisoner is released from prison at the end of a punishment part is down to the decision of the independent Parole Board. Of course, risk to public safety is a key consideration that is taken into account in such decisions. It is important that all of us understand that.
Jackson Carlaw said that experts backed Liam Kerr’s proposed bill. I am sure that some do—I do not challenge that—but many do not.
I did not say that.
I thought that I had heard Jackson Carlaw say that experts back the proposed bill.
The Scottish Legal Action Group, for example, has said that it thinks that the proposed bill is “unnecessary, unethical and regressive”, and opposes it
“in the strongest possible terms”.
We have to do what is right for victims. That is why we are making a range of changes to ensure that victims’ voices are heard much more loudly in the process. However, it is also incumbent on us to make it clear to victims of crime and the general public what the situation is at present. I fear that Jackson Carlaw has not done that, in some of the comments that he has made today.
Independence Referendum Question
Who is more expert in setting a “clear, transparent and neutral” referendum question—the Electoral Commission or Mike Russell?
The Electoral Commission, because it did that for the question that would be proposed for a future independence referendum. I do not know anybody across Scotland—with the exception of politicians who seem to be running scared of the verdict of the Scottish people when that question is asked again—who thinks that that question is anything other than clear and understandable.
I will take today’s question from Richard Leonard as progress because, in asking me about the question for an independence referendum, he now appears to be accepting that one is inevitable. That is progress.
It is not just politicians who are saying this. “Clear, transparent and neutral” is not my expression; it is the considered view of Dame Sue Bruce, the electoral commissioner for Scotland. She told the Finance and Constitution Committee:
“We strongly believe that the Electoral Commission should be asked to test the question.”
She argued that on the grounds of
“the integrity of the process, to establish that the question is clear, transparent and neutral in its setting.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 18 September 2019; c 37.]
Why are you prepared to disregard those principles?
The question was tested by the Electoral Commission. More than that, it was tested in the reality of a referendum. I do not know anyone in Scotland—with the exception of the Tories and their friends in the Labour Party—who says that that question was anything other than clear, understandable, comprehensible and completely transparent.
It seems to me that Labour and the Tories have now realised that they will not be able to block the right of the Scottish people to choose their own future, so they are now wondering how they can rig the whole process. I have got news for Richard Leonard: the people of Scotland will get the chance to choose a better future than Tory Brexit Britain.
Again, I say to Richard Leonard that, if he accepts that it is right to allow the people of Scotland to choose their own future in an independence referendum, I welcome that. Let us have the discussions about the detail and get on to the substance of the argument.
The people of Scotland chose their future five years ago. [Interruption.]
Let me try again with what the Electoral Commission said. It is clear that the question needs to be tested
“regardless of whether the Commission has previously published views on the question proposed.”
You are ignoring the Electoral Commission.
You are also ignoring the Law Society of Scotland. In its written evidence to Parliament, it argued that your approach
“precludes the Commission from scrutinising the question”.
It says that that means that the referendum question would avoid
“the level of scrutiny and accountability which should be applied to important questions which may affect the whole of Scotland.”
This is not just about the integrity of this process. This is about the integrity of your Government.
The Electoral Commission and the Law Society both say that yours is the wrong approach, so why do you not listen to them? What have you got to hide? Are you simply trying to rig the process?
I have to be honest: I am struggling to keep up with Richard Leonard’s twists and turns. If I am understanding him right—bear with me, because I know that this is a bit complicated—Richard Leonard is standing up here today demanding that we test a question, again, for a referendum that he also says should not happen and he will not allow to happen. That is the first inconsistency and contradiction in his position.
Then Richard Leonard says that the people of Scotland do not have the right to have a referendum at all, because we chose our future five years ago. The people of the United Kingdom voted on Brexit three years ago, but he supports a second Brexit referendum for the whole of the UK. He also seems to have missed all that has changed in the five years since the independence referendum, when people like him were telling the people of Scotland that the only way to protect their membership of the European Union was to vote against independence. We now know that those promises were not worth the paper they were written on. It is time for Scotland to have the opportunity to choose its future and to choose independence.
We have a few constituency supplementary questions. However, before I move on to those, I encourage all members not to use the term “you” in the chamber. They should address the First Minister by her title or her name, but they should not use “you”, which applies to the chair.
General Practice Closure (Bridge of Earn)
The First Minister will know that, earlier this week, a group of general practitioners in the city of Perth wrote to NHS Tayside officials to intimate their deep concern about the implications for their medical practice following the sudden closure of the GP practice in Bridge of Earn. I have here a copy of the letter, in which they state that it is unacceptable that patient safety has been compromised. Does the First Minister agree with them?
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is aware of the letter to which Liz Smith has referred. I understand that she has also met the chief executive of the board and the integrated joint board. I am more than happy to ask the health secretary to correspond with Liz Smith on the detail of that letter and the actions that will be taken to ensure that those concerns are properly addressed. She is right to point out that patient safety must always be the priority in any decision that is taken at any level of the national health service.
Lifeline Flights (Orkney and Shetland)
Back in April, I raised with the First Minister concerns about the disruption to lifeline flights serving Orkney and communities across the Highlands and islands as a result of industrial action by air traffic controllers. Five months on, that dispute remains unresolved. This week has seen more passengers on flights to Orkney and Shetland left stranded, including many island patients returning from hospital appointments in Aberdeen. Does the First Minister understand the anger and frustration felt by those who are left paying the price for the failure by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and the unions to resolve the dispute? Will she ask the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity to step in and help to find a resolution to this long-running and damaging dispute?
I understand people’s frustrations when any disruption is caused by such an industrial dispute. When I was in Shetland over the summer, I spoke to a number of people who were concerned that the dispute had not yet been resolved. I know that there were then efforts to do so. My message to both HIAL and the unions is that they should get round the table and find a resolution. The transport secretary and the Government will do everything that we can to bring that about but, ultimately, it is for the employer and the trade unions to find resolution, and I hope that they will do so quickly.
Deaths Abroad (Support for Families)
The First Minister will be well aware of the heartache that Kirsty Maxwell’s family face following her death in Benidorm two years ago. This week, they received yet another blow when newspapers reported that the Spanish authorities are now drawing a line under the investigation. Kirsty’s family have criticised that investigation as apathetic, inept and inefficient, with some serious errors.
I do not expect the First Minister to comment on a legal case, but I expect both the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments, within the scope of their powers, to do more to support families who are affected by deaths abroad. I appeal to the First Minister to say when we can offer families such as Kirsty’s something more than our condolences.
My thoughts remain with Kirsty Maxwell’s family. I have met them previously and know the anguish that they continue to suffer to this day. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and I have previously stated that we want to explore the issue further, and we are committed to identifying where support might be improved. Families face a range of issues when they deal with the deaths of loved ones in suspicious circumstances abroad. On some occasions, such circumstances are also faced by victims in Scotland. Through the victims task force, we are considering how such issues might be better tackled, and that will be informed by the experiences of victims themselves. We also await the report of the United Kingdom all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad and consular services to inform us on how we might make progress on the issue. We continue to welcome input from Angela Constance, other members and other stakeholders on how we might best do so.
Posters have been appearing in communities that I serve with the words
“Street Valium is killing our community. It has to stop.”
Unfortunately, the posters convey what is a tragic truth for far too many. I acknowledge that identifying and prosecuting those who mass produce such illicit benzodiazepines is crucial. However, will the drug deaths task force consider as a matter of urgency how a credible public health and information campaign can be implemented on the ground as soon as possible and in direct partnership with those who have lived experience of the very real dangers of street Valium? It is claiming the lives of hundreds of people in our communities.
I thank Bob Doris for raising what is a very important issue. We know that so-called street Valium has a devastating effect on communities across Scotland. I think that I have said before in the chamber that I have seen in my constituency the effect that it has.
The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing will be happy to ask the drug deaths task force to give its advice on the best ways to take forward a public health message to make the dangers clear, and I know that the task force will look to bring forward solutions that work, no matter how challenging some of them might appear to be at first. The task force includes members who have lived experience of drug use, and their views and insight will be crucial to that work.
Climate Emergency (Targets)
We have every confidence in the Scottish National Party Government’s world-leading ability to set targets, but when it comes to meeting them, it is another matter. The targets on class sizes have been missed. The national health service treatment time guarantee has been missed. The urgent cancer referral targets have been missed. The targets for ending fuel poverty have been missed. The European Union air quality targets have been missed. The United Nations wildlife protection targets have been missed. The Government conceded this week that it will miss its 2021 landfill target. Scotland is also set to miss the Government’s targets on the expansion of early years education.
Why are the targets that the Parliament set yesterday on the climate emergency any different?
First, in point of fact, what Alison Johnstone has just said about early years education is not the case, but that is another matter.
I am really proud of what this Parliament did yesterday on climate change, and I struggle to understand the Green position on that. Yesterday, this Parliament set the strongest, most ambitious and most stringent climate change targets of any country in the world, and I think that all of us, collectively, should be proud of that. The Green Party in this Parliament sat on its hands while the rest of the Parliament did that.
Of course it will be challenging to meet those targets. They will require action not just from this Government but from businesses, organisations and individuals the length and breadth of the country, but we know that Scotland is already ahead of most of the rest of the world in reducing emissions. We have already almost halved our emissions. That should give us all confidence that we can meet the targets and that we can not only do the right thing here in Scotland, but continue to lead the world and lead by example. I, for one, am proud that this country and this Government are doing exactly that.
Of course, the Greens engaged constructively in the process of setting targets, as we always do, but we cannot back a lack of ambition.
The First Minister has often talked about listening to the young people who strike for the climate and of her ambitions for tackling the climate emergency, but targets are not enough. Scotland missed its latest greenhouse gas target, and emissions from transport actually went up. This Government continues to commit billions to major road expansion such as dualling the A96. Will the First Minister take inspiration from the Welsh Government, which cancelled plans for a new motorway after declaring a climate emergency? Will she invest the funds in public transport instead?
I have already said—we have started doing this; the early evidence of that was set out in the programme for government—that we will look across all areas of Government responsibility and spend. We will look for good ideas and inspiration anywhere that we can find them, but when I go to countries and talk about climate change, most of them, including Germany last week, are looking to Scotland because they see Scotland as the world leader, not just in the targets that we are setting, but in the action that we are taking to meet those targets. The job for the Government now is to get on and put in place the radical policies that will meet those targets, and that work is under way.
I come back to my earlier point that I genuinely struggle to understand the Green position. I would have understood it had the Greens sought to amend the 2045 target yesterday, but they did not. They did not seek to amend the 2040 target or the 2020 target. Their only disagreement appeared to be around the 2030 target, even though we had increased that from 70 to 75 per cent, taking it beyond what is required to limit temperature warming to 1.5°. I genuinely struggle to understand how, in a Parliament that is taking world-leading action, Green members can decide to sit on their hands, and I think that people across the country will be utterly perplexed by that.
Animal Welfare Commission
I declare an interest as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare. We welcomed this week’s announcement on the establishment of a commission on animal welfare and the appointment of Professor Dwyer as chair, but can the First Minister tell us when it will be up and running?
I will ask the relevant minister to write to Christine Grahame with precise details of exactly when the commission will be up and running. I am glad that she welcomes it as an important step forward. We take all issues of animal welfare seriously, and the announcement this week will ensure that we continue to take the required action. I will make sure that Christine Grahame gets the further detail that she is looking for as quickly as possible.
Violent crime has been rising for four years in a row and is at the highest level since 2012. At what point does an anomaly become a trend?
We are never complacent about crime levels. The recent statistics show a 1 per cent increase in overall crime but, if we look at the situation overall, we find that we still have one of the lowest levels of crime in this country since 1974. Over the period that the Government has been in office, since 2006-07, crime overall is down by 41 per cent and non-sexual violent crime is down by 43 per cent. Clearly, there will be fluctuations year on year, but the overall trend on crime and violent crime is downward. Part of the reason for that—although not the whole reason—is that, unlike the Conservative Government south of the border, we have not slashed police numbers by 20,000. We continue to support our police in doing the excellent job that they do in keeping our communities safe from crime.
Recently, a constituent of mine—a young lady from Clydebank—was on the phone and was rather distraught because she was an employee of Thomas Cook and she now has no wages to take home and no job. Of course, in Germany, a different decision was taken, and employees there are safe. I know that it is a reserved matter, but can the Scottish Government do anything to alleviate the position of the hundreds of people who were employed by Thomas Cook in Glasgow airport and in other parts of Scotland and who were doing exceptionally good work? Can we do something to assist them?
I thank Gil Paterson for raising the general issue and the particular case of his constituent. We will do everything that we can to help employees who are affected by the collapse of Thomas Cook. Of course, it is a reserved matter, although Michael Matheson took part in a cross-Government ministerial meeting on the issue on Sunday evening. Obviously, the situation is devastating for the many people who worked for Thomas Cook, and for their families. We will continue to work closely with the United Kingdom Government and with the Civil Aviation Authority as the situation progresses.
On the workers in particular, Unite the union is planning to hold a drop-in session in its offices in Glasgow on Monday from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock to offer help to former employees. From the Government’s perspective, PACE—partnership action for continuing employment—support has been offered to affected employees. In order to reach affected employees, we have also been in contact with the Insolvency Service and the special managers who have been appointed. We have contacted trade unions to offer PACE support for their members. We will continue to provide whatever help we can to all those affected. I am sure that, at this very sad time, the thoughts of all members are with everybody who is affected, whether they are the travelling public or Thomas Cook workers.
Traffic Speed Reduction (Cyclist Safety)
Figures released this week show an increase in cyclists’ deaths and injuries on our streets. Given that speed kills, what new, world-leading action will the Government take to reduce motor vehicle speed and deliver safer streets?
We will continue to look carefully at ways in which to improve safety on our roads. I represent an urban constituency and there have been tragic deaths of cyclists in my constituency in recent times. We understand how important the issue is. We are making significant investment in cycle routes in my constituency and many other parts of Scotland. Cycle routes are crucial to helping improve the safety of those who cycle. We will consider any further measures as we invest to make cycling safer and to make our roads as safe as possible. We will continue to listen to any proposals that are practical and deliverable.
ScotRail (Fare Increases)
The managing director of ScotRail came to the Parliament last week and, in discussion, he confirmed that he could not give us a date for when additional carriages would be added to the Fife circle service. However, he was absolutely sure that a 2.8 per cent increase in rail fares would be introduced in January by the Scottish Government. Given the poor quality services that the people of Fife are having to put up with, can the Government justify a fare increase of 2.8 per cent?
Rail fares and rail fare increases have been lower in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is important. It is also important that ScotRail continues to make the improvements to its services in relation to punctuality, reducing cancellations and ensuring that there is adequate capacity for the travelling public. We hold ScotRail to account for that and will continue to do so.
Devolved Powers (Immigration)
The First Minister will have seen a new report from the David Hume Institute, which recommends that the Scottish Government should be given greater powers over immigration, irrespective of the outcome of Brexit. Does the First Minister agree that the United Kingdom Government should heed the advice of that report and devolve powers over immigration to the Scottish Parliament as a matter of urgency, so that we can tailor our immigration system to meet Scotland’s needs and aspirations?
I agree with that and I welcome the report from the David Hume Institute. I hope that this is one issue—perhaps the only issue—on which there can be unanimous support across the Parliament. Many members—I hope all members—understand that one size does not fit all when it comes to immigration and that Scotland has particular demographic challenges and needs, which makes it essential that we have the ability to tailor our immigration policy to suit our needs. I hope that all parties will come behind that call and that the UK Government will listen to that and devolve immigration powers to the Scottish Parliament as quickly as possible.
Of course, when Scotland becomes an independent country, immigration powers—and all other powers—will lie in the hands of the Scottish Parliament, where they will be far better used than they are currently by the Tory Government at Westminster.
Public Transport (Accessibility)
The First Minister might be aware of comments made today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland, which stated that:
“Transport operators must ensure equal access to public transport for all ... Older people and disabled people must be able to access and use public transport just like everybody else.”
Does the First Minister agree that, although that might seem like an obvious statement to make, in reality, adherence to that principle is not universal? Will she assure the Parliament that the Government is doing everything in its power to ensure that there is equity of access to public transport for everyone throughout Scotland?
I agree with that. My apologies—I have not seen the comments from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that the member refers to or the context in which they were made. However, I will make a point of looking at them later.
I hope that everyone would agree with the statement. We would all readily acknowledge that, while that is the case for most of the travelling public, it is not the case for everyone. We still have work to do to ensure that we have a truly accessible transport system. The Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that we are taking action to deliver that.
To ask the First Minister, in light of recent deaths and respiratory illness attributed to vaping that have been reported in the US by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, what the Scottish Government’s position is on the sale and use of vaping products. (S5F-03587)
We are monitoring developments in the US and elsewhere closely, following the loss of life that has been attributed to vaping. To date, though, we have not seen any cases of deaths that are attributed to vaping being reported in Europe. Our approach has been a precautionary one, which is why in Scotland we have already taken the strictest regulatory approach in Europe to vapour products. The European tobacco products directive restricts the advertising of e-cigarettes and ensures that e-liquids cannot contain ingredients that are known to be harmful. The directive also limits the concentration of nicotine in e-liquids. In Scotland, we have also introduced a retail register and a mandatory age verification scheme and we have funded trading standards departments in all council areas to ensure that retailers comply with the regulations. In the coming months, we will consult on introducing a complete ban on the advertising and promotion of vapour products.
As this Parliament has just highlighted idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—or IPF—week, does the First Minister agree that any action to move forward with regard to vaping and e-cigarette products needs to be carried out by listening to experts, following robust evidence-based research and always focusing on what is in the best interests of the public health of the people of Scotland?
Yes, I absolutely agree with that. It is important to stress, and for all of us to remember, that those devices are relatively new and, therefore, their impact continues to be studied. We do not yet fully understand what that impact is, which is why the approach that we have taken has been very cautious. That is perhaps a reason why e-cigarette use remains relatively low in Scotland. We remain committed to following the best evidence to take any steps necessary to ensure that people are protected from potential harm. While we already have among the strictest regimes on those products, if the evidence shows that further action is needed, I assure the member that we will not hesitate to take it.
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is helping councils to prepare for Brexit. (S5F-03573)
The Scottish Government has met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’s request to allocate £50,000 to each council to co-ordinate European Union exit preparedness, which is a total of £1.6 million. Local authorities are able to submit further funding requests for EU exit costs through the submission of a business case; that process has been put in place for all public sector bodies and local government is not being treated differently in that respect. We will continue to work closely with local government and COSLA to prioritise and target interventions so that, as far as possible, we can mitigate the effects on our communities of leaving the EU.
The Scottish Government has so far received £93 million in Barnett consequentials for Brexit preparations. About £8 million of that should have gone to councils, but, as the First Minister said, they have received only £1.6 million so far and are being told by Derek Mackay to submit business cases for the rest of the cash. In England, councils have been given £83 million to date without having to prove anything. With just 35 days to go until Brexit— [Interruption.]
Let us hear the question.
Is it not time that councils in Scotland were just given the money that they need instead of being made to jump through bureaucratic hoops?
No wonder Jackson Carlaw is staring at his phone right now.
We should not be having to spend a single penny on Brexit preparations. I remind Graham Simpson that Scotland did not vote for Brexit. The member spoke about the £98.7 million of consequentials that we have received; so far we have committed £92 million of that, but the cost of Brexit will far exceed any consequentials that we have received, or no doubt will be likely to receive, from the United Kingdom Government. For example, we are having to cover up to £17 million for Police Scotland this year as an unavoidable cost of a no-deal Brexit. It is shameful that a Conservative member of this Parliament gets up here and asks about the money that we are spending to prepare for the impact of a policy that his party is imposing on this country against our will. Shame on him.
Given the uncertainty that has been caused by Brexit, which the First Minister has just acknowledged, and the evidence that we received yesterday at the Local Government and Communities Committee from COSLA, will the First Minister confirm that the Government will honour its budget agreement and commit to a three-year budget settlement for local government?
We will continue to work with COSLA to give local government as much certainty on budgets as we can in the years ahead. Obviously, we would be better able to do that if we knew what the Scottish Government budget looked like—if all the decisions to be made by Westminster had been taken. We do not even yet know when there will be a Westminster budget this year.
Sarah Boyack raises an important question, but she has to reflect on the fact that the uncertainty that is swirling around the UK Government and the entire country has implications for the decision-making process here in Scotland. However, we will continue to work with councils and other public bodies—and businesses—to provide as much certainty as we possibly can. I think that the certainty that most people in Scotland want is for Brexit not to happen at all.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to a new study, which suggests that young people in the poorest parts of the country are three times more likely to die before their 25th birthday than those in the most affluent areas. (S5F-03581)
Findings such as that are shocking and a major cause of concern. Perhaps most of all, they underline the importance of the concrete actions that the Scottish Government is taking to tackle deep-seated poverty and inequality, including health inequalities. For example, our alcohol and drug strategy is backed by new investment and sets out the actions that we are taking to reduce alcohol and drug use. We are investing more than £3 million up to 2021 to support suicide prevention. Our tackling child poverty delivery plan outlines the actions that we are taking to eradicate child poverty, including the introduction by the end of 2022 of the new Scottish child payment for all eligible families, with early introduction by Christmas next year for families with children under six.
In 2018-19, we spent more than £1.4 billion in direct support to low-income households, £100 million of which was to mitigate the worst impact of Tory Government welfare cuts. Tory Government actions continue to push people into poverty and we must unite to fight against those actions
Aberlour Child Care Trust, which sponsored the research, argues that
“A bad start shouldn’t mean a bad end.”
Professor Morag Treanor, who carried out the research, emphasises the impact of poverty across a child’s whole life, with links to housing, health inequalities and education, which are all areas in which the Scottish Government has the power to take radical action. Does the First Minister share my view that a young person’s life expectancy should not be dependent on a postcode lottery, and that the solution is a major shift in policy to fight with vigour and fortitude the massive inequality between the rich and the poor in society?
Yes, I agree with that. I point to the radical actions that the Scottish Government is taking with the doubling of the provision of early years education in childcare, using the getting it right for every child approach to ensure that we protect children in their earliest years; our commitment to record numbers of new, affordable housing, outstripping anything that we see elsewhere in the United Kingdom; and the new Scottish child payment, which, in the words of anti-poverty campaigners, is “game-changing” in the fight against child poverty.
I have said this before to Richard Leonard and I say it again now: before we took the decision about the Scottish child payment, we rightly heard a lot from Labour demanding that we introduce it and talking about how transformational it would be. However, since we announced the decision to introduce it, I have not heard a single member on the Labour benches talk about it.
That is the kind of radical action that we are taking, which—interestingly—Labour colleagues in Wales are not taking. We will continue to take action to fight poverty, rather than just talk about it.
Does the First Minister have any analysis of how Tory welfare cuts—from the benefit freeze to the two-child cap and changes to the work allowance—are impacting on the poorest in our society? How much is being cut a year from social security spend in Scotland by the UK Government?
The Scottish Government’s 2019 welfare reform report set out some analysis. It estimated that UK Government cuts could reduce social security spending in Scotland by £500 million a year. Those cuts have already pushed thousands of families in Scotland into poverty, with post-2015 UK Government welfare changes set to reduce spending on social security by that estimated £500 million a year. Due to the two-child limit, 8,500 Scottish families have had their income cut, but that figure will reach 40,000 by the time of full roll-out and 20,000 children will be brought into poverty. The benefit cap is affecting more than 3,000 households, and 91 per cent of those households contain children. They are losing an average of £3,000 a year.
Right now, we have to spend more than £100 million a year in mitigation, and the United Nations special rapporteur described that requirement to mitigate as outrageous. That is the price that we pay to allow welfare powers to lie in the hands of a Tory Government at Westminster. I know that the Greens are already on board, so I call on Labour and the Liberal Democrats—I even call on some of the Tories—to think about this deeply and make a united call for all welfare powers to come to this Parliament so that we can start to treat people with dignity and respect.12:45 Meeting suspended.
12:50 On resuming—