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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 28, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 28 March 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Misogyny, Racism, Harassment and Sexism Against Women, Portfolio Question Time, Disabled People, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Brexit (Indicative Votes)

After months—years, even—of sanctimony from the First Minister and her Brexit secretary—[Interruption.]

Mr Carlaw, I will suspend proceedings for a few moments.

12:01 Meeting suspended.  

12:02 On resuming—  

If we are not to be a fortress, we must be prepared to accept that demonstrations are a democratic right. [Applause.]

However, I have given the start of my question away. After months—years, even—of sanctimony from the First Minister and her Brexit secretary, yesterday, Scottish National Party MPs refused to back the very policy option that they have been demanding. Is it not the case that, yesterday, Scotland saw yet again that, for the SNP, when push comes to shove, it is not about finding a solution to Brexit but about pursuing its independence obsession?

It is hard not to laugh. The Tory Secretary of State for Scotland abstained on every single option in the House of Commons last night.

However, as Jackson Carlaw rightly says and belatedly recognises, for two long years, when stopping Brexit did not seem possible, the SNP argued for a single market and customs union membership compromise. That was ignored by the Tories and, indeed, by everybody else. That option, which is the minimum that we would need to protect Scotland’s interests, was not actually on the ballot paper last night. That said, over the next few days, we will continue to work across Parliament for a compromise of that nature, if that proves to be the only alternative to a hard Brexit.

Thanks to the Tories, the whole process is now such a mess that stopping Brexit altogether must be our top priority. Moreover, that is now possible. Actually, the option that received the highest number of votes in the House of Commons last night was the people’s vote option. The principle that has guided everything that we have done in this matter is the protection of Scotland’s interests. Can Jackson Carlaw tell us what principles have guided the Scottish Tories? It seems to me that the only principle that they have been abiding by is doing whatever their London bosses have told them to do.

Answer succinctly, please.

There was no principle in the way that the SNP voted last night. In contrast, I saw a Prime Minister who was prepared to set aside her own premiership in order to secure a deal that, contrary to everything that the SNP says, will be good for Scotland and the United Kingdom.

By contrast, here is the First Minister’s record. She angrily demands that the Prime Minister goes. She angrily complains when the Prime Minister does go. She then angrily declares that the Prime Minister’s decision to go—you guessed it—makes the case for independence. Faux outrage, grievance and her own one single-minded obsession—are Scots not right to detect just a little bit of a pattern here?

More succinctly please, First Minister.

Again, one has to laugh at the fact that Jackson Carlaw has come in here today and raised the position of the Prime Minister. It is traditional in politics for leaders to say to colleagues, “If you don’t back me on an issue of such importance, I might have to resign.” That is not the case with the Tories, though; Theresa May’s position is, “If you don’t back me, I’ll stay.” Theresa May must be the only leader in living memory who has tried to fall on her own sword and has managed to miss. It is utterly ridiculous.

The SNP, in contrast to the Tories, will continue to stand up for Scotland’s interests. That is what we have done since day 1 after the Brexit referendum. The way to stand up, not just for Scotland’s interests but for the interests of the entire United Kingdom right now, is to recognise that the Brexit process is a complete and utter mess and put this issue back to the people. So, belatedly, can Jackson Carlaw find it within himself to actually stand up for Scotland instead of being the last man standing up for Theresa May?

Nicola Sturgeon does not stand up for the Scottish interest; she stands up for the nationalist interest.

On Monday, the Prime Minister said that she was “sceptical” that yesterday’s trawl through the alternatives would produce an outcome—she was right. For the avoidance of doubt, no deal was rejected; a second referendum was rejected, again; and revoking article 50 was rejected. Yesterday, when it came to the crunch, the First Minister whipped her MPs against supporting her own policy of a customs union and single market membership—and that was defeated, too.

Does the result of the votes not demonstrate that Alex Neil and Jim Sillars are right: the best way forward to secure an orderly withdrawal is to support the Prime Minister’s deal?

More succinctly please, First Minister.

As I said, the compromise position that the SNP put forward when it looked as if remain was not an option—which is not the case now, incidentally—was not on the ballot paper last night. It has never been our position to accept just a customs union. That would not be sufficient to protect Scotland’s interests.

I disagree with Jackson Carlaw’s characterisation of what happened last night. Two of the options, which were a customs union—albeit a customs union alone—and a second referendum, both got more votes in the House of Commons than the Prime Minister’s deal has managed on either of the occasions when it has been brought forward and defeated. That gives the House of Commons something to move forward with into next week.

I do not think that the thing to do now is vote for a bad deal that would take Scotland out of the European Union, out of the single market and out of the customs union. The right thing to do now is to put this issue back to the people. I say again that if Jackson Carlaw was interested in actually standing up for Scotland’s interests, or indeed the interests of the UK, that is the option that he would be arguing for, too.

The argument for many against the Prime Minister’s deal was that there was support for an alternative. The votes in the House of Commons last night demonstrated that there is not. It is clear that there is a deal—one that secures an orderly way forward and is supported by Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and 27 of our other EU partners and backed by the business community here in Scotland, the whisky industry and our fishermen—and that is the Prime Minister’s deal. Surely after all the confusion with every other alternative being rejected yesterday, the national interest is served by supporting that compromise. Surely it is time to back the deal and get on with it.

The Prime Minister’s deal may or may not be backed by all the people whom Jackson Carlaw just listed. The problem is that the Prime Minister’s deal is not backed by his own party, and that is why the Prime Minister cannot get it through. Even if every single SNP MP had backed the Prime Minister’s deal, it would still have gone down to massive defeat.

It is time that the Prime Minister and her sole remaining defenders, Jackson Carlaw and the Scottish Tories, accepted that the deal is dead. It is now time to move on to another option. The option that got most votes last night in the House of Commons was the people’s vote. That is the right thing to do, but today we see Jackson Carlaw again failing to stand up for Scotland’s interests and simply standing up for Theresa May and his London bosses.

Child Poverty

The Prime Minister’s answer to Commons gridlock and Brexit meltdown is to offer to resign—again. While MPs cannot make a decision, too many people in the real world have no choice, day in and day out, but to make heart-breaking decisions as a result of a decade of Tory austerity—decisions such as paying the bills or feeding their children. The result is that more than half a million food parcels were handed out in Scotland over the past 18 months.

Does the First Minister agree that Brexit is not the only reason why Theresa May must go?

Yes, I do. I look back a few years, to 2014, and I reflect on the fact that, if Labour had not teamed up with the Tories to stop Scotland becoming independent, we would not have had a Tory Prime Minister for the past few years. [Interruption.]

Order, please.

The First Minister was teaming up with some interesting people at the weekend, I noticed. [Interruption.]

Order, please. Thank you.

That is constitutional politics. [Interruption.]

Let us keep the noise down, please. Order, please.

The First Minister and I may differ on some things, but we share some frustrations about the Brexit process, not least in how it is detracting from all the other issues that really matter to people: issues such as jobs, schools and hospitals, and child poverty.

In October last year, the First Minister told me that she would not support Labour’s plan to increase child benefit by £5 a week, because her Government estimated that it would lift only 20,000 children out of poverty. New figures for child poverty were published by the Scottish Government this morning. Will the First Minister tell members how many more children in Scotland are now living in poverty?

If we look at this morning’s figures, child poverty has increased and that is deeply regrettable. We know why it is increasing: because of the welfare cuts and the austerity that are being imposed by the Tory Government.

Child poverty, and poverty generally, in Scotland is too high, although it is important to note that it is lower in Scotland than it is in England or Labour-run Wales. Nevertheless, it is because child poverty is too high that we are taking steps to mitigate the impact of Tory welfare cuts and to invest in reducing child poverty and, of course, we are committed to the introduction of an income supplement, which will lift more children out of poverty, by making sure that we target that resource to those who most need it. When we publish the way forward on that by June this year, I hope that we will get Scottish Labour’s support for it.

This morning’s figures show that 10,000 more children in Scotland are living in poverty. That means that almost a quarter of a million children in Scotland are living in poverty today. No wonder Dr Mary Anne MacLeod from the anti-poverty project, a menu for change, says that the Scottish Government must

“give people living on cups of tea and thin air more to sustain them. And they must do it now.”

No wonder that the Child Poverty Action Group says:

“The Scottish Government’s timetable for a new income supplement fails to reflect the extraordinary increase in child poverty that the country faces. Children in poverty really can’t wait until 2022”.

Why is the First Minister making those children wait?

We are doing the work to ensure that we have a policy that can be delivered and paid for, and which lifts the maximum number of children out of poverty. This week, Labour’s most recent policy announcement—on bus travel—was exposed as completely unworked through. It is not fair to promise people things that cannot be delivered. We will not do that. We will make plans that can be delivered.

On action that we are taking to tackle child poverty, we are investing £125 million a year to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory policy. We heard what the UN rapporteur on poverty said:

“Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and ... limits on their ability to raise revenue. ... But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable.”

We will continue to take real action. We will continue to demand that the powers that the Tories are using to impose those policies on Scotland are brought to the Scottish Parliament. The sooner that Richard Leonard supports us in that, the better.

We have some constituency supplementaries.

Pupil Teacher Ratios (Edinburgh)

The First Minister will be aware of recent national statistics data showing that Edinburgh has the worst pupil teacher ratio in Scotland and that it has steadily worsened since the Scottish National Party came to power. The First Minister asked to be judged on her record on education, so what assurances can she give that more will be done to reverse that trend and meet the individual needs of pupils in Edinburgh who are being let down by her Government?

Pupil teacher ratios across the country are broadly stable. Over the past few years, we have seen overall teacher numbers increasing: we have the highest number of teachers overall since 2010 and the highest number of primary school teachers since 1980—when I was still at primary school. We have seen attainment in our schools increasing and we are seeing the attainment gap closing. That is good progress and we are determined to continue with that.

Deportation (Sbita Family)

I have written to the Home Secretary and the Scottish Government minister responsible for migration seeking urgent intervention to prevent six of my constituents—the Sbita family—from being deported imminently from Dumfries to Tunisia. The family—four of whom are under 16—are being deported simply on the basis that they cannot afford to pay the almost £7,000 fee for the Home Office to process their application. The family are now reporting to the police every week until their deportation, and are unable to work, study or make money for themselves.

In the absence of any fast action from the local Tory MP, what advice can the First Minister offer me to support my constituents? Is there any action that the Scottish Government can take to help my constituents to remain in Scotland?

I thank Emma Harper for raising the case. It is an illustration of Tory-run Britain; it is a shocking and appalling case—the Tories sitting in the Scottish Parliament should be ashamed.

I am hugely sympathetic to all those people—we are talking about many people—who have difficulties navigating the complex and increasingly restrictive immigration rules. The Scottish Government welcomes and hugely values people from all over the world who choose to build their lives here. Scotland is stronger because of our multiculturalism. Non-United Kingdom citizens are an important part not just of our present, but of our future.

The UK Government’s immigration system is not fit for purpose. We want to see a less restrictive, more humane system that meets our needs and provides a welcoming environment for new Scots and their families. The Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development will make representations to the Home Office and respond to Ms Harper as soon as possible.

Air Traffic Controllers (Industrial Action)

The First Minister will know that, from Monday, air traffic controllers working for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd will start their work to rule, which will result in severe disruption. On 26 April, proposed strike action will close seven airports for 24 hours. Given the importance of air travel to businesses and families in the Highlands and Islands, what contingency plans does the Scottish Government have in place to help?

I am extremely disappointed about the planned strike action. Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd is covered by the public sector pay policy. HIAL has implemented a pay rise for all staff that is an improvement on previous years; it has also increased significantly its contribution to the pension scheme to maintain that benefit for employees. I understand that the issue is to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and I hope that we will see early resolution of it, so that the travelling public do not suffer any unnecessary disruption.

Food Banks (Emergency Food Parcels)

This week, the Instant Neighbour charity published startling figures on a stark increase in the number of people in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire receiving emergency food parcels from food banks, with 12 independent food banks distributing more than 27,000 parcels in the past 18 months. Why have we seen such an increase, and what could be done to prevent the rise in food bank use in an area in which everyone should be thriving?

The latest data showing the number of food banks and the number of emergency food parcels shows numbers that are far too high. The Scottish Government promotes an approach to tackling food insecurity that has dignity at its heart. We support FareShare, for example, to help build better community resilience. As I said in response to Richard Leonard, we are doing everything that we can to mitigate the impact of the welfare cuts and austerity imposed on Scotland, which are the driving factors behind the increase in food bank use.

In answer to Gillian Martin’s question, that is the reason for the increase. The Scottish Government will do everything that we can to mitigate it, but the sooner that we can tackle the issues at source by taking the decisions here in our own Parliament, the better.

Stoneywood Mill

I have previously raised the issue of Stoneywood mill in my constituency entering administration. Since then, a phenomenal collective effort involving the workforce, management, the trade unions and local and national agencies has sought to present a clear message that the mill has a positive future. It is reported today that a preferred bidder has been identified. While there is still some distance to travel, does the First Minister agree that that is strong testament to that united approach, which we hope will secure a bright future for the business and its 482-strong workforce?

Yes, I agree. We have had some positive news this week, as Mark McDonald has outlined. He is right to be cautious—there is a long way to go. The positive news about the preferred bidder is testament first to the skills and dedication of the workforce and secondly to the joint collective effort that will continue to make sure that Stoneywood mill has a positive future.

Child Poverty

It is clear that the First Minister shares my grave concern that Scottish Government and Resolution Foundation analysis confirms that the number of children living in poverty in Scotland is steadily rising. It is clear that she also shares my anger and frustration that that worrying rise is, in the words of the senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation

“almost entirely driven by UK-wide decisions”.

While we continue to call for an end to the mean-spirited, punitive welfare policies of the United Kingdom Government, it is clear that the Scottish Government must do all that it can to raise the living standards of our poorest families. Is the First Minister really saying that low-income families in Scotland will have to wait until 2022 before the Scottish Government introduces a desperately needed income supplement?

I agree with Alison Johnstone’s sentiments. As we have said, by June this year we will set out an update on the work, which will be available for Parliament as a whole to scrutinise and debate. That will be published alongside our analysis of policy and delivery options. Those are important aspects—considering the delivery options as well as how we pay for the policy is a vital part of making sure that the policy can be delivered properly.

There are two principles driving our work: reaching the greatest number of children in poverty, and topping up income sufficiently to lift those households out of poverty. I have a lot of sympathy for the organisations behind the give me five campaign. However, £7 out of every £10 would be spent on families who are not living in poverty. If we are to do this, which we are committed to doing, we must make sure that the money gets to those who are most in need.

Living up to the targets that the Parliament unanimously supported in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 must be a priority, so we need to use every tool that we have at our disposal. The Resolution Foundation’s report on child poverty says:

“It is also possible that replacing the current regressive system of council tax, as cross-party talks are set to discuss, could help reduce child poverty, if done right.”

Will the First Minister commit to ensuring that our local and national tax systems are significantly more progressive, to allow us to raise the money that we need to fight child poverty in Scotland?

We are already raising extra revenue through a more progressive income tax system, which the Greens have welcomed, even if not every party in the chamber has done. As Alison Johnstone has said, we have committed to cross-party talks on the reform of council tax, and I hope that all parties will agree to take part in those talks. Putting the progressive principle at the heart of the system should be a priority and objective for all of us.

Armed Forces (Income Tax Recompense)

Will the First Minister join me in welcoming yesterday’s excellent announcement from the Prime Minister that the men and women in our armed forces who serve in Scotland on a tour of duty will now receive financial recompense from the United Kingdom Government in the tax year 2019-20, as a result of the increase in the tax rate that the Scottish National Party imposed last year?

I was wondering which welcome announcement from the Prime Minister the member was going to ask me to welcome.

The Tories talk about more highly paid members of our armed forces who, because of our progressive income tax system, pay a little bit more tax in Scotland, but we do not hear the Tories talking about the estimated 37,000 lower-paid Ministry of Defence personnel in England who now pay more tax than their counterparts in Scotland pay. Interestingly, I have not heard any suggestion that the Tories will compensate them for the fact that they are paying more tax in England than they would pay if they were based here in Scotland. I also do not hear the Tories saying that they will compensate MOD personnel in England for the free prescriptions that their counterparts in Scotland get, or for the access to free education that those who are ordinarily resident in Scotland get, which those in England do not get. MOD personnel, along with every public sector worker in Scotland, get a far better deal than their counterparts in England get. The Tories should reflect long and hard on that.

Article 50 (Revocation)

Yesterday, Theresa May offered her own resignation in an attempt to win support for her deal, but even that does not seem to have been enough. Does the First Minister think that it is high time that the Prime Minister accepted that her deal is finished and that article 50 should be revoked to put a stop to the chaos?

Yes. It seems that, apart from Theresa May, the only people who do not see that her deal is completely dead are the Scottish Conservatives. It is time to move on to better options, and I have made clear my views on a people’s vote.

Interestingly, last night the House of Commons had the option to emphatically rule out a no-deal Brexit by saying that, in that scenario, it would choose to revoke article 50—that was the amendment that the Scottish National Party’s Joanna Cherry tabled last night. I will need to double check this, but I think that, with one exception, all the Scottish Tories voted in a way that suggests that they would prefer a no-deal Brexit to revoking article 50. That is inexplicable, given that we know the damage that a no-deal Brexit would do to Scotland, and it is yet another example of the Tories being way, way, way out of sync with Scotland’s national interests.

Perth College UHI (Closure of Learning Centres)

Last week, the Perth College UHI announced the closure of its learning centres in Kinross, Crieff and Blairgowrie. Does the First Minister share my concern that that short-sighted decision will do serious damage to rural education opportunities in Perth and Kinross? What role does she think the 3.2 per cent real-terms cut to the budget of the University of the Highlands and Islands played in the decision?

In our budget overall, we have increased funding to colleges and to universities. Interestingly, Murdo Fraser and his colleagues voted against that budget.

As far as the particular issue that Murdo Fraser raises is concerned, I share his concerns. I know that local members have been raising those concerns and that they will continue to do so.

Democratic Unionist Party (Influence)

Has the First Minister noted that the vote of an individual Democratic Unionist is worth more than £100 million but that the opinion of this Parliament—and, similarly, that of the Assembly in Cardiff—is worth nothing? How does the First Minister respond to that?

I do not think that it will be lost on many people across Scotland that, right now, a handful of Democratic Unionist Party members of Parliament appear to have more say over Scotland’s future than the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland does. That is absolutely disgraceful.

The fact that the DUP appears to be able to get so much money out of the Prime Minister should not be lost on the Scottish Tories. There are more Scottish Tories than there are DUP MPs, so why are they not managing to get anything for Scotland? The answer is that the Scottish Tories never manage to do anything for Scotland, ever.

Frank’s Law

To ask the First Minister what progress is being made with the implementation of Frank’s law. (S5F-03221)

I am absolutely delighted to confirm that the extension of free personal care to those under 65 who are assessed as requiring it will begin on Monday, for which £30 million of new investment is being delivered in our budget for 2019-20. We have been working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities and stakeholders to ensure that the policy will be successfully implemented.

I welcome the step change in the provision of free personal care and the benefit that its expansion will provide to people, not just in the south of Scotland but throughout the country, who require care.

When free personal care was first introduced in the United Kingdom, the UK Government clawed back moneys that were spent on attendance allowance. With the extension of free personal care, has the UK Government given any commitment not to cut the disability benefits of people who receive free personal care?

No. Unfortunately, the UK Government has made no such commitment. When we were bringing forward the steps that were necessary to put the extension in place, we called on the UK Government not to cut those disability benefits but, unfortunately, it rejected those calls.

Our actions in extending free personal care will ensure that no one is left out of pocket by the UK Government withdrawing the care elements of disability living allowance or the personal independence payment, but the Tories need to explain why, given that they rightly backed the calls to extend free personal care, they voted against it in our budget in this Parliament and are going to cut DLA or PIP payments at Westminster, too. That is something else that seems utterly inexplicable to me.

Two years ago, I was honoured to introduce my Frank’s law bill in Parliament alongside Amanda Kopel, so the progress that is being made is welcome.

One key area that Alzheimer’s Scotland has highlighted in its recent report, which the Government has not responded to, is the issue of equality of access to healthcare for people with advanced dementia. Now that councils will be asked to deliver personal care to those people, what steps will ministers take to guarantee that a postcode lottery does not develop across Scotland?

We will continue to work with councils and to liaise with organisations such as Alzheimer’s Scotland to make sure that people who are assessed as needing personal care get it, and I hope that all members will play their part in that.

I commend all those who have campaigned for the policy. In particular, I commend Amanda Kopel, who is due a great amount of credit and gratitude from all of us for all her efforts.

We will undoubtedly continue to debate issues such as those that have been raised by Miles Briggs and Emma Harper, but I want to sound a note of consensus. Let us pause to reflect on the fact that the introduction of free personal care for the over-65s was one of the proudest achievements of this Parliament in its early years. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Parliament, it is really appropriate, and something that all of us should be proud of, that we are extending the policy to under-65s as well. As a Parliament elsewhere on these islands obsesses with Brexit, all of us should be proud that our Parliament is getting on with the socially progressive change that our country wants to see.

Local Authorities (Mandatory Care and Risk Management)

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will make it mandatory for local authorities to adopt care and risk management practices, in light of reports that some councils are not monitoring children and young people who display harmful behaviour. (S5F-03222)

Care and risk management—CARM—is a multi-agency framework designed to assist with the early identification, assessment and management of children aged 12 to 18 who display harmful behaviours, while ensuring that their needs are met and links are made to child protection procedures.

The Scottish Government produced the framework in partnership with a wide range of expert practitioners. It is considered to be best practice and should be undertaken by local authorities. Ultimately, the decision to adopt CARM is for each local authority, but we recommend that they do so.

The Sunday Times reported last week that the Scottish Government’s policy to help social workers and police protect the public from those displaying harmful behaviour is not being followed in Argyll and Bute, where Alesha MacPhail was horrifically murdered. Apparently, 15 other councils are not monitoring children at risk of causing harm.

I asked whether the First Minister would make it mandatory to follow the policy, but I am not sure that I heard an answer. In order to be sure, I will ask again. Will the First Minister commit to mandating that councils follow the policy? In the meantime, will the First Minister name which local authorities do not follow the policy? Will she write to those councils and urge them to adopt it?

First, I take the opportunity to express my sincere condolences and, I am sure, those of everybody across the chamber, to the family of Alesha MacPhail. None of us can even begin to imagine what her family is going through. My thoughts, and, I am sure those of everybody else, are with them at what is a difficult time and what, I am sure, will continue to be a horrendously difficult time for them.

This is an important issue, so I will take a few moments to set out the position. It is important to point out that it is not quite correct to say that councils are not monitoring children and young people who are displaying harmful behaviour—in fact, that is not correct at all.

Although many councils use the specific CARM guidance, others use individual protocols to achieve the same objectives. For example, Argyll and Bute Council has confirmed that, although it does not specifically use the CARM guidance, it uses protocols that are similar to it. Those protocols apply the same approach and reflect child protection guidance.

Obviously, Argyll and Bute Council has undertaken an initial case review into that tragic incident, and it is considering whether a significant case review is required. If and when that is carried out, there may well be lessons to learn. If one of those is around the CARM guidance, we will reflect on that.

Standards for youth justice are being developed between the Scottish Government and key partners for publication in June. The standards will outline the minimum expectations for all services delivering youth justice, and will include a standard on care and risk management. As part of the work, consideration is being given to updating the CARM guidance.

There is on-going work in this area, but the key point that I urge all members to take away with them is that councils that are not using the CARM guidance will be using similar protocols. It is important that that assurance is given to the chamber and the wider public.

Child Poverty Income Supplement

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will consider bringing forward the introduction of an income supplement, in light of two recent reports predicting an increase in child poverty. (S5F-03223)

Yes, we will. Those reports, which we have reflected on previously today, show the devastating impact of the United Kingdom Government’s welfare cuts. It has taken avoidable and conscious decisions to drive families in Scotland and across the UK into poverty.

We have committed to setting out options for the income supplement prior to the summer recess, and that is what we will do. We look forward to working with members across the chamber to design and implement an income supplement that helps the maximum number of children and families who need it most.

I am glad that the First Minister agrees that those are shocking reports. We need to push for urgency because, to date, on the Scottish National Party’s watch and fuelled by Tory austerity, child poverty in Scotland continues to rise. The Resolution Foundation report predicts a rise to 29 per cent by 2023. That should be a cause of shame for every elected member in the chamber.

If I heard correctly—I hope that I did—I think that the First Minister has finally listened to Labour’s call for the income supplement to be brought forward. We cannot wait until 2022 at the earliest, because, as Dr Mary Anne MacLeod said,

“promises to help people in three years’ time are of little comfort to parents whose cupboards are empty right now.”

Given that tackling poverty cannot wait, will the First Minister also listen to Scottish Labour, children’s charities, faith groups and academics and immediately implement a £5 supplement to child benefit? That would lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty right now. Or will the First Minister just continue to talk about it while families are struggling below the breadline? Jam tomorrow is no use—

That is enough, Ms Smith, thank you.

—when families do not even have bread today.

This is a serious issue. I am on record, not just today but on many occasions, as saying that I think that poverty rates generally and child poverty rates in particular are too high in Scotland. In Scotland, the child poverty rate is 22 per cent—which is far too high—but it is worth noting that the rate in the UK as a whole is 26 per cent, and it is 26 per cent in Wales, too. The member’s assertion that this is somehow down to the SNP simply does not bear scrutiny.

I have to say that what marks out the SNP Government is our determination to take action to tackle child poverty. Scotland is the only part of the UK with statutory targets. We are doing mitigation to protect against Tory welfare cuts and work to look at how we have an income supplement that raises the maximum number of children out of poverty. Whether or not Labour members want to accept it, the reality is that we need a delivery mechanism and the budgeting for that. We cannot simply promise something if we do not know how it can be delivered or paid for, and we are doing the hard work to make this possible, not just in rhetoric but in reality.

We will bring forward the update before June and Parliament as a whole can debate the best way forward. That is the right way to go, and it is the way that is in the best interests, in the longer term, of children across Scotland.

I agree with the First Minister that we must ensure that any money is targeted at those in need, not given as a universal benefit to many people who do not need it. However, the introduction of an income supplement would experience economic shock factors and the volatility of the economy. Does the First Minister believe that that factor needs to be very much considered in the introduction of an income supplement? How would the Scottish Government manage that?

Forgive me—I am genuinely not sure that I entirely understand the question, but I am happy to reflect on it and to reply later. Of course, all of these issues can be properly discussed and debated when we bring forward the update with suggested ways forward in June.

I say in all sincerity to Michelle Ballantyne that we would not be having this discussion right now if it were not for the policies of her party at Westminster, imposing welfare cuts and austerity on children and families across Scotland. Perhaps if she reflected on that before she next stood up in this chamber to talk about child poverty, we would all be a lot better off.

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

12:43 Meeting suspended.  

12:45 On resuming—