Meeting date: Thursday, October 28, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 28 October 2021
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Offshore Training Passport, Portfolio Question Time, National Health Service Endowment Funds, Covid Recovery Strategy, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Point of Order
- Offshore Training Passport
- Portfolio Question Time
- National Health Service Endowment Funds
- Covid Recovery Strategy
- Points of Order
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
I intend to take constituency and general supplementary questions after question 2. Members who wish to ask supplementaries should press their request-to-speak buttons during question 2. I will keep a note of members who press their buttons, and I will take further supplementaries after question 7, if we have any time in hand. Members who wish to ask a supplementary to questions 3 to 7 should press their buttons during the relevant question.
Rail Services (Industrial Action)
After months of worry about what will happen, we heard last night that the train strikes have, thankfully, been averted. Although that is a welcome relief for commuters across Scotland, that should never have taken to the 11th hour to secure. Will the First Minister explain why the additional funding and urgency to resolve the matter have been found only now, as world leaders are coming to town for the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and why those attendees are more important than ordinary Scots, who have had to put up with it since March?
It is clear that Douglas Ross has not looked at or understood the nature and detail of what was agreed last night. I will come on to that.
A very reasonable offer was made to the rail unions, and negotiations have been on-going for some time. The reasonableness of the offer is evidenced by the fact that three of the four rail unions that were party to the negotiations had already accepted the offer; the outstanding union was the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
I am delighted to say that agreement was reached last night. The basis of that agreement is a one-year deal. That is where I do not think that Douglas Ross has looked at the detail. There is no additional funding in that one-year deal. The deal that was offered for the first year is the same as the one that was offered to the RMT earlier this week. The difference is for the second year, which the other unions have accepted. There will be further negotiations to come.
The outcome for the travelling public across Scotland is a good one. It does not simply remove the prospect of a rail strike over the period of COP; it resolves the Sunday strikes that have been on-going for some time. It is a good outcome, and I am delighted that it has been secured over the past 24 hours.
Does the First Minister really expect us to believe that there was no funding involved in that and that the rail unions just suddenly decided to accept it? I was very clear in my question, and I hoped that the First Minister would have taken the opportunity to apologise to people across Scotland who have faced disruption since March. They have waited for a resolution for months, and the matter has been resolved only now, as world leaders are about to come to Glasgow.
COP26 presents a huge opportunity to tackle climate change, but it will disrupt the daily lives of working people across Glasgow, even with the RMT strike cancelled. The list of road closures is considerable, and there is massive potential for traffic to grind to a halt. Is the First Minister confident that Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government have done everything that they can to minimise the disruption to commuters and local residents in Glasgow who are trying to get on with their daily lives?
Before I come on to the questions relating to COP more substantively, let me conclude on the points relating to rail. In passing, it is worth pointing out that, as far as I understand—I will be corrected if I am wrong—south of the border, where Douglas Ross’s party is in power, rail workers are getting no pay increase anywhere near the pay increase that is being offered to rail workers in Scotland. Not for the first time, there is something of an irony.
I would have thought that Douglas Ross would have considered something before asking his questions but, given that it is clear that he did not, he might want to do that after he has asked them. The agreement that the RMT accepted last night is virtually identical to the deal that had already been accepted by the other unions, for one year. That is the position. It is the same deal that was on the table at the weekend for the RMT. I am delighted that agreement has been reached, because that now removes the prospect of strikes.
Moving on, I hope that COP is successful on the objective of making real progress towards tackling climate change. All of us should want to see that success over the next two weeks.
The Scottish Government, working with the UK Government, the United Nations and Glasgow City Council, has put in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure the successful logistical operation of COP. We will not be complacent. Our resilience arrangements are stood up and there will be day-to-day monitoring of all the different aspects of the situation. However, I am as confident as it is possible to be that those arrangements are appropriate. Of course, COP is not a Scottish Government event; it is a United Nations event. The UK Government is the formal host and we are working closely with it.
For the people of Glasgow—I am a resident of the city and a representative of part of it—there will be disruption and inconvenience over the next two weeks. That is regrettable in many ways, but I think that the majority of people in Glasgow understand the importance of the COP26 summit for the future of the planet.
I wish the United Nations negotiators, the UK COP presidency and everybody attending in an official capacity every success in reaching a deal that puts first the future of the planet and generations to come.
Let us start with what the First Minister said and, crucially, did not say in that answer. I hate to break it to her, but the deals cannot be virtually identical. Identical means that they are the same so, if they are virtually identical, they are not the same. There was clearly a difference for the deal to be accepted.
What the First Minister did not say in her first or second answer was sorry. She did not say sorry to the people of Scotland who have been waiting for months for her Government to step up and resolve the issues on the railway. They have been resolved now but should have been resolved far sooner, because people have been struggling with rail strikes since March.
The First Minister accepted that there will be disruption and inconvenience for people in Glasgow. There is real potential for disruption from protest groups at COP26 that risks public safety. Only this morning, Extinction Rebellion said that it plans “deliberate disruption” with “the most impact” possible. We all respect the right of protesters to express their views, but we cannot sit back and allow deliberate and dangerous disruption of people’s lives.
Will the First Minister reassure people across Glasgow that there will be a zero-tolerance approach to protests that disrupt people who are going to their work—including doctors and nurses—and ambulances that are carrying people who are in urgent need of medical care?
If truth be told, what Douglas Ross is really displaying is disappointment that the rail strike has been resolved because he would rather that it had continued.
He wants to know the details of the deal, given that he did not check it before coming into the chamber. The deals that were already agreed by the other unions consisted of, for the first year, a 2.5 per cent pay rise backdated for 2021, a £300 COP26 payment and a rest-day working agreement; the deal that was agreed with the RMT last night consists of a 2.5 per cent pay rise backdated for 2021, a £300 payment for COP26 and a rest-day working agreement. That sounds to me pretty identical to the one that three of the four unions had already agreed. It is good news for the people who travel on our railways and for the Scottish population, which is probably why Douglas Ross is so deeply irritated by it.
Obviously, it is for Police Scotland to decide the appropriate approach to the policing of demonstrations. The chief constable, with whom I will have further discussions on the matter today and tomorrow, has been clear that there will be a sensitive policing operation that will do everything possible to facilitate appropriate and peaceful protest. However, Police Scotland will respond to any protests that seek to break the law and disrupt people beyond what would be considered reasonable.
People want to come and make their voices heard. That is understandable, given the importance of the issues that are under discussion. However, I say to people who are looking to come to protest in Glasgow that they should do it peacefully and with recognition that the people of Glasgow are agreeing to host the conference and suffering some disruption because of that, so they should not add to that disruption for them. Let us all get behind the people who will negotiate a good outcome—I hope—for the future of the planet.
Nicola Sturgeon speaks about disappointment and irritation. If she wants to look for disappointment and irritation, it is coming from commuters, who have been putting up with the situation since March. We have now had three attempts to get the First Minister to have some humility and to accept that the problems of the strikes have affected people up and down Scotland for months. Would she take the opportunity to recognise the disruption that that has caused to people across Scotland? The fact that the matter has been resolved at the last minute makes it look like it is more important for it to be suitably sorted for the COP26 travel arrangements, not for people across Scotland.
The First Minister also mentioned the protests that are expected over the next couple of weeks in Glasgow. There have been suggestions from some public figures, including one of Nicola Sturgeon’s own ministers, that some unlawful protest will be tolerated. It is one thing to be frustrated by the lack of action on climate change, but it is another thing entirely to take that frustration and use it to disrupt people’s lives. We all want COP26 to be a success. It is not just an opportunity to tackle climate change; it is a once-in-a-generation chance to highlight the best of Glasgow to the rest of the world.
It has already been a rocky road to get to this point, from strike threats to hospital appointments being cancelled to the well-known problems with bin collections and concerns over wider travel disruption. Is the First Minister now fully confident that Glasgow is ready to grasp this opportunity?
Yes, I am. Obviously, the UK Government has a big part to play here. Douglas Ross is actually sounding a bit disappointed that the UK Government decided to bring COP26 to Glasgow; perhaps he wants to direct some of his concerns to the UK Government.
These are serious issues, which the Scottish Government has been focused on, with our partners—which, in the case of COP, include the UK Government, Glasgow City Council and the United Nations. I met just yesterday with the UN lead negotiator for COP26 to discuss some of the logistical issues around the conference and also the substance of the negotiations.
On the issue of rail disruption, the Scottish Government has been supporting ScotRail to bring an end to any disruption. I always regret disruption that is caused by disputes of this nature. However, I think that the offer that has been made to rail unions was a reasonable one, as evidenced by the fact that three out of the four unions had already accepted it. I am glad to say that we reached agreement with the fourth of those unions last night to take away the prospect of a strike and to end the Sunday disruption that has been suffered for some time now.
On the issue of protest, in a constitutional democracy it is not for politicians to decide how to police demonstrations; it is for the police to decide how they appropriately police demonstrations. What Douglas Ross is asking me is whether I have confidence in the ability of Police Scotland to do that appropriately and sensitively, with the interests of the people of Glasgow and Scotland at heart. Yes, I do have confidence in Police Scotland to do so.
Next week, the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow as leaders gather for our last great chance to avert the climate emergency. It is in all our interests and in those of future generations that the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—succeeds. We have the opportunity to strike a historic Glasgow agreement. However, the proposals that are currently on the table would still lead to more than 2°C of global warming. That simply is not good enough. That is why it is important that political leaders, both at home and abroad, turn their words into meaningful action. Does the First Minister agree that that means leading by example?
Yes, I do agree with that, and Scotland does lead by example. That is not to say that we do not have more work to do—we absolutely, most definitely, have—but our own statutory climate change targets are more than consistent with the Paris agreement, which gives us the ability to apply pressure to others. Unfortunately, we are not directly at the negotiating table, but we have a considerable degree of influence, not least through our co-convenership of the Under2 Coalition, which is bringing city, state and devolved Governments together to put maximum pressure on the discussions.
Yes, we must lead by example. There is a big job of work to do to keep 1.5°C alive, which is the aim of the COP26 summit. There is a gap on emissions right now, and there is a gap on climate finance. I know that the negotiators are very focused on trying to close those gaps as far as possible, and that is what we must hope emerges over the period of the summit.
I will come back to the national record, but let us talk about what this means locally. I love Glasgow—it is my home—but, frankly, it has been let down by the Scottish National Party, which cannot even get the basics right. Tonnes of waste is piling up on our streets, fly-tipping is on the rise and there are more than a million rats. Glasgow deserves better.
While Nicola Sturgeon lectures the world about the global environment, she is turning a blind eye to the environment that Glaswegians are living in every day. Tomorrow, I will join cleansing workers who have been on the front line throughout the pandemic. For months, they have been crying out for Nicola Sturgeon to tackle the waste crisis, but they have been repeatedly ignored. Will she join me tomorrow in Glasgow to hear directly from them about the challenges that they face every day?
I will be working hard to make sure that the Scottish Government is doing everything it can to support the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local authorities to reach—I hope—an agreement with the trade unions to resolve the issues. That is my job and my responsibility. I do not shy away from the problems and challenges that cities such as Glasgow—because Glasgow is not unique here—face in the times that we are living through right now, but nor will I stand here and allow Glasgow, which is one of the greatest cities in the world, to be talked down for political purposes in the way that Anas Sarwar has disgracefully been doing in recent times.
Next week, we will be talking about making history, but that was probably a historically out-of-touch answer from the First Minister. She is basically saying to Glaswegians, “That’s as good as it gets.” That is, frankly, not as good as it gets. She talks about talking to world leaders, but those people in Glasgow are on the front line, leading the fight against the environmental crisis. She should be taking them much more seriously, because she needs to lead by example.
Nicola Sturgeon is right to say that we need credible action, but, while she talks about the need for more public transport and getting people out of their cars, her Government is cutting hundreds of train services. She lectures the world on the global environment while cutting cleansing budgets and neglecting the local environment. Her Scottish National Party Government has missed its renewable heating target and has missed its gas emissions target for three years running. She promised 130,000 green jobs by 2020, but we have just over 21,000. We all want COP26 to be the moment when the world comes together to stop the climate catastrophe, so when will Nicola Sturgeon stop talking about credible action and start delivering it?
I will take those questions in turn. We are seeing an increase in renewable heat. The decline that was reported yesterday was driven by reduced output from large biomass systems. As the Energy Saving Trust noted yesterday, that actually masked growth in renewable heat output from other technologies, particularly heat pumps.
On greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland, we have decarbonised as a country in recent years faster than any G20 country. We have reduced our emissions by 51.5 per cent. Yes, our target said that it should have been 55 per cent, and that is why we are publishing a catch-up plan, which the law requires us to do. We have decarbonised to a greater extent and faster than most other countries in the world, which is why we are leading by example.
On rail services, there has been a consultation and ScotRail is now looking at all the responses to that consultation to make sure that we have rail services that are fit for the future. I am proud to say that it is this Government that is going to renationalise Scotland’s railways to make them fit for the future. When Labour was in government, it did not even allow us the powers to do that.
I will now take supplementary questions.
New Zealand Trade Deal
In 2014, we were told that the people in Scotland benefit from the United Kingdom’s influence on the world stage. However, under Westminster’s control, decisions that affect our lives are constantly taken without any serious consideration of the interests of the Scottish people. The latest example of that is the New Zealand trade deal. What is the First Minister’s assessment of the possible effects of the agreement on our farming industry and the wider Scottish economy?
The proposed trade agreement with New Zealand represents a significant opening up of our agriculture market to imports of New Zealand agri-food, which is produced at a lower cost and, crucially, will do nothing to offset the damage to our economy that is being caused by Brexit. The UK Government’s own economic analysis concluded that a UK-New Zealand trade agreement would have a zero per cent impact on UK gross domestic product overall and would actually deliver a contraction of 0.5 per cent in GDP in Scotland’s agriculture and semi-processed food sector. We were not involved in those negotiations, but the proposed deal is evidence that, when it comes to negotiating such trade deals, Scotland’s interests are nowhere on the radar of the UK Government. That is utterly disgraceful, and it is yet another downside implication of the Brexit disaster.
Covid-19 Vaccination (Trial Participants)
As the First Minister knows, I am—along with many other Scots—taking part in the Novavax vaccine trial. It is now more than two weeks since triallists in other parts of the United Kingdom were contacted and offered an alternative vaccine; however, in Scotland there has been silence. Will the Scottish Government follow the UK Government in offering trial participants two doses of an alternative vaccine? That would give them clarity and peace of mind that they were appropriately protected.
Discussions are continuing on that matter. We have made it absolutely clear that there will be no disadvantage to those who have taken part in vaccine trials. We are deeply grateful to them. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care is having discussions with the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the chief medical officer later today. He will, of course, update the Parliament as soon as possible.
Covid-19 Vaccination (Appointments)
A 94-year-old woman in my constituency had to cancel her booster vaccination appointment because she caught Covid. Thankfully, she has now recovered, but her family is still trying to re-book online and on the telephone through the NHS Inform booking service. They have tried over three days, phoning several times a day. Yesterday, the operator told her that the system was down, that it had been down all week and that they did not know when it was going to be fixed. When the First Minister was telling everybody to phone NHS Inform this week to get an appointment, the system was not functioning. Can she tell us when it will be fixed?
The issue has been resolved now, I understand. There was a problem with the system. If Jackie Baillie sends the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care her constituent’s details, we can get in touch to make sure that they have what they need to re-book the appointment.
Such issues will happen from time to time. They are regrettable and we fix them as quickly as possible. However, as of yesterday, almost 600,000 booster vaccinations had been given across Scotland. Every day, thousands of booster vaccinations are given, which is to the great credit of everybody who is administering the scheme across the country.
The First Minister will be aware that the people of Afghanistan are currently suffering a humanitarian crisis, with more than half the population facing acute hunger as the country is gripped in one of the world’s worst food shortages. The United Nations has warned that a harsh winter looms and that more than 23 million Afghans will go hungry as a result of conflict and the economic downturn. Will the First Minister express her solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and call on the United Kingdom Government to work quickly with the UN to come to their aid?
Yes. I am sure that we would all want to express once again our solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. The Scottish Government has announced humanitarian funding through our own humanitarian emergency fund—we did that just last month. We are also welcoming people from Afghanistan and helping to give them refuge here. We all want to do everything possible to help, and the Scottish Government is absolutely focused on making sure that we do that.
Aberdeen City Council
Aberdeen City Council is £6 million out of pocket because the Scottish Government has not paid vital Covid grants from over a year ago. Ministers have pushed back the date for payment on three separate occasions. When will Aberdeen City Council get the money that it is due?
Councils are getting every penny that is due to them. I will look into the particular issue of the timing of payments to Aberdeen City Council and will write to the member, but councils have had tens of millions of pounds of Covid funding and, as I have said, they get every penny that they are entitled to.
Covid-19 Vaccination (Elderly and Vulnerable People)
Last week, one of my constituents, Ms Cooper from Bishopbriggs, went to get her Covid-19 booster vaccination. She arrived on time for her appointment but the vaccination centre had no available disabled parking, no managed queuing and no seating for waiting patients. Ms Cooper, who is 83, has dementia, diabetes and reduced mobility but she was made to wait for an hour and a half outside in the cold and rain. Ms Cooper’s daughter has told me that her mother is afraid to go for any future vaccination. Ms Cooper is not alone. My inbox and the inboxes of colleagues are full of similar cases.
Forcing the elderly to wait in such conditions is turning people off getting their vaccination at a time when it is needed more than ever. What is the First Minster doing to ensure that our elderly and most vulnerable citizens are vaccinated quickly and safely and that nobody’s mother or father has to wait outside for hours in inclement weather? She will, I am sure, agree that that is unacceptable.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care has raised with national health service board chairs the issue of people having to queue or wait for appointments. It is really important that that does not happen.
Obviously, I accept that what has been recounted is not acceptable for any elderly person. However, it is also important to recognise the huge success of the vaccination programme, including the booster campaign that is under way right now, literally as we speak. Thousands of people are being vaccinated with booster jags. That is a good thing, because it is a vital part of our protection over this winter period. Health boards and vaccinators are working hard on that, and the Scottish Government is doing and will continue to do everything it can to support that programme.
Booster Vaccination Appointments
NHS Borders is sending out booster vaccination invitations. Can the First Minister confirm to my constituents that, if they are registered with a Borders general practitioner, they will be notified of that appointment by NHS Borders even if they had one or both of their vaccinations in England?
Yes, that is the case. The appointment notification will be given through NHS Borders. If anybody does not receive a notification when they believe they should have done, the process allows them to check whether there is a problem.
University Staff (Mental Health)
A recent report revealed that 53 per cent of surveyed university staff showed possible signs of depression and that one in five academics was working at least two extra days per week. What action is the Scottish Government taking to help universities and colleges to reduce the workload of staff as restrictions persist?
We recognise that there has been a mental health impact on many people in different sectors across the country, and we are taking a range of steps to improve mental health provision. First and foremost, it is for universities and colleges to look after the wellbeing of their staff. Through the discussions that we have with the sector about funding and other support, we will—as we do in all sectors—make sure that mental health issues are properly catered for.
To ask the First Minister, in light of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—what action the Scottish Government is taking to showcase the role that Scottish agriculture can play in reducing carbon emissions. (S6F-00377)
I am sure that Rachael Hamilton will join me in welcoming the announcement that was made this morning by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands of a national test programme of measures to kick start action by farmers and crofters to reduce their carbon emissions. She also announced yesterday that the agri-environment climate scheme—AECS—will reopen for funding in 2022 to support the ambition of doubling the amount of land under organic management. We have also published a consultation that builds on key themes from the farmer-led groups, which will help to inform future work.
I hope that Rachael Hamilton has noticed what we are not doing here in Scotland: we will not sell out Scotland’s farmers and food producers in trade agreements that threaten to undermine standards and prices and we will not cut the level of payments that our farmers receive. However, we will fight Tory United Kingdom Government plans to treat agriculture payments as subsidies, unlike any other jurisdiction in the world, which further undermines the potential support that is available for farmers and crofters in Scotland for producing food.
Rishi Sunak’s budget yesterday delivers for Scottish farmers and crofters, providing an additional £1.9 billion, which will be beneficial in fighting climate change. We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment for further AECS funding, which is a long-standing Conservative demand, but farmers urgently require the detail of that extended funding. Scottish agriculture has some of the most environmentally friendly practices in the world, but livestock producers are concerned that the industry will be used as a scapegoat. Has the Scottish Government ever considered allocating funding to accelerate the reduction of cattle numbers—yes or no?
Our agriculture sector is being used as a scapegoat, but not by the Scottish Government; it is being used as a scapegoat by the UK Government and has been, frankly, betrayed and let down by the UK Government. We know that agriculture is an emitter of greenhouse gases and must play its role in us meeting our net zero target, but we will do that in a way that supports the sector appropriately. We will not short change the sector in the way that the UK Government has done.
United Kingdom Budget (Scottish Government’s Response)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the United Kingdom budget. (S6F-00368)
We welcome aspects of the United Kingdom Government’s budget, but there is also much to cause disappointment. It does not do enough to address the cost of living crisis that many individuals and families across the country face, and it will leave the Scottish Government with fewer resources in every year of the spending review than we have at our disposal this year. The budget results in considerable challenges for the Scottish Government and we will set out our budget plans shortly.
Millions face a squeeze on living standards over the coming year. While the Chancellor cut taxes on bank profits, he failed to introduce measures to help households that are already struggling with rising food and fuel prices. The tax burden is now at its greatest since the 1950s, with raised national insurance contributions and frozen personal income tax allowances, cutting people’s disposable incomes.
Does the First Minister agree with Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who said:
“This is actually awful. Yet more years of real incomes barely growing. High inflation, rising taxes, poor growth keeping living standards virtually stagnant for another half a decade”?
[Interruption.] Does she agree with anti-poverty charity Z2K, which said:
“There’s absolutely nothing for the 3 million plus whose disability, illness or caring responsibilities mean they can’t work and will be hit hard this winter”?
What about a question? This is a speech.
Does she further agree that the UK budget was a failure in terms of delivering—
Excuse me, Mr Gibson.
—equality, fairness and improving the lives of people in Scotland?
Mr Gibson, could you hold on for one minute, please?
That was an exceptionally long question, but I will decide whether we will hear your exceptionally long question. If the First Minister heard enough of the question, I would be grateful if she would respond to that. I ask members to bear in mind that there is a great deal of interest in this session. I would like to get in as many members as possible.
I suspect that I know why the Tories did not want to hear Kenny Gibson’s question. It is because there were some deeply uncomfortable truths in it for them. When I gave my initial answer to Mr Gibson, there was laughter from the Conservative benches when I said that we would have less money in every year of the spending review than we have in this year. Let me give the detail of that. [Interruption.] Between this year and next year, Scotland’s resource budget is being cut by 7.1 per cent in real terms. The equivalent reduction for our capital budget is 9.7 per cent in real terms. That is the reality and I am not surprised that the Tories do not like it—[Interruption.]
First Minister, could you give me one second? I would very much like to hear the First Minister, and I would be grateful if colleagues could desist from commenting from a sedentary position. Thank you.
I have two final points that I suspect the Conservatives will also not want to hear. It is the case that, on the issue of living standards, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said yesterday about the budget:
“This is actually awful. ... more years of real incomes barely growing. High inflation, rising taxes, poor growth keeping living standards virtually stagnant for another half a decade”.
Then, of course, we have universal credit. This is what the Resolution Foundation had to say:
“Of the 4.4 million households on Universal Credit around three-quarters ... will be worse off as a result of decisions to take away the £20 a week uplift”.
Beyond the headlines, those are the realities for individuals and families right across the country. That is why the Conservatives did not want to hear the facts.
What is the Scottish Government’s reaction to yesterday’s call from the Scottish Tourism Alliance to extend the period of business rates relief in retail, hospitality and leisure on a similar basis to that announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday?
We had already extended 100 per cent rates relief, when the chancellor did not do so for other parts of the United Kingdom. The 100 per cent rates relief is already in place in this financial year. We will bring forward our budget in due course for scrutiny by Parliament and I can give a guarantee that we will be fair to the retail sector, as we have been in a way that the UK Government has not over recent months.
What is the First Minister’s reaction to the aviation duty cut in yesterday’s announcement? What demand management can we put in place to ensure that it does not encourage climate-polluting frequent flying within the United Kingdom?
I think that it was the wrong choice. A few days from the start of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—when all of us have an obligation to think about how we contribute to reaching net zero and saving the planet, the chancellor chose to make that cut in aviation duty. It is not a choice that this Government would have made, but it is for the UK Government to defend it in the months to come.
COP26 (Healthcare Services in Glasgow)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government anticipates the impact of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—will be on Glasgow’s healthcare services. (S6F-00378)
The Scottish Government is working closely with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. We have been doing so for some months to plan and prepare for COP26. Information from previous COP summits tells us that the impact on routine health services is not substantial. However, we are not complacent and we recognise the risks that are associated with hosting COP during the pandemic. We have therefore been working with the UN, the United Kingdom Government, Glasgow City Council, Public Health Scotland and others to put in place measures to mitigate the risks and the potential impact on the national health service and other public services. Arrangements are in place to closely monitor Covid cases and to respond swiftly and appropriately to any increase in cases in order to minimise the impact on healthcare services.
Like the First Minister, I recognise the hard work that has been done by our health services. However, I had hoped that she might share my concern about what was said in a paper for Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board this week, namely that
“no specific provision has been made for additional inpatient capacity”
I would have hoped that the First Minister would know that COP26 is not really comparable to the G7 summit. At COP, there will be about 14,000 delegates a day and the march by activists on 6 November has been licensed for up to 100,000 people. It is obvious that, given that Covid cases are high and hospitals are already overwhelmed, there is likely to be an increase in in-patient numbers. In light of that, can the First Minister tell me today or at some other time what will be the receiving hospital for COP26? Will that hospital have additional capacity?
The First Minster has a constituency interest in the matter. I hope that she can tell me that there will be safe and guaranteed routes to accident and emergency departments not just for ambulances but for the general public who will need to attend A and E during COP26. I hope that she can give me whatever assurance that she can that she will be mindful of the need to constantly ensure that safe routes to A and E and to our hospitals are provided.
On the last point, which, of course, is extremely important, all that is factored into the transport plans that are in place, as people would expect.
On the broader question, Pauline McNeill mentioned the G7 summit. I know that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has been looking at previous COP summits to assess the likely impact on routine healthcare. However, it is important to recognise that previous COP summits have not taken place amidst a pandemic, so there might be a different impact.
A number of contingency arrangements are in place. The health secretary and I have been looking closely at the contingency arrangements that Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board has in place. There is substantial on-site health provision to try to reduce the impact on hospitals in Glasgow, and the health board is increasing the numbers of staff who will be in place during the summit. Of course, which hospitals receive patients will depend on why those patients are admitted and, of course, on the profile of the impact across the city.
Substantial contingency arrangements are in place. I hope that that gives some reassurance to Pauline McNeill and other members.
With significant road closures and ill-timed roadworks across Glasgow, what provisions have been put in place to allow hard-working national health service staff to get to work?
The transport plans that are in place take account of all those things. The plans have been communicated to people in Glasgow over a significant period so that people can make arrangements. It is vital that those who work in our health service get to work, and that has been part of the consideration as the plans have been put in place.
COP26 (Global South)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government will be doing to amplify the voices of the global south at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. (S6F-00367)
We have committed to ensuring that our programme for COP26 is inclusive and that we work to amplify the voices of those who are too often not heard, including through the Glasgow climate dialogues, and to learn, listen and engage on the key issues for those from the global south.
We want people to be at the heart of decision making in Scotland and at COP, and we supported the Global Assembly to bring the lived experiences of global citizens directly to COP.
We are amplifying youth voices in Scotland, and those from Malawi through, for example, our Malawi climate leaders programme.
I expect to have a number of meetings with representatives of the global south over the next two weeks, to listen to their perspective on the climate crisis and hear how we can further support their voices in their ask of COP26.
It is clear that the Scottish Government is showing leadership. However, the global south has been clear that a just transition away from fossil fuels that leaves nobody behind must also be a priority at the COP.
Let us look at what other small nations of around 5 million people are doing by using their full powers over energy. New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and Costa Rica are all moving on from the era of oil and gas. The case for independence rests on Scotland proudly joining them as a world leader in that real just transition. Does the First Minister agree?
Yes, we are all in a transition away from oil and gas. As I said earlier this week, we have to accelerate that transition as far as possible. The Scottish Government has, for example, commissioned new research to look in detail at how we can do that quickly.
We have to build up the alternatives as quickly as possible but, crucially, we must support those who work in oil and gas to transition to the jobs of the future. The Scottish Government is focused on doing that and on making sure that the just transition is fast enough to be in the interests of the planet.
At the most recent meeting of the cross-party group on international development, we discussed those people who are the most disproportionately affected by climate change in the global south, such as young people, women and the marginalised. It was stressed that any international aid must get to local communities, because they are best suited to ensuring that the aid is distributed where it is most needed. What steps can the Scottish Government take to ensure that aid is reaching local communities and vulnerable groups?
In trying to amplify those voices during COP, that will be one of the key issues. The quantum of climate finance and how that finance is used on not just mitigation, but adaptation and what is called loss and damage, is one of the significant strands of the discussions that will take place in Glasgow during the next two weeks. Our own climate justice fund is looking to pivot towards that. We can lead by example, but also do everything that we can to make sure that the voices of the global south are heard on those issues. That is exactly what we intend to seek to do.
Facial Recognition Technology (Schools)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is regarding the use of facial recognition technology in schools. (S6F-00388)
Facial recognition technology in schools does not appear to be proportionate or necessary. That said, as Willie Rennie will be aware, the introduction of biometric identification systems is a matter for local authorities and schools.
The Scottish Government is clear that, prior to introducing biometric systems, an education authority should carry out a privacy impact assessment, or a proportionate equivalent, and consult pupils and parents. Information should also be provided on data protection, how to opt out, consent, and alternative systems that may be used. Schools and local authorities will also pay due attention to the Information Commissioner’s Office requirements that organisations that are using facial recognition technology should comply with data protection law before, during and after its use.
The subtle change of tone from the First Minister is mildly welcome, but I am afraid that she is not doing enough on this. It is about children’s rights and she does not seem to be that bothered about it.
The United Kingdom Information Commissioner’s Office has called a halt to the scheme in North Ayrshire, but it should never have got this far. The SNP Government previously opposed the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner having a role in health and education. If the First Minister will not intervene on facial recognition, will she support the expansion of the remit of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner so that he can intervene?
I am happy to give consideration to that suggestion. The rights of children are hugely important to all of us in the Parliament. We are committed to ensuring that their rights are protected, including their right to the fair and lawful processing of their personal information.
I am not aware of any subtle change in the tone of my answer. What I set out in my initial answer is important. It recognises the role of local authorities in schools, and it also sets out the requirements to which local authorities need to pay heed. That is the appropriate way to deal with what I accept is a difficult and sensitive issue.
Glasgow Cleansing Workers (Meetings)
Like me, the First Minister has the privilege of representing Glasgow as an MSP, so I was disappointed to hear her response to Anas Sarwar’s question asking her to meet cleansing workers tomorrow. Talking about the state of our streets and how rats are running around them is not talking Glasgow down; that is letting Glasgow down. As she is my representative and MSP, I again ask the First Minister to please meet the cleansing workers tomorrow and hear from them at first hand what is happening. I assure her that there are rats in our streets. There are rats in my flat. As my representative, will the First Minister please meet the cleansing workers tomorrow and show that she cares about Glasgow?
I think that the people who live and work in Glasgow, and certainly those in my constituency, know that I care deeply about all the issues that they face. That is, I presume, one of the reasons why they have elected and re-elected me as their representative.
I listen to cleansing workers and other people across Glasgow on a daily basis. My job as a local representative is to represent those interests, which I do every day to the best of my ability. My job as First Minister is to find the solutions to their problems. That is why the Scottish Government will continue to do everything that it can to support the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to find a solution to the issues in question.
As a resident and a representative of the city of Glasgow, I do not shy away from the challenges that the city faces, but I think that some of the language that Labour is using about Glasgow and some of the ways in which Labour is seeking to characterise the city of Glasgow are doing a disservice to the city and to people who live there, and that Labour is doing that for political purposes, not in the interests of the city.