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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 29, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 29 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, St Andrew’s Day 2018, Homelessness, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Brexit (Fishing)

The power to assert our position as an independent coastal state with full, unfettered access across our waters, or a plan to go back into the common fisheries policy with no controls at all—which of those does the First Minister think is the best plan for our fishermen?

I think that the Tories’ raising the matter of fishing today is, in a political sense, something of an early Christmas present. Jackson Carlaw appears to be attacking me on fishing because I continue to support membership of the European Union. The strange thing about that attack is that so does Jackson Carlaw and Ruth Davidson. Here is Ruth Davidson on 1 October 2018, just a few short weeks ago:

“Like I say, I voted to remain. I fought for remain. If there was another vote tomorrow, I would still vote remain.”

On that issue, it would appear that there is no difference between me and the Scottish Conservatives. Where there is a difference is that, on 11 December, Scottish National Party MPs will vote against the Tory deal that sells out Scottish fishermen.

We know that Tory pledges on fishing are not worth the paper that they are written on. Let us have a look at them. The Tories said that there would be annual negotiations rather than an overall agreement. The political declaration commits to an overall agreement. The Tories said that there would be no link between access to waters and access to markets. The political declaration makes it clear that there will be such a link. Far from leaving the common fisheries policy behind, the EU statement makes it clear that the new agreement will build on the common fisheries policy.

The Tories tell us to ignore all that and that they will get what they want at the end of the day, but they have handed all of the leverage to the European Union. Unless the United Kingdom agrees to its rules on fishing, the EU will block a trade deal. It takes just one country to do that. I am delighted that Jackson Carlaw has given me the opportunity today to highlight the truth of the matter, which is that, just as they did on the United Kingdom’s way into the European Union, the Tories are selling out Scottish fishermen on the way out.

I gave the First Minister the opportunity to answer a question but, as is so often the case, she read out the answer to the question that she would prefer to have been asked rather than the question that was actually asked.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has been absolutely clear. It says that under the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, the UK will be out of the CFP and will become an independent coastal state. More than that, just yesterday, in an email to every member of this Parliament, it confirmed its backing for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. That is the SFF’s position. Is the First Minister seriously trying to tell us that she knows more about fish than the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation?

Jackson Carlaw wants to trade quotes and I am happy to indulge him. Here is the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation:

“Well, I can only talk personally having had these years behind me, and I really wouldn’t trust the Tories as far as I could throw them. Whenever it comes to fishing it’s always been a sacrificial lamb.”

Is Jackson Carlaw saying that he knows more about fishing than the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation?

I know that the Tories are desperate to spare their blushes on this, but they are rewriting history. The commitment was never just—[Interruption.] They do not like this, but they are going to hear it. The commitment was never just about being an independent coastal state. That is the bare minimum. What the Tories promised was annual negotiations. Now we know that there will be an overall agreement. They promised no link between access to waters and access to markets. The political declaration makes it clear that there will be that link, and the statement issued by the European Union makes it clear that the EU will demand an arrangement that builds upon the common fisheries policy.

No amount of bluff and bluster from Jackson Carlaw takes away from this fact. Yet again, the Scottish Tories have sold out Scottish fishermen. Shame on them.

“Shame on them,” concludes the First Minister. If shame was a currency, the First Minister’s pockets would be bursting. In fact, if shame was a currency, she might even be able to fill the black hole in her independence financial plans, too.

What the First Minister is actually saying is that she does know better than the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. The reason why the First Minister will not back the SFF’s position is that she cannot. She is trapped by her own policy on Europe. The plain fact is that, for all its posturing and pompous outrage, the SNP’s policy is to rejoin the EU and, because there is no way round this, to rejoin the common fisheries policy.

Article 38.1 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union says that being a member of the European Union, as she wishes an independent Scotland to be, means that one must sign up to the common fisheries policy. There are no reviews. There is no reform. It is not a question of liking it; it is a question of lumping it.

Is it not simply deceiving people to pretend that that is anything other than a fact?

Jackson Carlaw really has to explain this a bit more simply to people. He says that all of that flows from the fact that I want Scotland, and indeed the UK, to remain in the European Union. Again, I would say to him that he does, too—or so he says. When Ruth Davidson says,

“If there was another vote tomorrow, I would still vote remain”,

it seems to me that she wants Scotland still to be a member of the European Union. If all of what Jackson Carlaw says flows from that, it applies to Ruth Davidson as much as it applies to anybody else.

Jackson Carlaw also talks about the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pledge and attacks me for not signing it. Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to sign the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pledge. We do not need to sign a pledge, because we will do what matters. On 11 December, SNP MPs will vote against the deal that sells out Scottish fishermen. The question for Jackson Carlaw, and all the MPs who will sign the pledge is, will they vote against that deal or not? Yes or no?

The First Minister’s advisers have given her a thick folder of answers to questions that I have not asked. I did not mention any pledge to her, but since she asks, the Prime Minister did the deal that is going to deliver the pledge.

Let us just sum up the SNP’s position. It accuses Theresa May of selling out on fishing, but it would drag us straight back into the CFP. It demands a renegotiation, but with whom? The Chancellor of Germany, the Chancellor of Austria, the Prime Minister of France, the President of the EU, the President of the European Council, the EU’s lead negotiator, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland and even Guy Verhofstadt, together with every other European leader, are saying, “This is it—this is the only deal on the table.”

They say—and I say—“Back a deal that delivers an orderly exit, protects jobs and delivers more control of our waters than we have had for half a century.” The First Minister says, “Vote down the deal,” which means more chaos and more upheaval and all in the hope that it will deliver on her obsession with a second independence referendum. That is not in Scotland’s interests, and it is not standing up for Scotland.

Something is starting to become very clear at First Minister’s questions: the redder Jackson Carlaw’s face gets and the more he points wildly across the chamber, the more trouble he is in.

Jackson Carlaw asks me to support a deal that is bad for Scotland and bad for the UK when the Prime Minister right now cannot even persuade her own party to back it. That is the reality. The SNP will continue to do what the SNP always does: we will stand up for Scotland. This deal will take Scotland out of the European Union against our will, take us out of the single market against our economic interests, put us at a potential competitive disadvantage with Northern Ireland and, into the bargain, sell out Scottish fishermen.

Jackson Carlaw talks about the SNP using Brexit to advance the case for independence, but I say to him that Brexit does that all by itself. It needs no help from the SNP. Of course, that threadbare line is just a device for the Tories, because the opposite is true: they are exploiting independence to avoid hard questions on Brexit. It will not wash. People see right through it, and increasingly, they are seeing right through Jackson Carlaw and all his Tory cronies.

Local Government Funding

This time last week, the First Minister stood up in this chamber and claimed that she had given

“a very fair settlement to local government.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2018; c 14.]

Today, the Accounts Commission has reported that funding for councils was cut in real terms by £220 million in the last year. It also says:

“funding from the Scottish Government to local government decreased at a faster rate, 6.92 per cent, than the Scottish Government revenue budget at 1.65 per cent.”

That is taking Tory austerity and quadrupling it. What is fair about that?

As I am sure Richard Leonard knows, the Accounts Commission report that was published this morning is for financial year 2017-18. We are currently in financial year 2018-19, and for this financial year, the finance secretary in the budget earlier in the year delivered a real-terms increase in local authority revenue budgets, ensuring that local government can protect front-line services. Of course, he managed that against a backdrop of massive cuts to the Scottish Government budget imposed by the Tories at Westminster. Richard Leonard would have more credibility on these issues if he did not continue to back a situation that allows Tory Governments at Westminster to cut this Parliament’s budget.

Let me go back to last week. At the same time that the First Minister was telling the chamber that councils were getting a fair deal, letters from headteachers were being dispatched to parents across Falkirk, warning them of unprecedented cuts, including cuts to support staff.

Catherine Sneddon of Bo’ness received one such letter. Her son Louis, who is 10 years old, has a learning disability and epilepsy. Yesterday, Catherine told me:

“Year in year out we brace ourselves for cuts to his support network ... take that away from him and other children who need the ASN support packages ... and our children decline in physical and mental health alongside their medical issues.”

Is the First Minister seriously saying to the Sneddon family that that is fair?

As Richard Leonard will, or should, be aware, the leader of Falkirk Council has since issued a statement apologising for the misleading impression that was given by the letters and has given assurances about education services in Falkirk. I hope that Richard Leonard will accept and welcome that.

In terms of education funding overall, Richard Leonard quoted the Accounts Commission report at me. On page 17 of the report, which relates to 2017-18, he can read that

“Education expenditure increased by 3.2 per cent (1.5 per cent in real terms).”

For this year, local authorities have set education budgets that are 3.8 per cent higher than the budgets that they set for the previous year, which is a 2.3 per cent real-terms increase. Since the Scottish National Party came to office, total revenue spending on schools has risen by almost £500 million, which is more than 10 per cent.

I will briefly go back to the Falkirk issue—Richard Leonard may want to reflect on this point. One of the issues that Falkirk Council faces is the cost of Labour’s private finance initiative scheme for schools. [Interruption.] Richard Leonard will not want to hear this, but I think that it is good that he does. In 1998, Labour signed a PFI deal for schools that had a capital value of £65 million, but the total cost to the taxpayer is going to be £314 million. That amounts to a cost to the taxpayer of £13.3 million a year. I think Labour should be apologising for that.

The Accounts Commission report says that Scottish Government revenue funding to councils reduced by

“2.3 per cent in real terms”

in 2017-18, and that

“The financial outlook is for reductions in Scottish Government revenue funding to councils.”

Let us be clear about this: Falkirk is an SNP-run council. The council cuts are being made by an SNP Government in Edinburgh and we have reached the point at which headteachers in schools across Falkirk are writing to parents to tell them that this so-called fair settlement means swingeing cuts. The result is that vulnerable children such as Louis and families such as the Sneddons face the stress of cuts to the services and the support that they need. Where is the fairness in that? Is Louis not entitled to realise his potential? Do children such as Louis not deserve to receive the education that they need? When will the First Minister stop imposing austerity on Scotland’s children and instead start investing in Scotland’s local services?

In this financial year, Falkirk Council set an education budget of £158 million. For Richard Leonard’s information, that represents an increase of £8 million on the previous year. As I said, the Accounts Commission report, which he likes to quote at me when it suits him, says that, in 2017-18,

“Education expenditure increased ... by 1.5 per cent in real terms”.

We know that in this year spending on schools has increased, and we know that, overall, under the SNP, spending on schools in revenue terms has increased by 10.3 per cent. All of that has happened in spite of the swingeing cuts that have been imposed by Westminster on the Scottish Government’s budget.

I repeat: Richard Leonard would have more credibility on these issues if he did not continue to support a situation in which Tory Governments at Westminster are allowed to impose cuts on this Parliament’s budget. When he changes his tune on that, people might be more prepared to listen to him on other matters.

We have a number of constituency questions.

Michelin Factory (Update)

Can the First Minister update Parliament on the progress that is being made in securing a future for Michelin in Dundee, in the light of the recent meeting between Derek Mackay and the Michelin executives?

I thank Shona Robison for raising that important question. Scottish Government remains focused on securing the best positive outcome for Michelin’s Dundee site and its workers. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work had a very productive meeting with Michelin executives last Friday, at which we presented propositions relating to the future of the site and its workforce in Dundee.

The finance secretary will convene the third meeting of the Michelin Dundee action group tomorrow morning and he will update the group on Michelin’s response to the proposition and on the next steps. Once the group, which includes representatives of the workforce, have been informed of the outcome of those discussions, the cabinet secretary will of course update local members. We are working with trade unions, Dundee City Council and the United Kingdom Government and across political parties, including local MSPs, to achieve the best possible outcome for the Michelin site and all its workers.

Cowlairs Decontamination Unit (Closure)

The closure of Cowlairs decontamination unit in Springburn led to the cancellation of more than 700 operations, some of them major, across hospitals in Glasgow. A whistleblower stated to the newspapers this week that, had the closure and a large-scale incident occurred simultaneously, hospitals would not have been able to cope. The unit has reopened on a phased basis only. Can the First Minister assure me that patients will receive alternative arrangements as soon as possible, and will she outline the action that will be taken to prevent the situation from happening again?

I can give that assurance. The board of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is already working hard to ensure that patients whose operations were cancelled as a result of the closure get alternative arrangements as quickly as possible. It was a very regrettable situation, but steps were taken as quickly as possible to rectify it. As the member said, Cowlairs opened again on Tuesday, but all appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that such a situation is never allowed to recur.

Islamophobia and Antisemitism

At a time when hate is on the rise, we got some hope. This week saw the Muslim and Jewish communities come together to sign a landmark joint communiqué to call out and challenge Islamophobia and antisemitism in Scotland. Together, Muslim and Jewish women born in Scotland are telling about how they have been called traitors, spat at and told to go home, and how they are scared of travelling on Scotland’s public transport system. In the same week, we saw the horrific video of the young Syrian boy being racially abused and insulted at his school in Huddersfield.

Silence is no longer an option in the face of such hate. Does the First Minister agree that we cannot leave the fight against Islamophobia to the Muslim community, that we cannot leave the fight against antisemitism to the Jewish community, that we cannot leave the fight against all forms of prejudice and hate to any individual community and that it must be a fight for all of us? [Applause.]

Yes, I absolutely agree. I congratulate the Muslim and Jewish communities on the actions that they have taken this week. Their actions in doing what they have done this week are a better representation of Scotland than the actions of those who indulge in hate crime.

I absolutely agree that there is no place for silence. None of us should be bystanders when it comes to tackling and calling out hate crime; there is an obligation on all of us. I say very clearly but very strongly that an attack on any Muslim, any Jew or any member of any minority community should be seen as an attack on all of us, and that we should have solidarity and stand shoulder to shoulder at all times. I say that as First Minister and I hope that I am joined in that sentiment by every single member in the chamber. [Applause.]


I am concerned about the First Minister’s plan to compromise with Theresa May. Cathy Newman from Channel 4 tweeted last night that the First Minister told her that she would back the Norway option if the Prime Minister put it on the table. However, the Norway option will take us out of Europe, give us no say in Europe and damage our economy. Can I plead with the First Minister not to wobble, but to stand strong and oppose all and every kind of Brexit?

I sometimes think that Willie Rennie must have been asleep over the past two years when the rest of us have been battling on the issue. I will set out for him again—I will try to do it in very simple terms—what my position is and what the position of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Government is.

Our strong, overriding preference is to stay a member of the European Union. That is why, as I have said to Willie Rennie previously in the chamber, we will back a second vote to allow people to choose to stay in the European Union. We very much hope that that proposition can command a majority in the House of Commons and that SNP MPs will be part of putting that majority together. However, if that proposition cannot command a majority—I hope that it can, though—then, as we have said for the past two years, we would favour a compromise option of staying in the single market and customs union because that is better than coming out of the single market and customs union and would be the least damaging option for our economy. It is not our first preference, but as a compromise it is better than the alternatives that are on the table. I hope that that is crystal clear for Willie Rennie.

Instead of constantly trying to attack the SNP on the issue, Willie Rennie might one day think about lifting a finger to try to persuade Labour to back a second vote. If he can do that, we will be able to put that majority together and give people across the United Kingdom the opportunity to stay in the EU and, of course, the people of Scotland the opportunity to express that preference for a second time.

This is First Minister’s questions, I remind her.

The First Minister is opposed to Brexit, but is prepared to back it, too. Just yesterday—[Interruption.] This is important. Just yesterday, the Treasury told us that every kind of Brexit would damage the economy. Jobs and businesses are at stake and I do not understand why the First Minister is prepared to accept that. The UK Government is on the ropes, previous loyalists are opposing the Prime Minister and we finally have a chance of stopping Brexit. This is not the time to accept any new kind of Brexit. I was pleased that the First Minister told 700,000 people on the streets of London that she was committed to stopping Brexit dead in its tracks. How could she look those people in the eye if she ends up backing any form of Brexit?

I will be corrected if I am wrong, but I do not think that I am. I am sure that I read in the newspapers the other day that there is a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament in the House of Commons who is going to vote for Theresa May’s deal. There are no SNP MPs who are going to do that. Let me try to make it out. I feel that Willie Rennie is starting to make himself look just a little bit silly on this question.

The SNP opposes Brexit. We want Scotland and the UK to remain in the EU. We will back a second vote to give people across the UK the opportunity to choose to stay in the EU, but if we or Willie Rennie cannot persuade Labour to come behind that and it simply cannot command a majority—I hope it can, but if it cannot it is not for want of trying on the part of the SNP or even of Willie Rennie—then it would be irresponsible not to look at the next best compromise that protected jobs and the economy. That is the position of the Scottish Government and of the SNP.

The other thing that Willie Rennie never manages to explain is how he can justify seeing Scotland taken out of the European Union against our will. If there is a second vote and we get the same result all over again—which, of course, we hope would not happen—the fact of the matter is that Scotland would be no better off. The real question is, will Willie Rennie stand up in that second vote, if Scotland votes again to remain, and will he back all options, including independence, to make sure that Scotland can remain in the EU?

We have some interest in asking further supplementaries. I encourage questions to be succinct and answers similarly so.

Asia Bibi

The First Minister may be aware that yesterday was red Wednesday, when many churches were thinking of Christians around the world who are suffering for their faith. Is the First Minister able to raise with the United Kingdom or Pakistani Governments the case of Asia Bibi and the Christian minority in Pakistan who are not afforded equal rights in that country?

Like many people, I am absolutely appalled by Asia Bibi’s case and by the continued reticence of the international community in offering her asylum, now that she has been released from prison. The Scottish Government strongly condemns the persecution of minorities, including the targeting of innocent people based on their beliefs. I share John Mason’s concerns about religious intolerance and misuse of the blasphemy laws, and I urge the Government of Pakistan to protect and guarantee the fundamental rights of all its citizens. The Scottish Government has repeatedly raised concerns over the issues directly with the UK Government and the Government of Pakistan, and we will continue to do so. We also strongly support international processes such as United Nations scrutiny of the record of individual member states.

Small Business Saturday

On Saturday, many small, independent shops up and down high streets across Scotland will take part in small business Saturday, including Swans shoe shop and the Tony Huggins-Haig gallery in Kelso. However, we hear today that the number of Scottish retailers going bust is on the rise, according to research by French Duncan. Among other cost pressures, rising business rates are being blamed. When will the First Minister realise that her Government’s high-tax agenda is punishing our high streets, and take urgent action to support Scotland’s retailers?

I fully support small business Saturday. To celebrate it, I will visit a small business that opened recently in my constituency called Category Is Books, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex bookshop. I hope that members will take the opportunity to support small businesses across the country.

It is a bit rich for the member to stand there and talk about business rates. This Government introduced the small business bonus, which benefits many small businesses across the country. This Government continues to support the small business bonus.

In Scotland, including the small business bonus and many other reliefs, we have the best package of business rates relief of any country in the UK. Rachael Hamilton should support and welcome that.

Medical Devices and Implants

This week, “Panorama” exposed serious failings in the regulation and testing of medical devices and implants. This is a global issue and dozens of countries are affected. It is clear that the system in the United Kingdom, the European Union and across the world is not fit for purpose. As a positive step, will the Scottish Government now introduce a register of all implants?

We are happy to give consideration to anything that lies within our power. As the member is aware, the regulation of these devices is a reserved matter. Responsibility lies with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and we have written to it on more than one occasion asking for it to take action.

However, as we have done with mesh implants, we will continue to look at what we can do within our powers. I will ask the health secretary to look into the specific suggestion and write to the member in due course.

Real Living Wage (Ministry of Defence)

It was reported this week that the Ministry of Defence is paying more than 200 civilian staff in Scotland less than the real living wage. Will the First Minister join me and many others in calling for the real living wage, and for the powers to implement it to be devolved to this Parliament?

I would echo that call. The MOD and all Government agencies should pay the real living wage. The Scottish Government is a real living wage employer.

A higher proportion of workers in Scotland are paid the real living wage than in any other UK nation, but we recognise that there is still work to do. I look forward to the day—and I hope that we can persuade other members across the chamber to support this—that employment legislation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament so that we can take the action that we consider necessary to ensure that all workers get fair work.

Dog Shock Collars

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will ban the use of dog shock collars. (S5F-02837)

As the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform announced in January this year, we have introduced guidance that was widely accepted and reported at the time as being an effective ban on the use of electric dog collars as training aids. That was not a legislative ban on the use of such collars, and it was never intended to be, but it is intended to avoid the misuse of such collars and, ultimately, to prevent the unnecessary suffering of dogs.

I appreciate that some members think that we should go further, and equally I understand that some people think that we have already gone too far. The cabinet secretary committed to issuing the guidance and that is what we have done. She also committed, however, to reviewing the effectiveness of the guidance after 12 months and to considering whether any further action is required. That is exactly what we will do.

Unfortunately, the cabinet secretary said in January:

“I have decided to take steps to effectively and promptly ban their use in Scotland.”

That is not what happened; as the First Minister said, guidance was issued. However, many animal welfare organisations, such as the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and people like myself, want a straightforward ban, as there is in Wales. With no ban, can the First Minister tell me how effective the guidance is? Will she advise whether there has been any reduction in usage?

During the Parliament’s debate on the matter back in January and during discussions with stakeholders on the wording, it was clearly recognised that the guidance would be advisory. The Kennel Club said at the time that it welcomed the ban on shock training devices and that

“strict guidance has been published which provides advice on training methods and training aids for dogs”.

The guidance was published on 15 October, so it is too soon to comment meaningfully on its effect. As I said earlier, we have committed to reviewing its impact after 12 months. We will do that in light of the practical experience of Scottish enforcement bodies and any new legislation in other administrations. We will then consider whether any improvements need to be made to the approach that we have taken.

Prisoners (Temporary Release and Parole)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on reforming the rules regarding the temporary release and parole of prisoners. (S5F-02829)

As we committed to doing in this year’s programme for government, we will consult on measures to improve the openness and transparency of the parole system and how we can strengthen the voice of victims and their families in that process. The consultation will be published before the end of this year, and we will take action informed by the responses that we receive. We also committed to ensuring that victims and their families receive better information and greater support ahead of prison release arrangements, and those issues will be considered by the new victims task force, which will hold its first meeting on 12 December.

I welcome the First Minister’s partial commitments on parole reform, although whether the consultation translates into real action for victims and families is another matter. The Michelle’s law campaign is also about strengthening victim and family rights before temporary release from prison is granted, as it was the temporary release of Michelle Stewart’s killer that kick-started the campaign. The SNP must deliver on Michelle’s law, so will the First Minister commit today to expanding the consultation to cover temporary release?

First, I again pay tribute to the family of Michelle Stewart for their campaign, which is having a real impact on the issues.

As I know the member understands, parole and temporary release are two entirely separate processes. We absolutely recognise the importance of strengthening the voice of victims and their families in parole and temporary release. That is why in the programme for government we committed to action to improve both of those. That included a commitment to consult on measures to improve the openness of the parole processes. That consultation will seek views on how we can strengthen the voice and role of victims and their families, and it will cover the issues that are raised in the Michelle’s law proposal as they relate to parole. As I said, that consultation will be published before the end of this year.

Temporary release from prison is not controlled by the Parole Board for Scotland, so it will not be part of that consultation. However, we are committed to improving the support and information that are available in relation to temporary prison release arrangements, which is why that issue will be considered by the new victims task force. As I said a moment ago, it will meet for the first time on 12 December and it will be co-chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Lord Advocate. I hope that that assures the member that both of those issues and the very different processes will be properly and fully considered.

Automatic early release was introduced in 1993 by a Conservative Government. Although early release is an important part of rehabilitation, it can lead to confusion at the point of sentencing about the time that someone will spend in jail. Does the First Minister agree with me about the importance of transparency in sentencing? Does she also agree that the scope of, and the resources that are available to, the Scottish Sentencing Council must be reviewed, given that it has taken three years to publish two pages of guidance?

As I know Daniel Johnson knows, early release is not the same as temporary release. However, all those issues will be looked at fully by the victims task force. It is because all those issues will be included that the Lord Advocate is co-chairing the group. There are a number of concerns about how the processes operate at the moment, but they are all in place for good reasons, many of which are to do with the rehabilitation of prisoners as they come back into society. However, it is also vital that there is appropriate and proper protection for the public and that the voice of victims and their families is heard. Therefore, in the consultation on parole arrangements and in the wider consideration of the issues by the victims task force, the issue that Daniel Johnson has raised will receive proper consideration.

ScotRail (Franchise Obligations)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that ScotRail has failed to fully deliver 29 franchise obligations. (S5F-02834)

Colin Smyth refers to committed obligations, but he does not mention that, of the 272 obligations in total, ScotRail has already delivered 128, with a further 115 on track for delivery by their due date. Of the remaining obligations, 14 are overdue and we expect most of those to be achieved in 2019, and 15 are categorised as having a challenging delivery date. Transport Scotland is working closely with ScotRail to ensure delivery of all committed obligations, which will deliver passenger benefits across the network. With a programme of such scale, it is normal for some delivery outcomes to change, but the focus when managing such changes is always the best interests of the passenger.

It is disappointing that the First Minister seems dismissive of the fact that ScotRail is not delivering important obligations to fully improve journey times, integrated ticketing and station investment. Those things are clearly not important to the First Minister. ScotRail is failing not just on those 29 franchise obligations; punctuality has plummeted to a new low, with almost one in five trains running late. Passengers are sick and tired, and they deserve better. So far, the First Minister’s response has been to give ScotRail a free pass to breach its public performance monitoring—PPM—benchmarks and to team up with the Tories to block Labour’s plan to end this failing franchise. How bad does it have to get before the First Minister will take meaningful action? If the First Minister will not end this failing franchise, can she answer this straightforward question: does she honestly believe that ScotRail will hit its 92.5 per cent PPM target—yes or no? If her answer is yes, when will that happen?

I was not dismissive; I gave the member the full facts in response to the question that he asked. Some of those facts were probably inconvenient for the question that he wanted to follow up with, but that is not my worry. As I said, 14 of the 29 obligations are listed as overdue but we expect most of those to be achieved in 2019. Of the 15 obligations for which the delivery date is considered challenging, most have the potential to be achieved in the first part of 2019.

On the wider issues of delays that he talked about, we deeply regret any inconvenience to passengers. Around half—sometimes more than half—of all delays on the ScotRail network are the responsibility of Network Rail. As I have said many times in the past, Network Rail is not the responsibility of this Parliament, although I look forward to getting the support of Labour members to make it the responsibility of this Parliament. I am sure that Colin Smyth is aware that, just this morning, the Office of Rail and Road took formal action against Network Rail to deliver improved performance and confirmed that ScotRail’s performance in 2018-19 has been impacted by severe weather. That lies behind many of the delays that we have seen. We are working with ScotRail to improve performance so that the PPM target is met.

On the issue of the franchise, this Government, having won the powers—powers that Labour refused to give to this Parliament when it was in Government at Westminster—took action to ensure that, for the first time, there can be a public sector bid for the next franchise. If Colin Smyth wants us to go further, I invite Labour to join us in supporting a call for the full devolution of powers over rail so that full nationalisation could be an option. Right now it is not, because Labour continues to block those powers coming to the Scottish Parliament.

The First Minister thinks that Network Rail is the cause of the majority of delays. What does the First Minister say to passengers who were on the Waverley to Helensburgh service on Monday, who were left stuck at Uphall station when their train decoupled, leaving three carriages stranded at the station? Does the First Minister know why that incident happened? Can she reassure the travelling public that nobody in Scotland will be left behind on Scotland’s railways?

I understand that the particular incident that the member raises is currently being investigated by the Office of Rail and Road. That is the appropriate action to take. I am not claiming that half of the delays are down to Network Rail; that is a fact. If all members across the chamber came together and demanded the devolution of Network Rail, we could have full, integrated responsibility and we would be able to do even more to improve performance on our railways. I would be delighted to have the support of the Tories and Labour in making that move.

The latest ScotRail performance statistics show that three in four trains on the Milngavie line are late or cancelled. Does the First Minister believe that ScotRail is fulfilling its obligations to passengers on a line on which they cannot get three out of four trains reliably?

The Donovan review—which I am sure the member is aware of—is looking at particular, specific actions to deal with issues on that line. However, I do not think that that performance level is acceptable for passengers. That is why we are working with ScotRail and have set stringent expectations that it will take action to improve performance and the passenger experience.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will move to members’ business.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. At First Minister’s question time last Thursday, a Scottish National Party member caused unnecessary concern about nuclear safety events at Faslane in relation to our United Kingdom submarine fleet by placing a political spin on the facts, which produced an inaccurate picture—[Interruption.]

Order. Let us hear the member.

That has caused alarm for our armed forces servicemen and women who serve in the UK submarine fleet and keep the UK safe. As the fleet moves in total to Faslane, we hope that the families of servicemen and women will join them to live in Scotland. We must support our UK submarine fleet crews and families, and we must not make inaccurate statements in the chamber.

Mr Corry’s point is similar to the point that Ms Baillie raised last week. It is a political point in response to a political opinion. All members are allowed to make such a point, but it is not a point of order.

Before we move to members’ business, we will have a short suspension to allow the public gallery to clear and to allow members and ministers to change seats.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  

12:48 On resuming—