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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 4, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 04 October 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Challenge Poverty Week, Health and Care Update, Women and Girls in Sport Week, Scottish Fiscal Commission (Appointments), Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Schools

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

Presiding Officer,

“When you visit schools, people are most likely to tell you what you want to hear, through fear of repercussions.”

That is the message from a primary school teacher in today’s press to the education secretary, speaking anonymously, because she fears being disciplined for speaking out.

How does the First Minister think that that reflects on her Government?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Teachers, parents and sometimes older pupils email me regularly—I am sure that that is also the case for the Deputy First Minister—to openly tell me their views on schools. Often, they talk about the many positives of school education; at other times, they point out things that they think we should be doing better.

I have read the letter that Ruth Davidson refers to and my message to any teacher is that nobody should feel unable to come to me or to the education secretary to raise concerns at any time. I encourage that, I have always encouraged that and I always will encourage that.

It is important that we remain focused on making sure that we are investing properly in our schools, reducing where we can unnecessary workload for teachers, and taking action through, for example, the pupil equity fund and the governance reforms in our schools to do what is a driving priority for this Government, which is to raise standards and close the attainment gap. We will remain absolutely focused on doing exactly that.

Ruth Davidson

The First Minister talks about reducing workload but if that work is being undertaken, why do international studies show that our teachers are among the most overworked in the world?

I will just read out a little bit more from the letter to Mr Swinney, which we all saw a copy of last week. In it, the teacher says:

“the ... Scottish Government are not tackling the real underlying issues in education but are rather just putting a plaster over a gaping wound”.

Speaking directly to Mr Swinney, she adds:

“The most concerning thing that has happened so far, is that one of my colleagues arranged to meet with yourself, to discuss issues that were of great concern to them. However, this person was ‘warned’ by their manager, that if they went ahead with the meeting, they would be disciplined”.

Could either the education secretary or the First Minister say whether they knew that that had happened, what action they took and whether they will end this culture of fear right now?

The First Minister

First, it is important to be clear on this and I want to be crystal clear on this. I would say not just to people across the chamber but perhaps particularly to local authority employers in this regard that, in the case that Ruth Davidson has mentioned, the Deputy First Minister agreed to meet the teacher. It is not the Deputy First Minister who said that that meeting could not go ahead.

To be clear—it is not acceptable for local authorities to say to any teacher or any member of staff, whatever job they are doing, that they will be disciplined if they approach or raise concerns with Government ministers. I cannot be any clearer about that. I will go on being clear about that and I hope that that message is heard loudly and clearly by local authorities across the country. I hope that Ruth Davidson would agree with that and join me in sending that message.

Ruth Davidson

I am not sure that the First Minister fully gets this. It is her Government that is decreeing to local authorities. We are not talking about a political opponent here; this teacher is not point scoring. We are talking about a teacher who, in the letter, makes it clear that she is a Scottish National Party supporter and voter and yet now feels that she is not being listened to and has to speak out under the cloak of anonymity in order to avoid being stamped on.

What has it come to when public servants with experience and knowledge of their area are being strong armed to keep their mouths shut because it might embarrass the education secretary? Can the First Minister answer me that?

The First Minister

Having read the letter that Ruth Davidson opened with in her question, I would say that there are many serious issues in that letter that Ruth Davidson could have raised today—issues that the Government is working hard to address with the teaching profession and others. On this issue, however, she is on extremely weak ground.

Let me recap for Ruth Davidson’s benefit. In this case, the Deputy First Minister agreed to meet a teacher. The local authority advised the teacher not to meet. We do not decree that local authorities should do that. On the contrary, if there is any decree coming from me to local authorities today, it is that that is unacceptable, and that teachers should be free to contact me as First Minister, the Deputy First Minister as education secretary, or indeed any member of my Government.

I am not sure how I can make that any clearer for Ruth Davidson. Perhaps she would be doing teachers a greater service if, instead of standing here and pretending that there is some other policy on the part of the Government, she underlined the fact that any teachers anywhere in the country are perfectly free to approach any member of the Government. She would be doing a greater service to teachers if she got that message across loudly and clearly.

Ruth Davidson

I think that the transparency and openness of Government is a serious issue, which is worth highlighting. As the teacher says in the letter, their issue is not just about resources, but about workforce planning, a failure to implement policy properly and a failure to listen to people on the front line—a charge that is made front and centre. It is about a culture of fear and secrecy, which is stopping people from speaking out because of the repercussions for their careers.

We need an openness in government in Scotland—one that welcomes transparency and scrutiny, and not just because a letter was written—and a Government that asks teachers to tell it what is happening, not one that forces them to keep their mouths shut. Does the First Minister not agree?

The First Minister

Let me issue this message to teachers or any other public sector worker across the country, “Come and tell the Government how you feel about your job and your public services, whether that is good or bad, and whether it is about positives or things that we want to do better.” Ruth Davidson would be better advised to join me in putting that message out there.

Openness and transparency is hugely important. That is why the Deputy First Minister is in schools every single week, and that is why he and I talk to teachers regularly, not just in my capacity as First Minister but in my constituency surgeries, of which I do many. That message is one that we should all convey to teachers.

For the third or fourth time, let me be clear to teachers that they can come and raise anything they want with the Government. Let me be very clear to every single local authority, of every party administration, across the country that it is unacceptable to say to any teacher that they will be disciplined for doing so. I think that I have made that pretty clear, and I hope that is widely understood, not just by Ruth Davidson but by everybody across Scotland.


Child Poverty Targets

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

This week, the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its annual “Poverty in Scotland 2018” report. It showed that one in four children in Scotland today lives in poverty. The First Minister has set a target to make that less than one in 10 by 2030, but what is her target for 2019?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We welcome the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report. It clearly outlines the challenges that we all face in tackling poverty. The Scottish Government has set targets; I think that we are the only part of the UK that has binding statutory targets in place. We have also set out a range of initiatives that we will take to meet those targets under our child poverty action plan.

It is important to consider some of the detail of the Joseph Rowntree report. Jim McCormick, the Scottish director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said on “Good Morning Scotland” on Tuesday:

“It is ... right to say that the single biggest reason why child poverty is now going in the wrong direction again, the first sustained rise in 20 years, is down to the long run benefits freeze at the UK level, the two-child limit and the freeze in tax credits and universal credit.”

Perhaps the attack by Richard Leonard on the Scottish Government would have more credibility if he was also arguing for welfare to be completely devolved to this Parliament.

The report goes on to praise the forthcoming Scottish Government strategies on disability employment and on the gender pay gap, describing them as “transformational”. It also praises our approach to the new social security system. Where we have power, we act. The problem is, we do not have enough power to do all that needs to be done.

Richard Leonard

Let us be clear: the First Minister has a target for 12 years’ time, but not for 12 months’ time. One action that would make an immediate difference to child poverty would be to increase child benefit.

Over the past year, Parliament has passed the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. In voting through both those acts, SNP MSPs opposed proposals to increase child benefit, yet the policy has support from across civic Scotland—from anti-poverty organisations to faith groups, and from children’s charities to the Scottish Trades Union Congress. They all support the give me five campaign to raise child benefit by £5 a week because it will lift children out of poverty. Does the First Minister know how many children would be lifted out of poverty by that increase?

The First Minister

The estimate shows that the policy would lift 20,000 children out of poverty, which would mean a drop in child poverty of just two percentage points. I am not saying that that is insignificant, but we are committed to introducing an income supplement, and in doing so we must ensure that the money that is invested in it has maximum effectiveness in tackling child poverty. We are considering what is the best way to do that.

Under the policy that Richard Leonard is proposing, £7 out of every £10 would go to families who are not living in poverty. If we are going to invest money on that scale, the question is how we can use that money to lift not just 20,000, but even more children out of poverty. That is the work that we are doing. I hope that Richard Leonard and his party will get behind it.

Richard Leonard

The answer to the question that I asked is not 20,000 children. It is that 30,000 children would be lifted out of poverty. That could be the First Minister’s 2019 target: to lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

The report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation makes it clear that it is time to take

“decisive steps to make transformational change.”

The report also makes it clear that many of the tools to tackle poverty and its causes lie in the hands of the Scottish Parliament, including more flexible and affordable childcare, better housing for all and a labour market strategy that is aligned with the goal of reducing poverty.

However, instead of that we have a childcare policy that fits on an SNP leaflet, but not around the lives of working families; a housing policy that offers help to buy to people who earn over £100,000 a year; and a labour market strategy that has been gathering dust on a shelf for more than two years.

The SNP has been in office for 11 years and Nicola Sturgeon has been First Minister for four years. This week is challenge poverty week, so I will challenge the First Minister. How much longer is her Government going to tinker around the edges and how many more children in Scotland will grow up in grinding poverty as a result?

The First Minister

I will address some of the points that were raised in what seemed to be a speech, rather than a question. Let us start with childcare. We are in the process of doubling childcare for three-year-olds and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds. We are also midway through the biggest house-building project in the history of the Scottish Parliament. I seem to recall that the last Labour Administration managed to build six council houses.

Let us look at what the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says about some of our policies, including the disability employment strategy and our work on the gender pay gap, of which it says:

“This could be transformational for tackling poverty”.

It also says that our approach to the new social security system

“could change the family incomes ... of thousands of children for the better.”

We will continue to focus on how an income supplement—which we are committed to introducing—will lift as many children as possible out of poverty. We will not see £7 out of every £10 that we invest going to families that do not live in poverty. If we are to be serious about tackling child poverty, that is the right approach to take.

Finally, on my tenure as First Minister, Richard Leonard has been leader of the Scottish Labour Party for a lot less time than I have been the First Minister of Scotland, and here is what someone in his party said about him this week:

“Richard has no authority over the group. If he is serious about leading Scottish Labour, he should be apologising”.

I could not sum it up any better.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

We will now have some constituency and other supplementaries.


Pentland Film Studio (Scottish Land Court Judgment)

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

The First Minister will be aware that the Scottish Land Court has refused an application to evict a constituent of mine, Jim Telfer, who is a tenant under the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act 1911, in order to sell the land to developers to build the Pentland film studio, for which the Scottish ministers granted planning consent in December 2017. Does the First Minister agree that that proposal is now dead in the water and that the Scottish Government and its agencies should take the lead in identifying a site for a film studio, the acquisition of which does not involve unlawful eviction of anyone?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The judgment by the Scottish Land Court is, of course, a legal matter. I understand that that decision is likely to be appealed against, so I cannot comment on the specifics at this time, for obvious reasons.

However, I will say that the Scottish Government backs expansion of the screen sector. We welcome private sector proposals to develop a range of studio infrastructure, but ultimately, it is a matter for the current owner of the site, ahead of potential sale to the studio developers. Although we have a role in the planning surrounding the project, the issue of land ownership and tenancies is properly considered by the Scottish Land Court.

Separate to that issue, I note that in the autumn Creative Scotland will launch a tender in which it will seek investors to operate a public-sector backed film studio. Of course, those plans are not dependent on the development at the Pentland site.


Buccleuch Estates Ltd (Tree Planting)

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

Is the First Minister aware of the situation that faces tenant farmers David and Alison Telfer, who are being forced off Cleuchfoot farm near Langholm by the Duke of Buccleuch? Next week, the duke plans to value their hefted sheep, which have been on the hill for centuries, so that they can be sold to make way for trees.

Does the First Minister agree that forestry planting grants should never be given in such circumstances, that the Telfers’ human rights are being violated by Buccleuch Estates and that the duke’s sale of the 9,000-acre Evertown portfolio, which includes the Telfers’ farm and their home, contravenes regulations that were enacted by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, which say that landowners should formally engage with the community ahead of major changes?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am aware of that case, and I share Joan McAlpine’s concern. Guidance for landowners makes it very clear that communities should play a part in decisions about how land is used and managed. I know that the Scottish Land Commission has written to Buccleuch Estates to advise it how communities should be involved, and has offered to provide further advice. Human rights are also reflected in the guidance, which landowners, including Buccleuch Estates, should take into consideration during this or any process relating to land transactions.

Guidance on the forestry grant scheme states that applicants must have control of the land and a legal right to plant trees on the land and that, where control of land changes or comes out of farming, there must be no doubt about the applicant’s legal right to plant trees. We intend to add additional guidance to clarify that, when an applicant’s control of the land or legal right to plant trees is the subject of a live legal challenge or review, we would not consider the land to be eligible for a forestry grant until any legal process had been concluded.


Moffat Church Place Surgery (Closure)

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

This week, the Church Place general practitioner surgery in Moffat has closed its door for ever, because of staffing issues. Meanwhile, patients in neighbouring Johnstonebridge have been told that there are no appointments available, because there are no doctors to see them.

Does the First Minister think that that is acceptable? In the light of those failings, will she back local calls to accelerate plans for a new purpose-built health centre in Upper Annandale?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will always discuss with health boards plans for new health centres. It is, of course, very much for local health boards to decide on local priorities. More generally, we aim to increase the number of GPs working in Scotland by at least 800 over the next decade. Investment in primary care is rising and we are taking a range of actions to increase the number of medical students who go into GP training. In fact, the graduate entry medicine programme, which will focus on general practice, starts this year. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, visited the programme earlier this week.

Jeane Freeman has also been at the Royal College of General Practitioners conference this morning. Many of the tweets that I have seen from that suggested that the United Kingdom Government should look to what the Scottish Government is doing and learn lessons from that. Perhaps Oliver Mundell might want to pass that on. The tweet that most drew my attention was this:

“Can someone please give @MattHancock a copy of @JeaneF1MSP’s speech?”


Scottish League Cup Semi-finals

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Members across the chamber were pleased earlier this week when the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing agreed to engage with all relevant parties about the Scottish Professional Football League’s plans to hold both league cup semi-finals in the same venue on the same day, and they were even more pleased when those plans were dropped yesterday evening. Will the First Minister continue that engagement and ensure that this is the very last time that those scheduling such major events do so without taking the interests of supporters into account?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Such decisions are for the football authorities—in this case the SPFL—although they should listen to police advice, and I am glad that the change of opinion has happened this week. To ensure that appropriate lessons are learned, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has already arranged a meeting between Police Scotland and the SPFL to look at what happened and how we can ensure that it does not happen again. I hope that football fans of all teams and all colours will welcome that for the future.


Brexit (People’s Vote)

3. Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am worried about the First Minister. She is not quite herself these days. Our country is facing economic meltdown, but the First Minister is frozen with indecision. For months I have encouraged her to back a people’s vote on Brexit, but she just cannot make up her mind. Then I hear this week that she has delayed another independence referendum. That is great news, but I wonder whether the First Minister believes in anything anymore. I want to encourage her. I will be with her if she commits her Government to backing a people’s vote. Time is running out. Will she do that in these desperate days?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I must make clear to the chamber that I have been worried about Willie Rennie for an awful long time, so I am glad that, at long last, he is reciprocating, and that mutual concern is obviously the start of a long and happy friendship.

On the issue of the people’s vote, I have made it clear to the chamber and to others that the Scottish National Party is not going to stand in the way of that, so perhaps Willie Rennie should learn to start taking yes for an answer. As I said the last time that he raised the question, it would be interesting to hear Willie Rennie address what happens if, yet again, just as in 2016, Scotland votes to remain and the rest of the United Kingdom votes to leave. Is it Willie Rennie’s proposition that Scotland should simply be ignored all over again? Is it really Willie Rennie’s position that the only people’s vote on the European Union that counts for nothing is the Scottish people’s vote? If he can address that question, we might make some progress.

Willie Rennie

Even her own party does not agree with her on that anymore. This is getting serious. Last week the car manufacturers spoke out. Yesterday a life-saving drugs trial was cancelled because of Brexit. Today it is the Royal Bank of Scotland. They are all warning about Brexit, and more people are coming on board to support a people’s vote. The First Minister is not leading the country; she is falling behind the country. Let us look at the list. Former Conservative cabinet ministers, senior Labour politicians and now the whole SNP council group in Aberdeenshire have backed a people’s vote. In supporting a people’s vote, one SNP councillor said that the only way out of this is to take it back to the people. He is right, is he not?

The First Minister

As I said, we do not stand in the way of a people’s vote. If there is a people’s vote, I will be perfectly happy with that, but it does not guarantee salvation for Scotland, as we saw in 2016. Willie Rennie is right about one thing. It is really serious. The Tories are leading Scotland to disaster. In the past few days, we have heard warnings of recession, medicine shortages and pressure on food supplies, and we have seen the cancellation of a clinical trial at the Golden Jubilee hospital, and that makes the point clearer than ever. Scotland needs the option of independence, because only independence guarantees that those things cannot be imposed on us against our will, so the sooner Willie Rennie wants to back that the better.

The Presiding Officer

There are a few further supplementaries. The first is from Gil Paterson.


Golden Jubilee Hospital (Trials)

Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

The First Minister will be aware that the Golden Jubilee hospital in my constituency conducts numerous world-leading trials on heart disease and heart failure. Yesterday, it was reported that clinical trials of a new drug have been stopped at the hospital because of concerns over Brexit.

The work that is undertaken at the Golden Jubilee is of national, if not global, significance. Will the Scottish Government therefore raise the issue with the UK Government as a matter of urgency and demand action to allow that groundbreaking research to go ahead? Just as important, will it ensure that the situation does not reflect on the world-leading research that is carried out at the Golden Jubilee hospital?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Is not it very telling that, as Gil Paterson was asking that really important question, almost every member on the Scottish Conservative benches was looking at their phone or engaging in conversation? They do not want to hear about or engage with the real damage that their Brexit policy is doing to this country.

Gil Paterson is absolutely right to raise that issue, which is incredibly serious. The Golden Jubilee hospital is particularly active in the field of cardiovascular research, and this year we have invested a further £431,000 to continue to support its research activity. This is the first clinical study that we are aware of to be suspended in Scotland as a result of Brexit. That is deeply concerning, and it is a real sign of what could happen down the line. I understand that the trials are continuing elsewhere in Europe, which just underlines the seriousness of this issue to Scotland.

We are working hard, and we will continue to work hard, to protect Scotland’s interests in spite of a lack of clarity and meaningful engagement from the United Kingdom. We will continue to push the UK Government for answers to legitimate questions and concerns about the very real risk that Brexit poses to research, clinical trials and access to medicines and staff.


Amazon (Living Wage)

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Amazon, which is a company with profits of $2.5 billion that has received more than £3.5 million of Scottish public money, has finally agreed to pay its employees the living wage, which will affect 300 workers in the west of Scotland. The First Minister has welcomed that, as we all would. However, is she concerned about reports today that many workers, without any consultation, will be financing their own pay rise with cuts to stock options and benefits, including to the seasonal incentive just as we approach Christmas?

Many workers apparently believe that they will be worse off as a consequence. If that is the case, does she agree with the GMB that this could be a case of giving with one hand and taking with another? Before handing out any more money to Amazon, will she take into account this and other bad employment practices, including the company’s continued failure to recognise the trade union?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, I welcome Amazon’s announcement earlier this week about payment of the living wage. The Scottish Government, trade unions and others have put a significant amount of pressure on Amazon, so the announcement is particularly welcome.

Neil Bibby talks about public money given by this Government to Amazon. The previous Labour Administration gave public money to Amazon as well, but it is this Government that has pressured Amazon to pay the living wage. A bit of recognition of that from Neil Bibby would not have gone amiss.

On the share options issue that has been reported today, we will seek further detail from Amazon. If what has been reported is true, it is completely unacceptable and I would absolutely, unequivocally condemn it. We will seek to meet Amazon to find out what the situation is there and we will continue to put pressure on it and all other companies to treat all their workers fairly.


Carers Allowance Supplement

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

Will the First Minister update Parliament on the payments of Scotland’s new carers allowance supplement? How many payments have now been made, and how will that financial support help carers and their families?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

More than 75,000 carers have now received the first instalment of the carers allowance supplement. The supplement is an additional payment of £442 made in two instalments throughout the year. That is a big investment—it is an increase of 13 per cent on the current carers allowance.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had a lot of messages from carers to say how much it means to them. In practical terms, the money is obviously important to carers, who will often be struggling to make ends meet, but I have been struck by how many carers have said to me that it is actually about more than the money—it is about the message that we send about how much we value the contribution that carers make to our society. Let me today, yet again, put on record my heartfelt thanks to them for all that they do.


NHS Ayrshire and Arran

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

The First Minister will be aware of the Audit Scotland report into national health service funding and, in particular, NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s ability to work within its budgets. Does the First Minister have any advice for NHS Ayrshire and Arran on how it might live within its means in future and does she share my concerns about the growing indebtedness of NHS Ayrshire and Arran to the Scottish Government?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

John Scott is obviously referring to the Audit Scotland section 22 reports issued this week, which refer to NHS Ayrshire and Arran and NHS Highland. We are working closely with those boards to ensure that we have a full picture of their position in relation to financial management, operational performance and quality of care. Following that work, we will consider whether any further action needs to be taken or support provided.

I am aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will make a statement to the chamber this afternoon, setting out her views on the financial position of the NHS now and how we can ensure the sustainable financial position of the NHS in future.


Domestic Abuse (Disclosure Scheme)

4. Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what impact the disclosure scheme for domestic abuse in Scotland has had since its introduction in 2015. (S5F-02679)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The disclosure scheme for domestic abuse in Scotland, introduced after Clare Wood’s tragic death, has enabled more than 3,500 people to request information for themselves or for someone who they feel may be at risk of domestic abuse. The Police Scotland scheme, which I was proud to help announce when it was introduced nationally in 2015, has informed almost 1,600 people about their partner’s abusive past. Put simply, the scheme may well have saved lives.

It is one of a number of measures that make a difference for victims. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which was passed earlier this year, creates a specific domestic abuse offence that covers not just physical abuse but coercive and controlling behaviour. It sends an unequivocal message that any type of domestic abuse is completely unacceptable.

Ruth Maguire

Based on figures out this week, it is hard to argue that the scheme, rolled out after a successful trial in Ayrshire, has been anything other than a success. Scottish Women’s Aid acknowledges it as a great tool for breaking the silence around coercive control and the violence of domestic abuse, and helping women who may have been unaware of their partner’s past. How will the Scottish Government continue to promote the scheme and other supports to those who face the threat or live with the reality of a violent or abusive partner?

The First Minister

The scheme has indeed been a success and is a credit to the dedicated Police Scotland officers and victim support organisations who work tirelessly to support people through the disclosure process and to prevent people from becoming victims.

Applications from individuals using their right to ask have increased by almost 40 per cent in the past 12 months, which demonstrates that the scheme is being used. The Scottish Government is investing record levels of funding to support victims of gender-based violence through a range of front-line services. That includes funding to Scottish Women’s Aid to train a pool of expert coercive control trainers throughout Scotland, and the development of a range of resources to support groups and external organisations, including local violence against women partnerships. We will continue that support to ensure that domestic violence is reduced and that victims have as much protection as possible.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

This week, as we celebrate older people and Age Scotland’s 75th anniversary, can the First Minister advise whether the Government has linked up with Action on Elder Abuse to make older people aware of the disclosure scheme, as domestic abuse knows no age boundaries?

The First Minister

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime and Christine Grahame is absolutely right to point out that it occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality or wealth.

To deliver the scheme, Police Scotland already works closely with a number of independent domestic abuse advocacy and support services. I stress that the disclosure scheme is open to anyone, including concerned relatives, neighbours or friends. Anyone can make an inquiry if they are worried about someone being at risk of domestic abuse.

In addition, to support the introduction of the new act, the police have appointed SafeLives to train 14,000 officers in identifying controlling behaviours. That will reinforce the fact that domestic abuse can occur in all parts of our society, and it will include examples of abuse involving older persons.

In light of Christine Grahame’s question, I am happy to ask officials to look at whether there is more that can be done in conjunction with the police to draw the attention of older people in our society to the scheme and the wider legislation around domestic abuse.


HIV Infection

5. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to reports that there has been the biggest rise in HIV infection in Scotland for three decades. (S5F-02657)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As we have set out in our sexual health and blood-borne virus framework, prevention of HIV transmission remains a priority in Scotland. I am very proud that Scotland was the first part of the United Kingdom to make HIV PrEP available on the national health service last year. We are working closely with NHS boards to reduce blood-borne viruses and we are providing third sector funding of more than £2 million over the next three years to organisations dealing with sexual health and blood-borne viruses. Of course, a significant risk factor for people who inject drugs being exposed to HIV is the sharing of injecting equipment. That is why we strongly support Glasgow’s proposals for safer injecting facilities. The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing is meeting his counterpart in Westminster later this month to discuss the case for urgent action to consider that proposal or to devolve the necessary powers to allow this Government and Parliament to consider it.

Alexander Stewart

In 2016, funding for alcohol and drug partnerships was cut by £50 million and the Scottish Government asked health boards to make up the difference. The boards did not make up that shortfall and total alcohol and drug spending has been reduced since last year. Therefore, in this year’s budget, I ask the First Minister and her Government to commit to being completely transparent and providing the Parliament with a single figure for spending across those treatments.

The First Minister

In last year’s programme for government, I indicated increased resources for drug and alcohol treatment services. Our budget in the coming year will continue to prioritise action in those areas. Perhaps a subsidiary question is whether, when it does so, the Scottish Conservatives will vote for the budget, or vote against it because they prefer tax cuts for the richest in our society, which would remove the funding that we need for these issues. We will continue to provide the funding, work with the relevant organisations and argue for the innovation in public policy that can help us to tackle the issues. That is why the safer injecting facility proposal is so important, and I say in all sincerity to the member that perhaps he can help us in trying to persuade his colleagues at Westminster to stop being a block on that proposal.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

A freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats reveals that in NHS Lothian there are currently 125 people waiting for up to 84 days for repeat prescriptions for the prophylactic HIV medicine, PrEP. Given that HIV infection rates are increasing and that 13 per cent of the Scots who have it do not know that they have it, will the First Minister and her Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport work with NHS Lothian to end that delay, which is the longest in this country?

The First Minister

The availability of PrEP is important. As I said in my initial answer to this question, Scotland was the first part of the UK to make it available on the NHS and that was the right thing to do. I will certainly discuss with the public health minister and the health secretary how we can work with NHS Lothian to make sure that it is available to people who need it, as quickly as possible. Although Alex Cole-Hamilton and I disagree on many things, I am sure that there is a lot of agreement on these issues. He has certainly on occasion been helpful to the Government in pursuing some of the policy here and I will ask the health secretary or the public health minister to correspond with him, particularly on the point that he has raised.


Harassment Complaints (Scottish Government)

6. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that all historical complaints of harassment within its workplace are properly investigated and dealt with. (S5F-02662)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

It is, of course, a year ago that allegations emerged about Harvey Weinstein, and through the #MeToo movement the world woke up to the experiences that many women face. In light of those concerns, I asked the permanent secretary to review the Scottish Government’s policies to ensure that staff could have confidence that all complaints would be fully investigated and properly addressed. As part of that, the fairness at work policy was reviewed for all staff and a new procedure was put in place that allows any historical cases to be considered and ensures that staff are clear about how they can make a complaint.

It is absolutely vital that we give people the confidence to come forward in the knowledge that they will be listened to and that their complaint will be fully investigated, irrespective of who the complaint relates to or when it occurred. I am sure that the whole chamber will agree with me that the complainants should always be at the centre of our thoughts and that we should always conduct ourselves in a way that ensures that the complainants are properly protected and respected and that complaints are properly investigated.

Rhoda Grant

The First Minister talked about the #MeToo campaign, which has raised hopes that we would develop a very different culture from the one that swept such issues under the carpet. However, it would appear from press reports that some historical complaints were not recorded and not dealt with appropriately or taken seriously. If that is indeed the case, perpetrators may have gone without challenge, as there was no way of seeing whether that behaviour was a course of conduct.

Is the First Minister aware of any such cases? If there are other cases, what is she doing about them? What action will she take to ensure that all historical complaints made to the Scottish Government and to any of its agencies have been properly investigated, recorded and dealt with?

The First Minister

No, I am not aware of any complaint having been swept under the carpet. Let me be very clear: as First Minister, I would not tolerate that being the case. Indeed, it is because I so strongly believe that complaints should not be swept under the carpet that I signed off the new procedure in December that I referred to in my opening answer.

I have been consistently clear, as has the permanent secretary of the Scottish Government, that complaints, when they are raised, should be properly investigated, no matter the seniority or the political affiliation of the person being complained about. It is important that, in all cases, due process is applied.

My final point, which is directed at all of us, across the chamber, is that we should all refrain from seeking to play party politics on issues that demand proper due process, because to do that risks doing a disservice to those who raise complaints.

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Does the First Minister agree that the behaviour that we have seen in the last week from President Trump and several United States senators, who in effect have put on trial a woman who says that she has been a victim of abuse, is utterly disgraceful? Does she also agree that we should stand together and not allow those who complain to be revictimised as part of any political or media scrutiny of any harassment investigation?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree. Many of us—and perhaps women in particular—have been horrified by what we have watched unfolding in the United States over the past couple of weeks. In this area, leadership is very important. The issues are not always comfortable ones—I perhaps know that more than most at this point—but it is at times when things are not comfortable that leaders are tested on whether their rhetoric is just that or whether they are prepared to put their words into action.

It is important that people who come forward with complaints are not put on trial and that there is due process for all concerned, including for those who are being complained about. We must not allow complaints to be swept under the carpet. We certainly must not allow that to happen because of the identity of the person being complained about. It is vital that women—because it is mainly, but not exclusively women who are affected—are listened to, that their complaints are treated with respect and that due process is followed. As far as I possibly can as First Minister, I will do everything in my power to make sure that that happens.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will shortly move to a members’ business debate, but we will first have a short suspension to allow the public gallery, in particular, to clear and to allow new members of the public to come in to listen to the debate.

12:43 Meeting suspended.  12:45 On resuming—