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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 07 June 2017

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, General Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Good afternoon. We start this afternoon with First Minister’s question time.


Engagements

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01353)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

This is my first opportunity in the chamber since the cowardly attack in London last Saturday night to record my horror at what happened, and to offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected. My thoughts and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole Parliament are with those who lost their loved ones on Saturday night, and all those who sustained injuries.

Later today I will have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Ruth Davidson

I associate myself and my party with the words of the First Minister. Our thoughts and prayers go to the victims in London and their families.

Why does the First Minister believe that private conversations should not stay private.

The First Minister

Actually, I do believe that. Of course, the conversation that Ruth Davidson is alluding to was taken from the private sphere into the public sphere not by me, but by Kezia Dugdale. The fact of the conversation and a very selective account of its content were first put in the public domain on 23 February in The Times, which said

“Ms Dugdale reveals she held secret talks with”

the First Minister. That is what gave me the ability to talk about it. Of course, the part of the conversation that Kezia Dugdale did not refer to was the part that I spoke about last night, which I stand by 100 per cent.

Let me get to the nub of the matter. The nub of the matter is that all the Opposition parties in this Parliament have tried in this election campaign to use the issue of an independence referendum as a smokescreen. In the Tories’ case, it is because they do not want to talk about their toxic policies—toxic policies such as the rape clause, which made Ruth Davidson squirm so much last night, and toxic policies such as austerity cuts, extreme Brexit and, of course, removal of the rights of pensioners.

The key question tomorrow is how we stop the Tories getting a stronger hand to do more damage to Scotland. Let us make sure that we do not boost Theresa May’s majority; let us make sure that we send strong SNP MPs to stand up for Scotland.

Ruth Davidson

She is rolling back today, but everybody now knows not to have a private chat with the First Minister, because if it suits her purposes, everybody will get to hear about it.

We are still left with the big question. The First Minister says that Kezia Dugdale told her that she would drop Labour’s opposition to an independence referendum, and Kezia Dugdale says that it is all a pack of lies. They cannot both be right, so which one is it?

The Presiding Officer

Just be careful about use of unparliamentary language in this discussion.

The First Minister

People should think twice, of course, about having any conversation with Ruth Davidson, because if her Twitter account is anything to go by, she records it for later use—although I note that that tweet was hastily deleted overnight.

I stand by what I said last night 100 per cent. In fact, if anybody reads what Labour and Kezia Dugdale were saying in public around that time, they will hear the ring of truth about what I said: Labour itself was saying that all options, including an independence referendum, were under consideration. That is the reality; it is on the record. There is an article on Labour’s website even today confirming that.

This comes back to the heart of the matter. All the other parties in the Parliament want to avoid the real issue in the election tomorrow. The real issue is this: the only way in Scotland to stop the Tories tightening their grip and getting a bigger majority to do what they want in Scotland, is to vote SNP. Labour is not strong enough to take on the Tories, any more. It is not so long ago that Kezia Dugdale seemed to be advising people in parts of Scotland to vote Tory in the election. Anyone who wants to take on the Tories and ensure that Scotland has, in the House of Commons, strong voices standing against austerity and standing up for Scotland, should vote SNP tomorrow.

Ruth Davidson

The truth is that we do not need the First Minister to tell us what we already know, which is that the Labour Party cannot be trusted to stand up to the SNP. It is not just Kezia Dugdale—Jeremy Corbyn is even worse. She says, “You can have your indyref,” and he says, “Absolutely fine.” The First Minister has dragged Kezia Dugdale on to her ground. Given what she has seen of Mr Corbyn, how would she rate her chances of success with him?

The First Minister

My focus today and tomorrow is to persuade as many people across Scotland as I can of this: the only way to stop Theresa May—who is on the ropes in this election—getting a bigger majority is to make sure that we do not send Tory MPs to boost that majority and strengthen her hand. Let us make sure tomorrow that we send SNP MPs to the House of Commons to stand up for Scotland and make our voice heard.

Ruth Davidson

The past 24 hours have set out the choice that people face at the polls. With the SNP, it is straight back to another divisive referendum on independence; with Labour, it is, “I’m not sure; I’ll phone a friend and see what she says”; and with us, it is clear: no to a second referendum, no to more uncertainty and no to the division that it would cause our country.

I have listened to the people of Scotland, and they do not want the First Minister’s referendum. For pity’s sake, let it go.

The First Minister

Actually, there is something that I can at last agree with Ruth Davidson on. The past 24 hours—indeed, the duration of this election campaign—have set out clearly the choice for the people of Scotland. If people in Scotland vote for Tory MPs tomorrow, they are voting for MPs who will go to the House of Commons and vote for policies including the rape clause, who will vote for more benefit cuts, for more austerity cuts and for the dementia tax. They will vote to take away the winter fuel allowance and to take away the pension triple lock. That is what people will get if they send Tory MPs to Westminster.

On the other hand, if we send strong SNP voices to Westminster, we will get MPs who will stand against austerity, who will stand up for pensioners and who will stand against more cuts that punish the poorest people in our society. The only way to stop the Tories in Scotland is to vote SNP tomorrow.


Engagements

2. Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

I offer the thoughts of those on the Labour benches to the families who have been affected by the atrocious attacks in London.

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-01351)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale

If the past 24 hours have shown us anything, it is that the First Minister will say anything to deflect from the Scottish National Party’s appalling record in office. However, people across the country want the First Minister to focus on the day job. Therefore, will she tell us why the number of unfilled posts for nurses and midwives is at an all-time high?

The First Minister

First, I say to Kezia Dugdale that I know what was said in that conversation, and so does she. I am standing here in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament and I am certain of what was said. Do you know what? There is nothing whatsoever wrong with Kezia Dugdale having changed her mind since then, but what is wrong is for her, having held that view, to suggest that people who still hold that view are somehow expressing something unacceptable. That is not legitimate. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order.

The First Minister

On staff in our national health service, today, there are 12,000 more people working in our NHS than there were when we took office. We have more nurses, more doctors and more allied health professionals in our health service than ever before, and we have more per head of population than any other part of the United Kingdom. That is because this Government is investing in our health service and is doing so to a much greater extent than Labour would be if it was in office.

Kezia Dugdale

So there are enough nurses in the health service. That is the latest fib from the First Minister.

The Presiding Officer

Ms Dugdale, you cannot use unparliamentary language such as that. Ask another question.

Kezia Dugdale

Okay, Presiding Officer. That is other stuff that she has not told the truth about. It was this First Minister—

The Presiding Officer

No, Ms Dugdale, the point is to be respectful and courteous to other members and not to impugn their character in that way. I recognise that there is a disagreement about accuracy. However, you must not impugn someone else’s character in the chamber.

Kezia Dugdale

It was the First Minister who decided to slash places for student nurses and midwives when she was the health secretary. That is why we have a shortage of nurses and midwives in the NHS in Scotland, which has severe consequences for the care that patients receive. We know from the figures that were released this week that almost 500 operations were cancelled because of pressures on NHS resources. That is hundreds of people who did not get the treatment that they needed because the SNP’s priorities are all wrong. Does the First Minister regret not spending enough time on the day job?

The First Minister

In January this year, we announced a 4.7 per cent increase in intakes to pre-registration nursing and midwifery programmes. That is an extra 151 places and the fifth successive rise, and the total equates to 3,360 entry places. Under this Government, there has been an average of 1,000 more nurses in training each year compared with the position under the previous Administration. That is this Government’s record when it comes to nurse training.

As for cancelled operations, a small number of operations are always cancelled. That can happen for a variety of reasons, but the overwhelming majority of operations in our health service go ahead as scheduled. That is down to the fantastic work that is done by doctors and nurses and by everybody else who works across our health service.

Kezia Dugdale

That is yet more fake news from the First Minister. Here is the reality: missed accident and emergency targets; operations that are cancelled because of pressure on NHS staff and resources; and thousands of patients who are trapped in hospitals when they are fit to go home. That should shame the First Minister, except we know that nothing really does.

Tomorrow, we can kick the Tories out of office and get a Labour Government that will work night and day to invest in our schools and hospitals, will deliver a real living wage of £10 an hour and will deliver £3 billion more for public services. Is it not the case that the only way to get a Labour Government tomorrow is to vote Labour?

The First Minister

There we have another flip-flop from Kezia Dugdale. Not that long ago, she was telling us all that Jeremy Corbyn was completely unelectable; now, she is blowing with the wind all over again.

The problem for Kezia Dugdale and Labour is that they have spent all their time in the campaign attacking the SNP and letting the Tories completely off the hook. Kezia Dugdale even suggested a couple of weeks ago that there were parts of Scotland where people should actually vote Tory. That is what she said.

The reality is that a vote for Labour tomorrow—a vote for the party that was beaten into third place last year—risks letting a Tory in by the back door. The only party in Scotland that has the strength to take on the Tories is the SNP. If people want rid of the Tories in Scotland and if they want MPs elected who agree with Jeremy Corbyn on more issues than Kezia Dugdale does, they should vote for the SNP tomorrow.


Cabinet (Meetings)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-01358)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Tuesday.

Patrick Harvie

I share other members’ reflections on the tragic events in London. I express the shock and dismay that we felt and our condolences to the people who were affected. I am sure that the First Minister will also want to join me in condemning the US President for his opportunistic attack on the London mayor at a time when Londoners were still coming to terms with what had happened. [Applause.]

However, the democratic process does not stop and in these closing stages of an election campaign, there is more at stake than who said what to whom a year ago; there are critically important choices facing our society and our economy. Greens have long argued for investment in the new sustainable industries that will provide jobs for the long term—jobs in the post-oil economy—instead of throwing ever-greater tax cuts and subsidies at the fossil fuel industry, yet the First Minister continues to say that her primary aim is to maximise extraction of fossil fuels. Even one of the newspapers endorsing the Scottish National Party states today:

“Our industrial base has been exposed as too heavily reliant on oil. So far, nothing has been done to replace that”.

How can the First Minister defend continued subsidies and tax breaks for the biggest polluters on the planet?

The First Minister

I share Patrick Harvie’s view of President Trump’s comments about the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. We should all deprecate those comments. At a time when the mayor’s city had just been the victim of a horrific terrorist attack, the least that he should have been able to expect was complete support and loyalty from a country that is a long-standing ally of this country.

On Patrick Harvie’s substantive question, I do not think that the two things are either/or. The importance of the oil and gas sector to our economy and, currently, to the provision of our energy needs, is such that we have an obligation to support it.

Yesterday morning, at the Oil & Gas UK conference in Aberdeen, I spoke about the importance of that sector and the work that this Government is doing to make sure that we help it to recover and have that bright future that I certainly think it should have. However, we were also speaking about the ability of the skills that have been developed in oil and gas to be transferred into other areas of our energy sector—renewable energy in particular. There is a great opportunity there.

This Government has a very good record when it comes to renewable energy and meeting climate change targets. We have some of the most ambitious targets in the world and we have met them years ahead of schedule. We are already generating more than 50 per cent of our electricity from renewable energy. We continue to invest in renewable energy to make sure that we are making that transition to a low or no-carbon economy. That, as Patrick Harvie is aware, is a key priority of this Government.

Patrick Harvie

There is certainly an urgent need to support people to transition into new industries, as well as to maximise the opportunities from decommissioning. However, there is absolutely a contradiction between maximising extraction and the climate change commitments that the First Minister speaks of.

The First Minister has already condemned Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement but if that agreement is ever to be more than just a piece of paper, it is vital that greater action is taken by all countries. It is undeniable that the world has far more coal, oil and gas than we can afford to burn. The First Minister’s former climate change minister agreed, accepting that at least a proportion of what is still in the North Sea must be left there.

Is it not clear, though, that only Green voices are challenging the policy that unites the SNP with all three political parties that have played a role in the United Kingdom Government—the policy of maximum oil and gas extraction? Is it not undeniable that that policy is incompatible with any meaningful commitment to the Paris agreement? How much of the North Sea’s fossil fuels does the First Minister believe must be left unburned if we are to make a fair contribution to the Paris goal of limiting climate change to 1.5°C?

The First Minister

On some of this—not on all of it—Patrick Harvie and I might just have to agree to disagree. I do not believe that there is that incompatibility. I think that the importance of the oil and gas sector to our economy, and to the development of the skills that are important in developing renewable energy, is such that we should continue to support that sector. Many, many jobs are dependent on activity in the North Sea, and as a result of advances in technology, many of which are being developed here in Scotland, new and innovative ways of using hydrocarbons are emerging that offer that continued opportunity. We are seeing new hydrogen energy sources, with new technologies such as carbon capture and storage. I think that it is right that Scotland continues to seek to be a world leader in all those different areas of our energy sector.

I return to the central point, which is the Paris climate agreement. I bitterly regret President Trump’s decision to take America out of that agreement. We are meeting our climate change targets, we are meeting the targets that we set on renewable energy and we are going further and setting even more ambitious targets. We are leading the world when it comes to discharging our obligations to the planet.


Cabinet (Meetings)

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

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-01359)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

Willie Rennie

I share the sentiments that other members have expressed about the London attacks. My thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of those attacks.

The national health service statistical report on mental health services for young people that was published yesterday is appalling. I thought that I had got the First Minister on board to take strong action to sort that area. I have asked her about it time and again, and I have heard warm words, but the latest figures show that more young people are waiting for treatment and that they are waiting longer. Why are things worse this year than last year?

The First Minister

I do not think that that is the case. I know that we have an election tomorrow, but I hope that, after the election, we can have some consensus on the issue of mental health.

The statistics on child and adolescent mental health services that were published yesterday show some improvement in waiting times and that 10 of the 14 health boards in Scotland are meeting the 18-week standard. That figure is up from only 7 in the previous quarter. Yes, a number of people waited more than a year for treatment, which is unacceptable. At one point, there were 74 people in that situation, which is 1.7 per cent, but that figure was down from 2.4 per cent in the final quarter of 2016.

Like many other countries, we have challenges to address in meeting the increased demand for mental health services. However, because of the investment that we are making and the mental health strategy that we are pursuing, we are seeing progress, and we are determined to continue to make that progress.

Willie Rennie

I can tell the First Minister that there will never be consensus in the Parliament as long as the Government continues to fail on mental health. Here are the facts, year on year. Fewer young people were treated this year than last year, and those people had to wait longer—waiting times are up, and health boards are missing their targets. In fact, it is worse than that: the targets have never been met. The Government’s performance on psychological therapies for adults is worse this year than it has ever been before.

That is why ordinary people are now prepared to stand up—we have seen it throughout the election campaign—and tell the First Minister when she is getting it wrong and her Government is failing.

I have been asking about mental health services pretty much every week for three years. The First Minister will say that she has a brand new strategy, but what she will not tell us is that it was delayed for 15 months. Will she guarantee that things will be better than this next year? Can she guarantee that?

The First Minister

We are seeing improvements, and we intend to continue to see improvements. We are seeing more investment and more people working in child and adolescent mental health services, with the overall CAMHS workforce having increased by 65 per cent over the past number of years. We have seen the number of nursing posts increase, and we have seen a significant increase in investment in mental health generally—particularly in child and adolescent mental health services.

Willie Rennie asked me about the CAMHS statistics. They show that 83.6 per cent of people were seen within 18 weeks, which is an increase on the previous quarter, with 3,621 people having been seen within 18 weeks and 712 having waited longer than 18 weeks. We are seeing improvements in those areas, but I recognise that we have more to do, which is why we are investing more and following the mental health strategy. We will continue to do so in order that we will continue to see more progress over the next months and the next year.

The Presiding Officer

We have a couple of supplementary questions.

Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

How has the First Minister’s Government protected Scotland’s budget in the face of Tory cuts? [Interruption.] It is a good question.

The First Minister

It is interesting—[Interruption.] The other parties do not want to hear about this. We rightly hear a lot from other parties about public services, but what people like Willie Rennie do not tell us is that, while his party was in government with the Tories for five years, the budget of this Parliament was cut by £2 billion. That is what Willie Rennie and his colleagues did to the budget of this Parliament.

We have continued to protect what matters in Scotland. That is why we have increased the health budget by £3 billion and will increase it even further over this parliamentary session. We will continue to do whatever we can to protect the budget of this Parliament and to protect our vital public services.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The First Minister will recall that, on 19 May, strike action by further education lecturers in the college sector was suspended to allow negotiations to continue. That came after Colleges Scotland agreed to implement phase 1 of the March 2016 agreement. However, lecturers did not receive the agreed pay rise in their wages at the end of May, and it might be the end of August before the money reaches their bank accounts. Lecturers are angry and feel betrayed, and threats of further strike action are emerging.

That is not what was agreed just a matter of weeks ago, when John Swinney intervened personally and asked the Educational Institute of Scotland Further Education Lecturers Association to call off the strike. Does the First Minister agree that further education lecturers suspended the strike in good faith and should be paid exactly what was agreed without further delay?

When I raised the issue with the First Minister in April, she rightly said that employers should “go the extra mile”. Will the First Minister say whether she thinks that employers have gone the distance and explain why the talks are failing despite the Scottish Government’s appointment of John Sturrock QC as the facilitator?

The First Minister

I was pleased that an agreement was struck that allowed strike action to be called off, because that strike action was in nobody’s interest—it was not in the interests of students or the college lecturers who work so hard to deliver education for our students. The agreement was not easy to reach. The Government intervened in the way that Monica Lennon outlined, and agreement was then reached. I expect that agreement to be implemented so that we can make sure that there is no further risk of strikes, which would be damaging to students in our colleges.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Will the First Minister say what progress her Government is making in getting more young people into modern apprenticeships?

The First Minister

Just this week, statistics showed that we have exceeded our modern apprenticeships target of 26,000 for 2016-17. Employers are recognising the value of the opportunities that the apprenticeship programme brings to increase skills in our workforce and encourage new talent. The latest modern apprenticeship figures show that we are on track to meet our target of 30,000 modern apprentices by 2020, and we are committed to enhancing the apprenticeship programme in response to the needs of employers.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I agree with the First Minister when she talks about the devastating impact of failed Tory austerity on communities up and down Scotland. However, the question that people are asking is this: when is this Government going to start defending those communities? This year, we see cuts of £170 million to local public services. Our public services are bursting at the seams and cannot continue. Will the First Minister defend public services?

The First Minister

Alex Rowley is just wrong. We have had this debate in the chamber many times: there is an additional £400 million of investment for local services this year, compared with last year. That includes extra money for social care and, of course, the £120 million that is going directly to headteachers to help us to close the attainment gap.

In addition to that, this Government is spending more than £100 million on mitigating the impact of Tory welfare cuts such as the bedroom tax. This Government is continuing to do everything that we can to support local services and to mitigate the impact of damaging Tory cuts.

The damage that Tory cuts are doing to communities across this country makes it all the more astounding that so many Labour councillors the length and breadth of this country seem so keen to do deals with the Tories to get them into administration in councils.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

Will the First Minister give the estimate for the number of additional children who will be living in poverty by 2021 as a result of Tory tax and welfare policies? [Interruption.]

The First Minister

I do not think that child poverty is funny. [Interruption.] The Tories are laughing at a question about child poverty.

Let me give the answer, which comes not from me or my officials but from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The IFS estimates that, as a result of Tory tax and benefit changes, by 2021 an additional 1 million children in the UK will be living in poverty. That will take the total number of children living in poverty to more than 5 million, which is equivalent to the entire population of Scotland. That is why we need strong voices in the House of Commons standing against Tory cuts and against the Tory assault on the poorest in our society.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

With the number of planted questions, I think that we are on “Gardeners’ Question Time” today.

This week, a number of middle eastern countries cut links with Qatar because of its support for terrorism. For years, the Scottish Government has sought to develop business links with that country, sending the current transport minister on a trip with the Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames to develop business links and asking the Qataris to invest their sovereign wealth fund in Scottish schools, roads and infrastructure projects. In the light of the recent developments, has the Scottish Government revised its policy toward the Qatari regime?

The First Minister

On a point of fact, the Scottish Government does not currently have in place any contracts with suppliers that are based in Qatar. The Scottish Government will, of course, always make the case for jobs and investment in Scotland, but we expect all countries to comply with international human rights law and we always use our international engagement as an opportunity to promote respect for and understanding of human rights. That is the case with Qatar as it is with other countries around the world.


Paris Climate Accord

5. Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will reaffirm its commitment to the Paris climate accord. (S5F-01373)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes. The Scottish Government remains fully committed to the Paris agreement. The need for international co-operation is greater than ever and the decision by President Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement is short-sighted, deeply irresponsible and downright wrong. The low-carbon transition presents challenges to all countries, but it also gives important opportunities for our economy and our society, and it is vital for all countries to stay the course. The Scottish Government will demonstrate its commitment by developing proposals for an ambitious new climate change bill over the coming weeks in response to the goals of the Paris agreement.

Clare Haughey

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and French President Emmanuel Macron have expressed condemnation of the US withdrawal from the accord. Does the First Minister share my view that the United Kingdom Government should have been far more robust in its response, and that Theresa May should have shown leadership on the issue, rather than lacking the backbone to stand up to President Trump?

The First Minister

I—like many members across the chamber, to be fair—would have very much liked the Prime Minister, on behalf of the UK, to have signed the letter that France, Germany and Italy sent to President Trump. Sometimes it feels that the Prime Minister is more concerned with not offending President Trump than with doing the right thing for this country, and that is the wrong approach.

The Paris agreement was secured through very long and difficult negotiations in 2015, following more than 20 years of international consensus building. The focus of all countries should now be on implementation. It is certainly the focus that this Government will have as we make our contribution to taking forward and fulfilling the aims of the Paris agreement.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

As a society, we need to burn and to put into landfill fewer resources. However, the current draft climate change plan does not consider energy from waste. Perhaps that is because, according to the Scottish Government’s own figures, it is planning a twelvefold increase in incineration over the next five years. Layered on top of that, councils might be contracted to burn and recycle the same waste. Clearly, that cannot happen. In the interests of the Paris climate accord, will the First Minister agree with the Scottish Conservatives on a moratorium on new incinerator construction?

The First Minister

The draft climate change plan is just that—a draft. It is there for consultation and contributions. If the Scottish Conservatives want to make such a proposal, the Government will give it due and proper consideration. Our climate change plan and our draft energy strategy show ambition in this area, and they are both there for consultation so that we can move forward to a position in which we have maximum consensus as we move our country forward and do some difficult things to meet more ambitious climate change targets. We will be doing the right things for Scotland and for the whole of the world.

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

States, mayors, industry and the American public are all rejecting Donald Trump’s bizarre attempt to make the US into a rogue state on climate change. He will fail because fossil fuels have had their day. For every one American job in coal, there are three in renewables. Donald Trump is literally tilting at windmills. The First Minister’s US engagement strategy commits the Scottish Government to engaging with states and US agencies on tackling climate change. What is being done to deliver that commitment and what progress will be made in light of Donald Trump’s recent announcement?

The First Minister

A few weeks ago, I met the Governor of California and signed an agreement to commit Scotland and the state of California to working together on climate change issues. We will continue to explore opportunities to do likewise with other American states. As I have said, I disagree strongly with the decision that President Trump took on the Paris agreement. It is important to stress that, because of the way in which the United States is governed, much of the responsibility for initiatives to tackle climate change lies with the states. States and cities in America have a big role to play and Scotland, the United Kingdom as a whole, if it chooses to, and other countries can contribute by trying to work with those cities and states to take this forward.

Scotland is very actively working in the United States and across the world with regions and cities to make sure that we are making a full contribution, and we will continue to do that.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

How does the First Minister’s support for the Paris agreement match the introduction of the Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill, which will result in a 50 per cent reduction in charges for air passengers, which will increase carbon emissions and reduce the Scottish budget by up to £189 million?

The First Minister

As James Kelly is aware, the Committee on Climate Change looked specifically at the issue, and said that if we do anything, whether it be in this policy area or anywhere else, that has an adverse effect on emissions, we have a corresponding responsibility to compensate for it in other ways. The Government absolutely accepts that and it is factored into our thinking and planning on climate change.

We will continue to take the decisions that balance growing our economy and supporting business, which we all accept is vitally important for generating the economic activity and wealth that we need to support our public services, with making sure that we are doing absolutely the right things by our environment and tackling climate change. We will continue to operate in exactly that way.


General Practitioner Vacancies

6. Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that more than one in four GP practices have a vacancy. (S5F-01357)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We have increased general practitioner recruitment and retention funding this year from £1 million to £5 million as part of a £71 million package of direct support for general practice. In addition, we have increased the number of GP training places and doubled the number of £20,000 bursaries for hard-to-fill training posts.

GP recruitment is challenging, but it is welcome that the recent British Medical Association GP vacancy survey showed that the vacancy rate has reduced by 2 per cent in the past year.

Donald Cameron

The BMA has also commented that every unfilled vacancy puts more strain on remaining GPs, who struggle to cover the gaps in practices while coping with the increased demands on their services. Does the First Minister agree with that assessment? Given that staffing today is affected by recruitment and training decisions that were taken several years ago, does she take personal responsibility for a crisis in workforce planning across the national health service?

The First Minister

I agree with the general assessment that the member read out and I take responsibility for ensuring that the Government takes action to address the challenge that we and other countries face around GP recruitment.

Investment in GP services has gone up each year under this Government. Funding and direct support of general practice will increase by £250 million by the end of the current parliamentary session as part of our wider commitment to increasing primary care funding by £500 million. The BMA Scottish general practitioners committee chair, Dr Alan McDevitt, has said:

“This is a very positive step in the right direction towards our shared vision of general practice”.

We absolutely accept our responsibility to address the challenges. Possibly the worst thing that we see right now for our ability to tackle recruitment challenges—whether for GPs, nurses or any other part of our public service—and to have the best and brightest from across Europe come to this country is the real and present danger to all our efforts that the Tories present to Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

What action is the Government taking to recruit more staff into our national health service? Will the First Minister update Parliament on the latest NHS staffing figures?

The First Minister

As I have said, we have more staff working in our NHS than ever before—staffing in the NHS is at record levels. We have challenges with vacancies among some groups of staff, which we are working to address, but there are more staff in our NHS, and it is because of the efforts of those staff that patients across the country get the excellent care and treatment that they get. We should all be very grateful to them for that.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. A few moments ago the First Minister claimed that the increased aviation emissions that will arise from the aviation tax policy have been factored into the draft climate change plan. In my reading of that plan, there is no such assessment of the increased emissions that will arise as a result of that policy, nor any specific commitments to policies that will mitigate those emissions and reduce emissions elsewhere. Of course I recognise, Presiding Officer, that the accuracy of what is said is not a matter for you, but if there is some other aspect, appendix or codicil to the plan that the Government has neglected to publish, will you please give the Government the opportunity to lay it before Parliament at its earliest possible convenience?

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Harvie. You have now offered the Government that opportunity. That is not a point of order.