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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 7, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 07 June 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Onshore Wind Energy (Community Benefit), Miners’ Strike (Impact of Policing on Communities), Hate Crime Legislation: Bracadale Review, Decision Time, Correction


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Home Detention Curfew

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

Can the First Minister tell the chamber how many criminals on home detention committed offences while out on release in the past three years?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I do not have to hand the figure that would answer that specific question. However, I can tell the chamber that, since it was introduced in 2006, 21,000 people have been released on home detention curfew. Of that total, 0.3 per cent are people who are currently unlawfully at large. At any one time, around 300 people are on home detention curfew, which is about 4 per cent of the prison population; and 99.7 per cent of those will be prisoners who have been sentenced to a term of less than four years.

I assume that the entirely understandable reason for Ruth Davidson’s question is the case of James Wright that has been reported this week. First, I say that that is an appalling case. James Wright committed a dreadful crime and I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathies to Mr McClelland’s family and to his friends.

The chamber will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has asked both Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons for Scotland and Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary in Scotland to conduct a review of home detention curfew, which will look at the process of assessing whether someone should be placed on such a curfew and will also review the process for investigating breaches of home detention curfew terms and apprehending individuals who breach them.

The final point that I would make is that I think that all members across the chamber would accept that systems such as home detention curfew are an important part of preparing individuals for release; they are about reintegrating prisoners into society, which helps to reduce the risk of their reoffending. However, home detention curfew is not an entitlement for prisoners, who should be eligible for it only if they are assessed as being at low risk of reoffending.

If there lessons to be learned from this case—as undoubtedly there will be—I am determined that they will be learned.

Ruth Davidson

In this case, a man with 16 previous convictions and who had twice been caught carrying a knife went on to stab another man to death. However, the First Minister could not answer the question that I asked her. The reason for that is that no one can, because the data is not collated and the figures are not released. In fact, the only time that we find out about such cases is in a week like this one, when a criminal such as James Wright turns up in court having murdered father of three, Craig McClelland. I think that that is unacceptable. If criminals are being released from jail, tagged and then going on to commit violent crimes, does the public not have a right to know how many do so?

The First Minister

I should say that I will not stand here today and defend any aspect of what happened in the particular case that we are talking about—and I do not think that anyone would expect me to do so. That is why it is right that there is to be a full review by both the chief inspector of prisons and the chief inspector of constabulary. If the issue that Ruth Davidson has raised is one of the recommendations that emerges from one of those reviews, of course the Government will respond to that.

We have discussed such issues before in the chamber, and I think that we all recognise that they are some of the most difficult and sensitive ones that we, as politicians, discuss in this Parliament. Most MSPs across the chamber accept that it is important to have in place systems that help to rehabilitate prisoners. It is not in society’s best interests if prisoners are released before steps have been taken to ensure that they can be properly reintegrated into it. That will increase, not reduce, the risk of their reoffending.

Such systems are important, but it is also extremely important that the right safeguards are in place. The vast majority of people who are released on home detention curfew—76 per cent, to be precise—successfully complete the curfew. We know that around 20 per cent of prisoners are recalled due to a breach of their conditions. If there are lessons to be learned and if changes to the process require to be made, I am determined that those changes will be made, but it is important that we continue to focus on what we need to do to ensure the rehabilitation of prisoners, because that is in the interests of the safety of society as well.

Ruth Davidson

The First Minister is right that the justice secretary has instructed an investigation into why James Wright was free to kill, six months after he had breached his home detention curfew. In doing so, the justice secretary has admitted that the system is flawed yet, under the Government’s new Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, it is proposing to move to a system that puts far more reliance on criminals being tagged in the community, not less. We do not know how many criminals on home release are committing crimes and the Government accepts that there is a problem, but we are going to have more electronic tagging anyway. Would it not make sense to put those plans on hold, at least until we can reassure the public that the system actually works? Is it not time to put victims first for once?

The First Minister

Such systems are about trying to put victims first, in making sure that we have processes in place that are about effective rehabilitation of prisoners. I am not trying to defend what happened in the case that Ruth Davidson raises, and I never would try to do so, but such cases, appalling though they are—this case is absolutely appalling—do not necessarily mean that the whole system is not working. Something went badly wrong in this case, and it is important that we look carefully at it and, if there are wider lessons to be learned, that we learn those wider lessons.

The extension of tagging is about people who would be on community orders, and it is important that the Parliament debates that. I do not want to politicise the issue, as it is not appropriate to do so but, if we listen to what some of Ruth Davidson’s colleagues south of the border are saying about Scotland’s approach to community sentences, we find that they think that there is a lot to be learned from what Scotland is doing. We must look carefully at such appalling cases, but we must do so properly and we must apply any lessons sensibly, and that is exactly what we will do. Any future reforms and changes are for the Parliament to debate and decide in the normal way.

Ruth Davidson

I have listened to three answers, and the First Minister has repeated the word “rehabilitation” like a mantra, as if that were the reason for extending tagging. However, I have here the policy memorandum for the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, and the reason for that bill, as stated by the Government, is that the introduction is

“to make the use of electronic monitoring more appealing to sheriffs as an alternative to custody.”

So it is instead of custody and not just for rehabilitation.

The case has rightly drawn the focus to home release, but the issue goes far deeper than that and is about not just home release but parole and sentencing. We say that it is simply wrong that someone with 16 previous convictions, including two for knife crimes, should be let out with a tag; that it is wrong that victims and their families do not have the right to speak at Parole Board for Scotland hearings; and that it is wrong that victims cannot challenge the decision to let criminals out on parole. Scotland’s justice system is tilted far too much in favour of those convicted of crime and too often turns a deaf ear to the victims of those crimes. It is long past time that we had action from the Government to correct that basic injustice, so we ask the Government to widen the parole review and to allow the victims to speak. When will we finally see those actions being taken?

The First Minister

I will deal with the part of the question about parole first. As Ruth Davidson knows, the Parole Board for Scotland is an independent judicial body and its processes are kept continually under review. We are already in discussions with the Parole Board on possible future development of its rules in light of the review of the Worboys case south of the border.

On the more general issue, I preface my remarks by saying that I am not referring to the individual case that has been raised this week, which is an appalling case that is subject to the reviews that the justice secretary has outlined. More generally, it is not the case that our justice system is tilted towards criminals rather than victims. Scotland has one of the highest prison populations anywhere in western Europe. Part of the problem is that we know that prison is not the most effective sentence in reducing reoffending for some of those who commit offences.

Listen to what the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Justice said only recently. The Tory UK justice secretary said:

“The evidence shows that when a person has been inside for less than 12 months the re-offending rate is about 66%, but the re-offending rate for those who get a non-custodial sentence is lower.”

Therefore,

“Short sentences should be a last resort.”

Ruth Davidson

It was a murder.

The First Minister

Ruth Davidson is saying that this was a murder. I actually said that I was not referring to the individual case. I am making a wider point, which is what Ruth Davidson went on to do.

We need to ensure that sentencing is as effective as it possibly can be and has the best possible chance not just of punishing—although punishing is important—but also of reducing reoffending, because by reducing reoffending we help to keep the public safer as well. That is the motivation behind the reforms that we are taking forward. Ruth Davidson’s colleagues south of the border think that they are sensible reforms. I respect the views that Ruth Davidson is putting forward, but let us debate the issues properly and maturely as a Parliament. That is what the public deserve, and what they expect of us.


Delayed Discharge

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

On Wednesday 25 February 2015, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport told the BBC’s “Good Morning Scotland” programme:

“I want over the course of this year to eradicate delayed discharge out of the system ... I am absolutely determined to do that.”

First Minister, how did that go?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Actually, we have seen a reduction in the number of bed days lost to delayed discharge. In 2017-18, there was a reduction of 7 per cent on the previous year. That built on a 3 per cent reduction in the year before that and a 9 per cent reduction the previous year. That is what has happened since the date of the quote that Richard Leonard has just read out. In fact, under Shona Robison as health secretary, there has been a 24 per cent reduction in the number of bed days lost to delayed discharge. That is equivalent to 435 extra beds in our national health service. Progress is being made, and we are determined to continue that progress in the months and years ahead.

Richard Leonard

To be absolutely clear, more than three years ago, Shona Robison made a promise to the people of Scotland

“to eradicate delayed discharge out of the system”

and we are still waiting. I know that the First Minister understands that this is a matter of serious concern, because back in 2011 she explained to the Scottish National Party conference that delayed discharges

“waste NHS resources”

and

“rob older people of their quality of life”.

Delayed discharge was, she said,

“equivalent to a large acute hospital being occupied all year by people who don’t need to be there. And it costs £50 million.”

Can the First Minister tell us today exactly how much three years of Shona Robison’s broken promises on delayed discharge has cost our national health service?

The First Minister

We know that, because people are living longer—which is a good thing—there are greater demands on our health service. That is why we are investing more money in our health service and why we have higher funding per head of population than other parts of the United Kingdom. There are nearly 13,000 more staff in post in our NHS and we are also investing more money in social care.

Let me go back to the specific issue of delayed discharge. I would be the first to accept that tackling delayed discharge is challenging, but it is very clearly on a downward trend. There has been a reduction of nearly 40,000 bed days lost to delay between 2016-17 and 2017-18 and, as I said earlier, that builds on reductions in the two previous years. In April, 10 of the partnerships across the country had the number of standard delays over three days down to single figures and just four partnerships account for almost half of the total delays, so we are focusing on reducing the delays there.

As I said earlier, since Shona Robison became health secretary, the number of bed days lost to delayed discharge is down 24 per cent—that is more than 40,000 bed days and equivalent to more than 400 extra beds. It is going in the right direction. It is tough and challenging, and that is not just the case in Scotland. Governments across the UK, Europe and the world struggle with the issue, but in Scotland we are making progress because of the investments that we have made, because of the integration of health and social care, and because we are increasing the number of staff working in our NHS. We will continue to focus on doing exactly that.

Richard Leonard

The question that I asked was how much Shona Robison’s broken promises on delayed discharge had cost the health service in Scotland since 2015. The answer is £392 million, Presiding Officer.

This week, the Government was forced to admit that it has not met its accident and emergency waiting times target for eight consecutive months. Hundreds of operations are being cancelled every single month; waiting times are up year on year; and our hard-working NHS staff are overstretched and undervalued. They deserve better than that. Patients deserve better than that. The people of Scotland deserve better than that, and they deserve a health secretary who is up to the job. When will the First Minister finally put patients before party and accept at long last that the time has come for her health secretary to go?

The First Minister

Richard Leonard has just exposed that he does not really care about the patients; this is all about politics, as far as he is concerned.

Let me talk about A and E, as Richard Leonard raised it. It is very positive news and a real credit to those working in our NHS that, for three years in a row now, Scotland has had the best A and E performances in the whole of the United Kingdom—including Labour-run Wales, of course.

The figures for cancelled operations that came out earlier this week show a reduction from the previous ones in the number of operations that were cancelled for capacity or non-clinical reasons, down to just over 2 per cent.

As I have said twice now, there has been a 24 per cent reduction in the number of bed days lost to delayed discharges since Shona Robison became health secretary. I am always frank about the challenges that we face in the health service as demand rises. That is why we will continue to carry out the reforms that are necessary and why we will continue to put in the investment that is necessary and to support the extra people who are working in our NHS under this Government. That is what we will get on and do and we will leave Richard Leonard to worry about the politics.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

There is a lot of interest in asking supplementary questions today. We will see how many we get through.


Crummock (Scotland) Ltd

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

Crummock (Scotland) Ltd, a civil engineering company in my constituency, went into receivership on Friday 1 June, with the loss of 287 jobs. PACE—partnership action for continuing employment—was there last Friday and I have been in contact with both PACE and the official receiver. I found out that, because of the publicity, prospective employers have been in touch with the receiver looking for employees.

That would seem to be good news. However, although the receiver has the contact details for all employees, PACE does not, and under data protection regulations, those details cannot be shared. The receiver is obliged only to contact employees about redundancy pay, which has been done. We have potential employers on the one hand, employee contact details on the other, and PACE with none of the above.

What can the Scottish Government do to remedy what seems to be a preposterous situation, which is preventing some of those who have been made redundant from walking straight back into employment? For example, could an online facility be set up to enable those employees to access those potential employers?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will return to Christine Grahame on the specific point that she has raised but, on the general issue, I was very concerned to learn that the Crummock construction group has ceased trading, making 287 employees redundant. I know that this is a difficult time for those employees, their families and the local area.

Our immediate priority is to provide all the support that we can to the individuals affected. As Christine Grahame said, PACE was on site last Friday to offer its support to affected employees who were present. PACE is also working with the Civil Engineering Contractors Association to develop a facility on the CECA website that will allow any Crummock employee to upload a CV, which can be accessed by any CECA member that is looking to recruit staff.

I know that Christine Grahame has been in contact with Skills Development Scotland and with the receiver, Johnston Carmichael, and I hope that my answer gives her some reassurance about what the Scottish Government can do. However, I will look into the specific issue that she has raised and get back to her. She may also be interested to know that Scottish Enterprise has made initial contact with the receiver to find out what support it can offer at this time.


V&A Dundee

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

A board paper from V&A Dundee says that our new museum needs more cash to cover operating costs, including a £500,000 bank loan and, potentially, further Government grants. It is my understanding that costs have been underestimated or missed and that there is no clear plan for where revenue will come from to run the museum and service the bank loan after the initial opening phase. The V&A has been consulting KPMG.

The V&A is a flagship project for Dundee and everyone in the city really wants it to work. Can the First Minister assure me today that her Government is doing everything to ensure that the V&A Dundee can be on a firm financial footing? Given the millions of pounds that her Government has invested on behalf of Dundonians, can she also assure me that she is keeping track of the business plan, audit and expenditure on this important project for our city?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, it is important to point out that the project is not a Scottish Government-led project. The Scottish Government is not on the board of the project. That said, we are big supporters of the V&A museum. We think that it is a fantastic addition to Scotland’s museums and the flagship of Dundee’s waterfront development.

The Scottish Government has provided £38 million towards the construction of the V&A in Dundee, through a mix of traditional capital grant and growth accelerator funding. We have also, to date, contributed £5.5 million in revenue funding, to support development costs in the run-up to the opening in September.

I can also tell the Parliament today—I do not think that this is in the public domain yet, although I will be corrected if I am wrong—that we have agreed a further package of revenue support, which will be worth £1 million a year and will support the museum in the first 10 years of its operation.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting this fantastic new development for Dundee. Of course, we will keep close to Design Dundee Ltd and Dundee City Council and ensure that we do everything that we can do to support the project. I think that for many years, decades and generations to come, the new museum will be one that people not just in Dundee but throughout Scotland will be thoroughly and very rightly proud of.


Prestwick Airport

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

The First Minister will agree that it is good news for Scotland that it is proposed to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. Will the First Minister support Prestwick airport in its bid to become the Scottish logistics hub that supports the building of the new runway at Heathrow?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Heathrow development is not a decision for the Scottish Government or indeed for the Scottish Parliament. In all the discussions that we have had with Heathrow, we have focused on ensuring that, if the development is to go ahead, there is maximum economic benefit for Scotland. Of course, that includes supporting Prestwick to benefit as much as possible, through the logistics hub. We will continue to ensure that we carry forward those discussions in the most constructive way.


House of Fraser (Store Closures)

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

In light of the news that House of Fraser is seeking to close 31 of its 59 shops, including its Edinburgh store, with the loss of 2,000 House of Fraser jobs and 4,000 more jobs in brand and concession roles, what action is the Scottish Government taking to support workers in Scotland who are employed by the company?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I was concerned this morning, as I am sure that everyone was, to hear of recent developments in relation to House of Fraser’s plans to close stores. As we understand it, the store at the west end of Princes Street is to close, which is likely to affect 127 jobs. It is welcome, however, that, as far as we know, the current restructuring plans do not involve the other Fraser stores in Scotland, including Jenners in Edinburgh and the flagship Glasgow store.

This will be a difficult time, obviously, for staff who work in the west end store, so the partnership action for continuing employment national team is monitoring developments and will approach the company to offer whatever support it can. The Scottish Government will do whatever we can to offer support at this time.


Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (Safety)

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The First Minister will be aware of the publication of internal safety reports from the Aberdeen western peripheral route that suggest that incidents on the project have been chronically underreported. What does she make of Transport Scotland’s figure of 23 accidents in a single year, when we now know that in that year there were 27 cases of overturned vehicles, 39 cases of machinery striking pipes and cables underground and cases of work being carried out within yards of major oil pipelines without the operators being notified?

If the First Minister shares my concern about those discrepancies, will she order an inquiry into the management of safety on the AWPR and ensure that no short cuts are taken in achieving completion of this vital project?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We expect any contractor on any project for which we are responsible to work to the highest standards of health and safety, and that applies to the AWPR. There is a dispute by Transport Scotland about the way in which some of those figures have been presented, and I would be happy to ask Transport Scotland to contact Lewis Macdonald to discuss those concerns in more detail. That said, we take all allegations seriously, and we have raised the matter with the contractor. It is also important to stress that responsibility for health and safety on site rests with the contractor. As I understand it, the Health and Safety Executive visited the site in April 2017 and was content with the processes in place, but we will continue to discuss any concerns directly with the contractor. As I said, I am happy to ask Transport Scotland to contact the member directly.


Educational Institute of Scotland (Survey Results)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

We all know that teaching can be, and needs to be, a fantastic career that is rewarding and that attracts and retains talented people, but the First Minister will have seen reports of an Educational Institute of Scotland survey of teachers this week that shows that Scotland is a long way from achieving that, with the majority of teachers unable to recommend the career to others. Why does the First Minister believe that is the case?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Teachers work under significant pressure, and we all recognise that. I also recognise that, for teachers and for all public sector workers, the past few years of pay restraint have been difficult, for teachers in particular. We know that teachers have had particular concerns about workload. That is why, over the past couple of years, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has been working hard to reduce the workload pressures on teachers, including clarifying and simplifying the curriculum framework, for example by reducing mandatory unit assessments from national 5, higher and advanced higher qualifications. Those are all things that the EIS and others told us were significantly contributing to unnecessary workload. We will continue to work with teaching unions to take such action as we consider appropriate.

We are working hard to boost teacher recruitment. As we know from the latest statistics, which were published at the end of last year, teacher numbers increased for the second year in a row, and our attainment programme is having a significant impact on that as well.

Patrick Harvie

Despite all that work, nearly 60 per cent of teachers are unable to recommend the profession and only 2 per cent say that they are very likely to do so. Eighty-five per cent of those surveyed said that workload has increased in the past year, despite the Government promising to address that. There are complaints about staff shortages and about teachers not having enough time to develop their own learning and skills, yet the Government continues to focus on preparing an education bill that it knows teachers oppose, because it will not address the real problems that they face.

Will the Government now, as the EIS is meeting today in Dundee for its annual general meeting, commit to changing its plans for the education bill and working with teachers instead of against them? Will it commit urgently to meeting the demand for a fair restoration of pay for a profession that is critical to our young people’s future, but which has seen real-terms pay eroded far too much for far too many years?

The First Minister

A number of related issues were raised in that question. First, on pay, I assume that Patrick Harvie is aware that teachers’ pay is a matter for the Scottish negotiating committee for teachers. Negotiations for 2018-19 are currently under way. I know that the negotiating committee has had positive discussions over recent weeks. The Scottish Government takes an active role in those negotiations and we urge everyone around the table to take a constructive approach. We were the first Government in the United Kingdom to commit to lifting the 1 per cent public sector pay cap, and I am proud that we have done that. It recognises that pay restraint of that order is no longer appropriate for public sector workers.

On workload, we will continue to work with the EIS and other teaching unions. In response to Patrick Harvie’s question about the AGM, I can confirm that we will, of course, continue to listen to teachers and to work with them as collaboratively as possible. One of the most significant changes that we have made in education over the past year or so is the pupil equity fund, which gives teachers in our classrooms and headteachers control over how that money is spent. The teachers I speak to are incredibly positive about the transformational impact of that in our education system. I have made clear our determination to raise standards and to close the attainment gap. We will work with teachers to do that, but we will continue to take the action that we think is necessary in order to deliver for young people across the country.


National Health Service

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

Delayed discharge numbers are far too high. Mental health waits for young people are up 60 per cent. Consultant vacancies are up 24 per cent. Nursing vacancies are up 27 per cent. The number of nurses who have quit the national health service is 4,300. NHS staff sickness rates are well above the target yet again. Accident and emergency targets have been missed for 10 months in a row. Will the First Minister just admit that her Government is failing patients and NHS staff?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Let me take the issue of staffing. The number of staff in post—so, not including vacant posts—in our NHS has gone up by 12,900 since this Government took office. That is a 10 per cent increase. In each of the past six years, more people have joined the NHS than have left it. In the past year alone, there were almost 500 more staff in post in the NHS. The nurse vacancy rate has not increased in the past year; the number of vacant posts has, but that is because there are more posts overall. The nurse vacancy rate in Scotland is less than half of the nurse vacancy rate in England. The consultant vacancy rate has increased under the Scottish National Party by 0.5 percentage points, but the consultant establishment in our NHS has increased by 45 per cent. In the past year, medical agency spend has gone down by 8 per cent and nurse agency spend has gone down 4 per cent.

Yes, there are challenges in our health service, and rightly we talk about them regularly in the chamber. We know the reasons for the challenges, which are not unique to Scotland, and we are increasing funding and the number of people who work in our NHS. We are undertaking reform through integration of health and social care; we are putting more money into primary, community, social care and mental health services; and we will continue to do the hard work to deliver for patients the length and breadth of the country.

Willie Rennie

So, if we half close our eyes, things are fine. It is time for the First Minister to open her eyes.

The British Medical Association has made the situation clear: it described it as a “lack of substantive progress”. The Royal College of Nursing says that there are not enough nurses to provide safe care. The Royal College of Radiologists has said that the radiology situation is now “desperate” and warned of “collapse”. Has not the time come for the First Minister to admit the scale of the problem and to replace the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, who cannot control it? For goodness’ sake, will the First Minister take the summer to replace her health team, or will Parliament have to do it for her in the autumn?

The First Minister

Listening to Willie Rennie, I can only assume that he bitterly regrets that it was his party, in coalition with the Tories, that kick-started austerity in this country.

Since the SNP took office, numbers of qualified nurses and midwives are up by almost 3,000, consultant numbers are up by 48 per cent and A and E consultant numbers have more than tripled. The number of doctors in training is up by 8 per cent and paramedics are up by 19 per cent.

We are introducing safe staffing legislation, which we are working on with the Royal College of Nursing. In radiology, we have a recruitment campaign under way, to which there has been a positive response. Offers of appointment are already being made in some boards, we have a 100 per cent fill rate at the end of round 1 of recruitment for training places, and we have 10 extra radiology trainees a year.

I do not deny the challenges in our health service—every health service in the United Kingdom, Europe and the world is facing those challenges—but this is a Government that is doing the hard work, in terms of both reform and investment, to meet those challenges. We will continue to get on with that job.

The Presiding Officer

There are still a lot of interesting supplementaries. I encourage members to keep questions a bit shorter than they were earlier.


Abortion and Human Rights (Northern Ireland)

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

In Northern Ireland, some women have received longer jail sentences for having had an abortion than were given to the men who raped them in the first place. [Kezia Dugdale has corrected this contribution. See end of report.] This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that Northern Ireland’s almost complete ban on abortion is incompatible with human rights legislation. Does the First Minister intend to raise the issue with Arlene Foster when she visits Scotland later this month? Can I urge her to address the barriers that women face when boarding ferries in Belfast and accessing services here, by introducing a travel bursary for as long as Northern Irish women are denied their basic human rights?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I have no plans to meet Arlene Foster when she is in Scotland in July.

With regard to abortion, I am absolutely in support of ensuring that all women have access to safe abortion services. That includes women from Northern Ireland. We have opened up access to abortion services in Scotland for women from Northern Ireland and we will continue to consider how to make those services easier to access. We are doing what I consider to be right.

I hope that we will see a Government up and running in Northern Ireland again as soon as possible. That would, for a host of reasons, be in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. When that Government is up and running, I hope that one of the things that it will address is the current law on abortion, which is deeply unfair and unjust to women. It was heartening to see the Republic of Ireland vote so overwhelmingly to make positive changes to its law. I hope that for not much longer will we see Northern Ireland being the country in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that is out of step, not just on abortion but on equal marriage.


HIV Scotland (Funding)

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

HIV is growing in Scotland. A fresh outbreak that began in Glasgow in 2015 continues, and 13 per cent of Scots who are infected with the virus do not know that they have it. Against that backdrop, HIV Scotland has been in the vanguard of raising public awareness, doing research and aligning public policy for the best part of a quarter of a century. However, we learned this week that most of its Government funding, which it has enjoyed for 25 years, will be taken away. Does the First Minister not regard HIV as a problem any more? If she does, will she instruct officials to revisit that decision immediately?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The presentation of the issue in the media this morning, which has fed through into the presentation of that question, is somewhat misleading. It is important to set out the background. [Interruption.] Alex Cole-Hamilton might welcome some of what I am about to say, if he is prepared to listen to it.

In 2017, there was an open round held for sexual health and blood-borne virus funding, when organisations including HIV Scotland were able to apply for funding. It is important to stress that there was no cut in the amount of money that was available—at £1.9 million, the amount was the same as it had been in previous years. A number of organisations applied for that funding: HIV Scotland was one of them, but unfortunately it was not successful. Decisions were based on advice from an assessment panel that included independent members from NHS Highland, NHS Lothian and the third sector organisation, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland.

At that point, the Scottish Government could have done nothing, but that is not what it chose to do. I made sure that officials worked with HIV Scotland, and we have already provided it with transition funding to meet its costs in the first four months of this financial year. We are providing advice to HIV Scotland to help it to develop a new business plan that might open up additional Scottish Government funding, and we are advising it on how to attract funding from alternative sources. The Scottish Government is already working actively with HIV Scotland to try to ensure that it can have a sustainable future, and will continue to do so.

If the Government had interfered in the funding round that I spoke about, that would have meant funding being taken away from organisations that had already been successful in that open application process. In that case, members would, I am sure, have been asking me why the Government had done that. That is the situation, and we will continue to work positively with HIV Scotland.


Import Tariffs

5. Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what impact the proposed import tariffs on European steel and aluminium by the United States could have on the steel industry in Scotland. (S5F-02432)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Scottish steel is a quality product that is exported to many overseas markets including the United States of America. We are extremely disappointed by the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium, which is a completely unjustified and unjustifiable decision. Blanket tariffs of 25 per cent on steel exports and 10 per cent on aluminium imports are a seriously retrograde step that will have wider unintended negative impacts across a range of industrial sectors. We have been in contact with the United Kingdom Government since the issue first arose in order to minimise any impact that the ill-conceived tariffs may have on Scotland’s steel and aluminium producers.

Clare Adamson

The industry body UK Steel has said:

“It is difficult to see what good can come of these tariffs”

and that

“UK steel producers are going to be hit hard”.

I attended the European Union steel summit in 2016, and the message then was—as it is now—that global overcapacity can be solved only by multilateral discussions through established international channels.

In the face of Brexit uncertainty and the potential trade war that flies in the face of the Brexiteers’ trade optimism, does the First Minister agree that the importance of the European Union and access to the single market are imperatives for the steel industry both in my constituency and in the UK?

The First Minister

The member is right to raise the matter from her constituency perspective. Scottish steel is a quality product, and that includes the specialist heavy plate that is produced by Liberty Steel Dalzell in Lanarkshire. The issue affects parts of the country very seriously.

I agree with Clare Adamson’s comments. It is a cliché—many people say it—but it is still true that nobody wins in trade wars; there are only losers. The decision by the US Administration to impose tariffs on exports from the EU and other countries is completely unjustified. It is also at odds with World Trade Organization rules.

As we have said consistently and will continue to say, the only way to protect our economy in Scotland and in the UK is through continued single market and customs union membership. We still hope that that is the position that the UK Government will eventually adopt, once it stops imploding as it is doing at the moment.

In all seriousness, the situation underlines how utterly ill advised it is for the UK Government to be withdrawing the UK from the single market and customs union and pinning all its hopes on a trade deal with the current US Administration. If it did not know that that was ill advised before, it should certainly know that now.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

As the First Minister is aware, Clydebridge steel plant is situated in my constituency, so I share the deep concerns of my colleague Clare Adamson. Can the First Minister advise whether the Scottish Government has had any conversations with Liberty, in particular, regarding the effects that such tariffs may have on the future operations and the viability of its Cambuslang site?

The First Minister

Clare Haughey is right to raise her constituency interest in Clydebridge. The Scottish Government has regular discussions with Liberty Steel. We have an excellent relationship with it, and it is a member of the steel sector round table, which meets regularly. The subject of US tariffs was discussed in detail at the most recent meeting of that group, at the end of March, which was chaired by the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy and was attended by representatives of Liberty Steel.

My officials had further discussions with Liberty on the issue of tariffs and their impact just this week. We will continue to speak to Liberty Steel and will make representations to the UK Government, raising its concerns.


Budget 2018-19

6. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government’s 2018-19 budget will be affected by the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s downgraded forecasts for tax receipts. (S5F-02430)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

It will not be. As I thought Murdo Fraser would have been aware, the revised Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast will have no impact whatsoever on the Scottish Government’s budget for 2018-19.

The income tax policy that was agreed by the Parliament in February will raise an additional £219 million this year to support public services, tackle poverty and support our economy. The outturn figures for income tax revenues in 2018-19 will be available in July 2020. At that time, the block grant adjustment will also be recalculated and the appropriate reconciliation applied to the 2021-22 Scottish budget.

Murdo Fraser

The First Minister is correct in saying that there will be no immediate impact on the Scottish Government’s budget from the downgraded forecasts. Nevertheless, if the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s projections turn out to be accurate, tax revenues will be down by £1.7 billion over the next five years from the previously predicted figures, and there will be an estimated gap in the current financial year of nearly £400 million, to be confirmed in 2021. That picture stands in contrast to the position of the public finances UK wide, whereby, thanks to relatively stronger growth, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently exceeding his targets for deficit reduction. How does the First Minister explain that disparity in performance?

The First Minister

If Murdo Fraser had read the SFC’s report, he would not need me to explain the GDP situation to him, because that report explains it. Basically, the gap in overall GDP growth in Scotland is down to lower population growth. As the SFC says, when we take that out, Scottish growth is actually much closer to UK growth. Why am I mentioning that? Because what affects Scottish population growth is UK immigration policy, and it is because that policy is so wrong for Scotland that we need to see changes and more control for this Parliament.

It is important to say—because Murdo Fraser forgot to say this—that the SFC’s forecasts show that revenues from devolved taxes, except landfill tax, are increasing each year, and that our 2018-19 income tax changes will raise £1.2 billion to protect public services over the next five years on top of the £800 million that we will receive in additional receipts because we chose not to pass on the Tory tax cut to the richest people in our society. That is £2 billion that, if we had followed Tory policy, would have been lost to our national health service, social care, the police, public services and the economy across Scotland. We will continue to take action to boost our economy, get productivity improving and improve those revenues in the future.

A final word. We have had great news about the Scottish economy, so the Tories will not like this. According to figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that were released just this morning, goods exports from Scotland are outstripping those from anywhere else in the UK. Why can we not, therefore, have a bit of cheer from the Tories on the Scottish economy?

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will have a short suspension to allow those in the public gallery who wish to leave to do so and to allow our new guests to arrive.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  12:50 On resuming—