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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 10 June 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motion, Covid-19 (Tourism), Showing Solidarity with Anti-racism, Disclosure (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Good afternoon, colleagues. Before we begin, I remind members, as I always do, to be careful of observing social distancing rules in the chamber and within the Holyrood campus. The first item of business is First Minister’s questions. Before we move to questions, I invite the First Minister to make a short statement.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will begin with a brief update on the key statistics in relation to Covid-19.

Since yesterday, an additional 12 cases have been confirmed through national health service laboratories, which takes the total number confirmed in that way to 15,665. A total of 987 patients who are either suspected or confirmed as having Covid-19 are currently in hospital, which is a decrease of 24 since yesterday. The number of confirmed cases within that has decreased by 18 since yesterday. As of last night, 18 people were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, which is a decrease of three since yesterday.

I am afraid that, in the past 24 hours, 12 deaths of patients who had been confirmed as having the virus have been registered. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland under that measurement to 2,434.

National Records of Scotland has just published its more detailed weekly report. Its figures report deaths where Covid has been confirmed by a lab test; it also reports on cases where the virus was entered on the death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death. The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 7 June, which was three days ago. At that point, according to our daily figures, 2,415 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus had been registered. However, today’s report shows that, by Sunday 7 June, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or presumed link to the virus was 4,000. Of those deaths, 89 were registered in the seven days up to Sunday. That is a decrease of 42 from the week before. That is the sixth week in a row in which the number of deaths from the virus has fallen, and the number of deaths is the lowest number of Covid deaths in a single week since late March. The total number of excess deaths, which is the number above the five-year average for the same time of year, also decreased from 111 last week and from 878 in the peak week for excess deaths to just 37 in the most recent week.

Deaths in care homes made up 47 per cent of all deaths linked to the virus last week. That figure is down from 53 per cent in the previous week. The number of Covid-19 deaths in care homes also reduced again, from 69 to 42.

All those figures—especially the total of 4,000—are far higher than any of us would wish, and I know that a downward trend in numbers does not console those who have lost loved ones to the virus. My thoughts and sympathies are with them all. However, as I said, the weekly number of Covid deaths has now fallen for six weeks in a row. Today’s figures are at less than a seventh of their peak level; excess deaths are at less than one twentieth of their peak level; and deaths in care homes are now also falling.

That progress is significant, but we must take great care now to ensure that it is sustained. If it is, I hope that, next week, we will be able to announce some further, albeit careful, changes to the lockdown measures.

Health Protection Scotland has published initial data today on our test and protect system. That data will become much more detailed in the weeks ahead. However, today’s figures show that, between 28 May, when the system was launched, and 7 June, 681 cases were reported in which the individual tested positive for Covid. Contact tracing has already been completed for 481 cases, and it will be on-going in others. In total, 741 contacts have so far been traced.

I remind everyone who is watching that, if they have symptoms of Covid-19, they should book a test immediately and follow the advice on self-isolation.

I will close my statement by emphasising the other key elements of our guidance. We should all still be staying at home most of the time and as much as possible. Life should not feel normal at present. We must not meet more than one other household at a time or more than one a day, and we must keep to a maximum of eight people in a group. When we meet people from another household, we must stay outdoors and 2m apart from them. We should all wash our hands often and wear a face covering in shops or on public transport. Above all else, we should all remember that the decisions that we take as individuals affect the wellbeing of us all. I thank everybody across Scotland for continuing to do the right thing, because it is making a difference and we are all saving lives.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, First Minister. Before we turn to First Minister’s question time, I encourage all members who wish to ask a supplementary question to press their request-to-speak buttons. I will take all the supplementary questions after Sarah Boyack’s question 7.


Covid-19 Testing in Care Homes

1. Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Later this afternoon, the First Minister is expected to publish figures on care home testing and, as today’s statistics confirm, the majority of the lives that are still being lost are from our care homes, so we know how important testing is. We know that testing is vital; that is what the World Health Organization has said for months and it is also what we have all repeatedly said in the chamber. However, we also know that many care home workers and residents are still waiting for a test, never mind a routine one. The promise to test them all was made three weeks ago. I wonder how much longer the First Minister thinks that they will have to wait until they will receive those tests?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will publish figures later today. Those figures will be initial data; again, the data will become much more detailed over the weeks to come. Even the initial data that we publish today will be broken down by health board. The figures will be published in detail later, but they will show that, cumulatively to 7 June, more than 11,000 members of staff and more than 15,000 residents in care homes have been tested, so that work is under way.

The health secretary and I have been very clear that we want health boards to accelerate their progress. That is why publishing data health board by health board will allow us to track and, indeed, the public to scrutinise, that progress. It is important—this is a key point—that we establish that testing on a sound and sustainable basis. I certainly want to see progress accelerate but, more than anything, I want to make sure that it is happening in a way that we can sustain over a period of time. The testing will happen regularly. As I understand the position, although I will be corrected if I am wrong, in other parts of the United Kingdom there is still one-off testing, whereas this testing will happen on an on-going basis. It is right that health boards make sure that they carry the testing out quickly, but also sustainably. That work is under way.

Jackson Carlaw

There may be a commitment to routine testing, but that first test is still to take place. With over 50,000 care home staff, while 11,000 is welcome, it is still well short of the promise that was made three weeks ago. The fact is that ministers need to get a grip of the situation and they need to do it now. The time for promising is over; it is long past time to fully deliver. My question is simple: will the First Minister commit to setting a hard deadline for delivering those initial tests for both residents and staff in care homes?

The First Minister

We will certainly consider doing that. Some of the data that we are receiving from health boards still has to be validated, and it is important that when we publish data, it is robust and has been validated. We will then look to see whether that is appropriate. I make the point again that this testing will be on-going, and it will have to be done week in, week out for as long as we are continuing to live with the virus. Again, this is not a point of criticism, but an observation: we are not simply doing that by posting testing kits out to care homes; we are doing it in a way that is robust and sustainable and can be supported on an on-going basis.

In relation to the comments about ministers having to get a grip of the situation: we are now seeing, albeit in a situation that has been, and continues to be, incredibly challenging, the numbers of care homes with an active outbreak of Covid-19 reducing. The number of new cases is reducing, and as I have just reported, the number of people dying in care homes because of the virus is now rapidly reducing on a sustained basis. That says to me that the actions that are being taken in care homes to protect older residents are having the effect that we want them to have. Of course, as we move through the exit from lockdown more generally, it is important that we have the right measures in place on on-going basis. Testing is not the only one of those measures—I have said before in the chamber that we must be careful that we do not put all the focus on testing, particularly when we are talking about testing asymptomatic people—but it is a key measure. That is why it is important that we do it quickly but also sustainably.

Jackson Carlaw

This is about people on the front line. Without a vaccine, care homes, which are full of the vulnerable, will always be at the heart of the proactive strategy that we need to pursue on coronavirus.

To take one example, we learned yesterday that NHS Borders is now telling the Scottish Government that it does not have the capacity to carry out tests in care homes in its area. Care home owners in towns such as Castle Douglas say that none of their staff have been tested, unlike those in England, a few miles across the border.

We learned yesterday from Scottish Borders Council that it has received only 480 testing kits to cover all 1,200 staff in its local care homes.

Will the First Minister explain how it will be possible to test all care home staff, when health boards are given fewer than half the number of test kits that they need?

The First Minister

Through health protection teams and health boards, care homes will have the resources that they need, whether human resources or resources in the form of testing kits.

I think that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has already said publicly this week that she had a conversation—as she does regularly—with health board chief executives on Friday of last week, and no concerns were reported at that time about a lack of resources for testing.

Resources are in place—as kits that are needed for testing, resources to take the samples, and, crucially, the laboratory resources that are needed to process those samples. That is the work that we have been doing in recent weeks, to build up that capacity. The resources are there; it is now a case of making sure that the job is done quickly but in a sustainable way. It is not simply about reporting numbers of test kits that are posted out; it is also about making sure that the tests are done not on a one-off basis but on an on-going basis, week in and week out.

Jackson Carlaw

That promise of three weeks ago was not lightly given. Why are we still hearing about problems with testing three weeks after the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport promised that it would be sorted?

Why is the story that we hear in the daily press conferences in Edinburgh so different to what we are picking up on the ground, where it matters?

Why did the Scottish Government say on 18 May that it would test all care home workers repeatedly and then take until 7 June to write to NHS boards, asking them to get it sorted?

Why are letters being sent out rather than testing kits?

If the First Minister is confident about that, she should set out a clear timetable and a clear deadline for the first round of care home tests to be completed. This is her chance—will she now take it?

The First Minister

What certainly happens reliably, week in and week out, is that Jackson Carlaw makes unsubstantiated claims about the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. Week in and week out, I, the health secretary and the entire Scottish Government get on with the job of tackling the outbreak, which partly—together with the collective efforts of people the length and breadth of the country—is why we are now seeing a decline in the number of cases, in the number of people in hospital, in the number of people in intensive care units, and in the number of people who are dying, including in care homes. That is the progress that we are making.

I am not sure how much Jackson Carlaw knows, or bothers to find out, about how things actually work on the ground, but when we say that 50,000 care home staff have to be tested, of course there has to be a programme of work over time to make that happen. The processes have to be put in place, and the resources—which are in place—have to be put in place.

That work is on-going. We will see it in the data that is published later today. We will see progress week in and week out as we publish the data. That will show that this Government is getting on with the job of tackling the virus, which is exactly what people across the country want to see. I do not think that they want to see politicians engaging simply in party politicking—which is what Jackson Carlaw does.


Hospital-acquired Covid-19

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The marked decline in the number of deaths from Covid-19 gives us hope, but we should never forget the lives lost and the families left grieving because of the pandemic.

As we look to the future, safely restarting national health services is a national priority, but our NHS is stuck. The restart of services cannot begin unless we are sure that our hospitals are safe. We now know that there have been almost 1,800 suspected cases of hospital-acquired Covid-19. That raises questions again about personal protective equipment and testing. Families and NHS staff need answers.

We understand that a Scottish Government review group is now examining the data, but families who lost loved ones as far back as March and April feel that the process has been too slow and too secretive. For the sake of public confidence, ahead of the reopening of our NHS, will the First Minister agree to publish details of the group’s work, including its minutes and all its recommendations? Will she agree to appoint an independent chair to review that work urgently?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I absolutely agree with Richard Leonard’s first comment: we should never forget the human lives lost behind the statistics that we report on every day. Speaking personally, I never, ever will forget—every one of the numbers that I have had to read out daily will be engraved on my heart forever, and I think that that will be true for all of us.

Our NHS is not “stuck”, to use Richard Leonard’s word. It is currently preparing remobilisation plans so that it can safely, but as quickly as possible, resume services that had to be postponed—for reasons that I think that everybody understands—during the Covid crisis.

I turn to the issue of nosocomial infection, which is infection that may be acquired in hospitals. Let me be very clear about this, just as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has been very clear about it. We have published unvalidated data, and we did so in an attempt to be open and transparent about the data. As an aside, I note that no equivalent data has yet been published for any of the other United Kingdom nations.

However, it is very important that we understand the limitations of that data before it is validated. I welcome the fact that Richard Leonard used the word “suspected”, because it would be wrong to say that we know that all those infections were acquired in hospital. Many of them may well have been acquired in hospital, but it is also possible, given the incubation period for the virus, that some were acquired in the community but were diagnosed only when a patient or member of staff was in hospital. It is very important to understand that.

There is now a process under way to validate that information. NHS Scotland is working to apply the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control international case definitions for hospital-associated Covid-19. When that work is complete and the information is validated, it will be published in a validated form. As the health secretary has said, we hope that the work will be completed by the end of this month, and the data will be published.

The nosocomial review group was established in early May. It is an expert group that is currently chaired by Professor Jacqui Riley, who is nurse director and healthcare-associated infection executive leader with NHS National Services Scotland; I think that she is an appropriate chair for that work.

The group is looking at a range of things just now, including the extension of routine testing of care home staff—as we have just been talking about—to front-line NHS staff. It will also develop further proposals and recommendations to ensure that everything possible that can be done in hospitals is being done to reduce the possibility of hospital-acquired Covid-19. We will look at what we can publish from that work and make sure that the group’s recommendations are publicly known so that we can be very clear about how they are being taken forward.

Richard Leonard

I thank the First Minister for that answer, but I know that many families and NHS staff will be disappointed that she is not prepared to consider the case for greater independent scrutiny of what has happened.

Scottish Labour first called for an NHS recovery plan five weeks ago. When we did so, we called for a guarantee of access to both testing and PPE for all NHS and care workers in every part of Scotland. I thought that the First Minister agreed to that.

Today, we have again been told that phase 2 of the easing of the lockdown is likely to start as early as next week. However, the health secretary admitted in Parliament just yesterday that there is still no plan for testing NHS staff, and still no plan to ensure the standard and supply of PPE across different NHS settings.

I have been raising workers’ concerns about PPE since March. We know that, as far back as 2018, exercise iris concluded that:

“Amongst frontline staff there is unease at the lack of clarity on PPE availability, training and testing.”

We are two years on from that planning exercise, but now the pandemic is real and that unease remains.

Staff tell me that their PPE is sub-optimal and that they are still being instructed to use PPE that is out of date, including critical equipment such as FFP3 respiratory masks. Will the First Minister give NHS and care staff a guarantee that PPE guidance and supplies will be enhanced, that out-of-date PPE will be withdrawn immediately, and that regular and routine testing will be rolled out without further delay?

The First Minister

Those are important issues, and I will take them one by one—I will be as brief as possible, Presiding Officer.

I will start with PPE. Very clear guidance is in place across all four UK nations on the circumstances in which PPE should be used. That guidance was informed by clinical groups and expert organisations. Ultimately, it says that if any member of staff—the member of staff themselves, not Government or their bosses—risk assesses that they should be using PPE, they should use PPE.

We have also been working extremely hard to make sure that we have adequate supplies of PPE, and at no point during this crisis has Scotland run out of any pieces of PPE kit—in fact, we have been able to give mutual assistance in some respects to England. We have ensured those supplies and we are working to make sure that the distribution lines are as quick and effective as possible. We have put in place additional distribution lines—not just for healthcare workers but for social care workers. Thanks to the work that the Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, Ivan McKee, has been leading, we have also been building a domestic supply chain for PPE, so that we have greater resilience for the future.

To be clear on expiry dates—because we have covered the issue before on several occasions—the only circumstance in which PPE that has gone past its expiry date should be used is if it has been revalidated by the relevant authorities as being safe to use. If that has not been done, it should not be used.

All those arrangements are in place. The health secretary speaks to trade unions regularly and if any concerns are raised, they are acted on.

On testing, in his first question Richard Leonard rightly and properly asked me about the nosocomial review group. He said that it was really important that it was independent and expert led and that we listen to its recommendations. In my answer, I said that one of the pieces of work that that group is looking at right now, on which it is about to give us recommendations, is the extension of routine testing to front-line healthcare workers. However, in his second question, he seemed to think that I should disregard all of that and take the decision regardless of what the nosocomial review group says.

We will continue to take clinically and expert-led decisions, and when such decisions are taken, we will make sure that the resources and processes are in place to implement them. That is the responsible way for any Government to deal with a crisis situation such as this one. It is the approach that we have taken so far and the approach that we will continue to take.

Richard Leonard

I am bound to say that, with 10,000 tests going unused daily and with new stocks of FFP3 masks due in the next few days, it is disappointing that the First Minister cannot give a firmer guarantee.

I began by saying that safely restarting the NHS is a national priority. NHS lockdown has resulted in thousands and thousands of patients going without treatment and at least 80,000 waiting for surgery. Many are waiting anxiously and many are waiting in pain. We will need to use every available resource to get people booked in for procedures, taking social distancing measures into account and putting safety and saving lives first. People want guarantees that they are going to be treated in a Covid-free space. One resource not yet used but readily available is the £43 million NHS Louisa Jordan. Can the First Minister update us on her plans for the NHS Louisa Jordan? Will the lease be extended? If so, what role does she see it playing in easing pressure as the national health service begins to restart in the weeks ahead?

The First Minister

I will come to the NHS Louisa Jordan in a moment, but before I do I will expand on, or close off, the first part of Richard Leonard’s question. He asked me to give a guarantee about routine testing for NHS workers, because symptomatic NHS workers already have access to testing. If the nosocomial review group recommends that, I give a guarantee that we will implement that recommendation, but we will do that on the basis of expert advice that we have asked for. I hope that Richard Leonard accepts that that is the right and responsible way to proceed on such matters.

I am delighted and relieved that, so far, we have not had to use the NHS Louisa Jordan. Had we required to do so, it would have meant that the existing capacity of our hospitals, including their surgical capacity, had been overwhelmed, which would have meant many more people becoming ill and, unfortunately and undoubtedly, many more people dying—even more than has been the case. We should all be very thankful for the fact that the hospital has not had to be used so far.

We will ensure that the NHS Louisa Jordan is there for as long as we may need it, and I can confirm that, as part of the remobilisation plans, we are considering whether and to what extent we could use the Louisa Jordan to do some elective treatments. We have to be careful in the judgments that we make about that. I fervently hope that this is not the case—and we are doing everything possible to avoid it—but if we face an autumn or winter resurgence of coronavirus, we will need to ensure that those facilities are there to deal with it. That goes for overall NHS capacity: we have to protect some capacity to deal with any surge in the virus, while getting the NHS back to normal.

The NHS Louisa Jordan is part of our considerations, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will keep Parliament updated.


Covid-19 (Regular Testing)

3. Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Tories and Labour have joined me in calling for regular testing in hospitals. More importantly, workers on the front line have long been asking for that to happen. There are front-page reports today that nurses are angry and demoralised about the spread of the virus on their wards. This week, yet another senior physician in a Scottish hospital has contacted me, expressing dismay that people are being allowed to walk around hospitals, spreading the virus without knowing it.

We now know that patients and staff have been infected with Covid in hospitals. Many of them have even lost their lives as a result. In April, experts told us that regular testing could reduce transmission in hospitals by up to a third. Does the First Minister know how many lives could be saved if we followed that advice? Will she tell us when her Government will introduce regular testing in hospitals?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As I have just said to Richard Leonard, the expert-driven nosocomial review group is examining that issue, and I hope that it will give us recommendations on it quickly. When it does, we will implement those recommendations.

It is right and proper, in my view, that we continue to take clinical advice about testing, for two reasons. First, as any clinician will tell you, there has to be a purpose to the tests that are carried out on people from an ethical point of view. Secondly—I have made this point repeatedly—while we still have concerns about what I stress is the relative reliability of the test for asymptomatic people, we do not want inadvertently to suggest that testing is the only thing that needs to be done to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. That is particularly true in hospitals. With all infections, not just Covid-19, infection prevention and control measures are most important. They are taken extremely seriously by all health boards and in all hospitals.

The last point that I make to Alison Johnstone is the same, I think, as the last point that I made to Richard Leonard regarding the unvalidated statistics that have been reported about the possibility of hospital-acquired infection. We do not yet know whether those infections were acquired in hospitals—although I expect that there will be hospital-acquired infection—but it is really important that we recognise that that information has not been validated. Because of the incubation periods associated with the virus, some of the infections could have been acquired in the community. Let us be very careful when we are talking about these things so that we are dealing in facts, not in supposition. That is particularly important given the severity of the topic.

Alison Johnstone

The First Minister referred to infection prevention and control methods, one of which is routinely screening health professionals working in hospitals for other diseases. There seems to be a worrying lack of urgency, however, in testing for this potentially life-threatening disease.

For some time, the Scottish Government has resisted the principle of testing individuals without symptoms, arguing that the test itself only works in a window of symptomatic people. During the past month, however, testing has been expanded, which I warmly welcome. Most critically, regular testing of care workers has begun—in theory, at least.

It emerged this morning that the only reason regular testing was introduced was that the United Kingdom Government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies—SAGE—recommended it.

Although it began discussing the issue in early May, the Scottish Government’s scientific advisory group has not yet delivered advice and we are told that the advice is still weeks away. Does the First Minister have advice that the science, which supports regular testing in care homes, is not relevant to our hospitals? The testing capacity is already in place to do it. Is the First Minister waiting until the UK Government advises her to do it?

The First Minister

I am not sure whether I followed the thread of that question; I was not sure whether Alison Johnstone was criticising us for following advice that comes from SAGE. We take advice from SAGE, and our advisory group feeds into SAGE and gives us advice. As I have said on several occasions today, the nosocomial review group is looking at the issues that are associated with hospital-acquired infection. We follow all that clinical advice.

Alison Johnstone said that we have resisted the principle of testing asymptomatic people. It is not about a principle; it is about practical efficacy and effectiveness. Even today, experts continue to say that the test is less reliable in people who do not have symptoms. Therefore, all along, my concern has been that, if we focus all our efforts on testing—even though, in some cases, it gives false reassurance—then we take our eye off the ball of the other, more important things that need to be done to minimise the risk of transmission, particularly in institutional settings such as hospitals and care homes.

We take a range of scientific and expert advice; I am not sure that anybody should criticise us for doing that. At times, waiting for that advice means that we do not rush to make announcements that prove not to have been the right announcements. We take time to make sure that the work is done properly, because it needs to be done for the right reasons and on a sustainable basis. The Scottish Government will continue to take that careful approach to all aspects of handling the virus.


Employment (Redundancies)

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

We are facing a tidal wave of job losses; one in 10 workers could be out of a job this year. At Rolls-Royce in Renfrew, 700 jobs are under threat, 200 are under threat at the Crieff Hydro group, 80 at Fishers Services in Perth, 70 at Don & Low Ltd in Angus, 96 at Mainetti in the Borders and 1,000 at OVO Energy, including jobs in Perth, Selkirk and Glasgow. That tidal wave might last for three years. Is the Government ready? What is it planning to do about that jobs emergency?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The economic emergency that we face is colossal, just like the health emergency that we have been dealing with. All along, we have been clear that the health emergency quickly led to an economic one. We have been planning for that almost from the start. Throughout the crisis, on a weekly basis, I have been chairing a sub-committee of the cabinet that is looking specifically at the economic issues. Benny Higgins has been chairing the economic recovery group; the group’s report is due to be published within the next couple of weeks and it will have important recommendations for us. Earlier this week, I spoke to Benny Higgins and the chief executive of Rolls-Royce; tomorrow, I will speak to the Scottish Tourism Alliance. If we take our eye off the health emergency, that will make the economic emergency worse. We are increasingly focusing on the steps that we need to take and the interventions that we will need to make to support the economy, businesses and jobs. Those steps and interventions will take a multitude of forms.

The two emergencies come closely together in the need to keep suppressing the virus sufficiently for us to be able to lift more of the lockdown measures and allow more of our businesses to operate and make money again. Those challenges are interlinked but Government and I are focused on both.

Willie Rennie

My fear is that the economic tidal wave is overtaking the advisory group and the work that the First Minister has just set out. The situation is urgent and we need an urgent plan. We want to see a new Government-backed jobs scheme, a universal basic income, capital investment in transport and energy construction, and investment in colleges and training agencies to reskill workers. Will the Government back that approach? Does the Government plan to intervene to stop businesses going under? It has done so at Prestwick, Ferguson and BiFab. How will the Government judge which companies and jobs it will save and which it will let go?

The First Minister

We have set up the economic recovery group, which will publish its report probably within a week or so. It is right that we await the group’s recommendations and then set out, on the back of those recommendations, our implementation and delivery plan, which I am sure will have things to say on all the issues that Willie Rennie has raised.

Willie Rennie’s second point was on the Government’s willingness to intervene directly in companies, and he made my point in his question. The Scottish Government has always shown a willingness to do that when we can satisfy state aid constraints and when we can satisfy ourselves, so that we can satisfy the public, that there is value for taxpayers’ money. We will continue to be as interventionist as we possibly can be. There will always be difficult decisions about the circumstances in which we can intervene and those in which we might not be able to intervene. All of us must have open and frank discussions about that.

In recent weeks, Willie Rennie and I have exchanged views in the chamber on a universal basic income, which I support. I have long been interested in the concept, and the case for it has been immeasurably strengthened by the crisis that we are living through. However, the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to introduce a universal basic income on its own, because, unfortunately, so many welfare and tax responsibilities are still reserved to Westminster. Therefore, we all have to engage in a real discussion about the abilities of this Parliament, whether in relation to borrowing powers or tax and welfare powers, and about whether we should come together to make the case for additional powers to lie here, so that we are better equipped to deal with the economic challenge that lies ahead.

I mean it sincerely when I say to Willie Rennie that, on issues such as UBI in particular, I hope that he will not only will the ends but join me in willing us to have the means to deliver those ends, because that will be really important in the weeks and months to come.


Covid 19 (R Number by Local Authority)

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

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will provide a weekly breakdown by local authority of the R number for Covid-19. (S5F-04198)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The R number is calculated for Scotland as well as for the other three countries of the United Kingdom, and we publish it on a weekly basis. The R number is not calculated for Scottish local authorities, because the ranges around the estimates would be very large and that would not help us to understand the differences between different areas of Scotland. Instead of doing that, we are looking at other ways of monitoring and forecasting the level of Covid-19 in local authority areas. We use data such as the number of cases and hospitalisations, and we will use the information that starts to come through the test and protect programme.

Along with the Deputy First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, I took part in a lengthy session yesterday about the surveillance systems that we are building to ensure that, not only at a national level but at a local level, we can monitor and, where possible, predict what happens with the virus in the weeks and months to come.

Christine Grahame

I hear what the First Minister says, but it is important that we look at local figures for the R number, because, in that way, we might be able to allow businesses, particularly those in the hard-pressed leisure and tourism sectors, to reopen in certain areas, and we might be able to monitor any change in the R number as a consequence of reopening, if that can take place. In my constituency and elsewhere, hotels and businesses that provide leisure activities will collapse into liquidation if something does not happen soon.

The First Minister

I agree with Christine Grahame on the objective that she is encouraging. The issue is simply about how we do that. Even when we publish the R number for Scotland, there is a range, as everybody now knows. The current range is 0.7 to 0.9—the up-to-date estimate will be published tomorrow—so there is already a degree of uncertainty. The smaller the area for which we try to calculate an R number, the greater the range of uncertainty is. It is thought that an R number at local authority level would not tell us very much, in a meaningful way, about the differences between areas.

That does not mean that we do not want to monitor the spread or behaviour of the virus in different areas—we do. The question is about how we do that. We are looking at other data sources that will give us that information at regional and local authority levels on an on-going basis. Christine Grahame is right that we need to understand what is happening on that basis, but I am trying to explain that we need to do that in different ways from simply publishing regional R numbers.


Black and Minority Ethnic People (Underrepresentation in Teaching)

6. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what analysis the Scottish Government has undertaken of the underrepresentation of BAME people in teaching, and how it plans to address this. (S5F-04202)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

In 2018, we acknowledged—as we should have—the underrepresentation of BAME people in teaching at all levels.

The report “Teaching in a diverse scotland” by Professor Rowena Arshad, who is the former head of Moray House school of education and currently the co-director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland, was published in November 2018. It contained 17 recommendations. On publication of that report, the Deputy First Minister announced that, by implementing the recommendations, he aimed to double the number of BAME teachers in Scottish schools by 2030. The associated working group, which is chaired by Professor Arshad and comprises a range of CERES stakeholders, is currently working with partners to implement those recommendations.

Jamie Greene

Everyone needs role models in life—in politics, media, business and education—so it is disappointing that only 1.6 per cent of teachers in Scotland are from a black or minority ethnic group, despite their percentage of the population being more than double that. In a recent survey, nearly half of BAME teachers surveyed believed that their ethnicity had been a barrier to promotion. BAME people account for only 0.6 per cent of teachers who are in promoted positions.

It is vital that we identify the structural barriers that exist behind those statistics. However, we must also empower teachers of all backgrounds, so that they have the confidence and tools to tackle inappropriate language and behaviour in the classroom. In the light of everything that is going on right now, that is an area in which we can and must do better. What better way to start than by committing, today, to ensuring that our schools and businesses, and even our Parliament, look and feel more like the world outside them?

The First Minister

I whole-heartedly agree with those sentiments. I will focus on teachers and then, perhaps, very briefly address the issue more generally.

BAME people are woefully underrepresented among our school teachers and in education generally. To give a little bit of context, the number in Scotland’s schools has increased by just over 5 per cent in 2019, compared with 2018, and by 26.4 per cent since 2015. However, there is still much more to do. The underrepresentation is still unacceptable, and we know from work that has been carried out with BAME teachers that one of the key issues is a lack of diversity of role models and senior leaders in the teaching profession, which is why the recommendations that we are taking forward with the working group that is chaired by Professor Arshad are so important.

There is also a more general issue, and now is an opportunity for all of us to both recognise that and dedicate ourselves to doing more to tackle it—and tackle it more fundamentally—whether that is in our schools, in businesses or in this Parliament, which must look more like, and be more representative of, modern Scotland. As far as this Parliament is concerned, all parties have a responsibility. We are now less than a year away from an election for this Parliament, so it is a matter for all of us. I can speak only as the leader of the Scottish National Party, but I am determined to see progress on this, and I hope that the leaders of the other parties make the same commitment.


Covid-19 (Food Poverty)

7. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what concerns the Scottish Government has regarding the availability of food for children and low-income families during the summer months, in the light of the reported rise in food poverty caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. (S5F-04210)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Any report that shows a rise in food insecurity is deeply concerning, because everybody should be able to access the food that they need. I am acutely aware that the pandemic is affecting people in a variety of ways, including by causing real financial hardship.

In March, we put in place a significant package of support through £350 million in community funding, which included more than doubling the Scottish welfare fund and providing £70 million specifically to a food fund. It included £10 million to support the third sector to reach people and £30 million to enable local authorities to help anyone who is unable to access food and provide free school meal replacements. Through that funding, over 175,000 free school meals are being distributed. We recognise that free school meals provide a crucial support to thousands of families across the country, and the Deputy First Minister is currently considering what support should be in place to help families during the summer holiday period.

Sarah Boyack

There has been a fantastic response from our local authorities and community groups. However, the Trussell Trust has highlighted that there has been a huge rise in overall need compared with last year—a rise of 47 per cent in the number of emergency food parcels and a 62 per cent increase in the number of parcels given to children.

More than 100 organisations have called for urgent action to enable children to be fed and supported throughout the summer, with lump sum payments of at least £250 being made to low-income families and free school meal payments being made in cash as an alternative to vouchers or parcels until normal school resumes.

There are over 20,000 children living in poverty in Edinburgh alone. Will the First Minister act on this call to support them and families with children across Scotland, and will she support our local authorities to provide vital food throughout the summer?

The First Minister

We have been doing all of that, and we are determined to continue. Sarah Boyack is right to point to the Trussell Trust identifying rising need and demand. A few days ago, the Trussell Trust also said that it welcomed the swift action that has been taken by the Scottish Government to increase the Scottish welfare fund and to ensure that food banks can access emergency food. The action that we have taken has been right and necessary, and we intend to continue with it.

As I said, the Deputy First Minister is currently considering free school meal provision over the summer holidays. We recognise the need for that, but we must consider the practicalities and how best to put that provision in place. I assure Parliament that we will continue to do all that we can to make sure that nobody is going hungry and that we deal effectively with the issue of food insecurity, which is unacceptable even during a pandemic crisis.

The Presiding Officer

We have a number of supplementary questions.


Job Losses (West Lothian)

Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

Wyman Gordon is a significant employer in my constituency and is part of the Rolls-Royce supply chain. Yesterday, the company announced plans to shed a third of its workforce. I am concerned that this is merely the tip of the iceberg, given that a recent Social Market Foundation report said that the West Lothian economy could be disproportionately impacted by both coronavirus and Brexit. What can the Scottish Government do to protect and save jobs in my constituency? What efforts have been made to persuade the United Kingdom Government of the need for bespoke and additional packages of support for particular industries?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will continue to work hard to identify the best ways in which we can support the economy in general and businesses in particular sectors. That will be an on-going challenge, but it is one that we take very seriously. The implications of this virus will affect the economy for some time, and we must continue to have support in place. We will also continue to encourage the UK Government not to prematurely withdraw any of the support that is in place, whether that is the job retention scheme or the other very welcome forms of support that it has made available.

We will continue, as I hope all members will, to seek to persuade the UK Government to extend the Brexit transition period and not to countenance in any way a no-deal Brexit.

Angela Constance refers to Wyman Gordon being part of the Rolls-Royce supply chain. As I said to Willie Rennie, I spoke to the chief executive of Rolls-Royce earlier this week. There is no doubt that it, like many companies, is facing very challenging market conditions because of the coronavirus pandemic. We will do all that we can to protect jobs and to protect a presence for Rolls-Royce at Inchinnan . One of the issues that featured in that conversation was the impact on the whole supply chain of any decisions that Rolls-Royce makes. It is important to understand it in that context.


Independent Retailers

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

All parties recognise and agree that the prime objective of the Scottish Government remains as suppress the virus and minimise the harm that it can do. However, does the First Minister agree that it is unfair to allow supermarkets and department stores such as Marks and Spencer to sell food on one floor but also non-essential goods such as clothing on others, or to allow Wilkinsons or Dunelm to sell duvets and rugs when local family businesses selling the same products cannot do so? Will she agree to re-examine the case for independent retail businesses to open in phase 2 if they can adhere to the social distancing guidelines and if they are opening only 800m2 of floor space to the public on each floor?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

That is and will be under consideration as we go into the next phases of the exit from lockdown. It is important that Finlay Carson recognises that we must get the pace of this right. I wish that we could open up the economy completely tomorrow, but if we get the pace wrong, either we will have to turn back on our plans or we will see the virus run out of control and we will be back in lockdown, which will not help the economy.

There will always appear to be anomalies in what we are doing. However, there are complex considerations. With retail, we have to consider overall footfall. There is also a difference, of course, between essential items, such as food, and non-essential items when it comes to the judgment about what is absolutely necessary. With clothes shops, there are issues to do with people trying things on. We have to take account of a range of considerations.

We are discussing the issues with all sectors. We want to open up as quickly as possible, but it has to be safe and sustainable. The sustainability point is important. We will be living with the virus for some time to come. Therefore, we have to ensure that we take every step on as firm a footing as possible, so that we are not moving in one direction at a pace that ends up setting us back. Those are difficult judgments, and we will continue to make them to the best of our ability, while trying to minimise all the various harms that the virus is causing.

A week tomorrow, we will set out our judgment, based on the most up-to-date evidence, on whether we go into phase 2 of the route map, and, if we are going into phase 2, the extent to which we are able to do that. I will make a statement in Parliament next Thursday setting out the conclusions of that consideration.


Science Innovation (Ionisers)

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The First Minister will be well aware that conquering Covid-19 requires scientific collaboration, initiative and innovation. Will she join me in congratulating my constituent Pete Gavin, who is from the Highlands and Islands, for his work in highlighting the positive role that negative ion ionisers can play in fighting the virus, preventing infection and setting Scotland back on the road to recovery?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I will congratulate Pete Gavin on the work that he is doing. All of us—in circumstances that none of us would have chosen to be in—should take great pride in the fact that Scottish scientists are at the cutting edge of the global efforts to understand Covid-19 and to find ways of tackling it. That is true of the trials that I hope will develop a vaccine, and it is true of the scientific work that was reported on yesterday involving the genome sequencing of the different lineages of the virus, to help us to understand more about how it spreads and transmits. In a range of ways, Scottish scientists are leading that work in partnership and collaboration with scientists from across the United Kingdom and globally. It is right and proper that we draw attention to that.

It is probably right and proper that I note that, this week, David Stewart announced his retirement from the Parliament. I am sure that we will get future opportunities to wish him well, but I take the opportunity right now to do so and to thank him for the contribution that he makes. [Applause.]


Guidance for Shielded Groups

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

David Stewart will be sadly missed.

Yesterday, I was contacted by a shielded constituent with cancer, who has self-isolated for 12 weeks. In her mid-70s, her dearest wish is to see her grandchildren, but she now faces an additional six weeks of isolation, and is torn between following the guidance, and seeing her grandchildren, possibly for the last time. Surely the infection risk is minimal by staying outdoors and maintaining social distancing while visiting loved ones. Will the First Minister explain the criteria for ending my constituent’s isolation and that of others in similar situations? Is the criterion that there should be no new local or national cases for a week, or for a month? People need to know that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I absolutely sympathise with the sentiment of that question. I do not have direct experience of how it feels to be in the shielded group right now, so I can imagine only how it has felt for the past number of weeks and how it feels to face more weeks of advice to continue to shield. A member of my family is in the shielded category, so I see some of the impacts of that.

We are giving that guidance and advice for the protection of people in the shielded group, not because we want to keep them in isolation for any longer than is necessary but because we know that the risks of the virus to them are significantly higher than they are for the rest of us. Their risk of becoming seriously unwell and, frankly, their risk of dying are considerably higher. The guidance is for people’s own protection. I hope that people, whatever the frustrations that they understandably feel, will understand that.

Next week, we hope to be able to amend the guidance to allow people in the shielded group to go outside for exercise, albeit they will still be advised to stay 2m from others and not to mix with other households.

We have a clinical cell that gives us advice on the shielded group, and all the recommendations are based on that advice. Over the period from now until 31 July, we want to move to a situation in which we will be able to give shielded individuals much more tailored advice. However, that will not be based on the criterion that Mr Gibson mentioned, which involved whether certain levels of cases might still be present. Instead, such advice would take account of individuals’ specific conditions and also their age, ethnicity and other relevant factors. That will then enable them to have conversations with their own clinicians about the level of risk that they feel able to take, how to manage and mitigate that, and what support is in place for them.

That is where the test and protect process—and, going back to my answer to Christine Grahame’s question, our wider surveillance system—will be very important, because a key part of that will involve providing individuals with data about the virus risk and how it is changing, in terms of the prevalence of the virus in their areas. We want to get to that position as quickly as possible, but we need to base our decision to do so on the soundest possible scientific and clinical evidence. That is why the process is taking—and will continue to take—a bit of time to carry out. All the nations of the United Kingdom are going through similar processes right now.

I will end by saying to everyone in the shielded category that we are not forgetting about them and we are acutely aware of how difficult the situation is for them. We want to move toward easing the guidance, on an on-going basis, as much as we can. However, the backstop position is that, by the end of July at the latest, they will be in a much better position whereby they can base their own judgments about how they live their lives on better and much more nuanced evidence.


Edinburgh Zoo (Reopening)

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has signalled that, if it cannot open Edinburgh zoo by the end of the month, it may face closure, which would threaten 300 jobs in my constituency. Even with the furlough scheme in place, the society faces a burn rate of £700,000 in every month in which the zoo stays shut. It has adapted the zoo so that it can be operated safely for people to visit outdoors only, and with adequate social distancing measures in place. If it were to be allowed to open now, it could see a pathway to recovery. The United Kingdom Government will allow English zoos to reopen from next Monday, so will the First Minister listen to the more than 3,000 people who have signed my petition and allow Scottish zoos to reopen their doors now, before they face collapse?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As will be the case in every instance, example or illustration that members might give me, I have nothing but sympathy for the position that organisations such as the owner of Edinburgh zoo find themselves in. I want to be in a position in which we can signal reopening to such organisations as quickly as possible. However, we must do so in a careful and properly assessed way. We cannot start to take individual decisions based on particular circumstances or organisations—not because we do not desperately want to do what such organisations are asking of us, but because if we started to operate in that way we would end up in a mess. The virus might run out of control and we would then have to reverse some of those decisions.

Each Government has to take decisions on the basis of the advice that it receives and its own judgment. It is only a few weeks since I was being asked why we were not following a similar timetable to England on schools reopening, and yet now we are seeing a reversal of that timetable. We need to do things in a measured and carefully assessed way, which will mean not only that we will be able to get places open more quickly but that we will be able to have them opening in such a way that they will not face having to close again a few weeks afterwards. That will involve making a series of careful decisions. As I have said all along, this process is not a popularity contest. It is about trying to get things right, which I will continue to strive to do.


Young Carers

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Carers make an invaluable but often unrecognised contribution to society. The impact of Covid-19 has meant that carers are under more strain than ever, with even less free time. How is the Scottish Government ensuring that young carers, in particular, can access opportunities that are available to their peers during this difficult time?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Young carers make an incredible difference to the lives of the people for whom they care. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Presiding Officer. I am being distracted by some chat in the background.

Young carers make an incredible difference day in, day out. I place on record my gratitude—and that of the Scottish Government—for their work and the contributions that they make not only during this carers week but every single week of the year.

At the weekend, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport announced additional funding that is intended to reach as many young carers as possible and to provide them with extra support during this time. Such funding is going to Young Scot and the time to live fund. It will allow young carers to access opportunities such as e-vouchers and subscription packages and will also provide small grants to help them to take breaks from caring.

Of course, that is on top of our existing young carer grant, which is a £305 payment for those aged 16 to 18 with significant caring responsibilities.

I want to emphasise my gratitude—and, I am sure, the gratitude of everybody across Scotland—for all the contributions that young carers make.


Crieff Hydro

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Given the answer that the First Minister provided to Willie Rennie earlier, what specific support can she offer to the Crieff Hydro hotel group in light of the news earlier this week that there will be substantial redundancies in what is a major chain of hotels in the Scottish tourism sector at the height of the tourist season?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As I said, I will talk to the Scottish Tourism Alliance tomorrow, but more immediately than that—and this is perhaps even more relevant—the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism will make a statement in Parliament this afternoon.

Obviously, I will not cover the ground that Fergus Ewing will cover later, but one of the key things that we want to try to do within all the uncertainties that we face right now is to give as much clarity as possible to the tourism sector and the hospitality sector about when they can start to plan to reopen, albeit in a safe and perhaps different way to how they normally operate. However, Fergus Ewing will cover that ground this afternoon and I hope that that will be welcomed by the sector, albeit that it comes with the caveat that it is all dependent on our continuing to suppress this virus in the way that we are currently doing.


Covid-19 (NHS Lanarkshire)

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

First Minister, it has been reported in the Daily Record today that, according to NHS Lanarkshire board papers, it is suspected that almost 100 patients and staff contracted Covid in non-Covid parts of hospitals and that, sadly, a fifth of those patients later died.

Following on from my questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport in recent weeks, including yesterday, I have had a lot of families in my parliamentary region getting in touch with me. Do any of those figures include patients who had recently been discharged from hospital and who died at home in the community? In particular, is that something that the nosocomial review group is looking at in relation to recent discharges, and how can families who want to raise concerns and who have questions get in touch with the nosocomial review group?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As I said earlier, the statistics that the health secretary has shared with Parliament are unvalidated. That means that it is not safe or responsible for any of us to draw firm conclusions from them until they are validated.

There is work going on to understand whether infections were acquired in hospital or were acquired in the community; that includes patients who were diagnosed in hospital, whether or not any patient sadly went on to die, and infections in staff who work in hospitals and have perhaps been working with Covid patients. That still has to be understood.

As I said earlier, we hope that that work will be completed by the end of this month and then it will be published for not just members of Parliament but members of the public—including families who have had this direct experience—to look at.

Until we have that validated work, I simply say to all members to be a little bit cautious about drawing firm conclusions from the unvalidated statistics at this stage.


Food Safety Standards

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Recent reports suggest that the United Kingdom Government is preparing to relax food safety standards in order to secure a trade deal with the USA. Does the First Minister fear that that would have a detrimental impact on public health?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I would certainly encourage the UK Government to stick to its commitment to uphold the highest standards in future trade negotiations. Recent reports suggest that that position may well be compromised in the US trade discussions and we are very concerned that the UK Government’s response to those reports has referred only to food safety, which, although important, does not on its own guarantee that other standards will not be undermined.

It goes without saying that any future trade deals must not endanger public health in Scotland or lower food safety standards from the current level. The ability of Scottish authorities to implement measures to protect public health and consumer confidence must not be compromised and Scottish ministers must have the independent ability to impose import restrictions for the purpose of protecting the health of the public in Scotland on the basis of any advice that we receive from Food Standards Scotland.


National Trust for Scotland

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The scale of the crisis engulfing the National Trust for Scotland is becoming ever clearer. Hundreds of staff have been warned that they could face redundancy, after the pandemic wreaked havoc on this year’s tourist season. Some trust sites in my region will not open their doors until 2021 or even 2022. What action will the Scottish Government take to ensure that the organisation continues to support the heritage of Scotland for future generations?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As I said in the chamber just two or three weeks ago, the National Trust for Scotland is a hugely important part of not just our tourist economy but our reputation and brand as a country. We are in contact with the National Trust and will continue to be so to support it through and beyond the crisis.

Part of that involves, as quickly as possible but as safely as necessary, allowing parts of our economy, including our tourist economy, to open up again and getting back as quickly as we can to a situation in which we are encouraging people to visit those places. In the meantime, we need to work with organisations to help them to deal with the immediate challenges. None of those things are easy and none have easy answers, but we have to continue to work through the health and economic impacts in a methodical and systematic way so that the recovery that we are building is safe and sustainable. That is what has all our focus at the moment.


Social Distance (World Health Organization)

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

On 6 May, I asked the First Minister why she was not following the advice of the World Health Organization, which recommended as safe a 1m social distance rather than a minimum of 2m. It seemed to me from the First Minister’s reply that she was not aware of the World Health Organization’s recommendation, as she simply pointed out that some other countries had different social distances from ours. I ask the First Minister again: should she not follow the science as recommended by the World Health Organization and recognise that a 1m social distance is a safe distance?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I assure Mike Rumbles that I am well aware of WHO recommendations. It is not a competition, but I am prepared to bet that I have probably read much more about the issue than many other people across Scotland have done in recent times. To be perfectly frank, to state the issue as bluntly as Mike Rumbles has done does the issue a disservice. Different countries use different distances—[Interruption.]

If Mike Rumbles wants to listen, I will try to be helpful. Some countries use 1m, some countries use 1.5m and some countries, including the United Kingdom, advise 2m. I am frequently asked why I am not following this or that advice, so I say very clearly that all the advice that I have had here in Scotland at this stage is that we should not change the 2m rule. That is because it is not a simple equation.

If Mike Rumbles reads the research that was part funded by the WHO and published in The Lancet last week—I am sure that he has read it, since he is asking me the question—he will find that it makes the point that, as the distance is reduced, the risk of transmission is increased. It also points out that there is a relationship between the distance and the time for which it is safe for people to be in contact. Right now, we advise that the distance should be 2m for contact of 15 minutes or more. If we reduce the distance, we might also have to reduce the time. Some countries that have a shorter distance also have different requirements on face masks and face coverings, and we are of course currently considering whether we want to make face coverings mandatory.

We are not talking about straightforward or simple equations, so we have to make a careful analysis. All the advice that I have at my disposal from our advisers says that we should not reduce the 2m rule. However, we will continue to look at that and, in the context of everything else that we do, we will continue to make judgments that are safe in terms of the suppression and transmission of the virus and that allow our economy to operate as close to normal as possible. In any aspect of that, as far as possible, I will not depart from a careful and methodical consideration of all the issues because, with a virus, when we get things wrong—this is not a criticism, but Mike Rumbles would legitimately be one of the first to stand up to criticise me for getting them wrong—people can die. That is why I am not prepared to be reckless about any of it.


Alcohol Minimum Pricing

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

Alcohol has always played a part in most of our lives and has had a huge impact. What is the First Minister’s response to the latest report by Public Health Scotland on the impact of minimum pricing?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I very much welcome the latest report from Public Health Scotland, which continues to demonstrate that minimum pricing for alcohol is having an impact and reducing the amount of alcohol that is sold and consumed across Scotland. Public Health Scotland’s finding of a 4 to 5 per cent drop in sales, published this week, is very welcome.

We will properly and fully review the impact of minimum pricing when we are due to do so, as required under the legislation, but all the indications so far are that this is a policy that is having the desired effect. As somebody who took the legislation through Parliament and has worked for many years to deliver the policy, I am very pleased about it and very committed to seeing it have that positive effect. Sandra White is right; we all know that alcohol plays a role in many of our lives. As long as we drink it responsibly, that is fine, but the unhealthy relationship with alcohol that too many of us in Scotland have had over many years does a lot of damage. Getting that under control is really positive for the future of our country.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you very much. I apologise to the members whom I was not able to call, but I will conclude First Minister’s questions. However, I have been given advance notice of a point of order from Gail Ross.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Last week, Alex Cole-Hamilton asked the health secretary about Covid-19 and care homes. He told the chamber that he has a constituent whose daughter works in a care home in the north of Scotland. She had processed the arrival of a resident from Home Farm care home on Skye who subsequently died within a week from Covid-19.

Although he did not name the care home in question, it was printed in the media. The article has since been retracted and an apology issued, because the allegation has proved to be completely false. It is essential that elected members are completely sure and certain of our facts when we speak, and this is a case in point. Alex Cole-Hamilton has apologised on social media, but I take this opportunity to correct the Official Report and to ask him to apologise to the chamber and, more importantly, to my constituents. This has caused a huge amount of hurt, worry and anger and has left a lot of people asking how he could get it so wrong.

The Presiding Officer

The point that Ms Ross has made is noted. It is not a point of order for me to rule on. Matters of accuracy are for members themselves to address. I call Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am very grateful to Gail Ross for bringing the matter to the attention of the chamber. I was wrong on the situation and the facts. I have apologised on social media and I am quite happy to take the opportunity to apologise to Parliament and to anyone who was affected by my remarks. I should have checked the facts more substantially, and I will learn from this.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Cole-Hamilton. I think that that addresses the point satisfactorily. I thank Ms Ross.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. Parliament will be suspended until 2.30, when we will resume with a ministerial statement on tourism.

13:33 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—