Election 2021

The Scottish Parliament is in recess ahead of the election on 6 May.

Because of Covid-19, there are some changes to how the Parliament prepares for the election.

Find out more in our Election 2021 pages

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…

Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 September 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Social Security Scotland (First Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Getting it Right for Every Child (Practice Development Panel Report), Pre-release Access to Economic Statistics (Committee Bill Proposal), Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Named Person Policy

1. Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

I will try to artfully dance around the comment that you have just made, Presiding Officer.

The Scottish National Party’s named person policy, which would allow public authorities to share confidential information about children in Scotland without the child or young person or her parent being aware, has been utterly discredited. Last month, even the expert panel that was set up by the Scottish Government to try to make sense of the policy declared that it could not. Would not the First Minister agree that the panel was right?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Deputy First Minister will make a statement on the subject this afternoon. I will not pre-empt the detail of that statement, but I will make some general comments about the direction of travel. The Deputy First Minister’s statement will do three things in general terms. First, he will set out the Government’s response to the getting it right for every child—GIRFEC—practice development panel’s report, which will be published this afternoon. Secondly, he will set out the implications for the statutory underpinning of the named person policy. Thirdly, he will set out how we intend to support and seek to improve current GIRFEC practice, particularly in relation to the important issue of information sharing.

Let me be clear: young people across Scotland already benefit from a named point of contact, who is usually a health visitor or a promoted teacher, and we want that to continue. We want to ensure that councils and practitioners are well supported with the right guidance to help them to fulfil their roles effectively. That is the general thrust of what the Deputy First Minister will outline this afternoon. I hope that I have not breached any conventions in giving the Parliament that information. The Deputy First Minister will go into more detail and answer questions on that detail.

Jackson Carlaw

If the statement had been made yesterday there would be no question of pre-empting anything and we would all be properly briefed to ask the First Minister about it today.

Let us recall what the expert panel said. It was asked by John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, to write a code of practice that would ensure that the SNP’s named person policy would not break the law. We were reassured by Mr Swinney that that was entirely possible and it was suggested that anyone at all who doubted it was scaremongering. However, that panel of experts concluded that a code was

“not the right thing to do at this time”

and that it would

“not be desirable”.

Along with many others, we warned the SNP that that would be the outcome when the courts ruled the Government’s policy unlawful. Why did the Government not listen?

The First Minister

First, there was Tory opposition business in the Parliament yesterday afternoon. I suspect that, had we chosen to constrain it, Jackson Carlaw might have had something to say about that.

I remind everyone in the chamber that people who are watching at home will have it in mind that we are talking about issues of child protection. We all want to make sure that this country has in place systems that give children, particularly children who are living in vulnerable circumstances, the greatest protection that it is possible to give them. When we reflect, inside and outside of this chamber, on tragic incidents that affect children and which sometimes lead to the loss of a child’s life, one of the things that we often reflect on is the inability of different professionals to share information about the life and circumstances of that child. In good faith, we have been looking at how we improve those situations and make sure that all children have in place a system that has their best interests at heart.

We have listened to the views of experts. We established the practice development panel so that it could look in detail what is a complex issue. Obviously, one of the things that has changed while it has been doing its work is data protection law, which, as we all know, has undergone significant change. We will set out a considered response to that report this afternoon, including the implications for the statutory underpinning of the policy. Most important of all—I hope that all members will engage in this—we will also set out the further steps that we will take to make sure that those who work on the front line and do the job of protecting our children have the best guidance and policy framework to do that. I believe that that is one of the most important responsibilities that I, as First Minister, have; indeed, I believe that it is one of the most important responsibilities that this Parliament has to children across our country.

Jackson Carlaw

I reassure the First Minister that Conservatives are always willing to revise our business in order to hold this Government to account.

Despite all that the First Minister now says, the one thing that the Government has not been doing is listening. Everybody—from teachers to social workers and, most crucially of all, parents—made their case against it, patiently and calmly. However, rather than listening, the response of ministers was to stick their fingers in their ears—they refused to budge. As a result, the ordinary taxpayer has been left with a staggering legal bill of £800,000 and teachers and parents have been left, as usual, in the dark.

Can the First Minister honestly say, looking back at the six long years since the policy was first announced, that she and her deputy stand by their handling of this fiasco?

The First Minister

Jackson Carlaw is able to hold this Government to account. He is rightly able to do that right now, and members will be able to do that when the Deputy First Minister gives a statement later this afternoon. Of course, nobody is able to hold the Tory Government in Westminster to account right now, because Parliament is suspended.

I remind Jackson Carlaw that the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed by this Parliament. All along, we have listened and responded to concerns. We also, as was expected of us, took the time to consider carefully the court judgment around information sharing. Indeed, that is why the panel was asked to do its work, and we have considered its views carefully. All of that leads to the statement that John Swinney will make this afternoon.

To come back to the central point, I absolutely accept that there have been differences of opinion on the policy, and I absolutely accept that Jackson Carlaw and any other member of this Parliament has every right to ask detailed and searching questions of the Government about this or any other policy. However, the tone of some of that is regrettable, because all of us want to do our level best to protect children, particularly vulnerable children, as much as possible. Everything that the Government does around that is done in good faith, and that will continue to be the case.

As well as setting out our response to the panel and the implications for the legislation, some of what is most important in what John Swinney will say is about the on-going work to make sure that practitioners who are trying to protect children are as well supported as possible. While, of course, not giving up on scrutinising the Government, I hope that all members will get behind that motivation and the objectives that we are seeking to fulfil.

Jackson Carlaw

It is precisely because we want to do our best by vulnerable children that Scottish Conservatives have looked to a massive increase in the number of health visitors that we have—health visitors who would be concentrating on vulnerable children and not reporting on their parents.

More than three years ago, the Scottish Conservatives held a debate in this Parliament calling for a pause in the introduction of the named person policy—a pause that might have allowed some common sense to emerge from this Government and might have spared the Government and the taxpayer all the needless waste and cost that have followed. Instead, ministers hurled abuse at those of us who stood against the policy and they charged on regardless. They were warned countless times. We told them when the policy was introduced, we told them again when it was clear that it was not going to work, and we tell them again today: “For once, listen to teachers and parents. Dump the policy, and dump it now.”

The First Minister

I think that Jackson Carlaw’s tone is regrettable here, although the detail of this is extremely important.

This Government is increasing the number of health visitors. We are investing massively in perinatal mental health support and, for example, increasing mental health councillors in our schools. We are doing everything that we can do to protect vulnerable children from the impact of austerity and the cuts to welfare that are being imposed by Jackson Carlaw’s party. We are doing a range of things to make sure that we are supporting and protecting vulnerable children in every way that we can, and we will continue to do that.

These are complex issues. By their very nature, they are sensitive and often controversial issues, and there are rarely easy answers.

We will continue to take the right steps. We will continue to listen to experts and continue to set out plans that see this Government and, I hope, this Parliament fulfil their obligations to those who work on the front line with children who are at risk and, indeed, any child who is living in vulnerable circumstances. The Deputy First Minister will set out more detail on that when he stands up this afternoon.


Universities (Funding)

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

This morning, Audit Scotland has delivered a damning verdict on the state of universities’ finance under this Government’s watch: universities’ funding has been cut by more than 11 per cent over the past five years. As a result, more than half of our universities are now in deficit.

We used to be proud of the international reputation of our universities, but the European University Association calls Scottish higher education a “declining system under pressure” and Universities Scotland says that

“Government funding for universities is decreasing at a faster rate than the Scottish Government’s budget, suggesting university funding has been deprioritised.”

Can the First Minister explain why our universities have been “deprioritised” by her Government? (S5F-03543)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I do not know about Richard Leonard, but I am still proud of the international reputation of Scottish universities, and whenever I meet people from other countries or travel overseas, including yesterday in Germany, I meet people who are envious of the reputation, the record and the performance of Scottish universities.

On the Audit Scotland report that has been published today, I first point to the fact that, in this financial year, resources to universities—the higher education budget—have increased. The report also sets out that the total income in the sector has increased over the past few years. Of course, resources are tight.

I may be mistaken in this, but I do not recall Richard Leonard requesting additional money for universities in the recent budget. He will correct me if I am wrong.

Our universities are performing strongly. We have more top-200 universities per head of population than any country bar Switzerland. We are repeatedly setting records for students from Scotland going to university, and we see more people from the poorest backgrounds going to university. We have made massive progress in widening access.

I am sure that Richard Leonard knows this, because he will have read the Audit Scotland report in full. Although that report points to constraints in Scottish Government funding, some of the biggest funding challenges for universities that it sets out come from policies of the UK Government—pension costs, the Augar review of tuition fees and, of course, Brexit, which the report says threatens £211 million of funding to Scotland’s universities. I do not know whether Richard Leonard has anything to say about any of that.

Richard Leonard

I have not only read the report; I have also been listening to what people who work in the university sector say.

Just yesterday, the principal of Edinburgh Napier University warned members of the Scottish Parliament that there are

“severe funding challenges facing the sector”.

Universities Scotland says that our universities see

“this year’s budget from the Scottish Government as a pivotal point in their future.”

It is pivotal because, in its words, there has been

“a pattern of cuts to core budgets”.

There has been an 11 per cent cut in funding over five years, which amounts to more than £120 million less being invested in Scotland’s universities each year. That is a cut of £700 for each Scottish student every year.

Therefore, Scotland’s universities have a straightforward request. They want a 2 per cent real-terms increase in university teaching and research grants in next year’s Scottish budget. Will the First Minister meet that straightforward request and invest in our universities, starting with that 2 per cent, or will she continue to preside over their managed decline?

The First Minister

Well, well, well.

Our universities are performing extremely well, and that is down to the experts who work in them. We have more top-class universities than almost any other country in the world.

On widening access, figures that have come out just today show that the number of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service acceptances of university applicants from the 20 per cent most-deprived areas has gone up again. That is the fourth year in a row in which we have seen such an increase at this stage in the process.

Richard Leonard has made a specific request for a 2 per cent real-terms increase in funding for universities, so I will make my usual offer to him. As I keep reminding him, we allocate all the Scottish Government budget every year—it is fully allocated to our hospitals, to our schools and other local government services, and to our universities and colleges. If Richard Leonard wants a 2 per cent increase for universities, on top of the increases for which he has called for local government and everything else that we are responsible for, he should set out where in the Scottish budget he thinks we should make reductions. I have asked Richard Leonard to do that on countless occasions, but he has not once come forward with any ideas. Maybe today will be different. The door is open, as always.

Richard Leonard

This is First Minister’s question time, and I am asking the First Minister questions about her record on higher education. I did not hear an answer to my question. If the First Minister will not promise to increase the funding to Scotland’s universities, will she promise at least to retain funds in Scotland’s universities? There is currently £90 million funding for tuition fees for European Union students. Our universities have asked for a simple promise: whatever happens regarding Brexit—I am determined that we should remain—the Scottish Government must promise to keep that £90 million invested in our universities. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order.

Richard Leonard

It is no wonder that universities are concerned about that £90 million, because on the First Minister’s watch we have witnessed funding decreasing and the system declining, all because her Government is deprioritising higher education. Will the First Minister end that failing policy and give our universities the guarantee that they are looking for? Is not that the very least that our universities and our students deserve?

The First Minister

As an aside, I note that we have possibly just heard Labour position on Brexit number 452. It is utterly bamboozling. That rambling and incoherent series of questions demonstrates why Richard Leonard will never stand here answering questions to the First Minister, because he has zero credibility.

I point out to Richard Leonard that it is for Parliament to pass the budgets of this Government. As we keep on being reminded, ours is a minority Government, so we have to win support from other parties to get our budget through. If Richard Leonard wants us to spend more on any area, we have to spend less on another area—that is simple arithmetic. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order, please.

The First Minister

If Richard Leonard wants Labour to be taken seriously even as an Opposition party—not as a potential Government, because that is a long-lost cause—he has to make proposals. I am still waiting for him to bring forward anything that has any credibility. Until he does, Labour and Richard Leonard will have zero credibility among the electorate.


Tesco Metro Dundee (Lease)

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Has the Government been made aware of Sports Direct’s sudden decision to terminate Tesco’s lease on its Dundee city centre Metro store? Its refusal to grant a short-term extension, to help Tesco support affected staff, will lead to the needless loss of 74 jobs. Has the Government been in contact with the companies concerned about that worrying situation?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I confirm that Jamie Hepburn, the business minister, spoke to Tesco yesterday about the company’s restructuring programme and the situation in Dundee. I understand that the Tesco Metro store is due to close on 2 November, which will, as Shona Robison said, result in 74 job losses due to Sports Direct, the landlord, terminating the lease, despite Tesco’s wish to continue trading. I ask Sports Direct to reconsider that.

The minister has offered assistance to Tesco about the situation, and, as always, our partnership action for continuing employment team stands ready to offer any support to staff facing redundancy. I am more than happy to ask Jamie Hepburn to discuss the matter further with Shona Robison, to make sure that the Government is doing all that it possibly can to help.


Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (Community Buyout)

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The First Minister will be aware that Flamingo Land Ltd’s planning application to build at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park has been withdrawn. On that basis, will she advise whether the agreement with Scottish Enterprise is set aside? Will she support consideration of a community buyout?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am happy to get back to Jackie Baillie on the detail of the situation on Scottish Enterprise—I will ask the relevant minister to respond. We will always consider community buyout proposals. Of course, there is legislation on community empowerment and community right to buy, and those issues should always be discussed and considered carefully.


Northern Isles Ferries Contract

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Transport Scotland officials reportedly told those at a meeting in Shetland earlier this week that the Government can no longer guarantee that the new northern isles ferries contract will be in place by the end of October as previously promised. Will the First Minister confirm whether that is the case? Does she accept that further delay in letting the contract creates uncertainty and makes it impossible for many businesses in Orkney and Shetland to plan? Will she therefore ensure that the Government sticks to the October deadline?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I absolutely agree that it is very important to communities in Orkney and Shetland that they have certainty on the future contract. The Government is very keen to stick to that deadline, and I hope that we will set out the outcome of that process very soon.

As Liam McArthur is aware, we have been involved in legal challenges; the European Commission also has a role to play here. Therefore, certain processes have had to, and will have to, conclude before we can announce the next steps, but we want to be in a position to do that as soon as possible.


Independence Referendum

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Five years ago, the First Minister and I were disappointed at the referendum result, but we were willing to work with those who promised to strengthen devolution and give the Scottish Parliament legal permanence. Instead, we have seen the United Kingdom lurch from crisis to crisis, we have seen the promises about protecting our place in Europe broken, we have seen the people of Scotland ignored—especially the 200,000, and counting, young voters who have never had a vote on their country’s future—and we have seen the UK Government treat devolution with utter contempt.

Another referendum is coming—we all know that. Does the First Minister think that we can trust that the head of state will once again be invited to interfere in a vote of the sovereign people?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Scotland’s future should always be a matter for the Scottish people. We know that support for independence is rising—demand for another independence referendum is rising.

If members do not want to take my word for that, all I can do is quote polling expert John Curtice, who said yesterday that

“also ... becoming more difficult to sustain is the argument that Scotland does not want a second independence referendum”.

Scotland has the right to choose its own future. The revelations—if I can call them that—from David Cameron today say more about him than about anybody else, and they demonstrate the panic that was in the hearts of the UK Government in the run-up to the independence referendum five years ago. Of course, that is nothing compared to the panic that is in the hearts of the unionist parties now about independence. They are progressively, one by one, making themselves look utterly ridiculous. They are reduced to trying to block or rig Scotland’s democratic right to choose and all because they know that they do not have the arguments against independence. They know that, when Scotland is given the right to choose, this time Scotland will choose to become an independent country.

Patrick Harvie

The great many young people who have never had a vote on independence deserve to have a say. Tomorrow, many thousands of them will be taking to the streets across Scotland, demanding a response to the climate emergency. They know that Scotland cannot hold its head up high next year when the United Nations climate conference comes to Glasgow if we are still committed to maximum oil and gas extraction. They know that we need system change and a new economic direction—a genuine Scottish green new deal, not a Tory-lite economic plan written by people who still think that fossil fuels offer a secure future. Will the First Minister give tomorrow’s climate strikers the news that they want—that Scotland is ready to end its reliance on the lethal fossil fuel industry?

The First Minister

Just finally on independence—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order, please.

The First Minister

Okay, Presiding Officer, I probably have to admit that this is not the final thing from me on independence; I may mention it again at some point in the future. However, I am struck by the barracking and heckling of the unionist parties in the chamber. I suspect that the louder they get, the more obvious it is how panicked they are. The big question for them is this: if they are so confident that people in Scotland do not want independence, why are they running so scared of an independence referendum?

On climate change, I say to Patrick Harvie that I had the pleasure of meeting the co-leader of the German Greens in Berlin, yesterday. He was very positive about the leadership role of the Scottish Government on climate change. I am absolutely happy to look young people—to whom I pay tribute for the action that they are taking—in the eye and say that Scotland is, and will continue to be, a leader in the transition to a net zero economy. Oil and gas are part of that transition but, as we have discussed many times in the past, we have to make that transition in a way that is, first, fair and just and, secondly, actually reduces carbon emissions rather than, perhaps in the short term, inadvertently increasing them. We will continue to show real leadership, not just in the UK or across Europe but globally, as we face up to and address the climate emergency.


National Testing (Five-year-olds)

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

It is one year since Parliament voted to scrap national tests for five-year-olds. Since then, the Scottish Government has ordered tests for another 50,000 primary 1 pupils. Why has the First Minister allowed that in the face of the clear vote by Scotland’s Parliament?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

After that vote, the Deputy First Minister set out the action that we were taking to respond to it. An independent review of primary 1 assessments was carried out. That report was published. We set out our response to it—the changes that we were going to make—and that is the right and proper way to have proceeded. The assessments that we have in place in our schools are proportionate and right. They did not, of course, introduce assessment for the first time. All local authorities previously carried out assessments; some did so more than once a year. That is part of the process of making sure that we have information that allows us to determine whether our education system is delivering for the young people it serves, and we will continue to take that action because that is what we owe young people across the country.

Willie Rennie

When Boris Johnson tramples over parliamentary democracy, the First Minister is outraged; when her education secretary does exactly the same, she pats him on the back. It is not just Parliament; teachers are being snubbed, too. In 400 pages of fresh criticism, teachers said that the tests were “a logistical nightmare”, caused a lot of stress to pupils and were “a waste of time”. That is on top of the criticism of the tests by the Government’s own advisers. Experts are against the tests, teachers have spoken out against the tests and Parliament voted against the tests. I know that John Swinney is not having a good day, but will the First Minister finally listen and tell him that he has to scrap the tests?

The First Minister

Parliament asked us to look at the evidence, which is what we did. We established the David Reedy review—he conducted a comprehensive independent review, which involved speaking to many stakeholders and inviting written feedback from many. He spent considerable time in schools talking to teachers and children and he watched children undertake the assessments. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that David Reedy’s report provided anything other than a clear recommendation that primary 1 assessments should continue. Research has shown that a majority of primary 1 teachers believe that the children in their classes had a positive experience overall. The review reported that there was “scant evidence” of children becoming upset in the way that Willie Rennie and others had suggested.

We have taken action to ensure that changes that were required are being made. We will continue to take action to ensure that teachers have information about the performance of children so that they can help those who need extra help and make sure that children are performing at the levels that they should be. That is the right way to proceed, and we will continue with it.


Minimum Unit Pricing (Alcohol-related Deaths)

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

The First Minister will be aware of new research showing that there has been a 21.5 per cent decrease in alcohol-related deaths in Glasgow since the introduction of minimum unit pricing. Does the First Minister agree with the British Liver Trust that Parliaments across these islands should get on with the day job and follow Scotland’s lead in the area?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I strongly agree with the British Liver Trust. I am proud that the Parliament introduced minimum unit pricing. It is of course early days for that policy, and a full review is built into the legislation. However, all the early indications, including the statistic from Glasgow that Clare Adamson referred to, suggest that the policy is working and is saving lives and improving health for people across the country. I am proud of the policy, and I think that the Parliament should be proud of it. Although it is for others to make their decisions, I encourage other Governments and Parliaments across not just the rest of the UK but the world to look at the policy and consider implementing it in their countries.


Government Business (Use of Private or Party Email Address)

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Has the First Minister ever used a private or party email address to conduct Scottish Government business?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Government is completely subject to freedom of information legislation, and we would be covered by that. Rightly or wrongly, most of my conduct of Government business is on paper. I receive paper boxes, not email boxes, and I make handwritten notes. We will continue to respond to freedom of information requests about email correspondence on any particular issue.


Asda (Treatment of Female Workers)

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The First Minister will be aware that MSPs and MPs from all parties have been expressing concern that Asda is threatening its predominantly female workforce with the sack if they do not accept extremely detrimental terms and conditions. Of course, Asda is not threatening its mainly male distribution workers in the same way and, this year, it announced a £92 million jump in profits, with bonuses all round for the mostly male senior members of the board of directors. Will the First Minister join me in asking Asda to get round the table with the GMB union and start treating women workers in its stores with some respect?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I share those concerns. I know that Asda has responded to some of the MSPs who have raised concerns, of whom I am one. There is an Asda store in Toryglen, in my constituency, and I have corresponded with Asda about the issue on behalf of constituents. I encourage Asda to continue to discuss the issues, to get around the table with staff and unions and to reach a positive resolution.


Climate Strike (College Bursaries)

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

Tomorrow, thousands of young people in Scotland will join millions around the world in a historic climate strike, but many college students are concerned that, if they take part, they will lose their lifeline bursaries due to strict attendance requirements. The National Union of Students has not been able to get a straight answer from the Scottish Government or Colleges Scotland. Will the First Minister confirm today that any college student who takes part in tomorrow’s climate strike will not lose their bursary because of it?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I am clear that students who are engaged in legitimate, peaceful protest should not lose their bursaries for doing so. I am more than happy to ask the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science to correspond with Ross Greer about the detail of those assurances so that students know that they can take part in the protests without having those concerns.


European Union Nationals

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

Members will be aware of new research showing that European Union citizens feel safer and more welcome in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. Will the First Minister reiterate that her Government will always stand up for the rights of EU nationals living in Scotland?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We will do everything that we can to stand up for and protect the rights of EU nationals. Although I was reassured to read the research that was published earlier this week that suggests that EU nationals feel safer and more comfortable in Scotland than in other parts of the UK, I found it distressing that EU nationals in any part of the UK do not feel safe and comfortable.

I find it deeply distressing that EU nationals have had to put up with the uncertainty, stress and anxiety that they have suffered now for more than three years. It is utterly disgraceful and shameful—it is one of the most shameful aspects of the whole Brexit fiasco. I again call on the UK Government to do everything that it can to ensure that the anxiety for EU nationals stops. We will continue to send the clear-as-possible message that we welcome people to our country, we want them to be here and to stay and we value highly the contribution that they make.


Accountability (Government Policy)

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

When unemployment rates go down, it is because of Derek Mackay’s genius; when they rise, it is nowt to do with him. When hospital projects degenerate into shambles, it is the fault of health boards or the matrix—whatever on earth that is—but it is never the fault of Jeane Freeman or any of her predecessors as health secretary. Why is it that nobody in the Scottish Government ever accepts responsibility for the failure of their key policies?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Neil Findlay is talking nonsense. This week, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport announced a statutory public inquiry into the situation at the Royal hospital for children and young people in Edinburgh to look at the issues around accountability, technical specifications and construction standards. That is the right and responsible way for a Government to proceed. We thought that Labour members were calling for an inquiry, which makes it more than passing strange that they now seem to be objecting to it.


Drug Driving (Police Officer Numbers)

5. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to alleviate the reported concerns regarding the number of police officers available to enforce a crackdown on drug driving. (S5F-03548)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Drug driving is completely unacceptable, which is why we have given Police Scotland new powers to keep our roads safe. Those new laws, together with our stringent drink-drive limit, will ensure that we have the United Kingdom’s most robust laws against impaired and unsafe driving.

The deployment of officers in preparation for implementation is a matter for the chief constable. Although all police officers can enforce legislation, including for road traffic offences, our understanding is that extensive training of relevant officers is under way to ensure effective implementation.

Stuart McMillan

I welcome the Scottish Government’s zero-tolerance approach to drug driving. I have raised the issue in the chamber before.

The use of drug-detection kits by police officers at the roadside means that doctors will no longer be required to attend to take a sample. Will the First Minister outline the benefits that the new legislation will also bring to the national health service by freeing up doctors’ time?

The First Minister

I welcome Stuart McMillan’s long-standing interest in the issue. It is true that the new offence does not require evidence of impairment, which should free up time, as doctors will no longer need to consider impairment in police stations, though some doctors might still be involved in taking blood samples.

More generally, as I have said, together with our drink-driving limit, the new laws will ensure that we have the United Kingdom’s most robust laws against impaired and unsafe driving, which will contribute enormously to improving safety on our roads.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I have a freedom of information response from Police Scotland from August, relating to the drug-driving legislation. It says:

“An online learning package, requiring completion by all operational officers of the rank of Inspector and below is in the process of compilation and will be available prior to the introduction”.

Is that online learning package now available, and will all officers have completed it by 21 October?

The First Minister

The training of officers is an operational matter for the chief constable. I have not seen the freedom of information response to which Liam Kerr refers. If he writes to me or to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, we will respond in more detail.

Those are operational matters. Parliament sets the law, as it has done around drug driving, and we expect our chief constable—acting independently of Parliament and politicians—to make sure that the arrangements are in place. I have every faith in the chief constable and Police Scotland to ensure that that is the case.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Nine years ago, two young constituents died as a result of drug driving. Since then, I have been a road safety campaigner and I have consistently called for lower drug-driving limits and for drugalyser tests.

The First Minister will know that police in England and Wales have had drugalysers for four years and that their drug-driving conviction rates are significantly higher than the rate in Scotland. I welcome the new drug-driving limits, but why has it taken so long to implement them?

The First Minister

I recognise David Stewart’s interest in the issue. As he will appreciate, we first legislated to reduce the drink-drive limit, and we now have the most stringent drink-drive limit anywhere in the United Kingdom. That is also an important part of road safety.

The drug-driving limits have not been straightforward. A significant number of drug types are included, so careful consideration has been required. It is extremely positive that we have the new law in place. It is more stringent than laws anywhere else in the UK, and it will ensure that our roads are even safer than before.

David Stewart referred to tragic cases in his constituency. Many members will be aware of tragic cases of that nature. It is important that we do everything that we can to reduce their incidence. Combined, the actions that we have taken on drink driving and on drug driving will make our roads safer.


HIV (Action on Stigma)

6. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to tackle stigma surrounding HIV. (S5F-03558)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We are providing third sector funding of more than £2 million over three years to support innovative work in sexual health and blood-borne viruses. That includes funding to support Waverley Care to engage directly with people who are affected and to inform the development and delivery of targeted services that challenge stigma and promote prevention, testing and support.

A person who is diagnosed with HIV in Scotland today can expect to live a full life, with near-normal life expectancy. A person with sustained undetectable levels of HIV in their blood cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners. We will continue to work to eradicate the stigma around the virus and to tackle the false myths and prejudices that, sadly, still surround it.

Brian Whittle

Will the First Minister join me in commending the former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas on his journey to tackle stigma and prejudice around homophobia and his recent HIV diagnosis? In doing so, will she condemn his disgraceful treatment by elements of the press and public?

Given Mr Thomas’s experience, does the First Minister agree with HIV Scotland that, in the era of treatments such as PrEP, it is time for a public health campaign to end HIV stigma?

The First Minister

I join Brian Whittle in paying tribute to Gareth Thomas. His brave and emotional intervention this week will have done a great deal to address that stigma. Many people across the United Kingdom and further afield owe him a great deal of gratitude for that. We send him our best wishes.

I agree that much more needs to be done to tackle that stigma, and we all have a part to play in that. To be blunt, the media have a part to play in making sure that they are not disseminating the myths and false impressions of HIV that we often read about.

There is an argument for a campaign, particularly given the successful introduction of PrEP. We will continue to consider what work we can do to consign to the dustbin of history the horrible stigma that wrecks people’s lives. I am sure that we will all come together to do that.

12:44 Meeting suspended.  12:47 On resuming—