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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 20, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 20 September 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Marine Energy Industry, NHS Tayside Board, Violence Reduction, Decision Time, Correction


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Schools (Subject Choice)

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

Earlier this year, I challenged the First Minister over the shrinking number of subjects that Scottish school pupils can take. In reply, she said:

“We will continue to work hard with local authorities and with schools to ensure that our young people have the broadest and widest possible choice.”—[Official Report, 17 May 2018; c 10.]

What progress has she made on achieving that?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We continue to ensure that pupils have the widest possible choice. Of course, the system has changed over the past few years and we now assess the qualifications of young people at the stage when they leave school.

When we look at pupil attainment at the point when pupils leave school, we find two things, which I hope that Ruth Davidson and all members will welcome: first, we find that attainment overall is up in Scotland; and secondly, we find that the gap between the richest and poorest is narrowing. That is what matters, and that is where real progress is being made.

Ruth Davidson

I am not sure that that was much of a progress report on school choice, so let us consider the progress that was presented to the Parliament yesterday, when Professor Jim Scott appeared before the Education and Skills Committee.

Professor Scott talked about the staggering drop in subject choice in our schools following the introduction of curriculum for excellence. Now, more than half of Scottish schools restrict pupils to just six exam courses in secondary 4. Here is the impact: over the past five years, the restricted choices that this Scottish National Party Government has brought in have cost Scottish pupils 622,000 qualifications—that is 622,000 courses that would have been sat but were never sat. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Order, please.

Ruth Davidson

Professor Scott is a former head of 18 years’ standing, so the members who are shouting from a sedentary position might want to listen to what he had to say yesterday. He said:

“I actually struggle to say that in a public forum. It is almost unbelievable.”

I think so, too. What does the First Minister make of it?

The First Minister

I think that it is entirely unbelievable.

Unfortunately for Ruth Davidson, I have looked closely and with interest at Professor Scott’s research. The problem is that when we try to compare the old and new systems it is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. [Interruption.] Ruth Davidson might do well to listen to some of this.

Professor Scott focused on awards below higher level. In essence, he was looking at what pupils achieve by the time they finish S4. However, the days of large numbers of pupils leaving school at S4 are long gone; the overwhelming majority stay on to S5 and S6, so we focus on the awards that pupils achieve by the time they leave school. For a young person and their chances of getting an apprenticeship, a college place, a university place or a job, that is what matters, and when we look at that, we see that attainment overall is up and the gap between the richest and the poorest is narrowing.

Here are some figures for Ruth Davidson to chew over. The proportion of pupils who are getting passes at higher level has risen more than 10 percentage points: it was 50.4 per cent in 2009-10 and it was 61.2 per cent in 2016-17. When we look at national 5 level, we find that the proportion of pupils who are leaving school with an award has risen nine percentage points: it was 77.1 per cent in 2009-10 and it was 86.1 per cent in 2016-17. At higher level, the gap between the richest and the poorest has fallen by almost seven percentage points.

Here is one last statistic, which should interest members right across the chamber. It comes from Maureen McKenna, the director of education at Glasgow City Council. She points out that, in Drumchapel high school, which is in what is recognised as one of our more deprived areas, whereas in 2006, 8 per cent of pupils achieved one or more highers by the end of S5, in 2018, the figure was 53 per cent. There has been an increase from 8 per cent to 53 per cent. It is about time that Ruth Davidson stopped talking our schools down and started celebrating the achievements of pupils right across this country.

Ruth Davidson

I can tell that the First Minister does not want to talk about the 622,000 figure. In fact, she would rather talk about anything else. I think that I heard her say at the beginning of her answer that she did not believe it. I go back to the transcript that I have of the evidence that was presented to the Education and Skills Committee yesterday, in which Jim Scott says:

“if things had gone on as they were in 2013, we would have had an extra 622,000 qualifications in Scotland in the five years since.”

That is the analysis.

The issue is not just about those 622,000 qualifications that have been lost; it is also about the drop in subject choice and where it is hitting pupils the hardest. Let us talk about schools in deprived areas, because the schools that are most likely to drop down to as few as five subjects in S4, leaving pupils with little room to pursue a rounded education, are in deprived areas.

Dr Marina Shapira of the University of Stirling also gave evidence yesterday. She said:

“The reduction in subject choice is larger in schools in higher areas of deprivation, and the reduction is larger in schools where there are more children on free school meals.”

If we are going to sort out the problem, we need to accept the evidence. Will the First Minister accept the evidence from Dr Marina Shapira?

The First Minister

I will offer some more evidence from the director of education at Glasgow City Council. Just this week, she said that, in 2008, just

“5% achieved 5 or more Highers by the end of S5”.

In 2018, that had increased to what she described as

“an incredible 13.4% an increase of 170%”.

She pointed to another school in Glasgow, St Thomas Aquinas secondary school, where, in 2006,

“29% achieved 1 or more Higher by the end of S5”.

In 2018, that had gone up to 65 per cent.

All the statistics are pointing in the same direction. I am not sure whether Ruth Davidson is saying that, somehow, that does not matter. I repeat that the proportion of pupils who get passes at higher level has risen by more than 10 percentage points. There has been a rise of 9 percentage points in the number of those who get a qualification at national 5 level. In addition, more than 50,000 skill-based qualifications, awards and certificates have been achieved this year, which, incidentally, is double the number of skill-based qualifications that were achieved in 2012.

For added measure, on the subject of closing the attainment gap, just this morning the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has released new data that shows that Scotland has hit another new record for the number of young people who are getting a university place. Let us start celebrating that success.

I do not think that the Tories have a shred of credibility left on education after the U-turn that they did yesterday, when they voted to scrap primary 1 assessments, which they spent the past four years demanding that the Scottish Government introduce. Ruth Davidson has zero credibility.

Ruth Davidson

The First Minister can bawl and shout the odds all she wants, but there are legitimate questions to be asked about education on her watch, and I will continue to ask them.

In May, the First Minister accepted that the drop in subject choice needed to be addressed. I read out the answer that she gave a few months ago. Today, she is saying that to have half of schools offering only six courses at S4 is absolutely fine.

The point here is that the crash in subject choice that we are now seeing is a symptom of a wider malaise, which has been caused by the chaotic introduction of curriculum for excellence. Under the First Minister’s Government, we have seen reduced subject choice, teachers being left in the dark, the higher pass rate falling and attainment in national exams decreasing by a third compared with attainment on the old standard grades, yet, on education, it shows no sign of listening to the evidence, to the Parliament or to parents or teachers.

More must be done before the damage increases. The solution is a complete overhaul of curriculum for excellence. For once, will the Government listen?

The First Minister

If Ruth Davidson does not like my shouting out the evidence, let me repeat it a bit more quietly for her.

The proportion of pupils who get passes at higher level has increased, as has the proportion who get passes at national 5 level. The number of skill-based qualifications that our young people achieve in schools has doubled since 2012. We have a record number of young people going to university. To me, that sounds like success, and this Government is determined to build on it.

I turn to the curriculum for excellence, which has just been lauded and praised by the International Council of Education Advisers. Week after week, almost, Ruth Davidson stands up here, demanding more information on the performance of pupils in schools. Yet, yesterday, she and her party performed a breathtaking U-turn and voted against assessments in primary 1, which she called for—or demanded—in her party’s manifesto and has demanded at regular intervals since then.

On education issues, Ruth Davidson is a shameless opportunist. I will leave the political opportunism to her. I, the Deputy First Minister and the entire Government will get on with delivering in the interests of pupils right across the country. I think that the people of Scotland will notice the difference.


Education

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The Scottish Government still appears to believe that without standardised testing of five-year-olds, teachers will not be able to assess our children’s learning needs. Scotland’s teachers profoundly disagree. Why does the First Minister believe that she knows more about teaching Scotland’s school children than Scotland’s school teachers do? (S5F-02602)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I continue to believe that if we set benchmarks for what we think children in primary 1 should be achieving in education, we have a duty to those children, to their parents and to wider society to be able to know whether they are achieving those benchmarks. That is assessed through the judgment of teachers, but it is right that that judgment is informed by the standardised assessments that we have been discussing. I continue to take that view. As the Deputy First Minister said yesterday, he—and we—will reflect on Parliament’s judgment of yesterday, and we will come back with a statement in due course.

There is a mix of opinions among teachers. For example, let me read out the opinion of Lindsey Watt, who is a former headteacher at Castleview primary school in Edinburgh, and a winner of the Robert Owen award, which recognises inspirational educators. That teacher said:

“As a teacher of almost 40 years’ experience, 25 as a head teacher, I’m confused as to why there has been such a furore over P1 pupils undertaking ... Standardised Assessments.

Various forms of standardised assessments in Primary 1 have been used for many years. The new format has been an attempt to unify the process.”

and went on to say that the assessments

“provide an opportunity for schools to access robust additional assessment, providing valuable information to parents about their child’s learning journey”.

That teacher’s opinion is important, as are those of all teachers. However, I am determined that we will raise standards and close the attainment gap. The more information we have to help us to do that, the better. That is my view, which is very strongly held.

Richard Leonard

Last night, Parliament voted decisively to scrap primary 1 tests. We have a First Minister who talks a lot about the will of Parliament when it is in the interests of her party. I hope that she will listen to the will of Parliament when it is in the interests of Scotland’s children.

Teachers say that the tests are a waste of time, but the Government says—we have just heard it again—that it will carry on regardless. The First Minister always accuses others of talking Scotland down. I only wish that she would stop talking down to Scotland’s teachers and start valuing them. This week, Scotland’s teachers have rejected the Government’s latest pay offer. If the First Minister will not listen to teachers on primary 1 testing, will she listen to them on pay?

The First Minister

We will continue to negotiate on pay through the standard processes. That is what we would be expected to do and it is, rightly, what we will do.

I will go back to standardised assessments. It is interesting that Richard Leonard is quite selective when it comes to respecting the will of the Scottish Parliament. [Interruption.] Let us focus for a moment on the will of the people in an election. In the 2016 Parliament election, two thirds of voters voted for manifestos that contained a commitment to standardised assessment in primary 1. I do not know whether Richard Leonard thinks that that should just be cast aside, but I do not.

We will reflect on what the Parliament said yesterday and we will make a judgment based on what we think is right for the interests of young people throughout Scotland. Our consideration will not be party-political opportunism; it will be in the best interests of pupils in Scottish classrooms.

Richard Leonard

Nicola Sturgeon says that education is the driving and defining priority of her Government. She says that she wants to be judged by her record on it, so let us look at the record: £400 million has been cut from school budgets, the testing policy is in tatters, the flagship education bill was ditched, and Scotland’s teachers are on the verge of strike action. I ask the First Minister why, if education really is the top priority, the Government’s education policy is in such a mess.

The First Minister

I am delighted to be able to share all the following information with Parliament again.

There is a higher proportion of pupils passing exams in Scotland and more pupils are getting highers, national 5 qualifications and skills-based qualifications. The gap between rich and poor pupils is closing and more young people, including young people from our deprived areas, are going to university. That is a success, and it is success on which we are determined to build.

I have said, and will say again, that education is our top priority. We want to be judged on that—but do you know what? For us to be judged on it, it is important that we have the information that tells Parliament and Scotland whether we are succeeding. We have the information when it comes to exam passes. I want to have such information from the early stages of primary school so that we know that we are not letting down young people. We simply should not leave it too late to act and to intervene if young people need extra help. That is why assessments in primary 1 are the right thing to do. Two thirds of the people who voted in the last election agreed with that. That is rather important.


Paediatric Services (NHS Lothian)

Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

The West Lothian Courier recently reported on the plight of the McKenzie family from Breich in the more rural part of my constituency. The family attended St John’s hospital with their sick baby and, after a three-hour wait for an ambulance, were eventually transferred to the Royal hospital for sick children because the children’s ward at St John’s remains closed to in-patients. The baby was discharged at 11 pm and the family was left to walk into the city centre to catch the last bus to Livingston and then get a taxi home to Breich, arriving at 1:30 am. That, of course, is all contrary to the commitments that have been made by NHS Lothian to provide transport support to local families.

Given that baby Kenzie is one of 788 West Lothian children to have been transferred from St John’s to the sick kids hospital, how will the First Minister and the Government ensure that NHS Lothian—specifically, its paediatrics programme board—does absolutely everything, and more, to return our much-loved first-class children’s ward to a 24/7 service as soon as possible?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I assure Angela Constance that the Government will work closely with NHS Lothian to ensure that the ward is reopened as quickly as possible. The acting chief executive of NHS Lothian assured Jeane Freeman on 28 August that all efforts are being made to recruit medical staff and advanced nurse practitioners in order to reinstate the in-patient unit. The current situation relates to ensuring patient safety; I do not think that any member of Parliament would irresponsibly suggest that patient safety should not be paramount.

I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to look into the case that Angela Constance has raised and will keep her and other members who have an interest updated on progress on getting the in-patient unit reopened as quickly as possible.


Freight (Orkney and Shetland)

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

last week, a full-blown crisis for Shetland’s aquaculture and shellfish sectors was averted only at the 11th hour by Northlink Ferries Ltd’s ability to charter an extra freight vessel, which allowed vital time-sensitive shipments to be made.

This is also a critically important period for Orkney’s livestock sector, which is looking to ship most of its cattle and sheep to the Scottish mainland. As Malcolm Scott from Orkney Auction Mart Ltd said to me earlier today, had Northlink not secured the Arrow, the potential consequences for farming in Orkney would have been disastrous.

Does the First Minister accept that meeting the growing freight needs of linchpin industries in Orkney and Shetland requires access to a third freight vessel on an on-going basis? Will she ask her Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity to consider seriously proposals that have been made that could increase freight capacity on the northern isles and west coast routes, as well as potentially freeing up additional space for passenger traffic?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank Liam McArthur for raising an important issue. I understand the demands that are being made for increased freight capacity, and I will ask the transport secretary to consider the proposals that have been made and brief me on his views on those, and to correspond with Liam McArthur on the way forward. The transport secretary will revert to the member as soon as possible.


Royal Hospital for Sick Children (Contamination)

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

This week, we learned of the third contamination affecting the cancer ward at the Royal hospital for sick children in a short space of time. The contamination has resulted in drinking water and washing facilities being affected, patients who are already immunocompromised being prescribed antibiotics, patients being transferred to local hospices or having to go home to get a wash, and treatments being delayed.

One angry and distressed parent, Donna-Louise Hurrell, contacted me directly and told me that her daughter has now had her chemotherapy delayed on three separate occasions. She asked me to ask the First Minister how many cases of chemotherapy have been delayed due to bacterial and safety concerns affecting the hospital. Can the First Minister address that question directly, and also ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to instigate an urgent investigation of that hospital, to get full answers and to ensure full transparency in the interests of the patients, their families and the wider community, and to guarantee that we can minimise the risk of this ever happening again?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The situation is deeply regrettable. On the number of cases, I do not have that information to hand. However, I will undertake to ensure that the information is provided to Anas Sarwar.

The primary concern of the health board and the Scottish Government is the safety and wellbeing of children and their families at the hospital. We are aware of the new cases that have been linked to the incident, and the families who are involved have been kept fully informed. It is right that that continues to happen.

At the moment, we are liaising closely with Health Protection Scotland and Health Facilities Scotland. Both organisations are supporting NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to ensure that all appropriate steps are in place to manage the incident.

Although no patients with bacterial infections are currently giving cause for concern, it is very important that all precautions are taken to prevent any further infections.

I undertake to provide the information that Anas Sarwar asked for, and I will also ask the health secretary to keep him and Parliament updated on the situation.


A77 (Closures)

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

The First Minister will be aware of the issues at Ayr Station hotel and the severe disruption to rail services south of there, which are pushing even more traffic onto the already overloaded A77.

Are the First Minister and her Government aware that there are plans to close the A77 several times over the next few weeks for urgent resurfacing works, which will, in effect, cut off the south-west? Although we do not want the resurfacing works to be postponed, given the road’s appalling state of disrepair, there must surely be a better plan—one that takes into account the travel needs of the population in the south-west, which includes the replacement bus service, and which takes account of the huge volume of freight traffic that uses that road.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I understand the difficulties that are being posed by the situation with Ayr Station hotel. Brian Whittle says that he thinks that the resurfacing works should not be postponed, which obviously limits the options. However, Transport Scotland and others who are involved must, of course, look closely at such decisions to ensure that disruption is minimised. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity will take a close interest in the matter, and I will happily ask him to correspond with the member about it.

We have, in previous weeks, talked about the situation at Ayr station. A proposal was made about car-parking spaces at Prestwick airport, which has been taken forward. We will continue to do whatever we can to minimise the disruption that the situation is causing, which includes considering some decisions around works on the A77.

I hope that that answer is helpful. The transport secretary will be happy to provide further information.


Tay Cities Deal

Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

Does the First Minister share my serious concerns over reports in The Courier earlier this week that the United Kingdom Government is planning to renege on the Tay cities deal? That would see the UK Government reduce its contribution to the deal by a reported £80 million. Will she raise the matter urgently with the UK Government to ensure that it delivers on its part of this crucial deal?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I understand the concern. Cities and their regions play a crucial role in driving economic growth, which is why the Scottish Government is working individually and collectively with our cities, regions and the businesses and individuals within them to boost that growth.

All partners have invested a huge amount of work in their proposals for the Tay cities deal and delivering for the regional economy. We continue to encourage the UK Government to match the Scottish Government’s investment in the Tay cities deal. The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to achieving a heads of terms agreement as soon as possible. We are in a position to proceed right now and are waiting for the UK Government to confirm its position. I hope that that happens soon and that the commitment of the UK Government is not diminished.

I had the privilege of attending the opening of the V&A last Friday. It will be transformational for Dundee. It would be a deep shame if that momentum could not continue with the Tay cities deal being resolved as quickly as possible. The Scottish Government is ready to go. The question that remains to be answered is whether the UK Government will stick to its commitment. I hope that the answer to that is yes.


Demonstrators (Police Scotland)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I hope that the First Minister is aware of revelations that have been published by The Ferret and The National that campaigners against fracking are among the peaceful, democratic campaigners who have been labelled by Police Scotland as “domestic extremists”. We have known for years that environmental campaigners, along with peace activists and others, have in the past been spied on or infiltrated by police forces in the United Kingdom, including in Scotland. This statement of current practice, however, is shocking.

Anti-fracking campaigners who exercise their democratic right to protest are heroes, yet Police Scotland is labelling them as “domestic extremists”. When did the First Minister or her Cabinet Secretary for Justice become aware of this, and what action has the Government taken to address it?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, I absolutely support the right of peaceful democratic protest. I have taken part in many peaceful democratic protests, including at Faslane against nuclear weapons. I will defend the right of people to demonstrate, whether they are protesting against fracking or nuclear weapons or anything else. As long as they do that peacefully and democratically, I defend their right to do so. It is for the police to answer for the operational decisions that they take, but that is my view. I am happy to state that view unequivocally today.

Patrick Harvie

We should not accept that this is merely an operational matter. If individuals, campaign groups and communities cannot peacefully campaign on issues that matter in our society without being labelled as “domestic extremists”—the same category used to describe the threat that is posed by racist and fascist forces in our society—it strikes at the heart of the relationship between policing and the public. That is clearly a political question.

The First Minister mentioned Faslane. This weekend, I will join members of my party, as well as members of the Scottish National Party and, I am sure, Labour and many others, at Faslane again to protest about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, just as people have worked across party lines to oppose blood sports, environmental destruction, asylum evictions and more. The right to do so freely is fundamental to a democratic society.

Can the First Minister give an assurance that campaigners at Faslane on Saturday will not be designated as “domestic extremists” merely for attending a peaceful rally?

The First Minister

Let me give my view. If I were to start to speak in the chamber on behalf of Police Scotland, there would be all sorts of justifiable and legitimate criticisms of me for doing so. I am happy to ask the chief constable on behalf of Police Scotland to address the point that Patrick Harvie has raised.

To return to my view on the issue, I do not consider people who protest against nuclear weapons, fracking or anything else in a peaceful and democratic way to be extremists in any sense, and I would not expect anybody to consider them to be extremists.

Patrick Harvie is absolutely right to say that peaceful protest is a fundamental part of democracy. People should have the right to protest, as long as they do so peacefully. That applies to the people who will be at Faslane on Saturday. I wish them well. I look forward to the day when there are no nuclear weapons on Scottish soil at Faslane, and the sooner that day arrives, the better. The right to protest also applies to people protesting against fracking or campaigning on any other issue. That is my very firm view, and one that I hope has the support of members across the chamber.


Brexit (People’s Vote)

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

I congratulate the First Minister on being so bold and radical this morning: she now wants to delay Brexit by a few weeks. That will definitely save us from colossal economic damage. Despite growing calls for a final say on the deal, the First Minister continues to dither. Does she not understand that we do not just need a delay to Brexit but need to stop it dead in its tracks?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, I do not want Scotland to be dragged out of the European Union against its will—I do not want it to happen in March, I do not want it to happen in April and I do not want it to happen at all. However, nothing that Willie Rennie has ever said on the issue would give Scotland a guarantee that in future we will not be dragged out of the EU against our will.

I will make an offer to Willie Rennie as somebody who supports the idea of a people’s vote. Yesterday, I again said that the Scottish National Party will not stand in the way of that. However, if Willie Rennie wants me to be an enthusiastic advocate of such a vote, let him explain to me how it would guarantee that we will not simply find ourselves in the same position we found ourselves in June 2016, when Scotland voted to remain in the EU but the rest of the United Kingdom voted to leave. If he can explain right now how Scotland is guaranteed that it will not find itself in that position, I am happy to talk to him further about the matter.

Willie Rennie

The First Minster should be preparing for victory, not defeat. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order, please.

Willie Rennie

We would have a better chance of winning the people’s vote if we had the Scottish Government on board. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order, please.

Willie Rennie

Every day the First Minister dithers gives comfort to those who want a hard Brexit. Being neutral on the question of having a people’s vote undermines the positive way out of this situation.

Sadiq Khan supports a people’s vote, hundreds of Labour delegates want it and former Conservative ministers back it. Even the Czech Republic and Malta are on board, and the last time I looked, they were small independent countries. Support is building. On Saturday, there will be a people’s vote rally in Stirling. An SNP speaker will be at that rally. Will he be backing the people’s vote campaign, telling them that they are wrong or dithering just like the First Minister?

The First Minister

Willie Rennie failed to answer the question that I posed, which I thought was notable. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Order, please. Keep it down.

The First Minister

Willie Rennie said that we should be preparing for victory. I campaigned for victory in the EU referendum in 2016, and I helped to secure a 62 per cent vote to remain in the EU. Do you know what, Presiding Officer? It did not count for anything, because the rest of the UK voted to leave.

If I am to get enthusiastically behind the campaign for another EU vote, surely it is not unreasonable to ask for a guarantee that Scotland would not find itself in that position all over again. The fact of the matter is that Willie Rennie and others campaigning for a people’s vote are unable to give that guarantee. If they are prepared to give such a guarantee, I am happy to get behind the campaign. However, it seems to me that, right now, there is only one thing that can stop Scotland having these decisions imposed on it against its will, and that is for Scotland to be independent. Maybe it is time that Willie Rennie started to support that.


Superfast Broadband

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Thousands of my constituents face being bypassed by the digital revolution and will be unable to access high-speed broadband services, according to Audit Scotland. Indeed, large parts of Scotland are unlikely to secure superfast internet speeds by the Scottish Government’s deadline of 2021, with rural communities likely to be hit hardest, 376,000 households still lack high-speed services and more than 221,000 properties, including many businesses, will not have access to the network before 2021.

Can the First Minister give my constituents a promise that her Government will publish a clear timescale for the R100—reaching 100 per cent—programme by the summer of 2019, or will this be yet another example of the SNP Government’s habit of making big announcements—[Interruption.]—and then failing to deliver them two or three years down the line?

The Presiding Officer

Will members please allow other members to ask their question?

The First Minister

It might have been a good idea for the member to have read the Audit Scotland report before coming to the chamber. I will share some snippets with him. However, let me start with what Fraser McKinlay from Audit Scotland said on “Good Morning Scotland” earlier today:

“The good news is that the Scottish Government has achieved its target to provide access to fibre broadband to 95 per cent of homes and businesses across Scotland by the end of last year and they did that well.”

Page 5 of the Audit Scotland report says:

“Higher than expected take-up and lower than expected costs mean 60,300 additional premises will gain access to the fibre network at no extra cost to the public sector”.

Page 8 of the report says:

“By the end of 2017, 95 per cent of premises in Scotland had access to fibre broadband ... Without public-sector investment, only around two-thirds of premises in Scotland would have access”.

Let us remember that the 100 per cent commitment, in terms of both coverage and broadband speeds, will take us ahead of any other part of the UK. When asked a specific question about that this morning, Fraser McKinlay said:

“we are definitely not saying that won’t be achieved by 2021”.

We are investing £600 million in the R100 procurement programme. The procurement will be let next year.

The Scottish Government is investing £600 million, but despite the fact that this is a reserved matter, the UK Government is investing just £21 million—a mere 3 per cent of the total. Finlay Carson should take that up with his Tory colleagues in Westminster before he comes lecturing the Scottish Government on a programme that we are delivering—and, according to Audit Scotland, delivering well.


Brexit

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Last night, the Prime Minister told European Union leaders that she had put forward serious proposals on Brexit. However, all that is on the table is no deal or a blind Brexit, and both of those would seriously damage Scotland’s interests. Does the First Minister think that those are serious proposals or just seriously misguided ones?

The First Minister

Brexit is a mistake and the handling of Brexit by the UK Government is complete and utter shambles. I think that I am quoting a Tory MP when I say that the Chequers proposal is as “dead as a dodo”. Although the Prime Minister wants to frame the choice that is coming later this year as one between no deal or Chequers, it is increasingly likely that the choice will be between no deal and no-detail deal, in which the statement about the future relationship after Brexit is vague and no one knows what comes after EU membership.

It would be reckless in the extreme for the UK to take a step off the Brexit cliff edge, in effect wearing a blindfold and with no idea where we are going to land. In those circumstances, it would be far more responsible to extend article 50 so that all the alternatives can be properly considered.

We are long past the stage where we can expect sensible proposals from the Government. The UK Tory Government is intent on recklessly taking the whole country off the Brexit cliff edge. Future generations will judge it extremely harshly for that.


Decommissioning Work (Dundee)

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I add my voice to the calls to break the deadlock over the Tay cities deal.

The First Minister knows that, as part of Dundee’s regeneration and our superb new V&A, the city is bidding for decommissioning work to create good jobs. Why will the First Minister not publish the EY report that details why Dundee did not get decommissioning investment in her programme for government, so that Dundee can better understand her Government’s analysis of that economic opportunity?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will come back to the member on the EY report. We remain committed to securing jobs in decommissioning in a range of other areas for Dundee. I think that, right now, assuming that the United Kingdom Government stops dragging its feet over the Tay cities deal, there is every reason to be really optimistic about the future of Dundee.

Of course, the Scottish Government was the principal funder of the V&A, of which I know the member attended the opening on Friday as well, but we have also put the headquarters of the new social security agency in Dundee, delivering hundreds of jobs in the city. Whether it is through the social security agency, our support for the V&A or our continued support for jobs in a host of other areas, this is a Government that is full square behind Dundee, and we will continue to be so.


Poverty (Social Metrics Commission Framework)

5. Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government will use the Social Metrics Commission’s new framework for tackling poverty. (S5F-02618)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We welcome the work of the Social Metrics Commission to further develop our understanding of poverty. I note that the commission states that the United Kingdom Government’s political debate has focused on the measurement of poverty rather than on the action that is needed to drive better outcomes, and it calls for

“energy into creating pathways out of poverty.”

Of course, the opposite is the case for this Government. We are committed to action, having already set our statutory targets.

The UK Government has scrapped its child poverty targets, scrapped its poverty unit and scrapped the child poverty commission. It is also presiding over the disastrous roll-out of universal credit and welfare cuts that will see more children pushed into poverty. This Government, by contrast, is focused on actions that will reduce child poverty and tackle deep-seated inequalities.

Dr Allan

I thank the First Minister for that answer. On that specific issue, the report shows that Scotland does better in working to address child poverty than the rest of the UK does. Is it not the case, however, that while Scotland lacks full powers over employment laws and social security, we are tackling the problems with one hand tied behind our back, in the face of even deeper cuts to welfare from a visibly uncaring UK Government?

The First Minister

Yes. That is absolutely right. While we work to try to lift children out of poverty, UK Government welfare policy in particular is actively pushing families and children into poverty. There are independent reports that show that more than one in three children could be living in poverty by 2030. That is squarely due to UK welfare cuts, which by 2020 will amount to almost £4 billion a year for Scotland.

While the UK Government is ignoring child poverty, we are getting on with tackling inequalities and taking action to meet our child poverty targets. In March, we published “Every child, every chance”, which is our four-year programme of action to reduce child poverty. Since then, we have announced the early introduction of best start grant payments and the new minimum school clothing grant of £100, all of which provides crucial help for parents. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that, with more powers over welfare, we could do so much more—and, of course, an independent Scotland could do so much better.


Breast Screening Programme

6. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will provide an update on the Scottish breast screening programme, in light of reports that many women were not contacted for their final check-up. (S5F-02607)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

A review of the Scottish breast screening programme by the Scottish clinical task force identified 1,761 women aged over 70 who were not invited for their final breast screening appointment. I can tell the Parliament that all those women have now been sent a letter advising them of what has happened and offering them an opportunity to attend for breast screening. All women affected who wish to have breast screening will receive an appointment for screening before the end of October this year. We will ensure that any additional screening will not displace other women who are due for their screening appointments.

Work is also being taken forward to develop an information technology fix to address the specific issue. Arrangements are in place to manually identify any women who may have been missed for that reason until that IT fix is in place.

Jamie Greene

I thank the First Minister for that update, but it misses a crucial fact, which is that the situation was predictable. In 2016, a review by Healthcare Improvement Scotland found that nearly 4,000 women had not been sent screening invitations, and as a result it made a number of recommendations, one of which was better oversight of that IT system.

In May this year, the former health secretary told the Parliament:

“I reassure members and the public that the issue does not affect the NHS in Scotland. Patients should be reassured that there are no problems with our breast screening programme records or information technology systems.”—[Official Report, 2 May 2018; c 40.]

Why was the 2016 recommendation ignored? What reassurances can the First Minister give that the screening programme IT system is and will be fit for purpose?

The First Minister

My understanding is that the 2016 issue is a separate issue, so I am not sure that it is accurate to say that what happened was “predictable”, to use the word that Jamie Greene used.

On the English breast screening programme, the former health secretary, Shona Robison, sought and received assurances at the time that the issue was not being repeated in Scotland. However, she rightly requested further due diligence checks. The clinical task force was established to support Public Health England in identifying and contacting any women living in Scotland who were affected. That task force also carried out a wider review.

The issue that we are talking about is an unrelated and separate one. As a result of that issue, we discovered that 1,761 women had not been invited for the final screening appointment. I apologise to each and every one of those women. That should not have happened. However, it is important to put this in context. Although it does not, of course, reduce the anxiety for any of those individual women, they are around 0.2 per cent of the approximately 700,000 women who are eligible for breast screening in Scotland and are invited every three years.

The issue came to light because of the action that the previous health secretary took at the time of the announcement in England. As I said in my original answer, all the women are now being offered appointments for screening, and an IT fix is being put in place to ensure that what happened does not happen in the future.

I hope that that answer gives some comfort to the women who missed their final screening appointment and to the wider population of women who go for breast screening.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will shortly move on to a members’ business debate on a motion in the name of Liam McArthur, on Scotland’s marine energy industry. However, we will first have a short suspension to allow members to leave the chamber, members of the public to leave the public gallery, and new members of the public to arrive.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  12:49 On resuming—