Meeting date: Thursday, September 21, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 21 September 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, National Eye Health Week 2017 (Diabetic Retinopathy), Urgent Question, Nuisance Calls, Edinburgh Bakers’ Widows’ Fund Bill: Preliminary Stage, Contract (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- National Eye Health Week 2017 (Diabetic Retinopathy)
- Urgent Question
- Nuisance Calls
- Edinburgh Bakers’ Widows’ Fund Bill: Preliminary Stage
- Contract (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Named Person Scheme
Yesterday, legal experts warned the Parliament that, when teachers become named persons, they will need to have lawyers “on speed dial”. With that in mind, does the First Minister have full confidence in the changes that she is making to the named person legislation?
Yes, I do. As Ruth Davidson is aware—and, indeed, as the whole Parliament is aware—the bill that is currently before Parliament to make amendments to previous legislation in light of the Supreme Court judgment, the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill, is currently at stage 1. Indeed, the comments that Ruth Davidson refers to were made, I understand, in stage 1 evidence to the Education and Skills Committee. The bill is designed to address concerns that were raised by the Supreme Court, while allowing the principles of the named person to proceed. It should be remembered that the Supreme Court found that the named person service was “unquestionably legitimate and benign”.
We will, of course, continue to listen to all the views that are expressed in Parliament as the bill proceeds. Where a case is made for amendments at later stages of the process, that will be fully considered, as Parliament would expect.
It is clear that some of the people who are going to have to implement the measures do not share the confidence of the First Minister. As we know, and as the First Minister has rightly said, the Government has had to change its plans, because its first attempt was struck down by the Supreme Court. The trouble is that we are now learning that there are significant problems with the proposed remedy, which is going to put professionals in an impossible position, pushing teachers and health workers into a legal minefield, with a need to weigh up complex legal arguments about whether sharing information is proportionate or not. As the Faculty of Advocates made clear yesterday, those workers could end up
“damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.
Does the First Minister really think that it is fair to put already overburdened teachers and health workers in that position?
As every member is aware, a range of different views will be expressed during stage 1 consideration of any bill. As is our responsibility, Government listens carefully to those views and considers them as the bill proceeds through Parliament. That is the normal way in which draft legislation is taken forward.
It is important to say a number of things on the matter. The bill provides clarity and consistency by introducing a new requirement for named person service providers to consider whether sharing information could
“promote, support or safeguard the wellbeing of the child or young person.”
This part is particularly important: the bill also provides for a binding code of practice, which will ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the sharing of information. Of course, Parliament will be fully consulted on the code of practice, as on the eventual legislation.
I appreciate that Ruth Davidson is referring to comments that were made during stage 1 consideration. We listened carefully to all those comments. It is worth also looking at some of the comments that were made earlier when the Education and Skills Committee made a call for evidence. The General Medical Council in Scotland said:
“We warmly welcome the proposed move away from creating a mandatory duty to share information”.
The Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland said:
“We welcome the amended wording of the Bill”.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council said:
“We can currently see no conflict between the draft legislation proposed and our own regulatory approaches”.
The Law Society of Scotland said:
“The move from a duty to share to a power to share information”
is helpful. Those are just some of the comments that were made.
We can all quote, backwards and forwards, comments about the bill, but the Scottish Parliament has an established legislative process and the role of the committee at stage 1 is to listen to those comments. Then, the committee will publish a stage 1 report and the Government will consider that fully and whether any amendments are justified at a later stage of the bill. That is the normal process. It is the one that will be followed here and I encourage all members to take part in it.
I hear the First Minister’s points, and I have the submissions to the committee here. However, even those who are in favour of the scheme are warning about how it will be done. The Royal College of Nursing, which supports the principle of the scheme, has made it clear that it does not support it going ahead without the right resources being in place and worries that the whole plan could be reduced to “a tick-box exercise”.
We have a scheme that has already been barred by the Supreme Court and now we have a replacement plan that even supporters think is deeply flawed. Again I have to ask, does the First Minister think that it looks like being a success?
First, I will correct what Ruth Davidson said about the Supreme Court judgment, which was specifically about the information-sharing provisions and did not say that the whole scheme was illegal. In fact, a moment ago, I quoted the Supreme Court’s comments about the named person scheme overall.
Secondly, Ruth Davidson mentioned resources. Obviously those are extremely important and an additional £1.2 million is being provided to support training and development relating to the changes to information sharing—that is just one example of the resource issue.
I come back to my central point—and I suppose that I want to make it to any stakeholders who might be listening as well as to Ruth Davidson and the chamber: the reason why we have a legislative process that involves in-depth stage 1 consideration by a committee is to allow stakeholders to put forward their points of view and to argue for any changes that they think are necessary. At the end of that part of the process, the Government will give those arguments due consideration. That is the proper process and every member in the chamber has now been through the legislative process on at least one or more bills.
Changes are made to bills regularly and that is the process we require to go through. I encourage everybody to continue to contribute to the process. At the end of it, we intend to have rectified the issues highlighted by the Supreme Court and to have in place a system that has, as its central purpose—and let none of us ever lose sight of it—the greater protection of vulnerable children, which is surely one of the most important responsibilities of us all.
I am not sure how reassured stakeholders will be by that answer. It has been clear to Conservatives for years that the named person scheme, as designed, simply will not work. However, the Scottish Government is still ploughing ahead with it.
After five years of debating the issue back and forwards, here is where we are at: a second attempt at legislation that even its supporters say is flawed; that legal experts say is confused; and that teachers and health workers warn will be an enormous burden for them.
I ask the First Minister, in all good faith, can we not just start again with a blank sheet of paper? Everyone in the chamber wants to protect vulnerable children, but we need to do it within the law.
I am glad that, eventually and after all her questions, Ruth Davidson managed to mention vulnerable children, because they are at the centre of all this.
I will try to deal with this respectfully. We have a difference of opinion between the Scottish National Party and the Conservatives. The Conservatives disagree with the named person scheme in principle. I do not go along with that but I respect their right to do so. However, the Supreme Court did not uphold the view of the Scottish Conservatives that the named persons scheme was illegal; it pointed to what it saw as problems and flaws with the information-sharing provisions. The bill is about rectifying those flaws.
We are at the start of a legislative process in which stakeholders make their views known and we consider them. That is the process that we should engage in.
Of course we can continue to debate the rights and wrongs of the scheme. But Ruth Davidson should not try to give the impression that the Supreme Court said that the whole scheme was illegal, because it did not do that. I think that she knows that.
We will proceed to make sure that all of the provisions are, as Ruth Davidson says, clearly within the law. As we do that, we will consider all the views that are raised.
We will also go forward with the central purpose firmly in mind: that this is about the greater protection of vulnerable children. That is the most important part of the whole debate.
Today, 40,000 more children are in poverty in Scotland than were in poverty a year ago. The Scottish Government is introducing legislation to set targets to reduce child poverty. What actions will it take? What will the First Minister do to tackle the unacceptable levels of child poverty?
Alex Rowley asks me—fairly—about actions that we are taking, so I will set out some of them. First, we have the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which, if it is passed by the Parliament, will make us the only Administration in the whole United Kingdom to have binding statutory targets on child poverty.
We have just established the poverty and inequality commission, which will build on the work done by the independent poverty adviser to make sure that the Government is advised and challenged on the actions that we need to take to tackle child poverty.
We have also outlined steps to introduce a new best start grant, by using one of the Parliament’s new powers, to direct additional support to families on low incomes with children in order to give practical help. Just this week, we announced additional support for young carers—a segment of the population of children who can be living in poverty. Those examples are in addition to extending entitlement to free school meals and our plans to double the provision of free childcare, which will be of huge assistance to families overall and particularly to families who are in poverty.
Those are some of the things that we are doing, and we will continue to discuss with the commission and with members across the chamber what additional action we can take.
I welcomed the setting up of the commission and I hope that it will be an independent and statutory body. I also welcomed the bill. However, the truth is that, although we can have all the targets that we like, without additional resources, we are unlikely to see them as more than wishful thinking.
The plain fact is that the First Minister plans to spend almost 20 times more on a tax cut for frequent flyers than she does on tackling child poverty. The Scottish National Party’s plans to have an air departure tax would cost £180 million every single year; the First Minister’s programme for government proposes only £10 million a year to tackle child poverty. That is simply not good enough. If the First Minister is serious about tackling the unacceptable levels of child poverty in our country, will she drop the tax cut to the airlines and use the Parliament’s tax powers to tackle child poverty?
We will bring forward our budget proposals later this year, when Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise them. I have made it clear, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution made it clear again in Parliament yesterday, that as part of that, we think that it is time for a grown-up, adult debate about how we progressively and fairly use our tax powers to guard against further Tory austerity, to protect public services and to help to lift people, including children, out of poverty.
I say in all seriousness that Alex Rowley’s characterisation of our spending plans is a misrepresentation. In the programme for government, I announced that we would set up an additional fund to target innovative approaches to tackling child poverty. Alex Rowley did not mention the hundreds of millions of pounds that we spend on mitigating the effect of welfare cuts, extending childcare provision and making sure that the poorest children have access to free school meals. There is also the money that we will make available for the new best start grant, as well as the £3 billion that we are investing to increase the supply of affordable housing, which is hugely important to those who live in poverty.
Those are the many actions that we are taking, and they are backed by resources. The poverty and inequality commission’s role will be to make suggestions and to challenge us to go further, where we can. We look forward to taking part in those debates inside and outside the Parliament.
The issue is serious. The levels of child poverty in Scotland are unacceptable, and I say to the First Minister with all sincerity that, if every child in Scotland is to get a fair and equal chance to succeed, she will have to address the crisis that is engulfing so many of our public services.
It is the poorest who are coming off worst because of the lack of suitable housing; the unacceptable class sizes and lack of resources for teaching and learning; the many shortfalls in our national health service; and the failure to fund local services in every community up and down Scotland. Every single time the Scottish National Party has to make a tax decision, it sides with the millionaires rather than with the millions. [Interruption.]
It is another party for the few, not the many. Will the First Minister finally accept that, to help the poorest in this country, she has to be prepared to look at taxing the richest in this country?
It was really unfair of Alex Rowley to personalise the debate by bringing Anas Sarwar into it. The problem, as Anas Sarwar clearly illustrates, is that there is a massive gulf—a gulf as wide as the Clyde—between what Labour says and what it does. We have a Labour leadership candidate who lectures others about doing the right thing on pay, yet his own family firm will not pay the living wage voluntarily. Labour should get its own house in order.
To go back to Alex Rowley, he mentioned a number of policy areas, which I will take one by one. On housing, the Government is building social housing at a faster rate than any other part of the UK, and we are investing £3 billion in delivering 50,000 extra affordable homes.
On education, £120 million extra is going into the hands of headteachers to help to close the attainment gap, and we are funding free school meals and extended childcare. Moreover, an extra £3 billion is going to the national health service under this Government.
Finally, last year, we put forward a budget that increased the resources that are available to local services, but the only councils across the country that decided not to take the opportunity of bringing in more revenue through the council tax were—guess what?—Labour councils. Again, Labour really needs to close the gulf between what it says and lectures others on and what it actually does.
We will try to refrain from personal attacks in the chamber. It is only fair.
We have a number of constituency supplementaries, and we will try to squeeze them in. A lot of members want to get in.
One of Scotland’s first major urban community buy-out applications—for the sick kids hospital site in Edinburgh—has been gazumped, because the national health service sold the site last week to a developer. The community found out then that it was unsuccessful, although it notified ministers of its interest way back in April. Given that ministers knew of the community interest, why was the NHS allowed to sell off the site?
If the Scottish Government is serious about urban community empowerment, what more will it do to actively support communities in their applications? The process is hugely bureaucratic and complicated, and more support is required for community applications.
I understand the strength of local feeling about such issues, but it is important to stress that, at all stages in the process, NHS Lothian complied with the requirements of the law. At all stages in the community right-to-buy process, the community land team processed the applications in line with the legislation. The community land team in the Scottish Government was not aware when processing the applications that the site had already been sold by NHS Lothian.
However, it is also important to say that NHS Lothian will reinvest the proceeds from the sale of the sick kids hospital in healthcare services, which will benefit people across Lothian. I understand that the health board is likely to use the proceeds to upgrade oncology services at the Western general hospital, which will benefit people not just in Lothian but across the wider area.
I understand the strength of feeling on the issues, which is why we passed the legislation to support the community right to buy. It is important that all applications are taken forward in line with the legal provisions.
Vale of Leven Hospital (General Practitioner Out-of-hours Service)
There are 100 people, complete with placards and a piper, in the gallery today who have come to Parliament to protest about proposals to cut their GP out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven hospital. The service has been closed many times, most recently on Sunday, when local patients were turned away and had to travel to Paisley for the nearest service. That is simply unacceptable, and local clinicians have said that removing that basic service from the Vale of Leven hospital represents an unacceptable clinical risk for patients. The chair of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde board said:
“We need to stick to the agreed lines which confirm that we are committed to a service, without saying what that will be and where it will be delivered from.”
That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the service. Will the First Minister reject the weasel words of the chair and give an assurance to my constituents that the full GP out-of-hours service will remain at the Vale of Leven? Yes or no?
First, I take the opportunity to welcome the campaigners to the gallery. I am not sure how the Presiding Officer will respond if they start to play the bagpipes in the gallery, but I am sure that they will play them outside. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is going out to meet the campaigners later this afternoon.
I understand that there was a meeting between the chair and chief executive of the board of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the hospitalwatch campaign on 31 August. The chair of hospitalwatch, Jim Moohan, said after that meeting:
“We discussed a number of issues and found the meeting to be constructive with a spirit and intention to acknowledge the community’s fears with the aim that the model for the future secures their trust and confidence going forward.”
That is how I would expect those discussions to be taken forward. I would say again, though, that it was this Government that took the action that ended the decade of damaging uncertainty under the previous Labour Administration when it approved the “Vision for the Vale of Leven Hospital” document. We have been consistently clear that we back the Vale of Leven hospital, and the health board has been consistently clear on that, too.
To illustrate that backing, let me give a few statistics. Vale of Leven day cases have increased by 7 per cent in the past year, there are more than 300 outpatient clinics every month across 20 or more specialties and emergency attendances have increased at the Vale’s minor injuries unit by nearly 10 per cent. Those are the actions that show our commitment to the Vale. Of course, Jackie Baillie was a minister in the previous Administration that closed the Vale of Leven hospital accident and emergency department.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
Ms Baillie, there are no points of order during First Minister’s questions. If you still wish to make a point of order, you may make it at the end of First Minister’s questions.
Free Personal Care (North Ayrshire)
I am currently assisting a number of constituents in North Ayrshire who are on a lengthy waiting list for funding approval for social care packages and residential care placements. Due to budgetary constraints and pressures on the local health and social care partnership, there is a lack of funding and provision of care is extremely limited. Will the First Minister confirm whether free personal care is still a legal entitlement in Scotland? Which other councils are, to her knowledge, failing to deliver it?
I understand that Government officials have already met the health and social care partnership in North Ayrshire. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is also going to meet the partnership and would be happy to correspond with Jamie Greene after that.
It is the obligation of all the health and social care partnerships throughout the country to deliver the social care services that people have a right to depend on. It is worth pointing out that the overall expenditure on adult social care services per head of population has increased in recent years by 13 per cent in real terms, after inflation.
We will continue to take decisions to support social care services. A couple of weeks ago, we announced that we will introduce Frank’s law so that people throughout the country who rely on such services get them in a timely fashion.
Climate Change (Government Actions)
When the Paris climate change agreement was reached, the Scottish Government said that its new bill on climate change would reflect the increased scale of ambition that the agreement requires, yet its proposals for that bill represent a slower pace of emissions cuts than Scotland has been achieving for the past 10 years. Why is the Government consulting on a slowdown of climate action when an acceleration and increased ambition are urgently needed?
I do not think that anybody would say—actually, that would undoubtedly not be true, because there will be many who would say it. I do not think that anybody could fairly say that the Government has not been and is not continuing to be a world leader when it comes to tackling climate change.
Some of my answer will be similar to the answers that I gave to Ruth Davidson. We are consulting, and we will listen to the views that are expressed in that consultation before we make final decisions. A large number of people have taken the opportunity to contact the Scottish Government, asking us to go further in our commitments, and we will give proper consideration to that.
Across a range of areas, we are making progress in tackling climate change. The programme for government that I outlined two weeks ago sets out where we will make further and even faster progress. That is, no doubt, why some environmental campaigners described that programme for government as
“the greenest programme for government in the history of”
There has been significant action in the past, but that is worth celebrating only if it is used as an inspiration to go further and faster, and not when it used as an excuse to slow down. Other countries in Europe, including Norway and Sweden, have already set net zero goals for carbon emissions. Our contribution to climate change would be significantly reduced if we were to do the same.
Scotland will reach net zero emissions by 2040 even if we continue to reduce emissions at the rate at which we have been reducing them for the past 10 years. Is that not the goal that we should set ourselves, if the First Minister is serious about making faster progress?
We are consulting on the targets, which is the right and proper thing to do, and our final decisions will be based on the views that are expressed in that consultation. Many environmental campaigners and people who want to encourage us to go further faster have made known their views, and I very much welcome that.
I reassure not just Patrick Harvie but everybody that there is no intention on the part of the Government to slow down when it comes to meeting our climate change obligations. Anybody who listened to my statement or who has read the programme for government will know that. We have a moral responsibility to lead on tackling climate change, and that is what we will continue to do. Whether it is in our commitments to renewable energy, our commitments to and achievements in decarbonising electricity, or our new commitments, such as to electric vehicles, for example, we are serious about it and will continue to ensure that the action that we take is genuinely world leading.
Income Tax (Education Funding)
Yesterday, the mask of Ruth Davidson’s Conservative Party slipped. The Conservatives said that taxing is “pickpocketing”—a phrase that comes straight from Norman Tebbit’s handbook. Pickpockets do not invest in schools and hospitals to educate children and save people’s lives; responsible Governments do. That is why Parliament rejected that right-wing agenda yesterday. Now that Parliament has endorsed the principle of raising tax, will the First Minister reconsider her opposition to my plan to put a modest penny on income tax for education?
I have to say, to be absolutely fair and accurate, that Ruth Davidson’s mask slipped long before yesterday. Yesterday simply put that beyond any doubt.
Willie Rennie has raised an important point—one that I have raised previously in the chamber. Each and every day, the Conservatives call for additional spending. We heard calls for Frank’s law, which the Government is delighted to be taking forward. However, we also get calls for more spending while they want us to cut taxes for the richest people in our society—at the same time as the United Kingdom Tory Government has been cutting Scotland’s budget, over the decade, to the tune of £3 billion in real terms. The Tories’ hypocrisy on these issues knows no bounds.
On Willie Rennie’s substantive issue—I am glad that he has raised it—we will, as Governments do, bring forward our tax proposals when we publish our draft budget. We have said that we will encourage an open and grown-up debate—that will clearly exclude some people in this chamber—on how we will properly, progressively and fairly use our tax powers. I have made it fairly clear that it is time to have that debate, given the years of austerity that we have had, the continued austerity that we face and the economic implications of Brexit. I hope, as certainly seemed to be the case from his contribution yesterday in the chamber, that Willie Rennie and his party will be part of that grown-up debate. Let us have that debate over the next few weeks, and then let us come forward—as the Government will—with proposals on tax that Parliament can scrutinise and decide on. That is the right way to do things.
The First Minister says that education is her number 1 priority, but we have heard that thousands may leave teaching, we know that Scottish education has slipped down the international rankings and we have seen 150,000 places cut from colleges.
Liberal Democrats are committed to expanding nursery education and we know that investing in skills and education is important for economic growth. The First Minister always complains that Westminster has cut her budget, so the case for investment in education is tremendously strong. If she cannot agree that education is the number 1 investment priority, what will her priority be?
Willie Rennie should perhaps listen to what I am saying. First, we must have a debate, as a Parliament, about whether we want to use tax powers more extensively than we have in the past. We should then have a debate, as a Parliament, about how we want to invest those resources. There is no doubt that the debate—there is also no doubt that austerity has led us to have the debate—is about protecting public services, including education and the health service, and making sure that our public sector workers are properly and fairly rewarded.
On education, I obviously take issue with much of what Willie Rennie said in his preamble. We are not just extending but are doubling childcare for our youngest children. This year, we are investing £120 million more in our schools, we have maintained full-time equivalent places in our colleges and we are protecting the right of young people to go to university without having to pay tuition fees. Those policies underline the Government’s commitment to education.
Over the next few weeks, let us try to do something as a Parliament—let us have that proper grown-up debate. We all have our manifesto commitments, but I am frequently told by Willie Rennie and others that the Government needs others’ support to get a budget through Parliament, so I go into the discussions with an open mind and with the interests of our public services and workers, of businesses and of the economy firmly at heart. Let us have that debate; let us come to a grown-up decision as a Parliament.
The First Minister will have seen the shocking scenes in Catalonia, where armed police have raided offices and seized ballot papers in an attempt to stop the Catalan people voting on their future. What is Scottish Government’s view of those appalling events?
Most people would agree that the situation in Catalonia is of concern. I hope that there will be dialogue between the Catalan Government and the Spanish Government to try to resolve the situation. That must be preferable to the sight of police officers seizing ballot papers and entering newspaper offices. It is, of course, entirely legitimate for Spain to oppose independence for Catalonia, but it is a concern if any state seeks to deny people’s right to democratically express their will. The right of self-determination is an important international principle, and I very much hope that it will be respected in Catalonia and everywhere else.
The Edinburgh agreement is a shining example of two Governments with diametrically opposed views on independence nevertheless coming together to agree a process that allowed the people to decide. It offers a template that could be used by others elsewhere in the world.
The press reports that the United Kingdom Government has stripped the Scottish Government of responsibility for the roll-out of broadband due to its failure to deliver. What implications does that have for the roll-out of the R100 programme?
It has no implications because it is complete and utter nonsense to suggest that that is the case. We are making good progress with the superfast broadband programme just now, which is about getting superfast broadband to 95 per cent of premises across Scotland. Our additional commitment—let us be very clear about this—goes way beyond the commitment of the UK Government. Our additional commitment is to get superfast broadband—not 10 megabits per second, as the UK Government is proposing, but superfast broadband—to 100 per cent of premises across the country.
If the UK Government was a bit clearer about how it intends to deliver its commitment, that would certainly be helpful to us in progressing to deliver our commitment. However, that commitment is there; it is a commitment that we are absolutely determined to deliver and we are making good progress towards it. Later this year, we are due to go out to procurement for the next stage of that work.
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the reported comments of the Secretary of State for Scotland that the United Kingdom Government does not plan to devolve all powers returning from the European Union following Brexit. (S5F-01556)
David Mundell’s comments confirm what not just the Scottish Government but the Welsh Government have been saying for months, which is that, far from the powers “bonanza” that the secretary of state has promised, the UK Government seems intent on undermining the founding principles of devolution. The UK Government should not be allowed to use Brexit as cover to take powers in areas that are clearly devolved, such as agriculture, fisheries, justice and the environment. We have made it clear that we are not opposed in principle to UK-wide arrangements where they are necessary and appropriate, but those arrangements must be by agreement, not by imposition.
Does the First Minister agree with the comments from stakeholders such as Friends of the Earth Scotland that
“Any plan to move control of these areas to Westminster after Brexit is alarming”?
What clarification has the UK Government provided over the 111 devolved policy areas that could be controlled by the UK Government if the EU withdrawal bill is not amended? I was somewhat gobsmacked to see at number 78 on the list “Onshore hydrocarbons licensing”—in other words, fracking—which was one of the core powers recommended for further devolution by the Smith commission. Is that acceptable?
No, it is not acceptable. First, I share the concern expressed that Friends of the Earth Scotland has expressed. Devolution has allowed for distinctive and ambitious Scottish approaches to environmental standards, to climate change—which we have just been discussing—and to food quality, fisheries, farming support, and many other areas. Any threat to that is completely unacceptable.
The list of 111 areas that are brought into play by the withdrawal bill was drawn up not by the Scottish Government but by the UK Government. There are many areas in the list that I think illustrate to people why the Scottish Government is so exercised by this. Although it might suit the Conservatives to suggest that it is somehow just the Scottish National Party that is expressing concern over this, we have the Welsh Labour Government saying exactly the same thing and we have a range of constitutional and legal experts saying that this represents the power grab that we have described.
On Tuesday of this week, the Scottish and Welsh Governments put forward a set of amendments that would prevent that power grab. I hope that the UK Government responds positively to those amendments so that we can get the bill into a state where the Scottish Government can recommend legislative consent. However, let me repeat—if the bill stays in the state that it is in just now, there is no way that I or this Government will recommend to the Parliament that it approves the bill.
Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Rail Service (Electrification)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk rail service is subject to further delay. (S5F-01544)
The delay is regrettable. It is the result of two issues: the first is that Network Rail is behind schedule on the energisation of the route, which commenced on 2 September and is scheduled to conclude in October. That will allow the introduction of electric trains, using existing rolling stock, from December this year. The second issue is a slippage by Hitachi in the rolling-stock manufacturing programme. The Minister for Transport and the Islands has written to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to update it on the issues, and I am due to meet Hitachi on 4 October to discuss the matter further.
The project is delayed by at least a year, and we still do not have a completion date. Last year, Phil Verster, from ScotRail, admitted management failure in the planning and delivery of the new line. We are told that there is a new delay because ScotRail could not test the new trains. Commuter patience is wearing thin. Can the First Minister give a personal guarantee that there will be no further delays after December?
Of course, Network Rail is not accountable directly to this Parliament. Frankly, that is one of the problems. Perhaps we could find some consensus across the Parliament on making the change to make Network Rail directly accountable to this Government and this Parliament in future.
Let me focus on the issues that affect passengers because, as members can probably tell, I am deeply unhappy about the further delay. I talked about Network Rail’s delay in the energisation of the line, and I am sure that all members agree that it is vital that the line is dealt with properly and trains are properly tested. However, a large part of the latest delay is down to the slippage in the manufacturing programme of Hitachi. I want to discuss that fully with Hitachi in our meeting early next month, and I will be happy to report back to the Parliament after that meeting.
The Scottish Government will do everything in our power to ensure that there are no further delays and that passengers get the full benefits of the improved service as quickly as possible.
The First Minister might be aware that another effect of the delay is that a shortage of diesel carriages is affecting rail lines other than the Edinburgh to Glasgow line. For example, on the East Kilbride line—a main commuter line—there are consistently too few carriages, so carriages are overcrowded.
I am told that when the electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow line is complete, the problem will be solved. Will the First Minister, in discussions about the delay, please bear in mind the effect on other commuter rail lines and ensure that such concerns are always brought to the attention of the people who make the decision about the number of carriages on lines?
Linda Fabiani is absolutely correct in her understanding and I assure her that the impact on other lines will feature in all the discussions that we have on the issue. The provision of additional coaches on other services, including the East Kilbride service, depends on the introduction of new rolling stock elsewhere in the ScotRail business. ScotRail is working to understand and manage the impact of phased introduction of the new electric trains on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route in the coming months.
As a final point, it is important to stress that £475 million is being invested in the ScotRail fleet during this franchise, which will deliver 180 more carriages in the next two years—a 50 per cent increase since 2007.
Parents of Premature Babies (Financial Support)
To ask the First Minister what financial support the Scottish Government offers to parents of premature babies whose child is in hospital. (S5F-01542)
I expect that I speak for the whole chamber when I say that I am delighted that Mark Griffin and his wife have now been able to take their baby daughter home from hospital. I am sure that we all wish him, his wife and their little baby the very best. [Applause.]
Health boards offer a range of support for parents who need additional support while their babies are in care, but the support that is available varies from board to board. Following a review of maternity and neonatal services, we are working with the neonatal managed clinical networks to take forward a review of the support that is available, to ensure that consistent support is in place. I assure Mark Griffin that we will fully consider his proposal for a low-income-family fund as part of that work.
I thank the First Minister for that answer and thank members across the chamber for the support that my wife and I have had.
In March, my wife and I were told that our unborn daughter would die due to very premature labour. Six months on, baby Rosa, who was not given a chance, is now doing well at home. The months that we spent with Rosa in hospital were the most stressful time that we have ever gone through, and we are not alone in that. However, other families do not have an MSP’s salary to cover the costs associated with a hospital stay—the transport, accommodation, food and childcare that, on average, cost £200 a week. Mothers we spoke to, who were already struggling to cope with the stress of having a very premature and sick baby and who had to leave their baby in hospital every night, were also worrying about how they would pay for a taxi to get to hospital the next day. Sometimes they just could not do so. Those mothers had to be there to provide the life-saving breast milk that their premature baby needed because their stomach would not tolerate formula.
Will the First Minister, as a matter of urgency, look at how we can give financial support to low-income parents of premature babies in hospital so that the costs of visiting do not prevent one more mum from being with their baby?
The short but perhaps most helpful answer to Mark Griffin’s question is yes, we will do that work and we are happy to work with him. I am hugely sympathetic to the very powerful case that he has just set out.
The review of maternity and neonatal services that I mentioned recognised that point and recommended that a review be carried out of
“the approach to expenses for families of babies in neonatal care ... to develop a nationally agreed policy.”
That is one of the key parts of the plan.
A range of support is available to families, but it is not as consistent or necessarily as reliable as it needs to be. There needs to be a situation in which it does not matter what part of the country a family is in and in which, if parents are in the position that Mark Griffin outlined, there is the basic support necessary to allow them to care for their child.
We will take forward that work. Given Mark Griffin’s personal experience, it would be very useful, for obvious reasons, to have his input into that. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to make contact with him to further that discussion.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am afraid that the First Minister is not very good at history. She credited me with being a minister at the time of the cuts to the Vale of Leven hospital. That is simply not true. I wrote to Shona Robison on 29 June about exactly that point, and she has failed to reply. I invite the First Minister to retract a statement that she knows deliberately promotes a falsehood. Rather than using information as a smokescreen, the First Minister would better respect my constituents by answering the question about the future of out-of-hours services at the Vale of Leven hospital, which she patently failed to do.
I thank Ms Baillie for waiting until the end of First Minister’s question time for her point of order. She has made a helpful clarification of her ministerial status—or lack of it—at the time, which I am sure the Government will reflect on.