Meeting date: Thursday, November 21, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 21 November 2019
Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Television Licences (Over-75s), Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- Point of Order
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- Television Licences (Over-75s)
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital
This past weekend, we learned about the tragic death of another child—a three-year-old boy—at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital campus in Glasgow. That is in addition to the death of 10-year-old Milly Main. On Monday, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport was asked directly on BBC Radio Scotland whether she knew about the boy’s death and the subsequent investigation. The health secretary replied claiming that she did not know, but yesterday in Parliament she said that she did. How does the First Minister reconcile that?
Before I answer that question, I will take the opportunity to do in the chamber what I have done in media interviews over the past few days, and express my deepest condolences to the families of the children to whom Jackson Carlaw referred. It is impossible for any of us to imagine what a parent goes through when they lose a child in any circumstances. That pain is, of course, compounded when they lose a child in circumstances such as those that we are talking about.
I also take the opportunity to reiterate the health secretary’s apology of yesterday—particularly in the light of the families’ feeling that they have not had, from the health board, answers to the questions to which they want answers, and that they have not been given the information that they have been seeking.
The Scottish Government is determined that they will get answers to their questions, and a range of work is on-going to ensure that that is the case. That work involves Health Protection Scotland, the independent review that is currently under way and, of course, the public inquiry that was announced by the health secretary, the chair of which we hope will be announced before Christmas.
On the specific question that Jackson Carlaw asked me—which is on a point that the health secretary covered in the chamber yesterday—when the health secretary answered “No” on the radio, she was referring to the investigation. It was a two-part question, in which the latter part was about the investigation. There was no notification of the investigation to the Scottish Government by the board or, indeed, of the referral to the Scottish fatalities investigation unit. However, the cabinet secretary had previously been in correspondence with the family and their representative about the loss.
Let me be absolutely clear: the Scottish Government is determined that we will, on behalf of the families concerned, get to the bottom of all their questions. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to do so.
I endorse the First Minister’s opening comments. However, on the substance of the question, I think that many people will find it extraordinary that the First Minister is endeavouring to back up the current version of events.
Let me refer to the exchange from Monday’s “Good Morning Scotland”. The presenter specifically asked:
“Did you also know about the death of this three-year-old and the subsequent investigation?”
The health secretary replied: “No, I didn’t”. There was nothing else—just “No, I didn’t”. Would not every person listening understand from that exchange that the health secretary was saying that she did not know about that child’s death? Is the First Minister seriously trying to tell us that that is not the case, nor would it be a reasonable conclusion?
I say to Jackson Carlaw in all sincerity that I am sure that we have all been in situations in which we have answered a question in an interview, and have gone back to look at the text, when we thought we had answered the question honestly.
I do not want to minimise in any way the seriousness of the issues. The health secretary corresponded with the family of the child, so I simply ask Jackson Carlaw to reflect on why she would then have sought to say that she did not know about the matter. There is correspondence in existence that shows that she did.
The important thing is that the health secretary has all along acted to make sure that the right actions are being taken to ensure that the services at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital are safe, that remedial action is taken in the wards in question, and that there is full and transparent investigation of all the issues involved.
Health Protection Scotland has been involved for some time, there is an independent review under way, which we expect to report next spring, and there will be a full public inquiry. That is because we are determined that all the questions be addressed, and that families feel that they have the answers that they want and the information that they require. As First Minister, I am serious about our determination to achieve that.
Questions were asked yesterday about escalation of oversight of the board, and the health secretary set out the process that is under way to address that. There is a strong case for such escalation, and the Scottish Government’s health and social care management board will meet tomorrow to consider the matter. I expect those processes to be completed as speedily as possible.
Have we been in a position, as politicians, where we think we have been asked a different question? Yes. However, the specific question was:
“Did you also know about the death of this three-year-old and the subsequent investigation?”
I do not understand where the ambiguity lies in that question.
We know now that, in this case, the health secretary received correspondence from the family and from local MSPs in November last year advising her of the child’s death. Last week, when she was pressed on her handling of the scandal, she asked us to judge her on her actions. In that case, what actions did she take after learning last year of the tragic death of that three-year-old boy? What has been done in the 12 months since she was first told about it? There is one very specific action that could have been taken. As soon as the health secretary learned about it, should not she have demanded that a report be delivered to her desk by the end of that week? Is not that the very least that should have been done?
In my view, the health secretary took appropriate action. When correspondence of that nature is received, proper investigation and discussion with the health board take place. As we have discussed in the chamber before, and as the health secretary has set out in some detail, a range of remedial actions have been taken to address the underlying issues at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. When we reached the point at which there was no confidence that the remedial actions had been sufficiently effective, the wards in question were closed, and remain closed. Health Protection Scotland has been actively involved with the health board: actions have been taken to ensure that the issues are addressed.
People generally and—very understandably—the parents have a number of questions, which is why we have also set in train the independent review and the public inquiry. I hope that they will be up and running as soon as possible. We are determined that there will be full transparency, discussion and interrogation of all the issues, because the parents deserve nothing less. The public more generally, who rely on our national health service, in particular in respect of care and treatment of children, also deserve nothing less. As I said earlier, the Scottish Government, including the health secretary—especially the health secretary—is determined to leave no stone unturned to get the answers.
At the heart of the matter is the death of young children, but it is increasingly about trust. As more details of the scandal grudgingly emerge, the Scottish National Party Government is leaking trust by the minute. Ministers go on the radio to say that they do not know about deaths that have taken place, but it is only when MSPs bring evidence to the chamber that ministers suddenly admit that actually they did know, and give frankly ludicrous explanations for the change of position.
Last night, Charmaine Lacock, the mother of a child who has received treatment for cancer at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital said:
“We have no trust in the health board, we have no trust in any of the information coming out of the hospital and we have very little trust that she”—
the health secretary—
“is actually listening to us.”
Given that the health secretary’s story about what she did and did not know keeps changing, is not Ms Lacock right to say that?
That last characterisation of the health secretary is not the case. The health secretary is determined that the parents get the answers that they deserve and understandably have asked for.
After the health secretary met the parents, she appointed Professor Craig White to be a direct point of contact, because there was a very clear lack of trust in the information that was coming from the health board. Professor White has been tasked with ensuring that every question that comes from the parents is properly addressed. We will continue with that process. Following the initial meeting, a large number of questions were recorded and worked through in relation to getting answers to the parents.
There will, of course, be issues that we cannot address until we have the independent review’s report and the report of the investigation by the public inquiry. However, we are determined that every question that has been raised here will be answered. They will be answered for the parents concerned and for the sake of the wider public, who have a right to expect that the services that a hospital provides are safe and of high quality.
National Health Service (Use of Private Sector)
Yesterday, the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing told Parliament:
“This Government is absolutely committed to a publicly owned, operated and commissioned NHS in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2019; c 70.]
Does the First Minister agree with her minister?
The uncomfortable truth is that private firms are being brought in by this Government to carry out routine operations at the heart of our public health service. Last night, I spoke to a national health service clinician. He had contacted us to raise his concerns about a plan to contract out to a private healthcare provider knee and hip operations at Gartnavel hospital in Glasgow. He told me that the hospital’s own clinicians have been cut out of the planning of that, that the health board has presented it as a “fait accompli” and that it was “directed from Edinburgh”.
There is anger among NHS clinicians and local NHS staff who work at Gartnavel. They are concerned that they have not been involved in the setting of clinical priorities or in carrying out those procedures. However, if there are complications, they will be expected to step in. Continuity of care is critical. No wonder the clinician to whom I spoke said to me last night that he was “deeply uneasy” about this. Is the First Minister at all uneasy about this?
I will point out some facts to Richard Leonard. First, we listen to the concerns of clinicians whenever they express them and we act on those concerns. However, I will address the issue of spend on the use of the private sector in NHS Scotland. In Scotland, that spend represents right now 0.6 per cent of the front-line health budget; in England, the corresponding figure is 7.3 per cent. The independent private sector is used in Scotland at the very margins; that is fully set out transparently in our waiting times improvement plan.
It was the case, if memory serves me correctly—I am happy to stand corrected if I am wrong about this—that the independent private sector was used in NHS Scotland to a greater extent under the previous Labour Administration. Further, I heard Jeremy Corbyn and the shadow health secretary of United Kingdom Labour say that they would continue to have that kind of approach in NHS England. How do I know about the record of the previous Labour Administration in Scotland? That, of course, is because I was the health minister who nationalised Stracathro hospital, which had been earmarked for use by the independent sector by a Labour health minister in the previous Administration.
I will take no lectures from Labour on those issues, particularly after last night. Richard Leonard wants to talk about what happened in the chamber yesterday, so I point out that, last night in the chamber, Labour voted with the Conservatives against an NHS protection bill that would safeguard our NHS from trade deals with Donald Trump. Shame on Labour for that.
The First Minister said that she would use the so-called independent sector in a structured way based on clinical priorities. How can she do that without the involvement of the clinicians in the hospital where the procedures are being carried out?
That is not the only example of a private company being brought in regularly to carry out clinical procedures at Gartnavel hospital. Medinet, which is a business that is funded by venture capitalists, is also used to carry out operations there. The First Minister must take responsibility, because that is a result of failures in resource and workforce planning. It is nobody else’s legacy—it is the First Minister’s legacy. It is a legacy that has led to private not public provision.
It is a matter of record that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has been allocated £34 million of Scottish Government funds to bail out the Government’s waiting time failures. For the record, will the First Minister today tell us how much of the £34 million for the NHS is being hived off to private sector providers, their profit margins and their shareholder dividend payments?
In my answer to Richard Leonard’s previous question, I said that total spend on the use of the private sector in NHS Scotland is 0.6 per cent of the budget. If that answer is not good enough for him, here is another piece of information: in 2018-19, the most recent year of data, the number of procedures undertaken by non-NHS providers represented less than 0.3 per cent of all recorded NHS Scotland procedures.
Will I take responsibility for the fact that, in Scotland—in sharp contrast to England under the Tories and the previous Labour UK Government—less than 1 per cent of the spend goes to the private sector, and less than 0.5 per cent of procedures are done by the private sector? Yes, I will take responsibility for that, because I am committed to a publicly owned, publicly delivered health service, and Scotland now has one of those far more than when Labour was in office in Scotland or the UK. I am proud of that, and Richard Leonard still has to explain why he voted with the Tories against an NHS protection bill.
There are some constituency supplementary questions.
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (Admissions Closure)
One of my constituents recently raised the case of Sam, a 13-year-old who, tragically, has been diagnosed with leukaemia. Due to the children’s ward admissions closure at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth university hospital, Sam was transferred to Edinburgh’s Royal hospital for sick children. His parents were told that he got the last bed and that if he had not, he would have been transferred to a hospital in Aberdeen or even Newcastle.
How many children are in that situation? Are parents now having to cross the border to get urgent cancer care?
I convey my best wishes to Sam and his family.
The wards are closed at Queen Elizabeth university hospital because of the issues that Jackson Carlaw and I just spoke about. Those wards will be reopened only when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, children will be given the best care in the hospitals that they go to. Of course we want those hospitals to be as close to their homes as possible, which is why all the work that I spoke about earlier is under way to open the wards at Queen Elizabeth university hospital as quickly as possible. We will continue to take forward that work, which is led by clinicians, infection control staff and the greater Glasgow health board.
Homelessness Services (Glasgow)
The First Minister will be aware of the tragic death of a homeless man in Glasgow at the weekend. He was found dead in a car park in freezing conditions. That was reported on the day that Shelter Scotland took out a full-page advert on the front of the Herald newspaper, highlighting the deaths of 47 homeless people in Glasgow over the past year. This is a scandal that shames Scotland and shames Scotland’s largest city.
Shelter Scotland is taking court action against Glasgow City Council because it is ignoring its legal requirement to find accommodation for homeless people. As a Glasgow MSP, does the First Minister support Shelter Scotland in its action to ensure that Glasgow City Council does not ignore homeless people and leave them to sleep on the streets of Glasgow, which is a scandal?
For reasons that I know that James Kelly will understand, I will not comment on on-going legal action, but I will say that I expect all local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, to meet their legal requirements.
The Scottish Government is absolutely determined to ensure, working with local authorities, that no person has to sleep rough on the streets. We are investing heavily in improving and expanding homelessness services. That includes the provision of support for rapid rehousing and the housing first approach.
With regard to the tragic death of the individual James Kelly spoke about, although this in no way takes away from the tragedy of that death, my initial information is that that person was not homeless. However, a police investigation is under way that will require to establish the circumstances fully.
Since that incident, my officials have been in touch with stakeholders locally to look at what more we can do. We have offered to increase Glasgow City Mission’s funding so that the winter night shelter can be opened earlier. Those discussions are on-going. We have also provided funding for more outreach services.
The Scottish Government is determined to work with local authorities to tackle the issue. I make no bones about this: in Scotland or any other country, as long as one person is homeless or sleeping rough on our streets, we have more work to do to make sure that we have the services in place to ensure that that is not necessary. We will continue that work.
Concessionary Tram Fares (Edinburgh)
Does the First Minister agree with the removal of concessionary tram fares for over-60s and disabled people, which is being considered by the City of Edinburgh Council?
As far as I am aware, that is a matter for the City of Edinburgh Council. I am happy to look into it more and to correspond with the member when I have more information about it.
Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (Capacity)
Because of the ban on new admissions to the children’s cancer wards in Glasgow, it is true that there is not enough paediatric intensive care unit provision in Scotland. I know that because of one family who have let me hear about their experience. They have a very ill child who is in a hospital in England and has been there for more than a month because there is not enough safe in-patient care here in Scotland.
That is an absolute disgrace. Were the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport aware of that situation? What are they doing to increase PICU capacity here in Scotland?
With any sick child, the most important thing is that they get the best-quality clinical care. We want that to be provided close to home, which is why the health board is working so hard to get to a position in which the affected wards—not just wards 2A and 2B, but ward 6A, which was the ward that was used when those wards closed but which is currently closed to readmissions—can be reopened. Work is under way as we speak to get those wards reopened as quickly as possible, but I hope that all members would agree and accept that the clinical safety of those wards is absolutely paramount.
Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action (Budget)
Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action, a charity in my constituency and the wider north-east region, does an incredible amount of work to support the third sector. It says that the Scottish Government has frozen its budget for 10 years, and now it is facing cuts. Why is that necessary when the Scottish Government’s budget is increasing?
I wish that we were not in a position in which we had to freeze budgets, to use the member’s term. We have sought to protect funding for third sector organisations, and we will continue to do so.
However, because, over the lifetime of the Conservative Government, the resources available to the Scottish Government have been reduced as a result of Tory austerity, unfortunately difficult decisions require to be taken. Perhaps the member would like to direct at least some of his comments to his party colleagues and express his disappointment to them about the austerity that they have inflicted on Scotland over the past number of years and urge them, as I do today, to bring an end to austerity once and for all. That might be a helpful thing for a Tory member to do.
My final point, which I know that the Tories hate hearing, is that, if we had followed their advice and opted to give tax cuts to the richest in our society, as the Tories urged us to do, there would be £500 million—or, probably, more than that—less in our budget, so Aberdeenshire Voluntary Action would perhaps be facing not a freeze in its budget but something much worse, because of the Tory policies.
Hunting Wild Animals
Two years ago, the First Minister told us:
“I have always been an opponent of fox hunting and I remain so.”—[Official Report, 18 May 2017; c 19.]
We have had plenty of talk, but hunting continues in Scotland, 17 years after it was meant to have been banned. Unbelievably, the Tories now appear to have a stronger position on this issue than the Scottish National Party does, as they have dropped their opposition to the Hunting Act 2004 in England, which put in place a ban that is slightly less flawed than Scotland’s.
I have consulted on a bill that would deliver a real ban, and almost 10,000 people have responded. That shows the enormous public interest in the issue. Can the First Minister give me a clear assurance that a real fox hunting ban will be introduced by the end of this parliamentary session?
Of course, our proposals to further reform the law were set out in the chamber by the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment in January. When she did so, those proposals were welcomed by Alison Johnstone, who said that she welcomed the minister’s intention to improve the Protection of Wild Animals (Scotland) Act 2002 and looked forward to working with her to deliver what she described then and describes today as a “real ban”.
We intend to introduce legislation. As Alison Johnstone said, she has consulted on a member’s bill, and we want to fully analyse the consultation responses to that and reflect that analysis in the legislation that we introduce. All those matters will be fully considered by the Government and Parliament will be able to fully scrutinise the legislation when we publish it.
That announcement was made 11 months ago. It did not even merit a mention in the programme for government. Therefore, I am delighted to hear the First Minister’s words today. However, the SNP has been in government for 12 years, and what it is doing is at odds with what it is saying. Instead of action, we have endless reviews and delays, which have become a hallmark of this Government’s approach to wildlife protection and more. More than a year and a half ago, in this chamber, I raised the issue of the mass killing of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors. The First Minister agreed that that was unacceptable. However, more than 40,000 hares will have been killed since the First Minister pledged to take action.
The blood sports lobby will be jumping for joy at the endless delay, but the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want an end to that indiscriminate slaughter. Is the First Minister too timid to stand up to those vested interests?
No. To complete the point on fox hunting, I would have hoped that Alison Johnstone would have welcomed the fact that, in the legislation that we have made a commitment to introduce, we want to take fully into account the consultation responses to her member’s bill. We look forward to continuing to work with members across the chamber who have an interest in these matters.
On the issue of grouse moor management, of course, we established the Werritty review. We received its report on Monday, and we hope to publish it before the end of the year, and also to set out our response to it and how we will take forward its recommendations.
There is absolutely no justification for the large-scale culling of mountain hares that threatens their conservation status. Of course, Scotland has already taken action that has not yet been taken in the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, we are the only country in the UK to already have a close season for brown hares and mountain hares.
We will continue to take the right steps to protect wildlife, and will do that without fear or favour with regard to any vested interests or other interests.
I will ask the First Minister the same question that Jo Swinson answered so disgracefully this week. Would she ever be prepared to use nuclear weapons?
No, I would not. I think that, whenever that question is asked, it should be pointed out that anybody who used nuclear weapons would be doing something that would potentially lead to the death of millions or perhaps tens of millions of people. I think that nuclear weapons are immoral, ineffective and a waste of money, and I would not countenance their use. I look forward to the day when not only Scotland is free of nuclear weapons but the world is, too.
Student Accommodation (Fire Safety)
The First Minister will be well aware of the horrific fire that occurred this past weekend in student accommodation in Bolton. Students across Scotland are now deeply concerned regarding the safety of their accommodation, particularly those in the unregulated privately owned and purpose-built student accommodation sector. The National Union of Students Scotland and students across the country have called on the Scottish Government to lead on a review of the regulation of such accommodation. Will the First Minister commit her Government to that review to ensure that there is no room for complacency when it comes to the safety of our students?
Yes, I think that I can. Certainly, there is absolutely no complacency and no room for complacency. In the light of the dreadful tragedy at Grenfell, we set up a task force, and since then we have been working on many of the issues, such as cladding and regulations. Of course, the dreadful incident that happened last week is a further reminder that we cannot be complacent. If there is a feeling that a further review of regulations is needed, I am happy to give the undertaking that the Government is open to doing that.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has claimed that the Government is not responsible for poverty. Does the First Minister agree that every Government, including hers, has a responsibility and duty to end poverty? Will she outline our responsibilities and the action that the Scottish Government is taking to address poverty here in Scotland?
Yes, I think that every Government, including the Scottish Government, has a responsibility to tackle poverty. The Scottish Government takes that responsibility seriously. For example, we are spending more than £100 million a year to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory welfare cuts and taking a range of actions to get money into the pockets of the lowest paid and the poorest in our society. Most recently, we have announced plans for the Scottish child payment. We have set up the new social security system, which is putting more money into the pockets of carers and low-income families and which has dignity at its heart. Of course, Angela Constance is to be credited for a great deal of work that led to that.
On the current United Kingdom Government, the point is not just that it has a responsibility to help tackle poverty; it has a responsibility to acknowledge that it is responsible for an increase in poverty in this country because of its austerity and welfare cuts. Everybody should reflect seriously on that. I think that most people will be wondering what on earth Priti Patel was talking about when she made that ridiculous and completely outrageous comment.
NHS Lothian (Nursing Agency Use)
NHS Lothian is predicting a £90 million budget deficit, yet it is paying up to £1,700 a shift to a private nursing agency to cover staff absence. Why?
We encourage health boards to use nursing banks when they need temporary staff cover, and national health service boards indeed do that. Obviously, where there are short-term issues of staff absences or recruitment, the priority is to ensure that wards are properly staffed. However, we have a long-standing determination to ensure that we minimise the amount of money that is spent on agencies as opposed to nursing banks, and, with health boards, we will continue to prioritise that action.
As this is Scottish book week, does the First Minister agree that Scots is a living language? For example, my favourite Scots word is “boorach”, as in “Brexit boorach”. In that vein, what is her favourite Scots word?
Och, Ah can’t—I will have to get back to Christine Grahame on that, because I am scared that I will accidentally use a word that might be a bit rude. I like “boorach” as well, because it sums up a lot of what the current UK Government has been presiding over in the past wee while.
I agree with Christine Grahame on the importance of the Scots language and its living nature. I will take this opportunity to promote Scottish book week. As a book lover and a lover of reading, I think that we should all take the opportunity to encourage people, particularly young people, to read more in whatever language they choose. That is why I am so proud of the First Minister’s reading challenge, which tries to do that in schools across the country.
Carers’ Rights Day
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is recognising this year’s carers’ rights day. (S5F-03741)
Carers’ rights day is an opportunity for us to recognise the importance of carers across the country and the huge contribution that they make to our communities and our society, day in and day out. It is also an opportunity to help carers to understand their rights and access the support to which they are entitled.
Today, the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing marked carers’ rights day at the launch of the triangle of care toolkit in Glasgow. That provides a helpful framework for mental health professionals to involve carers in decisions about the care and treatment of their loved ones. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People also announced today that the next payment of the carers’ allowance supplement will be paid to Scotland’s carers before Christmas, and, through that supplement, carers in Scotland get £452 more a year than those outwith Scotland.
Each day, thousands of people across Scotland and the wider United Kingdom become carers. Few will have been able to plan for that. Whether they need to talk to health and social care providers, negotiate with their employers, or deal with the intricacies of the benefit system, it is no wonder that caring can feel overwhelming and stressful. Can the First Minister set out how her Government is supporting Scotland’s nearly 800,000 carers—including 44,000 who are under the age of 18—to feel empowered and how it is ensuring that they are treated with the dignity, fairness and respect that they deserve.
I thank Tom Arthur for raising this issue. First, I take the opportunity to thank everybody who undertakes caring responsibilities across our country. We can never repay them in full, but we have an obligation to provide them with the help and support that they need.
Alongside the action that I have already mentioned, we are focusing on embedding carers’ rights under the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, and developing a national marketing campaign to raise awareness of rights. We continue to fund and promote the carer positive employer accreditation scheme. Over 400,000 people across Scotland now work for organisations that are committed to helping staff who are juggling work and caring responsibilities. We are also consulting on our carers strategic policy statement, which maps out how those and other policies contribute to improving the way that carers are listened to and supported.
Finally, I am proud that Scotland is the first place in the UK where young carers are able to get financial support, through our young carer grant, which is a £300 annual payment for carers aged 16 to 18.
To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is supporting shipbuilding in Fife and across Scotland. (S5F-03732)
Scotland has a rich shipbuilding heritage. It is an industry that continues to demonstrate its expertise, which was recognised last week with the award of the contract for the first five type 31 frigates to Babcock, and I am delighted that that announcement will bring security to the skilled workforce at Rosyth. We look forward to working with Babcock to maximise the benefits for Scotland, for Rosyth and for our supply chain. We also continue to support shipbuilding more generally across Scotland, and will continue to do so.
The First Minister referenced the award to Babcock in Rosyth of the £1.25 billion contract to build five new frigates for the Royal Navy, securing hundreds of jobs in Fife and elsewhere in Scotland for many years to come. In addition to the two recently completed aircraft carriers, that brings the total number of British navy vessels that are being built in Scotland to 18, including 13 frigates. The whole chamber should welcome that news, but can the First Minister tell us how many frigates would there be in the navy of an independent Scotland?
The flaw in Murdo Fraser’s supposedly really clever attack is that we only have to look at many small independent countries across the world to find that they have shipbuilding industries that flourish even more than any in the UK.
Scotland, as an independent country, will support our shipbuilding industry and will do so because of the expertise here. Nobody needs to do our shipbuilding industry any favours. It wins contracts because it is the best at what it does, and that will continue to be the case—whatever Scotland’s constitutional future.
The 15-year delay in decommissioning the nuclear submarines at Rosyth dockyard has cost the taxpayer billions of pounds. What more can the Scottish Government do to free up the yard for low-carbon shipbuilding, while removing those weapons from Jo Swinson’s reach?
The first issue raised by Mark Ruskell is unfortunately not a matter for the Scottish Government, but for the UK Government and the Ministry of Defence, although we want to see Rosyth flourish. In addition to the issues that I talked about in response to Murdo Fraser, there is great potential in low-carbon work in the future.
On nuclear weapons, I have made my view clear. I want to see Faslane, for example, be a conventional naval base. I do not want to see it continue to host weapons of mass destruction, because I think that all of us should be determined to see a nuclear-free Scotland playing its full contribution in a nuclear-free world.
Does the First Minister agree that it is a bit rich for the Tories to come to this chamber and claim credit for the shipbuilding industry after the devastation that they have wrought on many shipbuilding communities across Scotland, including my own in Greenock and Inverclyde, and that it was the decisive actions of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, Derek Mackay, in saving Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow, that saved jobs and provided a future for the yard?
I could not agree more with Stuart McMillan. There are, of course, remaining challenges at Ferguson’s, but it would no longer be open right now were it not for the action that this Government has taken. Before the boundaries changed, I used to represent Govan shipyard in this Parliament—that honour now lies with Humza Yousaf—so I have seen over the years the broken Westminster promises to our shipbuilding industry, time and time again. Westminster Governments—not just Tories, but of all colours—have not treated our shipbuilding industry in the way that they should have. I look forward to a thriving shipbuilding industry in Scotland because the people who work in our shipyards are the best at what they do. They deserve to flourish.
Food Bank Use (Household Incomes)
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to reports that one in 20 households that use food banks has an unstable income due to self-employment or being on a zero-hours contract. (S5F-03736)
No one should go hungry or have to rely on food banks in Scotland. The Scottish Government is taking action to tackle insecure work as part of our fair work agenda. Through fair work first, we are extending fair work criteria to as many funding streams as we can by the end of this parliamentary session. Those criteria include no inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts and payment of the real living wage. Of course, legislation related to zero-hours contracts is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament, and we have made very clear our opposition to the inappropriate use of those and other types of employment that offer workers no job security. In the three years to June 2019, the proportion of people in employment on a zero-hours contract in Scotland fell from 3 per cent to 2.6 per cent, but we want to see further progress in the months and years to come.
We have seen a 10 per cent rise in the number of people employed on zero-hours contracts, and that is now 70,000 people. It is simply not enough to promote fair work; the Government must act on it. Public procurement is one of the opportunities that the Government has to end insecure work in Scotland. Will the First Minister act now and outlaw zero-hours contracts when she is procuring services from the public sector?
“Outlaw”, she says.
If the First Minister is really serious about tackling poverty, that is something that she can do right now.
First, let me point out, as I did in my original answer, that the proportion of people in employment on a zero-hours contract has fallen. I want to see it fall further. The fair work first approach is important and we will take that forward in relation to procurement and Government funding streams more generally. Rhoda Grant says that that is not enough and, on a point of consensus, I agree with her. I would much prefer to be in a position in which we can legislate to do what she said and ban inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts. There is one slight problem with that: legislation on employment matters is reserved to Westminster and, time and time again, Labour has opposed the devolution of employment law to this Parliament. If Rhoda Grant is signalling a change of heart on that, I am delighted. I have made this kind of offer to Richard Leonard before in the chamber: I will sign a letter to the UK Government with him this afternoon, demanding the immediate devolution of employment law and then we can get on with doing exactly what Rhoda Grant is asking us to. The offer is open.
That concludes First Minister’s question time. Before we move on to the next item of business, we will have a short suspension to allow some visitors to come into the gallery and members to change seats.12:44 Meeting suspended.
12:46 On resuming—