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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 27, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 27 February 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, War Memorials, Exam Results 2019 (Analysis), Portfolio Question Time, Budget (Scotland) (No 4) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Exam Results (Higher Pass Rate)

1. Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Last summer, exam results showed that the higher pass rate had dropped for the fourth year in a row. At the time, John Swinney said:

“These are a strong set of results”.

Is that still the Government’s official position?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, it is. Three quarters of young people passed higher exams, and I think that that is a good performance.

As I have said previously, although exam result performance will fluctuate from year to year, it is important that the Scottish Government assesses the underlying reasons behind that, and that is what we have done. As I have also said repeatedly, although there are year-on-year fluctuations, the long-term trend in Scottish education, particularly in exam passes, is improving. Whether we are looking at passes at level 5 or performance at level 6, which is highers, we see more young people leaving school with these qualifications than was the case when this Government took office. We will continue to press ahead with those improvements.

Jackson Carlaw

After 13 tricksy years of the Scottish National Party being in power, that answer is certainly brave, especially when we consider the contents of the report that the Deputy First Minister commissioned into Scotland’s education crisis, which was slipped out under cover of darkness at the end of last week. In public, he praises supposedly strong results but, in private, he is interested in a detailed analysis of the reported reduction in the A to C rate at higher level. In other words, the Deputy First Minister was alarmed, as we all were, at the plummeting standards in Scotland’s schools.

It gets worse. The most recent drop in higher pass rates was mostly due to falls in crucial subjects such as English, maths and history. Just a few weeks ago, the First Minister asserted to me that results in those subjects were improving. I ask the First Minister again: is it still her position that the falling exam pass rates represent a strong set of results?

The First Minister

If Jackson Carlaw thinks that 8 pm on a Thursday evening is late, that says more about his work rate than it does about anything to do with the Scottish Government.

On John Swinney’s candour, I refer Jackson Carlaw to the press release that the Deputy First Minister issued on 6 August last year, which was the day on which the exam results were published. He said:

“there has been a fall in the overall pass rate.”

That is not hiding things; that is being open and transparent.

Let us get back to the core issue of the trend of improvement. Jackson Carlaw said that my answer was “brave”, but I believe that it was accurate. Let us look at the figures step by step.

In 2006-07, when this Government took office, 71.1 per cent of young people left school with a level 5 qualification. In the figures for 2018-19, which were published this week, the figure was 85.1 per cent. Let us look at higher performance. In 2006-07, the percentage of young people leaving school with a higher was 41.6 per cent. In the most recent statistics, for 2018-19, the figure was 60.5 per cent. As I have also said many times in the past, more young people are now leaving school with at least five passes at higher level.

This Government will never shy away from the improvements that need to be made. If Jackson Carlaw does not want to take my word for the improvements in and strength of Scottish education, perhaps he should pay attention to what the president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland said about “significant progress” having been made in recent years or the international experts who advise the Scottish Government saying how impressed they are by the efforts of the Government to target inequity and inequality. In the words of one of them last week, the Scottish education system is

“doing everything that we would expect a high-performing system to do.”

That is the reality, and we will continue to press forward with those improvements.

Jackson Carlaw

Well, it has taken a long time, but the First Minister has finally taken up the habit of her predecessor in regularly patting herself on the back for a performance that everybody else understands is far from the success she paints it to be. I note that she did not quote Professor Lindsay Paterson; she always chooses the selective quotes of people who will cheerlead for her argument.

Members: So do you.

Jackson Carlaw

I have not quoted anybody.

It gets worse. Just this month, Mr Swinney told Parliament that the Scottish Government had embarked on reforms that are closing the attainment gap and raising standards. However, his report states exactly the opposite. It says very clearly:

“candidates who are lower attaining are not improving at the same rate as higher attaining young people.”

Again, in public he is saying that everything is fine and the gap is closing, as the First Minister did—there is nothing to see here—when, in private, months before, his civil servants told him something categorically different. Does the First Minister really think that her Government has been open and transparent with pupils, parents and the public?

The First Minister

I do. I am not patting myself or the Deputy First Minister on the back; I am patting on the back the young people of Scotland, who are delivering improvements. I know that Jackson Carlaw wants to talk down the Scottish education system, but he should not be allowed to do so.

Jackson Carlaw talks about the attainment gap, so let us look at figures that were published on Tuesday. The gap between those from the most and least deprived communities who are in a positive destination is now at a record low—it is less than half what it used to be. The hard fact of the matter is that there are now more young people leaving school with qualifications than was the case when this Government took office. Despite the best efforts of Jackson Carlaw to berate the achievements of Scottish young people, we will continue to support them, their parents and their teachers and continue to drive forward the improvements in our classrooms.

Jackson Carlaw

Pupils, parents and teachers are not patting the First Minister on the back for her performance. The cumulative denial will no longer wash, because not only did the cabinet secretary commission a report into a problem that he said did not exist and then contradict what it said, but he refused to publish it. Finally, it was brought out on a Thursday night, when the Government knew that it could not be held to account in the chamber for yet further evidence of its failure in government. The cabinet secretary obviously hoped that no one would notice. When he finally faced the music, he had the audacity to say—with a straight face—to the media that it takes time to improve an education system.

I say to the First Minister that time is up. Her Government has had 13 long years in power—13 years of failure. How much longer does she and this dreadful Government need?

The First Minister

Annie Wells comes to mind when I look across at Jackson Carlaw—he is clearly angry that people keep voting for the SNP in elections.

It is interesting that Jackson Carlaw has not been able to argue with any of the statistics that I have given him today, because those statistics showing improvement in our education system are true. We come back to nonsense about publishing something—note that we did not refuse to publish it—at 8 o’clock in the evening. John Swinney was on the radio the first thing in the morning the day after, so perhaps Jackson Carlaw was not only in his bed at 8 o’clock on Thursday night but was not up to hear John Swinney on the radio early the next morning either.

John Swinney answered a topical question in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon, and we are in the chamber now, discussing the issue. The fact that Jackson Carlaw has to talk about the process issues shows that, on the substance, he knows that he is in the wrong. Scottish education is improving, and we will continue to push forward with the improvements. Jackson Carlaw does not like it, but it is in the interests of pupils the length and breadth of this country.


NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Out-of-hours General Practitioner Services)

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Last week, I raised with the First Minister the crisis in Scotland’s general practitioner and primary care services. This week, Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, suspended all out-of-hours GP services at five centres due to a shortage of doctors. Does the First Minister accept that she bears any responsibility or accountability for that?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The fact that I am standing here answering questions shows that I believe, as is right and proper, that I am accountable on these issues.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has announced temporary changes while it has a significant and sustained recruitment campaign. It has been made clear to the health board, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will continue to make it clear, that it has a responsibility to ensure that there are improvements and that its out-of-hours services meet the varied needs of its local population.

It is important to note that a full home visiting service is maintained across all of Greater Glasgow and Clyde and that transport is made available to those who require it. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will continue to work with the board to ensure that improvements are made to allow all the services to operate in the way in which patients expect them to.

Richard Leonard

They are neither changes or improvements; they are closures.

Only last month, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport told a national newspaper:

“There is a wee plan in place now with Greater Glasgow and Clyde to make that”

out-of-hours

“service more robust.”

This week, five out-of-hours services have closed. If that is what happens when the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has “a wee plan”, let us hope that she does not have any more.

Last week, I warned the First Minister that cuts to GP services will hit accident and emergency waiting times. Already this year, at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital in Glasgow, one in three people have waited more than four hours in the accident and emergency department. GP services are under threat, out-of-hours GP services are closing and A and E waiting times are going up. The Government talks of a whole-system approach. Is that how the First Minister defines a whole-system approach, or is it a whole-system failure?

The First Minister

A and E waiting times are improving; they remain the best in the whole of the United Kingdom and significantly better than in Wales, where Labour is in government. I come back to—[Interruption.] As I said last week, at the centre of that proposition from Richard Leonard is that the health service in Scotland would be better if Labour were in government. We have proof that that is not the case, because where Labour is in government—in Wales—the health service is performing significantly worse than it is in Scotland.

I come back to the plan, which Richard Leonard thinks is not important, that is in place for Greater Glasgow and Clyde. It includes a significant and sustained recruitment campaign for GPs and advanced nurse practitioners, service remodelling to create multidisciplinary teams, a review of GP pay rates to ensure that they are comparable with those in other boards and the introduction of an appropriate appointment system. Temporary changes have been made to allow those improvements to be implemented. In the meantime, GPs undertake home visits and a patient transport system is in place across Glasgow to take patients to out-of-hours services. Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie, who led on the national review of out-of-hours services, has agreed to provide support to the board as it improves those services. That is the kind of action that we need to see, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will hold the board firmly to account on that.

Richard Leonard

Those services are not improving; they are closing. I accept that, last week, the First Minister might have mistakenly thought that Tarbolton was in Wales, but she knows that Glasgow, Inverclyde royal hospital, Easterhouse, Gartnavel, Greenock and the Queen Elizabeth university hospital are in Scotland.

The First Minister talks a lot about financial inputs, but people are concerned about patient outcomes. It is not only in accident and emergency where the Government is not meeting its commitments or keeping its promises. This week, it was confirmed that treatment time guarantees are still being missed as well. Last year, they were missed 82,000 times; as many as one in four people were not treated in time. It is not enough for the First Minister to apologise to patients who wait too long, to families who are anxious and in distress or to NHS staff who are underresourced, undervalued and overstretched. It is time that the First Minister recognised her accountability, took responsibility and finally started meeting her NHS targets.

The First Minister

I will try to take on all the issues that Richard Leonard raised in that series of questions.

The statistics that were published this week show an improvement in treatment time guarantee performance, compared to the previous quarter. Our accident and emergency performance also improved in the past week and remains the best in the whole of the UK.

With regard to GPs, Labour is sensitive about its performance in Wales—and so it should be. However, with regard to Tarbolton, Richard Leonard should reflect on what he said last week, when he was inaccurate about the health secretary. In Tarbolton, the issue is not about closure; it is about a change of location, and the same number of GPs will serve the same number of patients. A number of initiatives are under way to make sure that we recruit more GPs and continue to deliver excellent health services across the country.

Interestingly, neither Richard Leonard nor Jackson Carlaw has mentioned today’s budget, because they are still trying to work out how they will justify voting against it when it delivers everything that they asked for. There is a record £15 billion of funding for our national health service to support the record numbers of people who work in it. Per head of population, spending in our national health service is higher than in other parts of the UK. That is the record of this Scottish National Party Government and we will continue to deliver the best national health service of any country in the UK.


Professor Sam Eljamel

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The First Minister will be well aware of the news earlier in the week that revealed that the former NHS Tayside surgeon Professor Sam Eljamel is now practising in Libya. She will also be aware of the very considerable on-going distress that that is causing to his former patients in Scotland, who have already been waiting two years to find out whether there will be a criminal prosecution following his alleged malpractice in Scotland. I know that the First Minister cannot comment on on-going police inquiries, but what can the Scottish Government do to offer some support to Professor Eljamel’s patients in Scotland, who have been so badly traumatised?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I share Liz Smith’s concern about the report that we read earlier in the week. If there is any support that the Scottish Government can give to patients of the surgeon, we are more than happy to consider it. If there are constituents of Liz Smith who want to be in touch with us, we would be happy to make that contact.

On the surgeon’s ability to practise, I of course cannot comment on on-going police investigations. However, Liz Smith will also be aware that whether a surgeon remains able to practise is a matter for the General Medical Council, and not the Scottish Government; we do not have power over that. Suffice to say, however, that I understand and share the concerns that have been raised, and certainly want to be in a position to offer whatever support we can to patients who are affected.


Hormone Replacement Therapy (Shortages)

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I have been contacted by women who are suffering due to United Kingdom-wide shortages of HRT. One woman told me just this morning that

“Stopping medication abruptly can have all kinds of negative effects ... Until there is a re-established supply it feels as though you just have to wait feeling less than yourself until it becomes resolved ... All the issues you were trying to combat sweats, mood swings etc, come back there must be woman struggling day to day possibly in silence as they feel they cannot turn to their employer.’

I will write to Matt Hancock, the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, outlining the blight that is being caused to the lives of women in my constituency, who I represent, to ask what he can do to tackle the shortage. We surely have a common cause across the UK on the matter. How can the Scottish Government assist?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I know that many women have very real concerns about shortages of HRT. As Bob Doris rightly said, the implications of that for many women can, and will, be severe. Many women will suffer very debilitating symptoms and—as Bob Doris also rightly said—many will suffer in silence. It is an unacceptable situation, which people are rightly concerned about.

The supply of medicines is, of course, reserved to the UK Government. We continue to press it to work very closely with the affected companies to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Last month, the chief pharmaceutical officer for Scotland wrote to all national health service boards, general practitioners and community pharmacists to advise them about the latest supply position and to provide advice about appropriate HRT products for patients who are affected by the supply issues.

Any disruptions in the availability of drugs, including HRT, will be concerning to those who have been prescribed them, and anybody who is affected by the disruption should discuss alternative treatment options with their doctor in the first instance.


NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (Out-of-hours Services)

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde announced the complete suspension of out-of-hours services in Inverclyde, and their effective closure at sites across Glasgow and in my constituency at the Vale of Leven hospital. That most basic of emergency services will no longer operate between 5 pm and midnight, or at weekends, forcing my constituents to travel more than 20 miles to get to an accident and emergency service. That will simply add to the waiting times at A and E, instead of treating people locally.

I say to the First Minister that temporary is 18 months to two years. The report from Sir Lewis Ritchie was five years ago. The health board has had years to sort out the problem; however, it has instead stuck its head in the sand and done nothing.

Will the First Minister instruct the health board to reverse the decision; agree that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will meet me and local campaigners, who are devastated by the action; and—while she is at it—sack the chair and chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde for gross incompetence?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Jackie Baillie will be aware that it was partly concern about out-of-hours performance that led the health secretary to elevate the board to level 4 of the monitoring regime. I am advised by the health secretary that she has asked Calum Campbell, who has been appointed by the Scottish Government as the board’s turnaround director, to meet with and speak to Jackie Baillie about the local issues in her constituency. If that contact has not yet been made, it will be made shortly.

The changes are temporary. We want the health board to prioritise improvements to the services at the Vale of Leven and Inverclyde. We see that as a priority, and we will work closely with the board as it takes forward the other improvements that it is required to make.


Dyce Clydesdale Bank Branch (Proposed Closure)

Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (Ind)

In November 2014, Clydesdale Bank trumpeted investment in and refurbishment of its branch in Dyce in my constituency, but yesterday the bank announced plans to close the branch in September of this year. That follows the closure of the village’s RBS and the significant reduction in the opening hours of the village’s TSB. Does the First Minister share my concern with the approach that is being taken, which will be detrimental to my constituents and local businesses? Although the decision is ultimately a commercial one, will the Scottish Government do what it can to raise the matter and seek to convince Virgin Money, which owns Clydesdale, to think again?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I understand those concerns. Closures of bank branches cause understandable concerns, particularly in more rural communities. We discuss the issue regularly with different banks, and we will continue to do so. I am sure that Fiona Hyslop, who is the new economy secretary, would be happy to discuss the issue further with Mark McDonald and raise it again with banks generally and with the Clydesdale Bank in particular.


Fife Integration Joint Board (Overspend)

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The Accounts Commission is seriously concerned regarding the slow progress of Fife’s integration joint board and anticipates another overspend in excess of £10 million this year. Those significant financial pressures are putting health and social care at risk. What urgent action will the Scottish Government take to ensure that the clear financial sustainability issues are addressed?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Those issues are under discussion. The health secretary has had recent discussions about the issue. The part of the local government settlement in the budget that involves social care has at its heart the need to address such issues in Fife and more generally. I am sure that the health secretary would be happy to send a progress and update report to the member in due course.


Donald Trump (Financial Transactions)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I welcome the decision to reject the Coul links development. It seems that some lessons may have been learned since Donald Trump was allowed to trash the Menie estate. However, big questions remain over Trump’s business dealings in Scotland. The purchase of the Menie estate and the Turnberry golf resort were part of Trump’s huge cash spending spree in the midst of a global financial crisis, while his son was bragging about

“money pouring in from Russia”.

The US House Of Representatives has heard testimony that states:

“we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering”.

The testimony went on to express particular concern about

“the golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.”

Is the First Minister aware that, nearly a year ago, the campaigning organisation Avaaz sent her a briefing setting out those concerns in great detail and proposing action that is within the power of the Scottish Government? That group has heard nothing back since the summer. Can the First Minister tell us what action has been taken since that report was received?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

No, I cannot do that today, but I am happy to look at the correspondence and get back to Patrick Harvie in detail. I think that most members would recognise that I am no defender of Donald Trump or of his politics or any of his other dealings. Where there are concerns about alleged criminality in Scotland—I think that I heard Patrick Harvie mention that—those would be matters for the police and the Crown Office to investigate; they would not be matters for me to investigate. I hope that members across the chamber will understand and respect the very good reasons for that.

On the specific correspondence, I will certainly check back, through my office, to see what happened after it was received and what action, if any, was taken, and I will get back to Patrick Harvie on that as quickly as possible.

Patrick Harvie

The First Minister is right that criminality in Scotland would be a matter for the law officers and prosecutors, but there are also questions for the Scottish ministers leading the Scottish Government. Under the Criminal Finances Act 2017, the Government has powers that are designed for just such a situation. Trump’s known sources of income do not explain where the money came from for those huge cash transactions. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income is insufficient.

Trump is a “politically exposed person” under that act, and there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that he or people who he is connected with have been involved in serious crime—indeed, some of them have pleaded guilty.

Scottish ministers can apply via the Court of Session for an unexplained wealth order—a tool designed for precisely such situations. We need to have confidence that the Government will show leadership and use the powers available to it. Will the First Minister seek an unexplained wealth order and make it clear that Scotland is not a country where anyone with enough money can buy whatever land and property they want, with no questions asked?

The First Minister

Scotland is certainly not, and should never be, that kind of country. Patrick Harvie is raising serious issues to which I do not want to give answers without having the full information in front of me. I undertake to come back to him after I have had a chance to look into the matter in more detail.

As I said, and Patrick Harvie accepted, issues of alleged criminality are not for me to investigate. Beyond that—I am not talking about the specifics because it would be wrong for me to do so without having properly looked at the matter—in general terms, when the Scottish Government is taking legal action of any nature, it may also be inappropriate, or certainly ill advised, for me to talk about it in the chamber in detail. If any action in any subject is a matter for legal proceedings, a lot of sensitivity and respect for due process must be attached to that.

I take the question seriously. I will look into the correspondence that Patrick Harvie referred to and come back to him as soon as possible with as full an answer as it is possible for me to give, with all the caveats that I have injected into my answer so far, which I hope he understands.


Heathrow Expansion

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

Two hours ago, the Court of Appeal ruled against the third runway at Heathrow. I asked the First Minister about her support for Heathrow last May, but she stood firm. I asked her again in January and she refused to budge. Is the First Minister glad that a court has stopped Heathrow expansion?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Willie Rennie mischaracterises my answers to him. The decision on whether there will be a third runway at Heathrow is not one for me or my Government. I pointed out to him that the last time the issue came to a vote in the House of Commons, Scottish National Party MPs did not vote in favour of it. I understand that the court has ruled this morning in the way that Willie Rennie said. I have not had the opportunity to look at the reasons behind that ruling, but I want to see all policies from both the Scottish and Westminster Governments aligning with our climate change ambitions. In Scotland’s case, that is the need to get to a net zero position by 2045. Increasingly, questions have been raised, understandably and rightly, about whether expanding Heathrow in that way would align with that climate change responsibility. I hope that that is clear to Willie Rennie. I am not sure how I can make my position any clearer. As far as the court is concerned, such matters are always for the courts.

Willie Rennie

All that waffle will not tackle climate change. The court found that the United Kingdom Government had failed to carry out an environmental assessment of its Paris climate change commitments. The Scottish Government made exactly the same mistake when it signed the memorandum of understanding on Heathrow. Our parliamentary questions found that no climate change assessment had been made by Scottish ministers. They missed 600,000 tonnes of emissions, but the First Minister told us not to worry because the Tories were taking care of the environmental side of things. That looks pretty stupid today. Will the First Minister confirm that she is finally ripping up her agreement in support of Heathrow expansion?

The First Minister

I do not know how to make it clearer to Willie Rennie that the decision on Heathrow expansion is not for the Scottish Government. It is not within our power or areas of responsibility. We said that, if it was going ahead, any economic benefit should not miss out Scotland. I hope that Willie Rennie understands that. In terms of our climate change ambitions, unlike the UK Government we include emissions from aviation in the calculation of our overall emissions. Again, Willie Rennie should be aware—I am sure that I have pointed it out in the chamber previously—that we are in the latter stages of the process of updating our climate change action plan, which will be published in April. We are looking right across Government at all our policies—

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Actions, not words!

The First Minister

I am being heckled by Mike Rumbles about action, but the climate change plan is all about actions to meet our world-leading targets. That is what the Parliament demanded that the Government do. I suggest that, instead of getting up and calling for things that are outwith the powers of the Scottish Government, Willie Rennie should put his shoulder to the wheel and look at the actions that the Government, the country and the Parliament have to take—that is exactly what my Government is doing.

The Presiding Officer

There are a lot of constituency questions to get through.


Drug Summit

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

Annemarie Ward of drug death action group, Faces & Voices of Recovery UK, said that yesterday’s drug summit

“was nothing more than a party political broadcast for the SNP”.

She went on to say:

“No one in the Scottish Government is willing to take responsibility for what’s actually under their control”.

As well as being in recovery for decades, Annemarie is also a member of the SNP. On Monday, she’s going to another funeral of a friend who died from drugs. She is asking why the Scottish Government keeps blaming Westminster when it has the powers to fund rehab beds now.

Will the First Minister put politics aside and back the cross-party calls for £15.4 million for residential rehab?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will listen carefully to all those with lived experience, including Annemarie Ward. I think her views deserve to be treated absolutely seriously, just like the views of anyone else.

However, for Annie Wells to say that about yesterday’s summit does a real disservice to all the people who contributed to the summit. That summit discussed issues that are important to people with lived experience, and there was discussion on changes in the law that are required. The task force reported on its recommendations and a range of initiatives and suggestions were raised yesterday that we hope will feed into the United Kingdom Government’s summit that is being held today.

I have two other points to make. On funding, the draft budget that was published a few weeks ago included an increase in funding of £12.7 million to reduce harm related to drugs. I can say today that the finance secretary will confirm this afternoon that we intend to go further than that: instead of an addition of £12.7 million, there will be an additional £20 million of funding from health dedicated to reducing harm from drugs. That will support the recommendations that the task force makes. We are serious about this issue and we are serious about working with anybody and everybody to tackle what is a public health emergency.

On the issue of UK Government action, we absolutely recognise our responsibility, and the range of actions that we are taking and the funding that we are dedicating to the issue shows that, but it is the case that there was a lot of consensus yesterday that law changes are also needed, including around having a safe consumption room, which is a responsibility that lies with the UK Government. I absolutely take my responsibility—I wish that we had a similar approach from the UK Government so that we could genuinely put party politics aside and work together in the interests of those who need us to do exactly that.


Islamophobia

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Presiding Officer,

“He started screaming in my face, that I should go home, that I was a terrorist. Again, he used the ‘p’ word, swearing at me, telling me I wasn’t welcome here.”

Those are the words of Linsay Taylor, a Scots-born Muslim who wears a hijab. She goes on to say:

“I don’t use public transport. I don’t walk about streets I am unaware of. It has altered my behaviour.”

The initial findings of our public inquiry into Islamophobia will shock the majority of Scots, but sadly they will not surprise Scottish Muslims. The inquiry has found that a third of Muslims say that Islamophobia is an everyday issue, 80 per cent have experienced Islamophobia and 80 per cent believe that it is getting worse. That impacts education, policing, communities, transport and employability.

Will the First Minister commit to ensuring that all relevant Scottish Government departments make themselves available to support the work of the inquiry? I know that there are lots of issues that divide people in this chamber and in the country, but the fight against all forms of prejudice and hatred is a fight that must unite us all.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will give that commitment on the part of the Scottish Government that the Government and its agencies will make themselves available to co-operate with the inquiry. As Anas Sarwar said, the findings coming out of the inquiry will shock many people, but unfortunately, they do not shock Muslims and, I am sad to say, they do not entirely shock me either, because I regularly hear from Muslim friends and constituents about the completely unacceptable and heinous abuse that they are the victims of almost daily. It is unacceptable. It shames our country and, whatever else we may disagree or divide on, we must unite to stamp it out. Bigotry, racism, prejudice, antisemitism, Islamophobia and prejudice of any shape, form or nature is completely unacceptable. That is not who we are. We must never tolerate it and we must come together to make sure that it can be eradicated once and for all.


Flooding (Economic Impact)

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

To ask the First Minister what the economic impact has been this year of flooding. (S5F-04002)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

There is no doubt that the impact of flooding can be significant. When flooding occurs communities, businesses and infrastructure suffer, with the economic impact depending on the location, source, extent and duration of the flooding. There are other significant consequences that, although not economic, are very important, including stress and anxiety for people who are affected, and travel disruption.

Managing flood risk is a priority for the Government. We invest a minimum of £42 million on flood-protection measures each year, as well as supporting the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s flood-forecasting service and the Scottish Flood Forum.

We are also aware of the threat of increased flooding that is posed by climate change, which is why we are leading the way in the transition to net zero emissions.

Stuart McMillan

Last weekend, the A8 trunk road from Langbank into Inverclyde was closed due to flooding, and there were reports of people sleeping in their vehicles overnight. That was in addition to the usual flooding that happens in my constituency. Although constituents might have been able to use a back road to get into Inverclyde, visitors to the area and drivers who were delivering goods to businesses will have struggled to reach my constituency at the weekend.

Will the First Minister support my calls for improvements to the current roads and flood-prevention infrastructure, and for a feasibility study into a bypass as a solution for improving economic opportunity and the health needs of my constituency?

The First Minister

The second strategic transport project review is now under way and is considering improvements to the transport network across Scotland, including—I can say today—the A8 in Stuart McMillan’s constituency. The review will appraise a range of potential interventions, including upgrades to the A8 through Inverclyde. That will ensure that our transport investment plans remain relevant to delivery of the outcomes of the new national transport strategy, and that they continue to be the correct decisions for the public purse.

Surface water flooding can be caused by a complex interaction of many sources of flooding. I understand that Scottish Water and Inverclyde Council are working together to consider the best way of tackling flooding issues in Inverclyde.


Playing Music (Educational Benefits)

6. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government considers to be the educational benefits of learning to play music. (S5F-03992)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Music education provides significant benefits to children and young people. It gives them opportunities to be creative and contributes greatly to their mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing. That is why expressive arts, which includes music, is one of the eight core areas of the curriculum in Scotland.

It is for local authorities to decide how to provide music education, depending on local circumstances, priorities and traditions. In taking those decisions, local authorities should consider the undoubted benefits that learning musical instruments can have on wellbeing and attainment.

Brian Whittle

I do not know how you can reconcile that answer with the fact that the Government refuses to class music tuition as being core to the curriculum. In areas where councils are now charging for music tuition—26 out of the 32 councils—uptake of music tuition has plummeted by as much as 45 per cent.

Like sport, art and drama, access to music tuition is increasingly available only to those who can afford it. First Minister, you never miss an opportunity to declare your desire to tackle inequality. Surely you must recognise that by persisting with such policies you are reducing opportunities for our children to participate and excel, and are actually driving inequality.

The Presiding Officer

I urge members not to use the term “you”. Refer to the First Minister by her title.

The First Minister

That was more polite than the Tories usually are, but I will let that go.

On a point of fact, in the broad general education pupils are entitled to music as one of the eight core areas of the curriculum. Secondly, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I have made it clear that we are concerned by moves by local authorities to limit access to musical instrument tuition. All local authorities should consider the Education and Skills Committee’s recommendation that music tuition be provided free of charge.

Of course, we will have the budget debate in Parliament this afternoon. We were already providing a fair deal for local authorities, and as a result of the deal that was announced yesterday, an additional £95 million will go to local authorities for resource spending, which should make it easier for councils that are struggling to keep music tuition free.

The Conservatives asked us specifically to put an extra £95 million into the revenue budget of local government. Given that we have done that, perhaps the question for the Tories to answer is whether they will they back the budget or vote against the money that is needed for the very things, including music education, that they stand up in the chamber and demand.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Does the First Minister recognise the positive influence that two successful bands from Kilmarnock—Biffy Clyro and Fatherson—are having on young people and elsewhere? Their example is opening up for young people the prospect of successful careers in the world of music, which is well provided for in East Ayrshire.

The First Minister

As an Ayrshire girl, I am always delighted to celebrate success from Ayrshire, including Kilmarnock.

Both the bands that Willie Coffey referenced are excellent and inspirational. They also illustrate the importance of giving young people access to music, which is why it is so important that it has the place that it has in the curriculum, and why we are providing resources for local authorities to ensure that they can provide young people with music tuition free of charge, which I think they should all do.


Budget Proposals (2030 Child Poverty Target)

7. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ statement that the draft budget proposals put the 2030 child poverty target at risk. (S5F-03998)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

First, I would say that that response came before yesterday’s announcement that an extra £95 million was going to local government.

In addition, this year, we will introduce the Scottish child payment for eligible under-sixes. Around 140,000 families will be eligible for that. The budget also commits £843 million for affordable housing, £645 million for the expansion of early learning, £182 million for tackling the poverty-related attainment gap in schools, and £3.4 billion for social security. Local government will receive additional revenue funding of £589.4 million, alongside the ability to raise the council tax. Councils now have the potential to access an additional £724.4 million, which is a real-terms increase of 5.3 per cent.

The Scottish budget will actually help us in our efforts to tackle child poverty, and I hope that, accordingly, the member and her party will back those budget proposals this afternoon.

Sarah Boyack

If the First Minister had actually looked at the demand for fair funding for our services, she would know that there will be cuts to essential services following this year’s budget.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that the budget

“falls short of the mark”

on tackling child poverty. The Poverty Alliance has called for increased investment in the Scottish welfare fund, because crisis grants are “a vital lifeline” for families—[Interruption.] I know that this is difficult for Scottish National Party members. Crisis grants are “a vital lifeline” for families who are struggling to get by.

Councils need proper funding to cope with the increased demands that COSLA made representation to the Government about. Will the First Minister listen to not just us, but other organisations, in order to wipe out child poverty across Scotland and give our young people a chance for a future?

The First Minister

Quite like the Tories, Labour asked us to put additional money into local government, and we have said that we are putting additional money into local government. It is the amount that they seemed to want, but of course now Labour is trying to justify voting against it.

I do not think that anybody who cares about tackling poverty—and tackling child poverty in particular—could in good conscience vote against the budget this afternoon, because it includes the funding for the Scottish child payment, which will in its first phase deliver extra income to 140,000 families. That is something that Richard Leonard used to ask me to do but has not mentioned since we agreed to do it, strangely enough.

The budget also includes more money for affordable housing, early learning and childcare and tackling the poverty-related attainment gap in schools, and a real-terms increase in the funding available to local government.

If Labour members vote against the budget this afternoon, they put all of that at risk, including much of what we will be investing in social security. In those circumstances, it will be they who have to explain why they are prepared to put the fight against child poverty at risk. I am sure that they do not want to be in that difficult position.

The Presiding Officer

We will return to that subject later.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In an earlier answer that was given to Richard Leonard, the First Minister stated that Tarbolton general practitioner surgery is not closing but is just moving. It is actually moving to Mossblown, which is definitely not in Tarbolton. What she said was an inaccuracy. The GP surgery in Tarbolton is closing. I want that on the record, please.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I note the point that Mr Whittle made. It is a point of clarification, rather than a point of order for me to adjudicate on. However, the point has been made.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will move on shortly to a members’ business debate in the name of Tom Arthur. There will be a short suspension to allow members, ministers and members of the public in the gallery to change seats.

12:45 Meeting suspended.  12:48 On resuming—