Meeting date: Thursday, September 27, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 27 September 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Paternity Leave and Tackling Inequality, St John’s Hospital (Paediatric Services), Veterans and the Armed Forces Community (Support), Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Paternity Leave and Tackling Inequality
- St John’s Hospital (Paediatric Services)
- Veterans and the Armed Forces Community (Support)
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Harold Laing is 72 and he lives in Perth. This week, he went to his general practitioner and was told that the enhanced flu vaccination that has been recommended for use this winter by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is not available to him. He has taken matters into his own hands by going to his local chemist to purchase it. Mr Laing asked us, “If Boots can get enough supplies, why can’t NHS Scotland?” Can the First Minister answer him?
As I am sure Ruth Davidson is aware, the new adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine is manufactured by one supplier, which had to significantly ramp up production for the whole of the United Kingdom very quickly. That is why it was unable to guarantee sufficient supplies for everyone over the age of 65 in time for the start of this year’s vaccination programme. That does not just affect Scotland; it is an issue right across the UK.
We are advised on vaccination policy by the independent expert Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, whose recommendation led to this situation. However, I stress that the vaccine that is being offered to 65 to 74-year-olds this winter still provides full flu protection. That is an important point of assurance to make for all people across the country.
The vaccination campaign for this flu season will get under way on 1 October, and that will offer free flu vaccinations to more than 2 million people across the country.
The First Minister has just repeated the explanation of events that we heard from the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing on Tuesday, when he claimed that it has not been possible to buy enough of the new enhanced aTIV in time, so it is not possible to offer people such as Mr Laing a guarantee.
As the First Minister knows, following last year’s winter flu outbreak, this is an issue of enormous concern for people, especially elderly people and people who have chronic conditions. However, we are being told that only people who are over the age of 75 will get the recommended new vaccine. That means that 0.5 million Scots aged between 65 and 75 will not. Is the First Minister personally satisfied with that?
The reason the vaccine is going to the over-75s is that the recommendation and advice say that that is the group that the additional vaccine is clinically appropriate for. For that group of people, the expert advice says that the vaccine that was being used previously might not offer the protection that we want it to offer. That is why we have prioritised the over-75s.
However, I will repeat it again because this is an important point to reassure the public. The vaccine that is being offered to 65 to 74-year-olds this winter provides flu protection. People who have underlying health conditions, pregnant women and healthcare workers will also be offered a new vaccine that provides protection against four different strains of flu. We already offer a vaccine to all primary school children, unlike in England, so they also benefit from additional herd immunity. That vaccine contains an additional flu B strain that is more likely to affect the working-age population, and provides these groups with further protection against flu during this winter.
The supply issues have come up because of the change in the advice that came from the JCVI and they do not just affect Scotland; they affect other parts of the UK. An article that appeared last week in the GP magazine Pulse reported on concerns in England about shortages of flu vaccines for GP practices. We will take all appropriate steps to make sure that people across Scotland have the protection from flu that they need.
It is incumbent on us all in the chamber to encourage all those who are eligible for the vaccine to take up the offer so that we can combat flu as much as possible.
The reason that it matters is that there has been a dramatic rise in flu deaths in this country, from 71 two years ago to more than 300 last year. The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing said on Tuesday—the First Minister just repeated it—that the reason for the shortage of the new vaccine this year is because the manufacturer
“was unable to guarantee NHS Scotland sufficient supply”.—[Official Report, 25 September 2018; c 9.]
It is true that concerns about provision have been aired. However, just last week, the manufacturer of the new drug confirmed the sufficient supply of flu vaccine for this season, and it stated that the only customers who were missing out were those who ordered late. Why are 0.5 million Scottish pensioners being told that they cannot have the vaccine?
Ruth Davidson is mischaracterising the position. She keeps saying that I am repeating what the public health minister said, but I am repeating that because it is the accurate information. As Ruth Davidson and all members know, I was health secretary for a period of five years, and we follow a well-tried and well-established process for procuring the flu vaccine. Unlike in England, we procure the flu vaccine nationally; in England, different GP practices are left to do that on their own. As I have said, concerns have been expressed there, too.
I will repeat the information, because it is important. The group for which the advice says the protection from the additional vaccine would be greatest is the over-75s, which is the group that is being prioritised. Other groups get flu protection from the vaccine that will be available for them.
There is a need for all of us to be responsible in the public messaging on this issue. It is in nobody’s interest to scaremonger among the population and it is absolutely vital that we encourage people to take up the offer of the vaccine. We will do that once the campaign for this winter begins, which, as I said earlier, will be on 1 October.
It is not scaremongering to read out what the manufacturer, Seqirus, has written in the Community Pharmacy News. It expressly says that the only people who are affected are those who ordered late.
People just want this to be sorted, and it is quite clear that something in the system has not worked this year. The Scottish National Party Government began procuring vaccines for this winter in early autumn 2017, in the full knowledge that the vaccine advisory body would meet later in 2017; it met in November. The body advised that the new enhanced aTIV vaccine is the one that should be used for people over the age of 65. However, by that point, NHS Scotland had already placed its order for a different product.
Will the First Minister make sure that that will not happen again? Will she continue to work with the manufacturer this year to see whether more people under the age of 75—in particular, more vulnerable groups—should get the enhanced vaccine? Will she ensure that we have a system in place so that people such as Mr Laing are not told no by their local GP and left to fend for themselves?
Let me give some clear assurances. The Scottish Government will continue to follow—as it always has done—the recommendations and advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. That is the responsible thing to do.
Secondly, we will continue to have a proper procurement policy in place for the flu vaccine and other drugs, as appropriate. The procurement policy that we have in place in Scotland is a centralised national policy, which is considerably better than the localised arrangements that are in place in other parts of the UK.
Thirdly, we give an assurance that we will ensure that different groups in the population have appropriate protection against flu.
As it is very important for public confidence and assurance, I repeat that we make it clear that those over 75, for whom the recommendation is for the aTIV vaccine, will have access to that vaccine. Another vaccine to provide flu protection is offered to other groups, which include those in the 65 to 74-year-old age group, people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, healthcare workers and children. That is the message that it is important for the public to get. I hope that all members in the chamber join me in encouraging everybody who is in a group that is eligible for the flu vaccine to take up the offer and get themselves maximum protection against flu this winter.
Tourist Tax (Edinburgh)
Why does the First Minister not agree with Adam McVey, the Scottish National Party leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, when it comes to a small tax for tourists?
Adam McVey is a fantastic leader of the City of Edinburgh Council—let me say that first of all. He has a very strong view on the introduction of a tourist tax, which is shared by many in different parts of the country. It is not currently Scottish Government policy to have a tourist tax, but of course we will continue to have that discussion and we will continue to consider these matters as we approach our budget this year.
I hope that we will have constructive input from Labour on that, and indeed on a whole range of issues, as we consider our draft budget, because that would make a refreshing change from when we have considered our draft budgets in previous years.
Adam McVey says that at least £11 million of revenue could be raised in Edinburgh by the introduction of a small levy on overnight stays, and Highland Council says that a charge of £1 on beds per night in the Highlands would generate £12 million of additional annual revenue.
We know that that revenue is badly needed. Adam McVey told this Parliament that the City of Edinburgh Council spent over £1 million extra during the Edinburgh festival just to keep the city clean, because of the influx of tourists, and there are other costs as well. Councillor Bill Lobban told this Parliament that, in the Highlands, because of tourism,
“Our infrastructure is deteriorating, which will lead to a negative impression that causes reputational damage.”—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, 13 September 2018; c 4.]
The First Minister talks of protecting Scotland’s tourism industry. Why will she not act to protect Scotland’s local services—those very services that our tourism industry relies on?
First, partly thanks to the actions of this Government, Scotland has a booming tourism industry right now, with tourist numbers and spend increasing year on year.
I am trying to be constructive and perhaps even build some consensus around this. I think there is a serious issue for debate and discussion here. I do not think it is any surprise that council leaders such as Adam McVey and others see the revenue-raising potential of a tourist tax, but equally it is no surprise that there are voices of concern within the tourism sector, the hospitality sector and the catering sector. Just this week, I have seen a letter, which I think was addressed to me and the tourism minister, that sets out some of those concerns.
Where does that take us? It takes us to a position where a responsible Government should responsibly consider the matter and listen to all the arguments before we come to a decision, and that is what we will do. We will do that in the run-up to the publication of our draft budget and perhaps beyond it, and we will make sure that our decision making is properly informed by evidence. I am not sure what in that Richard Leonard could find to disagree with. Perhaps, as I said, Richard Leonard, on this and on other things, will for a change ensure that the Labour Party here actually makes a constructive and positive contribution to the budget process this year.
We are just asking the First Minister to make her mind up on the question.
This week, we have seen reports that the City of Edinburgh Council faces £28 million-worth of cuts in the next financial year. That will mean cuts to schools, but it will also lead to cuts to tourism-critical services such as roads maintenance, rubbish collections, road sweeping and even public toilets. Today is world tourism day. Tourism in Scotland is now worth £11.2 billion. [Interruption.] It has increased by 17 per cent. In the light of that, does the First Minister seriously believe that increasing the cost of a hotel room by a couple of pounds a night is too high a price to pay for better-funded local services?
First, Richard Leonard should maybe listen to the answers before he reads out the next scripted question. I thank him for paying such warm tribute to the success of the Scottish Government in boosting tourism in Scotland. It is down to things such as the road-equivalent tariff helping our island communities and our infrastructure tourism fund helping communities to cope with the additional demands of tourism. It is down to Scottish Government investment in tourist attractions such as the new V and A in Dundee. I thank him for paying tribute to all of that and more.
Richard Leonard asked me to reach a decision. We will do that, but we will do so in a proper, considered way, in which we listen to views on both sides of the debate and come to an informed decision based on the evidence. I say to him that if we were to do anything other than that—if we were to rush a decision—I am pretty sure that he would be the first person to stand up and criticise us for not listening to all the voices that are being raised. Perhaps he would also recognise the fact that, this year, we are protecting local government budgets in real terms, and protecting the people of Scotland from the austerity of Tory Governments that he and his party are only too happy to see continue governing Scotland.
NHS Highland (Bullying)
The First Minister will be aware of allegations that have been raised by Highland doctors about a culture of bullying in NHS Highland, which they have described as being endemic and systemic. Shortly after her appointment, I met the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to raise that and other matters. Does the First Minister agree that we need a full, independent inquiry into those serious allegations? I can tell her that there would be no confidence in any internal investigation by NHS Highland.
The health secretary spoke to the chair of NHS Highland, David Alston, this week, and made crystal clear her expectation that the issue will be addressed thoroughly. We understand that the chair hopes to meet the signatories to the doctors’ letter as soon as possible to discuss their concerns, and he has encouraged other staff to come forward if they have any concerns that they wish to report.
Let me make it absolutely clear that the welfare of staff in our national health service is paramount. Everything must be done to eradicate any bullying in the workplace, and we have made it clear to health boards that bullying and harassment are unacceptable and that we expect them to ensure that any reported incidences are taken seriously and fully investigated. We are introducing legislation to establish an independent national whistleblowing officer for NHS Scotland, with the position due to go live by the end of September next year.
On Sunday morning, the family of Sheku Bayoh woke up to a leaked story in a national newspaper that alleged that the Lord Advocate would not bring any criminal charges in relation to his death in police custody. Does the First Minister agree that, given that the family has waited for three years for answers and is not due to meet the Lord Advocate until next month, such a leak is unacceptable and is no way to treat a grieving family? Will she carry out a full investigation into how the leak came about, and will she also apologise to Sheku’s family for the distress that they have suffered as a result of the weekend’s press story?
I am not always sure about the truth or otherwise of information that appears in the public domain, but I definitely deprecate information about such matters being made public before families have had the opportunity to be informed. My thoughts remain very firmly with the family and friends of Sheku Bayoh at this difficult time for them.
Of course, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific circumstances of the case until such time as a decision has been made by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and communicated to the family. In 2015, the previous Lord Advocate made it clear that, regardless of the outcome of the investigation as far as potential prosecution is concerned, a fatal accident inquiry would be held to provide public scrutiny of the circumstances of the incident. When I met Mr Bayoh’s family, I made it clear to them that, as a Government, we are not ruling out anything with regard to a wider inquiry at an appropriate point in the future. That definitely remains an option, but it is a decision that we can take only at the appropriate time.
Public Procurement (Printing Services)
The Scottish Government is about to change procurement rules for printing services, which will effectively remove the opportunity for small local firms to get work from Scotland’s public bodies. Iain Robertson, the director and vice-president of Print Scotland, said that the Government’s strategy flies in the face of ministers’ claims of wanting small and medium-sized entities to be involved in public procurement. He said:
“Put bluntly, the Scottish print industry is in the process of being offshored.”
Does the First Minister agree with his comments? Will she intervene to stop that? When will she instruct a review of public procurement so that small businesses in Scotland can benefit?
I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed by the print industry, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has already agreed to meet Print Scotland to discuss them. We have two frameworks in place to provide print services. We recently conducted a procurement exercise for the single supplier publishing, print design and associated services framework. The award was made in August to APS Group, which is a Scottish-registered company based in Leith, here in Edinburgh.
We have also commenced a procurement exercise to relet the print and associated services framework. Currently, 10 of the 12 framework suppliers are Scottish printing small or medium-sized enterprises. We will use recent stakeholder analysis to inform our decision on the number of suppliers to be appointed to the new print framework, and we expect to issue an invitation to tender for those services in the autumn of this year. APS will continue to use its extensive supply chain, which currently includes, as I understand it, 114 SMEs, 89 of which are Scottish, including printers across the country.
In terms of procurement more widely, we passed the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, which recognises the importance of SMEs, third-sector organisations and supported businesses to the Scottish economy and includes a range of measures designed to assist them. I met the Federation of Small Businesses yesterday. Procurement was one of the things that we discussed, and I look forward to taking a dialogue forward with that organisation to consider how we can further benefit small businesses in our economy.
Public and scientific concerns about climate change are rising ever higher and the Scottish Government’s latest report card presents a mixed picture. Scotland is doing better than the United Kingdom, but that is damning with faint praise and is certainly not the benchmark that we should be aiming for. The report makes clear that the end of coal-fired power generation, which the Scottish minister with responsibility for energy at the time wanted to delay, is masking a lack of progress in other areas, and it says that the strategy must now move on decisively. To take one specific issue, why does the First Minister believe that transport emissions have kept on rising every year for the past three years, when they should be going down?
It is important to look at what the Committee on Climate Change actually said in its report this week. It said that Scotland continues to lead the way in the UK on tackling climate change. Indeed, we continue to lead the world. We met our 2016 target, which is the third annual target to be met. Emissions are 49 per cent below the 1990 levels, which already exceeds our original target of a 42 per cent reduction by 2020. The report says that we are on track not just to meet but to outperform the new target of 56 per cent by 2020. It praised the proposals in the climate change plan and said that they were
“stretching, credible, and well-balanced”.
I think that that is a good report card for Scotland’s performance in cutting emissions and tackling climate change, and we should be proud of it.
Of course, we know that we need to replicate the success in areas around electricity and waste in other sectors of the economy, and that is what the plan does. We also need to up our ambition in terms of the targets, which is why the new Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill sets a 90 per cent target for the reduction of all greenhouse gases, which would ensure that we would be carbon neutral by the time that we meet that target.
One of the areas that the Committee on Climate Change looked at was transport, and it had lots of good things to say about the Government’s work on the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure.
There is a lot to be positive about, but we know that, in common with other countries across the world, we have a lot more work still to do. However, we should take comfort from the fact that we are ahead of the game in terms of other countries’ performance. That is something that we should be proud of but determined to build on.
That is one of the problems with the whole debate. Any Government can list a few of the good things that it is doing or a few of the positive steps that it is taking, but if those steps are outweighed by the harm that is being done elsewhere, the problem still grows. While public transport is expensive—and in many places unavailable—urban space is dominated by cars and the aviation industry is given a free pass, transport emissions will keep going up. The same contradictions are evident in energy as well. Scotland is doing well on renewables, but this week the Greens were the only political party not jumping for joy at the discovery of even more fossil fuel reserves.
When will the Scottish Government understand that, if it keeps telling Total, BP and the rest of the lethal fossil fuel industry to keep on drilling, Scotland’s reputation as a climate change leader will be a sham?
Scotland’s reputation as a climate change leader is well earned and thoroughly justified, actually, and is recognised internationally by the United Nations and many others.
I will unpack some of Patrick Harvie’s question. He talked about aviation getting a “free pass”. Unlike other countries, Scotland includes emissions from aviation and shipping in the calculation of our targets. That does not amount to a free pass.
Patrick Harvie talked about transport. The report from the Committee on Climate Change says:
“Since the draft Plan, the Scottish Government has made commitments to continue to invest in the ChargePlace Scotland network until at least August 2019 and provide further loan funding for electric vehicles until 2020. The Energy Strategy commits to additional policy measures including expanding electric charging infrastructure ... and ... further ... funding for charging points”.
The committee itself pointed to the real progress that Scotland is making in terms of our responsibility to reduce emissions from transport.
On oil and energy more generally, our energy strategy commits us to some of the most stretching targets anywhere in the world. Of course, in terms of electricity generated, we meet well over half our electricity demand from renewable sources. In the past year alone, we saw renewable power generation go up by 27 per cent.
It is right that a Green party should continue to push the Government to do more but I would think that, once in a while, it would also want to take some pride in the fact that it is in a country that is recognised internationally as a world leader. It would be a change if, occasionally, Patrick Harvie did that.
Autism (School Exclusions)
A report that was published this week by Children in Scotland, the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism shows that many autistic young people regularly face unlawful exclusion from school. That is a disgraceful situation. What action will the Scottish Government take to correct it?
I agree with Iain Gray that it is unacceptable for autistic children to be unlawfully excluded from school. To use his terminology, it is disgraceful. If that happens to a child, that child is being let down.
As Iain Gray knows, given that he is Labour’s education spokesperson, we have a range of policies around inclusion in education and the provision of support to enable children to be taught in mainstream education. We are taking a range of actions around direct funding that allows schools themselves to put in place particular measures to support the children who need support. I am sure that the education secretary would be happy to correspond with or meet Iain Gray to discuss the range of additional measures that we can take to address something that all of us agree we do not want to happen in our schools.
Our police officers represent the very best of Scotland, working tirelessly all year round to keep us safe. Does the First Minister agree that, given their hard work and dedication, Scotland’s police officers deserve a significant pay rise? Does she therefore welcome yesterday’s announcement of the best pay deal for officers in the past 20 years?
Yes, I warmly welcome the fact that we have, this week, been able to agree a pay rise for our police officers that the Scottish Police Federation has described as the best pay rise for 20 years. That is something that should be welcomed across the chamber. The pay rise is 6.5 per cent over a 31-month period. That is in addition to the pay deal that we have agreed with national health service staff of 9 per cent over the next three years. That underlines how much we value the contribution of our public sector workers, and I am pleased that we are in a position to agree the pay rise this week.
Of course, the situation stands in marked contrast to the position elsewhere in the United Kingdom, with the head of the Metropolitan Police Service in London describing the UK Government’s pay offer to police officers as a “punch on the nose”.
I am delighted that we value our police officers, and the pay deal recognises that.
Last week, we learned that ScotRail’s performance was at a record low on punctuality—the worst since 2005. This week, ScotRail’s figures show that performance has deteriorated so badly that it would be in breach of its franchise agreement had the transport secretary not secretly reduced its target without telling Parliament.
Does the First Minister agree that the way to make our trains run on time and ensure that they are not overcrowded and that commuters are not being ripped off is not to fiddle the performance figures to cover up failing performance but to have a railway system that starts to put passengers ahead of profits?
With regard to the performance benchmark, that is allowed under the terms of the franchise agreement. The Railways Act 2005 allows ministers to exercise discretion where there are particular issues—in this case, the cause was severe hot weather in the early summer.
On ScotRail’s performance, nearly 90 out of 100 trains arrive within the recognised punctuality measure; the latest figures show that ScotRail’s public performance measure is better than the British average. The key point is that we are heavily investing to improve our railways to make sure that there is more capacity, with more modern trains, on our railways. However, if we look at the period in the latest Office of Road and Rail report, we see that more than half of all cancellations are caused by issues that are the responsibility not of ScotRail but of Network Rail. Why do I mention that? It is because this Parliament is not responsible for Network Rail. We are arguing for it to be devolved, but Labour is still standing in the way of that. It comes back to the age-old issue for Labour members: for performance, if they want to will the end, they have to help us get the means. I look forward to support from Labour for the devolution of Network Rail as soon as possible.
Protection of Food Supplies
It emerged yesterday that the United Kingdom Government has quietly appointed a minister for the protection of food supplies, which is the first time that that has happened since world war two. Does the First Minister agree that, when we are contemplating rationing, it is time to stop this Brexit madness?
This news would have made most people across the UK stop in their tracks. The Tories’ stewardship of Brexit and the UK as a whole is proving so catastrophic that they have had to appoint a minister for food supplies, which is the first time that such a post has been held since world war two.
How has it come to this situation? It is shameful, and it should be a source of shame for a long time to come for every member of the Conservative Party. I certainly hope that it will not come to food rationing in this country. I agree with Rona Mackay that things are becoming so shambolic that it is time to draw a halt to this Brexit catastrophe. If there ever comes a day when there is food rationing in this country because of a Tory Brexit, perhaps the first people who should bear the burden of that are Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis and Michael Gove—all people who perpetrated a dishonesty on the people of this country. We will see how they enjoy their Brexit bonanza.
Recycling (Rates and Quality)
To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to improve recycling rates and the quality of recycling. (S5F-02649)
Statistics were published earlier this week showing that, for the first time, Scotland now recycles a greater proportion of our household waste than we send to landfill—that is a fantastic achievement—and figures earlier this year highlighted that we now recycle more than 60 per cent of waste from all sources. Although those are significant milestones, there is more to do on household recycling in particular. Zero Waste Scotland works closely with local authorities to support them in improving their recycling services, including encouraging them to adopt the Scottish household recycling charter. We also believe that our commitment to establish a deposit return scheme for Scotland will not only increase the amount that we recycle but improve the quality of recycling.
Recent figures released by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency show that, in 2017, 57.2 per cent of Inverclyde’s household waste was recycled—that is up 3.8 per cent from 2016. This week is recycle week 2018. Does the First Minister agree that, although that is an excellent achievement, the decision by Inverclyde Council to remove its kerbside glass collection service this year could result in reduced recycling rates locally and damage the good work that it has been doing?
I agree that Inverclyde’s progress is an excellent achievement, but I also agree that it is vital to sustain that progress nationally and locally. A range of measures is needed, including effective collection services. I mentioned the Scottish household recycling charter. The charter, which is agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, includes glass collection. We are encouraging all councils to adopt and implement it, and I hope that Inverclyde Council will do so.
We have a range of initiatives at national level to reduce waste and boost recycling. As I have said, those include proposals for a deposit return scheme; they also include action to reduce food waste and support for circular economy projects.
I encourage Inverclyde Council and all other local authorities to ensure that they have the necessary measures in place to build on and accelerate progress on this important issue.
I declare an interest in respect of my work on the circular economy.
In 2010, the Scottish National Party said that Scotland would be recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2013. It is now five years later and that target has not been met. When will it be?
We now recycle more than 60 per cent of waste from all sources. As I have said, for the first time ever, we are recycling a greater proportion of our household waste than we send to landfill. That is good progress. All of us should be encouraging not just councils but individuals across the country to make sure that we continue that progress.
Whatever way they are looked at, the figures that are out this week are good news and demonstrate the progress that is being made with the range of investments that the Scottish Government is making.
Women’s Health (Obesity)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the report that obesity is set to overtake smoking as the biggest cause of preventable cancers in women. (S5F-02635)
Cancer Research UK has done fantastic work to raise awareness of the links between obesity and cancer. As our recent diet and healthy weight delivery plan pointed out, obesity
“is linked to around 2,200 cases of cancer a year in Scotland.”
We all recognise that there is no simple single solution, which is why our healthy weight plan sets out more than 60 actions and our recent active Scotland plan sets out 90 actions to help wellbeing. One of the actions in the healthy weight delivery plan is that we will consult shortly on steps
“to restrict the promotion and marketing of”
junk food where it is sold to the public, such as multibuys in supermarkets.
As the First Minister says, obesity has so many repercussions for the preventative health agenda that go beyond preventing cancers, such as the need to address type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, heart disease and stroke, not to mention the effect on mental health, which is why I was encouraged by the Scottish Government’s announcement last year to deliver a good food nation bill. That would have given us the opportunity to look at the obesogenic environment around schools; to consider delivering a Scotland Excel procurement contract that supports our farmers by procuring high-quality local produce for our school meals instead of the high levels of cheaper imported processed food; and to properly make the link between education and health. Why has the Scottish Government missed this opportunity by scrapping the bill? What will the Government put in its place to help to deliver a healthier Scotland?
That issue was debated in Parliament the week before last. The Government made clear then, and I will make clear again today, that we are committed to legislating around our good food nation agenda, and we will set out plans for that in due course. The other thing that we are determined to do, of course, is to take forward those areas that do not require legislation. Some of what Brian Whittle has talked about would not require waiting for Parliament to legislate.
The strategies that I have talked about, particularly around our diet and healthy weight delivery plan, will help us to take forward the agenda. It is an area where there will undoubtedly be issues on which there is disagreement among parties and members, but there will be a great deal of consensus as well, so I look forward to taking forward the agenda, which will have legislation as part of it, over the remainder of this session of Parliament. I think that that will benefit people across the country, particularly the younger generation. As we saw in this week’s Scottish household survey, we are already seeing very welcome signs of improvement around obesity, drinking among younger people and, of course, the consumption of healthy foods. There is a lot to be positive about and to build on.
The First Minister will be aware that there are many causes of obesity, including those that Brian Whittle outlined, and there are many ways to prevent it, including increasing breastfeeding rates, which has not been mentioned. Is she aware that a major cause of obesity for a significant number of Scottish women is undiagnosed and untreated—or poorly treated—thyroid disorders? Does she agree that it is unacceptable for any Scottish national health service board to refuse patients, particularly those under the care of an endocrinologist, their prescriptions for liothyronine medication, as currently happens? Will she ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to intervene to ensure that my constituents and other thyroid sufferers are not stopped by their health boards from receiving life-saving medication, which also has an important impact on reducing obesity for a great many women?
That was only tangential to the question.
First, I agree with the general thrust of Elaine Smith’s question. I recognise the link that often exists between obesity and thyroid problems, which are sometimes undiagnosed, and I agree that people should have access to the medication and treatment that they need. I get the sense that a constituency case lies behind Elaine Smith’s question. I do not know the detail of the case, and I do not think that the health secretary does either, so if Elaine Smith wants to provide us with the detail, I will certainly ask the health secretary to look into it and get back to her with further details as soon as possible.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
To ask the First Minister, in light of the Committee on Climate Change’s recent report, what new action the Scottish Government plans to reduce CO2 emissions. (S5F-02650)
The committee’s report shows that Scotland met its last three annual targets and continues to outperform the United Kingdom in reducing emissions. The committee also found that our climate change plan provides an “ambitious” and “credible” package of measures for continuing to meet the targets that have been set by this Parliament’s Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. The Parliament is now considering whether those targets should be increased, through the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill. We have proposed that the targets be set to the maximum level of ambition that is credible at this stage. We will look again at the climate change plan as soon as the bill has been finalised, and we will consider the committee’s recommendations carefully in the meantime.
We have previously heard the First Minister place a great deal of weight on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. The committee’s report highlights a lack of action in agriculture and transport. What will the Scottish Government do to support people who work in those industries to contribute to emissions reduction in a fair and sustainable way?
We also heard the First Minister say, in her speech at the United Nations climate change conference in Bonn last year, that all countries, including Scotland, should “contribute fair shares”. Does she agree with Scottish and now UK Labour that Scotland should have a target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and more robust interim targets to lead us there, so that we continue to be a global leader?
Claudia Beamish asked about transport. I talked about transport in answer to Patrick Harvie, so I will not repeat all that. The progress and further plans that the Scottish Government has on transport are recognised in the report of the Committee on Climate Change.
Claudia Beamish also asked about agriculture. Emissions in agriculture are down 14 per cent since the 1990 baseline. Scottish farmers do a lot to contribute to emissions reduction in the context of electricity generation, land use and forestry. The climate change plan includes a range of measures to further encourage farmers on the benefits of low-carbon farming. We intend to explore fully the potential for voluntary measures before we consider any change in approach.
On targets, it is interesting that Claudia Beamish cites UK Labour. I listened carefully to Jeremy Corbyn yesterday—
Good. Did you learn anything?
They say that imitation is the finest form of flattery, and in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech there was certainly plenty that the Scottish Government has already done; I am glad to see Labour following in our wake.
Climate change is an interesting example in that regard. Jeremy Corbyn yesterday committed Labour to support a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. That sounds good, except that we have proposals in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, which is before this Parliament, that commit to a 66 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. We are ahead of other countries and we are proposing the most stringent and ambitious statutory climate change targets anywhere in the world. I look forward to having Claudia Beamish’s support for that.
In light of the rise in transport emissions every year since 2010, the Committee on Climate Change has confirmed that transport is Scotland’s biggest sectoral challenge. In particular, aviation emissions have doubled since 1990. Airports are recording record passenger numbers. How can the First Minister justify a £250 million tax break to the aviation industry as a result of the scrapping of air passenger duty?
We need good connectivity—including to our Highland communities, I have to say—and that often involves air transport. We have to ensure two things. We must ensure that proper account is taken of aviation emissions, which is why it is so important that we include aviation emissions in the calculations for our targets—something that not all countries do. It is also important that we have a balanced transport system and, as the Committee on Climate Change recognises, we are investing in and have ambitious plans for the electrification of the transport network.
We will continue to take forward those plans to ensure that there are good connections across Scotland and between Scotland and other countries while also fulfilling our international obligations—our moral obligations—to reduce emissions and tackle climate change and continuing to be a world leader in doing so.
That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will shortly move to a members’ business debate, but we will first have a short suspension to allow members of the public to leave the public gallery and new members of the public to arrive.12:45 Meeting suspended.
12:48 On resuming—