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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 29, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 29 June 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Commission on Parliamentary Reform (Report), Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Engagements

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01442)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Ruth Davidson

Last week, I asked the First Minister three times whether her Government had contacted the European Commission to seek an extension to the deadline on farm payments, and three times she refused to answer. We now know that her Government had contacted the Commission to do so, and we also know that the First Minister was aware of that. Why did she try to hide it when she came before the Parliament last Thursday?

The First Minister

What I said in the chamber last Thursday was that we continue to discuss contingencies with the European Commission. That is what a request for an extension is: a contingency that we are seeking to put in place. [Interruption.]

I do not want anyone, particularly those who are working to deliver the system, to think that we are in any way relying on getting an extension, so that we take our foot off the pedal in any way in delivering the payments. That is why last week I stressed—and this week I stress again—what we are doing to deliver the pillar 1 payments by the deadline, which is midnight tomorrow.

Let me give the Parliament an update on that work. Rapid progress is being made on a daily basis. To put that into context, two weeks ago, on 16 June, 58 per cent of payments, by value, had been made; by last Friday, that had risen to 76 per cent; and this morning, it was 82 per cent, which means that £347 million of pillar 1 payments have already been made.

The last point that I make—because this is what matters to farmers and crofters across the country—is that all farmers who are eligible were offered a loan. The vast majority of farmers took up the offer of a loan payment and so received 80 per cent of the amount that they were due last November, pending payment of their full payment. This is not a case of farmers not getting the money that they are due.

This Government will continue—just as I said last week—to make sure that the payments are made and that farmers get the support that they deserve.

Ruth Davidson

We have all just heard what members made of that answer.

There is a reason why I am raising this again today. It is because there is a principle at stake about the conduct of ministers in this Parliament and about the transparency of this Government. [Interruption.] I asked the First Minister a simple question in the chamber last week and she refused to tell Parliament what she knew to be the truth.

Let me read out what the ministerial code of conduct says:

“It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”

Does the First Minister think that her conduct and the conduct of her ministers on this matter in the past two weeks has met that standard?

The First Minister

Yes, I do. Last week, I said that we were discussing with the European Commission contingencies around the issue. That is exactly what we were doing; and it is what we continue to do. Seeking an extension in case we require it is exactly that: a contingency. What I stressed last week is exactly what I will stress this week—and with the greatest of respect to Ruth Davidson, I think that this is what farmers the length and breadth of the country are interested in: we are working flat out to deliver the payments.

I noticed that Ruth Davidson did not comment on the substance of the issue, which is, first, that we are seeing rapid daily progress in making the payments; and, secondly, that in November last year, we put in place a system of loans for farmers so that those who are eligible for pillar 1 payments actually got 80 per cent of all the money that they were due—that is something that we did at the specific request of the National Farmers Union.

We will continue to deal with the substance of the issue and to make sure that farmers get the money that they deserve. We will get on with the job and leave Ruth Davidson to continue playing politics.

Ruth Davidson

I and my party have been pursuing this Government’s failures on the substance of the issue for three years and it is still not making the payments on time.

Here is what the First Minister apparently thinks is accurate and truthful conduct. On Tuesday last week, Fergus Ewing told the Scottish National Party Cabinet, in private, that he would be applying to the European Commission for an extension to the deadline on farm payments. On Wednesday, he wrote in private to the European Commission to seek that extension. That afternoon, he was asked in Parliament to confirm whether that was the case and he failed to do so. On Thursday, I stood here and repeatedly asked the First Minister to confirm that, and she refused to answer the question. It took journalists emailing the EC itself for the facts to come out.

Last week, the First Minister had to apologise to farmers for messing up their payments again—that was the substance of the issue. Now she owes Parliament an apology for not being straight about that. Will she give it?

The First Minister

In Parliament last week, I made it clear that we were discussing contingencies with the European Commission. That is what we were doing last week; it is what we continue to do this week. That is what seeking an extension is. We hope that we do not require to use it, but it is a contingency in case we do.

The most important message that I wanted to send last week—and the message that I want to send this week—is this: we are working flat out to get the payments into the bank accounts of farmers. We are seeing progress being made on that on a daily basis, up to the deadline, which is midnight tomorrow.

The point that Ruth Davidson never wants to recognise is the point that I have now made twice about loan payments to farmers. We took action to make sure that, notwithstanding the difficulties that we have encountered with the system, farmers are actually getting the bulk of the money that they are due. That is the kind of action that farmers expect to see, and it is the kind of action that people across Scotland expect to see, from this Government.

Ruth Davidson mentioned apologies. There is an apology due to the people of Scotland this week from Ruth Davidson for allowing her members of Parliament at Westminster to do two things. First, she should apologise for allowing them to sit back while Scotland was denied the same extra funding that went to Northern Ireland. Secondly, she should apologise for the MPs in the House of Commons last night who voted to block a pay rise for public sector workers. Perhaps that is the apology that people in Scotland want to hear.

Ruth Davidson

Recess cannot come soon enough for the First Minister. We have just seen a First Minister whose first response to failure is to try to hide it and who then stands up and asks for applause when she tries to fix her own mess. This week, we heard a message to voters that said, “Let us just ignore what they said when they took 500,000 votes off us. Let us just ignore the fact that they took 21 seats. Let us just double down on our plans. And let us just ask for applause when we try to fix up a mess that we keep making.” It is not good enough.

Later this afternoon, we will have a debate on the findings of the commission on parliamentary reform. That commission, which was made up of MSPs and experts, took evidence on the workings of the Parliament and how we need to improve them. Here is what it says:

“Inaccurate or poor answers damage the reputation of Parliament … and … damage people’s trust in Parliament.”

If that is the case, on this episode, does the First Minister not realise that she and her Cabinet are guilty on both counts?

The First Minister

No, I do not. I have already set out exactly what the position on that is. If Ruth Davidson really wants to talk about a lack of transparency in answers given to a Parliament, perhaps she will go and watch the video of Theresa May in the House of Commons yesterday refusing to answer the simple question: did the Secretary of State for Scotland lobby for Scotland to get the same money that went to Northern Ireland? Yes or no?

Perhaps Ruth Davidson will answer that question, because the fact is that no amount of camouflage will hide the point that, while she rides along on her one-trick pony, going on and on about a referendum, her MPs are selling Scotland down the river. They sold Scotland down the river when it came to £3 billion of extra funding and they sold Scotland down the river when it came to public sector workers. When it comes to Ruth Davidson, it is all mouth and no trousers—camouflage or otherwise. She should be ashamed of herself.


Engagements

2. Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-01438)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale

After a decade in charge of Scottish education, last night, the Scottish National Party voted for unwanted school reforms without any promise of additional money. They are policies straight from the 1980s of which Margaret Thatcher would have been proud. It should deeply worry the First Minister that she can only get those reforms through with Tory votes but, just before she voted with the Tories last night, her Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills told the Parliament that school funding was going up. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Order, please. Order.

Kezia Dugdale

Was he correct to do so?

The First Minister

I think that I am correct in saying that the outturn figures for local government spending will show that spending on education has gone up.

Kezia Dugdale talks about the Government’s reforms coming without additional funding. She is downright wrong about that and, even worse, she knows that she is downright wrong about it, because the attainment fund is putting £750 million extra into schools across this parliamentary session and, this financial year, £120 million of extra funding is going directly to headteachers to allow them to take action to improve attainment in our schools. Of course, all that is happening while Labour councillors, such as those in North Lanarkshire Council, vote to get rid of classroom assistants in our schools.

Kezia Dugdale

I am delighted that the First Minister has mentioned the outturn figures. I have them in my hands. I have looked at them and, crucially, so has the Scottish Parliament information centre. I will tell her the actual numbers. Her own Government’s figures show that, this year, spending on education is going down again in real terms. Under the SNP, spending on pupils is going down again in real terms. I will tell her just how real it is.

The SNP has cut spending by hundreds of pounds on every single pupil, and it has cut spending on each secondary school pupil by more than £1,000. That is a 7 per cent cut by this SNP Government since 2010. It is not Tory reforms that our schools need; it is cold, hard cash. Why can the First Minister not see that the real problem in our education system is that our schools are skint?

The First Minister

The problem for Kezia Dugdale is that I have figures in front of me as well. Data published on 27 June shows that councils are planning to spend £144 million more on education this year than they planned to spend last year—that is 3 per cent in cash terms and 1.3 per cent in real terms. Of course, that includes the planned spend on the pupil equity fund of £120 million that I spoke about. Those are the facts.

This Government is taking tough action to reform our education system, to get more powers into the hands of headteachers and teachers and, crucially, to get more resources into their hands. I note that Kezia Dugdale does not want to address the fact that her own council colleagues in parts of Scotland are taking decisions that run directly counter to that. Perhaps Labour should get its own house in order before it comes here to criticise the Scottish Government.

Kezia Dugdale

The problem for the First Minister is that her numbers are wrong, and the independent SPICe will confirm that today. Until the First Minister commits more funding to our schools using the powers of this Parliament, her promise that education is her top priority is utterly meaningless.

Teacher numbers are down, support staff numbers are down and class sizes are going up. I have come to the chamber time and time again to tell the First Minister that her Government has taken £1 billion from our schools. I was wrong. New figures show us that it is at least £230 million more than that—£1.23 billion has been taken out of schools on the SNP’s watch.

This week, teachers are going on their summer break. Is it not the case that what they really need is a break from this Government?

The First Minister

The problem for Kezia Dugdale is that the figures that I read out are not my figures—they come from councils. They are the councils’ predicted figures and I read them out as they are.

But there is a bigger problem for Kezia Dugdale in this exchange, is there not? Everything that she said ignores one important fact. I am going to point to the council that I have already mentioned twice—North Lanarkshire Council. In case people listening do not know, North Lanarkshire Council is run by Labour, supported by the Tories. It runs schools, and in its recent budget it decided two things of relevance to this discussion. First, it decided not to use the powers that it had been given to increase the council tax; it decided to freeze the council tax. Secondly, it decided to cut the number of classroom assistants—in other words, to sack the very support staff that Kezia Dugdale is talking about.

This Government will continue to invest in and reform education and to deliver the changes that our education system needs, and we will do that in spite of Labour councils across the country, not because of them.

The Presiding Officer

We have a couple of constituency questions. The first is from Pauline McNeill.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Students at the City of Glasgow College are being charged tuition fees of £428 for a third of a term if they drop out before 1 December in the academic year in question. That seems to be due to a Student Awards Agency for Scotland rule that it will not fund them. The charge is passed on to students, who are unaware of the obligation until they are pressed with a bill for which they are pursued vigorously by the college, as if it were a debt.

I appreciate that the First Minister is probably hearing about the matter for the first time, and I apologise for that. However, given the apparent unfairness of the situation, would the First Minister be prepared to look into it to see whether it is consistent with a no-fees policy and whether it is fair to students? Students are finding that they are being pressed for the money as though it were a debt pursued by a bank or a financial institution. All that they have tried to do is go to college, when, for one reason or another—we do not know the reasons—they have had to drop out. They also lose that year of their studies.

The First Minister

I am grateful to Pauline McNeill for raising the issue with me. I am not aware of the detail or the circumstances, but if she wants to furnish me with that information—in fact, whether or not she wants to furnish me with it—I am happy to give a commitment that we will look into the matter and come back to her as soon as we have had the opportunity to do so. Our commitment to enabling all young people in Scotland to access education without having to pay fees is, as everybody knows, an absolutely solid one, and I do not want to see anything run counter to that, so I am happy to look into the matter and to come back to Pauline McNeill in due course.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I am speaking on behalf of a Syrian family—mother, father and four siblings—who were granted asylum earlier this year and are now reside in my constituency. However, one son has not come to Scotland and is trapped in Lebanon, having moved there to obtain work to provide for the family just before their move. In the process, his asylum application lapsed. Now he is trapped not only in Lebanon but in reams of red tape and in a war zone where his life is at risk. The family are distraught—they have already lost one son in the Syrian conflict. I wrote to the First Minister earlier this week, but I ask her if she will do what she can to accelerate his reapplication through what is a labyrinthine process.

The First Minister

I am grateful to Christine Grahame for writing to me earlier in the week with details of that case. I am certainly very sorry to hear about the plight of that family. I know from my own meetings with refugees from Syria of their great worry and anxiety for relatives who remain in Syria and, indeed, in neighbouring countries. Many local authorities are supporting Syrian refugees in their areas to reunite with family members, and I commend the support that they give in that process, which can be long and difficult because it involves both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Home Office assessment, and all the many logistical arrangements that people have to make. I hope that that family will be reunited soon. I understand that the issue might be that the registration of new refugees in Lebanon by the UNHCR has been suspended at the request of the Government of Lebanon. Nevertheless, I would be happy to write to the Home Secretary in support of the family’s case and to consider what further action we may be able to take to help them reunite as soon as possible.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

This week, we saw the Royal Navy’s largest ever warship, the Queen Elizabeth, leave the dock at Rosyth to commence sea trials in the Forth and the North Sea. Will the First Minister join me in paying tribute to the workforce at Rosyth for the completion of that magnificent piece of Scottish engineering, and in wishing wish them well as they go on to complete the Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship, the Prince of Wales?

The First Minister

Yes, I will. I commend all those at Rosyth and elsewhere in Scotland who have contributed to the construction of the Queen Elizabeth. I thank them for their efforts and wish them well as they move on to their next assignment, so I have no difficulty, for once, in agreeing with Murdo Fraser.


Cabinet (Meetings)

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-01443)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Cabinet will next meet over the summer. Since 2008, we have met 44 times the length and breadth of Scotland in 26 different local authority areas, so we intend to get out and about again over the summer recess.

Patrick Harvie

After the opening exchanges, it is perhaps difficult to remember that, once upon a time, the last First Minister’s question time before summer was a moment when all party leaders struggled to find a little consensus and good will, so I offer the First Minister and her staff and members on all sides of the chamber all the best for the summer. [Interruption.] I am astonished, Presiding Officer, that members do not like that sentiment, even at a moment like this.

However, I would like to offer the First Minister something constructive to reflect on over the summer months. The Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is one that should concern us all, and the report that was published today by the Scottish Government indicates that the scale of child poverty in our society is likely to worsen over the coming years as a result of tax and welfare changes that we in this Parliament no longer have to put up with or tolerate.

Last week and this week, my colleague Alison Johnstone, who sits on the committee that is scrutinising the bill, successfully moved amendments to strengthen the legislation. The amendments did not gain the support of Scottish National Party members, but they did gain the support of all other parties on the committee. The First Minister now has a couple of months before the bill reaches its final stage. Will she give a commitment that, when the bill reaches stage 3 after the summer, the Government will not seek to reverse the progressive changes that we have made to it?

The First Minister

First, I thank Patrick Harvie for his summer greetings; I, too, wish everybody a happy and relaxing summer recess. I take no ministerial responsibility for the fact that summer appears to have disappeared completely today—let us hope that it reappears.

On the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, I take a very close interest in the issue of whether the commission that we create will have a statutory underpinning and I have been discussing it at length with Angela Constance. I will give a little bit of background. The Government’s concern over the amendment—we will be not only thinking about this over the summer but looking to discuss it with others—was not about statutory underpinning for the commission; I personally would have no difficulty whatsoever with a commission being enshrined in statute. The concern that we had, which has been echoed in some ways by stakeholders here, is that, if that is done in this particular bill on child poverty, we will potentially restrict the commission’s remit to looking only at child poverty and not at poverty more generally, which is the commission’s objective. That is the issue that we are grappling with just now.

I very much hope that we can find a way forward that recognises the desire for statutory underpinning but which, in doing so, does not unduly restrict the remit of the commission, because I do not think that anybody would want that.

Patrick Harvie

The report that the Government published today clearly shows how, over the coming years, the income of families with children in particular will be hit hardest. We should be bold in ensuring that the legislation that we pass is as strong as it can be.

I once again urge the First Minister and her colleagues in the Cabinet to consider retaining and respecting the amendments that have been passed by the committee, rather than seeking to reverse them. One of the amendments merely calls on the Government to keep the door open to the option of a top-up to child benefit—it does not even insist that the Government exercises that option. The research is clear that a £5 top-up to child benefit would remove 30,000 children from relative poverty—that is a 14 per cent reduction. Can the First Minister confirm that the option is open, and that the door is not being closed to the policy choice of a top-up to child benefit? That would enable us to use the powers that this Parliament now has for an objective that we should all share, which is to reduce—and, we hope, to eliminate—child poverty in Scotland.

The First Minister

First, the bill is bold. It will, when it is passed—as we hope it will be not long after the summer recess—leave Scotland as the only part of the UK with binding targets to reduce child poverty on the way to eliminating it. That is important.

We have already made it very clear that one of the uses that we will make of the new social security powers will be to introduce the new early years grant and increase the value of those payments, recognising that money in the pockets of families is the most effective way of dealing with child poverty.

I hope that we can conclude the bill and come to an outcome where we all agree that we are doing the best things possible. The door is not closed to anything that has been suggested, but in return I make a plea to Patrick Harvie and his colleagues, and indeed to members across the chamber, to engage properly on the substance of the bill. As I outlined with regard to the commission, the Government is not opposing something for the sake of it—there are real issues in trying to get to an outcome that allows the bill to do the job that it is intended to do and which allows the poverty commission that we are going to establish to do the job that it is intended to do.

With that proper engagement, based on a joint shared objective and commitment not just to reduce but to eradicate and eliminate child poverty, we will, I hope, be able to get to that outcome.


Cabinet (Meetings)

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

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-01463)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Issues of importance to the people of Scotland.

Willie Rennie

Last week, I asked the First Minister about the latest problems in the police. She told me that she had that under control. This week, we discover problems with the chief executive of the Scottish Police Authority, a botched recruitment process and a flawed forensic service. Is there anything else that she has not got under control?

The First Minister

I think that to trivialise those issues in the way that Willie Rennie is doing does not do him any credit. He mischaracterises the answer that I gave him last week. What I actually did last week was go into detail about some of the work that had been done, including the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland that looked at the improvements that have already been made in the workings of the SPA and in the relationships between the SPA, its executive and Police Scotland.

This week, Willie Rennie refers, among other things, to the report on forensics services. Much of the report talks about the high quality of forensic services, but it also sets out areas where the SPA requires to deliver further improvements.

With Michael Matheson in the lead of this work, we have taken action with the SPA and Police Scotland, all of which is overseen by HMICS to ensure that the improvements that require to be made are being made.

I give credit to Willie Rennie, because he has raised police issues consistently in the chamber, and he is right to do so. However, although anybody who has the degree of interest that he has in those issues will continue to point to the issues that require to be improved and resolved, in all fairness they will probably also give some credit to the police for the significant progress that has already been made.

Willie Rennie

That is about as convincing as David Mundell on the Barnett formula.

It is not just the police that the First Minister’s fingerprints are all over. The Fraser of Allander institute is warning that we could be just 140 hours from recession, the Royal College of Nursing says there are more questions than answers on the national health service workforce plan, and we have just heard that Scottish farmers are angry that the First Minister did not bother to tell them that they are not to get their money on time. All of that has happened in just seven days.

The First Minister has faced questions on competence on the economy, education, policing and farming. Is that the reason why she abandoned her ministerial reshuffle this week? Did she work out that the problem might not be them but might be closer to home?

The First Minister

That proves that Willie Rennie lives in a wee world of his own most of the time. Sometimes it sounds like quite a fun one, so maybe I will join it one day and take some of whatever he is on.

I will quickly go through the serious issues that Willie Rennie has raised. The Fraser of Allander institute put out an important report this morning that shows challenges for the Scottish economy. What it forecasts, though, is that the Scottish economy will grow this year, next year and the year after. The big shadow that is hanging over the performance of the Scottish and the United Kingdom economies, of course, is the on-going Brexit negotiations.

On NHS workforce planning, the report that we published this week focuses on the NHS workforce, and further parts will focus on how we integrate workforce planning in social and primary care. The current report looks at 1,600 more nursing places, added to the 1,000 that we had already committed to over this session of Parliament, as well as measures to encourage nurses who have left practice to return to it. It is serious, substantial, comprehensive work that looks at how we build on the record numbers of staff in our national health service and make sure that it is sustainable for the future.

On the common agricultural payments issue, which I have already talked about at length, the fact is that, notwithstanding the issues in the system, the vast majority of farmers have received the money that they are entitled to—or 80 per cent of it.

On all those issues, whether it is in the last week, over the recess or after the recess, this is a Government that is getting on with delivering for the people of Scotland. We will get on with doing the job that we are here to do—improving our public services, helping to grow our economy and lifting people out of poverty. We will let the others continue with their bad jokes—in Willie Rennie’s case—and political point scoring. We will get on with the job.

The Presiding Officer

I understand that there are a few more supplementaries.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

Yesterday, the Prime Minister repeatedly failed to confirm whether David Mundell made representations over Scotland receiving its fair share in funding following the Tory and Democratic Unionist Party deal. Does the First Minister agree with me that it is now obvious that he made no such effort?

The First Minister

I think that it is obvious to anybody that David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, did not lift a finger to try to make sure that Scotland got additional funding in the same way that Northern Ireland got additional funding. If the normal rules had been applied here, Scotland would be looking at additional funding of almost £3 billion, but thanks to David Mundell not lifting a finger and thanks to the 13 Tory MPs who, just a couple of weeks ago, we were told were going to be ruling the roost in number 10 and in London, but who instead have gone absent without leave, Scotland has not got a single penny.

Shame on the Scottish Conservatives, and shame on the Secretary of State for Scotland. I watched him yesterday trying to wriggle his way out of the fact that, just a few days ago, he was saying that he would never stand for something that gave money by the back door to Northern Ireland. It seems that, when he was asked what he did to stand up for Scotland, the answer was simply this—when the Tories came to shaft and sell out Scotland, all that David Mundell did was to try to make sure that they did it transparently. I think that people have the right to expect a lot more from the so-called Secretary of State for Scotland.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Scotland is in the height of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex pride season. Does the First Minister agree that it is unacceptable for schools to deny young people the right to express their identity or support the LGBTI community?

The First Minister

Yes. I believe that all young people should be able to express their identity freely without fear of discrimination or bullying in any way, and I do not think that schools or any other parts of society should prevent them from doing that.

I congratulate the time for inclusive education campaign in particular for reaching its second anniversary this week. We are currently working with TIE in the working group that has been set up to promote an inclusive approach to sex and relationship education in our schools, and we look forward to continuing work to progress that through the working group in the weeks and months to come.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I want to return to the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill. I understand what the First Minister says about the commission, and Labour will work with the Government over the summer to try to find a way forward. However, what work is being done to identify the costs of addressing child poverty? Does she accept that, unless we make new moneys available to invest to tackle child poverty, targets will not be met?

The First Minister

First, I welcome Alex Rowley’s commitment to work with us. From my conversations with Angela Constance, I think that he understands the issue here, in terms of the statutory underpinning of the commission. That is not the problem. The issue is whether we want to restrict the commission’s remit to child poverty as opposed to poverty more generally. I think that there is a view on the part of some stakeholders that we should not do that, but I am certainly keen that we work with others to find the right way forward on that.

There are two further points that I would make. Yes, I agree that we have to invest to lift people out of poverty. That is why, as we take on our new social security powers, this Government is looking to do exactly that. I mentioned earlier the early years grant and the money that we already spend—the tens of millions of pounds every year that we spend on mitigating some of the welfare cuts that, if we were not doing that, would be hitting families and children much harder than they already are.

My third and last point is this. Notwithstanding how welcome the additional social security powers are, the vast bulk of the budget around social security will remain in the hands of Westminster, and as long as we allow that to be the case, we will be at the mercy of a Tory Government that is intent on ripping up the social security safety net. That is why all of us who care about these things, and I include everybody in this chamber in that, should be arguing for, campaigning for and demanding to have more social security powers in the hands of this Parliament so that we can use them to lift people out of poverty and not drive more people into it.


Gender Pay Gap

5. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to close the gender pay gap. (S5F-01453)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

We are transforming early learning and childcare to support more women back into work; we are taking measures to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination; we are encouraging employers to pay the real living wage, which will particularly benefit women; and we are funding returners programmes to help women to update their skills after a career break.

Statistics show that progress is being made on reducing the gender pay gap in Scotland. It is currently 15.6 per cent, which is down from over 20 per cent in 2007, but we know that there is much more still to do, which is why we are taking the action that I have outlined.

John Mason

The First Minister may know that, this week, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee published its report on the gender pay gap, which contains a lot of interesting information. One of the committee’s findings was that although good numbers of women are coming into professions such as law and accountancy, they are not getting into senior positions. Does the First Minister think that it is simply a matter of time before that changes, or should positive action be taken to get more women into senior positions?

The First Minister

I believe in positive action. Although a lot of progress is still to be made, I do not think that we would have made the progress in, for example, politics, that we have made without the positive action schemes of some—but not all—parties in this chamber. If we look around at the gender balance across the different groups in this Parliament, we will see the evidence that positive action works. Frankly, we will see evidence of where positive action might come in very well in improving gender balance.

As I said, I believe in positive action, but it is important that we take action across a range of areas, which is why the partnership for change 50:50 by 2020 campaign is so important. We already have a lot of big private sector organisations signed up to that. It is also about culture and working practices; it is about all those things. However, we must all dedicate ourselves to the simple belief and principle that if we had a society in which everyone was able to get on on the basis of merit, we would already have a 50:50 balance between men and women across all areas of our society. It is because there are systemic barriers to women that we do not have that. If we are to overcome those systemic barriers, we must take action in the range of ways that I have spoken about.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee also heard evidence that, in some areas, men suffer from a gender pay gap in relation to women. While that may be less of a problem than that affecting women, what steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure a balanced approach that addresses the issue where it affects men?

The First Minister

Currently, Ruth Davidson is slowly sliding under the desk in front of her. [Laughter.] The whole essence of equality is that men and women are treated equally so, yes, in the spirit of consensus, I kind of accept the underlying premise of the question. However, anyone who can look at the problem of the gender pay gap or the gender inequalities that exist in other parts of our society right now and conclude that we must do more to help men rather than women misses the whole point. Furthermore, it probably underlines that the Tories have got an awful lot to do here.

I looked at the detail of yesterday’s Tory shadow cabinet reshuffle. I might not be getting the figures absolutely right, but there were only five women out of about 30 appointments. That is shocking. Rather than come up with such convoluted questions, the Tories need to go away and take a long hard look at themselves when it comes to gender balance.


2016 Common Agricultural Policy Payments

6. Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will meet the 30 June deadline for the processing of 2016 CAP payments. (S5F-01451)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As I have already outlined today, we are doing all that we can to make the vast majority of pillar 1 payments by the 30 June deadline. We are making daily progress on that. As at Friday 16 June, which is fewer than two weeks ago, we had made 58 per cent of the value of all payments; by last Friday, that figure had risen to 76 per cent; by this morning, it was 82 per cent, which is a total of £346 million paid out.

Rapid progress is being made daily; we will continue to make that progress.

Finlay Carson

I was hoping for a yes or no answer, but that is maybe too much to ask for. Rural Scotland has lost all faith in this Government. It has let down farmers, it has let down crofters and it has let down rural businesses the length and breadth of the country. This fiasco must come to an end. It is beginning to resemble a poor movie sequel. Last year, we had payment fiasco 1. This year, we have had payment fiasco 2. Next year, will we have Nicola Sturgeon and Fergus Ewing playing the baddies once again in the sequel, payment fiasco 3?

Right now, right here, will the First Minister give rural communities and this Parliament a guarantee that her Government will learn from the shambles of the past two years and that farmers will be paid in full and on time in next year’s round of CAP payments?

The First Minister

Let me tell the member what a fiasco is. It is a Secretary of State for Scotland who forgets to stand up for Scotland. A fiasco is a Government that cannot even manage competently to deliver the Brexit into which it is so recklessly leading the country. The Scottish Government will continue to deliver for farmers and for others across Scotland. This week, one thing is beyond any doubt whatsoever: the Scottish Conservatives have let down everyone in Scotland.