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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 2, 2024


First Minister’s Question Time

Scottish National Party Leadership

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

A week ago, I lodged the Scottish Conservative vote of no confidence motion that forced Humza Yousaf to resign in disgrace. This could very well be his final First Minister’s question time as First Minister.

Humza Yousaf’s replacement must focus on what really matters to Scotland. The SNP has to forget about independence and prioritise growing our economy, creating jobs and improving public services. John Swinney did the opposite of all those things in government, and his leadership campaign slogan, which was unveiled this morning, is “Uniting for independence”. That is all that he offers. [Applause.]

Members, let us hear Mr Ross.

Douglas Ross

I am very grateful for that party election broadcast, which we will be using in the days, weeks and months to come, because all that Mr Swinney offers is more of the same nationalist obsession that has damaged Scotland for a decade, and SNP members are laughing and applauding that. He is fixated on independence, not on the things that really matter. Does uniting for independence not just mean more division for Scotland?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

No, it does not. Douglas Ross has every right and prerogative to gloat about the position that I am in; I made my statement on Monday. The only exception that I would take to what Douglas Ross said is that I do not feel disgraced at all. I am very proud of the fact that I became the first person of colour to be First Minister, the very first Muslim leader of a western nation and the youngest First Minister to serve in 25 years of devolution.

Most of all, I am proud to have served this Government and my country on the front bench for 12 years. Did I get everything right? Absolutely not—that is very evident and clear. Can I be proud of the Government’s record? Absolutely.

Let me talk about the Government’s record. In his next few questions, Douglas Ross will do his best to talk about personalities as opposed to policies. Why would he want to do that? When it comes to our policies, the SNP is the party of free university education, the party that abolished prescription charges, the party of free personal and nursing care, the party of free bus travel for those who are under 22 or over 60 and those with a disability, the party of free school meals, the party of the baby box and the party of free childcare.

What about the Conservatives? They are the party of Windrush, the party of bankers’ bonuses, the party of austerity, the party of Brexit, the party of the two-child limit, the party of Boris Johnson, the party of Liz Truss and the party of the cost of living crisis. With such an abysmal record, no wonder the leader of the nasty party wants to talk about personalities, not policies.

Douglas Ross

My criticism of the Government was mainly brought on by John Swinney’s comments today, as he said that everything is so bad that he has to run for the leadership. Just when John Swinney thought that he was out, the SNP pulled him back in, because there is literally nobody else. The SNP’s man for the future is its failed leader from the past. It is going from one continuity candidate to another.

John Swinney was Nicola Sturgeon’s human shield. He masterminded the deal with the extremist Greens. For 16 out of the 17 years of SNP Government, John Swinney sat round the Cabinet table. His fingerprints are all over the Government’s most toxic policies. How will going back to the future get the SNP out of the mess that it is in?

The First Minister

Has Douglas Ross never stopped to reflect on the fact that, for all that he has said about John Swinney, John Swinney and my colleague Kate Forbes are both more popular than Douglas Ross?

Douglas Ross seems absolutely determined to talk about personality. Let me remind him about the personalities that he associates himself with. Douglas Ross served in Boris Johnson’s Government. He called Boris Johnson an honest man. That would be the Boris Johnson who was not only the architect of a damaging hard Brexit but who allegedly said to Covid victims, “Let the bodies pile up high.”

Douglas Ross then went on to not only support Liz Truss to the hilt—[Interruption.]


The First Minister

He demanded that we copy Liz Truss’s disastrous tax plans. Of course, those were the tax plans that utterly annihilated the economy, and that is the Liz Truss who is now engaging in hard-right conspiracies about the deep state.

You can judge a man by the company that he keeps. Douglas Ross’s company is Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party of Liz Truss, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, and, formerly, of Lee Anderson, Mark Menzies, Peter Bone, Chris Pincher, Andrew Bridgen and Frank Hester. I can see Douglas Ross looking more and more embarrassed. That is the company that he keeps. [Interruption.]


I am very proud of John Swinney, Kate Forbes and all the company that I keep. [Interruption.]

I call Douglas Ross. [Interruption.] Let us hear Mr Ross.

Douglas Ross

Humza Yousaf is talking a big game now. Has he forgotten that, just last Friday, he wrote this humiliating letter to me, begging the Conservatives and our colleagues here to save his skin? He was literally begging us to save his job. That is how quickly things change in the world of Humza Yousaf.

Let us go back to John Swinney. SNP members think that John Swinney is a safe pair of hands, but he has dropped the ball dozens of times. He was the Deputy First Minister who stood right by Nicola Sturgeon when she obsessed about independence, when she increased taxes and when she wrecked Scotland’s public services. He was the architect of the hated named persons law. He deleted every WhatsApp message that should have gone to the United Kingdom Covid inquiry, in a disgraceful cover-up. [Interruption.]


Douglas Ross

John Swinney was the education secretary who let our schools spiral down international league tables, below Estonia, Latvia and Hungary. The man who oversaw the disastrous ferries deal is supposed to steady the ship. Is that really the best that the SNP can do?

The First Minister

Let us compare records. John Swinney was part of a Government that set up Social Security Scotland. Through our anti-poverty measures, including through the benefits that are awarded through Social Security Scotland—[Interruption.] I can hear the Conservatives saying that those anti-poverty measures are not working, but it is estimated that they will lift 100,000 children out of poverty this year, in stark contrast to what the Conservatives are doing.

It is through John Swinney’s efforts on education and the foundations that he laid that more young people from areas of deprivation are going to university now than ever before. It was John Swinney who helped to deliver the biggest expansion of early learning and childcare in our country’s history. [Interruption.]

Mr Ross!

The First Minister

Let us look at Douglas Ross’s record. His voting record is there on websites such as TheyWorkForYou, which aggregate and assess the voting records of all MPs. On taxation and employment, Douglas Ross generally voted against higher taxes on banks. On veterans, he generally voted against strengthening the military covenant. On environmental issues, he generally voted against—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

The Conservatives are getting worked up. It is all there in black and white. Douglas Ross cannot hide from the truth.

The website also says that he voted against improving—[Interruption.]

We have gone well beyond the point at which we can hear one another. I have called only one person to speak, as far as I am aware, and I would like to hear the person who was called to speak, and them alone.

The First Minister

The Conservatives do not like the truth. They do not like it one bit, because the truth shows that Douglas Ross generally voted against measures to prevent climate change—what a surprise—that he generally voted against improving air quality and that he generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.

Let us find something that he did vote for: he voted for the Rwanda bill. What a shameful act. What a disgrace.

John Swinney, Kate Forbes or any one of my colleagues can stand proudly on their record. Can Douglas Ross stand proudly on his?

Douglas Ross

Humza Yousaf is lashing out today because he knows that it was the Scottish Conservatives who forced him out of his job, and he knows that, in seats up and down Scotland in the coming election, it will be a straight fight between the SNP and my party. We will stand on our record of forcing him out of office—[Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Ross.

Douglas Ross

—and of holding this tired and failing SNP Government to account.

What will John Swinney and the SNP stand on? John Swinney has confirmed today that he will be another divisive nationalist, focused only on independence. His campaign slogan is literally “Uniting for independence”. That means more division for Scotland all over again. John Swinney has been at the heart of the failures that have defined the SNP’s time in office. How on earth will the SNP stop failing Scotland if it keeps doing the same thing over and over again?

The First Minister

Any colleagues who stand for the leadership of my party will stand on a record that we will take to the people of Scotland, much as Douglas Ross’s party is taking its record to people in England and Wales in the local elections today. One suspects that the people will give the Conservatives a very harsh verdict indeed. [Interruption.]

Mr Ross!

When it comes to the issue of independence—[Interruption.]

Mr Ross!

The First Minister

Let us make it very clear that, when it comes to having a vote on the constitutional future of this country—which is a mandate that we have stood on and have won election after election on—the only reason why those in Westminster refuse to give that second referendum is that they fear the verdict.

Why do we need independence? We need independence because this country has suffered 14 years of austerity from a Government that has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s. It is because a Brexit that we did not vote for was foisted upon us and because our people are suffering from a cost of living crisis that they did not create but are suffering the results of.

What drives John Swinney, Kate Forbes and every one of my colleagues beside and behind me—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

—is our social contract with the people to work day and night in the service of all communities in Scotland.

When we take the record that I stand proudly on and that my successor will stand proudly on, I have no doubt at all that the people will continue to put their trust in the SNP.

Scottish National Party Government

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Scotland cannot afford this distracted, divided and incompetent Scottish National Party Government. When we look past all the shouting, we see that our country is facing the greatest challenges since the creation of this Parliament. More than 800,000 people are on national health service waiting lists.

What about Wales?

We see increasing violence and falling standards in our schools.

And in Wales.

Anas Sarwar

Police numbers are being cut and crimes are not being investigated. I remind Mr Brown that we are talking about his constituents, who are suffering those consequences. Police numbers are being cut and crimes are not being investigated. Almost 10,000 children are living in temporary accommodation, millions of pounds is being wasted on failed projects and our economy is flatlining, while the huge potential of our people is being squandered.

Yet again, the SNP is putting party before country and its own problems before the people of Scotland. Is it not the case that, regardless of who the SNP imposes, it will not be able to fix this mess and deliver the change that Scotland needs?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Obviously, I do not agree with that in the slightest. What I would say about some of the issues that Anas Sarwar has raised is that there are of course challenges, particularly in the face of a recovery from a global pandemic. However, on the NHS and our public services, we are choosing to invest in those public services, as opposed to introducing tax cuts for the wealthy, which is the choice of the United Kingdom Conservative Party but, it seems, is now also the choice of the UK Labour Party. Anas Sarwar once stood on a platform of progressive taxation, but that, like all his other principles, has gone out of the window.

Anas Sarwar asks us to concentrate on the day job. I remind him that it was he and his party that, yesterday, brought to this Parliament a motion of no confidence that they knew they were going to lose. Due to that waste of time, we had less time to debate justice and compensation for the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—women. Perhaps Anas Sarwar wanted it that way because, for all the photographs that he takes with the WASPI women, all the warm words and all the hugs that he gives the WASPI women, it was a disgrace that the Labour Party led by Anas Sarwar abstained on a motion that demanded full compensation for the women who have suffered such a disgraceful injustice.

While we are getting on with the day job and getting on with serving the people of Scotland, Anas Sarwar and his Labour Party are U-turning, flip-flopping and deflecting. They should not think that the people of Scotland cannot see through that.

Anas Sarwar

Presiding Officer, things are going so well that the First Minister is stepping down this week, yet he is now giving us political advice after the week that he has just had. I do not think that we could make it up. Regardless of—[Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

Regardless of the list that the First Minister wants to read out, it does not reflect the lived reality for people in Scotland right now under this SNP Government. While our country is crying out for change, what is the SNP’s answer? It is an internal stitch-up and more of the same—either the man who broke the public finances, who was the worst education secretary in the history of the Scottish Parliament, who was the Deputy First Minister who deleted evidence to the Covid inquiry and who has been at the heart of this incompetent SNP Government for the past 17 years, or a former cabinet secretary who many on her own benches say is more akin to a member of Douglas Ross’s party than one of her own? Both represent chaos, both represent division and both represent more of the same. After 17 years of incompetence and failure, is that really the best that the SNP has to offer?

The First Minister

Anas Sarwar talks about a leadership stitch-up. He should know about that. Just ask Richard Leonard about what he did about a leadership stitch-up.

Our record has seen more young people from deprived areas going to university than ever before. Our record has delivered more than 128,000 affordable homes. Our record has established Social Security Scotland with 14 benefits, seven of which are available only in Scotland, including the game-changing Scottish child payment. It is estimated that our anti-poverty measures will lift 100,000 children out of poverty.

Anas Sarwar talks about what the Government has been doing over the past two weeks. In the past two weeks alone, we have announced £80 million of additional funds to ensure that we boost our affordable housing stock. On top of that, we confirmed £11 million of grant funding for public bodies such as leisure centres. What have Anas Sarwar and the Labour Party done in the past two weeks? They voted against keeping the Promise to care-experienced children. They are going to water down their plans for workers, and they announced that on May day, of all days. I say once again that, disgracefully, they refused to back justice and compensation for the WASPI women—a betrayal that they will not be forgiven for.

Anas Sarwar

The First Minister cut £189 million from the housing budget and then miraculously found £80 million on the day when was begging to keep his job. People can see right through the sham. As so many in his own party have said, continuity will not cut it. We need a Government that is focused on fixing the mess that the SNP has made. For all the First Minister’s bluster today, he cannot ignore the fact that people across our country are being forced to remortgage their homes to pay for hip replacements.

There are mothers going without food in order to feed their children. There are families travelling south to get their child a private mental health diagnosis. Cash-strapped families are being made to pay more and get less from their public services. What is the SNP focused on instead? It is desperately trying to cling on to power.

The SNP is so divided, so chaotic and so dysfunctional that it cannot now provide the stable, competent government that our country needs. That is why we need an election, but it does not want to call one. Why? Is it because it fears the judgment of the Scottish people?

I remind Anas Sarwar that, less than 24 hours ago, this Parliament voted to give confidence to the SNP-led Scottish Government. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Let me also say to Anas Sarwar that, whoever succeeds me, they can say unequivocally that we stand proud of not only our record but the policies that we have enacted over 17 years. The difference between Anas Sarwar and me, my colleagues on the front benches, and colleagues such as John Swinney and Kate Forbes is that we are consistent in our principles; the only consistency in Anas Sarwar is his complete and utter inconsistency. I am surprised that he is not more embarrassed by that inconsistency. [Interruption.]

Mr Sarwar!

The First Minister

He has U-turned on the two-child limit and the rape clause; he has U-turned on bankers’ bonuses; he has U-turned on progressive taxation; he has U-turned on the £28 billion green prosperity fund; he has U-turned on rejoining the European Union; and he has U-turned on his support for compensation for the WASPI women. Anas Sarwar says that continuity will not cut it. It would be nice if, for five minutes, Anas Sarwar could continue with one principle without dumping it.

Climate Emergency

3. Lorna Slater (Lothian) (Green)

The First Minister’s Government announced a new package of measures to ramp up action on climate change just a few weeks ago. Since then, though, he has needlessly ended the progressive pro-independence Government majority brought about by the Bute house agreement. Responding to the climate emergency was at the core of that agreement and I am proud of what the Scottish Greens achieved during our time in government: free bus travel for under-22s, banning new incinerators and ending fossil fuel heating in new-build homes. Those actions are already driving down our climate emissions, but climate action is now under threat. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Ms Slater.

Lorna Slater

Climate action is now under threat, so will he confirm to me today whether the Scottish Government will recommit to the package of climate action announced, or will his last act as First Minister be watering down climate action and betraying future generations?

The First Minister

For 17 years, whether before the Bute house agreement or as part of that agreement, this Government has had a very proud track record of standing up to tackle the climate crisis. We are proud of the achievements that were made with the co-operation of the Greens, but we also had a long-standing record on tackling the climate crisis before we were in a co-operation agreement with the Greens.

On progressive values, which I have heard Lorna Slater talk about in recent days, the manifesto that we stood on—which ensured that the SNP was, by quite some considerable distance, the largest party in this Parliament—was rooted in progressive social values.

It will be for my successor and their Cabinet to come to the chamber to make clear their priorities in tackling the climate crisis. This Government absolutely supports that accelerated policy package, but it is now time for all of us to make sure that we continue to collaborate and work closely together on an issue-by-issue basis. I have no doubt that the Greens will do that with whoever my successor is.

Lorna Slater

One of the policies contained in the Bute house agreement was to conduct a climate compatibility assessment of the proposed dualling of the A96. That assessment is now long overdue. Achieving our climate goals means drastically driving down car use. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Ms Slater.

Lorna Slater

The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, the Climate Change Committee and Transform Scotland have all said that new road building to increase capacity is not compatible with the drive to net zero. When will the First Minister’s Government publish the climate compatibility assessment for the A96? When it inevitably says that we cannot afford, for the sake of future generations, to dual that road in full, will he commit to investing the money earmarked for that project into safety improvements and better public transport for communities that live along the route?

The First Minister

Lorna Slater will know that it is important for such reviews to complete before we update the Parliament. Again, therefore, it will no doubt be for my successor to give an update on that matter.

However, when it comes to transport, we can tell a good story, for example on the investment that we have made in electric vehicle charging points and infrastructure. We look to accelerate that. We can talk about the fact that, since 2011, we have provided more than £200 million in interest-free loans, through the low-carbon transport loan scheme, for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles. We are committed to working with public bodies to decarbonise the public sector fleet, and have provided £80 million to date to support the procurement of more than 4,000 zero-emission and ultra-low-emission vehicles as well as charging and refuelling infrastructure. We have a proud record of building infrastructure—be that road or other infrastructure—but we also have a very proud record of ensuring that we continue to invest in low-emission transport and affordable public transport. We will continue to do that—again, I suspect, regardless of who my successor is.

Many questions are still to be put, and more concise questions and responses will enable that opportunity for more members.

Detention of Asylum Seekers (Impact on Police Scotland)

4. Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the potential impact on Police Scotland and devolved agencies of reports that the Home Office has launched a major operation to detain asylum seekers across the United Kingdom, following the passing of the UK Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024. (S6F-03076)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Let me be very clear: the dog-whistle politics that we have seen displayed this week through the disgusting Home Office footage and, frankly, the accompanying Westminster rhetoric, have no place here in Scotland. This Government has consistently opposed the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024, while other members of this Parliament have voted for it in their capacity as MPs. We have absolutely opposed the that act and the Illegal Migration Act 2023. The “hostile environment” rhetoric is a symptom of a broken Westminster system that is focused on constantly attacking the most vulnerable and is a complete abdication of not just the moral responsibility of the UK but its international obligations.

Any unannounced Home Office immigration enforcement visits will raise concern and anxiety right across our communities. Although Police Scotland has a role in maintaining public order and public safety, it will never assist in the removal of asylum seekers or other migrants. Ministers will continue to press to UK counterparts our deep concerns on reserved asylum policy.

Karen Adam

Given the news that the Home Office raids have begun, is the First Minister as sickened as I am, and as many of my constituents are, at the fact that this unworkable policy has been forced on Scotland by a fear-mongering and xenophobic UK Government?

The First Minister

I agree entirely with Karen Adam. However, I have great faith in the people of Scotland. Who will ever forget the heroic actions of those on Kenmure Street, for example?

The Government stands absolutely steadfast in our opposition to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023. I deplore the inhumane Home Office enforcement action that we have seen. Detaining people in order to forcibly remove them to Rwanda is cruel and punishes some of the most vulnerable in our society.

At times like this, we all have an obligation to step back and think about what is going on. Often, those who flee persecution, war or extreme poverty come to our shores. What has happened to the UK that has so often opened its homes, its hearts and its arms to people who seek sanctuary? Instead, the UK Government wants to pit community against community, person against person and race against race. I am afraid that such inflammatory rhetoric—such stoking of the flames of division—is only detrimental to each and every one of us.

To end this answer, my plea to every political party, particularly in what is a general election year, is that we show moral leadership in relation to some of the issues that are most divisive. That is important. I hope that every member of the Parliament will play their part in ensuring that we put out rather than stoke the flames of racial and religious tension—which, I am afraid, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 undoubtedly inflames.

Retail Sector (Support)

5. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the First Minister, in light of new reported data that nearly one in five shop premises in Scottish cities lie empty, what action the Scottish Government is taking to support the retail sector. (S6F-03070)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I thank Murdo Fraser for asking an important question that in turn raises an important issue. Retail is an essential component of vibrant city-centre and town-centre economies. Our retail strategy sets out how we will work with businesses and trade unions to deliver a strong and prosperous retail sector. It contains specific actions, such as supporting businesses, where possible, to utilise existing vacant space to strengthen retail’s contribution to the economic and social success of communities, and it encourages our retailers to promote city centres as retail and cultural destinations. Many retailers in Scotland also benefit from the small business bonus scheme—the most generous of its kind in the United Kingdom—which offers up to 100 per cent relief from non-domestic rates.

Murdo Fraser

Research from the Sunday Post newspaper shows alarming shop vacancy rates in Scottish cities: 19.5 per cent in Aberdeen, 18 per cent in Dundee and 18.5 per cent in Perth. The decline of our traditional retail centres is well documented. The Conservative Government down south has given retail, hospitality and leisure premises 75 per cent rates relief for two years, but that has not been passed on by the Scottish Government despite its having had the Barnett consequentials to do so. If the Scottish Government is not going to do that, what other intervention will make a real difference before we see many more closures on our high streets?

The First Minister

First, let me say that, had we followed the logic of what Murdo Fraser says we should have done, it would have meant passing on every single penny of consequentials—and more—to businesses. However, that would have been at the expense of the investment that we have made in the national health service and in real-terms increases in the funding of our education and justice services. The Conservative Party in the UK Government chose to give tax cuts that will put money in the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of the national health service. When it comes to the pressures that both small and large businesses face, I remind Murdo Fraser of the unmitigated disaster that Brexit has been. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

The number 1 issues that businesses raise with me are high energy costs relating to the disastrous mini-budget, high inflation costs and high food prices, all of which have happened because of Murdo Fraser’s party’s mishandling of the economy. We will continue to invest in public services and to support businesses, which is why they benefit from the most generous small business rates relief anywhere in the UK.

Action on Climate Change (Target Removal)

6. Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what recent discussions the Scottish Government has had with environmental groups and communities regarding how it plans to deliver strong action on climate change, following the removal of the 2030 climate target. (S6F-03083)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The Government regularly engages with environmental groups and communities on tackling climate change. For example, in late March, the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing, Economy, Net Zero and Energy held a round-table meeting with environmental non-government organisations to discuss our climate targets. I have regularly met a number of individual organisations. Those discussions will continue as we consider further action on climate change, based on the Climate Change Committee’s advice.

More generally, it is vital that everyone understands the scale of the climate emergency. Our public engagement strategy sets out our vision for everyone to embrace their role in our transition to a net zero Scotland. That is why we are providing a vehicle for communities to engage in collective climate action through our network of climate action hubs, which I know Foysol Choudhury is aware of. In 2023-24, we provided around £4 million to expand the network of such hubs right across the country.

Foysol Choudhury

Will the Scottish Government support my colleague Sarah Boyack’s amendments to place the purpose of a circular economy in Scotland in the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill, and my colleague Monica Lennon’s amendment to put in place a reusable nappy scheme that would represent concrete action to reduce consumption-based carbon emissions in Scotland? Will it also properly fund local authorities so that they can deliver the transformation that we need in our local communities?

The First Minister

Any amendments to any legislation will be considered on their own merits. As I know Foysol Choudhury will understand, it is important, particularly given that we are operating as a minority Government, that we continue to hear good ideas and co-operate across parties where we can.

I would also say this to Foysol Choudhury. When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, that imperative and obligation is made far more difficult if, whenever we bring even the mildest of action to the chamber, it is opposed by, for example, members of the United Kingdom Labour Party—I mean the Scottish Labour Party; forgive me for that Freudian slip—and the Opposition. They opposed our introduction of low-emission zones in Glasgow. In this Parliament, they opposed a workplace parking levy. They are trying to water down new heating standards. Time and again, they have refused to back any measure that we bring.

We will of course look at the amendments or the ideas that Foysol Choudhury has suggested. I would hope that his party will do the same, so that we can work together to tackle the biggest challenge—the existential challenge—that our planet faces.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Can the First Minister confirm that Scotland’s climate ambitions are very dependent on Westminster funding and that, if a future Labour Government just carries on copying the Tory policies, as Labour seems to be doing, Scotland will continue to struggle to make climate progress?

The First Minister

That is absolutely right. I have asked Anas Sarwar and the Labour Party on a number of occasions, very gently, to confirm whether they would reverse the £1.3 billion capital cut to our budget that the Tories have imposed on us for the next few years. Every time I ask that question I get a lot of waffle, but I do not get an answer back.

That is the challenge here. When it comes to investing in tackling the climate crisis, capital infrastructure will be absolutely key: it will be vital for tackling the climate crisis. We expect the Conservatives to cut our capital budget to the bone; what we need Labour to do is to move away from Tory tax and spending plans, so that we have a chance to tackle the biggest challenge that our planet faces.

Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

A protest is under way outside the Scottish Parliament against the monster pylon pathway proposed by the transmission operator, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, for the north of Scotland. Communities are alarmed and anxious.

The First Minister says that he does not want waffle, so will he commit to sit down with campaigners and explain how his Government will use its devolved powers to respond to their concerns?

The First Minister

I am well aware of the protest that is taking place. We strongly support action to reform the connection process, so that Scottish projects can connect to the grid when they are ready to do so. The powers to reform the grid connection process are of course reserved to the UK Government, and they require action at a UK level.

In Scotland, we have the most stringent environmental impact regulations in the world, and our planning and consent system ensures that local communities can have their say. All applications must be subject to site-specific assessments. It is not appropriate for ministers to comment on potential projects that may come forward for determinations. As our national planning framework 4 makes abundantly clear, potential impacts on communities, nature and others are important considerations in the decision-making process.

It is of course important to listen to, hear from, consult and engage with our communities. Let us remind ourselves that it is equally important for powering Scotland’s renewables potential for the future—in fact, it will be vital—that whoever forms the UK Government puts their hand in their pocket and invests in our grid infrastructure. All of us have a responsibility to talk up the importance of grid infrastructure. If we do not do that, we will simply not have the renewables boom that we are very much on the precipice or cusp of.

Let us of course engage with our communities; let us also make it abundantly clear that investment in the grid is absolutely required.

Social Security (Disability Benefits)

7. Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the potential impact on devolved social security benefits of the United Kingdom Government’s proposed reforms to disability benefits. (S6F-03082)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I can give a categoric assurance that whoever is in this office—I can say this even on behalf of my potential successor—will make it clear that the Scottish National Party-led Scottish Government will never accept the cruel welfare reforms that are being pursued by the United Kingdom Government. Those punitive proposals would only further stigmatise and impoverish disabled people, and they have rightly been called out by stakeholders as a “reckless assault” on disabled people.

In contrast, Scotland’s social security system was designed with the principles of dignity, fairness and respect as foundation blocks. Those are the values of the Scottish Government and of the people of Scotland. Disability payments, should they be required, are there for all of us whenever we need them.

The Scottish Government is committed to continuing to deliver adult disability payments in a compassionate and caring way. I know that, earlier this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice sought urgent clarification from the Department for Work and Pensions that people who receive our adult disability payment will not be penalised and will continue to automatically receive the reserved benefits that they rely on. I call on the UK Government to provide assurance that it will not seek to impose any resultant cuts to expenditure on the Scottish Government.

Collette Stevenson

Social Security Scotland is built on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect. In contrast, the UK Government continues to favour an outdated blame-and-shame approach. Does the First Minister share my concern that those narratives could have a detrimental impact on disabled people in Scotland applying for the support that they are entitled to? Will he outline measures that can be taken to minimise the impact?

The First Minister

I fully agree with that. I am clear that social security is a human right. It is an investment in our society and in the people. That is why we have transformed financial support for disabled people in Scotland and established a radically different system that is based on the foundation blocks of fairness, dignity and respect, as I have said.

The proposed changes, much like the Rwanda legislation, which we spoke about earlier, are just the latest examples of the Conservatives punching down and punishing marginalised communities to make up for their own failings. That is transparent for everyone to see.

While the Department for Work and Pensions continues to pursue punitive measures that would serve only to stigmatise and dehumanise disabled people, we will proactively ensure that people are aware of, and encouraged to access, the financial support that they are entitled to. We will continue to work in partnership with disabled people through our on-going review of adult disability payments and with our continued commitment to supporting people to access all their social security entitlements.

We move to constituency and general supplementary questions.

Breast Cancer Treatment

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Hundreds of women in the Grampian region are travelling hundreds of miles to the central belt for vital breast cancer treatment. I was alerted to that issue this week by a clinician, who told me that there are great concerns about the impact of the treatment delays on patients’ chances of recovery.

The First Minister knows that the situation is intolerable. Coupled with issues in NHS Tayside, which I have raised here many times, there is a significant issue regarding breast cancer care in north-east Scotland. Why has that happened? What can the First Minister do to fix the situation? What guarantees can he offer today that NHS Grampian is working urgently to restore a full service?

Delays to cancer treatment cost lives. Will the First Minister commit to a full assessment of the devastating impact of treatment delays for those women?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Michael Marra has raised an important issue. He has raised the issue in relation to Tayside before, and he is right to raise it, because we do not want any delays in treatment.

I should say that those who are asked to travel for treatment will get the best possible care, wherever they are asked to travel, but of course we want them to be treated as close to home as they possibly can be. That is why we have increased our funding and head count in relation to oncologists and consultants over the years. However, there continues to be a shortage in some health boards, including NHS Grampian. I will therefore ask the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care to write to Michael Marra with the details of the conversations that he has had with NHS Grampian and other health boards in whose areas there is a shortage, so that we can get to a position at which the best treatment for breast cancer and, indeed, any other condition takes place as close to home as possible.

Off-road Vehicles

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

As summer approaches, my constituents in Maryhill and Springburn will increasingly be subjected to the dangers of the irresponsible use of off-road vehicles such as quad bikes. People have been injured and lives have been lost—I am talking about riders and the wider public.

At Westminster, the Glasgow North East member of Parliament, Anne McLaughlin, is seeking a legislative change to require off-road vehicle registration, and the Home Office has promised to establish a task force. However, we must do stuff in Scotland, too.

What can we do in Scotland? I am thinking, for example, about the need to support Police Scotland in its often hazardous task of clamping down on irresponsible off-road vehicle use, including enforcement, and—importantly—about promoting responsible usage. Will the Scottish Government meet me to see what work can be done in Scotland?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I share the member’s concerns about the antisocial behaviour that can be associated with those vehicles and about the risk to the safety of the public and the riders. The legislation that governs the registration of off-road vehicles, including quad bikes, is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, so it is there that we need action.

Bob Doris is right to mention the legislative change that Anne McLaughlin MP is pushing for. I hope that MPs can back that sensible change.

I fully support Police Scotland as partners in dealing with and handling the misuse of such vehicles. Local policing teams are ideally placed to engage with members of the local community to identify whether the misuse of such vehicles is causing problems in our neighbourhoods.

Sexual Crime (Dunfermline)

Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The number of recorded sexual crimes in Dunfermline is now higher than it was before the pandemic—1,000 sexual crimes have been reported in the city since 2017. Of those crimes, 223 were reported in 2022-23, which is a significantly higher number than the 163 such crimes that were reported in 2019-20, before the pandemic.

Local charities such as Safe Space—an organisation that supports survivors of child sex abuse in Dunfermline—work tirelessly to support victims of those horrendous crimes, but the numbers of those who are coming forward to use the service are such that they are simply overwhelming. It is obvious that current policy is not working. What will the Scottish Government do to halt the alarming increase in sexual crime?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I thank Roz McCall for raising what is an exceptionally important issue indeed. We in this Government have always said that we must, first and foremost, improve the criminal justice system for those who, unfortunately, end up as victims and survivors of sexual offences, and I hope that we can get the support of the Conservatives on that.

On the prevention element, I know that Police Scotland is working extensively and tirelessly with communities to prevent sexual crimes from taking place in the first place. We will seek to do all that we can to support organisations such as Safe Space and many other third sector organisations. I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs writes to Roz McCall with some of the detail on what we can do, working in collaboration with both Police Scotland and—crucially—excellent third sector organisations such as Safe Space.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Forgive me for not giving advance notice of this point, but I noticed that only three back benchers have been able to ask constituency or supplementary questions today. Unfortunately, that has become a bit of a pattern at First Minister’s questions. I know that a number of members on all sides of the chamber have very pertinent issues to raise. Are you reviewing any potential changes to the format of FMQs that would allow for a far wider range and volume of back-bench questions to be asked and for the First Minister to answer them?

The Presiding Officer

I thank Mr Greene for his point of order. I think that it is fair to say that I have shared my expectations with members on that issue on many occasions, and I have put forward my recommendation for timings of questions and responses. It is fair to say that there is still significant work to be done in the area. I note that, at the beginning of session 5, the Parliament extended First Minister’s question time, for the very purpose that Mr Greene outlined. I certainly hope that we will see a real move towards that, because it is really important that as many members as possible have those opportunities.

There will be a short suspension to allow people to leave the chamber and the public gallery before the next item of business begins.

12:49 Meeting suspended.  

12:54 On resuming—