Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, February 22, 2024


First Minister’s Question Time

National Health Service

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

This morning, Audit Scotland released a damning report on the state of Scotland’s NHS. It shows, among many shocking figures, that the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment has jumped from 3,500 to 40,000. That is an elevenfold increase since 2019, despite patient numbers falling.

When he was Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf brought in his NHS recovery plan, which was supposed to bring waiting times down. Why are things getting worse, not better?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

First and foremost, I say that we take very seriously the comments in the report by the Auditor General that was published this morning. There is simply no doubt about, and there are no attempts by us to downplay, the seriousness of the challenges that the health service is facing, as it recovers from what is undoubtedly the biggest shock of its 75-year existence—the global pandemic. There are challenges for every single health service right across the United Kingdom.

To answer Douglas Ross’s question directly, I say that we are still facing the cumulative impacts of the pandemic. For example, people are still, this winter, suffering from Covid. That has an impact not just on in-patient care in hospitals, but on the ability of staff to perform elective care treatments and surgeries. I accept, of course, that in NHS Scotland those challenges are my responsibility as well as that of the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care. However, they are common challenges right across the country.

Some of the latest data, from September last year, shows that in Scotland 123 patients per 1,000 of the population were waiting, outside the treatment time guarantee, for new out-patient appointments. That figure is smaller than the one for England, where there were 137 per 1,000 on the referral-to-treatment waiting list. In Wales, the figure is 245 per 1,000. My point is that Scotland’s NHS is facing challenges—of that, there is no doubt—but they are common challenges right across the UK.

We will make sure that we fund the NHS. That is why I am pleased that, in the budget that was announced by the Deputy First Minister last year, we invested a record £19.5 billion in our health service.

Douglas Ross

This is an Audit Scotland report into NHS Scotland. Please, First Minister, focus on our NHS in Scotland.

The shocking elevenfold increase in people waiting over a year is, of course, against a target that should be zero. There was a target that, by March 2023, waits of over a year would be eradicated. Instead, the number of people waiting that long is now more than 40,000. Audit Scotland says that the latest Scottish National Party targets for reduced waiting times

“are unlikely to be met”.

They are Humza Yousaf’s targets. It was his recovery plan. When he was health secretary, he said that the plan will

“drive the recovery of our NHS, not just to its pre-pandemic level but beyond”.

That is yet another example of Humza Yousaf winging it.

That arrogant claim now rings hollow, and patients in Scotland are suffering. Humza Yousaf sent waiting times in the wrong direction. Will he now finally admit that his plan has failed?

The First Minister

Here is what we have managed to achieve—although I accept that there is still a way to go and, of course, I accept the recommendations of the Audit Scotland report. Because of the investment that we have made in national treatment centres, there have been an additional 20,000 procedures. There has been an 11 per cent increase in performed operations in the past 12 months. The number of out-patients waiting longer than two years has fallen by almost 70 per cent. The number of in-patient day-case patients waiting the longest times has fallen by more than 25 per cent. We are investing more than £19.5 billion—a record amount—in our national health service.

What makes the recovery more difficult is the 10 per cent cut to our capital budget, which means that we have less to spend on capital health infrastructure. What makes the job more difficult is our being given only £10.8 million of health consequentials in the UK Government’s autumn statement, which is enough for five hours of NHS activity. The Conservatives rightly ask questions about what more we can do, but this SNP Government will invest in our NHS, unlike Douglas Ross’s party, which is cutting funding to the bone.

Douglas Ross

It is not just the Conservatives who are asking these questions—it is Audit Scotland and, crucially, our constituents, who are suffering. As usual, however, Humza Yousaf promises the world but has delivered very little. It is just like the ferries that he claimed he would build, the hate crime act that he said would be a success and the trains that he promised he would get to run on time.

Audit Scotland says that it cannot even fully measure how badly the First Minister’s recovery plan has failed, because the SNP has not been transparent with the public. Audit Scotland says that

“Updates against a range of the ambitions are absent”.

Humza Yousaf is covering up just how bad it has been, but the reason for the failure is clear from the report. Audit Scotland states that there is “no overall vision” for Scotland’s NHS. How can Humza Yousaf and the SNP Government have no vision for Scotland’s NHS?

We will respond to the Audit Scotland report in due course, but let me say to Douglas Ross—

Do it now.

The First Minister

Let me say to Douglas Ross that the SNP’s stewardship of the NHS includes record investment in our NHS of more than £19.5 billion, and resource funding being more than doubled—it has increased by more than 100 per cent since we have been in power. There is record staffing in our NHS of more than 31,300 whole-time equivalents. There are more nurses in Scotland per head of population than there are in England. We have the best NHS staff anywhere in the UK. We have had the best-performing accident and emergency departments not for one year, not for five years, but for eight consecutive years. Because we value our NHS staff, we are the only nation in the UK not to have had NHS staff go on strike.

When it comes to the challenges that our NHS is undoubtedly facing—and I am not downplaying them—the Government is ensuring that we invest in the recovery. The difference between the Tories and the SNP is that we will invest in our NHS, while the Conservatives are cutting it right to the bone.

Douglas Ross

There is “no ... vision” for Scotland’s NHS. Those are not my words—they are the words of the Auditor General for Scotland. Audit Scotland makes it very clear that that lack of vision has not happened just because of the pandemic and the issues that our NHS has faced; there has not been a vision for Scotland’s NHS since 2013. Audit Scotland says:

“There has been no unified vision for the future direction of the entire healthcare system published since 2013”.

Humza Yousaf has no vision for Scotland’s NHS. He has been asleep at the wheel, like every other SNP First Minister. There has been a lost decade of leadership in Scotland’s NHS, and 10 years of stalling and delay has had dire consequences for patients. How long are people in Scotland going to have to wait for the SNP to get its act together?

The First Minister

We are investing in that recovery now. That is why, for example, the number of out-patients waiting the longest has reduced by almost 70 per cent, and why the number of in-patients waiting the longest has reduced by more than 25 per cent. [Interruption.]

Mr Ross!

The First Minister

That is why the number of operations performed in the past 12 months was an increase of 11 per cent. That is why, through our investment, we have created additional capacity for 20,000 procedures. That is why we are investing a record £19.5 billion in our NHS, despite the fact that the UK Government, in its autumn statement—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

—provided less than £11 million for NHS health consequentials. That is enough to fund five hours of NHS activity.

I will take not a single lecture from Douglas Ross about investing in our NHS, when his party is responsible for a 10 per cent capital cut in our budget, which is impacting our health infrastructure deeply. I am afraid that Douglas Ross is presiding over a party that has taken a hatchet to our public services. While his party has cut our public services to the bone, we will continue to invest in the most precious institution in this country—our national health service.

Oil and Gas Industry (Profits)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis in which too many people are struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, oil and gas giants are making record profits. British Gas had a tenfold increase in profits in one year, making more than £700 million. BP has made a profit of £11 billion. Profit at TotalEnergies is £16 billion, and at Shell is £22 billion. Why does the First Minister think that those companies cannot afford to pay more tax?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

A week after The Press and Journal put Anas Sarwar’s face on its front page, with his Labour colleagues, and called him a traitor to the north-east, it is incredibly brave of him to come here and say that he is standing up for the north-east. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

I travelled to the north-east this week and heard the palpable anger from the oil and gas and renewable energy sectors and industries. They spoke about Anas Sarwar’s plans and those of the Labour Party, which would—in the industry’s words, not mine—risk up to 100,000 jobs in the north-east. How does Anas Sarwar think that, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, throwing 100,000 workers on the scrap heap will help households up and down the country?

We absolutely believe in a windfall tax on energy companies. [Interruption.]

Members, let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

What we do not believe in is Anas Sarwar’s and Labour’s aggressive plans to raid the north-east so that they can build new nuclear power plants in England. We will not allow that. We will not stand for it. We will stand up for the north-east. Anas Sarwar cannot even stand up to Keir Starmer.

Presiding Officer—[Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

Every time that Labour has proposed a change to help working people, the warnings that have been made have not come true. In 1997, when Labour proposed a minimum wage and a windfall tax, it was warned that that would cost 2 million jobs. That did not happen. It improved the lives of working people across the country.

Humza Yousaf used to support Labour’s windfall tax, but now he is siding with energy giants, which are making record profits, while he is putting up tax for working people across this country who are struggling. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

While Shell has brought in £22 billion in profit, energy bills have increased by 60 per cent and people are struggling to heat their homes. While BP makes £11 billion in profit, food prices are up by 25 per cent and people are struggling to put food on the table. While British Gas sees a tenfold increase in its profits, mortgages have increased by £2,000 a year and families risk losing their homes. Why does the Scottish National Party believe that someone who earns £28,500 has the broadest shoulders and should pay more tax, but that an energy giant that is making billions of pounds in profit should pay less tax?

The First Minister

Imagine taking a lecture about standing up for those on the lowest incomes from the man who has flip-flopped on his position and now believes in lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Wow—who would have thought it? Labour is now the party of the few, not the party of the many.

It is astonishing that Anas Sarwar has stood up in the chamber and called the energy industry liars. That is what he has done. Well, let me say what Offshore Energies UK has said. It claims that Labour’s proposals would result in the loss of up to 42,000 jobs and North Sea investment being “wiped out”. Investment bank Stifel has said that, under a “worst-case scenario”, Labour’s proposals would wipe out up to 100,000 jobs and put them on the scrap heap.

With Labour’s energy proposals, we would get the worst of both worlds. All the investment in oil and gas, which has been good for Scotland over the decades, would be completely wiped out. Then what does Keir Starmer do? He dumps his £28 billion a year green prosperity fund.

Scotland’s energy should be in Scotland’s hands, because successive Westminster Governments have raided the north-east, Aberdeen and our oil and gas revenues, and not a single penny has been invested back into the people of Aberdeen and the north-east. For that, Anas Sarwar should stand up and apologise.

I cannot wait to present the choice at the next general election between the SNP and the Labour Party. [Interruption.]

Sorry, Mr Sarwar. Let us ensure that we can all hear one another.

Anas Sarwar

I cannot wait to present the choice to the Scottish people, come the next general election, because the SNP is firmly on the side of energy giants making billions of pounds, whereas Labour is trying to bring down people’s bills and is on the side of working people.

Let us be clear about what Labour’s windfall tax on the record profits of energy giants will be spent on. It will mean more jobs, lower bills, greater energy security and the delivery of a just transition for Scotland. It will mean investment in GB energy—[Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

—a publicly owned energy generation company that will be headquartered here, in Scotland. It will mean investment in our ports, onshore wind, offshore wind, green hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and strengthening our supply chains. It will mean creating 50,000 new jobs in Scotland.

Is it not the case that the Scottish people have a choice: the SNP, which is increasing tax on working people while siding with the oil and gas giants, or Labour, which will create jobs, bring down bills and be firmly on the side of working people?

The First Minister

I remind Anas Sarwar that he talks about people in the midst of a cost of living crisis, but he has now flip-flopped his way to a position in which he believes in retaining the cap on child benefits but wants to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses. That is utterly outrageous.

I was in Aberdeen earlier this week, and I now cannot wait to go head to head with Anas Sarwar in Aberdeen during the general election. In fact, he can debate the oil and gas industry and renewables with me in Aberdeen any and every day of the week.

Anas Sarwar claims that an incoming Labour Government will make all sorts of investments—[Interruption.]

First Minister, will you just give me a moment?

Oh, they do not like it, Presiding Officer. They do not like it one single bit.

First Minister, just give me a moment. Let us ensure that we carry on with our proceedings with courtesy and respect. Let us ensure that we can hear one another.

The First Minister

Anas Sarwar claims that there will be a range and raft of investment from an incoming Labour Government. Of course, what is obvious is that the branch manager did not get the memo that the £28 billion has been dumped, so not a single penny of that investment will be coming to Scotland.

Successive United Kingdom Governments have taken £400 billion, in today’s prices, in oil and gas revenue, raiding the North Sea as a cash cow without investing a fraction of it back in the north-east and Aberdeen. With Anas Sarwar’s plans, we would end up with 100,000 workers on the scrap heap and no investment in our net zero ambitions. Is it not about time that Scotland’s energy is in Scotland’s hands?

Question 3—Maggie Chapman. [Interruption.] Let us hear Ms Chapman.

Taxation Policy

3. Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on whether successive changes to national taxation policy in Scottish budgets will support the redistribution of wealth and help sustain vital public services. (S6F-02825)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

In short, yes, they will. Our changes to income tax in Scotland have made it more progressive. That approach means that we have an additional £1.5 billion from income tax to invest in 2024-25 compared with what we would have had if we had matched United Kingdom Government policy, which Douglas Ross advocated at the time. That £1.5 billion is being invested in public services in an effort to offset the huge impact that Westminster austerity has had on the availability of public spending. If we had further powers, such as those that are needed to tax wealth effectively, we could do so much more to build on our progressive tax system and, of course, further protect public services in Scotland.

Maggie Chapman

We all have too many constituents who are struggling with grinding poverty, for whom public services are a lifeline. I am proud that tax changes that the Scottish Greens have championed—tax changes that mean that the better-off pay more and the people on lower incomes pay less—mean that £1.5 billion more is available for those services. Politicians who promise tax cuts must be honest about what services they would cut.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress has argued—and the First Minister has just recognised—that Scotland can and should do more to use tax powers to redistribute wealth and to make the case that taxation is a public good. How does the First Minister plan to build that consensus for progressive taxation as a force for good?

The First Minister

As I have said, the Government is absolutely committed to progressive taxation. I thank the STUC and others for the contribution that they have made. The Deputy First Minister engaged with a number of stakeholders in relation to our progressive taxation plans, and we will continue to have such engagement with stakeholders, including the business community and the people of Scotland, on our progressive taxation plans. Poll after poll tells us that the public support public service investment that is backed by progressive taxation.

Douglas Ross stood up in the chamber and urged the Scottish Government to follow the disastrous Liz Truss budget. He needs to have the humility to say how wrong he was. When Anas Sarwar says that he will cut taxes for the highest earners, he needs to be honest about what public services he will cut. In the round, his tax plans will reduce revenue by £561 million. Will that mean that he will scrap the Scottish child payment, free prescriptions and free bus travel, or will it mean, as his finance spokesperson hinted just this week, that he will end up scrapping free university education?

We will continue our commitment to progressive taxation and to the social contract in Scotland, which provides that there are no tuition fees for higher education, and which provides widespread access to bus services, free prescriptions and a host of other benefits. Of course, we will seek common cause with others, such as the STUC, who believe in progressive taxation.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

The Scottish National Party Scottish Government’s progressive tax plans help to deliver a strong social contract and to ensure that additional targeted funding is available to protect people and our vital public services. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour’s priorities appear to be elsewhere. Last weekend, it seemed to indicate that it now supports cutting income tax. Can the First Minister provide an update on what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the impact that that could have on Scotland’s public finances and the Scottish Government’s ability to fund public services?

The First Minister

We know that, if we had followed the Conservatives’ budget proposals, we would have had £1.5 billion less to spend. We know that, as a result of Anas Sarwar’s tax policies, in the round, there would be about £561 million less to spend on investing in our national health service, education, justice services and social security.

Anas Sarwar has made the point that people who earn, for example, £30,000 pay more in Scotland. They pay 94p a month more and, for that, they get free university education and the most generous childcare offer anywhere in the UK, they do not have to pay a single penny for their medicines, and they get free personal and nursing care and a range of other benefits. That is why poll after poll shows that the public are supportive of progressive taxation if it is used in the way that we are using it, to invest in our public services.

If Labour wants to continue to offer people such as Anas Sarwar a huge tax cut, which would end up reducing the revenue that we had to spend on public services, it must have the honesty to say what public services it would cut.

Addressing Depopulation Action Plan

4. Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister, regarding the delivery of the Scottish Government’s recently published depopulation action plan, what will be different about this approach, which is described as “local by default, national by agreement”, particularly towards the approval of new developments supported by local communities. (S6F-02848)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The addressing depopulation action plan sets out the Scottish Government’s strategic approach, which aims to support local communities that are facing population decline. I know that the member has a significant interest in that issue, which is set against the devastating impact that a hard Brexit is having on our rural and island communities.

On the question of the new things that the plan will do, it will deliver a programme of work to support and empower affected areas through funding new research and enhanced partnership working with those communities.

As Fergus Ewing has said, we acknowledge the importance of local leadership and the fact that communities are best placed to respond to their own challenges.

Fergus Ewing

To have young people leaving Scotland for other countries for their lifetime and for ever has been our tragedy and our shame. Therefore, will the First Minister now agree that, where there is a chronic depopulation problem, economic developments that would bring jobs and major community benefits will henceforth be treated as developments of national economic significance?

The First Minister

I am more than happy to look at that proposal. When planning applications are called into the Scottish Government, a range of factors is considered, including the impact on the natural environment and the economic impact. I will not comment on any specific, live application, but Fergus Ewing is right to say that, if we want to retain our young people, we must ensure that we create economic opportunities, invest in housing—as we are doing through our affordable housing supply programme in rural communities—and invest in connectivity, as we are also doing.

Fergus Ewing makes some important points, but what is undoubtedly devastating our rural communities is the damage that has been caused by a hard Brexit that was foisted on Scotland against its will.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

Housing is mentioned 114 times in the depopulation action plan, yet Homes for Scotland was not consulted on the plan, nor even made aware of it, despite being an adviser on housing to 2040. Does the First Minister accept that the failure to properly consult the sector on the plan is a huge misstep? What action will he take to rectify that?

The First Minister

We engage regularly with stakeholders. If there has been an omission, we are more than happy to look at that and I will ask the appropriate minister to do so.

I go back to the point that I made in my response to Fergus Ewing. Housing is essential in attracting people to rural and island communities and to retaining them. We published our rural and islands housing action plan in October last year and it sets out the wide range of action that we are taking to support the rural and island population. That includes continued investment in affordable housing, with 10 per cent of affordable houses being in rural and island communities.

Our rural and island housing fund provides continued support to communities to bring forward housing where they wish to do so. Over the next five years, up to £25 million from the affordable housing budget will be used to support housing for key workers and there is a range of other action. I am happy for the housing minister to write to Pam Gosal to give her confidence that we take the issue of housing in our rural and island communities seriously.

Oil and Gas Licences

To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government still has a policy of a presumption against any new oil and gas licences. (S6F-02845)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Oil and gas continue to play an important part in Scotland’s energy transition. Our focus is on meeting our energy security needs, reducing emissions in line with our climate goals and ensuring a just transition for the workforce as North Sea oil and gas resources inevitably decline.

As part of that approach, our draft energy strategy and our just transition plan consulted on a presumption against the licensing of new exploration for oil and gas. We have never proposed having no new licensing at all, but, unlike the Conservatives, we are not ignoring the scale of the climate crisis befalling our planet. [Interruption.]

Mr Sarwar!

We will work with the energy industry to accelerate the transition to net zero where we can.

Douglas Lumsden

The First Minister makes one trip up to Aberdeen and then masquerades as the saviour of the oil and gas industry. He must think that the people of the north-east are buttoned up the back. He is against Cambo and Rosebank, and his Government still has a presumption against any new oil and gas licences. Will the First Minister tell members why he is in favour of importing more oil and gas and stopping new investment, which, as he knows, means throwing away thousands of livelihoods on the scrap heap?

The First Minister

If Douglas Lumsden knew what he was talking about, he would know that the vast majority of the oil that is extracted from the North Sea gets exported overseas. What is clear to me, to the people of Scotland and to the people of the north-east is that Westminster is not working for Scotland. For decades, the Conservatives have been telling the people of Scotland that Scotland’s oil is running out. Now, all of a sudden, they are pretending that it is going to last forever. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Successive United Kingdom Governments, Tory and Labour, have used the north-east as a cash cow, squandering £400 billion in today’s prices of oil and gas revenue. Whether it is the Conservatives or Labour, whose policies could end up throwing 100,000 workers on the scrap heap, Westminster cannot be trusted with Scotland’s natural resources. It is high time that Scotland’s energy was in Scotland’s hands, so that we can ensure cheaper bills, unleash the economic potential of the green revolution and, of course, help tackle the climate crisis.

Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)

I welcome the First Minister’s visit to Aberdeen this week and the engagement that he has had with the oil and gas sector. Will that engagement with the oil and gas sector continue—[Laughter.]

Let us hear Mr Stewart.

Kevin Stewart

In particular, will engagement continue regarding retaining and increasing the vital investment that is needed to deliver a just transition, following the deeply concerning warnings that Labour’s aggressive plans for the North Sea will put 100,000 jobs at risk? That is really serious for my constituents in Aberdeen, the north-east and beyond.

The First Minister

Many of those in the north-east of Scotland will just have seen Kevin Stewart rightly standing up for his constituents, using not Scottish Government figures but industry figures that say that Labour’s plans could risk up to 100,000 jobs, and they will have heard Labour laughing—laughing at Kevin Stewart, laughing at the people of Aberdeen and laughing at our oil and gas workers, who, of course, have done an incredible job for Scotland over decades and continue to do an excellent job for Scotland.

Let me reiterate what I have already said in previous exchanges, which is that we in the Scottish National Party support a windfall tax—of that, there is no doubt. What we do not support is aggressive plans by Labour not just to increase that windfall tax but to raid the north-east so that it can pay for new nuclear power plants in England. That is unfair and not acceptable.

We believe that, as we accelerate the transition to net zero, the oil and gas workers, who are incredibly skilled and have incredible expertise, will be absolutely vital to that just transition. I can promise them that, as long as the SNP is in government, we will protect them from the damaging plans of Keir Starmer and Labour, which would end up seeing them thrown on the scrap heap.

Mental Health Problems (Household Debt)

6. Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the analysis by Citizens Advice Scotland suggesting that over 660,000 people are experiencing mental health problems due to increasing household debt. (S6F-02847)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government remains deeply concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis, especially on those who are already struggling with poor mental health and money worries. We know that that is leading to far more people seeking advice and support, which is why we support free welfare debt and income maximisation advice services, with funding of more than £12.5 million allocated this year.

Mental health remains a priority, and we have supported overall increases to mental health spend over the years. Through our 2024-25 budget, the Scottish Government and national health service boards will continue to spend in excess of £1.3 billion for mental health. More widely, recognising the pressures on household budgets since 2022-23, we continue to allocate around £3 billion a year to policies that tackle poverty and protect people, as far as we possibly can, during the on-going cost of living crisis.

Paul Sweeney

Increasingly, people have nowhere to turn when their mental health deteriorates. Patients in some health boards have been waiting for more than 1,000 days to start psychological therapy, and one in four consultant psychiatry positions is vacant. The Government’s response is to cut £30 million more from the mental health budget, despite its already being £180 million adrift from the target. When will the First Minister’s Government start to take the crisis in mental health seriously and reverse the proposed cut to mental health funding in the budget?

The First Minister

Let me correct Paul Sweeney on some issues in relation to our funding. We have a good track record on spending on mental health, in the face of 14 years of austerity. Under the Scottish National Party, mental health spending by NHS Scotland has doubled in cash terms, from £651 million in 2006-07 to £1.3 billion in 2021-22—up by almost 100 per cent. Expenditure on child and adolescent mental health services rose from £88 million in 2020-21 to £97.6 million in 2021-22. Of course we have had challenges in the budget that we have just announced, but we have ensured that we are doing what we can to invest in mental health.

Paul Sweeney was right to reference the Citizens Advice Scotland report. The cost of living crisis is undoubtedly a source of deep mental anguish for too many households up and down the country, and we will therefore continue to invest in mental health.

What is worrying is that Paul Sweeney’s party believes in, for example, retaining the two-child limit. The person who is likely to be the next chancellor of the United Kingdom has promised to be “tougher” than the Tories on benefits. Through our actions, we lifted an estimated 90,000 children out of poverty last year. The Scottish Government will invest in helping people with debt and in reducing the cost of living, but how much better would it be if we did not have to continue to mitigate the worst excesses and harm of Westminster but instead took all the decisions about Scotland here in Scotland?

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Will the First Minister outline how increased funding—for example, on discretionary housing payments, which impact on mental health issues in Scotland—will help make up for the chronically insufficient UK housing benefits funding? Will he also outline how we in Scotland can maximise support for low-income households?

The First Minister

Willie Coffey makes an exceptionally important point. The damage done by the UK Government’s three-year freeze to local housing allowance has been considerable, with an estimated £819 million lost. That, coupled with the cruel bedroom tax policy, is undoubtedly causing great harm.

Although the Labour Party is failing to offer any change to those devastating policies, the Scottish Government will take action. We are investing an additional £6 million in discretionary housing payments, bringing the total for mitigating all of those cuts to more than £90 million. That is helping more than 90,000 low-income households pay their rent and keep their homes.

We move to constituency and general supplementary questions.

Henry Wuga

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Will the First Minister join me in offering congratulations to my constituent Henry Wuga? Henry escaped the Nazi Holocaust, travelling from Nuremberg to Glasgow in 1939 at the age of 15. Here, he met his wife, Ingrid, who was also a survivor as a consequence of the Kindertransport and events that were celebrated in the film “One Life”, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Tomorrow, Henry turns 100 years of age. He has made a remarkable contribution to this country. I have lodged a motion that is supported by Paul O’Kane, and Kirsten Oswald MP is tabling a similar motion in the House of Commons. Will the First Minister join me and, I hope, the chamber, in offering Henry Wuga many happy returns? [Applause.]

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Yes. I wish Henry Wuga a very happy 100th birthday; indeed, I have written to him to pass on my personal congratulations.

Jackson Carlaw is right. Henry Wuga is an absolute inspiration. Just weeks ago, Jackson Carlaw, many other members in the chamber and I commemorated Holocaust memorial day. We heard very powerful testimony from a number of those who were either survivors or families of survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides.

The work that Henry has done over the decades to remind and inform people of the horrors of the Holocaust—which should never ever be forgotten by any of us—is truly an inspiration for each and every person in this country.

I pass on my congratulations and best wishes for Henry’s birthday, and I put on record my, the Scottish Government’s, and the whole country’s appreciation for the incredible work that he has done. In particular, he has reminded us of the horrors of the Holocaust and said that we should never ever forget them, that we should reflect on them and, of course, that wherever we see violence or discrimination—be it here at home or abroad—we should work together to ensure that we see peace right across the world. [Applause.]

Audit Scotland Report “NHS in Scotland 2023”

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

Scotland’s national health service is directionless, risking patient safety and on the brink of breakdown. Those are not my words—that is Audit Scotland’s assessment of the NHS under the Scottish National Party.

In a devastating critique of the Government, it points to a health service at breaking point, with extreme overcrowding and long waiting times threatening patient safety. It accuses the SNP Government of having no vision and calls for fundamental reform.

The need for leadership is clear, but leadership is absent. After 17 years of decline under the SNP, what reforms will the First Minister bring forward to save our NHS?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We will bring forward reforms, which the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care will detail.

We will work with staff to see what we can do and what more we can invest in the preventative space in particular, so that individuals do not have to go to secondary or primary care—particularly not to secondary care, when we know that there is intense pressure on our hospital sites up and down the country.

Let me remind Jackie Baillie that, after 17 years, we have record staffing, record investment and the best-paid staff in the NHS. We are the only country in the entire United Kingdom that has not lost a single day to strike action. I stand to be corrected, but I think that there are junior doctor strikes in Labour-run NHS Wales today.

We will continue to invest in our NHS and, most importantly, in the people who run it—our nurses, doctors and all the NHS agenda for change staff, who do an incredible job. We promise to continue to work with them for the best possible outcomes for patients across Scotland.

War in Ukraine

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

This Saturday will mark two years to the day that Russia launched an unprovoked, brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s conflict rages on. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and maimed, with vast areas of Ukraine and many of its towns and cities devastated, and millions displaced. Scotland opened its doors and hearts to Ukrainian refugees, but the war also caused energy price rises and economic shocks.

What assessment has the Scottish Government made of the impact of the on-going war against Ukraine on households affected by poverty and the cost of living crisis?

What message of solidarity will the First Minister send to the Ukrainian people, particularly the 26,000 who now call Scotland home?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I am grateful to Kenneth Gibson for raising this remarkably important issue. I will be joining others across the chamber on Saturday to commemorate and reflect on the two-year illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine, which we condemn in the strongest possible manner.

We continue to be shocked and appalled at the violence and the humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold in Ukraine—again, because of Russia’s illegal actions.

Scotland stands by Ukraine. We stand for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, at home and abroad. We offer our unqualified support for Ukrainian sovereignty and we wish a speedy victory for Ukraine and a resolution that not only restores peace but ensures Ukrainian sovereignty, democracy, independence and territorial integrity.

Since the war against Ukraine began, more than 26,600 people sponsored by an individual in Scotland or by the Scottish Government have arrived in the United Kingdom—that is as of 22 February this year.

I am proud of how the people of Scotland have responded to this humanitarian crisis. I am grateful to all those who have opened their homes and hearts to displaced Ukrainians who are fleeing the war.

For as long as those who have fled the war and come to Scotland want to call Scotland their home, they will always be given the warmest welcome possible. [Applause.]

Bail Orders (Independent Review)

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

The parents of Claire Inglis have spent more than two years desperately trying to get answers. Ian and Fiona still do not know why Claire’s killer was subject to five separate bail orders. They have now discovered that social workers tried to warn Claire about her violent new partner, but no one answered the door. Seventy-two hours later, she was killed. A council review failed to answer critical questions. I am not putting the First Minister on the spot by asking this question, which is not about party politics; it is about violence against women. I urge him to look again at Ian and Fiona’s request for a thorough independent review of the case.

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will genuinely look at that request again and consider what further independent review of the case could be made. I completely understand the deep sense of grief and anger that Ian and Fiona Inglis feel.

Russell Findlay will know that I wrote to the Lord President and the Lord Advocate on the issue. I passed their responses to Mr Findlay earlier. Many of the decisions that were taken at the time would have been for the independent judiciary to determine.

On the questions on and potential failures in local authority action that Ian and Fiona Inglis have articulated, I will consider what Russell Findlay has asked me to do, and what more we are able to do. If we can do anything further as far as an independent review is concerned, I will revert to Mr Findlay directly.

Violence in Schools

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

This week, teachers in Aberdeen told the BBC that they were scared to go to work because of rising in violence in schools. The Educational Institute of Scotland’s recent survey found that almost 40 per cent of teachers in the city had been physically assaulted by a pupil. Those statistics should shock us all. They demand action from a Government that has taken its eye off the ball and allowed this problem to grow and grow. Scottish Labour is clear that we must take a zero-tolerance approach to violence in our schools. Exactly how much violence is the First Minister prepared to tolerate before he acts?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Most people will see that Michael Marra is choosing to politicise the issue in a partisan way, as he always does. His suggestion that having a slogan about zero tolerance will suddenly make the issue better represents a complete failure of credibility on his part.

We are working with the teaching profession, because teachers up and down the country have raised very serious issues, which we take extremely seriously. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has hosted a number of summits, with educational professionals and teachers, in particular, to consider what more we can do.

As Michael Marra will probably know, we also commissioned behaviour in Scottish schools research to establish the true picture on national evidence of teachers’ and support staff’s experiences of behaviour in publicly funded mainstream schools. Although the results of the 2023 research highlighted that most children and young people are well behaved in class in schools, they also tell us about the level of disruption that exists. That is clearly not good enough.

We are working with our partners in local government to introduce a joint national action plan to drive improvements. I will ensure that Michael Marra is kept up to date on that.