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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, May 25, 2023


First Minister’s Question Time

Police Scotland (Institutional Discrimination)

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

I remind members that my wife is a serving Police Scotland officer.

Let me be clear: the vast majority of Scotland’s front-line police officers do a fantastic job under incredible pressure. However, a new report to the Scottish Police Authority raises a number of serious concerns about systemic issues throughout Police Scotland. The independent review found “first hand” instances of “racism, sexism and homophobia”.

In response, the chief constable of Police Scotland, Sir Iain Livingstone, said this today:

“It is right for me as chief constable to clearly state that institutional racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination exist.”

He continued:

“Police Scotland is institutionally discriminatory and racist.”

What is the First Minister’s response to the chief constable’s statement?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I thank Douglas Ross for raising the issue. First and foremost, I commend Sir Iain Livingstone, the chief constable of Police Scotland, for acknowledging institutional racism, misogyny and other discriminatory behaviours within Police Scotland. That is the first step that is required in order to dismantle the institutional and structural barriers that exist.

Douglas Ross is right to emphasise that this is not a criticism of individual police officers, who we know put themselves in harm’s way to protect us day in and day out, but there is no doubt that institutional racism exists in our society. I take the opportunity to say, as a person of colour, that the chief constable’s statement is monumental and historic. I remember raising the issue of racism in Strathclyde Police, as the force then was. I was stopped and searched more than a dozen times when I was a boy, when I was in my car, walking with my friends in the street or at airports.

The chief constable’s acknowledgement is very welcome indeed. I hope that it also serves as a reminder to all of us that, whatever organisation we belong to, we have a responsibility to question the organisations that we lead—and that is certainly the case for me in the organisation I lead—and to reflect on whether we are doing enough to dismantle not only institutional racism but the structural discrimination that exists for many people because of disability or sexual orientation or because they are women.

I welcome the chief constable’s statement. As he himself has said, now that the acknowledgement has been made, it is so important that we see action to dismantle those barriers. I say once again that I take my responsibility as First Minister seriously and that I rededicate myself to doing everything that I can to dismantle the barriers of institutional racism, misogyny, bigotry and discrimination where they exist here in the Scottish Government and to doing all that I can do right across society in that regard.

Douglas Ross

The chief constable also said this today:

“When an organisation doesn’t have all the necessary policies, processes, practices and systems in place to ensure that doesn’t happen, it’s an institutional matter.”

The SPA report also found

“significant concerns about the absence of effective performance management systems during the first decade of Police Scotland’s existence”

So, the problem is wider and is systemic. It starts far from the front line, with management and leadership. Does the First Minister agree? Given that he has just rededicated himself to tackling the issue, what urgent action will his Government take in response to the SPA report and the chief constable’s statement?

The First Minister

Those in management and leadership positions absolutely have to bear responsibility. In particular, in organisations that we lead, it is our responsibility to examine the evidence, collate the data and come to a conclusion about the structural barriers that exist. That is true for me as the First Minister and I am certain that Douglas Ross will reflect on the organisation of the political party that he leads. That is an important point for those who are in management or leadership.

For all the disagreements that I have had with Anas Sarwar, one phrase that he uses captures the issue very well: this is a “fight for us all”. That is absolutely right. Although management and leadership absolutely have a role to play, we all have a role to play in our organisations in confronting those barriers and reflecting on what more we can do to undermine them.

I am committed to working with Police Scotland. However, above and beyond that, I want to make sure that, for all organisations—in particular, those in the public sector—we collect the data, we have a view on the structural barriers that exist, and then we work with senior management and leadership, right across the public sector in particular, although I also challenge the private sector in this regard, to dismantle the barriers that we know have existed and still exist right across our society.

Douglas Ross

The SPA review also found “outright fear” among officers about bringing forward complaints. At paragraph 5.8, the report notes:

“We heard of people being ‘punished’ for raising issues or concerns”.

It is so clearly unacceptable that police officers who raised concerns internally were “punished”. We must surely all agree that officers should be able to raise legitimate concerns without suffering any consequences.

My party has raised officers’ concerns about the broken police complaints system for some time. It is clearly not fit for purpose. Given the severity of the report to the Scottish Police Authority, and the chief constable’s statement, will the First Minister vow to change the current complaints system and the process within the force that in the past has let down and continues to let down front-line officers who raise legitimate concerns?

The First Minister

That is a very fair point from Douglas Ross. We are already taking forward work from Dame Elish Angiolini’s review and various reports from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland in that regard. If there is more work that we can do, I absolutely commit to responding to the challenge that Douglas Ross and others have raised of looking at the complaints process.

Process is one thing, and it is important that we look at having the correct process. However, culture is equally if not sometimes even more important. That is why the chief constable’s statement was so monumental. It demonstrates from the very top of the organisation that that culture is simply not acceptable. It is important that that permeates down through the ranks.

I go back to the point that Douglas Ross has made. Of course, I will absolutely seek to do what more can be done about the process that is in place . As I have said, we are taking forward the recommendations of Dame Elish Angiolini’s review and various HMICS reports in that regard, but I welcome the statement from the chief constable. It is about more than just process, although process is important. Culture is vital, too.

Douglas Ross

Dame Elish Angiolini’s report was published in 2020. Three years on, officers are still commenting about a system that is broken. My party has been raising that in the chamber for some time. The further report to the SPA and the chief constable’s statement today make that a crucial issue that must be dealt with with the utmost urgency.

The SPA report also found that front-line pressures have left officers without the time to take part in vital training exercises. It found that officers did not feel that they had time to deal with legitimate complaints and grievances, because they were so stretched with their responsibility to maintain public order. It found:

“The greatest challenge we heard, and observed, to driving cultural change within the service was the pressures on frontline resourcing.”

Unison has said that there is a £74 million shortfall in the policing budget. Absolutely none of that excuses discrimination, but it is a serious problem that limits Police Scotland’s ability to change its culture and leaves thousands of first-class officers without the resources that they need to do their job. Does the First Minister accept that Scotland’s police officers are being asked to do too much with too little?

The First Minister

I do not agree with that characterisation. I re-emphasise a point that Douglas Ross just made. Of course, funding—and he is absolutely within his rights to question us in relation to our funding—can never be an excuse for institutional racism, institutional misogyny or institutional discrimination wherever it exists. That is a point that, in fairness, Douglas Ross himself has made, but I just want to re-emphasise it.

In terms of the funding that we provide for Police Scotland, despite UK Government austerity over the years, we have increased police funding year on year since 2016. We have invested more than £11.6 billion in policing since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.

Of course, police officer numbers are operational matters for the chief constable, but the latest comparable data that we have shows that there are 30 police officers per 10,000 in Scotland. That compares favourably with 24 officers per 10,000 in other parts of the UK, in England and in Wales.

As for what more we can do to reduce the burden on police officers, which again is a very fair and legitimate point for Douglas Ross to raise, we are doing a fair bit of work in relation to the mental health call-outs that police officers often have to attend and which we know take up a significant amount of their time. I am happy to write to Douglas Ross with the detail of that work that we are progressing.

As for the crux of the questions that Douglas Ross is asking, we have been working alongside policing partners to deliver Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations. To date, 58 of those recommendations have been delivered and, given the urgency of the issue, the Government will introduce later this year the police complaints and misconduct handling bill to deliver on the recommendations.

I go back to the central point, which I think that everybody will agree with. It is so important for institutional racism and other discriminatory behaviours to be recognised. What, then, is really important is to work together to ensure that we dismantle those barriers, and I am certainly committed to doing so. I have no doubt that the chief constable is committed to that, too, and I am certain that whoever succeeds him in his role will also look to do so.

Freedom of Information Requests (Response Times)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I, the First Minister and many others have been campaigning on the issue of racism, prejudice and hate for many, many years, and I do not think that we can downplay the significance of the chief constable’s bold statement today. However, it is important to emphasise that not a single organisation or institution is immune to prejudice. That means that we must not see just words, although words are important. The statement must inspire action, and as the First Minister has said, that is a responsibility for each and every single one of us.

There is a culture of secrecy and cover-up at the heart of this dysfunctional and incompetent Scottish National Party Government. The dodgy deal with Liberty Steel, the ferry fiasco, the shambolic deposit return scheme and even heartbreaking tragedies at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital are all shrouded in secrecy. Incompetence has consequences, whether or not it be hidden from view.

Freedom of information laws are one of the last defences against SNP cover-ups, but ministers are riding roughshod over them. New data that we are publishing today shows that the number of FOI requests that the Scottish Government has passed on to ministers for approval has risen five-fold, and once a case goes to ministers for sign off or cover up, the waiting times double, with one in every six FOI requests breaching legally binding response times. Can I therefore ask the First Minister this: what has he got to hide?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

There is nothing to hide, and I think that it is a sign of increasing desperation that Anas Sarwar is relying on insinuation, on trying to throw as much mud as he possibly can in the hope that things stick and on that sort of scattergun approach. Actually, this Government has a very good record in responding to freedom of information requests. We are the Government that has the most ambitious targets on these islands when responding to FOI legislation.

Yes, there have undoubtedly been challenges. When I was questioned on the issue at the Conveners Group meeting yesterday, I responded by saying that I was more than happy to review, look at and investigate what more the Scottish Government can do to ensure that we are the most transparent Government on these islands. That is what we will seek to do. [Interruption.]

Thank you, members.

The First Minister

I say to Anas Sarwar that there are, of course, legitimate reasons why ministers may have to sign off on freedom of information requests. I have made it very clear to our cabinet secretaries and ministers that, when those approvals come up, they should be signed off with urgency and at pace.

Anas Sarwar mentioned Ferguson’s shipyard. In relation to transparency, as soon as that written authority was provided, the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy came in here at the earliest opportunity to take questions and to make sure that he answered those questions. That is not hiding away; that is transparency in action.

Anas Sarwar

The First Minister says that he is transparent—transparently hopeless is what people right across the country will see.

We pointed to facts. He should listen to his own Scottish Information Commissioner. The Scottish National Party despises transparency. At every turn, it covers up failure instead of confronting it. There are no answers on what will happen to its shambolic deposit return scheme, no answers on the ferry fiasco, despite years of delays and millions of pounds of overspend, no answers for families who are bereaved by the scandal at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, and bullying investigations are kept secret.

I asked the previous First Minister to share the outcome of Fergus Ewing’s bullying investigation and she said that it was legally impossible to do so. But Humza Yousaf has now suggested that he has had a change of heart. Why? Because the politician in question has the audacity to question the SNP leadership.

Can the First Minister tell me: does he believe in transparency every day, or just when he desperately needs it to try and intimidate his critics?

This is desperate, desperate stuff. As I said, when Anas Sarwar—somebody who has lots of style but no substance—comes to this chamber and demands that we take action. [Interruption.]


The First Minister

When he demands that we take action but has no facts to back it up, that is when you know how desperate Anas Sarwar really is.

Let me give him some of the facts that were, of course, missing from his question. Scotland has been a member of the Open Government Partnership since 2016. In 2022, last year, we handled more than 4,500 freedom of information requests and 86 per cent of responses—more than eight of out 10—came within 20 working days. We want to do more, and we should see whether we can improve that rate of response, where we can.

On DRS, it is incredible that it now seems that Anas Sarwar is taking the side of the Cabinet’s man in Scotland. He is taking the side of the party that is determined to undermine devolution. Anas Sarwar—[Interruption.]

Thank you.

The First Minister

Anas Sarwar is so desperate to attack the SNP that he is siding with the party that opposed the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the first place.

When it comes to the question that he asked in relation to ministerial complaints, my view has not changed from what that of my predecessor was. She was absolutely right. We have an obligation in the Government to take legal advice where appropriate and to adhere to that legal advice on any issue, including complaints around former ministers. I will continue to take that responsible approach and I will also continue to make sure that we do everything that we can as a Government to be as open and as transparent as we possibly can.

Anas Sarwar

We now have a first: a no-style and no-substance First Minister and leader of the SNP.

In fact, we are taking the side of Scottish businesses and Scottish jobs. Perhaps the First Minister should listen to the consequences of what he is imposing on people. [Interruption.]

Excuse me, Mr Sarwar—I can hardly hear. I am sure that those who are gathered here to witness the session in action would also like to hear. Let us keep the noise down while members are on their feet, shall we?

Anas Sarwar

It is okay, Presiding Officer. The First Minister’s strategy is going really well. Just keep doing what you are doing—it is working really well for you.

The SNP is taking Scots for a ride, and we do not even get the luxury of enjoying the camper van. FOI laws are flouted, dissent is suppressed and problems are swept under the carpet. This is a dysfunctional, incompetent and sleaze-ridden Government, failing on the basics. And that has consequences: a national health service at breaking point and a cost of living crisis spiralling out of control.

The SNP is a party in chaos, distracted from the day job. Its finances are under police investigation, a former council leader is under police investigation, the previous chief executive was arrested, the previous treasurer was arrested, offices were raided and there were police tents in gardens.

I have two questions for the First Minister. First, he says that he is transparent, so will he tell us how many police investigations into the activities of his party and his Government are on-going? Secondly, when will he finally end the rotten culture of secrecy and incompetence that is at the heart of this SNP Government?

The First Minister

I tend to think it best for politicians to leave such verdicts to the people of Scotland. Of course, time and time again, they have chosen the SNP to lead the Scottish Government. I saw Anas Sarwar celebrating polls that, once again, put the Labour Party in second place. He was celebrating being a loser. That sums up Anas Sarwar and the Scottish Labour Party pretty well.

Mr Sarwar said that, when it comes to the DRS, he is on the side of business. I remind him that many of our business organisations want to the scheme to be progressed. No less than AG Barr—the producers of Scotland’s national drink, Irn-Bru—Coca-Cola and many other business organisations want the scheme to go ahead, because they see the value of protecting our environment. That is what the DRS will do. Incredibly, just to take a pop at the SNP, Anas Sarwar sides with the Tories on that.

However, that is not the only issue on which he has sided with the Tories. If he wants to talk about business, we know that one of the biggest shocks to our economy has been caused by the hard Brexit that has been imposed upon us by the Conservative UK Government. Members of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party have become born-again Brexiteers. The Labour Party is doing damage—and will do further damage—to our economy because of its hard Brexit stance. The only way for Scotland to escape the born-again Brexiteers, whether they be Tories or from the Labour Party, will be by having the full powers of an independent nation.

Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Contract (Consultants)

To ask the First Minister for what reason consultants have reportedly been hired to advise on the next Clyde and Hebrides ferry contract. (S6F-02152)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We are committed to engaging with our various stakeholders in the development of the next generation of the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services contract. That includes engaging with our island communities. As I said at yesterday’s meeting of the Parliament’s Conveners Group, it is routine practice to use specialist advisers for complex, high-value projects such as this one, to ensure that we deliver a service that meets our needs and achieves value for money.

Our external advisers will assist with commercial and programme management of the project. They will provide a level of technical expertise to ensure that the contract reflects industry best practice to deliver a service that will meet both our current and future requirements. We will also seek the views of communities and other stakeholders to inform the approach that is taken.

Graham Simpson

The problem is that the Scottish Government has now spent £5.5 million on consultants to advise it on what to think about how to run the ferry network. We have had project Neptune, which set out a number of options, and Angus Campbell was then tasked with asking islanders what they think. What has been the outcome of that? The current contract with CalMac, which has already been extended, expires in 15 months’ time. There is no time left to start the procurement process for the next round. The Government’s approach has been all about dither, delay and incompetence. Will the First Minister tell us whether CalMac will be awarded another extension? Is he now considering a new operating model for running and procuring our ferries?

The First Minister

We have known for a long time that the Tories have not liked the Government’s use of experts; they have made that clear over the years. However, it is so important that a contract for a project of this size brings in the technical expertise that is required.

I make no apologies at all for the fact that we are engaging with island communities. Graham Simpson was absolutely right to mention the work that is being undertaken by Angus Campbell, following a key recommendation in the project Neptune report. Mr Campbell has spent the past few months visiting and engaging with island communities and ferry users, and his report should be with ministers soon.

Although there is no specific obligation to inform Parliament of procurement competitions, we will, of course, update Parliament on the decisions that are taken, because we understand just how important this matter is.

We are looking to ensure that our island communities have the best possible service, and we are focused on ensuring that the current service is as resilient and reliable as possible. That is why we made sure that CalMac chartered the MV Alfred.

I will not pre-empt the outcome of the work that is currently taking place, but I restate unequivocally that we have no plans to privatise, nor indeed to split up, the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The problem with the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service is not the contract but the ferry fleet. The First Minister knows that the provision of the fleet is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. A consultants’ report cannot cover up the Government’s dismal failure to provide working ferries. Will the First Minister now apologise for his own, and his Government’s, failure to provide ferries that are up to the job?

The First Minister

We have invested in our ferry service and our ferry fleet, and we continue to do so by investing in six ferries to add to the resilience of the fleet. In the meantime, however, we are not waiting for those ferries to be built. Where we can charter additional tonnage, we are doing so. CalMac has, rightly, spent a considerable amount of money in order to ensure that it has in place the MV Alfred, which is currently providing additional resilience on the Arran route—a very important route not only for the islanders but for Scotland.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The island of Mull is currently at the sharp end of Scotland’s ferry crisis, with many people simply unable to get on or off the island as a result of the Scottish National Party’s catastrophic management of our ferry network. Residents are at their wits’ end, especially given that the alternative route via the Corran ferry is out of service.

Island communities are rightly calling for a compensation scheme. Will the First Minister commit to that? What urgent action will he take to sort out the problems that islanders on Mull are currently suffering?

The First Minister

I will ensure that the Minister for Transport communicates with Donald Cameron directly on the actions that we are taking in relation to the issues that the community on Mull faces.

Of course, the issues around compensation have understandably and rightly been raised, many a time, with the Government. I have looked into the penalty deductions that are made in relation to failures on the network, and my view is that we should continue to use that money to reinvest in the ferry network. There is a legitimate goal around the use of those deductions, but I think that the best use of that money is to reinvest it back into the network.

To give just one example, I mentioned the MV Alfred, which has been chartered at a cost of £9 million. Between £1 million and £3 million of that is coming from performance deductions and the penalties that Donald Cameron mentioned, so it is right that that money is reinvested for the benefit of the resilience of the entire network.

Violence in Schools (Role of Social Media)

To ask the First Minister what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the role of social media in encouraging violence towards pupils and teachers in schools. (S6F-02169)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Violence is never acceptable. The safety of pupils and staff in our schools is of paramount importance to the Government, and I am deeply concerned about the violent content involving bullying and violent attacks in schools and on public transport, and in other places where young people gather, that has been posted online.

Westminster’s Online Safety Bill could be a means to ensure that social media companies take seriously their responsibility to contain violent content. On 9 May, I wrote to the United Kingdom Government to urge it to use the bill to tackle that very issue.

We have produced guidance for local authorities and schools to promote positive relationships and to manage behaviours, including through the de-escalation of violent behaviour. As the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills announced yesterday, she will, in the coming weeks, convene a summit that will focus on tackling violence in schools.

Rona Mackay

The widespread use of apps such as TikTok and Instagram means that violence is broadcast beyond playground walls, with staff left vulnerable in ways that they have not been previously. As the First Minister said, however, the Scottish Government is limited in its powers with regard to online activity. Will the Scottish Government implore the UK Government to call on social media companies to improve their standards and sanctions when it comes to removing material that promotes violence?

The First Minister

I am happy to work as constructively as we can with the UK Government on that matter. I think that all of us in the chamber probably conclude, rightly, that social media companies can do a lot more when it comes to violent and hateful content, of which members in the chamber have, unfortunately, been the subject for many years.

Although the regulatory responsibility for social media lies with the United Kingdom Government, I am clear that providers have a responsibility to enforce their own policies on harmful online content. We will also reflect on what more we can do. Even though we do not have the regulatory powers to take direct action, we can perhaps engage with social media companies at a ministerial level to see what more pressure we can apply so that they live up to their own policies on harmful online content.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

Yesterday, the First Minister’s Government finally accepted the call of the Scottish Conservatives for urgent action on violence and disruptive behaviour in schools, and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills finally agreed that urgent action—not more talk—is needed to support Scotland’s teachers and pupils. Therefore, will the First Minister make a commitment today that an action plan to tackle violence and disruption in schools will be in place for the start of the new school year in August?

The First Minister

Although this is, of course, an important issue and it is right that Stephen Kerr raises it, I regret that he has attempted to turn it into a political point. I have said clearly in my response that, although the powers in relation to online content lie with the UK Government, I am willing to work constructively with it.

I think that everyone here, regardless of our political persuasion and whether they are a parent or not, absolutely understands the hurt, harm and anxiety caused to young people and, indeed, staff. There is no hesitancy or reticence from the Scottish Government in relation to being as constructive and proactive as we can. That is why, on top of the guidance that we have already issued, we provided £2 million of funding to support violence prevention and other such activity within schools and communities.

As Stephen Kerr already knows, we are gathering evidence that will help us to better understand the extent of violence and poor behaviour at a national level across schools in Scotland. That started in February, and I will certainly reflect on what more we can do collectively before the school term starts.

Dementia Care

5. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports of world-leading dementia expert Craig Ritchie leaving the national health service, and his comments referring to problems with infrastructure and blockages in the system. (S6F-02164)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I am grateful to all clinicians and researchers who make a valuable contribution to our national health service, and I very much recognise the expertise that Professor Ritchie has built up over his career. We share his ambition to improve interventions and support people with dementia, and I take his criticisms very seriously indeed. I have asked the health secretary to review and consider whether there is more that we need to do in these areas.

Long waits to access dementia diagnosis and healthcare are not acceptable. That is why we allocated £6 million of ring-fenced funding to dementia post-diagnostic support over the past two years, in addition to the estimated £2.2 billion that was spent on dementia across Scotland in 2022-23 by local partnerships, which represents a 14 per cent increase since 2014.

We will publish our new dementia strategy later this month, and later this year our first two-year delivery plan will be agreed with partners and people who have lived experience of dementia.

Claire Baker

I am pleased that the First Minister will take Craig Ritchie’s comments seriously, because the new delayed strategy will be the fourth iteration. Many of the commitments in the past 12 years, such as those on post-diagnostic support, have seen slow delivery or have not been achieved at all, and contributions to the national conversation on the new strategy highlighted a gap between Scotland’s commitment on dementia policy and people’s experience of care. Can the First Minister advise how the new dementia strategy will address those persistent gaps between rhetoric and reality, alongside delivering any new commitments on the strategy?

Further, the First Minister said that the related strategy delivery plan will be announced by the end of the year. Can he give us a firm commitment on that, because we are still waiting on the original strategy, which is now late?

The First Minister

I will give a commitment that we will, as I said, publish our new dementia strategy later this month and that the first two-year delivery plan will be agreed with partners and people with lived experience this year. Obviously, I will not pre-empt the strategy that will come out, but I am more than happy for the Government to commit to ensuring that there is a full discussion or even a debate on that important strategy.

Claire Baker has rightly raised a number of issues from Professor Ritchie’s comments that we need to make even more progress on, particularly in relation to research. I am pleased to be able to say that the chief scientist’s office has funded the neuroprogressive and dementia network. More than 1,000 people were recruited to dementia trials in 2021-22. I want to see what more we can do in order to progress research in relation to dementia.

The second issue that Professor Ritchie was absolutely right to raise was diagnosis rates. Again, Claire Baker was right to challenge the Government on that. I have asked the health secretary to look at what more can be done to ensure that we have the data to hand to improve diagnosis rates as early as we possibly can for people with dementia.

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

Following the answers to Claire Baker’s questions, I refer to the review that the First Minister raised. Can the review address the professor’s comment that there are tests that can detect amyloid, which is a major contributor to dementia, and that there are drugs that can clear that, but the Government infrastructure is not in place to deliver either of those?

The First Minister

That is, of course, one of the key comments that Professor Ritchie made. We will absolutely look at that. That is where the research side is so important, of course. On top of that, we are keen to see what we can do to increase the availability of medicines. We know that there is not, unfortunately, a drug that can cure dementia, and we hope that science will continue to make progress in relation to the fight against dementia. However, I hope that, where there are effective treatments or treatments that can be trialled, there is more that we can do within our infrastructure to make them as widely available as they possibly can be.

Nature Restoration Fund (Impact on Arran)

To ask the First Minister what impact the Scottish Government’s nature restoration fund is having on communities on Arran. (S6F-02173)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The nature restoration fund will provide £65 million over this parliamentary session to multiyear and multipartner projects to restore and regenerate nature and address climate change. To date, a total of £430,000 from the fund’s competitive scheme has been awarded to three projects on Arran: the glen habitat restoration project, the Dougarie estate’s green network project, and the support for the Community of Arran Seabed Trust marine restoration project. All of those will bring benefits for nature and local communities.

North Ayrshire Council has also been directly allocated £356,000 since the fund’s inception. We will shortly write to local authorities to confirm their allocations for 2023-24. Local authorities, of course, make decisions about local biodiversity priorities in relation to that funding.

Ross Greer

Last Friday, I had the privilege of attending the launch of RV Coast Explorer at Lamlash bay. I am proud that that vessel was partly funded by £200,000 from the nature restoration fund, which was established by the Scottish Greens.

Lamlash bay’s no-take zone, which was demanded and delivered by the local community, has had astounding success. That is a brilliant example of a highly protected marine area. It has seen a huge recovery in the marine environment, which is great for nature and marine tourism, and it has boosted the local fishing industry. Species such as scallop and lobster in adjacent waters are now bigger and more plentiful. How will the sustained success of Lamlash bay’s no-take zone be taken on board in progressing HPMAs elsewhere?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree with Ross Greer. Lamlash Bay is a perfect example of exactly what we are looking to achieve throughout Scotland’s seas. That is an engaged local community that is reaping the benefits from the increased marine protection. Ross Greer articulated very well some of those benefits. It is great to see funding to the Community of Arran Seabed Trust from the nature restoration fund, which has helped to support the purchase of RV Coast Explorer.

There are lots of lessons for us to learn. We have had many a discussion and debate in the chamber on the issue of highly protected marine areas, and I suspect that we will have many more. However, I have made it very clear that we want to engage with communities. The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition, among others, will travel across our island communities and our coastal communities to engage with individuals who could be affected by highly protected marine areas. Let us get to a place where we work with the communities that want to see that further protection in their marine environment to ensure marine sustainability for the future.

We move to constituency and general supplementaries. I have several requests, and I am keen to get through them, so I would be grateful for concise questions and responses.

Cost of Living

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that inflation has dipped slightly to 8.7 per cent, but food prices continue to accelerate at the fastest pace for 45 years. The United Kingdom cost of living crisis has been years in the making, with Tory austerity, welfare reforms and Brexit hammering household incomes. What is the Scottish Government doing within its limited powers and resources to shield people from the harm that has been created in large part by the actions of the Tories in Westminster? [Interruption.]

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

It is almost a weekly occurrence that, whenever poverty is mentioned, we hear groans from members on the Conservative benches. The cost of living is still far too high for too many families, who are struggling with the increasingly unaffordable cost of food, the increase in energy bills and the cost of everyday essentials, after years and years of austerity, a hard Brexit that has been imposed on Scotland and completely and utterly catastrophic economic mismanagement by the Tory Government in London.

We will do everything that we can within our powers, such as delivering the game-changing Scottish child payment, tripling our fuel insecurity fund, providing free childcare for all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds, and providing free bus travel to 2 million people. However, we know that it is only with the full economic and fiscal powers of an independent nation that ministers can use all the levers that other Governments have to tackle inequalities.

To give an example, a reversal of just a few of the regressive welfare decisions that the UK Government has made could lift 70,000 people, including 30,000 children, out of poverty. Members should be in no doubt that this cost of living crisis that has plunged so many people into poverty is a political choice by the Conservative Party, and the only way out of it is to achieve our independence.

Criminal Justice (Sentencing)

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Mum of two Jill Barclay was beaten and raped by a stranger. Rhys Bennett then set her on fire while she was still alive. The judge described the 23-year-old’s crimes as “medieval in their barbarity”, yet his prison sentence was reduced due to new under-25s sentencing guidelines. Will Humza Yousaf tell the people of Scotland whether he thinks that those guidelines should apply in every single case, no matter how wicked or barbaric the crime?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Those are not matters that are decisions for the First Minister; they are, rightly, left to the independent judiciary, as they always must be, even in the most heinous and despicable cases, such as the case of Jill Barclay.

Of course, all our thoughts are with Jill’s family, who will have been affected by what was a despicable crime. Her family, friends and community will undoubtedly be reeling from the barbarity of that sickening and medieval act, as it was described by Russell Findlay. However, it can never be the case that politicians, let alone Government ministers, interfere in sentencing decisions that are made by the judiciary.

Sentencing guidelines are taken forward by the independent Scottish Sentencing Council. What I said in relation to a previous case that was raised with me as First Minister was that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, in her regular engagement with the Sentencing Council, has asked for more information around when those regular reviews of sentencing guidance will take place. I am sure that she will be happy to keep the member informed of those discussions.

NHS Tayside (Lower Pelvic Prolapse Surgery)

Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I have here a letter received by my constituent in July 2022 from the Scottish National Party Government. It told her that surgery for lower pelvic prolapse should be completed within one year by order of the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf. My constituent has now waited for her surgery for eight and a half years.

As a last resort, we spoke to the press about her deeply personal situation. That forced the hand of NHS Tayside, which will now pay for the private surgery. Why should it come to that? My constituent spent eight and a half years telling the most intimate details of her life to journalists. Those were Humza Yousaf’s guarantees. I now have two further cases of women in Tayside who have been waiting years and years for that essential surgery. Does the First Minister know how many women are waiting for treatment for lower pelvic prolapse, and how long they have been waiting for? Is this another Tayside crisis, or are women across Scotland suffering in silence?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I thank Michael Mara for raising that incredibly important issue. Lower pelvic prolapse affects many women up and down the country. Of course, we had challenges with our waiting times pre-pandemic, but there is no doubt that, by any objective measure, the pandemic, which has been the biggest shock that our NHS has ever faced in its almost 75-year existence, has had a significant impact.

We are focused on trying to assist people who have been waiting the longest, so the focus has been on the two-year waits. The number of out-patients who have been waiting for more than two years has declined, dropped or reduced by more than 50 per cent since September and by more than 60 per cent since June last year. The number of those waiting for more than two years for in-patient day cases was down by 28 per cent in six months, and 18 out of 30 specialties had fewer than 10 patients waiting for more than two years—so we are making progress.

I am more than happy for Michael Marra to forward information about the specific cases that he has mentioned to me or the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care. We will seek to do anything that we can to assist.

Fuel Prices

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

The First Minister will be aware of the latest update from the Competition and Markets Authority indicating that global factors are not solely to blame for high fuel prices, with the evidence indicating that fuel margins have increased across the retail market over the past four years, particularly for supermarkets. The First Minister will also be aware that I have previously raised in the chamber my concern that Morrisons, Tesco and BP have been ripping off my Greenock and Inverclyde constituents. Will the First Minister commit the Scottish Government to making representations to the United Kingdom Government and to the CMA when its full report is published in July to ensure that reforms are forthcoming in order to prevent fuel retailers from robbing my constituents?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will make representations, as Stuart McMillan has asked me to do. I commend him for raising the issue consistently in the chamber on behalf of his constituents. There is no doubt that high fuel prices have contributed to the cost of living crisis for people and businesses across Scotland. The Scottish Government has raised the issue of inconsistent pricing between urban and rural areas, and in areas such as Inverclyde in particular, with the Competition and Markets Authority as a key issue for investigation. I am happy to re-emphasise those points to the CMA. I welcome its latest update and note that it is seeking more information from supermarkets on their role in the fuel market, and that it has indicated that its final report will cover the important issue of geographical variations in pricing. If there are any further representations that we can make on the issue, I will make sure that we make them.

Police Time (Mental Health Issues)

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Earlier this week, I met with the chief superintendent of Lanarkshire police. Of the many things that we discussed about the increasing pressure on the police force, the fact that, out of the more than 15,000 cases that the police attended last month, only 19 per cent involved criminal activity was a bit of a surprise. Many of the rest of the cases involved mental health issues. Is there a recognition that cutting many other support services is putting increased pressure on police time, especially when the police are having to cut their numbers on the streets?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Over the years, the Government has increased our spend on mental health considerably. We are increasing the number of staff who work in child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—as well as in psychological services. Notwithstanding that, Brian Whittle is right to raise the issue of the amount of police time that is taken in helping people who have mental health challenges and vulnerabilities. That is not great for the police service or the police and it is not the best for the individuals who are suffering from mental health challenges.

We have done a range of work through the distress brief intervention programme, for example, and the enhanced mental health pathway. I am happy to ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care writes to Brian Whittle to detail the interventions that are under way. Brian Whittle can be absolutely assured that the health secretary and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs are working closely on the matter.

Fornethy House Survivors

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Over 30 years, hundreds—maybe even thousands—of little girls who were sent by the state to Fornethy House residential school for care and nurturing were instead subjected to a catalogue of unimaginable mental, physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse. To date, none of the perpetrators of that abuse has been fully brought to justice.

Dozens of those little girls, who are now women, are in Parliament today to listen to my members’ business debate on justice for the Fornethy survivors. They do not expect the First Minister to intervene in a police investigation, but they do want to be listened to, so they have asked me to ask the First Minister to personally meet them—not necessarily today, but soon—to listen to their plight and give them the unequivocal assurance that what happened to those little girls will be properly acknowledged. That is surely the least that we can do.

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Yes, I will commit to meeting the survivors; I have met some of them—some are constituents of mine and I have met them as a local MSP. I am afraid that I will not be able to meet them today, but I am certain that our offices can liaise to find a suitable time.

I commend Colin Smyth for bringing his members’ business debate, which will take place after this question time. I hope that he will accept my apologies for being unable to stay for that, but the Deputy First Minister will respond on the Government’s behalf.

As for Colin Smyth’s request, he is right that that is the least that we and I can do. I am happy to meet the survivors and I invite him to assist in facilitating that meeting.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a short suspension to allow people to leave the chamber and the public gallery.

12:51 Meeting suspended.  

12:52 On resuming—