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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, October 26, 2023


First Minister’s Question Time

Covid-19 Inquiry (Provision of Communications)

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

In the past hour, Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the United Kingdom Covid-19 inquiry, has explained that the Scottish National Party Government was asked to provide all communications relating to key decisions that were made during the pandemic, including all informal messages, including on WhatsApp. Mr Dawson has said, “No messages were provided.”

Grieving families deserve answers and full transparency from the Scottish Government. Why has Humza Yousaf not handed over key messages to the inquiry?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

First and foremost, my thoughts remain with all the families who have been bereaved or otherwise affected by Covid. The Government will co-operate fully with the UK inquiry and the Scottish public inquiry.

When it comes to what we have released and what we will provide to the inquiry, I make it clear that we will hand over, and have handed over, any potentially relevant information that we hold, be that on WhatsApp, in email or in any correspondence.

If concerns have been raised by the inquiry—as Douglas Ross has rightly said, they have been raised—we will fully investigate them. We will, of course, hand over relevant material, and we have done so. We will continue to provide messages, but that has to go through the appropriate processes. We will continue to hand over those messages. We will continue to co-operate fully with the public inquiries—both the UK inquiry and the Scottish inquiry. The concerns that have been raised will be fully investigated.

Douglas Ross

I am not sure what the First Minister is talking about. The issue was raised this morning. Surely he is aware of what is happening. Jamie Dawson said:

“The Scottish Government has provided the inquiry with no WhatsApp or other informal messaging material, either in its own possession or in the possession of the individuals whose individual rule 9 requests are being handled by the Scottish Government.”

He also said:

“No clear comprehensive response emerged in the corporate statements from the Scottish Government.”

However, in May this year, having been asked a direct question by a journalist, Humza Yousaf said that, if a request for messages, including on WhatsApp, was made, the Scottish Government should be “absolutely open and transparent”. In June, in the chamber, he said:

“WhatsApp messages, emails, Signal messages, Telegram messages or whatever ... will absolutely be handed over to the Covid inquiries and handed over to them in full.”—[Official Report, 29 June 2023; c 15.]

The inquiry has heard this morning that that has not happened. Where are the messages? Where have they gone? Has the Scottish Government deleted any messages?

The First Minister

The Scottish Government did not routinely make decisions through WhatsApp. I know that that is very different from what has been intimated the UK Government did, but that is not how we made decisions—[Interruption.]

Members, we will hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Decisions were not routinely made over WhatsApp. I have said and will continue to say to every Government minister and official that we must comply fully with the inquiry. Relevant information has been passed on.

I note the concerns that were raised this morning. Therefore, I have, just this morning, asked the Solicitor General to internally investigate whether any other messages have to be handed over.

Messages—whether through WhatsApp, email or correspondence—have been sent. All that information has been provided. I have also provided a statement to the inquiry. However, I note the concerns that have been raised, and I give an absolute assurance to the families who are listening, particularly those who have been bereaved by Covid, that, where we hold any relevant information, that will be passed on.

Douglas Ross

But that is not happening—that is what we heard this morning. That should not take the involvement of the Solicitor General; the First Minister must know what is required and must have heard—as I did—what the King’s counsel for the inquiry said.

I will not say that this was deliberate, but the First Minister might have inadvertently misled Parliament there—[Interruption.] I think that that is okay to say, because we know that SNP ministers routinely use WhatsApp to discuss Government matters. At the end of last year, it was revealed that four SNP ministers—Neil Gray, Kevin Stewart, Maree Todd and Humza Yousaf—were using WhatsApp to conduct Government business.

Counsel to the Covid inquiry revealed today that witness statements

“suggest that informal communication such as WhatsApp messages were used by key decision makers to discuss matters around the progress of the pandemic in Scotland ... and ... decisions that the Scottish Government might have to take.”

Crucially, one Scottish Government official has voluntarily handed over WhatsApp messages from the pandemic period, which proves that they exist, so there is no excuse for not releasing them. Why is that information being withheld from grieving families, the inquiry and everyone who deserves answers?

The First Minister

That is a complete mischaracterisation. I did not “inadvertently” mislead the chamber. I did not say that there have never been discussions over WhatsApp; I said that we did not “routinely” make decisions over WhatsApp, which is very different from what the UK Government did. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

I would expect Scottish Government ministers and officials to comply with our mobile messaging apps usage policy, which, I believe, I wrote to every member of the Parliament about. I would also expect every minister and Government official to comply with the “Do not destroy” notices that the UK inquiry issued.

Concerns have been raised, which Douglas Ross is absolutely right to reiterate, on behalf of the inquiry. I can only say to the families who are listening that we will take on board those concerns and internally investigate fully, because my understanding—certainly as I stand here today—is that relevant information has been passed over. However, if any concerns are raised, they will be fully investigated. I will ask the Solicitor General to investigate, and I will update the Parliament on any investigations.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister spoke about the letter that he sent on 20 July to all MSPs, which I have here. He said:

“I should reiterate here that the Scottish Government is committed to openness and transparency, and we are cooperating fully with both the UK and Scottish Inquiries”.

That is totally the opposite of what we heard from Jamie Dawson this morning. [Interruption.] SNP members are saying no, but counsel to the inquiry has said that the inquiry has not received what it asked for from the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government has records management policies that require officials to retain records. The SNP’s business manager, George Adam, told the Parliament last year that

“All recorded information that is held by ministers or officials that relates to the business of the Scottish Government is subject to freedom of information law, irrespective of its format or the platform on which it is held.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2022; c 1.]

The Covid inquiry has powers to compel evidence. Refusing to hand over such information would not only be an insult to grieving families and a shocking display of secrecy; it would potentially break the law.

Will the First Minister confirm that he will be transparent and release every bit of information that the Government holds? Does he accept that, if any messages have been deleted, that would be illegal?

The First Minister

It is not this Government that has broken the law or will break the law. We will not only comply with the law but comply and co-operate fully with the UK inquiry and the Scottish public inquiry.

We have passed over what we believe to be relevant information. That being said—[Interruption.]

First Minister.

Douglas Ross is shouting, “Nothing”—[Interruption.]

First Minister, please give me a moment. A question has been put to the First Minister; let us hear him respond with no other comments.

The First Minister

Douglas Ross is saying that nothing has been handed over, but that is incorrect. My statement to the Covid inquiry is more than 100 pages long, so to suggest that no information has been passed over is simply incorrect.

We are not just complying with our policy. On the back of this morning’s comments from counsel, I am seeking assurances that the DNDN—“Do not destroy” notice—has been fully complied with, not just by ministers but by every relevant Scottish Government official. We take seriously the concerns that have been raised by counsel. The Government will, undoubtedly, fully co-operate with the UK inquiry and the Scottish public inquiry.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (Budget)

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

In the past week, two major fires have brought misery and heartache to families who have lost everything. In Lochgelly, a fire ripped through a four-storey block of flats and, in East Kilbride, six homes were destroyed. According to the Fire Brigades Union, both fires raged on because of delays due to cuts in services.

Today, one firefighter has told The Courier that firefighters were 15 minutes later than they could have been to a second fire in Fife, and that it is only a matter of time before the cuts put lives at risk. He said:

“We all want to do our best by the communities we serve, but it’s difficult when we have one hand tied behind our back.”

Why cannot the First Minister see that those cuts are putting lives at risk?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

First and foremost, I pay tribute to each and every one of our firefighters, who do an incredible job in Scotland. I know that from my position as First Minister and, previously, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

However, I do not agree with the point that has been made about cuts. Despite the difficult financial circumstances, which are due to United Kingdom Government austerity, we are providing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with more than £368 million this year, which is an increase of £14.4 million on 2022-23.

If I look at how many firefighters we have in comparison with other parts of the UK, I see that as of March last year there were 11.3 firefighters per 10,000 of the population in Scotland. That compares to 6.1 in England and 8.4 in Wales.

If I look at the pay, I am pleased to say that I see that firefighters accepted an improved two-year pay offer of 7 per cent for 2022-23 and 5 per cent for 2023-24.

The most crucial statistic for the public, who are interested in their safety, is that over the 10-year period between 2011-12 and 2021-22 the number of recorded fires dropped by 14 per cent.

We continue to increase investment in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and to have more firefighters per head than other parts of the UK. Crucially, fires are going down because of the investment that we have made.

Anas Sarwar

In short, the First Minister is saying that firefighters are wrong, and is burying his head in the sand.

The fire service budget is set by the Government, and it has fallen by 22 per cent in real terms over the past decade. The chief fire officer has been clear about where the service is headed. He has said that 780 firefighter posts—between 20 and 25 per cent of the workforce—could go if the Government does not change course. He went on to say that that would impact on response times.

When fighting fires, every second counts, so why does the First Minister think that he knows better than firefighters on the ground—and the chief fire officer—about how to keep people safe?

The First Minister

I am saying to Anas Sarwar that, as a Government, we have increased our investment in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. That is a fact. This year, we have increased the funding by 14 per cent. We have more fire officers per 10,000 of the population than other parts of the UK have. Crucially, the incidence of fires is going down. That is what the public care most about.

Anas Sarwar is right to say that changes and reforms are being made in relation to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. In relation to those reforms, assistant chief fire officer David Farries said:

“We’re trying to make sure we get a fire service that’s fit for the communities of Scotland in the future.

This gives us an opportunity to rebalance and reshape the service in a way that meets 21st Century needs.”

I think that that is absolutely right. I trust the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to make those changes and to do so in a way that continues to keep people safe. I am not sure why Anas Sarwar does not.

Anas Sarwar

When it comes to trusting firefighters, it is me, rather than the First Minister, who is standing up here and speaking for firefighters, who are campaigning outside Parliament. Perhaps he wants to go outside and talk to them. There has been a 22 per cent fall in the budget in real terms. This Government’s financial mismanagement is already affecting every part of a fire service that is suffering from a decade of neglect.

In the past 10 years, hundreds of firefighters have been lost, a dozen appliances are now being removed, and the First Minister is ignoring warnings that his Government is putting lives at risk. In the past few months alone, those changes have affected fire stations in every corner of Scotland—Dundee, Greenock, Dunfermline, Glenrothes, Methil, Perth, Hamilton, Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh and four in Glasgow. If those are not cuts, what is?

When the single fire service was created, the Scottish National Party said that it would not result

“in cutting front-line services.”

Was that SNP spin or SNP incompetence?

The First Minister

Again, let me, instead of sticking to the spin that Anas Sarwar is continuing to articulate, stick to the facts. The facts are that since 2017-18, there have been substantial year-on-year increases in funding to support the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. On top of that, we have more firefighters per 10,000 of the population than other parts of the UK have. Of course, the number of fires is going down, too.

Anas Sarwar is right that there has been a decision to withdraw some appliances temporarily. My understanding is that the number is 10 of the 635 operational appliances, which is 1.5 per cent. The independent His Majesty’s Fire Service Inspectorate in Scotland has provided absolute assurance that the SFRS temporary changes are based on a robust analysis of activity levels, historical demand and, importantly, the ability to supplement any initial response within—this is the crucial bit—an acceptable timeframe.

We continue to invest in our fire service. I want to thank and pay tribute to the FBU and to our firefighters on the ground. I will continue to promise them that we will, as long as we are in Government, continue to ensure that they get the investment that they need to keep our public safe.

Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-02458)


Alex Cole-Hamilton

Vast numbers of people are being forced to call emergency dental helplines because they cannot find a national health service dentist. An investigation that I am publishing today shows that that happened almost 16,000 times last year in Fife alone. That is hardly surprising, given that there is just one Fife practice accepting new NHS patients.

Across Scotland, people are desperate—some are even resorting to do-it-yourself dentistry. The First Minister’s recovery plan promised to abolish NHS dentistry charges altogether, but they are not going away. Next week, they will go up; some will even double. What the Government did not tell us is that there are new charges for emergency appointments and for services such as denture repairs. Why are people paying more for less under the Scottish National Party?

The First Minister

The word that Alex Cole-Hamilton did not mention in his question was “pandemic”. The pandemic had a significant impact on our dental services—not just here in Scotland, but right across the United Kingdom. Alex Cole-Hamilton was also incorrect to say that we have not made progress in removing dental charges. We have done so for young people under the age of 26, and we look forward to making continued progress.

On growing the NHS dental workforce in Scotland, we have 55 dentists per 100,000 of the population compared with 43 per 100,000 in England. We are investing in our NHS dental services, and the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care will be more than happy to write to Alex Cole-Hamilton with details of the progress that we have made.

Crucially, when it comes to the oral health of our young people in particular, which I know is of interest to us all, there has been significant progress there, as well. It will take time, but I can absolutely guarantee not just the public but the people who work in our dental sector across Scotland that we will continue to invest in dentistry so that we can continue to improve outcomes for patients across the country.

HIV (Elimination of New Transmissions)

4. Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister, in light of the launch of Scotland’s new HIV anti-stigma campaign in partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust, what action the Scottish Government is taking to eliminate new transmissions of HIV. (S6F-02449)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We are delighted to partner with the Terrence Higgins Trust and other HIV stakeholders in this important anti-stigma campaign. Tackling stigma is one of the many ways to address HIV transmission in Scotland by reducing barriers to testing and treatment, as well as improving the lives of people living with HIV.

We remain committed to eliminating HIV transmission in Scotland by 2030. Our HIV transmission elimination delivery plan, developed by the deputy chief medical officer and stakeholders, will prioritise the recommendations for HIV elimination that we published last year. Our aim is to publish that plan in the coming months.

Clare Haughey

Stigma often presents a barrier to people accessing HIV testing, and this anti-stigma campaign is an exciting milestone in Scotland’s mission to improve the lives of those living with HIV and update public attitudes. A first of its type in the UK, the campaign will reflect the realities of living with HIV in Scotland today, where, if an individual is on the right treatment, they can live a long, happy and healthy life and cannot pass the virus on to others. Does the First Minister agree that tackling stigma around HIV will help Scotland reach zero new transmissions of the virus and improve and save lives?

The First Minister

I absolutely agree with Clare Haughey on that point. Tackling stigma is fundamental to achieving our HIV transmission elimination goal by 2030. The campaign that Clare Haughey referenced in her original question is just one way of addressing that stigma. We are also working with NHS Education Scotland to produce training materials for non-HIV specialists in the NHS to improve the detection and diagnosis of HIV. We are also working with Waverley Care to support the fast-track cities Scotland initiative, which provides stigma-related training activities for the health and social care workforce.

Almost half of the population in Scotland would be ashamed to tell other people that they were HIV positive, so work is still very much required to challenge misconceptions while also improving access to testing, preventative treatment and support for people living with HIV. Those points will be prioritised in our HIV transmission elimination delivery plan.

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

This new partnership is welcome. We must do all that we can to eliminate new transmissions of HIV. I therefore ask the First Minister for a progress update on commitments made by the Scottish Government on world AIDS day 2022, including the pilot of an ePrEP clinic, which would act as an important and significant step towards ending stigma and giving people greater control over their own healthcare.

The First Minister

I will ensure that we write to Carol Mochan with full details of an update, but Scotland has been world leading in the implementation of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis—PrEP—since the introduction of our programme in 2017. We have to recognise that PrEP has to be as accessible as possible for those who require it in communities up and down Scotland. That point is well made by Carol Mochan.

Work is very much under way to pilot the online PrEP clinic: £400,000 of funding has been provided for the development of the project, which is currently in the important development stage and on track to be taken forward during 2024 and beyond. I will ensure that a fuller update is provided to Carol Mochan.

Childcare Costs (Parents’ Jobs)

5. Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reported concerns that parents are having to give up their jobs due to childcare costs. (S6F-02455)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Early learning and childcare plays a crucial role not only in children’s development but in helping parents, particularly mums, to return to work. Our current offer is, of course, the most generous in the United Kingdom, with all three and four-year-olds and around a quarter of two-year-olds entitled to 1,140 hours of childcare each year. Independent research shows that 88 per cent—almost nine in 10—of parents with a three to five-year-old were satisfied that they could access childcare in a way that meets their specific needs.

However, I recognise that we have to go further to support more parents to find or, indeed, stay in work. That is why, in the programme for government, I set out my plans to improve and expand the childcare offer and work with our partners to help 13,000 more children and families access that childcare by the end of this Parliament.

Meghan Gallacher

Childcare costs are one reason why so many women choose not to start a family. Families with children are having to cut down on essential items because they cannot afford to work and pay for childcare. That is why the roll-out of free childcare is so important. It is not a luxury but a tool to get parents into work and our economy moving.

Given that the Scottish Government has not announced anything on childcare since the programme for government, how will he reassure women that they will not end up pregnant then screwed by this Government?

The First Minister

The programme for government was, of course, just last month. I am more than happy to provide an update to Meghan Gallacher as we make substantial progress.

I go back to the point that, in Scotland, we have the most generous childcare offer in the UK.

One of the important points that I mentioned in my programme for government is the sustainability of the private, voluntary and independent sector. Scotland is the only part of the UK to pay staff who are delivering funded ELC the real living wage. We are committed to providing the necessary funding to increase pay to £12 an hour for staff who deliver funded ELC provision in the private, voluntary and independent sector. We are investing in that most-generous childcare offer, and I am sure that other Governments in the UK might want to follow Scotland’s lead.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

The First Minister will be aware that the data that was produced by the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign is damning. Does he share the confidence that the Scottish Government ministers have that the private sector childcare nursery model is still viable, even with the proposed Scottish Government funding?

The First Minister

I saw that report, and I thank Pregnant Then Screwed for the information that it provided in its report. That is why I was keen to put on record that we recognise that there are challenges, particularly in the PVI sector. We all recognise that in our conversations with the private, voluntary and independent sector. That is why we will be providing funding to increase pay to £12 an hour for staff who deliver ELC provision.

I go back to the point that I made to Meghan Gallacher a moment ago. Independent research—I stress the word “independent”—shows that 88 per cent of parents with a three to five-year-old were satisfied that they could access childcare in a way that meets their needs.

However, I recognise the point that the member raises about the sustainability of the sector, and that is why I am absolutely committed to working with the PVI sector to ensure that we have a sustainable ELC provision.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am afraid that what the Government has done so far on the PVI sector is not enough. The First Minister knows that there is an exodus of experienced staff from the private, voluntary and independent sector. He cannot do just the £12-an-hour living wage. He needs to increase the fee rates, or we will have a sector that is just not sustainable. He promised to do that in the leadership contest. Is he going to deliver?

The First Minister

Again, we will update the Parliament on our plans around the budget in due course at the end of this year.

It is fair to say that the overall capacity across the whole childcare sector, in terms of the number of registered places, remained stable between March 2020 and March 2023. We know from the delivery data that we collect from councils specifically that the number of hours that services offer has increased.

However, I take the point that there are challenges around the sustainability of childcare. That is why we will continue to invest in childcare to ensure that we have the most generous offer anywhere in the UK.

National Health Service (Waiting Times)

6. Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister what steps are being taken to eradicate long waiting times for NHS treatment, in light of Public Health Scotland data showing that over 1,500 patients have waited more than three years. (S6F-02459)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Excessively long waits are, of course, unacceptable. We are working hard to drive down the longest waits, and we have already seen a significant reduction since targets were announced last July. The latest Public Health Scotland data shows that 73 per cent of in-patient day-case specialties had fewer than 10 patients waiting for more than three years, and only eight had 10 or more.

That is welcome progress, but there is undoubtedly more to do. That is why, in each of the next three years, we will provide an extra £100 million to accelerate treatment for patients and reduce in-patient and day-case waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients. That investment will allow us to maximise capacity, build far greater resilience into the system and deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of patients who have waited far too long for treatment.

Jackie Baillie

Let us talk about people, not percentages. It is true that, in July last year, the First Minister announced a series of targets for completely eradicating long waits for treatment. By September 2022, not a single one of those targets had been met. In fact, instead of there being zero, as promised, there are a shocking 6,831 Scots waiting more than two years.

The £300 million over three years that the First Minister has recently announced is expected to treat 100,000 people. The waiting list sits at 800,000 people, and it is growing. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have been scathing about the total failure to acknowledge the workforce crisis, and even his own economy minister has admitted that the Government had no idea how it will all be funded.

When will the First Minister end the wait for the 800,000 people who are on the waiting list? In light of the SNP’s failure to deliver on existing promises on waiting times, why should patients believe it now?

The First Minister

Again, Jackie Baillie does not acknowledge the impact that the global pandemic had on health services right across Scotland and the United Kingdom.

There are, of course, differences in how we record waiting times across the UK. Waiting times in England and Wales are measured by the referral to treatment time, which is the 18-week target, and which is, as I say, not directly comparable to Scotland’s treatment time guarantee. Nonetheless, when we look at the data from 30 June this year, it shows that, per 1,000 of the population, 122 patients were waiting for the treatment time guarantee and new out-patient appointments here in Scotland. That is fewer than in England, where 134 patients per 1,000 are on the RTT waiting list, and in Wales the figure is 243 per 1,000. Although I acknowledge that there are differences in how those figures are measured, my point is that the global pandemic has impacted health services right across the UK.

We have made significant reductions. The number of people who are waiting for more than two years for new out-patient appointments is down by 59 per cent. When it comes to people who have been waiting as in-patients for longer than two years, the figure has also reduced by 28 per cent since targets were announced. We will continue our record investment in the NHS, to ensure that our staff numbers are at historically high and record levels, and to make sure that our NHS staff remain the best paid anywhere in the UK.

Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

Given the unacceptably long secondary care wait times, desperate patients are being forced to continue to see general practitioners, placing greater strain on primary care and taking up appointments, and forcing patients with new issues to wait, leading to them going to accident and emergency departments in desperation. That is a system-wide cycle of despair that contributed to a record number of deaths last winter.

You have spoken about surgical waiting times, but what about our patients who are waiting for medical clinics, chronic pain management, respiratory care or cardiology? What tangible changes are you making specifically for them?

Always speak through the chair, please, Mr Gulhane.

The First Minister

That is exactly why we are investing an additional £300 million to reduce waiting lists for patients who have been waiting for far too long.

Sandesh Gulhane asked what we are doing. We are doing everything that we possibly can and our NHS staff are doing everything that they possibly can to increase activity to aid the recovery. I will give Sandesh Gulhane one example. In-patient day-case activity for quarter 2 was at its highest since the start of the pandemic. In fact, it was the sixth quarterly increase in a row, with 58,813 patients being seen in quarter 2.

We are increasing activity, but we are also increasing the workforce where we can. We have recently seen historically high numbers of NHS staff, and we are making sure that they continue to be the best paid in the UK. What will help us in relation to that NHS activity is making sure that no NHS worker, be it a doctor, a nurse or any of our NHS staff, feels that they have to go on strike because they are not being fairly paid. The Government will continue to make sure that our NHS staff are the best paid in the whole of the UK.

We move to general and constituency supplementary questions.

Fund to Leave (Domestic Abuse)

Will the First Minister outline how the newly announced fund to leave will support women who are fleeing an abusive relationship?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The new £500,000 fund to leave pilot will help to reduce the financial burden on women, who can receive up to £1,000 to pay for the essentials that they and their children need, such as rent or clothing. The fund is for supporting women who are experiencing domestic abuse and who, as we all know, face many challenges and difficulties, including financial barriers, when they plan to leave abusive partners. It is vital that such women can access the support that they need when they need it. That can be through local authorities, the local women’s aid group or partners who are involved in delivering the fund.

I would always urge any women who are experiencing domestic abuse or violence to reach out for the support that is available through Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline.

Victim Safety (Remand Decisions)

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Claire Inglis was tortured and murdered in her own home, leaving behind a young son. Fiona and Ian Inglis have found the strength to be here today, 24 hours after their daughter’s killer was jailed. They are here for answers. Why was a violent criminal with dozens of convictions granted bail not just once or twice but five times? Since Claire’s murder, why has the Scottish National Party Government passed a law that will make it even harder to remand criminals in custody? Will Humza Yousaf commit to an independent, robust and transparent inquiry?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

First and foremost, my thoughts are very much with Ian and Fiona Inglis—Claire’s parents. I cannot imagine the trauma and grief that they are going through. There cannot be anything more unnatural in this world than to have to bury one’s child. I extend the condolences and sympathies of the Government to Ian and Fiona.

Forgive me, Presiding Officer, but, with your indulgence, I will take a bit of time to answer some of the questions that Russell Findlay has posed on behalf of the family.

First, it is appropriate for me to say that decisions about bail and remand are, of course, for the independent judiciary and courts to determine. They are not for the First Minister, any Government minister or any politician to interfere in or intervene in.

I do not agree with Russell Findlay’s characterisation of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act 2023. The act makes it clear for the first time that the court should specifically consider victim safety, which includes safety from physical and psychological harm, when applying the new bail test. That is explicit for the first time in the 2023 act. Victim safety is at the heart of any decision that should be made on bail and remand.

On the independent inquiry that Russell Findlay has asked for, he knows that I cannot intervene or interfere in the decisions of the judiciary. On the concerns that have been raised by Russell Findlay and Ian and Fiona Inglis when it comes to prosecutorial decisions and decisions to either oppose or accept bail conditions, I will convey those concerns directly to the Lord President and the Lord Advocate, and it will be for them to appropriately respond. I cannot demand an investigation into a decision that has been made by the independent judiciary; it would be unwise for me to do so, because that would undoubtedly be seen as interference with a decision that has been made by the independent judiciary.

This dreadful and tragic case reminds us of the need to do more to tackle domestic abuse and domestic homicide. That is why the Scottish Government is committed to developing a multi-agency domestic homicide review model in partnership with key stakeholders. I will give more information on that to Russell Findlay and any other member who has an interest.

Newman Bonar Ltd (Closure)

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a member of Unite, the union.

Today, it was announced that Newman Bonar Ltd, the company that was set up earlier this year to acquire historic Dundee textile manufacturer Bonar Yarns, is closing, risking the livelihoods of 57 workers and their families. I invite the First Minister to take this opportunity to join the provisional liquidators in asking that any party that has an interest in acquiring the business contact them. Will the First Minister join me in fighting to save those important manufacturing jobs in Dundee?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I share Mercedes Villalba’s clear disappointment that Newman Bonar has gone into liquidation. My immediate thoughts are with the staff and their families, who are again going through uncertainty. The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy had met and written to the company in recent months to encourage it to fully engage with Scottish Enterprise so that every available option to save the business could be explored. I know that the business has had a long-standing presence in the community and is an important local employer.

We will certainly do everything that we can in our power to protect jobs and the manufacturing footprint in Dundee. Scottish Enterprise is engaging directly with the liquidator to better understand the situation, given last night’s announcement. As a Government, we stand ready to provide support to any employees who potentially face redundancy through partnership action for continuing employment—PACE. I will keep Mercedes Villalba updated on how conversations are going.

FBU Scotland (“Firestorm” Report)

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

This week, FBU Scotland launched its “Firestorm” report. In the past seven days, we have seen firefighters tackle floods and flames. Our fireys are gathered outside right now, and they are clear that they cannot continue in their current roles, never mind adapt to the future roles that they are expected to perform, with the current levels of investment.

What is the First Minister’s response to FBU Scotland’s “Firestorm” report? Will he agree to meet firefighters themselves—not their managers, but front-line firefighters—to hear directly their concerns?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

First and foremost, I go back to the response that I gave to Anas Sarwar. We will continue to ensure that we invest in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, because it does an incredible job, and, of course, in our firefighters. We have regular dialogue with the Fire Brigades Union. In fact, just this morning, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs committed to meeting the FBU in order to meet directly firefighters on the front line.

Of course, this financial year, we increased the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s budget by £14.4 million, despite the financial pressure that we are currently under. On top of that, we continue to make investments in the SFRS, which have enabled it, through its incredible hard work, to reduce the number of fires that have taken place over the past year. I have read through the “Firestorm” report, and the cabinet secretary will meet the FBU, as she committed to do this morning.

Covid and Flu Vaccination

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

Under the Scottish Government’s vaccination programme, I recently had the Covid and the flu vaccines at a very busy, efficient and, indeed, friendly vaccine centre. However, that is anecdotal. Will the First Minister please provide an update on vaccination take-up?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Christine Grahame makes an incredibly important point. We know that the vaccines for Covid and flu are incredibly effective and important. I encourage anybody who is eligible to come forward for vaccination. The programme is progressing very well—so far, 1.7 million vaccinations have been administered. That includes more than 1 million flu vaccinations and almost 700,000 Covid vaccinations.

For people who are at highest risk, our rephasing of the programme has resulted in 73 per cent of care home residents having already been vaccinated, with the remainder due for completion by the end of this month. A large number of people have appointments throughout the rest of October and November, with vaccinations due to be delivered by early December.

I reiterate to all those who are eligible that getting the flu vaccine and the Covid vaccine could save their lives. It is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself and the national health service this winter, so if you are eligible but have yet to book an appointment, please do so. I encourage everybody who is eligible to get those vaccines.

Anne’s Law (Implementation)

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

This week, I met campaigners to discuss the impact of lockdowns on families of people who live in care homes. After a long campaign, it was welcome that the Scottish Government announced that it would implement Anne’s law. However, there are concerns that that has still not happened and that the issue currently sits in the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill. Campaigners want the implementation of Anne’s law to be decoupled from the bill. Will the First Minister agree to meet the campaigners? Will ministers look urgently at decoupling the implementation of Anne’s law from the bill and delivering it now?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Through changes that were made by the previous minister for social care, Kevin Stewart, we gave practical effect, through regulation, to Anne’s law. Notwithstanding that, if there is something else that we can do, I will consider Miles Briggs’s suggestion in relation to decoupling.

However, the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill is progressing. We took time to pause it due to concerns that were raised by local authorities and trade unions. Of course, I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care to meet Miles Briggs and the families who represent those who live in care homes to see whether there is anything further that we can do.

Looked-after Children (Transition to Adulthood)

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

As we mark care experienced week, will the First Minister provide an update on the steps that the Scottish Government is taking to improve the experiences of and outcomes for looked-after children as they transition to adulthood?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I think that every member of the Scottish Parliament who has met care-experienced people—particularly care-experienced young people—will have been moved by their plight, their strength and their advocacy. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of meeting a group of care-experienced young people in Glasgow, where I heard about some of the challenges that care-experienced people face during their transition to adulthood.

For anyone, moving away from home can be a challenging time when we rely heavily on our family support networks, but not everybody has a family support network. Not everybody has the luxury of their mother and their father—or, indeed, wider family—to rely on.

That is why I was pleased to set out the Government’s proposal for a £2,000 payment for care leavers to provide financial support at such a pivotal moment in young people’s lives, as part of a broader package of support. That is a key step in keeping the Promise, and I reiterate to members today that I, as First Minister, and the Government fully intend not only to keep the Promise but to ensure that it is delivered.

That concludes First Minister’s question time.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I declare my interest as a practising general practitioner in the national health service.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, Dr Gulhane. Your comment has been recorded.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate in the name of Paul Sweeney. There will be a short suspension to allow those leaving the chamber and the public gallery to do so before the debate begins.

12:45 Meeting suspended.  

12:47 On resuming—