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Meeting date: Thursday, May 26, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 26 May 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Falkland Islands, Portfolio Question Time, Drug Deaths, Social Security Benefits, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Correction


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Ferries (Construction Contract)

The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for John Swinney to come to Parliament and face scrutiny on the crucial role that he has played in the shambolic ferry contracts. Every time that we have requested—[Interruption.] Scottish National Party back benchers do not seem to like this, but just imagine—[Interruption.]

Members! We are just beginning this session of First Minister’s question time, and I would be very grateful if we could hear the question.

Every time that we have asked for a statement, every SNP back bencher and John Swinney have voted against him coming to the Parliament. However, today, he cannot avoid the questions to which islanders and Scottish taxpayers need answers.

John Swinney signed off the ferry contracts that have, so far, cost £250 million and denied islanders the ferries that they need. Will the Deputy First Minister finally tell the Scottish public why he signed off the deals?

First, I note that I am answering questions today because the First Minister is still unwell with Covid. For many obvious reasons, I wish her a very speedy recovery. [Applause.]

I do not think that Douglas Ross is in the strongest position to question my engagement with the Parliament on key issues, because I gave a statement earlier this week, I answered questions last week and I handled a bill the week before. Unlike some Tory MSPs, you will not find me skiving off to the football for a few days when the Parliament is sitting. [Interruption.]

Members! We will have quiet, please.

As a minister, I carry collective responsibilities for the actions of the Scottish Government. The responsibility for agreeing contracts lies with individual portfolios—in this scenario, with transport. My role was to provide the necessary budget for building the ferries. After the final decision was taken, officials briefed me about the contract being awarded and assured me, on the basis of the contract, that the budget that I had approved in August 2015 did not require to be changed.

I know that the Deputy First Minister does not do this very often, but he spoke about a statement that he gave to Parliament and a bill that he took through Parliament, and neither of those has anything to do with ferries, which is what this Parliament has asked to hear from him about. On every occasion, John Swinney has not just refused to speak but voted against himself giving a statement to Parliament.

John Swinney’s fingerprints are all over the deal. Emails show that the Deputy First Minister confirmed that there were “no banana skins”. He was on calls with finance officials, who said that Mr Swinney “now understands the background”. His approval was essential. The contract was only “clear to award” after he signed it off, according to Scottish Government emails.

John Swinney charged ahead despite ferry experts warning against the contract, and despite legal advice that the SNP originally tried to cover up but could not redact properly, warning of the high risk of the contract being challenged and ruled ineffective. The SNP charged ahead despite the contract missing a key safeguard that is an industry standard, and despite the fact that the jobs at Ferguson were already safe and the yard had other options for work. [Interruption.]

Members! We simply are not going to shout from a sedentary position.

Mr Ross, please continue.

That just shows how SNP members want to push this under the carpet and for it all to go away. They do not want scrutiny over the quarter of a billion pounds that has been spent without a single ferry that the islanders were promised being produced.

The Government charged ahead, despite there being no agreed design for the ferries, and despite the fact that the Ferguson bid was the most expensive of them all. Can the Deputy First Minister explain to people across Scotland why he approved those deals despite all the evidence that suggested he should not?

I made it clear in my first answer that I carry collective responsibility for the actions of the Government. I therefore accept that those decisions were taken by the Government, but they were taken individually by the transport minister.

I will give Douglas Ross the benefit of the note that he has quoted from, which was from a senior finance official. It said:

“Just finished my call with DFM. He now understands the background and that Mr McKay has cleared the proposal.”

That is the complete sentence that Douglas Ross is missing. The decision had been taken, and I was being briefed that there was no change to the budget that I had already sanctioned. Why is that answer not good enough for Douglas Ross? He has been given that answer on countless occasions.

As for his points about the Government not wishing to undergo scrutiny on this issue, it was looked at by a parliamentary committee, by Audit Scotland and by another parliamentary committee, and it has been the subject of a range of questions at question time. When Douglas Ross looks at all the papers, he will see that the contract arrangement demonstrates that the Government was taking action to deliver ferries for the island communities that require them, and we were taking decisions to protect employment on the lower Clyde. That is a record that this Government is determined to defend.

The Government would have to be pretty determined to defend a record that has not built any ferries and that has left islanders without ferries.

Honest John has missed the second sentence—

Mr Ross, we will desist from using nicknames in the chamber. We will call people by their first names and surnames.

Sorry.

John Swinney read out a sentence from an email, but he refused to read the second sentence, and I wonder why. The second sentence says:

“So the way is clear to award.”

That is the conclusion of the email that reveals the Deputy First Minister’s involvement. It was escalated to the Deputy First Minister on 9 October 2015 at 17:15—[Interruption.]

SNP members do not want to hear this, but the email saying that the way to award was clear was sent only after the matter had gone to John Swinney.

Why did the SNP really sign off on this deal? It was not to save jobs, because we know that the jobs were safe. It was not the cheapest deal for taxpayers; it was actually the most expensive. It was not the most secure contract; it was the most risky. It was not backed by experts; they warned the Deputy First Minister and others against it. However, against overwhelming evidence, John Swinney signed off the deal anyway.

It seems obvious to everyone what happened here. The Scottish National Party wanted the political praise for keeping the yard open ahead of an election, so it ignored all the alarm bells. It looks an awful lot like the SNP made a dodgy deal, and now it is trying to cover that up. Can the Deputy First Minister—[Interruption.]

Can we please hear Mr Ross’s question?

The Deputy First Minister is trying to listen, despite some of the comment behind him. Can he really tell the public that there was no political motive behind the award of the contract?

There was no political motive behind the contract. The objective of the Government was to ensure that the ferries that were required would be built, and that is what we are concentrating on achieving. We were also determined to ensure that employment on the lower Clyde was supported with contracts from the CalMac Ferries network. For Mr Ross to say that, somehow, the yard could stay open without any contracts is for him to deny the physical reality of the way in which a yard would be run.

I point out to Mr Ross that Audit Scotland went through the procurement process and indicated that that process, which resulted in Ferguson’s becoming the preferred bidder, was entirely standard. On that basis, the transport minister took the decision to award the contract, and, as the note says about me,

“He now understands the background and that Mr McKay has cleared the proposal.”

Read the next sentence.

Mr Ross is trying to invent something else. What I have explained to Parliament, consistent with my—[Interruption.]

There continues to be quite a lot of heckling, and I would be very grateful if members could resist the temptation to do so, as I would very much like to hear the Deputy First Minister.

Consistent with my obligation under the ministerial code of conduct to give truthful answers to Parliament, I am making it clear to Parliament that the memo that Mr Ross has quoted from was simply recording the fact that I had been briefed about a decision that another minister had taken and that, therefore, the way was clear to award the contract, because I had been briefed, the budget was in place and Mr Mackay’s decision could stand.

Douglas Ross can go around smearing and inventing all the information that he wants, but the people of Scotland will see through his grubby tactics today.

What the people of Scotland can see is that quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on two ferries that have so far not sailed, which were promised by the Government to the islanders who desperately need them for their connectivity. For the Deputy First Minister to respond in the way that he has done undermines what those communities need right now.

It seems that the ferry deal was the best deal for the SNP, not the best deal for Scotland, and that ScotRail is going the same way for commuters as the ferry deal has gone for islanders. Just a month after the Deputy First Minister’s SNP Government took control of our railways, one in three train services has been cut.

Earlier this week, in a rare move, business groups, including the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Scottish Financial Enterprise, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Institute of Directors, united to warn of the harsh impact that their members face as a result of the ScotRail cuts. Delays, last-minute cancellations and service reductions are causing real problems for passengers across the country.

Next week, our national men’s team will play its biggest match for more than two decades. The tartan army will need to get to and from Hampden on ScotRail. Will the Deputy First Minister’s Government have got a grip of the situation by then? If not, when can people expect to have the rail service that they need?

When we look at the specific questions that Douglas Ross has put to me on the Ferguson’s issue, it is abundantly clear why a statement by me to Parliament was unnecessary, because he had nothing of any substance whatsoever to put to me.

I have been a member of the Parliament for a long time. The assessment has often been made that, when a political leader changes the topic of their question during First Minister’s questions, that is an indication that they are in trouble. That is exactly where Douglas Ross is.

Mr Ross knows full well—[Interruption.]

Members! Please continue, Deputy First Minister. People are following the proceedings and would like to hear them.

Mr Ross knows full well that negotiations are under way between the employer—ScotRail—and the trade unions to resolve the industrial dispute that is limiting services. That dialogue is under way, as it should be.

He asks about the Ukraine match. We obviously want more services to be in place to deal with the Ukraine match. I am confident that ScotRail will have additional services in place to ensure that the specific requirements of access to Hampden will be addressed. Announcements will be made about that in due course.

I suspect—[Interruption.]

Mr Ross!

I suspect that the degree of agitation from Mr Ross today is an indication of the depth of the trouble that he is in. I do not think that anything that I say today will satisfy Mr Ross. He is going to doubt what I say and question my integrity. I am giving Parliament honest answers, which is more than can be said for the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who Douglas Ross is prepared to support.


Rail Services

Across the country, thousands of people are being left out of pocket and are struggling with this week’s rail chaos. There are countless examples. I will give the Deputy First Minister one of them.

Leanne lives in Dumbarton and works at a service station in Helensburgh. She takes the train to and from work. There is now no service after 8 pm and she finishes her shift at 10.30 pm. She is unable to drive and no public transport is available. How does the Deputy First Minister expect Leanne and countless others to get home?

I sympathise entirely with the position that Leanne finds herself in. That is why the discussions between the rail trade unions and ScotRail that will take place this afternoon are so important in resolving the issue.

We must operate a safe railway and can do that only with fully and properly trained drivers. The network currently relies on rest day working by ScotRail’s train drivers, which is a practice that we are trying to eliminate. For properly understandable reasons, driver training was interrupted by Covid. More drivers are available now than have been in the past and we are trying to make progress on boosting driver numbers to resolve that issue.

We have to resolve the dispute, and that is what the discussions are about. I encourage ScotRail and the trade unions to reach a conclusion to that process so that individuals such as Leanne can have the rail service that they should have access to.

The Deputy First Minister did not answer the question. Unlike the Deputy First Minister, Leanne does not have a ministerial car to get home. [Interruption.] Members can hum and haw all they like, but this is real lived experience for their constituents, too, and they should care about their constituents. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, Leanne has to spend £20 on a taxi. That means that she has to work for two hours just to pay to get home. That is the reality for thousands of people across the country.

Let us look at the facts. At the start of 2020, there were 2,400 rail services a day. In February, the Scottish Government made a permanent cut of 250 services a day. The latest chaos sees that number increased to almost 1,000 services a day being cut.

The message from ScotRail and the Scottish Government is simply that people must make their own arrangements. Normally, when there is a significant disruption in rail services, a replacement bus service is provided. Will the Deputy First Minister tell us how many of the 1,000 services a day that have been cut have a replacement bus service?

Mr Sarwar asked me questions about the capacity of our rail services, and I want to address those points.

If we look back at the situation in 2015, we see that there were 1,086 drivers on the ScotRail network. In December last year, it was 1,168, so there has been growth in the number of drivers. ScotRail would have trained a further 130 drivers had the process not be paused during the pandemic for what were, as I think we all accept, understandable reasons. There is now a pool of almost 900 pending driver applications, which gives us a supply of candidates coming into driver training that will allow us to expand the availability of driving personnel. Indeed, the ScotRail board gave authority for the recruitment of a further 135 drivers to move forward to the next stage.

I put those points on the record to address the capacity of the rail services and show the investment that has been made to ensure that we have adequate numbers of drivers in the future. We are in a period of difficulty just now because drivers are exercising their voluntary right not to undertake rest-day working. We are trying to resolve those issues by the negotiation that is taking place and, through ScotRail, we have put in place an amended timetable that gives more certainty about the availability of services rather than last-minute cancellations. The feedback that we got from Transport Focus showed that that was the most important issue to address for the travelling public so that they had certainty about the transport that was available.

The Deputy First Minister spoke but he did not answer the question. I WhatsApped the ScotRail business account this morning to ask about how many replacement bus services ScotRail had. The answer was:

“Hi there, no, there isn’t.”

There are no replacement services across the country. In the middle of a cost of living and climate crisis, the Scottish National Party-Green Government is leaving people stranded with no public transport and asking them to use gas-guzzling vehicles instead. In practice, that failure means tens of thousands of people struggling to get to and from work, more people being out of pocket and made poorer, millions being lost for local businesses and the industries that suffered much during Covid taking another hit.

While the Deputy First Minister and his colleagues have 28 chauffeur-driven cars that cost more than £1 million to get them to and from their work, the SNP-Green Government is cutting 1,000 rail services a day, offering no replacement bus services and forcing people to work hours just to pay for a taxi home. Should he and every other minister not hand back the keys to the ministerial chauffeur-driven cars until they get that sorted and get Scotland moving again?

This Government is providing practical help to people with the cost of living. For example, the Scottish Government has doubled the Scottish child payment to £20 per week. It will go up to £25 per week. None of that support is available in any other part of the United Kingdom, including in Labour-run Wales.

The Scottish Government has assisted individuals with council tax support. [Interruption.]

Members!

We have assisted individuals with direct support through the carers allowance and other measures.

While we are doing all of that to support members of the public in the cost of living crisis that they face, what is the Labour Party doing? It is getting into bed with the Tory party in council administrations around the country. [Interruption.]

Members!

Anas Sarwar told the country on 5 May:

“don’t reward this toxic, out of touch, corrupt Tory Party with your vote.”

What is the Labour Party now doing? It is rewarding the

“toxic, out of touch, corrupt Tory Party”

with jobs at West Lothian Council and the City of Edinburgh Council. The Labour Party and the Tory party are working together. Vote Labour—get Tory. [Interruption.]

Members!

We move to general and constituency supplementaries. [Interruption.] Members, until we have silence, I will not proceed to the next question.


Falklands War

The Deputy First Minister will be aware that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands war, a conflict that claimed the lives of members of the Scots Guards and 45 Commando, which is based in my constituency. Does he share my disappointment that the United Kingdom Government’s Falklands veterans concessionary flight scheme remains suspended, denying holders of the South Atlantic medal, and next of kin, their only realistic chance of visiting the islands at this poignant time?

I understand that the scheme was paused because of the pandemic and that there have been indications that it might resume at some point later this year. Will the Deputy First Minister join me in calling on the UK Government to restart it as a matter of urgency, so that those to whom this anniversary means so much can, if they wish, visit the Falklands and pay their respects to fallen comrades?

It is understandable that non-essential travel to the Falklands was suspended in 2020 due to the Covid-19 restrictions, but I very much agree with Mr Dey, who pursued many such issues for some time, as Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans. It is extremely important that the flights resume at the earliest possible and practicable time, especially in this, the 40th anniversary year—I appreciate that that is also the subject of today’s members’ business debate. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans has written to the Secretary of State for Defence to seek clarity on the projected timeline for the resumption of flights and to impress on him the importance of continuing to provide that critical support to veterans of the 1982 conflict.


Census 2022

A week before the census deadline, National Records of Scotland announced that only 84.8 per cent of households had filled in the census. In Dundee, almost a fifth of households had not completed it. In Glasgow, the figure was close to a quarter. Last year, the return rate in England and Wales was 97 per cent. With just five days to go, does the Deputy First Minister agree that the census has been a disaster from start to finish, and that it was a mistake to separate the Scottish census from the wider United Kingdom census?

No, I do not agree with that point. Obviously, a lot of hard work is going on to ensure that the census is completed. In due course, the final returns will be disclosed by National Records of Scotland, which has to undertake some analysis. Arising from that, Angus Robertson, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, will update the Parliament on the progress of the census and the strength of the information that is available for us to use in the future development of public policy in Scotland.


Nursing and Midwifery (Staffing)

On Monday, Julie Lambeth, chair of the Scotland board of the Royal College of Nursing, said that fair pay is needed to stem an exodus of staff and retain younger nurses in our national health service. She also made it clear that, right now, the two priorities for dedicated nursing staff are pay and safe staffing.

Nursing and midwifery vacancies climbed by a shocking 170 per cent between 2020 and 2021, and I have heard at first hand from nurses who have made it clear that the current normalisation of staffing gaps is taking its toll on their mental and physical health. Those are some of the most dedicated and hard-working staff in our NHS, who are leaving the profession that they love, broken.

When will the Government get a grip and engage with the RCN on safe staffing, fair pay and the meaningful workforce planning that has been so desperately lacking?

Mr O’Kane has raised serious issues. Negotiations are under way on both pay and safe staffing. The Government is engaged in that process as we speak. Within the significant constraints in which we are operating, we are working to ensure that we can address the issues that are of concern to members of the Royal College of Nursing.

I point out to Mr O’Kane that nursing and staffing levels in the national health service are higher than they were when we came to office, and are at record levels. We will continue to support nursing staff in the excellent and outstanding work that they do and on which we all depend.


Electricity Bill (E.ON Energy)

A vulnerable constituent, who is a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, rents a small cottage on a farm in Peebles. His predicted electricity bill was £35 per month, but he is actually being billed £1,500 a month. Technicians have advised that he is probably receiving bills from the farm, so he is now sitting with a so-called debt of nearly £4,000. Despite the efforts of my office to get E.ON Energy to respond, and even to get in touch with its chief executive, we have had radio silence. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that, with all the bad publicity surrounding E.ON’s profits and its recommendation that customers should get in touch if they have financial difficulties, that does not inspire confidence?

On the basis of the information that Christine Grahame has put to me, that is a serious situation. I know Christine Grahame well, and she is an assiduous constituency member of the Parliament. I am absolutely certain that she will pursue E.ON with tremendous energy in order to get answers and engagement, and I encourage that company to engage with her. If there is anything that Government officials can do to assist, I would be happy to arrange for that assistance to be provided.

The case that Christine Grahame has raised is an illustration of the severity of the situation that some individuals in our society will be facing, and they need the support of their members of the Parliament in those circumstances. The Government also funds Advice Direct Scotland to provide free advice, support and assistance to households, and I encourage anyone who needs that assistance to secure it. The scale of energy bills will be a significant problem for individuals in the period that lies ahead.


Bariatric Surgery

One in 25 Scots is severely obese, but the backlog in waiting times pre-pandemic has led to Scots, in desperation, flying overseas in increasing numbers for bariatric surgery. One medical tourism organiser has flown around 60 people per month from Scotland to Turkey. However, an alarming number of patients return from overseas surgery with no effective aftercare plan, as I was told by someone who recently returned from Turkey, or they return with complications such as leakage of stomach contents or a hernia.

Will the Deputy First Minister join me in asking patients not to seek weight loss surgery overseas, but instead to wait to be treated in the United Kingdom, where we have the best bariatric surgeons in the world, and where that treatment will include the essential follow-up that is vital for patient safety?

I am happy to associate myself with the call that Dr Gulhane has made. I saw some media reports on that subject this morning that highlighted the point that he has made that, although travelling overseas may secure initial treatment at a faster pace, the complications and implications of that are then carried by the National Health Service, and that can be a significant burden for the NHS and for individuals. I whole-heartedly endorse the point that has been made by Dr Gulhane and encourage individuals to follow the advice that he has given to the Parliament.


Fornethy House Residential School (Survivors Campaign)

My constituent Marion Reid has come to the Parliament today, along with other survivors of Fornethy House residential school, to highlight their plight. So far, more than 200 brave women have come forward—I suspect that that is the tip of the iceberg—and shared their traumatic, awful experience of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of staff at Fornethy in the 1960s, where young, vulnerable children were sent, supposedly to help them to recover from illness.

Understandably, those women feel that no one is listening to them. The Deputy First Minister has said that he will meet them. Can I ask him to ensure that that meeting takes place urgently? More importantly, will he ensure that he and the Government listen to those women, that no stone is left unturned to get answers for them and that the perpetrators are brought to justice?

There are a couple of different issues in that question.

Mr Smyth’s last point was whether every effort would be made to ensure that perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice. Properly, that is a matter for Police Scotland and the Crown. I endorse the points that Mr Smyth has made about the importance of an approach being taken to bring any perpetrator of abuse to justice, but he will understand that that is a process that is independent of the Government.

The substance of the issue around Fornethy is very sensitive, and I have agreed to meet with a group of survivors, I think in response to a parliamentary question from Monica Lennon. I will do that as soon as it is possible to do so.

I applaud the courage of individuals who have come forward, and I know that their concern is that the redress arrangements that the Parliament has put in place do not automatically include individuals who were in Fornethy for a short period of time, because it is primarily focused on individuals who were abused during long-term care placements.

To Mr Smyth and his constituent I say that there is obviously scope for individuals to apply to Redress Scotland for a redress payment, and each individual’s circumstance will be individually addressed and assessed. It is not the case that there is a prohibition on applications from Fornethy survivors; it is that each individual case will be assessed on its merits.

Again, I will happily see the group, and will do that as soon as I possibly can.


Scottish Bus Week

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is celebrating Scottish bus week. (S6F-01132)

I am pleased to support the first ever Scottish bus week and to celebrate the many environmental, economic and social benefits that buses provide to our communities.

The Scottish Government has put buses at the heart of Scotland’s just transition, funding more than 500 low-carbon buses across Scotland; providing free bus travel for people under 22 and for older and disabled people; and investing more than £500 million in bus priority infrastructure.

I urge all members to join us in supporting Scottish bus week and encourage more people to travel by bus.

Thanks to the introduction of free bus travel for under 22s, which was delivered with Greens in Government, more than 300,000 young people across Scotland, including 20,000 in the Highlands and Islands, are now enjoying free low-carbon travel.

Here, in the capital, the proposed Scottish National Party-Green Party council coalition agreement included significant measures to increase bus patronage. Is the Deputy First Minister as shocked as I am that, instead of embracing progressive politics, Labour has put those positive measures at risk by colluding with the Tories to cobble together an administration?

Can the Deputy First Minister outline how the Government will work collaboratively to provide quality bus services across Scotland?

As a consequence of the partnership that was agreed between the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Government, young people under the age of 22, rightly, travel free. Because of that agreement, there was an opportunity for other parts of the country to go further in relation to that type of collaboration, and I am only sorry that, in the city of Edinburgh, the Labour Party’s collaboration with the Conservative Party has thwarted further ambitious proposals being brought forward.

We know that all of these grubby deals at a local level have been approved by Jackie Baillie—frankly, that explains a lot about that particular agreement. However, as I said, I very much regret that there was not the opportunity to take forward some of these proposals and to advance the interests of people in Scotland by the collaboration that we have seen in this Parliament.


Food and Drink Prices and Shortages

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is, regarding the impact on Scotland, to comments by Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Sector Council regarding the United Kingdom’s preparedness for increasing food prices and shortages. (S6F-01149)

Through Brexit, Covid and, now, the illegal war in Ukraine, we have seen how resilient the food sector is despite all the challenges that it has faced. Food supply continues to be strong. However, the Scottish Government takes seriously the food security of Scotland and, in response to the war in Ukraine, the Scottish Government, together with industry, has established a short-life food security and supply task force. The task force is currently considering a range of issues, and it will recommend actions that can be taken to strengthen food security and supply in Scotland. I expect the task force to report in due course.

The United Kingdom Government holds many of the levers to address the on-going pressures, but we will continue to use all the powers that we have available to support people in Scotland.

Scotland’s food and drink sector has been on a journey that has been marked by numerous successes, not least in providing a constant supply of world-class foods, employing more than 115,000 people and providing a high-value export market. However, it is clear to me that that totemic industry is in grave danger from the incompetence and intransigence of the UK Government, as was highlighted by Mr Wright. That not only endangers our food industry; it threatens the ability of people to source the high-quality food that we want them to have. Does the Deputy First Minister therefore agree that the only way in which we can protect that industry and all our industries is through an independent Scotland?

I agree with Mr Fairlie on that point. The food and drink industry is currently facing numerous significant and challenging impacts as a result of the UK Government’s mishandling of Brexit at the time of a pandemic. Those issues are being added to by the challenges that come from the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine. All those issues—the cost of living, the implications of Brexit, the barriers to trade and the obstacles to the free movement of individuals—can be addressed by independence. That is why Mr Fairlie is absolutely right to put that point to Parliament.


Waste Burning

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on whether burning waste is good for the environment. (S6F-01137)

In considering the treatment of Scotland’s unavoidable and unrecyclable residual waste, there are no options that are good for the environment. That is why we are taking actions to reduce the amount of waste that we produce, to increase the proportion that we recycle and to minimise the impact of treating any remaining residual waste.

We recently published an independent review of the role of incineration in Scotland’s waste hierarchy to ensure that how we treat residual waste is aligned with our net zero ambitions. A key finding of the review was that, although incineration can be less climate damaging than landfill, incineration capacity could outstrip the supply of residual waste if most of the facilities in the pipeline of developments are built.

We will set out our initial response to the review in June.

Residents of Ochiltree are rightly upset by proposals to construct a new incinerator there. A report that was commissioned by one of the First Minister’s ministers, Lorna Slater, who pledged to end the building of new incinerators in her party’s manifesto, says that there is not even enough demand for new facilities. The local Scottish National Party has been embarrassingly silent on the issue, but local residents, politicians and community groups are united in their opposition to the plans. Will the First Minister bring in a moratorium on new incinerators? How does that facility fit into her plans to reach net zero?

I will make two points. First, obviously, the individual application that Sharon Dowey referred to is a live planning application, so it would be completely inappropriate for me to comment on it. It is a live planning application with East Ayrshire Council, which might explain why local politicians are silent on the issue, as well. If they were not silent on it, they would be in breach of their code of conduct. We should all be mindful of the rules under which we are all supposed to operate.

My second point relates to the strategic question of incineration. In my earlier answer, I indicated that we have sought expert advice on that question. We have received that, and we are very grateful to Dr Colin Church for the review. That is being considered within Government, and ministers will give a response in June.

The point that I made in my original answer about the risk that, if all the developments that are being proposed were consented, we would end up with more capacity than would be justifiable with the level of residual waste is, obviously, a factor that has to be considered as part of the exercise in reviewing the whole question of incineration. Ministers will respond to Parliament on that in advance of the summer recess.


Cost of Living

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to comments by Citizens Advice Scotland that one in five people are running out of money before payday. (S6F-01144)

The United Kingdom cost of living crisis is impacting all households, with those on the lowest incomes being hardest hit. It is shocking and shameful that, week after week, the UK Government has refused to take the direct and bold action that is required to support households in need. We await the statement that is being made in the House of Commons today.

We have repeatedly urged the UK Government to use the levers that it has, including by introducing a windfall tax, cutting VAT on energy bills, increasing the warm home discount, and following our lead in uprating benefits.

In contrast, this Government is investing almost £770 million this year through a package of cost of living measures and social security support that is not available anywhere else in the UK, and it is investing £12 million to support free advice services.

Currently, 20 per cent of people cannot make it to payday, and, with the energy price cap set to soar this October to almost £3,000 as well as exorbitant inflation, even more people are facing impossible demands on household budgets. The mental health toll will be huge.

One of the Scottish Government’s responses was to give a £150 council tax discount to Scottish households. However, Chris Birt of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said recently:

“£150 will barely touch the sides of the gaping hole in many low-income households’ budgets”.

He added:

“There was no perfect solution available to the Finance Secretary, but this isn’t a good one”.

In addition to what the chancellor will announce today—I agree with John Swinney that it is something that the Tories have been forced into—I must ask this Government what steps it will take to be bolder. What new plans will it have to play its part in ensuring that struggling households can look to this Government for the support that they need?

One of the measures that this Government has taken has been to double the Scottish child payment to £20 per child per week. We are increasing it to £25 from the end of the year, and we will extend it to under-16s. That is not provided in any other part of the United Kingdom.

I remind Parliament that that measure was voted against by the Labour Party, because it voted against the budget. Much as I respect Pauline McNeill, I have to say to those in the Labour Party that, if they are going to come to Parliament and demand that we do things, the nice and decent thing would be to vote for those things when we put them to Parliament.

Secondly, yes, we will await what the chancellor says or is saying—I am not sure whether he is speaking at this precise moment. However, instead of complaining about what the UK Government is or is not doing, why do we not have the powers in this Parliament to take the actions that will remedy the situation?

Lastly, it also comes down to the decisions that are taken by individual public authorities in Scotland. Yesterday, in my own council area, in Perth and Kinross, we removed the Conservatives from power and a Scottish National Party administration was appointed. Its first act—its first policy—was to apply £700,000 of new money in cost of living measures to support my vulnerable constituents. What was the first act of some Labour authorities around the country? It was to give new jobs to the Tories—that is a disgrace for the Labour Party.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a brief pause before we move to members’ business.