Health Secretary apologises after announcement pre-empted in media

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Scotland’s Health Secretary has apologised to parliament after a vital statement on actions to ease the ambulance backlog was pre-empted in a newspaper before being made in Holyrood.

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone said it was “extremely disappointing” that Humza Yousaf spoke to the Daily Record ahead of Tuesday’s statement.

Mr Yousaf told the paper the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service would be brought in to support the ambulance service, which has suffered from a backlog causing long waits for care.

Alison Johnstone in Holyrood
The Presiding Officer chastised the Health Secretary for pre-empting his statement in the Daily Record (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Ms Johnstone said she would allow the statement to go ahead, but warned the minister she may choose to cancel a statement and move straight to opposition questions on government announcements if they are made to the media again.

“I would make clear that the expectation for statements be made to this parliament is about demonstrating respect for this parliament,” the Presiding Officer said.

“I consider this a very serious matter.”

She added: “Given that I can’t be sure that all members will have seen this coverage, I will – in this instance – allow the statement to be made.

“But if there are similar instances in future, I reserve the right not to allow the minister to deliver the statement, but to move straight to questions from members.”

Addressing the issue, Mr Yousaf said: “Presiding Officer, as I hope you’ll appreciate, it was never my intention to cause you or indeed this chamber any issues when speaking to the media ahead of my statement today.

“Let me offer an apology to you but also the chamber if issues were caused and my assurance of course that we will take the necessary steps to ensure this does not happen again in the future.”

In a statement, Scottish Tory chief whip Stephen Kerr accused the Health Secretary of treating parliament “with contempt” and asked the Presiding Officer if the matter could be referred to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee for investigation.

“Government policy must be announced to Parliament in the first instance, as the Ministerial Code demands,” Mr Kerr said.

He added: “We have raised this directly with the Presiding Officer to ensure that parliament is always respected and this sort of disrespect does not happen again.”

The Presiding Officer said in the chamber she would “look further into this matter”.

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