HUMZA Yousaf has defended Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone (LEZ), telling MSPs that delaying it would have had "dire" consequences for the health of Glaswegians. 

The strict rules on emissions came into force yesterday morning with any diesel engine car registered before September 2015, and any petrol car registered before 2006 facing a £60 fine. 

Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are all due to follow suit with their own LEZs next year. 

During First Minister’s Questions, Douglas Ross claimed it was the “latest anti-driver policy” from the government.

He said it looked like an “absolute Shambles in the making.”

The MSP claimed that the LEZ meant 700,000 drivers would now need to pay the emissions levy if they came into Glasgow City Centre. 

“Wouldn't it have been better to delay the scheme for the year and properly listen to the concerns of businesses, charities, individuals and organisations who have been raising these concerns, have been hoping for a change, but have been left with no answers, no response and a tone-deaf government who refuse to listen to them?”

READ MORE: Glasgow's LEZ 'condemning' charity who run city soup kitchen

The First Minister said had the LEZ been delayed, “more people would have suffered in terms of their asthma, more people would have suffered because of their lung conditions, more people would have suffered because of CPD, more of the citizens of Glasgow would have suffered dire health consequences because we know air pollution in Glasgow is nowhere near the standards that we want it to be, and the LEZ will help with that. 

“It is an undeniable fact that every time this SNP government brings forward action to tackle the biggest threat our planet faces that Douglas Ross and the Conservatives oppose it time and time and time again.”

Mr Ross also raised the plight of Homeless Project Scotland, who run a soup kitchen in Glasgow city centre. 

Mr Ross asked the SNP leader if he agreed that “this outstanding charity deserves an exemption from the scheme?”

Mr Yousaf said he understood Glasgow City Council had engaged with charities, including Homeless Project Scotland. 

He claimed Mr Ross was critical of the LEZ “simply because the SNP proposes it.”

The Tory leader hit back: “I oppose it when the SNP make a shambolic mess of every one of these schemes that they bring in. 

“And the First Minister wants to commend Homeless Project Scotland but refuses to stand up and say their one van that helps to feed 300 people every day should get an exemption.

“That is not commending a charity, that is condemning them.”

However, it emerged that Homeless Projects Scotland had been granted an exemption to the LEZ at 9pm on Wednesday night.

READ MORE: 'Two-tier NHS': Yousaf accused of driving patients into private care

Meanwhile, Labour’s Anas Sarwar pushed the First Minister on NHS waiting lists. He accused Mr Yousaf of creating a “two-tier” health service by driving people into private care.

Statistics obtained by Scottish Labour using freedom of information legislation show 18,390 people died while on an NHS waiting list in 2022, compared to 13,211 in 2019.

Recent data from Public Health Scotland showed 6,985 patients were waiting more than two years for an outpatient appointment, despite the Scottish Government’s target to start treatment within 12 weeks.

Figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network show 19,000 Scottish patients have opted to pay for their treatment, with self-pay admissions up 73 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

Mr Yousaf said the health service was still reeling from the impact of Covid. 

He told MSPs: “The recovery of the NHS will not take weeks or months, it will take years – and that’s why we have the five-year recovery plan that I’m absolutely committed to continuing to see progress in and committed to ensuring it has record investment alongside it.”

Mr Sarwar said: “Grieving families will see through these excuses.

“But this isn’t even the full picture, according to FOI responses, thousands of people are forced to leave the NHS and pay for their treatment in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

“Our NHS was built on the principle of healthcare free at the point of need, and that is clearly no longer the case for thousands in Scotland.”

READ MORE: Scottish Government concerned over 'hands-off' approach to AI laws

Later in the session, Mr Yousaf said Justice Secretary Angela Constance has met with a senior member of Scotland’s judiciary over guidelines on the sentencing of people under 25.

It came as he was challenged in the wake of “public concern about the leniency of sentencing” in the case of Sean Hogg, who was given a community payback order for raping a 13-year-old girl because he was 17 at the time of the offence.

His sentence has now been appealed by the Crown on the basis it was “unduly lenient”.

Labour’s Pauline McNeill also said a discount had been applied in the case of Rhys Bennett, 23, who was jailed for at least 24 years for murdering mother-of-two Jill Barclay, who he raped and set alight.

She asked Mr Yousaf: “When it comes to horrific crimes as serious as rape and murder, does the First Minister believe there should be a reduced sentence for under-25s?”

Mr Yousaf responded: “For me it is absolutely right the decisions on sentencing are for the independent judiciary.

“But it must always be the case, even in those cases where there are particularly heinous crimes, that sentencing is always a matter for the independent judiciary and should be free from any political interference whatsoever.”