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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, March 17, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Fair Trade Pledge, Portfolio Question Time, Subsidy Control Bill, Active Travel, Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

Good morning. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is general question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would appreciate short and succinct questions and responses.

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

1. Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that people visiting rural Scotland, including the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, are aware of the Scottish outdoor access code. (S6O-00886)

The Minister for Environment and Land Reform (Màiri McAllan)

NatureScot is the primary agency that is responsible for promoting the access code. It works with key partners on awareness raising.

Last year, NatureScot’s traditional and social media activity resulted in more than 15 million impressions and drove more than 500,000 page views of the Scottish outdoor access code website.

However, more needs to be done to raise awareness. NatureScot is working with VisitScotland and other members of our visitor management strategy group, and will undertake a further awareness-raising campaign in 2022.

Evelyn Tweed

There has been a notable increase in the number of visitors to rural areas across Scotland, including rural Stirling. Although most people enjoy the outdoors in a respectful manner, some do not. Will the minister advise how we can encourage the public to treat rural Scotland with more respect?

Màiri McAllan

Ms Tweed is absolutely correct. During the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of people spending time in our natural world and enjoying its restorative benefits for their physical and mental health. It was perhaps a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark and difficult situation.

However, Ms Tweed is also right that access must be taken with care. I reiterate that rights come with responsibilities, and the statutory right of access is that of responsible access. I mentioned our visitor management strategy last year. Through that work, we have seen a much improved response to countryside challenges, some of which Ms Tweed mentioned, and the centrality and importance of rangers and the face-to-face work that they do has been clear.

I am pleased to say that the Scottish Government is considering what we might do for the coming season, and I expect an announcement to be made shortly.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Minister, I look forward to our meeting next week to discuss the issue. The access code is nearly 20 years old and, given the huge demands on the countryside, which became even more apparent during the pandemic, is it not time for an update and relaunch?

Màiri McAllan

I know that that question has been considered, and my understanding is that there is no concrete evidence that revision is required. We have been dealing with different circumstances over the past couple of years, but I believe that education and communication are the key ways in which we will continue to strike the important balance between a responsible access right and an understanding that our countryside is a living and working one. As I said, education and communication are the keys to that. I look forward to discussing that further with Edward Mountain.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

The Scottish outdoor access code covers access to inland waters. In the context of Loch Lomond, will the minister advise whether she will consider robust restrictions on jet skis in the forthcoming review of byelaws, given the antisocial and, often, dangerous behaviour that was experienced from irresponsible jet ski users last summer?

Màiri McAllan

I thank Jackie Baillie for that important question. The national park has a really good track record of using byelaws to respond to some of its concerns, for example on camping, and about 4 per cent of the land around the loch is now covered by a byelaw. It is of course for local authorities and access forums to develop byelaw plans, which the Scottish ministers consider on their merits when they are presented to us.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

As we move into lambing season, it is particularly important that livestock are not disturbed. How will the Scottish Government support livestock owners to ensure that the outdoor access code is adhered to on their land?

Màiri McAllan

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force on 5 November 2021. It strengthened the law around livestock worrying by increasing the maximum penalties for offences. Police Scotland and farming and crofting stakeholders are combining their efforts to address such crimes and behaviours. For example, the Scottish partnership against rural crime, which is chaired by Police Scotland, is launching the livestock attack and distress campaign with the slogan “Your Dog—Your Responsibility”, which is intended to educate dog owners about the new legislation, through the lambing season in particular. The small minority who do not treat livestock with respect and care can and must be held responsible, and the consequences they face must reflect the severity of the issue.

General Practitioners (Power of Attorney)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is in place to assist general practitioners in certifying power of attorney documents. (S6O-00887)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

The certification of power of attorney documents is a private matter between GPs and their patients. GPs may charge fees for providing the service at their discretion, and they are not required to provide it under the current contract.

Fulton MacGregor

My office and the local citizens advice bureau in Coatbridge have recently been dealing with a significant number of cases where people, many of whom cannot afford legal fees, are struggling to get a GP to complete the certification documents, often citing the busyness of GP surgeries. We all know that GP surgeries have been extremely busy during the pandemic, and that they continue to do a fantastic job as we come out of the pandemic. Can any further support be provided to help GPs with the important task of certifying power of attorney documents for those who need them?

Humza Yousaf

I will, of course, explore whether we can do anything more in relation to this issue. However, it should be said that the British Medical Association has provided guidance on the fees that can be charged for the service. I will also have a conversation with Ash Regan about the eligibility for legal aid in this regard and come back to the member with more details.

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

During the pandemic, people who have learning disabilities and the organisations that support them raised concerns about the use of blanket “do not resuscitate” orders and confusion about the role of the power of attorney in supporting and protecting people who have a learning disability. What further support can be given to GPs and other organisations so that they can support people who have a learning disability, to ensure that their human rights are protected so that we never again see a situation such the one we saw around blanket DNR?

Humza Yousaf

We will look to explore what more we can do as we and the national health service recover. Paul O’Kane and some other members have raised this issue with me previously, and we all recognise that our constituents are still saying that they want more face-to-face access to their GPs. We will work with GPs to restore such access, and although we still have telephone and video consultations, I know how important face-to-face access can be, particularly for those that might have a learning disability. We will continue to make sure that those who have a learning disability and their families understand their rights fully. I will take the question away and see what more we can do with our third sector partners to communicate that.

Rural Health Services (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what additional funding is being provided to restore and enhance rural health services. (S6O-00888)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf)

Our national health service recovery plan sets out key ambitions and actions to be developed and delivered now and during the next five years to address the backlog in care and to meet the on-going healthcare needs of people across Scotland, including those in rural areas.

The Scottish Government also remains committed to the recommendations set out in Sir Lewis Ritchie’s report “Shaping the Future Together”, which aims to enhance primary care across remote, rural and island communities.

This year’s programme for government committed to delivering in the current parliamentary session a national centre for remote and rural health and social care. Scoping work is under way, with an expectation that the centre will be operational by spring 2023.

Finlay Carson

A community group in my constituency—the Old Luce Development Trust—is stepping up to the mark and planning to build a new GP surgery, which will cost in excess of £400,000. The need for a new surgery was identified by the health board in 2015 and, although it has contributed nothing financially to the development, I understand that NHS Dumfries and Galloway has been told by the Scottish Government that it must carry out a full options appraisal as outlined in the Scottish capital investment manual for guidance. That is, of course, for NHS projects. However, two similar projects—the Staffin community trust on the Isle of Skye and a new medical centre in Fort Augustus—do not have to follow such guidelines. Will the cabinet secretary investigate why that is the case and why there is such a discrepancy between those projects and the one in Dumfries and Galloway?

I will do that. The member must forgive me, as I do not have the details of the issue that he raises to hand, but I will take a look at it, and will come back to him in full detail.

Children and Young People (Opportunities)

4. Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what work is being done by sportscotland and Creative Scotland to provide opportunities for children and young people. (S6O-00889)

The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Maree Todd)

Sportscotland works across clubs, communities and education to provide opportunities for children and young people to take part in sport. We are working with sportscotland to increase the operational and staffing budget for active schools to drive and sustain the programme’s inclusion work through a focus on poverty, additional support needs and care-experienced young people.

Via Creative Scotland, the youth music initiative provides a year’s free music making to every child before they leave primary school. Creative Scotland also supports the nurturing talent fund, which gives small grants to young people to undertake cultural and creative projects.

Liam McArthur

In a discussion that I had recently with a headteacher in Orkney, I was reminded of how much children and young people have missed out over the past two years and of how important the return to routine in our schools is in rebuilding confidence, reassurance and a sense of normality.

The headteacher also talked about the need over the coming months to create wow moments—things for pupils to really look forward to. I am not sure that she was angling for a visit from the local MSP. Will the minister agree to consult Creative Scotland, sportscotland and other such bodies about the role that they might play in facilitating visits to schools across Scotland by people from the worlds of music, theatre, film, sport and so on, in order to create such genuine wow moments?

Maree Todd

Certainly. I could not agree more—our children and young people need those wow moments to recover from the harm that the pandemic has caused them. I would be more than supportive of exploring that suggestion.

Last year’s get into summer programme, which was in place across all 32 local authorities, was a brilliant initiative that aimed to create opportunities to socialise, to play and to reconnect. Sport and physical activity, as well as cultural opportunities, which improve wellbeing, were right at the heart of that. This year, we intend to build on get into summer 2021 to deliver a summer 2022 offer for children and families in low-income households. That will provide co-ordinated access to food, childcare and rich-experience activities.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I know that the minister agrees that children having access to sport, music, art and drama can have a significant impact on the rest of their lives, and recognises that Covid has had a very negative impact on that. Does she agree that it will take significant input from the Government to redress the balance in that respect? What steps will the Government take to make sure that our children have access to those essential services?

Briefly, minister.

Maree Todd

I absolutely agree. Our pre-pandemic work on adverse childhood experiences showed just how important rich cultural and sporting experiences are, how protective such experiences can be against adversity and how that protection can last a lifetime, and I have absolutely no doubt that we will use that learning as we invest in the future.

The issue that Brian Whittle raises is everyone’s responsibility, not just the Government’s. In my portfolio, we will double the investment in sport and physical activity over the course of the parliamentary session, and I hope that we will see the benefit of that in the future.

Energy Sources

5. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether a mix of energy sources, including renewables, could facilitate a reduction in energy prices for consumers. (S6O-00890)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

Scotland has had the good fortune to be blessed with huge and varied renewable energy generation capabilities. Unfortunately, Scotland’s ability to take full advantage of those resources has been curtailed by an unfair transmission charging regime that has directly disincentivised investment in generation in Scotland.

Renewable energy presents better value for customers than nuclear energy and does not present the same safety and environmental concerns. The latest contracts for difference auction delivered offshore wind at £39.65 per megawatt hour, which is substantially below the £92.50 per megawatt hour that was awarded to Hinkley Point.

Jamie Greene

The only thing that puts off investment in Scotland is this minister’s moratorium on even the exploration of new nuclear energy. It is putting companies off from investing in Scotland today.

The reality is that renewables do not account for 100 per cent of our energy: today, 30 per cent of it comes from fossil fuels. A fusion power facility, using less than one tonne of fuel, could create as much energy as 10 billion tonnes of fossil fuels.

Why will the Government not drop its ideological opposition to nuclear fusion? Why will it not work with companies to support a sustainable energy source that will drive down consumers’ bills once and for all?

Michael Matheson

Let me directly address the point about fusion power. The reality is that fusion power is at a very early stage of development and that the earliest point at which it could be deployed is 2040. It will not make a substantial contribution to our energy mix in the short to medium term. It is misleading to give the impression that fusion energy is part of the solution to the significant challenges of today’s energy market.

The reality is that nuclear energy is one of the most expensive forms of energy generation. Consumer prices are being forced up because of the costs associated with nuclear power. We need to maximise Scotland’s renewable potential. That includes the use of wind and marine energy, battery and hydrogen storage and pumped storage. It would also include the use of carbon capture, utilisation and storage, if the United Kingdom Government could get its act together to support the Scottish Cluster.

Ukrainian Refugees

6. Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action it is taking to prepare for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland. (S6O-00891)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Neil Gray)

Tomorrow, I will chair the first meeting of the community integration partnership, which will bring together key partners from across Scotland. I will also meet with international non-governmental organisations working in Scotland to discuss how they might contribute to the United Kingdom Government community sponsorship route, given their experience of the Syrian resettlement scheme. That will build on the incredible partnership work that is already under way.

I thank Scottish Government officials, whom I meet daily and sometimes hourly, and their partners in local government and the public, private and third sectors for their work in recent weeks. We continue to work closely with the Home Office, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities themselves and other partners to provide people with the safety and security that they need to rebuild their lives.

The UK Government’s proposals remain insufficient, given the urgency and gravity of the situation. We continue to urge the UK Government to follow the examples of Ireland and countries across the European Union and to waive visa requirements for all Ukrainians and develop a comprehensive resettlement programme to ensure that Ukrainian citizens can be provided with the safety and security that they need to rebuild their lives.

Willie Coffey

Further to the statement made yesterday by the First Minister, can the minister confirm that work is going on to ensure that the Ukrainian people who come here will have access to general practitioners, dental services, childcare and language support services to add to the warmth of the welcome that they will surely get when they arrive in Scotland?

Neil Gray

I thank Willie Coffey for his interest and for raising those critical issues. We are engaging with a range of partners to ensure that wraparound support is in place for all displaced people arriving in Scotland. People who come here from Ukraine have a right to work and to benefits and public funds, so we will ensure that people are aware of, and get access to, services such as those that Mr Coffey mentions.

We are working rapidly to establish welcome hubs that will triage people and find out what support they need. Multiagency teams are lining up support that will cover a range of areas, from healthcare to clothing and food. Welcome packs and information leaflets translated into Ukrainian and giving information about how to access support, including social security, will also be provided and translators will be on hand to help.

I reiterate Scotland’s long history of welcoming and supporting displaced people and asylum seekers. We stand ready to support people from Ukraine, as we have people from other countries.

Ukrainian Communities (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to Ukrainian communities in Scotland. (S6O-00892)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Neil Gray)

Scotland has a proud history of welcoming refugees and people seeking sanctuary from war and violence. The Scottish Government and Scotland’s local authorities have made clear to the United Kingdom Government that we stand ready to offer refuge and sanctuary, where necessary, for those who may be displaced.

I look forward to chairing the first community integration partnership meeting tomorrow, which will consider how to ensure that we are effectively supporting Ukrainian communities in Scotland. We will build on the work that is already under way.

We will continue to engage with our Ukrainian communities as we work to ensure that all those arriving in Scotland, as well as those already here, receive the support that they need. I was pleased to meet the acting Ukrainian consul general, Yevhen Mankovskyi, when he was in Parliament yesterday and to discuss those matters directly.

Fiona Hyslop

The minister will, no doubt, agree that it will be important for Ukrainians who are seeking refuge from war to connect with the Ukrainian community here in Scotland and to be supported by local community support hubs. Can he confirm what measures have been taken, and at what pace, to set up Ukrainian support hubs across communities in Scotland—perhaps, as the Ukrainian and Polish consul generals have suggested, with cities and towns twinning with cities and towns in Ukraine—so that communities can be together? Will he join me in thanking all the Scottish families who have offered their homes for support and refuge?

Neil Gray

Yes—absolutely. Fiona Hyslop raises very important issues about twinning, which are being explored. We very much welcome people’s generous offers to open their homes and their hearts to the people of Ukraine. I absolutely join her in thanking families for offering their homes and their time, for making donations and for the messages of solidarity and support.

As the First Minister said in Parliament yesterday, our priority is to ensure that we are ready to welcome displaced people from Ukraine to Scotland by the weekend, when the first visas, I hope, will start to be issued. The welcome hubs that we are establishing will provide a warm welcome, safety and any immediate assistance. We will also be funding the Scottish Refugee Council to provide support for the Ukrainian family scheme and humanitarian sponsorship pathway in Scotland, which includes planning for increased protection and integration support.