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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Agenda: Mental Health Services in Tayside (Independent Inquiry), Portfolio Question Time, Funded Childcare (Expansion), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal


Portfolio Question Time

Petition (Ecological Emergency)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to a recent petition calling on the First Minister to declare an ecological emergency. (S5O-04236)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

Tackling loss of biodiversity ranks alongside climate change in importance, and our actions are designed to address those twin issues in tandem, wherever possible—for example, through the £250 million investment in peatland restoration over the next 10 years.

The programme for government announced an extension to the biodiversity challenge fund of £2 million, which increased to £3 million in the budget, and totals £5 million overall since 2018-19. However, that is only a small part of the estimated £98 million that we spend on biodiversity each year in Scotland.

Claudia Beamish

The petition has been started by young environmental campaigner Holly Gillibrand.

It is a pity that it seems to be highly unlikely that we will meet our Aichi biodiversity targets this year, especially given the importance to Scotland of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Does the cabinet secretary acknowledge a correlation between the missed targets, the

“fivefold drop in official monitoring”

by Scottish Natural Heritage over the past decade and the significant reduction in funding for SNH since 2007?

Roseanna Cunningham

I do not think that it is possible to draw a line as Claudia Beamish is trying to do.

The Aichi targets are challenging, but our meeting seven out of 20 compares favourably with the global picture, which is that there has been progress on only four of the 20 targets. Yes—there is a great deal more to do in Scotland, but we are already doing a great deal more than most other countries in the world.

SNH makes decisions about how it manages its budget on the basis of its own professionalism. I think that, from SNH’s perspective, it is not doing anything that would in any way damage our ability to try as best we can to meet the targets.

We are not complacent: we know that a lot more needs to be done. The conference in April—we are currently attempting to turn it into an online conference, for reasons that I need not go into—is part of that and part of our global commitment to the work.

Climate change is a key driver of biodiversity loss. What measures are there in the environmental strategy to create and restore natural habitats?

Roseanna Cunningham

The environmental strategy sets out the links between the crises of climate and nature, which I mentioned. Climate change is a key driver of biodiversity loss, and healthy natural habitats play a vital role in removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The resilience of the natural environment in the face of the changing climate is a key element of our adaptations programme. Our focus is on the most effective and complementary policies to address the climate and nature crises, which is why I keep mentioning the amount of money that we are putting into peatland restoration, which delivers multiple benefits.

Other nature-based solutions are incredibly important. For example, tree planting and protecting and enhancing our sea beds are key parts of the dual plan to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

Greylag Geese (Impact on Farmland and Crops)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on preparations for a ministerial visit to Orkney to view the impact of resident greylag geese on farmland and crops. (S5O-04237)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

Liam McArthur might recall that I wrote to him on 17 February to provide an update on my proposed visit to Orkney to see at first hand the impact of resident greylag geese on farmlands and crops, and to discuss potential solutions. My office is looking at potential dates and will be in touch shortly with the member’s office and the NFU Scotland branch on Orkney to agree a suitable date for the visit.

I understand that my colleague Mairi Gougeon is finalising dates to visit Orkney separately and would be happy to meet Liam McArthur, if he would find that useful.

Liam McArthur

I would certainly find that useful. I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer and for taking up my invitation to come to Orkney to see at first hand the damage that is caused by the large—and growing—resident greylag goose population.

As well as agreeing the details of the plan for the visit with Orkney NFUS, and given the progress that has been made with setting up the various options to control resident greylag geese in Orkney, will the cabinet secretary confirm that funding will be available to continue with control measures, should they prove to be successful in reducing overall numbers?

Roseanna Cunningham

I clarify that the original agreement that I made with Liam McArthur was to visit in early summer for reasons to do with my diary, which is why I said that Mairi Gougeon might want to think about meeting the member separately.

In respect of money, we have committed to continuing a level of funding until spring 2021. I cannot commit to more than that for obvious reasons to do with budgets and budget timetables, but I am sure that that will be an active part of the conversation that Liam McArthur will wish to have.

Budget 2020-21 (Climate Change)

To ask the Scottish Government how measures in its budget for 2020-21 will help Scotland to meet its climate change ambitions. (S5O-04238)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

The budget responds directly to the global climate emergency by proposing an ambitious package of measures to help to deliver our transition to being a greener and fairer nation. That has been recognised by Chris Stark, the chief executive of the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change, who said that climate change is

“taking centre stage in Scotland’s Budget”.

We are investing more than £250 million of multi-annual funding in peatland restoration, introducing a new £120 million package to deliver a heat transition deal and to begin decarbonising our heat usage, delivering an initial £40 million for the agricultural transformation programme, and investing more than £100 million in active travel.

I could also mention the total low-carbon capital investment of around £1.8 billion in 2020-21, which is £500 million more than in 2019-20. By taking decisive action now in areas that are challenging to decarbonise, we have shown our commitment to tackling the global climate emergency.

Angus MacDonald

Local authorities have a critical role to play in responding to the climate emergency. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to incentivise local authorities to use the assets and levers that are at their disposal to reduce emissions and boost the economy, including the green growth accelerator that was announced as part of this year’s budget?

Roseanna Cunningham

It is true that local authorities and the rest of the public sector have a vital role to play in tackling the global climate emergency. That is why in the budget we have made significant commitments to supporting their efforts. Measures include the new £50 million heat networks early adopter challenge fund, which will allow local authorities to significantly expand, or instigate the development of, heat networks such as will be critical to decarbonising heat in our homes.

As Angus MacDonald mentioned, the green growth accelerator is another vital lever. At budget time this year, we made a £200 million multiyear commitment to delivering additional low-carbon investment through that mechanism.

We are committed to working closely with local government and the wider public sector to go further and faster towards net zero emissions for the benefit of all.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Dumfries and Galloway claims to be the birthplace of renewables because it was the first place to have onshore and offshore wind farms. Will the cabinet secretary accept my invitation to visit Dumfries and Galloway and explore how the region could be an exemplar for the 26th conference of the parties—COP26—of local action and partnership working to respond to the climate change challenge?

I asked that yesterday.

Roseanna Cunningham

I get a distinct sense that a pincer movement on Dumfries and Galloway has emerged in the past 24 hours.

I am, of course, always happy to visit all parts of Scotland. If there are specific things that Finlay Carson wishes me to see or people he wishes me to speak to, we will do our best to fit that into my diary.

Deposit Return Scheme

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with small brewers and specialist retailers regarding its plans for a deposit return scheme. (S5O-04239)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

The Scottish Government has met representatives of small brewers to discuss deposit return on two occasions, and that engagement is on-going, with a further meeting scheduled to take place on Friday this week. I also plan to meet representatives of the sector in the near future.

A number of retail and brewing trade bodies also participate in the various working groups that have been formed to progress our plans for the DRS. I look forward to laying the final regulations to establish the scheme shortly.

Patrick Harvie

Scotland has a fantastic range of small independent brewers across the country, as well as retailers that specialise in their products rather than in volume sales of mass-manufactured products. Those businesses want the DRS to work, but does the cabinet secretary recognise that it needs to work in a way that reflects the specific circumstances of small independent producers and retailers, and that, so far, big business has had a louder voice on the advisory board than small businesses?

Roseanna Cunningham

I absolutely agree. We are keen to ensure that the scheme works well for small and specialist producers as well as for retailers. That is very important. Proposals that we are considering very carefully have been made by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. We are committed to working with industry, including small businesses, on implementation of the DRS.

We are looking very closely at things that might assist small businesses or reassure them that their concerns are being taken care of. I hope that people will see that very soon, when the final regulations are laid.

There are supplementary questions from Colin Smyth and Annie Wells, who will both have to be brief.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

The deposit return scheme will have a unique impact on businesses that are close to the English border—in particular, small businesses that make home deliveries to premises that are very close to each other, but are on either side of the border. What action is being taken to mitigate the challenges that such businesses will face?

Roseanna Cunningham

That issue has been discussed. I make it clear to members that the scheme administrator, when it is up and running, will consider the potential for what we might call fraud in such instances. The issue is on the radar: we understand that there are difficulties in some respects.

A variety of schemes that are in operation across Europe work on both sides of a border. The problems are not insurmountable, and I do not for a single minute suppose that we will be unable to find solutions for Scotland.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

I have been in my role only for a few weeks, but already businesses at almost every single stage of the supply chain are raising concerns about the DRS. We are fully behind the principles of the scheme, as most businesses are. However, businesses are worried—

I want a question.

Annie Wells

Businesses are worried that the Government is rushing the scheme. I say to the cabinet secretary, “Let’s do this, but let’s get it right.” Will she agree to delay the deposit return scheme until small businesses are on board and ready to make it a success?

I did mean brief.

I will be laying the final regulations very soon, at which point all questions will be answered.

Cleaner Air for Scotland Strategy

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its cleaner air for Scotland strategy. (S5O-04240)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

An independent review of the cleaner air for Scotland strategy has been completed and has identified priorities for additional action. A new strategy that takes into account the review findings is now being produced and will be subject to consultation.

Alexander Stewart

Friends of the Earth Scotland reported that there are still streets in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Inverness that are in breach of legal limits that should have been met a decade ago. Why are we still waiting for those targets to be met?

Roseanna Cunningham

For a very small number of streets in Scotland there continue to be issues. That is why we have introduced low-emission zones in Scotland and why work is being done to ensure that the zones work well and deliver what everybody wants to see with regard to air quality. Once low-emission zones are in place in the largest cities, we will move on to local authority areas with air quality management areas and consider whether low-emission zones might be appropriate for them. That work is all on-going and is being done to achieve exactly what the member is suggesting.

Four members want to ask supplementary questions. To be fair, I will not take any of them.

Gareloch (Discharge of Radioactive Waste)

6. Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of its response to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s consultation on the matter, for what reason it did not object to the application by the Ministry of Defence to discharge more radioactive waste into the Gareloch. (S5O-04241)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

The member will be aware that matters of defence are reserved to the United Kingdom Government. The Scottish Government is firmly opposed to the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons. They are morally, strategically and economically wrong, as well as being indiscriminate and devastating in their impacts.

For as long as the UK Government continues to base its weapons in Scotland, our primary concern is the safety of the people of Scotland. The responsibility for regulatory matters at specific sites lies with the independent regulator SEPA, which I understand is now publicly consulting on the MOD’s application.

Ross Greer

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comments about moral outrage at the very existence of the weapons, but the reality is that the Scottish Government is a statutory consultee in a process in which the Ministry of Defence proposes the discharge of up to 52 times more radioactive cobalt-60 and up to 30 times more radioactive tritium directly into the Gareloch. The Scottish Government, as a statutory consultee, did not object. I am simply asking why.

Roseanna Cunningham

The consultation is open now and until 13 March. I encourage everybody who is interested in the matter to make a submission to the consultation.

Following a vote for independence, we would obviously make an early agreement to remove all of that from Scotland. I appreciate that Ross Greer would agree with that, but others who are concerned about the issue might ponder the future and the reasons why they will not follow our view that independence would be the best option with regard to it.

Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019 (Revenues)

To ask the Scottish Government how much coastal communities in the north-east have received in Crown Estate revenues since the Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019 came into force. (S5O-04242)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

In September 2019, the Scottish ministers announced new funding arrangements whereby coastal community benefit would be sourced from the net revenue of the Scottish Crown Estate. That announcement included £7.2 million-worth of funding to coastal local authorities in 2019-20, based on a distribution formula that had been agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Of that amount, more than £500,000 was provided to council areas in the north-east for coastal community benefit. A further announcement will be made in due course on the allocation of funding for 2020-21.

Gillian Martin

As the revenues from the Crown Estate are allocated to local authorities, will there be an assessment of how that funding has been delivered to community projects by local authorities? Will there also be an appraisal of the guidance that is available to communities that are looking to make applications?

Mairi Gougeon

The Scottish Government’s monitoring arrangements will be used to develop a report on how the funding has been used by local authorities. That will include information on funding to individual community projects.

We have requested information from councils on how they plan to use that funding. As members can imagine, we will be looking at that information with some interest. We are also in discussion with COSLA and the stakeholder advisory group on the Crown Estate about the potential need for guidance for local authorities.

However, I highlight that nothing is preventing communities from making a request to their local authority for a share of that net revenue for the benefit of their own coastal communities.

Climate Change Risk Assessments

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that there are adequate climate change risk assessments in place in all policy areas. (S5O-04243)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

Climate change risks, including severe weather, flooding and wildfire, are included in the Scottish risk assessment process, which informs communities and responders about how to prepare for and mitigate such events.

The Scottish Government’s climate change adaptation programme follows an outcomes-based approach that is aligned to the national performance framework. That ensures that adaptation to climate change risk is integrated into wider Scottish Government policy development and service delivery.

As set out in the process, there are a range of policy-specific risk assessment tools in place, such as the national flood risk assessment.

Daniel Johnson

A constituent who is a climate change scientist recently met me to point out that temperatures in excess of 30°C are likely to be more frequently experienced occurrences in Scotland, going from a rate of once in a decade to much more frequent than that. What assessment of the impact of that on schools and hospitals has been made? Obviously, excessive temperatures will have a serious impact on front-line services such as schools and hospitals.

Roseanna Cunningham

All those risks are assessed. With regard to our assessment, I do not know that a specific risk has been attached to schools and hospitals as opposed to the public sector as a whole. I am happy to look at whether the programme drills down to something as specific as that.

There are significant concerns about our infrastructure across the board, and they are not just to do with temperature. Coastal erosion is a big issue as well, and a number of buildings and essential infrastructure developments are impacted by that, too. Sometimes there are double impacts that need to be taken into consideration.

I undertake to get back to the member on the specific question that he asks. I will ensure that if there is an answer to that question, he gets it, and if there is not, the question will be asked. I hope that we will then be able to have a proper conversation about that issue.

That concludes questions on environment, climate change and land reform.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. That a local member was not able to ask a supplementary question on such an important subject as nuclear waste being dumped into the River Clyde system—

Will you sit down, please, Mr Paterson? That is not a point of order.

I have not finished yet.

Sit down, please. It is for the Presiding Officer to decide on supplementaries in getting through questions. That is not a point of order.

Rural Economy and Tourism

We move to questions on rural economy and tourism. I remind members that questions 2 and 6 are grouped.

Covid-19 (Impact on Tourism)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact on tourism of the coronavirus, Covid-19. (S5O-04244)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing)

The Scottish Government is working closely with our national tourism organisation, VisitScotland, to monitor the situation as it develops and the impacts that it might have on our tourism industry. At this stage, it is key that we share messaging about measures to limit the extent of the outbreak. VisitScotland is the main conduit of information on Covid-19 to the industry and to current and future visitors. That links directly to the advice from the national health service and the Scottish Government.

Claire Baker

The tourism sector is already impacted by coronavirus, as bookings are being cancelled and holiday plans are being delayed. What can the Scottish Government do to give emergency support to tourism businesses in the months ahead? Is there an opportunity to look at business rates? That reflects calls from the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

Fergus Ewing

All those things will require to be considered very carefully in due course. Claire Baker is correct to say that the tourism industry suffers earlier than other industries. That is principally because of cancellations, many of which are not really because of the facts; rather, they are because of perceptions and media reports. I have already received, as members across the chamber will have, many expressions of concern, especially from small tourism businesses that are particularly vulnerable.

We are taking the issue very seriously and we will come back to it. I have fed in the concerns to SGoRR—the Scottish Government resilience room—which is our equivalent of COBRA, and I will continue to do that.

At the moment, the most important thing is that all of us listen to, act on and respond to the messaging that is put out by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, the chief medical officer and others in order to best minimise the consequences of a very serious virus.

There are three supplementary questions on this important issue. I want them to be brief.

What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the food and drink sector on the potential impact of Covid-19?

Fergus Ewing

This morning, I had a conference call with, I think, 27 participants who represented the main retail organisations in Scotland. We discussed a number of very important practical things that we will take forward.

On the food and drink sector specifically, later this afternoon I will chair by telephone a meeting of a resilience group for the wider food and drink sector. We will discuss the practical impacts of coronavirus and how best we can tackle them.

Rest assured, I and, of course, all my colleagues in the Scottish Government are treating the matter as the most important matter that requires to be dealt with by us at this time.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests. I am a shareholder in a hospitality business.

With the pressures on the hospitality and tourism industry and a potential drop in visitor numbers to the United Kingdom because of coronavirus, does the cabinet secretary agree with the calls from UK Hospitality and the STA, which have said that a delay to introducing or abandoning proposals to introduce a damaging tourist tax at this time would be preferential?

Fergus Ewing

First, it would be less than courteous of me not to welcome Ms Hamilton to her new responsibilities. I appreciate that she has a lifetime of experience in the field. I welcome her to her role and look forward to working constructively with her.

Turning to the member’s question, I think it important that we postpone concerns about other matters—of which the visitor levy is one—which the Parliament will deal with in due course. With respect, right now we should focus on matters relating to the coronavirus and how we might tackle them. We must also ensure that we are engaging fully with sectors such as the food and drink sector, which Mr MacDonald mentioned, and the retail sector, so that, as a team, we are all able to respond as effectively as possible to minimise and mitigate the consequences for all in Scotland, including the tourism sector.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the growing importance of the cruise liner market to our tourism sector, including in Orkney. What specific advice and support are the Government and its agencies able to give local authorities such as Orkney Islands Council to ensure that risks relating to cruise traffic are managed effectively?

Fergus Ewing

Mr McArthur is absolutely right: the cruise sector is extremely important to Scotland. It is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism that we have had—I think that it has grown around tenfold since the Parliament was reconvened. When I visited his constituency when I was on holiday last summer, I saw just how popular Kirkwall and the Orkneys are as tourism destinations for cruise liner passengers—as, indeed, is the case around our coasts.

I assure Mr McArthur that there is close liaison with all local authorities about how best to deal with the coronavirus. The headline information, on which my colleague Jeane Freeman is leading, is that it is important for us all, as individuals and as citizens of Scotland, to get the published messages across, to continue to follow them correctly and to use our role as leaders in society to ensure that others follow our lead.

Trade Negotiations (Fishing Rights)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it supports the position of the United Kingdom or the European Union on fishing rights in relation to the trade negotiations between the two Administrations. (S5O-04245)

My priority for the negotiations is, as it has always been, to defend the interests of the Scottish fishing industry and the wider seafood supply chain.

Annie Wells

The choice for the Scottish National Party Government is pretty simple: either it wants the UK to take back control of our waters and for us to become an independent coastal state, or it wants to drag us back to the hated common fisheries policy. Instead of the usual waffle, could we not just get an answer? Will the SNP Government back the UK Government and support Scottish fishing, or would it rather send our catch back to Brussels?

Fergus Ewing

It is disappointing that such a partisan approach should be taken on the issue. In recent weeks, I have noticed that many who might previously have supported Brexit are now expressing serious questions about the emerging problems that are becoming manifest.

First, contrary to what Michael Gove told me, there will be environmental health certificates. It is estimated that those will cost up to £15 million, although that estimate was provided some time ago and might now have been superseded by the first Boris Brexit bill.

Secondly, we will undoubtedly see people from other countries in Europe, who are so important to the fishing communities around Scotland, being sent the message that they are not welcome to stay here—a poisonous, unpleasant and insidious message that the Scottish Government totally and utterly rejects.

Thirdly, we do not know whether there will be any deal on fisheries—we are completely in the dark on that.

Fourthly, we do not know whether the desire to get a trade deal will take precedence over the formerly expressed interest in the livelihoods of fishermen.

The Tories really should go back and look at the facts about what are now emerging as the consequences of their Brexit policy—which very few of them used to support, incidentally.

European Negotiations (Aquaculture)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding its European Union negotiations on aquaculture. (S5O-04249)

We have not had specific discussions on aquaculture with the UK Government, but we are concerned about the approach that it is taking in respect of tariffs thereanent.

Beatrice Wishart

Aquaculture is hugely important to small rural communities. The cabinet secretary may be aware that 23 per cent of UK farmed salmon and 75 per cent of Scottish farmed mussels are produced in Shetland. Does the cabinet secretary share my concerns that the industry could be hit with a sea of red tape as a consequence of leaving the European Union? Can he set out what plans there are for additional resources to help producers to continue to export when the transition period comes to an end?

Fergus Ewing

I broadly share those concerns. I know from a recent visit to Shetland just how important the aquaculture sector is to the Shetlands.

The sector sustains around 12,000 jobs in Scotland and it increasingly operates in accordance with the sustainable standards that we all support. That is a task that we are committed to and on which lots of work is being done. For example, I made an announcement today in response to a question from Mr Gibson about the regulation of wrasse and a consultation thereanent. Those matters are very important and I am pleased that the member has raised them in the chamber.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary alluded to the vile remarks of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, who claimed that migrant workers, including those who work in the fish processing industry in my constituency, come here only for benefits and to access the national health service. Does he agree that that confirms why we need immigration policy to be devolved at the earliest opportunity?

Fergus Ewing

Yes, I agree entirely. Such remarks fail to recognise the very valuable contribution that non-UK workers make to Scotland. Each EU citizen adds, on average, an estimated £34,000 to Scottish gross domestic product annually. The expert advisory group on migration and population has also confirmed that

“EU migrants typically contribute more through tax revenues than they consume by way of public services.”

However, it is not the monetary contribution that is so important; it is the human contribution. They come to Scotland; they choose to do so and they choose to work hard here. Is that not a good thing for a human being to do, rather than something that should be treated with such contempt by the UK Government?

Trade Negotiations (Food and Animal Welfare Standards)

3. Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding food and animal welfare standards in non European Union trade deals since the rural secretary’s letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 20 February. (S5O-04246)

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

The Scottish Government has consistently raised the importance of Scotland’s globally recognised food and animal welfare standards not being sacrificed in order to secure trade deals. In recent days, officials have engaged in technical discussions with their UK Government counterparts to reiterate those concerns. As yet, the UK Government has not provided any reliable assurances that the likes of hormone-treated beef, among other products, will not be granted access to the UK market.

Gil Paterson

Does the minister also have concerns about the potential impact of the UK Government’s proposed tariff regimes on Scotland’s food and drink sector, including the very valuable exports from my constituency, which are sent worldwide?

Mairi Gougeon

I absolutely share those concerns. The Scottish Government and Scottish food and drink businesses have deep concerns about the potential impact of the tariff regime that has been proposed in the UK Government’s rushed consultation. We have been clear that unilateral reduction or removal of tariffs reduces the UK’s negotiating capital and exposes Scottish producers to increased competition from imports that are produced using lower and cheaper production standards.

There is a very real risk that Scottish farmers and food producers are going to face the worst of both worlds in the situation that we are facing, as there will be higher barriers and the high cost of trade with the EU as well as competition against imported food that has been produced to lower standards.

As I hinted at, the UK Government has, as yet, offered no guarantees that those things will not happen. We appear to be getting told to simply check the labels on our food. Our position is simple: we should not be letting inferior products into the country in the first place.

Agricultural Support (Pilot Schemes)

4. Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the publication of the NFU Scotland document “Stability—The Platform for Change, what pilot schemes for agricultural support it will introduce for the 2021 claim year. (S5O-04247)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing)

As convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Mr Mountain will be aware that I and Scottish Government officials recently gave evidence on the issue as part of the stage 1 process on the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, when we set out our approach and thinking on pilots.

I note the recommendations of the committee’s stage 1 report in that regard, to which I will of course respond before stage 2 begins. I am happy to keep Parliament updated on the development of policy on pilots.

Edward Mountain

As we debate the issue here in Parliament, spring calving is under way. Farmers who plan three to four years ahead need to know what to do with their calves now. Will the cabinet secretary bear that in mind and introduce pilot schemes as quickly as possible, so that farmers can see a way forward?

Fergus Ewing

I am always acutely aware of the importance of providing long-term assurances to farmers. That is precisely why we set out in our document an approach that will take us to 2024. It is most unfortunate that the United Kingdom Government is to take an annual budget approach to replace the seven-year programme that the European Union provided in respect of rural support. That is exactly the opposite of the approach that farmers require.

Happily, farmers—who include some of Mr Mountain’s colleagues—have received the first tranche of their convergence payments. More than 17,400 active farmers have received £86.2 million. I think that farmers are very pleased that we are dealing with the day job effectively and getting that financial support out to them.

I will allow two brief supplementaries.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I declare a part ownership in a registered agricultural holding.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, contrary to the suggestions of the Tories down south, agriculture and food producers are far from irrelevant?

Fergus Ewing

I was astonished that any adviser of the UK Government or any other Government in these islands would say, essentially, that farmers and farming are expendable. That was quite shocking, and it displays an attitude that we believe has been prevalent for some time in the Treasury, where people are anxious to get rid of support for farmers and crofters in Scotland. Well, they will not be doing that as long as I am around—that is for sure.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary accept that one way in which he could set out a clear direction of travel during the transitional period would be by including a purpose clause in the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill, in which he could set out what he believes the pilot schemes should be used for?

Fergus Ewing

We will debate the inclusion of a purpose clause in the bill. It is right that we take that suggestion very seriously.

However, I say to Mr Smyth, with respect, that, at the moment, farmers and crofters are concerned about paying their bills and carrying on their work. They are concerned about the unfounded attacks on them from many quarters. What do they need from Government? They need the support schemes to be administered efficiently, and we are delivering that. They also need a clear sign about where Scotland is going. We have provided that in the document that I alluded to earlier and in many utterances that I have made in this Parliament, and we will continue to do so.

Heathrow Expansion (Impact on Tourism)

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out of the potential impact on tourism in Scotland of the recent ruling against building a third runway at Heathrow airport. (S5O-04248)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing)

We do not hold sector-specific analysis. However, we are clear that, now more than ever, Scotland needs to have excellent connections with the rest of the world. That connectivity will be provided through a mix of direct routes from Scotland and connections to global hubs such as Heathrow, Dubai and Amsterdam.

VisitScotland and partners will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure that Scotland is an attractive destination that is easily reached by our visitors.

Adam Tomkins

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but I say to him, with respect, that it was as clear as mud. Could we have a bit of clarity on the matter? Is the Scottish Government in favour of a hub airport at Heathrow for Scotland’s tourism and other economic sectors—yes or no?

Fergus Ewing

If Mr Tomkins had listened to what I said, he would know that I have already said that we need to have global connections through, among other airports, Heathrow.

Mr Tomkins might not be too happy about this, but I am bound to point out that it was under Chris Grayling’s instruction that the United Kingdom Government omitted to take account of its commitment to the Paris agreement on climate action in its drive to build a third runway at Heathrow. The consequences came at the Court of Appeal, when the project was refused permission to take off. If the UK Government paid more attention to the day job, perhaps it would not keep getting defeated in court.

I call Patrick Harvie, but he must be brief.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Is not the real lesson of the defeat of the unlawful attempt to expand Heathrow, in defiance of the climate emergency, that the Scottish Government should have spent the past decade and more reorienting our Scottish tourism industry around surface travel instead of schmoozing with the unsustainable airline industry and trying to win it tax breaks?

Fergus Ewing

It might not surprise anyone to hear that I do not agree with Mr Harvie’s characterisation of the matter. We have taken great steps to improve connectivity in Scotland. We recognise that air routes are one way in which visitors come to Scotland. Those routes are, and will continue to be, important. Scotland needs more direct air routes, which, of course, have many advantages. That is the Scottish Government’s view. Mr Harvie may want to cease aviation throughout the world entirely, but I do not support that policy.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions on the rural economy and tourism. I apologise to Jamie Greene and Joan McAlpine—if I take supplementaries, I am afraid that some questions get omitted at the end. It is a difficult balance to strike.