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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Job Start Payment

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to promote the new job start payments to young people. (S5O-03907)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

We are committed to ensuring that everyone who is eligible for financial support receives it. Social Security Scotland has developed a strategic communications plan to promote job start payments to potential applicants and those who advise and support them. The plan builds on the lessons learned from the successful introduction of our seven current benefits and our benefit take-up strategy. Our principle that social security is an investment in people means that we will continue to actively promote the benefits we deliver.

James Dornan

Does the cabinet secretary have any suggestions about what more the Department for Work and Pensions could do to promote and signpost Scotland’s social security benefits through its channels in Scotland, such as jobcentres?

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I believe that the DWP could do a lot more to promote all social security benefits, whether they are reserved or devolved. The difference in approach between the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments is that we want people to get the financial support that they are eligible for, and we genuinely encourage that take-up.

I very much hope that the DWP will support us in promoting and signposting Scottish benefits. A clear case in point would be jobcentres encouraging potential applicants to contact Social Security Scotland to see whether they are eligible, particularly with regard to job start payments, for which jobcentres will be meeting and working with young people face to face. I would like the DWP to work with the Scottish Government to support those young people into employment, and I very much hope that it will.

University Hospital Monklands

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the plans for a new, state-of-the-art, university hospital Monklands. (S5O-03908)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Jeane Freeman)

In response to the first recommendation of the independent review, the Monklands replacement oversight board has been established and its current focus is to identify all potential sites, in addition to Gartcosh and Glenmavis, for the location of the new, state-of-the-art, university hospital Monklands. The board has asked members of the public to respond by 13 December. Once all suggestions have been checked to ensure that they comply with the five essential criteria, a site selection appraisal will be undertaken and the preferred option will be chosen. Members of the public are encouraged to take part in, and contribute to, that process.

Fulton MacGregor

Would it be fair to say that information that is being distributed around my constituency suggesting that Monklands hospital is to close is blatantly misleading? Can the cabinet secretary confirm, again for the absolute avoidance of any doubt, that the party that saved the hospital from the Labour Government when it tried to close our accident and emergency unit in 2007 was the Scottish National Party, and that the future of Monklands hospital will always be safe in the hands of an SNP Government?

Jeane Freeman

Let me remind the member and everyone else in the chamber what the First Minister said:

“There is an absolute commitment on the part of this Government to see a replacement for Monklands hospital built, which, incidentally”—

and importantly—

“will include A and E services.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2019; c 22.]

I have seen some of the information that is circulating. It is, of course, entirely false in its premise and in what it suggests. I have absolutely no doubt that the good citizens of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill will not be fooled by the notion that the party that actually wanted to close the A and E at Monklands hospital now claims that it wants to save it, and that they will indeed trust this Government, which saved the A and E at Monklands, to continue to support a replacement hospital for Monklands that includes an A and E. I hope that that assists Mr MacGregor in reassuring his constituents.

Fairtrade Road Signs

3. Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason Fairtrade road signs are deemed not appropriate because of their advertising nature when tourist information signs promoting private businesses are allowed. (S5O-03909)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

The primary purpose of tourist signs is to provide clear and consistent directions to drivers, enabling them to reach their destination safely. They are not provided to advertise or market the tourist destination. Although the Fairtrade campaign is well recognised, and the initiative is to be commended, Fairtrade is a recognised global brand that is promoting a commercial interest. As such, it is not considered suitable for inclusion in traffic signs and falls to be considered as an advertisement through the planning process.

Gordon MacDonald

Balerno in my constituency attained Fairtrade village status in 2013 and has been trying to promote that achievement for the past six years. The City of Edinburgh Council states that the Fairtrade signage cannot be erected, yet the same council has similar signage on the A71 at the Edinburgh boundary.

What advice or assistance can the cabinet secretary provide in order that Balerno gets the recognition that it deserves as a Fairtrade village?

Michael Matheson

The City of Edinburgh Council as the planning authority has the power to approve planning applications for Fairtrade signs in Balerno, if an application was to be made for the installation of such a sign.

At present, the council has the power and the capability to make provision for the installation of a Fairtrade sign in Balerno and any decision on whether to provide such a sign would rest with the regulatory authority, which is the City of Edinburgh Council.

Diesel Fuel (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to reports of increased levels of fatty acid methyl ester in diesel causing problems with farm machinery. (S5O-03910)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

The serious impacts of recent issues that Scottish farmers have faced with gas oil fuel could be deeply damaging for the industry and communities across rural Scotland, particularly in the winter months. As relevant fuel legislation is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, I have taken up the matter with the UK Secretary of State for Transport, pressing for maximum effort towards a workable long-term solution that allows continued carbon emission reductions but ensures that progress is made on the issue.

My officials continue to work closely with the Department for Transport and Grangemouth operators Petroineos to fully understand the issues and the most effective solution. I welcome Petroineos’s decision to change the fuel blend to help ensure that there are no further operational issues.

Michelle Ballantyne

I recognise that the matter is reserved; however, I recently met farmers and representatives of NFU Scotland, who are extremely worried about the issues with red diesel. Recent figures suggest that more than 380 farmers have reported machinery failure, which in turn seriously hampers their ability to harvest crops and feed livestock, not to mention the repair costs, which are escalating.

Will the cabinet secretary consider launching a long-term expert working group in Scotland to undertake an investigation into the situation and to help to advise on and deliver those long-term solutions to this very serious problem?

Michael Matheson

Michelle Ballantyne is correct; it is a reserved matter. It relates to the renewable transport fuel obligation, which is mandated by the UK Government, the specifications of which are set by the UK Government through the Department for Transport. It is important that we get to the root cause of the issue.

As I have set out, Petroineos in Scotland has already taken proactive action, although there have been instances of the difficulty being experienced in other parts of the UK. Transport Scotland officials are directly engaged with the Department for Transport on the issue in order to press the UK Government to identify a long-term solution.

I understand that the group in the Department for Transport that is considering the issue intends to undertake survey work with the National Farmers Union and NFUS to identify the extent and nature of the problem, in order to assist it in identifying what further measures need to be taken to achieve a long-term solution.

I assure Michelle Ballantyne that we will continue to press the UK Government to take early and swift action on the issue, given the potentially serious implications that it could have for the farming sector in Scotland.

Fuel Poverty (North Ayrshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to address fuel poverty in North Ayrshire. (S5O-03911)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

We are committed to tackling fuel poverty across Scotland. The Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Act 2019, which Parliament passed unanimously earlier this year, sets statutory targets for reducing fuel poverty by 2040 at both national and local authority level.

We will publish our strategy next September, setting out how we intend to meet those targets. In the meantime, we are already investing significantly in tackling fuel poverty.

We are on track to deliver our commitment to make £0.5 billion available over the four years to 2021 to tackle fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency. That is being delivered through our home energy efficiency programmes for Scotland, including our area-based schemes, which are delivered in conjunction with local authorities. Since HEEPS ABS began, over 2,000 households in North Ayrshire have benefited from more than £10 million of investment.

Ruth Maguire

The minister will have received my letter, which highlighted the concerns that constituents in Bourtreehill have raised around the energy efficiency work that was carried out by the local housing association. One household reported that the cavity wall insulation had been removed and had not been replaced. Getting to a resolution to that issue between the housing association and the contractor is proving challenging. Can the minister provide advice or assistance that will help me ensure that my elderly constituents are not left in cold, uninsulated houses this winter?

Kevin Stewart

I am aware of the case that Ruth Maguire refers to. I am sorry to hear of the constituents’ concerns about the energy efficiency improvements that are being made to a neighbouring property. My understanding is that the work has been commissioned by a local housing association for one of the properties. I am not aware of funding being provided by the Scottish Government through our HEEPS area-based schemes or any other channel. I will write to Ms Maguire in more depth on the issue and I hope that the matter can be resolved by the housing association as soon as possible.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Energy efficiency is an important matter to consider. How many homes in North Ayrshire have benefited from improved insulation as a direct result of Government intervention? Are there plans to increase that percentage?

Kevin Stewart

I do not have numbers at hand; I will write to Mr Greene in more depth. Over 2,000 households in North Ayrshire have benefited through HEEPS ABS, which often include insulation work. Beyond that, a further 500 households in North Ayrshire have benefited from our warmer homes Scotland scheme, which is focused on helping the most vulnerable households in our society.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.

Superfast Broadband (Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government whether 100 per cent of homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands will be able to access superfast broadband by 2021. (S5O-03913)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

We remain committed to meeting our target of 100 per cent superfast coverage and will award R100 programme contracts as soon as possible.

We have confirmed BT plc as the preferred bidder for all three geographic lots and the procurement process is progressing as expected. Delivery timescales will be confirmed as soon as possible, once the contracts are in place.

Donald Cameron

Last week, The Herald revealed that the Scottish Government procurement document suggested that the delivery of the R100 programme could take as long as four or even five years to complete. Given that the Scottish Government has made an explicit commitment to deliver superfast broadband by 2021, will the minister take the opportunity to apologise to rural communities in the Highlands and Islands for the abject failure of the Government to deliver on its promise?

Michael Matheson

It is a bit rich to listen to the Conservative Party complain about the provision of digital broadband coverage in Scotland, given that the matter is solely reserved to the United Kingdom Government. Had it not been for the actions of this Government, which stepped in to take on the failure of the Conservative Government at a UK level, we would not have had the significant increase in coverage that we have already achieved in Scotland. We have gone from coverage of 19 per cent in 2014 to 93 per cent right across the country as a result of the decisive actions of this Government. That is the action of a Government that is determined to ensure that we get the right type of digital infrastructure in Scotland. Had we not taken that action, we would probably still be at 19 per cent coverage and waiting for the Conservative Government in London to do something about it.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I assure the cabinet secretary that the level of coverage in Orkney falls far short of 93 per cent.

Given the Government’s earlier commitments to an outside-in approach, will the cabinet secretary offer an assurance that if there is any slippage in the delivery of the contract, it will not penalise the communities that have been waiting longest for the delivery of superfast broadband?

Michael Matheson

I am sure that Liam McArthur welcomes the decisive action that this Government has taken with the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme to improve coverage right around the country. In 2014, the coverage in the Orkney area was 11.1 per cent. As a result of the actions that this and other Governments have taken, coverage is now at 65.2 per cent. We are seeing significant improvement in digital connectivity as a result of those measures. Of course, during the Liberal Democrats’ time in coalition Government, they had an opportunity to do something about coverage and, as ever, they failed to do so. That is why this Government is taking those actions.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Given that the UK Government is responsible for internet access, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the UK Government’s financial contribution to the R100 programme is less than 10 per cent of the overall cost?

Michael Matheson

We are investing some £600 million in the R100 programme. I can confirm that the UK Government is contributing less than 10 per cent, despite the fact that it is a reserved area. That demonstrates, as ever, that the Tories never put Scotland first and always let down the Scottish people when it comes to taking necessary action. That is why this Government, having spent almost £400 million on the DSSB programme, is putting in another £600 million to pick up the mess that has been left by the Conservative UK Government.

Adoption (Emancipation)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on establishing a process that will allow adopted children to have a legal right of emancipation from their adoptive parents. (S5O-03914)

The Minister for Children and Young People (Maree Todd)

In the sad circumstances in which the relationship between a child and an adoptive parent is considered to have broken down, the adoptive parent continues to have parental responsibilities and rights in relation to the child, in the same way that a birth parent with parental responsibilities and rights does if the parent-child relationship breaks down.

It is important that there is a person with parental responsibilities and rights for a child. If a child’s relationship with their adoptive parents has broken down, a court can already consider an application to remove parental responsibilities and rights and transfer them to another individual, if that is considered to be in the best interests of the child. Parental responsibilities and rights for adoptive and birth parents last only until the child is 18.

Emma Harper

Two of my constituents, Anthony and Joseph Duncalf, have started a petition to allow adopted children to have the same rights of emancipation from their adoptive parents as those of children from their biological parents, which they might want to exercise for a number of reasons.

Will the minister confirm whether that is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament? If so, will she consider meeting me, Anthony and Joseph to discuss the issue further?

Maree Todd

As I said, adoptive parents have full parental responsibilities and rights for their children in the same way that birth parents usually do. In that sense, whether a child is adopted makes no difference to their ability to sever links with their parents.

I am more than happy to meet Emma Harper and Anthony and Joseph Duncalf to discuss the challenges that they have faced and to see whether there is anything that we can do to respond to those challenges.

Workplace Rights (Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that young people are properly equipped to protect their workplace rights. (S5O-03915)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Learning about the world of work forms a key part of the school curriculum, and employment rights are an important part of career education for young people at school, particularly in their senior phase.

We support the Scottish Trades Union Congress programme, unions into schools, which helps young people understand the importance of workers’ rights and the role that is played by trade unions in the modern workplace. The programme has delivered 125 classroom sessions since March 2019.

Bodies such as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, Citizens Advice Scotland and trade unions can play an important role in advising young people on their workplace rights.

Ross Greer

The cabinet secretary is right to credit the STUC for the excellent work that its unions into schools programme does. However, it reaches only a small number of schools and a small fraction of school students in Scotland. With zero-hours contracts on the rise, poverty wages and bogus self-employment, will the cabinet secretary commit to ensuring that all young people in Scotland, before they leave school, learn about not just employability skills, but their rights at work as well?

John Swinney

As I indicated in my first answer to Ross Greer, those issues about the world of work in relation to employment rights are an important part of career education, which we believe is an entitlement of young people through the broad general education and into the senior phase. Outwith the specific and targeted work of the unions into schools programme that the STUC provides—and which we support—there is every opportunity in the curriculum for young people to understand those issues. I am very happy to reflect on those issues and on how we can make sure that more and more young people are aware of those questions in the school curriculum.