Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Topical Question Time

The next item is topical question time. I would like to get as many questions in as possible, so short and succinct questions and responses would be appreciated.

Contracts for Difference Allocation (Climate Targets)

1. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what potential impact the proposed Berwick Bank offshore wind farm not being included in the contracts for difference allocation round 6 will have on achieving Scotland’s climate targets. (S6T-01932)

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

The Government’s commitment to ending Scotland’s contribution to global emissions as soon as possible remains unwavering, and Scotland is making progress towards our 2045 target, being about halfway to that goal already. A significant part of that success has been driven by our renewable energy industry. Scotland is becoming a renewables powerhouse, with 87.9 per cent of electricity generation coming from zero-carbon or low-carbon sources in 2022.

Scotland’s decarbonisation plans and green jobs potential will be further boosted by the six projects consented by the Scottish Government in time for the contracts for difference allocation round 6 application window.

Sarah Boyack

The Berwick Bank offshore wind farm has the potential to create more than 4,500 jobs, from engineers and technicians to jobs at the beginning of the supply chain. What action is the Scottish Government taking to reduce consenting application timescales, and will the minister confirm when a consenting decision on Berwick Bank will be made?

Richard Lochhead

We have a strong record of delivering robust consents and have, to date, consented all of the offshore wind applications that we have received. Although that does not mean that every future application will be successful, it demonstrates that consents are granted when it is possible to balance the environmental and development aspects.

The Berwick Bank application is a complex project, and any decision by the Scottish ministers must fully consider the positive contribution to reaching net zero targets alongside the possible impact on the natural environment and other users of the sea. The member is right to say that the project is of major significance for Scotland, and we will continue to work with the applicant and all those who have expressed a view.

Sarah Boyack

I am disappointed that the minister did not acknowledge the importance of consenting timeframes. Last month, I visited Forth Ports, where considerable private investment is already being made to ensure that our renewables infrastructure is ready to go and to attract manufacturing to Scotland. That is a great example of businesses investing in Scotland, but they need signals and support from the Government if they are to have confidence in making that investment. The consenting of projects such as Berwick Bank is a signal that industry—particularly those in the supply chain—is keeping a close eye on. Will the minister say what is being done to reduce the timescales of consenting applications, given the concern in the sector that the energy strategy is being delayed?

Richard Lochhead

We devote significant resources to ensuring that we deal with all applications, and the member mentioned another of the many exciting projects that are happening across the country at the moment.

None of us wants to be dragged through the courts because something was done inappropriately, certain views were not taken into account or legislation on the impact on habitats and the wider environment was not adhered to. Sarah Boyack will be aware that these are extremely important issues. We do not want to get this wrong. Every application has to be assessed properly, which is why a proper process is in place.

On signals to the industry, I said in my answer that six significant projects have just been given consent in the current application round, including two floating offshore wind projects, one of which—Green Volt—was warmly welcomed in north-east Scotland, with the developers estimating that it has a value of £3 billion. That is a major and internationally significant project that has received consent from the Scottish Government, and it is a very powerful signal that Scotland is sending out.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

It is very welcome that a number of offshore renewables projects in Scotland are now secured by relevant consents and marine licences, including the Green Volt offshore wind project that the minister mentioned. Will the minister provide further information on what assessment the Scottish Government has made of the environmental and economic impacts that the projects are anticipated to have?

Richard Lochhead

As I indicated to Sarah Boyack in my previous answer, the Scottish Government has a robust process for offshore renewable energy project consent applications, including for the Pentland and—as Audrey Nicoll referred to—Green Volt offshore wind farms. The process includes applicants undertaking environmental impact assessments, which assess significant impacts on the environment, and it includes the habitats regulations appraisal—HRA—which assesses impacts to protected sites.

Consultation is undertaken with a range of statutory and non-statutory consultees, including NatureScot, which is the statutory nature conservation body. In the case of Green Volt, a derogation case as part of the HRA was also undertaken to secure compensation for any adverse effects on protected sites.

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

As we have heard, consent times are a huge issue for the project. It has been 17 months so far, with no decision. Does the Scottish Government have plans to streamline the necessary regulatory and administrative processes, to expedite the approval and implementation of offshore wind programmes such as Berwick Bank? If so, by when? I ask that communities are not sidelined by any changes that are brought forward, and I ask that balance is sought.

Richard Lochhead

I agree with Douglas Lumsden that balance has to be sought. These are very big and complex applications in many cases, including the Berwick Bank application.

I note that other big applications have received consent, including the Green Volt application for an internationally significant floating offshore wind farm with a value of £3 billion, which Douglas Lumsden’s North East Scotland constituents have warmly welcomed over the past day or two. It is a significant project for that region of the country.

We always look for ways to ensure that the consents process is more efficient and properly resourced. However, as I said, the fact that six significant projects have just been given consent sends out a powerful signal that we are taking the matter as seriously as we can and that we will continue to support an efficient and effective consents process.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The minister does not seem to be that bothered that the target consenting time of 12 months has been far exceeded and is up to 17 months. That will send quite a significant message to the industry, which is looking for confidence that the Government has the capacity to deal with that.

The ScotWind applications will be coming through soon, but we have not seen anything yet on the number of applications that will be forthcoming. One of the minister’s colleagues has told me that extra staff have been recruited, but it will clearly not be enough. How many extra staff will be recruited? Will the 12-month target date be met for the ScotWind applications?

Richard Lochhead

Ministers are always looking at the level of resources that are applied to the consents process, because—of course—we recognise the national significance of the projects. As I said, some projects are far more complex than other projects. We are going as fast as we can with the process, but it has to be done properly and it has to be robust. We have to avoid a situation in which we end up with further years being lost as we go through court cases due to not getting it right.

We are going through a green revolution in Scotland, particularly in offshore renewables. There are many applications in the pipeline and many have been consented. It is a national effort and it is of national importance. Willie Rennie is right that we have to keep reviewing how we do this in order to improve things as we go forward. However, as I said, the fact that we have given consent to six major projects, which will deliver billions of pounds in value, as well as jobs the length and breadth of Scotland, is a good sign that we are taking the issue seriously.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

In emphasising the six consented projects, the minister is emphasising outcomes. The issue here is about pace and throughput. Given that we need to double our offshore wind-generating capacity, is the minister confident that we can meet the doubling that we need to achieve by 2030?

Richard Lochhead

We are making great progress, but the Scottish Government cannot predict how many objections or concerns will be expressed in relation to any one particular application. We have to wait and see how the process develops as it goes forward. We have to make sure that the process is robust, efficient and well resourced.

As I said before, a significant number of projects, some of which are complex, have been consented, and that will help us to achieve our net zero targets and deliver thousands of jobs for Scotland as well as, potentially, hundreds of millions—if not billions—of pounds in investment for the country.

Ban on Plastic-containing Wet Wipes (Water and Sewerage Charges)

2. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reported statistics indicating that wet wipes contribute to up to 94 per cent of sewer blockages, what assessment it has made of the potential impact on Scottish Water of the planned ban on wet wipes containing plastic, including whether water and sewerage charges will be reduced in the future as a result of the ban. (S6T-01937)

The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

I was pleased to announce this week that we will this year introduce regulations to ban wet wipes containing plastic. That follows a United Kingdom-wide consultation in which 95 per cent of respondents agreed with our proposals.

The member is right to point out that, as well as the positive impact on our natural environment, there are potentially wider benefits. However, significantly reducing sewer blockages would require consumers to stop flushing wet wipes—whether or not they contain plastic—into the sewers. Any savings that are made will allow our publicly owned Scottish Water to invest in its ageing infrastructure, so that it is fit for the future and can continue adapting to climate change.

Stuart McMillan

I agree with the minister that wet wipes are a problematic source of marine litter, as I have seen first hand when dealing with beach clean-ups in my constituency. How much plastic is the ban likely to prevent from polluting our marine environment?

Lorna Slater

Our previously introduced bans on single-use plastics have already been effective in reducing beach litter. Approximately 30.5 billion wet wipes are sold across the UK annually, 64 per cent of which include some plastic. Although we do not know the exact quantity of plastic in total or the proportion of those wipes that could have been incorrectly and irresponsibly flushed, potentially polluting our marine environment, we do know that, by removing approximately 19.5 billion of those products from the market, we will help to reduce the risk of the harm that is caused by plastic pollution.

Stuart McMillan

The ban is not only a positive step for the planet but should ensure that Scottish Water spends less of its resources on responding to the problem of blockages, which are reported to cost around £7 million of bill payers’ money each year. On the assumption that the ban will help Scottish Water to save money, will there be scope to reduce water and sewerage charges or for future increases to charges to be smaller?

Lorna Slater

Decisions about household water charges are for the board of Scottish Water, with approval from the independent economic regulator. However, as I indicated in my earlier answer, any savings that are made will allow Scottish Water to invest in infrastructure to ensure that it can continue adapting to climate change.

LGBT Youth Scotland (School Youth Clubs)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the LGBT Youth Scotland pilot programme to introduce youth clubs in schools. (S6T-01938)

I can confirm that LGBT Youth Scotland is not undertaking a pilot programme to introduce youth clubs in schools.

Meghan Gallacher

It has been widely reported that Scottish primary schools are appointing children as LGBT champions and asking pupils as young as four whether they are transgender. That is part of a project that was set up by LGBT Youth Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, using taxpayers’ money. Parents are outraged by some of the materials that have been distributed by schools that have signed up to those youth clubs.

My understanding is that LGBT Youth Scotland’s charitable constitution clearly states that the age range that its activities covers is from 13 to 25 years old, which is of course outwith the age of children in primary schools. Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether LGBT Youth Scotland is in breach of its charitable constitution and whether she has any grip on what is happening in our schools?

Jenny Gilruth

The substantive part of Meghan Gallacher’s question was about whether I could provide an update on LGBT Youth Scotland piloting a programme to introduce youth clubs in schools. As I stated in my original response, that is not currently the case. I hope that that is on the record and that the member will understand that.

More broadly, we know that LGBT groups can play a really important role in schools in ensuring that LGBT young people are included in their school communities. Those groups are established by schools as part of an inclusive approach to education. I am sure that Ms Gallacher will have met some of those groups on her visits to local schools. That is aligned with ensuring that all our children and young people are included and engaged at school, which can be crucial in tackling the anti-LGBT incidents that we all know are on the increase. I hope that every member in the chamber can support that.

Meghan Gallacher

I mentioned in my previous question that parents are concerned by the LGBT Youth Scotland scheme. That is not coming from me; it is coming from parents who are speaking to me about those issues and who want them to be voiced in Parliament. Recent reports have outlined that a mother had to change her daughter’s school after it emerged that, within months of joining an LGBT club, her daughter announced in a Christmas card to her family that she had become their trans son and signed off with the preferred name. The problem is that the school did not tell the parents that their daughter had been using a different name in school for months. The school had signed up to the charter scheme that is run by the Scottish National Party funded charity LGBT Youth Scotland.

The Government has slowly been eroding the role of parents in school settings. We need only look at the named persons act to see a prime example of that. Why will the Government not allow kids to be kids? Will the cabinet secretary review the LGBT Youth Scotland programme to ensure that young people are provided with appropriate materials and that parents are not excluded from their child’s learning experience?

Jenny Gilruth

I thank Ms Gallacher for her supplementary question. I think that she is referring to the LGBT Youth Scotland charter for education. It is up to individual schools to decide whether they wish to undertake the LGBT Youth Scotland charter programme. However, I note for the record that, back in July 2022, Meghan Gallacher signed a motion by her parliamentary colleague Jackson Carlaw that congratulated

“Eastwood High School in Newton Mearns on receiving the LGBT Charter at Silver level”,


“the efforts, dedication and hard work of both pupils and staff to achieve this prestigious award from LGBT Youth Scotland”

and welcomed

“the training and a review of policies, practices and resources at the school to ensure that Eastwood High strives to go beyond meeting legislative requirements”.

I do not know why Meghan Gallacher has changed her mind about the charter in the interim two years. [Interruption.] I hear chuntering from a sedentary position, but I think that it is worth my while to put that on the record.

On the substantive point about parental contact, the guidance is clear that, if a young person does not discuss the matters with their family, the school can support the young person on how to have that conversation and when, but it should not take that decision for the young person.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the best way to combat discrimination is to tackle prejudice before it can take root? It is for that reason that Scotland’s schools must be an inclusive and positive environment for LGBT+ pupils.

Jenny Gilruth

I absolutely agree with the points that the member makes. It is worth while to remember and put it on the record that Scottish schools were not always a safe space for LGBT young people during the days of section 28, when I was at school.

We are committed to doing everything that we can to make Scotland the best place to grow up in for the LGBTQ+ community, and education settings have a lot to contribute in that regard. It is vital that we all help to instil the values of respect and tolerance in our children and young people, which is why we have made significant progress in embedding LGBT education across the curriculum rather than in specific LGBT lessons. That will improve the learning environment for all children and young people. It is also worth my while to recall that, during the previous session of Parliament, that approach—inclusive education—was supported on a cross-party basis.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I wish that there had been LGBT youth clubs when I was at school. If there had been, perhaps I would not have had such a miserable time of it or left school so early.

I understand the importance of an inclusive environment. However, it is fair to say that all the material that children have access to should be age appropriate. Will the cabinet secretary explain how the Government is monitoring that? It is also important that parents who have concerns about material that their children have access to should have direct access to voice those concerns or indeed to exclude such material from being in front of their children. We all want to do the right thing on this, but it is also fair to raise any concerns that parents might have, to ensure that there is trust in the entire system.

Jenny Gilruth

Absolutely. I worked with Jamie Greene on the matter during the previous session of Parliament and I very much support the concerns that he has raised in relation to parents’ rights in engaging with schools. That is why the National Parent Forum of Scotland and Connect were directly involved in development of the guidance. It is worth while to put that on the record.

In a report that was published last year, 67 per cent of participants—children and young people in schools—reported experiencing homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying during their time in school, which can also have an impact on their educational attainment. It is really important that we seek to work on such issues on a cross-party basis, to improve the lives of our LGBT young people for the better.