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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Scotland’s Population, Urgent Question, Point of Order, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Adopt a Road


Contents


Topical Question Time

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


Fiscal Statement (Response)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the United Kingdom Government’s fiscal statement last week. (S6T-00893)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement provided little respite for many families who already face a winter being unable to afford essentials, such as buying food and heating their homes. The United Kingdom Government needed to use its reserved powers to provide support for those who need it most. Instead, we got tax cuts for the rich and not much for anyone else.

The chancellor is taking a huge gamble with public finances and the health of our economy, and the markets have reacted strongly. The pound fell to record lows on Monday, the cost of Government borrowing has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, and investor confidence is plummeting. Many householders will now face much higher mortgage costs as a consequence of the decisions that were made.

We are doing everything within our power to support people, public services and the economy, but our efforts are under threat from the UK Government beginning a new and dangerous race to the bottom. We are not willing to run that race. We will not replicate the Tories’ reckless tax cuts but will consider carefully the correct measures for Scotland.

I intend to seek advice from an expert panel that will be convened specifically to consider the implications of the mini budget. I will also embark on discussions with business and trade union interests. The Scottish Fiscal Commission will incorporate the impact of any changes in its next forecasts. I intend to report to Parliament on those issues as part of the emergency budget review in the week commencing 24 October.

The damaging impact of the UK Government’s decisions on Friday demonstrate why Scotland needs the full range of financial powers to avoid living at the mercy of bad decisions that are taken at Westminster.

Emma Roddick

I thank the Deputy First Minister for that very reassuring answer. Households across Scotland face real financial pressures right now due to the rising cost of living. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that the mini budget

“wilfully ignored families struggling through a cost-of-living emergency and instead targeted its action at the richest.”

Does the Deputy First Minister think that letting the ultrawealthy keep more of their money during a cost of living crisis should be any Government’s priority?

John Swinney

I do not think that that should be the case. The UK Government is pinning all its hopes on a discredited approach of trickle-down economics that benefits high earners as opposed to people who are most in need now. Supporting those people who are most in need should be the UK Government’s priority.

Against a backdrop of political instability at UK level, we will continue to take a responsible approach to tax policy by building on our fair and progressive approach to taxation, which has protected low earners while raising additional revenue for public services. I can assure the chamber that the Scottish Government will take sensible and careful decisions that are about helping people who need assistance the most.

Emma Roddick

Time and again, almost every decision that the UK Government makes drags Scotland down a path that its voters have explicitly made it clear they do not want to go down. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that it is clearer than ever that only with the powers of independence can we deliver on the priorities of people in Scotland and build a fairer economy for all?

John Swinney

I agree with Emma Roddick on that point. From the mini budget on Friday, it is very clear that the United Kingdom Government wishes to take policy in a dramatically different direction, in contrast to the prevailing decisions that have been arrived at in this chamber, which are, of course, a product of the choices that have been made by the people of Scotland.

Those two factors are in no way separate, because the implications of the UK Government’s decisions on Friday will be felt acutely by the Scottish Government and Scottish public finances. I would have thought that, during a cost of living crisis, the priority in a mini budget would have been to support the most vulnerable and boost public expenditure to cope with the raging levels of inflation that are undermining the value of public expenditure. None of that happened on Friday. Indeed, my concern, having looked at the UK Government’s publications and statements, is that the pressure on public expenditure in the years to come will become even more intense than what I set out to Parliament in my statement two weeks past Wednesday.

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary said that he would reflect carefully on UK Government tax cuts following the announcements in the mini budget last week. However, today, he seems to have already ruled that out. Some of the Scottish Government’s former economic advisers have warned that Scotland cannot afford to fall further behind the rest of the UK in relation to the tax gap. Why will he not ensure that tax cuts are passed on not to the rich but to our doctors, nurses, teachers and police, who face being taxed more during a cost of living crisis than their colleagues in the rest of the UK?

John Swinney

Mr Lumsden needs to work out what he is actually arguing for. I assume from what he said that he wants me to replicate in its entirety what the UK Government has set out. If I did that, I would be taking decisions to reward the already very, very wealthy with significant tax cuts. That is the reality of what Mr Lumsden is asking me to do. [Interruption.] I hear Mr Lumsden saying from a sedentary position that that is not what he asked for, but I have read numerous comments from the Conservatives demanding that I just get on and do what the United Kingdom Government has done.

I will consider all the issues carefully, which is why I will take the necessary time to do it, why I am going to draw together an expert panel to provide advice to the Government, and why I will engage with business and trade union interests.

None of us should underestimate the scale of disruption and damage that was done by the announcements on Friday—they were very damaging. I have to take a careful and prudential approach to managing Scotland’s public finances, and that is what I am going to do. Mr Lumsden and his colleagues can engage in soundbites, but I will place a wager in front of Parliament that, at the same time as Mr Lumsden is arguing for tax cuts, colleagues of his will come to the chamber demanding that I increase public expenditure on other things. Those two things cannot be done at the same time in the fiscal envelope that is provided by the United Kingdom Government.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Black Wednesday, which hit almost 30 years ago to the day, trashed the UK economy and with it any reputation that the Conservative Party had for fiscal prudence, making its removal from office almost inevitable. The parallels with the financial crisis that we are experiencing now are uncanny. In recent months, much has been written about routes out of the cost of living emergency, but literally no one has been asking, “Who will think of the millionaires?”

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that the UK Government must immediately recall Parliament to walk back the mini budget, reinstate the top rate of taxation and make energy companies pay their way, while delivering relief for struggling families?

John Swinney

I find myself in the rather unusual position of actually agreeing with most of what Mr Cole-Hamilton said, which is a slightly discombobulating situation. He raises serious issues, however. Future generations are being lumbered with colossal costs of borrowing because a windfall tax has not been applied to energy companies. Various very wealthy people are being given even more money, when people are facing destitution in our society.

I therefore entirely support the call for the United Kingdom Parliament to reconvene immediately in order to rectify those matters. We are already seeing the damage to individuals—there will be very disappointed people who expected to be able to acquire properties and get on the first step on the property ladder, but who will have had that taken away from them by the recklessness of the decisions on Friday. I therefore hope that Mr Cole-Hamilton’s call for the recall of the United Kingdom Parliament is acceded to, and I would support it.


Scotland’s Climate Week 2022

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote participation in Scotland’s climate week 2022, which runs from 26 September to 2 October. (S6T-00876)

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

Scotland’s climate week focuses on encouraging climate conversations in order to deepen understanding of the climate emergency and to encourage action across the nation. That is supported by our climate conversations pack and a toolkit to help individuals and organisations to get involved in climate week, which are available on the netzeronation.scot website.

We are encouraging broad participation across Scotland through our social media channels and our participation with the public, private and third sectors, including enterprise agencies, local authorities and the community network. The Scottish Government is also delivering three public events, which sit alongside a ministerial engagement programme and a series of announcements.

Monica Lennon

This week, Zoe and her mule, Falco, have arrived in Lanarkshire as part of the walk for earth—a journey that is taking them from Oxford to Loch Lomond in support of the Stop Ecocide International campaign. Along the way, Zoe has been having many conversations with well-wishers, who have voiced their strong support for ecocide law. That is particularly poignant during Scotland’s climate week, given the role of the late Polly Higgins—who was a Scottish barrister, author and environmentalist—in spearheading the ecocide law campaign. What will the Scottish Government do to ensure that Scotland plays a key role in the movement for ecocide law?

Michael Matheson

First, I record my thanks for the work of Zoe and Falco in bringing attention, through their walk, to a very important issue. Members will appreciate that in Scots law we have, at present, very robust protections for animals and habitats. We have also made clear our commitment to looking at how we can add to that through a new natural environment bill and our biodiversity strategy.

I am aware of the growing international campaign to see a fifth crime being added to the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, with a view to making provision for ecocide. We are very closely monitoring developments on that and the impact that it might have on Scots law. I am keen to make sure that, in Scotland, we are doing everything that we can to play our part at both domestic and international levels to support tackling the issue of ecocide. I am more than happy to engage with colleagues from across the chamber on how we can develop that further.

Monica Lennon

The director of Stop Ecocide International, Jojo Mehta, has said that one of the most important steps that national Governments can take is to publicly express their support for an amendment to the Rome statute to add ecocide as a fifth crime against peace. It has already been discussed at parliamentary and governmental levels in 23 countries. Will the cabinet secretary and his colleagues work with me and with Stop Ecocide International to explore further how we can include ecocide law in Scotland’s response to the climate and nature emergencies?

Michael Matheson

We all have a collective responsibility to make sure that we protect our natural environment—not just for this generation but for generations to come. We should leave no stone unturned in seeking to do so, by ensuring that we have in place the necessary robust legislative provisions through which to achieve that. I am more than happy to accept the invitation from Ms Lennon to engage with her and other stakeholders on the issue of ecocide, and to ensure that Scotland is playing its part by helping to support not just what we do here locally, but what we do at national and international levels to tackle the increasing challenges of biodiversity loss and nature loss right across the globe.

Natalie Don (Renfrewshire North and West) (SNP)

Climate change and the destruction of nature are twin emergencies that need to be treated with equal urgency. What is the Scottish Government’s assessment of the United Kingdom Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the impact that it could have on environmental standards here in Scotland?

Michael Matheson

We are deeply concerned and are fundamentally opposed to the UK Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill as it is currently drafted. Retained European Union law provides Scotland with very robust standards on environmental regulations in a wide range of areas. Our concern is that the bill seeks, in effect, to remove 40 years of protection, in what can only be described as an ideological drive towards deregulation and a race to the bottom.

The bill could undermine polluting substances controls that ensure that standards of water and air are maintained, and ensure protection of natural habitats and wildlife, which we have just touched on. That is why we are fundamentally opposed to the UK Government’s bill.

To add insult to that, the UK Government also intends to use the bill to take powers to legislate in areas that are within the competence of this Parliament, without our consent and without consulting us. That is unacceptable.

I believe that the bill could undermine both our environmental and natural environment protections.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Scotland’s biodiversity and natural capital form vital parts of Scotland’s climate response. The Sunday Post reported at the weekend that NatureScot had withdrawn its objections to a controversial wind farm application in the Highlands—apparently because the development of so many other wind turbines in the area means that it can no longer be categorised as wilderness. How does the cabinet secretary envisage ensuring that, in the drive towards renewables, the Government does not inadvertently compromise our biodiversity and natural capital, which are, of course, integral parts of the climate emergency and, thus, of climate week?

Michael Matheson

I cannot comment on individual applications for energy consents, because they come to me for ministerial consent. However, I can say that, as a Government, we are absolutely determined to do everything that we can to ensure that we play our part in tackling climate change through decarbonising our energy systems and investing in renewables, with all the economic, social and environmental benefits that come from doing that.

Ways in which we would not help our environment include expansion of nuclear power provision, with the potential risks that it poses, and extension of fracking, which the UK Government has chosen to do and which will have a very negative impact on biodiversity and natural life.