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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 1, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 01 October 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

Good afternoon. The next item of business is portfolio question time, on the portfolio of environment, climate change and land reform. I remind members who wish to ask supplementary questions to press their request-to-speak button or to indicate their request by entering “R” in the chat function during the relevant question.

Marine Protected Areas

To ask the Scottish Government how inshore marine protected areas are managed. (S5O-04649)

Last week, the Scottish Government designated the west of Scotland MPA, which means that more than 30 per cent of Scotland’s seas are now protected, thereby exceeding the proposed new international targets.

On the management of MPAs, public authorities must not grant authorisation for activities where there is significant risk of hindering an MPA’s conservation objectives. Therefore most activities are managed by regulatory authorities on an individual level, with reference to NatureScot’s advice. Unlike other sectors, fishing is managed through the implementation of management measures at sector level, with advice from NatureScot on the risks to protected features from fishing activity.

The minister will be aware of the importance of scallop and prawn fishing to my constituency, which has companies such as Kallin Shellfish Ltd, which employs 30 people locally and bring vital jobs to areas in which there are few private sector employers. What discussions has the Scottish Government had regarding fisheries management measures for the Sound of Barra special area of conservation? Would any such proposals be subject to an island communities impact assessment?

I am acutely aware of the importance to the Western Isles of fisheries, including employers such as Kallin Shellfish.

The development of potential fisheries management measures for the Sound of Barra SAC was at the pre-consultation stage when it was delayed because of the current pandemic. Prior to that pause, stakeholder engagement had been under way and had included the holding of meetings in Benbecula and Stornoway in March this year. When we are able to restart that process, there will be further opportunity for stakeholder engagement, and there will also be wider public consultation before any measures are adopted.

I absolutely assure Dr Allan that if it were to be anticipated that any management proposal would have an impact on island communities that would be significantly different from the effect that it would have on others, an island communities impact assessment would be undertaken.

Given that marine conservation and fisheries issues are missing from the Scottish Government’s economic recovery implementation plan, will the minister say what action will be taken to deliver a blue recovery that would enhance marine health and support inshore fishers to meet sustainability requirements while also supporting local coastal communities?

A variety of such projects are under way at the moment. As I said in my initial response to Dr Allan, just last week we designated one of the largest MPAs—I think that it is the largest—in the north-east Atlantic, which now brings the coverage to more than 30 per cent of our seas being protected. We are continually undertaking work on the designation of such sites.

As I alluded to in my other response, understandably, some measures and pieces of work have had to be put on hold because of the pandemic that we are having to deal with. However, I assure Claudia Beamish and other members that we consider such work to be vital and that we will continue with it as soon as we are able to do so, with the aim of improving the protection of our marine environment.

The south Arran marine protected area has been a tremendous boon to the marine environment to the south of my constituency. However, it cannot have the same restorative impact as a no-take zone, which would enable the marine environment to regenerate fully. Will the minister consider the resounding success of the Lamlash Bay no-take zone over the past 12 years, and others across the world, with a view to creating more such zones in Scotland’s threatened marine environments?

Absolutely. We continually look at national and international good practice, because that helps to inform the development of our policies when it comes to protecting and enhancing our marine environment.

Sites within the MPA network have a range of different measures in place and those are being monitored for environmental and economic effects to help to provide an evidence base for any future actions that we might take in our protected areas. The monitoring outcomes, including in Lamlash bay, and experiences elsewhere in the world, will inform how our MPA network evolves, especially after new international targets are set in 2021.

Climate Action Plan (Dundee)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to Dundee to assist in the implementation of the city’s climate action plan. (S5O-04650)

I welcome Dundee’s climate action plan, which places climate change at the heart of the city’s regeneration. The plan has ambitious targets, a citywide partnership approach and strong links to national policy; it supports key low-carbon technologies and climate resilience.

The Scottish Government and its agencies are working with partners in Dundee. In particular, we have committed up to £150 million over 10 years to the wider Tay cities region deal, which includes the ambition to create a step change to a low-carbon, regional economy and establish the Tay cities region as a leader for eco-innovation. To date, we have also provided over £6 million of funding to Dundee City Council to decarbonise its vehicle fleet, co-funded the development of the low-carbon district energy hub at Caird park regional performance centre for sport, and provided support to community circular economy initiatives in Dundee.

The cabinet secretary may be aware of Dundee’s new embark Dundee e-bike sharing scheme, which is set to launch this weekend, making Dundee the largest e-bike provider in the country. What plans does the Government have to further encourage active travel in city centres and, in particular, to improve air quality in known city centre hotspots?

The budget for 2020-21 has increased to £100.5 million to support the building of large-scale active travel infrastructure and behavioural change. We have invested nearly £39 million in temporary infrastructure to help local authorities support physical distancing and to encourage walking, wheeling and cycling during the Covid-19 outbreak.

We remain absolutely committed to tackling air pollution. The Scottish Government awarded over £500,000 to Dundee in 2019-20 to develop a low-emission zone and related public transport measures. I welcome the announcement that I read today about the new Edinburgh to Dundee electric bus service, which will start next week.

Flooding (Scottish Environment Protection Agency)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last discussed with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency how to tackle the reportedly increasing problem of flooding in Scotland’s communities. (S5O-04651)

The Scottish Government engages extensively with SEPA and other relevant agencies on a wide range of issues to ensure that Scotland is resilient and able to adapt to the challenges of flooding and other pressures that are driven by climate change.

Houses in Lennoxtown in my constituency have been hit by severe flooding three times already this year. It is clear that that problem will continue to recur, given the changing climate. Are local authorities being supported to offer long-term solutions to high flood risk areas that are identified to them?

I can completely understand the member’s concerns about that and about other events that are increasing because of climate change. I am aware of the communities at risk of flooding, including what happened in Lennoxtown on 4 August.

The Scottish Government provides substantial support, including £42 million each year to local authorities for flood protection measures. In addition, in our programme for government this year, we committed an additional £150 million over the next five years—that is over and above the £42 million—to support flood protection measures. We also provide around £200,000 annually to the Scottish Flood Forum, which provides support to communities that are affected by flooding.

In addition to the extra funds that we are committing, to help inform the future work that we will have to undertake, we are carrying out a review to consider the current and future challenges that we face and to try to scope out the opportunities and solutions that there are for efficient and effective surface water management.

What is the Scottish Government doing to improve the maintenance standards for sustainable urban drainage systems, which is a vital aspect of sustaining their longevity?

Again, I understand the member’s concern regarding that matter. As I outlined in my response to Rona Mackay, we are carrying out a review to look at the current challenges that we face. The problem will intensify and will only get worse as we see the full effects of climate change. We are taking a serious look at the issue to consider what solutions we can develop for the future.

The minister will be aware of the recent flooding event in Cardenden in my constituency. Although Fife Council had already been preparing an area flood study, curiously, the final version of the study will omit any reference at all to that significant recent flooding event. Can the minister therefore advise whether there is any guidance on the matter of what on earth would be the efficacy of the new flood study if it makes no reference at all to that significant recent flooding incident, which took place in August of this year?

I would be happy to consider that in more detail. The Scottish Government supports the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s flood forecasting service through a grant of £586,000. The service uses hydrological data from 250 monitoring stations plus meteorological data from the Met Office and aims to provide as accurate predictions as possible of the likelihood and timing of flood events. Of course, the service is subject to continuous updates and improvements.

On the specific point that Annabelle Ewing raises, I am happy to look into that further and respond to her more fully.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Environmental Protection (Public Participation)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is encouraging people to engage in recycling and other activities to help protect Scotland’s environment. (S5O-04653)

We want to ensure that, when it comes to recycling, the right choices are the easy choices for businesses and households. Our recent programme for government committed to a £70 million recycling fund to improve local authority collection infrastructure, as well as a review of the household recycling charter and code of practice.

The national managing our waste campaign provides guidance for households on how to manage waste, recycle and access local waste services during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also encourages use of reusable face coverings and appropriate disposal of single-use face coverings and gloves.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, especially what she said about face coverings, which are becoming a real problem.

I was delighted to note that last week was recycle week 2020. What dialogue is the Scottish Government having with local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that we continue to promote such activities, as we navigate through lockdown?

We continue, of course, to engage regularly with a wide range of stakeholders from throughout the waste sector, through the waste and resources sector forum. It comprises key partners including Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities and commercial bodies.

I am grateful to the people who have worked very hard to keep waste and recycling services going in communities right across Scotland, particularly over the past year.

The national managing our waste campaign, which we developed with our partners and launched in late April, will continue to provide guidance for households on how to manage waste, recycle and access local waste services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Can the cabinet secretary say how many tonnes of waste are shipped out of Scotland every minute?

As Maurice Golden is, very likely, aware, the answer to that is no. I do not have a minute-by-minute assessment of the waste that is exported from Scotland, any more than anyone else will have a minute-by-minute assessment of any other export from Scotland.

However, I can tell Maurice Golden that we are making a great deal of progress on recycling, on which we are doing an enormous amount of work. As he knows, we have plans to go a lot further. I have already outlined the programme for government commitment of £70 million to the recycling fund. We have long-term initiatives to tackle the throwaway culture and to reduce the global amount of waste that is created, wherever it ends up.

I hope that Mr Golden will continue to support those initiatives in the future.

It is clear that the public strongly back waste recycling, but they do not back waste incineration. When it gave evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee last week, Zero Waste Scotland warned of a

“future that is based on incineration.”—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 22 September 2020; c 27.]

What is the Government doing to restrict burning of rubbish?

Again, I must say that we are making very strong progress, as I said to Maurice Golden. Between 2017 and 2018, the carbon impact of our waste dropped by 11 per cent. I have also mentioned the PFG commitment.

Waste incineration is strictly regulated in line with European Union standards. Under the regulations, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency operates a very rigorous permitting system for energy-from-waste operators. We are preparing for the ban on landfilling biodegradable municipal waste that will be in place by 2025, in line with the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations, but we will still need capacity to dispose of residual waste while we make the transition to a circular economy. That is the reason for the increase in energy-from-waste capacity.

Tarbolton Moss Landfill

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to resolve the reported serious environmental issues arising from a lack of on-going maintenance at Tarbolton Moss landfill. (S5O-04654)

Tarbolton Landfill Ltd, which is the operator of the site, remains in liquidation. Although the Scottish Government is not directly responsible for the site, we are working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and South Ayrshire Council to assess future options. On 2 July, we considered the recommendations of a recent site survey on the practical options for management of the site.

The Scottish Government is currently in the process of developing a proposition for how the different public authorities can work together to move matters forward.

As the cabinet secretary knows, she and I have spoken about the issue many times, and very little has changed on the site—apart from the facts that giant hogweed now pervades and is invading down river, and leachate continues to flow. We cannot allow an environmental health crisis to continue to grow. This is a long-standing problem that I have brought to Parliament’s attention many times. When will the Scottish Government finally act to make Tarbolton Moss landfill safe?

I know that Mr Whittle has raised the issue on a number of occasions. We have had conversations about it, and I know that he feels very strongly about it. That is extremely understandable. However, the legal situation remains the same.

Mr Whittle mentioned giant hogweed. I understand that, unfortunately, much of the work across Scotland to control invasive species has been delayed because of Covid-19. That will include work at the Tarbolton site. We have previously funded work to remove giant hogweed as part of the site investigation that I mentioned, and other necessary work will be considered as part of the wider requirements for remediation of the site.

Grouse Moor Management (Werritty Review)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when it will publish its response to the Werritty review recommendations on grouse moor management. (S5O-04655)

As set out in the Scottish Government’s programme for government, which was published on 1 September this year, a response to the report by the independent grouse moor management review group will be published this autumn.

I note the recommendation on licensing of grouse moors, which I hope will be adopted, given the concerns about the on-going risk to hen harriers, peregrines and other birds of prey. Will the minister give more detail on the timescale for legislating for a licensing regime, should it be decided that that will be done? I hope that such a regime can be secured as early as possible.

I absolutely share Bob Doris’s concern about the matter, and I know that it is something that members across the chamber want to hear more about and are concerned about.

We are carefully considering the option of licensing, because that was one of the key recommendations in Professor Werritty’s report. If our conclusion is that licensing is to be introduced, we have indicated—the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform have already stated to Parliament—that we would likely implement it earlier than the five-year timeframe that the review group proposed.

Will the Scottish Government take into consideration the soon to be published stage 2 research into the socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of grouse moor management and the employment rights of gamekeepers before it responds to the Werritty review.

I am sure that Liz Smith will be aware that we had hoped to issue our response to the review earlier in the year, but because we have had to redirect resource due to the pandemic, that has not been possible. The response has been a long time coming; as I said in my response to Bob Doris, we want to publish our response as soon as we can.

We will, of course, take any relevant information into consideration, because the recommendations in the report would impact on other agencies, too. There are lots of things that we must take into careful consideration. However, I say again that we will be looking to publish our response in the coming months.

The large-scale killing of mountain hares on grouse moors was a key part of the grouse moor management group’s terms of reference, and the report recommended that action be taken on it. Ninety-four days ago, Parliament voted in support of my amendment to the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill to make the mountain hare a protected species. Will the minister provide an update on how that is being implemented and when it will come into force?

As Alison Johnstone said, that was the subject of an amendment that we agreed in consideration of the bill. We will set out our timetable for commencement of the relevant sections of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 in due course.

We have to give careful consideration to how a future licensing regime would work in relation to mountain hares because, as I am sure members are aware, the amendment that was agreed to had the effect of removing the open season for mountain hares, thereby making it an offence to intentionally or to recklessly kill, injure or take them at any time of the year. That would, of course, be subject to certain permitted exceptions that might be undertaken under licence.

Those are the kinds of things that we have to consider. As I said, we will in due course come back and lay out our timetable for commencement of the relevant part of the 2020 act.

Climate Action

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle climate change. (S5O-04656)

Scotland has the most rigorous framework of domestic climate change legislation in the world. We have already halved our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, restored 20,000 hectares of degraded peatland, planted 22 million trees and cut waste emissions by 30 per cent. Even as we tackle the impacts of Covid-19, we are ensuring that our recovery is a green recovery by investing a groundbreaking £1.6 billion to transform how we heat our homes, £60 million to support decarbonisation of the industrial sector and £100 million for a green jobs fund to build back better.

Building on our programme for government commitments, our forthcoming update to the 2018 climate change plan will set out the next steps that we will take towards meeting our new and ambitious targets.

Energy is central to addressing climate change, but the development of the onshore wind sector has been a huge missed opportunity for communities, which see ownership of onshore wind farms concentrated in the hands of venture capital firms and foreign-based multinationals whose profits are then repatriated to Germany, Spain and Italy. What is the Scottish Government doing to avoid repeating the mistakes that it made in onshore wind development and to ensure that offshore wind developments are held by communities, so that profits that are generated go back into the local community and economy, and not to the shareholders of foreign-based multinationals?

Among other things, the work that is being done with Crown Estate Scotland is very much directed at the issue that Neil Findlay has raised. We are working closely with Crown Estate Scotland to ensure that developers will need to commit to the anticipated level and location of supply-chain impact in future projects, and to incorporate them in formal agreements. That will provide developers with a clear and transparent route through which to demonstrate their progress on the industry supply-chain ambitions, and it will provide them with the opportunity to show their commitment to companies in Scotland. That is one of the initiatives that we are currently undertaking.

Of course, we continue to call on the United Kingdom Government to amend the contract for difference auction process, through which contracts are currently awarded solely on price. We want the process to better reflect the value that is added to the economy and the importance of supply-chain sustainability when contracts are awarded to projects.

Can the cabinet secretary outline what the Scottish Government hopes to achieve as the European co-chair of the Under2 Coalition over the coming year?

I am pleased to say that Scotland is now the European co-chair for the Under2 Coalition, alongside a number of other co-chairs, including Governor Newsom of California, Premier Zikalala of KwaZulu-Natal and Governor Domínguez Servién of Querétaro, which I hope I have pronounced correctly.

Our term as co-chair has begun. It is happening in a crucial time for climate action and it will help to drive momentum towards a green recovery and a net zero future, ahead of the 26th climate change conference of the parties. I can advise Parliament that, under our capacity as co-chair, I have already done a number of international video events.

As European co-chair, Scotland will champion the principles of just transition, inclusivity and wellbeing.