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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 2, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 02 May 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Rwandan Genocide (25th Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Motion without Notice, Decision Time


General Question Time

Water Safety and Drowning Prevention

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Water Safety Scotland regarding its work with local authorities to promote water safety and drowning prevention. (S5O-03178)

First, I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to the loved ones of the two women who, sadly, died in Aberdeen on Good Friday.

The Scottish Government has supported water safety Scotland since the launch of its drowning prevention strategy in January 2018. My officials are meeting water safety Scotland and the Royal Life Saving Society UK this week as part of our continuing engagement. Although it is for local authorities to agree their own policy on water safety, I wrote last October to all community safety partnerships to support their work to promote water safety.

With the upcoming year of coasts and waters in 2020, does the minister agree that Scotland’s waters must be promoted in the safest possible way, especially considering the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ research that shows that 60 per cent of Scottish local authorities do not have a water safety policy?

I do. Obviously, Scotland has 90 per cent of all the standing freshwater in the United Kingdom and we want people to be able to enjoy the amazing countryside of Scotland in as safe a way as possible. Over the past five years, the Scottish Government has provided ROSPA with more than £600,000 in funding to deliver its annual home and water safety programme. This year, we are providing funding of £112,000, which will support delivery of the commitments set out in the drowning prevention strategy.

We have also proactively supported implementation of the strategy and funded and distributed water safety educational material to 2,500 schoolchildren before the summer break last year, in partnership with ROSPA and water safety Scotland. We hosted a ministerial round-table meeting with water safety Scotland and sports governing bodies in June last year. A range of actions was agreed around data sharing, local authority engagement and education and awareness raising, which are being progressed by water safety Scotland

Just to reiterate my earlier answer, I also wrote to all community safety partnerships to encourage them to do all that they can with water safety Scotland to support and implement the strategy.

European Parliament Elections (European Union Citizens)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Electoral Commission regarding encouraging European Union citizens living in Scotland to register to vote in the forthcoming European Parliament elections. (S5O-03179)

I wrote to David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on 3 April 2019 to express my concerns that citizens of EU member states might not have sufficient time to complete the UC1 form that will allow them to vote at the European Parliament elections in the United Kingdom. If EU citizens do not have time to complete and return that form, they will be disenfranchised and will not be able to vote on 23 May.

I am pleased to note that electoral registration officers in Scotland have now contacted all registered EU citizens to encourage them to complete the forms. Scottish Government officials are participating in weekly meetings of the Electoral Commission advisory board, where planning for the European Parliament elections is discussed. The Electoral Commission’s public awareness campaign will encourage all eligible electors, including EU citizens, to register to vote by the 7 May deadline in order to take part in the elections. I encourage all citizens to ensure that they are registered by 7 May.

EU citizens living in Scotland make a huge and positive contribution economically, culturally and academically. As I have the University of Glasgow in my constituency, I know how much they contribute academically there. Does the minister agree that the shambles at Westminster makes an essential case for an independent Scotland, where we welcome and value those who choose to make Scotland their home? Does he also agree that the forthcoming European Parliament elections offer the opportunity for everyone living in Scotland to reject Brexit again and that it is therefore imperative that those who are eligible to vote register to vote by 7 May?

Since the result of the EU referendum, the Scottish Government has made it very clear that EU citizens are welcome in Scotland. They contribute an enormous amount, we want them to stay and we will support them to stay.

One of the great advantages of independence will be the ability to tailor immigration policy for Scotland’s needs and do away with the UK Government’s deplorable hostile environment approach. As Sandra White said, she represents the University of Glasgow’s constituency. In our university sector, 25 per cent of staff on the research side are from other EU countries. In, for example, the abattoir industry, 60 per cent of employees and 95 per cent of vets are from other EU countries. I could go through a whole range of sectors—I know that you would rather that I did not do so, Presiding Officer—that demonstrate the dependence on EU labour. In rural Scotland the dependence is particularly great.

It is an appalling thing to be pleased that freedom of movement is coming to an end and it will be very damaging for Scotland if that is allowed to happen.

Trout and Salmon (Fisheries Protection Orders)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will assess the impact of fishing protection orders on trout and salmon stocks in rivers and lochs. (S5O-03180)

The Scottish Government has no current plans to undertake a review of the 14 fisheries protection orders that are in place.

We are told that we live in an era of evidence-based policy making. Given the decline of salmon stocks in rivers that have protection orders, will the cabinet secretary now instruct an independent scientific review of the impact of protection orders on fish stocks in Scottish rivers and lochs?

The Scottish Government does a number of things, particularly in connection with the salmon situation. I am very aware of Mr Findlay’s concerns around protection orders, but I have indicated that there are no current plans to review the orders. From the information that I have been given, I understand that we gave full answers to Mr Findlay’s points when he raised them earlier in the year. I appreciate his concerns about trout and salmon stocks, but the protection orders are actually most relevant to freshwater fisheries, and we have specific conservation measures in place for the protection of Atlantic salmon.

ScotRail Services (Stirling)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the performance of ScotRail services using Stirling station. (S5O-03181)

In the preceding 13 rail periods, Network Rail was responsible for half of all delays that impacted on services calling at Stirling station and ScotRail was responsible for 44 per cent of them.

One hundred and fifty-nine million pounds has been invested in electrification, which is introducing brand-new electric services to Stirling. From May, there will be six extra Glasgow-Stirling-Alloa services per day, with longer formations that will provide 4,000 extra seats per day. On the Edinburgh-Stirling-Dunblane route, there will be two extra services per day, with longer formations that will provide 1,500 extra seats per day.

ScotRail must now deliver its remedial plan, monitored by Transport Scotland, with independent oversight by a railway operations expert.

Let me remind the cabinet secretary that ScotRail data for March showed that less than 60 per cent of trains that terminate at Stirling station were on time, and 40 per cent were classified as late. Notwithstanding his assurances that everything possible is being done to remedy the issue, does the cabinet secretary agree with my constituents that the current level of service from ScotRail is unacceptable, and does he have a real plan to fix it?

The member ignores the impact that infrastructure had on those figures in March, when there were significant challenges as a result of points and signalling issues in the Edinburgh area, which had a detrimental impact on performance over that period.

Having said that, it is important that ScotRail makes improvements where it needs to do so—as I outlined, the timetable changes in May will enhance seating capacity on the routes that are served by Stirling station—and that it implements its remedial plan.

As I have said in the chamber on a number of occasions, we need to make sure that both parts of the railway system are operating effectively, which means that Network Rails needs to address the infrastructure issues that continue to have an impact on passenger services.

Is the cabinet secretary aware that, although disruption has been caused by ScotRail’s performance, another major reason for disruption to passengers in the Stirling area is signal failure? The responsibility for signalling lies fairly and squarely at the door of Network Rail, responsibility for which is fully reserved to Westminster.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that responsibility for rail should be entirely devolved, so that we can have a joined-up railway system in Scotland and ensure that Network Rail is accountable to the Scottish Parliament?

The member makes a very good point. As I indicated to Dean Lockhart in answer to his supplementary question, members are often keen to point out the failings of ScotRail—rightly so, because ScotRail should be held to account for the matters for which it is responsible—but are reluctant to point out the failings of Network Rail and the impact that they have on passenger services.

I have made it clear that the current structural system to provide rail services in Scotland is no longer suitable to serve the travelling public. That is why we need to see the further devolution of railway services to the Scottish Parliament so that both parts of our rail network—ScotRail and the infrastructure provider, Network Rail—are accountable to the Parliament and the Government and we can ensure that the issues are being addressed sooner rather than later.

Violent Crime

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle violent crime. (S5O-03182)

The member will be aware that, over the past few months, Scotland’s groundbreaking public health approach to violent crime of the past decade or so has been subject to much praise from across the United Kingdom and internationally. Violent crime is reducing in Scotland and, since 2006-07, recorded violent crime in Scotland has fallen by 49 per cent to one of the lowest levels seen since 1974. That is welcome, but no level of violence is acceptable. That is why we are continuing to invest in the Scottish violence reduction unit, medics against violence, YouthLink Scotland and their many partners to deliver violence prevention programmes to tackle violence wherever it persists in Scotland.

The Scottish Government statistics that were released last week show that, in South Lanarkshire, offences in which a firearm was alleged to have been involved have increased by 150 per cent since 2015-16. That is the largest increase in Scotland by a mile. In North Lanarkshire, the figure went up by 40 per cent. Does the minister agree that that is unacceptable and will she endeavour to find out what is being done to stem the tide of such incidents across Lanarkshire?

I agree that no level of firearm use in Scotland is acceptable. We are doing all that we can to reduce firearms incidents in Scotland and I will write to the member with further details on that.

Police officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly above the level that we inherited in 2007—that is one way in which we combat firearms. The number of officers in Scotland has risen by more than 900 since March 2007. At the same time, there has been a reduction of almost 20,000 officers in England and Wales. As usual, the rhetoric from the Conservatives on the issue does not match their record.

Although the figures for many violent crimes in Scotland are going down, the number of sexual offences continues to rise. Sexual crimes are now at their highest level since 1971. They affect Scotland’s women the most. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to tackle the decades-long rise in sexual offences? What is it doing to ensure that women get support to bring their attackers to justice?

I thank the member for raising a very important issue. There are a range of issues lying behind the increase in recorded sexual crime, including a greater willingness among victims to come forward, more reporting of historical offences and the impact of new legislation. The Scottish Government provides support for victims through targeted funding, legislative improvements and partnership working with agencies and stakeholders. We are implementing equally safe, which is our strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, and our “Equally safe: delivery plan” contains 118 commitments to achieve that.

In 2015, the First Minister announced a £20 million violence against women and girls justice fund to improve the experience of and outcomes for victims. The fund supported prevention and early intervention work. Those aims continue to inform our funding strategy.

Can the minister advise us what the level of violent crime is in Scotland compared to that south of the border, where Mr Simpson’s party is in power?

Unfortunately, comparing levels of violent crime in Scotland with those south of the border is not a simple process because of the use of different definitions and data collection methods in recorded crime data and in our respective surveys. However, our statistics demonstrate that we have seen significant decreases in the levels of violence across Scotland and, since 2006-2007, a 49 per cent decrease in recorded violent crime; a 51 per cent drop in the number of victims of homicide; and a 55 per cent fall in the total number of emergency admissions to hospital resulting from assault.

Roadside Litter

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle the issue of roadside litter. (S5O-03183)

Littering is unacceptable. Roadside litter is unsightly and presents a danger to other motorists and to the operatives who clean it up. There is also a significant cost to the taxpayer, which takes valuable resources away from other public services.

On 3 April 2019, I announced my commitment to bring forward legislation in the form of a circular economy bill that will create a specific offence of littering from a vehicle. That will allow for a fixed penalty to be issued to the registered keeper of the vehicle if the responsible individual cannot be identified.

Clearly, the introduction of a deposit return scheme will have a positive and welcome impact in reducing roadside litter. Those of us who have been supportive of a DRS for some time—in my case, since I saw such a scheme operating in Norway back in the mid-1980s—are keen that there is no slippage in the timescale for the introduction of the scheme. Can the cabinet secretary assure the chamber that the timeline for the introduction of a DRS is still on track, and can she advise when we are likely to know whether glass will be included in the scheme from day 1?

We are on track. The commitment to a deposit return scheme is well established and is central to our wider circular economy ambitions. Such a scheme is also central in the contribution that it can make to reducing climate change emissions. We continue to make progress with the design of the scheme, informed by last year’s extensive public consultation and on-going engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. We intend to set out next steps along with the scheme’s implementation shortly, when all will be revealed.

Given that fewer than half of the litter fines that were issued in the three years up to 2018 were actually paid, what assurance is there that this new measure on roadside litter will be any better enforced?

Clearly, enforcement is always an issue with any change in the law and not just this one. The intention is to enable the enforcement authorities to go after a registered keeper rather than having to go through the process of trying to establish who precisely in the car did the littering at which point. If they cannot do that, it stops at that point, and it will be an issue for the registered keeper. We hope that that ability will provide a better and more appropriate way to deal with the problem of littering from cars.

Western Isles Transmission Connection

To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has made to the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets regarding its consultation on the proposed Western Isles interconnector. (S5O-03184)

The Scottish Government continues to work closely with Ofgem and others who have an interest in the proposed transmission link to the Western Isles. I will submit a response to Ofgem’s consultation that reiterates our strong support for a 600MW link. I have written and spoken to Dermot Nolan, who is Ofgem’s chief executive, to stress that a 600MW link could help to unlock the considerable renewables potential in the Western Isles—including from community-based projects—and that this opportunity must not be squandered. I will reiterate those points when I meet Ofgem’s chair, Martin Cave, next week.

Given that a 600MW interconnector would greatly benefit local community groups by allowing them to develop their own wind power projects as a result of the extra capacity, will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on Ofgem to strongly reconsider the case for such an interconnector?

I certainly support those remarks. I have already urged Ofgem to reconsider its position and will continue to do so in the formal submission that we will make. As Donald Cameron indicated, interconnections are vital in the Western Isles and our other island groups to deliver the community economic development opportunities that renewable energy can bring to the islands, where there are scant other means to deliver them. It is therefore important that we work together to ensure that those links are installed and that they provide sufficient opportunity to develop the economies of all three island groups.

Although I very much welcome Mr Cameron’s support for the project, which is of huge importance to my constituency, I must gently point out that it comes on the back of nearly a decade of intransigence from his Conservative colleagues in the United Kingdom Government.

Does the minister agree that Ofgem should give proper consideration to the enormous socioeconomic benefits that the proposed interconnector would unlock, and will he urge politicians—particularly Scottish Conservatives—to make that argument strenuously to the UK Government and its energy minister?

Dr Allan makes an important point. As the local member, he is well aware of the potential for economic development in the Western Isles that would arise from the investment. I commit to make those points in our submission.

Ofgem is not directly accountable to this Parliament so it is important that members in this chamber, especially our colleagues in the Conservatives, use their influence to encourage UK ministers to submit their thoughts to Ofgem’s consultation. We urge Ofgem to consider the full range of benefits that links would provide, which should be taken into account in its assessment of those cases. It would not only develop the economy of the Western Isles but deliver cheaper energy for consumers in Great Britain, so it makes sense on both fronts.

The minister will be aware that Ofgem only takes account of potential generation that is in the planning process. Therefore, community schemes that are not in the planning process are not taken into account, because communities cannot afford to proceed until there is capacity in the system. What is the Scottish Government doing to measure the potential generation by communities in order to inform Ofgem’s decision?

Rhoda Grant raises an important point. Through the channels of our community and renewable energy scheme—CARES—we are working closely with communities to support them with projects, but she is absolutely right that, without a good connection, the argument for the investment is undermined. It is vital that we have the good connection in the Western Isles to allow projects that have been grid constrained since 2007, which has been a major constraint on development in the Western Isles, to take place.

Between Lewis Wind Power and the Uisenis wind farm projects in the Western Isles, 360MW is already in the planning system, and there is further capacity of 49MW in the Druim Leathann Windfarm project, which is another consented project. In total, more than 400MW of capacity is already in the system.

We believe that Ofgem should be less risk averse in pushing the boundaries of what is possible. The area has huge potential for renewables and many more projects could come forward.