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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 4, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 04 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones, Portfolio Question Time, Social Security Benefits, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

I remind members that Covid-related measures are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is portfolio questions on constitution, external affairs and culture. Any member who wishes to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question. As always, succinct questions and answers would be appreciated.

War Memorials (Protection and Preservation)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures are currently in place to ensure the protection and preservation of war memorials. (S6O-00319)

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of Scottish war memorials in ensuring that the memory of those who gave their lives in conflict is not forgotten. It is a long-standing policy of both the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments that the cost of maintaining memorials should normally be resourced by public subscription, private fundraising or a combination of both.

There has been an increase in the desecration and vandalism of Scotland’s war memorials since 2015. One such memorial that was targeted was the Duchess of Hamilton park war memorial in Motherwell, an area that I represent as a councillor and member of the Scottish Parliament. Given that statistics show that vandalism has increased dramatically since 2015, does the cabinet secretary agree that any vandalism of such important memorials is unacceptable and that better protection for such sites, which hold a special place in the heart of Scotland’s communities, is needed?

Vandalism of war memorials is a crime, regardless of the motivations for it. The Scottish Government condemns all acts of malicious vandalism and graffiti. Such behaviour is unacceptable in modern Scotland and those indulging in it can expect to face criminal charges. There is legislation to deal with the vandalism and desecration of statues and memorials, including war memorials. The Scottish Government has no current plans to introduce new legislation for that specific purpose. The Scottish Government supports the police and prosecutors in using the powers that are available to them to deal with any incidents of vandalism that arise.

Peace Institute

To ask the Scottish Government which conflicts its new institute for peacekeeping will aim to resolve and by when. (S6O-00320)

As a global citizen, Scotland aims to contribute to peace efforts through conflict resolution with others. That is why we are committing to establishing a peace institute by the end of 2022. Discussions on the role and remit of the peace institute are at an early stage. I look forward to updating Parliament once we have developed our thinking further. I would welcome Mr Rennie’s contribution in the development of the peace institute.

I appreciate that the institute will not have an overnight impact, but I am interested in the work that has been done so far, because the situation is urgent. Has there been any early engagement with the warring factions in the Tigray war in Ethiopia? What has been the response from the Israeli and Palestinian authorities? The member had a particular interest in Afghanistan when he was a member of the Westminster Parliament. Can he share any correspondence that he has had with the Taliban?

I must confess that I was not expecting the end of that question. I have not been in correspondence with the Taliban, and I do not intend to be.

The peace institute for Scotland will be one of the integral parts of our overall framework for the Scottish council for global affairs. Fundamental to everything that we do is our determination to be a good global citizen. That is reflected in our international development programme and the priority that we give to human rights. The peace institute will contribute to those values.

I welcome Willie Rennie’s enthusiasm and I assure him that I will keep him updated. I am interested to hear input from Mr Rennie and members of other parties in the development of the peace institute.

Edward Mountain, who is joining us remotely, has a supplementary question.

As perhaps the only member of the Parliament who has served with the United Nations peacekeeping force—and not just pontificated about it in the newspapers—I know how important it is for peace to be negotiated and then, more often than not, policed. Is that not why we need to get behind the established peacemakers, rather than supporting self-promoting idealist plans that undermine the organisations that can actually deliver peace and then police it, such as the UN?

Cabinet secretary, the sound quality was not great, but I hope that you caught that.

I did. I commend Edward Mountain and anybody else who has served with United Nations peacekeepers. I have had the good fortune of visiting UN peacekeeping operations, including those from the Irish Republic on the Golan Heights. The Irish Republic is one of the few countries that has continuously provided UN peacekeeping service personnel since the UN’s inception.

Scotland’s peace institute will operate within the devolved competence of the Scottish Government. We are already engaged in peace work. Our women in conflict 1325 fellowship programme with Beyond Borders Scotland is a good example of Scotland’s contribution to peacemaking activity. Scotland also has a proud academic tradition of international relations in conflict. The foundations are there, and Scotland’s peace institute will bring together that work and enhance our peace offer in the future.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s details about Scotland’s international responsibilities, including its peacekeeping responsibilities. Does he feel confident—as I do—that Scotland is increasingly recognised across the world as a progressive and outward-looking country with a positive role to play on the global stage, especially this week, as the eyes of the world are on Glasgow?

Indeed—I agree with my colleague. Scotland is a proudly internationalist nation, and we will embrace the opportunities of international connection and co-operation, and act as a good global citizen to champion our values-based approach on the world stage. We are welcoming the world to Scotland for the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and hosting world leaders alongside tens of thousands of negotiators, Government representatives, businesses and activists from around the globe for 12 days of talks.

There is much that we are already able to deliver, and there is much more that we will be able to deliver in the future. I look forward to the peace institute playing a distinct role in Scotland’s offer to the rest of the world and in our support of peace and reconciliation efforts around the world.

International Development Fund (Equality for Women and Girls)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the proposed £500,000 fund for local organisations in international development partner countries to take forward work to ensure women and girls are safe, equal and respected. (S6O-00321)

The pandemic has widened the gender poverty gap, and it is expected to drive 47 million more women and girls into extreme poverty in 2021. That is one of the reasons why the Scottish Government will introduce a new cross-cutting equalities programme across all four of our partner countries, with a particular focus on supporting the promotion of equality and the empowerment of women and girls. That new programme is currently at the design stage.

The fund that we will establish will aim to work more directly with our in-country partners, in keeping with the conclusions of our international development review. I know that President Chakwera of Malawi welcomed the Scottish Government’s strong support for women and girls in Malawi when he met the First Minister on Sunday.

Does the minister agree that it is important that we spend that money as wisely as possible? We know that women are underrepresented in decision-making processes. What thoughts does she have on how we can ensure that the voices of women are heard in those processes?

As Katy Clark knows, women and girls have been impacted by the pandemic far differently from the way that men have been impacted. There is a real danger that we could go backwards on gender equality.

Katy Clark has made a number of points. She has my commitment that we plan to spend the funding as wisely as possible. The programme is at the design stage at the moment.

Katy Clark mentioned the underrepresentation of women. That is, of course, a huge challenge in United Kingdom politics. It is still a challenge in the Scottish Parliament and in our partner countries, although some of them are doing better, or have done better historically, than Scotland.

On the work itself, I want to recap where we are in respect of our funding in Scotland. We already provide scholarships for women and girls in Pakistan. We provide master of business administration scholarships in Zambia through Heriot-Watt University, and we provide scholarships in Malawi through the Mamie Martin Fund. However, the fund that Katy Clark asked about has a unique opportunity to improve the lives of women and girls in our partner countries. I would be happy to have conversations with the member about how we can go further forward in developing it, taking on board absolutely her point about the underrepresentation of women.

It is reassuring to hear that the Scottish Government continues to target international development support to those who are most in need of it—in many cases, that will be women and girls. In the light of that, can the minister comment on the announcement earlier this week of £1 million from the climate justice fund to help vulnerable communities to repair and rebuild from extreme weather events?

We have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the urgency of global action on loss and damage, and Scotland is proud to show solidarity, through our work on climate justice, with those who are most impacted by climate change. However, we cannot act alone, which is why, on Monday this week—as the member alluded—the First Minister announced a £1 million grant over two years to the climate justice resilience fund as a partnership to help some of the world’s most vulnerable communities to prepare for and adapt to climate change, as well as tackling structural inequalities and recovering from climate-induced loss and damage.

Vaccination Certification Scheme (Major Events)

To ask the Scottish Government what engagement it has had with the organisers of major events since the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccination certification scheme. (S6O-00322)

Ministers and officials are in regular contact with major event stakeholders. That includes, but is not limited to, my meeting on 26 October last week with the chair of the events industry advisory group, which was established to provide a co-ordinated voice for the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic and the on-going recovery work. We will, of course, continue to engage with stakeholders on any further feedback that they may have on vaccination certification.

When the scheme was first established, it was made clear to those in the industry that they would have to absorb the costs of getting ready for its roll-out. What assessment has been done of the financial impact on the sector as a result of the roll-out?

Given that 42,000 people have been unable to obtain a Covid identification card, what assessment has been made of the loss of revenue and loss of attendance, and will the Government make good on that loss?

The most important thing for the events industry in Scotland right now is that event organisers are able to operate. In addition to meeting the events advisory group last week, I met a number of theatre groups. They relayed to me the clear message that they like the passport scheme because it gives them certainty, and they can stay open and operate.

However, the scheme does not just offer business certainty; it is also about audience confidence, which is a huge challenge for the sector as we continue to move out of the pandemic. Time and again, the industry has told me that the scheme encourages the audience and gives them confidence to return to major events, the importance of which should not be underplayed.

As for the specifics of Mr Cole-Hamilton’s questions regarding the financial impact, I do not have the data in front of me, but I will come back to him on that.

An “unmitigated disaster” is how industry experts described dealing with the vaccination passports last weekend. We have seen queues, confusion, abuse of staff and loss of business, all as a result of an app that does not work and a public who are unaware that they even need it. That could have been avoided, if only a proper public information campaign had been put in place. The FACTS campaign was drummed into every mind in the country, with wall-to-wall coverage and posters plastered on every wall, so why has the Scottish Government not bothered when it comes to vaccination passports? Can the minister explain why there has been no campaign? Will we see one in the coming weeks?

I am not sure that I would agree with the member’s assertion that the vaccination passport scheme has been an “unmitigated disaster”. As I said in my response to Alex Cole-Hamilton, those in the industry—I meet them regularly—tell me that the scheme provides them with a level of comfort and is helping businesses to stay open.

As we know, the events industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, because it involves massive numbers of people gathering together, which, as we know, can cause the virus to spread. We need to go back and reflect on the reason why we have the vaccination passport scheme, which is to protect public health.

I hope that that gives the member an assurance, but, if she would like to meet me to discuss the issue—and, equally, if she thinks that we are not getting the message through to some businesses—I am happy to take that feedback on board.

Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population

To ask the Scottish Government how it is acting upon the recent recommendations of the expert advisory group on migration and population. (S6O-00323)

Migration to Scotland supports economic growth and the delivery of public services, and it helps to address the serious issue of long-term demographic change and enhances and sustains our communities. I welcome the report on “Family Migration: Understanding the Drivers, Impacts and Support Needs of Migrant Families in Scotland” from the expert advisory group, which proposes actions to encourage and support families who are moving to Scotland. We will use that report to inform the development of a migration service of Scotland and rural visa pilots.

The current restrictive rules on family migration are, of course, set by the United Kingdom Government, and I urge it to accept the expert group’s recommendations and support family reunion by removing the minimum income requirement, which causes heartache for so many families. We need a different approach to migration that is based on evidence and that reflects Scotland’s needs and values.

It is reassuring to hear that the Scottish Government’s approach to immigration remains not only demographically well informed but deeply compassionate and humane. Does the cabinet secretary agree that continued close attention to migrant families’ welfare is a key part of upholding Scotland’s reputation as a welcoming and internationalist nation and a good global citizen?

I agree whole-heartedly. Scotland is a welcoming and inclusive nation and we value everyone, no matter where they were born, who has chosen to make Scotland their home and to live, work, study, raise their families and build their lives here.

Without powers over immigration, there are limits on what we can do to mitigate the United Kingdom Government’s restrictive approach to family migration. We do what we can with the powers that are available, which is why we made a commitment in the programme for government to develop a migration service for Scotland that will support those migrants and their families who have chosen to make Scotland their home.

Culture Sector Recovery (Covid-19)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support opportunities for the culture sector to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic this winter. (S6O-00324)

The Scottish Government recognises that the culture sector has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and will continue facing challenges as we head into the winter months. We know that recovery will take time, with many audiences remaining cautious about returning.

Since the pandemic started, we have provided £175 million to the culture, heritage and events sector. Further rounds of the culture organisations and venues recovery fund and the performing arts venues relief fund provided further emergency support to organisations. The programme for government also set out a number of commitments to support the culture sector, including via Scotland on tour, a fund supporting opportunities to bring new concerts to towns and villages across Scotland next year.

I am glad to hear that Scotland’s artists and venues have cause for hope. Will the minister join me in welcoming the return of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations as an example of the resilience of the Scottish culture sector?

I am delighted that we will see the return of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year, with the necessary adjustments in place to ensure that it is compliant with Covid measures. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2021 has been supported by the Scottish Government and the Edinburgh festivals expo fund. The party at the bells street theatre programme is supported by the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland’s place fund. Message in the skies, which members might recall from last year, is also supported by the expo fund.

Other cities and towns across Scotland will be holding their own Covid-compliant Hogmanay celebrations. Those include the Biggar bonfire, drams in Dufftown and the ceilidh at the Beach ballroom in Aberdeen. The country was still in a national lockdown last Hogmanay, so this year promises to be a particularly important moment. We remain committed to working with the sector and with our public bodies to ensure that it is a success.

In last week’s United Kingdom budget, Rishi Sunak announced that the culture sector in England would receive £850 million in additional support. Will the minister commit to passing on the full Barnett consequentials arising from that to Scotland’s culture sector, in the light of the many and varied difficulties faced by that sector in the wake of Covid, especially by smaller, independent organisations and individuals whose livelihoods depend on that?

I would love to pass on those consequentials, but we have yet to receive £31 million of outstanding consequentials that are due to us from the UK Government. I will look at the consequentials that Mr Sunak is going to give to Scotland, but the UK Government is already indebted to us by more than £30 million of culture funding. The culture sector absolutely needs that support, so, if Mr Cameron can use any power that he may have with his UK Government colleagues to call for that funding to come to Scotland, I would be extremely grateful.

COP26 (Culture and Heritage Sectors)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it has offered Scotland’s culture and heritage sectors in connection with the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. (S6O-00325)

A wide range of activity taking place alongside COP26 is being supported by the Scottish Government and our cultural bodies. The Scottish Government provided £100,000 of direct support to the climate beacons project, which is a series of seven partnerships across Scotland run by Creative Carbon Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland and our national performing companies are delivering a wide range of activity at COP to highlight the relationship between heritage and culture. We have also provided £15,000 to bring STORM, a project that delivers a powerful environmental message about the sea and how we can all play a part in protecting our coastal waters, to Glasgow during COP.

COP26 in Glasgow is a once-in-a-lifetime event and we should celebrate the fact that Scottish artists have an opportunity to enrich that historic global movement. Does the minister agree that culture and the arts are a vital part of any society’s response to moments of crisis, such as climate change or the pandemic, and that Scotland’s artistic community is well placed to speak on the global stage?

I whole-heartedly agree with Mr MacDonald’s assertion. COP26 is a real opportunity for Scotland’s culture sector to play a key role in creating a climate legacy. This morning, along with the education minister, I met the organisation Fashion Revolution to explore the opportunities in the textile industry for sustainable development and cultural recovery. Sustainability is a key issue in the sector at the moment, because people are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact that fast fashion can have on the environment.

The culture sector is an important part of Scotland’s character, our attractiveness and our connectivity to the rest of the world. The support from the Scottish Government that I mentioned in my initial response to the member will help to showcase some of Scotland’s diverse cultural voices. COP26 provides Scottish artists and communities with a platform to work openly on the international stage and with other nations that share the same net zero ambitions. I am really looking forward to hosting a cultural reception in Glasgow later this month to celebrate that important contribution.

Devolved Administrations and the United Kingdom Government (Interactions)

To ask the Scottish Government what actions the constitution secretary is taking to continually improve interactions with the other devolved Administrations as well as the UK Government. (S6O-00326)

The Scottish Government is committed to effective interactions with other devolved Governments and the UK Government on the basis of a partnership of equals. However, repeated actions such as the approach to Brexit and the imposition of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, despite the explicit withholding of consent by this Parliament, make effective interactions with the UK Government much more difficult.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response. He knows, however, that the agreement on joint working that was put together to maintain positive and constructive relations was based on mutual respect. He also knows that there has been a very welcome agreement in recent days between his colleague Kate Forbes and Simon Clarke at the Treasury about the parameters for the future of the fiscal framework discussions.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Scotland fares very much better when both the Scottish and UK Governments, and the other devolved nations, work together and there is not a constant focus on another referendum?

I agree with Liz Smith that it is a good thing that Governments on these islands work together, but I can give her a concrete example of when that does not happen. This Government has sought to discuss issues relating to migration, for which this Parliament has responsibility, including related policy areas such as education, housing and health. After 19 requests to meet were turned down by the Home Office, finally, because it was so embarrassing, the UK Government relented. Do you know what? It was a hugely productive meeting.

I agree with Liz Smith, therefore, and appeal to her to speak to her party colleagues in London and impress on them that we should have good working relations but that, to do that, people have to be prepared to meet and, when they meet, to do so in a spirit of partnership and not as a box-ticking exercise purely to prove that one has spoken with the devolved Administrations. That means co-operating on agendas, co-operating on contents and actually co-operating on the issue at hand. Too often, unfortunately, that is not the case with the UK Government. I regret that, and I appeal for Liz Smith’s assistance in trying to rectify that.

A constructive relationship between the Governments of the UK—whether devolved or independent—is in everyone’s interests, and I commend the cabinet secretary for his work in that regard. However, would he agree with me and the First Minister of Wales that maintaining a healthy dialogue with Westminster is difficult when the principles of devolution are, in the words of Mark Drakeford,

“breached daily by the present UK Government”?

The Scottish Government agrees with Mark Drakeford and, indeed, with Neil Gray that recent proposals from the UK Government for improving interactions will have only limited value unless they are accompanied by much greater levels of respect for devolved responsibilities and institutions than is currently being demonstrated by the UK Government. There is so much more that the UK Government could do; I just wish that it would get on and do it.