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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 6, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 06 February 2020

Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Cancer Day 2020, Education, Portfolio Question Time, Budget 2020-21, Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill: Stage 1, Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


General Question Time

Scottish Music (Promotion in Europe)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests and, in particular, to my membership of the Musicians’ Union.

To ask the Scottish Government how it promotes the Scottish music sector in Europe. (S5O-04111)

We fund Creative Scotland to support and promote Scottish music in the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. Since 2008, we have invested £25 million in the festivals expo fund, providing an additional platform for Scottish musicians to pursue onward touring, including in the rest of Europe. Every year since 2007, we have allocated £350,000 to support our national performing companies to perform in Europe and the rest of the world through the international touring fund.

I commend the Scottish Government for the support that it gives to the Scottish music sector.

The Musicians’ Union is calling on the United Kingdom Government in Westminster to back a musicians’ passport for musicians working in the European Union post Brexit. The MU believes that such a touring visa scheme should last for a minimum of two years, be free or cheap, cover all European Union member states, get rid of the need for carnets and other permits, and cover road crew, technicians and other staff who are necessary in allowing musicians to do their jobs.

As convener of the cross-party group on music, I will write to the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan, to raise the matter.

Will the Scottish Government support the calls of the Musicians’ Union and the cross-party group on music to support continued ease of movement for Scottish and UK musicians in Europe, and to raise the matter directly with the UK Government?

This week, the UK Government and the European Commission set out their starting positions for the negotiations on the future relationship. The ability of UK citizens and companies to enter easily, move around and do business in the European Union is every bit as important as the arrangements for those from the rest of Europe to come here. We will listen very carefully to the position of the Musicians’ Union and others who have an interest in the matter.

Last week, we launched our policy paper “Migration: helping Scotland prosper”, which speaks of our desire to have an open and flexible agreement on mobility between the UK and the EU, which is what we will pursue. I will be very interested in the Musicians’ Union’s discussions with the UK Government. There might be an opportunity for the Musicians’ Union’s idea of a touring visa to be raised at the forthcoming festivals visa summit that we are hosting soon with the UK, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments.

The music sector is vitally important in promoting Scottish culture. However, I am concerned, as are Sir James MacMillan, Sally Beamish, Phil Cunningham and other leading music academics, about the impact of music tuition fees in schools. There is the potential for pupils to be squeezed out of music tuition, especially those from a deprived background, meaning that a generation will miss out on representing Scotland on the music stage. Does the cabinet secretary realise that, and will she ensure that the upcoming budget better promotes music in our schools, particularly for kids on free school meals?

The member will be aware that the Scottish Government supports music through our youth music initiative, which we have maintained in recent years. It is very important to encourage and inspire young people in regards to music. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I have regularly met the music education partnership group. We are pursuing the issue with local authorities and, in particular, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to make sure that there is access to music tuition. Of course, with a very fair funding settlement for local government, we have repeatedly seen a number of councils, particularly Dundee City Council and Glasgow City Council, ensure that there is free music tuition.

It is recognised that free music tuition does so much for individuals. It can tackle attainment as well as provide the lifeblood for future musicians to tour and have careers in the music sector. Some very good proposals are coming forward from a number of individuals, not least among them Nicola Benedetti, with whom the member might be familiar, who has a proposal for a charitable trust. If we add those to the work of John Wallace and the music education partnership group, we can see positive developments that will ensure that we can maintain music tuition and that youngsters from financially deprived areas in particular will have access to it. I am glad that we have cross-party support in pursuit of that.

Levenmouth Rail Link

2. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the progress with the reinstatement of the Levenmouth rail link. (S5O-04112)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

Following my announcement in August 2019, Network Rail has been commissioned to design and construct the new Levenmouth passenger and freight railway. It is currently undertaking survey work to inform the option selection that will determine the most appropriate scheme to reopen the Levenmouth branch. That will deliver new, fully accessible stations in Leven and Cameron Bridge. All partners involved in the delivery of the railway are committed to opening it as soon as possible. However, that is dependent on a number of factors, including planning, for which Fife Council is responsible.

What assistance can the Scottish Government give to progress further the formation of the Levenmouth blueprint group? To date, Fife Council has been unable to appoint a project manager to co-ordinate the additional £10 million investment in the area.

The member will be aware that we have provided £5 million to the Levenmouth blueprint fund to assist further developments around the re-opening of the Levenmouth railway line. I know that that has been match funded by Fife Council, which is very welcome.

I understand that the council has been having difficulty recruiting a project manager to take the work forward but that it is due to re-advertise the post. However, should the council be unable to secure the right individual to take forward that particular element of the redevelopment of the Levenmouth line, the leadership group, which involves a number of Scottish Government agencies, will look at other options that can assist in making further progress on the matter, including options that can assist Fife Council to make progress on it.

There is a lot of interest in this question, but I cannot take supplementary questions from all the members who want to ask one. I will take just one, from Alexander Stewart.

I very much welcome the progress that is taking place on the Levenmouth rail link. With projects of that nature, training opportunities are normally provided to members of the local community. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give that that will take place with the Levenmouth rail link?

The Levenmouth blueprint fund will assist that type of work, and Network Rail will be looking at how it can engage with a range of local businesses on training provision in the area. We want to ensure that the Fife and Levenmouth communities gain wider benefits from the reopening of the line. That is exactly why the fund has been set up.

Given that work has started on preparing the site, can the cabinet secretary facilitate a site visit for my colleague David Torrance and me to explore the progress that has been made thus far in securing the return of Leven’s rail link?

Michael Matheson

I am more than happy to arrange for my officials to contact Jenny Gilruth’s office in order to facilitate a visit to the site.

Police Scotland (Fingerprinting Policy)

To ask the Scottish Government whether Police Scotland has a policy of routinely fingerprinting dual nationals or British citizens born abroad. (S5O-04113)

That, of course, is an operational matter for Police Scotland. However, it has advised me that it does not routinely fingerprint dual nationals or British citizens born abroad.

Police Scotland’s fingerprinting policy is set out in the document “Fingerprints: Standard Operating Procedure”, which sets out a number of reasons for a person’s fingerprints to be lawfully taken, including voluntarily for elimination purposes, the identification of deceased persons and for emigration, employment and educational visas.

I have been contacted by a very concerned constituent who is a naturalised British citizen born in the middle east. He came into contact with the police due to an altercation with a neighbour. He was not arrested, questioned under caution or charged, but he had his fingerprints taken. He was told that that was because he was born outside of the United Kingdom.

My correspondence with Police Scotland suggests that it is routinely fingerprinting foreign-born and dual nationals—apparently on the pretext of Home Office requirements. Surely it is not right for people to be treated differently and fingerprinted because they are a British citizen by naturalisation rather than by birth. Does the cabinet secretary share my concern about how such determinations are being made? I would be grateful if he would undertake to examine the matter.

I would be more than happy to meet Daniel Johnson and to receive details of the constituency case to which he referred. When it comes to Police Scotland, my understanding is that operation nexus was set up, as he probably knows, by the Home Office’s immigration enforcement division and the Metropolitan Police with the intention of improving the management of foreign national offenders. Fingerprints can also be taken within that framework if a complaint has been made. I do not know whether that is the case here. That applies whether someone is a foreign national or, indeed, a dual national.

If Daniel Johnson believes, as he is suggesting, that fingerprinting is being done routinely, or being done for any other purpose, I am, of course, more than happy to investigate that. As I said, perhaps I can meet him to understand the specifics of the case that he mentioned.

Cervical Cancer (Testing Rates)

4. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to improve the rates of testing for cervical cancer. (S5O-04114)

We know that screening remains the best way to detect cervical cancer early and help reduce health inequalities in cancer outcomes. Regular smear tests and the human papillomavirus vaccine are vital in the fight against cervical cancer, and we strongly recommend everyone who is eligible to take up their screening invitation.

From spring 2020, HPV testing will be introduced into the Scottish cervical screening programme. HPV testing is a more sensitive and effective test for identifying women who are at risk of cervical cancer. It will help to ensure that any cell changes are identified and treated earlier. When it is combined with the success of the HPV vaccine for girls and boys, and the implementation of HPV primary testing, we hope that cervical cancer can be eliminated in Scotland.

A study that was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute’s conference in Glasgow last year involved a test called S5 that detects whether DNA from four types of HPV linked to increasing risks of cervical cancer can be modified through a process called methylation. The test can be self-administered at home. Has the Government assessed whether home testing would increase the rates of cervical cancer detection and improve testing rates?

There is a lot of on-going research in that area. I am pleased to confirm that a working group is being convened to establish a cervical screening self-sampling pilot, which will be introduced later this year. Crucially, that will be a national pilot across all areas of Scotland. In the next few months, the working group will scope out all the detail, including the length of the pilot, the numbers to be invited to take part, the communications and engagement strategies and so on.

I look forward to updating members on the issue in due course.

It is interesting to hear about the human papillomavirus self-test pilot study. I know that NHS Dumfries and Galloway is taking part in that research. Will the minister keep us updated, either in the chamber or in writing, on the progress of the pilot study?

Absolutely. This is an innovative way forward, which puts Scotland ahead of other parts of the United Kingdom. Because the pilot will be Scotland-wide, I am committed to ensuring that the Parliament is kept up to date on its progress and how it will be rolled out.

BBC Scotland (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met BBC Scotland and what issues were discussed. (S5O-04115)

The First Minister and I met BBC director general Lord Hall on 13 November 2018, when we discussed the services that we expected the BBC to deliver in Scotland and the BBC’s consultation on free licences for over-75s. On 11 June 2019, I spoke by telephone with Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC nations and regions, about the decision to stop free licences for all over-75s who are not on pension credit.

My officials have regular contact with BBC staff on a range of issues, including at meetings of the TV working group, which is a forum for public agencies and the industry to discuss developments in broadcasting and screen.

It is almost a year since the launch of the BBC Scotland channel, which brought welcome additional funding to Scottish broadcasting. In the light of the United Kingdom Government’s consultation on decriminalising TV licence fee evasion, has the Scottish Government considered the consequences for Scotland-based broadcasting if that was to go ahead, given the conclusions of the 2015 Perry review?

The member is correct to point to the consultation that took place in 2014-15. Given that the BBC royal charter was agreed and will be in place until the end of 2027, the move to decriminalisation appears hasty and unnecessary. It could have potential costs and therefore impact on important programming.

It should be pointed out that, in Scotland, evasion cases are investigated by TV Licensing, but prosecutions are brought by the procurator fiscal. Under powers provided by statute, the procurator fiscal can decide to use an out-of-court disposal, which means that a defendant can avoid prosecution by agreeing to pay a fixed sum of money. In Scotland, significantly fewer cases are dealt with by the courts, because the majority of defendants utilise that out-of-court disposal option. At the time to which the member referred—2014-15—the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service indicated that a move to decriminalisation could actually increase the costs to not only the courts but others, and that the costs to the courts could be more than £200,000. I am not sure that there is a win for Scotland in what the UK Government has proposed.

Benefit Take-up (Single Consent Form)

6. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on introducing a single consent form to allow benefit claimants to agree to share their data for the purpose of benefit take-up. (S5O-04116)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

We are committed to maximising the take-up of Scottish benefits and we published our benefit take-up strategy in October 2019. The Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 places a duty on the Scottish ministers to inform applicants what other devolved benefits they may be eligible for when making a determination on an application.

We continue to collaborate with local authorities, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that, for clients in receipt of devolved forms of assistance, access to passported benefits is made simpler. There are a number of factors to consider in developing an approach to that, and we will always put the needs and experience of the client first.

The cabinet secretary knows only too well that the DWP estimate of unclaimed benefits is £10 billion. One submission to the Social Security Committee’s inquiry said:

“One of the biggest blockers to take-up is data protectionism, whereby data owners create pseudo data protection rules that”


“the appropriate sharing of data.”

In view of that, will the cabinet secretary consider increasing awareness of why a single consent form could be beneficial for new claimants and the Scottish Government? Perhaps claimants could be given a booklet to raise awareness that when they share their data for social security purposes, it will be used only for those purposes.

Pauline McNeill and I spoke about this issue at great length when I was at the Social Security Committee earlier today to discuss benefit take-up. I take very seriously our responsibility on this issue and I recognise Pauline McNeill’s continuing desire to push the Government, quite rightly, to do more on it.

The general data protection regulation should never be used as an excuse to do less in an area. It is the responsibility of Government and other agencies to work together to see how we can protect a client’s data, but in a way that works for that client. It is difficult to share information. For example, we will require 32 information-sharing agreements with the local authorities to allow that to happen. However, it is something on which the Government is taking proactive action.