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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2017

Agenda: Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Junior Minister, Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Homes First


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Rural Payments

1. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with the 2017 basic payment scheme. (S5O-01415)

Through the basic payment scheme 2017 loan scheme, the majority of farmers and crofters are receiving up to 90 per cent of their basic payment support earlier than ever before. As of the beginning of November, £292 million has been paid to more than 12,000 businesses, demonstrating the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting and providing security to the rural economy.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, given that the money is reaching rural areas and farmers earlier and quicker than ever before, much needed certainly is being given to the rural economy as a whole and to businesses that depend on agriculture? Will he confirm that even though the deadline has passed, farmers and crofters can still apply for an interest-free loan, if that is the decision that they want to make?

The loan payments have been welcomed, as has the fact that they were paid a week or so earlier than it was indicated at the outset that they would be. I was determined that we would pay out the maximum possible and, in most cases, that has been 90 per cent—not 80 per cent—of entitlements. That has provided financial certainty for farmers and crofters; it has also helped the wider economy in rural Scotland.

The answer to the member’s second question is yes. Those farmers and crofters who have yet to accept their loan offer may do so—the offers are still open for acceptance and payment. In fact, the money is there for farmers and crofters, so I am keen that they receive the money to which they are entitled, and I encourage them to send their opt-in slips in the supplied pre-paid envelopes.

Any business that has not received a loan offer, or that has lost its original offer, should not hesitate to contact its local rural payments and inspections directorate office.

I declare an interest: I am a partner in a farming business.

The computer did not work in 2016, it did not work in 2017 and it does not look as though it will work in 2018. When will it work?

I must admit that the one predictable thing about the Conservatives is the unremitting gloom in everything that they say on this topic. I sincerely believe that most farmers and crofters welcome the loan scheme—some have told me so; some have thanked me.

The loan scheme means that the money is in their bank accounts at a time, in the run-up to Christmas, when many of them make their spending decisions on new equipment, new feedstock and other purchases. That is to be welcomed.

As far as the computer system is concerned, it is working—I have made that absolutely clear, as Mr Mountain has heard me say on my innumerable appearances before his committee. It is not working to the deadlines as yet, but I am confident that we will make substantial progress. I will come back to the Parliament early in the new year to outline that progress.

In the meantime, I think that farmers and crofters also welcome the clear timetable that we have set out for payments across the schemes. NFU Scotland, whose support for the loan scheme—and others’—I welcome, has made that point, too. They all want clarity and certainty about when farmers and crofters can expect to receive the funds, and that is what I have sought to provide.

Loans are welcome, but they are not substantive payments. How much substantive payment is outstanding for each year of the new scheme?

I have a series of figures here. In respect of the basic payment scheme—I will check the record in case I err inadvertently—we have paid 99.7 per cent of the 2016 payments. The less favoured area support scheme payments for 2015 and 2016 are being processed and we have paid 98.7 per cent of the 2015 LFASS payments, which is 11,216 payments, and we have processed 92.3 per cent of the 2016 LFASS payments.

I will not be happy until everyone who is entitled to payment has received it, but from those figures the chamber can accept that we are making good progress. I will not rest until everyone has received the payment to which they are entitled.


Farm Incomes

I declare an interest as a partner in a farming business.

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle reported falling farm incomes and rising farm debt. (S5O-01416)

I answered a very similar question from Mr Chapman when I announced the common agricultural policy stabilisation plan. I will not repeat the full answer that I gave then, but I remind him that there is a long-term trend of rising farm debt levels across the United Kingdom—they have been rising for the past 23 years, in fact. As for farm incomes, the long-term trend is generally upwards, with a 14 per cent increase since 2015.

However, I am not complacent and am determined to do all that I can to support farmers and to provide security to the rural economy. I can now confirm that we have made payments totalling £292 million to more than 12,324 farmers and crofters, which, compared with in the same period last year, is £46 million more to 360 more businesses.

There is a bigger picture here. I am very concerned that there is still no idea of what system of support the cabinet secretary is planning to put in place to support Scottish agriculture post-Brexit.

Members: Oh!

There is a responsibility here. Westminster has guaranteed the same level of financial support to Scottish agriculture until 2022. How will the cabinet secretary use that money in a fair, transparent and innovative way to allow a profitable future for our farmers?

I do not accept the point at all. To be accurate—although I do not want to be cruel to the Conservative Party—

Go on!

Go on!

The pledge was not until 2022; it was to the end of the current UK Government, whenever that will be. We will see. Even if it manages to stumble on in chaos until 2022, it has not yet provided clarity on pillar 2 funds. I have raised that point with Mr Gove at the past two multilateral meetings, the most recent of which was on Monday when I attended with my colleague Roseanna Cunningham. I asked Mr Gove to confirm in writing to us that there will be payment of LEADER, the forestry grant scheme, the agri-environment climate scheme—all the pillar 2 programmes—up to 2022, and I have had no answer; only farm support has been guaranteed. All of those long-term projects, for example in forestry, do not have the clarity that Mr Chapman implied they do.

Post-Brexit, I am afraid that it gets rather worse for Mr Chapman. I asked Mr Gove another question. I said, “Mr Gove, during the Brexit referendum, you said that after Brexit, the funding from Europe, which is worth £500 million to the rural economy in Scotland, would be matched.” After Brexit is after the end of the transition period, and Mr Gove had nothing whatsoever to say on that. We are completely in the dark about the UK Government’s intentions for what financial support will be provided post-Brexit, despite the fact that, since the referendum day, we have asked for that clarification time and again.

Mr Gove said that he would match the money post-Brexit. If a minister promises something, he has to deliver or he has to resign.

I remind the chamber that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary.

Speaking of bigger issues, given the upcoming possibility of tariffs, the loss of European Union workers and the ending of EU rural support, I wonder: what does the cabinet secretary currently see as the biggest threat to farm incomes?

The unanswered questions that I have just alluded to and the issues around Brexit are the single-biggest challenge facing farmers for decades. There is the loss of access to the European single market; the possibility of substantial tariffs; the threat to Scotch lamb, which is reliant on European markets; the threat to Scotch beef from imports from South America and other countries flooding the market with cheaper beef; the threat to farming generally from the imposition of border inspection posts or some other procedure that would delay the process of export for perishable goods, thus rendering them potentially worthless—in none of those cases do we have any clarity whatsoever from the UK Government.

That is perhaps not surprising because there is no Brexit plan—there is no deal and no plan; and there is no clarity on the future of seasonal workers or EU workers. In our slaughterhouses, 95 per cent of those who work as official veterinarians—supervising the slaughter process to assure that it complies with good practice—come from the EU, and we have not had any clarity about whether they are welcome to stay in Scotland. What a disgrace!

A key impact on farmers’ income is the CAP payment scheme but, at the moment, a number of farmers cannot properly identify or account for the payments that they have received. When will the reductions and exclusions letters for the CAP payment schemes, which set out what payments have been made for what schemes, be issued to farmers?

The reductions and exclusion letters come towards the end of the processing of pillar 1 payments in every year, and that process is on-going. I will write to the member with full details, because it is a technical matter.


Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (S5O-01417)

We last met on Monday.

I note that an agreement has been reached to review where we are on convergence, but there is as yet no sign of the £160 million that is owed to Scottish farmers and crofters. Some might say that that is downright theft. Can the cabinet secretary assure Parliament that he will continue to press for the return of the funding? If it is received, how might it benefit hill farmers and crofters in Scotland?

Mr MacDonald is quite right to pursue the matter as doggedly as he does. I remind members that the sum of £190 million was due to Scottish farmers alone. It came from Europe for the precise purpose of removing the gap between those who receive the greatest amount per hectare and those who receive the least: those were Scottish farmers and only Scottish farmers. All that money—£190 million—was earmarked for, intended for and designed only and exclusively for Scottish farmers.

Despite that, £160 million of it—the lion’s share—has been used by the UK Government to pay farmers elsewhere in the UK. That is done. Our quarrel is not with those farmers—they have received their money and that was the decision of the UK Treasury. If the UK can find £1 billion for a shabby deal to secure the support of the Democratic Unionist Party members who prop up its chaotic and shambolic Administration, then plainly the Treasury can, if it wishes to do so, find £160 million in order to give Scottish hill farmers the money that was their due.

Yesterday, after pressure from this Government and Parliament, Mr Gove agreed that there will be a review of the matter. I hope to revert to members to state the details of an agreement that, I hope, will be reached with Mr Gove on the review’s remit, the people who will carry it out and the timescale for conducting it. I sincerely hope that that process will lead to justice for Scotland’s hill farmers.

Question 4 was withdrawn.


Strategic Timber Transport Fund

To ask the Scottish Government what investment is planned from the strategic timber transport fund. (S5O-01419)

In the current year, an additional £5 million has been allocated for timber transport, bringing the total invested through the timber transport fund to £7.85 million. That funding is supporting nearly 50 projects that are worth over £11 million and will take nearly 1 million lorry miles off the Scottish road network.

I welcome what the cabinet secretary has said. There are 50 projects, so can he provide me with more detail on them and on what funding is supporting them in the current year?

I am not sure whether the Presiding Officer wishes me to read out all 50 projects. Perhaps not. I can say that roads projects are going on all over the country, but particularly in rural parts—Argyll, Ayrshire, Dumfries, Highland, Moray, Perth and the Borders.

The investment performs a number of useful functions. It takes a total of 1 million lorry miles off the road network. It assists the environment, and it assists in recovery of timber—often trapped timber—from our woods and forests, and prevents it from becoming windblown and effectively wasted. Therefore, the projects are good for the economy, good for transport and good for the environment. That is why the SNP Government has injected further resources to benefit rural Scotland in all those respects.


Angling Clubs (Consultation on River Categorisation)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with angling clubs regarding the categorisation of rivers for 2018. (S5O-01420)

The public consultation on our proposals for river gradings for the 2018 salmon fishing season closed on 13 October 2017, with over 150 written responses received. We are now considering those responses carefully.

In the cabinet secretary’s letter replying to me on 1 November about river classification, she indicated that Marine Scotland had not at that date received any submission from the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, when in fact its submission was lodged on 23 October.

Has the cabinet secretary now had sight of that submission, in which the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board has provided substantial evidence questioning the validity of the river categorisation model that is being used by Marine Scotland? What steps is she taking to have full engagement with the board and with angling clubs on this important matter?

As I indicated, the consultation has closed. Marine Scotland is considering a number of requests that it has had for meetings: I think that one meeting has already been arranged, others are being discussed and others will be considered. That is an on-going process.

There is a difficulty in that I am not a fish scientist. However, I have people who provide scientific advice; it is advice that I have to listen to. We do not accept that the model that is currently being used is fundamentally flawed. However, we accept that there are opportunities to develop it further, so we continue to have those conversations.

Further refinements for the 2019 season are currently being discussed, so our position is not absolutely set in stone. We will continue to refine the model in the best possible manner, with the ultimate aim—let us remember—of ensuring that we have salmon stocks for future as well as current anglers.

The cabinet secretary used to be an active and leading opponent of protection orders on rivers. Ironically, she is now responsible for maintaining protection orders, with no end date identified for any of them. Will she commission independent research to establish whether the orders are justified, or are simply a ruse to keep trout anglers away from high-value salmon beats? After all, is not the Government supposed to be led by evidence-based policy rather than finger-in-the-air stuff?

That is not really a supplementary question. Perhaps you can give a very brief response, cabinet secretary.

I will say, Presiding Officer, that we are, of course, led by evidence—as I just said in my response to Liz Smith. The entire system of fisheries management—as, I suspect, Neil Findlay knows perfectly well—is being reconsidered and all aspects will be taken on board.


Railways (Funding for Improvements)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding a fair funding deal for Scotland for railway improvements. (S5O-01421)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution raised the issue with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in discussions on 26 October. In the meantime, my officials continue detailed discussions with Her Majesty’s Treasury counterparts.

The latest offer that we received leaves a shortfall of £600 million from what the industry tells us it needs. I can assure Bob Doris that our immediate priority and focus is to press Her Majesty’s Treasury in order to secure a fair deal for Scotland’s railways.

The minister will acknowledge that changes that are due to be introduced by the UK Government will lead to a real-terms cut in funding of railway investment, and will do serious damage to Scotland’s railways as well as to future enhancement projects. Reports suggest that the Glasgow Central station improvement works might have to be rescheduled, delayed or cancelled. Can the minister give me any further information on that?

Bob Doris has made a good point. This is not an abstract discussion, argument or negotiation between two Governments: it will have real effects. Our being £600 million short, as the current offer from the UK Government stands, will clearly impact on the ambitions that the industry has to improve, enhance and maintain Scotland’s excellent rail network.

It is a swindle. To be frank, it is railway robbery. There is not a party in this Parliament that has not come to the Government to ask for rail improvements in its members’ constituencies, and it is quite right that they do so. However, if what we have to invest in our railways is £600 million short, many members from across the political spectrum and their constituents will be deeply disappointed. That is why I still await a response from some parties to my call to unite behind the Scottish Government’s and the industry’s ask; the industry is telling us that it needs £4.2 billion for the next control period if we are to take Scotland’s railways forward. I hope that those who have not responded to my call will do so, and that together we can stand up for Scotland’s railways.

The data for the past 12 months shows that the Westerton to Milngavie line in my and Gil Paterson’s constituency was listed as the worst performer, with trains regularly using the practice of skipping stations, and only 26 per cent arriving on time. The main cause of that disruption is the single track. A twinned track, as formerly existed, would ease disruption and allow the rail halt that has been proposed by East Dunbartonshire Council. Can the minister confirm that that possibility will be investigated with Network Rail with some urgency?

Yes. We will explore that, but I want to put some context around what Rona Mackay said.

Do so very briefly, minister.

Although ScotRail reports the on-time performance, the industry standard is the public performance measure, which offers a more balanced approach.

On skip-stopping, I understand the frustration of Rona Mackay’s constituents. We have said to ScotRail on many occasions that it should look to minimise that practice. In fairness, it has been trying to do that during peak times; in the past 12 months, 1 per cent of trains skipped stops. That 1 per cent is still 1 per cent too much.

I will explore the measures that the member asked us to explore and I will give her an update on how the discussions go.

The fact is that during control period 6, spending will rise from £3 billion to £3.6 billion, and spending per passenger in Scotland will be £39 compared to £25 in England and Wales. Will the minister confirm that he is now saying that it is official Scottish Government policy to reject the Barnett formula funding mechanism?

Jamie Greene does not realise that funding for the railways was never based on the Barnett formula.

The 2005 discussion between the Scottish Government and the UK Government—before the Scottish National Party came to power—was based on the regulator’s 11.17 per cent agreement. That is not what the Government demands; the industry demands it. It is based on advice from the regulator. The UK Government has unilaterally moved away from that without any discussion or engagement with the Scottish Government. The UK Government has left us £600 million short.

In his letter to me, Jamie Greene suggests that we use our tax powers to raise taxes—

Members: Oh!

So, on the one hand, the Conservatives falsely claim that we are the highest-taxed part of the UK while, on the other, Jamie Greene suggests that we have additional powers over tax and borrowing that we could use to invest in our railways. Perhaps Jamie Greene should get his own house in order before he comes to Parliament.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My brief point of order relates to the minister reporting facts. He has expressed in his answer that I said that we should increase taxes in Scotland. That is not what the letter says, and I hope that he is willing to put the matter right.

That is not a point of order, but it is a point that has been noted.


Community Land Buyouts (Remote and Rural Communities)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is assisting remote and rural communities with community land buyouts. (S5O-01425)

The Scottish Government has committed £10 million annually to the Scottish land fund, which supports communities to purchase land and assets. The fund can provide support to community bodies for preparatory work such as undertaking feasibility studies and writing business plans, as well as making awards to help to fund land purchases. Since April 2016, the fund has supported 78 groups and there is the potential for a further 25 projects to receive funding this year.

Can the cabinet secretary advise me how completed and potential community buyouts in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, which includes Dingwall and the Black Isle, are helping to achieve the Scottish Government’s target of 1 million acres under community ownership by 2020?

The information is collated by council area rather than by parliamentary constituency. In the course of the previous Scottish land fund, which ran from 2012 to 2016, nine groups in the Highland Council area received a total of £1.6 million. Last year, 16 groups in the Highland Council area received awards totalling almost £200,000. This year, up to the end of September, four groups in the Highland Council area have received £265,000. In total, those community buyouts have contributed just over 4,000 acres towards the target.

I would encourage all communities to consider whether there are local community right-to-buy opportunities. In addition, I ask colleagues in the chamber to promote the community right to buy and, crucially, not have communities wait until land is being marketed before they submit their applications.

What resources. financial or otherwise, can the Government offer Kirkmaiden Community Harbour Trust in Galloway and West Dumfries to assist in purchasing or transferring Drummore harbour from the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer?

The specifics of transferring the harbour from the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer may fall under the community asset transfer arrangement rather than the community right-to-buy arrangement. That arrangement has slightly different rules and regulations, and it will depend entirely on what the agreement is with the transferring body. If the member wishes to write to me with specific details of that case, which does not sound as though it falls under the normal community right-to-buy or land fund proposals, I would be happy to look further into the matter for him.

Many remote and rural communities aiming for community land buyouts will also seek to use the water exemption scheme to help them to pay water and waste bills. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that it is her intention to continue with the scheme for the duration of this session of Parliament?

I have no advice to the contrary. I can double-check that, but I have seen no suggestion that anything other than that would be the case.


European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Environment)

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact could be on Scotland of the reported proposals in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to abandon the principles that the polluter pays and that preventative action should be taken to avert environmental damage. (S5O-01426)

As I indicated when I spoke to the European Environmental Bureau on Monday morning, my ambition is to ensure that the principles of precaution, prevention and rectifying pollution at source, as well as the polluter-pays principle, sit at the heart of Scotland’s approach to environmental policy for the future. Without them, we risk lagging behind and diverging from the ambitions of our European allies.

I welcome Mr Gove’s acknowledgment last week that areas of environmental policy in Scotland have

“set the standard in the UK”

and his admission that

“there are things that both the Scottish and Welsh Administrations have done that have been admirable and in advance”

of what has been done in England. On Monday, I pressed Mr Gove to ensure that, once again, the United Kingdom Government follows Scotland’s lead, clearly commits to the EU environmental principles and provides clarity on how the principles will continue to shape the UK Government’s approach to future environmental policies and practices.

Scottish Environment LINK has warned that there is a risk that withdrawal from the EU will mean a rapid decrease in environmental standards and that, even if EU legislation is incorporated into national law, there will be no legal recourse to the European Court of Justice to ensure the proper implementation of the standards. Does the cabinet secretary share my concerns that future environmental policy imposed by a Westminster Tory Government is likely to fall short of EU standards? Does she agree that, to protect those high standards, power over environmental policy should remain with the Scottish Parliament, as is laid down in the Scotland Act 1998?

I would always want powers to remain with the Scottish Parliament; indeed, I want considerably more powers to come to it. I share the member’s concern. The issue that she raises is a key reason why I believe that the best way to protect our environmental ambition is to ensure that the principles that I spoke about in answer to the earlier question continue to be respected and that the powers of the Scottish Parliament continue to be respected. That must be our first priority, as devolution has been vital to Scotland’s environment.

As part of our preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU, we are carefully considering whether any gaps could arise in existing domestic monitoring and enforcement powers that would need to be addressed to ensure that Scotland maintains high standards of environmental protection.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s commitment to the important environmental principles that she highlighted on Monday. My UK Labour colleague Kerry McCarthy MP has submitted amendments that would ensure that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill would maintain the environmental principles. Can the cabinet secretary clarify whether the Scottish Government supports those amendments, and will she urge all Scottish MPs to support Kerry McCarthy’s amendments?

I need to be a little careful, as I have not seen the detail of those amendments, but I undertake to ensure that I see them and get back to the member with a response. If those amendments are, in general terms, along the lines that I have been speaking about, I do not see that there would be any difficulty in doing as the member asks.


Wildlife Organisations

To ask the Scottish Government how it works with wildlife organisations to ensure that environmental protections are adhered to. (S5O-01427)

The Scottish Government works with wildlife organisations in a number of ways on a broad range of topics, and I meet their representatives regularly. We value their advice and the important work that they do.

The cabinet secretary attended the European Environmental Bureau conference the other day. The comments that she made there about the emphasis that Scotland places on environmental commitments and about the European Union protections being instrumental to safeguarding the environment were warmly welcomed. However, a proposed development at Coul Links would affect that. I appreciate that the cabinet secretary cannot comment on a live application but, regardless of Brexit, if a site were categorised as a site of special scientific interest, a special protection area in respect of the birds directive and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Ramsar site, should it continue to be respected and protected in full?

As the member knows, I cannot be drawn into comments that might impact on a live application—it would not be proper for me to make such comments.

In general terms, the procedure for major developments is that prospective applicants are required to consult communities before any application is made. Anyone can comment, and planning authorities have to take account of a full range of views. That is all set in the context of Scotland’s planning system, which balances a variety of interests to ensure that land use and development create high-quality, sustainable places.

In the light of reports of damage to and interference with legal traps by activists and members of the public, has the cabinet secretary met the Scottish Gamekeepers Association to discuss the matter and seek a resolution to the problem? If she has not yet met the association, will she consider doing so?

I meet the Scottish Gamekeepers Association officially as an organisation and I often meet individual members of the SGA. Their concerns on the issue, which are fairly well known, are one of the matters that they raise with me. I simply urge the Scottish Gamekeepers Association to keep bringing forward appropriate evidence and, in cases where it looks as though illegal interference has taken place, to take that evidence to the police.


Vehicle Emissions

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of its strategy to tackle climate change, what action it is taking to reduce vehicle emissions. (S5O-01428)

As announced in the programme for government, we will increase our efforts to support electric vehicles so that, by 2032, we will have phased out the need to buy petrol or diesel cars and vans. We are taking the lead by creating Scotland’s first low-emission zone by 2018 and doubling the active travel budget, and further measures are outlined in the draft climate change plan.

The minister will be aware that the City of Edinburgh Council is currently consulting on a diesel surcharge for parking permits, which could result in up to 8,000 motorists being charged around £40 extra a year to park their cars. Does the minister agree that any such measures adopted around the country should target older cars that are worse for the environment, rather than being indiscriminate charging schemes that fail to focus on the most polluting cars?

The City of Edinburgh Council, whether the current or previous administration, has a good record on tackling vehicle emissions, and I will leave it for local authorities to come up with the design and logistics of any schemes to reduce vehicle emissions. Whether through low-emission zones or the City of Edinburgh Council’s scheme, we all have a shared objective in reducing carbon emissions in our urban and rural areas, but we have to give local authorities the autonomy to do that in the way they see fit. However, Mr Lindhurst makes a valid point in that it seems logical to tackle the worst emitters of pollution first.


Air Quality (Central Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve air quality in Central Scotland. (S5O-01429)

Scotland’s first separate air quality strategy, “Cleaner Air for Scotland”, sets out a comprehensive range of local and national measures to improve air quality. The measures include the development of a national low-emission framework, through which the 2017 programme for government committed to introducing low-emission zones in all local air quality management areas by 2023, where evidence supports such interventions. The Scottish Government also continues to provide practical and financial assistance to local authorities to support air quality monitoring and the development and implementation of action plans.

Last month, a Sunday Herald investigation into the proliferation of super-incinerators around Scotland brought into sharp focus concerns about pollution and public health. Dr Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland warned:

“The Scottish Government has fine plans but they will come to naught unless they stop this rush to incineration before it is too late.”

Despite cross-party and community campaigns, the Scottish Government has already allowed an appeal for one such incinerator in Hamilton, which is in the region that I represent. How is the Scottish Government policy on incineration consistent with the cleaner air for Scotland strategy?

Every decision that is made in respect of an individual application takes all matters into consideration and, although I do not know the details of the particular application that Monica Lennon referred to, I presume that that will have been the case for that one, too.

There have been significant reductions in pollution emissions in Scotland over recent decades through tighter industrial regulation—which suggests that it is working—improved fuel quality, cleaner vehicles and an increased focus on sustainable transport. We have a good record and we are meeting domestic and European air quality targets in much of Scotland, albeit that there might still be hotspots of poorer air quality in a number of urban areas.


Climate Change (Impact of Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the impact that Brexit could have on climate change policy in Scotland. (S5O-01430)

To date, the Scottish ministers have had no formal discussions with UK ministers on the impact of Brexit on climate change policy, nor have we seen UK Government reports or impact assessments, in spite of repeated requests.

In May 2017, I wrote to Nick Hurd, the UK’s former climate change minister, asking for formal involvement in negotiations on the UK’s future participation in the European Union emissions trading system, given how central that is to our meeting our climate change targets. We have had no response to that letter.

On 31 October, I wrote jointly with the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to request immediate discussions on future EU ETS membership. Claire Perry, the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, replied to offer a discussion, but formal engagement on future participation in the emissions trading scheme should involve all four Administrations, and I made that point in my response.

If the UK Government has an assessment of the impact of Brexit on climate change in the UK, including Scotland, it would be in the national interest for that to be made public immediately. It is vital that the UK Government provides clarity and certainty to people, businesses and communities in Scotland.

Given that 64 per cent of the UK’s imports of low-carbon equipment come from the European Union, does the cabinet secretary share my concern that, if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, the subsequent loss of free trade would make reducing carbon emissions more expensive, thereby making climate change mitigation more difficult for Scotland and the UK as a whole?

Walking away from the EU with no trade deal would be a disaster for the Scottish and UK economies. The renewable energy sector, which now supports 26,000 jobs in Scotland and has an annual turnover of £5 billion, has been a major driver of Scotland’s economy in recent years, and it will play an important role in helping us to deal with climate change in the future.

The member is right to say that the sector relies on the EU for low-carbon equipment. That is why, in the negotiations to determine the future relationship with Europe, detailed consideration will need to be given to this important area of policy with a view to safeguarding Scotland’s key interests and maintaining our place as a progressive leader on climate action. It really is not good enough that, at this stage in the game, we have absolutely no answers and no information to allow us to plan for the future.