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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 9, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 09 January 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Digital Connectivity, Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Carbon Emissions Reduction (Support for Businesses)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to businesses that are committed to lowering carbon emissions and improving air quality. (S5O-03967)

Our green new deal will deliver billions of pounds of investment in our net zero future and will position Scotland to take advantage of a green economy.

We are taking action to optimise existing support, so that Scotland’s energy-intensive industrial sites are better positioned to access funding opportunities that will help them to deliver emissions savings while remaining internationally competitive. We are also providing practical and financial support to local authorities to tackle local air pollution hotspots. That includes a total of £4.5 million in annual funding.

I have met representatives of several local businesses that are keen to convert their fleets to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles. A common concern is the challenge of balancing investment in new technology and effective and sustainable operational performances with a desire to commit to a clean-energy future. What role can the Scottish Government play in assisting that transition?

The Scottish Government offers interest-free loan funding to enable businesses and consumers to purchase ultra-low-emission vehicles through the electric vehicle loan scheme, which is delivered by the Energy Saving Trust. We have also invested around £30 million to increase publicly available charging to more than 1,200 charging points on the ChargePlace Scotland network.


Net Zero Emissions

To ask the Scottish Government whether it is on track to meet net zero emissions by 2045. (S5O-03968)

Scotland is almost halfway to achieving net zero emissions, with a 47 per cent reduction in emissions having been achieved between 1990 and 2017. That strong progress is recognised in the recent report from the Committee on Climate Change. In line with that report, we also recognise that more needs to be done to reach net zero emissions by 2045. That is why we are currently updating our climate change plan to reflect the new targets. The committee’s advice for the United Kingdom Government is also clear: it must

“step up and match Scottish policy ambition in areas where key powers are reserved”.

The report by the Committee on Climate Change, which was published in December, criticised the Scottish National Party Government for lagging behind both England and Wales in designing a future farm funding system that encourages environmentally friendly farming. It identifies that as an area in which the policy levers exist here, at Holyrood. Urgent action is required to meet the 2045 target. Will the cabinet secretary explain what is taking so long?

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy has now left the chamber, but I can tell the member that I have had a number of conversations with Fergus Ewing, including this week, about the extent to which agriculture must contribute to achieving net zero emissions by 2045. As the member may have heard the First Minister say, there was a Cabinet discussion on Tuesday about the overall issue of Scotland achieving net zero emissions by 2045. Work towards that includes a range of actions across everything that is addressed in the climate change plan, which includes agriculture.

What assurances has the Scottish Government received from the UK Government that, in the key areas that it has responsibility for—such as carbon capture and storage, decarbonisation of the grid and an increase in the pace of vehicle transition—it will take action in the coming year to ensure that Scotland meets the 2045 target?

It is a pity that, in spite of our having written on multiple occasions, calling for action in the many specific reserved areas that were flagged up by the Committee on Climate Change, we have received no substantive assurances whatsoever from the UK.

Given the Scottish Government’s very slow progress to date on decarbonising heat and Citizens Advice Scotland’s recent call for greater investment and action on tackling heat emissions, what new action will the Scottish Government take to tackle emissions from heat, to help Scotland to reach net zero emissions?

I am sure that the member listened to my earlier responses. We are currently carrying out a very quick revision—an update—of the existing climate change plan, and the question of heat decarbonisation is key: it will need to be addressed, and we are looking at the potential for action. However, it is also one of the key areas in which action from the UK Government will be required if we are to achieve what we need to achieve to get to net zero emissions by 2045.

People really need to look in detail at what the UK Committee on Climate Change flagged up as the division between devolved and reserved requirements, because it is a real issue for us in achieving our net zero targets.

Last night’s challenging Channel 4 documentary by George Monbiot emphasised the scale of the changes that may be needed globally in our food production in order to meet net zero targets. Although some people will feel threatened by that message, in the week that the Greggs vegan steak bakes arrived on the shelves in Scotland, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that we are capturing the economic and environmental opportunities that are being driven by consumer demand for reduced-meat diets?

I thank the member for inadvertently having given me advance notice of the supplementary question that he was going to ask. I did not see the programme that he referred to, but I am aware of the debate that is taking place.

There are a couple of things that I should say in addition to my comments on agriculture, which I will not repeat. There is a global challenge, but we will encounter difficulties if we try to attach global solutions to local conditions. The situation in Scotland, particularly in relation to livestock production, is very different from the situation elsewhere. I know that the member understands that, because we have already had some conversation on that point.

My colleague Fergus Ewing is considering the issue carefully. We are very conscious of the need to deal with agricultural emissions, but we need to do that in a fair way that recognises the continued future of that industry. Dietary changes are always to be welcomed, particularly when it comes to increasing fruit and vegetable intake, which is a health issue as well as a climate change issue, but we need to approach the matter in the context of the current Scottish agricultural system. We must not presume that the mistakes that are being made globally are being repeated in Scotland, because they are not.


Crown Estate (Coastal Assets)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to maximise the Crown Estate’s coastal assets, including enhancing the opportunities for marine sport and tourism activities. (S5O-03969)

Crown Estate Scotland’s draft corporate plan for 2020 to 2023 includes a proposal for a coastal assets strategy. The strategy will seek to maximise the potential of Crown Estate Scotland’s coastal assets through their efficient management and development. The draft corporate plan also sets out options for Crown Estate Scotland investment, including in support for the growth of Scotland’s blue economy.

Activity over the coming years will include a focus on marine tourism—including, potentially, marine sport activities—and on helping coastal communities to manage their local marine resources.

A report on sailing tourism in Scotland states that Scotland’s £130 million sailing tourism economy is set to grow by as much as 28 per cent in the next seven years and identifies further opportunities for private and public investment in critical infrastructural developments to meet growing demand.

Can the cabinet secretary outline what the Government is doing to encourage further growth and development of specific assets, such as Rhu marina on the Firth of Clyde?

I am aware of the member’s interest in Rhu marina at Helensburgh; he has already been active in that regard. Since Crown Estate Scotland took over, it has worked with Rhu marina on several improvement works. Rhu marina was recently awarded four gold anchors by the Yacht Harbour Association, so some considerable progress has taken place.

More generally on Scotland’s coast and waters, we and colleagues across the chamber are very keen to continue to push for the potential development of our marine environment, but there are some issues that need to be addressed in relation to how we balance things.

This gives me the opportunity to advertise that 2020 is Scotland’s year of coastal waters, which I expect to be another signifier of increasing marine tourism in Scotland.


Flood Prevention (Inverclyde)

To ask the Scottish Government what flood prevention action will take place following the completion of the Inverclyde integrated catchment study. (S5O-03970)

The integrated catchment study will provide detailed information on flooding mechanisms from overland flow, sewers and watercourses. Once the study is complete, responsible authorities will be in a position to consider what actions should be taken to manage flood risk in Inverclyde.

The cabinet secretary, who visited Inverclyde several years ago, will be very aware of my interest in flooding in Inverclyde.

The study will be hugely beneficial for infrastructure planning in Inverclyde for many years to come. For that reason, it is important that the study is maintained going forward. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on the funding for flood prevention infrastructure that has been provided to Inverclyde Council since 2007 and what Inverclyde Council has requested for the remainder of the parliamentary session?

I need to remind the chamber of how we do flood funding in Scotland. In 2016, we agreed a 10-year flood funding strategy with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The strategy is funded through the local authority capital settlement and amounts to a minimum of £42 million per year. Eighty per cent of that annual funding supports delivery of the flood protection schemes that were identified in the flood risk strategies that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published in 2015. Four of those schemes are in Inverclyde, and Inverclyde Council has received all the required funding from the Scottish Government to take them forward. The remaining 20 per cent of funding is distributed annually among all Scottish local authorities, based on their share of properties at risk of flooding.

Since 2007, the Scottish Government has provided Inverclyde Council with £2.9 million from the local authority capital settlement to support delivery of flood protection schemes in Inverclyde—that has been for the four schemes that I referred to.

Future funding will depend on what schemes are taken forward and what priority they are given.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that in November I raised the worrying issue that, four years on from the flooding that devastated Newton Stewart, we are still awaiting a much-needed flood protection scheme.

Will the cabinet secretary give us an update on any discussion that she has had with Dumfries and Galloway Council, and outline what role she can play to ensure that a scheme can be delivered as a matter of urgency? I understand that a flood order has been waiting to be published since the summer.

It would be helpful if the member were to speak with me directly about the specifics of that matter. In general, it is for local authorities to bring forward the schemes. I do not micromanage that. If there is a particular issue with what seems to be a bureaucratic blockage, I am happy to engage with the member on the specifics of that.


Environmental Standards

5. Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to uphold environmental standards in Scotland when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. (S5O-03971)

We are committed to maintaining or exceeding EU environmental standards, whatever the outcome of Brexit.

Despite three years of uncertainty, we have been working to ensure that the four key EU environmental principles continue to sit at the heart of policy making and law in Scotland, and we intend to legislate for domestic governance arrangements. An announcement will be made before the new continuity bill is introduced.

The original withdrawal agreement contained a commitment to maintain environmental protections, but I understand that that has been removed. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is appalling, given the current climate crisis? The UK Government wants to move away from the standards and protections for our environment that are offered by European Union regulations.

It is clear that, in the face of the twin global crises of climate and biodiversity, we should be increasing our efforts and working more closely with other countries, not loosening our ties and turning back the clock on environmental protections. It seems inexplicable to me that the UK Government appears to be moving in that direction. I hope that that apparent movement turns out not to be the case. It is a worrying development—there is no doubt about that.

We will, of course, resist any moves that would lessen our freedom to maintain and strengthen our environmental protections in Scotland.

I will continue on that theme. Reflecting what was a Scottish National Party policy commitment to Greenpeace during the UK general election, will the Scottish Government set

“legally binding targets (long term and interim) to clean up our air, soils, seas and rivers”

and enshrine a commitment to develop policies that will reduce Scotland’s global environmental footprint and restore nature in Scotland? That is particularly important in the present circumstances.

We are working very hard indeed to take that work forward. As the member knows, and as I indicated, we are in the business of ensuring that the environmental principles are statutorily based. We are looking at environmental governance for this year. We have only just been given sight of the UK Government’s environment bill and we are having to look very carefully at some of its implications for devolved matters.

I think that the member knows that, as I indicated, it is my full intention that what we do not only reflects the EU’s current environmental protections but will continue to reflect them as the EU makes improvements. We will also look for where we can go further and do even better than that.


Fox Hunting (Proposed Legislation)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. To ask the Scottish Government whether the timetable for its proposed legislation on fox hunting allows sufficient time for it to be passed within the current parliamentary session. (S5O-03972)

Yes.

I thank the minister very much for that answer. It is exactly a year since the minister said that she would bring forward a bill during the current parliamentary session, and I welcome the fact that she has reinforced that commitment today.

Given the length of time that it takes to pass legislation, and the fact that we have only 18 months left in the session, will the minister tell us when exactly she will publish the pre-legislation consultation, and when exactly she will publish the bill and bring it forward to Parliament? Will she give a clear commitment to the people of Scotland that boxing day 2019 was the last tally-ho for fox hunting, and that that cruel practice will be consigned to the history books, where it belongs?

I thank Colin Smyth for that question, which I completely understand. I have met him and other members to discuss the proposals that I announced in January last year. I hope that he and other members across the chamber understand that we set out our planned legislative timetable in the programme for government. That is subject to the content of the year 5 legislative programme being agreed to, and to parliamentary timetabling and the extensive and wide-reaching impact of Brexit—we need to see how that pans out. Nonetheless, it is still very much our plan to bring forward a bill, and we have sufficient time in hand, outwith all those other issues, to progress that. We will bring forward and consult on our proposals in due course.

If passed, what impact will the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill have on the penalties for those who commit animal welfare offences, including fox hunting?

If passed, our Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill will increase the maximum penalties for existing serious domestic animal and wildlife offences, which include offences against foxes. It will increase those penalties to a potentially unlimited fine and five years’ imprisonment. Importantly, it will also increase the statutory time limit on wildlife crime offences, which in essence allows Police Scotland more time to investigate, gather evidence and undertake forensic tests. Increasing the statutory time limit was one of the recommendations that Lord Bonomy made in his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, and it is a key aspect of the proposals that we have put forward.


Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and what issues were discussed. (S5O-03973)

I met the SEPA board on 26 November 2019 to discuss priorities for the future, including tackling the global climate emergency. My officials regularly meet SEPA on a variety of issues.

I draw the cabinet secretary’s attention to the current state of the River Clyde. Does she agree that the river requires a clean-up, as Glasgow will host many events this year, most notably the 26th conference of the parties, or COP26? Will the cabinet secretary seek assurances from SEPA that the River Clyde will be assessed and that those responsible will be obliged to act on that assessment? The Clyde needs a long-term strategy to ensure the maintenance of the river and the surrounding areas.

The Government is, of course, looking forward to playing a central role in leading and driving ambition at COP26. We are leading the United Kingdom on tackling the climate emergency, which should be celebrated.

On the specifics of the question, monitoring and long-term investment in improving the Clyde is on-going. River Clyde water quality has improved significantly since 2017, thanks to the co-operation of multiple stakeholders, including Scottish Water, SEPA and local authorities, such that the Clyde is now classified as “good” in a number of aspects. Between 2010 and 2021, Scottish Water will have invested £610 million in its waste-water assets to ensure that sewage is treated properly before it is discharged into the Clyde. Scottish Water is also investing £15 million to improve the River Kelvin, which is a tributary of the Clyde.

Keep Scotland Beautiful has established the Upstream Battle project, which aims to educate communities, support clean-ups in the Clyde valley and increase awareness of the harmful impact of litter. The ultimate goal of that project is to stop litter from getting into the Clyde. The Scottish Government is one of a number of funders and has provided £30,000 to the project. More widely, the Scottish Government’s water environment fund, which is administered by SEPA, has helped restore natural habits by removing fish barriers and concrete channels to allow fish to reach the upper reaches of the Clyde catchment. That fund has invested £3 million in river restoration projects near Hamilton and Shotts. If specific issues are of concern to Sandra White, I am sure that SEPA would be happy to discuss them with her directly.


Open Ground Habitats (Protection)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to protect open ground habitats, such as peatlands and grasslands, which are critical to the conservation of curlew. (S5O-03974)

We are using a range of measures to protect the habitats of open ground bird species, such as the curlew. Those measures include the protection of suitable habitats in Scotland’s statutory protected areas, as well as the management of habitats under the agri-environment climate scheme, with £31 million committed for wader management under the scheme to date.

I am also pleased to note the very recent award of more than £156,000 by Scottish Natural Heritage to curlews in crisis Scotland under the Scottish Government’s biodiversity challenge fund. The funding has been given to help increase suitable breeding areas and reduce predation at sites in Caithness and Ayrshire. That will play a crucial role in our efforts to improve nature and will help Scotland meet its international biodiversity commitments.

I believe that Lewis Macdonald is species champion for the curlew.

I am, so I welcome that award. As the cabinet secretary will recall, I pressed her for support on a previous occasion.

The cabinet secretary will also recognise that there is a need to balance new forest planting to sequester carbon with the need to protect habitats and species such as the curlew to support biodiversity. Will she authorise a spatial mapping assessment to guide future forestry planting decisions and to protect safe breeding habitats in the future?

The member is probably aware that it would not be for me to make that decision; it would be a decision for the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy. I will raise the matter with him directly.

The member has raised a very legitimate point, which is that we need to understand the balances and the consequences that might arise over a range of different issues. More trees need to be grown and there is a need for increased carbon capture through green infrastructure, such as tree planting. Of course, we also have to think about the consequences for biodiversity. Some of the work that we do has an immensely positive impact on biodiversity, through peatland restoration, for example.

A slightly different issue has to be addressed when it comes to forest planting, and I will ensure that my colleague Fergus Ewing has the member’s concern in front of him. Survey work and environmental information are already required under the forestry grant scheme, but the member seems to be asking for something more strategic and widespread, and I will ensure that that is brought to my colleague’s attention.