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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 September 2020

Agenda: Presiding Officer’s Statement, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, Fisheries Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Dirty Camping


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Flooding (Inverclyde)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Inverclyde Council, Transport Scotland and Scottish Water regarding their plans to eliminate flooding in Inverclyde. (S5O-04557)

We are all acutely aware of the problems that are faced by many communities that are at risk from flooding. A flood strategy group comprising representatives from Inverclyde Council, Scottish Water and Transport Scotland operates in Inverclyde to manage and reduce the risk of flooding.

The Scottish Government provides £42 million per year to local authorities to fulfil their flood risk management functions, and our recent programme for government included a commitment to provide an additional £150 million for flood risk management. That is over and above the £42 million per year that we provide to local authorities to fulfil their flood risk management functions. The Scottish Government works with all relevant agencies that are involved in trying to reduce the impact of flooding on communities.

Although efforts will undoubtedly have been impacted by Covid-19 this year, these issues are not new; the problems have gone on for decades. Further localised flooding on the A8 yet again blocking the main eastward vehicular route in and out of Inverclyde ultimately highlights the failure of those agencies to work to eliminate the issue. Does the minister agree that this historical issue should not continue to plague my constituency year in, year out, and can she ensure that those organisations provide the solutions that my constituency demands?

I completely understand the member’s concern and frustration at the on-going situation. We share the desire to see effective and co-ordinated action to minimise the impact of surface water flooding on Stuart McMillan’s constituents and everyone who uses the local trunk road network.

Responsibility for surface water resulting from severe rainfall sits with Inverclyde Council; Scottish Water manages problems that are caused by flooding sewers; and Transport Scotland has a role in managing drainage of major trunk roads. Different public bodies have different responsibilities for those issues. Priority areas of surface water flooding are expected to be addressed by Inverclyde Council as part of its surface water management plans. The Scottish Government encourages all those parties to work closely together to achieve reductions in the scale and frequency of local surface water flooding incidents.

Thank you. Joan McAlpine.

To ask the Scottish Government what help is available to farmers and crofters to support them to cut emissions.

Sorry—Ms McAlpine had pressed her request-to-speak button, and I thought that she wanted to ask a supplementary question that related to question 1, but she asked question 5. We will come back to question 5 later.


Vacant and Derelict Land

To ask the Scottish Government, in the light of the impact of vacant and derelict land on the environment, what action it is taking to tackle this. (S5O-04558)

We committed to consider the recommendations of the vacant and derelict land task force and to explore opportunities to invest in our local blue and green infrastructure, targeting problematic long-term vacant and derelict land. We expect that national planning framework 4 will strengthen our policies in that area, building on experience and innovation from across Scotland. We will publish an update on NPF4 later this year and will lay a draft in the Parliament in 2021.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her helpful answer, most of which I heard.

She, like me, will be aware that many vacant and derelict land sites are found in urban settings. What can the Government do about that? Is that something that the vacant and derelict land task force, which was established in 2018, could look at more closely so that it can help with the problem?

Later this month, the Scottish Land Commission will publish the recommendations of the vacant and derelict land task force, which have been developed over a period of time and with extensive stakeholder input. We welcome the work of the task force and we will consider its report and recommendations in detail when we receive them. We will publish a response in due course and will continue to work with the Scottish Land Commission to tackle the legacy of vacant and derelict land in urban and rural areas across Scotland.

[Inaudible.]—the Government’s commitment to identify vacant and derelict sites for green infrastructure initiatives be targeted at those in depressed areas, given that research has shown that half of Scotland’s population in those communities live within 500m of such sites? I note what the cabinet secretary says about the task force, but I hope that the point I have raised will be taken into account.

I am not sure that I got all of that question. I think, from what I could hear, that Claudia Beamish is asking about those people who live nearest to vacant and derelict land sites. The 2019 survey on that issue identified that just four Scottish councils contain between them over 50 per cent of all recorded derelict and vacant land. We are conscious of the issues for the communities living closest to that land.

It is regrettable that, because of what has happened this year, we have not made the progress that might have been made. Some communities are beginning to look at the possibilities offered by the right to buy, and I would encourage all the communities that are considering that. I would also encourage any members who represent such communities to assist them in developing proposals for taking over local vacant and derelict land sites.


Flooding (Urban Drainage)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Scottish Water regarding upgrading and improving the maintenance of urban drainage, in light of instances of heavy flooding. (S5O-04559)

In the investment period 2015-21, the Scottish Government tasked Scottish Water with investing in its sewer infrastructure, primarily to reduce the risk to customers of internal flooding. Scottish Water estimates that it will invest up to £190 million in measures to reduce sewer flood risk. I have also discussed with Scottish Water its surface water policy, which aims to significantly reduce the amount of surface water entering the sewer network. That will further protect customers from flooding, particularly given the context of an increase in intense storm events.

My question follows on from that of Stuart McMillan. Polwarth, in my constituency, experienced recent heavy flooding. A wall collapsed—an event that could, in different circumstances, have caused injury or even death. August’ s severe weather was analysed by Scottish Water and was determined to have been a once-in-1,000-years event. Unfortunately, such events are occurring ever more frequently.

In her answer to Stuart McMillan, Mairi Gougeon pointed out that responsibility is shared between three agencies: Transport Scotland, Scottish Water and local authorities. My constituents’ experience is that that leads to a never-ending dispute about where responsibility lies. What action is the Scottish Government taking not just to support dialogue between those agencies but to ensure that outcomes are arrived at and infrastructure is upgraded and invested in so that we can respond to these excess weather events?

I think that I have outlined the investment and the on-going work to deal with the infrastructure problems. Daniel Johnson is correct, however, about the nature of the problem, which is becoming more acute. I am aware of the situation in Polwarth Grove, in his constituency, which has no history of sewer flooding. I think that Scottish Water has written to him to confirm that the flooding was primarily rainfall driven. That is one of the issues that we have to ascertain.

I have some sympathy with the direction of Daniel Johnson’s question, and I know that a number of members will be experiencing situations in which the multi-agency response does not always seem to be as co-ordinated as it might be. I will certainly go back to the Polwarth issue to see whether it could have been better handled.

However, we have real issues confronting us all at the moment as we see climate change beginning to have an impact on how our weather is developing and the enormous impact that that is having on an infrastructure that was not designed to cope with it. The investment that we are putting into that will gradually help, but I appreciate that that does not necessarily answer the more immediate questions of people who are suffering from flooding events right now.

I have written to the cabinet secretary about a constituent who cannot go out after heavy rain because of what he finds on the path and in his garden. The cabinet secretary referred just now to internal flooding, but will she be able to prioritise as a matter of urgency works to drainage that causes sewage to flow up into people’s gardens? That is just not acceptable.

I am aware of the case that Edward Mountain raises, and I think that Scottish Water has already been directly in contact with his constituent. Certainly, in the first instance, the best way forward is to open dialogue directly with the organisations concerned.


Littering (Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle littering in the Highlands and Islands. (S5O-04560)

First, I want to make our position absolutely clear: littering is unlawful and unacceptable. To help combat recent issues, we have, with partners Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful, developed an anti-littering campaign that includes bespoke materials for 21 local authorities, including Highland Council. We continue collective efforts to encourage everyone to respect their surroundings and are working with the relevant public agencies to deliver a co-ordinated approach, including raising awareness about behaving responsibly when out in the countryside.

Highland Council is backing Zero Waste Scotland’s new campaign—“Scotland is stunning, let’s keep it that way”—and is placing posters at popular tourist sites that ask visitors to “leave no trace”. However, given the severe problems of littering across the Highlands and Islands this summer, causing significant concerns for local communities, what further support can the Scottish Government provide to local authorities to help them to promote that message?

I am aware of the issues that have been faced, particularly in the Highlands and Islands but also in other parts of Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism met Highland Council and a few of the community councils in July this year to see what more could be done and what further action could be taken. I believe that a national summit is to be held on Monday, which will be chaired by the cabinet secretary and has been convened by VisitScotland, to look at what more can be done to tackle the situation and what can be done in the short, medium and longer terms to fully address those issues.

I welcome the commitment in the programme for government to a £70 million fund to improve local authority refuse collection and infrastructure. How will the Scottish Government work with local authorities to enable us to meet waste and recycling targets for 2025?

As David Torrance says, the programme for government outlined a £70 million fund that we will establish to improve local authority collection infrastructure and to develop a new route map to reduce waste and meet our ambitious targets. We are committed to working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to evaluate the household recycling charter and its code of practice, which will be a key step in developing a future model of recycling collections. That work will be led by the circular economy and waste strategic steering group, which we established earlier this year. The group includes senior representatives from COSLA, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, local authorities and Zero Waste Scotland.

What more can the Government do to ensure that visitors boarding ferries to the islands, the great majority of whom are law abiding and responsible, are given clear information about best practice for disposing litter and waste when camping?

Our islands are beautiful and we want them to stay that way. They are often fragile landscapes and everyone who visits them should behave responsibly and with respect to the people who live on the islands.

NatureScot is promoting the Scottish outdoor access code around the whole country. Its online campaign to raise awareness has already resulted in more than 250,000 visits to the Scottish outdoor access code website. VisitScotland and Zero Waste Scotland have also undertaken activities to address litter and waste issues. Local authorities, including island authorities, are playing a vital role in that work.

Our ferries are key to getting guidance to travellers, and I am more than happy to consider what more work might be done on that. We get good feedback from the ferry companies and work closely with them on such matters.

Local MSPs and MPs are engaging on the issue and supporting activity locally. I welcome that work and very much hope that it continues into the future.

We now have the opportunity to hear Joan McAlpine’s question.


Emissions Reduction (Farms and Crofts)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in meeting its climate change targets and, to help achieve this, what support it has made available to reduce emissions on farms and crofts. (S5O-04561)

Scotland is halfway to meeting our world-leading target of net zero emissions by 2045 from the 1990 baseline, which is good long-term progress. In western Europe, we are second only to Sweden in long-term emissions reductions. Farming and crofting are playing their part in that progress. Last month, we established a £1.5 million fund to create more woodland and small farms and crofts. In the programme for government, we announced a new £10 million pilot sustainable agriculture capital grant scheme to support farmers and crofters to address climate change.

Will the cabinet secretary offer specific detail on the help that is available for small farms and, in particular, tenant farmers to cut emissions?

The new fund of £1.5 million for small farms and crofters to create small-scale woods and shelter belts on their landholdings is the applicable support in this case. The funds will also support the purchase of specialist forestry equipment for those small-scale operations; the funds will be available to tenant farmers, as well as owners and crofters.

I want to ensure that the small farms grant scheme works more effectively, so a review will be commenced shortly.

I know that there are many tenant and small farmers in Dumfriesshire and the rest of the south of Scotland who are already playing their part in cutting emissions, and there are more who want to do so. We—by which I mean the whole Scottish Government but, in particular, my colleague Fergus Ewing and me—want to ensure that such farmers can access support that will help them contribute to our climate change targets.

The ban on burning plastics on farms and crofts is aimed at reducing emissions. The cabinet secretary will be aware of the particular difficulties in complying for farmers and crofters on our smaller islands. Given the financial and environmental cost of shipping plastics, will she again consider the case for a targeted exemption, perhaps under the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018?

I would be happy to discuss directly with Liam McArthur the issue that he has raised. I am conscious that our islands face particular challenges in respect of a number of areas, of which that is one. I will engage directly with the member on that issue.


United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the United Kingdom Government to discuss the COP26 conference due to take place in Glasgow in November 2021. (S5O-04562)

I spoke to COP26 president Alok Sharma regarding the decision that was taken on 1 April to postpone COP26. He has since visited Scotland, but he declined to meet either me or anyone else from the Scottish Government. I hope to engage with him again soon to discuss COP26 and our Governments’ shared ambition to deliver net zero economies. My officials are, of course, in regular contact with their UK Government counterparts on COP26, covering areas such as policy, strategic communications, safety, security and resilience, and transport planning.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her reply, although it is very disappointing. Does she intend to have further discussions, particularly on the UK Government’s commitment to provide financial support to ensure a safe, secure and successful COP26? Has an agreement has been reached—or is one likely to be reached—on a suitable venue for the Scottish Government to host events throughout COP26?

The Scottish ministers have already made clear their expectation that all costs arising from the decision to hold COP26 in Glasgow will be borne by the UK Government. Core costs must include funding for the police, fire and ambulance services and other key stakeholders both to prepare for and to deliver a safe, secure and successful event. In the spirit of partnership, we offered Glasgow Science Centre to the UK Government, on the provision that the Scottish Government secured an alternative venue. However, finalising the arrangements for that has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Question 7 has not been lodged.


Green Economy

To ask the Scottish Government how its programme for government aims to tackle climate change through support for the green economy. (S5O-04564)

The programme for government has the net zero aim at the heart of its focus on new jobs, good jobs and green jobs. For example, our groundbreaking £1.6 billion commitment will transform heat and energy efficiency as part of an enhanced green new deal. It will drive Scotland’s green recovery, and could directly support up to 5,000 green jobs while tackling fuel poverty and rapidly accelerating decarbonisation of an area that generates a quarter of Scotland’s emissions. Additional investment of £500 million will be made in Scotland’s natural economy, including an extra £150 million to deliver a 50 per cent increase in woodland creation targets by 2024, and £150 million for flood risk management to achieve a more climate-resilient Scotland.

Those announcements are all welcome—in particular, those on multiannual funding, which will create the certainty that is required.

In addition to the 5,000 jobs connected with the heat and energy efficiency investment programme that she mentioned, will the cabinet secretary outline what else the programme for programme will deliver on green jobs, which will be so central to our recovery from Covid-19?

We are aligning our commitments to green skills and training to well-targeted investments in heat, housing, active travel and natural infrastructure that will drive demand in green markets and deliver those green jobs. To support that work, the youth guarantee, in which we have invested £60 million, will include green apprenticeships, and our £25 million national transition training fund will support retraining to enable people to access green jobs. We are also investing £100 million in a green jobs fund, which will support businesses that provide sustainable and/or low-carbon products and services, to help them to develop, grow and create jobs.

On the same theme, and given the evidence that was taken at yesterday’s meeting of the Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, at which green jobs were very much the centre of attention, will the cabinet secretary outline what formal discussions the Scottish Government is having with the business community about extending the programmes that she mentioned in her reply to James Dornan?

We are having those discussions across Government and directly with those in all our relevant portfolio areas, as the member might expect. I regularly discuss the issue of green jobs, as does my colleague Fergus Ewing, and I know that other colleagues do so as well. If there is a register of all those discussions immediately available, we will try to flag as much as possible to Liz Smith. However, those conversations are happening regularly, as we would expect.


Fishing Industry (Wind Farms)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent engagement it has had with the fishing industry in relation to wind farm developments. (S5O-04565)

The Scottish Government has been working closely with fishers and stakeholder organisations to help to ensure good relationships between the fishing and renewable energy sectors. That has included undertaking considerable engagement with the fishing industry and representatives, including from Shetland, in relation to offshore wind farm developments. In particular, we have consulted widely on future planning of offshore wind farm developments, consented wind farm projects and related research.

I thank the minister for her answer, but some parts of the fishing industry are frustrated that fisheries organisations have not been approached about proposed sites for offshore wind farm development.

The fishing industry is not against renewable energy, but it needs to be included in discussions early on. Fishermen with historical ties to fishing grounds know the sea bed and can help with offshore wind farm location in appropriate areas. What assurances can the minister give that there will not be a negative impact on the sea bed and spawning stocks from those developments, and does the Scottish Government recognise the concerns of the fishing industry?

I thank Beatrice Wishart for that question and I assure her that I take those concerns seriously. She mentioned that fishers want to be involved as early as possible in any discussions that are taking place. We are always looking at ways to try to improve engagement and communication between the renewables and fishing sectors.

My officials in the sea fisheries team, the Marine Scotland licensing and operations team and the marine planning and strategy team work together to ensure that relevant fishing organisations are contacted at all stages of offshore wind development. I know that my officials would be happy to engage with wider fisheries interests if Beatrice Wishart thinks that that would be helpful.

Jamie Halcro Johnston is next, to be followed by Stewart Stevenson.

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on tourism businesses in the Highlands and Islands.

I am sorry, Mr Halcro Johnston, we have made a mistake again. I assumed that you had a supplementary to question 1, but yours is a later question.

Given that the fish processing industry is the biggest sector by turnover and by employment, what assurances has the Scottish Government had from the United Kingdom Government that the ability of that industry to continue to export to its major markets in the European Union and beyond will be preserved in the event of the no deal that we see looming in a week’s time?

I absolutely share the member’s serious concerns about that issue, particularly in relation to the processing sector. The Brexiteers put fishing front and centre in their campaign, insisting that leaving the EU would mean a boom time for our fishing fleets. We have to look out for our processing sector as well as our fishers and look at what no deal means for it.

We are constantly working to try to get those assurances from the UK Government, but as yet we have not received them. As the member said, the clock is ticking. We need to have those assurances because we want to protect the sector in Scotland. It is a sector that the Scottish Government is standing up for and will continue to stand up for in the negotiations.


Covid-19 (Agricultural Shows and Fairs)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to the agricultural shows and fairs that have had to cancel due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rural communities and charities that rely on the income these generate. (S5O-04566)

There is no doubt that the loss of agricultural and Highland shows and fairs this year has been acutely felt in rural communities, not least given the loss of the social interaction and economic activity that they provide and create.

Some show committees have moved their events online, while others have postponed or cancelled them completely. A few have gone ahead with events after undertaking appropriate risk assessments and putting in place distancing and hygiene measures. We have published guidance for running outdoor events. We expect organisers to strictly adhere to the guidance and to use it as a supporting document to ensure that their show or fair can go ahead safely.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and ask him to join me in welcoming the virtual Highland games that will take place this Saturday, 12 September. Has he come across any other alternative and innovative ways for such events to continue?

I am happy to join the member in welcoming that event, and I pay tribute to the organisers for their imagination. Other virtual events have taken place in Scotland. The Scottish Rural Network has launched a Covid-19 information hub, and the Scottish smallholder festival has moved online for 2020.

We all miss shows and events—I have been attending my local events for more decades than I wish to remember. They are a fulcrum of rural and social activity in our country, and they really are sorely missed, so we all look forward to seeing them resume next year.

The impact of Covid-19 clearly highlights how vital the agricultural sector is, not just to the economy but to ensuring that the nation is fed. Can the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government will work to maximise the local promotion and purchase of fresh, healthy Scottish produce?

That question is quite broad, but Fergus Ewing can answer it briefly.

I agree with Angus MacDonald. During Covid, many individuals have revisited their eating habits and cooking arrangements, and there has been a marked move towards local food in many different ways. In this year’s programme for government, I have committed to developing a local food strategy for Scotland, and I am working as part of a ministerial group on the matter to publish a statement of national policy. As Mr MacDonald well knows, there are many ways in which we can celebrate and encourage the increased consumption of high-quality local Scottish produce.

I share Alexander Burnett’s concern about the effects of the cancellation of agricultural shows, but that is just one aspect of the pain that the rural economy is feeling. The end of the United Kingdom Government’s furlough scheme is in sight, and the scheme is likely to be masking current and potential rural unemployment levels.

What support and assurance can the cabinet secretary offer the sectors in the rural economy in particular that have been worst affected by Covid? They are struggling to recover, given that the UK has so far refused to extend the scheme beyond October.

Again, that is a quite broad interpretation, but Fergus Ewing can answer briefly.

We have provided support to alleviate hardship in numerous sectors, including the sea fish and shellfish sectors and the tourism sector—all the sectors that have been most affected by Covid.

Gillian Martin is absolutely right. When the furlough scheme expires in October, it will leave hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland, and millions across the UK—millions—facing potential redundancy. That is why I have urged Nigel Huddleston, my counterpart as the UK tourism minister, to make the strongest possible representations to the Treasury to urge it to revisit its refusal to extend the furlough scheme or at least to replace it with a job support package. Otherwise, I fear that there will be unemployment that is unprecedented in our joint lifetimes, Presiding Officer, which is quite a few years.

I thank you for that vote of confidence, Mr Ewing.


Domestic Tourism

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage domestic tourism. (S5O-04567)

We are clear that, where it is safe to do so, visitors from Scotland and across the United Kingdom are welcome to holiday in Scotland. We simply ask that people who holiday in or visit Scotland do so in a responsible way that respects our people, communities and environment. To help with that, VisitScotland launched a £3 million marketing campaign that encourages Scots to travel in Scotland and appreciate what is on offer in their own country. VisitScotland also worked with its counterparts across the UK on the good to go industry standard, which has allowed businesses across all sectors to demonstrate that they are adhering to the Government and public health guidance, and are safe to visit.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that, in the Scottish Conservatives’ recently published job plan, “Power Up Scotland”, we say that domestic tourism is vital to Scotland’s economy, especially while international tourism is largely reduced due to the virus. Will the Scottish Government take on board our proposal of a marketing campaign for the rest of the UK, and on what date will it be implemented?

We have to be mindful of the position with regard to Covid, and all exert due vigilance. We are welcoming to people who come to Scotland, but we have to be extremely careful about the precise position that Scotland and the rest of the UK are in at the moment, and each make decisions with regard to our personal responsibilities.

I am happy to work with anyone and everyone in order to promote tourism across these islands, but if the Conservatives wish to do something positive, clear, decisive and influential to help us all, it would be to indicate now that they will review their refusal to extend the furlough scheme. Beyond doubt, that is the most important thing to do.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is the height of hypocrisy for Tories to demand more action of this Government on tourism in the very same week that recently ousted leader Jackson Carlaw called for an end to the furlough scheme? Clearly, the cabinet secretary agrees that extending furlough through winter is absolutely crucial if we are not to see thousands of job losses in our tourism industry, so will he again approach the UK Government with further demands that furlough be maintained for the winter?

I have sympathy with Mr Gibson’s remarks. Of course, I will continue to advocate the path of providing support for people who face almost certain redundancy towards the end of this autumn.

I have constructive relations with my UK counterpart, Nigel Huddleston; however, the question of what influence he will have with the UK Government remains. The problems are affecting tourism all over the UK, particularly cities, and particularly hotels in cities, not least in London. In some ways, it is surprising that there has not been a more timely response. The problem is that the matter is time sensitive. Large companies have to, quite rightly, issue redundancy notices in advance. The longer that the UK Government delays a proper, commensurate and sufficient response to the impending tsunami of unemployment, the greater the human misery will be. The matter is time sensitive and really important.

Visitor attractions are an important part of domestic tourism. I am interested to hear the cabinet secretary’s response to calls from representatives of visitor attractions that distancing be reduced to 1m, as is the case in the hospitality sector. Even though they have been able to open for a brief time, visitor attractions will face a difficult time over the next few months and need to increase their income to get them through to next season.

I have much sympathy with that call. I have had numerous conference calls with the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions, which is led very ably by Gordon Morrison and Susan Morrison. I am acutely aware of the fact that the 2m rule, which still applies to some visitor attractions, is making it extremely difficult for some businesses to operate viably. Indeed, the reduction may be the biggest ask that they have at the moment.

Some of those businesses have received financial support but, with a reduced number of clients or visitors due to the 2m requirement, it is difficult for some to operate. We are looking at that issue carefully, but we have to balance the public health issues against the industry issues, which is difficult. Sadly, over the past few days, we have all seen the rising number of people who have been found to have Covid. Therefore, as the First Minister has outlined, we need to be extremely careful.

Claire Baker raises a very serious point; it is one that I am considering constantly, as are my officials. As soon as it is safe to do so, we would all want to see a reduction of the social distancing requirement from 2m to 1m for visitor attractions, as well as other establishments.


Tourism (Dundee)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to support Dundee and its tourism sector to ensure that the city can safely welcome back visitors. (S5O-04568)

Dundee has featured in each phase of VisitScotland’s strategic marketing recovery activity, and Dundee’s tourism businesses have also benefited from our wide range of financial and other support.

Looking ahead, VisitScotland will continue to work with partners in the city through the Dundee tourism leadership group and other fora to support the recovery of the sector. That will involve sharing insights, ensuring that the city is represented in their own activities and supporting business support and development opportunities.

Will the minister join me in paying tribute to V&A Dundee, which is leading a campaign to raise £1 million to aid the city’s economic recovery from Covid-19? The campaign has already received sizeable donations of £500,000 from the Northwood Charitable Trust and £200,000 from donors including Alasdair Locke and Tim Allan, who chairs V&A Dundee. Will the minister welcome the campaign, but also say what further support the Scottish Government can give visitor attractions such as the V&A, Discovery Point and others in the city?

Absolutely—I join Shona Robison in paying tribute to V&A Dundee and I welcome the willingness of the V&A, the Northwood Charitable Trust and all the other organisations that have been involved in establishing that excellent initiative in Dundee. It is a fantastic example of how different institutions and charities can come together to try to find innovative solutions for recovery. I really hope that people and businesses in Dundee will get behind the campaign.

The Scottish Government is committed to doing all that we can to help our world-class culture sector in what are very challenging and uncertain times. We have provided significant support to cultural organisations across Scotland, including in Dundee. The latest £59 million funding package, which we announced on 28 August, will protect elements of our critical cultural infrastructure by helping organisations to stave off insolvency, protect jobs and create the best possible conditions for recovery.


Dirty Camping (Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle so-called dirty camping in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park. (S5O-04569)

The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority is responsible for protecting the national park and reducing the impact of visitor and recreational pressures. It is working closely with Police Scotland, local authorities and other agencies to address instances of irresponsible behaviour.

More broadly, the Scottish Government is working with public sector partners including NatureScot to promote responsible use of the outdoors. As I mentioned in a previous answer during environment questions, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism will convene a round-table meeting of public sector agencies on Monday 14 September to look at a co-ordinated approach to dealing with these issues.

Since lockdown restrictions have been eased, the number of people visiting the area has increased substantially. The vast majority do so responsibly, but a significant minority cause damage by leaving behind litter and abandoned campsites and damaging trees and the natural habitat.

The national park authority, the relevant councils and Police Scotland do not have sufficient resources to ensure that there is effective enforcement of the byelaws that the minister mentioned. Will the minister outline what further actions the Scottish Government can take to make enforcement of those byelaws more effective and avoid further damage in the area?

As I have said, I understand that this is a very important issue. It has been raised by a number of members across the Parliament and we will discuss it in tonight’s members’ business debate.

As Dean Lockhart rightly says, it is a minority of people who undertake such behaviour, but they are determined to try to ruin things for everyone else.

The park authority together with Police Scotland have the appropriate powers to address the sort of antisocial and irresponsible behaviour that has been experienced in the national park over the summer. However, as I said in my initial response and in answering previous questions on the matter, we take these issues very seriously. That is why the cabinet secretary will hold the meeting on Monday, which I believe the national parks will take part in as well, so that we can look at the issues and at what more can be done to fully address and tackle them.

We need to be solutions focused here. Alongside education and enforcement, we need a discussion about appropriate facilities to deal with the demand. What progress has been made with the Forestry and Land Scotland trial to allow camper vans to use empty car parks at night, away from residential areas, in spaces where they can be monitored—a trial that picks up on the model of visitor management that is adopted in the French Alps?

The project that is under way continues and seems to have operated positively so far. We will continue to monitor the situation and if we need to learn lessons from it and are able to roll out matters, we will do exactly that. The summit on Monday will be vitally important and will be about finding solutions and considering what we can do in the short, medium and longer term to really tackle the problems.


Wedding Guidance

To ask the Scottish Government when it will provide updated guidance regarding weddings, in light of the importance of the wedding sector to tourism and the economy of the north-east. (S5O-04570)

The Scottish Government is aware of the difficulties that the wedding sector faces throughout Scotland and we are conscious of the contribution that it makes to the economy and people’s lives.

Throughout August, I met representatives from the sector to listen to their concerns and we are working with the sector to finalise guidance. Following the First Minister’s announcement on 20 August, I hope that we can provide any further detail soon.

Once venues are able to operate, many people who have postponed plans for weddings will come back, which will probably lead to unprecedented demand for venues, caterers, bands, florists and many others. Does the minister believe that special consideration—through an increase of the furlough period or indeed specific discretionary funding—should be given to the wedding sector?

Maureen Watt is quite right and I am acutely aware of the devastating impacts on the sector. I have spoken individually to businesses about the situation and, although the outlook is different for each, they have all been impacted really severely. Our total package of financial support—now more than £2.3 billion—has helped many businesses. We believe that the furlough should be extended and we will continue to push the UK Government to provide the support that is required for the sector.

The First Minister told Parliament on 20 August:

“we hope that from 14 September, wedding and civil partnership receptions ... will be able to take place with more attendees”—[Official Report, 20 August 2020; c 5.]

and that guidance would be issued “shortly.”

Does the cabinet secretary really think that it is acceptable that, days before 14 September and three weeks after that statement, we still have not seen any guidance? Couples will elope from Gretna Green to England to get married, instead of the other way around.

I just point Mr Smyth to—[Laughter.] I will not comment about the elopement—I will just avoid that.

In all seriousness, we have seen the numbers of those who are infected with the virus increase all over Britain since 20 August, which none of us expected or wanted. However, all of us have to respond to that, and that consideration must be given preference at this time.

I am glad that the cabinet secretary is not bothered about elopement. Gretna Green will not be recognisable for people to get married in, because the Government has failed to deliver for the wedding industry and has left couples in limbo—people have had to put off a major life event. Why has it taken so long to put guidance in place? I raised those issues with the cabinet secretary before the summer recess; we are now months further on and people do not have details. That situation is costing jobs and costing people the chance to get married.

I have been in regular contact with businesses, not least in Gretna Green, that have had devastating impacts. I have sought to maintain that contact and will do so. I say to the member to try to bear in mind that we are in the middle of a pandemic. We have to take decisions in Government that involve people’s lives as well as their livelihoods, which is an extremely difficult balance. We are not saying that we get everything right—the First Minister has made that absolutely clear—but I ask the member to please give us credit for taking those matters extremely seriously.


Covid-19 (Glasgow Tourism Venues)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to tourism venues across Glasgow that are facing financial hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04571)

We completely understand the severe impact of the pandemic on tourism in Scotland, particularly in our cities, and we have acted quickly to provide financial support, which now exceeds £2.3 billion in total.

We have provided a range of different grants and rates relief tailored to the differing needs of tourism and hospitality businesses throughout Scotland. We recently launched our £14 million hotel recovery programme to help to secure up to 3,000 jobs at Scotland’s larger hotels, and we are supporting the events industry with additional funding of £10 million.

We are working hard with industry to identify further action, with the tourism task force central to that process.

The tourism industry is vital to Glasgow’s economy, delivering hundreds of millions of pounds every year. Will the cabinet secretary review the take-up rate for the hardship fund to ensure that all Glasgow venues that request support receive it?

Of course we want to ensure that businesses that suffer financial hardship as a result of the Covid pandemic get what assistance they can. That has been the watchword and the approach here. The approach is not to compensate for all lost revenue or income, which is impossible; rather, it is to identify financial hardship and seek to alleviate it.

I am very happy to work with Johann Lamont and, indeed, all other members who identify any particular business that they believe is in a situation of financial hardship and has not received support. However, I believe that, at this particular point in the pandemic, we have close to exhausted the funding that is available to us to meet those compensations. I appreciate that the situation is extremely difficult for Ms Lamont’s constituents and many businesses around Scotland, and we will continue to do everything that we can in practical and pragmatic terms to alleviate the financial hardship that has been caused to tourism businesses by the Covid pandemic.

My apologies to Sandra White and, in particular, Jamie Halcro Johnston, who waited patiently to ask his question a second time. I am afraid that we have overrun and gone too far, and we now have to move on to the next item of business. There will be a short pause while we do so.