Meeting date: Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 09 November 2016
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Ministry of Defence (Basing Reforms), Prevention and Eradication of Hate Crime and Prejudice, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, International Credit Union Day 2016, Correction
- Portfolio Question Time
- Ministry of Defence (Basing Reforms)
- Prevention and Eradication of Hate Crime and Prejudice
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- International Credit Union Day 2016
Portfolio Question Time
Rural Economy and Connectivity
Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time. To get as many members in as possible, I would prefer short and succinct questions and answers to match. I say that more in hope than in expectation.
Rail Unions (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the rail unions. (S5O-00302)
In addition to regular engagement with the Scottish Trades Union Congress, meetings have been held to discuss specific issues with individual unions. Most recently, I met Manuel Cortés, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, on 25 October. As part of my regular engagement with the STUC, I will meet the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the TSSA tomorrow, when I imagine that a number of issues will be discussed.
The three major railway trade unions all oppose the Scottish Government’s proposal to wind up the British Transport Police’s operations in Scotland and absorb the service into Police Scotland. The unions cite the need for a distinctive police service for the railway. The deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police told the Justice Committee only last week that dual control of the transport police’s function would lead to even more train delays and to railways crimes being downgraded.
My constituent Lucy Milton, who is an employee of the British Transport Police and who lives in Airdrie, wrote to me:
“There isn’t a thought for those of us lying awake at night wondering how we will support families or indeed how the service we have worked so very hard to provide will be delivered once this is over. They don’t care what happens to us.”
How does the minister answer Lucy Milton, the deputy chief constable, ASLEF, the RMT, the TSSA and the other transport experts? Why will the Scottish Government not drop the proposed bill?
Now, Mr Leonard, you have set us off in a bad way, because that was not a short second question. I hope that you will not repeat that approach, minister.
I will keep my answer brief, Presiding Officer. I will engage with the unions tomorrow, when I will be keen to hear their concerns. I will see whether I can give them the necessary reassurance.
I will say a couple of things to the member’s constituent and those who oppose the policy. First, we are giving a lot of assurances that we will protect the number of staff and the terms and conditions of BTP officers. Most important, we are ensuring that railway expertise is maintained on the railways. I recognise that BTP officers joined the BTP to be on our railways and not out on the beat in the streets, and we will protect their expertise.
Secondly, we were elected on a manifesto promise to do what we are doing with BTP integration, and I remind the member that we got more votes than his party and the main Opposition party combined. [Humza Yousaf has corrected this contribution. See end of report.] That is the rationale behind what we are doing.
I will consult the unions, the British Transport Police and anybody else who has any concerns about the integration of the BTP. Police numbers will be protected and officers’ terms and conditions will be protected. I would have thought that the member would welcome that.
Oh, dear—all hope is gone.
When the minister last met the rail unions, did he discuss with them the need for repair and better maintenance of the fabric of the rail station at Prestwick airport?
The matter was not raised in the last discussion that I had with the rail unions, but I am more than happy to discuss it with the member and to see whether I can provide assurances about it and take it up with Network Rail.
Rail Lines and Stations (Support for Reopening)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to third sector organisations that seek to build a case for the reopening of rail lines and stations. (S5O-00303)
If requested, the Scottish Government provides advice through Transport Scotland to third sector organisations and others on the application of its transport appraisal and business case guidance. The guidance is published on Transport Scotland’s website.
The minister might not be aware that the Newburgh train station group recently applied unsuccessfully for funds from the national lottery to develop a Scottish transport appraisal guidance report after Fife Council had exhausted funds supporting the STAG process for the critical Levenmouth rail route. Does he agree that the planning of our 21st century rail network should not depend on a lottery game? Will he commit to the provision of enough funds to examine the cases of all emerging rail projects, while also reviewing the STAG process to make it more streamlined, transparent and cost effective?
I am more than happy to discuss that in more detail with the member. I met members of the Levenmouth rail campaign and had a good discussion with them. The proposal has some merit, although there are still questions that need to be answered, which Fife Council is working on.
The campaigners did not raise the funding of the STAG appraisal as an issue, but I agree with them that there is merit in looking at whether the appraisal process can be made less cumbersome. I am more than happy to do that and to take that feedback. I am waiting for the council’s feedback on the Levenmouth rail option. All rail projects will be considered with an open mind if they have fully costed and robust business cases.
Success has been demonstrated by the number of passengers who are travelling on the Waverley line from the Scottish Borders, which illustrates the positive impact that opening lines and stations has on rural communities. The minister is aware of the campaign to reopen East Linton and Reston stations. Will the Scottish Government indicate when those much-needed stations will be reinstated?
When I last met the stakeholders who are involved in that conversation, I mentioned that the Scottish Government has increased its contribution to the construction of those stations to 50 per cent. I received a letter from Scottish Borders Council that said that it wished to enter into further discussions and, when I reply to it in the next few days, I will ensure that Rachael Hamilton is copied in. There is a way forward and we are committed—as are the council and the elected members, I am sure—to the reopening of East Linton and Reston stations.
Superfast Broadband (Installation Timetable)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will publish a timetable for the installation of superfast broadband indicating when the service will be available in each area. (S5O-00304)
Planned deployment information, including expected timescales, for the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme is available on the digital Scotland postcode checker. The DSSB programme will extend fibre broadband access to at least 95 per cent of premises by the end of 2017 and we are committed to extending superfast coverage to 100 per cent of premises across Scotland by 2021. The timetable for delivery will depend on the outcome of new procurements, which will begin next year.
As much information as possible—and as soon as possible—is the best option for communities and families so that they can get best value for money with the data services that they plan to buy. In the broadband contracts that the Scottish Government is delivering with BT, how is it ensuring that it is also getting value for money?
The member makes a valid point. Communities throughout Scotland are keen to know when they will get access to superfast broadband—that is absolutely understandable and we are not complacent about that. There are five stages to upgrading a green roadside cabinet: design, survey, build, connection and activation. All members will understand that issues can be identified at any one of those stages that can change the expected delivery date, and that should be borne in mind in relation to timescales.
The member asked about value for money, which I assure him is a key consideration. Each quarter, the digital superfast broadband programme assures milestones that are delivered by BT against contractual targets. That assurance feeds into the level of payment that BT receives quarterly so, if it does not deliver, it does not get paid.
I appreciate that there is a difference between making the service available in each area and connecting every household in an area, as the Government has committed to do. Does the minister understand the frustration that is felt by many people who have no idea when they might get connected to superfast broadband, despite announcements having been made perhaps 18 months or two years ago that superfast broadband is now in their area and despite having superfast broadband lines going past their homes?
If Mr Rumbles had listened to my first answer, in which I indicated that information is available on the digital Scotland postcode checker—[Interruption.] Mr Rumbles is interrupting from a sedentary position.
I absolutely agree and, as I said, I am not complacent about the situation. I understand those perfectly legitimate concerns, which are expressed by a great many people.
However, I am pleased that bodies such as Ofcom have recognised and praised the progress that we are making in Scotland. Ofcom, which is the regulator, has said that our progress on broadband is better than that south of the border. I appreciate that recognition from the regulator, but we are not complacent and we are aware of the concerns.
What is being done to encourage greater take-up of superfast broadband in areas where it has been delivered, in order to allow more resources to be channelled into communities that currently cannot access superfast broadband?
A great many people are pretty keen to access broadband where they can. The member makes a reasonable point, which I will reflect on to see whether we can do more. I am pleased that he shares our concern and our commitment to ensuring that there is universal coverage by 2021. I will write to him about whether there are any ways in which we can encourage take-up. It is primarily a matter for each person to decide whether to take up services if they so wish.
High-speed Fibre Broadband (Access)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to extend access to high-speed fibre broadband across the country. (S5O-00305)
The digital Scotland superfast broadband programme will extend fibre broadband access to at least 95 per cent of premises in Scotland by the end of 2017.
As outlined in the programme for government, this Government has put digital connectivity at the heart of its agenda and it is committed to delivering 100 per cent superfast broadband access by the end of this session of Parliament.
Thank you for that response. We can measure the importance of broadband by the number of questions lodged about it.
Given the engineering complexities of deploying fibre broadband cabinets, which do not allow digital Scotland to give any specific details regarding roll-out times, and given that many of my constituents in the very heart of Edinburgh still do not have access to fibre optic broadband, what is being done to ensure that the March 2018 deadline for roll-out will be met?
There are two answers to the question. First, in two contracts throughout Scotland, we are delivering an investment by the Scottish Government of £400 million, with support from the United Kingdom Government and others. That programme has been praised by Ofcom. It has been acknowledged as being effective by not only Audit Scotland but the UK Government.
Secondly, as I said in answer to the first question, we will roll out access through a procurement process that will be entered into next year. It is important that we do not rush it. The UK Government was thought to have rushed its so-called mobile infrastructure plan. The result was that only three masts were erected instead of 78. That was because the preparatory work to ascertain the existing level of cover was not done. In other words, we cannot proceed with the roll-out of the contract for the remainder until we are absolutely sure what the specification is for those who already have it.
I am sorry for the length of the answer, Presiding Officer, but it is important that I answer the member’s question fully.
That preparatory work is essential but we are adhering to our timetables and I am very pleased that our progress has been recognised by the regulator, Audit Scotland, and the UK Government.
Let us hope that answers get shorter, as well as questions.
I have a short question. Although fibre optic broadband is important in rolling out high-speed broadband across Scotland, there are some areas where it will not be appropriate or that it will not be able to reach. Aside from fibre optic broadband, which methods—that will be cost-neutral to the end user—is the cabinet secretary considering for those hard-to-reach areas, many of which are in his constituency and my region?
As I have indicated to the chamber before, the process of tendering next year acknowledges that one size does not necessarily fit all and that we will therefore need to be flexible enough to enable a variety of techniques to be adopted. The member makes a perfectly reasonable point and it is one that we are already pursuing.
I declare an interest as a farmer.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to address the reported concerns of farmers and industry representatives regarding new rules on linked holdings. (S5O-00306)
The purpose of the ScotMoves system is to enable efficient and effective disease control and eradication and the protection of public health. The system has been developed collaboratively by a joint Scottish Government and industry working group to ensure that, while animal and public health is protected, the requirements are feasible for businesses, meet European Union legislative requirements and do not impede trade.
The cabinet secretary will be aware from his meetings with stakeholders and industry leaders that the change has caused a great deal of concern among the farming community. Can he explain why he is changing a perfectly good system when the new system is creating further anxiety for farmers and another hoop for them to jump through at an already difficult time?
The original question referred to “reported concerns” that were and remain unspecified. The working group included the National Farmers Union Scotland, which developed the proposals along with us, so it cannot be said that they come as a surprise.
The direct answer to Mr Chapman’s question is twofold. First, the current system risks non-compliance with EU rules and a fine of up to €3 million. It seems sensible to avoid that if we can, and any prudent Government must do so.
Secondly, and most important, there is the issue of disease control. It is essential that we have a system of recording cattle movements and keeping records that protect against disease. Some of us in the chamber can recall what happened when Scotland was beset by disease; Mr Chapman, as a farmer, will be well aware of that.
I will write to Mr Chapman with the details, but it is important in principle for all members to know that the proposals are driven by the need to protect Scotland against serious outbreaks of disease such as foot-and-mouth disease, and that, for that reason, the change is absolutely necessary. Everybody in the working group—including the NFUS—acknowledged that, which is why it is going ahead.
Can the cabinet secretary tell us what progress has been made in implementing the 2016 common agricultural policy basic payment loan scheme?
I am pleased to tell Joan McAlpine that the first payments under the national basic payment support scheme were paid to almost 12,000 farmers last Friday and totalled just over £246 million. That funding will give our rural communities the security and certainty that they need to plan for the year ahead, while driving forward the rural economy. I am grateful to all the officials who successfully administered the £246 million in payments to just under 12,000 farmers.
Finally, we encourage the 5,000 farmers who received a loan offer but have not yet replied to decide whether they wish to apply and, if so, to return the application slip as soon as possible.
Superfast Broadband (Access)
To ask the Scottish Government how many homes have exchange-only lines and no access to superfast broadband. (S5O-00307)
The digital Scotland superfast broadband programme has connected more than 200,000 homes and businesses on exchange-only lines to the fibre network. By the end of the DSSB contracts, we expect that around 320,000 exchange-only lines will be connected.
We will undertake an open market review later this year to determine how many premises will not have superfast broadband access delivered commercially or through the DSSB programme. That will allow us to determine an intervention area for our new investment programme, which will help to deliver our 100 per cent superfast broadband commitment.
My constituents, from Fairmilehead to Balerno and Ratho, who have exchange-only lines, are concerned that they have access only to basic broadband with very low download speeds—in some cases, as low as 0.8 bits per second. What steps are being taken to address that issue in semi-rural areas and when will those areas get access to superfast broadband?
The Pentlands and the Fairmilehead exchanges that cover Balerno and Fairmilehead have been enabled for fibre broadband, but not all homes and businesses have been connected yet. Constituents can check their details on the digital Scotland website or contact the DSSB team with any specific concerns. I am aware of Gordon MacDonald’s strong interest in the matter and I will write to him with further details.
I apologise to the four members whom I was unable to call. Along with the other Presiding Officers, I am trying to get short questions and answers to allow the members at the tail end to get in. With your help, we will get there one day. We will now have to move on to the next set of portfolio questions.
National Marine Centre
To ask the Scottish Government what support it will offer the new national marine centre being developed at North Berwick. (S5O-00312)
The Scottish Government wrote in support of the national marine centre in North Berwick as part of the project’s successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Marine Scotland officials sit on the project’s marine advisory group to provide advice and support as it develops the subsequent application to the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as other funding opportunities.
The national marine centre is a development of the Scottish Seabird Centre, which has a substantial track record of success. It has around 270,000 visitors per year and brings people from all over Scotland and indeed the world to North Berwick. The marine centre project has the potential to expand that educational and tourism success into all aspects of the marine and coastal environment. As the cabinet secretary indicated, a major fundraising programme is under way, but further Government support will be crucial to secure match funding from the lottery funds to allow the project to proceed. Will the cabinet secretary commit to seeking such an investment?
I mentioned some of the support that has been provided so far. I understand that a £3.5 million bid is being made to the Heritage Lottery Fund. I agree with the member that the proposal is an extraordinary potential development that offers a great deal. There is a funding gap of, I think, £2 million, and funding applications will potentially be required. One of those could be to the coastal communities fund, for which round 4 awards will be announced in March 2017. Although the Scottish Government commits funding to the coastal communities fund, ministers are not actively involved in the decision making for it, as the member no doubt understands. However, the coastal communities fund funding officer is meeting the project team on 18 November to discuss details of the application.
Shale Gas Imports (Release of Carbon Dioxide)
To ask the Scottish Government how much carbon dioxide was released as a result of Ineos importing shale gas from the United States. (S5O-00313)
Although the Scottish Government and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency hold a range of site-specific emissions data, data on feedstock delivery and specific processes that take place in individual sites is not available. The Scottish Government therefore does not hold information on the CO2 emissions from imported ethane gas for particular sites. Emissions from the production of shale gas will be captured in the inventory of the country of origin.
As the cabinet secretary will be aware, climate change has no borders. Is she happy to be not only costing our economy jobs but managing to cause a greater environmental impact at the same time?
The Scottish Government continues to value the contribution that Grangemouth makes to the Scottish economy. We are supportive of the investment there and the efforts to ensure a sustainable future for the petrochemical and refinery business. Obviously, decisions about sourcing supply for that are a matter for the company.
As we have seen from discussions over the past few weeks, we need to be extraordinarily careful about adopting any kind of gung-ho or rushed approach to the industry. The Government’s job is to base decisions on evidence. The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy’s statement yesterday made it very clear that we will proceed on the basis of the research that is available. We will come to a considered judgment on unconventional oil and gas by the end of 2017.
The report on unconventional gas decommissioning that was launched yesterday found that there are big gaps in the regulations and that the full costs of restoration are unlikely to be known until the end of any project. Given the failure of the coal industry to successfully clean up the toxic legacy that it left behind in areas such as west Fife, will the cabinet secretary commit to including full liability for environmental clean-up costs in the Government’s consideration of the economics of unconventional gas?
Clearly we will look at that. I understand why there is a huge amount of concern about the issue and I can assure the chamber that the Scottish Government is treating it with the seriousness that it deserves. There were some indications in the expert conclusions that there was low risk of post-decommissioning well failure. We are looking very carefully at the issue and we will be taking that into consideration as we move forward.
Invasive Rhododendron (Threat to Woodland)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle the threat to woodland from invasive rhododendron. (S5O-00314)
Responsibility for the removal of invasive non-native species such as rhododendron lies with landowners rather than Government. The Scottish Government makes funding available to private woodland owners for rhododendron control projects under the Scottish rural development programme forestry grant scheme. To date, more than £340,000 of FGS funding has been committed. Since 2011, action on the national forest estate has cleared an area of 5,131 hectares on designated sites.
The Woodland Trust and the National Trust for Scotland say that our trees and woods are under real pressure from rhododendron. Both are calling on the Scottish Government to focus the right resources and give the correct priority to the eradication of that invasive species. Scotland has by far the largest population of rhododendron, at 53,000 hectares, of which the largest concentration is in the west. Will the Scottish Government address this ecological issue before the situation gets beyond control?
I indicated in my initial answer that landowners must be involved. We are taking the threat to woodland from invasive rhododendron very seriously and we are in the process of finalising a national approach. The final draft of that is likely to be published in March 2017; no doubt Rachael Hamilton will be watching out for that with great interest.
As I indicated, there is funding for private woodland owners. If Rachael Hamilton is in touch with individual woodland owners who have not applied for that, I urge her to suggest that they do so.
What support is given for partnership working with non-governmental organisations, volunteers and public bodies in relation to those types of challenging invasive species? They are such a scourge on our countryside. I recently visited the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Nethan Gorge reserve, and Japanese knotweed has started to grow there. It is a serious problem.
Claudia Beamish is correct. Although rhododendron is probably the most invasive species that we have to deal with, it is not by any stretch of the imagination the only one. Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam are also particular problems.
The same issue arises in respect of those species. Landowners have the primary responsibility. One reason why I mentioned the work that has been done on the national forest estate is that the Scottish Government is a landowner, as are NGOs. There are other community landowners, too. Land ownership brings with it huge responsibilities, and this is one of them. The funding that is available does not mandate any particular kind of work. We encourage landscape-scale partnership work, specifically in designated sites, because in reality such partnership working is what will help us to eradicate this pest.
Biodiversity (Central Scotland Green Network)
To ask the Scottish Government what lessons can be learned from the central Scotland green network in relation to biodiversity. (S5O-00315)
I am delighted that this Government is supporting Europe’s largest green space project, the central Scotland green network. Its work, which demonstrates that nature can thrive in built-up areas and bring a range of benefits for communities across the central belt, includes everything from landscape-scale initiatives such as Seven Lochs wetland park and large-scale green space improvements to small-scale initiatives such as window boxes. Its activity is also showing how biodiversity can revitalise neighbourhoods. For example, vacant and derelict land provides opportunities to green our urban landscapes both temporarily and permanently.
The Scottish Government launched “Scotland’s Biodiversity - a route map to 2020” last summer. What progress has been made towards achieving the six big steps for nature?
We continue to make progress in respect of biodiversity. As I have indicated in the meetings that I have had—even those this week, including with the CSGN yesterday—we know that there is still a great deal more to be done. As an example of one thing that links across the portfolio, it helps biodiversity to look at the kind of landscape partnership that we talked about in the previous question. That means that even dealing with problems such as rhododendrons can have a beneficial impact on biodiversity. The actions that we take across Government are important and we continue to make progress while accepting that there is still a great deal more to do.
The central Scotland green network can be seen as a building block towards a national ecological network. The Scottish Government’s biodiversity 2020 strategy states that developing a national ecological network has proved to be challenging because there is no consensus on what that is. Earlier this week, the chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage said, “What is it? No one knows.”
Does the cabinet secretary agree that there is a need to define the national ecological network to better target resources as well as to embed it across different areas, including the land use strategy, marine policy, the biodiversity strategy and the national planning framework?
I try not to get drawn into extended arguments about specific definitions. In previous years, when I was responsible for some of my current portfolio, people even questioned the use of the word “biodiversity”. The member has probably been in that kind of conversation.
We can spend a lot of time talking about definitions. However, I would like to be able to commend examples such as the CSGN, which are doing it anyway, right across what might be seen as the most difficult part of Scotland, in order to make these arguments. The network is making the arguments and it is winning. Some of the things that the CSGN is involved in are quite extraordinary. In a sense, it does not matter how we make the definition sound as long as we are doing it on the ground.
To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that Scottish Water maintains the highest standards of water quality. (S5O-00316)
The Scottish Government recognises the importance of achieving high standards of drinking water quality. In the period 2015 to 2021, Scottish Water has been directed to make improvements to Scotland’s drinking water at a cost of in excess of £500 million. Compliance with drinking water standards is assessed by the drinking water quality regulator for Scotland. In her 2015 annual report, she reported that, at 99.92 per cent, Scottish Water had delivered record levels of compliance with legislative standards.
Is the cabinet secretary aware that Scottish environment statistics that were published recently show that the number of rivers and lochs that were categorised as having poor water quality has increased by 17 per cent since 2011? Will the Scottish Government take more affirmative action to mitigate that problem and to help to prevent the potential impact on riparian wildlife?
Scottish Water constantly keeps a watching eye on water quality. That is extremely important, whether we are talking about lochs, bathing water or drinking water.
A number of treatments are under way that will help in that regard. If the member wishes to raise any specific concerns, I invite him to do so, either through me or directly with Scottish Water.
The cabinet secretary will be well aware that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage work closely with the whisky industry to ensure the highest possible quality of water for climate change and export market purposes. Will the cabinet secretary join me in praising the collaborative work of Diageo and the environmental agencies in creating a new state-of-the-art closed-loop distillery condenser at the new Roseisle facility on Speyside?
It certainly sounds like something I would very much want to commend. I thank the member for raising the issue because, having been at its recent launch, I am aware that the Scottish whisky industry is moving strongly on environmental concerns and has launched an environmental strategy of its own. That is welcome because, after all, Scotch whisky is sold on to the international market on an image of clean water in a beautiful environment. When products are sold from Scotland in that way, it is important that the industries that are involved in the production of those products realise that they have a responsibility for that environment, too.
Circular Economy Strategy
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made implementing its circular economy strategy. (S5O-00317)
Since “Making Things Last”, the document containing our circular economy strategy, was published in February, I have opened the circular economy investment fund for bids from collaborative, reuse and repair projects by small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises, and I have awarded more than £2 million to East Ayrshire Council to implement the household recycling charter, with further support available to councils to deliver a consistent approach to recycling in Scotland. I welcome the fact that 20 local authorities have now signed up to the charter.
Public bodies, partner organisations and, indeed, other cabinet secretaries and ministers are undertaking additional activity, as this is a cross-cutting Government approach that can succeed only if everyone plays their part.
The cabinet secretary has answered the first part of my supplementary question, which concerned the household recycling charter.
What further work will the Government be undertaking with local authorities, given that they are the bodies that will be responsible for implementing many of the actions that are in the strategy?
I apologise to the member for gazumping her. As I indicated, 20 of Scotland’s 32 councils have signed up to the household recycling charter, which has been so successful thus far due to the close collaboration between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which brought it about in the first place. That co-operation will continue as we start to implement the charter and take forward other elements of the “Making Things Last” strategy, including the commitment to review the rural exemption for food waste collections.
It is fair to say that a number of the councils that have signed up are in the early stages of their transition planning for this, but the idea is to ensure that, as far as possible, we have consistency across council boundaries in how recycling is done. We think that that will offer far more opportunities than currently exist with regard to waste and recycling.
Ministry of Defence (Environmental Discussions)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Ministry of Defence in the last year regarding the environment. (S5O-00318)
Scottish Government and MOD officials have had a number of meetings in the past year to discuss a range of environmental issues, including protected areas, radioactive substances and MOD plans for the marine environment.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that reply and for her reply last week to my written question that asked the Scottish Government to consider an assessment of the impact of the unmanned warrior MOD exercise. In that reply, the cabinet secretary said:
“As the competent authority MoD have responsibility for undertaking any appropriate environmental assessments under the relevant EU Directives or UK legislation.”—[Written Answers, 1 November 2016; S5W-03891.]
Will the cabinet secretary advise whether those environmental assessments have been shared with the Scottish Government? If not, could she request and publish them?
The member is correct to say that the MOD is the competent authority that is responsible for all environmental matters relating to defence under the relevant EU and UK legislation. We discuss a number of issues with the MOD. There was a recent meeting with MOD officials to discuss the proposed Inner Hebrides and Minches special area of conservation for harbour porpoise. Marine Scotland also maintains a relationship, based on regular contact, with the MOD. Obviously, we want to assist the MOD, where possible, to deliver on its environmental obligations.
I will need to double-check whether we are able to publish the environmental assessments—because we do not own them, in a sense. I will get back to the member when I have established that.
Carbon Emissions (Reduction)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce carbon emissions. (S5O-00319)
Scotland is a world leader in tackling climate change, with ambitious statutory targets and strong progress to date. Our policies and measures include expanding renewable energy production, improvements in energy and resource efficiency, transition of transport to a lower carbon basis, expansion of renewable heat and sustainable land use.
In 2014, Scottish emissions were down by 45.8 per cent from baseline levels, meaning that we exceeded our world-leading statutory target—to reduce emissions by 42 per cent from baseline levels by 2020—six years early.
A brief supplementary, please, Mr Arthur.
In the spirit of asking terse questions, what further measures and action can the Government take to reduce carbon emissions from transport?
As the member might expect, I suggest that one of the things that he could do would be to ask the Minister for Transport and the Islands directly about that issue.
I advise the member that the draft climate change plan is being drawn up and will have a number of transport-related measures in it. The draft will be presented to Parliament in January 2017. No doubt he will be looking forward to it with some interest.
Before we move on to the next item of business, I apologise to the two members whose questions were not taken. We are improving.