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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 14, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 14 March 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Longhope Lifeboat Disaster (50th Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Brexit (Impact on Further and Higher Education), Space Nation, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Point of Order, Decision Time, Correction


Portfolio Question Time

Prime Minister (Discussions)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last held discussions with the Prime Minister. (S5O-02989)

The First Minister spoke to the Prime Minister by phone on Tuesday afternoon, when the First Minister reinforced the Scottish Government’s position that article 50 should be extended to allow time for a second referendum on membership of the European Union.

It is certainly the case that a lot has happened, even since Tuesday. When is a further discussion with the Prime Minister about Scotland’s future likely to take place? Does the cabinet secretary believe that the Prime Minister is in control of events? Is she listening to the increasing number of calls for an extension to article 50?

I see no sign that the Prime Minister is listening. She is not even listening to her own party, which is voting against her. The way in which this issue has gone is a tragedy. We are now within a fortnight of the expected date of Brexit, and there is little sign of agreement.

There is a real democratic issue if the Prime Minister keeps coming back to the House of Commons with the same proposal. That is wearing people down, and it is government by attrition, not democracy. I would be happy—as, I am sure, the First Minister would be—to enter into substantive and meaningful discussions with the Prime Minister about how she might change the position that she is in and change her red lines. That should have happened months—some might say years—ago. It has not happened, and I do not think that the Prime Minister is the type of person who can make it happen now.

European Union Withdrawal Negotiations Debate (United Kingdom Government Response)

To ask the Scottish Government what response it has received from the UK Government to the simultaneous debates of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly that voted to reject the withdrawal agreement and a no-deal Brexit. (S5O-02990)

We have received no response from the UK Government. After the various fiascos in the House of Commons last night, including the extraordinary spectacle of the Prime Minister yet again voting against what she had proposed, it is not even clear whether there is an agreed UK Government position. That is an absolutely extraordinary situation, given that there is little more than two weeks to go before the UK is due to leave the European Union.

The views of this Parliament and those of the Welsh Assembly have consistently been ignored throughout the Brexit process. Large sections of Northern Irish opinion have also been ignored, because the Prime Minister has put herself in hock to the Democratic Unionist Party. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is still trying deliberately to run down the clock to a deeply damaging exit from the EU, but we will do everything that we can to prevent that disaster.

I share the cabinet secretary’s frustration that a handful of DUP MPs have more sway over the future of the countries of the UK than the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly has. The First Minister and the Parliament have been ignored during the Brexit process. Does that not demonstrate the need for Scotland to go its own way as an independent country?

I recall the wise observation of the late, great Donnie Stewart—a former president of the Scottish National Party and MP for the Western Isles—who said that if every person in Scotland got the opportunity to spend 30 minutes in the gallery of the House of Commons, they would be in no doubt about voting for independence. Again and again, we have seen how chaotic the House of Commons system is and how chaotically MPs are being led—or, frankly, not being led—by a Prime Minister in name only. As I said, she has put herself and her Government in hock to extremists in the DUP and, in particular, in the European research group. Those people will never be satisfied with any resolution, and they certainly will not be satisfied until they have got their own destructive way for their own destructive ends.

Many people, including the Scottish Government, have repeatedly told the Prime Minister that she should have been talking constructively to others; instead, she has chosen to pander to the worst elements in her party, and the consequences are there for everyone to see.

It is disappointing that the UK Government has not responded to the Parliament’s joint work with the National Assembly for Wales. I am pleased that the Scottish Government engaged in that initiative and I hope that we will work closely with our colleagues in Wales on other issues, as well as continuing to work with them on Brexit.

Will the cabinet secretary have a word in the First Minister’s ear to ask her to stop using the Welsh Government as one of her regular diversionary shields when she is in trouble at First Minister’s question time? In fact, we should learn from the Welsh Government, which is doing tremendous work.

My engagement with the Welsh Government has been on the business of Brexit, and I have made it clear that that engagement has been and continues to be constructive. However, that does not prevent the Welsh Government or the First Minister of Wales from criticising the Scottish National Party, which I believe happened at the Labour Party conference at the weekend, and it does not inhibit the First Minister of Scotland and others from criticising the Welsh Government.

However, it is important to say that, on Brexit, we have worked constructively with the Welsh Government, as we have worked constructively with Mr Findlay and the Labour Party in Scotland. Our aim is the same, and I hope that the Labour Party will endorse and publicly press for a second referendum, which would help enormously. We have worked well with the Welsh Government on Brexit and I hope that we will continue to do so.

Questions 3 and 8 have been grouped.

European Union Withdrawal Preparations (Barnett Consequentials)

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the £55 million it received in Barnett consequentials for 2019-20 to prepare for leaving the EU has been allocated and to what. (S5O-02991)

The £55 million has been distributed in its entirety across portfolios. Particular consideration has been given to the areas that will be heavily affected by Brexit: the economy, transport, food and drink, medicines, agriculture and the rural economy. Those portfolios are responsible for managing their preparations within their total budgets.

I am pleased to hear the minister’s response. He will be aware that last year’s budget included £37 million to address the effects of Brexit, but I understand that only £27 million of that money was spent and that none of it went to Police Scotland, which was not mentioned in the list that he gave. The minister will be aware that Police Scotland is reporting that there will be a significant risk if additional funding is not secured to recruit new officers to deal with the consequences of Brexit.

The £55 million was allocated on the basis of civil contingencies in the event of a no-deal scenario. Is the money contingent on there being no deal or can we keep it anyway, which would be helpful? Will the minister consider urgently making an allocation from that amount to Police Scotland?

I will try to cover that as best I can. Of the £37 million, £27 million was allocated to specific Brexit-related activity in the Scottish Government and its agencies, and the remaining £10 million was spent by portfolios as part of the overall budget settlement. All portfolio areas have benefited from all the EU consequentials that have been allocated via the budget, but none of the Scottish Government’s 2018-19 and 2019-20 EU consequentials arose from increased United Kingdom Government spending on policing. Of course, as with all public bodies, dialogue continues with Police Scotland.

Brexit Preparations (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has received from the United Kingdom Government to prepare for Brexit, and how much of this has been spent. (S5O-02996)

As I said, a sum was provided last year, and there is £55 million this year. All those sums have been or are being allocated.

Yesterday, the chief executive of Morrisons reported a 7 per cent increase in the purchase of basic medicines and toilet paper; Tesco and Marks and Spencer have also increased their orders of tinned goods. Is the minister stockpiling anything ahead of Brexit? What is the Government’s advice to consumers ahead of the UK leaving the European Union? Should they take steps to stockpile the basics?

As a responsible Government, we do not advise people to stockpile. We are doing considerable work to assess the challenges that will be faced as a consequence of Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit—if that is where we end up.

The Cabinet sub-committee on Scottish Government resilience, in conjunction with local authorities, for example, is doing considerable work that covers the full range of issues that we would face, such as access to boilers. Medicines are part of that consideration, too.

I assure the member that a great deal of work is going on to prepare Scotland—in so far as we can—for the consequences of Brexit, and we will continue to do that.

In his answer to Kezia Dugdale, the minister stated that £55 million had been made available this year from the UK Government. What is the minister’s view on how that amount compares with the loss of economic funding and the consequent economic damage that Scotland will face from being dragged out of the EU against its will?

It is a drop in the ocean compared with the impact that Scotland faces as a consequence of leaving the EU. That impact is being felt across the board—by the Scottish Government directly, by local authorities, by a multitude of public bodies and, of course, by the private sector. That amount is a very small proportion of what would be required to mitigate the impact of Brexit—it would be far better if we could find a way to avoid it completely.

Brexit (Impact on Third Sector Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact that Brexit will have on third sector funding. (S5O-02992)

European Union funding benefits Scotland’s third sector significantly. As a result of the United Kingdom Government’s chosen route for exiting the EU, we will lose access to almost all that funding. As yet, the UK Government has failed to provide any real detail on future funding arrangements.

Scotland’s third sector has told us that, in particular, the loss of structural funds—without consultation and without a clear replacement—is of grave concern. The UK Government had committed to consulting on a shared prosperity fund by the end of the 2018, so it is disappointing that that has not been forthcoming and there has been no update to the devolved Administrations. On 5 February, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government wrote to the UK Government, to seek an urgent update and reassurance that the third sector’s concerns will be properly considered. We await a response.

A number of groups in my constituency have benefited over the years from EU funding, including Fife Coast and Countryside Trust. The contributions of such groups cannot be overstated, yet the support to our committees is under serious threat. What assurances can the minister give to third sector organisations across Scotland that have grave concerns about their future?

The reality is that we cannot offer any guarantees, because we are dependent on the UK Government. Should the withdrawal agreement be agreed in full, Scotland will continue to benefit from programmes and funding covered by the multi-annual financial framework, as it would if the UK continued to be a member state at least until the end of the current budget round in December 2020.

In the event of no deal, the UK Government has given guarantees for replacing EU funding with UK finance. We have committed to passing on those guarantees in full—provided that we are given the means to do so, of course—and we will continue to press the UK Government on the issue of how those will operate in practice.

As I have said, it is deeply disappointing that the UK Government has yet to provide any further clarity on future arrangements for EU funding—the proposals that it has made so far provide no certainty for the future and the situation with the shared prosperity fund is particularly concerning. It is crucial that the UK Government urgently firms up the commitment to replacing in full all funding streams and that we receive our fair share, to ensure that decisions can be taken in the best interests of Scotland.

Independence Referendum (Impact of Sustainable Growth Commission)

To ask the Scottish Government how its plans for a future independence referendum have been informed by the sustainable growth commission. (S5O-02993)

The case for independence has been informed by the way Scotland’s interests have been consistently ignored and sidelined by successive Westminster Governments, particularly during the whole disastrous Brexit process.

An anonymous United Kingdom Government minister recently told the BBC that that there should not be another independence referendum because, in his or her words:

“Once you’ve hit the iceberg, you’re all on it together”.

The sustainable growth commission was set up by the Scottish National Party, not the Scottish Government. The evidence that it presents shows that, rather than hitting the iceberg—as James Kelly seems to prefer—Scotland can prosper as an independent country with the full powers of independence.

The First Minister has made clear that the Scottish Government will set out its views on a future independence referendum when the position on Brexit is clearer. We believe that Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands, not under the control of a Westminster Government that the people in Scotland did not elect.

Is it not the case that the position set out by the SNP growth commission—or, I should say, the SNP cuts commission—means year after year of cuts and uncertainty about currency, which will pile agony on to local communities in the form of cuts and inequality? Does the cabinet secretary not accept that the Government would be better to explicitly rule out another independence referendum and to concentrate on the important issues for the country, such as providing proper public services, tackling inequality and ensuring jobs and growth in the economy?

Of course, that is what the Scottish Government has been concentrating on, and will continue to concentrate on, because we are very focused on making Scotland a better place to live as well as cleaning up the mess that has been made by successive Westminster Governments, both Tory and Labour.

As for the growth commission, it did not say what Mr Kelly has suggested that it said. Of course, there have been years of cuts, austerity and confusion, but they have been brought about by the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats refusing to back independence in 2014. It is clear that the recipe for continued chaos, confusion and cuts is to continue to vote Labour, Conservative or Liberal. That is what will bring about cuts; what will bring about prosperity and a better future is choosing the international normality of independence.

In some of his previous writings on these subjects, the cabinet secretary did not argue for independence. As I recall, he argued for a new union, and he also argued for educational vouchers and the privatisation of the national health service and the civil service. Can he also remind us what currency he wanted in those days?

I love Mr Findlay’s attempts—

I know you love me!

Oh, I know—I really do. I really love two things about Mr Findlay: first, his attempts to continue to essentially misrepresent something that he has read only once, if at all; and secondly, his view that nothing changes, apparently, year after year and decade after decade. Mr Findlay might go on talking about the same old things in the same old way—[Interruption.] I hear him being cheered on by the Conservatives as he does so, which is of course very significant. It is the better together alliance back again.

First, I refer Mr Findlay to my regular answers on this point—I am fascinated that he is still interested in my career as an author—but, secondly, I refer him to the reality of Scotland today, which has been created by his failure, by the Labour Party’s failure and by the Tories’ failure in government at Westminster and refusal to back the international normality of independence.

In light of that answer, can the cabinet secretary tell us what this week’s plan is for the currency of an independent Scotland and how it is different from last week’s plan?

The Tories are on rather dodgy ground in asking about changed plans—how extraordinary! People who saw last night’s farce being played out on television of a Government that could not decide whether to vote for or against its own policy will regard what we have just heard from Professor Tomkins as a diversionary tactic. The Scottish Government’s policy is to have a modern, prosperous and independent Scotland, but Scotland cannot be modern and prosperous when it gets dragged out of the European Union against its will and dragged backwards by the Conservatives or Labour.

UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill (Update)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the progress of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. (S5O-02994)

The Supreme Court’s positive decision in the reference of the continuity bill has significant implications for the devolution settlement in Scotland. I have held discussions on the consequences of the judgment with representatives of parties across the chamber on a number of occasions, and I am grateful for their input. A further discussion is planned for next week, and I hope that a consensus can be achieved that will allow me to make a decision on how to proceed. I will, of course, bring any such decision to the chamber.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the impartial and independent United Kingdom Supreme Court struck down the most contentious portions of his bill, a situation caused by the Scottish Government’s misuse of emergency legislation powers to force it through. Has he learned any lessons about using such powers more sparingly and judiciously in future?

I recommend that Alexander Burnett read the judgment, not the opinion of the judgment from Professor Tomkins—those are two very different documents. One of them, the judgment of the Supreme Court, is grounded in constitutional law and fact, and one of them, the opinion of Professor Tomkins, is grounded in political prejudice. It is up to Professor Tomkins what he does but, I have to say, it does not enhance his reputation in the academic world, as I know from comments that I have received from many people. The reality of the situation is that the Supreme Court was utterly clear about the position: the bill in one very small—


Presiding Officer, I am trying to explain this, even to Professor Tomkins, who seems keen to shout, rather than to listen. An exception was made for one very small part of the bill. Mr Burnett does not seem to have read the judgment, so I will tell him. As far as the rest of the judgment was concerned, the court was absolutely clear that the difference was due to the passage of a bill by the UK Government after the Scottish Parliament approved the continuity bill. I do not know whether they use this word in the grand surroundings of Aberdeenshire, but we call that pauchling. The continuity bill was pauchled by the UK Tory Government and the member should be ashamed of that fact, rather than shaking his head and grinning. The thing to grin about in this is that, unfortunately, Scotland was cheated of its bill by pauchling by the UK Tory Government.

Programme for Government (Timetable for Introduction of Legislation)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to publish an up-to-date timetable for the introduction of legislation included in its programme for government. (S5O-02995)

The Scottish Government is committed to introducing all the bills in the current programme for government ahead of the announcement of our next programme. The timetabling of new bills, and the progress of those that are already in the Parliament, is of course being impacted by the unwelcome requirement to divert resources to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. Individual bill timetables are therefore subject to continual review, and I am discussing that with relevant committee conveners on a regular basis. I take the opportunity to recognise the work of the committees of the Parliament, which have responded superbly to the challenges that have beset the Parliament due to Brexit.

Only a third of the bills that were announced in the 2017 programme for government progressed beyond stage 1 in 2017. Will the Scottish Government commit to do better in this coming year?

Let us deal with reality here. The bills that are currently going through the Parliament, and which we expect to reach stage 3 by the end of 2019, are the Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill; the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill; the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill; the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill; the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill; the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill; the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill; the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill; the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill; the Planning (Scotland) Bill; the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill; and the Transport (Scotland) Bill.

The remaining year 3 bills, which we expect to be introduced in Parliament before the summer, are the non-domestic rates bill; the disclosure bill; the female genital mutilation bill; the biometric data bill; the consumer protection bill; the electoral reform bill; the electoral franchise bill; and the family law bill. Those are proof, were it needed, that this is a Government that is getting with the day job—compare and contrast the UK Government.