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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 15, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 15 June 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Stink Pits, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Education Governance, Edinburgh Festivals, Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Police Scotland (Estates Strategy)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Police Scotland regarding its estates strategy. (S5O-01119)

The estates strategy is the responsibility of Police Scotland with oversight by the Scottish Police Authority. The Scottish Government is in regular contact with Police Scotland and the SPA on a range of issues.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that Shotts police station has been removed from the list of stations that might face closure? If so, what other stations have also been removed from that list?

My understanding from Police Scotland is that the estates review is still being taken forward by local divisional commanders, including those responsible for the police station in Shotts. The member raised the same issue in November last year and the situation and Police Scotland’s position have not changed since then. Police Scotland has made it clear that the facility in Shotts is too large for its purpose. It would like someone else to join it in that facility or, if that is not possible, to look at having a joint facility somewhere else in Shotts. Police Scotland is not talking about ending any presence in Shotts but about having a facility that is fit for purpose and meets the needs of local policing. Police Scotland will continue to take that work forward and engage with local communities, including local elected members, and their views about the proposals for the estate within their immediate area.

Given the criticism that the creation of Police Scotland is leading to the centralisation of policing at the expense of local policing, will the cabinet secretary now support the abandonment of the closure of local police stations, such as those in Larkhall and Hamilton, which play an important role in collecting local intelligence and combating serious and organised crime at the national level?

The member is completely wrong about the estates review. The police estate has built up over 100 years and Police Scotland is looking at it to make sure that it is fit for purpose and that it reflects the new and emerging demands that the service faces. It is not about diminishing policing. As Assistant Chief Constable Andy Cowie made clear, the review is about enhancing the service that Police Scotland delivers and making sure that the facilities are fit for purpose, not doing less in local communities. If the member thinks that the best way for the police to collect intelligence is by having police stations, she has no idea about how modern policing is done.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that if Police Scotland feels that the changing nature of crime and the way in which it is reported means that it is necessary and sensible to change its estate portfolio, it should be able to do so and should be supported?

The work that Police Scotland is doing reflects the fact that the police estate has evolved over 100 years. The way in which police stations are used today has changed dramatically from the way in which they were used 100 years ago.

I would have thought that members would welcome the fact that Police Scotland is looking at its estate to make sure that it is using it as effectively as possible and, in doing so, enhancing the way in which it can deliver local policing, particularly by working in collaboration with a range of other agencies that are essential in view of the new and changing nature of crime in our society. That is exactly what Police Scotland is looking at doing and it will continue to do that by engaging with local communities and by giving local divisional commanders a key role in the decisions about any changes to the police estate in their divisions.

Question 2 has been withdrawn.

Young Scot National Entitlement Card

To ask the Scottish Government what its most recent figures are for the uptake of the Young Scot national entitlement card. (S5O-01121)

The Young Scot national entitlement card is available free of charge to anybody aged 11 to 25 living in Scotland. As at 31 May, there are approximately 655,000 Young Scot cardholders and, of those cardholders, 151,000 are aged 16 to 18 and qualify for concessionary travel on bus, rail and ferry through the Scottish Government’s concessionary travel scheme for young people.

The information that I obtained from the Scottish Parliament information centre shows that the last figures available were from 2009, when approximately 30 per cent of the population aged 16 to 18 in Scotland held the relevant entitlement card. In view of that, does the minister not think that it is time for a review of the uptake of the card, which seems to be extremely low?

Is it not also time for a review of discounted travel for young people? The promotion of it is extremely poor. The discounts are confusing and restrictive—people have to travel off-peak and they have to spend more than £12. I think that Scotland’s young people deserve better investment in discounted travel.

I hope that the minister will, in time, be able to support my member’s bill on transport discounts for 16 to 18-year-olds but, if not, does he agree that people in that age group are entitled to a better promotion of discount travel across the country?

I disagree slightly with the member in that I think that the uptake of the card is fairly good, but of course I will look at the figures that she says that she has obtained from SPICe. Young Scot is an excellent organisation, which I think is respected across the chamber. Wherever we can work with it to further promote the concessionary travel scheme, we certainly will do that. However, the discounts that are provided by the scheme are excellent and make a real difference.

Of course I know about the member’s view in relation to her member’s bill. I met her and told her that the Government would look with an open mind at any piece of legislation that she chooses to introduce. Any extension of the scheme would undoubtedly have to be costed and therefore we will no doubt be going back into that period that everyone in the chamber enjoys—the spending review. No doubt the member’s party could put forward proposals on what the cost of that would be. Those proposals would have to be costed within a budget that is quite constrained.

I will certainly speak to the member and look at whether the promotion of the concessionary travel scheme for young people can be made more visible.

Has the minister ever considered encouraging the extension of the use of the Young Scot national entitlement card to other areas such as access to local facilities?

Some local authorities choose to tinker with the scheme to, for example, allow Young Scot cardholders access to local facilities. That is for local authorities to decide. Within the budgetary constraints that we have, we have looked to maximise our budget and use it in a way that benefits the most people.

The member might know that we have plans to extend the concessionary travel scheme to modern apprentices under the age of 21 but, again, if Opposition parties make costed proposals, we can discuss them. At the moment, the only plans to change the national concessionary travel scheme are going to be put forward in a consultation, and we are looking to extend the scheme to modern apprentices.

CE Mark

To ask the Scottish Government how it will ensure that products covered by the Conformité Européenne, or CE, mark that are manufactured or sold in Scotland will continue to meet such standards post-Brexit. (S5O-01122)

As we have made clear since the vote to leave the European Union last year, maintaining Scotland’s membership of and access to the single market is the best way to protect our interests. That is the policy that we will continue to pursue and we will not accept a position where consumers or businesses in Scotland have inferior rights and protections compared with those in other EU countries.

The CE mark is recognised worldwide and many consumers across the globe who are not familiar with the European Economic Area recognise the confidence that a CE mark on a manufacturer’s products can give—products that can range from toys to electrical equipment to smoke alarms. If we find ourselves outwith the EEA, how will our manufacturers be able to show compliance with the standards that are recognised throughout the world and will there be additional costs in doing so?

Clare Adamson’s question highlights yet another of the complexities that surround Brexit and also yet another benefit that may be lost to Scotland as a non-EU state. It is likely that Scottish manufacturers would need to pay an EU broker a fee to obtain a CE mark. That serves once again as a demonstration of how vital access to the single market is for Scottish businesses and consumers.

In a few days, the United Kingdom will apparently be starting its negotiations with the rest of the European Union. We have no indication whether consumer protection even features on the UK Government’s agenda for discussions with the EU. We do not even yet have the strong and stable Government that we were told that we were going to have. What we are facing, of course, is a shambolic exit—a shexit; I cleared my throat before I said that—from the EU under the Tory Government.

Industry bodies in the UK issue guidelines on EU certification on a sector-wide basis. Will the cabinet secretary therefore work with his counterpart in the UK Government to ensure that matters are taken forward on a UK-wide basis, especially as 65 per cent of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK?

I apologise, Presiding Officer—I could not hear the start of Dean Lockhart’s question, as there was some mumbling from members on the Labour benches at the time.

We will of course work on these issues with the UK Government, as we have done on many issues. Wherever the interests of Scotland need to be represented, we will do that by the best means possible. I am happy to come back to Dean Lockhart on the first part of his question when I read it in the Official Report.

Abattoirs (Closed-circuit Television)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to introducing legislation on the installation of closed-circuit television in abattoirs. (S5O-01123)

The Scottish Government has already recommended the installation of closed-circuit television as best practice in the monitoring of animals at the time of killing. I am advised that an estimated 95 per cent—the overwhelming majority—of animals are slaughtered in plants where CCTV has already been installed voluntarily.

The Scottish Government does not consider that CCTV by itself prevents welfare failures or secures welfare compliance. We will continue to monitor animal welfare at the time of slaughter through the presence of Food Standards Scotland veterinary and inspection staff in all approved slaughterhouses. In addition, we will consider whether there is a role for the Scottish Government to help industry to produce a set of good practice protocols for the review, evaluation and use of CCTV.

In data that was released under freedom of information law, Food Standards Scotland lists 706 breaches of animal welfare regulations in Scotland’s 35 abattoirs between May 2015 and January this year. Many of those instances involve multiple animals, and more than a third were rated as critical non-compliance, which means that they caused

“avoidable pain, distress or suffering”.

Many consumers would be horrified to learn that they might be supporting businesses in which animals have not been treated with care and respect. Surely the cabinet secretary should commit to insisting on 100 per cent CCTV coverage in areas where animals are stunned and killed. Of course, that does not take away from the importance of veterinary inspections.

Scotland has the highest welfare standards at slaughter, with strict legal requirements, and it is important to avoid giving the impression that that is not the case. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which is the expert on the matter, has said that CCTV cannot act as a substitute for direct oversight by management or veterinarians.

It is important to be clear that, of those 706 breaches, the majority—479—were actually attributable not to the slaughterhouse, as the member implied, but to on-farm or transport activity. Food Standards Scotland quite rightly takes all these matters extremely seriously indeed. The member did not mention this, but enforcement action has been taken in many of those cases, as is absolutely correct.

Although it is indeed the case that, according to Food Standards Scotland, 95 per cent of slaughterhouses have CCTV, the benefit depends on where the CCTV operates. I suggest that it should be required in all areas involved in animal slaughter: from the point of delivery to lairage; in the lairage itself; in the race to the stunning box; in the stunning box and at the point of stunning; in the roll-out from the stunning box; during hoisting and sticking; and in the bleeding area. Should the Scottish Government ever consider legislation, would it factor in the need for CCTV in all those areas?

The member displays an admirable knowledge of the specific details of the process of the slaughterhouse. She is quite right to highlight that each of those factors deserves to be considered carefully. That is why, as I said in my original answer, we have already indicated that we are considering helping the industry to produce a set of good practice protocols. It remains the case that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee believes that CCTV, by itself, cannot be the solution and that it is not a substitute for proper management and oversight. We will, of course, continue to keep these matters carefully under review.

Sub-let Crofting Application (Shetland)

To ask the Scottish Government when its rural payments division will issue advice to the Crofting Commission to determine the sub-let crofting application at Vigga, West Yell, Shetland, which was submitted to the commission on 24 June 2016. (S5O-01124)

The Scottish Government provided the additional information requested by the Crofting Commission on 8 June 2017. If no further information is required for the sub-let crofting application, the Crofting Commission will complete its actions and provide advice on the outcome.

I thank the cabinet secretary for looking into the case. I would be grateful if he could tell my constituents when the commission will reach a determination on the application, given that it has been outstanding from June last year.

When he introduces his reforms to the Crofting Commission next week, will the cabinet secretary ensure that the principle to be followed is that the commission should be a body that helps crofters, rather than the other way around?

Tavish Scott is absolutely right to raise that individual case, and I assure him that my officials received a full answer from the commission. It is important to say that the commission regrets that the applicant experienced an unfortunate three-month delay between August and November last year. It has given an explanation for that; I am happy, if the member wishes, to explain that and to provide the explanation to his constituent.

The average time taken for sub-lets over the past 12 months is 12.2 weeks, which indicates that there is not generally a problem with the process. I am sure that the Crofting Commission chief executive and board members will have listened carefully to what Mr Scott has said and will ensure that things are processed as quickly as possible in future.

Rural Payments

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

To ask the Scottish Government whether all farmers will receive their 2015 and 2016 subsidy payments by the end of June 2017. (S5O-01125)

We completed 99.9 per cent of pillar 1 payments by the European Union deadline of 15 October and have only 25 2015 basic payment scheme payments still to complete. In relation to pillar 2 2015 claims, we have paid more than 99 per cent of all rural priorities claims for 2015, along with 98 per cent of payments under the land managers options scheme, and have processed 85 per cent of 2015 less favoured area support scheme claims. We hope to complete processing the vast majority of outstanding LFASS claims next month.

We have repeatedly made clear our determination to make the vast majority of payments by the end of the payment period and we are doing all that we can to meet that goal. Everyone is working incredibly hard to process the remaining payments. We have addressed a small number of known defects that held up some claims, and those are now being progressed.

We will continue to provide regular updates on progress across the schemes to both the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that long answer, which was, effectively, no.

We have had the blunt and condemnatory report produced by Fujitsu on the £180 million common agricultural policy information technology system and a damning report produced by Audit Scotland. We have also been warned that there might be £60 million-plus of fines to be paid.

Last year, the cabinet secretary gave Parliament a short, three-word answer to the problem—“We are sorry.” Today, can he answer a short three-word question on this omnishambles—who’s to blame?

I could answer the member’s question by using three words about the three propositions that he made—“You are wrong.”

First, the member is wrong, because the Fujitsu report did not, as he said, conclude that the system was broken. On the contrary, as he well knows, the technical report concluded that the system is fundamentally sound and that we are sorting the defects. [Interruption.] Those are the facts—I know that Opposition members are not very keen on the facts, but here they are.

Secondly, the Auditor General recognised that significant process has been made.

Thirdly, the member is wrong that there will be a £60 million fine. We are absolutely certain that that will not be a figure that we recognise. I point out another fact—last year, the Auditor General said that the fines or the penalties would total between £40 million and £125 million. That, too, will not be the case.

Therefore, on all three matters, the Conservatives have got their facts wrong. I suggest that they have a thorough reading, as I have had, of the report.

Finally, I pay tribute to the hundreds of staff around this country, most of the offices of whom I have visited and many of whom I have spoken to. Unlike the Tories, who are carping from the sidelines, they are working flat out to do their duty and ensure what we all want to see—farmers and crofters getting the support payments to which they are entitled.