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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, May 17, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 17 May 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Everyone’s Business Campaign, Veterans (Health and Wellbeing), Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Relief from Additional Amount) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Point of Order, Decision Time


General Question Time

Rail Services (East Lothian)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans and funds it has in place to expand rail services in East Lothian to meet the needs of the 10,000 new homes that are expected to be built in the area. (S5O-02107)

Through its key agency role, Transport Scotland works with the south east of Scotland transport partnership and East Lothian Council to understand future development and associated transport requirements. A number of conversations have taken place about the council’s house-building and development programmes. It is the responsibility of the planning authorities to prepare development plans to address housing, transport and other infrastructure needs.

Alongside that development planning work, the Scottish Government intends to address long-term strategic rail capacity issues on the east coast main line—I know that the member has been engaged with that. That will support enhancements that will provide benefits for passengers using this line, the Borders railway and other services from East Lothian.

On the specific question about the funds that might be available, my understanding is that the council is considering a section 75 agreement in order to fund a transport fund. Control period 6 funding might also be appropriate in relation to funding for the future. The member might be aware that a local rail development fund has been agreed, but the deadline for that is 8 June, which might be slightly too early for this scheme and proposals. I hope that I have given an idea of the support that is available.

The trouble with that answer is that, at a public meeting in Prestonpans a couple of weeks ago, the ScotRail Alliance was clear that any plans that it has to increase capacity on either the North Berwick line or the east coast main line to Dunbar, for years to come, will be designed to alleviate current problems. They take no account of the projected population increase in the county. Since it was the Scottish Government that imposed the requirement for 10,000 new houses on East Lothian, does the minister not feel obliged to plan and to fund the rail services to cope with that?

I am disappointed if that was the case, and, on the back of this question, I will endeavour to have a conversation with the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance. Transport Scotland, as the key agency, has been involved in the discussions.

The member might be aware of the east coast main line capacity study, the initial findings of which are due in the summer months—I will ensure that they are passed on to the member. The study will look at current capacity constraints and potential future capacity constraints. That should be a key part of the study. If the member was at a public meeting at which that view was not given, I am more than happy to take that up with the ScotRail Alliance.

National Economic Forum

To ask the Scottish Government what the outcomes were of the national economic forum meeting in Dumfries on 16 May 2018. (S5O-02108)

The bi-annual national economic forum gives businesses, the third sector, and trade union leaders direct influence on the development and delivery of economic policy at a regional and national level through direct engagement with ministers on key economic challenges.

Eight Scottish ministers attended yesterday’s forum in Dumfries, which focused on the rural economy and helped to shape the future south of Scotland enterprise agency and the work of the national council of rural advisers.

Will the cabinet secretary provide further information on the engagement work of the south of Scotland economic partnership and the process for application for the initial £10 million? Will the funding be allocated primarily to public agencies or does the cabinet secretary expect the budget to be opened up more widely to applications from organisations across the south of Scotland to support inclusive growth?

The partnership is driving forward effective engagement. It is running 28 events across the area, 18 of which have already taken place with 400 people from businesses and communities across the area. I am pleased that the partnership is engaging as widely as it is. Its chair, Professor Russel Griggs, is also meeting all MSPs and MPs who represent the south. The partnership will use the events and meetings that it has held to inform its future work.

In this year’s budget, as the member says, we have made £10 million available to support the work of the partnership, supporting inclusive growth and communities across the area. That £10 million is over and above what the public sector already spends in the south of Scotland. I have asked the partnership to consider all applications for funding and to assess them against clear and consistent criteria, focused on key priorities for the south of Scotland. The projects will need to set out clearly proposed outcomes and they will then be submitted to the Scottish Government for approval. The consultation events, as the member knows, are generating quite a range of suggestions for projects that could be funded. However, if members from the south are aware of organisations with suggestions, the partnership would be more than happy to consider them.

Does the cabinet secretary share my concerns that gross domestic product per capita in the south of Scotland is 20 per cent below the national average and can he outline what specific steps the Government will take to address that?

As I have just mentioned, the main measure that we are taking is the establishment, for the first time, of a south of Scotland enterprise agency. The member is right to point out that there are disparities in GDP across Scotland. The whole of the United Kingdom is one of the most unequal and unbalanced economies in the world. Our economy really flies on one engine, the south-east of England, and that is not good for the rest of England, for Wales, for Northern Ireland, or indeed for Scotland. The main measure that we are taking is the establishment of the agency, with the additional funding that we have provided for the south of Scotland, and I think that it is right that the Government takes that proactive approach to build on such things as the establishment of the Borders railway—the longest piece of new railway in the UK for more than 100 years. Those are some of the tangible ways in which we are helping the south of Scotland.

Orkney Islands Council (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Minister for Transport and the Islands last met Orkney Islands Council, and what issues were discussed. (S5O-02109)

I last met Orkney Islands Council on 27 April. I met a number of councillors during a round-table discussion, and with union representatives. I also met the council leader, James Stockan—a meeting to which I invited Liam McArthur, but he was doing his best to avoid me on that visit.

I was visiting the northern isles to engage with community and business representatives about our future approach to procurement of the northern isles ferry service, but other issues were discussed, including the introduction of the road equivalent tariff, inter-island ferries, freight fares and capacity issues on those routes.

I thank the minister for that answer and apologise again that a family commitment prevented me from meeting him when he was in Orkney.

The minister touched on the introduction of the RET. He will have been advised of the continued and growing concern about the lack of detail on the introduction date and the way in which the scheme would work. I invite the minister to update Parliament on when he may be in a position to provide that detail, which is anticipated and is particularly important to our local tourism industry.

That latter point is hugely important. I have heard from people in my constituency who are keen to go on holiday for tourism purposes to the northern isles—both Orkney and Shetland—but who are waiting for the announcement. I have committed to the RET being introduced in the first half of 2018. While in Orkney, I was asked about the delay in announcing an exact date. I have had constructive conversations with the member, so he knows that the presence of a commercial operator on the route has made the discussion more challenging. The commercial operators—there are a couple—are constructively engaged. There are one or two issues that still remain to be sorted and worked through, but I am confident that we will meet our commitment to introduce the RET in the first half of 2018, and I will endeavour to keep the member, and Parliament, updated on progress.


To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the anticipated security of supply of medical isotopes following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from Euratom. (S5O-02110)

Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain within the European Union. Leaving the Euratom community is an unwelcome consequence of the UK Government’s desire to take the UK out of the EU, and it creates unnecessary disruption and uncertainty. The Scottish Government shares stakeholders’ concerns about the future supply of medical isotopes, and we have been studying the potential impact of leaving Euratom. I also share the concerns raised by the Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee in its recent report looking at the impact of leaving the European Union on health and social care in Scotland. We are engaged in discussions with the UK Government on the future relationship with Euratom and on how best to ensure a secure supply of those vital medical isotopes, including making arrangements that are right for Scotland.

The cabinet secretary will be well aware of the concern in the scientific community about the security of supply of medical isotopes post-Brexit. Will she agree to meet me to discuss the implications for the care of cancer patients in future? In the meantime, will she instruct Healthcare Improvement Scotland to carry out an urgent risk assessment with all health boards in Scotland, including an assessment of the future supply of radiopharmaceuticals through particle accelerators?

I recognise, as I said in my first answer, the scientific community’s concerns. The report from the Health and Sport Committee was important in acknowledging a number of concerns across the board, in particular the one about medical isotopes.

David Stewart is right to mention the potential impact on cancer patients. That is, obviously, something that we want to avoid. I am happy to have a meeting with him at which we can discuss a number of issues, including the work that is going on to assess any future risk and ensure that Scotland has a secure supply of medical isotopes.

Question 5 has been withdrawn. I would call question 6, but I notice that the member, Neil Findlay, is not present, which is disappointing.

Right to Protest

7. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it plans to take to ensure that the right to protest is not restricted in the event of a visit to Scotland by Donald Trump. (S5O-02113)

I should make it clear that, at this time, the United Kingdom Government does not advise the Scottish Government of any proposed visit to Scotland. However, we remain in contact regarding the development of the itinerary for the President’s visit.

There is no law in Scotland that stops people from protesting peacefully. Police Scotland has confirmed that arrangements are in place to police any visit in a way that maintains the public’s right to protest peacefully while enforcing existing laws as necessary.

Scotland has deep and long-standing ties of family, friendship and business with the United States, which will endure. However, we will not compromise our fundamental values of equality, diversity and human rights. In whichever part of the UK the proposed presidential visit takes place, we expect those values to be made clear.

Whether Trump’s visit to the UK includes a stop in Scotland or not, a great many people in Scotland will want to ensure that the world sees that we stand alongside our friends in America who are marginalised and threatened by the Trump regime and will wish to express visibly our revulsion at the racism, misogyny, climate change denial and litany of lies for which President Trump is responsible.

Will the minister reaffirm that all aspects of policing will facilitate, not restrict, public protest? That has not always been the case in the past—for example, when the G8 summit was held in Scotland. Will she also ensure that her party colleagues support and participate in that demonstration? The greatest and widest opposition to the Trump regime must be seen and expressed by all the people of Scotland right across the political spectrum.

Before the minister answers the question, I encourage members—as I did yesterday—not to refer to people outside or inside the chamber just by their surnames. Try to use the proper form of address.

It is well documented that the Scottish Government has disagreed with many of the actions that have ben taken by President Trump’s Administration. The list is perhaps a bit too long to mention at this point. The member will be well aware of that.

The nature of any policing operation is an operational matter for the police but, as I said in my first answer, Police Scotland has confirmed that arrangements would be put in place to police any visit in a way that would maintain the public’s important right to protest peacefully while enforcing the necessary existing laws. Scotland has a proud and long-standing tradition of peaceful protest and I assure the member that that will continue.

In the spirit and principle of freedom of expression, it is not for me to insist on the presence of any individual at a demonstration of any kind. The member, with his commitment to freedom of expression, will understand that point.

Question 8 has been withdrawn.

Court-ordered Contact (Views of Children)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to ensure that children are able to give their views in a way that works best for them in cases of court-ordered contact. (S5O-02115)

The Scottish Government has just launched a consultation on the review of part 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. The consultation seeks views on a wide range of topics, including the best way for courts to obtain the views of the child. As well as that consultation, work is going on apace and the family law committee of the Scottish Civil Justice Council has been carrying out important work to make the current court form, known as form 9, which is used to obtain views in contact cases, more child friendly. That work is expected to be finalised very shortly.

Is the minister aware of cases where abusive behaviour has been substantiated but contact has still been awarded? Does the minister agree that such a situation is detrimental to a child’s wellbeing and that children should always be at the centre of decision making about contact?

I agree with Ruth Maguire that the child’s best interests should of course be at the centre of any decision regarding contact and residence. The consultation on the review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, to which I referred in my previous answer, seeks views on a number of issues that are pertinent to the member’s questions and concerns. We will seek views in the consultation on whether to ban the personal cross-examination of victims of domestic abuse in contact and residence cases. We are seeking views on how to protect victims and vulnerable parties in child welfare hearings and on how to ensure that the civil courts are provided with information on domestic abuse in contact and residence cases. I urge the member to encourage her constituents to make their views known in this important consultation, which was launched on Tuesday and is open for 12 weeks.

Recently, a constituent of mine had her movements restricted to Aberdeenshire only by a court order that was obtained by her abusive former husband, which meant that she could not see friends and family beyond the boundaries of the area with their shared children. Can the minister provide any clarity on what safeguards exist to ensure that the offences of coercion and control cannot be continued after a relationship has ended via contact with shared children?

The Parliament recently passed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which has received royal assent. That gives further protection to domestic abuse victims, particularly taking into account coercive and controlling behaviour.

As I said in my answer to Ruth Maguire, the consultation that we launched earlier this week on a review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 seeks views on a number of important issues that would impact on the example of the constituency case that Gillian Martin just raised. Those are important issues and we are seeking people’s views on them. We hope that we will get a widespread response to that important consultation on family law. They are fundamental issues about how we go forward with family law cases—important cases regarding contact and residence where domestic abuse is very much an issue. Of course, all the time we are seeking the views of those who are particularly impacted—children and young people.

Finally, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice gave an undertaking that there would be a separate consultation on emergency barring orders, which will be attended to in the months to come.

Attainment Gap (Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address the impact of adverse childhood experiences on the attainment gap. (S5O-02116)

As part of the national approach of getting it right for every child, the 2017-18 programme for government committed to embedding a focus on preventing adverse childhood experiences and supporting children and young people in overcoming early life adversity.

The wide range of actions that are being taken forward by the Scottish Government on adverse childhood experiences across education, health, justice and wider portfolios will all help to improve the health and wellbeing of children, which is important in helping close the attainment gap. Specifically, using funding from the £750 million attainment Scotland fund, schools are delivering a variety of health and wellbeing interventions, such as investing in educational psychologists, family support staff and counselling services to support their pupils, including those who have suffered adverse childhood experiences.

Schools are also supported by Education Scotland, which provides national professional learning resources to support the development and practice of nurturing approaches.

The cross-portfolio fairer Scotland action plan commits to making progress towards closing the attainment gap over this session of Parliament but does not address adverse childhood experiences. According to Professor Sir Harry Burns, those are the most important predictors of failure when it comes to poor mental health, educational failure, offending and poor physical health. Does the Scottish Government intend to address that omission?

I assure the member that we are addressing adverse childhood experiences. From the minimum unit pricing of alcohol, which will reduce the number of people who are exposed to alcohol in their families, to the presumption against short-term sentences, which will help 27,000 children in Scotland who have a parent in prison, we are, right across Government and Scotland, tackling adverse childhood experiences.

I am pleased to have the interest of my Conservative colleague in this area, but I will take no lessons on addressing adverse childhood experiences from the party whose austerity project is such a threat to our public services. It is tipping families into destitution and it is sending our children to food banks.