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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Circular Economy, Road Infrastructure, Medical Students (Funded Places), Business Motions, Decision Time, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month 2021


Portfolio Question Time

Covid Recovery and Parliamentary Business

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face masks should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Parliament campus.

The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is Covid-19 recovery and parliamentary business. As ever, if a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or place an R in the chat function during the relevant question. There is quite a bit of interest in this portfolio and the next portfolio. I am keen to get in as many questions from members as possible, so please let us have succinct questions and answers.

Covid-19 (Pandemic Handling) (Independent Public Inquiry)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the anticipated timescale for the publication of the independent public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00372)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

By the end of this year, the Scottish Government will establish, under the Inquiries Act 2005, an independent Scottish public inquiry to scrutinise decisions that were taken in the course of the pandemic and to learn lessons for the future. That will include a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the appointment of the chair and on the terms of reference for the inquiry, in accordance with the requirements of the 2005 act. The Scottish Government remains committed to working with the United Kingdom Government to develop the approach to the UK-wide inquiry, avoiding—where possible—duplication and overlap.

What assurances can the cabinet secretary give that the voices of bereaved families will be fully heard during the inquiry?

John Swinney

I am engaging actively with bereaved families in preparation of the inquiry’s remit. The families have had the opportunity to submit responses to the consultation that we undertook on its terms of reference, and I have had a number of meetings with different groups of bereaved families. We will continue that engagement as we progress towards agreement of the remit.

Once the inquiry is established, it will be for the chair of the inquiry to determine the role of particular relevant parties, and it would be wrong for ministers to prescribe that. That approach is set out in the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, and any chair who is appointed will operate on that basis. My view, and what the Government will set out to the inquiry’s chair, is that we want the families who were bereaved during Covid to be central to the issues that are raised in the inquiry.

Paul O’Kane has a brief supplementary question.

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

As we have heard, there are thousands of front-line staff, social care users and bereaved families for whom the inquiry will be crucial if they are to get answers on why Scotland was not better prepared. It is important that those who were responsible for that are properly held to account. Will the cabinet secretary confirm the inquiry’s relationship with the wider judicial system? Will it be set out in the terms of reference that he mentioned, and will that information include how the inquiry will handle evidence of potential criminality?

John Swinney

That issue will not be set out in the remit of the inquiry. Those are entirely separate functions. The Lord Advocate and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are independently responsible for determining whether there is any criminal consideration to be borne in mind. The inquiry will have no involvement in, and no proximity to, those discussions and decisions, which are entirely the preserve of the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office.

Covid-19 (Recovery Consultation)

2. Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its work in connection with the consultation paper, “Covid Recovery: A consultation on public services, justice system and other reforms”. (S6O-00373)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The consultation closed on 9 November, and I am pleased to report that almost 3,000 responses were submitted by individuals and organisations. Those responses will be considered fully as part of the development of the Covid recovery bill, which Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise when it is introduced, later in this parliamentary year.

Collette Stevenson

In relation to the increase in online services over the pandemic, how could those modernised and efficient services offer on-going benefits to the public sector, front-line staff and service users while ensuring protection for those without internet access, so that they can still access vital services?

John Swinney

A range of developments have taken place during the pandemic, with an increased emphasis on the delivery of services through digital means. Collette Stevenson’s points about the importance of the delivery of efficient services through digital means and of individuals being able to access those digital resources without impediment are valid.

The Government has a commitment to improving connectivity. The work on the R100 contract, the 4G mobile infrastructure, mobile hotspots and the voucher schemes that are available to support people on low incomes to access devices are all part of the Government’s response, to ensure that those services are in place and that no obstacles exist to individuals accessing them.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Something that was not of benefit to the public was the temporary release from prisons of 340 criminals, 40 per cent of whom went on to reoffend. Does that sound like the sort of temporary measure that we want to make permanent?

John Swinney

A range of measures in the bill are the subject of consultation. As Mr Greene knows, the Government had to take difficult decisions around the question of early release in order to provide a response to the pandemic.

We will obviously consider those matters that were the subject of consultation, and the Parliament will have the opportunity to decide whether it wants to legislate on them. Full parliamentary scrutiny will be available for members—a process in which, I am sure, Mr Greene will take every opportunity to make his voice heard.

Covid-19 (Vaccination) (Transmission Prevention)

3. Sandesh Gulhane (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the reported findings in The Lancet that having two doses of a vaccine does not prevent the transmission of Covid-19, and how that might impact its Covid passport scheme. (S6O-00374)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

I recognise the findings of the article that The Lancet published, which found that vaccination did not prevent transmission of Covid-19 in those who are infected with the virus.

A number of studies have highlighted the fact that vaccines have some effect in reducing transmission, but more data is required to confirm the magnitude of that effect. It is likely that it varies with different viral variants and hence is lower with the current delta variant.

However, it is clear from the paper that the vaccine reduces the risk of delta variant infection and accelerates clearance of the virus. Furthermore, it is also clear from the evidence to date that a significant vaccine effect exists in relation to reducing the risk of serious harm from Covid. It is therefore critical that those who are unvaccinated come forward and receive both doses and that those who are eligible get their booster.

The study also highlights the importance of mitigation measures such as certification to protecting individuals and managing the spread of the virus.

Sandesh Gulhane

I urge everyone to get their Covid vaccination, as it is our best weapon against the virus.

We all agree that the science will see us through the pandemic. Nevertheless, The Lancet showed no scientific evidence that the Scottish Government’s Covid passport cut significant transmission of the virus. In the absence of science, we have a policing app, which the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens have mandated. Will the Scottish Government end the compulsory use of that app for policing Scottish businesses?

John Swinney

No, it will not. The First Minister set out to Parliament yesterday the rationale for why that is the case. The Government is interested in navigating a careful course through the dangerous circumstances that we face. We are intent on ensuring that businesses are able to continue to operate—a matter that members of the Conservative Party are forever mentioning.

Dr Gulhane knows as well as I do that the settings in which the vaccination certification scheme is applied are comparatively higher-risk settings than others, hence the justification for the application of the certification scheme. The rationale for our taking that stance is our intention to sustain those venues for as long as possible, because the alternative is to apply greater restrictions, which the Government does not wish to do. We have seen that the vaccination certification scheme has contributed to an improvement in vaccination levels in the critical age group of 18 to 29-year-olds.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Although two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine will not fully prevent transmission of the virus, I have viewed a range of evidence that full vaccination lowers the risk of passing on the virus and of developing serious complications and/or requiring hospitalisation. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the vaccination certification scheme provides greater reassurance to many members of the public who are considering attending venues or large-scale events that are covered by the scheme?

John Swinney

I agree with that. The vaccination certification scheme is a proportionate measure that will contribute to reducing the risk of transmission and of serious illness and death. In doing so, it will help to alleviate the pressure on the healthcare system and allow higher-risk settings to continue to operate as I have just explained to Dr Gulhane. At the same time, we believe that it will help to increase vaccine uptake.

No single measure on its own will control the virus, so we need a range of targeted measures to keep transmission under control. The vaccines help to prevent transmission of the virus because vaccinated people are less likely than unvaccinated people to become infected and ill, and only infected people can transmit the virus.

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

Is the cabinet secretary aware of concerns about the Covid passport scheme not being enforced rigorously or consistently at large sporting events such as football and rugby matches? How will the Scottish Government address such concerns, to allow the Covid passport scheme to have its desired impact?

John Swinney

We engage with the football clubs and the rugby authorities in relation to the application of the scheme at large events. From the information that I have seen, all the authorities are reporting very high levels of participation. In the consultation document, we said that we did not envisage 100 per cent certification, but we do place an obligation on the relevant authorities to take the appropriate steps to ensure adequate levels of certification. From the evidence that I have seen so far, I am confident that that obligation is being taken seriously by the football and rugby authorities. However, the point that the member has put on the record is an important one, as it reinforces the necessity of their so doing.

Parliamentary Business (Scrutiny)

4. Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the Minister for Parliamentary Business has had with ministerial colleagues regarding steps that can be taken in relation to transparency of its activities to better enable scrutiny during parliamentary business. (S6O-00375)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business (George Adam)

The Scottish Government is fully committed to maintaining its strong track record of supporting effective parliamentary scrutiny. The Government will continue to make appropriate use of each of the routes approved by the Presiding Officer for making announcements.

Stephen Kerr

Ministers regularly make important Government announcements via back-door answers to written questions, Parliament seems to organise its timetable to suit ministers’ convenience, ministers determine which questions fall within their remit before answering them, and the First Minister reads out scripted answers to scripted questions at First Minister’s questions. What is the point?

In the previous session, Parliament accepted the commission on parliamentary reform’s recommendation to

“review the operation, capacity and effectiveness of the Parliament”

before the end of this session. Does the minister agree that we must begin that process now?

George Adam

Where to start with that? When we stuck to the parliamentary process over the past few weeks, Mr Kerr said that he had an issue with Government-initiated questions. GIQs are and have been used to ensure that Government activities are brought to the attention of all members of the Scottish Parliament. He might wish to reflect on the fact that GIQs are a means of improving, rather than reducing, the transparency that he seeks.

However, I accept that there is a judgment to be made about whether a GIQ is the appropriate means by which Parliament should be informed about Government activity, or whether a ministerial statement would be more appropriate. I keep that under regular review with my ministerial colleagues. All members know that I am open to representations on these issues, which we discuss regularly at the Parliamentary Bureau.

Covid-19 (Vaccination Passport Scheme)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the Covid-19 vaccination passport scheme, including on the hospitality sector. (S6O-00376)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

In line with our legal duty, statutory measures are reviewed every three weeks. We consider the necessity, proportionality and targeted nature of the regulations, taking into account a range of evidence across the four harms. Covid vaccination certification is part of that package of measures, and considering whether the impact on the business sector, including hospitality, and society at large remains proportionate is part of the review.

Ministers always consider whether our measures could be relaxed or ended, but, given the state of the pandemic, we have also been clear that we are considering whether it would be necessary and proportionate to expand certification.

Colin Smyth

It is not clear to me what the cabinet secretary means by an impact that is “proportionate”, but we know that the introduction of vaccination passports has had a negative impact on hospitality. Why is there still no sign of any additional support for the businesses that have been affected by the introduction of vaccination passports and the many more that will be when he extends the scheme? Why is the Government now saying that it plans to consider not just a vaccination passport or a negative test being required for entry into venues, but both? What assessment has been made of the potential impact of such a decision?

John Swinney

No decisions have been taken about extension of the vaccination certification scheme. That will be the subject of discussion at the Cabinet on Tuesday, and Parliament will be advised in the First Minister’s statement on Tuesday afternoon. Any suggestion by Mr Smyth that decisions have been taken is not correct.

Mr Smyth asked whether measures were proportionate. That is the test that ministers must satisfy in relation to any measures that they intend to take—such measures must be proportionate to the scale of the pandemic and the threat to public health. That is a very material issue, on which ministers have been challenged in the courts. In the most recent case, the courts did not support those who challenged the Government’s decision to apply a limited certification scheme to nightclubs and other limited venues, with which Mr Smyth is familiar.

The Government will give consideration to the issue at the Cabinet on Tuesday. Any question of financial support must be considered in the context of the resources that the Government has available to it. Mr Smyth will be familiar with the fact that, over the course of the past 18 months, the Government has provided in excess of £4 billion of support as part of its Covid-related activities to deal with the challenges that businesses and other organisations have faced.

I will allow a couple of brief supplementaries. I ask for brief questions and brief responses.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I have been contacted by a number of businesses in the hospitality sector that are extremely concerned that they might be brought within the reach of the vaccination passport scheme, given the announcement that is due on Tuesday. Is the Scottish Government carrying out an economic impact assessment of the impact on such businesses, should the scheme be extended? If so, will that be published in tandem with any announcement being made?

John Swinney

As the First Minister set out yesterday, the Government will produce an evidence paper on some of those questions later this week. The Government must consider a range of factors in assessing the proportionality of the actions that we propose to take, should we decide to take those actions. As I explained to Mr Smyth, that is the legal obligation in relation to which we must satisfy ourselves, and it is one that ministers take very seriously.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Cinemas are only just getting back on track, yet we are told that the Scottish Government is considering expanding the use of Covid identification cards to cinema attendance. Will the Scottish Government explain to stakeholders why that is being considered when no outbreaks have been traced back to cinemas?

John Swinney

Part of the judgment is about ensuring that we have sufficient resilience in the measures that we have in place to protect the population against wider impacts that could be damaging to the public health of the country.

On many occasions, we have gone through the dilemmas that the Government faces. The principal dilemma is about the damage to health, and—[Interruption.] We have had countless demands, even from heckling Conservative members, for us to protect public health. When the Government comes forward with measures to protect public health, we are criticised for bringing forward those measures. Such are the dilemmas that we face.

Mr Simpson says that there is no evidence. If Mr Simpson wants to ask me a question, he is perfectly entitled to appeal to the Presiding Officer to be invited to ask a question. I am always here to answer questions. What evidence does Mr Simpson need? How much evidence of the harm to public health does he need for the Government to have to act? If Mr Simpson wants to stick his head in the sand, he is free to do so, but the Government has a duty to act proportionately to protect the health of the population.

Parliamentary Business (Changes)

6. Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether regular and last-minute changes to parliamentary business impact on the effective scrutiny that recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic requires. (S6O-00377)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business (George Adam)

I assure Sarah Boyack that the Parliamentary Bureau makes every effort to provide as much certainty as possible on the timetabling of chamber business. Circumstances can, of course, require that business be changed. In those circumstances, changes are proposed after full consultation with all members of the Parliamentary Bureau.

Sarah Boyack

Does the Scottish Government agree that increasingly short notice of parliamentary business impacts not only on the third sector, businesses and our constituents’ ability to express concerns and views on the issues that we discuss in Parliament, but on our capacity, as parliamentarians, to be effective in scrutinising the Government’s work? We realise that there are lots of challenges, but short notice impacts fundamentally on our capacity to do the job that we are here to do.

George Adam

I agree with much of what Ms Boyack has said. Normally, we try to ensure that we have as much time as possible to ensure that members have the opportunity to do all that. I will take on board some of the points that you have made, Ms Boyack, and you can mention the issue to your business managers in order that they can bring it up in the Parliamentary Bureau so that we can discuss it.

Speak through the chair, please, minister.

Covid-19 (Impact on Front-line Services)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will undertake a cross-government Covid-19 strategic review into the impact of the pandemic on front-line public services. (S6O-00378)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The impact of Covid-19 on Scotland’s public services, people and places is well understood, and it has driven the Scottish Government’s response to tackling the wide-ranging harms that the pandemic has caused.

We continue to work closely with our partners across local government and service providers to monitor closely the impact of the pandemic on services across Scotland, particularly as we prepare for wider winter pressures. The “Scottish Government Health and Social Care Winter Overview 2021-2022” outlines a package of over £300 million of investment in national health service and care services this winter to help to address those pressures.

The recently published “Covid Recovery Strategy: For a fairer future”, in addition to specific proposals for the NHS, justice and education, was developed in recognition of the huge impact that the pandemic has had on services, workers and the people who use the services.

Alex Rowley

My problem is that that is not what I see on the ground in health and social care. I see a situation that is getting worse by the day, never mind by the week. It is absolutely heartbreaking that health and social care authorities are now writing to older and vulnerable people to tell them that their care packages will be cut in order that they can manage. The number of emails, letters and contacts that my office is dealing with is heartbreaking.

We have had exchanges on the matter quite a few times. Although I accept that Brexit and the ending of free movement are factors, as is low pay—I am sure that the cabinet secretary will accept that—

Question, please, Mr Rowley.

What is the plan? My problem is that I cannot see a joined-up plan to address those issues across the public sector.

John Swinney

Mr Rowley is correct to say that he and I have had exchanges on the issue. I know the seriousness that he brings to these exchanges.

The challenge that the Government, our local authority partners and service providers are facing up to relates to having adequate capacity to deliver the social care support that is required in the community. That is partly because there are few people around to do that because of the ending of free movement. Mr Rowley acknowledges that that is part of the problem, and I accept that it is part of the problem.

The Government has already taken steps to increase social care workers’ pay. I appreciate that Mr Rowley does not believe that that is sufficient, but we have taken steps to do it. We will continue to keep the matter under review, and we are in active dialogue with our local authority partners on what further steps we can take to improve the situation.

Mr Rowley is absolutely correct. If we do not address the fact that some people are currently in hospital who could be at home with an effective social care package, we will have greater congestion in our hospitals and will therefore weaken our resilience in dealing with winter pressures and Covid, as the months pass. I take seriously the points that Mr Rowley has raised and I assure him of our determination to address them—

Thank you, cabinet secretary. Question 8 is from Michael Marra.

Covid-19 (Recovery Plans)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with implementing its published Covid-19 recovery plans. (S6O-00379)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing a plan for how we will deliver and report on the actions set out in the Covid recovery strategy before the end of 2021, and for subsequent quarterly reporting of progress, thereafter. The plan will be agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure successful and collaborative delivery to support the people across Scotland who have been most affected by the pandemic.

Michael Marra

Today, at the Education, Children and Young People Committee, three witnesses from organisations that represent young people told me that they were not aware of any significant analysis by the Government that assesses the pandemic’s impact on young people’s education. Linda O’Neill from the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection informed us that they do not have data that they can use, in which they could look at the before, during and after, and that the data shows where there are gaps, but they have known about them for a long time. How can we begin the process of recovery if the Government has not attempted to understand the baseline of the challenge that is faced?

John Swinney

Obviously, I am not familiar with the evidence that the committee took this morning, but from my experience as education secretary, I am familiar with the volume of data that was available prior to the pandemic. I should point out that a lot of it was resisted by the Labour Party when it was first put in place; the Labour Party was completely hostile to the level of reporting on such measures that I put in place. That was before the pandemic.

We have taken a proportionate response in the education system to ensure that teachers are not being asked to provide information on the capacity of pupils when they have not had adequate opportunity to engage with pupils because of the disruption to learning.

One thing of which I am absolutely 100 per cent certain is that every teacher in the country is focused on ensuring that the learning needs of children are being met. That is something that the Parliament should applaud.

Net Zero, Energy and Transport

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next portfolio is net zero, energy and transport. Again, if a member wishes to ask a supplementary, they should press their request-to-speak button or put an R in the chat function. We have a lot of interest in this portfolio, so again I ask for succinct questions and answers, please, ministers.

Covid-19 (Bus Travel)

1. Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to encourage the public to travel by bus, in light of reports that the recent Transport Scotland Covid-19 transport trends indicate that concessionary bus travel is down by 35 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. (S6O-00380)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

Covid-19 had an unprecedented impact on passenger numbers and revenue across the public transport system. To date, more than £210 million has been made available to the end of March 2022 to enable bus operators to maintain services during the pandemic. We are working closely with bus operators to support the safe and confident return to public transport, which is vital to ensure that there is a viable and sustainable public transport system for the future.

Foysol Choudhury

Pre-pandemic Scottish Government analysis showed that Scottish bus passenger numbers were falling by an average of 10 per cent per year, yet on Lothian Buses services, passenger numbers had remained constant. Given the success of that mutual ownership model, is the Scottish Government prepared to give local authorities the resources that are provided for in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, so that the rest of Scotland can enjoy the level of service that is offered by Lothian Buses? Will the Scottish Government take this opportunity to support Scottish Labour’s call for free transport for the under-25s?

Graeme Dey

The member makes a good point about Lothian Buses bucking the trend, which is one of the reasons why the powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 are a full range of powers, and they will be supported by a community bus fund in order to extend their implementation.

On the point that the member makes about free bus travel, as he is well aware, from January, we will be extending it to under-22s. As part of the fair fares review, we will look at further opportunities in that regard.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Free bus travel for young people from January will be really transformative for them and a shot in the arm for struggling bus services across Scotland. How prepared are the communication plans for the scheme? How will schools and colleges be involved? Will we see the minister or some other influencers appearing on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube to get the message out to young people well ahead of the start date?

Graeme Dey

The idea of my being an influencer on TikTok fills me with utter dread. [Laughter.]

Let me answer the point more seriously. As Mark Ruskell knows, a targeted marketing campaign commenced on 25 October, to advertise the new scheme. Further work is being done on a full marketing campaign to make young people aware of it. One of the partners in the project is Young Scot, which is assisting us in that regard. A great deal of work is going into ensuring that young people have the opportunity to access the scheme.

Ferry Building (Update)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the two CalMac ferries being built by Ferguson Marine. (S6O-00381)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

The turnaround director of Ferguson Marine updated the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee on the delivery timetable and budget for vessels 801 and 802 on 30 September. The cost to complete the vessels remains the same as was reported in the turnaround director’s December 2019 report. The delivery of 801 is planned for between July 2022 and September 2022 and the delivery of 802 is planned for between April 2023 and July 2023.

Russell Findlay

Hull 802 was ordered in 2016 and was originally due to be in service in 2018. There is a lot of speculation that it will never see service. Can the minister give an undertaking that it will indeed become serviceable on a CalMac route?

As the Minister for Transport with responsibility for ferries, I can say to the member that we are planning for the introduction of 802 into the service.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

We are all acutely aware that the standing position of the Tories since the 1980s has been to close shipyards. The illusory “frigate factory” on the Clyde is a more recent example in a long list of Conservative betrayals of Scottish shipbuilding.

Ferguson Marine employs more than 400 people. Does the minister share my view that, were it not for the Scottish National Party, that shipyard would be closed and those 400 employees would probably have had to seek work outside the shipbuilding industry?

That is, absolutely, a fact. Nevertheless, we must all now focus on working with the yard to ensure that it has a sustainable long-term future.

Public Transport Use

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to encourage people to use public transport rather than cars. (S6O-00382)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

We have a comprehensive suite of measures to promote sustainable journeys instead of private car journeys, in line with our national transport strategy. Our target to reduce the distance travelled by car by 20 per cent by 2030 is world leading and is backed by landmark investment in active travel and bus priority infrastructure. There is also the forthcoming under-22s free travel scheme, which I mentioned earlier.

The second strategic transport projects review will help to prioritise investment towards interventions that are aimed at reducing further the need to travel unsustainably.

Does the minister think that ScotRail’s proposal to cut 300 train services a day is consistent with our meeting our net zero targets?

Graeme Dey

As we have discussed in the Parliament before, the proposals for next May represent a 100-service gain from the current, pandemic situation. Of course, in the long term, we want an increase in services, with the return of services that existed pre-pandemic and additional services. However, there is no getting away from the fact that, here and now, we face considerable financial pressures and we cannot be running trains that are not occupied.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The Government has pledged to revisit the development of a rail connection between Aberdeen city and Ellon, with a possible extension to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Even if we are successful in realising the project, it will not happen overnight. Given that many people in my constituency have no option but to use their cars, what is the Scottish Government doing to enable people in rural Scotland and Aberdeenshire East to rely less heavily on petrol and diesel cars in our everyday lives?

Graeme Dey

A great deal of support is going into the north-east in that regard, and members would take it badly if I were to stand here and list it all. I will say to the member that we work closely with Nestrans—the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership—on all this. Nestrans has a mass transit proposal for Aberdeen and the wider area, which—if memory serves—contains proposals to improve bus connectivity to Ellon, for example, in the member’s constituency.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

If we want more people to use public transport, public transport has to be reliable. The recent incidence of industrial action means that that has not been the case. The Scottish National Party’s approach was to stand back and let the employer and the unions fight it out, even after I showed the minister that, contractually, the Government should have been front and centre. Does the minister now accept that, to encourage more people on to public transport, the SNP has to take a greater and more proactive role in industrial action?

Graeme Dey

Where it is appropriate to do so, the Scottish Government will work with employers, whoever they are, to bring about resolution of industrial action in order to ensure that we do not have disruption to transport services, whatever form they take.

Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

The introduction of free bus travel for under-22s from the end of January 2022 will see approximately 1 million young people travelling free of charge. That is in addition to the third of Scotland’s population who already benefit from the older and disabled persons free bus scheme. Does the minister therefore agree that the SNP Government has already taken significant steps to encourage the use of public transport?

Graeme Dey

Yes, and we should give credit to our Green colleagues for the part that they played in the under-22s scheme. Of course, as I noted earlier, we have the fair fares review going on at the moment to try to ensure that we best capture opportunities to support our citizens to enjoy easy access to public transport.

Net Zero (Housing)

To ask the Scottish Government what role passivhaus homes and off-site manufacturing have in the Glasgow Shettleston constituency in supporting its aim to achieve net zero by 2045. (S6O-00383)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

We continue to take action to increase the energy efficiency of new homes and to modernise construction to put Scotland’s homes on the pathway to net zero by 2045.

We are currently consulting on improvements to the high energy standards in Scottish building regulations for introduction next year. Those improvements will be strongly focused on reducing overall energy demand in new homes, and we are also developing a strategy to build more high quality and energy-efficient affordable homes in communities across the country, through greater use of off-site construction.

John Mason

Will the minister join me in congratulating West of Scotland Housing Association, CCG and hub West Scotland on the passivhaus development at Parkhead, which I believe is the largest in Glasgow so far and will mean high standards of insulation and ventilation and keep heating costs to a minimum?

Patrick Harvie

Yes, I am delighted to congratulate West of Scotland Housing Association, CCG and hub West Scotland on the delivery of the new development at Springfield Cross in Glasgow, and I welcome many other positive developments.

The development will deliver 36 new homes with the support of grant funding through the affordable housing supply programme. The homes are being built to achieve high energy efficiency standards, which will result in low fuel bills for tenants when they move into the completed homes next year.

Ferry Services

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to improve ferry services to island communities. (S6O-00384)

The Minister for Transport (Graeme Dey)

Our £580 million investment in ports and vessels that was announced in February will support and improve Scotland’s ferry services over the next five years. As part of our wider infrastructure investment plan, we continue to work constructively with partners and key stakeholders to progress a sustainable and efficient fleet replacement programme. I note the recent purchase of the MV Utne, which I am pleased to tell the chamber has arrived in Scotland and will shortly begin her fit-out. Of course, we continue to look at opportunities to bring other second-hand tonnage into the fleet to improve reliability and availability.

Engagement with stakeholders to develop detailed deployment, cascade and related timetables for the 2022 summer season continues.

Rhoda Grant

The minister will be aware of a number of cancellations due to crew testing positive with Covid-19, which obviously occur at short notice. What steps is the Scottish Government considering to minimise the risk of ferry cancellations in the event of positive Covid cases among crews over the winter months, when infections are high and are likely to rise and when ferries already face disruption due to weather?

Graeme Dey

The member makes a fair point. I am pleased to say that I had discussions just yesterday with Caledonian MacBrayne management on that matter. She will appreciate that the primary consideration when something like that happens is, of course, the health and wellbeing of the crews and the need to take essential measures. However, we are actively looking at whether we can assist CalMac with speeding up the testing procedure and also with aspects such as deep cleaning to minimise disruption to vessels.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am not at all surprised that there is considerable interest in the issue of ferries. A number of members want to ask supplementary questions. I hope to get through as many of them as possible, so I ask for brief questions and answers.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

The Lochranza to Claonaig ferry route is vital to the Isle of Arran, not least when the ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan cannot sail, but in the winter it is replaced by a once-a-day service to and from Tarbert. What steps will the minister take to extend and enhance that vital service?

Graeme Dey

I am aware of the request from Arran stakeholder groups to extend the winter timetable between Lochranza and Claonaig. However, as Mr Gibson is aware, that request has been considered several times by CalMac Ferries and Transport Scotland. I assure him that it was considered in great detail, but it is simply not possible to operate a reliable service in the winter due to the nature of the slipway at Claonaig.

CalMac has also looked closely at the request to provide more sailings from Tarbert to Lochranza but, again, as Mr Gibson will know, any such deliberations need to factor in the benefits set against the disbenefits for affected populations. In this case, more sailings from Tarbert to Lochranza would mean reducing the Tarbert to Portavadie timetable, which would be problematic for regular users of that service, who include children and young people who use it to get to and from school.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

We learned today that full lifeline ferry services to Harris and Uist will not be reinstated next summer. The Isle of Harris transport forum says that that could cost the island £3 million a year in lost business and that it wants a meeting with the minister. Will he commit to meeting it and reinstating the full ferry service?

Graeme Dey

I met the Isle of Harris transport forum a few months ago and I understand entirely the concerns that it has on the subject. My officials are currently engaging with CalMac to see whether it is possible to arrive at a compromise on the issue. The costs that are involved in providing a full service, in terms of using the mezzanine deck and having full weekly services, are prohibitive. However, we are keen to see whether we can find a compromise, and my officials will engage directly on that.

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

As the minister indicated, CalMac is consulting on two options for the Uig triangle timetable that have no additional cost implications but would result in less capacity than in previous years. Given how busy the route is in the summer months, can any consideration be given to alternative options that would see an increase rather than a decrease in capacity?

That is happening at the moment. Mr Allan wrote to me earlier this week and one of the suggestions that he made is being considered as a possibility.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Will the Scottish Government commit to expanding the free bus travel scheme to internal ferries for under-22s in island communities, because they rely on ferries in the same way that their mainland counterparts rely on buses?

As the member knows, responsibility for interisland ferries lies with local authorities. However, all fares for ferries and others form part of the forthcoming fair fares review.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

The purchase of the MV Utne in October is the latest instalment in a series of investments that the Scottish National Party has made in our ferry services, vessels and infrastructure since 2007. Despite the vessel reportedly being earmarked for the Oban to Craignure run, will the minister detail how other island communities will benefit from that addition to the CalMac fleet?

Graeme Dey

I am delighted to say that the Utne arrived in Scotland this week, and I look forward to seeing her enter service. She is earmarked for the Oban to Craignure route, which will enable a year-round commutable service from Mull alongside the larger vessel that serves Oban to Craignure customers. The potential additional benefits for the introduction include the return of the MV Coruisk to the Mallaig to Armadale route, improving the service frequency and freeing the MV Lord of the Isles to operate solely on the Mallaig to Lochboisdale route. With the addition of the Utne, fleet resilience during dry-dock periods will also be improved.

Question 6 was not lodged.

26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (Sustainable Development Opportunities)

7. Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what it sees as the sustainable development opportunities emerging from the decisions and outcomes of COP26. (S6O-00386)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

In advance of COP26, the Scottish Government recognised our moral responsibility to respond to the urgent need for global action on loss and damage. That is why the First Minister announced a £1 million partnership with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund to help some of the world’s most vulnerable communities prepare for and adapt to climate change, tackle structural inequalities and recover from climate-induced loss and damage. Responding to calls that activists and young people from those communities made throughout COP26, the Scottish Government will treble, rather than double, our climate justice fund, including £1 million to specifically address loss and damage.

Bill Kidd

I would be grateful if the cabinet secretary could outline the plans that the Scottish Government has to promote sustainable and ethical pension options for public sector workers, and say whether it considers pension investment to be an important avenue through which we can boost business in sustainable and ethical models, whether those are operating in Scotland or further afield.

Michael Matheson

Of the five Scottish public pension schemes, four are unfunded and therefore do not make direct investments; only the local government pension scheme is funded. It is clear that environmental, social and corporate governance issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios. We are aware that some Scottish local government pension funds have already signed up to the principles of responsible investment and exercised a preference in new investments with positive ESG—environmental, social and governance—characteristics, which they have set out in their financial criteria.

I can also inform the member that Scottish ministers intend to liaise with the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme Advisory Board with a view to launching a consultation on climate risk reporting and on ESG standards for local authority pension funds, in line with the recommendations of the task force on climate-related financial disclosure for companies to describe the impact of climate-related risks and opportunities on organisational business, strategy and financial planning. I assure the member that we intend to progress that work in a timely fashion.

Oil and Gas Businesses (Engagement)

8. Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is engaging with oil and gas businesses in the north-east, as Scotland transitions to a net zero economy. (S6O-00387)

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

The Scottish Government engages with companies that are operating in the oil and gas sector across the north-east, recognising that the knowledge and experience of the sector and supply chains will be important for developing and investing in new and emerging technologies. Ministers engage regularly with a range of stakeholders, including the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. Most recently, on 19 August, I chaired the oil and gas and energy transition strategic leadership group, which was also attended by the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work. The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise is scheduled to meet the chamber of commerce next month.

Audrey Nicoll

My constituency of Aberdeen South and North Kincardine is home to a range of businesses, many of which are family run, that have been part of the oil and gas sector supply chain for many decades. Many have a skilled workforce, established suppliers and a knowledge of the energy sector. What support will the Scottish Government provide to ensure that opportunities in the renewables sector will be available to such businesses in order to protect jobs and support the local north-east economy?

Michael Matheson

We already provide significant support for the north-east economy. I recognise that there are specific sectoral challenges facing the region, but there are also significant opportunities. We have committed some £500 million to a new just transition fund for the north-east and Moray over the next 10 years, and we are calling on the United Kingdom Government to match that investment. The Scottish Government’s £75 million energy transition fund will also support our energy sector and the north-east over the next five years. Those funds will help to protect existing jobs and create new jobs by opening up opportunities through energy transition, harnessing private sector funding and supporting our thriving sector.

In addition, I can tell the member that those who are bidding to take part in the leasing round for our ScotWind programme, which I believe is one of the largest offshore-wind leasing programmes in the world, are required to submit a supply chain development statement that sets out how they will use the domestic supply chain to support any developments that they may be awarded. The purpose behind that is specifically to help to secure greater investment in our domestic supply chain and to support the very businesses in the member’s constituency to which she referred as we transition from an oil and gas sector to one that is much more dominated by renewable energy.

That concludes portfolio questions. I thank members and both ministerial teams for their co-operation in allowing us to get through as many questions as we did.