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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 17 December 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, General Election Outcome, Business Motion, UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time, Food Insecurity


Topical Question Time

Conference of the Parties 25

1. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the outcome of COP25. (S5T-01928)

Although certain decisions in areas such as gender were reached at COP25, I was concerned that key agreements needed for the Paris agreement rulebook on, for example, international carbon markets and common timeframes were postponed until 2020. COP26 in Glasgow will be important not only because of the need for those high-profile decisions to be made, but because of the need to raise ambition and take action.

When I engaged with other stakeholders, it was clear that the expectation for COP26 is for greater ambition, action and inclusivity. Glasgow must set the world on course for a net zero future by mid-century. Our reputation as a world leader and our ambitious new targets, as set out in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, present a strong platform from which delegates at the COP can productively discuss further action on tackling climate change.

I want to ask about the cabinet secretary’s bilateral meetings with other countries. We all know that the United States, under Donald Trump, has withdrawn from the Paris agreement. Do US state representatives remain engaged?

Many environmental schemes that we have in Scotland are supported by the European Union. Despite the general election happening at the same time as COP25, has the United Kingdom Government provided any clarity on future funding arrangements? Is the cabinet secretary able to give any detail on its direction of travel on climate change?

I had a fair number of positive bilateral meetings with a range of Governments, including Norway and members of the Under2 Coalition, such as Baden-Württemberg. I was also pleased to meet representatives of the California government, as well as the mayor of Pittsburgh and officials from the new United States Climate Alliance. It was clear from those discussions that the various state governments, and many individual states and cities in the United States and throughout the world, remain committed to the actions of the Paris agreement.

I am not quite sure whether in the second part of her question the member asked about the costs of COP26 specifically or more general funding for EU programmes. If it is the latter, I can say that many of our environmental schemes are supported and funded by the EU. We know that that is the case. I am deeply concerned about the loss of EU funding for the delivery of environmental outcomes and I have continually pressed the UK Government to provide clarity on future funding arrangements, as has my colleague Fergus Ewing. In the absence of that clarity, the Scottish Government has published its own consultation on the replacement for the EU structural funds, to give stakeholders the opportunity to bring their experience and expertise to the development of any successor arrangements. It is past time that we had greater clarity from the UK Government.

The cabinet secretary spoke about the costs of COP26. It is fitting that COP26 should take place in Glasgow, given the city’s ambitions to address climate change and that Scotland leads UK action on climate. What discussions have taken place with the UK Government on the costs of the event?

The UK Government has already committed to covering core costs, but I expect all costs associated with COP26 to be borne by the UK Government, including funding for police, fire and ambulance services to prepare for and deliver a safe, secure and successful event. Once again, we continue to seek clarity from the UK Government on that key issue, which will be extremely important as we get into the run-up to the event in Glasgow next year.

One of the few rays of hope to come out of COP25 was the announcement by the European Commission of a European green deal. It announced that 25 per cent—a quarter—of EU budgets will be put into climate action. Given that the UK is set to leave the EU, although I am sure that Scotland will rejoin as an independent nation when the time is right—we are going to get it done—what options are there right now for us to collaborate with EU partners?

As the member is probably aware, that will be a challenge, but it is a challenge that we have indicated from the outset that we want to meet. We will continue to engage as directly as possible with the EU. The intention in Scotland is to continue to reflect the progress that is being made in the EU across all of those issues. I was glad that the EU made that announcement, although, as the member will be aware, the target setting at the EU level is not as ambitious as it is in Scotland. Nevertheless, we want to continue to have that dialogue with the EU and I will look for every opportunity possible to continue that, notwithstanding anything that happens in January, July or next December. Like the member, I regard this situation as a temporary blip, and I look forward to our being a full partner in the EU again in the future.

The COP coming to Glasgow next year will be the perfect opportunity to showcase the role of Scotland’s world-class farming sector in tackling climate change. When will the agricultural modernisation fund be ready to support our farmers in doing that?

If my colleague the finance secretary was standing here, he would probably come back with some interesting lines about the UK Government getting on with its budget so that we can get on with our budget.

Does the cabinet secretary agree with the United Nations secretary general António Guterres that COP25 was disappointing due to the lack of action in areas such as financial support, particularly from richer countries, to the global south? Can she help to ensure that the same mistakes are not made next year when the COP comes to Glasgow? Will she commit to working inclusively with other parties and those in no party who are eager and willing to work with her to support the development of various actions?

The Government intends to work as widely as possible with others in the run-up to COP26. I agree with António Guterres comments. It was clear that some of the most difficult aspects of the negotiations were, in effect, kicked down the road, so they will be issues again in Glasgow in 2020. Although a lot of people are focusing on the carbon markets aspect of article 6, there was also a bit of a failure on the question of loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change. When I was in Madrid, I had meetings with a number of environmental organisations that brought to me folk from the global south who are very concerned about the lack of movement regarding those impacts. I have undertaken that, where it is possible, the Scottish Government will be an advocate for the global south, and we will continue to do that.

It is important to focus on ambition and action, but it is also important that COP26 in Glasgow next year is as inclusive as possible and opens the door to groups such as those in the global south, the indigenous peoples of the world and the Under2 Coalition, which comprises an enormous amount of effort on the reduction of emissions around the world.

Child Poverty

2. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to research suggesting that one in 10 children will be deprived of warmth or fresh food this Christmas. (S5T-01923)

It is absolutely unacceptable that families are unable to afford basic necessities and are forced to go cold and hungry at any time of the year, and especially at Christmas. In 2018-19, we invested over £1.4 billion in support targeted at low-income households, including investment in fuel poverty and energy efficiency measures. This year, we are going further and have increased our fair food fund to £3.5 million, with £2 million focused on tackling food insecurity in the school holidays. Our tackling child poverty delivery plan outlines our concrete action to reduce child poverty and includes plans to make the first payments of the Scottish child payment to eligible families with children under six by Christmas next year.

Research from Action for Children concluded that over 64,000 children face a difficult festive season lacking basics such as a warm coat and a heated home—that is one in 10 children facing a Christmas of want, not warmth. What is the cabinet secretary doing to ensure that the crisis is eliminated by next Christmas?

As I outlined in my original response, the Scottish Government believes that it is unacceptable for families to endure the poverty levels that David Stewart described. That is why we are targeting £1.4 billion on low-income households and have increased our fair food fund to £3.5 million, with £2 million focused on tackling food insecurity in the school holidays; it is also why, collectively as a Government, we have taken the decision to bring forward the first payments of the Scottish child payment to lift children directly out of poverty by next Christmas.

That is what this Government is doing, but we do so with one hand tied behind our back because of—let us not forget—the austerity measures and welfare cuts of the United Kingdom Government. The Resolution Foundation, after looking at the Conservative manifesto for the recent general election, made projections of a 60-year high in child poverty levels. We will therefore do what we can, but we are mitigating around the edges. We need the powers of full independence to be able to tackle child poverty head on once and for all.

I do not doubt the cabinet secretary’s good intentions, but the statistics do not lie. They show the harsh reality of poverty across Scotland today. Children in need want action now, not promises of a ghost of Christmas yet to come. Will the cabinet secretary urgently look at Action for Children’s research and act upon it?

The Scottish Government looks at all research and does all that it can to tackle child poverty. The Scottish child payment is more than a good intention—£1.4 billion invested in low-income households is more than a good intention; it is a tangible action that the Government is taking here and now. Next year, we will roll out the Scottish child payment which is, again, something that Labour members have called for but have yet to properly and absolutely welcome.

We will continue to do what we can, mitigating where we need to and protecting families where we can, but we need to make that our focus. We are the bringers of bad news to families at all times of year, not just at Christmas, as the UK Government cuts welfare and social security and damages the potential and the future outcomes of children. It needs to change its actions and, as a Government and a Parliament, we need to get behind the call for it to do so.

Will the cabinet secretary further outline what impact the UK Government’s welfare cuts have had on children in Scotland and how that has affected the Scottish Government’s ability to tackle child poverty in areas with high levels of child poverty, such as my constituency in Dundee?

The welfare cuts and social security reductions have had an enormous impact in the communities that Ms Robison has described. The Scottish Government’s 2019 welfare reform report shows that UK Government cuts continue to reduce incomes for families across Scotland, with 8,500 families already having had their income cut by universal credit and the two-child limit. That figure will reach 40,000 at full roll-out, bringing up to 20,000 children into poverty. The benefit cap is affecting more than 3,000 households, who are losing on average more than £3,000 per year. The UK Government continues not to address the benefit freeze. We have to invest £100 million to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare reform, which the United Nations rapporteur on poverty described as “outrageous”.

It is clear that UK Government cuts continue to impact and affect vulnerable families. If we listen to the new UK Government, its manifesto will increase child poverty levels to a 60-year high. That is outrageous. It shows again, in sharp focus, that we have the choice of two futures: we either continue with Boris Johnson’s austerity, and face that potential 60-year high in child poverty, or we work towards a future in which we can create a fairer Scotland and every child has a chance to flourish.

I have a debate later today on the Menu for Change report, which looks at food poverty. That report highlights that there are differences in benefit take-up across Scotland. Some local authorities are better than others. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is something that she needs to take on board, and that she ought to bring people together? I know that her predecessor as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government did that, with some interesting results.

We have a welfare take-up strategy that is being led by Shirley-Anne Somerville. We also have the money talk team, which is ensuring that people can get access to the benefits, money advice and financial support that they require. That, again, is a further investment to support households who need it, particularly at this time of the year. We will continue to do what we can to support families to maximise their household budgets, but it is very difficult to continue to do so when we have one hand tied behind our back. We will continue to make sure that families get the benefits that they are entitled to, and to support them to increase their household budgets.