Meeting date: Thursday, August 20, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 20 August 2020
Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
Portfolio Question Time
Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity
Good afternoon. The next item of business is portfolio question time. In order to get in as many people as possible, short and succinct questions and answers to match would be a great bonus of the day.
The first questions are on transport, infrastructure and connectivity. I remind members that questions 2 and 5 are grouped together. I will take the supplementaries on those questions first. Any member with a supplementary question to either of those must come in after them.
Public Transport (Economic Recovery)
To ask the Scottish Government what role public transport has in ensuring a green economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04484)
Public transport has a vital role in supporting the national transport strategy and taking climate action as part of our green recovery. That is why the Government has approved net additional spending of £487 million in a range of measures to support the sector through the pandemic. Additionally, we published our rail decarbonisation plan in July, and we have a long-term commitment to invest £500 million to improve bus priority infrastructure. Our work with the Scottish National Investment Bank is exploring ways to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission buses to make Scotland a global destination for green investment.
As we continue to progress through the recovery from the pandemic, what action can the Scottish Government take to provide reassurance to commuters to help to restore confidence and encourage a safe return to the use of public transport?
The transport transition plan outlines our activity to support the sector’s transition out of the Covid-19 crisis in line with the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 route map. It is a continuously evolving plan, and it ensures that people can travel with confidence while continuing to suppress the virus.
We have implemented measures such as mandatory face coverings on public transport, and we can see from the support that we have from the public that their use on public transport is widely supported.
As I mentioned, we are supporting the sector with up to £487 million to date to ensure that services keep running while physical distancing is advised. We have also committed an additional £10 million for bus priority during the transition period to ensure that public transport remains an attractive choice.
Bus Sector (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government how the recently announced £63 million fund for the bus sector will help to support bus operators with maintaining and increasing services. (S5O-04485)
Our commitment to provide funding of up to £63 million for bus operators will keep Scotland moving during the Covid-19 crisis. That funding is on top of the £46.7 million that we made available from June.
People throughout the country rely on bus services for work, education and health services, and to see family and friends. That funding will support those people by providing them with the bus services that they need and capacity to travel safely with physical distancing in place.
I will continue to do what I can to support the bus industry and the public transport network.
I am aware that, from next month, Stagecoach East intends to axe the number 23 service that runs through my constituency. Crucially, that impacts on my constituents in more rural areas, who rely on that service to access health services, education, work and family. I have written to Stagecoach to draw its attention to the additional funding and to ask it to reconsider its decision. Will the cabinet secretary agree to work with Stagecoach East to find out whether that funding or, indeed, any other support that could save that service is available?
As I mentioned in my initial response, we are providing over £100 million to support bus operators across the country, including companies such as Stagecoach, to allow them to ramp up services to almost 100 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels. Of course, even with our support for that level of service alongside physical distancing, bus operators will look at their existing network in order to devise it in a way that they believe best serves the local community and that they can provide as an operator.
It is for Stagecoach to consult the local authority and local transport partners before making any changes to its services, and to notify the Office of the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland of any changes that it intends to take forward. However, I would certainly encourage Stagecoach and other local stakeholders to ensure that they remain engaged, given the concern that Mr Brown has raised about that service, in order to identify a way in which the concerns of the local community can be addressed.
Bus Services (Viability)
To ask the Scottish Government what conditions it has set through its financial support for bus operators to keep services viable through the pandemic and as Scotland comes out of lockdown. (S5O-04488)
In return for our funding, bus operators are required to provide specified levels of service approaching 100 per cent of pre-Covid levels. We are asking operators to adapt their services to meet current patterns of demand so as to minimise overcrowding and underutilisation.
Operators are required to keep services under review in consultation with local transport authorities and health boards. That includes responding positively and quickly to reasonable requests to amend services, such as services that help school travel. Operators must also take reasonable steps to keep passengers at the required physical distance and to follow health guidance.
I welcome the initiative, but we need to get the maximum benefits and political direction for that investment. Is there a requirement to ensure that, in order to keep buses affordable, there are no fare increases? When will the provisions to give local authorities the power to run bus services in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 be in place to make sure that we get that real direction going forward?
The purpose of the funding is to fill the gap that is created through the loss of revenue as a result of physical distancing; it is not in relation to fare rates, which are a matter for the operator directly.
On Ms Boyack’s second point about the provisions in the 2019 act for a range of models in operating bus services, as I am sure that the member will appreciate, Transport Scotland officials have been largely focused on the challenges that we face through Covid-19. That has resulted in a range of work having to be delayed, including some of the provisions in the 2019 act. As officials move into taking forward aspects of that act for implementation, they will be able to start moving on the points that were raised by Sarah Boyack in relation to bus transport. However, any delay around that is largely the result of staff having to be deployed to deal with the pandemic.
Graham Simpson has a brief supplementary question.
I was interested to hear the cabinet secretary say that the fund should be used to have 100 per cent of pre-Covid levels. First Glasgow has recently axed part of the number 31 service that used to go into East Kilbride but no longer goes there. When I asked about the fund, First Glasgow said that it would use it on the existing part of the route. Surely that is not the intention of the fund.
I welcome Mr Simpson to his new post; this is my first opportunity to do so since he was appointed last week. However, I think that he misunderstands the way in which the fund operates. The fund is there to fill a gap from the loss that operators have suffered because of physical distancing, which has resulted in limited capacity, and to make sure that operators are prioritising key routes on which there might be capacity constraints but a demand for services, particularly to hospitals, schools and places of work.
Operators must meet those requirements in order to access the fund. I am not familiar with the service that the member referred to, but given that the operator must consult the local transport authority and refer anything about a service that it seeks to change to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland, the matter can clearly be considered at a local level.
Question 3 is from Sandra White; I will come back to her when she gets her card sorted out. We will take question 4 from Emma Harper.
“South West Scotland Transport Study”
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the “South West Scotland Transport Study”. (S5O-04487)
The study, which was concluded in January, recommended that interventions be taken forward for further detailed appraisal in the second strategic transport project review.
In recent months, Transport Scotland has been working on the Covid-19 transport response, so we now intend to take a phased approach to STPR 2, with phase 1 reporting in the original planned timescale. That first phase will focus on recommendations that, in transport terms, lock in the benefits and travel behaviours of individuals and provide a step change in investment to support the priorities and outcomes of the national transport strategy. We currently envisage that phase 2, which will complete the review, will report later in 2021.
I wrote recently to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a case for the United Kingdom Government to transfer money to the Scottish Government to pay for much-needed upgrades on the A75 Euro route and the A77, which connects to Cairnryan. Both those roads might experience increased traffic as a result of Brexit. My rationale was to apply the no-detriment clause to the Scottish Government, under the European Union withdrawal agreement.
In addition to the “South West Scotland Transport Study”, which is welcome, can the cabinet secretary commit to exploring all avenues with the UK Government to ensure that the A75 and A77 receive much-needed investment to improve safety and journey times?
I fully recognise the important role that the A75 and A77 can play in the post-Brexit world. The “South West Scotland Transport Study” includes among its recommendations the options of partial dualling and targeted improvements for both the A75 and the A77. That will now be subject to more detailed appraisal as part of the second strategic transport projects review. We need to wait for the final outcome from the review but, once it is complete, it will provide us with an opportunity to consider which actions in relation to the A75 and A77 will be taken forward.
On the matter of funding that Ms Harper has raised, as the First Minister outlined at question time, the financial constraints within which the Scottish Government must operate limit our options when it comes to major capital investment programmes of this nature. With the financial flexibility of greater borrowing powers, the Parliament and therefore the Scottish Government could more effectively take strategic decisions around capital investments in projects such as the upgrading of the A75 and the A77.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that, although £10.5 billion of investment has been made by the Government in road infrastructure over the past 12 years, just 0.04 per cent of it has been in south-west Scotland? Will he ensure that when the strategic transport projects review is eventually published, that unfairness is addressed and there is investment in the A75 and the A77?
I do not accept the premise of the member’s point about “unfairness”, because significant investment has been made in transport infrastructure in the south-west of Scotland over recent years. I assure him that the Government will remain committed to investing in the south-west of Scotland and its transport infrastructure.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will commit further funding to expand the provision of broadband services in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency and elsewhere in Scotland. (S5O-04486)
The latest thinkbroadband figures show that, as of today, 98.7 per cent of premises across the Glasgow City Council area are now capable of accessing superfast broadband speeds. Commercial build has played an important role in improving broadband connectivity across the Glasgow Kelvin area, and I welcome further plans by telecoms operators that will extend that coverage further. For example, CityFibre recently announced that it will invest more than £100 million in its full-fibre plans for Glasgow, and Virgin Media announced a service upgrade to its new Gig1 product across the city, to deliver a speed of 1 gigabit per second.
I thank the minister for that update.
The lockdown has shown us how important broadband can be. In my constituency, Glasgow’s Golden Generation has been giving out iPads and has been trying to get older people connected to the internet across the city, which has been very positive for them.
Given the importance of keeping people connected, how will the Scottish Government ensure that no businesses, homes or communities are left behind? What help is the Scottish Government getting from the United Kingdom Government to reach 100 per cent superfast broadband?
I thank Sandra White for raising that very important point. On ensuring that individuals have access to digital connectivity, I highlight that £15 million of funding for phase 2 of the connecting Scotland initiative was announced this week by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government.
By next April, Connecting Scotland will have provided more than 30,000 additional households with devices, data, skills and technical support. Sandra White is right to identify the need for infrastructure to be there in the first place to enable connectivity, which is a key issue that we are taking forward.
I have referenced commercial investment, but I make it clear for Ms White and other members who have an interest in Glasgow that, this week, we announced our Scottish broadband voucher scheme, which will work as part of our commitment to providing access to superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland. Properties in Glasgow will be eligible for the scheme if they are not covered by commercial provision, so I highlight to Ms White that people will potentially benefit from up to £5,000 per premises to enable a superfast broadband solution.
If people who are in the commercial provision group have not had information by July 2021, they too will be able to take advantage of the interim voucher scheme. If they know that they are in a commercial provision area but have not yet had clarity about when provision will be delivered, we will enable them to have a service by the end of 2021.
There are five minutes left and three more questions. I would like to get them in, so please be snappy.
Road Equivalent Tariff (Pentland Firth)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made with the introduction of road equivalent tariff on ferry routes across the Pentland Firth, and whether it will confirm the date that it will be introduced. (S5O-04489)
Transport Scotland and Serco NorthLink Ferries have been focused on ensuring that lifeline connections to the islands continue to operate during the Covid pandemic, which has meant that other work, including on RET, has had to be paused.
However, since 1 January 2020, islanders travelling on Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick routes have received a 20 per cent reduction in cabin fares and a three-year freeze on passenger, non-commercial vehicle and cabin fares. That package of measures builds on the 30 per cent discount that islanders already enjoy.
Further work on fares to establish an agreed mechanism for delivering RET for Orkney and Shetland will be carried out in due course.
It is now 12 years since cheaper fares were introduced on Western Isles routes, and it is more than two years since RET was meant to have been introduced, a decade late, on northern isles routes. The courts and the European Commission seem to be clear that it can be introduced, so when can we expect cheaper fares for Pentland Firth routes? Will the minister commit to using the underspend from the delayed introduction of RET to reduce fares on Orkney’s lifeline internal services?
Liam McArthur raised two issues, there.
I have had on-going engagement with him and Orkney Islands Council about internal ferry services and, given the financial difficulties that Orkney Islands Council faces at present, we have encouraged the authority to contact local government colleagues about the wider financial position of local authorities in response to Covid-19.
In July 2019, we had a letter from the European Commission giving us its initial findings on RET and the Pentland Firth routes. That was an unofficial statement, but we have had further engagement with the Commission on potential options for RET. We will continue to keep Liam McArthur informed about that. That work has been paused because of Covid-19, but I give him the undertaking that we will pick up the ball and see what progress we can make.
Liam McArthur will appreciate that the financial position this year of our ferry operators across all networks—private and public—has been challenging and that we have had to focus resources on dealing with the problems that are in front of us.
To ask the Scottish Government, in the light of people having been discouraged from using public transport in recent months, how it plans to encourage the use of trains and buses once again. (S5O-04490)
Bus and rail networks are seeing patronage increasing as we move through the stages of recovery. Customer messaging, aligned to Scottish Government guidance, continues to encourage travel behaviour to manage demand across the network, rather than to discourage use of public transport.
This week, we announced our public, school and community transport Covid-19 mitigation fund, which will support measures by transport operators that will increase capacity and public confidence for those using school transport.
We remain committed to our national transport strategy vision for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system for Scotland.
The lockdown seems to have led to a reduction in traffic congestion and emissions, which is good, and to an increase in cycling, but there is a lack of public confidence. Does the cabinet secretary consider that we can maintain such improvements, or is increased car travel inevitable?
We very much welcome the positive behaviour changes. However, there is global uncertainty about whether changes in travel demand will be temporary or sustained, and whether behaviour will revert to pre-pandemic conditions. That is why we are taking action now, during the pandemic, to capitalise on the positive travel behaviours that we have seen in recent months, by investing in measures, including £39 million for the spaces for people fund and £10 million for pop-up bus-priority infrastructure.
We will continue to take action as we set out our future investment plan in the programme for government and our infrastructure investment plan, alongside our second strategic transport projects review.
I will take question 8, but it must be very brief.
Stagecoach Bus Services
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Stagecoach about proposed bus service changes. (S5O-04491)
On 7 August, I announced that we will provide bus operators, including Stagecoach, with up to £63 million to increase their bus services. That funding is in addition to some £46.7 million that I have committed since June. As part of that funding, we have discussed overall service requirements with bus operators, including Stagecoach.
The 23 service looks set to be reinstated along half its route by First Bus, but it is typical of a number of threatened services that cut across multiple council boundaries in Scotland. What strategic role can the Government play to ensure that those cross-boundary services are supported?
A similar question was raised by the local constituency member, Keith Brown, on his constituents’ concerns about proposed changes to the service that Mark Ruskell has referred to. As I outlined, the operator must go through a process with the regional transport authority and consult the local community on any proposed changes. Following that, any further consideration of a service change is a matter for the traffic commissioner for Scotland. I encourage the member, as a regional member, to engage in that process and to make representations to the appropriate authorities.
Justice and the Law Officers
Before I take question 1, I should say that questions 2 and 3 will be grouped together.
Sexual Offences Against Children
To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take in light of the NSPCC highlighting Police Scotland data showing that recorded sexual offences against children have increased by 30 per cent in the last five years. (S5O-04492)
Child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime. Tackling it requires a co-ordinated, multiagency, trauma-informed response, particularly to address the devastating impact that it has on survivors and victims.
In the past four years, we have focused enormous efforts on tackling child sexual exploitation through our national action plan, and we are building on that work by ensuring that child abuse is a key focus in work being undertaken across health, justice, equality and human rights. We have strengthened legislation and increased funding to make it easier for victims and survivors to come forward and speak out against abusers.
We continue our significant funding commitments to third sector partners such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Barnardo’s Scotland, Stop It Now! Scotland, as well as funding to support programmes of work such as equally safe and the child protection improvement programme, to strengthen Scotland’s response to child abuse.
Some of the spike in sexual offences will be due to online child sexual abuse. Given that some of the measures that were put in place to deal with the pandemic could have increased children’s vulnerability online, does the justice secretary agree that there should be no further delay to Scottish Government child protection guidance, so that all those who are working with children and families to prevent and address abuse have the best possible tools available to them?
I agree. Ruth Maguire has raised a very important point. She will be aware of the multiple campaigns that took place during lockdown specifically targeting that area—some from Police Scotland, some from the Scottish Government and some from third sector partners. We know that it was inevitable that young people had to spend more time online for learning and socialising during the past few months, but we recognise that with that came increased risks.
Ruth Maguire is right that we paused the consultation on the revised national guidance for child protection at the beginning of lockdown in acknowledgement of the additional pressures. We recognise the value of robust guidance to support those who are working with children and families during the pandemic, and we have worked closely with representatives of the children’s sector throughout. However, I take what the member says on board and am more than happy to update her in relation to that guidance. I agree with the point that she makes whole-heartedly.
I remind members and others that, if we have succinct questions and answers, we will get through them.
Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the issues concerning the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill that have been raised by bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland. (S5O-04493)
Hate crime has a hugely damaging impact on victims and their families and communities. The recent increase in the number of hate crime charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is a clear indication that hate crime remains a significant problem. The increase in hate crime charges might reflect a greater willingness of victims and witnesses to report, but we are not complacent and recognise that not all incidents of hate crime come to the attention of the police.
We remain committed to tackling all forms of hate crime and prejudice, whenever and wherever they arise. The bill affirms that commitment by ensuring that sufficient protection is provided for those people who need it.
Since the bill’s introduction, I have engaged extensively with a range of organisations, including the Law Society of Scotland. I am aware of the strong views that have been expressed on the bill, and I am listening to the feedback that has been received on it. I note, in particular, the concerns about the possibility of the bill stirring up hatred offences, and I will reflect on whether changes need to be made and on how such changes could be made in an appropriate and effective way.
In the coming months, the bill will be robustly scrutinised by the Justice Committee and members of the Scottish Parliament. I will give their conclusions my full consideration to make sure that the proposed legislation can be a force for good in helping to protect groups who are affected by dangerous hatred and prejudice, while protecting vital freedoms that we all hold dear.
I thank the justice secretary for his answer, and I agree with what he said about hate speech.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill has been criticised for threatening freedom of speech by the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Police Federation and the Law Society of Scotland, among others, yet the justice secretary said that he would “reflect on” the bill’s provisions only after yes activists and writers voiced their concerns about the bill. Can one imply, therefore, that the justice secretary listens to concerns about proposed legislation only when they are raised by nationalists?
That is a woeful response—I wish that Bill Bowman could have risen to the occasion. I phoned Murdo Fraser, who I do not think is in the chamber, to speak to him about his concerns about the bill, and I engaged with Liam Kerr, Mr Bowman’s party’s justice spokesperson, on the bill in advance of its introduction. I have said clearly and publicly that I would listen to Opposition members and stakeholders.
If we are to do the subject justice—I am certain of Bill Bowman’s good intentions in that regard—it would be helpful if we attempted to take the politics out of the issue and to look at the substance of it. Regardless of the fact that there are those who criticise the bill and have genuine concerns about it, all of us agree that we all have a responsibility to those groups who have often been the victims of hatred to make sure that the bill is effective in protecting them while, as I said, protecting the freedoms that we all hold so dear.
Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to engage communities across Scotland as the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill progresses. (S5O-04494)
Following the recommendations that were made in Lord Bracadale’s “Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland”, the Scottish Government engaged extensively with stakeholders. In November 2018, the Scottish Government launched the “One Scotland: Hate Has No Home Here” consultation and ran 11 public awareness events throughout Scotland. A series of stakeholder engagement events and bilateral meetings were also undertaken.
Since the bill’s introduction, we have engaged with more than 45 organisations. I have met a number of stakeholders and organisations, including faith and equalities groups, legal experts and victims groups. As the bill makes its way through Parliament, I will ensure that I continue to engage with those stakeholders, who include not just representatives of communities that are directly affected by hate crime but opponents of the bill. As I have said, it is essential that we make sure that all those who have an opinion on the bill have their voices listened to, and I have committed to ensuring that I do that.
The justice secretary and I recognise the importance of challenging hate crime and defeating prejudice and hatred. Sadly, for us and many others, it is often a daily experience. I know that the cabinet secretary and I share the same ambition and want the same outcome, which is to make Scotland a fairer and more equal country, where everyone has the same opportunity, regardless of their race or religion.
There are lots of good things in the bill—it consolidates the aggravation, adds vulnerability and sex, and removes outdated blasphemy laws—but does the cabinet secretary accept that the way in which aspects of the bill are drafted and the narrative that has been built around the bill risk undermining the very purpose of the bill, and risk fracturing the coalition that we need to build across Scotland if we are to defeat hate?
I ask you to be brief, cabinet secretary, because we are pressed for time.
I do not think that Anas Sarwar’s characterisation of the bill is incorrect; there are challenges around the narrative. That is why it is important that, as legislators, we all engage with those who oppose the bill and that, crucially, we listen to the voices of those who are impacted by hatred. Anas Sarwar has been at the forefront of tackling hatred in many of its forms, so he will know that it is important that we listen to the voices of those who are directly impacted by it.
As the cabinet secretary who will lead the bill through Parliament, I will engage, I will listen and I will find common ground where I can. My only plea to those who oppose the bill is to ask them to do the same and to listen to those who are directly impacted by hate crime. They should ask themselves why organisations such as the Equality Network, Stonewall, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Muslim Council for Scotland and many other groups support the bill, including its inclusion of a stirring-up offence.
Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019
To ask the Scottish Government on what date it plans to implement the disclosure provisions under the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019. (S5O-04495)
The changes to basic disclosure in the 2019 act require operational changes to the system of disclosure certificates issued by Disclosure Scotland.
Disclosure Scotland activated its business continuity plan in light of Covid-19. Disclosure Scotland and the Scottish Government have been working together to set a new implementation date. I will imminently announce a date for implementation when the necessary secondary legislation has been laid in Parliament and the guidance has been published. I will write to the member when that happens, which will be imminently, to confirm the date of implementation.
We have seen disruption in recent months, but it is more than a year since the bill received royal assent and one of its most important provisions has not yet been implemented. Delays are continuing, and people with records of minor convictions from several years ago are losing out on job offers as a result, despite the fact that Parliament agreed that that should no longer be the case. Will the cabinet secretary guarantee today that the changes will be in place by the end of the year, a full 18 months after they were agreed?
I will announce an implementation date imminently and I will make sure that the member is kept up to date.
The changes were always going to take some time, even without the disruption that has been caused by Covid. That was because they required significant information technology changes. I can write to the member about those. When similar changes were made to disclosure law in England and Wales, there was a two-year period between legislation and implementation. I imagine that that was because, as in our situation, IT systems had to be updated.
I will announce the date of implementation imminently and I will ensure that the member is kept up to date.
I have nine minutes and four questions; please speed up.
To ask the Scottish Government how it is responding to the increase in domestic abuse reports in 2020. (S5O-04496)
The impact of Covid-19 has highlighted the risks to women and children experiencing domestic abuse. It remains our priority that victims get the support that they need and are kept safe from harm. We have provided significant additional funding to support third sector organisations, including £1.35 million to Scottish Women’s Aid.
I assure the member and Parliament that we are in close discussion with third sector partners and with Police Scotland, which remains committed to tackling domestic abuse. I recently met victim support organisations on the victims task force to discuss the issue.
This is a matter of cross-Government interest. My colleague Christina McKelvie, the Minister for Older People and Equalities, is having similar discussions to ensure that vital front-line services continue to be fully accessible to victims during these unprecedented times.
The cabinet secretary refers to the abuse of children. No one wants another lockdown, but we must prepare for a possible one in the winter. Will the cabinet secretary tell us what has been put in place for the partners and children of abusers to assist them now and in any situation in which we again have to lock down?
Gillian Martin makes an important point about something that is part of our discussion in Government and part of a discussion that I will take up personally with Scottish Women‘s Aid. My officials are also having those discussions.
It is important for us to understand the particular needs of women and children if we go into another lockdown, or if local restrictions are reimposed, as we have seen in Aberdeen. We will work closely with third sector partners and with Police Scotland on those matters, to raise awareness of the services available and to encourage those who experience this pernicious crime to seek support without delay.
The message from the chief constable, from me as the Justice Secretary and often from the First Minister herself, at her daily briefings, is this: regardless of whether or not we are in lockdown, if you feel that you are in danger, you must call 999. Regardless of the pressures on Police Scotland, the police will always take a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse. That message must continue whether or not we are under lockdown.
To ask the Scottish Government what recent assessment it has made of the prison estate and whether it is fit for purpose. (S5O-04497)
Since 2002, the Scottish Prison Service has been implementing a 20-year estate development programme in response to a review of the prison estate by the Scottish Government. To date, 75 per cent of the prison estate has been either replaced or modernised, thus evidencing our continuous commitment to improvement in the area.
As the member will know, there was an uplift in the Scottish Prison Service’s capital budget for 2019-20. Work is on-going for the construction of the new women’s national facility to replace Cornton Vale, and work on the two women’s community custody units will recommence in September. Approval has also been given to progress with HMP Highland and HMP Glasgow towards the invitation-to-tender stage.
I ask Margaret Mitchell to be brief.
The full inspection report on HMP Dumfries that HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland published in July states that the prison lacks accessible cells for prisoners with disabilities, with only one cell, which was occupied, being able to accommodate wheelchair use.
The most pressing priority for capital investment by the SPS is the lack of accessible cells for disabled prisoners. Even where prisoners’ disabilities are well known, records show a lack of checks for reasonable adjustments for those who need them. I say to the cabinet secretary that that is a problem across the prison estate—
It is not only unacceptable but a time bomb waiting to go off, given the potential consequences of a breach of a disabled prisoner’s fundamental rights.
Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether an equality impact assessment of the SPS estate has been carried out and what action the Scottish Government is taking to address the issue?
I need to find a way of dealing with these long remote questions.
On operational matters for the SPS, I would encourage Margaret Mitchell to get in contact with it directly.
On HMP Dumfries—I may have just signed off the answer to a parliamentary question from her colleague Oliver Mundell on this very matter—some recent investment has gone into and is planned for the prison. I will check whether that investment is related to accessibility.
The member makes a good point. Much of our prison estate is Victorian. The replacement programme for our prisons is focusing on those prisons that are older, and they will be replaced by prisons that have accessible facilities very much as a priority.
Fisheries and Maritime Security
To ask the Scottish Government—[Inaudible.]
To ask the Scottish Government whether the justice secretary has received a response from the United Kingdom Government to his calls for an urgent four-nation ministerial meeting on fisheries and maritime security. (S5O-04498)
I take it that you heard the question, minister.
I had received the question in advance, which is helpful when it comes to broadband issues. [Interruption.] I say to members that I get only the initial question in advance.
I have received a reply from the Secretary of State for Transport, agreeing that a meeting would be useful, but we are still waiting for a date to be agreed. I remain concerned that we have been excluded from a key decision-making forum despite the facts that the Scottish zone covers 62 per cent of the UK’s domestic exclusive economic zone, Police Scotland is responsible for by far the longest coastline of any UK police force and many key issues such as fisheries protection are devolved.
Although I welcome the transport secretary’s positive response, I remain unconvinced that this is much more than a box-ticking exercise.
You must be brief, Ms McAlpine.
Scotland’s waters cover 62 per cent of the UK’s domestic exclusive economic zone, and many functions relating to maritime security are devolved, including fisheries protection. Does the justice secretary agree that this is yet another example of UK ministers seeking to undermine devolution and respect for devolved competences? [Interruption.]
You can make it a brief answer if you like, cabinet secretary.
I hear the Conservatives groaning, but actually they should be standing up for Scotland’s interests. That is what they are in this Parliament to do.
It is deeply concerning. The issue involves devolved matters and has a direct impact on devolved competences, as I highlighted. I am really unclear about why UK ministers thought it appropriate to exclude the Scottish Government, but I am pleased that we have a meeting date. I will, of course, keep members updated and confirm whether it has been a fruitful and helpful discussion.
Jamie Halcro Johnston, I see that you are relieved to get in, but your question must be brief.
I am delighted.
To ask the Scottish Government what action Police Scotland is taking in response to littering in popular visitor areas over the summer. (S5O-04499)
Littering is totally unacceptable, and Police Scotland is alert to the littering in our beauty spots. Officers have powers to issue on-the-spot fines for littering and fly-tipping, which are criminal offences for which fixed penalties can be issued—however, as I am sure that the member knows, fixed penalties for littering are normally issued by local authorities. Different levels of fine apply, depending on the offence and on whether a fixed-penalty notice is issued by a police officer or a procurator fiscal.
The Scottish Government has partnered with Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful to develop a national anti-littering campaign, which launched on 15 July, and we are working with local authorities and Police Scotland on what more can be done to protect our environment and rural communities in Scotland.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that communities across the Highlands and Islands have reported increases in littering, many of which are linked to incidents of irresponsible wild camping. I recognise that a number of public bodies are involved in promoting good practice, but, ultimately, enforcement must form part of combating the problem.
How are the police engaging with local communities on the issue, and is the cabinet secretary confident that they have adequate powers and resources to police rural areas and protect Scotland’s natural environment?
Jamie Halcro Johnston raises a very important point. We want people to take holidays and staycations in Scotland, but we want them to act responsibly. First and foremost, of course, the onus is on the individual who is camping or holidaying in Scotland.
I raise the issue with Police Scotland regularly, and the chief constable and I have spoken about it in weeks gone by. It has not been raised with me that there is a lack of powers, but I am happy to re-engage with Police Scotland and local authorities if they feel that there is a need for further enforcement powers. The Scottish Government would be open to exploring that.
That ends that batch of—
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I ask that the Parliamentary Bureau reflect on how these sessions are run. There was no time in that session for supplementaries to be taken on important issues such as the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill and the Government’s failure to address spent convictions.
It is important that members on the front and back benches have an opportunity to put their views across. The Parliamentary Bureau needs to reflect on that, in order to ensure that parliamentary scrutiny is not compromised.
Thank you very much. In accordance with standing orders, there is a section for each type of question. You know my policy: I try to let members who take the trouble to lodge a question to ask that question, and I go for political balance—I do not really need to explain all that to you. The running of portfolio questions is strictly for me. However, we have a strict timetable—I see that you are perched to reply, but this is not a debate.
We are going straight on to questions about the constitution, Europe and external affairs. What James Kelly said about the Parliamentary Bureau has, no doubt, been noted.
Constitution, Europe and External Affairs
In the final portfolio session, questions 2,3, 7 and 8 are grouped together.
Brexit (National Health Service)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the work of NHS preparations for the end of the Brexit transitionary period. (S5O-04500)
Although the United Kingdom Government’s reckless decision not to seek an extension to the transition period will compound the damage that the pandemic has done to our society and economy, I confirm that preparations are continuing to try to protect NHS Scotland—and, indeed, all our health and social care services and workforce—from the impacts of leaving the European Union without a deal.
The UK Government has asked drug companies to stockpile at least six weeks’ supply of medicines, to guard against disruption at the end of the transition period. Will the minister advise whether the Scottish Government has issued similar advice, and is he confident that NHS National Services Scotland will be able to establish a sufficient supply or stockpile of medicines to see us through to the end of the transition period?
Monica Lennon will recognise that that is not my area of expertise. However, I can tell her that the Scottish Government is working closely with the UK Government and with the other devolved Administrations to plan for the end of the transition period. That includes doing all that we can to ensure that we have access to medicines in the event of border disruption. Those plans include the UK Government contacting pharmaceutical companies and suppliers about increasing the stock of medicines, which we know will be more challenging given that we have only just written to companies and because of the impact of Covid-19 on supplies.
Of course, a more distant relationship with the European Medicines Agency could cause a potential loss of access to the single European licence for a new medicine, with all the difficulties that that would create. That would be in no one’s interests.
United Kingdom Internal Market (Engagement)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will commit to re-engaging with the UK Government on plans for the UK internal market. (S5O-04501)
The Scottish Government has been engaging with the United Kingdom Government on the UK internal market proposals and has suggested a way forward. It is the UK Government that is currently refusing to engage on what is a sensible suggestion.
On 3 July, I wrote to Michael Gove, in advance of the publication of the white paper, to make it clear that I had raised that issue at the most recent meeting of the joint ministerial committee (European Union negotiations). The Scottish Government published its initial analysis of the white paper on 12 August. This Parliament rejected the paper’s proposals on 18 August, by 92 votes to 31.
Much of Scotland has rejected them, too. Despite the short consultation period, organisations from key sectors—including business, industry, farming and crofting, and the environment—have made it clear that the proposals are unacceptable. They are bad for business, jobs and the environment, and they risk driving down standards and undermining common frameworks and devolution.
The Scottish Government believes that the common frameworks that are being established to manage policy variations, on the basis of agreement and in respect of devolution, are what is needed to manage the practical, regulatory and market implications of the UK leaving the EU. We are still fully committed to engaging in their implementation. The ball is now firmly in the UK Government’s court.
The cabinet secretary’s track record on engagement—or, rather, lack of it—is now well known. Has he agreed with Scottish business organisations a list of exemptions from mutual recognition principles, and has that list been shared with the UK Government?
I am very interested to hear that Mr Burnett is already retreating from the proposals that the UK Government has made. There is no list of exemptions in the white paper, nor are there any suggestions for them.
I also kindly suggest to Mr Burnett that he go back and read the submissions from organisations. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry, for example, is a business organisation that has indicated that it is not convinced by the white paper’s proposals.
The best way forward is for the UK Government to engage in negotiations. I am happy to negotiate on the basis that the frameworks are the way forward.
United Kingdom Internal Market (Employment)
To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with the UK Government regarding the contribution that the internal market makes to levels of employment in Scotland. (S5O-04502)
I do not wish to repeat myself—I have indicated what the engagement is. The proposals were not shared with the Scottish Government, nor with the Welsh Government, nor with the Northern Ireland Executive before they were published, and I have raised that concern with UK ministers.
The UK Government has offered no indication that it recognises the threat to jobs and prosperity across Scotland that the proposals entail. The UK Government wants either a low deal or no deal from the Brexit negotiations.
We need to engage properly to get a solution to a problem that is being created by the UK Government.
As the cabinet secretary well knows, the UK internal market helps to protect 550,000 Scottish jobs and is responsible for 60 per cent of Scotland’s trade—which is, of course, more than its trade with the rest of the world combined. Why are Mike Russell and his Government prepared to put such a significant proportion of the Scottish economy in jeopardy just to push his own party’s constitutional grievance?
I could turn the member’s question around and ask why he is prepared to put the economy of all these islands at risk to pursue the grievance that is Brexit, as the Tory party has done. I presume that Mr Whittle believes the Tory Government when it says that there is no threat to trade with the EU from our leaving the EU. Why does he believe that there is a threat to trade for Scotland if it has a different constitutional or regulatory arrangement? That is not logical or sensible.
United Kingdom Internal Market (Engagement)
To ask the Scottish Government for what reason it has disengaged from discussions with the UK Government regarding the forthcoming internal market legislation. (S5O-04506)
As I made clear in the debate on Tuesday, my assessment—which now appears to have been absolutely borne out by events—was that what was taking place was an attempt to undermine devolution. I am absolutely certain—or, at least, I hope—that nobody who is an elected member of the Scottish Parliament would want a Scottish Government minister to go along with the undermining of devolution.
Question 8—[Interruption.] Did I not take your supplementary question, Mr Mundell? I did not mean it personally—it is my fault. Please proceed.
Is it not better to be honest and admit that the Scottish Government does not want the UK internal market to work? It is absolutely fixated on keeping Scotland tied to European Union regulations in which they will have no say, and it is cherry picking from the submissions, because a lot of them recognise that the UK internal market is actually very important to Scotland.
I regret that Mr Mundell has imputed my honesty. I will not impute his sincerity in what he believes, but he is talking balderdash. The reality of the situation is that we are endeavouring to have a productive, negotiated relationship. It is the UK Government that makes that very difficult. The previous secretary of state made it difficult and the current secretary of state makes it difficult too.
United Kingdom Internal Market (Engagement)
To ask the Scottish Government what its latest engagement has been with the UK Government about proposals for a UK internal market. (S5O-04507)
As I said in my answer to the first question in this group, I wrote to Michael Gove about these matters and I raised them at the last meeting of the joint ministerial committee. We responded to the proposals very clearly in the document that we published last week, and the chamber debated the proposals on Tuesday and came to the overwhelming view that they were to be rejected.
We are engaging constructively and positively. Regrettably, it is the UK Government that is absolutely refusing to listen.
I realise that there have been quite a lot of questions in this group, but can the cabinet secretary outline how concerned he is that, under the proposals, Scottish Parliament laws could be challenged in court if they were considered to contravene the new UK internal market legislation that the UK Parliament agrees?
It is absolutely clear that that is the case. Indeed, Lord Callanan, responding in the House of Lords to a question from, I think, Dafydd Wigley, indicated that he expected the courts to be involved in these matters.
We have the prospect of the UK Government permitting, for example, further privatisation of the national health service and that being forced on Scotland by means of court action, possibly from American health providers, without our being able to resist it. That was never intended and should not happen.
I would look to every MSP to stand up for the right of the Scottish Parliament to make decisions in its areas of competence, even if they disagree about having any additional powers. Any MSP, in any party, who refuses to do so really has to take a long, hard look at themselves and ask whether they are in the wrong place.
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the powers that will come to Scotland once the Brexit transition period is concluded. (S5O-04503)
As Graham Simpson must know, those powers are already devolved to Scotland. Environmental standards, food safety, animal welfare—all devolved. If food safety is a new power, what has Food Standards Scotland being doing all these years? If environmental regulation is a new power, what does Graham Simpson think that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency does all day?
What the UK Government is actually proposing is a new, blanket constraint on devolved powers, unilaterally imposed from London, regardless of the views of this Parliament, in place of a European Union system of minimum standards, agreed between sovereign and equal member states on the basis of co-decision, subsidiarity and consent.
The minister will be well aware that 111 powers will come here. They are in a raft of areas, including regulation of energy efficiency of buildings, air quality and animal welfare. Which of those 111 powers is the minister’s personal favourite?
Different standards have been applied across the United Kingdom for many years, with no detriment to businesses or consumers. As I said in Tuesday’s debate, in more than four years of discussion with the UK Government, not one example was ever given of where the internal market is at risk from devolution.
What has become clear is that the UK Government’s proposals go even further than the powers previously exercised by the EU. For example, the proposals refer to the alleged problems caused by different building regulations in Scotland and England. Such differences have never been directly caught by EU law. This Parliament voted against the proposals on Tuesday, and this Government will continue to resist any dilution of devolution.
Does the minister agree that Tory assertions about additional powers are, at best, deluded and, at worst, a deliberate attempt to con the people of Scotland? What impact will the removal of powers over state aid have in Scotland—for example, on saving the jobs of people who work for companies such as Ferguson Marine?
The member is absolutely right. The United Kingdom Government’s white paper makes it clear that currently devolved state aid powers would be reserved under the proposals—that is, irrefutably, a power grab. Reserving state aid powers would remove a key devolved tool for growing businesses and creating jobs in Scotland. The Scottish Government cannot support such proposals.
To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the constitution secretary’s comments to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on 18 June, whether it has revisited planning for a second independence referendum. (S5O-04504)
As the member is aware, on 18 March, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to confirm that work related to an independence referendum had paused for the time being, because the Scottish Government was focused on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. As the member also knows, that pandemic is far from over. The Scottish Government’s position remains the same. We will return to the issue when it is appropriate to do so.
However, the refusal of the United Kingdom Government to seek an extension to the transition period, the power grab that is now under way and the rejection of reasonable proposals for extending borrowing and improving the fiscal framework, as necessitated by the pressures of Covid, all illustrate beyond doubt why independence is required, why the work to achieve it needs to be taken forward with vigour and purpose, and why it has increasing support from the people of Scotland.
I am pleased to hear that the cabinet secretary has not instructed work on independence to be revisited. Does he agree that securing people’s jobs, protecting public health and restoring our schools should remain the utmost focus for the Scottish Government? Will he commit to continued deprioritisation of Government work on indyref2? Does he agree that independence should not and cannot be the Government’s number 1 priority?
The number 1 priority should be ensuring the prosperity, safety and productive future of the people of Scotland. That can lie only in independence; it cannot lie in dependence on the UK, particularly not on the hard-right Government that we are forced to suffer. We are also forced to suffer the internal market proposals, which are designed to undermine Scotland. I am looking to every member in the chamber to stand up for Scotland. So far, it seems that if I look to Annie Wells for that, I will be doing so in vain.
Fishing Industry (Protection)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it supports the United Kingdom Government’s position that the UK should be an independent coastal state so that Scotland’s fishing industry can be protected. (S5O-04505)
Scotland’s fishing fleet is a key contributor to the success of our wider seafood industry and coastal communities, and the Scottish Government will always champion their interests. That success, however, has also been built on frictionless trade with the European Union, close partnerships with neighbouring coastal states and access to vital EU labour and funding, all of which are jeopardised by the UK Government’s approach. That is why the Scottish Government continues to support a deal with the EU that protects the interests of the whole seafood supply chain in Scotland, not just individual parts of it.
Before I take your supplementary question, Mr Chapman, tedious though it is, I note that the question wording that I have refers to “independent coastline”, not “independent coastal state”. I thought that I would draw that to your attention.
I now ask you for your supplementary, in which you can, of course, say what you like, as long as it is relevant.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I got the wording changed to what I said.
The Scottish National Party’s policy is to hand back powers over fishing to the EU and to rejoin the hated common fisheries policy. What will the minister say to north-east fishermen, who have campaigned all their lives to get out of a policy that has decimated their industry, to explain why the Scottish Government’s policy is to rejoin it?
As we know, the Scottish Government’s clear priority is for Scotland to become a member state of the European Union. Until such time as we can rejoin the EU, our preference is for negotiations on access and quotas to take place annually under the coastal states framework and in line with international law.
Our policy is to take account of every aspect of the needs of the fishing sector. That is completely at odds with the profoundly disingenuous approach to negotiations that has been taken by the UK Government. It is high time that the UK Government was honest with the fishing industry and the wider seafood supply chain about the implications of its approach. Either it is going to sell out the fishing industry—again—by seeking permanent access and fixed quota shares with no influence over the common fisheries policy, or it will accept new trade barriers that will devastate the competitiveness of Scottish seafood. To Peter Chapman I say that either would be wrong, wrong, wrong.
There was a point of order, which was not really a point of order, about the fact that back benchers were not being called. If members ask lengthy supplementary questions and ministers give lengthy answers, we cannot get through the questions. My colleague Linda Fabiani is waiting in the wings and will agree with me. We are in your hands a great deal of the time and we are weary of asking for brief supplementary questions and, as far as possible, brief answers. Other members are entitled to ask their questions and we would like to be able to fit them in. Thank you. There will now be a pause while I cool down. [Laughter.]