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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 21, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 21 June 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motor Neurone Disease Awareness Week, Provisional Outturn 2017-18, World Refugee Day, Business Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to close the gender pay gap. (S5O-02259)

The Scottish Government recognises that the gender pay gap is symptomatic of structural inequalities in the workplace, as well as in education and wider society. That is why we are tackling the issue on a number of fronts. We have established a gender pay gap working group that will be chaired by the Minister for Employability and Training. It will identify specific actions to reduce gender pay gaps across sectors, as a key element of the Scottish Government’s inclusive growth vision. The Minister for Employability and Training has also written to the chief executives of the public bodies that are subject to the Scottish Government pay settlement to urge them to continue to work toward reducing pay gaps in their organisations.

The Scottish Government does not have the levers available to it that the United Kingdom Government has in terms of employment law, but it does procure a lot of services from Scottish companies through contracts that are worth substantial amounts of money. One of the recommendations of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee’s report, “No Small Change: The Economic Potential of Closing the Gender Pay Gap”, was that the Government consider including a declaration on the gender pay gap in company tenders to win Government contracts. We also recommended that work be done on improving the gender element of the Scottish business pledge, to encourage businesses to tackle their pay gaps actively. Is the Government doing any work on that, and does the cabinet secretary agree that equally paid women would inject billions into the Scottish economy and that that is a potential that we cannot afford to ignore as we seek to grow the economy?

I very much agree with that last point, and with Gillian Martin’s first point about where employment powers currently lie and the ability of the Scottish Government to take action on that. Those are two important points.

In relation to the other point that Gillian Martin made, I can tell her that we are conducting a full review of the business pledge, with the exception of one of the nine criteria, which is on the living wage, on which we are not changing our position. Every other aspect of the business pledge is being looked at. I have been involved in a number of round-table discussions with businesses to consider the various elements of the business pledge in order to ensure that it achieves the wider aims, including the aims that can be achieved using the Government’s powers. Responsibility for procurement lies with my colleague Derek Mackay. Those things are being taken forward.

It is worth pointing out that, although Scotland’s gender pay gap is far too high at 6.6 per cent, it remains well below the UK’s level of 9.1 per cent. However, we intend to take further action to ensure that we can drive it down further in order to achieve the benefits to which Gillian Martin rightly alluded.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that bonuses and partnership benefits are not counted in gender pay gap calculations. I understand that the First Minister is attending the finance sector’s gender summit in the summer. I ask the Scottish Government to raise that matter with the finance sector, particularly because when bonuses and benefits are factored in, the pay gap in the finance sector can be 40 per cent, or even as high as 60 per cent, in some companies.

I am, of course, happy to pass on that suggestion to the First Minister. Dividends and other aspects of remuneration are covered by powers that are reserved to the UK Government, which has the power to take those things into account to a far greater extent. It would be far better if we had those powers, so that we could take direct action.

Challenging Islamophobia (Media Role)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the media industry regarding the role that it can play in challenging Islamophobia. (S5O-02260)

The Scottish Government is committed to challenging Islamophobia wherever it arises in Scotland. Last year, we supported Interfaith Scotland to host an event for media platforms and Muslim community leaders, to explore how Muslims are represented in the media. Last summer, we published our “Tackling Prejudice and Building Connected Communities” action plan, which is an ambitious programme of work to tackle hate crime and build community cohesion. The action plan contains a commitment to engage with key stakeholders, including social media platforms, to consider further steps to prevent and tackle online hatred. We will be holding an event later in 2018 to consider those issues more fully.

Last night, the cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia met leading figures of the broadcast and print media for a frank and open conversation. An action plan has been agreed, which is positive and has been welcomed on all sides.

The cabinet secretary mentioned social media platforms: it is clear that they remain a challenge. One of the proposals that was put to the First Minister back in January—I am pleased that she accepted it—was that a social media summit be held to look directly at Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice. When is that summit likely to take place? Which organisations will be included?

I am very pleased to hear about the event last night. On the commitment for the broadcasting and print media, I would be keen to monitor the action plan with my colleagues who deal with inequalities and communities, in particular.

I will ensure that Anas Sarwar knows about the event that he asked about. I cannot tell members at this point when it will be and who will attend it, but I will be more than happy to share information about it with Anas Sarwar and others who have a particular interest in the matter. The event will be about tackling hate crime and about other representation issues.

On my discussions with Ofcom and media outlets, I assure members that we will ensure that positive portrayals and tackling hate crime are covered as part of our action.

New Housing (Infrastructure)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether lack of initial infrastructure investment is a barrier to new housing developments. (S5O-02261)

The Government is committed to increasing the supply of housing across all tenures. Although the majority of housing sites are able to progress, we recognise that infrastructure provision can delay the delivery of sites in some locations. We are therefore pursuing additional planning and investment measures to improve the delivery of infrastructure that affects housing supply. Reforms to the planning system that are proposed in the Planning (Scotland) Bill are designed to improve co-ordination and delivery of infrastructure with development planning, and our housing infrastructure fund and building Scotland fund are substantial investment programmes that can provide financing support to help to unlock housing infrastructure blockages for key sites.

I know that the minister understands why we need to get every bit of house building moving, and that he understands that opportunities, skills and jobs will come from a national programme of house building. Therefore, I do not for the life of me understand why he has introduced a planning bill that will do nothing to address one of the main barriers. Will he think again and have discussions with the industry and local councils, all of which say that major housing developments are being stalled throughout Scotland because of a lack of front-loaded infrastructure for school education and health in particular? We need to get housing moving. Will the minister have those discussions with the industry?

I regularly have discussions with the industry and local authorities. In the Planning (Scotland) Bill, we have introduced the enabling power for an infrastructure levy, which will go a long way towards helping in some of those regards.

Beyond that, as I have already highlighted, we have the housing infrastructure fund, which has unlocked sites in areas including Grandhome in Aberdeen, Dunbeg in Argyll, and Maryhill Locks in Hamiltonhill in Glasgow. As I have said, I will continue to have discussions, and we will look to improve the situation as we move forward.

Will the minister consider the section 75 process in planning, including, where appropriate, provision for community or health centres?

Historically, caution has been expressed about using obligations to secure provision such as dental practices, community surgeries and general practitioner surgeries, which are often privately owned. In some areas—for example, Forth Valley and Grampian—that has been addressed by requiring that developer contributions for such facilities are transferred to the national health service, and not directly to GP surgeries, in order to address capacity deficiencies that have been identified. If Christine Grahame wants to speak to me further about the matter, I would be more than happy to talk to her about how that is happening in NHS Forth Valley and NHS Grampian.

Moray Council (New Administration)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to meet the new administration of Moray Council. (S5O-02262)

I met the new council leader on Tuesday.

That was an early meeting, which is a very positive sign for a new working relationship.

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will want to reiterate my congratulations to the new leader of Moray Council, Graham Leadbitter, to its first female convener, Councillor Shona Morrison, and to their colleagues. Is the cabinet secretary aware that they have inherited very difficult legacy issues after more than 18 years of other parties being in charge of Moray Council? Those issues have been compounded by Conservative Party austerity—not least the £13 million a year that has been removed from Moray through welfare reform hitting families across the area. Will the cabinet secretary continue to work with the council on the very difficult legacy issues and pledge to do all that he can to help the people of Moray in the difficult times ahead?

Yes, I pledge to do so. I met the previous administration—indeed, I met all parties on the council on a cross-party basis. I welcome the fact that the new administration has very much hit the ground running, and I look forward to providing assistance, where the Government can do so. Local government received a very fair settlement, but Moray Council will need to tackle those legacy issues. I look forward to positive co-operation in order that it can do so.

Does the cabinet secretary recognise the figure that was published recently by the Scottish Parliament information centre, setting out that Moray Council has endured a £106 cut in funding for every man, woman and child in Moray over the past five years? When he met his new Scottish National Party colleagues on Moray Council, did they make representations to him about those cuts?

Local government has received a fair settlement from the Scottish Government. It has included, in the past two years, real increases to local government. If I had followed Tory advice, there would be tax cuts for the richest, not more investment in Scotland’s public services. I recognise that the Tories are changing their tune on taxation, but the Government has properly funded local government, and it will continue to ensure that we support our local services in the transformation that is required. It could be argued that many of the issues in Moray are a consequence of the neglect by some politicians in the area—not least the Conservatives.

Scottish Wildlife (Mammals)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the implications for wildlife in Scotland, what its response is to the joint study by the Mammal Society and Natural England, which states that almost one in five mammal species in Britain is at risk of extinction. (S5O-02263)

The Scottish Government welcomes the report, which is the first substantive update on the number and range of such species in the United Kingdom in 23 years. It was commissioned jointly by Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. The report highlights the need for further information and a better understanding of some of our native species. We will consider the results as we work to improve how we protect our native mammals.

The cabinet secretary will know that the report has found that a total of nine of Scotland’s mammal species have been categorised as “critically endangered”, “endangered” or “vulnerable”. A further six have been listed as “near threatened”. What action is the cabinet secretary taking to halt the decline in the number of those species in Scotland? What measures is she taking to ensure that biodiversity as a whole improves across Scotland?

I think that John Scott will welcome some of the action that has already been taken. A total of 11 species are assessed as at risk in Scotland. The Scottish wildcat is categorised as “critically endangered” and the polecat is categorised as “endangered”. Four species are categorised as “vulnerable”: the Nathusius’ pipistrelle—that is a bat, for those whom are not aware—the hedgehog, the Orkney vole and the otter. Five species are categorised as “near threatened”.

However, of those species, three—hedgehogs, water voles and polecats—show population increases. The populations of six of those species—mountain hares, otters, water voles, red foxes, red squirrels and hedgehogs—are stable or increasing in range in Scotland. Therefore, we feel that the society’s estimate that one in five mammal species is nearing extinction is an overestimate, at least in so far as Scotland is concerned.

I could give much more specific information on individual species, but I fear that I would run afoul of the Presiding Officer’s timing rules. However, I will ensure that John Scott gets the more detailed information on individual species that he might wish.

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that we must do all that we can to protect existing mammal species. The number of water voles—Arvicola amphibius—has declined by 94 per cent in the UK since the 1950s. However, the discovery of thriving populations of water voles in Glasgow Provan, which is far from their traditional habitat, is considered to be of national significance, and it has been studied by academics from the University of Glasgow. [Interruption.] Will the Scottish Government factor that endangered species into any policies that it develops to protect mammal populations?

First, I have to say that species loss and biodiversity is not really a matter for joking and laughing. I am just a little concerned that members are not taking the matter seriously.

I thank Ivan McKee for his question about water voles. I have seen a recent report—in fact, I am sure that it was televised—showing the fantastic work being undertaken by Glasgow City Council, SNH and the University of Glasgow. Researchers are still trying to understand why the Glasgow water voles have managed to switch to living in grasslands. The Glasgow water vole project is a three-year partnership between the University of Glasgow, Glasgow City Council, SNH, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the seven lochs project, and it will carry out further research. Those findings will inform future habitat and population management guidelines and allow developers to regenerate areas of the city in a way that allows water voles to flourish alongside people, which is something that I am sure that everybody in the chamber would want to see.

Secondary Ticket Sales (Events)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding what action can be taken to tackle secondary ticket sales for events. (S5O-02264)

The Scottish Government fully appreciates the concerns expressed about the deliberate resale of tickets for profit—known as touting—and recognises that some events sell out quickly and that ticket touts or online sellers take the opportunity to sell tickets on at significantly higher prices. Powers in relation to secondary ticketing are reserved to Westminster and we cannot introduce any legislation in this area under the current constitutional arrangements. We welcome, however, the provision in the Digital Economy Act 2017 creating a new offence that criminalises the use of ticketing bots to purchase tickets in excess of a maximum permitted amount. Scottish Government officials are continuing to keep in touch with officials in Whitehall on that to ensure a positive outcome for Scottish consumers.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that secondary ticket sale websites are exploiting music fans with unjustified and inflated prices? I recognise that consumer protection law is reserved, but has the Scottish Government fully explored all options around using the regulations that stopped ticket touting at the Commonwealth games to tackle ticket touting at music events by employing the argument that the reputation of those events also needs protection?

There were obviously specific regulations in relation to the Commonwealth games. However, the regulations under the Digital Economy Act 2017 come into force in July 2018 and they will be enforced by the police. Professor Waterson’s 2016 report accepted that greater enforcement of existing measures is needed. The Competition and Markets Authority has agreed undertakings for three out of the four main sites and I understand that enforcement action might follow for the outstanding site.

Violent Crime (Inverclyde and Renfrewshire)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to prevent violent crime in Inverclyde and Renfrewshire. (S5O-02265)

Violent crime is totally unacceptable. Since 2006-07, the number of violent crimes has fallen by 68 per cent in Inverclyde and by 62 per cent in Renfrewshire. Alongside tough enforcement, our approach to violent crime is very firmly focused on prevention. We have invested more than £14 million in violence prevention since 2006-07, including support for the national violence reduction unit and Medics Against Violence, which works to develop and deliver various violence prevention initiatives, including the accelerated delivery of the mentors in violence prevention programme, which is being delivered in schools across Scotland, including in Inverclyde and Renfrewshire. We also continue to invest in our no knives, better lives youth engagement programme, which is being rolled out across Scotland and has been delivered in 24 local authorities and is on track to be delivered in all 32 local authority areas this year.

On 5 June, I asked the justice secretary what he would do to ensure that K division of the police in Inverclyde and Renfrewshire has the resources that it needs to tackle an increase in violent crime, including increased knife carrying. He said that that was an operational matter and gave no commitment to further resources for the division. Violent crime is a very serious issue and people in my region want assurances so that the kind of high-intensity policing that is needed to stamp out violent crime and weapon carrying is maintained. Again, what assurances can the Scottish Government give that sufficient resources are being made available to the police in my area?

The cabinet secretary is kept apprised of any issues of concern that are raised by Police Scotland. I am not aware of any specific issue having been raised by Police Scotland with regard to the matter to which the member referred, but of course we remain open to approaches in that regard.

Of course, in our budget we proposed increased resources for Police Scotland, across Scotland, which the member voted down—the member did not seem to support that.

On the key issue of prevention of violent crime, I reiterate that violent crime is down—knife crime is down by 68 per cent since 2007—and that we are determined to continue to tackle violent crime and keep people safe.

It might interest the member to know that, in addition to the investment of £14 million by the prevention project, we are seeking to have further detailed analysis carried out of the characteristics of violent crime in places in Scotland where there are still persistent pockets of such crime. The work, which is looking at the factors behind violence, what might be changing and what is needed to secure further reductions, is on-going and will report in due course.

Before we turn to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to our gallery Joy Burch MLA, speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory. [Applause.]