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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 24 April 2019

Agenda: Brexit and Scotland’s Future, Portfolio Question Time, General Practitioner Recruitment and Retention, Green New Deal, Business Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week


Portfolio Question Time

Justice and the Law Officers

Time is tight, so we will move on. The next item of business is portfolio question time. As usual, in order to get in as many members as possible, I would like short, succinct questions followed by short, succinct answers.

Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018

To ask the Scottish Government how the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 will change the way in which domestic abuse is tackled. (S5O-03120)

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 creates a specific offence that covers not only physical abuse but other forms of psychological abuse and controlling behaviour that were previously difficult to prosecute. The act creates a course of conduct offence for the first time, which will make it easier for the police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute domestic abuse as a single offence and enable physical, psychological and controlling behaviour by a partner or ex-partner to be prosecuted at the same time.

The 2018 act reflects the fact that children are harmed by domestic abuse by creating a statutory aggravation in relation to children, and it will enable courts for the first time to use a non-harassment order to protect children as well as the adult victim of the offence.

In preparation for changes in the legislation, how much has the Scottish Government provided to Police Scotland in order to support police officers to understand the dynamics of power and control in abusive relationships and to help them to recognise the signs of coercive and controlling behaviour?

Bruce Crawford has raised a really important point. As members will know, the legislation came into force at the beginning of the month. That was to allow training on that to take place.

To answer Bruce Crawford’s question directly, we gave funding of £825,000 to Police Scotland to support the development of the training of 14,000 police officers and staff. Police Scotland has developed a self-completion e-learning package on the new legislation, which was made available to 22,000 staff.

In addition, the Lord President has committed to ensuring that all members of the judiciary receive training on the 2018 act, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has developed a package of training for our prosecutors. We have also provided £166,000 to Scottish Women’s Aid to develop training on the new offence in the act.

In response to the Justice Committee’s report on the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, the Scottish Government accepted that it was possible that the creation of the new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour could lead to an increased cost for local authorities with an increased demand for criminal justice social work services. Given that the CJSW budget for the previous two years has remained static, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the necessary funding to cope with the anticipated increased costs will be made available to local authorities?

Margaret Mitchell has asked a very important question. It is important to note that we have, of course, ring fenced that budget for local authorities. My conversations with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local authorities on the matter are continuing, and we have made additional budgets available for any additional pressures that they may face with the passing of the presumption against short sentences. I will continue those conversations. I am very aware of the budget pressures that might exist but, as I said, my conversations and engagement with the local authorities on the matter are very constructive.

Training is important in tackling domestic abuse—indeed, in some jurisdictions, specialist officers are trained to degree level. What discussions has the cabinet secretary held with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority regarding the possibility of specialist officers receiving higher training to degree level?

Neither Police Scotland nor organisations that represent female victims of domestic abuse, such as Scottish Women’s Aid, have raised the need for additional training on top of the training that we have funded and the training that Scottish Women’s Aid has provided. In my next conversations with Police Scotland and the organisations that represent victims of domestic abuse, I will certainly raise the issue of further training and take the conversation from there.

Vulnerable Witnesses (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it can take to support vulnerable witnesses before, during and after criminal court proceedings. (S5O-03121)

The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced measures to support vulnerable witnesses and requires criminal justice agencies to set and monitor standards of service. The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill aims to improve how child and other vulnerable witnesses give evidence, through the enhanced use of pre-recording.

We are providing £18 million in 2019-20 to fund a range of services that victims and witnesses can access before, during and after criminal proceedings. The victims task force, which I co-chair with the Lord Advocate, is considering additional actions to improve end-to-end support for victims and witnesses throughout the criminal justice process and beyond.

I welcome the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which recently passed stage 2 in the Justice Committee.

I have been contacted by constituents whose children were witnesses and gave evidence in court on a crime of which they were the victims. Although there was a successful conviction, which was very welcome, the families feel that neither the justice system nor the local authority provided the children with emotional support, particularly in the period following the conviction. Will the cabinet secretary advise how children who are both victims and witnesses can be better supported emotionally and helped to better understand the court processes and possible outcomes? Will he consider meeting those families to hear their experiences first hand?

I express my sympathies to those families and particularly the young people who had to go through the court process. From everything that Fulton MacGregor has said, I have no doubt that it would have been a traumatic experience and not easy at all. The matters that he raises are exactly the kinds of issues that the Lord Advocate and I, as co-chairs of the victims task force, are exploring.

As a member of the Justice Committee, Fulton MacGregor will be able to input into the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which is going through Parliament. The bill will make a big difference to children who need to go through a court process in the future.

In the first instance, I ask Fulton MacGregor to write to me with the details of the case. I will then judge whether it is appropriate for me, as the justice secretary, to act. I have no fundamental objection to doing so, but the issues might come under other people’s jurisdictions or remits. However, I will look at that case very fairly.

I know that you wish to be polite, cabinet secretary, but I ask you to face the microphone so that we can hear your answers.

Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 (Implementation)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the way in which the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 has been implemented. (S5O-03122)

The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 provides local authorities with powers to impose dog control notices when a dog is deemed to be out of control. We are aware that some local authorities have imposed a considerable number of dog control notices, whereas others have not. That might reflect the fact that some local authorities choose to make greater use of informal warnings to dog owners.

As the member will know, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee is undertaking scrutiny of the 2010 act, and we will carefully consider the committee’s findings when the review is complete.

Because the 2010 act is not Government legislation, it appears that little has been done to promote it. It is claimed that even police officers do not all know about the dog control legislation that was introduced almost a decade ago. The current law on dangerous dogs and sheep worrying is fragmented between various acts and statutory instruments at devolved and United Kingdom levels. Does the minister agree that we need an all-encompassing bill, with clear powers outlined, to ensure that enforcers and the public are clearly aware of their respective roles and responsibilities in relation to the control of dogs? The 2010 act—

Briefly, please.

—provides the tools to consolidate the legislation and to cover multiple members’ bills.

The member has raised a number of different points. First, on the issue of awareness, the Scottish Government is always very keen to assist with awareness raising. Obviously, the dog control notice system is run by local authorities, but we will be very happy to take part in further awareness-raising work that might be helpful to communities.

As for livestock worrying, we are aware of concerns about the fact that dog control notices are not generally used for incidents of worrying—or livestock attack, as it is sometimes called—because such incidents are normally dealt with by the police rather than local authority officers. I am sure that the member will be aware of Ms Harper’s bill proposal and that it is out for public consultation, and I encourage people to respond to and offer their views on its proposals.

That provides a segue to Emma Harper.

The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 does not refer specifically to livestock worry or livestock attack; instead, it uses the word “apprehensiveness”, which is not strong enough. Does the minister agree that we need to encourage people to feed into the consultation that she has referred to so that we can get better legislation that better protects our farmers’ livestock from attacks by out-of-control dogs?

Briefly, please, minister.

The Scottish Government recognises the impact of dog attacks on livestock and we are committed to working with all our partners on tackling the issue. However, I agree with Emma Harper that all those with an interest in the matter should look at her consultation and contribute their views on how livestock can be better protected.

Courts (Support for Breastfeeding Mothers)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is given to breastfeeding mothers when attending court. (S5O-03124)

This is an operational matter for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, which has fully embraced its responsibilities under the Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005 by making facilities available in court buildings. Breastfeeding within courtrooms themselves is also welcomed.

More broadly, the member will be aware that the 2005 act makes it a criminal offence to try to stop a woman or prevent her from feeding a child under the age of two in any place to which the public has access and where the child under two is entitled to be. However, although legislation is in place to support public breastfeeding, we recognise that more needs to be done to address the negative cultural attitudes that can undermine that choice, and last summer, we announced an additional £2 million investment for breastfeeding support.

As the author of the 2005 act, I am well aware of its provisions. I appreciate that there is policy to accommodate breastfeeding in courts, but I was recently made aware of the case of a breastfeeding mother cited as a witness who was advised by the fiscal’s office that she would not be permitted to bring her baby to court. Does the cabinet secretary agree that clearer, non-conflicting guidance and information must be provided to all breastfeeding mums who have to attend court? Moreover, if it is also considered somehow impractical to support breastfeeding mums on jury duty, should breastfeeding not be added to the list of excusals for such duty?

I do not know the specific case that Elaine Smith is referring to—although, that said, I might do. If she wants to chat to me offline about it, I will see whether I can help address the issue or facilitate a conversation with the SCTS.

There are some complications with regard to courts. In the public area, there must be no bar to a mother wishing to breastfeed; however, conduct in the courtroom itself is the responsibility of the presiding judge or sheriff, and I would also point out that there is a statutory bar on children under 14 being in a courtroom during a criminal trial, except where they are witnesses or a party to proceedings. In addition, a judge will consider the interests of justice and the normal requirements for ensuring proper conduct of proceedings, which might not necessarily be conducive to a small child being in the court environment.

Notwithstanding all that, I fully accept Elaine Smith’s point that, particularly as far as jurors are concerned—I think that I know the case that the member is referring to—facilities must and should be made available. If she wants an introduction to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to facilitate a conversation, I will be more than happy to make it.

Power of Attorney

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether there is a need for greater accountability to reduce the risk of people abusing power of attorney status. (S5O-03125)

Arrangements for powers of attorney, which are set out in the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, include protections for those who may be vulnerable. It is for the granter to select someone who they trust to act as their attorney. The office of the public guardian has a statutory duty to investigate reported concerns regarding the actions of a financial attorney, and the relevant local authority has a similar duty in respect of welfare concerns.

The Scottish Government has consulted on aspects of the adults with incapacity legislation. We are working on improvements, including revision to the current code of practice for attorneys in order to set out as clearly as possible the rights and responsibilities of attorneys as well as the safeguards that are in place to protect individuals and the sanctions that can be imposed for misuse.

I feel that the safeguards are not very great. I recently took over power of attorney for my mother, and I now have complete access to do whatever I want with her house and all her other financial investments and so on. I do not even have to return an annual report on what I have done with the money. I do not plan to abuse my mother’s money, but there are tremendous possibilities to do so.

You have all these witnesses now.

I am glad that the member made that clarification of his intent.

The arrangements for appointing an attorney, which are set out in the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, make it clear that it is a private matter for the granter of the power to consider who they trust to make decisions on their behalf in future. As it is a private matter, there is no statutory supervision of financial attorneys by the office of the public guardian. The OPG supervises financial guardians, but that is a separate process in which applications are made to the sheriff court. If financial concerns are reported to the public guardian, the financial attorney will have to account for their decisions and actions.

Back in 2017, I wrote to the minister’s predecessor on concerns that had been raised with me about the restrictions on who can sign applications for power of attorney. At that stage, Annabelle Ewing confirmed that consultation on changes to adults with incapacity legislation was taking place. Will the minister commit to writing to me with an update on what changes, if any, have been made to the rules on that?

I am happy to commit to writing to the member with an update on that matter.

Secure Care Units

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met local authorities and the Scottish Prison Service to get an update on secure-unit accommodation. (S5O-03126)

That was not quite the question as drafted, but it was close.

Scottish Government officials are in regular contact with key organisations that are involved in the delivery of secure care in Scotland. Officials met local authorities regarding the matter on 5 November 2018 and 21 January 2019, and they met Social Work Scotland on 19 February 2019. There have been no meetings with the Scottish Prison Service, as it has no involvement in the provision of secure care, and we have had no discussions with it on that specific matter.

The latest update states that there are no vacant beds in Scotland’s five secure units. What would happen over the next 48 hours if a young person was remanded and the judge recommended that they be placed in a care unit?

My understanding is that a secure emergency bed is available, although that of course has limitations—it is for short-term use, of normally only 72 hours. However, James Kelly is absolutely right to ask the question. The Government, and in particular the Deputy First Minister, has been taking forward the issue after the tragic case of William Lindsay or Brown, which the member knows about.

As James Kelly will appreciate, the issue is complex. With the exception of the City of Edinburgh Council’s provision, the secure units are run by independent charities, so they have to be kept at approximately 90 per cent capacity because, otherwise, as many of those independent charities have said, they would not be able to sustain the units. We have to find a balance between keeping space available, which is important, and making sure that the secure units are sustainable. I expect an options paper from officials to come to me and another Government minister shortly. Once we have an update to provide, I will ensure that James Kelly is made aware of it.

I will squeeze in question 8, which is from Alex Cole-Hamilton.

New Age of Criminal Responsibility

To ask the Scottish Government what the impact on the justice system will be of a new age of criminal responsibility of 12 coming into force. (S5O-03127)

Raising the age to 12 through the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill will remove children who are under that age from the criminal justice system. That means that children under 12 will no longer be arrested or charged and nor will they be referred to the children’s hearings system on offence grounds. However, where children have engaged in serious harmful behaviour, that still needs to be investigated appropriately, so the bill sets out detailed police powers to make clear how and when the police and other agencies in the justice system can act to investigate such incidents and the boundaries within which that can happen.

Your supplementary must be brief, Mr Cole-Hamilton.

The change is coming into force as a result of an international imperative. Another international imperative is to end the use of police cells for the incarceration of children, albeit under the guise of providing a place of safety. Will the cabinet secretary undertake a review of the use of police cells for children, including in the context of providing a place of safety, given that such an experience is recognised as an adverse childhood experience?

My colleague Maree Todd, who is leading on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill, has said publicly that we do not want to see children in police cells. There might be reasons why that is the only option, but it should be the absolute exception and certainly not the rule. Maree Todd will continue discussions in that regard in advance of stage 3 of the bill.

Brexit Consequentials (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has received any representations from Glasgow City Council seeking additional funding in relation to the £92 million of consequentials resulting from European Union exit preparation funding. (S5O-03128)

As a responsible Government, we are preparing for all European Union exit possibilities. As part of that work, we are working closely with our partners in local government to help them to identify and prepare for the potential impacts of EU exit.

I am aware that Glasgow City Council and other local authorities have expressed concerns about the possible costs of leaving the EU. As things stand, we have not received a specific request from Glasgow City Council for additional funding. That said, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has written to the Scottish Government, seeking additional funding for councils to help to meet Brexit-related costs. That request is being considered.

Given the scale of cuts to Glasgow’s budget and the impact on local services and local communities, I am surprised that more specific demands have not been made to the Government.

Can the minister clarify and confirm how much of the £54.7 million in EU exit consequentials for 2019-20 will be spent by local government, given the importance of local government in delivering local services? If the minister cannot tell me that now, will he provide a written response as soon as possible, to give local government confidence that councils will get funds to address the budget shortfalls that they are experiencing?

The £54.7 million to which the member referred has been allocated to the Scottish budget across all relevant budget areas, including local government.

One of the few certainties of Brexit is that it will cost Scotland more than the amount of the consequentials that have been delivered by Westminster. Of course, local government is one victim of that. I understand that Glasgow City Council has been undertaking financial modelling to identify the costs of officer time and the need for additional services, which will inform its next steps.

The Scottish Government is alive to the burden that is placed on councils by a Brexit for which Scotland did not vote and has made clear that we will seek moneys from Westminster to meet incurred costs. I hope that we will have the support of Johann Lamont and other Labour members in making the case to the UK Government for a further and appropriate financial settlement with which to address that burden.

UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. (S5O-03129)

I wrote to the Presiding Officer on 5 April to set out the Scottish ministers’ next steps in giving effect to the decisions that this Parliament took when it passed the continuity bill.

Those decisions were within the Scottish Parliament’s powers to take at that time, but in many cases powers were retrospectively taken away from this Parliament by an act of the Westminster Parliament. The Scottish ministers have reluctantly come to the conclusion that, given the effect that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 has had on the competence of this Parliament, the best way of giving effect to the decisions is through further legislation, tailored to the circumstances of EU exit and to the newly limited powers of this Parliament, rather than by seeking to have the Parliament reconsider the continuity bill.

As I set out in my letter to the Presiding Officer, I am happy to answer questions on the matter here or in any parliamentary setting.

After months of rhetoric, threats, big talk and using emergency procedures to rush the continuity bill through, the Scottish Government is now scrapping the bill. Surely, all along, this was no attempt at constructive law making but just another Scottish National Party grandstanding event.

Mr Lindhurst may believe what he wishes, but it is a complete travesty of the truth and he should recognise that.

The reality is that the bill was lawful when it was passed by this Parliament. The Supreme Court was very clear about that matter. What happened was that the UK Tory Government—members of the same party as Mr Lindhurst, so I am sure that he will want to take some responsibility for this—then passed legislation to damage and destroy the bill. That was an anti-democratic action, and one which Gordon Lindhurst, as an elected member, should speak against. However, if he is willing to accept anything, even that kind of anti-democratic action from his own party, he is not worthy of the place that he occupies.

For the avoidance of doubt, can the cabinet secretary confirm that the Scottish Government, in its on-going work, will respect, to the maximum extent possible, the choices made by the Scottish Parliament when it passed the continuity bill, and that it will introduce new legislation to bring back provisions on keeping pace with EU law?

The keeping pace powers, which survived even the Tory assault on the bill, are important and I think that the Parliament will want to look at them again. The choice was clear. Indeed, it was a choice that was discussed with all the parties, including the Conservative Party, which was part of those discussions. However, the conclusion—I believe that it was the right one—was that to take the bill into reconsideration, which would have been the first time that those powers had been used in this Parliament, would have been a risky and narrow thing. It is quite wise that we look at the keeping pace powers again, because we may wish to expand those powers to enable us to do some of things that we otherwise could not have done.

We will take this opportunity, and I think that it will have support across the chamber; that was the indication in the cross-party talks. Although I am never sure whether that will hold with the Conservatives, I think that it will hold with others.

Progress of Bills (Timetable)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the expected timetable for current bills to progress. (S5O-03130)

Legislative planning continues to be impacted by the unwelcome requirement to divert resources to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. As a consequence, individual bill timetables are subject to continual review. As minister with responsibility for parliamentary business, I discuss that with the Parliamentary Bureau and relevant committee conveners on a regular basis.

However, I can advise Mr Greene that, as things stand, the Scottish Government is on course to introduce all the bills in the current programme for government ahead of the announcement of our next programme.

The minister has no sense of shame in that answer, given the incredible strain that today’s announcement for an independence referendum bill will have on this Parliament.

Last year’s programme for government announced 12 bills. How many of those bills will have been published in this Parliament before summer recess, and how many of them will have been passed before the end of this session of Parliament?

Sometimes in Government we feel that we cannot win. A few moments ago, we were being accused of bringing in one bill too many and now we are accused of not introducing enough. Let me offer members a degree of context and assurance on the issue: despite the significant and growing impact of Brexit, the work of Government and this Parliament continues. We anticipate that more bills will achieve royal assent in 2019 than did so last year. Furthermore, when Parliament returns in September, this Administration will have a full programme of fresh and exciting new legislation to announce.

That stands in marked contrast to Westminster, where Mr Greene’s party is in power, and where they have run out of non-Brexit business to consider. It is reported that they are so paralysed by Brexit and ravaged by the divisions that it has caused that they are struggling to put together a sufficient programme of bills that they can agree on to present in a Queen’s speech.

Given the First Minister’s statement, the Government’s plans have changed. What will be taken out of the Government’s plans in order for the First Minister’s plans to be put in?

There are no plans to remove anything from the Government’s programme of business. We intend to introduce all the bills that we previously intended, and I have every faith in the Parliament’s ability to work its way through that programme and to see those bills to a conclusion.

Local Government Elections (Mailshots)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Electoral Commission regarding the provision of a free mailshot for local government election candidates. (S5O-03131)

The Scottish Government has not had any discussions with the Electoral Commission regarding the provision of a free mailshot for local government election candidates in the past five years, although I understand that the issue was discussed previously.

I put on record our thanks to councillors from all parties and none who serve our communities.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that more consideration should be given to providing council candidates with a free mailshot during elections, as is the case for all parliamentary candidates? That would help not only to recognise the importance of local elections, but to make sure that we increase the diversity of candidates and encourage those who are currently deterred from standing because of concerns about campaign costs.

I would be very willing to discuss the issue with people if they could bring to the table actual evidence of people being deterred because of campaign leaflet costs. I think that it is much more likely that people are deterred for a range of other reasons, including the salaries that are paid and whether they believe that they will be able to do an effective job.

I think that I would want to see evidence of the issue brought to the table rather than supposition. If the member has that evidence and wishes to bring it to the table, I will certainly look at it and discuss the matter with the Electoral Commission. However, I suspect that any evidence is of other matters.

Prime Minister (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last held discussions with the Prime Minister. (S5O-03132)

The First Minister and Prime Minister met on 3 April in Downing Street to discuss the United Kingdom Government’s plans for European Union exit. However, the UK Government has so far refused to show any willingness to compromise in relation to membership of the single market and the retention of freedom of movement, which are essential for Scotland’s future.

Following the extension of article 50 until the end of October, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister to call for on-going talks over EU exit to include the devolved Administrations, and for any deal that is agreed by the UK Parliament to be put to a second referendum. The Prime Minister has yet to reply. I raised the same issues in a phone call with David Lidington the day after the decision was made by the European Council, and I hope to speak to him again this week.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that fulsome answer.

I suggest that the next time that anyone from our Government meets the Prime Minister, they ask whether she considers herself a democrat and, if so, whether she will recognise people’s right to decide on their constitutional future and the right of Scotland’s Parliament to represent its electorate. Will they also ask whether she will explain to Scotland how a democrat can deny such rights?

I think that that is a fair and accurate point. [Laughter.] It is funny that, when we talk about Scottish democracy, the response of the Tories is to laugh. It always strikes me as significant that that is the case. The Scottish Tories wish to jeer at the concept of the sovereignty of the Scottish people.

The issue that the Prime Minster and the Scottish Conservatives need to address is the issue of the sovereignty of the Scottish people. They need to listen to the Scottish people instead of laughing at them, or, in the case of the Prime Minster, contemptuously refusing to listen to them.

Question 6 has been withdrawn.

European Parliament Elections (Planning)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Electoral Commission regarding planning in Scotland for possible European Parliament elections in May 2019. (S5O-03134)

Scottish Government officials take part in meetings of the Electoral Commission’s advisory board, where planning for the possible European Parliament elections has been discussed. Those meetings are attended by returning officers as well as Government officials from all four United Kingdom Administrations. Recently, meetings have taken place on a weekly basis. The Scottish Government’s clear view is that European Parliament elections should not be cancelled and should go ahead.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the European elections will see the election of six Scottish MEPs. Can the cabinet secretary reflect on what Scotland’s position would be if it were independent at the time of the elections? Does he share my hope that, at subsequent European Parliament elections, Scotland will take part as an independent member of the European Union?

I do hope for that.

I say to the UK Government that it is a very bad look to be involved in cancelling elections. It should look around the globe and see the record of those people, usually in dictatorships, who rejoice in the cancelling of elections, and it should think about that carefully.

There is a huge cost in organising elections, and that money would be wasted. Of course, a great deal of money has been wasted by the UK Government in relation to Brexit, and it would simply add to that.

The experience of Brexit makes the case for independence within the European Union even stronger. When we contrast the treatment of Scotland with that of independent nations, the case is clear. Further, the contrast is absolutely clear in terms of representation in the European Parliament. The Republic of Ireland, with a population that is comparable to that of Scotland, has 11 MEPs. Denmark has 13, as has Finland. Scotland currently has an allocation of six MEPs as part of the UK’s total of 73. We are being forced to the sidelines and the margins. Independence would allow us to protect our place in Europe and conduct our relationships with the rest of the UK and the EU on the basis of equality.

Brexit (Impact on Labour Supply)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact it anticipates Brexit having on the supply of skilled labour. (S5O-03135)

“No Deal Brexit—Economic Implications for Scotland”, which the Scottish Government published on 21 February, clearly demonstrated that Brexit would be catastrophic for jobs and investment in Scotland.

Brexit creates risks around the confidence and competitiveness of our businesses, their ability to plan and invest with certainty, and potential drastic increases in unemployment levels. When combined, those issues would cause significant disruption to the supply of skills to businesses in this country. That is why we are working with a range of partners, including Skills Development Scotland, to understand the potential impact of Brexit on regions and sectors.

We are preparing to respond as fully as possible to any resulting skills shortages and gaps, building on the strengths of our current skills system, should the United Kingdom Government decide to see through its plans for Brexit. However, as Mr Gibson will recognise, we cannot fully mitigate the unmitigatable.

I thank the minister for his comprehensive reply. It is the first time ever that I have heard the word “unmitigatable”.

Does the minister agree that the labour supply will be disproportionately impacted in the key sectors of the economy in which European Union nationals form a significant part of the workforce? Will he outline which sectors are most likely to be adversely affected, and what the resulting effect will be on economic growth?

There are a number of sectors that will be particularly affected. For example, agriculture, hospitality, care services and the national health service all stand to be adversely hit. If we consider the role of agriculture in Scotland and the massive success story of our food and drink sector, we can see that it is self-evident how damaging Brexit will be in that key growth area.

By way of a specific, detailed illustration, my constituency is home to a soft-fruit industry that turns over more than £50 million annually. It requires access to more than 4,000 seasonal migrant workers to pick and pack its products and, even before Brexit kicks in, it is already finding difficulty in accessing that workforce. Mr Gibson is absolutely right to highlight the threat that is posed to the Scottish economy by Brexit.

That concludes portfolio question time.

I see that some members who are to take part in the next debate are not present. Please remember that business just follows on and if we gain time in one session, we have more time for the next. I will start the next debate, notwithstanding that all the relevant members are not yet present in the chamber.