Meeting date: Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 25 April 2018
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Social Security (Scotland) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- Business Motion
- Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Social Security (Scotland) Bill
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
Portfolio Question Time
Police Scotland and British Transport Police Merger
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the timetable of the merger between Police Scotland and the British Transport Police. (S5O-01997)
As set out in the letter of 20 February 2018 from the Minister for Transport and the Islands to the Justice Committee, the joint work carried out by Police Scotland and the British Transport Police Authority reviewed progress on operational matters at a workshop in February 2018 and concluded that a number of significant issues remained to be resolved.
As a result of that assessment, the joint programme board was advised that further time was needed to deliver integration most effectively and safely for railway passengers, staff and officers. Ministers accepted that advice, and that a replanning exercise would take place to establish a new delivery date. That reflects the importance that the Government places on achieving a safe, effective and smooth transition that delivers continuity of service for rail users and staff. The next joint programme board meeting will be held in Edinburgh on 8 May.
A paper written by the British Transport Police Federation that was reported on last week found that the merger of the BTP into Police Scotland not only risks creating life-threatening safety issues, but could cost between £225,000 and £500,000 per officer. Does the cabinet secretary agree with those costings? If not, what has the Government estimated that the cost per officer of the merger will be?
The claim that Mary Fee has made reference to—that it could cost up to £500,000 per transfer of officer, including pensions—is simply inaccurate. It does not take account of the fact that pension liabilities are met by assets and that the schemes are currently fully funded. Actuarial advice that was shared with the Scottish Police Authority in October last year states that the pension liabilities are about £97 million and are balanced by £99 million of pension fund assets. We do not recognise the figures that Mary Fee quoted, but I recognise that the British Transport Police Federation opposes the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland.
Following on from Mary Fee’s question, has the Scottish Government set aside any additional budget, at the point of delay, to address some of the concerns that were raised by the British Transport Police Federation and others?
For the reasons that I have just outlined to Mary Fee, we do not recognise the figures that the BTPF has produced and we have set out the reasons for that. We also made it very clear that the funding for the work that is now being carried out on the integration programme is being met by through the police reform budget, which is used for police reform measures in Scotland.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that the delay is frustrating for the public, who do not understand why there should be one police force for a railway platform and a separate one for a road a few yards away? The sooner that we can make the system simpler, the better.
I recognise the frustrations that John Mason expressed, and I assure him that we are fully committed to ensuring that the British Transport Police is integrated into Police Scotland. Progress has been made in a number of very important areas of the integration programme, including a significant amount of work that has been undertaken over the past nine months.
Alongside that, work is now being done as part of the reprogramming exercise to ensure that there are clear timelines for the completion of the outstanding work. I reassure all members that the travelling public continue to receive a service from the British Transport Police, with Police Scotland, as and when necessary, supporting its BTP colleagues when incidents occur.
Contrary to what Mr Mason just said, does the cabinet secretary not accept that there are still serious concerns about the merger, especially on issues relating to information and communications technology infrastructure? Is it not about time that the cabinet secretary listened to experts and went back to the drawing board on this very unpopular merger?
As Jamie Greene will recognise, the merger of the BTP into Police Scotland was approved and agreed by a majority in this Parliament. I recognise that his party plans to move to a national infrastructure policing unit with the integration of the BTP with the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which would completely abolish the BTP. My concerns about that approach is that I suspect that it would largely be an armed force, given the nature of the work that is carried out by the officers of the civil nuclear and Ministry of Defence police services.
I recognise that there are those with concerns about the integration plans that we have in Scotland. The replanning exercise is an important element in making sure that the areas of work that still have to be carried out are completed before full integration takes place, and the exercise will identify a timeline for taking that forward.
I do not share Jamie Greene’s view that we should abolish the BTP and move it into a national infrastructure policing division, as his party proposed in the previous election and as previously mooted by the United Kingdom Government. That is clearly the UK Government’s policy at the present time.
Knife Crime (Police Scotland Information Sharing)
To ask the Scottish Government whether Police Scotland has shared its experience of tackling knife crime with the Metropolitan Police. (S5O-01998)
Police Scotland routinely works in collaboration with other forces. It recently hosted a visit from the Metropolitan Police to explore issues of common interest, which included a discussion of efforts to reduce violence and knife crime. As Kenneth Gibson knows, those are areas in which Scotland continues to face challenges, but, through our public health approach, has made significant progress.
Under this Scottish National Party Government, the incidence of knife crime has fallen by 69 per cent in a decade, from 10,110 incidents to 3,111 incidents—there has been an even steeper fall of 77 per cent in my area of North Ayrshire—the figure having previously doubled under the then Labour-Lib Dem Administration. Does the justice secretary agree that having 6 per cent more police officers on the streets under the SNP, compared with a 17 per cent fall in numbers in England under the Tories, has made a difference? Given the appalling tragedy of 39 young people being stabbed to death in London so far this year, what further advice can the cabinet secretary give on how best to tackle that scourge?
I remind members that I quite like short questions.
Kenneth Gibson is right to highlight the fact that the number of crimes involving the handling of offensive weapons has significantly reduced in Scotland since 2006-07. However, we know about the devastating consequences that can come from knife crimes in our communities and we can in no way afford to be complacent about the progress that we have made. In my view, one knife crime will always be one too many.
Alongside the tough enforcement action that we have taken in our approach to tackling knife crime, we have had a firm focus on prevention and early intervention, which has no doubt played a significant role in helping to reduce knife crime in Scotland, including the reduction in Kenneth Gibson’s constituency, which he made reference to.
We have invested significantly in the national violence reduction unit, which has allowed us to make sure that there is a clear focus on violence prevention. That has included the development of the medics against violence prevention programme, which is being delivered in some of our schools in Scotland, and the mentors in violence prevention programme, which is now being delivered in schools around the country to teach young people about the risks and dangers of violent crime, promote healthy relationships and help them keep safe.
Alongside that, we have the “No knives, better lives” youth engagement programme, which specifically aims to reduce the incidence of violence and knife-carrying among young people. That is being delivered in 24 of our local authorities and is on track to be delivered in all 32 local authority areas this year.
We have made good progress in the past 10 years, and I assure members that we are absolutely focused on continuing to bear down on violence and, in particular, on knife crime. We have reaped the benefits of our prevention approach in recent years and we will continue to invest in that in the years to come.
Death by Driving (Sentencing Guidelines)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress the Scottish Sentencing Council is making with guidelines on sentencing in relation to deaths caused by driving. (S5O-01999)
The Scottish Sentencing Council is an independent body. However, my officials have been in touch with the council in connection with this parliamentary question, and I can confirm that the council has advised that a sub-committee has been established to consider the development of the guidance in relation to deaths by driving. The sub-committee will be responsible for the development of the guidelines and will consider the timing for its development, what research will be needed and what data is currently held.
This area of law is reserved. It is worth noting that the United Kingdom Government consulted in 2016 on changes to the maximum penalties in cases of death by driving, and announced in October 2017 that legislation would be introduced to increase the maximum penalties for certain death-by-driving offences. The announcement can be expected to impact on the timing for development of guidelines by the Scottish Sentencing Council.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the tragic case of my constituent William Murray, who was killed as a result of a motorbike accident in 2013. The other person who was involved was convicted of careless driving, given a community sentence and banned from driving for five years, but flouted the ban last November and was given another community sentence.
What assurance can be given to William Murray’s family, and to other families, that the justice system will take full account of previous convictions, and recommend custodial sentences for repeat offenders in any new sentencing guidelines?
I am aware of that case, having met Willie Coffey to discuss the matter. The member will understand that I am not able to comment on individual cases.
Members will appreciate that the courts, when it comes to making decisions on sentencing, take into account all the relevant facts and circumstances, including the fact that a person is a repeat offender. In all cases such decisions are, of course, for the court to make, informed by the information that is provided to it by the prosecution and the defence.
I appreciate why victims and their families are keen to understand how sentencing decisions are made and why a court has made a particular determination, which is why transparency in sentencing is important. That is why we established the Scottish Sentencing Council, whose work will be important in encouraging greater transparency around sentencing decisions.
The publication this autumn of sentencing guidelines for the first time represents an opportunity to improve public understanding of sentencing and how it works. I recognise the independence of the Scottish Sentencing Council. What representations has the Government made to the Sentencing Council, in order to ensure that its guidelines lead to transparent and understandable sentencing that reflects the seriousness of the crime?
As Daniel Johnson said, the Scottish Sentencing Council is an independent body and is responsible for taking forward such matters in the manner that it regards as being most appropriate. The Sentencing Council consults the Scottish Government on its draft business programme, but the content of the programme is a matter for the council.
Once the Sentencing Council has completed the work to establish new sentencing guidelines, it will be for the council to determine how it takes the matter forward. I expect it to do so in partnership with the judiciary, including the Lord President, in order to ensure that sentencers are aware of the new guidelines, when they have been implemented. The Sentencing Council will have the support of the Judicial Institute for Scotland, which is responsible for training our sentencers.
Decisions on taking the guidelines forward are, rightly, a matter for the Sentencing Council, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to start intervening in relation to how the council takes forward its work and how, when the work is completed, it disseminates the information.
The Scottish Sentencing Council was formed in October 2015, two and a half years ago. Guidelines on death by driving were promised in October 2016, one and a half years ago, but only now are we seeing action.
The Scottish National Party also promised action to crack down on drug driving last September, after pressure from the Scottish Conservatives. Will the justice secretary say what progress has been made?
It is clear that Liam Kerr does not understand how the Scottish Sentencing Council operates. It is an independent body, which is headed up by the Lord Justice Clerk, with a range of experts appointed to it to support the work of drafting guidelines for our courts and sentencers. The member might want to reflect on how the Sentencing Council operates.
On drug driving, Liam Kerr might not be aware—given that he was not a member of Parliament when the decision was made—that we made a decision, on the basis of recommendations on drink and drug driving, on our priorities in adjusting the drink-driving limit and introducing new provisions on drug driving. The United Kingdom Government chose not to lower the drink-driving limit in the way that we did. Following our change, we have the lowest drink-driving limit in the UK, which we have put in place in order to promote safety on our roads.
We said at that time that, once that work had been completed and the approach had been embedded operationally in Police Scotland, we would turn to the introduction of a drug-driving test. That is exactly what has now been taken forward, and the work is being undertaken in partnership with Police Scotland. Once that work has been completed, Scotland will have the most robust drink-driving and drug-driving limits in the whole UK.
I hope that that helps Liam Kerr with regard to his understanding of what was previously agreed in Parliament and the approach that we are taking. We are making important progress in ensuring that roads in Scotland are as safe as possible from people who, too often, simply ignore the safety risks that are associated with drink driving and drug driving.
Rape and Sexual Violence Cases (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Prosecution Policy)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its response to the concerns raised by Rape Crisis Scotland and others regarding the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s changes to prosecution policy in cases of rape and sexual violence. (S5O-02000)
The Lord Advocate and I had a helpful and constructive meeting with Rape Crisis Scotland on 19 April and have committed to work with it to provide reassurance in relation to how the policy will work in practice and to ensure that victims can be given accurate information in that regard. We confirmed that the focus of the Crown’s revised policy is not to compel rape complainers to testify. Its focus is to ensure that the burden of prosecutorial decision making properly lies with the Crown and to ensure that decisions are made after the most careful consideration of all the relevant circumstances.
The Crown is committed to doing all that it can to prevent violence against women and girls and to protect the public from serious sexual violence. As prosecutors, we know only too well and understand the challenges that the criminal justice system can present for complainers in rape cases. That is why the Crown continues to work with others to address features of the system that contribute to witness attrition.
I welcome the on-going work with Rape Crisis Scotland, and I am sure that many others in the chamber will welcome it, too.
Is it the case that the Crown would not take action against any complainer who failed to give evidence after a warrant was issued? If that is the case, can the Scottish Government give me, Rape Crisis Scotland and others an assurance that no rape complainer will be jailed if they are unable to give evidence, even in a case in which a warrant has been issued?
We can never exclude the possibility that there could be circumstances in which a witness warrant might be sought if a complainer refused to attend at court when lawfully cited. Although we accept that, we expect that that would and could arise only in the most exceptional of circumstances, which, I might say, have not arisen in the past 10 years in which I have been prosecuting rape in the High Court, in my time as a law officer or, indeed, since the policy was clarified on 12 March.
Should that issue ever arise, before any decision were taken about the appropriateness of seeking a warrant in the first place, very careful assessment would be made and very careful consideration would be given by an experienced prosecutor to all the relevant factors in that individual case: the circumstances of the complainer, her vulnerabilities, the nature and reasons for her reluctance and, crucially, the nature, circumstances and gravity of the offence and the nature of the offender.
Only after considering all those circumstances will any decision be taken, and I should say that such an assessment will be one of many that is conducted throughout the entire process.
We will take careful account of the risks of not proceeding against a particularly dangerous accused. However, the complainer’s views, welfare and interests are at the heart of the Crown’s prosecution policy in relation to reluctant complainers. The policy underlines the importance of exploring the reasons for such reluctance and of working, along with other agencies, to address such concerns where we can, in order to re-engage with and support that witness.
In practice, all of that means that there will continue to be cases in which, taking account of all the relevant circumstances, the right thing to do is not to take proceedings or to discontinue them.
We have managed to get only to question 4, but I will take two brief supplementaries. I say to the entire chamber that it is important that questions are short and that answers are succinct, too. I appreciate that one has to be very careful in the answers that one gives, particularly those that relate to justice issues. However, we have reached only question 4. I ask those who have spoken in the chamber today to look at the time that they have been on their feet because, next time I am in the chair, I will intervene if answers, as well as questions, are too long, in order that other members have time to speak. Reaching only question 4 is not good enough, in my book.
What further work is being undertaken to support rape victims during the court process, with specific regard to the length of time that it takes for cases to get to trial and the number of delays that victims face?
A lot of work is going on, most notably on the reduction of the pre-petition workload, which contributes to a delay in the journey time from report to trial. We have reduced the number of such cases from 700 in 2016 to 200 today. We continue to act directly on feedback from Rape Crisis Scotland on the lived experience of complainers, and we have changed our practices already in that regard. We will continue to work with others in the system to address the system-wide features that contribute to delay and the other circumstances that contribute to reluctance and attrition.
Will the Solicitor General confirm how many rape victims have applied for legal aid and how many have had their applications accepted, which can help them oppose the disclosure of sensitive medical records? What advice does the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service give to such victims to show them that that option is available?
I do not know the numbers, but advice is given in that regard.
I apologise to the five members who have not been called. I trust that I will not need to repeat my warning. If there are very long answers, I cannot call members to ask supplementaries, and I do not want to cut out supplementaries on important questions. My advice—or telling off—pertains to the next set of questions, too.
To ask the Scottish Government how much funding EventScotland will receive in the current financial year. (S5O-02007)
EventScotland is part of VisitScotland’s events directorate and, as such, it does not receive direct grant-in-aid funding from the Scottish Government. Its funding is an operational decision for the VisitScotland board. I will ask VisitScotland’s chief executive to write to the member with the details once the funding for 2018-19 has been agreed by the VisitScotland board. I can tell Mr MacDonald that EventScotland was allocated £9.3 million in 2017-18 .
I welcome this year’s funding. The cabinet secretary will be aware of the established motorsport event the Bo’ness revival classic car show and hill climb, which is held annually in my constituency. Over the past three years, it has received funding from EventScotland’s national events programme, but there is a maximum limit of three awards from that fund. Is there any possibility of EventScotland relaxing the three-year rule on a discretionary basis to allow continued funding for events such as the Bo’ness hill climb?
I am aware of the Bo’ness revival classic car show and hill climb, which is an important event. Whether to relax the three-year limit on funding would be a decision for VisitScotland. If that event, or any others, received a fourth year’s funding, less funding would be available for new events. However, I understand that the chairman of the Bo’ness hill climb had a productive meeting with VisitScotland on Monday and that VisitScotland will continue to provide non-funding support and advice to the event to help it develop a more sustainable commercial business for the future.
What percentage of funding will be allocated to events that will encourage diversity?
If Rachael Hamilton was listening to my very first answer, she will be aware that the Scottish Government does not provide direct grant in aid to EventScotland. Decisions about EventScotland, distribution and, indeed, which organisations are promoting diversity will be for the VisitScotland board to make. However, I will ask VisitScotland to advise the member once it makes those decisions.
International Development Fund
To ask the Scottish Government what scope there is through its international development fund to support projects that are not in its four partner countries, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan. (S5O-02008)
Our new international development strategy, which was published in 2016, focuses our work—as Ivan McKee said—on four partner countries with which we have strong historical and contemporary links to ensure that our £10 million international development fund has the greatest impact. Scottish organisations working in any country whose human development scores medium or low on the current United Nations human development index are eligible to apply to our small grants programme for feasibility or capacity-building grants of up to £10,000.
I agree with the strategy of focusing on four countries to ensure maximum impact. However, retaining flexibility to fund projects in other countries enables us to respond to specific needs as they arise and provide support. As the minister will be aware, I recently visited Palestine—a country that is badly in need of development support. Will the minister meet me to discuss specific projects in the occupied west bank that would benefit from some limited Scottish Government funding support?
I am more than happy to meet Ivan McKee to hear the concerns that he wishes to raise around that issue. I will mention in passing that in the past we have provided one-off humanitarian funding for Gaza. The Scottish Government also sought to be helpful to firefighters in Scotland who were seeking to make sure that a fire engine made its way to Palestine to assist people in that part of the world.
Creative Scotland (Head of Screen Unit)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Creative Scotland regarding the appointment of the head of the new screen unit. (S5O-02009)
The recruitment of the executive director, screen and creative enterprise, is a matter for Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland regularly updates the Scottish Government about progress with the screen unit, including on recruitment, at project board and screen committee meetings, and at its routine meetings with sponsor department officials. I am also updated in meetings with Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland has invited the Scottish Government director for culture, tourism and major events to sit on the selection panel.
Will the cabinet secretary commit to regular meetings and will she report back to the chamber on how those meetings go?
I have regular meetings with Creative Scotland and my communication to parliamentarians is normally via the convener of the relevant committee. On 8 March, there was a letter from Creative Scotland to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee to ensure that the committee was aware of developments and progress. If the member has a particular interest in following this, I suggest that he look at the papers for that committee, as they are open to every parliamentarian to read.
As the cabinet secretary will be aware, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the screen sector, including scrutiny of the new screen unit. Is she confident that the governance arrangements under the head of the new screen unit, who will work under Creative Scotland, are appropriate for meeting the specific needs of this sector?
Yes, I am. In the letter that went to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, and in my correspondence to the committee, it was set out that it is crucial that the Creative Scotland board members who are appointed have screen experience. Those adverts are about to go out. Lead members of the screen sector—very respected people from within the screen sector—will be part of the governance arrangement as well. That is something that has given confidence to me and to people in the screen sector.
I call the breathless Bob Doris, who has arrived just in time to ask question 4.
Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn (Built Heritage)
Presiding Officer, I apologise for getting my timings wrong. I know that that is my responsibility.
To ask the Scottish Government how it supports built heritage in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency. (S5O-02010)
The Scottish Government supports built heritage across our communities through the lead public body, Historic Environment Scotland. Maryhill burgh halls were restored in 2012 with help from public funds awarded by the former Historic Scotland and the Scottish Government.
Springburn has been blighted by the loss of a number of buildings of heritage over the years. The A-listed winter gardens in Springburn park remain a wonderful asset, despite being on the buildings at risk register. The Springburn Winter Gardens Trust is making an ambitious large-scale Heritage Lottery Fund bid to save and repurpose the winter gardens for future generations, which is a defining moment for the project’s future. Will the cabinet secretary offer her best wishes for the bid, and can I extend an invitation to her to visit the winter gardens to hear more about those ambitious plans?
I will certainly provide my best wishes for the local trust that is looking at the A-listed glasshouse in Springburn park’s winter gardens. I am pleased that Historic Environment Scotland has maintained the repair grant scheme funding to provide £14.5 million for a further year from the Scottish Government. The Glasgow City Heritage Trust can help to fund such organisations, too.
I am very interested in our historic heritage in all parts of Scotland and, should my diary provide, I would be very willing to visit Springburn to see what is happening there.
Support for Participation in Music
I am obliged to inform members that the First Minister has appointed me as parliamentary liaison officer to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs. I further wish to refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, specifically to my membership of the Musicians Union.
To ask the Scottish Government how it supports participation in music. (S5O-02011)
The Scottish Government supports participation in music in many different ways. Its long-standing investment of £109 million since 2007 in the youth music initiative has made a huge impact, helping young people in all 32 local authorities to access music-making opportunities and helping to ensure that every pupil is offered a year’s free music tuition by the end of primary 6. A further £9 million of funding has been allocated to the initiative in 2018-19.
The Government is providing £2.5 million to Sistema Scotland, as part of a four-year funding package, in communities in Stirling, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee; investing £22.5 million this year in its national performing companies, which all have music content within their programmes and outreach programme; and providing £10 million towards the new Edinburgh IMPACT—International Music and Performing Arts Charitable Trust Scotland—performance venue, which will provide a home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Creative Scotland works with a range of partners to ensure that people have the opportunity to participate in music. The recently announced regular funding network includes strong support for all music genres from contemporary to jazz, classical and traditional.
Many people’s first experiences of participation in music occur in school. Does the cabinet secretary share the concerns of many musicians that children and young people will lose out on opportunities to participate in music making if some local authorities continue to reduce instrumental teaching services and to increase tuition charges?
I am very concerned abut the decisions by some local authorities to cut access to instrumental music tuition, particularly at secondary level. The Deputy First Minister shares my concerns. I have asked Scottish Government culture officials to work with education officials—while respecting the autonomy and responsibility of local councils—to assess the impact and to identify ways of working with key stakeholders to ensure that we have vibrant youth music tuition provision in the future to inspire the many young people who currently benefit from it.
Does the cabinet secretary share the concern about the proposals in West Lothian to cut certain instruments from free music tuition and to charge for tuition, which could be to the detriment of disadvantaged children? West Lothian Council is blaming the Scottish Government budget cuts.
As Gordon Lindhurst will be aware, local government as a whole in Scotland has had a real-terms budget increase. West Lothian Council, in particular, has had a budget increase. I am familiar with the situation there, because my constituency is Linlithgow. It is shocking that a county that has been championed across Scotland and regarded as providing some of the best music tuition would contemplate abolishing strings and percussion tuition. After the intervention of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, who identified that children and young people had not even been consulted about provision, the council is now looking at that again. I urge the council to do so seriously. The issue is not just that the reputation of West Lothian Council as a music-making champion is severely at risk; it is about opportunities for young people in my constituency and across West Lothian.
Historic Battlefields (Preservation)
To ask the Scottish Government what work is being done to ensure that historic battlefields are preserved. (S5O-02012)
Historic Environment Scotland has a statutory duty to compile and maintain an inventory of historic battlefields of national importance. The inclusion of a battlefield on the inventory means that particular consideration must be given to any impact on the site of any development or activity on it. The effect of a proposed development on inventory battlefields is a material consideration in the planning system. Scottish planning policy sets out the matters that planning authorities should consider in determining planning applications relating to historic battlefields, including protecting, conserving and enhancing their key landscape characteristics and special qualities.
A further layer of scrutiny is provided by a planning direction from 2015, which sets out when ministers have to be notified over planning proposals affecting historic battlefields. Where development is not within the planning system, for example in forestry or trunk roads proposals, Historic Environment Scotland’s policy statement sets out that public bodies should ensure that nationally important battlefields are given consideration in their plans.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that very comprehensive response. She will know that the success of the “Outlander” books and TV series has caused a renewed interest in the Jacobite period yet, at the same time, two important Jacobite battle sites are being threatened by development. One of those sites is Culloden, and the other is Killiecrankie, in the area that I represent, where plans by Transport Scotland to extend the A9 dual carriageway to the south would cover the most sensitive part of the battle site, where most of the casualties were incurred. That is particularly unfortunate, as there is a viable alternative to extend the A9 to the north side with a lesser impact. Does the cabinet secretary accept that, if the plans at Killiecrankie go ahead, the protections that she has just outlined in her answer will be exposed as worthless?
I am aware of those two developments. In relation to the A9, the Scottish Government is pursuing that development, which will make a transformational difference to transport between Inverness and the south. The member will be aware that, in the particular instance that he mentions, the Scottish ministers will be called on to determine the case in due course. It is therefore not appropriate for me to comment on the proposals or the objections that have been raised. However, he will be aware that Historic Environment Scotland, as part of the process that I outlined in my original answer, has already made known its concerns about the issue.
Orkney and Shetland (Tourism)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage more tourists to visit Orkney and Shetland. (S5O-02013)
The Scottish Government fully recognises the importance of tourism to the economies of both Orkney and Shetland. The numerous attractions of our northern isles, for example the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization sites of neolithic Orkney and Jarlshof on Shetland, are actively promoted by VisitScotland through its many marketing campaigns. VisitScotland also directly supports the sector to ensure that the potential from tourism is maximised. Other public bodies such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Historic Environment Scotland also play a key role, as does Scottish Natural Heritage, in promoting and enhancing the area’s natural environment.
In recognition of the fact that the popularity of sites on the islands and in other rural areas brings challenges to public infrastructure, last year we launched the rural tourism infrastructure fund to address those issues. One of the fund’s pilots, which was announced last month, involved £80,000 towards car parking at the stones of Stenness, providing much-needed facilities at a popular neolithic site.
In the Scottish National Party’s 2016 manifesto, it pledged to reduce ferry fares on services to Orkney and Shetland and, last year, the minister stated that the fare reductions would be
“rolled out in the first half of 2018”,
saving visitors up to £100. With only 10 weeks until that timeframe ends, surely the Government has some plan in place, or is that just another SNP broken promise?
I politely point out to the member that I am the tourism secretary, not the transport minister. I reassure the member that the transport minister is actively involved in the issue and I am sure that he would be more than happy to update the member appropriately. However, the member should take the opportunity of tourism questions to champion Orkney and Shetland and the wonderful sites that they have instead of complaining about an issue on which he knows I cannot answer.
I thank the cabinet secretary for giving a tour de force on the tourist attractions in my constituency as well as in Shetland. Will she join me in impressing on her colleague the transport minister, who will be in Orkney and Shetland this Friday and Saturday, the need for him to come armed with a timeframe for the delivery of the road equivalent tariff, which has been promised for our lifeline ferry services?
We have a very proactive and committed Minister for Transport and the Islands, who takes every opportunity to ensure that departments across Government know of the importance of transport links and tourism to the island economies. As I have just said in response to the previous question, I am sure that the minister will keep us updated as appropriate. So, for the second time today, I can say that the transport minister is actively engaged with the issue and will communicate at the appropriate time as he has responsibility for ferries.
I am afraid that that concludes portfolio questions on culture and tourism. I apologise to the three members whom I was unable to call, but that was a darn sight better than the previous questions session. I thank members for their short questions and answers.