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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 25, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 25 October 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Electricians (Regulation), Education (Primary 1 National Standardised Assessments), Home Detention Curfew, Scotland’s Place in Europe: Our Way Forward, Scotland’s Contribution to International Development, Decision Time


Contents


General Question Time

Good morning. Our first item of business will be general question time. I remind members that, if questions and answers are as brief as possible, we will get through more questions.


River Pollution (Support for Communities)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to local communities where nearby rivers have been polluted by waste overflows from detritus flushed down toilets. (S5O-02449)

Scottish Water carries out regular proactive inspections in areas that have had previous pollution incidents. Whenever pollution is found, clean-ups take place. Further to that, Scottish Water will be working closely with communities to help educate customers about what should and should not be flushed down the toilet.

The cabinet secretary may be aware that the issue has occurred recently at the Mary Burn in my constituency. Can she outline what support the Scottish Government will provide to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water and my constituents to ensure that the issue will not reoccur?

I am indeed aware of the situation with the Mary Burn. Scottish Water has attended to clean up the immediate debris on a number of occasions. There is also a commitment to spend a prolonged period doing a much wider clean-up where there has been a more significant impact, and that work is nearing completion.

In addition to undertaking cleaning, Scottish Water has completed some adjustments to the network, including constructing a higher weir plate at the storm screen to prevent the overflow from triggering when it should not. The Scottish Government will provide £210 million to support Scottish Water’s £3.6 billion capital investment programme in 2018-19. We ensure that SEPA is adequately funded to perform its regulatory role to protect our environment.

Officials stand ready to provide any additional support that may be required. However, I need to reiterate that people need to stop putting the wrong things down the toilet in the first place.

I was recently contacted by a constituent who informed me about the issue of caravan and mobile home users dumping the contents of their chemical toilets by roadsides instead of paying to dispose of the waste in the designated areas. Will the cabinet secretary join me in condemning that behaviour? Will she also provide some response as to which agency or agencies people should deal with in tackling the issue? Could some type of public information campaign be launched on the matter?

That is disgusting behaviour, and I am sure that everybody in the chamber will feel the same about it. I share the member’s concern. It is the responsibility of everyone living in or visiting Scotland to dispose of their waste in the appropriate manner at designated facilities. Any evidence of this type of behaviour should be reported directly to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.


Misogyny (Criminalisation)

To ask the Scottish Government what work it is undertaking to make misogyny a crime. (S5O-02450)

We will shortly be launching a public consultation in response to recommendations made by Lord Bracadale on hate crime legislation in Scotland. It will consider how the criminal law might be strengthened to tackle misogynistic behaviour and whether crimes motivated by hostility based on gender should be a hate crime. We are committed to taking action to tackle gender-based prejudice and misogyny in Scotland, and we are open to any views on what effective action we should be taking.

Crime that is motivated by hatred of women can take many forms. There has already been a debate on what kind of evidence would be required for misogyny to be proven as a motivator. Can the minister give an indication of the work that is being done to ensure that a definition of misogynistic hate crime is workable, that it can provide a sound basis for something that could be argued in court by a prosecutor and that it can make a clear and functional distinction between misogynistic hate crime and any other crime?

As we know, there is a clear need to take action to tackle gender-based prejudice and misogyny in Scotland, and we are keeping a very open mind on the best way to address those types of behaviours.

As part of efforts to tackle misogynistic behaviour, we have committed to consulting on how the criminal law might be strengthened. We will launch a consultation next month that will seek views on a range of options, including new criminal law measures. I encourage any interested party to share their views through the consultation exercise, because that will inform the best way forward for tackling misogynistic behaviour and putting new measures into legislation.


Land-use Changes (Engagement by Landowners)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on legally obliging landowners to formally engage with communities affected by major changes in land use. (S5O-02451)

The Scottish Government’s guidance on engaging communities in decisions relating to land sets expectations that all landowners across urban and rural Scotland will engage with their local communities about decisions relating to land that will have a significant impact on the local community.

Does the Scottish Government share my concern about the Duke of Buccleuch advertising coal-bed methane deposits at Canonbie in the sale of the Evertown estate, despite the local community’s continued objections to any extraction proposals?

The Scottish Government does not support unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, and that includes coal-bed methane. No local authority can grant planning permission for any proposed fracking or coal-bed methane project, and Scottish ministers would defer any decision on any planning application that came forward until the full policy-making process on our preferred position is completed. The practical effect of that is that no fracking or other unconventional oil or gas activity can take place in Scotland at this time.

In line with statutory requirements, earlier this week we published for consultation the strategic environmental assessment environmental report on our preferred policy position. That consultation, which will run for eight weeks from 23 October, is the next step and continues our dialogue with the public on this important issue. It is anticipated that ministers will inform Parliament of their finalised policy on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland in the first quarter of 2019. That is the backdrop against which people will be operating, regardless of who they are. I am sure that the member knows that that is, strictly speaking, a policy for another portfolio.


Broadband Universal Service Obligation

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has discussed with the United Kingdom Government raising the UK’s proposed 10-megabit universal service obligation for broadband to match Scotland’s plans for universal availability of at least 30 megabits. (S5O-02452)

The Scottish Government has repeatedly urged the UK Government to match Scotland’s ambition and set the broadband universal service obligation at 30 megabits per second, which would help to deliver the superfast broadband connections that our rural communities need.

Scotland is the only part of the UK to have committed to extending superfast access to 100 per cent of premises, supported by an initial procurement of £600 million. Despite numerous requests, and despite the regulation and legislation of telecommunications being wholly reserved to the UK Parliament, the UK Government has contributed a mere 3.5 per cent of that investment, with the Scottish Government committing 96.5 per cent.

I thank the minister for that illuminating answer. Can he inform us whether the UK Government has given any assurances that the imposition of a 10-megabit universal service obligation on telecoms providers will not impede the Scottish Government’s programme to deliver 30-plus megabits everywhere by 2021?

The UK Government has not given any assurances. It has now formally handed over the implementation of the broadband USO to Ofcom, which is due to consult on the designated USO provider in the autumn. The Scottish Government has a very positive working relationship with Ofcom, and officials are working closely to achieve alignment between the two schemes to help minimise confusion for the public, as well as to ensure the most effective use of public funds. It would, however, be helpful if the UK Government would engage with us on the issue.

This Scottish National Party Government likes to talk up its record on broadband, but the reality for people and businesses in rural constituencies such as Galloway and West Dumfries is poor or no speeds. They do not care about speed obligations; they just want to know when they are going to get connected. Will the minister give my constituents a commitment to publish a clear timescale for the reaching 100 per cent programme to reach 100 per cent by the summer of 2019?

Mr Carson would do well to reflect on the fact that it is the UK Government’s legal and regulatory responsibility to ensure delivery of broadband. The Scottish Government is intervening by using economic development powers to fix the mess that has been left by the UK Government.

We have a shared interest in ensuring that we help constituents in Dumfries and Galloway. I say that as a member who represents South Scotland, and I take that point seriously.

Our 100 per cent commitment is a huge statement of our ambition for Scotland’s digital future, which, as I said, is unmatched elsewhere in the UK. We are providing £600 million of investment through the procurement contracts, and we are on track to award contracts in, I hope, the second half of 2019. Only when the bidders have submitted their bids will we know exactly which postcodes will be covered. I assure the member that we will communicate that information to his constituents and others as soon as we are able to do so.

In the design of the procurement exercise that the minister has described, can he ensure that areas that are most in need, such as the outer and northern isles of Shetland, are first in the queue to achieve the fibre that homes and businesses so badly require?

I recognise that interest not just in my capacity as connectivity minister but with my island responsibilities. Those are key issues for island communities, and I take them very seriously.

We are taking an outside-in approach to the procurement contracts by focusing on remote, rural and island communities first. I do not want to overcommit to Mr Scott’s constituency but, as soon as we have the information from the tenders to help us to give guarantees to communities about how early the delivery will be, I will be keen to talk to him and others who have an interest. I reiterate that, in the absence of the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme, the islands would have zero superfast broadband coverage, so we have achieved a lot to date.


Young People (Equality of Opportunity)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure equality of opportunity for young people across all local authorities. (S5O-02453)

Our focus on raising attainment and achievement for all, and on ensuring that every child has the same opportunity to succeed, has resulted in positive progress towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap. The Scottish Government supports local authorities to work collaboratively with national agencies, including Skills Development Scotland, to ensure that all young people receive the support that is most appropriate for them to fulfil their potential.

Data from Skills Development Scotland for 2016-17 shows that, although 62 per cent of school leavers in East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire went on to higher education after leaving school, only 26 per cent of school leavers from Clackmannanshire did the same, which shows no improvement since 2010-11. That is a dramatic difference and does not look like progress. What action will be taken to end the postcode lottery in higher education?

If we look at the position across the country, we see that the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures show a 3 per cent increase in the number of placed applicants from deprived areas, which is a record high for the third year in a row. On the question of widening access to higher education, the data demonstrates that the Government is making progress on the objectives that it set out to Parliament.

We should also bear in mind—this is important when considering the question of fulfilling the commitment to opportunities for all young people throughout Scotland—that there is a range of positive destinations that young people can pursue, including modern apprenticeships and further and higher education opportunities. The most recent positive destination statistics for the whole country demonstrate the improvements in performance that have been delivered as a result of that commitment.


Childcare (Expansion of Provision)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported warnings from nursery providers that its planned expansion of childcare to 1,140 hours by 2020 is “about to implode”. (S5O-02454)

Providers in the private and third sectors, including childminders, are vital to the expansion of early learning and childcare. We are supporting all providers in the transition to 2020, when parents will have greater flexibility to access their child’s entitlement from high-quality partner settings. We introduced 100 per cent rates relief for day nurseries in April and established the ELC partnership forum, and we are significantly increasing funding for providers to deliver our living wage commitment.

I thank the minister for that response. However,

“Unless the Government steps in and sorts this out very quickly, then the whole project of 1,140 hours is going to collapse”.

Those are not my words, but the words of the childcare providers. Even the minister’s colleagues in the Scottish National Party have raised concerns from childcare providers in their constituencies. Will the minister agree to investigate those concerns urgently before it is too late for nurseries, children and parents?

I take the opportunity to reiterate just how crucial partner providers will be to the success of the expansion. We are working hard, as I think the response to a freedom of information request from the member demonstrated, to tackle areas where there are partner concerns with local authorities. We are creating the mechanisms to strengthen meaningful partnership working between local authorities and ELC providers and to promote good practice. I work very closely on the matter with my colleague Councillor Stephen McCabe, who is my counterpart in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

As part of the “funding follows the child” approach, local authorities and ELC providers will be working together meaningfully and in genuine partnership to deliver the funded entitlement, and the ELC partnership forum, which met for the first time this week, will drive action, enable the sharing of good practice and partnership working and enable authorities and providers to work together constructively to identify solutions to challenges.

Will the Government set out how it is ensuring that, where there are good examples of partnership working across Scotland between local authorities and ELC providers, the lessons can be applied to areas where partnership working needs to be improved?

As I said, we have established the partnership forum, where we bring together partners from all over the country, and we not only identify the challenging areas where relationships are not great, but look at the areas where partnerships are really strong—for example, Moray and Angus.


Economic Action Plan

To ask the Scottish Government when it will publish its new economic action plan and whether it will include specific targets for improving the economy. (S5O-02455)

I published the economic action plan yesterday and our targets are very well known.

As the cabinet secretary will be aware, his Government has failed to meet every single one of his economic targets over the past 11 years, including all seven national performance targets on the economy. Can he confirm that that is the real reason why the new economic action plan fails to include any future national performance targets?

The economic action plan, which has been very warmly welcomed by Scottish businesses, is about getting on with the job. It sets out a range of actions that support our economy and Scottish business; it also sets out a host of areas and stimulus in relation to innovation, infrastructure and investment. It follows on from the enterprise and skills review.

We know the targets that we want to deliver on, but I will mention just a few economic indicators for Mr Lockhart. Our gross domestic product is outperforming the United Kingdom’s. With our near record-low unemployment, we are outperforming the United Kingdom. On foreign direct investment, we are second only to London and the south-east of England. That is why businesses and representative organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses have welcomed the economic action plan. The FSB has said:

“There’s much to be applauded in this manifesto for Scotland’s economy”.

I will get on with the action plan while the Tories give us distractions and disaster.


Fish Landings (North-east Ports)

To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of fish landed in Scotland in 2017 was in the north-east. (S5O-02456)

The latest national statistics show that, in 2017, 56 per cent of the weight and 46 per cent of the value of all fish landed into Scotland were landed into the north-east, covering the three port districts of Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen.

I thank the cabinet secretary for acknowledging the importance of the north-east to Scotland’s fishing industry. With that in mind, can he tell me why Aberdeenshire, which is the site of the biggest fishing port, Peterhead, and the third biggest, Fraserburgh, had 100 of 146 applications for European maritime and fisheries funding rejected and received only 13.7 per cent of the available EMFF funding?

I can assure the member that the ports in the north-east have benefited considerably and are due to benefit further from EMFF funding. I am happy to share the information with Mr Chapman, as he seems to be unaware of it. I also point out ever so gently to Mr Chapman and his colleagues that the European maritime and fisheries fund is part of European Union funding.

Despite having asked his colleagues Mr Gove and Mr Eustice, with whom I have a good working relationship, on numerous occasions, face to face and eyeball to eyeball, “Will you replace this fund post-Brexit?”, answer has there come absolutely none. Without wishing to be unkind, that leads me to conclude that the United Kingdom Government’s handling of Brexit can best be described by a Gaelic word—a bùrach.