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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 26, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Falkland Islands, Portfolio Question Time, Drug Deaths, Social Security Benefits, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Correction


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The next item of business is portfolio question time and the portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letter R in the chat function during the relevant question. I again call for succinct questions, and answers to match, so that we can get in as many members as possible.

Scotland’s Census 2022

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Scotland’s census 2022. (S6O-01134)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

As of this morning, the return rate stands at 85.7 per cent, with the enumeration of 2,238,784 households. That is an increase of 6.5 percentage points since the start of the extension period, on 1 May, and it amounts to 144,431 extra households being enumerated. The geographical return rate is also encouraging, with 25 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities passing the 85 per cent milestone, and a further five passing 80 per cent.

Field Force enumerators continue to visit households that are yet to complete the 2022 census. So far, 1.59 million households have been visited and offered help to complete the census, either online or with a paper copy. That work continues.

The number of households yet to return their census form stands at 373,701. All have been written to a number of times, and the majority have had a visit from enumerators. In recent days, a final reminder communication has been sent to all those households.

Donald Cameron

It is evident that the census will not achieve the uptake levels that are necessary for it to be successful. Before the census, National Records of Scotland said that there must be a person response rate of at least 94 per cent, and it is clear that that will not now be achieved. Especially worrying is the situation in Glasgow, our largest city. Why has the Scottish National Party Government got this so badly wrong? Does the cabinet secretary see merit in an independent inquiry into this shambles?

Angus Robertson

I am delighted to be able to confirm to Donald Cameron that the most significant increase in response during the census extension period has been in the city of Glasgow, and more work is under way.

I encourage Donald Cameron and all other members, now that they have the opportunity and the public’s ear, to encourage everybody to take part. Householders have until the end of May to submit their census return. Our absolute priority is to support and enable those who have not yet done so to complete their census return, adding to the more than 2.2 million households across Scotland that have already done so. For those who have yet to complete their census return, help and support is available via the website,, or by calling the free helpline on 0800 030 8308. The field teams, who have carried out more than 1.5 million doorstep visits, will continue to support people to complete their census returns.

Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

I will not be alone in having been impressed with the extent of the promotional campaign for the census in the preceding months. What further targeted campaigning has taken place since the strategic decision was made to extend the census deadline to the end of May?

Angus Robertson

Throughout the census collection extension period, a range of work has been undertaken to increase the return rate. The marketing campaign was extended, with updated messaging informing people about the extension and reminding them of the legal requirement to fill in the census. That updated messaging was featured across television, radio and the press. Updated digital and outdoor adverts were targeted at local authorities with lower return rates to encourage completion, while media partnerships have been created to increase return rates among young people who live away from home. Field events have taken place across the country to support people to complete their census return, with events being held at places of worship, universities, colleges, supermarkets, libraries and leisure centres. Those events will continue this week and into the weekend.

In addition, a quarter of a million postcards and more than 400,000 reminder letters have been sent to households that have not yet completed their census return.

Listed Buildings (Consultation)

To ask the Scottish Government how Historic Environment Scotland ensures that communities are adequately consulted when considering whether a building should be listed. (S6O-01135)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

Questions regarding day-to-day operational matters relating to Historic Environment Scotland’s designation process are best answered directly by Historic Environment Scotland. However, I can confirm that, when HES assesses applications for designations, community engagement is a key part of the assessment. It does not make such decisions behind closed doors. It consults parties that are directly affected, including owners, occupiers and local planning authorities, and it welcomes views from members of the public through its historic environment portal.

Gillian Mackay

A number of constituents have contacted me in despair at the news that Historic Environment Scotland is currently considering whether Cumbernauld town centre should be a listed building. Just when it looked as though plans to redevelop the site were progressing and there was an opportunity to replace the current town centre with something fit for a town the size of Cumbernauld, the HES proposal threatens those plans.

Can the minister assure me and my constituents that Historic Environment Scotland will not approve a proposal to list such an awful building if that will put at risk plans to develop a modern and accessible town centre?

Neil Gray

I thank Gillian Mackay for her and her constituents’ interest, and for bringing the issue to the chamber’s attention. I note that our colleague Jamie Hepburn has similarly had a lot of correspondence on the issue and is as engaged with it as Gillian Mackay is.

I understand the strength of feeling that exists in Cumbernauld and the way in which Gillian Mackay has articulated the situation. However, the Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014 delegated the responsibility for compiling or approving lists of buildings of special architectural or historical interest to Historic Environment Scotland, and appeals against decisions by HES to list buildings are made to the Scottish ministers. As ministers may have a future role in the decision-making process, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits of any proposed listing.

That said, I ask Gillian Mackay to note that a building’s being listed does not necessarily prevent development or alteration. I encourage Gillian Mackay, colleagues and constituents to engage with Historic Environment Scotland in the process.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

When I met Historic Environment Scotland in March, it informed me that 200 sites across Scotland are shut or have restricted access. How does HES intend to fund any reconstruction work on sites that require further intervention?

Neil Gray

I have regularly engaged with the management of Historic Environment Scotland on the high-level masonry issues that there are at sites across Scotland. The issue that Sharon Dowey raises is slightly tangential to the subject of the listing process but, as part of my regular engagement with HES, I have visited Linlithgow palace, Dumbarton castle and Arbroath abbey in order to see for myself the work that is already being done. I am hopeful that the process of assessment can be carried out as quickly as possible, so that visitors to Historic Environment Scotland sites, along with staff, can enjoy those sites safely, as we would all expect them to be able to do.

Northern Ireland Protocol

3. Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the potential impact on Scotland of the UK Government’s reported plans to unilaterally change the Northern Ireland protocol. (S6O-01136)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

The Scottish Government has made its views clear to the UK Government. We are deeply concerned about the UK Government’s plans to override the protocol unilaterally and the catastrophic damage that that could cause to Scotland. Kate Forbes and I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary, respectively, calling on the UK Government to re-engage constructively with our European Union partners. We have received no reply, and we have had no meaningful discussions with the UK Government on the matter.

The UK Government’s threats to breach an international treaty that was signed in good faith just two years ago could spark a trade war that would have disastrous economic consequences for Scotland and for all parts of the UK. For the UK Government to even contemplate such reckless action in the midst of a cost of living crisis is unthinkable and indefensible.

Emma Roddick

If the UK Government will not listen to the Scottish Government, the Irish Government, the First Minister designate of Northern Ireland, the European Commission and many, many more who would suffer in a Tory-made UK-EU war, does the cabinet secretary believe that the UK Government might instead listen to the US House of Representatives, which, in a joint statement with the European Parliament last weekend, concluded that

“renegotiating the Protocol is not an option. Only joint solutions will work.”?

Angus Robertson

The deterioration of the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, such that it necessitates intervention by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and Richard Neal, the leader of the US congressional delegation visiting Europe this week, is a grave cause for concern. The prospect of a trade deal between the UK and the United States will recede rapidly if the UK Government maintains its reckless attitude to negotiation with the European Union.

Far from identifying the benefits of Brexit, the UK Government seems determined to seize upon every imaginable harm that can be extracted from Brexit. We can only hope that the UK Government will, indeed, listen to our US partners, pull back from its irresponsible threats and focus instead on dialogue with our EU partners and on finding a durable agreed solution.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Last April, the First Minister claimed that the Northern Ireland protocol was a template for an independent Scotland in the EU; last week, she warned that it could trigger a trade war with the EU and tip the UK into recession. What is the Government’s view this week?

Angus Robertson

I do not think that Willie Rennie understands what the Northern Ireland protocol is. We are talking about the UK Government breaching the Northern Ireland protocol. Having said that the deal was “oven-ready” and that it was a fantastic deal, the UK Government is unilaterally threatening to break international law. I am surprised that Willie Rennie does not know that—he should know it. There is a world of difference between that and a Northern Ireland protocol that was agreed by both sides and could be workable if the UK Government was prepared to live up to its international treaty obligations.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Ukrainian Refugees (Settlement)

To ask the Scottish Government how its supersponsor scheme takes account of the preferences of Ukrainian refugees regarding settlement locations within Scotland. (S6O-01138)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

The supersponsor scheme is designed to provide a quick and safe route to enable people displaced from Ukraine to come to a place of sanctuary by removing the need for applicants to be matched to an individual sponsor prior to being given permission to travel to the United Kingdom.

Once people have arrived, a national matching service, delivered by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, will match those settling here with longer-term accommodation across Scotland. Displaced people from Ukraine are asked to complete a short questionnaire that captures key information and preferences. That information is then used to find suitable longer-term accommodation, which will be offered as a choice.

All 32 of our local authorities are taking part in the programme and hosts have offered up their homes right across the country. The national matching service will ensure that people are offered settlement opportunities across Scotland, recognising that people will have different preferences and that available housing is limited in some authorities.

Miles Briggs

There is growing concern that what seems to be an overly bureaucratic system has been put in place. It seems that the Syria and Afghanistan resettlement scheme that was adopted in the 32 local council areas is now being administered to Ukrainian refugees. I understand that 1,000 Ukrainians are currently living in hotels and have had no clarification of the matching process for the scheme. What consideration is being given to a single scheme that can be delivered without councils having to decide? What advice is being given to councils to ensure that the scheme is speeded up?

Neil Gray

I absolutely agree with Miles Briggs’s last point. We need a process that moves as quickly as possible. I am working with officials and local authority partners to ensure that people are allocated and matched to longer term accommodation and that the necessary safeguarding checks are carried out as quickly as possible—that applies to both the properties on offer and the individuals offering them, as I am sure that Miles Briggs would expect.

I do not recognise the numbers that Miles Briggs has quoted, but I would be happy to meet him to discuss the matching process to ensure that we are able to offer people sustainable long-term accommodation as quickly as possible. That will relieve the undoubted pressures that exist in places such as Edinburgh, which Miles Briggs represents and which has become a national hub for arrivals, so that the system flows well.

Ukrainian Refugees (Services)

6. Joe FitzPatrick

To ask the Scottish Government what services the £10,500 tariff provided by the United Kingdom Government for local authorities to support displaced Ukrainians arriving in Scotland is expected to cover. (S6O-01139)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

The £10,500 tariff is designed to support local authorities to meet all their associated costs, including those for providing education; advice and referrals to specialist public health services, including mental health services and adult social care; support to access employability support and social security; homelessness assistance; and community integration through the provision of translation services, community events and signposting to further support.

The tariff is paid per person but only for those who have settled under the homes for Ukraine scheme, which includes the supersponsor scheme, not for those under the family sponsorship scheme. The £200 emergency payment for guests is also paid from that one payment.

Joe FitzPatrick

In addition to the costs that the minister mentioned, there are health costs, which do not appear to be covered. The tariff does not seem enough to cover what services will be required to spend and it is ridiculous to hear from the minister that no money is made available for people who are settling in Scotland under the family sponsorship scheme. Does he agree that the tariff is not adequate, that the United Kingdom Government should increase it so that local authorities are suitably reimbursed and that it should be for all displaced Ukrainians, no matter what scheme they arrive through?

Neil Gray

I absolutely agree. The tariff is not adequate for the support that our public services will provide as we support displaced people from Ukraine, nor is there specific additional funding for national health service services—a point that I have repeatedly made to UK ministers.

There is no funding at all for people who arrive under the family sponsorship scheme, which is clearly not acceptable. Our local authorities and public services will support people regardless of the route by which they arrive and funding must be provided for them to do that, which is a point that I will raise with UK ministers again, with the support of Welsh colleagues, in trilateral meetings this afternoon.

I have repeatedly called for the UK Government to provide parity of funding, to consider the resources that are needed to fund public services and to provide clarity on how long they will be available for. In the meantime, the Scottish Government has provided local authorities with significant funding support in addition to the UK Government funding to allow them to quickly make accommodation available for people who require longer-term support.

Is the Scottish Government giving specialised support and aid to disabled Ukrainians, similar to that which is being given in Northern Ireland?

Neil Gray

All people arriving from Ukraine will have full access to NHS services and social security on the same basis as people who ordinarily live in Scotland. That means that people fleeing the war in Ukraine will have access to any support that they need in our health service as well as immediate access to social security benefits such as the child and adult disability payments. In addition, a public protection response has been adopted across Scotland to ensure that vulnerable people who are displaced from Ukraine are protected and have access to the same support and safeguards as any other vulnerable person under Scottish jurisdiction.

Ukrainian Refugees (Welcome Hubs)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of Scotland’s welcome hubs for Ukrainian refugees. (S6O-01140)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

Welcome hubs have been established at key entry points: Edinburgh airport, Glasgow city and airport and Cairnryan port. They continue to provide support from healthcare to translation services, clothes and food to temporary accommodation, and trauma support. Multi-agency teams at our welcome hubs have triaged more than 1,500 people to date and are assessing people’s needs on arrival. They are a single point where we can triage and support people.

We are continually working with our national and local partners, including local government and the Scottish Refugee Council, to improve and streamline our approach. I thank everyone involved in our welcome hubs for the incredible work that they do.

Alexander Stewart

Not all arrivals pass through the welcome hubs, which are the point of contact for arrivals and offer them support such as language support, healthcare, food and clothing. What steps are being taken to ensure that new arrivals who do not use the welcome hubs are not neglected and are supported in the way that those who go through the hubs are?

Neil Gray

I thank Alexander Stewart for the important point that he made. It is absolutely the case that the Scottish Government is working with our local authority partners to provide support and services for all arrivals from Ukraine. Multi-agency teams working in the hubs are ready to provide support from healthcare to translation, as I set out. We remain focused on providing a safe and secure place to address any immediate wellbeing and safeguarding needs for displaced persons and will continue to do so.

If there are particular issues from the region that he represents regarding making sure that proper contact is made, I would be happy to ensure that they are taken up with the local authorities.

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Staff at Scotland’s welcome hubs are becoming more experienced by the day as they assist in triaging displaced people from Ukraine. Will the minister assure the Parliament that those hubs will continue to be supported in that triaging role, allowing a warm Scots welcome to be afforded to all displaced Ukrainians who arrive in Scotland?

Neil Gray

Yes, absolutely, and I thank Alasdair Allan for giving me the opportunity to thank the teams in our welcome hubs. They have moved at pace and have needed to work on an increasing scale in order to meet the needs of those who arrive from Ukraine. That is very much appreciated by the Scottish Government, the people of Scotland and the people who have arrived from Ukraine.

It has been fed back to me that having that warm Scottish welcome has been very much appreciated, and we will continue to support that approach so that the people who arrive get the sanctuary and support that they need and deserve.

Ukrainian Refugees (Risk to Female Refugees)

To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out of the specific risk to female refugees who are fleeing Ukraine to resettle in Scotland. (S6O-01141)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

Anyone who meets the United Kingdom Government eligibility criteria can apply to sponsor a displaced person through the homes for Ukraine scheme. That means that safeguarding risks are inherent in the system, as I and the Welsh Government have raised on a number of occasions with UK ministers, whom I have urged to replicate the supersponsor schemes of our Governments.

The supersponsor scheme means that disclosure checks are done in advance of guests being placed with hosts. We also have guidance that supports all the operational partners that are involved in safeguarding to identify and respond to the risks to and needs of displaced people from Ukraine.

Ruth Maguire

Active safeguarding is extremely important, and I understand that the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance and JustRight Scotland have produced a leaflet in Ukrainian and Russian to explain to women the risks of trafficking. In recognition of the fact that vulnerability can increase over time, will the Scottish Government consider including violence against women and girls partnerships and services in the response at both strategic and operational levels, and commit to carrying out gender-specific risk and safety planning, not just at entry but in the medium and long term?

Neil Gray

I thank Ruth Maguire, particularly in her role as co-convener of the cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation, for her question, and I will happily consider the suggestions that she has made.

The safeguarding measures that we have put in place are imperative to ensuring that we are able to provide the necessary protection that would be expected. We must ensure that Scotland provides a place of safety and sanctuary.

The guidance that I mentioned has been developed with expert partners and draws on intelligence regarding the vulnerabilities of certain groups, including women and girls, as identified by the United Nations refugee agency, the Scottish Refugee Council and Zero Tolerance.

The biggest risk factor is the fact that there is still a need in some areas for private matching. On-going informal social media private matching presents the biggest risk. The easiest way to stop that is to have in place a statutory matching service such as we have in the Scottish and Welsh supersponsor schemes, and I encourage the UK Government to follow that lead.

That concludes portfolio questions on the constitution, external affairs and culture. There will be a brief pause to allow front-bench teams to change position, if they so wish.