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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 26, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 26 September 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motor Neurone Disease (Blue Badge Scheme), Portfolio Question Time, Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Stage 1, Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Biodiversity (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase biodiversity in Edinburgh. (S5O-03583)

Activity to increase biodiversity at a local level in Edinburgh is primarily led by the City of Edinburgh Council, with support from Scottish Natural Heritage and other partners with whom the council may have arrangements, such as the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust.

Edinburgh benefits from the local delivery of national projects, such as our biodiversity challenge fund, which has provided almost £500,000 this year to three local projects: Buglife’s B-Lines project, creating a network of special places for nature; the Edinburgh shoreline project, focusing on coastal wildlife; and the Little France park project, which will breathe new life into an unmanaged urban greenspace. We also continue to support the central Scotland green network and grant fund the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that green spaces in urban areas are a valuable habitat source of biodiversity, and is she aware of the Midmar paddock in the south of Edinburgh, which is home to many important wildflower species? It is now being repeatedly marketed as a development opportunity despite being green belt, a special landscape area and designated as open space and a local natural conservation site. I know that this is not part of her brief, but as the cabinet secretary is responsible for biodiversity, will she speak to her ministerial colleagues to ensure that the wishes of local residents are considered when protections are being put forward?

Biodiversity is a key issue that we have to address in Scotland. Climate change is, of course, a key cause of biodiversity loss, but equally a lot of biodiversity projects help with climate change mitigation or adaptation. It is absolutely crucial that we care for our environment in that sense.

A lot of very good work is being done in Edinburgh; I will not test the patience of the Presiding Officer by reading it all out, but I am sure that I can give Miles Briggs a notice of it. He has raised a very specific development issue, with which I am not particularly familiar. I will undertake to check with my officials and the relevant minister about the progress on that, and I presume that the member has been in direct contact with the council.

Will the cabinet secretary give an update on how the Scottish Government is working to tackle invasive species, which are the biggest driver of biodiversity loss across Scotland?

SNH has a programme that allocates funding for that. One of Scotland’s biggest problems is the spread of rhododendron—anybody who has been in rural Scotland will have seen that that is a real issue—but that is not the only species that is a problem.

Principally, landowners ought to look very much at what they do on their land to ensure that they take appropriate actions in respect of this issue. If Claire Baker has a particular thing in mind, she might wish to write to me about it.


Lucy’s Law

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider the implementation of Lucy’s law in Scotland in order to ban the selling of puppies by pet shops and other third-party dealers. (S5O-03584)

The programme for government that was announced on 3 September included a commitment to implement Lucy’s law, as part of new licensing legislation that will ban the sale of puppies and kittens that are under six months old by anyone other than the breeder.

What other steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that animals are protected from exploitation and abuse?

A whole host of measures are being undertaken to improve animal welfare in general. I will outline just some of those, which I hope will not test the patience of the Presiding Officer too much.

In addition to introducing Lucy’s law with a modern licensing system for dog, cat and rabbit breeders, we are committed to ambitious improvements to animal welfare. As I said, a number of strands of work are under way. We will increase the maximum penalties for animal cruelty and wildlife crime in the animal health and welfare bill; protect service animals through Lucy’s law; assist permanent rehoming of at-risk animals; rerun our highly effective awareness campaign on the responsible purchase of young animals; introduce compulsory closed-circuit television recording in slaughterhouses; and continue to update guidance on livestock welfare.

This week, I announced the appointment of Professor Cathy Dwyer, who has a wealth of experience in animal welfare, as the first chair of the animal welfare commission. Recruitment for other members of the commission will commence shortly so that Scottish ministers are provided with expert advice.


Moorland Management

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote effective moorland management. (S5O-03585)

The Scottish rural development programme 2014 to 2020 supports effective and sustainable management through the agri-environment climate scheme, which promotes land management practices that protect and enhance Scotland’s moorlands.

The Scottish Government is providing £14 million in 2019 for peatland restoration, which contributes to effective moorland management and is an important element of our approach to tackling climate change. We have established an independent group to consider how we can ensure that grouse moor management is environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law.

Lyme disease is on the rise around Scotland, and the bacteria that cause the disease are carried by ticks, which live on deer. The United Kingdom deer population of 1.5 million is already at its highest level for almost 1,000 years. The Moorland Association believes that this points to yet another example of the benefits of effective moor management. What steps are being taken by the Scottish Government to control the deer population? Will it consider granting more licences under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996?

The sustainable management of deer that meets the public interest is of the utmost importance to the Scottish Government. Scottish Natural Heritage has a statutory responsibility to further the conservation, control and sustainable management of all wild deer species in Scotland, and SNH works with a range of partners, including the Association of Deer Management Groups and local deer management groups throughout Scotland, to develop effective planning and management.

Through SNH, Scotland’s deer sector is supported to produce a range of best-practice guidance on the effective management of wild deer in Scotland, including guidance with a focus on public safety, food safety and deer welfare.

SNH has undertaken a review of the progress of deer management in Scotland, and it is due to publish its findings shortly. The Scottish Government will consider that report, alongside recommendations from the independent deer working group, which is also due to report later this year. We will of course provide a response to that in due course.

I am happy to meet Rachael Hamilton to discuss and have a further look at the second part of her question.


Deposit Return Scheme (Glass)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of including glass in its deposit return scheme on Scotland’s glass manufacturers and recycling sector. (S5O-03586)

By capturing an estimated 294 million glass bottles each year, the deposit return scheme will cut carbon emissions by more than 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over a 25-year period and reduce a common form of litter. It will also make more high-quality glass available for recycling. A high proportion of that is projected to be flint or clear glass, which is in high demand from Scotland’s premium drinks industry.

In May, Ewan MacDonald-Russell of the Scottish Retail Consortium raised concerns that the inclusion of glass in the scheme would add £50 million a year in costs, which would end up being paid by the consumer. He said:

“Glass is a difficult, bulky, and heavy material to manage and will be an enormous burden, especially for those operating from smaller stores.”

What assurances can the cabinet secretary give me that small stores in my constituency will be supported in the roll-out of the DRS?

As Finlay Carson is on the relevant committee, he is already actively involved in the process of the Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 going through Parliament. The committee is the right place for many of the questions on the issue.

I am conscious that glass manufacturers and the glass lobby have been active on the subject, but I think that I made it clear from the outset that we understand that there are more issues with glass than with plastic and aluminium.

From our perspective, the issue is that, if we do not include glass in the scheme at this stage, we will not be in a position to include it in the future. Therefore, now is the once-and-for-all decision-making time. I also point to the fact that a number of other countries collect glass in a deposit return system. I hope that, throughout the process of the deposit return scheme regulations going through Parliament, a lot of the specific issues that have been raised will be teased out and thought through carefully. The positive impact that including glass will have on Scotland will also be taken into account.

In passing, I note that the Scottish Conservatives also wanted glass to be included.

What discussions has the Scottish Government had with the UK Government about its deposit return scheme?

I met my counterparts in the UK Government a number of times to discuss deposit return issues, including timing, and officials have continued that engagement.

Unfortunately, the recent reshuffle took out the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister; she was promoted into another job. There has therefore been a bit of a continuity disjunct and I am still trying to establish who the new minister will be.

I have been clear that we are open to working with the other nations to ensure compatibility. I have encouraged DEFRA to match our ambitions. It should be noted that the UK Government has yet to commit to introducing the DRS, and our climate change commitments mean that it is not an option for us to wait in the hope that others will follow the example that we are now setting.


Climate Change Initiatives (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to initiatives in the north-east that aim to tackle climate change. (S5O-03587)

The Scottish Government is supporting a range of initiatives in the north-east that aim to tackle climate change. Since 2014, we have provided more than £10.4 million to support the roll-out of hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure, and more than £5 million since 2010 to support low-carbon travel across the region, including increasing the network of publicly available charge points across the region. Since 2013, we have provided more than £2.1 million to 39 renewable energy projects in the north-east through the community and renewable energy scheme, and since 2008, we have given more than £9.5 million to 115 projects in the north-east to help tackle climate change at a community level through the climate challenge fund.

Funding has also been provided to support climate change adaptation activities in the north-east, including support for the Aberdeen adapts framework, which aims to help the city of Aberdeen to become more resilient to the impact of climate change by creating its first climate change adaptation strategy, and support for the dynamic coast project, which is developing mitigation, adaptation and resilience plans at a number of supersites, including Montrose.

I note that the cabinet secretary did not mention carbon capture utilisation and storage in her answer. Given the fact that the United Kingdom Government has invested £130 million since 2011 in research, development and innovation to support the development of CCUS, will the cabinet secretary outline what support the Scottish Government has planned to support that technology in the north-east?

The member knows perfectly well that that question is for a different minister. However, I point out that it was the UK Government pulling the rug out from under carbon capture in the past that has put us into the position that we are in. We are nowhere near as far on as we should be.


Mossmorran Petrochemical Plant (Flaring)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action being taken to reduce flaring at the Mossmorran petrochemical plant. (S5O-03588)

On 23 August, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency varied the permits of both operators at Mossmorran to ensure that there is a clear timetable and detailed plans for implementing improvements to address flaring.

This week, ExxonMobil announced a £140 million investment at the site, in addition to the £20 million that it invests in maintenance each year. Those actions should improve compliance and reduce the negative impacts of flaring.

This year, more than 1,400 complaints have been made to SEPA about gas flaring at the plant, including from hundreds of people who are raising concerns about health. Although the ExxonMobil investment announced by the cabinet secretary is welcome, improvements will not be seen for a year, and the ground flare is not expected to end until 2024. What discussions is the cabinet secretary having with ExxonMobil to push for more immediate improvements?

I do not know whether the member was in the chamber last week when Paul Wheelhouse spoke about the issue. He met ExxonMobil recently, and he indicated that a considerable part of its investment will go to improving the plant’s efficiency, including its energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from flaring, and improving air quality.

The member will also know that there is an on-going SEPA investigation into all this. It would be sensible to allow the environmental regulator to complete that and then we can come back to the issue with a full understanding of what is happening.

I ask members for short supplementary questions, please.

The current shutdown at Mossmorran was instigated following the failure of two of the three boilers. Is any of the £140 million going towards replacing those boilers? Is there possibly still legal action to follow from the repeated permit breaches at the plant?

I am not commenting on possible legal action. As Paul Wheelhouse did previously, I outlined that a considerable part of ExxonMobil’s money will go towards doing what is needed to reduce the frequency and impact of flaring, as well as all the associated issues of noise pollution. As I indicated in my earlier answer, SEPA is looking closely at the issue. It is expected to report in November. When it does, I am sure that we will be back here to discuss that.

In relation to the welcome investment by ExxonMobil that was announced last week, and the 850 jobs attached to that investment, Exxon is to complete its ground flaring design work apace and submit it to SEPA. Perhaps the cabinet secretary could clarify that that is the case, as well as the next step in relation to the best available technique programme. From my recent meeting with Exxon, I also understand that it is likely that the timing of the ground flare programme will be advanced and accelerated.

That was hardly a short supplementary question. Cabinet secretary, do you have a short answer?

Given the pressure that ExxonMobil is under, I am certain that it will now do its utmost to reduce the negative criticism that it is receiving.

As I indicated, a significant portion of the money that it is investing will be directed towards the things that people wish to see fixed. At some point, the company was told that its original timescales were not sufficient, so I hope that we will see real improvements happen apace.


Household Recycling

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in the last year on increasing household recycling rates. (S5O-03589)

Recently published statistics show that Scotland’s household waste recycling rate has decreased by 1 per cent between 2017 and 2018. More positively, the same statistics show that the amount of household waste generated was at its lowest level since 2011, and fell by 2 per cent, compared with 2017. The figures also highlighted positive longer term progress, with a reduction of 1 million tonnes of CO2 from waste since the reporting began in 2011 and, for the second year in a row, we recycled or composted more than we threw away to landfill.

The reduction in waste is good news, but the recycling being down is bad news. On the figures that the cabinet secretary cites, last year in Dundee, only 36 per cent of household waste was recycled. Dundee City Council is sixth from bottom of all the councils in Scotland. That is a shame, because Dundee used to lead the way in recycling.

What is the Scottish Government doing to assist councils with recycling? Given the constrained local government budgets, has the Government considered asking supermarkets, which produce so much plastic waste, to contribute towards recycling costs?

We will look at all opportunities to deal with that. We actively engage with local authorities on recycling. In order to encourage local authorities to think about what they are doing and to bring them all in line with each other, we set up the charter for household recycling in Scotland.

In that respect, some councils have bigger challenges than others. Dundee is one of the councils that has inner city issues to manage. The good work that is being done with the household recycling charter, which we are reviewing over the next year, will pay dividends. The main challenge for Dundee is similar to the main challenge for the centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh: the high proportion of multi-occupancy properties, such as tenanted properties.

The member’s suggestion of wrapping in other potential partners is good.

I ask for a short supplementary question, please.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

In the past five years, one third of councils have not received grant funding from Zero Waste Scotland for recycling services. Has that had an impact on recycling rates?

I would need to endeavour to discover from Zero Waste Scotland precisely what the decision-making process was in each of those cases. Given Maurice Golden’s background, he is probably much more able than I am to establish what some of those issues might be through his informal network of contacts. However, if he wishes, I will undertake to do so on his behalf. I am sure that the decision will have been made for particular reasons; I cannot go through them all at the moment, for obvious reasons. I am happy to engage with Zero Waste Scotland on that question.


Blue Carbon Ecosystems

To ask the Scottish Government what role seagrass meadows, and similar blue carbon ecosystems, play in helping Scotland reach its climate change targets. (S5O-03590)

Last year, the Scottish Government established the blue carbon forum to better understand the role that marine habitats play in mitigating climate change by capturing and storing carbon and how they can contribute to climate adaptation.

The meeting of climate change targets is measured through the greenhouse gas inventory, which is agreed at a United Kingdom level and does not presently include any marine habitats. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published guidance on accounting for wetlands and the Scottish Government is currently investigating potential data sources and methodologies for estimating net emissions from saltmarshes in Scotland.

Has the cabinet secretary seen the seagrass ocean rescue restoration project taking place in Wales and would the Scottish Government welcome such a project in Scotland?

I am aware of the project in Wales; I have not physically seen it although I am always happy to visit Wales. I am also pleased to see pioneering habitat restoration projects in Scotland such as the Dornoch environmental enhancement project, which is restoring a native oyster bed in the Dornoch firth. Seagrass Restoration Scotland Ltd hopes to begin restoration of seagrass habitats next summer.

The Scottish Government is keen to learn from the results of those restoration projects because seagrass is a priority marine feature and is already protected in 26 locations around Scotland by a suite of marine protected areas. The United Nations decade on ecosystem restoration from 2021 to 2030 will also provide a fantastic opportunity for a phase shift in marine restoration.