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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 27 November 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Poverty (United Kingdom), Violence against Women, Committee Announcement, Decision Time, NHS Highland (Bullying)


Topical Question Time

Brexit (United Kingdom Coastal Waters)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Prime Minister’s reported position that the proposed Brexit deal ensures that the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state with full control over its waters. (S5T-01362)

The withdrawal agreement that has been reached by the UK Government risks being very damaging to Scotland’s seafood interests, with an explicit linkage of trade and access to UK waters in direct contradiction to what was promised by the UK Government in its white paper on fisheries. Because of the UK Government’s actions, we will have no ability to take part in fisheries negotiations during the transition period and we risk having access to Scottish waters and quota traded away by the UK Government on a permanent basis to secure a trade deal with the European Union in the long term.

Under the deal, Scottish seafood exporters to the EU also face the risk of significant and devastating new trade barriers. In relation to the salmon industry alone, it is estimated that an extra—[Interruption.] I will say that again because of the interruptions from Conservative members to my left. In relation to the salmon industry alone, it is estimated that an extra 45,000 export health certificates per annum will need to be issued, which will be a significant cost to businesses and public authorities.

Based on that, I cannot share the Prime Minister’s reported view that the UK will be an independent coastal state with full control over its waters. What I can conclude is that, in the Prime Minister’s eyes, Scottish seafood interests appear to be expendable.

Given the concerning information in the cabinet secretary’s answer, will he comment further? Given that Scotland is, as he said, a net exporter of seafood, unlike the rest of the UK, and that the vast majority of the UK fisheries and aquaculture sector is Scottish, what role has the Scottish Government had in negotiations on those vital sectors?

The UK Government has not involved us in any way whatsoever, despite the fact that the Scottish Government and I have taken part in the negotiations in Brussels for the past two years. Unlike some members of the Conservative Party in the Cabinet, we have respected confidentiality in those negotiations. Despite asking to be fully involved in the negotiations, we have played no part—we have been prevented from doing so—in the negotiations, which appear to have led to such a disappointing and, frankly, potentially damaging outcome.

The cabinet secretary has talked about the withdrawal agreement and what we know about the links between access to waters and access to the trade of fish and seafood exports. Is he aware of the value of fresh seafood, including langoustines, scallops and other species, some of which are caught and landed in and around the waters of my constituency? Will the cabinet secretary explain in more detail the issues that the industry will face if it loses tariff-free and barrier-free trade with the EU, and how we might take steps to prevent disruption to that lucrative export trade?

The shellfish sector faces particular concerns. It faces the possible imposition of tariff and non-tariff barriers. Given that shellfish, which are prized in Europe and throughout the world, are perishable, a delay of even a few hours can be fatal and can render fresh produce valueless. The imposition of new export certification requirements in a market that hitherto has been frictionless is also of grave concern.

What can we do to ameliorate the situation? Our own preference is to remain in the EU, to remain in the single market and to remain in the customs union. That is what we can do to solve the threat of the particular problems that I have mentioned.

Given that we are always constructive, we have also proposed an alternative scenario in our “Scotland’s Place in Europe” document, in which we would continue to seek frictionless trade, while coming out of the common fisheries policy.

Quite frankly, everybody needs to calm down a bit. Nothing has been traded away on fishing, no red lines have been crossed on fishing and the Prime Minister has been very clear that nothing will be traded away. President Macron would like French fishermen to continue to fish in our waters—shock horror; he was always going to say that. We have never said that no EU boats will ever be able to fish in our waters again, but if they do so, it will be under our control and under our rules. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that my understanding is correct in that the Scottish National Party’s position on fishing is to rejoin the CFP at the earliest opportunity?

That is not correct, and I disagree with everything that Mr Chapman has said. I have never seen the Conservative Party as divided as it is now, with the member of Parliament for Moray castigating the plan that Mr Chapman thinks is the bee’s knees. Mr Chapman seems to be unaware of what has happened over the past couple of weeks. Hitherto, the UK Government has said that fisheries and trade must not be linked, but now they are umbilically linked, which means that, if the EU does not get the deal that it wants, the fishing and aquaculture industries will find themselves out of the customs union and facing tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

Moreover, following the agreement of the political declaration on 25 November, the European Council released a statement in which it signalled its intention to

“demonstrate particular vigilance ... to protect fishing enterprises”

and to seek to

“build on, inter alia, existing reciprocal access and quota shares.”

That implies that the European Council’s position is to seek even more access to our waters than it has at the moment. The fact that Mr Chapman refuses to recognise the existence of those developments over the past few weeks is further proof positive of the total disarray that his party is in on the matter.

I would like to take the cabinet secretary back to the transition agreement, under which access to UK waters and the quotas for those waters will be set by the EU in consultation with the UK, but the EU will not be bound by any obligation to get consent from the UK. Given that the cabinet secretary has relationships with colleagues in the EU, has he had any discussions with them about how they will exercise those powers in the interim transition period? What safeguards can he offer our fishing communities?

My officials have regular negotiations and discussions with colleagues precisely to get the best possible deal year on year at the fisheries negotiations. Although those negotiations culminate in December, most of the work is done prior to December, with EU countries and with Norway and the Faroes, as the member well knows.

It is abundantly clear to everybody—apart from, it seems, the Tories—that the EU countries that have a fishing interest are determined to protect their interests. My job is to champion the interests of the fishing sector, including the farmed fish or aquaculture sector, which has been dragged into the process at the last moment by the UK Government, without any discussion taking place with the Scottish Government or the aquaculture sector. There is really only a Scottish aquaculture sector—as far as I am aware, there is no significant interest in aquaculture south of the border. Aquaculture has been thrown to the lions by the UK Government without so much as a by-your-leave. We will seek to get the best possible outcome for Scottish fishermen, despite the complete shambles of the Brexit boorach that has been perpetrated by the Conservatives.

It should have been perfectly obvious all the way along that a link would be made between access to waters and access to markets. It is equally clear that, if we want to have a sustainable approach to fisheries and a healthy marine environment, that cannot be done without international co-operation. Some form of common policy on fisheries is inevitable. Is it not the case that the situation that we find ourselves in on fisheries is simply one more example of the fundamental dishonesty of the leave campaigners, who tried to pretend that we could return to some sort of isolationist approach on the issue, and that neither Scottish nor British jingoism changes any of that?

I agree with much of what Mr Harvie said, which is not necessarily a daily occurrence. He is right to say that the problems that have arisen were perfectly foreseeable. Indeed, over the past two years, I have asked Mrs Leadsom, Mr Gove and Mr Eustice to give an unequivocal assurance that they would not trade away permanent access to our waters as any part of a Brexit deal. They never provided that assurance, and it is now abundantly clear why. In reaching an agreement to agree on fishing, the UK Government has postponed that decision for purely political reasons, because it knows fine well that it will not be able to deliver on the promises that were made by the leave campaign. In short, the Brexiteers overpromised, and now they are ready to underdeliver.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome. (S5T-01355)

Our new combined alcohol and drugs strategy will focus on how services can adapt to meet the needs of those who are most in need, recognising that high-risk factors such as alcohol and drug use impact on health outcomes at birth, in infancy and across the life course. In addition, our maternity services are being reshaped under “The best start: five-year plan for maternity and neonatal care” to ensure that all vulnerable women, including those with substance use issues, receive continuity of midwifery care from specialist midwives who will co-ordinate the team care for the women and their babies.

A Liberal Democrat freedom of information request revealed the very sad statistic that 200 babies a year are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. To put it simply, a baby is being born addicted to substances every other day. It is the worst possible start in life, yet the draft strategy contains nothing on the condition. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that the new strategy, which I believe will be published this week, will address that? Does she accept that her Government’s 23 per cent cut to alcohol and drug partnership services has made the situation far worse?

Mr Cole-Hamilton knows that it would be inappropriate for me to comment in advance of the publication of the strategy tomorrow on the detail of what is in it. What I can say is that the strategy—quite rightly—treats this as a core health matter and a public health matter, and that it is focused on the individual and not on any other issues. I understand that Mr Cole-Hamilton took from his meeting with Mr Fitzpatrick in August reassurance in relation to what would be included in the strategy, so I am sure that the points that he has made will have been taken account of.

The twin approach of the new combined alcohol and drugs strategy and our work in reshaping maternity services recognises the importance of dealing with the issues in the manner that I have outlined. I also refer to the mental health work that my colleague Ms Haughey is taking forward, which was in our programme for government. Recognition of perinatal mental health, which is really important and is connected to these matters, is central to that work as well.

It is clear that being born addicted to drugs is one of the worst possible starts in life that one can experience, yet we still do not routinely capture adverse childhood experiences as prescribed by Sir Harry Burns in his review of national health service targets. When will the cabinet secretary act on that recommendation and ensure that we routinely capture ACEs so that we can direct support to these vulnerable children from the very beginning?

I am grateful to Mr Cole-Hamilton for that further question. He is, of course, absolutely right. Being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome is indeed one of the worst starts in life. I should have said at the outset that I am grateful to him for raising the matter, and for the manner in which he has done so. He is right about the recommendation from Sir Harry Burns. I am working with my colleagues to identify exactly how we can take that forward, and I am happy to commit to ensuring that Mr Cole-Hamilton is advised of that as soon as possible.

Will the cabinet secretary set out how much the Scottish Government has invested over the past decade to tackle drug and alcohol misuse, on top of the financial commitments that have already been made this year?

Since 2008, the Scottish Government has invested over £746 million to tackle problem alcohol and drug use. That includes £53.8 million that has been allocated in the current financial year. The majority of that funding has gone towards supporting local prevention, treatment and recovery services. In addition, we have allocated a further £20 million this year and for each of the remaining years of the current session of Parliament to improve the provision and quality of the services.

What is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that adequate numbers of trained staff are available to help expectant mothers to recognise the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy?

I am grateful to Mr Whittle for his question, because it gives me the opportunity to remind him that I recently announced a further increase—for the eighth year in a row—in the number of student nurse and midwifery places in Scotland to ensure that we have the right staff numbers in those areas.

I am sure that Mr Whittle will also recall our commitment to increase the number of health visitors and the training work that is under way in that regard. Health visitors are a very important resource, given their work with families and small children from immediately after birth and on into the early years.