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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 28, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 28 September 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Worker Ownership, Flexible Working, Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


General Question Time

Cyberattack (Risks to Government Agencies)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the risks that it and its agencies face from cyberattack. (S5O-01305)

The Scottish Government assesses the risks that are related to cyberattacks on a continuous basis, and the controls that have been established to mitigate cyber-related risk are monitored by Scottish Government’s audit and assurance committee. The Scottish Government works closely with the United Kingdom’s national cybersecurity centre to monitor and understand the risks of cyberattack. We will shortly publish a new cybersecurity strategy that will set out actions to ensure that our organisation is cyberaware, makes sound risk-based decisions about cybersecurity, is defended from the majority of cyberattacks and is resilient enough to be able to recover quickly from a successful attack.

Western Governments and beyond are facing their own digital battles of Britain. A series of brute-force attacks, which are sometimes state sponsored, have compromised hospitals, schools and critical infrastructure, such as water and power. Will the cabinet secretary host an urgent meeting with representatives of the national cybersecurity centre to review the Scottish Government’s cybersecurity strategy?

I met the chief executive of the national cybersecurity centre on 5 September. We had a very constructive discussion about the work by the Scottish Government and the centre that is necessary to ensure that the Government and our public authorities and agencies are protected in that way. As I said in my earlier answer, we are fully committed to taking all possible practical and tangible steps to do that. I recognise the significance and the seriousness of the issue that Mr Stewart raises and I assure him of the Government’s determination to do all that it can to ensure preparedness in that respect. As part of that, we will continue our discussions with the national cybersecurity centre to ensure that all lessons that we need to learn are learned and applied in practice.

What steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that any new computer system, for example that of the Scottish social security agency, is protected from a cyberattack? What security measures are in place?

In the work that we undertake to ensure that we are cyber-resilient, we have to apply all the lessons learned to the design of any systems or approaches that are taken forward. As I said in my earlier answer, the approach that the Government takes is to ensure that we make sound risk-based decisions on cybersecurity and that we put the necessary defence mechanisms in place. The social security computer system will deal with a very significant amount of individuals’ personal information and we have to make sure that that is properly protected by the steps that we take. I assure Mr Carson and other members that that is at the heart of the preparations that the Government is taking.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Data (Access)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to gain greater access to data held by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that could assist in economic policy making. (S5O-01306)

The Digital Economy Act 2017 will enable HMRC to more easily share data with other organisations, including the Scottish Government, than has previously been possible, subject to appropriate data security and other requirements being met. We are working very constructively with HMRC to make use of the new powers to improve our economic statistics and analysis. In addition, the Scottish Government is working with HMRC to agree a service level agreement that will ensure that it provides relevant and timely data to enable us to discharge our duties in respect of the Scottish income tax.

In evidence to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, a number of witnesses pointed out that gross domestic product on its own is a very blunt indicator of economic success and that more has to be done to quantify economic success in terms of inclusive growth. What measures and data does the Government intend to use to analyse how well Scotland is doing in those terms?

GDP is, of course, an important indicator of economic performance, but we have long recognised that it is not the only one. That is why our national performance framework considers a wider basket of indicators, including reducing income inequality, reducing the gender pay gap and reducing the share of employees who earn less than the real living wage, all of which are important for inclusive growth. Delivering more inclusive growth is an essential part of the Government’s economic strategy. The national outcomes, which we are currently refreshing, and the indicators that underpin them will be strongly influenced by the priorities that are articulated in our economic strategy.

Last week, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee also heard evidence that the Scottish Government already has a vast amount of data that could be used for a wide range of policy considerations but does not fully understand how to use it. How will the Government improve its use of the economic data that is available to it?

I refute the underlying assumption that we do not know how to use the data. However, as the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee’s deliberations showed, there is a real, live debate about the nature of the data that we have and whether it can be improved. That is perfectly legitimate. The Government is seized of that. It has been mentioned by different parties in the chamber and mentioned most recently to me by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, which also raised it with me last year. The new analytical unit that will be established alongside the strategic board will enable us to make the most effective use of the data and ensure that we have the right data on which to base our economic decisions.

Miners’ Strike 1984-85 (Policing Inquiry)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will confirm whether there will be an inquiry into the policing of the 1984-85 miners’ strike in Scotland. (S5O-01307)

As I stated in my recent letter, the Scottish Government has actively been considering a way forward. During those considerations, a number of legal and procedural questions have emerged, and we are steadily working through them. I am at an advanced stage in my consideration of the matter and aim to confirm my decision shortly.

It is 10 months since I, union officials and former miners and their legal representatives met the cabinet secretary. The divisions and scars of that time still run deep in communities, so I urge him to reflect on all the evidence that has come out post-Hillsborough and to do the right thing by holding an inquiry into what I believe are historic miscarriages of justice.

When I met the member and representatives from the mine workers unions, I made it clear that I would consider the matters that they raised with me. That is what I have been doing over recent months. As I just stated, I will confirm the Government’s decision on the matter in due course.

As the main source of injustice towards the miners was the action of the then United Kingdom Government and, more importantly, neither the Scottish Government nor any public inquiry in Scotland would have the power to overturn convictions, does the cabinet secretary agree that it remains for the UK Government to carry out the inquiry and that the sooner it does that, the better?

The member is correct that the source of injustice in relation to the policing of the miners’ strike relates to the actions of the Conservative UK Government of the time. However, I have always been clear that any individual convictions in Scotland relating to the miners’ strike would be a matter for the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. I wrote to the Home Secretary on 7 November last year making it very clear that the UK Government should commission and appoint an independent UK-wide investigation into any political interference during the dispute. As members know, the UK Government has not taken that action.

Live Music (Support)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to music and my membership of the Musicians Union.

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports the live music sector. (S5O-01308)

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting live music through the youth music initiative, specific support for festivals and our national performing companies. Over the financial year 2016-17, Creative Scotland awarded more than £12.8 million to music projects and organisations. That figure increases to an estimated £15 million when we take into account the many multi-art-form venues and festivals across the country that include live music as part of their programmes. We have also confirmed £10 million towards a new concert venue for Edinburgh, which will reinforce the capital’s reputation as a leading centre for music and the performing arts.

The creative industries work sector of the British-Irish Council is considering the best ways to support live music venues and the flow of musicians into the United Kingdom music industry. The council will report to ministers in November 2017.

The cabinet secretary will, no doubt, be aware of the concerns of key stakeholders such as the Musicians Union about Brexit’s potentially detrimental impact on the live music sector for musicians from other European Union countries performing in Scotland and for Scottish musicians performing in Europe. Does she agree that our live music sector would be best served by our continuing membership of the single market and, crucially, the continuation of freedom of movement?

Indeed I do. Membership of the single market and freedom of movement are vital to many of our industries, and particularly the music industry. An estimated 10 per cent of the United Kingdom music industry’s workforce are non-UK EU nationals. Membership of the single market and freedom of movement allow our musicians to take their work to a market of 500 million people with minimal administrative barriers. Freedom of movement is very important.

I quote Lisardo Lombardia, director of the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, where 220 Scottish performers performed this summer, as Scotland was the country of honour. He said:

“The free circulation of culture and ideas, particularly for artists and works of art, has helped Scotland develop its strong reputation in arts, music and creativity and become a major country for European culture. We want that to continue in the future.”

That shows the value of the single market and freedom of movement to our musicians, not just here in Scotland but across Europe.

NFU Scotland (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met NFU Scotland. (S5O-01309)

Last week.

The cabinet secretary might be aware that rural crime was discussed at a round-table session in the Justice Committee. Following that, the Solicitor General for Scotland established a working group to review the position, which led to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service updating policy and guidelines on agricultural crime. Rural crime levels subsequently fell. However, since January, there has been a widely reported increase in sheep worrying and farm thefts. Will the cabinet secretary outline the plans to tackle that?

The issue is serious and important. As the member indicated, it is taken extremely seriously by the law officers and Michael Matheson. The theft of sheep in remote rural locations, which is often conducted under cover of darkness, is a shocking crime and it is absolutely right that we take all possible steps to tackle it. I urge anyone in rural Scotland who sees any suspicious act of that nature to report it immediately to the police. Of course, the nature of the place where such crimes happen is such that it is perhaps difficult to expect that evidence is likely to be readily available, which makes the crime more despicable.

The financial and emotional damage to farmers is considerable. I am certainly happy to work with all members across the chamber to see what more, if anything, we can do to tackle this horrible crime, which is a serious matter indeed for Scotland’s farming community.

Over the weekend, NFU Scotland warned that, post-Brexit, moving from our existing share of European farming support to a Barnett share would

“effectively halve the sum coming to Scotland, and would be catastrophic for our farming and crofting sectors.”

Does the Scottish Government share that concern, given that the loss is estimated at £250 million a year?

The member is correct that, at the weekend, senior farming representatives in Scotland said that unless the funding is maintained, the risk is that if a Barnett share was applied, it would

“effectively halve the sum coming to Scotland, and would be catastrophic for our farming and crofting sectors”,

with a loss of up to £250 million.

I met Michael Gove on Monday and sought written assurances on the pre-Brexit referendum pledges made by Mr Gove and many of his Brexiteer colleagues that funding would be matched. It is time to deliver on those pledges but, 18 months after the referendum, we still do not have such categoric assurances. I made it clear to Mr Gove in a frank and workmanlike discussion on Monday that such a categoric assurance must arrive without any further delay. Anything less is utterly unacceptable.

Given that the Scottish Government is taking measures on tagging and the traceability of sheep, is it making that information available to Police Scotland when the police are trying to find those who are stealing sheep? How can traceability in the food chain be used to make sure that such sheep cannot be sold on?

Ms Grant raises a sensible point. The underlying principle is that any available evidence that could help to bring to justice those who perpetrate such crimes should be available to the police and the independent prosecution authorities. I will therefore look into the matter with the law officers and report back to Ms Grant.

Mental Health Care

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve mental health care provision for children and young adults with learning disabilities and autism. (S5O-01310)

A key section in the mental health strategy deals with prevention and early intervention, and a range of actions in the strategy are aimed at ensuring that children and young people, including those with a learning disability and/or autism, have good mental health and that agencies act early enough when issues emerge and impact on young lives.

In addition, the Scottish strategy for autism has developed a menu of interventions, including advice, therapeutic interventions and counselling for children, young people and adults with an autism spectrum disorder. The menu helps to support professionals and people with autism, their parents and carers to identify the advice and support that are available, and it sets out the referral and assessment process for all other services and interventions.

Scotland currently has no in-patient facilities that provide the specific psychiatric care that is required for children or young people with learning disabilities or autism. A national working group was set up last year to look at developing proposals for learning disability in-patient facilities and, in the mental health strategy for 2017 to 2027, the Scottish Government stated that it would support work on the in-patient needs of such children.

What stage is that work at and when can we expect the findings? Can the minister give any detail of the findings—particularly the number of psychiatric in-patient beds that will be recommended for children and young adults with learning disabilities and autism?

The learning disability and autism in-patient unit is in the early planning stages, and a report by the short-life working group is due in March 2018. Health boards continue to provide learning disability child and adolescent mental health services to those who require them, including a range of forms of specialist support in the community. If in-patient services are required, a range of options are available to boards, including admission to one of the three CAMHS in-patient units in Scotland or, if necessary, admission to a specialist learning disability CAMHS in-patient unit in England.

General Practitioner Contract

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making with the GP contract. (S5O-01311)

We continue to negotiate a new general medical services contract with the British Medical Association’s Scottish general practitioners committee. The talks are progressing well. We intend these commercially sensitive negotiations to conclude in 2017, to enable a new contract to be implemented from April 2018.

The Royal College of General Practitioners tells us that GP practice funding has been cut by more than £1 billion by the Government. It also reports that we are on course to be 600 general practitioners short by 2021. Currently, one in three GP practices report a vacancy. That shows how crucial the GP contract process is. What process will there be not only for GPs to be engaged in the GP contract process but also the wider health sector and all professions and stakeholders too?

Anas Sarwar will be aware of the commitment to invest £500 million in primary care over this session of Parliament, £250 million of which will go to direct support of general practice. In 2017-18 alone, an investment of £71.6 million is going into general practice to address many of the issues that Anas Sarwar raises, particularly in relation to recruitment and retention.

The GMS contract is hugely important in setting the direction of travel for general practice and primary care towards a multidisciplinary model, with the GP at the heart of that as the clinical expert in the multidisciplinary team.

As I said in my initial answer, the contract negotiations are at a sensitive stage, but the wider issues about the multidisciplinary team are being discussed with a wide range of other health professionals and with the public, to make sure that the public understand the new multidisciplinary model and the range of health and social care professionals who will support it.

Before we turn to First Minister’s questions, members will wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales.