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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 30, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 30 January 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Public Works Loan Board Rate, Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, European Union Exit, Drugs and Alcohol, Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


General Question Time

United Kingdom’s Exit from the European Union

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the UK Government proceeding to take the UK out of the EU on 31 January through the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, despite the decision by the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved legislatures not to consent to the bill. (S5O-04077)

It is a source of real sadness and regret on this, Scotland’s last full day—at this time—in the EU, that Scotland will be taken out of the EU by the UK Government, despite there being no democratic mandate for that withdrawal in Scotland.

Given the UK Government’s track record, the Scottish Government did not expect it to respect the views of the Parliament on the withdrawal agreement bill. However, it should be noted that, for the first time since devolution, the UK Government has ignored the expressed views of all three devolved legislatures with regard to a bill that requires consent.

In any sensibly run, normal country, that unprecedented display of both discontent and solidarity should have had some impact; in the UK’s system it has had none. The actions of the UK Government are a further demonstration that it has never seen—and I suspect, will never see—the United Kingdom as a partnership of equals.

The Scottish Government will have to continue to fight to have Scotland’s voice heard during the upcoming process of negotiating a future relationship with the EU and to give people in Scotland the right to choose a better future—an action that was endorsed by this Parliament yesterday.

The Tory Government is breaching the devolution settlement and treating the devolved Administrations with contempt. Tomorrow, it will drag us out of the EU against the clear will of the Scottish people. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that plainly illustrates that the only way for the people of Scotland to have a say over their own future is through a second independence referendum, which this Parliament voted for yesterday? [Applause.]

Despite the applause, there is nothing exceptional in that argument. It is an argument based solely on a democratic mandate, given by the people of Scotland, demanding the right to have a choice. It baffles me how any member of this Parliament, representing any part of Scotland, can stand against the clearly expressed wish of that part of Scotland and the whole country to have a choice. Anybody who does so is not a democrat.

Queensferry Crossing (Traffic)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported comments by Transport Scotland officials that the volume of traffic on the Queensferry crossing is beyond what the bridge was designed for. (S5O-04078)

Close to 80,000 vehicles have been using the Queensferry crossing every day since 2017. That demand is less than the capacity, however. As we all know, demand for travel varies throughout the day, and that is what we see on the crossing at peak times.

Transport Scotland is undertaking an evaluation of the Forth replacement crossing project, in line with the Scottish trunk road infrastructure project evaluation guidance. That will consider the impact of the scheme by comparing conditions one year after and three years after motorway regulations came into force, and we expect to receive the first of those reports in spring this year. That will inform future decision making in relation to the Forth replacement crossing.

The cabinet secretary knows that, on 28 November, we had an exchange about the serious concerns that many of my constituents have about substantial congestion, particularly on the Fife side of the Queensferry crossing and the approach road.

I tried very hard to get a meeting with the cabinet secretary, but I understand that that cannot take place until April. In his reply to me on 28 November, he said that there would be a meeting in January, after which he would be better informed about congestion issues. Will he update the chamber on exactly what was discussed?

I look forward to the meeting that I will have with Liz Smith in the coming weeks.

A meeting has taken place between the operating company, Transport Scotland and Fife Council to look at a range of issues. Apparently, it was a very productive meeting. A range of actions have been taken away from that meeting; we will look at what further measures can be put in place, working in partnership with Fife Council and other transport partners, in order to ensure that they address some of the congestion issues.

However, as is often the case at peak times on structures such as the Queensferry crossing, there will be periods of congestion when the volume of traffic is at its highest. That may continue to be the case, but further measures are being looked at to help increase the modal shift to public transport, by encouraging more people to use public transport provision to cross the Forth.

I note the cabinet secretary’s helpful clarification that the Queensferry crossing is not operating beyond capacity.

Given the need to consider increased demand for park-and-ride services, can the cabinet secretary outline what steps can be taken to make better use of the benefits of the public transport corridor across the Forth road bridge?

The member is right; it is factually wrong to say that the bridge is at capacity. That was not stated by officials and it was misreported in the press.

Evidence to date shows that the public transport strategy is succeeding. It has been developed with Transport Scotland in collaboration with bus operators, the City of Edinburgh Council, Fife Council and the south east of Scotland transport partnership.

Transport Scotland will also be using its role as chair of the multi-agency Forth bridges forum to support schemes and measures to encourage an increase in cross-Forth active travel and sustainable public transport.

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to invest significantly in bus prioritisation. More than £500 million—the biggest investment ever, in this Parliament—has been invested to support greater prioritisation of bus services and to encourage modal shift on to more sustainable forms of transport, in the form of bus use.

We will also be working with councils across the country to ensure that we maximise the benefit of that investment. I expect Edinburgh and Fife councils to benefit from it as they develop proposals that meet the requirements that are set out in the bus improvement partnership programme.

The Queensferry crossing was welcomed by everyone in Fife, and it is still welcome. However, it is a fact that the bridge clogs up not only at peak times. It is difficult to see why that is, but we need to understand and fix it.

Many people in Fife have told me that they cannot afford to use the railway. The cost is going up so much that people are being excluded. A coherent, joined-up public transport proposal is really needed for Fife. I have asked the cabinet secretary to meet me to discuss that.

I have no doubt that I will have a meeting with the member in due course.

The member may be aware that we will be publishing the national transport strategy next week, which will set out the priorities for improving transportation across the country—including areas such as Fife.

The purpose of the Queensferry crossing was to replace the old crossing and provide a more resilient and reliable crossing for traffic on the Forth estuary, rather than to increase capacity and support an ever-increasing volume of traffic. That is why the public transport strategy, which is associated with the crossing, is key to helping to alleviate some of that pressure. The success that we have with that will be central to ensuring that we manage those demands in the years ahead.

The bridge may not be at capacity, but it is often very slow for commuters who are coming from West Lothian and other areas. If the lesson from the bridge is that, if you build it, people will come, why is the Government building more and more major roads at a time when we should be addressing climate change?

The member has fundamentally misunderstood the purpose of the Queensferry crossing. It was not designed to increase capacity; it was designed to provide a more resilient and reliable crossing across the Forth. That is exactly what it did in its replacement of the Forth road bridge. That bridge is now a public transport corridor, which is proving to be successful, as there is an increase in its use for that purpose. We want to ensure that we build on that in the weeks and months ahead.

Digital Economy (Post-Brexit)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has in place to ensure that Scotland remains part of the digital economy in Europe post-Brexit. (S5O-04079)

Scotland’s digital and financial tech sectors are among the fastest growing in our economy. Just this week, Scotland’s fin tech community achieved European recognition as a centre of excellence—the first in the UK and only the third in Europe.

We deeply regret the United Kingdom Government’s decision to remove us from the digital single market—one of the largest of its kind in the world—given the potentially grave economic consequences of that decision.

We will continue to work hard to influence the UK negotiating position to ensure that our businesses have the closest possible alignment with and access to the digital single market. To that end, Derek Mackay recently wrote to all new European Union commissioners making clear our commitment to Europe and willingness to remain aligned to EU values and rules.

The minister will be aware that the digital single market is worth an estimated €400 billion per year to Europe’s economy. How can she make sure that Scotland remains digitally connected to Europe to ensure that we at least keep pace with digital developments in Europe?

I agree entirely with Willie Coffey’s question. Scotland is one of Europe’s emerging tech powerhouses—that is increasingly being recognised in relation to our innovation and the global reputation of our businesses. Scotland’s digital industry’s export market was worth £1.46 billion in 2017. It is essential that trade continues with minimum disruption to ensure that our digital economy continues to grow and thrive. We will do everything possible to support our tech community and ensure that it has access to the European market.

United Kingdom-European Union Talks

To ask the Scottish Government what involvement it has in UK-EU talks. (S5O-04080)

At the start of the article 50 negotiations, the UK Government committed to involving the devolved Governments in the preparation of the UK’s negotiating position. However, it has failed to honour the terms of reference that it signed up to at the Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations)—a point that I made clear at the previous JMC(EN) meeting, in Cardiff on Tuesday. Those terms of reference specifically say that the Governments of the UK should work collaboratively to agree objectives for the article 50 negotiations and that the devolved Governments alongside the UK Government should

“provide oversight of negotiations with the EU, to ensure, as far as possible, that outcomes agreed by all four governments are secured.”

In the past few days, we have received suggestions from the UK Government for a new set of arrangements, which we will look at on their merits. They lean heavily on proposals that I made at the January meeting. I will give more detail on that in my statement this afternoon.

I understand that the Crown protectorates, such as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, already have, by their agreement, greater involvement than Scotland does. I am also aware that the UK Government has agreed to engage specifically with the Northern Ireland Executive on trading arrangements with the EU and support for businesses. Does the minister believe that it intends to extend that courtesy to Scotland?

There are two parts to that proposal. The first is the agreement of a structure in which there could be any meaningful involvement, and that would depend on a mutual recognition of mandates. The second part concerns whether the UK Government would observe the requirements of such a structure. There is a structure in place in the JMC(EN), but it has not been operated by the UK Government in the way to which it committed in writing.

I am open to a discussion on respective mandates, as I shall say in my statement this afternoon. I am open to a process being established, and we have put a proposal on the table, which is being discussed. However, it will depend on the UK Government doing what it says it will do, and, so far, that has not happened.

Clare’s Law

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the disclosure scheme for domestic abuse, Clare’s Law, to ensure that people deemed at risk are protected. (S5O-04081)

The disclosure scheme for domestic abuse has been fully operational across Scotland since 1 October 2015. The scheme provides a person with the right to ask police about their partner’s background if they suspect that their partner has a history of domestic abuse and believe that they may be at risk of harm. Each case is considered carefully by Police Scotland and other agencies to determine whether a disclosure is lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect the individual from their partner.

The scheme receives a substantial number of applications. Last year, 2,401 applications were received, which was a 61 per cent increase on the number of applications that were received in the previous year. A formal evaluation of the scheme will be carried out later this year by Glasgow Caledonian University in partnership with Police Scotland, following a successful grant bid by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research.

I have constituents who have been victims of abuse and are now facing the traumatic experience of possibly being dragged through the courts as their abusers use the tactic of counter-accusations to prolong their harassment. Does the cabinet secretary agree that protections need to be put in place to ensure that that type of judicial abuse is highlighted and taken into consideration when recommendations are made to the procurator fiscal?

I thank Shona Robison for raising an incredibly important point. I have met many organisations that work with survivors of domestic abuse, and they often raise with me the fact that the judicial process—indeed, the justice system generally—is being used by perpetrators of domestic abuse to continue their control over survivors of domestic abuse. It is something that we are very aware of and alert to, and we are taking action on it as well.

I am sorry to hear of Shona Robison’s constituents’ circumstances. A joint protocol exists between Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service that states that Police Scotland must thoroughly investigate the full circumstances of an incident to identify and report the principal perpetrator to the procurator fiscal. In addition, I am advised that specialist training by Police Scotland supports officers to identify such perpetrators’ tactics and protect victims from spurious counter-allegations. If the member wishes to give me more details of her constituents’ cases, I would be more than happy to meet her.

The Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland has highlighted the challenge that social landlords face in managing situations in which both the victim and the perpetrator of domestic abuse are named on the tenancy agreement. What steps has the Scottish Government taken to ensure that the experience of abuse or violence does not lead to someone losing their tenancy?

I will, of course, look at those matters. Again, they have been raised previously by organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid, and we take them absolutely seriously. The member might well be aware that the First Minister set out in October last year that the Scottish Government will introduce legislation in the final year of this parliamentary session to introduce protective orders, which will confer the ability to remove for a period of time a suspected perpetrator of domestic abuse from a home that they share with a person who is at risk. However, the member’s point about ensuring that the person who remains in the home does not lose the tenancy is very important indeed, and I thank him for raising it. I will, of course, look at such detail before we introduce the legislation to Parliament.

Can the justice secretary advise the chamber of the timetable for introducing the protective orders that he has just mentioned, whereby victims of domestic violence rather than perpetrators will be able to retain their homes, as was announced by the First Minister in October?

Forgive me, but I might have just answered that question in answering the previous question. The legislation is due to be introduced to Parliament in the final year of this parliamentary session. Work is being done on a number of important issues to ensure that the legislation will have no unintended consequences, which is what the previous question was about. The protective orders will, ultimately, give real protection, safeguarding and security to the many survivors of domestic abuse who, unfortunately, find themselves unable to be protected because of a risk of homelessness.

Rail Infrastructure (Highlands)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has for improving rail infrastructure in the Highlands. (S5O-04082)

The recent £57 million Highland mainline investment has delivered performance and resilience improvements, and, by May 2020, there will be around a 10-minute journey-time saving between Inverness and the central belt. The £330 million Aberdeen to Inverness project has delivered a new station at Forres and a half-hourly service between Aberdeen and Inverurie. Additional services between Inverness and Elgin are planned for May 2020. Looking forward, the second strategic transport projects review is under way to identify the transport investment priorities for the next 20 years, and it will include Scotland’s rail network.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response, but what he said is at odds with the Inverness city region deal, which makes no mention of rail or trains but has £64 million for the so-called west link and £109 million for the so-called east link. A modest passing loop at Lentran would increase capacity to not only the west but the north and would obviate the need for the ridiculous flyover that is proposed for the south side of the Kessock bridge. When is the Scottish Government going to prioritise public transport?

We do prioritise public transport. The member will be aware that the Inverness and Highland city region deal has been shaped by local partners, recognising the key strategic investments that are necessary to support and create inclusive economic growth in the Highlands. There is no doubt in my mind that providing the right road infrastructure is critical to that.

Alongside that, as I have just outlined, we have invested £330 million in the rail line between Inverness and Aberdeen and nearly £60 million in the Highland mainline. As I also set out, through the STPR2 process, we will look to make further strategic investments—including in rail, such as in the Highland mainline—to make sure that we continue investing in our public transport as we have in recent years.