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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 30, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 30 June 2016

Agenda: Undercover Policing, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time


General Question Time

Tourism (Edinburgh Northern and Leith)

I take this opportunity to make the Parliament aware that the First Minister has appointed me to serve the Scottish Parliament as a parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage tourism in the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency. (S5O-00081)

We continue to support the development of the tourism sector throughout Scotland, including in the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency. For example, the Government provided £50,000 towards the realisation of the eye-catching dazzle ship that is currently berthed in Leith harbour, which is an innovative art project designed by Turner prize-nominated artist Ciara Phillips to mark the recent centenary of the battle of Jutland; and, to help the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh remain one of the top visitor attractions in Edinburgh, we maintained this year’s grant in aid at 2015-16 levels and contributed £1.96 million toward its planned refurbishment of the north-east corner of the Inverleith site.

Given the many historic and interesting attractions, including those that the cabinet secretary mentioned, the royal yacht Britannia and Leith Links, where the first recorded rules of the games of golf were created, does the cabinet secretary agree that there is significant potential to develop tourism in Edinburgh Northern and Leith?

Absolutely. The member’s constituency has the royal yacht Britannia, the Scottish Design Exchange, the Scottish Wildlife Trust headquarters, Trinity House maritime museum and the Clan Tartan Centre at Leith mills, so there are a number of places to visit.

The figures that we announced last week show a 3 per cent increase in visitors going to our attractions, and that is a four-year sustained increase. There is great potential for Scotland to expand even further, and every corner of the country can benefit. I think that I have given enough advertising to the member’s constituency to help with his campaign to get more tourists to go to Edinburgh Northern and Leith.

Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on repealing the offensive behaviour at football legislation. (S5O-00082)

The Government has no plans to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. The recent appalling scenes at the Scottish cup final demonstrated that the unacceptable behaviour of a minority of football fans continues to be a problem.

The increase in the number of charges under the 2012 act shows that the legislation continues to be an important tool in tackling all forms of offensive behaviour including sectarianism, and it sends a clear message that such behaviour has no place in a modern, open and inclusive society.

Over the past week, we have quite rightly heard a lot of discussion of how Scotland is an open, progressive and modern country. In that regard, it seems peculiar that we have a piece of legislation that targets football fans when other legislation is in place to deal with such offences.

The 2012 act is illiberal and it has caused friction between police and fans and confusion in the judiciary. As such, does the minister agree that it is time to blow the whistle on this discredited piece of legislation?

No, I do not agree with that, and I would question certain propositions that Mr Kelly put forward a moment ago.

I point out to the Parliament, because it may not be well known, that there is provision within the 2012 act to allow amendment to improve its effectiveness. Section 5 allows for amendment to section 1, on offensive behaviour at football, and section 9 allows for amendment to section 6, on threatening communications. The Scottish Government has invited stakeholders to submit evidence on how the act could be improved but, to date, nobody has done so.

I say to Mr Kelly that my door is always open to discuss how any legitimate concerns can be addressed. That is the constructive way in which the Scottish Government will continue to address this important matter.

Does the minister agree that, given what happened at the Scottish cup final, if the 2012 act was repealed, that would be saying that offensive and sectarian behaviour is acceptable, and surely it is not?

The Scottish Government’s aim is of course to prevent abusive and offensive behaviour from taking place, and the 2012 act plays an important role in that regard. Sadly, until such behaviour ceases, there will continue to be a need for the act.

When recent figures revealed a large increase in charges under the legislation in the past year, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice hailed them by saying

“the legislation continues to be an important tool in tackling all forms of offensive behaviour.”

However, 12 months earlier, when the figures had reduced, the then Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs said:

“Whilst the legislation we brought in two years ago has had its critics, the latest statistics show a steady decline in offences at stadiums”.

Which of those contradictory statements from the Scottish National Party Government on this deeply unpopular piece of legislation should the public believe?

Surely the member agrees that it is a matter of great regret that the number of charges under the 2012 act has recently increased. Surely he accepts that the recent appalling scenes at the Scottish cup final demonstrated that there is still a problem on the part of a minority of football fans and that we continue to need to tackle the issue.

Dairy Production (North East Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure the sustainable future of dairy production in North East Scotland. (S5O-00083)

Although dairy farming is centred mainly in the south-west of Scotland, it also occupies an important place in the economy of the north-east. As the member will know, the industry faces a number of market-driven pressures, which we have been seeking to address with stakeholders. Dairy farming in the north-east of Scotland, as in other parts of the country, can be maintained only if our excellent producers receive a fair return for their efforts.

Although it will ultimately be down to the market to deliver that, the Scottish Government is on the front foot, with a range of initiatives that are aimed at boosting resilience in these challenging times, including the creation of the Scottish dairy growth board and support for the online Scottish dairy hub. We will also be involved in an industry-led working group that will consider what support can be given in the short to medium term.

Does the Scottish Government encourage the actions of the National Farmers Union Scotland, Opportunity North East and Aberdeenshire Council to commission a study into alternative dairy processing options in the north-east? If so, does the Government consider that that local initiative can be a vital component of ensuring support for the dairy industry in the area that I represent?

Yes, I very much agree with that. I have had the pleasure of meeting the NFU on several occasions since I was appointed, most recently yesterday. I am conscious of Opportunity North East and Sir Ian Wood’s extremely generous gesture of support and his interest in promoting innovation in farming. As Stewart Stevenson well knows, there is of course already a huge amount of innovation in farming, especially in the dairy sector and particularly in diversification into higher-profit-margin products in recent years by a variety of companies. I am determined to work with members of all parties and the industry to address the serious challenges that currently face the dairy sector in Scotland.

Members will be aware that dairy farmers receive no subsidy through the common agricultural policy. Does the cabinet secretary believe that, when the common agricultural policy ceases to apply, the dairy industry should be included in any scheme that he brings forward for subsidies in Scotland?

Since last Friday, a great many farmers and crofters, some of whom I met at the Royal Highland Show last Friday, have been extremely concerned about the total lack of clarity from the United Kingdom Government on the future arrangements to continue the necessary support for all our farmers. To repeat the message that I gave to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee yesterday, this worry, which is creating such great anxiety in the farming community, must be dispelled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as soon as possible. EU funding is a reserved matter, so it is plainly the responsibility of the UK Government to come up with a plan B, and I hope that that plan B is not a Christian name.

I certainly agree that we need to see where we are going with the support payments. However, in this specific proposal, the problem is that the dairy industry is under increasing pressure because of low commodity prices. The problem in the north-east is that the Müller Wiseman management has decided to add a 1.75p per litre haulage charge on to the already depressingly low prices that dairy farmers are getting. I have written to the chief executive—[Interruption.] Pardon?

I think that the cabinet secretary hears your question, Mr Chapman.

I have written to the chief executive of Müller dairy asking for the dairy to pick up that tab and I ask the cabinet secretary to support that because I feel that the Müller management decided to close the factory to take costs out of its production and it has added all the extra costs on to the dairy farmer.

Thank you. The cabinet secretary has heard your question.

It was difficult to discern precisely what the question was. If the question was whether the Scottish Government would intervene in contractual arrangements, it is not the sort of question that I would expect, given the typical approach of the Conservative Party, which normally says that contracts are a matter for the two contracting parties.

Let me be clear. I was of course disappointed by the announcement at Müller but I am also pleased that Müller is planning a very substantial investment in Bellshill. We must of course respect the right of companies to conduct their business and it is not for me to interfere. I am astonished that Mr Chapman is an interventionist. That is something that we would expect from the Labour benches.

I can confirm that I will work very closely with all the major players in the sector because we are extremely concerned about the difficult times facing farmers in the dairy sector and therefore we will work increasingly closely with them to do everything that we can to ameliorate the problems that they face right now.

Pollution Prevention and Control Permits (Charges)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with the forestry and timber processing industry regarding new charging levels being phased in over the next five years for pollution prevention and control permits. (S5O-00084)

Scottish Government officials hosted a meeting between the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and representatives of the timber processing industry on Monday to discuss the new SEPA regulatory charging scheme and liaison arrangements.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response. However, he will be aware from my correspondence that the cost of a PPC permit will rise in Scotland by 54 per cent in the next five years, from £2,320 to £3,566 per installation, while in England and Wales, similar charges have not risen this year and look to remain the same next year, too. The minister will understand that that will put timber treatment sites in my constituency at a competitive disadvantage compared with English sites, and that it will disadvantage plants in Troon, Lockerbie and elsewhere in the south of Scotland, which will result in higher costs and potential job losses. Will the Government consider not imposing that punitive charging regime at this time, as it could reduce jobs in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland?

I am aware of those concerns and it is quite understandable that John Scott has raised them; I understand the argument that he is making. Of course, we both want to drive further forward forestry’s contribution to the rural economy; it currently contributes £1,000 million a year. SEPA has introduced a new charging regime, which will simplify charging arrangements, make efficiencies, and promote compliance. There will be reductions as well as increases.

I am well aware of the meeting on Monday—I know that Mr Sulman and Mr Goodall were present. Under my and Roseanna Cunningham’s oversight, there will be a workshop to explore specific issues—to examine, in particular, whether the principle of cost recovery requires increases of that level, because the principle of cost recovery is, of course, the one that is applicable.

Marine Tourism (Inverclyde)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to facilitate the growth of marine tourism in Inverclyde. (S5O-00085)

The Scottish Government works closely with a wide range of public bodies, local authorities, third sector bodies and other specialist sectoral advisory bodies to promote sustainable economic growth throughout Scotland, including sustainable marine tourism, with the industry-led marine tourism strategy.

Recent support from VisitScotland in the Inverclyde area includes £13,000 from EventScotland for the Powerboat P1 Scottish grand prix event held on 18 and 19 June, plus £10,000 for Scotland’s boat show, which took place at Inverkip marina between 9 and 11 October.

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the city deal projects—in particular, the extension of the quayside at Greenock ocean terminal to facilitate bringing in more cruise liners. That will be of great assistance, but there are still questions regarding a possible reduction in hourly trains between Greenock and Glasgow as a result of the proposed rail link to Glasgow airport. What direction can be provided to VisitScotland to ensure that it works in full with local partners to maximise Inverclyde’s tourism opportunities, with a greater emphasis on promoting Inverclyde as Scotland’s marine tourism capital?

I am very excited about the possibilities of marine tourism. It has untapped potential—in particular regarding our coastal opportunities. I will be encouraging VisitScotland to ensure that it promotes all our coasts and marine tourism possibilities. I look forward to working with Stuart McMillan, as a great champion of marine tourism, in that regard.

As the cabinet secretary knows, many tourists visit our seas—for example, at the Clyde—to see Scotland’s outstanding marine wildlife. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Government must continue its job of completing the marine protected area network to preserve that wildlife, including consulting all stakeholders and local communities on management measures such as those for the Clyde sea sill MPA?

The quality of our marine coastal areas is very important to their marketing. Marine protection is the responsibility of another minister, but Claudia Beamish made her point well.

Despite the rain, the Powerboat P1 event in Greenock was a great day out. I offer my thanks to everyone who was involved in that.

Given the fact that the rest of the United Kingdom is the biggest market for marine tourism outside Scotland, accounting for 30 per cent of all visitor boat nights, what work has been carried out with agencies and clubs south of the border to promote the beautiful sailing opportunities that exist along the west coast and across Scotland?

At this time in particular, it is important that we send the message that Scotland welcomes visitors from wherever they come, and it is important that we champion our tourism industry. There is huge amount of work in promoting Scotland as the best place to come, and the awards that have been given to our marine tourism experiences show that Scotland is the best place to come. We remain open to visitors from England and from elsewhere in Europe or the wider world.

Trade Union Act 2016

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to the implications of the Trade Union Act 2016 on workers in Scotland. (S5O-00086)

Scottish Ministers opposed the Trade Union Bill as it made its way through Westminster. We saw it as an ideological attack on trade unions, which threatened Scotland’s good industrial relations record. We, alongside trade unions and local authorities, lobbied the United Kingdom Government to exclude Scotland from the extent of the legislation. During the process, we looked at every possibility to oppose and restrict the implementation of the regressive legislation in Scotland. We engaged with trade unions and other parties to discuss how best to fight the bill.

Scottish Ministers continue to oppose the 2016 act. Although the bill was watered down in places as it progressed through Westminster, we have still to see how the 2016 act will be put into force through secondary legislation. That may still have an impact on how we are able to work with unions, so we will continue to work with the Scottish Trades Union Congress to ensure that together we can mitigate the negative impacts of the 2016 act and protect our good industrial relations record in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is an employer. Will the minister assure Parliament that he will meet the civil service trade unions and enter into written and binding industrial agreements with them that will ensure that no part of the public sector for which this Government has responsibility withdraws check-off, cuts trade union facility time or permits at any time the use of agency workers to replace workers who are engaged in lawful industrial action?

We have done all that.

I heard the Deputy First Minister rightly make the point that we have done all that. In areas in which we have control in relation to check-off and so on, we have not sought to implement the measures that the member mentioned. We have good industrial relations with our trade union partners, we will always be willing to work with them, and we will do everything that we can to mitigate and work against the impact of the UK Government’s legislation.

Does the minister agree that a workplace in which trade union membership is recognised and encouraged is a safer and wealthier workplace, and that the Trade Union Act 2016 could jeopardise that?

Yes. We work with our trade union colleagues as partners. I am very new to my post, but virtually every one of the range of working groups and bodies that we have established that I have responsibility for working with has trade union representation on it. I recognise the benefits that Clare Haughey set out. That is at the heart of our commitment to fair work and, in particular, to the establishment of the fair work convention. As I have set out, we will do everything that we can to stymie and work against the 2016 act.