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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 30, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 30 September 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Community Land Ownership, Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, Autumn and Winter Vaccination Programme, Urgent Question, Brexit Impact on Supply Chain and Labour Market, Points of Order, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is portfolio questions on constitution, external affairs and culture. In order to get in as many questions as possible, I would appreciate succinct questions and answers.


United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. (S6O-00217)

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 represents an unprecedented assault on the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Government and Parliament. It was introduced despite an explicit refusal of consent by this Parliament and the Welsh Senedd. My ministerial colleagues and I regularly make clear to the UK Government our continued opposition to the 2020 act and our concern about the many ways in which it is being used by UK ministers to constrain and undermine decisions made by the Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament.

I should have reminded members that, if they want to ask a supplementary question, they should enter the letter R in the chat function or press the request-to-speak button.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 was passed by Westminster in the full knowledge, as has been stated, that it conferred the right to alter the powers of the Scottish Parliament without our permission. Although UK ministers may give some limited commitment to allow for policy divergence, the 2020 act fundamentally changes the relationship with all devolved institutions. Is that proof that power devolved is power retained, and will the cabinet secretary advise what options the Scottish Government has at its disposal to preserve the integrity of this Parliament?

People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to set up the Scottish Parliament after years of Westminster Governments ignoring their wishes and imposing unwelcome and damaging policies. Devolution has improved people’s lives in Scotland and delivered Governments that they have chosen. The Scottish Parliament has introduced free personal care and abolished university tuition fees and no one in Scotland is now charged for prescriptions.

The UK Government is now once again taking control of key devolved powers without consent from Scotland. It is using Brexit as an excuse to rewrite and undermine the devolution settlement. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 allows it to take money from the Scottish Parliament and spend it according to the choices of UK Government ministers, who are not elected in this country, not the priorities that are democratically decided in Scotland. The 2020 act will also undermine future laws that are passed in the Scottish Parliament in areas such as food standards, animal welfare and environmental protection, and that is not just happening in Scotland.


GlobalScot Network

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the expansion of the GlobalScot network. (S6O-00218)

The programme for government 2021-22 committed to growing the GlobalScot network to 1,500 members by 2023. As of 23 September 2021, there were 1,009 GlobalScots. That has grown from 665 members when “A Trading Nation” was published in May 2019.

The network recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and has been acknowledged by the World Bank as an exemplar of how a diaspora can support economic growth. Consisting of entrepreneurs, business leaders and community figureheads, GlobalScots are a vital component of Scotland’s international network, providing Scottish companies with critical market insights. The new GlobalScot digital platform launched in July 2020, allowing members and companies to connect with one another more easily. GlobalScots are involved in regional advisory groups focusing on furthering export and investment opportunities for Scotland across a range of countries globally.

In 2019, the Scottish National Party announced plans to expand the GlobalScot network from 600 to 2,000 members by 2021. As we have just heard, those targets are nowhere near to being met, with just over 1,000 members. I fully appreciate that the Covid pandemic will have made it more difficult to expand the network, but does the minister share my disappointment that that vital network is not reaching its full potential?

I will check those targets, as I do not think that they were to grow by 2021. “A Trading Nation” is a 10-year plan to grow Scotland’s export activity. If the member is engaged with GlobalScot, he will understand the huge value that it brings to Scotland’s networks and the value that businesses get from it. He will also understand the requirement to ensure that GlobalScots who come out of the network are of sufficient standard and ranking in their business communities to be able to contribute fully, under their own steam, to Scotland’s export and investment potentials.

I know that the member has worked internationally, so should he be aware of anyone who would make a good GlobalScot, I would welcome his input—he can send names to my office—as we want to follow those leads up to achieve those ambitious longer-term targets.

The expansion of the GlobalScot network is a testament to Scotland’s appeal and ambition on the world stage. In light of that, how will the Scottish Government fully capitalise on its plans to establish two new offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw, further expanding its existing network of European and international hubs?

Our international presence creates domestic opportunities, broadens our horizons and ultimately benefits the people of Scotland. As the member indicates, we will establish two new Scottish Government offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw, which will sit alongside the existing Scottish Development International presence and GlobalScot networks in those countries and, in the case of Poland, our trade envoy, who has been in place there for the past three years. This is an opportunity for us to continue to expand Scotland’s export and investment ambitions, and those investment hubs will be an integral part of Scotland’s global footprint overseas and of our work with our GlobalScots and others.


Afghan Refugees

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Afghan refugee relocation and resettlement with reference to the different elements of the new Scots strategy. (S6O-00219)

The Scottish Government is committed to playing its part in welcoming and supporting people who are fleeing Afghanistan. We continue to urge the United Kingdom Government to increase the number of refugees that it will accept and to provide more information and confirmation of a start date for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme.

As of 26 September, around 230 people in 61 families had arrived in Scotland across nine local authority areas under the relocation scheme for locally employed staff. In line with the key principle of the new Scots refugee integration strategy, local authorities are working to support their integration from day 1 of their arrival in Scotland. Partnership and collaboration are central to the new Scots approach. The Scottish Government is working with the Home Office, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, local authorities and third sector and community organisations to provide people with the safety and security that they need to rebuild their lives.

We know that one key way to support asylum seekers and refugees to settle and become part of their new country is to give them access to work. We know, as we have already heard in the chamber today, that we need workers in Scotland, as many sectors are under immense staffing pressure. Employers that want to consider refugees for employment in sectors that are crying out for more staff have contacted many of us. What support can we make available for people who are resettled via the Afghan relocation and assistance policy to find employment, and what can we do to provide support for employers, such as care homes in my region, that want to support refugees into employment?

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, as well as refugees, people who are seeking asylum should be given the right to work? Despite the Prime Minister’s 2019 promise, the UK Government has refused to review its policy on the matter.

Short questions and answers, please.

I agree entirely with the sensible points that my colleague has made. The new Scots strategy recognises that integration is a long-term and multifaceted process. We work to ensure that people can access the support and services that they need as they settle in Scotland, including those relating to health, education, language, employability and welfare rights.

I will raise the member’s specific questions about employment, training and employers that wish to employ Afghans as a priority.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his elaboration on the new Scots integration strategy. With 2.6 million Afghan refugees living in other countries and 3.5 million Afghan refugees internally displaced, will the cabinet secretary join the First Minister and me in reiterating that the UK Government’s aim to resettle a total of 20,000 Afghan refugees, including 5,000 the first year, is entirely insufficient?

Yes, I will. Although the announcement of a UK Afghan resettlement scheme is welcome in principle, the commitment to 20,000 in the long term and just 5,000 in the first year is inadequate. We believe that a commitment to a substantial increase in numbers is required if the UK Government is to meet its responsibilities. It is right that the new Afghan resettlement scheme will be in addition to the UK’s existing global resettlement commitment.

The cabinet secretary will know that hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing from persecution and more than two decades of war. Scotland must play its part in helping to resettle them. What provisions has the Scottish Government made to ensure that councils have the funding to provide the new infrastructure to resettle refugees and help them to make the most of their new lives here?

I commend the Labour Party for its tone and constructive suggestions on this question. The member will know that the funding package is a matter for the Home Office, and we have been pressing the Home Office and the UK Government to ensure that funding is fully in place. We are working on that with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in general and with specific local authorities that are making moves to try to accept the Afghan refugees.

I am happy to work on behalf of the member and his party in pressing the UK Government to deliver on its commitments, and I urge him to amplify the calls that he has made in Parliament today.


Cultural Organisations (Mid Scotland and Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to cultural organisations in Mid Scotland and Fife. (S6O-00220)

The Scottish Government provides a range of support to cultural organisations in Mid-Scotland and Fife, particularly in light of the pandemic. For example, organisations in Fife and Perth and Kinross have received more than £3 million through our performing arts venues relief fund, and more than £770,000 through our cultural organisations and venues recovery fund. Full details of those funds are published by Creative Scotland. That funding has been vital in supporting cultural organisations and businesses throughout the pandemic.

According to a recent report, the number of people who are using the eight open libraries in Perth and Kinross fell by two thirds during the most recent period, which is perhaps not surprising because of the issues with Covid. What more might the Scottish Government do to encourage people to go back to using libraries in order to support that important local resource, and to make it clear that libraries are safe? Will she reassure us that Perth and Kinross Council, and indeed other councils in the area, will not see any reduction in funding because of the fall in the number of people using local libraries?

The member will be aware that the Government takes the issue of libraries very seriously. We recently introduced a libraries recovery fund to the tune of £1.25 million, which is being managed by the Scottish Library and Information Council. One of the requirements is that the fund reaches those who need it most; another is that we get a geographical spread, which will include the member’s region.

On the member’s specific question about Perth and Kinross Council, local authorities have a key role to play in cultural provision. I will meet the culture conveners very soon, and I hope—indeed, I am sure—that Perth and Kinross Council will be part of those conversations as we move forward. We absolutely need our local authorities to be part of the cultural recovery.

Question 5 was not lodged.


Scotland on Tour Fund

To ask the Scottish Government what role the Scotland on tour fund will play in aiding the recovery of the arts sector. (S6O-00222)

The pandemic has had significant personal and professional impacts on those working in the live music sector. The sector will continue to face challenges even now that most parts of it can reopen fully.

Musicians, bands, artists and venues will be able to apply to the Scotland on tour fund, which is backed by £750,000 from the Scottish Government, to bring new and additional concerts to venues and festivals in Scotland this year. Scotland on tour will enable artists to reach new audiences and communities, widening opportunities to perform throughout the country.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to the touring fund within the first 100 days is timely and extremely welcome. In the opinion of the Scottish Government, to what extent will the Scotland on tour fund benefit all Scotland’s communities, including those in the Highlands and Islands, and not only those in urban centres?

One of the key aims of the Scotland on tour fund is to create new performance opportunities throughout the country, including the Highlands and Islands, which the member represents.

Active Events, the organisation that is tasked with delivering the Scotland on tour project, is supported by a steering group that includes representatives of the industry such as the Scottish Music Industry Association, the Touring Network, Creative Scotland, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and the enterprise agencies, including Highlands and Islands Enterprise. I hope that that reassures the member that the voices of those in her region are being directly reflected in the development of the fund’s eligibility criteria.

We are committed to helping communities throughout Scotland have greater access to cultural activities, including live music. Scotland on tour will help to support that ambition.

I will take a brief supplementary from Sarah Boyack.

Does the minister support the initiative of Alison McGovern MP to ask Europe for support for visas for the touring industry, so that members of that industry can tour not just in Scotland but in the rest of Europe?

I am not sighted on the specifics of that initiative; perhaps Sarah Boyack could share details of it with me. It sounds like one that we in the Scottish Government would be keen to support.

As Sarah Boyack might be aware, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and I have made repeated representations to the United Kingdom Government on the issue, which is a real challenge for the sector. Prior to the summer recess, I met the then United Kingdom Government culture minister, Caroline Dinenage, and made that point directly to her.

I would be happy to work with Sarah Boyack on that. It sounds as though we share the same interests in this space.


Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has met or has any plans to meet the recently appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to discuss constitutional issues in relation to Scotland. (S6O-00223)

The Scottish Government is committed to constructive engagement with the United Kingdom Government on the basis of a partnership of equals and is making clear to UK ministers, including the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, that, following the Scottish election, it has an unarguable democratic mandate to offer the people of Scotland a choice about their constitutional future.

I met and shared a platform with the outgoing Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the recent British-Irish Association meeting in Oxford, and I hope to meet his successor soon.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in the light of this week’s article in The Times, we should encourage the Tories—despite instruction from their leadership—to continue to talk about the union and help the case for independence even further?

I think that that is an entirely positive suggestion. I look forward to hearing such arguments from Tory members.

From reading the article that my friend has highlighted, I think that the reasoning was that Tory members should not sound too “needy”—that was the advice that they were given.

On a more consensual note, I hope that, as democrats, we can all agree that, in the recent Scottish Parliament elections, the parties that stood on a manifesto commitment that the people should have a say on their future in a referendum won, and the parties that opposed a referendum lost. I hope that, as democrats, we can all agree that that was the outcome of the election. That is the mandate, and that is indeed what will happen.


National Centre for Music

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the development of a national centre for music. (S6O-00224)

The Royal High School Preservation Trust has put forward proposals to the City of Edinburgh Council for the restoration of the former Royal high school building as a world-class centre for music education and public performance for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.

It would not be appropriate for the Scottish ministers to intervene in advance of any decisions being taken by the City of Edinburgh Council, as the current owner and the planning authority. However, as Jeremy Balfour might know, I was employed at the Royal high school, although not in the old building, and I am watching developments with interest, particularly given the school’s historic role in Scotland’s proud history of education.

Given that the site of the proposed national centre for music is in my region, what funding, if any, is available to the City of Edinburgh Council, and councils across Scotland, if they want the scheme to go ahead? How else can we encourage the building’s being brought back into public use?

I do not want to prejudge the outcome of what the council will say on the matter. Jeremy Balfour will understand that I cannot comment specifically on funding at this moment in time, as the council has made no such approach. However, I am aware of a letter from William Gray Muir, who is the chairman of the Royal High School Preservation Trust, to the First Minister, and I would be happy to meet him once the outcome of the council’s consideration is known.

As Jeremy Balfour might be aware, the Scottish Government already supports St Mary’s Music School and has provided a budget of up to £1.6 million a year to support up to 55 pupils from all over Scotland. I am aware that the proposals, as drafted, include the potential to relocate St Mary’s and that the school has already met education officials on the matter.

I understand that the closing date for applications for future use of the Royal high school’s old building was 3 September. As I have said, and as Jeremy Balfour will understand, it will be for the council to decide when to announce the outcome of those applications. I look forward to meeting the chairman of the Royal High School Preservation Trust after that, and I would also be happy to meet Mr Balfour on the matter, if he would like to do so.

As the minister said, the plans for a national centre for music are an exciting example of Scotland’s celebration and appreciation of culture. It is encouraging to know that the Scottish Government recognises the importance of cultural centres in local communities.

Will the minister reiterate that the £1.25 million given to the public libraries Covid recovery fund is another brilliant example of that appreciation in action in communities across Scotland?

I referred to the library recovery fund in my earlier answer to Mr Fraser. The Government recognises the valuable role that libraries play in their communities and how popular they are. In 2019, there were 40 million visits to public libraries in Scotland, which was more than the number of visits to the Premier League and cinemas combined. The fund that I referred to will restore more services to libraries, including reopening some. It will help libraries to continue being at the heart of their communities and supporting those communities in recovering from the pandemic.

That concludes portfolio questions.