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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 31, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 31 October 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Hong Kong, Portfolio Question Time, European Union Farming Funding (Convergence Funds), The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Annual Target Report for 2017, Forestry Act 1919 (Centenary), Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill, Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill, Domestic Abuse Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Correction


General Question Time

European Union (United Kingdom Departure)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its view regarding the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU. (S5O-03693)

The Scottish Government published its assessment of the revised deal yesterday. As I said yesterday, the deal will make Scotland poorer and hit jobs and living standards. It is a worse deal than the one that Theresa May negotiated, and a basic trade agreement of the type that Boris Johnson wants to negotiate will cost each person in Scotland the equivalent of £1,600 compared with the cost of EU membership.

Brexit is already having a damaging effect on Scotland. A recent report from the Fraser of Allander institute highlights that our economy is already around £3 billion smaller than it would have been in the absence of a vote to leave the EU. The damage that the deal will do shows why people in Scotland must have the right to choose their own future.

I note with some depression what the cabinet secretary said about the hugely negative impacts of Brexit.

With Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage, environmental and workers’ rights up for the chop and Scotland’s voice being ignored, does the cabinet secretary agree that Boris Johnson’s bad Brexit deal should, and will, be rejected by the public when they get the chance to have their say?

The question of consent is a crucial one in that regard. We have strongly expressed our support for the Good Friday agreement and we absolutely agree that Northern Ireland should have the deal that it wishes to have. However, Scotland should be consulted about the deal that we are meant to get, which is a very bad deal and is much worse than the deal for Northern Ireland.

Of course, there is no provision in the agreement for Scotland to consent to it. The Northern Ireland Assembly would have to give consent and the periods of consent would be as short as four years, yet the Conservatives here and at Westminster refuse to allow the Scottish people or this Parliament a deciding vote on what should happen. That is profoundly antidemocratic, and I believe that they will pay the price for that.

Road Kill Reporting (Protected Species)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has any plans to support local authorities to report road kill of protected species, such as badgers, to the relevant conservation bodies. (S5O-03694)

The Scottish Government encourages local authorities to report the road kill of protected species to conservation bodies, when appropriate.

It is helpful to conservationists to be able to check badger bodies for signs of illegal activity and to map populations, as illegally killed animals can be placed at the roadside to make them seem like road kill. Is the Scottish Government able to promote, or is it involved with, schemes such as the one in Aberdeenshire, whereby the local authority uses a location app called What3words to report road kills to conservationists? Such schemes can of course also be highlighted to motorists

I am aware that the conservation group Scottish Badgers collects reports of dead badgers, including those that are killed on roads. Anyone who finds a dead badger can report it via a form on its website or by email.

I was not aware of the Aberdeenshire project to which Claudia Beamish referred. She has made her point today, and I will pass it on for the attention of Roseanna Cunningham, who has the portfolio responsibility for dealing with such matters.

Asbestos (School Buildings)

To ask the Scottish Government how many primary and secondary school buildings contain asbestos. (S5O-03695)

That information is not held centrally. However, local authorities are required to keep an up-to-date record of the location of asbestos in their school buildings.

Although health and safety legislation is reserved to the United Kingdom Government, we take the issue of asbestos in schools very seriously and expect local authorities to strictly follow Health and Safety Executive recommendations on the handling of asbestos.

It is of concern that the Deputy First Minister could not tell us how many school buildings contain asbestos. I can tell him that, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, asbestos is present in more than 1,600 school buildings.

Would the Deputy First Minister agree that there is a strong case for more regular air sampling on the school estate? Would he agree to meet Clydeside Action on Asbestos, trade unions, my colleague, Anas Sarwar, and me to discuss what further action can be taken to ensure that, where asbestos is present, fibre counts are kept at safe levels for children and staff?

Those are important questions and I would be happy to meet Mr Bibby, Mr Sarwar, Clydeside Action on Asbestos and the relevant trade unions that have an interest in the matter. In my earlier answer, I made it clear that there are very strict requirements under health and safety legislation on the handling and management of asbestos. That obligation falls on local authorities, which have the statutory duty for the management of the school estate. I expect all local authorities to follow all those requirements to the full. I am happy to meet the members to discuss the issue further.

Irish Sea Border

4. Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what the implications would be for Scotland of a border being established in the Irish Sea. (S5O-03696)

As I have already said today, the Scottish Government fully and unconditionally supports the Good Friday agreement and the maintenance of an invisible border on the island of Ireland. However, the new protocol will put Scotland at a competitive disadvantage in relation to Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom Government’s plan for its future relationship with the European Union amounts to a hard Brexit—a very hard Brexit—with Scotland being forced out of the single market and customs union, while Northern Ireland will retain privileged access to the EU market.

If the border is created in the Irish Sea, as envisaged, there would be a need to consider infrastructure requirements at Cairnryan ports. That would largely be a matter for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Border Force and the ports themselves. However, Traffic Scotland would have to consider any traffic management requirements in the Dumfries and Galloway area, once more information on the UK proposals became available.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that, as part of the Scottish Government’s Brexit planning, the east pier in Stranraer is set to become a lorry park, to accommodate 350-plus heavy goods vehicles each day, all because of anticipated delays at the port of Cairnryan. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the potential disruption that constituents in Stranraer will be forced to put up with is a direct consequence of the incompetence of the UK Government and that the only way to ensure that such a scenario does not become a reality is to ensure that the current Conservative Government does not return to power?

I agree. I was astonished to see, in the press in Dumfries and Galloway, objections to what might happen at Stranraer from the local MP, Alister Jack. It is Alister Jack who is imposing Brexit on the people of Scotland. He should be aware of that. We are seeing nimbyism in the extreme from him.

The reality of the situation is that a responsible Government has to prepare plans in the event of there being no deal, to mitigate the worst impacts as best we can. We are working with the local resilience partnership in Dumfries and Galloway on measures to add increased stacking capacities for HGVs at Cairnryan. I have the greatest sympathy for the people of Stranraer who may have to suffer that. They should take it up with their MP, and they have the chance to do that in a direct way on 12 December.

Funded Childcare Expansion

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with the expansion to 1,140 hours of funded childcare. (S5O-03697)

The latest early learning and childcare delivery progress report, published at the start of October, shows that in August, more than 46,000 children were accessing expanded hours. That means that one third of three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds across Scotland are already benefiting from the expanded entitlement.

The latest figures also reveal that 214 nurseries have been built, extended or refurbished since March 2018. In addition, another 120 nurseries are already under construction. Nationally, over the summer, all indicators progressed either in line or ahead of the forecast national position. That is major progress. Although there is still a lot of work to do, we remain confident that local authorities and their partners will be ready to deliver when the 1,140-hours entitlement comes into force next August.

I thank the minister for her update. The revenue funding rates for private and third-sector childcare provision are published and well documented by councils, but the councils are not required to publish their own rates. It is simply one rule for one, and another rule for another.

The minister has told me on more than one occasion that she will not ask councils to publish that information. My question is very simple: why?

A key aspect of the funding-follows-the-child model, which is to be introduced in August 2020, is the payment to providers of financially sustainable rates that reflect the cost of delivery and the national policy priorities. Information that was published in summer 2019 showed that the funding rates for private providers increased in all local authority areas over the two years to August this year. Average rates for providers of the delivery of 600 hours increased by 26 per cent over the two years, and many local authorities are also paying a higher rate for those providers that are involved in the delivery of 1,140 hours. In some areas, the increases have been more than 50 per cent. Given that local authority nurseries often operate in areas where the market has failed, calculating the cost of providing local authority provision is an altogether different question.

Will the minister guarantee that all children who defer entry to primary 1 in 2020 will also benefit from 1,140 hours of funded childcare, as Parliament instructed just before recess? When will she bring forward the necessary legislation?

As Iain Gray is aware, Parliament instructed that we review deferral and the automatic entitlement to 1,140 hours. As Iain Gray would expect, we are working closely with local authorities to ensure that we can deliver that as soon as possible.

Renfrewshire South Economy (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting the economy in the Renfrewshire South constituency. (S5O-03698)

The Scottish Government is working to accelerate inclusive economic growth across Scotland and in all the communities in Renfrewshire South. The national economic action plan that I launched supports a competitive business environment, including through investment in a highly skilled workforce and a diverse economy. A range of investments will continue to be made, now and in the future.

I recently attended—with Derek Mackay, with the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, and with Paisley’s MSP, George Adam—the launch of Renfrewshire Council’s bold and ambitious new economic strategy for the coming decade. Does the cabinet secretary share my concerns that the positive collaboration between SNP-led Renfrewshire Council and local partners could be undermined by the Tories’ damaging Brexit deal, which Michael Gove admitted at last week’s meeting of the Finance and Constitution Committee would give businesses in Northern Ireland better access than Scotland to the 500 million-strong European Union single market?

Yes—I agree with that concern. We are not alone in being concerned about the impact that Brexit will have on economies across Scotland—not least in Renfrewshire. Very positive work has been done with the council around the economic plan for the area, where the Government is, as a partner, making the right interventions and investments to help to grow the economy sustainably.

Of course, on the very day of the launch, the co-chair of the partnership—who is a businessman from the Scottish Leather Group—announced 100 new jobs in Renfrewshire, but also expressed concern about the threat of Brexit. So, when we hear people such as Boris Johnson talking about “getting Brexit done”, what that means is doing in people’s jobs across Scotland, when we are trying to do so much to grow our economy in a responsible way. We believe that the best way to stop Brexit is to end Brexit, and to end the Tory Government’s term of office.

Citizens Assembly of Scotland (Recruitment)

To ask the Scottish Government how much of the £1.37 million allocated to the Citizens Assembly of Scotland will be spent on recruitment of its members. (S5O-03699)

Following a competitive tendering process, a contract worth £25,000 was awarded to Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Ltd. The recruitment of members has concluded and the assembly met for the first time on 26 and 27 October. Members are being paid a gift of thanks for participating in the assembly, as well as being supported to attend the assembly regardless of their geographic location, their need for childcare and other caring responsibilities, or their other needs for support. The total cost of payments to members and conveners, including support for travel and subsistence, is £339,600.

With the Scottish Parliament costing more than £250,000 a day, would not it be better, more democratic and more effective if the Scottish National Party Government were to start listening to the Scottish electorate, rather than creating yet another costly group to blame for its failed policies?

I regret that Gordon Lindhurst has that curmudgeonly approach to democracy. I encourage him to meet members of the Citizens Assembly; I am sure that its conveners would be happy to meet him. I had the privilege of meeting them on Saturday night here in Edinburgh, when I was bowled over by their commitment to, engagement in and energy and enthusiasm for being involved in Scottish democracy. That is to be commended—not condemned. Mr Lindhurst might want to consider whether what he has said encourages or discourages participation in democracy.

Museums and Heritage Sites (Support)

Following funding cuts to cash-strapped Moray Council, the future of the award-winning Falconer museum in Forres is under threat. It is a fantastic example of a local museum that is grounded in its community and works to appeal to visitors and local people alike. Will the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs look into the situation and outline what other funding solutions might be possible to keep the Falconer museum going, as a vital part of our heritage?

Mr Halcro Johnston, I think that you have asked your supplementary question, rather than the main question. I ask the cabinet secretary to respond to the published question.

The current council administration in Moray is having to deal with the incompetence of the Conservative-led administration that walked away from leadership. That is only been compounded by the incompetence with which the Conservative member, Jamie Halcro Johnston, just asked—or did not ask—his proper question.

The Scottish Government supports direct revenue funding of National Museums of Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland, the National Mining Museum Scotland, the Scottish Fisheries Museum, the Scottish Maritime Museum and Historic Environment Scotland.

Museums Galleries Scotland supports local, independent and private museums, including the one that Jamie Halcro Johnston asked about in his question, which I will try to answer. It might be helpful if administrations—

I will give Mr Halcro Johnson another chance to ask the supplementary question.

I have heard it and am quite happy to answer it. I am keen for the next question to be asked, so I will answer the supplementary question.

Museums Galleries Scotland stands ready to act, and has already proactively contacted Moray Council about the Falconer Trust. I share the concerns of the people of Forres and I understand how important the museum is to them. However, it is important for Moray Council to make contact with Museums Galleries Scotland, which has, as I said, already contacted the council.

Let us try to find a solution that helps the people of Forres and ensures that the heritage of that vital part of our country is celebrated. Museums Galleries Scotland stands ready to support Moray Council constructively. I hope that that offer is accepted.

I will allow Jamie Halcro Johnston to ask the end of his supplementary question.

I apologise for being so keen to get an answer from the cabinet secretary that I got a bit ahead of myself. Unfortunately, although I asked the cabinet secretary my second question, I did not get an answer.

The question is about a decision that was made by Moray Council, which has been underfunded time and again by the Scottish Government. Rather than the cabinet secretary giving a list of examples of bodies that are being sponsored, can she tell me specifically what she can do to help Falconer museum, which is being underfunded by an SNP council—[Interruption]—that has been underfunded by the SNP Government?

Colleagues, I see that you are in a lively mood, but I suggest that we should hear the question then the cabinet secretary’s answer.

I acknowledge—in a constructive way—that we regularly discuss fair funding of local government in the chamber. I have made the offer that Museums Galleries Scotland, as the relevant development body, talk to Moray Council. If Jamie Halcro Johnston was really serious about the museum, he would—rather than the party-political point scoring that he tried incompetently—encourage all those who are interested in the matter to have a constructive dialogue with Museums Galleries Scotland. That would be the competent way to carry out his duties as a responsible MSP.

On behalf of my constituents and the trustees of the Trimontium museum of Roman Scotland, in Melrose, can I thank the Government for the substantial investment that was recently announced for an extension to the museum?

I am delighted that my colleague Fergus Ewing was able to announce that funding. To add an important point, I say that I am delighted that the south of Scotland economic partnership is taking heritage culture and tourism seriously through supporting museums and recognising the economic contribution that heritage makes to the economic wellbeing of the member’s constituency and the rest of the south of Scotland.

Before we move to First Minister’s question time, I invite members to join me in welcoming to our gallery Linda Scott, who is the High Commissioner of the Republic of Namibia to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. [Applause.]