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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 3, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 03 November 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Burial and Cremation Charges, Digital Strategy, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


General Question Time

Gypsy Travellers (Discrimination)

1. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how it tackles discrimination against Gypsy Travellers. (S5O-00291)

The Minister for Social Security (Jeane Freeman)

The Scottish Government recognises that Gypsy Traveller communities are among the most disenfranchised and discriminated against in Scotland. We are continuing with work in a range of areas to achieve better outcomes for Gypsy Travellers. For example, we fund and support the work of the Scottish Traveller education programme, which works to promote and develop inclusive educational approaches for mobile and settled Gypsy and other Traveller families.

Mary Fee

The “Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015” highlighted that Gypsy Travellers continue to be one of the most marginalised groups in Scottish society and that they still face disproportionately high levels of discrimination. Thirty-one per cent of people stated that they would be unhappy if a family member was in a relationship with a Gypsy Traveller, while a further 34 per cent of people stated their belief that a Gypsy Traveller would be unsuitable as a primary school teacher. In light of that, it is clear that the Government’s Gypsy Traveller strategy is failing.

Will the minister agree to carry out an immediate review of the strategy? Will she outline what further steps the Government will take to eradicate the deeply unpleasant and systemic discrimination that is faced by the Gypsy Traveller community across Scotland?

Jeane Freeman

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the member that the Government’s strategy has failed and that it is therefore entirely responsible for the attitudes that she outlined. I am sure that Mary Fee knows as well as I do that, across a range of discriminatory practices, attitudes and behaviours that affect a number of groups in our society, it is the responsibility of not simply the Scottish Government but all of us to tackle those and to do that at every level in our community.

However, I accept that the Government has a clear leadership role in that regard. As the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities has said, she is consulting the Gypsy Traveller community and others to reflect on and improve the approach that we take in order not only to tackle the specific issues that people are confronted with, but to build on the work that we have done on health, education and the suitability of sites, and our current work with local authorities. All that will be reported back to the Parliament in the revised strategy, which, as we have already said, will come out in 2017.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

What specific action has the Scottish Government taken to assist the members of the Roma community who are living in Govanhill, particularly in relation to the finding of the BBC Scotland study that more than a third of the 310 local Roma people who were interviewed were receiving less than the minimum wage?

Jeane Freeman

I share the member’s concern with regard to that community, as other Scottish National Party members do. That is also part of the discussions that the cabinet secretary is leading in the spirit that the Scottish Government clearly adopts across a range of the things that we do. We consult directly those who are most affected to make sure that the work that we undertake is as effective as it can be.

The Roma community is part of those conversations. We are looking at particular enforcement activities and looking in particular with respect to housing and integration in that community.

Household Recycling Rates

2. Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of recent figures published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency suggesting that ministers did not meet their 2013 target, what action it is taking to improve household recycling rates. (S5O-00292)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

As the member knows, it is for councils to provide recycling services to households. The figures produced by SEPA are a compilation of the figures provided by each local authority. There is a wide disparity between the best-performing authority and the least well performing authority.

Since 2013, we have agreed the Scottish household recycling charter with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to harmonise recycling and collection services, to which 20 local authorities are already signed up; we have provided financial support for councils to implement the charter, starting with £2 million for East Ayrshire Council, which was announced last month; and we have committed to reviewing the exemption for food waste collections in rural areas. Overall, since 2011, we have provided some £25 million to councils to support the introduction of food waste services, thanks to which 75 per cent of households now have access to a food waste collection service, which is up from just 300,000 in 2010.

Maurice Golden

In Scotland, local authorities deliver their own recycling strategies with decreasing levels of support from the Scottish Government and its agencies. As the cabinet secretary pointed out, that has led to varying levels of service and different outcomes in recycling rates. The most recent SEPA figures show a patchwork of recycling success and failure throughout Scotland. Members should compare that with Wales, which has encouraged local authorities to take a consistent approach to recycling. Its recycling rate recently hit 60 per cent. It beat its target, doubled its rate in 10 years and leapfrogged Scotland, leaving us the worst recycler in Britain.

Does the Scottish Government agree that a unified and consistent recycling collection service throughout Scotland, coupled with the requisite Scottish Government leadership and support to local authorities, would help us to achieve our recycling targets?

Roseanna Cunningham

I indicated some of the actions that have already taken place, including money that has gone to local authorities. Yes, there is a wide disparity—I referred to that in my initial response—but that shows that it is possible for councils to do extremely well. There are councils that have significant challenges.

As it happens, I am going to the British-Irish Council meeting in Guernsey tomorrow, which is on the circular economy and will deal with waste issues. The member mentioned what Wales is doing. It has done a great deal and I wonder whether he has examined in detail what its programme means. Among other things, it involves fines for councils that do not achieve their targets and individual targets being placed on councils rather than a national target.

I imagine that there would be a considerable amount of debate about that. We are currently in a space that is about collaboration and encouragement. I would rather have stretching targets that we do not quite achieve but continue to implement them through collaboration than go down the compulsion route at this point. We can never rule that out but, to be frank, this would not be the right time to start to consider that.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Lochaber Visit)

3. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity will next visit Lochaber. (S5O-00293)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

I visited Fort William last Friday, 28 October, for a fin fish summit and I regularly visit the Lochaber area in my role as the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.

Rhoda Grant

The cabinet secretary will be aware that Rio Tinto plans to sell off the smelter in Fort William. He will know that it is a crucial industry in Lochaber, with 150 people directly employed in it and many more jobs supported in the wider community. What discussions has he had with Rio Tinto? Does he know who the proposed buyer is? What support can he offer the employees in Fort William and the new company in this difficult time?

Fergus Ewing

Yes, the smelter is an integral part of the economy in Fort William and, indeed, a national asset. As the member knows, I was the constituency MSP for Lochaber for the first 12 years of this reconvened Parliament so I entirely share her sentiments about the importance of the matter. I am pleased to inform her that the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have maintained dialogue with Rio Tinto throughout the Lochaber strategic review with a view to securing the best outcome for the workers and the community.

The workforce was informed on 21 October that the Rio Tinto board had agreed to consider a sale of its Lochaber assets and that exclusive discussions with a potential buyer would begin. Obviously, the sale is a continuing commercial process and we must be careful to respect the boundaries of commercial confidentiality while negotiations continue. We are hopeful that the business will be sold as a going concern and that aluminium production at Fort William, which began around 1929, will continue for many generations to come.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree with me, as the MSP for Lochaber, that continued operation of the smelter, development of industrial activity and the creation of employment and economic value should be top priorities for Lochaber?

Fergus Ewing

Yes, I think that Kate Forbes, as the constituency member, is absolutely correct. We need to respect and provide the appropriate space for the commercial process that is under way. However, we are prepared to offer support to any successful bidder that makes the necessary commitment to the local community in relation to employment, industry, commerce and renewable energy sources. Indeed, the ideal scenario for Lochaber—I hope that everyone shares this sentiment—would be the continued operation of the smelter, but also enhanced development of industrial activity in the west Highlands and the preservation and creation of economic value that that entails.

Livestock (Antibiotic Resistance)

4. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to minimise antibiotic resistance in livestock. (S5O-00294)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing)

The Scottish Government has signed up to the United Kingdom five-year antimicrobial strategy for 2013 to 2018, which was produced in collaboration with public health and animal health authorities across the UK. The strategy combines actions in the human health and animal health environments.

The controlling antimicrobial resistance in Scotland—CARS—working group has been set up. It is chaired by the chief medical officer for Scotland and is developing detailed plans to implement the strategy. The Scottish Government also monitors scientific developments in antimicrobial resistance, liaises with other Administrations and public bodies with an interest in animal health, public health and food safety, and implements a veterinary surveillance programme that monitors the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in animals.

Alexander Stewart

The cabinet secretary will be aware of recent surveys that have taken place. One of the most worrying, which was carried out by the University of Cambridge, found that one in four supermarket chicken samples contained antibiotic-resistant E coli. Such resistances are one of the major health challenges of our generation. What economic assessment is the Scottish Government undertaking to improve the process and to ensure that those resistances are managed? How is the issue being tackled in the livestock sector in Scotland?

Fergus Ewing

I am not sure that I correctly picked up the matter that the member has raised, but I question what I think is his thesis—if I am wrong, about that thesis, I apologise. He has just said that an economic analysis is necessary to deal with the efficacy of work that is being done to tackle antimicrobial resistance. If that is his thesis, it is patently untrue. The work that we need to do to tackle antimicrobial resistance is work for experts in veterinary matters and pharmaceutical products; it is not anything to do with an economic analysis.

I want to do justice to the question, because the member raises a serious matter. If he wants to write to me about these complex matters, I would be happy to consider them further.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

The minister will be aware that the vast majority of farmers are professional and skilled and are already managing antibiotics for livestock in a sensible, proportionate and responsible way. Does he agree that the last thing that they need is to be bogged down by further Government regulation and red tape?

Fergus Ewing

I have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint. I respect the work that farmers do and know that they care deeply about the health of their livestock. Mr Chapman is a farmer and is therefore well placed to express those sentiments. However, what puzzles me is the fact that the approach that he has just expressed appears to be almost directly in contradiction to the approach that his colleague, Mr Stewart, expressed just a moment ago. Which is it? Do the Conservatives want more regulation or less regulation? I think that they should cease this apparent schizophrenia on the important issue of antimicrobial resistance.

Planning Legislation (Betting Shops)

5. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I declare an interest: I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will amend legislation to extend planning controls on changing premises into betting shops. (S5O-00295)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government will lay the changes to planning legislation regarding betting shops before Parliament by the end of the year.

Monica Lennon

I welcome the minister’s commitment because it has been more than two years since the previous minister, Derek Mackay, held a summit on the issue. It is disappointing that no action has been taken to extend planning controls on changing premises into betting shops in that time. Such a measure was introduced in England more than 18 months ago.

Given that the clustering of betting shops, particularly in our most deprived communities, has continued in that time, and that the Scottish Government has upheld six of the seven most recent betting shop appeals, when can we expect the use classes order to be amended? In addition, will the Scottish Government assess the cumulative impact on communities of clustering over and above betting shops by including payday loan shops and fast-food takeaways?

Kevin Stewart

As Alex Neil, the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, stated in Parliament on 5 March 2015, we were seeking powers—they were promised in the Smith report—that would have been more effective than planning controls are in addressing the problems of payday lending and problem gambling. As the Scotland Act 2016 did not deliver those powers, we are now introducing planning controls.

The Scotland Act 2016 included a limited power in respect of the number of fixed-odds betting terminals in new betting shops only. It did not include any powers in respect of FOBTs in existing betting shops; that power remains with the United Kingdom Government.

I hoped that we would have had all the powers to deal with the problem appropriately. Unfortunately, we did not have the support for the issue to be devolved to the Parliament.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

The minister will be aware of my campaigning against fixed-odds betting terminals, which have had a negative effect on local communities. Notwithstanding his comments about the limited powers that are coming to the Scottish Parliament, will he provide assurances that the changes that will be laid before the end of the year give local authorities a wider range of powers so that they can deal with the scourge of FOBT machines?

Kevin Stewart

I reiterate that we are getting limited powers, although I hoped that we would have wide-ranging powers to deal with the situation. We will introduce legislation to amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997. The order excludes from planning control the changing of certain premises to betting shops, and that exclusion will be removed.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Mr Stewart, who is struggling with his voice, has probably just answered my question. I was going to urge him to use the powers that he has through the planning review to give councils the authority to say how many betting shops there should be, but I think that he has said that he will do that.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Minister, do you want to add anything?

Kevin Stewart

I just reiterate that we will lay that legislation before Parliament.

Local Devolution

6. Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is advancing the local devolution agenda. (S5O-00296)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Scotland’s democratic landscape is being transformed by the implementation of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, the introduction of an islands bill and the development of legislation to bring council functions, budgets and democratic oversight much closer to communities. In parallel, empowering reforms are being delivered across Scotland’s key public services.

Adam Tomkins

It is well documented that Scotland is now one of the most centralised countries in Europe. Just yesterday, the Scottish Local Government Partnership criticised the Scottish Government—not the United Kingdom Government—for strangling local democracy and castigated it for bossing local authorities around and controlling everything from the centre. The SNP’s programme for government commits to work with local authorities to review their roles and responsibilities. Will the scope of the review include the devolution of any identified power from Parliament to local authorities in Scotland?

Kevin Stewart

Presiding Officer, 96 per cent of Scots think that local people should be involved in making decisions about the design and delivery of their public services. The Government is committed to ensuring that communities across Scotland get a louder voice and stronger powers.

During this parliamentary session, we will introduce a bill to decentralise local authority functions, budgets and democratic oversight to local communities. As I said, we are consulting on and bringing forward an islands bill, to reflect the unique needs of island communities. We will enable community councils that can demonstrate a strong democratic mandate to deliver services. We will work with local government to set a target of having at least 1 per cent of its budget subject to community choices budgeting, which will mean that more than £100 million of spending will be influenced by a direct say from local communities. That is true devolution and true community empowerment.