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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 6, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 06 October 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Island Health Boards, Underground Coal Gasification Review, BBC Royal Charter and Framework Agreement, Investigatory Powers Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


General Question Time

Wild Salmon Fishing (Angling Clubs)

1. Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to angling clubs and the rural economy following recent changes to the regulation of wild salmon fishing. (S5O-00231)

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

The package of conservation measures introduced earlier this year protects our weakest salmon stocks through the introduction of catch and release in areas where stocks are below their conservation limit.

Many angling clubs have expressed concern that the introduction of catch and release would have a negative impact on membership numbers that were already in decline. To help mitigate that potential impact, we made a commitment to provide up to £100,000 of support for angling clubs to promote catch and release as sustainable and responsible practice. The appointment of FishPal as the delivery partner for the two-year programme of support fulfils that commitment. There has been significant interest from angling clubs, and around 30 have signed up to date.

Oliver Mundell

I thank the minister for her answer, but I can tell her that things are pretty bleak in Dumfriesshire. The “Dumfries common good fishings report” has recently shown that ticket sales in 2016 are down by almost 50 per cent, fishing hotels that are normally packed with visitors are sat empty and haaf-netters on the River Nith have been denied the scientific exemption granted to those on the River Annan. I acknowledge that the Scottish Government has made a commitment of £100,000 to the marketing agency FishPal, but what specific direct support will be given to angling clubs? What consideration has the Scottish Government given to stepping up programmes targeted at schools, such as the fishing for the future programme, which currently operates on the River Nith?

Roseanna Cunningham

FishPal has been appointed as the delivery partner through a grant award. FishPal is well recognised in the sector as already having established skills and expertise in marketing fisheries. Practical support to ensure continued participation was considered by us to be a more productive way forward than direct aid to clubs, which would have been extremely difficult to assess on a club-by-club basis.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To what extent can the Scottish Government take into account the cultural significance of traditional fisheries when implementing conservation measures?

Roseanna Cunningham

Part of the consideration for the assessment of any of our rivers already takes into account the various methods used to catch salmon and the likely impact of the activity on the conservation status of the river and our special areas of conservation—I remind members that this is all about ensuring that salmon continue to be available for future anglers as well as current anglers—so the cultural importance of traditional fishing techniques is already factored into the decision making.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Given that the policy is based on flawed statistics, because some of the lochs involved were not fished or, indeed, were fished for the whole time when the statistics were gathered, will the cabinet secretary revisit that information and work alongside angling clubs to ensure that the policy is based on robust data?

Roseanna Cunningham

I am conscious that there has been lively debate about the stats on which the policy decision is based. However, I remind Rhoda Grant and others that an annual assessment is being put in place and an assessment of the conservation status of the rivers will be undertaken by Marine Scotland on that rolling basis. I therefore expect some of the debates and arguments to begin to work their way out of the system as we proceed.

Argyll and Bute Ferries (Accessibility)

2. Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to make ferries serving Argyll and Bute more accessible for disabled people. (S5O-00232)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government has established the ferries accessibility fund in line with the commitment that we set out in the ferries plan that was published in December 2012. The second round of applications for the ferries accessibility fund was announced on 13 September 2016. In addition, we have recently published a 10-year accessible travel framework for Scotland that supports disabled people’s rights by removing barriers and improving access to travel; and it ensures that disabled people are fully involved in the work to improve all aspects of travel across the various modes of transport and travel, including of course ferries. The framework has been developed in close engagement with disabled people from across Scotland.

Donald Cameron

A few weeks ago in Dunoon, I met an Enable Scotland group for adults with learning disabilities, who expressed serious concerns about disabled access. Although I strongly welcome any proposals to ensure that future ferries are fully accessible for everyone in our communities, what reassurances can the minister give today to groups such as Enable Scotland about alleviating this problem now, rather than down the line?

Humza Yousaf

I appreciate that question. I would be more than happy to meet the member to discuss the issue further or, if he wishes to write to me with the specific concerns that were expressed to him, I would be more than happy to take them on board.

I can say what we are doing here and now. We have just announced a ferries accessibility fund of £500,000 of match funding, which means that there is the potential for a £1 million pot of money to be spent to improve access to ports, harbours and ferries.

During my summer tours in the past few months, I noticed that ferries can be much improved for those with accessibility issues. I am more than happy to meet the member to discuss those specific concerns with him. There are opportunities to do things here and now and, as I say, I am open to listening to people’s concerns.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I am delighted that the Minister for Transport and the Islands came to Arran on 26 September to officially launch the new £12.3 million hybrid ferry, the MV Catriona.

Can the minister tell the chamber how the greater capacity of this new Port Glasgow-built ferry will help more people—disabled and otherwise—as well as goods and services to travel between Arran and Argyllshire, boosting both economies?

Humza Yousaf

I was delighted to visit Arran a couple of weeks ago with Mr Gibson. Of course, it would be discourteous of me to mention the fact that he nearly broke the soap machine at Arran Aromatics, almost annihilating the entire industry of the island.

I was also pleased to visit the MV Catriona, which is a great vessel that highlights the importance of Ferguson Marine Engineering and its importance to Scottish commercial shipbuilding.

It is worth saying that the vessel will bring great advantages to the economy, as it accommodates 150 passengers, 23 cars and a number of heavy-goods vehicles. It is also important to say that the environmental impact of these new hybrid ferries can be more easily discounted. They are fantastically energy-efficient and will help us to meet the CO2 reduction targets that we have set ourselves.

I look forward to returning to Arran in the near future.

Child Homelessness

3. Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to address child homelessness. (S5O-00233)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government has ensured strong legal rights to housing and support for homeless households with children. Separate guidance has been developed on the particular issues that are faced by children experiencing homelessness.

We are also providing funding to local authorities to develop the housing options approach to prevention. That will be further strengthened by the publication of a training toolkit for local authorities and their partners that will address the prevention of homelessness amongst families with children.

Elaine Smith

Does the minister accept that homelessness is—to borrow a phrase from the Shelter Scotland report—far from fixed, and that 5,000 children in Scotland woke up this morning without a home of their own, which is something that has a terrible effect on their mental health, wellbeing and attainment? Given that we will soon debate the fairer Scotland action plan, will the minister ensure that the Government’s approach to homelessness is brought forward as a priority, so that the Government’s commitments are delivered as soon as possible?

Kevin Stewart

The Government is committed to delivering 50,000 affordable homes during the course of this session of Parliament, including 35,000 homes for social rent, which is really important with regard to tackling the situations that we are discussing.

I know that Elaine Smith has taken a keen interest in these issues in the previous session of Parliament and in this one. I am determined to ensure that we can provide the best options for families with children in terms of temporary accommodation, where that is required. I am more than willing to discuss with Elaine Smith how we can work together to ensure that we can get our approach absolutely right for homeless people, and particularly homeless families with children.

Heathrow and Gatwick Airports (Expansion)

5. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent correspondence it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the impact on Scotland of the expansion of either Heathrow or Gatwick airports. (S5O-00235)

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government has maintained regular contact with the UK Government on matters related to the airports commission and, in particular, our request that Scotland’s access to the UK global hub airport be maintained in the lead-up to new runway capacity and increased once that is in place.

Murdo Fraser

As I am sure the cabinet secretary is aware, we expect an announcement in the next few weeks on whether Heathrow or Gatwick is to benefit from a new runway. The Scottish business community is firmly of the view that the Heathrow option is the better one for connectivity to Scotland. Will the Scottish Government join the Scottish Conservatives, even at this late hour, in calling on the UK Government to opt for the Heathrow upgrade?

Keith Brown

I congratulate Murdo Fraser on speaking in the chamber for the first time since the election without mentioning the words “independence referendum”.

I am pleased to have some clarity about the Conservatives’ position. In 2010, Ruth Davidson opposed the Heathrow option, but apparently she now supports it. The Conservative Party has opposed and supported the devolution of air passenger duty, but I am now not sure what its position is. These are important issues for Scotland’s air services.

The delay in relation to the runway has been not just weeks but months and years, and it has been caused by the one body that can make the decisions: the UK Government. We have put pressure on the UK Government—and we have had the right discussions with both Heathrow and Gatwick airports—to ensure that, whatever decision is taken, it is in Scotland’s interests in terms of routes, facilities and infrastructure. We will continue to do that to ensure that Scotland’s interests are put to the forefront. We will also continue to talk to the UK Government about the need to maintain and guarantee links to Scotland, which is the most important thing for Scottish air travellers.

Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Links between regional airports such as Inverness airport and the hub airport will be vital to the rural economy. What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that regional links are there and to push for a decision to end the damaging uncertainty?

Keith Brown

We have made it absolutely clear that, whichever London airport prevails—we know the commission’s recommendation—Scotland’s airports must benefit from enhanced access such as the member mentions. The new Inverness-Heathrow service is evidence of what we can help to bring about under the existing capacity limitations, and it is entirely reasonable to expect significant further gains. A number of airlines have made the point that some additional services could be gained.

It is clear that the decision is long overdue and is having a detrimental effect on the whole of the UK. We can see improved services for the regions, as Maree Todd mentioned, and I suggest that the UK Government get on and make its decision.

Attachment Disorder, Trauma and Loss (Training Teachers)

6. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to require local authorities to carry out additional training for teachers and other school personnel on how to deal with children who have an attachment disorder or are affected by trauma and loss. (S5O-00236)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The improvement of health and wellbeing has been identified as one of the key priorities in the national improvement framework, because we recognise that children need to feel safe and cared for throughout their time in school in order to flourish and achieve positive learning outcomes.

In the recently published document “Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland”, we confirm our commitment to review initial teacher education programmes, and we have committed to working towards every professional who works with children being trained on attachment, child development and child protection.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Many members will be aware of the particular needs of looked-after children, but there are many other children in our schools who face challenges. Teachers should, therefore, be equipped with a range of skills to manage those children’s behaviour in the classroom.

Recently, I have been dealing with a number of constituents whose children have been further traumatised due to the failure of school staff to adapt their approach to the individual child’s circumstances. One told me that their children were shouted at despite the school staff having been made aware of a history of paternal abuse in their household that led to very real anxiety. When one of the children brought the matter up with the school in question, they were told that no child could be treated any differently from any other.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that we need to address the way in which teachers are trained to handle the specific needs of children in our schools who face attachment disorder, trauma and loss ?

John Swinney

I make two points to Mr Cole-Hamilton. First, it is absolutely essential that every child’s circumstances are taken into account in the way in which their education and wellbeing are supported by individual schools and members of the teaching profession. That approach is driven by the Government’s agenda of getting it right for every child, which is widely shared and supported by local authorities. We must ensure that we adapt and take forward an approach that is appropriate to the needs of every young person.

Secondly, if Mr Cole-Hamilton has any concerns about how individual children have been dealt with, the appropriate course of action is to raise those directly with the individual school concerned, as well as with the education authority, which has immediate responsibility for the management of the school. That is the position provided for in statute.

I reiterate my general view that it is essential that we properly equip the teaching profession to provide for the needs of all young people in their care. The Government’s priorities and our delivery plan are designed to do that.

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

The cabinet secretary will be aware that children who have been fostered or adopted often have attachment issues that are greater than those of other children. Will he or one of his colleagues commit to meeting the adoption agencies in Scotland to discuss what further support they can get from Government and local authorities in regard to issues involving children at school?

John Swinney

I thank Mr Balfour for his question. I am involved in much of that dialogue already. I assure him that, having engaged—as the First Minister has engaged—very recently on the question of support for looked-after children, we recognise that we need to have an approach that directly addresses the challenging and complex needs of such children and ensure that we can provide the best support and outcomes possible. Sustainable and consistent fostering and, ultimately, adoption can be options that can be taken forward, but they must be applied carefully and directly to meet individual children’s needs. I assure Mr Balfour of my interest in exploring how we can better meet the needs of looked-after children in those circumstances and put in place the support that they require to ensure that they can fulfil their potential. It is their right to be supported by the state to enable them to do that.

Red Meat Exports (Brexit)

7. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact leaving the European Union and the single market could have on Scotland’s red meat exports. (S5O-00237)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

About 80 per cent of Scotland’s red meat exports are destined for the European Union. Figures from the industry show that the value of beef and lamb exports from Scotland to the EU in 2015 was about £73 million. However, if Scotland were subject to the tariffs that are applied to countries outwith the EU, it would cost importers about 50 per cent more to buy the same volume of our beef and lamb. In a highly competitive market, the consequences could be profound, with potentially much-reduced sales or lower prices paid to our primary producers through the supply chain, neither of which is desirable. That illustrates the importance of maintaining access to our largest export market.

Joan McAlpine

As the minister is aware, the south of Scotland produces a significant amount of Scottish beef and lamb for United Kingdom and EU markets, so the potential impact on livelihoods is very worrying. Will he advise how many free-trade agreements with countries outwith the EU include provision for beef and lamb exports? What might happen if Scotland was forced out of the EU against our will?

Humza Yousaf

To answer the member’s question directly, we have free-trade agreements on red meat exports with five markets outside the EU: Switzerland, Norway, Monaco, Hong Kong and Canada. Those markets equate to a total volume of beef sales of 4.8 per cent and of lamb sales of 2.5 per cent, whereas our sales to the EU, as I have said, equate to 80 per cent of exports. For some countries outwith the EU, the tariffs on red meat exports can be up to 30 per cent, so there would be profound consequences.

We have learned two things from this week’s Tory party conference. The first is the Tories perceived dislike of foreigners. The second is that they are pushing for a hard, hard Brexit. It would be extremely detrimental to those in the south of Scotland and in other regions across Scotland who are looking to export their red meat to the European continent if we were not members of or did not have access to the single market.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I have no doubt that there may be uncertain times ahead following Brexit, but does the minister agree that Joan McAlpine’s daily apocalyptic predictions on any issue—[Interruption.]—some with the most tenuous links to the EU, are in danger of turning a very serious matter into what some might call project fear on steroids?

Humza Yousaf

To be accused of making apocalyptic, hyperbolic assertions by Neil Findlay—the man who scares on every issue under the sun, from health and St John’s hospital to transport—is, to be frank, like being accused by Donald Trump of being anti-Muslim.