Meeting date: Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2019
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
Portfolio Question Time
Justice and the Law Officers
The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is justice and the law officers. I remind members that questions 4 and 7 are grouped. The second portfolio is Government business and constitutional relations, in which questions 1 and 3 are grouped. The third portfolio is culture, tourism and external affairs; none of those questions are grouped. I hope that members have written that all down or memorised it.
To ask the Scottish Government how it is addressing concerns that delays in redeveloping parts of the prison estate are presenting significant risks. (S5O-03883)
The Scottish Government remains committed to modernising and improving Scotland’s prison estate, with current infrastructure priorities being the development of the female estate and replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Highland. In that respect, we have increased the Scottish Prison Service’s capital budget by £31.3 million this year to help it deliver progressive plans for the development of our new female custodial estate, including a new national female prison to replace Cornton Vale.
Compared with 2010-2011, the cumulative real-terms reduction in capital grant funding for Scotland over the past decade is £5 billion.
The process to replace Barlinnie in Glasgow has taken 10 years to date, and there have been reports that no such replacement will be available for a further five years. The prison’s age means that it is expensive to maintain and there is a high risk of failure in some parts of the building, including the drainage and sewerage systems. If those were to fail, what is the contingency plan for accommodating the prisoners whom Barlinnie currently holds?
Rachael Hamilton raises some important issues. I am aware of the condition of Barlinnie and have some concerns, and I have of course visited the prison and spoken to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland about it. Given my concerns, I have asked the chief executive of the SPS to provide me with the details of interim measures that we could fund.
Rachael Hamilton is absolutely right: with the best will in the world, it will take a number of years to purchase a site—which is being done—and construct a replacement prison for Barlinnie. We will put interim measures in place. I give her an assurance that we ask questions about and plan for scenarios such as the one that she mentioned, so we have contingency plans available. She will forgive me for not speaking publicly about where we would potentially transfer prisoners to, for obvious reasons, such as that Barlinnie has a number of serious organised crime nominals. However, I am happy to say that that work is part of the SPS’s remit and I am satisfied that we have contingency plans in place.
Domestic and Emotional Abuse (Prosecutions and Convictions)
To ask the Scottish Government how many prosecutions and convictions there have been for domestic and emotional abuse since 1 April 2019. (S5O-03884)
From 1 April to 30 November this year, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service prosecuted 16,513 charges of domestic abuse, covering the full spectrum of offending, including physical, psychological and emotional abuse. Although most of the prosecutions are still going through the courts, 4,206 charges have resulted in conviction.
The figures include 539 charges that were prosecuted under the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, with 101 of those charges resulting in conviction. That ground-breaking legislation enables the Crown to prosecute perpetrators of harmful coercive and controlling behaviours, making the true nature and extent of victims’ experiences of domestic abuse visible to the courts.
The recently published Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline 2018-19 annual report makes for grim reading. There has been a 25 per cent increase in the volume of calls to the helpline, which dealt with 3,191 contacts in 2018-19. Ninety-five per cent of the calls were from women who were seeking support for themselves and their children, who witnessed the abuse. What steps are we taking to ensure that the courts listen with compassion to abused women and their children?
Richard Lyle raised a crucially important point. In what is undoubtedly a gendered crime, the lives of women and their children are blighted by domestic abuse. For too long, that has been hidden. The 2018 act is helping to change that.
I will say two things in response to the question. First, as Richard Lyle will have seen from the report that he referred to, most callers experience more than one form of domestic abuse; in fact, most contacts reported emotional abuse. The 2018 act has closed the gap in the law in relation to coercive and controlling behaviours that were not previously criminal. As such, our charges can now include emotional and psychological abuse that is designed to isolate, control, regulate, restrict freedom, punish, degrade and humiliate. That is the first, very important step towards ensuring that the courts listen to the whole real and unvarnished truth of the lived experience of victims of domestic abuse.
Secondly—and briefly—the act provides for a statutory aggravation where a child has been caught up in and affected by domestic abuse, and it places a duty on all courts to consider non-harassment orders in relation to victims and their children. Those provisions are intended to ensure that the court hears about the harm that is caused to children by domestic abuse and can reflect that when sentencing the perpetrator.
Police Officers (Health)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that a large number of police officers are going to work while physically and mentally unwell. (S5O-03885)
Police officers and police staff do an excellent job in often very difficult circumstances. It is only right that they have access to appropriate support, and I know that the police take that extremely seriously.
While the welfare and wellbeing of Police Scotland officers and staff are the responsibility of the chief constable, I very much support initiatives that are being undertaken by Police Scotland to create a safe, positive and healthy working environment.
We all agree that the police on our streets do a great job. However, the fact is that, against a backdrop of cuts, there have been rising levels of sick leave, with almost half of officers suffering from exhaustion and one in five experiencing insomnia. Will the cabinet secretary guarantee that police officers will be given the vital resources and support that they need?
I am astounded by Jeremy Balfour’s brass neck in talking about “a backdrop of cuts” in policing. Over the decade, his party has cut 20,000 officers. Even the promise of increasing police officer numbers by 20,000 is simply about getting policing back to the standard that it was at before his party made those cuts. If the Conservatives followed Scotland’s lead, they would have to increase their police officer numbers by 27,000. I will not take a lecture on “a backdrop of cuts” when Jeremy Balfour’s party has cut this Government’s budget over the past decade.
On the substance of the question, Police Scotland takes issues of physical and mental wellbeing extraordinarily seriously—I am satisfied that it does so, as I have said previously. On whether there is more that can be done, I look forward to receiving the research from the Scottish Police Federation, to which I think Jeremy Balfour alluded. Once I have that research, I will, of course, be more than happy to work with the chief constable and Police Scotland. The Scottish Police Federation, the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland, and, indeed, the Government have a shared endeavour to ensure that our officers are supported in what is an extremely difficult job. We will continue to support them by investing in our police service and by ensuring that revenue is protected and—as has been done over the past financial year—that the capital budget is increased.
To ask the Scottish Government how the Scottish Prison Service encourages businesses to give prisoners the opportunity of employment on release. (S5O-03886)
I am fully aware of the barriers and complex challenges that people with convictions often have in relation to employment. This Government is working hard to address those issues.
The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 obliges the Scottish Prison Service to seek community benefits from the contracts that it awards. A recent success, for example, was with GeoAmey, which delivers the Scottish courts custody and prisoner escorting service. The community benefits of the contract include employment opportunities in other parts of its business, namely, the construction industry.
HMP Perth has a partnership with Balfour Beatty, which provides work trials to individuals who are on release from custody, following a successful interview. On a recent visit to HMP Perth, I spoke with the building contractor and I saw at first hand the work that is involved in supporting those in custody to engage with that opportunity.
There are also numerous initiatives in establishments, and training and employment opportunities are regularly explored with local partners. The SPS works collaboratively with the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland and a range of third sector agencies in the area.
I understand that many businesses have an excellent reputation for giving ex-offenders a chance. As we know, secure jobs help to reduce reoffending and support families. Employability skills are vital in doing that. However, the Justice Committee’s recent pre-budget report highlighted the need for better co-ordination between the Scottish Government’s justice division and its employability and skills division. What will the Scottish Government do to improve those links?
I take what the Justice Committee says extraordinarily seriously, and we will look at how we can improve multi-agency working, because there is absolutely more that we can do.
It is hugely important that we know that short prison sentences will have a really negative impact on people’s employment. A presumption against short sentences of 12 months or less is designed to effectively punish people if the court deems that to be appropriate but to do so in a way that will not necessarily—it is hoped—disrupt their employment. We know the effect that there can be. A period in custody, even if it is short, can disrupt employment and have an effect on a person’s rehabilitation or, indeed, their chances of reconviction.
I hope that Alison Harris will reflect on that and on the progressive justice measures that we hope to bring forward. I hope that those measures will keep people out of prison.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote upskilling for prisoners prior to release. (S5O-03889)
The Scottish Prison Service works intensively with people in its care to reduce the chances of their returning to custody after their release by seeking to help individuals to develop positive aspirations and to turn those into real and sustainable life plans for the future.
Prison establishments provide a wide range of upskilling opportunities to better prepare individuals for release. The skills involved include parenting skills, financial management skills, health and wellbeing skills and other social and interpersonal skills. Establishments also provide a range of education and training opportunities, and prisoners who are approved for community access can benefit from supervised work.
Recently at a visit to HMP Perth, I visited the Bike Shed, which works in partnership with the Bike Station, which is a local enterprise. That collaboration trains people in custody for industry-recognised qualifications. That is an excellent example of a co-production partnership in action. Such partnerships operate every day in our prisons, and they should be commended for their contribution in helping those who are in custody to pay back to their communities and, crucially, for enhancing their skills and preparing them for a positive future outside custody.
What liaison is there across portfolios to assess skills shortages, particularly in the digital area, in order to maximise the economic opportunities for prisoners who are due for release and for the country as a whole? Is the cabinet secretary aware of any particular training areas in the digital sector?
I will explore that question more closely with the Scottish Prison Service. Clare Adamson makes an important point. We can effectively kill two birds with one stone. We can fill the shortages in the digital sector or other sectors and help people out of custody into positive future destinations.
The Scottish Prison Service launched its learning and skills strategy for 2016 to 2021 in May 2016. That strategy commits to very flexible learning opportunities. However, I will take away what Clare Adamson has said and explore the issue with the Scottish Prison Service to see whether there can be a better tie-up with the digital sector.
Prison Staff (Stress)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to reports of rising levels of stress-related sickness among prison staff. (S5O-03887)
The Scottish Government recognises the importance of providing a safe environment for people who live and work in our prisons. I am sure that all members across the chamber will want to thank prison officers for the good work that they do in very challenging and intensive environments.
The Scottish Prison Service provides a range of measures and interventions to those who require them. Those measures and interventions include occupational health support and access to counselling services.
Absence at the SPS increased month on month for over two years, but there are now positive signs that that trend may be reversing, with consecutive reductions at the end of August, September, October and November.
Scotland’s prisons are stable, safe and well run. That is very much to the credit of prison officers and staff, and I am very grateful for their unwavering dedication and commitment. I was pleased that agreement was reached on the Scottish Prison Service pay agreement for 2019 to 2022, which reflects the important contribution that is made by all staff in our prisons. In stark contrast to the pay award that is worth 2.2 per cent for prison staff in England and Wales, our prison officers received a 6 per cent pay increase. Furthermore, prison officers in Scotland have been provided with certainty over future pay rises through a three-year deal that will lead to their salaries increasing by up to 15 per cent over that period.
The recent Justice Committee report showed that sickness absence rates among staff are high and are rising, with the average number of days lost to sickness now standing at 17. Many existing staff are working increased hours to maintain the current system. Given that prison staff are the backbone of the system, surely the cabinet secretary agrees that urgent action must be taken to stop those rising levels of sickness absence. What plans are in place?
There are a few. As I said, over the past few months, there have been positive signs that the trend that Peter Chapman mentioned is reversing. The number of days that have been lost to sickness has reduced for four consecutive months, which is good and positive. We will not be complacent, but that says to me that the measures that the Scottish Prison Service has put in place are starting to work and pay off. I have given some detail on the number of interventions that are available to help with the mental health issues that prison officers suffer from.
We should not forget the physical impacts of what is a very challenging job. For example, 15,000 days per annum are lost due to musculoskeletal conditions. That is not helped by the fact that the United Kingdom Government has continued to maintain the pension age for our prison officers at 68, despite there having been reforms for other civil servants. I have continued to write to the UK Government to ask it to look again at the issue, because prison officers should not be forced to work until they are 68. Such powers very much lie in the hands of the Westminster Government, and I hope that Peter Chapman will join me in asking whoever ends up forming the next UK Government to pursue a different approach for our prison officers.
Jury Service (Compensation)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will review the compensation scheme for people serving on juries. (S5O-03888)
There are no current plans to review the compensation scheme for people who serve on juries. I appreciate that the rate of allowances will not always address some jurors’ financial loss. Jury service is, of course, a public duty that most people in Scotland may be called on to perform, and I am very grateful to those who perform that important civic duty. Our allowances are comparable with those in the rest of the United Kingdom, except in relation to trials of more than five days, with the Scottish allowance being more generous.
A number of my constituents have approached me to say how inconsistent the system seems to be in relation to providing evidence of loss of earnings for people on zero-hours contracts, people on varying shift patterns, sole contractors and so on. Some of those people get only partial compensation or no compensation at all from their employers. What can the minister do to tidy up that aspect of the system and to encourage employers to be flexible and compensate people fully for loss of earnings when they carry out jury duty?
I ask the minister to be brief so that I can get in question 8.
The decision whether to continue paying wages when an employee is called for jury service is entirely at the discretion of the employer. However, if an employer chooses not to pay the employee’s wage while they are serving as a juror, the employee is entitled to claim for loss of earnings, subject to stated limits. I thank Willie Coffey for raising the issue of zero-hours contracts, and I invite him to seek a meeting with me so that we can discuss the matter further.
Thank you very much.
Violence in Sexual Relationships
To ask the Scottish Government whether current law protects women against violence within sexual relationships. (S5O-03890)
Sexual activity of any kind without consent or a reasonable belief as to consent—which is defined in law as “free agreement”—is criminal. Moreover, the courts have held that a person cannot consent to be assaulted where the accused intends to cause them injury, so it is not a defence to crimes of assault, culpable homicide or murder that the victim “consented” to being injured. We keep the criminal law under review, and we will carefully consider any proposals to reform the law in this area.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the BBC research that found that a third of women had experienced unwanted violence during consensual sex. In addition to the answer to my first question, I ask for clarification on the use of the defence of consent in cases of violence against women, which is commonly known as the rough sex defence, and whether data is collected on that. Finally, is any data collected on women’s reports to the police of violence during consensual sex?
In the interest of brevity, I will write to the member with more detail, but I reiterate what I said in my opening answer: there cannot be consent to being injured, assaulted or murdered. I briefly met Fiona Mackenzie, who runs the We Can’t Consent To This campaign, and I have offered her another meeting, which Claire Baker can come to if she wishes. I would be happy to look at any specific proposals on data collection or the law that can send a clear message that women—or indeed anybody else—simply cannot consent to being injured, assaulted or murdered.
Government Business and Constitutional Relations
Post-Brexit Trade Policy
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the development of future trade policy post-Brexit. (S5O-03891)
The Scottish Government continues to press the UK Government to take Scotland’s needs into account and to seek our agreement when considering the desirability of any new trade deals when negotiating mandates are agreed or changed and when agreements or other arrangements are ratified and signed. We were deeply concerned by recent leaked documents that suggest that the national health service is on the table in the trade negotiations with the United States. That demonstrates exactly why the Scottish Government needs to have a clear role in any future trade agreements, to ensure that the priorities of Scottish public services, such as the NHS, are acted on.
Among the many threats from trade deals to Scotland’s food and drink industry, there are serious concerns about geographical indications—GIs—which have also been put on the table as part of potential trade negotiations with the United States. That move would clearly undermine the sector and be a disaster for Scotland’s world-class produce, including Stornoway black pudding, whisky, Arbroath smokies, Scottish farmed salmon, Shetland lamb and Orkney beef and lamb. What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the UK Government to ensure that GIs are protected and measures are put in place to prevent bogus imitations?
Thank you. I thought that I was listening to a shopping list.
It would be a fine shopping list with great produce on it, Presiding Officer.
The Scottish Government is acutely aware of the importance of GIs for the range of Scottish products that have achieved that status. Leaving the single market and the customs union would be most damaging to Scotland’s food and drink industry. Food exports to the European Union were valued at approximately £1.1 billion in 2018. There is a new GI scheme being legislated for, but it is not guaranteed that it would be in place on day 1 should the UK leave the EU, which we still hope will not happen. It is vital that GIs are recognised and that European GIs continue to be a key part of the system.
Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Public Services)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it has had any communication from the United Kingdom Government regarding legislative protection for public services, such as the national health service, in future trade deals post-Brexit. (S5O-03893)
We have not had any communication about legislative protection for the NHS, despite what appear to be well-founded concerns that issues such as the price that the NHS pays for medicines will be on the table in the UK Government’s trade negotiations with the United States and other countries.
Last week, The Independent reported that US drug firms have said that they are
“confident it will be easier to ... hike the price of medicines”
in the UK following Brexit. Does the Scottish Government agree that the price of medicines should be protected and that the NHS should remain firmly in public hands?
My answer to both those questions is yes. The anticipated increase in the price of drugs would be disastrous for the Scottish NHS. There is no necessity for it and it should not happen.
United Kingdom Administration (Relations)
Question 2 is from Murdo Fraser.
Thank you, Presiding Officer—I was starting to worry that you had fallen out of love with me.
The issue, Mr Fraser, is that you should be in the chamber to hear the instructions at the beginning of portfolio question time. That is your problem, not mine. Anyway, on you go.
I was here at the start.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it has made any preparations for working with a Labour-led United Kingdom Administration. (S5O-03892)
The Scottish Government will, of necessity, work with the next UK Administration, of whatever political complexion, in order to ensure that the interests of Scotland are protected.
We all know, of course, that Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon are ready and waiting to do a deal on Friday in the unfortunate event that they get a chance, so can the cabinet secretary confirm that granting a section 30 order before 2021 will be a red line in any negotiations between the Scottish Government and a Labour-led UK Administration?
I can confirm two things: one is that the right choice for Scotland tomorrow is to vote for the Scottish National Party and for no other party. The second thing that I can confirm is that we believe that the Scottish people have the right to decide their own future, a matter that distinguishes this party from all the other parties in the chamber.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that, when it comes to the UK Administration, the greatest threat facing Scotland is a Boris Johnson-led Government, which would force us out of Europe and put our NHS at risk in a US trade deal?
I am going to stop the member there. We are not on the stump. We seem to be in electioneering mode—I wonder why.
Immigration Post-Brexit (Powers)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the United Kingdom Government to discuss the transfer of powers over immigration post-Brexit. (S5O-03894)
Ben Macpherson last met Caroline Nokes, the former immigration minister, on 23 July. They had a constructive relationship and regularly discussed concerns about UK immigration proposals and Scotland’s specific needs. However, new UK ministers since that time have chosen not to resume those meetings to engage on migration solutions for Scotland. I, too, have argued for a differentiated approach at joint ministerial committee meetings. The Scottish Government has a clear vision for future immigration policy. Our 2018 paper shows how a tailored migration policy for Scotland could work, and we will publish a new paper early next year setting out further details.
Aala Hamza is a 23-year-old student living in my constituency and studying biomedicine at the University of Strathclyde. The Home Office is threatening to deport her back to Sudan, where her life would be in severe danger. Does the cabinet secretary agree that an independent Scotland would treat people who live and work here with dignity and respect and never put them under such intolerable stress?
I very much sympathise with the member and with her constituent. I am very conscious of the fact that, as a constituency MSP, I regularly meet individuals, EU citizens in particular, who are terrified by the attitude of the current UK Government towards migration and are fearful about the future. We welcome individuals from all over the world. Scotland is not full up but needs the contribution of others to our economy and society. We have a moral duty to play our part in helping people fleeing persecution, as the member has indicated. It is important that they are welcome and are made to feel welcome and supported in our country. With powers over immigration, we can set policies that are suited to our needs and based on fairness, dignity and respect in the best interests of Scotland and those who live here. It has never been more important for this Parliament to have those powers. I urge the member to speak to Mr Macpherson and follow up the case that she has raised with him. I am sure that he will do everything he can to help.
To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting veterans, including those who are homeless, to find accommodation. (S5O-03895)
The member will be aware that I provided the third annual update to Parliament last week, when I set out the actions that we are taking across ministerial portfolios, including housing and homelessness, to improve service delivery for veterans. For example, we have committed to working with key stakeholders to develop a pathway to prevent veterans’ homelessness in 2020; we have published guidance for social landlords on meeting veterans’ needs; we continue to offer priority access for veterans to the open market shared equity scheme; and, through the affordable housing supply programme, we awarded £350,000 to East Lothian Council to deliver six homes for disabled veterans.
Is the minister aware that recent reports estimate that up to 1,136 properties owned by the Ministry of Defence currently sit empty in Scotland, which is a significant rise from 690 properties in 2013? Does he agree that it is time for the United Kingdom Government to open those properties to those who have served their country with dignity and courage and that it must take action to match the Scottish National Party’s ambition to end homelessness for veterans, starting today?
It might interest the member to know that I wrote to the UK Government just over a year ago to raise a number of housing and homelessness-related issues. I suggested a face-to-face discussion of the issues, specifically including whether the military had any housing in Scotland that it expected to be declared surplus to requirements at some point in the future. Unfortunately, no such sit-down has taken place. No doubt that has been due, in part at least, to the high turnover of UK defence ministers. For example, there have been three secretaries of state since I took on this role 18 months ago, and who knows whether there is a fourth waiting in the wings.
I hope that the situation will correct itself in short order following tomorrow’s election, because it is an important issue. In the meantime, I strongly urge the next UK Government to match our ambition around veterans’ housing and homelessness and open up appropriate empty MOD properties.
I am sure that the minister will agree with me that housing support pathways for veterans, as a major part of their transition, need to be as accessible as possible, and that a variety of housing options need to be available to families upon leaving the forces. Will the minister detail what actions have been taken to encourage discussions on housing options with armed forces personnel, with such discussions taking place long before they leave service, to ensure their smooth transition into civilian life?
The member makes an interesting point, but I will correct him slightly: it is about not just families but individual veterans. Sometimes the biggest issues relate to early service leavers, who are often young, single men.
With regard to the points that the member makes about facilitating transition, I hope that he will bear with me. We will announce our response to the whole transition package at the end of next month.
Scotland Act 1998 (Section 30 Order)
To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to request a section 30 order under the Scotland Act 1998 on 13 December. (S5O-03896)
In the First Minister’s statement on the programme for government on 3 September, she made it clear that we will seek agreement from the United Kingdom Government to legislation that puts beyond doubt the ability of this Parliament to hold a referendum on independence. The exact date will be notified to Parliament when it is decided on.
Time and again in this chamber we hear reports of schools, hospitals and the police service continuing to suffer under the Scottish National Party Government. That shows what happens when the obsession with independence referendums takes the Government’s eye off the ball. When will the cabinet secretary accept that the Scottish Government needs to deal with issues that really matter to the people of Scotland, rather than engaging in endless constitutional grandstanding? [Interruption.]
That just proves that Mr Whittle should not believe everything that he hears. As we heard from John Swinney yesterday, the education service is making significant progress. I hope that Mr Whittle will read the report on that—[Interruption.]—as opposed to accepting the catcalls and shouts of members who are sitting around him. The health service is doing well and continues to have high patient satisfaction.
I say to Mr Whittle that, for me, constitutional obsession would be defined by Brexit, as pursued by his party in government. It has cost Scotland millions, and it is costing the UK billions. Nothing has happened in a legislative sense, and we are being impoverished for no good reason. I suggest that Mr Whittle focus on that and not on the myths that he is trying to peddle about the many achievements of the SNP Government.
What will the cabinet secretary do to secure a legal referendum in 2020, should Westminster continue to deny the people of Scotland the legal means to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands?
That is one of the defining issues of the current electoral contest. Who trusts the people of Scotland to speak and to make their own decisions? Quite clearly, no other party in this chamber believes that the people of Scotland should be allowed either to speak or to change their mind. Jackson Carlaw, the acting leader of the Scottish Conservatives—more “acting” than “leader”—has said that he has changed his mind on the issue of leaving the European Union, but the people of Scotland are not allowed to change their mind on any subject. The situation is clearly intolerable and impossible. Listening to the people of Scotland will be our priority. If only other politicians would adopt that democratic imperative.
Freedom of Movement (National Health Service)
To ask the Scottish Government what analysis has been done of the impact that ending freedom of movement for European Union citizens after Brexit will have on the national health service. (S5O-03897)
The Scottish Government remains deeply concerned about the ending of free movement and the imposition of a restrictive system in its place. That could reduce the working-age population of Scotland by 5 per cent, and it will make Scotland a less attractive destination for skilled workers, such as doctors, dentists and midwives. Scotland is also projected to experience more pronounced population ageing than other parts of the United Kingdom. Taken together, those issues will lead to challenges for our NHS. We have a unique demographic need in Scotland. We will publish a further paper in January 2020 on why Scotland needs powers to deliver a tailored migration system.
Research by the Nuffield Trust has revealed that Conservative and Labour Brexit policies pose a real risk to NHS staffing numbers. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the only way to protect our valuable NHS is by fully protecting and strengthening freedom of movement and encouraging EU migration?
I absolutely agree. The Scottish Government values the contributions made by nationals of other EU and European Economic Area countries to our NHS, and we want them to stay. We want to be able to attract talented people from across the world to work in our NHS, without excessive barriers. That is why we have made the case for a tailored migration policy for Scotland.
We do not believe that a restrictive immigration model that limits free movement and subjects people to high fees is conducive to the creation of an effective, responsive and welcoming migration system, which is what our health and social care system requires.
Independence Preparations (Spending)
To ask the Scottish Government how much it has spent making preparations for independence in the last 12 years. (S5O-03898)
The Scottish Government set out plans for an independent Scotland before the independence referendum on 18 September 2014 through the publication of the white paper, “Scotland’s Future”, and by holding a number of public engagement events. Cost information on that activity is in the public domain. Our 2019-20 programme for government confirmed that we will update the 2014 plan so that the people of Scotland have the necessary information to determine the form of government that is best suited to their needs. Costs will be published as normal.
While the Scottish National Party Government has spent 12 years wasting public money by pushing for independence, Scotland’s schools have slipped in international rankings. Will the cabinet secretary commit to not spending another penny on independence, and instead spend public money solely on public services, such as our schools, for at least a generation?
I suggest that the member looks at the programme for international student assessment figures, reads the coverage on them from respectable and informed academics—as opposed to that from people who do not know what they are talking about—and comes back and asks me the question again. It would be a better informed question, because it would be a different question.
Let me deal with the question of costs. To date, the United Kingdom Government has spent £66 billion on Brexit; that is the cost to the economy, plus the cost to the Government. Standard and Poor’s found that Brexit has already cost the UK economy £66 billion. That is the result of the decision by the Tory Government—a decision that was not supported in Scotland, which voted against it. It would require a nerve of astonishing proportions for any Tory to talk about the cost of democracy in Scotland, when that is the cost of Brexit. The Tories should be hanging their heads in shame at what they have been imposing on Scotland, a country that now has more food banks than branches of MacDonald’s. That is their legacy.
Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
To ask the Scottish Government how it promotes rural tourism, and how much it invests in this work. (S5O-03899)
The Scottish Government fully recognises the importance of tourism to Scotland’s rural economies. The rich and diverse attractions on offer are actively promoted by VisitScotland through a range of both digital and traditional channels across both domestic and international marketing campaigns.
Other public bodies also play a key role in supporting tourism development in rural areas, through, for example, business and destination support from Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, training and development through Skills Development Scotland, and promotion and enhancement of the natural and heritage environments through Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland.
An exact figure for our ongoing multi-agency support is not available. However, the Scottish Government separately announced £3 million in extra funding for the rural tourism infrastructure fund, on top of the £6 million that has already been awarded. We have also just confirmed additional support to promote food and drink tourism.
In my constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh we enjoy well-known tourist attractions such as Rosslyn chapel. What has the Scottish Government done to promote and support less-well-known tourist attractions such as Cousland smiddy and Dalkeith museum?
A lot of the work to promote Midlothian is co-ordinated by the Midlothian and Borders tourism action plan, which is now in phase 2. A lot of the support is for individual businesses, particularly around a digital offer for their marketing.
VisitScotland’s spring 2019 campaign promoted family breaks in the region for visitors within a two-hour to four-hour drive time. It focused on Dalkeith country park and Roslin Glen, but also included Lasswade stables and Rosslyn chapel. The launch of Midlothian and Borders Tourism Action Group’s brand new “Scotland Starts Here” marketing campaign website and tourism app will also direct people to areas that are, perhaps, less known in terms of promotion of tourism within Colin Beattie’s constituency.
The cabinet secretary knows that the Scottish Borders is an amazing place for tourism, but there are more opportunities waiting to be explored. Can the cabinet secretary tell me why, specifically, funding from the Scottish Government has been more than halved over the past five years, from £138,000 to £55,000?
I am afraid that when Rachael Hamilton asked her question she did not say who the funding was for. Clearly, Scottish Government funding is given to VisitScotland, which is the national agency for tourism. Could the member write to me identifying the organisation that she asked about? It was not clear in her question.
FIFA World Cup 2030
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government about the United Kingdom and Ireland staging the 2030 FIFA World Cup. (S5O-03900)
The football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland are working together to assess the technical and financial feasibility of a joint bid for the 2030 FIFA world cup. Scottish Government officials have participated in early discussions alongside the UK Government, the Irish Government, the Welsh Government and the Administration in Northern Ireland.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that positive response. Scotland and the UK have a great track record of hosting and delivering major national sporting events. There can be no better way for a new generation of Scots to be involved in a national game than for them to see world cup games being played here on Scottish soil. Will the cabinet secretary agree to work on a cross-party basis to take the bid forward and to make sure that the whole Parliament can support it?
As yet, there is no bid. FIFA held its latest council meeting in Shanghai in October 2019, during which it announced that 2030 bids would be submitted in 2024.The bidding rules and timeline for the 2030 bid process have not been released yet; it is anticipated that they will be released by May or June 2022.
Miles Briggs has identified that any major event, especially one in the far future, would require parties to work together, especially if there is a multi-country bid. The Scottish Parliament working cross-party to fund and support such bids is important, as it did on, for example, the Union Cycliste Internationale world championships, which will be held in Scotland in 2023.
Miles Briggs is also right about inspiring young people. We have the UEFA championships coming to Scotland. I hope that Miles Briggs and others from across the chamber will get behind that, because it is an opportunity to inspire young footballers.
Migration Advisory Committee
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the Migration Advisory Committee. (S5O-03901)
I met the Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee in November 2018. Scottish Government officials most recently met the MAC on 25 September. The Scottish Government submitted a formal response last month to the MAC’s call for evidence on salary thresholds in the UK immigration system and on the dynamics of a points-based immigration system.
In our engagement with the MAC, the Scottish Government has consistently argued for a fairer, more flexible and tailored approach to migration policy to deliver the solutions that Scotland needs.
The next time the minister meets the Migration Advisory Com9mittee, could he impress on it that, despite the Prime Minister’s comments that European Union migrants have been
“able to treat the UK as if it’s ... part of their own country”
for too long, migrants—including many people in my family—have rightly treated Scotland as their own country, and that they have worked, employed people, raised families, participated in their communities and made a contribution? They have, in fact, contributed more to this society than they have ever taken.
I share Linda Fabiani’s sentiments in condemning the Prime Minister’s remarks, and I support her important words about the net contribution of EU migrants not only to our economy and our public services, but in terms of the wider enrichment of our society.
Scotland is a welcoming and open nation, and we want it to remain so. As Linda Fabiani is, the Scottish Government is grateful to citizens from elsewhere in the European Union who have made Scotland their home and have contributed so much to our public services, our economy and our communities. Through our stay in Scotland campaign, we are sending a clear and welcoming message to EU citizens, and we are providing them with the information and practical support that they need. In my discussions in the coming months with any new UK Government, whether with the Migration Advisory Committee or new ministers, I will reiterate the points that Linda Fabiani rightly raised.
Can the minister give an update on the number of people in Scotland who are applying for settled status? Towards the closing date, we could have the anticipated rush, so can he give assurances that there will be sufficient resources for support services?
The number of applications for the EU settlement scheme continues to rise. As we anticipated, there was a significant uplift in October this year, before the Brexit deadline. We continue to invest in our support services through the Citizens Advice Scotland network of bureaux, where individuals who would like support and, crucially, advice on the EU settlement scheme can get it face-to-face, over the phone or online. Compared to what is being offered elsewhere in the UK, that is significantly enhanced provision.
We are also investing £250,000 in support groups—including the Fife Migrants Forum—in communities in Scotland, in order to reach EU citizens who are more vulnerable and more difficult to reach through mainstream communication platforms. We are glad to work across Scotland to support EU citizens in our communities who contribute so much. We want them to stay, and we deeply value their contributions.
Historic Buildings and Monuments
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support Scotland’s historic buildings and monuments. (S5O-03902)
The Scottish Government supports historic buildings and monuments through the work of our lead public body, Historic Environment Scotland. That includes providing £14.5 million annually for grant schemes, which enable repair and revitalisation of the historic environment.
Last year, funding helped to support individual buildings including the David Livingstone centre in South Lanarkshire, which received more than £600,000 for conservation-standard repairs, and provided wider investment for places in Monica Lennon’s region—for example, though the conservation area regeneration scheme in Coatbridge, which received £800,000 to support heritage-led regeneration in the town.
I thank the cabinet secretary for her response.
The cabinet secretary might be aware of the significance of the historic mausoleum in Hamilton and its importance to the town, and of the worrying news earlier this year that the cost of maintenance repairs to that historic building could risk its future. Has she had discussions on that with South Lanarkshire Council? In the light of the real-terms cuts to the council’s overall budget, can she advise whether any of the national funding that she mentioned could be made available for that project?
Monica Lennon will be aware of the fair local government settlement that was achieved for South Lanarkshire Council and other councils.
On the detail that she asked about, I understand that the Hamilton mausoleum needs repair, particularly for water damage. It is a 120 feet high Roman-style mausoleum, which is category A listed and has been an important landmark in Hamilton since the 1850s. Local politicians—including Christina McKelvie, who is the constituency MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse—have actively supported the save the Hamilton mausoleum trust’s campaign. As far as I am aware, the council has not approached the Scottish Government. Our understanding is that Historic Environment Scotland, which would be the lead body, has not been approached regarding the building either, but would welcome the opportunity to work with any parties, including the council, if they can help to identify ways to secure its sustainable future management.
European Union (Relations)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with European partners regarding Scotland’s future relationship with the European Union. (S5O-03903)
The Scottish Government meets our European partners regularly to discuss matters of joint interest, convey Scotland’s position as a proud, open and welcoming European nation, and underline our commitment to the shared principles and values of the European Union.
Whatever happens in the future, the Scottish Government remains committed to EU membership and to working collaboratively with the EU and its member states.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that any form of Brexit will be hugely damaging, not only for my constituents in Dundee but for the whole of Scotland? Does she also agree that, tomorrow, the people of Scotland have the opportunity to take Scotland’s future into its own hands, to stop Boris Johnson, stop the Tories and stop Brexit—
No. I have already said that we are not on the stump. That is fine. I know what the answer probably is but I do not want electioneering in the chamber on the last—
I think that the member asked another question.
What did she ask about?
The impact of Brexit.
The impact of Brexit is fine. Let us hear about that.
Our European partners recognise the damaging impact of Brexit. Whatever the result of the election, in Scotland there are already damaging impacts on both our economic output and, as we have heard in answers to recent questions, EU citizens.
The European partners that I speak to fully understand Scotland’s pro-European position: they know that Scotland voted to remain and they have great sympathy with our position. They also know that we comply, and have complied for 40 years, with the EU as a European Union member. That is the position that the Scottish Government wants to retain. People have the opportunity to make those views clear in the near future.
Major Events (Best Practice)
To ask the Scottish Government how it safeguards environmental standards, workplace rights and ethical factors when seeking to attract major events to Scotland. (S5O-03904)
Scotland’s approach to securing events is set out in our national events strategy, called “Scotland, the Perfect Stage”. The EventScotland team in VisitScotland works in partnership with local authorities, sports and venues to attract and secure events of all types across Scotland. EventScotland promotes best practice in environmental sustainability, rights protection and ethical considerations through its funding criteria and industry engagement. Scotland has recently secured the inaugural UCI world cycling championships for 2023 when, for the first time ever, all 13 championships will take place in one country and at the same time of year.
There is a huge opportunity to use the Scottish Government’s role in the promotion of events to advance the case for the living wage and other workplace rights, particularly in the hospitality sector, the use of sustainable transport and a wide range of other environmental considerations.
To give one specific example, is the cabinet secretary aware of the strong criticism this year of the influence of the fossil fuel industry lobbying at the COP25 climate change conference in Madrid, and will the Scottish Government commit to use whatever opportunity and influence it has to ensure that that toxic voice is not heard when COP26 meets in Glasgow next year?
There are two parts to that question. On the first part, I can give an example of good practice. The Solheim cup, which was a major event here this year, developed a sustainability plan focused on minimising the event’s carbon footprint, achieving zero waste to landfill, conserving important habitats and promoting sustainability to spectators. That is a very practical example.
On Mr Harvie’s point about COP26, Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, is at COP25 as we speak, as indeed are officials from the Scottish Government and from Glasgow City Council. They are there precisely to see how it is operating and to learn lessons from that. We want COP26 to be a COP of best practice in delivery, but also in policy. It is a great opportunity to do things in an ethical way and promote Scotland’s sustainability and, importantly, our world-leading contribution to climate change.
There is much to be done. We have to practise as well as preach, and I understand exactly the message that Patrick Harvie is conveying.
Transient Visitor Levy
To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to support hospitality businesses negatively impacted by the introduction of transient visitor levies. (S5O-03905)
The decision to implement a visitor levy will be entirely at the discretion of individual local authorities and should reflect local circumstances and priorities. The Scottish Government is analysing responses to the recent consultation on a local discretionary transient visitor levy. It will continue to work with the tourism industry and local authority partners to ensure that the draft legislation that is to be introduced next year by my colleague Kate Forbes, the Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, will recognise and meet the needs of Scotland’s tourism sector.
UKHospitality has warned that if local authorities across Scotland implement the tourist tax, it would cost almost 6,000 jobs and cost our economy more than £200 million. What plans does the Scottish Government have to engage with businesses—especially small and medium-sized enterprises—to alleviate any damage that such a tax would do to their revenue stream and to help to protect their jobs?
UKHospitality is wrong to say that the transient visitor levy would be a national one—that is simply incorrect. We are committed to giving local authorities discretionary powers to introduce such a charge if it is appropriate for their areas. For example, the Tory Administration in Aberdeen City Council could decide either to introduce a levy or not to do so. If it does introduce it, it is absolutely essential that the tourism interests of Aberdeen City Council are used as the basis.
However, that will not cause the biggest damage to tourism jobs. The biggest damage will come from Brexit, which was introduced by the Tory Government. Loss of visitor numbers and staff will have a far bigger impact than any of the projections that Tom Mason is citing, however incorrect they are.
There are two supplementaries; both must be brief.
The cabinet secretary referred to on-going discussions with local authorities. Is she aware that concern has been raised by some of my constituents that, if the levy is limited to local authorities, that may limit both the nature of the projects that can be supported and the extent of any support that is provided, and will she confirm that discussions are taking place about enabling accredited or appointed third sector trusts through the legislation?
As I made clear, my colleague Kate Forbes will take forward the legislation. The consultation only closed on 2 December and there are well over 1,000 responses, so I am sure that Liam McArthur’s point has been made as part of the consultation. When all the points, including that one, have been considered, there will be a response to the consultation, followed by the normal legislative process. I cannot give a definitive answer to the member, but that point is clearly on the agenda and will need to be considered.
Will the cabinet secretary outline the negative impact that there would be on hospitality businesses if the raft of business rates reliefs that are currently offered were removed, as was proposed by all the Opposition parties when they voted for a stage 2 amendment last month?
The member has raised a vitally important point. The decision by Conservative, Labour and Green members on the Local Government and Communities Committee to vote to remove the opportunity for national Government to provide business rates relief for tourism is absolutely astounding and has been met with incredulity by the sector. There is an opportunity, which must be grasped, for that to be remedied as that legislation progresses. The tourism industry is vital for this country. It supports small and medium-sized enterprises and businesses right across Scotland. Business rates relief for the hospitality and tourism industry is in jeopardy, because of the actions of Tom Mason’s party and others, unless and until they remedy that decision.
O2 ABC Venue
To ask the Scottish Government what it can do to support the re-establishment of the O2 ABC venue in Glasgow. (S5O-03906)
Although I am unable to comment on a live planning case, I recognise the hugely significant social, cultural and economic role that live music venues play in our towns and cities. With our partners such as Creative Scotland and Highland and Islands Enterprise, we support music venues across Scotland through, for example, major festivals, our national performing companies and the inclusion of the agent of change principle in primary legislation.
Will the cabinet secretary acknowledge the importance of the O2 ABC to Glasgow’s economy and to its status as UNESCO city of music? I know that she has a personal commitment to rock and pop music. The venue is also important to Scots who have memories of seeing such bands as the Arctic Monkeys and Frightened Rabbit there. Will the cabinet secretary put on record her commendation of the efforts of the Academy Music Group and the work that is on-going in planning and regeneration services? It is a complex process to establish whether to restore or rebuild the O2. One way or the other, I hope that the cabinet secretary agrees that we need to rebuild it. Will she continue to pledge support vocally, if she can, for the restoration or rebuilding of that wonderful and iconic building?
I reiterate that it is a live planning case. However, Pauline McNeill is right in recognising all the different agencies that are involved. There are listed building consents, planning issues and a variety of other issues, and everybody is trying to work constructively within their remits to see resolution. I probably cannot comment more than that, but that work by everybody using their best efforts to get a positive result is to be commended. I do not want to comment further in case it is the subject of a ministerial decision.
Pauline McNeill is right in recognising the role of the ABC in the memories of many people. However, the ABC and, indeed, other venues should also be celebrated for the future music and the present talent that they bring. For those of us of a certain age, perhaps nostalgia might be the way to celebrate our music venues. However, the best way is to provide opportunities for new and fresh talent to perform in UNESCO’s city of music.