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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 13, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 13 June 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Environment Day 2019, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Wild Animals in Circuses (No 2) Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Government Business and Constitutional Relations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is portfolio questions on Government business and constitutional relations. I remind members that questions 1 and 8 have been grouped together. I will therefore call question 1 and its supplementary, and then question 8 and its supplementary. If members wish to ask a further supplementary to either of those questions, they should press their request-to-speak buttons after question 8 has been asked. In fact, they can do so during question 1—I am not bothered either way.

Referendums (Scotland) Bill

1. Bill Bowman (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making with the Referendums (Scotland) Bill. (S5O-03374)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

The Referendums (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Parliament on 28 May. The Finance and Constitution Committee has been designated as the lead committee for the bill, and it will consider its timetable.

Bill Bowman

The bill gives Scottish ministers the power to call referendums and to set referendum questions, a power that United Kingdom ministers do not have. Why do Scottish ministers need those powers?

Graeme Dey

I think that Mr Bowman’s question is based on a slightly false premise. The idea that the Scottish Government decides upon something and that that is an end to it is simply not the case.

In the first instance, the framework bill will be scrutinised by the Finance and Constitution Committee, as I have just said. Given that its membership comprises Adam Tomkins and Tavish Scott among others, I am in no doubt whatever, seeing the glint in Mr Tomkins’s eye—

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Oh, yes.

Graeme Dey

Well, there we go. I am in no doubt whatever that the scrutiny will be intense, as indeed it should be. As with any bill, the Referendums (Scotland) Bill will be open to amendment. Parliament is currently taking on the role of debating and approving the rules and procedures for Scottish referendums to ensure that the framework commands public confidence that referendums will be fair and open and in line with established best practice.

In the second instance, if the bill passes, it would thereafter be a matter for Parliament, as well as for Scottish ministers, to decide whether it is appropriate to hold a referendum on a particular topic.

Referendums (Scotland) Bill

8. Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government under what circumstances it would consider using the provisions in the Referendums (Scotland) Bill. (S5O-03381)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

A standing framework for referendums is a normal and reasonable thing for a Government and Parliament to have at their disposal. When ministers bring forward proposals for a referendum, it will be for Parliament as a whole to decide and vote on those matters.

Graham Simpson

I am sure that the minister wants to maintain that the bill is about referendums in general and not independence in particular. Can he say what questions other than independence Scottish ministers think should be determined by referendum in Scotland?

Graeme Dey

In the years to come, this Government, or any Government, can bring forward questions in a referendum.

Let us be absolutely clear about this: it is for the Scottish Parliament, not Tory politicians at Westminster, to decide whether there should be an independence referendum in Scotland. That position is consistently supported by a clear majority of people in Scotland, and it is time that the Tories started supporting this Parliament, instead of undermining it.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The citizens assembly has been framed as a space for open discussion and balanced debate, but how can that be possible when the Government has introduced a referendum bill and has thereby so clearly indicated what it sees as the inevitable conclusion of the assembly’s discussions? How can we have meaningful debate about Scotland and the UK’s constitutional future when there are clear implications for other nations?

In addition to those questions—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Well, not too many additions.

Claire Baker

It is a very slight addition. What plans does the Government have to involve the UK in discussions in the citizens assembly agenda?

Graeme Dey

The citizens assembly will run parallel to the process and, as far as I have seen, the approach has been widely welcomed, by most people. I repeat the point that Mr Russell made and ask all parties and wider Scotland to get involved and help to shape the assembly. That is in the interests of all of us.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Question 2 was not lodged.

United Kingdom Government Constitutional Policy

3. Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact it anticipates the appointment of a new Prime Minister will have on its relations with the United Kingdom Government on constitutional policy. (S5O-03376)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

The Scottish Government hopes that whoever becomes Prime Minister will begin to treat with respect the views of this Parliament and the people of Scotland on the issues that are raised by Brexit and beyond.

When Theresa May came to office, she said that the Scottish Government would be “fully involved” in Brexit discussions. She then proceeded to ignore the Scottish Government, dismiss votes in this Parliament and disregard the overwhelming majority in Scotland for remaining in the European Union. It should be said that a pretty similar level of disdain has been shown to Wales.

The Scottish Government is always ready to co-operate and work jointly on the basis of equality, respect and trust, but the Tories, instead of treating us as an equal partner, have treated Scotland with contempt, and the on-going horror show that is the Tory leadership contest suggests that the situation will get worse, not better.

Dr Allan

The person who today came to the top of the leader board to be Prime Minister has previously indicated his disdain for public spending in Scotland, and one of his competitors—the one who is favoured by the Scottish Conservatives’ leader—has gone as far as to call the very existence of the Scottish Parliament an act of “constitutional vandalism”. Is Westminster’s respect for the Scottish Parliament’s role buried or merely dead?

Graeme Dey

Indeed. I think that the people of Scotland can see through the arrogance that underpins what comes out of the Tory leadership election. Ruth Davidson’s favoured candidate says that he will not “allow” the people of Scotland to make the choice about their future, even as he and other Tory leadership candidates prepare to take Scotland over the cliff edge of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. That is perhaps one reason why, in the European Parliament elections, the Tories received less than 12 per cent of the vote in Scotland.

It is not just on the constitutional issue that the Tories are treating Scotland with contempt. Boris Johnson wants to give the highest earners south of the border a huge tax break, paid for in part by a tax increase for people in Scotland. That demonstrates why, more than ever, Scotland’s future needs to be in Scotland’s hands.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Intergovernmental relations are currently under review; the review is being led by the Cabinet Office, at the heart of Whitehall. I do not know what the review’s conclusions will be, but if the review recommends that United Kingdom intergovernmental relations be placed on a statutory footing, will the Scottish Government support that recommendation and, if so, does it follow that, in the Scottish Government’s view, disputes about intergovernmental relations should become questions of law for resolutions in the Supreme Court?

Graeme Dey

Mr Tomkins is getting a little ahead of himself as to where we are on this. He is right to say that there is a review of intergovernmental relations. However, I say gently to him that I am involved in some of the Brexit work on behalf of this Government, and it is every bit as bad on the inside as it looks from the outside. Therefore, in the first instance, we need to find a way forward that is not dictated by Westminster but mutually agreed across all the Administrations in the UK. If we can find agreement on that, we might make progress, but we are a very long way from that.

Legislative Programme 2018-19

4. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in implementing its 2018-19 legislative programme. (S5O-03377)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

Of the 12 bills that were announced in the year 3 legislative programme, three have already been passed. Of the remainder, six are currently going through the parliamentary process; they have been joined by the Referendums (Scotland) Bill. The other three will be introduced ahead of the next programme for government.

However, as I noted when I discussed the matter with the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee recently, delivery of all Government legislation is subject to the potential impact of the unwelcome requirement to divert resources to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

It is worth noting that, earlier this year, the progress of a number of bills was paused because of Brexit. In addition, relatively recently, in a spirit of co-operation, the Government has agreed to requests from the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that they be granted timetable extensions because of their desire to take further evidence on bills or to manage workload pressures. Despite all of that, we anticipate that 14 bills will secure royal assent throughout the course of 2019, which will be one more than in 2018.

David Torrance

The minister will be aware of the claim by Tory members that the Scottish Government needs to get on with the day job. For the benefit of the Tories, perhaps the minister could highlight some of the legislation that the Scottish National Party Government has had passed since it was elected in 2016.

Graeme Dey

I think that I would incur the Presiding Officer’s wrath if I were to list all the legislation that has been passed since 2016—

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Go on!

Graeme Dey

I will give a taster, particularly for Mr Tomkins.

Although other places have been left paralysed by Brexit over the past few months, this Parliament has got on with the day job. Seven bills—the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill, the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill, the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill and the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill—have completed their stage 3 consideration since the beginning of last month, and two more bills are set to follow suit before the end of this month. As I said, we are getting on with the day job.

Brexit (Impact on Immigration)

5. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent consideration it has given to the impact of Brexit on immigration. (S5O-03378)

The Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development (Ben Macpherson)

It is increasingly well known that migration is crucial to Scotland’s future prosperity, and that any reduction would damage our public services, labour market, demographic profile and local communities.

The independent report from the expert advisory group on migration and population that was published in February this year stated that the United Kingdom Government’s immigration proposals could lead to a 30 per cent to 50 per cent reduction in net migration to Scotland over the next two decades, which would lead to a decline in our working-age population of up to 5 per cent.

The Scottish Government has consistently made it clear that freedom of movement and all the advantages that it brings should be allowed to continue in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament increasingly needs additional powers to tailor migration policy to meet Scotland’s needs.

John Mason

I wonder whether the minister has seen the NFU Scotland news release dated 4 June, which is headed, “Shortage Occupation List Review Falls Short on Industry Labour Requirements”. That applies to the requirements not only of the agricultural sector but to those of other sectors. The news release states:

“While the Review notes issues raised by NFU Scotland and others, it has produced no practical suggestions on how to resolve them.”

President Andrew McCornick is quoted as saying that the Migration Advisory Committee’s report

“does nothing to address existing or future post-Brexit labour requirements”.

Does the minister have any thoughts on that?

Ben Macpherson

Absolutely, I do. NFU Scotland is right to be concerned about current and future migration policy. The MAC’s review of the shortage occupation list related to the current system, which covers only graduate roles. Although it was never going to provide all the answers to the sector’s needs, the return of vets to the shortage occupation list is a welcome step.

I welcome the acknowledgement by the MAC, the Home Secretary and the Scottish Conservatives that the current immigration system is not working for all parts of the UK, but it is incredibly frustrating that, overall, the MAC and the UK Government continue to disregard the concerns that have been raised by key Scottish stakeholders, such as the NFUS. It is also evident from what the MAC has produced that the shortage occupation list is not a panacea.

Taken together, all that is confirmation that it is time for Scotland to have a tailored migration policy that could allow a more flexible approach to be taken to support our nation’s economic, social and demographic needs.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The minister is probably aware that, according to National Records of Scotland, the biggest contributor to population growth in Scotland is inward migration from the rest of the UK. What steps is his Government taking to protect and encourage inward migration from the rest of the UK?

Ben Macpherson

The Scottish Government is working to support delivery of all areas of public service in order to make Scotland as attractive a nation as possible. At the moment, our attractiveness is being damaged by the Brexit process.

However, it is interesting that net migration to Scotland from the rest of the UK has, in recent years, been consistently positive—we are attracting more people from the rest of the UK to come and live here than are going in the other direction. As Graeme Dey stated in a previous answer, that is further evidence that the Scottish Government is delivering and getting on with the day job, and that Scotland is becoming more attractive. The biggest barriers to our attractiveness are Brexit and the immigration policies of the UK Government. We all need to work together to oppose those policies, which would have such a negative demographic effect and a negative effect on our economy in the short term.

Brexit (Trade with United States)

6. Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the potential impact on Scotland of President Trump’s recent comments regarding Brexit, including it being an opportunity to strengthen trade between the United States and the United Kingdom. (S5O-03379)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

The United States is an important trading partner for Scotland, and already accounts for 17 per cent, or £5.5 billion, of our international exports. We do not need to leave the European Union to trade successfully—and on terms that we consider to be appropriate to our values—with the US

The UK Government is keen to pursue a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but the Scottish Government is fundamentally opposed to any deal that would lead to a reduction in environmental and safety standards, or that would expose our public services, including the national health service, to market forces. Accordingly, we will oppose any such deal and take every step that we can take to make sure that that does not come about.

Emma Harper

When he was on his state visit last week, Donald Trump made clear his view that our NHS and agriculture sector should be part of any post-Brexit trade deal. Does the minister share my concerns about those comments? Does he agree that we in Scotland must do all that we can to ensure that we do not get hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken, and that big pharmaceutical companies do not have a negative influence on our healthcare system and our animal welfare standards?

Graeme Dey

I absolutely share those concerns; indeed, I suspect that the vast majority of MSPs in the chamber share them.

This Government will do all that it can to ensure that a trade deal with the US does not end up downgrading, or deviating from, the safety and environmental standards that we currently benefit from as members of the EU. We are also strongly opposed to anything that would open up our NHS or any other part of the public sector to unwanted interest from businesses that are looking to privatise those services.

We said clearly in our paper, “Scotland’s Role in the Development of Future UK Trade Arrangements—A Discussion Paper”, which was published last August, that we expect this Government and this Parliament to have a proper role and substantial involvement at all stages of the process of negotiating future trade arrangements. That would be the only way to make sure that Scotland’s interests are protected. We reiterated that position in the specific context of a trade deal with the US, in response to the UK Government’s consultations on future trade agreements last November.

Brexit (Impact on Glasgow)

7. Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Glasgow City Council regarding the impact that Brexit could have on the city. (S5O-03380)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, to discuss a wide range of issues, including preparations for Brexit, as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

Mike Russell last met the leader of Glasgow City Council, Councillor Susan Aitken, along with the leaders of Scotland’s six other cities, on 21 May.

Johann Lamont

I am sure that the minister agrees with me that Glasgow is the powerhouse of the Scottish economy. He will be aware that a report in 2016 by Glasgow City Council, the Glasgow economic leadership board and the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce outlined the scale of the economic challenge of Brexit for the city. What joint working has been done to implement the report’s recommendations? Will the Scottish Government finally commit to ensuring that Glasgow gets its fair share of the £90 million that the Scottish Government was given to address the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, in order to secure jobs in and the economic prosperity of the city of Glasgow?

Graeme Dey

We have been here before, with the member. I will outline exactly what is happening between the Scottish Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the seven cities. The Cabinet recently agreed to grant a request from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for local government to be given an extra £1.6 million to help it to prepare for EU exit. Each council—I stress that this was, again, at COSLA’s request—received £50,000 to fund the appointment of a Brexit co-ordinator. Officials have written to local authorities to advise how that money will be paid.

Close working with councils continues. As I said, as recently as 21 May, Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, met city leaders, including the Glasgow City Council leader, to discuss Brexit. The issues that were discussed included the need for reassurance for immigrants who are thinking of coming to Scotland—because Brexit is already affecting key sectors—and the identification of priority projects ahead of further much-needed detail on the United Kingdom shared prosperity fund being provided by Westminster. Mr Russell offered to meet the cities and others to explore the options around that fund and Brexit when things become clearer. There is no lack of co-operation between the Scottish Government and local authorities.

If Johann Lamont wants to play a constructive part in minimising the impact of Brexit on Glasgow and the rest of Scotland, perhaps she could have a word with the Labour MPs who yesterday conspired with the Tories in Westminster to deny Parliament there the opportunity to block a no-deal departure from the European Union, which would be catastrophic for Scotland—including Glasgow.