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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 14 June 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, One Minute’s Silence, First Minister’s Question Time, Mossmorran Flaring, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Human Trafficking (Annual Progress Report), National Council of Rural Advisers, Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct Inquiry, Point of Order, Decision Time


General Question Time

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Good morning. Before we start general question time, I remind members that, at 12 noon, building users will be invited to observe one minute’s silence to remember those who sadly lost their lives or were affected by the Grenfell tower tragedy one year ago. I will ask everyone present in the chamber, including people in the public gallery, to join me in observing the silence when we reach 12 noon. I will stop the question session a minute or so before 12 noon, and there will be a short pause afterwards before we move to First Minister’s question time.

Heathrow Airport (Carbon Emissions)

1. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update regarding its position on how the proposed third runway at Heathrow could impact on carbon emissions. (S5O-02227)

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

In support of its airports national policy statement, the United Kingdom Government has analysed the impact on carbon emissions and other environmental factors from the proposed third runway at Heathrow. Alongside publication of the national policy statement on 5 June, the UK Government published an appraisal of sustainability, which estimates that emissions could increase significantly if no mitigating measures are taken. The Scottish Government has noted that analysis and the UK Government’s view that a new third runway is deliverable within its international carbon commitments. The UK Government has stated that it will not proceed with a third runway unless the delivery of such commitments is achievable.

Patrick Harvie

I am astonished that the Scottish Government, which is apparently seeking to increase the scale of its ambition on climate change, is relying on the complacency that is being shown by the UK Government. The UK Government has clearly been told that pressing ahead with the project will make its own UK-wide climate targets unachievable. Building a third runway is the most environmentally destructive method of increasing aviation capacity, and the Scottish Government’s estimates suggest that it will increase the number of short-haul flights between Scotland and Heathrow. Is this not the most recklessly complacent infrastructure project in the UK? Is the Scottish Government not due genuine criticism for listening to its lobbyists at the Scottish National Party conference, who throw a free bar and expect the Scottish Government to fall in line behind this damaging, unnecessary and destructive project?

Keith Brown

I am sure that that question is designed to gain a headline rather than further illumination on the Scottish Government’s approach.

The UK Government is committed to a further runway at one of its airports, and it has chosen Heathrow. My job to support environmental mitigation is clear. The Scottish Government and the UK Government have said that the UK Government will not proceed with the project if it cannot be contained within its appraisal of sustainability and its carbon climate change targets.

Over and above that, we have ensured that, because the project is going ahead, there will be benefit to Scotland. My job as economy secretary is to ensure that there is connectivity with the rest of the UK, given the importance of Heathrow. Where we can, we have tried to get direct flights to Scotland, such as the one that started this week from Beijing, which obviate the need for additional flights from other airports.

We also have a £1.5 million marketing campaign that is marketing Scotland at Heathrow, which is important for our tourism sector, and we have an agreement to site one of the four UK supply chain hubs in Scotland, with Prestwick airport being looked at in that exercise. There will be procurement of a minimum of £200 million of construction-related spend in Scotland during the planning and construction phase. That is why the GMB, for example, and many others are very supportive of the Scottish Government’s approach in ensuring that we get maximum benefit from the development.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Tomorrow, Heathrow Airport representatives will visit Hunterston to discuss the potential of the magnificent site there to be used as a logistics hub. As the cabinet secretary is aware, Hunterston ticks every box in terms of suitability, efficiency, location and accessibility. Does he agree that choosing Hunterston would boost productivity, enhance supply chain opportunities for local businesses, and leave a legacy of new skills while allowing us to remain within climate change targets? Can he tell us how many jobs in my constituency such a logistics hub would create?

Keith Brown

Mr Gibson will know that 10 sites are competitively bidding to be Scotland’s supply chain hub for Heathrow. I am aware that Heathrow Airport representatives are visiting four sites this week, including Hunterston, which Mr Gibson mentioned, and Prestwick.

Mr Gibson will also be aware that the commitment to establish a hub in Scotland was part of the memorandum of understanding that the Scottish Government signed with Heathrow Airport in October 2016. To answer Mr Gibson’s question directly, among the significant benefits for Scotland from the MOU, the supply chain hub is expected to create a minimum of 100 direct jobs. I welcome the interest that that has generated at sites throughout Scotland.

Hepatitis C

2. Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its plan is for the elimination of hepatitis C. (S5O-02228)

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

The Scottish Government is committed to eliminating serious disease associated with hepatitis C, and we have seen real progress on that. Health Protection Scotland data shows that, between 2013 and 2016, we delivered a 39 per cent reduction in the incidence of decompensated cirrhosis in people with chronic hep C. That is a clear indication that our approach of targeting those who are most unwell is working. I have also asked Health Protection Scotland to provide recommendations on how we might eliminate the virus.

Michelle Ballantyne

I appreciate that the Government has signed up to the World Health Organization’s pledge to eliminate hep C by 2030, but the current treatment projections are not on target. Only 7,500 patients are expected to receive treatment over the next three years. Given that Scotland was considered a world leader in the elimination of hep C, does the minister agree that the Government has dropped the ball on the issue? Will she commit to an updated strategy that will effectively tackle this debilitating disease?

Aileen Campbell

As I outlined in my previous answer, some of the health consequences associated with hep C are on a downward trajectory. That indicates that our progress is good and that we are doing the right things. We have also committed to increasing the annual treatment target for hep C to 2,000 for 2018-19. Indeed, the latest figures for 2017-18 show that the treatment target for that year was exceeded.

As I said in my previous answer, I have asked Health Protection Scotland to provide me with recommendations on how we can eliminate the virus. We remain committed to eliminating it, and we have asked Health Protection Scotland how we can do that. That is a sensible thing to do to make the progress that we need to make to ensure that people are given good health.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

We all want hep C to be tackled and eliminated but, sadly, fewer than one in five people in Scotland who are diagnosed with it receive the treatment that they need. Finding, testing and treating patients is therefore crucial.

One problem that has been highlighted is what happens in prisons. Patients who are open and accessible to treatment and want it do not begin it because the pathway when they leave prison and go into the community is a challenge. Will the Government address that issue, so that there is a clearer pathway of treatment that begins in prison and continues through into the community?

Aileen Campbell

Anas Sarwar makes a legitimate point. We commend the work that I saw first hand in NHS Tayside, which is getting all the partners together to ensure that it can find people who require treatment and do not necessarily immediately present as needing testing.

I have also seen first hand the fantastic work that is happening at Barlinnie, which is in Ivan McKee’s constituency and Anas Sarwar’s region. Work involving Barlinnie and Waverley Care is going on to ensure that the pathway after liberation enables people to remain in contact with services and to get the support that they require.

Good work is happening, but there is much that we can learn and much that we have to roll out to other prisons. The point is well made.

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

Given that there are an estimated 15,000 people with hepatitis C who are undiagnosed and that the majority of those with the virus have been or are currently injecting drug users, does the minister agree that safe drug consumption facilities would present a valuable opportunity for testing, treatment and engagement with support services?

Aileen Campbell

Absolutely. I commend Tom Arthur for his long-standing commitment to addressing hep C issues. There is strong evidence to show that such facilities are successful in reducing harm for people who inject drugs. More crucially, they offer an opportunity to engage with people who might not ordinarily engage with services, who can then access additional services that would help them on the road to recovery. I absolutely agree with what Tom Arthur said.


Soft Fruit Industry (Migrant Workers)

3. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how important European migrant workers are to the soft fruit industry in Scotland. (S5O-02229)

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

The soft fruit sector is hugely important to the Scottish economy. It is one of Scotland’s food and drink success stories, having grown its output from £49 million in 2006 to £115 million in 2016.

In 2017, the Scottish Government commissioned research in order to appreciate better the scale of seasonal migrant workers to the Scottish agriculture sector as a whole. It found that, of the almost 10,000-strong work force, the vast majority of whom were in the soft fruit sector, 95 per cent were European migrants. Clearly, European migrant workers are key to the industry’s success continuing in the future.

David Torrance

In 2017, the farms that are involved in Angus Growers Ltd—which is a collective of farms in Angus, Perthshire and Fife—lost £625,000, and 85 tonnes of fruit was unpicked or downgraded due to labour shortages. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the United Kingdom Tory Government’s shamefully unprepared and shambolic Brexit strategy is damaging Scotland’s economy and growth by restricting our £115 million fruit-picking industry?

Fergus Ewing

Anyone must agree with that, if they look at the facts. David Torrance has simply stated facts that have been not only well reported, but have been repeated time and again. Graeme Dey, the MSP for Angus South, and I have met Angus Growers, and in April I visited two of the farms to speak to employees.

It is clear that the loss of migrant workers is not only a threat for the future but is damaging the soft fruit economy right now. The right approach is for the Scottish Parliament to have the powers to deal with the matter ourselves. A tailored migration system for Scotland is needed. That would require devolved powers within a UK framework that would allow the Scottish Government, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to set visa rules and criteria in order to meet Scotland’s most acute needs. Michael Gove has actually said that powers in the area should be passed to Scotland—so, Presiding Officer, I say let’s get on with it.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I agree with the cabinet secretary that the issue is having a significant impact on the economy of Scotland. In North East Fife, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of workers picking berries, and picking broccoli for Morrisons and other supermarkets.

Has the minister made an assessment of the financial impact of the shortage of workers so far this year? If so, has he relayed that to the UK Government? It needs to understand the financial and economic impacts that have already happened because of the exchange rate and Brexit.

Fergus Ewing

Willie Rennie has made a fair point that illustrates that there is, apart from one party, common ground in the chamber on the subject. The vast majority of people in the chamber, the vast majority of people watching, and the vast majority in Scotland believe that it is not right to treat people that way. They are people who come to this country to give of their time and work extremely hard, often starting, I understand, at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning in order to deliver success in the sectors that Willie Rennie mentioned.

Willie Rennie asked about surveys; we have some information. For example, nearly 60 per cent of farmers believe that it will be impossible to maintain existing business structures without access to migrant labour. Furthermore, nearly half believe that they will definitely have to downgrade their work. As David Torrance said, the situation had a damaging effect last year in terms of there being a reduced harvest, reduced output, reduced profits and reduced gross value added to the economy.

I hope that Michael Gove will implement the pledge that he made when he spoke at the National Farmers Union’s conference in the early part of this year, which was that there would be a scheme that would enable what we have discussed. Incidentally, he has already broken his pledge: he promised such a scheme by March, but March is long gone and no action has been taken.

However, that action itself would not be enough. We need a Scottish-tailored and Scottish-designed policy, produced by the Scottish Government, through the Scottish Parliament, in order that we can end the iniquity, the unfairness, the seediness and the unpleasantness that shames Scotland and the UK, and which is already damaging our rural economy.

Housing Associations (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn)

4. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting housing associations in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency to help to deliver its target of 50,000 new affordable homes. (S5O-02230)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Over the course of the current parliamentary session, we plan to invest £56 million in the Maryhill and Springburn constituency. That is part of the £537 million funding that the Scottish Government is making available to Glasgow for investment in affordable housing. The investment will provide an additional 1,106 affordable homes for Maryhill and Springburn communities, and make a significant contribution to our ambitious target of delivering more than 50,000 affordable homes in the course of this session.

In addition, through our new building Scotland fund we will support a further 3,000 new homes over the coming years, by providing funding to help to deliver a mix of affordable and market homes. That is a distinct and separate commitment to our 50,000 affordable homes target during this session, and is a further investment from this Government as we continue to support all housing tenures across Scotland.

Bob Doris

I welcome the minister’s answer, and I draw his attention to the 50 new units that will be completed by Cadder Housing Association around the turn of this year. Cadder Housing Association wants to contribute to the wider regeneration of the community and is developing a Cadder vision strategy for an area of significant deprivation and disadvantage, as is acknowledged in the Scottish index of multiple deprivation.

Will the minister say how the Scottish Government seeks proactively to target resources more generally at severely deprived communities such as Cadder? Will he accept my invitation to see for himself the ambitious plans in the Cadder vision?

Kevin Stewart

I am delighted to hear that Cadder Housing Association wants to contribute to the wider regeneration of the area, and I am delighted to hear about the Cadder vision. We support wider community-led regeneration through a combination of funding and investment, in order to create the conditions that support community empowerment throughout the country.

I am pleased that Cadder has already benefited from £1 million of regeneration capital grant funding, with the development of a state-of-the-art community facility, which the housing association manages in partnership with Glasgow City Council. I would be delighted to visit Cadder—although that might be a while off; I have accepted a lot of invitations in the chamber in recent weeks—to hear about the wider vision, and I would be happy to meet Bob Doris there.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Kevin Stewart has pulled back from his manifesto pledge to build 50,000 new affordable homes and is instead promising to “deliver” 50,000 homes, which will include bringing empty homes back into use. Can he tell us how many of the 50,000 homes will be new-build homes and how many will be old?

Kevin Stewart

I intend to build and deliver as many new affordable homes as possible over the course of this parliamentary session. As Mr Simpson knows from my appearances at the Local Government and Communities Committee, which have been numerous, I am determined to allow local authorities the flexibility to buy back homes in areas where it is not possible to build and where homes are required to fulfil the needs of local people.

Beyond that, I want to ensure that the homes that we build and deliver across the country are meeting the needs of the people of Scotland. Parliament can be assured of my determination to deliver and build as many affordable homes as possible. That aim is backed by the whole Government.

The Presiding Officer

I am very conscious that we are going to stop before 12 o’clock, but I will bring in Ivan McKee if he can be very brief.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

The need for more affordable homes is indisputable. Is the minister considering innovative solutions? For example, Clyde Homes in my constituency builds high-quality affordable homes in a factory setting, which is considerably cheaper than a traditional build, and can have the homes transported and installed on site in a matter of weeks. Is the minister looking at such approaches?

Kevin Stewart

I am very much doing that; I have visited a number of off-line construction sites. I am willing to have further conversation with Ivan McKee on that and to visit Clyde Homes.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. I apologise to members whom I could not bring in.