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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 16, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 16 June 2016

Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Points of Order, Post-study Work Visas (Rural Communities), Policing and Security, Children, Decision Time


General Question Time

Fishing (Discard Ban)

1. Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of the fishing industry to discuss the discard ban. (S5O-00051)

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

My officials last met our Scottish discard steering group on 17 March 2016 to discuss the discard ban. The group includes representatives from the fishing industry, non-governmental organisations and fishermen. The next meeting is planned to take place on 24 June 2016. I will be meeting representatives from the fishing industry on 20 June 2016 at the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation executive committee meeting, at which the discard ban will be a topic for discussion.

Tavish Scott

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for that reply on a topic that is among his busy ministerial responsibilities, which have been added to this morning. Is he aware of the concerns of the Shetland white-fish industry about the implementation of the discard ban, in particular in relation to choke species, and of the need for a flexible and pragmatic approach to those problems? Will he agree to meet the Shetland Fishermen’s Association when he next visits Shetland as part of his ministerial responsibilities?

Fergus Ewing

I look forward to such a visit and such a meeting in due course.

For the uninitiated, choke species are fish species for which quotas are so limited relative to local or general abundance that the imposition of a landing obligation is liable to result in fishing vessels having to cease operations well before they have caught their main quota allocations. It is therefore an extremely serious threat and one on which we are working very carefully. Identifying choke species in advance is important, as are potential solutions, such as quota transfer, quota swaps and the 5 per cent de minimis exemption. I am well aware that this is a matter of extreme importance among the fishing community as a whole, which is principally why I am meeting the fishing representatives on Monday of next week.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

I call Sandra White.

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to introduce legislation regarding responsible parking on footways.

The Presiding Officer

Sorry, Ms White. I called you early—I thought that you were asking a supplementary question on question 1. I beg your pardon.

Sandra White

Can I not just go ahead, Presiding Officer?

The Presiding Officer

Your time will come, Ms White. I call Finlay Carson, who is asking a supplementary on question 1.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Does the Scottish Government agree that the planned termination on 1 January 2017 of the grace period for fishermen who are affected by the discard ban—on the same date that cod and other choke species are included in the ban—makes no sense and will unduly punish commercial fishermen who are already struggling with the implementation of the ban? Does the Government therefore agree that the grace period should be extended?

Fergus Ewing

The public want to see an end to discards which, because they are an incredible waste, are an aspect of fishing policy that has caused great concern among the public and among fishermen. The landing obligation must therefore come in by 2019. However, we have sought to deal with this—so far as we can in Scotland—by discussion, consideration and negotiation. I have already had discussions with Mike Park, for example, and others, and I will continue to do so.

The member is quite right to highlight the concerns and I can assure him, and everybody who represents a fishing community—excepting, of course, Sandra White—that my officials and I are pursuing these matters diligently.

Passenger Flights (Ashaig Airfield)

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

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made to reintroduce passenger flights from Ashaig airfield on Skye. (S5O-00052)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

We recognise the aspirations of communities in the Skye area to restart regular air services to and from the island, and we would be happy to discuss the issue with them. However, any future development of the airstrip is a matter for Highland Council as the owner of the site.

Kate Forbes

The minister will be aware that, for rural island economies, physical connectivity is critical for business success. The Skye brand is world renowned, drawing in visitors and exporting products. Does the minister agree that we need to ensure that there are adequate transport links, including decent roads, reliable ferries and an air service, to enable business growth?

Humza Yousaf

Of course I agree with everything that Kate Forbes has said. I was delighted to meet her during my first few weeks as minister, when she mentioned a number of issues, including the airstrip at Broadford. I understand the importance of transport issues to the islands in particular and to rural communities across Scotland. I have chosen to meet members of the Scottish Parliament and other elected members throughout the country to discuss those issues.

I understand that a study has been commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, HITRANS—the Highlands and Islands transport partnership—and Highland Council to look into the airstrip issue. I can assure the member that, once that report is ready, I am willing to sit down with stakeholders.

On the wider point about connectivity with Skye, and with the islands and other rural areas in general, I agree with the member. I also agree with her about the undeniable allure of Skye, which brings benefits for international and domestic tourism.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The original survey of the airfield suggested that it would cost in excess of £15.3 million to refurbish it and make it fit for flights. It is unlikely that Highland Council will have the funds to do that. Is the Scottish Government in a position to assist the council in that respect?

Humza Yousaf

As I mentioned, HIE, HITRANS and Highland Council have decided to commission another study precisely to look at where they might reduce that cost. It should be noted that £15.3 million is the upper end of the range; if the member looks at the report, he will see that the lower end is approximately £2.5 million.

The issue is one for Highland Council, but we are happy to work with the council in that regard. Of course, from the studies that we have seen so far, it is clear that any passenger service that exists in Broadford would need to be subsidised. As the member will know, we are currently in a position of financial constraint and difficulty. We would need to have frank and open conversations, but I have no problem with doing so. If Edward Mountain, as an elected member, wanted to join those conversations, he would be welcome to do so.

Responsible Parking on Footways

The Presiding Officer

I call Sandra White to ask question 3.


Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. We have salmon in the River Kelvin in my constituency, of course, so there is a fish question there. [Laughter.] I thank you for your indulgence in that respect.

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to introduce legislation regarding responsible parking on footways. (S5O-00053)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I feel like taking the fish puns even further, but I will stop myself from doing so.

The Scottish ministers are committed to introducing a transport bill that will include provisions that seek to enforce responsible parking. To ensure that any proposed legislation is fit for purpose and commands public confidence and support, a full review and stakeholder consultation will take place later this year. I put on record my appreciation for the amount of great work that Sandra White has done on the issue to serve not only her constituents but vulnerable groups throughout Scotland.

Sandra White

I thank the minister for his reply, and I will take pleasure in looking at that consultation this year, in the not-too-distant future.

The minister will be aware of the situation in my constituency of Glasgow Kelvin, where motors have taken to parking wholly on the pavements to avoid double yellow lines, as in the photo that I am holding up. Does he agree that legislation is urgently needed—I thank him for his reply in that respect—to ensure that people can walk on the pavements without encountering the danger of cars on the pavements and being forced to walk on the road?

Humza Yousaf

I saw a report in the Evening Times on the particular issue to which Sandra White refers and the difficulties that it is causing. Such parking is causing difficulty for some of our most vulnerable groups, including carers, those with disabilities, and pram users, as well as pedestrians in general. The member will know, having carried out work on the issue previously, about some of the intricacies and nuances of the enforcement issues. That is why a full review and a stakeholder consultation is necessary, but I assure the member that that work will take place in the first year of the new session of Parliament.

Scottish Autism (Funding Support)

4. Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide funding so that Scottish Autism’s one-stop shop in Motherwell can reopen. (S5O-00054)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

We are committed to working in partnership with North Lanarkshire Council, South Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Autism to support the transition to local services. Scottish Government officials are in discussion with North Lanarkshire Council and South Lanarkshire Council to agree how transitional funding can be used to ensure that the expert resource from Scottish Autism supports users of the one-stop shop to transfer to appropriate local services. We also want to ensure that the views of service users are represented in future local service delivery.

Graham Simpson

Unfortunately, I think that this has become something of a political football between the Government and councils. What we should be doing is putting users first. The initiative, which was set up by the Scottish Government, was an excellent one that has been widely praised. The problem is that when the money runs out, there is nothing to replace it. I spoke earlier today to the chief executive of Scottish Autism, Alan Somerville, who told me that the service would love to be able to carry on. I urge the minister to get back to the table, if she can, and ensure that the service continues, because the situation is deeply painful for the parents of those involved.

Maureen Watt

I absolutely agree with the member that of course the service users should be at the heart of this. He will know that the services provided by Scottish Autism, the National Autistic Society and Autism Initiatives Scotland were part of six pilots throughout the country to provide one-stop shops. The pilot one-stop shops were time limited, and it was always expected that local councils, in partnership with integration joint boards and health boards, would build on the experience of the one-stop shop and take the pilot forward on that basis.

Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

The minister is of course aware of my on-going concern about the implementation of the autism strategy by South Lanarkshire Council. Of course, Mr Simpson is an executive member of that council, which has promised a one-stop shop in South Lanarkshire. Does the minister agree that, as well as meeting all its statutory obligations, the council must provide at least the services that were offered by the joint one-stop shop in Motherwell, funded by the Scottish Government, for an extended period?

Maureen Watt

Yes, I absolutely agree with the member. It was always hoped that the one-stop shop would identify gaps in services and that, under the local autism strategies that every council is expected to have, they would build on the services and the gaps that were identified in local provision and take forward the lessons from that in providing their own services.

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I say to the minister that it is hard to see how local authorities can carry on providing that service after the central funding from the Scottish Government runs out, especially given the budget cuts that have been handed down. At the very least, will the minister consider additional transitional funding to allow this vital service to continue until the health and social care partnerships are set up and new arrangements can be put in place?

Maureen Watt

The cabinet secretary has already said that, if Scottish Autism is able to provide the services, extra transitional funding will be provided until the local authorities get the services up and running. That has already been agreed. However, it is really important that both North Lanarkshire Council and South Lanarkshire Council get round the table with the Scottish Government and Scottish Autism to make sure that the service users are given the service that they need.

Ferry Fares (Northern Isles)

5. Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on reducing ferry fares for the northern isles. (S5O-00055)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish National Party manifesto made clear our commitment to take action to reduce ferry fares to Orkney and Shetland. I have already met the northern isles constituency MSPs and discussed the matter with them, and I am meeting Highlands and Islands MSPs later on today to listen to their views. I also intend to visit Orkney and Shetland in the summer, and I look forward to meeting local authorities and stakeholders to discuss this very issue.

Maree Todd

I ask the minister to explain what impact road equivalent tariff would have if it was imposed on the northern isles routes using the same formula that has been used in the Western Isles.

Humza Yousaf

From the studies that we have examined, RET would significantly increase the majority of fares on ferry services to the northern isles, particularly on the routes from Aberdeen, due to the longer distances that are involved. It is true that RET would reduce the islander fares on certain routes. The Scrabster to Stromness service is an example of such a route. However, introducing RET, or indeed reducing fares, on that route is complicated by the presence of a commercial operator. Transport Scotland will be meeting that operator later this month to discuss how fares can be reduced.

I have also tasked Transport Scotland officials with taking forward work to generate options for reducing ferry fares to the northern isles, and decisions on that will be taken in due course.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank the minister for his willingness to meet me early on to discuss the issue. As he will be aware, the implementation of RET saw fares being capped, where they would otherwise have been increased on the west coast routes. As part of the discussions that he is taking forward with officials, will he remember to bear in mind the need to address internal ferry fares within Orkney as well as the fares for services to and from the Scottish mainland?

Humza Yousaf

Yes. I appreciated the meeting with Liam McArthur, which was on that very point; he made the point very well. It is certainly part of our consideration and I will endeavour to keep him up to date on that. I look forward to meeting him when I go up to the northern isles. I should say that his colleague from the Shetland isles offered me a cup of tea when I go to Shetland, but I notice that that offer was not reciprocated by the member for Orkney. [Laughter.]

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The next tender for the northern isles ferry services will be in 2018. Will the minister use the European Commission’s Teckal exemption so that no expensive tendering exercise is required and the award is simply made to the public sector company, the David MacBrayne group? Will he agree to meet me so that I can share the opinion of the European Commission’s director general for transport, who said to me that the direct award of a public service contract is in principle accepted by the European Court of Justice?

Humza Yousaf

First, I sincerely hope that we will still be part of the European Union when we have that conversation, and that in a week’s time we will be making that positive and progressive case.

The member knows that we have an honest disagreement about some of the issues around Teckal. However, my predecessor looked to take a joint approach to the European Commission with Mick Cash and those from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. We are waiting to hear the results of that, and we will keep the member updated.

Of course I will meet the member. I think that I am due to meet him later today, but I will have a one-to-one meeting with him on this very issue.

Mental Health Services (Ayrshire and Arran)

6. Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with NHS Ayrshire and Arran regarding mental health. (S5O-00056)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

Scottish Government officials, Health Improvement Scotland and NHS Education for Scotland met NHS territorial boards including NHS Ayrshire and Arran on 5 May to discuss current performance and provide information on the mental health improvement programme. Health Improvement Scotland also met NHS Ayrshire and Arran on 10 May to discuss the tailored support that will be provided to the board throughout the programme. The improvement programme will work in collaboration with NHS boards to deliver sustained improvements in access to child and adolescent mental health and psychological therapy services.

Ruth Maguire

I welcome the Scottish Government’s investment in North Ayrshire’s new health and social care partnership community mental health facility, Woodland View. I hope that the minister will have an opportunity to visit soon and meet staff to hear about the new models of care.

To shift the balance of care from acute to community settings is a challenge in times of increasing demand. Will the minister detail how the Scottish Government will support North Ayrshire health and social care partnership to continue to transform support and care for our people who are facing mental health issues?

Maureen Watt

I look forward to visiting Woodland View and seeing how North Ayrshire health and social care partnership is delivering better outcomes for people with mental health issues locally. The integration of health and social care is about ensuring that those who use services get the right care and support whatever their needs at any point in their care journey. The partnership has benefited from Scottish Government investment in increasing access to mental health services and primary care, and I will be interested to see how that is being used locally.

National Health Service (Major Trauma Centres)

7. Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what decisions it has made about the future provision of major trauma centres in the NHS. (S5O-00057)

The Minister for Mental Health (Maureen Watt)

As members are aware, the cabinet secretary has confirmed that there will be four trauma centres in Scotland, in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. They will operate in an inclusive national trauma network to help to deliver improved outcomes for severely injured patients across Scotland.

Lewis Macdonald

That decision is, of course, very welcome. The minister will recall that when the original commitment to four major trauma centres was made two years ago, the then cabinet secretary made a commitment that they would be operational from 2016. However, the Scottish Government press release that was issued yesterday quoted the current cabinet secretary as saying that the preparatory work would be

“completed by the end of the year.”

When does the Government expect to move on from preparatory work to making the major trauma centres operational and delivering its pledge on enhanced major trauma care?

Maureen Watt

As the cabinet secretary announced, the chief medical officer will chair a new national trauma network implementation group to take the work forward. It is extremely important that we plan the trauma network thoroughly, to make sure that we get it right. We will not be pressed into implementing a model that does not suit Scotland’s circumstances or has not been properly thought through. We will take time to plan and deliver a bespoke solution that will best serve the people of Scotland.