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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 16, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 16 November 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Incontinence, Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Commission (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage, Veterans and Armed Forces Community, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Motion without Notice, Decision Time


General Question Time

Transport Strategy

1. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made with the national transport strategy and strategic transport projects review. (S5O-01473)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

The national transport strategy review is progressing on schedule. All the working groups are taking forward their respective remits. Our stakeholder engagement programme is also progressing to plan. Last week, I attended a national transport event co-hosted with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to engage with newly elected councillors. The strategic transport projects review is being informed by the national transport strategy and is also proceeding as planned.

Joan McAlpine

I welcomed the commitment that the Scottish Government made last year to improve the A75 as well as the links between Dumfries and the A74, having advocated for those improvements in my submission to the national transport strategy. How soon will we know what specific road improvement projects in the south-west the Government will commit to in the strategic transport projects review?

Humza Yousaf

The member will remember from the First Minister’s programme for government that we reaffirmed our commitment to commence work this year for the second STPR in Dumfries and Galloway. The work will consider the rationale for improvements to road, rail, public transport and active travel on the key strategic corridors, particularly the A75 and A77, and the rail corridors to Stranraer and Carlisle via Kilmarnock and Dumfries.

This week, I met representatives from the A77 action group, and I have also discussed the A75. I also attended a cross-party meeting on the A77 the week before. I am confident that Dumfries and Galloway, in particular the A77 and A75 strategic roads, is getting a lot of attention. Studies and other work have been done to bolster the case for future investment. The member will understand that the STPR has to go through a review process and I welcome her thoughts and comments.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Will the national transport strategy help or hinder the Government’s ambitions on reduced emissions and climate change? Does the minister think that it will bring about any monumental modal shift in Scotland?

Humza Yousaf

I certainly do. However, we will not wait for the national transport strategy to progress with some of the work that we are already doing. In the programme for government, the First Minister was incredibly strong on our intention to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2032. I know that the member has commented on and made a useful contribution to the draft climate change plan, which seeks to reduce transport emissions. We will continue with that work, and reducing emissions will be an inherent part of the national transport strategy. Again, I would welcome the member’s thoughts on that.

Gypsy Traveller Strategy and Action Plan

2. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation of the Gypsy Traveller strategy and action plan. (S5O-01474)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

The Scottish Government recognises that Gypsy Traveller communities are among the most disenfranchised and discriminated against in Scotland. We will publish a race equality action plan by the end of this year that will include specific Scottish Government-led activities for Gypsy Travellers, and which will be followed by a detailed programme of work for the community. I look forward to informing Parliament about our proposals for work in this important area when we do so.

Mary Fee

Gypsy Travellers are a protected group under equalities legislation. Despite that, they remain one of the most marginalised and discriminated-against groups in Scotland. Social attitudes studies show little change in the deeply entrenched views against them. The first inquiry into Gypsy Travellers that the Scottish Parliament carried out was in 2001, and subsequent inquiries have shown little change in their living conditions or their lives. The Gypsy Traveller community feels let down and ignored by politicians nationally and locally. Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet representatives of the Gypsy Traveller community to hear at first hand about the issues that they face? Will she also agree to take direct control of the issue to make some progress to help this community?

Angela Constance

I thank Mary Fee, who has been a champion and advocate for the Gypsy community for many years now; we need more people to act in that fashion. Mary Fee is absolutely correct to underline the issues that are often raised in the Scottish social attitudes survey. The Equality and Human Rights Commission describes attitudes towards the Gypsy Traveller community as

“the last bastion of respectable racism”.

I will indeed meet members of the community and, as I indicated in my first answer, there will be Scottish Government-led action. I am very conscious that there have been two previous committee inquiries and we now need to get on with the delivery of that action. I look forward to informing Parliament of that work in due course, but I can say to Mary Fee and others that we have been working very hard on the race equality delivery plan. We have been open to the advice, support and, indeed, challenge of our race equality framework adviser, Kaliani Lyle, among others.


3. Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Shelter Scotland's appeal to alleviate homelessness. (S5O-01475)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

We agree with Shelter Scotland’s call to alleviate homelessness this winter. Its latest report contains more evidence that United Kingdom Government welfare cuts are causing major hardship and housing insecurity for many people. That is why we have established the homelessness and rough sleeping action group, which includes Shelter, with the objectives of ending rough sleeping and transforming temporary accommodation.

The action group has already been working hard on its first objective of minimising rough sleeping this winter, and I will shortly receive its practical recommendations on the actions that we must take. It will then focus on its other questions on ending rough sleeping, transforming temporary accommodation and ending homelessness. We are supporting that approach by creating the £50 million ending homelessness together fund over the next five years.

Johann Lamont

Given the wide range of causes of homelessness, not just rough sleeping, the Scottish Government must be aware of the importance of support services to prevent homelessness and to prevent failed tenancies where those have been secured. Does the minister recognise that an understanding of the scourge of homelessness must be matched by the resources to tackle and prevent it? In that vein, can I ask what representations the minister has made to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution to reconsider the disproportionate cuts to local government over many years, which make it exceptionally difficult for those lifeline services to be sustained, leading to untold misery for those who may find themselves homeless as a consequence?

Kevin Stewart

The finance secretary has treated local government fairly over many years. That included increasing funding for local services by some £400 million last year. As I pointed out in my original answer, we also have the £50 million ending homelessness together fund from the finance secretary, which will go a long way in helping out. What I would really like to see is the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing up at his budget and abolishing the benefit cap, reintroducing housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds and ending austerity. That would be very helpful indeed.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

What effect is the UK Government’s benefit cap having on increasing the risk of homelessness for low-income families, as has been the case for several families in my constituency, and what action is the Scottish Government taking to pressure the UK Government to protect households from further austerity?

Kevin Stewart

This Government will continue to put pressure on the UK Government to end austerity. I hope that the chancellor hears what I have said today and will listen to my colleagues as we move forward. The Scottish Government continues to oppose the benefit cap, which is clearly impacting hardest on low-income families with children. That is why we have called again and again on the UK Government to reverse that unacceptable policy.

The latest Department for Work and Pensions figures show that at August 2017 around 3,800 households were affected by the benefit cap, containing more than 11,000 children. In September, a Scottish Government report highlighted 30 per cent of families affected by the cap in Scotland are lone parents with three children, who are losing up to £3,320 per year.

It is about time that the chancellor listened. It is about time that the UK Government reversed its decisions on the benefit cap and on abolishing housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds, and got a grip of universal credit, which is failing families right across the country.

Diabetes (FreeStyle Libre Glucose Monitoring System)

4. David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had regarding the roll-out of the FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring system, in light of it being available in the national health service in England and Wales. (S5O-01476)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison)

Following due process, the flash glucose monitoring device FreeStyle Libre has been included on the Scottish drug tariff from 1 November 2017. As with all other prescriptions on the tariff, NHS boards must ensure that prescriptions are appropriate, evidence based, safe and cost effective. It is essential that investment is used wisely to maximise the health benefit to patients.

Given the limitations of the current evidence base, to support a consistent approach across boards, the Scottish diabetes group has provided advice to help to identify people who should be considered for NHS-funded FreeStyle Libre. That advice is broadly in line with the Diabetes UK consensus guideline.

David Stewart

The cabinet secretary will be well aware that FreeStyle Libre is a form of flash glucose monitoring using a small sensor that is worn under the skin and that it reduces the need for frequent finger-prick blood tests. As the cabinet secretary said, the NHS placed the device on the Scottish drug tariff earlier this month. When will it be available in every health board in Scotland?

Shona Robison

As I said in my initial answer, the listing of a medical device on the drug tariff should not be interpreted as a recommendation to prescribe a particular product. Patients will need to discuss the on-going management of their condition with their healthcare professional and consider whether flash glucose monitoring is suitable for them. As I said, the guideline that Diabetes UK has developed is consistent and in line with the Scottish diabetes group’s advice, which aims to help clinicians to identify people who should be considered for NHS-funded FreeStyle Libre. It is a clinical decision and, as the member will appreciate, the device will not be suitable for everyone to use. I am happy to keep him updated as the matter goes forward, but it is initially for patients to discuss with their clinicians whether the device is suitable for them.

Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice Professional Recognition Pilot

5. Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the dyslexia and inclusive practice professional recognition pilot. (S5O-01477)

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

I am delighted that, through the £200,000 grant funding that the Scottish Government provided to Dyslexia Scotland this year, we have been able to support the development of the pilot. The pilot responds to the recommendations in the 2014 Education Scotland report “Making Sense: Education for Children and Young People with Dyslexia in Scotland” and was developed in partnership between the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland, the addressing dyslexia toolkit working group, Education Scotland, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Open University.

I can confirm that 30 teachers, representing 24 local authorities, are participating in the pilot. The first of three masterclasses was held on 30 September and another two masterclasses will be held next year. Further support will be provided through online glow sessions. The pilot will run until October 2018, and we intend to have a final evaluation by the end of December 2018.

Margaret Mitchell

I thank the minister for that detailed response. I very much welcome the pilot, but is the minister aware that independent schools were not included in the pilot’s parameters? Can she confirm why that was the case and say whether that omission can be rectified? Clearly, participation of a wide group of stakeholders is most beneficial.

Shirley-Anne Somerville

I appreciate Margaret Mitchell’s work on the issue over a long period, and I am more than happy to look into the detail of her question. There are a number of ways in which teachers can improve their professional learning around dyslexia, including through the addressing dyslexia toolkit, which I mentioned, and through further online training modules that teachers and support staff can register for and take part in. I am more than happy to address any specific areas that we still need to address to broaden out that professional learning.

Cycling Proficiency Training

6. Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the Parliament passing the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ amendment in October following the debate on active travel, what action it is taking to ensure that every child in the country has access to cycling proficiency training. (S5O-01478)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I welcomed the member’s amendment to the Scottish Government’s motion. In the past two debates that I have led in the Parliament, I have found myself agreeing with Mike Rumbles on a number of occasions, despite my better instincts.

For a number of years, we have provided funding to Cycling Scotland for bikeability Scotland cycle training for all primary school children in Scotland. This year, we are investing around £800,000 for that training. On the back of the amendment that was accepted, the member will know that we will double our spend on active travel. It is fair to assume that a reasonable proportion of that money will go towards ensuring that the ambitions in the Liberal Democrats’ amendment are met.

Earlier this month, I met Cycling Scotland and a number of active travel stakeholder organisations to discuss this very issue. I have asked that Cycling Scotland redouble its efforts to promote the funding to local authorities and schools, and I would be happy to listen to any ideas that the member has.

Mike Rumbles

I thank the minister for that comprehensive response. I am grateful for his support on the issue. When will the entire programme be completed? How long will that take to achieve?

Humza Yousaf

I will try to give a little more detail as the programme develops, and I will keep the member updated. He will understand that, in doubling the budget on active travel, we want to get as much bang for our buck as we can. We are talking to active travel stakeholders, and we are looking at international and United Kingdom comparators to see how we can meet those ambitions.

In 2016-17, 36,711 primary school children—a record number—took part in bikeability Scotland cycle training. Nevertheless, in keeping with the member’s amendment, we would like to see many more children take part. I will endeavour to keep the member updated.

With regard to increasing cycling rates, we are putting a lot of effort into encouraging our young people to be more active through active travel. However, the programme should be seen as something not just for young people; I also recommend active travel and cycling to those of a vintage disposition.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

In teaching our children to cycle safely, we must create an environment in which there are safe places for children to cycle. Will the minister look at how we can create an environment around our schools such that our children have the opportunity to cycle to and from school?

Humza Yousaf

The member makes the point well. I remember him talking in the active travel debate about his family circumstances and how he would be more comfortable if there were segregated cycle paths. The Scottish Government thinks that segregated cycle paths will make our roads safer, and I give the member a guarantee that we will continue to invest in segregated cycle paths through our community links and community links plus programmes.

Bikeability training, which was previously the cycling proficiency test, contains an element of on-road training, which I think is excellent for children.

The member will know about our guidelines and recommendations to local authorities on 20mph zones around schools, which we think are a great idea. If he has further ideas about how we can improve safety on our roads, particularly for those who are travelling to our schools, I am all ears.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

Can the minister tell us how per capita spending on active travel in Scotland compares with the spending that prevails elsewhere in the UK?

Humza Yousaf

After our active travel debate last week, I asked that very question so that I could examine the figures. From next year, when the active travel budget increases, we will spend at least £14.80 per head of population in Scotland on active travel. In England, if we exclude London, the figure is £6.50; in Wales, it is estimated to be between £3 and £5; and according to Cycling UK, spending in Northern Ireland is acknowledged to be “limited and spread thinly.” I am pleased to say that Scotland leads the way on that endeavour.

Electric Car Charging Points (Housing Estates)

7. Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it will take to improve the availability of electric car charging points in housing estates. (S5O-01479)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

The member will know that our switched on Scotland action plan takes forward our ambitions on electric charging points. In the programme for government, we announced our increased ambition to phase out electric—sorry, I should have said “petrol and diesel”—cars by 2032. It is lucky that I corrected that for the record.

Richard Lyle

I welcome what the minister says. I raise the issue because a constituent recently discussed the matter with me following a local housing association’s refusal to take part in the Scottish Government’s scheme—which I welcome—and fund the installation of a personal car charging point in his home. What further action can be taken to encourage the installation of such points and to utilise wonderful Government initiatives in our local communities?

Humza Yousaf

As I said to the member, we are investing heavily in the electric charging infrastructure. We have about 700 charging points, of which about 150 are rapid charging points. The infrastructure is hugely important.

I refer the member to the switched on Scotland action plan, which I mentioned. I do not know the specifics of the case that he mentions but, if it would be helpful to the member, I will have my officials make contact with the housing association to see where the barriers may be and whether there can be a resolution to the issue.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

That concludes general question time. Before we come to First Minister’s question time, members will wish to join me in welcoming to the VIP gallery Her Excellency Tiina Intelmann, the Estonian ambassador to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]