Meeting date: Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2020
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Burntisland Fabrications, Supporting EU, EEA and Swiss Citizens to Stay in Scotland, Scottish Parliamentary Standards (Sexual Harassment and Complaints Process) Bill: Stage 1, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Interlinked Fire and Smoke Alarm Systems
- Portfolio Question Time
- Burntisland Fabrications
- Supporting EU, EEA and Swiss Citizens to Stay in Scotland
- Scottish Parliamentary Standards (Sexual Harassment and Complaints Process) Bill: Stage 1
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Interlinked Fire and Smoke Alarm Systems
Portfolio Question Time
Rural Economy and Tourism
Good afternoon, everyone. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and right across the campus. Please take care to observe those measures.
The first item of business is portfolio question time. As always, I ask for short and succinct questions and answers so that we can get through them all, with as many supplementaries as possible being asked. We begin with questions on the rural economy and tourism.
Holiday Accommodation Sector (Covid-19 Guidance)
To ask the Scottish Government what guidance it is providing to the holiday accommodation sector regarding the relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas. (S5O-04833)
We published our guidance for the festive period on 26 November, and it was subsequently updated with amendments for the accommodation sector, in recognition of the fact that families socialising with relatives in order to alleviate social isolation might require holiday accommodation as a safer option.
Our accommodation sector guidance for the period was developed in line with public health advice, and is intended to minimise spread of the virus. It therefore requires that stays take place in the same local authority area as the place that is the main residence of one of the households. Sectoral guidance on distancing and hygiene should be followed.
What support is being considered for holiday accommodation businesses that have had reduced bookings because of the restrictions—in particular, over what would usually be a busy festive period?
We absolutely understand that this has been a difficult and challenging time for businesses, and especially for businesses in the holiday accommodation sector. Since the pandemic began, we have provided £2.3 billion-worth of support to businesses of all types across Scotland, including holiday accommodation businesses.
However, we absolutely recognise the impact that further restrictions have had, so the strategic framework business fund offers financial support to businesses that are legally required to close, or which have been required to modify their operations. That includes eligible holiday accommodation. Just last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance announced £185 million more funding to help impacted businesses through the winter, with £60 million being allocated to tourism. We are currently working with partners to develop that funding support and will announce the details shortly.
Rural Economy and Tourism (Financial Support)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will review the financial support for businesses in the rural economy and tourism sector that are affected by Covid-19 restrictions. (S5O-04834)
The Scottish Government will continue to engage with the business community, local authorities and others on the scale and effectiveness of United Kingdom Government financial assistance schemes in order to ensure that they are delivering for businesses in Scotland. We will seek to rectify gaps in those schemes, where possible.
We continue to monitor the funds that are available to support people and businesses, and any changes to funding or eligibility will be updated through the findbusinesssupport.gov.scot website.
I thank the cabinet secretary for engaging with me and others on development of the new funds for tourism. I am particularly pleased about the support for self-catering businesses and travel agents, including golf tourism businesses.
However, the clock is ticking for those companies; many are on the edge of going under. When will the cabinet secretary publish the guidance? When will applications be accepted? Will there be more funds for larger businesses or will there be a flat rate?
I think that there were three questions there. On 9 December, Kate Forbes announced a further package of £185 million and, at the same time, indicated that, in respect of tourism specifically, an additional £60 million is being provided in that, details of which are being developed in consultation with the industry. Those details will be announced shortly.
In respect of larger businesses, we have already supplied £14 million in the hotel support fund, which is specifically designed to support retention of about 3,000 employees in the largest employers.
I have engaged on three or four occasions with a number of senior representatives of the golf sector. Businesses in that sector are inextricably connected with international trade, with many customers coming from the USA, for example. Therefore, the future of that sector is, to an extent, linked to the resumption of international trade.
Mr Rennie has raised a number of fair points. I assure him that we will continue to work with him and with the industry on all those points to provide what support we can as soon as we can.
Can we have quick supplementary questions, please?
There will be increased vaccination and the tourism sector will slowly and tentatively be opening up again in the next year. Will the cabinet secretary outline what plans he has to promote and market Scotland as a destination when it is safe to do so?
VisitScotland has worked up several marketing plans. Jamie Halcro Johnston, whom I welcome to his new responsibilities, will appreciate that the right time for marketing will be once the restrictions are clear. There is no point in marketing now when people cannot take a holiday, because that would be a waste of money. However, I assure him that a lot of thought has gone into that by VisitScotland and the tourism recovery task force, which made a series of recommendations that the Scottish Government has considered. It is absolutely the case that we will need, when the time is right, to market Scotland and to bring people back here from other countries.
Will the cabinet secretary outline what support the Scottish Government is making available to wholesale food and drink suppliers, which have seen a significant proportion of their business being affected by tourism venues being forced to close or to limit trading due to the pandemic?
The impact on food and drink wholesalers has been severe, particularly for those that sell to the hospitality sector and the on-licence trade. Those wholesalers lost most of their business overnight.
Many food and drink wholesalers are also vital in terms of supplies to remote islands. That is why we have announced support through a £5 million fund that is targeted at wholesalers that sell to the hospitality sector. The fund closed on Sunday 13 December and we are assessing applications.
I pay tribute to Colin Smith of the Scottish Wholesale Association for his admirable work on that. That is not our Colin Smyth, Presiding Officer, but a different one, although that is no adverse comment on our Colin Smyth. Colin Smith of the Scottish Wholesale Association has done a great job in advocating the interests of his sector. That has helped us to come up with the package, which I hope will provide support to see those companies through the Covid period.
On the subject of advocating on behalf of sectors, the point about the timescale is really important. It is now several weeks since the Government announced expansions to the discretionary funds that local authorities hold and, last week, we had the welcome announcement of support for coach firms, for example. However, businesses are really struggling at the moment, so I would like to know exactly when funds will begin to arrive for them.
Our Colin Smyth—if I can continue on nomenclature—raises a very fair point. Timing is of the essence. Therefore—to be serious—I say that we are determined to get all the funding in the various packages out as quickly as possible. Plainly, the schemes have to be administered carefully to avoid inappropriate payments, but local authorities are doing a power of work to assist us in that respect. I assure Mr Smyth that we spend a considerable time discussing and dealing with the issue; indeed, Ms Forbes and I discussed that very topic just this morning.
To ask the Scottish Government what support it has provided for hotels during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04835)
Hotels across Scotland have been severely impacted, which is why we established the dedicated hotel support programme, with £14 million of dedicated funding. In addition, some hotels have had 100 per cent rates relief and access to grants for closed and impacted businesses. I assure Ms Baillie and other members that we are doing all that we can to support hotels with the resources that we have.
The cabinet secretary will know that the hotel support programme was vastly oversubscribed and that many hotels in my constituency and across Scotland have not received any support whatsoever, so they are really struggling. Although the £2,000 and £3,000 grants that have been announced are most welcome, that does not even begin to touch the sides of the issues that hotels face. What more can the cabinet secretary do to help before those hotels go to the wall?
The hotel fund, which was designed to help support the retention of around 3,000 jobs, was designed for the hotels with the largest payrolls—those with a minimum of 50 staff overall, I think.
Ms Baillie is correct to say that many hotels face enormous pressures. She and I have discussed the plight of hotels in her constituency on numerous occasions. I am extremely sympathetic to that. The one-off payments of £2,000 or £3,000—the amount will depend on rateable value—in January will assist hotels to deal with the difficult time of year.
In addition, further support of more than £60 million will be provided to the tourism sector. Details of that are being developed with representatives of the various segments of business, and I hope to make an announcement on those details as soon as possible.
David Torrance has a supplementary question.
What discussions is the cabinet secretary having with the sector about further support?
Such discussions take place almost all the time. On Monday, we had detailed discussions with some of Scotland’s leading chefs. This morning, I had discussions with leading tourism voices in Aberdeen. I am in regular discussion with Marc Crothall of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Fiona Campbell of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Stephen Montgomery in respect of the hospitality side, Wildland Scotland and Sail Scotland. Those discussions take place because we need to work as closely as possible with business to ensure that we provide the most effective support in the most effective way, without it having unintended consequences. I am very grateful to all the business representatives who freely give their time to help us with that essential task.
Less Favoured Area Support Scheme
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to NFU Scotland’s call for less favoured area support scheme payments for 2020 to be fully reinstated to 2018 rates. (S5O-04836)
As I have set out on numerous occasions, I am determined to ensure that the level of support for those who farm in our upland and most challenging areas should be effectively maintained.
I can reassure farmers and crofters that although the rules mean that we cannot reinstate LFASS payments to 2018 levels for 2020, eligible recipients will receive additional payments to maintain or improve their financial position.
Excuse me, Ms Wells. Unfortunately, we lost your voice at the beginning of your supplementary. Could you start at the beginning, please?
NFU Scotland has been, in its words, “crystal clear” that the 2018 rates should be reinstated for the 2020 claims to avoid a damaging settlement for Scotland’s farmers. It says that
“‘upland support’ payments fail to reflect the costs of remoteness or the value of mixed livestock enterprises”,
and believes that the 2018 rates can be reinstated within European Union rules
“by redefining the ‘upland support’ payment to include the LFASS fragility markers and cattle multipliers”.
Will the cabinet secretary listen to the NFUS and change his position to support Scottish farmers?
I listen to the NFUS almost all the time. We engage with the organisation frequently.
We have maintained the level of support to hill farmers this year. The payments for 2020 will be made early next year. In addition to that, I have indicated that, for the following year, 2021, LFASS will go back to 100 per cent—the full rate. That announcement was very well received by the NFUS. I believe that it is entirely in support of that, and we are working with it on the long-term future of LFASS. Hill farmers’ income is essential, and it will be maintained.
I was not aware that Annie Wells, as a member with a Glasgow constituency, had an acute interest in hill farming. Nonetheless, it beggars belief for the Tories to lecture us on funding for farmers when the United Kingdom Government is cutting the money that we will get up to 2025 by £170 million. I think that a little less sermonising would be appropriate.
Emma Harper has a supplementary question. I ask her to make it quick, please.
During the Brexit campaign, our farmers and crofters were promised that we would not be left worse off if Scotland left the EU. Will the cabinet secretary reaffirm how much our farmers stand to lose over the next five years as a result of the Tory Government’s handling of Brexit?
Nobody in this chamber has a scooby about what is going to happen about Brexit in the next few days, and the real tragedy about that is that we have been arguing the case for Scotland’s farmers for the past four years.
An example is our hill farmers’ sale of lamb. If they lose the European market, they will lose a very substantial proportion of their income, which will require a compensation scheme involving a very substantial amount of money. They risk losing markets, and we know that they are already facing cuts by the Tories of £170 million. That represents a complete breach of the promises that were made to persuade people to vote for Brexit in the first place. If those promises had not been made, one wonders whether we would be facing Brexit at all.
Hospitality Sector (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government, in light of its importance to the tourist industry, what additional support it plans to provide to the hospitality sector. (S5O-04837)
We have provided significant support to the hospitality sector since the start of the pandemic, including 100 per cent rates relief and grants for both closed and impacted businesses at various intervals across the different periods of disruption. Our overall business support package exceeds £2.3 billion.
We are doing all that we can with the powers that are at our disposal, and we continue to look at ways further to help the sector within available resources. We have announced a further £185 million to help impacted businesses through the winter and we are developing details of that with industry, including the hospitality sector. However, the United Kingdom Government must also recognise the challenges that the hospitality sector is facing and make additional resources available to help it survive and protect jobs.
One of my constituents said that it broke his heart that he had to let more than 10 of his staff go as three quarters of his income comes from after 6 pm. Many Edinburgh businesses are now closed and on their knees. When will support actually be available to those hospitality businesses and their staff? Is the cabinet secretary aware that small hospitality businesses are particularly anxious that they will not survive and that they will lose out?
The member raises very fair points. I am acutely aware of all those points and I discuss them day in, daily with a number of businesses, as I have already alluded to. The financial support is being made available under the schemes that are being administered, and we have already announced, through my colleague Kate Forbes, £185 million-worth of support.
Sarah Boyack mentioned the 6 pm closure that is applicable, which prevents evening meals from being provided in most cases. The restrictions obviously require to be in place now, but the hospitality sector is clear that its two biggest asks are, first, that the 6 pm finish be extended a bit and, secondly, that it be permitted to serve a modest amount of alcohol with meals. Those requests cannot be met now. We just have to face reality, and that is that. If we did those things now, we would see a resurgence in cases, as has happened elsewhere. We are working on contingencies to look at allowing restrictions to be lifted, if the evidence permits, as soon as we can. However, we have to tackle the virus first in order to get to a position where we can consider lifting or easing the restrictions.
Beatrice Wishart has a supplementary question. I ask her to make it quick, please.
What advice can the cabinet secretary provide on any possible further funding support for small bed and breakfasts and guest houses that do not pay non-domestic rates?
I am aware that B and Bs and guest houses require support. Indeed, earlier in the lockdown period, I advocated that some support be made available to them, and I secured that. There were a number of complex issues, including the fact that some of them did not have business bank accounts, and we had to seek to circumvent those matters.
However, I assure the member that active consideration is being given to how best we can further support the owners of B and Bs and guest houses. They deserve it: they work hard, they scrupulously maintain their properties for their guests, and they deserve our support.
Rewilding (Rural and Island Economies)
To ask the Scottish Government what it considers the potential economic impact will be on rural and island economies of rewilding measures. (S5O-04838)
Rewilding can refer to a wide range of different actions, including native tree planting, peatland restoration and the reintroduction of large carnivore species. That range of actions can have a range of impacts and we would not want to support the implementation of actions that could threaten the livelihoods of farmers and crofters, and the jobs and businesses that already exist in rural and island communities, and which might undermine the place of people at the heart of the rural and island landscapes of Scotland.
We have to recognise links between environmental, social and economic considerations to support our rural and island communities. We believe that the potential positive economic impacts that might result from some rewilding actions in relation to habitat establishment and management can be achieved by other measures and activities that can also help to keep people on the land.
Has the United Kingdom Government discussed with the Scottish ministers the level of post-Brexit support that it will provide for the common agricultural policy’s replacement, to assist with making agriculture more environmentally sustainable, or a timetable for agriculture’s transformation?
The simple response to that question is no, it has not. The first that we knew that the UK Government was cutting Scotland’s funding allocation by £170 million, as the cabinet secretary said in a previous answer, was in communication with Scottish Government officials. That left ministers in all the devolved Administrations to follow that up with correspondence.
The cabinet secretary has continued to pursue the matter with the secretary of state, George Eustice. The issue is also having a massive impact on the other devolved Administrations. Although it is for the Scottish ministers to decide the level of financial support that will be distributed in Scotland, and for what purposes, the cabinet secretary has already made it clear that the period from 2021 to 2024 will be a period of stability and some simplification, in which some new approaches will be piloted. That will be vitally important as we face the imminent uncertainty of European Union exit. Quite simply, what the UK Government has to do now is deliver the replacement of EU funding that it promised to our farmers and crofters.
Glasgow Tourism (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government how it will support the recovery of the tourism sector in Glasgow, in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04839)
Glasgow is a city that is rich in culture and history, and I look forward to encouraging the return of people from all over the world to enjoy its many attractions. We have committed to provide a £2.3 billion support package for businesses, with much-needed business rates relief and tailored funds for the tourism sector.
We are continuously looking at how we can increase support to ensure that more businesses can benefit. As I said earlier, the finance secretary set out last week a further support package of an additional £185 million. On top of that, £60 million will be provided to the tourism sector. We are in close discussion with businesses in the sector, including pubs, restaurants and business attractions, on how best to distribute the £60 million funding.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the many renowned museums, galleries and attractions in Glasgow that are run by Glasgow Life, all of which have been closed since March, leading to fears that they might not survive the pandemic. Does he agree that those venues run international-quality cultural and sporting events, and that they are pivotal to the tourism sector in Glasgow and critical to the Scottish economy? What response does he have to demands agreed last week by Glasgow City Council that Glasgow needs clarity and improved funding from the Scottish Government to ensure that those venues can survive and thrive, and play their role in the Scottish economy?
Some of the matters that the member raised do not fall within my particular portfolio of responsibility, but we are all part of a team and this is all part of the jigsaw of tourism and hospitality that covers the establishments that Johann Lamont mentioned. We are very sympathetic to the case for reasonable support to be provided.
We have announced additional resources in the past week or so. I am sure that Fiona Hyslop and I will want to continue to engage with Glasgow City Council and work with it to do what more we can to support these vital parts of Glasgow’s life and the tourism offering to visitors and natives alike.
Tourism in 2021 (Edinburgh)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is preparing to facilitate tourism activity and events in Edinburgh over the course of 2021. (S5O-04840)
We are committed to the long-term recovery of tourism and the events industry in Edinburgh and across the country. We engage with the events sector through the event industry advisory group, and we have considered the tourism recovery task force recommendations as we work to ensure the return of the world-class events that take place in Edinburgh.
We have acted to offer support to businesses, and that support now exceeds £2.3 billion. On 9 December, Kate Forbes announced additional funding of £185 million, including over £60 million for tourism. We have provided over £42 million to hospitality and tourism businesses in addition to small business grants and destination marketing organisation support. We are providing £14 million through the hotel recovery programme, and we continue to provide funding grants of up to £3,000 as outlined in the strategic framework.
Finally, we announced £10 million to support the events industry during the summer and, yesterday, we announced a further £13 million of support for that sector in recognition of the particular challenges that it faces.
Although that money is very welcome, the events industry has taken a pounding during the pandemic and what it requires is certainty, or at least some degree of understanding of Government thinking about what will be allowed and when. Many events companies have tried to box clever and make their events Covid secure, only to see that swept away by yet further restrictions being brought in.
Now is the time when big events, such as the Royal Highland Show in my constituency and the Edinburgh festival, attract investment and make big strategic decisions. They need certainty about what the Government is thinking about viral rates and when they will be allowed to go ahead. Will the Government commit to publishing a framework under which such decisions will be taken?
We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we are taking measures that are designed to tackle that pandemic, which were recently vindicated and supported when they were challenged in court. We take no pleasure in doing that, but we have to.
I am bound to reflect that we are not alone. Germany, Holland and England are taking measures that, if anything, might be regarded as even tighter than those that we are taking. The point is that every country appears to be adopting the same practice of trying to protect its citizens, save lives, and prevent the spread of the virus. I am afraid that Alex Cole-Hamilton’s request about when we will be able to say that things will be over is not one that any prudent Government in the world could or should answer at this point.
We work closely with the events industry, and I am absolutely seized of its importance to tourism and, indeed, to society as a whole. I have attended Highland shows for several decades, including the Royal Highland Show, which is among the most famous in the world and makes an enormous contribution to the economy. Of course we want to see it re-established and coming back as soon as possible, but it is quite impossible, and it would be utterly irresponsible, for me to answer Alex Cole-Hamilton’s question in the way that he appears to wish me to.
If I request a short question, it is usually as a courtesy to let a member in. Members should bear that in mind, please, because we have disadvantaged members who have questions in other portfolios.
Justice and the Law Officers
Jury Trials (Dumfries and Stranraer)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the decision to hold jury trials for Dumfries and Stranraer sheriff courts in Ayr. (S5O-04849)
I know that Mr Smyth has already received correspondence from the chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service that outlines the operational reasons for that decision. I will respond to a letter that Mr Smyth sent to me on the same issue.
It is, of course, the Lord President who is responsible for making and maintaining arrangements for securing the efficient disposal of business in the Scottish courts. However, we must be clear that the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service is not operating in a business-as-usual scenario and that difficult decisions are necessary to ensure that our criminal justice system continues to operate. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has worked with the judiciary, the legal profession, third sector victims organisations and many other stakeholders to take forward the remote jury centre model. That is an innovative, complex and technical solution that cannot be replicated in every court in the country.
For sheriff court cases, the SCTS has contracted to provide a network of centres across Scotland linked to a smaller number of courts. To minimise travel, the SCTS has confirmed that jurors will be cited from the area in which the jury centre is located and that witnesses can give evidence remotely if agreed by the Crown, the defence and the court.
The reality is that that will increase travel for some people. For example, in some cases solicitors will have to make a 200-mile round trip daily. To propose a solution that asks people to travel from a level 1 area, Dumfries and Galloway, into what was a level 4 area at the time of the announcement, Ayr, is the height of irresponsibility. I appeal to the cabinet secretary to intervene to find a more local solution, even at this late stage. At the very least, can he give a guarantee that that will not be the solution in the long term, and that all sheriff and jury work will return to Dumfries and Stranraer sheriff courts from Ayr?
I thank Colin Smyth for his response and we are listening carefully to what he has to say. I have already raised the issue with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service. To give him the short answer, yes, we will keep these decisions under review.
The member will know that travel out of a level 3 or 4 area for the purposes of a jury trial is permitted under the regulations, but he is right that we would try to minimise that. I can give him an absolute assurance that jurors will be cited only from Ayr, so there should not be any jurors who are having to travel from Dumfries. With the agreement of the Crown, defence and the sheriff, and where it is agreed that it is appropriate, evidence can be heard remotely from Dumfries sheriff court. Notwithstanding all that, I hear Colin Smyth loud and clear and I will continue to engage with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service on the issue.
Offenders (Homelessness on Release)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is responding to the issue of offenders having no home to return to when they are released from prison. (S5O-04850)
Especially at this time of year, it is worth emphasising that tackling homelessness remains a national priority. The experience of the coronavirus response has shown us that we can, and must, accelerate our ambitions to end homelessness and rough sleeping. The Scottish Government is working closely with all councils to make sure that people experiencing homelessness are provided with accommodation. It has allocated £32.5 million of our £50 million ending homelessness together fund to local authorities for that purpose. The member will be aware that local authorities have a legal duty to offer advice, assistance and temporary accommodation to anyone leaving prison without accommodation, just as they would for any member of the public.
The Scottish Prison Service, local government and housing organisations work to the sustainable housing on release for everyone—SHORE—standards, which set out best practice for how prisons and housing services can work together to support people’s housing needs on release from prison.
The latest prison population statistics show that the number of prisoners arriving in prison with no fixed abode rose from 4.4 per cent in 2010-2011 to 7.5 per cent in 2019-2020. Although I am aware that there are other reasons for people saying that they have no fixed abode when they enter prison, there is an indication that the problem of homelessness for prisoners is rising. Do those statistics not show that the Scottish National Party Government needs to be doing more to work with the Scottish Prison Service and local authorities to prevent those homeless people from returning to a life of crime on their release from prison?
I agree with the broad thrust of Maurice Corry’s question. There are a myriad of complex factors that mean that those who are homeless will often find their way back into the criminal justice system. We want to address those factors as much as possible.
This year, I am pleased to say that all 32 local authorities have signed up to data sharing agreements with the SPS for the first time. They now receive weekly reports from the SPS detailing upcoming releases over a 12-week period, so that prisoners can engage with housing services in advance of coming out of prison. That ensures that they have the best housing support in place but also access to other services, as Maurice Corry suggests, that I hope could support their reintegration back into the community.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that some people are being held on remand because they do not have access to housing in the community. What steps is he taking to ensure that that is not the case?
Ultimately, decisions on remand and bail are for the courts to make, independently of Government or ministerial influence. I can say to Rhoda Grant that the number of those who are on remand is too high and we are working with the court service on that. I hope that electronic monitoring for bail, which the Government is taking forward, will lead to a reduction in the number of remand prisoners.
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report, “The Picture of Anti-Social Behaviour in Scotland”. (S5O-04851)
We welcome the report, and particularly its findings that levels of antisocial behaviour have decreased over the past 10 years and that the public have noticed that decline in their areas. In addition, the member will be pleased to note that Police Scotland has confirmed that the number of calls about the antisocial use of motorbikes in Fife has fallen from 891 in 2018 to 354 in 2019, and that the number of reports over the same period this year has dropped further still, to 217.
The report confirms that we are on the right track but also that we need to go further in addressing the links between antisocial behaviour and deprivation and in addressing stereotypical perceptions about those who engage in antisocial behaviour. Those considerations will continue to be central to our approach as we work with partners to reduce antisocial behaviour in all areas of Scotland.
I recognise the important contribution of the Scottish Community Safety Network, but I was disappointed not to see a direct reference in the report to antisocial behaviour on motorbikes, as the minister has mentioned my interest in it. That would appear to be because of the way in which the behavioural charges are recorded. The minister will recognise that I have campaigned on that issue for many years, and I am frustrated by the lack of a national approach to addressing that behaviour. Will she commit to recognising the impact of illegal quad and off-road bike use in our communities? Notwithstanding the proactive approach that Fife has taken through local police, it is an on-going issue. Will she ensure that the investment that is needed to tackle it is made available?
I agree with much of the gist of the member’s question. There has been quite a degree of success in Fife with the delivery of the Levenmouth together programme. I have written to the member on that, and my officials have shared examples of the good practice in tackling the illegal use of quad bikes—which we had gathered from local authorities and which included a case summary of the improving Levenmouth together project—with all local authorities, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the antisocial behaviour officers forum, the antisocial behaviour lawyers forum and the Scottish Community Safety Network.
Although I accept that the problem that the member recognises is substantial in her area at times, from the research that my officials have done in writing to all the local authorities, it seems that it is not shared across all local authorities. However, I would be happy to listen to anything more that the member wishes to raise on the issue. I am always happy to see whether there is more that we can do to tackle that kind of antisocial behaviour.
The minister seems rather unaware that the incidence of antisocial behaviour this year is at the highest level since Police Scotland started recording statistics. That suggests that the Scottish National Party does not have any answers for tackling the issue. Can she confirm when she last had any discussions with the chief constable specifically about how to combat the issue, and can she say what solutions were discussed?
In 2017-18, 29 per cent of adults thought that antisocial behaviour was common in their area. That is down from 46 per cent in 2009-10. The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 provides a wide range of measures for dealing with all forms of antisocial behaviour, and our national strategy is based on prevention, early intervention and diversionary activities. We believe that a range of powers is already available to authorities to allow them to deal effectively with antisocial behaviour, regardless of the circumstances in which it appears.
The Scottish Government has not been approached by Police Scotland, local authorities or support services to seek changes to legislation in relation to that issue. However, if approaches were made to me, I can confirm to the member that I would be very happy to look at the evidence for making any changes that are necessary.
Before I move on, I say gently to the cabinet secretary and ministers that the answers are taking far too long. Unless they speed up, members will be disadvantaged by that.
Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019
To ask the Scottish Government what support is being provided to local authorities, Police Scotland and the Crown Office to help to implement the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019. (S5O-04852)
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are all members of the implementation group that was formed by the Scottish Government to consider what would be needed to implement the 2019 act.
The Scottish Government wrote to all local authorities before the act came into force. The Lord Advocate, who exercises his role as head of the system of investigation and prosecution of crime entirely independent of Government, has issued guidelines to the chief constable on reporting of assaults of children, and has issued guidance for prosecutors. Police Scotland has rolled out training for police officers, in line with the Lord Advocate’s guidance.
What advertising has been done through other agencies to reinforce the 2019 act’s intentions among the wider public?
As members will be aware, the intention of the act is to provide children with the same legal protections from assault as adults have. We have created a package of resources that explain that intention; we have shared the resources widely with stakeholders and have published them on the Scottish Government’s website, so that anyone can use them.
We have also published content on the Parent Club’s website, which is aimed at parents and carers. That content covers positive parenting and the general support that is available, as well as covering the 2019 act, in particular. During this year, with all the challenges that the pandemic has thrown up, Parent Club has become a valued resource for parents, so I am pleased that it has a dedicated page for the act.
We have also sent a letter and framework document on the act to various delivery bodies, including local authorities, social work colleagues and the national health service. Those documents set out the intentions behind the act, so their distribution across a wide variety of organisations will help to ensure a common approach to implementation.
Claudia Beamish has been in touch about question 5, which will not be asked.
Jury Trials (Covid-19)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to the courts system to allow criminal jury trials to proceed during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-04854)
The Scottish Government has agreed an additional £15 million to develop court technology and to enable the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to set up remote jury centres in order to increase trial capacity and reduce delays in cases coming to trial. That has already helped the SCTS to restore pre-Covid capacity in the High Court and to resume sheriff court jury trials, with it being anticipated that pre-Covid capacity will be restored by February.
We are all aware that normally we would be in the midst of the pantomime season, so I would like to ask the justice secretary why he is playing Scrooge and refusing to release the estimated £40,000 that would allow jury trials to be staged in Stranraer, instead of forcing lawyers to travel to Ayr, which is in a higher Covid level area, thereby potentially putting their health and those of other constituents in Dumfries and Galloway at risk? Will the cabinet secretary agree to review those worrying plans? If trials do move to Ayr, can he make the commitment right now that jury trials will return to Dumfries and Stranraer as soon as possible, when it is safe to do so?
Finlay Carson might want to be careful about his use of language. He has, in effect, made an accusation about the Lord President. The Lord President and the SCTS are ultimately responsible for the operationalisation of sheriff and jury trials. To have described the Lord President as “Scrooge” is, I think, extraordinarily unfortunate. Finlay Carson might just want to reflect on that.
On the substance of Finlay Carson’s question, I say that Dumfries cannot be viewed in isolation. If we were to use the solution that the member suggests for Dumfries, we would have to consider it for other courts right across the country. If it was a matter of £40,000, of course the Government would provide it; that would not be an issue. However, there are broader issues that we would have to explore in that particular case.
I say to Finlay Carson what I said to Colin Smyth: once sheriff and jury trials are up and running, the position will remain under review, as the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service has told me, and I will continue to engage with the service, as the member is also welcome to do. He should, however, have the good grace to acknowledge that we have put in place an innovative solution that will help us to reduce the backlog in the long term.
Prisons (Staff Shortages)
To ask the Scottish Government what recent action it has taken to address any staff shortages in prisons. (S5O-04855)
I am pleased to report that the Scottish Prison Service currently has a vacancy rate of only 1 per cent for prison officers. That equates to 31 vacancies. Those vacancies will be filled through a scheduled intake of 62 prison officers in February 2021. Turnover among prison officers in Scotland has remained low, and workforce planning activity is carried out in anticipation of future needs.
Our prisons remain stable, safe and well run, which is very much down to the unwavering dedication and commitment of the staff who have kept, and will continue to keep, our prisons safe during what is an incredibly challenging time.
I am pleased that progress has been made in recruitment, but I have raised before with the justice secretary the issue of the amount of workload pressure that staff are under. Figures for last week that I have looked at show that 10 per cent of the total workforce was off sick. Workload and stress clearly contribute to that, and 85 people were off with Covid-related illnesses.
Are we monitoring all staff and looking at sickness levels and the levels of pressure that they are under in order that we can put in resources? I keep hearing other ministers talk about the amount of money that is, rightly, going into various areas to support businesses, but are we putting enough support into our prisons, and is there a plan for a roll-out of testing of all prison staff and prisoners, given the close confinement that they are under?
A range and number of questions were asked there; I will try to respond as quickly as I can, Presiding Officer.
We have provided the Scottish Prison Service with an additional £50 million of funding in this financial year. I am not sure that there was a particular financial ask from Alex Rowley and the Labour Party in that regard, but I am pleased that we have provided that funding.
In terms of staff absences, during the peak of the pandemic almost a quarter of prison staff were absent. The amount has gone down to less than 10 per cent, and less than 2 per cent is Covid related. We continue to have discussions with not only the SPS but the Prison Officers Association in Scotland about how we can help to reduce staff absence rates even further.
Alex Rowley might know that prison staff have had exceptional payments during the pandemic, which has helped to keep absences low and to boost morale. There was also a very generous—I say—pay offer to prison officers agreed last year. It was certainly generous in comparison with the pay offer in England and Wales.
Offender Services (Spending)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the claim by Victim Support Scotland that spending on offender services is more than double the amount spent on victims. (S5O-04856)
A key point to make is that we do not characterise those funding streams as having opposing purposes. Our focus in funding offender services is to make our society safer for everyone by reducing reoffending, reducing recorded crime and, ultimately, reducing the number of victims by keeping everybody safe. Our approach is clearly working, as is demonstrated by the fact that the reconviction rate for offenders in Scotland is at its lowest level in 21 years.
It should be noted that the £18.7 million for victims and witnesses in 2020-21 that was referred to in that question by Bill Bowman is only part of the support that we offer. For example, we also had a budget of £15.5 million to compensate victims of violent crime that has been increased to more than £21 million in-year to match demand. We have invested £12 million to tackle violence against women and girls, and we have provided an additional £5.75 million since lockdown to support organisations that are on the front line for people who experience violence or domestic abuse.
I am passionate about victims and survivors being properly supported, but we should not ignore the fact that we also serve victims through addressing offending and reoffending behaviour.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer. He makes a tenuous link between offenders and victims. Victim Support Scotland says that £40.8 million is being spent on offender services this year and that that funding has increased 10 times more than help for victims and witnesses has in the past two years. Despite the Scottish National Party’s warm words on delivering Michelle’s law, can the cabinet secretary really claim that the Government is working in victims’ interests?
Yes, I can. I do not necessarily expect Bill Bowman to have a nuanced grip on the issue, but I have to say that to think that there is not a link between reducing reoffending and victims is exceptionally poor, and misses the point entirely.
In fact, if we plough money not only into victim services—which we are doing—but into reducing reoffending, we will ultimately have less crime, which means that there will be fewer victims of crime. That is our policy, and we will continue to take that approach because it is obviously paying dividends, given the reduction in the reconviction rate and in crime—violent crime, in particular—over the past decade.
Under the SNP, we are seeing results. It is not about a choice between hard and soft justice, but about an approach that has been characterised as smart justice, which is evidence based and is, as I said, leading to a reduction in the number of victims, which I am delighted about.
Constitution, Europe and External Affairs
Fair Trade (Promotion)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on promoting fair trade awareness across the public sector. (S5O-04857)
The achievement of fair trade nation status for Scotland, first in February 2013 and again in March 2017, signals to the world that Scotland takes an active leadership role in challenging global poverty and recognising the dignity and rights of producers through our commitment to fairness in international trading.
The Scottish Fair Trade Forum has received core funding from the Scottish Government since 2007 and takes forward our work on fair trade. The forum continues to engage across the public sector with local authorities, schools, universities and colleges and other public bodies to raise knowledge and awareness, and increase purchasing, of Fairtrade goods.
I have always believed that you should practise what you preach. Can the minister outline where the Scottish Government has invested directly in the promotion of fair trade and directly awarded Fairtrade contracts? When I asked the Scottish Parliament information centre that question, it was unable to locate any details that relate to the promotion of fair trade by the Scottish Government and no direct awards by the Scottish Government to Fairtrade companies.
With regard to the work that we do directly with fair trade, we provide core funding for the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, as I mentioned. We conducted a review and produced a report on the forum’s work in February this year, and the member will be aware that we are also looking at the work of the forum through the international development review.
The forum has reflected on its work as a result of the pandemic. First, it has contacted all public sector bodies to gauge the current procurement of Fairtrade products, which Miles Briggs mentioned. Secondly, it is working with the development education centres to support continuous professional development sessions for teachers on fair trade and global citizenship. In addition, the forum hosted our webinar to inform fair trade campaigners about Fairtrade products in the public sector and encourage them to evaluate fair trade statements from their local public bodies.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase democratic engagement. (S5O-04858)
Over the current session of Parliament, we have extended the electoral franchise to give everyone who lives in Scotland and has leave to remain the right to vote. We put in place the access to elected office fund for disabled candidates for both local and national elections, and we have modernised the annual canvass to make it easier for voters to engage and ensure that all 14-year-olds can preregister as attainers ahead of reaching voting age.
The Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill, which is currently before Parliament, seeks to ensure that the next election can go ahead safely in the context of Covid-19. We intend to ensure that people are fully informed about the voting options that are available to them, which include voting in person, by post or by proxy.
Voting in elections and referendums is really important. Does the minister agree that, if there is ever to be another referendum on Scotland’s future, a multi-option referendum would increase democratic engagement and prevent voters from being forced to choose between two bad options—namely, the unsustainable status quo and the undesirable growth commission?
Like many unionists in the chamber, Mr Findlay needs to let go of his constitutional obsession—[Interruption.]
I am glad that he is so keen on an upcoming independence referendum, but I have to say that right now, at this minute, the Government is focused on Covid-19 and on dealing with the horrendous fallout from Brexit; he might want to do that himself.
Brexit Transition Period (Update)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its preparations for the end of the Brexit transition period. (S5O-04859)
As I outlined in my statement to Parliament last week, the Scottish Government is doing all it can to mitigate the impact of leaving the transition period. We have put in place a comprehensive set of resilience arrangements to manage our response to the challenges that we face. We are trying to increase access to funds where required. I gave the examples of the £100 million package of measures to support citizens—in many cases through the third sector—and the £5 million fund to help Scottish wholesale food and food and drink businesses. We are also working with other Administrations to ensure that critical supplies such as medicines can reach the United Kingdom mainland without interruption.
While we are doing what we can, I ask members to recall what I have said regularly: we simply cannot avert every negative consequence of Brexit.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his comprehensive answer. Does he share my regret that Scottish students stand to lose access to the European Union’s Erasmus exchange programme from next year? Erasmus allows students to study in Europe and involves more than 4,000 participating institutions. Does the cabinet secretary share my view that the Tory Brexit deal is not “oven ready”, but is, rather, half-baked?
I thank David Stewart for that remark. I know that he has been a strong supporter of Erasmus, the origins of which lie in the work of many people, including Winnie Ewing.
It is shocking if, as reported, Erasmus will not go ahead and the UK will not participate in it. There are very mixed messages on that, and I ask the UK to make it clearer. No substitute will do. Indeed, both the Welsh and Scottish Administrations have asked to go forward with Erasmus, even if the UK does not. I understand that the UK has not even raised that with the EU.
The UK Government has announced that Northern Ireland will receive an extra £400 million to address the impacts of Brexit on trade. Can the cabinet secretary advise whether the Scottish Government has received any similar commitment from the UK Government that funding will be provided to mitigate the impacts of Brexit on Scotland?
We have received no such assurance. It is indeed true that the amounts that are being provided are disproportionate. We do not begrudge anybody money, but it is important that the UK provides the resources so that there is no detriment from Brexit. It is a very long way from doing that, however.
Education (United Kingdom Internal Market Bill)
To ask the Scottish Government how it anticipates the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will affect Scotland’s education system. (S5O-04860)
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. As introduced, the bill would have forced Scotland to accept professional standards in teaching that would not meet our regulatory requirements.
After considerable pressure, not least from organisations such as the GTCS, as well as from the Scottish Government, the UK Government backed down and has conceded an exemption to the bill for school teaching. However, the bill takes spending powers to Westminster in devolved areas, bypassing devolved Administrations, including in educational and training activities and exchanges.
The bill threatens to alienate our international allies and to hamstring devolved policy and governance to the whims of an increasingly desperate Tory Administration that just seems to treat Scotland with contempt. Endless uncertainties persist, as mentioned in the previous question, around the Erasmus+ programme, and the minister has highlighted the concerns of the GTCS, which thankfully have now been alleviated.
Will the minister outline her understanding of what might happen to horizon and research funding in future?
Regarding horizon funding and Erasmus+, we have consistently asked the UK Government for Scotland to remain part of the system, and the Welsh Government has made similar representations. Unfortunately, they have fallen on deaf ears. The UK Government has advised that it is seeking to participate in select elements of Erasmus on a time-limited basis. That position appears to conflict with the European Union’s stance on no cherry picking—and the outcome of the negotiations remains uncertain, as we all know.
If the UK Government fails to associate with Erasmus+, for instance, it intends to roll out a UK-wide replacement scheme. Any replacement scheme must, of course, respect devolution, replacing any lost EU funding in full and providing full support to all those who currently benefit from our participation in those schemes.
Trade Arrangements (Post-Brexit)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on which post-Brexit trading arrangements between the United Kingdom and European Union would be best for Scotland. (S5O-04861)
The best arrangement for Scotland in trading with the EU is to do so as a member of the EU. Independence is therefore the answer to Michelle Ballantyne’s question.
We have always been clear that the best option for the UK as a whole would have been to remain in the European Union. It is with regret that we find ourselves in the position that we are in today. Throughout the Brexit process, we have pressed the UK Government to seek the closest possible relationship with the EU. A compromise solution, whereby the UK, or at least Scotland, would have stayed in the single market and the customs union would have been the least worst outcome. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has been set on achieving the hardest of Brexits, with only the most minimalistic of free trade agreements still possible. Nonetheless, we continue to urge the UK Government to avert disaster.
Although I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, the reality is that the democratic decision to resign the UK’s membership of the EU was supported by more than 1 million Scottish voters, and that we officially left the EU in January of this year.
Therefore, does the cabinet secretary want a trade deal that returns control of our territorial fishing waters and gives us sovereignty over supporting jobs in Scotland, or is he encouraging Scottish National Party MPs to vote against any deal that is placed before Parliament in the final days available and, by default, support an end to the transition period with no deal in place?
The number of people who voted non-Brexit parties into the Scottish Parliament in 2016 was far greater than the number who voted for Brexit parties. I am sorry that the extremists seem to have taken over Michelle Ballantyne’s party—or rather, her former party; she has become even more extreme than the extremists.
I am arguing for a fair deal for Scotland and for what Scotland voted for. MSPs are elected by Scottish voters, they are responsible to Scottish voters, and they should speak up for Scottish voters. I am sorry that Michelle Ballantyne finds herself unable to do so.
The cabinet secretary and I are in full agreement that the best thing for trade would not be Tory Brexit chaos; it would be—if we have Brexit at all—alignment with the customs union and the single market. At the same time, however, does the cabinet secretary recognise that, although we want to celebrate and take part in the EU single market, we also have to recognise the importance of the UK single market, whose value to Scotland is four times greater than that of the EU single market?
I know that Anas Sarwar is new to his portfolio, but there is no such thing as the UK single market. There is an internal market in the UK, but a “single market” has a very specialised definition and I do not think that anybody would accept that one exists within these islands—unless, of course, Mr Sarwar is proposing the end of devolution. I suppose that, in those circumstances, one could enforce a unitary market, but I am not sure that even Mr Sarwar would insist on that.
Brexit (East Lothian)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of how leaving the European Union will impact on East Lothian. (S5O-04862)
The economic and social impacts of Brexit will be felt across all regions of the Scottish economy. We know that those impacts would be greatest under a no-deal Brexit, which of course remains a very real possibility. Scottish Government modelling indicates that such a scenario could result in Scottish economic output being 8.5 per cent lower by 2030 compared to what it would have been under EU membership. In the short term, areas such as manufacturing, agriculture and fishing are likely to be hit hardest as trade barriers emerge. Regional employment data indicates that employment in those areas in East Lothian is in line with the Scottish average.
I understand that the minister will deeply regret the impact of leaving the EU, as do I. Nonetheless, many businesses in my constituency now face that prospect and need practical advice and assistance that is specific to their sector and to East Lothian. What support is being provided, and where can they find it?
Iain Gray is right to be concerned about the impact of Brexit on his constituency. In the 2016 referendum, East Lothian, like Scotland as a whole, voted overwhelmingly to remain. We are doing everything that we can to support business readiness in Scotland. That work includes wide outreach to companies that are most likely to be affected by the changes; contingency preparations for the end of the transition period at the end of the year; and signposting to United Kingdom Government information and resources.
For example, the building resilience steering group is providing strategic leadership and co-ordination across our enterprise agencies to ensure effective delivery of the joint Brexit and Covid-19 response for Scottish businesses.
I am aware that we are short of time, so I am happy to give Iain Gray a written note of the other detail that I have with regard to the business support that is available for his constituency.
Food Standards (United Kingdom Internal Market Bill)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact it considers the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will have in Scotland on food standards, environmental standards and public health policies such as minimum unit pricing. (S5O-04863)
The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill represents the biggest threat to devolution that the Parliament has ever faced. The changes that were finally announced last night do not go nearly far enough to alleviate the damage that it will cause. That is why we have indicated in the past hour that we fully support the legal move that the Welsh Assembly Government announced this afternoon, and that we will not only stand alongside it but support it in any future action once it has a response to the legal and constitutional points that it is making to the UK Government.
The bill would force Scotland and Wales to accept goods and services from other parts of the UK, whether they met the standards that our Parliaments set or not. Stakeholders have made clear that that situation would lead to a lowering of standards and have a damaging effect on businesses and consumers.
The legislation would undermine the Parliament’s ability to uphold the highest environmental and food standards, as the member observes. Therefore, the Parliament and the Welsh Senedd voted overwhelmingly to withhold consent to the bill, and the House of Lords made it clear that there was widespread opposition, as there has been among stakeholders.
Recent figures have shown a drop in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland since it became the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol in May 2018. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the early evidence that is linked to minimum unit pricing legislation is yet another example of the success of the Parliament in improving the lives of the people of Scotland, and that the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a deliberate act of constitutional sabotage?
I agree with that point. I am encouraged to see that reduction. Evaluation is over a five-year period but we will assess it at that stage. Good progress is being made.
The Parliament’s ability to put public health first is paramount—this year of all years, I hope that all accept that principle. We must be able to legislate for our own priorities, and any attempt by the UK to undermine that is unwelcome and, as the member says, sabotage.
Vaccine Delivery (End of Brexit Transition Period)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact it anticipates the end of the Brexit transition period could have on delays to the delivery of vaccines. (S5O-04864)
The United Kingdom Government’s vaccines task force has been planning to ensure the continued supply of vaccines to the whole of the UK from 1 January 2021. The plans include a £77 million freight contract, to help ensure the smooth flow of category 1 goods, including vaccines.
The Pfizer vaccine is manufactured outwith the UK and the final stages of the process are undertaken in Europe. Contingency arrangements have been drawn up to fast track transportation of the vaccine to the UK, should the UK leave without a deal. Those plans include direct transport to various ports and airports and prioritising passage.
A report in The Observer says that millions of doses of vaccine will be flown to Britain by military aircraft if there are delays after 31 December. The cabinet secretary is perhaps referring to those plans. Can he confirm whether the UK Government has kept the Scottish Government appraised of all the contingency plans and any knock-on effects that there might be for Scotland’s ability to access the vaccine?
I understand that the assurances that we have from the UK Government are that the flow of vaccines will continue and be uninterrupted. Despite the many difficulties in the relationships between the two Governments, there continues to be a working relationship between the health ministers, and everybody recognises that it is in all our interests to ensure that the flow of vaccines continues and is uninterrupted. That is what we will endeavour to do.
That concludes portfolio questions on the constitution, Europe and external affairs and all portfolio questions for today.
Before we move on to the next item of business, I inform the Parliament that it has been confirmed with business managers that the vote on the financial resolution to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill will be called at decision time today.
I remind members that social distancing measures are in place across the campus and to take care to observe those as they leave the chamber.