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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 20 January 2021

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Drugs Policy, Health and Care Workforce, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-23903, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument. I ask Graeme Dey to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (Tolerable Standard) (Extension of Criteria) Amendment Order 2020 [draft] be approved.—[Graeme Dey]

The Presiding Officer

I believe that Sarah Boyack wishes to speak against the motion.

17:21  

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

Actually, I want to indicate that our group would like to abstain on this motion. The reason why we want to abstain is that we believe that there should have been a two-year delay to the requirement for all homes to have improved fire safety equipment. The Scottish Government has delayed the requirement for a year, which we welcome, but we think that much more needs to be done and that action is required to make up for the lack of progress so far, the lack of clear information to householders, the lack of support to date, especially advice for older people, and the lack of financial support to those on low incomes; and to address the critical issue that we still do not have an answer to, which is support for older people to ensure that they are not exploited, which is an issue that Age Concern remains worried about.

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning gave the Local Government and Communities Committee a commitment on a communications strategy, which we welcome, but the concerns that were expressed by the committee about progress in 2019 and 2020 are on the record.

There are 600,000 homes in Scotland with no fire alarm. That needs to be addressed, as it is a matter of concern. Apparently, around 900,000 houses have one heat or fire alarm, but we do not have detailed statistics on that, because they are not collected, and neither we nor those households know whether they are compliant with the new regulations.

My conclusion is that we need a significant ramp-up of activity to ensure people’s safety, to give clarity on what is required and to make certain that there is capacity in the supply chain to ensure that those 600,000 households have the capacity to get those fire and heat alarms. One point to raise is that there must be fire safety visits, especially for older homes and households and low-income families, so that those people are supported through the process.

I hope that the minister will meet MSPs and other stakeholders to give us updates on progress, so that we do not simply end up in the same place in a year’s time, with all those houses still needing to be made compliant.

17:24  

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

As part of the work that we have progressed on improving fire safety, we introduced new standards on fire and smoke alarms in January 2019, and they were due to come into force on 1 February this year. Those new standards will bring owner-occupied properties to the same level of protection that we already have in the social and private rented sector.

However, in light of the current pandemic, I want to be pragmatic and to postpone the introduction of those standards for one year, which will provide home owners with more time to install fire and smoke alarms and allow us to increase public awareness of the need to do so and ensure that people have access to good information and advice, with targeted assistance for those who are unable to carry out the work without help. I have given those assurances in the chamber and to the committee.

These regulations will improve protection from fire in people’s homes, and I believe that one year strikes the right balance between providing more time and meeting the need to improve fire safety and save lives. However, because I am pragmatic, as we move forward I will continue to have discussions with all who want to discuss this with me, to ensure that we get it right.

Amending legislation to postpone the introduction of the new standards until February 2022 was approved through the affirmative procedure by the Local Government and Communities Committee on 16 December. Some members have suggested that there should be a longer delay and, therefore, are disagreeing with today’s motion. I do not agree with them, but I will continue to talk to folk, because I believe that we all share the same view that fire safety should come first.

I am glad that the move to oppose the motion has gone, because I was worried about that. If the motion were not passed today, the one-year postponement would not happen. Instead, the original regulations that the Parliament passed would automatically come into force in just two weeks’ time, on 1 February 2021. Therefore, I am glad that there has been a step back from opposing what has been put forward today.

Let me be clear that, as in all matters, if members have issues on any of the things that we have talked about today, I am willing to meet them. I have already assured the committee members that we will continue to update them on how we are progressing with all this. I want to ensure that we get it right and provide the right level of fire safety for everyone in their homes, no matter what the tenure.

The Presiding Officer

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.

Next, we will consider Parliamentary Bureau motions S5M-23910 and S5M-23911. on the approval of SSIs.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 10) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/1) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 11) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/3) be approved.—[Graeme Dey]

The Presiding Officer

Michelle Ballantyne wishes to speak against the motions.

17:27  

Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Reform)

I wish to speak against motions S5M-23910 and S5M-23911. With only a couple of minutes allocated to explain my objections, I start by saying that my concerns in no way dismiss the dangers of the Covid virus, nor do they suggest that decision makers do not care or are not trying to do their best.

However, on examining a wide range of available data and analysis on the impact of the Covid virus and approaches to suppressing the virus, particularly the clinical papers that have been produced by doctors, scientists and virologists across the world, I am concerned that a swathe of evidence has not been given adequate consideration in the decision-making process. Studies carried out at Stanford University have examined the work by Imperial College London that has underpinned the recommendations that inform the use of lockdown and restrictions. The studies by Stanford—alongside a host of studies that have appeared in respected publications, such as the BMJ and the European Journal of Clinical Investigation—point to the conclusion that non-pharmaceutical restrictions, such as lockdown, do not show a strong statistical relationship between lockdown policies and the desired solution of relatively low Covid deaths or the suppression of the spread of the virus. In short, lockdowns do not do what is claimed of them. Worse still, there is growing evidence of the medium and long-term consequences for the health and economic wellbeing of society that are appearing as a direct result of the lockdowns.

After months of restrictions, school closures, heightened fear and worry, young people are now reporting the highest-ever levels of mental health issues. Preventing young people from having face-to-face social interaction with family and friends—by limiting gatherings to two people from two households, as well as removing access to organised exercise—will further exacerbate the isolation and hopelessness that those young people are feeling, particularly at this time of year, when meeting outside is often not practical. Removing the right, which is enshrined in law, to attend worship, particularly when houses of prayer have taken every care to ensure the safety of their flocks, only adds to the stress that many people are experiencing and removes the support and reassurance that many people value. Having searched through the evidence that the Government has referenced, I could not identify any substantive evidence that suggests that attending worship creates an unacceptable risk.

For those reasons, I cannot support the two SSIs. I urge the Scottish Government and my fellow members to consider carefully whether the instruments make a difference to the war on Covid, or whether they unnecessarily add to the collateral damage that efforts to suppress the virus are having.

17:30  

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No 10) Regulations 2021 introduce the requirement that a person should not leave their home unless they have a reasonable excuse for doing so. That requirement is now in place in all four United Kingdom nations and is supported by all clinicians who are advising Government and, indeed, by the medical community as a whole. It is a necessary part of bringing the new strain of the virus under control, preventing our health service from being overwhelmed and, ultimately, reducing the number of infections to a level at which we can consider lifting the restrictions.

As the First Minister has set out, there are some encouraging early signs that the measures are beginning to have an effect in Scotland, but we know that it can take a number of weeks for the measures that we as a country take to feed through into the number of cases and the number of people in hospital. We need to stay the course and see this through. We should not throw away the hard-won progress that we are making, as Ms Ballantyne would have us do.

The tragic reality is that the virus preys on social contact. It spreads when people come together. The safest thing that people can do when levels of the virus are high, as they are at present, is to stay in their home as much as they can. That is what the science shows. That is what the evidence that is published regularly by all Governments in the UK shows. It is reckless of Ms Ballantyne to suggest otherwise. Indeed, some might say that it is hypocritical, given that she appears to be following the advice herself by contributing to these proceedings remotely.

We recognise that the closure of places of worship is a sensitive issue. Communal worship provides people with guidance, support, relief and hope at a time when those qualities are needed most.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Does the minister accept that quite a number of faith communities support the measures? Although there is some opposition and everybody wants to be able to go to places of worship, many of us support the measures as necessary and temporary.

Graeme Dey

I very much recognise that. The point is that, although we recognise the value that people derive from attending places of worship, there could be nothing more tragic than a person attending a place of worship and ending up infected, ill or worse from a virus that was picked up on the way to or from, or at, a service there. We have made special provision to allow those who lead acts or worship to leave their houses and use places of worship to lead remote services, so that such services can continue.

We recognise that some members of faith communities are upset by the measures. Equally, as John Mason said, there are many who support them, including the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church. We engage in regular discussions with a range of faith groups about the measures, and we take all their views seriously.

We review all restrictions regularly, as we are required to by law at least once every three weeks. As part of the reviews, we take special account of rights and equalities considerations, including a person’s right to practise their religion. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but I am just finishing.

For those reasons, I invite the Parliament not to support Ms Ballantyne in opposing the motions.

The Presiding Officer

The question on those motions will be put at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of six more Parliamentary Bureau motions. I call Graeme Dey, on behalf of the bureau, to move and speak to motions S5M-23904 to S5M-23909 and motion S5M-23912, on the approval of SSIs.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Modification of the Repairing Standard) Amendment Regulations 2020 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Social Care Staff Support Fund (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/469) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Meetings of Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations) (Coronavirus) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/421) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/425) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/439) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 9) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/471) be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel and Public Health Information) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/431) be approved.—[Graeme Dey]

Graeme Dey

I will speak to motions S5M-23908 and S5M-23909, in keeping with the protocol that was agreed with the Parliament.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 modify some of the restrictions and requirements at certain levels and set out changes to the levels that apply in some areas of Scotland. They also amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 to reflect their policy intention. The regulations came into force on 18 December last year.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No 9) Regulations 2020 modify some of the restrictions and requirements at level 4, adjust the list of essential retail and prohibit travel to and from the Republic of Ireland from 26 December 2020.

The Presiding Officer

The question on those motions will also be put at decision time.