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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 21, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 21 September 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, National Eye Health Week 2017 (Diabetic Retinopathy), Urgent Question, Nuisance Calls, Edinburgh Bakers’ Widows’ Fund Bill: Preliminary Stage, Contract (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time


General Question Time

Carbon Capture and Storage (St Fergus)

1. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale is for a feasibility study into developing carbon capture and storage at St Fergus. (S5O-01275)

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy (Paul Wheelhouse)

The acorn CCS project will be officially launched in Aberdeen on 26 September 2017. The launch will signal the formal start of the feasibility stage of the project which is anticipated to last 18 months. The acorn project is managed by Pale Blue Dot, an energy transition consultancy that is based in Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

Stewart Stevenson

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to the St Fergus project. Does the minister share my disappointment in the United Kingdom Government’s anti-carbon capture and storage inaction at St Fergus and its proactively hostile actions at Peterhead? Does that put at risk an opportunity that would not only benefit the environment, but create jobs and boost the economy across Scotland?

Paul Wheelhouse

I agree with Stewart Stevenson’s assessment that the UK Government’s decision to scrap the £1 billion carbon capture and storage programme, which included a strong commitment to Peterhead, is a disgrace and a lost opportunity for Scotland and the UK. Had the competition been allowed to run its course, the world’s first commercial-scale gas-powered CCS plant could have been built at Peterhead and the world’s attention would have been drawn to Scotland and the UK as a trailblazer in that technology. Unfortunately, the first mover advantage has been lost to some extent. Undoubtedly it would have attracted significant investment to the UK, bringing with that further opportunities for job creation and skills development, potentially positioning the UK to take its place in the supply chain for Europe of that important technology.

It is worth emphasising that the need for CCS remains. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that it would cost 138 per cent more to achieve a 2°C climate change mitigation scenario without carbon capture and storage. Despite the clear need for CCS, all UK Government efforts to date to bring forward the technology have failed. Given that track record of failure—in the rest of the UK as well as Scotland—it is now essential that the UK Government sets out a clear and robust policy framework, hopefully working with the Scottish Government and others who want to support the technology, in its soon-to-be-published UK clean growth plan.

Farming Industry

2. Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I remind the Parliament of my entry in the register of members’ interests.

To ask the Scottish Government what policies it is implementing to support the development and progression of the farming industry. (S5O-01276)

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

The Scottish Government currently implements the common agricultural policy in Scotland, using the flexibilities available in the European Union regulations to deliver a CAP that best supports Scotland’s farmers and crofters. Since being re-elected, the Scottish Government has developed and progressed a range of policies to help support Scotland’s farming industry, including paying around £65.5 million per annum in less favoured areas scheme payments, committing £99 million to 1,417 businesses under the agri-environment and climate change scheme since the scheme opened, and introducing initiatives such as the women in agriculture taskforce.

Peter Chapman

I welcome “Ambition 2030” and its ambition to grow and double our food and drink industry by 2030. That could mean a great deal to our fantastic food and drink industry. However, the strategy does not mention a single policy providing support for profitability and the sustainability of our farmers. What is the Government doing to rebalance the food chain to ensure that the producer gets a fairer share of the consumer spend for their high-quality produce?

Fergus Ewing

Scotland’s food and drink sector promotes fine Scottish farm produce and wishes to see even more success in the sales of such produce. The Scottish Government and the sector work closely together. Just yesterday I met the NFU Scotland president once again. It is a bit churlish not to recognise the good work that Scotland Food and Drink does.

As I said in last week’s debate on food and drink, we want farmers to receive more credit for their excellent work. They produce fine quality food and they are the custodians of our landscape.

When I meet Mr Gove on Monday, I will tell him that the lack of clarity about continued payment after 2019 to Scotland’s hill farmers—more than 12,000 of them—could, as I explained when I met him at the Royal Highland show in June, lead to thousands of hill farmers being forced out of business, which would be a catastrophe for Scotland. I hope that, at long last, the UK Government will start to do its day job on this matter and give some absolutely clear-cut assurances, for which hill farmers, particularly those in Scotland, have been waiting for far too long.

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

The chamber will be aware that convergence funding was earned in Scotland due to our average per-hectare rate, which brought the UK-wide average below the 90 per cent qualifying threshold. Has the Scottish Government received any guarantee from the UK Government that it plans to pass on the EU convergence uplift funding to Scotland?

Fergus Ewing

This is a very serious issue. The UK received £190 million because, and only because, Scotland’s farmers receive 45 per cent of the European Union average per hectare. That money was intended for Scotland and only for Scotland’s farmers, who received far less per hectare than any others farmers in the UK. Successive UK Government ministers have promised a review of that, but every single one of them has broken that pledge. When I raised the matter with Andrea Leadsom last October, she promised that she would reply quickly, but no reply has been received. Again, as members might expect, I will raise the matter with Mr Gove on Monday. That money is due to Scotland’s hill farmers. It is worth around £14,000 to each hill farmer in Scotland. That money was taken by the UK Government. It is Scotland’s money and we want it back.

Waverley Station (Accessibility)

3. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve access at Waverley station for disabled, blind and visually-impaired people. (S5O-01277)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government continues to encourage Network Rail, which manages Waverley station, and ScotRail to work closely with the station stakeholder group that was set up to build on the access improvements achieved over recent years. I know from my meeting with the station group in March that more can be done and that is why I recently asked Network Rail to convene a further meeting of the station group to explain recent developments on a wide range of on-going issues that have a particular impact on disabled passengers. As Mr Briggs is aware, the group met on 7 September and those involved will continue to work through the detail of any unresolved matters.

Miles Briggs

Is the minister aware of the level of anger and frustration among blind and disabled rail users and members of the city’s access panel that Network Rail’s planned taxi rank for New Street car park will now not go ahead? Given the importance that the minister gave to the accessible travel framework, which he launched last year, will he agree to intervene and demand that the plans to improve access for disabled and visually impaired people are developed? Will he reconsider his decision to refuse to meet me and the city access panel, which has identified urgent action points that would improve access at the station right now for vulnerable travellers?

Humza Yousaf

I recognise the involvement of Miles Briggs and many other MSPs, such as Ash Denham, in this issue, which is of paramount importance. However, I want to add some context, which Miles Briggs left out of his question. Miles Briggs will know that Network Rail, which is a reclassified body under the Department for Transport, is responsible for managing Waverley station. The reason why the New Street car park proposal is not going ahead as planned in 2017 is that the City of Edinburgh Council now says that significant remedial work to North Bridge is required and that access for it will come in through New Street. I am disappointed, just as Miles Briggs is. I understand the anger and frustration, but I am sure that he will agree that the safety of passengers is paramount. If remedial work needs to be done at North Bridge, with access via New Street, I am sure that he will agree that that is an important priority.

That is not to say that the issues and concerns that the stakeholder group and the member have are not equally important. I take some issue with Miles Briggs saying that I refused to meet him. I simply suggested that he should meet Network Rail, which manages the station, and the City of Edinburgh Council to understand a little bit more. If he wishes to meet me, I am, of course, more than happy to meet him and discuss the issue further.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Is the minister aware, as I am through my constituency mailbox, that there are difficulties for disabled passengers on the Borders railway, which terminates in one direction at Waverley station? Those difficulties are also in part due to the aged class 158 rolling stock. Will he advise me when the rolling stock on that line will provide better carriages?

Humza Yousaf

I recognise Christine Grahame’s interest in the matter. She has been in contact with me previously about it. However, 26 of the fleet of 40 class 158s, which are the most operated on the Borders route, have already been upgraded to meet the requirement for persons with reduced mobility. That includes fitting two dedicated wheelchair spaces, companion seating, call-for-aid buttons, enhanced universal access, accessible toilets, improved customer information screens and priority seating.

The entire ScotRail fleet will meet the rail vehicle access standards before 1 January 2020, as required by legislation. Class 170 rolling stock that is used in the Borders has been compliant since its introduction to Scotland in 1990. I assure Christine Grahame that plans are still in place to cascade carriages across the network to ensure that we continue to provide the most up-to-date rolling stock, and the best rolling stock that we possibly can, to the Borders and across the network to Scotland.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

The changes to Waverley station have been in place for some time now and the changes to the taxi rank have had a significant impact on access for people with mobility issues. I note that, in his answer to Miles Briggs, the minister stopped short of saying that he would meet the Edinburgh access panel. Will he take the opportunity to agree to meet not just Miles Briggs but the access panel? In short, will he make himself accessible to talk about accessibility?

Humza Yousaf

That is a wonderful soundbite, but I said that I have already met the accessibility panel. I am the one who helped to facilitate and convened the meeting that Daniel Johnson did not attend but, I should say, Ash Denham and Miles Briggs did.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I would be more than happy to meet Miles Briggs and the accessibility panel. My point is one of fact and context. The station is managed by Network Rail. Alongside the City of Edinburgh Council, it has complete responsibility for the remedial works that are going on in the station. I do not have a ministerial magic wand but I will, of course, meet the access panel and meet members. However, I ask the member to realise that safety must be the priority for passengers whether or not they have accessibility issues.

Single-use Carrier Bags

4. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what estimate it has made of the proportion of retailers adhering to single-use carrier bag legislation. (S5O-01278)

The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy (Paul Wheelhouse)

Enforcement is a matter for local authorities, so the Scottish Government does not hold that information. Local authorities will hold information on enforcement activity that is undertaken in their areas.

John Mason

Last week, I bought an article of clothing—a jersey—on the Royal Mile and was not charged for the bag. That has happened to me several times in my constituency when I have been shopping. Does the minister have any concern that there is a bit of non-adherence to the legislation?

Paul Wheelhouse

I wish Mr Mason luck with his new jersey. I hope that it is an attractive one. As I mentioned in my original answer, enforcement—not just on fashion but generally—is a matter for local authorities through trading standards services. It is carried out on an intelligence-led basis.

On a serious note, if Mr Mason—or, indeed, any member of the public—has concerns about particular retailers, he may wish to raise them with the trading standards team in Glasgow City Council. However, all the evidence that we have seen, such as that from the Marine Conservation Society beach clean, suggests that the charges are having the desired effect of cutting the overall number of bags that are being dispensed and that the environment on our beaches is greatly improved.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

Can the minister provide an estimate of the potential impact that a charge on disposable coffee cups might have on the Scottish Government’s target of a 15 per cent reduction in waste by 2025?

Paul Wheelhouse

I recognise the issue that Maurice Golden raises. The Scottish Government is aware that the use of single-use cups is a concern. We are looking to undertake work to understand the potential impact of such a measure and are constituting an expert panel to look into a range of measures that could be taken along similar lines to the carrier bag charge. That work will kick off with consideration of a charge on single-use cups such as coffee cups, which often become litter and are very difficult to dispose of and recycle. We will seek to encourage people to use reusable alternatives. I will raise Maurice Golden’s point with the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and see whether we can provide further information on the potential impact of a charge.

Rail Travel (Ticketing)

5. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to implementing a European-style ticketing model for rail travel. (S5O-01279)

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I understand that the question has its origins in the area of penalty fares, which are not operated in Scotland at present. ScotRail is undertaking a number of initiatives to reduce ticketless travel, including a buy before you board advertising campaign and advertising the benefits to passengers of switching to smart travel cards.

Stuart McMillan

Does the minister believe that a European-style ticketing system would aid Abellio ScotRail with revenue collection and assist with some of the antisocial behaviour that has occurred due to the many unstaffed stations on the network? Will he ask Abellio to examine the feasibility of introducing such a model?

Humza Yousaf

At the moment, there are no plans to introduce penalties for ticketless travel but, if Abellio ScotRail were to approach us about that, we could look at the feasibility of the contract variation that that would involve.

With regard to antisocial behaviour, I am working with a number of MSPs across the political parties with regard to stations in their constituencies, such as Hamilton Central and Helensburgh stations, and we are seeing a reduction in antisocial behaviour as a result of some of the actions that have been taken. If Stuart McMillan thinks that there is a particular problem at a station in his constituency, I am more than happy to meet him and to see how we can help to reduce such behaviour.

Social Housing (Edinburgh)

6. Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase social housing in Edinburgh. (S5O-01280)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Today is Scottish housing day and, over this parliamentary session, the Scottish Government has allocated affordable housing supply programme funding of nearly £190 million to the city of Edinburgh, which we expect will deliver around 4,000 homes. That money is for the housing association and city council-led 21st century homes programme to deliver a range of housing in a mix of affordable tenures, focusing primarily on social rented housing, which is a key Government priority.

Ben Macpherson

I warmly welcome the action that the Scottish Government has already taken. Does the minister agree that, as Edinburgh’s population expands—as it is predicted to in the coming years—the city will require a greater share of housing association grant subsidies in order to provide an adequate supply of social housing in our growing capital city?

Kevin Stewart

I am pleased that the City of Edinburgh Council is developing a long-term and ambitious new-build affordable homes programme for the next decade. By the end of the parliamentary session, Edinburgh will receive around £16 million more than its allocation this year—a 55 per cent increase in its resources—to meet the city’s housing needs, including its social housing needs. This morning, I was very pleased to see a Dunedin Canmore development in Craigmillar that is being built by CCG (Scotland), which will add another 111 homes for Edinburgh. With the affordable homes programme, open-market shared equity and a number of other Government schemes, including the national housing trust, I hope that we will continue to see growth in housing in Edinburgh.

Rural Schools

7. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the importance of rural schools. (S5O-01281)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

The Scottish Government recognises that rural schools play a hugely important part in ensuring a vibrant and sustainable local community and economy in towns and villages across rural Scotland. That is why in 2014 this Government made amendments to the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 to make the consultation process for school closure proposals more transparent and rigorous and strengthen the requirements relating to rural schools.

Joan McAlpine

Dumfries and Galloway Council has made proposals to close Ae, Kirkbean and Garlieston primary schools. In each case, the proposals for closure have been met with fierce resistance from parents and the local community, who see huge educational benefits from their children being in a small classroom setting, as well as community benefits from the use of the schools for other activities. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that the council must listen to those communities and take into account the devastation that would be felt should the schools close in relation to both the education of the children and the sustainability of the villages?

John Swinney

The local authority is obliged to follow the terms of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which requires it to undertake a statutory consultation in line with the act should it decide to pursue that approach. That includes, among other things, complying with the special arrangements that apply to rural schools and ensuring that parents and all those affected by the proposal have an opportunity to make their views known. I expect the local authority to meet its obligations under the 2010 act.

I am sure that Joan McAlpine and other members will appreciate that, given the statutory role that I have in the process, I am unable to comment further on specific aspects of any proposals, in case that prejudices or is seen to prejudice any subsequent decision that I may have to take under the terms of the 2010 act.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Before we turn to First Minister’s questions, members will wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery Her Excellency Tamar Beruchashvili, the ambassador of Georgia to the United Kingdom. [Applause.]