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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 27 June 2018

Agenda: Agriculture (Culture and Heritage Value), Portfolio Question Time, Homelessness, Prescription (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Complaint Against Mark McDonald MSP, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Motion, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, National Health Service at 70


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Communities, Social Security and Equalities


Scottish Welfare Fund (Mid Scotland and Fife)

1. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government how many people in Mid Scotland and Fife are in receipt of support from the Scottish welfare fund. (S5O-02269)

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

Before I answer Ms Baker’s question, I ask everyone to bear with me this afternoon, because I will be answering all the questions on behalf of the portfolio.

The latest statistics, which were published on 24 April, show that, in the period covering 1 October 2017 to 31 December 2017, 5,955 people in Mid Scotland and Fife received one or more crisis grants and community care grants totalling £795,328 from the Scottish welfare fund.

Claire Baker

The minister might be aware that official figures show that the proportion of successful tier 1 reviews—appeals—for both community care grants and crisis grants sits at about 50 per cent. Following a recent visit to a food bank in my region, it was suggested to me that the staff who are administering the fund are working under significant pressure, which leads to potentially successful applications initially being denied before being overturned on review. Does the minister agree that, although such a high successful appeal rate shows that the review system is working, it may also indicate problems at the initial application stage? What assurances can he give my constituents that sufficient resources are in place to enable staff to deal thoroughly with the applications in the first instance?

Kevin Stewart

Ms Freeman was keeping a close eye on the situation in a number of councils and wrote to several of them. She was also looking at the guidance for the Scottish welfare fund. If Ms Baker wishes to raise any specific cases, I am sure that the new Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People will look at them. I assure Ms Baker that Ms Freeman was looking at the issue in her previous portfolio.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Universal credit was rolled out in Stirling last year, and it has resulted in increased rent arrears, food bank referrals and a risk of homelessness. The Scottish welfare fund was under a lot of pressure in trying to mitigate the United Kingdom Government’s heartless approach to social security. What further action can the Scottish Government take to support local authorities, particularly Stirling Council, to support the communities that are being crushed by those welfare reforms?

Kevin Stewart

Continuing austerity will result in an overall reduction in annual welfare spend of £4 billion in Scotland by 2020. The Scottish Government is spending more than £125 million in 2018-19 on welfare mitigation and measures to help people on low incomes who suffer from the changes that have been imposed by the UK Government. That is more than £20 million more than was spent in previous years. Ms Constance wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, on 15 June, calling again for the roll-out of universal credit to be halted. We believe that universal credit is a flawed policy and that the UK Government should halt the roll-out until it gets it right.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

Is the minister aware of any councils that are underspending their Scottish welfare fund allocation? What can be done to encourage councils to make the most of that vital fund?

Kevin Stewart

The Government is aware of 11 councils that underspent their Scottish welfare fund allocation by £30,000 or more: East Ayrshire Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Falkirk Council, Fife Council, Highland Council, Inverclyde Council, Moray Council, Scottish Borders Council, Shetland Islands Council, South Ayrshire Council and South Lanarkshire Council.

The Scottish welfare fund is a lifeline for families and individuals across Scotland. I agree that it is crucial that councils are encouraged to make the most of the fund, especially given the welfare reform cuts that the United Kingdom Government is imposing.

The Scottish Government publishes statutory guidance annually, requiring councils to manage the fund in a way that helps those who are most in need in their local area. We also hold quarterly practitioner forums, which all councils attend, to promote best practice and to address issues such as take-up.

Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Some local authorities exhaust their welfare allocation and people are left in desperate need who would qualify for a welfare fund grant but do not get it simply because of the time of year when they happen to fall into hardship. Does the Scottish Government consider that to be fair? What steps will the minister take to make sure that those who are in desperate need of support do not miss out for that reason?

Kevin Stewart

As Mr Griffin is well aware, Ms Freeman kept a close eye on all such matters. Since April 2013, £38 million a year has been allocated to local authorities for the Scottish welfare fund. We are committed to keeping the fund.

Mr Griffin will also be aware, from previous answers from Ms Freeman, that the basis of distribution to local authorities changed in November 2015 following a recommendation from the settlement and distribution group that was agreed by Convention of Scottish Local Authorities leaders and the Scottish ministers. The change was phased in from 2016-17. The distribution of the welfare fund is now wholly informed by the income domain of the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

The new cabinet secretary is listening, and I am sure that she will keep a close eye on all those matters, too. If Mr Griffin wants to share any specific issues, I am sure that she will want to respond positively.


Loneliness and Isolation (Older People)

2. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce loneliness and isolation among older people. (S5O-02270)

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

In January, Ms Freeman published for consultation the first-ever national strategy on social isolation and loneliness anywhere in the United Kingdom. We have consulted a range of groups, including older people, and organisations such as Age Scotland and the Scottish Seniors Alliance have contributed. The older people’s strategic action group, which Ms Freeman established last year, discussed the strategy at one of its meetings.

We are also taking action. In 2017, our £500,000 social isolation and loneliness fund supported a number of local initiatives across Scotland that have provided support for older people and other vulnerable groups. Our work to deliver more accessible housing, tackle poverty, promote employment and volunteering opportunities, maintain concessionary travel and reform adult social care all helps to ensure that older people are able to live their lives to the full and maintain their important social connections.

Miles Briggs

What additional measures will be contained in the final strategy, “A Connected Scotland: Tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger communities”? How will the strategy support the fantastic work of voluntary organisations such as those in my region, including Vintage Vibes, Health in Mind and Contact the Elderly, to enable them to expand the services that they offer?

Kevin Stewart

I am aware of some of the groups that Mr Briggs has mentioned, including Vintage Vibes, which is based at the Broomhouse Centre in Mr Gordon MacDonald’s constituency. I know that Ms Freeman has paid close attention to that and a number of other organisations across the country, and the Government will continue to listen to such groups.

We are determined to tackle social isolation. When I recently visited Dundee City Council, I was pleased to see that its social isolation teams were based with its teams dealing with energy efficiency, homelessness and welfare benefits. It is very important that local authorities look to bring together such services, so that we can provide our very best for those who feel isolated.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Does the minister agree that befriending services such as those run by Quarriers in North Ayrshire can deliver great benefits including improved confidence and wellbeing to people experiencing loneliness and, indeed, to those who befriend them? If so, how does the Scottish Government plan to encourage and support such initiatives?

Kevin Stewart

I pay tribute to the important work that organisations such as Quarriers do. Befriending services are often a vital lifeline to those who are most at risk of social isolation and loneliness. Not everyone needs them but, for those who do, they play a vital role in supporting individuals to build up their social networks, spend quality time with another person and participate in activities that they might otherwise not have the opportunity to participate in.

I know that the lives of many people who have been befrienders have been enriched by both individual relationships with their befriendees and the opportunity to give back to their community—more power to the elbow of Quarriers and organisations like it.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The Government’s strategy on loneliness acknowledges the importance of libraries and notes the Government’s investment in the public library improvement fund. I wonder whether Jeane Freeman kept a close eye on recent figures provided by the Scottish Library and Information Council, which show that a total of 30 libraries in Scotland closed last year—a figure that was up from 15 in the year before. Does the minister agree that those closures will have a negative impact on community cohesion? How does the Government plan to prevent further closures of public libraries?

Kevin Stewart

I had the great pleasure of being at the community hub in the south of Edinburgh this morning, which incorporates the library. Edinburgh has done very well in incorporating community facilities, which not only saves money but brings services together so that people can access them in one place.

As a former councillor, like me, Ms Lennon will be well aware that it is up to local authorities to make the decisions about libraries. While I was serving in the administration in Aberdeen, I ensured that there were no library closures. I think that many other local authorities should try to do likewise.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Does the minister recognise that the Government’s free bus travel for the over-60s helps many people to overcome loneliness and isolation? Should we not be promoting the scheme rather than considering restricting it? If the minister agrees with that, will he mention it to the new transport minister?

Kevin Stewart

I said that I was going to answer a fair number of questions across the portfolio this afternoon, but I did not expect questions on transport. The concessionary fares scheme has been kept by this Government, although there has been an on-going review. The positivity of concessionary fares is beyond doubt, and I am sure that the new transport minister will report back to the Parliament with the findings of the consultation when it is complete.


“Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain (2018)”

3. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report by Crisis, “Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain (2018)”. (S5O-02271)

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

I welcome the recent report from Crisis and the work of its chief executive, Jon Sparkes, who chairs our homelessness and rough sleeping action group. I am pleased that the report recognises the Scottish Government’s strong commitment to tackling homelessness and highlights some of the strides that we have already made, for example in noting that we have set the highest standard in the UK on limiting the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation.

The Crisis report highlights the challenges around homelessness and the need for us all to do more. That is exactly why we established the action group last year to help us to identify the solutions to homelessness, and I welcome the recommendations that it has published, including the final set in its report today.

Bob Doris

As the minister knows, the Crisis report is a weighty document that contains substantial recommendations. I will pick out just the first one, which is:

“Introduce a statutory duty to prevent homelessness for all households who are at risk of becoming homeless within 56 days, regardless of priority status, local connection, intentionality or migration status”.

As the member of the Scottish Parliament for Maryhill and Springburn, I occasionally have constituents who are at imminent risk of homelessness, including elderly residents who are told to turn up at homelessness services a couple of weeks before they are homeless or, worse still, once they are on the streets. I ask the minister to act on the recommendation that I have highlighted and monitor practice across local authorities to ensure that it is implemented appropriately.

Kevin Stewart

As I said, I welcome the report from Crisis and the work of Jon Sparkes. Although we have strong rights for homeless households and have made much progress on preventing homelessness in recent years, we are determined to do much more to make a step change in people’s experience of housing and homelessness in Scotland. That is why we have accepted in principle all the action group’s recommendations, including examining the case for introducing a comprehensive homelessness prevention duty on local authorities and on other local public bodies. We have committed to working with our partners across a range of sectors on a programme of work to take forward the recommendations. I know that Mr Doris has been keeping a close eye on the matter, and I am sure that he will continue to scrutinise the Government as we go forward on that front.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

Statistics last week showed that the number of homelessness applicants in Scotland who were formerly in the armed services increased by 11 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Given that housing is a devolved issue, what action is being taken by the minister to ensure that veterans who serve our country are supported once they leave the armed services?

Kevin Stewart

I pay tribute to Keith Brown, who was Minister for Transport and Veterans in the previous Government. It would be fair to say that he kept me on my toes in dealing with veterans’ issues. The Government has provided funding to the garden city project to provide housing for veterans. It would be helpful if the Ministry of Defence helped us to use the land and housing that it has in Scotland to alleviate some of the difficulties that we face. I know that Mr Brown was assiduous on that, particularly in his discussions on the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal. In order for us to get this right, I would be very grateful if Miss Wells could also talk to the United Kingdom Government, to see whether it can be a bit more positive in allowing the transfer of land and housing from the Ministry of Defence, so that we can do more for our veterans.


East Dunbartonshire Council (Meetings)

4. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when the Minister for Local Government and Housing last met East Dunbartonshire Council and what issues were discussed. (S5O-02272)

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

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including East Dunbartonshire Council, to discuss a wide range of issues, as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

Neil Bibby

I suggest that the minister meets East Dunbartonshire Council promptly, because he will be aware that the GMB, Unison and Unite trade unions have taken understandable and unprecedented strike action against the council after a sustained attack on the conditions of some of its lowest-paid workers. The Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition running the council has put forward proposals to cut annual leave, scrap overtime allowances and reduce redundancy benefit to the lowest level of any Scottish local authority. Will the minister unequivocally condemn the administration at East Dunbartonshire Council and, although it is not an excuse for the council’s conduct, will he also accept that that attack on workers’ rights is also driven by austerity, which the SNP Government has intensified and passed on to Scotland’s councils for far too long?

Kevin Stewart

Mr Bibby spoiled his question at the end. If he wants to point the finger about austerity, he should be pointing at the United Kingdom Government, which has slashed the budget of the Scottish Government. As Mr Bibby well knows, the dispute is between the council as an employer and the unions representing its staff. Councils are independent of the Scottish Government and ministers do not have legal powers to intervene in such matters. However, we regret any action that disrupts schools and other public services, and we encourage all parties to resolve the dispute quickly, without further disruption to the residents of East Dunbartonshire.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

The SNP group on East Dunbartonshire Council resigned from leading the council after losing the vote when opposing that assault on workers’ terms and conditions. Does the minister agree that administrations that ride roughshod over union members’ and workers’ rights should be condemned in the strongest terms?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in response to Mr Bibby’s question, the dispute is between the council as an employer and the unions that represent the staff of East Dunbartonshire Council. As members are aware, councils are independent of the Scottish Government, and it is for locally elected representatives to resolve such disputes. I have no powers to intervene in those matters. However, I reiterate that the council as the employer and the unions should get round the table to resolve the situation and ensure that the people of East Dunbartonshire are served well.


Homelessness

5. Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I know that a statement on this subject is coming up imminently.

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle the recent rise in homelessness. (S5O-02273)

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

It is not acceptable in a country such as Scotland for people to be rough sleeping or spending extended periods of time in temporary accommodation. We established the homelessness and rough sleeping action group and set up the £50 million ending homelessness together fund to drive sustainable and lasting change to tackle homelessness in Scotland and make rough sleeping a thing of the past. This morning, the action group published its fourth report and its final set of recommendations—29 of them—on ending homelessness, which the Scottish Government has accepted in principle. We look forward to implementing the action group’s recommendations and to moving towards ending homelessness in Scotland for good.

Murdo Fraser

For the first time in nine years, the number of homeless applications has risen. For example, in Perth and Kinross in my region there has been a 17 per cent spike in the number of homeless applications over the past year and, as the minister said, there has been a rise in the number of households and children sleeping in temporary accommodation. On the action plan that the minister referred to, will he tell us specifically what headline action will tackle that problem? Will additional resources be available to local authorities that have seen a particular rise in the homelessness problem?

Kevin Stewart

I always find it rather surprising that Conservative members talk about spending more money, as the Conservative Party wanted to slash £550 million from our budget by giving tax cuts to the rich.

For the first time in a decade in which there has been a 39 per cent drop in homelessness applications in Scotland, we are seeing a rise. That is regrettable, but one of the reasons for that rise—we hear this from third sector partners and from the likes of the National Audit Office—is that such things are being driven by the Tory Government’s welfare changes. There are things such as the benefit cap and sanctions.

Murdo Fraser

It is always someone else’s fault.

Kevin Stewart

Mr Fraser has shouted from a sedentary position that somebody else is to blame. In this case, the Tory Government is very much to blame. It should rethink all its welfare policies and put people first.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Does the minister accept the National Audit Office’s conclusion that the rise in the number of homeless families in the United Kingdom is

“likely to have been driven”

by the UK Tory Government’s welfare changes?

Kevin Stewart

I am glad that Mr Lyle has read the National Audit Office’s report, as I have done. It is pretty damning. I agree with Mr Lyle. The Scottish Government believes that the UK Government’s welfare policies are limiting access to affordable accommodation for people on low incomes and, as such, are increasing the risk of hardship and homelessness.

The Scottish Government recently published a report on the impact of welfare reform on housing. It found that, in the private and social sectors, households have been severely affected by the UK Government’s welfare policy. The report highlights the negative effect of universal credit on tenants and landlords because of the major increase in rent arrears. In East Lothian, for example, 72 per cent of social housing tenants who claimed universal credit were in arrears. That is compared with 30 per cent of all tenants. That is down to universal credit and the welfare changes, and it is about time that the Tories recognised the damage that they are doing to people throughout the country.


Universal Credit (Renfrewshire South)

6. Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact it anticipates the roll-out of universal credit will have on people in the Renfrewshire South constituency. (S5O-02274)

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

The United Kingdom Government’s planned roll-out of the universal credit full service in Renfrewshire in September 2018 is, unfortunately, likely to result in increased debt, hardship and rent arrears, with people being pushed into crisis and being at risk of homelessness, as that is what we have seen in other council areas, as I have just said. The Trussell Trust explicitly links the rise in the use of food banks to the roll-out of universal credit. The trust found that food bank use increased by an average of 52 per cent in universal credit full service areas.

Evidence provided by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities suggests that average rent arrears for those in receipt of universal credit are more than 2.5 times higher than for those on housing benefit. The Scottish Government has now written to Esther McVey for the sixth time in two years, calling on the UK Government to halt the roll-out of universal credit. However, Esther McVey’s statements to the House of Commons on 21 June suggest that our plea continues to fall on deaf ears.

Tom Arthur

I have had far too many constituents come to my surgery in tears as a result of the UK Government’s welfare reforms and sanction regimes. Does the minister agree that the recent National Audit Office report on the rolling out of universal credit is a damning indictment of the Tory UK Government’s handling of the benefit system, further evidence that Westminster cannot be trusted to look after the most vulnerable and yet another reason why this Parliament should have the full powers of a normal independent country?

Kevin Stewart

I agree completely and utterly with Tom Arthur that this Parliament should have full powers over social security. Every day, we are hearing further evidence about the misery that universal credit and other benefits such as employment and support allowance and the personal independence payment are causing. Continuing austerity will result in an overall reduction in annual welfare spend of £4 billion in Scotland by 2020. That is in stark contrast to the way in which we will deliver social security in Scotland. We are putting people first and treating them with the dignity and respect that everyone has the right to expect from their social security system. We expect to spend over £125 million in 2018-19 on welfare mitigation measures to help the most vulnerable people in Scotland, which is over £20 million more than the amount spent in previous years. However, the key point in all this is that the Tories should rethink their policies of austerity and row back on those nonsensical benefit cuts.


Affordable Homes (Inverclyde)

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

To ask the Scottish Government how many affordable homes it plans to build in Inverclyde with local housing associations by 2021. (S5O-02275)

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

Over the course of this session of Parliament, 898 affordable homes are planned in communities across Inverclyde, with locally based associations delivering 671 of those. That is backed by nearly £50 million of investment from the Scottish Government that will go towards meeting our ambitious target of delivering over 50,000 affordable homes across Scotland by 2021, backed by £3 billion of investment. I am delighted to say that since 2007, we have delivered over 76,500 affordable homes across Scotland.

Stuart McMillan

I welcome the vast investment that the Scottish Government will allocate to Inverclyde and how it will benefit many families and the local community. However, does the minister agree that alongside any new homes, both affordable and private, local authorities should consider when progressing their local development plans how those new homes will be serviced with improved infrastructure in order to guarantee positive outcomes for those new developments and residents?

Kevin Stewart

It is the responsibility of local authorities to address those issues through their local development plans in accordance with Scottish planning policy and the national planning framework. The Scottish Government is committed to promoting an infrastructure-first approach to the delivery of development and to supporting stakeholders in that process. Achieving better co-ordination of infrastructure planning delivery and the development plan process itself is a key part of our on-going planning review and a large part of our Planning (Scotland) Bill.


United Kingdom Social Security Ministers (Meetings)

8. Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will next meet the United Kingdom Government ministers responsible for social security. (S5O-02276)

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

The next formal meeting between the Scottish Government and UK Government ministers is the joint ministerial working group on welfare that is scheduled to be held on Monday 10 September. The previous meeting took place in Edinburgh on 14 June. In addition, Angela Constance and Jeane Freeman have had contact with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work.

Linda Fabiani

I ask that at the next available opportunity Scottish ministers raise with UK ministers the question of the removal of both enhanced and severe disability premiums from universal credit. Will they ask them to explain why the UK Government thinks that it is acceptable that a constituent of mine who is registered disabled will lose more than £200 a month on transferring to universal credit, despite the so-called transition protection payment?

Kevin Stewart

I know that Ms Freeman has written twice to the UK Government regarding this issue—on 21 March and 16 May this year—sharing our serious concerns about the loss of income that disabled people have to endure when they are moved to universal credit.

The lack of transitional protection for people moving on to universal credit is completely and utterly unacceptable. Even the UK Government has now recognised that, but its offer of backdated transitional protection will be of little comfort to those who have had to live with the impact of missed premiums on their incomes and living standards.

On 7 June, in a written statement, Esther McVey confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions would provide transitional protection for people in receipt of the disability premiums. Draft regulations recently published by the DWP have given some information about the plans for that transitional protection.

However, not only have people missed out on the premiums when they have moved to universal credit; many thousands of people who should have been entitled to the premiums when initially making the switch to employment and support allowance from incapacity benefit have not been receiving them due to administrative errors by the DWP.

I know that Ms Freeman recently met Independent Living Fund Scotland, which shared with her some of the stories of people whom it has helped receive upwards of £10,000 in missing premiums.

This is yet another disgraceful, shambolic situation that the UK Government has created. It is now time for the UK Government to fix it, so that the most vulnerable people in our society are protected and get the payments that they need and deserve.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Minister, I know that you are trying to be helpful by turning round to address the member, but if you could direct your remarks to the chair and through the microphone, everyone will pick them up, including the Official Report staff.


Hate Crime

9. Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle hate crime. (S5O-02277)

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

Last year, Angela Constance published an ambitious programme of work to tackle hate crime and build community cohesion. She also established an action group to take that forward. The action group is tackling a range of issues, including how to increase reporting, raise awareness and prevent hate crime from occurring. Last October, the Government ran the successful hate has no home in Scotland campaign to raise awareness of hate crime and how to report it. The Government is carefully considering Lord Bracadale’s important recommendations on hate crime legislation, which were published on 31 May.

Annie Wells

Figures that have been released by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service this month show a massive spike in some forms of hate crime. Since 2010-11, sexual orientation hate crime has increased by 146 per cent, transgender identity hate crime has increased by 250 per cent and disability hate crime has increased by a shocking 1,100 per cent. Of course I acknowledge that the figures are in part due to increased reporting, but what action is the minister taking to ensure that those crimes are being tackled at their root and that real progress will be made?

Kevin Stewart

Annie Wells is right to highlight that there might be increased reporting, which is a good thing. However, we cannot be complacent on these issues. From a constituency member perspective, I have been perturbed to see the rise in hate crime against LGBT+ people in my area and have been in touch with the police there to make sure that all that can be done is being done.

Annie Wells can be assured that the Government will look carefully at the important recommendations that have been made by Lord Bracadale and our continued efforts—

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The minister is referring to his constituency experience, but I say with respect that we are in the chamber to ask questions of the relevant Scottish Government ministers. It is my understanding that the vote on ministerial appointments will not take place until tomorrow at lunch time, but we find that the front bench is short of the cabinet secretary for this portfolio, and of the Minister for Social Security. Mr Stewart has already made reference to the fact that the previous cabinet secretary was dealing with the issues, and not him. I seek the Presiding Officer’s guidance on whether it is more respectful to Parliament for the ministers who are in charge of portfolios to show up to answer questions.

The Presiding Officer

Jenny Marra has expressed her view, but it is up to the Government to decide which ministers reply to parliamentary questions. In this case, the minister made it clear at the outset that he would answer all the questions and asked for members’ indulgence. Please finish your answer, minister.

Kevin Stewart

If Annie Wells has any specific points that she would like to make, I am sure that the new ministerial team will be pleased to look at them. She can be assured that this Government will continue to have a zero-tolerance policy towards all hate crime. We encourage people to report it and we encourage the authorities to take action, as necessary, to deal with those despicable crimes.


Immigration Status (Discrimination and Prejudice)

11. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle discrimination and prejudice based on immigration status. (S5O-02279)

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

This month, we launched the we are Scotland campaign, which challenges attitudes on migration. I outlined in my answer to Annie Wells’s question the range of steps that we are taking to tackle hate crime.

In addition, at the end of last year, we published the “New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018-2022”, which supports the vision of a welcoming Scotland, and our “A Fairer Scotland for All: Race Equality Action Plan 2017-21”, which is focused on ensuring better outcomes for ethnic minorities in Scotland. We are clear that any form of discrimination or prejudice is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Patrick Harvie

In answer to the previous question, the minister mentioned the Bracadale review. In paragraphs 4.72 to 4.76 of “Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland: Final Report” it is concluded that respondents had a clear view that there is offending behaviour “involving hostility” on the basis of immigration status and that there is

“no central collection of data in relation to the immigration status of victims of crime.”

The review did not recommend a new statutory aggravation. I can understand why, as it said that that is already covered. Does the minister agree that we are not doing enough if we fail to collect the data on the immigration status of people who are victims of crime that is motivated by prejudice based on that status? Short of introducing a new aggravation, what can the Government do to address that?

Kevin Stewart

I will not pre-empt the Government’s response to Lord Bracadale’s recommendations. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice will look at the issue in some depth and will report back to Parliament on our exact response.

I reiterate that the Government has zero tolerance for any hate crime. A lot of what is going on out there is being fuelled by the United Kingdom Government’s policies, including the “hostile environment” policy. It is being fuelled even further by some so-called newspapers, which try to blame migrants for everything, when those people have come to our country and have done extremely well in our society by earning, living among us and adding value in our cosmopolitan Scotland. Long may that continue.


Social Enterprise (Definition)

12. Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how it defines social enterprise for the purposes of providing public funding, support or other assistance to relevant organisations. (S5O-02280)

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

Public funding is targeted in line with our strategic approach, which has been developed in partnership with the sector. Broadly speaking, social enterprises are businesses that trade for the common good. They seek to make profits, but are committed to reinvesting them in a social mission.

Although there is no legal definition, the Scottish social enterprise sector has set down the values and behaviours by which it recognises a social enterprise. That voluntary code of practice recognises five basic criteria for social enterprises. The code is referred to in “Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-26”, which was co-produced by the Scottish Government and the social enterprise sector, and was published in 2016 and set out our shared priorities for the 10 years from 2016.

Dean Lockhart

As the minister indicated, there is no legal definition of what constitutes a social enterprise in Scotland, which has led to confusion for many enterprises that operate in the field. Will the minister and the new cabinet secretary look at measures to clarify the definition of “social enterprise” in order to address that confusion?

Kevin Stewart

I am sure that the new cabinet secretary will look at that. Although there is no legal definition, it has to be said that that has not been a barrier to growth in the sector. The “Social Enterprise in Scotland Census 2017” recorded 400 more social enterprises operating in Scotland than were recorded in 2015. The social enterprise sector in Scotland is thriving: it contributed £2 billion to the economy in 2017. However, we will look at what Mr Lockhart has said today.