Meeting date: Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 31 May 2017
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Protecting Workers’ Rights, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Child Safety Week
- Portfolio Question Time
- Protecting Workers’ Rights
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Child Safety Week
Portfolio Question Time
Rural Economy and Connectivity
Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio questions—[Interruption.] Can members hear me?
Can we check the microphones? Can you hear me now?
Good. We have take-off—well, we sort of do, because question 1 has been withdrawn and the member is not present for question 2, so we will go to question 3.
Average Speed Cameras (A90)
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the installation of average speed cameras between Dundee and Stonehaven will have on road safety for communities living alongside the A90. (S5O-01041)
A comparative assessment of average speed camera technology on other routes demonstrates that introducing the technology can realise a range of benefits for communities, including reduced incident frequency and impact and improved journey-time reliability and speed-limit compliance, with consequent reductions in the numbers of people who are killed or seriously injured. Average speed cameras on the A90 will result in improved driver behaviour, fewer fines and points for drivers and, most important, safer roads for communities and all users of the A90.
As the minister knows from correspondence between us, exiting and entering the A90 via a series of junctions in the Tealing area of my constituency can be fraught with difficulty. The road layout situation is exacerbated by the presence of slow-moving farm machinery and pedestrians having to cross the carriageway at the village of Inveraldie to access southbound buses. There have been a number of serious traffic incidents in the vicinity in recent years, some of which were fatal. Although I understand that road layout was not a significant contributor in the vast majority of those incidents, the fact remains that users do not feel comfortable on that stretch of road.
The minister confirmed to me in a letter yesterday that, given the accident cluster, further investigations are to be carried out, which I very much welcome. However, will all the junctions in the vicinity be looked at and not just the Tealing turn-off? Might the options that are to be considered include introducing a 50mph speed limit in the area, as has already been done elsewhere on the A90, at Laurencekirk?
I thank the member for his correspondence on the issue over the months. He knows that there was a recent fatality at Tealing, which Tealing community council has mentioned to me. When such incidents happen, our thoughts are first and foremost with the families of those who are affected.
Road safety is of paramount importance, and it is our number 1 objective in the work that we do. We assess safety performance on the trunk road network, including the A90 junctions, and we have identified the A90 Tealing junction for further investigations, as the member said. Our operating company has arranged to meet Tealing community council in July to gather feedback, which will inform the report. A study that was undertaken in 2012 recommended signage improvements at Inveraldie, Newbigging and Tealing junctions, and those improvements were installed in 2012.
I assure the member that the scope of the investigations can be widened, and I will certainly look to do that and speak to my officials about it. We will continue to engage with stakeholders in the area. If the member felt that there could be further engagement with other stakeholders, I would welcome his getting back in touch with me about that.
Will the minister provide Parliament with a timeline for completing the improvements to the A90 junction at Laurencekirk?
The member will know that the project is going through the statutory process. I often had conversations on the issue with our late colleague Alex Johnstone, who rightly pressed me on the timescale.
The project is going through the statutory process. I am happy to write to Ross Thomson to explain to him the detail of that process, although I am sure that he will be aware of some of it. I am sure that, if we subverted that process, he would be the first to jump down our throat and say that we had to listen to the objections or other views of communities.
We have to follow the statutory procedure. I know that, as my colleague Mairi Evans has often mentioned to me, people in Laurencekirk feel somewhat sceptical about whether the project will take off. I give them an absolute assurance that it will. We have committed the funding, but I will write to Ross Thomson so that he has a bit more detail on the process that must be followed. I hope that that will give him the reassurances that he requires.
The minister will be aware of a pilot project in Edinburgh to use average speed cameras to deter rather than to detect breaches of the speed limit in an urban setting, particularly where 30mph and 40mph limits apply. Is the Scottish Government looking at how average speed cameras can also be used to deter speeding in 20mph zones in urban areas?
I am not aware that the Government has considered average speed cameras for 20mph zones but, if the member wishes us to do so, I would be more than happy to discuss that with Transport Scotland. It is fair to say that average speed camera technology is not just for rural settings but for urban settings, where cameras can drastically reduce the level of serious and fatal incidents. I have not looked at using such cameras in 20mph zones but, if the member wishes me to do so, he can correspond with me and I will have the conversation with Transport Scotland.
What impact has the installation of average speed cameras on the A9 between Inverness and Perth had on fatalities, serious accidents and people being caught driving over the speed limit?
New statistics that have recently come out are positive about the reduction in serious and fatal incidents on the A9. It is worth saying that, when average speed camera technology was rolled out on the A9, there were many detractors and many people objected, but the statistics now speak for themselves. That is why there has been little objection to installing average speed cameras on the A90 from Dundee to Stonehaven.
To answer the member’s question directly, since the installation of those cameras 27 months ago, serious and fatal casualties between Dunblane and Inverness have gone down by 43 per cent. There were no fatal casualties between Dunblane and Perth in the most recent reporting period, and the number of fatal casualties between Perth and Inverness reduced by almost 40 per cent over the same period.
We will continue to monitor the data, but I think that everybody would agree that those average speed cameras have been a great success. I hope that, when we roll them out on the A90 between Dundee and Stonehaven, we will see similar reductions in casualties and fatalities.
The minister will have seen the report in The Press and Journal this week on accidents on the A952 Cortes junction with the A90 Mintlaw to Fraserburgh road, where there are two deaths or serious injuries per month. Graeme Dey rightly highlighted the junction at Tealing, and the minister gave a reassuring and positive answer. Will the minister give similar assurances about the stretch of road around the Cortes junction and about what will be done to prevent further serious injury and death in the future?
The accident and road safety statistics are paramount when we decide on where our average speed camera technology should be rolled out. That is the basis of decisions on where we invest and that is the fundamental reason why we do what we do.
Mr Kerr will understand that we have a finite resource and that we have to concentrate it on locations where we can reduce fatalities and casualties the most. The statistics on the A90 are horrifying for any member to see, so I hope that the action that we are taking will reduce those figures. If any members—not just Liam Kerr—feel that there is a strong case for their communities to have traffic-calming measures or average speed camera technology roll-out, I invite them to approach me. The caveat is that we have a finite resource but, when there is a sensible option that will help to reduce fatalities and serious accidents and injuries, the Government will always make such an option a priority.
Superfast Broadband (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the roll-out of superfast broadband in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency. (S5O-01042)
The £400 million investment that the Scottish Government and our partners are making through the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme will extend fibre broadband access to at least 95 per cent of premises by the end of this year. Without that investment, only two thirds of premises—66 per cent—would have been reached. Although most of the superfast broadband roll-out in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency is being delivered commercially, the programme had, by the end of last year, provided fibre broadband access to 7,450 premises in the area, 94 per cent of which were capable of accessing superfast speeds.
At my surgeries, many constituents who live in Woodilee Village in Lenzie and constituents from other rural areas have expressed concern about the roll-out of superfast broadband. Will the cabinet secretary reassure my constituents that they will have access to superfast broadband within the timeframe that the Scottish Government has set out?
The digital Scotland superfast broadband programme has further fibre broadband deployment plans for Woodilee Village in Lenzie. Any premises that are not connected through the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme will be captured through our commitment to delivering 100 per cent superfast broadband access by 2021.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the update. One of the most important pieces of the jigsaw is achieving 100 per cent roll-out for small and medium-sized businesses, especially in rural areas. What measures will the Government take to ensure that small business is at the forefront of future roll-out in the reaching 100 per cent—R100—programme?
We value the work that small businesses do, which is why, under our rates relief programme, we have the most generous business rates package for small business anywhere in the United Kingdom. We are determined that such businesses should have access, because in many cases it will be critical to the effective conduct of their business.
The R100 programme aims to extend access to every house and every business premises by the end of 2021. As the cabinet secretary who is responsible for that, I am determined that all premises should have that access.
Information and Communications Technology (R100 Contracts)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will implement in full the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report, “Principles for a digital future”, when taking forward its R100 contracts. (S5O-01043)
The Audit Scotland report in question focuses primarily on lessons learned from previous procurements of information technology systems and services. However, I am pleased to confirm that the five key principles that are set out in the report are indeed reflected in our planning for the R100 programme.
The R100 work will of course build on our existing digital Scotland programme. Members might be aware that when Audit Scotland reviewed the progress of the programme, it concluded that we are on track to meet our coverage targets, with more premises than expected able to access superfast speeds.
The most recent connected nations report for Scotland from the Office of Communications highlighted that superfast broadband coverage in Scotland had increased by 14 per cent over the past 12 months—the largest increase of any of the United Kingdom nations.
In its report, and in view of the cost overruns and challenges that have been experienced in a number of recent IT projects, Audit Scotland urged the Government to show
“Clear leadership that sets the tone and culture and provides accountability”
and to provide for appropriate governance structures and sufficient project oversight for future IT projects. Will the cabinet secretary say what steps he is taking to ensure that those recommendations will be implemented in full?
From what the member just said, one might conclude that Audit Scotland was critical of the Scottish Government’s work in respect of the roll-out of broadband. That is not the case. The member is talking about another Audit Scotland report; in its report on our work on the broadband programme, Audit Scotland concluded that “good progress” has been made and we remain on track to meet our targets.
Far from being critical of the Government, as the Conservative member seeks to imply, Audit Scotland praised the work that the Scottish Government has done and the record that we have achieved. Perhaps that is because nearly three quarters of a million people—houses and businesses—now have access to superfast broadband because of the efficacy and effectiveness of the programme that this Government has carried out.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government is on track to deliver fibre access to at least 95 per cent of premises in Scotland by the end of 2017. How does that compare with how many homes would have received fibre access if the Government had decided not to intervene?
The total of the premises that would not have access, had we not intervened, is 740,000. I point out that broadband and, indeed, mobile telephony are not devolved—they are reserved. If we had waited for the UK to act, we would be waiting for Godot and we would not have seen nearly 750,000 premises having the access that they now have. We did not wait because we were not prepared to wait; we know how important access is to rural Scotland. The Tories are shaking their heads—that is because they do not like the facts. They prefer their smears to the facts when they hear them. We will continue to deliver good progress in rural Scotland, while the Conservatives snipe from the sidelines.
Forestry (New Plantings)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to encourage new plantings in forestry. (S5O-01044)
The Scottish Government has taken positive action including an increase in grant funding for woodland creation of £4 million; additional funding for the timber transport fund; more attractive grant rates for native woodlands in remote areas; an increased threshold for requiring environmental impact assessment screening in low-sensitivity areas; and implementation of the Mackinnon report to streamline the planting approval process.
The result of that has been a substantial increase in the number of future woodland creation projects being developed and an enthusiastic response from across the forestry sector.
Is the cabinet secretary aware that Labour has committed to planting 1 million trees of native species across the UK and that the Conservatives intend to plant 11 million? How do those targets compare with the Scottish Government’s action on planting trees of native species in Scotland?
The targets do not compare particularly favourably. Having said that, I am keen that, across the chamber, we should approach the opportunities that forestry provides in a consensual fashion and I am pleased that the Scottish Government’s target of planting 10,000 hectares per annum, rising to 15,000, is an aim that can be shared across the chamber. I was not aware that the Labour target had a specific figure, and I hope that they have got that figure right.
The cabinet secretary has just accused us on these benches of preferring smears to facts. I will give him some facts about planting. Every year in the past five years, the Government has failed to meet its planting target. In fact, it is 28 per cent under the target that it set itself. It is difficult to have confidence in the target of reaching 12,000 hectares by 2020. If that is not reached, will the cabinet secretary make up the shortfall by increasing the plantings to make up the deficit over the past five years?
We have set ambitious targets and I thought that that was a matter of common ground among the political parties, but the member wants to make political points instead.
I inject a few facts into the interchange and point out that the shortfall in respect of the former plantations was not a result of the inadequacy of grant applications, but because of the insufficiency of applications for new plantings. We cannot grow trees without applications; we need the applications to grow more trees. Fortunately, the steps that have been taken over the past year to increase the grant funding—the gentleman does not like it, but we are increasing the timber transport fund, which I thought he supported, and the funding for broad leaf plantations—and to increase the threshold below which screening is not required for sensitive areas and to implement the 20 recommendations of the Mackinnon report have built up an atmosphere conducive to investment. All the signals that I am getting from my many meetings—I have held three forestry summits over the past year—are positive, and I understand that we shall be very close to reaching our target shortly. That good news is something that I thought even the Conservatives would welcome.
Inshore Fisheries (Unlicensed Commercial Fishing)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to protect inshore fisheries against unlicensed commercial fishing. (S5O-01045)
Measures under the Shellfish (Restrictions on Taking by Unlicensed Fishing Boats) (Scotland) Order 2017 came into force on 17 April and place restrictions on the quantities of shellfish that unlicensed fishing boats can take. The measures support the right of people to enjoy fishing as a hobby, establishing daily catch limits to provide clarity and tackle the issue of unlicensed, illegal commercial fishing that is conducted under the guise of hobby fishing. To enforce them, Marine Scotland compliance uses rigid inflatable boats and conducts regular inshore patrols.
I thank the cabinet secretary for advising us of that order, which I am sure will be welcomed. I assert that our inshore fisheries play an important part in our rural economy and supply absolutely superb food. Will the recently announced pilots seek to improve fisheries and will they help us to make further improvements to support our coastal communities?
Yes, I believe that the pilots will. We want to see our fishermen and communities make the most of our inshore resource, which is what the recently announced inshore fisheries pilots aim to achieve. They will explore two different management approaches to determine what works in delivering greater economic, social and environmental benefits to coastal communities and our rural economy, and they will explore a more localised approach to fisheries management, in which fisheries interests work together to develop distinct arrangements that meet their needs.
The learning from the pilots will inform a more strategic approach to managing inshore fisheries, to ensure that we make the most of our valuable inshore waters, and they will inform work on the future of fisheries management in Scotland in the next few years.
In my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries, illegal electrofishing takes place regularly in Fleet and Luce Bay, with potentially hugely damaging effects on the long-term sustainability of the stock. The Scottish Government has totally failed to control that. Indeed, some razor fishermen are concerned that stocks may be unrecoverable if the illegal fishing continues.
I understand that there are planned trials of electrofishing in selected areas, but what steps are being taken to protect places that are not in the trial areas from continued illegal fishing?
We are taking steps to ensure that electrofishing is properly carried out and that pilots are carried out to demonstrate, under strict regulation, whether the fisheries can safely and sustainably pursue the method. We are taking that measure.
I thought that my meeting with members indicated that we were not dealing with the issue in a party political way. Perhaps I am too naive in that respect, because we now appear to be. Irrespective of that, I will continue to ensure that the Scottish Government does its best to respect the interests of communities, the environment and inshore fisheries fishermen. We will continue to work in the way that we have explained to Finlay Carson on several occasions.
Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
Marine Scotland (Industrial Dispute)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made in resolving the dispute between seafarers and management at Marine Scotland. (S5O-01049)
Constructive discussions are continuing between the Scottish Government and the recognised trade unions. We remain optimistic that the matter can be resolved amicably and without industrial action taking place. Marine Scotland mariners play a vital role in the protection of Scotland’s seas, and the Scottish Government is very appreciative of the difficult work that they undertake in helping to protect Scotland’s marine environment and resources.
Representatives from both Marine Scotland and Unite the union say that there is a distinct lack of action being taken by the Scottish Government to resolve the dispute. Given the likelihood now that industrial action will take place, what steps is the Government taking to avoid that happening by considering fairness between Marine Scotland’s seafarers and other public sector seafaring staff?
Marine Scotland management agreed in April to continue to pay the recruitment and retention allowance at the current rate, which is at the heart of the issue, until the end of October 2017. That is when the business case for the continuation of the supplement will need to return to the pay supplement panel for consideration and approval. Extending the allowance until October allows time for Marine Scotland to continue to assess recruitment and retention issues in the sector and for the trade unions to work in partnership with the Scottish Government on the pay comparability exercise, which is now happening.
Sea Bed Management (Pilot Schemes)
To ask the Scottish Government when it will introduce the first pilot schemes for the management of the sea bed. (S5O-01050)
We recently consulted on the long-term arrangements for management of Crown Estate assets in Scotland. The consultation contained our proposals on how Crown Estate assets in Scotland can be managed differently in future.
The Scottish Government is involved in discussions with the three wholly island authorities on potential pilot arrangements for enhancing local management of Crown Estate assets. Any proposal needs to contain appropriate arrangements and sufficient detail on how assets and liabilities would be managed. I have received inquiries from communities in the Western Isles and I remain interested in hearing about proposals for other community pilots.
As the cabinet secretary knows, there is a strong and long-standing desire in Orkney for local control over the sea bed assets. That desire is shared by the communities in Shetland and the Western Isles, who remain keen to take forward pilot projects under an agency agreement with Orkney. I welcome Roseanna Cunningham’s willingness to engage with me and Tavish Scott on the issue, as well as with the island authorities. Can she clarify who will make the decision on where any pilot projects will take place, and can she commit to ensuring that those are in place before the end of the calendar year?
Since 1 April 2017, Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) has been managing the assets in Scotland. On that basis, the proposals for any potential pilot would be taken forward by that new body. I confirm that my officials will continue to be involved and will participate in discussions between the island authorities and Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management) on the possible pilot arrangements. As those discussions involve the interim management body, it would not be right for me to commit to a timetable.
Scotland is home to approximately 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind resources. With the management of the Crown Estate’s sea bed assets now devolved, what steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure the on-going viability of the existing assets?
It would help enormously if the United Kingdom Government played slightly more fairly on the issue of renewables vis-à-vis Scotland. Crown Estate assets will continue to be managed commercially until such time as any changes are brought about by legislation subsequent to the consultation. However, I find it astonishing for Conservative members to be challenging anybody in Scotland in respect to renewables.
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle wildlife crime. (S5O-01051)
Members will be aware that, in August last year, I commissioned a report to ascertain whether there was any suspicious pattern of activity associated with reports of the disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagles. The report will be published this afternoon on the Scottish Natural Heritage website. Its findings are extremely concerning, in particular the fact that, between 2004 and 2016, almost one third of the 131 tracked young eagles disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and the conclusion that illegal killing is the most likely explanation for the disappearance of those birds and that there are clusters of disappearances that are associated with some driven grouse moors. The report provides clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal persecution in some parts of Scotland that are associated with driven grouse shooting.
I welcome the publication of the report and I am sure that many of us will be interested to read its findings. In light of the findings that the cabinet secretary outlined, what specific steps will she take to target those who continue to flout the law by killing birds of prey and, in the process, damage the reputation of decent, hard-working landowners, managers and gamekeepers?
In the light of the report and of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s recent recommendation on the licensing of shooting businesses, I inform members that we will introduce a number of measures to build on those that we have adopted over the past few years.
The new measures include publishing a map showing the clusters of disappeared birds; asking Scottish Natural Heritage and my officials to explore options using existing powers, which could be used to order the temporary or permanent cessation of activities linked to grouse moor management when we have good reason to believe that they are harming protected raptor species; and enhancing enforcement and prevention by working with Police Scotland to recruit a team of special constables who will be focused on wildlife and other rural crime. After careful consideration, I have decided that that is a better route than giving further investigative powers to the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspectors. I am grateful to the SSPCA for its public-spirited offer and its patience while we considered the proposal.
I also want to establish a group to examine how we can ensure that grouse moor management continues to contribute to the rural economy while being environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law. We are commissioning research into the benefits and costs of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity. Last, but by no means least, I want to examine ways in which we can protect the employment and other rights of gamekeepers as well as their role in enhancing biodiversity, not just game interests.
I will be announcing more details of the proposals in due course.
Although I generally accept the cabinet secretary’s points, I am disappointed that she is not willing to extend the powers of the SSPCA inspectors to investigate wildlife crime. Given the new evidence of the appalling scale of persecution of Scotland’s birds of prey, surely the time has come to extend that power. We need to investigate more, not less.
I understand that David Stewart has a strong opinion about that, but there are considerable difficulties with bending the law of evidence in Scotland to begin to allow the kind of evidence that might be brought forward. We have seen in recent weeks how that can jeopardise potential court cases if it does not work properly. A better way forward is to use the existing law and investigation authority, which is the police. They already have the powers to do the things that need to be done. I should also point out to David Stewart that choosing to go down the route of giving the SSPCA powers might open the door to others wanting the same powers and create a big question mark over admissibility of evidence much more widely. It would also require primary legislation, which would take a considerable amount of time.
Climate Challenge Fund Projects (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn)
To ask the Scottish Government how its climate challenge fund supports projects in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency. (S5O-01052)
Since 2007, the climate challenge fund has provided funding of £3.9 million to support 37 community projects in the Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency.
I commend the impressive level of investment that benefits my constituents, and draw particular attention to the award of £139,199 to Lambhill Stables, which is based on the Forth and Clyde canal in my constituency. I invite the cabinet secretary to visit Lambhill Stables to see for herself how the funding for the growing together and greener Lambhill project is actively promoting and supporting lifestyle changes in the community by providing food growing spaces in its allotments, and cycling and outdoor activities through its bike workshop and youth clubs. There is a green thread running through each activity that educates and shows how we can all lead more carbon-friendly lives.
I am well aware of the good work that Lambhill Stables is doing to reduce local emissions in the north of Glasgow. It is an example of how successful the climate challenge fund has been across many different communities. I was pleased to approve funding of £140,000 this year for the project to support the community to grow its own food in allotments and to make use of derelict and underused land. I have visited other projects that are doing similar things. It brings enormous benefit when community growing becomes part and parcel of communities—in particular, urban communities.
I am, of course, open to invitations. If Bob Doris wishes to write to me with a formal invitation, I will ensure that my diary is consulted appropriately.
Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether an assessment has been undertaken to compare the impact of climate challenge fund spend with other climate change mitigation measures, such as peatland restoration?
Off the top of my head, I am not conscious that we have looked at those two issues—which are quite separate—in that way. Obviously, the climate challenge fund has particular aims and objectives beyond just the issue of climate challenge: it has an important socioeconomic argument to make, especially in communities where there might not be anything else that links people there to the arguments about the climate challenge. It is as much an educational development as it is anything else.
We conduct regular assessments of the climate challenge fund. Maurice Golden has raised an interesting question about the possibility of conducting a kind of cross-comparison. I will ask officials about whether doing that would be appropriate—although, of course, it might not be easily done. We will see whether it could be considered. If so, I will come back to the member with more detail.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Grangemouth)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made following community requests to have a permanent Scottish Environment Protection Agency presence in Grangemouth. (S5O-01053)
SEPA staff play an important role in regulating industrial and other activity in the Grangemouth area, supporting the health and wellbeing of local communities. Following discussion with the community council and local elected members, SEPA is considering the benefits and costs of establishing a Grangemouth site that can support the wider Stirling-based area team.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that I recently facilitated a problem-solving partnership on the issue, involving SEPA, Falkirk Council and Grangemouth community council, and I am pleased to report that SEPA has engaged positively and proactively with the local community.
The Grangemouth community has lived cheek by jowl with the petrochemical and agrichemical industries for decades, and recognition must be given to that. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Government and public bodies such as SEPA should properly acknowledge and consider the fact that there is a community of 18,000 people in Grangemouth, who all deserve to continue to live in a healthy environment, and that the town is not just an industrial cash cow to boost Scotland’s gross domestic product?
I welcome the action that Angus MacDonald has taken to enable the Grangemouth community to work in partnership with others to seek solutions. I am clear that the Scottish Government will place communities and environmental sustainability at the centre of our plans for economic growth. As Scotland’s principal environmental regulator, SEPA has a role to play in that, and I welcome Angus MacDonald’s recognition of its positive contribution. I know that he will continue to be actively involved and interested in the on-going conversations about SEPA having a base in Grangemouth.
Illegal Snares and Traps
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle illegal snares and traps. (S5O-01054)
The setting of snares and traps must be undertaken in accordance with Section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and with the Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Order 2011, respectively. Enforcement of that legislation is the responsibility of Police Scotland.
Through the partnership for action against wildlife crime in Scotland—PAW Scotland—the Scottish Government works together with key stakeholders, including Police Scotland, land managers and conservation bodies to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland.
The cabinet secretary might be aware of an horrific incident near Ravenscraig regional sports centre in my constituency, in which an 18-month-old sprocker spaniel, Evie, had her chest ripped open in a suspected deer snare. Can the cabinet secretary give advice to pet owners about how to keep their animals safe, and can she also give advice on how to report such incidents to ensure that the police can deal with them effectively?
On keeping animals safe outside, I suppose that people have to be careful to ensure that their pets are not out of their sight, and they have to ensure that they know where they are going, in terms of the kind of land that they will be on.
I am aware of the incident that Clare Adamson has referred to, and I hope that it was reported immediately to the police. Immediate reporting of incidents to the police is the most important thing that people can do. Ordinary people will be our eyes and ears in much of rural Scotland, as well as in other areas. It is extremely important to impress on people that they must, when they see anything suspicious, report it to the police.
The independent working group on snares noted that a number of non-target-species animals are caught in snares. We think that that number can be reduced through training, careful attention to best practice and awareness and alertness on the part of ordinary people.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests and my membership of the League Against Cruel Sports.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the disappointment about the recent Government-commissioned review into snaring by Scottish Natural Heritage, which failed to assess properly the impact of snaring on animal welfare. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that SNH revisits the report and this time considers all the evidence that is available on both legal and illegal snaring, as well as the impact that snaring has on the welfare of target and non-target species? Better still, will the cabinet secretary listen to the overwhelming view of the public and consult on a total ban on snaring, accepting that it cannot regulate cruelty?
As I said in a members’ business debate a couple of weeks ago, we all accept that all forms of predator control have their drawbacks. None of the methods of control is particularly attractive, but in large parts of Scotland they are, regrettably, necessary.
The recent review to which Colin Smyth referred, which was undertaken by SNH, arose entirely out of previous legislation and was dictated by that legislation. Therefore, the terms of the review were part and parcel of the legislation. SNH was not conducting a complete review of all snaring—that was not the requirement.
I appreciate that the matter will continue to be a live debate, and I understand that people have very strong views on both sides. However, one of the issues that we must consider is effective management of business in the countryside: unfortunately, thus far, we have not seen a predator control method that will do as good a job as snaring does.
Emission Reduction Targets
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making in meeting its emission reduction targets. (S5O-01055)
We are making splendid progress. The latest statistics on Scottish greenhouse gas emissions, which were published in June last year, show that the statutory emissions reduction target for 2014 was met and that the reductions from baseline levels exceeded the level of the interim 2020 target. The statistics for 2015 will be published on 13 June.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that the Scottish Conservatives have called for a range of measures to be introduced to incentivise uptake of electric vehicles in Scotland in order to reduce emissions. However, increased levels of uptake will mean increasing levels of demand on our power networks, particularly at peak times. How is the Scottish Government working with the electricity companies to mitigate that concern for the long term?
I am sure that my colleague, the Minister for Transport and the Islands, would be able to give Adam Tomkins a considerably more detailed answer than I can give him. I have just seen a report about the extended network for electric vehicles in Scotland, which is beginning to look rather good. We are making great strides. Yes—there is an issue with continued power use, but the more of that power that we can produce from renewables, the less of a problem it will be in respect of climate change emissions.