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26 September 2018

Statement: Common Agricultural Policy

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I declare that I have a small registered agricultural holding.

I sat next to Michael Gove at the Turriff show, and he promised me that the Scottish Government would be consulted on the UK Agriculture Bill and that the convergence review would go ahead.

Does the cabinet secretary have any information on who in the Conservative UK Government is blocking the very honourable promises that Mr Gove made to me and to the rest of us?

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy (Fergus Ewing): I am reminded of an old saying: just because we are sitting side by side does not mean that he is on our side.

I have sat opposite Mr Gove at numerous meetings and called on him to implement his publicly made pledge—a pledge that was welcomed by the Conservatives; indeed, they claimed credit for it. However, he has not delivered yet. There is substantial support from stakeholders, including the NFUS, tenant farmers and the Scottish Crofting Federation, for the review; I believe that they continue to support it.

The review must look back at what happened about our claim for £160 million, which our farmers and crofters should have received—they have been denied £14,000 per head. It is essential to allocate Scotland’s future share of funding, if Brexit goes ahead.

Next year, when we compare the amounts paid per hectare to farmers all over the European Union—we will include Scotland and the UK in that for the time being—we will see that the amount paid to Scottish farmers will be the lowest, not just in the UK, but in every single one of those 29 countries. Therefore, the review is essential. It is time that the Tories in London started to implement their promises, not break them.

13 September 2018

(S5F-02580) Roadside Mobile Connectivity

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding reports that an estimated 1,000 miles of roads in Scotland have no mobile phone signal. (S5F-02580)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): Mobile telecommunications are a reserved matter and it is therefore the responsibility of the UK Government to improve coverage. It is worth pointing out that the UK Government’s failed mobile infrastructure project promised 84 masts to cover not-spots but managed to deliver a grand total of three. However, at his recent meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Michael Matheson raised the issue of roadside mobile connectivity. We have particularly pressed for progress to be made on the Home Office’s emergency services mobile communications programme, which has been beset by delays. We await confirmation of the proposed approach to delivery.

Because we cannot wait for Westminster to deliver decent mobile connectivity in rural Scotland, we have created our own mobile infrastructure plan, committing £25 million to improving 4G coverage. We recently awarded a contract for the programme and the supplier is working towards delivery of the initial 16 sites in remote parts of Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome the £25 million that the Scottish Government has put into improving mobile telephony in Scotland. However, as we know, the UK Government has little understanding of and less interest in Scotland, so is it now time for responsibility for mobile telephony and the associated funding to be completely devolved?

The First Minister: Yes, absolutely. A pattern that sometimes emerges when matters are reserved—we have just been talking about welfare—is that, when the UK Government does not get its act together and fails to deliver, the Scottish Government has to step in and do Westminster’s job for it. That has been true with aspects of welfare and it is now true for mobile connectivity. It is about time that we cut out the middle man in all this and devolved these powers to Scotland so that we can get on with it ourselves.

20 June 2018

(S5O-02241) Ageing Population (Oral Health)

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to meet the oral health needs of an ageing population. (S5O-02241)

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison): In January, we published Scotland’s “Oral Health Improvement Plan”, which includes actions to ensure that older people receive appropriate oral health care. One of our priorities is to introduce a new domiciliary care service. For adults, including older patients, the plan also introduces an oral health risk assessment, which will ensure that dentists can offer tailored advice to older people on how to look after their oral health and minimise any risk of dental disease, including oral cancer.

Stewart Stevenson: What discussions has the Scottish Government had with the United Kingdom Government on including dentists in the proposed visa cap scheme, particularly given the large number of European Union nationals who operate as dentists in the north-east of Scotland, whose future in the service might be at threat?

Shona Robison: The member is right to point to the number of EU nationals who are working as dentists in the north-east of Scotland—that is also the case in Dumfries and Galloway—as a result of previous successful recruitment campaigns. I would be very concerned to lose any of them from Scotland.

An announcement last week confirmed that, from 6 July, doctors and nurses are to be excluded from the cap on skilled worker visas under tier 2 of the immigration rules. Although that is welcome, we need to see the detail of the policy, which may increase capacity for other applications from outside the health professions. Obviously, dentists are not directly covered, so we want to take the matter up with the UK Government, and we will seek further detail on that in the coming weeks.

14 June 2018

Statement: National Council of Rural Advisers

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I draw members’ attention to my agricultural holding and the fact that I will be a R100 beneficiary.

In connection to that, I wonder whether, when looking at the contracts for R100, preference will be given to those with future proofing so that, when the backhaul is eventually upgraded, we can have 300 megabits per second and 1 gigabit per second delivery to rural locations, thus enabling us to have an advantage over urban areas where presently we have a disadvantage.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): Mr Stevenson makes a good point. The answer is yes. The way in which the contract is being taken forward in the procurement stage is to anticipate the future need and desire to move from superfast to ultrafast broadband. My understanding is that the use of fibre enables that process to take place; therefore, that forms part of our thinking. Although we cannot mandate one technology over another because of state aid rules, encouraging bids for the tender that reference the extent to which achievements will be reached by provision of fibre rather than other methodologies—precisely because of the point that Mr Stevenson makes—and scoring the tender accordingly will empower those in rural Scotland, perhaps in some cases to an even greater extent than urban dwellers, as it means that they will have ultrafast broadband in years to come.

12 June 2018

Statement: Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2016

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Can the cabinet secretary outline her view on trade agreements after Brexit and the effect that they might have on our approach to climate change, especially with regard to the relatively recent departure of the United States from the Paris agreement, which suggests that the US Administration has no interest in or understanding of the effects of climate change?

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): I could say that that question has been asked and answered by Stewart Stevenson. However, it is the case that, post-Brexit, the UK might arrive at trade agreements that would not help us to reduce emissions. We do not know what is going to happen and we are not certain what any trade agreements will hold. However, they could end up, for the reason to which Stewart Stevenson alluded, leading to increased emissions from the goods and services that we import. The truth is that membership of the European Union and its single market provides Scotland with access to climate friendly trade with our neighbouring countries, which I think everybody would accept is the most sensible way to proceed.

5 June 2018

Statement: A Future Strategy for Scottish Agriculture

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I draw members’ attention to my ownership of a very small registered agricultural holding.

Can the cabinet secretary clarify whether the champions’ vision and recommendations apply only after we have left the EU or whether there are some that we can start work on before then?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): I can confirm that the champions’ recommendations apply to the future, whatever it may hold. That is why I am surprised that the Conservatives do not appear in the slightest bit interested in the work that has been done by those leading figures in Scottish rural life—it is very sad, really. The champions have a great deal to say about the future, on sustainability, productivity and skills.

They have a lot to say about the need for new entrants, the need for increased productivity and the contribution that farmers already make to the stewardship of the environment, which is of course one of their twin main purposes. I commend to every member, as Mr Stevenson obviously would, that they read carefully the contents and recommendations of the report, which are extremely valuable in forming a pathway ahead for Scotland, whatever happens in relation to Brexit.

24 May 2018

Statement: Ferry Services (Northern Isles)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): In view of the importance of the £0.5 billion seafood industry, which is important to members from the northern isles and members from north-east Scotland, will the minister take account of interests at the other end of the ferry line, in the north-east? Those interests depend on the link and indeed are working to ensure friction-free access to the European Union for our high-value seafood, because it will be no good landing the seafood in Scotland if we cannot sell it in Europe—and the Tories are putting that at risk.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf): The member is absolutely right to raise that point. When it comes to the specification, I will of course also engage with communities in the north east.

Conservative members are standing up one after the other and demanding that we listen to the interests of the communities, but the biggest threat to our seafood industry is the Brexit shambles, and that decision was not taken by the Scottish Parliament or the people of Scotland.

8 May 2018

ScotRail

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Recognising that many factors affect ScotRail’s performance, can the minister advise us of what adverse effects derive from Network Rail?

The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf): There is a very sensible conversation to be had with the United Kingdom Government about the further devolution of Network Rail. The politics of devolution will undoubtedly rumble on, but there is a space to have a conversation with the UK Government about some areas where there can be greater devolution to this Parliament. The sooner that that can happen, the better for all of us. It will be no surprise to members to hear that I think that Network Rail should be fully devolved and accountable to this Government and this Parliament. However, just one example of its performance is that 54 per cent of delays on the railway are attributable to the infrastructure, which is of course owned by Network Rail. I hope that most members in the chamber can agree that we should have a sensible conversation with the UK Government, particularly when it appoints a new chief executive of Network Rail, about the further devolution of Network Rail to this Parliament.

19 April 2018

(S5O-01970) Sport (Young People)

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support and encourage young people to engage in sport. (S5O-01970)

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell): The Scottish Government strongly encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to try to participate in sport. To aid with that, we have protected sportscotland’s budget for next year, committed to help mitigate the impact of continued reductions in its income from the national lottery, invested up to £50 million for our active schools programme between 2015 and 2019 and committed to increase the number of community sport hubs.

I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the achievements of team Scotland during the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth games. I am sure that everyone will agree. Following the success of team Scotland, I am confident that the performances by all our athletes will inspire young people to take up sport, allowing them to set and achieve their goals.

Stewart Stevenson: I particularly welcome the fact that a member of team Scotland was older than me. That is pretty unusual.

More seriously, I recently visited Cullen bowling and tennis club, where the members have taken on offering coaching sessions to young people to encourage a new generation of club members. Does the minister agree that that is an excellent example of a community-based approach to encouraging our youngsters to try new sports?

Aileen Campbell: I would also like to pay tribute to the athleticism of Stewart Stevenson.

That is a great example of encouraging young people to join a club. I wish Cullen bowling and tennis club every success. Our commitment to the active schools programme will not only allow children to try new sports but will provide them with a pathway to local sports clubs. I actively encourage that partnership.

I commend the club in Cullen, particularly during this year of young people, for its endeavours to get our young people and children active.

17 April 2018

Statement: NHS Tayside

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Does the cabinet secretary recall that intervening in NHS Grampian led to a very successful outcome and to continuous improvement? Does she agree that moving the chief executive from NHS Grampian to Tayside should provide the reassurance that staff and patients need that the serious issue is being taken seriously?

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Shona Robison): Yes, I do. I met the board on 9 April, along with the new leadership team, and everything that I have seen and heard about the approach that has been taken to date gives me confidence that NHS Tayside will continue to make provision of high-quality services for patients a priority. It is very important that the board does that.

It is also important to say that work has been undertaken to provide assurance in Glasgow and Grampian that there will not, because of John Brown and Malcolm Wright’s focus on Tayside, be an impact on work that is on-going in those boards.

22 March 2018

Statement: Major Infrastructure Projects

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): In the nearly 60 years that elapsed between 1948—to which the cabinet secretary referred—and the SNP’s coming into Government in 2007, Labour and the Tories were in government for roughly half the time each, and, indeed, the Liberals were part of the Government in Scotland until 2007. At any point in those nearly 60 years, were any road orders brought forward by those parties or other material preparations made to deliver an Aberdeen western peripheral route?

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown): As his question implies, Stewart Stevenson knows about the absolute lack of progress that was made by the other parties during all the decades in which they had the opportunity to take the project forward. Not a single inch of tarmac was laid during any of those three parties’ time in government.

Mr Stevenson could have made the same point about the dualling of the A9 or about the fact that we did not have a motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow until very recently. It is this Government that has taken on those big, complex projects and is delivering for the people of Scotland.

European Union Negotiations (Fishing)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Is the First Minister aware of the very real anger among fishermen, fishing communities and people right across Scotland that, after being promised last week by Ruth Davidson that the common fisheries policy would not apply once we left the European Union, we find that we have surrendered at UK level and that in 2020, the CFP will apply without the UK, fishermen or authorities having any say in the rules that will apply to fishing? Does the First Minister share my anger?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): Yes, I do. Earlier in First Minister’s question time, I was thinking that Ruth Davidson’s choice of question—important though it was—was perhaps partly designed to keep her as far away from fishing as possible.

It is a really serious issue. This week we have seen a broken promise and a complete betrayal by the Scottish Tories of the Scottish fishing industry. It is disgraceful. It was only a week or so ago that Ruth Davidson was issuing press releases—co-authored with Michael Gove, of all people—saying that the fishing community would be free of the common fisheries policy by March next year. Now we find out that the Scottish fishing community will still be governed by the CFP—and, to add insult to injury, there will be no votes around the table for it. It is utterly disgraceful. The only question for Ruth Davidson and the Tories is: when she issued that press release a couple of weeks ago, did she know that the promise was going to be broken, or is she just completely out of the loop with her United Kingdom colleagues?

21 March 2018

(S5O-01915) Period Poverty

9. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle period poverty. (S5O-01915)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance): In our programme for government, which was published in September, we committed to introducing a scheme to fund access to free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities. Scottish Government officials are currently working with key stakeholders including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, Colleges Scotland and Universities Scotland to ensure that provision can be put in place by the autumn term this year.

We are also committed to considering further action to support others on low incomes in the light of the findings of the pilot scheme in Aberdeen. The pilot is currently being evaluated, and I was pleased to announce recently that we will continue to make sanitary products available to those who took part in the pilot while the evaluation is completed.

Stewart Stevenson
: Is the cabinet secretary aware of the urgency of the matter for people in Aberdeenshire, where the Tory-led council has now determined that those who require such products must come forward for them, thus potentially stigmatising those who require them by reason of poverty?

Angela Constance: I agree that free and accessible provision in schools is vital to tackling the issue, which is why this Government has committed to making that happen in schools across Scotland from the start of the next academic year.

Recent research that we carried out in partnership with Young Scot found that having to ask a member of staff for sanitary products was the least popular option among those in education. Officials have worked closely with stakeholders, informed by that important research, to develop a set of guiding principles for provision. Those principles include ensuring that dignity is front and centre and that students’ views are taken into account in developing the delivery approach.

It appears that the approach of Aberdeenshire Council is not consistent with students’ views or with our guiding principles. I encourage it to look again at its delivery approach in consultation with students. I and my officials stand ready to assist either the MSP for the area, councillors or officials.

15 March 2018

(S5O-01879) Community Asset Transfers

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how many community asset transfers there have been since the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 came into force, and how this compares with previous numbers. (S5O-01879)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance): The first annual report since the asset transfers part of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 came into force last year is due by the end of June 2018. Until that time, we will not know how many asset transfers under the act have taken place across Scotland.

In the early summer of this year, we will undertake an evaluation of asset transfers, which will tell us the number involved and provide more detail on the experiences of community bodies and the impact of the act. We are unable to compare with previous numbers, because we do not hold information on the number of asset transfers that took place before the act came into force.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the cabinet secretary aware of the plans of the Tory independent council in Moray to dispose of halls in Buckie, Findochty, Cullen and elsewhere in Moray? The communities would like to acquire and take on those halls, but the council appears to be very reluctant to provide them with adequate support in the very short period of time in which something could be done. Is that example something that will usefully inform the Government’s consideration of the operation of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015? It appears to show that the act is falling short of its intention.

Angela Constance: Mr Stevenson raises an important point. I agree that, for community empowerment and asset transfers to work, help and support need to be provided to community bodies, including by local authorities. He might be interested to know that the Scottish Government funds the community ownership support service to support community-based groups in Scotland to take a stake in, or ownership of, land or buildings that were previously publicly owned. The community ownership support service has an active presence in Mr Stevenson’s area and offers individual community groups and public bodies a bespoke support service. If it would be helpful, I can put Mr Stevenson and/or his constituents in touch with the community ownership support service.

8 March 2018

First Minister's Question Time

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Given the impending appointment of five new board members, what input has the SPA’s new chair Susan Deacon had in setting in that agenda, ensuring that the job descriptions are proper and getting a fully effective board?

The First Minister: Susan Deacon has had considerable input into that and, as I said, interviews for new board members are taking place this week. In my earlier answers, I outlined some of the steps that are being taken to better support board members and to ensure good performance management of them. That should be welcomed. I have also outlined a range of other measures that Susan Deacon has taken.

There is an openness around the fact that improvements required to be made in how the SPA was doing its business. Improvements have been made and I am sure that they will continue to be made, as the new chair considers appropriate.

6 March 2018

Statement: Climate Change (Emissions Reduction)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I thank the Scottish Government for the support that it has given to the Acorn project in my constituency. It is one of a series of initiatives that underpin Scotland’s international reputation. How are other countries catching up with us? How are they using our example in their own domains? In particular, I am thinking of nations such as Sweden.

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): Scotland is frequently compared to Sweden. Despite the response of some members today, the traditional way to describe our position is that we are third in the world, behind Sweden and Finland, for tackling climate change. One or two things need to be said about Sweden: it does not include the land use sector, aviation or maritime emissions, unlike Scotland; it has no annual targets in the way that Scotland does; and it reserves the right to buy international carbon credits to make up 15 per cent of its emissions. We are not comparing like with like and, on one view, we are doing considerably better than Sweden. Objectively, some people say that we are third behind Sweden and Finland, but my point is that, when we compare ourselves, we are doing better. Perhaps we could claim to be the best in the world.

18 January 2018

(S5O-01665) R100 Superfast Broadband Programme

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what impact the R100 superfast broadband programme will have on rural areas. (S5O-01665)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity (Fergus Ewing): The R100 superfast broadband programme will make rural Scotland one of the most digitally connected places anywhere in Europe and will underpin and enable future economic growth. It is the only universal superfast broadband programme in the United Kingdom, and it demonstrates the Scottish Government’s ambition to make Scotland a world-class digital nation.

Stewart Stevenson: I very much welcome what the cabinet secretary has just said. Given that the Scottish Government seeks to make universally available broadband speed that is three times as fast as that which the UK Government plans to deliver, can the cabinet secretary identify any particular benefits that that higher speed in Scotland will have in rural areas?

Fergus Ewing: Mr Stevenson is correct. The UK Government might consider that 10 megabits per second is adequate for homes and businesses, but I certainly do not. That is why we have stipulated in our programme that we will seek to deliver 30 Mbps for every home and business in the country by the end of 2021.

The digital sector is now worth more than £4 billion to the Scottish economy, and research shows that every £1 of public investment in broadband returns around £20 in net economic impact. I believe that, through our investment of £600 million to deliver universal, 100 per cent access to superfast broadband, we will see created in Scotland a digital infrastructure that will allow businesses across the country—particularly in rural and remote areas—to modernise, digitalise, innovate and grow

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