4 February 2021

(S5O-04986) Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit (Uplift)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding retaining the £20 uplift to universal credit and working tax credit. (S5O-04986)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville): The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government on five occasions with requests to make the £20 per week uplift permanent and to extend it to legacy benefits. Most recently, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance wrote to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer on 27 January, calling on the UK Government to announce the retention and expansion of the uplift in the March budget. Analysis by the Scottish Government indicates that cutting that support would move 60,000 people, including 20,000 children, into relative poverty in Scotland. We will continue to urge the UK Government to make the required changes to ensure that the benefit process works for the people who need support and not against them.

Stewart Stevenson: The Resolution Foundation said that, if the uplift is cut, 1.2 million people in the UK will fall into relative poverty. The cabinet secretary has just highlighted that 20,000 children in Scotland would be affected. Does she therefore agree that, notwithstanding silence or failure to respond to five communications, each and every one of us should make every possible effort to draw the UK Government’s attention to this catastrophe that is affecting too many of our young people and families in need right across the UK, particularly in Scotland?

Shirley-Anne Somerville: I agree with Stewart Stevenson that we all need to make every effort to persuade the UK Government about that. We have consistently called for the change, but I am also encouraged by the calls from across the political spectrum and third parties. For example, the all-party parliamentary group on poverty, which is co-chaired by a Conservative member of Parliament, this week published a report calling on the UK Government to maintain the £20 per week uplift and to scrap the benefit cap. There is wide support for that, because people recognise and understand the impact that not doing it will have on adults and children right across the UK. With that level of support, I hope that the UK Government will do the right thing and change tack.

19 January 2021

(S5T-02617) Fishing Communities (Compensation)

1. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding compensation for fishing communities, in light of the disruption at ports since the end of the European Union exit transition period. (S5T-02617)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (Fergus Ewing): No substantive discussion on a compensation scheme for Scottish fishing communities has taken place, and it is simply unacceptable for the UK Government to launch such a scheme without consulting the Scottish Government. The deal that was reached with the EU demonstrated the UK Government’s profound lack of knowledge of, or concern for, Scottish seafood interests. The industry will rightly be concerned that delivery of the compensation scheme will be in the same vein. However, this Government will continue to stand up for Scottish fishing, and we will do everything that we can to ensure that the compensation scheme reflects the real and lasting damage that has been done to the Scottish seafood sector.

Stewart Stevenson: Right now, shellfish exports are being spoiled beyond usefulness because barriers exist where there were none a month ago. When does the cabinet secretary, or when do his colleagues, expect to have interaction with the UK Government about proper compensation funds from that body, which would keep afloat the many small businesses that are vital part of distant coastal communities?

Fergus Ewing: On several occasions, in representing the Scottish Government at the EU exit operations committee, I have made it clear that the UK Government—having sought Brexit, delivered it in a cack-handed way and ignored the advice of the Scottish Government and of industry to seek a grace period—is now responsible, and solely so, for the losses that have arisen as a result of its failings. I have made it clear that compensation is required, including early last week at an XO meeting. I have repeated that call when attending other XO meetings on behalf of the Scottish Government.

To date, the UK Government has not given the Scottish Government any details of the package. Yesterday, in an apparently off-the-cuff remark, the Prime Minister indicated that the package for the whole UK industry might be as little as £23 million. To put that in perspective, I point out that last year the Scottish Government delivered to the Scottish sector alone Covid compensation and support of £23.5 million.

However, I expect that the UK Government will need to start communicating with us on the matter, and I have called upon it so to do.

Stewart Stevenson: Today in Peterhead, there were but a few hundred boxes of fish in a market that was built to process 10,000 boxes each day. The quotas for the next six years involve no meaningful expansion of catching opportunity—indeed, they include some critical reductions. That is due in no small part to Westminster incompetence and deliberately chosen trade-offs. What options exist to remedy that for fishermen in the north-east, across Scotland and, for that matter, across the UK?

Fergus Ewing: The reduced prices and reduced availability of fish at market are, sadly, direct results of the Brexit boorach. I stress that my imperative—my number 1 priority—is to make sure that we in Scotland, working with local authorities, with Food Standards Scotland and with DFDS and other hubs, resolve the difficulties as far as is within our power. I have had detailed discussions, of course, with the leading stakeholders in the fishing sector across the whole of Scotland, and will continue to do so.

It is difficult for me to see that the problems can accurately be described as “teething problems”, which is the phrase that UK ministers use. I fear that the problems are more serious and deep seated. Indeed, there are so many of them—57 varieties, as I told the XO committee last week—that it seems to me that the UK should seek a derogation from the EU in relation to the requirements. Probably the only reason why it does not do so is that the request might be rejected because the UK Government has forfeited goodwill in the EU.

14 January 2021

(S5O-04919) 26th Conference of the Parties (Preparations)

7. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what preparations it is making for its participation in COP26. (S5O-04919)

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham): Beyond the operational readiness that I set out in response to Anas Sarwar, we are taking action across the board to prepare for COP26 around our agreed themes of just transition and people. We have recently published a draft public engagement strategy and we are partnering with Glasgow Science Centre on a community engagement programme. We were honoured with our appointment as cochair of the under2 coalition and we are using that to drive momentum and ambition globally. We will also shortly take the novel approach of publishing “Scotland’s contribution to the Paris Agreement—an indicative NDC”, focusing on Scotland’s worldleading targets and summarising our plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

Stewart Stevenson: At previous COPs, Scottish ministers have been a formal part of the United Kingdom delegation—indeed, I was, on more than one occasion. Is that expected to be the case at COP26?

Roseanna Cunningham: Yes—I have been a formal part of the UK delegation in each year since I was appointed to this job. We have been consistently represented at the COPs since 2009 and we expect that to be the case at COP26. As I have already referenced, we will demonstrate our leadership at COP26 when, as co-chair of the under2 coalition, we will drive momentum and climate ambition on the global stage.

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