PQs: Community Councils in Scotland

I lodged a series of questions on Community Councils in Scotland. I’m encouraged by the responses, which show Governmental commitment to our most local form of democracy, and hope the information provided is useful for those involved in Community Councils.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote participation in community councils.(S4W-19791)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

As part of the Scottish Government’s work in collaboration with COSLA to enhance the role of community councils, the Improvement Service has established three Short-Life Working Groups consisting of a number of Community Council Liaison Officers who work for Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

One of these groups is considering ways to promote participation in community councils. The group’s work is at a very early stage but its findings will help inform future work to help promote participation in community councils.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government whether it will increase the number of contested community council elections from the current level of 8% and, if so, to what level. (S4W-19792)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

Local authorities have statutory oversight of community councils under the Local Authority Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and that includes the responsibility for community council elections. That said, the Scottish Government acknowledges that the number of community council contested elections are low across the country.

As part of the Scottish Government’s work in collaboration with COSLA to enhance the role of community councils, the Improvement Service has established three Short-Life Working Groups consisting of a number of Community Council Liaison Officers who work for Scotland’s 32 local authorities. One of these newly established groups will evaluate the use of alternative voting methods such as evoting to increase the number of community councils contested elections across Scotland. The group’s work is at a very early stage.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what financial support is available to community councils.(S4W-19793)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

The Scottish Government does not provide funding to Community Councils as it is for each Local Authority to decide the level of funding for Community Councils in their area. A Scottish Government Survey of Community Councils carried out in October 2012 and published in December 2013 showed that local authorities used several different methodologies to allocate money for administration costs. The most popular (18 local authorities) is to allocate a core grant and then top it up using population/elector/community councillor numbers. The full report is available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0044/00440438.pdf.
In addition local authorities have a Scottish Local Authority External Funding Officer who can advise community groups and community councils about potential external funding streams. Community Councils can also apply for BIG Lottery funding.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what training is available for community councillors. (S4W-19794)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

A Scottish Government Survey of Community Councils carried out in October 2012 and published in December 2013 showed that 91% of local authorities provided training opportunities for community councillors, with planning the most common type of training provided. The full report is available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0044/00440438.pdf

As part of the Scottish Government’s work in collaboration with COSLA to enhance the role of community councils, the Improvement Service has established three Short-Life Working Groups consisting of a number of Community Council Liaison Officers who work for Scotland’s 32 local authorities. One of these groups will be evaluating further training and development needs for community councillors and will explore opportunities to share existing training materials and resources. The group’s work is at a very early stage.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what mechanisms are in place to support community councils that have become inactive. (S4W-19795)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

Each Local Authority has a Community Council Liaison Officer (CCLO) working directly with active and inactive community councils in their area.

To help Community Councils in their work Local Authorities have access to a Model Scheme of Establishment, a Model Constitution and a Model Standing Orders in addition to a Model Code of Conduct and Good Practice Guidance for Community Councillors. These were developed in 2009 by a group which involved the Scottish Government, COSLA and representatives of community councils and local authorities. The materials can be found on the Scottish Government website.

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Amendment 116: A duty on Ministers to establish a group (‘the body’) to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect and to help continue the discussion on UNCRC incorporation

Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Group 1 is on duties of Scottish ministers in relation to the rights of children. Amendment 116, in the name of Jean Urquhart, is grouped with amendments 117, 118, 93 and 119 to 126.
Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

The stated policy intention behind the bill is to contribute to Scotland being the best place for children to grow up, and I applaud that intention. It is vital to the Scotland that we wish to create, which recognises not only the vital contribution that children and young people make to our society and our communities but that, in order for them to make that contribution, they deserve and require our respect, our protection and our nurturing.
I welcome the provisions in part 1 of the bill but, like many organisations and individuals working with and for children in Scotland, I am disappointed that part 1 does not go further. Accepting all the stage 3 amendments would go some way to progress our commitment to children’s rights, and accepting amendment 116 would form a key part of that commitment.
My amendment seeks to place a duty on Scottish ministers to establish a body within one year of royal assent to examine the case for giving legislative effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I recognise that the Government has intimated that it believes full incorporation to be unnecessary; I also recognise that the Education and Culture Committee’s stage 1 report raised questions over how that could be done meaningfully.
I hear what the committee has said about incorporating children’s rights, but why do we need evidence to accept that children have rights that should be upheld and promoted in law in the same way that adults do? The same arguments were not made when the case was made for the adoption of the European convention on human rights, or for extending the Human Rights Act 1998 to apply to devolved matters during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. If we did not require evidence to apply human rights to our domestic law, why do we need evidence for children to have rights in law?
There has been strong support for such a move from the children’s sector and the human rights sector. Incorporation of the UNCRC was supported by UNICEF, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, the NSPCC, Families Outside and Together. Amendment 116 has the support of Children 1st, Barnardo’s, Together, YouthLink Scotland, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and a number of academics across the legal and sociological disciplines. For such a move to be supported by such a wide range of interested organisations surely suggests that the amendment has merit.
The bill should mark not the end of our journey in the process, but the beginning. Today, we can commit to explore how to incorporate children’s rights into our legislative framework; signal our intent to make our society truly a child-centred one; and recognise children as having rights in their own regard, which all of us should be willing and devoted to pursuing.
Amendment 116 would give Scottish ministers considerable scope to determine how best to achieve that. Setting up a body such as an independent commission to examine the options would make a statement that I hope we can all support. The amendment would not require Scottish ministers or the Parliament to commit to anything other than the establishment of an appropriate body and consideration of its report. In doing that, we would send a clear signal about the importance that we attach to children’s rights and provide a clear message about the seriousness of our commitment to make Scotland the best place to grow up. Therefore, I hope that Scottish ministers and all MSPs, from all political parties and none, will support amendment 116.
I move amendment 116.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): The bill represents the coming together of two pieces of proposed legislation, one of which is a bill on children’s rights. As Jean Urquhart identified, the Government appears largely to have lost sight of that aspect of what we should be trying to achieve.
The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates said that the bill added little to what was in place and in some respects even diluted children’s rights. Our committee concluded at stage 1 that the duty on ministers was “little more than a restatement of existing obligations.”
Although improvements were introduced at stage 2, the children’s commissioner is clear that “So far the opportunity has been missed to be ambitious for children’s rights and to embed children’s rights in Scotland’s governance and public services.”
My amendments are an attempt to address that position, not just with regard to the bill but with regard to future legislation.
Like others, I did not feel that the case had been made for the full incorporation of the UNCRC, but more can and should be done to incorporate key principles, most notably articles 3 and 12. Tam Baillie proposed that idea in his stage 1 evidence, and he was backed by a wide range of children’s charities. Despite that, the minister and her Scottish National Party colleagues refused to support any of my stage 2 amendments.
Parliament should have a further opportunity to consider the issues and to take a view. My amendments 117 and 118 reflect what we have heard about the need to put children’s rights and interests at the centre of the bill, to make sure that their voices and views are heard, and to give proper effect to the principles that should underpin the bill. I am sad to say that the minister’s amendment 93 will not do that. While I have sympathy with Jean Urquhart’s amendment 116, the important thing is to get substantive and meaningful changes into the bill now.
At stage 2, I sought to beef up the reporting requirements on ministers with regard to the steps taken to comply with the duties that are placed upon them. All my amendments in that regard were rejected. I am pleased that Neil Bibby has taken up the cudgels at stage 3 and I will support his efforts.
I will be interested to hear Alison Johnstone’s comments about the amendments in her name. I am instinctively sympathetic, but it is perhaps unfortunate that she did not lodge amendments with such effect at stage 2, to enable more detailed consideration and, if necessary, refinement.
Amendments 125 and 126 represent an attempt to safeguard children’s rights in the context of future legislation. Amendment 126 repeats an amendment that I lodged at stage 2 and would require a children’s rights impact assessment to be carried out on every relevant bill that was introduced to the Scottish Parliament. Ministers would have discretion about how widely the approach would apply. The approach would enable us to reflect the Education and Culture Committee’s recommendation, follow the lead that has been taken in Wales and deliver a cultural shift in the way in which we view children’s rights.
The minister has argued that undertaking CRIAs could be delivered through non-legislative means. However, although the Government committed to trialling CRIAs in its UNCRC action plan in 2009, not a single CRIA has been carried out.
Amendment 125 tries to skin the cat in another way and would place a duty on ministers to make a statement or assessment of compatibility with the UNCRC, as currently happens with regard to the Human Rights Act 1998. I understand that such an approach works well in Australia. I hope that if amendment 126 remains unpalatable to the minister, amendment 125 will be an acceptable alternative.
On children’s rights, the bill remains a missed opportunity. The children’s commissioner has made clear that if my amendments and others in this group are not agreed to, the bill “will fall far short of matching the high ambition to ‘make rights real’, often stated by Ministers.”
I urge the Parliament to vote to put that right.

The Minister for Children and Young People (Aileen Campbell): I welcome the opportunity to respond to the range of amendments that focus on part 1 of the bill. The bill will ensure that children’s rights properly influence the design and delivery of policy and services, by placing new duties on ministers.
Amendment 116 proposes the establishment of a new body to look at legal implementation of the UNCRC. The proposal seems similar to the children’s commissioner’s suggestion at stage 1 that a parliamentary inquiry look at UNCRC incorporation. The suggestion was not pursued by the Education and Culture Committee in its report.
We have robust structures for holding ministers to account for their approach to the UNCRC. We have the Scottish Parliament and its committees, the children’s commissioner and a national implementation group for children’s rights. Another body is not required, and even if it were required, there would be no need to legislate for its creation.
UNCRC incorporation was the subject of a great deal of discussion at stage 1. A range of views was given by key figures with expertise in children’s rights and the law. The Education and Culture Committee carefully considered the arguments and was not convinced of the merits of incorporation. Professor Ken Norrie said: “I think that to incorporate the convention into the domestic legal system of Scotland would be bad policy, bad practice and bad law. I say that primarily because the UN convention was not drafted or worded to create directly enforceable legal rights in the domestic legal system.”—[Official Report, Education and Culture Committee, 3 September 2013; c 2682.]
We will continue to engage with partners about how we can strengthen children’s rights, through the fora that are in place, and build on the strong foundations in the bill, which are a good starting point from which to develop the UNCRC.
On amendment 117, a similar amendment was considered at stage 2. Now, as then, we have concerns about the introduction of the concept that children’s interests should be “a key consideration”. The UNCRC clearly recognises that children’s best interests should be a primary, rather than a key, consideration. That is the standard towards which we should be working. It does not make sense to pursue such a broad-ranging principle through blanket duties on ministers, which would open up the risk of unnecessary litigation. That would serve no one’s interests.
It makes sense to consider amendment 118 alongside amendment 93, in my name, as both amendments focus on the views of children. Amendment 93 stems from a suggestion from stakeholders that the Government should consider incorporating article 12 of the UNCRC, recognising a child’s right to be heard. Our position remains that implementation of article 12 is not best achieved through a blanket duty. Instead, we require targeted changes, tailored to individual circumstances. Nevertheless, we remain keen to explore how our commitment to article 12 can be realised. Amendment 93 is designed to ensure that children’s views feature in ministerial decision making.
Amendment 118 would go further than amendment 93, by requiring ministers actively to seek children’s views in relation to all decisions. I recognise the value of consulting children and young people, but that must be done in a meaningful way. Amendment 93 addresses that point by offering flexibility around when to consult. For that reason, I encourage members to support amendment 93 as an alternative to amendment 118.
Amendments 119, 120 and 122 represent a radical departure from our current system for protecting children. They would impose on ministers a duty to take all measures to protect children from violence and ill treatment. Although I welcome the intention behind what is proposed and respect Alison Johnstone’s commitment to children and young people, the proposed duty may be impractical and would be impossible to satisfy. Ministers can introduce legislation and policies to protect children, but we cannot guarantee that a child will be safe from violence and neglect in the way that amendment 119 seems to require.
Furthermore, Alison Johnstone’s amendments fail to recognise the central role that many other bodies must play if we are to protect children effectively. Our system does not provide for Scottish ministers to work directly with individual children and their families on a day-to-day basis. Instead, it is founded first and foremost on strong multi-agency working at a local level. That approach continues to deliver an ever-improving system for supporting our most vulnerable children, as is evidenced by the many inspections of children’s services that have been undertaken over the years.
Amendments 119, 120 and 122 cut across all that. They fail to recognise that the people who are best placed to support children are those who have most contact with them and their families. Our focus must be on strengthening those relationships, because that is what our children need.
Getting it right for every child builds on the approach that I have described, and it is through the effective implementation of that model that we will best be able to ensure that all children—including those who are at risk of violence or ill treatment—get the help and support that they need at the time that they need it.
Amendment 121 seeks to recognise the important role that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child plays in shaping our approach to children’s rights. Although it is important to recognise the excellent work that that committee does, the bill is not the best place to do that. Furthermore, I am not sure what practical difference the amendment would achieve. Any steps taken in response to recommendations by the committee would already be captured by the existing reporting duties under our bill.
The issue with which amendments 123 and 124 deal was debated at stage 2. There is now a well-established expectation that ministers will consult stakeholders as part of the policy development process. Accordingly, there is no need to identify every instance in which consultation is necessary and with which organisations it must be carried out. I am sure that we would all recognise that, when it comes to engaging children, our practice is perhaps not as well established. That is why we took steps at stage 2 to introduce section 1(3A), which will ensure that children will be consulted on ministers’ UNCRC implementation plans.
Amendment 124 would place on ministers a requirement to consult every three years on the steps that have been taken to secure “better or further effect” of the UNCRC. At stage 2, I made it clear that I could not see the value of consulting on a list of steps that ministers had taken with a particular aim in mind. After all, that is quite different from producing a plan of future actions, in relation to which there is scope for influencing activity. That same scope simply does not exist in relation to a retrospective report.
Amendment 125 would require ministers to prepare and publish a statement of UNCRC compatibility for all future bills. There would be a huge degree of overlap between that proposal and the children’s rights impact assessments that are proposed in amendment 126, and a system of unnecessary bureaucracy would be created.
As I made clear at stage 2, the Scottish Government recognises the importance of assessing our decisions against the rights of children, and we are developing a children’s rights impact assessment for use across Government as a direct consequence of the duty in section 1(1). Therefore, amendments 125 and 126 are disproportionate and unnecessary.

Liam McArthur: I listened carefully to what the minister said. She seemed to be concerned that amendment 125 overlaps with amendment 126. That would make sense if she intended to accept either of them, but by the sound of things she will accept neither of them. As I made clear, in the UNCRC action plan that was published in 2008 it was indicated that the Government was committed to trialling CRIAs, yet we have not seen one in the intervening years. When might the first CRIA be piloted under the action plan?

Aileen Campbell: As I have said, we are developing that. That is something that we will achieve in order to ensure that we make rights real for children and that the UNCRC is much more keenly felt across the Government’s wider agenda.
For all the reasons that I outlined before Liam McArthur’s intervention, we cannot support any of the amendments in the group except my amendment 93, for which I seek members’ support.
I add that I respect the role that Liam McArthur, Alison Johnstone and Jean Urquhart have played and the way in which they have set out their arguments. I hope that we can work together to achieve more on the UNCRC and to make rights real for children in Scotland.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It has, at times, been difficult to articulate through this bill the potential impact of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child on children’s lives. Some see the articles in the UNCRC as very technical, but many of them relate directly and emphatically to real and practical improvements in children’s lives. Article 19 of the UNCRC is one such example, requiring states to take appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect and violence. Although successive Scottish Governments have made progress to be proud of, there is always much more to do. Too many children still live in fear of abuse, neglect and violence and miss out on their childhoods as a result.
I note Liam McArthur’s comments about the lodging of my amendments, but I know that he agrees that we must strive to do all that we can to give children the best start in life. Amendment 119, which uses almost exactly the same language as that found in article 19, aims to ensure that Governments have to do exactly that: to strive for the best and comply with the UNCRC.
The intention is to create an overarching national approach to protecting children from abuse, neglect and violence and to modernise criminal provisions in this area that are now 76 years old. Although the obsolete parts of section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 have been repealed, our authorities continue to rely on that statute to protect children from harmful, criminal acts of abuse, neglect and violence and adopting amendment 119 would provide a holistic framework within which we can work to protect children.
I note the minister’s concerns about the adoption of this particular article but I hope that she will respond to my points about modernising the legislation and say how, if amendment 119 does not find support, the Government will progress the protections that protect children in Scotland.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to speak to amendments 121, 123 and 124 in my name as well as the other amendments in the group. Although I join members of all parties in welcoming the general principle of raising awareness of children’s rights, it is clear that section 1 could—and should—be improved and go further. During the Education and Culture Committee’s scrutiny of the bill, a number of witnesses said that, in reality, this particular section fails to add anything new and lacks ambition. The Law Society of Scotland described the duty that is placed on ministers as a “diluted version of … existing obligations”and it was noted that the bill requires ministers only to “consider” the UNCRC but not to act on or explain those considerations.
If the bill is to avoid becoming what Liam McArthur has described as a missed opportunity, members should support my amendments, which would add a requirement on ministers to demonstrate how they have responded to general comments or recommendations made directly to the United Kingdom by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. That would bring the reporting duty more in line with the children’s scheme that is set out in the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, which contains a duty of “due regard” to the UNCRC and has been widely welcomed by those working with and for children in Wales. It is important that we can properly scrutinise ministers’ actions if we are to ensure that the bill is having the kind of impact that we all want it to have.
On amendment 116 in the name of Jean Urquhart, during the bill’s passage through Parliament there has been a great deal of discussion and debate about the extent to which the UNCRC should be incorporated into law. Amendment 116 would allow us to continue that discussion by placing on ministers a duty to establish a group to consider the merits of incorporating the UNCRC into law and to report back. Any decision on the extent to which incorporation is appropriate would, of course, be a decision for Parliament and would be informed by the best available evidence.
Finally, I am also supportive of the amendments in the name of Liam McArthur and Alison Johnstone. In particular, I draw members’ attention to the importance of seeking the views of children who are likely to be affected by decisions and ensuring that children’s rights impact assessments are carried out on every relevant bill. Having spoken a number of times in the chamber about the importance of listening to children and young people instead of just talking at them, I am slightly disappointed that the minister’s amendment in this respect does not go as far as Liam McArthur’s amendment.
Amendments 116 to 126 as well as amendment 93 would significantly strengthen what is widely regarded as a weak section in the bill. I urge members to support those amendments if the bill is to match our ambition.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Over a lengthy period, I have listened very carefully to what has been the most challenging but nevertheless one of the most interesting aspects of the debate on the bill. As I said on the very first day of evidence taking at stage 1, the main difficulty all along with part 1 has been the need to assimilate very different legal perspectives on the bill, especially the need to reach a rational judgment on the need to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law.
In turn, that meant examining whether the current duties on Scottish ministers are sufficiently strong in terms of protecting children and whether in some cases we have not done enough to enhance the rights of children. In particular, there was a need to ensure that there was a clear understanding of the duties on ministers and those that fall on local authorities and other bodies.
At the end of that process, the Scottish Conservatives do not believe that there is a sufficiently strong case for full incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law, on account of the fact that some aspects of the UNCRC are not fully compatible with our legal traditions. However, we believe that there has to be more clarity over the rights of ministers, children and their families and, just as important, those of local authorities and other professional bodies. Following those criteria, we will support amendments 117, 118, 93, 121, 123 and 124 but not the other amendments in the group.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): Like Liz Smith, I listened as part of the Education and Culture Committee to the evidence on this section of the bill. Like the rest of the committee, I came to the conclusion that there was little evidence of how full incorporation of the UNCRC would improve outcomes for children in Scotland.
Paragraph 38 of the committee’s conclusions in its stage 1 report notes:
“the UNCRC is implemented in Scotland in a number of ways already”.
In fact, article 42 is incorporated into the bill and it obliges ministers to promote awareness of children’s rights among children as well as parents. That aspect of the bill has been welcomed by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The committee’s conclusions also state:“We are not persuaded of the case for full incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law … We agree that the benefits arising from incorporation of the UNCRC could be realised from improvements in policy and practice, such as through the implementation of GIRFEC.”
Liam McArthur mentioned that Neil Bibby had taken up the cudgels at stage 3. I find it quite strange that it has taken such a long time for Neil Bibby to reach that position, given that he was one of the members of the committee who signed up to those fairly fulsome conclusions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Minister, would you like to respond to any of the points that were made in the debate? You do not have to by any measure.

Aileen Campbell: Joan McAlpine raised the fact that the committee did not support the full incorporation of the UNCRC, and I reflect again on Professor Ken Norrie’s comments on the bill. Technical difficulties prevent us from accepting Alison Johnstone’s amendments, but there is a firm commitment to ensure that we can work with everyone who is interested, to ensure that we make rights real across Scotland. This is about making sure that we put Scotland on the path towards becoming the best place to grow up, and making rights real is a key part of that.
I will make sure that we work with others across the chamber to allow us to have the proper scrutiny, which, as I set out in my opening remarks, is already there through the Parliament, the Education and Culture Committee and the children’s commissioner. By working together, we can have a bill that we are proud of, with regards to UNCRC provision.

Jean Urquhart: I return to the wording of amendment 116 and reiterate what it would do and what it would not. It would require Scottish ministers to set up a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect. It does not state what sort of body that should be, nor does it insist that the UNCRC should be given legislative effect. It would allow ministers and indeed MSPs to charge that body with exploring all the issues relating to this matter. The body would have to lay its report before Parliament and Scottish ministers would be expected to respond. At no point in that process would there be a burden, responsibility or even an expectation on Scottish ministers and MSPs to commit to giving legislative effect to the UNCRC.
As someone who believes passionately in creating a rights-based society for all, I hope that the option of giving legislative effect to the UNCRC would be explored fully and that the body would conclude that that would be the appropriate thing to do. I hope, too, that the body would provide advice on how and when to do so. However, committing to establishing the body would not commit future Governments or Parliaments to its recommendations. We would still be able to make that democratic decision, which is as it should be.
I have made my views clear on why I think it is important for Scotland to incorporate the UNCRC into our legislative framework, but far greater politicians than me have called on us all to do more for children. Someone said:
“Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.”
He also said:
“History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.”
There are many reasons to follow the teachings and words of the late, great Nelson Mandela. Throughout his presidency and his retirement, Mandela championed the cause of children. His love for children and his appreciation of their needs, rights and interests, and of society’s duty and responsibility to protect and nurture them by being child centred and furthering their rights, provide us with more and indeed compelling reasons to do as I suggest.
I uphold my amendment 116.

Parliamentary Question: Health and Wellbeing Policy (Academic Research)

Health and Wellbeing Policy (Academic Research)
7. Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): To ask the Scottish Government what use it makes of academic research from Scottish universities and colleges in formulating health and wellbeing policy. (S4O-02843)
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Alex Neil): Many of the outputs of clinical research are universal and therefore research from academic sources from both within and outwith Scotland is of value in formulating the Scottish Government’s health and wellbeing policy. The chief scientist office, through its two research funding committees, funds high-quality, peer-reviewed research of relevance to the health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. Lay summaries of the outputs of that research are made available to Scottish Government health policy colleagues. More generally, the Scottish intercollegiate guidelines network develops evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for the national health service in Scotland. SIGN guidelines are derived from a systematic review of all the scientific literature available.
Jean Urquhart: A few years ago, through the University of the Highlands and Islands, a couple of doctors conducted research over a three-year period into the health and wellbeing of older people in the Highlands and Islands, the net result of which has been positive in various communities. My understanding—I do not have evidence for this, but it is my belief—is that about 11 per cent of university research in that field is used by the Scottish Government. That leaves almost 90 per cent not being recognised, and I wonder whether the cabinet secretary feels that there is room to make more use of the experience of health boards of using research across the country.
Alex Neil: We make extensive use of medical professionals in our health boards and they are heavily involved in all the scientific work that we do. I can give one example relating to the science of informatics, which has been important in informing our policy on diabetes. As a result of the involvement of the health boards and their medics in informatics in looking at how we can better treat diabetes, Scotland has seen in recent years a 40 per cent reduction in amputation resulting from diabetes, and a substantial reduction in blindness resulting from diabetes. That is a direct result of the application of the science of informatics throughout the health service in Scotland, in co-operation with the CSO.

Parliamentary Question: Areas of Natural Constraint

EU rules allow governments to grant additional financial support to farmers whose land is in areas that are naturally harder to cultivate, currently called Less Favoured Areas. The same function will be carried out by a new system, called Areas of Natural Constraint, under EU plans for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

At Rural Affairs and Environment Questions, Jean asked the Minister for clarity on when farmers can expect the change to come, and how the new Areas of Natural Constraint will be chosen.

From the Scottish Parliament Official Report:

Areas of Natural Constraint

5. Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):
To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale will be for the introduction of Areas of Natural Constraint to replace Less Favoured Areas. (S4O-02821)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead):
The European Union rural development regulation states that the new areas facing natural constraint designation is to be implemented by 2018, and we will review the current Less Favoured Areas scheme in line with the regulation. In the meantime I am committed to continuing vital funding at current levels for the current scheme, to ensure that farming and crofting businesses remain sustainable.

Jean Urquhart:
What guidance has the Scottish Government received from Europe regarding the criteria that are to be used to define Areas of Natural Constraint?

Richard Lochhead:
The debate on this matter has been going on for some time, and a set of criteria has been initially debated. However, because there has been a postponement of the decision to move to a new system, there will, no doubt, be further debate over the next couple of years about the exact criteria that will be used to define areas of natural constraint. During the original debate over the past couple of years, we took some comfort from the fact that Scotland met most of the criteria, although there may have been some debate at the edges about whether some parts of Scotland qualified. Clearly, however, we have an opportunity to debate the issues and iron them out over the next couple of years.

Oral Question on the Shetland Box (June 14th)

Jean Urquhart:

During last week’s debate on reform of the common fisheries policy, I raised the issue of the Shetland box, the retention of which has not been explicitly confirmed by the European Commission in its reform package. Does the minister know whether the Shetland box is to be retained? If it is not, will the minister support its retention?

 

Richard Lochhead:

There has been no decision yet on the future of the Shetland box and that was not one of the key issues discussed at the negotiations. As members can imagine, that was due to the fact that this week‟s negotiations were on the general approach to the reform process. Many of the individual measures within the regulations will be negotiated in the future. We have, however, asked the European Commission why the Shetland box was missing from the draft regulations that it published, and we await an answer from the Commission.

Written Question: Foreign Language Teaching

To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to help local authorities deliver foreign language teaching as part of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Answered by Alasdair Allan (28/06/2012): The Scottish Government is committed to improving language learning in Scotland and welcomes the far-sighted and ambitious Languages Working Group Report published on 17 May, Language Learning in Scotland: A 1+2 Approach. The report’s headline recommendation on a much earlier start to learning another language is particularly welcome. Work will now be taken forward on a pilot project programme in the 2012-13 school year to demonstrate how the 1+2 model can best be implemented within Curriculum for Excellence. Ministers will respond formally to the report’s 35 recommendations in the autumn, including those covering how local authorities can best deliver language learning, promote language teaching as a career, coordinate primary and secondary language teaching and use cultural organisations and language communities in schools. The Government is also committed to getting the most from the Foreign Language Assistant Programme in Scotland and is funding British Council Scotland to promote the value of language assistants to local authorities who are responsible for employing them in their schools.
Current Status: Answered by Alasdair Allan on 28/06/2012

Written Questions: Mackerel Fishing (June 2012)

To ask the Scottish Executive what assistance it has given to fish producer organisations affected by the reported lack of access to waters around the Faroe Islands for mackerel fishing.

Answered by Richard Lochhead (25/06/2012): The absence of an agreement between the EU and the Faroe Islands for mutual access to fishing waters has caused a number of significant disruptions to the Scottish fishing industry. Most importantly, the setting of unilateral and excessive quotas by the Faroe Islands (and Iceland) places the long term sustainability of the mackerel stock in jeopardy. At present, however, Scottish vessels prosecuting the mackerel fishery in EU waters are able to access significant fishing opportunities. The provisional UK 2012 allocation of mackerel is over 130,000 tonnes, and this will be adjusted upwards when final allocations are made.
Current Status: Answered by Richard Lochhead on 25/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive what the value is of the returned quotas that have been allocated to the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation and the (a) Orkney, (b) Shetland and (c) Lunar fish producer organisations.

Answered by Richard Lochhead (25/06/2012): The value of any fish quota, in terms of the price per tonne achieved at first sale, can fluctuate considerably in light of prevailing market conditions. Any estimate of value can therefore only be an approximation. Noting this level of uncertainty, the table below shows the approximate value of quotas allocated to the Fish Producer Organisations noted there. These estimates are based on average first sale prices in 2011.

Producer Organisation Value allocated (£ millions)
Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation 2.12
Orkney FPO 0.20
Shetland FPO 0.23
Lunar FPO 0.02
Current Status: Answered by Richard Lochhead on 25/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive whether returned quotas that are allocated to the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation and the (a) Orkney, (b) Shetland and (c) Lunar fish producer organisations are directed to the producer organisations or to specific vessels.

Answered by Richard Lochhead (25/06/2012): Allocations of fish quota are made to Fish Producer Organisations. In the case of the quotas that were reserved by the European Union to facilitate a mutual access agreement with the Faroe Islands (where agreement was not reached and therefore quotas will be returned to EU member states) allocations have been made to producer organisations with member vessels that have fished in Faroese waters in recent years (2009 and 2010). The purpose of the allocation is therefore to provide assistance to producer organisations with members active in the Faroese fishery. It is for producer organisations to decide how to make that assistance available to individual members.
Current Status: Answered by Richard Lochhead on 25/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive when the returned quotas that have been allocated to the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation and the (a) Orkney, (b) Shetland and (c) Lunar fish producer organisations will come into force.

Answered by Richard Lochhead (25/06/2012): These fish quotas can be utilised now.It is the practice of the UK Fisheries Administrations to issue provisional allocations of fish quotas in the early part of the year. These provisional allocations then become final allocations later in the year, when all in-year amendments made by the EU and any adjustments made as a consequence of the application of UK quota management rules (for example, in relation to any penalties for over-fishing) can be taken into account. Provisional allocations for 2012 have already been issued. It is expected that final allocations will be issued shortly, although there remains provision in quota management rules for allocations to be adjusted further (for example where producer organisations wish to “borrow” from 2013 quotas).

Current Status: Answered by Richard Lochhead on 25/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the Faroe Islands Government on the resumption of access to mackerel fishing

Answered by Richard Lochhead (25/06/2012): The Scottish Government has actively participated in all rounds of negotiations between the coastal states for mackerel so far. We act as part of the UK delegation to the European Union, the EU being the Coastal State with negotiating authority on behalf of member states. The latest round ended without agreement in Reykjavik in February. Since then, Scottish Government officials have engaged with the Faroe Islands Government by meeting with a delegation of Faroese MPs in Edinburgh. We will continue to work hard to ensure the Scottish position is well represented in the autumn negotiations for a 2013 agreement.
Current Status: Answered by Richard Lochhead on 25/06/2012

Written Questions on Crofting (June 2012)

To ask the Scottish Executive what work it has carried out with Registers of Scotland and the Crofting Commission to compile a new crofting register and when the register will be posted online.

Answered by Stewart Stevenson (26/06/2012): The Scottish Government is working closely with the Registers of Scotland and the Crofting Commission to develop the new Crofting Register, to be held by the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland under Part 2 of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, which will provide legal certainty on the extent of, and interests in, croft land.The work in developing the new register is ongoing and includes consultation with key stakeholders and expected users of the register on a variety of issues, including the content of the register, the application processes, application forms and guidance. As well as meeting the full costs of developing and introducing the Crofting Register, the Scottish Government is also providing £100,000 towards reducing the cost of registration for groups submitting 10 or more crofts for registration at the same time. The Government is also providing a further £100,000 towards the preparation of applications and registration of common grazings on the new register and is working closely with the Crofting Commission on this project.

The Scottish Government is preparing the third commencement order for the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to commence the provisions relating to the new register. This is expected to be laid before the Scottish Parliament shortly after the 2012 Summer Recess and will be followed by a Registers of Scotland Fees Order and Rules. Subject to Parliamentary approval, this should allow the register to be publicly available for registration of croft land towards the end of this year.

Current Status: Answered by Stewart Stevenson on 26/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive whether it remains its position to bring forward the third commencement order for the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 in summer 2012.

Answered by Stewart Stevenson (26/06/2012): The Scottish Government expects to lay before the Scottish Parliament the third commencement order for the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, commencing the remaining provisions in the Act, which include the new Crofting Register, as planned, shortly after the 2012 Summer Recess.
Current Status: Answered by Stewart Stevenson on 26/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive how it encourages the development of new crofts.

Answered by Stewart Stevenson (26/06/2012): The Scottish Government encourages the development of new crofts in a number of ways, including through working closely with the Crofting Commission to help it better regulate crofting and with Highlands and Islands Enterprise in its crofting development function.The Scottish Government also encourages communities to purchase Scottish Ministers’ croft land under the transfer of Crofting Estates (Scotland) Act 1997 as a means to establishing new crofts for community benefit. We would encourage all landlords, in both the public and private sectors to consider setting up new crofts, which should contribute to the long-term sustainability of crofting.

Once new crofts have been established, financial support is available from specific crofting grants and the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). Specific measures to assist new, primarily young, entrants are the extra 10% assistance from the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grants Scheme made available to those under 40 years of age, and the assistance with interest rate relief for new entrants to agriculture whose agricultural standard labour requirement is greater than 25%. In addition, the Croft House Grants Scheme provides up to £22,000 assistance to help crofters live on the crofts they work.

Current Status: Answered by Stewart Stevenson on 26/06/2012
To ask the Scottish Executive how many new crofts have been registered since August 2010.

Answered by Stewart Stevenson (26/06/2012): The information requested is not held centrally. The current Register of Crofts is administered on behalf of Scottish Ministers by the Crofting Commission and I have asked the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission to respond to you directly with the information you have requested.
Current Status: Answered by Stewart Stevenson on 26/06/2012