Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Wednesday, November 22, 2023
- Point of Order
- Portfolio Question Time
- Point of Order
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Calderwood Lodge Primary School (60th Anniversary)
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S6M-11375, on approval of a Scottish statutory instrument. I ask George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move the motion.
That the Parliament agrees that the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Act 2022 (Extension and Expiry of Temporary Justice Measures) Regulations 2023 [draft] be approved.—[George Adam]
I call Russell Findlay to speak to the motion, for up to three minutes.17:34
The Scottish Government enacted a range of temporary powers in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic. Some of those powers were indeed temporary; however, last year, the Government extended the use of others, including the expansion of fiscal fines. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service issues fiscal fines as an alternative to prosecution. Prior to the pandemic, the maximum was £300, but the emergency Covid law increased that to £500.
Today, the Government is asking members to maintain the £500 limit until this time next year. The Government submitted a policy note to the Criminal Justice Committee, which stated that increasing the maximum fines allowed prosecutors to use them in
“a wider range of cases”.
Those five words—“a wider range of cases”—are the key issue.
I asked the justice secretary exactly what new crimes are being dealt with by way of fiscal fines. She either would not or could not answer. She tried to deflect that there was ideological opposition to fiscal fines, which is not true. I am sure that crime victims have no ideological opposition; I am sure that they would expect to be told when fiscal fines are being issued. I am also sure that the public expect to know when such fines are issued for serious crimes, including acts of violence. People want justice to be done efficiently and effectively, but they also want transparency.
To recap, in 2020, the Government passed an emergency law to widen the use of fiscal fines. It did not tell the public what new crimes they would be used for. The Government relied on the support of all parties, including mine. However, if this SSI is agreed to by members today, this significant and supposedly temporary measure will be in place for almost five years.
Will the member take an intervention?
Do I have time to take an intervention?
A brief one, Mr Findlay.
In addition to what the member has said, Labour has challenged several times whether the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service needs up to 260 days to prepare a case for indictment. If we pass the instrument tonight, that measure—for which there has been no justification—will be extended again to 2025-26.
That is another good reason to vote against the SSI, and I note that, in the committee, Labour voted alongside the Conservatives in opposition to it.
This is a shabby and lazy way to legislate. If the Government wants to widen the use of diversion from prosecution, it should be honest and up front about it. It should pass new legislation that explains exactly how fiscal fines would be used. It should not resort to doing so by stealth, using Covid as an excuse.
I call Angela Constance to respond, for up to three minutes.17:37
I attended the Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday 8 November, and explained the approach taken by the Scottish Government in respect of this instrument. In particular, I noted that the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Act 2022 includes a range of temporary justice measures that are due to expire at the end of this month. The measures were originally introduced as a direct response to the pandemic. MSPs will be aware of the adverse impact that the pandemic had across many different areas, and the justice system was no different.
Although recovery is well under way, it is not yet complete. The need for some of the measures that were originally introduced has reduced. That is why I was able to advise the committee that certain measures have been expired.
I know that MSPs have rightly shown a keen interest in, for example, the extended time limits. I was pleased to advise committee that more than half—four out of seven—of the extended time limits that were put in place at the outset of the pandemic are being expired. I also confirmed to committee that I have no plans to make temporary time limits permanent.
I do not want any extended time limits for any longer than is necessary if they are not needed. The instrument is an indication of the progress that is being made in the courts’ recovery.
More generally, the Scottish Government has considered carefully the operation of the provisions and engaged with justice agencies and stakeholders. The findings of the Scottish Government review are set out in the statement of reasons that is laid alongside the instrument.
There are three main reasons for maintaining some of the temporary measures. One of those is the clear support from justice agencies for some of the temporary measures to be made more permanent. That is why, earlier this month, I published a public consultation that proposes to make permanent certain temporary measures that will help to improve the justice system and make it more resilient, efficient and effective. They include proposals to make permanent national jurisdiction for callings from custody, an increase in the maximum amount of fiscal fines and virtual attendance at court.
I hope that I clarified to the committee that the increase in the range of fines covers the same range of offences. I had endeavoured to explain to Mr Findlay the difference between the number of cases and the range of offences.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
Do I have time, Presiding Officer?
I can give you a little bit of time back.
I have to disagree with the cabinet secretary’s assertion. The statement from the Government to the committee was that the increase would be for
“a wider range of cases”.
That is quite clear. Can the cabinet secretary explain what cases those will be?
As I have confirmed to Mr Findlay—not once but now twice—the increased fine rate applies to the same offences.
On Mr Findlay’s issue about cases, the fiscal fines, by having increased from the £300 to the £500 range, now cover cases in which the Crown Office considers a £300 fine to be insufficient in the circumstances but in which it considers a £500 fine to be appropriate.
Keeping those elements in place, pending consideration of permanent legislation, is a sensible approach to take. The consultation provides an opportunity to seek wider views on the proposals. Another reason is that the court system is still in recovery from the pandemic.
Given that you are pressing me for time, Presiding Officer, I will just refer members to the statement that I made at the committee.
Thank you, cabinet secretary. The question on the motion will be put at decision time.
The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S6M-11375, on approval of an SSI. I ask George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move the motion.
That the Parliament agrees that the Heat Networks (Supply Targets) (Scotland) Regulations 2023 [draft] be approved.—[George Adam]
I call Douglas Lumsden.17:41
At committee, I raised concerns about the SSI. Those concerns remain, and I would like to raise them again today.
Let me make it clear from the outset that I remain a big fan of heat networks. I am convinced that heat networks will have a huge part to play in decarbonising our buildings, especially in our more densely populated cities, where, for example, having heat pumps in tenement blocks will not be viable. I also speak as a formal council leader, from which role I have experience of heat network installation, so I know how difficult and expensive they are to roll out.
The partial business and regulatory impact assessment sets out a cost of up to £6.2 billion to reach this target by 2035. It also states that that cost excludes any adaptations that may be required within existing buildings, so the final costs will be much higher than the £6.2-billion price tag quoted. When the minister was questioned about that figure at committee, he stated that the Government will be committing only £300 million towards it, so we are left unclear as to where the remaining sums will come from and how achievable that target will be.
The impact assessment also sets out the role that our local authorities will play. I remain concerned that, with our local authorities being underfunded and council tax being frozen, they will not be able to fulfil the function that we require them to take on, especially given that the costs for adaptation of existing buildings are not captured by the assessment, and many of those buildings will be owned by our local authorities.
I also note, from the policy note accompanying the SSI, that the local authorities’ local heat and energy strategies will play into the national target, but not all local authorities have completed those strategies. It seems strange to set the target without that information.
We also have no details on where the 7TWh in the policy comes from. I worry that the target that would be set out today, like so many of this devolved Government’s targets, is aspirational but, without more detail, simply unachievable. The SNP-Green Government needs to understand that setting targets is one thing, but it is delivery that counts. More details are urgently required.
For clarity, we are referring to motion S5M-11376, not motion S5M-11375.
I call the minister to respond.17:44
I am grateful for the chance to respond to the points that have been raised on the SSI. It is an order that supports our ambition to grow the number and scale of heat networks in Scotland, which are systems that will supply many of us with clean heating in the years ahead.
The Heat Networks (Scotland) Act 2021 requires us to set a target for 2035, but setting that target is not just a legal requirement; it is helpful in and of itself. It will send a clear signal to the heat network sector that the current Government and future Governments are and will remain committed to its growth. The proposed target of 7TWh is evidence based and was developed using data on potential heat network zones. The proposed target is 1TWh greater than the 2030 target that is already set in the legislation, for which the Parliament voted unanimously.
I was pleased that the committee recommended approval of the SSI, although some concerns were raised, which I have to say I answered repeatedly in the committee, although not to the satisfaction of all its members. Perhaps some members decided that my answers would not be to their satisfaction no matter what I said, but let me run through them again.
The need for a credible plan to meet the targets is precisely why we published our heat networks delivery plan in 2022, setting out a range of actions that we are taking to support the sector. We are under a duty to review how that plan is supporting our targets by March next year. We know that we need to move to create more demand for heat networks, and the upcoming heat in buildings consultation will make proposals on that.
There was concern about the potential cost of meeting the targets.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I want to make some progress.
Meeting the cost will be achieved through a mix of public and private investment. That point should be well understood by anyone who has looked carefully at the subject.
Will the minister give way on that point?
No, thank you.
The private investment will be driven by creating demand for heat networks. The funding that we have currently allocated to heat networks is to 2026, whereas the target is for nine years later. We know that there is significant interest from private investors in developing such schemes and we have already seen good examples of collaboration, as in Midlothian, where the public and private sectors are working together. Therefore, it is misleading to compare overall cost projections to public budgets.
Based on our best estimate, in 2022, heat networks supplied 1.35TWh of heat. We have committed to keeping the 2035 target and any future targets under review as further evidence emerges—for example, as heat network zones are designated. Setting the 2035 target is just one part of our plan to help grow the sector. We are already taking a range of other concerted actions to allow the heat network sector to flourish. We are resourcing local authorities to develop local heat and energy efficiency strategies, which are identifying opportunities for heat networks across Scotland.
Will the minister take an intervention?
The minister is concluding.
For example, Glasgow’s LHEES identifies that heat networks there have the potential to supply between 1TWh and 4TWh of the city’s heat annually. We have launched the heat network support unit, which is already helping local authorities through the pre-capital stages of heat network development.
You need to conclude, minister.
Collectively, those actions will help us to achieve our proposed target. I ask Parliament to support the SSI.
Again, the question on the motion will be put at decision time.
The next item of business is consideration of three Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask George Adam, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move the motions.
All moved, Presiding Officer.
Apologies. I will need to tell you what the motions are first. They are S6M-11377, on approval of an SSI, S6M-11378, on designation of a lead committee, and S6M-11379, on committee meeting times. I invite the minister to move the three motions.
I was just so eager to be helpful, Presiding Officer.
That the Parliament agrees that the Budget (Scotland) Act 2023 Amendment Regulations 2023 [draft] be approved.
That the Parliament agrees that the Finance and Public Administration Committee be designated as the lead committee in consideration of the Aggregates Tax and Devolved Taxes Administration (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.
That the Parliament agrees that, under Rule 12.3.3B of Standing Orders, the Finance and Public Administration Committee can meet, if necessary, at the same time as a meeting of the Parliament between 11.40 am and 12 noon on 7 December 2023.—[George Adam]
The question on the motions will be put at decision time.