Standard Responses

Thank you for contacting me about the regulation of homes for short-term lets.

The current Planning Bill has just passed Stage 2. This means that amendments can still be proposed, ahead of a final vote. In particular, the Scottish Government or any MSP can propose amendments, which often reflect different organisations’ views or concerns on any given part of the bill.

In general terms, we feel there is a good case for looking at regulation of short-term lets -  Edinburgh in particular faces significant pressure. However, we recognise this must be balanced with any impact on tourism businesses in other areas. With that in mind, we will closely scrutinise any proposals in the Bill’s final stage for their impact across Scotland, and come to a decision when the scope of the proposed changes are clear.

I would be happy to provide further information on our position in due course.

Short-term lets in planning bill


The Scottish Conservatives value the rich biodiversity and natural resources of Scotland’s landscape. We believe it is essential to maintain and restore them, when necessary, to the highest environmental standards. 

At Stage Two of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, Mark Ruskell MSP introduced an amendment in relation to the harvesting of wild kelp. This amendment prevented managers of a Scottish Crown Estate asset granting the right to carry out the commercial harvesting of wild kelp. This amendment was introduced without the Committee receiving evidence on the subject and was attempting to circumvent the existing licencing regime. Scottish Conservative MSPs on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee abstained on the issue at this time to ensure an evidence-led approach could be taken.

I acknowledge concerns about the potential impact of mechanical dredging for harvesting kelp on the marine environment. For this reason, the Scottish Conservatives supported amendments on the subject of wild kelp harvesting put forward at Stage Three of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill. These amendments create a restriction on the removal of wild kelp from the seabed.

We are urging the SNP Government to ensure we have a licencing regime which recognises sustainable development and we will monitor this closely.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me on this issue.

Kelp Harvesting


Thank you for contacting me about the recent Crisis report.

Like you, I firmly believe that no-one should have to live for extended periods in unsuitable temporary accommodation, and I recognise the important work that Crisis has done on this issue. I am happy to support amending the regulations as they suggest, and my colleague Graham Simpson will make this representation on behalf of all the Conservative MSPs.

This issue does need to be seen in context: this issue is fundamentally one of housing supply and the SNP have repeatedly failed to meet housing targets. The Scottish Conservatives have proposed a range of ideas to increase the housing stock available, from planning reform through innovative infrastructure funding to meaningful action on empty homes. We urge the SNP to back these ideas.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014


The Scottish Conservatives value Scotland’s natural landscapes, and believe it is essential to maintain and restore them to the highest environmental standards. In our Environment and Climate Change position paper we set out our aspirations for this, including a specific commitment to protect our wild areas.

My colleague Graham Simpson has been engaging with stakeholders on the issue of hill tracks. The Planning Bill is currently at Stage 2. Scottish Conservative MSPs will consider all amendments to this Bill, including that of Andy Wightman MSP on this issue. We will come to a view as the Bill progresses as we hear evidence from all sides.

Hill Tracks


The Scottish Conservatives will consider the bill very carefully and take a balanced position that accounts for both parental responsibilities and children’s rights. Although the bill has been published, we need to wait to hear the government’s intentions before we are fully aware of the eventual scope and impact of the proposed legislation.

In general terms, we do not believe it is the place of this SNP government to impose their values and interfere in family life. Parents, rather than the state, have primary responsibility for their children.

The current legislation permits reasonable chastisement as a means of instruction, correction and discipline. The law specifically states that a court has to consider the wider context when considering this defence – including mental and physical effects, the age of the child, and exactly how the parent has behaved. This prevents disproportionate punishment of children, while maintaining the independence of families from government oversight. Overall, we think this approach has worked well.               

Smacking


Thank you for your contacting me regarding live animal exports.

The safe and humane transport of live animals is hugely important to Scotland’s farmers and crofters. The transport of animals within the UK from remote areas and islands, where access to local markets or abattoirs is limited, is a regular and important feature of livestock production. There are robust regulations in place for this, namely the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Council Regulation (EC) 1/2005, to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are maintained. As such, the Scottish Conservatives do not believe that this requires further regulation.

The live shipment of Scottish animals to mainland Europe currently involves breeding animals and a small number of young stock destined for breeding, store and slaughter stock. The Scottish Conservatives recognise that the export of live animals is an important market for Scottish farmers and crofters. We support this where it is done in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards as enshrined in UK and EU law, because we know that these animals are kept and treated to the same standard as animals that remain in Scotland.  We agree with the NFUS that while animals should be reared as close to origin as practical, if animals are to live a productive life then safe and humane transport to other countries should be a legitimate option.

The issue highlighted on the BBC on 10 September regards the live export of about 5,000 male dairy calves from Scotland. Most of these are exported as there is no market for these animals within the UK. We would like to see this number reduced. This could be done through a range of measures, and we join the call for the Scottish Government and industry to quickly work towards this.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Live Animal Exports Ban


Thank you for getting in touch about gender issues in Scottish schools. I am very conscious of the concerns which have been raised and also of the sensitivities involved.

Let me very clear about the Scottish Conservative position: as a party, we are very supportive of all measures to ensure schools provide an inclusive environment that supports all of our young people and allows them to reach their full potential regardless of background or gender. Likewise, we are clear that schools must tackle all forms of discrimination and this includes where it has resulted from gender reassignment or sexual orientation. In this respect, we are supportive of the work being done to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (HBT) in schools and to ensure that every pupil has a happy and safe experience in school. 

We are however, unhappy about proposals which could see very young children being “taught” about gender recognition. This would be an inappropriate move given the fact that these young children could not possibly be expected to understand many of the issues involved or take responsibility for decisions they might make at a very early age. We believe the vast majority of parents agree with us on this.

With regard to the recent debate in the media, the Scottish Government has informed us that the documents are not yet formal guidelines, or proposals. They are part of ongoing work led by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that also involves local authorities and health board partners. It is therefore important that there is further debate and that schools, with the support of teachers and parents, are able to decide the most appropriate and necessary policies to put in place for their pupils.

Thank you again for getting in touch.

Gender identity in schools


Thank you for contacting me about the Communities Vs Blood Cancer campaign.

It is very important to increase the number of stem cell (cord blood and bone marrow) donors in Scotland and so I welcome the vital work undertaken by Anthony Nolan.

In 2015 the UK Government announced an extra £3 million in additional funding for stem cell services, part of £19 million in additional investment that the UK Government has committed since 2010 to improve the provision of cells in the UK.  This funding is being used to encourage young adult donors as well as those from under-represented populations, such as black, Asian and ethnic minority communities who find it difficult to secure a suitable match.

No patient should be denied a stem cell transplant due to the availability of a lifesaving donor. The Scottish Conservatives know the importance of the stem cell donor register and support its expansion.

I am unable to attend the Anthony Nolan’s parliamentary drop-in, however I fully support this campaign and will highlight its importance to parliament.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Communities Vs Blood Cancer campaign


Thank you for contacting me about the human rights impact of GIRFEC.

As you will be aware, this petition was heard on 28th June by the Petitions Committee and various concerns were expressed by the petitioners Alison Preuss and Lesley Scott, both of whom have been in touch with my colleague Liz Smith MSP about the central issue. We await further developments with this petition given that the committee was keen to see more evidence presented.

On a separate, but nonetheless related issue, the Education and Skills Committee members will reconsider any amended proposals to the Scottish Government’s named person policy should that be brought before the committee again. These proposals were due to be debated this autumn but there has been a further delay given the concerns amongst key stakeholders about the information sharing aspect of the named person policy and where responsibilities lie.

The Scottish Conservatives have always been opposed to the named person policy for two reasons; firstly, we believe it allows the state to undermine the role of parents in determining how to bring up their children and, secondly, its universal basis means that scarce resources are diverted away from our most vulnerable children who are most in need of support. We remain opposed to named persons and to any attempts to introduce the policy by the back door.

Instead, the Scottish Conservatives are willing to get round the table and find a fresh solution to help and protect vulnerable youngsters. We believe that is the view of other political parties including many in the SNP too.

Thank you again for contacting me.

Human Rights impact of GIRFEC


The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. Mountain hares are Scotland’s only indigenous hare and almost all of Britain’s mountain hares are found in Scotland. It is therefore important to ensure their survival.

Mountain hares play an important role in the ecology of the uplands and their role should not be understated. Indeed, a harvestable crop of hares is needed by important species such as wildcats, golden eagles and other predators. However, an overabundance of hares can threaten other species such as grouse, wading birds and trees.

The pro-active management of all herbivores (deer, hares, sheep etc.) is vital to the health of the land they graze on. Both over and under grazing are potentially very damaging to upland moorlands and will affect the biodiversity of both flora and fauna.

Mountain hare populations fluctuate and periodic culling is required when numbers are high.  Grouse moors are often the best habitats for mountain hares anywhere in the country. We therefore appreciate that they need to be proactively managed in order to combat overgrazing and disease problems, when populations fluctuate.

Mountain hare management is carried out within a regulatory framework of closed seasons and licenses administered by SNH.  It has many similar aspects to the management of deer where large numbers can damage habitats and spread ticks, therefore they are controlled according to local population densities. Similarly, to deer, shooting is the only really effective method of controlling numbers and the carcasses then go into the food chain.     

We believe local management of land will ensure that biodiversity can be maintained and where necessary improved. A central policy will not achieve the grazing targets needed in specific areas. We believe we must encourage land managers to ensure a local balance of all species.

In January, the results of a three-year study conducted by SNH, the James Hutton Institute and GWCT, looking at the best methods of counting mountain hares were published. Land managers are now taking this forward in population surveys being carried out across Scotland.

A detailed Best Practice Mountain Hare Guidance Note, agreed by rural stakeholders, has been published by the Scottish Moorland Forum. The Guidance sets out issues that practitioners need to be aware of and an example of a management plan for controlling numbers of mountain hares. I am confident that this Guidance will assist in ensuring that management of mountain hares is sustainable in the short and long term.

Thank you once again for getting in contact with me regarding this important issue.

Mountain Hare Culling


Thank you for contacting me about business rates and a cultural exemption for Scottish booksellers.

Small independent booksellers and local shops are often at the heart of communities in towns and villages across Scotland. Booksellers in particular play a vital cultural role by providing a learning resource for people of all ages.

More must be done to help bricks-and-mortar retailers survive and thrive in this challenging economic climate. In the last ten years of this SNP government, Scotland’s high streets have suffered. The unfair and outdated business rates system is in urgent need of improvement.

The Scottish Conservatives will continue to demand a fairer settlement for Scotland’s high streets, and ensure the SNP government deliver reforms to the business rates system as soon as possible.  

Business rates and a cultural exemption for Scottish booksellers


Thank you for your concern,

We have been monitoring the Coul Links application since it was submitted and acknowledge your concerns about the potential environmental impact of the development.

My colleague, Edward Mountain MSP for the Highlands and Islands Region, has spoken to our group leader on Highland Council. The group leader attended the meeting as an observer and he has confirmed that the planning committee have approved the proposed development.

Approval for the development was granted on the basis that the local councillor was in favour of the proposal, SEPA did not object to the development (having reviewed the additional information) and the developer has agreed to considerable additional works to mitigate any possible damage to the flora and fauna and in particular invertebrates.

As SNH did not withdraw their objection, this matter will need to be considered by the Scottish Government and I do hope that they will do so carefully. It is important the Government fully consider the concerns of the objectors and bear these in mind when they consider the comments of the statutory consultee, SNH.

We believe it is very important that planning permissions continue to be dealt with at a local level. I have always supported local determination as I believe it will achieve the most democratic outcome.

However, as this development potentially will affect an area that is designated it is right that the Government reviews the decision to examine the potential environmental impacts. I will raise your concerns with the Scottish Government.

Thank you for contacting me.

Coul Links


Thank you for your email.

I agree that the rights that grandparents currently have in regard to access to their grandchildren needs to enhanced significantly.

Currently the legal framework of parental responsibilities and rights (PRRs) are set out in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.  At the present time, a grandparent in Scotland does not have an automatic right to see his or her grandchild. This is because they do not fall into the category of people who have automatic PRRs under the 1995 Act. Any person who does not have, and never has had, PRRs in respect of a child but who claims an interest can apply for a court order granting them contact with the child. If an amicable agreement cannot be reached about contact, a grandparent could make such an application to the court.

I agree that the Scottish Parliament should consider proposals to ensure grandparents should have greater rights in regard to access with their grandchildren. If at all possible children should be raised by loving family members rather than the state. However, I will need to examine the evidence in greater detail, in particular recommendations by the Law Society, to determine whether legislation is required to provide greater rights to grandparents.

Contact between Grandparents and their Grandchildren


Thank you for your email,

The Transport Bill offers a chance to examine and possibly change legislation surrounding pavement parking, as well as low emission zones and bus franchising to name some of the other issues it may address.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome the Transport Bill in principle but we will likely aim to lodge amendments to strengthen the Bill at Stages Two and Three to ensure it is a robust and sound piece of law.

Frequent parking on footways can cause damage that eventually manifests as uneven pavements. Such damage can represent a real danger to pedestrians, especially vulnerable ones, with local authorities having to foot the bill for repairs.

We can all agree that inconsiderate parking must be tackled and I am pleased that there are plans to look at it. A blanket ban on pavements must be properly researched and proportionate. Inconsiderate parking should not be tolerated, but there are many instances when parking partly on a pavement is the only available option and can be done without obstructing pedestrians’ access.

As you will be aware there may be instances in which parking with two wheels on a pavement has left sufficient room for pedestrians to pass while allowing traffic to flow freely on the road. That is a key point because it would obviously be counterproductive to impose a ban only for it to result in constant road blockages. As long as such parking can be done in a way that allows more than enough room for all pedestrians to pass freely, it is not always necessary to impose a blanket ban. I am not convinced that a blanket ban with no room for exemptions by local authorities in places might be too much of a catch all approach, I know of many areas where pavement parking is the only option to allow free passage of vehicles, including emergency vehicles, through narrow streets – in those examples perhaps local authorities may need to approach this pragmatically. Blanket centralisation of such individual circumstances in my view has historically caused unintended consequences.

The compromise that we would like to emerge would be to find a balance between protecting vulnerable pedestrians and allowing harmless pavement parking to continue. I suspect our amendments will be of this ilk.

I can understand the temptation to push through a blanket ban because it is right to say that we should not tolerate forcing vulnerable pedestrians to move around parked cars on pavements or dropped footways. However, we would not be serving the public if we simply imposed a blanket ban and left motorists, as well as law enforcement officers, to clear up the mess.

I hope you find the above position helpful and I thank you for contacting me regarding this important subject.

Pavement Parking Standard Response


Thank you for contacting me about abortion in Northern Ireland. 

Abortion remains a highly sensitive issue, regardless of where your view lies and one where it is important that the matter is considered with due care and sensitivity. 

I understand that the referendum in the Republic of Ireland has undoubtedly reinvigorated debate within Northern Ireland, but it is important to be clear that the referendum was specific to the Republic of Ireland, where a change to their written constitution requires a referendum.  The referendum now allows for legislation amending the Republic of Ireland’s abortion law to be debated and passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I support the Government’s belief that any future reform in Northern Ireland must be debated and decided by the people of Northern Ireland and their locally-elected politicians. In asking the UK Parliament to advance reform in Northern Ireland while the Northern Ireland Assembly and administration is still suspended, Ross Greer’s proposal does not fully recognise the principle of devolution in Northern Ireland, one which I would hope every politician in our devolved parliament would respect.

I very much therefore welcome the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recent commitment to work closely with Northern Ireland’s political parties to restore strong, inclusive devolved government at the earliest opportunity.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Abortion rights for Northern Ireland


Thank you for contacting me about the Climate Change Bill.

The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of environmental protection. In May, we won cross-party support to enact stronger energy efficiency targets for homes by 2030. We have also committed to promoting a secure and low-carbon based energy sector, supporting sustainable transport, and to maximising Scotland’s resources, all of which can help achieve ambitious emissions reduction targets.

While the Scottish Government claims Scotland will be one of the first countries to achieve zero emissions, the Bill in its current form does not commit to that. The Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for the best interests of the planet and hold the Government to account on climate change issues. We will work to champion the environment and push the Scottish Government to be more ambitious in their Climate Change Bill as it progresses through Parliament.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Climate Change Bill


The Scottish Conservatives support the highest standards of animal welfare.

Currently, the live shipment of Scottish stock to mainland Europe involves a small number of breeding, store and slaughter stock.

There are robust regulations in place, namely the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Council Regulation (EC) 1/2005, to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are maintained.

The safe transport of live animals, whether store or to slaughter, is hugely important to Scotland’s farmers and crofters, particularly for those in remote areas or on islands where access to local markets or abattoirs is often limited.  This is particularly relevant following the recent closure of the slaughterhouse in Orkney. While the regulation would not ban this practice, it could appear to the public as being out of step, especially if live shipping to slaughter is allowed within the UK whilst being banned for export.

Journeys within the UK, where animals are transported, are often much longer than those going abroad to the EU. Long distances, including ferry journeys, operate under the EU regulations mentioned and they protect animal welfare using vehicles and transporters specifically designed with welfare in mind. A small minority of journeys can take a few days, however much of that time is off the lorry. There are approved sites for resting with food and water, for minimum periods of 24 hours.

Where animals are transported on ferries operating roll-on and roll-off systems, the highest welfare standards are upheld. Lorries must be properly secured on the ferry with the captain of the vessel assuming responsibility of the livestock’s welfare. Crossings with livestock will only take place when it is felt that the conditions are suitable.

Concerns have been raised regarding the issue of live exports to the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland, as they would be covered by a ban too. We must remember Northern Ireland exported £16.7 million of live animals to the Republic of Ireland in 2016, which was 98 per cent of the total value of its animal exports.

When it comes moving animals for fattening, it is essential for farming practices in Scotland where the climate and landscape challenges often do not allow for animals to stay in the same place due to lack of good quality grass and forage. Moving livestock to better quality ground for wintering or fattening is in fact in the interests of welfare of the animal.

We back farm assurance schemes, that link farms, transporters, markets and abattoirs in order to ensure that the highest animal welfare standards are being maintained.

With all of these points taken into consideration, we will not support a ban on live exports, as we believe the animal welfare standards are sufficiently robust. However, we do believe that more could be done, by ensuring current legislation is rigorously enforced making sure the highest levels of animal welfare are upheld.

Live Animal Exports for Fattening


Following the vote to leave the European Union, the UK will operate a fully independent trade policy.
The UK Government’s Department for International Trade is examining options to ensure continued access to trade agreements negotiated by the European Union to which the UK is already party.  In addition, the UK Government has committed to making new free trade agreements more transparent and inclusive. The UK Government is determined that the UK will become a world leader in free trade, and ensure that we secure the right deals for the United Kingdom. These bespoke deals will be scrutinised by our Parliament, as all treaties are.

As to your concern about the effect of the bill on the devolution settlement, the Secretary of State for Trade has made clear that public services in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will be unaffected by this bill and that the devolved administrations will be able to implement transitioned arrangements.

As the UK takes back independent trading powers from the EU, the voices of the devolved administrations and MPs from all parts of the UK will be more clearly heard than was previously the case. I hope you would agree with me that the Scottish Government should deal constructively with all UK administrations as the UK forges an independent trading future.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Common Weal Trade Campaign


Thank you for contacting me.

We have been successful in convincing the Scottish Government to change the policy regarding benefits given to those who are terminally ill. Jeremy Balfour had originally secured an amendment to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill that extended the period that terminally ill patients received benefits from six months up to two years.

However, he has been successful in forcing the SNP Government to go further, with patients now receiving individual assessments from medical professionals to ensure that they receive the appropriate level of support based on their condition. It represents a significant climb-down from the Scottish Government who had originally defined a person as terminally ill if they are in the last six months of life.

The SNP’s proposal would have unfairly excluded many people living with terminal conditions from accessing the benefits quickly, and the Scottish Conservatives had joined with organisations involved in palliative care such as Marie Curie and MND Scotland to fight for this change.

Terminally ill patients need as much security and support as possible through what is a traumatic time and this should now ensure that they get it. We are of course thankful to Marie Curie and MND Scotland for working with us through this battle to make the SNP finally see sense.

Terminal Illness Amendment


Thank you for contacting me.

Amendment 35 was the most controversial amendment in the advocacy group, but we supported the Government on that amendment because we need a standard that can be applied across the whole country. We need to be able to meet the right standards and give the appropriate service to those who require it.

I very much welcome the minister’s comments that, as the regulations are drawn up, she will consult the groups already providing advocacy and those who are interested in doing so. Ultimately, it will be a decision for the Parliament as to whether we approve the regulations. We recognise that passing the legislation this week is simply the start of the journey and not the finish. The regulations that will be implemented are going to be key for individuals and my party will be very happy to work with the Government on the regulations so that we get them right for each individual across the country.

Amendment 35 – Social Security Bill


Thank you for contacting me about defamation law in Scotland.

I agree with the Scottish Law Commission's conclusion that there is an important balance to be struck between freedom of speech and press on the one hand and the right to restore one's reputation swiftly when it has been unfairly tarnished on the other.

It is for the Scottish Government to bring forward legislative proposals based upon the Law Commission's recommendations, and when that happens the Scottish Conservatives will ensure any reform to the law receives the rigorous scrutiny it deserves.

Defamation Law


Thank you for your email,

The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of bird welfare.

As you are aware, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) can grant licences to permit the killing or taking of wild birds to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock and wader species.

Farmers and landowners know all too well the damage that ravens can inflict on their livestock. Ravens often target and kill new born lambs by the barbaric removal of their eyes and tongues.

The licences are granted as part of a five-year collaborative trial which will help improve the understanding of factors affecting key wader species. Ravens have increased their breeding range across the UK by over 70 per cent in the last few decades, whilst species of other birds, such as waders, have seen numbers have declined by a similar percentage.

The ‘Understanding Predation’ report by Scotland’s Moorland Forum, published in February 2016, was agreed by a range of stakeholders, including SNH, RSPB, the Scottish Government and Scottish Land & Estates. The report found strong support from survey data and stakeholders’ knowledge, that all six wild birds studied in detail (black grouse, curlew, golden plover, grey partridge, lapwing and oystercatcher) had shown widespread declines across Scotland since the 1960s. The report acknowledged that over the last 25 years, there has been wide-spread increases in the abundance of buzzards and ravens.

Raven Culling


Thank you for contacting me about teacher’s pay.

Teachers are conscientious professionals who work hard every day educating the next generation. I am enormously grateful for the work they do to ensure children have the best chance to succeed in life.

The policy on public sector pay has always recognised the need to be fair to public sector workers and protect jobs in the public sector, while balancing this with being fair to those who pay for it.

Notwithstanding the issues currently facing teachers, the demand for a 10 per cent pay increase is not financially sustainable. It would place a substantial bill on both local and central government - one that is unaffordable in the present circumstances. I am therefore concerned that such an increase could lead to a further reduction in teacher numbers, at a time when teacher workload is already stretched.

We need to ensure that any pay increase is fully funded, and does not lead to reduced resources for frontline public services. 

Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

Teacher's Pay


The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. Mountain hares are Scotland’s only indigenous hare and almost all of Britain’s mountain hares are found in Scotland. It is therefore important to ensure their survival.

Mountain hares play an important role in the ecology of the uplands and their role should not be understated. Indeed, a harvestable crop of hares is needed by important species such as wildcats, golden eagles and other predators. However, an overabundance of hares can threaten other species such as grouse, wading birds and trees.

The pro-active management of all herbivores (deer, hares, sheep etc.) is vital to the health of the land they graze on. Over and indeed under grazing is potentially very damaging to upland moorlands and will affect the biodiversity of both flora and fauna.

Mountain hare populations fluctuate and periodic culling is required when numbers are high.  Grouse moors are often the best habitats for mountain hares anywhere in the country. We therefore appreciate that they need to be proactively managed in order to combat overgrazing and disease problems, when populations fluctuate.

Mountain hare management is carried out within a regulatory framework of closed seasons and licenses administered by SNH.  It has many similar aspects to the management of deer where large numbers can damage habitats and spread ticks, therefore they are controlled according to local population densities. Similarly, to deer, shooting is the only really effective method of controlling numbers and the carcasses then go into the food chain.     

We believe local management of land will ensure that biodiversity can be maintained and where necessary improved. A central policy will not achieve the grazing targets needed in specific areas. We believe we must encourage land managers to ensure a local balance of all species.

In January, the results of a three-year study conducted by SNH, the James Hutton Institute and GWCT, looking at the best methods of counting mountain hares were published. Land managers are now taking this forward in population surveys being carried out across Scotland.

A detailed Best Practice Mountain Hare Guidance Note, agreed by rural stakeholders, is to be published by the Scottish Moorland Forum for mountain hare management. Moreover, the Scottish Government’s grouse moor management review panel has now begun considering the issue.

Thank you once again for getting in contact with me regarding this important issue.

 

Mountain Hare Culling


Thank you for getting in touch.

During the passage of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill at Stage 2, the Scottish Government lodged an amendment which created a right to independent advocacy for people with a mental disorder as defined by the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. My colleague Jeremy Balfour MSP also lodged an amendment on this issue which sought to create a universal right to independent advocacy. He decided not to pursue this amendment at Stage 2, opting instead to work with the Scottish Government prior to Stage 3 to determine how best to extend the definition of the group of people who would most likely require this support.

As a result of these discussions, the Scottish Government have now proposed to make changes to the Bill at Stage 3 which will ensure that people with a disability, including those that self-identify, have a right to independent advocacy. I can confirm that the Scottish Conservatives are supportive of this change, which will define in statute those people who will most benefit from the support of an independent advocate in their interactions with the Scottish Social Security Agency.

Independent Advocacy Amendment Stage 3 Social Security Bill


Clara Ponsati

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for contacting me about Clara Ponsati.

It is my understanding that a European Arrest Warrant was issued for Ms Ponsati on 23 March, and having handed herself to the police she intends to resist her extradition in the courts.

It is unfortunate that we have arrived at this point, but because this matter is now being dealt with judicially it would not be appropriate for me as a politician to interfere in that process. A Scottish court will take all the facts and legal arguments into account and then arrive at an impartial decision.

In general terms, I believe the European Arrest Warrant is an absolutely vital tool in tackling serious and organised crime, which does not respect international borders. Without it, we would find it much more difficult to identify, apprehend and extradite criminals who travel here, and to track Scottish criminals who flee overseas. We should avoid taking steps which might compromise the integrity of this framework and our wider cross-border security collaboration through Europol.

I would also add that I was shocked by the scenes that emerged from Catalonia last October. As Ruth Davidson said at the time, the answer to this issue will come through dialogue and diplomacy, not violence. I hope the authorities will heed these words and exercise restraint in the future.


Mark Meechan/ Communications Act 2003

 

 

 

Thank you for getting in touch about the Communications Act 2003 and its interpretation in an individual case.

There is clearly a balance to be struck in our society between freedom of expression and courts having the ability to prosecute the most vile online content. It is incumbent upon all of us in public life to get this balance right.

However, when cases are tried, the decision arrived at is for the court alone. Having an independent judiciary free from political influence is an important part of a liberal democracy and so I will not comment directly on any particular decision. Each situation is different and judges are best placed to take into account the full range of factors that relate to any particular crime. That is not to say that I will instinctively agree with any particular sentencing.


Suicide Prevention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for writing to me about suicide prevention in Scotland.

I understand there are widespread concerns about the new Suicide Prevention Action Plan due to be published by the Scottish Government this summer.

The previous strategy expired in 2016, meaning Scotland has been without a strategy for two years at a time when suicide rates in Scotland have been rising. Suicide rates in Scotland are higher than the UK average and action must be taken now to reduce these numbers, which represent hundreds of personal tragedies.

We welcome the Samaritans work in this area, including their Local Action Saves Lives campaign and agree that local work is key to effective suicide prevention across Scotland.

We have previously written to the Mental Health Minister, Maureen Watt, twice requesting that local suicide prevention action is given a key role in the upcoming plan.

However, I understand the consultation paper published earlier this month failed to include many of the recommendations made during the Scottish Government’s own engagement events.

The Scottish Conservative Shadow Mental Health Minister, Annie Wells MSP, will write to Maureen Watt raising concerns about the Suicide Prevention Action Plan, and calling for the views and recommendations of those affected by suicide to be reflected in the new plan.

Thank you again for contacting me.


Devolution After Brexit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for contacting me about Brexit and the devolution settlement.

I understand your concerns about the status of the devolution settlement during Brexit. Brexit allows powers returning from the EU to come to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament will therefore be more powerful than ever before due to Brexit. The Scottish Conservatives have been consistently clear that Clause 11 of the UK Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill, as introduced, did not reflect the presumption of devolution.

The Scottish Conservatives are satisfied with amendments to the Bill since tabled by the UK Government, which do presume devolution for returning powers. We support continuing discussions between the Scottish and UK Governments on this matter. I and my Scottish Conservative colleagues have been consistent and vocal in our support for a strong devolved settlement, and will continue to be so.

The Scottish Conservatives have been clear that powers over farming and fisheries must be devolved where possible and that we also need to protect our UK internal market so that our farmers, fishermen and food producers do not face new barriers to business with Scotland’s most important market. So there are also areas where common frameworks are necessary.

We should also think of the current EU regulations on the environment as the floor, not the ceiling for our own new system.

When the UK becomes an independent Coastal State in 2020, we have the opportunity to take back control of waters and deciding who can access our waters and on what terms. The SNP, by contrast, are determined, at any cost, to get back into the EU, which under Article 38 of the Lisbon Treaty, means we would have to join the CFP.

Thank you again for contacting me.


Religious Observance in Schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for your contacting me regarding religious observance in schools.

The Scottish Conservatives consider that the current right of parents to request that their children opt out of any religious ceremony is appropriate and we support its continuation.

We believe that this issue is a matter for each school – following consultation with parents, staff, and pupils – to decide the most appropriate form of religious observance, bearing in mind the particular ethos of the school and its local community. We are also comfortable that school assemblies can include time for reflection which is inclusive of all pupils, whether or not they have a religious faith.

Moreover, we support religious and moral education as an important part of the school curriculum.  It enables pupils to learn about a whole range of religious beliefs, as well as to understand why some people do not have a religious belief.

Thank you once again for contacting me about this issue.


Post-Brexit Trade

 

 

 

 

 

 

The UK Government has made clear that as we leave the EU, our high standards for consumers, employees, the environment and animal welfare will be maintained.

Withdrawing from the EU will give us the opportunity to shape our own investment and trade opportunities.

It will drive greater openness with international partners and bring prosperity, growth and jobs to Scotland as part of the UK.

We do not believe the process of negotiating trade deals should be drastically altered, and we are content that the public have been consulted regularly, having exercised their democratic rights in local, Scottish and UK-wide elections on multiple occasions in the last three years.

We will support a sensible deal on Brexit that brings more powers back to Scotland and allows our exports to flourish.


Teachers Pay

Thank you for contacting me about teacher’s pay.

Teachers are conscientious professionals who work hard every day educating the next generation. I am enormously grateful for the work they do to ensure children have the best chance to succeed in life.

The policy on public sector pay has always recognised the need to be fair to public sector workers and protect jobs in the public sector, while balancing this with being fair to those who pay for it.

Notwithstanding the issues currently facing teachers, the EIS demand for a 10 per cent pay increase is not financially sustainable. It would place a substantial bill on both local and central government - one that is unaffordable in the present circumstances. I am therefore concerned that such an increase could lead to a further reduction in teacher numbers, at a time when teacher workload is already stretched.

We need to ensure that any pay increase is fully funded, and does not lead to reduced resources for frontline public services. 

Thank you for taking the time to contact me.


Animal Exports


Thank you for your correspondence about live animal exports. I appreciate you taking the time to give me your views.

Currently, the live shipment of Scottish stock to mainland Europe involves a small number of breeding, store and slaughter stock.

There are currently robust regulations in place, namely the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Council Regulation (EC) 1/2005, to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are maintained.

The safe transport of live animals, whether store or to slaughter, is hugely important to Scotland’s farmers and crofters, particularly for those in remote areas or on islands where access to local markets or abattoirs may be limited.  This is particularly relevant following the recent closure of the slaughterhouse in Orkney. While the regulation would not ban this practice, it could appear to the public as being out of step, especially if live shipping to slaughter is allowed within the UK whilst being banned for export.

Journeys within the UK, where animals are transported, are often much longer than those going abroad to the EU. Long distances, including ferry journeys, operate under the EU regulations mentioned and they protect animal welfare using vehicles and transporters specifically designed with welfare in mind.

We must remember that there have been concerns raised regarding the issue of live exports to the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland, and whether they would be covered by a ban too. Northern Ireland exported £16.7 million of live animals to the Republic of Ireland in 2016, which was 98 per cent of the total value of its animal exports.

We recognise that farm assurance systems, linking farms, transporters, markets and abattoirs help ensure that the highest animal welfare standards are being maintained.

With all of these points taken into consideration, we are not in support of an outright ban, as we believe it could have a negative impact on Scottish agriculture.

However, I am very happy to write to Fergus Ewing and ask him to provide an update on the Scottish Government’s position.

Thank you again for taking the time to get in touch.


Planning and Equality of Appeal

Thank you for contacting me. The Planning Bill contains some positive steps, such as simplified planning zones, which we would support. However, we will oppose the proposed infrastructure levy if it enables the Scottish Government to gather those funds, not councils.  The bill includes the draconian power to transfer functions from a local authority if a minister decides a council’s planning department isn’t performing is unnecessary. This bill could enable the Scottish Government to centralise decision making and undermine local democracy. The Scottish Government would even be able to take over a planning department. This is a slap in the face for localism.

The Scottish Conservatives support the measures that will speed up planning processes, ensure that planning decisions are made locally and that money gained from developers is ploughed back into their communities. The planning bill, as it stands, is a missed opportunity. It could go much further to revitalise the planning system and help more young people seeking to get on the property ladder.

With regard to equality of appeal, we are still considering the issue and will come to a view as the Bill progresses.


We back the campaign.

The Homelessness in Scotland: Bi-annual update highlighted that between 1 April and 30 September 2017, local authorities received 17,797 homelessness applications, an increase of 330 (2%) over the same period in the previous yea. There were 6,581 children in temporary accommodation on 30 September 2017, an increase of 594 (+10%) compared to 30 September 2016 (National Statistics for Scotland: Homelessness in Scotland: Bi-annual update 1 April to 30 September 2017, Link).

We support the ambition and many of the ideas in the Programme for Government on homelessness set out by the Scottish Government. Currently, the Scottish Parliament is examining the different approaches to eradicating homelessness so that we have a multi-layered approach to combating this social evil.

This issue is fundamentally one of housing supply and the SNP have repeatedly failed to meet housing targets. The number of new homes completed has fallen by more than a third under the SNP.

The Scottish Conservatives have proposed a range of ideas to increase the housing stock available, from planning reform through innovative infrastructure funding to meaningful action on empty homes. We urge the SNP to back these ideas.

The future direction of temporary accommodation in the coming years in Scotland, depends on the policy implementation of the SNP and future Scottish Government legislation.

Crisis Campaign ‘A Life in Crisis’ – unsuitable temporary accommodation