The Wildlife and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill
Thank you for contacting me regarding the forthcoming Stage 1 debate on The Wildlife and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill.
I, along with my fellow Scottish Conservatives, want to conserve nature and enhance biodiversity, but we will not be supporting the general principles presented by the Bill. It goes beyond the recommendations of the Werritty review grouse_moor_management_review_group_report_scottish_government.pdf (dundee.ac.uk), could lead to rodent infestations, and its plans for grouse moor licensing, raptor persecution, and muirburn are excessive.
We also have concerns that the Bill will deprive Scotland’s rural communities of the vital tools they need to conserve our natural environment.
Israel and Gaza
The events we have seen unfolding in Israel are truly horrific. I join the UK Government in utterly condemning the appalling attacks perpetrated by Hamas, standing resolutely with Israel in defending itself against terror and highlighting the need to act in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The UK recognises the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and supports a lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike. However, Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people or their aspirations; it offers nothing for them other than more terror and more bloodshed. I therefore support Israel’s right to go after Hamas, take back the hostages, deter further incursions and strengthen its security for the long term.
The loss of every innocent life is a tragedy, and while acknowledging that Hamas has enmeshed itself amidst the civilian population of Gaza, the UK Government has called on and will continue to call on Israel to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.
The terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas are heinous and unprecedented, and I support Israel’s right to defend itself proportionately as guaranteed by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The UK recognises that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people, and has made it absolutely clear to the Israeli Government that its military operations must be conducted in accordance with International Humanitarian Law. Civilians must be respected and protected. I know that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have emphasised the importance of taking all possible measures to protect innocent civilians in their discussions with their Israeli counterparts.
The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza is deeply troubling. On 23 October the Government announced an additional £20 million of humanitarian aid. This latest funding is in addition to the £10 million of aid announced by the Prime Minister on 16 October, and brings to £30 million the total donated by the UK to the OPTs since Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel on 7 October. This additional funding is more than doubling our existing aid commitment for the Occupied Palestinian Territories this year (£27 million). I have also been assured that the UK will consider further support depending on changing humanitarian needs on the ground.
However, funding alone is not enough, and I welcome the extensive diplomatic efforts the UK is making to ensure humanitarian support reaches those who need it. The Prime Minister has raised humanitarian support during his meetings with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Palestinian Authority, and during the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to the region, he spoke to counterparts in Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to work with them to push for agreement on ongoing humanitarian access to Gaza. The UK Government has also been clear that it recognises the need for humanitarian pauses to deliver aid safely and in a sustained way.
There are calls for the UK to push for a ceasefire. The UK is working via all diplomatic channels—bilaterally and collectively in the region—to ensure that this conflict, which has cost so many lives already, can be brought to a halt. However, the reality is that Hamas have no interest in a ceasefire. They have no interest in resolution, have never attempted to engage in a two-state solution and have made every attempt to collapse the Oslo process.
I will continue to follow this fast-moving situation closely.
The recent ruling by the Court of Session stated that the City of Edinburgh Council’s short-term lets licencing policy was unlawful.
I am growing increasingly concerned by the sheer complexity of the system, and the challenges being placed on small businesses across the area. Livelihoods are at risk.
This legal decision is another example of the Council failing to do their due diligence and a scheme which has faced problems from the outset.
On 1 October 2022, the law around short-term lets changed and now requires hosts to apply for a short-term let licence before they can accept bookings or receive guests. Although, the application deadline for existing operators has now been extended to October 2023.
When the final version of the licensing scheme was brought to Parliament only the Scottish Conservatives expressed concerns, and it is regrettable that this legislation was approved.
I support the right of homeowners and tenants to enjoy the use of their property, but I know that the SNP-Green Government’s policy will impact on self-catering businesses, as well as Airbnb and similar short-term let providers.
Tourism businesses across Scotland have been devastated by the pandemic and the last thing they need is to be burdened by more red tape. The Scottish Conservatives warned SNP-Green Ministers that the scheme was unworkable, but they failed to listen.
It is now time that SNP-Green Ministers suspended the short term lets legislation and consult again on a workable solution which would deliver the health and safety outcomes we all want to see.
Going forward, please be assured the Scottish Conservatives will continue to challenge the SNP-Green Government on this issue with the aim of ensuring that any changes to the law in this area are both necessary and proportionate.
Thank you for contacting me about the teacher strikes.
I recognise the huge importance of the work teachers do. The education of future generations is vital to the success of this country. I know the last thing teachers want is to be on strike over pay and as a result unable to educate our children and young people.
As you will be well aware, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union is currently in the midst of strike action until at least the 21st April.
On the 15th of February the EIS unanimously rejected the SNP latest pay offer branding it ‘inadequate’ and unacceptable’.
The lack of urgency on the part of the SNP Education Secretary to resolve this dispute is stark and the continuing disruption is a damning legacy of a party who claim education is their top priority.
Already, Scottish pupils and parents have had to deal with rescheduled preliminary exams and now face additional disruption because of the SNP’s failure to reach a deal with the teachers’ union. Over the last 16 years the SNP have run down Scotland’s education system and it is clear that teachers now have had enough.
I do not want to see the education of children and young people further disrupted and I urge the SNP Government to recognise the hard work teachers put in, fully engage in negotiations and propose a fair pay offer to teachers so these strikes can end and get teachers back to teaching.
Gender recognition reform Bill
Thank you for contacting me regarding the SNP Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
The Scottish Conservatives recognise that improvements to the system of gender recognition would be beneficial for trans people. Now that the SNP Government have published their Bill we will constructively scrutinise proposals that may help to make the system and process easier.
However, as drafted, the proposals do not protect women’s rights and they do not offer enough protection for women’s safety. Women have raised legitimate and reasonable concerns about sections of this bill and it is essential that the SNP Government both listens to and addresses those concerns.
Improving the process for transgender people must not come at the expense of women’s rights and safety.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me on this issue.
Energy Charter Treaty and the threat to a just transition
As you will be aware, the ECT, which is the largest international agreement of its kind, continues to play a crucial role in promoting investment in the energy sector and fostering international cooperation on energy, including in the development of renewable energy worldwide.
For the last two years, those party to the ECT have been negotiating its modernisation to ensure that it is aligned with common climate objectives. I am encouraged by the announcement, on 24 June 2022, of an agreement to this end.
It is important to note that, as of today, the UK has never faced an investor-state dispute under the ECT that has proceeded arbitration. However, the new terms of the Treaty, due to be signed in 2022, will limit costly legal challenges from fossil fuel investors in the UK, reducing the risk to British taxpayers and ensuring the benefits of the ECT remain.
Furthermore, the modernised treaty will protect the UK Government’s sovereign right to change its own energy systems to reach emissions reductions targets in line with the Paris Agreement. It has a stronger climate focus, clarifying that states can regulate to reach emissions reductions targets, and includes new protections for green and low-carbon technologies.
The UK tabled terms which mean new investments in all types of fossil fuels lose protection under the ECT following entry into force. Existing investments in fossil fuels will lose protection under the ECT ten years after entry into force of the modernised treaty, except for existing investments in coal which would lose protection from 1 October 2024. This position includes some exceptions for abated gas, which will play a key role in the UK’s net zero transition.
Buffer zones around abortion clinics
Thank you for getting in touch with me about buffer zones around abortion clinics.
I understand that the Scottish Government is currently considering taking forward legislation to introduce anti-protest or buffer zones around abortion clinics. Gillian Mackay has also said that she will bring forward a Member’s Bill on this issue if the government does not do so.
Abortion clinics are an essential legal medical service. No women should feel that they are being stigmatised against and discouraged from accessing abortion services.
As such, I will engage constructively with any proposals that are brought forward by either the government or an individual MSP to enhance protections for women who are accessing these services.
While I acknowledge that there is a right to protest, this must not come at the expense of women’s health and their right to access medical services free of prejudice.
Political bias in the classroom
Thank you for contacting me regarding the political bias in the classroom.
The Scottish Conservatives fully support unbiased political education in our schools. Our pupils are the future of our country, so it is critical that they gain a solid understanding of a wide range of political beliefs and current issues.
Teachers have an obligation to be objective and professional when distributing information, with the purpose of stimulating discussion and independent thought. Pupils must be exposed to all sides of an argument in order to have a well-formed opinion and to further develop their own ideas, but at no time should that cross over into the expression of politically partisan opinions where they are held by any individual teacher.
Unfortunately, pro-SNP material seeping into our classrooms is not a new trend. Recently, an S1 Modern Studies class was given a 34-page booklet and urged to come to their own conclusions about issues including independence. This contained 16 pictures of the First Minister and other SNP politicians and shows two completed ballot papers with the boxes ticked for pro-independence parties. There was only one picture of a Labour MSP and logo, and no mention of the Scottish Conservatives. On another occasion, an S3 Modern Studies class, were asked to compile a list of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘important policies.’ Pupils were given ‘useful’ links, one of which goes to the SNP’s website. After listing the achievements, it concludes: ‘If you haven’t yet, join the SNP today to help secure independence…’ However, the SNP Government seem unconcerned about addressing the problem.
Parents should have the opportunity to raise with the headteacher any concerns they have over perceived bias.