Please find below my stance on some of the key issues constituents' regularly raise...
SHORT TERM LETTING REGULATION
The Scottish Government’s property licensing proposals continue to represent a real threat to Scottish self-catering and are unfit for purpose. I do not believe the industry has been adequately consulted over these regulations.
There are numerous problems that we are already considering, including:
• The consultation process is potentially in breach of Scottish Government’s own best practice guidelines in terms of transparency, accountability, proportionality, and consistency
• The Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) has failed to take a Scotland-wide view of the industry. It is deeply flawed and recent resignations from the related industry working group show it is not widely supported by affected businesses
• The Scottish Government’s ‘Rural Scotland Key Facts’ report published in February 2021 contains important information which calls into question much of the motivation and reasoning for the licensing of short term lets across Scotland, and in rural areas such as the borders.
• The proposals are due to be taken forward as secondary legislation and this does not offer an appropriate level of scrutiny for such a change and at a time of post-pandemic recovery.
The uncertainty created by the proposals, the knock-on effect on tourism, the added difficulty it would cause in accessing finance, and the general disincentivisation of short term letting, among others, are key problems that must be addressed. I would like to thank my constituents for pointing out these issues.
Ultimately, the Scottish Government should listen to the industry’s concerns and scrap the current draft regulations. I will continue to put pressure on them to do so on your behalf, alongside that of other short-term letting businesses.
HATE CRIME ACT
Thank you for contacting me about the SNP Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act. Intolerance, bigotry, racism or prejudice of any kind should not be accepted anywhere in a civilised society. We must recognise the profound harm which hate crimes cause to the victim and the community they belong to, but there is a vital balance to be struck between freedom of expression and cracking down on prejudice. The SNP Government’s Hate Crime Act does not strike this balance. In general, I support the findings of Lord Bracadale’s review in 2018 that the best way to punish hate crime is by aggravators which can be added to existing crimes, rather than standalone hate crime offences. The SNP’s offences of ‘stirring up hatred’ threaten freedom of speech, and fail the simple tests of being clear, certain and capable of enforcement. There was an unprecedented response to the Justice Committee’s call for views on the Hate Crime Bill and most of those published raised grave concerns about this area. The Scottish Police Federation stated the bill could ‘devastate’ the relationship between the police and the public. The Scottish Newspaper Society said it ‘poses a serious threat to freedom of expression’ and the Faculty of Advocates warned that the Bill’s flaws mean there is ‘no alternative but to reconsider the draft bill’.
Our amendments which would have protected free speech were voted down by the SNP and all other parties. As a result, we voted against the Bill as it threatened freedom of speech and failed to protect the right to privacy.
The Scottish Conservatives would repeal the SNP’s Hate Crime Act with a Protection of Free Speech Bill, to protect our fundamental right to freedom of expression. The SNP ignored its flaws from the start despite widespread opposition from academics, lawyers, journalists, entertainers and faith groups.
I am disappointed that the SNP Government did not include an aggravator for criminals who target vulnerable persons like the elderly. Tougher sentences for these sorts of offenders is something the Scottish Conservatives have campaigned on for a number of years and was recommended by Lord Bracadale and Police Scotland. We also regard this Bill as a missed opportunity to make meaningful steps towards restorative justice – where the victim of crime is put at the heart of the justice process.
I agree that animals are not property but sentient beings and pets are cherished members of families. Therefore stealing one from a loving home is a particularly vicious crime. It is completely right to say that a surge in pet thefts during the pandemic and the links to organised crime have been an under-appreciated side-effect of lockdown.
Although criminal penalties for such offences are a devolved matter, in 2018 several Scottish Conservative MPs came together to support a new Bill addressing this issue specifically and establish a new offence of the theft of a pet, aiming to see the provisions adopted within Scotland via Legislative Consent. Unfortunately this Bill was not able to make progress. In the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Conservative MSPs have continued to press the issue. In June 2020, for instance, during a debate over the new Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, colleagues argued that a review of the operation of the law should be required to consider including pet theft as a specific offence.
We did achieve some success in that Bill when my colleague, Liam Kerr, was able to insert ‘Finn’s Law’ – which removed the defence of fear for attacks on police dogs and other service animals and made sure attacks on such animals could be punished with up to five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. For too long, attacks on police dogs were treated similarly to a broken window or other vandalism.
I commit to support a review of the law on pet theft with a few to toughening penalties, and looking at ways to increase the priority given to these sorts of crimes by the police right now.
Overall, I believe issues like animal welfare will be sidetracked by the SNP Government’s continual push for a divisive second independence referendum in the next few years when we are trying to recover from the pandemic.
We want Scotland and the wider United Kingdom to continue to be a welcoming country to all those fleeing oppression and persecution. Importantly, when asylum seekers are forced to flee their own countries, it is vital that the accommodation contracts we have in place sufficiently support them. It is not acceptable that people are living in the dire circumstances which you have set out.
The Scottish Conservatives firmly believe that everyone should have a roof over their head and not be left helpless.
We will make representations to the Home Office to further understand what action has been taken to ensure that asylum seekers in this type of accommodation are being protected and have proper access to food, a clean living space and a safe environment.
I recognise the huge pain and distress caused by eating disorders, such as anorexia, the mental illness which kills more people than any other. Eating disorders primarily affect young people, and often prove to be family tragedies, as well as personal ones, if left untreated. However, with the right treatment, delivered on-time, these tragedies can be avoided, and full recoveries achieved.
We welcomed the review published by the Scottish Government earlier in the year, especially the recognition that urgent support for people with eating disorders was a priority recommendation. The Scottish Conservatives urge the Scottish Government to act on this and improve access to services, ensuring people with eating disorders are seen as soon as possible due to the extreme risks posed by the condition.
Regarding the menu point that you mention, there must a careful balance between enabling people to make healthier food and drink choices whilst not negatively impacting on those with or recovering from an eating disorder.
JOINT REPLACEMENT SURGERY
I understand that arthritis affects a large number of people in Scotland, and is one of the biggest cause of pain and disability in the country. I recognise that living with a long-term condition, such as arthritis, has a significant impact upon a person’s wellbeing and I thank Versus Arthritis for raising awareness of this issue.
The NHS rightly diverted time and resources to tackling COVID-19. However, the halting of services and the dramatic reduction in hospital operations like joint replacement surgery is not without cost and must be reversed as soon as possible.
The Scottish Conservatives will push the SNP Government to return the provision of arthritis care to pre-COVID-19 levels in a safe and effective way, as soon as possible. That is why we proposed a clinician-led, ring-fenced fund with the sole remit of bringing treatment times under control and tackling the backlog within our NHS.
Arthritis hasn’t stopped because of the pandemic and patients must be able to access vital treatment like joint replacement surgery.
COVID-19 BOOSTER JAB (ASTHMA)
The vaccination programme has been an incredible success story across Scotland and the United Kingdom. Its rollout is of the utmost importance, and we have always been clear that the process should be clinically led. That is why we supported the plans to vaccinate the population in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority list. This meant lowering overall risk of death through vaccinating elderly age groups, frontline healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups as a priority in the first phase of the vaccination process.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has published its interim advice for a two stage booster vaccination programme beginning in September. The first stage would include, among others, those who are clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and the second stage would include adults 16-49 who are in either a flu or COVID-19 at risk group.
This means that those who are usually eligible for the annual flu vaccine would be included in the second stage. This is however only interim advice and the JCVI will consider additional scientific data ahead of publishing the final advice in due course.
The situation you describe of a postcode lottery is unacceptable, so I will be following developments closely and will keep an eye on the advice given for those with asthma.