– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th November 2022.
8. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Historic Environment Scotland site closures. (S6O-01547)
The access restrictions at some properties in care are regrettable, but protecting individuals’ health and safety must come first. Historic Environment Scotland has had to make informed, responsible and technically sound decisions about safety. Its prioritised inspection programme has progressed well, and it has now completed the first phase. While Historic Environment Scotland undertakes that work, no site is being left without care, and there is full or partial access to 80 per cent of the properties that it cares for. Details of the inspection programme and site re-openings are published on the HES website.
It is an understatement to say that the restrictions are “regrettable”. The situation comes off the back of years of chronic underfunding for protection of those valuable sites, and the devastating effect on local tourism of people turning up to find sites fenced off and crumbling, as is the case with Lochranza castle on the Isle of Arran.
The issues must be addressed. We know that Historic Environment Scotland is looking at a very gloomy forecast for its budget, but this is not a budget question; it is an organisational question. When will Historic Environment Scotland properly invest in the sites in order to get them re-opened to the public and get much-needed tourism back to those valuable assets?
Jamie Greene says that it is not a budget question, but the Historic Environment Scotland budget is higher this year than it was pre-Covid. We continue to invest in Historic Environment Scotland.
With regard to Lochranza castle, external fencing has been removed, but the site will remain closed internally until a high-level masonry survey is carried out. I think that Jamie Greene would agree that it is right that health and safety comes first. The inspection date is still to be confirmed.
I am happy for Jamie Greene to correspond with Historic Environment Scotland, which can host him at Lochranza castle or at any other of the sites in his constituency. However, I note that he has not actually corresponded with HES to date.
One HES site that we in Shetland do not want to see being closed is Jarlshof, which is the site of a prehistoric and Norse settlement and is described as
“one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the UK.”
What can the Scottish Government do to impress on HES the importance of making progress with long-awaited toilet and car parking facilities to ensure that the visitor experience is not marred by people having to search for the nearest public toilet?
As with the questions from Jamie Greene,
I am happy to maintain contact with HES regarding the site in Beatrice Wishart’s constituency. If she would take value from a site visit with HES to hear about the progress that it is making, I am happy to ensure that that can be facilitated.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
In the response that was just given to me, notwithstanding the content of it, the minister seemed to imply that he knew of correspondence that I had or had not had with a public body. How did he know that information, and is it appropriate for public bodies to share with ministers, ahead of portfolio questions, information about private correspondence between members and those organisations? [
.] I would be extremely concerned about such information being disclosed to ministers by agencies ahead of question times in order to inform ministers of agencies’ responses in advance of questions even being asked in the chamber.
I thank Mr Greene for his point of order. [
.] I am trying to respond to Mr Greene’s point of order, and I am not being assisted by members muttering away from sedentary positions.
Mr Mountain, could I please respond to Mr Greene’s point of order first? Would that be possible? Thank you.
Mr Greene will be aware that the contents of ministers’ or any members’ contributions are not a matter for the chair. Mr Greene will also be well aware of the various routes by which he can pursue the matter. I will leave that there.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer. I did not mean to interrupt you. I would not want to do that because I wanted to hear your answer. My point of order was that I could not hear your answer because there was some barracking going on in the background. As I am hard of hearing, I found the answer hard to comprehend. I apologise for interrupting, and I am grateful that I heard your answer.
Could I respond, please, to Mr Mountain’s point of order? Thank you so much, Mr Kerr, for your kindness.
I agree entirely with Mr Mountain that less barracking in the chamber would be beneficial to everybody, including all the members of the public in the gallery, who are here to listen to how we conduct ourselves.
I appreciate your kindness in allowing me to raise this point of order. Would you confirm that—
We cannot hear you, Mr Kerr. I am not sure what is happening. Maybe your card is in the wrong way.
Forgive me for that incompetence.
I am grateful to you for taking my point of order, Presiding Officer, because I am deeply concerned by the insinuation in the minister’s answer and I would like clarity from you, as a protector of Parliament, on whether it would be normal for a minister to seek information from a public body about correspondence that might or might not have been engaged in between a member of this Parliament and that public body. That is what was insinuated in the response; if it were true, that would be pretty sinister, in my view.
Thank you. That is not a point of order, because it is not a matter for the chair. I will repeat, if I recall it correctly, what I said to Mr Greene on the first point of order on this subject: the substance of members’ contributions is not, broadly speaking, a matter for the chair, as Mr Kerr well knows.
However, if Mr Kerr or any other member wishes to pursue any particular matter, they will be aware of all the routes through which that can be done.
We will move on to the next item of business after a short pause to allow the front-bench teams to change over.