Strengthened animal and wildlife legislation welcomed

Iain Gray MSP has joined Scottish Labour colleagues in voting for amendments that will bring about more robust animal welfare laws and tougher penalties for cruelty offences, including new protection for mountain hares.

The amendments, which are rooted in the understanding that animals are sentient, also make sure that the Animals and Wildlife (Scotland) Bill improves animal rights in the face of the current global climate emergency.

The Bill now means there will be tougher sentences for the destruction of badger setts and nesting, resting places for wildlife, as well as for setting illegal traps or snares. It will also introduce a ban on the unlicensed culling of mountain hares and make them a protected species, an issue raised with Mr Gray by several constituents.

The amendments will also mean that courts are able to order empathy training as part of community payback orders in appropriate cases involving animal or wildlife cruelty.

Commenting on the legislation, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This legislation will deliver more meaningful and robust change in the protection of Scotland’s wildlife, a cause I know many East Lothian residents are passionate about. This is particularly the case with mountain hares, a species which has seen a decline in numbers over decades.

“The destruction of habitats can cause as much damage and risk of death as a direct attack on wildlife. East Lothian is home to some of Scotland’s most cherished wildlife and we should be doing everything possible to protect it.

“I was pleased that the setting of illegal traps and snares will now be a serious vicarious liability crime. It is disappointing that other amendments on vicarious liability were not supported though, as land owners have very limited liability for wildlife crimes committed on their properties.

It is also disappointing that the amendment to enhance Marine Protected Areas was not passed as it would have given the same protections to marine wildlife and relevant habitats in the marine environment as by land.

“However, passing this Bill is just the first step in improving how we tackle these crimes. It is now vital that these penalties are backed up with an enforcement system that is properly equipped to deal with these important issues.”

Scottish Labour’s amendments to the legislation also ensure the ability of public bodies to share information to ensure better protection for animals.

Iain announces he will retire from Holyrood next year

Iain Gray MSP has announced that he will not contest next year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Gray, the former Scottish Labour leader who has served as the constituency’s MSP since 2007, told local party members this week that he will not be asking them to re-select him as the party’s candidate for 2021.

In an email to members, Mr Gray announced his decision to retire from Parliament and thanked them for their support over the last 13 years, during which he was twice re-elected to Holyrood as the county’s MSP.  Mr Gray was originally elected as an MSP in Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, in 1999.

Speaking about his decision to stand down, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Serving the East Lothian constituency since 2007 has been one of the greatest honours of my life and I’ve enjoyed every moment of representing our unique and very special area at Holyrood. I often say that East Lothian is the best constituency in Scotland, and the best place in Scotland to live, and I mean it.

“I had the privilege of being part of the first Scottish Parliament intake in 1999, before East Lothian gave me the opportunity to return to Holyrood in 2007 and then serve as my party’s leader, and I will always be grateful for that.

“The decision to stand down is not an easy one, and was made even harder by the incredibly difficult circumstances we have all faced over the last three months. However, I will be 64 next year, almost 69 by the end of the next parliament and  after more than 20 years at the frontline of Scottish politics, next year is the right time for me to step aside and hand over to someone else to represent East Lothian’s interests.

 “I really, genuinely do want to spend more time with my family, especially my wife Gil who has supported me unstintingly through all the ups and downs of political life, and the seven fantastic grandchildren with whom I am now blessed.

“I want to say a huge thank-you to all of the constituents who’ve shown me such support and kindness over the last 13 years, and the many local organisations, charities and businesses that have welcomed me during that time. Special thanks are due to all of my constituency office staff over the years, the best in the business, who do the hard work while I take the credit. 

“I will, of course, continue to serve as the county’s MSP for the rest of my term and intend to do so to the best of my ability until the election in May next year.”

Backing those currently excluded from COVID-19 support

The aims of a campaign lobbying for those so far entirely or largely excluded from government COVID-19 financial support measures have been backed by Iain Gray MSP.

Launched last month, ExcludedUK represents a broad spectrum of individuals and businesses, all sharing one common thread – they have been excluded from COVID-19 support. The campaign is aiming to help enable the changes that are needed for those currently missing out to receive the support they need.

There are a variety of categories of people who have not received government support during the crisis, with the total affected estimated to be as high as 3 million across the UK. These include the newly self-employed, self-employed with +50k trading profits, PAYE freelancers, new starters, those denied furlough, Directors paid PAYE annually or paid in dividends and those ineligible for Business Grants.

Mr Gray has been contacted by several East Lothian residents who are in one of these categories. He has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes to urge her to raise the matter with her UK counterpart, and to explore what further support the Scottish Government can offer those who have so far been excluded.

Earlier this week the UK Parliament’s cross-party Treasury Committee published a unanimously-agreed interim report as part of its inquiry into the Economic Impact of Coronavirus called Gaps in Support.

The Chair of the Committee said that it has identified well over a million people who – through no fault of their own – have lost livelihoods while being locked down and locked out of the main support programmes. The report makes several recommendations to help those who have fallen through the gaps.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on nearly every sector of the economy. While governments across the UK moved quickly to put support measures in place to help businesses and individuals hit by the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that many people are still falling through the gaps and receiving no support at all.

“Earlier this week, the UK Parliament’s Treasury Committee confirmed that at least one million of those newly in employment, various kinds of self-employment and freelancers are currently left out of income support schemes.

“I’ve heard harrowing stories from constituents who have been unable to access the support they need to keep their businesses going or simply support their families and pay their bills. This cannot continue, and the UK and Scottish Governments have to listen to campaigners and take steps to support those who are currently missing out.”

Find out more or tell the campaign about your story at www.excludeduk.org/excluded-uk-an-inclusive-alliance-for-the-excluded.

Free service available for older people experiencing loneliness

This year’s Loneliness Awareness Week started on Monday and runs until Sunday 21st June, and as part of the week’s activities Age Scotland is highlighting a new service for older people who are experiencing loneliness.

The charity has launched a new free friendship call service that any older people who are feeling lonely can call for a friendly chat. You can call them for free on 0800 12 44 222.

Commenting on the new service, Iain Gray MSP said:

“We can all feel lonely at times. But for many people right now during lockdown, often shielding on their own, they are more lonely than ever. This Loneliness Awareness Week, please make an extra effort to reach out to people you know, especially those who live alone, and have a chat. It could mean the world to them.

“If you are older and feeling lonely, why not pick up the phone and call Age Scotland for a blether and a friendly chat. Call them for free on 0800 12 44 222. I know that they would love to speak with you.”

Visit www.age.scot/friendship for more information about the service and Age Scotland’s other work tackling loneliness.

Skills Development Scotland employment and redundancy advice

Skills Development Scotland has a comprehensive range of FAQs relating to employment and redundancy to help you if you have entered into a period of consultation with your employer, have lost your job or have questions about your employment.

Click here to view the FAQs and find other information on the range of career information, advice and guidance provided by SDS, including its online jobs hub and learning portal.

You can also call the agency’s helpline on 0800 917 8000 for advice.

Iain will back amendments to strengthen animal welfare laws

Iain Gray MSP will today back amendments to strengthen the Animals and Wildlife Bill by toughening legal penalties in cases of cruelty, selling illegal pesticides and failure to comply with protected marine areas.

The amendments submitted by Scottish Labour colleagues at Stage 3 of the Bill will also mean landowners are held accountable when crimes against wildlife are committed on their land, and will give courts the option of imposing restorative justice sentences aimed at developing empathy skills for offenders where appropriate.

If carried, these amendments will improve and reinforce the Bill as it is enshrined in law.

Commenting on the amendments, Iain Gray MSP said:

“All of Scotland is poorer when our biodiversity diminishes, and it is absolutely right that our wildlife, both land and sea, are offered better protections during a climate and environmental emergency.

“The Scottish Government has a chance today to improve its record on animal rights and agree to the holistic set of amendments tabled by my colleagues to tackle issues such as inadequate penalties for animal abuse and wildlife protection, poor information sharing, and the inconsistent use of Disqualification Orders.”

Iain demands clarity for parents on return of schools

Speaking during today’s Topical Questions in the Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray MSP asked the Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney why the Scottish Government have not published a detailed route map for the re-opening of Scotland’s schools in August.

Mr Swinney’s defensive reply, perhaps understandable given the shambolic communication on the issue over the last couple of days, was that his framework published nearly a month ago provides such a route map.

In fact, the framework only considers questions about the partial re-opening in August with no plan or timetable for getting children back to school full-time.

Speaking after his question, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Scottish Government have produced a detailed route map for the reopening of economic and social life, it’s not perfect, but at least it is a timetabled plan towards normality for every part of Scotland. So why on earth is there not a route map for a return to full time school for every pupil in Scotland?

“I’ve had emails from parents across Scotland asking for more details about schools returning to normal and for greater clarity from the Scottish Government following the mixed messages from John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon over the past 48 hours.

“I’m not sure those angry and concerned parents will be reassured by this response. The framework he refers to simply gets us to partially open schools in August – for only one day per week in some parts of Scotland. It has no plan never mind a timetable for moving our children back to full time schooling.”

Mr Gray’s question and the Cabinet Secretary’s response can be viewed here.

Save Our Scotland campaign

Iain Gray MSP is urging local people to consider supporting a new emergency fundraising campaign launched by The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) to maintain its heritage work as it expects to lose almost half of its income this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The charity has launched the Save Our Scotland campaign with the aim of raising at least £2.5m to make sure it can continue to protect the 88 visited properties, 300,000+ artefacts and more than 76,000 hectares of countryside and gardens it is responsible for.

NTS expects to lose £28m in income in 2020, which represents about half (48%) of the charity’s total income (£57.9m) in 2018/19. The trust has said that “a drop in income will see sites mothballed or worse still sold to private owners”.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“NTS is the guardian of many of Scotland’s most important cultural heritage properties and sites, including some, like Preston Mill, here in East Lothian, as well as carrying out important conservation work. The charity’s ability to protect some of Scotland’s most iconic and special places is now under threat.

“I know many charities are experiencing dramatic falls in their income due to the pandemic, but the potential loss of so many important historic and heritage sites would be a national disaster. That is why I am helping promote the Trust’s new fundraising campaign.”

Find out more about the Save Our Scotland campaign and the work of NTS at www.nts.org.uk/donate.

RNIB funding boost welcomed

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed the news that sight loss charity RNIB has been awarded £38,220 from the National Lottery Community Fund to extend support to blind and partially sighted people during the coronavirus lockdown.

The charity already has a grant from the fund to provide welfare benefits advice and support to clients across Scotland, and the additional funding announced today will cover costs associated with its community response to Covid-19.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Like many other charities, RNIB has continued to provide invaluable advice and support to its clients throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The charity has seen an increase in calls for assistance during the crisis, so I’m glad that it has received this funding boost from the National Lottery to support its vital work.”

Gillian Hallard, welfare benefits team leader at RNIB, said:

“As a result of the funding we have already received through the National Lottery, RNIB has been able to provide welfare benefits advice to 1,400 blind and partially sighted people.

“This has been influential in shaping the advice and support we can provide and has enabled us to strengthen our offer and meet the needs of people across Scotland.”

“We want ensure we are there for our customers to offer advice, provide support, or just listen to whatever challenges they are facing. The funding from the National Lottery supports us to continue this vital work.”

The RNIB Scotland helpline number is 0303 123999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk/scotland for more information.

Iain praises East Lothian’s support for refugees

At the start of this year’s Refugee Week (15-21 June), Iain Gray MSP has thanked East Lothian Aid for Refugees, East Lothian Welcomes Refugees, East Lothian Council and other groups and individuals involved in supporting refugees here and around the world.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Around the world millions of children and families have fled persecution, violence and famine and are now living as refugees.

“There is a real risk that many who are already living in vulnerable situations with limited health systems, poor sanitation and cramped conditions – where self-isolation is impossible – will be hit hardest in the face of Covid-19.

“I am proud of the work that local groups and individuals have done in East Lothian to welcome and support refugees, and all those who have been incredibly supportive of countries and communities hosting those seeking sanctuary.”

Refugee Week runs from 15-21 June and is the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees and promoting understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

Find out more about Refugee Week at https://refugeeweek.org.uk/