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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 22, 2022


Topical Question Time

The next item of business is topical question time. In order to get in as many members as possible, I would be grateful for short and succinct questions and answers.

Serious Violent Offenders (Prevention of Change of Name)

1. Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank Jamie Greene for his words about our friend and colleague, David Hill.

To ask the Scottish Government whether there are any measures in place to prevent serious violent offenders from changing their names. (S6T-00613)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

On behalf of the entire Scottish National Party group, I ask Jamie Greene to accept our sincere condolences for the tragic and untimely death of David Hill, not least from me, as a fellow graduate of the University of Dundee.

Registered sex offenders are already obliged by law to notify the police of any change of name. Sex offender notification requirements apply to an individual, irrespective of the name that they use.

Multi-agency public protection arrangements—known as MAPPA—provide a robust statutory framework for management of high-risk offenders in the community. Under those arrangements, the responsible authorities—which are the police, health boards, the Scottish Prison Service and local authorities—work together to assess and manage the risks that are posed by those individuals. Agencies can use a range of safeguards, including surveillance, electronic tagging, curfews, sexual offence prevention orders and other civil orders that are intended to reduce the risk of sexual harm. MAPPA documentation includes recording of any aliases.

Police Scotland’s domestic abuse disclosure scheme has helped to safeguard those who have been suffering from, or are at risk of, domestic abuse. By the fifth anniversary of the operation of the scheme in 2020, more than 8,400 requests had been made to the scheme and 4,536 people had been told that their current partner had a violent or abusive past.

Russell Findlay

We know that at least 36 registered sex offenders have legally changed their names and have told the police. There will be others whom we do not know about. Every single one of those people poses a potential danger to the public—not least to women and children. Does the cabinet secretary think that it is right that predators can deceive the public by hiding their identities in that way?

Keith Brown

I repeat the point: registered sex offenders are already obliged by law to notify the police of any change of name, and sex offender notification requirements apply to an individual irrespective of the name that they use.

There are a number of other checks. I have mentioned one that they are obliged to follow. There are checks that can be attached to a sexual offences prevention order that limit a person’s ability to use social media. The disclosure scheme that is used by the police—which was previously known as Clare’s law—has been in use for five years and has helped more than 4,000 people, as I said. Disclosure Scotland also carries out checks.

So, a number of checks can be made in relation to the matter. Russell Findlay will be pleased—or, to some extent, reassured—to know that, of all the main crime groups, sexual offences have the lowest reconviction rate. I am more than happy to discuss potential improvements to the system with any member.

Russell Findlay

The consequences of the loophole are catastrophic. Rapist Jason Graham changed his name to Jason Evans. He then raped and murdered Esther Brown. Scott Storey murdered his partner, changed his name to Scott Stewart and attacked another woman.

Allowing violent criminals to change their names enables them to hide in our communities and it puts people at risk. Will the cabinet secretary give a clear commitment to close that loophole?

Keith Brown

That suggestion requires serious thought, in line with the provisions that are already in place, not all of which the member will be aware of. I have mentioned a number of them. Substantial checks are made. It is always the case that a person might refuse to follow those checks, but the police, social workers and others who work in the area monitor sex offenders’ activities. A range of checks are currently undertaken.

The landscape is complex. If Russell Findlay—or any other member—is able to identify what he calls a loophole, or to suggest some improvement of the system, I am more than happy to discuss that. We should all want to improve the safety of our communities.

What steps are being taken, through the new “Vision for Justice in Scotland”, to protect victims from serious crime?

Keith Brown

As the convener of the Criminal Justice Committee, Audrey Nicoll will know that violence in any form clearly has no place in our vision for a just, safe and resilient Scotland. She will also be aware that, in the vision, we take a public health approach that seeks to tackle violence through prevention and early intervention, in order to reduce the numbers of victims and of people reoffending, and to help to build safer communities.

Since 2008, we have invested more than £24 million in violence prevention activities. That includes the work of the violence reduction unit and Medics Against Violence, as well as delivery of programmes such as the mentors in violence prevention scheme; No Knives, Better Lives; and our hospital navigator service. Audrey Nicoll’s question allows me to point out that we want, of course, to ensure that we do not have victims in the first place, which is why violence prevention is how we should try to tackle the issue. However, we need to ensure that, when a person is convicted of such a crime, we have the maximum possible protection in place for our communities.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The case of Scott Storey, who was out on licence after committing murder, and who had changed his name, is a prime example of the need to constantly review our law. The cabinet secretary mentioned Clare’s law and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which requires women to make an inquiry.

Could the cabinet secretary clarify today, or in writing to me, whether it is an offence not to disclose a new relationship? There is a requirement for people to tell their social worker, but is it an offence not to do so? Should that be reviewed? Should there also, perhaps, be a review of Clare’s law to consider whether to allow police officers to directly inform women who find themselves in a relationship with an ex-offender?

Keith Brown

On that last question, I have already said in response to the initial question that I am happy to discuss the issues and to consider what improvements can be made.

On the first part of Pauline McNeill’s question, she will appreciate that not disclosing that information is very often a breach of conditions. I would have to check whether that would equate to an illegal or criminal act. However, it would certainly be a breach of conditions in many cases, and might result in a person being taken back into custody. I am happy to write to her with more information on that.

Ferry Staff (Job Losses at Cairnryan)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with DP World and P&O Ferries regarding the loss of jobs for ferry staff working out of Cairnryan. (S6T-00610)

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

The First Minister and I met the P&O chief executive officer, Peter Hebblethwaite, on Thursday 17 March. The First Minister spoke in the strongest of terms about the appalling manner in which decisions had been taken by P&O, including the method that was used to communicate the redundancies to staff. P&O’s behaviour last week reflected industrial practices that have no place in the modern workplace, and the reputational damage that such action will have might well have lasting consequences for the company.

The Scottish Government believes that there must be meaningful dialogue between employers and employees and trade unions to ensure that employees are treated fairly, which clearly has not been the case with P&O. Although employment law is a reserved matter, we will use our fair work policy to promote fair work practices across the labour market in Scotland, and we are already providing support to employees who are affected by redundancy through our PACE—partnership action for continuing employment—programme.

Separately, the Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise is representing the Scottish Government at the world expo in Dubai this week and we are endeavouring to organise a discussion with DP World at a senior level so that Mr McKee can record the Scottish Government’s serious concerns about P&O’s course of action and its conduct in confirming the redundancies.

On behalf of every part of the Scottish Government, I want to be absolutely clear that, in the fairer Scotland that we are committed to creating, there is no place for companies treating their employees as P&O has done. Unless and until such companies change how they behave towards their employees, they will find it very hard to get support in any form from the Scottish Government now or in the future.

Katy Clark

Is the minister aware that safety concerns have been raised previously in relation to seafarer fatigue on P&O ferries in a report by Professor Andy Smith of Cardiff University? Given that the new crew will be working even longer shifts and as much as a seven-day week for a continuous eight weeks, will the minister ask for an urgent meeting with the safety regulator, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency?

Jenny Gilruth

I am not sighted on the specific report that Katy Clark highlights, but I am absolutely committed to raising some of the safety concerns that she has raised today.

Katy Clark will recognise some of the challenges that we, as a Government, face because employment law is reserved. Nonetheless, it is important that we work with the United Kingdom Government. P&O workers absolutely deserve to know that the UK Government is leaving no stone unturned, but, equally, it is important that ministers have an open dialogue. That has not yet happened, although I know that officials have been in discussions since last Thursday. Additionally, I appreciate that the situation is moving fast. We do not yet have clarity on the number of jobs that will be impacted in Scotland. When we get that granular detail, we will be able to provide more support.

On Katy Clark’s specific question on safety concerns and any undercutting of, for example, staff terms and conditions, I would seek to ensure that fair work practices were adopted by P&O.

Katy Clark

The new crew will be employed by International Fleet Management, which was incorporated only last month, in Malta. Given the concerns about whether the ships are safe to sail, I ask that the trade unions attend any meetings with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Jenny Gilruth

I will be happy to work with the trade unions on that suggestion from Katy Clark. I wrote to the general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers on Friday of last week, following the announcement on Thursday, and I responded yesterday to a request from the Scottish Trades Union Congress to meet with it and the unions.

After topical question time, I will meet the RMT. Later today, I will meet Nautilus, which I understand is the lead union on this. I am happy to do so and to continue that further engagement with trade unions.

Throughout the process, it has been of concern not only that employees were ignored in the consultation about the redundancies that did not happen but that the trade unions were entirely frozen out of the process. I will endeavour to take that up with the trade unions later today, and I will be happy to update Ms Clark on the outcome of those meetings.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

The P&O Ferries service and the neighbouring Stena Line service to Northern Ireland not only provide many jobs locally but make a significant contribution to the economy of Scotland. Regardless of the poor actions of the operator, does the minister recognise the importance of that link? What options will the Scottish Government commit to exploring, especially on connectivity to the port, to ensure its long-term viability?

Jenny Gilruth

I recognise the vital importance of the link to the region that Brian Whittle represents. Normal capacity on both Stena Line and P&O services runs at around 55 to 56 per cent and increases to 80 per cent on Fridays. Stena Line has put on an extra sailing—that was on Friday—and there does not appear to be any immediate issue with capacity, although that is being monitored. I am also aware that supermarkets are, understandably, pressing for prioritisation of fresh and frozen produce, and I know that the Secretary of State for Transport—yesterday, I think—referenced the deployment of a third vessel, which will benefit supermarkets. That came into effect from today.

I very much recognise the strategic importance of that route, and we will continue to work with P&O to ensure that the route is up and running again. P&O needs to engage better with the Scottish Government and to recognise the importance of that route to the local communities in Cairnryan and Larne. I will be happy to take that up with P&O.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I thank the minister for taking questions on what is, as she has said, a very fast-moving situation. Cairnryan is, indeed, a busy port, not just providing connectivity to Northern Ireland but also now serving as Scotland’s gateway to the European Union and Ireland. The route providers, P&O and Stena Line, carry a lot of freight, especially for supermarkets, but also provide the carriage of livestock. Will the minister therefore outline what the Government is doing to address and minimise the disruption?

Jenny Gilruth

As Emma Harper knows, the Irish Sea routes are of strategic importance to Scotland, as we heard from Brian Whittle, bringing vital supplies to supermarkets and other businesses. We are determined to do all that we can to protect those routes, as well as protecting the jobs and conditions of everyone who is employed on those ferries. We have been in daily contact with the local Stena Line and P&O teams at Cairnryan since the situation began, last Thursday, to monitor capacity and those developing issues, and that has assisted our UK Government counterparts—for example, in agreeing with Stena Line that the third vessel, which I mentioned in response to Mr Whittle, will enter service. That happened yesterday evening.

In addition, transport officials are liaising with the local resilience partnerships and working with the ports teams to ensure that the road network around the ports remains fully operational. We will continue to monitor the position and hold open the potential to introduce operations staff and the use of the Castle Kennedy facility as a contingency measure.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Tomorrow, along with the local community and trade unions from across Scotland, I will protest outside P&O Ferries in Cairnryan, standing shoulder to shoulder with those workers, who have been treated with such contempt by P&O. I urge colleagues to join the workers, if they can, in Cairnryan at 12 o’clock to fight any job cuts but also to send a clear signal that we need to end fire and rehire once and for all—because, if that can happen at P&O, it can happen anywhere.

There was no justification for P&O’s actions, but, when there are job losses in Wigtownshire, people too often have to leave the area to find alternative work because the poor transport infrastructure means that there are limited local opportunities. Will the transport minister meet the neighbouring ferry operator, Stena Line, and the local action groups to discuss their concern about the transport infrastructure and the urgent need to make improvements to the A75 and A77, to attract more jobs into that often forgotten part of Scotland?

Jenny Gilruth

At the end of his question, Colin Smyth raised a specific point about meeting Stena Line and local action groups. I am meeting Stena Line later this week, so I am happy to take that action forward.

Colin Smyth also raised a specific point about the A75 and A77. He will know that there are a number of recommendations in the strategic transport projects review 2 that relate to those roads, and STPR2 is open for public consultation until later this month.

Colin Smyth raised a point about trade union engagement, and I have alluded to some of the engagement that I have undertaken on the matter. As I said in my response to Ms Clark, I will meet trade unions after topical question time, and I will be happy to give Mr Smyth an update on any action arising from those meetings. It is hugely important that our trade union partners are engaged in the process.

I recognise some of the wider transport infrastructure challenges in his region that Colin Smyth spoke about. I would be more than happy to meet Stena to discuss those, as I am doing later this week, and to update Mr Smyth on the outcome of that meeting.

Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

How P&O has treated its employees—not just those in Cairnryan, but those at English ports, too—is shocking. As this is a United Kingdom-wide matter, with a mix of reserved and devolved interests, can the minister assure us that UK ministers are involving devolved ministers fully in discussions and its handling?

Jenny Gilruth

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ministers discussed the situation with the rural affairs secretary, Mairi Gougeon, and other devolved ministers on Monday, but there has not been any contact with the UK transport secretary since the situation began to develop last week—although I appreciate that it is a very fast-moving situation.

There has been useful communication at official level, with Scottish officials involved in daily four-nations calls, for example, and we are being kept updated on UK Government considerations and actions through that channel. However, as the member alludes, the matter involves a pretty complex mix of reserved and devolved powers and interests, so I would welcome the engagement that she asks about. To that effect, I will write to Grant Shapps, seeking an urgent meeting.

As I alluded to, last week, I wrote to trade unions to confirm our support, and I will meet them later today.

More broadly, it does not seem acceptable that, when we have a situation such as this, involving a business with interests and employees all over the UK, devolved ministers are not invited to be actively involved and engaged. I am aware that ministers in Northern Ireland have sought assurances on the matter. I am very keen to work with the UK Government on this, and that solidarity in itself would send an important message to the workers.

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

As we have heard, the port at Cairnryan provided a lot to the local community. What assessment has the Government made, or will it make, of the impact that the decision might have locally? What support will be provided to those workers and communities in the wake of this absolutely appalling decision?

Jenny Gilruth

We do not yet have clarity on the number of jobs in Scotland that we are talking about. Until we have that detail, we will not be able to analyse the impact on the local community. However, Carol Mochan raises an important point that officials will, absolutely, take forward.

The primary support that we have been able to provide thus far has been redundancy support through PACE for employees who have been affected. Looking to the longer term, I am absolutely committed to working with, for example, local authority partners to see what more we might be able to do in this endeavour.

Until we get that granular detail from P&O, we will not be able to provide the analysis that Carol Mochan seeks. We will continue to work with P&O to establish that.

I return to the original point about the way in which the situation has come about. P&O should not have behaved in the manner in which it did; it should have engaged with the trade unions and its employees. If it had done that, we would not have arrived at the situation in which we find ourselves today, and the employees would not have found themselves in such difficult circumstances. It should not have been like this.

I assure the member that that analysis will be undertaken as soon as we have that granular detail from P&O.

That concludes topical question time.