Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 7, 2023


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

We can now move on to the long-anticipated portfolio questions on constitution, external affairs and culture.

Pakistan (Flooding)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to Pakistan, following the severe flooding that the country experienced in 2022. (S6O-02324)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government has provided £1.5 million in support to the people of Pakistan following the devastating floods in 2022. We have awarded £1 million in humanitarian support to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal and members of our humanitarian emergency fund—HEF—panel, which is helping to deliver relief on the ground in Pakistan.

We have provided an additional £500,000 for our existing British Council Pakistan women and girls scholarships programme to double the number of school and university scholarships that are available to women and girls in the worst affected areas, ensuring that they can continue their education with minimal disruption.

Sarah Boyack

I put on record my support for all those who are still involved in the aftermath and who are supporting communities to recover, such as the Disasters Emergency Committee.

The minister mentioned direct funding to Pakistan, and the Government is also committed to increasing its international development fund to £15 million each year, but stakeholders have told me that they are unsure how the money will actually be used by the Scottish Government. Will the minister outline what work the Scottish Government is doing with the international development sector in Scotland to ensure that the increase in the fund will be used in country and in community? Will she also outline how the increase will help communities in Pakistan to recover from the extreme weather disruption and what it will do for other countries that are affected, the number of which will only increase due to the climate emergency? How will it help not just to get them back to where they were but to build in resilience against future climate disasters?

I make the usual reminder that questions must be brief and ministerial responses must be as brief as possible, to allow everybody to get their question in.

Christina McKelvie

Those are really important questions. We have seen the impact of flooding across Malawi and the impact of climate change. During the past few weeks, I have been discussing with officials the work that we need to undertake. I met members of the HEF and others during the past few weeks. I am keen to come back to Sarah Boyack with an update on what we are doing with the fund and the criteria for using it and to answer the questions about how it will be used.

Culture and Heritage (Community Facilities)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting community-based facilities in the West Scotland region to preserve Scottish culture and heritage. (S6O-02325)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government supports a range of organisations that help to preserve our culture and heritage in communities across Scotland.

We provide targeted support for culture and heritage facilities through our funding to local authorities, organisations and public bodies, including Creative Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland. In 2022-23, Creative Scotland invested £85.4 million in the West Scotland region.

Our Culture Collective programme brings together creative practitioners, organisations and—importantly—communities across Scotland to work together to shape the future cultural life of their communities. In West Scotland, Culture Collective supports programmes including Inverclyde Culture Collective, Evolve and Ayr Gaiety.

Pam Gosal

As gateways to knowledge and culture, libraries play a vital role in our society. However, under the Scottish National Party Government, they are—sadly—declining. In 2009-10, 65 full-time staff were employed in libraries in East Dunbartonshire. However, in 2022-23, there were just 38 full-time staff. Local councils are having to plug budget gaps that have been created by the SNP Government cuts. What more will the Scottish Government do to keep our libraries open and to ensure that knowledge and cultural heritage are preserved?

Christina McKelvie

Pam Gosal makes an excellent point about how important libraries are. They are so important that the responsibility for them is devolved to local authorities, and it is the responsibility of local authorities to take that work forward. Of course, we know about the wellbeing, health and education impact of local libraries, and we have been working closely with the sector to ensure that we can maintain libraries, too.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

The minister will be well aware of many community organisations that are trying to save Scotland’s built heritage that is at risk. A good example is an organisation called the Springburn Winter Gardens Trust, of which I am the chair. The trust is trying to save Scotland’s largest Victorian glasshouse, which is in an increasingly perilous state of dereliction and has been abandoned since 1983.

We have been really struggling to try to achieve the necessary capital funds to initiate works to save the building. Would the minister be willing to meet me and the trustees to see whether we can find a viable way to save this historic building, which is in one of Scotland’s poorest communities?

Christina McKelvie

I know the winter gardens well, having spent a lot of time in that park with my cousins when I was growing up, so I am well aware of the building.

Historic Environment Scotland’s heritage and place programme is an area-based funding programme that aims to contribute to the development of vibrant, sustainable places in Scotland through community-led regeneration—exactly what Paul Sweeney is speaking about. I would be happy to meet Paul Sweeney and the organisation, because we have a number of ways in which we can support communities to ensure that they maintain and sustain heritage and keep it for the future.

Scottish Opera (Orchestra)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the reported comments by Scottish Opera, regarding the disbanding of an orchestra due to the lack of young people in the industry. (S6O-02326)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

We know that participating in cultural activity from a young age boosts our wellbeing and helps us to develop valuable life skills.

The Scottish Government provides significant funding to support access to music and the arts for young people across Scotland. That includes the provision of £9.5 million in this financial year for the youth music initiative, which was announced just recently by my colleague Angus Robertson.

I understand that the orchestra that formed part of the Scottish Opera young company was disbanded about five years ago. However, the Scottish Opera young company is still going strong and is supported by Scottish Opera’s main orchestra.

Finlay Carson

Despite the Scottish National Party’s commitment in 2021-22 to remove fees for all pupils learning a musical instrument, data now shows that 92 per cent of pupils are missing out. Specifically in my constituency and in Dumfries and Galloway, the number of pupils learning a musical instrument has declined by almost 500; in at least one school in the constituency, music is no longer being offered as an in-school subject, despite pupil demand. Will the minister explain how the SNP intends to keep its manifesto promise to remove barriers to music education and to ensure that all Scottish pupils have access to it?

Christina McKelvie

I am happy to work across the board with any organisations, including our local authorities, to look at more ways in which we can ensure that our young people get access to music tuition and all that comes with it. That is why investment in the youth music initiative is incredibly important. That investment is delivering on our commitment to expand our support to other art forms—it covers art forms other than music—and it ensures that the youth music initiative is used well by local authorities.

We need to ensure that the investment is targeted in a way that supports children and young people’s health, wellbeing and personal development through the arts and their creative activity. I am happy to work with any local authority or organisation that is working on that. Recently, I met the chair of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ wellbeing board to reinstate the work of the culture chairs committee. We will be meeting soon, so I will raise the matter there.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Instrumental music tuition has been drastically reduced by some councils so that they can keep up with budget cuts, which means that thousands of children in Scotland might not have the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument at school. What assessment has the Scottish Government made of the impact of that on the ability of the industry to continue to recruit young musicians?

Christina McKelvie

The organisations that recruit young musicians into all the different aspects of the industry are working hard to keep doing that, which is why the investment in the youth music initiative is so important.

I would be happy to work with any member from across the chamber. This does not need to be a political issue; rather, it should be about how we ensure that our children get the best out of their education. The investment in the initiative is important, and it would be great if the Opposition would welcome it.

Question 4 has been withdrawn.

Local Theatres

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting local theatres. (S6O-02328)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government values the importance of the arts and local theatres for the many benefits that they can bring, such as nurturing creativity and improving health and wellbeing. The Scottish Government provides support to local theatres through funding to Creative Scotland for its regularly funded organisations, which include world-class theatres. Independent local theatres in Scotland are also eligible to apply to Creative Scotland’s open fund for specific projects or productions. I would urge them to do so.

Paul O’Kane

This year, the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock celebrates its 10th birthday, which is a significant achievement that reflects its status as a much loved cultural institution. It is a continuation of the arts guild in Greenock, which was founded in 1946, and is much loved by people in Inverclyde and across my West Scotland region. Unfortunately, the centre is often seen as the exception rather than the rule, with too many community theatres struggling for survival due to inadequate financial support. The former finance secretary’s decision to reverse a proposed £6.6 million cut to the culture sector in February was a welcome step, but Creative Scotland should not have been threatened with such a significant financial cut in the first instance. Does the minister agree that cultural institutions such as the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock are invaluable local assets? Will she agree to meet with me to discuss funding for various theatres in West Scotland that are in real peril?

My answer will be quick: yes and yes.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

The minister might be aware of West Lothian Leisure’s proposal to close the Howden Park Centre and theatre in Livingston, West Lothian, after Labour-led and Conservative-supported West Lothian Council’s proposal to withdraw all management fee funding from the trust in future years. What more can the Scottish Government do to ensure that local authorities are meeting their statutory responsibility under the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982 to provide cultural facilities? Surely, simply owning buildings is not enough. Communities need a local cultural strategy and at least some financial contribution to the running of cultural services.

Christina McKelvie

I understand the concerns that have been raised about the future of the Howden Park Centre, although local authority provision is entirely a matter for each local authority.

I understand that Creative Scotland is initiating discussions with West Lothian Council about the potential closure of the centre in view of the redevelopment grant that was previously given to it. The additional Covid-related funding that was provided by the Scottish Government to West Lothian Council included £4.2 million in recognition of the loss of income during the pandemic by leisure centres such as the Howden Park Centre.

More broadly, we continue to work in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the culture conveners group—a forum that was instigated by Fiona Hyslop—at both local and national levels in order to identify ways to strengthen services around the principle of cultural recovery and renewal.

Creative Scotland Funding (Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government what percentage of Creative Scotland’s total awards funding was allocated to the Highlands and Islands in the last financial year. (S6O-02329)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Creative Scotland provides a range of support for cultural activities and organisations across all regions of Scotland through its network of regularly funded organisations, the open fund and its various other funding streams. In the financial year 2022-23, 8.7 per cent of Creative Scotland’s total funding awards were allocated to projects in the Highlands and Islands.

Edward Mountain

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, although, given the size of the area involved, I would have hoped for more.

Eden Court theatre is a valuable asset to the community of the Highlands. Through its participation in the Warm Welcome Campaign and the introduction of low-income tickets, the venue has supported residents through the global cost of living crisis. However, like many other Scottish theatre venues, Eden Court continues to face significant funding challenges. Will the cabinet secretary agree to look at what further funds could be made available to the theatre in these difficult times?

Angus Robertson

The Eden Court theatre in Inverness is the largest arts venue in the Highlands. It includes two theatres, two multi-purpose studios, two cinemas and three art galleries. That underscores its importance, which Edward Mountain rightly raises in the chamber. Eden Court receives regular funding from Creative Scotland of £500,000 a year. It also received support as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, including £242,000 in recovery funding.

It is also worth mentioning that the Eden Court youth theatre provides dance and theatre classes to young children aged five to eight years and invites schools across Scotland to theatre workshops. It is well known for its work right across the Highlands and Islands, not just in Inverness.

I totally agree with Edward Mountain about the importance of the Eden Court theatre and of the support that the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland give it, and I hope that that continues long into the future.

Peace Institute

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its progress in establishing a peace institute by the end of 2022, as set out in its 2021-22 programme for government. (S6O-02330)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Last year, the Scottish Government commissioned an independent report to advise on the establishment of a peace institute. Scottish ministers have endorsed the report’s proposed path to establishing a fully fledged peace institute, and the Scottish Government remains committed to that ambition.

However, since the report’s release, in June 2022, the financial situation that Scotland and the Scottish Government face has deteriorated and is the most challenging since devolution. In difficult economic times, difficult decisions require to be made, and ministers have reluctantly agreed to delay further work on the peace institute until later in this parliamentary term.

Mercedes Villalba

The Scottish Government’s commitment to establishing the peace institute was that it would have a focus on human rights, yet Scotland’s police force, Police Scotland, signed a training agreement with Colombia in 2020. Colombian police subsequently killed more than 40 people during protests in 2021 and detained hundreds of young people on spurious charges—many of them remain in prison.

Can the cabinet secretary confirm what discussions he has had with Scottish Government ministers to ensure that the peace institute’s focus on human rights is not undermined by Police Scotland’s international development unit working with police forces that have a record of human rights abuses?

Angus Robertson

I think that I am right in saying that this is not the first time that the member has raised this issue in the chamber. It is absolutely right and proper that we look at the maintenance of the highest possible standards of human rights where any Scottish public institution is involved. It is also right to say that it is important, when practicable, that efforts are made to help and support the changing of cultures in other parts of the world that do not maintain the high standards of human rights that we enjoy in this country. However, I will reflect on what the member says and undertake to write back to her.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary reflect on the success of the Scottish Council on Global Affairs, which has fulfilled the programme for government pledge to co-ordinate Scottish expertise and research on global issues and their impact on Scotland?

Angus Robertson

Since its launch, last year, the Scottish Council on Global Affairs has made excellent progress in establishing itself as a crucial and impartial Scotland-based research institute providing a hub for informed, non-partisan debate on a wide range of global issues. The three founding universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews have made significant progress in harnessing the breadth of expertise that Scotland-based researchers have to offer. I am glad to see that the institute benefits from support not only from the Scottish Government but from the United Kingdom Government and across the political spectrum. Through its research programme and suite of regular events, it has begun to foster vital public discussion around key global issues of relevance to Scotland, and I am excited to see the plans that it has for the future.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

I have previously, on three separate occasions, asked about the location, cost and treatment of the proposed peace institute, but no answers have been provided regarding those specific points. Will the cabinet secretary use this opportunity to share how much money has been spent so far, the projected cost and the number of civil servants who are involved?

Yes, I will be happy to do so.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am surprised that that manifesto commitment has been dispensed with. We have the war in Ukraine and conflicts in Sudan and Yemen. If Scotland is going to make a big impact on the world in resolving conflicts, why does the Government not prioritise that?

Angus Robertson

It is a priority for the Government during this parliamentary term, but I am happy to extend to Willie Rennie the commitment that I have given to write to Sharon Dowey on that subject. I think that he understands the financial constraints that the Scottish Government is working under and knows the commitment that the Government has to supporting peace and reconciliation efforts around the world. I am confident that we will make progress on that during this parliamentary session, and I look forward to the support of all parties for that initiative, which there has been for the Scottish Council on Global Affairs.

Historic Environment Scotland (Reopening of Sites)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to accelerate the reopening of any sites that are currently closed due to inspections by Historic Environment Scotland. (S6O-02331)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

We are providing Historic Environment Scotland with £72.7 million this year—a record high level of funding—to help maintain Scotland’s heritage and historic environment. That is an 82.6 per cent increase on pre-pandemic funding. With its commercial income, Historic Environment Scotland’s operating budget this financial year is £114.5 million, which is 22.4 per cent higher than it was pre-pandemic.

Historic Environment Scotland has completed on schedule the first group of inspections in its prioritised inspection programme, and it is making progress on the inspection of the next group of prioritised sites, which will be completed by the end of this year. By reopening sites only when it is safe to do so, the organisation continues to put the health and safety of individuals first.

Roz McCall

In 2022, Elcho castle closed due to Historic Environment Scotland inspections, with no known date for reopening. It is considered one of Scotland’s best-preserved tower houses from the 1500s and is a favourite spot for family day trips. Can the minister assure me that the reopening of Elcho castle will be a priority, so that families can enjoy it during the summer months and the local economy is no longer adversely affected?

Christina McKelvie

I assure Roz McCall that I will have Historic Environment Scotland look into the particular site that she mentioned, and I will get back to her with the most up-to-date position on that. Those inspections and repairs, along with all the other work that is being done, are moving on at pace, and that changes almost on a daily basis. Getting Roz McCall the most up-to-date position from Historic Environment Scotland is probably the best answer at this time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions on constitution, external affairs and culture.

There will be a brief pause before we move to the next portfolio, to allow front-bench teams to change position.

Justice and Home Affairs

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next portfolio is justice and home affairs. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question. There is quite a lot of interest in supplementaries in this portfolio, so I invite members to be as brief as possible in their questions and ministers to be as brief as possible in their answers.

Sentencing Young People Guideline (Review)

To ask the Scottish Government when the next regular review of the sentencing young people guideline is due to take place. (S6O-02332)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

The timing and form of reviews of sentencing guidelines are matters for the independent Scottish Sentencing Council. Its review process for offence and offender-specific guidelines is that, after one year, it will consider data on relevant cases and engage with sentencers to assess whether the guideline has had the intended effect and identify any unintended consequences or emergent trends as a result of the guideline.

After three years, the council will review data on relevant cases over that period and engage with sentencers on their experience of using the guideline and publish a review of the guideline’s operation, detailing the impact of the guideline over the medium term.

Jeremy Balfour

In January last year, the Scottish National Party’s sentencing quango introduced the sentencing of young people guideline, which applies to all criminals under the age of 25 and allows them to get off with lighter sentences. That is despite widespread opposition from the public, 71 per cent of whom say that the guideline should not apply to such a high age limit. We have now seen the guideline used so that rapists avoid jail and murderers get much-reduced sentences.

Why did the First Minister, who was the justice secretary at the time, support these guidelines, and when will they be developed?

Angela Constance

If the member does not mind, I will correct him—these are not the SNP’s sentencing guidelines; they are the Scottish Sentencing Council’s guidelines. During the passage of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, in which the form and function, and the role and responsibilities, of the Scottish Sentencing Council were set out and agreed, the Parliament as a whole had a voice.

I have set out to the member the processes through which the Sentencing Council keeps under review its guidelines. It takes very seriously its responsibilities to engage with the public and inform the public about the role and purpose of sentencing, which includes rehabilitation as well as punishment.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I understand that sentencing guidelines make it clear that a prison sentence remains an option for the court when it comes to heinous crimes such as rape and murder. Will the cabinet secretary provide figures for the number of rape convictions that have resulted in a custodial penalty since 2018?

Angela Constance

The latest published statistics, covering the period between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2021, show that 327 people were convicted of rape. Of those, 322—98 per cent—received a custodial sentence. Of course, rape trials are dealt with in the High Court, which has unlimited sentencing powers, up to life sentencing. Members might be interested to know that the average sentence for rape is six years and eight months and that prison sentences have, on average across all offences, increased by 14 per cent.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

There have now been a number of cases in relation to which there been huge public concern about the sentences given to offenders convicted of rape and in which the judge has said that the sentence was significantly reduced due to the young persons sentencing guideline. Given that the guideline was introduced and has created a significant change without the involvement of Parliament, will the cabinet secretary do what she can to ensure that there is a debate on the impact of the guideline in Government time?

Angela Constance

As I stated to Mr Balfour, Parliament did have a voice when it passed legislation on the powers of the Scottish Sentencing Council. I was certainly in Parliament at that time—I sat on the justice committee—and I assure members that there was a full debate on these matters, although there was not necessarily consensus on all the detail.

On the Scottish Sentencing Council’s functions in relation to reviewing, as I have outlined, it will carry out an interim review to look at initial decisions that have been made in cases in which the guidance has been applied, but also at decisions in cases in which the guidance has not been applied. Of course, it is down to judicial discretion whether sentencers choose to apply the guidance, but they would have to provide written reasons for that decision. Over the three-year period, once court processes and appeal court processes have perhaps been fulfilled in relevant cases, much more robust and thorough data will be published by the Scottish Sentencing Council.

Child Victims (Rights in Legislation)

To ask the Scottish Government how forthcoming legislation will advance the rights of child victims of crime. (S6O-02333)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

The Scottish Government is committed to advancing the rights of child victims through legislative and non-legislative measures. Both the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill and the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill contain provisions to increase protection for the privacy and dignity of child victims. We recognise that children find aspects of the system particularly traumatising, so they will benefit from the trauma-informed and person-centred approaches that underpin the legislation.

We have also published our vision for the bairns’ hoose, which is a transformational, whole-system approach to delivering child protection, justice and health support and services to child victims.

Ruth Maguire

I welcome the measures that the minister outlined. Does she agree that advancing and balancing the rights of all children who come into contact with our justice system, whether they are child victims of criminal harm, witnesses or children who cause harm to others, is of the utmost importance, and that any legislation made in this place must get it right for every child?

Siobhian Brown

Yes, I do agree.

It is a finely balanced area. Care must be taken to ensure that the Kilbrandon ethos of the children’s hearings system is followed, which has the needs and the welfare of the child subject to the referral at its centre, and that that is not compromised. The rights of a child victim must be carefully balanced against the rights of the referred child whose privacy and welfare needs are being considered at a children’s hearing. Crucially, children’s hearings are not a criminal justice setting. The system is welfare based rather than being punitive.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

One in four cases sent to a children’s reporter are for alleged crimes—which are often serious—yet Victim Support Scotland describes an “information vacuum” with victims not being entitled to details of their case. Will the minister ensure that victims are no longer kept in the dark and that their rights are central to the new bill?

Siobhian Brown

If a child is placed in secure care via the children’s hearings system, the provisions that govern information sharing in that system allow for information about whether a compulsory supervision order has been made or how the hearing was otherwise changed. There is no provision in the bill to share information beyond that, because it is not an offence or behaviour alone that determines where a child is placed or for how long.

The system takes a holistic approach and considers how the child’s welfare needs as well as offence and behaviour engage with the secure care criteria.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

“The Independent Strategic Review of Funding and Commissioning of Violence Against Women and Girls Services” was published yesterday. It recommended that children and young people experiencing domestic abuse are identified as victims in their own right in law. How does the Scottish Government intend to respond to that recommendation?

Siobhian Brown

The review report was published yesterday and we are considering its recommendations.

The bill is part of a wider strategic programme of work including the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill and work on the bairns’ hoose. On-going engagement is taking place with officials who are leading on this area to ensure that there is a joined-up approach across Government.

Whole-life Sentences

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the introduction of whole-life sentences as an option for judges in relation to the most serious offences. (S6O-02334)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

Judges in Scotland set the punishment part of life sentences. The punishment part of a life sentence is the period that must be served in custody. Under that long-standing law, judges have the power to set a punishment part that exceeds

“the remainder of the prisoner's natural life.”

That can result in a whole-life sentence in individual cases.

The Scottish Government supports the courts having those powers available for the most serious offences.

Alexander Stewart

Jill Barclay’s case is horrific. According to the judge who presided over it, she was murdered in a “medieval” way. Under Scots law, the judge was required to impose a punishment that resulted in the sentence being 24 years, which was reduced from 29 years, due to the murderer being under the age of 25. The sentence means that it is feasible in this vile case that the murderer could be released while in his 40s. Does the cabinet secretary not agree that judges should, at the very least, have the opportunity to impose whole-life sentences for such barbaric cases?

Angela Constance

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the brutal murder of Ms Barclay.

With respect, I say to Mr Stewart that I have just made very clear to this Parliament what the law currently is: punishment parts can exceed a prisoner’s natural life. He will also be aware that there is no automatic release for prisoners with whole-life sentences.

The member might be interested to look at the information that the Parole Board for Scotland has provided. If he does, he will get a sense of the seriousness with which it takes its duties. For example, in 2021, it released only a small proportion of people who came up for parole or release on parole licence.

I believe that we should be leaving this in the hands of the judges and the experts. They will, of course, through their own sentencing statements, make clear what guidance they have and have not taken into consideration.

I repeat that, since the early 2000s, the punishment part of a prisoner’s sentence can exceed their natural life when a judge decides that that is appropriate. I would contend that that is an appropriate decision for a judge, not a politician.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary confirm that prisoners can already be kept in prison by an order for lifelong restriction when there is a concern for public safety? Can she also confirm that it was the Scottish National Party Government that ended the previous system of early release for serious offenders that had been introduced by the Conservatives?

As briefly as possible, cabinet secretary.

Angela Constance

I can, of course, confirm that prisoners who are serving orders for lifelong restriction remain in custody if there is a concern about public safety. In 2021-2022, the Parole Board for Scotland considered for parole 90 prisoners who were serving such sentences. Not one was released. That shows how seriously the Parole Board takes its responsibilities.

Also, yes, it is a matter of record that it was this Government that ended early release for the most dangerous offenders, in 2015.

Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021

4. Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021 has assisted the police in responding to reports of assault, threat or abuse of retail workers. (S6O-02335)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

Information provided by Police Scotland indicates that in the period since the 2021 act came into force, between August 2021 and February 2023, more than 5,000 reports of assaults or of threatening or abusive behaviour against retail workers have been received. Clearly, that number of reported incidents is very concerning and is unacceptable, but I hope that it also shows that retail employees are aware of the legislation and are using it. Last November, Police Scotland launched the national assault pledge and #NotPartOfTheJob campaign. It has also established a retailers forum where retailers can discuss issues and concerns and share best practice.

Clare Haughey

I have recently been contacted by representatives of the GMB trade union, who informed me that the Asda Blantyre store in my constituency has been the target of antisocial behaviour. Staff have been threatened and left feeling intimidated. Clearly, no one should have to put up with violence, threats or abuse in their workplace. Can the minister outline the work that the Scottish Government and the police are doing to promote awareness of the law, to ensure that retail staff know their rights and, most importantly, to deter such behaviour from occurring in the first place?

Minister, please move your microphone slightly towards you.

Siobhian Brown

Thank you.

I very much agree that no one should have to put up with violence or threats in their workplace. We fully support law enforcement agencies having extensive powers to deal with such incidents.

When the law came into force, in 2021, the Scottish Government worked with Crimestoppers, Fearless and the Scottish Grocers Federation to run an awareness-raising campaign. I agree that it is important that workers and retailers know that the new law can help to protect them.

In addition, the member might be interested to know that a business crime prevention team within Police Scotland carries out business engagement days throughout Scotland to support the retail sector. It has also implemented the your safety matters external partners group, which consists of 14 members, including representatives of the retail sector.

I assure the member that the Scottish Government takes the matter very seriously. Coincidentally, I am meeting Dr Pete Cheema, from the Scottish Grocers Federation, this afternoon about this issue.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

On the 5,000 reports of abuse that the minister mentioned, what was lacking in her answer was how many people were prosecuted as a result. I would be grateful for that information. Of the people who were prosecuted, did any receive a custodial sentence? The 2021 act carries a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment which, under the presumption against short sentencing, means that no one will actually go to prison for such an offence.

I do not have those figures at hand, but I am happy to write to Jamie Greene with them.

Police Officers (Resourcing)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that police officers are fully resourced. (S6O-02336)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

We are fully committed to using the resources that are available to us to support the vital work of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland. We are investing £1.45 billion in policing this year.

Policing is, and will continue to be, a priority for this Government. We have more police officers per capita in Scotland than there are in England and Wales, and they are also better paid, having been supported by more than £11.6 billion of funding since 2013. That investment is delivering benefits. Police-recorded crime has fallen by 42 per cent since 2006-07, and it is currently at one of the lowest levels seen since 1974.

Brian Whittle

In a recent meeting with a Police Scotland chief superintendent, he informed me that, of the 15,000 call-outs that the police had in April, only 19 per cent were for criminal activity, with the majority of the remaining call-outs being mental health related. That is against a backdrop of reducing police numbers—there has been a drop of 600 since 2017—the hollowing-out of backroom staff, and an increase in mental health issues. That is the reality. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that the pressures on the police force are increasing and that the role that they are there to perform is coming under threat?

Angela Constance

I very much recognise that Police Scotland is under pressure as a result of the amount of time that is being taken to deal with calls requesting help and support for vulnerable people, who are quite often people with mental health problems. I have of course discussed the matter with the chief constable, the Scottish Police Authority and the staff associations and given them my commitment that we need to find better ways of working.

The chief constable is absolutely right to say that we will not follow practice in the Metropolitan Police, for example, and that policing in Scotland has a responsibility for broader safety and wellbeing. However, it is not beyond our wit to find ways to ensure that the justice system and the health system work better together to provide a better service to some of our most vulnerable citizens. That is in everybody’s interests, not least those of police officers.

Can the cabinet secretary provide any details about the starting salaries for police officers in Scotland compared to those of their counterparts elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Angela Constance

As we know, police officers play a vital role in keeping Scotland safe, and I am pleased that our officers are the best paid in the UK. That recognises the hard work and dedication of Police Scotland. Officers in Scotland who are at the maximum pay for each and every rank will earn more than their counterparts in England and Wales, and the basic starting salary for a constable in Scotland is around £5,000 more than in England and Wales.

Women Leaving Coercive and Abusive Relationships (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it will put in place to support women in the immediate days and weeks after they leave a coercive and abusive relationship. (S6O-02337)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

Domestic abuse is abhorrent, and I encourage anyone experiencing it to seek help and to report incidents to the police. Our victim surcharge fund and Victim Support Scotland’s emergency assistance fund are already in place and provide immediate expenses for women who are fleeing abusive relationships.

Through the delivering equally safe fund, we will provide approximately £12.5 million in 2023-24 to domestic abuse support services, including women’s aid organisations that provide specialist support and access to temporary accommodation. Additionally, our victim-centred approach fund is providing £18.5 million from 2022 to 2025 for specialist advocacy support, and we support the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, which offers free legal advice to women who are experiencing gender-based violence.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Last week, a woman came to my surgery to highlight the financial vulnerabilities and insecurity of many women leaving domestic violence situations. As we have heard, many in such situations are left financially insecure and, because of the coercion experienced, are isolated with few opportunities to build connections and get work. Therefore, what support is available to women in the immediate days after leaving a relationship and specifically to help women to reaccess employment and training when the time is right? Would the Government consider putting in place a mentorship or peer support scheme to help women to rebuild the connections that they need?

Angela Constance

I will not repeat the various funds that I outlined in my original answer, but Ms Duncan-Glancy makes an important point. In addition to the work that I outlined, we are working with Scottish Women’s Aid and other organisations to understand what more can be done to establish a fund for survivors, particularly those who have children and who are at risk of homelessness. Important work is also being led by colleagues who are working on homelessness, bearing in mind that domestic abuse is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women.

The member’s point about mentorship and enabling women to get back into the workplace or training is well made. Of course, the Scottish Government funds various employability programmes, but I give the member an undertaking that I will ensure that we have joined all the dots in that regard.

I have a couple of requests for supplementary questions. They will need to be brief, as will the responses.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

According to research that was published earlier this year, Scotland’s domestic abuse legislation better reflects victims’ experiences. Will the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government is building on that work to ensure that victims are at the heart of Scotland’s justice system?

Please answer as briefly as possible, cabinet secretary.

Angela Constance

The new domestic abuse offence has, of course, given more powers to police and courts to punish perpetrators of abuse and protect people who are at risk. However, as the report that Ms Harper mentioned highlights, more still needs to be to be done. I for one acknowledge the very clear message that improvements could be made, for example, to how domestic abuse cases are handled to provide victims with a greater voice in proceedings and to support them through the process.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

The United Kingdom Government is providing lifeline payments to help victims to leave abusive relationships and rebuild their lives. Although I welcome the fact that the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021 allows domestic abusers to be removed from the homes of their victims, more than two years has passed since the legislation was passed and its provisions have still not been enforced. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the parts of the 2021 act that are not being enforced? Will she also match the life-saving fund here, in Scotland, so that we can change, and potentially save, the lives of hundreds of women?

Angela Constance

I share Ms Gosal’s concern; she makes a fair point. Let me reassure her that the implementation board was established to work with all partners in that regard. An operational working group comprising vital partners has also been established.

We have done some detailed walk-through work to understand the practical issues that stand in the way of implementation. In short, the issues relate to the higher than anticipated volume of cases, the challenging tight timescales for operational justice partners and challenges in how children’s views can be gathered in a way that does not cause them additional harm.

I share Ms Gosal’s frustration. We are absolutely on this.

We will get through the final two questions, but there is no time for any supplementary questions.

Image-based Sexual Abuse (Gaps in Law)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether there are any gaps in Scots law in relation to tackling image-based sexual abuse. (S6O-02338)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

A wide range of criminal laws relate to image-based sexual abuse, including legislation concerning indecent images of children and the offence of coercing a person to view a sexual image. Since 2016, it has been an offence for a person to share an intimate image of another person when they either intend to cause that person to suffer fear, alarm or distress, or are reckless as to whether the sharing of the image would be likely to cause fear, alarm or distress. However, we keep the criminal law under review and will always consider whether further legislation is needed.

Pauline McNeill

Research shows that the swapping, collating and posting of nude images of women without their consent is on the rise. However, unlike revenge porn, that is not a crime. As the cabinet secretary outlined, under current Scots law, there must be proof that the perpetrator intended to cause, or was reckless in causing, fear, alarm or distress. However, the offence is limited in that proof of specific motivation is required, which means that many cases of cyberflashing are excluded. There is international best practice on the matter—such as that in New South Wales and many US states—which criminalises the non-consensual distribution of intimate images without the requirement to prove specific motivation. That is where there might be a gap in the law.

I need a question, please.

Does the cabinet secretary take a view on whether adopting a consent-based cyberflashing law might be beneficial here? At the very least, would she be prepared to discuss the matter with me?

Angela Constance

In short, I am aware of the concerns that Ms McNeill expressed at the Criminal Justice Committee. I have seen a read-out of her comments. At face value, I am not convinced that there is a gap, but we will look at the experience of New South Wales, and I am more than happy to discuss the detail with Ms McNeill if she wishes.

Methil Fire Station

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that the second appliance at Methil fire station will be withdrawn from service by 4 September 2023. (S6O-02339)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

It is right that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, in common with all public bodies in Scotland, reviews its operations in order to modernise and ensure that it is meeting needs and delivering value for money. As part of the review, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service plans to temporarily withdraw 10 fire appliances from service from September 2023, but I have been assured by the fire service that those removals will not compromise community safety.

Willie Rennie

There is utter astonishment in the Levenmouth area that the fire appliance will be withdrawn. There has been a spate of fires in nightclubs, shops and hotels—in fact, just this week, there was a fire in the little village of Springfield. Is the Government sure that this is the right time to cut the fire service budget and to allow the cut at Methil fire station to go ahead?

Siobhian Brown

The Scottish Government has provided the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with an additional budget of £4.4 million on top of the £10 million uplift that was set out in the 2023-24 budget announcement. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has advised me that locations have been identified through risk modelling using historical incident data and have been assessed as being the least impactful in relation to response times for the first and second appliances attending incidents.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service currently has in the region of 635 operational fire appliances across Scotland and this modest reduction will allow it to ensure that more of the remaining 625 operational appliances are always available for deployment. The service has extended an invitation to any member who wishes to raise concerns with the local service officers to discuss that issue.

That concludes portfolio questions. There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business.