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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 7, 2023


Topical Question Time

Attacks on Emergency Services (Bonfire Night)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it plans to take in response to reports of widespread violence against police officers and firefighters over the bonfire night period. (S6T-01623)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

First, I want to express my gratitude to all our emergency services for their work over the weekend. All attacks against them are totally despicable.

The Scottish Government fully supports the courts using the extensive laws and powers to protect emergency workers, including the new statutory aggravation for attacks on emergency services through the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022.

As part of the annual review of the police-led multi-agency operation moonbeam, there will be an analysis of the incidents that took place over the weekend and a response taken.

The Scottish Community Safety Network’s report on antisocial behaviour has been published today, and I have accepted the report’s recommendation that we consider how best to develop our long-term approach to preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour. I will therefore be convening an independently chaired working group on antisocial behaviour.

Russell Findlay

The scenes across Scotland have been shocking. Police officers and firefighters have been attacked with petrol bombs, bricks and fireworks, and terrified people have been trapped in their homes by gangs of rioting youths. Eight police officers are injured, and it is no exaggeration to say that lives could have been lost. Those responsible are reckless and dangerous. There needs to be punishment and there needs to be a deterrent. Does the minister agree that those criminals are old enough to know better?

Siobhian Brown

I do not know the intelligence so far on the incidents, and we are waiting for the police outcomes. I know that it has been reported that some of the youths were being encouraged by adults.

With significant Scottish Government engagement, a broad range of planning and preparation is done every year by the emergency services and others to ensure that the existing laws are adhered to. However, on effective preparatory work, there will always be a challenge and a threat for enforcement agencies once fireworks and other potential weapons fall into the hands of those with criminal minds.

Introducing stricter measures at the point of purchase, including via the new proxy purchase offence, will help to ensure that fireworks do not end up with those who may misuse them. Not all offences involving fireworks are prosecuted under fireworks misuse laws, and the most serious offenders may be prosecuted for common-law offences such as assault and culpable and reckless misconduct. The link with fireworks may not be identified clearly in the data collected relating to those offences.

Russell Findlay

The minister did not answer the question, so here is the answer: those criminals are old enough to know better. However, criminals know that the police are stretched to breaking point, because of Scottish National Party cuts. They know that they will not be jailed and that there is a good chance that they will not even be prosecuted. In response to the events of the weekend, yet another report has been produced, but it does not mention the word “prosecution” even once.

Will the cabinet secretary bring in meaningful punishments before those shameful scenes are repeated next year, rather than having yet another SNP talking shop and report?

Siobhian Brown

Just for clarity, I am a minister, not a cabinet secretary.

We have increased the police funding year on year since 2016-17, investing more than £11.6 billion since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013. Sentencing guidelines are, of course, set by the Scottish Sentencing Council, and it is totally inappropriate for politicians to interfere with the independent judicial sector. It is up to the courts and prosecutors to decide on what action is taken against individuals who commit such crimes.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

In addition to what we witnessed in Edinburgh, there were also antisocial behaviour incidents involving fireworks in Dumfries. They included fireworks being set off in the town centre, which almost hit the historic Robert Burns statue. In addition, Heathhall in Dumfries has recently experienced an increase in antisocial behaviour, with windows being egged and damage being done to cars. Can the minister outline how the Scottish Government is supporting Police Scotland to deal with those issues, and can she confirm that antisocial behaviour issues are being dealt with seriously?

Siobhian Brown

There is simply no excuse for the sort of behaviour that was witnessed recently in Dumfries town centre and elsewhere. It puts everybody at risk. I am grateful to Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and partners for their swift attendance and actions at the scene to minimise the damage from the reckless use of fireworks and the irresponsible throwing of projectiles into a public area.

We are committed to ensuring that the police and local authorities have the powers and the resources to address antisocial behaviour. That includes formal warnings, fixed-penalty notices and antisocial behaviour orders. The Scottish Government has increased police funding year on year since 2016-17, with £1.45 billion being invested this year alone. There are 379 more police officers than there were in 2007, and Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

The pictures from Sunday night clearly show that the incident constituted a premeditated attack on the police. Fireworks were being aimed directly at police officers, who were having to wear riot gear to prepare themselves. Will the minister consider a full ban on the sale of fireworks to private individuals, apart from in relation to organised fireworks displays? Will she give serious consideration to holding meetings with authorities in Edinburgh, including the council, to discuss measures that should be taken to tackle such outrageous behaviour, should it happen in future years?

Siobhian Brown

Daniel Johnson raises an emotive issue. I understand his point about there being cause to ban fireworks sales to individuals, but unfortunately that is not currently within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. I will be more than happy to meet councils to discuss the way forward.

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

Will the minister outline what actions the Scottish Government is taking to support preventative services, such as cashback for communities and the violence reduction framework, which aim to prevent such behaviours from happening in the first place?

Siobhian Brown

The Scottish Government acknowledges that its prevention services are crucial to preventing crime in Scotland’s communities. Through the violence prevention framework, which was published in May this year, we are implementing our public health approach to preventing violence from happening in the first instance. That is backed with more than £2 million of investment from this year’s budget. We are the only Government in the United Kingdom that is reinvesting money recovered from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 directly back into communities across Scotland. Our cashback for communities initiative delivers diversionary activities for young people, who are most at risk of being involved in antisocial behaviour, offending and reoffending, to support the communities that are most affected by crime.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

This might come as news to the minister, but what is crucial is that we see an end to soft-touch justice in this country. To come to the chamber and announce that we are going to have another task force just makes it seem as though we are in a never-ending cycle of task forces and reviews, but that nothing ever actually happens. We know that 50 people were present—

Change the script.

I am afraid that I cannot change the script when we are seeing the same repeat cycle from the SNP. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Kerr.

Stephen Kerr

We know that 50 people were involved in the demonstration of what one police officer said was the worst violence that he had ever seen. Five officers were injured. I ask the minister to say how many arrests there have been.

Siobhian Brown

There have been two arrests so far. The police are looking at intelligence and there will be more arrests in the coming days. Mr Kerr says that we should change the record, but, as I have already said, it is up to the courts and prosecutors to decide on what action is taken; it is not up to politicians. It would be totally inappropriate for the SNP Government to try to influence that. I do not know whether the Conservatives would try to do so if they were ever to be in Government, but it would be totally inappropriate if they did.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

The Parliament passed the recent fireworks legislation after a reduced scrutiny process, to enable it to be in place for bonfire night last year. Delay meant that councils were not able to designate control zones this year, and the proposed licensing scheme might create a black market. Labour supported the bill because of the new offences that it contained. Does the minister not accept, though, that the framework that was created by the legislation is making no difference to the problems that communities have experienced with fireworks, and that the 2022 act represents a wasted opportunity?

Siobhian Brown

I have to disagree with Katy Clark on that. The act was brought in as a preventative measure; it was not a short-term quick fix. Control zones have been developed to support the long-term cultural change on fireworks. As I have said, such change will not happen quickly. A programme of work has progressed, at pace, to successfully commence firework control zones, in line with the original timescales, on 22 June 2023. I know that my officials are engaging with all local authorities and are making progress, and the zones might be in place for next year.

We are very tight for time this afternoon so we must move on to question 2.

Waiting Times (Hip Operations)

2. Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking following Reform Scotland’s recent report, “NHS 2048: Future-proofing Scotland’s Health and Social Care”, which found that 11 national health service boards have seen waiting times for hip operations at least double from the point of decision since 2019. (S6T-01624)

The Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care (Michael Matheson)

Long waits of that nature are unacceptable. The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on the normal operation of our NHS since 2019, just as it has across the world.

We remain committed to eradicating long waits and to ensuring that all people receive the treatment that they need as soon as possible. We have opened two national treatment centres this year, in Fife and Highland, with two further centres opening soon, in Forth Valley and at NHS Golden Jubilee. Those centres will provide additional protected capacity for patients across Scotland, including for orthopaedic hip surgeries, and are an integral part of the wider NHS Scotland waiting times improvement programme.

However, we know that there is still more to do, which is why we have committed to investing an extra £300 million over the next three years to reduce in-patient and day-case waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients.

Foysol Choudhury

Under the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011, all patients have a right to receive treatment within 12 weeks of agreement with their consultant. My constituent received a hip replacement five years ago, when she waited just over the 12 weeks. She now needs her other hip replaced, and she agreed that with an orthopaedic consultant in May 2022. She is still waiting for a surgery date. Can the cabinet secretary advise me why the treatment time guarantee is simply not being met?

Michael Matheson

The major reason for that is that we had a pandemic over a two-year period, which meant that a lot of elective procedures had to be cancelled because of the pressures on the NHS. That was the case not just here in Scotland or in the United Kingdom but globally. The vast majority of healthcare systems had to stop carrying out elective procedures such as hip replacements, knee replacements and other types of surgery. That is why, as we have come out of the pandemic, we have had a programme of work to support our NHS to recover.

In respect of long waits, we have seen reductions of some 83 per cent in new out-patient specialties and 57 per cent in in-patient day-care specialties, which now have fewer than 10 patients waiting more than two years. We are also undertaking a range of other work to reduce waiting lists further, including the additional £300 million that I have said we will invest for the next three years to reduce waiting lists by 100,000.

Foysol Choudhury

My constituent, Wendy, is on the waiting list for a knee operation due to osteoarthritis. She also has a hip problem because of that condition. Her consultant advised her to proceed with non-operative measures instead of a hip replacement. The report highlighted that some health boards are reducing elective surgery to save money. How is the Scottish Government ensuring that every person is being evaluated and treated correctly and is not left in pain and without help in order to reduce elective surgery?

Michael Matheson

The additional investment that we are making at present to tackle the backlog and waiting lists that have built up during the course of the pandemic, alongside the additional investment that we will invest over the course of the next three years, is specifically to deal with the challenges that Mr Choudhury has highlighted and his constituent has experienced. The length of delay that his constituent has experienced is unacceptable, and I want to make sure that we take action to address that. We are making a significant level of additional investment available to reduce waiting lists over the course of the next three years, in order to help people such as Mr Choudhury’s constituent to get the treatment that they require as early as possible.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary has mentioned the new funding of £300 million, which the Scottish Government will provide over the next three years. That is very welcome. Can the cabinet secretary say any more about how that funding will be directed to increase capacity, and so tackle the long waits such as those that are detailed in the Reform Scotland report?

Michael Matheson

In the coming weeks, we will set out in the budget how we will prioritise our investment over the course of the next financial year, including in the health portfolio. I assure the member that the intention is to use the funding to build greater capacity in the NHS and deliver greater resilience in the system in order to increase the number of patients who can be treated.

That work is being taken forward by the national centre for sustainable delivery in partnership with our boards, and it will identify the funding that is needed for each of the boards to deliver on the programme to ensure that we reduce waiting lists by the targets that have been set as part of our waiting lists initiative.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The last time I checked, more than 2,000 people were waiting for orthopaedic operations in the Highlands. A thousand of them are not suitable because they are too complex to go into the national treatment centre. Hospital operating theatres have been closed to save money and beds are not available for the 20 orthopaedic surgeons who are sitting around in Raigmore hospital and want to do operations. What is the cabinet secretary’s message to Highland patients?

Michael Matheson

The message is very clear. We have made a significant investment in NHS Highland via the creation of a new national treatment centre and, at the same time, we are investing an additional £300 million to increase capacity and throughput in facilities such as those in NHS Highland. That is exactly the type of action that people in the Highlands want us to take, despite the fact that the United Kingdom Government is cutting budgets right, left and centre, including in the health service.

That concludes topical questions.