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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Urgent Question, Scottish Education System, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, #IWill Week 2022


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. Members who wish to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak buttons or type “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question. I make the usual plea for brief questions and responses—I underline that request and give fair advance notice that I will intervene when it is not observed.

Cinemas and Edinburgh Film Festival (Closures)

1. Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any progress that has been made in finding a solution to save the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen and the Edinburgh Filmhouse and Edinburgh International Film Festival from permanent closure. (S6O-01644)

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

Only a few days have passed since St Andrew’s day, which was marked formally in the Scottish Parliament for the first time, and with events elsewhere to promote Scotland at home and abroad. I take the opportunity to thank everyone who was involved and hope that all parties will associate themselves with particular thanks to our international representatives, who deserve our appreciation.

I turn to Foysol Choudhury’s question. Since the Centre for the Moving Image entered administration, the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland have been engaging with partners to explore options for cultural cinema programme activity in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as well as for a 2023 edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. As the member may be aware, Screen Scotland has recently acquired the intellectual property rights to the film festival and is exploring the potential for a 2023 event.

Foysol Choudhury

I appreciate all the efforts that have been made through various avenues to find solutions to the problem for Edinburgh Filmhouse, in particular, but its closure illustrates that the culture sector faces a much wider problem. The perfect storm that the sector faces this winter means that significant parts of Scotland’s cultural landscape are in danger of being lost—perhaps permanently. As I highlighted recently, that would be a great shame after the considerable effort that was made to get them through the Covid pandemic.

Will the cabinet secretary work to see that other institutions like the Edinburgh Filmhouse are not in danger of failure in the coming months?

Angus Robertson

In relation to the Edinburgh Filmhouse and the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen, the administration process is on-going, so it would not be appropriate for the Scottish Government to comment on the proceedings. However, I assure Foysol Choudhury that the Scottish Government is continuing to engage with key partners on the matter and, more generally, in relation to the perfect storm that he rightly described—the pressures that the culture sector and sectors further afield are enduring.

I am meeting representatives of the culture sector literally every week to try to deal with this particular challenge, which the member is right to raise.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the United Kingdom Government’s shameful economic mismanagement, which the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts will lower living standards across the UK by 7 per cent over the next two years, is putting the recovery and survival of our cinemas and other culture sector businesses at risk?

Angus Robertson

I absolutely agree with Kenneth Gibson. The challenges that the sector faces, which are not unique to Scotland, exist as a result of spiralling inflation and a cost crisis that is hitting the culture sector, in particular. The UK Government has failed to get to grips with the issue. In addition, the pandemic has hit the culture sector harder than it has hit almost any other sector, so the UK Government’s decision to prematurely end financial support means that the sector is still feeling the effects.

Until now, I have not had the opportunity to speak personally with either the previous or the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I look forward to meeting the latter next week to bring up those very points.

Heritage Sites (Reopening)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to Historic Environment Scotland to ensure that heritage sites are fully reopened as soon as possible. (S6O-01645)

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

The Scottish Government has substantially increased resources to Historic Environment Scotland in recognition of the impact of the pandemic on Historic Environment Scotland’s commercial income. Over 2022-23, we will support Historic Environment Scotland with £60.6 million to maintain Scotland’s heritage and historic environment—an 80 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels of funding.

Historic Environment Scotland is working hard to reopen our heritage sites as soon as it is safe to do so.

Finlay Carson

I thank the cabinet secretary for his response. Given that he is rarely in the country these days, he might not be aware of the scale of the issue—of the great number of historic tourist attractions that remain closed to the public.

In my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries, popular sites including Threave castle, Carsluith castle and MacLellan’s castle, have failed to reopen since the pandemic, as have many others across the wider Dumfries and Galloway area, including Caerlaverock castle. It defies belief that so many of these historic sites—

Please ask a question.

—suddenly pose a safety risk and do not make Covid the excuse. Given their huge importance to tourism and local businesses such as bars, restaurants and shops that rely on them—

Ask a question.

—will the cabinet secretary provide a firm commitment to do everything that he can to ensure the accelerated opening of these buildings?

Angus Robertson

It is a curious thing, on one hand, to call for support for tourism and, on the other hand, to condemn those who make an effort to promote it internationally. [Applause.] That is a very odd approach to take. With regard to giving assurances about ensuring that Historic Environment Scotland is funded, and about the speediest possible reopening of historic and cultural sites, I give Finlay Carson the assurance that I, and my colleagues, are working extremely closely with the agencies involved to do just that.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

Is the minister aware that Linlithgow palace, in my constituency, which is the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and which, of all the closed sites, is the most significant in its national importance, was previously fully staffed and had high visitor numbers? Can he confirm that it will be a priority for high masonry repair to enable it to reopen as soon as is safely possible?

Angus Robertson

I recognise the immense value of significant historic sites such as Linlithgow palace to local communities as well as to our national heritage and tourism. I confirm that a full inspection of Linlithgow palace is under way to inform the subsequent repair programme, which is likely to be significant at that site. Historic Environment Scotland anticipates that the inspection will conclude by the end of January.

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine regularly engages with Historic Environment Scotland about that issue. I will ask him to ensure that Fiona Hyslop is kept up to date on progress.

What assessment has been carried out of the impact of the long-term closures on our national and local economies and, in particular, on our tourism sector, in terms of loss of finance and reputation?

Angus Robertson

Those issues are kept constantly under review. I think that the member appreciates that the safety of visitors to sites is the paramount consideration for Historic Environment Scotland, but I totally agree that the speediest possible safe reopening of sites is what we should all be aiming for. I am happy to write to Sarah Boyack to update her on any specific questions that she has in relation to the economic impact.

“Building a New Scotland”

3. Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government when its prospectus “Building a New Scotland” will include a detailed plan regarding the economic practicalities of introducing a border with the rest of the United Kingdom. (S6O-01646)

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

The Scottish Government will continue to set out, through the “Building a New Scotland” prospectus series, what could be done with the full powers of independence. That reflects our 2021 programme for government commitment to provide the people of Scotland with the information that they need to make an informed decision on Scotland’s future.

Carol Mochan

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. Thousands of jobs across South Scotland, as well as millions of pounds’ worth of business activity are dependent on fluid and unencumbered travel into England day after day. Explaining that and presenting a firm plan for any sort of border relations should surely be absolutely paramount in the prospectus. Will the Government explicitly commit to presenting a detailed plan for how that will work before any further claims to hold referendums, or de facto referendums, are made? When can we expect that?

Angus Robertson

It is important that the record shows that the only new economic border in the United Kingdom is being introduced by the UK Tory Government, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I note that the Labour Party has no plans to change that. I look forward to the lifting of border controls between Scotland and 27 European Union countries through our rejoining the EU, and I look forward to retention of the common travel area between the home nations, to friction-free trade in services with the rest of the UK, and to all necessary measures that will facilitate Scotland’s membership in the biggest single market in the world.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the “Building a New Scotland” papers have, so far, clearly shown the scale of the damage that is being done to Scotland by Westminster’s Brexit obsession—an obsession that is, apparently, now endorsed by the Labour Party in the UK?

Angus Robertson

The damage from the UK Government’s Brexit obsession continues to mount. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects UK gross domestic product to be 4 per cent lower as a result of Brexit, in the long run. That equates to about £100 billion in output and £40 billion in public revenues being lost as a consequence of Brexit—which the Labour Party has no plans to change.

Very briefly, I call Willie Rennie.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

It was the cabinet secretary’s First Minister who raised the prospect of border checks with England only a few weeks ago. We need answers from the cabinet secretary—not more bluster. The Centre for Economic Performance estimates that the Brexit border costs £210 extra per household. Has the minister calculated what the cost of an independence border with England would be?

Angus Robertson

I really look forward to debating all those issues with Willie Rennie when we begin the referendum campaign next year, which the people of Scotland returned a majority of members to this place to hold. I know that Willie Rennie has limited influence, but perhaps he would, nonetheless, use it to persuade all political parties, including his own, to allow democracy to take its course. I will then look forward to debating that and any other issue with him.

Independence Referendum (Supreme Court Ruling)

4. Siobhian Brown (Ayr) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government following the Supreme Court’s verdict on the ability of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum. (S6O-01647)

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

We have heard nothing from the UK Government since the Supreme Court judgment, but we would encourage it—again—to stop denying democracy and agree to Scotland holding a referendum to allow the people of Scotland to choose our own future. Not only was the largest-ever majority with a mandate to hold a referendum returned to this Parliament in last year’s Scottish Parliament elections, but today we see in the latest Ipsos MORI poll that support for independence itself has jumped to 56 per cent.

Siobhian Brown

The Supreme Court verdict provides clarity on the question of Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. If a section 30 order from the UK Government is the most democratic route that is available to the Scottish Government to honour its democratic mandate, will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on the unionist parties in this chamber and in Westminster to stand by the principles of their own joint statement from June 2014, which said that

“Power lies with the Scottish people and we believe it is for the Scottish people to decide how we are governed.”

Angus Robertson

Absolutely. Responsibility for the outcome lies with Westminster legislation and the design of the devolution settlement. As the First Minister has made clear, we stand ready to engage with the UK Government at any point to begin talks about the change to the Scottish Parliament’s powers that would allow the Scottish people to choose their future. To continue to deny that is to continue to deny democracy.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, there is no legal justification to continue to spend £20 million on planning a referendum that the Government does not have the authority to hold. Will the cabinet secretary therefore commit to redistributing that £20 million to support public services and those who need it most?

I like Donald Cameron personally, but politically I find it a bit difficult to be lectured by the losing party in the last Scottish Parliament election on what people did or did not vote for.

You lost the referendum.

The Conservative Party lost the election saying that it opposed a referendum, and the Scottish National Party won the election.

You lost the referendum. We said “No” in 2014.

We will continue to make all necessary preparations for a referendum on Scotland’s future, because that is what the people voted for. That is how democracy works.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members that I am trying to get in as many supplementaries as I can, which means that there should be no shouting from sedentary positions. Members can press their buttons if they want to ask a supplementary.

Devolution Settlement (Equality)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the current devolution settlement has led to a position in which Scotland is considered an equal partner. (S6O-01648)

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

It is clearer than ever that Scotland is not considered an equal partner under the current devolution settlement. No matter how we vote or whether we elect Parliaments that support certain policies, we can be overruled or simply told no by the United Kingdom Government. Since Brexit, the Westminster Tory Government has taken back powers from Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament, and the trend continues.

Natalie Don

Now that it is clear that Scotland is not, and might never have been, an equal partner in this so-called voluntary union of nations, it is more important than ever that Scotland has a choice over its place in the UK constitution. Will the cabinet secretary comment on Gordon Brown’s recent rehashed proposals to make Brexit Britain work for Scotland? Does the cabinet secretary believe, as I do, that that underwhelming scheme falls very far short of the fairer, greener future that we could grasp with independence and restored European Union citizenship?

Angus Robertson

Many of the criticisms of the current constitutional set-up that are made by the report in question echo the Scottish Government’s criticism of the Westminster Government’s failure to respect the Scottish devolution settlement, the limitations of the existing devolved powers, the inadequacies of the existing structures of intergovernmental relations and the scale of regional inequality. All of that critique is absolutely correct.

However, I remember Gordon Brown saying in 2014 that, if Scotland voted no, we would live in a federation. That has not happened, and he is now promising even less.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

6. Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what response the constitution secretary has had from the United Kingdom Government to his recent letter calling for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to be withdrawn or significantly amended. (S6O-01649)

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

I have received no response from Grant Shapps, the secretary of state who is responsible for the bill, despite writing to him on two occasions. In a letter on 8 November, I set out the Scottish Government’s rationale for recommending that the Scottish Parliament withhold consent for the bill. I wrote to him again on 15 November, calling for the bill to be withdrawn but proposing amendments to limit the damage to Scotland, should it proceed.

I have been assured by the UK Government on several occasions that the Sewel convention will be observed in respect of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, yet the minister has not replied and our proposed amendments were voted down in the House of Commons.

Jackie Dunbar

During last week’s debate on the bill, the Parliament agreed overwhelmingly that the Tories’ bonfire of European Union law threatens vital protections, creates enormous uncertainty and undermines devolution, and should therefore be scrapped. Will the cabinet secretary assure members that he will highlight the Scottish Parliament’s rejection of the so-called Brexit freedoms bill when he deals with his UK Government counterparts?

Angus Robertson

I will, and I have done so at every possible opportunity. I take the opportunity to welcome the Scottish Parliament’s support for our rejection of the bill. The bill and the attitude of the UK Government pose an existential threat to devolution and will wreak havoc across a swathe of vital sectors. It should be withdrawn.

The UK Government has chosen to introduce the bill, but the Scottish Government does not want it, and following last week’s vote, it is clear that the Scottish Parliament does not want it, either.

Scottish Independence (Support)

7. Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to build support for Scottish independence. (S6O-01650)

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

Recent polling is very encouraging—in fact, today’s polling is extremely encouraging—and suggests that there is greater support for independence than there is for the union. We should not forget that the independence issue was fully aired in last year’s election, when the people elected to the Scottish Parliament a majority of members who are in favour of another referendum—a majority that is greater than the majority for a mandate in the 2011 election.

Through the “Building a New Scotland” prospectus series, the Scottish Government will continue to set out what could be done with the full powers of independence.

Graeme Dey

Has the cabinet secretary considered casting his eye inwards to this place and the potential that exists here, in Parliament, to grow support for independence beyond the 56 per cent of people that today’s poll reveals are in favour of it? A parliamentary motion that was lodged by a Labour MSP in September to mark celebrations in Scotland of the 75th anniversary of Indian independence was supported by seven Conservative members and four Labour members. Another parliamentary motion that was lodged by the same member back in March to mark the 51st anniversary of Bangladesh gaining its independence from Pakistan was signed by nine Conservative members and eight Labour members.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is beyond belief that those members, who would rightly celebrate independence for India and Bangladesh, oppose Scotland even having the chance to vote on the matter in a referendum?

Angus Robertson

I take the opportunity to congratulate India and Bangladesh on their independence. While I am at it, I congratulate another northern European nation of 5 million people—Finland—which celebrated its independence day yesterday.

I am very much in favour of our trying to reach colleagues in other parties and voters from other parties. When the referendum starts, I am sure that there will be a great number who voted no in the most recent Scottish independence referendum who will vote yes when the referendum comes.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

There is global inflation and a cost of living crisis. Families, workers and businesses are struggling with bills. Our public services need investment, our hospitals need support and our schools need funding. Those are the top priorities for people across Ayrshire and all of Scotland, and another referendum is the last thing that people need right now. Will the cabinet secretary scrap the £20 million of funding that the Government has reserved for a referendum next year and focus instead on people’s real priorities? [Interruption.]

I would appreciate it if colleagues would respect those who are asking questions as well as those who are giving the answers.

Angus Robertson

I say with the greatest respect that all the current economic and social challenges that are being faced are actually arguments for Scotland becoming an independent country.

The Conservative colleague and I are going to disagree in our views on this matter. However, as I have done a number of times in this place, I would appeal to colleagues, as fellow democrats: do not stand in the way of people having their say. The people voted in an election last year to return to this place a majority so that a referendum could take place. Let us agree as democrats that the people should be able to have their say. We may be on different sides of the argument on whether to vote yes or no, but in a democracy, and as democrats, we should agree that the people should be able to decide. They should have their say.

Ukrainians in Scotland (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is supporting Ukrainians in Scotland, in light of the war with Russia entering the winter months. (S6O-01651)

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

With more than 21,500 arrivals from Ukraine with a Scottish sponsor, Scotland continues to provide sanctuary to more displaced people from Ukraine per head of population than any other part of the United Kingdom does. We continue to support the thousands of displaced people who are already here, and those who continue to arrive. That includes taking action to provide displaced people with a range of information, as early as possible, to help to inform their employment decisions. We are also working with local authorities and partners to understand the needs of Ukrainian children and ensure that they can access appropriate education.

Bob Doris

I thank the cabinet secretary for outlining Scotland’s significant contribution to international efforts to support families from Ukraine. That includes the temporary use of a cruise ship, the MS Ambition, on the Clyde, to accommodate more than 1,000 Ukrainians, many of whom are children. Although I understand that matters may be improving, I have corresponded with minister Neil Gray over concerns about access to services from the national health service and transport for children who are attending schools in Glasgow. What update can the cabinet secretary provide on that? How are such matters monitored?

Angus Robertson

For guests on board the MS Ambition, our priority is to ensure that they get the support and access to services that they need ahead of moving into appropriate longer-term accommodation. In relation to general practitioner services, we have issued guidance to health boards setting out our expectation that displaced people from Ukraine have access to GP practices.

It is vital that Ukrainian children and young people access education, which is why we work closely with Glasgow City Council and the ship’s management to ensure that a reliable system is in place to transport Ukrainians to a variety of schools across Glasgow.

If the member has any further questions or issues that he wishes me to raise, I will make sure that the minister responsible, Neil Gray, answers them as a priority.

There are a couple of supplementaries that I am keen to get in, but they will need to be brief, as will the responses.

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Several cases of scarlet fever have been reported aboard the MS Ambition in Glasgow, which, as we have heard, is currently housing up to 1,750 Ukrainian refugees. That is a serious risk to the health of the people who are now forced to remain in what was intended to be temporary accommodation. What urgent action will the Scottish Government take to address that?

Angus Robertson

My understanding is that the issue has been fully addressed and that there are no current health issues of the type that the member outlined. If the member wishes Neil Gray to reply to her with greater detail about the case, I will be happy to ask him to do so.

In this kind of context, it is important that unwarranted fears about health or any other issues are not raised. The provision of health and other support services to people in times of need and duress are very sensitive matters. My understanding is that there are no current health concerns of the type that the member outlined, but I will make sure that Neil Gray writes to her, so that she is fully assured on the matter.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I share cross-party colleagues’ concerns about Ukrainian refugees in cruise ships and reported cases of illness. How will the Scottish Government ensure effective infection control to protect refugees from disease? What action is it taking to secure suitable housing for refugees as soon as possible?

Angus Robertson

In a previous answer, I drew members’ attention to a range of interventions in relation to health and education. If the member wishes to highlight specific issues that I did not cover, I encourage her to get in touch with my ministerial colleague; he will reply to her as a priority.

I hope that everyone appreciates that doing everything that can possibly be done to help and support Ukrainian refugees is the aim of this Government—as, I believe, it is the aim of all members in this Parliament. Together, we will try to ensure that all the appropriate services—and safeguards; the member raised health safeguards—are put in place to help and support those people in their time of need.

Justice and Veterans

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to portfolio questions on justice and veterans. I make the same plea that members who wish to ask a supplementary question press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question. Again, there is a lot of interest, so I would appreciate succinct questions and succinct responses, as far as possible.

Police Officer Numbers (Edinburgh)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to increase the allocation of police officers in Edinburgh. (S6O-01652)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government remains committed to working closely with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to support delivery of the joint policing strategy, to ensure that we continue to have safe, protected and resilient communities.

Although local deployment is a matter for the chief constable, Scotland’s national police service allows local divisions across the country to access specialist expertise and resources at regional and national levels, depending on demand.

Local police divisions across Scotland have a core complement of officers who are dedicated to community and response policing.

Miles Briggs

Scottish Government figures show that, in the third quarter of 2022, the number of police officers in Scotland is at its lowest level in 14 years. In Edinburgh, there are estimated to be more than 100 fewer officers than there should be, given Edinburgh’s population share.

Does the cabinet secretary recognise the situation in the capital, which has some of the lowest police levels that we have ever had? Will Edinburgh receive its fair share of police resourcing, to help to turn the situation around?

Keith Brown

We have ensured that not just Edinburgh but the entire nation has received the appropriate level of resourcing from Police Scotland—indeed, above the levels that the Conservative Party has demanded in the past.

It is worth noting—because a cross-border comparison was drawn last week by Miles Briggs’s colleague Jamie Greene—that we have far more police officers per capita than there are elsewhere and that police officers are better paid here than they are elsewhere, with a starting constable earning £5,000 per year more. We have a record low number of homicides, and we have some record low levels of crime.

To me, all of that is a mark of success. It would be good if, for once, instead of constantly denigrating Police Scotland, members acknowledged Police Scotland’s achievements in driving down crime and acknowledged the higher levels of policing and police pay that we have in Scotland.

Women and Girls Experiencing Sexual Violence (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it can take to help women and girls experiencing sexual violence in Glasgow. (S6O-01653)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

Violence against women and girls is a fundamental violation of human rights and is totally unacceptable. We will continue to prioritise support for victims of sexual crime and to strengthen the rights and improve the experiences of survivors in the criminal justice system.

We will also continue to work to prevent such offending in the first place, through implementation of our equally safe strategy.

Our delivering equally safe fund provides £2.7 million over the next two years to services in Glasgow, to enable an integrated response to women and girls who are affected by sexual violence and abuse. Those services include Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis, Say Women and the Sandyford clinic, as well as the Glasgow East Women’s Aid, Glasgow Women’s Aid and Hemat Gryffe centres.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I recently visited Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis. Such service providers need proper funding to enable them to help as many women and girls as possible. I welcome the indication of the funding that the minister gave, but most funding that such services receive is project based and often does not cover the cost of transport for women who need to access services, or the cost of interpreters for migrant and refugee women.

Services also say that a lack of funding means that there is an impact on waiting times for services. There is now a six-month wait in Glasgow.

Will the Scottish Government commit to addressing those concerns for organisations that provide vital services for women and girls who are experiencing sexual violence?

Elena Whitham

Like Pam Duncan-Glancy, I recognise the funding issues. The Scottish Government has committed to increasing multiyear funding for the third sector and, where possible, we will do so. Our ability to fulfil our devolved responsibilities remains a significant challenge due to the United Kingdom’s budget approach, but we want to ensure that the funding that is provided works most effectively to improve outcomes for women who use those vital services. We have therefore engaged in an independent strategic review of funding to tackle violence against women and girls, which is chaired by Lesley Irvine. The review is currently under way and we will report on its recommendations by mid-2023.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Police Scotland recently smashed a sex-trafficking gang, with four members jailed for more than 30 years. It is shocking to hear of women being sold on a Glasgow street for £10,000, but, today, in Glasgow and across Scotland, vulnerable women continue to be treated like commodities. What is being done to tackle that evil trade, and what would the minister say to the men who fuel it?

Elena Whitham

We have to look at misogyny in its entirety. That is a driving force behind how we will tackle these issues. The UK Government’s approach to migration is to create a hostile environment, which promotes trafficking people across borders. We have to look at the issue in the round across Scotland and the UK, because, fundamentally, we have to challenge men’s demand and provide services for women who find themselves in that situation.

Jury Service (Support for Parents)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports parents who are required for jury service with childcare. (S6O-01654)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Court operational matters, including the system and arrangements for jury service, fall within the remit of the independent Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.

Jury service is a public duty that many people in Scotland may be called upon to perform, and I am grateful to those who perform that important civic duty. Jurors in Scotland may be entitled to a range of expenses, including childminding and dependent adult carer expenses, travel, subsistence and loss of earnings. Further detail on those allowances, including any limits, can be found on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website.

Neil Bibby

We all recognise our responsibility to make our legal system work despite the inconvenience that jury duty can cause people in their busy lives. It can put a particular strain on parents who are juggling childcare. A constituent of mine was asked to attend court for jury duty in the week before Christmas, at the start of school holidays, and was told that their childcare costs would be covered only up to £6 an hour for a registered childminder. That is less than the minimum wage. At a time when families are struggling and the childminding workforce has declined by 34 per cent, can the minister tell my constituent how she and other parents are supposed to carry out jury duty without adequate childcare support, and does the minister agree that that support should be reviewed?

Keith Brown

Neil Bibby will have heard me say in my original answer that that is a matter for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, which is independent of Government. If jurors do not normally employ a childminder or other child carer for the period of their jury duty, they may submit a claim to SCTS to recover those costs. If they normally employ a childminder or carer, SCTS will pay the allowance if court attendance means that jurors have to employ them for longer than usual. [Interruption.] If Neil Bibby wants to listen to the answer, I am happy to continue to try to provide more information.

I am sure that his question has been heard by, or will be passed on to, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, and I am happy to ask it to provide a further response. The issue that the member raises is a matter for the SCTS. I am happy to involve myself in any correspondence on any issue that the member wants to ask further questions on, but he might be best to take the matter up directly with the SCTS.

Accessibility is a core feature of justice reform. With that in mind, what changes is the Scottish Government making to the justice system to make it more accessible for families and children?

Keith Brown

One example of how we are trying to do exactly that is the revised “Bairns’ Hoose—Scottish Barnahus: vision, values and approach”, which sets out how Barnahus should be implemented in Scotland. That is about making sure that, when children enter the justice system, we have the appropriate model for the delivery of justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma. The bairns’ hoose will build on the Scottish child interview model for joint investigative interviews, which is being rolled out across Scotland, and is supported by £2 million of Scottish Government funding. That promotes best practice to secure children’s best evidence at the earliest opportunity, and it minimises the risk of further retraumatisation.

Asbestos Exposure (Compensation)

To ask the Scottish Government how it continues to review the effectiveness of the legal route to compensation for people who have been affected by asbestos exposure. (S6O-01655)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

The Scottish Government constantly keeps the law under review. On the specific issue of compensation for asbestos victims, the Scottish Law Commission recently closed its consultation, which explored the matter of provisional damages in personal injury cases. That included specific questions on the difficulties around raising legal proceedings in cases of asbestos-related disease. The Scottish Government will give due consideration to any recommendations that the SLC may make once it reports.

In the programme for government 2021-22, the Scottish Government has already committed to giving consideration to implementing any recommendations in this parliamentary session.

Marie McNair

The minister will be aware that a failure to lodge a claim for pleural plaques within a three-year time limit may bar subsequent claims relating to more serious and life-threatening illnesses such as mesothelioma. Does she share my concerns about the potential for many asbestos victims to lose out and be denied the justice that they deserve? There is evidence to support a different approach to the time bar being considered in these cases. Will she meet me, the Clydebank Asbestos Group and others to hear about their experiences and to discuss how to address the obvious injustice?

Elena Whitham

I recognise the difficulties involved when raising legal proceedings in asbestos-related injury cases. The Scottish Law Commission has done an excellent job in setting out those difficulties and consulting on a number of potential solutions.

I am happy to meet the member and others to listen to their experiences. Like many, I have family connections to the Clyde shipbuilding heritage and know only too well the lasting impact that asbestos can have.

Security Cameras (Companies Subject to Chinese National Intelligence Law)

5. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is regarding the impact in Scotland of the United Kingdom Government decision to restrict the use of security cameras made by companies subject to Chinese national intelligence law. (S6O-01656)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

It may be useful to set out the exact decision of the UK Government, which was to restrict the use of surveillance technology made by companies subject to Chinese national intelligence law. That decision applies to sensitive UK Government sites.

The Scottish Government is in the process of replacing and upgrading security equipment across its estate as part of a multiyear improvement programme. All existing CCTV kit and equipment, including Hikvision and other companies’ products, is being replaced with a new integrated system to improve and future-proof the security of the Scottish Government estate.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Scottish Liberal Democrat research that was conducted in September found that Hikvision CCTV cameras are being used across 13 councils in this country. The cameras are also installed on the Police Scotland estate and the Scottish Government estate.

Two weeks ago, the UK Government security group ordered Government departments to stop installing cameras manufactured by Chinese firms, including Hikvision, because they pose a threat to national security. Will the Scottish Government now accelerate this refresh of CCTV equipment so that we can remove these cameras from sensitive sites as soon as possible?

Keith Brown

The member referred to local authorities and to some Police Scotland sites. Of course, he will know that Police Scotland operational decisions are taken independently of the Government. It will be a matter for Police Scotland to take that decision. Also, given our common view of the autonomy of local authorities, it is an issue for local authorities to take forward as and when they see fit and in accordance with local priorities. We will continue to provide such advice and information as we are able to provide to local authorities and to Police Scotland, but it will be a decision for those bodies.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Senior Lib Dems in leadership positions dating back to the coalition Government days have long had close connections to the Chinese Government and companies hired to promote its belt and road initiative, which is intended to extend and consolidate its global influence.

Does the cabinet secretary welcome the new Lib Dem focus on human rights, and will he encourage the Lib Dems to further distance themselves from China’s oppressive Government?

I am not sure that that is relevant to the substantive question at all. [Laughter.] Cabinet secretary, if there is anything relevant to the original question, you can answer.

Keith Brown

I am not sure what the hilarity is about. The Scottish Government has serious concerns about the appalling human rights situation in China, particularly in Xinjiang, and we will continue to raise those concerns directly with the Chinese Government. We are clear eyed about all its international engagement and keep all our policies under review.

We welcome and support co-ordinated international action to address the serious issue of human rights violations, such as the action taken by the UK Government to help to ensure that UK businesses and the public sector are not complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang province and in China more generally.

HMP Cornton Vale (Replacement)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the construction of the new women’s prison facility to replace HMP Cornton Vale in Stirling. (S6O-01657)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

The Scottish Government remains committed to modernising and improving Scotland’s prison estate, with current infrastructure priorities being the completion of the female estate and the replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Inverness. The contractor is in the final stages of completing the construction of the new women’s national facility, HMP Stirling, which is due to open in the summer of 2023.

Evelyn Tweed

Can the minister provide an update on the success of the new community custody units in Glasgow and Dundee since their opening, and can she say whether any changes to the approach have been identified prior to the opening of the new facility at Cornton Vale?

Elena Whitham

The community custody units are the first of their kind in the United Kingdom, and I saw those transformative new facilities first hand when I visited the Bella centre last week. To date, feedback from staff and those in the care of the units has been very positive, and I can attest to their holistic approach and trauma-informed nature. They adhere to our “Strategy for Women in Custody”, which was published in the summer.

I can also advise that a formal evaluation of the two community custody units has been commissioned and that any outcomes from that will inform future decisions on the women’s estate.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

On the subject of constructing new prisons, His Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons has said, quite openly, that if conditions at HMP Greenock do not improve by her inspection in March 2023, she will not hesitate in sending in the Health and Safety Executive to recommend its closure, which would come with devastating consequences. What immediate action is taking place to improve conditions at the prison to avoid the scenario where the prison will have to close?

Both supplementary questions veered somewhat from the original question, which was on HMP Cornton Vale. Minister, please respond if there is anything that you can usefully add in response to that question.

I am happy to engage with the member on that issue. I recognise that we need to look into it and do some immediate work on it, so I will write to him.

Veterans First Point Fife

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its work with Veterans First Point Fife. (S6O-01658)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that veterans have access to appropriate mental health support wherever they live in Scotland. This year, the Scottish Government provided funding of £658,000 to Veterans First Point to provide mental health and wellbeing support to veterans and their families. That funding is matched by national health service boards. Veterans First Point is also closely involved in work to implement the veterans mental health and wellbeing action plan, and it is represented on the veteran-led implementation board that was established by the Scottish Government, which is chaired by Dr Charles Winstanley.

Annabelle Ewing

The cabinet secretary’s official opening of Veterans First Point Fife, which is in the Rosewell centre in Lochore, in my constituency, was very welcome indeed. However, to help as many veterans as possible, permanent contracts need to be on offer to attract more clinicians. What can the cabinet secretary do, working with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and with NHS Fife, to ensure that that happens?

Keith Brown

I do, of course, recall the opening; it was a tremendous event, and it was much valued by the veterans in that area.

Veterans First Point is an NHS body that is staffed by an alliance of NHS clinicians and veterans. Veterans also have access to NHS services that are available to the broader population. Health and social care ministers and I are committed to continuing and enhancing mental health and other support for veterans across Scotland, and we are working closely together at ministerial and official levels across a range of issues.

In her first progress report since taking up office, the Scottish veterans commissioner, Susanna Hamilton, recognised the importance of, and the progress made to date in implementing, the veterans mental health and wellbeing action plan. Although it is for local NHS boards to determine clinical priorities and resources, I am happy to ask Dr Winstanley what discussions the implementation board is having about access to clinical provision as part of wider proposals for a new national service to support veterans’ mental health and wellbeing. That will also include third sector provision from organisations such as Combat Stress.

Police Officer Numbers (Target)

To ask the Scottish Government when it expects police officer numbers to be restored to the previous target of 17,234 officers. (S6O-01659)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Policing is, and will continue to be, a priority for the Government. The latest data, from 30 September, shows a higher number of officers in Scotland than there were in 31 March 2007. There are now 30 officers per 10,000 of the population, whereas there were 24 officers per 10,000 of the population in England and Wales on 31 March.

The chief constable has the flexibility to develop his workforce in a way that responds to challenges by ensuring the right workforce mix. Decisions about recruitment are for him to take within that broader context, and I am pleased to note that Police Scotland welcomed around 900 new recruits this year.

Douglas Lumsden

Earlier this year, Superintendent Murray Main retired from Police Scotland and called on health and wellbeing services to “step forward” and ease the strain on Aberdeen police officers, whose time is considerably taken up by mental health concerns. Due to the national health service crisis, police in the north-east are now the first and last resort for people with mental health issues and addiction issues and for those in need of hospital care. Is it any wonder that there are 884 fewer police officers than there were a decade ago? When will the devolved Government start listening to our police force and have the proper support structures in place, so that our police force can get back to policing?

Keith Brown

I assume that Mr Lumsden was not listening to my previous answer, which pointed out that we have far more police officers in Scotland, who are far better paid and have been more successful in reducing crime, and that we have record low numbers of homicides. The member has raised a question about what more can be done, which I accept. If the United Kingdom Government had not cut its police force to the extent that it has and we had therefore received consequential funding, we would have had more money to further increase the advantage that we have in terms of the number of police officers and their pay. I remind the member that a starting constable in Scotland is paid £5,000 more than one in the rest of the UK.

A superb job is being done by our police. I do not deny the pressures that Covid, the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—or the royal funeral have brought to bear on them. However, they do a tremendous job and are properly compensated and remunerated in Scotland, which is more than the member can say happens in Tory England.

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

As the cabinet secretary has outlined in several replies—which the Tories do not seem to want to hear—police officer numbers in Scotland remain well above officer numbers in England, where the Tories are in charge. Would he agree that the fact that Scotland has the most officers per capita, significantly higher pay ranges for officers, and high levels of investment shows that policing is a clear priority for the Government?

Keith Brown

It is obvious to anyone who is willing to look that, if we pay police officers more and we have more of them, we attach a higher priority to policing them some of our counterparts do. [Interruption.] I know that some members do not like to hear that policing is much more underfunded in the rest of the UK than it is in Scotland.

I have mentioned some numbers, but we have higher levels of remuneration right up to the rank of assistant chief constable. We have also increased police funding, year on year, since 2016-17, and we have invested more than £10 billion in policing since the creation of Police Scotland, in 2013. We greatly value the vital role that our police officers play. In recognition of that, as I have said, we have ensured that they are the best paid in the UK, with starting salaries of around £5,000 more per year for a constable than elsewhere in the UK. The latest data shows that we have 30 officers per 10,000 in population in comparison to 24 officers in England and Wales. That shows the priority that the Government attaches to policing in Scotland.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

As the cabinet secretary knows, the modelling that has been carried out by Police Scotland on how it could implement the proposed justice cuts suggests a reduction of 4,400 in police officer numbers. At a meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee, the cabinet secretary indicated that he would not allow such cuts on his watch. Will he confirm that? Will he also confirm that those cuts will not be passed on to civilian support police staff, as has happened in the past? That will also have a significant impact on the service.

Keith Brown

Exactly as the member said, I did say that we would not be overseeing a reduction of around 4,000 police officers in Scotland. We have no intention of doing that. I do not recognise the point that the member has made about justice cuts. It would be useful to have that specified—what cuts to justice have taken place? We intend to ensure that there is a good budget settlement. Of course, we will find out more next week when the Deputy First Minister outlines the budget for Scotland.

It would be useful to have the Labour Party acknowledge the constraints under which we are having to operate. It is the same in Wales because of the UK Government’s austerity policies, which are affecting our ability to do as much as we want to in relation to vital public services. We have no intention of overseeing a cut of the magnitude that the member has mentioned, and we do not want to see cuts to the justice budget.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

An internal police survey highlighted a lack of resources, a lack of recognition and a need for career progression as key reasons behind officers quitting the police service, often after less than a decade’s service. Strain on the police force is compounded by proposed cuts to the justice budget. How will the Scottish Government ensure that officers have the support and resources to do their jobs and ensure that there is staff retention?

Keith Brown

A number of the points that Beatrice Wishart raised in the first part of her question, such as those about career progression and opportunities in the police, are matters for the chief constable, which we do not get involved in. The underlying point to her question is, as ever, about resources—that is perfectly legitimate. I am saying that my intention is to ensure that we do not have to suffer as a result of the cuts that are coming from Westminster, the impact of inflation, which has reduced our budget this year by £1.7 billion, and the hugely increased cost of wage settlements this year. Everyone recognises that those are huge pressures. It is our job to do as much as we can to mitigate the impacts on our vital public services, and I am sure that that is what the Deputy First Minister will do when he delivers the budget next week.