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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 11, 2023


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or indicate so in the chat function by typing “RTS” during the relevant question. As ever, I ask for succinct questions, and answers to match, in order to get in as many members as possible.

Independence Referendum (Supreme Court Ruling)

To ask the Scottish Government what further consideration it has given to November’s Supreme Court ruling on whether the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for an independence referendum. (S6O-01740)

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

We have been clear that we accept and respect the Supreme Court’s judgment. However, the Supreme Court was not asked to decide, and cannot decide, whether the Scottish Parliament should have the power to hold an independence referendum.

The outcome of that case has demonstrated the weakness of the United Kingdom’s constitution. No matter how the people of Scotland vote or how often they elect Parliaments that support a referendum and support independence, they can be told “no” by the UK Prime Minister. A position that does not allow Scotland to choose its own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth the notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership. In a voluntary union, one part does not have to rely on the agreement of another before it is allowed to think about leaving.

The First Minister has made it clear that she is ready and willing to negotiate the terms of a section 30 order with the Prime Minister.

Jim Fairlie

Yesterday’s events at Westminster brought into sharp focus why Scotland requires to be released from the shackles of Westminster. The Tories’ anti-strike bill launches an attack on workers’ rights, and their Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill threatens to revoke vital environmental protections, food protections and workers’ rights without putting adequate solutions in place.

Meanwhile, yesterday in this chamber, the Parliament reiterated its call for the UK Government to respect the right of people in Scotland to choose their constitutional future. How many more times does the cabinet secretary believe that the Tories at Westminster will try to deny democracy before they realise that our cast-iron mandate for a referendum is only growing stronger?

Angus Robertson

I am pleased that a majority of members elected to this Parliament by the people of Scotland backed yesterday’s motion calling on the UK Government to respect the right of people in Scotland to choose their constitutional future.

Every member of the Scottish Parliament is here because of the trust that has been placed in us by people in Scotland through their votes. That places obligations on those of us who win elections, and we must do our best to deliver on the mandates that we are given. Should the UK Government continue to deny the Scottish people their right to choose, people in Scotland will have their say on independence at the next UK election.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The Scottish Government spent £0.25 million on last year’s Supreme Court case. Given that people are struggling to pay their home energy bills and public services are in such a state, has the cabinet secretary reflected over the Christmas period on whether that was a good use of public funds?

Angus Robertson

Of course, there would have been no reason to raise a legal challenge if the UK Government had agreed to a section 30 order, as it did after the 2011 election. That would have been the optimal way forward and the preferred option. It is now for the UK Government to respect the views of this Parliament and the result of the most recent Scottish Parliament election and agree to a section 30 order with the Scottish Government. That would not have cost a penny.

Sistema Scotland

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met with representatives of Sistema Scotland. (S6O-01741)

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

Neil Gray, the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine, met with Sistema Scotland representatives on 12 July 2022, when he visited the organisation’s big noise programme in the Raploch centre in Stirling. In addition, I was pleased that Nicola Killean, Sistema’s chief executive officer, was able to attend a round-table discussion that I chaired in December. My officials are also in regular contact with Sistema Scotland representatives.

I am proud to support Sistema Scotland, which is a brilliant example of a cultural programme that contributes to many policy outcomes and, in particular, our ambition to tackle child poverty.

Michael Marra

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and for the efforts that he and his colleague have put into meeting the organisation. They will both be aware of the recent study conducted by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, which found that children and young people who take part in Sistema Scotland’s big noise Raploch are much more likely to achieve positive post-school outcomes and more likely to be in employment. What can the Scottish Government learn from that hugely positive evaluation, and what can the cabinet secretary do to ensure that Sistema Scotland continues to be supported by his Government to deliver those positive outcomes?

Angus Robertson

I am aware of the study, which is very encouraging. Do I agree with the member that Sistema Scotland is playing a vital role, including in Douglas in Dundee? Yes, I do.

The excellent work that Sistema Scotland does on targeting disadvantaged communities, tackling child poverty, and significantly enhancing participants’ lives, prospects and health and wellbeing—to name but a few—is uncontested. Sistema Scotland is highly valued and supported by the Scottish Government, and I am pleased that it commands so much support across parties in the chamber.

Coronation (Events in Highlands and Islands)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions have taken place with the royal household regarding the coronation of His Majesty the King, in relation to events across the Highlands and Islands. (S6O-01742)

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

The Scottish Government is liaising with the royal household, the Lord Lyon King of Arms and the United Kingdom Government on planning for the coronation of His Majesty the King. The First Minister has already announced that an extra bank holiday will be provided for on Monday 8 May to allow for celebrations to take place across the coronation weekend.

As with previous royal occasions, it is expected that any local events held around Scotland to celebrate the coronation will be community inspired and led.

Edward Mountain

Once details have been made available by the royal household, does the Scottish Government intend to have conversations with local authorities to ensure that school pupils learn of the importance and significance of the coronation?

Angus Robertson

Celebrations of this nature are community led in Scotland. The Scottish Government will facilitate communications between the relevant organisations, including local authorities and Scotland’s lord lieutenants. Conversations will be continuing.

Historic Environment Scotland (Reopening of Sites)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to accelerate the reopening of historic sites managed by Historic Environment Scotland. (S6O-01743)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

Historic Environment Scotland has completed the first group of inspections in its prioritised inspection programme on schedule and is making progress on the next group of prioritised sites. It will continue to put the health and safety of individuals first, reopening sites when safe to do so.

We continue to provide substantial support to Historic Environment Scotland. In the 2023-24 budget, Historic Environment Scotland’s total operational budget is rising by 18 per cent to £114.5 million, enabling the organisation to invest in fair staff pay, running and maintaining its properties, delivering grants to the heritage sector and fulfilling its advisory and regulatory functions.

Donald Cameron

More than 60 of the sites managed by HES remain either closed or partially closed, including, in my region, Kisimul castle on Barra and the Bonawe iron furnace in Taynuilt. The number of closed sites has remained consistently high for some time. Can the minister explain why Scotland’s historic sites have been left to crumble under this Government’s stewardship? What action will he take to protect our vital historic assets for generations to come?

Neil Gray

I do not accept that characterisation by Donald Cameron. Historic Environment Scotland is making progress and, as I outlined, the Scottish Government is investing substantially with the budget support that we give it in order to carry out high-level masonry inspections and make sure that facilities can reopen. For instance, Dumbarton castle, which is an iconic site, is due to reopen in the spring. Progress is being made. Obviously, I am looking for HES to move as fast as possible and we are making investment for that to happen. I will continue to engage with HES, including when I meet its chair and chief executive next week.

I have a number of requests for supplementaries. I will try to take as many as possible, but I will probably not be able to take all of them. I ask for succinct questions and answers.

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Kisimul castle in my constituency, the seat of the Macneils of Barra and one of Scotland’s most iconic sites, has faced an extended closure, with repair work needed. How will the 2023-24 budget support HES’s current high-level maintenance survey and ensure that it is timetabled at a pace that will ensure the safe opening of this site of national importance and others?

Neil Gray

Much as I said in response to the previous question, if Alasdair Allan would like to visit Kisimul castle or any other site in his constituency, I would be happy to facilitate a visit, through HES.

The 2022-23 budget sees HES’s costs fully funded by Government grant, and there is rising commercial income, post-pandemic. We provided HES with significant support while the pandemic reduced its commercial income; indeed, the grant for HES for this year is 80 per cent higher than it was before the pandemic. The 2023-24 budget will see HES’s total operational budget rise by 18 per cent to £114.5 million, to enable the organisation to continue its fantastic work to protect sites, ensure fair staff pay and make grants. I will continue to work hard, alongside HES staff, to facilitate the reopening of our precious heritage as soon as it is safe to reopen.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Will the minister please advise members of the Scottish Government’s plans to ensure that Historic Environment Scotland’s properties will be able to open to a sufficient degree to allow HES’s revenue to rise as predicted in the budget?

Neil Gray

I thank Foysol Choudhury for pointing out an important fact, which is that the commercial income that HES has been able to derive this year is the result of the reopening process that has been under way for sites that had been partially or entirely closed. As a result, HES has higher than anticipated commercial income, so it will be able to enjoy a much higher budget for next year, as I said. I commend HES and congratulate it on its work in that regard, and I hope that that will continue. I will continue to engage with HES to ensure that it is supported to allow that to happen.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

The minister will recall that I raised the HES Jarlshof site facilities project with him in the chamber in November last year. I have been repeatedly raising the issue, since before the pandemic. Will he facilitate an update from HES on the long-awaited toilet facilities and coach parking project for one of Shetland’s main tourist attractions?

Neil Gray

Yes, I will be more than happy to do so and I would be happy to meet Beatrice Wishart alongside HES to make sure that her concerns are put across and that the work that she requests is looked at and facilitated as quickly as possible.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

One of the north-east’s foremost historic sites is the five-star Peterhead Prison Museum. This week, the museum had to shut its café, with the loss of five jobs—it is important to note that the rest of the operation remains open. Will the minister agree to join me in a visit to Peterhead Prison Museum, to explore ways in which the Government might facilitate the reopening of its excellent hospitality facility?

Neil Gray

I would be happy to look at the matter in more detail and to consider a visit to Peterhead at Liam Kerr’s invitation, to consider avenues whereby it might be possible for that facility to reopen. I have talked about Historic Environment Scotland’s commercial income success. If it is possible for Peterhead museum to enjoy similar success, I would be happy to look at the issue.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

Can the minister confirm or seek confirmation from Historic Environment Scotland that the technical panel that has been established will, in its determinations, give as much importance to the relative national historic importance of properties and their tourism and economic impact as it gives to the necessary technical, health and safety and construction issues? Will he confirm that the panel is properly staffed to do that?

As I have said before, Linlithgow palace, in my constituency, should surely count as a national priority for work, given that it is the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.

I gently point out that the 80 per cent increase in budget is needed precisely because of the lost commercial income for closed sites such as Linlithgow palace.

Neil Gray

Fiona Hyslop is absolutely right. I was pleased to make a visit to Linlithgow palace last year, which was hosted by the member and Historic Environment Scotland staff, to see the high-level masonry issues there. I will be more than happy to ensure that her comments and concerns are passed on to HES when I meet the chair and chief executive next week, and to ensure that a response is fed back to her as quickly as possible.

Children and Young People’s Theatre

To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting children and young people’s theatre. (S6O-01744)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

The Scottish Government recognises the important role that theatre can play for young people. We provide £150,000 per year to the Scottish Youth Theatre, which provides theatre training to young people aged three to 25.

In addition, 29 of the 120 organisations that are regularly funded by Creative Scotland, which is funded by the Scottish Government, actively run programmes in theatres for children across Scotland. In order to improve accessibility of theatre for school pupils, the National Theatre of Scotland, which is one of the five national performing companies that receives funding from the Scottish Government, also manages the Theatre in Schools Scotland project.

Paul O’Kane

In my region, PACE Theatre Company has served children and young people for more than 30 years and has given children and young people opportunities to benefit educationally, socially and culturally from a variety of performing arts experiences. Its alumni include Richard Madden, Paolo Nutini and one Paul O’Kane. It is embarking on an ambitious project in Paisley town centre to turn a derelict site into Scotland’s first children’s theatre. It has received funding from Renfrewshire Council through the town centre regeneration fund, but it has a way to go. Will the minister commit to supporting that important project, and will he agree to visit the project with me and to meet PACE Theatre Company to see how the Government might support it?

Neil Gray

I will avoid the temptation of making the obvious joke about Paul O’Kane’s theatrical ability, but I am happy to endorse the fantastic work that PACE does, based on its merit and because the Minister for Parliamentary Business, George Adam, who is the local MSP, would have my guts for garters if I did not.

I am more than happy to meet Paul O’Kane to discuss the matter. He will be aware that in December 2021, the Scottish Government’s regeneration capital fund awarded Renfrewshire Council £800,000 to help to build PACE’s Exchange young people’s theatre. Independent theatres in Scotland that run programmes for children and young people and which are constituted as non-profit distributing are eligible to apply to Creative Scotland’s open fund. I am happy to discuss all that with Paul O’Kane and PACE, if that would be helpful, and I look forward to corresponding further.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

The recent £5.1 million cut to Creative Scotland for 2023-24 will inevitably have an impact on Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, which is in my region. What impact assessment has the Scottish Government conducted to determine the effects of funding cuts on the theatre industry?

Neil Gray

We obviously welcome the fact that Creative Scotland is using the lottery reserves that it has built up to protect the regularly funded organisations in order to ensure that their funding can continue over the next year. We are all facing incredible financial pressures—not least because of the economic situation that we find ourselves in, and not least because of the reckless approach to the economy that is being taken by the United Kingdom’s Conservative Government.

We will continue to work with the culture sector. The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and I meet regularly with stakeholders across Scotland, and that work continues. We will also continue to push the UK Government to make greater investments, which would allow us to do more.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I know from experience that theatre and the arts in general can be a wonderful escape for young people, and that organisations such as the Highland regional youth orchestra allow them to create memories that will last a lifetime. How does the Scottish Government support more young people from less-affluent backgrounds being exposed to the theatre and music?

Neil Gray

I thank Emma Roddick for that important question. As someone who also benefited from access to theatre in my childhood, I appreciate the important role that theatre and music can play for children. Through subsidy from the National Theatre of Scotland and Imaginate, tickets costing approximately £2 per child to Theatre in Schools Scotland programmes are available. Schools in low-income areas can also use their pupil equity funding to pay for access to the programme. The pupil equity funding is allocated directly to schools and is targeted at closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

In addition, NTS has approached various local trusts and foundations to enable free or very low-cost performances in economically deprived areas. Our youth music initiative puts music at the heart of young people’s lives and learning, with particular emphasis being placed on widening access and participation through reaching all children and young people. Within that initiative are funds such as the access to music making fund, which supports out-of-school music making for target groups who might otherwise not have such opportunities.

We have heard about the support that has been provided to Sistema Scotland, which is a fantastic organisation that provides access to music across Scotland. Much work is being done, but there is more to do. I welcome Emma Roddick’s input to make sure that the issue is emphasised today.

Creative Industries (Workplace Ownership)

6. Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the culture minister has had with ministerial colleagues regarding what support is available for anyone working in creative industries, including the Belmont cinema in Aberdeen, who may wish to take control or ownership of their workplaces. (S6O-01745)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

I have not been approached by creative industries workers about an interest in control or ownership of their workplaces. I would be happy to discuss that with ministerial colleagues, Creative Scotland, enterprise agencies and relevant partners to see what support is available, if we are asked to do so.

An effective worker voice is critical to fair work, and it underpins all other fair work dimensions. Collective bargaining, social dialogue and an effective voice are key to improving terms and conditions, to worker wellbeing and to developing progressive and fair workplaces—which include social enterprises and co-operatives.

Maggie Chapman

The Belmont cinema and its predecessors acted as a focal point for a range of community groups and creative organisations for more than 125 years. The First Minister recently stressed the importance of culture to our communities. We must support not only the big international festivals and organisations, but the local community-owned and worker-owned enterprises. Will the minister meet former Belmont cinema workers and others who are keen to secure a viable and sustainable independent cinema, and will he provide guidance for those who are seeking to protect places like the Belmont for future generations?

Neil Gray

Yes, I will. First, I want to echo the First Minister’s feelings about the importance of culture to local communities; I feel that, and the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture feels it. I welcome the opportunity to meet stakeholders who are seeking to secure a future for cultural cinema provision in Aberdeen, which I offered to do previously in relation to the Belmont.

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

As we have heard, Aberdeen’s Belmont cinema is an important educational and cultural cornerstone. It is wholly owned by Aberdeen City Council, so it is all the more alarming that such a venue has been allowed to close and to go into administration without the option of saving the cinema being considered. Can the minister confirm what obligation there is on the administrators of the cinema to explore such options, and what financial support the Government can make available to support that?

Neil Gray

Mercedes Villalba mentioned that the Belmont cinema in Aberdeen is owned by Aberdeen City Council. There is a legal process under way in the administration of the Centre for the Moving Image; the member will be aware that I am constrained in how much I can say about the process. As I have offered other colleagues previously in relation to the administration of the CMI, I am happy to meet the member to discuss where things are and the concerns that she has—which I share—about ensuring that cultural cinema provision continues at the Belmont in Aberdeen.

Creative Scotland (Budget)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Creative Scotland’s actions following the announcement of the draft budget. (S6O-01746)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development and Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine (Neil Gray)

The Scottish Government welcomes Creative Scotland’s decision on Monday 19 December to maintain funding for the regularly funded organisations at current levels next year by drawing on its accumulated national lottery reserves.

We have provided Creative Scotland with more than £33 million over five years to compensate for generally reduced lottery funding. We now face difficult decisions about Government funding, so the time is right for Creative Scotland to draw on the lottery reserves that are available to it.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

The minister has just referenced the First Minister’s comments on the arts. A headline in The Press and Journal on 3 January read, “Nicola Sturgeon urges Scots to back the arts as sector faces uncertain future”. The article described the First Minister as

“an aficionado of books, festivals, music and movies”,

but decisions by her Government have resulted in one in eight Scottish libraries being permanently closed since 2010; Scotland’s winter festival fund being cancelled; live music venues being under real pressure; and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Filmhouse and the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen all ceasing trading. Of course, her Government has also just slashed the funding of Scotland’s creative arts agency. Would a better and more accurate headline not have been: “Nicola Sturgeon urges Scots to back the arts because her Government won’t”?

Neil Gray

No. As I already outlined, we are making decisions to support the creative industries and cultural provision across Scotland as best we can, under the economic situation that we face. However, the situation is largely outwith our control. Across the UK, we face an economic storm that is of the UK Government’s making. Its economic recklessness has meant that not only has the Scottish Government’s budget been impacted by inflation, but the creative and culture stakeholders—whom Angus Robertson and I have met during the past months—have also seen their budgets being impacted by spiralling inflation and spiralling energy costs.

That is all because of the recklessness of the UK Government and its failure to actively address the problem, so I will take no lessons from the Conservatives on our investment in and support for the creative industries, when they are doing nothing about it.

I can squeeze in question 8 if I have brief questions and answers.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

To ask the Scottish Government what recent communication it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the potential impact on Scotland of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. (S6O-01747)

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

On 21 December, I received a response from Grant Shapps to my two letters. Although I am happy to have finally received his response, I am disappointed that our concerns continue not to be addressed and that our amendments—which were drafted to limit the damaging impact of the bill on Scotland—continue to be ignored.

Scottish Government officials continue to work with their UK Government counterparts as part of the programme to identify devolved retained European Union law, yet we are still operating largely in the dark in terms of what the UK Government proposes to do with retained EU law, and therefore in terms of what powers Scottish ministers might need to use to prevent deregulation and to uphold high standards for the people of Scotland.

Kaukab Stewart

The absence of any attempt at co-operation on a bill of such magnitude for Scottish democracy is truly ridiculous, especially given the Parliament’s overwhelming rejection of the Brexit freedoms bill. Does the cabinet secretary agree that Westminster must urgently acknowledge the threat that its Brexiteer plans represent to devolution and democracy in Scotland, and scrap the bill?

Angus Robertson

I have been absolutely clear that our preference is for the bill to be withdrawn entirely, or for areas of devolved competence to be carved out from the sunset provisions. However, the amendments that we tabled were dismissed by the UK Government in a House of Commons committee.

I agree that the UK Government’s plans to disrespect the Sewel convention should be of grave concern to the Scottish Parliament. We are therefore putting plans in place to identify devolved retained EU law, but it is a significant undertaking that has the potential to impact on officials’ ability to dedicate time to urgent issues that affect the people of Scotland, such as the energy and cost of living crises.

That concludes portfolio questions on the constitution, external affairs and culture. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next portfolio to allow front-bench teams to change position.

Justice and Veterans

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next portfolio is justice and veterans. If a member seeks to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question. Again, in order to get in as many members as possible, I would appreciate succinct questions and answers to match.

Justice System Reform (Support for Victims)

1. Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what can be done to improve the situation faced by victims in criminal court cases who are simultaneously involved in civil proceedings where victim support is required, and how this will be delivered by the Government’s work on reforming the justice system. (S6O-01748)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government’s victim-centred approach fund supports third sector organisations to provide practical and emotional support to victims, survivors and witnesses of crime in Scotland in order to achieve better long-term outcomes.

Although there is no direct role for victim support and victim support organisations in civil proceedings, the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 contains provisions on special measures in some family cases to protect vulnerable witnesses and parties.

In last year’s consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the justice system, we proposed extending the provisions on special measures in the 2020 act to civil cases generally.

Fiona Hyslop

Following the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, more categories of witnesses were automatically presumed to be vulnerable in criminal cases and now usually have a right to certain special measures when giving evidence. However, in civil cases, the parties themselves must apply to the court for special measures for victim support; there is no automatic presumption that they should be offered such measures.

As the cabinet secretary has just indicated, the consultation on improving victims’ experiences of the justice system raised the possibility of special measures being available when required for all civil court hearings in Scotland. Can he confirm whether those measures will be automatically applied to vulnerable witnesses in civil cases?

Keith Brown

On special measures, the consultation to which Fiona Hyslop referred suggested following the model, which is not yet in force, in the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 for family cases. Under that model, a witness will be deemed vulnerable if they have a civil protection order against another party or if the other party has committed, or is accused of committing, certain criminal offences against the witness. In those circumstances, the court will have to make an order authorising special measures or order the witness to give evidence without special measures.

The 2020 act also makes provision so that special measures can be made available in non-evidential hearings. At the moment, special measures in civil cases depend on the hearing being evidential—that is, with witnesses. Many civil hearings are not of that nature, so we will consider responses to the consultation to address the point that Fiona Hyslop has made.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Numerous rape victims whose cases were not prosecuted in the criminal courts or whose cases resulted in unsuccessful prosecutions have had to resort to DIY justice by bringing a civil case against their attackers. Will the cabinet secretary tell me how many such cases are currently before the Scottish courts?

No, because I do not have that information. However, I can get it and am happy to correspond with Mr Findlay to provide it.

Public Safety (Glasgow)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to improve public safety in Glasgow. (S6O-01749)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

Public safety is a central priority for the Scottish Government. In Glasgow, as in the rest of Scotland, we work for a society in which people feel, and are, safe in their communities. To that end, we will continue with our transformative policies, including those outlined in “The Vision for Justice in Scotland” and the programme for government. In doing so, we will engage with a range of partners, including not only the emergency services but wider community safety organisations such as the Scottish Community Safety Network, Crimestoppers and Neighbourhood Watch Scotland, as well as local community safety partnerships.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I thank the minister for that answer but more can and should be done. Attacks in Glasgow, including in its parks, have become all too common, which has led Radio Clyde to launch its light the way campaign for lighting in parks at night and Unite to launch its get me home safely campaign, which calls for safe and free transport home at night, including by taxi.

What action can be taken to ensure that Glasgow City Council introduces lighting in Glasgow’s parks and to support the taxi industry so that there are cabs available to help people to get home safely in the city?

Elena Whitham

I know that Pam Duncan-Glancy is passionate about the issue. I understand that people need to get home safely, so I am willing to continue to engage with all partners, including Glasgow City Council, to ensure that we make progress.

Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (Cost of Non-attendance at Hearings)

To ask the Scottish Government what the average cost to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service is of non-attendance at court hearings by all parties. (S6O-01750)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The managing of non-attendance is an operational matter for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. It does not record the costs of non-attendance, so an assessment of average costs is not possible. That said, we know that the costs are substantial and the SCTS employs a range of measures to minimise them. The chief executive of the SCTS will write to the member in response to a similar written question that he has lodged.

Mark Griffin

I have a constituent who, along with his family, has gone through the emotional trauma of attending court on six separate occasions to face the person who is accused of breaking into his property, stealing personal items of huge emotional value and setting fire to his home, only for that case to be postponed every time. Will the cabinet secretary say how many cases have been postponed due to non-attendance by an accused person, what the Government’s view is on the impact that that has on victims and families and on dealing with court backlogs, and what plans it has to raise the issue with the Courts and Tribunals Service to stop it happening?

Keith Brown

Of course, the SCTS has a degree of autonomy and independence in relation to the matter. The scheduling of trials is its responsibility. It tries to mitigate the impact of non-attendance by overbooking to minimise the court time that is wasted. A number of specific measures are also taken—including the summary case management pilot, which is being undertaken in Paisley, Dundee and Hamilton, I think—to ensure that, if time becomes available because of non-appearance, another case can take the place of that hearing. That minimises the time that is wasted for the courts. It does not directly address the point of concern for Mark Griffin’s constituent. However, the management of court cases is for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to undertake.

To go back to the original point about cost, the last substantial estimate that was made was done by Audit Scotland. It admitted the difficulties that there were in trying to get a definitive figure but it might be interesting to Mark Griffin and might partly answer his question to know that Audit Scotland arrived at a figure of around 5 per cent for the cost of churn—that is, cases that were not taken. I am happy to provide him with more information in writing about the absolute number if we have the daily number for cases that have been subject to non-attendance.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Travel delays and cancellations between the islands and mainland Scotland are impacting on the justice system. What is the cost of non-attendance at court due to travel delays? How many non-appearances in court are due to the transfer of prisoners by private contractors? What discussions has the Scottish Government had with the SCTS about those contractors and the situation?

Keith Brown

We have had discussions with the SCTS and the Scottish Prison Service, because the matter sometimes involves the transportation of prisoners to court, which can be an issue. There have been issues relating to the transportation of prisoners, not least because of some of the problems with employment that the contractor is currently experiencing due to the constrained labour market.

On costs, I refer Beatrice Wishart to the answer that I gave Mark Griffin. I am happy to look into the issue further to see whether, despite the fact that it is difficult to bear down on the figures and identify the costs—Audit Scotland found that, too—there are identifiable costs relating to people travelling to court, which she mentioned. If that information is available, I will supply it in writing.

Antisocial Behaviour (Central Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to reduce antisocial behaviour in the Central Scotland region. (S6O-01751)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

The Scottish Government will continue to ensure that Police Scotland and local authorities have appropriate powers to prevent and deal with antisocial behaviour in all Scotland’s communities.

Local authorities and Police Scotland are best placed to understand the issues that the communities they work with are facing and to work with them to address those issues through a wide range of options, including the use of antisocial behaviour orders, fixed-penalty notices and formal warnings, alongside positive diversionary and early intervention activities in appropriate circumstances.

Stephen Kerr

I ask about the issue because two elderly constituents of mine in Falkirk are woken every night by their neighbour calling the emergency services—many of the calls appear to be hoax calls. The noise can continue for many hours late at night as the police or people from the ambulance service bang on the door and shout to try to get entry. My constituents have significant health problems that have been caused by living with sleep deprivation and intense anxiety.

The type of behaviour that I have described is not admissible as evidence of antisocial behaviour. If it is not antisocial behaviour, what is it, and how can my constituents get peace?

Elena Whitham

I am sorry to hear of the issues that Mr Kerr’s constituents are facing and I am happy to engage with him directly on that, because people have the right to enjoy their own home and to feel safe and secure in it.

Obviously, local authorities and the police have powers in relation to antisocial behaviour and there is a range of options that the local authority could and should be using in that instance. I am happy to engage with Mr Kerr on that.

Recorded Crime in Scotland Statistics

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the latest recorded crime in Scotland statistics. (S6O-01752)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Although the latest recorded crime statistics remain at their lowest level since 1974, showing that Scotland is a safer place since this Government took office, as I pointed out to Craig Hoy, when he asked the same question on 21 September last year, there is much more to do. That is why the recent Scottish budget includes plans to invest almost £3.4 billion across the justice system in 2023-24, with a 5.8 per cent increase in the resource budget, which equates to an additional £165 million. That will strengthen and reform vital front-line services, provide support for victims and witnesses and tackle the underlying drivers of offending.

Liz Smith

Nonetheless, the cabinet secretary knows that the most recent statistics from Police Scotland show a 17 per cent rise in non-sexual violent crime in Perth and Kinross, a 12 per cent rise in Fife and a 10 per cent rise in Stirlingshire. I think that many constituents across Mid Scotland and Fife will think that that is completely at odds with the cabinet secretary’s claim in the 1919 magazine that

“Scotland continues to be such a safe place in which to live”.

What urgent action is the Scottish Government, in line with our police force, taking to address those serious concerns?

Keith Brown

Nonetheless, it remains the case that crime in Scotland has fallen significantly under this situation. Scotland is a safer place since this Government took office; recorded crime is at the lowest level seen since 1974; and homicides are extremely low compared with historical trends.

We have also seen a 25 per cent reduction in non-sexual violent crime, as mentioned by Liz—

The minister did not listen to the question.

I do not know whether the member wants to hear the response or to shout instead.

The minister is on his feet, so there should be no sedentary chatting across the chamber. He will respond to the question, and we should listen to his response.

Keith Brown

Since 2006-07, we have seen a 25 per cent reduction in non-sexual violent crime, although, as I said in my original answer, we accept that there is much more to do. To help address that, we will continue to fund the police at a higher level in Scotland. Across almost every rank, we will continue to pay our police more in Scotland, and we will continue to have more police per capita in Scotland than there are in the rest of the United Kingdom. As I have just mentioned, we have increased the budget, despite the constraints that we have because of the Conservatives’ economic mismanagement in England and Wales.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

The number of sexual and violent crimes has increased again, and we know that the number of victims, particularly of sexual offences, who do not report is far greater than the number of those who do report. Therefore, the real figures will be even higher. How will the real-terms cuts to the budgets of the Crown Office, the judiciary, the police and the courts help to tackle that issue?

Keith Brown

I agree with the first two parts of Katy Clark’s question. First, there has been an increase in sexual crimes—the number is 6 per cent higher than it was in the year ending September 2021. I also agree with the point that she made about the vast number of sexual crimes that are not reported. We can agree on those two things, but we do not agree on Crown Office funding, which has been increased again—this is from memory, although I am happy to correct it if it is wrong—by more than 3 per cent.

Katy Clark knows full well the constraints of the miserable settlement that we receive from the UK Government, which is, of course, related to its economic mismanagement. Therefore, within a very constrained environment, we are putting more money into the area. I have already mentioned that we fund the police—not only in relation to numbers but in relation to pay—to a greater extent than is done elsewhere. That should help to drive down a problem that is common across the world in many different jurisdictions—a problem that I recognise.

Veteran Medal Replacements Initiative

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its support for the veteran medal replacements initiative. (S6O-01753)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

I announced the launch of the scheme to fund the cost of replacing medals for eligible veterans during the remembrance debate in November last year. I am happy to say that the first veteran to be supported through the scheme has now received his medals. In the meantime, my officials have been working with the Ministry of Defence to formalise the arrangements for the scheme. I should mention that I had asked the MOD if it would do that in the first instance, but it refused to do so. We are now formalising the arrangements with the MOD to fund, on an on-going basis, replacement of medals for veterans who are resident in Scotland.

Jenni Minto

It is positive to see that the Scottish Government remains committed to investing in its veterans community, and I note that we have also welcomed a new veterans commissioner. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that veterans’ voices continue to be represented in policy development?

Keith Brown

Of course, Jenni Minto has pointed out that we are, so far, the first and only Administration within the United Kingdom whose medal replacement costs are being met by the Government. We were the first to have a veterans commissioner and—to get to the point of Jenni Minto’s question—we are also the first to have a veterans commissioner who is female. The role is vital for listening to and representing veterans. In turn, the commissioner’s recommendations to Government help to ensure that veterans’ voices are part of policy development.

The new commissioner is currently involved in the hearing veterans’ voices initiative, which seeks to develop better ways of engaging directly with veterans and their families. That will help to build on the work that has been done by the Scottish Government to engage with the veterans community in developing and refreshing our decisions strategy and action plan, as will our regular engagement with veterans stakeholders to ensure that the issues that veterans face are heard and understood.

Police Officers (Mental Health)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to support the mental health of police officers. (S6O-01754)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The Scottish Government welcomes the preventative approach, including proactive measures such as wellbeing assessments, that Police Scotland is adopting to support the health and wellbeing of its workforce.

Police officers and staff can access a range of services to care for their psychological, physical, social and financial wellbeing through Police Scotland’s “Your wellbeing matters” programme. Through the trauma risk management programme, post-trauma support is offered to all officers and staff who are directly involved in potentially traumatic incidents. Police Scotland has also signed up to the mental health at work commitment and standards.

Sharon Dowey

Police officers are often the first to arrive at murder scenes, abuse incidents, suicides and road traffic accidents. In 2021-22, officers and staff in the force missed 76,848 days due to psychological disorders. Given the reports of burn-out, low morale and high turnover among officers, what further steps is the Scottish Government taking to address the mental health challenges that face police officers? Can the Scottish Government update officers on how its proposed police complaints and misconduct handling bill will address the mental health problems that can be caused for officers when police complaints go unresolved for long periods?

Keith Brown

I have previously laid out in the chamber what else we are doing, and I will do so again as we move through the bill process for the police complaints standards initiative that we are taking forward in the proposed bill. The mental health at work commitment standards have, as I mentioned, been signed up to by Police Scotland. They include prioritisation of mental health in the workplace and the taking of a proactive approach to organisational culture—to go back to Sharon Dowey’s point about the forthcoming bill—in order to drive positive mental health outcomes. Those form part of Blue Light Together’s package of support to change workplace culture with regard to mental health and to provide specialist mental health support to emergency responders and their families.

Police Scotland is also working with Lifelines Scotland to provide mental health and wellbeing training, which aims to raise awareness and to support the emotional and psychological wellbeing of the police workforce.

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

I am pleased that the Criminal Justice Committee held a meeting with Police Scotland officers to discuss the issue last year. More recently, the Scottish Police Authority hosted a conference on mental health and policing. Both provided valuable insight into the challenges of policing, and of the mental health and mental wellbeing of officers and staff.

I welcome the increase in the police budget, which reflects that policing is a priority for this Government. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the higher pay for officers in Scotland shows that the Scottish Government recognises the hard work and utter commitment of our police officers?

Keith Brown

Absolutely. I am not trying to pretend that just being better paid than police officers in other jurisdictions is enough to deal with some of the mental health pressures—of course that is not the case. However, our officers are the best paid in the United Kingdom, and we recognise the hard work and dedication of the police workforce across Scotland. The starting salary for a constable here is around £5,000 more than it is in England and Wales.

In recognition of the importance of policing, we will provide an additional £80 million to the Scottish Police Authority in 2023-24, which will take the police budget to £1.45 billion. That additional funding will continue to ensure that there is a stable basis from which to improve delivery of policing and to enhance the safety and security of communities across Scotland.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

In June 2022, I asked the First Minister what action the Scottish Government would take to support police officers who were struggling with the cost of living crisis. The First Minister responded by saying:

“we will continue to value them not just in rhetoric but in action.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2022; c 21.]

Will the cabinet secretary please outline what action has since been taken to support police officers with the cost of living crisis to mitigate the potential impact of financial strain on their mental health?

Keith Brown

There are two points to make in answer to Mr Choudhury’s question. The first is that, as I have mentioned, some of the mental health support also covers support with regard to financial issues. It is very important that police officers are not subjected to extreme financial pressures because of the other dangers of that, particularly in relation to the police’s role. That is done within the police—Police Scotland is the employer and it provides that support.

The Government provides support by making sure that we have the best-paid police officers in the UK. I mentioned that the lowest level—a starting police constable—receives £5,000 a year more than they would in the rest of the UK. That is a substantial amount more than is paid elsewhere. I am not saying that it is the complete answer, but it will help with the cost of living crisis. We will continue to make sure that we support our police officers to a greater extent than we see officers being supported elsewhere in the UK.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (Estate)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service estate. (S6O-01755)

Currently, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has 357 fire stations, which provide fire and rescue cover to communities across Scotland.

Jamie Greene

Let me give the minister an update, in the absence of one from people on the centre benches. Of those 357 stations, 220 are in poor or bad condition, 150 do not have any shower facilities, 100 lack drying facilities, and 11 have no water supply at all. Is it any wonder that our firefighters in Scotland are 600 times more likely than the wider population to suffer from certain cancers? None of us in this room would work in such conditions; why should our firefighters?

Elena Whitham

Jamie Greene raises very important points, of which I am well aware. We have committed to increasing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service resource budget by £10 million this coming year, and we have protected the capital budget as much as we could.

It is worth noting that, when we merged the former services into one service, that came with a £389 million capital backlog. I will make sure to engage with the service and the Fire Brigades Union in the short term about their priorities for the buildings, fleet and equipment.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Almost £3.4 billion in funding across the justice system was announced as part of the 2023-24 budget to fund vital front-line services. How will that investment support the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to deliver the high standard of services that are required to keep Scotland safe?

Elena Whitham

As I mentioned, the draft 2023-24 budget includes a £10 million increase to the resource budget for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to support service delivery and reform. That will bring the total budget to £362.7 million, which is more than £55.3 million higher than the budget for 2017-18.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

A research study of emergency service staff in Scotland, the results of which were published on Tuesday, found that firefighters’ cancer mortality rate is 1.6 times higher than that of others, which is likely due to exposure to toxic substances while on the job. The World Health Organization classifies firefighting as a carcinogenic profession.

Firefighters deserve the best preventative medical care, education, and support to reduce their risk of cancer, but they also need the right equipment and facilities to enable them to properly decontaminate after attending fires. Will the minister commit to producing a plan of action to upgrade facilities and infrastructure at fire stations across Scotland to ensure that those front-line workers have what they need to be safe?

Elena Whitham

I know that Maggie Chapman, like Jamie Greene, has a keen interest in the matter—as do I. Both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service set as a high priority protection of the safety and wellbeing of firefighters. I know that the SFRS is taking action across all aspects of operations to reduce exposure to contaminants, which includes investment in new fire appliances and facilities. I am keen to engage with it and the FBU on the issue. Difficult decisions have had to be taken on allocation of the finite capital budget that is available to the Scottish Government but—as I said—we have protected the capital budget for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service as far as possible.

That concludes portfolio questions on justice and veterans. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business.