Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]
Meeting date: Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Ministerial Code (First Minister and Deputy First Minister), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
- Portfolio Question Time
- Scottish Ministerial Code (First Minister and Deputy First Minister)
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
Portfolio Question Time
Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letters “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question.
“Building a New Scotland” Papers (Feedback)
To ask the Scottish Government how it is assessing feedback to the “Building a New Scotland” series of papers. (S6O-02712)
The minister, Jamie Hepburn, is joining us remotely.
First, I apologise to Marie McNair and other members for not being able to be in the chamber in person today.
We are assessing feedback through a variety of measures including round-table events with relevant stakeholders and ministers following paper launches, and other ministerial and official-level stakeholder engagement.
A recent “Building a New Scotland” paper sets out the Scottish Government’s proposals for a humane and principled migration policy after independence. The United Kingdom’s hostile environment policies came into effect under former Prime Minister David Cameron. This week, he is back in Cabinet, unelected and unaccountable. Does the minister agree that the sooner Scotland can introduce our own migration policy that treats migrants with respect, the better it will be?
Yes, I agree with that. I also welcome the fact that Parliament voted just yesterday in favour of that proposition. Despite the welcome withdrawal of Suella Braverman from Government, I cannot say that the return of David Cameron or the appointment of James Cleverly as her replacement fills me with much optimism that the UK Government is changing tack. I hope that it will reflect on today’s Supreme Court judgment in respect of its Rwanda policy, which has already cost the taxpayer some £140 million in payments to the Rwandan Government, and that it will adjust accordingly. However, I hold out little hope of that. Only with independence can we create a sensible and humane immigration system.
“Building a New Scotland” Papers (Cost)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the total cost of its “Building a New Scotland” series of papers, including the recently published “Migration to Scotland after independence” paper. (S6O-02713)
I reiterate my apology to Murdo Fraser for not being there to answer his question in person.
The Scottish Government is publishing the publication costs of all the papers in the “Building a New Scotland” series. The Parliament has been informed of costs for the first five papers in the series, and we will publish the cost information for the recent “Migration to Scotland after independence” paper shortly.
I thank the minister for his answer, although I did not hear a number in the response that he gave.
The constitution is, of course, a reserved matter. The Scottish Government is spending public money on these papers, but we know that people in Scotland do not want independence and that even people in the SNP do not think that it is likely to happen. We have a budget process coming up and we have huge demands on the Scottish Government budget—not least from people who have recently been flooded out of their homes and who are looking in vain for support from this Scottish Government. Would the money not be better spent on them than on those pointless papers?
First, I welcome Mr Fraser’s on-going interest in the “Building a New Scotland” series. He complains about parliamentary time being given over to discuss these matters, but he is clearly warming to the prospect, given that he has asked me that particular question.
In respect of the costs of the work that we are undertaking, I will put the issue in context by noting that, in 2022-23, expenditure on the constitutional futures division and the BANS papers that we have published constituted 0.0035 per cent of the Scottish Government budget. When we compare that with the massive opportunities of independence, which we see when we look at countries all around us such as Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Finland—all of which are healthier, happier, fairer and wealthier countries—I think that that is a price worth paying.
I have received requests for supplementaries from two members and will take both.
The values of humanity and compassion to people who are fleeing persecution and conflict should be central to our approach to migration and asylum policy. Can the minister say any more about how the UK Government’s approach is typified by the Rwanda scheme, which today has been ruled illegal, and how it compares with the Scottish Government’s approach to asylum and refugee policy as set out in its recent paper “Migration to Scotland after independence”?
The UK Government’s approach speaks for itself. It has overtly said that it wants a hostile approach to migration, which runs totally counter to what we require in Scotland. We need people to come to Scotland. In our paper, we have laid out a sensible and proportionate approach that involves encouraging people to come here for the economic opportunities and to support our economy, while also making sure that we have a humane process to support people who are fleeing from torture, war and other challenges in other parts of the world. We have got it right, and the UK Government has got it wrong.
Given the catastrophic effects that Westminster policies have had on Scotland’s economy—particularly Trussonomics, which Murdo Fraser demanded the Scottish National Party Government follow—does the minister agree that Scotland cannot actually afford not to talk about independence? More important, can the Scottish Government tell the Parliament what the cost of funding the Scotland Office is, and what it actually delivers for the people of Scotland?
First, I agree with Mr Fairlie’s premise. The real question should be: can Scotland afford not to be independent? For example, the Office for Budget Responsibility says that Brexit will shrink the United Kingdom’s gross domestic product by some 4 per cent in the longer term. We do not want to be dragged down in that respect.
On the Scotland Office, I cannot provide the full figures, of course—only the UK Government can do that—but we know that, in 2022-23, the Scotland Office spent £1.1 million on communications staff alone. In the same year, it spent £47,370 on travel and subsistence costs for just four special advisers, which was £19,034 more than in the two years before. That is hardly good value for the taxpayer.
Question number 3 has been withdrawn.
Scottish Census 2022
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the Scottish census 2022. (S6O-02715)
National Records of Scotland published the first results from Scotland’s census 2022 on 14 September. The publication represented a historic moment for Scotland, with the largest population ever recorded by Scotland’s census of 5.4 million, an increase of 2.7 per cent since the previous census in 2011. Following September’s publication, NRS will publish further results from Scotland’s census from spring 2024 onwards.
In the summer of 2024, a series of topic data reports will provide new and unique insights into the characteristics of Scotland’s people, including information on ethnicity, religion, the labour market, education and housing. For the first time, data on armed forces veterans, sexual orientation and trans status or history will be included.
The Scottish National Party completely botched Scotland’s census, and it did so because of its ideological obsession with diverging from the rest of the United Kingdom. It will therefore be more difficult to plan for the delivery of public services. National Records of Scotland says that lessons will be learned from this fiasco. Surely there is one main lesson to learn, which is that, in 2031, the census should be UK-wide. Will it be? I am looking for a yes or a no.
NRS is keen to reflect on lessons learned, including how the results that are now being published are received by users, and it is committed to setting those out upon the conclusion of the 2022 census programme in an evaluation report that will be laid before Parliament by the end of 2024.
I am sure that Mr Findlay will be delighted to learn that the Office for Statistics Regulation has awarded Scotland’s census output with national statistics designation, based on quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of the statistics. Achieving such a designation means that the expert independent UK regulator has confidence in the statistics that NRS has produced and that Scotland’s census forms an integral part of the statistical system in the United Kingdom.
Creative Scotland (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what plans it has to restore a reported £6.6 million reduction in funding to Creative Scotland for 2024-25. (S6O-02716)
The Scottish Government values the importance of the arts, especially their significant contribution to wellbeing and to the cultural, social and economic life in communities across Scotland.
It is for those reasons, among many, that during the past five years the Scottish Government has provided more than £33 million to Creative Scotland to compensate for a shortfall in National Lottery funding. As a result of rising costs and pressure on budgets across Government, the Scottish Government is unable to make up the £6.6 million shortfall in National Lottery funding during this financial year.
Subject to the usual parliamentary processes, we will provide that shortfall funding of £6.6 million to Creative Scotland in 2024-25. We hope to provide a further update on funding following publication of the draft budget in December.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer. We all want extra funding for culture, because it will allow great events—such as the Borders book festival, which takes place in my constituency—to continue to thrive in the future.
However, the delivery of the funding has been a fiasco. First, the Scottish National Party cut the Creative Scotland budget, then it announced—with a great fanfare—that it would reverse that cut, then it restored the cut, then it restored the funding again. The SNP U-turned on a U-turn on a U-turn. Does the cabinet secretary accept that the culture sector needs more certainty than that confusing hokey cokey?
It is important to appreciate the context of the end-year finance. Unfortunately, Rachael Findlay is not on the culture committee, where she would have heard—[Interruption.]
Sorry, I meant to say Rachael Hamilton—forgive me. I do not know whether that would be a promotion or a demotion. I will leave others to decide.
It is important to understand that we had pressures because of the UCI cycling world championships—the cost of which amounted to £8 million—£6.6 million for Creative Scotland, and a very significant list of cultural projects right across Scotland that were under threat unless we were able to manage the end-year finances differently. We have done that. The Government took the UCI cycling world championship costs out of the portfolio, and it has ensured that Creative Scotland uses its reserves so that there is no detriment to regularly funded organisations.
If I have an opportunity later during questions, I will be able to confirm the spending that we have been able to put forward—
Cabinet secretary, you are over your time. We need to move on.
Gaza (Humanitarian Aid)
To ask the Scottish Government, regarding its humanitarian aid funding, whether it will provide an update on any further action it can take to help provide support to those affected by the conflict in Gaza. (S6O-02717)
We unequivocally condemn the abhorrent terrorist attacks committed by Hamas. However, in exercising its right to defend itself, Israel must abide by international humanitarian law. The civilian populations in Gaza and the West Bank cannot and must not be held responsible for crimes committed by a terrorist organisation.
Last week, we announced a further £250,000 contribution towards the United Nations flash appeal in response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in addition to the £500,000 that we committed last month.
Scotland will always be a welcoming place and a compassionate sanctuary for refugees. Given the harrowing and inhumane conditions that we are witnessing in Gaza, and the immediate and growing need for support—particularly when the UK Government’s stance on an immediate ceasefire is conflicting—can the cabinet secretary provide an update on what further steps the Scottish Government can take to welcome Palestinian refugees in Scotland?
The First Minister has been clear that we stand ready to welcome refugees in Scotland, should that be required, and the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice wrote to the former Home Secretary to request a meeting to discuss plans. I reiterated those calls in my recent appearances before the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee. We wait to hear from the new Home Secretary what approach he plans to take.
It is estimated that 50,000 pregnant women are trapped in Gaza, with around 5,000 due to give birth during the next month, and without clean water, medicine and humanitarian aid those women and their babies will be at risk, which is devastating. What discussions have been had with relevant aid organisations regarding the specific challenges that pregnant women face, and in future discussions regarding humanitarian aid, will the cabinet secretary raise the specific needs of that key, vulnerable group whenever he has the opportunity?
I agree entirely with the question. Our main interlocutors in relation to aid in Gaza are the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is the UN agency that deals with the Palestinian authorities.
Of course, we believe that a ceasefire is absolutely key to being able to ensure that the humanitarian support manages to get in and to deal with the very specific challenges that the member has raised, as well as many others. Unfortunately, the civilian population is suffering grievously in Gaza. Everything needs to be done to help and support them, while acknowledging, as I have already, our condemnation—no doubt across the chamber—and our opposition to the terrorist atrocity that Hamas visited on innocent Israeli people in October.
Arts and Culture (Funding)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its commitment to increase funding for the arts and culture sector. (S6O-02718)
I am pleased to report that the Scottish Government has released £6.68 million of funding to the culture sector for the rest of this financial year. That funding will benefit individuals and communities across Scotland through our support to programmes such as the culture collective and it demonstrates our continued investment in screen and festivals. In spite of the incredibly challenging picture, we have prioritised our investment in culture to support the sector, acknowledging its vital contribution to our economy, and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience the transformative and empowering potential of culture.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that several important projects require capital funding in the Glasgow area, many of which are strategically important to the economic development of the city. Glasgow Life has called for a funding model that outlines how the Scottish Government will support cultural provision in Scotland while addressing discrepancies between cities and regions. Can the cabinet secretary assure my constituents that the possibility of direct central Government funding to Glasgow’s national assets will be taken into serious consideration with his department’s increased budget?
First, I will deal with this year. Of the £6.68 million funding release to the culture sector that I have just announced, £1.5 million will go to the culture collective programme, £2 million to Screen Scotland, £250,000 to the platforms for creative excellence programme, £130,000 to the national performing arts companies touring fund and £2.8 million to fund public sector pay policy uplifts. On spending decisions for next year, the issues that Kaukab Stewart has raised will no doubt be considered. If members on all sides of the chamber have particular views on how the Scottish Government should invest the increase that we have committed to making for culture, I would encourage them to share them, as I would be very grateful to hear them.
More than a month ago, the Scottish Government promised Creative Scotland that it would not be left out of pocket by the reinstatement of a 10 per cent cut in core funding. Creative Scotland is desperately looking for assurances, and rightly so, as thousands of jobs are on the line. Will the cabinet secretary guarantee that his funding commitment to Creative Scotland will be met?
I am happy to repeat what I have said, but I am sure that the member will appreciate that, on the announcement that I have just made on the provision of resources to the culture collective programme, £2 million to Screen Scotland and £250,000 to the platforms for creative excellence programme, those are all via Creative Scotland. Not only are we doing that, but we have given a commitment that the £6.6 million that Creative Scotland is using from its reserves now will be reimbursed next year. I am happy to repeat that.
Creative Industries (Highlands and Islands) (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it will provide to the creative industries in the Highlands and Islands region. (S6O-02719)
The creative industries make an important contribution societally, culturally and economically to Scotland and we are proud to support a range of creative organisations in the Highlands and Islands. For example, through our culture collective programme, which I have just mentioned, we are supporting the creative islands network, which provides opportunities for creative practitioners in the region. Via our regular funding to Creative Scotland, we support organisations including ATLAS Arts on Skye, and the Highland Print Studio in Inverness.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that the First Minister pledged £100 million in extra funding for Creative Scotland over the next five years. Summer festivals in my region, such as Belladrum Tartan Heart festival, HebCelt, Tunes by the Dunes, Under Canvas by Eden Court, and many others, bring millions of pounds to the area. However, the costs that are associated with running those events are rising. Can the cabinet secretary provide a timetable as to when that money will become available? Will some of the funding support smaller or new events that cannot make multiyear funding applications to Creative Scotland?
Rhoda Grant makes an extremely important point. Different cultural organisations and events are funded in different ways—some are funded through Creative Scotland, whereas others are funded directly—so we must ensure that we reach the entire cultural and arts landscape in Scotland.
Rhoda Grant makes a very good point, and, as I said earlier, I encourage her and other members who have funding concerns relating to particular regional, local or sectoral areas to ensure that those concerns are sent to me.
We are going through the standard budget procedure, and we are in a positive situation in relation to culture and the arts, because a commitment from the Scottish Government has been secured—yes, I am aware of it, because I made the suggestion. I am keen to ensure that the funding delivers the changes that I am sure we all want to see so that the culture and arts sector can thrive the length and breadth of Scotland, including in the Highlands and Islands.
Justice and Home Affairs
The next portfolio is justice and home affairs. Again, any member who wishes to request to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or enter the letters RTS in the chat function during the relevant question.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it has any plans to introduce whole-life orders, in light of the United Kingdom Government’s announcement that it will expand their use in England and Wales. (S6O-02720)
The punishment part of a life sentence is the period that must be served in custody, and High Court judges set that part when imposing a life sentence. Under long-standing law dating back to 2001, judges already have the power to set a punishment part that exceeds the remainder of a prisoner’s natural life, which can result in a whole-life sentence. Independent courts can decide when to use their powers, and the Scottish Government supports the courts having those powers.
In recent years, Scotland has seen its share of horrific murders, including the appalling case of Jill Barclay, who was killed in absolutely horrific circumstances. Had that murder been committed down south, it is likely that, under the UK Government’s new plans, the perpetrator would have received a whole-life order, so they would never walk free. However, Scotland’s judges do not have the power that the UK Government plans to introduce. My question is simple: will the cabinet secretary give judges the power to lock up criminals for good, with no chance of parole, in sadistic and depraved murder cases?
As I hoped I had explained to Annie Wells in my original answer, our judges have the power to, in effect, impose a whole-life order on any person who is convicted of murder—our law allows that to happen. For example, Angus Sinclair received a 37-year punishment part when he was convicted of the World’s End murders when he was 69 years old. It is our judges who make such decisions, which is important, and our law enables them to have the fullest range of decision-making powers.
It is also important to acknowledge that the homicide rate in Scotland has reduced, but I appreciate that one life lost to murder is one too many—that is for sure.
Police Station Closures (Impact on Response Times)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of police station closures on police response times. (S6O-02721)
Police Scotland’s approach to responding to incidents is clearly working, with recorded crime being at one of the lowest levels since 1974. When assessing how to respond to an incident, Police Scotland always assesses a reported crime under its threat, harm, risk, investigation, vulnerability and engagement—THRIVE—model. That places the needs of the individual at the centre of the police’s decisions while ensuring that effective prioritisation is in place.
Police Scotland’s estate strategy is working to deliver modern and fit-for-purpose police buildings that are co-located with partners and that meet the needs of 21st-century operational policing.
Police Scotland has warned that it could be forced to shed 2,000 jobs and close 30 police stations thanks to the Scottish National Party’s funding cuts. MSPs on the Criminal Justice Committee were warned that those cuts would impact incident response times. Does the cabinet secretary accept that, if more police stations were to close, response times would inevitably get worse?
No, I do not accept that. I hope that the member does not mind my saying that the correlation that she suggests between static police stations and police response times is simplistic. However, I acknowledge that the location of police stations is important, particularly in some rural areas.
As the member knows, there are a number of ways to report a crime, and it does not always necessitate turning up in person to a police station. In fact, how people report crimes has changed greatly over the decades. On response times, Police Scotland will continue to prioritise emergency incidents and has updated, and will continue to update, its call-handling system.
Police numbers were reported last week in our quarterly statistical update, and they remain stable—
Thank you, cabinet secretary. We need to move on to supplementary questions. Three members have requested to ask questions, and I intend to take all three.
Can the cabinet secretary advise what resources would be taken from front-line police services if the chief constable had decided not to proceed with the closure of police stations that he has deemed surplus to optimum operational requirements?
First, I should say that the chief constable is a she—I am sure that Mr Gibson will not mind my pointing that out to him.
On the substance of his question, through the modernisation of its estate and the disposing of buildings that are no longer fit for purpose, Police Scotland has secured receipts of around £31 million, which has been reinvested into the police estate and other police initiatives.
Can the cabinet secretary outline which 30 police stations Police Scotland is considering for closure? Local authorities, which already have to deal with reduced hours and far fewer police in communities than in previous decades, still do not know the full list of planned closures. Is that something that the cabinet secretary is able to share with us today?
No, it is not, because it is not a matter for me. That would be entirely inappropriate. It is a matter for the chief constable, and it is one in which I am assured that local commanders are engaged directly with local communities, bearing in mind that, as a result of the reform legislation, local authorities have an active role in approving local priorities for policing.
I am quite sure that the member is aware of Police Scotland’s public estate strategy, which was published in 2019. I am also sure that she is aware that the Scottish Police Authority has a role in scrutinising decisions that are made by Police Scotland and that it meets in public.
Can the cabinet secretary outline some of the success that co-location with partners has had in delivering better outcomes for individuals, communities and Police Scotland itself?
I can, indeed. I have often noted in the chamber that a great example of co-location is found in Livingston, in my constituency, where seven partners, including Police Scotland, are located in the West Lothian civic centre. I understand that people can be attached to long-standing buildings, but public services and the nature of policing have changed very much over the past several decades and, indeed, in this century, with a greater focus on partnership working, which co-location and collaboration support.
Question 3 was not lodged.
Domestic Abuse (Domestic Homicide Review Model)
To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it is giving to its wider approach to tackling domestic abuse, including its work to develop Scotland’s first national multi-agency domestic homicide review model. (S6O-02723)
Tackling incidents of domestic abuse has been, and continues to be, a priority for the Scottish Government. That is a fundamental aspect of our equally safe strategy, which is currently being revised in consultation with partners and front-line organisations.
The Scottish Government-led task force for the development of a multi-agency domestic homicide review model has recently concluded a programme of targeted engagement to seek the views of those with lived experience of domestic abuse, those who have been bereaved due to abuse, and those who work in the sector on a range of aspects of the model. A report will be published next month.
My party has welcomed the introduction of a new pilot scheme to support victims of domestic abuse to escape from abusive situations. Given that nearly a quarter of homelessness presentations among women in Scotland were due to abuse, when will the scheme commence in South Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire, and how can the fund really make a difference to gender-based inequality?
On 17 October, the Government announced a £500,000 pilot fund to support women and children who are leaving an abusive relationship. The fund will be delivered by Women’s Aid groups in five local authority areas, and it will enable women to receive up to £1,000.
Ms Mackay has articulated the financial barriers that can prevent someone from leaving an abusive relationship. The pilot fund is expected to run until 31 March next year, and it should provide support for between 450 and 900 women.
Can the cabinet secretary expand on the aims of the domestic homicide review task force and provide an update on its continuing work?
The aim of the work is to ensure that the murders of women and children have a visibility. Although there has been a reduction in the homicide statistics, which are now at a historical low, that is no cause for celebration. We have seen a reduction in violence resulting in the deaths of men, and young men in particular. However, we know that, in 2022-23, 13 women lost their lives due to homicide, and six of those 13 women were killed by a partner or an ex-partner.
The core purpose of that very important work is that we learn from each tragedy and learn how to do more to improve the safety of women and girls. At the end of the day, that is what those who are left behind want us to do.
Someone said that, in learning the lessons of past tragedies,
“we remember the dead but we also fight for the living”.
As the cabinet secretary said, in 2022-23, nearly half of all female victims of homicide were killed by a partner or an ex-partner. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research says that those cases are often not dealt with appropriately. Has the cabinet secretary looked at the research? Does she agree with what it says?
I am aware of that research. For the sake of those who are left behind and those who have lost their lives, it is important that we routinely and diligently look at each and every tragedy to see what should be learned. I think that we are in agreement that that is the very valuable core purpose of the work that is being undertaken. I will endeavour to keep members informed every step of the way.
Police Scotland (Discussions)
To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Police Scotland regarding its north-east pilot not to investigate crimes if that is deemed a proportionate response by the service. (S6O-02724)
Let me be clear: Police Scotland will continue to investigate all reports of crime across all parts of Scotland. In the north-east, when cases are assessed as having no risk or threat and it is clear that there are no proportionate lines of inquiry, callers will be informed that their report has been filed and has received a crime reference number. However, should new information emerge, officers will investigate appropriately. That is how Police Scotland has operated since its establishment.
Police Scotland’s operational response is, of course, a matter for the chief constable. However, I was updated on that matter by Deputy Chief Constable Designate Taylor on 14 September.
As the pilot will likely inform the Government’s view of local policing going forward, to slopey-shoulder it as an operational matter does our officers and the victims of crime a disservice. Given anecdotal evidence of victims feeling abandoned, criminals feeling that there is a free-for-all and general public disquiet, is the Scottish Government minded to see the pilot go nationwide? In any event, what measurements and outcomes will determine whether it has been a success?
Let me be clear. Despite how the pilot, which is a matter for Police Scotland, has been narrated, all crime that is reported will be investigated under the pilot, as has always been the case. That was the assurance that I received directly from Police Scotland.
Police Scotland ensures that threat, harm, risk, investigation, vulnerability and engagement are all assessed as part of its THRIVE model. If it is clear that there are no leads and there is no risk in terms of threat, harm and vulnerability, the measures outlined in my original answer will be undertaken. The only difference between what currently happens and what is being trialled in the pilot is a quicker decision in relation to a proportionate line of inquiry.
To answer Mr Kerr’s question more directly, I assure him that the Government’s focus will remain on keeping our communities safe from harm and ensuring that our police officers throughout this country have the appropriate support—
Thank you, cabinet secretary.
—to make appropriate operational decisions.
I call Audrey Nicoll to ask a supplementary question.
Although I appreciate that decisions such as on the pilot project in the north-east are for the chief constable, how does the Scottish Government continue to support Police Scotland to ensure that local priorities are met and relationships with local communities, which the cabinet secretary alluded to a short time ago, are maintained?
Cabinet secretary, please focus on the pilot.
Yes, Deputy Presiding Officer.
Communities will remain at the heart of policing. The Scottish Government has highlighted the importance of community relationships in the updated strategic police priorities that were published earlier this year. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 ensures that councils have to approve policing plans and the key priorities for their areas. Of course, they work alongside Police Scotland’s local commanders.
Question 6 has been withdrawn.
Consumer Complaints (Legal Services Regulation Reform)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the plans for legal services regulation reform will meet the original objectives of the Roberton review regarding consumer complaints. (S6O-02726)
The Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is designed to deliver the objectives of the Roberton review to provide a modern regulatory framework that will promote competition and innovation alongside the public and consumer interest in an efficient independent legal sector. The bill seeks to balance and deliver the key priorities of all stakeholders by improving the transparency and accountability of legal services regulation and the legal complaints system and increasing the transparency and accountability of legal regulation. The bill embeds consumer principles into the regulatory framework and introduces a more flexible and responsive approach to complaints while expanding independent oversight of complaint handling.
I thank the minister for that response, but it is not just the Roberton review that concluded that the optimum regulatory model must be independent of regulatory bodies. The Competition and Markets Authority, Consumer Scotland and leading lawyers such as Brian Inkster and others also hold that view and have made that clear in evidence.
There is a clear and fundamental conflict of interest in having consumer complaints processed by bodies that exist to protect the interests of their profession. The better regulation principles would suggest that the model that is being proposed, although with some revisions, simply cannot square off that conflict of interest. The proposed new processes still have the same complexities and are extraordinarily difficult to navigate as a consumer.
I need a question, please, Ms Thomson.
Will the minister look again at how we best service consumer complaints about lawyers in line with the better regulation recommendations—
Thank you, Ms Thomson. I think that the minister has probably got the gist.
The Law Society of Scotland will be required to exercise regulatory functions, including complaint handling, independently of its other functions. It will be required to delegate regulatory functions to an independent regulatory committee comprised of a minimum of 50 per cent lay members and a lay chair.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will retain oversight of complaint handling and continue to have a role in monitoring trends in legal complaints. In addition, the commission will have a role in setting minimum standards as to how legal practitioners and legal regulators handle complaints, thereby providing independent oversight.
I have been watching the evidence sessions of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee very closely, and I am happy to discuss the matter further with the member.
One of my constituents recently faced difficulties with the complex appeals process of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. That is why I welcome the review’s recommendation that a simple process of appeals be developed. Why, then, is the Scottish Government removing the ability to appeal decisions altogether and turning its back on complainers?
We are at stage 1 of the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, and I will listen to the committee’s views.
McClure Solicitors, which was founded in Greenock in 1853 and has tens of thousands of clients across Britain, specialising in wills and trusts, went into liquidation recently. The Law Society of Scotland is monitoring it. Another firm, Jones Whyte, took on the files, but it is reportedly charging the victims of McClure’s collapse £300 plus VAT. Is the Scottish Government reading about the case and learning any lessons? Will the cabinet secretary assure me that she is having discussions with the legal profession to ensure that ordinary Scots are protected from such situations?
As minister, I cannot comment on specific on-going legal situations, but I encourage anybody who has a complaint to go to the Law Society of Scotland to make an official complaint. We are learning lessons. At stage 2 of the Trusts and Succession (Scotland) Bill at the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee yesterday, I highlighted to the committee an amendment that would help to ensure that a situation like that of McClure does not happen again. In addition, legislation for the regulation of legal services is moving forward to prevent that from happening again.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its commitment to develop a model for Scotland to challenge men’s demand for prostitution. (S6O-02727)
The Scottish Government continues to develop a framework that effectively tackles and challenges men’s demand for prostitution, and to support those with experience of it. The framework will be published in the new year and our focus will be to implement it with support from a new stakeholder group.
The principles for the framework were published last year, and they will embed equality, human rights and safety at the heart of the new framework. The principles have also been adopted across Scottish Government to inform relevant policy and practice, in turn supporting Scotland’s collective approach to tackling commercial sexual exploitation.
Later this month, we will note 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The Scottish Government has accepted that prostitution is violence against women. Will the minister advise when the Scottish Government will introduce legislation to criminalise men who exploit women in this way?
Prostitution cannot be considered in isolation, and there are many factors that must be considered in that work, of which criminal law is only one. It should be remembered that the law already prohibits many activities associated with prostitution, including trading in prostitution of others, the running of a brothel, procuring for the purposes of prostitution, as well as publicly soliciting or loitering for the purpose of purchasing sex. That is why we are focusing on the development and delivery of the framework to enable women to sustainably exit from prostitution, which will inform any future legislative considerations.
That concludes portfolio question time on justice and home affairs. There will be a short pause before we move on to the next item of business to allow those who wish to change position to do so.