Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Agenda: Points of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Chronic Pain Services, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Community Resilience (Mental Health Support), Correction


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

We move on to portfolio questions. I remind members that questions 5 and 7 are grouped together and that I will take any supplementary questions on those questions once they have been answered. If a member wishes to request a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button or enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question.

Independent Theatres (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to independent theatres in Scotland. (S6O-01540)

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

The Scottish Government provides support to theatres through funding to Creative Scotland, which supports world-class theatre through a portfolio of regularly funded organisations. Independent theatres in Scotland are eligible to apply to Creative Scotland’s open fund, which is financed in 2022-23 by £16.3 million of national lottery arts funding for specific projects or productions.

Alex Rowley

I thank the minister for that answer. I will specifically focus on the Alhambra theatre in Dunfermline, which is the backbone of the area’s nightlife economy. A lot of theatres struggled through Covid and are struggling to survive, and now the cost of living is putting up costs for them. Those costs are being passed on and theatres are seeing reduced numbers of visitors. The difference for the Alhambra is that although most public theatres in Scotland get public subsidies or subsidies from local authorities—some are arm’s-length external organisations—it does not. Would the minister agree to meet independent sector theatres to find out about the specific issues that they face and about how the Government can support them to ensure that no more of them go to the wall?

Neil Gray

I understand perfectly the role that the Alhambra plays in Dunfermline’s local economy, as well as the contribution that it makes to wider cultural needs.

The Scottish independent theatres association recently wrote to me, and I replied on 4 November offering to extend an invitation to one of the forthcoming round-table sessions that Angus Robertson and I are hosting with the culture sector to discuss and chart our way through the challenges that the sector in Scotland faces. However, those challenges are not unique to Scotland; they are also being faced elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I would, of course, be happy to meet Alex Rowley and the Alhambra theatre. If he would like to write to me to suggest that, I would be happy to take him up on it.

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

I share my colleague’s worry about the viability of independent theatres during the Tory cost of living crisis. Given last week’s welcome summit to bring together cultural organisations, does the minister agree with me that Labour should join us in calling on the UK Government—as it is the architect of this crisis—to make additional funding available to enable the Scottish Government to respond more effectively to the challenges that this and other sectors face?

Neil Gray

Yes, I absolutely agree. I appreciate that this an incredibly worrying time for the culture sector and I agree that the UK Government should make additional funding available to address the cost crisis. The challenges faced by cultural institutions are not unique to Scotland. They are a result of spiralling inflation and a cost crisis that the UK Government failed to get to grips with, and the impact that has been felt from the premature withdrawal of the Covid recovery funding. Those issues are being faced across the UK, so we believe that, tomorrow, it is incumbent on the UK Government to come up with the necessary funding to support culture across the UK. We will continue to the press the UK Government to do that and, through the round-table sessions, we will continue to work with the sector as best we can to support it through this challenging time.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

Creative Scotland has delayed its upcoming funding initiatives from 2023 to 2024 after what it called a “realistic prospect” of “serious” cuts by the Scottish Government. Clearly, that will affect venues such as the Tron theatre in Glasgow. What additional support will the Government provide for the sector to avoid other theatres closing their doors forever?

Neil Gray

Clearly, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government face unprecedented challenges in our funding situations as a result of spiralling inflation. Our own budget is worth £1.7 billion less this year than it was when it was set in December 2021. Creative Scotland published an update on its future funding framework and said that it is postponing it until April 2025. The update stated:

“This revised schedule enables us to increase the time for development work, sector engagement and pre-application consultation in Spring and Summer 2023 and will also ensure that the process we run takes account of”

Creative Scotland’s budget allocation

“and the context at that time.”

Ukraine Refugees (Housing)

To ask the Scottish Government for how long it plans to house refugees from Ukraine on the ship docked on the Clyde, MS Ambition. (S6O-01541)

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

We do not want to see anyone spend more time in temporary accommodation than is absolutely necessary.

The MS Ambition was chartered short-term, for six months, to provide much-needed temporary accommodation for displaced people arriving from Ukraine. The contract is due to end in March 2023. If required, those on board at the time when the ship’s contract ends will be offered alternative temporary accommodation.

Work continues to match people on board the ships to host and longer-term accommodation, and matching teams are operating on board both ships. I thank all those in Glasgow, including people from Glasgow City Council, local representatives and third-sector organisations, for everything that they are doing to make our friends from Ukraine feel welcome.

Pauline McNeill

The minister will be aware that the MS Victoria, which is being used to house Ukrainian refugees in Leith, has more cabins without portholes than cabins with portholes. Can the minister tell me whether that is also the case with MS Ambition? The Government does not seem to have set a time limit for how long people will be there, other than the end of the contract—would that be the time limit?

Windowless cabins and isolated ports, I am sure the minister would agree, are not the best situation for people fleeing war to be in. I welcome the leadership that the Scottish Government has given on the question of housing Ukrainian refugees but I am looking for assurances that that can happen sooner rather than later.

Neil Gray

As Pauline McNeill would expect, I have been on board both the Victoria and the Ambition. There are rooms that are windowless; the ships’ companies and the city councils are trying to make sure that families can utilise shared cabins across the hallway in that situation.

Other MSP colleagues have been on board—Foysol Choudhury, for example—to see the standard of accommodation on the Ambition and the Victoria and I would be happy to extend an invite for Pauline McNeill to see that accommodation for herself.

However, I assure her that the standard of accommodation is very strong and we are working to try to make people’s stays, both on the ships and in the hotels, as short as possible. Individual conversations need to be had on a human level, in terms of people’s desires and needs, but we are doing all that we can, through the new digital matching tool, to try to make that process as swift as possible.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Along with other MSPs, I visited the MS Victoria here in Edinburgh last week. What action has the Government taken to ensure that children who are already settled in schools can remain at those schools when their families move from temporary accommodation to more long-term accommodation, whether that temporary accommodation is on the MS Ambition, the MS Victoria or elsewhere?

Neil Gray

I hope that Donald Cameron found the visit to the Victoria informative. We will do all that we can when we are matching people out of temporary accommodation and host accommodation to ensure that people can have continuity, whether that is continuity of their schooling, education or employment. Sometimes, there will be disruption to that by the nature of the initial accommodation being temporary, but we are working with local authorities—in this case, with the City of Edinburgh Council—to do all that we can, when people are matched beyond the initial locus of the schools, to ensure that children can remain in those schools. It will not always be possible, but I will always do what I can to ensure that we make that as smooth a process as possible.

Ukraine Longer-term Resettlement Fund

To ask the Scottish Government how the £50 million allocated for the Ukraine longer-term resettlement fund is addressing any issues of insecurity faced by affected Ukrainians. (S6O-01542)

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

Since the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine began more than eight months ago, more than 21,500 people with a Scottish sponsor have arrived from Ukraine, which represents a fifth of all United Kingdom arrivals—the most, per head, of any of the four nations. The fund will help to boost the overall supply of homes that we can make available to support displaced people from Ukraine into longer-term sustainable accommodation, which should help many to find the security that they need while they live in Scotland . The fund has so far provided more than £400,000 to North Ayrshire and £6 million to Aberdeen City Council.

Will the minister give details of how the £5 million fund that was allocated to North Lanarkshire Council, in my Central Scotland region, has directly impacted resettled Ukrainians?

Neil Gray

The £5 million that was awarded to North Lanarkshire Council, which was part of a pilot project ahead of the full fund being operational, will help to bring up to 200 homes back into temporary use in tower blocks in Coatbridge and Wishaw, which will increase the number of homes that are available to support displaced people from Ukraine.

We are already seeing the positive impact of that funding, as more than 20 families have moved into the Wishaw tower block, and I was pleased to see that for myself when I visited Wishaw last month and spoke with the families who had recently moved in. I understand that they are settling in well to their new homes and community, and I can update the member that we expect the construction works at the tower block in Coatbridge to be completed in December, which will further boost the supply of homes that are available to support Ukrainians who are rebuilding their lives in Scotland. I thank North Lanarkshire Council and the community teams around those towers for all that they are doing to be in the vanguard with the pilot project.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I thank the minister for visiting the Gowkthrapple flats in my constituency, where he saw the work that is being done. It is important for people to understand that Ukrainian families have a Scottish secure tenancy, with the same rights as other residents and tenants who come to live in those areas. Will the minister give comfort to people who may be reluctant to move or for whom the process has stalled while they stay on cruise ships by confirming that there is a warm welcome and that a secure family home is available for them for as long as is necessary?

Neil Gray

I thank Clare Adamson for highlighting the benefits of utilising the longer-term accommodation that has been made available. I was pleased to visit the flats in Gowkthrapple with her last month, and I agree that it is positive to see the impact of the support, which is helping Ukrainians to settle in Scotland. We are actively encouraging other councils and housing associations to apply for funding, and my officials continue to work closely with authorities and registered social landlords on proposed projects.

I will be writing to all MSPs and MPs in Scotland to encourage them to work with councils and consider which properties in their areas could be brought back into use. I am keen that we take a flexible approach in order to maximise the number of units that can be delivered from the funding. I encourage all colleagues to consider possible sites and buildings in their areas that could be brought back into use or repurposed for long-term accommodation.

Winter Festivals Fund

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of the removal of funding for Scotland’s winter festivals fund. (S6O-01543)

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

The Scottish Government recognises the difficulties that the culture and events sector faces but had to make the extremely difficult decision to withdraw funding for the 2022-23 winter festivals. Feedback from the events sector to EventScotland confirms that some previously funded events will proceed—some with a reduced offering—and other events have had to be cancelled. EventScotland and Scotland’s event industry advisory group continue to work with the events sector, and there remains a range of winter and festive events planned by local communities and venues for visitors and locals to enjoy.

Stephen Kerr

It seems that the minister read “A Christmas Carol” and saw Scrooge as an aspiration, rather than a warning. His is the only department not to have had its budget cut. What did he prioritise over support for major Scottish festivals such as St Andrew’s night, Hogmanay and Burns night? Was it another pointless foreign embassy, more civil servants to work on independence or more lawyers to pursue pointless legal cases?

Neil Gray

To be fair, Stephen Kerr is—frankly—better than that. I did not want to take such a decision, but I respectfully remind him that he cannot divorce himself from his association with the reasons why it was forced on me, such as spiralling inflation—

You have not had a budget cut!

—and a cost of living crisis that the Conservative United Kingdom Government, which I assume—

Excuse me, minister, please resume your seat. Mr Kerr, please do not shout from a sedentary position.

Neil Gray

Spiralling inflation and the cost of living crisis that the Conservative UK Government—I assume that Mr Kerr still supports it—caused mean that organisations across the culture sector not only in Scotland but across the UK are facing financial difficulties. Those factors have also left the Scottish Government’s budget £1.7 billion down on its level when it was set last December.

The challenges that the culture and events sector faces are shared across the UK. That is why it was folly for the Covid-19 recovery fund to have been cut before a meaningful recovery took place and why I hope that Mr Kerr will echo my calls for the UK Government, in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement tomorrow, to use the borrowing powers that Scotland does not have to make sure that we can enjoy and invest in the sector.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

We have seen the closure of Edinburgh Filmhouse and the loss of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The current economic crisis is affecting Scotland’s cultural landscape, and the withdrawal of this year’s winter festival fund will only intensify the problem for the cultural sector. What good does it do for the cabinet secretary to be flying around the world promoting Scottish culture if cultural institutions and festivals in his constituency are closing down for good?

Neil Gray

I have had positive engagement with Foysol Choudhury on a number of issues, and I do not think that he believes what he read out there—that Scotland is, somehow, uniquely unable to discuss shared issues of importance, including international development issues and other areas that I know are close to his heart. Our international network provides a huge amount of investment to Scotland and has provided significant economic benefit. It is right that we continue to enjoy our international network and ensure that it continues to support our economy in Scotland.

European Countries (Relationships)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what priority it attaches to developing relationships with other European countries. (S6O-01544)

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

The Scottish Government continues to attach a high priority to developing relationships with other European countries. Doing so helps us to deliver benefits for Scotland, such as attracting investment and creating domestic opportunities. While we attempt to stem some of the undeniable harm that Brexit is causing, by protecting our friendship and links with European countries, we are absolutely clear that rejoining the European Union at the earliest opportunity as an independent country represents the best future for Scotland.

Liam McArthur

In June, the cabinet secretary confirmed that he had held discussions with the European Commission on establishing international exchange opportunities for young Scots. However, ministers have admitted that they have had no meetings specifically on their proposed Scottish exchange programme, no funds are currently allocated to it and there has not even been a consultation. Meanwhile, a £65 million scheme in Wales has already lined up more than 5,000 international exchange opportunities from September this year, with funding for the next four years. Does the minister believe that it is fair that young people in Scotland are being denied the same opportunities as their counterparts in Wales? On that basis, will he confirm that the Scottish Government programme will be up and running from next September?

Neil Gray

As a fellow proud European, I say that we want to continue to have strong working relationships with our neighbours in Europe, and I am sure that Mr McArthur’s Orcadian constituents will acknowledge that our only recognisable route for getting back into Europe and enjoying the benefits of a full Erasmus programme involves us becoming an independent country.

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of educational mobility. We remain committed to Erasmus+ but, in the interim, we are creating a Scottish education exchange programme to support participants from across Scotland’s education system. That is a commitment in the programme for government, and it will help to maintain Scotland’s place as an outward-looking, internationally connected destination for work and study.

European Countries (Relationships)

7. Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve Scotland’s relationship with European countries and any benefits such initiatives can have to Scotland’s people, public services and businesses. (S6O-01546)

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

Engaging with other European countries helps us to build relationships and unlock new economic and trading opportunities, and it helps to protect our interests in Europe, in the light of Brexit and other recent events ranging from the illegal war in Ukraine to the climate emergency and the cost of living crisis.

In May and June I visited Baden-Württemberg to promote the game-changing trade opportunities that are emerging in the renewables sector, and I visited Warsaw and Kraków to show solidarity and learn from their experiences of the impact of the war in Ukraine.

Our relationship with European countries matters when it comes to jobs, investment, export policy and cultural collaboration, and opportunities such as those are not taken advantage of by looking inward or staying at home.

Collette Stevenson

The Tory and Labour parties do not seem willing to accept the economic and social consequences of Brexit, which they support. Following the ending of freedom of movement, many European Union nationals who were working in healthcare and social care have left the country, which is making it harder for people to get the support that they need. Does the minister agree that the only possible way that we can develop economic and immigration strategies that work for us, and rejoin the EU, is through Scotland becoming an independent country?

Neil Gray

Yes, I do. As has been recognised across the Parliament, Scotland has its own distinct immigration requirements, which are different from those of the rest of the United Kingdom because all our future population growth is predicted to come from inward migration. The UK Government’s immigration policy fails to address Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs and completely disregards key sectors that were relied on during the pandemic.

We were elected with a clear democratic mandate to offer the people of Scotland a choice over Scotland’s future, and we committed to holding an independence referendum during this parliamentary session.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Does the minister agree that the most effective way of deepening relations with our closest European neighbours, while enhancing our position as a constructive partner on the world stage, is to offer people in Scotland the democratic choice of embarking on independence and restoring their status as citizens of the European Union?

There is no relevance to the question.

The member might not wish to hear it, but it is a debating point and there is broad relevance. I ask the minister to answer by focusing on the relevant bits.

Neil Gray

Thank you, Presiding Officer. It certainly would not be for me to challenge the authority of the chair.

I absolutely agree with Emma Roddick; she is right. We have seen the folly of Brexit and the diminished role that the UK now plays on the world stage as a result. Scotland is respected for its work as a good global citizen and we want to continue our alignment with the rest of the EU, pending our readmission into the EU when we become an independent country.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Communications)

6. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any communication that it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the potential impact on Scotland of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. (S6O-01545)

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

We wrote to the latest UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 8 November, after lodging our legislative consent memorandum, which recommends that the Scottish Parliament withhold consent for the bill. The letter clearly reiterates our significant fundamental and profound concerns regarding the bill, which were explained to the previous secretary of state. The legislation puts at risk the high and vital standards that people in Scotland have rightly come to expect from EU membership. It represents a further undermining of devolution and is being pursued with reckless speed.

Colin Beattie

Last week, a legal expert who was giving evidence to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, said that although the UK Government’s confusing dashboard of retained EU law currently contains more than 1,400 pieces of legislation, this sweeping bill could affect as many as 5,000 laws, thereby leaving dangerous gaps in the statute books. Can the minister explain how the Scottish Government is preparing to alleviate the damage that could be done by Westminster’s reckless Brexit obsession?

Neil Gray

I thank Colin Beattie for raising an important and existential question. The only way to alleviate the bill’s damage to Scotland is for it to be withdrawn in its entirety. Should the bill continue its progress, I urge the UK Government to accept amendments, which we tabled on Tuesday, that would lessen its detrimental impact.

However, we need to be clear: the fact that the bill has been introduced at all demonstrates the cost to Scotland of a Westminster Government that people here did not vote for. It is intent on imposing a disastrous Brexit ideology that threatens the standards and protections that we enjoyed as a member of the European Union. We need to be shot of the bill in order to ensure that we can set our own course by being an independent country.

Historic Environment Scotland (Site Closures)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Historic Environment Scotland site closures. (S6O-01547)

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

The access restrictions at some properties in care are regrettable, but protecting individuals’ health and safety must come first. Historic Environment Scotland has had to make informed, responsible and technically sound decisions about safety. Its prioritised inspection programme has progressed well, and it has now completed the first phase. While Historic Environment Scotland undertakes that work, no site is being left without care, and there is full or partial access to 80 per cent of the properties that it cares for. Details of the inspection programme and site re-openings are published on the HES website.

Jamie Greene

It is an understatement to say that the restrictions are “regrettable”. The situation comes off the back of years of chronic underfunding for protection of those valuable sites, and the devastating effect on local tourism of people turning up to find sites fenced off and crumbling, as is the case with Lochranza castle on the Isle of Arran.

The issues must be addressed. We know that Historic Environment Scotland is looking at a very gloomy forecast for its budget, but this is not a budget question; it is an organisational question. When will Historic Environment Scotland properly invest in the sites in order to get them re-opened to the public and get much-needed tourism back to those valuable assets?

Neil Gray

Jamie Greene says that it is not a budget question, but the Historic Environment Scotland budget is higher this year than it was pre-Covid. We continue to invest in Historic Environment Scotland.

With regard to Lochranza castle, external fencing has been removed, but the site will remain closed internally until a high-level masonry survey is carried out. I think that Jamie Greene would agree that it is right that health and safety comes first. The inspection date is still to be confirmed.

I am happy for Jamie Greene to correspond with Historic Environment Scotland, which can host him at Lochranza castle or at any other of the sites in his constituency. However, I note that he has not actually corresponded with HES to date.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

One HES site that we in Shetland do not want to see being closed is Jarlshof, which is the site of a prehistoric and Norse settlement and is described as

“one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the UK.”

What can the Scottish Government do to impress on HES the importance of making progress with long-awaited toilet and car parking facilities to ensure that the visitor experience is not marred by people having to search for the nearest public toilet?

Neil Gray

As with the questions from Jamie Greene, I am happy to maintain contact with HES regarding the site in Beatrice Wishart’s constituency. If she would take value from a site visit with HES to hear about the progress that it is making, I am happy to ensure that that can be facilitated.

Jamie Greene

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

In the response that was just given to me, notwithstanding the content of it, the minister seemed to imply that he knew of correspondence that I had or had not had with a public body. How did he know that information, and is it appropriate for public bodies to share with ministers, ahead of portfolio questions, information about private correspondence between members and those organisations? [Interruption.] I would be extremely concerned about such information being disclosed to ministers by agencies ahead of question times in order to inform ministers of agencies’ responses in advance of questions even being asked in the chamber.

I thank Mr Greene for his point of order. [Interruption.] I am trying to respond to Mr Greene’s point of order, and I am not being assisted by members muttering away from sedentary positions.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Mountain, could I please respond to Mr Greene’s point of order first? Would that be possible? Thank you.

Mr Greene will be aware that the contents of ministers’ or any members’ contributions are not a matter for the chair. Mr Greene will also be well aware of the various routes by which he can pursue the matter. I will leave that there.

Edward Mountain

I am sorry, Presiding Officer. I did not mean to interrupt you. I would not want to do that because I wanted to hear your answer. My point of order was that I could not hear your answer because there was some barracking going on in the background. As I am hard of hearing, I found the answer hard to comprehend. I apologise for interrupting, and I am grateful that I heard your answer.

Thank you, Mr Mountain.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Could I respond, please, to Mr Mountain’s point of order? Thank you so much, Mr Kerr, for your kindness.

I agree entirely with Mr Mountain that less barracking in the chamber would be beneficial to everybody, including all the members of the public in the gallery, who are here to listen to how we conduct ourselves.

I appreciate your kindness in allowing me to raise this point of order. Would you confirm that—

We cannot hear you, Mr Kerr. I am not sure what is happening. Maybe your card is in the wrong way.

Stephen Kerr

Forgive me for that incompetence.

I am grateful to you for taking my point of order, Presiding Officer, because I am deeply concerned by the insinuation in the minister’s answer and I would like clarity from you, as a protector of Parliament, on whether it would be normal for a minister to seek information from a public body about correspondence that might or might not have been engaged in between a member of this Parliament and that public body. That is what was insinuated in the response; if it were true, that would be pretty sinister, in my view.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. That is not a point of order, because it is not a matter for the chair. I will repeat, if I recall it correctly, what I said to Mr Greene on the first point of order on this subject: the substance of members’ contributions is not, broadly speaking, a matter for the chair, as Mr Kerr well knows. However, if Mr Kerr or any other member wishes to pursue any particular matter, they will be aware of all the routes through which that can be done.

We will move on to the next item of business after a short pause to allow the front-bench teams to change over.

Justice and Veterans

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is portfolio questions on justice and veterans. Any member who wishes to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button or, if they are joining us online, enter “RTS” in the chat function during the relevant question.

Antisocial Behaviour (Kilmarnock Bus Station)

1. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of several high-profile cases of antisocial behaviour in Scotland, what its response is to reports of escalating instances of antisocial behaviour at Kilmarnock bus station. (S6O-01548)

Before inviting the minister to respond, I note that some aspects of the issue are sub judice. I call Elena Whitham.

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

I support Police Scotland and its partners to take a proportionate response to antisocial behaviour such as that recently experienced in Kilmarnock.

The member, other elected members and I attended multi-agency meetings where we were debriefed after those events, which were, of course, a matter of concern to us and to many other people in the area. Local partners confirm that, in recent weeks, the situation has been improving, a full transport service has continued to operate and there have been fewer incidents.

Work continues locally, and I commend the substantial effort so far to tackle the unacceptable behaviour and restore public confidence in the area.

Brian Whittle

Does the minister recognise that the escalation in antisocial behaviour across the country is the cost of cutting police numbers and that police time in the community has reduced because the Government has hollowed out backroom staff, meaning that our police are spending more time doing administrative tasks and less time on the beat? Does the minister realise that those cuts are a false economy?

Elena Whitham

We have invested £10 billion in Police Scotland since 2013. We also have the highest number of police officers per capita in the entire United Kingdom. I ask the member to implore his colleagues in Westminster to ensure that this Parliament is adequately resourced to deal with the problems that we have in this area.

I point out that antisocial behaviour has been on a downward trend since 2013. There was a little bit of an uptick during the pandemic, but we are seeing that reversing again. We are working closely with the Scottish Community Safety Network on a consultation to better understand how we prevent antisocial behaviour and to help build up a robust picture of what the issues are.

I will take a brief supplementary question from Willie Coffey, who joins us remotely.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I asked a similar question a few weeks ago and Police Scotland gave me an assurance that measures were in place with key stakeholders to manage the issue and that no additional resource was required.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans recently told me that he and colleagues would give further consideration to the suggestion to withdraw bus passes, should that be established as contributing to antisocial behaviour. Will the minister provide an update on progress with that, please?

Elena Whitham

I can confirm that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans has written to the Minister for Transport about measures that are being taken to address antisocial behaviour on the transport networks, and the member will be updated on that soon. I understand that, for example, the bus and rail operators can choose to restrict access to services in line with their own terms and conditions of carriage.

The free bus passes scheme for young people under 22 years of age continues to be a success; nearly 27 million journeys have been undertaken since January. We cannot limit access to that service for those young people who are travelling and are well behaved.

We will come back to the member on the issues that he has raised.

Antisocial Behaviour (Railway Network)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is tackling antisocial behaviour, including on the railway network.(S6O-01549)

Elena Whitham

As I said in my answer to the previous question, I support Police Scotland and its partners to reduce antisocial behaviour, making full use of the available resources and powers. Those include the use of antisocial behaviour orders and fixed-penalty notices, alongside diversionary activities.

I also support the British Transport Police, which leads on law enforcement on railways, and works with Police Scotland, transport operators and local authorities to make public transport safe. In Inverclyde, the BTP has worked with ScotRail’s travel safe teams specifically to reduce antisocial behaviour.

I commend my colleague’s work as chair of Inverclyde community hub and the sustained improvement that is being seen in the area.

Stuart McMillan

I thank the minister for that reply and wish her well in her new role.

Inverclyde is well served when it comes to the number of railway stations, but that has proven to be a driver for some antisocial behaviour in parts of the constituency. The presence of British Transport Police is vital for dealing with antisocial behaviour on the railway network. Will the minister engage with British Transport Police to ensure that the BTP officers who cover the Inverclyde railway lines have the resources to deal with the seasonal antisocial behaviour that happens?

Elena Whitham

Again, I commend the work that has been done locally to make the Inverclyde network as safe a transport environment as it can be. I understand that lower levels of antisocial behaviour are now being reported. BTP officers work constantly to provide a visible presence on the railway network in Scotland. As we approach the festive season, they will conduct an increased number of on-train patrols to minimise antisocial behaviour and provide reassurance to the travelling public and rail staff. I can ask the chief superintendent in charge of BTP in Scotland to write to the member with more details of BTP’s plans to deal with seasonal antisocial behaviour.

Question 3 comes from Annie Wells, who joins us remotely.

Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022 (Licensing Scheme)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will implement the licensing scheme set out in the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022. (S6O-01550)

The Minister for Community Safety (Elena Whitham)

Work is under way to implement the remaining provisions in the 2022 act so that further positive change takes place for communities as soon as possible. Although the 2022 act sets out the core elements and functions of the licensing system, further work is required to operationalise it. That includes progressing regulations to set out the administrative details, which will be widely consulted on, as well as the development of an information technology system. Therefore, in line with the timescales that were set out when the act was introduced, the earliest that the system will be in place is late 2023 or early 2024.

Annie Wells

The scenes of antisocial behaviour that have been witnessed, including in Glasgow, are unacceptable. The Scottish National Party’s flawed fireworks bill could have prevented thugs who commit antisocial behaviour from purchasing fireworks, but the SNP rejected our amendments that would have enabled that. Does the minister still believe that people who have been convicted of antisocial behaviour should be able to buy fireworks?

Elena Whitham

As part of the licensing conditions, those who have been found guilty of antisocial behaviour will have to disclose that when they are applying for a licence. Police Scotland has confirmed that it has made 18 arrests following recent public disorder incidents. [Elena Whitham has corrected this contribution. See end of report.]

We understand that fires and fire-related calls on 5 November were down by 10 per cent on last year’s figure, to just over 500. We also understand that the decline in the number of calls on 4 November was even steeper. After the night, the gold commanders told us that the new legislation was hugely helpful to them.

Given the incidents in my constituency over bonfire weekend, can the minister outline how the licensing scheme, and other measures in the 2022 act, will reduce the inconsiderate use and misuse of fireworks?

Please be as brief as possible, minister.

Elena Whitham

The licensing system will put in place robust checks and balances before someone is permitted to purchase, possess and use fireworks in Scotland. Mandatory elements such as the training course and the requirement to disclose relevant convictions upon application will ensure that licence-holders know how to use fireworks in a safe, lawful and considerate manner. The measures that are set out in the groundbreaking legislation, combined with the wider activities that are set out in the fireworks action plan—such as education and awareness raising with our partners—are part of our holistic approach to addressing the harm and distress that fireworks can cause.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Edinburgh has recently seen evidence of the damage that the reckless use of fireworks can do in conjunction with antisocial behaviour. Now that there is a legislative framework for a licensing scheme, can the minister give assurances that Police Scotland has the necessary resources to enforce the law as it was passed by the Parliament?

At this stage, we are not in the budgetary process, but we will take that into consideration. We absolutely want the police to be able to respond and implement the act that we have passed.

Drink Spiking

To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to highlight the risks of drink spiking as the Christmas party season approaches. (S6O-01551)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Several round-table meetings have taken place to help steer the joint Scottish Government and public sector response to the act of spiking. Significant work was undertaken to raise awareness and heighten vigilance in the run-up to the return to university and college campuses. We are currently working with members of the round table to bring together the range of initiatives and information within one resource area in advance of the festive period, to reassure the public that there is a co-ordinated response to the dangers of spiking, in whatever form it might take.

Evelyn Tweed

Police in Stirling have recently praised licensees in the city centre for working with them on a range of initiatives, including staff training, awareness raising and promotion of the “Ask for Angela” scheme. Will the cabinet secretary join me in praising the work of city centre licensees in Stirling? What steps will the Scottish Government take to encourage that collaborative approach across Scotland?

Keith Brown

I do indeed praise that work in Stirling. “Ask for Angela” is of course one of several safety initiatives that have been promoted under the best bar none scheme, the administration of which is funded by the Scottish Government through the Scottish Business Resilience Centre. I certainly welcome and support the good work in Stirling and across the country, which is reflective of the co-ordinated approach that we will continue to promote as part of the Scottish Government round-table forum to tackle the abhorrent act of spiking.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

When Jess Insall was spiked on a night out in Glasgow, she felt badly let down by the police and the national health service. Six months later, she is still waiting for her test results. Since raising her case with the First Minister, I have been contacted by many other victims. Spiking is sinister, dangerous and widespread. Victims such as Jess have little faith in yet more talking shops and would like to know what meaningful action will be taken to protect them and to bring predators to justice.

Keith Brown

If the member has information about cases of spiking, he should pass those on to the police, who are the proper authority to consider such cases and take action. That would be the sensible and responsible thing to do.

Russell Findlay

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. For the purposes of clarity, and because the cabinet secretary raises an important point, I point out that any individual who has contacted me with information about spiking has decided whether it is right for them to contact the police, and it is not my job to disrespect their wishes and report the matter to the police.

That was not a point of order, Mr Findlay, but you got it on the record.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Drink spiking is serious, and no one should be victim blamed or victim shamed. Will the Scottish Government ensure that whatever steps it takes to highlight the risks of drink spiking, it will do so with the engagement of a wide range of organisations and others to ensure that the right ethos is captured throughout the process?

Keith Brown

I can give the member that assurance. That is what we have done, whether it has been with landlords, the organisations that I have mentioned, the police, universities and higher education representatives and representatives of students. We will continue to do that as we take forward the matter.

Law Officers (Consultation on Separation of Functions)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its proposed consultation on the separation of the functions of Scotland’s law officers. (S6O-01552)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Work is progressing towards a Scottish Government consultation. Development of the consultation will be informed by an initial phase of expert research, which is currently under way. The research will ensure a detailed baseline understanding of the many distinct roles and functions of the law officers and will provide information on how the functions of law officers operate in other countries.

Murdo Fraser

The consultation was originally promised not in this year’s programme for government but in last year’s, and we have not heard much about it since, so it is good to hear that some progress is being made. It is an important matter. There is clearly a potential conflict of interest between the roles of the law officers as heads of the prosecution service and legal advisers to the Scottish Government. The issue was resolved in the English and Welsh system more than two decades ago. When does the cabinet secretary expect us to make some concrete progress on the issue?

Keith Brown

I will first correct Murdo Fraser, as the consultation was mentioned in the programme for government, but it was not for completion in this year. It is a commitment that we will undertake throughout this parliamentary session. We have around 20 bills to take through in this session, and one of them will be on that issue, as we have stated.

Murdo Fraser gave the example of England and Wales. Of course, in the past, we had the Lord Chancellor, who was head of the judiciary and was part of the Executive and the legislature. That is not a clearly resolved situation in England and Wales.

It is right that we learn the lessons and take forward some of the indications that we get from the research. Surprisingly little research has been done on the role of the Scottish law officers. I am sure that the member would agree that it is right to proceed on the best foundations and to have the research to inform the consultation that we then undertake. That seems to me to be the responsible way to proceed.

Motorcycle Theft

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to prevent motorcycle thefts, in light of reports of rising motorcycle theft numbers. (S6O-01553)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Measures to combat motorcycle theft are operational matters for Police Scotland. Since 2012-13, crimes of dishonesty, which include motorcycle theft, have reduced by 32 per cent. However, that should not detract from the serious nature of such incidents.

Supporting Police Scotland to keep our communities safe remains a priority for the Scottish Government. Policing services have been maintained and improved and, as we have heard, we have invested more than £10 billion in policing since 2013. We will continue to support the vital work of Police Scotland in delivering effective and responsive policing across Scotland.

Daniel Johnson

As the cabinet secretary probably knows, motorcyclists are 11 times more likely to experience vehicle theft than other vehicle owners, but such cases are not currently reported separately. This is a long-term problem, but it has definitely been getting worse in recent months. I have received reports of motorcyclists being bikejacked at traffic lights and of bed and breakfast owners having their guests’ motorcycles stolen, which obviously has an impact on our important tourism industry.

What communication has the cabinet secretary had with Police Scotland about improving reporting and updating its standard operating procedures, and with local authorities about the security steps that they can take?

On 28 November, I am hosting a round-table meeting with the police, motorcyclists, motorcycle retailers and guest house owners. If either the cabinet secretary or the Minister for Community Safety would like to come along, too, I would be very happy to have them.

Keith Brown

I hope that the member will allow me to check my diary before I make a commitment, but if it is possible for me to attend, I will certainly do so.

The member’s point about the reporting of such crimes is a matter to take up with the relevant authorities. We do not direct the authorities in relation to statistics. There might well be a very good case to be made for what the member suggests, and I am happy to write to him to tell him where it would be best to take up the issue in relation to the police and the UK Statistics Authority.

It is true that, over the 10-year period from 2012-13, there has been a 21 per cent decrease in the crime of motor vehicle theft, but there has been a 5 per cent increase in such crime in the most recent year. That might include theft of motorcycles.

I suggest that the member takes up the issue relating to the reporting of such incidents with the relevant authorities, once he has had confirmation from me of the best way to do so.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The number of offences of theft of a motor vehicle rose by 10 per cent last year. How does the cabinet secretary respond to Deputy Chief Officer David Page, who made it clear that offences such as theft and burglary will simply go to the bottom of the queue as officers struggle to meet demand with reducing police numbers?

Keith Brown

I do not recognise the figure that Jamie Greene has just mentioned. I have been told that there has been a 5 per cent increase in the most recent year, from 4,311 crimes to 4,512 crimes.

In relation to resources for the police, as we have heard, we have far more police in Scotland. They are better paid, and we have lower crime rates in Scotland. Perhaps the Tories should take the example of Police Scotland and inform their colleagues south of the border of how to run a police service.

HMP Highland

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when HMP Highland will become operational and whether it will accommodate female occupants. (S6O-01554)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The construction of HMP Highland is currently scheduled to be completed in late 2024. An opening date will be confirmed nearer the time to ensure that the prison is operational within a sufficient timeframe to allow for commissioning and staff familiarisation.

There will be a limited number of spaces for females, which will be used to accommodate brief stays for court appearances.

Edward Mountain

There was a lot in that answer. A new prison was promised in 2011 and then again in 2016, with a price of £66 million and a completion date in 2020. Without the prison having gone out for final design or to tender, the price is now £140 million, yet the cabinet secretary feels confident that he can give a completion date. The simple fact is that, the longer the delay, the more will have to be paid. Can we please have a confirmed date for when it will go out to tender, so that we know when the prison will be completed?

Keith Brown

I do not know whether Edward Mountain supports the building of a new prison in the Highlands. The prison is an example of the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Highlands.

In that regard, I mention the Berriedale Braes, which were left in the state that they were in for generations by previous Governments. We are also doing work on the A9, whereas Conservatives such as Murdo Fraser wanted to put that money towards trams in Edinburgh.

We have a strong commitment to the Highlands. As I have said, the building is scheduled to be completed by 2024, but I do not—

Resume your seat, cabinet secretary. Murdo Fraser has a point of order.

Murdo Fraser

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Can you please tell us what remedy is available to members who wish to correct the record when they have clearly told an untruth to the chamber about the voting record of another member, as we have just heard from the cabinet secretary?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I think that you are well aware of the remedies to deal with that, Mr Fraser.

I observe that we have had a number of points of order over the course of these two portfolio question sessions, which simply eats into the time to allow other members in with questions.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s update in relation to HMP Highland.

Does he agree that modernisation of the estate will transform the available support and enhance dignity for people in custody?

As briefly as possible, cabinet secretary.

Keith Brown

That is exactly the case. We could also mention the new justice centre in Inverness, which is funded by the Government.

The record will showyou will remember the parliamentary session that I am referring to, as well, Presiding Officerthat Murdo Fraser voted to have trams, at a cost of £500 million. I made that point, and he has now accused me of having told an untruth, so we will have to see how that figures in the Official Report.

I will not do as has been done repeatedly through these exchanges and make a point of order, but I think that it is important that members stick to the facts.

Police Scotland (Resource Spending Review)

8. Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reported concerns raised by the chief constable and the Scottish Police Authority chair regarding the impact of the resource spending review on service delivery in Police Scotland. (S6O-01555)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

We remain fully committed to using the resources that are available to us to support the vital work of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.

We will continue to invest across the justice system in 2022 and 2023-24 to support the continued operation of vital front-line services, provide support for victims and witnesses and tackle the underlying drivers of offending.

Paul O’Kane

Police officers in Scotland have been sounding the alarm for some time about the lack of support that they have been experiencing. Police Scotland has already been starved of funding by the Government. Senior officers have explicitly called for access to equipment such as body cameras, but have stated that they have no budget to be able to deliver what is described as basic kit, which would give them parity with their counterparts elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The cuts will have devastating implications for community policing, elongate call-out times and enable crimes of dishonesty to increase—unresolved—across our communities.

Will the cabinet secretary listen to front-line police officers? How will he deliver the basic equipment and resources that they need against the backdrop of his proposed cuts?

Keith Brown

We have a situation in which the police in Scotland are better paid than any other police force in the UK, including in Wales. In fact, a starting constable starts on £5,000 a year more in Scotland—but I have never heard a word of commendation for that. We also have more police than anywhere else in the UK has, which is quite an important point that has led to our having some of the lowest crime and homicide figures ever recorded.

There is no question but that there are challenges in relation to budgets, but surely the member must see that the causes of those are the cuts to our budget and the Brexit fiasco that we have seen down south. One would think that the Labour Party would, once in a while, draw attention to the real problem here, which is underfunding from Westminster.

I have two brief supplementaries; I am keen to get them both in, so the questions and responses will need to be brief.

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

Despite UK Government austerity, the Scottish Government has invested more than £10 billion in policing since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the UK Government must no longer impose renewed austerity, thereby worsening the extreme pressures that are already faced, but instead must make additional funding available so that we can provide our vital public services, including policing, with the required funding?

Keith Brown

I agree with that. It seems obvious to me, not just for the Scottish Government but for public services in England and Wales, that when there is runaway inflation—caused, of course, by the Tories’ economic mismanagement—that needs to be acknowledged within year. We can surely recognise the additional pressures—whether on police pay or on paying for heating, lighting and feeding in hospitals, jails and police stations—that are caused by the cost of living crisis. There has not been one word from the Conservatives—or, as far as I know, Labour—to say, “You have to increase the funding available if you want to protect these public services.”

Just as we have done with the police, we will continue to protect all the public services in Scotland to the best of our ability with the resources that are available.

Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill repeatedly told us that police centralisation was essential to protect police budgets. Why has that promise not been kept?

Keith Brown

I do not know whether Willie Rennie was here earlier to hear the figure of more than £10 billion, which is the amount of funding for Police Scotland since the creation of the single force in 2013. I talk regularly to senior police officers and rank-and-file police officers, and they believe that the single force is a great development. It is one of the best examples of public sector reform that we have.

I do not simply wish away the issues that existed in the earlier years of the single force, but it is extremely effective. In support of that, I cite the way in which the police dealt with Covid, the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and the death of the monarch. The police service in this country is excellent, and it has been well supported over the years, although, of course, I acknowledge that there are budgetary pressures because of the cuts from Westminster.

That concludes portfolio question time. There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business to allow members on the front benches to change.