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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 05 June 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, A Future Strategy for Scottish Agriculture, Celebrating Scotland’s Volunteers, Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, Decision Time, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder


Topical Question Time

Front-line Police Officers

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to ensure the safety of all front-line police officers. (S5T-01123)

I am sure that everyone in the chamber was as sorry as I was to hear that police constable Laura Sayer and PC Kenny MacKenzie were seriously injured in an incident in Greenock on Friday. I am pleased to hear that they are both now recovering at home. That incident is a stark reminder of the risks that our police officers face, and of their bravery and dedication in serving our communities. The First Minister and I have written to PC Sayer and PC MacKenzie to express the Government’s thanks to them for their service and dedication to their community. The people of Scotland are very fortunate to be served by them and officers like them who, day in and day out, put the needs of others first.

The equipment that is provided to police officers is an operational matter for the interim chief constable, who takes into account the latest risk and threat assessment. In line with current approved standard operating guidance, all front-line officers are equipped with handcuffs, PAVA spray, a baton and body armour.

Following consultation, Police Scotland announced that it will enhance its capability to respond to incidents that involve violence and bladed weapons by training another 520 police officers to use Taser guns. The specially trained officers will be based at divisional level and will have access to Tasers that are located at 27 police stations across Scotland.

Although it is not possible to eliminate all the risks in front-line policing, I will continue to support the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to ensure that appropriate measures are being taken to keep our police officers safe.

I thank the cabinet secretary for his comments, and I pay tribute to PC Laura Sayer and PC Kenny MacKenzie, who were caught up in the events in Greenock last week. We wish them a speedy recovery from their injuries; our thoughts are with them and their families at this time.

It is worth pointing out the job that all our policemen and policewomen do on a daily basis. They often put the safety of the public before their own safety, and I am sure that everyone in the chamber can get behind that.

Given the events of last week, will the cabinet secretary consider looking at the protective kit and equipment that are available to all police officers, in order to ensure that it is 100 per cent truly fit for purpose? Will he commit to ensuring that every measure that is at his disposal will be used in order to ensure the on-going safety of front-line officers—especially those who respond to call-outs and those who deal with incidents in which there is a significant risk of harm to them?

Like all members, I take the safety of police officers very seriously. It is in the interests of all of us to ensure that they have the appropriate equipment that they require. That is why the interim chief constable, who has operational responsibility for the matter, keeps provision of protective measures for police officers under constant review. That is reflected in the recent decision to extend provision of Tasers and to deploy specially trained Taser officers at local policing divisional level, so that they can be deployed to incidents at which that is considered to be appropriate in order to provide enhanced and additional safety to officers in those areas. I wholly support that, and I believe that the majority of members in the chamber support it.

Jamie Greene may be aware that, in the past two years or so, Police Scotland has also increased its firearms capability in order to ensure that a greater level of firearms capability can be deployed at any given time across the country. I support that, because firearms officers can also be deployed to support other incidents in which officers are at greater risk. The specially trained officers and additional firearms capability alongside them provide a greater level of safety overall.

Decisions on how to deploy officers at local level, and in responding to call-outs in particular, are, of course, operational decisions. Police Scotland will no doubt want to look at particular incidents and identify whether other measures could be implemented in the future. However, as I mentioned, there are risks associated with response policing. It will never be possible to eliminate all those risks, but it is important that we always look at whether further measures could be implemented in order to enhance police officers’ safety.

The cabinet secretary has made many comments to welcome and share. It is also worth pointing out that there are trends to look at. We must consider not just how we combat such incidents; we must also consider a wider strategy to deal with such crimes. We have seen rises in specific types of violent crime, including serious assaults and violent robberies, and an increase in crimes in which the handling of a bladed weapon is involved.

There has also specifically been a rise in use of weapons in violent crimes in west-central Scotland, including in Inverclyde, where the incident last week took place.

What analysis have the cabinet secretary and his department done of the causes of increases in such crimes, and what is the Government’s strategy to address those crimes so that their numbers start to come down again, rather than being on the increase, as they are at the moment?

Jamie Greene will be aware that violent crime in Scotland overall has dropped significantly, which is something that we should all welcome. That has come about through the concerted efforts of the police and other public sector bodies, working in partnership with third sector organisations, to do much more to target the underlying causes that drive that type of offending behaviour.

Violent crime overall is down in Scotland—it is down by significant amounts. The recent increase in the number of weapons that Jamie Greene referred to is because of a change in recording practices. As was stated by Police Scotland at the time when the management information data was published, previously use of a weapon at an incident was recorded, but a weapon being found but not used at a location was not recorded. We have not seen a marked increase in violent crime, in the way that the member may consider is the case. There has been a change in recording practices.

However, in areas where there is an increase in any crimes involving the use of weapons or violence, Police Scotland takes a very clear approach to local policing and how it is managed, as do the partners that it works with collectively. The violence reduction unit in Police Scotland has an extensive programme to help to support communities and to target areas where violent crime is occurring through the mentors in violence prevention programme and the “No knives, better lives” campaign.

Just last week, I extended the navigator programme to the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and at Crosshouse university hospital. That programme is about helping to reduce the risk of violence in our communities.

There is still much more that we need to do, although we have made good progress. In areas where there has been a particular increase, for whatever reason, it is important that proactive action is being taken by the police at local level, and by the other agencies that can support them, including the violence reduction unit and third sector organisations, in a system that is addressing some of the underlying causes that perhaps drive that type of behaviour.

Three members wish to ask supplementary questions. I urge members to ask a single supplementary rather than multiple questions. I appeal to the minister to keep his answers as concise as possible.

I put on record my sincere gratitude to PC MacKenzie and PC Sayer. I have written to them to offer my good wishes for their speedy recovery. I thank Chief Inspector Louise Harvie for her regular updates over the weekend on the terrible incident that happened in my constituency.

Can the cabinet secretary guarantee that the level of support from Police Scotland to both police officers and their families will be absolute and that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that the officers have the best possible recovery of their health? We hope that they will be able to return to the line of duty at some point in the future.

I am aware that both Assistant Chief Constable Higgins and the chief superintendent for local policing in the Inverclyde area, Gordon Crossan, visited both the officers in hospital on Friday and have been in contact with them and their families on a regular basis.

Police Scotland is clear about the support that is available for their officers, particularly the support that is provided through TRiM—the trauma risk management process, which can provide support and assistance to those who have experienced trauma or traumatic events. It is a process that line managers highlight to staff and which staff can refer themselves to. Psychological debriefing and other therapies are also available to the service. As the service has made clear following the incident, it will provide all the support that is required by both officers and the additional support that may be required by their families to address any issues that come from this incident.

I, too, pay tribute to PCs Sayer and MacKenzie. The cabinet secretary should be aware that K division, covering Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, has seen a significant number of serious and violent assaults. The division has carried out a number of operations to tackle a culture of knife carrying that is not seen in other divisions, and it will continue to carry out such operations. What will the cabinet secretary do to ensure that the police in K division have the resources that they need to tackle violent crime in Renfrewshire and Inverclyde and keep themselves and the public safe?

The deployment of officers in different divisions is an operational policing issue and is a matter for the chief constable. We ensure that there is a range of support services that can assist the police in dealing with violent crime. As I said to Jamie Greene, support mechanisms are available, through the violence reduction unit; the no knives, better lives programme; the mentors in violence prevention programme, which operates in schools; and the medics against violence programme, which educates young people about the risks that are associated with knife crime

There have been recent challenges in K division, but I expect those to be taken into account from an operational policing point of view in consideration of whether additional resources need to be deployed and whether to use the support services that we fund at a national level, which are there to assist local police divisions when that is appropriate.

I am sorry, but we do not have much time this afternoon; we are a bit squeezed. We must move on to question 2.

Child Obesity

To ask the Scottish Government what proposals it is considering to tackle child obesity. (S5T-01135)

Our guiding ambition is to halve child obesity in Scotland by 2030. I will publish a new diet and healthy weight delivery plan this summer, which will include a range of measures to encourage children to develop healthy food habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Among such measures will be legislation to reduce junk food marketing.

Yesterday, the Deputy First Minister launched a consultation on proposed amendments to the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008. Although we have high and internationally admired nutritional standards for our school meals, we want to go further. Our proposals are based on the latest scientific and expert advice as well as the views of local authorities, schools and catering staff. School food and drink policies and lunch menus should be developed in collaboration with pupils and parents to ensure that everyone is clear about the role that they can play in supporting healthy food habits.

Buy-in from students, parents and staff will be essential. How will people be encouraged to feed into the consultation on healthier school food and how will the Scottish Government ensure that proportionate steps are taken to deliver beneficial outcomes?

Everyone has a role to play in empowering children and young people to make positive health choices. That is one of the reasons why the consultation is so important: rather than seek the views and opinions of just one group of people, it reaches out to parents, catering staff, local authorities and pupils and young people themselves. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the consultation, which will close at the end of August, to ensure that we can strengthen our already robust and internationally lauded regulations on school food and make them even better. Implementation will also involve input from the groups that Bob Doris mentioned.

Sometimes what happens outside the school grounds is as significant as what goes on in the school canteen. How will the Scottish Government address the wider issue—this is something that I see in my constituency—of many students having easy access, close to their schools, to the fast food outlets that offer the most unhealthy food of all?

We want to look at the food environment that encourages poor health choices, and we are committed to making it as easy as possible for everyone to make healthier choices.

One lever that is available to us is the planning system. We commissioned research on how best to use the planning system, alongside other measures, to create a healthier food environment, in particular around schools, given the issue that Bob Doris raised. The final report will be published soon and we will consider its implications when we review the national planning framework and Scottish planning policy. We also consulted on the issue in the context of our diet and healthy weight strategy, which we will publish in the summer.

The Scottish Conservatives made a freedom of information request to health boards last year on the number of referrals to weight management classes. The eight boards that responded to us accounted for more than 5,000 referrals. What work has been undertaken to provide additional capacity to cope with referrals of children to weight management classes, given that some of the children who were referred were reported to be between the ages of two and four?

The member’s question underlines the need for a whole-system approach to tackling the challenge of diet and obesity, which is why it is important that the Deputy First Minister has launched a consultation on what we can do in the school environment. The expansion of early learning and childcare also presents opportunities to ensure that children are supported in the early years of their lives, and the forthcoming diet and obesity strategy will consider increasing capacity in relation to weight management solutions. There will be no single solution to the challenge of obesity; we must ensure that all systems are joined up, so that we can make the impact in Scotland that I think all members agree we need to make.

We know that, on top of diet, access to and participation in sport and physical activity play a vital role in tackling obesity. We must do everything that we can to support the uptake of physical activity, particularly by young people, yet, in the past few weeks, Scottish National Party councillors in Glasgow and Dundee have imposed charges on access to swimming, which impact most on those who can least afford to pay. This year, the active healthy lives budget—

Can we have a question, please, Ms Fee?

—has been cut in real terms by the Government. Because of cuts that the SNP has imposed on local authority budgets, revenue spending on sport—

A question, please, Ms Fee.

—on facilities and on parks and community spaces has been reducing every year since 2014. Given that, will the minister explain to the chamber how budget cuts and the introduction by SNP councillors of charges for children’s swimming will help to lower obesity levels?

Mary Fee has chosen to ignore all the fantastic work going on right across the country that is delivered by a range of partners, including in schools. The Government has ensured that two hours of physical education per week is delivered by 98 per cent of schools, which is a huge difference from what we inherited from Ms Fee’s colleagues when they left government. She fails to acknowledge the active schools legacy, which ensures that every child—regardless of income or background—has the opportunity to participate in sport. She also fails to recognise the fact that we have ambitions to make Scotland the first daily mile nation. I am not sure whether Mary Fee knows about or does the daily mile, but the evidence behind it certainly shows that it has an impact on children’s lives and life opportunities and embeds physical activity in their lives.

Therefore, although Mary Fee might want to paint a doom-and-gloom picture, there are huge reasons for feeling optimistic because, through the actions of the Government, children and young people across Scotland have access to opportunities to participate in sporting activity and are encouraged to do so. I point to the briefing that members had from sportscotland on the celebration of team Scotland’s success on the Gold Coast, which showed that that work is paying dividends across many parts of the country.