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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 May 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Ferry Problems, Violent Crime, Business Motion, Point of Order, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Approval of Scottish Statutory Instruments, Decision Time, Alcohol Services (LGBTQ+ People)


Contents


Violent Crime

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-04320, in the name of Jamie Greene, on tackling violent crime. I would be grateful if members who wish to speak in the debate were to press their request-to-speak buttons.

I call Jamie Green to speak to and move the motion. You have up to seven minutes, Mr Greene.

16:09  

I welcome Keith Brown to the chamber. I suspect that his ears have been burning for the past two hours.

I want to start my comments by saying two things about the debate, which is about a rise in violent crime—[Interruption.]—if the cabinet secretary will permit me to talk about this important subject. The first is that we, as a Parliament, and right across the political spectrum, owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who are working in the front line in our justice sector. They are the various cogs in the wheel, from front-line police officers to prison wardens and their staff, who unfortunately are far too often at the receiving end of abuse and violence. They are those who work in our courts, including our on-call defence solicitors, and those in the third sector, who try, often in vain, to support victims of crime through the cumbersome and traumatic experiences and interactions with justice that they face in this country.

My second point, and the most important in the debate, is a reminder for each and every one of us that behind every statistic that I use today is a real person—a real victim of crime in each and every one of our communities.

I brought the debate to the chamber today because someone had to. There is no doubt that the Government would not have dreamed of bringing forward these statistics to debate in the chamber. Violent crime is on the rise here in Scotland. There is no getting away from that. Let me remind the chamber what sort of crime I am talking about when I say “violent crime”. The Government’s own statistics include offences such as homicide, attempted murder, serious assault, domestic abuse, domestic violence, violence against children and physical attacks on minority groups.

The numbers speak for themselves. Last year, there were 9,842 violent crimes recorded in Scotland. That figure is higher than any other year during Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure as First Minister. You cannot spin your way out of that fact. Nor can you spin away the 14,500 sexual crimes that took place last year—the highest on record. Nor can you spin your way out of the 65,000 incidents of domestic abuse that took place in Scotland last year, which is also the highest figure on record; or the increase in the number of sexual assaults, to over 4,000 last year; or the increase in other sexual crimes, from 2,500 in 2011 to 6,500 last year—an increase of 4,000. The list goes on and on, and I remind folks that behind every one of those numbers is a victim of a serious crime.

The Government’s response to that will be predictable. It is always predictable when I raise issues from crime statistics. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will tell us, on the one hand, that reported crime overall is down, while completely failing to acknowledge, on the other hand, that the most serious of crimes—the most horrific types of crimes that affect people in the most horrific ways and have the biggest impact on their lives—are going up. Each and every one of them is, but we never hear an acceptance of those figures from the front bench, and we certainly never hear an apology for it.

Therefore I ask whether, anywhere in today’s debate, we will hear from the Government what it is going to do to address the monstrous rise in violent crime in our country?

Prevention is one area, and we do not hear much about that, but enforcement is the other. Let us start with police numbers, which are mentioned in my motion. The latest figures tell us that there are currently 16,805 full-time police officers, which is a full 691 fewer than there were before the Scottish National Party created Police Scotland and is the lowest level since 2008.

I want to share with the cabinet secretary what the Scottish Police Federation chair, David Hamilton, said about declining officer numbers. He said that it is a

“detriment ... to the public at large”

and that police are now

“scrabbling around trying to keep the wheels on the bus”.

They are “scrabbling around”—those are his words, not mine. That situation is not at all helped by the cliff edge that we face with the exodus of retiring police officers, which has also gone unaddressed.

The predictable response from the minister on the issue of police numbers, which we always hear, is to talk about another force, in another place, in another Parliament. I have to say that that is no comfort whatsoever to Scottish police officers who are sitting in leaky buildings, with out-of-date information technology systems, no body-worn cameras and rising mental health problems in our police force.

Of course, if the police service had been given the capital budget allocation that it asked of the Government, that would have been a good start. So too would have been giving our courts the budget that they needed—the extra £12 million that they asked for from the Government to tackle the backlog. They did not get that, either. What about the legal aid sector, which asked for fees to rise so that it could desperately tackle its unacceptable 43,000 court case backlog?

Every justice partner and every cog in that wheel deserves the resource needed to tackle the sort of crime that I have discussed today. All of that is an entirely devolved matter—end of—and it is about time that the Scottish National Party accepted that.

I want to ask the Government whether it has full confidence in its strategy on tackling crime. These are political, policy-driven decisions of the Government: its strategy on automatic early release, the presumption against short sentences and the increased drive to divert from prison through community sentencing. They are all fine, but they come with their own philosophical and moral controversies.

Last week, I asked the First Minister whether she has full confidence in those policies, and she does, but the next question is whether the public share that confidence. The victims of crime I speak to do not. They ask whether it is too much to ask to be given a voice and to ask the Government for fairness. Does 250,000 hours of community sentences written off by the Government sound fair to them? No, it does not. Does 670,000 hours of community sentences that are yet to be carried out sound fair to them? No, it does not. The public will have confidence in alternatives to prison only if the alternatives are meaningful, proportionate and actually carried out.

When we consider that crimes such as rape, homicide and domestic abuse are caught up in those sentences, I challenge the Government to speak to the victims of those crimes and have a frank discussion about fairness. Does that sound fair? The whole system “stinks to high heaven”, in the words of a victim I met last week. If the SNP spent more time listening to victims of crime, it might be more contrite in its responses to debates like this.

My final point in today’s short debate is a challenge to the Government. I am introducing a victims bill, which is currently under consultation. There are two parts to that bill: Suzanne’s law and Michelle’s law. Both of those were repeatedly promised by consecutive cabinet secretaries. Humza Yousaf promised us that he would deliver them and the SNP manifesto promised it would deliver them. Where are they?

The title of today’s debate is “Tackling Violent Crime”. I want those on the Government benches to respond to the substance of the debate in their comments. I want them to spell out what the Government is doing to tackle the rise in violent crime—the what and the how. They should give no excuses and use no deflections, because victims of crime deserve nothing less.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern that the number of police-recorded violent crimes is at its highest level in a decade; further notes that Scottish Government decisions have contributed to this rise by underfunding the police, which has led to full-time police officer numbers being at their lowest level since 2008 recognises that the Scottish Government’s justice strategy is failing victims of crime, as is evident through the 931,991 hours of community sentences that have been written off or not yet carried out; notes that organised crime and domestic abuse contribute to a deteriorating picture of crimes of violence in Scotland, and urges the Scottish Government to take action to address this; recognises that the Scottish Government’s justice strategy is failing to keep the public safe by diverting dangerous criminals away from prison, instead allowing them to carry out inadequate non-custodial alternatives; believes that proposals such as those outlined in the Scottish Government’s consultation on bail and release from custody arrangements, which include proposals to automatically release offenders after serving just a third of their prison sentence, do not address the shift in balance in the justice system away from victims, and further distil a lack of confidence in sentencing, and calls, therefore, on the Scottish Government to change strategy by acknowledging that punishment remains an important part of the criminal justice system, and to support proposals contained in the proposed Victims, Criminal Justice and Fatal Accident Inquiries (Scotland) Bill, such as the introduction of Michelle’s Law and Suzanne’s Law, to improve the landscape of support for the victims of crime, which it believes is currently letting down too many in society.

I now call on Keith Brown to speak to and move amendment S6M-04320.2. You have up to six minutes, cabinet secretary.

16:17  

I start by reflecting that the motion from the Conservatives conflicts with this Parliament’s majority position in supporting the new justice vision at its launch in February 2022. It also fails to acknowledge that Scotland is a safer country under this Government. The overall rate of crime is at one of its lowest levels since 1974; Scotland has experienced a fall of 46 per cent since 2008-09. Homicide cases are at their lowest level since comparable records began in 1976.

We heard from Jamie Greene—who, unfortunately, would not take an intervention from me—that accuracy in these figures is very important. Last year, I was accused by Russell Findlay of having misled Parliament on figures on homicide. He said that I was

“staggeringly wrong and irresponsible”,

that I disrespected

“victims and their families”,

that I

“just parroted duff information fed to him by advisers”

and that I

“must now do the right thing and say sorry.”

I ask him whether he would like to stand up—I will take an intervention—and repeat that charge, or whether he wants to apologise for it. I am happy to let him come in, if he would like to.

Thank for you inviting me to make an intervention. That is news to me. I will have to go back and look into what you said, and if it is correct I will come back to you.

I am happy to pass on the press statement; it was on three pages of popular newspapers and was also repeated by two of his colleagues. One of those colleagues has already refused to either repeat the charge in the chamber or apologise, so hopefully Russell Findlay will have the experience, ability and honour to do that.

The proportion of people who have experienced crime has decreased, with adults in Scotland less likely to have experienced crime than those in England and Wales during 2019-20. It is odd that Jamie Greene does not want comparisons with what the Tories actually do when they are in government. Let us have a look at the way the Tories approach crime—[Interruption.] I know that they do not want to hear this and that it is difficult for them.

Boris Johnson and Kwasi Kwarteng then basically said, “Yes, but these were victims of fraud, and we are talking about crimes that really affect people.” They said that as if fraud does not affect people.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

I do not have much time, but I will take a brief intervention.

It relates to the very point that the cabinet secretary made. I now remember the exact information to which he referred. The issue was due to duff information that we received from Police Scotland, which duly phoned me at the weekend, on a Sunday, to tell me that the information was incorrect. If I repeated the wrong information that we received, I apologise.

I commend Russell Findlay for that apology, which is received in the spirit in which it was given.

The Conservative motion highlights police numbers. I am happy to confirm, again, that police officer numbers per head of population are higher than they are in England and Wales, where the Tories can choose to do something about the issue. The number of officers is significantly higher than it was when the Government took office in 2007.

Jamie Greene asked about what we intend to do. Our public health approach to tackling violence recognises that violence is a symptom that is often accompanied by a complex mix of social harms, including problem substance use, adverse childhood experiences, trauma and poor mental health. Members of the Criminal Justice Committee who had the opportunity to visit the Wise Group in Glasgow today and meet former prisoners, as I have done, will know exactly what those things mean.

Later this year, we will publish the first ever national violence prevention framework, which will identify priorities for all partners so that we work towards making Scotland’s communities safer for everyone. I know that there is a great deal more to do—I am not saying that the justice system is perfect by any means—and we will strive to deliver a just, safe and resilient Scotland. That is the purpose of the justice vision.

We are committed to taking action to address violence against women and girls. I assure Jamie Greene that I talk frequently to victims of rape and sexual assault to hear their stories and experiences, and we are committed to not repeating the failures of the justice system in that regard. The work of the women’s justice leadership panel, which is convened by Ash Regan, will be crucial in furthering our understanding of gender competence and cultural change, which is required in our justice system.

We will consider each of the recommendations that are set out in Baroness Helena Kennedy’s report on behalf of the working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland. We intend to consult on draft legislation to address gaps in the law that could be addressed by a specific criminal offence to tackle misogynistic behaviour. Events of this week show us why action is needed in that area.

We know that we have more to do to ensure that victims are placed at the heart of justice processes. Victims and survivors should be seen as people first and not, as they sometimes are, as a piece of evidence. That should not happen. In this financial year, more than 20 organisations have received awards from the new victim-centred approach fund—many for the first time—to ensure that victims and survivors have access to practical and emotional support services that are joined up and trauma informed. In addition, more than £250,000 is being awarded from the victim surcharge fund to provide practical help to victims.

We are not only investing in support services for victims; we will shortly publish a consultation on potential legislative reforms to the justice system to strengthen the rights and improve the experience of victims of crime. The consultation has been informed by the work of the victims task force and the recommendations from Lady Dorrian’s review. That will be one step on the road to allow progressive minds in the Parliament to put in place the necessary legislative framework to support major transformation across the justice sector.

For nearly 15 years, the Government has delivered bold and effective justice reforms, with a firm focus on early intervention, prevention and rehabilitation. During that time, there has been a large fall in the number of young people who end up in the criminal justice system. Fewer people are experiencing violent crime, and Scotland’s reconviction rates are now at one of the lowest levels in the past 22 years. Jamie Greene said that there are figures that I never mention, but we never hear the Conservatives mention those figures.

The more we support people with convictions as they serve their sentences—whether in prison or in their communities—the more we can reduce reoffending and thereby keep crime down and communities safe.

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

I do not have time, unfortunately.

We must rethink how we use custody in Scotland. Our consultation on bail and release was the first step in a wider discussion about how custody should be used in a modern, progressive Scotland. We sought views on how to refocus the use of remand in the criminal justice system and how we can improve opportunities for the successful reintegration of people when they leave prison. Responses to the consultation have informed the detail of the legislation that we will shortly introduce in Parliament for scrutiny. I look forward to debate and discussions with members across the chamber in considering the most effective support and settings to address the causes of crime.

Please conclude, cabinet secretary.

Let me conclude by highlighting, once again, the strong support for the Scottish Government’s strategy. It is endorsed by the national justice board of justice organisations, and it secured the support of the chamber back in February. I will continue to work with those who believe in an evidence-based approach.

I am happy to move amendment S6M-04320.2, to leave out from “notes with concern” to end and insert:

“recognises that a majority of the Parliament supported the justice vision and strategy on 8 February 2022; further recognises the need to focus on prevention and early intervention, taking a whole-government approach to reduce crime and make communities safer; supports making services person centred and trauma informed, in line with the aims set out in the justice vision; believes that improving support for victims and survivors should be among the highest priorities for the justice system; notes that recorded crime is at one of the lowest levels since 1974; acknowledges that there is more to do to address violent crime and improve the experiences of women in communities and within the justice system; welcomes the sustained investment in the justice system in 2022-23; believes that, while there will always be a place for restricting people’s liberty in society, the balance should be shifted to ensure that custody is used only when no alternative is appropriate, making greater use of alternative options in communities, and contrasts this progressive and evidence-based approach with the strategy adopted by the UK Government.”

16:24  

The Tory motion has a lot of important issues packed into it, and it is impossible to address all those very serious issues in five minutes. We agree with many of the points in the motion, although we believe that robust alternatives to custody are important. On this morning’s committee visit to the Wise Group, we saw its throughcare programme, which is ensuring that we do something about the revolving door of offending.

In the short time that I have, I will focus on three themes. I agree with the Conservatives that it is concerning that police numbers have fallen to their lowest level in 14 years. The cabinet secretary is, at least, not contradicting that. However, it is even more concerning that, as Jamie Greene alluded to, police officer retiral rates are expected to be 70 per cent higher than normal due to the McCloud judgment. The effect of that judgment is that officers aged 50 and who have 25 years’ service have no financial incentive to complete their 30-year service, which is normally required. There are alarming reports that around 1,600 officers of all ranks will seek early retirement.

That will arguably be the single biggest blow to the Scottish police service, and it is time that we started talking about the impact that it could have, as a significant number of experienced officers will go. Low morale has also been cited as a factor that is driving officers to seek early retirement. We must have more discussion on the issue. Police Scotland is already operating under challenging circumstances, having lost 140 police stations in the past decade.

I want to comment on the crime figures and specifically the figures on violent crimes against women, which we have discussed many times in the chamber. On that issue, I am at one with the cabinet secretary. He will know that, between 31 March last year and 31 March this year, the number of sexual assaults rose by a third, which is a staggering figure. We all need to work together on that issue and use this parliamentary session to reverse the trend in crimes against women.

At the Criminal Justice Committee, we have heard testimony from women who have been the victims of sexual violence and who say that, as victims, they felt that they were treated as criminals. We cannot forget that. That is why Scottish Labour wants to look at how we balance the support for victims in the court process. There should be one point of contact for victims in the court system and the police—that is the only answer that I can see. How do we make that happen? Do we need to legislate or can we bring it about in other ways?

We also need to broaden the scope of the circumstances in which victims of sexual offences are given free legal assistance beyond the scope of the trawl of a complainer’s medical records, which is the narrow matter for which they can get legal aid at present.

We want to explore a one-stop-shop for victims that would also provide on-going support. We simply cannot go on as we are at present, because what the committee heard in that testimony is not unusual. We therefore call on the Government to introduce proposals, or at least to discuss the matter on a cross-party basis.

I also want to talk about the shocking statistics from fatal accident inquiries into deaths in custody. There were 54 deaths in custody in 2021, with the figure more than doubling since 2015. Only six weeks ago in HMP Addiewell, Calum Inglis died alone in his cell from Covid, after reportedly pleading for help from prison officers for four days. He was only 34 years old.

Last October, I asked for a public inquiry into the death of Allan Marshall, who died in Saughton prison in 2015 after being restrained by prison officers. He was on remand and was due for release. A fatal accident inquiry at Edinburgh sheriff court ruled that his death was “entirely preventable”.

In 2020-21, the average length of time that it was taking to conclude an FAI was almost three years, which is totally unacceptable. If we all agree that that is unacceptable, the Parliament must act on it. If families are to get justice, we must reduce the timescales. The independent review of deaths in prison custody, which we debated last year, said that an independent body should have “unfettered access” after a death in custody. In response, the cabinet secretary said that the Government would either look at or enact those changes. I would like to know where we are on that. If we do not put something in place that changes the situation, we will have failed to give justice to those families.

I move amendment S6M-04320.1, to leave out from “recognises that the Scottish Government’s justice strategy is failing victims” to end and insert:

“notes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the criminal justice system, but considers the substantial court backlog, which, according to the latest figures from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, currently stands at 43,016, and issues in the delivery of community justice to be the consequences of long-term policy failures of the current Scottish Government; notes that organised crime and domestic abuse contribute to a deteriorating picture of crimes of violence in Scotland, and urges the Scottish Government to take action to address this; believes that sentencing guidelines and policy should be clear and understandable to victims, their families and the public; recognises the role of custodial sentences in the justice system with regard to serious and violent crime, and further recognises that custody should not be a substitute for effective mental health, drug or alcohol services; calls on the Scottish Government to consider proposals which seek to improve the landscape of support for the victims of crime, such as Michelle’s Law and Suzanne’s law; believes that no victim of serious, violent or sexual crime should face barriers when accessing justice, and calls upon the Scottish Government to bring forward proposals to ensure that every victim in cases involving rape, attempted rape or serious sexual offences can access non-means-tested advice and legal representation from the initial stage; notes the success of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, established by a Labour-led administration in 2006, and understands that the model of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit is now being followed in other parts of the UK.”

16:29  

I recall Liam Kerr choosing to kick off his time as the Tory justice spokesperson in the previous parliamentary session by leading a debate on restorative justice. That day, Mr Kerr’s speech managed to strike a progressive, conciliatory and consensual chord with colleagues right across the chamber. Back in those relatively halcyon days when David Gauke had the UK justice brief, Conservatives seemed to be less obsessed with whether justice was hard or soft than whether it was effective.

Sadly, Mr Kerr’s incarnation as a progressive justice reformer proved to be a case of mistaken identity. For crimes against the Tory party orthodoxy, Mr Gauke has been dispatched to the gulag, allowing ministerial code breaker Priti Patel to install herself as the new sheriff in town—rough justice all round, I fear.

I thank Jamie Greene for giving members another opportunity to discuss justice issues, and I associate myself with the gratitude that he expressed for all those who work in our justice system. I also agree with him about many of the challenges that are facing our justice sector, including the rise in the incidence of violent crime, the appalling rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and a fall in police numbers on the SNP’s watch, to which I add concerns about record court backlogs, solicitors leaving legal aid practice in droves, and a prison estate that is bursting at the seams and in desperate need of modernisation. However, I cannot accept much of Mr Greene’s analysis of what needs to be done in response.

By locking up even more of Scotland’s population, which we already do to a greater extent than any other country in Europe, but which seems to fall short of the number that Mr Greene and his colleagues feel is appropriate, we would not be making victims, the community or society safer. We would be doing quite the reverse, as all the international evidence shows. We are not failing because of the numbers that we are not locking up but because of what we do or do not do with prisoners who are inside and after their release.

I wonder whether the member will agree with me that the war about numbers that takes place on that side of the chamber is unsatisfactory because it masks the numbers that we should be looking at. Why are a third of non-custodial sentences unsuccessful and how can we make them more effective?

Mr Johnson, in future, could you face your microphone?

I apologise.

I heard Mr Johnson and I certainly agree with him.

Help to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and increase the likelihood of making a positive contribution to communities is not always available in the way that it should be.

There will always be those for whom the only option for public safety is incarceration, but for far too many of those who are already in our overcrowded prison estate, there should be more effective alternatives. To be effective, however, community-based measures need to be properly resourced and the courts need to have confidence in them. That cannot be done on the cheap, but the alternative of prison is usually more expensive and counterproductive.

As I have said during previous debates, we have a particular problem with remand, including among those who are on remand pre-trial. We have seen little progress on that issue, and, as Pauline McNeill indicated, the court backlogs have made the situation worse. Those backlogs also undermine the confidence of the victims whose experience of our justice system is all too often a negative one.

Our justice system does not lack challenges. Further reform is needed and, in some places, it should be urgent and profound. Our FAI system, for example, is not fit for purpose and it should be overhauled, while the dual role of the Lord Advocate is no longer sustainable.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats support the broad approach that is being taken by the Scottish Government. However, too often the Government seems to be happy to legislate and stand back, put in some money and pat itself on the back, all of which might be necessary but is not sufficient to embed the meaningful and lasting reform that our justice system is crying out for. Scottish Liberal Democrats will back the Government motion and the Labour amendment, but we will continue to press ministers to deliver on their rhetoric and ambitions to create a justice system that is progressive and effective in meeting the needs of those who rely on it as well as those who work in it.

We move to the open debate.

16:34  

I am honoured to be contributing to the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, and I fully support the motion lodged by my colleague, Jamie Greene.

Time and again, we come into this chamber and helplessly witness votes being passed by the SNP and Green coalition that side with criminals at the expense of victims. We see that in several areas of our justice system. Prisoners who have been convicted and given custodial sentences have been given the vote. We have been urged to use terms such as “persons with convictions” instead of “convicted criminals”.

In addition, all prisoners, including life prisoners, have been given a free mobile phone while they serve time in prison, at a cost of £3.2 million to taxpayers. Those are just a few examples but, sadly, I could go on. That is simply not good enough from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Conservatives want victims to be put at the heart of our justice system.

In 2020-21, the largest year-on-year rise in domestic abuse charges was recorded since comparable records began in 2013. A domestic abuse element was recorded in more than 500 serious assault and attempted murder charges, yet the punishments for offences of that nature are weak. No action was taken in relation to nine of those serious assaults, and 106 violent criminals who were convicted of domestic abuse received a community sentence.

We also know that more than 250,000 hours’ worth of unpaid community work that was given to criminals has been written off, while more than 650,000 hours of unpaid work is yet to be carried out. Among other notable figures is the fact that 26 people committed domestic abuse while released on bail, while last year’s figure of more than 65,000 incidents of domestic abuse was a record high.

Although it is evident that the repercussions are not enough to drive down the number of incidents, incredibly, the SNP Government wants to send fewer people to prison and make it even easier for judges to award bail.

A victim contacted me about her ex-partner, who has been charged with violent crimes that range from domestic abuse to attempted murder, and who is engaged in a repetitive cycle of being awarded bail, violating the conditions and being granted bail again.

Similar cases are likely to spiral out of control the longer the dispute between the Scottish Government and our legal profession continues. The dispute affects cases brought under section 1 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018; it is delaying justice for victims and allowing some violent criminals to roam the streets while awaiting trial.

I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary is open to discussing how to combat the concerning rise in domestic abuse, but that does not change the simple fact that something must be done now.

In the Scottish Government, we have a Government that is unwilling to hear the asks of the legal profession, and a justice system that repeatedly fails to punish people who are a danger to society. Quite frankly, that does not translate to a system that delivers justice.

If the Scottish Government seeks to deliver a justice strategy, it must start by resolving its dispute with the legal profession to avoid further delays to domestic abuse victims getting justice; committing to the creation of a true deterrent to protect potential victims of domestic abuse, such as a domestic abuse register; and acknowledging that punishment remains an important part of our criminal justice system by backing our victims law.

16:38  

Yesterday, two events drew my attention, both of which are relevant, in their own way, to this afternoon’s justice debate. The first was the Queen’s speech, which outlined the UK Government’s plans to cut crime. The second, which I attended—and this was perhaps the more pleasurable of the two—was the Scottish Prison Arts and Creative Enterprises event in the Scottish Parliament, which showcased the art and creative work of prisoners. The range of work that was displayed was inspiring and humbling, reflecting the fact that there is a rich body of creative talent in our prisons. I will return to those points.

The motion offers a list of non-contextualised random statements that extol the woes of violent crime, police numbers, underfunding, community sentencing, bail and release and “dangerous criminals”. The issue is serious, and I want to pick up on a couple of those points.

The motion refers to violent crime being

“at its highest level in a decade”.

As we have already heard, according to the Scottish crime and justice survey, crime in Scotland is down by 40 per cent since 2007 and is at one of the lowest levels since recording began.

Will the member give way?

I will come back to the member if I have time at the end of my speech.

Let us look at homicide. The Scottish Government national statistics publication on homicide records 55 homicides in Scotland in 2021, which is a decrease of 10 from the previous year and the lowest number since comparable data became available in 1976. By contrast, in England, 691 homicides were recorded in the same period, which is an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year.

On police funding, despite the cuts to its central budget from Westminster, Scotland has around 32 officers per 10,000 of the population compared with around 23 per 10,000 of the population in England and Wales. They are also better paid. In England, an officer’s starting salary is £21,500 compared with almost £27,000 in Scotland.

On police numbers, in the Queen’s speech, we heard all about the UK Government’s commitment to put 20,000 extra police on the streets. What was omitted was that the UK Government is simply replenishing the 22,000 officers that it cut in England and Wales between 2010 and 2019.

The motion refers to “bail and release”, and, as Pauline McNeill mentioned, only this morning, members of the Criminal Justice Committee visited the Wise Group and heard powerful testimony about the life-changing and life-saving throughcare work of mentors supporting people who are serving short-term sentences. We heard that

“people want to change, they just don’t know how”.

We also heard that

“mentors inspire to help others aspire”.

One customer, reflecting on his own childhood and pathway into prison, said:

“it was always going to happen”.

I express my thanks to Charlie Martin and all at the Wise Group for hosting the committee.

We should contrast that with the narrative in yesterday’s Queen’s speech about tagging burglars, robbers and thieves; putting rapists behind bars; and pinning criminals to the scene of their crime—hardly a contemporary 21st century approach; more “Life on Mars”. There was not a shred of a mention of prevention—something that Jamie Greene talked about—and there was no mention of Covid.

Not for one second should we downplay the challenges that the justice sector faces. I welcome the new vision for justice, which sets out our contemporary and wide-ranging strategy, which has trauma-informed and, more importantly, trauma-responsive approaches and the needs of victims at its heart. Given the election results across Scotland last Friday, it seems that the people of Scotland do, too.

I mentioned Scottish Prison Arts and Creative Enterprises, which provides therapeutic opportunities for prisoners. I draw on the words of Professor Fergus McNeill, who said:

“if imprisonment and release are to be crafted around ‘Unlocking Potential’ and ‘Transforming Lives’, then we need creativity to be at the heart of the process—reaching into prisons to support personal change, and reaching out of prisons to support social change.”

The Conservatives might call that soft justice. I call it doing the right thing.

16:43  

I believe that we should be candid in this chamber. Protecting people from violent crime is a priority for any Government, yet, under the SNP Government, the rights of criminals are now being prioritised over those of victims and violent crime has risen to its highest level since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister.

Aside from the damage suffered by victims and the growing strain on our police and justice system, violent crime adds pressures that are faced by our front-line doctors and nurses. According to the charity Medics Against Violence, which is part funded by the Scottish Government, treating the consequences of violence in Scotland costs an estimated £400 million a year—and that is just the national health service cost. Four hundred million pounds is equivalent to what it would cost to employ around 12,000 additional nurses, and it is more than the anticipated budget to build a new Monklands hospital. Four hundred million pounds—well, that is two ferries under the SNP Government.

I am not suggesting that any Government can achieve a zero level of violent crime. However, the Government’s soft-touch policies are piling more pressure on services and NHS resources. Let us consider the numbers. An ambulance callout costs, on average, £244; attendance at accident and emergency costs £190; surgery costs at least £3,000; and a hospital stay costs about £570 a day.

I remember being called down to A and E because a young man had been stabbed in the abdomen. He was dying. His blood pressure was dropping and he was drifting in and out of consciousness. The knife wound was only about 2cm across, but there was internal damage. We had to perform an emergency laparotomy at midnight—the consultant and I had to cut him right open. We found pooled blood, faeces and an engorged small bowel. We had to search through and find all the bits of bowel that had lacerations and cuts, and we had to resect—that is, take out that entire section. It took more than three hours of operating, with our hands deep in that young man’s abdomen. It was touch and go but he survived, though at what cost?

There are more and more assaults on our NHS staff. There were 13,000 assaults in the past year, of which 7,000 were physical assaults. The Scottish Ambulance Service recorded 146 assaults. That is totally unacceptable. Abuse that is directed by patients at NHS staff includes bullying, harassment, hate crimes and sexual assault—I repeat, sexual assault. Members should let that sink in.

Too many offenders decide to stoop so low because they know that the system is not tough on crime. Back in September, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care asked patients to think twice before calling an ambulance. Maybe the SNP Government should tell thugs to think twice before resorting to violence.

What does the SNP Government do? It has given the vote to prisoners who have sentences of 12 months or less—people who have convictions for crimes that might include murder, rape or domestic abuse.

This is a highly charged debate, as it should be, because the people whom we represent, across the length and breadth of Scotland, deserve to feel safe. They deserve the assurance that people who seek to do them harm will be dealt with firmly. A firm response is a deterrent. Members who do not agree should try going to an A and E department on a Friday night and explaining their reasoning to the doctors and nurses who are mopping up the mess.

The Government must support the police adequately. It must remove violent crime from society. It must remove criminals from society until it is safe for them to return. It has a duty to support the victims of crime. Victims should never be treated as an afterthought in our justice system.

That is all common sense. It is not the property of any single political party. I hope that sense will prevail and that members will support the motion in Jamie Greene’s name.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a practising NHS doctor.

16:47  

The cabinet secretary said that there must be no tolerance of misogyny in our justice system. The reports this week were sickening, and I put on record that no one with misogynistic attitudes should have any part whatever in our justice system.

Justice is complex. In my view, the system serves three fundamental functions: to provide security to our communities and people, to reform behaviour and to facilitate payback to communities. Above all, it must be trusted.

This is not simple. It is not about binary choices. Frankly, no one is helped if we discuss the matter in the language of Daily Mail headlines. No progress is made by suggesting that the Government is prioritising criminals’ rights over those of victims. No progress is made by claiming that ever-increasing sentences are the fix for our justice system. However, I say to the Government that progress is not made by uttering glib phrases or hiding behind the idea of being progressive. Progress is not made if people think that a presumption against short sentences means that we have a progressive justice system—we do not.

Likewise, it is not helpful to have an auction around police numbers. It is not just about the numbers. Any serving police officer who is asked about the 17,234 figure will say that they hate it, because it is not about numbers; it is about investment in the system that lies behind those numbers and that helps officers to do their work. In the establishment of Police Scotland, there was a complete failure to put those things in place.

If increasing sentences and putting more and more people away worked, the United States of America would be crime free. I think that all members know that it is not. It is also based on the false rationalisation of thinking that criminals go around wondering how long they might get in prison for a particular crime and making choices based on that. That is utter nonsense. That is not how people think and it is not how criminals think, so it is an utterly false and bunk choice.

Audrey Nicoll described Jamie Greene’s motion as a slew of non-contextualised numbers, which is correct, because he and other Conservatives presented numbers but provided no analysis of what they sought to do about it.

The context is in this table, in black and white. These are the Government’s statistics on rising crime in the past decade: sexual crime is up, sexual assault is up, rape and intended rape are up—they are all up, up, up. That is the context.

The member is right—those statistics are bad—so he should come up with a solution. What are the alternatives? What Jamie Greene should have highlighted far more in his speech—which he is right about, and which Liam McArthur highlighted in his speech—is why community justice is not working properly. Why has there not been an increase in the use of community sentences? Why do a third of people not complete them, and why do almost a quarter of those people end up in the other category when they do not complete them?

We need to focus on justice that works and consider why there are issues in the justice system. Why is it the case that 60 per cent of sentences that are handed out in Aberdeen are non-custodial but the figure is only 20 per cent in Edinburgh? It is because sentencers do not trust, and lack understanding of, community sentences. It is also because, as Liam Kerr pointed out, there has been a fundamental failure to invest in non-custodial sentences. We spend only £1,800 per non-custodial sentence compared with the £37,000 that we spend on putting someone in prison for a year.

Finally and briefly, on the police, we cannot focus on numbers. The reality is that, despite the increase in the number of police officers since the creation of Police Scotland, there are fewer police to respond to incidents than there were under the old police forces. The failure to invest in systems, equipment and capital has hamstrung our police and they end up chasing their tails. Let us end the auction of police numbers and get behind our police, so that they can do their jobs properly.

16:52  

First, I thank Daniel Johnson and Liam McArthur. I do not agree with everything that they said, but their speeches were nuanced and thoughtful, and did not simply repeat tabloid headlines—the issue deserves much more than that.

One would think that we were in a war zone from what some members have said, but figures from the Scottish crime and justice survey show that only 11.9 per cent of people experienced crime in Scotland in 2019-20. Although that is bad enough, it compares with 20.4 per cent of people in 2008-09. It is also lower than the equivalent figures in England and Wales.

I was interested to hear Sir Keir Starmer’s response to the Queen’s speech. He said of justice in England:

“Fraud has become commonplace, seven million incidents a year, Britain routinely ripped-off. The Business Secretary has suggested it doesn’t even count as crime.”

That has been referenced already. He went on to say:

“But fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. Victims are being let down whilst this government lets violent criminals off. The overall charge rate stands at a pathetic 5.8%, meaning that huge swathes of serious offences—like rape, knife crime, and theft—have been effectively decriminalised.”

That is about the English justice system. I take no delight in repeating it, because none of us wants it to happen, but that, from the former senior prosecutor in England, is the record as it stands.

I turn to another fact. England has around 236 chief constables and at least 31 police commissioners, all well salaried. There are too many chiefs. We streamlined policing to focus on front-line officers—one chief; lots more Indians. We took money out of admin and put it into action, tackling and prosecuting crime.

Will the member take an intervention?

I want to progress a little.

The nature of policing in Scotland has changed since the 50s and 60s. As referenced by Sandesh Gulhane in his speech, the police deal with social issues, addiction and mental health issues that take up a great deal of time and are not things that I would headline as crime. However, those issues often require two officers on the scene. We have to look at our overall problem with social disruption.

I will comment on a couple of other issues that have not been raised but which I think are important. I hope that they are not party political because they are facts.

Ha!

Members should listen first.

Serious organised crime knows no boundaries, but the UK has lost access to the Schengen information system—SIS. It failed to negotiate a replacement for SIS, which means that our police forces do not have access to Europe-wide real-time alerts and notices.

Scotland has also lost access to the European arrest warrant, which allowed people accused of the most serious crimes to be brought back to Scotland to face justice in a matter of hours.

Will Christine Grahame give way?

I will let the member in on this point but I am about to give an example.

There was a Polish man who murdered a lassie in Scotland. Within hours, using the European arrest warrant, the police got not only him but his clothing, which had the DNA of that unfortunate lassie on it. The issue is not only getting the person but getting the evidence. We have lost that immediacy by losing access to the European arrest warrant. There is a substitute but it is cumbersome and not all European nations subscribe to it. Ten new European Union members have declared that they will never surrender their nationals to the UK due to their constitutional rules. That is important because people who are involved in heavy-duty crime operate not only in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland but internationally. The European arrest warrant was key to success—

Please wind up.

I have hit four minutes, I am afraid. Am I allowed to take an intervention?

No. Could you wind up now?

Finally, very briefly, on victims—I meant to come to them much more quickly—

I must ask you to conclude now, Ms Grahame.

I have not forgotten victims—

Thank you, Ms Grahame.

I will put down in writing what I have to say about victims, as I have run out of time in this short debate.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. As a point of information, there are 37 chief constables in England, not that it is relevant to the motion.

That is not a point of order.

16:56  

Violent crime is a serious problem and it blights many lives. I know from my work in and with the women’s movement that that form of crime is often gendered. It is a way of men expressing power over women. We see it, also, in the corporate negligence that leads to all too many deaths and in the racism that is endemic in our society. It is a form of crime that we should all condemn.

However, it is important that we understand the causes of crime. If we do so, we can better understand how to tackle it. The evidence is clear: the higher the level of inequality in a society, the higher the level of crime. That is why we cannot solve the problems of crime without addressing poverty and inequality.

The work of Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson sets out in devastating detail how closely related levels of violent crime are to inequality. That is why, as long as we have a Westminster Government that acts consistently to increase inequality through measures such as the increase in national insurance contributions, we are fighting an uphill battle to reduce violent crime.

We know that inequality drives a wide range of other social problems, too, so equality is good for everyone. Our policy approaches to justice must reflect that. That is why a whole-Government approach is necessary.

The Labour amendment rightly points to the role of the violence reduction unit in tackling violent crime. The key is that that approach is not enforcement led but understands the contexts in which people live. That must be central to any serious approach to reducing violent crime. Creating a culture where men are not violent to women, a culture that gives people opportunities and hope rather than driving them to substance misuse, and a culture where community and individual health and safety is taken seriously will be much more effective at reducing violent crime than the measures that Jamie Greene champions.

What is to be done? We need to have more space, time and support in public services for the sort of innovation that led to the establishment of the VRU. We know that support in the early years can have lifelong benefits, including reducing offending and reducing the propensity for someone to be a victim of crime. We know that interventions such as the circles of support and accountability programme can help offenders to avoid reoffending. We know that the work of organisations such as Families Outside can help to resettle offenders and reduce offending. We must find ways to allow public service workers to take those steps and to encourage voluntary action to support projects such as those run by Families Outside, Circles UK and many others.

We must also seek a genuine approach to reducing dependence on drugs and the violence associated with their supply. Again, that is a policy area on which we need co-operation from the UK Government, not the head-in-the-sand carceral approach that it favours.

I echo Audrey Nicoll’s acknowledgement of the Space art Scotland project that is currently in the exhibition space outside the chamber. An artist who was involved in that creative project said:

“Hope is something that prison steals from you. Art is something that restores the broken mind.”

We need hope. We need a society-wide approach to reducing inequality. From that will flow a reduction in violent crime, as well as so many other benefits. A more equal society is better for everyone.

We need to see violent crime as something that happens in a context and is the result of our decisions as a society, as well as seeing it as the actions of offenders. That means that we need to take responsibility for those decisions. The Scottish Government’s strategy moves us in the right direction, but in a context where there is much that we cannot control. I accept Jamie Greene’s concern about violent crime, but we need to use all the levers that are available to us, including those that are controlled by Westminster—not least the levers to reduce poverty and inequality. I hope that Jamie Greene will join us in calls to have those levers devolved to this Parliament.

17:01  

The Conservative Party’s motion reads a bit like a hit list of top Tory grumbles, with no coherent thread: it throws a multitude of subjects up into the air and lets them land to form a motion. I will try to address each area, but I have limited time to expand in detail.

First, crime is down 40 per cent since 2006-2007, and it is at one of the lowest levels since records began in 1974. I will focus on numbers for a minute. Despite cuts from the central budget in Westminster, the SNP has protected Scotland’s police officers, with around 32 officers per 10,000 of the population in Scotland, compared with around 23 in England and Wales. Plus, Scotland’s officers are the best paid in the UK, with a new constable in Scotland having a starting salary of £26,737, compared with—

Will the member take an intervention?

No, thank you.

That compares with £21,654 in England. The 2022-2023 policing budget provides a total investment of more than £1.4 billion, and a total of £3.1 billion will be invested in the justice system to strengthen front-line services.

The motion claims that hours of community sentences have been written off or have not been carried out yet, which completely ignores the fact that we are emerging from a two-year pandemic when it was impossible to carry on business as usual—but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

Organised crime and domestic abuse are serious problems—about that there is no argument. However, the Tories are well aware of on-going work in those areas, with organised crime high on the list of the Criminal Justice Committee’s priorities and our exemplary record of funding and fighting the scourge of domestic abuse, where there is much that is still to be done.

The Tories’ tired mantra of “soft justice” is wearing thin and it simply does not wash. There are more than 8,000 people in prison or on remand. Scotland incarcerates more people than any other country in Europe. Do the Tories really want to keep doing that? Has it not moved on from its “lock ’em up and throw away the key” thinking? We know that prison does not work for the majority of offenders.

The Scottish Government’s vision for justice, which has been debated recently in the chamber, has been widely welcomed by stakeholders, including the legal profession and third sector organisations. We are working towards a far more effective and enlightened justice system. As we have heard, the Criminal Justice Committee this morning visited the Wise Group in Glasgow, which runs a throughcare mentoring service that works with prison leavers to help them to reintegrate into society and examine what led them into the criminal justice system in the first place. That organisation does amazing work, through its new routes initiative and calls for early intervention, alternatives to custody and simply giving offenders a second chance to have the life that we all aspire to.

In its chaotic motion, the Conservatives appear to prejudge the forthcoming bail and release bill, which, again, has been widely welcomed by stakeholders.

Victims do matter. Our new vision places victims at the heart of the justice system, and I am pleased to see that, with the move to alternative sentencing, there is an increased investment of £47.2 million in community justice, which has a crucial part in the transformation. There is no question but that dangerous criminals who pose a risk to the public will always be given a jail sentence. That will not change. I think that the Tories know that to be the case, but are deliberately misinforming the public.

The Scottish Government’s vision for justice will transform the way that justice is done, making it fit for the 21st century. We will ensure that services are person centred and trauma informed and focus on early intervention and alternatives to custody for people who are not putting the public at risk. The Tories really should join us in progressing that enlightened vision for justice instead of talking it down.

We move to closing speeches.

17:05  

I am pleased to close the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour.

It is clear that any crime of violence is unacceptable and that the levels of violent crime in Scotland are completely and utterly unacceptable. However, we also recognise the connection between poverty and violent crime, and the role of male violence in particular. As Daniel Johnson pointed out, these issues are not simple and are not binary.

As of January this year, there were approximately 13,400 sheriff court trials outstanding. We know that offences involving serious sexual violence make up about 80 to 85 per cent of crimes that proceed to trial in the High Court. Because of that, we also know that the backlog has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. Clearly, the situation has been impacted by Covid, but we had significant problems in the criminal justice system before that.

Although Scottish Labour broadly supports the Scottish Government’s approach, and we recognise that there will probably always be a need for custody and prison, we are also concerned that, over a period of time, the resources for alternatives to custody have not been put in place.

I am pleased that the cabinet secretary met the Wise Group this morning. As Audrey Nicoll, the convener of the Criminal Justice Committee, has advised, members of the committee also met the Wise Group and people who use its services this morning. We very much welcome the emphasis that the Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary are putting on a trauma-informed, person-centred approach and on recognising that the system as it is at the moment fails victims.

We also support the emphasis on addressing the issues affecting women and girls, particularly the plans to introduce a misogyny law and to implement Lady Dorrian’s recommendations. As Pauline McNeill said, we also think that the current experiences of victims of rape, attempted rape and serious sexual assault cannot be allowed to continue. Therefore, we are asking the Scottish Government to consider the proposals that we are making to provide non-means-tested advice and representation to such victims from the initial stages of cases. We recognise that there are a range of ways in which that could be done. Legal aid is one of them, but there are other ways, and we would like the opportunity to discuss those issues with the Scottish Government. That is something that Rape Crisis Scotland is calling for—the proposal comes from the victims themselves.

Liam McArthur was correct to say that alternatives to custody need to be properly resourced. We were told this morning that prison costs £40,000 per individual. However, it is absolutely clear that we are going to need significant changes in resourcing if the Scottish Government’s policy—which, as I say, we broadly support—is to become a reality.

We welcome much that the Scottish Government has said, but we recognise that the £0.5 billion cut in legal aid between 2007 and 2019 represents a real challenge that must be faced.

We look forward to hearing what the Government says in response to the debate, as we are broadly sympathetic to its approach but, as we have indicated, we have a number of concerns that I hope that the cabinet secretary will address.

17:09  

As ever, today’s debate has ranged widely across many of the issues and challenges that I have always conceded face the justice sector. However, it is clear that, for the most part, the contributions have indicated a collective agreement that we have to create more effective, person-centred, trauma-informed—someone said trauma-responsive—justice system that supports people in recovery, in all senses of the word.

I apologise for not getting through all the members’ contributions, but I will highlight one or two.

Most recently, we heard from Katy Clark. I am more than happy to have a discussion about what more, in addition to legal aid, could be done in relation to the circumstances of victims of sexual assault. That will be addressed by Lady Dorrian’s report, and we are about to have further discussions on the matter, but I am happy to have a specific discussion with Katy Clark, as well as with Pauline McNeill, if she wants to do so.

Maggie Chapman’s contribution, which was very good, reminded us that, regardless of the throwing back and forth of figures, the basis for much of crime in society is inequality and poverty.

Rona Mackay said that the Tories know that to be true. I am not sure that that is the case, so I might disagree with my colleague on that. However, I think that Jamie Greene knows it to be true. There is far more to the context of crime than the tabloid headlines that are the sum total of what we get from the Tories at every juncture.

Will the minister take an intervention?

I do not have much time, but I will give way.

I appreciate the cabinet secretary taking an intervention in the short time that he has.

What we talked about were not tabloid headlines but people. As I mentioned, the statistics show thousands more cases of recorded offences, and behind every one of those is a victim. That is something that members on the centre benches have failed to acknowledge or accept in every part of the debate.

If it was the case that the Conservatives’ concern for victims was uppermost, surely we would have heard condemnation of the way that Boris Johnson and Kwasi Kwarteng have written off the experience of victims of fraud by discounting fraud as part of the crime figures in England and Wales. I will therefore take that intervention with a pinch of salt.

As we would expect—because she is convener of the committee—we heard a very good contribution from Audrey Nicoll. She talked about her experience this morning—along with mine—of meeting the Wise Group.

I agree with much, although not all, of what Daniel Johnson said. He mentioned community justice. We have invested more this year, so there is an increased level of resourcing. I agree with him that one of the reasons for the issues that he raised is the reluctance of courts to use those disposals, because they are not certain of their quality. We have acknowledged that from the start and we are working to address it.

I repeat my thanks for the apology that Russell Findlay gave in relation to the previous charge. I hope that Craig Hoy will rethink his unwillingness to apologise, given that he said the same thing. We will see whether he does so.

He is going to apologise now. [Interruption.]

Despite my difficulties with the technology, I echo Mr Findlay’s apology. I simply retweeted his tweet and I apologise for doing so. [Applause.]

I thank the member for doing that. I realise that, for various reasons, it was very hard to do it, but well done to him.

Pauline McNeill made an important point in relation to police numbers and pensions. She will know that the final decision on the pensions—which meant that police officers could make their decisions—came in February this year. That is why we are facing some of the large numbers that she talked about. She will also know—and I hope that people acknowledge this—that it is not just an excuse when we say that the police have been prevented from training people at Tulliallan by Covid and the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. We are now seeing increasing numbers of police officers going through that process.

I answered the point about deaths in custody earlier in portfolio question time. A great deal is being done—including the appointment of Gill Imery, who Pauline McNeill will know—to take that work forward. More is being done, and I am happy to write to her about that.

I will address the Conservative approach, especially the idea that it was wrong for the SNP to give prisoners the vote. I do not know whether that means that, were the Tories ever to get the chance, they would reverse our European convention on human rights obligation to give prisoners the vote. If they would reverse that policy down south, why would they not reverse it here? It has happened there, because their colleagues have done that. They also say that they want to have—as the Tories have down south—a massive prison building programme. If they want another tabloid headline, it could be “More cells and less cellphones”. That is a wee freebie for them. I hope that they recognise the impact that cellphones have had. I am not saying that they are without their problems—the response was made within a short time because of the pandemic—but the impact of cellphones on the welfare of prisoners is crucial. We get a glimpse into what the Tory approach to justice would look like, if those things were to be private.

I must ask you to wind up, cabinet secretary.

I reiterate my belief in the direction that is set out in our justice vision. That is the way forward, but that is not to say that everything is as it should be; for example, we have not mentioned the extent to which the justice system itself is gendered.

We have a lot of challenges in the justice system, but I believe that the justice vision is the way forward, and there seems to be general agreement among most members in the chamber about that. For that reason, I have lodged the amendment in my name. I am sorry that we cannot support the Labour amendment for reasons that I am sure are obvious, but I hope that members will support the amendment in my name.

17:15  

It has been a pretty lively afternoon so far.

I begin by noting Dr Sandesh Gulhane’s vivid account of the damage that is caused by violent crime, which is at its highest level for a decade. Far too many people suffer lifelong injury and disfigurement, which adds to the burden on Dr Gulhane and his national health service colleagues.

I was surprised to hear Audrey Nicoll—if I understood her correctly—criticising the UK Government for wanting to jail rapists, and calling it “Life on Mars”. If jailing rapists is wrong then, frankly, it is the SNP that is on a different planet.

Daniel Johnson railed about our debating the numbers of police officers. He appeared to suggest that police numbers are a crude measure, even though his party’s manifesto says that his party aims to introduce a certain number of police officers.

If Mr Findlay is going to mischaracterise my remarks, could he at least acknowledge the substantive point that we should not be focusing on police numbers but on police investment? He should at least make a valid political point, and make it to the SNP.

I merely pointed out that the Labour manifesto has police numbers in it, which seems to be at odds with Daniel Johnson’s comments.

Will the member take an intervention?

I need to make progress, but I will do so for Audrey Nicoll.

I take Russell Findlay’s point in relation to my comments around rapists. My point was about the language that is used, not the context of it.

Thank you.

The cabinet secretary’s amendment references his Government’s vision for justice, which I believe blurs the lines between criminals and victims.

That brings me on to how the justice system deals with crimes against women and girls. The cabinet secretary’s amendment also concedes that more needs to be done to

“address violent crime and improve the experiences of women in ... the justice system”.

Saying that there is more to be done is one hell of an understatement. Jordana Rutherford was 17 when she was beaten unconscious by her then partner, who left her unconscious and lying in a pool of blood. She attempted to take her own life, and it took two years for her attacker to be found guilty of inflicting injury and permanent disfigurement. However, he was not sent to prison; instead, he was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work. Jordana told the Daily Record that some victims are deterred from reporting what happened to them. She asks:

“What’s the point if this is how their abusers are punished? I’ve already had girls message me to say that’s why they don’t come forward. In their words ‘it’s pointless, and stressful for nothing to be done about the crimes they have committed’.”

Jordana's ordeal was shocking, but not unusual. Anne-Marie Hirdman suffered regular violence at the hands of her police officer partner for six years. She feared that she would be killed, but when he was found guilty, he was not sent to prison; instead, he was given 250 hours of community service. That is 250 hours for a reign of violence that spanned more than 52,000 hours.

Right now, women like Jordana and Anne-Marie are trapped in the justice system and are suffering relentless revictimisation. When, or if, they finally secure a conviction, the resultant sentence might come as a very painful surprise.

The cabinet secretary’s stock answer is that all sentencing is down to the independent judiciary, which is true and just as it should be. However, it is his Government that is finding ever more inventive ways of not sending violent criminals to prison and, when it does, of releasing them early.

Today, I discovered that, over the past 12 years, fewer than one in three paedophiles who were caught with child sexual abuse images was jailed.

Of course the cabinet secretary does not sentence criminals, but his Government makes the laws and legal frameworks, and imposes its expectations on the justice apparatus from the top down.

Reducing Scotland’s prison population is welcomed by all. Like the cabinet secretary, I heard about the incredible work that is being done to reduce reoffending during a visit to the Wise Group in Glasgow this morning. However, the Government’s undue haste to reduce prisoner numbers sometimes feels like a social experiment, and one in which female victims like Jordana and Anne-Marie are the guinea pigs. As Anne-Marie put it,

“Sometimes it feels that nothing is done until a person has been severely beaten or murdered.”

I would have liked to have concluded with a few words on organised crime but, unfortunately, time is against us. I urge members to back Jamie Greene’s motion.