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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People, Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order, Protection of War Memorials


Contents


Protection of War Memorials

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-01794, in the name of Meghan Gallacher, on better protection for Scotland’s war memorials. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the recent petition submitted on behalf of Dennistoun War Memorial, urging the Scottish Government to introduce stronger legislation, which would recognise the desecration or vandalism of war memorials as a specific criminal offence; understands that war memorials hold a very special place within the hearts of Scotland’s communities; further understands that there has been an unprecedented increase in the desecration and vandalism of Scotland’s war memorials since 2015, with some of those most recently targeted being the war memorial in the Duchess of Hamilton Park in Motherwell, the Carronshore War Memorial, the Boer War Memorial in Glasgow, the Spanish Civil War Memorial in Motherwell, the Kirkcaldy War Memorial, the Cowdenbeath War Memorial, and the Prestonpans War Memorial; notes calls to bring forward stricter legislation to ensure that war memorials are given special protection status; further notes the view that this would assist the authorities when prosecuting perpetrators of what it sees as these heinous crimes, and believes that war memorials are not representative of political or religious iconography, but are rather invaluable memorials to the young men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their countries, so that everyone today, irrespective of their background, can equally enjoy freedom from tyranny and oppression.

18:21  

Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

I am really pleased to bring to the chamber my first members’ business debate, on better protection for Scotland’s war memorials. I appreciate that I am cutting it a bit fine, as I go on maternity leave next week, but I am honoured to have the opportunity to raise such an important issue on behalf of veterans and community groups across Scotland.

Before I begin, I would like to mention the friends of Dennistoun war memorial group. Unfortunately, the group’s members are unable to be in Parliament today, but they have been at the forefront of the campaign to introduce better legislation on our war memorials, so I thank them for all their effort and hard work.

Today is 15 June—a rather innocuous date. To many of us in the chamber, it is simply another Wednesday in the calendar. However, during the great war, 15 June resulted in 2,637 recorded casualties for Britain and her Commonwealth allies. That is 2,637 sons, fathers, brothers and husbands who would never come home. Most of those men still lie in foreign lands, where they went to serve and where they ultimately died. As the poem says,

“and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.”

War memorials were commissioned throughout towns and villages in Scotland to commemorate the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live in a world that was free of tyranny and oppression. For many of the families and relatives, the memorials provide the only focal point for remembering. It is the names of their loved ones that have been etched on the hundreds of war memorials across the country. The memorials are emotive and are at the heart of our communities.

Many gather at these impressive structures at least once a year, on 11 November at 11 am, so that we can come together to remember all those who have been commemorated in stone. It is important that we continue to meet at those landmarks and that younger generations are educated on what those who are named on the structures fought and died for.

Since 1966, there have been 66 attacks on war memorials in Scotland. Although the number appears to be low, almost 70 per cent of those attacks have occurred within the past decade. That is a worrying trend. Data shows that most attacks have taken place across the central belt, in particular in the area that I represent. During my time as a councillor and now as an MSP, I have been made aware of several incidents in which war memorials have been damaged and vandalised.

The first incident, in 2019, involved the war memorial situated in the Duchess park in Motherwell. I was horrified by the wording of the graffiti that had been drawn all over the names of soldiers who fought and died for our country. Words such as “fascists” and “rats”, alongside the phrase—I apologise in advance for reading this out—“scum of the earth”, were written in red wax that had stained the stone. Although some community members attempted to clean it off, a specialist stonemason was required to carry out the repair work. Like many, I was grateful that the council acted quickly, and the memorial was restored in just a matter of days. However, I was disgusted that someone could be so cruel and disrespectful.

Following that attack, I have been involved in dealing with other incidents, including at the memorial in Coatbridge, the Spanish civil war memorial in Motherwell and the Holytown war memorial. I know that some of my central belt MSP colleagues—

Will the member take an intervention?

Yes—certainly.

Clare Adamson

First, I wish Meghan Gallacher all the best for her upcoming maternity leave. I thank her for mentioning the Duchess park memorial—my great uncle’s name is on that memorial.

Will she join me in thanking Mr McGowan and his son Steven, who cleaned the “Nae Pasaran” Spanish civil war memorial? They came across the graffiti and took it upon themselves to clean the memorial, which also had fascist symbols painted on it.

Meghan Gallacher

Absolutely—I commented on that issue at the time. No memorial that has the names of loved ones on it should ever be defaced in such a manner, so I agree with the member’s comments. I know that some of my Central Scotland region colleagues will go on to mention various other examples like the one that Clare Adamson mentioned.

Given the level of attacks on war memorials across Scotland, groups such as the friends of Dennistoun war memorial group have been formed to take direct action and to introduce better protections. They have organised a successful social media campaign to highlight the number of incidents, and they have brought together groups of people who care about our heritage, our history and our war dead. They have petitioned the Parliament on numerous occasions to ask that more be done to protect these sites from the mindless and abhorrent attacks on the memories of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is a rather sad indictment that those petitions have so far been unsuccessful in achieving their desired outcome.

Furthermore, many of the leading veterans charities in Scotland have condemned the attacks. Poppyscotland and Legion Scotland have regularly condemned the attacks on war memorials, and they are especially concerned about the detrimental impact that such attacks have on the mental health of the veteran community that they so passionately represent.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans and other ministers might suggest that we already have in place legislation to deal with cases of vandalism of our war memorials. They might tell Parliament that perpetrators of vandalism can face up to six months in prison or fines of up to £5,000 under current legislation that deals with the vandalism and desecration of statues and memorials, including war memorials. However, I do not feel that those laws are tough enough, and they do not provide the necessary deterrents to stop such events from happening in the first place. If the legislation was adequate, there would not be an increasing number of attacks on the memorials.

There is a massive difference between the graffiti and vandalism of a picnic table and that of a war memorial, yet under the current legislation both events are categorised in the same manner. That cannot be right. I therefore intend to introduce a member’s bill so that we can finally provide stronger legislation to better protect Scotland’s war memorials, as has already been successfully introduced by my colleagues in England and Wales via the United Kingdom Government.

I remind Parliament that armed forces and veterans week starts on Monday. It is an opportunity for local communities to come together to support our armed forces men and women and the charities and third-party organisations that work alongside veterans once they return to civilian life. I look forward to working alongside various groups as I begin to progress my bill through Parliament.

18:28  

Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Meghan Gallacher for bringing the debate to the chamber, and I wish her well for her forthcoming maternity leave.

I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to colleagues, as I will need to leave prior to the conclusion of the debate. I thank you for your accommodation in that regard.

I declare an interest as the chair of Neilston War Memorial Association.

I pay tribute to all those who have served and lost their lives and are recorded on our memorials across Scotland. I am thinking in particular of the Falkland Islands conflict, as we gather only the day after the 40-year anniversary commemoration of the conflict’s conclusion. Forty years on, we remember the 255 British personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice, many of whom are recorded on memorials across the country.

It is quite simply appalling when a war memorial is vandalised or desecrated. Meghan Gallacher is right to say in her motion that

“war memorials are not representative of political or religious iconography”.

Instead, they serve an important purpose in Scotland. That purpose is bringing people together to remember.

I believe that it is right that we take remembrance seriously, especially considering that we have asked so much of our armed forces, and given the historic horrors of the first and second world wars, in particular.

War memorials should serve not as a glorification of war but, rather, as a reminder of what happens when dialogue fails and we fail to respect our differences and find common cause in our shared home on this planet. It is with that in mind that I believe that the idea of making vandalism of a war memorial a specific criminal offence has considerable merit, and the proposal should be fully examined. As such, I look forward to seeing the outcome of the petition that has been submitted by the friends of Dennistoun war memorial group and to engaging with Meghan Gallacher on the proposals that she hopes to bring forward.

To make a real and substantial difference right now, the Scottish Government should support police and prosecutors to exercise the full force of the current law to deal with vandalism. In my village of Neilston, we take great pride in honouring the lives lost to war and the pain of a community left behind. In some cases, that pain continues to be experienced by families to this day.

The Neilston War Memorial Association, which I have spoken about before in the chamber, is run by local volunteers and has worked hard to place and maintain memorials throughout the local area. That includes the regular maintenance of our cenotaph and the erection of a series of benches and information boards telling the story of those who died in the Arctic convoys in the second world war and the shelter that was given in Neilston to hundreds of refugees whom those men died protecting. However, in recent weeks, that relatively new memorial was vandalised. My community and I were outraged by that and the behaviour that was associated with it. It made me think about what action our community can take to stop such acts from happening again.

I do not doubt that some people vandalise memorials with political motivation—there is, of course, evidence of that—but I believe that people can also carry out such acts out of ignorance. I am sure that many in the chamber will agree that the best way to overcome ignorance is through education. We must ensure that schools across our country teach lessons about, for example, the horrors of the first world war. We should hear about the stories and experiences of young people in our communities who never returned—young men who, very often, were just like the young people hearing those stories today. We must make those stories relevant rather than just relying on names etched in cold stone on our war memorials. It is only by educating young people about such horrors and the impact that they can have on people in their communities that we can make war memorials relevant to young people and give them a sense of ownership over them. I know that many schools in Scotland have done incredible work on that already by, for example, arranging trips to places such as Flanders and Normandy.

I hope that, with a stronger focus from the Government on supporting groups such as the Neilston War Memorial Association, and by working with Police Scotland and our schools, we can end vandalism of war memorials and continue to promote their protection and enhancement in all of our communities.

18:33  

Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

I, too, congratulate Meghan Gallacher on getting this important subject debated in Holyrood, and I wish her well on her maternity leave.

I also commend the work that communities, volunteers, the British Legion, churches and councils across Argyll and Bute and the rest of Scotland do to keep war memorials in the heart of their communities in such wonderful condition. In St Andrews, as a brownie and as a girl guide, I took part in many remembrance day services in Holy Trinity church—the minute’s silence, the parade to the war memorial and the wreath laying. I had been told about the wars and the sacrifice, but it was not until Easter 1982, when a family holiday to the battlefields of northern France coincided with the Falklands war, that remembrance day became much more meaningful.

I knew that six Minto cousins fought in world war one and that three survived—one of whom was my great uncle Rab, who, on his return, studied for the ministry. Of the cousins who did not come home, two are buried in different cemeteries in Poperinghe. One was from East Lothian and one was from Australia. They are closer together in death than they were in life. I was able to pay my respects to those two men when I attended commemorations on the 100-year anniversary of world war one in 2017 in Ypres and Tyne Cot. Families in those places joined together in remembrance of, as the motion says,

“the young men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their countries, so that everyone today, irrespective of their background, can equally enjoy freedom from tyranny and oppression.”

Like communities across Scotland and Argyll and Bute, Islay has its war memorials and Commonwealth War Commission graveyards—memorials in remembrance of locals who were lost and sailors who were washed up on its shores. One grave is of an American soldier named Roy Muncaster. In February 1919, when the troop ship Tuscania was torpedoed in the north channel between Islay and Ireland, almost 200 men were lost, with many being swept on to Islay. Those who did not survive were buried there. After the war, those American soldiers were repatriated to their communities or to Arlington cemetery or were taken to Brookwood cemetery, south of London—all except for Roy Muncaster. His family wanted him to remain where he had been laid to rest. They knew that he would be looked after by the Islay folk, and he is. The Forest Ranger Service, which Roy had worked for in the United States, named a mountain in his memory in the Olympia national park—memorials take different forms.

Islay’s war memorials commemorate the names of the fallen in world war two and other conflicts. In 2018, support from the Scottish Government allowed us to clean the war memorials and keep them in great form. In small communities, the memorials are personal. The surnames etched into the stone are still on the school rolls today—they are not simply names; they are family members who are recognised, remembered and respected. The stories of the battles, in the trenches or on the seas, are handed down, retold and learned about in school.

I struggle to understand why anyone would vandalise or desecrate a war memorial or a gravestone. Do we not do enough to ensure that the stories behind the names are told? The punishment should fit the crime, and I welcome that.

The history behind our war memorials needs to be handed down the generations—lest we forget. Debates such as this one, including the debate last week on 40 years since the Falklands war, led by my colleague Graeme Dey, are so important because they raise awareness.

Our war memorials belong to our communities. They represent the collective memories and histories of our communities. As others have said, they are beyond politics. They do not judge wars as just or unjust; they simply, but starkly, remind us of the high prices that communities pay when countries go to war, and they honour those of our own folk who made the ultimate sacrifice. They are too important to fall prey to thoughtless and ignorant vandalism.

18:37  

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to follow Jenni Minto’s beautiful speech. All the speeches have been first class. I congratulate my good friend and neighbour Meghan Gallacher on securing this debate about Scotland’s war memorials. It is a timely debate for the people of Falkirk, with the unveiling of the Bainsford war memorial on Friday last week and the rededication of the Grangemouth war memorial on Saturday.

Scotland’s war memorials must be defended. As the motion sets out, there has been an increase in targeted vandalism on war memorials across Scotland. Those are shameless attacks not only on the physical memorials but on what those memorials represent. Millions across our United Kingdom and across Scotland made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the liberties that are part of our everyday lives. We must defend that legacy.

When Flanders was mentioned, memories came back to me of a family trip to Ypres to visit the graves of our fallen, which are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Menin Gate. Everyone should see the Menin Gate, which displays the names of tens of thousands of young men—they were very young—who were lost and whose bodies were never found. Such memorials, whether in Belgium, northern France, or across all our communities in Scotland must be conserved. Members will not be surprised to hear a Conservative ask for something to be conserved.

Everyone across Scotland must have a local war memorial of which they can be proud. I live in the small community of Bridge of Allan, where the war memorial is the focus of our remembrance, across all parties and all types of people from across the town every remembrance Sunday.

At the remembrance day events in Grangemouth last year, several members of the public came up to me to express their sadness about the growing moss on the war memorial. Sharing the concern, I wrote to numerous bodies to ask them what could be done to remove the moss. I found out that a professional clean to remove moss and bacteria growth was last undertaken in 2017, but that moss was once again visible within 18 months. Although I was assured that the low-level removal of moss growth can be undertaken by park staff and by volunteers after appropriate training, I was disappointed to read that Falkirk Council had concluded that

“re-commissioning this cleaning work on a sufficiently regular basis for the memorial to appear clear of biological growth is not affordable within our current budgets.”

I do not wish to stray into party-political territory, but Falkirk Council has suffered cuts, and I fear for the future of budgets that exist to conserve Scotland’s war memorials.

When preparing for the debate, I was struck by a quote from one of my political heroes, Winston Churchill, who said:

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

I reflect on that. I know that war memorials are not buildings, but they certainly shape us. I will never forget the impression that the war memorials of Belgium and northern France made on our children. Regardless of where we are in our United Kingdom, when we walk past a war memorial, we can only remember the duty that was shown by our fellow countrymen and the sacrifices that they made.

As we in this chamber, and those across our United Kingdom, look forward to the future, we must ground ourselves by remembering all those who have come before us, the sacrifices that they made and the lessons that they continue to teach us. Our war memorials allow us to do that daily, and that is why we must be united and defend them.

18:41  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I, too, thank and pay tribute to Meghan Gallacher for bringing this important debate to the chamber, and I wish her well in her maternity leave.

The motion is correct that

“memorials hold a very special place within the hearts of”

our communities, and I am sure that most of us in the chamber have paid tribute at such memorials to those who died fighting for their country. They are a reminder of what we lost and the sacrifices that were made.

I have had the honour many times of laying a wreath at the war memorial that is situated near the centre of Coatbridge, which Meghan Gallacher also talked about, and at the war memorials at Glenboig, Gartcosh and other locations across my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston. I have laid the wreath at Coatbridge for six years as an MSP, and did so as a councillor before that. It goes back even further to when I was a young boy in the Boys Brigade and we went there on memorial day.

The Coatbridge memorial pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. As the former MSP Elaine Smith said in the Parliament a few times, it was designed by Edith Burnet Hughes, who was an important figure in Scottish architecture, as she was considered to be Britain’s first practising woman architect. The memorial was first unveiled in 1924, which means that this special memorial is fast approaching its 100th birthday. I am sure that Meghan Gallacher and I, along with others, will be at events to commemorate that in a couple of years.

Clare Adamson mentioned a personal connection to the war memorial in her area; similarly, the name Joseph Simpson, who was my mum’s uncle whom she never met, is inscribed on the Coatbridge memorial. He would be my great uncle, and I am very proud that his name is inscribed there.

The motion, as Meghan Gallacher has talked about, is, sadly, about the vandalism that can sometimes occur to memorials. The memorial in Coatbridge has been subject to several acts of vandalism. During the six years that I have been an MSP, I have had to stand up during First Minister’s question time on a couple of occasions to condemn the vandalism. What was written on the war memorial was absolutely disgusting, and the local community and I were rightly outraged. Over the past couple of years, there has not been anything—I hope that that continues and that I do not find myself having to stand up in the chamber this year to condemn it. Attacks on any cenotaph are a direct attack on the memory of the men who fought and died for their country. They came from different backgrounds and were of all faiths and of none.

I know that the situation is different from the one that Stephen Kerr spoke about, which was about moss, but I have to say that North Lanarkshire Council reacted very quickly—as it did in the situation in Motherwell that Meghan Gallacher spoke about—and cleaned up the graffiti on the memorial. I pay tribute to the council for doing that.

I will spend the rest of my time talking about two local men who have contributed greatly to ensuring that the war memorial pays tribute to everyone who lost their life. Jenni Minto made a point about people being reminded of the value and importance of such people. In the previous session of Parliament, I spoke about both those men in a members’ business debate.

Les Jenkins, who is a former teacher—indeed, he was my history teacher just a couple of years ago—first had the idea around 35 years ago of a project to mark the centenary of the end of the conflict. He involved his history pupils at Coatbridge high school, and completed it in his retirement. He compiled the stories of all 863 first world war fallen who are on the Coatbridge cenotaph. Les’s biographies of the Coatbridge soldiers are contained in a series of folders that members can access in the local studies room at Airdrie library, if they are interested.

The other gentleman whom I will talk about is John McCann. John has a website that is the culmination of more than a decade of research. He travelled across Europe to piece together scraps of information that were recorded about the brave fighting men from Coatbridge who lost their lives during the great war. When Mr McCann learned that no research had been done on the men whom the memorial commemorates, he decided to collect information himself, and his website now lists all the names. There has been a lot of support from family and friends of the fallen who have found out information about their loved ones. I am sure that members will agree that that is incredibly important work.

I hope to meet John soon—he now lives in Northern Ireland—and Les Jenkins and I are looking to set up a meeting. When we get it set up, I would be happy to extend an invite to Meghan Gallacher to come along to it, if she can fit that in, given her maternity leave.

Thank you, Mr MacGregor.

I will leave it at that, Presiding Officer.

That is great, thank you.

18:47  

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I join my colleagues who have spoken in thanking Meghan Gallacher for securing this important debate, which is the first members’ business debate that she has secured, and for giving all of us the opportunity to speak about the importance of having better protection for our war memorials.

In the summer of 2018, which was the year in which we marked 100 years since the end of world war one, I visited all 50 war memorials and Commonwealth graves in Aberdeenshire West. Visiting the memorials to pay respects to those who gave their lives in the great war was deeply moving. It was a stark reminder of not just the violence and atrocities but the solidarity, sacrifice and bravery that many showed.

War memorials serve as a symbol to respect those who gave their life for the greater good. I support my colleague’s calls to introduce stronger legislation that will ensure that war memorials are protected and recognise the vandalism of memorials as the heinous criminal act that it is.

During my visits to those war memorials and graveyards, I was very disheartened to see that many of them were no longer being maintained properly. Headstones and memorials serve to honour people’s sacrifice and bravery, and they should be well maintained. Several constituents have contacted me about the state of those graveyards.

I understand that it is the Scottish Government’s practice not to directly fund war memorials. However, I was assured previously that, a number of years ago, it introduced a fund to help to maintain and improve war memorials where required. That was operated through Historic Environment Scotland’s War Memorials Trust grant scheme. I would be grateful to hear from the minister whether that fund is still in operation or whether any other systems are in place to support the maintenance of war memorials.

Cemeteries fall under the responsibility of local authorities. Obviously, Covid restrictions impacted on landscape service teams, but normal service has not been resumed following cuts to their budgets—I should say that that is often with the excuse of increasing wildlife habitat. Therefore, communities have started to take matters into their own hands, including the friends of Ellon cemetery group, which was started by Councillor Gillian Owen after seeing the success of the friends of Turriff cemetery.

As if budget cuts were not bad enough, I read just today in The Press and Journal that the friends of Ellon cemetery, who were appalled at discovering graves of loved ones covered in cut grass, have now been banned from clearing the mess themselves due to health and safety rules, unless they get special training. One cannot help but think what those who are remembered by such graves would make of how we define risk today.

I ask the Government to recognise this important issue and to consider providing direct funding to community councils or other local groups to ensure that all graveyards and memorials can be well kept, including cutting the grass and maintaining structures to enable people to show their respect for many more years to come.

I finish by thanking those who have fought for us and those who continue to serve. In current times, we are reminded of the bravery of those who make the world a safer place, and we are forever grateful and thankful for their service.

18:50  

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Regan)

I, too, extend my thanks to Meghan Gallacher for providing an opportunity to highlight and discuss the importance of preserving and protecting our war memorials, and thank the other members who have contributed to tonight’s debate—in particular, Jenni Minto, who made a thoughtful contribution.

We have taken this time to reflect that memorials such as the ones that we are discussing are not there to glorify war. Instead, they are there to recognise the sacrifices that were made to protect the freedoms that we enjoy today. War memorials across Scotland give friends, families and the public important and poignant focal points for paying their respects to the many young men and women from our country who did not return from conflicts around the globe.

Memorials also play a vital role in raising awareness of past conflicts among those who are too young to remember them. They help us to remember the hardships that were endured, the courage that was displayed in the face of adversity and the ultimate sacrifice that was made during times of conflict.

I have been lucky enough to see some of the outstanding work that is being done in our communities across the country to honour those who fought and continue to fight for the liberties and peace that we so often take for granted, and I am grateful for that. We will forever hold an honoured place in our hearts for the commitment and sacrifices made by veterans, as well as those made by our active servicemen and women. Their legacy is deserving of the utmost respect.

Therefore, it is easy for us to appreciate how distressing and abhorrent it is when war memorials and statues that are connected to past conflicts are the target of wilful vandalism. I am pleased that the Scottish Government plays its part in ensuring that war memorials are looked after to the highest standards through the Scottish Government’s centenary memorials restoration fund. Historic Environment Scotland provided support totalling £1 million to the War Memorials Trust, and that money was used to aid repairs to war memorials throughout Scotland from April 2013 until March 2018. The programme supported the repair and conservation of about 125 projects in total.

The support did not end there. In 2019-20, Historic Environment Scotland also awarded the War Memorials Trust a grant of just over £91,000 to fund 50 per cent of its grant programmes and conservation programmes. I am pleased to be able to say that, this year, Historic Environment Scotland has awarded a further £88,000 to fund the War Memorials Trust conservation programme and 50 per cent of its grant programme in Scotland for the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2025.

I welcome the minister’s announcement, but will she acknowledge that the current legislation does not act as a deterrent, which is why we have seen vandalism of war memorials increase in the past decade?

Ash Regan

I take the member’s point. I have some statistics, if I have time to find them. It seems that the crime rate is very low. The information that I have received from the War Memorials Trust says that 0.04 per cent of war memorials are damaged in the way that Ms Gallacher has described. However, I also accept that it is a particularly distressing crime. I will go on to speak about the legislative approach in a moment.

I turn to the distressing subject of vandalism, including the incidents that have been referred to already. The recent petition that has been submitted on behalf of the friends of Dennistoun war memorial urges the Scottish Government to introduce stronger legislation that would recognise the desecration or vandalism of war memorials as a criminal offence.

I hear the heartfelt concerns of the group and, indeed, of some of the speakers this evening. I reassure members that the Scottish Government continues to recognise the importance of Scottish war memorials in ensuring that those who gave their lives in conflict are not forgotten.

Vandalism is a crime, regardless of the motivations for it, and the Scottish Government condemns all acts of malicious vandalism and graffiti. Such behaviour is unacceptable in modern Scotland and those indulging in it can expect to face criminal charges.

I will say a little more about the current legal provisions that relate to vandalism. Under the vandalism provisions that are contained in the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995,

“any person who, without reasonable excuse, wilfully or recklessly destroys or damages any property belonging to another shall be guilty of the offence of vandalism”

and liable to a fine of up to £1,000. Furthermore, the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 enables the police to issue on-the-spot penalties to people who are suspected of lower-level offences such as graffiti.

Additionally, depending on the circumstances, a common law charge of breach of the peace could be used to deal with those who are involved in the desecration of statues and monuments. Such individuals may also fall foul of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 if they are involved in threatening or abusive behaviour that causes fear or alarm, for which an individual can be fined or receive a prison term of up to five years.

The Scottish Government supports police and prosecutors in using the existing powers that are available to them in dealing with incidents of vandalism that affect war memorials. However, we are open to considering the matter further, including whether it would be appropriate to introduce additional legislation to protect war memorials.

I thank Meghan Gallacher for bringing the debate to the chamber, and I welcome the views that have been expressed from members of all parties, which have been helpful in raising the profile of an important issue. I will reflect on the points that have been made tonight, and on those made in the petition from the friends of Dennistoun war memorial.

Meeting closed at 18:57.