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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 26 January 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Scotland’s Vision for Trade, University of St. Andrews (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry) Bill: Stage 1, Post-mortem Examinations (Defence Time Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


Topical Question Time

Domestic Abuse

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to anyone experiencing domestic abuse, in light of reports of an increasing number of referrals by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. (S5T-02630)

It is deeply concerning that referrals to services have increased during the pandemic. It is important to stress that lockdown restrictions do not prevent a person and their family from leaving their home if they are escaping domestic abuse and that Police Scotland continues to prioritise domestic abuse cases.

We encourage anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse to get in touch and get the support that they need by using Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline, which can be contacted at any time of the day on 0800 027 1234.

We are working tirelessly to ensure that front-line services continue to support adults and children who experience domestic abuse, and we are providing additional funding of more than £5.75 million to services such as Scottish Women’s Aid, Domestic Violence Assist and Rape Crisis Scotland, to ensure that they can meet increasing demand. We have also worked closely with the United Kingdom Government on a codeword scheme in participating pharmacies, which will offer help in communities.

The NSPCC warns that referrals are likely to rise further under the current lockdown restrictions, and it is urging people to speak out if they have concerns about a child’s safety or wellbeing. Will the minister please say again how people should raise the alarm if they are concerned that someone might be experiencing domestic abuse?

Yes. I urge anyone who suspects that a child might be at risk of harm to contact their local authority social work department or to contact the police on 101, or on 999 if they think that the child is in immediate danger. It is important to make the point that the person does not need to be sure that the child or young person has been harmed; it is okay to report a suspicion. The NSPCC helpline, on 0808 800 5000, provides information on reporting concerns about a child who is at risk of harm and advises on child protection. Its website provides further information. As I said, Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline can be contacted at any point in the day and provides information and guidance.

Will the minister take this opportunity to make victims of domestic abuse aware that support services remain open so that people can access the help that they need and that lockdown restrictions do not prevent someone from leaving home if they are escaping harm?

Yes. A priority for the Scottish Government during the pandemic has been exactly that—to highlight services via many avenues, including social media, and to ensure that services advertise the support that they can give. That includes Police Scotland, which is still there for anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse. I say to anyone in that situation: please get in touch if you need help—do not delay.

The rules on being safe from Covid-19 do not prevent anyone from seeking help, including by leaving their home. We have published guidance to make that absolutely clear. I encourage anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse to seek support by using the helpline on 0800 027 1234. I cannot overemphasise that, and I ask members to share the number with as many contacts and in as many media outlets as they can.

There are two supplementary questions. The first comes from Rhoda Grant.

It looks as though we are having trouble connecting with Rhoda Grant. The other supplementary—

Ah, there is Rhoda.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Given that children can be the victims of abuse, does the cabinet secretary agree that the Domestic Abuse Protection (Scotland) Bill should be extended so that its protections apply equally to children in their own right?

Rhoda Grant knows that the bill is going through the parliamentary process—I think that stage 2 is coming up soon. I will take her point away and have a conversation with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who is leading on the bill, and will then come back to her on the matter. I do not quite know where the bill process is at, but I will ensure that I get the information from the cabinet secretary and come back to Rhoda Grant.

In an answer to Rona Mackay, the minister mentioned the new codeword scheme, whereby someone who is suffering domestic abuse can discreetly find a safe space at one of many high street pharmacies. It is an important service. Will she say more about how the new scheme will be rolled out and publicised to ensure that women get the support that they need from the service?

We were very pleased to support the implementation of Hestia’s safe space scheme, which was introduced in pharmacies in May last year. We worked with the UK Government on the development of the codeword scheme for victims of domestic abuse, to ensure that those who experience it can be signposted to the right support pathways in Scotland.

We will continue to work with the UK Government and our partners in Scotland to monitor the implementation and delivery of the codeword scheme and to understand how we can best support, enhance and promote the delivery of that model in Scotland.

The scheme is currently being delivered in Boots stores in Scotland, and, last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Marc Donovan, who is the chief pharmacist for Boots in the UK. We discussed the importance of ensuring that the scheme is properly evaluated and that stores work with local communities to embed the scheme and link in with local support groups.

Prisons (Remand Population)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on reducing the remand population, in light of reports that it has nearly doubled since April 2020 and that people awaiting trial are restricted to their cells for 23 hours a day. (S5T-02631)

Decisions on bail, remand and sentencing in individual cases are, of course, matters for independent courts and are based on the circumstances that are before them.

I agree, generally, with the member’s position that there are far too many people on remand as a percentage of our prison population in Scotland. We know that remand can have a damaging impact, akin to short sentences, on housing, families and employment. All of—[Inaudible.]

We seem to have lost connection to the cabinet secretary. Mr McArthur, I do not think that you got a chance to hear the full answer, but please ask your supplementary question. We will see whether we can get the cabinet secretary back.

I acknowledge the point that I heard the cabinet secretary make about the risk of reoffending that can arise because of short sentencing and people being on remand.

The number of people on remand in Scottish prisons is high and is rising. Last summer, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons confirmed that the level in Scotland is more than double that in England, and the situation has only become worse since then.

People are still waiting to have their case heard but are being asked to spend 23 hours a day in a cell. Given the effects of imprisonment on reoffending rates, overuse of remand creates bigger problems for the future—as the cabinet secretary acknowledged. Therefore, why does it appear that there is so little confidence in the alternatives that are available, and what guidance has been issued on the use of remand, particularly during Covid?

Thank you, Mr McArthur. I do not think that we are going to get the cabinet secretary back. The good thing is that you have had a chance to put your point on the record, so hopefully you will get a written response to your questions.

A number of members had hoped to ask supplementary questions, but I do not think that we can get Mr Yousaf back. I am therefore going to move on to the next item of business.

I suggest to Mr McArthur that, because he has read them out, his questions have been put on the record and he will receive a written answer from the Government. I suggest to other members that they submit written questions. If Mr McArthur wants to ask a second supplementary question, he might wish to send that through me to the cabinet secretary, and we will try to get a response from him. I apologise for the fact that we were unable to maintain that link.

The cabinet secretary lodged a written answer in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, Bib no 62188.