Meeting date: Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 06 June 2018
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Citizen Girl Initiative
- Portfolio Question Time
- Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
- Citizen Girl Initiative
Portfolio Question Time
Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
Music Tuition (Development and Promotion of Culture)
To ask the Scottish Government what the impact could be on Scotland’s future ability to develop and promote its culture of the reported reduction in funding for music tuition in schools. (S5O-02177)
The Scottish Government recognises the importance of the role that music, culture and creativity play in people’s lives across Scotland, which is why our culture budget has increased by almost 10 per cent. Music tuition is of enormous benefit to young people, and contributes to Scotland’s future ability to develop and promote its culture. The Scottish Government is actively providing leadership to encourage participation in music.
With regard to instrumental music tuition, local authorities are directly responsible for spending in schools. Overall funding to councils is increasing in real terms, despite continued United Kingdom Government cuts to Scotland’s resource budget. Although we respect the autonomy of local councils, Scottish ministers are concerned about some local authorities’ changes to the provision of instrumental music tuition, and have committed to working in collaboration with partners to find solutions that help to ensure that instrumental music remains accessible to all.
The culture budget may have increased, but local authorities’ budgets have fallen by more than 7 per cent in real terms since 2013, so it is no wonder that they struggle with such provision, and that many have had to increase or introduce charges for instrumental tuition. There is really only one solution. Will the minister suggest to his colleagues, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution and the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, that they provide new and guaranteed funding centrally, in order to deliver affordable or—better still—free instrumental tuition in our schools, for the sake of Scotland’s cultural future?
Although Iain Gray and I agree about the importance of music tuition in schools, I have to point out that the figure of 7 per cent that he mentioned is the real-terms cut in funding that this Parliament has received from the UK Government since 2010-11. Despite that, councils are receiving a real-terms increase in the share of the budget that we are able to give to them, as I mentioned.
However, it is important to say that some councils have increased their fees—not least Midlothian Council, which has increased its fees from zero to £205. Those councils will wish to consider their actions because—as, I hope, we can agree—music tuition should be accessible and councils should not prejudice its availability to anyone on the ground of income.
Will the minister give Parliament a guarantee that the Scottish Government’s working group on music tuition will look at private partnership deals, as well as at public partnerships? If it is a question of finding additional money, which it seems to be, such partnership deals could be very important.
The Scottish Government always works in partnership with various agencies. It is worth saying, in the context of music tuition, that there has long been an agreement, since the days of the working group on instrumental music tuition in schools, that any course that leads to a Scottish Qualifications Authority qualification should be provided free. It would certainly concern me if there was evidence of that not happening around the country.
Will the minister join me in wishing the Sistema Scotland chairman, Richard Holloway, all the best in his recently announced retirement? The minister might be aware that Richard Holloway spoke at a reception that I hosted recently here at Holyrood to mark the 10th anniversary of Sistema Scotland’s big noise orchestras. Does the minister agree that one of Richard Holloway’s legacies is transformation in the lives of children, young people and communities through an intensive and immersive musical experience, thereby significantly improving the potential of people from disadvantaged areas to live more enriched and fulfilled lives?
Richard Holloway certainly deserves congratulations on that count. His vision and drive have been fundamental to creating and extending Sistema Scotland’s outstanding work in our communities, which has benefited many children in the past 10 years.
Sistema Scotland has been a huge success in Bruce Crawford’s constituency and elsewhere. It now reaches 2,500 children weekly, and independent evaluation has highlighted the fact that, as well as increasing the confidence, aspirations and self-esteem of the children and young people involved, Sistema Scotland is making a real and positive difference to communities across Scotland.
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to promote tourism in areas served by the M74. (S5O-02178)
Transport Scotland has recently introduced signs on the M74 that signpost nearby towns including Dumfries, Lockerbie, Gretna and Ecclefechan.
VisitScotland currently has a £130,000 memorandum of agreement with Dumfries and Galloway Council to promote the region. VisitScotland will also receive £500,000 for marketing the south of Scotland region in 2018-19.
I welcome the fact that towns across my constituency are finally on the motorway signs. However, will the minister undertake to put pressure on Transport Scotland to reconsider its rules on brown signs for tourist attractions? Many of the smaller tourist attractions and tourist businesses across Dumfries and Galloway are struggling to make their way through the bureaucracy.
I cannot speak for Transport Scotland on the matter, but I will ensure that Oliver Mundell gets a response to that question. Suffice it to say that I think that the pressure that has been brought to bear by a number of members in the south of Scotland has been helpful in ensuring that the places that I mentioned are highlighted on signs on the M74. However, we should certainly also be open to all ideas to ensure that the beauty of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders is much more clearly advertised to everyone who visits Scotland.
The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs is aware of my on-going campaign to encourage people to visit south-west Scotland, and now the minister is aware of it, too.
I echo Oliver Mundell’s comments. Current signage on the M74 from the central belt going south gives the impression that there is nothing for 90 miles until Carlisle. Will the minister agree to meet me to explore options for adapting M74 signposts to feature bonnie Dumfries and Galloway and the beautiful Scottish Borders, with the aim of encouraging more tourism, which will give the local economy a much-needed boost?
As, originally, a native of the Borders, I would, similarly, take offence at the idea that there is nothing between Glasgow and Carlisle, if that is being suggested by anyone.
I give credit to Emma Harper, who has raised the issue with the Government and Transport Scotland, and has got results with regard to naming of individual towns and villages on signs. Her comments about naming the wider south of Scotland region, the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway are now on the record and will, I hope, be noted by all concerned.
Creative Scotland (Promotion of Scotland for Screen Production)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether the promotion of Scotland as a destination for film, television and other productions is best achieved through Creative Scotland. (S5O-02179)
We backed the screen sector with an additional £10 million of funding this year and approved the joint proposal from Creative Scotland and its partner skills and enterprise agencies to set up a dedicated screen unit within Creative Scotland. That unit, which will be led by a new executive director with screen industry expertise, will bring increased focus and coherence to public sector support for the film and television industry. Plans for its delivery are well under way, and the promotion of film and television, which is already carried out by Creative Scotland, will sit best within the unit.
Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee agreed unanimously and on a cross-party basis to support the promotion of Scotland as a film and television location by a separate, standalone organisation. Given the overwhelming evidence that we heard from industry in support of that position, why does the Government not accept it?
The report certainly recognised the contribution of the work that the screen unit does, and I welcome that acknowledgement. I believe that, rather than creating a new agency, the method that has been set out and identified for supporting screen is the best one. Since 2007, record public investment has gone into the screen industry.
On the issues that Tavish Scott raised around structures, it is important to say that there are three industry reps on the advisory committee on screen and also that we are recruiting three new members to the Creative Scotland board specifically to represent expertise in film. I do not agree with Tavish Scott’s view about a stand-alone agency, but I am sure that we are agreed on the importance of supporting the industry.
Tavish Scott’s question talks about “the promotion of Scotland” for film production. Back in 2013, Fiona Hyslop said that what was needed was
“a film studio, particularly with a very effective sound studio as part of that complex.”—[Official Report, 23 May 2013; c 20220.]
We still do not have a film studio in Scotland. The new screen unit’s action plans include finalising a business case for studio capacity and securing new space within 12 months. Is the minister confident that the screen unit can deliver that?
We share the sector’s ambition to see the creation of additional film and television infrastructure. Working with Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, we continue actively to encourage proposals from developers, and stand ready to assist in any way appropriate to aid their delivery. We have welcomed, and continue to welcome, proposals from developers, and we are willing to assist in any way appropriate to aid progress on that front. Scottish ministers have granted planning permission in principle for a mixed-use studio development at Pentland on the outskirts of Edinburgh, which is one example of our commitment in this area.
Year of Young People (Cultural Legacy)
To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to support community groups to ensure that they leave a cultural legacy from their year of young people activities. (S5O-02180)
A great deal of activity is currently under way to make this year a catalyst for new ways of working with young people at a local level. Through our create18 fund, the Government is supporting young people to work with community groups throughout Scotland to plan and deliver high-quality community events, helping young people to showcase their talents and contributions to their local communities and helping to change attitudes to and perceptions of young people.
We are also working with local authorities to give young people the opportunity to have their voices heard and to create a lasting cultural change by putting young people at the heart of local decision making and the co-design of the services that they use.
Groups such as the universal connections centres in Rutherglen and Cambuslang and terminal one in Blantyre have events planned throughout the year to mark the year of young people, from the forever young event in Cambuslang to the musical showcase featuring children from across my constituency of Rutherglen. It is good to see local groups fully on board with this great initiative. Can the minister advise on whether a legacy evaluation will be undertaken to measure the success of this year of young people, in order to learn positive lessons for the next themed year in 2020?
We are developing an evaluation framework for the year of young people, which will ensure that the aims, objectives and outcomes of the year are met, and that will also measure the success of co-designing Scottish Government policies to create a lasting legacy beyond 2018. All of that complements the evaluation that YoungScot is leading, which is looking at the overall co-design element of the year. The Scottish Government is certainly committed to ensuring that the programme of themed years engages with young people, and it will continue to invite representatives from children’s and young people’s organisations to join us directly and make sure that their interests are fully represented.
One community group that is already doing invaluable work to support young people on the islands that I represent is the Orkney Youth Cafe. Unfortunately, if funding difficulties are not resolved by the autumn, the doors of the youth cafe could close. Therefore, I ask the minister to ask his officials to engage directly with the board of the youth cafe to ensure that one of the legacies of the year of young people is not the closure of that vital facility.
Although I have not been involved personally with that particular organisation, I am happy to accede to the member’s request and ensure that officials meet him and the board to see whether there are any opportunities for a conversation that would be helpful.
For community groups to deliver invaluable cultural benefit, support from qualified youth workers is needed. However, is the minister aware that in evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee last year, Unison Scotland stated that youth worker jobs have been substantially cut across Scotland? Does he agree that job losses in services will leave a negative legacy in communities that have suffered the brunt of those austerity cuts?
Clearly, the contribution of youth workers is very important to a number of the programmes that we are mentioning. In some cases, they will be employees of local authorities, and I do not wish to repeat the points that I made earlier. However, the Scottish Government is always willing to work with all who seek to promote the value of not just youth workers but the people with whom they work.
Culture and Tourism Industries (Ethnic Discrimination)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on organisations in the culture and tourism industries that discriminate on the basis of ethnicity operating in Scotland. (S5O-02181)
Equality is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for a prosperous and fairer Scotland and is critical to how we meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that will allow us to thrive in the 21st century. We published the race equality action plan in December 2017, which outlines more than 120 actions that we will take over the course of this parliamentary session to secure better outcomes for ethnic minorities in Scotland.
The minister may be aware that Israeli airline Israir is commencing flights from Edinburgh to Tel Aviv shortly. Unfortunately, millions of people living in the area that the airline serves will be unable to board those flights at Edinburgh airport, solely on the basis of their ethnicity, because Palestinians living in the West Bank are not allowed to fly through Ben Gurion airport, unlike Jewish Israelis living in settlements next door to them.
Does the minister agree that such discrimination on the basis of ethnicity has no place in modern Scotland?
The Scottish Government would clearly deplore and condemn any institution or business that discriminated against its customers on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or nationality.
It is up to the United Kingdom Government to decide which airlines fly to the UK, but the Scottish Government’s views about the rights of the people of Palestine are a matter of record, and they are views that are widely shared across the chamber.
Can the minister confirm that the Scottish Government, through, for example, its enterprise agency or VisitScotland, will not support financially or otherwise businesses or organisations that operate within a system of apartheid, such as the one outlined by Ivan McKee?
As I understand it, the flights in question are weekly inbound charter flights. It is not a service that is promoted directly to customers in Scotland and VisitScotland does not have a relationship with the airline in question.
European Union Negotiations
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its negotiations with the EU, following the First Minister’s recent meeting with Michel Barnier. (S5O-02182)
The First Minister visited Brussels on 28 May 2018 for a series of engagements, which included a meeting with Michel Barnier.
Michel Barnier showed an openness to listen to the Scottish Government’s views on the Brexit negotiations. The First Minister outlined key issues of concern for Scotland, including the need for urgent clarity on the future EU-United Kingdom relationship and the strongly held Scottish Government position that Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole should remain within the European Union single market and customs union.
Does the minister agree that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Scotland and its economy? Does he share my concerns about the UK Government allocation of less than a day to debate and vote on all the amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
As the member clearly appreciates and many other members will appreciate, it is important to understand just how helplessly confused the UK Government’s present position is. I noticed on my way here, when watching Prime Minister’s question time, that the Prime Minister seemed to be more willing and able to give an account of the House of Lords versus House of Commons pigeon race—important though the cause represented there was, I am sure—than she was able to offer any explanation of how either the Lords or the Commons would reach a conclusion about the hurried bill in question.
It is quite a situation for us all to have reached—to be debating some of the most dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit—and we should all work together to ensure that such a thing never happens.
Justice and Law Officers
Police Scotland (North-east Division) (Meetings)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the divisional commander for the north-east division of Police Scotland. (S5O-02187)
I regularly meet the designated deputy chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, who has responsibility for operational policing across Scotland. I understand that DCC Livingstone met representatives from Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray Councils on 29 May to discuss a range of issues relevant to policing in the north-east of Scotland.
The north-east area can struggle to recruit people into public service because it has to compete in a relatively high-waged labour market that is in a stubbornly expensive housing market. Will the cabinet secretary outline what has been done to make policing an attractive career proposition and point to any discussions with the divisional commander on specific training and professional development initiatives in the north-east division? What has been done to enhance policing skills, particularly in a changing landscape in which crime is moving off the streets and going online?
There have been challenges with recruitment in the north-east due to the particular economic situation in that region. Police Scotland has made concerted efforts to enhance its recruitment approach there. I am pleased that Police Scotland has confirmed that it has a full complement in the north-east as a result of those actions.
Gillian Martin may also be interested to know that, in Police Scotland, police officer pay for new recruits is the highest in the United Kingdom. They receive a salary of more than £24,000 a year, whereas new officers in England and Wales currently receive just under £20,000 on starting, and I understand that there are proposals to drop that further to £18,000 for apprentice police officers.
Police Scotland’s recruitment, training and development work is being taken forward by the interim chief constable, and a new leadership and talent team in Police Scotland is taking forward a leadership strategy, which will provide leadership development at all levels with new options for talent management and career development, including in the north-east of Scotland.
With regard to Gillian Martin’s point about cybercrime and cyber capabilities, those are key elements of Police Scotland’s 2026 strategy. Police Scotland is committed to recruiting suitably cyber-skilled specialists to counter the threat of cybercrime. A new cyberhub in Aberdeen has recently opened, in which cyber officers and staff are co-located with appropriate technology and equipment. That brings Police Scotland’s overall investment in five cyberhubs to £5 million, to help to ensure that it can address the increasing threat from cybercrime.
In the north-east, antisocial behaviour has skyrocketed. It is up 41 per cent in Aberdeen, 34 per cent in Aberdeenshire and 20 per cent in Angus. Perhaps due to the issues that Gillian Martin highlighted, the number of local divisional officers is falling and the number of special constables has nearly halved since the formation of Police Scotland. The crime and justice survey tells us that fewer people than ever before are aware of a regular police patrol in their area. Does the cabinet secretary accept that there is a link between less visible policing and increased antisocial behaviour?
As ever, Liam Kerr tends to take a rather simplistic approach to such matters. We recognise that it is important that a range of agencies work in co-operation to tackle and deal with antisocial behaviour. Police Scotland is an important element of that, with local authorities and voluntary and community-based organisations working alongside it.
It is important that the local authorities in the north-east of Scotland work in partnership with Police Scotland in addressing issues relating to antisocial behaviour. I hope that Liam Kerr will be realistic and also rather honest in his approach to the issue, and that he will encourage local authorities in the north-east to ensure that they are working co-operatively with Police Scotland to address such issues effectively and responsibly.
Question 2 has not been lodged.
Rape Complainers (Anonymity)
To ask the Scottish Government how the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ensures that the anonymity of rape complainers is protected during and subsequent to trial. (S5O-02189)
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is absolutely committed to supporting rape complainers in giving their evidence at trial. Section 92(3) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 enables the court to clear and close the courtroom during the evidence of the complainer in a rape or similar sexual offence case. Prosecutors routinely make that application to the court to support the complainer in giving her best evidence and to protect her identity. The decision to clear the courtroom is for the court, but it represents an important and appropriate departure from the general principles of open justice and the principle that criminal proceedings are held in public.
At the same time, the established practice of the Scottish media is that the identities of those making sexual complaints will be protected. Guidance is provided to the media in the published Independent Press Standards Organisation’s “Editors’ Code of Practice”.
I thank the Solicitor General for that comprehensive and reassuring response. She will understand that concerns exist about victims of rape being identified online, particularly on social media, and that the use of auto-complete functions by search engines such as Google can result in people who are searching for information on a case being presented with details of the complainer. Has the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service held any discussions with Google, Facebook, Twitter or any other such companies regarding that issue? Have there been any convictions as a result of a person’s anonymity being breached?
The internet and social media in particular undoubtedly present a set of challenges for the administration of justice and, indeed, for all other aspects of civilised society in Scotland. So far as the protection of rape complainers’ identity is concerned, the COPFS encourages any rape complainer to bring any matters of concern to the attention of the authorities. For our part, the Crown would consider the facts and circumstances of the individual case and the related post or publication in order to decide whether any prosecutorial action was available and in the public interest.
Fear of unwanted publicity is a natural and legitimate concern among rape complainers. The views, interests and welfare of those complainers are at the heart of the work that we do, as prosecutors, in bringing sexual offenders to justice. Equally, the Scottish Government is committed to supporting the needs of witnesses to help to ensure that they can give their best evidence with the minimum anxiety about the process, including anxiety about anonymity not being protected throughout their lifetime.
The issue is wider than simply the prosecution of crime. Cases will be examined to see whether individual criminal offences have been committed, but there is a bigger picture and a wider set of issues. I am confident that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who would be responsible for wider legislation in the area, would be interested to hear and give careful consideration to evidence about particular concerns and the way that the system currently operates.
Review of the Regulation of Legal Services
To ask the Scottish Government when it will report on the consultation on its review of the regulation of legal services. (S5O-02190)
The member will be aware that the review of the regulation of legal services is independent of the Scottish Government and is chaired by Esther Roberton. I am aware that the review undertook a call for evidence earlier this year, and I understand that the chair intends to publish the consultation responses shortly. I expect the final report in the autumn.
I ask the minister to take careful cognisance of anything that is in that report about the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the ability of citizens to take complaints about solicitors and cases further on appeal. At the moment, constituents of mine are finding themselves disenfranchised, as they do not have the ability to appeal to anywhere other than the Court of Session, which of course is prohibitively expensive.
In light of that question, I should refer members to my entry in the register of interests, where they will find that I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland and that I hold a practising certificate, although I am not currently practising.
The independent review of the regulation of legal services is also considering how to improve the complaints process. I am quite confident that we will see recommendations along those lines when Esther Roberton presents her report. In the meantime, the Scottish Government is working with the Law Society and the SLCC to identify improvements that can be made in the shorter term. Those improvements will require secondary legislation, which we will bring to Parliament after the summer recess.
I remind members of my entry in the register of interests, which shows that I am a practising advocate.
Does the minister agree with the current SLCC chair, Jim Martin, who commented that the legal complaints system is
“simply not fit for purpose”?
Will the system now be overhauled to protect consumers and provide proper regulation?
I have had several conversations with the SLCC and the Law Society of Scotland, and it is fair to say that they do not always take the same view of these matters. As I said to Linda Fabiani, the review of the regulation of legal services that the Scottish Government has commissioned Esther Roberton to carry out will report soon. We will reflect carefully on its recommendations and thereafter engage in a wide discussion, in which I invite Mr Lindhurst to participate.
Recorded Crime Figures
To ask the Scottish Government what the level of recorded crime was in 2006-07 and the last year for which figures are available. (S5O-02191)
In 2006-07, 419,257 crimes were recorded by the police. The latest year for which national statistics are available is 2016-17, when 238,651 crimes were recorded. That represents a 43 per cent decrease, which includes a 49 per cent fall in non-sexual crimes of violence. The national statistics for 2017-18 will be published in September 2018.
I am delighted that, thanks to the hard work of our police officers, the policies of the Scottish National Party Government and the fact that people are generally becoming more law abiding, crime has fallen substantially, making our streets and communities safer. Does the cabinet secretary agree, however, that there is no room for complacency, and that a continuous focus on reducing all crimes, specifically domestic violence and crimes of a sexual nature, remains crucial?
I agree with the member. Although we should welcome the significant reduction in crime that we have seen, we can never be complacent. We need to maintain our focus on reducing crime levels further, including in domestic violence and sexual crime.
The Scottish Government has published “Equally Safe”, our delivery strategy that sets out the range of actions that we are taking to tackle violence against women and girls. The member will also be aware that we took the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill through Parliament. It introduced a new offence that criminalises a course of abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner, and includes psychological abuse alongside physical harm. Alongside that, we provided £30 million between 2017 and 2020 to support a wide range of projects to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women.
The Solicitor General and I have established an expert group on sexual crime to look at the prevention of sexual offending involving young people. The group will identify fresh actions that we can take to prevent that harmful behaviour among young people and to mitigate its effects.
One concerning aspect of the most recent statistics on recorded crime was the continuing trend of falling detection rates. Detection rates in the capital continue to lag behind those in the rest of the country, with just one third of crimes being detected in Edinburgh compared to around a half in Scotland as a whole. In the context of the most recent plan submitted to the Scottish Police Authority board, and given that local Scottish Police Federation members have told me that police time in Edinburgh is stretched more than ever, does the minister agree that, if capacity is created, that should mean more officers on the streets rather than fewer?
I recognise the concern that Daniel Johnson raises. In the past couple of years in the Edinburgh area, for example, there have been particular problems with housebreaking, which Police Scotland has taken action on, with specialist operations being mounted to address concerns where it has identified a problem. Local commanders in the executive team of Police Scotland will no doubt look at what further measures need to be taken in the capital and in other parts of the country where there are localised issues with detection and with particular types of crime.
Daniel Johnson referred to increasing operational capability. That is a key part of what Police Scotland and the SPA have set out in the policing 2026 strategy, and an important element of it is increasing operational capability to support front-line policing. I support that and, when the 2026 strategy was published, I recall that it was welcomed by Opposition parties, too. It will be important for Police Scotland and the SPA to continue to drive that work forward as they take forward the implementation of the 2026 strategy.
Bearing in mind what the cabinet secretary said about the welcome fall in the number of reported crimes and, in particular, the number of violent crimes, does he share my surprise and concern at Police Scotland’s decision to train around 50 per cent of the police officers in Orkney in the use of Tasers for routine deployment?
Liam McArthur will be aware that the reason why the 520 specially trained officers were introduced was to improve resilience and provide greater protection to police officers in tackling violent crimes, crimes in which violence is involved or incidents that involve a bladed weapon.
Only last week, we saw the risks that some of our police officers face and the member will understand that those risks are shared in our rural communities, where, in addition, response times to support police officers can be longer than in urban areas. Tasers are one of the tools that could provide greater protection to officers, so I support the roll out of the specially trained officers around the country, including in our island communities. They will be used in a proportionate and appropriate fashion to deal with incidents that have an element of violence to them and where bladed weapons are involved. The specially trained officers have been provided with training to use the devices as and when appropriate. It is about enhancing police officers’ safety overall, no matter which part of the country they operate in.
Legal Aid (Expansion of Entitlement)
To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to amend the entitlement to access legal aid. (S5O-02192)
Despite significant financial pressures, Scotland is one of the leading jurisdictions in Europe in the provision of legal aid in terms of scope, eligibility and expenditure per capita, as 70 per cent of our citizens are eligible to some form of civil legal aid funding in almost all areas of life. As noted in Martyn Evans’s independent strategic review of legal aid, substantial cuts to legal aid entitlement in England and Wales have dramatically reduced the scope of the legal aid that is available in family, social welfare, debt and housing law cases. The Scottish Government will not follow that approach. Our vision is that Scotland is a global leader in supporting citizens to defend their rights, resolve problems and settle disputes.
I welcome what the minister says. What plans, if any, does the Scottish Government have to review, in particular, the support that is provided to those who face additional challenges, including those from low-income backgrounds, to ensure that they can access the justice that we all wish to see served?
The legal aid system in Scotland is already one of the most generous in the world—around 75 per cent of those who apply for legal aid receive it at no cost. The recent independent review, to which I referred in my first answer to Richard Lyle, made recommendations that would ensure that that high degree of support continues. Those proposals will certainly be a priority in our consideration of how best to proceed with reform of the legal aid system.
Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (Interpreters)
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on recent changes to the terms and conditions of interpreters used by the courts service. (S5O-02193)
The Scottish Government has a framework agreement for interpreting, translation and transcription services, which is used by Scottish public sector bodies, including the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. There are two suppliers on the framework agreement. There have been no recent changes to the framework terms and conditions. The Scottish Government does not contract directly with individual interpreters. Any terms and conditions of employment are a matter between the interpreter and the contractor.
Is the cabinet secretary aware that a group of interpreters recently went on strike because of the imposition by Global Connects of new terms and conditions, whereby payment for travel time was removed? Does he not agree that there should be a public interest in the matter, given that it is governed by his office? In circumstances in which interpreters were not paid for travel time, they would, in effect, earn less than the minimum wage. Is the cabinet secretary not concerned about the possibility of interpreters who work in our courts—albeit that they are self-employed—earning less than the minimum wage? Surely the issue deserves scrutiny.
As I mentioned, Scottish Procurement is aware of the fact that one of its suppliers recently changed its terms and conditions for interpreters in relation to the allocation of work and the rates for travel and expenses that it provides. The fixed rates in the framework agreement that the Scottish Government has in place are inclusive of all hourly rates, travel of up to 70 miles, expenses and management fees. At the tender stage, suppliers are required to bid on the basis of the principles that are set out in the framework agreement. It was for the bidders to decide, in their responses to the tender, what fully inclusive fixed rates would be appropriate to cover hourly travel rates, including travel of up to 70 miles, expenses and management fees.
The Scottish Government does not contract directly with interpreters. It is for the contractors to agree rates of pay with their staff. However, if the member wants to write to me with more details on the matter, given that it relates to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, I will ensure that the chief executive of that service responds to the concerns that she has raised.
That concludes portfolio questions. I thank ministers, law officers and members.