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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 12 June 2019

Agenda: Lung Health, Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2017, Veterans Strategy (Update), Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Housing Co-operatives


Portfolio Question Time

Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity

Road Freight

1. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to move freight off roads and on to rail, in light of it declaring a climate emergency. (S5O-03358)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

Our approach to supporting rail freight is outlined in our rail freight strategy, strengthened by new Network Rail targets to grow rail freight and backed by past and current investment, including a new £25 million control period 6 Scottish strategic rail freight fund and our mode shift grant system. In addition, our draft national transport strategy, which will set out the future direction for transport, reflects the declaration of the global climate emergency with climate change action identified as a priority. It also reiterates the role of transport in helping to deliver the 2045 net zero target.

Claudia Beamish

In evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee at stage 2 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, the Freight Transport Association stated:

“At best, we could get about 5 per cent of freight off trucks and on to rail”.—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 28 May 2019; c 57.]

That is concerning. The Scottish Government funds a great deal more road projects than rail projects, which further marginalises rail freight.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that balanced funding is required for better targeting of small freight facilities grants, longer rail overtaking loops, restoration of double track, diversionary routes, gauge clearance and electrification, to name but a few measures?

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

That is quite a lot, but never mind.

Michael Matheson

As I outlined, we undertake a considerable amount of work to encourage rail freight. I do not know whether it is now official Labour Party policy to cut the roads budget and transfer that money to rail instead.

Claudia Beamish

I said “balanced funding”.

Michael Matheson

I suspect that, in later questions, members will also ask me to make more investment in roads.

The £25 million that I announced a few weeks ago is a key part of helping to support industry to make the modal shift from road to rail freight, and we will continue to work with the industry to achieve that. We have also set out ambitious targets for Network Rail, to make sure that it is driving that approach forward in a way that sees more going into rail freight. We will continue to do everything that we can to encourage commercial businesses to make use of the rail freight options that are available to them as we work with the rail freight industry to make it an attractive proposition for businesses.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary will be aware that Prestwick airport is well connected via rail. A huge amount of cargo goes through the airport and, inevitably, on to the road. What is the Government doing to better utilise that rail capacity—specifically, the Falkland junction? At the moment, it is an underused section of railway that could help to provide the modal shift that we need.

Michael Matheson

Companies’ decision to use rail freight is a commercial decision, and we provide funding to support them in making the transition. There are several key areas in which we know that there is a possibility of increasing freight—particularly timber transport—and we have taken forward work with the industry to encourage it to do that. My colleague Fergus Ewing chaired a meeting in London with members of the rail freight and forestry industries and Transport Scotland officials to look at how we can create greater connections in those areas. We try to make rail freight as attractive as possible but, ultimately, choosing to use rail freight rather than road freight is a commercial decision that companies make.

Strategic Transport Projects Review

2. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made with the strategic transport projects review. (S5O-03359)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

The second strategic transport projects review is progressing on schedule. As part of the evidence-gathering stage, Transport Scotland has successfully established 11 regional transport working groups. Those groups demonstrate the collaborative approach that is being taken by the review, and more than 30 stakeholder workshops have been, or will be, held across the country. That follows the publication of the Borders transport corridors study, on 5 March. I am pleased to confirm that the south-west Scotland transport study will be published in draft format by the end of this month. In addition, later this year, members of the public will have an opportunity to give their input.

Joan McAlpine

I look forward to reading the draft plan for the south-west. The Scottish National Party manifesto commits the Government to better links for Dumfries to Scotland’s central belt and the motorway, and to improvements on the A75. Will the cabinet secretary indicate how that commitment will be reflected in the STPR?

Michael Matheson

As I mentioned, the south-west Scotland transport study will be published in draft form by the end of this month. Part of the work that is being undertaken for that study is a detailed assessment of options to link Dumfries to key markets including the central belt. Emerging findings from that work will feed into the STPR2 process, and we will ensure that it is considered alongside all the other options. I assure Joan McAlpine that it is one of the areas that is being considered as part of that study.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the A737 will be included in the strategic transport projects review, given that it now takes some 8 million vehicles a year, is becoming increasingly congested and needs significant investment from the Manrahead roundabout at Beith to the B787 and from the newly opened Dalry bypass to Kilwinning?

Michael Matheson

The recently opened Dalry bypass—on which Kenny Gibson joined me just the other week—the improvements that are currently being constructed at the Den realignment and the design work for improvements on the A737 at Beith are all key commitments of the Scottish Government to invest in the A737 and support the North Ayrshire economy and communities. I reassure the member that the A737 forms part of the trunk route network and that it will be considered for inclusion in the strategic transport projects review 2.

ScotRail Services (Glasgow)

3. James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve the performance of ScotRail services in the Glasgow area. (S5O-03360)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

Further to the answer that I provided to James Kelly in the chamber on 9 May, more than nine out of 10 trains now run on time. In the Glasgow area, the Donovan recommendation for a right-time departure at Milngavie from the December 2018 timetable has seen a public performance measure improvement across the wider Strathclyde electric network during the peak. Period 9, before the new December timetable, saw PPM at 73.3 per cent, and the latest period 2 PPM is now at 89.9 per cent, which is a marked improvement. However, there is more work to be done, and on-going delivery of the recommendations from the Donovan review and the remedial plan will support further performance improvement in the Glasgow area.

James Kelly

The cabinet secretary’s answer does not stack up with the experience of passengers in the Rutherglen area, where, according to the latest statistics, 43 per cent of trains are not turning up on time. It is simply not good enough that people are being let down by ScotRail services. Will the cabinet secretary apologise to passengers for the appalling level of service and agree that it is time to call time on the Abellio contract, terminate it and introduce a contract process that puts the network into public hands?

Michael Matheson

The figures that I gave James Kelly are factual information on PPM, which is recorded and standard right across the industry. The member will understand that some 60 per cent of all delays and cancellations on the network are the result of infrastructure failures, which are the responsibility of Network Rail. We believe that Network Rail should be accountable to and responsible to this Parliament rather than the United Kingdom Parliament, so that we can address those issues more effectively. Some of the key work around the Williams review is being undertaken in order to do that.

James Kelly can be assured that we will continue to do everything that we can to improve services, including on the Rutherglen line, and to make sure that Network Rail is taking forward the necessary measures for greater reliability on our network. I hope that the Labour Party will get behind us and call for the devolution of Network Rail to this Parliament while the Williams review is considering the matter, so that we can deal with the issues in this Parliament much more effectively.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that a rail line to the airport would certainly improve ScotRail services in Glasgow? Can he explain why the Scottish National Party has cancelled that project again?

Michael Matheson

I am sure that Mr Tomkins was here for my previous statement on the matter, and what I set out on that occasion still stands.

Road Network (South Ayrshire)

4. John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to improve the road network in South Ayrshire. (S5O-03361)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of the trunk road network in South Ayrshire. Since 2007-08, we have invested more than £66 million in maintenance of the A77 and a further £44 million in maintenance of the A78.

In addition to those maintenance improvements, work is under way on site as part of the £29 million construction contract for the much-needed A77 Maybole bypass. That project will generate significant benefits for local communities and for people who travel from further afield to our key ports and beyond. The new bypass, which is expected to open in summer 2021, will separate local and strategic traffic, thereby relieving congestion in the town, and improving safety and journey time reliability on the A77.

John Scott

A decade ago, as part of the Scottish Government’s strategic transport projects review, plans were considered for upgrading the A77 around Ayr from single to dual carriageway, and for grade separating the Dutch House, Whitletts and Holmston roundabouts. It was forecast that such improvements would cut congestion levels and result in a reduction of up to 50 per cent in the accident rate. No action has been taken on the proposals in the past decade. Will the cabinet secretary commit to progressing them now?

Michael Matheson

I am more than happy to give consideration to those issues, but as Mr Scott will know, we are now into the STPR 2 process. Projects that have not been progressed in the original programme will still be considered as part of STPR 2. There is therefore an opportunity for us to consider the proposals as part of the wider work that is currently being undertaken in the review process.

Rail Services (East Renfrewshire Passengers)

5. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve services for East Renfrewshire train passengers using the East Kilbride line. (S5O-03362)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

Since May, ScotRail has been providing 1,000 extra seats daily on East Kilbride services, which benefits passengers at Busby, Clarkston, Giffnock and Thornliebank. However, existing infrastructure constrains the length, speed and frequency of trains on that route. The Scottish Government has therefore allocated up to £24.8 million to Network Rail to develop designs for more capacity and carbon-free journeys. Over approximately 18 months, that will identify the right long-term solution, including options for electrification. The development work will focus on providing enhanced connectivity, improved accessibility to stations and better transport integration, with improved park-and-ride facilities and active travel provision.

Neil Bibby

Recently, I met ScotRail representatives and passengers at Thornliebank station to discuss issues including overcrowding on the East Kilbride line. A number of passengers asked about the Scottish Government’s long-term plans for investment in that line. Further to the announcement that £25 million is to be made available for enhancements, will the cabinet secretary explain exactly what those enhancements will be? Will he clarify whether the Scottish Government is fully committed to the electrification enhancement proposals for the East Kilbride line that were set out in Network Rail’s route study?

Michael Matheson

The work that we have commissioned Network Rail to undertake on the East Kilbride line will consider issues such as double tracking, extending platform lengths, electrification and improvements to stations to ensure that we can provide greater capacity on the line.

Neil Bibby will recall that the East Kilbride line was one of the key lines that would have been affected had we gone ahead with the Glasgow airport rail link, which would have reduced the capacity to extend the line that he mentions. At the time, I highlighted the negative impact that it would potentially have had on increasing capacity on the East Kilbride line. No doubt that slipped Mr Bibby’s mind when he was calling for GARL, at that point.

We need to ensure that we take a balanced approach, so that the investments that we are making in rail—which, in the coming five-year period will be some £4.8 billion—get the infrastructure right for people not only in Renfrewshire and Glasgow, but in East Kilbride.

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

For the benefit of my constituents who live in East Renfrewshire, will the cabinet secretary update Parliament on what action has been taken to improve capacity on the Neilston and Barrhead rail lines? Does he agree that electrification of the Barrhead line is an important future objective?

Michael Matheson

Since May, 3,000 extra seats have been made available on the Barrhead service. In addition, there are now more four-carriage and six-carriage electric trains on the Neilston service.

In developing our current pipeline of projects, we are fully committed to considering capacity increases on the rail network, together with electrification and other sustainable rolling-stock options. The need to provide decarbonised transport is a key priority for the Government in meeting its climate change challenge. The Neilston and Barrhead lines will be considered for further improvements alongside the other competing interests on our rail network.

FirstGroup (Meetings)

6. Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of FirstGroup. (S5O-03363)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

Scottish Government officials last met representatives of FirstGroup on 4 June.

Sandra White

The cabinet secretary will be aware of FirstGroup’s significant plans to pursue strategic options, through sale or other means, to separate FirstBus from FirstGroup. What input will the Scottish Government have to those plans? In my constituency and areas throughout Scotland, FirstBus is the first port of call.

Michael Matheson

FirstBus has reassured us that services and existing investment plans will continue as normal while the future of the bus business is decided. FirstBus has undertaken to keep us informed of developments, and has said that it will work with its employees and the trade unions to explain its plans and their implications. I assure Sandra White that we will continue to engage with FirstBus on the matter until it has clarity on its plans. We will continue to impress on FirstBus the importance of continuing with services, at present.

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the sale of FirstBus offers an ideal opportunity for councils that want to run their own bus services, such as Aberdeen City Council? Will the Government support that?

Michael Matheson

It does. Amendment 68 to the Transport (Scotland) Bill, to create Lothian Buses-type schemes, which was passed by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee today, and which was supported by the Labour Party, is one that I welcome, and which will allow councils to do that.

A77 (Safety)

7. Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve safety on the A77. (S5O-03364)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

We are committed to improving safety on our trunk roads, including the A77. We have invested more than £66 million in the A77 since 2007 to ensure its safe and efficient operation.

Our annual assessment of trunk road safety performance identified the A751 junction between the Holmston and Sandyford Toll roundabouts for further investigation this financial year. We have delivered passively safe chevrons at Monktonhead roundabout and safety speed-management measures from south of Ayr to Ballantrae, and we are progressing a speed limit reduction to 40mph at that location. We are also completing road safety investigation works on the Monktonhead and Dutch House roundabout sections.

Brian Whittle

I appreciate the cabinet secretary taking the time to meet my constituent Colin Price and me to discuss Mr Price’s campaign to close the gap in safety camera coverage on the A77, following the death of his wife in a collision with a boy racer. Given that much of the 32-mile safety camera stretch of the A77 was judged by the same criteria as were applied to the 2-mile gap in coverage and reached a similar measurement against those criteria, is not it time for common sense to prevail and for the gap to be filled?

Michael Matheson

I recognise the work that Mr Whittle has undertaken, along with Mr Price, following the tragic death of Mr Price’s wife on a section of the A77. When I met Mr Price, I undertook that we would do a further speed safety audit on the relevant section of the road, and that we would consider the revised criteria for installing safety cameras. Mr Whittle will be aware that the outcome of that work indicates that the section does not meet the national criteria. However, we have considered whether further measures can be introduced in the area, including working with Police Scotland, which is undertaking targeted enforcement action on the route.

I assure Brian Whittle that, when we consider such issues, applying the national criteria is an important element that must be taken into account in determining whether deployment of safety cameras in an area will maximise their potential benefits. That approach is taken, and will continue to be taken, to all the average-speed camera systems that are installed across the trunk road network. However, in individual cases, we always consider whether we can introduce further measures to address issues on particular sections of a road. That has been the case in this instance, but following a further survey, the section does not meet the national criteria for installing average-speed cameras.

Alloa to Stirling Rail Service (Passenger Numbers)

8. Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many people have used the Alloa to Stirling rail service since it opened in 2008. (S5O-03365)

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

The total number of passengers travelling between Alloa and Stirling since the opening of the line is estimated to have been 4,194,574 until 31 March 2019.

Passengers using the route can now benefit from the Scottish Government’s significant investment in electrification of the line, which has enabled the introduction of new electric rolling stock.

The recent timetable change delivered 4,000 additional weekday seats for passengers using Edinburgh/Glasgow to Stirling, Alloa, and Dunblane routes.

Keith Brown

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that the success of the service has surpassed all expectations. In the light of the interest in the Longannet site from Talgo, have any discussions taken place about extending the passenger service eastwards from Alloa?

Michael Matheson

There is no doubt that the line has been extremely successful and has surpassed expectations. As Keith Brown will be aware, we have engaged directly with Talgo on its potential at the Longannet site. Since it announced that Longannet is its preferred option, we have been working with it on development of a factory that could create up to 1,000 jobs.

One of the options that I have asked Transport Scotland and Network Rail to consider is maximisation of rail connectivity to the site, including the option of extending the existing passenger route east of Alloa, and of electrifying the line to the Longannet site, and potentially beyond it to Dunfermline, if appropriate.

Justice and the Law Officers

Police Scotland (Community Safety)

1. Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how it ensures that Police Scotland is accessing the necessary skills and resources to keep communities safe. (S5O-03366)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

Recorded crime has fallen by 42 per cent since 2006-07 and non-sexual crimes of violence have fallen by 49 per cent.

The recruitment, training and deployment of police officers is a matter for the chief constable. The police officer quarterly strength data, as at 31 March 2019, shows that there were 17,251 police officers in Scotland, which is an increase of more than 1,000 police officers on the position that we inherited in 2007. That contrasts with a decrease of almost 20,000 over the same time period in England and Wales.

All police officers and staff are highly trained and, through their dedicated service, day in and day out, they keep all our communities safe.

It is the responsibility of the Scottish Police Authority to allocate resources to Police Scotland. The Scottish Government is protecting the police resource budget in real terms, and we have given a 52 per cent uplift in the capital budget.

Maurice Corry

We know that the number of special constables in Scotland has more than halved since the creation of Police Scotland. Those officers have been described by Police Scotland as vital, and they undertake high-visibility work, such as patrolling, and are seconded to specialist teams such as road policing and CID. I have been saying for a long time that there is more to be done to exploit the valuable experience of our armed forces veterans in providing them with better routes into policing.

Does the cabinet secretary recognise the enormous capacity that our communities have lost since 2013? Will he commit to looking at the issue in more detail?

Humza Yousaf

I do not disagree with the general thrust of the member’s question on the valuable work of special constables. I know about it from a personal point of view, because my cousin is a police officer with Police Scotland and started his police career as a special constable. I know the valuable role that special constables play from a personal point of view as well as from a professional point of view.

I hope that Mr Corry will forgive me, but it is important that I restate that these are operational matters for the chief constable. It would be more appropriate for Maurice Corry to take up his issues with Police Scotland directly. If he wishes, I will write to him after this question time session with contact details for the most appropriate person.

I do not, however, wish to take away from the general tenor of Mr Corry’s question. I absolutely value the work that special constables do as part of the police family.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Thanks to the pressure from the Scottish Government, Police Scotland will now benefit from being able to claim around £25 million a year that was previously paid to the United Kingdom Government in VAT. Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the Scottish Government will continue to press the UK Government for a refund of the £125 million that was paid by Police Scotland in VAT between 2013 and 2018?

Humza Yousaf

It was, of course, the Scottish National Party Government-led pressure that got the UK Government to understand that it was treating the Scottish forces unfavourably and unfairly in comparison with the forces in England and Wales.

Having conceded the argument, however, the UK Government has not necessarily put its money where its mouth is, and the £125 million that was taken from Police Scotland in VAT is still to be refunded, as well as the £50 million that was paid by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Every time that a Conservative talks to me about increasing the budget for Police Scotland, it would be nice if they also wrote to the Treasury to ask for our money back.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Question 2 was not lodged.

Prison Estate Review (Glasgow)

3. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is working with the Scottish Prison Service to review the prison estate in Glasgow. (S5O-03368)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government and Scottish Prison Service are committed to modernising and improving our prison estate. The current priorities are the development of the new female estate, the replacement of HMP Barlinnie and then the new HMP Highland. The Scottish Government has allocated funds to the Scottish Prison Service to allow it to begin the site acquisition process for a replacement for HMP Barlinnie. Site searches began in 2014 and a suitable site has been identified in Provanmill. The planning process has begun and the first public information event was held last week, on Wednesday 5 June.

Bob Doris

A second pre-consultation event will take place on 3 July for the HMP Barlinnie replacement, with a view to planning permission in principle being sought by the end of the month and a final decision by Christmas. That is a tight process for such a major development.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the SPS must continue to engage extensively throughout that period with local communities, such as the community in Jerviston in my constituency? Given that the site has been selected partly due to its transportation hub potential, does he also agree that the SPS, Glasgow City Council and others must look at better public transport links for Jerviston and the Royston corridor more generally, irrespective of whether planning permission is granted?

Humza Yousaf

Bob Doris raises a really important point. He has already had conversations with the Scottish Prison Service on the issue and I know that he will continue to engage as the process moves on. He is absolutely right that transport links are vital for any prison, as contact with family and services is hugely important for the potential rehabilitation of prisoners.

As Bob Doris knows the usual planning process, he is probably aware that, as with any planning application, it is anticipated that there will be a travel plan and a traffic impact analysis, which would form part of the application and be part of the conversation as we progress. The issue is vital for any prison—particularly for a prison the size of the replacement for HMP Barlinnie.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I welcome the replacement of Barlinnie prison, which is long overdue. It was recently operating at 140 per cent capacity, and that is a regular occurrence. Can the cabinet secretary inform Parliament whether the new build will solve or rename the problem of capacity? Is he able to tell me—now or later—the extent of double bunking in Barlinnie prison?

Humza Yousaf

I thank Pauline McNeill for her very important question. I do not think that I have had the chance to welcome her to justice questions; I do not know whether she will be in her position permanently, but I know that she is taking over until the recess begins. I welcome her long-standing interest in all matters justice.

With regard to Pauline McNeill’s hugely important question, we are not planning for the replacement for Barlinnie to be what the press has sometimes called a super jail. That would be the wrong thing for us to do, because we cannot build our way out of our prison population problem. There is a raft of reasons why the prison population is as high as it is. One factor has been the changes in home detention curfew that were made on the back of the two important reviews that took place after the tragic murder of Craig McClelland. The numbers have been drastic. We have to tackle the different factors around why the prison population is so high.

Pauline McNeill will forgive me, but I do not have in front of me the number for double bunking, but I will endeavour to get it to her. However, I say to her, as I said to the Justice Committee yesterday, that the high prison population—with an increasing trajectory, the third highest imprisonment rate in western Europe and the third highest correctional rate—is a stain on our conscience that goes against the very progressive country that we are and want to be. I will be happy to furnish Pauline McNeill with details of the exact figures that she seeks, and if she would like a more detailed conversation about how to reduce the prison population, I will be delighted to have that conversation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That was a good answer but a long answer. I would like shorter answers, so that everyone can chip in.

Cashback for Communities Programme (Stirling)

4. Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how many projects have been funded by the cashback for communities programme in Stirling since 2008. (S5O-03369)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

Between 2008 and 2018, the cashback for communities programme invested more than £1.5 million in the Stirling area, delivering more than 62,000 activities to support young people into positive destinations.

Bruce Crawford

I very much welcome the scheme, which reinvests criminal assets back into communities. How will the Government ensure that the next stage of the cashback programme focuses on projects that support those young people and communities most affected by crime? That was pretty short, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was about to compliment you, but you ruined it—there is no point complimenting yourself; it undercuts it.

Humza Yousaf

I am never one to compliment myself—I leave that for other people to do.

Bruce Crawford’s question touches on a hugely important point. I have had very good discussions with partners in the cashback programme who have operated in some of our most deprived communities. It is essential that, with every new phase of the cashback programme, we improve on the previous phase. Phase 5 will target the money back into the communities that have been blighted by serious and organised crime. Details of that programme will be available, and I will be delighted to share that with the member.

Female Prisoners (Highlands)

5. Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to provide facilities for female prisoners in the Highlands, in light of the plans for the new Inverness prison being shelved until 2023. (S5O-03370)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

In June 2015, my predecessor announced ambitious plans for the future of the female custodial estate, which include a new 80-place national facility to be built at Cornton Vale and up to five new community-based custodial units, each accommodating about 20 women, at locations across Scotland. The first two community custodial units will be located in Glasgow and Dundee. The Scottish Prison Service is working towards opening the first of the CCUs by December 2020 and the national facility by summer 2021.

The custodial arrangements for women from the north of Scotland will remain as they are at present. That means that, whenever possible, women who are sentenced or remanded by a court in the north of Scotland will be located in HMP and YOI Grampian, which offers a range of interventions and services that are specifically designed for women.

Rhoda Grant

Is the cabinet secretary aware of the incredibly long distances that families from the Highlands and Islands have to travel to visit people who are located in Aberdeen or, quite often, Glasgow? If people are placed hundreds of miles from their home, that has a huge impact on their children and wider family.

Around this time last year, HM inspector of prisons for Scotland, David Strang, called for more suitable accommodation for female inmates. I believe that a community custody unit could be built at the new site for the Inverness prison or, indeed, sooner at another site in Inverness. Will the cabinet secretary make female accommodation in Inverness a priority?

Humza Yousaf

Rhoda Grant should continue to have conversations with the SPS. I mentioned that the location of the first two community custody units has been decided, and the plans for those in Glasgow and Dundee are progressing well. That leaves another three locations, but I will not determine where those locations are, particularly because we want to wait for the evidence on how the first two are operating and where the next three could be located.

It is a difficult issue. It is fair to say that the number of women in custody who come from Inverness and the north of Scotland is very low—at the last count, it was about 13. Those women are at different stages along their journey of imprisonment, so it is not as simple as building a CCU, which is for women who are at a particular point in that journey. There are complexities, which I know Rhoda Grant will appreciate. I suggest to her that she continues to have conversations with the SPS about CCUs.

In the meantime, we will continue to invest in technology. Of course, I appreciate that that is not a replacement for direct contact visits, but it can certainly bring families closer and help offenders on their rehabilitation journey.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Members will have to be brief from now on. I call Liam McArthur, to be followed by Edward Mountain.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD) rose—

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con) rose—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You were on your feet too soon, Mr Mountain.

Liam McArthur

Everybody wants to be Liam McArthur.

In January, the cabinet secretary told me that two of the five community custody units would be completed by 2020, and that the location of the other three

“will be dependent on a number of factors”—[Written Answers, 22 January 2019; S5W-20875.]

Although he cannot confirm the location of those units, will he at least give Parliament an indication of the timeline for making those decisions?

Humza Yousaf

We are taking a very evidence-based approach. We want to see how the first two community custody units operate, how successful they are and what impact they have. It is only sensible to then use that information to determine where the next CCUs will be, which will also have an impact on the timescales, because it takes time to plan, find a site and so on. Therefore, if Liam McArthur will forgive me, I will not nail myself to an exact timeline other than to say—as I did in a previous answer—that this is a priority for us. Associated with that, we want to continue to reduce the number of women who have to go into prison. Liam McArthur’s support for the presumption against short sentences is very welcome. I am delighted that we are progressing that policy.

Edward Mountain

More than 200 prisoners from the Highlands are being accommodated outwith the Highlands, which I am told is bad for their rehabilitation. Does the cabinet secretary agree?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, of course. There is a whole raft of reasons why people are sent to particular prisons. However, as a general premise, having people closer to their families and communities is better for their rehabilitation—I do not argue with that.

I hope that Edward Mountain understands that there are nuances as to why we have HMP Highland—the replacement for HMP Inverness—where it is in the infrastructure plan. These things are always reviewed depending on need and, after the female custodial units, HMP Barlinnie is very much where the need is. However, I do not disagree with what Edward Mountain said about rehabilitation and closeness to family and community. I will endeavour to keep him up to date with progress on HMP Highland.

Addiction Recovery Services (Prison Estate)

7. Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when the justice secretary last met the Scottish Recovery Consortium to discuss the provision of addiction recovery services across the prison estate. (S5O-03372)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

I last visited HMP Barlinnie, where the SRC has a recovery cafe, on 31 October 2018.

The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Joe FitzPatrick, is due to meet the Scottish Recovery Consortium next month—on 10 July—to discuss the work of that organisation in general as well as its work with the Scottish Prison Service to co-ordinate recovery development within the prison estate.

Adam Tomkins

I think that the cabinet secretary and I agree on the importance of recovery cafes in prison. We corresponded about that earlier this year with regard to the recovery cafe at HMP Barlinnie which, unfortunately, has closed down due to a lack of funding. When the cabinet secretary wrote to me about that matter on 21 May, he said that the Glasgow city alcohol and drug partnership would be considering a funding bid to reopen the recovery cafe in Barlinnie. Will he provide Parliament with an update on the status and nature of that bid?

Humza Yousaf

My understanding is that the Glasgow ADP has not come to a final decision and that we are still awaiting the decision which, of course, is one for the Glasgow ADP to make. Adam Tomkins is right that we have a shared appreciation for the work that is done by recovery cafes. It is worth putting on record the personal endeavour of Natalie MacLean—who I know he has met—in driving the work forward. If he will forgive me, I will see whether there is an update but, of course, it is not for me to say when a decision is expected from the Glasgow ADP.

I hope that the bid is successful, because recovery cafes do good work and I do not want to see them having to close down. As I said, I will try to get Adam Tomkins an update. If he wants a further conversation with me after that, my door is open.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Daniel Johnson—this has to be very brief.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Prisoners often struggle to register with a general practitioner, which undermines their recovery. What progress is the cabinet secretary making on that issue, particularly in the light of the trial that is under way in three local authority areas?

Humza Yousaf

I will write to Daniel Johnson in more detail. However, I had a good conversation with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman, who is considering the issue. We think that we have a way forward.

As we discussed at the Justice Committee on a previous occasion, there are complications. Nonetheless, we are making progress, and either I or the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will write to Daniel Johnson to give him an update. We are certainly progressing the issue.

Serious Violent Crime

8. Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent analysis recording a fall in serious violent crime over the last decade. (S5O-03373)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

We very much welcome the recent report into the changing characteristics of serious violence in Scotland. It found that most of the fall in serious violence over the past decade is due to fewer cases in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, often involving younger males and the use of a weapon.

Members will remember that, in not too distant memory, Glasgow was named the murder capital of Europe. What we have achieved is now being looked on as a role model, and is attracting interest from London, the United Kingdom and the World Economic Forum. Despite that progress, the research highlights, of course, that there is still much more that we need to do, particularly on repeat victimisation and tackling violence wherever it persists.

Rona Mackay

Serious violent crime has reduced by 44 per cent in East Dunbartonshire, which is the area that I represent. Does the cabinet secretary believe that the figures are more proof that the Scottish Government’s evidence-based approach to justice and rehabilitation is working?

Humza Yousaf

Yes, I absolutely do. We should not move away from the public health approach. It is fair to say that that approach was started by the previous Administration and carried on by the current Scottish Government. I hope that, whatever the political make-up of the chamber in future sessions, we will continue to stick fast to that public health approach. It is the right approach, and it is clearly working.