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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 12 September 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Common Agricultural Policy, Barclay Review of Non-domestic Rates, Policing, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Serve Scotland



The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on policing. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

I am grateful for the opportunity to update Parliament on leadership in Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority following the announcement last week that the chief constable is to take temporary leave of absence until investigations into his conduct conclude. I recognise that those investigations and the chief constable’s absence will create a degree of uncertainty, so I am pleased that Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has reconsidered his plans to retire in the autumn and will continue in post to provide leadership to Police Scotland in the chief constable’s absence.

DCC Livingstone, who is Police Scotland’s deputy chief constable designate, has over 25 years’ experience in policing and is held in high regard by officers of all ranks. As DCC designate, he has all the powers of the chief constable during the chief constable’s absence. He is one of a number of experienced officers in Police Scotland’s team, who include DCC Rose Fitzpatrick, who celebrated 30 years in policing last week, having served three different forces. More recent appointments, such as DCC Johnny Gwynne and Deputy Chief Officer David Page, have further boosted the capacity and capability of Police Scotland’s senior management team, and all eight assistant chief constable posts are currently filled.

DCC Livingstone’s own assessment of the leadership situation is that Police Scotland has a strong and resilient command team in place that is supported by thousands of dedicated and hard-working police officers and staff who remain committed to providing an excellent service. That reflects my own assessment that the success of Police Scotland relies not on one individual, but on a strong and experienced senior leadership team and on the professionalism and dedication of many thousands of police officers and staff at all levels. As the second biggest force in the United Kingdom, Police Scotland has a breadth and depth of experience that is almost unparalleled.

Let me turn to the complaints that have been made against the chief constable. I am sure that members will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specifics of any complaints while independent investigations are on-going. I respect the chief constable’s decision to request a temporary leave of absence while the matters are being investigated, and the fact that the Scottish Police Authority agreed to his request. There is a clear process in place through the Police Service of Scotland (Senior Officers) (Conduct) Regulations 2013 for handling those complaints, and it is important that that process is able to take its course. The chief constable has confirmed that he will co-operate fully with the process. I urge all members to show restraint and avoid making assumptions about what the investigations may find or conclude.

In light of recent commentary, I reassure Parliament that I do not see any immediate impact on the programme to integrate the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland. That programme is being led by the Scottish and UK Governments through a joint programme board that includes a wide range of organisations with a role in delivery. Work within Police Scotland has been progressed under the leadership of Assistant Chief Constable Higgins and the programme management arrangements are in the process of being strengthened. The proposed date for integration is April 2019. I see it as premature to suggest that there would be any impact on that timetable.

As members will be aware, two key changes are taking place in the Scottish Police Authority’s senior leadership. Andrew Flanagan will leave his role as SPA chair once his successor has been appointed. That process is well under way. The post was advertised on 21 August and applications close on 21 September. Interviews are scheduled to take place in October, and I aim to make an announcement as soon as possible after that.

The chair has agreed to stay until a successor is appointed, and the creation of the SPA deputy chair role, which is being ably filled by Nicola Marchant, will help to ensure the smooth transition to a new chair; it will also help to ensure that there is no gap in leadership. The wider board contains people with a range of expertise and experience that is ensuring that business continues to be progressed.

The chair’s post is a public appointment and is regulated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. A number of party spokespersons have indicated a desire to play a role in the appointment round for the SPA chair. Their preference is for the responsibility for making the appointment to be delegated to Parliament. However, it is a statutory requirement of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 that Scottish ministers appoint the SPA chair. The situation is not the same as for the post of Scottish Information Commissioner, where Parliament’s role is set out explicitly in the relevant legislation.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned to some of the party spokespersons last week, and as the First Minister stated at First Minister’s questions, the Scottish Government is not unsympathetic to the Parliament’s wish to have a role in the appointment of the SPA chair. I have instructed officials to explore with the office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland whether there are any options for involving Parliament in a way that would be compatible with the “Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies in Scotland”. I will be in touch with justice spokespersons within the next few days to discuss what might be possible within the framework of legislation and the code.

Over the summer, the SPA chief executive officer, John Foley, announced that he will take early retirement. That follows Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland’s review of forensic services and the associated changes that are being made to that service, which will now report directly to the SPA board.

The chief executive officer has agreed to remain in post until the completion of the SPA’s accounts for 2016-17. The SPA has started the process to recruit an interim chief officer on a 12-month appointment.

Parliament will recall that I have commissioned a review of the SPA’s executive to ensure that the board gets the support and the advice that it needs to fulfil its functions effectively. The review is being led jointly by the SPA deputy chair and Malcolm Burr, chief executive of Western Isles Council. The review expects to report later in the autumn. However, the appointment of the interim chief officer will allow the new chair of the SPA time to consider the outcome of the review and the second phase of the HMICS thematic inspection of the SPA before making a permanent appointment.

There will be no gap in SPA leadership: recruitment is under way for both the chair and the chief executive; the Scottish Government and the SPA are working to clear timescales to make appointments; and the current chair has agreed to remain in post until a successor is found.

Let me finish by again paying tribute to police officers and staff. We have a dedicated workforce that is focused on keeping all our communities safe and providing an excellent service to the public, every day. DCC Livingstone is a very able and experienced officer who commands the respect of that workforce. He is part of a strong and resilient leadership team. I am actively working with the SPA and Police Scotland to support them through this period, and I stand ready to help them in any way that I can.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The cabinet secretary will take questions. We have at least 20 minutes—possibly more.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance sight of his statement.

At the outset, I thank all our officers and staff for their continued professionalism and dedication during this time of uncertainty.

There has been a catalogue of failures at Police Scotland and the SPA since the single force was created. The cabinet secretary’s standard response is that he does not interfere in police matters. However, the report card reads: one chief constable apparently removed by the Government; another chief constable under investigation and on leave of absence; three SPA chairs stepping down in four years; a catalogue of errors arising from control room centralisation—although for the record I say that I am aware that the staff are doing their absolute best; consistent financial mismanagement; and a culture of cover-up and secrecy. When the report card reads like that, surely the time is long overdue for the cabinet secretary to step up and take responsibility.

The new structure was the brainchild of the Scottish National Party and came about on this Government’s watch. What will the cabinet secretary personally do to ensure that we are not here again in three months’ time?

Michael Matheson

For a moment there I thought that we were going to hear something constructive from the Conservatives about supporting our police officers in Scotland, but—as ever—that was lacking.

We have a dedicated police force, and we have a strong leadership team in Police Scotland who I am confident will take the organisation forward. I am also confident that the process that has been put in place to consider the issues that relate to the chief constable will be taken forward appropriately, as set out in police regulations.

As I said in my statement, a range of work is going on around some of the issues to which the member referred. For example, he referred to the way in which the SPA operates; a review of that is currently going on. He also referred to call handling; clearly, he is completely unaware of the work that has been carried out by HMICS, under my direction, to improve call handling. If he cares to read HMICS’s most recent assessment of Police Scotland’s processes in relation to call handling, he will see that they have improved significantly.

I assure the member that we will continue to support Police Scotland in moving the organisation forward in the way that was set out in its 2026 vision, to ensure that we have a police service that serves the people of Scotland effectively and keeps people safe.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance copy of the statement.

In the four years of Police Scotland’s operation, this Government has lost two chairs and a chief executive and is now on its third chief constable. Over the past year, there has been critical report after critical report, culminating in the vacuum at leadership level that we now face. It is a disgrace that Scotland’s police force has reached this state of affairs under the SNP’s watch.

The situation requires scrutiny. The chief executive of the SPA has announced his early retirement. When will we know the details of his financial package? Until last week, the chief constable was staying in post. Was the cabinet secretary consulted about his application for a temporary leave of absence?

The number of early exits from the SPA suggests that we have a flawed appointments process that is in need of reform. There is a consensus in the Parliament on the need for robust parliamentary scrutiny in appointments. Will the cabinet secretary commit to a review and legislation, if necessary?

Michael Matheson

Let me pick up the three points to which the member has referred. The first related to the financial package for the departure of the chief executive officer of the SPA. As the SPA announced at the time, it will publish the details of that package once the chief executive officer has left. It is in line with the standard public sector retirement package for someone in that type of post. That information will be placed in the public domain once the person has left the organisation.

The second issue relates to the chief constable’s leave of absence. I correct the member in pointing out that we have had two chief constables, and we continue to have a chief constable for Police Scotland—Phil Gormley continues to be in post although he is taking a period of leave of absence. The decision on the matter is for the SPA, which decides how to deal with conduct issues, and any request for a leave of absence goes from the chief constable to the SPA. Such decisions are made by the SPA board, and that is exactly what happened last week when the decision was made.

The member’s final point concerned the appointment process for the chair of the SPA. As I indicated to her last week, I am sympathetic to her request but the legislation is very clear about the process. That is why—as I set out in my statement—we have been engaging with the office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland to look at what process could be put in place to facilitate some parliamentary involvement at this stage. I advise the member that not only has the process already started, but applications for the post have been received on the basis of the process that has been approved by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. Nevertheless, we have engaged with the commissioner to see whether we can facilitate parliamentary involvement within the existing legislation and the existing code of practice. I will be happy to explore that with the member later this week, once we have had feedback from the commissioner.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of the statement.

DCC Livingstone is an extremely able officer, and it is significant that, as the cabinet secretary says, he commands the respect of the workforce. That is very much the case. He is to be commended for setting aside detailed personal plans in order to step in and do an important duty. As the cabinet secretary also said, DCC Livingstone has the support of hard-working staff.

I think that the leadership team is sound, as is Police Scotland’s structure, but what is not sound is the scrutiny of Police Scotland at the Scottish Police Authority level. The cabinet secretary mentioned the review. What role does he see for Parliament as a result of the review when it has concluded? Does he agree that there should be a greater role for local police committees in the whole structure?

Michael Matheson

I welcome the member’s contribution on the issue. I know that he has a deep knowledge of police matters given that he is a former police officer.

The review that is being carried out by the SPA deputy chair, Nicola Marchant, and Malcolm Burr, the chief executive of Western Isles Council, is looking at the existing structures that support the board and the executive function of the SPA. It is due to report in the autumn, and the intention is that the report will come to me. I will ensure that a copy of it is made available to the Parliament. The incoming chair of the SPA will then consider the report alongside the thematic inspection that HMICS has said that it will conduct later this year. It will then be for the new chair to determine how the structure that supports the board in its role and the way in which it operates with Police Scotland can be the most effective possible.

I recognise that there is room for improvement, I instructed the review in order to look at how we can achieve that improvement more effectively. I have no doubt that one of the committees of the Parliament—whether the Justice Committee or the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing—will want to explore that with the SPA and the authors of the report. I will ensure that a copy of the report is submitted to the Parliament, and I would welcome and encourage parliamentary engagement on the issue.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement and for acceding to my party’s request for the statement. However, the statement could best be characterised as saying, “Crisis? What crisis?”

Will the justice secretary confirm that he had no involvement in the chief constable’s decision to step aside? Given the chief constable’s earlier refusal to stand aside, what does the cabinet secretary think has changed that resulted in his recent decision to stand down?

Michael Matheson

I was not involved in the chief constable’s decision to ask for a period of exceptional leave. That request was made by the chief constable to the SPA, and the SPA board considered the matter. There is no ministerial involvement in that process.

I am determined to make sure that we and the SPA provide the necessary support to Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone over the coming weeks and months. Because the process to investigate the complaints about the chief constable will be taken forward by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, the timeframe is somewhat uncertain at this stage. I assure Liam McArthur that I will continue to give Police Scotland and the SPA whatever support I can at this particularly uncertain time for the service.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

While acknowledging that there is always room for improvement, does the cabinet secretary agree that the record low levels of crime demonstrate that Police Scotland is delivering robustly and providing a comprehensive service in communities across Scotland?

Michael Matheson

I recognise that policing can be part of the usual political to and fro that always goes on in Parliament. However, the reality is that the Police Service provides a very high standard of service to the public of Scotland and has achieved a 42-year low in recorded crime.

Given the dedication of police officers, whom I meet daily, and the staff who support them, I have no doubt that they will continue to provide an excellent service, and I am sure that that will continue to be the case under the leadership of Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone in the weeks and months ahead.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary correctly states that the success of Police Scotland relies crucially on a strong and experienced senior leadership team and the professionalism and dedication of many thousands of police officers and staff. However, given the comments by the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, Calum Steele, that that same workforce is “scunnered” and “regularly disregarded and ignored”, what is the cabinet secretary doing to resolve the situation and to achieve the effective standard of communication at all levels of Police Scotland that has been talked about relentlessly but never realised?

Michael Matheson

As Margaret Mitchell might be aware, one piece of work that is being done in Police Scotland is on improving the way in which the service meets the wellbeing needs of its officers and staff. Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone has been leading that work. He sees it as a priority to make sure that the organisation is much more effective in addressing the needs of its officers and staff, and in taking their views into account. He has been leading a major piece of work on that over recent months.

I think that that illustrates Iain Livingstone’s commitment to improving the welfare needs of staff and officers. It also demonstrates the will of the organisation to address such matters, and I have every confidence that that will continue to be the case while DCC Livingstone heads the organisation in the coming weeks and months.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I declare that I have a close family member who serves in the Police Service of Scotland.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that we require the highest standards of personal integrity for everyone who works in the Police Service? I understand that he is to address the Police Service’s conference on ethical standards on Tuesday next week. Does he expect that he will be able to congratulate all who attend on their continuously high standards of ethical behaviour, and on the commitment to public good that is exemplified by all but the tiniest of tiny minorities in the service?

Michael Matheson

I am impressed that Stewart Stevenson has such insight into my diary for the coming week. I will attend that conference to address it on ethical standards in policing.

The vast majority of our police officers and staff uphold very high ethical standards in discharging their responsibilities. I would expect that of not just police officers and staff in Police Scotland but of anyone in the public sector and beyond. I have absolutely no doubt that that will continue to be the case with officers and staff in Police Scotland, as the organisation moves forward.

Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

A leaked report last week confirmed what we already knew to be the case, which is that the Scottish National Party Government’s merger of the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland lacked a detailed business case and was politically motivated. The rail unions have called the merger “ludicrous” and the workforce does not support it, and the continuing disarray at the top of Police Scotland has done nothing to reassure them that they are being moved into a stable organisation. Is not it the case that the Government is in total denial when it comes to fundamental weaknesses in the case for integrating the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland? Is not it the case that that merger should be stopped, and stopped now?

Michael Matheson

The answer is no—that is not the case. Are there challenges? Yes, of course there are challenges. There are always challenges when changes of that nature are being taken forward. No doubt there will be significant challenges when the UK Conservative Government goes ahead with the abolition of the BTP and merges it with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence Police to create infrastructure policing. I suspect that that will cause even more difficulties in how some of the challenges will be met.

However, having reflected on the matter, I am confident—as I said my statement—that the position with the chief constable will have no impact on the existing timetable for the merger here.

On the idea that the merger was politically motivated, given that our submission to the Smith commission set out clearly the reasons why we believed that the BTP in Scotland should become the responsibility of this Parliament and that it should be integrated into Police Scotland, it should come as no surprise to anyone that that is the Government’s view. We have set out on a number of previous occasions why we believe that having a single overriding command structure for infrastructure policing in Scotland will help to ensure that we can deliver greater security on our railways. We have set that out when appearing at parliamentary committees and during debates on the issue in the chamber. As I set out in my statement, I am confident that it would be very premature to consider that the work that has been taken forward around the integration of the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland will be affected by the present situation with the chief constable having a leave of absence.

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

Regarding the complaints that have been made against the chief constable and his decision to request a temporary leave of absence while the matters are being investigated, does the cabinet secretary agree that complaints that are made internally in Police Scotland should not be politicised, because that can prevent those who make complaints and those who are accused from being heard in a fair environment?

Michael Matheson

Ben Macpherson has raised a very important issue. There have already been some questions in which it has felt to me as though members have been jumping to conclusions about the future of the existing chief constable. It is incumbent on us all to allow the process for dealing with the complaints—which is set out in police regulations that were part of the subordinate legislation process of this Parliament—to take its course. We should not jump to conclusions before that process has been completed. It is only fair that members be careful about expressing their views on the matter, given that due process has still to be completed.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

The chief constable has taken a temporary leave of absence, so he is not currently acting as chief constable. Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone was to retire, but he is now, I presume, temporarily acting in place of the chief constable. Andrew Flanagan is about to leave as SPA chair and I think that John Foley, who is the chief executive officer of the SPA, has just announced his retirement. So, setting aside the professionalism and commitment of the individuals in Police Scotland, does not that give the public an impression of an effectively leaderless force, as matters stand? Surely, based on any view, it is time to stop, take stock and reconsider whether this is the point at which the British Transport Police integration should go forward.

Michael Matheson

Gordon Lindhurst may have slightly misunderstood the process within policing. The deputy chief constable designate is the person who has the authority to act as a chief constable in the absence of the chief constable, so if the chief constable is on leave, on sickness absence or is absent for any other reason, the deputy chief constable designate has the authority and ability to fulfil that function. It is a legally defined post, and the person who holds that post is the deputy chief constable designate, Iain Livingstone. He was the designate prior to the chief constable taking a leave of absence, and he is now fulfilling that role. The member should be clear about the process, which is a well-defined one that is set out in statute.

Turning to his question about leaderless organisations, I have to tell Gordon Lindhurst that the chair of the SPA and the existing chief executive officer of the SPA remain in post. The chair of the SPA will remain in post until his successor is found, so that organisation continues to have its chair and its chief executive. Both the processes for finding their replacements have started, and one of them is well en route to appointing a new chair for the organisation. I hope that that reassures the member that leadership remains in the organisation, and that the process to identify their replacements has already started.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

In the most recent evaluation report of police and fire reform, officers warned of low morale, with strained budgets and resources, which means that they are constantly expected to do more with less. Is the cabinet secretary concerned to hear that? If so, what is the remedy?

Michael Matheson

I acknowledge some of the financial pressures that Police Scotland is experiencing. That is why the Government has committed—my party was the only party to commit to this during the most recent Scottish Parliament elections—to protecting the police budget in real terms. That will allow us to invest an extra £100 million in our police.

Alongside that, we have increased the police reform budget in order to allow the police to continue to invest in certain areas, to improve their efficiency and to improve the way in which they operate as an organisation. That demonstrates the commitment that the Government has to ensuring that we provide the necessary financial resource to Police Scotland.

Of course, that could be aided by the UK Government changing the VAT rules, so that the £25 million a year that it costs Police Scotland and the £10 million that it costs the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service could be recovered. They are unable to recover that VAT and are the only territorial police force and fire service on the mainland UK that are not able to recover their VAT. Changing that would help considerably to support the services, given some of the financial pressures that they currently face, but to date the Conservative Government at Westminster has been unwilling to do so. That is typical of the Conservatives. They are not interested in Scotland, although they will change the rules when it suits them. Members can be assured not only that we are making a financial commitment to Police Scotland but that we will continue to fight our corner here in Scotland against a Conservative Government in London that is depriving the police of the ability to reclaim that VAT money.

Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary agree that DCC Livingstone’s decision to delay his plans to retire in order to take over leadership of Police Scotland demonstrates the commitment of officers and staff throughout Police Scotland?

Michael Matheson

I have known DCC Livingstone for a number of years now, and I know that he has a strong reputation for his commitment to policing in Scotland. I welcome his decision to remain at Police Scotland and to continue in his role as deputy chief constable designate. As I mentioned in my statement, we will offer him what support and assistance we can in the weeks and months ahead.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s undertaking to ensure that Parliament has a role in the appointment of the new chair of the Scottish Police Authority. Could the cabinet secretary provide more detail on his preference for what that role might be?

Michael Matheson

As I mentioned, officials have already engaged with the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland to look at the potential options. I am committed to meeting with party spokespersons later this week to set those out and to discuss them in more detail.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary guarantee that the issues that are currently being dealt with by Police Scotland will not have any impact on the delivery of the policing 2026 strategy?

Michael Matheson

Policing 2026 sets out the first national strategy for policing in Scotland. It sets out a range of detailed ambitions that the organisation has in order to make sure that it delivers an effective policing service in Scotland during the next 10 years. Police Scotland is already undertaking a significant amount of work on the delivery plan for achieving that vision, and I have received assurances that that work will continue in the weeks and months ahead. Given that DCC Livingstone was heavily involved in that process, I have no doubt that he will continue to be involved while he is carrying out the functions of the chief constable during his leave of absence.