Meeting date: Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 13 November 2019
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Artificial Intelligence and Data-Driven Technologies, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness
- Portfolio Question Time
- Artificial Intelligence and Data-Driven Technologies
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Pancreatic Cancer Awareness
Portfolio Question Time
Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity
United Nations Climate Change Summit (Transport)
To ask the Scottish Government what plans or initiatives are in place to promote environmentally friendly modes of transport ahead of the 2020 UN climate change summit in Glasgow. (S5O-03737)
Scottish Government officials are working with a range of partners to consider specific initiatives for sustainable transport ahead of the 2020 United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow. Such measures will enable Scotland to showcase the significant work that is being done across the transport system to achieve the toughest emission reduction targets in the United Kingdom.
More widely, the 26th conference of the parties, or COP26, being held in Scotland provides an opportunity to demonstrate our leadership in climate action, particularly since we were one of the first countries in the world to acknowledge the global climate emergency.
Does the minister agree—I think that he does, because he just said it—that the climate change summit in Glasgow next year is the ideal opportunity for the city of Glasgow and Scotland to show how much value we put on leading the way in reducing carbon emissions, and to showcase our commitment to tackling the climate change crisis by providing environmentally friendly transport?
Yes, I do. It provides an opportunity for the Scottish Government and Scottish ministers to be fully involved in COP26. It is not just the fact that the summit is taking place in Glasgow: we also have a strong and ambitious story to tell of ourselves and the work that we have been undertaking on world-leading climate change targets.
Glasgow, as a city, is leading the way. It has already implemented a low-emission zone in the city centre that is focused on buses, it will cover other modes of transport by 2020 and we want to see continuing progress as we move towards COP26.
The Scottish Government is investing £1 billion per year in public and sustainable transport to encourage modal shift, as well as providing £13 million to public bodies to support investment in zero-emission or ultra-low emission vehicles. We have also invested £30 million since 2011 in developing a comprehensive charging network for electric vehicles.
We set out some bold and ambitious measures in the programme for government, including a commitment to invest more than £500 million in bus infrastructure, to decarbonise our railways by 2035 and to provide an extra £17 million to support ULEVs.
I assure the member that we will use COP26 as an opportunity to showcase the significant work that has been undertaken in Scotland to decarbonise our transport system.
Road Infrastructure Projects (North-East Scotland)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on north-east road infrastructure projects. (S5O-03738)
The Government has committed investment of more than £800 million in road infrastructure projects in the north-east, including projects such as the Aberdeen bypass, which opened in February, bringing immediate benefits to the area.
Construction is well under way on the Haudagain improvement scheme, which is expected to open in spring 2021, and we continue to push forward with our plans for a new grade-separated junction at Laurencekirk. I am also pleased to confirm that our ambitious £3 billion programme to dual the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen is progressing at pace.
The capacity and limitations of the A90 near Dundee have been in the news recently, what with a lorry fire that shut down the road, people driving down the wrong side of the road because of blockages, and a crane causing cracks in a flyover. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the time has come for a new approach to the Kingsway to transform journeys up and down the east coast? If so, does he propose an expressway or a relief road?
Any proposals would have to be made through the regional transport network, for example by local authorities in partnership with colleagues in Transport Scotland. Any proposals for further road infrastructure investment are matters that would be considered in the strategic transport projects review 2 process.
The cabinet secretary is well aware of the very strong case made by A96 action for online Inverurie dualling as the least disruptive, expensive and environmentally damaging of the options for dualling that part of the A96. In view of his comments today about showing leadership on climate action, should that option be added for consideration in the on-going consultation process?
The member will be aware of the significant amount of work that has already been undertaken in assessing the various route options for the A96 upgrade. I recognise the points that the member has asserted, although I do not necessarily accept that what he said about the estimated assessments that have been undertaken on those various available options is factual. However, I am aware that the A96 action group has a particular interest in the issue.
I assure the member that a systematic, evidenced-based approach has been undertaken to identify the preferred routes for the A96 upgrade. That continues to be the case. The member will be aware that there has been considerable public engagement across the A96 route, with more than 18,000 members of the public participating in that process in considering the various issues relating to the A96 upgrade. I assure the member that we continue to look at the various issues that communities raise. However, I am of the view that the process that has been undertaken to date in identifying the most appropriate routes for the upgrade has been thorough, detailed and evidence based.
Flood Damage Mitigation (Banffshire and Buchan Coast)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on its commitment to help mitigate the damage to transport infrastructure caused by flooding in the north-east and, in particular, the King Edward area in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency. (S5O-03739)
The member will be aware that local authorities have a duty under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 to manage and maintain local roads in their area and duties under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of traffic. However, in the aftermath of the flooding, my officials contacted Aberdeenshire Council, to make an offer of mutual aid. I advise the member that, although the offer was acknowledged, it was not taken up by Aberdeenshire Council.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, which was slightly surprising. Will the cabinet secretary join me in praising local companies such as Volker infrastructure and Benzies, which, among other businesses in the area, co-ordinated efforts to provide access via private roads and worked with Aberdeenshire Council officials, which minimised the disruption from the flooding? Will he continue to work with the council on infrastructure issues arising from flooding?
I join the member in thanking those local businesses and the community for the response that was initiated in the aftermath of the recent flooding.
I confirm that we activated the Bellwin scheme on 4 October, following a request from Aberdeenshire Council. That discretionary scheme exists to give special financial assistance to local authorities that would otherwise face undue financial burden as a result of providing relief for carrying out immediate works due to large-scale emergencies such as flooding.
As part of our continuing engagement with Aberdeenshire Council on the matter, I assure the member that any claim that is received from the council under the Bellwin scheme will be processed as timeously as possible in order to support the council in progressing the work.
Air Services (Remote Rural Communities)
To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it gives to remote rural communities that depend on air services to connect to the rest of Scotland and beyond. (S5O-03740)
We remain committed to continuing our support for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and operating and funding the air discount scheme, which benefits remote and rural communities. Our subsidy of HIAL means that airport charges are lower than they would otherwise be, which enables the operation of commercial air services. Our support for HIAL was more than £28.2 million in 2018-19.
Earlier this year, we announced the continuation of the air discount scheme to 31 December 2020, and the extension of the geographic area of the scheme around Caithness, which aims to encourage further use of Wick airport. In this financial year, we will spend about £11.5 million on the air discount scheme.
Given the recent negative changes to the Eastern Airways timetable and the potential for further changes to services operating to and from Wick John O’Groats airport, will the Scottish Government consider the introduction of a public service obligation from Wick before further failures, to ensure that the region remains connected to the rest of mainland Scotland?
Like the member, I was disappointed that Eastern Airways decided to reduce the frequency of the service on the Aberdeen route, but I recognise that, like any other airline, it must make the best use of the assets that it has in the most efficient way. Of course, Wick airport continues to benefit from the air discount scheme and the extension of the scheme in the area in order to encourage people to make greater use of the airport.
In the summer, I had constructive dialogue, along with my officials, with the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, as did HIAL, and we will continue to work with them to see how we can best improve connectivity for the long term in the area. Any consideration of a PSO is a matter with strict regulations and rules around it, as I have previously outlined in the chamber, and any consideration of putting in place a PSO would have to be supported by multiple funding partners. I am always open to dialogue on such matters and I assure the member that we will continue to do what we can to help maintain and improve air connectivity to Wick where that is feasible.
Will the minister lift the restrictions that he has placed on Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd in order to allow it to settle its current dispute with the air traffic controllers?
The member may be aware that public sector pay policy applies across all parts of HIAL: that is the policy that applies to all workers within the Highlands and Islands. There are no exceptions to that and air traffic control staff are no different from any other members of staff who work for HIAL. Those are the arrangements that are in place and will continue to be in place in dealing with these issues.
As I have stated previously regarding the claim that is being made by trade union representatives, there has been no evidence to substantiate the nature of that claim, which is significantly higher than that of any other HIAL staff. On that basis, I do not believe that it has been substantiated and, given the very significant offer that has already been made by HIAL to ATC staff, I encourage them to work actively with HIAL to get the matter resolved as quickly as possible and to recognise that they have been made a very generous offer in the present economic climate.
Transport Funding (Local Authorities)
To ask the Scottish Government what additional funding will be given to local authorities to support maintenance of essential transport infrastructure. (S5O-03741)
The vast majority of funding to local authorities from the Scottish Government is provided via a block grant and we do not stipulate how local authorities should utilise their individual allocations. It is therefore the responsibility of each local authority to manage its own budget and to allocate the financial resources available to it on the basis of local needs and priorities, having first fulfilled its statutory obligations and the jointly agreed set of national and local priorities.
Residents in Drumoak and Durris still face huge issues in getting Park bridge reopened and this has left the community divided. Residents, schoolchildren, businesses and families are all affected, with no hope in sight. They are now looking at crowdfunding in order to restore the bridge to traffic. We have a further 61 bridges and more than 100 communities at risk, according to a council report. Is this the state of Scotland under the SNP, with communities having to fundraise to keep their roads and bridges open?
It is the state of a bridge under a Tory-controlled administration in Aberdeenshire Council, just to correct the member. He will be aware that the road and the bridge are the responsibility of the local authority, and it is a bit rich for any Tory to come into this chamber and start demanding funding for public services, given the austerity they have perpetrated on the people of Scotland over the past 10 years. They should be looking at themselves in the mirror and recognising the consequences of the financial decisions that were made by the Tory United Kingdom Government to cut the Scottish Government’s budget year on year. We have done everything that we can to support local authorities, but I am afraid that it is the member’s colleagues in Tory-led Aberdeenshire Council who are responsible for the bridge and getting it repaired.
The minister will be aware of how essential the road network in Shetland is for islanders’ transport needs. He will also be aware that the draft national islands plan recognises the importance of transport links for mobility and access to services. My constituents in Sandness and Walls have highlighted that improvements are needed to rural roads in Shetland. What support will come from the national islands plan to help Shetland Islands Council with those necessary upgrades?
The member will be aware that we have just completed the draft process of the national transport strategy, which sets out a range of measures that we will take forward to improve transport connectivity across the country, including in our island communities. She will also be aware that any actions or improvements on roads that are necessary to improve connectivity within a local authority’s area are its responsibility.
We will continue to do what we can to minimise the impact that UK Government cuts are having on the Scottish Government’s budget and to help to protect local authorities, including Shetland Islands Council. However, it is important that local authorities play their part in maintaining their local road network to an appropriate level.
National Transport Strategy (NFU Scotland)
To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to NFU Scotland’s submission to Transport Scotland’s consultation on Scotland’s national transport strategy. (S5O-03742)
We welcome the response from the National Farmers Union, along with all others that were received from individuals and organisations. We are in the process of analysing responses to inform the final national transport strategy.
In its submission, which I read, NFU Scotland was quite punchy in its criticism. It stated that the current transport system places
“inequitable and unique barriers on rural communities”
and it criticised weak transport connections, poorly maintained roads and a transport system that does not put rural Scotland first.
Does the cabinet secretary agree with that analysis? Does he think that events such as this week’s breakdown of MV Loch Seaforth fill our rural communities with any confidence that this Government is delivering reliable services to them?
I, too, have read the NFU Scotland response. It is generally supportive of the national transport strategy and the proposals that it sets out, and I welcome that. We will give consideration to the issues that it raised.
The member may recall that during the passage of the transport bill, amendments on consideration of the consultation process and its impact were lodged by Colin Smyth. We will therefore consider the outcome of the consultation process in the final strategy and will publish a document stating what we have done as a result of the responses that we have received. That will include the range of areas that the National Farmers Union raised, including the rural first approach, which it highlighted in its submission.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the proposed sale of Prestwick airport. (S5O-03743)
As the member is aware, an advert inviting expressions of interest was published in the Official Journal of the European Union in June this year. The senior management team at the airport continue to consider bids that were received. Consideration of bids is a complex matter that requires detailed assessment and consideration. However, I reassure the member that good progress continues to be made.
To protect the integrity of the process and respect the wishes of the parties involved, confidentiality needs to be maintained. The Scottish Government will provide an update to Parliament at the appropriate time, while respecting the commercial aspects of the process.
On 10 September, the cabinet secretary told Parliament:
“The management team at Prestwick has advised me that it is making good progress and it intends to continue to work to the timescales as best it can. However, there is always a need to take into account any unforeseen matters”. —[Official Report, 10 September 2019; c 8.]
Given that the aim was to conclude the sale by 4 October, can the cabinet secretary tell us the unforeseen matters that have caused the delay, when he expects the Government to be asked to agree a sale—or otherwise—and whether he is confident that a sale is likely?
As Colin Smyth will be aware, we set out in the eligibility criteria questionnaire the indicative timetable for the process. The senior management team has undertaken a detailed process, which has taken longer than we had expected, to make sure that they evaluate the proposed bids in great detail and, if necessary, enter into discussions with interested parties to explore those details to a greater level.
I assure the member that I will update Parliament with as much information as I can once I am in a position to do so. However, what I will not do is compromise a confidential process that is being undertaken by the management team and interested parties. I am sure that he will recognise that it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that the integrity of the process is maintained and respected.
That concludes questions on transport, infrastructure and connectivity.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. If we had not had so many supplementary questions, which were not on the question paper, I would have been able to ask my question, which was very important to my constituents.
I was very conscious of trying to get to your question, Mr Lyle. We took only three supplementaries, but sometimes the length of the questions, the number of supplementaries and the length of the answers conspire against members who are lower down the order paper. If the member wishes to press his request-to-speak button at another part of the parliamentary week—for example, during First Minister’s question time—I can assure him that I will be minded to accept a question.
Justice and the Law Officers
Police Stations (Sale or Lease Termination)
To ask the Scottish Government how many police stations have been sold or had their lease terminated since Police Scotland was established. (S5O-03745)
Responsibility for the management of the police estate sits with the Scottish Police Authority and, rightly, with the chief constable. Police Scotland has confirmed that 113 police stations have been sold and 17 police stations have had their lease terminated since the creation of Police Scotland in April 2013. Some of those properties and leases were declared surplus by the legacy forces, with sales concluding after the establishment of Police Scotland.
The new estate strategy, which was approved by the SPA in May 2019, provides a framework for planning the future of the police estate to support the long-term vision of policing, which includes enhanced partnership working. That work seeks to respond to the changing needs of communities while maintaining public visibility and confidence.
The Press and Journal reported last week that a total of 125 stations, including 32 in the region that I represent, have been axed since the Scottish National Party merged local constabularies into Police Scotland. Violent crime has risen for four years in a row. Why is the Scottish Government dismantling local policing in remote communities?
I will give a comparative figure from the House of Commons library briefing, which suggests that 600 police stations in England and Wales have been closed under the Conservative Government. If Donald Cameron thinks that closures are having a detrimental effect on Scotland, I am sure that he will equally condemn his own party’s actions in England and Wales. Of course he will not, because he is making a political point that is not based on any facts.
Is Donald Cameron seriously asking the Government and Police Scotland to keep open stations that have not been used for years? Let us look at the region that he represents. There has been an empty station in Broadford since 2013; there is an empty station in Bettyhill that has not been used since 2010; and there is a station in Invergordon that has been empty since 2011. Is he seriously suggesting that Police Scotland keeps open stations that have not been used for years, at a cost to the public—to the taxpayer—and to Police Scotland? That does not make any sense whatsoever.
I am proud of our record with regard to lowering crime rates—we have one of the lowest crime rates in 43 years. We also have 1,000 additional police officers since the SNP took over in 2007, and we have given the police a historic pay deal, which has been described as the best pay deal in two decades.
I suggest to Donald Cameron that if he wants to make a valuable contribution, he could persuade his colleagues in Westminster to return the £175 million in VAT that they stole from Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
The discussion about police stations highlights the issue of the £43 million shortfall in the capital budget, as evidenced in Police Scotland’s submission to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing. Indeed, Deputy Chief Officer David Page described the effect of the shortfall as “putting band aids” on issues that need to be dealt with.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that the shortfall of £43 million undermines the ability of Police Scotland to effectively manage the police estate and to ensure that effective information technology facilities are in place and that fleet management is modern and up to date?
I agree with James Kelly that the capital budget is hugely important. I also agree that it is important that we keep it under review and listen to what Police Scotland has to say about it.
That is why when Police Scotland and the SPA approached me, as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, about increasing the capital budget for mobile devices before the previous spending review, I increased it by 52 per cent. I say gently to James Kelly that, in his previous role as shadow finance secretary, he did not vote for a budget that increased Police Scotland’s capital budget, and he did not bring a proposal to the table to increase Police Scotland’s capital budget.
I will listen to what Police Scotland has to say. The spending review will be a matter of much debate and negotiation. I hope that, if there is a further increase to Police Scotland’s capital budget, the Labour Party will support the budget proposals.
Two-verdict Justice System
To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether moving towards a two-verdict justice system of “proven” and “not proven” would be an improvement on the present system. (S5O-03746)
Understanding the impact of the three-verdict system was one of the key purposes of the Government commissioning the recently published jury research. Now that we have those findings, the Scottish Government will engage in extensive discussions with interested parties across the country about what they may mean for future criminal justice reforms in this area. Those discussions will include the question whether we should move to a two-verdict system and, if so, what those two verdicts should be.
I have a genuinely open mind on what, if any, further changes may be required, and I will not prejudge the outcome of those conversations.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the task of a jury is not to uncover an ultimate truth, but to pass opinion on a presentation of evidence, and that therefore it is much more logical to end up with a position of proven or not proven, rather than not guilty?
I will leave the debates on legal philosophy and jurisprudence to the colleagues on my right, the Solicitor General for Scotland, and my extreme left, the Lord Advocate—I mean “extreme left” in terms of his location; I am not making a comment on anyone’s politics. [Laughter.]
It is really important that we view the discussion around the research and potential changes to the jury system through the prism of what is in the best interests of justice. On a qualitative basis—and on a quantitative basis, too, I think—it is certainly clear from the research that there was an element of confusion among some jurors about the three-verdict system. We saw examples of jurors saying that they thought that somebody could be retried after a not-proven verdict, and so on.
I understand that there is passionate debate among those who wish to see the three-verdict system reformed into a two-verdict system, as well as debate about what those two verdicts should be. I will not prejudge the outcome of that debate. The first of the engagement conversations, which will include a range of stakeholders, will take place later this month, and I will then update Parliament on what I think is the way forward.
The cabinet secretary may have answered my question right at the end of his last answer. When the Scottish jury research report that he mentioned came out, he said that he would engage with legal professionals and the wider public. Will he provide a quick update on that engagement?
I am happy to do that. My officials have begun the initial planning discussions with Rape Crisis Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland, and they will contact more organisations in the coming weeks. The first of those engagement sessions will be held in Glasgow next month—I am sorry; I meant next month in my response to John Mason. In order to get as wide a view as possible, I consider it important that a number of those events be held outwith the central belt.
It is essential that all of us with an interest in the issue engage in a manner that is sensitive to the issues that are being discussed. I would welcome views from any Opposition members, or, indeed, from members of my own party, who have an interest. It is really important that we engage with all sides of the debate. The Government will look to do that, and I am very pleased that a range of stakeholders—from the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland to Rape Crisis Scotland and many others—is keen to engage in the question of what the next stage of the reform should be.
Fireworks Review Group (Veterans)
To ask the Scottish Government how the new fireworks review group, announced as part of the fireworks action plan, will ensure that the interests of veterans are represented. (S5O-03747)
I heard evidence through the public fireworks consultation that the use of fireworks can be difficult for some of our armed forces veterans and that the loud noises and strong smells from fireworks can cause considerable anguish.
Membership of the fireworks review group is currently being finalised. It will be drawn from key organisations and stakeholders. I will ensure that veterans organisations are engaged and that the voices of veterans are heard as the work to consider the future of fireworks in Scotland is progressed.
I welcome the minister’s commitment to ensure that the voices of veterans are heard.
Last week, I was contacted by constituents who want a ban on the public sale of fireworks. Many people in Renfrewshire South tell me that they want an end to the unnecessary stress that is caused to friends, family, neighbours and pets by inconsiderate individuals who, despite repeated public information campaigns, continue to use fireworks irresponsibly. Does the minister agree that, if the United Kingdom Government is not willing to take action on the matter, powers need to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament so that we can take action?
I do, and I reassure Tom Arthur that I, too, receive much constituency casework that calls for a ban on the sale of fireworks, in much the same way that he illustrated.
I have written to the UK Government regularly over the past year and ensured that it is engaged with the process that we are carrying out in Scotland in respect of the consultation and its outcomes. However, it is quite disappointing that the current UK Government has made it clear that it has little appetite to change the legislation on the sale of fireworks.
The recently published House of Commons Petitions Committee report clearly states that the UK Government has
“failed to act in response to legitimate concerns”
That report sets out a number of recommendations with specified timescales. I hope that the UK Government will take forward action in that regard.
If the head-in-the-sand approach to the sale of fireworks is to be maintained by the next UK Government, I would certainly welcome the opportunity to discuss how the relevant powers over the sale of fireworks could be devolved to Scotland. That would allow us to lead from the front on the issue and introduce the change that the people of Scotland have made clear to me that they want to see.
I return to veterans. There are issues to do with fireworks and animals, and many veterans have companion dogs. Can the minister assure us that the review group will take full cognisance of that aspect and that the special needs of veterans and their companion dogs will be addressed?
Yes. I thank Bill Bowman for raising that issue. That theme certainly came through in the consultation. I am aware that there are a number of groups, including veterans, people with underlying mental health concerns and people who have pets, as well as pets themselves, that suffer a great deal from fireworks misuse and even from the appropriate use of fireworks because of the noise and the length of time that that can carry on.
As I said in my answer to Tom Arthur’s question, membership of the review group is currently being finalised. I cannot say what its precise membership will be, but it will be drawn from key stakeholders, and I assure Bill Bowman that veterans organisations will be fully engaged in it. I will ensure that their voices are heard as we progress through the process.
British Transport Police (Staff Safety)
To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the British Transport Police to discuss staff safety on trains. (S5O-03748)
Officials are in daily contact with the British Transport Police through the embedded liaison officer in Transport Scotland. That process provides first-hand instant information on actions relating to all rail and British Transport Police issues, including incidents involving rail staff, as well as an opportunity to provide input from a Scottish Government perspective.
I last met the British Transport Police earlier this year at the British Transport Police Federation conference. Transport Scotland and the British Transport Police also attend the quarterly rail workplace violence stakeholders forum, in which staff safety is, of course, a key focus.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the ultimate responsibility for ScotRail staff lies with the ScotRail management and that it, in conjunction with the BTP, needs to do more to protect its staff?
Yes, I do. Stuart McMillan will, of course, be aware that I was previously Minister for Transport and the Islands, when I had constant regular conversations with ScotRail’s management on that issue. I know from that time that ScotRail took the issue extremely seriously; I suspect that it is much the same now. That is why ScotRail plays a leading role in the rail workplace violence stakeholders forum, which includes the BTP, trade unions and Transport Scotland. That forum develops and implements short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies to reduce physical and verbal assaults of, and antisocial behaviour towards, rail staff and passengers.
It is important to note that there has been a 20 per cent reduction in assaults against staff in Scotland this year, while there has been an increase in England and Wales.
ScotRail and British Transport Police will continue to work closely with stakeholders on initiatives to prevent violence and aggression towards staff, and findings will be reported to the Scottish railways policing committee for scrutiny and review.
To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the conditions for firearms certificates. (S5O-03749)
Conditions for firearms certificates are an operational matter for Police Scotland under legislation that is reserved to the UK Government.
I am supportive of the firearms restrictions that exist in this country. The cabinet secretary will be aware of the exceptional circumstances around veterinary surgeons, which the law recognises. Does he believe that the current restriction on the hand guns that are used by vets to euthanise large and often aggressive animals to a capacity of two shots is sufficient to guarantee the safety of vets, who are often asked to carry out that task in remote areas in which there are limited facilities for animal restraint?
I am aware of the unique characteristics of islands, which I understand from a previous role, and which I often see when I travel to our island communities. I acknowledge the unique circumstances that a veterinary surgeon in an island community might face. Those difficult factors need to be balanced. We must have at the forefront of our mind the need to protect public safety, but we must also acknowledge the importance of ensuring that, if an animal needs to be euthanised, that is done humanely. The principle is that humane-dispatch handguns should be able to fire only one or two shots before needing to be reloaded. That is well established in reserved legislation and guidance, and it is also widely supported by the police and by shooting organisations.
The website of the Humane Slaughter Association has useful guidance on emergency killing of animals, including agitated animals, using firearms. That guidance is recommended by the Scottish Government’s senior veterinary advisers. The Humane Slaughter Association advises that handguns should be used only if a kill can be achieved with a single clean shot. If it is not possible to approach an animal safely, another weapon, such as a rifle or shotgun, might be appropriate.
I recognise what Alasdair Allan said about the potential lack of restraint equipment on an island. I advise him that his constituents can consult the guidance that I mentioned and, if required, they can consult the HSA for further advice, alongside on-going liaison with Police Scotland regarding use of firearms. It might be the case that a different firearm would be required for Mr Allan’s constituents’ unique circumstances.
Post Mortem Reports (Waiting Times)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it is satisfied with the waiting times for post mortem reports. (S5O-03750)
In cases of sudden or unexpected death, a post mortem examination might be necessary to establish a cause of death. Where toxicological analysis is required, the final post mortem report cannot be issued until that has been completed.
The Crown has been experiencing delays in provision of toxicology reports. In those cases, that will affect the timescale for provision of final post mortem reports. Those events will rarely prevent or delay release of the deceased’s body to their next of kin or nearest relatives. However, I appreciate the impact that a delay in establishing the cause of death can have on bereaved relatives.
Officials in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have met pathology and toxicology leads to discuss workloads and capacity, and have agreed a system of workload prioritisation. They will keep bereaved relatives advised, in accordance with the service’s commitments in “The Family Liaison Charter”.
It is disappointing to hear that contractual issues between the Crown Office and the University of Glasgow are delaying post mortem reports. I am pleased that the Lord Advocate agrees that those delays are unacceptable, and I hope that he will apologise to the families who are affected.
Will the Lord Advocate write to me with detailed information about the backlog and about waiting times for pathology and toxicology reports, and outline what action is being taken to address those matters?
The Lord Advocate: I very much appreciate Monica Lennon’s continuing interest in the subject, and am happy to confirm that I will write to her shortly about those matters. As she is aware, the University of Glasgow has intimated that it no longer wishes to provide the services in the longer term. The Crown Office is in discussions with an alternative provider.
I am pleased that Glasgow university has indicated that it will maintain the existing contract—which is in place until the end of September next year—in order to allow the transition to a new provider to take place. My officials regularly meet staff at Glasgow university to discuss workloads and performance, and have had a meeting specifically to discuss plans for future provision of the service.
I certainly regret the impact that delays have on bereaved relatives. I am happy to reiterate my confirmation that I will write to Monica Lennon in detail on the matter.
Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 (Non-harassment Orders)
To ask the Scottish Government how it monitors the issuing of non-harassment orders by sheriffs under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. (S5O-03751)
The 2018 act makes it mandatory for the court to consider in every case whether to impose a non-harassment order to protect the victim. The act also provides that, where an NHO is not made, the court is required to explain the basis for that decision. There is a statutory reporting requirement under the 2018 act, according to which the Scottish ministers shall publish a report on the operation of the act three years after commencement. That will include information on the number of non-harassment orders that have been made by courts in domestic abuse cases.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer and the reinforcement of the requirements of the 2018 act. I have heard reports that there might well be reluctance in the courts to issue NHOs, so can the justice secretary please consider some way of monitoring that before the end of the three-year statutory period?
Yes—I can give that reassurance to Linda Fabiani. I should mention on the record her absolute determination, when the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill was going through Parliament, to protect victims of domestic abuse through the work that she did to get the 2018 act into place.
I will examine the figures for the period of time that the act has been in operation, which is since April this year. If there are discrepancies or issues that give me cause for concern, I will raise them with the judiciary. Linda Fabiani will understand that the matter is independent of the Government and is for the independent judiciary to decide on, although I will happily look at the figures since the act came into operation. I will be happy to keep Linda Fabiani updated, if I have particular concerns.