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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 14 June 2016

Agenda: Time for Reflection, One Minute’s Silence, Topical Question Time, Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2014, Colleges and Universities, Decision Time, Royal Bank of Scotland (Prestonpans Branch)


Topical Question Time

Hate Crimes (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People)

1. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle hate crimes against LGBTI people. (S5T-00022)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Presiding Officer, as you have done, I will first extend the thoughts and sympathies of the people of Scotland to the families and friends of all those whose lives were so cruelly and tragically taken from them in Orlando in the early hours of Sunday morning. We also send our very best wishes to those who sustained injuries in the attack.

The attack on the Pulse nightclub was, as the United States Government has made clear, an act of terror, but it was also a hate crime. It was the worst targeted attack on LGBTI people that we have seen in the western world in recent times. It is therefore vital that, in addition to playing our part in the fight against terrorism, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTI community here at home and across the world.

Scotland has made great progress in becoming a fair and equal society. We are considered to be one of the most progressive countries in Europe in terms of LGBTI equality. The Government, the Parliament and, I believe, the people of Scotland firmly believe that there is no place in Scotland for prejudice or discrimination and that everyone must be treated fairly and equally.

Tragically, the events in Orlando at the weekend show that there are some who do not share that belief and who prefer to hate and to do so violently. Yet, we should also take heart and comfort from seeing people across the world—people of all faiths and none—gathering together to express solidarity with those killed and injured and with the LGBTI community as a whole. However, those tragic events and the latest hate crime figures for Scotland, which were published on Friday last week, remind us that there is no room for complacency. Therefore, I thank Claire Baker for her focus on the actions that the Scottish Government and Scottish society must continue to take to tackle LGBTI hate crimes, and indeed all forms of hate crime.

We have already implemented strong laws that create new offences and aggravations; we will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and others to encourage increased reporting of hate crimes; and we will do everything possible to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Above all, we should all take the opportunity today to reaffirm the kind of country and the kind of world that we are determined to live in, one where hate or hate crime—whether on the basis of race, faith, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity—will simply not be tolerated.

Claire Baker

I associate the Scottish Labour Party with the First Minister’s remarks. We all watched in shock at the weekend as the news came through from Orlando. It was a dreadful crime that was driven by homophobia and hatred. I know that our thoughts and prayers across the chamber go to the families and friends who have suffered great loss and to those who are still in hospital. Throughout the United Kingdom, we are seeing demonstrations of solidarity, and the chamber can be proud of the work and the legislation that we have undertaken to make Scotland a more inclusive and tolerant society—not least the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

However, we must always be alert. The Scottish crime statistics that were released on Friday show that, in the past year, there has been a 20 per cent increase in charges for hate crimes relating to sexual orientation. In light of that increase, what action is the Government taking to redouble efforts to tackle violence and aggression towards people based on their sexuality and to support those who come forward to report such crime?

The First Minister

I thank Claire Baker for her comments and for her question. She is absolutely right to point to the figures that were published last Friday, which underline the point that I made in my original answer. There is no room for complacency. Those figures showed a 20 per cent increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation and revealed that transgender hate crime is at its highest level since 2009, when the legislation was introduced. That underlines the importance of not just continuing the work that we are doing but redoubling those efforts.

The Scottish Government will continue to take action—indeed, we will increase our action—across a range of fronts. Education and prevention remain of paramount importance, as is ensuring that we support—where necessary, with funding—LGBTI organisations so that they can work with individuals and the community as a whole. Later this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities will make an announcement on future funding to achieve our goal of a Scotland where equality is a reality. In addition, our independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion will report over the summer.

We also need to continue to take action to ensure that people have the confidence to report hate crimes so that our justice system can do its job in bringing perpetrators to justice. Across a range of issues, the Scottish Government is alert to the risks that many people live with and face, sometimes on a daily basis.

I will end with the comment that I have already made: Scotland is making progress in becoming a fairer and more equal society, but we will achieve that goal only if we also face up to the areas in which it is clear that there is work still to be done. Today, I give Parliament an assurance and a commitment that the Government will do that.

Claire Baker

I very much welcome the First Minister’s response. I assure her that, when it comes to tackling such behaviour across Scotland, she has the full support of the Scottish Labour Party.

I accept that it is always difficult to fully understand the hate crime figures. When the crime stats go down, we welcome the fact that they are reducing, and when they go up, we welcome the fact that more people are reporting crime. If we are to fully tackle LGBTI crime, we must fully understand the figures. On Friday, the Scottish Government published another report, which analysed the breakdown of religiously aggravated offending. Will the First Minister ensure that a similar breakdown is available for LGBTI hate crimes in Scotland so that we can better understand the nature of those crimes?

The First Minister

Yes, I give an assurance that we will give consideration to what we can do by way of further analysis and breakdown so that we better understand those figures. The equalities secretary will look at that specifically, and I will make sure that she continues to liaise with members across the Parliament about the progress on that.

It is important that we understand the figures. Claire Baker rightly makes the point that, often in such cases, an increase in offences—although it is to be deeply regretted—will come about because of an increase in the number of people who are coming forward to report such crimes. We must continue to encourage that, but the deeper our understanding of the figures and what lies behind them, the more targeted and effective our actions to tackle hate crime in all its forms will be, so we will continue to take action on that front and to keep Parliament updated.

Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

The events in Orlando were an act of terror. They were a homophobic attack that was directed at the city’s LGBTI community and which was perpetrated in a space that was designed to offer sanctuary, acceptance and enjoyment—a safe space to show love that was violated by extreme hate. In Glasgow, London and cities across the world, we stood in solidarity with Orlando last night, and this Parliament stands in solidarity again today. We have stood here too often in recent years as such extreme hate has shocked us all.

However, we know, too, that in the past our own country has not been immune from attacks born of a twisted ideology. We also know that, without leadership, fear can lead to anger or even reprisal. Therefore, does the First Minister agree that we must continue to work with our young people to push them away from extremism and must reaffirm our commitment to upholding the common values of tolerance, freedom and acceptance within and between all Scotland’s communities?

The First Minister

Yes, I do. I welcome Ruth Davidson’s comments. I am aware that she and, I think, Kezia Dugdale were in London last night, showing solidarity there.

There has been commentary in the media about whether what happened in Orlando was a terror attack or a homophobic hate crime. In truth, it was both of those things, and we must be very clear about that.

I absolutely agree with the point that was made about the importance of leadership and not thinking that we in Scotland are immune from the type of event that we saw in Orlando at the weekend and from what lies behind such events. It is vital that we work with our young people in particular. As I said to Claire Baker, the importance of education—and, through education, prevention—is paramount.

It is also important that we work with all our communities—our faith communities and all our other communities. I have been heartened, as I am sure have others across the chamber, at the voices in our Muslim community making clear that their horror at what happened in Orlando is just as strong as the horror that any of us feels.

We must not be complacent and we must not assume that these are the problems only of other people. That is why the range of activity that I have spoken about is so important. It is vital that we join together in the Parliament, and that the Parliament joins with all sections of Scottish society, to send that message and do what requires to be done to turn that message into reality. Hate and hate crime will not be and cannot be tolerated in Scotland.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the attacks in Orlando. We all, across this chamber and across this country, stand shoulder to shoulder with them, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality. This tragedy comes during the holy month of Ramadan, when millions of Muslims across the world are making personal sacrifices to recognise and learn about those less fortunate. As the First Minister said, they are saying loudly and peacefully: not in our name. Will the First Minister, therefore, join me in sending a message to the spreaders of hate that we will not allow their intolerance, mindlessness or heartlessness to divide us or, indeed, to define us?

The First Minister

I thank Anas Sarwar for his comments; I know how deeply and sincerely he feels. As he rightly says, we are right now in the holy month of Ramadan, which is a period of peace and sacrifice for all those who adhere to the Islamic faith. I have said in this chamber on previous occasions when—sadly, all too often—we have come here together to reflect on terrorist atrocities, and I will say again, that I am acutely aware, because of the many Muslim constituents I represent, not just that the Muslim community feels the same horror as we do, but that often their horror is added to by the sense that, somehow, they are being held responsible for acts that they are not culpable for.

In many respects, the Islamic faith is as much a victim of this twisted ideology as others are, because it is a perversion of Islam. That message is one that we must send loudly and clearly: we must make it clear to people of all faiths and of no faith that this kind of intolerance and hatred will not be tolerated. I hope that we will continue—as we have done so often in the past—to join together as a Parliament and as a society to voice that message very strongly and very loudly.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I add the support of the Scottish Green Party for the First Minister’s comments and those of other speakers regarding the atrocity in Orlando. Many of us joined together in Glasgow yesterday as well. I have only ever felt joy at seeing the rainbow flag flown from the city chambers and I cannot quite express how it felt to see it at half mast.

The First Minister spoke about the vision of a Scotland in which there is no place for prejudice and discrimination. That has not been achieved yet—sadly, there are still people, including young people, who are subjected to the ideology that says that certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inherent moral defects. The First Minister has described herself as a huge supporter of the TIE—time for inclusive education—campaign. How long does the First Minister think it will be before all schools in Scotland actively promote the equality and dignity of all of their young people, including LGBTI young people?

The First Minister

First, I share Patrick Harvie’s overwhelming sense of sadness at seeing the rainbow flag fly at half mast yesterday. It flew at half mast over the Scottish Government headquarters yesterday as well. That was an appropriate mark of respect, but we do not want to see it again; I want to see the flag fly proudly, as its name suggests that it should, on happy, uplifting and joyous occasions, and I hope that it will do so again before too long.

Patrick Harvie is right: our aspirations for Scotland to be a place of fairness, justice and equality have not yet been achieved. Scotland is not unique in that regard. I am not sure that there is a single country in the world that could stand and say that that aspiration, ambition and vision have been achieved, but we must make sure that we continue to take the action that will allow us to achieve it. That includes action on education. I do not want to live in—let alone be First Minister of—a country in which any young person is, due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, subject to judgment or made to feel in any way less than any other individual in our society.

As Patrick Harvie is aware, I have given a commitment that the Government will work with the campaign for inclusive education. I will not stand here and, off the top of my head, give timescales—that would not be appropriate. However, I give a commitment that I, as First Minister of this Government, will continue to work with such campaigns to ensure that, whether in schools or any other part of our society, the environment for young people growing up, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is one in which they feel comfortable and able to fulfil their potential. All of us in this country should aspire to that.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I express our deep sadness at the horrific events in Orlando. I agree with the First Minister that there was some comfort from the darkness in the crowds gathering in cities not just in the United Kingdom but across the world. Does the First Minister agree that one of the most powerful signals that we can send would be to accelerate our programmes on equality for all the LGBTI community? All of us in the Parliament have common programmes that we want to deliver. Let us use this incident to accelerate those programmes, so that we send the strongest possible signal to haters and terrorists that we will not be intimidated.

The First Minister

I am happy to agree with that sentiment. I hope that I have made clear in my previous answers today that the Scottish Government is determined not just to continue our work on equality but to accelerate its progress. We will certainly make sure that we use the reflection on what has happened over the past few days to enable us to do so. I want all in the Parliament—across the chamber—to be part of that. We are open to ideas and suggestions about how we pick up the pace of progress and, indeed, on whether there is more that we can do in any area to accelerate progress towards the vision that Patrick Harvie spoke about. Any member of any party in this chamber should feel free to come forward with ideas and suggestions, and they have a commitment from me that the Government will consider them seriously and carefully.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

In light of the outrage in Orlando, what is the Scottish Government’s preparedness for pride marches and other LGBTI events that could take place in Scotland?

The First Minister

Obviously, the police will continue to make their own assessments and preparations to ensure that pride marches can happen safely so that all those attending can enjoy them as the joyous and uplifting occasions that they are intended to be. The Scottish Government will continue to make sure that we are in close liaison with the police on all those matters.

Of course, we will see a number of pride marches take place in Scotland and, indeed, elsewhere, in the coming weeks. Perhaps something that we can all do is not only to remember and to pay respect to those who died in Orlando, but to show our solidarity with the LGBTI community by turning up and taking part in a pride march somewhere in Scotland. If we all do that, that would be a vivid representation of this Parliament standing shoulder to shoulder.

Scottish Recording Centre

2. John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports of concerns about the threat to individuals’ privacy arising from the surveillance activities of the Scottish recording centre. (S5T-00012)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

This Government takes the protection of our citizens’ civil liberties extremely seriously and we are clear that investigatory powers should be used only when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. However, we must always balance the protection of those fundamental civil liberties with the need to ensure that our law enforcement bodies have effective powers to investigate and deal with serious organised crime. The interception of communications is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. All matters pertaining to the interception of communications are independently overseen by the Interception of Communications Commissioner. That inspection regime includes an annual inspection of Police Scotland’s activities in this area.

John Finnie

There are distinct human rights obligations for the police under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Scotland Act 1998 makes it clear that any decisions of both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament in relation to policing must be compliant with the European convention on human rights. No one would suggest for one minute that the cabinet secretary would interfere in operational matters, but he is obliged to uphold those acts, so people would reasonably expect him to be able to confirm that all Police Scotland operations and, indeed, all police operations in Scotland have a legal basis that respects the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998. Can he confirm that, please?

Michael Matheson

I confirm to the member that it is important that the actions that Police Scotland and other law enforcement bodies in Scotland take are compliant with the ECHR. Additionally, the legislation under which they operate and the powers that we provide them with as a Parliament also need to be compliant with the ECHR. That is why it is important that we recognise every aspect of the approach that our law enforcement bodies are implementing with the powers that we provide them with. The member will also be aware that a key part of the oath that all officers in Police Scotland take includes upholding human rights.

We are very clear that the legislation that governs areas around the interception of communications and the other powers that Police Scotland has need to be compliant with human rights legislation.

John Finnie

The cabinet secretary will be aware of my long-standing interest in the relationship between the responsibilities of his post and of the United Kingdom. We have learned, for instance, that GCHQ feels that it does not need the investigative powers legislation—of course, that is because it is doing what it covers anyway. However, nothing absolves the person in the cabinet secretary’s post of responsibility for defending the privacy of people living in Scotland, which means that he needs to have an understanding of the issues. Is all police work in Scotland, including liaison and collaborative work with external agencies, carried out in accordance with a strict Scottish legal and policy framework? Will the cabinet secretary publish the framework for the surveillance regime?

Michael Matheson

The member will recognise that the operation of GCHQ and the way in which it undertakes its responsibilities are a matter for the UK Government. There are laws and regulations that apply to the way in which GCHQ operates in obtaining information. I certainly would not condone any practices that operate outwith the law or that are conducted in an inhumane way—that is not to say that that is the case in this particular set of circumstances.

The legislation that pertains to the interception of communications for Police Scotland is based on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and there is a clear process that Police Scotland has to go through to exercise its powers. For example, when it comes to matters relating to the interception of communications, warrants must be sought from Scottish Government ministers—largely from me—before actions can be taken. Two very clear statutory provisions need to be satisfied in respect of these matters: they are considered on the basis of necessity and proportionality in every individual case. Police Scotland is inspected by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office on an annual basis to ensure that it is complying with and operating within the law and the regulations that pertain to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether he has asked for assurances that the data processed by the Scottish recording centre was acquired lawfully and, if so, whether those assurances were forthcoming? Is he confident that the information handled by the SRC was held in accordance with not just human rights requirements but data protection rules?

Michael Matheson

I suspect that the member is referring to information that was passed by GCHQ, as suggested in the press over the weekend. As I have said, the way in which GCHQ operates is a matter for the UK Government, in particular the Home Secretary. Obviously, it must operate within legal confines including the regulations that pertain to it.

On the operation of the powers that Police Scotland has under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, I can assure the member that it is inspected by IOCCO, which considers whether it is compliant. No concerns have been brought to our attention by IOCCO, so I am confident that Police Scotland is operating within the legal framework that has been set, partly by this Parliament and by the UK Parliament, when it comes to the interception of communications.