Meeting date: Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 16 November 2016
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Fuel Poverty, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, State of Nature 2016
- Portfolio Question Time
- Fuel Poverty
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- State of Nature 2016
Portfolio Question Time
Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time. I repeat—more in hope than expectation—that, to get as many members in as possible, I would prefer short questions and short and succinct answers. Let us see how far that takes me.
Department for International Development (Meetings in East Kilbride)
To ask the Scottish Government when it will next meet the Department for International Development in East Kilbride. (S5O-00335)
I wrote to both James Wharton MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the United Kingdom Government’s Department for International Development, and Rory Stewart MP, minister of state at the department, in August to congratulate each of them on their then recent appointments, and to express the desire to meet to discuss areas of mutual interest. A meeting date has not yet been confirmed, but it has subsequently been discussed and a meeting is intended to be arranged by DFID when Mr Wharton or Mr Stewart visits East Kilbride. Scottish Government officials and DFID officials are in touch on a regular basis but, at present, no meeting has been diarised to take place in East Kilbride.
When the minister meets those Westminster ministers in East Kilbride, I ask him to emphasise the sizeable contribution that Scotland makes to the UK international aid budget, much of which is administered from East Kilbride. I also ask him to emphasise Scotland’s concern at the UK Secretary of State for International Development’s contention that aid funding could be cut unless it proves to be in the UK’s national interest. Will he further emphasise that the Scottish Government and those who work in international aid in this country do not consider international aid to be a bargaining chip?
I am tempted to say that that was not a short supplementary, Ms Fabiani, but that would be very naughty of me.
I can certainly confirm that, in our contact with the UK Government, we will emphasise the good work that both Governments do on the ground.
As the member has raised the issue, I will comment on the remarks that were made about aid and international development being in the national interest. The Scottish Government sees international development as being part of being a good global citizen. I hope that aid spend by the UK Government, whether by DFID or via other UK departments, will clearly be designed to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries, and will not be tied to the UK’s national interest in any selfish way.
Question 2 has not been lodged.
European Union Referendum
To ask the Scottish Government when it will next meet the United Kingdom Government regarding the result of the European Union referendum. (S5O-00337)
The Scottish Government has a distinct role in protecting Scotland’s economic and social interests and reflecting the outcome of the EU referendum in Scotland. As such, we continue to engage regularly at both official and ministerial level with the UK Government. The next meeting of the joint ministerial committee (EU negotiations) will be next month.
As the minister is aware, the result of the EU referendum almost certainly guarantees the end of the Human Rights Act 1998, which the Tory Government is set to repeal and replace with a British bill of rights. What discussions have taken place to ensure protection of all the rights that are guaranteed through the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998?
The standing council on Europe, among other bodies, has discussed human rights and the protection of rights. The issue of social protection features heavily in the First Minister’s five tests for future options.
I am very much of the view that the former head of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Professor Alan Miller, has taken. He has talked of the need to ensure that there is no regression on such matters, that there is continued progress, and that we have the opportunity to be different and to do better. We will keep that very much in mind as we move forward, and I look forward to receiving Labour’s support in ensuring that that happens.
The minister will be aware of the leaked memorandum that suggests that there is no UK Government plan for Brexit and that it will be another six months before the UK Government agrees its priorities, in stark contrast to the Scottish Government’s approach. Will the minister outline his views on that?
I am aware of the leaked memo. Of course, neither the UK Government nor the Scottish Government comments on leaked memos, but I simply say that, from what I have seen to date, the expected timescale of six months appears to be a little hopeful.
To ask the Scottish Government how important tourism is to the economy. (S5O-00338)
Tourism, as one of our key growth sectors, is vital to Scotland’s economy. In 2015, spending by tourists in Scotland generated approximately £11 billion of economic activity in the wider Scottish supply chain. In 2015, there were 217,000 tourism-related jobs in Scotland, which amounts to approximately 8.5 per cent of employment.
As a result of the United Kingdom and potentially Scotland exiting the European Union, and given the projected significant impact on the Scottish economy, does the cabinet secretary agree that the role of the tourism industry in Scotland becomes even more important? Given that, in future, approximately £11 billion of Scottish Government expenditure will come from taxes that are raised in Scotland, does she agree that continuing to grow Scottish tourism through the efforts of VisitScotland will be a vital component of future economic success?
The member makes a very important point. Tourist spend recently broke through the £5 billion barrier, and the economic activity that tourism generates will become increasingly important to the economy. Economic analysis by Deloitte shows that every £1 that is invested in VisitScotland generates £39 in gross economic activity, £7 in new money or £3.61 in gross value added. It is clear that tourism is a growing sector and is key to our economy, and the Parliament and Government must recognise the income that tourism will generate from this day forward.
As the cabinet secretary said, 8 per cent of Scotland’s workforce is employed in the Scottish hospitality industry and tourism sector, which is vitally important to Scotland’s economy. What is the Scottish Government doing to meet the industry’s needs for a fully skilled workforce and quality employment opportunities to increase the attractiveness of working in the sector?
This morning, I was delighted to launch the Scottish Bed and Breakfast Association, which is a new network to support the small accommodation sector in the tourism industry. Some weeks ago, I—together with the Scottish Tourism Alliance and other partners—helped to launch the “Skills Investment Plan for Scotland’s tourism sector”, which has been put together with the industry, Skills Development Scotland and other players. It is very important to ensure that we have a pipeline and that people recognise the sector as a good career choice. There are extensive opportunities in the sector and we want to ensure that it is an attractive field in which to do business. We also want to encourage the growth of skills in the sector in order to maintain and develop the quality of our offer.
I thank the cabinet secretary for agreeing to attend the next meeting on 29 November of the cross-party group on recreational boating and marine tourism. Does she agree that marine tourism, which incorporates cruise tourism, is a vital sector in providing future growth and employment opportunities across the country?
I do indeed. The member is a great advocate of the marine tourism sector, which needs to develop and grow. There are challenges in how we do that, but I am delighted to be able to attend the meeting of the cross-party group on 29 November. I am very keen, as the cabinet secretary who is newly responsible for this area, to ensure that we maximise the opportunities provided by marine tourism around our wonderful coast and bring in new income. Recently, I was delighted to open the new pontoon at Fort William, which will provide new opportunities for cruise liners to come to the town.
Tourism (Highlands and Islands)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to VisitScotland and the Highland Council to encourage tourists to the Highlands and Islands, including by ensuring that the north coast 500 route is fully maintained. (S5O-00339)
The Scottish Government is supporting the north coast 500 by ensuring that the economic benefits are realised through the establishment of a strategic group by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which includes VisitScotland and Highland Council. Transport Scotland is directly responsible for the 111 miles of trunk roads that form 20 per cent of the route, and we will do all that we can to ensure that those roads are well maintained. Local roads are the responsibility of local authorities, and the Scottish Government has delivered to Highland Council a fair funding settlement of nearly £465 million in 2016-17. The strategic group is meeting today and, given the member’s close interest in the subject, I will ask HIE to provide him with an update on the progress that is being made.
Does the cabinet secretary share my view that the NC 500 is an iconic route that has provided a welcome stimulus to tourism in the Highlands? Would she agree to meet me to discuss concerns that constituents have raised about issues such as congestion on the route, speeding, provision of signage, off-road facilities and road maintenance?
I am interested in finding out more about the route. A number of constituency members have contacted me on the issue, so perhaps we could do something collectively. Interestingly, a survey that was undertaken by North Highland Initiative indicated that more than 85 per cent of drivers on the coast route experienced no congestion on it, but we clearly need to get more information about what is required. It is interesting and important that the Scottish Government asked for Transport Scotland to be included in the meeting of the strategic group that is taking place today, and Transport Scotland is participating in that. If I can find out more about what results from those discussions, I will certainly be happy to meet at the appropriate time.
I share David Stewart’s view that the north coast 500 is an iconic route. It has been an excellent vehicle to encourage people to visit the Highlands. Will the Scottish Government join me in asking VisitScotland to specifically promote the route during its advertising campaign in 2017 to ensure that as many people as possible come to the Highlands?
I will indeed. The member might be interested to know that the north coast 500 has already featured in most domestic and international marketing promotions. Those include but are not limited to seven regional advertisement features, six direct mail pack features, one Canadian advertising campaign feature, 15 public relations pieces and five press trips that were financed by VisitScotland. The total reach so far of the north coast 500 promotion is more than 900 million people. Promotion is already taking place, but I am sure that VisitScotland will also want to take forward the opportunity that the member mentions.
Brexit (Discussions with United Kingdom Government)
My question is further to Mary Fee’s question.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding Brexit. (S5O-00340)
Last week, I attended the first joint ministerial committee (EU negotiations) meeting in London. I made it clear that membership of the single market and the benefits that flow from it, including free movement of labour, are essential for Scotland’s economic prosperity, which is a point that I have made several times previously in my discussions with David Davis, who is the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
I am pleased that the process of involving the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations is under way, but the UK Government has still not made clear its strategic intentions about whether it wishes the UK to remain inside the single market or be part of the customs union. The Scottish Government will continue to focus on protecting Scotland’s economic and social interests, and we will table proposals in the coming weeks to keep Scotland in the single market.
I thank the minister for that update. I am sure that the Scottish Government will be aware of the reports that have been released recently. A few weeks ago, a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted a £25 billion black hole in public finances. Most recently, a report by Hitachi Capital found that one third of businesses across the UK chose not to invest following the Brexit vote, which resulted in investments worth £65.5 billion being lost to the economy. I would like the Government’s response to that.
Those reports illustrate what many people, including us, have been saying—that Brexit will have a hugely damaging impact on the Scottish economy. The Scottish Government is working closely with the enterprise agencies and other partners to ensure that there is a strong package of support for Scottish businesses to maintain and stimulate investment. We expect that, through direct action by the Scottish Government under the small and medium-sized enterprise holding fund, a minimum of £250 million will be released to SMEs over the next 18 months, which will stimulate investment.
The Hitachi Capital report highlights that 70 per cent of businesses would be likely to resume investment if uncertainty over the UK’s membership of the single market was resolved. That is why the Scottish Government has raised the issue in the chamber and why we will continue to work to ensure that Scotland continues to benefit from the opportunities of the single market. Our priority is to protect Scotland’s interests, and we will consider and take all possible steps to do so.
The minister has previously acknowledged that our customs union brings benefits that are in addition to or separate from those that are conferred by the single market. Will he confirm whether there have been discussions of substance with UK ministers on the customs union? If there have been, what approach is being taken?
I very much agree with Lewis Macdonald that the customs union is of strong importance. There have been no discussions of substance on it only because there have been no discussions of substance on a range of matters.
I noticed yesterday that the Dutch foreign minister indicated that Boris Johnson’s view of the customs union was intellectually incoherent, and that is correct. One cannot argue for certain things that are being argued for and believe that the customs union will remain in place. It is another area on which we need clarity, because a lack of a customs union would create enormous difficulties.
Independent Scotland (Representation in European Institutions)
To ask the Scottish Government what analysis it has carried out regarding what representation an independent Scotland could have in the European Parliament and on the European Council. (S5O-00341)
The Scottish Government published in 2013 an analysis of the representation that an independent Scotland as an equal member of the European Union would be likely to have in its institutions. The analysis made it clear that, as an independent member state, Scotland would have 12 or 13 members of the European Parliament, which is 12 or 13 more than a non-independent Scotland will have when the United Kingdom leaves the EU.
An independent Scotland that was a member of the EU would also be able to exercise influence through the European Council. The UK Government plans no membership of, no representation on and no influence in the European Council.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the response to leaving one 40-year-old, relatively loose economic union cannot be to leave a solid, 300-year-old, long-established economic, social and political union?
I know that Jamie Greene is obsessed but, in the politics of the here and now, our constituents, the people of Scotland, want this Government and this Parliament to stand up for their interests. We have an opportunity collectively to protect Scotland’s interests and pursue the best options that we can to ensure that we have a continuing relationship for the benefit of the people of Scotland. We would like to see the Conservative Party standing up for Scotland, rather than kneeling down to Westminster.
Is the cabinet secretary any clearer about how the United Kingdom Government intends to ensure that the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Scottish people, who voted to remain in the EU, are respected?
No. The clarity that we and our constituents, the people of Scotland, need is singularly absent. It is now five months since the referendum on the EU and it is only five months until article 50 is due to be triggered. For us to meaningfully take forward the interests of the Scottish people—on tourism, the creative industries and all the sectors that we have debated in this session—we need clarity from the UK Government, or at least some sense of the direction in which it would like to go.
We are prepared to engage constructively with the UK Government, and we have been for some time. We have met it on a number of occasions and we are desperate to move things forward. The lack of clarity that we have had from the UK Government is very worrying. When we have a Foreign Secretary who tells more to Czech newspapers than to the Westminster Parliament or this Government, we have a great deal to worry about.
Promotion of Public Spaces
To ask the Scottish Government how it supports the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley tourist board and similar bodies in promoting the country’s public spaces. (S5O-00342)
VisitScotland actively promotes Scotland’s huge wealth of public spaces through its consumer website visitscotland.com. VisitScotland has a specific Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley destination page that promotes key attractions in the area, such as Strathclyde country park and Bothwell castle, and it links to a local marketing group, visit Lanarkshire, with which it works closely on promoting the area.
I welcome the work that is being done to promote our excellent public spaces, especially in my constituency. What other projects and initiatives are being delivered to encourage people to visit spaces such as the historic Bothwell castle in my constituency, which the cabinet secretary mentioned and which is an example of the many fantastic places of interest that we are lucky to have in this country?
Historic Environment Scotland has marketed Bothwell castle in its 77 sites guide. To mark the end of the major archaeological programme that was carried out in June 2015, the Bothwell under siege event was delivered to coincide with the last weekend of the excavation.
In 2016, the Folksy Theatre company produced “As You Like It” at Bothwell castle, and it will return in 2017 with “Twelfth Night”. All that is to tie in with the year of history, heritage and archaeology that will take place next year.
Country parks such as Chatelherault in Hamilton and Drumpellier park in Coatbridge, and the Bothwell castle walkways, are often a target for antisocial behaviour and vandalism. Beyond a police response and investigation, what support can the Scottish Government offer to tourist boards such as that in Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley to raise awareness of the issue—
That is fine; we have got the message.
Celebrating a sense of place and common ownership helps to tackle public disorder. People need to be proud of their local area so that they do not disrupt it, and I encourage visit Lanarkshire and all others who are involved to make sure that that happens.
Police and Fire Services (VAT)
To ask the Scottish Government what the impact is on Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service of having to make VAT payments. (S5O-00345)
VAT incurred by Police Scotland is between £23 million and £25 million per annum, and by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is approximately £10 million per annum. The United Kingdom Government has rejected our repeated requests that the police and fire services in Scotland be able to recover VAT. Its position creates a glaring disparity in the treatment of police and fire services among all the parts of the UK. Such unequal and unfair treatment completely contradicts the repeated assurances of fairer treatment for Scotland that were made by the UK Government.
In their 2011 manifestos, the Tories and Labour supported the formation of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, but they are the first to moan about the resources that are available to those services. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, if the Tories genuinely want to represent Scotland’s interests, they should join us in demanding that their Westminster colleagues both restore to Scotland the £76.5 million that the Treasury has taken and ensure that the services are zero-rated for VAT?
Yes, I agree with Kenneth Gibson: the money would be better directed towards keeping the people of Scotland safe. I will reinforce the point that the chief constable made in a submission to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. He stated:
“Police Scotland was formed in April 2013 we have paid £76.5M in VAT and we remain the only police organisation in the United Kingdom to pay VAT.”
The chief constable has been very clear on the point, and the chair of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Pat Watters, has raised concerns with MPs on a cross-party basis about the inequity of the position that we find ourselves in with only Scotland’s fire and police services being unable to recover VAT.
Members might also be interested to know that, since Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were turned into single services, the UK Government has been able to provide other organisations with VAT exemptions. Health Education England, the Health Research Authority, the strategic highways company—otherwise known as Highways England—the London Legacy Development Corporation and academy schools have all been given the ability to reclaim VAT, but Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have not.
I hope that, for once, the Tories in this Parliament will stand up for Scotland’s interests, for our police service and for our firefighters by calling for VAT to be reclaimed for those services.
I hope that the cabinet secretary will provide Parliament with all the information when he is making such claims. He cited Highways England and will be aware that it is eligible for VAT refunds on certain services under section 41 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994, but he is asking for exemptions for Police Scotland under section 33 of that act, so he is not comparing apples with apples.
As ever, the Tories find a way of wriggling out of standing up for Scotland’s interests. We are not asking for anything special; we are asking for parity of treatment for our police and fire services. As ever, the Tories are happy to do down Scotland; they are never prepared to stand up for it. VAT is a Tory tax on our fire and police services. That is unacceptable. As ever, the Tories are not prepared to stand up for Scotland’s interests.
Legal Proceedings (External Jurisdictions)
To ask the Scottish Government what support it can provide to people from Scotland who are engaged in legal proceedings in jurisdictions outside Scotland. (S5O-00346)
It is for individuals themselves to raise and defend legal proceedings in other jurisdictions. In international parental child abduction and child maintenance cases, support is available from the Scottish Government’s central authority team.
Engaging in legal proceedings around divorce and custody in another jurisdiction in the United Kingdom can be challenging, especially emotionally and financially, and can cause significant damage to relationships between children and both parents. How can the Scottish Government better assist parents who are dealing with child contact and residence orders between and across jurisdictions?
I acknowledge the considerable stress that is caused in cross-border cases, including cases across the UK jurisdictions.
The Scottish Government cannot provide direct assistance to parents who are dealing with child contact and residence cases in other jurisdictions in the UK. However, we provide financial support to a number of family support organisations, including Families Need Fathers. In addition, we intend to produce a guidance circular for legal practitioners and others in Scotland on the existing provisions that govern the area in the Family Law Act 1986, which applies across the UK and applies to cross-jurisdiction family actions. We will also continue discussions with our opposite numbers in the UK Ministry of Justice and the Northern Ireland Executive. For example, we have suggested that the relevant form that is used in family cases south of the border could be amended to ask the applicant whether there is a potential Scottish or Northern Irish dimension to the case. I understand that the Ministry of Justice is amenable to that proposal.
Again, I ask for short questions and, if possible, shorter answers, valuable though they all are.
Why is there insufficient provision for people following legal proceedings in Scotland? Why has the Scottish Government closed courts and wasted money on nationalisation of the police service, which now costs more than it did before?
I thank Gordon Lindhurst for his question and will try to find my way to its direct relationship with the question that was asked by Kate Forbes, which concerned what we can do to help people who are engaged in legal proceedings in jurisdictions outside Scotland.
Through the modernisation of our courts service, we are ensuring that it is fit for the 21st century. Gordon Lindhurst will be well aware that the operation of the courts is a matter for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
Women Offenders (Custodial Sentences)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the number of women being given custodial sentences and how it supports those who have been involved in offending. (S5O-00347)
I am committed to reducing the high rate of imprisonment—of women and men—in Scotland. That commitment includes an emphasis on improving support for women offenders.
Since 2012, we have invested £15.5 million in community justice services for women, which is supporting the establishment of services that provide holistic multi-agency gender-focused support to address the underlying causes of the women’s offending. Those services are intended to reduce further offending and, ultimately, the number of women receiving custodial sentences.
For women who receive custodial sentences, the new model for the female custodial estate will deliver a bold new approach to how women in custody are looked after. It will be underpinned by the ethos that security should be proportionate to risk, that custodial facilities should support recovery and that women should be located as close as possible to their communities.
Studies show that the impact of prison sentences on women is far greater in terms of family life and mental health, especially when they are imprisoned far from home, which causes severe disruption to outside family support. The Scottish Government’s plan for local detention centres for women, which the minister mentioned—
Can I have a question please?
Does the minister agree that there should be in place a presumption that non-custodial measures will be used, including community payback orders and home detention curfews?
I agree with Fulton McGregor. Short-term custodial sentences remove people from their communities, jobs, families and housing—the very things that we know support desistance. We need to make sure that the approach that we take is focused on reducing the risk of re-offending; we know that community disposals are much more effective in reducing the risk of an individual committing offences again in the future.
That is why, as a Government, we are supporting a greater range of non-custodial sentences for both men and women. That is backed up by an additional £4 million of investment in community sentencing provision in 2016-17, on top of the £95 million that we invest each year in community justice services. That is why we will expand the use of electronic monitoring, both as a way of ensuring that individuals are held to account during their sentences, and to support rehabilitation and re-integration into the community.
It will soon be two years since the cabinet secretary announced that the plans for a new women’s prison in Inverclyde would rightly not go ahead, and it is over four and a half years since Dame Elish Angiolini reported to the Scottish Government on female offending. Does the cabinet secretary agree that those lengthy delays in taking further action to reform the way in which we deal with female offenders is unacceptable while female offenders and their families struggle to deal with the many impacts of imprisonment?
I am afraid that Mary Fee is misinformed. There are no “lengthy delays”: there is actually a significant amount of work being taken forward in relation to the five custodial facilities at present, in partnership with the local authorities that have been identified. Some of the planning work for the new national facility at Cornton Vale is already at an advanced stage through the team that has been established under the Scottish Prison Service, and the governor of Cornton Vale is developing those plans in greater detail.
There is a significant change in our approach to custodial policy and it requires careful planning. I accept that Mary Fee wishes to see those things happening sooner rather than later. However, the very significant change that we are taking forward will result in a need to consider very carefully the approach that we take. I want to assure the member that a significant amount of work has already been undertaken, and work continues to be undertaken, in planning the new facilities in order to make sure that they start to come on stream from 2018 to 2020-21, which was the timetable that we set out when the announcement was made.
Court Cases (Backlog)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to resolve the reported backlog of cases in the Scottish courts. (S5O-00348)
In April 2014, the percentage of sheriff courts offering summary criminal trials at the optimum 16 weeks was 50 per cent. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has recently reported that, as at August 2016, the position has improved, with 97 per cent of sheriff courts offering trials within 16 weeks or less.
As I have said already during question time, the administration of court business and performance is the responsibility of the independent Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. However, the Scottish Government and justice organisations such as the SCTS continue to monitor the volume of cases and to act on court performance through the national justice board and the judicially led local criminal justice boards.
The Justice Committee recently took evidence from Stephen Mannifield of the Edinburgh Bar Association. Mr Mannifield said:
“The closure of Haddington sheriff court in the EBA’s jurisdiction has had a massive effect ... Edinburgh is now dealing not only with all the sheriff and jury and more serious cases for the Edinburgh area but with all the more serious cases from East Lothian.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 25 October 2016; c 33.]
That is contrary to the view of Scottish ministers, who have said that there is capacity within courts to deal with currently anticipated cases. Can the Scottish Government explain whether Haddington sheriff court will be opened to help resolve the reported backlog?
The evidence does not bear out what Rachael Hamilton has just said. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has confirmed that the closure of Haddington sheriff court has not had a negative impact on the timescale for completing cases in Edinburgh sheriff and justice of the peace courts. Indeed, analysis published by the SCTS earlier this year confirmed that the timescales for both summary criminal cases and civil proofs in Edinburgh sheriff court and the JP court are progressing within the SCTS’s target timescales—that is, 16 weeks for summary criminal cases and 12 weeks for civil proofs.
Following the closure of certain courts, the SCTS has been able to target funding more productively on the maintenance and development of its estate, and consolidation of court business in fewer locations offers greater opportunity to manage business more efficiently, and to call cases in courthouses that are fit for the 21st century and provide proper security and segregation for those who use the courts.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Justice Committee, we heard from Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation of problems arising from cases proceeding to court with an insufficiency of evidence. Does the minister accept that that is a problem and that it is putting undue pressure on the court system? If so, what action does the Government propose to take?
I hear what the member has said, but he needs to bring forward some actual evidence. I understand that the statement was made yesterday in committee, and if the member or indeed the person who made it can bring forward some evidence, we will, of course, look closely at it. To date, however, we do not seem to have any evidence to support that statement.
Scottish Prison Service
To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Justice last met the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service and what issues were discussed. (S5O-00349)
I have monthly meetings with the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, and we discuss a wide range of operational issues at them. My last meeting with the chief executive took place on 3 November 2016.
As I am sure the cabinet secretary is aware, good work is being done at Her Majesty’s prison Dumfries. Is it possible for him to tell me when he expects to appoint a new governor?
I am aware of the tragic death of the governor of HMP Dumfries, Phil Kennedy, in September. At the time of his passing, I wrote personally to Mr Kennedy’s family, because I had heard a lot of wonderful things about the work that he had undertaken during his time as governor. Following Mr Kennedy’s sudden death, the deputy governor, Mr Hunstone, has been acting as governor-in-charge to provide familiarity and stability for the staff during what I know has been a difficult time.
Early in the new year, the Scottish Prison Service will identify a new governor for HMP Dumfries within the existing H-band pool of staff. The SPS is presently taking that work forward and, as I have said, expects to make an appointment early in the new year.
Question 6 has not been lodged.
Brexit (Implications for Justice System)
To ask the Scottish Government what the implications on the justice system are of leaving the European Union. (S5O-00351)
As I said in the parliamentary debate on 1 November, Scotland’s independent justice system has, for the past 40 years, benefited from EU membership across criminal, civil and family law. Our justice agencies and legal professionals engage directly and extensively with their EU counterparts, for example through Europol and Eurojust.
I entirely agree with the views expressed by the Lord Advocate during his visit to Brussels earlier this month: it is not in the interests of Scotland, the United Kingdom or Europe to turn our back on those measures for effective cross-border co-operation. I plan to meet with leaders of key justice bodies, legal professionals and other key stakeholders later this month to discuss how best we can protect the benefits of EU membership for our independent justice system.
I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned about implications for the Human Rights Act 1998. Can the cabinet secretary explain how leaving the EU will affect citizens in Scotland?
Briefly, please, cabinet secretary.
I recognise the concerns that many people have raised with regard to the implications of the outcome of the EU referendum and the uncertainty that has been caused by the United Kingdom Government’s approach. The implications of Brexit will depend on the terms of our future relationship with the European Union, but justice and security matters operate within the context of human rights treaties, and EU law is an important source of human rights law. Membership of the EU also brings positive social and economic benefits with regard to, for example, equality rights and social protections. The Scottish Government has consistently opposed the UK Government’s proposals for a British bill of rights, and we will continue to argue in support of human rights and of enabling people in Scotland to have their rights protected.
Gypsy Travellers (Unauthorised Sites)
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Police Scotland’s standard operating procedures for unauthorised sites used by Gypsy Travellers. (S5O-00352)
Police Scotland’s standard operating procedures are an operational matter for Police Scotland and fall within the chief constable’s responsibilities.
Briefly, Mr Chapman.
In order to move Gypsy Traveller camps on from unauthorised sites, the police have resorted to using the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865. However, the Lord Advocate has issued guidance against the use of that legislation. The main issue for Police Scotland seems to be that neither authorised halting sites nor the existing legislation is a solution to the issue.
Briefly means briefly, Mr Chapman. Could you ask your question, please?
Why is the Scottish National Party Government pressurising local authorities to waste time and money creating authorised halting sites that fail to solve the problems?
Providing halting sites for Traveller communities and Gypsy communities is hardly a waste of public resources. I am appalled at the member’s views on that matter.
Gypsy communities and Traveller communities have their rights, too, and as a society we should respect that and manage the issues as effectively as we can. Lead responsibility for dealing with the issues at a local level lies with local authorities, and the police can provide assistance to them as and when necessary.
We should not get into a battle of trading the individual rights of one group against those of another. That is divisive, and I hope that the member will reflect on his comments in relation to halting sites.