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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 23 January 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Point of Order, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Health Service Changes (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde), European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Decision Time, Unpaid Trial Shifts


Topical Question Time

Police Custody (Right to Legal Advice)

1. Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to ensure that everyone in police custody can exercise their right to legal advice from 25 January 2018. (S5T-00881)

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (Annabelle Ewing)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests, wherein they will find that I am a member of the Law Society of Scotland and that I hold a practising certificate, albeit that I am not currently practising.

Part 1 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced increased rights of access to legal advice for people being held in police custody. Those provisions followed recommendations in Lord Carloway’s review of Scottish criminal law and practice and wide public consultation. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by Parliament in December 2015. Since then, there has been extensive engagement with legal professionals through the Law Society of Scotland and local representative groups.

Regulations to ensure that a significantly enhanced package of legal aid funding is available for private solicitors providing police station advice under the new arrangements were approved by the Scottish Parliament last month. The regulations introduce a new block-fee system: a simplified process for claiming for police station advice whose rates are an increase on existing rates. Police station advice is provided through a combination of solicitors in private practice who opt to be part of the police station duty scheme and solicitors employed directly by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Where private solicitors have chosen to not participate in the current or new scheme, the Scottish Legal Aid Board has confirmed that it will handle requests for police station advice through the 599 private solicitors who remain on the duty scheme and its own employed solicitors on the solicitor contact line and in the Public Defence Solicitors Office. That will ensure that appropriate access to legal advice is available for those in police custody from 25 January.

Liam McArthur

I thank the minister for that detailed response. The changes that are involved are indeed big ones for the police and those tasked with ensuring that everyone has the legal advice that they need at every stage of the justice process. Given recent developments and the serious concerns that have been expressed from the Borders to Moray and beyond, what assessment has the Scottish Government undertaken of the situation and how many people are expected to be working on the provision of legal advice for those in police custody on day 1 of the new scheme, which is the day after tomorrow? How does the minister respond to the suggestion that was made by Deputy Chief Constable Livingstone at the Justice Committee this morning that some people might have to be moved between police stations to facilitate access to a solicitor?

Annabelle Ewing

Contingency planning has of course been in place for some considerable time, as informed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, in terms of the range of arrangements that had to be put in place to implement part 1 of the 2016 act. In addition to the 599 private solicitors who are available for the on-call duty scheme, to which I referred in my first answer, there are currently 13 solicitor contact line solicitors working a shift pattern and 24 PDSO solicitors. As would be expected, all matters are currently, and will continue to be, under close monitoring to ensure that we have all necessary arrangements in place.

In response to the question that the member raised about what DCC designate Iain Livingstone said in evidence at this morning’s Justice Committee meeting, we are confident in general that access to legal advice will be available in whatever location someone is held in police custody without there being any need for them to be moved. As part of sensible continuity planning, however, if there were particular circumstances in which it was absolutely necessary to move someone who was being held in custody to ensure that they had access to legal advice, it would be possible to do so, as is the case under the current arrangements. However, as I said, we do not expect that to be required as part of the normal duty arrangements.

Liam McArthur

I thank the minister for that answer. This week, Ian Moir of the Law Society of Scotland said that falling pay rates and difficulty in balancing on-call work with family life were leading to a significant fall in the number of solicitors who are willing to take on legal aid work. The review of legal aid that was announced in February 2017 was expected to take a year, and was established to engage with the legal profession and come up with

“specific measures to reform Scotland’s system of legal aid, maintaining access to public funding for legal advice and representation”.

Will the minister tell Parliament when she expects that review to report?

Annabelle Ewing

I clarify that the police station duty scheme is entirely voluntary; no solicitor needs to participate in it, and even those who sign up for it are not required to make themselves available 100 per cent of the time. We have also extended the definition of the antisocial hours premium so that it applies not simply to telephone calls but to travel, which was not requested by the Law Society of Scotland in my negotiations with it. Finally, we expect the report on the review of legal aid next month.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Will the minister confirm whether discussions have been held with SLAB and whether it feels comfortable with the changes that are being made to the provision of legal aid?

Annabelle Ewing

Officials have been closely engaged with SLAB about the delivery of the 2016 act’s provisions, and SLAB has engaged directly with the profession on the implications of the new rights and the capacity of the profession to deliver. The operational capacity to deliver is continuously assessed, as is normal practice for the current arrangements, and SLAB is comfortable with the changes that are being made and with the ability to deliver on the new rights.

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

I follow the minister’s comments about the intricacies of the matter, but I think that the Law Society of Scotland has said that, in order for it to work in practice, the extension of the right to have a solicitor present will require legal aid rates to increase significantly in order to reflect the additional work. In the light of that, does the minister agree that that adds to the case for legal aid reform and, indeed, that the timing of the arrangements’ implementation—before the report that Liam McArthur referred to—is unfortunate, at the very least?

Annabelle Ewing

I will respond to the points that have been raised. First, part 1 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, to which I have referred, is due to come into force this Thursday. Therefore, it would have been irresponsible of us not to have had in place legal aid arrangements that reflect the new position. As I said in my response to Liam McArthur, the legal aid review is expected to report next month, and it might be important, for the record, to state that we listened to the Law Society of Scotland’s negotiating team and increased the block-fee rate. We also extended the definition of the antisocial hours premium to include not just telephone calls but travel, which was not even requested in the discussions with the Law Society. Therefore we increased our offer, and we believe that it was a good one. We see that many private solicitors have decided to remain in the police station duty scheme.


2. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Oxfam report, “Reward Work, Not Wealth”, and what action it is taking to tackle inequality. (S5T-00890)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

I welcome the Oxfam report, “Reward Work, Not Wealth”, which makes a range of recommendations to Governments and international institutions.

We are committed to working to reduce inequality and protecting human rights within the limit and range of our powers. We have already set concrete, time-bound targets to reduce inequality through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, and we will publish our first delivery plan by April 2018. In this year’s draft budget, we set out proposals for a progressive income tax policy, allocated £179 million in 2018-19 through the attainment Scotland fund and increased funding for the national health service.

Beyond that, we are taking a wide range of actions to tackle poverty and inequality, including almost doubling the provision of free childcare by 2020, delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes over this parliamentary session and enacting the fairer Scotland duty from April 2018 to ensure that public bodies take due account of poverty and disadvantage whenever key decisions are made.

Gillian Martin

The report highlights growing global disparity between the richest and poorest in society, with 82 per cent of all the world’s wealth created in the past year going to the top 1 per cent and nothing going to the bottom 50 per cent. Oxfam calls on Governments to create more equal societies, aiding ordinary workers and smaller businesses. Can the Scottish Government set out how, with the limited powers that it has, it is moving Scotland towards a more egalitarian and a fairer society? Does the cabinet secretary agree that Scotland could be seen as an example for other countries around the world to follow?

Angela Constance

The important point about leading by example was reflected in the comments made by Dr Katherine Trebeck, Oxfam’s senior researcher, who is based in Glasgow, when she said that

“our ideas can be big and they can resonate ... beyond our borders”.

For this Government, tackling inequality is not some optional extra; it is part and parcel of everything that we do. In addition to the actions that I outlined in my original response on how we are implementing and taking forward our duties under the new Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017, we are taking clear action to close the wealth gap that is associated with gender-segregated roles and we are working hard to support carers. We are also investing in affordable housing through our labour market strategy and in the work that we do across Government to support inclusive growth in our economy.

Gillian Martin

Will the cabinet secretary expand on the key finding of the Oxfam report, that women are in the worst work and that almost all the super-rich are men? In a year that saw billionaires’ fortunes grow by $762 billion, women provided $10 trillion to the economy in unpaid care throughout the world. Although we might not be able to solve that global problem ourselves, will the Scottish Government set out how it is leading the way in closing the wealth gap that is associated with gender-segregated roles and in ensuring that caring is valued?

Angela Constance

The Government is taking a number of actions. We are big supporters of family friendly working Scotland, a partnership between Working Families, which is a leading United Kingdom work-life balance organisation, Parenting Across Scotland and the Fathers Network Scotland. The raison d’être of that work is to support and promote the development of family-friendly workplaces, which will have a big impact on women—although not exclusively on women, as it is important for fathers and parents, too.

Fair pay is also at the heart of our planned expansion of early years and childcare provision, and we will enable payment of the living wage to all childcare staff delivering the funded entitlement by 2020. We are enabling carers and unpaid carers to be better supported to look after their own health and wellbeing, and the carer positive scheme is about supporting employers to support their employees who have caring responsibilities.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

As Oxfam highlighted this week, the wealth gap is widening, including in Scotland. Meanwhile, the Government has cut funding to lifeline public services. Is the cabinet secretary aware that Dr Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam said yesterday that

“the strain of yawning inequality is also being felt in Scotland”,

and that she was quoted as saying:

“This isn’t a faraway crisis ... It’s grimly apparent that the inequality crisis is out of control”?

When will the cabinet secretary take the necessary steps to address the crisis here in Scotland, including by asking the richest in our society to pay their fair share in order to shift the balance of economic wealth to the many rather than the few?

Angela Constance

It is important to recognise that the report focuses on worldwide inequality and makes a number of recommendations to Governments and international institutions. The report itself, in my reading, did not make any specific mention of Scotland, but we welcome it nonetheless.

It is fair to reflect that the recommendations would cut across both devolved and reserved powers. It is also important to recognise that 60 per cent of Scotland’s spending power is still dependent on Westminster decisions. Nevertheless, we are absolutely determined to utilise all the powers and opportunities that are available to the Scottish Government to address poverty and inequality in this country.

That is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do, and it is reflected in our inclusive growth aspirations, our labour market strategy, our fair work commitments and the work that we will take forward to end child poverty. Children are poor because of the lack of income in their family or their household, which means that we will have to use all the powers at our disposal to tackle the structural inequality that exists in Scotland. We also look forward to receiving advice from the new, independent Poverty and Inequality Commission.

Housing Waiting Lists (Disabled People)

3. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce the number of disabled people on housing waiting lists. (S5T-00892)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The Scottish Government wants disabled people in Scotland to have access to homes that enable them to participate as full and equal citizens. Our disability delivery plan sets out a number of housing-related commitments that support that ambition, which include the requirement for each local authority to include a realistic target for the delivery of wheelchair-accessible housing in its local housing strategy and to report annually on its progress. We are also working with health and social care partnerships, disability organisations and the housing sector to ensure that those in need of adaptations to their home can access those services.

Pauline McNeill

An investigation by The Independent has revealed figures that were obtained from councils that indicate that almost 10,000 disabled people are on housing waiting lists in Scotland. Many of those people are stuck in unsuitable council houses, some of them five years—or longer—after requesting a move. Does the minister agree that it is intolerable for any person to be trapped in a home that does not suit their needs and that it is time to take more dramatic action to serve people who need a move to more suitable accommodation?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in my first answer, local authorities have a key role in planning for the housing needs of everyone in their community, including those who require wheelchair-accessible housing. People should have homes that suit their needs.

Work is under way to develop guidance for local authorities and other stakeholders on the need to set a realistic delivery target for wheelchair-accessible housing across all tenures, not just social housing. That will be incorporated into the revised local housing strategy guidance, which will be reviewed later on this year.

The latest available statistics show that 91 per cent of the housing that we are delivering in our housing programme is for varying needs. That is welcome, and I expect that standard to continue.

I met housing conveners at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities this morning and reiterated what I have said previously about subsidy levels for wheelchair-accessible housing. We will be flexible. Beyond that, I have asked them to take account of their waiting lists to see exactly what housing is required to reach the realistic targets that we all want to see delivered.

Pauline McNeill

I welcome that answer, but does the minister acknowledge that people with disabilities who struggle to find suitable housing are not just people in wheelchairs? A whole range of people struggle to find suitable housing. We need to recognise that people with walking difficulties and people with breathing difficulties need ground-floor properties. Is it now time for a more specific strategy? Glasgow, for example, has adopted a model whereby if more than 20 units are being built, 10 per cent of them should be readily adaptable. The minister has made commitments to me in the past about thinking seriously about concrete proposals to ensure that we are not in the position that we are in now at the end of the parliamentary session, so does he think that that might be a way forward?

Kevin Stewart

I do not want to be dictatorial to local authorities, because each local authority has to assess its own needs. During the Christmas and new year holiday period, I spent a long time looking at councils’ strategic housing investment plans. Angus Council, for example, has worked out that its specialist housing requirement is for 16 per cent of the houses that it is building, but I do not want to be prescriptive.

As I have said, I reiterated to housing conveners today that it is for them to assess exactly what is required. In some cases, that is easier for councils who have their own housing, because they can look at their waiting lists to assess what is required, but I also expect councils that do not have their own housing to co-operate with housing associations to see exactly what is required in their area.

As I have said before, the Government will be flexible on the question of subsidy because, like Ms McNeill, I want to see more housing for people with special needs, whether wheelchair-accessible housing or housing suitable for varying needs.

I say to members and to people outwith the chamber that we have a really good service in Scotland, Housing Options Scotland, which helps disabled people and older people and provides advice and advocacy on their housing needs. I urge all members to use that service if they deem it appropriate to do so.

The Presiding Officer

I thank members and ministers for their contributions. I apologise to those members who did not get to ask a question.