Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Official Report 869KB pdf
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Electoral Reform, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Heart Month 2023
- Portfolio Question Time
- Electoral Reform
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
- Heart Month 2023
Portfolio Question Time
Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
Good afternoon, colleagues. The first item of business is portfolio question time. The first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. As ever, if members wish to ask a supplementary question, I invite them to press their request-to-speak button—or, if they are joining us remotely, to place “RTS” in the chat function—during the relevant question.
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on any assessment it has made of the potential impact on Scotland’s relations with its closest European neighbours, including regarding trade links, of the United Kingdom Government’s Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. (S6O-01836)
The Scottish ministers remain fundamentally opposed to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which aims to deliver the UK Government’s divergent and deregulatory agenda with respect to the European Union. The UK Government has not shared which of the EU laws it intends to reform, repeal or preserve, and its own impact assessment has been branded by the Regulatory Policy Committee as “not fit for purpose”.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefcovic said at the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly in November last year:
“divergence means more friction and less trade—simple as that.”
We know that trade with our neighbours is growing at a slower rate due to Brexit, with businesses now facing an array of different obligations to sell into international markets. The bill risks adding to that burden and leading to a lack of the business certainty that is needed in order to work, plan and trade effectively.
We have just passed the three-year anniversary of Brexit, and it is clear that those three years have brought nothing but chaos to Scotland’s economy. The Tories’ Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is set to make things worse and hurt Scottish producers and consumers. What action is the Scottish Government taking to cushion the blow of the so-called “Brexit freedoms” for our society?
The Scottish Government is working at pace to identify devolved retained EU law and to co-ordinate the effective and consistent management of the secondary legislation that will be necessary to stop essential devolved laws being lost should the bill pass. However, that is a significant undertaking, and it impacts on officials’ ability to dedicate time to otherwise urgent issues that affect the people of Scotland, such as the energy and cost of living crisis.
The bill should be withdrawn completely. The Scottish Government has recommended that the Scottish Parliament refuse consent to it, and the Scottish Parliament has also called for it to be scrapped. Stakeholders from the various sectors say the same.
The Scottish ministers will do whatever we can to protect Scotland from the UK Government’s damaging deregulatory policy agenda, but legislation such as the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 demonstrate the limitations of devolution in the face of a UK Government that is determined to undermine it. The best way to limit the damage to our economy and to our society is by Scotland becoming independent and a member of the EU.
I was going to say that I agree with everything that the minister said—until his last few words. Nevertheless, I think that he is right about the damage that the UK Government is doing to the economy, industry and our way of life.
Has the minister done any assessment of the parallels with independence? I have asked that question repeatedly, but I have been unable to get an answer. We are still feeling the consequences of breaking up the European Union, which we were in for 50 years. We have been in the United Kingdom union for 300 years, so breaking that up would be much harder. Has the minister done any assessment of what that impact would be?
The opportunities of independence are absolutely clear, and they are laid out in the various policy papers that we have started to set out and will continue to set out. As I have offered to Willie Rennie and others on previous occasions, I would be more than happy to sit down and have a conversation about the benefits that will come to Scotland from independence and rejoining the EU.
Question 2 has been withdrawn, and question 3 was not lodged.
Scottish Government Meetings with European Delegates
To ask the Scottish Government what was discussed in official meetings that took place on 4 October 2022 between the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and various European delegates. (S6O-01839)
Details of Angus Robertson’s visit to Paris last autumn have already been published on the Scottish Government’s website. The visit, which included the unveiling of a plaque at Les Invalides to commemorate Scots who have lost their lives fighting in France, involved meetings and engagements with a range of French ministers, partners and stakeholders to pursue and augment a range of policy, cultural and trade and investment priorities.
I have a response to a freedom of information request that reveals that one of the things that were discussed during those meetings with the European delegates on 4 October was the claim repeated by the cabinet secretary that Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential. In the absence of the cabinet secretary today, can the minister tell me when officials first advised the cabinet secretary against using the 25 per cent claim, on the basis that it was poorly evidenced?
Obviously, I was not at the meeting that Liam Kerr has spoken about, so I do not know about the veracity of that, or, indeed, the context of the conversation. I do know that Angus Robertson met Secretary of State Boone and that she was interested in Scotland’s energy offer and how we promote further engagement around sport. He also met Secretary of State Mirallès, who is eager to explore ways in which we include young people in remembering those who have died in times of war.
If Liam Kerr wants further information on that, I would be more than happy for my colleagues to look to have a discussion with him at another time to ensure that he has confidence in that scenario.
As a committed European, I am reassured that the Scottish Government continues to value the importance of our relationships with our European Union neighbours. What next steps is the Government taking to continue the closest possible relationship with the European Union over the coming year?
I thank Fiona Hyslop for that important question. Maintaining close relations with the European Union, EU member states and other European nations remains a key priority for the Government. We are committed to working with EU partners to support and deliver the priorities of the EU presidencies, including the current Swedish presidency. We are also committed to continuing to align with the EU where appropriate and as far as possible, and in a manner that contributes towards protecting and advancing standards across a range of policy areas.
We have been steadfast in our determination not to allow Brexit or the United Kingdom Government to diminish those commitments. We will continue to do all that we can to be an outward-looking nation, holding firm to our shared European values, pursuing shared goals and priorities.
Levelling Up Fund (Culture Organisations)
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact on culture organisations in Scotland of the United Kingdom Government levelling up funding. (S6O-01840)
Although the funding that has been received by individual projects is welcome, the Scottish Government fundamentally disagrees with the principle of the UK Government making decisions in devolved areas. Levelling up was supposed to replace European Union support but has fallen drastically short.
The levelling up fund operates in Scotland using the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which means that it cuts across devolved policy. It is administered in a piecemeal manner that is not always in line with the Scottish Government’s wider strategic aims, creating fragmentation and confusion for our local authorities and partner agencies.
I, of course, welcome any funding that has been given to Scottish organisations, but I agree that this is a matter for the Scottish Government, as the UK Government does not appear to even know what “levelling up” means. Has the Scottish Government received any clarity from the UK Government on what the regulations are for the levelling up fund and on how it foresees them impacting devolved issues?
No. The fund overlooks Scotland’s unique economic needs. It is incredibly disappointing that applications from some of Scotland’s most deprived areas have been unsuccessful, and that our rural communities have also lost out.
The UK Government promised that Brexit would bring a simpler, more streamlined funding system to support regional economic development. Thus far, the new system delivers less money for projects, decreased powers for devolved Governments and more bureaucracy and delays for regional partners.
In bypassing the Scottish Government, the United Kingdom Government has introduced policy incoherence and duplication into the devolved system. It is failing to ensure that its interventions align with regeneration policy here in Scotland.
The question was about the impact on culture organisations in Scotland. When it comes to the actions of the Scottish Government, the real danger to the future of cultural organisations in Scotland is, of course, the Scottish National Party-Green Government’s 10 per cent cut to Creative Scotland’s budget, which endangers the future of 60 of our cultural organisations and 5,000 jobs. Will the minister now reconsider those planned cuts to Creative Scotland’s budget?
The major threat to cultural institutions in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK is the UK Government cutting back on the Covid recovery funding and not getting a grip on inflation and spiralling energy costs, and Brexit, which is making it more difficult for our organisations to be able to recruit the talent that they need. That is not just an isolated issue here in Scotland; it was raised at Prime Minister’s question time today, when a Conservative member of Parliament questioned the Prime Minister about cultural organisations and spending in England. I will therefore take no lessons from the Conservatives about how to run cultural organisations in Scotland.
Question 6 was not lodged.
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on when it will start publishing information collected via Scotland’s census 2022. (S6O-01842)
National Records of Scotland is currently consulting data users to ensure that census outputs are accessible and provided in a format that meets the needs of census data users. The consultation was made available to users on 12 October 2022 and, since launching, National Records of Scotland has received responses from users in central and local government, academic institutions and charity organisations as well as users responding in a personal capacity.
Once the consultation closes, NRS will review all responses and finalise plans for publishing census outputs based on the feedback received. A summary report will subsequently be published on the Scotland’s census website. Census data collection phases concluded in the autumn. As previously noted, NRS plans to publish the first census outputs approximately one year after conclusion of the census data collection phases. The first outputs will be rounded population estimates at national and local authority level, by age and sex.
As a veteran, I welcome the fact that last year’s census included for the first time a question on former service in the armed forces. What action will National Records of Scotland take to assess and publish that specific information and how will the Government use it to fulfil its obligations under the armed forces covenant?
Obviously, we will look at the information that comes through the census, as would be expected, and across Government we will assess that data. In respect of the armed forces, I know that my colleague to my right, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, will look at that with keen interest.
To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting Creative Scotland. (S6O-01843)
I note my entry in the register of members’ interests regarding the Barn at Woodend, Banchory.
Creative Scotland, as a public body, receives significant support from the Scottish Government. The published level 3 budget for 2023-24 includes £64.2 million for Creative Scotland and other arts. That covers support for regularly funded organisations, youth music and community-based culture projects. The Scottish Government will continue to work with Creative Scotland to identify barriers to immediate and long-term recovery of the culture sector.
Creative Scotland has been forced to use its United Kingdom national lottery reserves to maintain regular funding, following Scottish National Party cuts. Angus Robertson justified the use of reserves by saying that the Scottish Government faces difficult funding decisions. However, in a letter to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee last month, he insisted that the Scottish Government
“does not make funding allocation decisions by reference to reserves.”
Which is it? Can the minister confirm what will happen when the reserves are bled dry and organisations are left without long-term support? Those organisations include Deveron Projects in my constituency, which recently wrote to the Scottish Government detailing the real impact that these devastating cuts will have on its future.
Deveron Projects received £110,000 via that route recently. We understand the difficult situation across the culture sector. There is an inflationary challenge, which is also being felt by the Scottish Government, and we have had to take difficult decisions. We feel that it was the right thing to do to ask Creative Scotland to utilise its national lottery reserves this year, as that will maintain regularly funded organisations’ funding.
The discussion at the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee regarding the use of reserves was about the funding of arts organisations, as opposed to public bodies. The situation regarding Creative Scotland as a public funder is different. We have provided Creative Scotland with more than £33 million over five years to compensate for generally reduced lottery funding. However, against the backdrop of continued impacts of Covid, public spending constraints and the cost of living crisis, we have had to make difficult choices to live within budgets. We are doing all that we can to protect Scotland’s culture and historic environment to ensure that our diverse and world-class cultural scene and rich heritage continue to thrive.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s continued support for our creative industries during a turbulent economic time. Can the minister tell us what the financial impact is of the UK Government’s decision to end Covid recovery funding abruptly? Does he agree that that has placed an additional unwarranted strain on Scotland’s creative sector?
I agree that many of the difficulties that are facing the creative sector are as a result of the UK Government prematurely cutting Covid recovery funding, despite the Scottish Government warning against that action. We will continue to argue that the UK Government should take a different approach to public finances in order to ensure that sufficient support is made available to Scotland’s cultural sector.
However, the challenges that we face are not unique to Scotland. As I have said, we heard at Prime Minister’s questions today that Conservative members have concerns about cultural organisations and spending in England. We would encourage the UK Government to come forward with the support that is necessary and required for cultural organisations so that the Scottish Government is, in turn, able to do likewise and support our fantastic cultural heritage organisations to a much greater extent.
That concludes portfolio questions on constitution, external affairs and culture.
Justice and Veterans
The next portfolio is justice and veterans. I encourage members who wish to ask a supplementary to press their request-to-speak buttons during the relevant question, or to type “RTS” in the chat function if they are joining us online.
Legal Aid Fees
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of any benefits to the structure of legal aid payments from the agreement on Scottish court legal aid fees between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association and the Law Society. (S6O-01844)
Legal aid fee schedules are complex and the reforms will simplify the current structures and support the court recovery programme. The changes will be implemented this April.
In solemn cases, the structure moves away from the current hybrid payment model and extends the use of inclusive or block fees, resulting in easier billing, reduced administrative costs and faster payment of accounts to solicitors. In summary cases, the reforms simplify the summary criminal fixed payment arrangements so that full payment can be achieved in the majority of cases via a single all-encompassing fee. The reforms will also reverse many of the fee changes and complexities that were introduced by regulations in 2011. In both solemn and summary cases, simplification reduces the scope for abatement of accounts and subsequent negotiation to seek additional payments.
I hope that the new structure of criminal legal aid fees will lead to swifter resolution of cases. What will the agreement do to address the backlog in court cases due to Covid?
The reform package encompasses a number of fees across solemn and summary cases. However, the Scottish Government was specifically asked to look at section 76 fees, for early resolution of solemn cases, and at the summary core fee. The average total payment in a section 76 case will increase by more than 60 per cent, and other cases that are resolved prior to trial will increase by more than 15 per cent. By supporting early resolution in appropriate cases, the reforms will reduce the number of cases for which trial diets are fixed, which will assist with the court recovery programme and tackle the backlog of cases due to Covid lockdowns.
In response to the legal aid package that was announced by the minister, the president of the SSBA said:
“the package isn’t really going to address the fundamental issue, which is the recruitment and retention of new staff in the legal system.”
Given that we have lost about a third of the solicitors who are doing legal aid work and that 60 per cent of young solicitors are actively seeking to leave the profession, we are looking down the barrel of a recruitment crisis. What is the minister’s response to that?
I understand that representatives of the profession have spoken a lot in recent years about the increase in fees. The Scottish Government is clear that that is not the only way that we should look at the problem. I have indicated to the Faculty of Advocates that I have a keen interest in working with the entire sector to address those issues. We plan to meet with the Law Society and the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association to begin that process this week. We also have to think about widening diversity in the sector, and the Government is actively participating in and pursuing that.
It is important that solicitors are paid adequately to keep performing the important work that they do to represent people and keep the wheels of justice turning.
There is a shortage of local legal aid solicitors. In mainland Scotland, legal aid solicitors are reluctant to take on clients in Shetland, citing the current levels of legal aid funding and prohibitive travel costs. I understand that that has been the experience of some constituents who have faced domestic abuse. One constituent told me that the current legal aid system now only provides “justice you can afford”. Would the minister say whether that is justice at all, and does she recognise the problems facing those who are seeking justice and cannot afford legal representation?
I am acutely aware of that situation. Although we cannot compel individual firms or lawyers to take on legal aid work, I want to pursue that matter closely because of the nature of the issues that Beatrice Wishart has raised, including domestic abuse. I will be happy to write to the member as that unfolds.
Water Safety (Winter Period)
To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote safety around iced-over bodies of water during the winter period. (S6O-01845)
Recent tragedies have illustrated how important this topic remains. The Scottish Government funds Water Safety Scotland throughout the year, winter and summer, to support and co-ordinate water safety campaigns that have been designed and delivered by our expert partners, including the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the Royal Life Saving Society and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. That recently included issuing clear and consistent advice about staying safe around frozen lochs and rivers. Water Safety Scotland is also working with partners to deliver an ice safety workshop, which will be delivered directly to schoolchildren, but will also be available for general use.
In December, everyone across the country was horrified to hear about the tragic events in Solihull during the cold weather. During the same period in my constituency, a man fell into the iced-over Monkland canal while trying to retrieve his dog. Thanks to the incredibly brave and quick actions of two young girls, Emily Deas and Lauren Campbell, all are safe. Will the minister join me in paying our respects to those who were bereaved in Solihull during such an impossibly difficult time, and praise Emily and Lauren for their selfless actions in Coatbridge in December? Can anything else be done to get as strong a message as possible out to people to never step on to an iced-over body of water?
I join Fulton MacGregor in paying my respects to those who have lost their lives, and I extend my condolences to their families and friends.
Regarding the incident at Monkland canal, I can only express my gratitude and relief that Mr MacGregor was able to report a positive outcome. I also commend Emily and Lauren for their swift actions.
Tragically, as reported by Water Safety Scotland, many past incidents have involved attempted rescues of another person or a dog that is in trouble on or in frozen water. Water Safety Scotland and partner organisations such as the SFRS publicise expert advice and I urge people to take it on board. It centres on the warning not to venture on to frozen water. The ice might appear to be thick, but it can quickly become thin and crack. If anyone sees someone else in trouble, the recommendation is to contact emergency services quickly and try to reach the person from a stable position with something like a rope, pole or buoyancy aid.
The Scottish Government has included an additional £60,000 in this year’s grant to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to reinforce its contribution to water safety in Scotland and the support that is given to partner organisations to get that message out and promote the work of our drowning prevention strategy. On 1 March, I will chair the next meeting of the water safety stakeholder group, at which this issue will be discussed.
To ask the Scottish Government what measures are being considered to tackle crime involving pets. (S6O-01846)
The Scottish Government understands that crimes involving family pets can be upsetting and traumatic for the owner and the pet itself. We take all crimes, including those against pets, seriously. There are wide-ranging laws currently available in Scotland to deal with anyone who commits a crime involving a pet. Those include theft and robbery as well as a range of animal welfare offences such as animal cruelty.
We fully support law enforcement agencies taking effective enforcement action to deal with any offences involving pets as they consider necessary in any given case.
Ensuring that the law treats dogs as living beings instead of property is one of the aims of my proposed dog abduction bill. It would mean that those who abduct dogs would receive punishment based on the harm that they cause to a dog’s welfare and the impact on the dog’s owner, which can be considerable, given that many people regard their dog as part of their family. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that welfare-led approach is the right way to tackle dog abduction?
The first thing to say is that the Scottish Government will consider Maurice Golden’s proposed member’s bill as and when he formally provides further detail of his plans, including if and when he introduces the bill to Parliament.
In relation to Maurice Golden’s point about taking into account the welfare of the animal and—I think that he has previously made a point about this—the value of that pet to the family, there is no evidence that I am aware of that shows that courts do not take those matters into account. There is certainly no prohibition on the courts taking those matters into account.
We have a very good track record when it comes to how such cases are dealt with. Just under half of such crimes have been detected. Three years ago, the number of such crimes involving pets was 48. Two years ago, it went up to 60, but it came back down to 48 in the most recent year for which we have records. The dogs have been recovered in two thirds of those cases.
Therefore, we feel that the issue is dealt with effectively at the moment but, as I have said, we will wait to see what Maurice Golden proposes in his bill and will take a view on that at the time.
Question 4 has not been lodged and question 5 has been withdrawn.
Police (Mental Health Training)
To ask the Scottish Government what specific training is provided to help serving police officers deal with members of the public who have mental health issues. (S6O-01849)
Police Scotland is one of the first police services in the United Kingdom to implement mental health and suicide intervention training for all officers, from probationary constables up to the rank of inspector, which benefits the workforce and the communities that they serve.
In addition, as first points of contact, staff in C3—command, control and co-ordination—division receive training in risk and vulnerability assessment, and staff who work in custody suites receive mental health awareness training.
An increasing number of people who come into contact with Police Scotland have mental health issues. Following on from last year’s publication of “The Vision for Justice in Scotland”, can the cabinet secretary update us on how the Scottish Government will also work with partners to improve the mental and physical health and wellbeing of people who come into contact with the wider criminal justice system and, indeed, of those who work within it?
The Scottish Government recognises that mental health services face significant pressures and the impact that that has on other services, including policing. We are working with partners across the health and justice sectors to address those issues. In addition, in 2023-24, we are directly investing £290 million in mental health support and services. That represents an increase of £252 million from the updated 2022-23 budget, which followed the emergency budget review. On top of that, we have provided £250,000 over three years to fund trauma specialists to develop a framework for training staff to create a more trauma-informed and trauma-responsive justice system.
I am glad that the member mentioned the issue, because it is one of the most important aspects of the justice system, although it probably gets fewer headlines. If, at the end that period, we are in a situation in which training has been undertaken by people across the justice system, in all its different agencies, and people have been informed as to how to provide a trauma-informed response, that will be one of the biggest achievements of our vision.
I have made a commitment that justice ministers will receive such training. I have already received training in that area, and I am sure that I will receive further training. We want it to be recognised, right across the system, that people who interact with the justice system will often have suffered trauma, and that we must not add to that trauma.
I thank Kenneth Gibson for his question on a very important area.
Further to Kenny Gibson’s questions, Scotland’s under-pressure police officers have become in some ways the de facto emergency mental health service, which can add to their own mental health pressures.
I have spoken to friends and families of officers who have taken their own lives and those who have survived suicide attempts, and they would like to know what the Scottish Government is doing to help to prevent more police suicides.
I have said that the arrangements that I have mentioned are also beneficial to police officers. From previous answers that I have given in the chamber, Russell Findlay will be aware of the specific support that we provide to police officers. In addition, we are supporting the development of enhanced mental health pathways for those who are in distress or in need of mental health support. One of the pressures on police officers, as Russell Findlay rightly identified, is in knowing how best to deal with people with mental health issues when they present to the police and not to become further traumatised by that.
Action 15 of the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy is a commitment to fund 800 additional mental health workers, to increase capacity in key locations where people might need help the most, including police custody suites. By the time we have met that commitment, we expect to have 958.9 whole-time equivalent mental health posts across the piece.
We are providing additional support and capacity to police officers to help them to deal with an issue the incidence of which has, admittedly, increased over recent years, and to ensure that they are able to draw on the resources of the health service as well.
Mental health practitioners train for years. They are experts in their field. However, as has been mentioned, increasingly, we rely on police officers to help people with poor mental health, even though—despite the training that the minister has highlighted—they are not the experts. Are we not letting those police officers down by failing to have adequate services elsewhere?
The cabinet secretary mentioned the provision of 800 additional professionals to help the police service. Where are we with that? How many such professionals do we have embedded in the police service, so that they can work alongside the police to help people with mental health issues?
In emergency department settings, we have 35.6 whole-time equivalent posts in police custody suites. Police Scotland has been a key national partner in the development of the innovative distress brief intervention—DBI—programme, which gives front-line services a new option for supporting people who present to them who are in emotional distress, but who do not require emergency clinical intervention.
For the member’s information, as at 30 November 2022, the DBI programme had supported more than 36,000 people since its launch in 2016. Referrals to it from Police Scotland account for 9 per cent of that figure. Up to June 2022, a total of 1,238 Police Scotland staff had undertaken DBI training.
I should also mention the redesign of the urgent care programme, which is relevant in this context.
In relation to the member’s question about where we are with the 800-plus figure, because that goes across a number of portfolios, I would be happy to write to him with updated information.
Question 7 comes from Stephanie Callaghan, who joins us remotely.
Electronic Monitoring (Non-violent Criminals)
To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made on expanding the use of electronic monitoring for non-violent criminals. (S6O-01850)
Since the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019 was passed, the Scottish Government has procured a new national contract for provision of electronic monitoring services, and we have now commenced the vast majority of the act. On 17 May 2022, through the act, we commenced two new policy uses: allowing electronic monitoring to be used as part of bail and allowing it to be used as part of community payback orders at first disposal.
Progress continues to be made towards expanding the use of electronic monitoring across a broader range of licences and community orders. In the past few months, we have seen a record high in the number of individuals who are being electronically monitored in Scotland.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that helpful answer; it is good to hear about the progress that is being made.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that reducing the number of non-violent offenders who are imprisoned has helped to reduce disruption to children and families who are negatively impacted emotionally and financially, and that we must continue to make progress in this area?
I certainly agree that shifting the balance between custody and justice in the community must be one of our key priorities. To do so, we must ensure that the relevant community justice services are available, consistent and of high quality. That reflects a discussion that I had with the Criminal Justice Committee this morning.
Although funding for community justice services is constrained by the current economic circumstances, we have continued to protect the community justice budget. Additional funding of £11.8 million was provided in 2021-22 to bolster capacity and support recovery from the pandemic. This year, that figure has increased to £15 million, which includes specific investment of £3.2 million to support bail assessment and supervision services. We are directly supporting an increase in the provision of bail supervision. Such services are now running in 30 local authority areas.
In total, we invest around £134 million in community justice services. That will be maintained next year as well.
Victims of Violent Crime (Support)
To ask the Scottish Government how it provides support to victims of violent crime in the pre-trial period. (S6O-01851)
Victims of violent crime are supported in different ways during the pre-trial period. The Scottish Government funds a range of victim support organisations, both generally and for specific crime types. Those organisations are able to engage during that time and to provide practical and emotional support. In addition, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service provides the victim information and advice service.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that section 24(5) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 sets out the standard conditions for bail, which include the condition that the accused
“does not behave in a manner which causes, or is likely to cause, alarm or distress to witnesses”.
Does he agree that, where the accused and the victim of a violent crime live in the same building, that condition seems impossible to fulfil, which fails victims? Will he meet me to discuss the matter further?
I am happy to say that Emma Roddick raises an important issue on behalf of one of her constituents. I hope that, in turn, she will appreciate that I cannot comment on the specific decisions made in the criminal courts.
In general terms, I add that there are powers for the court to consider further conditions—as they are termed—of bail, which are designed to help compliance with the standard conditions. Further conditions can include things such as an accused person having to change address if the court deems it necessary.
In addition to that, although, as I said, I am not able to publicly comment on individual decisions taken by the courts, I am happy to meet Emma Roddick to understand more about the individual case that she has raised.
One of the ways that we can support victims is by properly enforcing bail conditions and breaches of bail. Bail-related offences are at a 10-year high—one in four bail orders granted will go on to be breached.
Victim Support Scotland says that:
“victims often feel as if they have to police the bail conditions themselves.”
Which bit of the Government’s forthcoming Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill will deal with those concerns and make sure that bail conditions are properly adhered to and that breaches are severely dealt with?
We are replaying some of the discussion that we had this morning. I mentioned the fact that I think that if we can get the conditions under which bail is approved on to the terms that are proposed in the bill, that in itself can help to reduce risk, reduce offending while on bail, and reduce reoffending at the other end of a custodial sentence. We are taking that forward.
As I mentioned in response to a previous question, it is also true to say that we have increased this year, and will increase next year, the resources to local authorities, which are often the bail supervision authorities looking after that. Yes, we have more to do, and we have to ensure that that increases.
However, as I also said this morning, it is also true to say that, in order for us to meaningfully judge conviction rates for those on bail, we have to compare them with the conviction rates for those who serve a full custodial sentence or who are remanded in custody in order to make sense of how that affects the situation.
Regardless of that, we of course have to try and minimise the number of convictions of those on bail. The track record on the resources that we have put in, given the general financial circumstances last year and next year, shows that we are very serious about doing that.
There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business.
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