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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 5, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, and Parliamentary Business

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture, and parliamentary business. As ever, I make a plea for succinct questions and answers in order to get in as many questions as possible.

Fine Arts and Performing Arts (Engagement of Children and Young People)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that children and young people have opportunities to engage with fine arts and performing arts, such as music, drama and art. (S6O-03516)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

The Scottish Government’s long-standing investment in the youth music initiative has helped young people across Scotland to access music-making opportunities and to develop their wider skills and learning. To improve the accessibility of theatre for school pupils, the National Theatre of Scotland, one of the five national performing companies that receives funding from the Scottish Government, manages a dedicated theatre in schools programme. Having expressive arts within Scotland’s curriculum provides a platform for teachers to use interdisciplinary approaches and to work collaboratively with cultural organisations to increase opportunities for children and young people to engage with the arts.

Brian Whittle

Many of us first engage with the arts, such as music, drama and art, in the school curriculum. We know that access to arts in school has been consistently eroded by the Scottish Government. Does the cabinet secretary still believe that a broad education should include the arts? What damage is the lack of access to the arts in the education system doing to the future of performing arts such as music and drama?

Angus Robertson

Like Brian Whittle, I had the good fortune to go to a school in which music and the arts were central to teaching. I learned a musical instrument and even reached the giddy heights of the Edinburgh secondary schools orchestra.

I agree with him that it is important that pupils right across Scotland get opportunities to take part in culture and the arts. In my initial answer to Mr Whittle’s question, I outlined the ways in which that works extremely successfully. If Brian Whittle has any specific examples of where there are deficiencies, I would be happy to hear from him.

Can the cabinet secretary outline how reductions to arts and culture spending by the Westminster Government have impacted Scotland’s budget?

Angus Robertson

Through the Barnett formula, the Scottish Government receives block funding based on the total changes in United Kingdom departmental allocations for areas of devolved competence. The changes in spending by a UK Government department do not necessarily reflect an increase or decrease in that UK department’s budget allocation, so they may not directly impact the Barnett consequentials. However, I note that, although the UK Tory Government and the Welsh Labour Government have both cut culture spending, we, in Scotland, are increasing it.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

What assessment has the Scottish Government made or what assessment will it make of the viability of film in the curriculum, given that the funding for the screen educator in residence pilot programme, which the Scottish Government has supported, ends this month? How will the Government make sure that the progress that has been built by the programme is not lost?

Angus Robertson

Screen education has huge potential in Scotland’s schools. In fact, a number of pilot schools have been implementing screen studies, which I am very excited about. Screen Scotland is taking that work forward and there is significant international interest in it. I would be happy to update Neil Bibby, to let him know about the plans for screen education to be introduced into Scotland’s schools. I think that the work will have cross-party support.

Armed Forces Veterans (Census Data)

2. Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the culture secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding how the census outputs on armed forces veterans, due to be released on 13 June, will be able to be used to inform a better understanding of the veterans community. (S6O-03517)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Inclusion of a question on veteran status in the census for the first time marked a significant step forward in developing the evidence base on veterans in Scotland and their characteristics. Officials will analyse the outputs, which we will use to consider how we continue to support veterans and their families. The analysis will inform the discussions that the Minister for Veterans will have with other portfolio ministers. A further update on our work to use emerging evidence to understand more about the circumstances and needs of veterans will be provided in the minister’s annual update to the Parliament.

Maurice Golden

I thank the cabinet secretary for that response and for the inclusion of the question in the census.

The most recent data show that the number of veterans of the UK armed forces resident in Scotland is 220,000. That data is from the annual population survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2017, although we know that there is a reticence on the part of veterans to identify as such, which means that, in some cases, they cannot access the support services that they need. How will the cabinet secretary utilise the census data and share it with charities to aid them in targeting support for veterans?

Angus Robertson

Maurice Golden asks an important question and gives me the opportunity to commend him for his work as the convener of the cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community. In this week, when we mark the 80th anniversary of the D-day allied landings in France, the importance of our veterans and armed forces community is recognised across the Scottish Parliament and by the Scottish Government.

I give Maurice Golden the commitment that all relevant census information, once published, will be shared with Veterans Scotland and, through it, with all of its much-valued member charities, associations, trusts, organisations and veterans champions, which will help them in targeting support.

Carol Mochan joins us remotely.

Heritage and Culture Preservation (Local Authorities)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on what role local authorities have in preserving the heritage and culture of the areas that they serve. (S6O-03518)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

The Scottish Government’s position is to ensure that local authorities have the freedom to make independent decisions for their own communities.

Local authorities have powers to designate conservation areas, or areas of special architectural or historic interest, under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997. They have planning authority to safeguard local development decisions in their areas in line with the national planning guidance and legislation in respect of historic assets. Local authorities may also develop their own heritage strategies to protect and celebrate heritage in their area.

Carol Mochan

Local authorities across Scotland, including Scottish National Party-run councils, are being forced to make savings in areas such as libraries, cultural centres and key heritage sites as a result of year-on-year real-terms cuts to their budgets by this Government. If it values the role that local authorities play in preserving the heritage and culture of the areas that they serve, why does the Scottish Government keep passing budgets that deliver brutal cuts to councils, putting heritage and culture sites across the south of Scotland and the rest of the country at risk?

Angus Robertson

The Scottish Government very much values the role that local authorities play in the provision of culture and heritage. I had the great pleasure of joining the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in recent weeks in hosting a meeting about this. Is there more that local authorities and the Scottish Government can do within our current budgets? I think that we are all trying our best, but there is no getting away from the fact that we are having to work within the structures of a United Kingdom austerity policy that is being pursued by the Conservative Party and that, sadly, is being emulated by the UK Labour Party.

Can the cabinet secretary provide an update regarding the work of the local and national delivery group and how that work can help to increase links between local and national initiatives?

Angus Robertson

So far this year, the local and national delivery group has helped to shape the development of a collaborative event that was jointly hosted by the Scottish Government and COSLA. The event was held on 20 May and explored the value of culture in delivering a wealth of local outcomes, with a view to developing partnership working across boundaries at local and national levels. The Scottish Government will work with the local and national delivery group to consider tangible next steps based on the themes raised at the event.

Independence (Engagement with Businesses)

To ask the Scottish Government, as part of its work to further the case for Scottish independence, what engagement it has carried out with businesses regarding Scotland’s constitutional future. (S6O-03519)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

This is a Government that is engaged with and supportive of business, and ministers and officials met a number of businesses and their representatives throughout the drafting of the “Building a New Scotland” series. We will continue to engage with and listen to Scotland’s people, civic organisations and businesses, to drive a growing economy that is fair and green.

In a recent speech to business leaders, the First Minister advised that

“re-joining the European Union as an independent country and making our own economic decisions”

is the best way to meet the challenges that businesses face and to grow our economy.

Emma Roddick

The Scottish National Party Government has always supported small enterprises in my region, but many businesses are struggling due to the decisions that have been taken outwith Scotland on migration, trade and EU membership. Can the minister tell me how, compared with Brexit Britain’s current insular approach, an independent Scotland will better serve Scottish business?

Angus Robertson

Scotland is already a good place to do business, as the on-going global success of many of our sectors and businesses testifies. As we set out in the “Building a New Scotland” prospectus papers, with greater powers over immigration, employment and taxation, an independent Scotland in the European Union could learn from the United Kingdom’s failures and from industrial policy successes elsewhere to build a business environment that is designed to maximise the economic benefits of the many opportunities that Scotland has, not least the transition to net zero.

If colleagues have not yet read any of the papers, I draw their particular attention to the paper that compares the economic success of every one of our neighbouring countries, which all outperform the United Kingdom.

Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

When the cabinet secretary engages with business, is he able to give any meaningful insight into the SNP’s currency plans? His latest fictional white paper says:

“As soon as practicable, Scotland would move to its own independent currency, the Scottish pound.

Until then, the pound sterling would remain Scotland’s currency.”

Would the minister like to say how soon “As soon as practicable” is? Is that not just the latest attempt to kick difficult cans down the road as the Government glosses over the legitimate fears of Scottish business about his independence plans?

Angus Robertson

“No” is the short answer to Mr Hoy’s question, but I encourage him to actually read the paper. I am not sure whether he has read it. [Interruption.] He is shaking his head, so he clearly has not read it. If he had, I am sure that he would have found the detail very convincing and hugely encouraging for Scotland.

We look forward to having the opportunity to live in a democracy and having a democratic say in a referendum about the country’s future. Looking at all our neighbouring countries, which all outperform the United Kingdom, I think that it is a prize worth joining together for, across the chamber, although I suspect that that is not likely in the case of Mr Hoy.

Question 5 is from Willie Rennie, who joins us remotely.

Early Learning and Childcare Provision

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to propose a parliamentary debate on the provision of early learning and childcare. (S6O-03520)

The Minister for Parliamentary Business (Jamie Hepburn)

I recognise Willie Rennie’s long-standing interest in childcare. As he will be aware, the Parliamentary Bureau is responsible for proposing the parliamentary business programme, which comes to Parliament for agreement. I am happy to discuss with him and the relevant minister whether I can bring the issue that he raises to the Parliamentary Bureau for consideration.

Willie Rennie

That is a helpful response from the minister, and I expect nothing less from him. It is really important that we take forward the previous First Minister’s commitment to close the gap between the funding for the private, voluntary and independent sector and the funding for council nurseries. The gap is big and is having an impact on the provision of staff—particularly experienced staff—in private sector nurseries.

I am happy to meet the minister. Could we have that meeting next week, along with the Minister for Children, Young People and The Promise, so that we can get the debate going?

Jamie Hepburn

I certainly commit to meeting Mr Rennie as soon as possible. He raises important issues. Notwithstanding the challenges, the private sector continues to grow, and more professionals are entering that part of the sector. Of course we can meet and discuss those matters. In principle, I am open to us having a debate, because it would enable us to debate the fact that we in Scotland already have the most generous provision of early years learning and childcare of any part of the United Kingdom.

Cultural Activities Participation (Motherwell and Wishaw)

To ask the Scottish Government how it supports people in the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency to access and participate in cultural activities. (S6O-03521)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

Through our support of the Culture Collective programme, run by Creative Scotland, we supported Reeltime Music, which is based in Motherwell. Reeltime Music was awarded more than £270,000 to deliver a project that included working with communities in Motherwell, Glenboig, Airdrie and Bellshill, and to deliver region-wide projects with partners including Lanarkshire Deaf Club. Our youth music initiative access to music making fund also provided support for a music project in Wishaw, through Glencassels Community Development Project.

Clare Adamson

Because of Brexit, we have lost a number of extraordinary European Union cultural exchange programmes, which I know that Reeltime Music and Glencassels have in the past taken part in. The Tories and Labour have rejected proposals from the EU for freedom of movement for under-30s, again denying generations of young people wonderful opportunities. Will the minister set out the Scottish Government’s priorities for giving opportunities to young people through cultural exchange?

Angus Robertson

The loss of access to the creative Europe programme has indeed had a major impact on young artists. The programme played a vital role in facilitating international cultural collaboration, which helped young artists to develop cross-border networks, to share knowledge and to learn from their peers.

The Scottish Government is calling on the United Kingdom Conservative Government and any incoming Labour Government to rejoin creative Europe as a priority. We also urge the UK Government to engage positively with the European Commission’s proposal to open negotiations with it on youth mobility and to constructively negotiate a deep and generous agreement with the European Union.

Elena Whitham joins us remotely.

Brexit (Impact on Culture Sector)

To ask the Scottish Government what its assessment is of any impact that Brexit is having on Scotland’s culture sector. (S6O-03522)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

The United Kingdom Government’s decision to leave the European Union has ended freedom of movement. Along with the UK Government’s failure to negotiate with the EU a mobility agreement for creative professionals, that is making vital international activities such as touring in Europe far more difficult. Creative professionals now face barriers including visa and customs requirements, and restrictions on haulage. The loss of the creative Europe programme, which plays a unique and vital role in facilitating international cultural collaboration and developing cross-border networks, has meant that the opportunities for people in the sector to work and build relationships internationally are, sadly, more limited.

Elena Whitham

A few years into the disaster that is Brexit, we are better placed to assess and even measure lost opportunities. Will the cabinet secretary outline any analysis of the damage done to brand Scotland and our status as a leading nation for culture by the impact of Brexit on performers and artists?

Angus Robertson

As a Government, we engage closely with stakeholders from across the culture sector to assess the full impact of Brexit. We have repeatedly heard of creative professionals leaving the sector because of barriers to international opportunities, as well as hearing of international artists facing difficulties coming here.

We recently held a consultation on our international culture strategy, in which a wide range of stakeholders detailed the impact of leaving the European Union on Scotland’s culture sector. A good first step to turning all that around would be for the United Kingdom to rejoin creative Europe.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Several cultural organisations in Scotland have reported a decline in the ability to deliver their services. That is not because of Brexit but because of the Scottish National Party Government’s inability to provide adequate funding to the sector. Does the cabinet secretary accept that his Government’s funding failures have negatively impacted the sector?

Angus Robertson

That is a curious intervention from a party that is cutting culture spending in the rest of the United Kingdom, when the Scottish Government is increasing it. I know that, deep in his heart, Alexander Stewart supports the Scottish Government’s efforts to raise spending on culture. I hope that I can continue to have his support, his party’s support and support from across the chamber in increasing spending on culture.

The Scottish Government has committed to a £100 million boost to culture spending in Scotland, which is in stark contrast to the United Kingdom Government’s cuts to culture in England and, indeed, to the Labour Government’s cuts to culture in Wales.

Creative Scotland (Funding)

To ask the Scottish Government whether Creative Scotland’s funding will be increased during the next financial year. (S6O-03523)

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

I am pleased that the First Minister, when he was setting out his priorities for Scotland on 22 May, recommitted to investing at least £100 million more annually in culture and the arts by the financial year 2028-29.

As the finance secretary set out in her budget speech in December, the increases that we have provided this year were our first step on the route to investing at least £100 million more in the arts and culture by 2028-29. Our aim is to increase arts and culture investment in 2025-26, the next financial year, by at least a further £25 million.

Sharon Dowey

In October 2023, the then First Minister pledged to double arts spending during the period of Creative Scotland’s next funding programme, but we are now faced with a stark reality. Creative Scotland has received bids that are worth £87.5 million for its multiyear funding programme, yet only £40 million is available, which is a significant shortfall. The shortfall puts many of Scotland’s theatres, music venues and festivals at risk, and it could lead to Creative Scotland rejecting 55 per cent of applications. At the same time, the body has been criticised for giving funding to an explicit show. That has received significant backlash and has inevitably lowered public confidence. Will the cabinet secretary outline whether the Scottish Government will take any action to ensure that funding is given to projects that are deemed appropriate?

Angus Robertson

I think that Sharon Dowey knows that it is not for the Scottish Government to give individual grant funding to cultural organisations. We have separation of Government from arts funding in this country. That is why we have an arm’s-length cultural funding organisation, which is called Creative Scotland. It is important that we have that separation. I thought that, until now, we had party consensus on all that.

However, I think that we are agreed that we want to ensure that organisations—whether it is Creative Scotland or directly funded cultural organisations such as our national performing companies—receive the funding that they require. As I have already committed to, and as the First Minister has committed to, we are set to increase funding for culture in Scotland. That is a good thing and stands in stark contrast to what the United Kingdom Conservative Government is doing in England and what Labour is doing in Wales.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Following standstill funding, Creative Scotland will be able to fund only an estimated 45 per cent of long-term funding applications. Along with that, we have been waiting 18 months for the overhaul of long-term cultural funding from Creative Scotland, after that was postponed due to a lack of confidence or clarity about its future finances. Does the cabinet secretary agree that Creative Scotland needs clarity on its long-term funding so that our creative organisations can be secure in their future?

Angus Robertson

I agree that major funding changes are going through at present. I think that there is still cross-party consensus that multi-annual funding for our cultural organisations that are funded through Creative Scotland is a good thing. Creative Scotland is trailblazing in that respect. Other parts of the third sector do not receive multi-annual funding. It is important that Creative Scotland is able to introduce that approach, and I wish it well in doing that.

I think that the member understands, and perhaps Sharon Dowey also understands, that cultural organisations, in response to a call for funding, have asked for the maximum funding that they can receive. I understand that. We all need to operate within our means, but the means that we are putting at the disposal of the culture and arts sector in Scotland are going up. They are being cut in England under the Tories, and they are being cut in Wales under Labour.

Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

The funding that has been mentioned affirms the Scottish Government’s confidence in the Scottish culture sector and the principles of its culture strategy. With that in mind, what recent calls has the cabinet secretary made to the UK Government to match that stated ambition and increase its investment in arts and culture?

Angus Robertson

I have repeatedly written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and I have spoken with her, to highlight the importance of providing adequate support to the sector.

At the first meeting of the culture and creative industries interministerial group on 2 May, I highlighted to the secretary of state from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport the challenges that the sector faces as a result of financial constraints and the need for the UK Government to provide adequate investment in the sector. I also discussed existing initiatives to support the sector that could be built on, including tax relief in the sector.

Justice and Home Affairs

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next item of business is portfolio questions on justice and home affairs. Again, I would appreciate succinct questions and answers in order to allow as many members to have the opportunity to get in as possible.

Women Prisoners (Needs and Welfare)

1. Evelyn Tweed (Stirling) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address the needs and welfare of women prisoners, in light of the reported challenges arising from a growing prison population. (S6O-03524)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

The needs and welfare of all those in our care remains a key priority for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service. The SPS continues to manage those in custody with a person-centred approach and, together with its partners, to deliver a range of trauma-informed support and services to women in custody to meet their specific needs.

However, I have been clear that the critical pressures that the Prison Service experiences and their impact on women and men in prison as well as staff require urgent action. That is why I laid regulations before Parliament last week to seek approval to use the emergency release power in the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act 2023.

Evelyn Tweed

It is welcome that the Scottish Prison Service is committed to becoming a more trauma-informed organisation. With that in mind, what steps is the service taking through the use of available technology to help create safe and secure environments, where doing so is viable?

Angela Constance

The Scottish Prison Service has invested in technologies to support its commitment to safety and security and to becoming a trauma-informed organisation. Rapiscan machines, which are available in every prison, and body scanners, which are available in 11 establishments, further enhance our comprehensive suite of security measures that are deployed to keep our prisons safe. However, the SPS remains vigilant to the threat that is posed through the introduction of contraband and ensures that applied tactical measures complement the use of those technologies.

Advancements in technology have also allowed the SPS to roll out in-cell telephony throughout its estate. That facility supports positive mental health and wellbeing for those in the service’s care, creating a holistic approach to security and to being trauma informed.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Women are routinely being strip-searched in Scottish prisons, despite ministers saying, five years ago, that the practice would be reduced. The cabinet secretary will know that the practice is particularly retraumatising for female prisoners who have suffered abuse in the past. Only this morning, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, the chief inspector of prisons, wrote to the cabinet secretary, asking for the practice to stop. Linda Allan , whose daughter Katie took her own life in Polmont prison, said that repeated strip-searching was a major factor in her death. How quickly does the cabinet secretary think that the practice can come to an end?

Angela Constance

I have already been in correspondence with the chief inspector of prisons with regard to this very serious matter. I, of course, share the chief inspector’s concerns, although it must be noted that the chief inspector has acknowledged that there can be a legitimate role for body searching, if there is robust intelligence or robust reasonable grounds.

The member’s point about the importance of trauma-informed practice also relates to my answer to Ms Tweed about advancing the use of technology, because the use of body scanners, for example, reduces the need for body searches. I am committed to continuing to engage not just with the inspector, but with the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, with whom I have had a conversation on the matter. I have sought further assurances that body searching will be used only where there are robust grounds and robust intelligence, and I am due to have further discussions with the Scottish Prison Service on the matter.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

Natalie Beal, the governor of HMP Glenochil, has said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with prisoners in their 60s and 70s. In 2018, the Scottish Prison Service spent £636,000 on prisoner social care, but that had trebled to £2.1 million by 2022. Given the growing population in Scottish prisons, what action is the Scottish Government taking to deal with the increasingly complex needs of the prison population?

Angela Constance

I am grateful to Ms Dowey for raising that important point. I have discussed the matter in a number of previous statements to the Parliament. Ms Beal is quite correct, in that the prison population is not just increasing but becoming increasingly elderly, and that comes with significant health and social care needs. As I have previously stated to Parliament, there is engagement with the SPS and the cross-Government prison healthcare group on how we can better address the needs of community safety and security in our establishments and ensure better care for elderly long-term prisoners.

Scottish Government Resilience Room

To ask the Scottish Government what role the Scottish Government resilience room would play in the event of a major nuclear incident. (S6O-03525)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

Civil and defence nuclear safety are reserved matters. However, the Scottish Government holds responsibility for the off-site consequence management of a nuclear incident effect in Scotland.

The Scottish Government resilience room is the Scottish Government’s central co-ordination mechanism for responding to civil contingencies and complex emergencies. In the case of a major nuclear incident, that mechanism would activate to facilitate an effective Scottish Government response to the incident. The resilience room would provide Scottish ministers and senior officials with situational awareness, facilitate Government co-ordination and support communication with responders at all levels in Scotland and, of course, with the United Kingdom Government.

Bill Kidd

As the cabinet secretary is aware, the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet is based at Faslane, which is 25 miles from Glasgow. In the event of a major nuclear incident, the Ministry of Defence’s conservative projections suggest wholesale evacuation within a 30-mile radius and a shelter warning for everyone extended over a 75-mile radius. Given the increasing frequency of nuclear incidents on the Clyde and the very real danger to life that that could present, does the minister agree that all parties in the Parliament should work together in calling for the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland?

Angela Constance

I am, of course, in favour of all parties working together. The Scottish Government’s position on nuclear weapons is clear and long-standing: we are firmly opposed to the possession, threat and use of nuclear weapons. They are strategically and economically wrong; they are indiscriminate and devastating in their impacts; and their use would bring unspeakable humanitarian suffering and widespread environmental damage.

The Scottish Government has consistently expressed a commitment to removing nuclear weapons from Scotland in the safest and most expeditious manner possible, following a vote for independence. That position was last set out in the recent paper in the “Building a New Scotland” series, “An independent Scotland’s place in the world”.

Violent Crime

To ask the Scottish Government what support it is providing to Police Scotland to tackle violent crimes in local communities. (S6O-03526)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

The latest Scottish crime and justice survey results show a 58 per cent fall in violent crime since 2008-09, with an increase in the number of adults feeling safe in their local communities over the same time. We welcome that encouraging progress, but we are not complacent. Despite difficult financial circumstances due to United Kingdom Government austerity, our budget for 2024-25 includes record police funding of £1.55 billion, which is an increase of nearly £93 million. That investment is ensuring that Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales, with 30 officers per 10,000 of the population at 31 March 2024, compared with 24 officers per 10,000 of the population in England and Wales at 30 September 2023.

Jackson Carlaw

The police quarterly report that was presented to East Renfrewshire Council confirmed that there continued to be an overall increase in non-sexual crimes of violence in East Renfrewshire, with the figure up to 68 from the 55 offences that were recorded for the same period in the previous year. I think that the cabinet secretary and I entered Parliament at the same time, in 2007. She will remember that the proudest boast of her Government by the end of that session of Parliament was that it had increased police numbers by 1,000 officers. Obviously, therefore, I am dismayed to find that we now have the lowest level of police numbers since 2008.

To tackle violent crimes in East Renfrewshire and across Scotland, does the cabinet secretary not agree that increasing the number of police officers should once again be a priority for the Scottish Government to help to keep our local communities safe?

Angela Constance

I assure Mr Carlaw that policing most certainly remains a key priority of this Government. However, I am concerned to hear of the monthly reports on violent crime in his constituency. The longer-term trend shows that, from 2006-07 to 2022-23, there was a 36 per cent reduction in violent crime in his constituency. That reduction was greater than the 25 per cent reduction in the country as a whole.

Nonetheless, I take seriously Mr Carlaw’s concerns about the recent fluctuation in the monthly figures. He might be reassured to know that, as of 31 March this year, there were 2,459 officers in G division, which covers his constituency. That is 72 more officers than there were in the previous quarter.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Will the cabinet secretary provide an update regarding the steps that are being taken to ensure that, despite the deeply challenging financial circumstances due to the United Kingdom Government’s financial settlement, the increased Scottish Police Authority resource budget supports further police recruitment?

Angela Constance

Although the recruitment and deployment of police officers is, of course, a matter for the chief constable, I am reassured that she is taking action to get the number of officers up to between 16,500 and 16,600. More than 310 new officers have commenced their training this year, and there are plans to recruit a further 840 new officers between July and the end of March.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

I recently met East Kilbride victims of teen violence, which is a group of local residents who have been affected and shocked by recent events in the town. Will the cabinet secretary outline the work that the Scottish Government is taking forward, alongside the police, with important organisations including the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and Medics Against Violence? How can their expertise be used in towns such as East Kilbride, where police data shows that there has been a significant rise in youth violence?

Angela Constance

I share Collette Stevenson’s concern about youth crime. I understand that Police Scotland is investigating incidents in East Kilbride and that it has deployed additional patrols to reassure the community.

Through our violence prevention framework, we are supporting a programme of action, backed by over £2 million this year, to prevent and reduce violence across Scotland. In East Kilbride, the funding is supporting the targeted work of Medics Against Violence and No Knives, Better Lives to prevent youth violence in the first place.

Although such problems should be of concern to each and every one of us in the chamber, I hope that Collette Stevenson can take some reassurance from the fact that, as I have highlighted, there has been an overall reduction in youth crime and crime generally, with violent crime having decreased by 58 per cent since 2008-09.

Question 4 was not lodged.

Non-crime Hate Incidents (Recording)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Police Scotland in relation to its guidance on recording non-crime hate incidents. (S6O-03528)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

On 9 May 2024, Police Scotland published its interim guidance on responding to hate crime, which includes information on the recording and handling of non-crime hate incidents. Although the recording of non-crime hate incidents and the development of guidance are operational matters for Police Scotland, the chief constable and I discussed the matter when we met on 30 April.

Murdo Fraser

I am aware that, following concerns that I and others raised about the lawfulness of Police Scotland’s policy on recording non-crime hate incidents, it has now changed its policy to bring it into line with the Miller judgment. Police Scotland appears to have done so from 1 April, but it took it another five weeks to update its policy and tell anyone that it was changing. Only then was its website updated. Although that change is welcome, what will happen to all the non-crime hate incidents that were recorded under the old policy, which Police Scotland has tacitly accepted was unlawful?

Angela Constance

I reassure Mr Fraser that I have discussed the matter not only with the chief constable; I have also taken the opportunity to discuss it at length with Martyn Evans, the chair of the Scottish Police Authority board, because the SPA has a crucial role in scrutinising Police Scotland operational matters.

Obviously, I take very seriously concerns that are expressed in the chamber. I do not think that Police Scotland would have the same interpretation of what is lawful or unlawful as Mr Fraser has articulated but, given that the detail of the policy is firmly located in an operational space, I will ask the chief constable or the chair of the SPA to reply directly to Mr Fraser on that point.

Justice System

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that the Scottish justice system is “close to collapse” and that solicitors are taking industrial action. (S6O-03529)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

I am aware of the position that has been adopted by the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association. Legal aid solicitors play a crucial role in our justice system, which is why, since 2021, there has been investment of £31 million in legal aid. We will continue to work with the legal profession and others to identify measures to improve and reform Scotland’s legal aid system.

We will continue to work with and support our justice partners in achieving the outcomes described in “The Vision for Justice in Scotland” by taking forward a programme to drive key areas of reform, including criminal justice efficiency under a criminal justice efficiency programme. The 2024-25 budget provides almost £3.8 billion to be invested across the justice system.

Sarah Boyack

I thank the minister for that answer. One of the reasons for the industrial action is the Scottish Government’s proposal in the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill for a pilot of rape trials being conducted by a single judge without a jury. The proposed pilot trials have had a mixed reaction from victims and survivors of rape. Survivors have shared with the Criminal Justice Committee their concerns that not even judges are without unconscious bias and that decisions will rest with one judge. It is clear that the Scottish Government has not been able to secure widespread support for the pilot project from the legal sector or survivors, so will the minister support amendments at stage 2 to remove the provisions from the legislation?

The cabinet secretary will consider the stage 1 recommendations from the Criminal Justice Committee and stakeholders.

Can the minister reaffirm that the Scottish Government is committed to the principle of legal aid, which ensures that free legal services are available to those who are most in need?

Siobhian Brown

Yes, the Scottish Government remains committed to the principle of legal aid. We have maintained resourcing of legal aid and have not actually cut its availability. It is a demand-led budget that is directly linked to application numbers; all those who are eligible will continue to benefit from legal aid.

Fatal Accident Inquiries (Delays)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether there are excessive delays in holding fatal accident inquiries. (S6O-03530)

The Solicitor General for Scotland (Ruth Charteris KC)

The decision to hold a fatal accident inquiry is taken after thorough and independent investigation, the timeframe for which depends on the nature and circumstances of the death. There are often legitimate reasons for prolonged investigation, including the need to await the outcome of investigations by reporting agencies, to consider reports from agencies or to instruct expert evidence.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has significantly reformed its processes in recent years to improve the quality of death investigations and to reduce the time taken to investigate deaths and bring FAIs to court. However, in some cases FAIs have simply taken too long to commence. We appreciate and very much regret the impact that waiting for investigations to conclude has on families.

Fergus Ewing

What faith can bereaved families have in the justice system when they have to wait, in some cases for eight years, before an FAI is held and are fobbed off with explanations that appear to have come from “The Bumper Book of Excuses”? Will the Solicitor General or the Lord Advocate therefore come before Parliament and give a full statement so that Parliament as a whole can scrutinise this failure of the current system?

The Solicitor General for Scotland

I recognise that all families who have lost a loved one rightly expect investigations into the death to be progressed as expeditiously as possible. I offer my sincere apologies to all families who have simply waited too long for FAI proceedings to commence.

We want to do better. To that end, we have been working hard to make changes, and significant modernisation has taken place. For example, criminal investigations and related wider death investigations now proceed in parallel, so that FAIs can begin swiftly after the conclusion of criminal proceedings. We are working with specialists and other partner agencies to reduce the time that it takes to conclude investigations. Every death investigation that is more than two years old and deaths in custody are monitored by senior management through a case-management panel process. We have also instituted a death investigations improvement board.

Death investigations are a difficult, sensitive and hugely important area of work that the COPFS strives to do well. There are inherent challenges in death investigations, which are not unique to Scotland. There are clear indications that the situation is improving. However, neither I nor the Lord Advocate are beyond self reflection. If there is a need for a statement, either of us would be happy to do so.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Typically, a few dozen FAIs take place each year, while all other deaths are considered behind closed doors at the Crown Office. Compare that with the situation in England and Wales, where tens of thousands of coroners’ inquests are held in public. Families keep being failed by Scotland’s slow and ineffective system of investigating sudden, suspicious, accidental or unexplained deaths.

Does the solicitor general agree that a root-and-branch review of FAIs is needed?

The Solicitor General for Scotland

In our system, the Lord Advocate will instruct a discretionary fatal accident inquiry where it is in the public interest that one be held. Those are in addition to FAIs that are compulsory being held.

Every year, we investigate a large number of deaths. This year, we have dealt with approximately 14,000 deaths, the majority of which concluded within 12 weeks. In many cases, it is simply the case that there are no lessons to be learned from the tragedy and it is enough that the family is made aware of what happened to their loved one.

Scotland is not the only jurisdiction where a small number of complex deaths can take a long time to properly investigate. Although coroners’ inquests begin rapidly in England, they still take many years to reach conclusions. That is not to diminish or dismiss the responsibility for investigating deaths as quickly as possible and for placing the dignity of the deceased and their families at the heart of the process.

I can speak only for the work that is being carried out by the dedicated, experienced and independent team in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which—as I have indicated—is working hard to make changes and bring forward an increase in speed.

Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 (Implementation)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 since it came into force on 1 April 2024. (S6O-03531)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 sends a strong message to victims, perpetrators and communities that offences that are motivated by prejudice will not be tolerated. The act consolidates, maintains and extends protections that are aggravated by prejudice, as well as including stirring up of hatred offences for all characteristics covered in the hate crime legislative framework.

The offence of stirring up racial hatred has been in Scots law since 1986. We have worked closely with Police Scotland and other justice partners to ensure the 2021 act’s effective implementation, and we will continue to do so.

Tess White

I have been liaising with Police Scotland about engagement with women’s groups on the implications of the hate crime act for their lawful meetings. Disappointingly, Police Scotland has indicated to me that it will not participate in that vital engagement while it is in the process of developing longer-term policies around the 2021 act.

Does the minister or the cabinet secretary agree that input from women’s groups should influence the process and should not occur after it has concluded? Will the minister and the cabinet secretary make representations to Police Scotland to ensure that women’s voices are heard?

Yes, I agree. We have been told that Police Scotland will consult internally and externally.

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Police Scotland data shows us that the volume of reports has consistently reduced week on week. Does the cabinet secretary believe that the early high numbers of reports were due to widespread misinformation about the 2021 act, including, unfortunately, from members in the chamber?

Siobhian Brown

Recent Police Scotland data shows that the volume of reports at week 7 has reduced by more than 99 per cent from the first week of the act’s commencement. The fact that we have seen so many reports since implementation reinforces the importance of the hate crime act.

Although the commentary surrounding the act during its implementation included misrepresentation, it is important to remember that the act was passed by 82 members of the Parliament. People and communities who are at the sharp end of hatred in their daily lives, simply for being who they are, should rightly look to this Parliament to stand with them, which the Scottish Government will continue to do.

That concludes portfolio questions on justice and home affairs. There will be a very short pause to allow front-bench teams to change positions.