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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 6, 2023


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. [Inaudible.] My microphone is not on. That is not a good start. Good afternoon—is that coming through? There we go. That is better. Good afternoon, for the third time.

The first item of business is portfolio question time. The first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. I remind members that questions 2 and 5 are grouped together. I will take any supplementaries on those after both questions have been answered. We are tight for time throughout the afternoon, so I appeal for brevity in questions and responses. [Inaudible.] My microphone has gone again—it has come back now. This is not an auspicious start.

Arts Sector (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is supporting the arts sector. (S6O-02830)

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

As announced on 17 October, the Scottish Government’s investment in arts and culture will increase, so that, in five years’ time, our investment will be £100 million higher than it is now. The Scottish Government will take decisions about the allocation of that funding in 2024-25 and in future years, subject to the outcome of the Scottish budget process and the associated approval by the Scottish Parliament.

Alexander Stewart

In the Scottish National Party’s 2021 manifesto, it pledged to create a £2 million fund for public artworks. In the summer, questions were raised regarding the distribution of those funds, with the Scottish Government being unable to confirm a timeframe at that stage. Months have passed now, so I ask the cabinet secretary to give more detail on what the pledge means and when the commitment will be met.

Angus Robertson

Alexander Stewart is working hard to get me to give him a sneak preview of the budget process, which, unfortunately, I cannot do. The draft budget will be published later and will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. It will be presented to Parliament on Tuesday 19 December. That date will be in Mr Stewart’s diary, no doubt, being only a few days after he performs with the Scottish Parliament choir.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

The future of the Edinburgh deaf festival is at threat following the rejection of two successive bids for Creative Scotland funding. The festival has been highly praised for its success in showcasing deaf performers’ art, culture and heritage, along with Edinburgh’s festival fringe. Can the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government plans to encourage both British Sign Language and deaf communities in the culture and arts sector in Scotland, to ensure that our vast cultural landscape is inclusive and accessible to all?

Angus Robertson

First, I take the opportunity to thank Foysol Choudhury for his question and for putting on record the points that he makes about the use of sign language. He will appreciate that the question about what Creative Scotland provides funding for is for that organisation to answer. I would be more than happy to write to the member more generally about including sign language and about support for the deaf community in Scotland.

Palestine (Humanitarian Aid)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the impact of its funding for humanitarian aid to Palestine. (S6O-02831)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

We are gravely concerned by the resumption in hostilities over the weekend and reiterate our call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, the release of all hostages and unfettered access for humanitarian aid for all civilians throughout the Gaza strip. In October, the Scottish Government acted quickly to commit £500,000 in response to the United Nations flash appeal for Gaza. Last month, we pledged a further £250,000 contribution to that appeal. Those funds will be used to respond to the immediate food, health, shelter and protection needs of people who are seeking safety in UN shelters, with special consideration for the needs of particularly vulnerable groups including women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Marie McNair

Although the support for humanitarian aid is welcome, what is essential to save the many children and innocent civilians who are being killed is an immediate ceasefire. Medical Aid for Palestinians says that the bombardment is making it impossible to sustain human life in Gaza, and it calls on our political leaders to heed the call from 36 human rights experts and take action to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people. Does the minister agree that Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer need to stop prevaricating and demand an immediate ceasefire to bring an end to this massacre?

Christina McKelvie

In a letter to the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition on 21 November asking for the United Kingdom Government to support a ceasefire on both sides, the First Minister wrote:

“The support the UK Government has given to Israel while the devastation in Gaza has grown, increases the moral responsibility on it to use whatever influence it has to stop the killing now.”

We again urge both leaders to join the United Nations secretary general and others in the international community in calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire on both sides to stop the killing of innocent men, women and children and for unimpeded access for humanitarian aid into all areas of Gaza.

Middle East Situation (Humanitarian Response)

5. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the vote on motion S6M-11342 on the situation in the middle east, on 21 November, whether it will provide an update on what action it has taken with the United Kingdom Government and international bodies to support the humanitarian response. (S6O-02834)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government has been in continuous discussion with the United Kingdom Government on this matter. We welcome the additional £60 million that has been committed by the UK Government for the humanitarian response in Gaza, which Scottish taxpayers have, of course, contributed to.

The Scottish Government has committed £750,000 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and, on 2 November, the First Minister and I met its European director to discuss the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Officials have also consulted various United Nations agencies and international humanitarian organisations that operate under Scotland’s humanitarian emergency fund, whose representatives I will meet in early January.

Richard Leonard

We are witnessing before our eyes what experts fear to be an unfolding genocide of the Palestinian people. The death toll defies description. Thousands more are still missing under the rubble of a quarter of a million destroyed buildings. Nowhere is safe. The population has been forced to flee to the south of Gaza only to be bombed when they get there. It is unthinkable that we are witnessing this, and it is unconscionable that we should be a participant. We welcome the aid that is provided by the Scottish Government, but what good is it if we are also providing public funding to arms manufacturers that supply the Israeli Government? Will the Scottish Government agree to stop that funding immediately?

Christina McKelvie

Any action taken by Israel must be in accordance with international law. The Geneva conventions must be upheld, including protecting citizens against the consequences of military action. The taking of hostages, indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure, intentional starvation and forced displacement of a population are prohibited under the Geneva conventions.

I urge all people to get around the table and bring about a quick resolution, with a ceasefire and humanitarian aid being allowed into the areas.

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

We hear dire warnings from UN officials on the ground in Gaza about the scale of the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding. Does the minister agree that, in order to prevent further deaths, it remains urgent that the international community works together to press for an urgent ceasefire? Can she provide any further update on the Scottish Government’s latest engagement with the UK Government in that regard?

Christina McKelvie

I said in an earlier answer that, on 21 November, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate whether war crimes have been committed by Israel and Hamas, and for the UK to recognise the state of Palestine. A junior Foreign Office minister replied, restating the UK Government’s position in favour of temporary humanitarian pauses. They did not address the First Minister’s other two calls.

We are gravely concerned by the resumption of hostilities and continue to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire on both sides and a release of all hostages.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Does the minister agree that the approach should be the one that was taken by my colleague Layla Moran MP at Westminster, who stated that we need a two-state solution?

We recently saw a pause in fighting, which shows that it is possible to have such a pause. We now need to see it replicated as a basis for the creation of a permanent bilateral ceasefire. Will the minister impress on the UK Government the importance of action to make that a reality?

Christina McKelvie

I am happy to impress that position on the UK Government. The Scottish Government supports the European Union and UK Government positions of a two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders. It firmly encourages both Israel and Palestine to reach a sustainable, negotiated settlement under international law, which has, as its foundation, mutual recognition and the determination to co-exist peacefully. The recent pause was an example of how we can do that.

Ticket Levy Schemes (Music Venues)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact of introducing ticket levy schemes at large music venues in Scotland. (S6O-02832)

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

The Scottish Government fully values the importance of music to Scotland’s culture and recognises the role that venues play in supporting the talent pipeline.

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development met the Music Venue Trust on 20 September to discuss the challenges that grass-roots music venues face, as well as the proposal to develop a ticket levy. I recommended that the Music Venue Trust ask the cross-party group on music to convene an industry round table to discuss the proposal.

Mark Ruskell

I thank the cabinet secretary for that positive response. The Music Venue Trust estimates that a £1 levy on tickets for shows at two big arenas in Scotland would generate £1 million a year. Of course, the cabinet secretary will also be aware that A G Entertainment has now announced plans for a new megavenue at Edinburgh Park, where a £1 levy could raise £8,500 at each sold-out show.

Does the Government agree that that could be a significant funding stream, through which the profits of big culture could be reinvested in grass-roots music, arts and cultural venues? Will ministers agree to meet me and the Music Venue Trust in the new year to discuss a way forward on the back of the conversations that are, I understand, now taking place?

Angus Robertson

Mark Ruskell is absolutely right to highlight that new thinking is required about funding of culture and the arts. We have gone through a pivot point during the pandemic; there has been a change in social behaviours and there has been extreme distress in the arts and cultural sector. We acknowledge that and we have tried to support the sector through that difficult period.

Yes—one needs to look with great seriousness at the potential for additional and parallel funding streams, which is why the levy proposal is worthy of further consideration and should be looked at more closely.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Grass-roots music venues are key to supporting emerging Scottish talent, and it is vital that the talent gets that support. However, in Scotland this year, 22 per cent of grass-roots music venues have closed or are in crisis.

What recent conversations has the cabinet secretary had with grass-roots music venues about their concerns with regard to support for the sector?

Angus Robertson

Not only has that been the subject of discussions that my colleague held in September with the Music Venue Trust, but she met John Whittingdale to discuss that very issue.

If the number of venues across the country reduces, it should be of concern to absolutely everybody, and Creative Scotland is very seized of that. Our enterprise agencies, which have responsibility in the Highlands and Islands, the Borders and the rest of Scotland, are also very involved in that. If Mr Stewart has any particular insights or particular proposals to make, I am very happy to listen to them.

United Kingdom Government (Meetings)

To ask the Scottish Government when the constitution secretary last met the UK Government, and what was discussed. (S6O-02833)

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

My last meeting with a representative of the UK Government was with the British ambassador to China in Beijing on 23 November, during my visit to China, which included promotional events on and around St Andrew’s day. Multiple events involving Scottish Government ministers and officials took place in China, the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Oslo, Brussels and London, and I thank everybody who was involved. It is worth noting that Irish ministers managed to attend St Patrick’s day events in 36 locations around the world.

Collette Stevenson

The Westminster Government’s autumn statement offered little to help people who are worried about making it through the winter. There was no energy bill rebate, no action to reduce grocery bills and nothing to tackle growing poverty and destitution.

In contrast, this morning the Scottish Government published its blueprint “Social security in an independent Scotland”, which includes plans for a minimum income guarantee, for scrapping the rape clause and for creating a more dynamic economy.

It is clear that people in Scotland are suffering from the cost of living crisis. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is time for us to escape the “cost of Westminster crisis” so that we can build a fairer independent Scotland?

Angus Robertson

I agree whole-heartedly. It is clearer than ever that independence is essential if we are to build a fairer and wealthier country and escape the failed Brexit-based Westminster economic model, which has given us the largest fall in living standards on record and the highest inflation in the G7, as well as high levels of inequality and poverty.

Our latest publication, “Social security in an independent Scotland”, sets out how independence would enable Scotland to take a new approach to social security that is designed to tackle poverty and build financial security.

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The cabinet secretary mentioned publication of the paper “Social security in an independent Scotland”. However, the Government has already missed its deadline of transferring new devolved powers to Social Security Scotland by 2020 and, earlier this year, it announced a further three-year delay to the transfer, which is now due in 2026—a full decade after the Scotland Act 2016.

Is the Scottish Government still on track for the 2026 date?

Angus Robertson

In his question, Donald Cameron missed out the Scottish child payment, which has been widely applauded not only in Scotland but furth of Scotland, as an extremely significant intervention that is helping to lift thousands of children out of poverty.

Of course, there will always be challenges with a significant administrative change. I would be happy to get my ministerial colleague who is responsible for the agency to write to Donald Cameron to give him further details. However, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the significant advantages that have been gained by Scotland having not the most significant but a significant intervention in social security—which, incidentally, the UK Government is not prepared to match.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Both the Scottish and UK Governments will be aware of the importance of language degrees in securing international co-operation, understanding and trade. The issue of cuts to modern languages at the University of Aberdeen has been raised with me by the French and German consulates. What discussions has the cabinet secretary had with the UK Government, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and consulates regarding that matter? Does he agree that those cuts would be a retrograde step, not only for students but for Scotland as a whole?

Angus Robertson

I hear very well what Neil Bibby is saying. Our universities are autonomous of Government. That is a statement of fact. I have noted very carefully the points that have been made by the consuls general who have written to the University of Aberdeen, where I was very proud to study.

I have also noted the intervention of Miguel Berger, the German ambassador to the UK, on language teaching. He will appreciate that language teaching and learning are very close to my heart. As someone who speaks two languages, and who speaks to my children a language that is not English, I understand the value of languages.

We should be extremely seized of making sure that we do everything that we can to provide the appropriate level of teaching right through our school and university systems. That is the subject of discussion between me and ministerial colleagues, and I will be happy to raise the matter with UK Government representatives, which I think was what the original question was about.

If there are lessons to be learned from elsewhere in the UK, I would be quite happy to look at them, although I would observe the challenges—

Thank you. Question 6 is from Roz McCall.

—throughout the Anglosphere.

Historic Environment Scotland (Reopening of Sites)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the reopening of sites that are currently closed due to inspections by Historic Environment Scotland. (S6O-02835)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

Historic Environment Scotland is making good progress on its inspection programme, which is due to conclude at the end of March next year. Of the 70 sites at which access was restricted due to high-level masonry issues, there is now full or partial access at 53. Details of the inspection programme and site reopenings are published on the Historic Environment Scotland website.

I am pleased that Historic Environment Scotland continues to put the health and safety of individuals first, by reopening sites only when it is safe to do so.

Roz McCall

The minister might be aware of the situation at Ravenscraig castle in Kirkcaldy, which has been closed for a significant period due to inspections by Historic Environment Scotland. Those inspections revealed safety concerns relating to the bridge. Unfortunately, I have been made aware of a number of continuing incidents of antisocial behaviour at the site, with youths scaling the walls, causing further damage and, in some cases, throwing stonework from the roof.

The preservation of our historic buildings is a crucial part of our cultural inheritance. What more can be done to protect buildings that are currently closed by Historic Environment Scotland?

Christina McKelvie

I am very concerned to hear about the antisocial behaviour issue, and I will take that up with colleagues after portfolio question time today.

However, I am pleased to confirm that there is now full or partial access to a number of sites in Roz McCall’s region. I am also pleased to confirm that Historic Environment Scotland would be happy to offer the member a visit to any of the sites that are affected by access restrictions in her region, and to discuss matters with an HES expert. I urge Roz McCall to take up that opportunity.

As I said, I will take forward the antisocial behaviour issue on the particular site that the member mentioned straight after question time.

Glasgow Arts and Culture Sector (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what it is doing to support the arts and culture sector in Glasgow. (S6O-02836)

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

The Scottish Government, through Creative Scotland, provides support to a number of cultural organisations in Scotland. In 2021-22, Creative Scotland awarded £23,629,887 through its regular, open and targeted funding to successful applications from individuals and organisations that are based in the Glasgow area.

Glasgow is, of course, also home to the national performing companies—namely, the National Theatre of Scotland, Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera—and to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I celebrate, for the work that they do, all the institutions that the cabinet secretary has just listed. Arts and culture have been part of Glasgow’s heritage for decades, as he knows. However, for years, threats and, in some cases, cuts to the sector have made jobs ever more precarious. What plans are in place to bring security to the sector and ensure that Glasgow’s share of the promised funding is invested in good-quality, unionised jobs in Glasgow?

Angus Robertson

I hope that, as I do, Pam Duncan-Glancy considers that the organisations that are funded through Creative Scotland do exactly that, as do our national performing companies and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

I draw Pam Duncan-Glancy’s attention to the latest funding round of the youth music initiative’s formula fund, through which Glasgow City Council received support of £540,644 to offer music tuition in schools across the city. That includes tuition by organisations including the National Piping Centre, Music Broth, National Youth Orchestras of Scotland and A C Projects, which all receive funding.

I hope that Pam Duncan-Glancy agrees that all those organisations provide tremendous additional benefit to the arts and culture scene in Glasgow, which is vibrant and deserves the support of everybody, including the public of Glasgow, whom I encourage to attend all culture and arts events that are put on by the organisations that we have been discussing.

Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

Glasgow’s world-leading museums are among the most frequented in Scotland and are major attractions for international visitors. However, colleagues in the city tell me that, unlike Edinburgh’s or Dundee’s major museums, Glasgow’s museums do not enjoy national status and therefore do not attract commensurate funding from the Scottish Government. What is the minister doing to address that imbalance?

Angus Robertson

Those issues are constantly under review. As I mentioned in my earlier answer, we have a list of national performing companies that are based in Glasgow—not elsewhere in Scotland. There is a mixed picture of how culture and the arts are funded and which organisations are based where. We need to ensure that there is coverage throughout Scotland and that there is equity.

Ivan McKee is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that the museums in Glasgow are not just first class but world class. They deserve the support of people in Glasgow, and I know that they are already providing that support. I encourage people in the rest of Scotland who are looking for a great day out to visit Glasgow’s museums as well.

Rutherglen Cultural Activities (Promotion and Support)

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to promote and support cultural activities in the Rutherglen constituency. (S6O-02837)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

The Scottish Government values the arts and recognises the contribution that cultural activities make to wellbeing, the economy and nurturing creative expression, not only in Rutherglen but in all communities across Scotland.

Between 1 April 2020 and 31 October 2023, Creative Scotland made 227 awards totalling £856,000 to applicants whose postcodes were in the Rutherglen Scottish Parliament constituency. That funding was awarded through Creative Scotland’s open funding and targeted funding, and through emergency Covid-19 funding.

Clare Haughey

The royal burgh of Rutherglen celebrates, in just over two years, the 900th anniversary of its having been granted the title by King David I of Scotland in 1126. Plans are well under way to celebrate the anniversary, with local organisations, charities and elected members, among others, coming together to arrange events throughout 2026.

Can the minister advise what the Scottish Government can do to support and promote what will be a community cultural event, the scale of which has likely not been seen in my constituency before?

Christina McKelvie

The upcoming anniversary for Rutherglen is an extraordinary symbol of the endurance of the burgh. For such celebrations, Rutherglen organisations and individuals can apply to Creative Scotland’s open fund, and to the National Lottery Community Fund’s awards for all, to seek support for the event. Creative Scotland may also provide advice regarding further applications and other potential funding opportunities after contact with its inquiries service.

I wish my constituency neighbours in Rutherglen all the best in celebrating such an historic milestone.

Justice and Home Affairs

Fire and Rescue Officers (Access to Decontamination Facilities)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure that all fire and rescue officers in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have access to decontamination facilities. (S6O-02838)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

The safety and wellbeing of firefighters is a priority for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The service continues to make progress through its dedicated contaminants group. It has reviewed processes and procedures to ensure that the risk of contamination is minimised. That includes a review of all fire stations to ensure that they have site-specific control measures to minimise contamination.

Sandesh Gulhane

It is clearly not a priority for the Scottish Government, because a bombshell report found that firefighters are almost twice as likely as the general public to die of cancer. Those who serve longer in the fire service increase their risk of cancer, and they suffer from mental health issues at a higher rate than others. That is all due to exposure to contaminants and toxins, and to re-exposure when they use contaminated kit and equipment. Just as when, during Covid, the Scottish National Party Government told people to cut the bottom off doors, it is asking firefighters to use wipes on their equipment. That is a danger to our brave firefighters.

I ask the minister why her Government has failed for years to give the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service the budget that it needs to invest in proper decontamination equipment that will save firefighters’ lives.

Siobhian Brown

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is working closely with the Fire Brigades Union and the University of Central Lancashire and is taking action across all aspects of operations to reduce exposure to contaminants, including through investment in new fire appliances and facilities. I will continue to work closely with both the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the FBU on that important matter, and I will carefully consider any proposals that would increase the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.

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

The Scottish Government’s commitment to the safety and wellbeing of all Scottish Fire and Rescue Service officers is very welcome. That said, the United Kingdom Government’s autumn statement failed to take the necessary action to increase investment in vital services such as the SFRS. As only limited levers are available to Scotland to increase our spending power, will the minister outline the impact of the disappointing autumn statement on the response to the real challenges that those services face?

Siobhian Brown

The autumn statement delivered the worst-case scenario for Scotland’s finances. The funding that it provides falls far short of what we need and makes the challenges for our budget next year even more severe. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has failed to provide the funding that is needed, with little consideration of the specific challenges that we face. That has let Scotland down on every count. Scotland needed more money for infrastructure, public services and fair pay deals. Instead, he delivered a real-terms reduction in the total block grant. The chancellor chose to make indiscriminate cuts to national insurance while depriving public services of vital funding. That shows a UK Government that has the wrong priorities at the wrong time.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

According to the recent report “Firestorm: A Report into the Future of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service”, more than 90 per cent of firefighters said that they were concerned about the impact of contaminants on their health. Firefighters said that they had inadequate changes of uniform, laundry facilities and showering facilities to decontaminate and, as Sandesh Gulhane said, that they have to rely on baby wipes to try to clean themselves after being exposed to a fire for hours. Does the Scottish Government think that that is acceptable?

Siobhian Brown

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is considering the Fire Brigades Union’s “Firestorm” report and, where appropriate, will work with the FBU and other staff representative bodies to address the issues that have been raised. The cabinet secretary and I met the FBU the week before last, I think, and the Scottish Government will work closely with the SFRS to identify budgetary requirements for 2024-25.

Vulnerable People in the Justice System (Support)

2. Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what support is available for people in contact with the justice system who may be dealing with vulnerabilities such as mental health issues, problematic substance use or homelessness. (S6O-02839)

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

Supporting people who are in contact with the justice system and ensuring effective access to health, housing and other support services is absolutely vital and requires a holistic multi-agency approach, as well as a focus on interventions that can facilitate those links. That is why we continue to invest around £134 million per year in community justice services, including community sentences, throughcare support and other interventions that enable access to services to address the underlying causes of offending.

Clare Adamson

The distress brief intervention initiative, which was successfully piloted in Lanarkshire, provides quick and compassionate support to people who are experiencing distress. How will the Scottish Government ensure that DBI services are integrated into communities and that Police Scotland and other public bodies are trained to direct people to distress brief intervention where it might be appropriate?

Angela Constance

Police Scotland has been a key national partner in the development and implementation of the DBI programme. Front-line staff in Police Scotland, along with their counterparts in the Scottish Ambulance Service, accident and emergency, primary care and NHS 24, are provided with bespoke DBI training to enable them to assess whether a person presenting in distress is appropriate for an offer of referral to DBI support. DBI training continues to be rolled out to staff in those services.

DBI is now live in 24 of the 31 health and social care partnership areas and discussions are under way with the remaining areas with a view to their being DBI live by the end of March next year. In addition, the national pathway to DBI exists via NHS 24 and the national call-handling services that are operated by Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Post-mortem Reports (Maximum Waiting Time)

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is regarding the maximum time that a family should be expected to wait for a post-mortem report following the death of a loved one. (S6O-02840)

The Lord Advocate (Dorothy Bain KC)

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to providing bereaved families with final confirmation of the cause of death of a loved one as soon as that information is available. In relation to deaths that require further investigation, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service aims to conduct and conclude the investigation and advise the nearest relative of the outcome within 12 weeks of receipt of the death report in 80 per cent of cases.

Some investigations take longer to establish a final cause of death because of the circumstances of the fatality and the nature of the tests that are required to allow the pathologist to make a final determination. Where that is the situation, nearest relatives are provided with updates on progress and estimated timescales for the completion of the tests.

Kenneth Gibson

I thank the Lord Advocate for that answer but, of course, families are not always provided with regular updates or timescales. Does she agree that waiting for more than seven months for a post-mortem report is completely unacceptable? If so, how many families in Scotland have waited for seven months or more? After such a time, is it appropriate to tell a family that it is a matter that

“we are currently considering and on which we hope to reach a decision shortly”?

The Lord Advocate

If Mr Gibson has a particular case and circumstances that he wishes to bring to my attention for me to comment on, I am more than happy to do so. I invite him to contact my office and request a meeting with me individually. I would be pleased to meet him.

The factors that might cause a delay to a cause of death being established very much depend on the circumstances surrounding the death. The pathologist who has conducted a post-mortem examination might require a number of further investigations to be completed, including further toxicological analysis and input from, for example, other experts in the fields of neuropathology or histopathology. The findings of all those inquiries must then be carefully considered before a cause of death can be confirmed.

In a small number of cases in which further investigations cannot be progressed in Scotland, specialist facilities elsewhere might require to be approached to assist, and that might result in a delay in the final cause of death being established.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

An HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland report is highly critical of pathology services in Scotland, while the chair of the deaths in prison custody action group says that only the Crown Office thinks that the fatal accident inquiry system is effective. Many families have told me that they have no faith in how the deaths of loved ones are investigated, yet the Scottish National Party Government is complacent. Will the Lord Advocate therefore consider families’ calls to transfer these vital functions to a new body that is transparent, accountable and independent of the Crown Office?

The Lord Advocate

Mr Findlay’s question relates to fatal accident inquiries, and that issue is distinct from the one that I am being asked to respond to today. However, Mr Findlay also raised issues about the quality of the pathology service in Scotland. I can respond to that by explaining that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is the client and the recipient of forensic pathology services in Scotland, which allows procurators fiscal to discharge their death investigation duties on behalf of the Lord Advocate. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service would support any improvements to the death investigation process that would minimise the distress caused to families without affecting the thoroughness of the investigation, including the confirmation of a cause of death.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am aware that there is an issue with microphones, including mine and those on the front benches. Broadcasting staff are looking at the issue. It is not affecting broadcasting, but it is clearly not helping the audio in the chamber. The issue is being investigated and I propose to continue for the time being.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Post-mortem scanners, which have been trialled in Lancashire, have been reported to decrease the time that is taken to receive post-mortem results and, in certain cases, to remove the need for an invasive post-mortem and the removal of organs. What discussion has the Scottish Government had with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service regarding the potential time-saving qualities of post-mortem scanners in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate

I am not in a position to respond to the specific issue that has been raised, but significant efforts have been made by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Police Authority and pathologists to reduce the time that is taken to provide final reports to families and to consider wider improvements to the way in which pathology services are delivered. The Crown Office regularly meets the current pathology providers to discuss and seek to resolve any on-going issues and to identify any improvements to the quality of the service that can be provided for nearest relatives.

The Crown Office has a series of contracts and service level agreements with universities, local authorities and national health service pathology, mortuary and toxicology services across Scotland. The current pathology contract extensions are, in the main, in place until the end of March 2024. Work is on-going with all pathology providers on a service redesign to streamline the nature and number of contracts to ensure resilience and efficiency through negotiation and service co-design.

The need for improvement has been identified, and I can provide further information on the specific issue relating to scanners after today in—

Thank you.

Question 4 has been withdrawn. Question 5 was not lodged. I call Ivan McKee to ask question 6.

Prison Inmates (Vocational Skills Provision)

6. Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what work it is doing with the Scottish Prison Service to provide inmates, including those on remand, with vocational skills to help them secure employment when they leave prison and address any skills shortages. (S6O-02843)

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

The Scottish Prison Service provides a range of vocational skills and qualifications that support personal development and help with securing employment on release for individuals in custody. In addition, contracted service providers, including third sector and statutory partners, support people in areas such as CV writing and interview skills.

Through working with stakeholders, the Prison Service is also seeking to understand the skills gaps that are faced by various employment markets currently. By gaining an understanding of the needs of those areas, the SPS is seeking to address those shortages by establishing working relationships between employers and prisons across Scotland.

Ivan McKee

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. I am sure that she will agree that, as Scotland’s economy and businesses continue to suffer from skills shortages, we should take every opportunity to meet that need and provide support to individuals in the criminal justice system in order to reduce reoffending. Companies and organisations that I speak to, including Amey and the Construction Industry Training Board, are keen to provide support in that regard. Therefore, what is the Scottish Government doing, working with the SPS, to enable businesses to provide training that leads to employment opportunities to suitable inmates in advance of their release?

Angela Constance

The Scottish Prison Service regularly engages with national and local organisations to provide opportunities for skills enhancement. Examples of that include Robertson Construction at HMP Perth, which enables engagement and a bespoke training package that focuses on the skills that are required in the construction industry. Today, Greene King has launched a training kitchen at HMP Grampian, which provides bespoke training packages involving working in an industrial kitchen, leading to interview and potential employment on release.

The SPS also hosts national events for local organisations and employers that are open to employing people with convictions. The most recent event, which was held at HMP Low Moss, focused on the hospitality sector.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

At Polmont young offenders institution, education participation is a vital aspect of being in prison. A recent inspection report said that there is not sufficient participation among young offenders because they are spending too long in their cells. Can the cabinet secretary assure me that whatever education and training is offered is relevant? Is she satisfied that enough young people are participating in education and training at Polmont young offenders institution?

Angela Constance

I will write to Ms McNeill with further details. As you would expect, I have looked at the inspectors’ report closely. I know that Ms McNeill is aware of the value of purposeful activity. There are some issues around the fact that certain offence behaviour programmes are not appropriate until someone has been convicted, and the prison rules are a little bit different for remand and sentenced prisoners. Nonetheless, the point that Ms McNeill makes about the importance of purposeful and, in particular, educational activity is well made.

Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

The Dick Stewart Service is a tremendous organisation in Dennistoun that provides a halfway place between prison and general society for men who are due to be released from prisons across the central belt. It is a key tool in stopping the reoffending cycle. Similarly, Turning Point Scotland 218 on Bath Street in Glasgow provides an equally essential service that supports female offenders with complex needs. However, funding cuts mean that both of those services are now likely to be closed. Surely the minister agrees that that is a false economy. What is she doing to help to sustain those services?

Angela Constance

I am well acquainted with both of the services that Mr Sweeney refers to, and I stress that any cuts are certainly not my cuts. Decisions about the provision and commissioning of individual community justice services are taken at a local level. I reassure Mr Sweeney that this Government continues to invest £134 million in community justice services. That money is ring fenced, as is the £123 million for local authorities. I also state that I have not asked any local authority to reduce any specific funding within that.

Pyrotechnics in Football Stadia

7. James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League regarding the recent upsurge in the use of pyrotechnics within football stadia. (S6O-02844)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

The Scottish Government has been engaging regularly with the SFA and the SPFL for some time about our shared concerns over the misuse of pyrotechnics in football. Most recently, I met the SPFL, the SFA and the Football Safety Officers’ Association Scotland last week, on 30 November, and we agreed on the need for a multi-agency approach to tackling the issue. I look forward to working with football and other key partners to develop the approach in the coming weeks.

James Dornan

I thank the minister for that positive response, but is it not the truth that, to date, neither the football authorities nor the police—nor the clubs themselves—have been willing to take the required action to combat the illegal use of these extremely dangerous fireworks? Given the unwillingness to take strong action and the lack of political will within football for the—in my view—long-overdue introduction of some kind of strict liability, will the Scottish Government commit to taking seriously the introduction of a Minister for Football, such as has been introduced for English football by the Westminster Government, to tackle the issue of pyros and the many other antisocial and illegal behaviours regularly seen at Scottish football clubs?

Siobhian Brown

Our preferred solution has always been that the football authorities themselves be proactively involved in delivering a robust and lasting solution to tackle any unacceptable conduct by a minority of people. As I said, from my recent discussions with those involved, I know that there is a collective will to tackle it. As I have indicated, we will be taking forward a multi-agency approach to tackling the issue, and I look forward to working with our partners on it. I know that Police Scotland will continue to engage with the SFA and the SPFL with regard to the new fireworks legislation and on-going issues at individual fixtures.

County Lines (Prevention)

To ask the Scottish Government how it is working with Police Scotland and criminal justice stakeholders to prevent criminal gangs from using so-called county lines for illegal business activities. (S6O-02845)

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

County lines, and the exploitation of the children and vulnerable adults involved, are a significant concern for the Scottish Government. Partners on the serious organised crime task force, which I chair, continue to use every means at their disposal to disrupt serious organised crime, including county lines activity and to raise awareness of the serious harm that it causes to individuals, including young people, and our communities.

The serious organised crime task force progress report, which was published last week, details some of the work that is on-going, including projects such as the action for children early intervention service and the county lines intensification week that was undertaken by Police Scotland.

Audrey Nicoll

According to the Scottish crime campus 2022 multi-agency strategic threat assessment, the north of Scotland is disproportionately impacted by county lines, with three quarters of county lines active across Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire and Moray. During a recent national county lines intensification week, officers safeguarded 17 vulnerable young people and engaged with 650 others.

Will the cabinet secretary outline what action the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that a whole-system, multi-agency approach is being taken to identify and safeguard vulnerable young people from further exploitation, particularly in the north-east, where county lines activity is particularly prevalent?

Angela Constance

The safety of our young people who are being exploited by organised crime is, of course, paramount. Child protection procedures must be activated immediately where there are concerns. We published guidance for practitioners on behalf of the serious organised crime task force earlier this year. The guidance helps practitioners to identify those who are at risk from being exploited by serious organised crime groups, including those who are at risk of involvement in county lines or cuckooing, and in relation to what they should do to keep young people safe.

Police Scotland in the north-east has instigated operation Protector to address issues that are associated with serious organised crime, including exploitation and county lines. We have also provided funding through the small community grant scheme to the drug harm charity Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation to deliver inputs and interactive theatre activity to discuss drug harms with pupils at nine secondary schools across Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire and Moray. There have been 150 participants to date.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes portfolio questions on justice and home affairs. I thank members for their patience and perseverance given the earlier problems with the microphones.

There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business, to allow the front benchers to change.