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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 20, 2024


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

Good afternoon. The first item of business is portfolio question time, and the first portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. Any member who wishes to ask a supplementary question should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question.

Gaza (Humanitarian Assistance)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it has taken to support the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. (S6O-03216)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

In November, we provided £750,000 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to ease the suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. That was in response to a flash appeal and was a one-off contribution.

Famine is now imminent in Gaza, primarily because of restrictions on aid access. The First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister in December, asking him to make it clear to Israeli ministers that they and Israeli military commanders will be held accountable for deaths from starvation and disease as a result of their restrictions on access for humanitarian aid. It is now urgent that that message is conveyed directly to Prime Minster Netanyahu. The restrictions must be lifted immediately.

Kevin Stewart

Given the continuing deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Gaza, it is clear that we need to redouble international efforts to secure an immediate ceasefire to allow aid to get through. We cannot and must not stand by while thousands of innocent men, women and children are killed and while even more are starving and going without medicines. Does the minister agree that the United Kingdom Government should be taking concrete steps to secure an immediate ceasefire, including ending arms sales to Israel and using its position on the United Nations Security Council to demand one? Can she provide any update on the Scottish Government’s latest engagement with the UK Government in that regard?

Kaukab Stewart

The Scottish Government has been engaging with the UK Government since the outset of the conflict to highlight our position. I agree with Kevin Stewart’s remarks. We will continue to engage through our connections with the UK Government. We have made it clear that it is incumbent on the UK Government to do everything that lies within its power to secure an immediate ceasefire by all sides to prevent further devastation in Gaza, including by using its influence in the international sphere and with the Government of Israel to achieve that.

In the light of Israel’s statement that its armed forces will attack Rafah, which is the final refuge of more than 1.5 million civilians in Gaza, the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister, calling on him to introduce an immediate ban on licensed arms exports from the UK to Israel. The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture has also written to the UK Government, but we have had no response to date.

Foysol Choudhury has a brief supplementary question.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

I recently met the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, which outlined the dire situation with high rates of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in Palestine. Can the minister please advise what steps the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that the aid that Scotland sends is available to reach new and expectant mothers in Gaza?

Kaukab Stewart

I thank Foysol Choudhury for his question and refer him to my previous comments on what the Scottish Government is doing. I am acutely aware of the plight of new and expectant mothers, and I mentioned it during my opening contribution to the debate on international women’s day.

Cultural Cinema

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to support the development of cultural cinema. (S6O-03217)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of cultural cinema to our communities, and we continue to work closely with Screen Scotland and partners to support its development across Scotland. Screen Scotland’s strategy and funding supports the inclusive and sustainable growth of our screen sector, with a focus on ensuring wide access to cinema and a diverse range of content, including support for cultural cinema venues, organisations, touring programmes, independent film exhibitors and the distribution of Scottish titles across Scotland.

Sarah Boyack

I thank the minister for her answer and welcome her to her new role.

Investment in cultural cinema is vital in supporting film makers, providing access to cultural cinema, as the minister mentioned, and ensuring that cultural cinema is a key part of Scotland’s cultural offer. With the Edinburgh international film festival forming part of our Edinburgh festivals, we have huge opportunities. Therefore, will the Scottish Government work with Screen Scotland and Creative Scotland to ensure that the Edinburgh Filmhouse’s “Open the Doors!” campaign, which has been incredibly successful thus far, gets the final amount of capital that it needs to open the doors of the Filmhouse and put us back on the map?

Kaukab Stewart

I thank Sarah Boyack for her continued commitment on the issue. I am delighted to say that, as a result of the hard work and dedication of all involved, including Screen Scotland, which is providing support, the work to secure the future of the Filmhouse and cultural cinema in Edinburgh is progressing very positively.

The Scottish Government is absolutely clear on the value of cultural cinema, and officials are continuing to engage with Screen Scotland and others to ensure that cultural cinema is protected for Scotland’s audiences today and in the long term. I am grateful to all those involved for their on-going hard work and dedication.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

In October, Creative Scotland is due to decide on £87.4 million-worth of applications from 285 organisations, many of which are in the cinema sector. That gives an indication of the extent of the culture and creative sector that exists across Scotland. How can we ensure that the many applicants who aspire to enter cinematography who do not receive funding are not discouraged from entering the sector or the industry?

Kaukab Stewart

The member raises a very important point. I encourage anyone who is interested in applying for the various funding streams—there are many organisations involved in that field—to continue their engagement. If there are specific organisations that need assistance, I encourage the member to ask them to get in touch with me.

Miners Strike (40th Anniversary)

3. Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the culture secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding what cultural events and activities it has planned to mark the 40th anniversary of the miners strike. (S6O-03218)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

The miners strike of 1984-85 is considered to be the most bitter industrial dispute in living memory. The Scottish Government recognises that the impact of the strike is felt across Scotland’s former mining heartlands, and we acknowledge the need to provide reconciliation, dignity and comfort to those communities that are still affected.

As the 40th anniversary approaches, the Scottish Government is considering how best to raise the profile of the strike and its legacy. We are in communication with partners, including the National Union of Mineworkers, which are developing commemorative activities with the communities that were impacted.

Annabelle Ewing

Many community events are planned to mark the 40th anniversary of the miners strike, including an event in Ballingry, in my constituency, that is to be held on 15 June, when there is to be a march, a rally and an exhibition in the miners welfare institute in Lochore.

What support can the Government offer to events such as the one in my constituency and to the former coalfield communities across Scotland? Will the minister come along to Ballingry on Saturday 15 June to march with the community and to demonstrate the Scottish Government’s solidarity?

Kaukab Stewart

I thank Annabelle Ewing for highlighting the important event that will take place in her constituency on 15 June.

The Scottish Government acknowledges the significance of the 40th anniversary of the miners strike. Scotland was the first of the home nations to introduce legislation to pardon former miners, and Scottish Government officials would be happy to provide supporting materials to event organisers about the miners strike pardon.

I extend my best wishes to all the communities that intend to mark the anniversary of the miners strike with events, and I am sure that members across the chamber will show support for those events across their constituencies.

Creative Workforce (Women’s Participation)

To ask the Scottish Government what measures it is taking to address any barriers to women’s participation in the creative workforce. (S6O-03219)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

Women remain underrepresented in the creative industries and are disproportionately in lower-level positions. The sector is known for unpredictable freelance work, which makes participation in it difficult for women with caring responsibilities, health conditions or disabilities.

The Scottish Government is committed to fair work first, including taking action to tackle the gender pay gap. We are establishing a culture fair work task force, which will provide recommendations on further implementing fair work, which is crucial to achieving greater diversity.

Creative Scotland has produced a wealth of resources for employers and freelancers, including illustrated guides, to support better working practices.

Carol Mochan

As you have said, women’s participation in the creative workforce is vital to the growth of the Scottish economy. However, access to affordable, flexible childcare is very limited. The considerable cost and restricted operating hours of childcare services mean that women who wish to return to the creative sector after having children often find it difficult to do so. Does the minister agree that cross-portfolio working is essential, and does she accept that Government cuts to councils are exacerbating those problems? Does she realise that a fair funding settlement for councils that provide services such as childcare could be critical to removing barriers to women’s participation in the creative workforce?

Kaukab Stewart

I agree that cross-portfolio working is essential to addressing the multilayered, intersectional barriers that women face. I am fully aware of those barriers, especially those faced by women from an ethnic minority background who wish to enter the creative industries. The Scottish Government has expanded its funding for childcare, and I press it to continue to do so.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

One of the biggest barriers to women’s participation in the creative workforce in Shetland’s important knitwear sector is what is happening to education provision under the University of the Highlands and Islands banner. In its quest for a sustainable and financial future, the textile sector, along with hospitality and access courses, looks likely to take a big hit of cuts. That short-sighted approach is already impacting women in the creative industries. What can the Scottish Government do to ensure that the traditional sector is not diminished and that entrepreneurial women in the creative industries are supported?

We want to increase opportunities for everybody, from every background, up and down the country. I am happy to meet Beatrice Wishart after this session to listen to her suggestions.

Arts Sector (Dumfries and Galloway)

To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it is providing to the arts sector in Dumfries and Galloway. (S6O-03220)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

The Scottish Government, through Creative Scotland, provides support to a number of cultural organisations and individuals in Dumfries and Galloway. Two of Creative Scotland’s regularly funded organisations—the Stove Network and the Wigtown Festival Company—are based in Dumfries and Galloway. Together, they receive a total of £186,000 per year in funding. In addition, the Stove Network receives regular funding from Creative Scotland as part of the culture collective programme.

Finlay Carson

On a clear night, more than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from the international dark sky park in Galloway forest park. Sadly, as I am sure the minister is aware, the observatory that was sited high above Dalmellington was destroyed by fire in 2021. The trustees of the observatory are keen to replace it and have identified a new site at the former Clatteringshaws visitor centre, which is owned by Forestry and Land Scotland. The trustees are currently sourcing funding from a variety of organisations, including South of Scotland Enterprise and VisitScotland, to help to progress their plans. Given the enormous cultural, art and educational benefits that it would offer, and the significant boost that it would bring to the local economy, will the minister engage with Forestry and Land Scotland and other Government agencies to support that worthy cause?

I am happy to do so.

Creative Industries

To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to grow Scotland’s creative industries. (S6O-03221)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

The creative industries are an important growth sector, and the number of people that the sector employs is forecast to grow by 4 per cent by 2026. The workstreams that are outlined in the recently published “A Culture Strategy for Scotland: Action Plan” aim to develop the conditions for inclusive growth of the sector. Aligned with the priorities in the national strategy for economic transformation, those include promoting fair work, developing a strategic approach to skills and publishing our international culture strategy, which will support the international ambitions of the sector and ensure that such activity plays a full role in its long-term development.

Daniel Johnson

The creative industries are a critical contributor to the Scottish economy and a catalyst for inward investment—for example, every pound that is spent at the Edinburgh festival generates £33 in return. Although the minister referenced growth in employment, the simple reality is that, according to the Scottish Government’s growth sector statistics, fewer people work in the creative industries now than in 2014.

Indeed, out of 34 European nations, Scotland is ranked 28th on investment in creative industries. What will the Government do to encourage investment? Does the minister agree that we need to view the creative sector as a core part of the economy, particularly through investment and support through enterprise agencies and policies, and not just as a net recipient?

Kaukab Stewart

I recognise the enormous impacts that our creative industries make on our economy, our social health and our wellbeing. There have been communications regarding the tax breaks that can be offered. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport asking for permanent tax relief for our orchestras, theatres, museums and galleries, so I welcome the announcement on that.

Screen Scotland has advised that the visual effects industry tax credit increases could be positive and significant, as they will allow the United Kingdom to keep more work in the United Kingdom. It could be an incentive for London-based companies to grow their UK-wide presence, including in Scotland.

There are a couple of brief supplementary questions.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

The UK’s exit from the European Union has had a substantial negative impact on our cultural and creative sectors. Can the minister provide any update on the Scottish Government’s latest engagement with the UK Government on the steps that can be taken to mitigate those impacts, and does she agree that we would be better placed to grow our creative industries as a member of the EU?

Kaukab Stewart

Collette Stevenson is quite right to raise the effects of Brexit. It has had, and continues to have, a devastating impact on the sector. Freedom of movement throughout Europe supported Scottish artists’ international mobility, and the creation of costs and administrative barriers post-Brexit makes international working increasingly difficult.

I agree that we would be better placed to grow our creative industries as members of the EU. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lucy Frazer, on 5 March, outlining positive steps that could be taken in the spring budget, including seeking talks with the EU about rejoining the creative Europe programme.

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture also wrote to the Home Secretary on 7 March, raising concerns about the Home Office’s handling of visa applications for creative professionals. A meeting of the interministerial group on culture is planned for later in the year, and I expect EU engagement and mobility to be discussed.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

It was not long ago that politicians from across the political spectrum came together to lobby against plans to privatise Channel 4. We were successful in that, but we are now concerned about plans that could mean just 9 per cent of production quotas taking place outside England. Does the minister agree that one way to grow Scotland’s creative industries is to grow our screen sector, and that all broadcasters and their regulators should be committed to doing so?

I agree with the member’s concerns. I will ask the cabinet secretary, whose portfolio that issue falls under, to come back with a fuller answer.

International Development Programmes (Promotion of Human Rights)

7. David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how the projects and activities that it funds through its international development programmes contribute to promoting human rights. (S6O-03222)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

Our international development portfolio takes human rights-based approaches to advance the rights of marginalised groups very seriously. Key themes include health, inclusive education and equality, in alignment with the priorities of our partner countries and United Nations sustainable development goals.

Our recently launched £3 million women and girls fund will directly support women and girl-led organisations to advance gender equality and promote the rights of women and girls in our partner countries. Our education programming seeks to improve access to education for women, girls and disabled children. In health, our non-communicable diseases work aims to expand equitable access to safe and quality care.

David Torrance

The United Kingdom Tory Government’s approach to foreign policy has seen cuts to vital international development assistance programmes, along with proposed legislation that penalises some of the most vulnerable people in the world, at a cost to the taxpayer of £3.9 billion. Will the minister reiterate calls for the UK Government to abandon the horrific Rwanda bill and reaffirm the SNP Government’s commitment to stand up for fairness, compassion, dignity and help for those who need it?

Kaukab Stewart

We have consistently called on the UK Government to fulfil its legal commitment to invest 0.7 per cent of the UK’s gross national income in official development assistance.

We have been clear in our opposition to the UK Government’s plans to relocate people to third countries since the memorandum of understanding with Rwanda was announced. The UK Government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill and its treaty with Rwanda abdicate the UK’s moral and international responsibilities to recognise and support refugees.

People should be able to make a claim for asylum with full and fair consideration by the Home Office and, if successful, they should be supported to rebuild their lives as refugees in the UK.

Public Interest Journalism (Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to support public interest journalism. (S6O-03223)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Kaukab Stewart)

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that we have a free and democratic press. We believe that public interest journalism plays an important role in our society at all levels, including holding governments and other organisations to account.

Following the establishment of the public interest journalism working group, we convened a round table, at which a steering group was formed to deliver an independent Scottish public interest journalism institute. Implementation is for sector representatives. However, we will continue to engage with the industry to hear about its on-going work while respecting the independence of the institute and its work.

Richard Leonard

Public interest journalism is all too often being silenced by rich corporations and wealthy individuals using strategic lawsuits against public participation. The Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Act 2021 does not tackle that; it applies only to lawsuits that are lodged on the ground of defamation. Will the minister work with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs to introduce a stand-alone anti-SLAPP—strategic lawsuit against public participation—bill to Parliament to let public interest reporting and investigative journalism flourish?

I am happy to explore that option with the member. He should get in touch and we can talk about it further.

That concludes questions on constitution, external affairs and culture.

Justice and Home Affairs

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The next portfolio is justice and home affairs. I remind all members that if they wish to ask a supplementary question, they should press their request-to-speak button during the relevant question. I advise members that there is a lot of interest in asking supplementary questions. I will try to accommodate as many as I can, but the questions will need to be brief, as will the responses.

Support for Victims and Witnesses (Domestic Abuse Cases)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to support victims and witnesses, particularly in domestic abuse cases. (S6O-03224)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

We are investing record levels of funding to support victims through a range of front-line specialist services. Our victim centred approach fund will provide £48 million to 23 organisations between 2022 and 2025, including £18.5 million for specialist advocacy support for survivors of gender-based violence.

Of the annual £19 million in the delivering equally safe fund, £7,719,700 is provided to women’s aid groups, and we will help to fund the domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline to offer free confidential support.

Fourteen organisations, including Victim Support Scotland and women’s aid organisations, have also shared more than £1.3 million of grant funding from the victim surcharge fund to provide practical help to people who are impacted by domestic abuse.

Collette Stevenson

Can the minister outline what discussions the Scottish Government has had with partners including the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Police Scotland and third sector organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid, about whether a trauma-informed approach, particularly in domestic abuse cases, could include ensuring that survivors have a single key point of contact in order to minimise the need for them to repeat and relive certain time periods through the process from reporting domestic abuse to a sentence being served?

Can the minister also provide information on the ability for people to find out about prior domestic abuse convictions of a partner?

Siobhian Brown

The cabinet secretary is currently taking through Parliament the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, which will put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system, and will include their need for a trauma-informed approach. The victims task force has commissioned work to explore models of a victim-centred approach to justice, with the goal of providing a single point of contact for delivery of criminal justice services.

In relation to domestic abuse convictions, the disclosure scheme for domestic abuse Scotland enables individuals to obtain, from Police Scotland, information on previous convictions for offences related to domestic abuse, information that might not have led to a domestic abuse conviction, and information on any other convictions linked to coercive control or on patterns of potentially abusive behaviour being displayed.

The power to share or to disclose that information is considered case by case by Police Scotland, which uses a three-point test—whether disclosure is lawful, necessary and proportionate. That is about disclosure to the applicant being necessary to protect the individual from being the victim of domestic abuse.

Thank you. I will need slightly shorter answers if I am to get all the questions in.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

My proposed domestic abuse prevention bill would offer more support to domestic abuse victims. I hope that the Government will soon come on board and support my proposal.

In light of the recent news that domestic abuse victims in the rest of the United Kingdom will be able to receive cash payments of £2,500 in order to leave a violent home, will the Scottish Government expand its leavers fund to cover all of Scotland, and will it consider—


Siobhian Brown

I am aware of Pam Gosal’s proposed bill. I am happy to work with you. We have not seen the final stages of the proposal, but I am happy to have a meeting with you.

I note what you said about what is happening in England and Wales. At the moment, Scotland is leading with a £500,000 pilot of its fund to leave. The pilot is being supported across local authorities to help women to flee domestic abuse situations.

Please make comments through the chair.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

Domestic abuse courts have operated in some sheriff courts. What work has the Scottish Government done to analyse and evaluate the success of those courts? Will the minister share any of that work with the Parliament?

Siobhian Brown

The expansion to Glasgow of the domestic abuse courts will mean that many more victims and witnesses benefit from cases being resolved at an early stage, and from the reduction in unnecessary citations and hearings.

As Katy Clark knows, a pilot court has already demonstrated a significant reduction in the volume of witness citations being issued. It is an on-going pilot; I am happy to keep the member updated on progress.

Prison Estate (Scottish Human Rights Commission Report)

2. Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the recent report by the Scottish Human Rights Commission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which referred to the need to improve conditions across the prison estate and improve access to appropriate healthcare for those in detention. (S6O-03225)

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

Safe treatment and care, including access to healthcare, of everyone who is in custody, are important priorities for the Government and the Scottish Prison Service. We have developed a framework for a nationally consistent service model for healthcare delivery in prisons, and we are working with the national health service and the SPS on implementing it.

We are also investing in modernising the prison estate in order to better meet the needs of staff and prisoners, with £167 million in capital funding to be invested in 2024-25 to allow the SPS to progress construction of HMP Highland and HMP Glasgow. We are increasing the SPS’s resource budget by 10 per cent to £436.6 million in an extremely challenging fiscal environment.

Maggie Chapman

The SHRC’s report highlights many areas of concern across the prison system. Despite relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions, it is clear that some prisoners do not get appropriate access to outdoor exercise, and that inappropriate use of segregation remains a concern, without improvements in practices having been secured. Those things are of concern regarding the overall health of prisoners, but can also mean that prisoners’ mental health, specifically, cannot be safely managed while they are in custody. Can the cabinet secretary provide reassurance that those and other issues relating to conditions in detention will be addressed? Will timescales and updates be reported to Parliament?

Angela Constance

Indeed, I will. The Government recognises the importance of access to programmes and activities that are aimed at supporting rehabilitation, recovery and mental health. Separation and reintegration units are used only when necessary and a comprehensive review of their use is being finalised by the Scottish Prison Service.

Outdoor exercise and access to healthcare, however, remain entitlements for everyone who is in the care of the SPS. Staff work hard to meet those entitlements, irrespective of a person’s location within the prison estate. We have worked with the Scottish Prison Service and the NHS to respond to the recent “HM Chief Inspector’s Strategic Plan 2022-25” following “A Thematic Review of Segregation in Scottish Prisons”, from 2023. We will work to make improvements and to better support care of individuals who are located in separation and reintegration units.

Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022

3. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how many individuals have been charged and successfully prosecuted under any of the provisions in the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022. (S6O-03226)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

Possible offences are investigated independently by Police Scotland and other enforcement agencies. Prosecutions are brought by the independent Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and the courts are independently responsible for their disposal. Up to the end of February 2024, 40 charges had been reported to procurators fiscal under the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022. Of those 40 charges, 20 have thus far been prosecuted. There have been four convictions, two charges did not result in a conviction and the other 14 charges are part of on-going prosecutions. Additionally, 77 charges in which there was an aggravation under section 44 of the 2022 act were reported. Of those charges, eight have been dealt with by way of prosecution and there has been one conviction.

Jamie Greene

I thank the minister for her update. I am pleased that the aggravator that I introduced to the act is being used successfully to support our emergency services workers.

However, since the 2022 act was passed, there has been a continuation of, and a rise in, the antisocial behaviour that it was designed to eradicate. Pyrotechnics and flares are still being used at football games, and it seems that few arrests have been made off the back of their use, while violent behaviour towards the police and our firefighters in the period around bonfire night last year continued. That kind of behaviour is still on the rise, which is extremely worrying. Is the Scottish Government confident that the provisions in the act are enough to discourage such behaviour? Is the conviction rate up to scratch? Is the 2022 act doing the job that it was intended to do?

Siobhian Brown

Yes. The legislation will take a while to bed in and to change societal behaviour. From meetings at the Criminal Justice Committee, I remember that Jamie Greene was interested in football banning orders. In February this year, I had a meeting with local football authorities, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and supporters’ groups in order to take forward our joined-up multi-agency approach to the issue of pyrotechnics at football games. It was a really positive meeting, at which we shared our clear commitment to tackling the issue, and at which opportunities for future joint working were identified.

Following the meeting, I have asked for a short-life working group on football banning orders to be established to consider the current use of such orders, whether they continue to be fit for purpose and, if not, what changes are required to address problems that present under the current football banning order regime. I am happy to keep Jamie Greene updated on progress with the working group.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Funding was not in place last year in time for local authorities to decide to use the provisions relating to firework control zones. Is the minister confident that preparation is complete for this year and that local authorities such as Glasgow City Council, which needs those powers, will be more able to use them?

Siobhian Brown

Yes, I am confident about that. We have received expressions of interest from local authorities for funding for 11 firework control zones. I recognise that it was disappointing that no zones were in place for bonfire night in 2023, but firework control zones have been developed to support a long-term cultural change with regard to fireworks, and were never intended to be a quick fix.

A programme of work has been progressed at pace to commence firework control zone powers in line with the original timescales. Local authorities have been informed of the funding that is available to them, and of how to consult and how to implement the zones. I am positive that they will be in place this year.

“Surviving Domestic Abuse”

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the BBC Scotland “Disclosure” programme, “Surviving Domestic Abuse”, which was broadcast on 11 March. (S6O-03227)

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

Domestic abuse is abhorrent. The documentary showed that it is vital that perpetrators are held to account and brought to justice, and that support services can be accessed.

This month we announced funding of £2 million to Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid to reduce waiting lists for women who need support services. That is in addition to our £19 million of annual funding from our delivering equally safe fund, which has supported 121 projects from 112 organisations since October 2021. Almost 32,000 people benefited in the first year of delivering equally safe.

Of course, we want to stop abuse taking place in the first place, which is why we all have a role to play in tackling the deep-rooted sexism and misogyny that is inherent in the perpetrating of violence against women and girls.

Neil Bibby

I thank the cabinet secretary for her answer, and I agree with her remarks. The harrowing documentary showed the story of seven women in Scotland who had suffered years of abuse from their ex-partners. I have been in contact with one of those women, Carolyn Quinn from Paisley, whose ex-husband not only abused and raped her for 27 years but abused their son.

In a joint statement—and in the documentary—all the victims raised the unfairness of plea bargains being offered to the attackers without the victims being notified. Six of the women said that their abusers had breached their bail conditions, yet no action was taken. Those brave women deserve a system that protects them once they make the agonising decision to contact the police, yet they feel let down.

Will the cabinet secretary meet the women involved in the documentary, so that we can ensure that the system works better for domestic abuse survivors?

Angela Constance

Mr Bibby is right to describe the programme as harrowing. I watched it myself, and I put on record the bravery of all the women involved, who had the courage to convey their personal testimony on the programme. It was an informative and a hard watch, which will motivate all of us to do more to protect women and girls. I would of course be delighted to meet the member and the women concerned.

There is a lot of interest in this question. I will try to get in as many supplementaries as I can, but they need to be brief, as do the responses.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

My constituent was one of the brave women who gave her testimony to the programme. One of the issues that she raised concerned plea bargaining. Her attacker faced 11 charges but was essentially offered a plea bargain and pled guilty to a reduced four charges. My constituent, as a victim, was not consulted on that by the procurator fiscal.

Survivors have to be at the heart of Scotland’s justice system. Can the cabinet secretary outline what steps the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that they are?

Angela Constance

Parliament will recognise that I cannot comment on the circumstances of individual cases and that the decision to accept a guilty plea is taken by prosecutors independently of Government. In some circumstances, resolving a case by acceptance of a plea can spare victims and witnesses the need to give evidence at trial. It involves an admission and acknowledgement of guilt on the part of the accused. In plea negotiation, prosecutors are acting in the public interest and with regard to the interests of victims and witnesses.

Currently, as a Parliament, we are progressing with the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill. As I said to Mr Bibby, I would be happy to engage with Ms Haughey on that.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Plea deals were struck in five out of the seven cases featured in the BBC documentary, with solid charges either watered down or dropped altogether. Will the cabinet secretary consider working with me to amend her victims bill to ensure that, when plea deals are used, victims are kept fully informed?

Angela Constance

I understand the motivation and intent of Mr Findlay’s comments. It is imperative that, whether victims are reliant on information from the courts or the Crown Office, they receive that information in a timely manner. This morning, along with the Lord Advocate—who of course has constitutional independence on the matters that Mr Findlay and others have touched on—I met the victim support advisory board, and the issue of the nature of communication, and how and when it is delivered, was reiterated.

I will engage with Mr Findlay on and around any amendments that he brings forward.

Prevent Strategy (Delivery)

5. Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of any implications for its role in supporting the delivery of Prevent in Scotland of the United Kingdom Government’s new definition of extremism. (S6O-03228)

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

The Scottish Government takes the threat of extremism seriously and works with partners in Scotland and the UK to ensure that we can identify and tackle it effectively.

As debate about the UK Government’s definition of extremism has illustrated, it is difficult to find consensus. We do not believe that a definition is helpful to our approach to tackling extremism, which focuses on building inclusive and cohesive communities. Extremism is devolved, but Prevent is reserved, although it is delivered by devolved sectors. We will keep the decision not to adopt or develop a definition of extremism under review, along with any implications for the delivery of Prevent in Scotland.

Bill Kidd

In the week that the Conservatives’ top donor said that the MP Diane Abbott—Britain’s longest-serving black MP—made him

“want to hate all black women”

and that she

“should be shot”

it was perhaps ironic, at best, that they redefined extremism.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the new definition threatens rather than strengthens democracy, and that only through building cohesive and inclusive communities can we tackle the threat of extremism? What steps is the Scottish Government taking to achieve those aims?

Angela Constance

There are two issues here. On the comments directed at Diane Abbott, I speak on behalf of the Scottish Government and unequivocally condemn racism in all its forms. I am sure that that sentiment is shared by everyone across Parliament.

Let me also say, without fear or favour to any political party, including my own, that finding and building consensus on the issues in and around extremism is absolutely fundamental and crucial, because division only nurtures hate and extremism. The issue should not be used as a political football.

The focus of the Scottish Government will remain on building resilient and cohesive communities in which extremist narratives find it harder to resonate. The strength of our relationships and engagement with our diverse communities are of particular importance in that regard. A threat exists across the UK, but the complexion of that threat varies in different parts of the UK.

Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill

6. Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what representations it can make to the United Kingdom Government regarding the potential amendment of its Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill to cover Scotland, to ensure that there is parity and equality for all sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who have been affected. (S6O-03229)

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

The Scottish Government is extremely disappointed that the UK Government has chosen to exclude Scottish sub-postmasters from its legislation. The decision is difficult to understand, especially since, fewer than 24 hours before the bill was introduced, Michael Gove MP informed the Interministerial Standing Committee that the route was still open for Scotland and Northern Ireland to be included.

The Deputy First Minister has written to Mr Gove, urging him to make good on his commitment to extend the bill to cover both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Our assessment is that extending the provisions of the UK bill to Scotland would be relatively straightforward, and we will continue to push for a UK-wide legislative solution that ensures equal justice for all sub-postmasters.

Rona Mackay

Given the reserved nature of the Post Office and the compensation scheme, I am concerned that if any Scottish legislation does not mirror the UK legislation, it might risk sub-postmasters’ access to the compensation scheme. What assessment has the Scottish Government done of those risks, particularly if the bill is amended during its passage through Westminster?

Angela Constance

That is a concern to me, too, which is why I have been very clear that, although Scottish legislation could be introduced—we are working on that—it would need to mirror the provisions in the UK legislation and it would need to be passed after the UK bill has been passed in order to take account of any amendments.

I will not do anything that puts at risk the ability of any wrongfully convicted sub-postmaster to access the UK compensation scheme. Given that the scheme is administered by the UK Government, as with the Post Office, which is also reserved, neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish Parliament has any locus in its operation. That is the reason why I, like the FM and the DFM in Northern Ireland, will continue to urge the UK Government to amend its bill to extend the legislation to cover Scotland.

Sex Offenders (Lothian)

7. Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of reports that hundreds of sex offenders have been able to change their name in the past two years, what it can do to ensure the safety of the public, particularly in areas such as EH14 and EH54, which reportedly have the joint highest number of sex offenders registered across Edinburgh and West Lothian. (S6O-03230)

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

Despite how it has been reported, Police Scotland has confirmed that it responded to a freedom of information request with detail of the instances in which some detail of a registered name has been changed. To be clear, that is not the same as individuals having changed their name, and could include, for example, a new email address or the issuing of a gym card bearing a name. Therefore, the actual number of individuals identifying under a new name is lower than the reported figures.

The Scottish Government takes the safety of the public very seriously. Sex offender notification requirements apply to an individual, irrespective of what name they use, and multi-agency public protection arrangements documentation includes the recording of any aliases. Sex offenders must inform the police of a name change within three days, and failure to notify such a change can result in a prison sentence.

Sue Webber

Recent reports have raised concerns about the ability of sex offenders to change their name, whatever the numbers may be—one is bad. The loophole in the legal system allows dangerous criminals to hide in plain sight, and we know of instances in which it has allowed dangerous sex offenders to change their name and subsequently target new victims, who have no way of knowing their new identity. Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether any consideration has been given to closing that loophole in the interest of public safety?

Angela Constance

The member might be aware of the Criminal Justice Bill that is making its way through Westminster just now. I am very actively and seriously considering the United Kingdom proposals for legislative change in this area. I hope to be in a position shortly to provide a more formal update to Parliament about any requirement for a legislative consent motion as a result of what is proposed. A range of amendments is proposed, some of which refer to issues in and around name change.


To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to challenge and deter men’s demand for prostitution. (S6O-03231)

The Minister for Victims and Community Safety (Siobhian Brown)

On 6 February, we published our strategy, “Scotland’s strategic approach to challenging and deterring men’s demand for prostitution and supporting the recovery and sustainable exit of those involved in prostitution”, which was informed through lived-experience research by those with experience of selling or exchanging sex. The lessons learned from the actions in the strategy will inform any future proposals, including legislation.

The actions in the strategy include establishing a national hub for support services to provide women with improved co-ordinated and person-centred support, with a pilot to begin this summer.

We will ensure that mainstream services have a wider awareness of commercial sexual exploitation and the impacts on those involved, and we have set up a new multi-agency group on commercial sexual exploitation, which will meet later this month.

Ruth Maguire

A Model for Scotland recently published its report “International Insights: how Scotland can learn from international efforts to combat commercial sexual exploitation”, which we debated in Parliament. Will the minister meet the organisation and me to talk about the Scottish Government’s very welcome strategy as a whole, and discuss how to meet in practice the named objective of challenging men’s demand for prostitution and the elements of a programme of work that will be developed to achieve that?

I know how passionate the member is to challenge and deter men’s demand for prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation as a whole. I am more than happy to meet her and any organisation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

With apologies to those whom I was not able to call, that concludes portfolio questions on justice. Before we move to the next item of business, there will be a brief pause to allow for a changeover of members on the front benches.