Portfolio Questions – 19 February 2020

February 22, 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is portfolio questions.
As usual, short questions and snappy answers would be very helpful. Transport, infrastructure
and connectivity questions 4 and 5 have been grouped together. I will first take those
questions with the supplementary questions that are included in the group, and will then
take any further supplementaries. Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross)
(SNP): To ask the Scottish Government when electronic
signage will be installed along the A9, north of Inverness. (S5O-04121) The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure
and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): Transport Scotland has four existing variable
message signs on the A9 north of Inverness. Two cover the southbound approach to the Kessock
bridge, one is on the northbound carriageway approaching Helmsdale, and the fourth is on
the southbound carriageway beside Georgemas Junction railway station. As part of the national
high-wind management strategy, Transport Scotland will install an initial phase of four additional
variable message signs to cover the approaches to both the Dornoch Firth and the Cromarty
Firth bridges. They are planned for installation in spring 2020. Gail Ross: The Scottish National Party has committed
to upgrading that lifeline road, and improvements are well under way at Berriedale, with the
new road being due to open this spring. However, will the Scottish Government commit to further
improvements to ensure that other notorious sections of the A9—the Tomich junction,
the Tain section and the Cambusavie bends, for example—are safe and fit for the 21st
century? Michael Matheson: The safety of the trunk road network is assessed
annually, and programmes of interventions are developed and delivered where it is expected
that particular locations could benefit and there is evidence to support investment to
improve safety. As part of that programme, work is on-going at Tain to improve junctions
on the bypass, and the proposals are the subject of on-going engagement with stakeholders in
the area. We have published “National Transport Strategy:
Protecting our Climate and Improving Lives”, and we are working to complete the second
strategic transport projects review. The A9 north of Inverness is part of consideration
in the STPR2 process, which will determine the Government’s priorities for future transport
investment, including for the northern parts of the A9. Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands)
(Con): I met electric vehicle users in Orkney on
Monday, and they raised concerns about the lack of charging points on the A9. There is
also concern that existing charging points are often single points that are unavailable
because they are being used by other drivers or are, in some cases, broken. Given that
that infrastructure is essential, what plans are there to improve availability of electric
vehicle charging points, in particular in remote and rural areas, such as are found
across my region? The Deputy Presiding Officer: That question was a little wide of the mark,
but the cabinet secretary looks ready to answer. Michael Matheson: I do not know whether we have any electric
signage for charging points, but I can say that we have an extensive car charging network
across Scotland. Jamie Halcro Johnston might acknowledge that Scotland has the most extensive
public charging network in the United Kingdom outside central London. We are building on
that to ensure that we increase the number of charging points that are available for
low-emissions and electric vehicles. That includes work that we are taking forward with
local authority partners—including in the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles
and other areas across the country—through the substantial investment that we are making
to support people to move to low-carbon and electric vehicles. Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what action
it is taking to improve road safety around schools in rural areas. (S5O-04122) The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure
and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): The Scottish Government is committed to achieving
safer road travel in Scotland for all, including around schools. It provides funding to local
authorities to create new or improved infrastructure, including around schools, through the places
for everyone programme. Transport Scotland funds Cycling Scotland
to deliver bikeability training, which is available to all schools. Additionally, Road
Safety Scotland has developed online learning resources for three to 18-year-olds, which
is particularly useful for school teachers. In accordance with local authorities’ statutory
responsibility for local roads, it is for them to consider the most appropriate measures
to safeguard schoolchildren in their areas. Oliver Mundell: As local parents are, I am concerned that
Dumfries and Galloway Council is systematically ignoring its obligations in relation to rural
schools. At Duncow primary school, there have for years been broken flashing signs on a
60mph-limit road, and at Hottsbridge primary school large volumes of lorry traffic have
been forced to drive past the school daily as a result of a long-term road closure. Will
the cabinet secretary ask transport officials to approach the local authority to see what
more can be done to support them to ensure that we do not have a very serious accident? Michael Matheson: I am more than happy to ask my road safety
colleagues in Transport Scotland to contact the local authority on those matters. Oliver
Mundell is right to highlight safety issues, but that does not remove the statutory responsibility
of the local authority to take the appropriate measures. I encourage him to continue to press
the local authority and its executive leaders to make sure that they take the appropriate
measures to address the safety issues that he is concerned about. Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what its position
is on reported rural bus route reductions in South Scotland. (S5O-04123) The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure
and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): We recognise the vital importance that bus
services have for millions of Scots across the country, especially those who, for whatever
reason, do not have access to cars or live in places that are not served by the rail
network. Bus usage has been declining across the country
over many decades. Rural areas present distinct challenges for delivering viable local bus
services. Local authorities and regional transport partners already have powers to secure additional
services to meet local needs, and we are extending the range of options that are available to
them through the Transport Scotland Act 2019, which received royal assent towards the end
of last year. The Deputy Presiding Officer: Two members, Finlay Carson and Joan McAlpine,
have supplementaries—[Interruption.] Oh! Have I not asked Claudia Beamish for her supplementary?
That was disgraceful of me. Please ask your supplementary. Claudia Beamish: I do not know about “disgraceful”. Thank
you for letting me in. Since the start of December, about 4 per cent
of services on Stagecoach’s 101 and 102 services, which run from Dumfries to Edinburgh,
have been delayed due to mechanical and operational issues. What can be done to ensure that there
is robust regulation, such that timetabled rural bus services are provided unless there
are exceptional circumstances that are outwith the operator’s control? Will the cabinet secretary consider extending
the parameters of what is covered by bus regulation to include reasonable levels of comfort, such
as adequate temperature control, sufficient seating and adequate shelter at bus stops? Michael Matheson: Claudia Beamish has raised an issue that is
largely an operational matter for Stagecoach, with regard to the mechanical nature of the
fleet that it uses, which of course needs to comply with the regulations that have been
set down by the traffic commissioner. It might be that the issues that she has concerns about
can be addressed by the commissioner, or she could go to Bus Users Scotland, which we fund
and which helps to support people who have concerns about bus services. However, the
practical operation of the bus is a matter for the operator. Claudia Beamish could address
some of the issues through the commissioner, who might be able to assist in addressing
some of those concerns. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): I welcome the budget’s £83 million investment
in the future transport fund. Can the cabinet secretary outline how local authorities will
be able to apply for and make use of the funding? Michael Matheson: The future transport fund will have £83 million,
as is set out in the draft budget. It will support a range of low-carbon programmes and
projects, including initiatives to support the transition to deployment of zero-emissions
buses on local routes. The programme for Government also set out
our commitment to take forward our Scottish ultra-low-emissions bus scheme—it is open
for applications and bids can be made between now and 27 February—to support the industry
to move to low-carbon buses. The fund will also support the development
of cycling infrastructure through the places for everyone programme, which is administered
by Sustrans, and improved bus-priority infrastructure, which includes consideration of how the new
bus partnership fund can be used by local authorities to develop proposals that they
might consider for their areas. The fund covers a number of different areas. Local authorities
and other organisations can contact Transport Scotland and look to make applications with
regard to the various aspects of the fund. Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries)
(Con): Can the cabinet secretary outline what discussions,
if any, he has had with Dumfries and Galloway Council about establishing a local bus service
franchise? Can he also outline what support the Scottish Government can provide to local
authorities if it is their intention to improve rural bus services in that manner? Michael Matheson: Any intention in Dumfries and Galloway Council
to establish a franchise would be a matter for elected members of that council. Transport
Scotland officials can give them advice on the legislation that is in place, but that
would be a matter for the council to take forward. Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government whether it
has reviewed its transport procurement processes and criteria, in the light of recent issues
relating to ferry contracts. (S5O-04124) The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and
the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse): The Scottish Government continually reviews
its procurement processes and levels of governance for major infrastructure and vessel investment
projects. Daniel Johnson: The ferries that are being procured through
Ferguson Marine raise serious questions regarding oversight and governance. We need answers
from the Government on why it has decided to build two dual-fuel ferries that CalMac
Ferries apparently did not want. There are questions about whether the ferries’ propulsion
systems are appropriate for the distance of the routes and whether the design specification
was properly signed off. Either the procurement process was deficient, or it was not followed.
Which of those does the minister think it is? Paul Wheelhouse: Mr Johnson is obviously trying to get in ahead
of the committee inquiry, which I am pleased to be taking part in. Unfortunately, the date
on which I will appear has now been moved back by the committee. I will look to answer
all of the questions that are raised with me at the appropriate time. I do not agree with Mr Johnson’s assertions
about the design of the vessels. We believe that the vessels are of a good design for
the services that they will provide. Clearly, we are trying to move to decarbonise the fleet
and dual-fuel propulsion systems are one means of doing that. We are looking forward and
will ensure that we take full account of the need to decarbonise ferry travel for passengers
and vehicles as we develop our future ferries plan and the vessel replacement and deployment
plan. On procurement, I remind the member that we
are supporting a very important business in Inverclyde. I appreciate that his party are
supportive of that, but I hope that it recognises that, in awarding the work to the yard, which
is a good yard, we will ultimately see good vessels being delivered, notwithstanding the
challenges that we had with previous management. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what its response
is to the Competition and Markets Authority’s analysis of its handling of ferry contracts
and the potential effect that has on future procurement. (S5O-04125) The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and
the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse): The Competition and Markets Authority’s paper
is not an analysis of our handling of ferry contracts; rather, it notes the CMA’s view
on competition in the future procurement of vessels. Jeremy Balfour: I am sure that we can all agree on the importance
of securing Scotland’s shipbuilding industry. However, does the minister also agree that
the disastrous mismanagement by the Scottish National Party that we have seen at Ferguson
Marine is not sustainable? Paul Wheelhouse: I am glad that Mr Balfour is not a member
of the judiciary, because it is customary at an inquiry to hear the evidence from witnesses
before coming to conclusions. As I said in my response to Mr Johnson, we fundamentally
disagree with that assessment of the situation, and my colleagues and I are prepared to defend
our position when we come before the committee as part of its inquiry. We will respect the
results that come from the inquiry. Not all of Mr Balfour’s colleagues have
previously expressed support for shipbuilding in Inverclyde; not all of them have previously
agreed with that position. I am glad to see a sign that the Conservative Party is, perhaps,
beginning to support the shipbuilding industry after decades of neglect. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde)
(SNP): The Law Society of Scotland has stated that
importance has to be placed not only on financial and commercial matters but on ensuring that
procurement “takes full account of other relevant considerations”. Can the minister give an indication of some
of the wider benefits that the recent issues relating to ferry contracts will have on the
300 jobs and on the local economy that the shipyard, which is in my constituency, supports? Paul Wheelhouse: As Mr McMillan will know—because he has
been closely engaged throughout the process, since 2014—our efforts saved Ferguson Marine
from closure. As he said, we rescued more than 300 jobs. We also ensured that the two
vessels that are under construction will be completed, and secured a future for the yard.
The alternative was to walk away. That was unpalatable for us and we were not prepared
to do it. In addition to saving the jobs in the yard, stepping in to save the yard supports
jobs in the supply chain locally and further afield, including local businesses and suppliers
that depend on business from the yard and its workers. In the past few weeks, we have heard suggestions—including
at the committee sessions that were referred to earlier—that vessels should be built
in China and South Korea. Although I respect the individuals who made those points, and
they are entitled to their view, we believe that such a view betrays a staggering lack
of commitment to the workforce and local community in Inverclyde. I assure Mr McMillan, who represents
his community with great passion, that we are absolutely behind the people of Inverclyde. Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): As part of any review of procurement and the
Government’s ferries plan, will the minister agree a timeframe with Orkney Islands Council
for the procurement of the replacement vessels that are urgently needed to operate on Orkney’s
internal lifeline routes? Paul Wheelhouse: I recognise Mr McArthur’s strong interest
in the issue as the constituency member for Orkney. He will know that those services are
currently provided by Orkney Islands Council. I undertake to have continued discussions
with the council as we move forward but, at the moment, our focus is on the immediate
issues that are before us, in the context of developing the vessel replacement and deployment
plan for our supported ferries and the ferries plan for the next period, and supporting the
workforce in Inverclyde to ensure that we maintain employment in the area, as I said
in response to Mr McMillan, and deliver hulls 801 and 802 as soon as possible, which are
needed to provide vital services to communities in the Clyde and Hebrides. Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government whether it
will provide an update on the progress of the Scottish 4G infill programme in Aberdeenshire.
(S5O-04126) The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and
the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse): We are making good progress with the 4G mobile
infill programme. Thirteen masts have been built or are under construction and I am pleased
to be able to advise the Parliament that the mast at New Luce in Galloway went live last
weekend. Unfortunately, progress has been slower at
the two candidate sites that were identified in Aberdeenshire: Pennan and Collieston. No
confirmed interest has yet been expressed by any of the mobile network operators. I
assure Ms Martin that Scottish Government officials and I will continue to use every
opportunity to secure mobile operators’ interest in those and other candidate sites. Gillian Martin: The minister has largely answered my supplementary
question, which was about Collieston, because I was informed recently that there is no interest
from operators. What can be done to encourage operators to get involved in the process and
give us the coverage that we desperately need? Paul Wheelhouse: It would be wrong to say that there is no
interest whatever, but we have not had confirmed interest in taking on the mast at Collieston.
It is important to recognise that a fundamental principle of the Scottish 4G infill programme
is that, unless at least one operator is committed to delivering 4G services from a candidate
site, the site will not progress to build. We are in discussion with an operator that
has expressed interest in the site at Collieston, but I reiterate that that is not yet a confirmed
interest. We are pressing for the operator’s commitment to using the site. If that can
be achieved, the site will progress to build. We will publish updates to the programme on
our website and I will write to Ms Martin with a further update on Collieston when that
is available. Of course, I welcome interest from members
about sites in their areas in relation to the Scottish 4G infill programme. Get Glasgow Moving Campaign The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Johann Lamont to ask question 7. Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government, in light of
the River Clyde bursting its banks, what impact and risk assessment it has made in relation
to Glasgow’s flood defences. The Deputy Presiding Officer: I do not think that that is the question as
written— The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure
and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): It is not the question that I have before
me— The Deputy Presiding Officer: No, it is not. Sorry, Ms Lamont, will you
ask your question as published in the Business Bulletin? Johann Lamont: I apologise. I think that I have got my weeks
mixed up. No doubt there will be some investigation. I will not give my justification for the mix-up.
[Laughter.] To ask the Scottish Government what its response
is to the Get Glasgow Moving petition calling for publicly owned buses. (S5O-04127) The Deputy Presiding Officer: Now, that is a wee bit different from the
other question. Michael Matheson: Flood prevention in Glasgow, no. We welcome Get Glasgow Moving’s commitment
to improving public transport in Glasgow. The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 provides
a range of new tools that local transport authorities can use to meet local needs and
circumstances, whether they wish to pursue partnership working with local bus service
providers, local franchising or the running of their own bus services. Alongside the 2019 act, we are bringing forward
transformational long-term funding for bus priority infrastructure of more than half
a billion pounds. Johann Lamont: I thank the cabinet secretary and, given the
mix-up in my questions, I just ask him to consider carefully how he might encourage
communities to develop co-operative models for the provision of local bus services. A
number of campaigns, from the Co-operative Party and others, recognise that the co-operative
model can provide an effective means of bringing bus transport to communities. I ask the cabinet
secretary to commit to looking further at the issue. Michael Matheson: I would be more than happy to look at that
issue, which is a very interesting concept around providing local bus services. Particularly
in rural areas, there is the potential for co-operative models to be one of the means
by which bus services could be provided. If Johann Lamont will provide me with further
information on the specific proposals that she believes are worth considering, I will
be happy to engage with her and to look at those in further detail. The Deputy Presiding Officer: That concludes questions on transport and
infrastructure. I apologise to Annie Wells for failing to reach her question. Justice and the Law Officers Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how the justice
system provides support to victims of serious crime and keeps them informed at every stage
of the process. (S5O-04129) The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf): I welcome the member’s question, particularly
as this is victims awareness week. The victims code for Scotland sets out victims’ rights
to information. Victims of serious crime will be allocated a family liaison officer by Police
Scotland to update them during the police investigation. If that leads to criminal charges,
victims can also access support from the victim information and advice service at the Crown
Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Following a conviction, information on prisoners is
available through the victim notification scheme. Support is available via Victim Support
Scotland, including its support for families bereaved by crime service, and via the national
advocacy project for victims of sexual violence. The victims task force is also considering
ways to improve support and information. Dr Allan: How does the Scottish Government ensure that
victims of crime, especially the most serious crimes, have suitable emotional support and
receive practical information specifically about their rights to make representations
to the Parole Board? Humza Yousaf: That is a hugely important area and a very
important question; I thank the member for raising it. He will be aware that we recently
held a consultation on parole and the analysis and response from that has been extremely
welcome. We are actively looking at the support that Victim Support Scotland can provide and
what it already does, and it can provide further emotional and practical support to victims
when they are making written or oral representations to the Parole Board. On the back of the consultation, we are looking
at whether victims can perhaps even attend Parole Board hearings and a key part of that
will be ensuring that they have welfare and emotional support. A transforming parole implementation
group is taking that work forward. The group has met once, on 28 January, and it is due
to meet again next week. I am happy to keep the member informed of progress as that work
develops. Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): A key feature of the Victims and Witnesses
(Scotland) Act 2014 was police restitution orders, which would help to finance an expansion
of the support that officers receive following an assault in the line of duty. To date, there
is no sign of those orders being implemented. Why has there been a delay and when can we
expect those orders to be brought forward? Humza Yousaf: There has been good progress on restitution
orders. I will write to the member with more detail. As he probably knows, some of the
delay arose because of conversations that we had to have with the United Kingdom Government,
which have been constructive ones. I made a commitment when I first came into this role
that I would like to bring forward restitution orders and it was certainly an ask from the
Scottish Police Federation. There has been significant progress and I will write to the
member with more details. The Deputy Presiding Officer: Question 2 has been withdrawn for an obvious
reason. Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government whether it
will provide an update on the introduction of transdermal alcohol monitoring tags. (S5O-04131) The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf): Last year, through the Management of Offenders
(Scotland) Act 2019, the Scottish Government introduced a legislative framework to enable
the expansion of electronic monitoring, including through deployment of new technologies for
remote substance monitoring. In October 2019 following a procurement exercise, we announced
a new electronic monitoring contract, which will commence on 1 April 2020 and will include
those technological capabilities. While the provisions of the Act that enable
remote substance monitoring have not yet been commenced, the next steps will be to work
closely with justice stakeholders to discuss how this enhanced monitoring may be most effectively
used in future. Liz Smith: I thank the cabinet secretary for that interesting
answer. He will know that recent evaluations from two separate United Kingdom pilots—the
first in Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire and the second in London—saw a
combined total of more than 1,400 offenders subject to compulsory sobriety when monitoring
took place with alcohol tags. Those pilots yielded a 94 per cent compliance rate. Does the cabinet secretary agree that continuous
alcohol monitoring tags could play an important part in ensuring that we are tackling alcohol-fuelled
crime here in Scotland? Humza Yousaf: I certainly think that the pilots that have
been taking place in England and Wales are worth exploring and that the technologies
that we are discussing can absolutely play a role. I previously welcomed a positive comment
that was made by the Conservative justice spokesperson, Liam Kerr, about the technologies,
and we think that they have a role to play. However, there will not be one silver bullet
to tackle the issue; I know that Liz Smith is certainly not suggesting that that is the
case. We will want to work very closely with individuals who are suffering from alcohol
and substance abuse and work on the preventative agenda where we can. Transdermal technologies could absolutely
play a role, and we are working very closely with partners here in Scotland, as well as
looking at what the pilots in England and Wales are demonstrating. I thank Liz Smith
and her party for keeping an open mind about using such technologies in the future. Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley)
(SNP): To ask the Scottish Government whether it
is considering a policy of granting a right of access for children to their grandparents
in cases of family separation. (S5O-04132) The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham): The Scottish Government recognises the important
role that grandparents play in many families in bringing up children. We have not included
a specific provision in the Children (Scotland) Bill on the relationships between a grandparent
and a child, as we believe that such a provision could cut across the key principle in the
legislation that the welfare of the child is the court’s “paramount consideration”. Willie Coffey: The minister will be aware of the United Nations
convention that sets out the fundamental rights of a child, including the right to live with
a family that loves and cares for them. Will the minister consider enshrining that basic
right in our own legislation as we take forward the Children (Scotland) Bill, such that there
is a requirement on anyone who is seeking to deny children that basic right to seek
a court order to do so? Ash Denham: Currently, a grandparent can apply for a contact
order under section 11 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. In making a decision, the welfare
of the child will be the court’s “paramount consideration”, taking into account the
views that are expressed by the child. The bill would require the court, when considering
the welfare of the child, to take account of the effect of its decision on the child’s
important non-parental relationships, which could of course include grandparents. My view
is that the present position complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD): I am grateful to the minister for taking the
time to meet my constituents, Gordon and Shonia-Maree Mason, who, after involuntary estrangement
from their grandson, have been campaigning on the issue. They recognise the problems
that the minister has outlined about extending the right to grandparents, but does the minister
agree that the French model of giving children the right to have connections with their ancestors
when it is appropriate and in the interests of their welfare to do so, is a way forward
here? Ash Denham: I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for raising the
matter and mentioning that I met him and his constituents to explore the issue with them.
We want to ensure that children can expect to know and maintain contact with their wider
family, except in very exceptional circumstances. However, I do not consider that an automatic
right of contact, such as Alex Cole-Hamilton is describing, is appropriate for a number
of reasons, including that it may not be in the child’s best interest in every case
and it could, as I said earlier, cut across the key principle of the 1995 act that the
welfare of the child is the “paramount consideration”. Grandparents can of course apply to the court
for contact under the existing legislation, and a decision will then be made by the court
about what is in the child’s best interest in that particular case. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con): Like other members, I have had a number of
constituents contact me about the issue. As the minister will be aware, in other jurisdictions
across the world there is a presumption that the grandparents would have a right of access—it
is not an automatic right, but a presumption. Will the minister look at including in the
bill a presumption that grandparents would have a right to see their grandchildren while
also recognising that such a right must be in the best interest of the child? Ash Denham: We have already looked at such a presumption
during the passage of the Children (Scotland) Bill. It is a very complex area. As members
might expect, such a presumption was strongly supported by organisations such as Grandparents
Apart UK. However, there was considerable opposition to it, and concerns were raised
that any such provision would cut across the key principle in the bill, which is that the
welfare of the child should be taken into account. We consider that the arguments against having
such a provision in the law are stronger than the arguments for including such a provision
in the bill. James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what progress
has been made on implementing the provisions in the Management of Offenders (Scotland)
Act 2019. (S5O-04133) The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf): The 2019 act covers four distinct topics:
electronic monitoring, disclosure, the Parole Board for Scotland and the control of release
from prison, including the use of home detention curfew. To date, there have been three sets of commencement
regulations that have brought in different aspects of the act. In October 2019, initial
commencement regulations brought into force a number of provisions in relation to home
detention curfew and prisons, including those that provided for the new offence of remaining
unlawfully at large, improved powers of recall from HDC and the duty on public authorities
to co-operate in relation to early release from prison. In December 2019, commencement regulations
brought into force a number of provisions in relation to disclosure ahead of wider commencement
of the substantive provisions later this year. In the same month, we also commenced section
44 of the 2019 act in respect of periods of appointment of the chairperson and members
of the Parole Board. James Kelly: It is a matter of real concern that no date
has been set for the implementation of provisions in part 2 of the 2019 act on spent convictions.
A case has been drawn to my attention involving an individual who was convicted and fined
£400 in December 2015. Under the new law, that conviction would have been spent in 12
months and the record withdrawn from disclosure. However, last month the individual concerned
had a job offer withdrawn because a record of the conviction was still on their disclosure.
That is unacceptable. Why has there been a dereliction of duty in
that area? What is the point of Parliament passing laws when, six months down the line,
no action has been taken to introduce that aspect of the 2019 act? Humza Yousaf: I express sympathy with James Kelly’s constituent.
Mr Kelly will understand that the Scottish Government’s intention is to have a fairer
system of disclosure. That is why we introduced the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill,
which I am pleased was supported by Labour. I take exception to the way in which Mr Kelly
framed the question. There has not been a dereliction of duty. We sometimes take time
to commence provisions because, for a variety of reasons, it can take partners time to be
ready. When it comes to disclosure, some work needs to be done in relation to Disclosure
Scotland’s information technology systems. The work to update Disclosure Scotland’s
IT systems is progressing well, and we are confident that it will be completed in the
next few months. [Interruption.] Mr Kelly shouts, “Six months,” from a
sedentary position. If he has ever been involved in projects to update IT, he will know that
they can take some time. James Kelly: I have been. Humza Yousaf: We are working on the basis that the new IT
systems will be up and running and ready to commence operation in the next few months.
There is no delay, dithering or dereliction of duty. We are talking about pragmatic, practical
things that have to be worked through. However, the policy intention is absolutely
sound, and I can give Mr Kelly an absolute guarantee that there would be no reason for
us to want to delay. We want the relevant provisions to be implemented, but it would
be a dereliction of duty if I allowed that to happen when Disclosure Scotland’s IT
systems were not ready to cope with those changes. I will continue to make sure that Mr Kelly
is kept up to date with progress, and I give him a reassurance that there has been no unnecessary
delay in introducing the measures in question. The Deputy Presiding Officer: I ask for shorter questions and answers so
that we can get in the other members who have questions. Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how increased
investment, outlined in its draft budget, will help support the Scottish Fire and Rescue
Service. (S5O-04134) The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham): The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service continues
to adapt to the changing risks that Scotland’s communities face. With the additional £6.1
million funding that was announced in the draft budget, this will be the third year
in a row in which the Scottish Government has provided increased investment to enable
SFRS modernisation. That funding will allow the SFRS to have a renewed focus on prevention
to keep vulnerable people safe in their homes. Shona Robison: I understand that firefighters are being balloted
on a new pay and conditions offer, with the ballot closing at the end of the month. Will
the minister provide an update on the negotiations and let us know what progress has been made
so far with the main representative body, the Fire Brigades Union? Ash Denham: The Scottish Government is not part of the
negotiations on firefighters’ pay and conditions, because those matters are between the SFRS,
as the employer, and the FBU. The SFRS made a final pay offer that amounted to a 17 per
cent increase for the period until July 2022, for the expanded role from November 2019.
The FBU is balloting members on that offer, with a closing date of 28 February. I have written to the SFRS and the FBU to
make clear the Scottish Government’s position, which is that additional investment in the
SFRS can be supported only if real progress is made on broadening the role of firefighters
in Scotland. I hope that a deal can be reached soon. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con): To ask the Scottish Government what discussions
it has had with Police Scotland regarding surveillance of drug supply routes. (S5O-04135) The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf): As the chair of the serious organised crime
task force, I have regular discussions with partners, including Police Scotland, about
our collective enforcement activity in disrupting the drugs trade. As Liam Kerr will be aware, the nature of
the threats that our communities face is changing, and therefore our response to, for example,
online offending against vulnerable people, human trafficking and other cyber-based crimes,
such as child sexual exploitation, must change, too. The chief constable needs to make decisions
about how best to use resources that reflect the changing nature of threats. The best way of protecting people in all of
Scotland’s communities is to ensure that the chief constable has the overall capacity
and capability to address the threats that are faced by communities, including those
in Dumfries. The decision regarding the surveillance team in Dumfries is an operational matter
for the chief constable within that broader context. Liam Kerr: From his discussions, the cabinet secretary
will be well aware that it has been reported that a vital police surveillance unit that
is based in Dumfries and Galloway will be shut down, despite the fact that the area’s
ports and roads make it a choke point for the supply of drugs. It has been reported
that cuts to police budgets are directly responsible for such decisions. A former member of the
unit has said: “Removing the team from Dumfries will give
organised crime gangs more scope to carry out their criminal activities.” Is he not correct? Humza Yousaf: It is utter nonsense to suggest that the decision
has been taken for resourcing reasons. It has been taken for operational reasons, and
it is right that the chief constable has the independent discretion to make such decisions.
It is quite something for Liam Kerr and the Tories to think that it is appropriate for
politicians to direct the operational activity of the chief constable. I am certain that
Liam Kerr thinks very highly of himself, but the chief constable has 30 years of operational
experience, which is far more than that of Liam Kerr or, indeed, any other politician
in the chamber. It is right for us to leave operational decisions
to the chief constable. There should be no political interference in his decisions. If
Liam Kerr has concerns, he should raise them directly with the chief constable; he should
not be demanding that the justice secretary intervenes. However, I suspect that the chief
constable will take a very dim view of Liam Kerr telling him what he should be doing in
his capacity and with his assets. Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane)
(SNP): To ask the Scottish Government how it is engaging
with interested parties, such as Families Need Fathers, during stage 1 of the Children
(Scotland) Bill. (S5O-04136) The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham): The Scottish Government has engaged with stakeholders
since the Children (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 2 September
2019 and continues to do so. I have met Shared Parenting Scotland—which was formerly called
Families Need Fathers Scotland—twice since my appointment as Minister for Community Safety.
Officials have met Shared Parenting Scotland on a number of occasions since the bill was
introduced. For example, officials attended the relaunch of Shared Parenting Scotland
on 10 February. Keith Brown: I have been contacted by not only Families
Need Fathers but a number of constituents regarding the bill’s provisions relating
to estranged parents and the need for them to maintain personal relationships and direct
contact with their children. Would the minister be willing to meet me to discuss my constituents’
views? Ash Denham: The Scottish Government believes that both
parents should be fully involved in a child’s upbringing, as long as that is in the best
interests of the child. I would, of course, be happy to meet Mr Brown and/or his constituents
to discuss the matter in more detail. Thank you. That concludes Portfolio Questions.
We will have a slight pause before we move on to the next item of business.

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