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Constitutional Law

Volume 676: debated on Tuesday 19 May 2020

We come now to the motion on constitutional law. I call Douglas Ross to move the motion. The Minister is asked to speak for no more than 20 minutes.

I beg to move,

That the draft Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modification) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 25 March, be approved.

I start by reminding the House that my wife is a serving police officer in Scotland—a police sergeant in Moray—which clearly relates to the business in front of us today.

May I take the opportunity, for the first time at the Dispatch Box, to welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) to his role as shadow Scottish Secretary, and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) as the shadow Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? I look forward to working with them both in the weeks and months ahead.

May I also send our best wishes to the shadow Scottish Secretary’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd)? All of us in this House were extremely concerned when he spent 25 days in Manchester Royal Infirmary. He is a great servant to this House and his community, and we wish him continued success as he recovers from coronavirus.

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this order. Police officers and staff are on the frontline each and every day protecting the public. Members will likely have seen some media reports showing that, in the first three weeks of the current restrictions, police in Scotland recorded more than 100 coronavirus-related attacks and threats aimed at officers. These included officers being spat at or deliberately coughed on. Attacks against our officers and staff are deplorable and completely unacceptable, and this order facilitates police officers in Scotland in receiving the support they need should that ever happen. This will be quite a technical speech about the orders and the legislation in front of us, but we should always remember that behind this important order are our police officers and staff who are unacceptably being attacked in Scotland, and we must do everything we can to prevent that.

This order is part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to devolution and is made in consequence of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, which I shall refer to as the 2014 Act, and has been requested by the Scottish Government. This order is made under section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary or expedient legislative provision in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. In this case, provision is required in consequence of the aforementioned 2014 Act.

Through the 2014 Act, the Scottish Government sought to increase the support available to victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland. In doing so, the Scottish Government made provision for the creation of a new pathway called the restitution order to be imposed on offenders who assault a police officer or certain other prescribed persons. That will mean that those who assault police officers can be compelled to contribute towards the cost of support services for such victims. In the event of a non-payment of a restitution order, the Scottish Government were to enforce payment through a deduction in sums from benefits where appropriate. However, social security schemes for making deductions from benefits are not within the executive competence of Scottish Ministers.

The Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduces a process whereby fines can be collected through certain benefits. This order therefore amends Section 24 of the 1991 Act by referencing the restitution order and indicating that it should be treated in the same way as a fine for the purposes of that section. This facilitates the Scottish Government’s aim by allowing the recovery of the penalty via deduction from an offender’s benefits.

The process for collecting the restitution order from an offender’s benefits will follow the same process as for other fines or compensation orders. These are predominantly means-tested benefits such as income support and universal credit. The 1991 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce a process whereby courts can apply for a deduction from an offender’s benefits to pay for a fine or compensation order through what is called a deduction from benefits order.

Once the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has secured a deduction from benefits order, the Department for Work and Pensions will recover the restitution order on behalf of the courts in Scotland by direct deduction from an offender’s benefits. The funds collected will be transferred to the restitution fund, which will be held and managed by the Scottish Government, although functions can be delegated to a third party.

The fund will directly benefit police officers and police staff by securing the provision of any type of treatment which is intended to benefit the physical or mental wellbeing of the victim. Examples of this include the police treatment centres in Auchterarder and Harrogate, where treatment ranges from physiotherapy to psychological wellbeing,

The territorial extent and application of this instrument is England, Wales and Scotland. The territorial application is required as the courts in Scotland need to be able to make the deduction from benefits order, and agencies in England, Scotland and Wales may need to carry out the processes to ensure that the deductions are made. In addition, it provides for the collection of the restitution orders imposed on offenders who move from Scotland to one of the other two territories after conviction, and it also provides for those who reside in England and Wales but committed the offence in Scotland and were therefore tried by a Scottish court.

To summarise, this instrument facilitates the recovery of the Scottish restitution order by deductions from an offender’s benefits in appropriate cases. The order only gives Scottish Ministers the necessary powers to apply to the Secretary of State for a deductions from benefit order; it does not set the policy. That is, of course, a matter for the Scottish Government, under the scrutiny of the Scottish Parliament.

The UK Government remain committed to strengthening the devolution settlement, and this order demonstrates the two Governments working together to deliver for the people of Scotland. It also reiterates our support and respect for police officers and staff across the country. These police officers and staff do so much to protect us; with these orders we are supporting them. I commend the order to the House.

Before I call Ian Murray, I remind those taking part in the debate who are not in the Chamber that they have a 10-minute limit, so they should have a timing device made available to them.

I thank the Minister for his warm welcome at the Dispatch Box. I would rather that we were debating the debacle of Scottish football today, given his experience, which I am sure would be more amenable to our constituents. Perhaps we will get to one of those debates in future when we are back to normal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and I appreciate the Minister’s warm welcome and his words about my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), who had a very serious bout of coronavirus. He is now out of hospital and I have spoken to him. You will be pleased to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that he has not lost any of his dry wit and sense of humour. We look forward to him being back in this place as quickly as possible.

I also thank the Minister’s wife. I had not realised that she was a serving police officer. I thank her and her colleagues for all that they are doing to keep us safe during the crisis, and not just during the crisis; police and other support staff keep us safe at all times, across not just Scotland but the rest of the UK.

We will work constructively with the Minister, his team and the Secretary of State when they agree with us and we will be a ferocious Opposition when they do not. We will work genuinely constructively when it is in the interest of the people of Scotland, but we will certainly scrutinise and hold both Governments to account for their decisions, because that is what they get paid for.

There is no disagreement this afternoon with regard to the order, which facilitates the retribution orders that the Scottish Government have put in place. It is disappointing that it has taken a bit of time to get here, but there is no better time than now to reassess how we punish those who assault our police officers physically, mentally or, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, by spitting during the coronavirus pandemic. It is time to get the legislation in place.

Retribution orders are useful tools for punishment and deterrence, and the fund that is developed is there for victims in the police service, and other associated people within the police, to seek retribution and have support. It is right for them to get that. We wish only that we did not have to have that kind of support for our police personnel, but we do, and we hope that it will reduce over the years.

It is also important, at this time, to look at the people who might be given a retribution order and how the legislation might affect them. There has been a massive increase in the uptake of universal credit. The unemployment figures released today are not a surprise, but will be a concern to us all. For people in receipt of a retribution order, this order will allow the retribution order to be deducted from their benefits.

I have big questions to ask the Minister with regard to that. How will he ensure the affordability of those orders for benefit claimants, particularly when people are stretched, so that they will not be made destitute by them? Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions last year revealed that a quarter of a million people across the UK had been sanctioned on universal credit, and 5% of those had been sanctioned for longer than six months.

Can we be sure that any deductions from benefits will be taken into account if someone is sanctioned, in order for them and their families not to be put into destitution? That does not in any way dilute the seriousness of why they were given a retribution order, but it is important that it does not put families into destitution. How can the Minister and the Secretary of State ensure that any changes in legislation at the Scottish Government level are analysed and assessed on the basis of how the order will now work, if people are having deductions from their benefits and pay?

As I said, we do not disagree with the order. Ultimately, compensation for the victims of any crime goes further than its simple monetary value, particularly for crimes of assault on police officers. It can be of great significance as a real recognition of the crime that has been committed against the victim, as well as acknowledging the suffering as a result of any offence. Therefore, this is a necessary statutory instrument that will allow the justice system to work for victims by allowing them to see that the perpetrator’s actions have serious consequences, and will play an important role in victims’ recovery. We are therefore happy to support the order.

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on his return to the role of shadow Secretary of State for Scotland after his sabbatical? One of the great disappointments to me in my time as Secretary of State was the announcement, following his departure from that role, and in the absence of a Front-Bench spokesman, that either the Leader of the Opposition himself or the shadow Chancellor would participate in Scottish questions. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, immediately before the first such occasion, a shadow Scottish Secretary was appointed.

This process is important. It is unusual not just because we are participating in a virtual Chamber but because we are in the Chamber more generally. Usually, section 104 orders and others that flow from the original Scotland Act are transacted on the Committee corridor and get very little attention, but, as the Minister said, they are in many ways the backbone of the devolution settlement and the relationship between the two Governments and Parliaments. It is very easy, particularly given some of the headlines and media reports that we have seen in recent weeks, to think that the devolution settlement is not working, but this order and all the others that go through Parliament are actually a manifestation of the fact that it is working. Behind the scenes, officials in the UK Government and Scottish Government work closely together to ensure that these orders and the things that really matter to people in Scotland—the provision of a police service and a criminal justice system—go ahead in a way that relates to the whole of the United Kingdom. As the Minister said, this order ensures that, if people are in England or Wales, such orders still apply and the benefits system recognises that.

It is very important, when we see the flare-ups that sometimes happen between politicians north and south of the border, that we understand that, in the day to day, the devolution settlement is working and has been tested through these systems. There were many times when I had to put through orders on matters of substance with which I did not agree, but I did agree that the Scottish Parliament had made that decision, in terms of the devolution settlement, and therefore it was appropriate that the Westminster Parliament and the UK Government ensured that that legislation was fully enacted.

I want to give my thanks and praise to the police in Scotland for the job they do more generally and what they have done specifically during the coronavirus crisis. I particularly commend the chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, for his calm, measured approach to these matters. He said right at the start that it was important that he continued on the basis of policing by consent. From my experience, and from feedback I have received from constituents, I think that has been achieved. That is very important. He underpinned that by setting out three key roles for Police Scotland: ensuring that social distancing is enforced to reduce the mortality rate during the spread of the virus; ensuring that the relationship of trust between the public in Scotland and the police is maintained; and, of course, ensuring the welfare and safety of not just police officers but their families.

I also commend the chief constable on his very reasoned approach. When there were some differences in the guidance between England and Scotland and we heard some unhelpful suggestions, from my point of view, that we should have border patrols, Iain Livingstone was clear that that would be a wholly inappropriate use of police resources. That was very helpful for my constituents, many of whom cross the border regularly.

The Minister and the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland have already alluded to the shocking report that in the first few weeks of the lockdown 100 officers had been attacked or the subject of abuse. As the deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor said, that is outrageous and disrespectful. Abuse and assault are simply not part of the job of police officers and can never be tolerated. I think that that is at the heart of the legislation in the Scottish Parliament and this subsequent order to ensure that we do not in any way accept that the abuse or assault of police officers is regarded as routine or tolerated. In the event of such behaviour they must be supported in every way.

I do not think that we waited six years for this subordinate legislation to come through just so that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who in 2014 was the Justice Secretary in Scotland and brought forward that Act, could speak in this debate. I am sure he must be disappointed, given the passion that I know he has for this matter and for an effective criminal justice system, that it has taken quite so long for the legislation to be fully enacted and this order put in place, just as I am sure he was disappointed that it took until 2019 for the victim surcharge fund, which was also announced in 2014, to get up and running in Scotland.

This is not, Mr Deputy Speaker, the place to rehearse arguments that are rightly had in the Scottish Parliament, but it would be wrong for me not to ensure that the House is aware that my Scottish Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are concerned about the Scottish National party Government’s approach to the police and justice system in Scotland, particularly in relation to the ongoing issue of police funding and the ability of the police to do the job that is important to them. Indeed, my colleague Liam Kerr MSP has brought forward legislation in the Scottish Parliament which would give police officers even further protection. The events to which I have just referred, which have happened to police officers on at least 100 occasions, demonstrate that it is appropriate to have additional measures in place. Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will continue to advocate for that, and to call the SNP Government to account on their approach to policing and justice in Scotland.

The order, however late in the day, is to be welcomed. It is important that, wherever people who have been asked to make such an order are in the United Kingdom, the orders can be effectively approached. I therefore hope that the House will take the view that the order should be passed.

I have one specific query that I want to raise with the Minister, which is in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions and its ability to deal with such things at this time or in the immediate future. As we know, and as the shadow Secretary said, there has been an increase in the existing claimant count, so that is an increasing workload, but it has also obviously prioritised within its workload. I hope the Minister, in his closing remarks, will confirm that the DWP will in due course have the capacity to deal with these orders. We all want to see a minimal amount of these orders, because the optimum situation would be—

Order. We gave you a bit of injury time to get the question out and I know the Minister heard it. Thank you very much for your contribution. I call Kenny MacAskill.

The right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) has pre-empted some of the comments that I was going to make. This legislation does go back to my time in office in a different Chamber—indeed, in a different lifetime. It has taken a considerable period of time for it to come through, and I do not know the reason for that. The right hon. Member was correct to say that the situation is likewise with the victim surcharge. However, I think we all know that in dealing with subordinate legislation—with very technical not only cross-border, but multi-departmental legislation—the devil is in the detail.

I have no doubt that Ministers, especially those involved in drafting the legislation, would have found it very complex, as they would have had to engage across multiple jurisdictions and agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions, never mind the police authorities and everything else. But we are where we are, and it is to be welcomed. It is rather regrettable that this matter should have been slightly politicised by the right hon. Member, as it should be welcomed and perhaps even considered south of the border.

It may be appropriate for me to mention the genesis of this legislation. The Minister pointed out some of the dreadful treatment experienced by officers during this time of crisis. As others have said, that should not be a matter of routine. It can never be accepted that it is just part of the job. No one’s job—a prison officer, a police officer, somebody working in the health service, or someone working in any other public or private sector organisation—should mean that they routinely have to put up with abuse and violence. It is simply unacceptable.

That said, we are aware that the police are required to go to incidents and deal with people who can be threatening and violent, and on occasions they do suffer injuries. Ultimately, it has to be for the court to decide on the sentence to impose, and it is appropriate that it has as many options available to it as possible. It can deal with such behaviour with imprisonment, which will often be the case for very serious offences, but it can also issue a fine or compensation order.

There is one other area that comes to mind, and that is the ability for police officers to receive treatment. The real genesis of this legislation came from a visit to the police treatment centre that is supported and sustained by individual officers. I believe that almost every officer in Scotland contributes voluntarily from their income to the upholding of the centre. There is one in Auchterarder, of which many Scottish Members may be aware. I understand that there is also one south of the border in Harrogate. Police officers can go to these centres to get treatment: to get them fit and well, to try to get them back to work, and to get their life on as even a course as possible. As I said, the centre is paid for by police contributions, and the cost is not insignificant. I do not think that a huge amount of public funds—if any—are put into it, because it is run on a charitable basis.

The service at the centre is professional. There are treatments available that may be available in some towns or communities, but certainly not to the same level of expertise. Indeed, hearing about my visit to the centre would put the Minister in mind of a football team, because it has professional support staff such as osteopaths and other experts, and it has its own swimming pool. Officers come to the centre in Scotland not just from Scotland but from south of the border. It is sometimes easier for officers from south of the border to get taken there or to access it, depending on where they are based in the north of England.

In summary, that is why we are here. This measure is not meant to take away from the right of a court to impose a prison sentence, a fine or a compensation order, but it is an opportunity for the court to impose a restitution order that would see some benefit. It would not simply—I do not mean to be disparaging in any way—be a penalty fine that might go into the public coffers, but one which can tangibly be put to use for the police service, and that can go to the benefit of the individual officer and of those more widely, because it will be used, in the main, to support the police treatment centres north of the border for officers from Scotland or elsewhere.

As I said, although it has taken a long time, we welcome this measure. It should not be routine, but officers who are injured are entitled to receive the best possible service. They cannot and should not always have to do so by going to their own private physiotherapist or whatever; they should be able to obtain it as part of the service. They currently do so through their pay packet. This measure can provide some alleviation of that and further support for it. I simply ask the Minister to consider whether, as well as ensuring that we have the relevant restitution order, other support can come from Governments north and, indeed, south of the border to support not just the institution in Auchterarder but the one in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

It is delightful to take part in this debate on something that, as has already been alluded to, may not appear as important or groundbreaking as some of the legislation we discuss but is vital to the everyday lives of our constituents. Let me take the opportunity to welcome back to the Front Bench the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and associate myself with his remarks about Scottish football—although perhaps the less said about the most recent decisions, the better for us all.

It is also an honour to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who, as he said, introduced the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament. I, together with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, welcome the opportunity to enable the Act to be fully enacted through this order. It was fascinating to hear the hon. Gentleman’s account of the genesis of the Bill, which is now coming to fruition no less than seven years after he introduced it at Holyrood.

None of us dispute that, currently, Police Scotland, in common with police and other emergency services up and down this country, is working in extremely challenging circumstances. It has to balance its daily responsibilities of maintaining order with its extended role of protecting the public in the context of the pandemic. Police Scotland deftly responds to its emergency powers and protects the public by ensuring that we observe lockdown and social distancing, but, as the Minister mentioned, that has come at a price, with no fewer than 100 direct coronavirus-related attacks on our police service.

Until recently, safe working was something which many of us were lucky enough to be able to take for granted. But the police service as a profession never can, and its daily routine is not without significant risk of abuse or assault. In fact, over the past five years in Scotland, while we have been coming to this point with the Bill, there has been a gradual but sustained increase in the number of reported assaults on police officers. More than 3,000 police officers were assaulted—that is an average of almost 20 a day— between March and September last year. To assault a police office is of course already a crime under Scots law, but, as we have heard, this legislation allows for restitution orders to finally be brought forward into law. For those convicted of impeding or assaulting a police officer, a court will be able to impose this new financial penalty. This significant step ensures that police officers who are victims of crime receive support for their individual needs so that they continue their duty serving and protecting the public. It is perhaps fitting that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week as many victims of crime—police officers and others—suffer mental health issues as a consequence.

Victims of crime engage with support services whose funding will come as a direct result of restitution orders, something whose day has finally arrived in Parliament. That perhaps brings me to a slight difference of opinion with colleagues I am following in this debate. Like many others, I am extremely disappointed that it has taken so long for this legislation to reach this point—the length of delay by the Scottish Government in what was a flagship policy for the SNP. It went through the parliamentary process as the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill in 2013 and was given Royal Assent in 2014.

Police restitution orders which require this change were a vital part of that legislation, and just in case there is any doubt, this delay has not been in any way, shape or form the fault of the UK Government or Parliament. It is, however, reassuring that we can, at this final stage of the Bill, work together to make sure that our police officers in Scotland receive the restitution they deserve. I hope that none of us will use this as a political opportunity either to bash or to congratulate the Scottish Government. It is simply a fact that we have now come—finally—to the point where restitution orders can be put in place. I will take great pleasure in supporting this order.

I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues welcome this legislation, which will finally allow police restitution orders to be brought forward in Scotland. As other Members have said, this is long overdue.

As other Members have explained, restitution orders will make a fine payable if somebody is convicted of abusing or assaulting a police officer. The fines will finance an expansion of the support that officers receive, by helping to finance specialist non-NHS support for injured police officers. Today’s debate relates to the fact that Westminster approval is required to permit such restitution orders to be claimed from benefits payable. This is unequivocally a positive step forward for police officers and adds to the victim surcharge, which was finally introduced last year.

It is a sad fact that many police officers are injured on duty, and assaults on police officers are often the cause of those injuries. Members will know that I come from a family of police officers; I, my father and my husband have all served, and I have other family members currently serving in Police Scotland. All of us were assaulted during our police careers. My husband was knocked unconscious during the policing of a football match. My father was head-butted by a prisoner in the police cells and required stitches.

My own most vivid memory is from early in my police career—within months of leaving initial training at the police college in Tulliallan in fact. It relates to attending a call about a report of a domestic dispute in a high-rise block of flats in Edinburgh. On arrival at the landing in question, my tutor and I could hear a loud argument and decided to call for additional officers to make their way to support us in case they were required. I am glad we did so. The door was answered by a man who, after telling us where to go, was then attacked by his girlfriend, but from behind with a knife. A toddler was visible at the back of the flat hallway. My colleague managed to baton the knife from the women’s grasp, and in anger both of them then turned on us, and a violent struggle ensued.

Luckily for us, colleagues came quickly, and both people were arrested. The man, in particular, struggled violently throughout the arrest and attempted to spit at all the officers, claiming that he was HIV-positive. It then transpired that he had been responsible for an assault and robbery nearby earlier that evening. Other than bruising, my colleague and I were unharmed, but it was a salutary lesson to me in being prepared for any eventuality and in being responsive to events.

Police officers, like other key workers during the current covid-19 pandemic, are leaving their homes and families every day to carry out vital work and without knowing what that day will bring them. Restitution orders are not simply about a financial penalty for those who assault officers in the course of their duties, but about showing police officers that the work they do for us on behalf of society is valued. Now more than ever, we are relying on the police, who are doing a very difficult job in strange times. They are enforcing new emergency laws and keeping us safe from coronavirus, alongside tackling other types of crime. Other crimes, such as domestic abuse, are now more difficult to prevent and detect, and the police are therefore working on more innovative ways to encourage reporting of offending.

I pay tribute to my former colleagues in the Police Service for doing so much to get us through this crisis. I welcome the positive impact that the restitution orders will have on support for police officers. However—I do not believe that this is politicising; it is asking legitimate questions—while the end result of restitution orders is indeed positive, I am incredibly disappointed that these measures are being introduced far later than was ever envisaged. It is a matter of regret that this order is being brought forward nearly seven years after it was initially announced by the Scottish Government. The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2013 and received Royal Assent in January 2014. The legislation was brought forward by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, now the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who has already spoken in the debate. The measures were welcomed at the time by the Scottish Police Federation, yet for a very long time two of the flagship features of the Act were missing.

All that was needed was a minor statutory instrument to be passed in the UK Parliament—in other words, what we are debating today—but for whatever reason the Scottish Government have chosen not to bring plans forward to make these features operational until this time.

The victim surcharge was finally established last year and now, almost seven years on, restitution orders are being brought before this Parliament. This is a flagship policy of the Scottish Government, yet, despite legislating, police officers are still waiting for support. There is clearly an unanswered question about why this has taken such a huge amount of time. As I mentioned, this proposal won the backing of the Scottish Parliament in the days of the tenure of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) as the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice. At that time, Police Scotland, the amalgamation of the previous eight Scottish forces, was just a few months old. Sir Stephen House was the chief constable and Vic Emery chair of the SPA. Since then, we have had another two Justice Secretaries in Scotland, two more chief constables and three more SPA chairs.

Clearly, these have been challenging times, and I note the turmoil of the SPA in particular. When the most recent chair, Susan Deacon, resigned in 2019, she stated that governance and accountability arrangements for the police service in Scotland were fundamentally flawed. A permanent replacement for the role of chair has yet to be appointed. But that does not excuse the extraordinary length of this delay. Someone who was undertaking their initial training at the Scottish Police College when the then Justice Secretary was championing the scheme and heard the promises made will now be in the seventh year of their police service.

There are huge questions to be answered by the Scottish Government as to why this delay has occurred. Indeed, my Scottish Liberal Democrat colleagues at Holyrood have been asking this question consistently since the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed. Each time they were assured that preparatory work was ongoing. It gives a sense of an idea, very laudable, but with no thought or plan on how best to implement it and no real impetus to prioritise it, despite the complexities that other Members have referred to. I hope that the passing of this legislation will be swiftly followed by the introduction of the scheme.

Where will the money raised by the orders go to exactly? At the time, the then Justice Secretary said the Police Benevolent Fund as well as the Scottish police treatment centre, Auchterarder, which has previously benefited members of my own family—yes, I did contribute to it myself financially—were going to benefit. Is that still the case? How much are restitution orders estimated to raise every year, so that we can establish potentially how much money the police support services have missed out on over the past six years?

As other Members have referred to, there were more than 1,600 assaults on police officers between April and June 2019, a five-year high. These orders might go some way to acting as a deterrent, so we have to ask: how many officers would have benefited from additional special support if restitution orders had been in place? There has been a human cost, sadly, to this delay, but this is about not just individual officers, but the public as well. How many officers have been forced to retire due to ill health as a consequence of an assault on duty? We are losing good people from the police service. How can we quantify the effect of this lack of prioritisation on police wellbeing and morale? These are questions that I wholly expect my Scottish Parliament colleagues to be pressing the Scottish Government on.

The significance of the support that the orders will provide to injured police officers has been overshadowed, sadly, by the seven-year wait for the scheme. I hope the Minister will agree that it is imperative that the Scottish Government now implement the restitution orders as quickly as possible. I thank all Members for their positive contributions and say that police officers cannot afford to wait any longer.

This has been a largely consensual debate, although I have to say that it is rather strange that I am not the most political speaker in debates on Scottish matters now. It seems that some of our colleagues when they were in the Scottish Parliament had a newfound zest for political points, as has the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell). Those points were rightly made across the board, from Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. I think the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) also acknowledged that the pace of introducing this order has been far too slow. I agree with every speaker who has suggested that this should have been done far quicker, because members of our police force across Scotland should have been benefiting from this for years.

I want to pick up on a number of points that have been made. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), the shadow Scottish Secretary, briefly mentioned football. I thought long and hard about mentioning football, but I thought that this week of all weeks, with the sad demise of his club to the championship next season, it was perhaps not the right time to mention it. Clearly, that wound will be open for some time and we will bear that in mind as we go along with our proceedings throughout this Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important point on the affordability of these orders and any sanctions imposed. It is important to note that the court has discretion over whether to impose a deduction from benefits order and the amount imposed. Under section 253E of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service must take into consideration the means of the offender in determining the amount of any fine. In addition, the Department for Work and Pensions must take into consideration the ability to pay when deducting benefits, and this will apply to the restitution order. The offender can appeal against the imposition of the restitution order and the amount imposed, as well as appeal to the Department for Work and Pensions if they feel there is insufficient benefit for the payment deduction to be made. It was an important point, but I hope the clarification reassures the hon. Gentleman.

I now wish to deal with the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. It was clearly an important question, because it took him nine minutes and 40 seconds to get to it! However, I genuinely enjoyed his contribution. It was a well-thought-out and passionate speech in defence of our police officers across Scotland. He was right to commend the chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, for his approach and the guidance he is giving to officers the length and breadth of Scotland, who police by consent. I also thought it was important that my right hon. Friend considered in great detail the effects of this order across borders, because his constituency, like those of my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), is along the border between Scotland and England. As I said, the collection of the restitution order imposed on offenders who move from Scotland to England and Wales is covered in the order, which also provides for those who reside in England or Wales but commit an offence in Scotland and are tried in Scottish courts. That is important.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale also asked about the DWP’s capacity to deal with these restitution orders. I have raised this issue and been in discussions with the Department about it. There has been a steady increase in recovery applications, from 17,581 in 2010-11 to 24,362 in 2016-17, but the Department is content that it has the capacity to deal with any increase in work arising from this order.

The hon. Member for East Lothian brought his experience as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Parliament to this debate. He spoke of his visits to Auchterarder, which were doubtless made in that role. I have not visited the treatment centre at Auchterarder, but I have spoken to many people throughout Scotland who are unanimously in praise of the work that happens at Auchterarder—I am sure it happens at Harrogate, too. I know police officers who have tried to get professional and private help, who have had long-running injuries and who thought there was nowhere else to turn, but when they have gone to Auchterarder they have, almost by a miracle, received the treatment that has allowed them to get back to work, doing full duties, and has improved their private and personal lives. As well as highlighting the outstanding work of our police officers and staff across Scotland, we should also take the opportunity today to thank those who work at Auchterarder to get our police officers back on to the frontline on duty across Scotland. As is suggested by everyone I have spoken to and by the speech today from the hon. Gentleman, they clearly do excellent work and should be recognised for that.

I also wanted to pick up on one other point the hon. Gentleman raised. He was right to say that no one in the police or any of our emergency services, or indeed in any job in public or private life, should expect that part of their job is to put up, in whatever way, with abuse or violence. I do not always agree with him, but we can all agree that no one in society, including police officers, should have to put up with that type of abuse in their working life.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) spoke about us working together, and it is right that across parties and across this House we are working on this issue to get this order through to ensure that the restitution orders are in place as quickly as possible now. She was also right to talk about the length of time it has taken to get to this stage, which others have also mentioned. The Scottish Government have stated that the initial work to set up the victims’ surcharge model proved more complex than was initially anticipated and this had a knock-on effect on the impact and implementation of the restitution orders, but that should not have meant it has taken seven years, since the legislation was first passed, to get to this stage.

That means there have been a lot of missed opportunities for police officers and staff across Scotland, which is extremely unfortunate. I do not want to dwell too much on the past, though, and we now look at the positives of getting this legislation through, but it was a point well made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West while outlining her support for the order.

Finally, we heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who comes from a family of police officers. Having one police officer and one politician in our family, I cannot be sure whether our young son Alistair is going to follow his mother or father, but given that my wife continually buys him toys that resemble police cars and make noises, I know which direction she is pointing him in.

The hon. Lady was right to highlight her family’s involvement in the police and, sadly, how each and every member of her family has suffered assault or abuse in their duties as police officers. Whether it was her husband being knocked unconscious at football, or in her own case attending the scene at someone’s house, she put into sharp focus what this debate and the order is all about.

I wish to highlight the example the hon. Lady gave about her father, who she said suffered an assault in police cells. It is important that she put that on record because, as I said in my opening remarks, the order is imposed on offenders who assault police officers or certain other prescribed persons—and such a prescribed person could be someone working in police custody. They are not police officers, but the civilian staff in police custody also unfortunately suffer the abuse and assaults that we are discussing today, and they are also covered by the order. It is important that we discuss their involvement in respect of the order and policing in Scotland.

The hon. Lady asked about the potential number of applications for restitution orders. It is obviously difficult to put a precise figure on it, but the Scottish Government estimate that there will be in the region of 250 to 500 restitution orders a year, with an average value of around £350, giving a total somewhere between £87,500 and £175,000. Those are clearly rough figures based on the advice and best estimate of the Scottish Government, but I think the hon. Lady was right to seek that figure to show how much money could have gone towards supporting our police officers and staff across Scotland had restitution orders been available earlier.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. It has been a largely consensual debate of a type we do not often see on the Floor of the House of Commons; as others have stated, such proceedings would normally be held in a Committee Room. Although public and available online, such proceedings do not get the attention that proceedings in this place get. It is right that our police officers and staff the length and breadth of Scotland can see their Parliament uniting in a common goal to support them in the terrible circumstances where they face assault or abuse at work. We have heard an unequivocally clear message from both sides of the House and from all parties representing Scotland that we are behind our officers and behind our police staff. We thank them for everything they do, not only in these challenging times to deal with covid-19, but at all times, because they are on the frontline protecting us. With this order, we can help to protect them. I therefore commend the draft order to the House.

I announced to the House earlier this afternoon Mr Speaker’s provisional determination that a remote division would not take place on the question now before the House. That is also the final determination.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modification) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 25 March, be approved.

I will now suspend the House for a technical break of 15 minutes. The House will resume at 3.48 pm.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

We now come to the motion on ways and means. Mr Speaker has not selected any amendments and his provisional determination remains that a remote Division will not take place on the main motion. I call the Minister, Jesse Norman, to move the motion. He is asked to speak for no more than 10 minutes.