2 October 2001
opened the meeting at 09:36]
Steering Group Principles
The Convener (Mr
Murray Tosh): Welcome to this meeting of the Procedures Committee.
We are slightly late in getting under way, but that is not a problem.
Item 1 is a presentation by the convener and clerk of the Public
Petitions Committee in connection with the Procedures Committee's
investigation into the principles of the consultative steering
I welcome John McAllion
and Steve Farrell. I invite John McAllion to talk to the points
that have already been submitted to the committee. The committee
will then discuss those matters.
John McAllion (Convener, Public Petitions Committee): Thank
you for inviting me and the Public Petitions Committee to give
evidence to the inquiry. The Public Petitions Committee has submitted
a paper as its formal response, but I would like to take this
opportunity to add a few comments of my own.
Citizens' ability to
petition the Parliament was a significant plank of the all-party
consultative steering group's vision of public access, openness
and accountability. The establishment of the Public Petitions
Committee as one of the mandatory committees of the Scottish Parliament
was intended to ensure that petitions would be treated in a manner
that is consistent with that vision. It was also an early indication
that the Scottish Parliament was determined to do things differently
from its predecessor, the House of Commons.
As members of the Procedures
Committee will know, the House of Commons does not allow any right
to direct petitioning by members of the public. Only members of
Parliament may present petitions to the Parliament. They are allowed
two minutes at the end of any business day to state what a petition
is asking for and how many people have signed it. The petition
then disappears into a green bag behind the speaker's chair and
goes directly to Whitehall without any further involvement of
the Parliament. The establishment of the Public Petitions Committee
was a clear indication that the
intended to do things differently.
Since 1999, 398 petitions
have been submitted to the Parliament and considered by the Public
Petitions Committee. Those petitions have covered a wide range
of subjects. It is the Public Petitions Committee's role to ensure
that appropriate action is taken in respect of each admissible
petition. That committee considers the issues that are raised
by each petition and whether those issues carry sufficient weight
to merit further parliamentary consideration.
In many cases, in which
it is agreed that further action is required, other committees
of the Parliament might be asked to carry out further consideration
of the issues raised by the petitions. In 1999-2000, about 57
per cent of the petitions that were considered by the Public Petitions
Committee were referred formally to subject committees. However,
in 2000-01, that figure dropped to 17 per cent. That followed
the introduction of more detailed initial scrutiny of petitions
by the Public Petitions Committee, which takes great care to satisfy
itself that further consideration of a petition is merited before
referring it to a subject committee.
In other cases, the
Scottish Executive, local authorities and other public bodies
are asked to take action or to provide information to petitioners.
In certain cases, although the committee might agree that no further
action should be taken on a petition, it might nevertheless agree
to send a copy to the relevant subject committee for information
only, in order to make that committee aware of the issues raised.
The Public Petitions Committee also monitors the progress of petitions
that have been referred to other committees, or elsewhere, to
ensure that petitioners receive a response on the issues that
they have raised. We try to ensure that petitioners are kept informed
of progress at every stage of the Parliament's consideration of
The Public Petitions
Committee believes that liaison with petitioners is extremely
important. We have produced a comprehensive guidance note on the
submission of petitions, and a summary leaflet that provides basic
details. Those materials are regularly updated and distributed
to citizens advice bureaux throughout Scotland and to the Parliament's
partner library network and they are published on the Parliament's
website. The clerks offer assistance and guidance to petitioners
on drafting and redrafting of petitions so that they comply with
the terms of guidance and with the admissibility rules.
The Public Petitions
Committee allows petitioners to make presentations at meetings,
although we must often limit numbers in the interests of efficient
management of meetings. We
find that many petitioners
welcome the opportunity to speak to the committee and to answer
We are enthusiastic
about the use of videoconferencing facilities in appropriate circumstances
to allow petitioners in remote locations to address the committee
and to be questioned by members. Recently, we linked up successfully
with petitioners from Shetland.
In an effort to increase
accessibility to the petitioning process, the Public Petitions
Committee is keen to allow electronic submission of petitions.
We have a limited system on the Parliament's website, but it is
far from ideal. The committee has a partnership agreement with
Napier University's international teledemocracy centre, which
allows electronic submission of petitions to the Parliament through
the use of the centre's e-petitioner system. The system hosts
petitions for those who wish to petition the Parliament, while
providing advice on content and format in line with the Public
Petitions Committee's current guidance. To date, we have been
satisfied with the integrity of the e-petitioner system and we
hope that it will be possible soon to hold discussions that are
aimed at bringing that technology in-house, which would result
in e-petitions being hosted on the Parliament's website.
The Scottish Parliament
is unique in having a petitions committee that actively uses technology
to that extent, with the aims of improving public participation
and assisting the committee in processing petitions. The e-petitioner
system has attracted great interest from the petitions committees
of other parliaments throughout the world. However, we are alive
to the fact that there will always be a significant number of
petitioners who do not have access to the internet. Electronic
petitioning will only ever be an additional option for petitioners
and will run in tandem with conventional methods of petitioning.
A significant number
of petitions have resulted in outcomes that the Public Petitions
Committee considers positive. Many petitions have served to inform
subject committees of the views of interested organisations and
individuals as part of the inquiries or legislative scrutiny that
committees have undertaken. When the Social Justice Committee
conducted its inquiry into housing stock transfer, it received
a number of petitions on that. When the Rural Development Committee
scrutinised the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill, it
received a number of petitions that informed the committee of
Other petitions have
been considered in detail by subject committees, leading in some
cases to the publication of reports that have been debated during
meetings of the Parliament. The report
victims of hepatitis C who contracted the disease from blood transfusions
originated from petitions that were submitted to the Parliament.
Legislative changealbeit relatively minorhas been
brought about as a direct result of petitions that were submitted
to the Parliament. Those examples give us clear evidence that
the system is an effective means of allowing direct public participation
to achieve change where change is justified.
The feedback that the
Public Petitions Committee has received from petitioners has been
generally positive. The overwhelming impression is that people
value the opportunity of being heard by the Parliament, even in
cases in which the petitioner's preferred outcome was not achieved.
The media have also made several favourable comments about the
work of the Public Petitions Committee.
Our petitions system
has attracted interest from parliaments throughout the world and
it is notable that there appears to be a shift in Westminster's
approach to handling petitions. The Leader of the House of Commons,
Robin Cook MP, recently hinted strongly that he would like to
introduce a petitions committee at Westminster. That approach
was also recommended in a recent report by the Hansard Society's
commission on the scrutiny role of Parliament.
There is always room
for improvement. I am aware that subject committees often find
it difficult to allocate time to deal with petitions because of
work-load pressures. Committees have asked whether the Public
Petitions Committee could do more of that work because, in many
cases, the subject committees are unable to devote the resources
that would be required to consider petitions further. That is
unfortunate; perhaps we should give more detailed consideration
to how we as a Parliament handle petitions.
A delegation from the
Public Petitions Committee visited Berlin last week to see how
the Bundestag deals with petitions. The Germans give petitions
a particularly high profilethe Bundestag deals with 20,000
petitions a year. Its Petitions Committee has 29 members and is
supported by more than 80 staff. Although that is on a massively
different scale to and bears little comparison with our system,
the most important point to note is that the Bundestag's Petitions
Committee deals with petitions itself: it conducts inquiries and
produces reports and recommendations and does not refer petitions
to subject committees, other than to inform them that it is undertaking
inquiries in those committees' areas of interest. That system
is replicated in the federal states, or Länder. We visited
the Berlin Land, which serves 3.8 million
people, where we heard
about a system that is similar to the Bundestag's system.
We should consider
whether we could learn from the German system of handling petitions.
That would require much more detailed thought, but I believe that
it is worthy of serious consideration, especially if it results
in a more effective system with more public participation and
involvement in the work of the Parliament. In the meantime, we
will continue to review our procedures and to examine how we might
improve and develop the petitions system.
Finally, I draw the
committee's attention to the summary and conclusion of the Public
Petitions Committee's submission, which highlight the committee's
view that to date the petitions system has been a successindeed,
it has been one of the notable successes of the Scottish Parliamentand
that it operates in a manner that is consistent with the CSG's
vision. I am certainly of the opinion that the petitions system
is one of the Parliament's success stories and that we should
do all that we can to build on that success. I hope that the Public
Petitions Committee's work will continue to be supported by the
Parliament and, in particular, by colleagues on other committees.
The Convener: Thank
you. I look forward to reading about the Scottish Parliamentary
Corporate Body's response to a bid for staff and resources to
beef up the Public Petitions Committee to the scale that you found
in the Bundestag.
Your presentation and
paper covered many points and we will kick all those issues around.
The convener gets to go first and ask the easy questions, so I
will start by asking about an issue that probably struck all members
of the Procedures Committee as the most obvious. Your presentation
and paper both highlighted the figure of 57 per cent for petitions
that were referred to subject committees in the first full year,
but which dropped to 17 per cent in the second full year. Can
you go a bit further and explain why that decrease took place?
The differential is quite striking. Did it arise because the Public
Petitions Committee is doing more work itself or does it reflect
a ruling on the admissibility of petitions? Can you tell us about
the relationship between the subject committees and the Public
Petitions Committee in relation to allocation of work?
Mr McAllion: The
problem is partly to do with the Public Petitions Committee's
remit, which is very tight. It allows us only to decide whether
a petition is admissible or non-admissible and how that petition
should be disposed of. Initially, the Public Petitions Committee
was of the view that it should not interfere in areas that are
relevant to the Parliament's subject committees, so we
passed many petitions
to those committees.
After discussion with
the committees, the Public Petitions Committee realised that the
other committees would like us to do much more of the initial
spadework, such as making inquiries and seeking views from the
Executive, local authorities, public bodies and so on. They want
us to handle as much of the work as possible before passing petitions
to the subject committees. That is how the system has worked out.
We continually review
the way in which we handle petitions. That has worked to the benefit
of the subject committees, which now feel under less pressure,
and to the benefit of the Public Petitions Committee, which has
become much more involved in dealing with the work that is generated
by petitions. Perhaps Steve Farrell would like to add to that.
Steve Farrell (Scottish
Parliament Directorate of Clerking and Reporting): The Public
Petitions Committee felt that, rather than acting merely as a
post box and forwarding petitions to the relevant subject committee,
it was important to determine whether a petition merited further
detailed consideration by a subject committee. The committee also
feels that it is important to obtain a balanced view of the issues
that are raised in a petition before it is referred to a committee.
We now take a step back when a petition is received and first
considered. Rather than simply referring a petition on in the
first instance, we give it some detailed initial consideration.
The Public Petitions Committee likes to ensure that the petition
genuinely merits further consideration before passing it on.
The Convener: At
that initial sifting stage, is the committee conscious that it
is setting out to exercise control over admissibility? Do you
have figures on the proportion of petitions that are rejected
because they are not admissible? Is there an intermediate stage
during which the Public Petitions Committee does a little work
on a petition, takes some follow-up action but decides that there
is not enough to the petition to justify sending it to a subject
We try clearly to identify petitions that are inadmissible before
we put them to the Public Petitions Committee. Initially, all
petitions that were received were given a petition number, put
in the business bulletin and considered as a new petition. That
was because, as clerks, we have no role in weeding out; all petitions
must go before the committee for a view to be taken on whether
they are admissible. However, we have introduced a new system
to deal specifically with inadmissible petitions. We prepare for
the committee a separate paper with recommendations on petitions
that are clearly inadmissible on the ground, for example, that
ask the committee to
take a view on a local authority's decision on a planning application.
Parliament does not have the power to do that, so such petitions
are inadmissible. In a separate paper, we list those petitions
with recommendations on them, give the reasons why we think the
petitions are inadmissible and ask the committee to agree to the
recommendations. However, if committee members disagree with the
recommendation, we can retrieve the situation by lodging the petition
formally and dealing with it in the normal way.
Much filtering is done
in that way to ensure that the petitions that go before the committee
are admissible. With careful wording, many petitionsin fact
allcan be admissible, but they might not merit further action.
We must be clear about that. Petitioners are getting wise to the
fact that if they word a petition in a certain way, it will be
admissible. The petition might be to do with reserved matters,
but careful wording can get over that hurdle. However, we are
alive to that, and we make that clear in our briefing to members.
We always try to achieve
a balanced view by giving parties that are named in petitionslocal
authorities, health boards or the Executivethe opportunity
to give their side of the story before we reach a view.
I am aware that in the past couple of years there have been people
who have petitioned on the basis that the Parliament ought to
step in and overturn the decisions of local authorities. That
might be something on which we should comment in our report. What
is your view of that, and what is the Public Petitions Committee's
view? Should the Parliament have the power to call in the decisions
of other public sector bodies and overturn them?
Mr McAllion: It
should not. It is probably the unanimous view of the Public Petitions
Committee that local authorities are elected bodies in their own
right and that it is not the role of the Parliament to interfere
in the decisions that they take as locally elected bodies. They
are for the councils to decide on and to be accountable for at
local elections. We are careful not to use the Parliament as a
means of interfering with other elected institutions in Scotland.
Under devolution, it is important that the Scottish Parliament
knows what its role is and that it does not interfere with the
rights of other elected institutions.
Donald Gorrie (Central
Scotland) (LD): Do you see a difference between petitions
that complain about something that a council has done and petitions
that complain about something that a quango or a health board
or an executive agency has done?
Mr McAllion: I
think so. We have successfully
intervened with quangosfamously
with Greater Glasgow Health Boardand managed to persuade
them to listen to petitioners and take on board their views. That
is legitimate, because quangos are accountable ultimately through
ministers to the Scottish Parliament, so it is right that we should
intervene in those cases. However, if a local authority reaches
a planning decision, it is not the role of the Parliament to interfere
with that local authority's planning decision. There are established
means by which people can pursue those issues.
However, if processes
are legislated for by the Parliament, we can intervene. For example,
many petitions have been about the lack of a third-party right
of appeal against planning decisions. We have passed those petitions
to the Transport and the Environment Committee and asked it to
consider the issue for future legislative change. I think that
that committee is doing that as part of one of its inquiries.
That is the kind of role that the Scottish Parliament can play,
but it cannot become involved in decisions about a particular
Gorrie: May I pursue that? In the case of Greater Glasgow
Health Board, the Public Petitions Committee was successful in
persuading the quango to do something. Should we have more powers?
If one is persuaded that there has been a serious error by a quango
or a Government department, should we be able to say, "You
really must do something about it", rather than, "Please
do something about it"?
Mr McAllion: I
am not saying that the Public Petitions Committee should necessarily
have greater powers, but the Scottish Parliament should be able,
by whichever means it finds appropriate, to hold quangos to account
and to question decisions that they take. I know that in theory
that is done through holding ministers to account, but direct
contact between parliamentary committees and quangos would be
good, not only for the parliamentary committees, butmore
importantfor the quangos.
Kenneth Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab): I will return to a subject
that the convener raised, which is the process by which the Public
Petitions Committee initially judges petitions. It is important
that that committee gets the balance right between giving all
petitions a fair and considered hearing, and not swamping subject
committees with petitions, which could overwhelm some of them.
I seek figures. How many petitions are vexatious or a waste of
time? I assume that it is a small number. How many do not meet
the admissibility criteria because they question local authority
planning decisions? To get down to a figure of 17 per cent of
petitions being referred to subject committees is quite difficult
and must require quite
a deal of effort from
the Public Petitions Committee. I am trying to get a feel for
the process that you put petitions through, because it is important
that petitioners feel that they get a fair hearing and that you
are coming to a balanced view.
Mr McAllion: The
number of inadmissible petitions is small because, as Steve Farrell
said, petitioners are becoming clever at wording petitions. Petitioners
also are given support by the clerks. At any one meeting of the
Public Petitions Committee there will be two or three petitions
that are deemed inadmissible because they ask the Parliament to
do things that we cannot do. That is usually because the matters
are reserved to Westminster or to local authorities. Such petitions
appear on the agenda of the Public Petitions Committee and any
member of the committee has the opportunity to challenge a decision
that a petition is inadmissible. However, the number of such petitions
is not large.
The number of vexatious
petitions was fairly large to begin with. Mr Frank Harvey got
himself some national notoriety for being responsible for about
a third of all petitions that were presented to the Scottish Parliament
at one point. In the main, they were not serious petitions with
merit, but every one of his petitions appeared on the Public Petitions
Committee's agenda and was considered by the committee. Normally,
it was ruled that no further action would be taken.
Macintosh: One of the criteria that has been touched on is
the number of signatures that a petition attracts. I assume that
the Public Petitions Committee has discussed that. What is the
ruling on the number of signatures on a petition?
Mr McAllion: There
is no ruling. One signature is sufficient for a petition to be
admissible. We have had petitions with tens of thousands of signatures.
On one famous occasion, a petition that claimed to have 50,000
signatures turned out to have only 8,000 legitimate signatures:
the rest of them were duplicates or photocopies. We launched an
inquiry into that, and we tightened up our procedures. That petition
did not get through, which was the main thing. We must be careful.
Funnily enough, the
electronic petitioning system gives a more accurate check of signatures
than is possible with a normal written petition, because it is
possible to check e-mail addresses. Each petition is given a grading
for reliability. More information is available using the e-petitioner
system. Members of the Public Petitions Committee often feel that
electronic petitions are easier to deal with, because more information
Macintosh: I would like to move on to the e-petitioner system
Sure, unless Frank McAveety wants to come in on that point. I
see that he does not.
Mr Gil Paterson
(Central Scotland) (SNP): May I come in on that point? Have
you noticed an increase in successful outcomes for petitioners
following the reduction to 17 per cent in the percentage of petitions
that are sent to subject committees?
McAllion: I think so. The report that is being published this
morning by the Health and Community Care Committee is an instance
of that. There is more time for subject committees to deal with
petitions that get through to them, because the petitions are
fewer in number. The Health and Community Care Committee held
a major investigation into the petitions about hepatitis C sufferers,
which is encouraging. I am also a member of the Health and Community
Care Committee and I am aware of the pressure on that committee's
time and agenda. I get the feeling from subject committees that
they would like the Public Petitions Committee to do much more
of the initial spadework before deciding to send petitions on.
That is where the Public
Petitions Committee would come in well. Many petitions make claims
that are untested. If a petitioner complains about a health board,
the Executive or a local authority, somebody must write to that
body and ask for its view before a balanced judgment can be reached.
That should be the Public Petitions Committee's role, rather thanas
Steve Farrell pointed outmerely acting as a postbox that
passes petitions to other subject committees and leaves them with
all the work.
Although the system
is working much better now than it did at first, it could work
much better in the future. However, that might require the Public
Petitions Committee's remit to be reconsidered and changes to
its procedure and resources. At the moment, we are limited in
what we can do because we have 80 per cent of the senior clerking
support, 60 per cent of administrative support and 50 per cent
of the assistant clerking support that the committee requires.
Mr Macintosh: Your
comments on e-petitioning were interesting; I did not realise
that the committee's system would be ahead of the game. We all
receive e-mail from constituents and I usually reply asking for
a name and address for the purposes of verification. What are
your verification procedures for e-mail petitions?
Mr McAllion: We
do not verify e-petitions; that is done by the international teledemocracy
centre at Napier University, which has introduced a
system of grading in
which seven is the highest grade and means utter reliability.
The centre checks each signature on an electronic petition and
tells us the origin of the signatures and their reliability. More
checks are carried out on an electronic petition than on a normal
petition. We cannot really tell whether a signature on a written
petition is legitimate, unless it has been obviously duplicated;
we just have to take it on trust. Although no checking system
is perfect, I tend to think that the electronic system makes a
more serious stab at checking the origin of signatures.
There have been few
e-petitions because the facility is hosted on the international
teledemocracy centre website, which is not promoted by the Parliament.
To date, we have received only nine electronic petitions. However,
if the facility were available and promoted on the Parliament
websitein other words, if it were in-housethere would
be a much greater reliance on e-petitioning.
About 10 per cent of all petitions that we have received have
been produced electronically on our website, which is a fairly
limited system. If we add that figure to the 3 per cent for e-petitions,
the overall figure is close to 15 per cent without much promotion;
we could increase that proportion if we really pushed that side
of our work.
The system is innovative
and representatives from Parliaments as far afield as Australia,
Canada and South Africa have come to look at it. When the European
Parliament Petitions Committee visits us next month, e-petitioning
will be one of the main issues for discussion. We should promote
and develop the fact that we are ahead of the game in this respect.
We are satisfied with
the system's integrity. It can weed out duplicate e-mails and
give us geographical breakdowns of where petitioners come from.
One interesting feature of such e-participation and e-commerceall
those buzzwordsis the opportunity for petitioners to leave
comments on the website. Instead of just signing the petition,
they can say why the petition is good and suggest different ways
of dealing with the issue. People can also add their reasons for
objecting to the petition. The system opens up a whole new concept
of participation through petitions. Instead of people blindly
adding their names to petitions on street corners without knowing
what they are signingthey might be in a hurry to do their
shopping, for examplethey have the opportunity to sit down,
consider the issues and decide whether they want to participate.
The Convener: Do
you not find that people who log on to the website to pursue a
petition review all the other petitions and sign them as wella
bit like members signing a motion? Does that facility
add much to the system?
The Public Petitions Committee is alive to that possibility. However,
we have consistently pointed out that, although the number of
signatures is a measure of support for an issue, the most important
thing is the merit of the issue that the petition raises. A petition
could have one signature or 10,000; what matters is the issue
Mr Frank McAveety
(Glasgow Shettleston) (Lab): The convener and I shared the
thought that, if the system had been available for the chartists'
petition in 1848, it would have been clear that Queen Victoria
had not signed the petition.
Mr McAllion, you mentioned
the European Parliament and the fact that the Bundestag deals
with 20,000 petitions. If you had retained your commitment to
allow petitioners to speak to their petitions, you would be running
the Parliament, given that number of petitions. Increasing the
use of the e-petition facility might work against some of the
Public Petitions Committee's other commitments unless additional
resources are made available, which is an issue worth discussing.
Has any parallel work
been carried out on petitions systems in the Bundestag, the European
Parliament and other Parliaments that would provide us with a
template made up of models from around the world? That sort of
information would help us to measure the effectiveness of redefining
the committee's role and of giving it more resources. I could
form a view on the issue only if such information were available.
Mr McAllion: We
will be producing a report of our visit to Berlin, which will
be considered by the Public Petitions Committee. I am sure that
we will also pass the report on to the Procedures Committee.
There might be a case
for the Procedures Committee to consider how the Parliament handles
petitions and to take evidence not just from the Public Petitions
Committee but from subject committees and outside bodies. Although
the system can be developed, that will require a wider examination
of the way in which Parliaments in other countries handle petitions.
The comparison with
the Bundestag is perhaps not completely apposite. Its Petitions
Committee acts almost like an ombudsman and deals with individual
complaints. It meets mainly in secret; it does not allow public
sessions because a large bulk of its work involves the kind of
individual problems and cases that would not come before the Public
Petitions Committee. However, the Bundestag committee also deals
with the same kind of public policy issues that we address and
commands massive support. We cannot replicate
that situation because,
as Frank McAveety pointed out, we could not, with our resources,
give thousands of petitions the serious consideration that they
However, we can build
things gradually and find new and better ways of dealing with
petitions. With increased support, we could take some of the weight
off the subject committees. I am not suggesting that we steal
petitions that subject committees might be interested in; the
subject committees have a right to consider the petitions first.
However, they might agree to the Public Petitions Committee pursuing
petitions when they do not have the resources to do so. That might
be a way forward.
Mr McAveety: Individual
members from subject committees could work alongside the Public
Petitions Committee and then report back to their committee. That
would share the work load and save the whole committee spending
time on the matter.
Petitions are essentially
a mechanism for handling grievances, unhappiness over a situation
or contentious issues. Your report seems to suggest that everything
is hunky-dory. Have you received any negative responses? There
might even be a petition against the Public Petitions Committee.
For example, Frank Harvey might read the Official Report
of this meeting and decide to write in about the committee.
Mr McAllion: I
am sure that he will; he would not be happy.
Mr McAveety: Only
one signature is needed, John.
Mr McAllion: Obviously
there are unhappy people who feel that the system has let them
down because they have not had the outcome that they were looking
for. At the start, we allowed petitioners to speak to their petition
at committee meetings if they wanted to, but the situation became
impossiblewe were having four and five-hour meetings. We
agreed to limit that facility to three petitions each meeting.
That has reduced the number of people who are allowed to speak,
which has given some a cause for grievance. If people are determined
to speak, they can wait for one of the three slots and then their
petition will be heard.
Some people have said
that three minutes is not long enough for an opening statement.
However, that is a matter of time pressure on committee members;
all Public Petitions Committee members have work obligations on
other committees. Moreover, although petitioners are limited to
three minutes, committee members may ask them questions for 15
to 20 minutes, so they get a good chance to speak. Although most
people are fairly happy with the system, some will always be
unhappy. For example,
many people are unhappy with the decisions that subject committees
reach on their petitions. However, that is not a failure of the
petitions system. On balance, I believe that we have a good system,
which should be supported and developed.
Fiona Hyslop (Lothians)
(SNP): I hope that you can hear memy voice is a bit
grim. Apologies for arriving late; I was at another meeting.
Can committees treat
petitions in a variety of ways or is there a standard method across
all the committees? The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary
Sector Committee, of which I was a member, did not deal with a
huge number of petitions. That meant that we could deal fully
with the issue of asylum seekers, for example, on which we had
an evidence-taking session. The petition that gave rise to that
work was one of the few that went a long way in the system.
What is your view about
the petitions system allowing fast-track access to democracy on
key issues? Although MSPs can ask questions, the petitions system
allows people to raise the burning issues of the day. Compared
to other systems, our system gets to the heart of Parliament quickly.
Mr McAllion: It
is hard to judge how one subject committee will deal with a petition
compared to how another one will because they receive different
petitions in different contexts. Some petitioners feel that the
subject committees do not deliver. You will remember that, when
the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee carried
out an inquiry into housing stock transfer, a large number of
petitions called for a moratorium which, in the event, the committee
did not recommend. The petitioners would regard that as a failure.
Then again, the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector
Committee came to that conclusion, which was its prerogative as
Other committees successfully
investigate petitions and produce positive reports that please
the petitioners. The outcome depends on the nature of the petition
and the context in which it is considered. We cannot say that
one committee does better than another, because committees come
to different decisions depending on the way in which they consider
the policy issues.
A fast-track approach
exists in the sense that, as convener of the Public Petitions
Committee, I have the power under standing orders to lodge a motion
on behalf of the committee to ask the Parliament to debate a petition,
if we decide that it merits it. To date, we have not used that
power, because we have not been convinced that it should be used.
However, if a petition addressed a major issue that we felt the
Parliament should address,
we could lodge a motion
to that effect. Whether it would be accepted for debate is another
matter, but the committee could recommend it.
Mr Paterson: I
brought some people down to the Borders from Longriggend, which
you probably do not remember.
Mr McAllion: I
Mr Paterson: That
was an event, because Longriggend is a small communitythere
are 80 householdsbut, at the meeting, there was a massive
gathering of Borders people who were concerned with the Waverley
line petition. The way in which the committee handled the people
whom I brought to the Borders and the other people who were there
made for good government. When I was coming back in the car with
those ordinary people who had been in front of a large audiencethere
might have been 800 folk therethey told me that they felt
that they had been treated extremely well and that their concerns
had been listened to.
As time went on, letters
were sent to and from the Public Petitions Committee and, again,
the people from Longriggend felt that they were being heard. However,
they did not feel that the new issues that they had brought to
the committee meeting were being aired. Could some of the powers
that you think you need effectively buoy up petitions that come
before you when you feel that the cases presented are not answered
properly? Do we need to introduce new powers and, if so, what
do you have in mind?
Mr McAllion: As
I said, I believe that the role of the Public Petitions Committee
can be developed. We do the initial spadework for many of the
petitionswe write to the Scottish Executive, to local authorities,
to quangos and, in the case of Longriggend, to the Scottish Prison
Service. Ultimately, when the committee has to reach a conclusion,
we feel that we should not interfere in policy areas that are
reserved to the subject committees. At that point, we pass on
the petition and so lose control of it. All that we can do is
insist that an answer be provided.
I was interested in
Frank McAveety's suggestion that subject committee members could
join the Public Petitions Committee for particular petitions and
allow us to do more of the work. We have more time because we
have no other agenda than petitions to deal with; we do not have
all the other work that subject committees have. As long as it
was with the agreement of subject committees, we could have a
much greater role in deciding what to do about petitions rather
than just passing them on.
The Convener: I
hear that there is a groundswell to send you the statutory instruments.
Donald Gorrie: I
will be interested to hear whether David McCrone agrees with my
perception that, at the informal session that some of us had with
members of the consultative steering group, there was some disappointment
with the petitions system. Members of the CSG had felt that the
petitions system would unlock not a Pandora's box, exactly, but
a cornucopia of good thingsa new democracy and all that.
I felt that they were being a bit unrealistic, but it is clear
that they feel somewhat disappointed in the system, rather than
in the committee. Have you found that people have unrealistic
expectations of the committee? Do you have suggestions on how
we can better meet their expectations?
Mr McAllion: There
was a floodtide of idealism when the CSG produced its report.
Everyone thought that ours was a brand-new system that would open
up democracy so that citizens could have significant influence.
Realpolitik means that our system will inevitably come up against
the fact that there is political power in Scotland and that that
power is hard to shift. All that the Public Petitions Committee
can do is ensure that a response is given to a petition. We cannot
decide in favour of a petition if the Executive or the Parliament
or other vested interests are against it and are not prepared
to move on the issue. In a sense, what we do is highlight the
fact that there is a division between citizens and the Scottish
Executive or the Parliament and its committees. That is a necessary
role. It will not solve every petitioner's problem and it never
could do, but without it the Parliament would be much poorer and
Scottish citizens would have far less influence.
Some petitions have
influencethe law has been changed, reports have been published
and quangos have been forced to change. None of that would have
happened if there had been no Public Petitions Committee.
The Convener: I
do not know whether realpolitik came from your trip to Berlin
or whether it is something that you learned in Dundee, but your
clerk is indicating that he wants to speak.
I want to highlight the point that John McAllion just made. The
CSG would appreciate that the system works to a certain extent
and that people are being heard and action is being taken. There
have been success stories. Debates in Parliament have been prompted
by petitions. Some minor changes to legislation might have affected
only a small number of people, but those changes came about because
of the petitions system. People have taken time to submit petitions
and the Parliament has heard and considered them. The system is
might not have had
a petition that made a massive change or had a huge impact on
a piece of legislation, but the opportunity is there for that
to happen. In that respect, the CSG principle is being adhered
McCrone (Adviser): I think that Donald Gorrie's point was
correct. The CSG's feeling was that in an ideal world the system
should be more open. However, do you have a sense that you are
getting petitions from the usual suspects and that, let us say,
only 30 per cent of the population is involved? How does one encourage
petitions from people who would not think of submitting them?
The CSG was concerned about locking in a group of people who tend
to know and play the system in the best sense. How does one encourage
people who do not think of appealing to the institutions?
Mr McAllion: We
do not receive petitions only from the usual suspects. The big
lobbying organisations know how to use the system and they use
it. A number of big petitions have come from the usual suspects,
but many petitions come from ordinary citizens.
Our big problem is
that people do not know that the Public Petitions Committee exists.
I often mention our work when I am out at meetings and people
are surprisedthey have never heard of the committee and
do not know that they have the right to petition the Parliament.
All of us in the Parliament suffer from the fact that we are not
well enough known. People do not know what the Parliament can
do; we have to make them more aware.
The press and media
could help, but the work of the committees is shown on television
at about midnight on a Thursday, when no one is watchingexcept
for the members of the committees. We could do a lot more to publicise
the Parliament and what it can do. There is clear evidence that,
when people know about the Parliament, they use it. However, letting
them know about it is the problem.
Does the Public Petitions Committee have any specific suggestions
on how to do that, apart from getting the press and media to publicise
the Parliament more?
Mr McAllion: It
would be good if the committee could get out and about around
Scotland, but again we come up against problems with resources.
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and the Parliamentary
Bureau are not too keen on financing committee meetings all over
Scotland. Money is the problem.
Mr McAveety: The
education service for school pupils seems to be fully booked until
after the new year. That tells me that the demand is great, but
it also tells me that, if we want to encourage greater
with and participation in the Parliament, we may want to speak
to Mr Paul Grice on those broader issues. The education service
is part of the process of increasing awareness of the role of
the Parliament and of the role that young individual citizens
can play. I have been worried about a number of different things
recently, but they all come down to one question: how do we allocate
resources to sustain and then develop the things that we do well?
After our discussion with John McAllion, this committee may want
to consider whether a post should be created to increase knowledge
of the Parliament among young people. Young people are future
petitionersor perhaps even present petitioners, because
there are many issues that young folk may want to bring to the
attention of Parliament.
Mr McAllion: Absolutely.
Anyone can petition the Scottish Parliamentthey do not have
to be voters. School groups have petitioned us on the standard
Mr McAveety: They
might petition us to say that we should not force them to have
Mr McAllion: I
am actually expecting to receive a petition about free school
mealsI have insider knowledge.
Mr Macintosh: I
want to return to whether the powers of the Public Petitions Committee
should be extended. You said that the committee's remit is tight.
A key CSG principle was that of sharing power with the wider public;
the Public Petitions Committee is an important avenue for doing
that. Does the committee intend to hold an inquiry to assess how
effective it has been so far, with the aim of suggesting how its
powers could be extended? Alternatively, would you prefer the
Procedures Committee, or some other body, to hold such an inquiry?
Do you do any monitoring? Professor McCrone spoke about the people
who petition the Parliament, their backgrounds and their feelings
on the outcomes of petitions. Such information would be valuable
in an inquiry.
Mr McAllion: We
will produce a paper on our visit to Berlin and will try to draw
lessons that could be implemented in the Scottish Parliament.
There should be an inquiry. I respectfully suggest that the Procedures
Committee would be in a far better position to hold such an inquiry
than the Public Petitions Committee would be. The Procedures Committee
could hear the views of all the subject committees. It could hear
from petitioners and it could take evidence from Westminster or
wherever. There has to be an inquiry before we suddenly change
the way in which the Public Petitions Committee works. We have
to consider carefully how the system works and how we want it
to develop. We have to draw lessons from around the world. The
Public Petitions Committee would play a part in that, but
the Procedures Committee
would be best placed to hold the inquiry. I am sure that you have
a busy agenda but, sooner or later, you should consider the issue.
We monitor petitions
constantly. Before every meeting, we have a report on current
petitions. We publish an annual report that contains information
on who has petitioned us, what subjects were raised and how the
petitions were dealt with. That information is available.
We are developing our database to give more information on where
petitions have come from and what the outcomes werewhether
there was a committee inquiry, a debate or legislative change.
We are piecing that together and I hope that we will build a more
complete picture of what happens to petitions once they come into
Is there scope to develop the idea of petition-inspired debates?
I am thinking less of debates with votes at the end and more of
the 5 o'clock slots, in which we do not necessarily arrive at
a decision but provoke a ministerial answer. Have you ever felt
that an issue that has come up in a petition could usefully be
ventilated and kicked about the chamber for a minister to reply
to, in order to flesh out the answer that is given to the petitioner?
Mr McAllion: At
the moment, members' business debates are decided by the Parliamentary
Bureau; we do not have a mechanism to refer a petition so that
it can be discussed in such a debate. What you suggest would certainly
be a useful additional way of handling petitions. With a number
of petitions, it could be a way of keeping the petitioners happy,
because they would see action in the Parliament. Often, all they
want is the chance to air something and to get a response from
Mr Paterson: I
am conscious of what you have said about not treading into the
territory of local government, but would you recommend a petitions
system for local government?
Mr McAllion: We
have done. I remember suggesting to the president of the Convention
of Scottish Local Authorities that it might be an idea to set
up some kind of public petitions committee to deal with complaints
about the way in which local government operates. That could be
for COSLA to do; alternatively, individual councils could have
their own public petitions committees. Westminster is considering
the idea and there is no reason why local government should not
Many of the petitions
that we have to reject concern local government. We have to reject
them because the issues that arise are not within our
remit. However, our
public petitions system is very good. People who use it are usually
grateful to have had the opportunity. There is nothing to fear
as long as we are sensible. Some may say that the Public Petitions
Committee does not include the most sensible members of the Scottish
Mr Paterson: We
would never say that.
Mr McAllion: However,
we usually come to sensible conclusions. In two years, only one
issue has gone to a vote; things are almost always done consensually.
Everyone on the committee is motivated by what is in the interests
of the petitioners. If petitioners have a legitimate criticism,
we try to deal with it; if they do not, we come to the sensible
decision that no further action should be taken.
We received a petition that called for the setting up of a public
petitions system in local government. The Public Petitions Committee
felt that the petition was important and referred it to the Local
Government Committee. That committee decided, for one reason or
another, that the petition was not worth taking any further. There
have been calls for such a system in local government and the
issue has been discussed.
Fiona Hyslop: I
wanted to discuss resources. The Public Petitions Committee is
an important door to the democracy of the Parliament, but people
have to know that the door is there before they can knock on it.
We will hear shortly
from the Equal Opportunities Committee. I do not know whether
you are aware of the resources that are required to build a database
containing information on who has petitioned the Parliament and
what has happened to their petitions. However, have people from
all walks of life been able to access the Public Petitions Committee?
Have the petitioners been a fair reflection of Scottish society,
or have we been restricted to the male middle classes who know
how to work the system? How many young people or people from ethnic
minorities have accessed the system? What percentage of the petitioners
who have spoken at meetings of the Public Petitions Committee
have been women? How far has the work of the Public Petitions
Committee reflected the Parliament's equal opportunities ethos?
Mr McAllion: We
could not possibly claim that the petitioners with whom we have
been in contact so far are a fair reflection of Scottish society.
Large sections of Scottish society have never been represented
at the Public Petitions Committee. For example, we have received
no petitions from the ethnic minority population, which
is surprising, given
the political context in which we operate. There is a dearth of
petitions from ethnic minorities, but we get petitions from women's
organisations and groups.
It is a pot-luck situation
at the moment. Those who happen to know about us will use us,
but large sections of the population do not know about us. We
must work at improving that, but the problem is that we do not
have the budget or the resources to do a great deal. We send our
publicity material to citizens advice bureaux and put it on the
Parliament website. People who know how to use those systems will
notice that material, to a certain extent. However, the bulk of
the population does not notice that we are there at all.
The Convener: Does
anyone have any final questions?
Mr McAveety: It
would be helpful to have some sort of thoughts paper on a number
of those issues and others; I do not know whether that would be
the responsibility of the Procedures Committee or of the Public
Petitions Committee. For example, I am concerned about young people
and the youth parliament. Access and opportunity for ethnic minority
communities, and for anyone from such a community who wants to
raise an issue, might well be related to publicity and the quality
of the materialfor example, whether it is translated into
other languages. There is a whole range of questions. At the moment,
the discussion is interesting but insubstantial and I would rather
get some sort of substance behind it.
Mr McAllion: We
intend to put together a paper about the role of the Public Petitions
Committee, in the light of our visit to Berlin and our contact
with other petitions committees around the world. We would be
happy to pass that paper on to the Procedures Committee.
The Convener: Thank
was there anything that you wanted to touch on that has not been
No. You have covered it all.
The Convener: In
that case, we will draw this item to a close with thanks to John
McAllion and Steve Farrell for an interesting and informative
discussion. I look forward to revisiting some of the issues, either
within the scope of our inquiry, or within the scope of any further
work that you want us to look at.
Mr McAllion: Thank
The Convener: Agenda
item 2 is consideration of a paper on selection panels for the
appointment of office holders. We welcome the return of Alison
Coull and Huw Williams, whom we obviously rattled the last time,
because this time they have decided to play their jokerI
welcome Ken Hughes to the meeting.
Huw Williams (Scottish
Parliament Corporate Policy Unit): Our original paper proposed
a change to standing orders to allow selection panels to be set
up and for the panels' work on the recruitment process to commence
after stage 1 of a bill. After consideration of that paper, the
Procedures Committee asked for a further mechanism to be introduced
that would allow the Parliament to take a separate, conscious
decision on the beginning of a recruitment process, instead of
automatic approval arising from agreement to stage 1 of the bill.
We do not expect such
appointments to be numerousas you know, we are aware of
only two at present. However, given that either the Executive
or a committee can introduce a bill, our view was that the Parliamentary
Bureau could instigate an additional mechanism to ensure uniformity
of approach. It was proposed that the bureau would lodge a procedural
The bureau considered
the matter at its meeting last week and we understand that its
decision has been conveyed to the committee. The bureau's view
was that Parliament's approval of a bill at stage 1 should be
sufficient authority to proceed with the appointments procedure,
particularly if the bill's general principles include a proposal
to create a post. The bureau considered that separate parliamentary
approval to start the selection procedure was not necessary.
The Convener: Was
any thought given to some less formal way of flagging that up?
For example, it could be commented on in the report that goes
for approval at stage 1, or it could be added to the stage 1 motionnot
necessarily as a separate procedure or resolution, but simply
in such a way as to draw Parliament's attention to the implication
that passing the motion would trigger the selection procedure
for a new post.
Ken Hughes (Scottish
Parliament Directorate of Clerking and Reporting): That was
discussed, but the overall view was that as the general principles
of a bill indicate the intention to create such a post, that was
the only mechanism that was necessary to provide the authority
to proceed with any selection process.
The Convener: I
understood that the general principles of a bill were summed up
in its long title.
No. That is not the case. The general principles of a bill are
laid out throughout the bill. The long title is a starting point,
not the end point.
Fiona Hyslop: I
confess that I was at the bureau meeting when this matter was
discussed, so I come with two hats on.
The Convener: Which
hat are you wearing?
Fiona Hyslop: I
am arguing the Procedures Committee's point.
I raised with the bureau
the Procedures Committee's point that it was important to have
an obvious, positive, separate statement about the recruitment
process going ahead. However, as has been explained, a committee's
stage 1 report would have to report on the general principles
of a bill, one of which would be the appointmentor notof
an office-holder. Again, still wearing my procedures hat, I assume
that if any party or member were not happy about the appointment
of a commissioner, for example, being part of the general principles
and did not want the selection process to go aheadI think
that that is where the Procedures Committee was coming fromit
would be within their power to amend the stage 1 motion. Any party
or member could amend the motion to say that they were not happy
with that aspect of the general principles. Existing procedures
provide a mechanism to draw out the appointment aspect from the
general principles. That mechanism might satisfy the Procedures
It also makes sense,
however, from the bureau's point of view, that a stage 1 motion
on the general principles of a bill must include the appointment
of an office-holder. That might be a mechanism to help resolve
any potential problem. Is that explanation of the procedures correct?
Ken Hughes: Yes.
Reasoned amendments at stage 1 could pick out something like that.
That seems to be an entirely plausible course of action.
The Convener: Are
there any other points?
Mr Macintosh: I
am glad that Fiona Hyslop gave that explanation, because I found
the letter from the Presiding Officer a little short. I did not
get the impression that there had been a huge discussion at the
bureau. I am glad that Fiona Hyslop has commented, particularly
on that point, because the convener, at our previous meeting,
suggested that there should be an explicit mechanism to flag up
this issue. There is no reference to that in the letter from David
Steel. However, I understand now that it was considered. I would
not say that I am entirely content, but I do not want to prevent
progress on the matter any further.
Gorrie: Parliamentary procedures are a bit vague about what
we are voting for when we
vote for the general
principles of a bill. I raised that point once before, when the
Conservatives, after we had voted to accept the general principles
of a bill, were thereafter not allowed to make what seemed to
me perfectly legitimate amendmentswith which I disagreedbecause
it was alleged that Parliament had covered that matter in the
principles of the bill. It would be possible for a member to support
the principles of the bill, but to want some other method of achieving
the appointment of an office-holder. I doubt whether it is correct
to argue that because we voted for the principles of a bill we
are committed to having such an appointment.
Ken Hughes: If
a bill proposed the creation of a royal appointment post, I assume
and anticipate that that would be a fairly fundamental element
of the bill. I do not think that such a proposal would be hidden,
or would not be a key part of any deliberations that went on in
the committee at stage 1. I take your point and I see where you
are coming from, but the creation of a royal appointment post
is such a fundamental aspect of a bill that I do not think that
it would be missed or just glanced over.
The Convener: Would
an amendment that would delete a provision that created such a
post, or stop the process of filling the post, be a wrecking amendment
and therefore inadmissible?
That is a judgment for the Presiding Officer.
The Convener: I
am sure that he would take advice from a reliable source.
Such an amendment could be a wrecking amendment.
The Convener: The
conclusion to the report to the committee asks us to consider
the proposed changes to standing orders and recommends that the
changes be agreed. Do we agree to that?
The Convener: That
recommendation is grudgingly agreed. Perhaps the author of the
letter in question will reflect on the gap in the response that
was given to the committee. I thank the witnesses for attending.
The Convener: Agenda
item 3 concerns a brief report that the committee has discussed
previously. The paper recommends a change to standing orders to
allow committee meetings to be held on plenary days when a plenary
meeting is suspended, which is typically for a meal break. If
we do not require to discuss the matter, do we agree to the terms
of the report?
The Convener: I
adjourn the committee for about five minutes to prepare for the
next agenda item.
Steering Group Principles
The Convener: We
pick up from where we left off. I confirm for the record that
no business was transacted during the adjournment; we were simply
awaiting the arrival of representatives from the Equal Opportunities
Committee. I am grateful to the Public Petitions Committee, the
Equal Opportunities Committee and a number of members of the Procedures
Committee for juggling among themselves the various meetings that
have been happening today so that we can fit in with one another.
I welcome the convener
of the Equal Opportunities Committee, Kate MacLean, and the deputy
convener, Kay Ullrich, who was briefly a member of the Procedures
Committee. They are supported by Richard Walsh and Lee Bridges,
who are the clerks of the Equal Opportunities Committee. We will
start with a presentation from the convener, as we did with the
convener of the Public Petitions Committeewe already have
a paper. Members will then discuss the issues that are raised.
Kate MacLean (Convener,
Equal Opportunities Committee): Thank you, convener. It is
a bit strange to be sitting at this side of the table instead
of in the convener's chair.
As the convener has
introduced the Equal Opportunities Committee delegation, I will
go straight to a brief presentation, after which we will answer
As well as satisfying
the demands of many organisations that have campaigned for many
years for equality in Scotland, the establishment of the Equal
Opportunities Committee gave effect to one of the four founding
principles of the Scottish Parliament. Although the power to legislate
on equal opportunities is reserved to Westminster under schedule
5 of the Scotland Act 1998, as the Procedures Committee knows,
the Scottish Parliament has wide-ranging powers to encourage equal
opportunities, to secure observance of the requirements of law
and to ensure that Scottish public authorities do not unlawfully
discriminate. That is a big responsibility for the Equal Opportunities
The Equal Opportunities
Committee is one of the eight mandatory committees, the rules
for which are set out in the standing orders. Those rules define
equal opportunities broadly. The definition is far broader than
is often the case in
The remit was initially
overwhelming for the committee. It was difficult to decide where
to start. Therefore, in line with the consultative steering group's
recommendations, we appointed four reporters to the committee
to cover race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation.
and role of the Equal Opportunities Committee are explicit in
the fourth CSG principle:
Parliament in its operation and its appointments should recognise
the need to promote equal opportunities for all."
Furthermore, we feel
that our work is implied in the third CSG principle:
Parliament should be accessible, open, responsive, and develop
procedures which make possible a participative approach to the
development, consideration and scrutiny of policy and legislation".
If the Procedures Committee
examines the Equal Opportunities Committee's work with consultation
and accessibility in mind, it will see that, in engaging translation
and interpreting services and in consulting such a range of organisations,
we have adhered well to the third CSG principle.
We should also remember
that, to date, the phrase "equal opportunities requirement"and
all the legal weight that it carriesoccurs in only three
of the 27 acts of the Scottish Parliament: the Housing (Scotland)
Act 2001, the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Standards
in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000. I am pleased to say that the
Equal Opportunities Committee was involved in ensuring that the
phrase was included in those acts. However, the difference between
the contribution that the Equal Opportunities Committee makes
and the changes that we want to bring about in the whole Parliament
is a crucial issue for discussion. Although I will not reel off
all the recommendations in annexe H of the CSG report and reply
to them one by one, I am confident that the Equal Opportunities
Committee has addressed many of them and that it is enough at
this stage to consider the clear intent of the CSG report.
We need to examine
what the Equal Opportunities Committee considers its role to be
and what the other committees and the rest of the Parliament consider
that role to be. The Equal Opportunities Committee is clearly
intended to be a catalystan agent that provokes or speeds
significant change or action. It was never intended to be the
watchdog of the Parliament or to police other committees, which
has tended to be how our role has been perceived.
The work of the Equal
Opportunities Committee has always been the same as that of any
other committee, but with the added element that we
help other committees
to mainstream equality in their work. By "mainstreaming",
we mean the integration of equal opportunities into all policy
development, legislation, implementation, evaluation and reviews
of practice. To be fair, on the intent to mainstream in the Scottish
Executive, the Equal Opportunities Committee feels that most of
the time it is pushing on an open door. The Executive has published
its equality strategy, which the Equal Opportunities Committee
refers to regularly. However, the devil is in the detail.
The task and approach
of mainstreaming are mirrored in the work of other committees.
The Finance Committee has done some very good work to ensure that
subject committees consider financial implications as part of
their work. The Finance Committee has also done quite a lot of
work on gender in the budget process.
In the Scottish Parliament,
we have a head start over other legislatures, so mainstreaming
should be easy for us. We have the chance to learn from good practice
in other areas. We have the clear steer that has been given to
us by the CSG principles. We have the overarching legislation
of the Scotland Act 1998 and explicit requirements to comply with
the European convention on human rights. The status of the Parliament
is a creation of statute and it is subject to compliance duties
under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. There are equal
opportunities statements in the policy memorandums to bills, for
The existence of the
Equal Opportunities Committee and this committee's far-reaching
inquiry contribute to our position as the leader in the field.
Therefore, it is disappointing that we seem unable to get other
committees to realise that we are not a watchdog but a catalyst
for equal opportunities.
I will close with a
brief summary of the Equal Opportunities Committee's current work
load, which might be of interest. We have just agreed to publish
a report on the race relations event that we held in the chamber
on 14 September 2001. More than 100 people from ethnic minorities
attended that civic participation event on the Race Relations
On 2 November, we will
host a workshop on the committee's report on its inquiry into
Gypsy Travellers and public sector policies. That report will
be debated in Parliament in November. The workshop is to facilitate
feedback on the report and the Executive's response, which we
hope to have by 2 November. That will be the first time that there
will have been such scrutiny and consultation on any Executive
We expect the first
tranche of external research work on mainstreaming equality in
mid-November. I know that the Procedures Committee is
interested in that.
In the meantime, we are committed, as a minimum, to scrutinising
all primary legislation in this year's programme. We have revised
the questions for the equality checklist and this morning agreed
the interim checklist, which will be published for consultation
on the Equal Opportunities Committee's website.
That is all that I
want to say at this stage. I am happy to take any questions. If
anything else occurs to me, I will write to the committee.
In the submission that you sent to the committee on 26 June, you
indicated that you might be in a position at this stage to discuss
the emerging findings from the Equal Opportunities Committee's
work on mainstreaming, the report on which you mentioned at the
end of your presentation. I think that you said that your report
will now be made in mid-November and that it was slipping behind
the original time scale. Are you in a position to discuss any
of that with us or might we more fruitfully come back to you later
Kate MacLean: We
are not at a stage at which we could discuss that, but we will
be able to return in mid or late November to discuss the report
The Convener: We
will take you up on that offer, one way or another.
The committee is now
a bit depleted, due to clashes with other events, but I have no
doubt that my colleagues will have many questions to fire away.
Mr McAveety: Kate
MacLean mentioned the equality checklist. What is the Equal Opportunities
Committee's view on monitoring the effectiveness of the checklist?
Many of us have had experience of similar situations in local
government. Are there any differences between how policy areas
or departments respond to the checklist?
My experience in local
government was that particular service areas were keen to implement
an equal opportunities agenda but others did not understand it
enough or were downright hostile to it. They were not publicly
hostile, but could be hostile behind the scenes. A clear direction
at committee or executive level was necessary to ensure the implementation
of equal opportunities.
Is the checklist effective?
Are there gaps in it that need to be addressed?
Kate MacLean: The
conveners group approved the checklist some time ago. There has
been no obvious hostility from committees to using it. It has
been used to support the scrutiny of recent policy and legislation,
such as the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, the Convention Rights
(Compliance) (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Regulation of Care (Scotland)
We have not yet monitored
how effective the checklist has been. I get the feeling that,
because it is an interim checklist, some of the committees are
not taking it on board as much as they could. Many committees
seem to be waiting for the research on mainstreaming.
Ullrich (Deputy Convener, Equal Opportunities Committee): As
Kate MacLean said in her introductory remarks, we are knocking
at an open door. All the committees feel that the equality checklist
and monitoring are very important. Nobody is balking at the checklist.
Mr McAveety: Are
any committees telling you that although they agree with the principle
of monitoring, their skills and knowledge in this area are partial
and they would like more support?
Kate MacLean: Everyone
agrees with the principle of equal opportunities. However, some
members and committee still see equal opportunities as the responsibility
of the Equal Opportunities Committee. Ideally, the Parliament
would not need an Equal Opportunities Committee, because work
on equal opportunities would be mainstreamed throughout the Parliament.
We held workshops on mainstreaming, but they were not very well
attended by members. The aim was to find out what support members
felt they needed in this area. The Equal Opportunities Committee
has a role in facilitating equal opportunities education and training
for members, because the equal opportunities implications of legislation
are not always obvious.
Mr Macintosh: My
first question is about the workshops on mainstreaming. I speak
as someone who wanted to attend those workshops, but was unable
to. How many MSPs attended the workshops?
Kate MacLean: Four.
Mr Macintosh: Oh
Kay Ullrich: Like
Kenneth Macintosh, many members wanted to attend but did not.
Kate MacLean: When
the research into mainstreaming is published, it will go out for
consultation. We may consider holding further workshops, and there
will be tools available to assist with mainstreaming. However,
four out of 129 MSPs is not a good turnout.
Mr Macintosh: As
I recall, the workshops were held on a Friday in the middle of
a busy period.
You say that the role
of the Equal Opportunities Committee is to act as a catalyst,
not as a watchdog. Who is the watchdog? Is it the Scottish Executive
equality unit? We all have the best of intentions, but who is
monitoring the Parliament to ascertain whether it is effective
in this area? I can
see that that is not
the role of the Equal Opportunities Committee.
Kate MacLean: It
is not the role of the Scottish Executive equality unit to monitor
the Parliament. The equality unit works for the Executive and
its work must be scrutinised. It should not be the Equal Opportunities
Committee's role to monitor the Parliament, but at the moment
we are doing that. It should be for equality organisations to
ensure that we adhere to good practice in equal opportunitiesthey
already do that to a certain extent. Amendments to legislation
that the Equal Opportunities Committee proposes often come from
the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equality Network or the
Equal Opportunities Commission. The committee has not yet discussed
designating an organisation to scrutinise the entire work of the
Kay Ullrich: We
are moving towards adopting a monitoring role. We have used our
checklist to scrutinise legislation, but we must go on to monitor
how that legislation is operating.
Mr Macintosh: Do
you think that legislation is equality proofed by the Parliament?
Kate MacLean: When
draft bills are published, they are supposed to have been equality
proofed. However, we have had to lodge similar amendments to several
different bills, which suggests that the message is not getting
through. Committees should also do mainstreaming work when scrutinising
The Convener: A
similar issue came up when the Transport and the Environment Committee
considered sustainability. All bills are supposed to have been
scrutinised for their environmental impact, but we had great difficulty
in working out who carried out that scrutiny, what it consisted
of and what criteria were used. Have you been able to identify
the equal opportunities criteria that are being used, how they
are applied and who is responsible for doing that?
Kate MacLean: The
equality unit provides the relevant part of the policy memorandum
to bills. The unit is responsible for equality-proofing legislation.
The Convener: Is
that arrangement working satisfactorily?
MacLean: It is obviously not working, as time after time we
have to lodge similar amendments to legislation.
The Convener: What
do you intend to do about that?
Kate MacLean: Mainstreaming
is not just for committees, but for the Parliament as a whole.
applies to all the
Executive departments, every committee and every person who is
involved in producing legislation, from the beginning to the end
of the process. It is a huge job for the Equal Opportunities Committee
to consider every piece of legislation. The committee has to decide
where detailed scrutiny is required or whether a cursory glance
will suffice. Sometimes we have to revise those decisions. Unlike
subject committees, which deal with bills as lead committees and
have more time to consider those pieces of legislation, we examine
all legislation that comes before the Parliament. Because we have
to feed into the deliberations of the lead committee, we have
a much reduced time scale for scrutinising legislation and carrying
out consultation. The committee aims to introduce mainstreaming
throughout the Parliament, so that everyone is responsible for
ensuring equal opportunities.
Convener: Hence your description of the committee as a catalyst
rather than a watchdog. There is some tension between those two
roles. You want to move the agenda forward, but you do not want
to be oppressive and interfering, or to get on other people's
cases. That is a difficult job.
Kate MacLean: I
have not encountered any hostility or animosity from other committees.
They are happy when we report on specific pieces of legislation.
We have arranged with other committees to take evidence jointly,
so that we do not end up taking evidence from the same organisations.
We agree on areas that we can deal with, which takes some of the
weight off subject committees. Other committees are not reluctant
to allow us to become involved, as everyone is in favour of equal
opportunities. However, it would be easier if committees started
to take the issue on board themselves.
Fiona Hyslop: I
was a member of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector
Committee, which considered the Housing (Scotland) Bill in co-operation
with the Equal Opportunities Committee. I know that the Equal
Opportunities Committee is not supposed to be a watchdog, but
I recall that it sent a member to some of our evidence-taking
sessions. That served as a physical reminder of the Equal Opportunities
Committee's existence. The stage 1 report that the Equal Opportunities
Committee submitted on the Housing (Scotland) Bill also helped
identify some of the main issues.
I invite our witnesses
to say more about the Equal Opportunities Committee's approach
to the Housing (Scotland) Bill, which is now the Housing (Scotland)
Act 2001. I am concerned that the amendments that were lodged
to the legislation ended up only inserting the term "equal
opportunities" into the bill. Some of the important points
that the committee raised at stage 1 about
16 and 17-year-olds
and about how the right to buy would affect women did not come
through. Because of the stage 1 reports that the Equal Opportunities
Committee produces, there is awareness of such issues early in
the legislative process, but by the time bills get to stages 2
and 3 there no longer seems to be committee ownership of the matters
that were raised at stage 1. Could you reflect on the example
that I have given and explain how the amendments to the Housing
(Scotland) Bill relating to equal opportunities were produced?
I think that the process was driven not by the committee, but
by the Executive.
MacLean: The Equal Opportunities Committee discusses the issues
that arise from a bill and produces a report. The lead committee
can either append that report to its stage 1 report or incorporate
part of it into its own report.
No Equal Opportunities
Committee amendments were lodged to the Housing (Scotland) Bill;
the amendments came from individual members. If the committee
had longer to scrutinise bills, we could lodge committee amendments.
Committee amendments may have been lodged during scrutiny of the
Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill, but no successful amendment
to any bill has been a committee amendment. That situation could
be improved, but only if the committee were given longer to scrutinise
Fiona Hyslop: The
most tangible effect on the Housing (Scotland) Bill, which was
a major bill, came at stage 3, when equal opportunities were finally
written into itbut only as a result of Executive action.
Kate MacLean: The
Executive's writing of equal opportunities into the bill was also
the result of a lot of lobbying behind the scenes by me, the Commission
for Racial Equality and other individual members.
Many of the responses that we have received suggest that one of
the flaws in our procedure is the lack of time at stage 2 for
debating amendments, considering implications, canvassing expert
opinion and discussing issues in committee with a view to lodging
committee amendments. Is that your feeling? Do the committees
need more time to consider amendments to bills at stage 2?
Kate MacLean: That
is a problem. The committee has repeatedly remarked that it does
not have sufficient time to consult organisations. We could issue
a report to a lead committee without being able to consult fully
on the matter. The lack of time is a huge problem, which the committee
Fiona Hyslop: It
would be helpful if the lead committee's stage 1 report on a bill
contained a list of equal opportunities flash-points or a warning
areas about which the
committee had concerns, rather than just the comment, "The
bill has been equality-proofed by the Executive." For example,
the Equal Opportunities Committee compiled a full report on the
Housing (Scotland) Bill. It would be helpful at stage 2 to have
such a checklist of specific concerns rather than general comments.
Kate MacLean: The
lead committee's role is to consider all the evidence. Our report
is submitted as evidence to that committee.
If mainstreaming existed
in the Parliament, the lead committee would be able to take evidence
from the organisations whose evidence informed our report and
it would be able to come to those conclusions itself. Executive
summaries of reports would make the process easier. The report
on our Gypsy/Traveller inquiry included an executive summary.
I know that such summaries make life easier for members who already
have far too much evidence to read through. We could consider
Professor David McCrone, our adviser, would like to pursue several
issues with you.
It is nice to have this opportunity to learn more.
I have a general question
relating to the interpretation of equal opportunities. The definition
in the Scotland Act 1998 covers many different things. Is it your
impression that certain social dimensions are better represented
than others in the Parliament and that others are either downsized
or play no part in the discussions? For example, let us say that
gender issues are highly salient and that issues of age or religious
beliefs are not. How does one keep all the balls in the air at
once? Do certain issues come to the surface simply because there
is greater awareness of them?
Kate MacLean: We
are aware that, during the first two years of the Parliament,
we have focused predominantly on issues of race and sexual orientation.
Gender and disability issues have not really been covered by the
committee. We have decided to address that by initiating major
inquiries, over the next two years, into a gender-related topic
and a disability-related topic.
Our work is guided
by the legislative programme and by the organisations and individuals
who contact us. The only major inquiry that we have conducted
was begun as a result of somebody contacting the reporter on race
issues relating to discrimination against Gypsy/Travellers. Some
organisations have better networks, and there has been no legislation
relating to issues such as sexual orientation. Such factors have
governed the way in which we have operated over the first two
years. The issues tend to be brought to the
committee. In drawing
up our work plan, we have to consider suggestions that have been
made by organisations and individuals as well as the legislative
Kay Ullrich: We
are limited by the definition of equal opportunities in the Scotland
Act 1998. For example, there is no mention of carers or dependants
in the Scotland Act 1998, yet they appear in the Northern Ireland
As you say, you are reactivein the best senseand
wait for organisations to bring issues to you. However, I presume
that there is not the same level of organisation regarding certain
social issues, such as age. I am not thinking about older people,
who may be better organised than younger people, but one would
be hard pushed to find an organisation representing younger people,
for example, or one representing religious beliefs. What organisations
would one look to on those issues? Would it depend on a specific
Kate MacLean: Our
work depends on issues that are raised. We have a database of
around 600 different organisations and it is not only the usual
suspects who are contacted. We consult a wide range of organisations.
Religious beliefs come
under the remit of the race reporter. One of the committee's big
successes was amending the Census Act 1920. Following approaches
from organisations that were concerned about religious discrimination,
we persuaded the Executive to introduce a bill to amend the act.
Kay Ullrich: We
also issued a statement on the negative impact on equality of
the Act of Settlement.
If there are groups of people who are not well representedif
they are represented at allhow can one include them to prevent
mainstreaming from becoming narrowly defined by certain issues
Kate MacLean: That
is very difficult. We are a white Parliament and no members have
obvious disabilities. Early on, we discussed the possibility of
permanently co-opting people on to the Equal Opportunities Committee
to represent unrepresented or under-represented groups. However,
the Scotland Act 1998 does not allow us to do that. We can appoint
advisers on specific issues, but we cannot co-opt such representatives
on to the committee. If the Scotland Act 1998 were to be reconsidered,
we would make representations to Westminster to have it amended
to address that.
Have you found any scope for using a panel of advisers to give
you that input?
Kate MacLean: So
far, we have not used a
panel of advisers.
Each of the reporters meets a wide range of organisations and
returns to the committee with issues of concern. The committee
as a whole does not have the time to consult on that level. Nonetheless,
we have not felt the need to appoint a panel of advisers on any
issues so far.
The Convener: From
that contact and from the 600 organisations on your database,
do you get a clear picture of what the equal opportunities issues
are for the people of Scotland? Are there any salient points that
you would like to consider?
Kate MacLean: It
is different for different groups. Black and ethnic minority people
are discriminated against in different ways from women or people
with disabilities. It is difficult to say that the issues have
a theme. The one theme that runs through the representations that
organisations have made to us is the lack of disaggregated data
for Scotland about specific groups. It is hard to find out what
the inequalities are, because we do not have detailed information
about different groups. The committee wanted changes to the census
so that we could find out where discrimination takes place and
Fiona Hyslop: The
Equal Opportunities Committee has appointed four reporters. David
McCrone made the point that a wide range of issues must be addressed.
What led you to appoint reporters in those four areas? How do
you compensate for the fact that many minority groups are not
represented by those areas so that you ensure that you keep pace
with the issues that concern them?
Kate MacLean: We
considered the definition of equal opportunities in the Scotland
Act 1998 and felt that those were the four main areas that no
other committee would cover. We felt that the Social Justice Committee
might cover matters such as social origin. Religious belief is
included in the remit of the race reporters. Were a specific issue
to arise in relation to a group that is covered in the Scotland
Act 1998, we could appoint a reporter on the matter.
We felt that the four
areas broadly covered the main work in which the committee would
be involved and that has been the case to date. We have not had
representations from groups that feel that they are not covered
by the committee.
Mr McAveety: One
of the points that emerged from the consultation on the implementation
of the CSG principles in the Parliament is that the responses
from the public on equal opportunities are relatively thin compared
with those on other key principles of the Parliament. Is that
because of a lack of precision in the language that is used or
is it because of people's
awareness of the issues and how they relate to equal opportunities?
You mentioned that
there are 600 organisations on the database. How do we define
the "usual suspects"? They seem to be malignedevery
committee says that the usual suspects make the contributions.
How do we reach beyond those organisations?
Do we compare ourselves
to other Parliaments? What messages do we get from that? The problem
I have with the CSG principles is that there are not enough comparisons
to enable us to adopt good practice from elsewhere in the world
and share it.
Kay Ullrich: It
is worth noting that not everyone who attended the recent race
relations event that we held in the chamber was from an organisation.
I was pleased that a number of individuals were there. We are
meeting members from other equal opportunities committees in other
countries. We have trips planned to Cardiff, London, Dublin and
Belfast. Kate MacLean will be able to say more about that, as
I have not been on the committee for that long.
Mr McAveety: I
asked about that because we have mentioned international comparators
in previous discussions. It is a good idea for people to do what
I call study audits. It would be helpful to receive documentation
that gives an overview of what other legislatures do and what
we are doing and which points out aspects that we could expand
on or areas that we have not considered before.
Kate MacLean: May
I ask Richard Walsh to come in, convener?
The Convener: Yes.
Richard Walsh (Scottish
Parliament Directorate of Clerking and Reporting): The research
that we have been doing, which will not be ready for publication
until mid-November, includes a literature review of published
documentation on a national level. Our researchers have followed
that up with a number of e-mail questionnaires to named offices
and individuals in other legislatures abroad. I will run through
the list. The research includes: Finland; Canadathe Canadian
House of Commons and Senate; the Belgian advisory committee on
equal opportunities between men and women; the National Assembly
for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Joint Committee
on Human Rights, to which Kay Ullrich alluded; the Australian
Senate; Denmark; and the Canadian legislatures in Alberta, Quebec,
Newfoundland and Saskatchewan.
Mr McAveety: You
have done well. That is enough; I have got the message.
Richard Walsh: There
is a large body of
information out there.
It is so vast that it has taken a specific literature research
to review it.
Mr McAveety: For those, such as me, who are
minimalist readers, could that be pulled together into two or
three pages that cover the key points and put down some markers?
That would enable us to map out where we need to go on some of
Richard Walsh: The committee has indicated that
although a full and substantial body of research, plus an executive
summary, will be produced for people to read, the idea is also
to produce a model with a few bullet points to show the criteria.
Kate MacLean: All
that contact was not a precursor to going on fact-finding missions
to all those places.
On Frank McAveety's
first question about the usual suspects, in any subjectbut
particularly in equal opportunitiesthere are big, mainstream
organisations that the Scottish Executive and other people consult.
The committee believed that it was important to consult grass-roots,
community-based organisations on equal opportunities issues. Sometimes
their views are very different from those of the larger organisations.
On people's perceptions
of the Equal Opportunities Committee, when there was talk some
time ago of possibly abolishing the committee, we were inundated
with letters of support from organisations throughout Scotland.
That is an interesting insight into how much people value the
committee, which has not been around for very long.
Fiona Hyslop: When
we consider the CSG principles, it is interesting to remember
that a proposal was on the tableperhaps not overtlyto
abolish the Equal Opportunities Committee or merge it with another
committee. What reaction did you receive to that proposal from
within the Parliament?
Kate MacLean: From
Fiona Hyslop: Yes.
Kate MacLean: There
was quite a lot of support for keeping the Equal Opportunities
Committee. Members realised that although at some time in the
future it might be possible not to have an Equal Opportunities
Committee, we are not yet far enough down the road of mainstreaming
equal opportunities. Perhaps members did not want to have to examine
equal opportunities on their own committees. There was quite a
bit of opposition to abolishing the committee within the Parliament
and there was a huge amount of opposition to it outwith the Parliament.
Fiona Hyslop: Was
that opposition to abolishing the Equal Opportunities Committee
to the powers that
Kate MacLean: There
was a lot of contact directly with them.
Mr Macintosh: Professor
McCrone asked about how well the Parliamentnot just the
Equal Opportunities Committeereaches out to the wider public.
There is a debate about whether we hear only from the "usual
suspects", to use that expression again.
One of the CSG principles
is sharing power and another is equal opportunities. You may not
have any hard information from monitoring, but do you have anecdotal
information that would help us to conclude whether we are addressing
those principles adequately. The Parliament has made a number
of strides forward on equal opportunities. Are there ways in which
we could improve? Is there a perception that we are not reaching
certain sectors of the public and that we are not giving the public
Kate MacLean: I
cannot think of any examples of our not reaching out to the public.
Perhaps the member has some, given that he asks the question.
Was there an opportunity at the recent race relations event, for
example, to get feedback from people about how they see the Parliament?
Is it accessible to them? Do they think that it responds to their
concerns? John McAllion told us that there has not been a single
petition from someone from an ethnic minority. Is that because
people from ethnic minorities do not know about that mechanism
or because they know about it but do not rate it? Are their concerns
and complaints more substantive? Are petitions too trivial a mechanism?
There does not seem to be a dialogue between the ethnic communities
and the Parliament. Is that your view?
Kate MacLean: Our
committee has a lot of contact with people from minority ethnic
communities and I am asked to go along and speak at various events.
Many people view the Equal Opportunities Committeeas opposed
to an Executive department or ministeras the first point
of contact for equal opportunities. At the race relations event,
people were pleased that individuals were able to nominate themselves
for invitation. Some of the feedback indicated that the Equal
Opportunities Committee is doing a lot of good work. However,
some people will not even know about it. It is the same with any
committee or department.
Kay Ullrich: The
race relations event was the first time that a member of the Lithuanian
community had ever come to a parliamentary event. That is just
Kate MacLean: We
find that people from
minority ethnic communities
do not access a lot of the services and do not use a lot of the
routes used by other sections of the community.
Is that because they have other, more focused ways of pursuing
the issues that concern them?
Kate MacLean: I
do not think so, but they may feel that there are barriers, which
may be linguistic. We have tried to address that. When we discussed
the thematic report on the police, Punjabi interpreting and translation
facilities were available in the Parliament and on the web. We
try to ensure that the Parliament is as accessible as possible.
People from minority
ethnic communities do not always access health, education and
employment in the same way as people from other communities. It
is about breaking down discrimination, including institutional
discrimination, so that people access institutions and feel ownership
in the same way as other people.
I somewhat hijacked Kenneth Macintosh's question. Do you want
Mr Macintosh: To
respond to Kate MacLean, I did not have any examples in mind.
A number of ethnic
groups clearly look upon the Equal Opportunities Committee as
a tool that can be used to access the Parliament and access power.
Is that reflected among disabled groups? Do they look to the Equal
Opportunities Committee or the Parliament to offer them a step
forward, or do they consider it a barrier?
Kate MacLean: Most
groups that work in the field of equality find that the Scottish
Parliament has improved their access to legislation and opportunities
to have their voice heard. The Equality Network produced a 1999
election manifesto for the Scottish Parliament. Everything in
that manifesto has been deliveredalthough I am sure that
the organisation will have a new manifesto now.
I think that people
do see an improvement. The uproar at the talk of abolishing the
Equal Opportunities Committee indicates that people see it as
relevant. I am not sure that everyone would want to access the
committee, but I think it is as accessible as or more accessible
than most committees of the Parliament. Groups feel comfortable
with the system of reporters; they feel that they get a lot of
access to MSPs and that their opinions are being fed into the
Mr Macintosh: I
am conscious that the internal structure of the Parliament and
our own attitudes towards equal opportunities could be improved.
When working recently with another committee, I was involved in
interviewing applicants for a post.
We did not have one
woman applicant. That is a reflection of how we advertise posts
as much as anything else.
Does the Equal Opportunities
Committee have the opportunity to question the Scottish Parliamentary
Corporate Body about its role? The Finance Committee, of which
I used to be a member, has the chance to question the SPCB on
its budget. Does the Equal Opportunities Committee have the opportunity
to question the SPCB on its contribution to equal opportunities
and how it implements relevant policies?
Kate MacLean: Yes.
The observance of equal opportunities within the Parliament is
within our remit and the SPCB, with my involvement, has appointed
somebody to produce an equal opportunities policy. That policy
will cover the work and staff of the Parliament, how the Parliament
operates and how it deals with members of the public. We will
shortly have a policy on that and it will then be up to all MSPs,
not just members of the Equal Opportunities Committee, to ensure
that the policy is adhered to.
Mr Macintosh: Does
that mean that the Parliament is to have an equal opportunities
Kate MacLean: That
is still under discussion and was covered in our report.
Mr Macintosh: I
think that question stemmed from a comment on the CSG principles
by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, which said that
a disability rights and equal opportunities officer should be
appointed. It would be interesting if a proposal to appoint one
was on the table.
Kate MacLean: The
report will be discussed by the Parliament in due course. The
question of whether to have an equal opportunities officer or
other people with responsibility for equal opportunities in different
directorates or offices has been discussed.
Is there anything that David McCrone wanted to cover that we have
not touched on?
No, although I would like to pick up on Ken Macintosh's point
on the vexed issue of cross-indexing equal opportunities and whether
we consider ethnic minorities times gender times age and so on.
That method becomes horrendously complicated. The interactions
between the different dimensions give rise to many issues. For
example, if a woman or a young person is being sought, that is
fine, but if we have to splice things together, it becomes impossible,
or at least difficult.
Kate MacLean: Indeedwe
might have an elderly Asian woman, for example. We need to consider
what we need to achieve, which is equality of opportunity, rather
than breaking down types of people into compartments. If there
are barriers to equality of opportunity, we can consider how to
deal with them issue by issue.
Kay Ullrich: Particular
multiple problems to do with elderly people's access to community
care or young people being discriminated against at school emerged
during our Gypsy/Traveller inquiry.
Does Kate MacLean have anything else to raise?
Kate MacLean: I
do not think so, but I would be happy to come back to the Procedures
Committeein November or whenever it suitsonce the
report on the mainstreaming research is available. That is the
whole point of the CSG principles on equal opportunities.
We would be very interested to consider that report and to cross-reference
it with our work.
I thank the convener
and clerks of the Equal Opportunities Committee and members of
the Procedures Committee for their attendance.
Meeting closed at