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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Agenda: Continued Petitions, New Petitions


New Petitions

Housing Legislation (Review) (PE1756)

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is consideration of new petitions. The first new petition for consideration today is PE1756, on the review of housing legislation to protect people experiencing domestic or elder abuse. The petition, which was lodged by James Mackie, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review current housing legislation in circumstances where a non-tenant has been responsible for domestic or elder abuse. A person living with a tenant may have statutory occupancy rights, even though they are not a tenant. For spouses and civil partners, the occupancy rights of the non-entitled spouse or civil partner are automatic. For a non-entitled cohabitant, an application must be made to the court to have occupancy rights declared.

If a person living in a property does not have those statutory occupancy rights or another legal right to occupy, the Shelter Scotland website says that tenants can use self-help measures to make that person leave the property, for example by changing the locks and not letting the person back in. They can also apply to the court for an ejection order.

The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003 provides that applicants presenting as homeless who have fled any kind of abuse can be provided with alternative housing and support by the local authority. A homeless person or household fleeing abuse is able to present to any local authority in the United Kingdom.

Last year, the Scottish Government carried out a consultation on a new form of protective court order that can be applied for by someone other than the victim, such as the police.

In response to a written question, the Scottish Government noted that its ending homelessness together action plan, which was published in November 2018, aims to

“transform how those at risk of homelessness receive help”,


“a commitment to developing a pathway to prevent homelessness for survivors of domestic abuse.”—[Written Answers, 6 September 2019; S5W-24712.]

The petitioner recently submitted a written submission in response to the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing that we have before us today. The petitioner states:

“Yes, there is legislation in place. However the legislation takes time to evict abusers and often money. In the meantime the abuser continues to live within the property and continues their abuse.”

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Gail Ross

I think that we need to write to the Scottish Government. It is not clear to me from the action plan exactly what changes are being made. I agree with the petitioner about the time that it takes for these things to happen. It is all very well for us to be telling people to change the locks or get an injunction, but the petitioner is absolutely right that, in the meantime, the abuse is still going on. In the first instance, we need to write to the Scottish Government and possibly other key stakeholders.

The Convener

There is clearly a longstanding issue—women’s groups and others have campaigned about it. A tenant can end up in a position where their landlord may have to deal with problems of antisocial behaviour at the premises that have been caused by an abuser who does not stay at the premises but who comes and causes grief. There is a question about how the system works when somebody is in those circumstances.

I propose that we write to the Scottish Government and also perhaps identify appropriate stakeholders in housing and policing, who may have a view. I have no doubt that housing providers, the Scottish Government and the police are aware of the issues; the question is how they address the concerns that the petitioner raises.

Brian Whittle

If I put myself in the position of the abused person, the length of time that it takes to have an abuser removed would prohibit me from seeking to pursue that course of action. You can imagine that, if you are being abused and you bring that process into the mix, it would have the potential to raise the level of abuse.

The petition raises an important issue. I agree that we need to write to the Scottish Government and other stakeholders, such as the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers.

I suggest that we delegate to the clerks the task of making a list of the most appropriate folk who are engaged in the area and who can help us with our consideration of the petition.

I am happy with that.

The Convener

In that case, we agree to write to the Scottish Government to seek its views, and to identify and write to key stakeholders to seek their views. I am sure that the clerks will have a good sense of the most appropriate people to contact. We thank the petitioner for submitting the petition.

Members indicated agreement.

Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme (Actuarial Reductions) (PE1757)

The Convener

The second new petition for consideration today is PE1757, on reducing actuarial reductions to the Scottish local government pension scheme. The petition, which was lodged by Liz Macguire, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to significantly reduce the levels of reduction to the Scottish local government pension scheme in order to ensure that today’s low-paid workers do not become even poorer pensioners.

The Public Service Pensions Act 2013 reformed the six largest public service pension schemes in the UK—the local government pension scheme and the schemes for the armed forces, the civil service, the NHS, teachers, police and firefighters. Key features of the new scheme include: pension benefits based on career average revalued earnings; a pension age linked to the state pension age for teachers and those employed in local government, the NHS and the civil service; and a pension age of 60 for members of the schemes for the police, firefighters and armed forces.

The actuarial reduction referred to in the petition is based on the length of the member’s early retirement period—that is, the period between the date when benefits are paid and the member’s normal pension age. The earlier a member retires, the greater the reduction.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action? I should declare an interest as someone who has a teacher’s pension.

Lucky you.

I think that our first course of action should be to write to the Scottish Government to seek its views on the issue raised by the petitioner.

The Convener

I am thinking about the consequences of the pension age increasing for people who feel that they are not able to continue working and have to take early retirement. The suggestion is that that has a particular impact on low-paid workers. That is an interesting and important area for us and the Scottish Government to consider.

Do members agree to write to the Scottish Government seeking its views on the action that is called for in the petition?

Members indicated agreement.

I also declare an interest, as I am on a local government pension.

Greyhound Racing (PE1758)

The Convener

The third new petition for consideration today is PE1758, on ending greyhound racing in Scotland. The petition, which was lodged by Gill Docherty, on behalf of Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to put an end to greyhound racing in Scotland. I welcome Mark Ruskell MSP, who is in attendance for our consideration of the petition.

There is no statutory regulation of greyhound racing in Scotland. The Greyhound Board of Great Britain provides rules and regulations in relation to the welfare of greyhounds and facilities at licensed tracks, including requirements for inspections and the requirement that a veterinary surgeon be present at all races. There are also detailed rules on racing surfaces, traps, fencing, kennels and so on. The GBGB rules of racing also state:

“Every person subject to the GBGB rules of racing shall have full regard to greyhound welfare and shall accept the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.”

Those requirements do not apply to independent greyhound tracks.

Scotland has one regulated greyhound track and one independent greyhound track. The Scottish Government believes that the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 are sufficient to ensure that action can be taken if the welfare needs of greyhounds, whether still racing or retired, are not being met.

In the 2018-19 programme for government, the Scottish Government committed to continue work to introduce and reform the licensing of animal activities, animal sanctuaries, rehoming centres, breeding and the use of animals in public display or performance. There is no specific mention of horse racing or greyhound racing in the programme for government. However, the scope of reforms to the licensing of animal activities, including their use in public displays or performances, will be considered in due course after discussion with stakeholders.

I invite Mark Russell to make a contribution at this point, to help inform us about what we may want to do with the petition.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

Thank you very much, convener. I should probably declare an interest, as I am the owner of an ex-racing greyhound. His back story is that he had a broken leg, which received no treatment at all. He was raced again and again and was lame. Clearly, he was not winning any races and so was moved on by his trainer. I thank the Scottish Greyhound Sanctuary, which successfully rehomed him with our family. He is a very lucky dog: most of the dogs that are no longer cutting it are just put down at the track or are disposed of in other ways.

The petitioners point out that 5,000 dogs were injured in one year—the trend is going up—and 2,000 dogs either died racing or were subsequently euthanised. I have talked to the petitioners and a number of other stakeholders and it has become quite clear to me that the code of practice that the GBGB has drawn up is not worth the paper that it is written on. This summer, dogs were being raced at Shawfield stadium in temperatures of more than 30ºC. As you pointed out, convener, some tracks, such as the track at Thornton in Fife, are not even covered by the GBGB code of practice.

It has been very difficult to see any enforcement under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. There have been notable, well-documented cases of trainers feeding cocaine to dogs and of other abuse taking place, but there have been no convictions as a result. After discussing the situation with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the police, I am very concerned that enforcement does not seem to be a priority and that there are issues around evidence, resulting in very few convictions.

During evidence taking on the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill, the Government made a commitment to review the regulations that relate to other forms of animal performance. We have banned the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, but there are other types of animal performance that could be banned or further regulated. The Scottish Government agreed to bring forward such a review, but, as you pointed out, convener, there is no specific commitment to a review of greyhound racing regulation.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, is quite narrow in scope. It looks at sentencing, but it is not clear whether an increase in the maximum sentences for offences could affect the way in which the abuse of greyhounds is investigated by Police Scotland and the SSPCA. There are unanswered questions about whether that bill could make specific provision in relation to greyhounds or would have any impact on the issue.

My personal thought is that, should this committee wish to refer the petition on, this is a good opportunity for the ECCLR Committee to take it on, because that committee is considering an animal health and welfare bill. We are in the final 18 months of this parliamentary session, and regulations might be coming.

The Convener

Is it the aim of the petition that there should be no greyhound racing at all, or that regulation should be more effective and the police should take it more seriously? Those are quite different things. Can the industry be regulated and could effective regulation make a difference?

Mark Ruskell

My personal view is that, on ethical and welfare grounds, there is no place for greyhound racing, which comes into the same category as wild animals performing in travelling circuses. However, there are those who believe that regulatory reform would be the route to follow. As a member of the ECCLR Committee, I would be interested to explore that territory.

The industry has had a long time to consider regulation and it is going down a voluntary regulatory route, yet we know that there are dogs being fed cocaine and raced in temperatures of 30º. Voluntary regulation is not working. I am concerned about whether the industry is capable of reform. There is also the unregulated side of the industry and what is happening in Fife at the moment. I hear some pretty horrific stories on the ground.

I have heard about Shawfield, but do these things happen across the United Kingdom? Are there any international comparators? Is greyhound racing a feature of people’s lives in other parts of the world?

Mark Ruskell

I understand that the industry is struggling. There are a lot of parallels with the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The industry is starting to decline and greyhound racing is no longer a widely popular pastime. The industry raises ethical and animal welfare issues, so there is a question about what the Scottish Government is doing about it in that context.

Gail Ross

I thank Mark Ruskell for coming to the meeting. It has been very useful to hear his views. The Scottish Government has said that mechanisms are available to deal with the animal welfare abuses, but his figures do not bear that out.

Given what Mark Ruskell has said about the bill that is being considered by the ECCLR Committee, I would agree to refer the petition; I think that that would be a perfect place for the petition to get the scrutiny that it deserves.

Brian Whittle

I, too, thank Mark Ruskell for coming in. Greyhounds are great dogs, as I am sure he would testify. I am not at all knowledgeable about greyhound racing and I have never been to a meeting, but I wonder whether these dogs like to run.

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 applies to any animal, irrespective of its circumstances, and there is a code of practice that obviously is not being enforced. Is that because legislation cannot be enforced in such a small and reducing sport in the same way that it can be in, for example, horse racing? Horse racing is a much bigger sport and is much more in the public eye, so regulation tends to be much stricter and tighter.

I have not considered the issue before, but I like the idea of the ECCLR Committee looking at the petition. I would be quite happy to pass the petition and the evidence that we have received to that committee.

I agree with Brian Whittle, although I also have a question for Mark Ruskell. Might banning greyhound racing not drive it underground and create a more horrendous problem?

Mark Ruskell

In effect, there is almost an underground greyhound racing industry already, given that there is one unregulated track in Fife. If greyhound racing is to take place, a place is needed for that to happen and I think that it would be pretty obvious where that was happening. A particular type of track would need to be laid out. I think that enforcing regulation or a ban would be quite easy.

Even so, would the industry not find ways of holding unregulated events? I am thinking about what happens with dog fighting.

Mark Ruskell

It would be easier to hide a dog fight in an enclosed area than it would be to hide a greyhound race. My dog likes to run and he needs quite a long track to get up to speed. The issue is about who is currently enforcing the regulations. I see an unfortunate enforcement gap with both the SSPCA and Police Scotland. I do not see visits being made to the Thornton track, and that is what is really needed to investigate what I hear is going on there.

Are you saying that the non-regulated tracks have to be licensed under the GBGB?

The Convener

We are getting into the nuts and bolts of the matter. I sense that the committee recognises the sense of the suggestion that we refer the petition to the ECCLR Committee. We recognise that the issues that have been highlighted, and the question of whether greyhound racing should be banned or regulated and how the industry should be regulated, would be for the ECCLR Committee to consider. Are we agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

We will refer the petition to the ECCLR Committee. I thank the petitioner for bringing the matter to the committee’s attention and Mark Ruskell for his attendance.

Primary Schools (Equal Teaching Hours) (PE1759)

The Convener

The next new petition is PE1759, on equal school hours for all children in Scotland, which was lodged by Susan Crookes. The petition calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that all children across Scotland receive the same teaching hours.


Our briefing explains that the Schools General (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1987 provide that schools must be open for a minimum of 190 days in a school year. However, the length of those days is not prescribed and it is largely for local authorities to determine the structure of when schools are open. Section 21 of the Education (Scotland) Act 2016 provides ministers with the power to make regulations on the minimum number of school hours in a school year, with some exceptions. The power would also enable ministers to prescribe the meaning of “learning hours”. However, section 21 of the 2016 act is not fully in force and the Scottish Government has not made regulations to prescribe a minimum number of hours.

Our briefing explains that there is some disparity across local authorities. In 2015, Reform Scotland sent freedom of information requests to all local authorities asking about contact hours in primary and secondary schools. It found:

“The variance between the highest provision and lowest provision was 149 hours per year in primary and 245 hours in secondary, based on local authority area.”

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Brian Whittle

It strikes me that the petition correlates teaching and learning with a number of hours. There is a lot more to it than that when it comes to what is taught and who teaches it. The petition raises an interesting issue that I was unaware of—as they say, every day is a school day in here. Given the disparity that is highlighted in the petition, I think that we need to start by asking the Scottish Government what its position is. Other stakeholders would also have an interest in the petition and we should seek their views as well.

Gail Ross

The petition refers specifically to Highland Council. If it were a couple of years ago, I would have had to declare an interest because my son went to a Highland Council primary school. Maybe it would be beneficial for us to write to Highland Council to ask why the decision was made to have primaries 1 to 3 finish at 2.30 and primaries 4 to 7 finish at 3 o’clock.

The Convener

It has been suggested that we write to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which would have an overview, but I suppose the question is whether the issue pertains only to Highland Council. I do not think that we want to write to every local authority if it is really not an issue for them. I suppose that we could write specifically to Highland Council.

Convener, we have the same thing in East Dunbartonshire.

The Convener

I suggest that we write to the Scottish Government and COSLA in the first instance and ask the clerks to recommend which other stakeholders it would be most appropriate to contact. The teaching unions might have a particular view. As Brian Whittle said, the issue is not necessarily something that we have been aware of, but it would be useful to understand what is happening and the rationale for the different hours. We thank the petitioner, and we will come back to the petition.

Housing Regulations (PE1761)

The Convener

The final new petition on today’s agenda is PE1761, on new housing regulations, which was lodged by David Murphy Shaw. The petition calls for the Scottish Government to establish new housing regulations by replacing current planning regulations with a regulatory framework governing prefabrication properties and companies and allowing property taxes to take account of the property location, the size of plot and the number of children living at the property.

Our briefing explains the current system of planning and building regulations and that the primary responsibility for delivery of the planning service in Scotland lies with the local authorities and two national park authorities. It also sets out the current system governing prefabricated houses.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Gail Ross

In the first instance, we should write to the Scottish Government to get the low-down on what exactly is or is not taken into account. We cannot go forward without getting that information from the Scottish Government.

The petitioner has provided a lot of information. It would be useful to get the Scottish Government’s detailed response to the concerns in the petition.


The Convener

I do not think that we can pretend to have an in-depth knowledge of the issues that are raised in the petition, but we think that they are worthy of consideration. The petition highlights quite a lot of issues. Do members agree to write to the Scottish Government to seek its views on the action that is called for in the petition?

Members indicated agreement.

In that case, we have reached the end of our consideration of petitions today and I close the meeting.

Meeting closed at 11:02.