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Chamber and committees

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Agenda: Interests, New Petitions, Continued Petitions


New Petitions

Rape Charges and Convictions (Record of Sex) (PE1876)

The Convener

Item 2 is consideration of new petitions. First of all, for those who might be tuning in to see the progress of their petition or others who might be watching this morning, I should make it clear that, in advance of considering petitions, we seek submissions from the Scottish Government and receive submissions from other parties to ensure that we have a certain amount of information at our disposal before we proceed.

Our first new petition is PE1876, which has been lodged by Lucy Hunter Blackburn, Lisa Mackenzie and Kath Murray. It calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to require Police Scotland, the Crown Office and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape.

In its submission, the Scottish Government states that the crime statistics that it publishes

“are derived from data held on the Criminal History System ... an operational database which is used for the primary purpose of recording of information on people accused or convicted of perpetrating a criminal act.”

The submission argues that it would therefore be

“for Police Scotland to determine how the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape is recorded on the CHS.”

Since the publication of our meeting papers, the committee has received several written submissions, including from Fair Play For Women, Dr Shonagh Dillon, For Women Scotland, Sharon Dowey MSP and the petitioners. In their submission, the petitioners highlight that crime recording practices in Scotland are overseen by the Scottish crime recording board. The role of the board, which is chaired by the Scottish Government, is to

“support the production of accurate and objective statistics on crime in Scotland”.

The petitioners therefore reiterate that the action that they are calling for is for the Scottish Government to require Police Scotland, the Crown Office and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to accurately record the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape.

The petitioners also highlight in their submission guidance that the Scottish Government published last month on collecting data on sex, gender identity and trans status and which cites the investigation of “a serious sexual offence” as an example where data on biological sex is required. They argue that the fact that the chief statistician chose to single out sexual offending in this guidance lends weight to the argument that the nature and gravity of such cases justify accurate recording.

After that introduction, I seek comments from members.

David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I would like to keep the petition open and investigate the issue. I suggest that we write to the many stakeholders that have been mentioned—Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service—and see what they have to say.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

Mr Torrance’s suggestion is perfectly logical and sensible. The petition is one of a group of petitions that make a statement about an issue that is not in the public domain to a great degree. For us to be able to respond successfully to the petition, it is incumbent on us to investigate the issue and to consider it further once we have received the responses.

Alexander Stewart

I concur with Bill Kidd and David Torrance. I think that the petition raises important questions about trust in statistics and data. It gives us an opportunity to seek more views and opinions from stakeholders so that we can make progress on the matter and take a measured approach to what is a very sensitive and delicate situation. It is important that we engage in that way and try to gain as much information as we can so that a more balanced approach can be taken in the process.

I agree that an evidence-led approach is critical, and I concur with colleagues that the routes of research that have been identified and proposed are appropriate, and I support our taking those actions.

The Convener

I am going to be a bit blunt here. I was struck by the following paragraph in the Scottish Government’s submission:

“The crime of rape is committed by someone with a penis, including a surgically constructed penis. As the petition mentions, a person (male or female) can also be convicted of rape when their involvement was art and part (assisted in the perpetration of the crime).”

I note that the petitioners wonder whether, although that is technically the case, such a rape has been the subject of any subsequent prosecution. I do not think that that is entirely clear.

There are a number of people to whom we can write. I invite suggestions as to who they might be.

I think that we should write back to the Scottish Government to ask whether there are any recorded figures that back up the statement that it has made in its submission.

The Convener

David, you have already suggested that we write to Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. We agree to do that. On the back of my comment, you have suggested that we also write to the Scottish Government to ask for validation of the actual prosecutions that have taken place in such circumstances. I presume that, when the Scottish Government talks about the use of prosthetics, such a crime could be committed by a male or a female. I would like to understand the reality of the analysis, rather than just the theoretical and technical aspects of the issue.

Bill Kidd

I think that that is perfectly logical, although I note that the Scottish Government has stated in its response:

“The Scottish Government publishes each year a statistical bulletin known as Criminal Proceedings in Scotland. The bulletin presents statistics on criminal proceedings concluded in Scottish courts, including a breakdown by sex of convicted persons by crime type.”

Therefore, given that the Scottish Government has already given us that information, I think that it would be better to contact the organisations that David Torrance identified before we approach the Scottish Government again with those results.

The Convener

That is fine. I am quite happy for us to take that approach, if members are content.

Members indicated agreement.

Do members have any other comments?

I wonder whether it would be worth our seeking an opinion from the Lord Advocate on the matter.

The Convener

Yes, we can do that, too.

We will keep the petition open, as it touches on issues that require to be clarified. We will consider the petition again when we have received responses from the various parties to which we have agreed to write.

Israel and Palestine (Learning and Teaching Resource) (PE1879)

The Convener

The next new petition is PE1879, on providing an accessible and professionally developed learning and teaching resource on Israel and Palestine. Before we proceed, I should declare an interest as convener in the previous parliamentary session of the cross-party group on building bridges with Israel. The CPG has yet to be reconvened, but I hope and expect that that will happen later this month.

The petition, which has been lodged by Hugh Humphries, on behalf of Scottish Friends of Palestine, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to acknowledge the right of Scotland’s pupils to a bias-free education on the topic of Israel and Palestine by ensuring that Education Scotland hosts an accessible and professionally developed learning and teaching resource on its national intranet service and re-establishes a strategic review group to oversee any revision of the original resource developed in 2016.

In its submission, the Scottish Government states that, in 2015,

“A working group was established to scope out appropriate materials to support practitioners to deliver learning on the conflict and issues around Israel and Palestine.”

In 2017, an initial set of resources was made available on Glow, Education Scotland’s national learning platform, on a pilot basis.

The Scottish Government states that, by February 2018, it was apparent following engagement with interested stakeholders that the consensus on the resources sought by Education Scotland could not be achieved. It further states that an offer by Education Scotland to develop the resource further was not agreeable to the Educational Institute of Scotland as a joint owner of the resource. However, the EIS offered to publish the resources on its own website, where they are still available. The Scottish Government states that, given

“the lack of consensus across stakeholders, and the EIS publishing the resource on a publicly available platform, the Scottish Government and Education Scotland concluded that the matter was closed.”

The committee has received several submissions, including three, I think, from the petitioner. In his response to the Scottish Government submission, the petitioner states his view that it was clear from early 2017 that

“there would be no consensus between stakeholder groups”

on the resource. He believes that the Scottish Government has been lobbied into amending the resource and then removing it from Glow. He also highlights that Glow is promoted as

“the destination hub for staff looking for additional learning and teaching resources”

and argues that, with a teaching resource being placed on another platform, it is effectively being consigned “to obscurity”.

Since the publication of our papers, the committee has received a late submission from the Scottish Friends of Israel and a further submission from the petitioner, which provide opposing views on the development of the education resource. These have been circulated to members and published on the Scottish Parliament website.

I would be grateful for members’ comments on the petition.

David Torrance

Given that the Scottish Government and Education Scotland consider the matter to be closed and given that curriculum for excellence is a matter for local authorities and individual schools, I suggest that we close the petition under rule 15.7 of standing orders. I do not think that the committee can take it any further.

Bill Kidd

That is a reasonable approach, as the committee has probably taken the matter as far as it possibly can. I note that the Scottish Parliament has cross-party groups on building bridges with Israel and on the situation in Palestine, and that shows that the Parliament is not ignoring this important issue or simply throwing it away.

I do not think that it is for us to chase this matter, but I would like the MSPs on both cross-party groups to come together at some point and speak to each other in a rational manner. That might actually help with developing a better approach in Scotland. Of course, I do not know whether we can influence such a move.

The Convener

Two suggestions have been made: first, that we close the petition and, secondly, that we draw the petition to the attention of the respective cross-party groups. I am not totally sure that it is within our competence to do so with groups that have not yet been officially recognised by the Parliament, but I think that we could do that. Indeed, I think that it would be useful for the elected members of both groups to initiate a discussion.

Do members agree to close the petition on that basis?

Members indicated agreement.

Wind Farms (Community Shared Ownership) (PE1885)

The Convener

The final new petition is PE1885, lodged by Karen Murphy, which calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to make community shared ownership a mandatory requirement to be offered as part of all planning proposals for wind farm development.

In its response to the petition, the Scottish Government states:

“electricity generation is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act 1998. As such the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal competence to change the law for a purpose relating to the regulation of the control of electricity generation”,

as requested in the petition. In the absence of powers to change the law, the Scottish Government has developed best practice documents to encourage community shared ownership for onshore renewable energy developments.

The petitioner’s submission argues that without a mandate to offer community shared ownership, the Scottish Government will not meet its new target of 2GW of community and locally owned renewable energy by 2030. The petitioner suggests using existing land and buildings transaction tax powers to raise a form of tax that requires all developers who do not own the land to offer 15 per cent community shared ownership to locally impacted communities.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Paul Sweeney

I found this petition quite interesting, as it sets out an interesting interface. Although the Scottish Government’s prima facie case is that the matter is reserved, we know of cases in the past—for example, the development of atomic power stations in Scotland—where planning powers have effectively been used to direct or influence policy decisions. An element of leverage could be deployed here, and we could look at opportunities to create greater incentives for community ownership.

I therefore think that the petition is worth further exploration and evidence gathering. The Scottish land fund and other stakeholders that operate in this field might have some interesting and innovative suggestions about how policy could be developed, particularly with regard to potential changes to planning legislation in Scotland, which is a devolved matter and could lead to the introduction of incentives that are indirect but would be nonetheless effective. As I have said, the matter is worth further exploration.

Bill Kidd

That is a perfectly reasonable way to move forward on an issue that, with the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—coming up in Glasgow this year, Scotland should be at the forefront of with regard to thinking about future developments. I am perfectly happy with the suggestion that has been made.

The Convener

Do members agree to keep the petition open and make inquiries along the lines suggested by Paul Sweeney and supported by Bill Kidd?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

That brings us to the end of our consideration of new petitions. We will have a short suspension to allow witnesses to join us.

11:33 Meeting suspended.  

11:36 On resuming—