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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee 17 November 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Continued Petitions, New Petitions


Contents


New Petitions


Detainees in Custody (Access to Medication) (PE1900)

Item 2 is consideration of new petitions. For those who are watching, and for petitioners who might be following proceedings, before we consider these petitions for the first time orally at the committee, we have sought the views of the Scottish Government, and in some instances other submissions have also been received, which allows us to have informed discussions ahead of consideration of the petitions.

The first new petition, PE1900, which has been lodged by Kevin John Lawson, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to ensure that all detainees in police custody can access their prescribed medication, including methadone, in line with existing relevant operational procedures and guidance.

In its submission, the Scottish Government confirms strongly that it considers that

“fast and appropriate access to treatment including all forms of opiate substitution is important.”

It highlights its new national mission to reduce drug deaths and harms and the medication-assisted treatment standards that ministers are committed to embed by April 2022. The Government confirms that it has sought assurances from the Scottish health in custody network that opioid substitution therapy is being provided to people in custody across Scotland, and it goes on to state that once the medication-assisted treatment standards are fully embedded, it will monitor provision in the NHS Grampian area.

In his submission, the petitioner suggests that there is a contradiction between what official guidance states must happen to detainees in custody in relation to prescribed medication and what is actually happening. He asks that an inquiry is launched to look into the death in custody of detainees who, in the petitioner’s opinion, were

“medically triaged by unqualified police staff.”

Do colleagues have any comments?

I read the petition with a great deal of concern, but I then read the Scottish Government’s submission. It was a strong response that sought to assure us that the practice in place is to the contrary. The weakness in it is that no register is kept that can substantiate the fact, so we do not know how many requests for prescribed medications have been received, nor do we have confirmation of how those requests were dealt with.

Although I am reassured by the Scottish Government’s commitment that detainees should be able to access their medication, I am slightly unnerved by the fact that we are unable to demonstrate that that is the case. I wonder whether the absence of any formal record of requests received or prescriptions issued is entirely as it should be.

Do any colleagues have a view?

You hit the nail on the head when you talked about the duty of care. There is a duty of care for individuals who are detained, and it is a concern that the Government has no data to show us that that duty has been exercised. You would assume that, if they are detained in police custody, individuals who required such support would receive it, but if we do not have any data to prove that that is the case, there is dubiety about the process. More clarity is required about what the Government intends to put in place if nothing is in place already.

I share the concern that the monitoring processes are not sufficiently mature. The Government’s submission might be sincere, but if the Government is not connected to what is going on in a custody suite in Scotland at any particular time, how would it know any different? The petition has highlighted a blind spot in its monitoring procedures and it is well worth further investigation.

That is without casting aspersions on anybody. We simply cannot substantiate the point. Nobody can.

Are we minded to keep the petition open, to write to the Scottish Government further on monitoring—that is the key issue that arises from the petition—and to ask how, in the absence of monitoring, it can be assured that we have in place the provisions that are required?

It might be worth seeking submissions from relevant charities that operate in drug treatment, such as Transform. I am sure that the clerks could come up with a potential list of charities from which it might be worth inviting responses.

That might get us some further evidence one way or the other on what is actually happening. That is a good suggestion.

Are we content to do as suggested?

Members indicated agreement.


Scottish Parliament Electoral System (PE1901)

The next petition is PE1901, on replacing the voting system for the Scottish Parliament with a more proportional alternative. It was submitted by Richard Wood, who invites us to consider the issue from a different perspective yet again. It is always open to discussion. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to replace the broadly proportional additional member system that is used for electing MSPs with a more proportional alternative.

The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing sets out two examples of proportional voting systems. The first is the single transferable vote, which uses multiple-member electoral districts or regions with each voter ranking preferred candidates on a single ballot. Scottish local elections take place by STV. The second is open-list proportional representation. It is a variant of party-list proportional representation in which voters have influence over the preference order of party candidates. With regard to STV, the briefing notes a concern

“that candidates nearer the top of the list”

on the ballot paper

“are more likely to selected.”

The Scottish Government submission advises that the Government

“does not currently have any plans to propose changes to the voting system by which MSPs are elected to the Scottish Parliament.”

I do not know whether there is any appetite from any of the political parties or the Government to change the voting system, but I think that we should write to the key stakeholders—the Electoral Reform Society Scotland and the Electoral Commission—to seek their views on what the petitioner is asking for.

I think that we are content to do that. The Scottish Government’s position is quite clear, but it would be useful for us to have a current litmus test of the views of those other organisations in the current circumstances.

I am sympathetic, because it is an on-going and worthwhile discussion. In the 1990s, the Scottish Constitutional Convention established the additional member system as the preferred electoral system, but perhaps there is an on-going need to consider alternatives. Obviously, the single transferable vote for local government elections was introduced in the mid-2000s. There have been observations of concerning practices in the most recent Scottish Parliament elections; most notably, the Greens were perhaps stymied in some instances by a decoy green party, which was higher up the list and seduced votes away from the Greens. I certainly noticed that at the Glasgow count, so there are flaws with the current list structure of two ballots, which are worth further investigation.

Indeed. I am sure that my party has been subject to that discretion as well, but we prevailed.

I remember what Paul Sweeney was talking about. In order to avoid the mild embarrassment that might take place if Alasdair Aardvark gets elected in front of the rest of us, we should look at that.

Splendid. The capacity of politicians for a bit of political self-flagellation never dims, so we will ask the various electoral authorities for their views on how we might suitably be re-elected under different methods. Notwithstanding the Scottish Government’s lack of appetite, we will take the matter forward and consider it afresh, so we will keep the petition open on that basis.

Members indicated agreement.


Community Participation Requests (Appeal Process) (PE1902)

The next petition is PE1902, on an appeal process for community participation requests. The note on the petition is quite long but, as if to prove my earlier point, we are joined again by Rhoda Grant, who was not necessarily expecting to be with us this morning. I am pleased that she is here, because it means that I now do not have to read out what would have been her written submission if she had not joined us.

The petition, which was lodged by Maria Aitken on behalf of Caithness Health Action Team, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to allow an appeal process for community participation requests under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The 2015 act was intended to encourage and support community involvement and participation in public services. Part 3 of the act introduces the right to participation requests, which aim to ensure engagement and dialogue between community participation bodies.

The right to appeal decisions on participation requests was examined by the Local Government and Communities Committee during its post-legislative scrutiny of the 2015 act, and a recommendation in relation to an appeals process was made in the committee’s final report.

A three-year evaluation of the operation of participation requests was published in April 2020 and concluded:

“Given the significant challenges to introducing an appeals process and in ensuring its fairness and robustness, alongside the very small numbers of participation requests completed using the legislation, this is likely to be a longer-term piece of work.”

The Scottish Government submission notes that the Scottish Community Development Centre has been asked to explore what an appeals process might look like and that the centre will report its findings later this year. I am delighted to ask Rhoda Grant to speak in support of the petition.

11:00  

Thank you for allowing me in again to comment on this petition.

I meet CHAT quite regularly, and in July, it raised the issue of community participation with me. The group had contacted NHS Highland, but the health board refused to recognise it as a constituted community-controlled body. I believe that the group is controlled by the community and that it needs to be recognised as such. It has a constitution, which sets out that it is community led, and it holds regular annual general meetings and regularly meets the community that it represents.

I have taken the matter up with NHS Highland on the group’s behalf, but it is not changing its position. As there is no appeals process, CHAT has no chance to debate its case with someone from outwith the organisation.

Members of the public regularly contact CHAT to ask for its assistance and to advise it of issues that they have faced, and, to be honest, I think that that often puts it at odds with NHS Highland. Nevertheless, I believe that it fulfils an important role in the community. It is keen for the health authority to engage with its members before any action is taken up in Caithness; in fact, the team has given me examples of issues on which there has been no consultation at all. For instance, a midwife-led maternity unit that was introduced resulted in a 200-mile round trip to Raigmore hospital for pregnant at-risk women.

I agree that people in Caithness are victims of the centralisation of healthcare services and that rural areas are being left out of the decision-making process. An appeals process would let the team question the ruling of any public body, and I support its introduction sooner rather than later. I would also say that NHS Highland’s out-of-hand dismissal of an appeal on this matter is wrong, and an appeals process would at least give the team the right to call such decisions into question. At any rate, I think that the board’s approach is questionable.

Thank you very much. Do colleagues have any comments?

I think that we should keep the petition open and write to the Scottish Community Development Centre for an update on its work on exploring what an appeals process for community participation requests might look like and when it expects to conclude that work.

I do not mean to generalise, but my experience with health boards, particularly those with no such appeals processes, is that a determination is made and anyone who then tries to pursue any alternatives meets a blank wall. The absence of an appeals process in this case is a failing, because, with the example that Rhoda Grant has expressed an interest in, a subjective view seems to have been taken with regard to excluding this body, and that is that—even though it is, as Ms Grant seems to be saying, the body that local people are using to try to make these kinds of representations.

There is no doubt that there is a gap here, given all the talk about engagement, dialogue and community participation, and Rhoda Grant has made quite a strong case with regard to this specific issue. I suggest, therefore, that we continue with the petition so that we get more clarity to understand and assess the procedure involved and to ensure that what should be taking place in this health board is actually taking place.

A recurring theme of this morning’s meeting seems to be the need to ensure that requests for appeals are recorded and the outcomes monitored, given that the same issue arose in a previous petition.

Do members agree to keep the petition open?

Members indicated agreement.

We will, in the first instance, try to get some idea of the timeline for the work on developing an appeals process, as we would not want that to be open ended.


Vaccination Passports (PE1908)

Our final new petition is PE1908, which has been submitted by Jeff Bell. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to regularly review the impact of vaccination passport regulations, following their implementation, and to provide data on how they are being used and any benefits that they bring.

The committee has received a late submission from the Scottish Government on the petition. It highlights the scheme’s objectives, which are to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus; to reduce the risk of serious illness and death, thereby alleviating current and future pressure on the national health service; to allow higher risk settings to continue to operate as an alternative to closure or more restrictive measures; and to increase vaccination uptake.

The submission also explains that the requirement for Scottish ministers to review the regulations every 21 days is written into the legislation and that the regulations should

“only remain in place whilst they are necessary and proportionate ... Ministers look at a range of data to determine whether the regulations continue to be required.”

Moreover, the Scottish Government confirms its commitment

“to monitoring the impact of certification”

and is collecting data in order to understand fully the scheme’s effects and implementation.

It is worth noting that the Scottish Parliament’s COVID-19 Recovery Committee regularly scrutinises the Scottish Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including in relation to vaccination passport regulations. The committee is also conducting a short inquiry that includes a review of the use of the scheme.

In the light of all that, do colleagues have any comments?

Given that ministers will be reviewing the matter every 21 days, the First Minister updates us every week in Parliament and the COVID-19 Recovery Committee takes evidence from ministers every two weeks and is carrying out an inquiry into vaccination passports, I think that we can close the petition under rule 15.7 of standing orders.

I am minded to agree with you and am supportive of your proposal, particularly in the light of the COVID-19 Recovery Committee’s inquiry on the matter. We could let that committee know that we have received this petition on the scheme. Of course, we would not be referring the petition to that committee—we would only be advising that we had received and closed it.

That brings us to the end of our formal business. I thank everyone very much.

Meeting closed at 11:06.