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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, February 2, 2017

Agenda: Continued Petitions, New Petitions


Continued Petitions

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (PE1612)

The Convener (Johann Lamont)

I welcome everyone to the second meeting in 2017 of the Public Petitions Committee and remind members and others in the room to switch their phones and other devices to silent.

Agenda item 1 is consideration of continued petitions. The first petition for consideration is PE1612, by Graham McKinlay, on a change to the criminal injuries compensation scheme’s same-roof rule. Members will recall that we heard evidence from the petitioner at our meeting on 10 November last year. As a result of that evidence session, we were keen to get more information on why an apparently arbitrary date was set for the application of the rule. The meeting papers include a note by the clerk and written submissions that seek to explain the rationale behind the date.

The submission from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority provides relatively in-depth background information and says that there have recently been legal challenges to the same-roof rule provisions.

Victim Support Scotland’s submission acknowledges that

“changing the rule was the right decision”

at the time, but it provides an example of the problems that the arbitrary nature of the date can create, and it argues that the creation of a new scheme could provide “clarity, consistency and fairness”.

The Scottish Government’s submission indicates that it has

“no plans at this time to consider seeking a change to”

the current scheme or

“to establish a separate compensation scheme”.

The petitioner’s response to those submissions is set out in full in the note by the clerk.

I ask members for their suggestions on what action we should take on the petition.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

On the face of it, there seems to be a level of discrimination. We could write to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Really well-laid-out points have been made, and maybe we should send them to him for his consideration.

The Convener

Obviously, the decision was made a long time ago, but Victim Support Scotland’s evidence says that people have different experiences depending on where and when the abuse took place, even though the abuse may be exactly the same. I find that evidence very powerful. Although the Scottish Government has said that it has

“no plans at this time”

to change the scheme, I wonder whether we might ask it to reflect on Victim Support Scotland’s comments and maybe look at the issue further.

I agree. Seeking clarification on where the Scottish Government is on the issue is the route to go down at this stage.

I agree.

The Convener

The petitioner has made the point that somebody needs to sort the issue. The only people who can sort it now are in the Scottish Government. I suppose that there are issues for the Scottish Government. It seems that, in the past, the concern was about no one even being able to assess the potential cost of having retrospective legislation as opposed to prospective legislation. That might still be the case, but it would be worth having a conversation about that with the Scottish Government.

We will write to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and invite him to respond to the points that Victim Support Scotland has made in order to find out more information about why the Scottish Government has “no plans” to consider establishing a separate compensation scheme. Perhaps in reflecting on Victim Support Scotland’s evidence, the Scottish Government can consider whether that evidence gives it the potential to consider the issue further.

Members indicated agreement.

Parking (Legislation) (PE1616)

The Convener

The next petition for consideration is PE1616, by John Shaw, on parking legislation. Members will recall that the petition seeks to make it an offence to park in front of a dropped kerb. The meeting papers include a note by the clerk and a copy of the written submissions that have been received.

The issue of responsible parking was raised in a member’s bill by Sandra White MSP in the previous session of Parliament. That bill fell, partly due to concerns about legislative competence. Further powers have now been devolved, and members will see from the submissions that have been received that the Scottish Government will shortly consult on responsible parking with a view to legislating on the issue. The Scottish Government has advised that the consultation process is due to be completed by the end of March this year. It has also explained in its submission that it has established a responsible parking stakeholder working group to inform the development of the consultation.

Do members have comments or suggestions for action?

I think that we should just wait until we get the results of the Government’s consultation in March. It would not be fair to push the issue any further until we know the results of that consultation.

I do not think that we should close the petition. The right course of action would be to defer it.

Rona Mackay

On balance, we should defer it. To be honest, I was quite torn on this one, because of the consultation and the likelihood that legislation will be brought forward. The petitioner could always come back with another petition. However, on balance, I think that it would not do any harm to defer the petition until the consultation closes.

It is fair to say that we welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is consulting, and we should probably recognise some of the challenges.

The issue is out there, and it is being investigated.

The Convener

We can understand absolutely the issues that the petitioner has raised, but sometimes I go about the communities in which I live and work and I think about what the consequences of the proposal would be. It would be a challenge, and it will be interesting to see what the consultation process brings back. However, there is certainly no doubt that irresponsible parking has a massive impact on particular groups. I do not know whether I need to say this to the petitioner, but I assume that he will engage in the consultation process. Perhaps people more generally will also be interested in responding to it.

Do members agree to defer consideration of the petition until the consultation is complete?

Members indicated agreement.

Health Study (Vaccination) (PE1617)

The Convener

Petition PE1617, by Angus Files, calls for a health study of vaccinated compared with non-vaccinated people. The Scottish Government’s response to our request for its views on the petition provides some telling statistics and makes it clear that the Government has no plans to carry out such a study. In the petitioner’s submission, he contends that he is calling for a retrospective study using existing data.

Do members have comments on how we should proceed?

I am kind of torn on this one. I find the suggestion that there is an inability to collect data on the issue quite strange.

The Convener

Is that not because, in order to have data, we would have to have people who have not been vaccinated and who do not know that they have not been vaccinated? My presumption is that vaccination has saved lives and eradicated diseases, and it can only be done en masse.

Data could be collected on the occurrence of diseases over a period of time. That kind of data must be available. Having said that, I am not sure what the data would tell us.

Personally, I am not sure what could be achieved by such a study. The vaccination programme is important. I do not think that what the petitioner is asking for is feasible and I cannot quite see the point of it.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

The Scottish Government is adamant and is not prepared to move on the issue, so I do not see where we can go. If the Scottish Government is digging in its heels, with some valid and salient points, we have no option but to close the petition on the basis that the Government has confirmed that it has no plans to commission a study as proposed by the petitioner.

The Convener

It does not feel to me that there is pressure on the Scottish Government on the issue from the medical profession or more broadly. I presume that an issue is being raised about whether vaccination works. My view is that there is evidence that vaccination works but, in most cases, it works only if everybody in the general population is vaccinated.

We should close the petition on the grounds that Angus MacDonald has set out and because the proof is there already.

On the basis that I am not sure that the data would actually tell us anything, I am with you on that. It is interesting, though.

The Convener

It is.

Do members agree to close the petition on the basis that the Scottish Government has confirmed that it has no plans to commission a study as proposed by the petitioner and that it has provided evidence to support that position?

Members indicated agreement.

Motorcycle Theft (PE1618)

The Convener

PE1618, by Carl Grundy, on behalf of riders club Edinburgh, calls for the police to be given more powers to combat motorcycle theft. The committee has received submissions from the Scottish Government and Police Scotland.

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs notes that, in her view, Police Scotland has sufficient powers to tackle the issue. She explains that the Scottish Government takes a tailored approach to young people’s individual needs, that it focuses on early intervention and diversion where possible, that issues about sentencing are a matter for the court and that driving offences are reserved to Westminster.

Police Scotland notes that it has launched Operation Soteria to address the issue. It has conducted youth engagement activities as part of the work, which has revealed that the crime is driven by thrill-seeking behaviour and peer pressure. Police activity has therefore focused attention on diverting young people from the crime through engagement and outreach. In its view, a multi-agency approach is required to tackle the crime.

Members will be aware that a number of us met the petitioner informally to discuss the terms of his petition, and a summary of that meeting is provided in the clerk’s note. The petitioner raised a number of concerns about community safety, insurance and the impact on motorcycle tourism.

Do members have comments or suggestions for action?

Brian Whittle

After we met the petitioner, I had an informal chat with Edinburgh MSPs to ask whether they recognised the issue and, if so, what they thought about it. It seems that this is an issue and that the police are starting to tackle it.

The work on early intervention is interesting, but how can we better understand how it is working? Would it be worth while to speak to the police or an organisation such as YouthLink Scotland to understand whether the work is effective?

Rona Mackay

It is clear from Police Scotland’s letter of last November that it has taken the issue on board and that many initiatives have been put in place to try to combat motorcycle theft. What it is trying to do is fairly comprehensive. The multi-agency route is certainly the one to go down, and we should write to YouthLink Scotland and find out what it can suggest. I cannot think of any way in which the police could be more proactive, but I acknowledge that motorcycle theft is still a huge problem. It is a difficult one.

The Convener

The frustration in the petitioner’s comments lifts off the page. It is not as though he does not want to engage with young people or does not understand the behaviour. We should write to the police and to YouthLink Scotland to ask for their views and an assessment of the effectiveness of the action that is being undertaken. The petitioner seems to be saying that a lot of things have already been tried. Part of the frustration is that the continuation of bike theft impacts on people’s ability to enjoy motorcycles and that the cost to them is massive.

It would also be worth while to write to VisitScotland to seek its views. We see the trend increase over the summer months, so there will be an impact on tourism as well.

The Convener

We agree that we should write to YouthLink Scotland and VisitScotland, and we are interested in knowing how the interventions are working. It is one thing to say that there is a multi-agency approach—I cannot remember how the minister described it; it was an unusual phrase—but it felt to me as if the petitioner had heard it all before. We need to know that the agencies are taking the points seriously and being proactive.

Rona Mackay

I assume that Police Scotland monitors the level of motorcycle theft. We need to know whether it is increasing or decreasing. Maybe it has passed its peak and the trend will go away. That would be the optimistic view.

The Convener

We will ask Police Scotland about that, too. We recognise the strength of feeling in the petition and the concerns that people have, and our view is that action on the issue must be sustained if the petitioner’s concerns are to be addressed. Do members agree that we should progress the petition in the way that I outlined?

Members indicated agreement.

Sepsis Awareness, Diagnosis and Treatment (PE1621)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1621, by James Robertson, on sepsis awareness, diagnosis and treatment. The clerk’s note provides an overview of the submissions received, with comments from the Scottish Government, Healthcare Improvement Scotland and national health service boards referring to the Scottish patient safety programme and the prioritisation of sepsis as a workstream within that programme.

A number of submissions refer to the sepsis six and the national early warning score system, and health boards indicate support for the action called for in the petition while noting that there has been a demonstrable increase among healthcare professionals of the awareness of sepsis.

The petitioner, however, notes the comments of some boards in relation to any “unintended consequences” of a public awareness campaign and would like a co-ordinated approach to raising public awareness to be developed across the country.

The UK Sepsis Trust and the Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust provide illustrations of the work that they have undertaken to raise awareness among health professionals and the public.

It is worth commenting on the number of submissions that we have received. We appreciate so many people and boards taking the time to respond. Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Rona Mackay

At the outset, I declare an interest, as the petitioner is a constituent of mine. He asked me to mention that his submission does not comment on the Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust’s submission, because at that point he had not seen it.

I support the petition and I suggest that we write to the Scottish Government to see whether it has plans to start a public awareness campaign across Scotland. Some boards have said that awareness has been raised and that they are doing what they can, but it is a big issue and there needs to be an initiative to ensure that we take the issue on board and roll out a campaign.

Angus MacDonald

I am struck by the fact that, in relation to raising awareness among the public, Dumfries and Galloway NHS Board, Forth Valley NHS Board and the Western Isles NHS Board have raised concerns about potential unintended consequences and suggest that it might cause alarm and generate an increase in worried patients attending their general practitioner or an accident and emergency department. It would be good to get the Scottish Government’s stance on that if we write to it. Clearly, a balance has to be struck.

Maurice Corry

It is important to get the Scottish Government’s view and to establish where it is on this. As Angus MacDonald says, there are different situations through the counties, so it is important that we establish a baseline.

The Convener

I would be a bit concerned if the reason for not having a public awareness scheme was that people might become aware. Issues about the worried well or people who are prone to be concerned about conditions must be more than balanced out by the benefits of raising professional awareness and making people aware of how they can keep themselves well.

Do we agree that we will write to the Scottish Government to ask about its plans for a public awareness campaign and ask it to address the point that Angus MacDonald raises about what judgments it makes about unintended consequences?

Members indicated agreement.

That point was made by a minority of boards, but it is still worth asking the question.

Local Authority Education Committees (Church Appointees) (PE1623)

The Convener

The final continued petition for consideration this morning is PE1623, by Spencer Fildes, on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society, relating to unelected church appointees on local authority education committees. The meeting papers include a note by the clerk and copies of the submissions received since our previous consideration of the petition in November.

The Scottish Government indicates that it has no plans to change the provisions, but refers to its education governance review, which has recently closed, and which sought views on the legislative framework that should be put in place to support education in Scotland.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities regarded that review as an opportunity for community representatives to participate actively in the consideration of education services. It also noted that, with regard to the action called for in the petition, its members did not feel that non-elected representatives carried undue influence.

Submissions from Muslim and Jewish representatives did not directly support the action called for in the petition but considered that there might be options to more widely reflect diversity in communities.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council suggests that education committees could

“reflect the population of our schools more effectively”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission referred to its submission on the previous petition on this issue, PE1498, in which it comments on the requirements of the public sector equality duty. That was echoed by representatives of the Jewish community, and the petitioners, who note that, to date,

“none of these issues have been addressed”.

The petitioners maintain their position that the system is unfair and discriminatory, particularly in the light of changing demographics. Do members have any comments or suggestions for action?

Maurice Corry

We need to ask the Scottish Government, having carried out the education governance review, to assess the position of unelected church appointees in view of the public sector equality duty. We should refer to the issue of faith community appointees, too.

The Convener

Okay. We need to find out when the Scottish Government will publish the findings of the education governance review. It is clear that the Government does not plan to address this issue—I do not think that there would have been a specific question about it in the review consultation. It is perhaps an issue that people would have to have raised. We can ask the Government about that. It may be worth checking whether the Government has reflected on the position of unelected church appointees in view of the public sector equality duty.

We just need more information about what was in the review.

Angus MacDonald

I think that the closing date for submissions to the education governance review was 6 January. I was interested to see the submission from my local authority. It may be some time before the Government gets round to replying, given that the closing date has just passed.

The Convener

We would just be looking for the timescale at this stage. We do not propose to close the petition until we have asked the Scottish Government specifically whether it has fulfilled its responsibilities with respect to the public sector equality duty. It is clear that there are strong feelings on both sides of the argument—what is interesting is whether there is a middle ground somewhere. We would want to know about the governance review and anything that comes out of it. On the point raised by the EHRC, I assume that the Scottish Government’s response to any of these questions will be assessed in light of its obligation under the public sector equality duty.

If there are no other suggestions, is it agreed that we follow that course of action?

Members indicated agreement.

09:23 Meeting suspended.  

09:24 On resuming—