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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, New Petitions, Continued Petitions


Contents


Continued Petitions


School Buses (Seat Belts) (PE1098)

The Convener

Item 3 is consideration of nine continued petitions. The first is PE1098, by Lynn Merrifield, on behalf of Kingseat community council, on school bus safety. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I invite contributions from members.

Convener, I am minded to close the petition, seeing as the Scottish Government has expressed its intention to bring forward legislation in the next session of Parliament.

Do members agree on that point of action?

Members indicated agreement.


St Margaret of Scotland Hospice (PE1105)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1105, by Marjorie McCance, on St Margaret of Scotland hospice. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I welcome to the meeting Gil Paterson MSP, who has a constituency interest in the petition. I invite contributions from members.

Kenny MacAskill

It seems that it would be inappropriate to close the petition at this juncture. Although progress has been made, which is very much welcome, there is still an underlying issue. Perhaps in these circumstances it would be appropriate to ask the Government to return to us once the forum that has been established has reached some firmer conclusions. We can then take a more informed decision with the full facts before us.

Does any other member have anything to say?

Convener, perhaps we can hear from the local member who has come along to the meeting today before we take the issue further forward.

Okay.

Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

I am grateful for that, convener. I hoped that I would hear today that the parties could agree to come together and secure an accountancy firm to take the matter forward. Of course, both parties would have to be comfortable with that.

I really feel that, if new eyes look at what is there and find something, the health board would respond positively. I think, to be frank, that the gap between the parties is not that great. Sister Rita, who is the chief executive of the hospice, has already said that progress has been made prior to the suggestion being made that both parties should come together. I hoped, therefore, that I could sit quietly and hear that there had been a move towards that.

That is the crux of the matter. Someone has to measure in some way what happens between St Margaret of Scotland hospice and other establishments. Until that happens, there will always be a question. For my part, I think that there is a discrepancy. However, I believe that the health board does respond and has taken action when matters have been brought to it—indeed, I have been part of that process.

If, as I said, we can have new eyes looking at the matter to find out whether there are issues to be addressed, I think that the issue will be resolved. It is in the health board’s interest that that happens, and it is just a matter of sitting down and looking at the situation to measure it before coming to a conclusion.

I hoped that the committee might have some information for me today in that regard.

The Convener

Unfortunately, this is not the forum for considering the issue that you have just raised. It is more of a specific issue. The petition has been on the table since 2007. We have heard about work in progress, but I think that that goes beyond work in progress. Somewhere down the line a resolution has to be found, but it appears to me, looking at the petition’s original emphasis, that we have now come down to a specific issue that needs to be resolved between the health board and St Margaret of Scotland hospice.

There are two routes. First, we can continue to keep the petition open. As a constituency MSP, Mr Paterson, you know—as I do, as a constituency MSP myself—that, when there is a deadlock somewhere, the first thing that one must do is to facilitate a meeting between the relevant parties to see where the real problem is. You may want to take that up, and I encourage you to do so. The second thing is that, as Kenny MacAskill said, we should keep the petition open, and that will add additional pressure, as everyone will be aware that we are looking over their shoulders and that we expect a resolution.

I emphasise the fact that we should be doing something to progress the issue. The petition has been outstanding for eight years, and we have moved from the original issue to a single issue.

11:00  

Gil Paterson

I appreciate the point that you make. However, after the previous meeting at which the petition was discussed, the Public Petitions Committee wrote to the health board. The last thing that I want to do is interfere in the process. I hoped that, today, I would hear some feedback and that there would be some movement on the issue. I am more than happy to engage in the fashion that you have suggested, but I have to put my cards on the table and say that I would not engage in that process without the hospice asking me to do so. I think that, otherwise, I would be overstepping my authority.

The petition has been outstanding for some time. Some of the issues have certainly been cleared—there is no question but that we have made progress. The one stumbling block concerns the need to bring together both parties with an accountancy firm that both sides are comfortable with. After that, we will be at the endgame.

Did you get a copy of the health board’s response?

No, I have come here blind.

We can certainly forward that to you.

Jackson Carlaw

I declare an interest, in that I have been involved in this issue for a number of years and support the hospice.

There is a question for the committee about whether the advances that are being made are facilitated by the petition being open, or whether we have reached a point at which the objectives of the petition have been secured and the detail of what is now under way is not materially affected by the petition being open or not. The petition cannot lie open for ever, but I believe that, at this stage, the committee is willing to respond to your guidance on the matter, Mr Paterson. Do you think that leaving the petition open is still productive? Your view would affect the judgment of most of us in coming to a conclusion.

Gil Paterson

I have always thought that the good work of the committee has been instrumental in keeping the momentum going. The hospice serves constituents of many of the members of the committee, whether they are religious or not—the hospice takes all comers, frankly.

I think that there is benefit in keeping the petition open. I listened carefully to what the convener said and I think that there is a danger that, if the petition is closed, the situation will seem to be a done deal, but I do not think that it is, at this stage. I am not one to overstate things, but I genuinely believe that we are close to the end of the process. If the situation is considered by an independent chartered accountancy firm, we will know exactly where we are. I believe that something good will be found in that way, and that the health board will respond positively, because that is what it has done when things have been brought to its attention. Sister Rita is on record as saying that things have moved on, but there is just a little bit further to go. I ask that the committee keep the petition open.

What action have you taken with regard to the issue, as the constituency MSP?

Gil Paterson

Well, I attend the meetings of the Public Petitions Committee at which the issue is discussed, and I also engage with the hospice all the time.

I estimate that I have had maybe 10 private meetings with the health board on this matter, but I have not had any meetings with the health board since the Government brought together the two parties and suggested that an independent company be brought in. I have not put anything in the papers and I do not use the issue for publicity reasons—it has been going on a long time and there has never been anything in the papers—or do it for myself. Since this is where we are at, I felt that it would be wrong for me to interfere in any way. It is not my purpose to interfere, unless I am specifically asked to do so by the hospice or health board.

I take the point that you make, convener, and I will ask the hospice whether it wants me to do that very thing. The solution is not Gil Paterson. The solution is both parties sitting down and reaching agreement. That is where we are: the agreement is that an accountancy firm would look at this and deliberate on it. If that happens, I do not think that I can come back here. We will get the answer that we are all seeking.

Hanzala Malik

My colleague Jackson Carlaw’s line of questioning has been very helpful, as Gil Paterson’s comments have been. I, too, am of the view that we want to keep the petition open. Another nudge would not go wrong in trying to get a response. We should encourage people to bring the issue to a speedy conclusion. The committee should write again to say that we are waiting for that to happen and that we would like some indication of when it might happen. That is important.

You are right to point out that this has been going on for a long time, convener. We need to bring the matter to an end and we need the Scottish Government to try to influence a speedy resolution.

Are there any further questions?

John Wilson

I have a comment, rather than a question. The issue raised by Kenny MacAskill about the hospices forum is a good one. There is work still to be done there on the wider issues that the St Margaret of Scotland hospice raises. Having sat on the committee the whole time that the petition has been under our consideration, and having visited the hospice, I think that there are issues that still need to be resolved.

I am glad that we have got to this stage, but Gil Paterson is right to say that we need to keep the petition open to keep the spotlight on the issue. If we close the petition, the issues that are being raised by the hospice might be lost because of a perceived lack of committee interest in the issue. Given that we have been dealing with the petition for eight years, it would be good to reach some conclusion.

Part of the conclusion that I seek is the agreement between the hospice and the health board, possibly along with the Scottish Government, to sit down and look at who the accountant would be. Clearly the hospice has raised issues about the appointment of Grant Thornton, but unless the hospice can come up with other suggestions, we need to go forward on that basis and reach a resolution soon.

As I said, I would be loth to close the petition at present. We should write to the Scottish Government, Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board and the hospice to see whether we can encourage the two parties to sit down, with the Government acting as mediator, to get an appropriate accountant appointed to take forward the issues that have been raised and to reach a conclusion that satisfies everyone, particularly the petitioners.

Do we agree to keep the petition open and take forward the action points that have been raised?

Members indicated agreement.


Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of the Scottish judiciary. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I invite contributions from members.

I think that it would be appropriate to hear from Gillian Thompson, the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer. She is a fresh pair of eyes and asking for her reflections in her new role may give us some insight.

Does everybody agree with that? Are there any other comments?

Jackson Carlaw

I agree with Mr MacAskill. I understand that the Lord President is due to retire in due course, and we will wish him well. He will leave knowing that he has managed to protect all the vested interests that he has so assiduously sought to represent in the conduct of this petition. As we will be hearing from Gillian Thompson, who is new to her position, it may even be that there will be more enlightened engagement with the Lord President’s successor, so I am all for keeping the show on the road.

The Convener

As many people do, I recognise that the existing safeguards are robust, but are they sufficient? The problem is that the public cannot see that they are robust, even though that may well be the case. I think that inviting Gillian Thompson in to give evidence would be appropriate. Do members agree to take the action proposed?

Members indicated agreement.


Child Court Reform (PE1528)

The Convener

The next two petitions are to be considered together. They are PE1513, by Ron Park, on equal rights for unmarried fathers, and PE1528, by John Ronald, on child court reform. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I invite contributions from members.

Jackson Carlaw

On this occasion, whatever sympathies we might have had initially for the petitions and the way in which they were raised, I think that it would be sensible for us to move to close them on the basis that there is very clear opposition to the principles that underpin them and there is no prospect of the legislative changes that are sought being enacted. With such a decisive position ahead as that, there is little further that the committee can do.

Hanzala Malik

I am of a slightly different mind. Petition PE1513 could have been put together somewhat differently. I am keen to ensure the rights of the child rather than those of the parents. I genuinely feel that a child should have the right to engage with both their parents. Therefore, if one parent decides that they are not going to allow access to the other parent, I think that that is wrong, because they would be denying the child their right to engage with that parent.

Although I do not want to make an issue of the petition, I genuinely feel that if a petition that was focused in a different way came in front of us, I would be persuaded to support it. I believe that the idea of equality is important, but the equal rights that I am concerned about are those of the child rather than those of the parent. It is important that every child should have an equal and fair opportunity to engage with both parents.

Kenny MacAskill

I agree with Jackson Carlaw. I think that we have come to the end of the road. It is quite clear that the Government is not prepared to legislate, and I have to say that I have great sympathy with it on the issue. Equally, other organisations have made their views known. There are difficult cases, but the old adage that hard cases make bad law springs to mind when I listen to Hanzala Malik.

Tragedies happen and difficulties exist, but it seems to me that the matter is now down to a political battle. Once we come to a new parliamentary session, there may be another court reform or family law bill, but there are no plans or proposals before us for amendments to family law. The issue may recur post-2016, although I do not necessarily think that that is likely. At present, there is nothing that we can do. We have exhausted all channels, and we are at the end of the road.

Does the committee agree to close both petitions?

Members indicated agreement.


Polypropylene Mesh Medical Devices (PE1517)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1517, by Elaine Holmes and Olive McIlroy, on behalf of the Scottish mesh survivors’ hear our voice campaign, on mesh medical devices. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions.

I welcome to the meeting Neil Findlay MSP, who has an interest in the petition, and I invite contributions from members.

Jackson Carlaw

This is an interim update on the petition, which we all regard as being of considerable importance. I know that the clerks have recommended a series of actions, which follow on from the direction that we have previously agreed. I am happy to accept the action points that have been identified. We are

“invited to note the revised timescale for publication of the Independent Review’s report and agree that the evidence session with the Cabinet Secretary, Dr Wilkie and the European Commission be scheduled after the report has been published”.

That recommendation is consistent with our previous view.

It is also recommended that the committee

“write to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks to make it aware of the Committee’s interest and requesting an update on when”

its report on polypropylene transvaginal mesh devices will be published.

It is further proposed that

“as the Committee has not yet sought the views of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists or the British Society of”—

I am not even going to attempt to pronounce the next word—

“members may wish to consider seeking submissions from those organisations”.

That seems perfectly sensible, too.

The committee is very much at the forefront in taking forward these issues. The extent to which public awareness is continuing to grow across Scotland and further afield is interesting. There is great interest in the committee’s work to make progress on the matter. Throughout our consideration of the petition, we have been determined not to lose sight of the very considerable human consequences, to which we have borne witness, and I think that we should continue to follow that course of action.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I am merely here to observe proceedings. Jackson Carlaw is absolutely right that the eyes of the medical world are on the committee in relation to the petition and all that falls from it. I am very supportive of the proposals that have been put forward. As I say, many people are watching what is happening very closely.

I can now pronounce the name of the body in question: it is the British Society of Urogynaecology. My eyes were just not looking at the paperwork at the right moment.

John Wilson

I support Jackson Carlaw’s suggestions on what actions the committee should take, but I want to strengthen them slightly.

I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport has written to the Commission to find out about the new timetable for the publication of the report. When the committee writes to the European Commission’s scientific committee, we should stress the timetable issue, because we are keen to examine its report.

We should also refer the Commission to the evidence that we have heard. I have visited the European Commission as a member of other Scottish Parliament committees, and I know that it is interested in some of the Parliament’s debates and that it is keen to hear about some of the evidence that we take so that it can add that knowledge to its own.

I am keen that the report takes on board the concerns, issues and problems that patients have identified. We have previously heard evidence from Adam Slater. It is incumbent on us to refer on some of the patients’ evidence—that may be their articles or the website that has been developed—so that account is taken of their experiences. It would be useful to add that information to our correspondence with the European Commission’s scientific committee, so that it gets the whole picture of the debate that is taking place in our committee and in Scotland.

Neil Findlay

When Mr Slater gave his evidence, he agreed to forward us several pieces of documentation. I have not received those yet and I do not know whether they have been received by the committee clerks. If they have not, could we follow that up, because it is important?

The Convener

Okay, we will follow that up. I remember that being mentioned quite clearly. The interest in the petition is worldwide. What is interesting for me is that the number of mesh implants has reduced considerably since the issue was first raised here. I am very disappointed that the independent review has not been completed yet.

Taking on board the points that John Wilson and others have made, I suggest that we go forward with the action points and write to say how disappointed we are, given that there are women out there who are going through worrying times, and that any further delays in the independent review will not be helpful.

Do members agree to take forward the proposed action points?

Members indicated agreement.

I have a point of information. The European and External Relations Committee also took evidence on the issue and there may be more information available from its clerks.

We have agreed to take forward the action points. I thank Neil Findlay for attending the meeting.


Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (Housing Associations) (PE1539)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1539, by Anne Booth, on making all housing associations subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions.

As a firm believer in transparency and freedom of information, I am sympathetic to the aims of the petition. I note that the inclusion of registered social landlords within the scope of the legislation has been considered several times and has been broadly supported but never sanctioned. Therefore, I am keen to refer the petition to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee. In doing so, we could draw attention to the willingness of the Scottish Information Commissioner to give evidence on the subject.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I agree, convener. I would be loth to close the petition at this stage. There is merit in the petitioner’s aims, and referring the petition to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee is my preferred option.

Do we all agree?

Members indicated agreement.


Dairy Farmers (Human Rights) (PE1542)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1542, by Evelyn Mundell, on behalf of Ben Mundell and Malcolm and Caroline Smith, on human rights for dairy farmers. Members have a note by the clerk and submissions. I welcome Jamie McGrigor and David Stewart to the meeting.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Thank you, convener, for allowing me to make a short statement in support of my constituents in this long-running issue. I raised the issue of ring fencing in the recent dairy debate in Parliament, hoping that it might be dealt with by the cabinet secretary, but he did not mention it all in his closing speech. In that debate, other members correctly confirmed that producers in the area are caught in a monopoly position.

It is now five years since I first spoke to the Public Petitions Committee, and my view has not changed. It was unfair and disproportionate to expect constituents such as Mr and Mrs Mundell and other dairy farmers in Kintyre to forfeit their property and ruin their businesses in the name of supporting the wider community. Many of those businesses had been built up over generations—that is the nature of farming.

The Scottish Government should now accept that there is a human rights issue and that most of those whom it consulted would have no knowledge of human rights legislation. Individual dairy farmers themselves were not consulted. I believe that the petition should be continued and that further questions should be asked of the Scottish Government so that the genuine concerns of Mr and Mrs Mundell and others can be addressed.

I will read out a short statement from my constituents, who have travelled all the way to be here and are sitting in the public gallery. They say:

“We simply cannot understand why Government are not being asked to correct the factually incorrect statements they previously made to the PPC.

We believe, from the 12 Documents which we submitted to the PPC, that we have demonstrated that individual dairy farmers were not dealt with fairly regarding the Southern Isles Milk Quota Ring Fence. Consultations were not done correctly. Government knew for years that the milk price was below the cost of production.

This is a scandal on a par with the miss-selling of Payment Protection Insurance, except that for the individual victims concerned, the consequences were much more devastating.

It is now over 15 years since we first sought Justice and almost 6 years since we submitted the first Petition. This is completely the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and we feel it is totally unfair to expect these widows and pensioners, as most affected now are, to take Government to Court to elicit Justice. If the PPC and Government cannot find a solution then we suggest there should be a Public Inquiry.”

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I thank the committee for allowing me to come to the meeting, along with Jamie McGrigor, to add a few points. I have been dealing with Mr and Mrs Mundell for three or four years and before that, my former colleague Peter Peacock was heavily involved with the case.

As Jamie McGrigor said, it is a complicated case and I know that members will have read all the background papers carefully. It is, of course, to do with the ring fencing of milk quotas, but there is a much wider issue here, too. The fundamental issue is about human rights and how people access human rights. SPICe has very helpfully provided me with a specific paper, which I have passed to Mr and Mrs Mundell, about the issues around legal aid and how people can access it.

I realise that, for someone to access their human rights under Scots law, they need to go through the various stages and levels of Scots law. I will not delay the committee by talking about the difficulties in getting legal aid, but I will make a couple of points. The family have been in touch with more than 50 lawyers, either in person or by phone. The vast majority of lawyers will not touch human rights cases. Those who do say that they would deal only with human rights cases of prisoners or those who have an immigration issue. To give just one example, one lawyer who agreed to take the case wanted £25,000 up front. There is a wider issue there.

As regards what action the committee could take, I know from my former role as the convener how important it is that petitions are moved on. The committee does not want to get a logjam of petitions, with a whole series of petitions that are there year after year.

As the committee would expect, I have a very specific suggestion. I suggest that the committee does a brief mini inquiry that looks at the circumstances of the former ring-fenced area—the ring fencing no longer exists, as milk quotas have ended—in the southern isles. The inquiry should look at the social and economic circumstances of the farmers in that area, because the case is not just about Mr and Mrs Mundell; it is about lots of other farmers who have found that their livelihood has, in effect, been killed off, as Jamie McGrigor said. That is a breach of the European convention on human rights. A straightforward discrete inquiry into the effects on farmers in the southern isles area would be beneficial.

I know from previous experience about the fearless way in which the committee took on the judiciary over a register of interests and the great work that the committee has done on social issues in relation to child sexual exploitation. Holding an inquiry would be another piece in the armoury; it would be another excellent piece of work from the committee and it would be helpful.

The issue is not just about one family, much as the Mundells are in a terribly tragic position. There has been a major miscarriage of justice. What has happened is a tragedy, not just for Mr and Mrs Mundell but for scores of families who have had their livelihoods ruined because of what happened due to the ring fencing of milk quotas.

11:30  

Angus MacDonald

That is a complete overreaction to the current situation from Mr Stewart. The salient point in this case is that the EU milk quota regime was abolished on 1 April this year, so it is unlikely that the Scottish Government would be willing to look at the matter retrospectively, particularly given its stance to date. However, the cabinet secretary has launched the Scottish dairy plan and acknowledged the challenges that face the islands and remote areas, including Kintyre.

The Scottish Government has advised that it does not accept the premise of the petition that the human rights of Mr and Mrs Mundell were breached. The Scottish Human Rights Commission has advised the committee that only a court could rule on the issue, and that should be taken on board. We should also take on board the fact that the petitioners have approached a number of lawyers to date.

I know that the petitioners feel passionately that they have been let down. In particular, they are disappointed that they were not consulted as part of the independent review of the ring-fence provisions in 2011. It might be worth highlighting their disappointment to the Scottish Government. In doing so, given what I have already stated, I would be minded to close the petition, as the Scottish Government does not accept the charge that the petitioners’ rights were breached. However, we should place on record and acknowledge the petitioners’ clear frustration in the past few years.

There is another option if that suggestion is not acceptable to the committee. Given that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee is actively monitoring the current dairy crisis, it may be possible to refer the petition to it. However, I think that a mini inquiry by the Public Petitions Committee would not address the fundamental issues that the petitioners seek to address.

Hanzala Malik

It is always an awful shame when citizens have to fight against the brick wall of the Government to get justice. It is even worse when we have put our citizens in a position in which they cannot stand up to our Government financially. The Government exists to serve the people fairly.

I know that the issue has gone on for a period of time, and I think that there is a case to be answered. Just because the petitioners are not financially able to get justice, that does not mean that they should be denied it. That is an awful sin.

If we carried out a mini inquiry, that might be helpful to both parties. I do not want to pass the buck. We need to ensure that we do our best for citizens when they come to us for help. It is clear that the petitioners came to us for help, and we need to go the extra mile, if need be, to ensure that they get as close to justice as possible. I genuinely believe that we should do more for the particular family and others who have suffered in those circumstances.

Kenny MacAskill

We have listened to Mr Mundell and we appreciate the difficulties that are involved, but I agree with Angus MacDonald. I would be deeply concerned about our conducting a mini inquiry.

It appears to me that the issue is deeply complex. From what has been said by Jamie McGrigor and David Stewart, who have made their points, we understand the complexities that arise, the difficulty even in getting lawyers to understand the matter and the view that the Scottish Human Rights Commission has taken in passing the issue elsewhere. It would be extremely difficult for us to write up terms of reference for a mini inquiry, and the complexity of the matter would make such an inquiry challenging. I have a background in law, but I would be very challenged by that, never mind the fact that I have little, if any, knowledge of rural affairs, agriculture and the specific issues relating to milk.

The challenges for the committee in carrying out an inquiry would be significant. Although I have the greatest sympathy for people who have clearly suffered, it is for others to pursue the matter through other channels. As with other petitions, we have come to the end of the road.

Jackson Carlaw

It strikes me that Mr MacDonald is asking us to hang Mr and Mrs Mundell and all the others who have similarly suffered out to dry. It appears that their recourse is the law, but we understand that human rights lawyers are not interested in pursuing the matter and that anybody else who, it has been identified, might entertain the idea would not do so at a cost that anybody would judge reasonable.

Yes, the issues are complex, but I cannot believe that they are any more complex than those in the inquiry that we held into child sexual exploitation, which seemed to be as complex as any. I do not know whether Mr MacAskill is right. He may well be right, but I am reluctant not to allow the Parliament at least to demonstrate its ability to be fearless in the pursuit of the matter. It is convenient for the Scottish Government to use its opinion of its own conduct as a reason why the petition should be closed, and a committee of the Scottish Parliament should not surrender any further investigation of the matter simply in the face of that opinion. Therefore, I would be interested in seeking to establish whether Mr Stewart’s proposal is feasible. If it is, the Parliament should be prepared to act in the matter and consider it further.

John Wilson

Mr Stewart is well versed in the workings of the committee, being its former convener. The difficulty that I have with his suggestion that the committee conduct a mini inquiry is the definition of what that inquiry would cover. When we took on the inquiry into child sexual exploitation, we pursued it over a period of time and went into the matter in some detail.

Angus MacDonald’s first suggestion was that the petition could not go any further and that we should close it. He then suggested that, as per the recommendations in the committee papers, we could refer it to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. I do not want to close the petition. I would be keen to refer it to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for that committee to deal with the issue, because it is dealing with dairy quota issues and recently had a debate on the matter in the chamber. The petition is part of the wider debate and must be seen in that context.

Given that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee is already carrying out that work, it would be appropriate for us to refer the petition to it for consideration as part of its wider investigation into milk quotas. I hope that, in that way, that committee will be able to take on the wider issues that we would have covered in an inquiry and address them using the knowledge and experience that it has of rural affairs.

I am happy to support John Wilson’s and Angus MacDonald’s recommendation that the petition be referred to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.

The Convener

Initially, I thought that we could invite the minister back. The remit for a mini inquiry would lie more with the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, so I support the petition being referred to that committee for its consideration.

Do members want to raise any other points? Are we happy with the action that has been proposed?

Jackson Carlaw

I understand that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee is undertaking no such investigation at the moment. The paper simply says that we

“may wish to refer the petition to”

that committee

“to consider in the context of any future work it”

may undertake

“on the dairy industry.”

That does not advance the petition or address the petitioner’s difficulties in any way at all. If that is the recommendation, I oppose it formally, although that is unusual for me.

The Convener

Before we move to a decision for or against the recommendation, I would like to clarify whether, if we referred the petition to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, we could add to that referral that there has been a call for a mini inquiry into the issue. Would that make any difference?

Hanzala Malik

Convener, it would make a difference for me if you were assuring me that either we or that committee would carry out an inquiry. However, if you were not in a position to do that, it would not make any difference to me. Citizens come to us for support and help, and we must find a way of providing that if we can. We cannot allow the Government to ride roughshod over citizens who cannot afford to stand up to it—we just cannot do that. We live in a democracy, for God’s sake, and we are supposed to look after our people. We should not shy away from that.

I do not think that I am in a position to give any such assurance.

John Wilson

Jackson Carlaw has commented on the uncertainty over whether the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee is going to conduct any further work on the dairy quotas issue. If we refer the petition, it goes out of our hands and over to that committee. I suggest—I am not sure how this suggestion will be taken—that, rather than do that, we ask the clerks to speak to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee clerks to find out whether there is anything in the work programme of that committee that could cover the petition being raised. If there is not, we can reconsider how we, as a committee, can take the petition forward.

Kenny MacAskill

I take John Wilson’s point and would be comfortable with an approach being made to that committee, either through the clerks or directly, without our formally referring the petition. Equally, if the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee were not inclined to consider a mini inquiry, I would want to know why. That committee is better placed to do so and is more expert than we are. It might be that, instead of taking a decision to close the petition or to refer it formally, we could informally or “formally informally” inquire whether the members of that committee are prepared to carry out a mini inquiry, what their views are and, if they do not wish to carry out an inquiry, why not. I might then be in a better position to judge where I feel competent and capable enough to go.

The Convener

Can we agree that I will write formally to the convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee with the points that have been raised on the issue? We will see what the response is and can move on from there.

I put on record my thanks to the committee for listening to Jamie McGrigor and me and for the understanding that the committee members have shown on the issue.

Thank you. Are we agreed on the action that has been proposed?

Members indicated agreement.


Cancer Treatment (PE1552)

The final continued petition is PE1552, by Peter Campbell, on the choice of treatment for cancer patients. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I invite comments from members.

Kenny MacAskill

I do not think that we can take the petition any further. We have highlighted the case. It might be that we can provide some signposting for the petitioner. It seems to me, however, that this is really quite a complex position. The petitioner takes a view that is not orthodox, if I can put it that way. That is not necessarily a bad thing but, given the bureaucracy that we need for medical treatment, there is little that we can do beyond providing information on how he might be able to take matters further.

Are we agreed to close the petition?

Members indicated agreement.

The committee will now go into private session for item 4 on today’s agenda.

11:44 Meeting continued in private until 12:03.