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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, New Petition, Current Petition, New Petition, Current Petition, New Petition, Current Petitions


Contents


Current Petitions


Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener

We go back to current petitions, the third of which is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members have a note by the clerk and the SPICe briefing on section 23(7) of the Scotland Act 1998, which we asked for.

Members will know that Chic Brodie and I arranged to meet Lord Gill to discuss the issue. That meeting was set up to take place in the Parliament but, unfortunately, it was to be on the same day as the funeral following the sad death of Helen Eadie. We felt that it was appropriate to cancel the meeting so that we could attend her funeral. The meeting has been rescheduled for later in January. With the committee’s approval, I suggest that we defer discussion of the petition until Chic Brodie and I have met the Lord President. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

A bill on a similar issue is still being considered by the New Zealand Parliament, which will not report on it until February 2014, so it would be good to have an update to see what direction it is going in.

Okay.


Vacant Land in Private Ownership (PE1465)

The fourth current petition is PE1465, by Tony Ivanov, on the maintenance of vacant land in private ownership. Members have a note by the clerk—it is paper 7—and written submissions. I invite contributions from members.

Angus MacDonald

I am disappointed that the Scottish Government is not willing to take on board the petitioner’s argument. The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 allows a planning authority to take action regarding vacant land in private ownership, but it is clear that there is little incentive to enforce notices when the chance of recouping any expenditure is low.

I agree with Falkirk Council’s view that

“an extension of the provisions of Section 179 Amenity Notices to include prosecution powers would assist in a proportion of cases.”

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the Scottish Government has said that it has

“no plans to amend Section 179”.

Having back-up powers that would allow councils to prosecute or to serve fixed-penalty notices would certainly have helped to resolve the situation to which the petitioner referred.

I am disappointed that the Scottish Government has not taken the petition on board. Councils clearly have some powers to deal with the issue, but a fixed-penalty power would give them a wee bit more clout. Unfortunately, the Government has indicated that it is not prepared to amend the law as it stands, so we will have to look at other means of convincing the Government to introduce a fixed-penalty power for such breaches.

12:00

I thank Angus MacDonald for his point. Do you have any recommendations for the committee on how to deal with the petition?

I am loth to close the petition, but we have hit a brick wall. Perhaps we have to get our thinking caps on to see what else we can do but, unfortunately, I do not think that the committee can do much more.

It sounds as though you will look at other action beyond the petition.

Yes.

The Convener

Do other members have views? I take Angus MacDonald’s point that this is a good petition, but it does not look as though we have much option other than to close it under rule 15.7 of the standing orders, as the Scottish Government maintains that powers are already in place to address the issues raised in the petition and that responsibility for when and how the powers are exercised rests with local authorities. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.


Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness (PE1480)

The Convener

The fifth current petition is PE1480, by Amanda Kopel, on behalf of the Frank Kopel Alzheimer’s Awareness Campaign, on Alzheimer’s and dementia awareness. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions.

This might be mentioned in the papers, but I point out that I took the opportunity at a question time to ask the cabinet secretary about looking at free personal care for under-65s who have dementia. I could circulate the answer among the committee. In fairness to the cabinet secretary, I thought that the response was quite supportive about the general problem, although there was no clear commitment to change the cut-off point of 65 for free personal care.

I invite comments from members. It is suggested that we write again to Alzheimer Scotland and write to COSLA about its work on the charging guidance for non-residential social care services. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.


Single Room Hospitals (Isolation) (PE1482)

The Convener

The sixth current petition is PE1482, by John Womersley, on isolation in single rooms in hospitals. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I invite comments from members.

There are a number of options, including the suggestion that we seek the views of the Scottish health council, given that it has a key role as the consumer voice in Scotland on the issue. Do members agree that we take that approach?

Members indicated agreement.


Independence Referendum (Bilingual Question) (PE1483)

The Convener

The seventh and final current petition is PE1483, by John Macleod, on a bilingual version of the independence referendum question. Members have a note by the clerk and submissions. The Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee considered the issue and no member lodged a stage 3 amendment to seek a bilingual ballot paper. The Government’s view is clear: it does not wish to accept the terms of the petition.

Angus MacDonald

As convener of the cross-party group on Gaelic, I have a great deal of sympathy with the petition, particularly given the guidance in Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s national plan for Gaelic that the language should be given equal respect, although the guidance says that that does not automatically mean identical treatment for Gaelic and English in all circumstances.

It is unfortunate that the campaign for a bilingual ballot paper was not started earlier, as that would have given the Electoral Commission time to test such a paper. I note that the commission’s response states that it would take about 10 weeks to test the paper. However, given that the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill has been passed at stage 3, there is little scope for that to be done. Had the Government advised us of the commission’s 10-week timescale, we might have been able to do a bit more earlier.

It is noticeable that no similar request has been made for a bilingual ballot paper for any other election to date. We should also take on board the views of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, which cites voter confusion. Gaelic speakers might find that that is a spurious argument for not having a bilingual ballot paper.

We have only to look back to 2007 to see what damage voter confusion can do to an election. However, the petitioner makes an interesting suggestion in the final paragraph of his response to the Scottish Government’s response. Although he acknowledges that it might be too late for the Electoral Commission to do an assessment of a bilingual question for the referendum, he suggests that it might be an idea to do a general assessment now rather than later for future referendums and elections. Would the committee be minded to write to ask the Scottish Government to consider that suggestion with a view to future elections?

Are you suggesting that we close the petition but write to ask the Scottish Government to consider the idea for the general election in 2015 or the Scottish Parliament election in 2016?

I would be content with that. Although we are closing the petition, can we expect a response from the Government?

Yes, I think that it is competent to do that.

Some of us failed in not raising the issue during the passage of the bill. For the life of me, I do not understand the Government’s position. I support Angus MacDonald’s proposal.

I considered lodging an amendment at stage 3, but the advice that I received from the Government led me to believe that there was no purpose in doing that, given the timescale.

The Convener

I suggest that it might not have been a good career move either, but that is another issue.

If I understand members, are we agreeing unanimously that we will close the petition but write to ask the Scottish Government to consider the idea for the 2015 and 2016 elections?

Members indicated agreement.

As agreed under agenda item 1, the committee will now go into private for the final item on the agenda.

12:07 Meeting continued in private until 12:27.