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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, New Petitions, Current Petitions, Child Sexual Exploitation in Scotland, Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights


Contents


Current Petitions


Pernicious Anaemia and Vitamin B12 Deficiency (Understanding and Treatment) (PE1408)

The Convener

The first current petition is PE1408, from Andrea MacArthur, on updating the understanding and treatment of pernicious anaemia and vitamin B12 deficiency. Members have the clerk’s note and submissions. Members will appreciate that this has been a good petition, on which we had a plenary session some time ago.

Some actions have been suggested that I would endorse, including writing to the Scottish Government to seek an update on the outcome of the diagnostic steering group’s consideration of issues raised by the British Committee for Standards in Haematology’s guidelines, following its November meeting. It is also suggested that we ask the Scottish Government for its view on the petitioner’s suggestions that patients might benefit from more frequent injections and that the guidelines be included in the British national formulary.

I invite views from members.

I agree with the suggested actions. I do not know whether the petitioner’s letter of 6 October, which highlights her continuing concerns, has been drawn to the Government’s attention.

We will ensure that it is clearly brought to the Government’s attention.

John Wilson

I declare an interest in this matter, as a close family member has pernicious anaemia and depends on regular injections to cope with the condition.

On the BCSH guidelines, the Scottish Government’s letter of 4 August says:

“we have also received advice that dissemination of these guidelines in their current form to GPs could be unhelpful as they are not presented in a suitable format for use in the practice setting.”

When we write to the Scottish Government, could we ask when the guidance will be issued in a suitable format for general practitioners, who are very much in the front line when it comes to dealing with patients with pernicious anaemia? I still hear of cases in which patients trying to get more regular injections for pernicious anaemia are met with a refusal by GPs and practice nurses, who continue to indicate that they have some form of guidance, even though the minister has told us that there is no guidance in relation to the treatment of pernicious anaemia. It would be useful to find out when the guidance or information will be available in a useful format for GPs.

The Convener

I am sure that members will wish to endorse John Wilson’s comments. Do members agree to the suggested actions?

Members indicated agreement.


Congenital Heart Disease Patients (Care) (PE1446)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1446, by Dr Liza Morton, on Scottish standards for the care of adult congenital heart patients. Members have a note by the clerk, and I invite contributions. I note that it is recommended that we consider whether to seek a formal update from the Scottish Government, which seemed to me to be a sensible course of action. Are members agreed?

Members indicated agreement.


Organ Donation (Opt-out System) (PE1453)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1453, by Caroline Wilson, on behalf of the Evening Times and Kidney Research UK (Scotland), on an opt-out system for organ donation in Scotland. Members have a note by the clerk.

Again, I am sure that all members will wish to thank Caroline Wilson and the Evening Times for all their work. The committee has also done a lot of work on the matter. This is a first-class petition, and I note that Anne McTaggart has lodged a proposal for a member’s bill on the issue.

On the basis that the Scottish Government has made its position very clear and that there is a proposal for a member’s bill, the committee may now close the petition, as we have probably gone as far as we can. I am, as always, open to contrary views from members.

Chic Brodie

I will say what I am about to say with the best intentions. When we went through the petition and discussed it, we talked to the Welsh Government. As I have sympathy for the petition, I had hoped that we could have ensured that the required change was made once we had all the information. I am not sure—as I have said, I am saying this with the best intentions—that the member’s bill will not create dissension, certainly given the Government’s position; in fact, it might impact on or damage the outputs from the position that we basically all shared. I just wish that we had waited until we had more information.

The Convener

I will bring in Anne McTaggart, but before I do so I point out that the committee needs to decide what it can do and that we do not have a particular locus in what individual members do. The member happens to be here, but what she is doing is secondary to her role on the committee.

Anne McTaggart

First of all, convener, I declare an interest.

Now that the consultation period on the proposal for a bill has closed, I can share with the committee the information that there were 556 responses, around 80 per cent of which were for a change in the law. As a result, I would be quite concerned if we closed the petition. I hear what the convener says about the committee having done all that it can do, but there is still more to be done. More is happening out there. I am aware, for example, that the petitioner attended the Scottish Kidney Federation forum at the weekend. I simply think that there is still more to be done by the committee.

The Convener

I cannot speak for all members, but it was clear during the debate on the petition that all members appreciated the great work done by the petitioner and the Evening Times. There is a lot of sympathy and good will.

However, my question about how we manage the petition is: what else can the committee do? If another practical next step could be taken, I would be the first on the barricades to demand it. I would like some practical managerial advice on the matter.

Jackson Carlaw

I very much sympathise with the view that you promote, convener. The practical next step is, in fact, the member’s bill that Anne McTaggart is taking forward. I have my own views on where the balance of evidence currently lies, but given that a member’s bill is being taken forward, I find it difficult to know what the committee would seek to do to advance the petition further. On that basis, I am content that its future progress will be through the member’s bill rather than through the committee.

I agree with Jackson Carlaw and Chic Brodie that there seems little purpose in keeping the petition open, given that a member’s bill is in progress, and with the comments that have been made.

The Convener

I am delighted that Anne McTaggart is taking forward a member’s bill. That might not have happened if we had not received the petition and the committee had not had the debate.

I note that if we close the petition but the member’s bill proposal does not go forward, there is nothing to stop the petition being reintroduced in the current session; indeed, I am sure that the committee will want to look at the issue again. There is tremendous good will among committee members in relation to the principle behind the petition. I am merely looking at our practical next steps; after all, we do not want to duplicate the parliamentary work that the member’s bill will rightly do.

Anne McTaggart

I am aware that we have done loads of work on the issue, but given that there is on-going work in which the committee should remain involved, we should keep the petition open. For example, a poll commissioned by the British Heart Foundation Scotland from Ipsos MORI on the introduction of a soft opt-out system is due to be published in the next few weeks, and it is important that the committee looks at the figures and the poll’s outcome.

Chic Brodie

No one questions the motivation behind Anne McTaggart’s bill proposal. However, I agree with Jackson Carlaw and Angus MacDonald. What would we do if the bill fell but we had kept open the petition, for which there is a degree of sympathy? The bill just about hits the petition on the head, and there would be a difficult recovery situation if the bill fell—although I am not saying that it will fall. We should close the petition and let the member’s bill go ahead.

Jackson Carlaw

I add a caveat to what I said. I have sympathy with any committee member who has a strong personal interest in a petition being kept open. I have expressed such an interest before and fellow committee members have sometimes supported me. Although I do not think that we are being invited to take additional formal practical action, and although I think that the arguments are more in line with closing the petition, if our keeping the petition open would assist Anne McTaggart, I would be happy for us to do so until a subsequent meeting, at which we could look at the matter again in light of what might have happened by then.

If members think that we should defer closing the petition until a future meeting, at which point we will likely have had an update on the bill proposal, I am comfortable with such an approach.

Chic Brodie

I am happy to do that. It is just that in the course of debates on the bill most of the points that the petition raises will be considered. However, rather than kill it stone dead, we could keep the petition open.

John Wilson

As the convener has said, we can close the petition, but if Anne McTaggart’s bill is not progressed the petitioner has the right to come back to the committee and we can reopen it. I am content to close the petition, with the proviso that the petitioner is made aware that they can come back if things do not go well with the member’s bill.

I think that Jackson Carlaw was suggesting that we keep the petition open pro tem and consider it at a future date.

John Wilson

But at what future date do we consider it, given the time that it might take for the member’s bill to go through Parliament and reach an outcome? Does the petition stay on the committee’s books until an outcome is reached?

Jackson Carlaw

I do not think that I would support such an approach. I thought that Anne McTaggart was saying that further information will become available in the immediate future, which will help us to judge whether we need to ask further questions. If the information did not prompt further questions, I would not suggest that the petition simply stay open for the duration of consideration of the member’s bill. It is only because our colleague feels strongly that we should keep the petition open that I am happy to facilitate such an approach for two or three months.

Yes. We are perhaps talking about a deadline of early spring. If no further action was required, we could close the petition then.

John Wilson

Might I seek clarification, convener? As I understand it, the member’s bill would be referred to the Health and Sport Committee, which means that the Public Petitions Committee could have a live petition while a bill was being considered by another committee. My question is: at what stage can we reconsider the petition? We need to think about that. When we refer a petition to another committee, it becomes that committee’s property. We need to be clear that if the member’s bill is referred to the Health and Sport Committee, it will become that committee’s property to deal with as it sees fit and will not lie within this committee’s jurisdiction.

The Convener

John Wilson is probably sensibly suggesting that as a compromise we refer the petition to the Health and Sport Committee, on the basis that that committee will look at Anne McTaggart’s bill. That way, all the evidence and the work that we have done will be considered by our colleagues who will consider the bill.

That sounds like a fair compromise to me.

Are other members content?

I am happy to go along with that.

Chic Brodie?

I agree.

The Convener

I thank John Wilson—also known as Henry Kissinger—who is very good at these kinds of compromises.

Again, I thank Caroline Wilson and the Evening Times, and I thank Anne McTaggart for the work that she has done on her member’s bill.


Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members have a note by the clerk and submissions.

Members will know that this has been a long, hard-work saga for the committee. I thank all members for their thoughtful contributions in the plenary debate that we had. Mr Cherbi has written to us to suggest that we take careful note of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s annual report for 2014 and that we invite Kenny MacAskill to appear before the committee to talk about the judicial oaths issues. It was also argued that we should write to the Lord President seeking an update on changes to the rules on complaints about the judiciary.

There are a few issues for members to look at. I ask for members’ views on whether those suggestions would be acceptable.

This saga will not go away. I have a couple of things to say. One is that the JCR has left and, as far as I am aware, no replacement has been announced.

I understand that the Government has appointed a new Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Chic Brodie

That was probably done during the recess.

It is also important that we receive the JCR’s report unexpurgated, so that we can take a definitive view of something that is close to the problem, and we should ensure that the Lord President is encouraged to let us know as soon as possible what changes have been made to the rules on complaints. He will have had the JCR’s report.

Do members agree with Peter Cherbi’s suggestion to invite Kenny MacAskill to appear before us?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

The other suggestion, which I hope makes sense, is that we get the JCR’s report. We can have that in a written format, as the previous JCR has left. In addition, does the committee agree to write to the Lord President for an update on changes to the rules on complaints about the judiciary?

In fairness, there was a change regarding recusals—instances when a judge decides not to take part in a case because there is some conflict—and there has been a register of them since April. I identified that in my speech in the plenary debate. At the time I spoke, there were 14 instances. There is now a website, which is an improvement. I am glad that the Lord President has taken the issue on board, and that move helps. I do not suggest that it fully satisfies the petitioner, but a move in the right direction is always welcome.

John Wilson

I agree that things have moved in the petition’s direction of travel. I accept your comment, convener, about the fact that the register of recusals is now available on the website, but I would seek the Lord President’s clarification of whether those recusals were voluntary. Judges may still be sitting on cases in which they have an interest.

I would like some clarification. I know of a recent case in which a judge recused herself because she was a member of an organisation from which she was about to hear evidence. As we still do not have a register of interest for judges, is it still very much up to individual judges to decide whether they feel that an interest is relevant and whether to recuse themselves from a case?

11:00  

The Convener

The Lord President could give you a definitive answer on that. My understanding comes from the discussions that I and Mr Brodie had with the Lord President and from my reading of the website, which contained a list of 14 recusals when I looked at it. Most of those recusals were made because there was a conflict in relation to personal issues—for example, the judge knew a witness. As far as I could see, there were no financial issues involved at all.

I am not sure about any involuntary recusals that have taken place. In all the cases in the list that I saw, the judge had said, “There is a conflict and I do not want to appear in this case.” We might need to get some comments from the Lord President on the matter. I was going to suggest that we invite him to the committee, but we have already covered that subject.

Jackson Carlaw

The recommendations that have been made are appropriate. With reference to the debate, the Law Society of Scotland has subsequently been keen to assure me that any indirect briefing that I may have received that suggested that the society regards this committee as being of any less value than any other committee of the Parliament certainly did not represent its views. I was happy to accept that reassurance, given that the impression might have been created in the debate that the Lord President somehow felt that he would prefer not to appear before this committee because it was not covering weighty matters that required his direct attention. I am happy to be reassured that that is not the Law Society’s view.

The Convener

I am pleased that you have raised that matter and that the Law Society has put those comments to you. They are now on the record.

Are members satisfied with the suggested course of action? First, we will invite Kenny MacAskill to appear before us; secondly, we will get in written form the annual report from the JCR, which we can discuss when it comes before the committee; and, thirdly, we will write to the Lord President seeking an update on changes to the rules on complaints about the judiciary. In particular, we will highlight John Wilson’s point about involuntary recusals, in which a judge does not wish to raise a matter but is approached about not taking the case.

Chic Brodie

I want to come back to the JCR’s report. I am not suggesting that anything wrong has been done. However, given the strength of the incumbent’s view regarding the register of interests, it is important that we see the naked report in order to get a true evaluation of whether anything has moved on.

Yes.

Is there a deadline by which the report is due? According to the petitioner’s letter, it is due soon.

The Convener

My assumption is that it is almost upon us. The previous JCR has completed her term of office, so I assume that the work in 2014 of which she has been a part will be available very soon. We will ask the clerks to chase it up.

John Wilson

I also ask the clerks, in chasing it up, to get clarification of when the JCR’s report was submitted to the Lord President. My understanding is that the report may be on the desk of the Lord President at present. Given that the JCR gave up her post during the summer, it would be interesting to find out when the report will be released.

That is a good point—thank you. Do members agree with that course of action?

Members indicated agreement.


Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness (PE1480)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1480, by Amanda Kopel, on behalf of the Frank Kopel Alzheimer’s campaign on dementia awareness. Members have a note by the clerk.

I invite contributions from members, with the caveat that it might be sensible to write to the Scottish Government seeking an update, as we want to be informed of developments. We can perhaps keep the petition open in the meantime to monitor progress.

John Wilson

If we are writing to the Scottish Government, I suggest that we ask whether it intends to take up the same position as the UK Government in relation to what some have described as a bounty for GPs for diagnosing patients with dementia.

The Convener

Yes. I had a parliamentary question about free personal care for under-65s who have dementia answered by Michael Matheson, the Minister for Public Health. From memory, I think that about 7,000 people fell into that category, and the minister said that he would look into the issue. I do not know whether members are more up to date than I am, but it might be worth clarifying with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing what the position is. The provision of free personal care would be of huge help to those under-65 who have dementia.

Chic Brodie

Last week, I was in Surrey at my daughter’s wedding. In the course of my visit, there was a welter of commentary about the national health service in England and Wales. This is not a light-hearted matter but, because of the £55 bounty for GPs for each diagnosed dementia case, the Daily Mail had a cartoon in which a nurse, who was showing in three young children—they were five or six-year-olds—was saying, “Here’s another three candidates for dementia approval.”

An element of this suggests that we should look at the care that is provided for those aged under 65. However, you are right that we need to get an update from the Government and, as John Wilson said, an update on what is happening elsewhere.

Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.


Confidentiality Clauses (NHS Scotland) (PE1495)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1495, by Rab Wilson, on the use of gagging clauses in agreements with NHS staff in Scotland. Members have a note by the clerk.

There are a number of options. We could defer consideration of the petition until March next year and request that the committee be copied into the Scottish Government’s report to the Public Audit Committee.

I support that action.

Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.


Group B Streptococcus in Pregnancy (PE1505)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1505, by Jackie Watt, on awareness of Strep B in pregnancy and infants. It is suggested that we write to the Scottish Government and NHS Health Scotland seeking confirmation that a full rewrite is planned this year and that the petitioner’s suggestions will be taken account of at that time.

John Wilson

I am concerned about the comments that have been made on what were described as minor changes to the guidance in response to the petitioner’s submission on the consultation. I want to make NHS Scotland aware that giving six days’ notice for people to engage and make amendments to a document is insufficient and that the committee will be seeking that it have meaningful dialogue and consultation with the petitioner on any changes to any guidance that is issued. Although the petitioner clearly met the 30 June deadline for submissions, she feels that none of her suggestions were taken up. I want us to raise the issue of the consultation period, as we would expect it to be much longer.

Do members agree with John Wilson’s suggestion?

Members indicated agreement.


Edward Snowden (Asylum) (PE1515)

The next petition is PE1515, by Mick Napier, on offering asylum in Scotland to the rector of the University of Glasgow, Edward Snowden. Members have a note by the clerk.

I suggest that we close the petition

The Convener

Mr Brodie suggests that we close the petition on the basis that the petition is premised on a majority vote for independence. Do members agree to close the petition?

Members indicated agreement.


Planning System (Consultation) (PE1518)

The Convener

The next petition is PE1518, by George Chalmers, on meaningful public consultation within the Scottish planning system. Members have a note by the clerk.

There are a series of options for following up the petition with the Scottish Government. I suggest that we go ahead with those options as outlined in the clerk’s note.

John Wilson

There was a helpful letter from the Scottish Government with information attached about a consultation exercise that took place and a survey that was commissioned by the Scottish Government to look at planning issues in local authorities and how planning applications are advertised and placed on local government websites. Having read the results of the survey that was carried out, I would like to ask the Scottish Government what action, if any, was taken to discuss the outcomes of that survey and whether any changes were suggested to local authorities. The scoring matrix for the survey shows clearly that the majority of local authorities scored below 50 per cent. It would be useful to find out exactly what is happening in the Scottish Government to ensure that we are convinced that local authorities are carrying out appropriate consultation with communities on planning applications that are submitted.

The Convener

I flag up to members the suggestion that we ask the Scottish Government about the alleged practice of phasing applications to avoid the obligations for a major development. That was the major thrust of the points made by the petitioner. Do members agree to the action points that are set out in the clerk’s report, in addition to John Wilson’s suggestion?

Members indicated agreement.


Save Our Seals Fund (PE1519)

The Convener

The final current petition is PE1519, by John F Robins, on behalf of the Save Our Seals Fund, on saving Scotland’s seals. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. Given the responses that we have received, and recognising that the work is on-going, the committee may wish to refer the petition to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee to consider in the context of its work. Is that agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

Item 4 is the committee’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Scotland—

Jackson Carlaw

Forgive me for interrupting, convener. It was an oversight on my part, but I ought to pick up on something that John Wilson alluded to earlier. I fully intended, before we took evidence this morning, to say that I am myself a product of and user of the independent education sector. I was briefly a governor before being elected as an MSP, and on one occasion I undertook a short commercial consultancy for an independent school. I had intended to say all that but I completely forgot. I think that John Wilson was trying to prompt me at one point, and it was only later that I realised that that was what he had been trying to do.

We are happy to add that to the Official Report, Mr Carlaw.