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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 13, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 13 June 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Environment Day 2019, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Wild Animals in Circuses (No 2) Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time

Good afternoon. The next item of business is Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body questions. Question 1 has been withdrawn.

Pension Scheme (Fossil Fuels)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what its response is to the call by just transition for the divestment of its pension scheme from fossil fuels. (S5O-03392)

I recognise Claudia Beamish’s longstanding commitment to the just transition agenda. However, I say to her from the off that there is a clear separation of duties between the SPCB and the fund trustees, in order to avoid any sense of a conflict of interest.

To set it out in detail, under schedule 1, part B, rule 8 of the Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Act 2009, the corporate body is responsible for the appointment of fund trustees. Under schedule 1, part D, rule 32 of the act, the corporate body is also responsible for providing the funding for the employer pension contributions. Schedule 1, part B, rule 5 of the act sets out that the fund trustees are responsible for the governance, management and administration of the scheme and for the management of the scheme’s assets. That includes decisions about investments. Any decision about divestment is therefore a matter for the fund trustees and not for the corporate body.

I understand that division which Kezia Dugdale has helpfully explained for the record. This is an opportunity to recognise the legal fiduciary duty of the pension trustees, the pension fund responsibilities and indeed the division of responsibilities and the reasons for that.

With the forbearance of the Presiding Officer, I would like to highlight that a number of members of the Scottish Parliament have recently signed a divest Scotland pledge, which says:

“I pledge to support the Scottish Government and Parliament divesting from fossil fuels and investing in a just transition to a zero carbon economy over an appropriate time-scale.”

I am not in any way asking for reassurances, because that would not be appropriate. However, would it be appropriate for the corporate body simply to highlight the pledge to the fund trustees, which I will also do?

I recognise that, in addition to safeguarding the financial stability of our funds, work is being done to further explore the wider ethical considerations, such as climate change—

Thank you—I will stop you there. I think that we have the gist, and Ms Dugdale has made the corporate body’s position clear. However, she may want to give a brief response.

I welcome Claudia Beamish’s response and I reiterate how aware we are of our responsibilities not to go beyond the scope of the 2009 act. I add that the fund manager operates an environmental, social and corporate governance policy that is in line with the United Nations principles for responsible investing, which we are a signatory to, so those things are considered. However, it is a matter for the fund trustees, and the member is perfectly placed to make direct representations to those members.

Tens of thousands of Scottish workers are currently employed in the oil and gas sector, and this Parliament is meant to represent the whole of Scotland. Does the member not agree that it would send an unfortunate message from the Parliament’s corporate body, on behalf of the Parliament, if we were to divest ourselves from a sector that is responsible for supporting so many Scottish families and their jobs and livelihoods?

I think that these questions are a bit wide of the mark, Ms Dugdale, but it is up to you to say whether you think so, too.

I simply remind the member that that is beyond the scope of the responsibilities of the corporate body, and I refer him to his own party’s representative on the fund.

Parliamentary Events (Equality of Access)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body how it ensures equality of access for those wishing to hold parliamentary events onsite. (S5O-03395)

Any organisation can hold an event at the Scottish Parliament as long as it fulfils the SPCB’s agreed criteria for member-sponsored events, including the completion of an event request form and securing a sponsoring member for an event that all members will be invited to attend. If the event meets the criteria, it is allocated accordingly, and an events officer works with the event organiser to ensure completion of all the planning, organisation and delivery of the event.

To ensure equality of access for member-sponsored events, there is no charge for venue hire or for the Parliament’s audiovisual equipment, such as plasma screens with built-in personal computers. However, any hired-in services—for example, catering or additional audiovisual equipment such as a public address system and video recording equipment—are charged back to the event organiser.

I am thinking of events beyond those that are organised through the events team. In my first speech in the Parliament, 20 years ago, I promoted the need for an accessible Parliament building with a crèche, an arena for trade and industry exhibits, innovative recess schemes for young people and a resource for community groups. Some of that has happened, but I did not expect the creeping commercialisation of events, which is pricing people out of using the building unless they can get corporate sponsorship.

Is the SPCB aware that the costs that are associated with additional necessary equipment—such as microphones and a PA system, which are needed to assist the hard of hearing and allow access to an induction loop—are prohibitive for many organisations and MSP-sponsored events? Will the SPCB look at removing such barriers, in line with the Parliament’s founding principles, which emphasise accessibility and equality of access?

I agree entirely that a founding principle of the Parliament is accessibility, on which we have a strong track record. I am interested in the specifics of Elaine Smith’s concerns if they relate to a particular incident.

The committee rooms are all fitted with induction loops, and the members room has a mobile induction loop although, for obvious reasons, we would not necessarily want to have that on permanently. Support is there for events, and it is not unreasonable for the Parliament to draw a distinction between member-sponsored events and other activities that take place. It is right for the costs that are incurred to fall on the event organiser, and that does not necessarily inhibit the accessibility of the Parliament, which has a fairly proud record of hosting a wide range of events in any given year.

We get poor information technology support to run cross-party group meetings. On several occasions, CPG members have had to scurry around to try to find a technician—not long ago, I had to haul somebody off a line at a bus stop and beg him to come back in to sort out an IT issue, because we had two presentations to see. That does not represent the Parliament well to the people we encourage to come to CPG meetings. What will the corporate body do to ensure that CPG conveners have the confidence that we can reliably deliver presentations for people who come in for our meetings?

It is important to point out that cross-party groups have access to Parliament facilities such as rooms and the IT equipment in those rooms, but it would be a step beyond what is reasonable to provide parliamentary staffing to support CPGs. That has never been provided and the Parliament has never met the costs of running CPGs, which sit distinct from member-sponsored events. The technology should be made available, but we cannot get into making staff available.

Maurice Corry is right that, when staff are on hand, they are invariably more than willing to help out. However, it is incumbent on the organiser of a CPG event—whether that is the convener or the secretariat—to identify IT needs in preparation for the event and ensure that the equipment is there and is functioning properly. I am aware that issues sometimes arise with password access, but that is about the CPG’s preparation rather than about asking the Parliament to go beyond what it does at the moment to support CPGs.

Will Liam McArthur take back to the corporate body that, if we have the equipment, we need the support? A lot of marginalised communities, groups and individuals come to a wide range of CPG meetings. To be frank, I am disappointed by the response that the equipment is there—we are not all IT experts, and I have been put in the same position as Maurice Corry in the past. I ask Liam McArthur to take that back to the corporate body, please.

I am happy enough to ask the corporate body to reflect further on the matter. I am not sure whether Claudia Beamish is asking the corporate body for a fundamental rethink of our relationship with CPGs. If we go down that track, there is a risk that we will end up in a situation where we are not only providing IT support but supporting the groups in the same way that we support member-sponsored events. That has a whole series of consequences that Claudia Beamish may wish to reflect on.

On IT support, we have all been in situations at the start of meetings where passwords have not been put in correctly and there have been glitches in the system. All that does is re-emphasise the need to ensure that, in the preparation for such events, consideration is given to the IT requirements.

Parliament staff are more than willing to provide whatever support they can, but requiring parliamentary staff to be here and on hand to provide on-going support for CPGs that can go on until fairly late in the evening would put a strain on parliamentary staff and on parliamentary resources, which would have consequences that Claudia Beamish may want to reflect on further.