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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 20 February 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage, Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, St Rollox Railway Works


Contents


Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15617, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill. I call Kezia Dugdale to speak to and move the motion—you have around seven minutes, please.

14:47  

I am pleased to open the preliminary stage debate on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

I thank my colleagues Stewart Stevenson—the deputy convener—Ruth Maguire and Maurice Corry for their work in getting the bill to this stage. I also thank the clerks and the Scottish Parliament information centre for their guidance and attention to detail throughout the process.

The bill was introduced on 25 June 2018 and is being promoted by the patrons of the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow. This is the fourth private bill to be introduced in the current session; the previous three all received royal assent. By now, we are all becoming more familiar with this specific, but necessary and important, aspect of the Parliament’s work. That is, in part, thanks to the most recent private bill to be discussed in the chamber—the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Commission (Scotland) Bill, which gained a fair amount of attention from its observers during its passage.

So far, the work of our private bill committee has been far more straightforward, partly because no objections were lodged to the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill. As with all private bills, at the primary stage, the role of the committee has been to consider the purpose of the bill, its general principles and whether it should proceed as a private bill. If Parliament agrees, the bill will move to the consideration stage.

The Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow is a charity and is the legacy of the Hutcheson brothers, George and Thomas. The name Hutcheson remains well known—thanks, in part, to the grammar school of that name in Glasgow.

It all began in December 1639. In his will, George Hutcheson of Lambhill established the Hutchesons’ hospital charity when he left land and funding to build a hospital. In the 1600s, hospitals were places to shelter and support those in need.

Important milestones in the charity’s history appear in 1821, when the charity became the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow under a royal charter, and in 1872, when it was incorporated in its current form by the Hutchesons’ Hospital Act 1872.

The purposes of the bill that we have in front of us today are to transfer the property, rights, interests and liabilities of the royal incorporation to a successor Scottish charitable incorporated organisation—or SCIO; to dissolve the incorporation; and to repeal the Hutchesons’ Hospital Act 1872.

I feel that, before I move on to the committee’s consideration of the bill, members might benefit from some background to the incorporation. The preamble to the 1872 act provides considerable detail on how the charity developed—15 pages of pre-1872 history in all, most of which members will get from Stewart Stevenson’s speech this afternoon. Several sections cite provisions from George Hutcheson’s will, in the original Scots. We had the benefit of a comprehensive promoter’s memorandum, as one of the accompanying documents to the bill, which set out the history of the charity for us.

As I mentioned, it was George Hutcheson who donated the land in Glasgow and the funds to build a hospital on it. He also provided funds for clothes, food and lodging for, at that time,

“eleven aged and decrepit men”.

The support was for men who had been merchants, craftsmen or tradesmen who had fallen on hard times. George’s brother, Thomas, also made bequests to the charity. He provided funding for educating orphans who were the sons of burgesses of Glasgow and he established the school that became Hutchesons’ grammar school. A burgess was an inhabitant of the city who owned land, paid tax and was able to trade or practice a craft.

The original Hutchesons’ hospital building was completed in 1650 at the Trongate in Glasgow, and it was demolished in 1795. A new hospital building, which included Hutchesons’ school, was completed in 1805 on Ingram Street in Glasgow, and in 1810 the school moved into its own premises and then into a purpose-built building in 1841. The old hospital building can still be seen on Ingram Street today.

Over the years, other bequests were made to the charity and eligibility was expanded. For example, from 1781 poor women also qualified if they were residents of Glasgow and if their husbands or fathers were burgesses. Since 1885 the incorporation’s distributions for educational purposes have been paid to, and administered separately by, the governors of Hutchesons’ Educational Trust. The 1872 act still regulates the management of the charity and its revenues today, which brings us back to the objectives and purposes of the bill.

The bill’s promoter, the patrons—or trustees—of the charity, have decided that change is needed to allow more modern governance of the incorporation’s assets and to enable the charity to function more efficiently and effectively. They believe that a private bill is the best route to achieving that.

We heard from the promoter at our committee meeting on 7 November 2018, when we asked what the 1872 act prevented the charity from doing today. Mr Donald Reid of Mitchells Roberton, the firm of solicitors that supports the charity in its role as “chamberlains” to Hutchesons’ hospital, explained:

“Our hands are not tied behind our backs at the moment; it is just that moving is like being in a spacesuit rather than in athletic gear. However, what needs to be done gets done.”—[Official Report, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill Committee, 7 November 2018; c 5.]

The patrons have already set up the new SCIO, ready for the transfer. The SCIO is a modern, flexible form of organisation for charities that is provided for by the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 and regulated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

The committee considered the purpose of the bill and the arguments presented in favour of enabling an updated governance structure and more modern financial management of the charity. We also considered the potential impact of the changes on the nature of the charity, its work and its beneficiaries, and whether a private bill was necessary to achieve the charity’s aims.

Our report sets out our considerations, and my committee colleagues will provide some more detail on them later in the debate. The committee supports the general principles of the bill. Overall, we believe that it will help to ensure that the charity can modernise, streamline, improve its governance, remain effective and continue to provide support to its beneficiaries.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill and that the bill should proceed as a private bill.

14:54  

I, too, thank the clerks and my colleagues for the progress of the bill to this stage, and I thank the convener, Kezia Dugdale, for moving the motion. As she mentioned, one of the reasons for promoting the bill is to enable the promoter to update the governance of the incorporation. Based on the 1872 act, which still governs it today, the governing body consists of 95 patrons. Many of those are ex officio, meaning that the individuals are there because of the post or office that they hold; they are not there through choice.

An example of that is that all the councillors on Glasgow City Council are still patrons because they were named as such in the 1872 act. The promoter underlined that, although there is a committed and active group of patrons, not surprisingly, there are also many who are not actively involved. The day-to-day running of the incorporation is carried out by an executive committee, but the 95 patrons still constitute the governing body, which means that they must be properly contacted and consulted. In the course of our evidence taking, the promoter explained that there are costs associated with that.

The promoter seeks to streamline and modernise how the charity operates, to make it more agile in how it can take decisions and, as the promoter explained, to respond to expectations of best practice in the charity sector. Such modernisation would include moving towards a model in which bodies would be named, which would then nominate people as trustees. The committee feels that a more direct and transparent link to a group of committed trustees would benefit the charity, because they would be in their roles through choice. Such a move would streamline activities and, ultimately, improve management and oversight. The promoter also believes that modernisation is needed to enable it to use the assets of the charity to their best effect. In evidence to the committee, it explained that, as currently constituted, the charity faces certain restrictions and has less flexibility in what it can do than would be the case for a Scottish charitable incorporated organisation.

As well as considering the arguments that were given by the promoter in favour of modernising the governance and financial management of the charity, the committee heard about the charity’s intentions for the future. It provided its first pensions, or grants, to two men in 1643. In evidence from the promoter, the committee heard that the charity today provides grants to a group of between 20 and 30 people in Glasgow. It also employs a part-time social worker who visits those who receive such grants. David Dobson, who is on the charity’s executive committee, described that work as

“one main thrust of the purposes of the trust, and it will be maintained absolutely”.

He went on to state:

“The other broad purpose of the trust is the advancement of education in Glasgow. Over the years, that has become established as being that 40 per cent of the trust’s net income goes to another charity, namely the Governors of Hutchesons’ Educational Trust. We have no intention of changing that, and that will be within the authority granted by the new SCIO, should we start operating in that way.”—[Official Report, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill Committee, 7 November 2018; c 8.]

The promoter also confirmed that none of the current beneficiaries would lose out as a consequence of the change.

I hope that I have provided members with useful detail on our considerations and some context as to why—as the convener mentioned in her opening speech—the committee has concluded that it is content with the general principles of the bill as they were presented to us.

I call Stewart Stevenson to close the debate.

14:57  

The primary task of the committee was to consider whether the bill is a private one. We have thought about that and have looked at the definition that is in the Parliament’s standing orders, and we have concluded that it is. In doing so, the committee is merely following the long history to which Kezia Dugdale referred, from 1639 via the 1872 act, which, although it was not technically based on a private bill, clearly served private purposes. As the bill that is before the Parliament today is a private one, it is part of the continuum of support that has been given to people in Glasgow.

The promoter had considered whether it could use alternative ways of dealing with the issue that confronted it, such as the charity reorganisation provisions that are set out in chapter 5 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which are available to charities in certain defined circumstances. However, there appeared to be a lack of clarity as to whether the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow would meet the criteria for applying those provisions.

To test that, the committee sought advice from an academic and a Queen’s counsel, which is set out in considerable detail in the committee’s report. The advice is more fascinating than might be imagined, and I encourage all members to read it. However, the bottom line is that it drew the committee towards the conclusion to which the promoter of the bill had come, which is that it could not reliably use the provisions of the 2005 act without the prospect of legal challenge. Therefore, instead, it has pursued the private bill that is before us today.

The consequences of a legal challenge, were one to arise, could be both financially and practically quite challenging, so I think that the safe option that they have adopted, which the committee is happy to endorse, is to bring forward a private bill.

Of course, that leads to an issue for the Scottish Government, which we deal with in our report. It is that the legislation that I mentioned—the 2005 act—should perhaps be revisited to see whether we can provide greater clarity.

Having said that, the Scottish Government has published in the past month a consultation on Scottish charity law with a view to possible update of the 2005 act, and it includes a question that relates to the matter that I have just been referring to. Preparation of the consultation would have been well advanced but, nonetheless, the Hutchesons’ committee was quite right to bring the bill forward in early course.

The other option was that it could have hobbled on with the 1872 legislation and the 95 largely indifferent people who were on the committee. There was some suggestion that many of them were not even aware that they were on the committee, including as it does all of Glasgow’s councillors and many ministers of religion who, simply because of their office, end up legally and formally being on the committee.

We came to the conclusion that doing nothing did not make sense, because the trustees made a pretty cogent argument that we should look at updating and modernising the 1872 arrangements and bringing them into the world that we now have, with the oversight of OSCR and an SCIO. Having considered the alternatives, we are content with the promoter’s conclusion that a private bill is most appropriate and best available method of achieving the aims.

We are left with one question alone, which is how we will adjudge the success of the parliamentary process. I think the key test is that the beneficiaries of the trust see no difference whatsoever and it continues to provide the support that they have enjoyed for some time. The support was described in the 1872 act, which was based on the mortification of George Hutcheson of 1639. It says:

“aiget, decrippet men may be enterit and placet yrin”.

I am “aiget” but hopefully not “decrippet”, but I was particularly excited by the provision that there be

“foure shillingis Scottis money”

every day, and every year

“ane gowne of convenient cullor”.

Before we get too excited, I note that, although four shillings sounds a lot of money, in today’s money, because it was Scots pounds and not English pounds and because of decimalisation, that would be tuppence. I know that the beneficiaries get a little bit more than that today. The parliamentary process should, and I believe will, enable them to continue to receive the benefits in proper legal form.

That concludes the debate on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.