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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 7, 2021

Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee 07 October 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Interests, Decision on Taking Business in Private, Subordinate Legislation, Cross-Party Groups


Contents


Cross-Party Groups

Agenda item 5 concerns cross-party groups. The committee will take evidence from Maurice Golden MSP, who is attending in person, on the proposed CPG on the circular economy. We will then hear from Pauline McNeill MSP, who will join us remotely, on the proposed CPG on medicinal cannabis.

Good morning, Maurice, and thank you for coming to the committee. You are the committee’s first cross-party group proposer to attend in person, so you are welcome. I will hand over to you to give us an introduction to the proposed cross-party group—its intentions and how you see its work going forward.

Thank you, convener. As committee members will be aware, the circular economy is an economic system that involves circulating materials in as high value a state as possible for as long as possible in order to extract the maximum value from them. That encompasses a variety of areas and sectors that are relevant to the people of Scotland as well as decision makers in the Parliament. The purpose of the group is to explore and address many of those issues. Nine MSPs from the Conservatives, the Scottish National Party and Labour attended the group’s initial meeting, and we have nominated four of those members as office bearers—one to serve as convener and three as deputy conveners. Again, those are cross-party appointments. As part of our secretariat and treasury, we also have four environmental organisations, which will help to support the group’s functions.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the group will be deciding which topic to begin with, but we are looking forward very much to establishing the group, if the committee approves it, and to exploring and addressing many of those issues.

I am grateful to you. I hope that you are open to some questions from the committee. I will take the convener’s privilege by starting. As you hinted in your statement, the cross-party group’s subject matter is enormous and covers many areas. Indeed, its areas of interest overlap with those of a significant number of other cross-party groups. In the application, you identify the unique concept that warrants very specific consideration for the circular economy. Would you like the opportunity to go into that in a bit more detail?

Yes. A plethora of areas are involved, some of which are distinct to the circular economy CPG, such as waste, recycling, incineration and the waste hierarchy. However, I see the opportunity of joint CPG work on, for example, renewable energy, where there is synergy with an existing CPG. I have done that in the past with the Nordic countries CPG, which I established in the previous parliamentary session. There is an opportunity to work across different groups, but there are areas, such as textiles, that have not seen a great deal of sector focus in the Parliament to date. I see the CPG as adding value to our political discussions but also being of value to the people of Scotland.

That is helpful, thank you. Although it crosses several areas, the CPG is almost unique in its ability to bring those areas together and to follow the process around the whole system.

Yes, I think so. Housing is another area where there might be overlap, but the CPG offers a distinct vantage point from which to approach how we build our houses and heat our homes. In that way, we can add value to existing CPGs and complement their activities.

We have come to the end of the questions. Thank you for attending. On the procedure, we will deal with the registration under a separate agenda item. You are more than welcome to stay for that, but we will hear evidence on another proposed cross-party group first. If you are not here by the time we move on, we will, of course, be in touch. Thank you for your time this morning.

Thank you. I have to go to my other committee now.

I appreciate that. Thank you.

We will have a short suspension to allow Pauline McNeill to join us on BlueJeans.

09:54 Meeting suspended.  

09:54 On resuming—  

I welcome Pauline McNeill MSP, who is here to talk about medicinal cannabis.

Good morning, convener. I thank the committee’s clerk, Sam Currie, for the support that she is giving us as we try to set up the group. I hope that the committee will be satisfied with the proposal.

The proposed CPG is probably the first group of its kind that does not overlap with anything else. We have already done quite a bit of work. Having run informal meetings with an amazing group of people who believe that there are credible health benefits to the use of cannabis, I thought that there would be interest in a formal cross-party group.

The group seeks to understand better the benefits of medicinal cannabis and to recognise case studies that indicate its positive impact on patients who suffer from a variety of conditions. It also seeks to support patients’ rights to access the medicine.

The committee might be familiar with some high-profile cases, such as that of young Cole, who cannot get access to prescribed Bedrolite on the national health service and whose family has to pay for it privately. Taking that medicine has led to an incredible reduction in Cole’s convulsions. In fact, he has hardly had any episodes since he began taking it.

For some patients, medicinal cannabis is absolutely life changing. We have heard informal evidence from people who speak to the fact that some serious health conditions have simply been cleared up by the use of certain types of cannabis product. Therefore, it is in the public interest that we examine the evidence-based research and seek to investigate case studies for people with chronic illnesses who would benefit from medicinal cannabis.

The topics that we anticipate discussing include: access to Bedrolite and other cannabis-based drugs that have a high cost to bring into the country, which is more difficult because of Brexit; a card, known as med can, that the state of Colorado in the US provides for medical cannabis users to show that their use is for health needs; and the human right of patients to access medicinal cannabis versus the public health issue. I feel strongly that, if patients feel that it is beneficial to them, they should not be prevented from using a cannabis product—of which there are many—because of any laws against or judgments about people using such products.

Members might ask why I set up the group. My father, who had severe arthritis, used to ask me whether, if we ever legalised cannabis, I would be the first person to get him some so that he could alleviate his pain and suffering. He believed that it would have done so but, being a law-abiding person, he sadly passed five years ago without getting the chance to find out.

Many people believe that medicinal cannabis will alleviate conditions such as arthritis. That is what drove me to do the work to reduce stigma using the evidence base and working with the national health service. We have a good relationship with the NHS. There is some political resistance to the work, but there is also some interest in it.

We also want to explore whether there should be legislation on cannabis growers. Committee members have probably noticed that a lot more people take cannabis tablets or other cannabis products for health reasons. It is becoming big business and we want to ensure that it is not something that only big business can control. That is why we are interested in cannabis growing.

Those are our main purposes. Rona Mackay has agreed to co-convene the group. Miles Briggs, who has done a huge amount of work on the matter as well, and Oliver Mundell are our Conservative members. Monica Lennon, who has been part of the informal group, Paul Sweeney and Pam Duncan-Glancy have also signed up already. Our members include a number of individuals—they are mentioned in your papers—and organisations, such as the Scottish patient subgroup of Patient-Led Engagement for Access, the Scottish cannabis consortium and the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland. I expect a lot more interest if the committee approves our application.

Thank you for that evidence. I take my privilege as convener to go first in asking questions.

As you stated, the primary purpose of the group is to collect and recognise the value of case studies. That is a hugely important way of finding out the actuality in relation to the use of medicinal cannabis. Do you expect that there will be a significant number of case studies on which the CPG can base further research and gather evidence?

10:00  

Yes. We will have to use international examples, and examples that are perhaps anecdotal but which are nevertheless compelling. The chief medical officer and the chief pharmaceutical officer have addressed us, and there has been some agreement on the need for proper trials. Although it is legal just now for general practitioners to prescribe certain cannabis products, they might not have the confidence to do so. Trials are therefore really important, and we want to ensure that we are pushing at that door, which is partly open, I feel. I think that there is a lot of interest in the issue, but, as you would expect, any Government or medical system wants things to be tried and tested.

Will the formation of a CPG give groups and individuals the confidence to share with you evidence that they do not feel able to share at the minute with other organisations, including the Government?

I am in absolutely no doubt that establishing the CPG would give an invaluable platform to people who have felt that they have had no connection through which to influence decision makers. That is why it is important for us to formalise our work. I think that there will be a great deal of interest in the CPG, and I hope that we can work constructively with the medical profession and the Government to produce something over the next few years.

As there are no further questions, the committee will now move to a decision on the proposed CPG, and the committee clerks will be in touch with our outcome in due course. Thank you for coming along this morning and expressing the views and opinions of what, we hope, will be the new CPG.

Thank you very much.

We now move to agenda item 6, which is approval of the two CPGs.

On the proposed CPG on the circular economy, do members have any comments or questions?

I support the application. I think that it will be a very good CPG.

Do members agree to the formal establishment of the CPG?

Members indicated agreement.

Do members have any comments on the proposed CPG on medicinal cannabis?

Again, it will be a very good CPG, and I fully support the application.

Do members agree to formally recognise the CPG on medicinal cannabis?

Members indicated agreement.

I am grateful for that. We now move into private session for agenda item 7.

10:03 Meeting continued in private until 10:41.