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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 8, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 08 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Green-belt Land (Woodhall and Faskine Estates), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, International Women’s Day, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time


1. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what information it collects on the use of the Parliament crèche, and whether there has been any analysis of its use. (S5O-01874)

Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

Here I am! I have spent long enough trying to get this seat, and here I am, responding on behalf of the corporate body. I thank Mary Fee for her question, and for the fact that she has raised it on international women’s day. I wish all the women in the chamber well with their cause.

The Scottish Parliament crèche is considered to be an important part of our vision as a Parliament to be open and accessible, and it is primarily there to provide childcare for visitors to the building. The crèche is, however, also available to members and staff as ad hoc childcare.

We closely monitor the crèche’s use, and collect information, including the time when the child arrives and leaves and the nature of the parent’s visit to Parliament—whether the parent was here to give evidence to a committee, to visit chamber business or for some other type of activity. We also collect information on the age of the child—whether they are under or over the age of two.

The information that we collect is reviewed regularly and the average length of stay is identified, along with all the reasons why people use the crèche, so that we can understand that. I hope that that answer is helpful.

Mary Fee

I thank Kezia Dugdale for that very helpful and full answer. Given the growing pressure on working families, the rising cost of childcare and the size of the Parliament’s staff, what consideration has the Parliament given to expanding the crèche service into a nursery that could serve both the needs of visitors to the Parliament and the childcare challenges that its members and staff face?

Kezia Dugdale

The Parliament is alive to its responsibilities to be a decent employer operating a flexible working environment, particularly around the issues of gender equality that are so much in our minds today. The issue has been looked at on a number of occasions by previous corporate body memberships, who have always agreed that the crèche is primarily a facility for visitors to the Parliament. That said, the crèche is managed in such a way that it can be used by members and their staff on an ad hoc basis, in an appropriate manner; they pay, of course, while visitors to the Parliament do not.

We have looked in the past at what it would take to have a nursery facility on the site and I am sure that Mary Fee is more than well aware that that would require different ratios of staff to children and some physical changes to the building, because of the requirements to have outdoor space for the running of a nursery. There would also have to be an increased level of structured learning and development. That is the main difference between nursery provision and a crèche, which is primarily a childcare facility. We are constantly looking at those issues.

I will end by saying that the majority of the people who use the crèche are visitors—they are about 85 per cent of the users, while 15 per cent of the people currently accessing the crèche are members and their staff. We are alive to the issues and we will continue to monitor the use of the crèche closely.

Sanitary Products

2. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it plans to make sanitary products freely available in the Parliament for staff and visitors. (S5O-01875)

Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

I commend Monica Lennon for her work in this area and recognise that today is the day that she has published the results of the first stage of her consultation on the issue.

The Parliament is committed to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone has the right to be treated with respect and dignity, including women who are experiencing menstruation or the menopause in the workplace and beyond. We are aware of the excellent work already being carried out by the Parliament’s women’s network. They recently launched an initiative providing honesty boxes stocked with free sanitary products in the Parliament’s toilets. Those have proven to be very popular, as Monica Lennon will be aware. That initiative relies on the good will of staff and other users of the building to replace the products.

While the SPCB recognises the success of that initiative, the women’s network is now making recommendations to the Parliament’s diversity and inclusion board about the future provision of that service. The SPCB is waiting to see the outcome of that process before it revisits the matter and takes any further decisions about the project’s future.

Monica Lennon

I thank Kezia Dugdale for her response. Period poverty and access to sanitary products have been raised many times in this Parliament. As Kezia Dugdale said, today I lodged my proposal for a bill to establish a legal right to access sanitary products for everyone in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament women’s network has done an excellent job of improving access to sanitary products for parliamentary staff, with the launch of the honesty box scheme last year.

The corporate body has responded well to other public campaigns, such as the recent campaign on reducing the use of plastic straws. Does the member agree that the corporate body has an obligation to demonstrate leadership on access to sanitary products? Will the corporate body welcome the honesty box scheme and advise whether work has been carried out to cost the provision of sanitary products, so that the Parliament can meet the needs of staff who menstruate or experience the menopause?

Kezia Dugdale

It is fair to say that we are examining the issue closely and considering what might happen next. However, we do not want to pre-empt any recommendations that the women’s network might make.

We have looked at the cost. The initial cost of establishing the boxes around the building was £550, and we have worked out that the annual cost of the service would be about £2,400. Such costs are well within what is feasible in extending the approach so that the Parliament is the main provider of the service. However, we will take the decision when we have done more work and consultation with the women’s network. I am sure that the member respects that as the right and proper way to go about it.

Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme (Investment Strategy and Principles)

3. John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what discussions it has had with the fund trustees regarding updating the Scottish parliamentary pension scheme’s investment strategy and statement of investment principles, and how it will ensure that the scheme’s members are consulted about this. (S5O-01876)

Sandra White (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

I thank John Finnie for his question and note his tenacity on the subject.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body discussed engaging with the fund trustees about the scheme’s investment strategy at its most recent meeting, on 22 February. It was agreed that a series of meetings involving the SPCB and the fund trustees should be arranged, commencing in March, to discuss and exchange views on the scheme’s investment strategy.

It is standard practice for the fund trustees to review the scheme’s statement of investment principles at least every three years and to update the SPCB on a revised statement. Under schedule 1, part B, rule 5 of the Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Act 2009, the fund trustees are responsible for the governance, management and administration of the scheme, and for the management of the scheme’s assets, including decisions about setting the scheme’s investment strategy.

John Finnie

I thank the member for her detailed response. A number of people have a long-standing interest in the issue, and it is important to say that we are in charge of the strategy, not the people whom we engage to operate the fund, although that impression has sometimes been given in the past.

I wonder whether the member is aware of research, which I am happy to share, that shows that 72 per cent of people think that our MSP pension fund should not be able to invest in companies that are involved in arms manufacture, fossil fuel extraction and tobacco.

Indeed, in December the UK Government said:

“government supports the ... view that trustees should consider members’ ethical and other concerns, and may respond by acting on them where they have good reason to think members share the concern and it does not involve a risk of significant financial detriment.”

The best way for trustees to know what fund members’ ethical concerns are would be to consult them. That would involve consultation only with current and previous MSPs—not a massive group of people or a massive expense. Given that the pension fund’s investment strategy and statement of investment principles are under three-yearly active review, as the member said, will the SPCB write to pension trustees in support of a consultation on potential divestment from arms manufacture, fossil fuel extraction and tobacco?

Sandra White

We will certainly be happy to look at work that has been done.

As I said, the SPCB will be meeting the fund trustees. I am sure that the consultation that John Finnie proposes will be part and parcel of our discussions.

Mr Finnie will be aware that the trustees are representatives of all the political parties, including his. It is not for me to suggest who he might want to speak to, but perhaps he—and any other member who feels as strongly as he does—could speak to the member of their party who is represented on the board of trustees.

I will be happy to take forward suggestions and requests for further information from the member.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

We have a supplementary question from Jamie Halcro Johnston.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Will the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body seek clarity from the fund trustees that the existing investment strategy is consistent with market standards?

Sandra White

I thank the member for that question. I know that he has an interest in the area, and in the council area also. Certainly, we can take that forward at the next meeting of the SPCB, along with the trustees as well.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes questions to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. I will allow a couple of moments for members to change seats.