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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 14 June 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, One Minute’s Silence, First Minister’s Question Time, Mossmorran Flaring, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Human Trafficking (Annual Progress Report), National Council of Rural Advisers, Sexual Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct Inquiry, Point of Order, Decision Time


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time

Inclusive Communication

1. Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what consideration it gives to inclusive communication, and what improvements it can make to parliamentary broadcasts in this regard. (S50-02238)

Andy Wightman (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

The corporate body is committed to making its communications as accessible as possible and it regularly looks at a range of technology to make improvements to parliamentary broadcasts.

Currently, we use YouTube technology, with which we caption a number of video archives using the text from the Official Report. That began in September 2013 with First Minister’s questions. The service was then extended to include general questions and ministerial statements from September 2014, and topical and portfolio questions were added in November 2016. Those videos can be viewed on YouTube the following day with the text added. Where there is a particular demand, we also provide that facility for chamber debates. We also caption all short video packages and video clips for social media channels.

Where possible, we provide simultaneous interpretation of parliamentary business into British Sign Language and other languages on request. The corporate body also provides a range of information resources such as British Sign Language videos.

Ruth Maguire

Will the corporate body consider subtitling all debates in the chamber? I appreciate that it provides subtitles and sign language interpretation on some specific debates, but it feels really important, when it is doing such a good job in providing an inclusive service in all other areas, that we make our debates and questions accessible to all people.

Andy Wightman

The Parliament has been considering that, which is why it started in September 2013 with the captioning.

In 2013, the corporate body undertook a feasibility study of providing subtitles across all in-house distribution, including live streaming. Following a consultant’s report, the option of re-speaking—that is, somebody listening to what is being said and re-speaking it into a computer with voice recognition for their voice—was identified as providing the greatest accuracy, at about 90 per cent. Costs for that system, which requires technical infrastructure and additional staff, were however considered prohibitive.

When the corporate body stands up in the chamber and says that we are keeping things under review, we genuinely are doing so. One of the corporate body’s contractors—a company called Groovy Gecko—has recently carried out a pilot with the United Kingdom Parliament to look at simultaneous voice recognition, and that system was only 60 to 70 per cent accurate. I am sure that all members agree that services that communicate what is said in Parliament must avoid errors, and particularly embarrassing errors. Often, to get the required level of accuracy requires a lot of manual input, and to date those costs are deemed to be prohibitive.

However, as I said at the beginning, we continue to look at the area. Technology is evolving very quickly, and we would love to be able to provide more subtitling across all parliamentary output as soon as the technology and costs allow it.

Cross-party Groups (Staff Support)

2. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body whether it will provide staff to assist cross-party groups set up equipment at meetings held in the Parliament after 6 pm. (S50-02237)

Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

I thank the member for the question. Cross-party groups are not a formal part of parliamentary business and the corporate body’s responsibilities to ensure the provision of resources for parliamentary purposes do not extend to them.

Section 6 of the “Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament” makes it clear that CPGs may use the Parliament’s facilities only where they are “available for public use” and that

“Groups may not draw on the resources of the Parliamentary staff to service meetings other than to book meeting rooms”.

On that basis, staff are not made available after 6 pm to provide assistance to cross-party groups.

Our porters are in the building until 6 pm and, to be helpful, they may provide some limited assistance to MSP members of CPGs, but only if time allows, as parliamentary business and official events take precedence in the building.

Christine Grahame

That is a very disappointing but not unexpected answer. I will say—not for the first time and, obviously now, not for the last—that the cross-party group on animal welfare has been without audiovisual equipment despite requisitioning it some months before and despite confirmation of that requisition. It has been highly embarrassing, with nobody around to bring it or assist with setting it up.

If I cannot have help after 6 pm, who keeps a log of requests for the audiovisual equipment and who maintains the data that it has been said that it will be provided and set up, even if thereafter they cannot provide back-up?

Kezia Dugdale

I accept that the work of cross-party groups is exceptionally important in this building, and I chair a number of them myself. However, those rules are laid out in the code of conduct. If Christine Grahame is keen to see the rules change and support for cross-party groups enhanced, she should seek to amend section 6 of the code of conduct. She can do that by first approaching the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

I am sorry that Christine Grahame’s cross-party group had a negative experience when trying to use the audiovisual equipment, especially if she had been promised it in advance. If she wants to share her specific experience with a member of the corporate body, we will find out why she was not at least advised about why the equipment was not provided on the day. I accept that it was inconvenient and embarrassing for her.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I had not realised that there is a 6 o’clock deadline. When a cross-party group that I chair needed audiovisual equipment, it phoned the helpdesk and the equipment was delivered straight away by a porter. Someone was obviously working outside their contract and doing a special favour, so I would be grateful if Kezia Dugdale would pass on my thanks to them.

Kezia Dugdale

Thank you; that gratitude will be exceptionally welcomed by the staff. Rhoda Grant will know that the staff go above and beyond to do whatever they can to facilitate the business in the building. That extends to cross-party groups when the resources are available. The conflict arises when the Parliament is particularly busy with official events, which might detract from porters’ ability to assist cross-party groups. The reason why some might have better experiences than others of using the equipment is entirely down to parliamentary business.