Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:25 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:25 pm, 8th March 2007

As Kenneth Macintosh has just reminded us, the bill has its genesis in the recommendations of Sir Michael Bichard's report on the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by their school caretaker, Ian Huntly. The photograph of Holly and Jessica, smiling into the camera and wearing their Manchester United football tops, is an enduring image that should haunt us all. In a sense, their smiles are a reproach to us, because the system failed to protect them.

Nearer to home, we can reflect on the murder 11 years ago of 15 little children and their teacher, Mrs Mayor, at Dunblane primary school. The anniversary of that event falls next week. We recall not only that their murderer, Thomas Hamilton, was possessed of an array of legally held weapons, but that he was a man who worked with children and young people in a voluntary capacity over a long period. His conduct in that capacity had been a concern to a number of parents and others who came into contact with him, although no one could have predicted the murderous outcome.

As a result of such tragic events, we commission inquiries that produce recommendations and we enact laws, because we feel our failures acutely. We want to protect our children and other vulnerable people and, because we cannot legislate evil in our society out of existence, we have recourse to laws, regulations and government agencies to try to achieve that objective. For that reason, we pass laws on gun control, security in schools and, today, disclosure and vetting procedures for those who work with children and other vulnerable people.

Although we are driven by a determination to try to make amends and to close perceived gaps in our laws, a strong and welcome sense of realism has run through consideration of the bill. There is recognition that we cannot protect our children from all the evils and risks in this world, and that they cannot be wrapped in cotton wool if they are to grow into independent, mature adults who are capable of making sound judgments for themselves.

I support the bill but, like many other members, I do so with a concern for the proportionality of our response and its implications for civil liberties and with a desire that the hundreds of thousands of dedicated, committed people in Scotland who work with children and vulnerable adults in a professional or voluntary capacity be judged fairly and not damned by false accusation or malicious innuendo.

At the end of the day, we have no option but to pass the bill, but we should do so with heavy hearts, reflecting on the need for such a measure and what our society has come to. As I said in the stage 1 debate, Parliament and the Executive should keep the operation of the new legislation under close scrutiny, to determine whether we have got the balance right after all.