Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:28 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 3:28 pm, 8th March 2007

I commend David McLetchie for a thoughtful speech. The Scottish National Party supports many of his comments and shares many of his views, especially with regard to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Dunblane and—in my case—Miss X in the Borders. We support what David McLetchie said about the difficulty of ensuring that protection is proportionate and his comments on society generally.

On a lighter note, I tender to the chamber the apologies of Fiona Hyslop, who has been detained. That is the reason why I am here, with my parachute lying outside.

I have found the debate very interesting. Pupils from Earlston high school were here today, and during their visit I found myself strenuously defending the Parliament. We are growing up, and this is a difficult bill on difficult issues. I, too, praise Robert Brown, despite the fact that he is a Liberal Democrat, because he is sincere and a good egg generally. His career is now completely blighted—votes are melting away.

I turn to the issue of those who work with children. I have two sisters who are primary teachers. Ken Macintosh described how the fear that some kind of allegation will be made against them if they even touch or help a child permeates teachers. They cannot even help a child to tie their shoelaces in case something is read into that. Those in the voluntary sector are even worse off—they have to keep looking over their shoulders. Again, it is a matter of balance.

I have only just found out that 300 amendments were lodged to the bill, so, again, I must praise the Education Committee for its work. The committee seems so consensual and committee members so nice to each other that I think that I belong there. The committee managed to get part 3 deleted, although I should once again commend Robert Brown for listening. As I understand it, it was a victim of the bogeyman of legislation—the law of unintended consequences—so its deletion was no bad thing. That shows the importance of committee scrutiny, but I will come to the issue of post-legislative scrutiny in a moment.

As far as the voluntary sector is concerned, the jury is definitely out, particularly with regard to funding. We all know from our case load that the sector is already in financial difficulty; indeed, I could trot out the usual mantra about its funding not being secured for three years. Donald Gorrie, who is in the chamber, knows perfectly well the background to all this. Those concerns will grow when money starts to be siphoned off to fund the Olympics. The fact is that the smaller voluntary organisations will suffer. After all, the big boys and girls in the sector can generally take care of themselves.

Concerns have also been expressed about the commencement date of 2009. As I understand it, that is because of the additional work that will be needed for the subordinate legislation, regulations and all that stuff. We are eight years on in this Parliament, so we should all realise that subordinate legislation is the meat and gravy of the matter. It is certainly a huge issue, because we must be able to examine the actual gubbins, as it were, of the legislation.

We must always look at legislation as a helpful tool. However, as David McLetchie and others have pointed out, no legislation can guarantee 100 per cent that all volunteers and teachers will do right and that nothing bad will happen to a child or vulnerable adult. It is important to make it clear that, regrettably, some dark and evil people will always find a way of circumventing legislation. As a result, all of us in this chamber should put down a marker for the next Parliament, whichever party is in power. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said with his usual charm, which we will all miss, we must return to and examine carefully the operation of this legislation.

I finish with my mantra: if we legislate in haste, we will be sued at leisure.