Public Records (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th March 2011.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8129, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on the Public Records (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

It gives me great pleasure to open the stage 3 debate on the Public Records (Scotland) Bill and to invite members to agree to pass the bill. I thank members of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, the Finance Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee for their hard work and careful scrutiny of what is in essence a technical bill. I also thank members for their comments on the bill during its passage and the organisations and individuals who provided oral and written evidence to the committee and briefings for members on the provisions.

The bill is about improving the management of public records by named authorities. It amends the Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937 in relation to court records. It is the first bill about Scottish public records in more than 70 years. As I said during the stage 1 debate, the bill has its origins in Tom Shaw’s report on the historical abuse of looked-after children, which was published in 2007 and was accepted by all the parties in the Parliament. Tom Shaw’s powerful and compelling evidence on the bill to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee showed the human cost of record-keeping failures. He repeated his recommendation on the need for new legislation to cover all public records. That is why we introduced a comprehensive bill that covers all the functions that are carried out by the public authorities that are listed in it.

The bill will not mean that authorities need to keep everything—far from it. Good records management involves identifying the records that are important and have long-term value and drawing up agreed schedules that say how long particular records should be kept. When authorities engage private or voluntary organisations to carry out functions on their behalf, the records that those organisations create will be covered by the bill. That addresses a key element of the Shaw report.

The bill provides a definition of “public records”, which is necessary to ensure that those responsible for managing records know which records fall within the bill’s scope and know the obligations that will be placed on them. The definition also ensures that the keeper of the records of Scotland, who will produce guidance on the form and content of plans and who will have powers to scrutinise their implementation, knows which records an authority’s plan should cover. Only then can the keeper assess whether the plan makes proper arrangements for the management of those records.

Nowadays records can be kept in a variety of formats, the range of which clearly could not be envisaged by the 1937 legislation. The definition therefore ensures that the bill is future-proofed, as it must cover records in any format.

In its stage 1 report, the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee agreed to back the bill’s general principles, taking the view that there was a strong moral obligation on public authorities to manage personal records effectively. It agreed that Tom Shaw’s report and the experiences of former residents of residential schools and care homes in trying to trace records formed a persuasive argument for legislation to address known deficiencies. That view was fully endorsed by Parliament’s unanimous support for the bill at stage 1 and I am grateful to members of all parties who spoke in that debate.

Before stage 1, both the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the voluntary sector argued that the bill should focus only on high-risk records and that the definition should be removed or narrowed. However, although it makes sense in practice to concentrate on high-risk records, managing only certain records within an organisation is not good records management practice. The keeper would find it difficult to agree a records management plan that took such an approach, as it would create uncertainty about which records were covered and who decided whether they were low or high risk. Instead of excluding types of records, the bill allows authorities to assess levels of risk and to make provision in their own records management plans to manage different records differently.

The Government responded to concerns that were voiced in evidence to the committee and during the stage 1 debate. At stage 2, Elizabeth Smith and Ken Macintosh made important points about the need for the bill not to be disproportionate or to create a heavy burden on public authorities, particularly the voluntary sector. To address those issues, I moved 28 separate amendments, all of which I am pleased to say were accepted. The Government also accepted 25 non-Government amendments lodged by Elizabeth Smith that, along with the amendments that I have moved and the Parliament has agreed this morning, further improve the bill’s language and tone. I think that Elizabeth Smith probably holds the record for the number of Opposition amendments that the Parliament has accepted to a bill—she might want to check that—but together all of the amendments seek to emphasise our aim of encouraging partnership working and continuous self-improvement rather than dictating solutions.

The stage 2 amendments made it clear that the keeper will not seek to impose a one-size-fits-all approach in every case. The Government’s intention has always been that the keeper should work closely with authorities to ensure that the records management regime takes account of particular sectors’ needs and respects their judgments about risk. Different sectors will have different records management plans based on individual needs and their assessment of the risks that they face. The bill permits professionals in the various sectors—child care, policing, health and the other areas—to make such decisions within an overall management framework. Moreover, named public authorities across Scotland including the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, local authorities, the Scottish courts, the national health service and others will be required to produce and implement a records management plan to be approved by the keeper.

The improvements for record keeping enshrined in the bill will, I believe, address the problems identified in the Shaw report and provide a solid framework for improving records management in Scottish public authorities for many years to come.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Public Records (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

It might have taken all of four years, but with less than a week to go before dissolution I am pleased to conclude the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee’s work, and its final bill, on a consensual rather than acrimonious note. As members will acknowledge, there is no point in pretending that we have been the most united of committees, but I am genuinely pleased that we have been able to come together and reach broad agreement on the Public Records (Scotland) Bill and that our last debate will not be marked by our spitting unpleasantries at each other across the chamber. Given the imminent election, I suspect that my enjoyment of this moment is unlikely to last long but, in the same spirit of appreciation, I thank the minister and her team; the keeper of the records of Scotland, Mr George MacKenzie; and all those whose work and efforts have brought us to this point.

The purpose of the bill is to improve public record keeping in Scotland. It will place an obligation on certain public authorities to produce a records management plan, which will be approved by the keeper of the records of Scotland. The keeper will publish a model RMP as part of best practice advice to authorities, and the bill will give the keeper the power to carry out a review of the implementation of RMPs. It is hoped that the duties in the bill will not be particularly onerous or costly, but the keeper will be able to issue warning notices and publicise the names of any authorities that are found to be in breach of the provisions.

In our earlier discussions about the bill, genuine worries were expressed about the impact of the proposals, and perhaps there were concerns about where the discussions and dialogue were heading. The willingness of the Executive and the bill team to meet those concerns and engage with stakeholders has assuaged most, if not all, of those anxieties, and I thank them for that.

I thank the committee clerks and the drafting team. I do not think that the bill has been the most difficult to work on, but I occasionally worry about how difficult we have been as a committee—or how demanding I have been. [Interruption.] I hear Margaret Smith saying, “Hear, hear!” I formally note my gratitude for and appreciation of the patience and thoughtfulness that our clerks have shown.

My list of thanks is reaching Oscar proportions, although so far it has been given without the histrionics.

I pay tribute to the contributions of all the witnesses, including those from COSLA and the voluntary sector, particularly the children’s organisations. There is no doubting the alarm with which some in the public sector and the voluntary sector initially viewed the bill. They expressed the fear that additional burdens and unwanted bureaucracy might be added at a time when service levels are under threat. I am not sure that that anxiety has entirely gone away, but the amendments that were agreed to at stage 2 certainly addressed some of the outstanding issues. The bill’s tone and language have changed and it is now recognised that the approach to good record keeping needs partnership rather than diktat from above. The principle of proportionality or balance of risk has also been accepted and written into the bill, although, of course, as with all such measures, we will need to see how that works in practice. Most of us in the Parliament are aware of the hard work and thought that voluntary sector groups and organisations such as COSLA put into legislation, but it is worth putting on the record how much that effort matters and the difference that it makes to the legislative process.

Finally, I thank those whose work lay behind the bill originally, and whose evidence in support of the proposals was ultimately convincing.

The systemic review of historical abuse in residential schools and children’s homes in Scotland, which was led by Tom Shaw, revealed the extent and failings of public record keeping. There is no doubt that the suffering and damage to young lives that former residents experienced have been compounded by their inability to access accurate, factual information about their upbringing. As an experience, that is perhaps not on a par with the trauma that is suffered by survivors of child abuse, but the importance and impact of good record keeping have been captured many times by the “Who Do You Think You Are?” BBC series. Even a character as sure of himself and as confident of his own identity as Jeremy Paxman broke down when he was confronted with documented evidence that his Scottish great-grandmother lost her poor relief because she had an illegitimate child. I could be wrong, but I think that he was already feeling emotionally vulnerable because of the evidence that proved that he is half Scottish. The point that I am making—which our committee witnesses put rather better—is that good record keeping is not just a bureaucratic necessity; it can be invaluable to many individuals’ lives. It is a moral obligation, and it will be a legal obligation on our public authorities.

I recommend that members support the passage of the bill.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

To have taken part in this legislative process has been an interesting and enlightening experience, even if the passing of the Public Records (Scotland) Bill will not—I dare say—go down in history as the Parliament’s most high-profile moment. Notwithstanding that, it is important to ensure that we put in place better records management. It has also been extremely encouraging that there has been almost unanimous cross-party agreement on how best to preserve and enhance the precious fabric of the nation’s heritage.

Having good-quality, accessible public records and archives is an essential part of improving the welfare of society in general, if not democracy itself. It is fair to say that such records can make a life-changing difference to individuals and families. That point was forcibly made in some of our witness sessions—Ken Macintosh has just alluded to that.

Although the main driving force for the bill was the unsatisfactory circumstances that affected many of our most vulnerable people, especially those flagged up by the Shaw review, there are other reasons why it was important to do more to improve things, particularly in order to create greater efficiency, spread good practice and keep costs to a minimum. We all accepted that all organisations receiving public money have an obligation to ensure that records are properly kept and that they are accessible and transparent.

That said, the debate was really about how to strike the right balance between ensuring that there was greater efficiency, not imposing too much of a regulatory burden on different bodies, and including more organisations under the wider net of officialdom. The latter was—and, I think, remains—a slight concern of several voluntary sector groups and organisations, without which Scotland would be a much poorer place, especially when it comes to looking after vulnerable people.

There were genuine concerns about whether a new legislative framework would be not only unnecessary but burdensome and time consuming for staff who have many other things to do, particularly when budgets in the voluntary sector remain tight. We give credit to the Scottish Government for taking on board all those concerns and for arriving at the bill we have before us today. It is good that the Government has listened carefully.

There was concern about possible overimplementation of the legislation and about increasing workloads and so on. The Scottish Government deserves credit for having responded to those concerns and giving cast-iron assurances about the language in the bill and the need to ensure that the relationship between the keeper and the authorities will be fully consultative and agreed by both parties. I am grateful to the minister for that.

It goes without saying that everyone was sympathetic to the former residents of children’s homes and special schools, and their families, who were able to put on record their immense difficulty and sometimes harrowing experiences in accessing the records that they required. Those difficulties presented a strong case for change and for addressing many of the inconsistencies in records management throughout Scotland. We have successfully addressed those issues.

Like other members, I strongly recommend that all members endorse the bill this afternoon.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I add my thanks to those already expressed to the clerks to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee for their assistance during the passage of the bill. It is probably fitting that I add my thanks to them for their work over the course of the parliamentary session. Their assistance to me since I joined the committee in 2008 is much appreciated. My thanks also go to Karen Whitefield, who has convened the committee very ably. The bill may have been one of her easier tasks, given some of the tasks that she has had to endure this session. I am thinking particularly of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill, which was not the committee’s finest hour from the point of view of consensus. This might be, however. I thank the minister and her team for their willingness to engage and to address the concerns raised by children’s organisations and the voluntary sector about the bill.

The bill has come a long way since it was debated at stage 1. As we have heard, it is part of the legacy of the historical abuse systemic review undertaken by Tom Shaw. His report, which was published in 2007, made three sets of recommendations. The bill considers the third of those, relating to the procedures for the retention of records. We all welcomed the primary intention behind the bill, which was to improve the keeping of records generated by the work of public agencies, voluntary organisations and so on.

I thank all those who gave evidence to the committee and I echo Ken Macintosh’s point about the importance of the information and evidence that we get from people who lobby and engage with Parliament. I put on record my particular thanks to Tom Shaw for his work, not only on the review but in relation to the compelling evidence that he gave us about why the bill was necessary. In fact, if legislation had been in place, the heartache that people have suffered might well have been alleviated, although that is by no means the most important part of the consequences of abuse. We kept that at the forefront of our minds throughout our work on the bill, which allowed us to realise that what we were talking about could not simply be boxed up as, potentially, additional bureaucracy. This was about ensuring that we keep the right records for the right reasons and that we keep them properly, because those records matter in people’s lives, and in the life of our country, whether they are cultural or historical records or just records that help us to know who we are.

The minister has taken on board many of our concerns and many stakeholders’ concerns. A notable shift in the bill’s tone has taken place. As a result, the bill is not heavy handed but a good response to the problems that have been identified. The stage 2 amendments were helpful in taking forward the bill’s tone.

At stage 2, the concern that the keeper might impose a one-size-fits-all approach was at least alleviated. Such an approach is not the bill’s intention. The keeper will work closely with local authorities and others to ensure that the management system is applied in a way that takes account of their needs and respects their judgments about risk. We have probably got that right, and I thank the minister for her attitude in addressing that issue.

Concern about record keeping in relation to common good land was raised with us. Many of us across the parties have encountered that issue in a variety of ways over the years. We were told that the bill did not directly cover such records, but I hope that local authorities will address the issue, because a number of people across Scotland are concerned about it.

The case is clear for bodies in Scotland to have to keep better records and for the record-keeping process to be reviewed and continuously improved. We are happy and do not hesitate to support the bill as amended.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am delighted to join this morning’s love-in—sorry, debate. I am glad to see so much consensus. The bill shows what can happen when everyone works together towards a common aim.

As has been said, the bill’s stimulus was the Shaw report in 2007, which examined child abuse in residential and children’s homes from 1950 to 1995. Tom Shaw concluded that difficulties for former residents of such homes in tracing records for identity, family or medical reasons were due to poor record keeping in the public sector. To ensure that future generations are not affected in that way, new legislation is needed to encompass fully all public records. The bill is of course that new legislation.

Mr Shaw told the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee that the bill would end

“a range of weaknesses, gaps and inconsistencies”.

He also said that record keeping needed to be viewed as

“a proper way of recording the life experience and circumstances of an individual” rather than “a bureaucratic chore” or “a storage problem.”

Mr Shaw said that his historical abuse systemic review found that record keeping was unsatisfactory in more than half the public authorities that were surveyed. He told us how one of his researchers had visited several archives and stores where records were held and described what she found:

“it sounds Dickensian—dusty storerooms where cardboard boxes that appeared not to have been opened for a long time sat. Whenever people were asked what was in the boxes, the answer was in effect, ‘We don’t know—would you like to have a look?’ ... In that way, existing practice has failed ... My ... concern is that the longer it takes to” put right,

“the more records will be lost and the more people who never access what is held on them will pass through the system.”—[Official Report, Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, 19 January 2011; c 4543, 4546-7.]

In many cases, records are simply non-existent.

The issue is about identity, as other members have said. Many unfortunate Scots have slipped through the proverbial cracks because of inadequate record keeping for too long and have grown up without knowledge of their youth, family history or who they really are. Scotland has a moral obligation to manage the populace’s personal records successfully. Moreover, the bill’s primary aim is simply to improve public record keeping. The race to keep records has—unfortunately—lagged behind technological developments and population growth.

The bill covers the management of records once they exist. Decisions on how they should be created will be left to the keeper of the records of Scotland and the authorities. Organisations with largely successful record-keeping practices will not be affected and will be able to continue good practice, whereas those that have obviously poor record keeping will feel the greatest impact of the bill and will be required to make a positive change.

In relation to the allegations about Kerelaw school, the absence of effective record keeping was undoubtedly a key factor. No longer will files be lost or hard to locate because of neglectful minds and careless storage of important documents.

The bill is about better handling of records and not about creating new records. The bill is necessary to ensure consistency across public authorities, whose records management plans will be approved by the keeper.

Children who grow up in care have often been unable to find any record of their childhood—not even a photograph of them or their family. We owe to those who are in care and to future generations the assurance that records will now be properly kept.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am pleased to speak in the stage 3 debate on the Public Records (Scotland) Bill. Although there was strong support for the bill and the changes that it set out to achieve, concerns were raised in the stage 1 debate, particularly around the capacity of the third sector to fulfil the bill’s requirements and third sector organisations’ relationships as contractors with public authorities. I am pleased that we reached consensus and now have a better understanding of the issues than we had at stage 2. That is down to the constructive way in which the Government and members addressed the issues that were raised during stage 1.

The minister and members lodged a number of successful amendments at stage 2 that shifted the bill’s tone so that the relationship between the keeper of the records, public authorities and the third sector became one of agreement rather than instruction and direction. Although the changes do not alter the power of the keeper, who still has the final approval of any RMP, the bill emphasises agreement and focus on best practice, while allowing flexibility for all partners to achieve a working solution that best fits the service that they are focused on delivering.

At stage 2, we also addressed concerns about the relevance of stored information and requests, primarily from the third sector, for the bill to be clearer on the issue of risk. The committee received evidence that the bill could overburden some organisations, which felt that there was not sufficient distinction between relevant information and extraneous or incidental information. Although much of that will come down to judgment, the sector is looking for some direction, so the minister’s attempt to address the issue of risk is to be welcomed. The bill makes it clear that an authority’s RMP may make different provision for different kinds of public records and that, in doing so, it may take account of the different levels of risk in the management of different kinds of records. Although that will still come down to the authority’s own assessment of the level of risk, the bill should provide assurance for contractors that the issue has been recognised and that efforts will be made to keep information relevant and appropriate. Again, the partnership and agreement aspect of the bill is important in that respect, as in many cases the contractors will have a good understanding of the records that are relevant to their service and service users.

The minister acknowledged that there are concerns around the voluntary sector’s different contractual arrangements with different public bodies, which could lead to multiple contracts. The bill always proposed common records management plans, but the greater flexibility and responsiveness that were added at stage 2 will, I hope, respond to the voluntary sector’s concerns and provide local authorities with the powers that they require.

We will pass the bill today, but the next stage—guidance and practical implementation—will be crucial to the achievement of the outcomes that we all want to see. Issues such as the definition of a public record, what a model records management plan will look like and how risk is determined and balanced will continue to challenge all partners until they get it right and operate a records management system in which we can have confidence.

Although it is a short piece of legislation, the Public Records (Scotland) Bill is hugely significant. It delivers a framework for transparent, efficient and relevant record keeping and it is intended to ensure confidence in the keeping of information. It establishes a clear expectation of how public records should be managed, recognising their significance in personal situations as well as in public and historical contexts. Although the bill is in many ways a technical piece of legislation that is more about managing information and relationships between organisations, its true intention is to deliver a public records system in which people can have confidence and to ensure that we protect the rights of individuals to access information that is hugely significant to their lives.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I now move to the winding-up speeches.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

This will perhaps be an easier task than is often the case with winding-up speeches. Many members who are not in the chamber have missed a trick in relation to the bill. All too often, bills that are allegedly big pieces of legislation get all the headlines, but the small, significant ones slip in below the radar. From my personal perspective, that seems to be the case in relation to the Public Records (Scotland) Bill, because an accurate reflection of how we keep records lies at the heart of, and is key to, many of the things that we do in our own days, whether that involves legislation on additional support for learning or any other area. Record keeping is fundamental to the process.

We know that the bill’s genesis lies in the Shaw report. There is great diversity across local authorities, public bodies and the voluntary sector in how and why they keep records.

Some of the concerns that were raised in that regard have been mitigated by the minister’s amendments. Based on communications that I have received, I guess that the voluntary sector feels a bit easier about how everything will work. However, as Margaret Smith highlighted, questions remain about the keeping of common good records. That is particularly important as we move into times of economic stress, when we need to know what local authorities are doing with common good land and moneys.

Ken Macintosh referred to Jeremy Paxman’s participation in “Who Do You Think You Are?” The keeping of accurate records is a long-term role. I well remember from work in my previous life how one organisation found itself being increasingly visited by people from Canada whose grandparents or great-grandparents had died. In the course of dealing with their effects and so on, they had come across some reference to the fact that their great-grandparents or grandparents had been looked after and provided for by that charitable organisation. It was the quality of some of the records—not all of them, it must be said—that had been kept by the organisation that allowed those people, two generations away, to identify their family roots.

Ken Macintosh referred to “Who Do You Think You Are?” In a similar context, I occasionally have cause to watch an interesting programme called “Heir Hunters”, always in the forlorn hope that I have inherited some money from some long-distant relative—it has not happened yet.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

It is cheaper than buying a lottery ticket.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Thank you, Mr Gibson.

It is apparent from such programmes that there are inconsistencies in how local authorities and other public bodies keep records. The Public Records (Scotland) Bill, which is small but perfectly formed—we hope—and significant, will add to our success in presenting a public record of Scotland and its people. At the heart of many of the documents that we are discussing are the people of Scotland. It is their history, and their present, that we should be interested in.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

If I have unwittingly hit the record for the Opposition member who got the Government to accept the largest number of amendments to the Public Records (Scotland) Bill, I will also try to set the record for the shortest winding-up speech.

I simply wish to thank all those who provided us with what was very moving and accurate evidence; the lobby groups, which gave us a lot of interesting information; all the clerks; my colleagues on the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee—I know that we do not always agree on things; and the Scottish Government, for its engagement on the bill.

I definitely encourage all my colleagues to support the bill at decision time.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

All credit to Elizabeth Smith for breaking all those records—and for getting me to my feet earlier than I had imagined.

The Public Records (Scotland) Bill is a technical but essential bill, as members have already said. It is the third important and technical bill that we are considering today—and we have not even reached lunch time yet. On one of our final days of the session, we have already had a productive meeting of the Parliament.

As we have discovered in the course of scrutinising the bill, record keeping is an important public duty. In particular, the reasons why we are here today lie in the Shaw historical abuse systemic review, which highlights poor record keeping.

Kenny Gibson, referring to child abuse cases, highlighted very well the reason why it is essential to have good public record keeping. In evidence to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, the keeper of the records of Scotland highlighted some examples of the storage of information in e-mail form only, a practice that perhaps needed to be looked at by the authorities that had adopted it. Authorities certainly have to think more about how they store their records, and for what purposes.

There was discussion about whether there should be a voluntary scheme. We have rightly agreed that there should be a statutory framework, because of the implications of failing to keep proper records.

Ken Macintosh entertained us when he talked about the programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” When I learn a bit more about my family history, through informal record keeping, I often think that I am fortunate to have some understanding of my past, because people bothered to keep records. Where would we be without some understanding of our past, our family histories and what our families went through? Record keeping is significant, as Claire Baker said.

Part 2 of the bill deals with Scottish court records. It is right that the High Court of Justiciary and the Court of Session will be required to consult the keeper before making an act of sederunt.

The keeper’s role is an essential part of the bill, because someone will need to work with local authorities on the best ways to operate within a flexible framework. The requirement to produce and implement a records management plan is essential in that regard. In evidence, the committee heard about a range of ways in which information should be stored. As Claire Baker said, it is important that thought is given to how information is held.

The principle is that good record keeping underpins lawful access to information and provides a good service to the public. The bill is intended to provide a light-touch approach. It is for Parliament in a future session to monitor compliance with the new legislation, to ensure that it remains light touch, and to monitor the costs of the new arrangements, to ensure that we have got them right.

I congratulate the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee on its work and the Government on introducing a good bill. I agree with Margaret Smith—I have had many letters on this—that the Parliament should consider record keeping in relation to common good land and assets, for reasons that are obvious to members.

I welcome the bill and the work that has been done on it, and I support it.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I thank members for an informed, interesting and constructive debate. The debate demonstrates the extent to which members agree on the importance of and good intentions behind the bill, and the process has demonstrated how we can work collectively to ensure that we produce good legislation. I hope that future committees of the Parliament will reflect on practice in relation to this bill’s progress, in particular.

I am struck, as I was at stage 1, by members’ recognition of the importance of the bill, particularly in safeguarding the interests of vulnerable people. Although the bill cannot put right what has gone wrong in the past, it can help us to avoid the same problems in future, as Elizabeth Smith said. We owe it to former residents of care homes and survivors of abuse, and indeed to all future generations in this country, to make the necessary improvements to the way in which public authorities deal with records, to safeguard people’s rights and identities as individuals—Pauline McNeill made that important point—and to secure our collective memory.

It is my sincere hope that, in future, people who have been in care will never again experience the grief and frustration of discovering that records about their earlier lives are incomplete, inaccurate or simply not there. Kenny Gibson provided a poignant reminder of the human aspect of record keeping.

Given tight Parliament and committee timetables, I had to prioritise legislation. Although I wanted—and still want—to legislate to improve provision on the National Library of Scotland, for example, the human and moral dimension of the issue meant that the Public Records (Scotland) Bill had to take priority.

It is important to recognise that public records, as part of our collective memory, form the basis for individual rights and obligations. The bill will strengthen transparency and accountability of public authorities and it will help to secure the records of vulnerable people. It aims to create a common and consistent standard of record keeping, which will protect the rights of all members of the public by ensuring that records and information about them are managed properly.

The opportunity for members of all parties in the Parliament to acknowledge the importance of record keeping has been a plus in the bill process. As Hugh O’Donnell said, record keeping is perhaps not the most high-profile issue, but without records much cannot be done, or done properly.

I agree with some of the concerns about common good asset registers, which local authorities should keep. The bill creates a framework for good and effective record keeping. However, there is an issue about how we help local authorities to ensure that they include public records of their common good assets in their records management plans. Members from all parties raised that issue, but we need further legislation to make it happen. We are creating an agenda for the next parliamentary session in that regard.

I thank members of the Parliament and all the members of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee for their constructive comments and invaluable support during the bill’s passage. Moreover, I extend my thanks to other organisations—particularly COSLA and, in the voluntary sector, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Barnardo’s Scotland, Aberlour Child Care Trust, Children 1st and Action for Children—for their input. They all made constructive contributions, and I look forward to including them in continued dialogue.

Dialogue with stakeholders throughout the process resulted in consensus on a number of important issues. The keeper’s powers to agree and return an authority’s records management plan, and the impact on contractors’ records, remained issues of concern throughout the process. I will clarify one matter. The keeper must issue guidance and a model records management plan to authorities. The guidance and the model plan must cover contractors’ records where those contractors perform a function of the authority. How contractors’ records are managed is likely to be closely based on the contractual terms that the authority and the contractor agree.

Therefore, the bill strikes a delicate balance. Although the guidance and the model plan will cover contractors’ records, I do not consider it appropriate for the keeper to go further and seek to dictate how authorities and contractors regulate their relationships. The bill places the onus on authorities to manage their records. It does not impose duties on contractors; nor does it interfere, or give the keeper power to interfere, in the existing relationships between authorities and contractors. The terms under which a contractor may carry out functions on behalf of an authority are for those two parties to agree separately. I consider that the bill fulfils the Government’s stated intention that the legislation should be light touch.

It was clear from responses to the original consultation and discussions with stakeholders that the dissemination of guidance by the keeper will be crucial to the successful implementation of the bill. Claire Baker made that point. Any guidance that is issued will be developed in partnership with stakeholders.

To that end, a new stakeholder forum has been set up in which those issues are being discussed and addressed. The keeper views that forum as integral to the process of formulating and agreeing guidance and the model plan. He and his colleagues have been immensely impressed by the contributions that the voluntary sector and authorities have already made and they look forward to working further with them.

I thank the keeper of the records of Scotland and my bill team in the National Archives of Scotland for their hard work throughout the legislative process. The bill team demonstrated responsiveness and engagement. Not only has that resulted in a better bill, but it will improve the bill’s implementation.

As I noted in my opening speech, the bill addresses problems with the management of public records and key findings of Tom Shaw’s important report. It will make improvements in existing record keeping and ensure that, where important records are created, there are proper mechanisms and structures in place for accountability for them and for their future preservation. I am confident that the new legislation will provide a framework that will allow sufficient flexibility so that the needs of individual sectors can be addressed well into the future.

In voting for the bill, we reaffirm our commitment to the appropriate care, management and future preservation of our unique public records and recognise their importance to organisations, individuals and the wider Scottish community.

This might be an opportune moment to remind members that Scotland is known not only nationally but internationally for its ability to keep records well. In the previous debate, which was on the Certification of Death (Scotland) Bill, the importance of record keeping was mentioned. The historical record keeping of medical information in particular is one of the reasons why we are at a competitive advantage in life sciences and other developing industries.

Record keeping reaches beyond the bureaucratic—it can have other impacts. It is important for this generation and future generations of Scots. The bill’s approach is attracting attention from other jurisdictions around the world. I ask that members support the motion to pass the Public Records (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Before we move on to the next item of business, I remind all members in the chamber and those who are watching and listening in their offices that the extraordinary general meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will be held at 12.45 pm in committee room 1, where Annie Lennox will report back on her visit to Malawi as a special envoy to the CPA Scotland branch. It would be helpful if as many members as possible could attend.