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Apologies (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

It has been a short but useful debate, in which we have had references to everything from Charles I to something that still amuses me slightly: Margaret Mitchell saying, back in 2012, “This should be pretty straightforward.”

The passage of the bill is an example of how legislation ought to work. The original bill is drafted pretty well, and the broad principles are in the right ball park. Over the course of committee discussions and debates, the risks are removed one by one and sections are strengthened, so that at stage 3 we end up with a good bill with which it is difficult to disagree.

Apart from members’ business debates, this is one of the first debates that I have taken part in—in many years in this Parliament—in which there has not been an intervention on any of the speakers.

There have been some useful contributions to the debate. I was interested to hear that Alison McInnes has personally contacted groups and individuals representing survivors of historical abuse, and it was comforting to hear that they are strongly in favour of the bill. That ties in exactly with comments that Margaret Mitchell made to me over the past couple of weeks. Given the genesis of bill and where it came from, it is absolutely vital that those groups are still 100 per cent behind it. I am very comforted to hear that that is the case.

I enjoyed Gil Paterson’s contribution, as I always do. He said that back, in the day, apologies, for whatever reason, tended to happen much more regularly than they do today. Like many of us, he hopes that the bill will be a vital first step in ensuring that we go back to where we were.

A number of members have touched on—and no doubt the Government, in closing, will touch on—the fact that this is just the first step. As we know, training will be required to ensure that those on the front line are able to get things right. In particular, they will need to be given careful training on exactly what is included in and excluded from the scope of the bill, given that there are a number of exceptions. Those people must be absolutely crystal clear about what they are able to do and not do. We have heard that guidance will be required, and I am sure that the Government will want to involve Margaret Mitchell and those on the Justice Committee in ensuring that the guidance is as good as it can be, so that it has the impact that we all want it to have.

Ultimately, the legislative change will be of great value only if it leads to cultural change. That is what we all want to see. We want to end the perception that we cannot say sorry and that somehow that is a sign of weakness, and we want to calm the fears of litigation. Roderick Campbell was right: we are not as prolific in terms of litigation as some jurisdictions, but from listening to the evidence there can be no doubt that some witnesses have a genuine fear of it, and many people give that genuine reason for not giving an apology.

We do not know for sure exactly what impact the bill will have, but I was particularly taken by the part of the committee report that said that, although legislation is not a magic formula, it has “a role to play” even if it does not have a dramatic effect. As long as it has some form of effect, it has a role to play. Given the guidance and training that we all want to see and which we will push for, I am hopeful that it can have more than a minor effect.

Alison McInnes put it well. Although she said that she was not sure what effect the bill will have, she described it as a vital first step. She is absolutely right: this is a vital first step that we all hope will have the impact that we desire. What we can say for certain is that, if we did not take this vital first step, we could almost guarantee that we would not see the cultural change that we all want to see. The bill is the first step; I am very hopeful that it will have the impact that we want to see; and I look forward to voting in favour of it at decision time.