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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 Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I thank all members for their speeches, as I am sure that Margaret Mitchell will do, and for their interest in promoting a culture change in relation to apologies. It is clear that the bill touches on an issue that is close to many people’s hearts.

Like Graeme Pearson and other members, I think that we have all met individuals who started a journey wanting nothing more than an apology and recognition that they were right to be concerned about what had happened to them, so that they could move on, only for the issue to snowball and become something more significant.

I am grateful for the widespread support that Margaret Mitchell has had for the bill. That broad support has made the process easier for the Government as well as for her. I was struck, as I was at stage 1, by her description of the bill’s importance and its origins—securing her aim today will be particularly poignant for her. I thank members for their engagement on the bill and with my team throughout the parliamentary process.

I thank Gavin Brown for his kind remarks. He pointed out, very appropriately, that the process has been a testament to the Parliament’s procedures. We had a constructive debate at stage 1, all parties worked constructively at stage 2, and at stage 3 I think that we have secured a bill that meets the concerns that Margaret Mitchell set out at the start of the process and allays any concerns about it on the part of the Government and members of other parties.

I thank Christine Grahame, the convener of the Justice Committee, and all the committee members for their detailed and careful consideration, which helped to shape the bill. I also thank individuals and organisations who engaged with the bill process.

On Elaine Murray’s point about the difference between a transitional and a transitory provision, I thank her for not making an issue of the matter during our consideration of amendments. I understand that a transitory provision is similar in nature to a transitional provision but might cover the gap between new legislation coming into force and old provisions being dropped by the Parliament, and that a fixed date is usually associated with such a provision. However, I will be happy to get chapter and verse on that to Elaine Murray in due course.

I was struck by what Gil Paterson said about how in the past it was a matter of good manners to apologise. As Gavin Brown said, it is to be regretted that society has changed to such a degree. I hope that Margaret Mitchell’s bill will move us a little way towards the return of good manners and the making of apologies where they are warranted.

Margaret McDougall helpfully set out, for her interest and for the benefit of members, how concerns were addressed at stage 2. It is helpful when parliamentarians explain our procedures to the public, and she eloquently described how her concerns about the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and other areas were addressed during the passage of the bill, which again demonstrates the merits of the process.

Rod Campbell referred to the insurance industry. The bill makes provision for the effect of an apology in certain legal proceedings but does not change the law in relation to the insurance industry, which is reserved. There is no requirement for an individual to make an apology. However, by voting for the bill the Parliament will send an important message about the value of apologies and the need to encourage a culture in which apologies are more freely offered, and I hope that the insurance industry will take note of that message. Nonetheless, in future, individuals might also wish to consider the terms of their insurance contracts in that regard. It is important to make that point.

A number of members referred in the debate to survivors of historical child abuse who took time to consider the bill and share their thoughts on it. I reiterate my thanks to the people who engaged with me personally and to those who engaged with other members. Alison McInnes referred to them. It would have been wrong of us not to acknowledge today the origins of the bill and the particular group that may be impacted positively by it.

On the points that Alison McInnes and others made about education, training and guidance, I fully accept that we need to try to support as best we can the process to educate those in the public services in particular, but also wider society, on the benefits of the legislation and the advantages that there may be to them. Many individuals who work in the public sector have said to me that they have wished that they could give an apology but they were fearful of litigation. This is not to excuse that, but I think that we can all understand the pressures on them. I hope that, as Graeme Pearson suggested, the bill will lead to a significant step forward in that respect.

I thank the non-Government bills unit in the Scottish Parliament, which has worked closely with Margaret Mitchell as well as with Scottish Government officials throughout the process and supported our constructive discussions. As I outlined, my main concern about the bill’s original wording was that there was potential for the unintended consequence of restricting access to justice for pursuers who want to make a fair claim. Based on discussions that we had involving the non-Government bills unit and Margaret Mitchell and on further engagement with stakeholders—not least Professor Alan Miller—we concluded that it was possible to find a suitable compromise that would keep the essence of the bill but minimise the unintended consequences. I believe that we have achieved that today and I hope that the bill will be agreed to at decision time.

I reiterate my thanks to Margaret Mitchell for proposing the bill. I am grateful to her for the work that she has done and for working with the Government. As I said, I hope that the outcome of the bill process will send an important message about the value of apologies that has the potential to change attitudes in Scotland. I am pleased that we have reached this point today and can support the bill.