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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

I, too, congratulate Margaret Mitchell on the bill. I thank the minister, the Justice Committee and all those who gave evidence for getting us to where we are today.

A couple of months ago, I was not convinced that we would end up with the bill that we have ended up with. When the driven passion of Margaret Mitchell met the caution of the minister, I had a fear—albeit a minor one—that we could end up with a bill that was utterly toothless and not worth the name, or with a situation in which both parties walked away and, after all that work, we ended up with literally nothing.

However, the actions of the member promoting the bill and the Scottish Government have to be praised in the highest order. They have met regularly, talked through issues and carefully explained the positions that they have taken and why they have taken them. Both sides have been pretty consensual in trying to ensure that we end up with something that the Parliament can be genuinely proud of.

We had a useful debate at stage 1 and helpful amendments at stage 2. That consensual approach typified the approach all the way through the debate and the stages of the bill, to the extent that at stage 3 we ended up with a mere two amendments, neither of which prompted any genuine debate or was opposed. I suspect and hope that that will be the case when we decide on the bill as a whole at decision time.

I noted the minister’s approach. He listened carefully. He lodged an amendment at stage 2 that in my view might have diluted the clarity slightly, but he listened to arguments from a number of committee members and decided not to move that amendment. That typified the approach of all parties towards the bill.

The bill that we have ended up with is not hugely different from the bill at stage 2, but it is different from at stage 1. First, we have some more exceptions to it. Inquiries under the Inquiries Act 2005 have been excluded, as have children’s hearings and apologies under the duty of candour. There are good and sensible reasons behind each of those exclusions, particularly the last one, as it was obvious that the duty could not have coexisted with the bill. The interaction had to be considered carefully, and we had to be absolutely clear that there were no unintended consequences. We are probably comfortably at that stage now.

I note that, in its short report to members in advance of the debate, the Law Society accepts the general principles of the bill and does not raise any additional issues. That is pleasing. We have struck the balance between promoting apologies and minimising unintended consequences.

We have already heard about the other major changes. There was a slight narrowing of the definition of apology. Margaret Mitchell initially wanted it to be as wide as was feasible, but she listened carefully and we have rightly removed statements of fact and admissions of fault from the definition.

The Justice Committee considered the matter over a period of months and stated clearly in its report that the definition of apologies must be reconsidered. The member in charge of the bill made it clear as early as stage 1 that she was perfectly prepared to do that. Had we stuck with the original definition, we would probably have ended up going much further than comparable apologies legislation, so we have probably ended up at the right place. We did not want to disadvantage or prejudice any potential pursuers.

Today will mark the end of the legislative process, but what happens after that is even more important. It is all well and good to pass legislation, but if that legislation does not achieve the cultural change that we all want, its value is greatly diminished.

As a number of members mentioned, we will have to ensure that the right training is provided so that people who are at the front line can do their jobs correctly. We need to publish the right amount of guidance so that we make it easy for people who are at the front line to be aware of the legislation and know how they ought to act. If we do that, when we look back in a couple of years, we will all say that we passed the right legislation, it made a difference and we achieved what we wanted to achieve right at the beginning.