Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25th May 2017.
T he regulations will do two things in relation to the Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016. They will make a small amendment to the existing exception for inquiries and add an exception for the proceedings of 10 professional regulators. Those are the regulator of the social service workforce and the regulator of teachers in Scotland, as well as eight health professional regulators.
As I explained in the Justice Committee evidence session, it is clear that the
Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016 could have negative unintended consequences for those regulators’ fitness-to-practise proceedings. In particular, it would impact on their ability to establish facts and make risk assessments and, ultimately, on their ability to protect the public. The exception is about professional regulation; it will not in any way prevent institutions such as schools or local authorities from offering apologies.
That key point has been recognised by the Scottish Human Rights Commission in its letter to the Justice Committee, which has already been referred to. I will write to it to set out these points in detail.
The need for the exception was raised by the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council as early as stage 1 of the
Apologies (Scotland) Bill, and the Justice Committee recognised their concerns in its stage 1 report. Continued work revealed that those concerns extended beyond the health regulators. The Scottish Social Services Council and the General Teaching Council for Scotland have made it clear that they share concerns about the impact of the act on their proceedings.
The exception is about the need to protect the coherence of the regulatory processes in order that the organisations can fulfil their mission. The regulators are concerned that, if their professional regulatory proceedings were not excepted, that would impinge on their ability to police their profession and ensure that the public are protected.
The proceedings exist to ensure that we all have confidence in those professions. The point is that, in those fitness-to-practise proceedings, an apology can say something important about the suitability of the person who is practising a profession. We know that there are other professions in which an apology is less important and in which apologies do not feature among the evidence that is considered.
As I undertook in the Justice Committee evidence session to ensure happened, my officials have written to other regulators whose proceedings are not included in the exception to explore how they are taking account of the
Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016. I have also written to the group of survivors of childhood abuse that raised concerns with the committee about the regulations. I explained to it that excepting those regulators’ fitness-to-practise proceedings from the scope of the Apologies (Scotland) Act 2016 will in no way cut across the ability of institutions such as schools and local authorities to make apologies to survivors of childhood abuse.
I am pleased that, in its response, that group said that it found the letter very helpful in explaining the matter and the reasoning behind the Scottish Government’s approach.
I am grateful to the Justice Committee for its thorough scrutiny of the regulations and for the cross-party agreement to recommend to the Parliament that the regulations be approved.