Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Final Stage

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16708, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on the final stage of the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

Before the debate begins, the Presiding Officer is required under the standing orders to decide whether, in his view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter—whether any provision will modify the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In this case, the Presiding Officer’s view is that no provision of the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority for it to be passed at the final stage.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

I am pleased to open the final stage debate on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

I again thank my committee colleagues: the redoubtable Stewart Stevenson, as deputy convener, Ruth Maguire and Maurice Corry for their contributions to the work of the committee. I also thank the clerks for their tremendous work in guiding us through the process.

The bill was introduced on 25 June 2018 and is being promoted by the patrons of the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow.

If the Parliament passes the bill today, it will enable the promoter to transfer the property, rights, interests and liabilities of the royal incorporation to a successor Scottish charitable incorporated organisation—SCIO. It will also dissolve the incorporation and repeal the Hutchesons’ Hospital Act 1872.

As members will recall from the preliminary stage debate, in February, the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow is a charity and is the legacy of George and Thomas Hutcheson. It started with a bequest that was made in the will of George Hutcheson in 1639, and the establishment of the Hutchesons’ hospital charity. The charity became the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow under a royal charter in 1821. In 1872, it was incorporated in its current form by the Hutchesons’ Hospital Act 1872, and it continues to be regulated under that act.

With this bill, the promoter aims to allow more modern governance of the incorporation’s assets and enable the charity to function more efficiently and effectively.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I understand that, in her role as convener of the committee, Kezia Dugdale cannot comment directly on this, but I am keen to have it noted for the record that, although this is a private bill that focuses on technical issues and will, no doubt, be supported at decision time, it is nonetheless important to recognise that private schools ingrain privilege and should not themselves be classed as charitable institutions.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

I am grateful to the member for that intervention. In this debate, I speak as the committee convener on the specifics of the bill, but she will know that I share her concerns regarding the tax liabilities of private schools. That is an issue on which I have personally campaigned for a long time. The bill regulates the bursaries that the charity has—or certainly had in the past—that allow certain young people to attend private schools, so there is a relevance in that regard.

The committee undertook a thorough examination of the bill at the preliminary stage, including taking evidence from the promoter on 7 November last year. In addition to evidence from the promoter, we received written submissions from two experts in the field—an academic and a Queen’s counsel—and our thanks go to them for their contribution to the committee’s work.

We considered the purpose of the bill and the arguments that were presented in favour of enabling an updated governance structure and more modern financial management of the charity. We also considered the potential impact of the changes on the nature of the charity, its work and its beneficiaries and whether a private bill was necessary to achieve the charity’s aims.

Our preliminary stage report, which was published on 20 December, covers our work in some detail. In our discussions and deliberations, perhaps the most considered point was whether a private bill was necessary at all and whether the promoter had alternative options to achieve the charity’s aims.

In the bill’s accompanying documents and in evidence to the committee, the promoter explained the alternatives to promoting a private bill that it had considered. Its process uncovered an apparent lack of clarity in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 related to chapter 5 of part 1, which sets out provisions on charity reorganisation. The issue was whether the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow meets the criteria that would enable it to make use of those provisions. It has been suggested that the reorganisation provisions present difficulties of interpretation. Indeed, the promoter concluded that it did not wish to risk the potentially serious consequences of any legal challenge and chose the private bill route instead. As a result, the committee suggested that it could be a valuable exercise for the Scottish Government to review the provisions, to provide greater clarity on them.

In fact, the Scottish Government consulted on Scottish charity law in January this year—a process that would have been under way before publication of our report. However, we hope that our work on the bill provided some timely reflections for the Government.

I imagine that a considerable number of charities that are still operating on the basis of royal charters or enactments might find themselves in a similar situation. In cases in which it could prove possible to avoid the time and expense of promoting a private bill, I suspect that an alternative route must be preferable.

The committee was satisfied that the promoter had considered alternatives and was content with its conclusion that a private bill was the most appropriate and best available method of achieving its aims.

My committee colleagues will touch on other aspects of our work on the bill. I will conclude by stating that the committee recommends that the Scottish Parliament agrees that the bill be passed.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Being a member of this private bill committee has given me an insight into an important but lesser-known aspect of parliamentary work.

The bill was previously debated at preliminary stage in the chamber on 20 February, and the Parliament agreed with the committee’s recommendation that the general principles be agreed to and that the bill should proceed as a private bill. In the private bill process, the preliminary stage is followed by the consideration stage, when committee members are able to lodge amendments. It is also possible for the promoter of the bill to suggest amendments to committee members.

When there have been objections, the committee takes evidence from the objectors and the promoter at the consideration stage. In our case, there were no objections to the bill and nothing arose during the preliminary stage scrutiny of it that led us to conclude that any amendments were necessary.

The consideration stage was completed at our meeting on 6 March, when we agreed to each section of the bill and the long title. When the consideration stage of a private bill is completed, it is then open to any member of the Scottish Parliament to lodge amendments. The deadline for amendments in this case was 29 March. None were received, so today we are proceeding with the final stage debate, with the committee recommendation that the Parliament agree to the bill as it stands.

Membership of the committee also gave me an opportunity to learn about the history of the Hutchesons’ Hospital charity, how it has developed over the years and the work that it does today. George Hutcheson of Lambhill established the charity when he left land and funding in his will to build a hospital. The charity focused initially on men who had been merchants, craftsmen or tradesmen and who had fallen on hard times. George Hutcheson also provided funds for clothes and food for those lodging in the hospital.

Further bequests were made over the years, and the categories of people who were eligible to receive assistance were expanded. For example, from 1781, poor women who were wives or daughters of burgesses of Glasgow became eligible to receive support from the charity’s funds, regardless of whether they were widowed. Burgesses were inhabitants of the city who owned land, paid taxes and were able to trade or practise a craft.

Thomas Hutcheson, George’s brother, also made bequests to the charity. He provided funding to educate boys who were orphans of burgesses of Glasgow. He also established the school that became Hutchesons’ grammar school.

The original hospital building, which was completed in 1650 at the Trongate in Glasgow, was demolished in 1795 and the land was sold to make way for Hutchesons’ Street. The new hospital building was constructed on Ingram Street and was finished in 1805. Although it now serves a different purpose, it can still be found on Ingram Street. George and Thomas can also be found there. The sculptures of the brothers from the original 17th century hospital were preserved and incorporated into the façade of the new building. I understand that they are believed to be the oldest portrait sculptures in the city. The legacy of the Hutcheson brothers clearly lives on in the city and in the work of the charity today.

The bill, which is promoted by the patrons of the charity, aims to make the charity fit to function effectively into the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Maurice Corry to speak. You were quick to get to your feet, Mr Corry—that shows enthusiasm.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

I thank the clerks for all their work during the bill process, which has been most interesting. They have put in a tremendous amount of effort.

As we have heard, it is the 1872 act, which the bill will repeal, that still governs the functioning of the charity today. The 1872 act is a fascinating document the preamble to which requires a fair grasp of old Scots to fully comprehend. Preambles used to be commonplace in acts of Parliament. They typically provide a preliminary piece of narrative explaining the background to an act and usually take the form of one single extended sentence, with each clause beginning with “Whereas”. They remain normal practice for Westminster private acts but are no longer used in public and general acts. Preambles are not permitted in Scottish Parliament bills or acts, private or public. The preamble to the 1872 act is remarkable for its length: running to 15 pages, it is nearly double the length of the act itself.

The bill that we are considering today, which is promoted by the patrons of the charity, will transfer the property, rights, interests and liabilities of the royal incorporation to a new Scottish charitable incorporated organisation. It will also repeal the 1872 act and dissolve the incorporation.

One example of the modernisation that the patrons hope to achieve with the new structure relates to the governance of the charity. The 1872 act sets out in full who the patrons of the hospital are—including the Lord Provost, all the magistrates of the City of Glasgow and all the councillors of the City of Glasgow. Currently, there are 95 patrons in total, many of whom hold ex officio positions, meaning that they are patrons due to the post or office that they hold. Some of those posts are held for only one year at a time. As a result, many of the patrons are not there through choice, and some remain in the role for only one year.

In evidence, we heard that the charity has a group of committed patrons. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the 95 that I have mentioned are not actively involved. Nevertheless, each must be properly contacted and consulted. Mr Donald Reid of Mitchells Roberton—the solicitors firm that is supporting the charity as “chamberlains” to Hutchesons’ Hospital—explained:

“The time and effort required simply to manage the extensive paperwork generated by the sheer number of people mean that the cost—which is a management cost rather than a direct cost that you can put your finger on—has in recent years become something that we need to look at.”—[

Official Report, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill Committee

, 7 November 2018; c 7.]

The work that is involved was further illustrated when the committee heard evidence about how the promoter had consulted before introducing the bill. The 1872 act stipulates a list of ministers of parishes in Glasgow as patrons. Mr Reid explained that he had been in contact with the Glasgow presbytery

“in order to ensure that I was up to date with all the various amalgamations of churches that have taken place over the past 150 years within the Glasgow presbytery area, and that I was addressing as a patron the correct minister—who, in most cases, is now the minister of several amalgamated parishes, as distinct from the way that it was before.”—[

Official Report, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill Committee,

7 November 2018; c 14.]

Mr Reid valiantly admitted that the planned changes would also mean lower fees to him in his role, as a result of the more streamlined structure and governance.

The committee’s view was that the charity will benefit from a more direct and transparent link to a group of committed trustees who are in the role through choice. That will help to streamline activities and, ultimately, improve management and oversight. The bill that is being promoted by the patrons of the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow, which the Parliament is being asked to pass today, should facilitate that change.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Stewart Stevenson to close for the committee.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

As we have heard, George Hutcheson’s deed of mortification of 1639 is the genesis of what we are engaging with today. The charity’s history is long and interesting. In her intervention, Elaine Smith was right to point out the educational aspect, but it is worth saying that nothing that we will do today appears to change the status of anything in that regard.

T he charity provides grants, which it describes as pensions, to 20 to 30 people, so its size is comparatively modest. That means that having a complex and long parliamentary act for its oversight is no longer consistent with how we wish to do things. The promoter explained to the committee that the charity employs a part-time social worker, who visits the grantees.

The committee looked carefully at what was proposed. In particular, we looked at any impacts on those who receive support, and we accepted the promoter’s assurance that no one who currently receives benefits will lose out as a result of the proposed changes.

The promoter’s memorandum says:

“The charitable purposes of the SCIO”— the new form that the charity will take—

“seek to respect the spirit and underlying intention of the Incorporation’s purposes, but in a manner that more satisfactorily and effectively allows the charitable funds held by the Incorporation to be applied in the 21st century.”

The SCIO that will take over has been established and is waiting to take responsibility. That is a modern form of organisation for charities that was provided for by the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 and is regulated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. The structure will be more effective and will remove the need for parliamentary scrutiny of the charity’s activities.

In our evidence session, the committee heard that the charity will have greater flexibility in how it carries out its purposes—for example, in how it invests. As a SCIO, the charity will be able to invest in anything that furthers its purposes, provided that the trustees believe that that is right for the charity.

The committee thought that the proposed approach would make the whole operation much more future proof. Other members have referred to the complexity of multiple deeds of mortification and similar deeds, almost all of which are in old Scots—perhaps we should relearn the old Scots. The documents include a deed of ratification by Janet, Bessie and Helen Hutcheson; deeds of mortification by James Blair in 1713 and Daniel Baxter in 1776; and settlements by William Scott in 1818 and Mary Hood in 1817. There is a complex picture and history behind the charity.

Mr Donald Reid, whose firm has acted as chamberlains to the charity for some 200 years, explained that he had gone through all the tin boxes that they have and found nothing further that is relevant. It is worth saying that this opportunity that a lawyer has presented to the Parliament is unusual—at his request, we are going to reduce that lawyer’s income. I therefore commend the bill as something that the Parliament should absolutely support. In the event that something arises that is not in the tin boxes, the SCIO will be the body that will deal with it.

Like others, I thank my colleagues on the committee and, in particular, the non-Government bills unit, which has, as promised, smoothed the path and made it straightforward for the committee to deal with the bill. I hope that the vote at 5 o’clock reflects the Parliament’s belief that that is the case.