Disclosure (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I put on record the fact that I hold a current PVG certificate.

The Disclosure (Scotland) Bill was introduced in Parliament on 12 June 2019, and it is clear that its general principles are warmly welcomed. I have heard of no concerns among stakeholders that the bill should not be happening. Indeed, it is a very bold move by the Scottish Government to try to improve and work through the complexities of the system, with all the sensitivities that go with it. Generally speaking, it is a good move. That said, the more that we look into the matter, the more complexities appear. I am not yet convinced that we have a way through some of the considerable problems, which I will come to in a minute.

The general approach of simplicity is warmly welcomed. The move away from the four different classifications that we currently have has been warmly welcomed by all the stakeholders, and the Scottish Government is right to try to address that problem. We also warmly welcome the progress towards a more digital system, which, in theory, will be more like the non-paper-based environment that we all live in today.

The minister mentioned that there is a need to recognise adolescence as a particular phase in someone’s life. I am sure that we would all agree with that. It is both important and appropriate that common sense can be applied to judgments should someone have fallen foul of the law in the past, whether they went through the justice system or the children’s hearings system.

I will address some of the fundamental problems of the bill as it stands, which I see not as party-political issues but as practical discrepancies that have been raised consistently by stakeholders—the Law Society of Scotland, Children in Scotland and Recruit with Conviction, to name but a few—throughout the past several months of evidence.

If we allow the bill to proceed beyond stage 1, as I believe we should, it is the Scottish Conservatives’ recommendation that some fundamental changes be made to avoid further complicating an already complicated landscape on what is often a sensitive issue. The committee’s report captures those concerns, and we welcome the general thrust of the comments that Clare Adamson just made.

Although a central theme of the bill is simplicity, the Scottish Government must state clearly how the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill will fit in with other primary legislation and statutory instruments. For example—this has been highlighted several times by various stakeholders—the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2018 directs self-disclosure and the provision for under-18s is based on the date of conviction. The Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, however, contains provisions for state disclosure and includes provisions for a date of offence. Members will see immediately how that might have unintended consequences and cause legislative conflict. It is important that much greater thought is given to the necessary coherence of different pieces of legislation.