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

That is a welcome clarification, and I fully understand the rationale behind what the minister has just said. It is encouraging that that has been considered. Nonetheless, we know what happens when there is a discrepancy in the language that is used in legislation and in different statutory instruments, and when a different interpretation is put on things. Therefore, it would be helpful if we could have some clarity on that point in the guidance.

The Professional Standards Authority is responsible for the accredited registers programme, which accredits the voluntary registers of practitioners who are not regulated by law, and it has made the same point about the need for coherence, particularly in relation to groups of volunteers that are not governed by a particular professional code of conduct. There are issues there, particularly if we want to encourage more volunteers to come into the process. It is an area that we need to consider at stage 2.

The Government has, quite properly, acknowledged that there are issues about coherence. It is a difficult situation, because the bill falls between portfolios. The Parliament has often been challenged on that, and we know what happens if we pass bad legislation and end up having to undo a lot of good things. It is, therefore, worth spending a lot of time on getting the bill right at stage 2, so that there is consistency.

There is perhaps an issue with the timescale for stage 2, which I understand is just a couple of weeks away. That is quite a short time in which to deal with some of the issues. The minister might like to think about that.

The most difficult issue, however, is legal as opposed to legislative. At the committee’s evidence session on 20 November, I asked the Minister for Children and Young People about the nature of the two disclosure tests—the “relevant” and the “ought to be disclosed” tests—because, as yet, I do not think there is enough clarity regarding the criteria that are to be used by decision makers. I know that other members—I think that Daniel Johnson is one of them—share that concern.

In line with what the Law Society of Scotland and the Howard League have advised, it is surely essential that there is clear guidance that is firmly rooted in the law and the foreseeability of outcomes. Members know only too well what happens when that is not the case. As things stand, the decision-making provisions in the bill remain quite complex, and there are a lot of issues with them that we must tie up before we move to stage 2.

How much longer do I have, Presiding Officer?