Disclosure (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

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

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I welcome the bill. Over the past 20 years or so, the Parliament has passed very few bills that will impact on as many people in Scotland as the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill will.

As Iain Gray pointed out, there are 1.2 million people registered with Disclosure Scotland. As Brian Whittle has just shown, registration can be a good experience, or not such a good experience; nonetheless, it impacts on people’s ability to serve their community in the way that they wish.

However it is not just about the 1.2 million people who are registered with Disclosure Scotland. We should think about all the people that those 1.2 million are actually responsible for. By the time we add up the number of children that teachers are responsible for; the number of people that registered social workers, social care workers and health workers are responsible for; the number of people that all the sports organisations in Scotland and third sector organisations are responsible for, we see that it is not 20 per cent of the Scottish population; it is probably nearer to double that figure. In other words, probably between 35 and 40 per cent of the Scottish population will be impacted by the bill. The bill is a major piece of work, and it is extremely important that we get it right.

There are two issues that I would like to raise with the minister. The first was mentioned by Liz Smith and concerns the Parliamentary Bureau and the Education and Skills Committee. It would not be the first time that when the Parliament passed primary legislation too quickly, we had to introduce corrective primary legislation because we did not do a thorough enough job the first time around. With such an important and complex bill, let us take our time to make sure that we get it right.

I understand from the convener of the committee that the timetable is not quite as tight as Liz Smith said. However, I say to the committee and to the Parliamentary Bureau that if it takes a bit longer to get it right, let us take that time. Otherwise, we could adversely impact the lives, not only of those who are registered, but of members of vulnerable groups in our society.

I make my other point as a member of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, which has dealt with umpteen issues of IT systems in the public sector that have gone wrong. If we add up the number of those IT systems, and the total cost of not getting it right, over the past 20 years, we see that the cost runs well into hundreds of millions of pounds. More important, not getting things right can destroy the improvement that is intended in service delivery, because of the time that it takes to correct the systems that have gone wrong or have not been properly planned. I say therefore to the minister and Disclosure Scotland to do whatever they can, and everything that they can, to ensure that they get the IT system right.

Brian Whittle is absolutely right: we want to make sure that people do not need to wait six weeks for the process to be completed. People do not want to have to resubmit their application because the IT system is faulty. If we are really to make big improvements, by planning them, and by making sure at the project management stage that we get it right, we will save a lot of heartache, agony, and money, at a later stage. That is extremely important.

It would be a great tragedy if we were to pass this excellent bill, which still requires amendment and further consideration, as I said, and it were then to fall foul of those practical issues, which would undermine its purpose, scope and intention accordingly. It is better to take our time and get it right.

There are a number of specific issues that I want to raise. I will repeat many things that have already been said, including what Rona said about simplification, which is extremely welcome.

For those people who got into a bit of trouble in their teens and perhaps ended up getting a criminal record, but who are not bad people and have moved on in life, I particularly like the fact that they will not have to go through the rest of their lives being penalised. They will not have to miss opportunities to help others or have their potential or actual careers ruined because Disclosure Scotland is legally obliged to cast up information about something that happened many years ago, possibly in extenuating circumstances, and which did not involve a serious criminal offence. I am delighted that we can make life not as miserable for those people who have moved on and want to help others, rectify their mistakes and serve the community. They should be allowed to do so, so those progressive elements of the bill are very welcome.

The minister and the committee must listen to representations that are made to them by outside bodies, as Rona said. I do not always agree with the Law Society of Scotland, but in its submission, it requested further amendment to protect human rights and asked that we deal with the list of offences, as there are issues with it that clearly need to be sorted at stage 2. We have to take those comments seriously.

However, we also have to look at potential impacts on other aspects of the bill as amendments are considered. The bill must be seen in its totality. When considering amendments, we cannot look only at the sections that would be amended. With a bill of this complexity, we need to take a comprehensive view and consider the impact on and potential unintended consequences for other provisions of the bill.

The points that were made by the Law Society and a number of other organisations that made submissions are important.

I congratulate the Government on the bill and I congratulate the committee on its excellent work. There is a bit more work to be done, but by the time that we get to stage 3, I hope that we will have a bill of which we can all be proud.