Disclosure (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

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

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Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I thank the members for their contributions. I am very pleased that there is support throughout the chamber for the general principles of the bill.

The debate has been constructive, so I want to make it absolutely clear that I am committed to continuing to work together in this complex area. I have listened carefully to the debate and will consider the issues that have been raised today and in the committee’s report, as we proceed.

The bill will enhance existing protections and close potential safeguarding gaps, thereby creating a more robust disclosure system. The bill refocuses the PVG scheme on people who have power or influence over children and protected adults.

It was evident from the Health and Sport Committee’s consideration of child protection in sport—in particular, when it discussed the role of football scouts—that many people who were involved at senior level did not appreciate the power imbalance that exists between clubs and children. I reiterate my appreciation to the stakeholders who have engaged with us on the change to regulated roles, and who continue to provide feedback. It is absolutely vital in ensuring that the legislation provides sufficient coverage to protect vulnerable groups.

My priority is the continued ability of the disclosure system to support protection of the most vulnerable people in society. People who, because of their past conduct, are unsuitable for undertaking such roles must still be prevented from doing so.

However, it is important that children are treated as children. The children’s hearings system and the focus on early and effective intervention provide a proportionate and flexible response to harmful or criminal behaviour by children. The disclosure system must be able to take a proportionate approach to including information from that meek period of life, and I believe that the bill allows us to do so.

It is important that we have a disclosure system that gives all applicants greater control over their information. Some people’s past conduct makes them unsuitable for roles with vulnerable groups or valuable assets. However, that must not be used to prevent all people who have convictions from accessing employment, which we know helps to reduce reoffending. To do that would also deny our communities the value of such people’s skills and experience. For most people with convictions, the passage of time and living a law-abiding life provides a basis for them to access work and make a great contribution to society.

I recognise that that can be difficult for employers, so I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about employing people with convictions to access the free “Scotland works for you” training that is offered by Disclosure Scotland. That initiative helps employers to understand how to make risk assessments on conviction and rehabilitation.

Legislation gives us the levers to reform disclosure. However, in order for individuals truly to be able to access their rights, comprehensive and accessible guidance about the disclosure system must be available, so the Scottish Government is committed to delivering that. Guidance will be provided in various formats for a range of audiences, and will be developed in conjunction with users and stakeholders, including children and young people and organisations that advocate for them. We already have interest from a range of groups that want to support Disclosure Scotland in developing the guidance.

I will pick up on a number of issues that were highlighted during the debate by multiple members. I assure members that if I do not manage to respond to particular issues, my door is always open, and I am more than willing to meet members and to facilitate access to officials, if they want further clarity.

On coherence, I refer members to the Government’s written response to the committee’s stage 1 report, which highlighted that

“The Government progressed all three pieces of legislation—the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019, the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019 and the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill—by adopting a joined up policy model, sharing ideas, information and team members, ensuring policy coherence uniting the three.

Each Act (or Bill) has had its own parliamentary journey and the provisions of each are absolutely consistent with each other in broad policy terms”.