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This debate is possible only because we are standing tall on the shoulders of previous generations of feminists, trade unionists and equality campaigners. Because of them and today’s activists, we have the chance to pass pioneering legislation on free universal access to period products. Too often, this Parliament is defined by division, disagreements and discord, but the bill shows what Parliament can do when we put aside our legitimate political differences and work together.
Women and girls are too often left behind in the political process. This is a chance to put them first and to do something that is truly groundbreaking on gender equality. The bill will ensure free universal access to period products for anyone who needs them, and it will place a duty on schools, colleges and universities to make free period products available in toilets. Menstruation is normal; free universal access to tampons, pads and reusable options should be normal, too. Period dignity for all is not radical or extreme, but is simply the right thing to do.
Evidence shows that one in five women across the United Kingdom will face a struggle to access period products at some point in her life. The public consultation on my bill attracted 96 per cent support for the proposal.
I am proud that I played a part in the introduction of free period products in the Parliament building. MSPs, staff and visitors to Holyrood benefit from that and do not have to worry about being caught short.
The public want period equality, too. Today, campaigners held a rally outside Parliament, asking MSPs to vote for the bill. Grass-roots campaigning has sparked a culture-changing movement. We see that with the trailblazing “On the ball” group, which has persuaded football clubs to put free period products in their toilets. The group is part of a growing coalition of more than 50 organisations that endorse the bill and the principle of universal free access to period products. To all those campaigners I say, “Thank you.”
The bill will be subject to further scrutiny if it passes stage 1. I will be happy to work with colleagues from across the chamber on amendments to strengthen it.
Already, the bill has been shaped and influenced by women, girls, trans people and non-binary people from every corner of Scotland—not as passive observers, but as architects of the kind of Scotland in which we want to live. We should be proud that our citizens, especially our children and young people, are politically engaged and passionate about equality. I have worked with people from all parties and none, and I have learned from them all, especially during times of disagreement. I hope that those lessons have made me a better MSP.
I led Parliament’s first-ever debate on periods, in 2016. I want to repeat tributes that I gave then, to Gillian Martin and Women for Independence, which includes campaigners Julie Hepburn and Victoria Heaney. Success has many mothers, and I am delighted that Victoria addressed the rally today and is in the gallery.
Gillian Martin shone a light on domestic abuse being one of the hidden drivers of period poverty. Her influence on the Government spearheaded a pilot scheme in Aberdeen. Angela Constance deserves credit for leading that work, when she was Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities. I went to Aberdeen to meet Dave Simmers and the phenomenal team at Community Food Initiatives North East, which ran the pilot.
In Aberdeen and elsewhere I have heard personal stories that have motivated me. A change in circumstances can quickly push anyone into period poverty. People sharing that they have had to rely on food banks for period products so that their children could have food to eat, or that they missed college because they could not afford both a travel ticket and a tampon, are not easy conversations.
I record my thanks to everyone who shared their experiences with me and with the Local Government and Communities Committee. I am grateful to the committee, and to the clerks, especially for outreach work with communities and young people. I was disappointed that the committee was split in its decision, with a majority of members exercising caution over some aspects of the bill and not recommending support at stage 1.
I am eternally grateful to the non-Government bills unit staff, who have been on this rollercoaster journey with me.
I thank my wonderful team, especially Kirsty-Louise Hunt, who has worked on the bill from the beginning, and who was not able to fully celebrate her birthday yesterday because of preparations for today. I wish Kirsty-Louise a happy birthday.
Back in 2016, when I first raised access and affordability issues with ministers, my questions referred to “feminine hygiene products”. Journalist Daniel Sanderson, at
, spotted the questions on the Parliament’s website, and called me to ask where I was going with them. Ministers at that time had advised that no work was planned on access to period products, or on stigma, but had confirmed their awareness that food banks in Scotland often provided sanitary products. I told Dan that I believed that action was required, and that I had reached out to organisations including the Educational Institute of Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender and the Trussell Trust, which all agreed with me.
It is good to look back on that time and to see how far we have progressed together. Since 2016, my language has evolved away from “hygiene” or “sanitary” products. Overall, discussions are much more inclusive and focused on dignity.
Cross-party working has been key: 51 MSPs from all parties signed the final proposal for the members’ bill. In particular, I want to thank Jackson Carlaw, the new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. He has worked across and beyond party lines to fight for women who have been injured by mesh, and he approached my bill with the same desire to do what is right. I was grateful when he signed the members’ bill proposal back in 2018, and for his firm support in recent weeks when it looked as though the Scottish Government might not back the bill, at this time.
However, the Scottish Government has taken big strides since 2016. I congratulate ministers for working with a range of partners to roll out free period products in education settings and in many community venues. Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, should feel very proud of the work that she and her team are committed to, and are leading on, and I look forward to continuing to work with her on our shared objectives.
We have strong foundations to build on. The First Minister has put on record that access to period products should be a right: I agree with the First Minister. The bill provides a legal framework that will give ministers a considerable degree of flexibility to design the scheme through regulations, and to work in consultation with partners. Of course, no one will be required to take free period products; however, if a person needs them, they will be cost free and reasonably easy to access.
We must get on and do this, because we have constituents who are worried today about where their next pad or tampon is coming from. I firmly believe that Scotland can be proud of our actions so far, and of the fact that our intentions mark us out as a global leader on period equality. The world is willing us to go further, and to back the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill tonight. I am proud to move the motion in my name.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Local Government and Communities Committee. Today’s debate reflects the findings of the committee’s scrutiny, which we began last September. We published our report on 5 February this year, and commended Monica Lennon’s work and her collaboration with the cabinet secretary. That joint work has helped to highlight the issues of access and affordability in relation to period products, and the stigma that goes with them.
Following a call for views, the committee took oral evidence during three evidence sessions. We heard from a number of organisations, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and Monica Lennon. We also went to Perth and to a Scottish Youth Parliament workshop in Dunfermline. On behalf of the committee, I thank all those who engaged with us for their interesting, constructive and often passionate contributions
The term “period poverty” is not specifically referred to in the bill, but has been used by the press and others to describe the inability to afford period products. The committee discovered that the problem is as much one of access as it is one of cost. We found that it can impact on people who have health conditions or a disability, young people who might not have their own money, and women who are in coercive relationships. On our visit to Perth, we heard that women who have been diagnosed as suffering from conditions including endometriosis can spend £50 per month on products, but are not entitled to them on prescription.
We learned, too, that there is still a lot of stigma and embarrassment around periods, particularly for girls in school and for women who work in male-dominated workplaces. Witnesses told us how important education and campaigns that raise awareness are in combating that. Many witnesses also promoted a move away from the term “period poverty”, which they think creates more stigma; they prefer the term “period dignity”.
The bill has at its core the principle of universality and will create—if it becomes law—a universal right of access to period products. The committee heard the view that the majority of people who are able to afford products will continue to buy their own. A focus of our scrutiny was therefore on whether a universal right of access is preferable to a more targeted approach. The bill requires ministers to set up a “period products scheme”, but gives them a lot of flexibility in how they might choose to do that. We were keen to hear witnesses’ views on what such a scheme should look like.
Section 3 of the bill provides a mechanism for a voucher or registration scheme to be introduced, which could be similar to the c:card scheme that distributes free condoms. We explored whether there is support for that and found that although we saw some support in written evidence, none of the witnesses whom we heard from thought that it was a good idea. They felt that it might create more stigma and be an additional barrier to access. On balance, the committee did not think that a voucher scheme should be adopted.
Section 4 of the bill provides that the scheme must give individuals the option to have products delivered. We explored witnesses’ views on postal delivery—in particular, how it could be balanced with the lack of support for the voucher model that we heard. We heard arguments for and against the postal-delivery option. Arguments for it included that it would benefit hard-to-reach communities, including people in rural areas and disabled individuals. However, we were more persuaded by the arguments against it, which cited additional bureaucracy and costs, and noted that postal deliveries would require information sharing of some kind. We agreed that alternative solutions, such as working in partnership with local services, would be preferable.
We asked witnesses how effective they were finding the non-statutory measures that have been undertaken by the Scottish Government, which take a targeted approach to providing free period products in educational establishments, sports facilities and other local authority buildings. All the witnesses whom we heard from were extremely positive about those measures, and it is clear that they are having an impact in tackling the problems of access, affordability and stigma. We were impressed by the work that is being done by local authorities, third sector and grass-roots organisations, which continue to promote and implement the measures.
Many witnesses welcomed the range of products that some organisations have made available. Although that is welcome, we heard from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that each local authority takes its own approach, which depends on local needs. As a result, witnesses told us that there can be a lack of consistency in how products are distributed and promoted in schools, which has had an impact on uptake in some areas. We understand that measures are in their early stages and that full evaluation is still to be done, but our scrutiny highlighted concerns in some areas about the poor quality of products, about lack of availability of products during holidays and about some people still missing out. We heard how important it is that the scheme is promoted so that individuals can find products easily.
Many witnesses suggested that providing reusable products could provide more long-term, cost-effective and sustainable options, while acknowledging the greater up-front costs. The financial memorandum that accompanies the bill acknowledges the financial implications in setting up and administering a universal scheme; the committee explored those costs in detail. The financial memorandum estimates that the annual costs for a universal scheme would not be more than the £9.7 million to which the Scottish Government has already committed, but we heard from the cabinet secretary that a more realistic estimate is £24.1 million. That figure was reached using a higher unit cost, based on data from local authorities that are implementing the current scheme. The majority of the committee felt that not enough clarity was available on why there is such a difference between the figures.
The committee acknowledges that affording and accessing products is still an issue for some people, so we will follow with interest how the Scottish Government will address the issues that we have raised in our report. The committee is unanimous in its support for the intentions of the bill. A majority, however, had concerns about the disparity between the costs that were presented in the member’s financial memorandum and the costs for a universal scheme being rolled out that were estimated by the Scottish Government. The majority of the committee considered that more work to clarify the final costs is needed.
The majority of the committee was also concerned that the flexibility that Ms Lennon allowed in the bill for ministers to devise a scheme meant that there was a great deal of uncertainty about how Ms Lennon sees the bill being put into practice. It was clear that the majority of the committee thinks that considerably more work will be required before the bill is fit for purpose. It is also clear, given public pronouncements from parties across the chamber, that the bill will pass stage 1 today. However, having, as convener, sat through the evidence and heard Ms Lennon’s questioning of witnesses and her answers to our questions at committee, and because of the lack of detail on finance and practical suggestions on how the admirable purpose of the bill can be achieved, I have no doubt that the bill will need to be the subject of a considerable number of amendments to make it anything like workable.
The truth is that I was surprised to see a member’s bill with such lack of detail and clarity coming before my committee. I have certainly never seen one like it before. After the bill has passed stage 1 this evening—as it will—I will look forward to the sizeable challenge at stage 2 of trying to make it workable legislation.
I am speaking as convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee. Given that we are talking about the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, I should concentrate on it. That was a red herring.
I am proud of the report that the Local Government and Communities Committee has produced. It is honest, well produced and absent of all political bias. It is for that reason that tonight, I will abstain, on the motion on the bill.
I am immensely proud that Scotland is a world leader on providing access to period products. Thanks to this Government’s actions, without waiting for legislation, we have invested about £15 million to make free period products available in our schools, colleges and universities; in community settings, such as libraries, community hubs and grass roots sports clubs; and in services that are most likely to be accessed by people on low incomes. We are reaching more than 530,000 women and girls through this groundbreaking work right across the country, so that roughly a third of those in Scotland who menstruate now have access to those products for free, thanks to our actions.
Free products are also increasingly being made available by public bodies—including this Parliament, which was one of the first to take action—and also by the private sector, with football clubs, pubs and construction companies making products available for staff and visitors. That is set to increase, and the momentum should be welcomed as an outcome that we can all be very proud of. We are going to acknowledge that outcome through the introduction of period-friendly certification.
We are also working in partnership with FareShare to ensure even wider availability, specifically for those on low incomes. Our £1 million investment in the past two years has allowed FareShare to buy products to distribute through over 800 partners and it is also supporting community development workers in FareShare’s four hubs to work with grass-roots organisations to break down barriers and address stigma and embarrassment.
Access to free period products through FareShare and its partners is through a variety of routes, including food banks, support groups, advice centres, family centres, hospices and care homes. I heard how valuable the service was when I visited one of FareShare’s hubs last year. One beneficiary said that
“getting free products has been a godsend and a weight off financially when we are already struggling on benefits”.
That comment highlights that many of the people we are supporting are in need because of austerity and the benefit cuts introduced by the Westminster Tory Government and that, once again, the Scottish Government is having to step in to support those families as poverty makes it difficult for them to meet their basic needs. This is one of many measures that we are taking to mitigate those cuts, including the investment of £110 million in the next financial year to protect people from those cuts.
We have also supported local authorities with the provision of products and they have been able to decide where to place products based on local knowledge and local need. One local authority identified locations in which to provide access to free products, including libraries, community centres, leisure centres and churches. Each partner received a box containing products, a poster with financial support information, and a digital code for restocking. In another authority, products have been placed in a range of places where there is high footfall and in locations that are likely to be accessed by those who may need the products most, including the jobcentre and places that host community fridges.
One of the concerns that I raised with the committee is about the need to ensure that the flexibility that we have given to local authorities is maintained so that the delivery of local provision is right for each community. That is one of three major concerns with the current legislation that I have continued to highlight. The other concerns are around the cost and the actual design of a scheme to deliver on the proposed right to free products.
Many who support the principle of legislation are strongly opposed to the preliminary procedure for delivery that is proposed in the bill. Despite that, no alternative suggestion for a different delivery route for the national scheme that is mandated in the bill has been proposed. Extensive work carried out by Scottish Government officials over the past two years suggests that that is because it is almost impossible to devise one that is not overly bureaucratic or costly.
My third main area of concern is that the proposed costs have been significantly underestimated. As I outlined to the committee, the Scottish Government’s best estimate of the cost of delivering a universal scheme, as proposed in the bill, is an annual cost of £24 million—over two and a half times the cost estimated in the bill’s financial memorandum. As members know, if the Parliament agrees to the bill at stage 1 today, the Scottish ministers will be expected to introduce a financial resolution to allow the bill to move to stage 2. However, as Monica Lennon said when giving evidence to the committee, it is impossible to say definitely what uptake would be. We would have to introduce a financial resolution before we knew what the delivery of universal free access would look like and, by extension, how much it would really cost. I therefore welcome the committee’s conclusion that more work to clarify the potential cost is needed and I will seek agreement across political parties on the detail to allow us to better estimate costs before lodging a motion for a financial resolution.
I thank the cabinet secretary for the tone of her speech so far. It is important that we continue to work together. North Ayrshire Council launched free provision in schools a year before the Government scheme rolled out nationally and, in oral evidence to the committee, the council official talked about the savings that had been made because they had become more efficient and there was less bureaucracy. That gave me hope that we can continue to learn and improve. Does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that?
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
I know about the fantastic work that is being done in North Ayrshire. I visited Ardrossan academy to see some of the good work that is being done there. It is being led by the headteacher who has created a culture that allows those who need support to get it and to be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. That work is changing the culture, not just for the generation of pupils who are going through that school, but for generations to come and is all the better for it.
In my evidence to the committee, I was clear that we believe that the financial memorandum underestimates the costs. What we stand to lose through the lack of flexibility could prove to be costly. We will have to work together to try to find a way through that, because there is no getting away from it that the costs that the Government is incurring now are more than the costs that are set out in the financial memorandum. That is just a fact. We will need to work through that and, if we want good legislation, a lot of hard work and endeavour will be required to make sure that the bill is fit for purpose.
It is clear that as a Parliament, across the political parties, we are collectively committed to ensuring that everyone who needs to access period products can do so. We should always remind ourselves of that. We have made huge progress in the past few years, and while we know that delivery of our policies is still in the relatively early stages, we are clearly seeing a change in culture. That has been recognised by the committee. We must ensure that the good practice that is already in place is not lost through the introduction of legislation, that any scheme is workable and deliverable, does not have unintended consequences and offers value to the public purse.
I sincerely thank Monica Lennon and the wider stakeholders who have been so visible in this campaign for the work that has culminated in the introduction of the bill. I also thank the Local Government and Communities Committee for its careful consideration of the bill. The committee and the Scottish Government have made their concerns clear and I have made it clear that legislation could slow our progress
and could prove to be costly. In the spirit of this debate and in pursuit of good legislation, Parliament will now need to pull out all the stops and work hard on the bill, collectively and collaboratively, so that it achieves everything that we across the chamber want it to, and to enable our country to emerge through this and continue to set an example that the world wants to follow.
I am proud of our work so far, although I want to make sure that we can protect it by working together across the chamber, so that we have a bill that all of the Parliament can be proud of and that we secure a legacy for generations to come.
I associate myself with the words of Aileen Campbell. I agree with every word—well, most of what she said; not quite everything.
I congratulate Monica Lennon on her work on the bill, on her tireless tweeting and on managing to persuade all parties to go against the committee’s recommendation that the bill should go no further. I have known Monica for what feels like a long time—probably for both of us. When we were both councillors in South Lanarkshire, she was as quiet as a mouse, but not now
I have treated the bill as I treat any bill: with an open mind and a great deal of diligence about what is in front of us. What looked to be fairly straightforward has proved to be anything but. I have swayed between thinking that the bill had some legs, to thinking that it should go no further and was not required. I remain to be convinced about it, but my party leader, Jackson Carlaw, who was mentioned previously, was ambushed on Facebook, so here we are. I have been informed of the error of my ways. If only I had briefed him in advance.
It would be easy to say that because of what the Parliament is about to do, we might as well rip up the committee’s report; that we might as well not have bothered to take any evidence or to do any work. However, the Parliament is entitled to disagree with a committee’s conclusions and there has been great value to our work on this subject. I have certainly found the whole thing educational.
I represented the Local Government and Communities Committee at a meeting with the Scottish Youth Parliament in Dunfermline. I thank all those who attended that meeting for their keen interest in the bill. Three of us also met groups in Perth. That led to one of our recommendations, which I will come to.
The bill would become
“An Act of the Scottish Parliament to secure the provision throughout Scotland of free period products.”
Section 1 of the bill says:
“Everyone in Scotland who needs to use period products has the right under this Part to obtain them free of charge.”
Loads of questions arise from those opening lines alone. How? At what cost? Why everyone? Where? What products? What quality? After that, the bill really starts to unravel. My big concern was picked up in the committee’s report. It described the bill as
“legislation that would impose a duty on, as yet unidentified, public bodies which would have a cost but would not compel the Scottish Government to fund it, should it choose not to.”
In other words, bodies such as councils would be saddled with spending that might or might not be covered by the Government. That could be bordering on irresponsible when councils are making cuts in core services.
The bill requires the Government to draw up a scheme to implement that universal provision, but it would apply only to the public sector. To be fair to the Government, it has pretty much done that already without the need for legislation, and it is surely only fair to see how that works. Monica Lennon was not happy with that, though.
The committee’s other concern was that we have no idea at all about what any of it would cost. There is a huge disparity between what Monica Lennon said and the ludicrous figures that have been quoted by the Government.
I know that, across the country, people have been writing to members of the Scottish Parliament—they have certainly contacted me—to say that they want what has been proposed to happen and that the situation is absolutely unacceptable. Somebody recently said to me that, if it was men who needed those sanitary products, they would have been free years ago. There is real support for the bill in the country. Do all MSPs not have a responsibility to try to work our way forward not just to approve the bill at stage 1 but to ensure that it becomes legislation and that Scotland leads the way across the world? [
Nobody in the Parliament disagrees with what Monica Lennon is trying to achieve. The question is whether the bill is the right approach. The committee asked legitimate questions; that is the committee’s job, and that will be our job at stage 2. That is what we are here to do.
I did my own, unscientific, research into costs. I asked family members about their use of period products and checked the costs in supermarkets. It was clear to me that tampons and pads are not expensive. They are extremely affordable to most women, and somebody could quite easily get their monthly supply for under £5—although I fully accept that everyone is different and that people have varying needs. Monica Lennon accepted that most women can afford the products that they need. If that is the case, we would be entitled to ask why we need a universal scheme.
No. I am coming to an important bit of my speech.
When the three of us committee members visited Perth, I had my eyes opened. I asked what people were paying every month and a very impressive young lady who suffers from endometriosis told me that she pays £50 a month. It struck me that, if somebody suffers from a medical condition that makes them bleed a lot, there is an argument that they should be able to get the products that they need on prescription. The committee accepted that, and I am delighted that the Government is looking at how that might be implemented. That would supply period products to those in most need.
Through the committee, I also asked whether there was legislation on providing toilet paper. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 say that toilet paper should be provided in workplace toilets and that, in women’s toilets, there should also be suitable means for the disposal of sanitary dressings. It seems to me that a simple tweak to that regulation could add in the requirement also to supply sanitary products in women’s toilets. That would be in all workplace toilets. We have asked colleagues in Westminster to look at that and I encourage the Scottish ministers to take that up with Westminster as well, or investigate whether that change can be made from here.
I thank Graham Simpson for his contributions and for his work on the committee. I wonder whether he agrees that we have to be careful that, in asking questions and setting criteria, we do not ask women to prove that they bleed enough or that they bleed in the right way in order to receive an entitlement to any product.
Although I am glad that there is recognition of a range of medical conditions that can make periods more difficult, we need to make sure that we are not asking women, or anyone, those very personal questions about how much they bleed, how often and how long for. Women have told us that they are embarrassed by those questions, and that is why a universal approach is the most dignified way forward.
One thing that should come out of this debate is that people should not be embarrassed about talking about those issues. If women have a particular medical condition, which endometriosis is, surely that should be tackled medically. If they need products, those should be available on prescription. It is absurd that somebody should have to fork out £50 a month and not have that covered by prescription.
No. I am almost finished.
As we head to stage 2, I say to Monica Lennon that the committee has a huge job to do. We must work with her.
If we are going to make laws, they must be workable and necessary. I am afraid that at this stage the bill is neither. It will be for the committee to knock it into shape—if that is possible.
Scotland is on course to introduce the world’s most comprehensive legislation on free period products. That is thanks to Monica Lennon and her supporters, members of this Parliament, the equality movement and all those who have stuck with the issue from the beginning.
The Tories are giving very mixed signals as to whether they support the general principles of the bill, and I was astonished at some of the arguments that Graham Simpson used—I have never known Jackson Carlaw to be ambushed by anyone or anything.
I want to talk about breaking the taboo of periods, not just dealing with their cost to women and girls. Mr Simpson says that women should not feel embarrassed, but women on all sides of the chamber will tell him that not being able to talk about their health has been an issue for generations of women. I will say something about that.
We might disagree, and I accept that the committee must scrutinise the bill closely, but I hope that the tone of the Tories’ contribution to the debate will change. If it did not, that would be a tragedy. I whole-heartedly welcome the change of heart that the Government has made in supporting the bill—Aileen Campbell, who gave the reasons for that today, should be congratulated—albeit that we will discuss the bill’s serious and legitimate implications as we go forward.
It is a shock to every young girl when she finds out that her body is going to change as she enters puberty and adulthood—even more so when she finds out that her period is going to arrive every month. That is life altering for most women. A new form of pain and discomfort arrives in the form of the blood and moods, and, although everyone is different, there are many associated health issues. Whether women have endometriosis, get pregnant or are not pregnant, there are implications for women’s health.
In many countries, young women are not told about their periods and are frightened when they have one for the first time. Sheh was 15 when she bled for the first time. She thought that she was sick and confided in her aunt, who told Sheh’s mother. Her mother said, “You are a woman now.” She lives in a small village near Delhi, in India, and she now works in a sanitary pad factory in that small village. A documentary has been made about the campaign in which students crowdfunded for a pad-making machine.
The taboo around periods still exists around the world. In the rest of India, periods are still a taboo topic and, in some countries, menstruating women are still considered to be impure and are barred from entering religious places. They are often also excluded from social events. In Nepal, nearly eight out of 10 girls in the Mid-Western region still sleep in dangerous outdoor menstruation huts during their periods, and, when women are on their periods, it is forbidden for them to take part in a range of everyday activities. We are talking about a global issue of equality. I should say that, after a string of high-profile deaths, the practice in Nepal was criminalised in 2018.
The need for the bill in Scotland is apparent. All the written submissions to the committee recognised that period poverty is an issue in Scotland. It is an issue of poverty.
I am not on the committee, but I have read the bill and I absolutely agree with what the member says about period poverty. However, does the member agree that a number of amendments need to be made to the bill? For example, I am concerned about the proposal for a voucher system and the fact that a person must provide sufficient proof of their identity, which is addressed in section 3. I see a lot of homeless people in the streets, and I would hope that they would be able to access the free products, too. Those issues are a bit of a worry for me. Can the member clarify the position on those issues? Might Monica Lennon lodge amendments on them?
That was quite a long intervention.
I agree with the member that there are issues with the registration schemes. However, this is a stage 1 debate in which we are discussing the general principles of the bill. As is the case with every bill, every member is entitled to lodge amendments, and I would like there to be a fuller discussion of the point that the member raises.
For me, the case for universal provision is worthy of consideration. With tight local government budgets, we must be convinced of any need for a universal benefit, but I was particularly swayed by the witnesses who rejected the suggestion of any kind of registration scheme. They argued convincingly that any such scheme risked stigmatising those who are least able to afford period products. Unite the union pointed out that those who need free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them. They are embarrassed and depressed by their situation, and they are the ones who are least likely to register. That speaks to Sandra White’s point.
What does the bill do? First, it places a duty on Scottish ministers to ensure that period products are available free of charge on a universal basis; secondly, it requires education providers to make period products available free of charge in toilets on site; thirdly, it enables the Scottish ministers to place a duty on other specified public bodies to provide free period products.
If ever there was a time to recognise that women and girls have not been encouraged to openly discuss the fact that they menstruate, it is now. It is time for the remaining taboo to end. Let Scotland be the world leader in breaking those taboos by talking about women’s health issues, whether they be periods, the menopause or anything else. Let this Parliament at least agree today the general principles of the bill, which concern the universal free provision of period products, and then let us get down to the scrutiny of the bill, as we would with any bill at stage 2.
I commend Monica Lennon for bringing forward the bill. She has been campaigning on this topic since her arrival in Parliament and has worked hard to get it to this stage. I also thank members of the Local Government and Communities Committee and the clerks for their scrutiny.
As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I was struck by the widespread support for the principles of the bill on the part of witnesses. I also commend the Government, which has been undertaking work over the past few years. That work has been incredibly valuable, and I commend the cabinet secretary for her commitment on this topic.
I was part of the minority of the committee that did not recommend rejection of the general principles of the bill. The central argument of the majority was that legislation is not required because the executive branch of Government is delivering and because it is too early. On the face of it, that is a reasonable argument, but the bill is fundamentally about the creation of a statutory right. When I asked the cabinet secretary whether she agreed that access to period products should be a right, she was unwilling to provide a straight answer, but she said that a lack of access can inhibit the realisation of other rights such as the rights to education and work.
The Scottish National Party’s position is clear. In an SNP council meeting a year or two ago, the following resolution was passed:
“SNP council ... believes every woman should have access to sanitary products, as of right.”
Reasonable people can disagree on whether that should be a right. However, it is not an argument against creating a right to say that the executive branch of Government is delivering, because the Government does not have the authority or the power to create rights—only Parliaments and laws can do that.
Members of the Scottish Parliament are here to represent constituents, not the Government, and large swathes of people are saying yes to a rights-based approach. The only way that that can be delivered is via legislation that we pass on behalf of the constituents who elect us.
Greens believe that access to period products should be a right enshrined in law. Do we believe that the bill as drafted is correct in every respect? No, we do not, although we disagree with the Government’s argument that the bill lacks flexibility. Some aspects of what is proposed lack flexibility, but they can be dealt with, and fundamentally the bill gives the Scottish ministers substantial freedom to devise a scheme that is as flexible as they wish it to be. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to await full evaluation before implementing a scheme. The 12-month operational target in section 2(4) is probably too ambitious.
I am just about to close.
We need a statutory scheme that underpins the existing work, that provides a guarantee to the public that access to period products is, indeed, a right and that puts it beyond doubt that that is the will of the Parliament.
Today’s vote is on the general principles of the bill, and Greens support the general principles of the bill. I have no doubt that difficult conversations lie ahead for Ms Lennon. We wish her well and remain committed to playing our part in seeing the bill get on to the statute book in a form on which we can all agree.
I do not sit on the lead committee considering the bill and was not involved in the evidence taking at stage 1, so my involvement up to now has been peripheral. However, I have watched in awe as Monica Lennon has dragged the bill by its bootstraps through the Parliament, and I commend her for that. She has been an inspiration to watch.
It says a lot that Monica Lennon’s debate on period products in 2016 was the first such debate in 17 years of the Scottish Parliament’s history.
That tells us something about the stigma that surrounds the issue. Our laws are almost totally silent on this most natural aspect of everyday life for every woman whom we represent. Currently the only explicit mandated provision of sanitary products in Scotland, in law, is for female prisoners. The only other reference to periods in statute relates to the provision of disposal units for sanitary waste in bathrooms. The provision of sanitary products themselves is otherwise entirely absent from the law.
The member is right to say that nothing is enshrined in the law. However, does he recognise that Scotland is leading the world in the provision of period products for those who need them?
Nothing in my speech is incompatible with that proposition; I recognise it and I salute the Government for it.
As Monica Lennon said, the bill is not about hygiene; it is about human dignity. I am proud to have supported it from the outset, when I was a signatory to the bill proposal. The bill asserts that access to sanitary products is a basic human right—a necessity and not a luxury. It also carries a secondary policy aim that is most welcome, which is to end the silence and stigma that surround menstruation, removing gender barriers and creating a more equal society.
It is estimated that a woman in Scotland will, over her lifetime, spend approximately £5,000 on tampons, pads and other sanitary products. On any given day in Scotland, there are 1.3 million women in the age group in which menstruation is likely. This is not a peripheral issue and the statistics speak to the universality of what is proposed, which I will speak about.
Poverty in Scotland is growing—there was an increase of 2 per cent in 2017 alone. So, too, is period poverty. The manifestation of that reality is striking. It is estimated that nearly 13,000 girls missed a day of school in Scotland last year because they were not able to access or afford menstrual products. Research by Plan International shows that 17 per cent of girls have struggled to afford period products and 12 per cent have been forced to improvise period products, due to affordability issues. The same research shows that 49 per cent of girls have missed school because of their period and 64 per cent have missed a physical education or sports lesson. Again, that speaks to the stigma around the issue.
Three quarters of people who were surveyed by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations feel that it is necessary to hide sanitary products at work. The hope is that this legislation will help, as Engender put it, to normalise periods and the discussion around periods, and work to end workplace-based period stigma.
It should be normalised, because when we boil it down, sanitary products are a staple of female human existence. It is no coincidence that across Scotland, tampons and sanitary pads are seen as a necessary staple in food banks. Just yesterday I visited North Edinburgh Arts in the Muirhouse area of my constituency, which is one of the most deprived communities in Scotland. It is not a food bank, but it has a sharing shelf with DVDs, foodstuffs and a dedicated section for sanitary products. Such organisations realise that sanitary products are about more than hygiene—they are about dignity, social mobility, body confidence and mental health.
I welcome the Government’s movement on the bill. It is now finally in step with the 96 per cent of people who, in responses to the consultation on the bill, expressed support for the proposal as a whole. Those people recognise that period poverty disrupts the everyday lives of women and children. In some instances, it prevents them from attending work or school, which affects their individual rights, including their right to education.
Those who lack frequent access to sanitary products through period poverty are more likely to use a product for longer than the recommended usage time. That puts them at a higher risk of experiencing toxic shock syndrome. Although that is a rare condition, it can be life threatening. Between 2007 and 2016, 67 women in Scotland were admitted to hospital with toxic shock. For me, that is the most harrowing reality related to this issue.
Notwithstanding such extreme examples, the bill will have a cost benefit for the national health service because it will reduce hospital admissions, other medical appointments and prescriptions. The arguments that we have heard in the debate about endometriosis are, I believe, unanswerable. If a person has a condition that makes them bleed uncontrollably, the NHS should step in.
On that point, one of our areas of work has shown that endometriosis is very difficult to get a diagnosis for; in fact, on average, a diagnosis takes about seven and a half years. Does Alex Cole-Hamilton agree that, given that people can wait a long time to be believed or to get a name for their condition, a universal system in which women could opt in would be preferable to limiting benefits to people who have been diagnosed with that condition?
I absolutely agree, and that point brings me nicely on to the universality of the bill. If we do not make provision universal, and if we rely on people getting a diagnosis for endometriosis or fitting a set of social criteria, we will simply replace one stigma with another. We need to recognise this as a basic human right; it is about basic access to dignity. As such, universality is an essential part of the bill.
I can see that my time is up, but I will say this: not being able to keep oneself clean and to keep one’s clothes unsoiled adds a level of degradation to poverty that this Parliament has the power to remove. Period poverty can compound social isolation, economic inactivity and poor mental health. However, the bill is about so much more than removing a highly embarrassing and stigmatising barrier to work, employment or socialisation. It is about normalising discussions around menstruation in a public policy context. The bill, and the work that underpins it, are about fundamental human dignity, and we applaud Monica Lennon for it.
We move to the open debate. I remind all members and their respective groups that, if a member is taking part in a debate, they should be here for all the opening and all the closing speeches.
Given that the move to provide access to free period products is grounded in tackling poverty and gender inequality, I will be very proud to support the general principles of the bill tonight. I look forward to hearing more from both the cabinet secretary and Ms Lennon about how we can all work together to iron out the issue of deliverability.
These days it is fashionable to label the consequences of poverty. We have food poverty, fuel poverty, funeral poverty and, at the heart of today’s debate, period poverty. However, at the end of the day, the grinding struggles and indignity of living with low or no income, of navigating one’s way through a punitive benefits system or of paying over the odds for rent and heat is just plain, old-fashioned poverty.
If we are to end poverty—irrespective of how it might be labelled—folk need to have enough money to live on, and they also need not to be ripped off over their essential living costs.
I want to put the period poverty debate in the broader context of ending poverty in this country, given that everyone in the Parliament unanimously supported legislative targets to do so. It is not easy for any Government to end poverty—indeed, as yet, no United Kingdom Government has met that challenge. With devolution, there can be different choices, albeit that, sometimes, those are limited and come with strings attached.
Consequently, we need to be forensically clear about which actions and investments will lift people out of poverty by dealing with its causes and, in contrast, which ones will address only its consequences. To meet our targets to end child poverty, the overall thrust of our endeavours and investments must be to lift families and young people out of poverty. The overall thrust of the bill, as it is currently drafted, is to address the consequences and not the causes of poverty, because it will not reduce the growing numbers of people who live in it. Nonetheless, supporting the bill is the right thing to do, because, quite simply, it aims to makes life more bearable, protect dignity and reduce inequality.
However, if we are to progress with the bill—which I hope we will do—we will need to do so with our eyes wide open and acknowledge the challenges that, together, we will need to face. For example, the bill’s financial memorandum attributes a cost of nearly £10 million per annum to the scheme, but the Scottish Government estimates it to be £24 million. The reality is that we do not really know, because there are still so many questions to answer about the final scheme.
However, more fundamental questions concern where the money should come from and who should pay. What I am about to say might alienate half of the Government, but I will say it nevertheless. I do not want to see our Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government being forced to make a choice between addressing period poverty or feeding hungry weans, or our Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People having to take money from hard-pressed families or disabled people, or our Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning having less to invest in warm, affordable homes. Therefore we all need to help ministers to protect the budget lines that tackle poverty, which might mean our accepting reductions elsewhere.
It is to the Government’s credit that it did not sit back and wait for legislation on this subject to be introduced; instead, since 2017 it has invested £15 million in a wide range of world-leading activity that is now reaching half a million people.
I concede that I have an attachment to the issue from my time in the Government, when I took the ball from public health and kicked it on to the park as a gender equality and poverty issue. I have to say that, in large part, I did so because of lobbying by Gillian Martin and Monica Lennon. From my experience at that time, I also know that issues of deliverability are genuine. Measures that we might imagine to be comparatively simple—such as voucher schemes—are hideously complex and costly to implement.
If we focus collectively on principles and pragmatism, we can get the bill into shape for stages 2 and 3. In saying that, I mean absolutely no disrespect to Monica Lennon. It is not always easy to put rights into practice and deliver them in the real world. However, we have learned much from the successful Aberdeen pilot and the initial scheme’s implementation in schools, colleges, universities and community settings. Giving local authorities, voluntary organisations and other partners the flexibility to deliver the best local solutions will be key to meeting our national priorities.
The best argument for the bill is that it could lock in and build on the progress made thus far. Although it will be a magnificent moment—or, as Ms Lennon put it, a “pioneering” one—when Scotland becomes the first country in the world to pass such legislation, I want us to keep close to our hearts the women who most need such support, including those with medical conditions such as endometriosis.
There is a strong argument for our national health service, as well as local government, being part of any statutory framework—if it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander.
We need to keep close to our hearts the 320,000 women of menstruating age who live in poverty after they have paid housing costs, because we are reaching only 11 per cent of such women now. The barometer of our success should, at its core, be how we support those women with the consequences of poverty.
I am delighted to take part in today’s stage 1 debate, and I am pleased to congratulate Monica Lennon on her endeavours with the bill.
It is absolutely right that no one should find it difficult to access sanitary products due to poverty. The real questions are whether the bill is the right way to address inequality and whether a universal scheme that is underpinned by legislation is the right approach.
Over recent months, the Local Government and Communities Committee, on which I sit, has taken evidence from many individuals, and I commend them for that evidence. I am grateful for the support that we received during our deliberations.
We will support the general principles of the bill at stage 1, but we have some real concerns about the practicalities of its provisions and the specific type of scheme that is proposed. We will seek to address those concerns—I have no doubt that they will be addressed—through discussion and debate at stages 2 and 3. Although my party and the Scottish Government have now decided to support the general principles of the bill at stage 1, despite having some reservations and there being previous opposition, there remain some concerns about the deliverability of the scheme. The period products scheme that is set out in the bill is ill defined.
The bill would give the Scottish ministers significant control over which scheme was implemented and over its delivery. Although ministers sometimes need to be afforded an element of flexibility for practical reasons, given that the scheme is integral to the aims of the bill, it is important that we are clear about how any scheme would work in practice. As it stands, the bill leaves too much to be dealt with later, but I am sure that those issues will be dealt with during stages 2 and 3.
Many women can afford to purchase their sanitary products. Although the majority will continue to do so after the introduction of the scheme, there could be a cost associated with providing products to those who can afford them. We do not want that to happen, because the bill is meant to help and assist. As one contributor to the committee’s report said:
“those who most need the free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them.”—[
Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee,
18 December 2019; c 18.]
It is therefore clear that there are some problems with a universal scheme that require to be ironed out. We need to go beyond simply providing free products for everyone. We also need to ensure that the support that is provided addresses the associated stigma and tackles the root causes of poverty relating to sanitary products.
There is a lack of understanding about which public bodies will be required to supply period products, and it would be unwise to pass a bill that has such a wide scope. Will it be only schools that are required to provide period products for free, or will the requirement apply to all council-owned buildings, to leisure and arts facilities that are run at arm’s length from councils, to general practices or to hospitals? We need clarity on those issues.
We have no guarantee that there will be a funding uplift from the Scottish Government. In that vein, there seems to be genuine confusion about the cost of implementing the scheme. The financial memorandum that accompanies the bill mentions a unit price of 9p, despite the fact that that would allow only certain products to be provided. Individuals have said that they want a range of products to be provided, and the financial memorandum, which suggests a cost of £9.7 million, does not cover that. As we have heard from the cabinet secretary and others, £24 million might be required.
The 9p unit cost of pads and tampons was drawn from the earlier Aberdeen pilot scheme, which has been referenced. The member will recall that Hey Girls, which is a key partner, also gave a similar figure at committee.
I accept that people have genuine questions, and I hope that, when we get to stage 2, we can have more discussions on those points.
I think that the whole process needs to be clear, because of the difference in cost per unit, which Monica Lennon is right to identify. That issue could be looked at and the matter ironed out as we progress.
Without that clarity, there is a real concern about what the scheme would cost and who would end up paying for it—or not, as the case may be. COSLA came before the Local Government and Communities Committee and made that point in its submission on the bill. It is very mindful about where the financial burdens would lie—they would fall on public bodies and local authorities—and wants to ensure that the proposals are fully funded directly by the Scottish Government. If that does not happen, councils will simply have to make cuts in other service delivery areas to compensate. We do not want that to be the case.
It is important to note that the Scottish Government has made significant progress on the issue. We need to recognise that and commend it.
Although some councils have introduced their own free sanitary product schemes, all will soon be required to make sanitary products available in schools. Additional funding has already been made available to support some free sanitary products at colleges and universities.
As Graham Simpson said, the Scottish Government, with clinicians, is looking at how people with conditions such as endometriosis could use prescriptions to access period products. That is very much the right way to go.
Monica Lennon should be congratulated on her work and in particular on raising awareness about the negative effects that inadequate access to sanitary products can have on individuals’ mental and physical health, as has been indicated to us by women and girls.
Period poverty is inexcusable. The bill and the issue more generally require careful consideration, which is why we support the general principles of the bill at stage 1.
I a m delighted to speak in the debate and to continue to offer my support to Monica Lennon’s bill. I have supported it from day 1, as have a number of colleagues across the chamber.
This is a very important bill. It is about health and wellbeing, women and girls, men and boys, equality, education, dignity, decency, and the type of society that I want to live in and that I want us all to live in.
Since coming into the Parliament, I have been astonished by how we deal with issues to do with our personal health, reproductive health and women’s health. When I got involved with the mesh campaigners, we could get not get anyone, including journalists, to listen to what the women were saying. Back in the early days of the campaign, I remember calling a press conference that two journalists turned up to. When I asked a senior journalist why they did not come, they said, “Well, we just don’t want to talk about women’s bits.” Actually, they did not use those words—I am too polite to say how they described it. That was in 2012.
One thing that the bill has done is break down the barrier of our inability to discuss such serious issues about our health and wellbeing in the media or in public without embarrassment, reticence and discomfort. It has allowed people to talk about the issues without embarrassment or stigma, which is a very good thing.
It was absolutely fantastic to see male industrial workers from Unite the union—members of my own union; I see some of them in the gallery—out there campaigning on period poverty. Long may that continue. They have been joined by a wide range of organisations, including football clubs and supporters groups, Engender, the Scottish Youth Parliament, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and NUS Scotland, building a very broad, very effective coalition in support of the bill.
Progressing a member’s bill is a big task. A number of us have done it, so we know how hugely time consuming it is. I recall that, way back, my then researcher Tommy Kane and I had a conversation with Monica Lennon, in which we encouraged her to take the matter forward as a member’s bill. As we move forward today, I am pleased that we had that conversation. Her parliamentary team—Kirsty-Louise Hunt, Alyson Laird, Lynsey Hamilton and Correne Fulton—must be given great credit. We all know that parliamentary teams do tremendous work behind the scenes, but getting a member’s bill to this stage is a very big task, and they have played a blinder.
I am pleased that political realities kicked in last week and that the Tories and the Scottish National Party have come on board. When I heard arguments about cross-border tampon raids, I knew that the case against the bill had evaporated—I am pleased that it has.
I want to put to bed the spin about the so-called “tampon raids”. Will the member acknowledge that Monica’s Lennon bill, which we had a duty to respond to, raised the issue of preventing abuse? Section 4(7) states that further provision made by the Scottish Government
“may include measures to ensure that a person may not obtain quantities of period products that are greater than reasonably commensurate with the person’s use of them.”
We responded to section 4(7) and said that such measures would be disproportionate to the cost of the products.
I will take that point for the record. When that came out in the past week, we knew that opposition to the bill had evaporated.
I believe that universal provision, funded by progressive taxation, is the best way to provide public services. No one who saw “I, Daniel Blake” could fail to be moved by Katie’s plight, when she was forced to steal sanitary towels from her local shop because of her poverty.
If we claim to be a civilised society, we should not have people resorting to such levels of indignity.
Maybe when we pass the bill, we can move on to eradicating food and fuel poverty and, ultimately, homelessness. We would then really become a civilised society.
Arguments have been made today that the bill is just so complicated, that we will never be able to do this—that we will have to work so hard to do it. We have a universal health service, universal education and universal benefits, we provide universal baby boxes and free prescriptions, and we can put men and women on the moon—yet people are suggesting that, somehow, this is just all too difficult. It is not all too difficult. We can easily—
No, thank you. Let us not bring Mr Dornan back into the equation.
It is nonsense to suggest that this is all too difficult. I will happily work with anyone in the chamber; I always make that offer. We can take the bill forward and introduce a progressive scheme that deals with the indignity of period poverty and makes the Parliament shine.
I am pleased to speak in this stage 1 debate. As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, which is excellently chaired by its convener, James Dornan, I have had an opportunity to reflect in detail on the important subject of period dignity and access to period products.
It is important to place the debate in the proper context of the world-leading action—which we have heard about—that our SNP Government has already taken to address the issue.
We have seen the roll-out of free period products in our hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, and community settings including libraries and local sports clubs. Notwithstanding inaccurate media reports to the contrary, that is the Government’s position. There is, of course, no means testing for access to the products. Considerable sums of money have been expended in support of roll-out: as the cabinet secretary said, £15 million has been spent since 2017.
I think that we all recognise that the non-legislative route has, to date, facilitated speedy delivery and—which is important—flexibility to respond with delivery that reflects how things are working on the ground and what could be done better. The non-legislative route has allowed roll-out to take place apace, and has ensured that more than half a million women across the country have access to free period products. That is a tremendous achievement by the Scottish Government, and is very well done.
The Scottish Government should also be commended for working hard to address, at the same time, the important issue of the stigma that attaches to periods, which has been mentioned by members. I welcome the current “Let’s call periods, periods” campaign in that regard, which is doing a power of work to break down that stigma.
That is where matters currently stand. Thanks to the efforts of our cabinet secretary and SNP Scottish Government, Scotland is a world leader in promoting period dignity and access to period products.
How does the bill fit into the comprehensive network of action that has been taken? That is what the majority of the committee members had concerns about. First, there is concern that this so-called framework bill is, in fact, a bill without a framework. Secondly, a number of the key premises that underlie the bill—for example, the voucher-scheme delivery mechanism that Monica Lennon currently proposes—do not appear to have much support. Sandra White raised some obvious concerns about proceeding down that route.
Thirdly, of particular importance is the total lack of clarity about costs, with Monica Lennon having suggested, as we have heard, annual costs of around £9.7 million, whereas the Scottish Government has suggested that costs are likely to be in the region of £24.1 million per annum. Hence, notwithstanding that every member of the committee supports the intention of the bill, the majority of committee members feel that more work is needed to clarify the final costs before legislation should be contemplated.
Curiously and rather worryingly, on the key issue of costs, in these times of great Tory austerity, Monica Lennon suggested at committee that the moneys to pay for what is proposed could simply be shaved off something else. I asked Monica Lennon at committee what was the something else that was to suffer, but I did not get an answer. Her current approach does not appear to reflect her admission at committee—this is what she said verbatim—that actually
“most women and girls ... can afford”—[
Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee
, 15 January 2020; c 4-5.]
period products. However, that approach does not appear to be the one that she is currently pursuing.
Since publication of the committee’s report on 5 February 2020, many comments have been made. I have listened to the voices of young women who have expressed strongly the feeling that, at the end of the day, the signal that is sent is of paramount importance, and that the signal can be delivered only by way of legislation. I, for one—as the Deputy Presiding Officer might recall—well understand the importance of legislation as a signal.
On that basis, I will support the general principles of the bill at stage 1. However, I note that not to reflect on the significant concerns that have been raised about the bill in its current form would serve no one. Those concerns must be allayed in the work that is to come. I am up for that work and hope that Monica Lennon and, indeed, other members of Parliament are, too.
I know I am wee, but come on.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk about how we ensure that everyone has access to sanitary products. First, as other members have done, I record my thanks to Monica Lennon for introducing the bill. She deserves credit for all her fantastic work in getting the bill to this point.
The evidence is that we need to do more to make sure that no one is denied access to sanitary products through poverty. Across the UK, one in 10 girls cannot afford to buy menstrual products. Plan International UK’s survey on period poverty found that one in seven girls has struggled to afford sanitary wear, and that one in five girls has changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost. Girlguiding Scotland’s “Girls in Scotland 2018” survey report stated that 13 per cent of girls aged 13 to 25 knew a girl of their age who had experienced period poverty. So, we know that there is work to be done.
I and a number of Scottish Conservatives have supported the aims of the bill from its early stages. It has support among our councillors in Glasgow, Edinburgh and across Scotland. They have signed a letter calling on all MSPs to back the bill. They note that the bill will be an important step towards normalising menstruation and helping to end the stigma around periods.
In particular, I pay tribute to Lauren Bennie, who is one of our activists in the Glasgow Conservatives. She has consistently pushed the issue within our party and has fought to make sure that we support the bill. Lauren has organised support and has worked hard to bring the Scottish Conservatives to this point. I am delighted that we have in our party people like Lauren who are so willing and enthusiastic to stand up for what they think is right.
However, we have concerns about the practicalities and the type of scheme that is proposed in the bill. The Local Government and Communities Committee did not support the general principles of the bill for several compelling reasons. Its report stated that although committee members are unanimous in their support for the intentions that underpin the bill, they are not persuaded that legislation is required. Their concerns also focussed on the lack of clarity around the true costs of a universal scheme, and what that scheme would look like.
Concerning the voucher scheme, the committee noted that such a scheme could create stigma and an additional barrier to access, and it does not support that as a method of accessing products. As we have also heard, Unite the union said that
“those who most need the free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them. They are so embarrassed and depressed about their situation that they are the least likely to register.”—[
Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee
, 18 December 2019; c 18.]
There are also concerns about section 6—about passing legislation that would impose on additional, as yet unidentified, public bodies a duty to provide products, and the cost of doing so. The Scottish Government would be expected to meet the cost, but the exact figures have proved to be difficult to establish. The written submission from the Scottish Government said that the financial memorandum’s stated cost of £9.7 million for delivering the scheme was significantly underestimated. Its own calculations showed, as we have heard, that estimated product and delivery costs, on the same uptake levels, would be about £24 million. That is a significant difference. The majority of committee members are concerned about that disparity on costs, and about the fact that there is little clarity, at this stage, on what the scheme would ultimately cost if the legislation were to be passed.
While COSLA supports the overall aims of the bill, it, too, has concerns about the cost. In a written submission, it stated:
“the full cost of delivering the intent of the Bill maybe significantly higher than outlined in the financial memorandum.”
It is also worth acknowledging the work that has already been done by the Scottish Government. Its scheme has ensured that millions of free sanitary products are available in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland. It is very positive that every local authority is taking part, and that extension of the scheme beyond term time and into the school holidays is being sought.
At UK level, we are seeing similar progress. This year, the UK Government announced a new scheme to give pupils easy access to period products at schools and colleges. The scheme is about making sure that young people do not miss out on lessons because of periods. However, it is also about breaking down stigma, which I think is just as important.
I am pleased, therefore, that there is consensus across Parliament at this stage, and I look forward to trying to improve the bill so that we can send a message that no one in Scotland should go through period poverty.
What a long way we have come. We have a substantial squad of period dignity warriors; some of them are in the public gallery, some of them are in the Parliament, and lots of them are out in civic society. Collectively, there is no one person who should be congratulated for doing all the work in the area; it is an endeavour that has crossed parties and society. A lot of people should be giving themselves a pat on the back, not least Monica Lennon, who has pursued the bill.
Annabelle Ewing talked about sending a “strong signal”, and the very fact that we are talking about period dignity in our national Parliament sends a strong signal that goes a long way towards breaking the stigma and taboo around periods, which is just one of the issues that women and girls have to deal with in their everyday lives.
I am really proud of the work that we have already done to address the lack of access to period products in this country. I am hugely proud of it, and it has all happened very quickly in the past three years. When I entered this Parliament, one of the first things that I did was arrange to meet Government ministers to explore how we could expand on our manifesto commitment to provide period products in all education settings in order to address the gaps in our society where women have limited access to these products, which are fundamental to our health, self-esteem, hygiene and dignity.
As was mentioned earlier—Andy Wightman alluded to it—my colleague Julie Hepburn and I worked to put in place policy and delivery mechanisms around the policy motion that we tabled at SNP national council on a targeted measure that would mean that anyone who had periods could access products. As we took the arguments to Government, we had huge help and support from colleagues in Women for Independence, Scottish Women’s Aid and beyond. I believe that some of the colleagues who helped me with that work are in the public gallery today.
We based our idea on a scheme similar to that for access to condoms, but with an s:card rather than a c:card. We took that to Government to start the discussion, and I pay tribute to my colleague Angela Constance, who, in her speech, was characteristically modest about the work that she did. She, along with her officials, worked hard to explore the policy ideas and mechanisms that Julie and I brought to her. As we had those discussions, we very quickly found that the s:card would be administratively onerous and expensive. However, the Government did not shut the door on us but worked with us to find better ways of achieving our overall goal of ending period poverty. I thank Aileen Campbell for the substantial work that she has done to deliver on that early work, taking the CFINE pilot—which Ms Constance oversaw—and rolling it out across the country with great success.
I firmly believe that, as a result of those mechanisms, virtually no woman or girl need go without period products. We are already world leaders in this area. I see the delivery of that policy in my constituency, where women and girls can go into a wide range of community spaces—not just schools—and find the products that they need at no cost. I also think that privately run public spaces have followed on voluntarily as a result of our talking about the issue and opening up the conversation around periods, which we should all be very proud of.
Moving on to the bill, I have to be honest and say that—as Monica Lennon knows—I remain unconvinced that legislation will achieve the goal of ending period poverty, and I worry about the lack of delivery mechanisms in the bill. If I thought that legislation would work, I might have pursued it myself. I was really interested to see what Monica Lennon would come up with in answer to some of the delivery problems that I encountered. I am slightly concerned about the costs, which others have mentioned, and the lack of delivery mechanisms in the bill. I am also slightly worried that our looking at those issues could slow down the very effective measures that have already been put in place by the Scottish Government. I hope that that will not be the case.
Nevertheless, I believe in the general policy intent and in the general principle that everyone who menstruates, regardless of their circumstances, should have access to these essential items. As some members have mentioned, it is not just about poverty; domestic abuse could also be a barrier for people. It is for those reasons that I will support the bill at stage 1, but with a view to lodging a number of amendments to it at stage 2, which I hope will tackle some of the significant and substantial concerns that the committee has. I look forward to seeing what changes Monica Lennon makes to her bill in the light of our discussion of the issues in this debate and the committee’s report.
As someone who has taken a member’s bill successfully through the Parliament in their first year, I am under no illusion about how hard it is to draft legislation that will stand up to scrutiny and, more important, that will provide a sound platform on which to deliver its goals. It is very easy to come up with a good idea; it is much harder to put it into law in a way that delivers. Ms Lennon has pushed on with legislation, and I took another path that has led to half a million women now having access who previously did not. The Government has delivered on that commitment.
There is merit in putting something in legislation to prevent future Governments from policy change or budget commitments that would reverse good work. However, as members across the chamber know, laws, too, can be changed—we saw that recently when the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 was reversed. Nevertheless, I understand the messaging on the call from girls and women for period dignity to be enshrined in law as a fundamental right. It is a good signal to society that we are serious about tackling the issue.
Ms Lennon has a lot of work to do at stage 2 to make the bill achieve those aims, but, if there are still women out there who will benefit from the bill’s proposals and we can fill in all the gaps, it is incumbent on all of us to try to find a way of making that happen. I will not only give my support at stage 1; I will try my best to be part of what will be a team of people to make this work.
I thank the Presiding Officer for fitting me in for a short contribution to the debate on the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which Monica Lennon introduced on 23 April 2019. It is undoubtedly bold, landmark legislation, which has reminded me of when the Scottish Parliament, in 2004, passed my member’s bill on breastfeeding, which became the Breastfeeding (Scotland) Act 2005. It was the first member’s bill in this new building, and questions about cost were also asked at that time, most notably by the Conservatives. As with the free provision of period products, the legal protection of breastfeeding in public places was important to women’s lives, as voluntary codes had simply not worked. That was why we needed legislation then and it is why we need legislation now on this issue.
In 2004, I said:
“Devolution gave us the opportunity to mould a different kind of politics in Scotland. The success of this bill indicates that this parliament with its critical mass of female members, is capable of operation without the traditional adversarial approach of older parliaments such as Westminster.”
With all parties, if not all members, set to support the bill today, I feel that those words are still relevant.
My bill was originally deemed by the Presiding Officer at the time, David Steel, to involve a reserved matter, but Mike Dailly and I rewrote it to make it deal with a devolved issue, and the Presiding Officer agreed its competence. Originally, tackling period poverty was decreed by some to be a reserved matter, but Monica Lennon has persisted in introducing a bill that is competent and should be supported.
It is vital that the bill will place a duty on ministers to ensure that period products are made available free of charge on a universal basis. Problems with access to period products have a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of women—I am talking not just about women with endometriosis but about women with thyroid problems and women at the menopause. Furthermore, some women have very light periods for three days, just because that is how they are, whereas others have heavy periods for a whole week. How are we going to police such differences in prescribing period products?
Plan International UK has referred to a survey in 2017 that found that one in 10 of 1,000 young women had struggled to afford period products. I think that most—if not all—of us agree that that is wrong, but some people have struggled with the concept of universal provision. Universal provision is important because there are too many ways in which women can be missed by targeted provision. They might not be poor enough, they might not have access to their own money or they might work in a male-dominated environment in which no one thinks about access to period products. Whatever the reason, we need universal free provision.
When I visited Malawi on behalf of the Scottish Parliament, I bought period products and pants to take with me, as well as the usual pens, pencils and notebooks, because I had been advised that that was a reason for girls to miss school. It was shocking to find that it was also a reason for girls in modern-day Scotland to miss school. I applaud the fact that there are now free period products in their schools.
Monica Lennon has worked hard to make the case for tackling period poverty and providing dignity and practical help, and she is to be commended for that. I hope that the Scottish Government is committed to making the bill work. I trust that the bill will be improved at stage 2, using all the expertise of the civil service and its knowledge, and that the bill will not be wrecked at stage 2.
I thank Monica Lennon for all her hard work, passion and commitment in getting the bill to stage 1. I hope that, at the end of this process, the legislation gets on to the statute book.
The right to sanitation has been recognised as a human right by the United Nations since 2010 and that right obliges Governments to ensure that their citizens can enjoy clean, available, acceptable and accessible sanitation. If someone does not have access to period products, they cannot have dignified and sanitary menstruation, so access to period products is absolutely key to that right.
Alex Cole-Hamilton and Elaine Smith mentioned Plan International UK, which said that 10 per cent of girls in the UK—in this wealthy country—have been unable to afford period products. For some reason, period products are regarded by some as a luxury—a luxury for which women should be charged. Why is it that, in 2020, toilet paper is seen as a necessity, but period products are not?
Absolutely—it is shocking and it is wholly unacceptable.
This is so often characterised as a women’s issue, but it is not; it is a social justice issue, an equalities issue, and a rights issue. It is estimated that a woman will, over her lifetime, spend approximately £5,000 on period products. Being financially penalised for a natural bodily function is neither equitable nor just. Being unable to afford or access period products denies women access to education, work, sport and so much more.
The Scottish Government’s efforts to provide period products are hugely welcome, but many individuals—who have contacted all the members in the chamber, I am sure—and organisations such as Engender want this targeted approach to be broadened to meet the needs of all who require access. The experiences of older women, trans and non-binary people, disabled women, women for whom English is not their first language and refugee women, for example, must also be taken into account.
Embedding the principle of access in legislation would mark real progress. It would send the message to women and girls that their health and wellbeing are important and will be protected by this Parliament. On t he Bloody Good Period website, an asylum-seeking woman living in London gets right to the heart of the matter. She says:
“It is something that women have to go through every month. It is discrimination, everyone should have access.”
The work done by that website revealed that 75 per cent of the asylum-seeking women it spoke to struggled to obtain period products, often for an extended time.
The bill presents an opportunity to improve the lives of women and girls in a meaningful way. Too many women and girls are being denied a basic human right. The fact that we are discussing this issue in the chamber and the fact that we have been discussing it in Parliament and in meetings and debates for some months will do much to take forward this agenda. I really hope that we bring about a cultural change, and I think that it is fair to say that there are organisations out there that are getting on board.
We need to get to the stage where, no matter where we go, access to these products is something that we take for granted, so that whether we are in a hotel, a restaurant, or a sports club changing room, these products are just there when we need them, because when they are not there, it really hampers our ability to go about our daily life in any sort of meaningful way.
“agreed that a universal scheme that provides for everyone by right was the best way to meet any gaps in provision.”
“we need one scheme that works, that takes account of the various regional and geographical issues across Scotland and that runs without a hugely administrative or overly complex process.”—[
Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee
, 18 December 2019; c 22.]
I am absolutely certain that this Parliament has the ability to deliver such a scheme. It is often said that politics is the art of the possible. This Parliament can commit to work together to deliver a right to period dignity in Scotland.
I congratulate Monica Lennon and recognise the tremendous amount of work that she has done, not only in bringing this bill to the Parliament, but in helping to open up the discussion about periods and the reality of menstruation in Scotland. The fact that we are openly debating periods in the Parliament and not speaking in hushed tones while we do so is testament to the cultural progress that we have made in removing the absurd shame and secrecy around women’s reproductive health, which has prevailed for far too long, as Alison Johnstone just eloquently said.
There have been a series of eloquent and passionate speeches, which is absolutely appropriate, because this is about how we make progress from today onwards.
I welcome the investment put in place by the Scottish Government to date to support the provision of free products in our education facilities. I am very glad to see that the cabinet secretary has now signed up to helping us to agree to the general principles of the bill at stage 1, so that we can work together to put the current provisions into law and discuss how we build on them.
I pay testament to the fact that, in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament being established, we had a women 50:50 campaign to make sure that women made it into this place. We have had support from men, but the debate has been led by women. We have had women leading in this Parliament. Elaine Smith talked about the breastfeeding legislation, and there has been work on violence against women and access to childcare. We have made sure that these are mainstream issues that deserve funding and are acted on by the Government and supported across the parties. That is what we have seen today. We should all celebrate the effective and tireless campaigning that we have had in the past few weeks, because it has brought us to this point. I hope that the bill will get to stage 2, so that we can make it fit for purpose. As Angela Constance said, we should lock in the progress that we have made thus far.
That is exactly why, alongside Andy Wightman, I committed to supporting the bill as a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee. I have been fortunate to be able to follow the progress of the bill through stage 1. I join others in thanking our committee clerks and the range of organisations that not only gave us written evidence but met the committee to discuss the issue and to give us a reality check on what women’s lives are like now and why the bill is needed. I commend in particular the trade union activists and the Scottish Youth Parliament, who have done so much to bring this issue to the centre of our political debate.
Our committee report states:
“We heard that disabled people, those not currently in education or work, individuals living in rural areas, homeless people, refugees, trans and non-binary individuals and those suffering from mental health issues or in coercive relationships may be most at risk of missing out.”
There is more work to do. When we get to stage 2, we need to make sure that we get a bill that will take us forward. It will not do everything from day 1, but I hope that it will bag the progress that has been made to date and look at where we go next.
I will focus on funding, the voucher issue and the design of the bill. We need analysis of the impact of current schemes, especially in relation to costings. The committee received evidence that different costings were available. We need to learn from the experiences of North Ayrshire, Aberdeen and Hey Girls in making products available to those who need them and to make sure that, where there have been cost reductions, they can be built in.
I was really struck by the sheer cost, which has been mentioned by several members today, including Graeme Simpson. There is an amount that we think is the cost, but then we hear the range of experiences. The fact that we have to have period products in food banks really brings home that this is something that we need to act on.
We need to look at procurement and the types of products. The benefits of more environmentally friendly products has been well articulated. Although those products are more expensive to buy in the short term, they are good for the environment and more cost-effective in the long run. There are funding issues that we need to look at.
I want to pick up on the voucher issue, which one or two members have mentioned. I have certainly discussed that issue with Monica Lennon as we have debated what should stay in the bill and what should go. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the bill does not require there to be a voucher scheme—that is an option that ministers could, but might not, use. They could consider it. It is also not the case that people would be required to provide identification to access products.
We need to consider the details of the bill. I turn to one of the reasons why I was keen to support it. Although there is work to do to get the bill right, it is critical that its design enables the Scottish Government to look at the details of the regulations that come after the primary legislation. Like other members, I have been advised not to put too much detail in a bill because things will be done by regulations, and civil servants and key stakeholders will discuss them afterwards.
I, too, have tried to put bills through the Parliament, and that is very difficult—I take that on board. Sarah Boyack raised the issue of the voucher scheme. The bill mentions a voucher scheme and identification; it says that a person must provide sufficient proof of the person’s identity. We need to look at that issue at stage 2. I realise that Sarah Boyack recognises that, but that has to be mentioned.
Absolutely. If members look at the details of the bill, they will see that the words “Ministers may” are used. How things will be designed is a key issue.
It is critical to listen to the evidence that we have received. Although I support the bill going through stage 1 and reaching stage 2, that does not mean that I agree with every element of it. After today, there is a need for us to get together and discuss the evidence.
Getting it right is a tough job for the committee, but I am convinced that we can do it.
We need to challenge one of the things about the design of the bill that has been criticised. Details are left to regulations, and we have a precedent for that. The Transport (Scotland) Act 2005 did that. It gave certain categories of people a right to access free transport, but the details were left to regulations. The role of ministers and civil servants is absolutely crucial, because there is expertise that we all need to listen to. However, not everything goes in the bill.
Over the next few weeks, the critical issue for us will be agreeing what will stay in the bill. Whatever form the bill takes, it is up to us to ensure that it includes the key principle that no one’s dignity is compromised by a service that does not help those who desperately need help and have missed out for far too long. Let us hold on to all the passion that there has been in the chamber today and hold on to the reality check.
Even though we have seen some excellent progress, we are not there yet. We can build on delivery in the country by communities and key organisations. Over the next few weeks, let us pull out all the stops collectively and collaboratively and work together across the Parliament so that we have a bill that we can all “be proud of”—to quote Aileen Campbell’s opening remarks. I agreed with her 100 per cent; that is rare, and that will be in the
. There are times when we in the Parliament can agree on the principles of bills. Let us pass the bill at stage 1, work constructively, look at the evidence and ensure that, when we come back to the chamber at stage 3, we can all agree to the bill because we have amended and strengthened it and put the principles into it. That is the job that we need to do over the next few weeks.
Overall, this has been a useful debate. As other members have, I pay tribute to Monica Lennon for all her hard work and passion in campaigning on period poverty since she was elected. I also pay tribute to other members across the chamber who have done that. I welcome to the public gallery and the chamber those who have helped to support Monica Lennon’s campaign and have campaigned for action for some time. It is also important to recognise what all committee members have done to try to take forward constructive work on the bill.
I know from my time trying to move forward Frank’s law and the campaign to end age discrimination in free personal care that building alliances across the chamber is often not easy and that it is often a major challenge for MSPs to get the Government’s attention, get it to listen and to come on side. I pay tribute to Monica Lennon for what she has achieved.
The debate has highlighted issues about non-government MSPs introducing bills to the Parliament. Our non-government bills unit does a fantastic job, but it can provide only limited support to MSPs, who have to do all the consultation—I know; I did that—and use our limited resource to pull together the consultation responses. The debate has highlighted that.
Sarah Boyack gave an excellent speech. It is important that we do not forget that we are at stage 1. This is how our system develops legislation and gets it right and I hope that the debate presents an opportunity. I am pleased to have seen and heard a constructive, cross-party approach emerge from the debate. I hope that we can take that forward at stages 2 and 3, as the bill progresses.
I will use my time to pay tribute to a number of organisations that are leading the work on the issue in my Lothian region. Gillian Martin outlined the progress that has been made. It is also important to put on record the work of some of the supermarkets and private companies that have made things happen on the ground.
The Oxgangs community centre in the south-west of the capital has already taken the positive step of making free period products available to centre users. It has had that in place for some years. I pay tribute to the centre management’s forward thinking in helping to fund and deliver access to period products.
James Dornan highlighted the committee evidence. I know from a number of conversations that I have had with young girls that conversations with parents or guardians asking for money for, or access to period products can often be hugely embarrassing and difficult. That is an important issue to consider as we work on the bill. How do people find out about accessing products that they may still be embarrassed about, even though the products are free and available?
Monica Lennon outlined how the bill will make sure that the voluntary schemes and provision that we have seen develop in recent years now lead to wider provision in communities across Scotland. That is at the heart of the bill that we must see improved as we go forward to stages 2 and 3.
During the debate, members raised a number of health issues related to the bill and it is important to look at some of the very specific health aspects that were highlighted. Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned toxic shock syndrome and Graham Simpson mentioned endometriosis. Elaine Smith outlined her work on breastfeeding. The Parliament must have more opportunity to debate women’s health. I have spent a number of years discussing heart health for women. It is still the case in Scotland that a high number of women die from sudden cardiac arrest. The death rate in that area is increasing and must improve outcomes.
The menopause, including access to services and treatment, has become something that many members and people outside this chamber are discussing. Mandy Rhodes is one of the journalists who has led that discussion. This week, I met a constituent to discuss access to collagen replacement injections and she said how difficult the waiting times make access to a treatment that can make a huge difference to her menopause. I hope that the debate on the bill will give us opportunities to debate more women’s health issues in future.
Graham Simpson outlined a number of issues and the further significant work that will be needed on the bill. I welcome Aileen Campbell’s constructive comments on the bill. We must acknowledge the concerns highlighted in the committee’s report when it described the bill as
“legislation that would impose a duty on, as yet unidentified, public bodies.”
That is important. There should be a wider consultation with the NHS about how this can be taken forward. The work that it is already undertaking in some health boards is also important.
It is important that stages 2 and 3 present a constructive opportunity for clarity and to take forward the regulations, guidance and frameworks that will be needed, and to identify any new public bodies—beyond schools, councils, public toilets and council facilities—to which the bill allocates responsibilities so that the resulting spending commitments that the Parliament will be placing on those bodies are also identified.
The committee report points to the important issue of sustainable finance, and I think that that is probably what all of us have highlighted throughout the debate. I hope that, as the bill progresses, the issue will be addressed. It certainly needs to be dealt with in the financial memorandum for stages 2 and 3. The final emphasis on who will pick up the bill for the service is vital.
I was pleased to support Monica Lennon when she first brought her outline proposals for the bill to the Parliament. It is important for MSPs to hear those arguments and add value to them. I am more than happy to support the bill at stage 1. More than one in five women face period poverty at some point in their lives but no one in Scotland, in this day and age, should have to.
I believe that the bill—once we have worked together to make it workable—has the potential to end period poverty and deliver period dignity. I hope that we in the Parliament can work together to deliver just that.
I thank all members who have spoken in the debate, largely suspending party politics and, instead, seeking to build on the cross-party consensus around ensuring that everyone who needs to access period products can do so. That ability to rise above party politics will be essential as we work to get the bill into shape and, in the words of Angela Constance—although I might be paraphrasing—ensure that we are guided by the needs of the women we all seek to help.
I am unashamed of the pride that I feel about the groundbreaking action that we have taken in the past two years. We are setting an example to the world, and countries within and beyond the UK have sought our advice and learning in considering their own action. More than 400,000 pupils and students are able to access free products in their place of learning; 60,000 people use services provided by FareShare and its vast range of partners; and around 70,000 individuals can benefit from the availability of free products in their local communities. I think that the impact of that is summed up well by a school pupil from Dundee who said:
“Girls ... know where to get the things they need. Now they don’t miss classes ... and they are more confident because it is not something they have to worry about.”
Many members across the chamber have made important and effective speeches about why action, whether through legislation or not, is essential in terms of tackling period poverty and period dignity. Pauline McNeill captured far more than the dry facts and figures around the bill when she reminded us of the often traumatic experience that young girls go through when their period starts—body changes, pain, mood shifts and the realisation that that will go on for most of their adult lives. It is a massive thing for a young person to cope with. The fact that that can be compounded by a sense of embarrassment or shame or by a lack of access to products is why we must do more to support our young people.
Gillian Martin powerfully outlined the speed of the shift in culture across Scotland in the past two years. I pay tribute to her for her commitment and for the role that she has played in that culture shift.
Angela Constance also deserves recognition for her work on the pilot and for reminding us that period poverty is fundamentally about a lack of income, and we must not forget to tackle that as well.
The members of the committee—Annabelle Ewing, Kenneth Gibson, Graham Simpson, Sarah Boyack, Andy Wightman and Alexander Stewart, led by James Dornan—also deserve a huge amount of recognition for their work with regard to ensuring that we have good legislation. Their expertise and commitment will be required to help to shape the bill as it progresses through stage 2. I sincerely look forward to seeing a lot more of them in the months to come, throughout that process.
I am pleased that the committee has commended the world-leading progress that has been made by the Scottish Government in enabling access to free products. It also agrees with our partnership approach, promoting local responses to meet local need—an agility that is essential and must be protected, and which could be undermined by the bill as it is drafted. We will all need to work hard to address that.
I share the committee’s view that there are aspects of the bill that require improvement, such as those around the issue of whose needs may not be being met, and that that can be addressed through gathering evidence of uptake, costs and best practice—that is, of course, always going to happen when a programme such as this is being rolled out for the first time ever.
That is why we will continue to work with local authorities and FareShare to ensure that gaps in current provision that are identified through our planned review are addressed, to maximise availability to groups who find it harder to access current provision. I remain ambitious about Scotland continuing to lead the way internationally on making access to free products widely available, for all who need them.
The debate has made it clear that we will need to compromise and work together if we are to find a way to agree legislation that will meet everyone’s aims, ensuring that no one struggles to access period products, whatever the reason, and maintaining our world-leading, locally flexible approach, in a cost-effective way.
As I have indicated, we recognise that there is more to do in our drive for period justice. We are not resting on our laurels. Forby today’s debate on the bill, we have plans in place for further work to build on our existing policies, while we work to agree on suitable legislation.
The first action in that regard is a locator app, which is due to go live in April and will enable people easily to see where products are available nearby and whether products are available for emergency single use or bulk supply. That means that, wherever someone is in the country, they should be able to find somewhere nearby where free products are available. Last week, I attended a development session for the app. I was impressed by its potential to further embed our world-leading position in this policy area.
We are also planning work, in partnership with the education arm of Hey Girls CIC, to develop training, online learning resources and period-friendly certification for organisations, including private sector organisations.
There was discussion in the committee about people who need a more-than-average amount of period products. A recommendation was made on the issue. In response to that recommendation, and in response to points that Alex Cole-Hamilton, Elaine Smith and Angela Constance made, I can say that we commit to consider what additional access to free products can be provided for women who have particular health needs that lead to excessive bleeding.
Finally, we recognise the success of our initial action to make period products available, free, to people in education. According to the survey that Young Scot published last month, more than 80 per cent of pupils and students who had accessed free products in their place of learning said that they could access their preferred product and that the availability of products had a positive impact. We accept the desire to protect that progress, which is why we commit to bring forward regulations that will place a duty on local authorities to make period products available in schools by the start of the next academic year. That will lock the approach into law, as Monica Lennon and stakeholders have requested.
We continue to believe that the bill poses significant risks, which include the potential cost, the lack of clarity on delivery and the potential loss of flexibility. We cannot suspend reality and ignore those risks—however much some people would like us to—lest we undo the good work that we have done to date, which members of all parties in this Parliament have recognised.
Having said all that, no one in Government disagrees that there is a need to ensure that period dignity exists in our country. That is why the Scottish Government is delivering right now, and it is why we have agreed to build on our work by supporting the bill’s principles at stage 1, as a symbol of good faith and in recognition of the broad consensus on the bill’s general principles.
I hope that the consensus that we have heard—mostly—in the debate remains as we work together to fix the bill and emerge as the world leader that we all want Scotland to be on the issue. The debate should set the tone for the rest of the work that has to come. A lot of work will have to be put into making the bill fit for purpose so that it can deliver on the aspirations that I think that members share. Judging by today’s speeches, we are all up for that. When the debate concludes, we will have to roll up our sleeves and work together to make something of which Scotland can be proud.
I enjoyed the debate more than I expected to. I thank all members who were in the chamber today and all members who spoke in the debate. Their speeches were very thoughtful.
I hope that the people who watched the debate from the public gallery and at home also enjoyed the debate and feel encouraged and represented. I hope that they feel that we have listened to them and taken their views on board.
I am pleased that everyone agrees that, in 2020, it is unacceptable for periods still to be a taboo subject.
Annabelle Ewing highlighted the initiative #TalkPeriods, which the Scottish Government has rolled out. It is an important campaign that is trying to address stigma, and I encourage everyone to get on Twitter and other social media, use the hashtag #TalkPeriods and take part in the conversation.
I am genuinely grateful for everyone’s contribution today, but I am grateful to the cabinet secretary in particular. It is very significant that the Scottish Government has already invested £15 million in the provision of free period products. We have seen progress made in other parts of the UK, but I believe that Scotland is leading the way.
I agree with the cabinet secretary that we should support local flexibility. That is key. What will work in South Lanarkshire might not work well in the Highlands and Islands, so any scheme that comes forward has to respect localism. I believe that we can work constructively to meet our shared objectives.
I also put on record my thanks to the Local Government and Communities Committee and to the members of that committee who have spoken in the debate. James Dornan referenced the welcome shift in narrative from period poverty to period dignity for all, which is an important step forward. Many campaigners who have sent us briefings and, in particular, Unite the union, which has its own period dignity campaign—I even have the T-shirt—make that point very well.
Andy Wightman hit the nail on the head when he said that the bill is fundamentally about the creation of a statutory right that can be delivered only through legislation. That is what we are being asked to support. I also agree with him that we need to properly evaluate the schemes that have been rolled out. He made a fair point about the timing of commencement as it is set out, I believe, in section 2(4) of the bill—Andy is nodding and keeping me right—and I am happy to look at his suggestion that we give the Government a bit more time before further roll-out and to address it in an amendment. These are the kinds of discussions that we need to have, and I am sure that we can address that matter at stage 2.
Alex Cole-Hamilton talked about the issue as being also one of human dignity and said that we have to end the silence and the stigma around menstruation. He also talked about the cost benefit to the NHS of getting this right. Toxic shock syndrome is rare, but it is a real issue. A couple years ago, while I was working on the campaign, I read about a student at a university in Glasgow who was studying in the library and, because she was concerned about how much money she had, had a tampon in her body for far too long and ended up in intensive care for five days. There was a human cost to that, because she almost died, but the cost to the NHS was around £5,000 a day. Alex Cole-Hamilton also talked about the mental health benefits of ending issues with body confidence and isolation. That is the value in doing this: there is a cost to not taking the bill forward.
Angela Constance’s speech was excellent. I absolutely agree with her that we have to address poverty and its root cause—full stop. In her passing the baton to Aileen Campbell, we have seen fantastic progress. As a feminist, I find it amazing to see other feminists in Government doing the right thing for women and girls across the country. Neil Findlay also made the point about addressing poverty at its root.
The debate leading up to the bill has largely focused on whether a targeted approach that focuses on low incomes is better than a universal approach. I make no apology for the fact that universal free provision of period products is ambitious—it is at the heart of the bill for a very good reason. The policy intent of the bill is clear: access to period products should be a right and they should be available to all who need them. With the bill, we can eradicate period poverty and, in doing so, normalise menstruation and smash stigma.
I want the good work that has been rolled out already to continue. The Government’s current approach has been an important step, but, in committee, all of us recognised that some gaps still exist and that some groups are being missed out. None of us want a situation in which we are discussing who is more deserving of period products than others, or discussions about how much people are bleeding. None of us want to go down that route. Access to period products is a necessity, therefore I believe that free access should be an option that is open to all.
If the bill proceeds to stage 2, I will, of course, work with all members and listen further to their concerns and ideas.
Monica Lennon refers to the recommendation in the committee’s report that women who have specific medical needs should have access to period products on prescription. If we do not provide that, how does she think that women who need a lot of products should be able to access them?
The committee has highlighted some important issues, but I have also looked at BMA Scotland’s briefing and have listened to Dr Alison Scott, a clinical gynaecologist who advises the Government on the women’s health plan. Their argument is that a quarter of women experience heavy bleeding—if that is the right term—and that their making GP appointments to get a prescription for that might not be the best use of GPs’ time. Of course, if women are concerned about their periods or cycles, we want them to be able to have conversations with their GPs if that is the appropriate route for them. Again, I would welcome further discussion of that subject at stage 2.
In her intervention on Pauline McNeill’s speech, Sandra White mentioned the voucher scheme. I can clarify that the only reference to that scheme in the bill is about putting a limit on the information that could be collected if the ministers wanted to go down that route. I pay tribute to campaigners such as Gillian Martin and Julie Hepburn, who had pursued that policy approach initially. However, I think that we have all realised that we have moved on and that a voucher scheme might not be the best approach. A similar scheme is in place for access to condoms, but, if we were to take a different approach for access to period products, I would absolutely support that. Again, I would be willing to discuss appropriate amendments on that subject with the cabinet secretary.
I thank Annabelle Ewing for her contribution, which she made through her tough, forensic approach to questioning at committee. It is right that we put ourselves through such questioning, because the legislation that we make must be fit for purpose. Ms Ewing’s legal background certainly shone through at the committee stage. I also thank her for continuing to listen to campaigners—especially the women and girls who told her that they would benefit from the legislation.
I recognise that we need to have further discussion on and consideration of costs. I sincerely advise members that, in drafting my proposals, I had looked at all the information on public record about the cost of rolling out in education settings the pilot scheme that has been conducted in Aberdeen. However, I will work closely with the Government to ensure that nothing has been missed out in the figures and that we identify savings where we can.
I do not know about other members, but I get lots of emails from people who are very keen that we help to promote access to reusable period products. I know that Michelle Ballantyne and others—especially the Scottish Greens—have made that point well. Right now, it costs up to £25 to buy a menstrual cup, depending on the brand, which is quite expensive for a young person to afford. I know that the Government work does this just now, but if the bill proceeds, we can look at making savings for our scheme and doing our bit for the environment, too. [
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I also want to pick up on the Scottish Government’s recent—and welcome—announcement that it plans to work more closely with employers to ensure that they, too, are doing their bit. That does not fall within the scope of the bill, but I say to the cabinet secretary that I hope that the Government will work closely on that with the trade unions. Representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress spoke at the rally that took place outside the Parliament today, and I know that Unite the union is doing lots of good work in that area. On that point, I should refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests in that I am a member of both Unite and the GMB.
I also thank the Parliament’s cross-party group on construction—probably not the first place that we would think of in which to discuss the subject of periods—for its work. Again, I stress that the issue crosses portfolios and I hope that we can all work on it.
I hope that members will indulge me for a moment by allowing me to talk about the good work that is going on in my local region. In 2016, just after our members’ business debate on period poverty, South Lanarkshire College, which is based in East Kilbride, approached me and said that it would just get on with providing free products. It would not wait for legislation or national guidance—it would just do it. Such early pioneers have made possible all the progress that we have seen. I also thank Lanarkshire Carers Centre, whose representatives were at today’s rally, and Women’s Aid South Lanarkshire for doing their bit early on.
Further, I thank my colleague Joe Cullinane, in North Ayrshire, for his leadership. Early initiatives such as the one in that area have paved the way for the Government-backed initiatives that have been rolled out so successfully. It is important to acknowledge that we have strong foundations to build on, which is why I believe that the bill will be a success.
I am incredibly proud of the work that all of us have put into the bill and the wider campaign. The Scottish Government has shown great commitment, which I know will continue. Agreeing to the general principles of the bill will be a milestone moment for normalising menstruation in Scotland and will send out a signal to people in the country about how seriously the Parliament takes gender equality. We have more work to do but, together, we can put Scotland on the map as a true world leader in period dignity and equality. I look forward to continuing that work with MSPs across the chamber, and I thank them for their support.