Lib Dems launch bid to subject all elected officials to PVG checks
Disgraced Finance Minister Derek Mackay,Lib Dems’ Alex Cole-Hamilton and Maree Todd, the Minister for Children and Young People
By Bill Heaney
Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has today announced that he will bid to make MSPs and all other elected members in Scotland subject to a PVG check, introducing a new safeguards for children and vulnerable adults and helping protect against people using elected status as a platform for predatory or exploitative behaviour.
Full details of the proposals, which Mr Cole Hamilton says were in place and not sparked by the Derek Mackay scandal which broke last week, will be unveiled when the amendment to the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill is formally lodged later this month.
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “MSPs sometimes have unsupervised contact with young people and vulnerable adults. This occurs at constituency surgeries and when schoolchildren do work experience. It’s an important part of the job to engage with people of all ages so we can represent them and their views.
“Parents should know their children are in the presence of someone who can be trusted and has been checked up on. But those assurances simply don’t exist at the moment, and that’s wrong.
“I have always been conscious that with elected office comes a huge power imbalance. We know that people can use their status to manipulate, target and exploit. People need protecting from that and this needs to be done through law.
“Parties each have their own candidate approval processes, but none will offer the same level of protection as a PVG certificate. The prospect and knowledge of this extra independent check will also serve the purpose of deterring people who would be inappropriate from standing for public office in the first place.
“I have been exploring this proposal for months. This isn’t in response to any single incident. Rather, the idea that winning an election should exempt you from rigorous checking of your suitability to be left alone with children or vulnerable adults is outdated and outright dangerous.
“Being elected to represent people is a privilege. Those who are in office cannot be exempt from the checks that would reasonably happen in any other workplace.
“I hope all parties will get behind my proposal and see the value in increasing the level of protection given to children and vulnerable adults.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton requested on 16 January 2020 that officials at the Scottish Parliament draft an amendment that would give effect to his proposal for elected representatives to undergo a PVG check. Full details of how this system will operate will be revealed when the amendment is formally tabled later this month.
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP asked the Minister for Children and Young People on 13 June 2019 if she would support such a proposal. According to the Official Report, the exchange at the Scottish Parliament was as follows:
Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD): I am grateful for the early sight of the statement, and I offer the broad support of Lib Dem members for the bill. Given that we, as parliamentarians, have regular access to vulnerable groups through case work and that we sometimes have access to young people through school work experience, will the minister take the opportunity that the bill offers to extend the disclosure scheme to parliamentarians and key members of staff who have regular unsupervised contact with vulnerable groups?
Maree Todd (SNP): Members can certainly consider that as the bill progresses through Parliament. As I said in my response to John Finnie’s question, one of the simplifications in the bill is the removal of the concept of regulated work, so that a person’s need to be a full member of the PVG scheme relies not on their job title but on whether there is a power imbalance and whether the person holds power over children or vulnerable groups. I am more than happy to assess whether parliamentarians fall into that category as the bill progresses through Parliament.