SMACKING BAN: PRESIDING OFFICER ASKED TO PROBE IF COMMITTEE INVESTIGATING NEW BILL IS ACTING WITH ‘IMPARTIAL SCRUTINY’
Holyrood’s presiding officer has been asked to launch a probe to make sure the Scottish Parliament committee examining the controversial smacking Bill is applying “impartial scrutiny” to its work.
The plea has been made by the campaign group Be Reasonable which is spearheading opposition to any change in the existing law.
They have highlighted the fact that five of the seven members of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which is examining the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill are co-sponsors of the legislation.
They include Convenor Ruth Maguire of the SNP whose Green MSP father John Finnie authored the Bill.
Be Reasonable also point out that to date 88% (36 out of 41) of witnesses invited to appear before the Committee have been in favour of the Bill.
Yet 89% (387 out of 437) of submissions to the Committee’s call for written views were against the Bill.
They want Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh to investigate whether the committee’s conduct is “meeting the standards required by the Scottish Parliament”.
In a hard-hitting letter Be Reasonable spokesman Simon Calvert states:
“We would be grateful if you would please look into whether the Equalities and Human Rights Committee is ensuring impartial scrutiny of the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, including its selection of those invited to give oral evidence.
“Members of the public may question how the Bill can be scrutinised impartially when five out of seven members of the Committee are actually co-sponsors of the Bill. They are effectively marking their own homework.
“Would it not have been better for these members to step aside and allow a substitute to take their place?
“The Committee ought to be going out of its way to demonstrate impartiality, especially given the familial relationship between the Convenor and the primary sponsor of the Bill. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.”
Mr Calvert continued: “I note that when the Committee travelled to Skye all Members present supported the Bill. This was in stark contrast to the audience. During Q & A, all questioners opposed it. The audience expressed its discontent that no-one on the committee represented their views.
“The hostile one-sided questioning of academic Professor Robert Larzelere in the evidence session on 21 March 2019 is another example of the Committee’s failure to offer effective impartial scrutiny.
“In contrast to the evidence sessions that same morning where all witnesses supported the proposals, the Committee’s treatment of Prof. Larzelere was an embarrassment to the Scottish Parliament. It was a calculated effort to discredit him by hostile lines of questioning and refusal to allow him to complete his answers.
“For example, the Convener demanded to know what his views were on smacking before he began his research, presumably seeking to cast doubt on his thirty years of work in this field. No other witness was asked this question. Whatever view one takes of the Professor or his evidence, the fact that he was treated so dismissively in comparison with academics who support the Bill betrays the Committee’s lack of impartiality.
“The question must be asked: is the Committee gathering evidence to help it genuinely scrutinise the Bill, or is it merely gathering material to justify the Bill?”
Mr Calvert concluded: “Will you please examine the conduct of the Committee to assess whether it is meeting the standards required by the Scottish Parliament?”