20 February 2019

S5M-15617 Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15617, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The primary task of the committee was to consider whether the bill is a private one. We have thought about that and have looked at the definition that is in the Parliament’s standing orders, and we have concluded that it is. In doing so, the committee is merely following the long history to which Kezia Dugdale referred, from 1639 via the 1872 act, which, although it was not technically based on a private bill, clearly served private purposes. As the bill that is before the Parliament today is a private one, it is part of the continuum of support that has been given to people in Glasgow.

The promoter had considered whether it could use alternative ways of dealing with the issue that confronted it, such as the charity reorganisation provisions that are set out in chapter 5 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which are available to charities in certain defined circumstances. However, there appeared to be a lack of clarity as to whether the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow would meet the criteria for applying those provisions.

To test that, the committee sought advice from an academic and a Queen’s counsel, which is set out in considerable detail in the committee’s report. The advice is more fascinating than might be imagined, and I encourage all members to read it. However, the bottom line is that it drew the committee towards the conclusion to which the promoter of the bill had come, which is that it could not reliably use the provisions of the 2005 act without the prospect of legal challenge. Therefore, instead, it has pursued the private bill that is before us today.

The consequences of a legal challenge, were one to arise, could be both financially and practically quite challenging, so I think that the safe option that they have adopted, which the committee is happy to endorse, is to bring forward a private bill.

Of course, that leads to an issue for the Scottish Government, which we deal with in our report. It is that the legislation that I mentioned—the 2005 act—should perhaps be revisited to see whether we can provide greater clarity.

Having said that, the Scottish Government has published in the past month a consultation on Scottish charity law with a view to possible update of the 2005 act, and it includes a question that relates to the matter that I have just been referring to. Preparation of the consultation would have been well advanced but, nonetheless, the Hutchesons’ committee was quite right to bring the bill forward in early course.

The other option was that it could have hobbled on with the 1872 legislation and the 95 largely indifferent people who were on the committee. There was some suggestion that many of them were not even aware that they were on the committee, including as it does all of Glasgow’s councillors and many ministers of religion who, simply because of their office, end up legally and formally being on the committee.

We came to the conclusion that doing nothing did not make sense, because the trustees made a pretty cogent argument that we should look at updating and modernising the 1872 arrangements and bringing them into the world that we now have, with the oversight of OSCR and an SCIO. Having considered the alternatives, we are content with the promoter’s conclusion that a private bill is most appropriate and best available method of achieving the aims.

We are left with one question alone, which is how we will adjudge the success of the parliamentary process. I think the key test is that the beneficiaries of the trust see no difference whatsoever and it continues to provide the support that they have enjoyed for some time. The support was described in the 1872 act, which was based on the mortification of George Hutcheson of 1639. It says:

“aiget, decrippet men may be enterit and placet yrin”.

I am “aiget” but hopefully not “decrippet”, but I was particularly excited by the provision that there be

“foure shillingis Scottis money”

every day, and every year

“ane gowne of convenient cullor”.

Before we get too excited, I note that, although four shillings sounds a lot of money, in today’s money, because it was Scots pounds and not English pounds and because of decimalisation, that would be tuppence. I know that the beneficiaries get a little bit more than that today. The parliamentary process should, and I believe will, enable them to continue to receive the benefits in proper legal form.


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