Volume 15 Issue 3 31 March 2014
Welfare Reform Michael McMahon MSP has been heading up the committee created in the Scottish Parliament to evaluate the changes to the welfare system implemented by the UK government. The committee has taken evidence from a variety of groups and individuals including those affected directly by the changes. Drawing the findings of that work together the committee has sent a letter to the Iain Duncan Smith who is responsible for the welfare changes. The powers to change the benefits system are held at Westminster but MSPs have been eager to
consider the issue and it has been the subject of two recent parliamentary debates. The recommendations from the committee can only be advisory on the matter. That advice identifies five specific recommendations calling for those on long-term conditions not to be subject to re-assessment for benefits, that such assessments be made by health care professionals, that recognition be made of conditions which fluctuate such as Multiple Sclerosis, that all applicants be treated with respect and that plain English be used in communications from the Department of Works and Pensions.
Parliament in View
CATHOLIC PARLIAMENTARY OFFICE
Independence Referendum How a society chooses to organise itself politically is an area which is built on the personal freedom of individuals as citizens. The Church’s principles can help inform people on whether political structures uphold the wellbeing of society and individuals but they do not dictate a particular constitutional arrangement. The Church is therefore neutral on whether Scotland wishes to form a State separate from the United Kingdom. A nation arises in a particular geographic area from the binding of particular tribes or clans and is distinguished from other nations by its culture. The experiences of Poland as a country which faced attempts over centuries to have it erased from maps and have its culture destroyed by successive tyrannies led Pope John Paul II to reflect deeply on the concepts of nation and patriotism. In the style typical of a philosopher he does so by considering the meaning of the terms. Patriotism, he notes derives from the Latin word for father and nation draws from the term natus meaning born. He notes the need to distinguish the nation from the state and also from democratic society even though these are interlinked. The nation precedes the State and democracy comes later as an internal form of politics. He notes that “patriotism... is a love for one’s native land that accords rights to all other nations equal to those claimed for one’s own. Patriotism, in other words, leads to a properly ordered social love.” The Church recognises the State as a natural institution in that it is necessary for a society to have an authority which can uphold binding laws for the sake of ensuring peaceful coexistence. Choosing where political power should rest in Scotland engages some obvious principles of Catholic social teaching, most notably the principle of subsidiarity. This principle asserts that decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level. It holds for those who think
that certain decisions must be made at a Scottish level but some can be justified in holding that the appropriate level for some decisions can justify having a political union as we have in the United Kingdom. Catholic social teaching presents us with the principles that help us make decisions by making us consider the different perspectives. So an awareness that subsidiarity and solidarity are balancing principles can help us decide where we think the balance of powers should be set. Patriotism as a value to be upheld does not determine a particular constitutional arrangement and a love for Scotland and the countries of the UK can be held inside or outside a political union of several countries. The bottom line is that one’s religious beliefs will not absolve any of us from the hard work of thinking through the political options that the referendum presents. An important principle the Church upholds is that citizens need to participate in their society. The more everyone does so and with adequate discussion and reflection, the more likely we are to make the best choices. The lead up to the election is a time where that can be done and resources to encourage people to do that have been made available from the ecumenical Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office with whom our office collaborates. This can be found at http:// www.actsparl.org/referendum.aspx Making use of this resource is one way in which parishes and groups can help in ensuring that people take time to ensure that they can exercise their vote responsibly. Our office can be contacted should further information be required on any aspect of the referendum or the use of resources for hustings and discussions around it. Catholics will be on both sides of the debate over the next few months and that is right. As the common phrase affirms: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.
Learning from Secular Sweden Everyone loves Sweden. If only everywhere was more like Sweden. It’s reported to be the best place to have a baby, the best place to grow old and the best place to visit (after Scotland). Chief Medical Officers love Sweden- just read Professor Dame Sally Davies’ report of October 2013. Swedes have long lives, few teenage mothers, and very few child deaths. Academics love Sweden. Here is a country that is “good without God.” It has placed its faith in Science, with advanced social attitudes and progressive public policies. Enlightened Swedes left old superstitions like marriage behind decades ago, so scientists who look at environmental risk factors for health outcomes don’t need to ask awkward questions. A quick headcount of adults at home will do. Politicians love Sweden because academics love Sweden, and politicians love academics. Academics save politicians the trouble of having to work out what they actually believe in. Living in Sweden certainly has its advantages. It is a wealthy country for a start. They didn’t have to rebuild after spending the Second World War as a neutral state, and they have always had lower Infant Mortality Rates than everyone else. Until recently they had the highest levels of public spending in the OECD. So where is this going? Well that is the question. The headline numbers for health and social wellbeing have been so good for Sweden and their Nordic neighbours that we have been drawn down a particular path in social policy which is quite radical but, in historical terms, unproven. Our children are to be saved from smacking but subjected to round the clock professional child care. It is almost surprising that the children haven’t been asked which punishment they might prefer. But all is not well in the state of Sweden. Income inequality, which was always impressively low, has been rising steadily since 1990 and is now approaching the OECD average. This is partly due to increased numbers of single parent households. Reading the Swedish Public Health Report of 2012, it can be seen that the trends in Swedish health are the same as ours, even if the headline figures look better. The incidence of breast cancer is rising and female mortality from lung cancer has also been increasing. Childhood obesity and ADHD have appeared from nowhere. School children are having more sex and acquiring more sexually transmitted diseases. Hospital admissions for mental illness among young adults, especially young women, are steadily rising and the health service is under pressure. It all sounds quite familiar. In the last year or two, young Swedes have started making the news. Police are shocked by their attitudes to sexual violence for example, and many boys seem to have been reading “Mein Kampf” rather than doing their Maths homework. It was hardly noted in the UK, while we bemoaned the stagnation of the British performance in the Pisa education rankings, that Sweden had suffered the biggest slide through the charts of any OECD country. Concerns in the Swedish press were quieted by calming voices- “The girls did ok. Our boys are just a bit distractible. They teach us to think here, not to pass exams.” Recently, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published “Violence against women: an EU-wide survey.” It reports that a third of EU women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence. While it was recognised in the media that women in countries with good PR on equality issues like Sweden, Finland and Denmark had experienced the highest rates of violence, this was considered an artefact. We are told that liberated women talk more openly about these things! Inevitably, the violence was characterised in the press as husband against wife, but this badly misrepresents the data, and the relationship of violence to family structure. In fact there is a statistical relationship between the rates of violence against women in EU states and the rates of birth to unmarried parents going back decades. The higher the rate of birth outside marriage has been in the 28 EU states, the higher is the reported rate of violence against women and girls over the age of fifteen years (births data from eurostat). The link with recent rates of violence is closest for births in 1990. It looks like married parents might have a positive influence on behaviour after all. Middle-aged Swedish policemen, doctors and journalists can easily recall happier times, but they might well be reluctant to reflect on what is going on. It seems that the effects of a social revolution which began in the sixties and seventies are being exposed in a new generation- the first in Europe whose grandparents were not married. It is still enticing for politicians, encouraged by the professors, to follow the Swedes further down their road to Utopia, but we must open our eyes to the dangers. Births to Swedish teenagers are few because they have so many abortions. Sweden has an abortion rate double that of the Finns for example, so the arrival of the next generation has been delayed. Shortly however, a third generation will be born outside marriage, which is why we might suspect that our Chief Medical Officers are kept awake at night by a secret fear; and their sleep is disturbed by a recurring nightmare. They know that one day soon they might waken up to find not only that female life expectancy has peaked, but that Sweden’s Infant Mortality Rate is higher than ours.
PARLIAMENT IN VIEW
Current Legislation Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill (M) Stage 1 (lead committee (Health and Sport)) 11 March Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Bill (G) Passed 20 March Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill (G) Passed 19 February City of Edinburgh Council (Leith Links and Surplus Fire Fund) Bill (P) Passed 18 February City of Edinburgh Council (Portobello Park) Bill (P) Consideration Stage 26 March Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill (G) Stage 1 (evidence, lead committee (Justice)) 25 March Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill (G) Stage 1 completed 27 February Criminal Verdicts (Scotland) Bill (M) Introduced 27 November Lead committee – Justice Defective and Dangerous Buildings (Recovery of Expenses) (Scotland) Bill (M) Stage 1 (Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee) 18 March Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges (Scotland) Bill (M) Stage 1 (evidence, lead committee (Local Government and Regeneration) 26 March Food (Scotland) Bill (G) Stage 1 (lead committee (Health and Sport)) 25 March Historic Environment Scotland Bill (G) Stage 1 (Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee) 25 March Housing (Scotland) Bill (G) Stage 1 (lead committee (Infrastructure and Capital Investment)) 26 March Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill (G) Stage 2 completed 19 March Stage 3 amendments may now be lodged with the clerks in the Legislation Team (Legislation_Team@scottish.parliament.uk Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill (G) Passed 25 February Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill (G) Stage 1 (evidence, lead committee (Finance)) 26 March Tribunals (Scotland) Bill (G) Passed 11 March (G) – Government Bill; (M) – Member’s Bill; (C) – Committee Bill; (P) – Private Bill; (H) – Hybrid Bill
Family, Marriage and Cultural Confusion The Scottish Parliament has passed legislation to redefine marriage. Amidst triumphalistic scenes campaigners in the public gallery applauded and cheered the vote with MSPs returning their applause. Such jubilation has never previously been permitted in the Parliament. No amendments to protect those who disagree with same-sex marriage were accepted by the politicians and the law now implements the view that sex is not relevant in marriage. This is the core of a movement based on so-called ‘gender theory’ and its consequences will unfold as the principle is increasingly applied in society. For example a manager from a high profile and government funded children’s group affirmed on radio recently that it is a stereotype to expect mothers to be women or fathers to be men. This
is an ideological struggle which is particularly playing out in European institutions with a variety of initiatives arising in the European Parliament such as the approved Lunacek Report which proposes a radical support for “LGBTI people” (i.e. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual) leading to calls for a myriad of rights and privileges including access to IVF for single lesbian woman and State recognition of “rainbow families” including legal recognition that children can have more than two parents. This seems to be part and parcel of a broader malaise which also incorporates more radical demands for abortion on demand and for promotion of abortion in schools as in the Estrela report. It includes a recommendation that “as a human rights and public health concern, high-quality abortion services should be made legal,
safe, and accessible to all within the public health systems”. That report does identify some genuine social concerns such as female genital mutilation and domestic violence. The Scottish government reported more than 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse last year with women most likely to be the victims. Also, the Royal College of General Practitioners recently reported the level of domestic violence perpetrated on men in same-sex relationships as reaching 49% compared with 17% for men in general; whereas 80% of those identifying themselves as transsexual report suffering domestic abuse from a partner. The new ideology which states that gender makes no difference to people is hard to square with reality, so efforts to impose the view will ultimately end in failure.
News in Brief John Wilson, MSP instigated a debate in the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness of support for people with Down’s Syndrome. This was to mark the UN World Down’s Syndrome Day. The motion noted that the charity ‘Down’s Syndrome Scotland’ have a vision that society fully accepts and includes people with Down’s syndrome. These represent promising initiatives but pre-natal screening practises result in around 90% of babies in the womb identified with Down’s Syndrome being aborted. This practise urgently needs to be challenged. ********* The Edinburgh Secular Society has a petition (PE 1498) before the Scottish Parliament that the Church should no longer have the right to representation on council education committees. In giving evidence the secularists stated that the Catholic Church was “an outpost of a foreign power based in Rome” and also that appointments of Church representatives were “sectarian appointments”. The petitioners also took the opportunity to state that teachings of the Church were “a direct affront to core public values”. In another petition (PE1487) Secular Scotland is looking for a change in the schooling system so that children have to opt-in to religious services rather than opt-out. In response to the petition the Church of Scotland joined with the humanist society to call for religious observance to be renamed ‘time for reflection’ in State schools. Both these petitions have been referred to the Parliament’s Education Committee. ********* An attempt to introduce tougher laws to deal with Human Trafficking by Labour MSP Jenny Marra has been adopted by the Scottish government and a government bill has been promised to deal with the issue. ********* The Equal Opportunities Committee is taking evidence on fathers who are single or who share custody of children. They wish to hear about the provision of services and support groups, societal attitudes towards lone / unmarried fathers, and issues around parental rights for fathers. VOLUME 15 ISSUE 3
C ATH O LI C P AR LI AME NTA R Y O FF IC E
Assisted Suicide Threat Returns
The Health Committee of the Scottish Parliament has issued a call for evidence on the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill which is being co-sponsored by Patrick Harvie MSP and Margo MacJohn Deighan donald MSP. Parliamentary Officer The procedure is that anyone can send written evidence to the committee which they will then 5 St Vincent Place consider and which they will augment by inviting witnesses to appear before the committee. GLASGOW G1 2DH The new bill has removed the need for specific psychological assessment of those seeking to Tel./Fax: 0141 222 2182 end their lives. It will be open to those from the age of 16 years with ‘life-shortening illnesses’. Mobile: 07930 405 313 A new position would be created for facilitators who would not be doctors to assist people in Email: email@example.com killing themselves. Presently such action is deemed to be homicide but the law seems to be failing to protect people. In England the Crown prosecution service reports on its website that of 85 cases of suspected euthanasia or assisted suicide since 2009, there has only been one An agency of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland prosecution. The police withdrew 11 of the cases whilst a decision not to prosecute was taken Charity Number: SCO 16650 in 64 cases. The figures in Scotland are not readily available. Laws can only be effective if they are upheld by the authorities. There can be few things more serious than ensuring people’s lives Edited by John Deighan with contributions from are protected by the law so it raises serious concerns that so many assisted suicide and euthanaFr Paul Brooks, and Lucille McQuade sia deaths are not leading to the prosecutions. The European Court of Human Rights has previously made it clear that governments must “take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within their jurisdiction, in particular by putting in place effective criminal-law provisions backed up by law-enforcement machinery”. This weakening of the protection of human life that we are witnessing accompanied by emotive and one-sided appeals in the media to support assisted suicide is bound to convince many in society that ending the lives of some people is acceptable and paves the way for the introduction of assisted suicide provisions. We are seeing that other European countries where this step is taken quickly fall further into decline and that public opinion is badly distorted. Belgium for example has recently passed laws for the child euthanasia with strong public support.
Drug Deaths The Scottish Government issued a report on the 25 March giving an analysis of drug-related deaths for 2012. The report gives an insight into what must be the tip of the iceberg for the damage that drugs make on the lives of so many individuals, families and communities. The report shows that 581 people lost their lives through drug use. Of these 75% were male and those aged 25-44 years accounted for two-thirds of the deaths. In the six months prior to their deaths 85% of victims had a medical condition recorded and 56% had a psychiatric condition. The deaths meant that 286 children lost a parent. Methadone was implicated in 46% of the cases but typically in conjunction with another drug. The government invested over £30 million in trying to help people recover from drug use. This coming month they will hold a summit to look at law enforcement around drug use and also to look at how to deal with so-called ‘legal highs’ due to the rise in the recreational use of non-prohibited intoxicating substances.
Recommended Reading Pope John Paul II lived one of the most remarkable lives of the 20th century and understood the importance of preserving culture for the survival of a particular people. In Memory and Identity he reflects on important issues including patriotism and nationalism. This will interest many Scots considering what their national identity, language, culture and our place in Europe means to them.
A reader recommends Give us This Day a novel by Jonathan Tulloch which relates the challenges of a Catholic priest moved to a new parish by his bishop and made chaplain to a busy river port. He is drawn in to the sometimes desperate lives of those he encounters with the accompanying frustration and anguish, not least as he uncovers the world of human trafficking.
Consultations (with closing date) Consultation on Changes to Permitted Development Rights for Development by Telecommunications Code Operators (18/04/2014) Consultation on Fees for Seed Testing, Seed Certification & Associated Seed Functions (30/05/2014) Draft Heat generation Policy Statement for Consultation (09/06/2014) Rural Affairs and the Environment (RAE) Consultation on the Research Strategy for 2016-2021 (25/04/2014) Scottish Safety Camera Programme Review Consultation (19/05/2014) Strategy for the management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) waste in the United Kingdom (08/05/2014) Consultation on Scottish Regulators' Strategic Code of Practice (28/04/2014) College Sector Board Appointments: Draft Ministerial Guidance (30/05/2014) Carers Legislation - Consultation on Proposals - January 2014: Easy Read (16/04/2014) Should the use of wild animals in travelling circuses be banned in Scotland? (16/04/2014) Transposition of Article 14(5)-(8) of the Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU) in Scotland (16/04/2014)