David Torrance MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

Like others, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Peter Cherbi for submitting the petition in question and the committee clerks for all their work.

The debate over whether to introduce a register of interests for the judiciary in Scotland is an intriguing one. It is true that there is currently no such register and that alternative arrangements are in place that arguably compensate for that. However, it is also true that registering one’s interests is now commonplace among all high-office public service personnel and that doing so increases transparency and accountability to the people we represent and serve. That is the point on which I would like to focus and is the main reason why I support the petitioner’s call for a register of interests to be introduced.

In Scotland, we take great pride in our legal system, and the integrity of our judges and sheriffs is paramount. We place a great deal of trust in our judiciary and things such as the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 help us to have confidence that that trust is well placed. However, regardless of the level of trust that we have in the judiciary, situations can nevertheless arise that might lead us to question the actions of one of its members and to doubt whether they have acted appropriately when exercising individual discretionary judgement.

The committee’s correspondence from the judicial complaints reviewer, Moi Ali, indicates that allegations of judicial bias, albeit unsubstantiated, have been made by members of the public. Implementing a register of interests would certainly reduce the scope for such doubt and would help to ensure maximum public confidence in our judiciary.

I am aware that every other category of public servant of high office, MSPs and MPs included, is required to complete a register of interests. That therefore begs the question why the judiciary should be treated as an exception. Exceptions tend to create suspicion, which we should seek to avoid. Completing a register of interests is not an overly arduous task and it is one that, in my view, is worth doing to ensure transparency and accountability in our legal system. I would be surprised if there were many members of the judiciary who did not share that view.

I understand that it is currently at the discretion of individuals to decide whether to recuse themselves from a case. Under those circumstances, I can appreciate that judges might be viewed as having too much autonomy over deciding when to recuse. I am pleased to learn that there is now a system in place whereby recusals made by judges and sheriffs are routinely recorded, and that that information is now publicly available via the judiciary of Scotland website. I thank the Lord President for initiating that action. However, although that development has been widely welcomed, I understand that it does not go far enough to address the petitioner’s concerns, as it does not disclose occasions on which a judge decides not to recuse themselves despite the existence of a potential conflict of interest.

Although I understand that conflicts of interest are on occasion declared in open court prior to taking on a case, the introduction of a register of interests would provide a more consistent and sound basis on which to move forward.

The ultimate priority must be transparency and accountability to the public. It seems to me, after examining the evidence provided to the committee thus far, that there is a strong case for introducing a register of interests with that purpose at its heart. Considering that that is a standard requirement for all others in positions of high public office, I believe that that is the right thing to do. That said, care must be taken to ensure that minimal inconvenience is caused to judicial office-holders in terms of the time and effort taken to complete and update a register, and to alleviate any ill effects that they may be put at risk of by doing so.

I look forward to hearing the views of the other speakers in today’s debate, as it is important for us to gain as many perspectives as possible on the issue in order to ensure that a decision is made in the best interests of the public while protecting the privacy of members of our judiciary.



Meeting of the Parliament 01 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 01, 2014
David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Graeme Dey for lodging the motion for debate and emphasise the importance of the issue that he has raised.

The paper that was produced by Angus citizens advice bureau highlights major problems with the UK Government’s digital strategy and its aim of having 80 per cent of benefit applications made online by 2017. Those issues will affect benefit claimants across Scotland, as the universal credit continues to be rolled out throughout the regions, and I am certain that claimants in my constituency will face many of the same difficulties as those that have been encountered by CAB clients in Angus.

One of the most pressing problems that face claimants who must make their benefit application online is lack of access to the internet. Citizens Advice Scotland found in a 2013 survey of its CAB clients who had a benefits issue that just 54 per cent of respondents had an internet connection at home. That suggests that almost half of the clients who were surveyed would have to seek alternative access to the internet in order to make their benefit claim online. Although some people may be able to rely on friends or family who have a computer, those who are unable to do so must turn to publicly available facilities. Most local authorities provide such facilities in libraries or community centres, but many facilities are limited in number as well as in the venue’s opening hours.

In my constituency, internet facilities are available in local libraries, but other than there options are limited. That is one of the reasons behind the newly launched olive branch cafe, which is located in Bennochy parish church in Kirkcaldy. An internet cafe is provided that allows free internet access for people in the local community. Although the service is invaluable to benefit claimants, it is limited to the current opening hours of the cafe.

Even if such facilities are more readily available, some claimants may have difficulties in getting to them. That could be for mobility reasons or because of the cost or availability of transport. Internet access therefore remains a major obstacle for many benefit claimants.

Practical access aside, many claimants lack the skills and/or confidence to use the internet. One of my constituents, who was made redundant last year after 35 years of working in a manual job, struggles to use the internet due to a lack of IT skills. When he found himself unable to perform job searches online, his jobseekers allowance was sanctioned.

That is surely a sign of things to come, particularly for the older generation, who are inevitably less likely to possess the IT skills of our young people, who have grown up in the digital age. CAS’s 2013 survey found that 47 per cent of respondents who cited skills and confidence as a barrier to applying for jobs or benefits online were aged between 45 and 59 and that 22 per cent were aged between 60 and 74. Those factors can make applying for benefits online a very daunting task.

Under the current UK Government’s digital strategy, benefit claimants may be sanctioned should they fail to perform tasks online. I have witnessed at first hand how some of my constituents have been affected by unreasonable and disproportionate sanctions. One of my constituents was recently sanctioned for failing to attend an appointment at his local job centre, despite his having notified it in advance that he would be attending his father’s funeral that day. Although that sanction was reconsidered and later reversed, my constituent had to face weeks in the interim awaiting the outcome of his appeal with no income whatsoever. He came to me with no money for food or electricity.

We should bear in mind that the majority of people who are in receipt of benefits are some of the poorest in our society and that they already face the impact of billions of pounds of Westminster-imposed cuts to the welfare budget. The DWP’s digital by default strategy is likely to lead to a growing number of sanctions and consequently a higher prevalence of such incidents whereby claimants end up in dire straits with nowhere to turn for alternative sources of income.

It is abundantly clear that the UK Government’s target of having 80 per cent of benefit claims made online is completely unworkable and that it unfairly penalises those who face challenges in using the internet whether for reasons of lack of access or skills, or health. That is likely to have a knock-on effect on other local services, which will find themselves under increasing pressure to deal with those who are struggling to meet the digital demands that are placed on them by the DWP.

I whole-heartedly support Graeme Dey’s motion and call for a review of the UK Government’s 80 per cent target at the earliest opportunity.

17:34  

Public Petitions Committee 30 September 2014 : Tuesday, September 30, 2014
David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

Good morning. Mention has been made of a lack of training among teachers. Do you think that NHS Scotland has a greater role to play? I say that because one of the schools in my constituency, Kirkcaldy high school, made the bold move of going into partnership with NHS Fife to create a hub in the school. It made the headlines for giving out free condoms, but it has been hugely successful in working with pupils and teachers to achieve a massive reduction in teenage pregnancies in an area of deprivation in my constituency that had one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. Do you think that NHS Scotland has a greater role to play in getting involved in partnership working and creating such hubs?



Public Petitions Committee 30 September 2014 : Tuesday, September 30, 2014
David Torrance

I agree with the recommendations.



Public Petitions Committee 30 September 2014 : Tuesday, September 30, 2014
David Torrance

I am happy to go along with the recommendations.



Public Petitions Committee 30 September 2014 : Tuesday, September 30, 2014
David Torrance

I am happy to go with the recommendations.



Public Petitions Committee 05 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 05, 2014
David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

It might also be interesting to find out about partnership working, especially with business improvement districts. In Kirkcaldy, Fife Council and the BID areas supply free Wi-Fi in all their buildings the length of the High Street, so it might be worth writing to some of the BIDs.



Public Petitions Committee 05 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 05, 2014
David Torrance

I am happy to go along with that and happy to keep the petition open, too.



Public Petitions Committee 05 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 05, 2014
David Torrance

We should close it.



Public Petitions Committee 05 August 2014 : Tuesday, August 05, 2014
David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP) It might also be interesting to find out about partnership working, especially with business improvement districts. In Kirkcaldy, Fife Council and the BID areas supply free Wi-Fi in all their buildings the length of the High Street, so it might be worth writing to some of the BIDs.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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YesCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11116 Johann Lamont: Scotland’s Future—That the Parliament recognises the result of the independ
>> Show more
YesCarried

Amendment 61 moved by Elaine Murray on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland) Bi
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Amendment 62 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Amendment 63 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

Amendment 64 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by David Torrance
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11252: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11174: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11156: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11088: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11086: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11072: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11067: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11066: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11063: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11062: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by David Torrance
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03494: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03354: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02895: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/01/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02537: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/10/2013 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02427: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/09/2013 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02368: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/09/2013 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02306: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/06/2013 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02265: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/06/2013 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-02088: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/04/2013 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-12786: David Torrance, Kirkcaldy, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/01/2013 Show Full Question >>

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