AFTER scandal of babies’ ashes, Holyrood must listen to the concerns of its own health committee if new legislation is to be effective
The secret burying of the ashes of babies at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh is one of the most serious scandals of the post-devolution era in Scotland.
It still beggars belief that grieving parents were kept in the dark about the practice, which went on for decades.
When news of the scandal broke at the end of 2012 there was widespread public anger at the dumping of babies’ remains in the grounds of the crematorium. The level of fury deepened with the reporting of further cases in Aberdeen, Fife and Glasgow.
New legislation covering burials was recommended by Lord Bonomy’s Infant Cremation Commission, which was set up in the wake of the scandal. A proposed new law brought forward by the Scottish Government will introduce a legal definition of “ashes” and require authorities to keep details of burials and cremations indefinitely.
The new bill would tighten rules on form-filling to make sure parents are properly informed and given a choice on disposal of ashes. If passed, the legislation will also give ministers the power to formally regulate the funeral industry – a move which could pave the way for a licensing scheme for funeral directors to be brought in.
However, campaigners already have concerns that there is no firm commitment from ministers to implement this after Holyrood’s local government committee said the proposed bill was a “missed opportunity” and lacked ambition. This is deeply troubling bearing in mind it is more than three years since the initial scandal was revealed.
Now further concerns have emerged from MSPs over the proposed new law, with Holyrood’s health committee warning that further changes are needed to avoid future cases where parents are left in the dark.
The government has been warned much greater sensitivity will be needed when dealing with women who have just suffered the loss of a child in pregnancy.
Concerns have been expressed that, in the past, some have been asked to make decisions while in “no fit state” and under sedation.
The message from its convenor, Duncan McNeill, could not have been clearer when he said: “There are several key provisions within the bill that need to be strengthened to make sure that this never happens again.”
It would make no sense for the Scottish Parliament to approve legislation that may not prevent another Mortonhall. The very least that this new law should achieve must be that there is no repeat of previous scandals.
This brings us to the effectiveness of the committee system at Holyrood. It was set up to provide checks and balances for legislation going through Parliament, but the domination of Holyrood by one party - a situation not envisaged when the Scottish Parliament was established - has left our legislature without an effective monitor.
It would be in the wider interests of the Scottish Parliament if the verdicts of these two committees are treated seriously and are allowed to influence the final legislation.
With freedom comes responsibility
Freedom of speech is an incredibly important cornerstone of any liberal democracy.
It is also important that we go to great lengths to ensure that freedom of speech endures. But if a public statement incites serious criminal behaviour, the right to freedom of speech is forfeited.
The self-styled “neo-masculinist” and “pick-up artist” Daryush Valizadeh is a case in question, after a now notorious blog posting that appeared to call for the legalisation of rape on private property.
His anti-feminism “Return of Kings” group has a website featuring headlines like “The myth of date rape drink spiking”, “How to turn a feminist into your sex slave” and “How to convince a girl to get an abortion”. It is little wonder that, by last night, more than 80,000 had backed a petition calling for his group to be banned from staging any events in the UK.
Perhaps more surprising was a statement announcing the cancellation of thr group’s events – on the grounds of possible attacks against men.
Writing on his website, Valizadeh said: “I can no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend.”
As a society which defends freedom of speech, we have to accept that there is still a line that can be crossed. There are some cases when people simply do not have the right to say in public anything that could incite violence or put people in danger. No-one is allowed to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.
With Police Scotland on alert for any “offensive or threatening behaviour” at Return of Kings events in Edinburgh and Glasgow, their cancellation can only be welcomed.