The committee begins this morning by considering PE1623 by Spencer Fildes, on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society, on unelected church appointees on local authority education committees. Evidence from Spencer Fildes and Paul Braterman from the Scottish Secular Society.
This morning, Thursday November 24, the Public Petitions Committee listened to our evidence most attentively, and agreed to what we had asked for at this stage, namely for them to write to interested parties for their views. A pleasant occasion, which you can watch in full here.
The petition is no longer open for signature, but organisations and interested individuals may submit by email to firstname.lastname@example.org , with “PE01632, Unelected Church Appointees” as the subject line.
Here is the BBC News Live report:*
The Public Petitions Committee takes evidence on on unelected church appointees on local authority education committees. MSPs consider PE01623 from Spencer Fildes
PE1623 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish government to remove the constitutional anomaly that imposes unelected Church appointees on Local Authority Education Committees.
10:05 Spence Fildes makes an opening statement on his petition PE1623, on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society, on unelected church appointees on local authority education committees.
Mr Fildes says the current system is out of place. Mr Fildes says religion should hold no privilege over those who hold no belief. He says the current system of unelected church members is certainly not participatory democracy.
Labour MSP Johann Lamont says there is currently a governance review of Scottish education and asks if this may be a way to address the issue. Mr Fildes says the Scottish Secular Society is participating in the consultation and has “chucked its oar in”.
SNP MSP Angus Macdonald says church appointees do not always have voting rights. [No he didn’t; he knows better. He was actually suggesting having church appointees without voting rights, as sometines happens for other non-elected committee members]
Mr Fildes says the argument is not against church appointees but the way they are appointed. He says to give the position just because someone is religious is wrong, they must be there due to the will of the local authority. Mr Fildes says the Scottish Secular Society run a facebook page where they canvas people’s opinions. He says the anecdotal responses regularly bring up this issue of unelected church representatives on education boards.
The Scottish Secular Society representative says church members are imposed on the boards. SNP MSP Rona Mackay asks about other non-elected representatives on the board.
Mr Fildes says where there is a need by the local authority for expertise that is ok. He says if a local authority decided to have a church representative that would be fine. Mr Fildes says we need to get to a point that it is a win win for anyone. He says the Scottish Secular Society stands for “Freedom from religion and freedom of religion.” Mr Fildes he backs freedom of speech, however he is against imposed church appointees.
10:35 Committee convener Johann Lamont asks her fellow MSPs to consider the action the committee will now take. Tory MSP Brian Whittle agrees with Ms Lamont’s suggestion to find out if the Scottish government has changed its view on the issue. Ms Lamont says the committee should write to COSLA to find out local authority views.The committee agrees to contact a number of organisations with interests in the petition:
- the Scottish Parent Teacher Council
- the Association of Directors of Education Scotland
- the Church of Scotland Education Committee
- the Scottish Catholic Education Service
- the Educational Institute of Scotland
- Interfaith Scotland
- the Muslim Council of Scotland
- the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland and the Humanist Society Scotland
* http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-38050473 24 Nov 2016, lightly edited to remove redundancies