On Tuesday 24 November 2020, the Scottish Parliament will consider the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3. This blog looks at the progress of the Bill to date, and how it has changed since its introduction.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament by Monica Lennon MSP on 23 April 2019. The Bill proposal sought to ensure that all those who menstruate are able to access sanitary products during menstruation, at no cost, as and when they are required.
The Bill aims to tackle three main issues:
- Period poverty.
- Period stigma.
- The effects of periods on education.
To do this, it:
- Places a duty on Scottish Ministers to ensure that period products are made available free of charge on a universal basis.
- Requires education providers to make period products available free of charge in on-site toilets.
- Enables Scottish Ministers to place a duty on other specified public service bodies to provide free period products.
Consultation on the draft proposal for the Bill took place in late-2017, with 96% of respondents supporting the general principles of the proposal. The final proposal gained support from 51 MSPs across all political parties.
In the meantime, between September 2017 and October 2019, the Scottish Government announced a number of funding streams aimed at tackling period poverty, including:
- On 30 May 2018, the Scottish Government announced that £0.5 million would be awarded to the charity FareShare to provide free period products to low-income households. Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell announced on 17 January 2019 that an additional £4 million of funding would be made available to local authorities (starting immediately and extending in to 2019-20) to expand work done with FareShare to roll-out free provision of period products beyond schools, colleges and universities.
- In August 2018, the Scottish Government pledged a £5.2 million fund to provide students at schools, colleges and universities with sanitary products during the 2018-19 academic year. This figure is being increased to £5.5 million to continue the policy for 2019-20. £4 million of funding would be made available to local authorities to expand the roll-out of free provision of period products beyond schools, colleges and universities.
- On 4 October 2019, the Minister announced an additional £50,000 funding for free provision of period products for members and supporters of local sports clubs.
Full details of the Bill as introduced, and wider-ranging background details, can be found in the SPICe Stage 1 briefing on the Bill.
The Local Government and Communities Committee was assigned as the lead committee, and began its scrutiny with the launch of a call for written evidence on Monday 16 September 2019. Between 18 December 2019 and 15 January 2020 the Committee held three evidence sessions.
In its Stage 1 report, published on 5 February 2002, the Committee, whilst welcoming the intentions of the Bill said that:
“While the Committee is unanimous in our support for the intentions of the Bill, a majority of the Committee are concerned, against a background of limited resources, about the large disparity between the costs presented in the Financial Memorandum and the costs estimated by the Scottish Government to implement a universal scheme. There is no clarity on what the total figure might be, nor how much it may grow year on year, dependent on uptake. The majority of the Committee, therefore, considers that more work to clarify these final costs is needed before legislation should be contemplated.
The majority of the Committee are also concerned about legislation that would impose a duty on, as yet unidentified, public bodies which would have a cost but would not compel the Scottish Government to fund it, should it choose not to. The Bill provides that it would be up to Ministers to devise and develop a scheme but this lack of clarity has the consequence that the Scottish Government would have significant work to undertake in order to deliver the Bill’s principal aims. This would be a challenge. Furthermore, as a consequence of the lack of support for a voucher scheme and the additional administrative burden and costs associated with postal delivery, the majority of the Committee consider that the Bill may be subject to significant amendment at Stage 2 which, assuming such amendments could be taken, may leave only the principle of universality contained within Section 1 intact. For these reasons, a majority of the Committee, whilst commending the intent behind the Bill, does not support the general principles.”Local Government and Communities Committee, 5 February 2020
At its meetings on 17 September and 17 November 2019, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee considered the delegated powers provisions in the Bill. It reported on 19 December 2019, and suggested where certain amendments would be help to clarify the delegated powers set out in the Bill.
The Stage 1 debate took place in the Chamber on 25 February 2020. In this debate, James Dornan MSP, Local Government and Communities Committee Convener, referenced the Committee’s concerns, and highlighted the need for significant amendment at Stage 2. The Cabinet Secretary said:
“I welcome the committee’s conclusion that more work to clarify the potential cost is needed and I will seek agreement across political parties on the detail to allow us to better estimate costs before lodging a motion for a financial resolution.”Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, 25 February 2020
Ultimately, the Scottish Government opted to support the progression of the Bill, on the grounds that it could work with Monica Lennon to amend the Bill in its latter stages. The general principles of the Bill were agreed to at Stage 1, with 112 votes for, none against, and one abstention.
The Bill was considered at Stage 2 by the Local Government and Communities Committee on 28 October 2020.
A number of early amendments lodged by Monica Lennon were withdrawn. Ms Lennon explained, in a letter to the Committee, that this was because she had added her name in support to a number of Scottish Government amendments that superseded her own. It also explains the reasoning behind some of her subsequent amendments.
There were 26 amendments considered by the Committee, as set out in the Marshalled List of Amendments. Seventeen of these were Government amendments, and six were in the name of Monica Lennon, with the remainder coming from Committee members Sarah Boyack, Annie Wells and Alexander Stewart.
The Minutes of the Committee meeting show that the majority of amendments were agreed to by the Committee without division. The three amendments made by committee members were not moved or withdrawn. Only one amendment went to a division – amendment 20A, in the name of Monica Lennon, which specifies that, where an education institution consists of multiple buildings, provisions of free period products should be made in each building.
The Bill, as amended, is far simpler than the original draft. Section 1 is replaced with a duty on local authorities to make period products available free in Scotland for anyone who needs them. Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the Bill are removed as they related to the original Section 1. Essentially the prescriptive approach of the original draft on exactly how free period products should be made available, with duty for provision being placed on Ministers, is removed in favour of an approach which places a duty on local authorities to do what is most appropriate locally. Monica Lennon’s aim, that universal access to free period products become law, is met, and the principles of choice, privacy and removal of stigma are upheld, but within a flexible approach.
Amendment 24 places a duty on Scottish Ministers to, following consultation with affected bodies, publish guidance for bodies who will have duties under the Act to support them to fulfil their functions as set out in the Bill.
There remains a focus within the Bill on education institutions, but this is broader and less prescriptive than the Bill as introduced. There is also the provision for public service bodies to be specified to make period products obtainable for free in their premises (while those premises are being used) through future regulations, and for the Scottish Government to consult such bodies in the event that this provision be used.
New provisions place a duty on responsible bodies to produce and publish a statement explaining how they will exercise their functions, and how this has taken into account the Scottish Government’s guidance.
Finally, there is a new section sets out key definitions that apply throughout the Bill. This sets out that “period products” encompasses all types of products that are commonly used by people who menstruate, including reusable products. The commencement times within the Bill are also changes from within one year, to within two years, of the Bill gaining royal assent.
With the costs set out in the Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill as introduced being a significant concern, the Scottish Government, as part of its responsibility to lay a financial resolution for each members’ bill before the Parliament, laid its own Financial Memorandum before the Parliament in advance of Stage 3.
Stage 3 consideration of the Bill has been scheduled to take place on Tuesday 24 November 2020. The deadline for amendments to the Bill as amended at Stage 2 was Tuesday 17 November; 11 Amendments were lodged, none of which make significant further changes to the Bill (See the Marshalled List for details).
Ailsa Burn-Murdoch, Senior Researcher, Financial Scrutiny Unit