Our policy committees have had a busy month analysing and responding to proposed changes in the law. We do this to positively influence the creation of a fairer and more just society through our active engagement with the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments, Parliaments, wider stakeholders and our membership.
You can read more about some of the month's highlights below:
Our Planning and Licensing Law sub-committees responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the regulation of short-term lets in Scotland.
Short-term lets provide significant economic benefit through tourism to our communities. However, concerns have been raised over the uncontrolled increase in their numbers, the impact on available accommodation for families, and the lack of control on antisocial behaviour from guests.
We have called for a strong evidence-based approach to support whatever form of regulation is to be introduced. While regulating short-term lets within the planning context may be a desirable approach, we recognise that this may not provide the health and safety protections to be achieved by introducing a registration or licensing regime.
We support the introduction of a framework regime with a ‘menu’ of options to be selected and enforced on a local authority-by-local authority basis.
Our Consumer, Mental Health and Disability and Privacy Law sub-committees and our Criminal Law Committee responded to the UK Government’s Online Harms White Paper which sets out the government’s plans for a world-leading package of measures to keep UK users safe online.
We welcome publication of the white paper and the government’s overarching objective to make the UK the safest place to go online and grow a digital business. We believe that further action is required to address online harms and recognise that this is a complex task, given the need to balance the interests of various groups, protect freedom of expression and ensure that citizens, particularly children or other vulnerable users, can use the internet safe.
We share concerns around the increasing volume of disinformation and misinformation and the difficulty of identifying real stories from fake news. Online harm is widespread and in the longer term, international cooperation in this area is likely to prove more efficient than any single country’s initiative.
Our Health and Medical, Mental Health and Disability and Privacy Law sub-committees responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on proposals for a new national public health body in Scotland, to be known as ‘Public Health Scotland’.
We fully support the intention to embed a human rights-based approach to health and wellbeing. We hope that this will expressly encompass a wide range of international human rights obligations including those included in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
We suggested that, in the context of the wide range of functions that Public Health Scotland will deliver, mental health should be an area of focus. Mental health issues are strongly connected to wider public health issues. This is particularly relevant now given the range of initiatives, including significant reviews of existing statutory frameworks, that are currently underway. However, it is important that the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland’s existing remit and functions are not inhibited by the new body.
Our Licensing Law Sub-Committee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on adding new categories to the definition of houses in multiple occupation (HMO properties) in relation to accommodation that contract and transient workers reside in when working away from home.
The consultation seeks to add new categories to the existing definition of HMO properties. To operate HMO properties, the properties require to be licensed to ensure that such properties are safe, of good quality and well managed. The consultation seeks to address health and safety concerns that have been identified in relation to accommodation in which contract and transient workers reside. The intention is for such properties to be included in the future definition of HMO properties to ensure that those requiring to work away from home should be able to expect similar standards of accommodation. We believe such workers should not be subject to sub-standard housing.