MEETING OF THE FIRST MINISTER WITH THE SCOTTISH INTER FAITH COUNCIL ON 28 OCTOBER 2003 IN ST ANDREW'S HOUSE
Present: First Minister (Chair)
Ravinder Kaur Nijjar (SIFC)
Andrew Hill (SIFC)
Yousaf Inait (SIFC)
Eric Masterton (SIFC)
Tom Macintyre (SIFC)
Isabel Smyth (SIFC)
Maureen Sier (SIFC)
Joyce McVarrie (SE/VIU) Siobhan Ennis (APS/FM)
Gareth Heavisides (SEJD)
Lillian Rae (SE/VIU)
1.1 Scottish Executive (SE) representatives and representatives of the Scottish Inter Faith Council (SIFC) introduced themselves. The First Minister welcomed everyone and said he wanted to ensure regular annual meetings and maintain contact with SIFC. The First Minister indicated that the decision had been made to locate faith communities liaison in Communities group and ensure that the Minister responsible, Margaret Curran, would be kept in regular contact.
1.2 Mrs Ravinder Kaur Nijjar addressed her opening remarks to First Minister and the others present. Mrs Nijjar informed the First Minister of a report on Council activities over the past year. She said that the SIFC had developed significantly and went on to present the Annual Report. The organisation had been in its new premises for a year. Maureen Sier, Development Officer, had been invaluable in taking the strain associated with the new move. The First Minister congratulated her on the work of the Council and the high standard of its publications.
1.3 The number of member groups within the SIFC has increased from 29 to 39. An open Meeting was held and a plan had been drawn up to give direction to the workflow. Issues are to be published in the Scottish Parliamentary newsletters to keep SIFC members informed. Two Inter Faith newsletters had been published and very well received, and a copy was provided for First Minister.
1.4 In September 2003, a "Faith Communities in Scotland" leaflet was produce and launched at the Parliament, the Presiding Officer and the Moderator were present. Health Department and Equality Unit had asked to be provided with numbers of copies of the leaflet and a copy was given to First Minister.
1.5 It was welcomed that Dundee Inter Faith Group were using the leaflet as the basis for a course they were running on faith groups within the community, 6,000 leaflets were printed and only 300 are left due to the high demand. The SIFC gave thanks to the Equality Unit for their support. The leaflet had been worded to ensure easy dissemination of information. Two meetings had been facilitated and Mary Mulligan, Deputy Minister for Communities, had joined in one at Holy Island.
1.6 Bradford Inner Ring Inter Faith Group visited the SIFC. They were appreciative of the set up in Scotland and that it had been funded by the Scottish Executive. This was encouraging to the SIFC as the Bradford Group had been set up for a long time.
1.7 The SIFC have one year of funding remaining and the hope was expressed that the funding be renewed and perhaps increased to allow Faith Communities to be well represented in Scotland. SIFC presented the First Minister with a copy of their Annual Report for 2003.
2. Guidelines on Civic Events
2.1 Tom Macintyre reminded the First Minister of a discussion they had on civic services the previous year and spoke about the "Guidelines for Civic Events" which the SIFC had produced. The SIFC is concerned that these Guidelines will not be taken seriously and asked the First Minister how these could be publicised and to whom they should be sent. Should the Minister for Communities write a letter to endorse them? The First Minister suggested that these be sent to local authorities, Universities, Housing Associations and other local and community organisations in Scotland with an accompanying letter from the Scottish Executive recommending them.
2.2 The SIFC feel local authorities and those responsible for events such as the Kirking of Councils and other civic events need to be inclusive and urge them to refer to the Guidelines in drawing up civic services. The First Minister was given a copy of "Guidelines for Inclusive Civic Events". In 2002, First Minister had asked the SIFC to produce guidelines.
2.3 Tom Macintyre gave an example of Remembrance Sunday, where for the first time, at Reid Kerr College there are to be speeches by different faith leaders. It was pointed out members of different faith communities also fought in the wars and lost their lives in these conflicts. The First Minister thanked the SIFC for their contribution to this part of the discussion.
2.4 The SIFC also asked about the Kirking of the Parliament and who
should be consulted when such services are being drawn up. The First Minister responded that the issue here is a delicate matter in terms of not encroaching on Parliament. The First Minister will raise the issue with George Reid, the Presiding Officer and suggests that he set up a meeting.
2.5 The SIFC responded that Westminster were beginning to consider the issue in England and are going to utilise the Scottish guidelines. The First Minister suggested that it would be useful to draw this to the attention of the Home Secretary.
3. Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care
3.1 Eric Masterton addressed this issue on behalf of the SIFC, stating that Official chaplains are now seen to be pastoral and spiritual care givers and not just as the providers of religious services or support. According to Guidelines issued by the Scottish Executive Health Unit, pastoral and spiritual care is seen as an integral part of the clinical team and has actually been told that as a result of the Data Protection Act they might not have access to wards and can only visit patients if they specifically ask to see a chaplain. Patients, of course, will not be aware of the new role for chaplains and for many of them a chaplain can be associated with the Christian churches and religion. It is therefore very difficult for patients to make a judgement about the need for a chaplain though according to the Guidelines they do need pastoral and spiritual support. If the Scottish Executive is to follow through its decision about spiritual and pastoral care it is important that official chaplains are seen as part of the clinical team and given access to the names of new admissions.
3.2 The First Minister understood the conflict between the new role for chaplains as spiritual caregivers and the Data Protection Act. He gave his assurance that the Scottish Executive would be pursuing the issue to find a compromise within the boundaries of the law.
3.3 The First Minister also understood the problem with religious communities having access to members of their community in hospital and agreed that a possible way forward would be for the official chaplain to be given access to information about a person's religion and can, therefore, act as a conduit for the faith representatives.
3.4 In all of this the SIFC want to reiterate that education is needed and it would be interested to know how this is could be worked out. Work continues on Chaplaincy issues with various committees being set up using NHS Board guidelines. Greater Glasgow Health Board has a seminar arranged and a new multi faith Chaplaincy at Edinburgh University is to be opened by the SIFC Convenor. The SIFC were heartened to see how the Scottish Executive is seeking to expand chaplaincy to multi faith in the Scottish Parliament. The SIFC were pleased that the Health Department have taken seriously the role of faith and spiritual health within the health system.
3.5 The SIFC have been in contact with the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office over Chaplaincy arrangements in the new Scottish Parliament building. This is an opportunity to design Chaplaincy services, which is multi faith in its beginnings and not based on Christian models, as is the case with other Chaplaincy services. The SIFC have a sense that MSPs and others working in the Parliament should be consulted to see if there is a need for some kind of pastoral and spiritual support and what the nature of that support might be. The SIFC would be interested to hear the First Minister's views on this and as an MSP, to find out if he thinks there is a need for pastoral support and how he might see that working out in practice. There are possibilities for the new Parliament building in that it could be multi faith in its beginnings rather than Christian. The SIFC would like consultation with MSP's on their need to have pastoral support.
3.6 The First Minister responded that on the issue of Chaplaincy within the health service, health officials have been trying to broker an agreement with the Information Commissioner, this issue will be pursued and it seems sensible to co-ordinate through existing Chaplains. The First Minister is on record as saying Time for Reflection has been one of the successes of Parliament. There is a hope that this can be developed into a sense of spiritual care at the new Parliament. He will also raise the issue with the Presiding Officer, and felt that the issue was symbolic. The SIFC added this would allow faiths to be seen as part of the democratic set up. The First Minister agreed and stated that it allows representation of other lifestyles.
4. Working with Government
4.1 The SIFC reported that the most exciting element of both Scottish and Westminster governments is that they take seriously the role of faith communities and listen to input. They wondered how best to consult with faith groups and in what areas? They were also aware of a review going on at the Home Office, and will be interested to see how this applies to Scotland. The SIFC did not think there would be as much involvement with government. It should also be made clear that the SIFC is not working with faith communities, the SIFC simply reflects their interests. Up until now, no work has been done to integrate faith communities' into society and if we are to make the most of the new interest in faiths, it is important that ground work be done in encouraging members of the various communities to improve civic processes and involvement. One way of doing this is to work through local interfaith groups and encourage faith liaison officers in city councils and perhaps even the Executive itself. If this groundwork is not done any attempts to set up structures of consultation will be ineffective.
4.2 The SIFC believed that local authorities should consider having Faith Liaison Officers at local rather than national level. It was suggested that Glasgow Council be used as the pilot project for this. The SIFC are looking for funding for 1st year (then Glasgow provides 50% funding for 2nd year and full funding for 3rd year). The SIFC would like this to be considered as a possibility for funding. Ravinder Nijjar commented that the possible appointment of any Faith Liaison Officer was very important as faith communities do not realise how important it is to get involved in these types of consultations.
4.3 First Minister replied that he is keen to expand this idea nationally and encourage local authorities. He can see the benefit of such a pilot project but is unable to commit any monies to any project at present. It would also be useful to have one person designated on liaison. First Minister stated he would mention this to Margaret Curran and Andy Kerr and suggested that the SIFC should meet Margaret Curran (Minister for Communities) about this.
5. Young People
5.1 People of faith are usually keen to educate their children in the values and morality of their respective faiths and these values contribute positively to Scottish society. The values engraved on the Scottish Mace, wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion are points where the political and religious communities can meet. Currently the Scottish Inter Faith Council is preparing for the first Inter Faith Conference for young people to be held in Scotland and a steering group has been set up to prepare this.
5.2 There was a common consensus between the First Minister and SIFC that young people reach full potential including spiritual potential. Maureen Sier provide First Minister with a copy of a booklet produced by the Baha'i Community of Scotland, entitled "Treasuring Our Youth", showing that there exists within their faith group, a common set of values which permeate through the whole of Scottish society. It was also felt that there was an overall need to strengthen religious and moral education.
5.3 There was a large amount of concern expressed regarding anti-social behaviour, faith groups are working to combat this. The first multi faith Conference is being organized with the key factor being moral education. This will allow young people to take active, not passive, roles and involve them in planning. The SIFC have done this by having a Steering Committee of Young People. They are involved in the main Conference but will spread out to rural Scotland. It is hoped that the Committee will continue after Conference.
5.4 It is also hoped that young people from the SIFC's committee will attend the Parliament of World Religions in Barcelona in 2004. It is felt that they would prove to be wonderful ambassadors for Scotland, but would need funding. However, it is anticipated that there would also be fund raising by the Committee itself. The First Minister expressed a wish that Joyce McVarrie will continue with discussions regarding Barcelona 2004.6. Visit of Religious Leaders to Parliament
6.1 Andrew Hill discussed the issue of visits by religious leaders to the Scottish Parliament. Some members of the SIFC expressed concern that the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh was not able to conduct the Time for Reflection because he felt that he could not submit a text beforehand. Thich Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned religious teacher who was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King. It was a privilege to have him visit Scotland and many people were disappointed when he was not able to address the Parliament. Andrew continued that many of their members feel that the need for a time constraint and the submission of a text is a western way of approaching such situations. There is a concern that when His Holiness the Dalai Lama visits Scotland he might be put under similar constraints. The SIFC would be glad to know if there are any plans to invite His Holiness to address the Parliament and what these arrangements are likely to be.
6.2 The First Minister replied that no arrangements had been made with regard to the Dalai Lama and Scottish Executive yet. However, it might be prudent to look at having Time for Reflection and an opportunity for faith leaders to speak to MSP's separately.
7. End of Meeting
7.1 The First Minister thanked the Council for attending and indicated that the Minutes of the Meeting would be circulated to all Ministers and Deputy Ministers. SIFC members responded by saying how much they valued these annual meetings with the First Minister.
- Sending out Civic guidelines to appropriate bodies with letter from Minister for Communities endorsing them.
- Booklets were distributed to local authorities, Police and Fire Boards, Universities, Health Boards and Community Groups
- SIFC will meet with Presiding Officer over the Kirking of the Parliament.
- SIFC had a meeting with Presiding Officer George Reid
- Continue negotiations to reconcile the role of chaplains as spiritual caregivers with Data Protection Act.
- SIFC are content with progress and are awaiting the findings of Jane Durkin of the Office for the Information Commissioner
- Continue discussions about Chaplaincy to the new Parliament with Presiding Officer keeping Executive officials informed of progress.
- Members of SIFC have been in discussions with the Presiding Officer, George Reid, over this matter
- To arrange meeting with Margaret Curran, Minister for Communities to explore the role of a faith liaison officer pilot scheme in Glasgow which would eventually roll out across Scotland if successful.
- Pilot scheme agreed and will be rolled out early next year in partnership with City of Glasgow Council
- Discussion to be held with the Scottish Executive on sending young people to the Parliament of the World Religions in Barcelona in July 2004.
- Unfortunately, the funding could not be found for this venture but the young people did attend after finding funding elsewhere
- Discussions with the Parliamentary Bureau on arrangements for religious leaders to address the Scottish Parliament.
- After comment to the Parliamentary Bureau a decision was taken which will allow those of an Eastern religious tradition to speak in Parliament without submitting a written piece
DD: Equality Unit