Ministers back free period products bill after U-turn

The legislation tabled by Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon is aimed at ending period poverty.

Bill: Aimed at providing free sanitary products to all who need them.
Bill: Aimed at providing free sanitary products to all who need them.

The Scottish Government has announced it will back a Bill from Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon aimed at ending period poverty in a key vote next week.

Communities secretary Aileen Campbell said ministers still have “significant and very real concerns” about the legislation but they will vote for the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill when it comes before MSPs on Tuesday.

The legislation would ensure free period products are available to all who need them.

Lennon, who introduced the proposals as a member’s bill at Holyrood, hailed the U-turn as a “victory for all the campaigners and activists who have backed the legislation”.

The Scottish Government will seek to work with the Labour MSP to alter the legislation to “allay our concerns and enable us to lodge a robust financial resolution”, Campbell said.

Lennon’s financial resolution – papers lodged with a Bill setting out its financial implications – had originally estimated the legislation would cost £9.7m a year.

The Scottish Government said the total bill could be as high as £24m.

The legislation aims to introduce a legal right of access to free products such as tampons and sanitary pads – with the Bill  having already won support from a wide range of organisations.

Campbell previously told MSPs that ministers did not believe the legislation was required as a result of efforts by the Scottish Government and others to make period products freely available.

The Scottish Government has invested £15m towards this, with more than half a million people across the country now able to access free sanitary protection.

The Communities secretary said: “Scotland was the first country in the world to make period products available for free in schools and colleges and to support access to period products for those on low incomes.

“Due to our world-leading action, over half a million people have access to free period products for the first time ever.”

She said the Scottish Government would now act to embed the provision of period products in schools in law and would also explore what could be done to help those who suffer from medical conditions such as endometriosis.

Campbell said: “I can also confirm that the Scottish Government will give support to the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill in the Stage 1 debate next week.

“We have significant and very real concerns about the practicality and deliverability of the Bill in its current form, which were reflected in the Local Government Committee’s stage one report.

“However, as a signal of our good faith and in recognition of the broad consensus about general policy objectives, we will support the Bill at this stage.”

She added: “We will then seek to work with others in a genuine effort to reach agreement on amendments that will allay our concerns and enable us to lodge a robust financial resolution.”

Lennon said she was “very thankful to the cabinet secretary for listening and responding to the overwhelming public support for the Bill”.

She added: “Credit must also go to the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Greens and Scottish Lib Dems, who had already committed to back the Bill next week.

“Scotland has already taken important steps towards improving access to period products and tackling stigma.

“Legislation will guarantee rights, ensure that current initiatives continue in future on a universal basis, and will help us achieve period dignity for all.”

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