Demonstrating Leadership in Human Rights

– in the Scottish Parliament on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15126, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on demonstrating leadership in human rights.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

It gives me great pleasure to open this debate. As 2018 draws to a close, it is appropriate for the Parliament to reflect on the state of human rights not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, in Europe and internationally.

The sad truth is that, around the world, human rights remain under daily threat. We see the suffering of ordinary people in Syria and Yemen continuing unabated. The lives of children, families, men and women are treated as no more than “collateral damage”. The Rohingya people have been ignored and abandoned by the international community, and those who dare to challenge global injustice do so at genuine risk to their lives. The cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi horrified the world. His case gained international attention, but he was only one of more than 30—yes, 30—journalists who have been murdered in 2018. Human rights defenders from all walks of life in every country face daily threats in order to safeguard fundamental freedoms. They are entitled to not just our respect, but our gratitude.

Nearer home, in the context of our daily lives, we have a personal responsibility to act in solidarity to respect, protect and realise the rights of everyone in our society. Every person in Scotland who goes hungry, is homeless or is denied dignity or equality is a person whose rights are being denied. We are all entitled to those rights and many more.

On Monday this week, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was 70 years old. Its formal adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 was a momentous achievement for humanity. Just 30 articles long, it set out for the first time the fundamental human rights that belong to all people, everywhere and in all circumstances. Emerging from the brutality of world war two, the universal declaration recognised that

“disregard and contempt for human rights” had

“resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”.

The United Nations was clear that such crimes must never be repeated and that the rights that were articulated in the universal declaration should be cherished and universally protected.

Over time, the values and rights that were set out in the universal declaration were translated into international law through a framework of human rights treaties and conventions, and those values have, in turn, become central to the values that we share across the chamber.

As well as the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998. It is no exaggeration to say that those two domestic statutes have transformed human rights in Scotland. In a radical departure from the Westminster model, the Scotland Act 1998 ensures that acts of this Parliament are “not law” if they are in breach of rights that are derived from the European convention on human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 requires every public authority in Scotland to act compatibly with those same fundamental rights and it enables human rights cases to be pursued in the Scottish courts.

This Parliament has repeatedly recorded its support for those vital constitutional protections. ECHR rights are now at the heart of how Scotland’s public institutions conduct their business—not just as an aspiration or a moral imperative, but as a matter of law.

However, the Scottish Government wants to go further. We believe that Scotland should act to give even clearer domestic effect to the full spectrum of international human rights—economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political. Our approach to social security provides a prime example. The way that we understand social security—as a right, not a privilege and as an enabler, not a deficit—stands in stark contrast to UK Government welfare reforms. Universal credit has now gone live for all new claimants in Scotland and I am gravely concerned about the impact that it will have.

Those concerns are widely shared. Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, was brutally honest in his assessment following his 11-day visit to the UK in November. In his view, the UK approach is

“punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” and is unnecessarily inflicting “great misery”. In Scotland, though, we are determined to do things differently. We are building a system with dignity, respect and human rights at its heart. Crucially, we have recognised that social security is not just a right in itself, but essential to the realisation of other fundamental human rights.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

Will the minister commit today to addressing all the issues that the UN rapporteur set out for the Scottish Government in relation to the social security system in Scotland?

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Absolutely. We have taken seriously all the recommendations in Professor Alston’s report and we are looking at how we can give effect to them.

We have also recognised that human rights are not just about what we do, and how we do things is every bit as important. That is why I am proud, too, of the new social security charter—a clear, accessible document that explains people’s rights in relation to the new system. It provides a practical guide to the standards that we need to achieve and the standards that ministers will be held to account for delivering. It was developed not by civil servants or politicians working in isolation, but by rights holders themselves—by people with direct personal experience of why the right to social security is so important.

I hope that members will forgive me for focusing on social security. It is a subject that is close to my heart. However, it is just one example of how the Scottish Government’s priorities and activities are focused on enabling people to realise their human rights. We are also tackling poverty and inequality and building a fairer and more inclusive Scotland. We are promoting fair work and are developing a fair work action plan to embed good practice in Scottish workplaces by 2025. We are committed to advancing equality throughout society.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I agree with the minister that fair work is very much a human right. Does she think that zero-hours contracts are compatible with that human rights-based view of work?

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has a clear view on exploitative zero-hours contracts, so I think that the member and I would be in agreement on that point.

The Government has articulated in words and actions our vision for the future. We have a clear understanding of where we want to go and the values that will guide us.

I was delighted that, on Monday—which was human rights day and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the First Minister was able to announce the setting up of a new national human rights task force. It will take forward the recommendations that were published on Monday by the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership, which include proposals for a new act of the Scottish Parliament to create a comprehensive human rights framework for all of the people of Scotland.

The ambitious vision that the advisory group has set out is intended to finally bring home all the rights that are set out in the international human rights treaties. The proposal is to set out civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights together, for the first time, in a single, coherent statute.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

Section 2(e) of article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that states parties should

“ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents”.

As convener of the cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness, I am keenly interested in that provision. Can the minister tell me how the Government is going to support the prevention of accidents?

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I thank the member for her intervention and for her tireless work on the cross-party group. Promoting and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children and young people is a huge part of the work that we do in Government and in this Parliament. It is something that schools, social workers, community education, the police, health professionals, voluntary organisations, youth groups and many others deliver on a daily basis. Parents, carers and young people themselves have a special role to play in keeping everyone safe, and I am happy to acknowledge the importance of that work and of that article.

At the same time as we are involved in the work that I have outlined, we will take forward our existing programme for government commitment to incorporate the principles of the UNCRC. We will consult on proposals in 2019. I welcome the Liberal Democrats’ support for our action on children’s rights—

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

—and we are happy to support their amendment today. [


.] It seems that I might have pre-empted Mr Cole-Hamilton. If he lets me finish, I might just make him happy.

I am sure that Mr Cole-Hamilton will acknowledge in his speech the significant progress that we have made and are committed to making on children’s rights, including on the incorporation of the principles of the UNCRC. He will be aware that the Minister for Children and Young People has already made clear that this Government will build on the consensus achieved today around legal reform for the future. In doing so, we will of course consider carefully any and all comments that are made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, noting that its draft general comment seeks to encourage states to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14. I am sure that Mr Cole-Hamilton is smiling behind me, but I am running out of time and I want to get to my conclusion.

Respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights is not just a job for Government. That is why I also commend the Equalities and Human Rights Committee on the publication on 26 November of its report and recommendations. “Getting Rights Right: Human Rights and the Scottish Parliament” is an impressive and comprehensive piece of work that presents practical proposals and well thought-out recommendations, and we will respond to it in due course.

I know that I am running out of time, Presiding Officer, and I do not want to get that look that you sometimes give people.

I began on a note of pessimism with a recognition that the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remain at risk. The “barbarous acts” that it speaks of continue to outrage the collective conscience of decent people the world over. However, I want to end on a positive theme. Challenges confront us and we need to strive harder, here in Scotland and on the international stage, to realise the vision that is enshrined in the UN declaration. Scotland has its own, unique contribution to make to that.

In recent weeks, we have been presented with two detailed prescriptions for change, and we will begin 2019 with not just a commitment to continue Scotland’s human rights journey, but specific proposals to carry forward. I therefore ask this Parliament to reaffirm its commitment to the fundamental principles and common values that are expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those principles are at the centre of Scotland’s shared ambition as a nation: an ambition to create a Scotland where every member of our society is able to live with human dignity, and where the universal human rights that belong to us all finally become embedded in every aspect of our daily lives.

I move,

That the Parliament reaffirms its long-standing commitment to human rights and human dignity and to the principles of equality, democracy and the rule of law; notes with approval that 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the adoption by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; further notes similarly that Scotland has enjoyed 20 years of the vitally-important human rights safeguards that are contained in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998; expresses its wish that all of Scotland should work in concert to promote and vindicate human rights for all, keeping pace with progressive international standards and demonstrating global leadership; notes the publication on Human Rights Day 2018 of the report and recommendations of the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership; welcomes the report and recommendations of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which was published on 26 November 2018, following the human rights inquiry that it carried out, and agrees that the Scottish Government should now take action, in partnership with civil society, the Parliament and all parties, to ensure that Scotland continues to lead by example across the full spectrum of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

Monday 10 December was human rights day—the anniversary of the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is significant that this year we mark the 70th anniversary of that milestone document, which proclaimed the rights to which all human beings are entitled, regardless of

“race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The declaration, which established the equal dignity and worth of every person, has become the most-translated document in the world, and has empowered us all to stand up for our rights and those of others. By acknowledging the significance of the

Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking human rights day on its 70th anniversary, we reaffirm the beliefs that were set out 70 years ago.

The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of respect for human rights and of changing our country for the better.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I agree with what Annie Wells said about the declaration. Does she agree that other international institutions are also important—for example, the European Court of Human Rights?

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I absolutely agree, and the Scottish Conservatives are committed to the country remaining a signatory to the European convention on human rights.

In 1950, the UK signed the European convention on human rights—an international human rights framework that enshrines basic rights, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial, and which established the European Court of Human Rights to interpret, as required.

The Human Rights Act 1998 made the ECHR part of domestic law, which means that anyone who is resident in the United Kingdom can use the legislation in courts of law to defend their rights. It compels public organisations to treat everyone equally, and with fairness, dignity and respect. As I said, the Scottish Conservatives are committed to our remaining a signatory to the ECHR and to our continued membership in that regard, which is why I lodged the amendment. Human rights should be embedded in the day-to-day business of government, and Scotland and the rest of the UK should continue to lead by example.

Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed 70 years ago, there have been a huge number of positive steps. Just in my time as a member of the Scottish Parliament, I have had the pleasure of being able to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex inclusive education and the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill, which were milestones in progressing human rights in this country.

Although there is no doubt that Britain is a more inclusive society than it was at the time of the declaration, we must always work to progress and maintain the rights and protections that we enjoy. There are key areas in which I would like to see change. First, we must focus on gender equality, by taking serious action on gender-based violence, sexual harassment and the practice of female genital mutilation in this country.

We must continue to challenge modern slavery. There was a big rise in human trafficking cases in Scotland in 2017, which were up more than 40 per cent on the previous year.

We must continue to improve LGBTI rights and focus on support in education and making sure that mental health support is always available when it is needed. We must also continue to focus on achieving parity between physical health and mental health. Despite what feels like a major shift in attitudes to mental health, for many people everyday stigma continues, in particular in the workplace.

In the context of education, the work of the cross-party group on autism has opened my eyes to the struggles of pupils with additional support needs. That is something that I will pursue.

Human rights have not only changed our country; they have given us a long-standing responsibility to defend people’s rights across the world. All rights that are set out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and in international law are of equal importance, but there are issues that must be prioritised.

Modern slavery continues to be one of the great human rights challenges of our time. If all enslaved people were brought together in a single country, it would be the 34th most populous country in the world, ahead of Poland and Canada. That is simply not acceptable in the 21st century. With the aim of eradicating it through concerted and co-ordinated global action, the UK Government last year called on countries all around the globe to endorse its call to action to eliminate modern slavery, with total development spending to tackle it increasing to £200 million.

It also remains our duty to end inequality and discrimination around the world. Despite the belief that is shared by many people at home that all people should be able to live in dignity and free from violence and discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, far too many people across the world live in persecution. As I highlighted in the debate marking 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, one in three women across the world is still experiencing gender-based violence. When it comes to LGBTI rights, homosexuality remains illegal in over 70 countries.

I am pleased to see the Foreign Office’s focus on gender with the appointment of the first-ever special envoy on gender equality, and the setting up of the equal rights coalition, which is a group of 35 countries that are committed to working together on LGBT equality. Of course, there is still much to be done.

I am pleased, too, that Scotland is leading the way when it comes to human rights abroad. Earlier in the year, I welcomed the setting up of the Scottish human rights defender fellowship—a partnership that will see international human rights campaigners come to Scotland to study at the University of Dundee and build relationships with Scottish human rights and equalities organisations.

To close, I again mark my support for human rights day. I welcome the great progress that has been made on many fronts in relation to protecting and enhancing human rights, but I recognise the need to do much more—not only here in Scotland, but all round the world.

Through the debate today, we send many powerful messages as a Parliament, which is a hugely positive step when it comes to highlighting our leadership on human rights. That is a message that we must continue to send. I am committed to doing everything that I can in that regard.

I move amendment S5M-15126.1, to insert after “carried out,”:

“and notes the balance of support within the committee for the report’s conclusions,”.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I am grateful for the opportunity to open this important debate for Scottish Labour. Scottish Labour is happy to support the Government motion and the Liberal Democrat amendment. I ask for support for the amendment in my name, which highlights the findings of the First Minister’s advisory group. That group highlights the fragility of human rights protection, in that

“too many people are not enjoying their rights”, and

“in too many places services are not meeting needs”.

My and colleagues’ contributions will expand on that.

On Monday, the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership published its long-awaited report. It was fitting that it was published on Monday, because that was the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I fully welcome the advisory group’s proposal to introduce a human rights bill to the Scottish Parliament. However, we must be conscious of the need to ensure that the bill is not just symbolic. A human rights act for Scotland must be a practical and enforceable piece of legislation that enshrines human rights in Scots law. As elected representatives, it is our duty to ensure that human rights are embedded in our policy-making process. It is also the duty of members of Parliament to adopt a more proactive approach in assessing the human rights implications of proposed legislation. In Scotland, I believe that we must be more reflective and self-critical of our approach to human rights.

We must be honest about the highly concerning rise of racism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person

“has the right to seek ... asylum from persecution” and from oppression.

It is true to say that Scotland has welcomed people who seek asylum and who are fleeing some of the world’s most oppressive persecution. However, it is also true to say that after arriving in Scotland, asylum seekers are regularly subjected to substandard housing conditions and are faced with the threat of eviction. In circumstances where asylum seekers are forced into destitution with no recourse to public funds, they have no support from state services.

For example, in Glasgow, there is only one night shelter that provides emergency accommodation for destitute asylum seekers. It provides accommodation for 35 males, but has no facilities for destitute women asylum seekers. The night shelter is provided by a charity that is run by volunteers, and gets no support from the local authority or the Scottish Government. We might meet our basic human rights obligation to protect individuals’ right to seek asylum in Scotland, but not only can we do better—we must do better.

In relation to disability rights, article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

However, that is not the reality for Scots living with complex and often multiple disabilities. From Lockerbie to Lochinver, the lack of changing places toilets throughout Scotland is unacceptable.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I thank Mary Fee for giving that shout out to Lockerbie. Will she join me in welcoming the new changing places toilet at Johnstonebridge service station and the plans that are under way to explore creating one in Lockerbie itself?

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

I absolutely welcome the progress that has been made in the provision of changing places toilets, and I congratulate the service station that Oliver Mundell mentioned for installing one. However, the lack of access to adequate toilet facilities locks out people who are living with complex disabilities. It denies those individuals their dignity by forcing them to make the unacceptable choice between being trapped in their own home and getting changed on an unhygienic toilet floor. That is simply not good enough. The reality is that inclusive and supportive rhetoric rings hollow without substantive action to match the concerns.

Human rights protect us all. They provide us with the minimum social protections that are necessary for living in a civilised and pluralistic society.

I cannot speak in a debate about human rights without talking about a group of people for whom I have campaigned since being elected. Gypsy Travellers face persecution and discrimination almost daily. I have often said in the chamber that discrimination against Gypsy Travellers appears to be the last form of acceptable racism. It is unacceptable and it must stop. I hope that by taking a human rights approach to the issues that Gypsy Travellers face we can finally bring an end to that insidious racism.

In the context of Brexit, we must avoid standing still on human rights. In that respect, I fully support the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s recommendations: first, to nominate a human rights champion on each Scottish Parliament committee; and secondly, to ensure that human rights are a central consideration when committees undertake post-legislative scrutiny.

As I have already stated, I welcome the Scottish Government’s approach to enshrining human rights in Scots law. However, I ask the Scottish Government to match its progressive rhetoric on human rights with substantive actions, and to implement the recommendations of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s report, “Getting Rights Right: Human Rights and the Scottish Parliament”.

Human rights are central to making Scotland a more equal, inclusive and progressive society. It is incumbent on Parliament to mainstream human rights through the policy-making process, and to ensure that Scotland and the Scottish Parliament lead the democratic world on human rights.

I move amendment S5M-15126.3, to insert at end

“; believes that cuts to public services and social security pose a risk to the human rights of those living in Scotland, and agrees with the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership that ‘too many people are not enjoying their rights in everyday life’ and ‘in too many places services are not meeting needs’.”

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I move the amendment in my name. I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a former convener of Together, the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, and that I sat on Scotland’s national action plan leadership panel.

I welcome very much the work of the First Minister’s advisory group and the publication of its report. It has been my privilege to work alongside Professor Alan Millar over a number of years, and I find the report to be a well-considered and important contribution to the rights agenda in this country.

For 20 years, Scotland’s framework for human rights rested on pillars of civil and political rights that were guaranteed by membership of the European Union and by the European convention on human rights. Brexit both removes the former and endangers the latter. Our response to that threat should unite the chamber, and I believe that the act of Parliament that is proposed in the pages of the report rises, in part, to the challenge before us.

The amendment in my name focuses on part 4 of the report, which covers the provision for children’s rights. If we are to be the global leader on human rights that we seek to be, at no point in life’s journey should the rights that are afforded to our citizens fall behind the international curve. We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up in. That ambition unites the chamber, but, consistently and repeatedly, we have been found wanting in our provision for children’s rights.

I ascribe no blame to any particular Administration for that; it is a collective failure, and we need to challenge one another repeatedly on whether we could do better. Nevertheless, it would be churlish of me not to recognise the commitment of the current Scottish Government, and I offer credit where it is due. In the previous session of Parliament, the Government took measures to increase the age of leaving care and subsequently implemented the care review. Members of the Government have offered safe passage and support to John Finnie’s proposed children (equal protection from assault) (Scotland) bill, which is on physical punishment, and the First Minister has given a commitment to Scotland’s finally incorporating the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. Those are welcome steps forward.

The first part of my amendment covers that last commitment. The incorporation of the UNCRC is the only way to make rights meaningful for children. Without so doing and offering legal redress to children whose rights are denied them, we would sit behind the international curve and would never lay any claim to making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

Does the member agree that honouring human rights and international institutions sometimes means doing what is uncomfortable but that it is always the right thing to do?

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I absolutely agree with that. Doing the right thing is sometimes out of step with public opinion, but it is incumbent on us as legislators to lead public opinion as well as to follow it.

Many stakeholders who are involved in the policy work around the UNCRC are concerned that the Government may lose time for bringing legislation forward during this parliamentary session, so I ask ministers to restate in their closing remarks the Government’s commitment to producing legislation during this session.

The remainder of my amendment speaks to the final, major frontier in children’s rights that inhibits our aspiration to be a global rights leader: the age at which we hold our children responsible for their actions.

In 2007, the UN established 12 years as the internationally advised minimum age of criminal responsibility. It was a floor from which the UN expected all nations to lift still further. That was recognised as an important frontier for the UN, as it should be for all of us, because it recognises that moments in time, often triggered by unresolved trauma and neglect, should not define young lives for the rest of their days. Criminal records inhibit rehabilitation and self-esteem, and, in the countries that recognise that, reoffending is reduced and life outcomes are improved.

All told, it has taken us 11 years to get Scotland to that baseline, yet it was serendipitous that, on the day following our stage 1 debate on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill, the United Nations revealed its intent to lift that floor to 14 years in February. Passing the ACR bill unamended would see us reach parity with the four most socially conservative countries in Europe and rest two years below the limit set by the United Nations. Put simply, the bill before us would be out of date even before the ink on it was dry.

If we are truly to set out our stall as an international human rights leader—as I strongly believe we should— at the very least, we must meet the de minimis expectations of the international community. Otherwise, we will be failing many of the 700 12 and 13-year-olds who appear before the reporter each year on offence grounds, who will get a criminal record.

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I am pleased to reiterate, as I did earlier, that the Scottish Government recognises and respects the significance of the UN committee’s general comments as an aid to interpreting the convention. We are absolutely committed to respecting and protecting human rights, and we will consider the recommendations from international organisations closely in our policy making and seek to uphold the highest standards of children’s rights in a responsible and appropriate way. Does the member agree that responsible government requires us to consider fully the implications of making any change to the law on any matter, but perhaps most particularly—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind the minister that interventions are not statements. Please wind up.

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I am asking the member to agree that, particularly in the area of offending and criminal justice, we need to fully and carefully consider the implications—

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I take the intervention in the spirit in which it is offered. It is an important point, and I agree with it. That is why I was delighted that, this morning, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee agreed to take further evidence on exactly that issue, so that we can offer due diligence and scrutiny on the legislative changes that I have proposed in amendments to the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill, which would lift the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

I am over my time, so I will wind up. Support for my amendment in this debate would not suggest that members or their parties are yet persuaded that we should seek to increase the age of criminal responsibility beyond 12. However, the amendment lays out clearly the basic reality that, to achieve our ambition to establish Scotland as an international human rights leader, we must attain the very minimum standards that are prescribed by the United Nations in the field of human rights.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please move your amendment, Mr Cole-Hamilton.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I moved it at the start of my speech, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Do you want to argue?

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat


I move amendment S5M-15126.2, to insert at end:

“, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into law and its move to meet the minimum age of criminal responsibility specified by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, both of which are prerequisites in establishing Scotland as an international human rights leader.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you very much.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I am delighted to speak in the debate. Largely, it is a consensual debate, and I align myself with many of the comments that have been made thus far. The minister made a comprehensive contribution. I was particularly pleased that she mentioned international affairs, because it is important that we are outward looking and pick up on that. I align myself with the comments of Mary Fee, and I acknowledge her good work in relation to Gypsy Travellers, which is an issue on which we all hope for some advancement. We are happy to lend our support to Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendment and to his remarks on young people.

Likewise, I take Ms Wells’s comments in good faith. I do not doubt that she means well, but I have some difficulties in squaring those comments with the position of the UK Government, which has done much to discredit human rights and has played a part in supporting journals that vilify human rights. The minister referred to the roll-out of universal credit. That started in Inverness, and I can certainly testify to the grief that has been visited on the community there. Nothing has been done for individuals’ dignity or for community dignity, and significant sums of money have been taken out of the locality—I think that Highland Council estimates that the figure is £12 million or £14 million. To me, the roll-out of universal credit, the two-child cap and the disgraceful rape clause are not indicative of a Government that puts human rights far up its agenda.

On a more positive note, I congratulate the First Minister’s advisory group, and particularly Professor Alan Miller, who is held in high regard around the planet. We are blessed to have someone of his standing in Scotland. The group’s report uses the phrase

“people are empowered to lead lives of human dignity, to have a sense of worth”.

That is hugely important. It is sometimes difficult to put what is important into words, so that is helpful.

The Government’s motion talks about a

“long-standing commitment to human rights and human dignity”.

We, in the Parliament, have much more in common than divides us on the issue. I particularly like the phrase

“should work in concert to promote and vindicate human rights”.

Reference is also made to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, and I commend its work, too.

However, if we are going to do that, we need to put some meat on the bones of some issues. An example is Gaza, where the population is under siege and has been attacked systematically in terms of weapons, energy, food, water, sanitation and medication. I see the Conservative members looking away at this point.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

I did not notice any Conservative member looking away at that point. The situation in Gaza is not that simple. What about the north of Israel, which is under attack constantly as well?

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I am happy to unreservedly condemn violence from any quarter. I do not hear that condemnation from others. Of course, an issue of proportionality is at play. There is no proportionality in relation to the siege of Gaza and the disgraceful behaviour of the apartheid Israeli regime.

If we are going to put meat on the bones, we should not roll out the red carpet for the representative of that regime in this country, and we should lend support to Dr Philippa Whitford, a surgeon who offered to provide treatment but who was denied entry to Gaza. That is a shocking situation, and reciprocation by the United Kingdom Government—not that we are going to see it—would be helpful. We can lend support to the boycott, divestment and sanctions.

There are a range of international matters—in fact, I ran off pages—

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests. Does the member honestly think that stopping trade and contact with the outside world is a good way of influencing people in a modern and global world? Is that not exactly the opposite of the openness to moving forward that we should be encouraging on both sides?

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

My position is clearly different from the member’s, because I do not have my picture taken, grinning, beside the person who built the apartheid wall in Israel. Dialogue has a part to play, but it takes two people to be engaged in dialogue. So, yes, I strongly believe that boycott, divestment and sanctions play an important part.

Looking at other aspects of the issue, I would particularly like to lend support to the Kurdish community, who are under siege. The UK Government is unwilling to pay any regard to that situation or, indeed, the influence that its position has on the lives of Kurdish people in Scotland, who see the harassment that Kurds face as a result of interventions by the UK state. Of course, that is seen to be offset by the fact that the UK has access to military bases.

I also want to talk about investment, If we are going to spend our money, let us spend it on healthcare, housing and education; let us not give £2 million to Lockheed Martin, a company that recently made a profit of £3.14 billion. Let us not put Government money towards that. Let us not prop up and lend support to the Saudi regime, which has absolutely no regard for individual human rights and has placed an entire country—Yemen—on the brink of famine as well as committing countless war crimes. That has not stopped the US, the UK or France from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, or, until fairly recently, rolling out the red carpet for the crown prince, who was lauded in the west as being a reformer, although that is not the case. That includes, very close to home, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which told me that it does not promote investment in the defence sector but then—very unfortunately for HIE—a few weeks later sent me an invitation to a trade fair involving the arms sector.

Let us practice what we preach. We have more in common than divides us, but there is a way to go yet.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now move to the open debate, with speeches of up to six minutes.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer,

“I will respect your rights regardless of who you are. I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you. When anyone's human rights are denied, everyone's rights are undermined, so I will STAND UP. I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.”

That was the pledge that we were all asked to take by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on this, the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration.

On Monday, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee hosted a human rights takeover, here in our Scottish Parliament. It was a fitting celebration of the 70th anniversary of the declaration and a real joy to attend. I would like to place on record my thanks to the committee clerks for organising it and to all the human rights defenders who came, gave speeches, answered questions, asked challenging questions and took part in our breakout sessions.

The Scottish Parliament is rooted in human rights. They are at its foundation and its core, expressed through its founding principles: power sharing, accountability, accessibility and equal opportunities. Human rights are not some lofty concept or something for other people. They are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death, where ever you are from, whatever you believe and however you choose to live your life.

On Monday, here in the chamber, I quoted Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland, and I am going to do so again, because it made a beautiful submission to the committee inquiry. It said that human rights

“remind us ... we are working with people and their lives—not just a condition, not a policy, not a statistic, not just a problem to be solved. They matter because they protect us from the worst that we can do to one another—and highlight the joy and positive impact we can have. Human Rights illuminate the respect and humanity we can show each other.”

Caring about human rights opens the potential to deliver dignity, fairness, equality and respect for all.

There are some really good examples of where the Scottish Government and this Parliament are doing that, such as in the work on tackling homelessness, social security, support for victims and witnesses, and the carers policy.

In Government, the Scottish National Party defends existing human rights safeguards, such as the Human Rights Act 1998, the Scotland Act 1998 and European Union law, and we are taking action to secure the progressive implementation of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to the incorporation of rights that are set out in treaties, but the most important thing is that that is done correctly, in a way that will work in practice and in real life, and that will result in real improvement in lived experience. It is worth taking time to ensure that that happens.

I am not speaking on behalf of my committee today, but I will take the opportunity to again speak about the recommendations in our report, “Getting Rights Right: Human Rights and the Scottish Parliament”. We want people across Scotland to understand and feel confident in using their rights. We want public bodies to take decisions that advance human rights. We want the Scottish Parliament to be the guarantor of those rights.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Would the member agree that one of the most important things that the SNP Scottish Government has done with regard to human rights is to ensure that anyone, regardless of their economic situation, can access free higher and further education?

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

I thank my friend and colleague Gillian Martin for that intervention. I absolutely agree with her.

The committee’s report outlines 40 recommendations that are aimed at achieving what I have said. Given the major changes to the rights landscape internationally and within the UK as, or if, we leave the EU, achieving those aims takes on a new urgency.

The recommendations include Parliament tracking the Scottish Government’s progress against international human rights obligations, human rights training for MSPs and staff, and integrating human rights considerations into all parliamentary scrutiny. On that point, I am clear that it needs to be about spotting opportunities to advance human rights, not just spotting where rights might be eroded or impacted on. The committee also recommends adding human rights to the committee’s remit permanently and creating human rights champions on each of the Parliament’s committees.

As I said, human rights are at the heart of the Scottish Parliament’s vision of being a power-sharing Parliament. The task for us is to ensure that that vision is a reality more often. I know that our Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that Scotland is a modern, inclusive nation that protects, respects and realises internationally recognised human rights. I am sure that every member in the chamber wants people across Scotland to be empowered individuals who feel confident in using their rights. We want public bodies to take decisions that advance human rights, and we want Parliament to be a guarantor of those rights.

There are loads of human rights defenders among us, there are lots of good ideas and there are lots of examples of best practice. The challenge, which we all need to take together, is to make best practice standard practice.

Let me finish with the pledge that I started with. I am sure that it is one that no one would disagree with:

“I will respect your rights regardless of who you are. I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you. When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone’s rights are undermined, so I will STAND UP. I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I allowed a bit of leeway in opening speeches, so we are quite tight for time. If members could follow Ms Maguire’s example and have their speeches come in at under six minutes, that would be great.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

The concept that human beings should have a set of basic rights and freedoms has very deep roots in the United Kingdom. As a teenager, I lived near Runnymede, where, in 1215, almost a century before Bruce’s struggles in the Scottish wars of independence and at a time when Genghis Khan was still laying waste to Asia, the Magna Carta was signed. The charter acknowledged, for the first time, that subjects of the Crown had legal rights and that laws applied to everyone, regardless of status. Although historians still debate just how much the charter protected the ordinary citizen, habeas corpus, limits on taxation, protection from illegal imprisonment and the rights of the people and barons alike are just a few of the rights that we take for granted today that have their foundations in the Magna Carta.

By 1689, every corner of the British isles was recovering from years of sectarian warfare, the after-effects of which we sadly still feel today. However, regardless of the religious violence of that era, one defining moment shines through: the creation of the bill of rights in England and, in Scotland, the Claim of Right Act 1689.

The importance of those documents cannot be adequately dealt with in the few minutes that I have to speak. However, their impact can still be felt and it runs through the very foundations of this building, up the Royal Mile to the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary in Parliament Square. The bill of rights not only laid the groundwork that enables all of us to speak freely here today, but created a blueprint for fair, transparent and accountable government that is envied the world over.

Today, as we debate leadership in human rights and talk of the protections offered to us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ECHR and the Human Rights Act 1998, it is important that we remember the leadership that was shown by our forebears who delivered the Magna Carta, the bill of rights and the claim of right. I say that because others have.

The United States of America is a country founded on the principles of individual rights, and the Magna Carta and the bill of rights were prominent in the minds of Hamilton and Madison. That is true to such a degree that one can go to Runnymede and see the swathe of memorials there. The ideals of liberty and the idea that rights surrendered to the state must be protected are best commemorated by the rotunda donated by the American Bar Association and the John F Kennedy cenotaph. Those memorials are not only a reminder of the power that the rule of law possesses, but a reminder that, despite centuries of threats to our democracy and our individual liberty, Runnymede has remained. It has witnessed the rise of Cromwell’s commonwealth, the threat of despotism from Napoleonic France, the two global conflicts and the bleak days of the cold war, yet two things have remained constant.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

It is very interesting to hear about the history of human rights, but can the member make a comment about the current situation in relation to human rights in modern Scotland?

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

In a way, I am. The debate is about leadership in human rights. It is right that we remember the background and history of our countries. We have always been at the forefront of human rights. The field in which the Magna Carta was signed has survived, as have the rights enshrined in law there almost a millennium ago.

My point is this: no matter what, we have preserved human rights, and I have no doubt that in the future we will continue to do so. However, those rights do not come for free. They come with a duty and a responsibility to uphold them for future generations, so that they may enjoy the same liberties that we are privileged to possess today. That is true leadership in regard to human rights. That is the spirit in which we have acted throughout the centuries and in which we continue to act today, when we pioneer new legislation and bring human rights into the actions taken daily by the Parliament. It is that spirit that reminds us of our obligations as human beings to treat each other with dignity, fairness and respect, and I see that spirit running through our legal systems today. We have a responsibility to not just enforce our own rights, but protect the rights of others. As we have heard from other members, that is important work that both the Scottish and UK Governments have dedicated themselves to across the globe.

I know that some people have their concerns that our rights may be affected in the years to come. However, having examined the history of this country, I can tell you that I have no doubts. We have our role models to follow and all that remains is for us to fulfil our obligation to society and continue to fight for oppressed peoples, no matter if they are in Paisley or Pyongyang.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

What assessment would be made, using a human rights approach, of the two-child cap and the rape clause? Would they be compatible with the human rights aspirations that Michelle Ballantyne is speaking about?

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

I had actually finished my speech, Presiding Officer.

In all such things, much of it becomes a political discussion on what we believe is right in relation to the delivery of systems. It is always important that we protect people’s rights. It is wrong to say that individual Governments do not do that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind all members to take care to address the motion that is up for debate. Sometimes it is a judgment call.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

I start by stating my appreciation for the advisory group of human rights experts who have, over the past year, dedicated their time, knowledge and attention to development of their comprehensive recommendations. I also thank the many civil society human rights representatives who made up the reference group, which has kept the process relevant to everyday experience in Scotland.

The adoption of the recommendations, alongside political will and prioritisation of introduction of the necessary changes, can and will result in the development of a more equitable society.

Our nation will see social and economic rights, as well as civil and political rights, resulting in a comprehensive change to the lives of the people who currently most need realisation of those rights. By social and economic rights, I mean adequate housing and food, protection against poverty and social exclusion, the right to education, social security and social protection, and the right to take part in social and cultural life. This is about dignity and the fact that nobody deserves to live in poverty or to be denied his or her rights. Human rights are absolute and universal.

The Scotland Act 1998—which led to the establishment of this Parliament—incorporates the civil and political rights of the Human Rights Act 1998, which reflects the concrete legal protections that were set by the European Convention on Human Rights. I agree with the proposal to enshrine EU human rights protections in order to guard against any legal threats that are posed by Brexit. The proposed act of the Scottish Parliament will go further than any other human rights legislation in the UK by incorporating socioeconomic, cultural and environmental rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that

“unless specific action is taken towards the full realisation of economic, social and cultural rights,” civil and political rights

“can rarely, if ever, be realized, even in the long term.”

That highlights why going beyond the 1998 civil and political rights protections is an important next step.

Human rights are intrinsic and they belong to everyone. However, for those rights to improve the lives of the people who call Scotland their home, all of us here in Parliament have the responsibility to introduce legislation that can make that possible. That means introducing a human rights framework that has the capacity to be transformational. There is no good or intractable reason why a state cannot uphold human rights and see those rights being reflected in the quality of its citizens’ lives and freedoms. That is by no means a small task: full and comprehensive realisation of human rights in Scotland faces substantial challenges. It is, however, our duty as parliamentarians, and it is the duty of the Scottish Government, to lead the way towards an equal future for all.

The biggest challenge that human rights face in Scotland is poverty. Poverty deprives people of choice and freedom and it takes away what should rightfully belong to an individual, including basic things such as the security of a home and good-quality food to eat.

Poverty is a significant political issue. Philip Alston, the United Nations rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, has been mentioned. He spoke of how he anticipates that poverty will worsen because of Brexit. He also spoke of the disproportionate effect of austerity—namely, benefits freezes and the roll-out of universal credit—on the poorest people.

Universal credit was introduced in Drumchapel—part of my constituency—last Wednesday. It is pushing many families in my constituency into a very difficult situation right before Christmas. It is doing that across the country, which is resulting in more and more families having to rely on food banks. That is unacceptable.

Human rights, and the act of treating people with dignity, should feed into all areas of policy and be an important consideration in any political decision. This is the 21st century: it should not be considered to be radical or revolutionary to say such things. Nevertheless, the fact that we see policies that are penalising some of the poorest people in Scotland and the rest of the UK shows that they still need to be said.

The incorporation of human rights into law, and putting a duty on public bodies to comply with that law, would once again evidence the Scottish Parliament’s prioritisation of the people of Scotland. My constituents should have good-quality homes to live in, and should not have to worry about relying on food banks to make it through Christmas. Incorporation of human rights should not be revolutionary, but it appears that it has to be. That is why I welcome the recommendations of the First Minister's advisory group. We will lead the way in making the revolutionary the everyday—when abstract rights become the norm and the expectation.

I want the children of my constituency, and of all constituencies, to grow up knowing their own and everyone’s rights in an equal society, and I want them to have a future in which they can make life choices free from the constraints of poverty, and in which they are treated with dignity and respect at all times.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

I welcome this debate marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have to say that it is very timely, given the times of division in which we live.

In particular, I congratulate the advisory group on its report and its call for leadership. However, that call needs to go beyond the Government and politicians to every citizen the length and breadth of our country, and right around the world. Only if every citizen sees the fight for human rights as their own fight can we get true good practice and real change.

The reality is that hate and prejudice are on the rise. We have Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-Catholic hatred, racism and sexism, and LGBT rights—and so many more—seem to be under attack here at home and around the world. It certainly feels like we as a nation and as a world are going backwards.

There is a constant debate about the role of social media in that respect. Social media amplify division and create echo chambers, and social media feeds give people permission to say things anonymously that they would not normally say to someone face to face. However, social media also help to build solidarity and understanding among people in different parts of the world, and to expose abuse locally, nationally and internationally.

I will touch, too, on the role of the mainstream media. In this political climate, many of us attack them; indeed, my family has had its fair share of troubles with them over the years. However, we should also resist the urge to shout “Fake news!”, given that so many of the human rights abuses that take place are exposed only through the bravery of journalists around the world putting themselves at risk in order to report what is happening in those other parts of the world.

We also have to accept that our political leadership—in its broadest sense—is failing. The political order is failing. At this time of political failure, we rely more than ever on people, rather than politics, to drive change. The fundamental point is that change will come only when our politics changes, which is the responsibility of each and every one of us who occupies a role in the political sphere.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be broken down to three simple words: equality, justice and opportunity—for every citizen, regardless of their background. What are the basic rights? They are minorities’ right to protection, a person’s right to education, the right to healthcare, the right to a home, the right to justice, the right to security and safety, the right to social welfare, and the right to live without fear.

However, what do those rights mean in practice? The sad reality is that it is unsafe for some people to walk down certain streets, even in Scotland. There are women and people in minority communities who are scared to walk down some streets. We need to recognise that so much prejudice—whether it be Islamophobia, racism or antisemitism—is gendered. People see women as the easy target to attack on our streets. The number of women whom I have spoken to who have been sworn at, been threatened or had their headscarves removed on our public transport is simply unacceptable.

The fact is that we need to recognise, respect and accept each other’s differences, whether they be physical or related to colour, religion, gender, age, LGBT status or whatever. We must celebrate our differences—we must not use them as a way of attacking each other and dividing people.

Human rights are under attack here in Scotland, across the UK and right around the world. We are seeing the rise of the far right and, with it, the othering of our fellow citizens and, in turn, fear of the other. People such as Tommy Robinson and Steve Bannon are becoming international celebrities as a result. How do we defeat such people? I do not think that we can defeat them by shouting them down or even by denying them access to a platform—although I would deny them all platforms. Instead, we have to take the argument that Steve Bannon and Tommy Robinson are making head on and defeat it.

We change people through education and by building relationships—not with punishment. We allow people to learn from each other and to recognise when they get it wrong, and we allow people to change—through dialogue and not through division.

How will we do that? Let us empower our citizens and our communities. Let us build confidence in our communities so that people, particularly women, can come forward and share their stories, so that we can learn from each other: children learning from children, adults learning from adults—people learning from each other. Let us make that difference a strength in our communities and recognise that our differences are actually strengths.

The fight is for every single one of us—we should not leave it to be someone else’s fight, whether it is the fight at home or the fight abroad. We should not leave people just to fight their own corner: we should imagine that it is our family, our child, our mother, our father, our loved one who is under attack. How would we feel and what would we do in response?

I welcome the publication of the recommendations, and I welcome the fact that we will have a human rights act in Scotland. What we need more than a change in the law, however, is a change in culture. We need more than just warm words—we can all do warm words. We all need to lead by example.

Let us not have Scottish exceptionalism that says that bad things only happen elsewhere, because bad things happen here, too. They happen in our institutions, in our public sector bodies, in our playgrounds, in our college and university campuses and in our workplaces across the country. Let us have genuine, individual leadership and let us have human rights for all.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

This week we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a significant milestone. The UDHR is a historic document that outlined the rights and freedoms that everyone is entitled to. It was the first international agreement on the basic principles of human rights and it laid the foundations for the human rights protections that we have here today. Nearly every state in the world has accepted it and it has inspired more than 80 international conventions and treaties, as well as numerous regional conventions and domestic laws. It has been the catalyst for improving human rights protections for groups such as disabled people, indigenous peoples and women and it has been translated into more than 360 languages.

The celebration of the 70th anniversary in Parliament this week shows the significance that we place on such protections. For the first time in Scotland, we have a committee that is dedicated to equalities and human rights. We embed the principles in our legislation and we do it because it is the right thing to do. We are human rights defenders, human rights guarantors, human rights ambassadors and human rights champions.

This week, the Parliament has seen several human rights milestones for Scotland. On Monday, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee had a human rights takeover of Parliament. We heard from human rights defenders such as Bianca Jagger, Davie Donaldson, Judith Robertson and, as is fitting in the year of young people, children and young people from across Scotland. We heard from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights about how Governments need to be strong, about how the Scottish national action plan is a good example of human rights policy, and about how the Scottish Government sets an example with its scrutiny of policy, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

On Monday, the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership launched its report, which will be the basis of my speech. The report is a significant step for us in our role as human rights defenders and is a chance for Scotland to continue to show leadership in the field. The report has seven recommendations. The main one is that we create

“An Act of the Scottish Parliament which provides human rights leadership.”

The act will specifically look at

“Civil and Political Rights and Freedoms ... Economic, social and cultural rights ... Environmental rights” and

“further specific rights belonging to children, women, persons with disabilities, on race and rights for older persons and for LGBTI communities.”

The new framework will have

“dignity as its core value.”

Launching the report, the First Minister said:

“As First Minister of Scotland I am determined that the Scottish Government will be recognised internationally as a government that does stand up for human rights.”

It is an important time for Scotland in terms of human rights. We stated in our programme for government that we will incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law and one of the recommendations of our recent committee report is that we hope that that happens during this session of Parliament, if possible. It was therefore reassuring to hear the minister’s remarks on that in her opening speech.

Our committee’s report and the report of the advisory group have many recommendations that would improve the lives of our citizens. We must take those recommendations seriously.

We are considering how far to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and, in a couple of months, we aim to bring children’s legislation in line with adult legislation with the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, which has been introduced by John Finnie.

Our committee report also asks that human rights be given more scrutiny in the budget process; that acts of Parliament with a significant human rights approach be prioritised for post-legislative scrutiny; and that we hold annual debates on the universal periodic review and on the Scottish national action plan on human rights. We would like other committees in the Parliament to identify and appoint a human rights champion, we would like to strengthen our relationship with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and strengthen its powers, and we would like to amend standing orders so that the Equalities and Human Rights Committee becomes a mandatory committee of this Parliament.

As we debate this today in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament, let us not lose sight of the fact that we still have much to debate about human rights, both here and in wider society.

As we move forward with this matter, I hope that everyone’s voices will be heard, because human rights do not belong just to the policy makers—human rights belong to us all. We know that the world is watching; we are often told that. There are no second chances on the issue. We have to get it right and we have to get it right first time.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

I welcome the debate. Looking back over the past 20 or 30 years, I think that the issue of human rights has become much more embedded in Scottish society and our education system. About 10 nights ago, I was trying to persuade one of my daughters that she should think about heading towards bed. She quoted me the human rights legislation about the right to play. I was told that I was taking away her right to play and that she would be discussing that with her teacher the following morning. Rights are important although, as a father, I would argue that so, too, is responsibility.

In the time that remains to me, if I can move away from my traumatic experience as a father, I will discuss the issue of disability. Persons with disability—whether physical and obvious or hidden and much less obvious—face discrimination and barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal and everyday basis. As I talk to many people across our country who have differing forms of disability, that becomes clearer and clearer. Sadly, I think that my experience as a disabled individual is too often the exception rather than what is normal. Persons with disabilities have remained largely invisible and often sidelined in the human rights debate.

Many people find it difficult to communicate in a way that people understand. The full range of human rights is closed to those with disability. There are many different reasons for that. Unlike other characteristics, disability is such a wide-ranging subject; what affects somebody with one disability will be someone else’s very different experience. One of the problems that politicians and the Scottish Government have—and I sympathise—is about who to consult when we talk about disability. Too often, we can leave people out.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international legal agreement that exists to protect and promote the human rights of disabled people. The UK Government signed up to it in 2009, making a commitment to promote and protect the human rights of disabled people. There is a long way to go on that, whether it is the UK Government or even, I suggest, the Scottish Government. A report in October by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said that progress had been made on disability in the UK but concluded that there was still a long way to go, and that a long, large drive and effort would have to be made. Issues such as housing, employability and access to basic services are human rights, which disabled people often struggle to get.

I welcome the debate, and I welcome the comments by Scottish Government ministers and other members. However, I again make a plea, because the rights of disabled people in Scotland have not yet been fully met. There is still a lot of work to be done. Even though moves have been made in the right direction, words are not enough. We need action, and we need it quickly.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

It is an honour to speak in this afternoon’s debate to recognise the 70th anniversary of the ratification of the milestone Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I am a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, which, as others have said, has published a report that sets out a human rights road map for the Scottish Parliament. The report makes 40 recommendations that aim to bolster the role of MSPs as supporters of human rights, including the recommendations that the Parliament should track the Scottish Government’s progress against international human rights obligations and that it should integrate human rights considerations into all parliamentary scrutiny.

One area that the committee considered was that of local authorities. It is evident that they must actively use a human rights-based approach and do more than what is known as box ticking. That will lead to better outcomes for residents. The committee also commented on the protection of human rights in public institutions such as local authorities.

It is fitting for me to mention a care-experienced young man whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the past year or so. On Monday of this week, at the takeover event to mark the 70th anniversary, Ryan McShane, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament and a student at St Ambrose high school in Coatbridge, gave an exceptional speech to the Parliament and the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Unfortunately, I could not be there, but I watched his speech that night and I encourage all members to do so.

I put it on record that I could not be there because I was in Norway with the Justice Committee—we went there to see its justice system, which helps vulnerable child witnesses through the barnahus model. Young people in Norway who have to give evidence in a criminal trial do not need to appear in court but are interviewed and supported in a barnahus. That is an example of the approach that the Scottish Government is taking to the promotion of human rights in the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, which is going through stage 1 at the moment. The barnahus model is something that we should all aspire to.

Ryan McShane is a care-experienced young person who has been actively defending human rights and holding decision makers to account, as he demonstrated on Monday when he addressed the First Minister and the Parliament. Ryan went to the UN in Geneva as part of the Scottish delegation that was supported by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland to bravely speak about the trauma of his past experiences in the foster care system, which involved him having many different placements before finding a family who have provided lasting love, happiness and understanding. I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to his foster carers and to all those carers across the country, including kinship carers, who give children the chance to reach their potential. Care-experienced young people have the right to have a family like the one Ryan has had, and we have a duty to support them in having the same opportunities and rights as anyone else in Scotland.

I have said previously in the chamber that before I became an MSP I was a social worker, and I worked with many looked-after children. That is why I was delighted when the First Minister launched an independent review of the care system. That review is currently taking a comprehensive look at the care system in Scotland. Children and young people’s voices and experiences, as well as those of the people who work with and care for them, are at the heart of that process. Final recommendations on changes to policy and legislation will be reported to the Scottish Government by the summer of 2020. Nothing can be more important than how we care for those who are cared for by the state and how we promote their human rights.

Children and young people in care have often experienced significant trauma in their lives. That is why, yesterday, in response to my question, I was glad to hear Derek Mackay commit to spending on the child abuse inquiry to make sure that victims’ voices are heard in that inquiry. However, we still have work to do to ensure that human rights are for everyone.

Care-experienced young people in higher education face additional hurdles in the pursuit of their education. There are some safeguards in place, such as the bursary for care-experienced students under 26, but there are anomalies in the system. Constituents recently raised concerns with me that their daughter, who was adopted from outwith the UK but is now a British citizen, will not be considered for financial assistance for university as she has not been looked after by a local authority in the UK at any point in her life. Such children and young people adopted from overseas have care experiences and have experienced significant trauma, yet they cannot receive financial support for university. I have written to the Student Awards Agency For Scotland and the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science asking for a review of that. Human rights are for everyone, regardless of which country they are adopted from—no ifs, no buts. All children and young people in Scotland deserve the same higher education opportunities.

I will comment on the impact of Brexit on human rights and particularly on EU citizens. My office invited every EU national living in Coatbridge and Chryston to a constituency surgery last Friday. It was an extremely busy surgery—almost 100 folk turned up throughout the morning—and I am really pleased that so many people were able to come out. What they came to see me about was not such good news. They were worried about their status, employment and, of course, those ridiculous settling fees. I had people there who have been in the country for 10, 20 or 30 years, feeling that they were not welcome and that they had to pay a fee to be a citizen of this country. That is absolutely ridiculous. I call on the members on the benches to my left to speak to their counterparts in London to try to get that sorted.

While we are talking about the UK Government, where are human rights when it comes to universal credit, the two-child cap and the rape clause? Other members have asked the same question. If MSPs are not getting folk coming in to tell them about the devastating effects of those policies, they might want to check out how available they are to their constituents.

This has been a mainly consensual debate. I guarantee that I and other back benchers will hold the Government to account, for example on the SAAS issue. Again, though, I make a plea to my Tory colleagues, in this consensual debate, to look at the effects on human rights of some of their London colleagues’ polices.

I wanted to mention some other issues, but I have run out of time. It has been an absolute pleasure to speak in the debate, and here’s to the next 70 years of demonstrating leadership on human rights.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the closing speeches. I call Alex Cole-Hamilton for around six minutes, please.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I very much welcome the tone and tenor of the debate—it has hit absolutely the right note. I associate myself with the remarks of the minister, Christina McKelvie, at the beginning of the debate, and thank her warmly for her remarks in response to my intervention. I acknowledge that I have crossed swords with this Government on issues such as the age of criminal responsibility, but I recognise the Government’s listening mode and the interest that it has shown, particularly around general comment 24 and the uplift to the age of 14 that the UN is about to embark on. I look forward to working with the Government on a consensual basis as we progress through the passage of the

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill


My amendment does not seek to pre-empt the arguments or discussions that we will have at stages 2 and 3 of the bill. Rather, I want to lay out a common understanding that, if the Parliament seeks to be a human rights leader—which we should—we need to achieve the international de minimis expectations. In children’s rights, that is around things like physical punishment. It is about how we offer legal redress to children who have had their rights denied—Jeremy Balfour will be afraid, because his daughter may be coming at him with a legal team—and the age at which we credit kids with responsibility for their actions.

This has been a really good debate. I acknowledge Annie Wells’s contribution and congratulate her on her support for the ECHR. I am glad that she is in her party, because there are many in her party who do not support the ECHR. She will have a fight on her hands, but I recognise and congratulate her on her credentials in the human rights arena.

I am also grateful for Mary Fee’s contribution, and acknowledge her tenacious and forensic approach at stage 1 of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill. It is Mary Fee who drew forth answers on going further than 12 as a baseline for the age of criminal responsibility, which helped to move the frame of the debate right out of the traps. I also acknowledge her work on the rights of Gypsy Travellers, which is another area where we fall behind the international curve.

Measuring ourselves against other countries is a helpful way of making public policy, although it is not the only way, and it should not be the only factor that we build in. However, with regard to the age of criminal responsibility, we are on a trajectory to join the four most socially conservative countries in Europe by having a baseline of 12. We often compare ourselves to Denmark. For many years, the age of criminal responsibility in Denmark was 15. When a more socially conservative Government was elected, it lowered the age to 14, thinking that that would be a populist thing to do. However, within two years, it had taken the age back to 15, having recognised the demonstrable negative impact on life outcomes and reoffending that the change had had in Denmark.

People have sometimes challenged me when I have compared us with other nations with regard to this issue, and have pointed out that we have a unique process involving our children’s hearings system. We should be justifiably proud of our children’s hearings system, which results in a process that is more humane than that in other countries. However, it was telling that, during stage 1 of the bill, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, which is in charge of the children’s hearings system, recognised that there is still demonstrable harm done to children who are criminalised through the children’s hearings system. Malcolm Schaffer said:

“We have not recognised the sort of criminalisation effects that an appearance at a hearing for committing an offence can have”.—[

Official Report


Equalities and Human Rights Committee

, 6 September 2018; c 3.]

It is partly because of that that he restated several times his belief that it is imperative that we go further than the age of 12 in the bill. In any given year, 650 children who are between 12 and 13 will come before the reporter on offence grounds, and six will come before a court.

I want to talk briefly about the case of Lynzy Hanvidge, which we heard about at stage 1. On the night on which she was taken into care, she, understandably, erupted—kicked off, as we might say—and was arrested and spent a night in the cells. She was 13 years old, and nothing in the bill as it stands would do anything to change her story. It is stories such as hers that have reframed the debate.

I do not think that it is controversial to move the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 14. Since I lodged my amendments, I have done many interviews and written many op-ed pieces and have had no adverse reaction from the Scottish public whatsoever. In fact, many people are surprised that it is not 14 already. We should, therefore, move forward with confidence.

I recognise John Finnie’s personal efforts in the field of children’s rights, particularly with regard to the physical punishment of children. I hope that his Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill will become an act, because physical punishment is an abomination. We are continually outstripped by other countries that have outlawed the practice, all the way to Sudan.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

Mr Cole-Hamilton talks about comparing us with other countries, but the suggestion of making smacking a child a common-law offence, with the ultimate penalty being up to life imprisonment, is completely disproportionate, as can be seen when we compare that with the situation in countries such as Denmark, Germany and France, where the practice is not criminalised at all.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

I look forward to the exchanges on this subject during the passage of John Finnie’s bill. However, I say two things to Gordon Lindhurst. First, in the countries that have criminalised the practice, parents have not been marched through the courts for normal parenting behaviour; we are talking about a culture change. Secondly, we often hear about kids running into traffic or putting their hands into fires if they are not given a decent smack, but in the countries that have criminalised the practice, we have not heard about a rash of kids running into traffic or putting their hands into fires. There are many misconceptions on this issue, and I look forward to addressing them head-on when we deal with John Finnie’s bill.

I know that I am vastly out of time, Presiding Officer. Can I have a little bit more?

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

Thank you.

Ruth Maguire made a typically thoughtful contribution, and I pay tribute to her convenership of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. That has not always been an easy job but, as I said earlier, we have agreed to take more evidence to fully scrutinise what it means to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 14 or 16. That is a measure of her commitment to keep us in step with international law and of her diligence in relation to the committee’s work.

I will depart from a focus on my amendment to pay tribute briefly to Anas Sarwar, because I do not think that I know another person in this Parliament who is more dedicated to fighting racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism than he is. I am proud to call you a friend, and I think that you are an asset not only to your party but to this Parliament. Keep doing what you are doing; it is important.

Gail Ross took up Daniel Johnson’s intervention on the issue of why we adopt rights. We do it because it is the right thing to do. It does not make us popular, necessarily, but it is the right thing to do.

Michelle Ballantyne took us back to the Magna Carta. We have recognised that we have aspired towards human rights for a millennium. Let us make ours the very last generation that has to push back these frontiers, because, if we are leaving it to other generations to drive forward human rights, we will have failed in our mission.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind members that even when you are being nice you should speak through the chair.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I thank the Government for bringing the debate to the Parliament, because it is important in the context of immediate and substantive issues, as well as general issues.

Human rights are important but they are not permanent. They are concepts that we have invented. They are an important promise, based on the important idea that we are all equal; they are the pledge that we will respect one another on that basis.

Human rights developed in the 20th century in a way that fundamentally limited the power of the state. That is why universal human rights are important. Until the second world war, it was held that states could do what they wanted within their borders. Human rights did not just entrench the idea of what each individual human being should expect, on the basis of a belief in equality; they enabled us to build a rules-based international order that limits the rights of the state.

I quote Clement Attlee. I apologise for the gendered language, but these are the words that he used:

“since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

That sums up where human rights begin, their importance and why we must celebrate the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 in Paris, which was based on Franklin D Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech. I reference that speech again, as I did in the human rights defenders debate, because it sums up simply what is at the heart of this. FDR talked about “freedom of speech” and “freedom of ... worship”; he also talked about “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”.

I draw two lessons from that. First, human rights do not just exist. They require our efforts to uphold and fight for them. It is an on-going fight, not just a historical fight. Secondly, meeting human need is as much a human right as are rights of conscience. Sometimes we talk about freedom of speech and worship in an esoteric way, but freedom from want and freedom from fear are just as important.

We cannot therefore be passive about human rights. Our commitment is required, not just to implement them but to progress them. We must challenge ourselves to do so, because human rights are the fundamental cornerstone of an international order. Let us be under no illusion: that order is under attack. The minister was right to open the debate by talking about the threats to human rights. There are threats in developing and less developed nations and in nations that have oppressive regimes.

There are also threats from more developed nations. In the United States, Donald Trump is actively pursuing a project of dismantling the international world order. He has withdrawn from the Paris climate change agreement. He refuses to nominate replacements to the World Trade Organization Appellate Body. Human rights are the cornerstone of the international rules-based order, which the United States is seeking to dismantle.

We must also be mindful of issues closer to home. I am pleased that Annie Wells and other Conservatives spoke in favour of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights, but their party’s recent record in that regard is chequered. In November, Penny Mordaunt suggested that the UK might withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In its 2015 manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to repeal the very Human Rights Act that many members supported today. Indeed, when Theresa May made her single intervention during the Brexit campaign, although she spoke in support of remaining in the EU, she also suggested that we might withdraw from being a signatory to the ECHR.

That is the beginning of the toxic logic of exceptionalism, against which we must speak up and to which we must give no quarter.

Members talked about the challenge in that regard. Anas Sarwar and Gail Ross, in particular, did so in important ways. Anas Sarwar was right to say that we cannot leave it to international institutions or even just our Government to progress human rights. We must take up the challenge ourselves, as individuals, in our own communities. Gail Ross spoke very well about the ways in which this Parliament and we as parliamentarians can seek to improve our processes so that they put human rights at the very heart of our approach.

The Government’s motion outlines its approach to human rights. It is absolutely right to look at ways in which we can bake human rights into law, but that cannot be simply a legal matter to do with changing our laws. It has to be, in the words of Mary Fee, a practical effort. To quote from the Scottish Government’s advisory group on human rights leadership report,

“too many people are not enjoying their rights in everyday life” and

“In too many places services are not meeting needs.”

We must be mindful of article 25 of the UN Convention on Human Rights—the article enshrining freedom from want—because the reality is that in this city, there are 20,000 people waiting to be housed. My recent casework shows that the health board is stating that people needing hip replacements and knee surgery are having to wait 12 to 18 months. I was very pleased that Jeremy Balfour raised the human rights perspective in relation to disabled people because the reality is that only 43 per cent of disabled people are in employment compared with 80 per cent of the able-bodied population.

I mentioned zero-hours contracts earlier. The Scottish Government has made some very powerful statements about zero-hours contracts, but it continues to include businesses that use them within its definition of positive destinations. The purpose of the Labour amendment is to underline that we must uphold human rights not only in our language and in our law, but in our deeds and, indeed, our definitions.

Finally, I am pleased to support the Liberal Democrat amendment, because Alex Cole-Hamilton is absolutely right—if our commitment to human rights is to mean anything, it must be about upholding the views, the judgments and the regulations from those international institutions that are the arbiters and the champions of human rights, even when it is uncomfortable to do so. That is why his amendment is so important.

Human rights require us to challenge ourselves and to struggle to ensure that we progress them. We can have no exceptionalism; we must abide by the international rule of law and that is ultimately the challenge to the Government. We welcome the sentiment, but it must be backed up by action.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I have listened to the whole of this afternoon’s debate and, to be honest, it has been quite depressing. I may have missed the consensual tone that other people are talking about, but I think that—sadly—what members mean by consensus is that we must all agree on the same thing all the time or we cannot agree on anything.

I do not think that that is true. That is not the approach that I take to politics.

Twice, in particular, I was disappointed—first, when John Finnie accused me of looking away when I was looking directly at him and, secondly, when he accused me of smiling in a photo when that is irrelevant to the point that I was making. If Mr Finnie had been present on that occasion, he would have known that I belligerently asked questions of that individual over and over again about Israeli settlements, which cause me deep concern. If we are going to genuinely improve the situation in the middle east, making categorical statements and virtue signalling in the chamber does absolutely nothing to serve that cause.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

Does the member recognise that the role of international law and the UN resolutions is fundamental? Members cannot say that they applaud human rights but have no regard for international law or UN resolutions. The number of violations of both of those in respect of that particular scenario is well known to the member.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

That is absolutely not what I have said, and it is not the position that I have sought to set out. I think that international norms are important; I do not think that issuing them as though they are absolutes takes cognisance of the pragmatic realities—the difficult and challenging realities that we see in this world. That is why I find it difficult to reconcile some of these issues


I think that human rights are absolute—[


.] I do, but, when it comes to working out exactly what is going on in individual situations, it can be far more complicated. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Finnie, ask to intervene if you are going to.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

It does people an injustice if we try to suggest otherwise. That is why I find it difficult to listen to the Scottish Government, which is happy to point to flaws in the UK Government’s policies but less keen to spell out precisely what it is going to do in relation to the UN rapporteur’s recommendations.

That is also why I find it difficult to watch the minister squirm about what she is going to do on the age of criminal responsibility. I am happy to say that 12 is a reasonable and pragmatic compromise without waiting to see what is happening, because I think that it is perfectly legitimate to disagree with the UN on certain judgments of committees; there is nothing to be ashamed of in that. The decisions should be taken here, in Scotland, looking at how people in this country feel about issues.

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I assure the member that, just as he says that he was not looking away, I was not squirming.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I am happy to have that confirmed. If the minister would like to stand up again and confirm what the Scottish Government’s position is—whether it is for setting the age of criminal responsibility at 12, 14 or 16—I would be delighted to give way.

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

As I have reiterated many times in the chamber and in other places, I was absolutely delighted to gain consensus to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12. I understand that there is pressure to push it further, but there is no consensus on what age to push it to. I am in listening mode, as you would expect of a responsible Government minister, and I look forward to the evidence-gathering session of the committee of which you are a member.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members must always speak through the chair, please.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

I am pleased, because that, in effect, confirms my point. The Government is unfortunately willing to take a pick-and-mix approach to when it follows UN guidance, whereas I am honest enough to stand up and set out my opinion, which is that the decisions should be taken here, in Scotland, with MSPs taking into consideration how our constituents feel about the matter.

Alex Cole-Hamilton said that we should be leaders on the issues, not followers. I think that our role lies somewhere in the middle. If we move too fast, push too hard and stop listening to what real people are saying—if we stop listening to the experience of their everyday lives—we will not bring them along with us on the journey.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

On what I said about leaders and followers, Oliver Mundell was in the committee when we took stage 1 evidence in which the vast majority of stakeholders said that we are not going far enough in setting the age at 12. The fact that I put amendments that would set the age at 12, 14 and 16 into the public domain and received no negative public attention should suggest to Oliver Mundell that we are in step with public opinion in seeking to push the ceiling on the age.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

The problem is that, through no fault of the Parliament’s and despite the hard work of the clerks and members, the vast majority of responses to consultations undertaken by the committees of this Parliament come from advocacy groups—charities and organisations—and not from individual members of the public. We have a duty to listen to the public as well, which is why I am happy to stand by my positions and to make them clear.

I am not ashamed to have visited Israel, that I believe that 12 is the right age of criminal responsibility or that I believe that, at its heart, universal credit is a good policy that is designed to make people’s lives better, simplify the benefits system and help to get people who want to work back into work.

Our human rights are much better served by being clear about our policy positions and letting the people of this country decide who they want to have in Government and in charge of taking some of those difficult decisions. That is my position.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I thank members for their contributions to the debate. On 10 December 1998, the United Nations adopted its declaration on human rights defenders. Having met several human rights defenders this year, including through the Scottish human rights defender fellowship, I have gained a new perspective on how critical the rights contained in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are. John Finnie talked about doing more internationalisation, and I hope that the fellowship gives just a small indication of our commitment to our international obligation to advance human rights worldwide.

Particularly important is the fact that human rights belong to all of us in equal measure, no matter who we are, what we are or where we come from. We have heard a lot about that this afternoon. In Scotland, we are fortunate to have a legal framework that provides safeguards against the abuse of human rights. It includes domestic legislation such as the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 as well as a system of international human rights treaties that Scottish ministers have a duty to comply with under the Scottish ministerial code.

As Bill Kidd highlighted, the Government has taken action to make real progress on giving effect to its international human rights obligations in areas such as gender equality, disabled people’s rights, tackling racial discrimination and promoting the rights of the child. More broadly, we are taking measures to encourage fair working practices and to combat violence against women.

Challenges still remain, and we have heard about many of them this afternoon. I have listened closely to members’ contributions and have written down all the points that they have raised. Alex Cole-Hamilton asked about the timetable for incorporating the UNCRC, and I can tell him that the Scottish Government has said that it will consult on incorporating the principles of the UNCRC in 2019. Consultation is going on right now with stakeholders including the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. I hope that it gives the member some comfort that 2019 is only a few short weeks away and that we will get on with that work.

A lot has been said about the need to protect human rights. Michelle Ballantyne, Annie Wells and John Finnie spoke about that. I want to make a point to Michelle Ballantyne and Annie Wells about the protection of human rights today. Section 5 of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill committed the Scottish Parliament to retaining the EU charter of fundamental rights. That commitment was put in the bill that has now become the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 at the House of Lords stage but, at the next stage, it was taken out. The Lord Advocate told us today that the Scottish Government will consider ways to give effect to the provisions contained in the charter. I ask the Scottish Tories to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that we give maximum effect to the provisions of the charter when we move forward with the continuity bill.

Mary Fee and Jeremy Balfour raised a number of issues about disability. I reassure Jeremy Balfour that, just in the past few days, the disability action plan has committed to halving the disability employment gap. We are fully committed to doing that, and there are a number of other issues on which we have some work to do. The Scottish Government’s commitment to the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is set out in its disability action plan, which was published in December 2016, two years ago. We believe that a fairer Scotland can be realised only when we secure equal rights for everyone.

The barriers that disabled people face are not barriers caused by disabled people or by their disabilities; they are barriers caused by prejudice, ignorance and thoughtlessness, and they remain only because those of us without a disability allow them to be there. The time is well past for that work to begin, and we have begun it. A recent amendment to the Planning (Scotland) Bill has prompted Kevin Stewart to look at how we can increase the number of changing places toilets across Scotland, and that is something that I am committed to. There is, indeed, a way to go, as Jeremy Balfour said, because the Scottish Government has made those commitments.

Jeremy Balfour asked for action, so here are some actions that are being taken—and I hope that he will accept that they are being taken with the best of intentions. There are a number of policies that we have committed to since 2016 and have now achieved. We will extend free personal care to everybody under 65, starting in April 2019. We have published our social enterprise action plan, which seeks to increase the number of disabled entrepreneurs and explores ways in which social enterprises can employ more disabled people. We have launched a new independent living fund scheme for young disabled people between the ages of 16 and 21, and we have published the first ever British Sign Language national plan—the first in the UK. We have also launched the second phase of the national health service disabled graduate intern programme, and we extended modern apprenticeship funding to disabled people up to the age of 30. I hope that that will give some comfort to everyone who is a champion for people with disabilities across Scotland.

Mary Fee has shown unstinting commitment to the Gypsy Traveller community in Scotland, and I have travelled many of those journeys with her myself. We recognise that Gypsy Travellers are among the most marginalised people in Scotland. That is why we established the ministerial working group on the issue. I chaired the fourth meeting of the group just yesterday, and I will be able to give Mary Fee an update on that in the new year. The ministerial working group’s position is firmly rooted in human rights, and we will take full account of the United Nations recommendation that we should

“ensure a systematic and coherent approach in addressing the challenges” that members of those communities face. I hope to update the chamber on that work in the new year.

We have talked about embedding human rights. Ruth Maguire was absolutely right that best practice should be standard practice. We are committed to embedding human rights, dignity and equality at the heart of everything that we do. I hope that that reassures Ruth Maguire.

That commitment to embed human rights drove the First Minister to set up the advisory group on human rights leadership, which brought together experts on different aspects of human rights and reached out to hear the direct and lived experiences of people from across Scotland.

I will take just a moment to commend Fulton MacGregor’s constituent Ryan McShane, who, on Monday, stood right there at the front of the chamber, eyeballed the First Minister and asked her to do more for care-experienced young people. I was proud to hear her give him that commitment.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

I welcome all the comments that the minister has made so far. I welcome the report of the advisory group, but I note that the stakeholders that were engaged in the production of the report did not include a single faith organisation. Will the minister give a commitment that the consultation on the new legislation will engage with all faith communities?

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I can heartily give a commitment that all stakeholders who have an interest will take part in that consultation. I will certainly encourage them to do so, and I hope that Mr Sarwar will do so, too. Given all his networks and connections, I would be keen for that to happen.

The advisory group’s recommendations overlap with the findings of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. There is an interest in how we can work closely with that committee. I am delighted that it is being steered with such capable hands, by Ruth Maguire. The human rights takeover, which happened in the chamber on Monday, was not just inspirational but motivational, and it has motivated me to do more.

It is clear that the landscape in Scotland is shifting. As we heard from Daniel Johnson, across the world, the landscape is shifting, although sometimes not in a positive way. People want to take hold of their human rights and see them increasingly realised in their lives rather than undermined. The Scottish Government is fully behind that shift. We will therefore work with the advisory group, the committee, the Parliament and wider society—anybody who should be making a contribution—on that. Gail Ross spoke about the commitment that the First Minister made to engage constructively with the recommendations in the reports from the advisory group and the committee.

In 1940, eight years before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and while the world was still in the grip of war, HG Wells wrote the book “The Rights of Man”, in which he posed the question:

“What are we fighting for?”

Anas Sarwar reminded us what we are fighting for. He reminded us that racism, Islamophobia and other types of discrimination are prevalent in the world. There is also a gendered issue, so maybe the rights of women merit some attention, too. HG Wells’s question was aimed at drawing forth ideas from society about what kind of world should emerge and what is worth fighting for. As we debate human rights in Scotland today, it is useful to ask ourselves the same question. What are we fighting for? What is the vision of Scotland that we are working to bring about? Anas Sarwar gave us clear ideas about how we can end racism and discrimination. He said that there should be dialogue and not division, which was an absolutely perfect response to the question.

To respond to Jeremy Balfour, children educating their parents is very welcome, especially when it is daughters educating their fathers—I am sure that we all welcome that.

I am grateful for the contribution of Professor Alan Miller and the advisory group, and of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee through its human rights inquiry, in taking us forward and identifying practical steps that we need to take. I look forward to working with members from across the chamber to make that practical effort and to make it work.