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Charities, Scotland and Holyrood

– in the Scottish Parliament on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18693, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on charities, Scotland and Holyrood. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of

Charities, Scotland & Holyrood: Twenty Years Delivering Change

, which is a limited edition book that has been produced by SCVO to celebrate the Parliament’s 20th anniversary; believes that it offers a reflective look at the last 20 years of the voluntary sector working with, challenging, persuading and influencing the Parliament; notes that it explores this relationship by highlighting 20 key voluntary sector campaigns that have helped shape society in Scotland since devolution; recognises what it sees as the vital role that the third sector plays not only in strengthening communities, such as those across Central Scotland, but also in advocating for legislative change and national action to tackle pressing societal challenges, including climate change, human trafficking and access to care; considers that Scotland’s third sector organisations have unparalleled experience and knowledge that brings value to the work of the Parliament, and looks forward to these groups working constructively with Scotland’s many charities and voluntary organisations for the next 20 years and beyond.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

It is a great pleasure to open this debate, which welcomes the publication of the limited edition book “Charities, Scotland & Holyrood: Twenty Years Delivering Change”. The book has been produced by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations to mark the Parliament’s 20th anniversary and to celebrate the partnership working between the Parliament and Scotland’s charities and voluntary and third sectors. It is a partnership that has developed, grown in strength and proved to be hugely successful in raising awareness about issues too numerous to count, and in advocating and helping to deliver legislative change.

The SCVO is an umbrella organisation operating at a national level to support, promote and develop a confident and sustainable voluntary sector in Scotland. It has more than 2,000 members and, during 70 years of operation, it has provided information on how to set up and run a charity, as well as creating policy and research papers, and briefings for debates on relevant topics.

The book selects 20 key issues, including smoke-free public places, saving marine life, justice for victims of asbestos-related diseases, organ donation opt-outs, debt arrangement schemes, affordable housing, free personal care for older people, community right to buy, and human trafficking and exploitation. There are also other issues in the book that individual members and cross-party groups have actively promoted and supported.

In the time remaining to me, I want to cover the particular issue of human trafficking and exploitation. Ten years ago, signs of human trafficking often went unnoticed. Research carried out by Amnesty International, the trafficking awareness raising alliance—TARA—and Stop The Traffik Glasgow exposed the fact that people were being trafficked across Scotland and that, although victims were identified and helped by the police, no one had been convicted of human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland.

That research was fundamental in making the case for a change in the law on human trafficking. In 2013, major and decisive legislative progress was made with the consultation on Jenny Marra MSP’s proposed human trafficking (Scotland) bill. One year later, that led to the then justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, announcing that the Scottish Government would introduce trafficking legislation. In 2015, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously. I pay tribute to the work that Jenny Marra carried out on that issue.

As part of the its scrutiny of that legislation, the Justice Committee drew heavily on the experience and expertise of third sector organisations such as TARA. During a visit to the charity’s Glasgow office, I was extremely fortunate to have a one-to-one meeting with a trafficked survivor. Her story about the obstacles that she had overcome proved invaluable in helping me to understand the complexities surrounding this deeply troubling issue. I was immensely impressed and humbled by her courage, her determination and her optimism about the future, despite her horrific experiences.

Sadly, trafficking remains a very much alive and extremely vexing issue, both inter and intra state. Despite that, there is no doubt that the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 consolidated and strengthened the existing criminal law against human trafficking, as well as the offence relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. It is only right to acknowledge and thank the voluntary organisations who supplied the evidence, lobbied for legislation, and played such an important role in improving the legislation during the scrutiny process.

It has been a privilege to open this debate, which celebrates and champions the outstanding work of the voluntary sector, in which an amazing 1.3 million adults volunteered last year. I want to finish by rearranging a quote from chief executive of the SCVO, Anna Fowlie, who represents volunteers and the dedicated 105,000 people who are employed in the third sector.

I stress that

“it is crucial” that

“the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and MSPs from all parties” work constructively with charities

“to ensure that the communities” that we represent and are here to support

“are not forgotten.”

I know that I speak for everyone in the chamber when I say that it is in that spirit that we look forward to the next 20 years and to continuing to work together to harness the motivation, diversity and talent that is Scotland’s vibrant, eclectic third sector.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Margaret Mitchell on bringing the debate to the chamber.

While uncertainty rages on around us, it is all the more important that we celebrate something as positive and constructive as volunteering. The work done by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and volunteers across Scotland is always worth highlighting. I am delighted that the SCVO has produced the book “Charities, Scotland & Holyrood: Twenty Years Delivering Change”—I, too, have a copy—in order to celebrate two decades of the wonderful volunteer sector that we have here in Scotland, which works in partnership with both local authorities and the Scottish Parliament.

I am even more thrilled to have been involved in some of the campaigns highlighted in the book, most notably the campaign for smoke-free public places. It is a topic that I campaigned on from the commencement of the first parliamentary session back in 1999, prior to the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition formally introducing the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill in 2005. I am sure that we all remember walking into a restaurant and being asked, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, or being asked that in cinemas, pubs or public transport. How long ago that now seems.

I am quoted in the SCVO’s book as saying:

“Smoking is still far too prevalent, but real progress has been made in reducing its acceptability, prevalence and health impact. It is now hard to believe that folk once smoked more or less everywhere and I am glad to have played a part in the radical culture change we have seen over the last 13 years.”

Those against the ban claimed that it would mean that places such as bars or restaurants would lose business, but the opposite was true and the public came out in overwhelming support of it. Thanks to their efforts, the health benefits and changes in attitudes to smoking have proven to have been significant. Of course, the Scottish National Party Government has continued with ambitious legislation in many areas towards the aim of creating a tobacco-free generation by 2034. That legislation includes banning the sale of tobacco and nicotine vapour products to under-18s, introducing statutory age-verification measures and banning smoking in cars where children are present.

I am delighted that the SCVO’s book also celebrates other important changes, such as the SNP Government’s abolition in 2008 of backdoor tuition fees for Scottish students and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, which Margaret Mitchell discussed in some detail. The bill that became the 2015 act was met with unanimous support by the Parliament and sought to

“consolidate and strengthen the existing ... law against human trafficking” and offer more robust support to victims.

As someone who led a members’ business debate on the issue in the first parliamentary session, I was delighted when the bill was passed.

Of course, Scotland’s voluntary sector is an integral part of not just our society but our economy. The sector has an annual income of more than £5.8 billion and 107,000 paid staff, and is comprised of more than 45,000 organisations. In my area of North Ayrshire alone, there are 335 third sector charities employing 701 people, and 27 per cent of adults volunteer in some capacity, from Garnock Valley Men’s Shed and North Ayrshire Foodbank, to Boyd Orr neighbourhood watch, to name just three.

The 20 key campaigns highlighted in the book touch on a number of issues, and it is clear that third sector engagement has resulted in not just some but much legislation being created for the benefit of the people of Scotland. Indeed, the third sector is a key consultee in virtually all legislation brought forward in this Parliament. The SCVO is often at the very heart of that.

I believe that this debate has affirmed that there is an important and special relationship between the third sector and the Scottish Parliament, working constructively to effect important and lasting change for our country. It is a pleasure to celebrate that wonderful history of volunteering and the Government’s continued co-operation with Scottish volunteering organisations to create such groundbreaking and inspirational legislation. I hope that we can continue that great partnership for another 20 years and beyond as we all seek to build a better Scotland. I thank Margaret Mitchell again for bringing forward this debate.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

The voluntary and charitable sector is a key and important part of the Scottish way of life. Last year, four in every five Scots used a third sector organisation in some capacity, which speaks volumes about the importance of the voluntary sector in Scotland’s communities.

The third sector plays a key role in the lives of many in our communities who need our help and assistance. Churches, charitable organisations and volunteers all have a role to play. Indeed, we all benefit from and need the third sector. It is true that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Government and state organisations simply could not make up the gap if the third sector that we rely on was to disappear overnight.

It is my understanding that some 32 per cent of people in the city of Edinburgh participate regularly in voluntary work, which is slightly above the national average. However, whatever the statistics say, it is important to encourage more people everywhere, including young people, to engage in volunteering to ensure that the level of commitment that we have seen in Scotland in the past continues. It is also important that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government play their roles in facilitating the voluntary sector, and do not place unnecessary regulatory or other burdens on it.

Part of the Parliament’s role is about the public perception of the third sector, and the Parliament and its facilities present an opportunity to showcase the work of the third sector. Today, I attended an event in the Parliament that was held by Safe Families For Children Scotland, which is a charity that, according to its website,

“provides isolated families going through a difficult time with support and guidance by offering friendship, resources and a short break for children until their parents are back on their feet with a stable support network around them.”

It is but one of the myriad of charities that, over the years, have held receptions and events here in the Scottish Parliament.

Many charities from close by have been named in the Parliament, including Bethany Christian Trust for the homeless and Social Bite which, in the recent past, has begun new community projects constructing sustainable homes for those who find themselves without a home.

Let us in this Parliament continue to support all worthwhile third sector charities and organisations throughout Scotland, as well as umbrella organisations such as the SCVO. Let us support them in what we say and what we do.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I thank Margaret Mitchell for bringing the debate to the chamber this evening. I thank the SCVO for providing a copy of its book and welcome to the public gallery some of its representatives.

I am pleased to speak tonight about the positive changes that voluntary sector and other third sector organisations have helped to bring about in Scotland since 1999. As an MSP since then, I know at first hand that those organisations have been important partners to the Scottish Parliament, because they have challenged, persuaded and influenced us to take action. Kenneth Gibson also made that point.

The organisations have provided a wonderful example of how partnerships and collective strength can help to identify the changes that need to be made. Additionally, the third sector often gives a voice to people who do not want or feel unable to engage with public bodies or the Scottish Parliament.

The variety of the 20 campaigns that are covered by the book is a testament in itself. The campaigns show how our Parliament, by looking outwards to civic society, has become a leader. For example—this is not in the book, but it is a good example—Scotland was the first country in the United Kingdom to introduce protection for mums and babies with a breastfeeding law, which came about due to my members’ bill and with the involvement of charities and the third sector.

Other examples, which are in the book, are that we were the second legislature of a European country to introduce legislation on smoke-free public places, and we brought justice and compensation to workers and their families who have been devastated by exposure to asbestos.

The partnership has been one of the successes of our devolved Parliament. The Scottish Parliament has become a world leader in the way in which it works with the voluntary sector, and much of our policy and legislation is based on its input.

This week, Aberlour Child Care Trust—Scotland’s children’s charity—is here in the Parliament. I note Aberlour’s conviction in pushing for the eradication of child poverty. It reminds us that we have the power to achieve that by making bold commitments to prioritise child wellbeing in our economic policies.

Third sector charities contribute almost as much to the Scottish economy as whisky and tourism. In North Lanarkshire, the sector employs nearly 5,000 paid staff and spends more than £171 million. It is particularly active in social services, culture, recreation, sport and community development.

The SCVO’s book celebrates the positive partnership and results that have been achieved between charities and the Scottish Parliament. I was delighted to provide a quote on the campaign for free school meals; I fully supported the campaign from session 1 and I co-sponsored Frances Curran’s bill in the second session. However, although I welcome free school meals in P1 to P3 very much, I remind the Government that children in Scotland still rely on charities, with many going hungry during school holidays. It is sad that many children going into P4 have to revert from nutritious school meals to cheap bread pieces, for example, for their lunches. I strongly urge the Scottish Government to follow up on the initial promise to roll out free school meals to all primary children.

Sadly, our initial success in reducing child poverty in Scotland has reversed somewhat, and we must all focus our efforts on the targets that were set in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will comment on that when she responds to the debate. I have no doubt that the third sector will keep up the pressure and co-ordinate campaigns to give a voice to those who are most affected by falling living standards.

Another area in which third sector organisations have shaped debates and policy development has been service provision for women and girls who experience violence. One of the earliest debates in the Parliament made clear that we would resource women-specific services and invest in organisations such as Women’s Aid to give a voice to women and girls.

Although I celebrate the successes of the third sector tonight, I also take the opportunity to highlight the challenges that it faces. As a provider of services to local authorities, the sector is affected by shrinking public sector budgets. The possible loss of other vital funding streams could put charities under extreme financial pressure. I encourage all members to read the book and to celebrate the work of all our charities, volunteers and third sector organisations, and once again, I congratulate Margaret Mitchell.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

As others have, I thank Margaret Mitchell for the motion and thank all members for the contributions that we have heard across the chamber this evening.

The debate has been enjoyable because it has enabled us to have the opportunity to reflect on—and celebrate—the role of the Scottish Parliament over the past 20 years and the role that the third sector has played in shaping the Scotland that we live in today: a Scotland where our people are at the heart of policy making and a Scotland that is brave, progressive and ambitious.

The book that the SCVO has produced is a beautiful illustration of the story of the third sector over the past two decades. In those reflections of the past 20 years, we see Scotland shaping its policies and approaches to respond to its distinctive needs. The reconvening of our Parliament signalled not just the creation of a new legislature but the flourishing of a confident civic Scotland and a third sector that has a platform to influence and to bring about lasting change. Indeed, this Parliament was brought about not just by politicians but by that mass momentum to bring decision making closer to home.

Although we have had the chance as parliamentarians to celebrate the anniversary of this Parliament, tonight is a really useful opportunity to celebrate the role of the third sector and its positive influence in Scottish public life. It has been valuable to hear directly from members about their experiences and the things that they have achieved through the past 20 years that have been shaped by the third sector. Margaret Mitchell spoke authoritatively and with great passion from the outset about the impact of the third sector that she felt during the scrutiny of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill—an issue of great relevance to the on-going investigation in Essex, which shows how important it is to make sure that we get those policies and legislation right. The process of going from having a member’s bill to the Government adopting a bill and the bill being passed— enabled through involvement and engagement by the third sector—again shows the knitting together of one Parliament coming together to achieve great things.

Elaine Smith also spoke about something that is not part of the book: her involvement in work to move forward breastfeeding.

When I became a breastfeeding mum, I did so in a country that had been influenced by the work that Elaine Smith and the third sector had done to make my experience far easier than that of many of the mums who had gone before me. That positive impact that the Parliament and its members have on people’s day-to-day lives is something that we should not forget, among all the uncertainty that surrounds us.

Kenny Gibson spoke about some of the massive things that the Parliament has achieved, such as the smoking ban and the abolition of tuition fees—hugely impactful policies that were influenced and pushed through by the flourishing third sector that we are right to celebrate tonight.

Regardless of the policies that we pursue, Gordon Lindhurst was correct to point out the day-to-day impact of the third sector on all our lives, irrespective of what we do here. Third sector organisations operate with an authenticity and a reach that we perhaps cannot have as a Government and that local government cannot have, because those organisations are agile, they are part of our community and they have day-to-day interaction with people who require our support. That all points to the need to ensure that we celebrate the role of the third sector, as we did on the 20th anniversary of the Parliament.

Tonight’s debate gives me the chance, thinking about my own experience as a parliamentarian and a minister, to consider what the third sector has done. The passing of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was touched on in the SCVO’s book. One of the biggest things that impacted on me was the continue to care campaign, which has kick-started an on-going dialogue with our care-experienced young people, who deserve our doing all that we can, as their corporate parents, to make life as good as it can be. That initiative was pushed through by third sector organisations enabling a dialogue between parliamentarians and young people. That shaped and honed the legislation to create a culture where the young people who will experience care in the future have better life opportunities than those who went before them.

The influence of the third sector continues in my current portfolio. Third sector organisations have been a key partner in our fight to end poverty and to create a social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect.

The SCVO and many of its members have been important critical friends throughout the devolution of social security. The United Nations special rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, recently said that the spirit of the welfare state is still alive in Scotland, and I believe that that is thanks to the third sector and its support for it.

That relationship with the third sector was particularly important for the development of our new Scottish child payment, which I was proud to announce on 26 June. The Child Poverty Action Group has called the new payment “an absolute game changer” in tackling poverty, and it represents a really important way in which we are putting our ambitious tackling child poverty delivery plan into action.

As we know, the Scottish child payment will be delivered by Social Security Scotland, with £10 per week per child for eligible families in receipt of qualifying benefits. Poverty campaigners had stressed the importance of taking immediate action to help struggling families, and representatives from across civil society wrote to the First Minister, calling for the benefit to be introduced as quickly as possible. Again, we listened to the third sector, we responded to the calls that were made, we acted when we needed to and we worked and engaged with the third sector to ensure that the policy was absolutely right. That illustrates the knitting together of the Government, parliamentarians and the third sector to ensure that we can develop policies that work for the people of this country.

Devolution and the re-establishment of this Parliament undoubtedly marked a turning point in Scotland’s history, and allowed us to make our own decisions on the priorities for Scotland’s people. It has given us the freedom to do things differently, and it has afforded us the opportunity to take a different path.

I believe that we have collectively achieved an awful lot over the past 20 years, and I value the role that the third sector has played in that journey. It is an honour and a privilege to be a member of the Parliament, and I am really proud of the lively and vibrant democracy that we have in our country, where people and communities are empowered and supported to participate in and shape society. At a time of uncertainty, we want to encourage that, not deter it. We welcome debate and challenge, and we see that as an essential part of the democratic process.

There is no escaping the fact that we live in uncertain times. None of us really knows what challenges will unfold over the next 20 years, but I know that the Government and Parliament will continue to view the third sector as a key strategic partner, and we will continue to value the role that third sector organisations play in helping us to tackle poverty, reduce inequality and create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.

As we look to the future—to the next 20 years—it seems fitting to end by reflecting on Donald Dewar’s words in his speech at the opening of the Parliament 20 years ago. He said:

“We are fallible ... We will make mistakes. But ... we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the common weal.”

That is what we all endeavour to do, and it is what we have done for 20 years in this Parliament, aided by the third sector. That has allowed us to look back with pride on the achievements of the Parliament; to look to the future in relation to what we need to achieve to create the fairer Scotland that we all seek; to ensure that we have wellbeing at the heart of all that we do; and to ensure that together we can create a better Scotland that will enable future generations to enjoy living here. That Scotland will be shaped by a strong Parliament, but it is critical that it is helped by the third sector to ensure that we get decisions right.

I thank Margaret Mitchell and every member who has taken part in the debate. I give my sincere thanks to the members of the third sector and the SCVO who are in the public gallery, because they do so much to help to improve the lives of others.

Meeting closed at 17:30.