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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
“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.