John’s Speech on Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind) 10/12/2013:
First, I congratulate the Scottish Human Rights Commission on the publication of its national action plan. It is significant that it had Scottish Government support and active participation; that sends a clear signal. The plan represents four years of hard labour for the SHRC and it has been fruitful. The purpose of the plan is: “To focus and coordinate action by public, private, voluntary bodies and individuals to achieve human dignity for all through the realisation of internationally recognised human rights.”
For me, it is important that people understand and can affirm human rights, and a requirement for that understanding is education. As I said in my intervention, I see no threat in people understanding their human rights fully. In the longer term, problems will arise if people do not know their rights. If the national action plan is properly implemented, people should be pushing at an open door with authority to ensure that their rights are being respected.
We cannot say often enough that those rights are dignity, equality, freedom, autonomy and respect. Indeed, the PANEL—participation, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment and legality—acronym has participation as a key element and there are opportunities with things such as consultative budgets and, as members have alluded to, the opportunity to participate in the compilation of our constitution, which has adopted a rights-based approach.
Accountability is the next element, and the Parliament has been criticised for not having a human rights committee and not appearing to address human rights issues overtly when we know that they are being addressed. Perhaps we need to be a bit more explicit about that.
Non-discrimination is the third PANEL element. We all have interests in particular areas. Ms Marra is genuinely interested in and concerned about the issue of female genital mutilation, and who would not be? Others, like myself, are interested in Gypsy Travellers, Roma, and blacklisting, all of which are important aspects that we have to pick up on. Empowerment is very important, and we need to be alert to the role that advocacy plays in that, and how often it is the first thing that local authorities cut in these pressing times.
The national action plan will be relevant regardless of the outcome of the referendum, although I note that the report says that progress has been made since devolution, and it identifies the next steps. The minister rightly points out that we have a strong legal framework.

Perhaps surprisingly, Alex Johnstone referred to the deserving and undeserving as viewed in rights. He referred to one poll and I will refer to another. A recent Trades Union Congress poll brought out the many misconceptions about welfare and benefits spending. It found that “On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.”

That clearly has some resonance in the debate that we are having today. It is interesting that the UK Government’s position should be brought up in this debate. I would have thought that Mr Johnstone would keep quiet about that because, just as Mr Cameron talks about slaying the health and safety monster, he takes a very similar approach to human rights, and there is no place for that. We will have an opportunity to address that in the coming months. Health and social care has been touched on, and I think that independent living is a clear issue, as is the fact that the ever-present dignity and acknowledgement of the individual should be key to any care package.
The minister is right to talk about the Government’s commitment to abolishing homelessness, and that is very positive, but it has to be delivered in practice. However, the
challenges remain for people such as prisoners who are released without a home to go to and who have difficulty in accessing medical treatment because general practitioners will not treat certain individuals who have addiction issues.
The action plan has a vision of a Scotland in which everyone is able to live with human dignity, and I do not believe that anyone will dissent from that.