John’s Speech on Human Rights- 11/11/2014

I, too, declare my membership of Amnesty International.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission was established by the Parliament in 2006. It says that

“the Human Rights Act 1998 … should be the legislative bedrock for further progress in realising human rights in people’s everyday lives”.

As we have heard from many members, the Scottish national action plan is the road map—as the SHRC describes it—for that.

I commend the motion, particularly the words

“should be a source of unity and consensus”.

In everything that we do in the chamber, we should ask ourselves, “Who says that?”, “Why?”, and “Based on what?” In my research in advance of the debate, I found that the Daily Express refers to the “hated Human Rights Act”. We must ask why. It is because it is pandering to prejudice—prejudice that it and other journals have created.

The minister has laid out a résumé of the position of the UK parties. I contrast the words of the Daily Express with a blog by Isabella Sankey of Liberty who, in February 2014, said:

“Today the Conservatives unleashed their long-awaited plans to repeal our Human Rights Act … and replace it with a so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ … The proposals are legally illiterate, politically provocative and designed to put us on a collision course with the Court of Human Rights and likely lead to the UK’s ultimate departure from the Convention of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.”

Although the Labour Party is to be commended for its work on human rights in the past, the blog goes on to say:

“The HRA is not ‘Labour’s Human Rights Act’. It was passed with overwhelming cross party support and Tory leadership endorsement.”

That is important.

What is also important is that human rights should be relevant to everyday lives. It was heartening for me to witness Highland Senior Citizens Network’s engagement on the Scottish national action plan. Many of those involved said that they did not see the issue as relevant in the past. However, when we talked to them about the interests that they look after—namely the wellbeing of individuals in care homes and of vulnerable people—and about the dignity that people receive as a result of human rights legislation, they saw that the legislation was relevant.

I am grateful for the specific examples that we have received from many of the people who have provided briefings. A lot of them tell a familiar tale, although it will still surprise some of us, of accessibility issues for disabled people. I am keen that the legislation should be seen for what it is, which is legislation to protect the citizen. The interests of corporations are well protected by tight legal frameworks. The Human Rights Act 1998 is seen as very proactive by parliamentarians. If it assumes a challenge, that is appropriate. It is appropriate that our committees should challenge legislation to ensure that it is robust in human rights terms.

There has been a lot of talk about the European arrest warrant. I am on the Justice Committee, which looked not just at that issue but at the European judicial network and a number of other measures. It was most frustrating that that was all seen as an attack, or a foreign imposition, without any consultation with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Government or Police Scotland. I ask the proponents of that approach how the wellbeing of witnesses and victims was considered when that position was being adopted.

Human rights are an on-going issue. The Scottish Human Rights Commission is involved in looking at possible reforms and the system’s continuing relevance.

Associated with the position taken by the Conservative Government is the opportunity to attack other vulnerable groups, such as children with parents facing removal or deportation from the UK. On the reserved matter of rights at work, we already have the situation where health and safety is referred to as the monster. The wellbeing of soldiers was alluded to. We know from Dungavel the challenges of the positions of the two Administrations on people seeking refuge in Scotland.

I align myself with comments made by Margaret McCulloch, the convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, of which I am a member. She made passing reference to the position of Gypsy Travellers. As Duncan McNeil has said, not everything is rosy in the garden in Scotland either; reprehensible attitudes are still adopted in respect of the economic, social and cultural rights of the Gypsy Traveller community. I commend the role of Amnesty International, the Minority Ethnic Carers of People Project and Article 12 in Scotland in that regard.

The most important thing is that human rights have to be relevant to people’s everyday lives. I will pick up on a point that a number of members made about Scotland’s position in the international community. That relates to the operation here in the Parliament, the SHRC and its standing, and the way in which we have conducted ourselves on equal marriage and through Scottish Government statements about Palestine and Gaza, which I contrast with statements made elsewhere.

We must have a rights-based approach. I had hoped that that would be adopted and enshrined in a constitution—we may yet see that. It should not be comfortable for Governments. I certainly hope that it is not comfortable for Governments that would abuse their power through GCHQ, intrusion into people’s lives and by treating people coorsely under asylum procedures.

The use of language is very important. One thing that our Conservative and Unionist Party colleagues would agree with is the phrase “rights and responsibilities”, which are an important combination.

The motion uses the phrase

“a source of unity and consensus”.

I hope that the convention would be a source of unity and consensus but, if it is not, I am perfectly happy to see the Conservatives isolated with their friends in UKIP and President Lukashenko, although it would be better if they were inside and co-operating.


Motion S4M-11484: Roseanna Cunningham, Human Rights

That the Parliament re-affirms and re-asserts, on behalf of all of the people of the community of Scotland, the inalienable human rights and fundamental freedoms that are the common inheritance of all members of humanity; recalls the particular importance to the Parliament, through its founding statute, its founding principles and in all aspects of its day-to-day work, of human rights in general and of the European Convention on Human Rights in particular; acknowledges the constitutional responsibility of the Parliament to uphold the principles and values expressed in the convention and to respect, protect and realise the rights and freedoms that it enumerates; further acknowledges the importance of that work not only in relation to Scotland, but also in establishing and maintaining standards of best practice, which provide a benchmark for human rights elsewhere in the world; expresses its confidence in, and support for, the Human Rights Act 1998 as a successful and effective implementation of the convention in domestic law, and believes that the principles and values that inform the convention, the rights and freedoms that it enumerates and the Acts that incorporate it into law, should be a source of unity and consensus across the whole of society and should enjoy the unequivocal backing of all who are committed to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.