Jean challenges Post Office on ‘no island mortgages’ rule

Jean has written to the UK minister responsible for the Post Office, Lib Dem Jenny Willott, and the Managing Director of the publicly-owned company, Paula Vennels, to demand an explanation for the policy of refusing mortgages for properties on all Scottish islands except Skye.

The issue was raised by a Shetland woman who received a letter promoting Post Office mortgages, even though as an Islander she would be deemed ineligible to apply for one.

The Post Office’s mortgage lending criteria state: “Lending areas: England, Scotland (not Scottish Isles with the exception of Skye), Wales and Northern Ireland (unless otherwise stated).”

Ms Urquhart said:

“The local Post Office plays an absolutely central role in many rural communities, including in the islands. I would hope that relationship could extend to all of its services.

“When we have been so failed by the banks, a diversity of financial services providers is to be welcomed. Islanders should be able to benefit from that greater choice the Post Office provides.

“There’s no obvious justification for discriminating against the islands in this way. My hope is that this is an oversight by a distant official, and that the Post Office will quickly agree to scrap its ‘no island mortgages’ rule.

“But I’m already proud to back Citizens Advice in their fight for fair delivery charges to the north and the islands – if there has to be a fight for fair mortgages too, I’m ready.”

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PQs: Community Councils in Scotland

I lodged a series of questions on Community Councils in Scotland. I’m encouraged by the responses, which show Governmental commitment to our most local form of democracy, and hope the information provided is useful for those involved in Community Councils.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to promote participation in community councils.(S4W-19791)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

As part of the Scottish Government’s work in collaboration with COSLA to enhance the role of community councils, the Improvement Service has established three Short-Life Working Groups consisting of a number of Community Council Liaison Officers who work for Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

One of these groups is considering ways to promote participation in community councils. The group’s work is at a very early stage but its findings will help inform future work to help promote participation in community councils.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government whether it will increase the number of contested community council elections from the current level of 8% and, if so, to what level. (S4W-19792)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

Local authorities have statutory oversight of community councils under the Local Authority Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and that includes the responsibility for community council elections. That said, the Scottish Government acknowledges that the number of community council contested elections are low across the country.

As part of the Scottish Government’s work in collaboration with COSLA to enhance the role of community councils, the Improvement Service has established three Short-Life Working Groups consisting of a number of Community Council Liaison Officers who work for Scotland’s 32 local authorities. One of these newly established groups will evaluate the use of alternative voting methods such as evoting to increase the number of community councils contested elections across Scotland. The group’s work is at a very early stage.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what financial support is available to community councils.(S4W-19793)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

The Scottish Government does not provide funding to Community Councils as it is for each Local Authority to decide the level of funding for Community Councils in their area. A Scottish Government Survey of Community Councils carried out in October 2012 and published in December 2013 showed that local authorities used several different methodologies to allocate money for administration costs. The most popular (18 local authorities) is to allocate a core grant and then top it up using population/elector/community councillor numbers. The full report is available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0044/00440438.pdf.
In addition local authorities have a Scottish Local Authority External Funding Officer who can advise community groups and community councils about potential external funding streams. Community Councils can also apply for BIG Lottery funding.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what training is available for community councillors. (S4W-19794)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

A Scottish Government Survey of Community Councils carried out in October 2012 and published in December 2013 showed that 91% of local authorities provided training opportunities for community councillors, with planning the most common type of training provided. The full report is available at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0044/00440438.pdf

As part of the Scottish Government’s work in collaboration with COSLA to enhance the role of community councils, the Improvement Service has established three Short-Life Working Groups consisting of a number of Community Council Liaison Officers who work for Scotland’s 32 local authorities. One of these groups will be evaluating further training and development needs for community councillors and will explore opportunities to share existing training materials and resources. The group’s work is at a very early stage.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Independent): To ask the Scottish Government what mechanisms are in place to support community councils that have become inactive. (S4W-19795)

Mr Derek Mackay MSP:

Each Local Authority has a Community Council Liaison Officer (CCLO) working directly with active and inactive community councils in their area.

To help Community Councils in their work Local Authorities have access to a Model Scheme of Establishment, a Model Constitution and a Model Standing Orders in addition to a Model Code of Conduct and Good Practice Guidance for Community Councillors. These were developed in 2009 by a group which involved the Scottish Government, COSLA and representatives of community councils and local authorities. The materials can be found on the Scottish Government website.

North businesses urged to speak up on unfair delivery charges

Jean has urged Highland and Islands businesses to speak up on discriminatory delivery charges. Jean asked firms across the North to back a survey launched today by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) to uncover the extent of the problem.

Businesses can take part online at tinyurl.com/DeliveryCosts, or pick up a paper copy of the survey from the 19 Citizens Advice Bureaux across the Highlands and Islands. CAS say they are particularly interested to hear views from small businesses based in rural Scotland.

Research by CAS in 2012 showed that 1 million Scots are hit by additional delivery charges or late deliveries, or are refused delivery altogether. Highlanders are charged an extra £15 per delivery on average, while customers in the islands face extra charges of almost £19 per order.

Jean said:

“As a small business owner myself, I know how costly – and how infuriating – discriminatory delivery policies can be. I’ll definitely be taking part in this survey.

“Citizens Advice are doing a great job fighting for fairer costs, and the least we can do is give them the evidence they need for the next stage of their campaign.

“Meanwhile in the Scottish Parliament I will do everything I can to support the fight for fair treatment of businesses and customers in the Highlands and Islands.”

Citizens Advice Scotland Chief Executive Margaret Lynch said:

“High delivery charges can be absolutely devastating for small businesses – both when sending and receiving parcels.

“We estimate that there are well over 20,000 businesses that could be affected. We want to assess how bad this problem is, so we are today opening a survey that is just for businesses. It’s their chance to have their say and contribute their evidence to our campaign.

“Throughout the campaign we have said that Scots don’t want ‘special treatment’. All they want is a fair deal. We are determined to ensure they get that.”

Amendment 116: A duty on Ministers to establish a group (‘the body’) to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect and to help continue the discussion on UNCRC incorporation

Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Group 1 is on duties of Scottish ministers in relation to the rights of children. Amendment 116, in the name of Jean Urquhart, is grouped with amendments 117, 118, 93 and 119 to 126.
Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

The stated policy intention behind the bill is to contribute to Scotland being the best place for children to grow up, and I applaud that intention. It is vital to the Scotland that we wish to create, which recognises not only the vital contribution that children and young people make to our society and our communities but that, in order for them to make that contribution, they deserve and require our respect, our protection and our nurturing.
I welcome the provisions in part 1 of the bill but, like many organisations and individuals working with and for children in Scotland, I am disappointed that part 1 does not go further. Accepting all the stage 3 amendments would go some way to progress our commitment to children’s rights, and accepting amendment 116 would form a key part of that commitment.
My amendment seeks to place a duty on Scottish ministers to establish a body within one year of royal assent to examine the case for giving legislative effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I recognise that the Government has intimated that it believes full incorporation to be unnecessary; I also recognise that the Education and Culture Committee’s stage 1 report raised questions over how that could be done meaningfully.
I hear what the committee has said about incorporating children’s rights, but why do we need evidence to accept that children have rights that should be upheld and promoted in law in the same way that adults do? The same arguments were not made when the case was made for the adoption of the European convention on human rights, or for extending the Human Rights Act 1998 to apply to devolved matters during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. If we did not require evidence to apply human rights to our domestic law, why do we need evidence for children to have rights in law?
There has been strong support for such a move from the children’s sector and the human rights sector. Incorporation of the UNCRC was supported by UNICEF, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, the NSPCC, Families Outside and Together. Amendment 116 has the support of Children 1st, Barnardo’s, Together, YouthLink Scotland, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and a number of academics across the legal and sociological disciplines. For such a move to be supported by such a wide range of interested organisations surely suggests that the amendment has merit.
The bill should mark not the end of our journey in the process, but the beginning. Today, we can commit to explore how to incorporate children’s rights into our legislative framework; signal our intent to make our society truly a child-centred one; and recognise children as having rights in their own regard, which all of us should be willing and devoted to pursuing.
Amendment 116 would give Scottish ministers considerable scope to determine how best to achieve that. Setting up a body such as an independent commission to examine the options would make a statement that I hope we can all support. The amendment would not require Scottish ministers or the Parliament to commit to anything other than the establishment of an appropriate body and consideration of its report. In doing that, we would send a clear signal about the importance that we attach to children’s rights and provide a clear message about the seriousness of our commitment to make Scotland the best place to grow up. Therefore, I hope that Scottish ministers and all MSPs, from all political parties and none, will support amendment 116.
I move amendment 116.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): The bill represents the coming together of two pieces of proposed legislation, one of which is a bill on children’s rights. As Jean Urquhart identified, the Government appears largely to have lost sight of that aspect of what we should be trying to achieve.
The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates said that the bill added little to what was in place and in some respects even diluted children’s rights. Our committee concluded at stage 1 that the duty on ministers was “little more than a restatement of existing obligations.”
Although improvements were introduced at stage 2, the children’s commissioner is clear that “So far the opportunity has been missed to be ambitious for children’s rights and to embed children’s rights in Scotland’s governance and public services.”
My amendments are an attempt to address that position, not just with regard to the bill but with regard to future legislation.
Like others, I did not feel that the case had been made for the full incorporation of the UNCRC, but more can and should be done to incorporate key principles, most notably articles 3 and 12. Tam Baillie proposed that idea in his stage 1 evidence, and he was backed by a wide range of children’s charities. Despite that, the minister and her Scottish National Party colleagues refused to support any of my stage 2 amendments.
Parliament should have a further opportunity to consider the issues and to take a view. My amendments 117 and 118 reflect what we have heard about the need to put children’s rights and interests at the centre of the bill, to make sure that their voices and views are heard, and to give proper effect to the principles that should underpin the bill. I am sad to say that the minister’s amendment 93 will not do that. While I have sympathy with Jean Urquhart’s amendment 116, the important thing is to get substantive and meaningful changes into the bill now.
At stage 2, I sought to beef up the reporting requirements on ministers with regard to the steps taken to comply with the duties that are placed upon them. All my amendments in that regard were rejected. I am pleased that Neil Bibby has taken up the cudgels at stage 3 and I will support his efforts.
I will be interested to hear Alison Johnstone’s comments about the amendments in her name. I am instinctively sympathetic, but it is perhaps unfortunate that she did not lodge amendments with such effect at stage 2, to enable more detailed consideration and, if necessary, refinement.
Amendments 125 and 126 represent an attempt to safeguard children’s rights in the context of future legislation. Amendment 126 repeats an amendment that I lodged at stage 2 and would require a children’s rights impact assessment to be carried out on every relevant bill that was introduced to the Scottish Parliament. Ministers would have discretion about how widely the approach would apply. The approach would enable us to reflect the Education and Culture Committee’s recommendation, follow the lead that has been taken in Wales and deliver a cultural shift in the way in which we view children’s rights.
The minister has argued that undertaking CRIAs could be delivered through non-legislative means. However, although the Government committed to trialling CRIAs in its UNCRC action plan in 2009, not a single CRIA has been carried out.
Amendment 125 tries to skin the cat in another way and would place a duty on ministers to make a statement or assessment of compatibility with the UNCRC, as currently happens with regard to the Human Rights Act 1998. I understand that such an approach works well in Australia. I hope that if amendment 126 remains unpalatable to the minister, amendment 125 will be an acceptable alternative.
On children’s rights, the bill remains a missed opportunity. The children’s commissioner has made clear that if my amendments and others in this group are not agreed to, the bill “will fall far short of matching the high ambition to ‘make rights real’, often stated by Ministers.”
I urge the Parliament to vote to put that right.

The Minister for Children and Young People (Aileen Campbell): I welcome the opportunity to respond to the range of amendments that focus on part 1 of the bill. The bill will ensure that children’s rights properly influence the design and delivery of policy and services, by placing new duties on ministers.
Amendment 116 proposes the establishment of a new body to look at legal implementation of the UNCRC. The proposal seems similar to the children’s commissioner’s suggestion at stage 1 that a parliamentary inquiry look at UNCRC incorporation. The suggestion was not pursued by the Education and Culture Committee in its report.
We have robust structures for holding ministers to account for their approach to the UNCRC. We have the Scottish Parliament and its committees, the children’s commissioner and a national implementation group for children’s rights. Another body is not required, and even if it were required, there would be no need to legislate for its creation.
UNCRC incorporation was the subject of a great deal of discussion at stage 1. A range of views was given by key figures with expertise in children’s rights and the law. The Education and Culture Committee carefully considered the arguments and was not convinced of the merits of incorporation. Professor Ken Norrie said: “I think that to incorporate the convention into the domestic legal system of Scotland would be bad policy, bad practice and bad law. I say that primarily because the UN convention was not drafted or worded to create directly enforceable legal rights in the domestic legal system.”—[Official Report, Education and Culture Committee, 3 September 2013; c 2682.]
We will continue to engage with partners about how we can strengthen children’s rights, through the fora that are in place, and build on the strong foundations in the bill, which are a good starting point from which to develop the UNCRC.
On amendment 117, a similar amendment was considered at stage 2. Now, as then, we have concerns about the introduction of the concept that children’s interests should be “a key consideration”. The UNCRC clearly recognises that children’s best interests should be a primary, rather than a key, consideration. That is the standard towards which we should be working. It does not make sense to pursue such a broad-ranging principle through blanket duties on ministers, which would open up the risk of unnecessary litigation. That would serve no one’s interests.
It makes sense to consider amendment 118 alongside amendment 93, in my name, as both amendments focus on the views of children. Amendment 93 stems from a suggestion from stakeholders that the Government should consider incorporating article 12 of the UNCRC, recognising a child’s right to be heard. Our position remains that implementation of article 12 is not best achieved through a blanket duty. Instead, we require targeted changes, tailored to individual circumstances. Nevertheless, we remain keen to explore how our commitment to article 12 can be realised. Amendment 93 is designed to ensure that children’s views feature in ministerial decision making.
Amendment 118 would go further than amendment 93, by requiring ministers actively to seek children’s views in relation to all decisions. I recognise the value of consulting children and young people, but that must be done in a meaningful way. Amendment 93 addresses that point by offering flexibility around when to consult. For that reason, I encourage members to support amendment 93 as an alternative to amendment 118.
Amendments 119, 120 and 122 represent a radical departure from our current system for protecting children. They would impose on ministers a duty to take all measures to protect children from violence and ill treatment. Although I welcome the intention behind what is proposed and respect Alison Johnstone’s commitment to children and young people, the proposed duty may be impractical and would be impossible to satisfy. Ministers can introduce legislation and policies to protect children, but we cannot guarantee that a child will be safe from violence and neglect in the way that amendment 119 seems to require.
Furthermore, Alison Johnstone’s amendments fail to recognise the central role that many other bodies must play if we are to protect children effectively. Our system does not provide for Scottish ministers to work directly with individual children and their families on a day-to-day basis. Instead, it is founded first and foremost on strong multi-agency working at a local level. That approach continues to deliver an ever-improving system for supporting our most vulnerable children, as is evidenced by the many inspections of children’s services that have been undertaken over the years.
Amendments 119, 120 and 122 cut across all that. They fail to recognise that the people who are best placed to support children are those who have most contact with them and their families. Our focus must be on strengthening those relationships, because that is what our children need.
Getting it right for every child builds on the approach that I have described, and it is through the effective implementation of that model that we will best be able to ensure that all children—including those who are at risk of violence or ill treatment—get the help and support that they need at the time that they need it.
Amendment 121 seeks to recognise the important role that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child plays in shaping our approach to children’s rights. Although it is important to recognise the excellent work that that committee does, the bill is not the best place to do that. Furthermore, I am not sure what practical difference the amendment would achieve. Any steps taken in response to recommendations by the committee would already be captured by the existing reporting duties under our bill.
The issue with which amendments 123 and 124 deal was debated at stage 2. There is now a well-established expectation that ministers will consult stakeholders as part of the policy development process. Accordingly, there is no need to identify every instance in which consultation is necessary and with which organisations it must be carried out. I am sure that we would all recognise that, when it comes to engaging children, our practice is perhaps not as well established. That is why we took steps at stage 2 to introduce section 1(3A), which will ensure that children will be consulted on ministers’ UNCRC implementation plans.
Amendment 124 would place on ministers a requirement to consult every three years on the steps that have been taken to secure “better or further effect” of the UNCRC. At stage 2, I made it clear that I could not see the value of consulting on a list of steps that ministers had taken with a particular aim in mind. After all, that is quite different from producing a plan of future actions, in relation to which there is scope for influencing activity. That same scope simply does not exist in relation to a retrospective report.
Amendment 125 would require ministers to prepare and publish a statement of UNCRC compatibility for all future bills. There would be a huge degree of overlap between that proposal and the children’s rights impact assessments that are proposed in amendment 126, and a system of unnecessary bureaucracy would be created.
As I made clear at stage 2, the Scottish Government recognises the importance of assessing our decisions against the rights of children, and we are developing a children’s rights impact assessment for use across Government as a direct consequence of the duty in section 1(1). Therefore, amendments 125 and 126 are disproportionate and unnecessary.

Liam McArthur: I listened carefully to what the minister said. She seemed to be concerned that amendment 125 overlaps with amendment 126. That would make sense if she intended to accept either of them, but by the sound of things she will accept neither of them. As I made clear, in the UNCRC action plan that was published in 2008 it was indicated that the Government was committed to trialling CRIAs, yet we have not seen one in the intervening years. When might the first CRIA be piloted under the action plan?

Aileen Campbell: As I have said, we are developing that. That is something that we will achieve in order to ensure that we make rights real for children and that the UNCRC is much more keenly felt across the Government’s wider agenda.
For all the reasons that I outlined before Liam McArthur’s intervention, we cannot support any of the amendments in the group except my amendment 93, for which I seek members’ support.
I add that I respect the role that Liam McArthur, Alison Johnstone and Jean Urquhart have played and the way in which they have set out their arguments. I hope that we can work together to achieve more on the UNCRC and to make rights real for children in Scotland.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It has, at times, been difficult to articulate through this bill the potential impact of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child on children’s lives. Some see the articles in the UNCRC as very technical, but many of them relate directly and emphatically to real and practical improvements in children’s lives. Article 19 of the UNCRC is one such example, requiring states to take appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect and violence. Although successive Scottish Governments have made progress to be proud of, there is always much more to do. Too many children still live in fear of abuse, neglect and violence and miss out on their childhoods as a result.
I note Liam McArthur’s comments about the lodging of my amendments, but I know that he agrees that we must strive to do all that we can to give children the best start in life. Amendment 119, which uses almost exactly the same language as that found in article 19, aims to ensure that Governments have to do exactly that: to strive for the best and comply with the UNCRC.
The intention is to create an overarching national approach to protecting children from abuse, neglect and violence and to modernise criminal provisions in this area that are now 76 years old. Although the obsolete parts of section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 have been repealed, our authorities continue to rely on that statute to protect children from harmful, criminal acts of abuse, neglect and violence and adopting amendment 119 would provide a holistic framework within which we can work to protect children.
I note the minister’s concerns about the adoption of this particular article but I hope that she will respond to my points about modernising the legislation and say how, if amendment 119 does not find support, the Government will progress the protections that protect children in Scotland.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to speak to amendments 121, 123 and 124 in my name as well as the other amendments in the group. Although I join members of all parties in welcoming the general principle of raising awareness of children’s rights, it is clear that section 1 could—and should—be improved and go further. During the Education and Culture Committee’s scrutiny of the bill, a number of witnesses said that, in reality, this particular section fails to add anything new and lacks ambition. The Law Society of Scotland described the duty that is placed on ministers as a “diluted version of … existing obligations”and it was noted that the bill requires ministers only to “consider” the UNCRC but not to act on or explain those considerations.
If the bill is to avoid becoming what Liam McArthur has described as a missed opportunity, members should support my amendments, which would add a requirement on ministers to demonstrate how they have responded to general comments or recommendations made directly to the United Kingdom by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. That would bring the reporting duty more in line with the children’s scheme that is set out in the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, which contains a duty of “due regard” to the UNCRC and has been widely welcomed by those working with and for children in Wales. It is important that we can properly scrutinise ministers’ actions if we are to ensure that the bill is having the kind of impact that we all want it to have.
On amendment 116 in the name of Jean Urquhart, during the bill’s passage through Parliament there has been a great deal of discussion and debate about the extent to which the UNCRC should be incorporated into law. Amendment 116 would allow us to continue that discussion by placing on ministers a duty to establish a group to consider the merits of incorporating the UNCRC into law and to report back. Any decision on the extent to which incorporation is appropriate would, of course, be a decision for Parliament and would be informed by the best available evidence.
Finally, I am also supportive of the amendments in the name of Liam McArthur and Alison Johnstone. In particular, I draw members’ attention to the importance of seeking the views of children who are likely to be affected by decisions and ensuring that children’s rights impact assessments are carried out on every relevant bill. Having spoken a number of times in the chamber about the importance of listening to children and young people instead of just talking at them, I am slightly disappointed that the minister’s amendment in this respect does not go as far as Liam McArthur’s amendment.
Amendments 116 to 126 as well as amendment 93 would significantly strengthen what is widely regarded as a weak section in the bill. I urge members to support those amendments if the bill is to match our ambition.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): Over a lengthy period, I have listened very carefully to what has been the most challenging but nevertheless one of the most interesting aspects of the debate on the bill. As I said on the very first day of evidence taking at stage 1, the main difficulty all along with part 1 has been the need to assimilate very different legal perspectives on the bill, especially the need to reach a rational judgment on the need to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law.
In turn, that meant examining whether the current duties on Scottish ministers are sufficiently strong in terms of protecting children and whether in some cases we have not done enough to enhance the rights of children. In particular, there was a need to ensure that there was a clear understanding of the duties on ministers and those that fall on local authorities and other bodies.
At the end of that process, the Scottish Conservatives do not believe that there is a sufficiently strong case for full incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law, on account of the fact that some aspects of the UNCRC are not fully compatible with our legal traditions. However, we believe that there has to be more clarity over the rights of ministers, children and their families and, just as important, those of local authorities and other professional bodies. Following those criteria, we will support amendments 117, 118, 93, 121, 123 and 124 but not the other amendments in the group.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): Like Liz Smith, I listened as part of the Education and Culture Committee to the evidence on this section of the bill. Like the rest of the committee, I came to the conclusion that there was little evidence of how full incorporation of the UNCRC would improve outcomes for children in Scotland.
Paragraph 38 of the committee’s conclusions in its stage 1 report notes:
“the UNCRC is implemented in Scotland in a number of ways already”.
In fact, article 42 is incorporated into the bill and it obliges ministers to promote awareness of children’s rights among children as well as parents. That aspect of the bill has been welcomed by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The committee’s conclusions also state:“We are not persuaded of the case for full incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law … We agree that the benefits arising from incorporation of the UNCRC could be realised from improvements in policy and practice, such as through the implementation of GIRFEC.”
Liam McArthur mentioned that Neil Bibby had taken up the cudgels at stage 3. I find it quite strange that it has taken such a long time for Neil Bibby to reach that position, given that he was one of the members of the committee who signed up to those fairly fulsome conclusions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Minister, would you like to respond to any of the points that were made in the debate? You do not have to by any measure.

Aileen Campbell: Joan McAlpine raised the fact that the committee did not support the full incorporation of the UNCRC, and I reflect again on Professor Ken Norrie’s comments on the bill. Technical difficulties prevent us from accepting Alison Johnstone’s amendments, but there is a firm commitment to ensure that we can work with everyone who is interested, to ensure that we make rights real across Scotland. This is about making sure that we put Scotland on the path towards becoming the best place to grow up, and making rights real is a key part of that.
I will make sure that we work with others across the chamber to allow us to have the proper scrutiny, which, as I set out in my opening remarks, is already there through the Parliament, the Education and Culture Committee and the children’s commissioner. By working together, we can have a bill that we are proud of, with regards to UNCRC provision.

Jean Urquhart: I return to the wording of amendment 116 and reiterate what it would do and what it would not. It would require Scottish ministers to set up a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect. It does not state what sort of body that should be, nor does it insist that the UNCRC should be given legislative effect. It would allow ministers and indeed MSPs to charge that body with exploring all the issues relating to this matter. The body would have to lay its report before Parliament and Scottish ministers would be expected to respond. At no point in that process would there be a burden, responsibility or even an expectation on Scottish ministers and MSPs to commit to giving legislative effect to the UNCRC.
As someone who believes passionately in creating a rights-based society for all, I hope that the option of giving legislative effect to the UNCRC would be explored fully and that the body would conclude that that would be the appropriate thing to do. I hope, too, that the body would provide advice on how and when to do so. However, committing to establishing the body would not commit future Governments or Parliaments to its recommendations. We would still be able to make that democratic decision, which is as it should be.
I have made my views clear on why I think it is important for Scotland to incorporate the UNCRC into our legislative framework, but far greater politicians than me have called on us all to do more for children. Someone said:
“Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.”
He also said:
“History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.”
There are many reasons to follow the teachings and words of the late, great Nelson Mandela. Throughout his presidency and his retirement, Mandela championed the cause of children. His love for children and his appreciation of their needs, rights and interests, and of society’s duty and responsibility to protect and nurture them by being child centred and furthering their rights, provide us with more and indeed compelling reasons to do as I suggest.
I uphold my amendment 116.

Title: Lewis and Harris named as best islands in Europe by Trip Advisor

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the news that Lewis and Harris has been named the best islands in Europe by Trip Advisor; understands that Scottish islands feature several times in the list, with Orkney and the Isle of Mull also named in the European top 10; notes that Scotland also dominates the top 10 UK list with Skye, Arran and Islay all named; believes that this will be a boost to the local tourist industry; understands that TripAdvisor compiled the list on opinions of tourists who had visited the islands on holiday; notes that this news comes after Scotland being listed as one of the top countries in the world to visit in 2014 by travel guide Lonely Planet, coming third in the list behind Brazil and Antarctica; considers the comments of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014 Contributor Tom Hall, who said that ‘Scotland…will be taking the spotlight on the world stage and that the ‘country’s buzzing cities and stunning scenery have plenty to offer visitors, combined with an incredible calendar of events’ demonstrate the potential for a successful year for Scotland’s tourist industry, and looks forward to further recognition of what it considers to be Scotland’s sustainability as a top tourist destination.

Jean’s bid to protect children’s rights

Cartoon of a child leaning against a stack of huge books. On the books is the message "You have the right to an education." Image by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young PeopleJean has proposed an inquiry into how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) could be enshrined in Scots law. She’ll be arguing for the amendment to the Children and Young People Bill in its final debate at Holyrood tomorrow.

If backed by MSPs, Jean’s amendment will require the government to set up a body to investigate whether the UNCRC should become part of Scots law, as is already the case with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The UNCRC demands that decisions about children always put their best interests first. It enshrines a number of specific rights, including the right to an education, the right to a family, and the right to be protected from violence.

Jean said:

“We’re currently engaged in a debate about the kind of country we want to be, and what kind of future we want for all our citizens. I think we should aspire to be the kind of country that always puts our children – our future – first.

“Enshrining children’s rights in Scots law would be a powerful protection for our kids, and a bold signal of our ambition to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in.

“We have the opportunity here to be a leading nation, not only in the UK but also in the world. By starting on the journey towards a truly child-centred society, I have no doubt we’ll give other countries the inspiration to travel with us.”

The United Kingdom ratified the Convention in 1991, as have 192 other countries. Somalia, South Sudan and the United States are the only UN members not to have done so.

Unlike the ECHR, the UNCRC does not give individual children any way to take action if their rights are breached. Bringing the UNCRC into Scots law would enable Scottish children to go to court here to defend their rights.

The Welsh Assembly has moved towards legal recognition of the UNCRC, and from 1 March the devolved Welsh government will be bound by the Convention. The Scottish Parliament, with its greater powers, has the opportunity to be the first part of the UK to incorporate the Convention into law in full.

Bringing the UNCRC into Scots law is supported by UNICEF, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, the NSPCC, Children 1st, Barnado’s, YouthLink Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Families Outside and Together.

Jean has also backed the Bill’s provision of a ‘Named Person’ service, which will ensure every child in Scotland has someone they and their parents can turn to who can help them navigate the various public services and support available. The scheme has been in place in the Highland council area since 2010, and the new law will roll it our nationwide.

Jean said:

“It’s a shame that the Named Person Service has been so misrepresented by media seeking to cook up a scare story.

“Parents are tired of being passed from pillar to post, never talking to the same person twice, and having to tell their story over and over again; they want joined-up services.

“The named person scheme means that every child and their parents have one person they can always call to help them navigate services, find advice, or be listened to.

“Some people have suggested that named person service means appointing a social worker for every child. That’s not true. In the Highlands, we already have the named person scheme and the people appointed are the local midwife and health visitor until the child goes to school, and then it’s the headteacher or deputy head.

“Named Person has been in place in the Highlands since 2010. I was a Highland councillor until 2012, and have been a Highlands and Islands MSP since 2011, and I’ve never received a single complaint about a named person interfering where they weren’t wanted.

“The Named Person Service will help families get the support they want and deserve, and create a safety net for every child.”

Rolling out the named person scheme across Scotland is supported by Barnado’s, Children 1st, Parenting Across Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the NSPCC, Aberlour, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Action for Children, Quarriers, Royal College of Nursing and the Scottish Childminding Association.

Jean’s amendment to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill:

116 Before section 1, insert—

<Duty on Scottish Ministers to establish a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect

  • (1) Within one year of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Scottish Ministers must by order establish a body to consider whether the UNCRC should be given legislative effect.
  • (2) Where a body established under subsection (1) has completed its consideration it must—
    • (a) make a written report of its conclusions,
    • (b) lay the report before the Scottish Parliament,
    • (c) publish the report.
  • (3) As soon as practicable after the report has been laid before the Parliament, the Scottish Ministers must make a statement—
    • (a) responding to the report,
    • (b) indicating, on the basis of that report, whether they intend to give legislative effect to the UNCRC.
  • (4) The Scottish Ministers must—
    • (a) lay a copy of the statement under subsection (3) before the Parliament,
    • (b) publish the statement in such a manner as they consider appropriate.
  • (5) An order under subsection (1) may make provision about—
    • (a) the status, constitution and proceedings of the body,
    • (b) the period within which the body must report to the Parliament,
    • (c) the matters which must be covered in the report,
    • (d) the publication of the report.>

Motion S4M-09059: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Today, I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament marking the publication of the most recent UN Report on the situation in North Korea. The parliamentary lexicon can make it difficult to fully describe the litany of horrors that ordinary citizens in North Korea (officially and perversely titled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) face on a daily basis. The use of sexual assault as a weapon of control by the state; the strict and long-lasting stratification of North Korean society, where a grandson or granddaughter can live out their life in a prison camp for no reason other than the identity of a grandparent; the arbitrary “justice” meted out to citizens for “crimes” such as using a newspaper with a picture of Kim Jong-il to mop up a spilt drink, or forcing new mothers, who gave birth with no medical assistance, to kill their own babies, and the deaths of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people in massive, sprawling prison camps akin to those used to such devastating and evil effect by Nazi Germany are just some of the crimes against humanity detailed in the report. It is a damning condemnation of a regime without legitimacy or any semblance of humanity, and an urgent call to action to the international community, who must act to bring the perpetrators of this Hell on Earth before the International Criminal Court. The report can be accessed here and is a chilling but essential read to understand why the work of human rights organisations worldwide must continue. Amnesty International have done further research into the prison camp system in the police state of North Korea which can be accessed via this link.

My motion is below- please encourage your MSPs to sign it if they haven’t already done so. Although one motion in the Scottish Parliament will not on its own achieve change, it can add to the growing international consensus that something must be done to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people.

Motion Number: S4M-09059
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 18/02/2014

Title: Human Rights Abuses in North Korea

Motion Text:
That the Parliament notes the publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the UN Human Rights Council; understands that among the issues investigated by the commission of inquiry were violations of freedom of the press, expression, religion, movement and to the right to life and the country’s use of political prison camps, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; considers that the findings, which suggest evidence of forcing mothers to commit infanticide, the widespread use of rape, sexual abuse and torture by the state and its officials and the use of intergenerational punishment. demonstrate the depravity of the North Korean regime and what it sees as that country’s blatant disregard for humanity and human rights; believes that the absolute control of the North Korean state over the lives of its citizens, the deliberate blocking of aid for ideological reasons, the cult of personality surrounding its three leaders since the Korean War and the use of political prison camps with little or no due process for prisoners plumb the depths of what human beings are capable of; supports the report’s belief that “the gravity, scale and nature” of its findings “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”; considers comparisons with Nazi Germany and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to be apposite, and calls on the international community to take action to release the North Korean people from what it sees as their nightmarish existence and to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes against humanity.

Blog: Why I’m Supporting the Named Person Scheme

There’s been a lot of controversy in recent weeks over the provisions in the Government’s Children and Young People Bill to introduced a Named Person Scheme. I have my own amendment lodged on a separate issue, and will write a bit more about that later on this week- however, for now, I think it’s more important to address some of the claims made about the Scheme. Although it may, on the face of it, seem an unnecessary or worrisome step, I am afraid that its intent and effect has been misinterpreted by the media.

Highland Council have implemented such a scheme since 2010, and have said that the scheme emerged from parents’ desire for a clear point of contact for services to support their child’s wellbeing or development. This is therefore a roll-out of a tried and tested system, and although there will probably be some bumps along the way (as there is with any new system) it is not the step into the dark that some are claiming. As an elected representative for the area during the trial’s lifetime- a Highland Councillor until 2012 and an MSP for the area since 2011- I’ve yet to receive any casework or correspondence from parents who feel that the authorities have over-reached or that liberties have been taken.

The Minister taking the Bill through Parliament, Aileen Campbell, has written an excellent letter to all MSPs tackling some of the more troubling misconceptions. As she states:

“the proposals are not about:

• treating every child with the same procedures with which we treat vulnerable children.
• recommending that a social worker be appointed for every child
• giving named persons the authority to enter every house
• establishing a national database. “

It also helps to reduce the burden on social workers; Barnado’s Scotland, for example, have said that where named person schemes are already in place there has been a reduction in caseloads for social workers, allowing them to prioritise helping those most in need of support. I have also been reassured by the support across the children’s sector for the scheme. As well as Barnado’s, rolling out the named person scheme across Scotland is supported by Children 1st, Parenting Across Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, the NSPCC, Aberlour, the Scottish Youth Parliament, Action for Children, Quarriers, Royal College of Nursing and the Scottish Childminding Association- a show of real support from those who have expertise in the relevant issues. I am a believer in listening to the experts when it comes to policy making, and while this must be combined with proper scrutiny, I am absolutely reassured by the briefings and conversations I have had with representatives from the sector that this will be a positive change.

The named person scheme will create a safety net that no child should slip through, by reducing confusion over what professionals have what responsibilities and allowing action to be taken more quickly. We all want the best for our children, and I believe that this provision- among the others in the Bill – will help to make Scotland an even better place for our children.

Jean urges decriminalisation for sex workers’ safety

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Jean has criticised Edinburgh’s decision to delicense its saunas and massage parlours, and called for a debate on decriminalising sex work in order to improve safety and decrease stigma.

Her intervention has been praised by the sex-worker-led charity SCOT-PEP as “courageous”.

In a motion to the Scottish Parliament, Jean praised Edinburgh’s formerly strong record of harm reduction policies on sex work, and urged the capital to reconsider.

Edinburgh has been unusual in granting Public Entertainment Licenses to sex work premises, a policy which improved health and safety and was strongly supported by sex workers themselves. Until 2001, Edinburgh also recognised tolerance zones for street prostitution.

Jean highlighted calls from sex workers’ organisations for full decriminalisation, as practiced in New Zealand since 2003. Kiwi sex workers now report much greater safety and wellbeing. Decriminalisation is supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Jean said:

“Our first duty in dealing with sex work must be the protection of the safety and dignity of sex workers. Sex work can be dangerous; but those dangers are exacerbated, or in many cases even created, by criminalisation.

“In Edinburgh’s case, delicensing will eventually lead to saunas being forced out of business by raids and arrests – which is presumably its intention. This will force sex workers into more dangerous work such as street prostitution or working alone from home.

“This is a continuation of a concerted shift against harm reduction in Edinburgh. One of the changes already made, in 2001, has been to abandon the use of tolerance zones for street prostitution. A subsequent crackdown on kerb-crawling in 2007 led to sex workers reporting a 95% increase in incidents of violence over 12 months.

“Edinburgh’s management of sex work was a success story. But instead of the rest of Scotland learning from their experience, we are seeing failed policies being pushed on the capital.

“Both the hard evidence and the testimony of sex workers themselves tell us that fully decriminalising sex work, as in New Zealand, is the best way to protect sex workers and their communities. This would allow co-operation instead of conflict with the authorities, improve the health and safety of sex workers, and create the best possible environment for the eradication of coercion, trafficking and underage sex work.”

The sex workers’ charity SCOT-PEP said:

“SCOT-PEP warmly welcomes Jean Urquhart’s motion on Edinburgh city council’s sauna decision, and on the wider legal context of sex work in Scotland. It is heartening to see an MSP focus on harm reduction rather than on ideology, and back a policy – decriminalisation – that is supported by evidence, and international agencies including UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

“We are delighted that Jean’s motion notes that decriminalisation is the legal framework called for by sex workers in Scotland, and around the world. For too long, debates about sex work have been dominated by policymakers who seek to dismiss the voices of those most affected. Sex workers are the experts on the legal framework that best enables them to work safely, and to access health, human rights, and justice.

“We have long fought for policy that centres safety, human rights and evidence, and are pleased to see that, in a context for sex workers in Scotland that has recently brought setbacks, we nonetheless have courageous politicians”.

If Jean’s motion gains the support of MSPs from three of the five Holyrood party groups, including Jean’s Independent/Green group, it will be eligible for a debate in the Parliament. If you support a debate on the issue, please consider emailing, writing or phoning your MSP and asking them to sign the motion.

Jean’s motion to the Scottish Parliament:

Motion Number: S4M-08986
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 06/02/2014

Title: Criminalisation of Sex Work

Motion Text:

That the Parliament regrets the decision of the Regulatory Committee of Edinburgh City Council, on 3 February 2014, to remove massage parlours and saunas from the Public Entertainment Licence regime; considers that this decision represents a move toward deeper criminalisation of sex work and sex workers; believes that such criminalisation exposes sex workers to greater danger and stigma; further believes that Edinburgh’s previous sex work policies, including tolerance zones for street prostitution and licensed saunas, demonstrated success in reducing harm, and notes calls for Edinburgh City Council to reconsider this decision and the Scottish Government to give consideration to policies to decriminalise sex work, as it believes has been requested by sex workers themselves.

Motion: One Big Drum at Trade Union Week

Jean has lodged a motion welcoming East Sutherland’s One Big Drum group to Holyrood as part of the Scottish Parliament’s Trade Union Week celebrations.

One Big Drum brings people together to learn African drum music, including young and old, and people with and without disabilities. The group was created two years ago by Health and Happiness‘s Bruce Armstrong and Roxana Meechan from High Life Highland, and has won great audience reactions at many local events and at the 2013 STUC Unions into Schools Songs Festival in Glasgow.

Jean will be meeting with members of One Big Drum on Wednesday 19 February, and they will be performing in the Scottish Parliament’s central Garden Lobby that night.

Motion S4M-08997: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/02/2014

One Big Drum at Trade Union Week

That the Parliament welcomes the visit by members of One Big Drum from East Sutherland during Trade Union Week at the Parliament; commends High Life Highland and Health and Happiness for the One Big Drum initiative, which brings together people with learning disabilities, non-disabled people, young people and older people; recognises the support from Brora Community Council, Golspie Community Council, High Life Highland, Health and Happiness, the STUC and from Unions into Schools in making the visit possible, and joins with One Big Drum in celebrating what it sees as the positive contribution that African drum music makes to breaking down barriers and collectively improving wellbeing.