Jenny Marra MSP :  Human Rights  (Speech in the Scottish Parliament )

5 February 2013

I was sincerely hoping that the minister would set a serious tone for what is a serious debate and talk about the reality of human rights in the lives of people in Scotland.

Nevertheless, I thank the Government for bringing the important issue of human rights to the chamber.

The Labour Party has a strong record of promoting human rights.

Clement Attlee’s Government was one of the first signatories to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and it ratified the European convention on human rights in 1951.

As one of its first actions in 1997, the Labour Government incorporated the European convention into UK law.

Every act of this Parliament is required to be compliant with the convention or it is nullified.

Since the coming into effect of the Human Rights Act 1998, citizens the length and breadth of this country and throughout the United Kingdom have enjoyed the protection of the convention.

Of course, the Human Rights Act 1998 is still in its formative years, with its effect taking shape in our courts every day, but it has already resulted in some of the biggest changes to our law in recent times.

For instance, the Cadder case established the right to legal representation for people who are held for questioning in Scotland.

Labour believes that the important task is to get on with that job of making human rights a reality in all our lives by ensuring that they are daily afforded to people.

Each and every day, we need to protect the rights of those who are affected by welfare reform.

We need to protect the rights of vulnerable children in this country.

We need to weave human rights into the fabric of our communities through the laws that we pass and the policies that we advance in the chamber now.

We can do that using the immense powers that we have.

Our amendment—I thank the Government for indicating that it will support it—seeks to advance that cause specifically in relation to human trafficking, which is a human rights abuse that is happening in our towns and cities today.

Human trafficking happens under our noses but is, unfortunately, largely undetected.

Here in the Parliament we have the power to take concerted action against that trafficking.

The victims of trafficking in Scotland cannot wait for a written constitution that would enshrine their rights, nor do they need to do so.

The Government in power in Scotland, sitting over there to my right, already has the power that it needs to make a big impact on that human rights abuse today—now.

If I were to stop any Scot on the street outside the Parliament building and ask whether there are people who have been sold into this country, who are living in our towns against their will, to work in the sex industry or in forced labour, most likely I would not be believed.

It is hard to accept that such an issue is alive in our communities.

People would be further shocked if I were to tell them that there are young people, who have been convicted of drug offences after being trafficked into this country to work on drug farms, incarcerated in our prisons tonight.

Young people are being incarcerated in Scotland who have been convicted of crimes as a result of coercion and deception by others.

Such human rights abuses are taking place in Scotland under our very noses, and those youngsters are sitting in our prisons tonight.

Roseanna Cunningham: Does the member intend to make any mention of the role that the United Kingdom Border Agency plays in the issue, or will she simply ignore that aspect?

Jenny Marra: As my co-convener of the cross-party group on human trafficking will know, we are dealing with a multifaceted problem, to which the UKBA is part of the solution.

However, my point is that this Parliament has a lot of powers that we can properly use to tackle and prevent the issue of trafficking.

For that reason, I am glad that the Government will accept our amendment, but I want to talk a bit more about the powers that we already have to tackle human rights abuses in our communities.

The minister will surely agree that she would want to use all the powers at her fingertips to do as much as she can to prevent those human rights abuses.

 Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP): Can the member name a single solitary person who she knows has escaped due process with regard to trafficking? Can she name one?

Jenny Marra: I am not sure about the question that the member is asking, but let me attempt to understand it.

We believe that many people who are trafficking people into this country today go undetected because the police and other front-line services are not properly trained and do not have the tools to recognise those people.

To date in Scotland, there have been two successful prosecutions and five convictions for trafficking offences, but we believe that the problem is much more widespread.

Due process needs to be visited on many people who are trafficking people into this country.

 I hope that I have answered the member’s question.

The priorities are ours to decide, and we know the flaws in our current approach to trafficking: it lacks will and direction and, as a consequence of our laws and policies, it has developed in a piecemeal fashion and victims are slipping through the net.

Our law is currently split between two acts—one UK act and one act in Scotland—that give different definitions for the same crime.

There is no statutory obligation to provide comprehensive mental health treatment and education services to victims, and we lack training for national health service staff, paramedics and police officers, who could do much to identify victims and give them the support that they need.

The Labour Party supports incorporating the Palermo protocol into our law.

The minister has accepted our amendment, but I wonder whether she will go a little further and in closing speak about the possibility of incorporating the international gold standard, which is the Palermo protocol on trafficking.

I realise that I am running short of time, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You are.

Jenny Marra: I believe that the Parliament has the power—through control of housing, education, health and legal affairs—to put measures in place.

Experts such as Helena Kennedy have set out recommendations that are within the power of the Parliament to follow.

The Government could make a big move towards ending human rights abuses in Scotland by supporting our amendment, as it has done, and by committing to the Palermo protocol to prevent trafficking and human rights abuses in Scotland.

I move amendment S4M-05556.2, to insert at end:

“, and believes that tackling human trafficking should be an essential part of the national action plan for human rights, including a clear commitment to review the current law to ensure that the crime of human trafficking is defined as clearly and comprehensively as possible.”

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