John’s Speech During Child Poverty Debate

Posted: November 21, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Uncategorized

I, too, congratulate my colleague, John Wilson, on securing the debate. It is, however, with some frustration that I find myself debating the subject because we live in a very wealthy country in which there is absolutely no reason why there should be poverty.

I am happy to pay credit to those who have made efforts in the past to improve the situation, but we know that the United Kingdom is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and we know that that inequality is growing. That is reflected in the figures that we are discussing today. That said, it is absolutely the responsibility of everyone—the United Kingdom Government, the Scottish Government, local authorities and the national health service—to play their part.

It is clear that my preference would have been for independence and for Scotland taking full charge of its own affairs. We saw from the example of how the chamber dealt with the bedroom tax the consensus that can be built across it. I think that independence would have brought about a more humane regime.

We know that there are a number of contributory factors to the situation. I, too, thank the various organisations that have provided very helpful briefings to us. Low wages, for instance, are a contributory factor. My colleague John Wilson was quite right to highlight his constituency, because rurality compounds many of the factors that we are debating. Underemployment has been referred to as a contributory factor, and transport costs also have a significant implication.

On social security benefits, the universal credit is being trialled in Inverness, which is in my area. We also know about the sanctions. Simple things such as the cost of a telephone call have significant implications for individuals, and zero-hours contracts bring about the real dilemma of in-work poverty. I certainly do not think that it should be the state’s purpose to subsidise abusing employers who pay levels of wages such as they pay to their staff. To my mind, that is a catch-22 situation, as is the cost of childcare. We know, of course, that in the past six years, the cost of childcare has gone up by 44 per cent. Indeed, the minimum cost of raising a child—that might seem to many to be an unusual phrase—has gone up by 8 per cent since 2012 and by 11 per cent for a lone parent. During that period, there has been no rise in family benefits, of course.

Benefits are the subject of a lot of ill-informed comment. I want to comment on the level of unclaimed benefits in the UK. There is £10 billion of unclaimed benefits, half of which would go to working-age families. That money could be in individuals’ pockets and spent in communities. The effect of that money not being used is not only on individuals, but on our communities and local economies. Whose interests are served by that? Those of the people whom we are charged with representing certainly are not.

I commend the other steps that have been taken—free school meals, for instance, although there are capacity issues for local authorities with respect to them.

I want to touch on fuel poverty in the short time that I have left. Our new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said in relation to a report on fuel poverty:

“There is no place for fuel poverty”.

That is absolutely right. We know that there is fuel poverty if 10 per cent or more of income is spent on meeting heating standards. There is the much talked about situation in which people have to make the terrible choice between switching on the heating or the cooker. The growth in food banks is an unacceptable issue that is being faced across the country.

The national performance framework includes the phrase:

“Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed”.

That will happen only if there is genuine redistribution of wealth. A living wage is a part of that and progressive taxation is another important part of it.

We must do everything with the powers that we have to eradicate child poverty.

Members’ Bill

Posted: November 17, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Uncategorized

I am grateful to members of the public who contacted me to urge me to continue with my proposed Local Government Accountability and Transparency Bill, only one aspect of which related to religious representatives on Education Committees.

I trust that it goes without saying that I will never ‘abandon’ the cause of democracy.

The purpose of any Members’ Bill is to put in place legislation and prior to that being possible there is a very clear protocol regarding the level of support required to progress to introducing a Bill i.e. the support of 18 MSPs, from at least half the parties or groups on the Parliamentary Bureau.

Given the campaign mounted by the religious groups, there was zero prospect of securing the necessary support to continue.

I will reflect on what other avenues there are to challenge this anachronism.

John’s PQs on Scottish Government Land and MPAs

Posted: November 14, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Uncategorized

Question S4W-23167: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government who would deal with a complaint from a member of the public about the misuse of greenfield and agricultural land in its ownership or control.

Question S4W-23166: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government which of its directorates are responsible for (a) greenfield and (b) agricultural land in its ownership or control.

Question S4W-23165: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government when it will produce a register of all land assets in its ownership or control.

Question S4W-23164: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will consider a moratorium on the disposal of land that it owns or controls pending the development of a land use and food production policy that includes details of the assets that it has held, the disposal of such assets and their subsequent use.

Question S4W-23163: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4W-22861 by Derek Mackay on 13 November 2014, whether it considers that it can meaningfully contribute to a debate on land use and food production.

Question S4W-23136: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the membership of the board of Marine Scotland.

Question S4W-23135: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the potential impact on jobs if the three mile fisheries limit for all mobile gear around the Scottish coast were reinstated.

Question S4W-23134: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to assess the impact of Norway’s ban on scallop dredging.

Question S4W-23133: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason Marine Protected Areas apply fishing restrictions to certain species rather than managing the overall ecology of the designated areas.

Question S4W-23132: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government whether it plans to publish Technical Report: Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland (the Radford report).

Question S4W-23131: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what role Scottish Natural Heritage plays in setting the parameters of a Marine Protected Area.

Question S4W-23130: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on scallop dredging.

Campaigners from GU Climate Action, who recently won their fight to get Glasgow University to divest from fossil fuels.

Campaigners from GU Climate Action, who recently won their fight to get Glasgow University to divest from fossil fuels.

John has called on Parliamentary authorities to remove investments in fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms industry from the MSPs’ pension fund, after it was revealed that almost one-tenth of the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme is invested in those three industries.

John challenged the investments in a question to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), the committee that runs the facilities and back-room function of the Parliament.

David Stewart MSP, answering on behalf of the SPCB, admitted that 4% of the pension fund was invested in oil and gas, 1% in oil and gas equipment and distribution, 2% in tobacco and 4% in the arms industry. He agreed to write to the Trustees of the fund, asking them to “consider the matter in much more detail”.

John said afterwards:

“I’m very grateful to Friends of the Earth Scotland for helping me investigate the background to this issue, and for all their work to encourage divestment from fossil fuels.

“It looks like rank hypocrisy when the Parliament claims to work for a healthy, sustainable and peaceful Scotland, but its money is going into bankrolling the very opposite.

“As Desmond Tutu has said, nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering of climate change. Nor should we benefit from the sale of weapons of war, or from the cigarettes that kill 13,000 Scots a year.

Glasgow University is leading the way in divesting from fossil fuels – the first university in Europe to do that – and I’m hugely proud of the Scottish student campaigners that made that happen.

“Now the Scottish Parliament should follow Glasgow’s example. I want an ethical investment policy that takes our money out of fossil fuels, tobacco and weapons, and puts it into socially useful activities like clean energy instead.”

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

Posted: November 13, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Uncategorized

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.

TTIP: GREEN-INDEPENDENT MSPS URGE FM TO TOUGHEN STANCE

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy committee, is urging the First Minister to oppose TTIP, the controversial EU-US trade deal.

Writing on behalf of the 5-strong Green-Independent group of MSPs, Ms Johnstone calls on Alex Salmond to press the case against a power grab by big business that undermines democratic decision-making.

The full text of the letter can be seen online at greenmsps.org. It is supported by Alison’s Green colleague Patrick Harvie, along with independent MSPs John Finnie, Jean Urquhart and John Wilson.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

“TTIP is a power grab by private corporations which threatens the NHS. Although Scottish ministers have said they oppose the inclusion of health services in TTIP the negotiations have not yet provided any clear protections, and I urge the First Minister to press the case.

“There’s huge public concern at the offshore corporate courts being proposed. These would enable corporations to sue governments for passing laws which may be in the public interest but affect a company’s profits, an outrageous suggestion.

“We could also see watering down of European protections from the likes of GM foods and beef produced with growth hormones, an issue causing real concern for Scotland’s farmers.

“I hope the Scottish Government will write again to the UK Government stating opposition to TTIP. There is mounting public concern that cannot be ignored.”

 

 

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) have issued their report into the ‘standing firearms authority’ that saw police officers attending routine duties while carrying firearms.

This morning, before the full report was available, John welcomed HMICS’s announcement that their review “states that the impact of hte policy change on public perception was not fully considered by Police Scotland nor has there been a full and informed debate around the deployment of firearms officers to incidents and duties that do not require a firearms response.”

John said:

“As the person who first raised the issue of armed officers attending routine non-firearms incidents I am delighted that the second of the three reviews vindicates my highlighting public concerns.

“Although I haven’t yet seen the full report, I am pleased HMICS confirms that Police Scotland hadn’t ‘fully considered’ the public’s views when they changed their policy.

“I’m pleased too that HMCIS comments on the absence of a ‘full and informed’ debate.

“The recommendation for ‘better communication’ and a clear understanding of ‘operational responsibilities’ are helpful in ensuring we have what we should have had all along – a police service operating with public consent.”

“I am shortly due to give evidence to the third enquiry being held by the Police Authority and I hope that the welcome change by Police Scotland, removing armed officers from attending routine incidents, will see everyone get behind what I hope is a return to community-based policing.”