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Communities, Alex Neil, opened the debate by saying that while some of the issues surrounding forced marriages were complex, no MSP needed to be persuaded of “the unacceptability of having one’s life choices and one’s connections to one’s family and community taken away and, in many cases, of suffering a spectrum of abuse including threats, blackmail and violence.” He continued: “We know that forced marriage is a human rights violation, as well as a form of violence against women in particular and, in many cases, of child abuse.” A key driver of the Bill was to improve

the fl exibility of and accessibility to legal remedies related to forced marriage. Neil said the orders could be tailored to address individual circumstances and “the court can include any such provisions that it deems necessary for the safety of the victim”. Because of this “forced marriage protection orders will genuinely be able to provide the highest level of protection to each individual victim”. Neil said he hoped that the implementation of the Bill would act as a catalyst for improved data collecting and training on the issue. “We should remember the power of

the message that victims have sent to Parliament,” said Labour MSP Johann Lamont, adding, “it is important to recognise that the experience of forced marriage is horrifi c.” The Bill was not just symbolic, she said, but provided protection to victims and offered legal measures that were “not insignifi cant”. Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell

said the Bill would help “eradiate an abhorrent practice that has no place in a civilised society”. She continued: “It is victim-centred legislation that provides for third-party applications where it may be diffi cult for a victim to seek protection from family members. It strikes the right balance on criminal and civil sanctions and addresses victims’ concerns about criminalisation of family members by providing that only breach of an order by the perpetrators will be a criminal offence.” The term “forced marriage” was an

oxymoron, said Liberal Democrat MSP Hugh O’Donnell. If something was forced, it could not be a marriage. While the number of cases were relatively low, it was important to send a message that Scotland was not prepared to accept this “abhorrent practice”.

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Private Rented Housing

(Scotland) Bill, Stage 3 Debate

17 March 2011 By Lynne Whitelaw Minister for Housing and

Communities Alex Neil opened the debate and explained that the Scottish Government saw a “modern, thriving, high-quality Scottish private rented sector as an essential part of housing provision in Scotland”. He said that the Government was keen to do what it could with its limited powers in the area and had made submissions to UK Chancellor George Osborne asking him to extend tax advantages for investment in commercial property to investment in the housing sector. He said if the Chancellor did this in his budget, that would “act as a major spur” to housing investment, especially in the private sector. He said that while the majority of landlords were good, there were bad ones that had to be tackled and the Bill aimed to do this. He explained that the Bill would: strengthen the system of landlord legislation, expanding the ‘fi t and proper person’ test by making it clear to local authorities that issues like antisocial behaviour should be taken into account; give local authorities new powers to obtain information on unregistered landlords including an ability to demand a list of properties managed; increase maximum fi nes for HMO-licensing and landlord registration offences to £50,000; and help to protect tenants by ensuring they understand their landlord’s rights and responsibilities. Mary Mulligan (Lab) welcomed the Bill and said she was happy to support it but pointed out areas where she felt action was still needed, saying that local authorities needed to better understand the importance of landlord registration. She added that the judiciary also needed to understand the importance of the legislation, stating: “If the new Government after May is a Labour Government, such discussions might be part of discussions on establishing a housing court or tribunal.”

Mulligan also raised concern about

changes to housing benefi t, explaining: “There is likely to be increased demand for HMOs, due to changes in the housing benefi t rules—perhaps up to 7,500 more properties will be needed. How will we respond to that demand?” Alex Johnstone (Con) said that the Conservatives supported and would vote for the Bill. Jim Tolson (LD) said that the Lib

Dems would also support the Bill but hoped that an amendment on HMOs would not be “used to restrict student accommodation unnecessarily and to drive up costs for those least able to afford it”. Closing the debate for the

Conservatives, Ted Brocklebank said that the speech was likely to be his last in the Scottish Parliament. He said: “To those who have some fears about the amendment that I lodged today, I should say that, as a landlord, I know that there are excellent and responsible landlords. I know that there are also splendid tenants, and I have had few problems with my tenants over the years.” He added jokingly: “I fi rmly believe

that new section 131A of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, which comes into effect in August and will give local authorities the power to end ghettos of HMOs in our towns and cities, will be referred to by future generations as the Brocklebank amendment, much as John Sewel gave his name to Sewel motions and Joel Barnett gave his to his famous formula, with its consequentials et al. For once, if only in my home town, I may at last be regarded as not a total waste of space.” Mulligan closed the debate for Labour, offering her best wishes to Brocklebank for the future. She said that the minister’s establishment of the private rented sector strategy group had been welcome, saying: “I think that it was the right thing to do to ensure that we got a broad range of opinions on how we could further improve the private rented sector. I notice that he said that he intended to continue with the group, and I approve of that, but I wonder whether he might also want to support some of the suggestions that Shelter made in its briefi ng. It suggested that there should be a review of the short assured tenancy regime, and I have some sympathy with that; I wonder whether the minister and others do, too. It is important that we

have a scheme that delivers for tenants and for landlords, and it may be that there is a need for an assessment of short assured tenancies.” Mulligan added that she supported Shelter’s proposal for the development of a new way of providing tenants with information and advice. She said: “Earlier, I mentioned the information pack that will be available. It is important that tenants and landlords are fully informed of their roles, and the rights and responsibilities that they have in playing those roles. More work could be done on that.” She said that her fi nal request on

the Bill was for the measures to be implemented quickly, as measures from the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 were still to be implemented. “People within the private rented sector deserve to have the bits of legislation that we are agreeing to today enacted more quickly,” she said. Summing up the debate, the minister

said that it was appropriate that it had been consensual “because the issue that we are tackling should not be one on which there is major ideological difference between the parties; it is about what we do for tenants who fi nd themselves in a position where their landlord is not delivering the services that they should be providing and what we do about the fact that, in too many of our communities, groups of landlords give the industry a bad name.”

Public Records (Scotland) Bill, Stage 3 debate

16 March 2011 By George Thomson Fiona Hyslop, the Minister for Cultural

and External Affairs, said the bill had its origins in Tom Shaw’s report on historic abuse of looked-after children. She said Shaw’s “powerful and compelling” evidence to the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee had shown the human cost of record-keeping failures. A key element of the Bill was that the records of private or voluntary organisations which had carried out functions on behalf of public authorities would be kept – a legacy of Shaw’s

28 March 2011 Holyrood 67

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