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3 November 2006

Go-ahead for human rights body - The Scotsman

Peter MacMahon, Scottish Government Editor, The Scotsman

THE Scottish Parliament last night finally agreed plans to set up a human rights watchdog for Scotland.

After a year of controversy, the Executive's watered-down proposal to establish a human rights commission rather than a commissioner was endorsed by Holyrood.

The new body, which will cost £1 million a year to run, will promote and oversee human rights compliance.

Ministers were forced to retreat from their original plan for a commissioner after Labour MSPs joined opposition criticism earlier this year to the creation of another public-sector "tsar".

The idea of establishing a commissioner - forced into the coalition partnership agreement by the Liberal Democrats - was also attacked by Lord McCluskey, a former High Court judge, who questioned the need for a £75,000 "gadfly" to tell public bodies how to meet their legal obligations under the Human Rights Act.

The revised proposal, passed by 74 votes to 41 at Holyrood last night, will see the commission with one chairman and four other members to police human rights and work alongside the new UK equality and human rights commissioner.

Robert Brown, the deputy education minister, said the changes would make the body more flexible and accountable to parliament.

The parliament's corporate body would have financial control over the commission.

Mr Brown told MSPs: "Individuals can only get the full benefit of human rights if they know what those rights are. Public authorities must have a similar awareness. The Scottish commission for human rights will help us achieve the modern, confident and inclusive Scotland we all want to see."

But the SNP's Stewart Stevenson said the new body would do nothing but "book advertising" for human rights and persuade public authorities to "up their game".

He added: "This bill is about the promotion of human rights within public institutions.

"Individuals should be at the heart of our concern for human rights and this bill does not focus on that."

For the Tories, Bill Aitken said the Executive had created "more tsars than the Romanov dynasty". He added: "This surely was a tsar too far."

...to view the original story click on The Scotsman

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