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19 December 2001

Committee Debate: Budget Process 2002-03: Stage 2

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 19 December 2001

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

Budget Process 2002-03: Stage 2

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We now proceed to the Finance Committee debate. Des McNulty, the convener, is introducing the committee's report on stage 2 of the budget process.

14:40

... ... ...

16:22

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I was entertained by John Young's description of finance in local government. It reminded that me that someone once said that there are three kinds of people in local government—those who can count and those who cannot.

Following Alasdair Morgan's remarks about Des McNulty, I shall be watching the latter's future with interest—although, right at the moment, it is elsewhere. Clearly an interest in money is the route to preferment. On the other hand, Mr Davidson suggested that we should take less interest in money. I suppose that a Tory can afford to say that. I wish David well on the back benches, and perhaps even further back at a later date.

I want to bring a seasonal note to the debate and to wish all members here, and all those who may be watching on the monitors, a very merry Christmas. Something quite important in relation to Christmas has just happened: I have made an exciting discovery. Previously, we had accountancy and economics; now we have brand-new spanking Liddellomics. It will be a popular event at children's parties everywhere this Christmas as it is one very impressive trick. We have heard Helen Liddell talking about how she can make £1 million disappear from our pockets, apparently without effort. Read GERS, see the show. However, as in magicians' performances everywhere, we will not see how the trick is done unless we stop looking where the performer wants us to look and instead see the hidden hand behind her back. It is Gordon Brown's.

I have a few things to say that are a little less frivolous. First, on capital, it is not at all clear from the Executive's figures how capital is deployed in the service of the Scottish Executive. When the Rural Development Committee was looking at its numbers, I found a mysterious £56 million, of which £42 million was cost of capital. No explanation was given as to what that was or where it had come from. I speculated that it represented an asset of perhaps half a billion pounds. Three weeks later, lo and behold, I was told that that was true. The point is that no assets and liabilities were expressed as they would have been on a public company's balance sheet. There was nothing to enable me to see from what assets and liabilities the capital charge that was expressed in the revenue part of the budget had come. That is not universal throughout the numbers that are presented to us, but it is all too common.

Public-private partnerships and private finance initiatives are another way of avoiding expressing what has happened to the figures and the way in which accounts are translated from capital into revenue. That is hard to track, harder to understand and impossible to justify. It goes slightly against the grain for me to praise the Scottish Prison Service, whose report came to hand today. However, the SPS is at least open and honest in relation to the PFI at Kilmarnock. Unfortunately, the running costs are expressed as £12,363,000, whereas in another part of the budget the same costs are some £40,000 less. The SPS maintains its record of being unable to provide accurate information, but at least the layout and expression of information in its report is useful.

I want to say a little about indirect taxation. The Scottish Parliament has no direct influence on indirect taxation. Nonetheless, the effects of the many indirect taxes introduced by Westminster are pervasive in the Scottish economy.

Iain Smith: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I am in my final minute.

Those effects are also pervasive in the budget. For example, the aggregates tax will increase the cost of building projects by 5 per cent, yet there is nothing in the budget that mentions that effect in the future. The document is already incomplete. The increase will come into effect in April if it is implemented. Fuel tax is another example. It fluctuates and rises, and there is no mention of it in the budget.

At the core of the debate is the fact that although we do not have direct influence on matters such as indirect or Westminster-led direct taxation, it is possible to influence those matters. The Northern Ireland Assembly unanimously agreed to make representations to Westminster on that subject and was successful in obtaining a derogation for Northern Ireland for the aggregates tax. Some people in some devolved administrations can stand up for the people. It is time that Labour and the Liberal Democrats stood up for the people of Scotland.

16:27

13 December 2001

S1M-2545 Scottish Prison Service

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 December 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Scottish Prison Service

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a Scottish National Party debate on motion S1M-2545, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Prison Service, and on two amendments to that motion.

11:04

... ... ...

11:48

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It would be remiss of me not to welcome the support that Lord James Douglas Hamilton offered for Peterhead prison and the kind remarks that Maureen Macmillan made. I would also like to mention Richard Simpson, who will be a valuable addition to the front bench with his knowledge and experience; I know that he has a track record of supporting the work of Peterhead prison.

Continuing in that vein, I would like to welcome something, if not everything, in the minister's amendment. At the end of the amendment, the minister says:

"work to upgrade the estate must deliver prisons capable of providing sufficient humane and secure accommodation while delivering value for money."

Great stuff. Clearly and unambiguously, that gives paramouncy to what prisons do over what prisons cost. After the prevarication, distortions and errors—I use that word out of charity—in the evidence given by the head of the Scottish Prison Service to the Justice 1 Committee on 23 October, it is clear that ministers are not going to heed Cameron's single-minded focus on cost and are going to take a broader and more balanced view.

Running a public service like a business, as Tony Cameron has often said that he wishes to do, is to fail to understand that the dividends that we want from the service are societal, rather than fiscal. We want protection for society, punishment for the offender and reform of their future behaviour.

When, earlier this year, prison staff struck for the first time in 61 years, it reflected their lack of morale in the present circumstances. The Prison Service—I use that word advisedly—is in a state of some disarray because of the delays in taking essential decisions. Is there other evidence of morale problems? Yes. Ian Gunn, the governor of Peterhead prison, in answer to a committee question on 13 November on the delay in the estates review, said:

"The lack of a decision is draining for staff"—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 13 November 2001; c 2753.]

To be fair, he went on to say that he did not think that it had affected morale.

However, the conversations that I have had with prison officers tell a very different story. When officers see a world-class facility kept in a state of uncertainty for an extended period and when the special skills that they have built up over seven years are devalued by their chief executive, who has made a statement to a parliamentary committee that was subsequently shown to have no basis in fact, it is no wonder that morale has plummeted.

I will provide a little illustration of the numbers that Lord James gave us—of the 162 graduates of Peterhead prison's rehabilitation programme, only six have returned. Tony Cameron should think on this: given that it costs £26,000 per year to keep someone in prison, that represents a saving of £2.5 million every year from Peterhead prison's success in reducing recidivism.

I support the SNP motion.

11:52

S1M-2546 Sea Fisheries

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 December 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Sea Fisheries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2546, in the name of Ross Finnie, on sea fisheries, and on the two amendments to that motion.

15:35

... ... ...

16:05

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I hope that Elaine Thomson did not suggest—as I thought that she did—that we will not get good fish stocks until we solve the problem of global warming. That would mean that we would have to wait a wee while.

I am sure that Rhona Brankin remembers the first speech that I made in Parliament on 14 June. [MEMBERS: "No."] She will remember it, because I will remind her. I spoke about fishing and the excellent work of my predecessor as member for Banff and Buchan. I note that he and many others spoke in the debate in the Palace of Westminster last Thursday, which started at 2.13 pm and finished at 7 pm. It is a matter of regret that our debate will be a mere 90 minutes—in fact, it will be less than that—when the industry is much more important in Scotland than it is down there.

There was good news in the Westminster debate. Elliot Morley said that he has "close and friendly contacts with the Scottish Executive".—[Official Report, House of Commons, 6 December 2001; Vol 376, c 561.]

I hope that Mr Morley will put flesh on those sentiments and that our minister gains leadership in the forthcoming negotiations. I say to Elaine Thomson that I am sure that Mr Morley would trust Mr Finnie with all UK votes. If not, why should Scotland and Mr Finnie trust Mr Morley with ours? There is a strong case.

Rhona Brankin: Does the member accept that if the SNP had its way and Scotland left the rest of the UK, Scotland would have less influence on fishing matters than even land-locked Austria, which has 10 votes?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the former minister for that. I am aware—as she is—that an independent Scotland would have more votes in the European Union than it currently has as part of the delegation. Furthermore, those votes would always be cast in the Scottish interest. Many small countries in Europe are in a similar position.

Before I turn to my main point, I would like to mention an important matter to which the minister will be happy to respond—the west coast herring fishery. Since 1997, the quota has shrunk by 56.5 per cent and proposals for this year would mean a further year-on-year reduction of 17.5 per cent. That, like a number of other issues that have been raised in the debate, is apparently unjustified by the published science.

Will the minister give an assurance that he will fight that cut on the grounds of weak science? If it proves necessary, will he invoke the Hague preference? The skippers are unanimous that the stock is in good condition.

It would be a sorry occasion if I did not say something about the decommissioning scheme. There has been a 100 per cent over-subscription of the scheme—197 boats. Of those, 108 will get their money. There will be a lot of disappointment. That tells us a lot about morale in the industry.

Distributing the available quota over fewer boats will help—that must be given a modest welcome—but it is certainly not a conservation measure, despite what Mrs Winterton, the Tory spokeswoman in Westminster, thought. It is critical to long-term sustainability that we address conservation. Juvenile haddocks are out there in great numbers and if we do not have a fleet to catch them, we will not have a viable industry.

Elaine Thomson: Will the member give way?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is closing.

Stewart Stevenson: I am out of time. The EU is indicating increased support for compensated tie-up schemes. We must have scientific results so that we can consult fishermen, argue the case here and elsewhere and bid for funds. Conservation is about conserving communities and fishermen as much as it is about conserving fish. I ask the ministers to go for it, to take the lead in Europe and to stand up for Scotland.

16:10

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