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13 March 2003

S1M-3932 Post Office Card Accounts

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3932, in the name of David Mundell, on Post Office card accounts. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament believes that those post office customers in Scotland who wish to continue receiving their benefits, pensions payments and tax credits through the Post Office, following the introduction of automated credit transfer in April 2003, should be allowed to do so through a post office card account opened at the counter of a post office or sub-post office; further believes that customers should be offered a genuine choice between the options available, including a post office card account; supports the National Federation of SubPostmasters' call that there should be no administrative obstacles to customers opening a post office card account; notes the importance of post office card accounts to the future financial viability of sub-post offices, and considers that Scottish ministers should work with Her Majesty's Government to ensure that there is a level playing field in the marketing, promotion and advertising of the banking options from all departments of Her Majesty's Government, including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Inland Revenue and the Veterans Agency, the Scottish Executive and its agencies and local authorities.
16:40
... ... ...
16:48
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am happy to support David Mundell's excellent motion. In rural areas, post offices are absolutely central to our communities; we cannot overstate their importance. The range of postal services that local post offices provide, in addition to the commercial services that they offer, depends on their continuing income from the Post Office.
Many of the people who use post offices are pensioners. I dispute the assertion that was made in a letter that I received from the DWP that
"85 per cent of benefit and pension recipients"
have a bank account. Although that might be true as an average, it is certainly not true in the many villages in my constituency. I am sure that other members know of constituents who have no access to banks and for whom their post office is the only option. For the generations of people who have been more used to face-to-face dealings than to voicemail, Touchtone phones and plastic cards, the threat of having to go and open a bank account is quite intimidating—it is an unwarranted change.
In a previous life, I worked with the DWP and I have to say that its staff are not the easiest people to work with—once they get an idea, they simply go for it. It is arrogant of them to operate in the way that we have heard about under the guise of being helpful. I quote again from the letter I received:
"As you know, customers who wish to apply for a Post Office ... card account are asked to call the Department. I can assure you that this is purely to ensure that they can have a fully informed discussion about all of the options".
Believe me, that "fully informed discussion" is entirely geared to ensuring that the banks, and not the Post Office, get the business. Members should not just take my word for it. If they want, they should phone up the helpline and pretend that they are someone else. They will find a sales pitch for the banks. The situation is quite disgraceful.
The new leaflets that have been issued on the payment of pensions are a vast improvement. Information about the Post Office card account now comes at the top. However, although that step is welcome, it is very belated and many post offices are probably now at severe risk. I have visited a number in Fraserburgh, Maud and other parts of my constituency and know that there are difficulties.
The DWP has prevented sub-postmasters from putting up posters that advertise how the Post Office card can be used. As a result, I have produced a poster myself and given it to many sub-postmasters in my constituency. I encourage all members to do the same thing; I will give them the template if that helps.
I very much welcome this opportunity to highlight the DWP's arrogant manipulation of post offices at a time when they are under real threat. We must resist that threat with every bone in our body.
16:51

12 March 2003

S1M-3867 Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 12 March 2003
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
... ... ...
Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3867, in the name of Ross Finnie, that the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill be passed.
16:04
... ... ...
16:25
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The lodging of the Tory amendment is quite the most deeply disappointing parliamentary manoeuvre. In the Tory world, nothing changes and nothing should change. That is the attitude that we have seen displayed. The Tory party's inability to recognise worthwhile change defines their position in the political spectrum and will define their political future in the weeks to come.
We have heard members of the Tory party discuss voluntary agreements in relation to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991. Of course one volunteers to sign an agreement when a big powerful laddie is holding a loaded shotgun to one's head. The power and the weakness of landlords and tenants have always been the issue in their relationship. The bill, which we welcome, redresses that imbalance. It does not do so as much as we would wish, but it does so to an extent that is more than adequate to justify our support.
We have introduced in statute a provision so that, in some circumstances, tenants can divert their rent from the landlord to the court. Tenants will not stop paying rent—they have to keep shelling out the money—but the provision will allow the landlord's shortcomings to be put right. That is worth while.
I am disappointed that new statutory requirements for equipment such as slurry tanks—of which I am deeply enamoured—will remain a matter for tenants rather than landlords. So be it—let us see how that plays.
I still have concerns that, because of the precipitate and unreasonable actions of a number of landlords, some tenants are at risk because, in the middle of last year, they were given notice to quit both their partnerships and their tenancies. However, the Executive will probably find ways of bringing considerable pressure to bear on the Scottish Landowners Federation so that it lives up to its promise that the issuing of notices was simply a tactic to put pressure on the Parliament during the debate on the bill.
On the positive side, the bill process has been very unusual. Like many who have been involved in it, I have often felt that, in this instance, the real Parliament was made up of—and the real debate was being conducted by—people outside this building. We often waited to hear what progress had been made by the organisations that were party to the discussions: the Scottish Landowners Federation, the NFU and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Action Group. All those organisations have played a significant part in delivering a worthwhile move forward for tenant farmers and landowners throughout Scotland.
Tonight, SNP members will vote for the bill with a glad heart.
16:28

5 March 2003

S1M-3958 Subordinate Legislation - Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) (Scotland) Scheme 2003; Sea Fishing (Transitional Support) (Scotland) (No 2) Scheme 2003

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): ... ... ...
We propose to start with the fishing debate, ... ... ...

10:52

... ... ...

11:34

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Today we are required to pass into our legislative system a law from Europe, which is an everyday occurrence for us in the Scottish Parliament. However, let us not pretend that we will do that today with a glad heart. Oh, no, we will not. We should agree with our European Committee's position as described in its convener's report of a meeting with the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain. On the proposed constitutional treaty, the report states:

"It was noted that Article 11(1) of the Treaty proposed that the management of marine biological resources under the CFP should be an exclusive competence of the Union."

The European Committee expressed great reservations about that proposal. The word "competence" simply does not fit with the concept of EU management of fish stocks or fisheries; more fitting words for that management are "incompetence", "mismanagement" and "disaster"—a disaster for fishing communities all round Scotland.

The disaster is not just for communities that are dependent on fishing white fish. Last year our pelagic sector was shafted on the issue of quotas; this year our white-fish industries pay the price of EU incompetence. Our prawn fleet suffers from low prices and might yet suffer from effort diversion. Who is in line for extirpation next year? That will happen only if we roll over and supinely submit. We must move away from the centralised view of the world dictated by Brussels, because that view has failed. Control of marine resources must be repatriated to the communities that will stand or fall by how successfully they manage the resources. Such communities must share responsibility, ad libitum, for marine resources with adjacent communities in other countries.

The Scottish statutory instruments that we consider today simply put lipstick on a pig. That will make the pig feel and look better for a while. However, the lipstick will soon wear away and will need to be reapplied. We should look a little further afield—for example, to the Faroes, Iceland and Norway. We must listen to the likes of Jón Kristjánsson of Iceland, to whom I spoke on Saturday, who brings a different scientific perspective to the issue of fishing management. His success with controlled and directed fishing in the Faroes fisheries lights a beacon for us and for our fisheries.

The SNP's amendments draw together the importance of people, communities and industries beyond those that have direct investments in the white-fish catching sector. We cannot have an overhang of unsecured bad debt crippling onshore support industries. A package that helps only banks is not worth having. We cannot have crews paid off without redundancy payments and the heart of our communities ripped out because of neglect of their interests.

The Minister and his colleagues in the coalition can, by accepting the SNP's amendments, signal to Scotland's diverse coastal communities that they are on their side. If the Executive rejects the amendments, that will indicate that it is ignoring those communities. The minister will do so at his peril. We are here today because the EU has made a pig's ear of fishing management. I apologise to pigs everywhere for that analogy. I urge members to support our amendments at five o'clock.

11:38

Stewart Stevenson
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