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27 November 2003

S2M-661 Physical Activity: The Need for Improvement and the Cost of Failure

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-661, in the name of Tom McCabe, on physical activity: the need for improvement and the cost of failure. There are two amendments to the motion.

15:12
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16:42

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by doing something that I am slightly surprised has not been done before now: congratulating and thanking John Beattie and the task force, who have undertaken their activity without being paid for it. That activity is an excellent example of the way in which people who have been involved in sport can contribute to success in further generations' participation in it. I am sure that I will not be alone in saying that.

As a bairn, I was probably less sporty than even Duncan McNeil, because I was one of three asthmatics in my class in secondary school. That rather restricted my choice of physical activity and sport, so I played rugby rather than football. Members might ask themselves why I did that.

The reality is that, until the rules were changed bit by bit over 30 years to make rugby a sport that can really only be played by athletes, it was a game that could enable people of all levels of fitness—or lack of fitness—to participate, and I was certainly at the back of the queue for fitness. Scrum halves were small and slippery, wingers were fitness gods, and fullbacks were extremely mentally healthy so that they could avoid the intimidation of a tonne of opponents rapidly bearing down on them. I do not encourage the minister to make any undue reference in his closing speech to what I am about to say: I have a corrugated set of shins from playing in the front row of the scrum at school at, of course, loosehead prop. It says something about the standard of rugby at my school that our first rugby international, Dave Rollo, played football all the time that he was there.

There is an important point in all this: sport has increasingly become a professional activity that we watch rather than participate in. I regret that deeply, because, from my point of view, sport is what we do and entertainment is what we watch, and many of the professional teams that are active in Scotland seem to be disconnected from the feeder systems of people like me, of little fitness and less ability, who could nonetheless participate at the bottom end of an escalator that went up to international representation.

I want to address, on a purely factual basis, the answer to question S2W-3680 that Mr McAveety gave me earlier this month. I am slightly concerned by the data in the minister's answer, which will be the basis for testing his success in moving forward on this issue. The answer suggests that one third of our population is involved in walking 2 or more miles. I would love to believe that, but the samples that I have taken do not suggest that the figure is borne out. The written answer indicates that 21 per cent of people are involved in swimming, 10 per cent of people play football and 10 per cent of people cycle. Is there a robust methodology underlying the statistics, by which the minister will measure his future success or that will enable him to understand that he needs to make more effort? It is vital that sport is supported and that all people can participate in physical activity.

Earlier Sylvia Jackson intervened on the issue of PPP. On 16 May 2003, the Bo'ness Journal reported that a PPP school sought to charge £1,200 for an over-30s football tournament. That compares with the local council's rate of £7.25 per hour. Undoubtedly, there are a number of instances of the structure of the PPP contracts into which local authorities have entered inhibiting community access to facilities.

Dr Jackson: The member will agree—I think that he has done so by allowing me to intervene—that his comments apply only to some cases. We have learned from earlier PPPs and have improved on the situation. Balfron High School is a model of what should happen in relation to sport.

Stewart Stevenson: I accept that there are cases in which PPP works, but I know of many more instances in which it does not. There are much more recent examples of PPPs in my constituency where the community does not get access to facilities.

What are people's reasons for not participating in physical activity, whether as part of their normal day-to-day life or as sport? People say that they do not have time. In reality, we all have time, but we choose how to use it. The first step in getting those whose level of physical activity is far too low to step up to the mark is to persuade them of the importance of such activity.

People also say that they do not have the equipment. Members have talked about recycling bicycles. In the north-east, we are slightly less generous and recycle them inside our community. My bicycle, which I bought at the Whitehills church group held in Gatt's net store in Inverboyndie, cost £5. I had a choice of 20 bicycles at that price, all of which were sold. When the tyres finally wear out, I will buy another bike rather than fix it. We can recycle our bikes.

There are financial issues that act as barriers to physical activity. The Princess Royal sports club in Banff is also a community club that runs a very successful programme of going out to older people in residential homes to help them to take exercise. The club does not get paid for that and cannot keep doing it for ever. It has great difficulty getting the funding to make the programme work. We need to address such issues.

It is essential that exposure to risk is part of young people's growing up. Sport has been restricted to such an extent that people are no longer exposed to risk. We do not sledge in school or run in the playground. I refer members to Andy Nicoll's excellent column in today's The Sun—in particular, I commend the attached cartoon. Andy Nicoll says:

"I'd like to get down the stairs and cross the road to watch"

the debate on physical activity

"but somehow I find I just can't get out of this comfy chair."

Let us hope that he is in a minority.

16:49

26 November 2003

S2M-553 European Parliament (Number of Seats)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-553, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the European Parliament seat numbers.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the reduction of UK seats in the European Parliament from 87 to 78 to accommodate enlargement of the EU; welcomes the accession of 10 new countries in 2004; believes, however, that Scotland, with no seat on the Council of Europe, no Commissioners and fewer MEPs than comparably-sized independent member states, has little enough influence in the EU, and therefore believes that the Scottish Executive should resist the reduction in Scotland's MEPs from eight to seven.

17:09
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17:29

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Electoral Commission's findings are interesting. A key part of the formula is that the minimum number of representatives of a region must be three. One implication of that is that Northern Ireland, which currently has three members, will continue to have three members. I entirely support that, based on the special and distinctive needs of Northern Ireland. Indeed, I wish all the people of that part of these islands all the best in today's elections.

The Electoral Commission's findings are fair enough, given the rules. However, they ignore the basic fact that Scotland has a Parliament that has considerable powers. Scotland has a legal system and it adopts European law. Without representation at the top table, we are stymied. However, and even more important, we are unable even with today's eight members to cover all the committees of the European Parliament. If we had 14 members—as we would if we were an independent country—we would have leverage in the practical workings of the European Parliament, which we need to represent Scotland's interests and its separate legal and legislative environment.

Irene Oldfather: To follow that comment to its logical conclusion, is Mr Stevenson suggesting that we expand our membership? If we do that for Scotland, for how many other legislative Parliaments across Europe would we do it? We would end up exactly where we were—which we have all agreed is unworkable.

Stewart Stevenson: I am very happy that other countries that are incorporated in unions, as we are, should fight their corner. I am sure that they will do so very effectively.

The United Kingdom Government says that it represents our interests and it says that we are stronger in a delegation of 78—as the delegation will be—than we would be in a delegation of 14. There is something interesting about that particular argument; the assumption behind it appears to be that the 14 Scottish MEPs would on each and every occasion perversely take a different line from the MEPs from the other countries of the United Kingdom. In reality—with much shared heritage, and some shared geography—we would very often be fighting together for the same things. The UK would benefit, just as Scotland would benefit, from an independent Scotland. That said, very often Scotland's interests do, in fact, diverge from those of the UK. Our priorities are often different.

I represent Banff and Buchan, so I turn inevitably to fishing. The Irish have one member of the European Parliament for every 260,000 of their population. We would have one for every 625,000. It is no wonder that the Irish do relatively well in negotiations in the European Parliament and that they have people from their civil service and their political classes embedded at the highest level in the councils of Europe.

Phil Gallie: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I do not have time.

We have a choice. Can we benefit Scotland by going independent and having 14 members? Because of the greater strength, those 14 members would often collaborate with the members from the rest of the United Kingdom, to the benefit of all. However, when our policies and requirements diverged from those of the UK members, we would build our own alliances with the small successful nations across Europe. I am happy to support my colleague's motion.

17:34

S2M-603 Scottish Parliament Founding Principles

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-603, in the name of Iain Smith, on the previous Procedures Committee's report on the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament.

14:34
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14:53

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Two weeks ago, Rosie Cunningham apologised for not being me—strange but true. Today, I apologise for not being Fiona Hyslop. She was going to open this debate but, unfortunately, the virus has caught up with her. In the interests of everyone here, she decided not to share it. I also apologise for the fact that I will be withdrawing from the chamber in about an hour's time. I have a previously arranged meeting with a minister.

The report before us is an exceptionally substantial piece of work. Representing, as it does, three years of effort, it predates my arrival in the Parliament in June 2001. I have therefore seen only part of the evolution of the report.

One thing that impresses anyone who picks up and reads the report is the quite exceptional number and variety of people—across the width of civic society and society generally—who have given their views on this subject to the Parliament. On that basis alone, we must consider what they have said extremely seriously. I will look in a little bit of detail at some of that evidence, and make some observations on it.

Praise of this Parliament from outside this Parliament is a pretty rare commodity. Were it to be too common, it would merely confirm us in our ways. Praise does not actually change anything. Criticism, on the other hand, should make us step outside our daily patterns of behaviour and force us to re-examine what we achieve and whether, in what we do in the Parliament, we support or inhibit the institution's founding principles.

Let me start with a mild word or two of criticism. When she was reading the response of the conveners of our committees, Fiona Hyslop found something that she wished to say. I will say at once that the conveners have an extremely tough job; one has only to ask any of them who have had me on their committee to confirm that. During my two and a half years in the Parliament, I have visited seven—or possibly six—committees and I have been very much taken by their general willingness to be driven by evidence at the expense of dogma. However, we have yet to reach nirvana—the standard of perfection that we wish to achieve.

The Conveners Group's response to the Procedures Committee's report was a little disappointing in its tone and content. The conveners might choose to reconsider their response to the report and to pick from the report those things that have most bearing on their activities.

Recommendation 106 attracted all-party support. It asked for increased powers over our internal processes. In the previous session of Parliament, our inability to increase the number of Presiding Officers, even temporarily, created a substantial increase in work load for the two remaining Presiding Officers when their colleague was unavailable for a period of time. This morning, the Queen's speech to the Westminster Parliaments has made it clear that the Scotland Act 1998 will be opened up to allow one part of it to be changed. Westminster ought to be able to respond to a request from the Scottish Parliament to make the non-contentious and widely supported changes that recommendation 106 proposes.

I will turn to some of the evidence that was put before the Procedures Committee as it drew up its report—in particular, to the evidence that was taken at the three public meetings, which were held in Hawick, Paisley and Ullapool. It was important that the committee went out to meet people in wider Scotland face to face—people whom they would have been unlikely to have heard from through other mechanisms.

I commend my colleague Bruce Crawford, because he has carried the concept of meeting the public to even greater excesses and has suffered great pain in the course of doing so, by going as far as the Netherlands with members of the public to hear their views on how the Parliament operates.

Mr Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): I thank the member for giving way. Will he tell me whether Mr Crawford's consultation was as successful as the rest of his trip?

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that the consultation was the only part of his trip that gave him any enjoyment whatsoever. His wife, his bank manager and his family shared his pain—his excuse was that he took one of his offspring with him.

I will return to the subject at hand—engagement with the public. In Hawick, there was widespread approval for the Parliament coming out and speaking to the people, because it was felt that that would reverse apathy. In Paisley, on the other hand, we heard that answers to parliamentary questions were often obfuscating. I ask the Executive to please listen to the public, even if it often does not listen to some of us members who share the same views.

A more difficult point was raised in Ullapool, where it was observed that, on issues such as genetically modified crops and fish farming, the Executive has appeared to ignore the Parliament's view. I will not make a political point by developing an argument along those lines. There is a genuine difficulty, in that in promoting policy positions it is of course not always possible to please everyone. Perhaps we must communicate better on how we do that.

Other points that arose include the insufficient time that is given for responding to consultations and concerns about subordinate legislation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have one minute.

Stewart Stevenson: In my final minute, I want to address recommendation 48, in which the committee expresses a desire that further research should be done on Sewel motions. I suggest that the research should consider whether the frequency of such motions is appropriate. My position and that of my colleagues is well enough known for me not to rehearse it. More to the point, the research should also examine whether Sewel motions are effective in delivering faster legislation and better law. The recent development whereby committees consider Sewel motions is a substantial improvement and I welcome it.

We have experimented with subject debates. My personal view is that the matter is a clear not proven, so they are perhaps not a good idea at all.

In closing, let me say that I think that it is better for us to aim for perfection in our processes and to fail, than to aim for failure and succeed. I commend the report to those members present.

15:01

20 November 2003

S2M-625 Poverty in Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on S2M-625, in the name of Carolyn Leckie, on poverty in Scotland, and three amendments to the motion.

09:30
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09:45

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): There is a shared belief in the Parliament—perhaps with the exception of the Conservatives—about the importance of tackling poverty, and I congratulate the SSP on using its first debate in the parliamentary session to raise that important subject. However, although the SNP shares an analysis with the SSP, we share little in our solutions. My colleagues will develop the SNP's approach to solving poverty; I will focus on the SSP.

I will quote from Tommy's Trots' manifesto for the election in May this year:

"The election of a group of Scottish Socialist MSPs would electrify Scottish politics. It would ignite a bonfire of debate about the future of Scotland and the feasibility of socialism."

We got the group, we are 203 days on, and we have our first SSP debates, but Guy Fawkes night has been the only bonfire. The SSP's participation record has been woeful. Rosie Kane promised us mayhem and madness, but she has been at just over half the meetings of Parliament and at only one of the eight meetings of the Local Government and Transport Committee. She has spoken fewer than 5,000 words since becoming an MSP, and the cost of those words is £5.59 per word.

Carolyn Leckie: I do not know which disgraceful remark I will address first. Stewart Stevenson ought to check with members before he makes personal remarks about them. That is all that I will say on that, but I have a question about "Tommy's Trots": will Stewart Stevenson explain to me what a "Trot" is, because I do not know?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that it was Corporal Jones who said:

"They don't like it up 'em".

The cost of every word that Rosie Kane has spoken in Parliament is £5.59, and here are some of the subjects that she does not think are important: police pensions, bus services and taxis for disabled people.

Carolyn Leckie: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Rule 7.3 of the standing orders is about treating members with a bit of dignity and respect, but the personal remarks in Mr Stevenson's speech were outrageous.

The Presiding Officer: No—they are part of the normal rough and tumble of the debate.

Stewart Stevenson: I have in my hand the list of subjects that the committee has discussed and the attendance record. Rosie Kane does not think that local railway stations or taxis for disabled people are important.

Rosie Kane (Glasgow) (SSP): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: She did not even turn up to debate the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill—Tommy Sheridan had to turn up even though he is not a member of the committee.

Rosie Kane: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: The debate is not about Rosie—

Rosie Kane: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

The Presiding Officer: It is clear that Stewart Stevenson is not giving way.

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way.

Rosie Kane: Would Stewart Stevenson speak to me about a matter outside the chamber, please? [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Rosie Kane: What Stewart Stevenson has said is extremely personal, and I resent very much such personal attacks on me in what is supposed to be a debate about poverty. He clearly has a poverty of decency.

Stewart Stevenson: What I am saying is about the poverty of ambition and ideas in the SSP. Tommy Sheridan claimed that his policies were popular, practical, radical and deliverable, so I will talk about some of them. He would nationalise trains, buses and ferries. How much would that cost? We could have a free public transport system tomorrow for the money that nationalisation would cost. Constituents of mine would love to have public transport—they do not care about its ownership. What about rural areas? Would the introduction of £100 million of special road tolls for heavy goods vehicles help the poor in our rural areas?

Miss Leckie's motion proposes a minimum public sector wage of £7.50 and a working-week ceiling of 35 hours. She tells me that the 24,000 jobs that would thereby be created would be paid for by abolishing Scottish Enterprise and would cost £350 million, but page 11 of the SSP's manifesto says that it has already spent that £350 million in raising the public sector minimum wage. The actual cost would be £328 million, plus £120 million for additional costs, plus offices to accommodate 24,000 people, which would cost £750 million.

We have already spent £1 billion but have considered only two of the 200 commitments in Tommy Sheridan's manifesto. By the time we get to the bottom of it, we will find that we have doubled the spending in the Scottish budget and have hardly touched poverty.

A high-cost economy is an unfair economy. The evidence from high-cost economies everywhere is that they cause impoverishment of the masses. My colleagues and I will develop that subject. It is abundantly clear that Tommy Sheridan's people have yet to step up to the bar in the Parliament to make a meaningful contribution that will help the people of Scotland. Tommy's plans would damage our economy and would do nothing to ensure that more resources reached those who are in greatest need.

I move amendment S2M-625.2, to leave out from first "recognises" to end and insert:

"believes that the implementation of many of the proposals in the Scottish Socialist Party manifesto would only ensure that the unacceptable poverty of the poorest in our society would come to be shared by more of our citizens than at present."

09:51

S2M-543 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-543, in the name of Margaret Curran, on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, which is UK legislation, and one amendment to the motion.

16:31
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16:34

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank the minister for making herself available to the Communities Committee. The change in the way in which we deal with Sewel motions, whereby they go to committee, is a valuable change to parliamentary procedures. It was useful to hear from the minister; the committee successfully—and reasonably amicably—dealt with a number of issues that might have exercised the wider Parliament. The committee had scheduled 10 minutes for dealing with the matter, but I think that we took 50 minutes. At the end of the debate, we divided on whether we should report certain matters to the Parliament—five members voted against the proposal, three members voted in favour of it and there was one abstention. Those who did not support the proposal were from three different political parties; therefore, it is entirely right to bring some matters to the full Parliament for discussion.

First, I want to speak to Patrick Harvie's amendment, with which the SNP sympathises. We believe that it would be useful for the issues that are raised in the amendment to be discussed in Parliament so, on that basis, we will support his amendment at decision time. If the substantive motion remains unamended, we will abstain because we believe that it is more appropriate to have discussions on matters that affect Scots law and procedure in the Scottish Parliament than to have them elsewhere.

I want to turn to the matter that concerned me in the committee. We welcome what is happening with the bill at Westminster—the changes will be useful and we have no objection to them. The removal of Crown immunity in respect of the three planning acts is a useful move forward, albeit that there are reservations, which Patrick Harvie spoke about. However, we remain in a position whereby, if the Crown chooses not to obey the law, no criminal sanctions can be brought against it if there is such deviation from the law as it stands, although I accept that it is unlikely that that will happen in practice. The memorandum that we have been provided with states:

"The pivotal opening amendment makes it explicit that abolition of Crown immunity will mean that ... the Planning Acts will bind the Crown."

I am somewhat perplexed as to how that can be true in a strict legal sense if the Crown cannot be prosecuted for failing to consider itself to be actually bound by what is happening.

At the root of the matter is the fact that we are starting to strip away some of the constitutional nonsense that straitjackets the Scottish Parliament, this country and indeed our colleagues south of the border, which includes the convention that the Crown cannot prosecute the Crown. My SNP colleagues and I think that it would be useful if Parliament could discuss the proper structure and form of a legal system in the 21st century as part of a wider-ranging discussion about the removal of Crown immunity in relation to planning. After all, in my view—and I suspect in the view of a great majority of people in Scotland—prosecution really takes place in the name of the citizens of Scotland. The Crown is merely a mechanism that dates from many hundreds of years ago and it is a convention whose time has passed.

In making that point, I say nothing whatever about the person of the Crown, but of the use of that person's title for a purpose that is far removed from the individual who, pro tem, happens to be the wearer of the crown.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): What about the heir?

Stewart Stevenson: We will not give airtime to that matter.

On the ability of the Lord Advocate to appoint a special advocate, the Ministry of Defence is the real problem where sensitive matters are concerned. We share such concern—we are in the era of open government and we disadvantage our citizens if we do not treat all information in an open and accountable way.

I have great pleasure in supporting Patrick Harvie's amendment and in saying that we shall abstain on the substantive motion, if it is unamended.

16:40

12 November 2003

S2M-544 Terrestrial TV Channels (Rural Areas)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-544, in the name of John Farquhar Munro, on access to terrestrial TV channels in rural areas. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that residents in parts of the Highlands and Islands do not receive independent terrestrial TV channels unless they purchase an encryption card from BSkyB on a regular basis; further notes with concern that access to terrestrial channels in those communities with analogue relay systems will be removed when the analogue signal is switched off in 2010; believes that TV licence payers should not have to pay more because of their geographical location, and considers that Her Majesty's Government should take action to ensure that all UK TV licence payers have unrestricted access to terrestrial TV channels.

17:04
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17:29

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It strikes me as ironic that David Torrance's excellent programme, which we see on Grampian Television on Thursday night and which will undoubtedly cover this debate, is least likely to be seen in rural areas of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, where coverage is extremely patchy, unless people are prepared to pay Sky Television for the privilege of seeing it.

As parliamentarians, we are privy to, and indulge in, certain privileges, sad people that we sometimes are. Last night—down here, of course—I watched on digital television the adjournment debate in another place 400 miles south of here, on the subject of fishing, which David Mundell's colleague Ann Winterton initiated. On the other hand, I suppose that my constituents and others were spared watching the incompetent response of Ben Bradshaw, who masquerades as a fisheries minister in that other place.

The issue is not only about paying for satellite coverage, because there are certain places in Scotland where satellite coverage is not possible. In the village of Pennan in my constituency, which is a conservation village, satellite dishes are not permitted. In Gamrie, as in Pennan, there is an additional technical problem: the cliff to the south rises too steeply to allow for the 43° declination. I say that to add further confusion for Maureen Macmillan. What the problem boils down to is that they cannae see the satellite because of the cliff.

Maureen Macmillan: Will the member also explain the term "spectrum" to me?

Stewart Stevenson: Twenty years ago, it was a computer, but nowadays it is where the signal comes through the ether. Just as we have the different colours in the spectrum of the rainbow, we have different notches in the radio spectrum.

In the north, we are further away from the satellites because they are over the equator, which means that our reception is diminished. The signal is also affected by the weather. Wet weather, which is not uncommon in the north, means that our signal quality declines. The technology used for digital television transmission and Freeview was designed for metropolitan transmission, which is one reason why ITV's ONdigital service was a flop. The content was pretty poor, but there were also technological problems. As David Mundell said, broadband could solve the problem, but it ain't going to.

Jeremy Purvis rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry. Unless the Presiding Officer says otherwise, I am running out of time.

We would need up to eight times the speed of the ADSL technology before broadband could deliver broadcast quality television. Although that speed is being rolled out in some cities and towns, rural areas are least likely to get it.

My constituency is remote—it covers eight communities with schools that fall within the Scottish Executive's definition of remote rural communities, which is a town with a population of fewer than 10,000 people that is more than 30 minutes' drive from a town with a population of more than 10,000 people. The issue covers the whole of Scotland.

One little ironic ray of hope is that Freeview digital television does not actually work very well in the south-east of England. That will energise people elsewhere to consider the issues of technology and of equity. Let us hope that the technology continues to exercise the minds of people in the south and that that gives the minister the opportunity to persuade the south that the north should be treated equitably. As technical solutions are developed to solve problems in the south, let us have investment to solve our problems. Equity is the name of the game. We subsidise health in Glasgow; let us be prepared to subsidise television in rural areas.

17:33

6 November 2003

S2M-560 Agriculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-560, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on the future of Scottish agriculture, and three amendments to that motion. Timing will have to be a bit more precise in this debate, because we are a minute or two behind the clock.

10:47
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11:46

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Mr Fergusson for those warm and unexpected words.

I would like to address the subject of scientists, politicians and the wider public. Scientists are objective. If they are not, they are not scientists. Their job is to inform the decisions that others make. Let us not pretend that the scientists make the decisions. Sometimes in this debate, it has seemed as if the scientists are making the decisions and we are simply to fall into line with them. Let us go back to basics: the scientists must inform the decisions that we make.

If the public are opposed to GM crops, they may express their opposition rationally or they may do so irrationally. Frankly, it disnae matter. We still have to take account of the public's view.

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I have only three minutes.

Of course, we have had genetic modification over thousands of years, in animals and in crops. That was done by using the natural processes of evolution but speeding them up, by denying a future to those animals and crops that were not heading the way that we wanted and by selecting and promoting those that were. Now, however, we are using technology that brings new risks. We see from the example of Dolly the sheep that the modification of genetic structures can create weaknesses in the resulting organism that have adverse effects. The same will undoubtedly be true of crops. We breach the cell wall to introduce viruses and genetic modifications, and doing that leaves a weakened structure. That is the source of some of the difficulties that we undoubtedly face.

We and the broader public have difficulties with the subject of risk. Statistically, how likely is it that something adverse will happen, and what will the impact be when it does? Is there a management plan for when that impact is too great? In this debate, there are huge issues around those questions. How would we manage a situation in which Scotland goes down the GM crop road and then concludes that doing so was the wrong answer? There is no such management plan—no one has come up with one. That is why, while the jury may be out on this particular debate, the burden of proof has to lie with the prosecution, and the case of those who prosecute the benefits of GM crops has not been made. We must not proceed.

11:49

S2M-559 Sustainable Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-559, in the name of Robin Harper, on sustainable Scotland, and three amendments to the motion.

09:30
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The Deputy Presiding Officer: I can give a degree of latitude to Stewart Stevenson, who is closing for the Scottish National Party.

10:27

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): That is a dangerous offer, Presiding Officer, but thank you for it anyway. I sometimes think that Jamie McGrigor knows what he is thinking only when he hears it and I sometimes wish that he would not share it with us quite so generously.

"Sustainable development is not an optional extra. Our social, economic and environmental ambitions are interlinked and we must work to deliver all three if we are going to deliver the quality of life we want for ourselves and for future generations."

I hope that those words are familiar to the minister, because they are, of course, his. I suspect that almost all members will find themselves agreeing with those words and I hope that the Greens will recognise that one of the legs on which sustainable development must stand is economic sustainability.

Personal experience always informs political debate and as I drive each week back home from Aberdeen to Peterhead and am treated to the rather unsightly view of four major tips—which not only service the local area but bring waste to Peterhead from all over Scotland, including from Inverness—the point of sustainability is reinforced: we must eliminate waste.

We have heard a number of interesting speeches. Robin Harper described the fishing industry as wanting economic growth at any cost. He needs to get out and speak to some fishermen, because they are desperate to have a sustainable industry and to ensure that the science that assesses the stocks in the sea is good so that their sons and their sons' sons have a future. It is the regulatory regime that has failed.

Ross Finnie said that the Executive had 78-plus commitments and that 70 per cent of the transport budget would be spent on public transport in the future. That is all very good, but I believe that there is a practical difficulty with that—and I am surprised that the convener of the Finance Committee, Des McNulty, did not bring it to our attention. There are 145 targets in the budget for 2004-05, but how many of them meaningfully address sustainable development? In my estimation—the minister can tell me otherwise—the answer is 10. Furthermore, they come under only three policy areas. Two of the targets come under the communities budget. Seven of the 17 environment and rural development targets could be included—well done, minister—whereas only one of the seven targets for tourism addresses sustainable development. The rhetoric does not necessarily translate into the budget and into the Executive's main targets. There is therefore much more work to do.

As Nora Radcliffe pointed out, sustainability is not an add-on. Even in the Parliament, there are some little, simple things that we do not do or that we do not do well. I was disappointed to discover, on returning to the Parliament for its second session, that, for some reason that I do not understand, we all had new personal computers on our desks. Why are we scrapping equipment after only four years' use? When I retired from my professional life in computers, we had a PC that we had been using for 20 years—we bought it in 1980 and were still using it when I retired in 1999, because it was still working and it still did the job for which it was bought. We do not need to be spending money in the Parliament on things that will last only four years if they actually have a lifespan of 10 years.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is in the final minute of his speech.

Stewart Stevenson: Jamie McGrigor referred to forestry. I agreed with a lot of what he said, but his party's track record on sustainable forestry is not terribly impressive. Throughout Scotland can be seen banks of distressed and unmanaged forests, which were introduced for tax reasons. They are sub-economic: the value of harvesting the forests is less than its cost. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.

On renewable energy, we welcome support for wind farms, although we are cautious about the unmanaged way in which they are being developed. We have to make progress in that area but, in doing so, we are following the lead of many other European countries, rather than being a leader ourselves. Similarly, we are not doing enough on wave power, where we could be a leader. We could be selling our technology to the rest of the world. There is not a lot of economic benefit for us in wind power, but there is sustainable development benefit.

We have a choice between being leaders and followers. I say to the Executive that we need to be leaders and not—as is suggested under its current plans—followers.

10:33

Stewart Stevenson
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