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23 December 2004

S2M-2179 Budget Process 2005-06

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 December 2004

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

... ... ...

Budget Process 2005-06

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2179, in the name of Des McNulty, on the 8th report in 2004 of the Finance Committee, "Report on Stage 2 of the 2005-06 Budget Process".

09:31

... ... ...

10:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will play the grumpy old man to Wendy Alexander's spirit of Christmas. After all, when I were a lad, Christmas was a working day. My general practitioner father's sole concession to Christmas was that he held no evening surgery on Christmas day.

In answer to Wendy Alexander's accusation that the SNP has not cared about cutting costs, I have already given one example, but I will give two more, since she suggested that my first example was the only one. First, earlier this year, I opposed the blanket increase in planning fees that were to be implemented by local authorities because, if we manage the pennies, we will look after the pounds. Secondly, as far back as when Richard Simpson was a minister, I opposed the Scottish statutory instrument that increased the fees for licensing bingo halls and casinos. Now, that is something to be cheerful about. Therefore, I am no Johnny-come-lately to the cost-cutting agenda; I have been promoting that agenda since I came to the Parliament. However, where is Wendy Alexander's zero-sum budgeting today?

Mr Monteith rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Oh, come on. Earlier, Brian Monteith claimed:

"I am not proposing anything today".

Is he about to start doing so?

Mr Monteith: No, I am not about to start proposing anything. I simply want to ask Stewart Stevenson whether he can explain how a council not increasing its planning charges would be an efficiency gain. Would that not simply be a reduction in the revenue that the council receives?

Stewart Stevenson: I suggest that Brian Monteith read the Official Report of the relevant committee meeting to see the interesting response that I received from the minister. I argued that, given that we had passed a power of well-being to councils, we should not tell them what to charge for planning applications but allow them to set the charges for themselves. In that way, the efficient councils would deal with such applications more cheaply and efficiently, whereas the inefficient ones would lose by charging more. The response from the then Deputy Minister for Communities, Mary Mulligan, was that we cannot have councils competing with each other. The SNP stands for a competitive Scotland that can compete with its neighbours. That is what we will always stand for.

As one who spent his working life in business, I sometimes feel that I entered something of a time warp in coming to Parliament. The way in which we deal with our numbers here is at least—to be generous—a decade behind business practices when I retired five years ago. Accountability is one example. I remember going to the Bank of Scotland's board to get some £25 million for a project. At the end of the board's discussion—which did not last long, as people had been briefed—the chairman said, "Stewart, can you deliver?" I was required to say the one important word: "Yes." That meant that, notwithstanding the fact that I am a computery person who was introducing a computer project, I had to achieve the savings in the operational parts of the bank that would justify the expenditure on the computer system. The boundaries between departments were of no relevance to whether I was judged a success or failure.

One difficulty that I find in what we do in government is that while I can see the political accountability, I cannot see the operational accountability. Even ministers tell me privately that they have difficulties in getting civil servants to say, "I personally carry the responsibility for implementing your plan, minister, and I will be judged on my success or failure." We will move forward when there is accountability not just of ministers, but of civil servants.

There is something else missing from the way in which we examine our numbers: assets and liabilities. It is all very well having a statement that indicates the revenue picture year on year—indeed, for years into the future—but if we do not see the assets and liabilities we cannot make a judgment on whether we are sweating our public assets. One or two of the accounts deal honestly with some of those issues. I am not often in the position of praising the Scottish Prison Service, but the service was at least honest in including a contingent liability in its accounts for the issue of slopping out and certain court cases to which I will not refer directly. However, we do not see much more of that.

Another issue is long-term planning. I have asked parliamentary questions about how many dentists we will need in 10 years' time, but the Executive does not know. If we do not know what the world in the public services will look like in 10 years, how the heck will we get there? It takes 10 years to persuade someone to go through all the necessary training and to come out as a dentist. That is only one example.

We can manage the pennies in committees and the Parliament. When we do so, we manage the pounds. I have made a start as an individual member; other colleagues have done the same. In the coming years, we will challenge at every opportunity when the Executive is not getting value for money for the public pursue. We cannot rely on members from other parties to do that, as they have no suggestions. Only the SNP will stand up for the interests of Scotland and Scotland's people.

10:32

16 December 2004

S2M-2038 Knife Crime in Glasgow

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2004

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

… … …

Knife Crime in Glasgow

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2038, in the name of Frank McAveety, on knife crime in Glasgow. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the unacceptable number of incidents involving knife crime in Scotland and particularly in the east end of Glasgow; believes that the Scottish Executive, Strathclyde police and other key agencies need to work more effectively to tackle this problem; considers that a range of measures to deal with knife crime are required, and believes that the Executive should consider measures such as restricting access to the purchase of knives, ensuring appropriate programmes are in place to educate young people on the dangers and consequences of carrying and using knives, speedier and effective sentencing for those convicted of knife crime and ensuring that the police have effective powers to deal with those who carry and use knives.

17:20

… … …

18:00

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I first visited Glasgow at the age of 32, for the 1978 Garscadden by-election at which Donald Dewar returned to parliamentary politics. I found the people of Glasgow warm and welcoming and I thank Glasgow MSPs for their courtesy in allowing me to join them in this debate, which reminds me of how Glasgow people welcomed me in 1978. Even political opponents were friendly in Glasgow. They were focused, but they were friendly.

I will take apart a couple of things that Frank McAveety usefully states in his motion and focus on them as the most important matters. The motion refers to

"ensuring appropriate programmes are in place to educate young people on the dangers and consequences of carrying and using knives".

I must draw an important point to members' attention: we can talk about knives as both weapons and tools.

As a young lad in the country, I carried a 9in, double-edged knife, but I never realised that it was a weapon; it was a tool to be used for a variety of purposes. I was far from being alone in my attitude towards knives. A good pal, who is now dead—for reasons that had nothing to do with knives—used to go to the front of the class in secondary school to sharpen his pencil with his flick-knife. Nobody thought anything about it; it was just another knife being used as a tool in an appropriate context.

I will support, in principle, the Executive's planned measures on knives and the control of their sale, which will be a useful move, but we should not imagine that cutting off the supply of knives will cut off the desire in the people who currently use them as weapons to have a weapon of some kind. If we take knives away from them, there is a real danger that they will find another weapon to use instead. That is why the motion's point about educating young people about the consequences of carrying knives is the most important one. The issue is about people's attitudes to other people and their willingness to enforce their point of view on them through violence. Such people happen to use knives in far too many instances.

I am slightly surprised that members have so far not made the link between drugs and knives. The knife is the preferred weapon for a frightener in the drugs industry. A knife to the buttock is a standard warning in the drugs industry. I would have thought that Glasgow MSPs had met that practice in Glasgow, as I have done in the north-east—we got it from Glasgow. There was a grave misfortune in my constituency: one of my constituents died from being stabbed in the buttock. The knife went too far in and severed the femoral artery. My constituent was dead in 20 seconds.

It is important for us to educate our youngsters about the consequences of knife use. It is not simply bravado to carry a knife; consequences may follow from doing so. Of course, Glasgow has the unenviable reputation of being a city in which the proportion of knife crime per 100,000 of the population exceeds the total murder rate per 100,000 people in London, which is a city that we do not always think of as being one of the safest in the world.

Robert Brown was correct to say that there is no single solution. Just because I say that we should not get too wound up about knives, because the problem will move on, does not mean that I do not support Robert Brown's important point. I welcome Tommy Sheridan's view on sentencing up to a point, because I do not think that mandatory sentences are the right thing way to go. However, I certainly think that it is vital that fiscals, in considering charges and the courts to which they will take them, and sheriffs and district magistrates in considering sentences, take the context into account. In particular, I would like the severest sentences to be given for the use of such weapons in the drugs business. That is a hidden crime that is rarely reported to the police. Members might be surprised at how prevalent it is.

I congratulate Frank McAveety on securing the debate and thank him for his hospitality in allowing me to speak in it.

18:05

S2M-2158 Reoffending

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2004

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

… … …

Reoffending

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2158, in the name of Annabel Goldie, on justice issues with specific relevance to reoffending, and three amendments to the motion.

10:35

… … …

11:43

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Let us start with a nice consensual point that can stretch across the Parliament. The title of the motion is relevant and important—"Justice Issues with Specific Relevance to Reoffending"—so no disagreement there.

Donald Gorrie spoke about illiteracy, but perhaps the real issue is innumeracy. On that issue, the Tories will clearly be in the dog-house and in jail for some time, because this morning they have relied on the straw-man approach to debating. Bill Aitken claimed that the rate of reoffending was only 2 per cent less for people on community service orders compared with those who had been in prison, but he could not provide us with any numbers. My numbers are 60 per cent and 42 per cent, which others who have consulted parliamentary sources may also have.

I asked Annabel Goldie about the figures for reoffending under the Tories, because she was trying to persuade us that it was axiomatic that the figures were better than they are now. However, she could give us no numbers. The reality is that the debate is based around a myth of a golden age under the Tories, which is not supported by any sensible examination of the issue.

Phil Gallie: I made the point that the incidence of offences after early release went up under the Tories, but only after we introduced automatic remission.

Stewart Stevenson: I was going to praise Phil Gallie and I take this opportunity to do so, but one honest Tory on the benches does not an honest Tory party make.

Reference was made to Fairbridge. Like others, I recently visited that project. Only 20 per cent of its graduates appear to reoffend. Such projects are well worth the effort that goes into them. With the Justice 1 Committee, I visited the 218 project in Glasgow, which works with many people who have been involved in prostitution and are in a cycle of incarceration, which it is to be hoped will be broken.

In its response to the Justice 1 Committee's inquiry into reoffending, Aberdeenshire Council said:

"By its very nature, the prison environment cannot of itself ... be conductive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending."

The majority of parties in the chamber have reiterated that view today. I quote from the Executive's "Re:duce, Re:habilitate, Re:form" in-street interviews, which go to the nub of what people are saying on the street:

"I think the minimum prison sentences are actually a waste of money. I think prison is a last resort for people who really are a danger to the public."

We welcome moves by the Executive to improve local relationships between criminal justice social workers and the Prison Service. Prison is part of a justice system that must address retribution, reform and rehabilitation, but the greatest of those is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation starts in prison, but must finish in the community. We must have a seamless way of connecting the good work that is done in prisons with the programmes to which offenders will connect once they leave prison. To do otherwise is to spend large sums of money to deliver little. I am happy to say that I will be supporting—as the opportunity arises—the Executive's amendment.

11:48

15 December 2004

S2M-2155 NHS Scotland

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 15 December 2004

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

… … …

NHS Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2155, in the name of Andy Kerr, on "Fair to All, Personal to Each: The next steps for NHSScotland" and four amendments to the motion.

14:36

… … …

16:48

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by welcoming some frank honesty on the part of the Executive. Paragraph 1.2 of "Fair to All, Personal to Each", which I received during the debate, states:

"While health is improving for the vast majority of Scotland's people, it is improving fastest for those who are most affluent."

That is the issue on which Duncan McNeil touched when referring to his constituents. It is an issue about which, after seven years of Labour Government, we should express concern.

In paragraph 1.8, the minister states:

"Services should be as local as possible, and as specialised as necessary."

I suspect that those sentiments will gain wide support. Whether the Executive's plans and practices deliver on them is another issue.

Paragraph 3.18 is about clearer and more consistent definitions and paragraph 3.19 states:

"Patients who fail to turn up for an appointment or admission without prior warning will return to the start of the waiting queue".

We have heard about the welcome abolition of availability status codes, but there is a real difficulty, which I will illustrate with an example from one of my constituents. An elderly frail lady who lives in Fraserburgh was given an appointment in Aberdeen for an afternoon clinic in August. The lady had no transport of her own, so she inquired at patient transport services, only to discover that they could not give her a return trip for an afternoon clinic. Her son—her carer—does not work and has an income in the order of £70 a week. It was suggested that they should take a taxi home and claim the cost back later. On their income, that is not possible. The effect is that, as of this date in December, we still do not know what patient transport might be offered to that lady for which she and her son would not have to pay in advance. She is now off the waiting list.

Mr Kerr rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way, as the minister is itching to comment.

Mr Kerr: The situation that the member describes is unacceptable. That is why I have asked the health service to work harder on patient-focused booking systems. Good examples exist throughout the country, but they are not widespread enough. I hope that that addresses his constituent's concern.

Stewart Stevenson: Nonetheless, that lady has lost her place on the waiting list. That is an important point. However, I am glad to hear that the Executive is addressing the problem. I do not disregard the fact that the minister shares with many in the chamber a commitment to improve the health service. We criticise what the Executive does and ask whether it achieves improvements. [Interruption.] I see Mike Rumbles making some remark from a sedentary position. He should listen up.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: No. I do not have time, but if the member keeps listening I might take an intervention from him later.

A little Cinderella has disappeared from the document more or less altogether. Page 5 contains two references to dentistry in a table, but the rest of the document contains not a single word about it. It is a curious fact that, if someone wishes to have dental treatment, the only place where they will have it with reasonable effectiveness is Scotland's prisons, where the average wait is one week. In much of Scotland, the wait is interminable and the document says nothing much more about it.

At the end of the document, we read something of better IT for the health service, but no numbers for the investment in e-health are quoted. It was claimed that we are ahead of the rest of the UK. The health service in England and Wales is spending £8 billion to improve its IT. It is time that we considered whether we can piggyback on what colleagues that deal with many culturally similar issues in the health service are doing. They are making changes in advance, so that the health service is prepared for other initiatives. Too many initiatives that the Executive has taken have reduced the health service's efficiency. That is why we do not see a return for the money that is being provided.

Mike Rumbles: What would the member do?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order.

Stewart Stevenson: NHS 24 is an example of such an initiative. Trained nurses are sitting at phone banks to do triage. That takes on average 20 minutes. They use American software that is not even culturally appropriate for many issues here. For example, the third question that is to be asked of someone who has a sore throat—I will turn it into technical language—is whether they have recently indulged in fellatio.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member please tell us what the SNP wants to do?

Stewart Stevenson: I will. However, Mr Rumbles should remember that the debate is about the minister's announcements.

By the same token, under out-of-hours cover, we have more people going to places that have no record of their health. That reduces the health service's overall efficiency, which is why we must put money into IT. The Executive is to do that after the event, not before. It is paying the price of inefficiency when we need greater efficiency.

Private health care is a source of potential inefficiency. In a transfer from one consultant to another in the private sector, an additional consultation is involved or continuity is lost with the person to whom a patient originally presented. Alternatively, the same consultant is used in the private sector. How is that a good idea?

I will describe what we would do—as I promised Mr Rumbles—in the 40 seconds that remain for my speech. We would expand diagnostic and treatment centres. In England, 20 centres operate. It is interesting that that major contribution comes from within the health service. The private sector has made a minimal contribution of two centres so far. That shows what the health service can do.

The debate is entitled "Fair to All, Personal to Each". That is a good title. However, it is not fair to all to waste money on the private sector or personal to each to close hospitals in local communities throughout Scotland. I support the amendment lodged by my colleague Shona Robison.

16:55

9 December 2004

S2M-2129 Fisheries

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 December 2004

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

... ... ...

Fisheries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2129, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries, and three amendments to the motion.

15:02

... ... ...

16:41

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start, almost as Alex Johnstone ended, by congratulating Ross Finnie. If on nothing else, I congratulate him on his stamina, as he is the longest-serving member of the Executive to have had the same ministerial responsibility. The vicissitudes of his particularly challenging office have dimmed neither his energy nor his engagement. I acknowledge happily and gladly that his knowledge has continued to grow—may that continue for some time. Furthermore, he alone carries the burden of both opening and closing for his point of view in today's debate. Would that the rest of his could share his energy. However, Mr Bradshaw is quite another thing. He is a politician who is passing through. As a politician with ambition, he has no engagement with or knowledge of his subject.

I thank Mr Morrison heartily for his ringing endorsement of the merits, skills and talents of my colleague Mr Lochhead. Realising the significant impact that he always has when he engages in fishing matters, I rather hope that he will be present in Brussels to support the efforts of the man—Ross Finnie—who must do his best to represent Scotland.

Let me pick up what was said in the debate. Mr Baker claimed that it is not possible to operate a conservation policy outwith the CFP. For his Christmas, I promise to send Richard Baker a little map of Europe, on which I will highlight—he will not mind if I ink it in for him—those countries outwith the CFP that are successfully managing their stocks. Today's debate has probably covered the issue reasonably well: the CFP and conservation are strange bedfellows. After 30 years of the CFP, there can be little doubt of that.

On whether we should be within the CFP, the arguments have been well rehearsed. The Tories know our position on how they got us to where we are today, but there is no point in pursuing that at this stage. There are three key strands to Europe: the customs union, the common commercial policy, and the common monetary policy. The UK Government is happy to accept the benefits of the customs union—and I agree with it. It is happy to accept the benefits of a common commercial policy—and I agree with it. However, it rejects a common monetary policy because it believes that that is not in the UK's interests. I and my colleagues resist the CFP on exactly the same basis: we feel that it is not in Scotland's interests.

However, that is a lesser matter than the overriding matter of the common monetary policy. As a result, in rejecting a part of European policy and practice—the CFP—we are taking a substantially lesser step than the UK Government's rejection of the common monetary policy.

Richard Baker: What the member says is a very nice fiction. I should point out that the European Commission has stated in a letter to Catherine Stihler MEP that one cannot be a member of the EU and withdraw from the CFP. I have simply stated the current position. Is the member saying that he would sacrifice all the benefits of EU membership just to withdraw from the CFP?

Stewart Stevenson: One of the very interesting distinctions between the position of the Tories and the SNP on this matter is that we continue to campaign with vigour and commitment for an independent Scotland that would be an independent member of the EU. Scotland would then be able to negotiate its relationship with the EU at that point. Is it conceivable that we would not be able to secure an appropriate deal for our fishermen when we are Europe's energy capital? We can lay vital assets and interests on the table and use them in negotiations. It is inconceivable that we could not do that.

If Europe is not much interested in Scotland, Westminster has even less interest in us. The Prime Minister's strategy unit could not even count the Scottish white-fish fleet. Moreover, despite the fact that he has so far asked the Prime Minister some 200 questions, the Tory leader has yet to ask him a question about fishing. The Tories were not interested in 1971 or in 1983.

Mr Brocklebank: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry; I no longer have the time.

In his speech, Jamie McGrigor got confused about the words "won't" and "want" today, just as he got confused at yesterday's decision time about "yes" and "no" in the vote on Caledonian MacBrayne. I hope that he votes the right way and supports our amendment tonight.

In a debate last week, Ben Bradshaw talked up the RACs and said:

"I see no reason why they should not develop into real bodies for regional management."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 2 December 2004; Vol 428, c 834.]

Alas, in his written submission to the European Parliament's hearing on this matter, the then commissioner-designate, Joe Borg, said:

"The Commission could not take this on board as fisheries management has to remain compatible with the legal and institutional framework of the Treaty."

Basically, he says that it is not possible for us to evolve to regional management under the treaty.

I will close with a brief comment on scientific data. We all have to accept such data, but we should understand that, in science, it is possible to interpret them in different ways. That is not to disagree with scientists; after all, they disagree with one another. The Faroese pursue stocks to protect ecological balance; they have come to a different conclusion from the same data and have achieved different success outwith the CFP.

I support my colleague's amendment.

16:49

S2M-2132 Iraq

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 December 2004

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

Iraq

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2132, in the name of Carolyn Leckie, on Iraq, and five amendments to the motion.

.. ... ...

10:28

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a truism to say that those who know nothing of history are condemned to repeat it. In his book, "A Mad World, My Masters", John Simpson tells of going to downtown Belgrade on 12 April 1999 to interview locals about the NATO-led action against the dictator, Milosevic. An angry crowd gathers, shouting their views at the BBC man. Spit lands on Simpson's face. The crowd said:

"We used to like everything from West. Now we hate you ... We are all for Milošević now, even if we didn't like him before ... You British are"—excuse me, Presiding Officer—

"the 'eff-ing' slaves of 'eff-ing' America."

Simpson talks to the crowd and finds that they do not really hate us at all, but that they are frightened and resentful of the bombing. When people are bombed by those who they think are their friends, it is hard for them to love them. Democracy does not come from the barrel of a gun.

In Iraq, the actions of the US-UK coalition are teaching us that lesson again. We have increased the number of friends of Saddam Hussein, and we have increased the ferocity of the animus that is felt for us by the friends of Saddam Hussein. We have drawn into an already unstable middle east the dangerous and deranged zealots of extremist religious beliefs from around the world, and we have made extremists and enemies of those who could have been our friends.

When ordinary people are imprisoned in the grip of a ferocious dictator, there is a practical necessity and moral imperative for us to do all we can to help them. My father worked for a period in the late 1930s out of a bookshop in Brussels. He was there as part of a Christian mission to help the Jews, who we knew even then were being oppressed by the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. The Gestapo came to arrest my father and his companion on the steps of Cologne cathedral. He escaped and I am here; his companion did not and the sons he might have had are not here. Throughout Iraq, Saddam Hussein removed the future generation of mothers' sons who might have opposed him, but it hardly helps those who are left that we now, in substantially smaller but still significant measure, cull the remainder through carelessness or indifference. The course of action that is being pursued in Iraq mirrors that in Afghanistan.

Helen Eadie: What is the SNP's view on genocide and on Kofi Annan's report, which states:

"in cases of major breaches of humanitarian law, such as genocide in Rwanda or ethnic cleansing in Kosovo"—

nation states

"have the responsibility"—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr Stevenson has got the point, Ms Eadie.

Stewart Stevenson: I have got the point. I would be astonished if there were a single person in the chamber who supports genocide. I do not; I am implacably imposed to it and members should not rise to suggest that things are otherwise on the SNP benches.

What is happening in Iraq shows again that elections alone do not a democracy make. In Afghanistan, the Taliban's mascaraed, nail-polished and golden-sandaled soldiers have gone from Afghani power but not from Afghani life. Post the election we have a dangerous and increasingly unstable centre for the production of opium, the battle on which is being fought on our streets.

I want to say something good about George Bush and I wish I could say the same about the Prime Minister. The student politics of attacking George Bush for being

"not one of the world's great linguists"

must not hide the fact that he has at least been big enough to admit some of his personal errors in making his case for war.

In September 2003 that radical left-wing magazine, The Economist, carried a photo of the PM on its cover with the words "In the dock" as its banner. Today the Prime Minister remains in the dock, because he cannot do what Bush has done in part and admit his errors. Errors denied means remedy denied.

Where are we now? If we simply withdraw our troops, as the motion demands, we will succumb to a selfish desire to protect our own. From a party that trudges dank left-wing extremist meetings around the world, supposedly in the cause of international working-class solidarity, that is an act of breathtaking hypocrisy. That party would cast off ordinary Iraqis, but we dare not do so.

I support the amendment in Alex Neil's name.

10:33

2 December 2004

S2M-2055 Domestic Abuse Services

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 December 2004

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

… … …

Domestic Abuse Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2055, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on domestic abuse services for all victims.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the very serious and totally unacceptable problem of domestic violence in Scottish society; notes in particular that all victims, whether they be women, men or children, need to be supported, and therefore considers that the Scottish Executive should provide practical help and assistance to all such victims.

17:12

… … …

17:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I find myself in a rather curious position, not because of my solitary presence on the SNP benches—a by-election is attracting the attention of many of my colleagues who are elsewhere—but because I find myself wanting to stand and defend the Executive against someone who has risen frequently to defend it, but who on this occasion, in the deployment of his argument and in his speech, is in essence attacking it.

We will not be voting on the motion, but we would find it easy to vote for if we were—indeed a number of my colleagues have signed it—because its terms are fair and proper. However, the picture that Mike Rumbles paints for us is one of a new Boudicca coming across the horizon with the scimitars attached to the wheels of her chariot to cut the legs off any man foolish enough to stand in her way.

Of course I accept that the test of a real civilisation is not how it treats its majority—although it must respect and respond to the wishes of the majority—but how it supports and respects the rights of minorities. I am far from convinced that there is merit in Mike Rumbles's case. He has to acknowledge that he is talking about a significantly small minority and he is doing his case no justice with his rather spurious manipulation of statistics, based on small percentages, from which it is unwise to extrapolate.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I really do not have time.

Before coming to the chamber, I put two phrases into the Google search engine to get a feel for the issue. I put in "female violence against men" and "male violence against women". The hits were 98 per cent for "male violence against women" and 2 per cent for "female violence against men". Of course that does not tell us about the incidence of the violence, but it does tell us how big a problem it is perceived to be by the people who are engaged in that technology, who are predominantly men. The oldest paper that I could find on female violence against men dates from 1975. It is not as if the issue has surfaced suddenly; it has been around for 30 years, but it has yet to make the kind of impact that, quite properly, male violence against women has made.

The figures that the Executive uses in its papers suggest that there are more than 10 times as many victims recorded where the perpetrator is male than there are where the perpetrator is female. That gives us the scale. It takes nothing away from men to support women.

Mike Rumbles made a rather curious argument, which I suspect the minister will address. He appeared to suggest that even though the Executive provided a grant for one purpose—protecting women—it would be okay to pretend in a Nelsonian manner that we were not seeing that it was being misused for other purposes. It is vital that we ensure that there is support for all people affected by domestic violence—women, children and men—but men are not being neglected just because we are giving women the support that they deserve and need.

17:29

S2M-2096 Aquaculture

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 December 2004

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

Aquaculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-2096, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on a sustainable aquaculture industry, and three amendments to the motion.

09:30

… … …

11:07

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome this debate, which is on a subject that is important to many communities in Scotland. Fish farms are vital for many rural areas that have few other options. In my constituency, they provide the high-quality raw material that processors in Fraserburgh and Peterhead convert to the products that we see with so much pleasure on our supermarket shelves. My face lights up when I go home at the weekend and open the fridge to find that my wife has been to Downie's to get one of its fish pies, which are like Scotch pies, except that they are filled with fish. They are just wonderful for the palate but even better for the health of the people who eat them. I welcome the presence of salmon on our Parliament menus, as does my colleague Fergus Ewing. It is just a shame that today coley, rather than salmon, is on the menu.

I worked as a water bailiff when I was a student in 1968—one of the many industries of which I have experience. Even then, on the east coast, the catches of salmon had dropped catastrophically, long before any interaction with our salmon farms could have been of influence.

Robin Harper: That is the case, but do we kick a man when he is down? Do we say that stocks have dropped to the point at which it does not matter what we do, because they are going to disappear anyway, or do we do everything that we can to conserve them?

Stewart Stevenson: Of course we have to conserve the stocks. There is no division in the Parliament about that; the division is about the means and the influences that are affecting adversely or beneficially our ability to do so. There is no substantial proven link between the escapes from fish farms and the depletion of the natural stock. I would be interested to hear of academic studies that show different. I will say more about the academic world later, but I wish to make an important point in which to anchor much of what I am going to say: our salmon is safe. In fact, I am probably at greater risk from the contaminants that reside on the skin of the slice of lemon that sits on top of my smoked salmon than I am from the salmon.

The way in which the media deal with science illustrates the problem. To get into the press, a scientific story has to be about something new. It has to contain an element of conflict, otherwise it is just a good-news story and will get a few column inches inside. It has to have an element of public interest, with a threat or a malign influence.

Alex Johnstone: Does the member agree that the bad-news story about salmon became news only when it found a supporter in the Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that that certainly gave legs to a story that should have died on the first day.

I ask members to think about some of the stories that get into the press. The Raelian cult claimed to have cloned humans and the story went on for two weeks. There is a wonderful website that has been—I hesitate to use the vernacular, so I will not—criticising our salmon industry. On another page, it claims that a seafood diet is

"A Sure Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis".

It says:

"No one needs to suffer from arthritis ... In three months of the daily seafood diet, you'll be rid of your arthritis."

That is a ludicrous claim, although I would love to believe that it was true.

Of course, many environmental groups are anything but environmental. For example, the United States Postal Service has shown that Greenpeace and the Sierra Club account for nearly half of the 4 million kilograms of tossed-out junk mail that environmental groups distribute each year.

In the brief time that remains, I turn to the report that was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report starts with a clue to the poverty of its scientific method. In the abstract, it says:

"the potential human ... risks of farmed salmon consumption have not been examined rigorously."

That is its claim, but none of the 32 references that it provides goes back more than three years. As a piece of reference research, the report is condemned out of its own mouth on that point alone. Had it been properly refereed, that sort of thing would have been flushed out and dealt with. Even that paper has to concede that

"Individual contaminant concentrations in farmed and wild salmon do not exceed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action or tolerance levels".

The key thing is that the paper does not compare farmed salmon with other foodstuffs. The reality is that it is basically much the same, although, yes, there is a problem with polychlorinated biphenyls, which has to be addressed.

I have confidence in the industry to the extent that I ate the food that a fish farm was feeding to its fish when the Environment and Rural Development Committee visited Lochaber—Jamie McGrigor will attest to that. My trust in the industry goes beyond just eating the fish.

11:13

1 December 2004

S2M-2006 St Andrew's Day

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 1 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

… … …

St Andrew's Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2006, in the name of Dennis Canavan, on St Andrew's day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that St Andrew's Day should be recognised as Scotland's National Day with a nationwide celebration of Scotland's diversity of cultures, faiths and ethnic origins.

17:06

… … …

17:34

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It should come as no surprise that Dennis Canavan is asking for St Andrew's day to be recognised as Scotland's national day. After all, St Andrew is not only the patron saint of Scotland, Greece, Russia and Romania; he is also the patron saint of anglers—angling being a subject that I know is close to Dennis's heart. Of course, St Andrew is also the patron saint of fish dealers, fishmongers and fishermen, which is a matter of considerable constituency interest to me.

According to history, St Regulus brought St Andrew's relics to Scotland because an angel instructed him to take them to the edge of the world. I hope that moving 30 November to centre stage will move us a little nearer to the centre of the world.

I want to highlight a few curious paradoxes about public holidays, bank holidays and so on. I know that other members have already pointed out the number of such holidays that we get.

However, if we are talking about bank holidays—which Mr Canavan refers to in his bill—members will be interested to learn that Scottish bank holidays are not quite what they seem. For example, a Scottish bank holiday does not tell us whether a bank is open, while a Scottish non-bank holiday does not tell us whether a bank is closed. In fact, banks are not required to observe any of the statutory bank holidays one way or the other.

Indeed, there is a sense in which Scotland does not have any bank holidays whatever; we have them only by habit and repute. Indeed, when I were a lad and worked in the Post Office, it used to be my very great regret that I was paid off on Christmas eve, because it meant that I could not work on Christmas day and get the tips that the regular postmen got. I feel that it is legitimate to debate the question of what holidays actually are.

The fact that our need for a national day—which would be most appropriately embodied in St Andrew—has not yet been publicly recognised is certainly a subject for debate, so I very much support all Dennis Canavan's efforts in the matter. In his consultation document, he points out that all the countries in the Americas have national days. I think that it is time for Scotland to have a national day, so I congratulate Dennis on securing the debate and support him in all his endeavours.

17:37

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