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27 January 2005

S2M-2291 Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 27 January 2005

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

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Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): We come now to a debate on motion S2M-2291, in the name of Tom McCabe, that the general principles of the Budget (Scotland) (No 2) Bill be agreed.

15:37

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16:14

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I think that the discourtesy that has been displayed today was not against Jim Mather—his back is broad—but against the ambassador from Luxembourg, whom we saw representing that independent nation of a small and successful kind in the distinguished guests gallery this morning.

I return to a recurring theme when I speak in finance debates—the lack of conformity to good accounting principles in how we lay things out. As long ago as the 13th century, the Florentine bankers developed a system of double-entry bookkeeping in which one could see the sources and application of money. Ironically, to use that system and record effectively, they had to use not the Roman number system but the Arabic one, which had the number zero in it, although that was forbidden by the city authorities. The word for zero in Arabic is "sifr", from which we get today's word "cipher", and it was considered that using that system concealed the truth. Encipherment sometimes seems to be the way in which our accounts are dealt with.

I was grateful to Jeremy Purvis for bringing up pensions. As I look through the accruals in the bill—of which I shall say more—I note that there is very little in the way of accruals, or income. Let us look at the accruals that derive from superannuation. The figure for teachers is £1.156 billion, which immediately transfers to expenditure on pensions. The whole way in which we are managing pensions is going to bite and bite hard. I do not say that we will be able to solve that problem in one, two or three years; it is a long-term problem that we must engage with. That applies equally to 11 Downing Street as it does to people here.

In the brief time that is available to me, I will talk about accruals. Looking at the figures for the Scottish Executive Development Department, I see that we are going to get a total of £100 of income from 10 line items, including "Receipts from Energy Action Grant Agency" and "Fees for functions carried out by the Scottish Building Standards Agency". That is not a great deal. We also see, on page 14 of the bill, that the Scottish Police College superannuation funds the expenditure of the Scottish Police College and that the Scottish Legal Aid Board superannuation funds the expenditure of the Scottish Legal Aid Board. On page 17, we see that the superannuation contributions for teachers and the national health service turn into expenditure on teachers and the NHS.

Audit Scotland is going to generate £100 of income from the sale of information technology equipment. If it can sell anything worthwhile for that amount, I would love to have it as well. The miscellaneous income for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body also totals £100. The Food Standards Agency's income from its charges, veterinary services and inspections is only £100. It is remarkable how, in focusing only on expenditure, we appear not to be dealing in any sensible way with income.

Occasionally, when we see a proper reference to income—such as the £17 million in the budget for tourism, culture and sport—we also see a footnote saying, "Income to be surrendered." Frankly, until we see income and expenditure, we will not be able to see what is going on. By the same token, it is time that we expressed our budget with assets and liabilities—especially the increasing, worrying, devastating, crippling private finance initiative liabilities.

16:19

13 January 2005

S2M-2209 Sustaining Agriculture

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 January 2005

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

… … …

Sustaining Agriculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2209, in the name of Jamie Stone, on sustaining agriculture and sustaining communities. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons. It will not be possible to extend the debate, and I will take a view on speaking times when I have seen the number of requests to speak.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that sustaining a viable agricultural sector involves encouraging an increase in employment on Scotland's land and that this would strengthen the contribution of agriculture to the viability of rural communities and contribute to the nutritional health of Scotland.

17:06

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17:14

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Quite the most alarming thing that I have heard this evening is that Jamie Stone eats Pot Noodles. Nevertheless, I congratulate him on creating this opportunity to debate an important subject.

The importance of the subject was illustrated perfectly at the Cancer Research UK reception last night, because one of the five strands of reducing the incidence of cancer is addressing the issue of diet. The matter may be of particular importance to me because, after researching my family tree, I know that five of my 16 great—or is that great-great?—grandparents died from cancer of the intestine in one form or other. I hope that my genetic inheritance can be offset by some good Scottish scoff, to use Jamie Stone's word.

The subject is important, particularly in my constituency, which is very big in food production. For example, Macrae Foods Ltd, Fisher Foods Ltd, Grampian Country Chickens Ltd and International Fish Canners (Scotland) Ltd are all major employers in Banff and Buchan. The predominance of high-quality food processors reflects the importance of agriculture and fishing not just in my constituency but throughout Scotland. Indeed, about 70,000 people are employed in producing this healthy scoff for the country and perhaps one in 10 Scottish jobs is related to food production.

Of course, supermarkets fight against the drive for quality in Scotland's production industries. We should note that UK supermarkets' margin of profit is about four times greater than that in any other comparable country; in fact, it is more than four times greater than US supermarkets' margin of profit. The supermarkets' control of the market is very subtle; it is driven not by health and healthy eating, but by margin and price. Their manipulations are certainly well documented. For example, they use known-value items—the few items on the shelf for which the general public have an idea of price—to create the impression that things are cheap.

I go to my local butcher, who sells organic beef that is locally grown, slaughtered and hung in the chill store at a lower price than I would pay at Tesco down the road. If more of our communities were to consider the matter, they would discover that option for themselves. I listened with interest to the 20-minute speech that the chief executive of Tesco plc made at the Scottish Agricultural College's centenary dinner, and noted that he did not once use the word "quality". That says a lot about the constraints on the way in which supermarkets deal with food and quality.

I hope that John Scott will speak tonight, because he is a great supporter of farmers markets. I encourage his efforts in that regard and very much support that quality method of delivering affordable local food.

17:18

S2M-2241 Victims and Witnesses

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 January 2005

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

… … …

Victims and Witnesses

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2241, in the name of Hugh Henry, on victims and witnesses, and two amendments to the motion.

15:02

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The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): I call Stewart Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson rose—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am sorry. I call Margaret Mitchell.

16:32

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16:38

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I had a sense of déjà vu a few minutes ago. In our SNP candidate training, we role-play from time to time, during which we ensure that all the parties are represented. It is confession time—all too often for my comfort, I am selected to play the role of a Tory. Do I get time off for good behaviour and can I plea bargain? Had I been invited to sum up on behalf of the Tories, my speech might have come out just a little different. The differences between the SNP and the Tories are long standing and well known. I will revisit some of them.

In his speech, Hugh Henry referred to restorative justice and how it is not yet clear that it is delivering for adult offenders in England in particular. I hope that we can persist with the idea and find ways to make it effective. In relation to children, whether they are 18, 16, 14 or 12—I throw that back into the debate—restorative justice appears to play an important role in returning children to a path of probity and commitment to society.

I was slightly surprised when the deputy minister appeared to say that the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill specifically addresses grooming, although he may take this opportunity to clarify what he said. The bill certainly does not refer to grooming, although it may deal with some aspects of it. We will give the bill a fair wind and I do not seek to criticise it, but there may be more work to do on that subject. I suspect that members of all parties on the Justice 1 Committee will assist the minister with that.

Annabel Goldie made an astounding claim about Stuart Leggate, who was responsible for the horrendous sexual murder of a young boy in Paul Martin's constituency. Annabel Goldie said that early release was somehow directly responsible for Stuart Leggate's offence. I am interested to know the argument for that connection. I was unable to intervene on Annabel Goldie, as she made the comment within 35 seconds of having to sit down. Stuart Leggate was understood to be an evil person, both when he was in prison and thereafter. The real issue with the Leggates of this world—there are others of similar character—is supervision.

Miss Goldie: My point was that the two individuals whom I mentioned were free to commit more crimes because they were released early.

Stewart Stevenson: Had they been released later, they would also have been free to commit their crimes. My point is that there is no connection between release date and commission of crimes. Annabel Goldie's point does not help to promote good argument on the issue.

Colin Fox had, of course, a rather different approach. He came up with one insight that I should mention when he talked about the slowness of justice. I disagree with him slightly in that I do not think that the speed of justice is the primary issue. Justice should be faster, but the key point is that we should search for ways to make the progress of the justice system more predictable for all those who are involved. For example, if victims and witnesses had to attend on 14 February and knew that something was to happen then, they would not willingly trade that for thinking that things might happen on 31 January. We must have speed, but if increased speed must be traded against reduced stability and predictability, I suspect that most people would go for predictability.

Colin Fox seemed to say that, in a capitalist society, socialists have no duty to society. That is an interesting concept for him to articulate, given that we have previously thought that socialists, even if we disagree with them, espouse more strongly the concept of society than do we lesser mortals.

Colin Fox: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Sorry; I am running out of time.

I have a few suggestions as I head towards my conclusion. We use professional witnesses in civil cases, particularly in housing matters, and there is a case for examining whether professional witnesses have a role in the criminal justice system.

I want to highlight some statistics on where crime happens, which I understand will be published in the not-too-distant future and which were requested by the Scottish Prison Service. The statistics show that 25 per cent of the total prisoner population on 30 June 2003 came from just 53 of Scotland's 1,222 local government wards, and that 50 per cent came from just 155 wards. In other words, there is a concentration of criminality, which makes witnesses vulnerable in those areas. Furthermore, there is a direct relationship with deprivation. In communities in the bottom decile of deprivation—the most deprived areas—953 out of every 100,000 people are in prison, whereas at the top level, the figure is 4 out of every 100,000.

There are actually 269 local authority wards in Scotland that have no one in prison. We also have densities of people in prison from many of our local authority wards that exceed the density of people in prison per head of population from Harlem and the Bronx. The figures are made up mainly of young men. That concentration creates real problems—even threats—for people who engage with the criminal justice system, report crimes and be witnesses.

Plea bargaining has been referred to a few times during the debate, in particular by my colleague Bruce McFee. I would like to pose a thought, not make a proposal. Plea bargaining involves the offender and the offender's representatives. I wonder whether there could also be a role for the victim and the victim's representatives in that process, particularly in relation to serious cases. I do not know whether that is done anywhere else but, after all, the analogous processes in civil cases would involve both sides of the argument.

I make no apology for returning to the subject of fines—as the SNP has done over a number of years—and to the suggestion that it is time that we considered relating fines to the income of the offender. A fine might represent a small amount of an MSP's income, but the same fine might represent a much more significant penalty for someone with a lower income status. If the offence is the same, the conviction should be the same.

The Prisons Act 1839 gave prison the purpose of reforming criminals. It is amazing that that purpose was put at centre stage so long ago. Our criminal justice system must continue to hold that principle at the centre of what we do after we have convicted people. There is no point in simply convicting people if we do not seek to reform them as part of the process.

My late mother-in-law had the misfortune to be the victim of theft when two young men took her cash card and withdrew money from a cash dispenser. It was a great comfort to her, however, that one of the sentences that was passed by the court was for compensation and that one of the two young men paid that compensation. Financially, the measure was not of great importance but in terms of her ability to feel that the criminal justice system had dealt properly with her case, it was important.

Victim support for mental health is one of the elements of the strategy that I particularly commend. We will, of course, be supporting the Executive's motion, but we hope to see support for our amendment as well.

16:48

S2M-2240 Make Poverty History

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 13 January 2005
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

Make Poverty History

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-2240, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the campaign to make poverty history, and three amendments to the motion. I call Nicola Sturgeon to speak to and move the motion.

09:30
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10:34


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is encouraging that all the members who have spoken and all the motions and amendments support the make poverty history campaign. That is a consensual basis upon which to start the debate.

All in the chamber seek to tackle debt. Debt means money, but it does not just mean money.
Historically, we owe many of the affected countries and adjacent countries big time—intellectually, culturally and for the very basis of our civilisation. Financial record keeping started 6,500 years ago in Samaria—in modern Israel, Palestine and Jordan—and banking derives from gifted individuals in Mesopotamia, in modern Iraq. Indeed, the concept of and symbol for zero come from Hindu culture, from the Indian sub-continent, so our debts are historical as well as immediate. By the way, it is no accident that the derivation of the word "pay" comes from the Latin word "pacare", which means to make peace. When we pay our debts, we make peace with those to whom we owe them.

Is not it ironic that we are patting ourselves on the back for all agreeing to back the make poverty history strategy? We heard earlier in the debate that it would take £1 per head per year to tackle third-world debt, and Scotland has given £4 per head in only a few weeks. That gives the context and shows the scale of what we are talking about when we talk about debt—a huge benefit to the third world but a small, almost trivial, price for us in the civilized world. We should keep that thought close to our hearts.

We must not be complacent. We in the developed world are the world's biggest debtors. The United States runs the biggest deficit economy of any, and we are running a deficit that is measured not in hundreds of millions of pounds—as we might end up measuring our support for the countries affected—but in billions of pounds. In other words, what we give back is much less than what we take.

What is money? Why did money come into existence? Well, in the grain stores of Samaria, excess production was put in store to be drawn back down at a later date when it was needed. Money is a way of storing the excess production that we have now for later. We run deficit economies, so we are taking the excess production of third-world countries and building our economic success on their labour. Is not that a thought to carry forward from here?

Do not let us confuse money with help. Money enables help, but it is not help. We have to move rapidly to a position in which local communities that are affected can rebuild for themselves.
Des McNulty introduced the issue of women. I suspect that we do not yet know one thing about the tragedy, which will affect fishing communities in particular. The men were all at sea and survived, but the women and children were on shore and perished. I speak to men when I say that society can continue pretty well satisfactorily with a major cull of males, but it cannot survive a cull of females. That is a simple biological fact that we must be aware of.

Phil Gallie: Is not the culture, in particular in Indonesia and to a degree in Sri Lanka, based very much on family life, and would not it be somewhat dangerous if we singled out women?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not deign to suggest to anyone what their culture should be and I think that Phil Gallie should be aware that, in Indonesia, there are many dozens of entirely different cultures and patterns of family life. It is not for me or anyone else in the chamber to comment on that.

I return to the subject of money in relation to the role of women, particularly in India. The provision of micro-loans to women in India has been one of the most successful ways of empowering communities and individuals and I hope that there will be a focus on introducing such schemes in many of the areas affected by the tsunami. After all, women are the future in a way that men are not.

Indeed, it could be in our own interests to take such an approach. For example, when South Africa moved from apartheid to liberation, the white, western banks would not lend money to people in the squatter areas to allow them to develop and improve their housing. However, it turned out that the people who had least and borrowed least were the most likely to repay their debts. As a result, western banks lost out, to the benefit of indigenous bank developments.

We should not support a programme of rebuilding in the countries that have been affected. Instead, we should learn from the past and build anew, to empower the people in those countries. We should not get too caught up in supporting Governments; it is people that we need to support.

10:41

11 January 2005

S2M-2216 South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 12 January 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:15]

… … …

South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2216, in the name of Rosie Kane, on the earthquake and tsunami which hit the coasts of south Asia on boxing day, 2004.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is horrified by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami which hit southern Asia and parts of Africa on Boxing Day, 2004; mourns the enormous loss of lives from Malaysia to Somalia, particularly in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, more than half of whom are expected to be children; congratulates NGOs like Oxfam, the Red Cross, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and others for their instant and courageous response; is concerned that this region did not have the benefit of an early warning system, despite the fact that it sits on a known fault line; is concerned at the initial level of aid offered by the UK Government and believes that the current promised aid is inadequate and should be increased to meet the needs of the entire region; encourages everyone in Scotland to help in any way they can, commensurate with their means, and considers that the Scottish Executive and those in power should set an example above and beyond the support of the Scottish people to ensure that Scotland sends a clear message of support in both words and deeds.

… … …

17:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We will all agree that although the loss of a single person diminishes us all, the loss of hundreds of thousands diminishes our whole world. Although the death of one person is a disaster for the people who are intimately touched by that loss, the deaths of so many so quickly, and by a natural disaster, tugs at a world that arrogantly defines itself as civilised. Some comparisons will illustrate that point.

We remember the blitz during the last world war, but it killed only a quarter of the number of people who have died in the tsunami. We shiver at the recollection of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bombs there killed only half the number who were killed three weeks ago. If our response to this natural event is not at least of a scale that is similar to that of the remembrance and continuing sorrow that is associated with those man-made events, we will demean all humanity.

The measure of our humanity rests in the scale and appropriateness of our response now. Impressive deliveries of food and water have tackled short-term need. Deliveries of generators, hospital infrastructure and water-purification plants have started to rebuild vital infrastructure. When money—that engine of change and support—is spent directly in the affected areas whenever possible, it can start the economic recovery that must follow such disasters.
Fundamentally, however, we must equip the people who will continue to live on Asian shores with the tools, the skills and the capital that will sustain their long-term future.

Over the past 30 years, I have visited many of the affected countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, India and Kenya. Based on that experience, I will make one extremely important point: we must not imagine in our response that one size will fit all. Even before the tsunami impacted in different ways on each of those countries and on others that I have not visited, thereby creating differing support needs, those countries were extremely different in terms of their cultures, peoples, languages, beliefs and development. The best people to judge the need of people in those countries are the ordinary people who live in those countries and who can work together to decide what their needs are in relation to their local circumstances.

Some countries in the area have bureaucracies and institutions that are able to identify and articulate their people's needs. Others, however, are not so fortunate. Indonesia has particular issues—it is a country that is in many ways an accidental relic of an imperial past. It has diverse geography and peoples who have diverse aspirations, many of whom feel justified antipathy towards their Government, which oppresses rather than supports them. In 1978, I visited Burma. Then, I could fly only into Rangoon because the Government controlled none of the border regions. I was allowed only 48 hours there alone. The Government was oppressing all of its peoples and I had to stay in the only working hotel in the country, behind outward-facing tanks. Little has changed; if anything, the situation has become worse.

We must hope that the door that has been opened by this natural disaster not only lets in immediate aid but leads to the empowerment of people. From this tragedy must come long-term progress.

17:29

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