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28 April 2005

S2M-2573 Managing Sex Offenders

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 28 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Managing Sex Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2573, in the name of Paul Martin, on reviewing arrangements for managing sex offenders. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that, following the murder of eight-year-old Mark Cummings by registered sex offender, Stuart Leggate, there is a requirement for a root-and-branch review of how registered sex offenders are monitored and managed in the community; believes that the current sentencing policy for dealing with registered child sex offenders is grossly inadequate and requires review, that it is not acceptable that registered sex offenders are able to legally act under an alias identity and that the current housing allocation policies for dealing with registered child sex offenders present a serious risk to local communities; considers that an inquiry should be held into the events leading up to the murder of Mark Cummings; believes that the Scottish Executive should, as a matter of urgency, bring forward measures that will ensure that the risk to our children posed by registered child sex offenders is radically minimised, and commends the News of the World for its campaign in raising the awareness of the need to introduce legislation to manage registered sex offenders more effectively.

17:12

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17:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I extend my thanks to Paul Martin for giving us the opportunity to debate a difficult and important subject. I also extend my commiserations and those of my party to the Cummings family on the situation in which they find themselves, and I commend their dignity under that provocation.

We must be careful with some of the things that we think about. We must manage sex offenders such as Leggate better on their release, and Paul Martin has mentioned quite a few things that would be useful, but we must not imagine that that is enough. It is not.

If we look at conviction rates and the experience that comes from a variety of sources, we realise that we have probably convicted only one in 10 of the sex offenders who are out there. Of all crimes, it is a particularly hidden crime, so we must protect our children not just from those whom we already know to be sex offenders because they have been convicted, but from those who are yet to be revealed as sex offenders.

That means that we all have to think about how we can protect our children and educate them to recognise problems, to help their peer group and to bring the necessary information to the attention of those who can take action. I myself was aware of a sex offender when I was a wee bairn, because my father, as a general practitioner, treated a sex offender who had yet to be convicted but who he was utterly convinced was a problem. I shall name him. He was Christopher Milne, the son of A A Milne—Christopher Robin in the books. He was a patient of my father, and his upbringing and the effect of what his father had done in writing about him was said to have been one of the factors in his becoming a paedophile.

There are one or two interesting things about the Leggate case. I understand from my sources that prison staff were pretty clear that Leggate had a high risk of reoffending, but that information does not seem to have permeated down to anyone who might have taken action. I was disappointed to hear that councils and police are not getting such information. I have to say that I believe that information is actually being passed on in Aberdeenshire. That can happen, and in some parts of the country there are mechanisms for making it happen. Indeed, I am consulted, as are other elected representatives, about the matter, and I know how many sex offenders there are in the different communities. I can help the police and the council with the information that comes to my attention. I do not know the names or addresses, but I know what is going on in general terms.

There are a couple of challenging ideas that we might think about. Megan's law is all very well, but given the number of sex offenders who are out there house surveys would always say, "There are sex offenders in the area." That is a real difficulty.

In Canada there are what appear to be successful schemes for befriending sex offenders and ensuring that they are socially related and adhered to someone in the community. I understand that the Quakers in England are running a similar trial. I do not think that that is a magic bullet by any manner of means, but I certainly think that we should consider trying what is being tried elsewhere and see whether it has any application in Scotland.

The real issue, particularly with paedophiles but perhaps less so with rapists, is with sex offenders' mental processes and their whole view of the world. Programmes in prison can help to make them aware of that problem, although they cannot change their behaviour, and can help them to detect when they are going to reoffend. They have distorted thinking and will have it all their lives. Perhaps we should release those people only when we can prove that it is actually safe to do so. Sentences for people with psychological problems and distorted thinking are perhaps not the right way of dealing with them, even though locking them up is.

17:30

S2M-2736 Criminal Justice Services

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 28 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Criminal Justice Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2736, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on supporting safer, stronger communities and the reform of Scotland's criminal justice services.

I think that Cathy Jamieson is just about ready.

14:58

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16:44

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In this debate, we find much on which we are prepared to agree with the Executive, certainly on matters of policy. I suspect—because as yet I have heard nothing to the contrary—that the Executive finds much of our amendment acceptable and in line with its thinking. On that basis, I hope that it will extend its intellectual agreement to a voting agreement at 5 o'clock. However, we shall see—that is not the most important thing in the debate.

The minister opened her contribution by talking about safer communities. I am glad to say—although I have a slight suspicion about things that Patrick Harvie said—that no member has suggested that the policy should be that there should be less safe communities. Therefore, we can start with agreement about that.

The minister correctly focused on the scourge of drugs and drug addiction, which are at the heart of much of the crime that blights our communities. She referred to dealing with

"gangs at home and abroad".

I was particularly interested in her mentioning dealing with gangs abroad. Perhaps Hugh Henry—who I understand will sum up—will say at least two sentences about that matter, as I am particularly interested in it.

Many members have referred to knife crime. Like everyone else, I am deeply concerned about the effects of knife crime. However, we must focus on people who commit knife crime, rather than on the weapon itself, because once getting hold of knives has been made more difficult, much knife crime is likely to be committed by people using a knife out of the kitchen drawer, as Gordon Jackson suggested, or a knife that has been obtained by legal means. After all, strenuous efforts to improve gun control have not necessarily reduced the use of guns by criminals, who obtain guns by other means. The issue is a person's state of mind and their preparedness to commit crime.

The minister referred to reoffending, which is a subject that is fraught with difficulties. In the past five days, I have received a couple of parliamentary answers on the matter. I asked a question about reconvictions after two years and after four years—members should note that I said "reconvictions" rather than "reoffending", as there is a difference between the two. The most recent figures for those periods are for 1999. There is a paucity of figures, but I believe that more is being done that may help.

There is an interesting issue that we might consider. For Scotland overall, the reconviction rate within four years is 71 per cent. For crimes of indecency, the figure is 22 per cent. Superficially, that sounds like good news in relation to indecency, but it is particularly difficult to obtain convictions for a number of crimes that come under that heading, both in the first place and in the second place.

For example, another parliamentary answer suggests a conviction rate of only 6 per cent for rape and attempted rape. We must therefore look with caution at a reconviction rate of 22 per cent. If we do a bit of clever arithmetic on the rape and attempted rape conviction figure of 6 per cent, then probably the reoffending rate for people who are guilty of indecency is above that of the average overall. The conviction rates, perhaps not; but the reoffending rates I suggest are above average. The minister could usefully ensure that research is undertaken to help us all—the Executive and the Opposition—to understand better the reality of life on the streets as distinct from the statistics.

The minister graciously referred to improvements that have been made in Fraserburgh and Peterhead as a result of community wardens. However, I caution her not to be drawn into thinking that things are as simple as they have been made out to be. On 9 December 2002, I spent time in a normal policing situation—without the press—with PC Duncan McInnes on the streets of Fraserburgh. I did so at his express invitation and not at the invitation of the sergeant, the inspector, the superintendent or indeed Andrew Brown, who was the chief constable at the time. PC Duncan McInnes had fought the system to be allowed to patrol the streets of Fraserburgh for four hours a day because he believed in a police presence on the streets and his case has been made by changes that have been made there.

On 30 November 2002 I spent five hours, from 11 o'clock on a Saturday night, out with a police van, which was a revelation for someone who had a sheltered boyhood. The real problem is, of course, that community wardens are not tackling some of the problems that come up at weekends and overnight, but yes, they are worth considering and worth having.

I will not say much about sex offenders because Paul Martin's members' business debate after decision time will give us an opportunity to comment. It remains a serious issue.

I got the impression that Patrick Harvie was trying to persuade us that if someone has a drug problem that causes them to offend, they should not go to jail, however serious the offence, because they are not in control of their actions. Addicts are indeed victims of the addiction that has captured them and taken away some of their self control. Nonetheless, addicts only cease to be addicts by taking control of their own lives again. Addicts are not people who have surrendered all control over their own actions.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member take an intervention?

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

Stewart Stevenson: If they were unable to help themselves, the logic of Patrick Harvie's position would mean that we should lock up addicts for their own benefit until they were no longer addicts.

We welcome and support the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill. We welcome much of what is in the Executive's proposals and documents, but we want more effort to deliver on the promises that have been made.

16:51

S2M-2667 Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 28 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2667, in the name of Andy Kerr, that the general principles of the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill be agreed to.

09:15

… … …

10:10

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It has been said that life provides five kinds of people: those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; those who wonder what happened; those who did not know that anything happened; and those to whom things happened. As with so many subjects, we in the Parliament need to be those who make things happen for the benefit of those to whom things happened. Nowhere is that more true than in the case of the primary issue with which the bill deals. I come to today's debate as an unashamed extremist. Bertrand Russell said that only extremists create change; those who sit in the middle and agree with the herd create no change. That is why I have no tolerance for those who wish to maintain the status quo.

Let me deal with just a few of the claims that are made by the smoking lobby in one form or another. Nanette Milne claimed that the industry is keen to co-operate, but I need only refer her to the TMA's evidence to the Health Committee on the Prohibition of Smoking in Regulated Areas (Scotland) Bill. The submission states:

"The TMA does not believe it to be appropriate or legitimate"

to

"raise awareness of the dangers of passive smoking and smoking; assist in changing the attitude of the public towards smoking, and encourage smokers who want to quit smoking and help ex-smokers from relapsing."

I refer members to page 65 of the committee's stage 1 report on that bill.

Philip Morris International created the slogan:

"Today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer".

We can see where that company is coming from. However, in 1999, it commissioned the Arthur D Little consultancy to study the economic impact of smoking deaths in the Czech Republic. The resulting report proudly informed the Czech Government that each smoking death provided an annual public benefit of $1,277, which would amount to $147 million each year.

How did such homicides—that is the only appropriate word—make their social contribution? Using what Arthur D Little described as

"the results of the exercise of our best professional judgement"—

that is, the judgment of the hangman—the report identified that deaths from smoking produced savings on health care expenses, housing for the elderly, social security and pensions. Even more surprising, the report's findings on the effect of smoking on employment were that

"replacing those who die early ... leads to savings in social benefits paid to the unemployed and in the costs of re-training".

Perhaps we should hand medals—posthumous medals, of course—to those selfless souls who smoke themselves to death for society's benefit. Would their families value such a medal more than the presence of the loved one who was killed by these evil peddlers of death? After all, those who make such a sacrifice are hardly volunteers for the task, when they are simply the collateral damage that is inflicted on friends in the cause of smoking company profits.

As James VI wrote in 1604—this debate ain't new—the point is that "habitum, alteram naturam". That is, habit changes nature. Four hundred years ago, James VI identified the pernicious effects of nicotine addiction, but we are fortunate to have other views that are of more social value, such as those that are expressed in the recent NHS document. The document suggests that, in 30 years' time, the smoking ban will save 406 lives a year. I believe that to be a fairly modest estimate, but I am reminded of Napoleon's demand for poplar trees along Europe's military routes to provide shade for his soldiers from the sun as they marched to war. His generals said, "But, Napoleon, it will take 30 years before the trees are high enough to deliver a benefit." He said, "Then there's no time to waste." So it is in this case. We must plan for financial impacts, positive or negative, but what must drive us is releasing our people and their families, friends and colleagues from the scourge of the addiction inflicted by the ringmasters of evil in the employ of the tobacco industry.

The NHS report identifies possible negative impacts on the viability of smaller bars. I recently visited a bar in Burghead and had some of the issues put to me forcefully. I have a few thoughts for the secondary legislation that will follow the bill, because we must protect the small village pub, which plays an important role in local societies. First, we must hold the line on exemptions—there must be none—because that would create unfair competition. However, I might have one exemption to propose later. Secondly, we must seek proactive assistance for such enterprises before implementation, to allow them to broaden their appeal, develop new markets and directly support their customers in their efforts to reduce or eliminate their dependency on tobacco. Finally, I make the entirely personal suggestion that we should consider whether transitional business rates relief could be given for a couple of years, so that bars that can demonstrate a link between reduced trading and the smoking ban can have limited compensation.

James VI said:

"Tobacco ... hath a certaine venemous facultie ... which makes it have an Antipathie against nature".

That is true.

I close with my one suggested exemption. I believe that we should consider exempting Tory social clubs from the provisions of the bill. That would make a decisive contribution to eliminating the scourge of Tories from Scotland and Scottish society, although perhaps we should protect even the Tories from themselves.

10:17

27 April 2005

S2M-2207 Make Poverty History

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 27 April 2005

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

… … …

Make Poverty History

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2207, in the name of Des McNulty, on the make poverty history campaign 2005. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the UK Government's commitment to the millennium development goals; welcomes the First Minister's recent statement that Scotland's devolved government can contribute to international development; notes that the crucial G8 meeting will be held in Scotland in July 2005; notes with concern that the current debt crisis, trade injustice and shortcomings of aid further exacerbate poverty, inequality, the HIV/AIDS crisis and environmental degradation across the developing world; notes that, if the international community is to make poverty history, then there needs to be further co-ordinated political action by the world's governments, including the United Kingdom, aimed at trade justice, dropping the debt and providing more and better aid, and considers that the UK Government should lead the way for change and use its influence when it holds the presidency of the G8 and chairs the EU to make poverty history in 2005.

17:07

… … …

18:05

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank the Presiding Officer for squeezing me in. I will make a few, very brief points.

We should take a more radical approach to the things that we do to support the third world. First, and in our own self-interest, we could support the people who grow the crops that are used to make the drugs in our society. After all, that is a rich source of finance to our budget. The Scottish heroin industry, illegal as it is, is worth £2 billion a year. We should divert that money to support the farmers who are held captive in order to grow the raw materials for drugs.

Fuel is a great problem around the world, but many of the countries that face such problems have lots of sunlight, which is ideal for making biofuel. We could develop biofuel expertise in this country and go out and help other countries to develop their own biofuel industries. After all, biofuel can even power aircraft nowadays.

Some have suggested that poor countries can sell their CO2 emission rights to rich countries. We should stop such a proposal dead in its tracks. If we do not, we will cut off certain opportunities for poor countries, which need CO2 emissions for particular stages in their development.

Trish Godman mentioned fair trade. I think that fair trade products are great; I buy fair trade bananas all the time. However, we need a fair trade plus system in which our enterprises engage at a grass-roots level and invest in the people who produce products whose ethical and health aspects we value so much.

We must build self-sustaining economies in much of the third world, which means supporting people, not Governments. Interestingly, as the banks discovered in the squatter camps in South Africa, when money is lent to people who are poor and are not used to debt, they always pay it back. Such lending is safe and it is self-interest that takes one down such a route. For example, Freddie Laker's airline went bust because of a debt that was a fifteenth of the debt of British Airways at the time. However, British Airways did not go bust because the debtors could not and dared not pull in the debt. Third world countries should get together, pool their debt and call the first world's bluff.

18:07

S2M-2729 Financial Services Strategy

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 27 April 2005

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

… … …

Financial Services Strategy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2729, in the name of Jim Wallace, on the financial services strategy.

14:34

… … …

16:02

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by making reference to my register of interests, which shows my investment in Bank of Scotland stock—now Halifax and Bank of Scotland stock—my pension from Bank of Scotland, my investments with Scottish Provident and Standard Life, my membership of Amicus, the trade union that was party to the strategy group, my wife's pension and investments with the Royal Bank of Scotland, and my brother's continuing employment in a very senior position with that bank. Apart from that, I have no interest whatever in the debate.

Some people's credit is already overdrawn—I refer to Jamie Stone. However, in the context of this debate, the credit of this Parliament is substantial, because it was an act of this Parliament in January 1695 that established the Bank of Scotland, which opened for business on 17 July of that year. Of course, the Bank of Scotland was set up because William Paterson, a Scot, had established the Bank of England the previous year, causing a certain amount of resentment. Therefore, English interests came to Scotland to establish the Bank of Scotland together with local interests.

The initial board of the Bank of Scotland had 12 members, six English and six Scottish—very fair and very reasonable. Of course, the articles of association passed by this Parliament stated that only directors who lived in Scotland could vote at board meetings—very fair and very equitable. If only we had such rules in business today.

Our Scottish banks continue to have substantial and important international connections. The chair of the group that produced the strategy document, "Success", Susan Rice, is an American who has experience of an entirely different banking regime and brings an enormous amount to Scotland. The Executive always encourages the best team working and she has tremendously effective academic connections, as her husband is the boss of the University of Aberdeen.

Banks get involved in a range of things and I was pleased to hear the Greens refer to credit unions. They represent tremendously important grass-roots banking that we must do more to encourage. The Bank of Scotland creditably baled out a credit union in Sighthill that got into trouble because of the malfeasance of some of the people involved.

Banking is not as boring an industry as some people think. I share with members the fact that the last person to die in a duel in Scotland was the Bank of Scotland manager at Kirkcaldy. He had a dispute with one of his customers, was challenged to a duel and, foolishly, accepted the challenge and lost. The gun that killed that manager may be examined in the Bank of Scotland museum to this day.

I characterise the strategy as a bears-in-the-wood strategy, although there are a few bulls out there too. I shall explain why I so characterise it. There are a number of rules about bears. The first is that when one is making love to a bear, one stops when the bear wants one to and not a second before. The document is about the financial bears of Scotland making love to the Scottish Executive. That is excellent, but although the document articulates clearly what the banks want from the Executive, it articulates rather less clearly what the Executive wants from the banks. I repeat the first rule of bears: one stops making love to bears when they want one to.

Banks are getting engaged with Government more than they used to. As long ago as 1998, Gavin Masterton, the then treasurer of the Bank of Scotland, asked me whether he should join a Labour Government-initiated group to discuss banking. I replied, "Yes of course you should. If you don't agree with them, it's time you went and told them, and if you do, you should support them in all their efforts."

Rule 2 of the bears in the woods is important too: it is the bears' wood, not our wood, and we touch very little on what they do in the wood. The implementation plan for the first year, which was published last month and which, helpfully, is also called "Success", contains 31 objectives. I pose the question: how many of those objectives are ones that we would not have progressed anyway, given pressures from elsewhere? I am not terribly clear whether many of them are financial-services based, but, again, they illustrate perfectly the fact that the bears own the wood. There is a danger in seeming to listen to banks more than we listen to others.

The third rule of the bears in the woods is that bears leave the wood only when they are hungry. That is why the banks are now engaging with Government in Scotland.

Mr Wallace: Stewart Stevenson has presented the strategy as being solely for the banking sector; indeed he seems to think that banks and bears are synonymous—I am not sure whether there is a lot of bull there too. Will he acknowledge that, although banks are an important part of Scotland's financial services industry, the industry embraces many more sectors? Will he clarify whether he thinks that banks and bears are synonymous or whether he thinks that the woods also belong to others?

Stewart Stevenson: That is an interesting intervention. I will say that many of the objectives in the document, such as improving the mobile phone operation between Glasgow and Edinburgh, are excellent and will benefit many people apart from the banks. However, that illustrates the point that I was making: what in the document is specific to banks? Comparatively little.

Let us welcome the fact that the Government and banks are talking and listening to each other. I have a lot of time for banks, not least because of their healthy dividends—I am not ashamed to say that. I would say, though, that there are things missing from what we have before us. For example, there is nothing about the Government encouraging or promoting the establishment of funds that would enable entrepreneurs, at early stages—but after Scottish Enterprise might have helped them—to develop ideas, move ideas into production and support innovation. We do not need to rely on the state to do that, but the state's role is to facilitate, encourage and create a framework within which that might happen. That is something that we should think about.

I cannot leave the subject of bears in woods without a brief mention of bears' lavatorial habits. Bears leave their digestive waste in the woods. We must think about that in the following way. Over the past 30 years—save for five months—Scotland's interest rates have been higher than those in Germany or the euro zone. One of the interesting things is that the banks rather like that situation because, when interest rates are high, the margins between borrowing and lending on the banks' books rise, as do banks' profits. Let us not imagine that the banks' high profits are simply and solely due to their entrepreneurial skills and their focus on getting the best bang for their buck; they are also due to the choices that Governments make. The interests of banks and the interests of the public do not always wholly coincide.

It is important that Governments and banks keep talking, but we must get the banks to listen a little more closely to what Government and the public want from them and not simply listen to what the banks want from us.

16:12

21 April 2005

S2M-2708 Dental Health Services

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 21 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Dental Health Services

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2708, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on behalf of the Health Committee, on access to dental health services in Scotland.

09:16

… … …

10:49

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I note, as I am sure do other members, that the Scottish Socialist Party, the most toothless party in the Parliament, is again absent from a debate that we would expect to be of particular interest to a party that trumpets its support for the disadvantaged in society. The matter is clearly too difficult for the SSP. However, the rest of us can have a serious debate, as is right.

The Health Committee did an excellent job in commissioning much new information and data. Members know that I always pore over numbers. I am always excited when I have a new source of data on which I will be able to draw for some time.

I received a letter today from the Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care, for which I thank her, which relates to a parliamentary question that I asked about dentists per capita. She says that in certain respects the numbers

"should be treated with caution."

That is probably wise. However, a broader issue is opened up, not just for the Opposition but for the Government, which we must try to discuss. I will return to that issue.

The British Dental Association has come in for a certain amount of stick in the debate. I am not an apologist for the BDA, but the organisation makes important points. Before the minister made her announcement on 17 March, the BDA sent a submission to the Health Committee, which was considered on 22 February. The BDA said:

"The existing dental examination Item 1(a) in the Statement of Dental Remuneration is insufficient to determine the needs of patients and to identify and discuss and agree with them the care regimes they should receive as part of a modern dental service."

I agree with the BDA and I suspect that the minister also agrees with its comment.

We must accept that the minister's announcement represented a move forward. However, after she made her statement, the BDA said in its press release:

"Today's announcement does little to tackle the fundamental issues facing NHS dentistry in Scotland. The BDA's hope is that this is not the final chapter and that the Executive will continue to look at dentistry as a priority issue."

Helen Eadie highlighted that point.

There are ways in which the Executive can demonstrate its good faith in treating dentistry as a priority. The minister has heard me compare and contrast health boards' obligation to find a general medical practitioner for a patient with the situation in relation to dentists. If a patient cannot find a GP, the health board must do so. Until we place an obligation on health boards to find an NHS general dental practitioner for a patient who cannot do so themselves, the dental profession will remain the poor relation of the medical profession. Of course, currently we cannot realistically deliver on that proposal and I do not suggest that we make such a change next week. However, we must make it our objective to be in a position to be able to do so.

Mike Rumbles talked about training. On 5 September 2002, I said that we supported the

"suggestion of conducting NHS training in the north-east."—[Official Report, 5 September 2002; c 13510.]

Mike Rumbles will be rather late if he congratulates the Scottish National Party on accepting that position.

Mike Rumbles: The member knows very well that the only occasion on which the SNP's health spokesman has announced the party's support for the establishment of a third dental school in Scotland was this morning.

Stewart Stevenson: My comment of three years ago is on the record and I suggest that the member reads it.

There is particular value in training dentists in Scotland. The helpful research report, "Access to Dental Health Services in Scotland", indicates why that is the case: although 72.5 per cent of NHS dentists were born in Scotland, 88.8 per cent were trained in Scotland. The existence of dental training in Scotland is a key contributor to increasing the number of dentists available in Scotland. The 285 dentists who stayed in Scotland because they were trained here represent 16.3 per cent of NHS dentists. That is why training is so vital and why I, like Mike Rumbles, support every effort to provide additional training.

Over a time I have pursued concerns about the apparent inability to measure what is going on in NHS dentistry. There is an old management truism that what cannot be measured cannot be managed. The £150 million will help, but we do not quite know how it will help, because we are missing the figures. The minister has acknowledged that we do not have enough information on health boards to enable us to plan. That is a fair comment. However, although we pay NHS dentists by item and have statistics about how many dentists are making claims on the NHS and about dentists' activities, we seem unable to analyse the statistics and produce credible information about what is going on. I find that passing strange.

When I was elected as an MSP in 2001, I expected that there would be some privileges. Quite the most unexpected was that, for the first time in a while, I was able to get an NHS dentist, but only because I travel down to the central belt once a week and am able to get one down here. That is excellent for me but not the slightest help to my constituents.

As members know, I am one of the two mathematicians in the Parliament. A neat piece of mathematics describes the present situation: it is called catastrophe maths. It is represented by a folded curve on a graph and is illustrated by this example. If a bullet is fired from a gun, the action cannot be undone by pushing the trigger forward again; an entirely different solution is required. In a similar way, we cannot undo many years of neglect simply with money. Finding a solution will take time however much money is thrown at the problem.

A start has been made and I welcome that. However, more money is not enough. We must make the system more efficient. The Health Committee's report will give us something to chew over for some time to come—that is, for those of us who still have teeth with which to chew.

10:56

14 April 2005

S2M-2694 Skills

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Skills

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2694, in the name of Jim Wallace, on skills.

14:55

… … …

15:32

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Today's is a timely debate because the subject affects everything that happens in Scotland. Our success or failure in the matter will determine the long-term future of everyone in our country. In the absence of targets for what we are trying to achieve in our economy, it is kind of difficult to know whether we will succeed. There is an old saying: "If you don't know where you're going, you won't know whether you've got there."

The kind of targets that I and my colleagues on the SNP benches wish to see for Scotland's economy are distinctly different from those that are hinted at and suggested from the shadows by members on the Government benches. We need targets for economic activity in Scotland that exceed those for the rest of the United Kingdom in order that we can make progress because we have been underperforming relative to the rest of the United Kingdom for a number of years—we could argue about how many years.

However, targets are not the issue; delivery on targets is. We must also not be afraid of being a confident country—or of being the best small country in the world, as someone who occasionally sits on the Executive benches says—that competes within the settlement that we have currently with the other countries and areas of the United Kingdom. Competition in that context is the sin whose name must not be spoken too often, but it is time that we heard it.

I keep returning to an astonishing experience that I had when I suggested in committee that we should allow councils to set planning fees for themselves instead of telling them what they should charge. I was telt by a minister, "Oh, but we can't have competition." That attitude permeates too much of the Executive's thinking.

I turn to some of what the First Minister said today at question time. He suggested, if I heard him correctly—I think the figures sustain this—that 87 per cent of Scots graduates who take up employment do so in Scotland. That is good; the figure is higher than it has been for some time. Let us be fair and say that some progress is being made. It might also be interesting to know how long those graduates stay; to know—of the 13 per cent who are currently not taking up employment in Scotland—how many come back; and to know how many foreign people we manage to retain in Scotland. There are some numbers for that and they are modestly encouraging.

Of course, as I suggested when I intervened during Murdo Fraser's speech, it is clear that the Tories' policies would be absolutely disastrous. I do not think that the business community has quite caught up with the fact that the Tories would require any company that employs someone who has a work permit to put up half of that person's annual salary if they want to keep the person on board. If that policy were implemented, I estimate—based on the number of work permits in my constituency—that the cost to businesses in Banff and Buchan alone, which is only one of 73 constituencies, would be in excess of £1 million.

Furthermore, in relation to people who are seeking their first job, if an employer has a choice between putting up half a year's salary, which is about £9,000, given that the average graduate starting wage is £18,000, to employ someone who needs a work permit, such as a highly skilled person who came from China to study in our country—currently, just under 1,700 students from China, many of them excellent, do so—or employing someone for whom that sum need not be put up or leaving the position vacant, I think I know what the employer will do.

As members would expect, I have been looking at less obscure sources of information than the Tory party website and from those sources I see that the category of occupation that has the highest number of employees who receive training is personal services occupations, in which the figure is 50 per cent. I also see that the training rate—that is, the percentage of employees who receive any sort of training—is 43 per cent. That is all well and good, but it means that more than half of our employees are not getting in-service training. We have to consider ways of increasing that figure substantially.

In the Scottish Enterprise Grampian area, which includes the area that I represent, 24 per cent of companies expect to have recruitment problems, which is largely due to the fact that there is an inadequate skills base upon which they can draw.

I am worried about the drop in the proportion of people who are going into training and I am also concerned about something that I have been told—but have not yet confirmed—which is that colleges are having to deal with the funds that they are given in a new way, in that they must make an operating surplus to pay off capital debt and that much of the new money that they are getting is hypothecated.

There is little doubt in my mind and in the minds of my colleagues that we could do better if we had more powers. The challenge for the Government benches is to show that, with the powers that we have, we can do better than the rest of the United Kingdom. That is at best not proven, but I think the jury votes guilty.

15:38

S2M-2691 Nuclear Power

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Nuclear Power

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2691, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on nuclear power.

10:33

… … …

11:12

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I want to deal with one or two issues that have arisen in the debate, from a scientific viewpoint.

Alex Johnstone would not allow me to intervene to tell him that it is good news that the modern generation of power stations is producing only a tenth of the waste of previous ones. If we consider that the half-life of caesium and strontium isotopes, which that are at the heart of the waste that is produced, is 30 years, that reduces the period until such waste is safe by 150 years. That sounds quite encouraging until we realise that that period is a million years, and 150 years off a million years ain't a big deal, Alex.

The waste is unsafe in two ways. Proximity to the waste is the main problem—the half-life and decay after a million years deal with that—but escaping waste is the most immediate and continuing danger. The ways in which we store waste at the moment do not protect communities from escaping waste. Elaine Murray suggested that the SNP never supports wind farms. She has said that before in debate, and I have told her before that I supported the wind farm at Boyndie in my constituency. I ask her to acknowledge that the SNP supports wind farms where they are appropriately sited; where they are inappropriately sited, the SNP does not support them. I would be surprised if Elaine Murray took a different view.

We have been told that the numbers do not add up. Well, I say to quite a few people—including Elaine Murray—that on Monday I lodged 31 questions, out of a long list of possible questions I could have lodged, asking the Executive to correct number errors in its parliamentary answers. If anyone is on the record as being unable to make their sums add up, it is the ministers in the Executive.

To be positive, I point out that the key opportunity that arises from the situation in which we find ourselves is the significant amount of waste that we have produced in Scotland from our nuclear industries. We have a brilliant set of technicians working in the far north of Scotland to learn how to deal with that waste, so let us create industries that will support international efforts to deal with nuclear waste throughout the world. In future, that could be a revenue earner for Scotland, but there is also a moral issue, because there are no boundaries to the contamination that nuclear industries can cause. In the south-west of Scotland, we still have sheep that cannot be harvested for the food chain as a result of the Chernobyl incident. The time that has passed is a blink of an eye compared with the lifespan of radioactive heavy metal isotopes.

We also have opportunities to take new initiatives in renewables industries. We have lost the initiative that we had for many years in Scotland in hydroelectric power, but there are initiatives that we can take and should be taking to become world leaders in the development of wave and tidal power. We should invest in and support such initiatives now.

We must also consider low-level waste, which is based around deuterium and tritium isotopes of hydrogen, which are particularly dangerous because they can be bound with carbon and enter the human body.

There are many challenges in which we should invest. Today's debate has been useful, but I have to say that there has been much heat and very little light.

I urge members to support the SNP's motion.

11:16

13 April 2005

S2M-2689 Women Offenders

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 13 April 2005

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

… … …

Women Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The business this afternoon is a debate on motion S2M-2689, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on women offenders.

14:30

… … …

14:48

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is right that the debate should be relatively consensual, as none of us wants to lock up people unnecessarily. I will make an unlikely start to my speech. My equality credentials exceed those of the minister, as Scottish National Party members find it possible to support the motion and all the amendments and I expect my colleagues to vote accordingly. However, Mr Fox will not receive our support if our amendment is passed, purely on the mechanical basis that his amendment would delete our amendment. If our amendment is not agreed to, we will support Mr Fox's amendment.

That said, the motion and amendments in the Business Bulletin are simply words—they might enable us to agree on the broad policy direction, but that is probably all that they do. Let us start by agreeing a statement that was made previously in the Parliament:

"I suggest that the only relatively sure method of dealing with the problems associated with women in prisons is to make a significant reduction in the number of women going to prison or undergoing any kind of prison service. That should be the core policy objective."—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1774.]

The difficulty is that that was said by the Deputy Minister for Justice, Angus MacKay, on 16 December 1999. It was not said yesterday. In fact, there will be members present who have no idea whom I am speaking about, as he left the Parliament before they were elected.

How have we done? The conviction rate for females has risen a little in the most recent statistics, from nine to 10 per 100,000. That is just about the figure that it has been for 10 years. We males should not in any sense be complacent, as the conviction rate for males is 53 per 100,000. Yes, that figure is declining, but it is more than five times greater than the figure for female convictions. Crucially, however, the number of women in prisons has risen by some 50 per cent. Let us therefore not confine our assessment of the Government to its words and its motion today. We should never judge any Government simply on its words; we must judge it on its achievement and we must track that achievement.

The most recent statistical bulletin on criminal justice was published in March. It shows that, for example, 58 per cent of the crimes of indecency are committed by females—crimes related to prostitution. Interestingly, the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, which is about to be considered at stage 2 by the Justice 1 Committee, will, for the first time, create a criminal offence for the person who makes use of prostitution, although only in the limited circumstances of the prostitute being aged between 16 and 18. We should look again at prostitution and consider moving the criminal burden from the prostitute to the user of prostitutes.

An astonishing 69 per cent of offences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 are committed by women. That simply means that they are convicted because they have no television licence. The situation is interesting, as the statistics also tell us that more than half of all custodial sentences in 2003 were for three months or less and that four fifths of all custodial sentences were for six months or less—I inadvertently said 12 months in my earlier intervention. Among women, short sentences are even more prevalent. In 1999, speaking as a back-bench member, Richard Simpson said:

"The degree of recidivism—repeated minor offences—among that population"

of women prisoners

"is very substantial. Prisoners are admitted for very short sentences, often for failing to pay fines, which may have remained unpaid for a long time."—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1765.]

By 2001, fine defaulters represented more than 40 per cent of prisoner receptions in Scotland. For women, the figure is probably much higher, although, mysteriously, speaking as a minister in 2001, Richard Simpson said that only two prisoners in Cornton Vale prison were there for fine default. He may well have been right at the time, but that seems at odds with other figures.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): I do not dispute the figures—certainly not with Mr Stevenson, who tends to be good at quoting such things. Nevertheless, does he accept that some women have got into a cycle and prefer, for their own reasons, to do the time and that, therefore, the figures include women who just refuse to pay their fines?

Stewart Stevenson: The convener of the Justice 1 Committee is entirely correct on that matter. On the other hand, we have a criminal justice system that criminalises someone for not paying for a TV licence, although that is only like not paying council tax, the bill for having papers delivered to their home or a phone bill. The licence fee is a fee for the provision of a service, yet, uniquely, it is a criminal offence not to have a television licence, whereas non-payment for other services is a civil offence with civil remedies for the recovery of money. I make the constructive suggestion that the Executive might talk to colleagues at Westminster about whether, in the modern world, it is appropriate that non-payment of that specific fee, for which payment has to come out of the household budget, should, uniquely, remain a criminal offence.

Cathy Jamieson: I wonder whether the member would be interested to know that the overall figure for fine receptions in Cornton Vale in March was 26. I am led to believe that two women are in Cornton Vale today for fine default. We have had discussions in the chamber about the point that he raises. It is important to acknowledge that people in the circumstances that he describes could end up being imprisoned if they fail to pay their fines. We believe that other measures can be taken and we wish to address the issue. I hope that he will acknowledge that and give us his support.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister for the update on the figures. The fact that there were 26 fine receptions in March illustrates the problem. I am delighted to hear that there are only two women in prison for fine default. However, that suggests that those who are imprisoned for not paying their fines are in for a few days. I am not quite sure what the benefit to the prisoner or wider society is of putting people in prison for a week or a fortnight, because the Scottish Prison Service cannot offer them anything in that time. If the Executive takes action on that, it will have our support.

Some of our women prisoners are in the wrong place. The issue is not just about Cornton Vale. Craiginches prison has a small female wing; it is doing its best and is improving on its previously dismal record. Given that it is a local jail, the inmates have the advantage of being closer to their families, so the disconnection is less than it would be otherwise. However, by being in a small unit in a general jail, of which Craiginches is one example, inmates are denied the specialist support that might be provided by a specialist jail—the minister will know that I am a great fan of specialisation.

I acknowledge that Cornton Vale has made progress. In 1998, Andrew McLellan's predecessor, Mr Fairweather, described it as a casualty clearing station, a psychiatric ward and an addictions clinic. Yes, we are making progress, but it is clear that there is much more to do. In 2001, in a debate that my colleague Roseanna Cunningham initiated, the Executive said clearly and unambiguously that we were giving paramouncy to what prisons do over what prisons cost. I hope that that remains the case.

I visited the 218 centre in Glasgow and was impressed by what it was doing; we certainly need more centres. I know that its work has been praised beyond Scotland. We also need to do more to ensure that sheriffs make greater use of non-custodial sentences. There is an upfront cost in moving from prison to community disposals, but the long-term benefits are both financial and societal.

For those whom we lock up, we have to ensure that we do better things while they are in prison. I visited the women's wing of Bapaume prison near Paris about three years ago and found that the industrial activity there was relevant and interesting; the women were making baby-changing mats and could imagine other mothers using their work and they had a real-life office in which they were acquiring skills. That was all terrific. We must focus on equipping people who get into the criminal justice system with new skills by ensuring that the system re-lifes offenders, so that victims will not relive their hurt as crimes are repeated. We are happy to support the Executive motion.

I move amendment S2M-2689.1, to insert at end:

", coupled with the necessary resources for the Scottish Prison Service, local authorities and voluntary organisations to enable them to make their contribution to achieving this goal."

14:58

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