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26 May 2005

S2M-2770 Rural and Special Needs Schools (Aberdeenshire)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 May 2005

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

… … …

Rural and Special Needs Schools (Aberdeenshire)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2770, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the proposed closure of rural and special needs schools in Aberdeenshire. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the proposals by Aberdeenshire Council to close or amalgamate a number of local schools; recognises the strength of feeling amongst parents and the wider community over the implications of closing those schools, as illustrated by the formation of the Garioch Schools Action Group and other local campaigns; notes in particular the proposal to close St Andrew's school in Inverurie, a school that is widely recognised as providing an excellent educational environment for children with special needs; recognises the opposition to the current proposals by local parents at St Andrew's who are genuinely concerned by the impact some of the options proposed by Aberdeenshire Council will have on their children; notes the ongoing confusion over the exact nature of the local authority's proposals which is causing considerable distress amongst parents; believes that Aberdeenshire Council must make available to parents all the necessary information in relation to all those schools proposed for closure as part of the current consultation process; considers that Aberdeenshire Council should recognise the strength of the arguments put forward by parents and the wider community for the retention of their local schools, and further considers that the Scottish Executive should play what role it can to ensure that Aberdeenshire Council's proposals do not damage the educational welfare of the children and wider interests of the community.

16:14

… … …

16:44

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I recall the briefing to which Mr Rumbles referred. It may come as a surprise to him but, given the inability of Richard Lochhead to attend, I ensured that what happened and what was said at the meeting was shared with my colleagues.

Mike Rumbles: So that is what went on.

Stewart Stevenson: That is as members would expect. I suggest to Mike Rumbles that we do not make this a party-political issue-

Mike Rumbles: Oh dear.

Stewart Stevenson:—unless he wishes it to be one.

The core of what matters is the parents and the children who are affected by the plans. They are, in large part, affected beneficially. In some areas, however, that is less clearly the case. In that spirit, I welcome in particular the St Andrew's School parents, who have joined us in the public gallery to watch the debate. Because the time of the debate was brought forward, they were not able to be here for it all. I hope that, now that we will finish somewhat earlier than planned and the minister has some spare time, he might be able, as a courtesy to the parents who have travelled down here to see us, to spare them a few minutes after the debate, so that we can actually engage ministers and parents. Parents at St Andrew's and other schools who want to influence the outcome of Aberdeenshire's options and plans have conducted their campaigns in an excellent, professional and reasoned way throughout the shire.

There are people in my constituency who, like people in Inverurie, will be dancing in the streets tonight following some of today's proposed changes by the education committee of Aberdeenshire Council. A number of closures are proposed for my constituency. They are, by and large, sensible and respond to the demographic changes that have taken place. In one case, the council is closing a school that had an open roofless toilet for its children, which is absolutely unsustainable in the modern world. Such responses to changing circumstances are entirely appropriate.

In the brief time that is available to me, I want to say a few words about Longhaven School, south of Peterhead, where the case for closure is not as strong by any means. In fact, its closure was considered among the options only because of a slightly loose remark, or rather a question, by a local councillor—no names, no pack drill; this is not the time for that. That councillor asked why Longhaven was not one of the schools that were being considered for closure. It did not come under the initial considerations, although it ended up being recommended for closure.

That decision is a great mystery to parents and to me. The grounds for the school's closure relate to the state of the building, yet there is no evidence that it is inappropriate. It has had money spent on it in recent years, and I have visited it a number of times. Not only that, but the council has given a near six-figure sum to redevelop the village hall, which is located just a few feet from the school. Facilities are shared by the two buildings, and those improvements were required for the school. I hope that, when the full council considers the issues around Longhaven School, it is able to reconsider the case that parents have advanced and to examine more carefully whatever proposal the parents end up wanting to include among the options.

Dialogue has been mentioned in the debate. The issue of Longhaven School was voted on without any of the proponents of including the option of closure even speaking for their proposal. We need dialogue on Longhaven School. I welcome the fact that, elsewhere in Aberdeenshire, there is delight at the changes that are being made. I congratulate Richard Lochhead on bringing us the opportunity to consider—I hope objectively—this important issue.

16:49

National Health Service (Age Discrimination)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 May 2005

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

… … …

National Health Service
(Age Discrimination)

… … …

11:09

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): When we see discrimination against older citizens in the NHS, we often see a reflection of broader, societal discrimination against older people. I make no particular criticism of the Executive's policies on discrimination against older people, but I share with all members a concern about the implementation of those policies and the practices of some people in some parts of the NHS.

One of the most moving examples of the contribution to society that people who are nearing the end of their life can make was the art that Rikki Fulton produced in the final few months of his life, when he was suffering from Alzheimer's, which was auctioned recently. That vividly brings home to us that the fact that someone is decaying in their mental or physical abilities does not mean that the inner person or their ability to continue to contribute to wider society is also decaying.

I was interested to note Mike Rumbles's fervent support for the debate. Of course, he is older than Nicol Stephen, so we can understand why he supports there being no discrimination against older people.

The word "discrimination" has been widely used. Carolyn Leckie's amendment says:

"urgent action needs to be taken to remove all forms of age discrimination within the NHS."

Richard Baker used similar language. Even the SNP motion calls for

"an independent inquiry into direct and indirect age discrimination".

All those references to removing discrimination, including that which is made in the SNP motion, are wrong, in the sense that we want discrimination—we want positive discrimination to support old people's issues. I hope that, as the debate draws to a conclusion, widespread agreement on that will emerge. We are talking about adverse discrimination. We must be careful about the shorthand that we use.

In wider society and in the NHS, we must respect the wishes—both negative and positive—of all our citizens. We should take account both of what they want to happen and what they want to avoid. The NHS is an institution that has power over life and death and over the quality of people's life and the quality of their death. Although I have not yet considered the matter in great depth, I would be most concerned if Mr Purvis's bill were to make health professionals party to anything that would appear to accelerate people's deaths. That issue must be examined.

I have a good story about the care of old people that I will share with members. During her final illness, my late mother-in-law received care in St John's hospital in West Lothian that was exceptionally good, to the extent that she was brought a glass of whisky every night so that she would sleep well. It was indeed the water of life—uisge-beatha.

I am dying; I do not know where, when or how I will die, but I know that I am dying. The old gave us the potential to be what we want to be. We must put service to our elderly before our interests and must ensure that we discriminate in favour of the elderly.

11:14

Subject Debate: Student and Graduate Debt

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 May 2005

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

Student and Graduate Debt

… … …

09:58

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In law, the ending of debt results in the legal status of "satisfaction". Would that things were so simple beyond the reach of the law in real life. Debt is the most powerful of slaveries. It is little wonder that the money lenders were the first people to be thrown out of the temple.

However, without debt, the modern world would not exist. The folding green stuff in our pockets represents a debt—the nice kind, which is the kind that the bank owes us. The notes tell us that the banks

"promise to pay the bearer".

Further, does not the slang phrase, "money in the bank" bring a warm glow to the heart of the beneficiary?

This Government, however, views provision of education not as a societal duty but as a commercial transaction. Because the individual benefits from education, the Government believes that the individual should buy that benefit. That attacks the roots of our society. Implementation of the Government's policy has had what I hope are unintended consequences.

The issue that we are discussing is a women's issue. I take this opportunity to congratulate two of the members who have so far spoken in this debate on the fact that they are not wearing dark suits. Every one of us, apart from Fiona Hyslop and Tommy Sheridan, represent a small and privileged minority and, with one exception, are men. To further illustrate the ways in which this issue is a women's issue, I will give some examples. By the time she retires, the debt of a female dentist—more than half the dentists who graduate are women—who works half-time for 25 years of her working life will have risen from the £18,000 that she started with to £40,000. The interest keeps racking up and, at 9 per cent under £22,000, the debt increases rather than decreases. Similarly, the debt of a female part-time primary teacher who works for 22 hours a week for 25 years will have risen to £40,000 by the time she retires. However, a person who gets elected to the Scottish Parliament at the age of 30 after having been a political researcher will have paid off their debt by the age of 40.

I must also encourage Duncan McNeil to be more accurate. Only one third of school leavers go to university; half of school leavers go into further and higher education combined. We must use language carefully.

We like to believe that, when we pass on our knowledge and skills to the next generation, we benefit society as a whole, not just the individuals who we have entrusted with our futures. Are we to become the only mammals on the planet who transmit our inheritance to our offspring conditionally, who refuse to equip our children with the skills that they need to forage, hunt and survive in the modern world unless they pay us, post hoc, for the privilege? I prefer morality to utility and a moral duty to educate over a commercial transaction. I choose liberation from want, freedom from ignorance and the avoidance of state debt for our next generation.

10:02

25 May 2005

S2M-2553 Skin Disease

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 25 May 2005

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

… … …

Skin Disease

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business this evening is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2553, in the name of Kenneth Macintosh, on action on skin disease. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the stigma, frustration and desperation felt by many people with skin disease, including residents in East Renfrewshire; points out that conditions such as psoriasis are lifelong and incurable but are eminently treatable; highlights the benefit of having skin disease classified as a chronic condition; raises concern that skin disease is not a priority under the new GP contract; welcomes the new provision of specialist retraining in skin disease for nurses but points to the need for similar training for other health professionals such as pharmacists and GPs, given that 20% of GP consultations include skin disease, including an emphasis on skin conditions in the undergraduate education and training of health professionals; approves the Skin Action Scotland service redesign programme as an opportunity for clinicians to test new ways of accessing and delivering dermatology out-patient services and to better demonstrate and define the current relationship between demand and capacity, and looks to see greater availability to patients of new treatments with strong evidence of effectiveness such as the new biological treatments for psoriasis and the complications of arthritis.

17:11

… … …

17:19

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing a debate on this important subject. I apologise on behalf of Shona Robison, who unfortunately is unable to be with us owing to a conflict in her diary. It is not lack of interest but logistics that mean that she is not here today.

I have a very personal interest in skin disease. If I explain that as a child my heroes were Pete Murray and Hank Marvin, members might get a faint clue as to what I am talking about. Both those media stars suffered from quite disfiguring post-acne scarring on their faces.

I suffered from the most horrific acne as an adolescent and continue to do so. Fortunately, in my case it is on my torso rather than on my face. Some of the treatments that I experienced over a period of approximately 10 years have left their effects on me today: I am infertile and have very short legs and small feet. That is fine, because my small feet are the smallest size so I can always get shoes in the sales—it is not all bad news. One has sometimes to be philosophical about the deal that life gives one, but other people are not always so well equipped to respond and adapt to what skin disease deals them.

Consider some of the social history of the human race: we always admired milk maids historically because they had clear and perfect complexions because they were exposed to cowpox so they did not get the disfiguring pustules and scarring that many other people in our community got through exposure to smallpox. That illustrates our instinctive response, over a long period of time, to people who have skin conditions. That is why it is so important, for their psychological and physical health and for society as a whole, that we provide for people with a variety of disfigurements that arise from skin conditions.

As Ken Macintosh said, skin cancer is an important issue for one of the body's major organs: the skin. We do not think of it as an organ, yet we would be lost without it. It is not an organ that we can cut off or amputate: we have to have it.

I have recently, in later life, become episodically subject to another skin condition: urticaria. In becoming exposed once again to the medical profession in relation to a skin condition, I have had reinforced what Ken Macintosh and some of the briefing papers that we have received said: there is no great in-depth understanding in the primary health care service of skin conditions and their identification. I was lucky because my GP has a particular interest, but he shared with me his thought that that situation is quite exceptional. I visited my GP after I had had that rather irritating condition for several months. He had a student with him, so I suspect that we spent more time than we might have done on what would otherwise have been dismissed as a relatively trivial condition.

The effects of urticaria are widespread, but I will close by referring to one fact that I uncovered in relation to the condition from which I suffered for many years, which is that people who have acne, or who had acne and have scarring from it, are far more likely to be unemployed as adults. Therefore, it is not simply a trivial adolescent condition. Skin conditions can affect people for their whole lives. I hope that the minister will be able to tell us that she will crank up the support for people who suffer from a range of skin conditions. I look forward to hearing what she has to say on this important topic.

17:24

19 May 2005

S2M-2825 Voluntary Sector and the Social Economy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 19 May 2005

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

… … …

Voluntary Sector and the Social Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2825, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the voluntary sector and the social economy.

… … …

16:14

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Parliament should be one place that has an intimate and deep understanding of volunteering. I hope that none of us was elected to this place without undertaking at least some voluntary work for our respective political parties before qualifying for selection as a candidate. If the Parliament is not the place for an informed debate about volunteering, it would be hard to find such a place. If we leave entirely aside relatively minor differences about the motion and the amendments, we all point broadly in the same direction and bring our experience and contribution to the debate.

I volunteer far too often. This is my 197th parliamentary speech—that might be too many for members and for me, too.

We have had a bit of a hang-up in the debate about definitions. An important point about definitions is that they can be walls that constrain a subject. If something does not fall inside the walls, it does not fall inside the definition. It would be better for us to think of definitions as scaffolding that enables us to navigate to different points in a topic. I hope that we will take such an approach.

For example, when Patrick Harvie was here, he talked about profit. My view about profit is slightly different from his—I do not measure profit just by the folding stuff in my hip pocket. Profit concerns what is delivered back. That may be measured in money, in lives that have been saved or in the personal development of individuals.

Mark Ballard: I will speak for Patrick Harvie, who apologised for having to leave. Does Stewart Stevenson agree that profit is key for many social enterprises? If they are funded only for project work, they have no opportunity to develop reserves, to innovate and to go beyond the work that they have been asked to do. Profit is the key to allowing them flexibility and sustainability.

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that I do not really disagree, although I would not call money profit in that context. It is interesting that the Greens take a more fundamentalist view of money than I do, which is slightly unexpected. However,

we will not worry about that, because we do not really disagree.

A slightly different expression of the sector's financial value is that it has £1,000 of assets per head of population in Scotland, which amounts to £5 billion. That is an effective and real measure of what is going on.

The Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill that is going through Parliament gives us another insight. As part of my research, I found more than 500 charities with addresses in my constituency. I know that others are active in my constituency but for legal reasons happen to have their head offices in Aberdeen, so they fell through my filter. The number of charities is huge.

What the voluntary sector does is extremely diverse. SCVO figures show that arts and sports account for 17 per cent of activity, that work with children and families accounts for 18 per cent and that community development and social enterprise account for 13 per cent. The SCVO has provided excellent information for us.

We cannot run organisations without income, of which trading, rents and investments provide nearly half—45 per cent. I will consider the sources of funding for the SCVO's panel. I commend the Scottish Executive for increasing its funding by 8 per cent from 2003-04, but we should put that in context. Local authorities did better and increased their funding by 10 per cent. The percentage of household expenditure on donations is only part of the funding but is nonetheless interesting. It rose from 1.5 per cent in 1998 to 2000 to 2 per cent in 2001 to 2003, which is a 33 per cent increase. Well as the Executive is doing, it is clear that it can do more.

The Executive is considering its position on the Big Lottery Fund. From an entirely personal point of view—this is not my party's position—I deeply regret the fact that so many organisations rely on what I regard as the immoral industry of gambling. Furthermore, much of that gambling money is taken from our poorest communities. On a practical level, I am far from convinced that the lottery is of any real benefit.

Volunteer Development Scotland makes the interesting point that it wants volunteers to be properly supported in their management and leadership roles. When we volunteer, we gain a great deal. As John Farquhar Munro said, we become well-trained. However, having looked through the 951 Scottish vocational qualifications, I see that no SVQ relates directly to volunteering. Perhaps we could encourage more young people to make a contribution if they could also gain that benefit. Volunteering can become a habit—an absolutely excellent habit.

Let me end by commending a slightly unusual organisation. The Mozilla Foundation is a worldwide organisation that develops software for public use at no cost. It is a tremendous thing. I have discarded all Bill Gates's rubbish and I now use Mozilla for browsing the web and for word processing. Some 50 million copies of the Mozilla internet browser have just been delivered to people around the world at no cost. Volunteers can do big things as well as small things; we must support them to do both.

16:21

S2M-2824 Serious Organised Crime

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 19 May 2005

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

… … …

Serious Organised Crime

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2824, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on tackling serious organised crime and developing strategic partnerships.

09:49

… … …

11:21

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the opportunity to debate this important subject. Like Bill Aitken, I welcome the relative consensus that has been reached. The disagreements between and within parties are largely about implementation and detail, rather than broad principles. On that basis, the Scottish National Party will find it perfectly possible to support the Executive motion, while hoping that members of all parties will favour the strengthening of the motion by agreeing to our amendment.

I particularly welcome Elish Angiolini's speech, which touched on the essence of our amendment, because it demonstrated that distinctive and separate contributions must be made by politicians and law officers. It is excellent that law officers make significant contributions to the debate and interact with members of the Parliament, to listen and to inform. Of course, the Scottish law officers and legal system must be maintained at an appropriate distance from political interference. I suspect that any discussion of the matter that we have will be of a minor nature and not of great moment.

I always listen to Bill Aitken with care and interest, although I do not always agree with him.

However, I do agree with his comment that it would be wrong to pretend that there is any great division among members in the debate. I also agree with his call for more co-operation across jurisdictions and police authorities throughout the world. I have a minor disagreement; if Bill Aitken were to search for volunteers in the Parliament and elsewhere to help to return Glasgow to being a city with a pub that has no beer, he might receive some offers of assistance, especially if he is paying.

The work-up approach to which Mr Aitken referred, the Tory amendment's call for a "zero-tolerant attitude" and the references to New York are beguilingly attractive, but the approach might cause genuine difficulties. Zero tolerance had successes when it was implemented in parts of New York, but the difficulty is that, like soap in the bath, crime might simply have been squeezed out, to adjacent parts of the east coast of the United States of America. I do not criticise zero tolerance; I merely put into perspective the inevitable limitations of the approach. However, sacred cows are even now being slaughtered in Delhi, as the authorities in that city try to deal with the serious problems that they cause, so perhaps we should reconsider the things that we hold dear, which might be inhibiting our ability to look afresh at our problems.

It has been suggested that we consider the weed-and-seed approach. I am not staking my personal credibility on the suggestion, but we should think about it, because it offers an interesting way of considering aspects of the criminal justice system.

Clearly, some people must be put in prison. They are so dangerous, and are such significant players in the industry that is criminality, that prison is the only place that allows us to protect society from them.

The view that too many people are in prison is shared. The suggestion has been made that communities could be offered the chance to choose people to take out of prison, who would be accepted into the communities in exchange for the money that it would have cost to keep them in prison. That money would then be spent on community projects. It is an interesting idea. It has the benefit of engaging members of the public in supporting communities and making them safer and clearer of criminality.

Annabel Goldie for the Tories said that we should increase security at our major ports, but that just takes us back to the New York argument. If we make it more difficult for people and things to come into this country through our major ports, they might just come in through our minor ports—or, indeed, through no port at all. A person has only to give one hour's notice, and does not need any permission, before arriving anywhere in Scotland from anywhere in the European Union. That involves only customs; the person does not have to tell immigration. As a private pilot, I can land in any field in Scotland from any country in the European Union without telling immigration first. That is the legal position. I am required only to give customs one hour's notice, which I can give en route. I do not need permission.

Therefore, we cannot solve problems by hermetically sealing boundaries. That approach might lead to improvements, but it will not solve the problems. The key is international cooperation, reaching out beyond our boundaries to work with others of good will who want to tackle international crime.

I have learned something this week. It had slightly puzzled me that hoodies had become a big issue. I knew that farmers were always very concerned about hoodies at this time of year, because they pick out the eyes of newly born lambs and pick over the entrails of dead sheep. To me, a hoodie has always been a variety of crow, but I now realise that hoodies are regarded as a source of serious crime in some urban areas. Therefore, I have become more informed as a result of my preparation for this debate.

The debate reminds us that crime, in economic terms, is a perfect market. In other words, if trading conditions in one part of the criminal industry become more difficult, criminals will simply move to another part. That is why we welcome any efforts to beef up the agencies that deal with the very senior criminals who are responsible for so much misery in society.

Kenny MacAskill said that a lot of manufacturing of drugs takes place in the United States; it is just the raw material that comes from Colombia. I visited Colombia some years ago and it is a quite frightening place to be. I visited a friend who ran a textile manufacturing plant just outside Bogotá. He kept a loaded shotgun behind every door of his house, his wife was not allowed to answer the door on any occasion whatever and he had put barricades at all the corners of the building to prevent ram-raids. He was a person working in a very innocent industry, but his situation typified the fear and difficulties of ordinary people living in a country that has been captured by international crime.

We are capturing increasing amounts of the assets of the wholesalers in the drug industry, and that is welcome. However, if we consider Scottish banks and note that they have a turnover of between £20 trillion and £80 trillion a day but issue just over one thousand million banknotes, we see an obvious difference between the amount of the actual folding stuff that we are all familiar with and the amount of stuff that goes through computers. I raised that issue in an earlier intervention.

Communication is changing in the modern world. When the Greeks sent ships out to their empire, it took three months to get an answer back. The Romans used hilltop signalling; they could exchange a message between London and Rome in a single day. Today we have the internet and we measure communication in milliseconds.

We on the side of good have to be as adept as the criminals at exploiting new technologies. For too long, they have set the agenda; now we must set it. All of us in the chamber must share responsibility and offer support for that.

11:30

12 May 2005

S2M-2794 Scotland's Veterans

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 12 May 2005

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

... ... ...

Scotland's Veterans

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2794, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on commemorating Scotland's veterans.

14:57

... ... ...

16:14

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Much of war is about very hard choices and the agony of making them. On Saturday, I was at the RAF Banff memorial at Boyndie, with Polish, Canadian and our own air services personnel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the final mission flown from RAF Banff. With the wee cup of tea and other stimulants that we had afterwards I heard a poignant tale, which I had not heard before, about the death of a young boy when Fraserburgh, in my constituency, was bombed. It turns out that he was almost a victim of friendly fire. A Norwegian, under the influence of the Nazis occupying his country, was sent to Scotland by submarine and landed near Fraserburgh as an enemy agent. Immediately upon landing he contacted the British authorities and offered to work for them. He remained in place as an agent for the Germans, but worked on our behalf for a number of years. The Germans had to deliver to him a new radio and supplies, for which the bombing of Fraserburgh was a cover. Of course, the agony for those who were making decisions on our side of the war was that they knew that the bombing would happen, but did not dare do anything to defend Fraserburgh, because it would compromise the contribution that that brave Norwegian, working as a double agent, was making to the war effort. A young boy—the only casualty of the bombing of Fraserburgh—was the price that was paid. That was the kind of hard choice that I hope we rarely, if ever, have to make again.

Helen Eadie mentioned visiting a war grave in Thailand. I commend the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and point to its website, which has photographs and lists of casualties from around the world. I know of many families who have used that resource to see where their loved ones have ended up with their memorial and where they fell. Many of the graves are beyond the realistic reach of relatives and friends who might want to travel to see them.

I was in Burma in 1978, which was in chaos at the time. Every street corner in Rangoon had an armed submachine-gun post. One hotel operated next to the presidential palace around which was a ring of tanks facing outwards. I was inside the ring, protected along with the president for the two days that I was there. The one place that worked north of Rangoon was the Commonwealth war graves. All the grass was cut to exactly the same height—12mm—the book of remembrance was in pristine condition and the graves were kept in apple-pie order. Nothing else in that country worked, but our servicemen and women were honoured.

Many of our civilians have contributed to the war effort. My aunt Daisy was a canary; she worked in a munitions factory and lost the middle finger of her left hand. She carried, in a relatively minor way by comparison with other sacrifice, the memory of her contribution. Many others did likewise and many paid a much higher price. My great, great, great grandfather served in the navy. He was on HMS Medway from 1780 to 1782—I have his certificate of discharge. We will all find papers about our family military history.

Herman Himmler died on 15 October 1946 at his own hand, two hours after I was born—he obviously knew what was coming and took the easy way out before I, and others, got to him.

In Moscow in 1972 I met a thrice decorated hero of the Soviet Union who was a KGB general and, interestingly, a Jew. We had little in common in language, but what the interpreter was able to tell me about his experience at the battle of Stalingrad was deeply moving. Around the world, people have made sacrifices.

Barra is one of my favourite parts of Scotland. It is where we have probably the most modern of our war memorials. It stands on the hill above Castlebay, to the west of the town. The memorial is a triangular obelisk and 132 names—from an island with a population of 1,200 people—are engraved on its granite. There is a cemetery down the hill on the west coast in which German sailors rest. They were the losers, were on the wrong side and were conscripted by fascists and therefore are not remembered as our people are.

Our remembrance nowadays is primarily an emotional matter—we want to register our debt of gratitude to our veterans. The issue is not administrative, but administratively we must ensure that we can support the march and celebration in Edinburgh, for example. There must be no constraints in respect of police power and resources to make that march and celebration a success.

There are 3,500 people in Scots regiments today. Some 57,000 died in the war. We are but grains of sand on the beach beaten by the ocean waves of war. Without the grains of sand there would be no beach and without the beach, there would be no land. Without the land, we would be overwhelmed and we would have nowhere to live. Our duty now is to win the peace for all those who gave us a peace to win.

16:21

11 May 2005

S2M-2367 A90 Upgrade

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 11 May 2005

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

… … …

A90 Upgrade

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2367, in the name of Nanette Milne, on a call for action on the A90. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite those members who are leaving the chamber to do so as efficiently, quickly and quietly as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the number of road accidents on the A90 north of Aberdeen between Tipperty and Balmedie; further notes the significant number of new houses in and around the Ellon area which have added to the high volumes of traffic on this already congested road, and considers that the Scottish Executive should take action to upgrade this stretch of road as a matter of extreme urgency.

17:03

… … …

17:23

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Presiding Officer, I got a signal that I could take 20 minutes for my speech—I will see what I can do.

As the member for Banff and Buchan, I open by gently advising some on the Conservative benches not to talk down Banff and Buchan. The case for improved transport into the north-east of Scotland is not based on the narrow self-interest of the people and businesses of the area, although they would undoubtedly benefit; it is much more substantial than that. We are a net contributor to the economy of Scotland and it is to the detriment of Scotland if the area is not invested in to enable us to raise our game even further. Indeed, in 1987, when my colleague Alex Salmond was elected, unemployment in the Banff and Buchan constituency was 1.2 times the Scottish average; today it is 0.4 times the Scottish average. Under Alex Salmond's benevolent leadership or dictatorship—call it what we will—we have exploited the opportunities with which nature, business and the climate have presented us. That might not be entirely down to Alex Salmond, but it certainly is in some part. However, we demand the opportunity to make even more of a contribution, and it is that on which I base my speech. There are challenges in Banff and Buchan, but there are also opportunities, which are much more important.

In that vein, I do not limit my ambitions in the way in which Nanette Milne does. I thank her for the opportunity for the debate, which is welcome. However, I think that we should have a dual carriageway all the way to Fraserburgh, not one that stops at the small town of Peterhead, although of course Peterhead is a very important town.

At last there has been some slight progress on the northern part of the A90. Today I received information about the Hatton bends tender. In the debate five years ago, Alex Salmond welcomed the commitment of the Executive to doing that work. The tender will go out on 26 May and the work will start on 22 August and continue for 45 weeks. Let us hope that the interruption is not too much.

The Minister for Transport (Nicol Stephen): The member has stolen my speech.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry if I have stolen the minister's speech, but I have shown how we in Banff and Buchan are well wired into what is going on. We will be better wired in with better roads.

Some statistics on injuries and deaths will help to anchor the debate. Between 1999 and 2003, six fatalities per year occurred in Aberdeen, whereas 25 per year took place in Aberdeenshire. That is despite the fact that the populations of the two areas are broadly similar, albeit that Aberdeenshire's is slightly bigger. Research shows that 50 per cent of accidents happen within two miles of home, so the problem is perhaps even more significant than that ratio would suggest. The total number of accidents for the period is 556 in Aberdeenshire and 424 in Aberdeen. Those figures demonstrate, perhaps not conclusively but illustratively, the nature of the problem.

After BEAR Scotland Ltd took over the maintenance of the part of the A90 that is the subject of tonight's debate, as well as the other parts of that road, some important issues became apparent that people had not previously realised. For example, BEAR had not realised that the A90 north of Aberdeen was the only part of its empire in which no alternative transport medium was available. Whereas every other bit of trunk road that BEAR was given connected places that, in the event of the road being blocked, could be accessed by railway, no railway goes to Ellon, Peterhead or Fraserburgh. Much though I might like such a railway to be built, I suspect that the cost benefit ratio would make it unreasonable for me to demand one. However, once the Borders railway opens, mine will be the only parliamentary constituency in Scotland with neither an airport nor a railway. That illustrates a key point.

The fact that only a single carriageway goes to Peterhead produces effects that not all people might realise. For example, I am told that the speed limit on single carriageways for heavy goods vehicles is 40mph. Therefore, such vehicles travel at only two thirds of the speed at which they could travel if they were on a dual carriageway. That not only slows down commercial traffic to its detriment but increases the likelihood that queues of cars will build up, the drivers of which experience tremendous frustration. Frustration is one of the key causes of accidents. The minister might care to think about that issue.

Alex Salmond said in the debate in 2000:

"I greatly welcome the progress on the Hatton bends ... I welcome the minister's commitment to the project."—[Official Report, 10 May 2000; Vol 6, c 496.]

It has, indeed, been a sair fecht and a long time.

I find it slightly ironic—as a mathematician, I always notice these things—that the debate on that day was on motion number S1M-737, in the name of David Davidson. In the north-east, we ain't jetting our way to a new transport infrastructure. If the Minister for Transport can tell us different, he will have our eternal gratitude.

17:28

S2M-2762 Rehabilitation in Prisons

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 11 May 2005

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

… … …

Rehabilitation in Prisons

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2762, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on behalf of the Justice 1 Committee, on its report on its inquiry into the effectiveness of rehabilitation in prisons, which is its third report in 2005.

15:37

… … …

16:52

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Given that I speak as the deputy convener of the Justice 1 Committee, I will start on a consensual note by highlighting one thing on which the deputy minister and I clearly have exactly the same policy: we both went to the hairdresser this week to let the sun in at the top.

I hope that colleagues will not misunderstand me when I say that I know many people who are currently in prison—of course, they are mainly staff rather than prisoners. On an administrative matter, I know that the convener of the committee, Pauline McNeill, had to leave the debate early. There was no discourtesy intended; she had a long-arranged meeting with a minister. Sometimes parliamentary business fights against such things. I know that she and other members of the committee will read the Official Report carefully. We thank all those who contributed to the debate; everyone has said something worth listening to.

The committee has received responses to its report from both the SPS and the Executive. I will examine those responses and consider the extent to which they address what the committee said in its report and what was said in the debate today. The SPS's initial response—as it is described—states:

"in custodial settings ... imprisonment - and particularly short-term imprisonment - tends to make things worse rather than better".

There is broad consensus on that. It also states:

"Rehabilitation requires the willing and indeed consistent co-operation of the offender if it is to make a difference."

The committee's report is about rehabilitation in prison, although it became apparent almost at once that rehabilitation could not, must not and shall not finish at the prison gates. Indeed, prison is merely an opportunity to commence rehabilitation; certainly in only a very few instances is it the opportunity to complete rehabilitation. Therefore, we must not raise overly our expectations about what the Prison Service can do on its own. Indeed, the response from the SPS makes the point that

"offence-specific work is ... positive ... for a whole raft of reasons, though the impact on subsequent recidivism is likely to be marginal."

That reflects the reality of the situation. As Kenny MacAskill and others have said, prison is not rehabilitation in itself; it is merely an opportunity to start the process of rehabilitation.

The committee's report has a significant number of recommendations, although I might argue with the SPS's belief that there are 35 of them. The SPS makes the fair point that implementing all the recommendations will require the investment of additional money that it does not currently have. Perfectly properly, what the committee has done has been ambitious, but we have not imposed undue constraints by setting timetables for the implementation of all the recommendations. I hope that the recommendations will stand the test of time, will be prioritised and will, over time, be resourced to ensure that they are implemented.

The SPS says that it will need to evaluate the impact of implementing the recommendations to determine the likely value for money of each proposal. We cannot gainsay that. The effect of implementing many of the recommendations—and, indeed, of doing many of the things that we do in the criminal justice system—is extremely long term. We will not know whether we have made real differences for, perhaps, a decade. However, within that decade, we must make decisions that assume that the interventions that we are going to make will have particular effects. We must not draw back from acting on a number of the recommendations in the report if the consensus is that they will deliver value, even if there is currently an absence of objective, factual feedback that says that they will definitely work. We have to go forward on the basis of believing that they will work and we have to test that belief against the information that becomes available over time.

I welcome the fact that—if I have read the SPS's response correctly—the task force of the international round-table for correctional excellence is chaired by the SPS. That shows leadership on the part of the SPS.

The SPS and others will know that I have not always been the firmest friend of the Prison Service. However, when I kick lumps off it, I do not deny that many excellent things are done in the service. I welcome the fact that Alec Spencer and Tom Fox are at the back of the chamber, listening carefully to what we have been saying today.

The SPS's response makes observations about the complex interactions that exist in relation to reconviction data. That is absolutely factual and we must be careful in that regard. The response adumbrates a number of reviews.

The Executive's response to the committee's report is perhaps not entirely clear in relation to what we said about literacy and numeracy. It refers to the learning for life programme. I hope that that programme is addressing the committee's concerns in that regard. I think that it probably is.

The Executive makes the rather bold claim that the SPS believes that an outcome of the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill will be the elimination of offending behaviour. Would that I could accept that that is true.

As the minister said, 6,808 people were in prison last night. However, let us not forget that that means that 5 million people were not in prison last night. When we put people in prison, we do so for the benefit of those 5 million others. Furthermore, although most people in our prisons come from our most impoverished communities, we must never forget that the overwhelming majority of people in those communities are law abiding and deserve our support.

I close by repeating the obvious. Rehabilitation can start in prison, but in our efforts we must ensure that there is continuity of rehabilitation from prison, through release and into the community, for as long as it takes.

17:00

4 May 2005

S2M-2726 Supporting Local Producers

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 4 May 2005

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

... ... ...

Supporting Local Producers

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2726, in the name of Shiona Baird, on supporting local producers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the launch of the new farmers' market at Stonehaven as a welcome addition to the many thriving markets in the north east of Scotland; acknowledges the continuing popularity and growth of farmers' markets, "box" schemes and community-supported agriculture initiatives across the whole of Scotland; recognises that many consumers are becoming increasingly selective about what they eat and are now consciously rejecting mass-produced, remotely-sourced food in favour of fresh seasonal produce that is grown or reared locally; congratulates local farmers and producers for establishing a range of enterprising initiatives to respond to growing consumer demand for such produce in their areas, and considers that shoppers should actively support Stonehaven's initiative and other examples of sustainable local enterprise which benefit the local producer, the local consumer and the local economy.

16:13

... ... ...

16:28

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw the attention of members to the entry in my register of interests: I have a three-acre field. I do not farm the field but my neighbour keeps Soay and Suffolk sheep in it. I have never operated a stall at a farmers market so, unfortunately, I break the sequence set by previous members. However, I am an avid supporter of farmers markets.

Last Saturday I was at the farmers market that operates in Macduff fish market. I had a particular purpose in mind: I felt a cold coming on and I wanted to buy honey to address it. I found the honey and my cold is now in remission. Many of the products that have a direct link with nature provide a natural remedy for life's ills.

Andrew Arbuckle said that we must be cautious when considering this subject and I agree with him in some respects. The motion appears to reject mass production, but I do not go as far as that. On the contrary, we can have excellent-quality mass producers of food in our country and excellent-quality food produced en masse. We can also have small producers who produce poor-quality food. Scale is an issue and it is easier to manage small enterprises, but we should not be captivated by the idea that scale is the essence of the matter.

Mark Ballard (Lothians) (Green): Does not Stewart Stevenson recognise that the motion notes that it is consumers who choose to reject mass-produced food? If consumers want to reject it and choose locally produced food, surely they should be encouraged to buy locally produced food that comes from Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: I certainly accept that point and acknowledge what the member says. However, implicit in some of what has been said so far is the idea that big equals bad and small equals good. If only it were so simple, we could run the world.

Farmers markets are efficient in shortening the supply chain and that is excellent. However, we should not imagine that that leads to CO2 efficiencies, as the contrary happens: we transport small amounts of food using relatively large amounts of fuel. Therefore, the case is uncertain and we need to consider the matter further.

It is possible for large producers to have excellent ways of indicating the provenance of food. For every piece of its chicken in a supermarket, Grampian Country Foods can tell people where the particular piece of meat came from as far back as two generations of chicken. Good systems can operate well in large companies when they choose to use them.

When I go to John Stewart's in Banff to buy my meat, he tells me which field it came from, which farmer it came from and sometimes, just to tease me, the name of the beast that I am about to eat.

This is a new era for the food industry, but farmers markets are, in essence, a niche industry and will remain as such, not least because, unfortunately, we have a huge hill to climb if we are to persuade the majority of consumers to go elsewhere than supermarkets.

Some supermarkets do relatively well. Some of my local producers have had excellent experiences with Asda since it opened its store in Peterhead and there is a range of local products—

John Scott: Notwithstanding Stewart Stevenson's remarks about farmers markets being a niche organisation, I presume that he is not against their expansion.

Stewart Stevenson: Good heavens, no. I am absolutely in favour of their expansion, but I am not sure that I can yet see the day when everyday staples are bought at a local farmers market every day. Many of the markets are held once a month, fewer are held once a week and I do not think that any of them are held every day. Shops are supplied directly by producers and I give my support to such shops wherever possible, but access to good value veg, bread and meat every day is a little way off.

We should give financial support where appropriate. Farmers markets have the advantage of not having shop premises, so the business rates burden is rather less, but they make a valuable and key contribution to building enterprise in the countryside. Such enterprises are a key way of building new jobs and the answer is one at a time.

I congratulate Shiona Baird on lodging the motion for debate.

16:34

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