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30 November 2005

S2M-3627 Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 30 November 2005

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

… … …

Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3627, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the general principles of the Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill.

14:34

… … …

16:39

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is worth stating the obvious: attitudes to this subject vary both within families and beyond. One side of my family has an entirely different attitude to this from the other. One of my relatives opted for medical research. The post-mortem cadaver went to four different locations for four different sets of students. That person's spouse expressed a similar wish later in life although, for a variety of reasons, we were unable to deliver on those wishes.

However, someone on the other side of my family, although being a recipient of organ donation—in this case a cornea, which is not quite what we are talking about—had an instinctive revulsion to their remains being used post mortem for the benefit of others. We have to recognise and understand people's views. In considering the subject further, we have to accommodate that diversity of views while ensuring that we educate people and talk to them before difficult decisions have to be made. We must also do that in the hope of persuading more people to support others post mortem.

All the Scottish National Party members have donor cards or have registered to say that our organs can be used post mortem. From the speeches of other members, it appears that that is broadly the case for them too. Curiously enough—and I hope that my party leader will forgive me for saying this—the one good argument for identification cards is that such information could be carried on them. It is a matter of regret that the Identity Cards Bill specifically excludes carrying medical information on ID cards. The minister might bring that up with colleagues south of the border the next time he is talking to them. That is not a commitment to supporting ID cards—

Carolyn Leckie: Will SNP MPs move an amendment to that effect?

Stewart Stevenson: I rather doubt it. I am expressing an entirely personal opinion, as indeed I said at the outset. I only expressed the view that it is passing strange that medical information is excluded.

It is important that we have mechanisms to allow us to understand people's views at a point when we can no longer ask them. Of course, family and loved ones have a role, but we must put the interests of the person who has died at the core.

Children are quite capable of making informed decisions on this matter. I am sure that, as the bill proceeds, that will continue to be debated. I am not certain that people with incapacities should automatically be ruled out. For example, people with a degree of mental incapacity or learning difficulties are on the electoral register and make decisions about which of us come here and go elsewhere. Are we to deny people with that sort of influence the right to say in an informed way what should happen to their body parts post mortem? Questions remain, as it is difficult to find the right dividing line.

There will be challenges in years to come that we are not ready to incorporate in the bill. As medical technology progresses, we will increasingly be able to retain all the bodily functions of life beyond the point of death. The blurring of that distinction between life and death already challenges the work that is done in intensive care units, where people are on life-support systems. That distinction will become even more challenging in future. Indeed, there will be even more debate over the question whether it is morally, ethically and societally proper to keep the body functioning in order to preserve organs against the possibility that they might be of value.

At this stage, we cannot anticipate some future difficulties. Interestingly, when organ donations first began, no one could have conceived of the now relatively common beating-heart donation.

On organ trafficking, I have looked at section 17 and read what the committee report has to say on the subject. I am not certain of the bill's approach to the cost of providing organs—as distinct from the buying and selling of organs—particularly with regard to the substantial costs that are associated with the international movement of organs. Of course, need and the ability to donate recognise no international boundaries, and we do not want to do anything that might make things more difficult.

Several members referred to domino transplants. Again, as medical technology is likely to increase the opportunities for and the number of such transplants and to affect their character, we should be careful not to do anything in the bill that might make it difficult to carry them out in future. That said, we cannot foresee the future entirely.

In paragraphs 48, 84 and 98, the committee recommends that the Executive advertise the changes in the bill and inform the public, especially decision makers who might be asked for consent post mortem, of the implications. As members know, I am not a great advocate of Executive advertising, but perhaps just this once I might generously suggest that the Executive should advertise.

Before concluding, I take slight issue with the earlier suggestion that there is a social divide in this matter and that more articulate people are likely to donate organs. I happen to think that people of every social class and educational background are perfectly capable of making proper decisions on this matter and we do no one in our society any favours by denigrating that ability.

One thing that we can be certain of is that we are all born to die. The Parliament will do a noble thing if it creates an opportunity for the dead to contribute to the lives of those who follow them. However, we commit evil if we presume to know the views of the dead. As the bill progresses through Parliament, striking the correct balance will be the challenge for the Executive—and, indeed, for all of us.

16:48

24 November 2005

S2M-3415 Television Licence and Digital Reception

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 24 November 2005

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

... ... ...

Television Licence and Digital Reception

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3415, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the television licence and digital reception. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that there are still many areas in Scotland, including parts of Perthshire, where digital television reception is not possible; notes with concern the desire by the BBC to increase the television licence fee by 2.3% above inflation, and believes that, until such time as the BBC's entire broadcast output is available to all licence payers, a differential should be introduced into the licence fee to ensure that people who are not receiving a full service do not pay the same licence fee as those who do.

17:11

... ... ...

17:34

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We have not had much technical stuff tonight, so I shall fill that vacancy. I point particularly to a decision that was made three years ago by the Independent Television Commission, which allows two different standards. There are six multiplexes or channels that cover many different TV stations. Three use one standard—64 quadratic amplitude modulation—and the other three use 16 quadratic amplitude modulation. Does that matter? Actually it does, because the 64QAM is a much less effective carrier of signals to the receiver, particularly for people who are relatively distant from the transmitter.

The website that has been referred to suggests that to receive BBC 1 and BBC 2 at my home address, I should turn my aerial to the south and point it at the transmitter at Durris, which is approximately 40 miles away. If I want to watch Grampian, I have no options. If I want to get BBC 4, I must turn my aerial to the north, towards the Rumster forest transmitter, which is 65 miles away. The reality is that I get some of the multiplexes, but not others. The 64QAM multiplexes, in particular, are very difficult to get.

We must realise that, at present, there are 1,160 analogue transmitters in the United Kingdom. When the crossover to digital is complete, it is planned that there will be 80 digital transmitters. That represents a huge reduction in the number of aerials—

Mr McGrigor: Does the member know how many transmitters there are in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Alas, I do not, but I am confident that, pro rata, the reduction will be even greater because of our terrain.

Some of the options that are referred to from time to time, such as satellite, are not available to everyone. In the Moray firth, for example, there are a number of communities that live to the north of a cliff, which means that they are unable to see the satellite, which is at an angle of approximately 46° to the horizon. In other communities, planning restrictions mean that residents are not permitted to put up satellite dishes. There are some quite serious problems out there.

Other members have spoken about the cost to people of updating their aerials. It is estimated that, across the UK, that will cost £400 million, so we can perhaps infer that the cost to Scots will be £35 million. Through Ofcom, the Government has said that 35,000 to 40,000 households, most of which will be in remote rural areas such as the Scottish islands, will fall outside the coverage.

Another point that is worth making is that with digital the signal strength is greatly reduced. My Rumster forest analogue signal is transmitted at 500kW, whereas the digital signal is transmitted at a mere 8kW. That is good in that it saves electricity, but it is not so good in that it makes it much more difficult for me to receive the signal.

The figure of 95 per cent coverage for Freeview sounds okay, but according to Ofcom:

"the 95 per cent Freeview coverage would resemble a 'swiss cheese', reducing faith in the service, and switchover generally".

One way or another, there are both technical and societal issues to deal with. Digital reception is a social inclusion issue for the Parliament. There is a big difference between switch-over and switch-off. Just because analogue will be switched off, that does not mean that we will be able to switch over. Curiously, the south-east of England faces the biggest problems because of interference from the continent. People who live there will be the last to switch, so the changeover might be another poll tax on air—we will go first and suffer.

17:38

17 November 2005

S2M-3400 Aboyne Maternity Unit

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 November 2005

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

… … …

Aboyne Maternity Unit

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3400, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Aboyne maternity unit. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the excellent work carried out by staff at Aboyne Hospital's maternity unit; notes that the number of mothers giving birth at Aboyne is increasing, with the number of deliveries rising from 34 in 2003 to 60 in 2004, and notes that the number of bookings has increased by 71 per cent for the coming year; agrees that the unit is an excellent example of health services being delivered locally as advocated by Professor David Kerr in his report, Building a Health Service Fit for the Future; further agrees that expectant mothers should have the option of giving birth locally, at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary or in the home; notes with concern the possibility of the unit being closed, and considers that NHS Grampian should work with local people to ensure that the unit remains open.

17:11

… … …

17:36

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the mums and the products of their efforts and, of course, the efforts of Aboyne maternity unit. I thank Mike Rumbles for the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

I come to the debate as an Opposition politician to speak in support of Executive policy, because it is clear what Executive policy is and it is clear that we support that policy, which has been articulated on many occasions. A year ago, the draft budget stated that, in the health service,

"investment priorities and service redesign will be matters for frontline staff in partnership with patients."

I know that the front-line staff and the patients at Aboyne are, as is the case at the other four maternity units, in favour of retaining the unit and developing and building on its success. Three of the other units—the ones in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banff—are in my constituency and they, too, sit under the black cloud of uncertainty that has been created by Grampian NHS Board.

This is a rural issue par excellence, but it is not only a rural issue par excellence. Fraserburgh is, in fact, a non-rural area with a population of 15,000; it is the biggest town in Scotland more than an hour away from an acute services unit. The issue goes right down and right through the implementation of health policy in the north-east.

Mike Rumbles gets it spot on in the motion:

"NHS Grampian should work with local people to ensure that the unit remains open."

That is also true of the units in my constituency. We have heard that 500 people were out on the street in Aboyne, 600 were out in Fraserburgh and a couple of hundred were out in Banff. Frankly, when we energise the women of the north-east, we men should take cover. I have little doubt about the ultimate success of the campaigns.

The Scottish National Party would, of course, make health boards more responsive to what is going on by including on them some elected members, but I do not expect the minister to respond to that point tonight.

Andy Kerr, in the debate on 27 October, re-emphasised the Executive's policy for

"health care to focus more on preventive and continuous care in local communities and to target our resources at those who are at the greatest risk of ill health."—[Official Report, 27 October; c 20029.]

I agree with that policy. If we transfer maternity services away from midwife-led units, we potentially increase the costs, as we will deploy more expensive and more specialised skills and resources at the centre to no purpose.

One of the principles of the report to which members have referred—"A Framework for maternity services in Scotland"—is that

"The consultation processes should involve ... users of services, and the general public."

Involvement is not the end of the story; we have to respond to the needs of

"users of services, and the general public."

There are supposed to be maternity services liaison committees. I must confess that I am not personally aware of one, although there may well be such committees. However, I have not yet seen them come to the table with any great passion.

I will close with a little saying from a guru called Bernard Cox:

"The British Civil Servant ... cannot be bribed to do wrong nor persuaded to do right."

On this occasion, persuasion must triumph and the civil servants must respond to public need and to mothers' and children's needs.

17:40

S2M-3584 Dentistry

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 November 2005

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

Dentistry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): Good morning. The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-3584, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on dentistry. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

09:15

… … …

11:23

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One of the dangers in such debates is that we oversimplify the issue. We all have to concede that it is immensely complex.

In an especially interesting and relevant contribution, Des McNulty referred to the underachievement in oral health in his constituency. I accept his points; they were absolutely true. Nonetheless, in the greater Glasgow area, there are 7.48 dentists for each 10,000 of population—the highest ratio in Scotland. The issue is much more complex than taking a simple measure of the number of dentists. However, we cannae do it without dentists, so it is important that we talk about the numbers.

In the area that I represent—Grampian—we have just over half the number of dentists for each 10,000 of population that people in the greater Glasgow area have. Our figure is 3.9. Elaine Murray's concerns over the issue are graphically illustrated by the fact that her area is at the very bottom of the table, with a figure of 3.46. In areas where there are few dentists, it is clear that too many people cannot access dental services. That applies both to private and to NHS services in certain areas, including, for a time, one of the large towns in my constituency. Simple nostrums do not deliver the answers to complex problems. On that basis, we welcome the debate that the Parliament has had today.

There is nothing so glad to the heart as a sinner who repenteth. I welcome the additional resources and the setting of priorities. I need only look back to the "Draft Budget 2005-06", which is about a year old, to find that there is only one reference—in what is a very large document—to dental services, on page 56. None of the targets and objectives for the health service refers to dentistry and the proposals for the years up to 2008 show a flatlining budget for general dental services for four years in a row from 2004-05. The response by the Executive and the changes that it has made are most welcome, but they are comparatively recent. That illustrates the value of sustained parliamentary pressure from members of all parties—I include in that members of the Executive parties, some of whom have had a Damascene conversion.

When he opened the debate, the Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care said that the Executive's measures were good news for dentists and patients. I would prefer him to have said that they were good news for patients and dentists. Although the difference is subtle, the change of emphasis is not trivial. Let us not talk about dentists, except in so far as they meet patients' needs. My colleague Tricia Marwick made the fine point that we need a degree of clarity on what "patients" actually means; I am sure that the minister will be able to give us that clarity. Unless it means all the people in Scotland who wish to access NHS dentists, we will be missing a trick. I hope that we will get reassurance on that.

The minister said that we must encourage dentists to rejoin the health service, but that might require a lot of courage on their part, given that there will be no substantial economic benefit to them as individuals. Dentists can make quite a lot of money in the private sector, although I would not seek to suggest that dentists in the NHS sector are impoverished. However, dentists who have gone to work in the private sector find that they can spend more time with their patients for similar money and feel that they provide a much higher quality of service. That is one of the fundamental difficulties that we face in recovering from the neglect of dental services that was started during the Tory years. I believe that dentists want to do a good job in delivering good oral health for the people of Scotland.

The minister said that we must have patience. That is certainly true in the sense that there is no quick fix that will deliver a solution overnight but, as Mao Tse-Tung said, a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. We have made slightly more than a single step; we are on the case and we will continue to watch what gets delivered, as distinct from what gets done. The two are quite different—action is no substitute for achievement.

It is true that the dental health of our five-year-olds is the best ever, which is good, but NHS boards will continue not to move dentistry as high up the agenda as I and colleagues would wish it to be until there is a statutory duty on them to deliver NHS dental health services. I do not propose a date by which that duty should be imposed, because that would be for me to succumb to simplistic, knee-jerk reactions, but I think that we should say that we will have a statutory duty in the future, when the resources are in place and we have a plan that sustains that approach. That will give confidence to dentists and—more to the point—patients.

Richard Baker let down the tone of the debate when he attacked some dentists' conflict of interests. On conflict of interests, I need only refer to some of the member's Labour colleagues. Eight days after ceasing to be a Government minister, Baroness Symons became a director of British Airways. Alan Milburn, a former Secretary of State for Health, is now a consultant to Alliance Medical, which has big contracts with the NHS. The former UK energy minister, Brian Wilson, works for AMEC Nuclear and, within months of being Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine was working as a consultant for Hutchison Whampoa, which wants £77 million from the Government. I ask Richard Baker to think again on conflict of interests.

We can discuss the past ad nauseam, but we cannot change it, so the SNP will make common cause with the Executive to tackle Scotland's oral health deficit. We now need the Executive to make common cause with the dentists.

11:30

3 November 2005

S2M-3436 Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 3 November 2005

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

... ... ...

Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3436, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill be passed.

16:16

... ... ...

16:42

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One of the first things that happens to a prisoner upon reception is a test of numeracy and literacy. Would that such tests were applied to Conservative party members before they took their seats in Parliament. It is entirely against Scottish National Party policy, of course, for me to assist the Tories in any way, but occasionally one has to break the rules.

Let me just flesh out and illustrate the numbers that I gave previously by reference to Peterhead prison, where all prisoners serve a minimum of four years. There are 296 prisoners there and if we abolish early release, which I accept in principle, we have a capital expenditure of £30 to £35 million and a revenue expenditure against our budget of £60 million, which gives something like £100 million. Now, of course, if the Tories argue that that is good expenditure, I will listen to them. However, they have not actually given any numbers.

The argument is about what else that £100 million could be spent on. For example, it could be more police, more social workers or more education for people who are in prison to prevent them from reoffending. To be blunt, the Tories are the economic illiterates of Parliament. They do not even recognise numbers when they see them.

I congratulate the minister on reaching her 31st birthday today, as calculated by the hexadecimal system; by that system, I shall reach 40 in five years.

The Tories also show that they are illiterate through their continuing mantra that a benefit is to be derived from locking up people for a long time. I direct members to the United States' experience. All the states have their own legal, penal and criminological systems. Some have the death penalty; some do not. Not one shred of academic evidence shows a correlation between sentencing policy and outcomes. Indeed, with one exception, the states where the death penalty prevails have the highest murder rates per head of population. We must take the Tories' mantras on the matter with a very large pinch of salt.

I join others in wishing Miss Goldie all the best in a personal sense with the poisoned chalice that she is about to accept and with a lame duck second-in-command who did not have the courage of his convictions to put his proposition to his party. I continue to have as much political ill will for her party as I have good will for her.

16:46

2 November 2005

Subject Debate: Freedom of Information

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 2 November 2005

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

… … …

Freedom of Information

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on freedom of information.

14:34

… … …

16:03

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This is my 215th speech in the Parliament.

Ms Curran: It seems like much more.

Stewart Stevenson: My 23rd speech was made during stage 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, some 18 months after that bill was passed, to find that speech of mine being quoted in Executive literature. It had been kept secret from me that the Executive was using parts of my speech from 17 January 2002 as part of the training material for civil servants. Well, at least I have done something useful while I have been here. I share that honour with Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Donald Gorrie and one or two other members. Donald, of course, spoke about a muttered conversation with Jim Wallace. I demand that that muttered conversation be published in the interests of freedom of information.

I always mine "Yes Minister" when I want to think about what goes on in the hallowed corridors of power to which we are so seldom admitted. I remember the episode quite early in the first series when Sir Humphrey was talking to his boss the cabinet secretary about the cabinet secretary's upcoming retirement. The cabinet secretary ran through the things that he expected to do after retirement, and said, "I'm taking up a position as the chairman of the campaign for freedom of information." That was written in 1981. Already it was satire and parody. We have been talking about freedom of information for a long time.

Of course, the interesting thing was the expression of horror on Sir Humphrey's face when the cabinet secretary said that. Then, of course, the cabinet secretary explained that he was taking the position so that the exercise of freedom could be responsibly discharged. That is precisely what the Tories sought to do in 1994—to create an environment not where the public determined the information that was brought into public gaze, but where Government ministers and civil servants exercised a "responsible attitude" to freedom of information.

I welcome the passing of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Notwithstanding some of the wrinkles that have emerged subsequently, on balance it is very much in the public interest and in the interest of parliamentarians in all parties.

Phil Gallie, a representative of the Tories, suggested that much of the information could have been released. That is perfectly true, but there is a huge difference—albeit of one letter, but huge in sentiment—between could and would. Could did not mean would. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 under which we now operate has made a world of difference.

I was slightly surprised that Bill Aitken appeared to forget that the information commissioner is a creature of this Parliament, not of the Executive. We should remember that fact.

I give members the words that the Executive plucked from my previous speech:

"A desire to keep information is always an expression of someone's self-interest".—[Official Report, 17 January 2002; c 5499.]

Self-interest has now been laid at the door of public interest, which is welcome.

There is a lot more work to do to see how things operate. I point in particular to section 6 of the 2002 act, on publicly owned companies. Section 6(2) states that a company is publicly owned if it is

"wholly owned ... by the Scottish Ministers"

and

"if it has no members except ... persons acting on behalf of the Scottish Ministers or of such companies".

That touches upon PFI—private companies, single purpose, totally at the work of Scottish ministers.

We must be much better at opening the dirty raincoat and seeing what is going on.

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): We will not be quoting that.

Stewart Stevenson: I see that Mr Finnie has a particularly capacious dirty raincoat about which he is worried.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Please wind up, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: I used "sensitive" in my speech three years ago in the generally understood sense. Sensitive information is precisely the information that should now be being disclosed.

16:09

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