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14 September 2006

S2M-4590 Local Food is Miles Better Campaign

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 September 2006

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

... ... ...

Local Food is Miles Better Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4590, in the name of John Scott, on the Farmers Weekly local food is miles better campaign.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports the Farmers Weekly's Local Food is Miles Better campaign; believes that buying locally grown food is an excellent way for consumers to reconnect with farmers and develop a better understanding of where their food comes from; recognises that producing and buying food locally from farmers' markets and farm shops can help the environment, boost the local economy and restore trust in food production; further recognises that locally produced food is likely to be fresher, healthier and have higher vitamin levels, and considers that all food retail outlets, in Ayrshire and throughout Scotland, should promote, label and stock more locally produced food to cut food miles and carbon emissions in order to protect our environment and support our farmers.

17:07

... ... ...

17:24

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw members' attention to the voluntary entry in my register of interests. That is relevant, because my neighbour, who keeps some sheep in my field, passes me some of the fruits of his labours. That food travels approximately 50m from the field to my plate, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

That is a model for the excellent work that John Scott kicked off very early doors in promoting Scottish farmers markets. Indeed, it is likely that I first met John Scott in person during the Ayr by-election—I was with our candidate, who was Jim Mather—at the farmers market, where John Scott worked with his late wife, who we miss. She was a charming lady.

In my constituency, there are many primary food producers who are required to interact with supermarkets. For example, white fish is landed at Peterhead, the biggest white-fish port in Europe, and pelagic fish is landed at Fraserburgh. It costs £700 for a lorry to take the fish down to the supermarkets' distribution centres in the north of England, only for that fish to be returned to Tesco's store in Fraserburgh. Yes, the fish is transported all the way down to the north of England and back again. That is quite absurd. That money could be invested in supporting quality local producers without in any sense putting a penny on the price of food on the plate.

My face lights up whenever my wife, in discussing the coming week's food consumption, asks, "Would you like mince?" Mince is a staple of the Scottish diet.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Mince is also a staple of this Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: However, mince is under threat from European regulations, which will require that it be produced within a day of slaughter. I hope that the minister can do something about that.

I am gravely concerned about one aspect of the Tories' attitude to this subject. I feel that they have been undermining the food producers. The loss of some 9 stone from the Tory benches is, if translated into steak, equivalent to approximately £1,000 in revenue that Mr Johnstone has taken out of local butchers.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con) rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time to give way to Mr Johnstone but, in all seriousness, I congratulate him on a spectacular achievement. I hope that he now eats locally produced vegetables, such as lettuce from Kettle Produce in Fife, to sustain his spectacular reduction.

However, the fillet steak was a bigger revenue earner for the local butcher, so you never know.

17:27

S2M-4712 Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 September 2006

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

... ... ...

Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4712, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the general principles of the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill.

14:57

... ... ...

15:07

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is not for Parliament or MSPs to micromanage the criminal justice system, but it is for us to create the environment in which effective management can operate and to hold the Government accountable for what happens in the system. The Scottish National Party will support the bill at 5 o'clock because we want to help summary justice to do its business.

The widely welcomed and successful Bonomy reforms of the solemn justice system have delivered, by and large. The McInnes reforms, as moderated by the Government's views and refined by the Justice 1 Committee and the Parliament at the bill's later stages, must deliver similarly beneficial changes for court cases that are dealt with via the summary justice system before a sheriff or a justice of the peace, which are the huge majority of court cases. I expect that we will hear from MSPs who are former JPs—I am not one—at later stages of the debate.

The bail system is the subject that more than anything else in the bill is debated in the pubs, clubs, streets and homes of Scotland, but it is the system's defects rather than its successes—or rather its perceived defects and failures—that form the subject of common debate. The successes are rarely talked about and are not particularly easy to find. However, individual failures or perceptions of failures too often touch on the subject to which the minister referred, which is that of public safety. I welcome the minister's indication that she will respond to the committee's view that although public interest encompasses public safety, "public safety" is the phrase and the sentiment that we have to bring to the forefront so that the people outside the chamber understand that we are taking things seriously.

Phil Gallie: The member has quite rightly highlighted perceived deficiencies in the bail system, but I can assure him that it has actual deficiencies, too. Does he regret the fact that his party supported the Labour-Liberal Administration's hasty reform of the bail laws, which was supposedly undertaken to ensure compliance with the European convention on human rights? Does he agree that the changes that have now been proposed demonstrate that there was no need for such reform?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that the member will know that among SNP members and, I suspect, members of all parties, apart from that to which Mr Gallie and his colleagues belong, there is firm support for the principle of human rights. For everyone who may be subject to the bail system, there must be a rule that allows them to demonstrate before the court and the sheriff that there is a case for bail. The bill will draw much tighter the mesh of the net through which serious criminals or those people who have been accused of serious offences might escape temporary incarceration in advance of their trial. I am sure that that measure will receive a broad welcome; we certainly welcome it.

It is worth returning to the subject of public interest versus public safety. In the 1700s, John Locke said:

"They who would advance in knowledge ... should not take words for real entities."

Although we agonise about the words that appear in legislation, outside the Parliament public safety is what people are thinking about.

We welcome subsection (3) of new section 23D of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which clarifies that bail will be granted only in exceptional circumstances when the accused has a previous conviction for drug trafficking. There might be further debate to be had about that because there will be circumstances in which although someone has no previous conviction, orders have been imposed on them that might lead us to conclude that it would be appropriate not to grant bail and to keep them locked up.

The key aspect of the bail proposals that will engage the general public relates to the perception—which is too often the reality—that too many people at the lower tariff end of offences flout bail and fail to adhere to the conditions that the court imposed when it granted bail. When the committee went to Glasgow sheriff court, we found out about a number of people who had committed a long list of bail breaches. In cases in which someone has a track record of bail breaches, bail should not be granted.

The bill will do something to help people who have genuine difficulties understanding what they have been told. We hope that it will ensure that accused persons receive greater explanation and are given a written record of their bail conditions and of when they must appear in court. We support the proposed increases in the penalty for breaching bail from three months to 12 months in summary cases and from two years to five years in solemn cases. We are in favour of the increased emphasis on ensuring that people who are bailed have a better understanding of the conditions to which they are subject.

The speaking-time clock has just jumped forward by five minutes, but I am sure that the Presiding Officer will ensure that I am on time. We welcome the greater use of liberation on undertaking, although the effect that it will have on police resourcing is not clear. We will monitor that as the bill progresses. More details need to be provided to allow us to understand what will happen.

We welcome the idea that more will be done on intermediate diets, although we do not know exactly how that will work, and we must consider whether consequential reforms of legal aid will be necessary.

Finally, I come to fiscal fines and fiscal compensation orders and the presumption of acceptance. Fiscal fines have a role to play. They are already used, but the bill will extend their use and increase the fine limit. That is probably a good idea because it will mean that many cases can be taken out of court. The minister mentioned that a person who was offered a fiscal fine would have the option of going to court—yes, but no: given the presumption of acceptance, if someone does not go back to the fiscal and say, "I reject your offer," they will not have the opportunity to go to court to clear the issue. Further thinking will have to be done on the matter.

I remain somewhat concerned about fiscal compensation orders. Although I do not come home drunk on a Saturday night and kick in a window, rich gits like me could afford to pay the fiscal compensation order, whereas someone who is financially less well set up could not.

In their contributions, my colleagues will develop our position on other aspects of the bill. The SNP will support the motion at decision time, but—and this is critical to our position—we will also seek to improve it at stage 2.

15:15

7 September 2006

S2M-4713 Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 September 2006

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

... ... ...

Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4713, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill.

14:57

... ... ...

16:17

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We should not imagine that this issue of principle has arisen in recent times. Some 2,000 years ago, the Romans asked the question, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"—who guards the guards? In essence, that is the principle that we are discussing today. As it has taken 2,000 years to get to where we are, it is likely that we will not fully resolve the issue.

Nonetheless, an effort has been made. It is an effort that we in the SNP commend, while continuing to be engaged in addressing the details. I particularly welcome Hugh Henry's comments in his opening remarks, which addressed many of the core concerns from practitioners that, like other constituency members, I have had in my in-tray. In particular, I received a letter in the past week from the dean of the faculty of procurators for Peterhead and Fraserburgh. He pointed out that in that area—which is a substantial part of my constituency, although not quite all of it—only two firms currently do civil legal aid cases and that any reduction in that number would be pretty catastrophic to the provision of services.

Like other members I have a constant stream, if not a flood, of people coming to my office because they have the fallacious idea that because I occasionally indulge in legal fisticuffs in the committee room with the Deputy Minister for Justice—who, like me, is not legally qualified—I can give them free legal advice. They are half right, as I do not charge for the privilege, but the other half is highly dubious, and I am always careful to point that out to them. Equally, I often find myself being asked to find someone a lawyer. Of course, that is dangerous. I am always careful to give people at least three options so that they make the choice. I do not tell them which one to go for, because sure as hell they would be back to blame me at the end of the day. The relationships between the legal professions and their clients are complex, and I hope that we will develop and improve them.

Like others, I recognise that not all complaints are well founded. For a period, my family lawyer was top of the list that Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers compiles. I did not understand that, but I felt disappointed as he moved down the list and was eventually relegated from it, because the list provided an excellent opportunity to tease a highly professional man whose integrity I utterly respect—as I do almost all the lawyers whom I meet. However, I have met lawyers who must be dealt with, and we need a process for that.

Like John Swinney, I am concerned about the difficulty of teasing out a complaint and stuffing it in one box rather than another. As members, we inevitably have constituents at our surgeries who say, at the end of what we think is the case that they are putting, "And another thing," so that the case moves into another domain. Alternatively, when we examine the needs of someone who is elderly and infirm, we find that they relate to council activity, Scottish Parliament care obligations and social security, which is Westminster's responsibility.

Problems do not fit into boxes just because we have created boxes, so for the customer—the person with the complaint—we must deal with their complaint in a way that does not make it a problem for them, whatever box they try to put it in. The customer must feel that their problem is being dealt with justly.

Jeremy Purvis: Does the member agree that what matters is having the correct processes? If a complaint is about service from the police, it goes to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but if the complaint relates to the police and criminal activity, it is right for it to go to the Procurator Fiscal Service. That should not confuse the public, because the system is correct.

Stewart Stevenson: Jeremy Purvis is correct. In paragraph 45 of its report, the Justice 2 Committee highlights the issues related to pursuing potential criminal activity by lawyers, so such considerations apply in the context of lawyers, too. The work is not easy; if it were, it would have been done a heck of a long time ago.

The minister's announcement on levies will be welcomed by my constituents and is extremely helpful. It is a tribute to him that he has responded so promptly to what the committee said.

I—and, I suspect, others—do not really understand how the right of third parties to complain will work. In my mind, that will be like a prisoner who jumps over a prison wall and is knocked down by a bus while running across the road suing the prison officer who failed to keep him in prison. We appear to be creating such indirectness. I hope that we are not making a rod for our own back.

Paragraph 28 of the Justice 2 Committee's report concerns some difficulties that sole practitioners might experience in dealing with complaints that come to their door in the first instance. I encourage the legal profession to think hard about that and the Executive to respond to any inputs from that source, because in rural areas such as that which I represent that is and will be an issue.

16:23

S2M-4755 Education

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 September 2006

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

Education

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4755, in the name of Peter Peacock, on education first.

09:15

... ... ...

11:03

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Executive's motion starts with the words:

"That the Parliament welcomes the priority given to improving education standards".

Really?

Members will understand the position that the SNP is coming from if they care to dip into the Scottish neighbourhood statistics and compare my constituency of Banff and Buchan with that of Motherwell and Wishaw. It is interesting that the average tariff score for all pupils on the S4 roll is 10 per cent worse in Motherwell and Wishaw. The percentage of the S4 cohort that attained level 3 or better in the Scottish credit and qualifications framework is worse in Motherwell and Wishaw. Similarly, if we move on to other matters, we can see that reported admissions for drug misuse in Motherwell and Wishaw are 18 per cent higher than in Banff and Buchan. Finally, the estimated percentage of the population in the First Minister's constituency who have been prescribed drugs for anxiety, depression or psychosis is 46 per cent higher than in my constituency. Perhaps we can understand why the First Minister is worried.

Mr McAveety: If the member wants to draw those kinds of parallels, would it not be appropriate to do as most teachers would do and judge one constituency with a comparable constituency? The idea that Banff and Buchan can be compared to Motherwell and Wishaw is a misjudgment. It is not appropriate for making an assessment.

Stewart Stevenson: It is interesting to compare urban areas that the SNP represents with urban areas that the Labour Party represents. If the member goes through those constituency by constituency, he will find that the Labour Party faces the bigger challenge on the ground. If the First Minister is putting education at the centre of his future commitments and is being driven by the experience of his constituency to do so, I welcome that—it is good news. However, my central question is, is the Labour Party sincere?

In his opening speech, the minister said:

"We have given education top priority ... For me and my colleagues, education comes first."

Colleagues know that the internet is home from home for me. Naturally, I thought that I would look up what Labour parliamentarians had to say on the subject of education. I started in the north-east, driven from the Labour Party's website via some interesting byroads. For example, the party's home page states:

"Bloggers4Labour brings hundreds of Labour-related blogs under one roof, offering a wide range of intelligent and incisive views on a wide range of topics."

That sounds encouraging.

We then move to the core of Bloggers4Labour. I confess that I cannot cite the concluding remarks in the first article, as standing orders do not permit me to provide the four-letter word, starting with F, that refers intelligently and incisively to an opponent of Labour. However, I was directed to Marlyn Glen's website. I printed out her blog, in which nothing about education was to be found. However, let us put that to one side.

Marlyn Glen's website gave me the opportunity to click on a button to see what there might be elsewhere. There may be some technical deficiencies in the site, because I received the response "nothing found". I then decided to look at the websites of the members for the Highlands and Islands, Maureen Macmillan and Peter Peacock, the Minister for Education and Young People. I do not know how recently the minister has looked at his website. I looked thoroughly at every page of it and found a single reference to education. That reference is in the Highlands and Islands survey, in which he asks the question:

"What change would do most to improve education in your area?"

In other words, the only reference to education on the minister's website is a question to his constituents, which asks them what he should do about it. I hope that when they tell him, he will listen to whatever they choose to say. The proposition that education is central to the Labour Party's future programme does not stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab): I wonder whether the member has looked at my website, where he would find references to all the speeches that I have made on education, the questions that I have asked about it and the press releases that I have issued on it.

Stewart Stevenson: I very much look forward to the member's return to office and hope that Peter Peacock has a worthy successor in the brief period during which the Labour Party fills that post.

I am largely an autodidact. In the several dozen speeches that I have made on the subject of education, I draw on my own investigation, rather than the education that I received from my teachers. The fault for that lies in my domain, rather than someone else's. My responsibilities for the SNP include prisons policy. One issue that is fundamental to this debate is the fact that 85 per cent of people in prison are functionally illiterate. That shows us once again the absolutely clear connection between the failure to learn and achieve and ending up at the bottom of the social pile. The words "Arbeit macht frei"—"Work will make you free"—appeared above the entrances to the camps in Nazi Germany. Education will make our generation free, but the Executive has yet to prove its commitment in the real world.

11:10

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