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22 March 2007

S2M-5521 Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 22 March 2007

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

... ... ...

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5521, in the name of Sylvia Jackson, on Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament expresses concern that people who suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a severe and progressive genetic muscle wasting disease predominantly affecting boys and for which there is currently no cure, are dying in Scotland on average 10 years earlier then their counterparts in England; believes that an improvement in the life expectancy and experiences of these young people must be a priority for the Scottish Executive; considers that, in addition to enhanced medical research, better support services, equipment and adapted housing can make a massive difference to the quality of life of people with DMD and can contribute to extending their life expectancy; welcomes the development in 2003 of the Scottish Muscle Network, based at Yorkhill, as a national managed clinical network benefiting patients in Stirling and across Scotland, but believes that more must be done to improve both life quality and life expectancy for people with DMD in Scotland.

17:12

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17:23

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Yesterday, we legislated with a glad heart to help sufferers from mesothelioma. In this important debate, we address the needs of a not dissimilarly sized group of sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The difference, of course, is that we are addressing a condition that affects the young, whereas yesterday we discussed a condition that generally becomes apparent later in life. I join David McLetchie and others in thanking Sylvia Jackson for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate, and I thank Elaine Smith for stepping in with such good grace and effectiveness.

What quality of life does a young boy who suffers from DMD have and what should it be? As with everyone else, young DMD sufferers should have the widest possible experience in life. There should be humour, excitement and participation with peers in activities that are appropriate for young boys. At that level, having a short lifespan should not be a gloomy matter that we should worry about; the need is to cram into that shorter lifespan the experience that the rest of us can spread more thinly. Clive James, the Australian humorist, said:

"Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive."

None of us is going to get out of life alive, anyway.

We need to have a network of support and activities that allows youngsters with a seriously restricted lifespan to get as much out of life as those of us who are fortunate to live longer. Their expectations of quality of life should be as high as ours—that is only reasonable.

The boys—from the reading that I have done, there are few girls—who suffer from DMD are not yet getting the quality of life that is available, given that their life expectancy is 10 years less than their counterparts south of the border. I was particularly disturbed by the fact that only one in 25 sufferers is able to stay at home. Next week, I will join the Marie Curie bus as part of a campaign to ensure that people can spend all their life at home right to the very end. It is a cruel deprivation to deny kids with DMD and their families that opportunity. I hope that the minister will indicate how that issue might be addressed.

Clearly, not enough research is being done. Research on DMD is not the kind of research that is likely to be undertaken by commercial companies because, frankly, there are not enough sufferers to guarantee the commercial returns that might be available from work on more widespread diseases, therefore the state, as the proxy for wider society, has a particular role in funding such research. Of course, genetics research now receives much more funding than was previously the case, and such work can be spread across the world thanks to good communications. I hope that Scotland can play its part, as it has done so often in the past, as a leader in this important area of scientific research.

As well as all that high-flown stuff, we also need to work on the practical stuff, such as our ability to provide wheelchairs to support sufferers when their mobility becomes seriously restricted. For such a rapidly progressing condition, we need to ensure that wheelchairs that are specific to the child's condition at a particular point are delivered quickly enough to ensure that they are still appropriate. The wheelchair review highlighted the disturbing point that wheelchairs often seem to be delivered too late to be useful to people whose condition has progressed.

I conclude by making an obvious point that has not been made so far. A number of organisations support people who suffer from DMD and support their families. We need to ensure that we support the families, because having a child whose life expectancy is restricted and whose condition is severe may have a significant effect on parents and friends. I hope that, like other members who are supporting DMD sufferers in this short debate, the minister will offer some words of encouragement in whatever policy areas he can.

17:28

21 March 2007

S2M-5628 Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 21 March 2007

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

... ... ...

Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5628, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

14:37

... ... ...

15:28

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is no great secret that we have some fairly confrontational debates in this place from time to time and that, although we speak this afternoon in a spirit of consensus, not all parties here have coalesced around a single view of the world. It is therefore particularly pleasant that, in the last stage 3 in this session of Parliament—the remaining bill is a private bill, which has no stage 3—we coalesce around an issue in relation to which there is not one scintilla of difference in our objectives and not an iota of criticism of how those objectives are being sustained by a bill.

It is good that we have found a way of pushing the boundaries a little and of introducing a degree of retrospection in respect of implementation of the legislation. It is also good that, in doing so, we have obtained the consent and support of all parties involved in the matter, including not only the sufferers but we parliamentarians. Let us note that we are but bit players in the matter. The people who have really brought deliverance to the sufferers are those who progressed the issue by campaigning on it and bringing it to MSPs' attention. Those people are represented in the gallery today.

There are, of course, members who have campaigned on the matter for some time. I pay tribute to Des McNulty and to my late colleague Margaret Ewing, who raised the matter on behalf of some of her constituents. However, in the gallery today is someone who stands head and shoulders above everyone else—quite literally. My wife had only ever seen Frank Maguire on the television, which of course gives us no sense of scale. She did not realise that Mr Maguire—a formidable legal intellect and a tremendous campaigner for the sufferers—is somebody under whose armpit I, at 5ft 11in, can comfortably walk. He is an interesting character. I never want to get on the wrong side of him.

A number of things have happened en route to the point that we have reached today. The Coulsfield procedures, which were mentioned earlier, were an excellent first step because they helped to resolve some of the sloth-like procedures of the civil courts and deliver some benefit. For every benefit in life, however, there is almost always a disbenefit. In this case it proved to be severe, so it is a privilege and pleasure to be one of those who is playing a small part in addressing that disbenefit.

We should commend the work that we have done on the matter today and in recent weeks as a case study that shows members in the next session of Parliament how they can deal with matters that are readily identified as not being party-politically contentious. The Justice 1 Committee and Parliament have dealt with the subject thoroughly and with a shared objective. They have the pleasure of sharing the outcome and the merit that derives from it.

At stage 1, I said that the "British Journal of Cancer" pinpoints how many people will suffer from mesothelioma. I will expand on what I said then. The journal suggests, on an epidemiological basis, that there will be some 90,000 deaths in the 80 or so years from 1968 to 2050. Perhaps my colleague Kenny MacAskill was only half right when he said in his opening remarks that only a few individuals are involved. At any point in time, the number of individuals involved is comparatively modest, but over the period for which we expect this terrible disease to affect people in our society, a significant number of people will be affected. We are all pleased to help those who are sufferers today, but we are also delivering an on-going benefit for the next 45 years and possibly longer. That will continue to reflect well on today's work. We support the bill.

15:33

15 March 2007

S2M-5632 Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 March 2007

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

... ... ...

Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5632, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill be passed.

14:59

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15:44

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I say to Phil Gallie that, if this is legislating in haste, I would hate to see us taking our time. After 10 years, it is probably time that we got round to dealing with the issues.

Let me make a simple but important semantic point. It is a bit unhelpful to use language that talks about offenders serving at least 50 per cent of their sentence in prison. That could suggest that we are continuing early release even though, in mechanical terms, we are doing something quite different. Under the bill, offenders will be given a custodial sentence and a period of supervision afterwards. For that reason, despite our reservations about some of the details, we will support the bill at decision time. I hope that the language that sheriffs use when they impose a sentence on those who have been convicted is, "You shall go to jail for eight years"—or 10 years or four years or whatever—"and you will be subject to a period of supervision of a similar duration thereafter." There will then be no excuse for newspapers to report in terms other than that an offender was given a particular sentence that carries certainty as to when he will be released. There will be no excuse for victims who hear the sheriff's sentence to misunderstand the effect of what is said. Those language issues perhaps still need to be addressed. I hope that sheriffs will listen to today's debate and take tent.

A previous speaker said that the bill will not empty our prisons. On the face of it, that is true, which is a matter of concern. There is not, I think, a huge divide between the Executive and the SNP on the objectives for our prisons, but we still lack certainty about whether the Executive will engage in effective action to ensure that the increase in one part of the prison population that will result from the increase in the amount of time that people spend in prison is balanced by a reduction in the number of offenders for whom—to use the unique Tory phrase that I agree with—it might be said that prison is a place where the bad are sent to be made worse. That phrase certainly applies to too many short-term prisoners. Of course, it is difficult to re-engage prisoners with society by locking them up away from society, therefore any measure that requires that part of the court-imposed sentence be served in society so that offenders can re-engage and reconnect with society is helpful.

One of the archetypal offenders to which reference has been made is the shoplifter. I say to Bill Aitken that banging up shoplifters for longer periods of time simply will not work. What kind of person is the typical shoplifter? By and large, she is a female heroin addict. For the female heroin addict, the fundamental problem with which she is afflicted ain't gonna be dealt with in an effective way in prison.

Jackie Baillie: What is the statistical basis for the member's assertion?

Stewart Stevenson: The statistical basis is that the recovery rate with heroin addiction treatment is 10 per cent worse in prison than in the community.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): One minute.

Jackie Baillie: The member has not answered my question.

Stewart Stevenson: I am in my last minute. Jackie Baillie asked a question and I answered it.

We need to ask whether the bill will address some fundamental questions. Will it make the system work better? Yes, to an extent. Will it help to rebuild public confidence in the criminal justice system? Yes, to a certain extent.

As ever, I listened with interest to Gordon Jackson, because he brings real-life experience to these matters. However, he missed an important point when he claimed that everyone knows that when a sheriff sends someone to jail for four years, they will be out in two. That might be true for professionals, but it is certainly not true for the public. Gordon Jackson needs to consider that.

Prison represents one key thing, which is failure: failure for the prisoner, failure for the victim who has suffered at the hands of the prisoner and failure for the system that we hold responsible. Success is when we reduce the number of people going to prison. We will never reduce it to nil, but I hope that we have started to build a new system that will send fewer people to prison and deliver increased public safety.

15:50

7 March 2007

S2M-5692 Alcohol Misuse

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 7 March 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:00]

… … …

Alcohol Misuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5692, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on tackling alcohol misuse.

15:55
… … …
16:26

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): My colleague Christine Grahame told me that she first highlighted alcohol as a greater problem than drugs in 1999, when she asked the Executive to hold a debate on the problem of alcohol, which it duly did in spring 2000, so we have discussed the subject for a considerable time.

In my brief speech, I will focus on

"the ... links between alcohol abuse and crime and antisocial behaviour",

to which Kenny MacAskill refers in his motion. Like Richard Baker and others, I have been out with the police. Last weekend, I was out with the police van between 11 o'clock on Saturday night and 4.30 on Sunday morning. No issue that we met in those five and a half hours was other than related to drink—none at all. No shout that the van dealt with and no incident that we encountered ad hoc was other than alcohol related.

I will give two brief examples from that evening to illustrate the effect of alcohol on people, which I guess will chime with others. The first is of an adult who, having drunk an excessive amount of alcohol, was asked to leave licensed premises. On the way out, the adult decided that revenge was appropriate, so he picked a fight with the glass door of the licensed premises and charged into it head first. The door won that battle. The individual ended up with about 8 square inches of skin hanging off his skull and blood was to be seen everywhere. The person was so inebriated that he was barely conscious of the damage that he had done to himself. He fought the Scottish Ambulance Service staff to prevent them from taking him to hospital; six policemen had to take him there to have his wound attended to.

The second example is of a 17-year-old youth who was drunk out of his mind. The police with whom I was out on patrol offered him the choice of being taken home to his mother or spending a night in the cells. It was a tribute to his mother that his first preference was a night in the cells. However, the police persuaded him that his mother would still be rather irritated with him in the morning and that he might as well get it over with. In the back of the van, he was so agitated that he sought to destroy the cage in which he was being held. He then lowered his trousers and urinated in the back of the van precisely to cause the maximum irritation. He was correct to fear his mother. We met his mother, and I have every confidence that she was going to deal with him.

Access to drink is a huge social ill when that drink is abused excessively. The problem is not new and we should not pretend that it is. In one of his books, T C Smout described a village in East Lothian in the mid-1800s that had one pub for every 14 people. In 1916, David Lloyd George introduced legislation that restricted drinking in the dockyards by ensuring that distilled liquors were held in bond, first, for two years and, later, for three years. When I first entered work in 1964, it took me 22 minutes to earn the money to buy a pint of beer; today it takes people on minimum wage only 15 minutes.

We need to address a huge range of problems, and I support my colleague's motion.

16:30

S2M-5690 Small Business

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 7 March 2007
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:00]
… … …
Small Business
The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5690, in the name of Jim Mather, on the economy and small business.

14:30
… … …
14:59

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I want to be parochial and talk a little about my constituency of Banff and Buchan. It is approaching 20 years since Scottish National Party parliamentarians began to represent Banff and Buchan. The constituency provides a micropicture that illustrates what can be done when people put their trust in the SNP as a party and in SNP parliamentarians.

I will start with unemployment. In the first quarter of 1987—the last quarter in which the Conservative party represented the constituency—116 out of every 10,000 unemployed people in Scotland were in the constituency that is now Banff and Buchan. That figure is according to the offices that measure unemployment in Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Today, the equivalent figure is 92, which represents a 20 per cent drop in unemployment in Banff and Buchan relative to the rest of Scotland. I express the unemployment figures in that way because to do so takes account of the change in unemployment levels in Scotland as a whole and the change in the way in which unemployment is measured. The improved employment levels are the first indication of the success that Banff and Buchan has enjoyed since moving from Conservative to SNP representation.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes—unlike the Liberals, I will accept an intervention.

Mike Rumbles: I point out that the SNP was not in government at any level during that period. Aberdeenshire Council is run by the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Executive is run by a Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition, and the UK Government is run by Labour. The SNP has had nothing to do with that success.

Stewart Stevenson: I am extremely grateful to Mike Rumbles for making my point for me. In the two other seats in Aberdeenshire—which were not represented by the SNP but were subject to exactly the same local council, Scottish Executive and Westminster Government regimes—unemployment relative to the rest of Scotland has risen rather than fallen. Therefore, the distinguishing feature of Banff and Buchan is its SNP parliamentary representation; the distinguishing feature of Mr Rumbles' constituency is its Liberal representation.

Similarly, although we are told that a deficit economy is good for Scotland because our good old pals in the south will bail us out, Banff and Buchan has moved to a position in which the average wage in the constituency is above the Scottish average. Previously, our average wage was below the Scottish average. We also have the second highest level of self-employment, whereas our levels of self-employment used to be much lower than those for the rest of Scotland. Finally, VAT registration in Banff and Buchan has not fallen at the same rate as it has in the rest of Scotland. The bottom line is that, in the most entrepreneurial constituency in Scotland, people have confidence that the SNP will represent them, promote their interests and deliver for small businesses as well as big businesses.

Banff and Buchan now has businesses that did not exist when SNP representation of the constituency commenced: for example, we have 650 people who work in the offshore oil industry for Score Limited, and 180 apprentices are being trained there. Our problem—which we would love to see in the rest of Scotland—is that we, in our SNP-represented area, do not have enough people to fill those good-quality jobs, which are paying the wages of people across Scotland.

I promised that I would be parochial and I have delivered on the first promise that has been made in this debate.

For VAT registrations, between 1999 and 2006 Scotland had a 4 per cent increase whereas England had a 9.5 per cent increase. That picture is repeated across our whole economy.
When the SNP runs things, things are run better—as in Banff and Buchan, so would it be in Scotland.
15:04

1 March 2007

S2M-5669 Illegal Moneylenders

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 1 March 2007

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

Illegal Moneylenders

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5669, in the name of Des McNulty, on dealing with illegal moneylenders.

09:15

... ... ...

10:49

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw members' attention to entries in the voluntary part of my register of interests. I suspect that I am the only member who came to the Parliament in an effort to reduce the public opprobrium that my previous profession attracted—for 30 years, I was employed in a bank, albeit in a computing capacity rather than as a banker.

I will address one issue that has not, I am slightly surprised to note, been developed to any great extent, although Colin Fox referred to it tangentially. No one has picked up on the DTI research that says:

"The profile of those using illegal lenders is similar to that of home credit users in that most"—

I emphasise "most"—

"users are female, with families, and are aged 30-40."

In other words, there is an equality issue at the heart of the matter besides all the other issues and we should tak tent of that in our consideration of it. Throughout Scotland, it is largely women who keep families together, so if women are differentially subjected to the evil trade of illegal moneylending, it undermines family life.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): I do not necessarily disagree with the evidence that Stewart Stevenson has presented, but does he also appreciate that, when microcredit—which has been highly successful—has gone directly to women or when the women are in control of budgeting, the management of family finances is much better than in families in which much of the income is managed by the men?

Stewart Stevenson: That is spot on. However, there is a vicious circle: poverty creates debt which creates poverty. All members should recognise and support the efforts that have been made to break that cycle, but we must also acknowledge that we have created a debt-driven society and have normalised debt as a part of life. In less sophisticated economies, the attitude among the poor is different. The people with the best credit rating in the world live in the squatter camps of South Africa. Traditionally, they are not exposed to debt and desperately try to ensure that they always repay their debts. To some extent, the problem has been driven by wealthy people who have used debt over the years, and has spread to people in other parts of society.

I am not Adrian Mole—like Jamie Stone, I am an adult. The people who use illegal moneylenders represent 0.44 per cent of the adult population, but 3 per cent of low-income households and 6 per cent of households in the most deprived areas. That compares to the figure of 2.3 million users of high-cost licensed home-credit lenders in the UK, which is 6.15 per cent of the adult population. The DTI also says:

"On the most deprived estates, 50% of residents have used home credit lenders within the last 5 years."

It estimates that the total that is owed to illegal moneylenders is £40 million or, with repayments, £120 million, so the numbers are big and worrying. I hope that people tak tent of that fact.

Patricia Hewitt said:

"Illegal money lenders, who are unlicensed ..., are commonly referred to as loan sharks. These loan sharks not only take advantage of vulnerable lenders but also bring disrepute to legitimate lenders".

To be blunt, the legitimate lenders will have to live with that, because they are not at the core of the argument.

I am disappointed that, despite our efforts, we have so far made only comparatively modest inroads into tackling illegal moneylending. I note that the DTI's report on the pilot enforcement schemes says that

"9 cases ... have been dealt with by way of formal cautions"

because they were very much at the low end of the offence and only two cases have been brought to court, with a further six in the pipeline. I am not sure why that leads Cathy Jamieson to say that we should have super-antisocial behaviour orders for illegal moneylending. If it is a crime, we should prosecute it as such. I do not understand where the obsession with ASBOs comes from.

I will turn to an important point. In the DTI's research, there is a little table that shows the connection that users of illegal lenders have with formal banking in one shape or another. It shows that about 50 per cent of all residents in the UK have a bank account, but that only about 10 per cent of users of illegal lenders have one. The really interesting thing is that more than 80 per cent of the people who use illegal lenders have a Post Office card account. It is their connection with the formal financial system but that is precisely the card that it is proposed should be abolished. Those people ain't gonna go to the banks—it is not part of their tradition, and they are uncomfortable with banks. If the Executive ministers could do one constructive thing, it might be to persuade their colleagues at Westminster not to proceed with the winding-up of the Post Office card account. That will simply not help.

Colin Fox referred to the problems of the people who use illegal lenders. The DTI has shown that three in 10 are users of drugs or alcohol or have mental health problems. At the core of the matter—I hope that the pilot schemes have tackled this—is reluctance to report the problem. The DTI report shows that 85 per cent of people would never report illegal lending.

I make the simple point that the lending of money is behind big advertising bucks. In every paper, we see adverts for the lending of money. They focus on interest rates but, for most people, interest rates do not actually mean very much. The banks should be forced to start telling people not what the interest rate is, but what they will have to repay. People can understand that, and it would help them to understand the differences between using formal licensed lending and going to illegal sources of money.

The bottom line is that we expect the most from the people who have the least. The financial management skills of members, cushioned as we are from the need to manage our wallets precisely down to the last penny, would be wholly inadequate for the challenge that many people in our disadvantaged communities face. I very much support the amendment in my colleague's name, and I very much support this debate.

10:57

Stewart Stevenson
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