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30 May 2013

S4M-06766 Scotland’s Railways

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon, everyone. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06766, in the name of Keith Brown, on transforming Scotland’s railways.

14:29
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15:13

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

We have heard a lot of politicians’ opinions about Scotland’s railways, so let us hear from one or two other people.

I happened to meet James Abbott, who is the editor of Modern Railways, at Waverley station on Tuesday this week—it was a fortuitous, not planned, meeting. He is up having a look at the improvements that are being made at Waverley and which have been made in Scotland’s railways.

About four years ago, Rail magazine published a beautifully drawn cartoon of a train in ScotRail livery with the logo “ScotRail England” because it thought that, if the rail services in England got a little bit of the respect, investment and treatment that they got in Scotland, that would do extremely well south of the border.

In a discussion of rail fares in this month’s issue of Rail magazine, the point is made to the rest of the UK rail network that Scotland is simplifying rail fares via a fair fares service. The magazine asks why passengers cannot have that south of the border. The objective commentators—who are quite distinct from us politicians—are very clear about the achievements that have been made in Scotland.

Elaine Murray said that it was a great achievement that the £28 million Paisley canal project was brought in for £12 million; I absolutely agree with her. However, our improvements to the costings for the EGIP project were miraculously transformed into a cut, whereas taking £16 million out of the Paisley canal project was not.

Elaine Murray: Would the member like to remind us what Rail magazine had to say about the cutbacks to EGIP?

Stewart Stevenson: We can all choose our quotes. [Laughter.] When Iain Gray was transport minister, he promised us that nobody in Scotland—it was not a promise that applied to 95 per cent of people—would have to stand for more than 10 minutes anywhere on the ScotRail network. I do not think that that is either possible or practical, but it was one of the promises that the Labour Party made, on which I have yet to see the faintest glimmer of delivery.

Tavish Scott, quite reasonably, focused on journey times. I think that journey times are a good point to focus on, but we all recognise and share the understanding that there is a tension between how many stops are made on a journey and the journey time. That is why it is a little invidious to compare journey times between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and those between Edinburgh and Newcastle—the distances are similar, but the stopping patterns are very different.

When Tavish Scott talked about journey times to Aberdeen, he quoted averages. They might well be correct, but they conceal something very important. If we look at the median times, we find that there are more trains and that more of them stop in Fife but that most of the ones from Aberdeen to Edinburgh stop hardly at all in Fife. Therefore, the availability to people in Aberdeen of faster journeys to Edinburgh has increased substantially. Simultaneously, there are additional stops in Fife that increase access to rail.

I see that Mr Scott wishes to intervene.

Tavish Scott: I am grateful to Mr Stevenson for giving way. I take his point, but I was simply quoting the Government’s own figures on average journey times.

I also looked at the SNP’s manifesto from 2011, with which I am sure that the member is entirely familiar. It says:

“Our proposals will also mean faster and more-frequent connections between Inverness and Aberdeen, and between these cities and the central belt.”

That did not happen, as the figures that I used show.

Stewart Stevenson: I simply return to the point that Tavish Scott is correct about average times but that median times are a better way of looking at the issue, because we have introduced more fast journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh. That is the point. We only get the answer to the question that we ask; sometimes we have to modify the question to understand what is going on.

I turn to rail fares. One of the great benefits of old age—there are not very many of them—is having access to the senior railcard, which costs £30 a year and is an enormous bargain. That, coupled with offers from ScotRail, has meant that this week the cost of my return journey from Huntly to the south is a mere £17—provided that I travel off peak, of course. That is very good. There are many opportunities for people to get such bargains.

It is important that we look at the fare structure. For example, I have been advised that, when travelling from Keith to Inverness, one should buy a ticket to Muir of Ord, which is beyond Inverness, because it is cheaper to do so. That is the sort of anomaly that I hope we will continue to work on.

In relation to the railway line from Aberdeen to Inverness, it is worth looking at what has happened at Inverurie. A great proportion of the trains that previously stopped at Dyce now continue to Inverurie. We are paying the penalty for success. Patronage has been driven up at Inverurie. We now have the longest operational train anywhere on the ScotRail network—a seven-carriage train—running between Aberdeen and Inverness. That part of the network is important to my constituents and others.

Jenny Marra: Will Stewart Stevenson take an intervention?

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

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I am out of time.

Finally, I congratulate the Scottish Government on the introduction of wi-fi, which I am finding highly useful. On my daily commute, I see dozens of people in each carriage using the wi-fi. I congratulate the minister and the Government on everything that they have done.

15:19

29 May 2013

S4M-06362 Automatic External Defibrillators

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06362, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on automatic external defibrillators in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

17:04
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17:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I am sure that it is a great relief to members that the Minister for Public Health is here to respond to the debate. As I recall, he was a member of Scotland’s emergency services when he was a member of a mountain rescue team. I am sure that he is more than adequately trained, should any of us require first responder intervention.

This is an excellent and opportune debate. The motion is comprehensive and covers many of the bases. The key underlying point is that early intervention dramatically improves the likelihood of a good outcome in the long term.

Nanette Milne and Malcolm Chisholm talked about the related intervention of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. We should say a little more about that, because as anyone will know who has been trained to do CPR, as I have—albeit that I must be incredibly rusty now—it is easy to watch and difficult to do. A person must have the confidence to put their full weight into CPR as they press on the chest of the person who is suffering a heart attack. They must be prepared to break ribs, if that is what it takes. In older people, that can be a consequence.

In light of that, we must consider the practical training that is given to people if they are to administer CPR. It is not a question of having a bit of paper that tells one how to do it; people need to realise that it needs a lot of physical effort. I hope that we tak tent of that. I am sure that Laura and Paul Macadam-Slater, who are trained first-aiders, are familiar with the issue, which is partly why CPR is mentioned in the motion.

There are other, simple things that people should be trained to do at school. For example, youngsters should know how to get someone into the recovery position. Such an intervention can be decisive in ensuring a person’s survival, given that vomiting can be associated with a heart attack and someone who is in the wrong position can drown in their own vomit. People should be taught the recovery position.

I represent many of Scotland’s fishermen. These days, a large proportion of fishing boats carry AEDs, which are vastly easier to use than the kind of equipment that Dr Milne used, which came in some time after my father graduated in medicine.

There is a small personal element to this debate. In 1930, long before I was born, my grandfather had a heart attack on what was then the lower station in Dunfermline, and that was the end of him. I would like to think that if that had happened today, CPR or intervention via an AED would have meant that he could have lived beyond his 68 years.

I hope that the debate stimulates wider interest and that we hear interesting things from the minister. I also hope that the minister will not have to make a personal intervention and use his previous training.

17:29

S4M-06746 Chronic Pain Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06746, in the name of Alex Neil, on ensuring access to high-quality sustainable services for people living with chronic pain.

14:41
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16:06

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I am slightly surprised that we have got this far down the speaking order without exploring in a more structured way that there is a large variety of pains and chronic pains. Jackson Carlaw referred to his migraines, Graeme Pearson referred to arthritis and other members referred to particular kinds of pain. However, the minister’s announcement of a consultation to look at three options—indeed, the consultation may throw up other options—is quite proper because there are so many different sources and effects of pain and chronic pain that there may not be as simple a solution as perhaps the Labour amendment suggests.

I will illustrate that point with a few examples, some of which are close to home and some of which are not quite so close. First, my mother, who as a youngster was an active tennis player, developed arthritis in her late 30s and early 40s. Eventually, she had to have her hips, where she was most affected, immobilised—it was before the days of hip replacement—and, ultimately, the muscles in her thighs cut to prevent movement. She suffered pain of an excruciating nature for the rest of her life. In our family we lived with that and with the reality in those days that relatively little could be done about it.

My mother was not miserable because of the pain: she lived with it and coped with it, as she had to. As a little lady of 4 feet 10 and a half, she ran around on elbow crutches for most of her adult life, but it was different when she got in her Mini Cooper S. I remember being with her on one occasion on the Baiglie straight up to Bridge of Earn doing 100mph—she was liberated by some technology—which was before Barbara Castle brought in the 70mph limit, just in case anyone thinks otherwise. We lived with that situation for my mother and there was no remedy.

When I started as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital as a fresh-faced, innocent 17-year-old in 1964, my first task was to go and see Jimmy in the corner. I was told, “He’s got a problem with his legs.” I asked Jimmy what his problem was and he said it was his legs. I said, “What’s the problem, Jimmy?” He said, “My legs.” Eventually, of course, I rolled back the sheets; there were no legs. Jimmy was suffering the substantial pain that amputees often suffer after the removal of the source of the pain. The treatment that someone in such a situation requires might be quite different from the treatment that someone else requires. In those days, it was simple: we simply gave Jimmy as much codeine as he wanted, as a result of which he was addicted to painkillers—that was very much the choice in those days.

For my part, I have had intermittent bouts of pain—perhaps rather fewer than some members, given what they described. In particular, I suffered pain in my neck for four or five months. That turned out to have been caused by a trapped nerve, and I was very fortunate in that a single session of manipulation relieved the problem. The pain has not come back in 30 years, which is terrific.

More serious, as an adolescent I had to have my torso flayed, to remove the outer surface of the skin. It took six months and was extremely painful. That was because my acne was so severe—oh, the things that I tell members; you won’t tell anyone outside the chamber, will you?

The reality is that there are many different sources of and treatments for pain. My father, who was a GP, used hypnosis to help his patients to deal with pain. Indeed, I was taught some hypnosis tricks to help me to deal with my asthma, and to this day I can deal with my asthma without using medication. I was lucky to get a top-up of my hypnosis skills and ability to control my pain from Yvonne Gilan—an actress who, incidentally, was once in “Fawlty Towers”—who specialises in treating people in the acting profession.

Jim Hume talked about young people and pain, which is another, quite different area. There is a huge variety of sources and types of pain, which need to be dealt with in different ways.

We should not talk down Bath too much. The city has 2,000 years of experience of dealing with pain. The Romans built a spa there, where both physical and mental pain were treated. Bath is probably a very good place to go; it is just a shame that we cannot move it a little closer to the patients who need help in Scotland.

We have not yet heard in the debate about pain at end of life. There have been great improvements in the management of pain at end of life through the hospice movement. Again, that is a very different issue to deal with.

We must remember that pain has a purpose: to prevent us from damaging ourselves further where damage already exists. Pain alerts us to that.

I welcome what the minister said and look forward to the outcome of the consultation.

16:13

28 May 2013

Having and Keeping a Home

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is an Equal Opportunities Committee debate on “Having and keeping a home: steps to preventing homelessness among young people”.

14:15
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15:25

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I entered this Parliament, after a by-election, on 13 June 2001. Five other colleagues who are present now were there on that particular day. They will recall that, immediately after being sworn in, I was thrown in at the deep end to stage 3 consideration of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Linda Fabiani was the first member to speak in today’s debate whom I heard on that day. The proceedings were extremely confusing and long, and they took place in a cramped chamber up the road, which got very sweaty on a warm summer day. Therefore, it is appropriate to return to the subject of housing.

I have the Christian name “Stewart”, which is the family name that comes from many of my ancestors who were Travellers. They were not, of course, people who were homeless, but people who moved around Scotland with their home, although a number of my rather distant ancestors were homeless from time to time.

I was brought up in relatively comfortable circumstances in a large house with a large garden, but homelessness was not that far away from us. A gentleman of the road, whose surname was Stewart, used to stay with us in the bottom of the garden for a month each year; he used to get soup from the kitchen. I suspect that, to some extent, he was homeless through choice—perhaps he was reconciled to his circumstances—but in today’s modern society, particularly in urban areas, being homeless is nothing like a cushy number.

We must think about the consequences that legislation can sometimes have. Homelessness touched on my personal circumstances on another occasion as a consequence of the introduction of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1962, which changed the rules for the licensing of hotels on Sundays. Up to that point, a hotel could sell drink on a Sunday only if there were people resident in it. In consequence, hotels offered huge discounts for people to stay in them—each hotel had someone who lived in it at a low cost. When the legislation changed, all those people were thrown out and became homeless. One of them was a patient of my father. He was a poor wee soul. He was a former soldier who could just about get by. After becoming homeless, he lived in the caravan in our front garden for a year.

Many of the homelessness issues that we deal with are a result of highly diverse circumstances. For me, as for other members, the circumstances that matter most are those in which people have become homeless through mental ill health. I worked as a psychiatric nurse for about seven or eight months between school and university, and many of the people who were in psychiatric hospitals in the early 1960s were people who could not—in the circumstances that then prevailed—live independently. Some of them had been homeless and then ended up with us. It was fundamental that their condition was based on distorted perceptions of the world, which required special training to deal with.

Anyone who has met, dealt with, lived with or looked after someone suffering from mental ill health will understand that. Some of the people in our ward—we had 32 beds—were there because of substance abuse, whether alcohol or other substances. Mental ill health is a particularly potent source of problems.

Historically, the support for mental ill health among the young has never been particularly good, and trying to throw them into the adult system has never really worked. Such young people become very disconnected from their peers as they grow up, so that they end up as adults who find it very difficult to cope with life. Objectively, that is not only a huge cost but a lost opportunity to the individuals and to society as a whole.

We have heard talk of finance, and we talk about training youngsters with relatively modest amounts of money in financial management. I cannot help but remember that when I was a youngster we had a local savings bank in most of our big towns. We had one in Cupar, where I was brought up. The bank came to the school and we all put a little bit of money away each week and learned a little bit, by practical application, about how to manage money and defer the gratification of spending all our money now for a future objective for which we would aggregate it.

One of the great disgraces that I think the Tories were responsible for was the selling off of the Trustee Savings Bank and turning it into just an ordinary bank with much less of a social attitude and conscience than it previously had. Not every kid is lucky enough to have a George Adam bank of dad, and many kids find managing money difficult.

Of course, we expect financial management of a high standard from the people who are least able to do that: those with the least capability and least money. In all honesty, I do not really count the money out of my pocket as I spend it, and I suspect that none of us here is in the kind of income bracket in which we have to do that.

The situation of youngsters in care or coming out of care presents huge problems as well. That is a regular feature of the constituency case work that I undertake, and I am sure that that is the case for all members.

The committee has treated an issue of huge importance in a serious and useful way, but many of the reasons for homelessness are not necessarily based on rational failings. Mental ill health means irrationality, so I hope that we can support in particular those who suffer from mental ill health.

15:32

22 May 2013

S4M-06657 Haudagain Roundabout

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06657, in the name of Richard Baker, on immediate action at the Haudagain roundabout.

14:40
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15:24

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

One or two references have been made to events that I thought I had been at, but members’ recollection appears to differ fundamentally from mine.

I am reminded of what one American President said when he came into office. It is apposite to the situation that the Scottish Government found in 2007. He said:

“We were astonished to find that things were even worse than we’d been saying they were.”

When we came into office in 2007, in relation to the AWPR, for which there had been great fanfares of announcements, not a single day of preparation had taken place. The fantasy target for completion was dead in the water before the first vote in the 2007 election had been cast.

It is worth reminding members to the left of me of one of the very first actions of those who opposed that new SNP Government. The very first vote that the 47 members on the Government benches lost to the 82 on the Opposition benches was a vote against our policy, so £500 million was to be spent on trams in Edinburgh rather than spread to other parts of Scotland, including, in particular, to fund improvements to road networks in the north-east of Scotland. That decision was made by the Labour Party and was supported by the Liberals and the Tories. We opposed it. That money could have been invested in the north-east, and we said so at the time. I continue to say so today.

In her speech, Jenny Marra—a North East Scotland MSP—talked about Dyce Drive creating a new and improved link to the airport. I am not quite sure that she knows where that is in relation to the Haudagain roundabout—she may not have been there, so we have to forgive her for her lack of geographical knowledge.

Jenny Marra also spoke about the north-east paying the price for Scottish Government cuts. Let us not debate the original source of those cuts—we have done so on many previous occasions; let us focus on the financial management of the Labour Party in the north-east. When the Scottish Government came into power in 2007, Aberdeen city had the highest band D tax of any cooncil in Scotland. We have had the privilege of being able to protect the people of the north-east from further increases—would that we had the economic powers to do even better.

Of course, we know what the Labour Party’s policy on that matter is today. Bernard Ponsonby, interviewing Willie Young, extracted the confession that it was not good enough that Aberdeen was merely the highest-taxed local authority area in Scotland. He wanted the council tax to be higher there. He wanted to raise it even more.

We know where the Labour Party is as regards the money that it would squeeze from the successful economy of the north-east.

We know that the Labour Party took money from the north-east to pay for the Edinburgh trams. Then, in Glasgow, it campaigned to say that the north-east was getting all the money instead of Glasgow.

I am happy to support the amendment in Keith Brown’s name. I congratulate Christian Allard on an excellent maiden speech.

15:28

21 May 2013

S4M-06643 Public Science Engagement Initiatives

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06643, in the name of Dr Alasdair Allan, on supporting a science nation: celebrating Scotland’s public science engagement initiatives.

14:10
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14:46

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

At the outset, I advise colleagues that I will not be deploying my ever popular Rev I M Jolly imitation this afternoon—others do it so much better than I do.

In his opening remarks, the minister said that he was not speaking in a vacuum. Of course, a vacuum is an entirely theoretical thing, rather like infinity. Given the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the reverse temporal connection that is associated with the Higgs boson, it is impossible for there to be any part of the universe that is wholly empty of matter. Of course, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle means that we do not know whether there is anything in a particular space until we test it and, after testing and detecting it, it may no longer be there.

That sort of language, while fascinating in a superficial way, is meaningless to a great many people, so we need to speak in more simple ways using simpler examples.

Iain Gray: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Before coming to a former mathematics teacher, I want to give just a little story about my mathematics teacher, Doc Inglis. He was a wonderfully bluff Lancastrian, who in our first year at school took us round the school searching for infinity. We took the blackboards down, but we could not find it. We looked in the school dustbins, but we could not find it. We went out into the playing fields, but we could not find infinity. To this day, I remember that exercise and infinity means something to me.

Iain Gray: Perhaps the moment has passed, but I wanted to point out that it is not possible to talk in a vacuum because sound does not travel in a vacuum. The advantage of that, Mr Stevenson, is that nobody would be able to hear the scream.

Stewart Stevenson: The scream of Schrödinger’s cat no doubt—that is a rather private reference.

Neil Findlay: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will make some progress, if I may, before thinking about taking another intervention. The bottom line is that we need people who can inspire and link science to real life.

I want to mention some women in relation to science. Let me start with Mary Queen of Scots and cryptography, which is a topic that I am particularly interested in. Mary Queen of Scots used a method for corresponding with her lover that, in structural terms, is exactly the same as the method used in the public key cryptography on the internet and elsewhere that protects our highly sensitive data. She had a box with two locks, of which she had the key to one and her lover had the key to the other. She would put her message in the box and lock her lock; the box would go to her lover, who would lock his lock. The box would then come back to her and she would unlock her lock; it would go back to him and he would unlock his lock. There was only one key each, which never left the respective people, because compromising the key would make things difficult. Hundreds of years later, that is the basis of how we protect modern financial information. So Mary Queen of Scots gives an historic hook, but an important one that lives on in modern cryptology.

A few politicians have been scientists. Indeed, Isaac Newton was a member of Parliament for a period, although I must say that his contribution to Parliament was relatively modest. He made only a single contribution, when he asked if the window could be shut because there was a rather disturbing draught blowing along the back benches, but at least he was in Parliament and the opportunity was there.

Another woman, Ada Lovelace, was Charles Babbage’s programmer. Charles Babbage had a lot of public money to develop the difference engine and the analytical engine, which were mechanical computers that it was impossible to engineer to the required standard. Ada Lovelace developed the algorithms for those machines. In the modern age, another woman, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, developed COBOL, a language that is still used in commercial programming today. She retired three times and was brought back to the United States navy, because she turned out to be indispensable. She was brought back and died in harness as a researcher at the age of 86. So there are plenty of women around; we just have to get the message out.

The relationship between scientists and public discourse is often a little uncomfortable. We think of the first computer being made in the United States but, actually, the first computer that was capable of being programmed was built by a Post Office engineer called Tommy Flowers, who was based at Dollis Hill laboratory in London. He developed it in 1944. It was available six days before the D-day landings and was an indispensable tool for that. However, he had to pay for it himself and the state never fully compensated him.

There are good examples from good scientists. Richard Feynman was able to show, without speaking a single word, why the Challenger space shuttle failed. Live on television during a congressional hearing, he took a rubber ring like those on the solid booster rockets on Challenger—which had been the point of failure—dipped it in liquid nitrogen, tapped it on the desk and it shattered. He did not say a word, but he found a way of illustrating how science can affect real life. I hope that we have lots of people who can do that.

I can think of a few ministers who have been scientists. I have Iain Gray on the list, as well as Richard Simpson and Sam Galbraith. Of course, Jack McConnell introduced tobacco legislation because he understood many of the scientific arguments. It is not all good news, however. Margaret Thatcher was the first and only Westminster Prime Minister who was a chemist, but one of the first things that she did was to cut grants for chemistry research.

Another woman, Dorothy L Sayers, put a very important point about science into the mouth of Peter Wimsey, the detective that she created. She has him say:

“The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalise false statements made in error, we open up the way for false statements made by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.”

Scientists are the guardians of truth and knowledge. We should do everything that we can to support them and to encourage others, especially women, to follow in their illustrious footsteps.

14:54

9 May 2013

S4M-06492 Youth Employment

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06492, in the name of Angela Constance, on young people: supporting Scotland’s economy today and tomorrow.

14:30
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15:27

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I will try to come in in under half an hour.

I listened with great interest to Ken Macintosh’s speech and I take in good heart the preparedness to make common ground on the essential core of the debate. That is very welcome.

Ken Macintosh mentioned that some of the statistics on which we rely are experimental statistics. It may be of value to look at the Office for National Statistics, which is where the statistics come from, to see what their being experimental means. It is not about their being imperfect or unreliable.

All new statistical series are initially designated as experimental until there is a long enough run of a series to see that the figures are truly reflective and reliable. Therefore, although Ken Macintosh is correct in saying that we should not bet the bank on an experimental set of statistics, it is equally important to realise that what are currently designated experimental statistics are produced by the same method and to exactly the same professional high standard, with an expectation on the part of the Office for National Statistics that we will end up adopting them.

Not all experimental statistics are published. They may be developed and used internally for 12 or 24 months before they escape into the light of day. However, it is recognised that this is such a fundamentally important area of public discourse that the statistics should be published while they bear the formal, but not commonly used, designation of being experimental. I thought that it might be useful to underpin the debate with that explanation from the Office for National Statistics.

The context of youth unemployment is very different from that which I and others of my age experienced when we were youngsters. I studied at university and graduated with an extremely modest degree—my degree is spectacular for its modesty rather than anything else—yet I had three good job offers. Furthermore, when I was a student and looked for a job in the summer, at Christmas or at Easter, I never failed to get one. The economic environment was very different then. Today, students from the university sector who have a second degree may not even get a second look from employers, so we are in a very different position in the round.

In the north-east of Scotland, as Mark McDonald delineated in his excellent speech, we perhaps face different issues that relate more to a lack of appropriately trained staff than a lack of jobs for people to go into. In comparison with other constituencies in Scotland, my constituency has one of the lowest proportions of school leavers who go into tertiary education. The reason for that is a good reason, in that school leavers can go into employment without having to do further training. Nonetheless, it is important that we provide support to people through modern apprenticeships, given that the comparatively easy transition into work that is experienced in the north-east of Scotland does not necessarily equip people for a lifetime of employment.

Therefore, I very much support Banff and Buchan College and Aberdeen College, which have focused their efforts on providing training that is appropriate to local needs. Largely, that means engineering training. We have had excellent support from local employers, such as Macduff Shipyards and Score in Peterhead, which employ huge numbers of apprentices and, indeed, advertise for apprentices. Like all apprenticeships, those are linked to employment. It is particularly good that a huge proportion of those who complete an apprenticeship remain in employment six months later. Training and employment are closely linked and are very important.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP): The member paints an encouraging picture of the north-east. Does he think that schools in other parts of Scotland should do more to point young people towards engineering and such jobs?

Stewart Stevenson: John Mason makes a very valid point, which I might extend by saying that we should encourage not just young men but young women to go into engineering. It is quite interesting how many of the high-performing apprentices in the north-east turn out to be young women who have acquired mathematical skills in school that they have gone on to apply in college and in employment.

The North Sea oil industry, for example, will provide many decades of employment, which could mean a lifetime’s employment for those who so choose. Renewable energy will provide similar opportunities. Therefore, as in the rest of Scotland, the north-east’s college sector is very important in supporting increased employment for our youngsters.

Of course, it is more expensive to train someone in engineering skills than it is to train people in certain other disciplines. For example, for health and safety reasons—quite properly—there need to be two people in the room to supervise any activity involving lathes, so the costs are higher. Historically, until this Government engaged with the college sector in a different way, it was difficult to get adequate funding for courses that cost significantly more.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government is almost invariably finding space to support youngsters in apprenticeships through the mechanism of the contracts that it lets. When I was a minister, I was delighted to meet apprentices whose jobs had been created directly as a result of the Scottish Government placing contracts. The Government is doing at its own hand the kinds of things that it should be doing, and it is creating the educational environment for people to acquire the skills that they will need.

I conclude by noting that, although we have quite properly heard a lot about people in areas of much greater stress that are not as lucky as the north-east, we have pockets of deprivation in the north-east, too. Even in my constituency, which is one of the best-performing constituencies in terms of employment and where the unemployment rate is one third of the Scottish average, we have an area that was included in the top 10 per cent of areas of multiple deprivation. I am delighted to say that some of the initiatives that the Government has taken are starting to make a difference there.

In youth employment, as in so many things, the Government is doing a terrific job with the powers that it has. Would that we had the powers to do more.

15:35

2 May 2013

S4M-05594 Blacklisting

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05594, in the name of Neil Findlay, on blacklisting: a Scottish and United Kingdom human rights abuse. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the minutes of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) meeting of 5 December 2012; agrees with the HSE in condemning “any form of blacklisting of employees by employers for raising concerns about safety standards at work”; believes that the blacklist operated by the Consulting Association and used by numerous construction firms was an appalling human rights abuse that impacted on the lives of thousands of workers and their families across the UK; acknowledges the blacklisting map of the UK published by the GMB trade union, showing that over 300 workers in Scotland were affected, including 68 across the Lothians; understands that, since 2007, the Scottish Government and/or its agencies have awarded contracts to the following companies, which have been named by or are associated with companies named by, the Information Commissioner’s Office as subscribing to the Consulting Association: Amec Group Limited, Amey OW Limited, Amey Infrastructure Services Limited, Amey Roads (North Lanarkshire) Limited, Bailey Maintenance, Balfour Beatty Construction Limited, Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Limited, BAM Nuttall Limited, Carillion Construction, Laing O’Rourke, Morrison Construction, the Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors joint venture, Skanska Construction UK Limited, Sir Robert McAlpine Limited and Norwest Holst Limited, and acknowledges calls for an inquiry into the impact of this practice on Scottish construction workers with a view to ensuring that it cannot happen in Scotland in the future.

12:36
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13:03

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Along with others, I congratulate Mr Findlay on securing time for the debate and on the powerful illustrations of abuse that he brought to us, as other members who have participated in the debate have done.

Richard Baker correctly pointed to what happened in the oil industry as well. The abuses that took place in that industry led to the formation of a new union led by Jake Molloy, which is now incorporated elsewhere.

The issue does not relate simply to construction. Blacklisting is an abuse that has travelled beyond a single industry and might exist in industries in which we, as yet, know little of it.

It is worth making a couple of points about how such practices can happen. Our constitutional situation is quite different from that which prevails in the United States for example. Amendment 6 to the US constitution states that a person shall be entitled to

“a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury ... to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his”

or her

“defence.”

It is clear that, in the environment that we are talking about, none of that prevails. UK companies have arrogated the right to the accusation, trial, conviction and sentencing of individuals by holding privately constituted courts, meeting in secret, denying to the accused all knowledge of the sentence, preventing access to a proper defence and not allowing any oversight or accountability in respect of public policy.

It is of course illegal to deprive someone of their liberty and property without due process of law, but it is not clear that it has been illegal to deprive people of the right to employment without due process of law.

John Wilson (Central Scotland) (SNP): Does Mr Stevenson accept that many of the allegations against the individuals who were placed on the blacklist were made by other individuals? The blacklist was kept by individuals and involved not trial by jury but trial by hearsay.

Stewart Stevenson: John Wilson helpfully makes the point for me. If there is to be an accusation made and a sanction laid, that must be done in an open and transparent way that duly causes people to end up in a position in which they are penalised. Virtually none—probably none—of the people who were blacklisted fall into that category, and John Wilson is absolutely correct.

The point is that every worker should be a safety officer. It is disgraceful that people have been placed on blacklists for trying to make their workplaces safer and for trying—as the Conservatives should recognise—to promote the interests of their employers as well as workers. We should take extreme notice of that.

I am coming to the end of my short speech. I welcome the indications from ministers that the issue will be addressed in forthcoming legislation. I point out that we are of course restricted in the powers that we have—in particular, we do not have the powers to control business organisations such as those that operated the blacklists. I hope that the Government can find a way to ensure that this never, ever happens again in Scotland.

13:08

Stewart Stevenson
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