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19 June 2014

S4M-09329 Showmen’s Guild (125th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-09329, in the name of Richard Lyle, on celebrating 125 years of the Showmen’s Guild. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Scottish Showmen’s Guild on its 125th anniversary; understands that the Scottish section of the Showmen’s Guild is the largest by area, covering fairs from John O’Groats to Carlisle and Kendal; considers that the Scottish Showmen’s Guild plays an important role in Kirkcaldy Links Market, Europe’s longest street fair; commends the Scottish Showmen’s Guild on inspecting all rides, games and attractions for safety certificates; supports what it considers the Scottish Showmen’s Guild’s continued success in regulating Scotland’s fairgrounds, providing safe entertainment for people in Scotland; compliments all the members of the guild on the way that they serve the people of the Central Scotland region, and wishes them continued success in the future.

12:32
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13:00

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I congratulate Richard Lyle on securing time for the debate. The debate focuses on the 125th anniversary of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, which is an impressive achievement.

I am sure that I speak for many people who have enjoyed the entertainment that the guild provides in streets and in country locations across Scotland. My parents used to let me go—I must have been a particularly responsible child. [Laughter.] I see that that argument gains little support from members.

We should put what the guild does in the context of the modern world. We can go to the cinema, watch telly for hours and play on our phones and iPads, but the live entertainment and the unique carnival atmosphere that we can enjoy when the showmen come to town are very different and still attract us. It is therefore right that we express our gratitude for that spontaneous and genuine entertainment.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said:

“As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit.”

The Scottish Showmen’s Guild is an essential and integral part of our culture. The showmen travel around Scotland, showing us things that we might not otherwise experience. They are grounded in Scotland’s past, but they adapt to meet the needs of Scotland’s future. The entertainment is family friendly and unique, and I hope that it never goes unnoticed.

Maureen Watt talked about local shows. I woke up on Tuesday morning to the sounds of the showies in the Tesco car park in Linlithgow—when I am down here I am in my wee house in Linlithgow. The showmen’s coming to town is an essential part of the annual Linlithgow marches celebration, which is about beating the boundaries of the town.

In the area that I represent, we are looking forward to the Turra show in the first weekend in August. It is the second biggest agricultural show in Scotland, after this week’s Royal Highland Show. A person cannot get into the Turra show without walking through the showground—the noise, the hubbub, the people, the toffee apples, the sugar on sticks and the sheer excitement of it all.

Over two days, the Turra show attracts tens of thousands of people, and the showmen are an integral part of that. The show complements what the showmen bring, with horses, dancing and a range of competitions, as well as around 250 trade stands and, in the adjacent industrial marquee, more than 1,700 craft displays. The showmen add lustre and excitement to that important event, to which people come from all over the world.

Thousands of people depend on the entertainment that is provided by the Scottish Showmen’s Guild. The events aid tourism by dragging people in; they are an important part of our economy.

I hope that we never forget the showmen’s contribution, but we should also recognise the challenges that we sometimes create. Let me suggest an example from my personal experience. In 1971, we had decimalisation. The penny in the roll-the-penny stall that I was particularly addicted to became a totty wee coin, but the new 2 pence coin was, of course, five times as valuable. That was a significant challenge and when we were doing decimalisation, nobody thought about it.

I owe gratitude to my American intern for my remarks. She has been absolutely amazed to discover about the Scottish Showmen’s Guild, and all that it does, in her research to help me with my contribution today. We are truly reaching out to international engagement.

13:05

17 June 2014

S4M-10312 Budget Process (Standing Order Rule Changes)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is consideration of motion S4M-10312, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on standing order rule changes: budget process. I call Stewart Stevenson to move the motion on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

15:19

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I rise to speak to the small but perfectly formed changes that Kenneth Gibson referred to in the previous debate, which are the addition of 14 words to the standing orders, five of which are instances of the word “revenue”.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee has considered what changes are required to the standing orders as a result of the revised written agreement between the Finance Committee and the Scottish Government and the financial powers that were introduced by the Scotland Act 2012, which come into effect in April 2015.

Currently, the standing orders include only the high-level rules that govern the budget process—for example, the requirement to publish a draft budget by 20 September each year. As we heard in the previous debate, the specific details of the budget process are set out in the written agreement. We think that that is the right approach, and we recommend that it is continued. It has the advantage of flexibility, as the budget process can be adjusted in the written agreement without the need to amend the standing orders.

The changes that we are recommending to the standing orders are therefore relatively limited, as we are not proposing any significant changes to the broad structure of the budget process. As the report says, the changes would

“add references to public revenue alongside public expenditure at appropriate points”

in the standing orders

“to reflect the new requirement to consider the receipts from the devolved taxes.”

The Scottish rate of income tax will not come into force until 2016-17, so we are not including references to that tax in the standing orders at this time. There may be a requirement to make further amendments to the standing orders in around a year’s time in preparation for the Scottish rate of income tax coming into force.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 3rd Report 2014 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes - Budget Process (SP Paper 512), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 27 June 2014.

15:21

12 June 2014

S4M-10244 EU Legislative Proposals: Review of Standing Orders

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The second of these short debates is on motion S4M-10244, on the report by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee on “EU Legislative Proposals: Review of Standing Orders”.

Mr Stevenson, I would be obliged if you would continue speaking until 5 o’clock.

16:57

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): In 2010, the Parliament agreed a new European strategy for its committees. That followed major changes that had been introduced by the treaty of Lisbon, which gave the Scottish Parliament, through the UK Government, a role in raising subsidiarity concerns.

The strategy was supported by standing order changes. At the time, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee thought that they were sufficiently important to merit review in a couple of years—a review that the committee has undertaken.

The main concern that was raised with us by other committees was the very tight timescale for considering potential subsidiarity issues. Although that is largely beyond the Scottish Parliament’s control, we have proposed a couple of changes to make the rules more flexible.

Instead of requiring committees to consider issues that are referred to them, the changes will give committees discretion to decide whether they need to scrutinise a subsidiarity concern that has been raised with them, and whether they are able to do so in the available time. The changes also mean that committees can reach informal agreement on which is to be the lead committee, rather than having to await a Parliamentary Bureau designation.

I invite Parliament to agree the changes, which have been welcomed by committees.

I have pleasure in moving motion S4M-10244, which I will read. I move,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 2nd Report 2014 (Session 4), EU Legislative Proposals: Review of Standing Orders (SP Paper 506), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 27 June 2014.

S4M-10243 Hybrid Bills

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next items of business are consideration of two motions in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

The first of the two debates is on motion S4M-10243, on the committee’s report on “Hybrid Bills”.

16:56

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I am, of course, proud to have been the minister who introduced the Forth Crossing Bill, which was the first and only hybrid bill to have been considered by this Parliament. The rules for considering hybrid bills were added to standing orders in order to facilitate consideration of that bill, and were an amalgamation of the rules for public and private bills.

The Forth Crossing Bill was successfully passed, and work has now commenced on the Forth replacement crossing, which will be named the Queensferry crossing. When it had completed its work on the bill, the Forth Crossing Bill Committee helpfully produced a report that suggested improvements to the hybrid bill process. That has resulted in the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee recommending a number of relatively minor changes to those rules and to the corresponding rules for private bills. They include clarification of the role of the assessor and streamlining of the production of accompanying documents.

I commend the changes to members; the committee believes that they will improve the process for consideration of hybrid and private bills.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 4th Report 2014 (Session 4), Hybrid Bills (SP Paper 513), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 27 June 2014

10 June 2014

S4M-10257 Older People

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10257, in the name of Shona Robison, on celebrating the contribution of older people to Scottish society.

14:46
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15:44

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I apologise for being, like Christine Grahame, part of the demographic challenge that the Labour Party has identified. There are one or two others of us who may yet speak in this debate.

It is interesting that we started the debate with a reference to grandparents. I have the misfortunate not to have known any of my grandparents. All my grandparents were born before the first secret ballot in a parliamentary election, which took place on 15 August 1872. When my paternal grandfather was born, Abraham Lincoln was president.

Many of my generation had less connection with grandparents than others, because we were born immediately after the war to parents who were a bit older, as our dads had been away in the war. We probably experienced less grandparental nurturing than many have.

Pensions have been around for a long time. When Lloyd George introduced them, they were worth half a crown a week—I beg his pardon; they were half a crown a month. That was thought to be such a revolutionary and huge financial bonus that, in the book “Para Handy Tales”, Para Handy contemplated starting pensioner farms to exploit that money. He would keep a few healthy pensioners on a Scottish island somewhere and make huge profits.

As I said, pensions have been around for a long time. My great-great-grandfather Andrew Barlow, who was a soldier in the Napoleonic wars, ended up as a Chelsea pensioner, because he went deaf. When my great-great-great-grandfather left the Navy in 1782, he got a pension.

Only in modern times—almost within our memory or that of people whom we know—has the universal pension come along. That is why Gordon Brown’s intervention to take away some of the tax benefits for pension funds was catastrophic—that is partly why the private pensions of some people whom I know were wiped out to zero. That happened on the Labour Party’s watch.

The Labour Party has done many good things. For example, the anti-smoking legislation in the Parliament took great courage and I absolutely commend it for that. Labour introduced the bus pass scheme, which benefits old people and sustains the bus network in rural areas—each £1 that is spent on that has two benefits. The Labour Party was behind the introduction of comprehensive education, which I strongly support. In West Lothian, the Labour Party has done many good things, although I remember that it was Jimmy McGinley—in 1980, I think—who introduced the Christmas bonus for pensioners, rather than the Labour Party.

We have been around and we have had quite a lot of good things from the Labour Party, so it is disappointing that there is a perception—because the prospect has been put into the debate about ideas for change, reduction and containing costs—of a threat to the benefits that the Labour Party contributed to bringing to Scotland through the operation of the Scottish Parliament. That party has every opportunity to put to one side that perception now or later and say that there is no threat. It could say that those benefits are protected and will be left.

Are we challenged by the economics of older people? Yes, of course—there is no country in Europe where that is not the case. However, the reality is that the costs in Scotland are rather less. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said:

“Our analysis has shown that the costs of the state pension would be lower in Scotland”,

for the bad reason that Scotland has lower life expectancy. We want to drive up life expectancy—nobody in the Parliament from any political party wants to do anything different. We disagree only about means and timing; we do not disagree about objectives. That is good—let us try to build on that consensus.

Social protection costs are lower in Scotland. In 2012-13, those costs were 15.5 per cent of gross domestic product in Scotland, whereas they were half a percentage point higher in the UK, which is 5 or 6 per cent higher. In Scotland, we spent 2 per cent less of our tax revenues than the UK on social protection. Those are all opportunities to provide better care for people who require it.

Of course, old people do not necessarily require care. There are very many fit older people. If a person starts fit, they can stay fit. I remember watching breakfast television in Australia in the 1980s—that is very sad, but that is what I did. I saw the guy who had just won the Australian over-40s marathon for the 40th consecutive time. He was in his 90s and was beating people in their 40s. He was fit, he stood proud and upright and his voice was strong, because he had never let himself get unfit at any point in his life.

Christine Grahame: That is where I have gone wrong.

Stewart Stevenson: That is the great trick that Christine Grahame and others have got completely wrong.

I will draw my speech to a conclusion.

Neil Findlay described very well the challenge that we face. I thought that he did a fine job. He quoted Peter Johnston, who reinforced that. I agree with Peter Johnston, but the economic challenges that local government, the Scottish Government and communities in Scotland face do not, of course, stem from the Scottish Parliament, which has no control over the macroeconomics of our economy or the substantial majority of the taxation or expenditure that affect our citizens, but from a system that we on the Government benches wish to replace.

A solution is available. The causes have been identified by Mr Findlay, but he rejects the resolutions. As always, he came from a position of supporting people who need. I respect him for that, but he will earn my greater respect if he understands that there is an opportunity to do things differently in an independent Scotland and that we should take that opportunity and do what he so earnestly desires.

15:51

4 June 2014

Independent Scotland (European Union Membership)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a European and External Relations Committee debate on its inquiry into the Scottish Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland: membership of the European Union.

14:41
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16:18

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Presiding Officer, forgive me if I get a bit technical. I think that I am the only member who has in front of them the 328 pages of the European Union treaties, so I might quote them relatively liberally.

I will deal with one or two things that have arisen in the debate, and particularly with Alex Rowley’s comments on pensions. Three times I asked him to take an intervention and three times he had the opportunity to have greater clarity than he could provide. I say to him that, as a matter of verifiable fact, more than 1 million people who live outside the United Kingdom receive the UK state pension. About 600,000 of them live in Spain and the rest are spread around the world. That is not new, by the way: 30 years ago, for a predecessor to the Department for Work and Pensions in Newcastle I did some work on a computer system that delivered payments to those people.

On private pensions—the other kind of pension—Standard Life has been operating and paying pensions in China for more than 30 years and in Canada for 50 years. Pensions are an international industry. Indeed, Edinburgh used to be the place where more than 50 per cent of United States mutual funds were valued. Finance is international, Scotland is involved in pensions and pensions are paid transnationally. If Mr Rowley had accepted an intervention from me, we could have shot his point out of the water early.

Jamie McGrigor said that evidence has been omitted—I wrote that down, because that is what he said. He, too, would not take an intervention from me. I am glad that other members made it clear that the evidence is all in front of us. What certainly changed, after debate in the committee, were the conclusions that were reached from the evidence, but I have seen or heard nothing to suggest that any evidence was omitted.

Lewis Macdonald said that we can negotiate only bilaterally. That is interesting, because I myself have taken part in negotiations—curiously enough, in the boardroom of the Bank of England—at which 12 people were competing round the table and negotiating from entirely different viewpoints. The training in negotiation that I had from Scotwork, which is an excellent Glasgow firm, meant that I could negotiate, as could others who had similar training.

Lewis Macdonald: My point was not that there is a difficulty with negotiating only bilaterally but that we cannot negotiate with another party while at the same time representing that party in negotiations with someone else. That is simply not possible, although we understand that it is the Scottish Government’s proposition.

Stewart Stevenson: I realise that Mr Macdonald has limited business experience. I can assure him that in the business world what he has just described is done. For reasons of business confidentiality, I cannot say more on the record, but I would be happy to meet him and anyone else after the debate and give them chapter and verse on a private basis. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order.

Stewart Stevenson: Let us talk a little about other things.

Neil Findlay: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: No, I will not. Not from that source.

Article 16 of the “Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties” makes it clear that only newly independent post-colonial states can receive a clean slate in relation to treaties. Article 34.1 of the convention makes it clear that states that come from an existing state inherit, without option, all the treaty obligations of the predecessor state.

I absolutely accept that the legal position can be argued about and that there is a lot of opportunity for lawyers to have fun here.

Roderick Campbell: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Oh! A QC. Okay.

Roderick Campbell: On a small point of detail, we took evidence from Patrick Layden QC, who had very much formed that view in relation to successor states. He slightly changed his opinion when he gave evidence to us, but he says that the position is still tenable.

Stewart Stevenson: I am obliged to Roderick Campbell, who I think is the only member of the Parliament who is a QC, given that Gordon Jackson has left us—

Roderick Campbell: For the record, I am not a QC.

Stewart Stevenson: Willie Rennie talked about the difficulties in our keeping the pound. In fact, the opposite is the case. The question is whether we will allow people south of the border to keep the pound, because the pound sterling is, of course, based on the silver from Stirling. In July last year, the Bank of England allowed Danske Bank to start issuing sterling notes. If Danske Bank can issue sterling notes, I rather suspect that other people—perhaps even Scotland—might be able to do so, too.

Incidentally, the Bank of England notes do not say that they are sterling. Only the Scottish notes, the Northern Irish notes, the Manx notes, the Gibraltar notes, the Falklands notes, the Jersey notes, the Guernsey notes—aren’t there a lot of them?—say that they are sterling. Curiously enough, the Bank of England notes do not do so. Is that not interesting?

Michael McMahon mentioned climate change in relation to the United States. This week, Obama has laid legislation to tackle the coal industry for environmental, health and economic reasons, so I think that we can be quite clear that the United States will look at the evidence.

I try to read as many things as I can, and this morning I was reading Politiken, the Danish political journal, which was talking about this subject. It is quite clear that the Danes—as I know from the meetings that I have had with Danish ministers over the years—will be perfectly happy to sit with us in an independent Europe.

The reality is that it is probably the rest of the UK that has the problem, because protocol 3 requires that a country must be a democracy in order to be a member of the EU. The UK is not a democracy, because we cannot dismiss the majority of our legislators at an election. Scotland will be welcomed. The problem is elsewhere.

16:24

3 June 2014

S4M-10185 Air Passenger Duty

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10185, in the name of Keith Brown, on air passenger duty.

14:43
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16:09

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I last spoke on APD in November 2012, as many other members also did. There has been an awful lot of talking about it and it is perhaps time that we should think about what Benjamin Franklin once said:

“Well done is better than well said.”

It is now time to move from talking about things to actually doing things.

The debate has been quite interesting. I suspect that I could make quite significant common cause with Elaine Murray and perhaps one or two others. However, I want to talk about two things: the economics of the issue and the environmental benefits that might come from a different approach.

I will run through some figures. I have done the calculations on the back of an envelope, so I do not pretend that this is anything like the final word on the subject.

An average vacationer coming on a short haul vacation to Scotland will spend 3.6 nights here. If they spend the average amount of money on a hotel—£120 per night—they will contribute £72 in VAT. Let us treat that as new tax from someone who would not otherwise be coming. They will probably get a taxi to the centre of Edinburgh from the airport and another taxi back out to the airport, because the kind of tourist—[Interruption.] Yes, they might get the bus or the tram. I am in favour of trams. They are on the wrong route, but that is an issue for another day.

The money that they spend on the taxi journeys will contribute another £4 in fuel duty and VAT.

They will have three restaurant meals. At, let us say, £25 a time, that represents a further £15 in tax. We are now up to £91 in tax and we have not yet taken account of the money that they will undoubtedly spend in our shops. When I do my little calculation—capable of being criticised, but based on principles that cannot be argued with—that comes to a tax take, for a new passenger on an average short visit, of something of the order of £150 to £200. The APD is around £20 and, of course, the idea is that removing that £20 charge from everybody who comes attracts new people.

I do not think that there has been enough economic analysis of that subject in the debate so far, and I think that we should consider it further. I do not think that we have reached the end of the story on economics but there is a clear indication that, if you get new people here, you get new tax take. We have to ensure that we get enough new people—

Gavin Brown: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will not, for time reasons and because, as I said, my argument is not complete and comprehensive. I will let the member address his point in his closing remarks.

I think that Patrick Harvie said that all airlines pay no VAT. That is not quite true. In Scotland, the routes from Oban to Coll, Colonsay and Islay, from Kirkwall to the outlying islands and from Tingwall to the islands in Shetland all pay VAT on their fuel, because they burn aviation gasoline rather than aviation turbine fuel. I admit that that is a small proportion of what goes on. To be honest, it does not seem to make very much difference one way or the other. There is certainly a case for considering the way in which we tax airline operating companies.

Of course, the essential thing is that APD is a regressive tax. We charge people the duty and deny ourselves more.

Let us talk about environmental issues. In the previous debate on this subject, I talked about a few such issues. It is fine to talk about the need to have powers over APD, but what we actually need are the powers over the whole picture. If APD is the answer, it is a very silly question indeed.

This would be a crude way of doing it but we could say that turbo-prop aircraft will pay less APD per passenger, because they are less polluting, as they burn less fuel per mile and they fly lower, which means that the radiative forcing effect is reduced. If someone is down at the bottom, in an unpressurised aircraft flying little flights around Scotland, their radiative forcing is halved again, and their fuel cost goes down to a third.

We could adopt the Norwegian model. In Norway, many commuter flights are flown in aircraft such as the Cessna Caravan, which is a single-engined turbo-prop aircraft—a type of aircraft that, by the way, has a better safety record than multi-engined aircraft. The American Federal Aviation Administration has all the numbers on that. Almost uniquely, the UK will not allow such an operation for our scheduled services in instrument conditions. That would have an environmental as well as an economic benefit; it would also make some routes—from Skye to Glasgow, for example—more economically viable.

APD is part of that; we can do things with it. As I said in my 2012 speech, we could have differential APD for airlines that towed their aircraft adjacent to the runaway because, on average, that prevents five tonnes of fuel burn in a 757. Five tonnes of fuel is burned just to get a plane from the stand out to the take-off point: tow them out and save 5 tonnes. APD should be used to encourage airlines to do that: because they need to invest in tow trucks, we give them something in return.

It’s not just about gaining APD; it is about having all the policy levers that surround APD. That is a huge difficulty in how the devolution settlement has been constructed and operates. I am not saying that anyone set out to do that deliberately. They did not; rather, they set out with a good and honest heart to construct a settlement, but it does not work. Little bits have been devolved piecemeal, instead of whole policy areas being devolved to allow a proper co-ordinated approach to all the issues in an area.

Let us get APD devolved, because we could use it more imaginatively and for economic and environmental benefit. However, if we also had all the surrounding powers, we could do so much more. It is in that spirit that I say that, whatever the outcome in September, let us get APD. Even in the event of a yes vote, we will still be under Westminster until 2016, and there is time to get the benefits more quickly. A yes vote would, however, guarantee that we would have those powers sooner rather than later, and forever.

16:16

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