16 November 2017

S5M-08218 Incontinence

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08218, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, on incontinence in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that incontinence has the potential to affect everyone at some point and that the condition can arise as a symptom of a range of varied medical conditions, such as obesity, traumatic childbirth and muscle weakness; believes that 20% of women between 17 and 30 will experience so-called giggle incontinence, which has the potential to lead to greater complications in later life, in particular the need for surgical interventions, including transvaginal mesh implants; understands that the only country to have calculated the costs associated with this is Australia, which estimates these to be around $43 billion (£25 billion) per year as they go beyond the provision of sanitary wear, medication and surgery, and include the cost of dealing with the depression and anxiety that can arise; recognises what it sees as the importance of physiotherapy in alleviating the symptoms, and notes that, when provided early, this has reportedly proved effective in 80% of cases; understands that there is no formal training around basic incontinence prevention in Scotland for the midwifery, health visitor or physiotherapist workforce; acknowledges the taboo around the subject, which, it believes, suppresses an open discussion about it and often prevents people experiencing the condition from seeking help, and notes the view that the case for a national incontinence strategy is compelling, as it would be important to improving the life quality of hundreds of thousands of people in Edinburgh and across the country and would be of benefit to the public purse.

... ... ...

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

In essence, this debate is about the competition and tension between social embarrassment about talking about the functions of our bowels and bladders and the underlying medical urgency that might be associated with dysfunction in that regard. If social embarrassment wins, there is a risk that we delay engagement with the medical assistance and advice that might well be necessary to protect us from the severe impacts of underlying conditions that need urgent attention.

I often learn things in members’ business debates that I had not previously been aware of. It had never occurred to me that the issue that we are considering had a gender aspect to it. Members might forgive me, given my age, for being a little fixated on the future operation of the older gentleman’s prostate and for neglecting to understand issues that are associated with pregnancy and incontinence in females. We have heard that the problem is bigger for the female than it is for the male. I have learned something.

I am grateful to Alex Cole-Hamilton for securing this debate, which I hope will, more broadly, enable people to feel a little more comfortable about talking about issues that are rarely discussed at the dinner table.

The issue is important. Glasgow Caledonian University reports that 30 to 40 per cent of people over 65 who live in their own homes and 70 per cent of frail older people who live in care homes struggle with incontinence—so it is not a trivial matter.

Despite what Alison Johnstone said—I will look out some of the references that she cited—I had not previously thought that incontinence was a matter of humour. However, if humour can be used as a vehicle that allows us to talk about and recognise the condition, that is very much to be welcomed.

A lot is expected of healthcare professionals. I hope that practice nurses, who will often be the ones to be consulted on the condition rather than general practitioners, have the appropriate training and the sensitivity to raise with patients something that may be of considerable embarrassment to them. Patients often go to their primary health provider for a reason other than incontinence, and the condition may emerge as a secondary issue, or it may simply be that questions about general health reveal an incontinence problem that is part of their deterioration in health.

I hope that midwives, health visitors, physiotherapists, practice nurses and GPs are, in future, better equipped for, and more comfortable with, raising difficult issues about incontinence. As the Australian numbers illustrate, the key point is that if we tackle incontinence early, there is an economic saving in addition to the benefit to the quality of life of sufferers. Sustained and regular exercise is important and helpful, with the caveats that I have just heard about from Alison Johnstone.

We have the potential to alleviate unnecessary pain, anxiety and aggravation, and to improve the quality of mental health of incontinence sufferers. The topic has been neglected for too long. This debate is a contribution, but not the end of the story in improving matters for incontinence sufferers.


9 November 2017

S5M-08706 Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08706, in the name of Gillian Martin, on stage 3 of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. I call Gillian Martin, the member in charge of the bill, to speak to and move the motion.

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

As Neil Bibby did, I congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill and getting it to this stage—at which we may now reasonably anticipate that it will be passed later today. It is no small matter to promote a bill. I have taken five bills through Parliament thus far, but none of them was a member’s bill. With a member’s bill, the member has to do much of the work: for the four bills that I took forward in my capacity as a Government minister, I had a vast team to do all the heavy lifting for me, and when I introduced a committee bill in the previous session of Parliament, the team of clerks did the work. However, for a member introducing a member’s bill, the burden is substantially greater, and greater understanding and attention to detail are required. Therefore, Gillian Martin deserves very substantial thanks.

One part of the system that has not been mentioned so far, but that it is proper to mention, is the Public Petitions Committee. Over a long period, a considerable number of petitions on matters in the general area that we are dealing with today have been submitted and then considered in great detail. UK Government ministers have appeared at the Public Petitions Committee on such matters. That committee has played a significant part in digging the soil and putting in the manure where the crop that we have today has grown.

Travelling in a vehicle that is fitted with a seat belt but not using it is rather like jumping out of a plane without a parachute—it is briefly exciting, but ultimately disastrous. The one thing that we are unable to do is enforce the wearing of seat belts. Like others, I travel on buses—I am of that age: I think that I am now on my fourth bus pass, which shows how old I have got—but I do not recall ever being on a bus on which anyone bar me was wearing a seat belt.

I acknowledge and thank colleagues at Westminster for providing us with the powers to do what we are doing today. That is very welcome and it is good cross-parliamentary working. It would be affa nice if they found the time and the method to create enforcement. It is not a Scottish issue. If enforcement was created such that people would be required to wear a seat belt if the vehicle on which they are travelling has seat belts—it is that simple; that is all we need to say—that would be of equal benefit to people throughout the whole United Kingdom. I encourage colleagues of whatever political persuasion or Government to consider whether they might support such legislation being dealt with at Westminster. That would mean that it would catch up with what Wales has done and with what we expect to do this afternoon.

Briefly and finally, I note that we have had a wee bit of a debate about costs. That is so trivial that I am not prepared to join it. In matters of safety, we just do it. I will be delighted to press my button at decision time today to just do it. I say, “Well done” to Gillian Martin.


7 November 2017

S5M-07924 Respect for Shopworkers Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07924, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on respect for shopworkers week, 13 to 19 November. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Respect for Shopworkers Week, which is organised by USDAW’s Freedom From Fear campaign, runs from 13 to 19 November 2017; further notes that the week highlights the violence and abuse faced by shopworkers; recognises that the Retail Crime Survey, published in February 2017, concluded that “retail staff continue to suffer unacceptable levels of violence and abuse”, rising by 40% since 2015-16; is concerned that alcohol sales and the legal requirement of the Challenge 25 scheme can often act as a trigger-point for the outbreak of violence or abuse against workers, and considers that the abuse experienced by simply doing their job is of continued distress to shopworkers; celebrates the week’s vital role in raising awareness of the violence and abuse faced by shopworkers, and notes calls on both the Scottish and UK governments to act so that all public-facing workers can benefit from further protection from violence, abuse, and threats when at work.

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

I thank Daniel Johnson for the opportunity to discuss this subject tonight. He has referred to the bill that he proposes to introduce, and a members’ debate is often a useful way of introducing the subject of a prospective member’s bill to Parliament and to ramp up discussion about it. I shall look with interest at the proposals that he seeks to introduce. I certainly support the principles that he has described, although I do not yet know whether I will ultimately be able to support the detailed implementation of his bill.

That is noises off; what is important and central to the debate is those who are on the front line of retail, who meet the public in all their diverse forms, from the old man—the regular—who goes to the convenience shop on the corner and builds a personal relationship with the shop staff at one end of the spectrum to those who cause serious incidents at the other.

This morning, as I travelled to Edinburgh by train, I read in the Metro a timely but unfortunate article about a shopworker who was attacked on Sunday in East Ayrshire and who is now, the paper reports, critically ill in hospital. That illustrates precisely the problems that Daniel Johnson asks us to engage with today, and which USDAW is making a more general point about on behalf of all retail workers. In the most stark way, that story illustrates the nature of the problem. It is too common and it has to be dealt with. We will assess whether legal protections of the nature of those that are to be proposed will help.

Respect for shopworkers week is an easy and proper thing to support. Without retail, we would be impoverished in many ways. It is important as one of our biggest industries, but it is also a personal industry that delivers to us. Too often, the police are called to incidents that happen in shops, particularly in relatively small shops. In larger shops, it is perhaps easier for those who are of ill intent to be observed, and they know it, so it is the little corner shop that is open at 10 o’clock at night or at 6 o’clock in the morning that is most commonly on the front line.

USDAW forms an important backstop to support people who have been subjected to unacceptable behaviour, and shopworkers deserve our support for what they do. It is not part of the job spec of someone who stands behind a counter that they should take whatever comes in their direction. They should have respect from all those who visit shops, and good citizens should look out for shopworkers and should be part of a society that protects them from those who do not show the right attitude. I certainly hope that the person who was attacked in East Ayrshire recovers and is able to resume her work, if she wishes to do so.

There are many parts of society where people face the public in all its multifarious forms. Shopworkers are important. On another occasion, we might think about others who have to engage with the public in sometimes difficult circumstances.

I am happy to support the motion.


S5M-08677 Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08677, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on stage 1 of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

The cabinet secretary took us back to the origins of the Forestry Commission in the 1919 bill, but I want to take us 400 years further back because, of course, the product of forestry is a strategic material. When James IV built the Great Michael, with its 10-foot-thick Scottish oak hull, that required that all the trees of Fife be cleared. Also, then, as now, we had to import wood from France and the Baltic states, and to use wood from forests across Scotland. Wood has been a strategic material for a long time. Indeed, when Henry VIII saw what James IV had done, he decided that he would build a boat that was even bigger than the Great Michael, and which, at 1,000 tons, was the biggest boat in the world. Flodden cut short the ambitions for use of the Great Michael, of course.

In 1919, we were responding to the strategic imperative to have wood for the trenches of the first world war, but it was clear that there was insufficient wood. Wood was recognised as an important strategic part of military operations.

However, as Peter Chapman reminded us, forestry is also of economic value. It might constitute but 1 per cent of our gross domestic product, but where that 1 per cent lies, it is very important to the communities that plant and sustain our forests, and to the sawmills that depend on predictable long-term access to wood. As it was in the 1500s, so it is in the 2000s.

Indeed, forestry is a very personal thing for many people. One of my late councillor colleagues—my good friend, Councillor Mitchell Burnett—who knew he was dying from a carcinoma, held on long enough to ensure that he got permission from Aberdeenshire Council for his grave to be on the edge of the forest that he was bequeathing to his daughter.

Forestry is the kind of long-term business whose interests we have to protect. The issue of sustainable forest management has come up several times already in the debate: it is important that what we do with land is sustainable. The debate around the meaning of “sustainable” is such that it will mean slightly different things in slightly different contexts. That is why it is proper that the meaning is not defined in the bill but is expressed clearly and unambiguously elsewhere so that we can discuss and challenge it.

The committee divided on the matter of compulsory purchase. Indeed, it is worth reminding members that the committees of this Parliament are rather freer from the strictures of the whip system than other parts of our operation perhaps are. When committees are working well, they seek to look objectively at the evidence that is before them so that individual committee members can come to their conclusions. The committee’s Scottish National Party group, because it is not a group, divided such that two were on one side of the argument and two were on the other side.

Edward Mountain: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will, in a minute.

Fulton MacGregor and I joined Rhoda Grant and John Finnie in suggesting that extension of the compulsory purchase orders, which might never be used, would take people to decisions a bit faster. Mr Mountain might have come to a different view.

Edward Mountain: No—this is not a political point, but just a point. I think that there might be a member of the committee within the SNP group that Mr Stevenson has ignored. I think that there are five people in his group, not four. However, as Mr Stevenson was at the meeting concerned, I am sure that he will be able to comment on that, on reflection.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: It is unlike Stewart Stevenson to make a factual error.

Stewart Stevenson: No, Presiding Officer—I am constantly told by colleagues and even by friends that I am a larger-than-life character, so I count as one and a half and thus, when I add Fulton MacGregor to me, that is two and a half out of five. I jest. Edward Mountain, our ever-diligent convener, is of course correct. As a mere mathematician, I am arithmetically challenged by his intervention, which I accept because it is entirely correct.

I welcome the attention to the definition of “felling” in the bill, because it is important that we get that right. It is worth reminding ourselves that nature fells woods, as well. Where my wife and I have stayed for the past 14 years, we are surrounded on three sides by about 40 hectares of forest that appears to have been all but abandoned, and nature is busily felling what appears to me to be a mature forest. It is important that some aspects of that are addressed as we progress the bill.

I was delighted to hear the cabinet secretary referring to Abriachan, of which I have fond memories. I visited there when I was about three or four years old, as we went up in an old American ex-army jeep to Claude McLennan’s croft at the top of Abriachan, which at that time was a very primitive place indeed. The community there having the opportunity to take some control of its own destiny will be a way in which Abriachan will have fundamentally changed since I visited it in—I think—the late 1940s.

The important thing in the bill that I welcome, but which others have mixed views on, is what is essentially the separation between policy and operation. That will lead us to a clearer way in which to take matters forward.

It was my delight previously to be the minister who was responsible for the Forestry Commission Scotland and, in particular, to see the highly automated sawmill at Nairn, in the cabinet secretary’s constituency, which illustrates how the forestry industry is a high-tech industry of economic and environmental importance to Scotland. I support what is proposed in the bill.


31 October 2017

S5M-08226 VAT Charges (Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08226, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on unfair Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service VAT charges. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue continue to be the only territorial forces in the UK unable to reclaim VAT; believes that this costs £35 million annually, and has totalled £140 million since 2013; notes what it sees as the detrimental impact that paying this VAT has on frontline services in communities in Edinburgh Northern and Leith and across Scotland; acknowledges the view that the UK Government should change its rules to allow this VAT to be reclaimed, similar to the action that it took to enable Highways England and academy schools to reclaim VAT, and further notes the argument that the UK Government should fully reimburse the reported £140 million taken away from Scotland's frontline emergency services since 2013.

... ... ...

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

My speech will draw on a number of sources, one of which is the House of Commons paper on police funding that was published in February 2016 and discusses all the police forces. However, I will start with a letter of 26 February 2016 from David Gauke, the UK minister at HM Treasury, to the convener of the Justice Committee. It specifically says:

“As you may be aware eligibility for VAT refunds for public bodies is subject to strict criteria, as set out in UK legislation, for the two main VAT refund schemes.”

This is the bit that cuts to the heart of the matter:

“The first, under Section 33 of the VAT Act 1994”

referred to by Murdo Fraser and others—

“allows local authorities and bodies whose funding is reliant on local taxation to reclaim irrecoverable VAT.”

That is the relevant scheme; the second one does not apply in this instance.

The first and obvious exemption is the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which was established in 2001 as the successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It is almost wholly funded by the UK Treasury, with a top-up of £22 million a year at the current rate from the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it is permitted to reclaim its VAT.

If we look at page 12 of the Justice Committee’s report on the draft budget 2015-16, we see that 329 Police Scotland officers are funded by subventions from local authorities. Therefore, local authority funding is involved in the provision of Police Scotland services.

Let us go on a bit further. We have heard a little bit about section 33 of the 1994 act. Let us have a look at it. It is maybe just as well to point out that the original act—including section 33, which is the one that matters—was amended in 2012 by paragraph 217 of part 3 of schedule 16 to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. There are some very interesting and odd things in section 33 of the 1994 act. It has two lists: one for England and Wales and one for Northern Ireland and Scotland. I will give members a flavour of some of the things that are on the Northern Ireland and Scotland list. It includes

“a police and crime commissioner, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and a police authority and the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District”.

They are on the Scottish list, yet Police Scotland is not. The British Broadcasting Corporation, which is based in London, is also on the Scottish list.

I do not need to go on. The whole thing is a legal and practical guddle that is unsustainable politically and, in the light of David Gauke’s letter, almost certainly unsustainable in legal terms.

In bringing this debate to the chamber, Ben Macpherson has given us the opportunity to visit some of the detail that is before us. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is the clear example that shows us why we should get our VAT back.

In four minutes, one can touch on a few things, Presiding Officer, but there are a few things that need to be looked at again.


S5M-08497 Promoting Active Travel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08497, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the promotion of active travel in Scotland. We are a bit pushed for time. I call on Humza Yousaf to speak to and move the motion.

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

I will focus on walking, just as I did the last time I spoke in a debate on active travel. The motion and the amendments make only two references to walking, while there are nine references to cycling, although walking is substantially more accessible than cycling. I suggest to colleagues in Parliament that the best way of improving active travel is to encourage people to walk.

Let us have a wee think about some numbers. The “Prescribing & Medicines: Prescription Cost Analysis” report for 2015-16, which is the last year for which I have been able to find numbers, shows that of the top five drugs, by number of items dispensed, the combined total of prescriptions for numbers 1, 3 and 5 totals 8.78 million. Those drugs are all for use by people who have respiratory conditions, who would benefit greatly from taking quite gentle exercise—or more serious exercise, if they are capable of it.

How much do those prescriptions cost? I do not quite know, but the average cost of a prescription is £10, and those drugs are at the top end; they are among the more expensive drugs. We are therefore considering a figure for annual prescriptions of those three drugs alone that exceeds the active travel budget.

What is the cost of a pair of trainers? One can get a decent pair of trainers—although not a classy pair—for about 30 quid. Add a pair of thick socks and a pair of thin socks, and you are ready to go. Let us put our doctors in a position in which they can prescribe walking and the equipment to do it, in order that we can improve the health of the nation and promote active travel.

I also have a few words to say to colleagues in the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, because it is not only the Government that can do things. Paragraph 11.18 of the Scottish Parliament members’ expenses scheme guidance states that members are required to provide a letter of justification if they take a taxi journey that costs more than £20. I suggest that we add to that a requirement for members to provide a letter of justification if their taxi journey does not exceed 1 mile, because it is the short taxi journeys that we should be replacing.

From the outset, we have been paying members of the Scottish Parliament 45p a mile if they use a car, but only 20p a mile if they use a cycle. How about turning that around so that we pay them 45p if they use a cycle and 20p if they use a car? I know that that sounds a little bit whimsical, but the reality is—

John Finnie: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way if the member is brief.

John Finnie: Thank you. I will be brief. Would Stewart Stevenson like to explain to me how—much as I would like to do so—I can cover on a push bike the area between the north of Shetland and the Mull of Kintyre, where there is a dearth of public transport?

Stewart Stevenson: The bottom line is that we have to challenge the existing norms and have a debate on the subject. I have a similar problem, albeit that it is on a smaller scale.

I am glad that I now have as my greatest fan in Parliament Mike Rumbles, who mentioned me three times in the first minute of his speech. In 2009, I said that it would be challenging to reach a 20 per cent target for cycling—I think that it is fair to say that I got that one right. However, we can, in general, be ambitious on walking. I have done 4km today, which is 5,650 steps—I prefer counting distances in kilometres, because they sound bigger than they do in miles—and others should be doing something at least as big as that.

Liam Kerr told us that he cycles, which is good. My last bicycle cost me a fiver, and I am not going to pay more than £25 for my next one, because I will get it when I next go to a rural roup.

I conclude, Presiding Officer, in my very few remaining seconds, by saying that we all have, in our own feet, the tools to promote the agenda. We, as MSPs, should be seen walking and should encourage others to walk. It delivers health, wealth and community benefit.


27 October 2017

S5M-08378 Hydro Nation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08378, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the hydro nation: maximising the abundant benefits of our water resources.

... ... ...

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

In our living room at home, a large paraffin lamp sits to the right of the fireplace. The lamp is relevant to the debate because it is the lamp by which my wife used to do her school homework until the hydro delivered electricity to 14 Lochend, just outside Inverness. The history of Scotland is interwoven with the history of our use of water.

We in Scotland are fortunate. When we go out of this building at night and the rain is coming down, we curse gently and reach for our brollies or waterproof caps; in the Sahara, people would be dashing around to collect and preserve the precious resource. For many people in the world, access to water, and in particular to potable water, is increasingly difficult. It is undoubtedly the case that water is so precious that it has been the cause of wars and battles—and it might be again in the future.

Water is a naturally occurring chemical; H2O is probably the most highly recognised chemical formula in the world. It is known universally, even to people with no particular knowledge of chemistry.

Those of us who are fortunate owe a duty to those who are less fortunate. The distribution is maladroit; where there are huge communities of people around the world, there is often little water. We have the potential to show the way on technologies to do with water. We can show leadership.

Bruce Crawford talked about how our Victorian predecessors created the infrastructure on which we continue to depend. In those days there were great debates—particularly in Glasgow when waste water infrastructure was being put in—about whether it was economically or socially desirable to do that. I do not imagine there being any interest in having such a debate today.

Water delivers a public good in Scotland and around the world; it must also be delivered for the public good. Scottish Water is an exemplar of how Scottish Governments of all hues can use our resources in a way that benefits our communities. We can use our natural resources to generate power, and the excess of resource enables us to support others around the world.

Redundant assets in our infrastructure, such as disused sewage treatment works, could become modern recycling plants. There is the hint of a desire to recycle phosphorus—I am waiting to hear from Maurice Golden on that. Phosphorus was first discovered in human waste water in 1669. I do not know whether Maurice Golden will encourage us in that regard.

Climate change is causing an even bigger skew in the availability of water to people around the world. The Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which I am always happy to support, has made that a central plank of its campaign.

In Scotland, one of our most important exports is whisky, or uisge-beatha—the minister will no doubt criticise my pronunciation. “Uisge” means water; it is the essential ingredient of our national drink.


25 October 2017

S5M-08352 Withdrawal from the European Union (Negotiations)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Time is tight. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08352, in the name of Michael Russell, on Scotland and the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom on EU exit.



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

I want to pick up on Mairi Gougeon’s speech and look at the issues from the perspective of UK citizens who are living in the EU. They are not relying on specious promises coming from the Prime Minister or other members of the Westminster Administration. They are applying in considerable numbers for passports from other countries in the EU where they are available. Indeed, we have seen the rather unexpected sight of Ian Paisley Jr of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland handing out Irish passport application forms to his constituents and others. That tells us precisely how difficult the situation is perceived to be for many.

Members of my family and close friends fall into this category. I have a niece in Sweden. She is now a Swedish citizen and the holder of a Swedish passport because she cannot plan her life on vague promises that cannot be banked. She has to assure her future. Incidentally, it is interesting to compare and contrast her experience of becoming a Swedish citizen with the boorach that we heard Mairi Gougeon describe. It took my niece five days to get her Swedish citizenship. I accept that she has been resident there for more than a decade, but I thought that five days was a pretty impressive administrative deal.

My nephew, who lives in Denmark, has yet to submit his Danish passport application but is actively contemplating doing so, and four close friends who have the necessary Irish grandparents are looking to apply for Irish passports.

All across Europe, we have uncertainty for UK citizens, who are not reassured in any way, shape or form by what is coming from Westminster. It is an important matter for EU citizens who live here, but it is equally a significant problem for UK citizens who live elsewhere.

I came to this Parliament and was sworn in on 13 June 2001, and the following day I spoke in my first debate, which was on the European Committee’s report on the common fisheries policy. I was pitched right into debating on behalf of my constituents some of the substantial shortcomings of many of the things that come from Europe. Indeed, the European Committee, as its first headline conclusion from its deliberations, said:

“We believe that the current situation is untenable.”

It was talking about the common fisheries policy.

Given that it comes from an environment in which the EU was funding the building of new Spanish boats while simultaneously ensuring that the Scottish fleet was substantially reduced, the bitterness that people in the north-east of Scotland and other fishing communities have towards the EU is perfectly understandable. However, even there things are changing, because the expectations of fishing communities look increasingly less likely to be delivered.

Yesterday, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was advocating in the strongest possible terms that decision making on fishing policy and practice must remain in Scotland. That takes us directly to clause 11(1) of what might be termed the great repeal bill, although Mr Tomkins has given us another title for it that we might adopt if we wish.

The bottom line is that even the most Eurosceptic people are realising the limitations in what is happening. Michael Gove appears to have promised continuing “relative stability” to the Danes and the Dutch, which is absolutely at odds with what fishing communities expected. The negotiations, thus far, are nothing short of a muddle. The EU, with 27 countries that had to agree a common line, was able to do that pretty rapidly. After a substantially longer period, the UK cabinet, with 23 members, has not been able to come to any meaningful agreement as to where we are going.

Let me give a few hints as to how negotiation might be done. One of the leading training companies in negotiation is based in Glasgow and its services are used all over the place. It is a company called Scotwork UK and it has a simple system called LIM-IT. It involves making three lists: things that we would like to get, things that we intend to get and things that we must get. The way you use it is to sit down and work out what is on your lists.

You do not disclose your lists publicly, but bit by bit through the negotiation process. There is not the slightest sign that anything professional is happening in the negotiating of withdrawal. I will end by welcoming the fact that, of the seven clauses of their amendment, the Tories have included four that I can agree with. That is a welcome move forward. It is in everybody’s interest that the negotiations succeed; we all want “progress ... to be accelerated”; we all welcome “the reconvening of the Joint Ministerial Committee”; and, fundamentally, we are all looking to see the great repeal bill amended, because until it is, no meaningful progress will be possible.


3 October 2017

S5M-06241 Garbh Allt Community Initiative

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-06241, in the name of Maree Todd, on Garbh Allt Community Initiative reaching its funding target. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates the Garbh Allt Community Initiative achieving its funding target for a community buy-out of the Sutherland Estate land at Portgower, Gartymore, West Helmsdale and Marrel, as well as the hill land; believes that this is of historic significance as these townships only came into existence following people being cleared from the Strath of Kildonan; congratulates the Countess of Sutherland and the members of the community initiative on getting funding from both the Scottish Land Fund and the Beatrice Partnership Fund for the buy-out, and looks forward to a bright future in Scotland in which all communities can harness their assets and flourish.

... ... ...

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

I thank Maree Todd for giving voice to this very important issue. Members may have noted that I have been relatively silent for the past three weeks, as I have been suffering from laryngitis. Maree Todd has arranged for me to be temporarily given back my voice to allow me to speak in the debate this evening. Let us hope—as I do—that it lasts for four minutes.

The history of the area of which we speak continues to be writ. Those of us who have been there will have seen, on the hill and in the distance, the statue of the Duke of Sutherland. There are those who would wish to take down that statue, and there have been many unofficial attempts to do so. I would leave it there, as a constant reminder of the iniquities of the past.

“The Emigrants”, which Dennis MacLeod was one of the moving spirits behind and which now stands adjacent to the A9 at Helmsdale, is one of the most moving, poignant and relevant memorials that there are in Scotland. It depicts a mother and father walking out of the glen, with their child, holding his parent’s hand; the child is looking back, never to see the glen again. It speaks to what has happened in such areas around Helmsdale.

For my personal part, as a family, we spent more than a decade holidaying at Achmelvich, just north of Lochinver, on the west coast of Sutherland. There, of course, we had the blight of ownership by the Vestey family. Not only did they own and control vast swathes of Sutherland and bits of Caithness and, I think, Ross-shire, but they paid not a penny in tax to the UK Exchequer, retaining their Argentinian domicile as a way of avoiding making proper contributions fiscally, just as they were inhibiting the operation of the community in the area that they owned and controlled.

The time for that model of land ownership is past. The Labour-Liberal Administration that we previously had in this place took the first excellent, widely welcomed step to ensure that land ownership was placed on a more formal basis and available to people. Previously, buyouts had been much more difficult to achieve, and we know much of the history of that.

I am delighted that the motion refers to the Countess of Sutherland and I am delighted that the family has taken a different attitude to working with the community from that which was taken in previous centuries.

The buyout is a very important move for the people of Helmsdale and it is a very important example of the benefits that can accrue and start to undo the injustices of a pattern of land ownership that came about not because landowners put out money to buy land, but because they seized it and used it as private fiefdom. We should no longer accept that pattern of land ownership in the 21st century. I very much congratulate the people in the Helmsdale area on their effort in raising the money and I wish them every success in their future management. The challenge of raising the money was substantial; the long-term challenge of sustaining the area may be even greater. I wish them well.


12 September 2017

S5M-07149 Serve Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07149, in the name of Kate Forbes, on Serve Scotland.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the establishment of the Serve Scotland coalition of church-based community groups; recognises the positive work undertaken by these groups, providing services such as foodbanks, debt advice, night shelters and refugee support work in communities across Scotland, including in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch; pays tribute to the many thousands of volunteers who provide these services, and believes that such community work undertaken by churches and other faith groups is a mark of a healthy civil society and is to be welcomed as part of a modern, plural Scotland.

... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I now call—I cannot remember who came next. I call Stewart Stevenson.


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

I thought I was nearly as memorable as Kate Forbes, whom I congratulate for providing the time for the debate.

Serve Scotland aims to empower the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised. It unites local churches and community organisations. It facilitates communication among those organisations. It documents what has been done so that churches and organisations generally can learn from those experiences.

The beauty of Serve Scotland is that it is a nationwide organisation but it facilitates local actions. For example, in my constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, the River Church has been a presence in Banff since 2001. It houses a thriving food bank, which is stocked both by donations from local people and through a partnership with Tesco supermarket in Banff. It also has a Well Café that offers a weekly hot meal and company for those in need. Services like that, in Banff as elsewhere, require the local power of volunteers—people who sacrifice time and bring their talents to make the efforts possible.

Another example—as in Inverness, as referred to by David Stewart—is the Peterhead street pastors, an organisation that began in 2003. I was privileged to attend the induction of some new street pastors recently. It is a living, expanding, terrific organisation. They walk the streets of Peterhead during the wee small hours of the night. I have been out with the police several times on a Saturday night in the environment in which the street pastors work, and I know the challenges that they are inevitably meeting. Without any side and without any bias, they care for, listen to and help those who may be out and about and in difficulty of any kind.

True to the goal of Serve Scotland, these groups are a light that shines

“in the darkest places of society”.

These particular groups help to secure the basic needs of food and safety for people who are on the margins. Other groups provide shelter, education or addiction recovery support, to name a few services. Among them, again in Peterhead, is the Salvation Army that I visited recently at the weekly lunch that it provides for precisely such disadvantaged people. I must say that the soup and pudding were first class. The group works with others to get the raw materials that it prepares for those who need them.

Groups do much more than simply address people’s basic needs. By reaching out in love, they anchor themselves and the people whom they serve to their communities. They create ties that strengthen the civil fabric of our towns and of Scotland as a whole.

Serve Scotland assists local organisations by exchanging information. It links groups together to share experiences. It helps churches and voluntary bodies to get the word out about projects so that they get the help and support they need. We are in uncertain times, and it is heartening to see that effort: to see engagement and education, not elitism; to see generosity and altruism, not greed; to see service and tolerance in place of self-interest.

In our contributions, we all gratefully acknowledge the local volunteers and organisations for their time and efforts to reach out in their communities. We commend the wider coalition of Serve Scotland for its bold vision of a tolerant, contemporary and co-operative Scotland.


6 September 2017

S5M-06963 Generations Working Together

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Our final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-06963, in the name of Christine Grahame, on Generations Working Together. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the innovative collaboration between Newbyres Village and Newbyres Nursery in Gorebridge, where children visit older residents on a weekly basis; considers that this is to the mutual benefit of the children and the older residents; understands that, on these visits, the children paint with the residents, are told stories, plant sunflowers, are taught nursery rhymes and play hilarious games, which assist hand and eye co-ordination of both young and old; congratulates the charity, Generations Working Together, and Newbyres Village and Newbyres Nursery, on supporting this initiative, and notes the recommendations for similar projects elsewhere in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I am one of the three people here who have served of the time that God has allocated to us three score years and 10; I am one of the three septuagenarians who are members of this Parliament. I am delighted to see that the minister who will respond to tonight’s debate was half my age three years ago. He is, of course, in statistical terms catching up, with each passing year.

The issue that Christine Grahame brings to Parliament today, which relates to Newbyres Village and Newbyres Nursery, is important not simply to people in Gorebridge but to people right across Scotland. As people get older, it is inevitable that many of their friends will no longer be with them, for a variety of reasons, and it becomes more difficult for them to make new friendships to replace those that no longer exist because of the death of the friends that they had in their youth. Connecting older people to younger people is a brilliant way of maintaining the social skills and the social interactions that might otherwise diminish in older people’s lives.

For my part, I think that talking to older people is an excellent bridge back into the history of our country and communities. I remember having a chat with my sister-in-law’s father-in-law, Bob Munro, who was a wonderful fellow who stopped driving and got his first pair of glasses only when he was 96. He remembered the soldiers coming back from the Boer war in Victorian times. It was fascinating for me to talk to him about that experience as a comparatively young person—even younger than the minister—and it stimulated new thoughts. Whenever we bring the old and the young together, we have the opportunity to do that.

Kids of nursery age have questions that are of breathtaking naivety when they are viewed from the lofty heights of a 70-year-old like myself. “How did you live without television?” “How did you live without a telephone?” “What happened in the world before there were iPads?” Those are excellent questions to which people of a certain age have an interesting and well-developed answer.

Therefore, we are not only, as the motion says, looking at assisting the

“hand and eye co-ordination of both young and old”;

but at the opportunities for mental stimulation that are created by interaction between young and old. As our memories become less certain with age—that does not affect everyone, but it affects a substantial number of people—the parts of our memory that still work well are generally those that are associated with our youth and infancy. Therefore, having kids come and ask, “What was it like when you were my age?” is a terrific way of re-energising the brain cells of older people.

The motion notes

“the recommendations for similar projects elsewhere”.

I hope that we will see this sort of thing in the north-east of Scotland, which I represent, and elsewhere, because it is remarkable how little time and how few people connect us to distant things. My grandfather was three years old when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on 15 April 1865. That is the kind of link that makes history real for us and that stimulates thinking, physical activity and social skills. It is very much to be commended.


Programme for Government 2017-18

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh):

Resumed debate.

... ... ...

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

Let me start my remarks by directing through you, Presiding Officer, some comments on Dean Lockhart’s speech. He referred to Scotland as the most highly taxed place in the UK. Of course, with a 25 per cent difference between Scotland and England in local taxation on premises, we would do well to remind ourselves which is the higher—it is not Scotland; it is England. It is Scotland that has taken 100,000 businesses out of local taxation altogether. We find different solutions in a different environment, but we certainly are not the highest-taxed part of the UK.

Dean Lockhart might also consider talking to his colleagues at Westminster about the plans that have been revealed, inadvertently it seems, to exclude, in particular in my constituency, thousands of workers in the fish-processing industry from future employment simply because of their nationality—because they are not UK citizens. If he genuinely thinks that it is a contribution to the Scottish economy to shut down that industry in the north-east of Scotland—and other industries elsewhere—I am afraid that he is deluded in the extreme.

I want to talk primarily about the environment. I particularly welcome making the A9 an electric road, as an addition to our existing electric road—I refer, of course, to the A719, or the electric brae, which is in Ayrshire. The second electric road in Scotland will be a true piece of innovation and it is connected to the ambition to have all-electric, or all-renewable, transport by 2032. That is a bold ambition to set, because we are not in control of everything that has to happen to make it happen.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will come back, if I may.

It is a bold ambition simply because, at the moment, it would be very difficult to drive from Edinburgh to Inverness, however many charging points there are, because most electric cars have to stop and recharge.

I will take an intervention from Patrick Harvie now.

Patrick Harvie: I am grateful to the member.

Perhaps the member would be so helpful as to clarify. He said that the ambition was for Scotland to be wholly electric on transport by 2032. My recollection from yesterday’s statement was that new cars and vans that run on petrol and diesel would not be available for sale after that point. That is very different from saying that we will not use them.

Stewart Stevenson: I accept what the member says. If there was an imprecision, I am happy to be corrected.

Let us be quite clear that it is an ambitious thing for us to do, but we should not shy away from ambition. Those of us who were here in 2009 will recall that, when we discussed the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, we did so in cross-party consensus, with every party represented in the Parliament making a contribution to the resulting Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. That is the sort of consensus that I hope we will continue to sustain on climate change.

It is interesting that, in the United States, where the President has withdrawn from the Paris accord, The Washington Post reports this very morning that the advice that he received that caused him to do that was from a right-wing think tank that has looked at the scientific consensus that climate change exists and is anthropogenic in its origins and which has concluded that the very existence of the consensus demonstrates that there is a scientific conspiracy to delude the public. Anyone who believes that believes in the tooth fairy and a wide range of other things.

The US approach is quite the most disappointing thing that has happened in the world of climate change in recent years, and it reinforces the need for climate change leaders such as Scotland to continue to apply themselves to the issue. The rest of the world will find it very hard to compensate for the excess emissions that come from the United States, but that should not stop us trying to do something.

In relation to my constituency, we heard about the acorn project at St Fergus and the welcome investment in that regard. It is also worth looking at the Hywind project. That is a floating wind farm, which the Norwegian oil company Statoil is installing off the coast of Peterhead. The project is reusing engineering skills that we have here, and the fundamental point, which goes to the heart of the long-term failure of the UK Government, is that it demonstrates how it is possible, with the proper regime, to recycle moneys from the oil industry into renewables.

Statoil is the state oil company, which was founded in 1972 on the back of the oil wealth of Norway. In the UK, Scottish oil resources were—frankly—flushed away in current account spending and were not invested in the future. That is the most shameful long-running failure of the UK Government in relation to Scotland and Scotland’s economy. It is a failure with which we live today and about which we have limited opportunity to do much.

Hurricane Harvey is a wake-up call about climate change. It has impacted on the price of oil world wide, with a quarter of United States refineries currently shut down, and Houston and the surrounding areas are awash with pollution and disease. Climate change is an issue for the whole world. Albeit that the issue is most critical for the parts of the world that are least able to respond to it, such as Africa and the middle east, it is the biggest challenge for all of us.

I hope that in Scotland we will continue to enjoy a broad consensus on the need to engage with climate change and support measures in that regard. We will continue to have vigorous debate about the detail, as is entirely proper, but I hope that we will sustain the consensus that led to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. We had high ambition then and are stepping up action now. This Government has a record that is second to none on climate change, the environment and the economy.


27 June 2017

S5M-05389 Online Exploitation and Abuse of Children

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05389, in the name of Gillian Martin, on not on my screen. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the concerns raised by people in Aberdeenshire East and around Scotland regarding the online exploitation and abuse of children; commends the efforts of the International Justice Mission (IJM) in highlighting child slavery and exploitation overseas; understands that this abuse is supported and enabled by online purchasers in western countries, including Scotland; commends Police Scotland and the National Crime Agency on their work with the IJM to identify and prosecute the buyers and enablers of online child abuse and cybersex trafficking, and further commends them for raising awareness of the problem at a national and international level in order to stop this abuse of children.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Gillian Martin on bringing this important topic to us today.

I thank the people who helped to brief me. Barrister Annabelle Turner came to see me yesterday and briefed me on behalf of the International Justice Mission. It is worth having a wee think about what the IJM is about. Ms Turner is one of many professionally qualified people who work for the organisation and provide services to it entirely pro bono—without any financial benefit accruing to them. It is indicative of a caring society that people are prepared to do that, but the subject is one that properly motivates people to do their very best to deal with it.

Cybersex trafficking is not an easy subject to discuss. The people who are involved are very nasty people indeed. Until comparatively recent times, I had in my constituency Peterhead prison, which was Scotland’s serious sex offenders prison. Sex offenders who were sentenced to four years or more in prison were sent there. There were 300 or so of them and they were, in essence, cut off from friends, family and people elsewhere.

It is worth having a little think about the people who are in that prison. They are quite a different kind of criminal from the one that we would meet if we went to Saughton or Barlinnie. They are much cleverer, much more socially competent and much more convincing. They are able to use their social skills, knowledge and expertise to perpetrate their foul crimes. They are able to suck in other people to protect them and to create a cocoon around their offending behaviours. I know of one sex offender who was in Peterhead prison whose parents were so convinced of their son’s innocence that, before the police arrived at a particular locus, they were cleaning the blood off the walls and repainting rooms. We would have thought of those parents as being the most upright members of society, but they had been caught by the duplicity of a criminal who was involved in sexual abuse—albeit that it was not online in that particular case.

We have heard references, most recently from Finlay Carson, to technical measures that we might take, such as getting ISPs—all our traffic goes through internet service providers—to look at the traffic that is going through and to detect what is happening. The honest and unfortunate truth, however, is that that would simply not work. If someone encrypts what is going through, we do not know what is in the encrypted package. Yet encryption is an important part of protecting certain kinds of data on the internet, so we cannot ban it on the internet. That is simply not possible.

I suspect that we will go back to the Al Capone approach. Al Capone was a gangster in Chicago, which was a very corrupt city, for some seven years until, in 1931, it was concluded that the only way to get him was through the fact that he had not been paying his tax bills on his ill-gotten gains. The one way in which we might be able to make some progress is by tracking the money and where it is going, because it is difficult to transmit money without a mechanism for doing so. There is not time to go into the issue of bitcoin and the chains that go with it, but, even there, it should be possible.

I, too, very much respect what is being done by the Internet Watch Foundation in taking down sites, but we must go right back to the genesis of the sites and make it economically unviable for people to run them. Last week, I met Kristof Claesen from the IWF, as did others, and I was very interested in what he had to say.

I have no magic solution. None of us here does. However, having a debate such as this at least alerts us to the problem, and that is a good start. I commend Gillian Martin for bringing the issue to our attention and allowing us to explore this important topic.


S5M-06356 Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-06356, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

I was disappointed to hear Oliver Mundell attacking many of my constituents who work for the Ministry of Defence police and look after the St Fergus oil and gas terminal. They are effective, as policing across Scotland in all our forces is effective. The police are part of the reason why offending in Scotland is at a 42-year low.

Let us talk about borders. Claire Baker raised the issue of cross-border policing. We might have slightly forgotten that the British Transport Police is not a UK-wide force but a Great Britain police force. The Police Service Northern Ireland shares responsibility with An Garda Síochána for the policing of the railway system in Ireland. That involves a border between two states and the performance of policing there is no worse, being broadly similar to the performance of policing here. There are organisational models that we can choose and, when we look at that as an example, there is absolutely no reason to believe that we will have any difficulty.

Claire Baker also reminded us of the Smith commission, which was the genesis of the discussion that we are having today, and the unanimity of the view that the powers should be transferred to Scotland.

If a member of the public sees someone in a police uniform, they do not ask what police service they work for; indeed, they will not be aware of which service they work for. They simply recognise that they are a policeman or a policewoman and they will go to them for succour, information or assistance or to report problems, regardless of which police force they are with. A unified system that looks after Scotland has significant advantages, removing difficulties at interfaces.

There is not a huge amount of crime on the railway. The British Transport Police deal with about 10 offences a day in Scotland, which equates to 5.5 crimes a day—I am not sure why the figures are different.

The point has been made that, if we are to take on responsibility for railway policing, we should not do it now. However, I am reminded of the old saying that one should repair the roof of one’s house when the sun is out. In other words, we would be under the most immense criticism if we were to look at reorganising this facet of our policing in response to a crisis. Frankly, it is far better that we do it in a measured way that has taken place over several years.

Railway policing is not new. The Metropolitan Police opened for business on 29 September 1829 and the railway police started three years earlier. They have been around for a long time indeed.

I congratulate Neil Bibby on what has been a positive engagement. He has done something that Opposition members do not always get to do: he has managed to amend a Government bill. It took me about four years to succeed in doing that, despite my considerable efforts. He has done a good and useful thing.

We have had a great debate about personal track safety certificates. Whenever a police officer is close to an operational railway, it is important that they have the proper training. I have complete confidence that the chief constable will ensure that such training is provided to officers who have to be close to operational railways.

The bill is an excellent step forward, and I will be happy to support the Government come decision time tonight.


22 June 2017

S5M-06201 Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-06201, in the name of Annabelle Ewing, on the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill at stage 3.

... ... ...

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

I will begin by talking about my colleagues in the chamber. I have always thought that all of us who stand for Parliament and elected office, whatever our political traditions and beliefs, come here—with almost no exceptions—wanting to do good for the people whom we are elected to represent. That does not change the fact that I will disagree with members in other parties on matters that are important to me. However, as we reach the conclusion of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill, I am gratified to find that we are likely to find ourselves of a single mind.

I have no difficulty with the motivation behind Oliver Mundell’s amendment. Indeed, after the stage 2 amendment fell in committee, I had discussions about precisely how a new amendment might look. At the end of the day the amendment was not quite there—but that is only a personal opinion and does not matter greatly in the big scheme of things.

I pay tribute to Johann Lamont, who, like me, has been here for some considerable time. She has been a tireless campaigner—on occasion, an extremely irritating, but proper one—on the rights of the disadvantaged in our society. Although we heard some pretty robust words today, we should utterly respect the motivation behind them. We are of one mind in supporting the bill.

The debates and disagreements that we have in Parliament will not be understood in any shape or form by the people whom we seek to help. Their attitude is simple. They want us to get on with it and do something. I think that that is where we have got to.

In committee, we heard from people who suffered childhood abuse. Their stories were moving beyond belief. I say that as someone whose general practitioner father—I always refer to my history—had to deal with childhood abuse. He was the GP responsible for pupils in a boarding school, and he came across some examples of abuse in that context. The issue was discussed around the dinner table, because it was thought that we children should understand what goes on. Indeed, my father sought our views.

However, nothing that we discussed around our dinner table compares with the stories that committee members were told. The stories did not quite move me to tears, but only for the reason that I did not want to let down the person who was telling their story by crying. I felt like crying—I really did—and I know that other members were in the same position.

What we do today is a noble and proper thing, which has been needing to be done for a long time. However, let us not imagine that by putting words on a page in the statute book we will have completed the job. That is not the case. We must ensure that the resources are in place—I signed up to the part of the committee’s report that said so, and I am confident that that will happen.

There are new threats coming over the horizon, with which we will have to engage. Immediately before this debate, I had an hour’s briefing from the Internet Watch Foundation, which is involved in addressing child abuse on the internet. We must remain alert to the new threats and protect future generations from them, as well as properly addressing abuse that took place in the past.


21 June 2017

S5M-06186 Agriculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-06186, in the name of Peter Chapman, on agriculture.



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

I start by declaring a relevant interest. NFU Scotland provides me with its magazine, Scottish Farming Leader, at no cost. The cover price is £3.50. I thank the NFUS for that, which helps me to stay in touch, and I will come back to that. I also declare that I have a registered agricultural holding of less than two hectares from which I derive no income.

The Leader helps us all to stay in touch. A different publication, Farmers Weekly, caught the situation in which farming finds itself in relation to farm payments in its 10 February edition. It said:

“The department’s record of failure when developing systems to support subsidy payments to farmers does not inspire confidence in its ability to cope with the challenges with Brexit that lie ahead ... At the same time taxpayers continue to be hit in the pocket by financial penalties arising from the government’s failure to deliver the scheme properly.”

The penalties to which it refers are of £0.5 billion. The failures that it describes are, of course, the Tory failures in supporting the CAP payments system in England.

That those in England are also in difficulties does not let us in Scotland off the hook—far from it—but it allows us to compare the Tories’ rhetoric here with their record south of the border, which does not much favour my colleagues on the benches to my left. Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee is chaired by a Labour MP, and Tory MP Richard Bacon has been its deputy chairman. He was withering on the Tories’ record; in fact, he has even written a book called “Conundrum” on the nature and causes of overspending, delays and failures in his Government’s schemes and the failures of other Governments.

In contrast, our Government has fessed up and acted on legitimate concerns. A loan scheme has been introduced to protect the cash flows for farmers. In England, there has been no comparable action.

The motion asks us to note Audit Scotland’s June findings. Let us do that. The report says that

“significant changes to leadership ... brought renewed effort to ... respond to the risks.”

Thank you, cabinet secretary. The report continues:

“Online applications for 2017 opened on time on 15 March, and no major system problems were noted over the application period.”

Thank you, cabinet secretary, and thank you to all the hard-working staff at the agriculture and rural economy directorate.

None of that should be news to Mr Chapman or to me. We were both present at a parliamentarians’ meeting with NFUS members that took place at Thainstone mart on 28 April, when we both heard confirmation from active farmers that the application system was working and usable. That does not mean that the whole system is working, but the bit with which farmers interact was working.

We also heard that farm incomes had declined; we know of the serious pressures that there are. I welcome the assurance from the UK Government that funding for CAP will continue into 2020 but, in the light of the withholding of more than £100 million of convergence funding, I am a bit sceptical about the outcome.

Today’s Queen’s speech at Westminster said that the Government hopes to

“maintain the scope of devolved decision-making powers immediately after exit”

and refers to

“discussion and consultation with the devolved administrations on where lasting common frameworks are needed.”

An agriculture bill has been proposed, and I am going to be quite radical. Why not have a joint committee between this Parliament and the Westminster Parliament to look at that bill?

As a computer person, I will make an important point on back-up systems, on which Peter Chapman is entirely wrong. It is only the heritage or legacy systems that are not backed up, not the new CAP system and all the data, which confirms that it will be okay.

I end with July’s edition of Scottish Farming Leader, which I have here. It has 66 pages and not a single word on CAP information technology systems or any of the failures. Farmers have moved on and the Government is moving on with them.

The Tories are out of touch again. Thank you, Presiding Officer.


S5M-06126 Freedom of Information Requests

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-06126, in the name of Edward Mountain, on freedom of information requests.

... ... ...

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

I start by welcoming the Government’s announcement, which takes the public accessibility and availability of information relating to FOI requests—information that is in official hands—to new heights.

I want to talk about the Tories—the party that lodged today’s motion. They have not always been the most enthusiastic supporters of FOI. In the stage 1 debate on the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill on 17 January 2002, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton described the bill as

“a costly experiment to tinker with what he”

the then Minister for Justice—

“calls a culture of secrecy.”

Lord James went on to say that

“The Executive seems to be intent on forcing through unnecessary measures.”

David McLetchie reinforced the Tory antipathy to the very concept of an FOI bill by saying:

“If the bill has been shoved down the list of priorities, the people of Scotland, aside from a few political anoraks, will not shed many tears.”

I see that Murdo Fraser is in the chamber. He said that the bill

“does us no credit whatever.”

My own contribution to the debate was to say that

“A desire to keep information is always an expression of someone’s self-interest”.—[Official Report, 17 January 2002; c 5467, 5469, 5480, 5494, 5499.]

I am strongly in favour of freedom of information, to the extent that when officials in the Labour and Liberal Executive prepared guidance to civil servants on how to implement the bill, I was delighted to discover, as the result of an FOI request, that they quoted from my speeches.

In government, and subsequently, I discovered that operation of the 2002 act places a genuine and proper burden on our public servants, whether they are employed or elected.

There have been many ministers in this Administration and in previous ones, and as one of them, I found myself responding to a significant number of FOI requests.

On many occasions we found that although the information was available, it was dispersed around so many different areas that it took a substantial effort to retrieve, organise and present it. It was there for the benefit of the administrator, not necessarily for the inquirer.

I ceased to be a minister on 6 September 2012—nearly five years ago. However, for years after that I was still being asked to confirm the contents of responses to FOI requests because they touched on my time as a minister. Under the ministerial code, I am not permitted to retain any ministerial papers. It is fair to say, “Mea culpa”, and I accept that a lot of the delays are down to me as a back bencher not always responding quickly enough to civil servants looking for information. That process is not yet finished, by the way. I have been summoned to appear in front of the Edinburgh trams inquiry, so I will have to come down for a full day to be briefed on what I did between 10 and seven years ago. The reasons for delays are diverse.

Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes, Minister” reminded us that the Official Secrets Act is not there to protect secrets; it is there to protect officials.

FOI is an important part of civic Scotland’s weaponry to ensure that citizens can hold officials to account.

I welcome the Tories’ new-found support for FOI. Let us hope that, across all the Administrations in which they might be involved, they properly implement the required principles and practices.


6 June 2017

S5M-05982 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05982, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on behalf of the Justice Committee, on the committee’s inquiry into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

... ... ...

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

In many ways, our prosecution service works similarly to how prosecution has operated for centuries, but society, and the crimes committed by some in it, have changed.

In my spare time, I am studying the life of John McFeat, who was found guilty of housebreaking and the theft of a coat and a bottle of whisky on the night of 22 to 23 August 1830. The court papers show that the 17-year-old young man had left home after falling out with his father, a chair maker at 36 Leith Walk, after he had refused to give him money for clothes.

McFeat had stayed in lodgings with some other young people for about a week. The precognitions—17 of them—show a young man obviously at a loose end and perhaps egged on by his peers. He broke into the house of his father’s neighbour to obtain drink and stole a coat opportunistically. He and his friends appear to have been larking about on Calton hill and then retired to their lodgings to consume the whisky.

His trial, on 11 November 1830, saw 41 jurors summoned. His guilt was quickly determined—perhaps more rapidly than justice today might demand—and he was transported to New South Wales for seven years. He never returned to Scotland, so that was one Scottish crime wave dealt with.

The story could be reflected in similar activities carried out by similarly bored young people today, and the response—involving police, fiscal, prosecutor, court, witnesses and the method of prosecution—has changed surprisingly little, but today there is scrutiny of a different order, and properly so. The focus is more on reform of the criminal, not merely on punishment, and on supporting all those who are affected by the crime. For the COPFS, there are complexities that were not present in the 1830s, and the arrangements for the accused to have access to legal advice are also much wider. As far as I can see, Mr McFeat had no such advice.

How are we doing? The number of crimes has fallen to the lowest level in 40 years, and our prosecutors make a substantial contribution to that, as do police, societal change, prisons and many other things. At a time of change, staff in the system feel under pressure. Cases are becoming more complex, there is closer attention to process in order to deliver efficiency, which inevitably removes what might be thought of as slack time. Such changes are not always welcome.

Let me address the subject of change. Oliver Mundell argued at some length against change, so I point him to what is now known as the Hawthorne effect. Over an extended period, changes were made in one part of a Western Electric Company factory in Cicero, Illinois, while the other part remained unchanged. After every change, productivity rose and absenteeism dropped. At the end of the trials, the factory was returned to its previous state while the researchers considered their findings—and productivity rose again. It was concluded that the process of change, rather than the nature of the change itself, was the source of benefit to the employee and the company. The Hawthorne effect is now also described as the observer effect and derives simply from taking an interest in people. Well-managed change is good.

The convener referred to court delays. Unhelpfully, perhaps, she failed to develop all the sources of such delays—in particular, that defence counsel can also come to court unable to proceed. Like the prosecution, its difficulty can lie with reluctant witnesses.

Some parts of the system are startlingly efficient. As a member of a predecessor Justice Committee, I visited Glasgow sheriff court on a Monday. We saw an astonishing 50-plus cases moved on in the course of an hour. Was that efficient? Very. Was it effective? Rather less obviously. There seemed to be no novice offenders and engaging the whole panoply of the sheriff court seemed overkill.

The reform of which we heard during the inquiry was, among other things, focused on making better use of court time, which I welcome. In turn, that should create more space for preparation by all involved. I welcome in particular a planned reduction in the use of temporary staff.

In his book “The Mythical Man-Month”, Professor Fred P Brooks posed the question: how do you make a project later? The answer is: add staff. The reason for that is that there is a cost to existing staff of integrating new staff into the team, providing them with knowledge of the local operation and methods and pushing them forward to be fully productive team members. It is not simply that external training is required; the existing team members carry a burden. A reduction in staff churn takes two burdens off the system. There is less time wasted on integration and a larger proportion of the time that staff spend in the service is productive. A further benefit that can be derived comes from staff seeing a task through to its completion. Time taken picking up and putting down items of work is wasted time.

The convener is correct when she points to frustration in delivering improved computer support across the public sector. There was the London Ambulance Service failure under the Tories in the early 1990s and the Scottish Qualifications Authority computer failures under the Labour and Liberal Democrat Administration in the 2000s, and members on the SNP benches have had our failures too. However, the private sector can and does find it difficult to make computer changes too.

Douglas Ross raised court closures as a source of difficulty, but the system appears to be more efficient since the closures. There have been higher throughputs without a corresponding increase in the resource being required to achieve them.

Douglas Ross: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: In one moment.

Although we heard from some deputes that they felt constrained by the existence of a central unit for marking, others pointed out that it was not a new process and that they did not feel constrained.

Douglas Ross: The member said that I said X, Y and Z about court closures. Will he accept that I was quoting evidence from the bar associations, which highlighted the impact that they see on courts around the north-east of Scotland and the central belt, and that they believe that court closures are having a direct impact on the service that we are providing in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: That is a useful clarification and I accept what the member says, but we also heard balancing views.

Rear-admiral Grace Hopper of the US Navy, who retired aged 80 as the oldest-ever regular member of the navy, said that we should act first and apologise later. She means that we should assume that we have the power, and accept that we will be held to account for how we use it, until we are told that we do not.

Mr Ross also rightly spoke of witnesses’ frustrations about delays. I welcome the programme of reform, one of whose outcomes must be to serve the interests of all those who contribute to the delivery of justice. In the early 1980s, I served as a juror in Linlithgow sheriff court in a two-day trial of two accused, each facing seven charges. It was a relatively simple case compared to child abuse, domestic abuse and financial crime—I genuinely wonder how we can help juries make decisions that they will feel more comfortable about in those more complex cases.

We took no evidence from jurors, because what goes on behind the jury room door is secret. For the solemn cases—the most serious—jurors are an important part of the system. In 1830 George Sutherland, a painter and glazier, John McDonald, an innkeeper, and Joseph Astley, a chemist, were jurors in John McFeat’s trial. A similar diversity prevails today.

We saw that support for witnesses today far exceeds that given even 20 years ago. Without witnesses, there can be no trial. Also, where victims could once have been almost invisible, we now have support for them.

The inquiry has been of value in throwing light on a vital part of our criminal justice system and in enabling us on the Justice Committee to hold all responsible for making the system work in future. My understanding—and, I suspect, others’—has been extended and my preparation for my committee role enhanced.

I thank all involved in delivering justice in Scotland. While the optimist in me hopes for an end to the need for any criminal justice system, the realist in me knows that we shall continue to depend on it for time immemorial.

Liam McArthur made a plea for no sentences of under a year. In 1830, no sentences were longer than a year, because if someone was guilty of something worthy of incarceration for longer than a year, they were either taken out and hung or sent to Australia.

I welcome the report and hope that it is a useful contribution to the debate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I was listening, Mr Stevenson, but I do not know whether you were advocating such a change in penal policy.


31 May 2017

S5M-05455 Child Safety Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05455, in the name of Clare Adamson, on child safety week 5 to 11 June 2017, safe children: sharing is caring. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Child Safety Week, the flagship annual campaign run by the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), takes place this year between 5 and 11 June 2017 and its theme is “sharing is caring”; further notes that accidents are a leading cause of death, serious injury and acquired disability for children and young people in the UK, that they account for three deaths every week and over 2,000 hospital admissions and that many of these accidents can be prevented; commends CAPT’s aim of securing a safer environment for children of all ages by helping families understand the risks, as well as the consequences, but most importantly, the simple ways that accidents can be prevented; further commends work undertaken in Child Safety Week in bringing together individuals and organisations around the UK to promote safety messages to families in a fun and engaging way and encourage parents and carers to increase confidence by sharing experiences and learning; congratulates CAPT and other organisations working in accident prevention on their outstanding dedication, in particular the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) which, this year, celebrates its centenary; notes RoSPA’s past successes from the Tufty Club in the 1960s and the introduction of the seatbelt law in the 1980s, to a successful campaign for moulded plugs in 1992 and EU-wide regulations on looped blind cords in 2014; further notes the new hazards for parents and carers to be aware of such as liquid laundry capsules, button batteries, hair straighteners and nappy sacks, and congratulates all those many organisations that continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively in the field of accident prevention and child safety.

... ... ...

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

I declare that I am a member of the safety-related body, the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I congratulate Clare Adamson on bringing the subject of the debate to Parliament tonight.

I was probably the pupil who always sat at the back of the class not listening to, or engaging with, safety messages. I have a long history of what I can only describe as attempted suicide. I will start with being in the Rev Willie McCraw’s manse garden at Bow of Fife at the age of approximately three, when a swing hit me in the middle of the nose. That meant my first visit to the hospital, which I still remember. There was a white line down a table which I had to lie on so that my nose could be X-rayed—it was not broken.

Aged 15, I am cycling back from the football, my football boots are hanging over the handlebars and the studs in the boots are engaging with the wheel, but I am ignoring that. Eventually, they get trapped in the spokes, the bike stops and I fly over the handlebars and land on my elbows, which both swell up: another visit to the hospital, but I still did not manage to break anything.

My memories are not quite in the right order, but not long after we got a television, I saw that the power cable was unplugged and thought that it would be a jolly good wheeze to stick my finger in the socket to see what electricity was like. I had a black line round the finger and a near-death experience.

One would think that those various experiences as a child would teach me to be a more sensible adult. Hardly. On 4 November 1975—parachute failure at Strathallan at 3.30 in the afternoon. It is strange that I can remember the time. In April 1965, I was out with my pals and we had been up Ben Macdui and were walking back across—suddenly, one cloud appears and we are in almost zero visibility, I am at the front of the queue and we have not roped up, put our crampons back on or any of that stuff. I get too near the edge of the corrie, walk on to a snow cornice, fall 300 feet and walk away. I still did not manage to break anything.

In 1980, we decided to go to Peru, despite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office having said “essential travel only”. The taxi that we were travelling in as we went over the Andes, because the trains were on strike, got shot at. The bullet hit the car just 2 feet behind me. So, that was another one.

In 1956—this is entirely relevant, so members should listen carefully—I got sunstroke at Benderloch beach and was hospitalised at Oban. I survived that one as well. So, I am doing pretty well. By the way, I have come off a plane in an emergency on three occasions, so do not fly with me.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, of course I will.

Jackie Baillie: I am trying not to have an accident in making this intervention.

The gallery is starting to clear at that litany of accidents. I wonder whether Stewart Stevenson would, given his tendency to have accidents, recommend that we should, in fact, clear the chamber right now.

Stewart Stevenson: Of course, I would draw an entirely different conclusion: if there is going to be an accident, people will want me there because I always survive, and they probably will, too. We are politicians: we can turn any example of anything to any point.

There is a serious point to all this, besides my just having a bit of knockabout fun. Parents and everybody else simply cannot anticipate every danger to which children will choose to expose themselves. My parents simply did not know that I was going to do all those daft things. As well as responding to specific dangers, we must think about how to educate our children to recognise that they are putting themselves in danger and to recognise appropriate actions to mitigate the effects of putting themselves in danger. I do not know how to do that, by the way, but I state it as an important point to think about.

Every day we hold our lives in our hands. When I look at my hands, I can see the scar from when I was drilling into metal and forgot to key the bit, and I look at what happened when I tried to scythe off my thumb. More important, I can look at where six stitches had to be put in my hand when I stuck it through a letter box and a dog got it. That was during a Falkirk East by-election campaign.

Life is full of hazards, and children will meet those hazards, as well.

I congratulate all those who seek to support children and, more fundamentally, who seek to support them to be safer and more responsible citizens than I have ever chosen to be in my entire life.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Please be careful when you sit down. The wheels on the chairs can be a bit dodgy.


S5M-05864 Protecting Workers’ Rights

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05864, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on protecting workers’ rights.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on her first speech in Parliament. I see that she attracted a large and appreciative audience for it—at least among her own party. I well remember my first speech in Parliament, which was in June 2001. As Michelle Ballantyne did, I joined the Parliament late, in mid-session, and not at the general election. I wish her every success—short of actual victory, that is—in her time in Parliament, and I look forward to hearing a speech from her that I can agree with in full.

I think that Michelle Ballantyne said that the only way to achieve change is through politics. I sincerely hope that that is not true. In particular it is, in the context of today’s debate, also possible to achieve useful change through trade union activity. It is another very important way of achieving change.

We are debating the protection of workers’ rights, but we should pay continuous attention to the issue. I do not think that we could reasonably describe our Tory colleagues in particular as the natural friends of workers—perhaps the deletions that the Tory amendment seeks to make to the motion illustrate that. The Tories are unconcerned about how their particular plans for how we should leave the EU will impact on workers or more broadly, and it is clear that they wish to see continuation of the substantial fees that workers endure when they go to employment tribunals. The people who have least are being asked to contribute most for their own justice. In general, the Tories seek to defend their pernicious Trade Union Act 2016.

I find that I can agree with Labour colleagues—even during an election campaign. I recognise that opponents have articulated good sense when they suggest that the EU-derived workplace laws must be fully protected. I absolutely support that.

Moreover, when the Greens call for environmentally responsible business practices—again, that is not something that the Tories sign up to; I cite as an example the cancellation of the important carbon-capture project at Peterhead, under what would have been a major employer—I find common cause with those colleagues.

Let us talk about trade unions. During my working life before Parliament, I was a member of the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union. I must confess that I was not an active member; I simply paid my subscription, as someone who wanted to know that the union was there, should I ever need it, although I hoped that I never would. When I became a manager, sitting opposite the union on the other side of the table and discussing activities in our company, I remained a member.

With regard to the provisions of the Tory act that very specifically attacks trade unions, I note that section 2 requires a 50 per cent turnout of eligible electors for any ballot for industrial action. If that were a principled position, it would also apply, for example, to local authority elections. Of course, it does not—in fact, it applies nowhere else. If it did, however, half of Tory councillors would not be in office. I must say that in that respect it is quite tempting, in its way.

However, under section 3 of the 2016 act, 40 per cent of eligible voters have to vote in favour of a strike. That is extremely challenging—as those of us who campaigned in 1979 with regard to the Scotland Act 1978 will be aware as we recall the George Cunningham amendment that required a similar 40 per cent of the electorate. If we were to apply the same rule to local government, it would probably mean that the Tories would have no councillors at all—which is extremely tempting. There is a matter of principle here, though; that provision is a serious illustration of the fact that the objective of the 2016 act is to neuter trade unions, not to protect workers’ rights. I also note other measures relating to the check-off system and the loss of facility time.

As we have heard, there is substantial evidence that trade unions are contributors to the success of businesses, companies and public services. Where unions are part of the decision making, better decision making results and success for the enterprise can follow. It might go back a while, but research that was undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing which has been subsequently endorsed shows lower leaving rates in unionised businesses, lower use of employment tribunals, fewer workplace injuries and less illness. That is a pretty good return for sharing, through the involvement of trade unions, decision making across all the people who work in an organisation.

I have been talking about the 2016 act, but I will close with some evidence from this Parliament of that same attitude to workers. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill was introduced to create additional protections for some of our most important public servants. We had a passionate and informed debate, and SNP members supported the bill, which had been introduced by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition. However, when our Parliament voted on the bill’s general principles on 30 September 2004, only one of the seven members who I think are still here now voted against. Guess who? It was Murdo Fraser. Then as now, the idea was to deprive workers of their proper rights. The leopard never changes its spots—and the Tories will never work in the interests of workers.


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