19 December 2017

S5M-08404 Street Pastors Scotland (10th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08404, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on the 10th anniversary of Street Pastors Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the 10th anniversary of Street Pastors Scotland; notes that the initiative was pioneered in London in 2003 by Les Isaac and that, since then, over 14,000 street pastors have been trained, with over 20,000 volunteers now associated with the organisation; understands that, in 2010, the Ascension Trust (Scotland) was launched in the Parliament to take responsibility for the street pastor teams across Scotland; notes that there are around 600 street pastors in 23 Scottish communities, major cities and large and small towns in the Mid Scotland and Fife parliamentary region, as well as in Orkney and Lewis; believes that Street Pastors Scotland puts its Christian faith to good use in order to improve community relations and the safety of the night-time economy, and wishes the movement and the street pastors all the best.

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

I thank Murdo Fraser for the opportunity to highlight an important initiative that has been going for 10 years, and to say that we wish it to continue for many years.

Like other members, I have street pastors in my constituency. Earlier this year, I attended the induction of new pastors in Peterhead. I have not been out on the street with street pastors, but I have certainly been out on a Saturday night with the police on three occasions for approximately five hours, so I know the environment into which street pastors go.

One of the interesting things that I have heard from those street pastors is that their mere presence changes the character of what is going on. In a place like Peterhead, we might wonder why that should be so. Peterhead has a population of 19,000, but the odds are that the street pastor knows your mum. Being able to walk up to somebody who is just a little bit off the proper behaviour and asking, “Will I call your mum? You are obviously needing a wee bit of help” is sometimes enough to nudge people back to proper behaviour. It is a very practical thing. We are talking about practical, polite, pastoral support. Getting support is the very meaning of the word “pastoral”.

Last Saturday, the Peterhead street pastors Facebook page, which has a huge following, had a simple thing on it:

“Remember to wrap up warm the temperature is going to be 1-2 deg. Remember to have a plan for getting home. ie taxi, getting picked up. Please take note that the pavements around the town centre are very slippery.”

Nothing in that is anything other than quite obvious, but it is precisely the sort of thing that those who are focused on having a good night out might sometimes neglect. The pastors give practical advice and help that will make a real difference to people in places like Peterhead.

Peterhead is a diverse community. The academy has 28 languages spoken in it. There are therefore plenty of opportunities for confusion and misunderstandings between different parts of the community. The presence of street pastors can help to deal with that. They can help to identify vulnerable people and connect them to support and sources of help.

It is interesting to read what some other people say about street pastors. The Spectator put it rather well when it described street pastors as having “weirdly effective unworldliness”. In other words, it was saying, “This is pretty good stuff, but we don’t quite know how it works. It is not quite within our normal experience.”

Street pastors are a return to the roots of much of what Christian faith is about: supporting other people and being non-judgmental. My grandfather was probably one of the judgmental ones—he was a member of the Independent Order of Rechabites and definitely would not have approved of the carousing and the consumption of alcohol on a Saturday night. I know that he persuaded his nephew, who was in Lloyd George’s Government, to nationalise the one drinking den in Cromarty so that it would be brought under control. That approach does not really work in the modern world. What the street pastors are doing is highly personal, highly effective and deserving of our continuing support.


S5M-09629 Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item is a debate on motion S5M-09629, in the name of Jeane Freeman, on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

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

Some people have suggested that the social security system stems from Beveridge. We might reasonably argue that it stems from the Old Age Pensions Act 1908, which was introduced by the Liberal Government that paid the first pensions in 1909. The first political book that I read was a biography of Lloyd George, which I read when I was seven years old.

The important thing about the reference that I am making is that, 100-plus years ago, The Times, which was then known as “The Thunderer”, definitely thundered against the iniquity of paying people without their having put something into a fund—the national insurance provision did not come along until 1911. However, we now have a consensus that we will support the bill, which is, of course, much more wide ranging than the 1908 act. That is a good and proper measure of how far we have travelled in the regard that we have for people in our society. The bill will apply to all of us, because, at different stages of our lives, we have different needs and will, in one way or another, depend on a social security payment.

Johann Lamont mentioned the need for rights to be in legislation, but I am not sure that they need to be. We can exercise rights that are not in legislation. In particular, the modern concept of human rights stems from the work of Eleanor Roosevelt in the aftermath of the founding of the United Nations. In 1948, she wrote:

“while words, ideas and ideals may mean little by themselves, they hold great power when properly disseminated and embraced”

I hope that the debate spreads the word about what we want to do.

I will pick up one or two particular points. I was not on the committee but I read with interest the excellent report that it produced. In particular, where the bill says “role”, in section 1(d), the report suggests that it should instead say “duty”. We need to be slightly careful when we change a single word, and we must weigh that word. If we say that the Scottish ministers have a duty, we might lock the Scottish social security system out from topping up somebody else’s social security provision financially without our creating a new social security provision. I say “might” because I have not examined the matter in detail, but I hope that others will look closely at that.

Adam Tomkins is, without question, the most experienced constitutional lawyer in the Parliament. I do not think that there would be much debate about that. But—and it is quite a big “but”—he may have inadvertently failed to understand the practical application of our constitutional position. If, as he suggests, we should incorporate into primary legislation more than is currently intended, that would end discussion of the matters introduced in the primary legislation at the end of stage 3. However, debating and discussing those matters in the context of secondary legislation will extend the consideration that the Parliament is able to give them into the committee stages that follow as secondary legislation is introduced. It is particularly apposite that I make that point in relation to Adam Tomkins’s remarks, because—

Adam Tomkins suggests that the Government is behind the curve in its preparations for what has to follow while insisting that that incomplete and imperfect preparation should be incorporated into the primary legislation. Those two positions are pretty inconsistent.

Legislators—which includes every one of us here—are perfectly capable of making mistakes. In secondary legislation, we have an opportunity to more readily correct those mistakes. I—mea culpa—provide an example from my experience. On 23 April 2012, I signed the Snares (Training) (Scotland) Order 2012. It turned out not to be quite as good as I thought it was when I signed it. Therefore, on 22 May, less than a month later, I lodged the Snares (Training) (Scotland) (No 2) Order 2012, which was a better presentation of the legislation that was required.

Finally—I leave this as a little mystery for colleagues to pursue—I turn to the very first order that I signed as a minister. It was the Port of Cairnryan Harbour Empowerment Order 2007, which I signed on 25 May 2007. I will let members discover why the order is entirely invalid. The good news is that it was never used or required.

This excellent bill is a big and important step forward for the Parliament. Having flexibility in how we deal with the legislation in the future is not about giving the Government flexibility but about giving Parliament flexibility. I welcome the indications that a superaffirmative procedure will be introduced at stage 2, because that will give us an opportunity to have extended consideration of the secondary legislation. It is a proven technique that works very well.


14 December 2017

S5M-09362 Bank Branch Closures

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09362, in the name of Kate Forbes, on bank branch closures in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament is deeply concerned by the successive waves of bank branch closures across Scotland in 2017, including the recent announcement that RBS plans to close 62 branches; recognises that, while many customers choose to bank online, not every person or business can access all services in this manner and might have to travel over an hour to their nearest branch; believes that these closures will have the greatest impact on older and vulnerable customers who depend on staff and services in their local branch, cash-based businesses that need to make deposits and withdrawals as locally as possible and rural communities, such as those in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, which it believes have been almost abandoned by the banks in recent years, and notes the calls on the banks responsible to improve their customer service to loyal and dependent customers.

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

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests. I remind banks that they do not stand apart from wider society—they exist to serve it, and they depend on its support for their continued existence and their special privileges.

The Bank of Scotland opened its doors in 1695 and drew opprobrium in 1715 when its board backed a Jacobite rebellion. That led to the foundation of the Hanoverian Royal Bank of Scotland and nearly closed the Bank of Scotland. Today, with RBS and others removing branch-based services from communities across Scotland, particularly in Banff in my constituency, there is a significant risk to some banks’ future success.

Banks should set aside short-term financial targets to ensure their long-term survival. They can do so by re-earning the trust and support of local people by being part of communities through having a meaningful physical presence in them. In 1826, the Bank of Scotland manager in Kirkcaldy angered his customer, David Landale, was challenged to a duel, accepted the challenge and lost. The bank lost a manager and could not even take possession of the gun that killed him. Fall out with your customers at your peril! Today’s gun levelled at the banks may merely be metaphorical, but it could be just as deadly.


12 December 2017

S5M-09498 Year of Young People

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09498, in the name of Maree Todd, on celebrating our future: Scotland’s year of young people.

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

It is one of the great paradoxes of life that, when people are youngsters, they cannot wait to grow up, but when they get to my age, they wish they were youngsters.

I am a member of SNP youth. Admittedly, I am an honorary member, but I hope that I still think like a young person. Therefore, I am stepping up to the plate to thoroughly enjoy the year of young people. It is a wonderful initiative for people such as me and, for that matter, the ever-young Iain Gray, who was doing himself far too far down by referring to his bus pass—I have had four so far.

My serious point is that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and Ross Greer, Alex Cole-Hamilton and other members around the chamber said that, too. The campaign that we are embarking on for 2018 is an opportunity for young people throughout Scotland to be heard and for their achievements to be recognised. The events will be in all parts of our country and will provide opportunities for people such as me—adults, if we revert to type—and youngsters.

We will see ingenuity of a character that we often do not suspect is there; Brian Whittle referred to the idea of using giraffes as police aids or police animals. When I visited King Edward school—like other members, I love visiting schools, particularly primary schools—the whole school was sat in one gymnasium. The headteacher of that small school said, “Mr Stevenson is here to answer all your questions”. I said, “I know all the answers”, so what immediately happened? Somebody at the back put up their hand and said, “What’s my brother’s name?”

The youngsters always beat the oldsters at every opportunity, and Stewart Stevenson is put back in his box, where he deserves to be. [Interruption.] I love it when the Tories applaud something that I have said. Could the parties on the other benches please do it, too? [Interruption.] Thank you, Mr Cole-Hamilton. Our young people are a tremendous investment that we are making in our future, and with good reason.

I want to say a few words about the annual Aberdeen international youth festival, which is one of the north-east’s superb cultural events. The festival brings together young people from around the world to perform, showcase their talents and build bridges between nations, and includes dance, theatre, musical and other performances. It has been going since 1973, so it is not something that has just appeared. The minister appears to be suggesting that it started before she was born, and I believe her. The festival has hosted more than 30,000 young people from across the globe. This year’s festival included performers from Italy, Jamaica, Ukraine, Morocco, Spain, Cuba, Russia, the Ivory Coast, Iceland, India, China, Norway, Brazil, Zimbabwe and even that distant outpost of civilisation the United States of America. It will, of course, have been attended by a few locals from the north-east and the rest of Scotland, too.

Besides pure entertainment, the festival provides educational opportunities, classes and workshops to allow people to learn. It has been a vibrant part of north-east life for a very long time. It lasts nine days, so it is a substantial event. Historically, the festival has been funded in large part by Aberdeen City Council, and it has been supported throughout its history by the former Conservative member of this Parliament Dr Nanette Milne, and properly so. In the present circumstances, I hope that she will speak to her colleagues in Aberdeen City Council who are looking at withdrawing the finance from the festival. I am disappointed that Oliver Mundell is not here, because he could take real action by talking to his colleagues in Aberdeen. With his complaints, he gave us no action whatsoever. I am sure that we will get to the right place—perhaps what we are saying here will encourage the council to have another think. It has not formally made a decision yet, although I understand that it has made it in private.

There is a survey that shows that what us wrinklies think of young people is not that favourable—25 per cent are considered lazy, a third are considered irresponsible and 40 per cent are seen as poor communicators. I do not agree. When I was at primary school, my communication skills were almost zero compared to those of this generation, who can speak and engage with us in a tremendous way. Young people have skills with modern technologies that us older people lack. That can be quite scary and almost threatening, but it is absolutely necessary for the modern world. The young have the power to lead. In schools across Scotland, the climate change challenge is being picked up by youngsters, who go home and persuade their parents and other adults who they meet. That is an inspiration that we should acknowledge.

I love spending time with young people. I will be having lunch with my six-year-old goddaughter Darcey on Friday. On Tuesday, the Danish part of my family—my great-niece Selma and her brother Scott—will be here in Parliament to brief me on what goes on in Danish politics and show that we can probably do things better.

Jenny Gilruth is half my age and has twice my brains. She is young, not old, and she, like all young people, is the future.


7 December 2017

S5M-09406 Sea Fisheries and End-year Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09406, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

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

Not every MSP attends the fishing debates. My first speech in Parliament in June 2001 was on the subject of fishing, just as my 716th today is on the subject. However, fishing and its products touch us all. Only yesterday, the lead item on the menu in the Scottish Parliament canteen was Peterhead smoked haddock fish cake—I see the Presiding Officer nodding—and absolutely delicious it was. This is not an abstract issue; it touches our palate, our stomach and our very being. It sustains and supports our population and our health.

Speaking of health, I think that the fishing industry is in pretty good heart. It is looking forward to the sea of opportunity, which is the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation catchphrase for the opportunities to come from leaving the common fisheries policy. For my part, I have always been opposed to the CFP. From the outset of the UK joining the European Economic Community until he demitted office, my political colleague, Donald Stewart MP, the member for the Western Isles, made speeches that are testament to his long-standing opposition to the CFP. Some 20 years ago, before his early death in office, Allan Macartney, that wonderful member of the European Parliament, wrote an excellent paper on what should be a successor plan to the CFP. It is worth getting that out and having another read, because we are now thinking in terms of what next.

This year’s negotiation is for the very last complete year before Brexit. We must keep our eye on the prize—fishermen expect that to come in 2019. I understand in tactical terms why Mr Gove has been speaking to the Danes and the Dutch but, given some of the comments that Mr Chapman made today, we are seeing the Tories give away the prize that exists with the sea of opportunity, for no obvious benefit that we are hearing about.

In his response to my intervention on the subject, Mr Chapman provided no meaningful answer.

We have to get 100 per cent control over our waters out to 200 miles. I welcome the hint—or perhaps it was more than a hint—that the London convention will be abandoned, because that will help us between six and 12 miles, although I am not absolutely sure that that is nailed down. Unless and until we get that control, we will not have the opportunity to map a way forward.

In that context, we are looking at what Westminster is doing on the leaving the EU bill, or the great reform bill, or whatever one chooses to call it. The SFF is absolutely clear that the powers in relation to fishing must come straight to Holyrood, because it fears—quite reasonably—that it might not get the kind of solutions that will meet its needs if we rely simply on London. There is a reason for that; I do not criticise, but English fishing interests are mostly in controlling how much we catch by restriction of effort rather than by quota, whereas the Scottish fishing industry wishes to take a quota-based approach. Under the CFP, we went through a period when we had both and it was absolutely horrendous. We would have clarity if we made the decisions in Scotland: we would set the strategic objectives and take control of our waters. That is a simple understanding of where the SFF wants to be.

How optimistic is the fishing industry? New boats are being built all over the place. The new fish market in Peterhead, to which Peter Chapman referred, will open next year—I met the harbour authority on Friday and got an update on that. This very week we had the European maritime and fisheries fund and the Scottish Government providing funding for a factory to take over a facility in Fraserburgh that was previously occupied by Young’s Seafood. There truly is a sea of opportunity out there.

Science is important to how we take decisions on fishing—there is no division among any of us on that. ICES is the key place from which scientific opinion and understanding come. It is, of course, unaffected by Brexit, because it has been around for more than 100 years telling us about the fishing industry—it is really the arch conservationist at heart, even if not every individual in it necessarily is—and we will continue to participate in it. However, will the Scottish contribution to the scientific work be damaged by Brexit, given that quite a lot of people who are working on our science might not readily have a long-term right of residency here?

Peter Chapman said that he speaks on behalf of the industry, but the industry speaks on behalf of the industry—we are all here to support it. I do not know whether Peter has been elected as a representative of any particular part of the industry, but the important thing is that we are all united—I think that we will be at decision time—around a shared position that promotes the interests of our industry, ensures that we can exploit the sea of opportunity and sees success in fishing communities across Scotland.


S5M-07776 Parcel Delivery Charges

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07776, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on unfair parcel delivery charges. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that, compared with other parts of the UK, people in Moray, the north of Scotland and other rural areas are often charged excessive rates for parcel deliveries; understands that recent examples of this practice include Halfords charging £50 to send towels, which cost only £5.99, to Speyside, and LloydsPharmacy charging £50 to send a mobility scooter to a terminally-ill woman in Keith, despite advertising free UK delivery online; recognises what it sees as the frustration of consumers living in postcodes such as IV and AB, who have to pay these charges, which it considers unfair; welcomes both Halfords and LloydsPharmacy reported decision to review their charging policies in response to public concern; acknowledges the importance of challenging companies over such policies, and notes the view that there is a need for the relevant authorities to address this issue, which it believes affects many thousands of households and businesses.

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

I thank Richard Lochhead for bringing the debate to Parliament.

In 1812, my great-great-great-grandfather, David Berry, who had served in the British Royal Navy between 1780 and 1782, required a duplicate copy of his service record so that he could claim his pension from a predecessor to the current Ministry of Defence. That letter cost him £1 and 10 shillings to be delivered. When Rowland Hill introduced the penny post in 1840, he transformed the whole nation—the whole island—by creating a uniform delivery charge of a single penny, which was fundamentally different from what my great-great-great—three greats—grandfather had to pay for his letter. Interestingly, the uniform delivery charge saved money, because it turned out that the cost of calculating how much individual letters cost exceeded the amount of the higher-rate charges that were foregone. Uniform charges can therefore have economic benefits in some circumstances—we just need to get computers out of the equation.

We would think that we are particularly disadvantaged in Scotland by our delivery system, but the reality is that Edinburgh airport is one of the three airports in the United Kingdom that is a huge—I mean really huge—transport hub, together with London Stansted and East Midlands airports. Edinburgh airport transports huge amounts around the UK every night, and it is not terribly far away from Inverness, Aberdeen, my constituents and the constituents of many of the members in the chamber. The infrastructure is therefore present.

It can be done slightly differently elsewhere. I like a particular kind of shoe for leisure wear that comes from Australia. Historically, I have ordered them from Australia; they arrive in 48 hours and the delivery charge is £15. The shoes are not expensive—they are about £40, so the company is not making a profit in other ways. If the company delivers those shoes to Great Barrier Island, off the coast of North Island in New Zealand, the charge is £8.50. That island is five miles further from Auckland than Stornoway is from Ullapool—compare and contrast. The shoes that go from Australia to New Zealand have a three to four hour flight and then they go on to Great Barrier Island. We know that it can be done differently elsewhere.

Like other members, my constituents have told me about their problems. A garden centre website advertises free delivery for orders over £50—unless the order is for Aberdeenshire, where delivery costs £20. Apparently, “free delivery” means only to England and Wales. Wayfair says:

“FREE Delivery within Great Britain (excluding extended areas)”.

For some of my constituents, the delivery charge was £25 instead of free.

Every member here has contributed in a cross-party and consensual way, and everyone has told the same kind of stories. My wife, in an attempt to please me, ordered gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes to plant next year in the garden. An extra charge was levied and her teeth are still grinding. It is time that we did something about it, if only to stop my wife’s teeth from grinding.


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