6 June 2018

S5M-12573 Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12573, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill at stage 3.

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

I am an accidental participant in the debate. Before the stage 1 debate, the whips found that they were one short in volunteers to participate, so I got the tap on the shoulder to do so. I did what I always do in such circumstances, particularly as I was the last member to speak, at the end of the debate: I read the bill. That is how I was able to identify a little something that I was delighted to bring forward at stage 2—and I have heard acknowledgements from two colleagues for that little bit.

When members have attended 266 Justice Committee meetings, as I have, they will have learned how to read bills quite quickly and spot where the elephant traps are. There is no special skill; it is just length of service. Members will all be able to do that when they have been to 266 Justice Committee meetings—I wish them well with that prospect.

This stage 3 debate is very unusual. There are no amendments—that, in itself, is not particularly unusual. However, the Parliamentary Bureau has served the Parliament well by extending the time for the stage 3 debate to fill a full debate slot. That might be unique; it is certainly pretty unusual. I very much welcome the comprehensive opportunity for a much wider range of members than usual to participate in the stage 3 debate.

We are not here to rewrite the past, because we simply cannot do that. Any attempts to do so would require the most careful of considerations. I do not much like the renaming of streets, for example, in an attempt to rewrite history, but I might support the removal of celebratory statues. For example, the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who used to gaze across Dzerzhinsky Square, at the back of Red Square, to the Lubyanka, is no longer there. The street is no longer called Dzerzhinsky Square, and that is proper, given the abuses of human rights that he oversaw as the founder of the precursor to the KGB.

However, I like righting the effects of wrongs that were done in the name of the state. We do not forget what has happened, but we can offer some redress. We should bear in mind that, although we might be striking the official record from public gaze, the newspapers will still carry many reports of convictions and prosecutions. We cannot legislate for that in any meaningful sense, but I hope that that will not interfere with what we are doing today.

I will touch on some of the preceding debate. It is worth saying that we are all making a journey. My parents were both Edwardians who were born well before the first world war, and their moral compass and view of society would have been very different from mine and the views that we are expressing this afternoon. My youngest grandparent was born in 1872, at a time when women could not even own property. The world changes, and society evolves.

I gently engage with Patrick Harvie in that context. I do not think that we can bully anybody into changing their point of view; that just does not work in politics or in life. There is a five-stage process that we might consider. I have just jotted down that process, so it can be criticised. Step 1 is to get people to recognise that there is a difference. Step 2 is to get people to acknowledge that difference. Step 3 is to get people to engage with that difference. Step 4 is to get people to celebrate that difference. Step 5 is to get people to promote the positive values of difference. That is not simply about today’s debate; it is how we progress people, step by step, to a new view of the world. I encourage Patrick Harvie to consider that we should find a way of engaging with those who have a particular viewpoint rather than bully them.

It is worth returning to Alan Turing, who is one of my great heroes. Alan Turing lives on in computer science in the Turing test, which is the test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour. That is exactly what we are doing today: we are exhibiting intelligent behaviour.

I very much welcome the bill and the work of Tim Hopkins, who was probably the first lobbyist I met when I came to the Parliament in 2001. He does not look a day older.

Tim Hopkins does not look a day older, but he should because of his indefatigable efforts to help us and to help me, as someone who came from an Edwardian family and was not naturally equipped for today’s debate, not only to engage in all the stages of the debate but to vote for the bill at decision time with gladness in my heart.


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