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31 October 2019

S5M-19631 Forestry Act 1919 (Centenary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-19631, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919.

15:50
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16:17

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

I will simply close off the issue of national parks by saying that it is slightly unusual to incorporate it into an amendment in the way that has been done. I do not oppose national parks; I just think that the approach is slightly odd. However, there we are; that is neither here nor there.

In 1919 debate on the second reading of the Forestry Bill, which took place on 5 August and went on until eight o’clock in the evening, the slightly different figure was given of only 4—not 5—per cent of the UK being covered by forestry. However, I do not think that we should argue about a per cent here or there. More fundamentally, that illustrated the problem that, in 1915-16, three quarters of the amount of timber that the UK required had to be imported. That was the scale of the problem, and that was at a point when Germany had many times more acres planted.

John Finnie might be interested to know that it was also identified in that debate that there were 5 million acres of sporting land that were thought to be suitable for planting, which would have been a better use of that land. Some debates are not new; those issues were part of the original second reading debate in the House of Commons in 1919.

Like others, I am very pleased to mark the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919. Forestry was one of my ministerial responsibilities before I demitted office some time ago. I very much enjoyed that part of my portfolio, because forests are important and forestry supports so many jobs, not only directly but downstream. We build timber-frame houses and we have sawmills, which make an important contribution to our economy and to tackling climate change.

The first forestry act was needed because of the war emergency. It was vital then that we had timber, and it was recognised that we needed to do something about it.

We know that, depending on implementation, forestry can help with or hinder the dangers that are related to climate change. Trees can absorb water and promote higher soil infiltration rates, which helps with issues such as flooding. They capture carbon out of the air and store it—they are huge and important carbon sinks.

Therefore, we celebrate our forests not simply for their physical expression of what we might otherwise express in poetry—they are visual poetry and a feast for the mind, as well as for the nose. When it comes to the environment, they are crucial to our future.

We have become more aware of the importance of woodlands. Although the Community Woodlands Association was not set up until 2003, it came from a decades-long appreciation of the importance of community woodlands. On the part of Mike Rumbles’s speech that related to national parks, I note that through the community asset transfer scheme that we passed in 2017, communities are taking more interest in forestry than they used to.

For many people who sit at screens each day and are parked in offices, time in a forest can contribute to good mental health. There is a quiet, stillness and placid environment in a forest that is a balm for the soul.

It is important to think about where we go now. We have to do a lot more planting of forests in Scotland, and I hope that we continue to do that.

In 1919, my father was 14 years old and at Fortrose academy, and my father’s cousin, James Stevenson, was part of Lloyd George’s Government, which introduced the bill.

16:22

8 October 2019

S5M-19287 Supporting Innovation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): I remind members that there is absolutely no spare time this afternoon, so I will have to be quite strict on timings for the next item of business, which is a debate on motion S5M-19287, in the name of Ivan McKee, on supporting innovation.

15:45
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16:37

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

In our modern context, innovation plays a critical part in our economic wellbeing. The process is a kind of creative destruction, to echo what Mr Whittle has just said, and it is about replacing the obsolete with the cutting edge and developing the previously unimagined. It is a catalyst to growth, which is why it is critical to every economy on the planet. However, innovation does not happen in isolation. It requires a rich soil for growth and a foundation upon which to build.

The debate has illustrated the danger of focusing on Government and private sector spend on research and development, because it is the outputs from that research and development and from spontaneous thinking that are more important. In other words, how many patents do we produce? How many registered designs and product names do we come up with? How many start-up companies go beyond “me too” enterprise?

It is interesting that Brian Whittle referred to Apple because, of course, the iPod, its first music kit, depended entirely on a chip that came from the Wolfson institute here in Edinburgh. We are still doing innovation—we have been doing it for a long time indeed.

Scotland wants to be a leader in innovation and we put our money where our mouth is. Product and process innovation has a clear link to employment growth but it does not happen in isolation; it generally relies on the quality of the business environment. The weaker the business environment, the less likely innovation will have a positive impact on jobs.

It is worth noting that when full employment is reached, productivity falls, because then the people who are being employed often work part time and do jobs that are not inherently productive. However, even the least productive jobs can respond to innovation.

It is certainly important that we have inclusive growth that matches our innovation ambition. That means investing in public infrastructure. The Forth crossing—now the Queensferry crossing—had an original budget of £3.4 billion, but we built it for less than £1.4 billion. If that ain’t innovation in Government and stepping up to ambition, I do not know what is. We innovate in housing, healthcare, energy, education and digital connectivity.

One thing is clearly missing from the debate—this relates to a feminist issue. The Intellectual Property Office says that only one in eight patents world wide is in a woman’s name. Therefore, our Government’s focus on STEM for women is vital, because there is a huge untapped source of potential innovation in this country, as there will be in countries across the world. All the women whom I meet say that they are can-do people, and I believe that all the women in my life are can-do people. That is not the only issue; attitudes, culture and self-belief are also important factors.

The Scottish Government is working with partners to support Scotland Can Do, which is good. We must also ensure that people have somewhere where they can innovate. We need people to take risks, and we need to be prepared to see failure.

Historically, Scotland has been an innovating nation. Alexander Burnett seemed to think that innovation started in 1707. Napier’s bones and the slide rule were developed in the 100 years before that point, and the decimal point came from John Napier, too. The first coal mining on artificial islands was done in Scotland in 1575. However, there were inventions after 1707. We bequeathed to the world the overdraft, which was invented in 1728 by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Relevant to 1707, Alexander Cumming invented the first flush toilet in 1775. Scotland invents; the world benefits.

16:43

1 October 2019

S5M-19160 Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 (Post-legislative Scrutiny)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee debate on motion S5M-19160, in the name of Jenny Marra, on post-legislative scrutiny of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.

14:32
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16:08

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

I congratulate the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee on its substantial work in producing its report.

Our having a committee with “Post-legislative Scrutiny” in its title is a welcome move forward. Historically, members on the back benches, the front benches and quite generally have mumped and moaned about a lack of scrutiny of legislation. The report that we debate today sets a pretty high benchmark for what we might see in the future.

I am reminded by this process of how things change, and of how they do not. The post-legislative scrutiny report stands in a very important place. All but one of the members who spoke on the bill at stage 3 have departed this Parliament. Only the member who was in charge of the bill is left: well done to Christine Grahame, who is truly the last person standing. I congratulate her.

When the bill was introduced, it was well intentioned and widely supported, albeit that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, when referring to the power of the database in section 8, showed a marked lack of enthusiasm in his contribution on 22 April 2010.

However, the report has put things in a different place. The intention that there was in 2010 is clearly as important today as it was then; its implementation has been hobbled by our not seeing bits of it picked up. The report shows—in painful detail—that that lacuna exists. It proffers no real insight into why so little action flowed from three years’ hard work by Ms Grahame and others to get the bill over the finishing line and on to the statute book. In the debate at the time, the cabinet secretary said

“We ... have an enabling power”

he was talking about section 8—but

“we are not persuaded that a database is either needed or wanted—nor is the committee.”—[Official Report, 22 April 2010; c 25672.]

However, things move on and, despite that being the view in 2010, we must now regard that as unfinished business with regard to what we are talking about today. The eight years since the bill came into force in 2011 have been perhaps too long.

My experience of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee—otherwise known as the DPLR Committee, on which I served for 1,283 days until March 2016—may illustrate some of the ways by which we might better implement the Parliament’s acts. A regular feature of the DPLR Committee was to say to the Government that there were errors in secondary legislation—they might be small errors or rather bigger ones—and, frequently, the Government would say that they would remedy those defects at the earliest opportunity. However, in the real world, the earliest opportunity often proved to be elusively distant or even non-existent, so the committee agreed with my suggestion that we should record those commitments and publish a list of them on a regular basis—it was quarterly, if I recall correctly.

That list shone a light into a dusty corner of our legislative process. Suddenly, the amendments that had been promised started to happen. The committee was publishing the list of those that were outstanding, and it was in the Government’s interest to see the list shrink rather than continue to grow. Perhaps in relation to legislation, it might be useful if we had a list of all the bits of legislation that have not yet been commenced—on this bill, it has all been commenced, but in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which I was responsible for, there is a section that has not yet been commenced. There is a good and proper reason why that is so, but nonetheless, that was not in the public domain until I discovered it this morning. If we were to take that approach, it might be less likely that those important bits of legislation that we make would simply disappear.

The bill that we are discussing has not been forgotten. It has been amended in three places, twice by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. It has not been forgotten, but it has not been fully implemented.

As have others, I have been engaged by dogs when I would rather that they had not done so. Indeed, throughout the debate, I have been sitting on four fang marks from a leafleting escapade—I cannot exhibit them to members for a rather obvious reason. In the Falkirk West by-election in 2000, I shoved a leaflet through a door in Falkirk, and a dog collected it and my hand as part of the process. I have a scar, here, from six stitches. The householders, Mr and Mrs Reid, kindly let me wash the wound. It turned out that the dog was called Oliver, so I am the only politician to have a scar from being bitten by Oliver Reid.

Finally, there is a question whether the dogs or the humans are out of control. Dog fighting is a big issue in the United States and, once, they routinely destroyed hundreds of dogs that were involved in it. Now, people take those dog-fighting dogs, rehabilitate them—in most cases, successfully—and put them into homes where they have happy lives. If that does not prove that the problem is the owners and not the dogs, I do not know what does.

16:15

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