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29 September 2020

S5M-22845 The Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill - Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is the stage 3 debate on motion S5M-22845, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on the Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill.

15:57
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16:27

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

Congratulations to Graham Simpson, who has made the bold and, I am sure, entirely justified claim that nothing went wrong on his watch. Of course, he was careful to draw his frame quite narrowly, so I dare say that we might have revelations at another point in his parliamentary career that draw a distinction from the claim that he has made today. However, he and the other members of the committee have done a fine job in bringing to the Parliament a proposal on whose merits there is universal consensus.

In a perfect world, everyone who requires assistance would be able to act in their own interest at all times. In the case of juveniles, of course, such actions on their part cannot be unqualified, and an adult is needed to oversee their decisions. However, the voice of juveniles must be heard in important jurisdictions that affect their futures. The children’s panel is an excellent example of where the child’s voice is often decisive in determining what should happen in particular circumstances.

The appointment of someone to look after a child’s interests with regard to social security is not to be thought about casually. It is important that, as parliamentarians and legislators, we are somewhat cynical when we look at this topic. Why cynical? Because a small number of the people who are given that responsibility will abuse that trust. We need to make sure that there are provisions to cover that circumstance and penalties for those who take away from the deserving youngsters the emoluments that are provided from the public purse. The bill takes good steps towards ensuring that we can protect the interests of our youngsters. It also makes some more general provisions in that regard.

The bill also tidies up some of the imperfections of previous legislation. It would, however, be naive of us to imagine that there is a perfect act out there that reflects the perfect parliamentary process and absolutely everything that might have been relevant to what is going on. Indeed, when the Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998, one of the little errors that it contained—it was not particularly important, but it was an error—was that it made no provision for what should be done about who got elected if, in calculating the last position to be elected from the list, there was a tie. As the 1998 act was first passed, everyone who was tied for last position would be elected to the Parliament. Far from having a limit of 129 members, we almost had, in a sense, no limit at all. That might be trivial, and it was very unlikely to happen, but every bit of legislation that we might get ourselves involved in will have some flaw somewhere. If we are very lucky, it never matters and it never emerges. It is, therefore, right and proper that the Government brings forward legislation that deals with some of the things that were not quite right in the first iteration of legislation.

I particularly welcome the provisions that take beyond the view of registered medical practitioners the ability to confirm whether someone is terminally ill. I spent a brief period 56 years ago as a nurse in a ward where quite a few of our patients could reasonably be so categorised, and it did not require a doctor to know that. Even as a callow 17-year-old, I could see that mortality was beckoning for some of our patients, although I would not have been sufficiently qualified to give an opinion that could be relied on. Nurses are, however, often closer to their patients than general practitioners or other practitioners in hospital. They spend more time with them, and that is a good and proper thing to say.

I will conclude my short contribution to the debate by welcoming some of the things that Rachael Hamilton said. She said that we should not be working together with the UK Government. Curiously enough, I think that we have a collaborationist Government, which is a good thing because we collaborate across the chamber, and we collaborate with the UK Government, if it is in our mutual interests to do so. If Rachael Hamilton wants to argue that we should not be doing that, I will make common cause with her—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Can I stop you there, Mr Stevenson? You might think that you have made a short contribution, but you are already a minute and a half over.

Stewart Stevenson: I am most obliged to you, Presiding Officer. As I peer at my screen, I can now see the clock. I will draw my remarks to a conclusion there by saying that I will be happy to support the bill at decision time.

16:33

23 September 2020

S5M-22646 Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22646, in the name of David Stewart, on heart valve disease awareness week. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week, which takes place from 14 to 20 September 2020; notes what it sees as the need to improve early detection of heart valve disease in Scotland; acknowledges the reported increasing prevalence of severe heart valve disease in an ageing population; notes what it considers the missed opportunities to detect the disease during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions; believes that, in the medium term, this may result in a second wave of deaths from non-COVID-19-related diseases, and notes the calls for more funding to be made available for minimally invasive, proactive and curative treatments, which it considers have a huge advantage of reducing critical care occupancy by shortening the convalescence period and increasing treatment capacity.

18:22
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18:32

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

I thank David Stewart for bringing a topic that is clearly important to the chamber.

I express sympathy for all those who live with heart valve disease. We are in exceptional times. Covid-19, which has rightly been referred to, is placing stress on the health service and on many people physically and mentally. There is a real risk for people who have serious health conditions such as heart valve disease, and I recognise the struggle that they may be experiencing. I hope that, in the near future, they will be more comforted by the way that things are going.

I am part of the ageing population; I will be 74 in a couple of weeks’ time. For me, the stethoscope test probably does not matter very much, because I have seen a general practitioner only once since I was elected to the Parliament 20 years ago, so a GP has not had the opportunity to put a stethoscope on my chest. I have my fingers crossed that nothing is going on in there that I should be worrying about. However, age is the big risk factor, so perhaps the next time the nurse inoculates me against the flu, I should ask her or him—although they are all female at my practice—to have a listen if possible. For me, there is a bit of self-interest in my interest in the issue.

Age is not the only risk factor; genetics can be a significant factor in predetermining whether people have heart problems of one sort or another. HVD risk factors include lifestyle issues, such as smoking, physical inactivity and being significantly overweight or obese. With a little professional help, we can do something about some of those things at our own hand.

Since lockdown, I have managed to walk 600-plus miles because a bit of time has been created by my not commuting for 12 hours a week between home and the Parliament. I have experienced the health benefits of doing that. Walking is, of course, a cheap, non-medical intervention. Lifestyle is important, and I hope that health professionals will aid people to understand what they can do at their own hand.

However, the stethoscope test is the main thing that we should focus on. It is disturbing to hear that so many people with heart valve disease are undiagnosed. Perhaps people do not notice the slow attrition of their health that comes from it and do not seek the assistance that they should seek as early as possible. It is widely recognised that one of the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic is that people are a little less eager to see their GP and more likely just to lift the phone and talk to NHS 24. I certainly encourage people to go to their GP and get that stethoscope on their chest, as recommended by the British Heart Foundation. After all, HVD causes 22 per cent of premature deaths.

I agree with David Stewart and the British Heart Foundation about the importance of HVD, I congratulate David Stewart again for bringing the issue to the Parliament and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a small contribution to the debate.

18:36

S5M-22780 Prioritising Education

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22780, in the name of Jamie Greene, on prioritising education over independence. 


15:23

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17:08

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

My personal connections with teaching are relatively substantial. My grandfather was a fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland and was a teacher; my mother was a teacher; I have nephews and nieces who are teachers in England, Scotland and Denmark; and I have great-nephews and great-nieces scattered across the globe, so I get regular reports on what goes on.

We have heard from the Tories in particular the suggestion that STEM is important and that is one thing on which I can absolutely agree with them. Jamie Greene wants us to spend more time on education and less time talking about independence, so I will use my mathematical background to look a little bit at how the Tories talk about independence. I decided to get up early this morning, at about 4.30, and do a quick analysis, using the www.theyworkforyou.com website, of how often different parties reference independence. I had time to check only the Conservative and the SNP members. Of the top 11 members who most frequently use the word “independence”, five are Conservatives, and at the top of the table is Baroness Davidson. On average, she speaks 22.22 times per annum on independence.

With five Tories in the top 11, the Tories are 1.7 times more likely than SNP members to be in the top part of the speaking-about-independence group in Parliament. Specifically, the average number of times that a Conservative speaks about independence is 6.24 per annum while for SNP members the average is 5.4 times.

Therefore, the obsession with independence in the Parliament comes from the Conservative members. It is quite proper to ask ourselves why that should be. The answer is straightforward. It is simply a cover for their inattention to the development of policy, not just in education—vital as that undoubtedly is—but right across a wide range of the areas of responsibility that lie with this Parliament.

I see, as will others in Parliament, that the Conservative leaflets that are coming out in advance of next year’s Scottish Parliament election, and the leaflets that have come out over the past 10 years, talk about virtually nothing but independence. That happens not just in the leaflets but on the websites of Conservative MSPs.

The person who comes bottom of the frequency table for talking about independence in this place is Tom Mason. Well done, Tom—you obviously have other concerns. However, when we look at his website we see that it lists only two campaigns: one is about cashpoints—I can probably make common cause with him on that—but the other is about opposing independence. The message that comes across every time the Tories open their mouths is their opposition to independence, which is because they have so little time to think about anything else.

Jamie Greene talked about choice. We have choices about the issues that we bring to the Parliament and education is a perfectly proper choice. However, the debate was not about education. In reality, by putting independence for Scotland front and centre, the Tories showed once again that they are using their obsession with it to cover up their shortcomings elsewhere.

By the way, Jamie Greene could not even get the Government’s plan right. It is to bring a draft bill, so I am not sure why he talked about committee time and so on. Ross Greer clearly agrees with the points that I am making because he talked about Tories bringing up independence every time they speak.

I will close by going back to the fact that Baroness Davidson came top of the table.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Mr Stevenson, can you hear me? I will stop you there and let you finish in a second. I was going to wait til the end. The leader of the Conservative group in the Parliament is called Ruth Davidson. She does not have a title. I am sure that Mr Stevenson will be respectful to all members as he always is, so he can call her either Ruth Davidson or Miss Davidson. Those are the only terms by which she will be called.

Stewart Stevenson: I apologise if I have transgressed the rules. I have obviously not been keeping up with her plans to become Baroness Davidson. I am sure that that is something that she will look forward to in the future. I apologise unreservedly to her, but she has been a wee bit shy on the whole subject.

She does have one novel achievement in this Parliament, which is not about being a baroness. She is the first leader of the Conservatives to announce that she is standing down before she assumed the office. However, she is also the cheerleader for talking about independence in Parliament.

17:14

16 September 2020

S5M-22614 Museum for Human Rights

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22614, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on a museum for human rights. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes its agreement to motion S5M-22004 (as amended) on 10 June 2020 (Official Report, c.133), which agreed that the Scottish Government would work to create a national museum to highlight Scotland’s role in the slave trade and colonialism; further notes that there are various locations across Scotland whose history in the slave trade would merit consideration for such a facility; highlights the link that Inverclyde has with the triangular trade and the sugar, tobacco and cotton industries and the financial wealth that was generated for merchants; notes that Inverclyde was reported to be the world leader in the sugar trade, which ensured that vast wealth was created both during and following the abolition of the slave trade in 1833; highlights the building of the historic sugar warehouses at the James Watt Dock in Greenock, which were opened in 1886, and notes the view that, with its existing transport and historical links, in addition to the educational and economic opportunities that could be created for future generations, Inverclyde should be the location for such a museum.

17:41
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18:04

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

I thank Stuart McMillan for the opportunity to discuss this important subject. In passing, I will comment on the 1820 martyrs, to whom Mr McMillan referred. Our colleague Gil Paterson had a members’ business debate on that on 5 December 2001, which happened to be the third debate in which I participated after I joined the Parliament. Of course, that subject was important to me, because John Baird was my great-great-great-uncle.

However, to the matter at hand. There are many places across Scotland that we could consider for a museum, but the sugar warehouse in James Watt dock in Greenock is perhaps one of the most significant symbols of Scotland’s relationship with slavery and would, as such, be a perfect site, because it would juxtapose the brutal human costs of slavery with a symbol of Scotland’s economic wealth.

It is hard for a modern person to recognise our connection to that time. However, my grandfather was an infant when Abraham Lincoln managed to abolish slavery in the United States, so the temporal distance might be shorter than some of us care to imagine. The human psyche has a habit of distancing itself from unpleasant things—all the more so when the subject is something as violent and abhorrent as slavery. The brutal legacy of much of colonialism belongs to us as much as anything else does.

There are many places where a museum on the topic could be sited, including in the north-east, which I represent. We need only consider the Powis gates in Aberdeen, which were built by Hugh Fraser Leslie in 1834. The gates feature carvings of slaves, making direct reference to the several coffee plantations that he owned in Jamaica.

The connections do not end there. Former students of Marischal College became involved in the slave trade. There were people who inherited wealth from the trade and even some who were involved in the abduction of slaves from Africa. No matter where a person is from in this nation, they will have at least some connection to that dark part of our history.

A museum will give us the opportunity to take some responsibility, but it will be far from the only and final step in doing so. Rather, it will be a first and very useful step. It represents a new chapter in our maturation as a nation and as human beings.

We have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of all people in the present and to recognise our failings in the past. We should not pretend that the unpleasant past never happened by simply trying to erase it. There have been interesting comments made in that regard. I share the belief that we should not tear down statues, but should instead rewrite the context in which they exist, because they remind us of a dark past that we should not seek to erase.

A museum could represent a signal that we have come to recognise the iniquities of our predecessors, and to recognise that our society should reward honesty, growth and knowledge. However, the benefits of a museum will go much further than that and will force us to look at the truth of our past brutality. If we are anything as human beings, we carry compassion. I hope that, when a museum is established, we will share responsibility for our history through it, and that it inspires us to be compassionate and to be the best that we can be. I hope that such an establishment will be a light to guide us out of darkness and ignorance.

I congratulate Stuart McMillan on his championship of local interests and of the interests of his constituency. That is exactly the exemplar that all members should look to. I am happy to support his efforts.

18:09

15 September 2020

S5M-22632 World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22632, in the name of Ruth Maguire, on world suicide prevention day 2020. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that 10 September 2020 is World Suicide Prevention Day; understands that this provides the opportunity for people, across the globe, to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention; notes that, every year, it is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages and it is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds; acknowledges that prevention requires integrative strategies that encompass work at the individual, systems and community level, and notes the calls for everyone to play their part to prevent suicide.

17:26
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17:52

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

I thank Ruth Maguire for bringing this important subject to Parliament. Some years ago, I hosted an event in the Parliament for Samaritans, which was congratulating one of its number on his very long service to the cause of suicide prevention. I very much admire the work that is done by Samaritans.

Unfortunately, that was very far from being my first contact with the issue of suicide. In preparation for the debate, I was able to identify six people with whom I had varying degrees of contact who subsequently committed suicide. One was a teenage boy with a colostomy bag. That has a major effect on someone’s psychology, and their hormone balance becomes quite different from normal. He committed suicide from the depression that flowed from that.

Another was one of my female colleagues at the Bank of Scotland, who had a long history of depressive illness. She was, in fact, in hospital when she escaped the close supervision that there was for her and was able to commit suicide. Another was a former colleague who had run a very successful part of our company. He went off to start something similar for his own account elsewhere. That business failed, and he committed suicide. Another was a friend and neighbour who just found life too much; the details are difficult to come by.

Indeed, when my father bought his medical practice in 1947, he did so because the previous general practitioner had committed suicide and the practice had become available. I did not know that for many years.

I want to speak about a close family member who committed suicide. This individual showed no signs whatsoever of mental ill health that the rest of us could detect. He expressed no suicidal thoughts in any of his comments to us, but it was clear that he was determined to take the course that he ultimately took. His practical preparations extended over a considerable period.

What was the effect on the family? For my part, I attended the mortuary to identify the deceased—not something that I wish to do again. Police interviews to confirm that the circumstances were not suspicious were a natural part of what happened and, much more to the point, the family of the individual had to be looked after in their extremity. I am delighted to say that they have all come through it successfully, but that could have gone a different way.

As somebody who worked in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 17, death was not unfamiliar to me, or being with the dying and dead. However, when it is that close and baffling—to this day I do not know why that suicide occurred—it tells you an awful lot about the variety of human thinking and human life. We all may have a little mental ill health from time to time, which may be as trivial as a mental health sniffle, or it may be a major problem that requires medical intervention. However, we will not always see that coming, as we in our family did not see it coming for the individual I have talked about.

As a number of speakers have said, one thing that we can do is to listen. Sometimes the briefest of interventions is the most appropriate. When you see somebody you have not seen for a while and you are perhaps not very close to, just say hi. Do not say more or ask how they are, but see what response you get. That is a good start and, if they hesitate, that is a warning sign to you to listen. That is the main thing that we can do—just listen. Do what they ask, if they ask, but do not try to guide people. That will often put pressure on them that is not helpful.

I thank Ruth Maguire for the opportunity to talk again about this very important subject. I hope that it makes a useful contribution to supporting people who are affected by suicide and, more importantly, to reducing the number of people who use it as the way out.

17:57

9 September 2020

S5M-22367 Dirty Camping

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22367, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on tackling dirty camping. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak buttons now, and I call Murdo Fraser to open the debate.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that there has been a recent increase in incidents of so-called dirty camping across Mid-Scotland and Fife and the rest of the country; notes that this sees people set up camp near lochs, beaches and forests and carry out carry out irresponsible actions such as cutting down trees, lighting fires and leaving abandoned tents, litter and waste; believes that these abhorrent practices have led to substantial expense to local authorities and landowners, who are left to clean up the mess; acknowledges that it is unrelated to traditional wild camping, which involves leaving no trace of one’s presence; notes that Perth and Kinross Council has established a multi-agency approach to tackle dirty camping, which involves Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and communities, and sees action taken where necessary and runs a communication campaign to promote good behaviour; and notes the calls for similar approaches to be adopted across Scotland and for solutions, such as local permit schemes, to be explored.

18:03
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18:35

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

I was 22 years old when I first stayed overnight on holiday in a hotel. Up to that point, all our family holidays were under canvas. The first of them, in the early 1950s, might have been in Finlay Carson’s constituency, although it might have been in Oliver Mundell’s—I am a little uncertain. Picking up on what others have said, I have camped on the shores of Tummel, Tay, Lubnaig and Morlich, although Morlich is not in the Highlands—[Interruption.] Loch Morlich—that is correct. I have also camped on the shores at Rosemarkie, Fortrose, Achmelvich and many other places in the Highlands. Minister, I have also camped at St Cyrus, where I went with the boy scouts. Claire Baker might care to note that my first boy scout camp was inland from Anstruther. Therefore, I have spent a couple of years under canvas.

I was trained and brought up in the boy scouts by people who knew what they were doing, so I hope that, as a Stewart—one of Scotland’s great travelling families—I have sustained the traditions but behaved in a proper manner. That goes to the heart of the issue. Yes, we can do things with legislation and facilities, but we need to change what goes on inside the minds of many of these people, who have little respect for the environment or for the people who live in the environment.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Edward Mountain.

Edward Mountain: Thank you, Presiding Officer—I am pleased that you remembered my name.

I ought to declare an interest in land. A lot of people who camp around where I live do so with huge responsibility. Sometimes, they make the mistake of leaving behind things such as the stones that they have had their fire pits in, which damage farm machinery. Some people are well intended, but could education take those well-intended people to the next step, so that we can all get on without any conflict and without damaging each other’s enjoyment of the environment?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Tread carefully, Mr Mountain.

Stewart Stevenson: Edward Mountain speaks some very good common sense. None of us is perfect in anything that we do, and we can all improve.

It was slightly surprising to hear Finlay Carson say that the Government should be telling councils what to spend money on. Fine—he might be correct.

Incidentally, the first time that I visited what is now my constituency I went to Sandend in, I think, 1963. I was camping, of course. The last time that I went camping—I had the misfortune to marry a spouse who does not like camping—I was in Wadi Rum, in Jordan, so that we could watch the sun rise over the desert, but she did not feel that she wanted to repeat the experience after that.

The bottom line is that camping is enjoyable—people enjoy the natural world—but we have to do it responsibly. I was an MSP when we passed land reform legislation, as others who are sitting here were—I see Murdo Fraser nodding sagely. That certainly created the idea in too many people’s minds that they, in quotes, “owned the country”, which, of course, is not true. We all owe a responsibility to the country, which is the important point that we want to take from the debate.

The role of country rangers has been emphasised. I have met many of them, and I know the valuable contribution that they make, in quite a mannerly way, to help people to understand their responsibilities.

At the end of the day, if people simply have no regard to others’ sense of what is right and proper and others’ peaceful enjoyment of where they stay, we have a problem that will not be solved by laws or trebling the number of rangers. We simply have to address that much earlier in people’s careers. Maybe we should subsidise the Boys Brigade and the Boy Scouts, because that is a good training ground; it is where I learned to cook and camp.

18:40

8 September 2020

S5M-21194 Alcohol Foetal Spectrum Disorders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The debate is on motion S5M-21194, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on recognising the impact of alcohol foetal spectrum disorders. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the prevalence and significant impact of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Scotland, as discussed at the meeting of the parliamentary Cross Party Group on Improving Scotland’s Health: 2021 and Beyond on 26 February 2020; notes the presentation by Dr Sarah Brown of the Foetal Alcohol Advisory and Support Team at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, which highlighted that FASD results from alcohol exposure in the womb and is preventable, yet is the most common neurodevelopmental condition in Scotland; further notes data from Glasgow Royal Infirmary research, which showed that one-in-seven babies born there were at high risk of FASD, which suggests a much higher prevalence in Scotland than previously thought; understands that FASD affects neurodevelopment, attainment, physical and mental health and that, without adequate support, it reduces life expectancy to around 34 years of age; believes that 94% of people living with FASD experience mental health problems, 79% experience unemployment, and over a third struggle with addictions; acknowledges the vital work that is being carried out by FASD Hub Scotland in providing a national telephone helpline and range of support for parents/carers and those supporting families affected by FASD, as highlighted by the presentation to the group by Aliy Brown, FASD Project Lead at FASD Hub Scotland, which is run by Adoption UK Scotland; supports the “No Alcohol, No Risk” message, which makes clear that any alcohol consumed during pregnancy can be damaging to the unborn child, and acknowledges its calls for implementation of the new SIGN 156 clinical guideline for Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, and welcomes the development of the National Preconception Framework as a key opportunity to reduce risks to parents and children from alcohol and other health-harming products in Cunninghame North and across Scotland.

17:46
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17:59

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

I thank my colleague Kenneth Gibson for the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

Reading the motion, I was moved and saddened—in particular, by some of the statistics. For example, the average life expectancy of a child who is born with foetal alcohol syndrome disorders is a mere 34 years. In recent days, we have seen an outpouring of grief for a young actor who died at the age of 43, which is nearly 10 years older than the average life expectancy of a youngster who is affected by FASD.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders lead to quite variable outcomes, with some sufferers being affected more significantly than others. The presenting symptoms are not necessarily consistent among the cohort of people who are subject to the disorder—hence the difficulties that there often are in diagnosing the condition and in getting appropriate support in place.

What is shared, however, is that the syndrome is preventable. No parent—or very few parents—deliberately set out to harm their children. The syndrome is a side effect of an addiction to, or abuse of, one of our most widely available drugs of choice: alcohol. The danger with alcohol is that although it is an addictive drug it is not addictive for everybody, so people think that it is safe. For children in the womb, it is not safe. There is enough knowledge out there; people should know that they should not drink when they are pregnant.

However, not everyone is able to respond to the rational case for their stopping drinking. That is especially the case for an addict. It is our responsibility to support mothers during pregnancy and to support the children who suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The championing of campaigns such as #NoAlcoholNoRisk is welcome.

I encountered issues to do with alcohol addiction when I was a nurse, 56 years ago, and one of our patients was an alcoholic who suffered extremely as a result of his addiction. My father was a general practitioner, and I used to provide some social support to addicts who were on his list. The issue is not far from a great many of us.

Children cannot look after themselves; they do not have the knowledge or the power to do anything about their situation. It is important that we identify the help that is required, and that people who suffer from FASD get everything that they require to lead as normal a life as possible.

I listened to Mr Whittle. I think that members can see the range of options that are available to support people, and to ensure that intervention comes early enough in a child’s life to ensure that they can get the maximum out of however long they have in this world. Early diagnosis, a loving and stable home and the absence of violence are rights that we all want for children in our society, and which we all have a duty to uphold. It is necessary to create a world in which people are supported. We will do all that we can to support future generations.

I very much welcome tonight’s debate. I hope that it brings the condition to the attention of a wider audience, and I hope that mothers and potential mothers are aware of the damage that alcohol can do to the precious child in the womb.

18:03

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