26 September 2001

S1M-2245 Voluntary Sector

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 26 September 2001


[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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Voluntary Sector

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2245, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on Executive support for the voluntary sector, and two amendments to the motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): There is clearly a wide welcome in the chamber for the initiatives to set up councils for volunteering and for volunteering development. The key question remains: are volunteers merely the cannon fodder for salaried staff in the voluntary sector? I was encouraged to hear Jackie Baillie say that there is £39 million for the voluntary sector; that tells us just how important it is.

I found much to agree with in Annabel Goldie's comments, as she pled for diversity through the voluntary sector. We should not be afraid of voluntary agencies taking approaches that diverge not only from one another's but perhaps from those of Government and local authority agencies. We can test other approaches and provide different doors for people with different needs or different attitudes to authority to walk through, if that is what they require.

I will focus on the problems faced by unpaid agencies and their workers and I will give some specific examples from the north-east of Scotland. The Grampian Addiction Problem Service—GAPS—was originally created to respond to a perceived local need and a desire to serve the local community. Highly qualified people work for the service, but they are unpaid. The ethos is therefore to serve the local community and to put local interests first. However, such agencies find it increasingly difficult to deliver their services, because of numerous problems. A voluntary agency with no salaried staff is not an agency with no financial overheads; it will have premises, phones and computers to maintain, and a whole series of activities and expenditures that continue between projects.

There has been a reduction in local government funding. GAPS and the Buchan Alcohol Service Information Centre had funding from Aberdeenshire Council withdrawn a couple of years ago. However, the council has still found £80,000—much more than either of those services got—to create its own in-house service, which has yet to prove that it can deliver anything of particular value.

At local level, there is competition between the professionals, who want to keep control of what is going on, and the volunteers, who work in the front line to respond to people's needs. The lack of core funding is making morale drop in the voluntary sector. It is becoming increasingly difficult for voluntary agencies to sustain themselves between projects. Indeed, agencies can be diverted from providing a service to their clients because they are having to create bids for funding. That is not terribly helpful.

It is great that the Executive has lifted the direct expenditure on the voluntary sector from £23 million to £39 million but, as has been said, £10 million might have to be taken off that total for water and sewerage charges, although the introduction of those charges has been postponed.

Robert Brown made a plea for direct funding from the Executive to many local agencies. I am in two minds about that. It may or may not work, but many voluntary agencies certainly believe that it is the way forward. However, if we cannot find a way of providing core funding to ensure continuity of service, many in the voluntary sector will simply be unable to deliver services and their clients will suffer.


20 September 2001

S1M-2236 Schools (Assessment)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 September 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Schools (Assessment)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2236, in the name of Jack McConnell, on effective assessment in Scotland's schools.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In his speech, I heard Jack McConnell say "count" at least six times in the last three sentences, so he is clearly counting on something. This is an education debate, and it is appropriate that we go away this afternoon having learned something, so I want to tell members that 240 is 1,099,511,627,776. Members can check that if they wish. That number is also 1,048,5762 and 1,048,576 is in turn 1,0242. That is very interesting, but is the square root of next to nothing of use to anybody, except as a party piece?

Mr Frank McAveety (Glasgow Shettleston) (Lab): That bad!

Stewart Stevenson: At least I can count on Mr McAveety's support and at least my party piece is factual and correct. Much of the measurement that we have been talking about has, to be frank, been of no use. Brian Monteith brought the spectre of Michael Forsyth to the party so, if he does not mind, I shall read a quotation about Michael Forsyth from The Scotsman of 5 June 1996. This is what George Robertson, who really knew how to do arithmetic and went to another place for much more money, had to say about Michael Forsyth. He said:

"You are going to get another bloody nose. You came back with the same old idea and you are going to get the same message from the Scottish people: 'We don't want these failed ideas'."

What was George talking about? He was talking about plans for testing in primary schools. We continue to feel that that is not going to be helpful.

Dr Sylvia Jackson (Stirling) (Lab): Will Stewart Stevenson give exact details about what he understands was meant by that testing in private schools, which the Labour party was so against?

Stewart Stevenson: Testing is testing. I am a little uncertain about exactly what Sylvia Jackson's question is. I was talking about primary schools and the introduction of testing in S1 and S2. That is what was proposed in 1996 and that is what George Robertson was commenting on at the time.

I have undertaken a little bit of teaching over the past year, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. However, it was in a university environment. I wondered why I was enjoying it so much, so I talked to some people who teach in the secondary school system. I discovered that their time is overwhelmed by administration, much of which concerns testing. They find much of it confusing, and the speeches of members who were directly involved in secondary school teaching have been interesting in that regard.

National testing carries a risk in any event. I cite another educational metaphor. The first law of genetics is that the more highly optimised a species is for an environment, the more adversely it is affected by another environment. A national scheme, rather than one that is based on the skills and talents of teachers in their own areas, taking into account their own needs, is liable to produce unsatisfactory results.

My final point for Jack McConnell is on information technology. I spent 30 years working in information technology, so the minister might be surprised when I say that we should be cautious about automating processes by using IT in schools. However, I urge him to consider piloting very carefully any new systems that are introduced, because ill thought out, underdeveloped or under-researched IT systems can increase the work load rather than save effort.


S1M-2207 Patient Care

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 September 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Patient Care

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Patricia Ferguson): The next item of business is a debate on Conservative motion S1M-2207, in the name of David McLetchie, on improving patient care, and on two amendments to the motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I remind members of the voluntary declarations that I have made in the register of members' interests with regard to my pension from the Bank of Scotland and my shareholdings there. I do that because I have been one of the happy beneficiaries of PFI. Bankers everywhere love PFI and, when we come to the nub of the matter, this Tory debate is about money. In fact, I am holding a bank note that depicts one of the most famous Tories of the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, who is immortalised on our money even today.

Mr Monteith: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: We are very short of time. Perhaps Brian Monteith and I can discuss his point privately.

Let me give credit to the Tories. In their 160-word motion—quite the longest sentence that I have seen for a long time—the 15th word is "PFI". At least they are honest about PFI being their policy. In a 10-minute speech, the minister got to 10 minutes and 38 seconds before she mentioned PFI, and yet that is at the core of the policy that the Government is pursuing.

It has been said that there are three kinds of bankers: those who can count and those who cannot. Well, even a former banker like me—[Laughter.] They got it. Good. The Tories are awake. Well done. Even a banker who cannot count can see that this debate is about money. The Tory motion is about money, not health.

Richard Simpson made some interesting remarks about community hospitals, building on what Murdo Fraser said. The minister referred to the Arbuthnott formula. In Grampian, 10 per cent of Scotland's population now receives 9 per cent of health funding, and community hospitals are under threat as a result. In my constituency, the Chalmers hospital in Banff, which has been promised redevelopment for 10 years, is now under serious threat. Community hospitals are a cost-effective way of delivering health care.

Competition has been mentioned, but I have to ask whether it really drives up standards. Supermarkets, which are at the forefront of competition in this country, deliver cheap food rather than quality food by and large, and the Labour party is the McDonald's party rather than the new party. However, what concerns me most about PFI is much more long term. PFI locks us into long-term commitments—typically for 30 years—and that is a big threat to community health care. We cannot get out of paying for those large facilities that are being developed in many places through PFI.

Mary Scanlon: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I am in my final minute.

If we are going to have to focus the expenditure when it is reduced by the Arbuthnott formula, as it has been in Grampian, we will be at serious risk of not delivering the health service that people want.

I shall conclude with a personal recollection of how patients feel. In the 1970s, when I was doing some parachuting, I came out of a plane, looked up and saw that my parachute had not opened.

Mary Scanlon: Had the member packed it himself?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, I had packed it myself. I plummeted towards the ground, but the reserve parachute saved me.

David McLetchie: Aw.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, that is why I am here today.

These days, many of the people who are on NHS waiting lists feel exactly as I felt 25 years ago as I plummeted towards the ground. PFI is taking money out of the health service that we should be spending on health, not on bankers' profits.


S1M-2205 Juvenile Justice

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 September 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

Juvenile Justice

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business is a debate on Conservative motion S1M-2205, in the name of Bill Aitken, on juvenile justice, and two amendments to that motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have been fascinated by the speeches made by members on the SNP benches—I found much to agree with. Karen Whitefield also has my full support for much of what she said in her speech.

However, I am extremely puzzled. I have come to the conclusion that the Tory party has become dangerously left-wing. The two Tory motions for debate this morning appear to call for increases in spending. Bill Aitken may correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure that I heard him say that he wants more resources for the children's panel system and, in the next motion for debate, the Tories are looking for more resources for health.

It is all right, though—I soon recovered and the Tory party reverted to type. Bill Aitken wants to send the right signals to his new master in London, Mr Duncan Smith. Bill Aitken is a moderate man and would never physically abuse one of his children, or any other child in his house, but he would, on behalf of the Tories, permit others to do precisely that.

Phil Gallie: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Come on, then.

Phil Gallie: I am grateful to the member for giving way. He referred to the fact that implementation of the Tory party's motion could add costs. Those costs are linked to an increase in the number of places in which to remove and confine the small minority of offenders who create a lot of mayhem in society. Does Stewart Stevenson acknowledge that the cost of those young offenders' crimes is quite considerable and that, overall, there would be a saving to society if young offenders were confined?

Stewart Stevenson: I am obliged to Mr Gallie for confirming that the Tories want an increase in resources. It is already well known that incarceration is the least cost-effective solution to the problems caused to society by our youngsters. That view is shared across the chamber.

That is all a bit of a sideshow. We come to the meat of the 50 or so words of Bill Aitken's motion and the bit at the end, where he talks about disposals. We heard from him and from other Tories about restitution and incarceration. Phil Gallie just confirmed that more secure accommodation is at the core of his demands. That is a move in a totally different direction from the child-centred system that was put in place originally.

It is curious to note that the Tory motion also includes a plea for yet another review. Audit Scotland is conducting such a review and will publish its findings in late 2002. In the Executive's response to the youth crime review, it mentioned that six reviews were on-going. That is why Irene McGugan, who drew up the SNP amendment, focused on taking action now. Reviews are fine, but when I was in business, I once helped to set up a bank in 12 weeks. We should take action much more quickly.

I was slightly surprised that no one referred to the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which is being considered by the Justice 2 Committee. I am sure that we will come back to the bill, because it may well affect how young people are dealt with, as it will affect them in the same way as it will affect adults. We will need to watch the effects of the bill carefully.

We have all been felons at one time. Those who disagree with that assertion should indicate so now.

Brian Fitzpatrick indicated disagreement.

Stewart Stevenson: Well done, Brian. The First Minister was well advised.

We have been the lucky ones. We had loving, caring parents and a domestic infrastructure of support. We must focus on the unlucky ones, for whom the system must provide the support that they lack.


06 September 2001

S1M-2133 New Economy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 6 September 2001

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 9:30]

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New Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Patricia Ferguson): The next item is a debate on motion S1M-2133, in the name of Alex Neil, on behalf of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, on the report on the inquiry into the impact of the new economy. I ask members who are leaving the chamber to do so quickly and quietly.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I do not know whether it is a coincidence that the Presiding Officer has given me the privilege of speaking immediately after Murdo Fraser, thus enabling me to congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech. I welcome his presence in the chamber for two reasons in particular: with his elevation, I cease to be the most junior member of the Parliament; and, unlike myself, who raised the average age of the SNP group by three months, he has achieved the impossible by reducing the average age of the Tory activists in the Parliament by an amount so large that I can barely compute it. I am sure that the Tories welcome that.

I saw my first computer in 1969, which was the year that I started programming computers. In 1975, two friends and I built the first home computer in Scotland. By coincidence, that is the same year as Tim Berners-Lee—the English founder of the worldwide web—developed and built his first home computer. In 1979, I gave a keynote speech at the Microsystems conference on the then emerging technology of microcomputers. Let me tell the minister that I got some things wrong, from which we can draw parallels. I suggested at that time that people would shortly need 64 kilobytes of memory in their computers and that, within the next five years, most people would need a hard disk. Time telescoped rapidly. In a few months, my predictions were overtaken by events. In 1980, I started to use e-mail and, in 1995, I created my first website.

Despite all that background, I nonetheless say that there is no such thing as e-business. There is only business. Business needs to use the e-world to reach and offer services to customers by internet, by mobile phones, by interactive television and by other means that are yet to emerge.

Tavish Scott mentioned Caesar. It is interesting that the Romans succeeded where the Greeks had failed precisely because the Romans had a superior communications network. They could send a message by hilltop signalling from Londinium to Roma in six hours. The Greeks had to send ships, so they lost out.

In the modern world, it is no good having clusters that live on e-development. Bangalore in southern India has a modern infrastructure that supports, with hundreds of technicians, at least half a dozen companies here in Edinburgh. However, one has to walk for only 10 minutes down the road from Bangalore to return to the third world where people queue to use the community telephone.

Women have played an important part in the development of modern technology. Ada Lovelace was Charles Babbage's programmer—the first programmer—in the 19th century, and rear admiral Grace Hopper invented COBOL when she was in the United States navy. Indeed, Grace Hopper was still in harness as a consultant with a technology company when she died in her eighties. If the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning wants to go down in the history of technology and its exploitation, she will have to work a great deal harder. She sets no targets for supporting business, seeking thereby to avoid having her future failure measured. She avoids underwriting private sector provision of the infrastructures that we need. In the past few days, she offends the very private partners on whom she will depend to make a start in public provision. Aggregation of demand is her panacea. However, what our businesses really need is access to markets now. For that, they will need broadband communications. In my short period as a member of this Parliament, I have already had three separate people at my surgeries in Banff and Buchan to ask about that subject. We are not in the Highlands and Islands or the Borders.

Let us suggest an immediate audit of the existing infrastructure. Even BT Scotland cannot tell us how many telephone exchanges there are in Scotland. Until we have done such an audit, we will not be able to do anything about costing what we will need. However, we can cost a failure to respond to the new world—we will pay a very heavy price. Try something new, minister. Listen to the experts, some of whom I can see in the gallery. Otherwise we will fall behind.


05 September 2001

S1M-2101 Education Curriculum (1820 Martyrs)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 5 September 2001


[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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Education Curriculum (1820 Martyrs)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Members' business today is motion S1M-2101, in the name of Mr Gil Paterson, on James Wilson, John Baird and Andrew Hardie.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the sacrifice of the three 1820 martyrs, James Wilson from Strathaven and John Baird and Andrew Hardie from Glasgow, who were hanged and beheaded in the 1820 rising which fought for social and economic justice, workers' rights and an independent Scottish parliament and believes that the history of their struggle should be included in the education curriculum in order to mark the anniversaries, on 30 August and 3 September, of their sacrifice for Scottish rights 181 years ago.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Gil Paterson on bringing to light a little bit of Scotland's hidden history. The congratulations are personal because he has brought to light a little of my family's hidden history. There was always a legend that somebody in my family had been hung for sheep stealing. The initial investigations led me to my great-great-grandfather John Stevenson, a mining serf who was killed in a mining accident in Fallin in 1833. No, that was not the family's hidden secret. The secret was that John Baird's sister was one of my ancestors. So, for me, the motion has a personal resonance.

Since learning the secret, I have of course read all the books and I am particularly struck—in the light of Brian Monteith's contribution—by the parallels with today. As the marchers went to Bonnymuir, Government spies were working against them in their midst. I see Brian Monteith in that role today, but today we will not let him achieve the objectives that the spies achieved in August and September 1820, when the three martyrs were despatched to meet their maker.

A little bit of contemporary evidence is still available. I say to John McAllion that I do not think that the banner is still around, but the axe that dispatched Hardie and Baird is in the museum in Stirling.

It is worth reflecting on what being hung, drawn and quartered meant. It meant that those who were to be thus dispatched were put on the gallows and gently lowered down until they lost consciousness, but before they died, they were cut down and restored to consciousness. The axe was then run from sternum to scrotum and from left to right. The bowels were then drawn while the person was still alive from within the abdominal cavity.

The agonies that our martyrs were put through are unimaginable to today's generation. I thank Gil Paterson for bringing that to our attention. I feel the emotion conveyed down the centuries from my ancestor.


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