19 December 2002

S1M-3396 Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3396, in the name of Ross Finnie, on the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill, and on one amendment to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw to members' attention that I have recently acquired a 3-acre field from which I derive no revenue, but upon which another farmer has some sheep.
We must commend the Executive and all those who participated in the consultation process because they have formed a partnership of what we expected to be diverse interests, coming together in the SLF and the NFUS to agree proposals.
Unanimity was not achieved at the outset and the Scottish tenant farmers action group strongly believed that there was a case for an absolute right to buy. We welcome the discussions that have been taking place between that group and the NFUS with the aim of broadening the consensus and extending the provisions of the bill to meet many of the legitimate concerns that the tenant farmers action group brought to the committee and to the wider public.
To address Mike Rumbles' point, the paragraph that the SNP was happy to support, along with Labour members and John Farquhar Munro, is essentially a warning that if we cannot address those concerns in an adequate way, we simply must consider other options. I am relatively confident, however, that the minister has heard many of the arguments—I see him nodding—and we await with interest the amendment that he will lodge.
Alex Fergusson: If that paragraph in the report is just a warning, why has the SNP rural affairs spokesman gone public with the fact that he will lodge an amendment at stage 2 to introduce an absolute right to buy?
Stewart Stevenson: It is interesting to note from listening to John Farquhar Munro, Rhoda Grant and John Home Robertson that the members on those benches do not have anything to do. The Tories are, as usual, isolated from the core of the argument and from the real needs of tenant farmers and farm owners throughout Scotland.
In his opening remarks, Fergus Ewing highlighted the point made on page 2 of the report—that the long-term reduction in the number of tenant farmers across Scotland is at the absolute core of the argument. The 1991 act, which was introduced by the Tories—without safeguards, so that its purpose could be avoided by a series of manoeuvres—is the problem that we are addressing today. That is perhaps one of the reasons why the Tories find themselves uncomfortable with the measure—it is addressing their previous failure. Paragraph 14 in the committee report highlights that matter.
On avoidance, we must look at what the committee has said in paragraph 17. I hope that the Executive has listened carefully to the arguments and evidence that have been brought forward and that amendments will be lodged to ensure that we have a robust way of dealing with any emerging avoidance tactics that may follow.
On diversification, the committee pointed in paragraphs 26 and 29 to the difficulties that there might be in limited partners and general partners having to agree jointly on certain matters. I hope that that matter will be addressed.
I remain somewhat unclear as to why Mike Rumbles could not support the report. However, I welcome his support for what is actually proposed in the bill. As paragraph 53 says, it is important that we consider an amendment to allow tenants in all tenancies a statutory right to notification of an intention to sell land, even if they do not have a pre-emptive right to buy. That would be of value, and it would be vindictive to oppose such a proposal, were it to be brought forward.
We must consider the Tories' amendment and recognise that they remain—on this issue as on so many others—out of touch with mainstream Scottish opinion. They are even cleaved, for the first time, from the SLF. We need a strong tenanted sector. The bill can, and must, help us to achieve that. I particularly look forward to John Farquhar Munro's amendments on an absolute right to buy. They will make interesting reading.

12 December 2002

S1M-3700 Fisheries 2003

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3700, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries 2003, and two amendments to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start on a consensual basis and thank the minister for seeing my SNP colleagues and me this morning for an hour. It gave us a useful insight into his thinking and his approach. I refer to the debate on 31 October, when I said to the minister that I wanted him to
"get out of the chamber and over to Brussels to build alliances not just at meetings, but before meetings."—[Official Report, 31 October 2002; c 14286.]
I acknowledge that the minister has indeed taken my advice—I dare say that it was in his mind in any event. It is important that the minister gets out and about to meet people in the corridors and I believe that he has been doing that. It is a matter of regret that that did not happen for many years, particularly, to be blunt, in the years when there was huge antagonism between the Tory Government and Europe as a whole.
So far, so good. I take no responsibility for what Mr Salmond might say about Mr Fischler, although I have to say that I have heard considerably worse said of him by people throughout Europe, not simply at Westminster. Even some Labour members have been heard to make the odd intemperate remark in recent times.
I want to develop some of the points that Richard Lochhead made about industrial fishing. In each of the past four years, Denmark has had 75.4 per cent, 72.1 per cent, 74.4 per cent and 75 per cent successively of the industrial fisheries. Jamie McGrigor underestimated the industrial fishing figure for Denmark in 2002—it is 1.485 million tonnes, which is a lot more than the figure of 1 million tonnes that he quoted.
Numeracy is not Jamie McGrigor's best stroke, because in his motion he regrets the possible decimation of the Scottish fleet. He fails to recognise that it has been nearly double decimated in the current year, as a result of a decommissioning of almost 20 per cent. That is simply a matter of debate.
Although Spain, which has 90 per cent of the anchovy allocation, is facing a 40 per cent cut in its quota, it will get the opportunity to have that quota revised later in the year.
I want to focus on industrial fishing. I have some translated summaries from Danish newspapers of 10 December. Jyllands-Posten reports that Jørgen Fredsted, the Danish director of fisheries, said that the Danish authorities have done much to defend the industrial fishermen, but have then seen the fishermen themselves endanger their own livelihood.
Jørgen Fredsted said that because, almost a year later, 12 skippers from Esbjerg are still waiting for a final verdict on an illegal landing that is alleged to have taken place in January. One of the skippers who was charged in January has again been caught with a huge illegal bycatch of herring, haddock and whiting. That bycatch, which made up 40 per cent of the total catch, was found in the hold of one of the largest trawlers in Esbjerg. Another newspaper, Jydske Vestkysten, reports Jørgen Fredsted as saying that it seems stupid and thoughtless that the industrial fishermen should carry on as they do. The leading article in Jydske Vestkysten calls for the illegalities to stop, because what the fishermen are up to is "simply too stupid".
We must address the huge disparity in enforcement in Europe. A fisherman in Ireland is being stung for €12,000, whereas a Finnish counterpart has been fined only £84 for a similar offence. That state of affairs is simply unsustainable. Making money available to other countries to build new boats at a time when effort must be reduced is also unsustainable.
We can discuss the technicalities for as long as we wish. The industry is about fishing and communities. I always come back to the people who are involved in the industry. As Jamie McGrigor said, we are dealing with a thousand years of history; we are also dealing with a thousand years of our future. We must address today's problems for the long term and we must ensure that our fishermen are able to sustain themselves until the stocks have recovered.

05 December 2002

S1M-3508 Osteoporosis

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3508, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on osteoporosis. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes that osteoporosis is a major public health problem which results in more than 20,000 fractures a year in Scotland, that the cost of osteoporotic fractures in the United Kingdom each year is estimated at over £1.7 billion and that one third of women and one in 12 men over 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture; further notes that with an ageing population profile this problem will become even more serious; is aware that osteoporosis is both treatable and largely preventable; welcomes the fact that the public and health professionals are becoming increasingly aware of osteoporosis as a major health problem but is concerned that health service provision throughout Scotland is patchy and that access to diagnostic testing and monitoring varies around the country; believes that sufficient funding can be made available so that all patients have equal access to services for both the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and that all patients suffering a fragility fracture or having other risk factors for the disease should be assessed for the presence of osteoporosis, and further believes that public health campaigns should be promoting the importance of lifestyle factors as influencing bone health and preventing osteoporosis.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am happy to come along and support Fergus Ewing's motion and to take part in what I expect to be a consensual debate. I think that some of us at least will be old enough to remember children with rickets and the large number of older ladies in particular who were stooped and crippled in old age because of undetected and untreated fractures, among other causes.
I mention rickets in particular because it has all but been eliminated in our young. However, there is some re-emergence of it because of dietary problems that are not the result of a lack of money, but of the spending of it in the wrong way on the wrong diet.
I well remember, in the immediate post-war period, going to the Ministry of Health office to collect my orange juice and cod-liver oil. As Michael Matheson would doubtless want me to acknowledge, fish is extremely important and as Fergus Ewing would doubtless want me to want me to clarify, yes, I am that old.
Diet is important. I grew up in an area with calcium-rich water and, until I left home, I did not realise that soap was supposed to foam. All that happened when I used it was that it formed a scum around the bath, and that was due not simply to the infrequency with which my parents persuaded me that I should bathe, but to the high amount of calcium in the water, which was absorbed into my teeth and bones. Not everyone is so lucky, of course. In the west of Scotland, where the water is much softer, the opportunity to take up calcium is much reduced.
Some estimates suggest that 50 per cent of young women take up inadequate calcium in their diet and, while there is a suggestion that young men do little better, they are not exposed to the risks later in life that can lead to bone mass depletion, such as pregnancy, breast feeding and blood loss. Women have particular problems, which is why one in three of them will experience osteoporosis at some stage in their lives.
Young women and men are taking less exercise than they used to and exercise is important in building up bone mass at an early age. That is helpful because it means that any later loss of bone mass is offset against the substantial amount that was present in the first place.
Of course, there are other risks. A substantially higher number of young people than ever before suffer from asthma. When I was a bairn, I was one of only three who suffered from asthma in my year. Now, however, the proportion would be substantially higher. Much of the treatment of asthma is done through the inhalation of steroids, which are another cause of bone mass depletion, which means that, in the future, there might be an uplift in problems relating to bone mass depletion.
Furthermore, the inadequate calcium intake that I spoke of earlier means that people's teeth are not as good as they used to be. One of the results of that is gingivitis and inflammation of the gums. Again, the treatment for those problems is generally steroid-based.
I am sure that we all agree about the need to address the range of problems that are developing in our young people with regard to osteoporosis.
However, I should also mention that there is a rise in the number of auto-immune diseases of one sort or another, which affect all age groups and which are also often treated with steroids.
Just as we eliminated rickets in the young by appropriate action after the war, it is important that we eliminate osteoporosis in the old now. It has been suggested that exposing people to sunlight for 15 minutes on three occasions a week would be a help. I do not propose that the Executive send everyone to the south of Spain three times a week; an improvement in the weather in Scotland would be welcome, however.
Let us bear in mind that the cost of treating the fractures that are caused by osteoporosis is £15 a year for everyone in our population. This is an important problem. We must spend more money but we must also devote more of our attention to the problem.

28 November 2002

S1M-3641 Drugs Courts

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3641, in the name of Bill Aitken, on drugs courts, and on two amendments to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):
"There is more joy in one sinner that repenteth".
Although the Executive came rather later to drugs courts than did the SNP, its arrival is nonetheless doubly welcome. We share the view that drugs courts are the way forward.
I share members' concerns about the possibility of known offenders accessing treatment and support the pleas for further investment to ensure that people who wish to come out of addiction have the opportunity to capitalise on that wish and motivation before it disappears.
Although we are debating drugs courts and therefore addiction to illegal drugs, we should remember that the general addiction to drugs is much wider than we would sometimes care to acknowledge. Even in this relatively sparsely populated chamber, there will be a number of drug addicts and people who are in remission. No, I am not looking at you in particular, Presiding Officer. It is 30 years since I had my last cigarette and I can fairly claim to be in remission. However, temptation is present every day: someone in the pub might pass round a packet of cigarettes and, under certain circumstances, I might unconsciously reach for one. Fortunately, the social norms mean that such an occurrence happens less frequently. We should not cast stones at addicts, because many of us are addicts ourselves.
Mike Rumbles, who is not in the chamber today, has taken a close interest in the subject of alcoholism. I know that he would wish me to remind the chamber that that legal drug has caused serious addiction problems.
However, the debate is about the role of drugs courts in getting people out of addiction and out of crime. Bill Aitken was absolutely wrong to characterise such courts as a "get out of jail" card; they actually represent a "get out of crime" card. The current arrangement of treating addicts in the mainstream court system simply has not worked, and we must try another option. We are testing drugs courts. It is possible that they might fail, although I believe that with a fair wind, proper resources and enthusiastic and committed professionals they will succeed. We must make them succeed, because at the moment there is no other visible option.
In my role as sweeper in this debate, I want to address one or two other issues that have not yet been covered. In its 1999 manifesto, Labour promised to double to 200 the number of police officers in the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. We are still below that figure, and have not heard any plans to increase numbers in early course. Perhaps that will happen next year. However, the Executive is taking a very long time to deliver on an important commitment that was made nearly four years ago.
I want to turn to the difficulties about the Executive's need to work with its colleagues in Government in London. I raise the issue not to make a constitutional point, but to make a practical one. Because legalising drugs is a reserved matter, Home Office debates down south will affect the situation in Scotland. I seek the minister's assurance that he is working closely with colleagues elsewhere. Our views on the matter are well known, and I will not repeat them.
However, I draw particular attention to the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which makes it an offence for property owners knowingly to permit or suffer the use of a controlled drug on their property. Such a provision means that landlords cannot rent property to drug addicts if they know that addicts are likely to permit or suffer the use of controlled drugs on that property. As a result, there is a one third higher prevalence of heroin use among people in hostel accommodation and a 94 per cent higher percentage of heroin use among people of no fixed abode than in other groups. Those people cannot qualify for DTTOs because they are homeless. It is important that we examine other aspects of the system if we seek to minimise the effects of other legislation on drug addicts.
I should also point out that because the number of customs officers has been dramatically reduced, the drugs business continues to be successful and the channels to market remain open.
We must put the drug user at the centre of our concerns. Drug dealers are a different issue, because they volunteer to deal drugs. Once drug users have been exposed, perhaps on a single occasion, to the use of drugs, they cease to have a choice. Their addiction compels them down a path that leads to criminality. I very much welcome the introduction of drugs courts and very much regret that the Tories are unable to see beyond the justice system to provide justice for the community and addicts.

S1M-3650 Education

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3650, in the name of Brian Monteith, on education, and two amendments to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the Tory motion on education. We were in danger of forgetting why the Tories exist, but the motion illustrates that perfectly. The Tories exist for one purpose: to maintain the privileged position of the wealthy. They have no other objective. The last two words of the motion are "skilled employment", and David Davidson said that he sees the education system delivering people who are prepared for "future economic opportunity". What the Tory members have at the forefront of their education policy is the delivery of worker drones for the bosses to exploit.
Mr Davidson: Will the member give way?
Stewart Stevenson: No, I will not. I do not have time.
It is revealing that Brian Monteith had to pick up the history of Scottish education to get some insight. Let us consider the schools to which the Tory MSPs went. We have three Etonians, two from George Watson's College and one from Millfield. I do not think that a single Tory MSP went to a school other than a selective one.
Mr Monteith rose—
Murdo Fraser rose—
Stewart Stevenson: Inverness Royal Academy is a selective school. My wife went there and she shared that school with Murdo Fraser.
Mr Monteith: I went to Portobello High School.
Stewart Stevenson: I invite Brian Monteith to tell me about Portobello High School.
Mr Monteith: Portobello High School was a comprehensive school when I was there. The past two generations of my family went there and my sons go there. I have no problem with the school that I attended and which my sons attend. May I just add—
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. You were invited to give a response, Mr Monteith, and you have given it.
Stewart Stevenson: We have got the Tories riled. I am perfectly happy to make common cause with colleagues from other parties against the entrenchment of the privilege that the Tories have always represented.
I went to one of the largest schools in Scotland, which had some 2,000 pupils. The objective of education at that time was to realise not the economic potential of pupils but their personal potential. That is what education is about. It is important to learn skills, but they will decay over time and be overtaken by events. It is far more important that we equip our young people, when they leave schools and further education, with the ability to adapt and learn.
Not all Tories get it wrong all the time.
Michael Russell: Pardon?
Stewart Stevenson: I know that that is news to Mike Russell, but let us be fair to the Tories. Even Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1996, got it right in "Achievement for All", the objectives for Her Majesty's inspectors. He said that streaming is
"inherently inflexible and does not promote teaching which builds on prior learning"
and that
"pupils are discouraged by being placed in the lowest streams and can lack motivation to make progress".
The comprehensive system delivers for Scotland and can be developed to deliver for Scotland in the future.

27 November 2002

S1M-3565 A9

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 27 November 2002

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

... ... ...


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3565, in the name of John Swinney, on the A9 from Perth to Inverness. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the unacceptable level of death and injury caused by road traffic accidents on the A9 from Perth to Inverness; recognises that the design of the A9, particularly the frequent switching between single and dual carriageway, contributes to this level of danger; welcomes improvements made to the road design to improve safety, particularly measures already agreed at the Bankfoot and Ballinluig junctions, but recognises that, until the A9 from Perth to Inverness is re-constructed as a dual carriageway with safe junctions, it will continue to present road safety dangers to the local community and the significant number of visitors to the area.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank John Swinney for the opportunity to debate this important topic. I have an emotional attachment to the A9, as we used to travel every year from Cupar to Achmelvich in west Sutherland, which was a 12 to 14-hour journey using the A9. In those days, one could measure the disasters on the A9 simply by looking in the yard of the garage at Calvine. Only in recent times has that ceased to be the measure of the carnage on the A9 for me.

Even today, the A9 is an important road. The absence of an Aberdeen bypass means that—paradoxically, because of the greater length—it is quicker for me to travel cross-country to join the A9 from Whitehills outside Banff to go down to Edinburgh than it is to travel the A90 via Aberdeen.

I will develop that point by reference to an experience that I had 10 days ago. I was in the control room of Scottish and Southern Energy in Peterhead. The company had problems in delivering an electricity supply to its customers, because of flooding in the Keith area. It had to take a 1MW generator from its depot in Inverness to Keith. The police forbade its travelling along the coastal road, so it had to travel down the A9 to Perth, from Perth to Dundee, from Dundee to Aberdeen and from Aberdeen to Keith. Instead of the journey of one hour and 54 minutes for the 55.5 miles from Inverness to Keith, the generator took a journey of seven hours and 24 minutes and covered 247.4 miles.

In the sparsely enroaded area north of the central belt, the A9 plays an important relief role when other connections are unavailable. That brings us to the nub of an aspect of the argument. The A9 is an important regional road that has national implications for safety when other roads are blocked and for economic development, because alternatives are few.

I ask the minister to consider whether our evaluation of roads investment is too narrow, as it is based simply on cost. Roads are costs. Does not an alternative way of considering the matter exist? We should see roads as investment. To do so would allow communities such as Inverness to realise their potential. I ask the minister to think not of the cost of upgrading the A9, but of the cost of not upgrading it. Think not of the cost to the economy, think of the cost in lives. Let us make the first phase of the campaign to join the duals. Let us then have the whole thing.


21 November 2002

S1M-3602 Foot-and-mouth Disease Inquiries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3602, in the name of Ross Finnie, on the Scottish Executive's response to the foot-and-mouth disease inquiries, and on two amendments.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Members from all parts of the Parliament have contributed a great deal of common sense to the debate, which is welcome. I turn to a subject that has not exercised previous speakers, which is emergency or contingency planning. Insurance is the one thing that one cannot buy when one actually wants it and, by the same token, when a crisis arises, it is not possible to build emergency response teams or plans.
It has been said that in Scotland, the response to the foot-and-mouth crisis was more effective than that in England. It has also been suggested that part of the reason for that is because of the ill fortune at Lockerbie, when the Pan Am aircraft fell on that area. That disaster brought about a heightened sense of preparedness, so that, when foot-and-mouth disease came along, the agencies were more used to working together than they were in other parts of the country.
Richard Simpson and I recently spoke at a conference of emergency planning officers, although I did not hear what he said and I am not sure that he heard what I said because we were there at different times. As part of my preparation for that conference, I discovered that the Scottish Executive provides only some £7.5 million a year to local authorities for emergency planning. That is a modest amount. I do not know whether that is the right amount or the wrong amount. However, listening to emergency planning officers, I formed the strong opinion that there is scope for further development of emergency planning and that more money might be made available to local authorities for that. I would be interested to hear the minister's thoughts on that.
It is important that the Executive ensures that an emergency plan exists for each area, covering a wide range of emergencies that may arise, of which foot-and-mouth disease is an example. However, it is equally important that the people who have to respond to emergencies rehearse regularly. There are two levels at which rehearsals can take place. There can be paper exercises, whereby people get together and talk through what their response would be to a problem that is described to them. Those exercises should be undertaken fairly frequently. Less frequent—but more intensive—should be exercises that involve practical effort on the ground. I would be interested to hear what plans the minister has to ensure that there are appropriate, exercised plans throughout Scotland.
If we are to have the capability—should the worst happen in the future—to fight foot-and-mouth disease effectively wherever it occurs, recognising that geography controls the propagation of the disease in these islands, not politics or boundaries, I would like to know what cross-border collaboration there will be, which might help us on another occasion. That is something to which the minister might equally care to turn his mind.

S1M-3608 Extradition Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is consideration of motion S1M-3608, in the name of Mr Jim Wallace, on the Extradition Bill, which is proposed United Kingdom legislation.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): That was quite the most disgraceful speech that I have heard for some considerable time. The member knows perfectly well that we will have one piece of legislation on the matter; we are debating only where it will be passed. I do Angus MacKay the honour of saying that he cares about crime, because I know that he does, but we care about crime every bit as much as he does.
In more moderate terms, I say that I do not think that we have double jeopardy in Scotland—we thole the assize—but I understand that the minister may be fair trachled after his exertions today.
I raised the question of extradition with Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, because we have a system of warrants with other legal systems within the United Kingdom. The European framework directive seeks to cover the whole of Europe with a similar system. We adhere to the view that we are not dealing with extradition, because one of the fundamental proposals in part 1 of the Extradition Bill is the substitution of decisions by ministers with decisions by courts. That is fundamental; it is not incidental. It is only through the choice of the drafters of the bill that the process is called extradition; the bill is about European arrest warrants.
The real issue is that in the Justice 2 Committee we are at stage 2 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, and there are a number of crossover points that will cause difficulties. Richard Simpson's amendment 16 to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, on electronic communications and electronic storage, for example, interacts in an adverse way with clause 62 of the Extradition Bill, which relates to the use of facsimiles and the way in which they may be used. That is an unhelpful interaction.
There are also interactions on legal aid. I believe that the provisions in the Extradition Bill, whether enacted at Westminster or here, will speed things up—I hope that they do—but they will also increase the number of cases and therefore, potentially, the burden on the legal aid system. It appears to be entirely improper for us to address clause 182 of the Extradition Bill.
Sections 54 and 55 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill contain measures that are not entirely dissimilar to measures in the Extradition Bill, and so will interact in an adverse way, in particular in relation to age. Sections 54 and 55 relate to offences that are committed by agents of Scottish companies, persons, partnerships and so on, and who may be prosecuted. We now have a curious situation which, because there is legislation at Westminster and legislation here, we might be unable to resolve satisfactorily. Someone could be extradited—I use the minister's term for the sake of argument, but in our terms it is transfer under a European arrest warrant—from the Scottish jurisdiction to elsewhere in Europe based on a crime that has actually been committed in, for example, Thailand without necessarily having the kind of protection that we have in our criminal justice system.
If my speech raises a series of complex, technical issues, it does so because separating out a significant change to the criminal justice system while we are legislating on criminal justice is a recipe for confusion and disaster.

20 November 2002

S1M-3486 Utilities (Mis-selling)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3486, in the name of Mr Duncan McNeil, on the mis-selling of utilities. The debate will be concluded without any question being put, and I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the proposal of energy regulator, Ofgem, to penalise London Electricity for failing to prevent its sales staff from mis-selling products to customers; expresses concern over the high-pressure selling tactics employed by representatives of certain utility companies; believes that vulnerable members of the public are entitled to protection from such practices; seeks clarification over what safeguards are currently in place and how these are enforced, and considers that the industry, the Scottish Executive and all interested parties should undertake a concerted effort to put an end to underhand sales practices and restore public confidence in the utilities market.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Duncan McNeil on securing the debate, which is timely. Anyone who is prepared to tackle ex-boilermaker Duncan McNeil on any subject—especially a subject that touches people, such as this one does—does so at their peril.
I will quote Ian Fleming, who, in one of the James Bond books, said:
"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."
I bring to you today a tale of enemy action. I had great difficulty in preparing for the debate, because I could select only a few of the cases from my considerable file on the subject in my constituency office.
I will start with St Fergus church hall. Unlike the cases that members have mentioned so far, this happened over the telephone. St Fergus is in a rural constituency. To send people to chap the doors there is expensive and more difficult, and most utilities sales are therefore done by telephone canvassing. A call to the hall-keeper of St Fergus church hall led her to ask for a quotation. The result was that Scottish Gas transferred the church hall from its Scottish Hydro-Electric supplier.
The second case is Mrs B—I will not give her full name—in Maud. She received a letter, again after a marketing telephone call, indicating that her electricity supply would be transferred from Scottish Hydro-Electric to Scottish Gas. After my intervention, she received a letter from Scottish Gas resolving the issue on 14 August. Seven days later, Scottish Gas transferred her again—this time without even the courtesy of a telephone call.
The administrative systems in some of the utility companies are under considerable stress. In some respects, that is because of the competition from new entrants in the market and the urgent, belated response from the sitting tenants, as we shall call them. Mrs B's case resulted in a reference to the board of Scottish Gas. It has gone to a very serious level.
However, it was time to play double or quits. My own constituency office received a phone call making an offer. My constituency office manager requested a quotation, and within two weeks Scottish Gas had transferred even an MSP's constituency office gas supply. That made The Press and Journal and certainly made Scottish Gas sit up and pay attention.
I have an 80-year-old constituent in Fraserburgh who has had his electricity supply transferred on two separate occasions to two separate companies. I have only dipped into the file to pick a few random examples that are geographically representative of my constituency. The problem affects real people and causes real irritation. It is not just salespeople chapping the door; it happens through the telephone as well.
I have written to Ofgem and had a reply. Ofgem points out that it is a condition that suppliers carry out audits of all their sales and that they record the telephone calls. I have heard the script of some of the cases concerned. Unambiguously, there was no question that transfers were not being made. The pressure on some of those involved in cases of mis-selling to personal and business customers is clearly unreasonable and untenable.
I will close with a final irony. Scottish Gas is fixing the problem—I am reasonably content about that—but, because my constituency is a rural area, many of my constituents whose electricity has been transferred to Scottish Gas cannot even receive gas from Scottish Gas. Is that not the final irony?

06 November 2002

S1M-3536 Education (Schools)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The main item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S1M-3536, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on flexibility and innovation in schools, and on two amendments to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, which shows that I went to school. I am not alone. We all have an interest in the subject. My school motto was "ad vitam paror". If Iain Smith were here he would recognise that as the motto of Bell Baxter High School in Cupar—preparation for life. That encapsulates what school must be about.
Cathy Peattie, astonishingly, questioned why we were having a debate on education when, apparently, all the decisions have been made. The SNP does not think that that is the case.
Sylvia Jackson rather unfortunately chose to be selective in her quotations from Professor Lindsay Paterson. In the Scottish Educational Journal in October 2002, only a few weeks ago, he wrote:
"It is often claimed that research results on class sizes are ambiguous. This is not true: small reductions have no measurable effects, but large reductions do."
That is why the SNP will continue to pursue with vigour the aim of reducing class sizes. Some of the headlines of the First Minister's presentations yesterday used the word vision. That is an entirely inappropriate word in the circumstances. What is a vision? A vision is not about what we are doing today, which is essentially fiddling at the margins. A vision is about where we want to be in the long-term future. It is about what we want our educational sector to contribute to society in 15, 20 or 25 years' time. To understand the vision we must support it with aims—mid-term targets—which must include smaller class sizes. The opportunity is in the Registrar General for Scotland's report, which shows the reduction in the number of people available to go to school.
We have to set as an aim the development of a wider range of skills in the graduates of our education system. Above all, we have to deliver people to society who have the ability to adapt and learn for themselves in a changing world. No one in the chamber knows with any degree of certainty what the world will be like in 25 years' time. The only thing that we know is that we do not know.
What are our immediate tasks? We must do everything in our power to free teachers from the dead hand of bureaucracy. We must free the economic resources that will reward teachers and draw more people into the profession from a wider social, professional and general background. We must open the doors of our schools. I say to Duncan McNeil that, in my constituency, a new private finance initiative school is restricting access to community groups in a way that the previous unsatisfactory building did not.
We must consider the difference between education and training. I have concerns about some of the comments that I hear about diverting people from education to training.
Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) (Lab): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?
Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time. I am in my last minute.
If members wonder what the difference is between education and training, they should consider what their different responses would be were their daughter to say that she had sex education and were she to say that she had sex training. The answer is obvious.
In PFI projects we pay huge sums of interest to the banks for new buildings—we could release that money. The best schools are very good. We must bring all schools up to that standard. We need teachers with charisma, like my mathematics teacher, Doc Inglis, who used to take us through his tax return every year to illustrate the purpose of mathematics and how little he got paid. The minister has a long way to go to deliver on the charisma of Doc Inglis.

31 October 2002

S1M-3511 Fishing

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is Fishing.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): When I was elected to the Parliament some 500 days ago, my first speech was about fishing. When I returned from my first week in Parliament, my first constituency engagement was at the fishermen's mission in Peterhead. The Royal Humane Society presented a medal and a certificate to a fisherman who had selflessly gone over the side of his boat in January at something like 62 deg north to rescue a man who had gone overboard.

That neatly illustrates the danger of the fishing industry. It also illustrates the interdependence of people in that industry. All the fishing communities of Scotland depend on fishing offshore, inshore and deep into the countryside. Theirs is a shared interest and a shared past and it must be a shared future.

In their summing up, I ask the Tories to apologise to fishermen for the disgraceful remarks made by Brian Monteith, who suggested that the proposed closure of cod fisheries is not an important topic. However, I acknowledge that Jamie McGrigor's remarks have done much to offset those suggestions.

The future of communities is at the core of the debate. It is not an arid, sterile debate about European, Westminster or Scottish Parliament processes. The debate is about people. If 20,000 people were to lose their jobs as a result of the closure of the white fisheries, it would represent the biggest job losses in recent Scottish history. That is unacceptable, and that view is shared throughout the chamber.

Fishing is an historic industry and we require it to have a future. By its actions, the fishing industry makes a contribution to our understanding of community. It makes a contribution to health, through the delivery of a first-class food. Through times of difficulty, it has shown many others in Scotland how to manage.

Our approach is based on practicality and not on sentiment. Fishermen want a future for their industry and they want fish to be in the sea in the future. I ask the minister to break rules—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): But not the one-minute rule, as that is all that remains of your speaking time.

Stewart Stevenson: I do not ask the minister to break laws—although I would do that, were it necessary—but certainly to break rules. It is fine to debate whether the minister is leading a negotiating team.
I have my views and members know what they are. However, I want the minister to get out of the chamber and over to Brussels to build alliances not just at meetings, but before meetings. Decisions are not taken at meetings; they are predicated by what happens before meetings. It is important that we do not leave everything to officials. If the minister offends people in Westminster or Brussels by networking, persuading and twisting arms, I ask the minister please to do so.

We will only win if we have a common purpose and determination. The consensus that is beginning to emerge in the chamber will help the minister in his progress. Let us not descend into trying to score petty party points. We are not making constitutional points, we are making practical points about ministers breaking the rules and taking the initiative and that is the only way to save the Scottish fishing industry.


S1M-3507 Broadcasting and the Print Media

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): This morning we have two short debates, the first of which is on motion S1M-3507, in the name of Michael Russell, on broadcasting and the media in Scotland, and two amendments to that motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is fascinating that David Mundell thinks that the new arrangements, which will see Border Television rebranded as ITV1 and so lose its identity, will be of benefit to his area. The diversity of ownership is one of the things that underpins the diversity of opinion. I suspect that the entire Parliament shares the view that a diversity of opinion should be expressed through our media.

I am fortunate in being able to outbid Pauline McNeill in one sense, as my parliamentary constituency probably has a greater diversity of media than almost any other. We have four weekly newspapers published in the constituency and a further five that are widely distributed. We have three radio stations based in the constituency, one of which broadcasts continually, the others less so. We also have four other broadcasting organisations that beam local news into the constituency.

How does that happen? To use some business language, the reason is that channels to market are available for those media. That is what supports them. However, to use business language again, those people do not have the kind of constructive monopoly that can exist in broadcasting. For example, we cannot magically create the bandwidth that will allow us to have competition in either the Scottish Television or Grampian Television franchise—or, at least, not yet.

Digital broadcasting will provide some opportunities. It is illustrative to consider the difference between Scotland and Wales. The National Assembly for Wales is already carried on digital broadcasting. Despite the constraints of the devolution settlement, the Assembly has taken the initiative to ensure that Wales can access the new media.

One of the new media, to which no reference has been made in the debate so far, is broadband. Broadband will increasingly become one of the delivery mechanisms for new direct-to-home news, information and entertainment channels. Scotland lags so far behind that it barely registers on any world measure of broadband utilisation.

It is a great disappointment that, while we hear colleagues on the Government benches trumpeting the creation of a new committee under the new arrangements, we hear nothing about the abolition of the existing Scottish advisory committee on telecommunications, which has effectively championed the cause of broadband in Scotland. Again, consider the experience in Wales, which has made an investment of £100 million to give access to broadband across the whole of Wales. That contrasts dramatically with what happens here in Scotland.

We are making so little progress because we do not have the powers that would enable us to make more progress. Let me give an illustration of that. Scotland is covered with fibre optic cable, but most of it is in private hands, despite the fact that it uses public wayleaves. The technologies that have been chosen block off public access to that cable, but we cannot do anything about it.

One of the ironies is that my mother spoke no English when she went to school and no Gaelic when she left it, yet today Scottish broadcasting's most effective current affairs programme is in Gaelic. That programme is "Eòrpa". The broadcasters manage to get away with that because the programme is hidden away in what is regarded as a ghetto. In 1966, Radio Scotland started as a pirate station. Today, BBC Scotland is still piratically—like the Executive—abusing its position.

I support the SNP motion.


10 October 2002

S1M-3438 Prison Estates Review

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3438, in the name of Christine Grahame, on behalf of the Justice 1 Committee, on its sixth report of 2002, on the prison estates review.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The debate has been mature and has not descended into the petty bickering that sometimes occurs in debates. There will be consensus, if not unanimity, about the outcome. It is disappointing that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton appears to have broken the previous consensus on Kilmarnock—but there we are.

We welcome the development plans that will be put in place for each of the existing prisons. Wearing my constituency hat, I particularly welcome the indication that one will be developed for Peterhead.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time. I have too much to say—sorry.

I want to say a word about the Spencer report. The Deputy Minister for Justice appeared to indicate that he disagreed that there were 450 sex offenders in the system. The Spencer report stands on four key assumptions. The fourth assumption is that about 10 per cent of the prison population are sex offenders, which means that there are 460 sex offenders serving sentences of four years or longer.

Dr Simpson rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I will be delighted to hear from Dr Simpson in his summing up. However, if the minister is to tell us that an assumption on which the Spencer report is based is wrong, there will be wider issues to consider. However, I will wait to hear from Dr Simpson.

On the issue of public versus private sector provision, I will first say something about the staff in both systems. I have met staff in both private and public prisons. I am certain that all the staff in both systems are committed to doing their best. The real issue is whether the staff in a private prison have the capability and the tools—as they do in the public sector—to do their best. For example, Pauline McNeill made a valid point about pensions. The commitment and enthusiasm of people who are working for a pension is much greater than that of those who are not.

It has been asked where the figure of £700 million for the difference between the costs of public and private prisons came from. I understand that the chief executive of the Prison Service was asked that question by the Cabinet and that he replied that he did not know where the difference came from. The ministers might tell us that that informal report is incorrect.

The reality is, however, that the public sector comparator is used in the issue of private versus public. For example, higher rates of staffing in public prisons are assumed for comparison than exist in any prison in the Prison Service. We should also bear in mind the fact that the PricewaterhouseCoopers study was limited because it used numbers provided by the Prison Service that were not audited.

That brings us neatly to the subject of Mr Cameron and the leadership of the SPS. It is important to distinguish between management and leadership. Managers must, of course, be leaders; otherwise staff cannot respond and understand what is required of them. The Prison Service managers might have exercised certain management responsibilities—although when they turn out an estates review that is subject to such widespread criticism, one has to ask questions—but they have abjectly failed in leadership. They have severed effective links with their staff and failed to take staff with them. There have been recent encouraging developments in joint statements. I hope that that continues, but I suspect that that is just sticking a finger in the dyke.

I hear echoes of a 1984 episode of "Yes, Minister" in which the minister and Sir Humphrey had a discussion about who ran the department for which the minister was responsible. Sir Humphrey suggested that the minister was the salesman for the department. The Minister for Justice must decide whether he wants to exercise effective leadership and be more than simply a salesman for the management's ideas. The latter role would dig him deep into trouble.

I support the minister's right to change his mind and I congratulate him on doing so; it was a tribute to the consultation process on prisons. However, the minister cannot have it both ways. He said in his opening remarks today that the original proposals were correct. He must reflect on that.

In his speech when he came to office, the First Minister said that public services were at the heart of his concerns. That is entirely appropriate. When thinking about private versus public, we must consider that public service is not simply about doing what no one else wants to do, but about contributing value through the ethos and commitment of the people in the public service.


09 October 2002

S1M-3419 Prison Officers' Club (HMP Polmont)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3419, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the closure of the prison officers' social club at HM Prison Polmont. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. ...
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the decision by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to close the officers' social club at HM Prison Polmont and considers that SPS should withdraw this decision and honour its commitment to allow the club to purchase the property, recognising the important role of the club to both staff and the local community.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am happy to support Michael Matheson's motion on his local constituency interest, just as he and many other members have so excellently supported the prison officers who are employed in Peterhead in my constituency.
I see that Richard Simpson has just received a note on SPS notepaper, which I hope carries late advice of good news. We should perhaps characterise the relationship between the SPS and its staff as one that is based on trust and understanding: the SPS does not understand its staff and the staff can no longer trust the SPS.
In view of the amount of time that I have spent in prisons and in the company of prison officers over the past year, my friends and colleagues are perhaps beginning to wonder about my own bona fides, but the bona fides of the executive of the SPS are at the heart of today's debate. Does the SPS regard staff merely as a resource to fire off against problems and the duties that it has been given? Does the SPS regard prisoners simply as a commodity to be processed through the Prison Service? I hope not. The issue is entirely different, but such an attitude would be consistent with what often seem to be the commercial ambitions of the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service.
I would rather see the SPS show that it cares, that it is interested in public policy and that it wants to deliver on public safety. We can do that by having a Prison Service that is well resourced in buildings and programmes, but none of that will matter if we cannot deliver staff who are committed and who are able to go the extra mile that we get from excellence in public services.
As in the estates review's proposals for Peterhead, we do not know the cost of closing the social club and such a cost cannot necessarily be measured in pounds and pence. The cost will be paid in a continuing reduction in the morale of the people who are employed in the Prison Service.
Once again, the Prison Service has made an arcane and perverse decision that goes against everything that the Executive tells us about partnership. There is no partnership between the executive of the Prison Service and the people who are employed at Polmont if the SPS closes the facility in the way that has been described. The Prison Service and the minister will have noted that, when a community is roused as it was in Peterhead, a community can win. I see every sign that the community in Polmont is on the point of taking to the barricades; I will join them there if it will help.
I know that the minister had extensive experience of the Prison Service prior to coming to the Parliament and that he has a personal understanding of human psychology. If we cannot look to the Prison Service for ethical, caring and professional behaviour towards staff and their responsibilities to the wider public, I see nothing but the bleakest of futures for the Prison Service.
I think that it was Oscar Wilde who said:
"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."
I suspect tonight that, if Tony Cameron knocked on the door of the club in Polmont, he would not be accepted as a member.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: I think that the quotation should actually be attributed to Mr Stevenson's alter ego, Groucho Marx.

03 October 2002

S1M-3450 Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The next item is a debate on motion S1M-3450, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on action against coronary heart disease and stroke, and on two amendments to that motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will make a fairly brief speech after Des McNulty.
The minister said that health professionals are at the core of the plans. That is right and proper. I hope that a substantial proportion of the £40 million will go on professionals.
I will spend a minute or two on the challenges that are faced in relation to staffing. First, and fairly obviously, over the past six years the number of deaths from stroke has declined, although the incidence of stroke remains much the same. That increases the burden on support after a stroke, which involves a wide range of services. By the same token, the ambitious targets for bringing down angiography waiting times will increase the demand for staff.
I have before me work force statistics from the information and statistics division. I will focus on nurses, because they are an essential component of the strategy. As of August 2002, there are 1,869 vacancies for nurses generally. Intensive care has the highest percentage of vacancies: 6.8 per cent of positions are currently vacant. The next highest is paediatrics at 5.7 per cent and the third highest is theatre nurses at 5.3 per cent. That is against an overall vacancy level of about 4 per cent.
Consider some of the other statistics. Over two years, the number of cardiologists has declined by 2 per cent and the number of cardiology consultants has declined by 4 per cent. More worryingly, over a five-year period, the number of neurologists has declined by 63 per cent.
What will happen in future? A written answer to me, S1W-27665, gives the profile of retiring nurses over the next 10 years. It shows that 321 qualified nurses will retire in 2002 upon reaching normal retirement age. By 2007, that figure will have more than doubled. The number of nurses leaving the profession is accelerating due to nature. At the same time, there are real difficulties and vacancies.
As far as training is concerned, the figures are more reassuring and suggest that many people are coming through. However, the number of people in training is less than the number of nurses that will reach retirement age. On that basis, we will certainly have some problems.
I hope that Mary Mulligan, in replying to the debate, will be able to assure us that we will not only get money, but that we will be able to pay staff sufficient to attract new people into the profession. In particular, will she agree with the SNP that nurses are very much at the core of what we do in health and that they should be rewarded accordingly with substantially higher salaries than they receive at present?

Proposed Committee Bill (Members' Interests)

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We come now to the second debate, which is on the Standards Committee's "Report on Replacing the Members' Interests Order: Proposal for a Committee Bill".

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): As the most recently elected MSP, I thought that it might be useful to speak about some views that I formed when I had to draw up my entry in the register. I say to Mike Rumbles that I did not respond to the consultation not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of time when the opportunity arose.

We must be careful about being too complacent. I think that we have an honest and open group of MSPs and that all 129 of them maintain high standards in ethical behaviour and the expression of interests. However, our regime is very liberal and far from restrictive compared to that which I experienced before coming to the Parliament.

As a bank employee, I operated under the Financial Services Act 1986, which had restrictive and specific requirements to register and to relate information. In my circumstances, those requirements were difficult, because I worked for one bank, my wife worked for the stockbroking arm of another bank and my brother worked for a third bank. None of us was a banker, but nonetheless, the rules covered us. For example, if I wished to conduct a share transaction, the 1986 act required me to do so through my employer, but because of my wife's employment in stockbroking, the act also required me to transact through her employer, although that was impossible. Fortunately, a procedure existed by which we could nominate the employer that would get the business, although both employers had to be told about it. I could not sell or buy a share in any company without registering the fact that I had done so, or sell or buy a share in my own company except in two four-week periods during the year and with permission. There were significant constraints, only some of which I have dealt with.

I welcome the proposed change from the nominal value of shares to their market value. I spent 30 years with the Bank of Scotland and put my staff profit share away year by year, little amount by little amount, into shares, because of the advantages to doing so. As a result, I had Bank of Scotland shares with a nominal value of £9,800 when I joined the Parliament. However, when I voluntarily registered my interest, their market value was of the order of £360,000. The difference between those values was huge. Even at that level, I did not require to register the shares and would not require to register them under the present order until their market value reached approximately £1 million. I think that members share my view that shares at such a level should be registered. Alas, I have lost about £100,000 in the value of those shares, but I never had that in the first place, so let us not worry about it.

The Standards Committee turned its attention to outside employment. In my previous life, I would have required permission to accept outside employment. I draw that to members' attention as a model that we might think about.

Mr Rumbles: The Standards Committee considered prohibiting members from accepting employment outwith the Parliament. Most committee members felt that being an MSP was a full-time job, but that it was not the committee's place to recommend restricting outside employment.

Stewart Stevenson: I understood that. I do not oppose small, relevant, outside interests. I lecture a little in the business school at a local university, which helps me to keep in touch with some matters, but my doing that would be inappropriate if it interfered with my ability to do my job as an MSP. The committee may wish to consider whether prior approval of outside employment could apply that test. My opinion—it might not be the opinion of others—is that an occasional audit could be valuable.

Gifts raise an interesting issue. I forgot my wife's birthday this year, so I can tell members that the absence of a gift can—to use Mike Rumbles's phrase—influence political life. I was a bit grumpy for a few days because my wife was more than a bit grumpy. What is a gift between family members? If the only family member who receives remuneration for employment is the MSP and that person takes their partner on a holiday that costs £500, is that a gift under the order? It might well be. That situation should be considered—it applies to close family members, too.

Outside people could think that many non-pecuniary interests influence members. I voluntarily registered two unpaid directorships. One of those directorships is in a voluntary organisation; I receive no remuneration for it and have no legal obligations under it. The other, however, is in a limited company, which means that the Companies Act 1985 places on me some fiduciary duties that could conflict with my duties as a member of the Parliament, in some circumstances. The test of whether an interest is unpaid is not in itself adequate.

By the same token, we should consider societies and clubs. I am a member of Edinburgh Flying Club. Flying is my hobby, and lest members should think that it is an expensive hobby, I say that if I smoked 20 cigarettes a day, I would spend more than I do on flying, but perhaps that tells members how little time I have spare from the Parliament. As a member of Edinburgh Flying Club, I might—if I were not a member of the Parliament—wish to take a position on developments at Edinburgh airport, which we discussed recently. It would be appropriate for me to make known my membership of that club if we discussed those issues.

I am also a member of an informal group called the escape committee, which comprises former workers in the trenches at the Bank of Scotland, with whom I occasionally have lunch. Like Kay Ullrich, I do not think that it would be appropriate to register such membership. However, if a member were an honorary consul for one of the many small countries around the world that wish to have representation in Edinburgh, it would be appropriate to register that.

I suspect that it would be inappropriate to register the amount of a pension, but there is value in considering registering the fact of a pension, because the source of a pension, the body that pays that pension and the interests of that pension fund might be held to influence a member, in some circumstances.

The members' interests order focuses on services that members provide in their capacity as members and for which they are paid, but members provide services for which they are not paid and which may influence us. For example, I write four newspaper columns for local papers. I am not remunerated for that, but it is in my political interest to maintain a good relationship with the owners of those papers. In some circumstances, members and the general public should be aware that I have a connection with a commercial company that is non-remunerated but is of value to me.

I suggest that having two parts to the register of members' interests could be valuable. One part would be published and the other part would provide the opportunity to record facts. For example, the amount of a pension might be registered but not published. That might be a way forward and might be useful for a range of matters.

I welcome the thought that any changes could be introduced before the election. That would give those who wish to stand for election a clear view of the expectations of them, so that they would meet no nasty surprises when they arrived here. That could be a benefit.

I welcome the Standards Committee's excellent work and I have no difficulty in supporting the motion.


02 October 2002

S1M-3128 Local Government in Scotland Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Our main item of business today is the stage 1 debate on motion S1M-3128, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the general principles of the Local Government in Scotland Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate all members—from all parties—of the Local Government Committee. In their deliberations they upheld to a fine standard the supportive criticism that always benefits our legislative process. Of course, I was not part of those deliberations, so I come to the debate as rather an outsider.

When I was first confronted with the phase "power of well-being", I was reminded of a device that business executives like me received at Christmas about 25 years ago. The device was the Honeywell buzzword generator, which had three circles of words that one twirled until a random phrase was generated. The phrase "power of well-being" may return to haunt us. It probably conceals from the general public what we are trying to achieve, rather than conveying that to them.

Perhaps it was wise of Labour to stand no closer to the phrase "general competence", because Labour stands no closer to competence than it does to anything else. In the corridors of Labour councils, the party is deeply unfamiliar with the word "competence". Well-being is an interesting term. It relieves councils of the ultra vires burden, or straitjacket, that constrains many of their actions.

I cannot help but note some of the doubts that were expressed by the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland, whose written evidence appears at page 124 of the Local Government Committee's report. The society recommended that there be some amendment to the bill to assist councils in ensuring that the power of well-being is implemented appropriately.

I want to trust councils and I want them to have the power to do what will benefit their local communities. Would that we trusted this Parliament as much, and allowed ourselves to do anything that we considered likely to promote or improve the well-being of our area or our people. We are, of course, constrained. It is strange that we can confer a power on others that we are not permitted to confer upon ourselves.

Councils generally remain underfunded—although there is a little debate about that—undervalued and, probably, over-regulated. The bill helps, in that it makes a start to addressing those problems. The Government should not be complacent; it is making only a small change to the rigidities that were established under the Tories.

Members may not be aware that Scotland has the fewest elected representatives per head of population in Europe. We have some 32 per 100,000, compared with England, which has 42, and, at the other end of the scale, Greece, which has about 650. There are certainly different patterns throughout Europe. We expect a lot of all our elected representatives, including our councillors. In many ways, therefore, it is regrettable that we have not addressed voting reform and the way in which councillors are elected, which have been under discussion for so long, in the bill.

We have to open the door to a wider range of people who might consider standing as councillors. The opportunities are too narrow at the moment. That idea has, in effect, been put on death row by Labour, and only the Liberals appear to fail to see that.

Councils matter to people. They affect all our lives. A substantial proportion of the work that comes through my door—I am sure that this the case for many other members—emanates from the actions or omissions of councils, so we know that they are important.

I was once fortunate to work for a very imaginative chief executive, who had two instructions for his management team, of which I was part. The first was, "We must break the rules at least once a week." Only by doing that do we test the boundaries of our authority and of the rules that constrain the organisation for which we work. The second was, "We must fail some of the time." Only by failing do we demonstrate that we are taking sufficient risks to succeed where it really matters.

I hope that the bill will encourage more risk taking in our councils—imaginative and responsible risk taking, with councils always returning to correct any mistakes that they make in a way that does not affect the people whom they serve. I hope, too, that the bill will encourage councils to break the rules and to take the opportunity that is created by the elimination of the ultra vires straitjacket.

The bill will be very welcome if its provisions are there to be followed. It will enable councils, councillors and communities to release their full potential.


26 September 2002

S1M-3423 Race Equality

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3423, in the name of Margaret Curran, on race equality and two amendments to the motion. I observe that we are six minutes late in starting and warn members that that will affect the way in which I regulate time in the course of the debate.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We should be aware that homo sapiens is not a rational animal; he is a rationalising animal. Therein lies the challenge for each and every one of us.

I say to Alex Johnstone that I doubt whether we have all reformed our actions, thinking and instinctive responses. That applies to each and every one of us in the chamber.

On this topic, as in so much else, the community will judge us politicians not by what we think, nor by what we do, but by what they think we do. It is important that we communicate on that basis. Challenging, changing and consolidating new attitudes is not a quick fix. We must start by recognising that we are all part of the problem. Similarly, we must all be part of the solution.

Over recent months, I have asked parliamentary questions that aimed to identify how employment in the public service is doing. The proportion of ethnic minority employees in the Scottish Parliament is less than half of the proportion of ethnic minorities in the wider community. In the Scottish Prison Service it is less than one third, and its recent employment has not shown any particular improvement. We clearly have much to do throughout the public service.

I do not say that in a carping, critical way. I say it simply to illustrate the challenge that we face. We must make our public services—as we must make our wider community—more welcoming so that more people from a wider range of backgrounds feel that they can apply for jobs. In our discrimination policies we must ensure that those people succeed and join in employment. That is how we join society. That describes some of the challenges.

The media is a major part of the Executive's campaign. However, the media is also potentially part of the problem. We might spend £1 million on a campaign, only to have it overturned by 1,000 foolish words written by a single careless journalist working for a sloppy editor. The editorial choices that are made by some in the media are distinctly unhelpful in promoting inclusion and equality, and negating racial discrimination.

I ask ministers to publish the success criteria for the campaign, which I hope will be successful, as we all do. How will the success of the campaign be judged? That is particularly difficult, because inevitably it is a long-term campaign. If ministers feel that publishing the criteria might compromise the integrity of the campaign because the results will be discussed at an early stage, I invite them to give the criteria in confidence to the working group that is being set up. I would be content with that.

I am glad that the Tories have withdrawn their amendment, because my commitment to equality is absolute, and the words "but" and "tokenism" were unfortunate proposed changes to the motion.

I close by telling members about the first law of genetics, which states that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more it will be damaged by a change in that environment. There is diversity of opinion in this Parliament. That is of value. I tell Robert Brown that there is diversity of language outside. That is of value. There is diversity of origin in our society. One Scotland needs many cultures.


S1M-3342 Transport (Investment)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3342, in the name of David Mundell, on the impact on transport of the comprehensive spending review.
... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Far be it from me to criticise the SNP's opening speaker, but I think that he was far too generous. He said that the promised land was on the horizon, but I am afraid that my eyes cannot see it and I suspect that neither can those of many in the chamber.

We do not need to confine ourselves to the views of people in the SNP. David Begg, the Government's adviser, has consistently told the Government that it is woefully underfunding the public transport network. Private Eye has a column called "Signal Failures" and I believe that this Government has been a signal failure with regard to transport. I will illustrate a few of the difficulties under which we labour—I use that word advisedly.

There is a monopoly in air transport. BAA owns the three most geographically important airfields in Scotland, which are there simply as feeder stations for BAA's economic workhorses: the London airports. No passenger jet aircraft in Scotland is registered to an owner in Scotland. Is it any wonder that air services in Scotland are peripheral to the commercial interests of airlines that are based elsewhere and which will always seek to develop services closer to their bases?

We continue to suffer from the tearing up of many of our rural railway lines. As members have heard me say previously, I represent one of two mainland constituencies that have no railway line. Nonetheless, we get no greater share of the road budget. From the limited largesse that is being distributed to support railways, we get little additional benefit. Alex Johnstone was entirely correct to highlight Gordon and Banff and Buchan as being places that suffer from poor roads and limited railways. If I come to Parliament by public transport, I have a £20 taxi ride to the two-hourly service that runs from the nearest railhead at Huntly, which is outside my constituency.

Elaine Thomson (Aberdeen North) (Lab): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: We have no time for nonsense from Aberdeen Labour.

The western peripheral road is an economic drag on people in the north-east north of Aberdeen. I know of a company that estimates that congestion in Aberdeen costs it about £100,000. The area contains the world's biggest offshore oil base, but the 20 to 30 trucks a day that travel between Peterhead and Aberdeen are delayed by between 20 and 40 minutes on each of their round-trip journeys.

I know that Duncan McNeil did not hear this because he joined us late in the morning but, in the previous debate, Allan Wilson made the important point that his Executive is focused on three i's: infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure. Well, without infrastructure, we have no transport system worth debating.

The minister and I have exchanged comments on free local travel, especially with regard to disabled people.

Mr McNeil: Welcome it, then.

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome what provision there is, but my disabled constituents do not have buses upon which they may exercise their right to those free rides. Labour is not delivering for the disabled or the pensioners in Scotland.


S1M-3418 Rural Business (Sustainability)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3418, in the name of Alex Fergusson, on business sustainability in rural Scotland, and on two amendments to that motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Alasdair Morrison on telling us the blindingly obvious—that the Western Isles is closer to getting broadband. It is closer to getting broadband only in the sense that the Western Isles is closer to the United States than Edinburgh is. That does not mean that broadband is round the corner or that broadband will come tomorrow.

I want to concentrate on broadband, because although farming defines the geography and topology of the countryside, increasingly the economic life of the countryside must lie elsewhere. Future generations must have access to future industries. The infrastructure that is delivered by broadband technology is an essential component of the countryside's access to the future.

The Executive's strategy is not a broadband strategy at all; it is a narrow-band strategy. Ministers have indicated in replies to me that delivery of the aggregated public sector demand for broadband will start in the second half of 2003, some two years after the announcement of the strategy.

Let me read a quotation:

"Broadband is crucial to the success of the ... economy, public services and the drive to raise people's skills and knowledge."

George Lyon: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time.

"Bringing broadband within reach of more areas ... will help ... companies to become more competitive, open up opportunities for online learning and help deliver services more effectively."

I apologise to Andrew Davies, the Minister for Economic Development in Wales, for omitting the words "Welsh" and "of Wales" from that quote. Wales is an example of a country with significant rural areas that is engaging in a real broadband initiative, which receives £100 million. The rate of take-up of broadband in Wales is between 20 and 30 per cent higher as a result of the measures that have been taken.

In Scotland, we have universal access to broadband via satellite technology. How many people have taken up a system that is expensive and has some technical limitations? The answer is 182. Countries that are similar to Scotland are in a very different position. The UK is 22nd out of 28 countries in an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey of the most connected countries. The rate in Scotland is half the UK's rate. Finland is 10th in the OECD survey, Sweden is fourth, Norway is 14th and Switzerland is 12th. Those countries all have financial independence. Although that might not be the only reason, it certainly helps when one can control everything that one does in an economy.

We are expected to welcome the fact that 67 of our telephone exchanges are capable of supporting ADSL, but we should remember that there are 1,100 exchanges in Scotland. The figure of 67 represents a tiny percentage of that total. Scotland will be left behind unless we can bring broadband to the whole country, on a level playing field and at uniform cost, as is being done in Wales. We must not restrict the new technologies to city centres.

The next generation of broadband is SDSL—symmetric digital subscriber line—which is being piloted in Glasgow. SDSL will present a further disadvantage to rural areas, which will not have access to the technology. This week, we have learnt that things will get even worse.

Allan Wilson: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am finished.

The fact that the new Office of Communications has no Scottish representation will mean that broadcasting and communications will have no voice where the decisions are made. The Executive's partners in Government are responsible for that.


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