28 March 2002

S1M-2698 Child Witness Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): I would now like to begin the members' business debate on motion S1M-2698, in the name of Gil Paterson, on child witness reform.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the report Justice for Children - The Welfare of Children in the Justice System; commends Children 1st, Childline, NCH Scotland and the other participants for producing this report, and considers that the Scottish Executive should look closely at the findings and recommendations of the report and act accordingly.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Gil Paterson and all the speakers on the non-partisan and constructive way in which the debate has proceeded thus far. I do not intend to break the consensus. I also congratulate the organisations that produced the "Justice for Children" report, which is the basis of much that has been said tonight.

Like Donald Gorrie, I was pleased that the Parliament has been able to deal with one category of vulnerable witness—complainers in sexual offence cases. I look forward to what we may be able to do for children, who are in another category of vulnerable witnesses.

Personal experience always reinforces a general point. Let me give what is, to be honest, a trivial example from my own life. When I was about seven or eight, I was sitting on the front wall when a bus gently reversed into a car at about 5mph. A policewoman interviewed me because there was a dispute between the drivers over who was responsible for the incident. It is a tribute to how impressionable I was that, when someone in authority and in a uniform came to see me, I was quite confused and disturbed by the questioning process. I still remember that, despite the fact that it was a trivial incident in which I was not involved—I was merely a spectator. How much more traumatic is such questioning for a child, of whatever age, who has been involved in an incident that eventually leads to a court case?

Members will know of my constituency interest in HMP Peterhead, which contains around 200 paedophiles and 300 sexual offenders in total. A prison officer told me a story that illustrates the subtle ways in which children can be affected and influenced by what goes on in their lives. The story concerns a child who had been through the justice system and whose father had been convicted, quite properly. Toward the end of the sentence, a reconciliation interview took place and both child—by this time, a late teenager—and father were brought together. The father sat and talked in a friendly way with his daughter, but throughout the interview he clicked a pen. At the end of the interview, when the father was taken away, the daughter broke down in tears because the father had used a pen to abuse her. Sometimes the signals between adult and youth are subtle and not understood by us.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the subject of justice in the criminal justice system, particularly when the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is under close attention. We will debate the detail of that on another occasion, but in the review of resources in the COPFS, there is a recognition at paragraph 1.4.4 that special skills are required when one is dealing with child witnesses. However, I note in passing that the vision and objectives of the COPFS make no reference to children as a group that the service should be paying particular attention to.

When I was a child, I had a Barnardos box into which I put the occasional coin, but I thought no more about children who had problems. This debate ensures that we have brought to our attention the needs and concerns of young people—it is not just about putting tuppence in a Barnardos box.


S1M-2945 Transport

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 28 March 2002

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


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2945, in the name of David Mundell, on transport, and two amendments to that motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We live in strange and disturbing times. I have listened to David Mundell calling for more public investment and focusing on public transport, and I have read the document from the Executive, which does not want to spend any public money whatever. That merely confirms the view that we on the SNP benches have already formed that the new Labour party is the new Tory party.

I would like to say a little bit about something that has not been covered much in the debate—the effect on business of the current infrastructure in Scotland. Like many other members, I will be parochial.

The Executive's document says that it will be

"fixing Aberdeen's congestion before it leads to further deterioration in journey time reliability."

The reality is that many people in the north-east of Scotland—and when I use that phrase I mean the country beyond Aberdeen—are absolutely constrained by the congestion in Aberdeen. Businesses in my constituency are actively considering relocation because they cannot reliably go through Aberdeen.

Mr Davidson: That is since he was elected.

Stewart Stevenson: They have been considering relocation even since Mr Davidson became a regional member for the area.

Businesses are paying huge sums of money because of congestion and unreliability. It costs £50,000 a year for a small company to be in Peterhead instead of Aberdeen. It is time that the Executive stopped talking about grand plans and started putting up some grands of money to solve the problems.

I thought that I heard the minister say that he is looking for 23 million lorry miles in his new plan. I would very much welcome that, because his document mentions 21 million. He might care to confirm that. I would very much support that. I see that there are existing facilities for getting freight off the roads and on to railways, enabling groceries to go from Bellshill to Wick and Thurso, and I am sure that people will be grateful for that.

Let me say a word or two about flying and about Scotland's role. There is a consultation document on European new skies. Well, well! The list of consultees that the UK Government has chosen for the exercise is very telling. Among the hundreds of bodies that are being consulted, there is only one Scottish company—Loganair. Almost none of the air transport facilities that are provided in Scotland is provided by Scottish air transport companies. That perhaps indicates why I find it difficult to agree with the Scottish Tourist Board, whose website says:

"Scotland is a small country and travelling around it is quite easy, as is getting here."

That experience is alien to the majority of people whom I meet.

I turn to something that Alex Johnstone said. He referred to 18 glorious years of a Tory Government. Well, I have something rather surprising to say to Alex. I met a Tory voter when I was campaigning last year, and he had had some rather upsetting news. He had been to his doctor and heard that he had only four months to live. I said, "Why are you voting Tory? They will not help the health service." He said, "No, I'm voting Tory for the very first time, because four months under a Tory Government is like 18 years under anybody else."

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): That is cruel and in bad taste.


20 March 2002

S1M-2506 Land Reform (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We move on to the stage 1 debate on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I fear that Bill Aitken may actually be right about the Marxists. Having looked through my file, I will give him a little quote:

"We are also prepared to take direct action ... where the normal mechanism of the market is unlikely to work effectively."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 6 November 1996; Vol 284, c 1174.]

The Marxist who said that was the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Raymond Robertson.

However, there is more. Bill Aitken has enjoyed our debates on land reform, especially in the committee. I would like to quote Bill to give members an insight into his thinking. He said:

"I have a funny mental picture of Rannoch moor being illuminated by the kind of floodlights one would find at Hampden park."—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 6 February 2002; c 1029.]

Perhaps he really meant Ibrox.

Bill Aitken: No, I would have meant Firhill.

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to record my apologies.

Let me turn to more serious matters. Jamie McGrigor spoke about fishing, but the reality is that the bill's inclusion of the right to buy fisheries is important as it is one of the bill's few genuinely radical provisions. The majority of Scotland's fishery potential is undeveloped or underdeveloped. It is precisely those underdeveloped rivers that would benefit from the right to buy. Jamie McGrigor is wrong in stating that the issue has not been considered. The Justice 2 Committee visited a fishing estate on Lewis and listened very carefully to what people said.

Mr McGrigor: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time.

I believe that the owners of that fishery were rather reassured by what the committee members had to say. However, the real test for Jamie McGrigor is this: where is the success of the current pattern of ownership of salmon fisheries? Stocks are at record lows and catches are even lower.

When the minister sums up, I would like him to address a couple of issues, so that we can see where he stands. In particular, will he respond to the Justice 2 Committee's recommendation that we consider extending the definition of crofting counties? After all, the exclusion of Aberdeenshire, which took place many years ago, was done simply on the opinion of a single person. I welcome the fact that the minister has stated that he is prepared to look again at the situation of trusts and companies. I will remind him that, on the stock exchange, once a new owner owns 30 per cent of a company, the new owner is required to bid for the whole thing. A rule along those lines may work in this situation.

Let me close by saying of the Tories, once again, that they are mining a rich seam of indifference to the real interests of the people of Scotland. No surprise there.


14 March 2002

S1M-2592 BSE and New Variant CJD

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is the members' business debate on motion S1M-2592, in the name of Kenneth Macintosh, on the continuing presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the continuing presence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Scotland and the growing numbers of cases of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), including at least two cases in the parliamentary constituency of Eastwood; welcomes the setting up of a National Care Co-ordinator and CJD advice network, but acknowledges the devastating effects this disease can have on victims and their families and believes that the Scottish Executive should give its continuing support to those families affected by this terrible disease.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): First, I apologise on behalf of Shona Robison, who has had to leave to chair another meeting. She intends no discourtesy by her absence.

I assure Graeme and Malcolm, who are in the public gallery, that I am quite certain that all members of the Parliament will read this debate and take on board the messages from it, and that the debate and the Official Report of it will be referred to and read with interest well beyond the Scottish Parliament. I warmly congratulate Ken Macintosh on giving us the opportunity to throw a little further light into some of the dark corners of a horrendous disease.

I want to speak, relatively briefly, about two areas: agriculture, from which, essentially, the disease sprang; and, for slightly longer, about the very real human impact that such diseases have, not just on the sufferer, but on the families of sufferers.

Science let down agriculture, which let down the wider community. An unjustified enthusiasm for new ways of feeding our beasts and an unjustified optimism about the consequences of scientific advances led us into a trap. We can understand it to some extent: the related disease in sheep, scrapie—which is very much akin to BSE—had been with us for hundreds of years. Many people had eaten scrapie-infected animals without apparent consequence. I stress "apparent consequence"—our diagnostic skills were not as great a hundred years ago as they are now, and we cannot be certain. It is precisely that lack of certainty that lies at the root of much of the distress that the families of sufferers, or of people who fear that they may be sufferers, lies. We must exercise considerable caution in future.

We note that although the incidence of BSE in our herds is declining—which is good—the disease is not yet eliminated. We must also note that its incidence in France and other countries from which we import meat is rising. There is also considerable concern in many people's minds that the control of food imports is inadequate, and that much meat is bypassing the system. I would be interested to hear what can be done about that.

Between school and university, I worked for less than a year—although very usefully—in a psychiatric hospital. A number of the patients whom I, along with others, looked after suffered from similarly debilitating conditions that isolated them from their families and the reality of the world. There is nothing more moving than approaching a patient who is left with a single reflex. Placing a spoon on their bottom lip would cause their mouth to open to allow them to be fed.

There was nothing left: the body was simply a hulk that contained a physical manifestation of a previously loved and valued member of a family.

That is the experience of our friends in the gallery and of others elsewhere. It is an experience that we would in no circumstances wish to inflict on anyone else. We inflicted such an experience on these people accidentally, but it was avoidable. That is the hurt that families feel particularly strongly. If there is one thing that we can take out of what has happened, it is this. I hope that every sufferer has increased medical understanding of this condition and that measures to treat and prevent it will improve in future as a result. I have some confidence that that is the case. Our sympathy extends to all who will be affected in future and to those who have been affected in the past. Once again, I congratulate Ken Macintosh on giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue.


S1M-2686 Scottish Qualifications Authority Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2686, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the general principles of the Scottish Qualifications Authority Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will make just a few brief comments on the subject, as we are near the end of the debate. We heard several references to paper in the SQA. Jamie Stone, Mike Russell and Brian Monteith referred to the potential role of IT systems. After 30 years in computer systems, I still spend much time advising considerable caution, particularly with such systems.

We can successfully convert to IT the kind of system that we are talking about only if we put in place responsible, accountable, trained and qualified IT people to do it. One of the problems that the SQA encountered was that it did not have such people in place. A consequence of that—and I would not say that it was the fault of the SQA or the minister—was that the people who were running the IT department were not senior enough and did not have enough confidence to say that their part of the merging of the Scottish Examinations Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council was not working as it should have.

Mr Stone: Would Mr Stevenson accept that what he is saying about the IT in the SQA is different from what Mike Russell and I are talking about, which is to do with using IT in the examination process?

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to accept that. I am merely sounding a note of caution.

When we are undertaking major programmes of change, we should bring someone in from outside the system to run the programmes. Speaking with hindsight, at the core of many of the difficulties that were experienced in the SQA was the fact that there was no one who was clearly identified to run the change programme.

Mike Russell and Brian Monteith talked about the destruction of papers. I have a constituent who was unable to conclude an appeal on behalf of his daughter because the papers had been destroyed. It is certainly worth revisiting the issue of returning people's scripts, microfilming them or preserving them by some other mechanism, although I admit that the problem affects only a small number of people.

As the "Register of Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament" shows, I spend a little bit of my time lecturing post-graduate and honours-year students at Heriot-Watt University on management information systems. I am grateful to the Scottish Parliament for the intense and professional way in which it has examined the SQA. That has provided a rich seam of material for my students. It is a tribute to the Scottish Parliament, the parties in it and the Executive that we have been able to deal with this difficult issue thoroughly and professionally and achieve an outcome that will be welcomed by everyone in Scotland.


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