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.

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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.


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