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.

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