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.
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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.

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