18 December 2003

S2M-698 Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-698, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, that the Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill be passed, and two amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Indeed, it is the Christmas season and there is a certain amount of jollity in the chamber. I say to Carolyn Leckie that I am extremely pleased to be in room 101. On 2 May, one of her colleagues said that she wanted to turn the Scottish Parliament into a "Big Brother" series. Of course, those of us who remember the original room 101 in the book "1984" will also remember that when O'Brien asks Winston Smith about his true feelings towards Big Brother, Smith confesses "I hate him". At that point, O'Brien passes judgment on Smith. It is not enough to obey Big Brother, one must also love him, which is why O'Brien then utters the dreaded words, "Room 101". If that is the company I will keep when I am consigned to room 101, I am very happy to resist the forces of totalitarianism and to join Winston Smith in drinking gin for ever after at the Chestnut Tree. In reality, this lunch time I was at Carol Finnie's excellent establishment, the Railway Inn in Juniper Green. Before I move off the subject of "1984", I should also mention that for the whole time that he was outside room 101, Winston Smith succeeded in believing that two plus two equalled five.

The issue of privatisation and earning money from the health service has been one of the SSP's enduring themes in this debate. In that respect, I find it quite interesting that at half-past 6 in the evening on 20 November a certain Colin Fox was speaking at The Gaelic Club in Sydney, Australia. I note that the event was not free; indeed, he was charging eight Australian dollars for the privilege. Obviously, profit is okay in the SSP on some occasions.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Mr Frank McAveety): A bargain!

Stewart Stevenson: Pensioners could get in for five dollars. Is the minister one of those?

I am really quite worried about some of our friends in the SSP.

Tommy Sheridan (Glasgow) (SSP): I think that "obsessed" is the word that he is looking for.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, at least I have some obsessions that are worth having. [Laughter.]

I am really rather worried for Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, because I gather that in the socialists' Christmas poll he was voted top totty. Their affections now appear to be drifting towards Phil Gallie, but I have to say that my money is on James every time.

Tommy Sheridan: At least Stewart Stevenson does not have to worry.

Stewart Stevenson: Let me briefly make a couple of serious points about this important bill, which we are happy to support as a move forward in primary health care in Scotland. We think that there will be more difficulties in bringing the out-of-hours proposals home in rural areas than has perhaps been realised by health boards, by GPs and their representatives or by ministers. We would be delighted to hear that the ministers have done sufficient research to be absolutely sure that the new system can be brought in according to their proposed timetable.

Many years ago, my father had enormous difficulties as a single-handed rural GP in providing 24-hour-a-day cover, in a much simpler world than that in which GPs now operate. We want to hear a little bit more about whether, in this modern, complex world, we really have a fighting chance of achieving that.

We must now move on with an agenda for change minimum for pay for other workers in primary health care, because the issue is not just about GPs. No longer is it the GP and the GP alone who delivers primary health care.

I shall close with one final word to the SSP members, to illustrate how they fail—

Tommy Sheridan: Obsession!

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, absolutely, and we are on the case. I want to illustrate how little the SSP members understand. Curiously enough, the effect of taking the out-of-hours cover away from GPs and putting it in the hands of the health board is likely, on balance, to be a reduction rather than an increase in the amount of primary health care that is provided by private contractors, because I am sure that salaried doctors will have to form part of that provision. I leave that thought with the minister.

We will support the bill and, of course, our amendment, which will improve the motion that the minister has lodged.


11 December 2003

S2M-718 Public Services

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-718, in the name of David McLetchie, on the reform of public services, and three amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have been rereading Peter Ustinov's biography, "Dear Me", in which he writes that one of the greatest temptations that Alexander Solzhenitsyn faced when he was exiled to the west was the thought that he would be listened to. I will save the Tories from temptation, as listening to them is not on my agenda.

Carolyn Leckie: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: No, because I have only three minutes for my speech.

Disintermediation is the Tory policy. As the Tories say, that means developing the private sector to bring more interests to bear on the public sector, such as shareholders, proprietors and other people who have to be paid off and whose interests must be taken account of in providing public services. That is hardly in the interests of the people who receive services.

Mr Davidson rose—

Stewart Stevenson: As I have three minutes, there is no chance of interventions.

The Tories have hard questions to face as they sum up the debate, which I might encapsulate in the Colonsay-or-Corstorphine argument. If we are to have passports for teaching and health services, will the cost of providing a pupil place on Colonsay be the same as that in Corstorphine? It certainly will not be. Will the ambulance that goes to Colonsay, which is likely to be a helicopter, have the same funding as the ambulance that takes someone from Corstorphine? The Tories have fundamentally failed to link choice and value—two words that they use in their motion. Providing choice is fair enough, but it does not lead ineluctably to value.

I have a value—it is 48 guineas—because I was born before the national health service was established and I have the bill that my mother had to pay to bring me into this world. The debate continues about whether that was overpriced or underpriced but, be that as it may, there is little debate about the price of adopting the Tory philosophy.

The Tories talk much of queues. I am a mathematician—that is something of which members have heard a little lately. Is it not ironic that the mathematical theory that relates to the manipulation and management of queues is called the Monte Carlo theory? The Tories would make us subject to the dictates of the roulette wheel. Their proposals and ideas have been comprehensively rejected in the past and will be again at 5 o'clock.


10 December 2003

S2M-715 Fisheries

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-715, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries 2004, and on three amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

"One of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do was to stand up ... on 19 December last year, six days before Christmas, and face more than 100 skippers and crew members. I had to try and explain the bad, corrupt and downright deceitful deal foisted on them by people in Brussels. It was a vicious deal, and they were its victims. They were staring ruin in the face—that is the human cost of the decisions taken last year. I do not believe for one second that Franz Fischler could have been a party to that deal if he had had to stand where I had to stand on that day. That is why I say that the remoteness of Brussels in respect of fishing cannot be overstated."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 2003; Vol 415, c 1024.]

Those were not my words but the words that Mr Alistair Carmichael used in the debate at Westminster last night. He was speaking about the speech that he made in the Lerwick mission hall, but every member in this chamber who has any connection with the fishing industry could have articulated well the angst, difficulty and pain that they experience when faced with the impossible task of explaining to fishermen why they are treated as they are.

The minister said that there are signs of stock recovery and quoted ICES as stating that fishing for white fish other than cod would be okay if—and only if—there were negligible or zero cod bycatch. The good news is that John Rutherford, the chief executive of the Sea Fish Industry Authority, told the Westminster cross-party fisheries group that haddock can be caught with under 3 per cent bycatch. In the past week, Eric Crockart, of BBC Aberdeen, braved the elements and went out on a trawler and filmed precisely that happening. The nets were cast and drawn: nae cod, plenty of haddock.

Ross Finnie: Would Stewart Stevenson agree that, at the pre-debate briefing, John Rutherford told MPs that the process was still very much in the preliminary stages?

Stewart Stevenson: I entirely agree that that is the case. However, when Napoleon said to his generals as he marched through Europe that he needed trees to shade his soldiers from the sun and was told that it would take 30 years before the trees were high enough, he said, "There is no time to waste." I say to the minister that there is no time to waste in this regard, either. It is a matter of urgency that we proceed with matters relating to cod.

The industrial fisheries, which are essentially untouched in their operation by the proposals, have a bycatch of cod of 5 per cent—nearly double the bycatch that we are now seeing in the experiments in relation to haddock.

In the debate in Westminster yesterday, Mr Bradshaw was generous enough to say:

"I shall be happy to take with me that extremely useful piece of information from the all-party fisheries group".—Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 2003; Vol 415, c 984.]

He was, of course, referring to that piece of information from John Rutherford that I mentioned earlier. I hope that Mr Bradshaw will have Mr Finnie's full and unequivocal support as he pursues the interests of the haddock fishery in Scotland.

Phil Gallie said that he was worried about the falling price of nephrops and I have to say that his colleague Nanette Milne was somewhat foxed by a timely and useful intervention from the leader of the Green party. The issue is that we are landing more nephrops and, because the market does not have the capacity to absorb them, prices have fallen. We warned that that sort of thing could happen. The diversion of effort away from certain fisheries has inevitable consequences, of which the falling price of nephrops is one.

Referring to today's debate and previous debates on this matter, Robin Harper said that this kind of politics is what harms our interests. I say to him that the pork-barrel politics that allow Austria and other non-fishing nations to trade their fishing votes against their other interests are why those nations that have a direct interest in fishing have to retain control of fishing.

Des McNulty: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time, but I will speak about Des McNulty so that he does not feel left out. He made the quite proper link between the devastation in Clydebank from industrial closures and what can happen in areas that are dependent on fishing. However, he seemed not to have read what ICES had to say about the state of haddock stocks. Its graphs and other information show that there has been a steady rise over a number of years. His suggestion that people should not buy Scottish haddock was quite disgraceful.

Out of courtesy, I shall confirm for Jamie McGrigor that the SNP—along with everyone in the chamber—sends its best wishes to Hugh Allan.

Richard Baker equated withdrawing from the CFP with a North sea free-for-all. On the contrary, it would put the North sea nations on their mettle to negotiate and work together.

We welcome the minister's confirmation that 2001 will be the baseline for future negotiations. He should stick to that, as it is vital to the Scottish interest. We can support the motion, although we believe that it would be improved by adding our amendment.

I want colleagues to beware. The Tories are using their policy as a stalking horse for their broader anti-European agenda, and we should not forget that. [Interruption.]

All right, minister—a stalking cart-horse. For our part, we oppose the CFP as a means to restore EU credibility and remove fishing as an area of contention and as something that does down the reputation of the EU. I am happy to support our amendment.


03 December 2003

S2M-685 Legal Advice, Information and Representation

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-685, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on modernising access to legal advice, information and representation, and on two amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The legal aid system

"must be affordable, as far as the public purse is concerned; it must give access to justice to those who need it; and it must provide high-quality legal services. Those requirements seem obvious, but in practice, they often produce a tension. Our purpose is to try to achieve a balance ... On the other hand, there is a legitimate requirement to give proper access to justice wherever that is required, although ... we do not always achieve that. The perception is that the only people who can afford to be involved in the courts or in any legal action are the very poor and the very rich."

I say to Patrick Harvie that the Executive has said that it

"would consider the business of collective action by representative bodies such as community councils. There are many occasions on which an injustice arises because legal aid is not available to such organisations ... We need joined-up legal services and a proper, strategic approach ... we have never had that".—[Official Report, 13 March 2002, c 10194-95.]

I was delighted to see Gordon Jackson here—although he has just departed. His words are always informed. That is why almost every word that I have said up to now has been from his speech on this subject on 13 March 2002—20 months ago. Unlike on 15 November 2001, when he croaked, "My voice has gone," I was looking forward with some anticipation to hearing his first speech in this session of the Parliament.

I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, which shows, of course, that I am not a lawyer, which is perhaps unusual for someone who is taking part in this afternoon's debate. Nevertheless, many of my constituents arrive at my surgeries in the hope that I will give them legal advice. I share my extremely limited legal experience with them—much of it is saloon-bar gossip, which is probably not worth very much—but I am always careful to tell them not to rely on my advice, but to consult a lawyer or go to our citizens advice bureau, which is excellent.

However, in my constituency, people can be an hour and a half's drive away from the single citizens advice bureau that operates; they can even be out of reach of it by bus.

What all those people share with me is a concern about costs; they are especially concerned about having to give up cases because of runaway costs. The lawyer on my right—Christine Grahame—has whispered in my ear that it is possible to obtain interim costings and to find out how costs are developing. That is fine; it tells someone that they are going to have to stop because they cannae afford to go on. However, the reality is that, once one has started a legal action, to stop it might weaken one's position—one can end up in a much weaker position than one would have been in if one had never taken action in the first place.

Miss Goldie: I have an important point of information. I have tried to resist the temptation to defend the legal profession against charges, but I must say that no responsible lawyer would ever advise a client to embark on litigation without first obtaining the fullest explanation of what the foreseeable costs could be and discussing with the client how those costs could be met. We do a disservice to responsible lawyers if we create the impression that that is not the case.

Stewart Stevenson: I accept entirely what Miss Goldie says and I thank her for what was a valuable and useful point. However, in a contested case, the costs are not wholly under the control of my constituent's lawyer, for example. When fighting a well-funded opponent—whether in the criminal system, where the state is extremely well funded, or in the civil system, where one might be fighting a very large company—there will come a point at which the anticipated costs, on which the lawyer has provided perfectly proper advice, are exceeded.

So far, the Tories have told us absolutely nothing about automatic release of prisoners, proper accountability in our police forces and public confidence in the criminal justice system, even though those matters are so important that they had to be included in the Tories' amendment. In those circumstances, I cannot see how even the Tories can vote for the amendment and I am sure that, if they do, they will be entirely alone.

In his summing up, I ask the minister to assure us that he does not agree with his Westminster colleague Mr Leslie, who said yesterday, in a written answer on legal aid in England:

"We ... have to live within our financial allocation".—[Official Report, House of Commons, 2 December 2003; Vol 415, c 26W.]

That makes it sound as if there is an end to a demand-led system down south. We would resist that here and we want to hear that we will not be following colleagues in the south.


27 November 2003

S2M-661 Physical Activity: The Need for Improvement and the Cost of Failure

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-661, in the name of Tom McCabe, on physical activity: the need for improvement and the cost of failure. There are two amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by doing something that I am slightly surprised has not been done before now: congratulating and thanking John Beattie and the task force, who have undertaken their activity without being paid for it. That activity is an excellent example of the way in which people who have been involved in sport can contribute to success in further generations' participation in it. I am sure that I will not be alone in saying that.

As a bairn, I was probably less sporty than even Duncan McNeil, because I was one of three asthmatics in my class in secondary school. That rather restricted my choice of physical activity and sport, so I played rugby rather than football. Members might ask themselves why I did that.

The reality is that, until the rules were changed bit by bit over 30 years to make rugby a sport that can really only be played by athletes, it was a game that could enable people of all levels of fitness—or lack of fitness—to participate, and I was certainly at the back of the queue for fitness. Scrum halves were small and slippery, wingers were fitness gods, and fullbacks were extremely mentally healthy so that they could avoid the intimidation of a tonne of opponents rapidly bearing down on them. I do not encourage the minister to make any undue reference in his closing speech to what I am about to say: I have a corrugated set of shins from playing in the front row of the scrum at school at, of course, loosehead prop. It says something about the standard of rugby at my school that our first rugby international, Dave Rollo, played football all the time that he was there.

There is an important point in all this: sport has increasingly become a professional activity that we watch rather than participate in. I regret that deeply, because, from my point of view, sport is what we do and entertainment is what we watch, and many of the professional teams that are active in Scotland seem to be disconnected from the feeder systems of people like me, of little fitness and less ability, who could nonetheless participate at the bottom end of an escalator that went up to international representation.

I want to address, on a purely factual basis, the answer to question S2W-3680 that Mr McAveety gave me earlier this month. I am slightly concerned by the data in the minister's answer, which will be the basis for testing his success in moving forward on this issue. The answer suggests that one third of our population is involved in walking 2 or more miles. I would love to believe that, but the samples that I have taken do not suggest that the figure is borne out. The written answer indicates that 21 per cent of people are involved in swimming, 10 per cent of people play football and 10 per cent of people cycle. Is there a robust methodology underlying the statistics, by which the minister will measure his future success or that will enable him to understand that he needs to make more effort? It is vital that sport is supported and that all people can participate in physical activity.

Earlier Sylvia Jackson intervened on the issue of PPP. On 16 May 2003, the Bo'ness Journal reported that a PPP school sought to charge £1,200 for an over-30s football tournament. That compares with the local council's rate of £7.25 per hour. Undoubtedly, there are a number of instances of the structure of the PPP contracts into which local authorities have entered inhibiting community access to facilities.

Dr Jackson: The member will agree—I think that he has done so by allowing me to intervene—that his comments apply only to some cases. We have learned from earlier PPPs and have improved on the situation. Balfron High School is a model of what should happen in relation to sport.

Stewart Stevenson: I accept that there are cases in which PPP works, but I know of many more instances in which it does not. There are much more recent examples of PPPs in my constituency where the community does not get access to facilities.

What are people's reasons for not participating in physical activity, whether as part of their normal day-to-day life or as sport? People say that they do not have time. In reality, we all have time, but we choose how to use it. The first step in getting those whose level of physical activity is far too low to step up to the mark is to persuade them of the importance of such activity.

People also say that they do not have the equipment. Members have talked about recycling bicycles. In the north-east, we are slightly less generous and recycle them inside our community. My bicycle, which I bought at the Whitehills church group held in Gatt's net store in Inverboyndie, cost £5. I had a choice of 20 bicycles at that price, all of which were sold. When the tyres finally wear out, I will buy another bike rather than fix it. We can recycle our bikes.

There are financial issues that act as barriers to physical activity. The Princess Royal sports club in Banff is also a community club that runs a very successful programme of going out to older people in residential homes to help them to take exercise. The club does not get paid for that and cannot keep doing it for ever. It has great difficulty getting the funding to make the programme work. We need to address such issues.

It is essential that exposure to risk is part of young people's growing up. Sport has been restricted to such an extent that people are no longer exposed to risk. We do not sledge in school or run in the playground. I refer members to Andy Nicoll's excellent column in today's The Sun—in particular, I commend the attached cartoon. Andy Nicoll says:

"I'd like to get down the stairs and cross the road to watch"

the debate on physical activity

"but somehow I find I just can't get out of this comfy chair."

Let us hope that he is in a minority.


26 November 2003

S2M-553 European Parliament (Number of Seats)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-553, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the European Parliament seat numbers.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the reduction of UK seats in the European Parliament from 87 to 78 to accommodate enlargement of the EU; welcomes the accession of 10 new countries in 2004; believes, however, that Scotland, with no seat on the Council of Europe, no Commissioners and fewer MEPs than comparably-sized independent member states, has little enough influence in the EU, and therefore believes that the Scottish Executive should resist the reduction in Scotland's MEPs from eight to seven.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Electoral Commission's findings are interesting. A key part of the formula is that the minimum number of representatives of a region must be three. One implication of that is that Northern Ireland, which currently has three members, will continue to have three members. I entirely support that, based on the special and distinctive needs of Northern Ireland. Indeed, I wish all the people of that part of these islands all the best in today's elections.

The Electoral Commission's findings are fair enough, given the rules. However, they ignore the basic fact that Scotland has a Parliament that has considerable powers. Scotland has a legal system and it adopts European law. Without representation at the top table, we are stymied. However, and even more important, we are unable even with today's eight members to cover all the committees of the European Parliament. If we had 14 members—as we would if we were an independent country—we would have leverage in the practical workings of the European Parliament, which we need to represent Scotland's interests and its separate legal and legislative environment.

Irene Oldfather: To follow that comment to its logical conclusion, is Mr Stevenson suggesting that we expand our membership? If we do that for Scotland, for how many other legislative Parliaments across Europe would we do it? We would end up exactly where we were—which we have all agreed is unworkable.

Stewart Stevenson: I am very happy that other countries that are incorporated in unions, as we are, should fight their corner. I am sure that they will do so very effectively.

The United Kingdom Government says that it represents our interests and it says that we are stronger in a delegation of 78—as the delegation will be—than we would be in a delegation of 14. There is something interesting about that particular argument; the assumption behind it appears to be that the 14 Scottish MEPs would on each and every occasion perversely take a different line from the MEPs from the other countries of the United Kingdom. In reality—with much shared heritage, and some shared geography—we would very often be fighting together for the same things. The UK would benefit, just as Scotland would benefit, from an independent Scotland. That said, very often Scotland's interests do, in fact, diverge from those of the UK. Our priorities are often different.

I represent Banff and Buchan, so I turn inevitably to fishing. The Irish have one member of the European Parliament for every 260,000 of their population. We would have one for every 625,000. It is no wonder that the Irish do relatively well in negotiations in the European Parliament and that they have people from their civil service and their political classes embedded at the highest level in the councils of Europe.

Phil Gallie: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I do not have time.

We have a choice. Can we benefit Scotland by going independent and having 14 members? Because of the greater strength, those 14 members would often collaborate with the members from the rest of the United Kingdom, to the benefit of all. However, when our policies and requirements diverged from those of the UK members, we would build our own alliances with the small successful nations across Europe. I am happy to support my colleague's motion.


S2M-603 Scottish Parliament Founding Principles

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-603, in the name of Iain Smith, on the previous Procedures Committee's report on the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Two weeks ago, Rosie Cunningham apologised for not being me—strange but true. Today, I apologise for not being Fiona Hyslop. She was going to open this debate but, unfortunately, the virus has caught up with her. In the interests of everyone here, she decided not to share it. I also apologise for the fact that I will be withdrawing from the chamber in about an hour's time. I have a previously arranged meeting with a minister.

The report before us is an exceptionally substantial piece of work. Representing, as it does, three years of effort, it predates my arrival in the Parliament in June 2001. I have therefore seen only part of the evolution of the report.

One thing that impresses anyone who picks up and reads the report is the quite exceptional number and variety of people—across the width of civic society and society generally—who have given their views on this subject to the Parliament. On that basis alone, we must consider what they have said extremely seriously. I will look in a little bit of detail at some of that evidence, and make some observations on it.

Praise of this Parliament from outside this Parliament is a pretty rare commodity. Were it to be too common, it would merely confirm us in our ways. Praise does not actually change anything. Criticism, on the other hand, should make us step outside our daily patterns of behaviour and force us to re-examine what we achieve and whether, in what we do in the Parliament, we support or inhibit the institution's founding principles.

Let me start with a mild word or two of criticism. When she was reading the response of the conveners of our committees, Fiona Hyslop found something that she wished to say. I will say at once that the conveners have an extremely tough job; one has only to ask any of them who have had me on their committee to confirm that. During my two and a half years in the Parliament, I have visited seven—or possibly six—committees and I have been very much taken by their general willingness to be driven by evidence at the expense of dogma. However, we have yet to reach nirvana—the standard of perfection that we wish to achieve.

The Conveners Group's response to the Procedures Committee's report was a little disappointing in its tone and content. The conveners might choose to reconsider their response to the report and to pick from the report those things that have most bearing on their activities.

Recommendation 106 attracted all-party support. It asked for increased powers over our internal processes. In the previous session of Parliament, our inability to increase the number of Presiding Officers, even temporarily, created a substantial increase in work load for the two remaining Presiding Officers when their colleague was unavailable for a period of time. This morning, the Queen's speech to the Westminster Parliaments has made it clear that the Scotland Act 1998 will be opened up to allow one part of it to be changed. Westminster ought to be able to respond to a request from the Scottish Parliament to make the non-contentious and widely supported changes that recommendation 106 proposes.

I will turn to some of the evidence that was put before the Procedures Committee as it drew up its report—in particular, to the evidence that was taken at the three public meetings, which were held in Hawick, Paisley and Ullapool. It was important that the committee went out to meet people in wider Scotland face to face—people whom they would have been unlikely to have heard from through other mechanisms.

I commend my colleague Bruce Crawford, because he has carried the concept of meeting the public to even greater excesses and has suffered great pain in the course of doing so, by going as far as the Netherlands with members of the public to hear their views on how the Parliament operates.

Mr Brian Monteith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): I thank the member for giving way. Will he tell me whether Mr Crawford's consultation was as successful as the rest of his trip?

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that the consultation was the only part of his trip that gave him any enjoyment whatsoever. His wife, his bank manager and his family shared his pain—his excuse was that he took one of his offspring with him.

I will return to the subject at hand—engagement with the public. In Hawick, there was widespread approval for the Parliament coming out and speaking to the people, because it was felt that that would reverse apathy. In Paisley, on the other hand, we heard that answers to parliamentary questions were often obfuscating. I ask the Executive to please listen to the public, even if it often does not listen to some of us members who share the same views.

A more difficult point was raised in Ullapool, where it was observed that, on issues such as genetically modified crops and fish farming, the Executive has appeared to ignore the Parliament's view. I will not make a political point by developing an argument along those lines. There is a genuine difficulty, in that in promoting policy positions it is of course not always possible to please everyone. Perhaps we must communicate better on how we do that.

Other points that arose include the insufficient time that is given for responding to consultations and concerns about subordinate legislation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have one minute.

Stewart Stevenson: In my final minute, I want to address recommendation 48, in which the committee expresses a desire that further research should be done on Sewel motions. I suggest that the research should consider whether the frequency of such motions is appropriate. My position and that of my colleagues is well enough known for me not to rehearse it. More to the point, the research should also examine whether Sewel motions are effective in delivering faster legislation and better law. The recent development whereby committees consider Sewel motions is a substantial improvement and I welcome it.

We have experimented with subject debates. My personal view is that the matter is a clear not proven, so they are perhaps not a good idea at all.

In closing, let me say that I think that it is better for us to aim for perfection in our processes and to fail, than to aim for failure and succeed. I commend the report to those members present.


20 November 2003

S2M-625 Poverty in Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on S2M-625, in the name of Carolyn Leckie, on poverty in Scotland, and three amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): There is a shared belief in the Parliament—perhaps with the exception of the Conservatives—about the importance of tackling poverty, and I congratulate the SSP on using its first debate in the parliamentary session to raise that important subject. However, although the SNP shares an analysis with the SSP, we share little in our solutions. My colleagues will develop the SNP's approach to solving poverty; I will focus on the SSP.

I will quote from Tommy's Trots' manifesto for the election in May this year:

"The election of a group of Scottish Socialist MSPs would electrify Scottish politics. It would ignite a bonfire of debate about the future of Scotland and the feasibility of socialism."

We got the group, we are 203 days on, and we have our first SSP debates, but Guy Fawkes night has been the only bonfire. The SSP's participation record has been woeful. Rosie Kane promised us mayhem and madness, but she has been at just over half the meetings of Parliament and at only one of the eight meetings of the Local Government and Transport Committee. She has spoken fewer than 5,000 words since becoming an MSP, and the cost of those words is £5.59 per word.

Carolyn Leckie: I do not know which disgraceful remark I will address first. Stewart Stevenson ought to check with members before he makes personal remarks about them. That is all that I will say on that, but I have a question about "Tommy's Trots": will Stewart Stevenson explain to me what a "Trot" is, because I do not know?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that it was Corporal Jones who said:

"They don't like it up 'em".

The cost of every word that Rosie Kane has spoken in Parliament is £5.59, and here are some of the subjects that she does not think are important: police pensions, bus services and taxis for disabled people.

Carolyn Leckie: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Rule 7.3 of the standing orders is about treating members with a bit of dignity and respect, but the personal remarks in Mr Stevenson's speech were outrageous.

The Presiding Officer: No—they are part of the normal rough and tumble of the debate.

Stewart Stevenson: I have in my hand the list of subjects that the committee has discussed and the attendance record. Rosie Kane does not think that local railway stations or taxis for disabled people are important.

Rosie Kane (Glasgow) (SSP): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: She did not even turn up to debate the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill—Tommy Sheridan had to turn up even though he is not a member of the committee.

Rosie Kane: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: The debate is not about Rosie—

Rosie Kane: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

The Presiding Officer: It is clear that Stewart Stevenson is not giving way.

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way.

Rosie Kane: Would Stewart Stevenson speak to me about a matter outside the chamber, please? [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Rosie Kane: What Stewart Stevenson has said is extremely personal, and I resent very much such personal attacks on me in what is supposed to be a debate about poverty. He clearly has a poverty of decency.

Stewart Stevenson: What I am saying is about the poverty of ambition and ideas in the SSP. Tommy Sheridan claimed that his policies were popular, practical, radical and deliverable, so I will talk about some of them. He would nationalise trains, buses and ferries. How much would that cost? We could have a free public transport system tomorrow for the money that nationalisation would cost. Constituents of mine would love to have public transport—they do not care about its ownership. What about rural areas? Would the introduction of £100 million of special road tolls for heavy goods vehicles help the poor in our rural areas?

Miss Leckie's motion proposes a minimum public sector wage of £7.50 and a working-week ceiling of 35 hours. She tells me that the 24,000 jobs that would thereby be created would be paid for by abolishing Scottish Enterprise and would cost £350 million, but page 11 of the SSP's manifesto says that it has already spent that £350 million in raising the public sector minimum wage. The actual cost would be £328 million, plus £120 million for additional costs, plus offices to accommodate 24,000 people, which would cost £750 million.

We have already spent £1 billion but have considered only two of the 200 commitments in Tommy Sheridan's manifesto. By the time we get to the bottom of it, we will find that we have doubled the spending in the Scottish budget and have hardly touched poverty.

A high-cost economy is an unfair economy. The evidence from high-cost economies everywhere is that they cause impoverishment of the masses. My colleagues and I will develop that subject. It is abundantly clear that Tommy Sheridan's people have yet to step up to the bar in the Parliament to make a meaningful contribution that will help the people of Scotland. Tommy's plans would damage our economy and would do nothing to ensure that more resources reached those who are in greatest need.

I move amendment S2M-625.2, to leave out from first "recognises" to end and insert:

"believes that the implementation of many of the proposals in the Scottish Socialist Party manifesto would only ensure that the unacceptable poverty of the poorest in our society would come to be shared by more of our citizens than at present."


S2M-543 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-543, in the name of Margaret Curran, on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, which is UK legislation, and one amendment to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank the minister for making herself available to the Communities Committee. The change in the way in which we deal with Sewel motions, whereby they go to committee, is a valuable change to parliamentary procedures. It was useful to hear from the minister; the committee successfully—and reasonably amicably—dealt with a number of issues that might have exercised the wider Parliament. The committee had scheduled 10 minutes for dealing with the matter, but I think that we took 50 minutes. At the end of the debate, we divided on whether we should report certain matters to the Parliament—five members voted against the proposal, three members voted in favour of it and there was one abstention. Those who did not support the proposal were from three different political parties; therefore, it is entirely right to bring some matters to the full Parliament for discussion.

First, I want to speak to Patrick Harvie's amendment, with which the SNP sympathises. We believe that it would be useful for the issues that are raised in the amendment to be discussed in Parliament so, on that basis, we will support his amendment at decision time. If the substantive motion remains unamended, we will abstain because we believe that it is more appropriate to have discussions on matters that affect Scots law and procedure in the Scottish Parliament than to have them elsewhere.

I want to turn to the matter that concerned me in the committee. We welcome what is happening with the bill at Westminster—the changes will be useful and we have no objection to them. The removal of Crown immunity in respect of the three planning acts is a useful move forward, albeit that there are reservations, which Patrick Harvie spoke about. However, we remain in a position whereby, if the Crown chooses not to obey the law, no criminal sanctions can be brought against it if there is such deviation from the law as it stands, although I accept that it is unlikely that that will happen in practice. The memorandum that we have been provided with states:

"The pivotal opening amendment makes it explicit that abolition of Crown immunity will mean that ... the Planning Acts will bind the Crown."

I am somewhat perplexed as to how that can be true in a strict legal sense if the Crown cannot be prosecuted for failing to consider itself to be actually bound by what is happening.

At the root of the matter is the fact that we are starting to strip away some of the constitutional nonsense that straitjackets the Scottish Parliament, this country and indeed our colleagues south of the border, which includes the convention that the Crown cannot prosecute the Crown. My SNP colleagues and I think that it would be useful if Parliament could discuss the proper structure and form of a legal system in the 21st century as part of a wider-ranging discussion about the removal of Crown immunity in relation to planning. After all, in my view—and I suspect in the view of a great majority of people in Scotland—prosecution really takes place in the name of the citizens of Scotland. The Crown is merely a mechanism that dates from many hundreds of years ago and it is a convention whose time has passed.

In making that point, I say nothing whatever about the person of the Crown, but of the use of that person's title for a purpose that is far removed from the individual who, pro tem, happens to be the wearer of the crown.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber) (SNP): What about the heir?

Stewart Stevenson: We will not give airtime to that matter.

On the ability of the Lord Advocate to appoint a special advocate, the Ministry of Defence is the real problem where sensitive matters are concerned. We share such concern—we are in the era of open government and we disadvantage our citizens if we do not treat all information in an open and accountable way.

I have great pleasure in supporting Patrick Harvie's amendment and in saying that we shall abstain on the substantive motion, if it is unamended.


12 November 2003

S2M-544 Terrestrial TV Channels (Rural Areas)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-544, in the name of John Farquhar Munro, on access to terrestrial TV channels in rural areas. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that residents in parts of the Highlands and Islands do not receive independent terrestrial TV channels unless they purchase an encryption card from BSkyB on a regular basis; further notes with concern that access to terrestrial channels in those communities with analogue relay systems will be removed when the analogue signal is switched off in 2010; believes that TV licence payers should not have to pay more because of their geographical location, and considers that Her Majesty's Government should take action to ensure that all UK TV licence payers have unrestricted access to terrestrial TV channels.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It strikes me as ironic that David Torrance's excellent programme, which we see on Grampian Television on Thursday night and which will undoubtedly cover this debate, is least likely to be seen in rural areas of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, where coverage is extremely patchy, unless people are prepared to pay Sky Television for the privilege of seeing it.

As parliamentarians, we are privy to, and indulge in, certain privileges, sad people that we sometimes are. Last night—down here, of course—I watched on digital television the adjournment debate in another place 400 miles south of here, on the subject of fishing, which David Mundell's colleague Ann Winterton initiated. On the other hand, I suppose that my constituents and others were spared watching the incompetent response of Ben Bradshaw, who masquerades as a fisheries minister in that other place.

The issue is not only about paying for satellite coverage, because there are certain places in Scotland where satellite coverage is not possible. In the village of Pennan in my constituency, which is a conservation village, satellite dishes are not permitted. In Gamrie, as in Pennan, there is an additional technical problem: the cliff to the south rises too steeply to allow for the 43° declination. I say that to add further confusion for Maureen Macmillan. What the problem boils down to is that they cannae see the satellite because of the cliff.

Maureen Macmillan: Will the member also explain the term "spectrum" to me?

Stewart Stevenson: Twenty years ago, it was a computer, but nowadays it is where the signal comes through the ether. Just as we have the different colours in the spectrum of the rainbow, we have different notches in the radio spectrum.

In the north, we are further away from the satellites because they are over the equator, which means that our reception is diminished. The signal is also affected by the weather. Wet weather, which is not uncommon in the north, means that our signal quality declines. The technology used for digital television transmission and Freeview was designed for metropolitan transmission, which is one reason why ITV's ONdigital service was a flop. The content was pretty poor, but there were also technological problems. As David Mundell said, broadband could solve the problem, but it ain't going to.

Jeremy Purvis rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry. Unless the Presiding Officer says otherwise, I am running out of time.

We would need up to eight times the speed of the ADSL technology before broadband could deliver broadcast quality television. Although that speed is being rolled out in some cities and towns, rural areas are least likely to get it.

My constituency is remote—it covers eight communities with schools that fall within the Scottish Executive's definition of remote rural communities, which is a town with a population of fewer than 10,000 people that is more than 30 minutes' drive from a town with a population of more than 10,000 people. The issue covers the whole of Scotland.

One little ironic ray of hope is that Freeview digital television does not actually work very well in the south-east of England. That will energise people elsewhere to consider the issues of technology and of equity. Let us hope that the technology continues to exercise the minds of people in the south and that that gives the minister the opportunity to persuade the south that the north should be treated equitably. As technical solutions are developed to solve problems in the south, let us have investment to solve our problems. Equity is the name of the game. We subsidise health in Glasgow; let us be prepared to subsidise television in rural areas.


06 November 2003

S2M-560 Agriculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-560, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on the future of Scottish agriculture, and three amendments to that motion. Timing will have to be a bit more precise in this debate, because we are a minute or two behind the clock.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Mr Fergusson for those warm and unexpected words.

I would like to address the subject of scientists, politicians and the wider public. Scientists are objective. If they are not, they are not scientists. Their job is to inform the decisions that others make. Let us not pretend that the scientists make the decisions. Sometimes in this debate, it has seemed as if the scientists are making the decisions and we are simply to fall into line with them. Let us go back to basics: the scientists must inform the decisions that we make.

If the public are opposed to GM crops, they may express their opposition rationally or they may do so irrationally. Frankly, it disnae matter. We still have to take account of the public's view.

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I have only three minutes.

Of course, we have had genetic modification over thousands of years, in animals and in crops. That was done by using the natural processes of evolution but speeding them up, by denying a future to those animals and crops that were not heading the way that we wanted and by selecting and promoting those that were. Now, however, we are using technology that brings new risks. We see from the example of Dolly the sheep that the modification of genetic structures can create weaknesses in the resulting organism that have adverse effects. The same will undoubtedly be true of crops. We breach the cell wall to introduce viruses and genetic modifications, and doing that leaves a weakened structure. That is the source of some of the difficulties that we undoubtedly face.

We and the broader public have difficulties with the subject of risk. Statistically, how likely is it that something adverse will happen, and what will the impact be when it does? Is there a management plan for when that impact is too great? In this debate, there are huge issues around those questions. How would we manage a situation in which Scotland goes down the GM crop road and then concludes that doing so was the wrong answer? There is no such management plan—no one has come up with one. That is why, while the jury may be out on this particular debate, the burden of proof has to lie with the prosecution, and the case of those who prosecute the benefits of GM crops has not been made. We must not proceed.


S2M-559 Sustainable Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-559, in the name of Robin Harper, on sustainable Scotland, and three amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I can give a degree of latitude to Stewart Stevenson, who is closing for the Scottish National Party.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): That is a dangerous offer, Presiding Officer, but thank you for it anyway. I sometimes think that Jamie McGrigor knows what he is thinking only when he hears it and I sometimes wish that he would not share it with us quite so generously.

"Sustainable development is not an optional extra. Our social, economic and environmental ambitions are interlinked and we must work to deliver all three if we are going to deliver the quality of life we want for ourselves and for future generations."

I hope that those words are familiar to the minister, because they are, of course, his. I suspect that almost all members will find themselves agreeing with those words and I hope that the Greens will recognise that one of the legs on which sustainable development must stand is economic sustainability.

Personal experience always informs political debate and as I drive each week back home from Aberdeen to Peterhead and am treated to the rather unsightly view of four major tips—which not only service the local area but bring waste to Peterhead from all over Scotland, including from Inverness—the point of sustainability is reinforced: we must eliminate waste.

We have heard a number of interesting speeches. Robin Harper described the fishing industry as wanting economic growth at any cost. He needs to get out and speak to some fishermen, because they are desperate to have a sustainable industry and to ensure that the science that assesses the stocks in the sea is good so that their sons and their sons' sons have a future. It is the regulatory regime that has failed.

Ross Finnie said that the Executive had 78-plus commitments and that 70 per cent of the transport budget would be spent on public transport in the future. That is all very good, but I believe that there is a practical difficulty with that—and I am surprised that the convener of the Finance Committee, Des McNulty, did not bring it to our attention. There are 145 targets in the budget for 2004-05, but how many of them meaningfully address sustainable development? In my estimation—the minister can tell me otherwise—the answer is 10. Furthermore, they come under only three policy areas. Two of the targets come under the communities budget. Seven of the 17 environment and rural development targets could be included—well done, minister—whereas only one of the seven targets for tourism addresses sustainable development. The rhetoric does not necessarily translate into the budget and into the Executive's main targets. There is therefore much more work to do.

As Nora Radcliffe pointed out, sustainability is not an add-on. Even in the Parliament, there are some little, simple things that we do not do or that we do not do well. I was disappointed to discover, on returning to the Parliament for its second session, that, for some reason that I do not understand, we all had new personal computers on our desks. Why are we scrapping equipment after only four years' use? When I retired from my professional life in computers, we had a PC that we had been using for 20 years—we bought it in 1980 and were still using it when I retired in 1999, because it was still working and it still did the job for which it was bought. We do not need to be spending money in the Parliament on things that will last only four years if they actually have a lifespan of 10 years.

Patrick Harvie: Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is in the final minute of his speech.

Stewart Stevenson: Jamie McGrigor referred to forestry. I agreed with a lot of what he said, but his party's track record on sustainable forestry is not terribly impressive. Throughout Scotland can be seen banks of distressed and unmanaged forests, which were introduced for tax reasons. They are sub-economic: the value of harvesting the forests is less than its cost. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.

On renewable energy, we welcome support for wind farms, although we are cautious about the unmanaged way in which they are being developed. We have to make progress in that area but, in doing so, we are following the lead of many other European countries, rather than being a leader ourselves. Similarly, we are not doing enough on wave power, where we could be a leader. We could be selling our technology to the rest of the world. There is not a lot of economic benefit for us in wind power, but there is sustainable development benefit.

We have a choice between being leaders and followers. I say to the Executive that we need to be leaders and not—as is suggested under its current plans—followers.


30 October 2003

S2M-477 Integrated Rural Development

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a committee debate on motion S2M-477, in the name of Sarah Boyack, on the Rural Development Committee's report on integrated rural development.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I was deeply envious of the fact that the clock stopped two minutes and nine seconds into David Mundell's speech. If he tips me off about how that is done, there will be £5 waiting for him.

Alex Johnstone: If anyone has that information, I would pay them £10 for giving it to me and keeping it from Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: As usual, the Tories turn to the subjects of money and bribery.

It has been about a year since the Rural Development Committee did the bulk of its work for the report on integrated rural development. That brings to mind the old saying, "What a difference a day makes", which is of particular importance to the Tories today. Although an awful lot has changed in that time, my support for the report's recommendations has not changed. I congratulate the new Environment and Rural Development Committee for securing this debate on the report.

I want to challenge, firmly and substantially, a number of issues that relate to rurality and our countryside. Many members have referred to housing. Alex Johnstone's face lit up when he commended the move in the countryside away from tied housing towards ownership of housing. That is fair enough, but the trouble is that we now have a monoculture of owner-occupation, which is no more desirable in the countryside than was the monoculture of poorly managed council estates that used to exist in many Scottish cities.

Our economy is tied up in housing to an extent that inhibits our ability to invest in other activities, industries and enterprises. Developed countries throughout Europe do not have the same patterns of housing ownership. We must try to move towards greater diversity and greater availability in our housing patterns in towns and, especially, in the countryside. The fact that current patterns are a disincentive to the effective use of capital is not good for the countryside.

On education, one of the great difficulties with the increase in the number of young folks who are going on to take university and college degrees—more than 50 per cent of young people are now taking degrees, which is great—is that, to a large extent, people have to leave the countryside to do those courses. In due course, the university of the Highlands and Islands will make a contribution to offsetting that. However, that covers only one part of rural Scotland.

We have to find ways of ensuring that there are jobs in the countryside for those people, whom we train in urban settings and with urban skills, because so few of them return to the countryside. There are people with get up and go in the countryside, but the problem is that they are getting up and going. However, people with get up and go are also coming into many parts of the countryside.

I live in the parish of Ord in Banffshire, which is part of the administrative area of Aberdeenshire. Approximately half the children in our local school come from outwith the area. They bring energy and new ideas, and a welcome commitment to the community. We have to try to replicate that throughout Scotland.

Let me say a little bit about CAP reform. It is a good thing. Farmers are going to be rewarded for stewardship of the countryside. We are moving away from unreasonable reliance on production in farming. However, we have not yet addressed the wider issues for businesses in the countryside. What are the agricultural engineers going to do if the farmers produce less? The farmers are okay, but agricultural engineers are not protected. Other industries and businesses in the countryside will be radically affected by CAP reform, but we have not yet debated that.

My colleague Margaret Ewing referred to fishing, and members have heard me talk about it on previous occasions. We have not taken full account of the effects of the decline in the fishing industry in rural areas. The economists call them third-level effects, but I refer to them as the two-butchers-in-Strichen problem. Strichen, a town of 1,000 people, is 10 miles from the sea and has two butchers. Rather unusually, those butchers supply the fishing trawlers. Decline in the fishing industry means decline in some of our rural communities. By the same token, changes in CAP will have the same effect.

Tommy Sheridan referred to the need for the labelling of Scottish food. I support that but I would go much further. We have got to stop obeying the spirit of European regulations and start obeying the letter. That means that in public procurement, for example, we could say that crops have to be gathered no more than 48 hours prior to delivery to public services. That is a permitted way of ensuring that public services buy locally. We cannot say that we must buy Scottish produce, but we can work the system. Let us start to do that.

I end by saying something fundamental that will show where I differ from many of those who are not in the chamber or are not members for rural areas and who might have a different attitude to some of us. Scotland's countryside, not Scotland's cities, is the future of Scotland. In Scotland's cities there are diseconomies of scale. Mass transportation is necessary to offset those diseconomies of scale—the time taken to travel to work causes loss of productivity. We have to subsidise our cities to make them work at all.

Our countryside is the lungs of Scotland, converting the carbon dioxide that is a result of human endeavour in our cities. It is also where people will look to discharge the stress of city living. If we do not support our rural areas, we will lose our cities as well.


29 October 2003

S2M-192 Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-192, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the general principles of the Primary Medical Services (Scotland) Bill, and one amendment to the motion.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This is an interesting and important debate, which has raised a number of issues.
Donald Gorrie suggested that we should be cautious about a 48-hour target for a patient first being seen. If my memory serves me right, target 6 in the draft health and community care budget for 2004-05 commits the Executive to providing 48-hour access to a GP, nurse or other health care professional. I say that from memory; the Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care can correct me if I have got the data wrong.
One of the things that that commitment does not appear to do is provide access to dentists; however that is an issue not for today but for another occasion. The Minister for Health and Community Care may be sure that it is one to which I and other members in the chamber will return—will we not, Mr Rumbles?
John Farquhar Munro spoke eloquently about the issues in rural areas. The opt-outs cover from 6.30 in the evening until 8.00 in the morning, weekends, bank holidays and public holidays. However, what are bank holidays? By and large, the banks do not observe the legally defined Scottish bank holidays any more, so which dates are we talking about? Only two public holidays are nationally recognised in Scotland—does the opt-out also apply to local public holidays? There are lots of little ambiguities.
Perhaps the real issue is that in rural areas throughout Scotland there are more than 100 incentivised GP practices that have particular problems and for whom the opt-out may not be available. Another issue is that if we are allowing practices that have access to the opt-out to stabilise their work load and take some of the distress out of the job for GPs—stress is good, but distress is bad—do we not leave rural GPs still having difficulties in arranging holidays, for example, because it is difficult to find and pay for locums?
The worthy proposals that are before us today may exacerbate the differentiation between the quality of life of rural GPs and that of urban GPs, but the answer is not just to provide more money for rural GPs and their practices. I am given to understand that around 300 people now practise as locums in Edinburgh, because they can make more money doing so and can be more in control of their work load. Is the NHS to follow the path that has afflicted nursing? The NHS is in the precarious situation of relying increasingly on expensive bank nurses. Will we see bank GPs?
On the basis that we should welcome any measure that will shrink the differentials between GPs in England and Scotland, we welcome the bill. I am not quite sure what David Davidson was saying when, seven minutes and 15 seconds into his speech he said that he did not like to be in the culture of making anything work. That simply confirms what we knew about the Tories' attitude to the NHS. We will have to read the Official Report of the meeting, but I think that David Davidson will find that that is what he said.
We have had some discussion and further illumination of the distinction between essential, additional and enhanced services, which is welcome. Paragraph 2.9(vi) of the NHS Confederation's document "Investing in General Practice: The New General Medical Services Contract" mentions the "cryocautery of warts"—which means burning them off—as an additional service. If that service is additional, not all GPs will necessarily provide it, so perhaps we should reconsider those definitions. My GP father used just to hand me the necessary instrument and I burned my warts off, although I am scarred as a result. The world has changed a little since then. Amusingly, under the heading "Influenza immunisations", that document also says that "Informed dissent will apply." I look forward to finding out what that means.
Carolyn Leckie's intervention was rather ill judged. There is no question but that all members of the Parliament extend our sympathy to her in her personal circumstances, but we cannot excuse the disengagement of her party from the process of the bill. I say to her: engage or be ignored and marginalised.
I have counted 39 instances of the word "may" in the bill, but only 13 instances of the word "must"—the debate has been tedious at times. An important point about secondary legislation underlies that comment. Normally, when a committee considers at stage 2 a bill that is of importance to people in Scotland, we would expect all members of that committee, and people beyond the committee, to lodge amendments that seek to improve and enhance the bill. The Executive has a good record of responding to sensible amendments from all parties. To move the essence of the bill into secondary legislation denies parties the opportunity to lodge such amendments—we can say only yes or no. That point is not only for the Health Committee and this bill; it is a general one for Parliament.
The SNP is happy to support the bill's general principles and we wish it good speed.

08 October 2003

S2M-291 Auxiliary Fire Units (Highlands)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-291, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on auxiliary fire units in the Highlands. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes that auxiliary fire units play a vital role in many rural communities in fighting fires and do so in conjunction with the retained fire brigades; notes with concern that, following a report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Fire Services (HMI), 32 auxiliary units face possible closure; further notes that the new approach of integrated risk assessment should permit the preservation of as many as possible of these auxiliary units; considers that the Scottish Executive should explicitly endorse the need for such units and acknowledge the essential role that they play in protecting human life and property; believes that, if the recommendations of the HMI report are not carefully considered and auxiliary units are forced to close because of the proposed introduction of compulsory access to breathing apparatus within a short timescale, then human life and property may be placed at risk; believes that all involved, including Highland Council, the Firemaster, HMI and the Health and Safety Executive, should continue to discuss the implications of the HMI report in the context of integrated risk assessment and find an outcome that prevents the closure of so many of the auxiliary units.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In the main, my remarks will address the conclusions of the "Report of the Principal Inspection of Highland and Islands Fire Brigade 2002". Paragraph 4 states:
"Overall, it is assessed that the service provided is, with the exception of fire cover in some areas, satisfactory".
That is a pretty good start, but some things in the report need to be examined slightly more deeply.
Page 5 shows that the number of incidents per firefighter in the Highlands and Islands seems to be about four, whereas for the busiest Scottish brigade, the number is running at more than 20 per firefighter. However, as the majority of firemen in the Highlands and Islands are part-time auxiliaries, the number that should be considered is the number of fire incidents per hour of duty. I suspect that if the issue was examined in that way and on a comparable basis, the answer would be very different.
If we turn to page 12 of the report, we see that
"Overall performance by part-time staff remains high, with the availability being indicated at 99.1%."
If we translate that into what it would mean for a full-time person, we find that it is equivalent to their having no more than two days off per year. What is the Scottish Executive's performance in that regard? I can tell the minister that the average amount of sickness per employee in the Scottish Executive is at least twice that figure. Part-time firemen in the Highlands and Islands are in fact doing better than the people who service the Executive directly here in Edinburgh. That bespeaks the commitment and determination of part-time firemen in the Highlands and Islands.
On page 15, the inspectorate talks about "small garden sheds". Those sheds often offer good strategic locations within the board's operational area. When the inspector comes up with the list of locations that should be retained, he points out that cover in the Highlands and Islands is 10 times as great as that for the UK as a whole and just under five times as great as that for Scotland. Of course, population density in the Highlands and Islands is substantially less than the figure for Scotland. More to the point, the Highlands and Islands fire brigade area has a fluctuating population. The area rightly continues to be popular with visitors from across the world and across Scotland. In summer, the population rises dramatically, thus shrinking the comparator that is used by the inspector.
Page 35 of the Executive's document on proposals for legislation states:
"The primary objective ... is to create a fire service more responsive to locally identified needs".
Fergus Ewing said in his opening remarks that Highlands and Islands is the size of Belgium. If the minister closes 32 stations, we might have to send for Tintin to help the communities thus deprived of their fire service.

02 October 2003

Subject Debate: Antisocial Behaviour

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business is a debate on antisocial behaviour, which will be concluded without any question being put.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The minister asked why we think that the Executive is trying to stigmatise children. There are 72 pages in "Putting Our communities first: A Strategy for tackling Anti-Social Behaviour", but we need to read only the 21 bullet points on the first three pages to find 12 direct or indirect references to children's being the source of the problem. No other issue approaches that level of comment and that is why we think that the Executive is picking on our youngsters and why we will attack it for doing so. The problem ain't that simple.
Rhona Brankin: Is the member aware of statistics that show who the main victims of crime are?
Stewart Stevenson: The main victims of crime are young people.
Rhona Brankin: And who are the perpetrators of that crime?
Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for making clear the fact that the problem is not just to do with children. Children are victims; they are also a cause of crime, but not the extent that we should pick on them as "Putting Our Communities First" does.
I pose the question, "What is antisocial behaviour?" because that theme has run through the debate. In response to Paul Martin, I accept that the minister's evidence was correct when she outlined many examples of antisocial behaviour and I accept unreservedly that the experiences that she described are valid, that the behaviour to which she and Paul Martin referred is antisocial and that we need to fix the problem. Section 19(1)(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines antisocial conduct as that which
"caused or is likely to cause alarm or distress ... to one or more persons not of the same household".
We face difficulties if we begin to compile lists of what we think are examples of antisocial behaviour. When we try to define the phrase, we find that different age groups have different views. We find that circumstances have to be coupled with behaviour before it becomes antisocial behaviour. I visited Lossiemouth on Tuesday with other members of the Communities Committee. We found that almost universally the people of Lossiemouth think that the major cause of antisocial behaviour is drink. However, agreement broke down over what form of post-drinking behaviour was antisocial.
Last night I was in Fiona Hyslop's home town, having a social drink in the Four Marys in Linlithgow. Incidentally, the verb social drink declines thus: I have a social drink; you have had enough; they're guttered oot their skulls. When we drink is not it always someone else's problem? Four young lads, who had their arms round each other's shoulders, passed noisily by in the other direction. There were snatches of songs and loud conversation, but they made no attempt to engage or harm anyone outside their group. Was I alarmed or disturbed? I was certainly not alarmed, but I was perhaps mildly disturbed. On the other hand, if I lived on Linlithgow High Street and such a noise occurred every night just after I had fallen into a well-deserved sleep, I would probably think that that was antisocial behaviour. There is a grey zone, where the context as well as the behaviour is important.
However, an assault—verbal or physical—on a private citizen or public servant is clearly the dark side of society and alcohol is a key factor in that. When that is established as a regular pattern of behaviour it becomes a clear case of antisocial behaviour. Could antisocial behaviour really be fully defined in law, as is perhaps being considered by the Executive, or is that a surrogate for creating criminals when there is not criminal evidence? If so, it would drive a coach and horses through civil liberties.
I gained insight in Lossiemouth this week into one part of the problem. Youngsters told me that although a decade ago there were five places that they could go to sit in, today there is one, despite the population's having grown in the period. To move on youngsters who do not have somewhere to go from one street corner so that they congregate in another will not make a difference. I agree with Donald Gorrie that more facilities must be provided for youths.
We also need to give the police the facility to deal with the problem. A couple of years ago in Lossiemouth there was a serious problem with a group of youngsters, nicknamed the "Lossie Posse". The problem was not solved by changing the law; it was solved by directing resources, under the existing laws that were available to the police and others, into that community. The perpetrators were tried and found guilty; if they were youngsters they were put into the appropriate accommodation.
The Minister for Communities will have to work hard to justify her belief that changing the law rather than upping the resources is the way to solve the problem. Get off the backs of our young people—they are our future and they deserve and demand our support. I say to the minister that we put our communities first when we provide resources that support them. Persecution of one category of our society—youth—is no substitute for prosecution of offenders. It is necessary to give society and society's defenders the tools that will enable them to do the job.

01 October 2003

S2M-411 Mainstreaming Equality

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-411, in the name of Cathy Peattie, on behalf of the Equal Opportunities Committee, on its report, "Mainstreaming Equal Opportunities in the Work of Committees of the Scottish Parliament".
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I, too, congratulate Kate Maclean and all members of the Equal Opportunities Committee during the first session on their work, as expressed in the report. The successor convener of the committee, Cathy Peattie, has given us a strong signal that she is equally determined that the Parliament should move forward on this subject and that everything that we learned in the first session should be worked on and delivered in the new one.
It will come as no surprise that my Scottish National Party colleagues and I are happy to support the nine recommendations in the report. However, like today's motion, I simply note the content of the report. In part that has to be our approach, because some of the recommendations are directed to the new Equal Opportunities Committee, which is sovereign and entirely responsible for deciding whether to accept them. However, if committee members dinnae accept them, I may be around with a grip to persuade some individuals—certainly my political colleagues—that they should.
Over the past week, I have acted in an entirely non-discriminatory manner and have sought to share with as many colleagues and friends as possible the cold that still afflicts my throat. That explains the absence of Campbell Martin, who was originally scheduled to open for the SNP. He has seized the opportunity offered by my cold a little more enthusiastically—and more equally—than have others.
We know that we will have succeeded on this subject when there is no Equal Opportunities Committee in the Parliament and no reports on the matter. However, although progress has been made and continues to be made, the absence of such a committee seems a rather distant prospect. That is partly because as we develop as individuals we become more aware of the lack of equality exhibited in our personal behaviour. Parliament operates in a much wider context. We are not just a little introverted body of people. We are here to set an example and to get things right as far as we can by our own processes. We are also here to encourage and to hold to account the Executive's activities in that regard.
In the wider world, 1 January 1975—some time ago—was a key equality date, because it was on that day that discrimination against women in employment became illegal. On 31 December 1974, my then employers were offering discounted mortgages only to men, not to women. Until very recently, my mortgage continued on the same pre-equality terms. The post-1974 terms were equal for men and women, but they were not equal to those for the men such as me who were lucky enough to have borrowed money before the legislation came into force. The point of that little story is that when the committee's research states that
"mainstreaming requires tenacity ... to sustain commitment to equality over a significant time period",
it is 100 per cent spot on. Given that the effects of the 1975 change in the legal framework have yet to work their way through the system and through society, we can see the reality of that statement. Two generations have passed and we still do not have the equality promised in that legislation. Women who were not yet born in 1975 are today in employment and, as likely as not, remain underpaid, under-rewarded and undervalued in comparison with their male colleagues.
My wife had the grave misfortune to work for a while for the merchant bank Hill Samuel. She worked at a senior level and on her various trips to the head office in London had to attend meetings in the boardroom. There was not even a ladies' toilet on the same floor as the boardroom—and that was in the late 1980s, not 1975—so she used just to go to the male toilet.
Equal opportunities is not just a male-female issue. As Cathy Peattie said, it is not even wholly within the Parliament's power. Last week, my political colleagues and I met in Inverness and we agreed that
"The SNP will positively pursue an equal opportunities agenda to ensure that pension rights, property rights and inheritance rights are brought into the 21st century."
The context was that we were revisiting and trying to bring up to date legislation on partnerships, on which the Executive is consulting.
We must do what we can. We must encourage others by example and by persuasion to play their part. We have made progress on male-female equal opportunities. The men are outnumbered in the chamber today, but I do not think that that is a good thing, given that we are talking about equal opportunities. We have to reduce discrimination.
In the Communities Committee meeting this morning, Elaine Smith said that disability issues come up a wee bit less frequently and with considerably less passion. Is that because we do not have any members with a disability?
Mrs Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): The member will find that my colleague Mike Pringle is registered as disabled.
Stewart Stevenson: I thank the member for that information, which I accept entirely. I did not want to assume that he has a disability and that he views himself in that way.
Let us ask ourselves some questions. Have we in the Parliament done well? In the new Parliament building, we would have failed in our duty if we had not ensured that whoever was First Minister could, if in a wheelchair, go from their office, through the members' lounge and into the chamber, thus not losing out on the banter and chat in the corridors that is an essential part of fixing the wee problems that we often have. I understand that there will be markings on the floors that blind members will be able to feel through their feet, thus enabling them to navigate safely round the Parliament. That is good. However, do people with disabilities know that we aspire to having a new Parliament building—one that we think we will see—that will be world class in its ability to support people who are disabled and are discriminated against in too many places?
Are we doing better on ethnicity? Last August, I asked a question on that. It transpired that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body employed 402 people. Two were Asian and one was black. Three were non-white. Eight employees had a disability. In each of those categories, the numbers were well under what would have been a representative share of the population. We have much to do and I think that all of us in the chamber want to do it.
In all that we say and do, are we doing well enough? Are we guilty of inflicting our prejudices—residual as I hope they now are and even when we are trying very hard to be inclusive—on people whom we continue to think of as "others". Paragraph 58 of the committee's report states that responding organisations suggest that the phrase "mainstreaming equality" should be replaced with the word "integration". I could not disagree more fundamentally. I absolutely agree with the idea that people should have the opportunity to integrate, free from discrimination. However, I believe in the absolute right of an individual to remain separate, if that is their free and informed choice. It is not up to us to make decisions for people; they have to make their own decisions.
Being part of the community, in its widest sense, must not require rejection of any other community. It must not preclude people from having allegiance to multiple identities. As Stonewall Scotland says, people cannot be categorised by the group of which some of us might say that they are a member. Being black, being gay, being female or having a disability is not necessarily the most important thing for an individual. That is why I probably had not been aware of Margaret Smith's colleague's disability: it was not the most important thing in my relationship with him. We must put people before labels and individuals before groups.
The Equal Opportunities Committee has made much of the need for training parliamentary staff and, indeed, parliamentarians. The Parliament has started a course of training. I do not think that all that many of us have been on it yet, but there is still time. I hope that we will take part. If we do not get trained and improve our sensitivity—and paragraph 72 of the committee's report warns against the use of tick boxes—we may not have the deep understanding of how we fail to create equal opportunities; all that we will have is a non-comprehending list-based approach that will deliver very little.
We cannot list all the discriminations that we, as individuals or as a Parliament, may be party to. Let me choose one that members have almost certainly never encountered or thought of. More than 20 years ago, I was at a wedding. That, in itself, is not an unusual event, but one of the couple getting married was photograph-phobic. I do not know the word for that; I do not think that there is one. The person could not bear to be photographed; they had an absolute loathing of it. In all the wedding photographs, there is only one of the bride and groom. The person could not get a passport because they could not be photographed, so there was no foreign honeymoon. If they were elected to the Parliament, would the cameras around the chamber be able to exclude them so that they did not have to have their picture taken? Would they be able to have a parliamentary pass without a picture? Would we tease them because we thought that their phobia was a wee bit funny? It is not the slightest bit funny for that individual. I choose that case to illustrate the extra miles that we will always have to travel.
As the report notes, the equality guidelines will enable committees to stop and think. Let us hope that we have all received the wake-up call about equal opportunities in the chamber, in the committees and in every aspect of our public and private lives. I congratulate the committee.

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