30 January 2003

S1M-3766 British Cattle Movement Service

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3766, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on the British Cattle Movement Service. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the widespread concern amongst the Scottish farming community in relation to the operation of the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) and, in particular, the volume of administrative errors and the delays by the BCMS in dealing with correspondence; further notes that, as a result, the operation of the service has contributed to financial hardship in the farming sector at a time when farming incomes are already at desperately low levels, and considers that the Scottish Executive's Environment and Rural Affairs Department should institute an amnesty for all farmers that have been alleged by the BCMS not to have accurately and timeously supplied cattle record information and make representations to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that a thorough review of the operation of the BCMS should be instituted with a view to eradicating the difficulties that have been identified.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Murdo Fraser for providing us with the opportunity to discuss this important subject for rural Scotland. The devastating effects that high levels of error in the cattle-tracing system are having on farm incomes has been made only too clear to me in recent weeks.
We were told in a parliamentary answer today that farm incomes are expected to rise to an average of £10,500. That compares with the adverts on the back of Edinburgh buses that state that someone can make £18,500 driving a bus. The reward for the risk that farmers take and their effort is hardly adequate.
As we know, farmers live hand to mouth. I have one example of a farmer in my constituency who had 27 out of 30 cattle rejected on the basis of failed checks—his subsidies were frozen. Another farmer told me that he is owed £6,000, £4,000 of which he needs to pay urgent bills, and another has just received his payments for 2001.
Of course we need accurate records of cattle movements, but the system must not add to the heavy burdens that farmers have had in recent years. Farmers say that the book should be thrown at anyone who is cheating, but the farmers who are affected by this problem are not cheating; they are being cheated. The current system is not sustainable, fair or equitable.
When a farmer submits a subsidy claim form to SEERAD, he has to sign a declaration that states:
"I shall rectify ... the data kept on the cattle tracing database relating to me or my animals where this is incorrect or incomplete."
Members may think that that is fair enough—the farmer should be responsible for his stock—but the caveat is that, if the beast is sold at the mart or goes for slaughter, it is the mart's duty to inform the BCMS, not the farmer's, but the farmer retains legal responsibility for the mistake.
Amazingly, SEERAD does not shy away from that—although the subsidy claim forms put the responsibility at the farmer's door, a letter from SEERAD to a farmer in my constituency freely admits that failed checks
"could be attributed to SEERAD, BCMS, other operators within the industry or the farmers themselves."
Any of those players in what is a complicated game might make any number of mistakes, but our hard-pressed farmers must carry the can.
Could farmers be more active in checking their records? That is great in theory, but in practice they are hitting a brick wall. The BCMS records show cows as heifers, calves that do not exist and beasts that are alive and well, down on the farm, as slaughtered—the list is endless.
Some farmers get through and make the call. A farmer to whom I have spoken in the past 24 hours spent four hours on the phone sorting out the errors on his records, only to find that, a week later, none of the corrections had been made. That case is far from isolated. If farmers are to be 100 per cent sure of the records' accuracy, a phone call would have to be made to the BCMS for every on and off movement, which is simply not possible.
It is unacceptable that farmers are being forced to take legal responsibility for others' mistakes. The system is unfair and must be simplified. Those who make errors should be held to account, and fines for farmers should be suspended until the system works satisfactorily. I call on the minister to make representations to ensure that staff at the BCMS are adequately trained and are in sufficient numbers to deal with the work load. Farmers are considered guilty until they prove themselves innocent, which goes against natural justice. I am sure that all members will agree that that is unacceptable, and must stop at once.

23 January 2003

S1M-3751 Renewable Energy (Rural Communities)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3751, in the name of George Lyon. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament welcomes the ambitious targets set by the Scottish Executive for renewable energy generation; recognises the potential job benefits to be gained from a Scottish manufacturing support base for renewable energy; further recognises the crucial importance of communities benefiting from wind farms and other renewable energy developments in their areas; notes the growing number of wind farm planning applications across rural Scotland; notes with concern the hostile reception such applications have received from members of the local community, who perceive no benefit to the community; further notes that benefits can be delivered through community ownership, rental income, reduced electricity bills or other methods, and considers that the Executive should ensure that the Scottish economy and affected communities benefit from the expansion of renewable energy.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank George Lyon for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important topic. As my colleague Fiona McLeod made clear, SNP members are enthusiastic about the future role of renewables in Scotland. She asked me whether I could come up with an idea for exploiting one resource that we have not talked about: rain. I know that that is exploited through hydropower, but I have come up with another idea. You never know—I could be a millionaire yet.
We are at a crossroads. About 100 wind farms might be constructed in Scotland in the coming years, if the Executive rubber-stamps everything. We must ensure that we take the right direction, especially for our rural communities, which will be directly affected by the construction of such wind farms.
How do we get that right? We must think about several issues. It is all very well for the commercial companies that develop the wind farms graciously to provide some funds for local development, but that must be part of the process and locked in—not just an act of good will.
I say to Tavish Scott that we must ensure that we are not snookered by the objections of those who live closest to wind farms. Perhaps they should benefit from the cheaper power sources. Some who live next to proposed wind farms are concerned that their houses are being devalued. It would be great if those houses were heated for free by the commercial wind farm that was on their doorstep. I know that difficulties are encountered in stepping down voltages for domestic use, but they are solvable. In our more rural western and north-eastern communities and in other rural communities, that would be a huge benefit.
Fabrication yards will be needed to manufacture turbines. We have one; let us get more.
Other members referred to the national grid. What they talked about will not happen unless we have the capacity to take the product to market. My constituency has a large gas-fired power station, but one third of its capacity cannot be operated as the facility to take away the product does not exist. Because of that absence, we lose many benefits.
For local communities that have wind farms on their doorstep, we need a rigorous and clear planning process. Some of my constituents in Stoneyhill near Peterhead are exercised by the prospect of a wind farm near them. We need clear evidence and criteria—not just a preset agenda in support of renewables—to determine the decisions on any planning requests.
Evidence that was published in 2000 said that wind farms were viewed more favourably after their construction by people who lived closest to them, but a parliamentary answer says that that survey had some technical flaws. My conversations suggest that those flaws are purely technical. They might or might not invalidate the results, but we need clarity. I hope that the minister can tell us that that will be sorted out soon.
We look to the minister to assure all of us whose constituents might be affected by wind farm developments this year, next year or in the coming years as we proceed to the Executive's target, or our target, that we will consider the needs of the people who live close to the wind farms and protect them from any actual or perceived disadvantages.

S1M-3780 Land Reform (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3780, in the name of Ross Finnie, which seeks agreement that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill be passed. I ask members to stick to their time limits. Ross Finnie has five minutes.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One thing that has marked the progress of the bill is the energetic engagement in proceedings by many strands of Scottish life. That has been heartening and I hope it presages a golden age in the countryside—perhaps it will not.
Crofting communities may now have the opportunity to plan their futures with greater certainty than they could in the past, secure in the knowledge that if they wish to buy land, and they fulfil the requirements to do so under the bill, they can. Would that the decision had been made in the 19th century to include Aberdeenshire in the crofting counties—there would have been no limit to my delight today. However, I am happy to share in the pleasure that will be felt in crofting communities, even if the bill is more limited than what we wanted to achieve.
Under part 2, communities throughout Scotland "may" have the opportunity to acquire the land that will help their economic development. However, the bill, in its timidity, leaves much of Scotland's land—that held by companies, trusts and enduring partnerships—beyond the reach of the right to buy that is provided under the bill. In reality, only land that is under private ownership when it comes up for sale will be open to communities. The history of land in rural areas of Scotland suggests that a very small proportion of land will be affected by the bill. It is a matter of regret that the SNP amendments that would have extended rights under certain conditions and allowed communities throughout Scotland to share in the opportunities that the bill will create were not agreed to.
I hope that all who walk in Scotland will enjoy the new secured access rights that the bill provides at least as much as we have enjoyed passing this legislation. Unlike Bill Aitken with his gloomy adumbration of a future led by Beelzebub, I am absolutely confident that, although the bill might not do everything that my SNP colleagues would have wished, it creates opportunities across Scotland for increased economic activity in many of our society's vulnerable rural communities.
I am very happy to support the bill.

15 January 2003

S1M-3758 Glasgow to Barra Air Link

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 15 January 2003

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

Glasgow to Barra Air Link

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3758, in the name of Duncan Hamilton, on the Glasgow to Barra air link public service obligation. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite those members who wish to contribute to the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the decision to announce a one year contract for the Glasgow to Barra air link; recognises that such contracts are normally awarded for the three years of a public service obligation (PSO) order; recognises the unanimous view of the community that any loss of the direct air link would result in damage to the local economy and tourism and create hardship for those attending hospital and receiving life-saving treatment in Glasgow and beyond; notes that the Deputy Minister for Transport, Lewis Macdonald MSP, attended a meeting on the island of Barra and assured islanders that their genuine concerns would be taken seriously and fed into the Scottish Executive review; further recognises that this proposal is undermining confidence in the long-term viability of the air service, and considers that the Scottish Executive should ensure that the review is completed on or before the end of March.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome Duncan Hamilton's securing of this debate. I have a great affection for Loganair, which stems first from its being the airline that transported my wife and I away on our honeymoon in 1969. Members might be interested to know that the aircraft that carried us on what was our first flight is now to be seen in the Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Secondly, I have sat in the co-pilot seat of the Twin Otter that operates the service between Glasgow and Barra. I believe that another member in the chamber has also done that. The Twin Otter is my favourite type of aircraft because of its ruggedness and capability.

The situation that the islanders of Barra appear to face is not a matter for light reflection—it is deadly serious; indeed, it could be deathly serious. We are debating what is literally a lifeline service.

Some members might have noticed the Scottish Executive's pride in launching the Traveline Scotland website a month ago, which is a multimodal look at transport options in Scotland that can work out journeys across the country. I hope that the launch of the website did not presage a decision that has already been taken. Curiously enough, every possible combination that I entered had me travelling from Barra to Glasgow by getting on the ferry, travelling to Benbecula and coming into Glasgow that way, rather than having me go up to the other end of the island to fly directly from the airport at Tràigh Mhòr. It was interesting that the website showed a travel time of 16 hours 26 minutes.

I will give some facts and figures about the air service. The Barra to Glasgow service has a 70 per cent load factor. For such a service, that is an enormous year-round figure. Two thirds of passengers are visitors and 30 jobs are directly dependent on the existence of the airport. That represents a significant contribution to a community of some 1,200 people. Many more tourists are brought in. This year, the fly-in for private aircraft attracted 100 bookings for the 45 places. We understand that one company would leave the island if the air service were to be terminated.

Reference has been made to London Heathrow rules applying to Barra. That is true—they apply to an unacceptable extent.

It is worth noting that Loganair, which has existed for some 40 years, has an excellent safety record, in spite of the challenging air services that it operates throughout Scotland. A passenger has never been killed, although there have been three accidents in 40 years and crew members have not always been so lucky.

I put it to the minister that the Parliament is limited in its powers to deal with some of the issues that affect lifeline air services in Scotland. For example, aircraft statistics show that although single-engine turbine-powered aircraft of similar size to the Twin Otter have a better safety record than the twin-engine version, the Civil Aviation Authority will not allow them to be used. That is not the case in most of Europe. The minister might want to talk to people elsewhere about that.

We have an important duty to Barra. Let us not forget that Barra has made a significant contribution to the wider community. If one walks up the hill from Castlebay to the magnificent new war memorial, one will find 135 names on it from a population of 1,200. We owe it to Barra—it needs our support.


09 January 2003

S1M-3485 Breast Cancer Awareness

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3485, in the name of Mr Keith Harding, on breast cancer awareness. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite those members who wish to contribute to the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament congratulates all the voluntary and research agencies involved for their efforts in highlighting Breast Cancer Awareness Month; recognises the importance of continuing research into the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, building upon major advances achieved over past decades; records its thanks to all the medical and ancillary staff involved for their unstinting kindness and support to patients and their families, and considers that the Scottish Executive should ensure that funding is made available for increasing awareness, research, providing treatment and support and all other aspects of breast cancer care.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Keith Harding on giving us the opportunity to discuss this topic. I will shortly congratulate Michael McMahon on his contribution.
I have been in correspondence with Malcolm Chisholm on the system of calling in people for assessment. The system operates for people up to the age of 65, although new plans will extend it to the age of 70. With the increase in lifespan of people in our community, it is important that we do not stop there. We need to continue to invite people over 70 in for screening.
My mother died from breast cancer in her mid-70s at a time when she was over the age to be called in. She would not be alone in our community in not having that opportunity extended to her. As she was a doctor's wife, members might think it surprising that her breast cancer was not detected. However, that fact illustrates precisely the shyness about symptoms that people may feel.
Scotland has perhaps a greater number of risk factors than is the case elsewhere, one of which is a greater incidence of obesity. I draw attention to one factor in particular, which is that it would appear from research that, among women, there is a correlation between smoking around the age of puberty and the onset of breast cancer at a relatively early age—the 30s and 40s, which are under the age at which people are called in for assessment. The minister may care to reflect on that example.
I congratulate Michael McMahon on raising the subject of male breast cancer, about which I want to say a few words. I cannot bring personal experience to bear on the subject as Michael McMahon can, but I will raise some issues that he did not cover. In particular, in order to bring the subject home to the chamber, I note the statistical likelihood that, given the number of people who are employed in the Parliament, at least one of the men here will develop breast cancer.
Breast cancer is more common in men over the age of 60, but I have read case histories of men who have died of the condition in their 30s. As with women, there is a wide age range at which breast cancer can occur. I will read into the record one or two examples, which are given in a fact sheet. That will help to publicise some of the issues to a wider audience.
People who are at particular risk of male breast cancer are those
"who have had several close members of their family (male or female) who have had breast cancer, a close relative diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts or a relative diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40. Having several members of the family with cancer of the ovary or colon may also increase a man's risk."
It is also worth saying that there appears to be an association between breast cancer in men and lower levels of testosterone. Infertility in men is rising relatively sharply. I speak from a personal point of view, being infertile myself. We are likely to see a continuation in the rise of breast cancer in men from that cause if from no other, as the main cause of infertility in men is a lack of testosterone.
I want to make a few points about the information that is available. Rhona Brankin rightly pointed out that the use of the internet is becoming important for women. I should add that it is also becoming important for men. However, I point to the NHS Direct website. Although it contains very good information on breast cancer, it assumes that the condition affects only women. One of the problems appears to be that GPs—and other men—are relatively insensitive to the possibility that a man might suffer from breast cancer. I make no claims to have made a comprehensive study of the literature. However, we should consider including in all the publications on the subject the possibility that men might suffer from breast cancer. In particular, we should draw attention to the curious symptom of inversion of the nipple, which as a possible indicator of breast cancer is not shared by women.
Finally, I draw attention to research that is being carried out on the subject at the University of Edinburgh and wish the researchers very well in their work. This year, 200 men in the UK will contract male breast cancer. That is a small, relatively unacknowledged but important part of the wider picture.

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