29 May 2003

S2M-10 Scottish Agricultural College

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is the members' business debate on motion S2M-10, in the name of Adam Ingram, on the Scottish Agricultural College. The debate will be concluded without a question being put. I invite members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak buttons now.
I am already horrified by the long list of names on screen.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament views with concern the plans by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) board to move the college's teaching and research services from Auchincruive, Ayrshire and Craibstone, Aberdeen to Edinburgh; believes that there should be a full economic impact assessment that takes into account the effect that this move would have on students, staff and local communities before the proposal is approved by the Scottish Executive; questions the methodology used by the consultants in their review and report, and considers that there should be a halt to the movement of staff from the SAC campuses in Ayrshire and Aberdeen to Edinburgh, which runs contrary to the Scottish Executive's policy of dispersing agency and department jobs and offices outwith the central belt, until proper scrutiny is carried out by the Parliament and its committees.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The fate of the remote colleges at Craibstone and Auchincruive has been driven by a matrix provided by the SAC board. The matrix contains 121 numbers that show the weighting and importance given to different topics that were chosen by the board—not by the consultants, who were told not to touch it. In fact, one need change only four of those 121 numbers to conclude that the answer to this situation lies in Craibstone and Auchincruive, not Edinburgh. That is what is called in consultancy-speak a sensitivity analysis. The consultants were denied the opportunity to carry out such an analysis; the Parliament should not make the same mistake.
Location and success are not inescapably joined together. When I was on holiday last summer, I visited the successful North Atlantic Fisheries College at Scalloway on Shetland, which is as far away from Edinburgh as it is possible to get. It is possible for Auchincruive and Craibstone to be similarly successful.
Location does matter. Edinburgh became a centre of scientific excellence, particularly in medicine, for the whole of Europe because the streets outside the chamber to which we will return next week were a cesspit of morbidity and ill-health. The cry "Gardyloo!" in those streets determined that the medical college came here hundreds of years ago. The same logic says that an agricultural college will flourish when it is next to its key stakeholders in the rural communities. Our environment and rural development committee must examine the issue anew, and I am sure that the matter is not closed in the Parliament.

28 May 2003

S2M-43 Dental Services in Grampian

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): ...
The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-43, in the name of Richard Baker, on dental services in Grampian.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament welcomes the proposals for a dental outreach centre outlined by the new Scottish Executive in A Partnership for a Better Scotland; recognises that there are huge challenges in addressing the shortage of NHS dental services in Grampian; further welcomes the fact that all 10 postgraduate training places in local dental practices have now been filled, and welcomes consultation on the further development of dental training in Aberdeen.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I, too, congratulate Mr Richard Baker on securing such an important and timely debate. We tend to forget how much progress has been made in dentistry over the years. Indeed, the first dental register was established only in the late 1930s. My first dentist had no qualifications whatever in dentistry but had been put on the register on the basis that, over 20 years, he had not killed too many people. I wonder whether we are heading back to a similar situation.
Something has been made of golden hellos, but I am cautious about their effect. For a new graduate, the golden hello is likely to be substantially smaller than their debts. The introduction of the graduate tax—or the abolition of tuition fees, as the Liberals would prefer me to say—is a strong incentive for graduates to consider posts outwith the United Kingdom.
Nora Radcliffe: Will the member take an intervention?
Stewart Stevenson: No—there is not enough time in three minutes.
We must try a great deal harder and consider substantially bigger golden hellos.
We have discussed the number of patients per dentist, but things are worse than what some numbers suggest. In Manchester, the figures are down to 1,200 patients per dentist. The basic problem is that there is a huge shortage of dentists throughout our islands. If a dentist has an opportunity of choosing where they will practise, will they practise in Aberdeenshire, where they will have to work four times as hard as they would in Manchester? They probably would not, unless they have an extremely strong attachment to Aberdeenshire.
Reference has been made to the difficulties of getting emergency dental treatment, which people are having to travel 100 miles to receive. Routine dental treatment is an equally big issue—people simply will not go for it.
I suggest that another problem is looming. David Davidson referred to what has happened in Banff. People are finding it impossible to sell on their practices, as no dentists are coming in to buy them. If that continues to be the case, people will not set up new practices. There is a downward spiral and a problem that will take many years to solve. There have been encouraging first steps, but we should not become complacent. I think that things will get worse before they get better, unless the minister can tell me otherwise.

S2M-61 Subordinate Legislation - Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning) (West Coast) (No 2) (Scotland) Order 2003 (SSI 2003/245)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-61, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning) (West Coast) (Scotland) Order 2003 (SSI 2003/244) and the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning) (West Coast) (No 2) (Scotland) Order 2003 (SSI 2003/245). As there have been requests from Opposition parties for the minister to take interventions to clarify points of detail, I intend to compensate him fully for such interventions in his allocation of time.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I regret that it was not Jamie McGrigor who was entertaining us from the Tory side of the chamber. I hope that that does not indicate—given that the issue relates partly to the gonads of scallops—a permanent emasculation of the former Tory fisheries spokesman. However, I congratulate Ted Brocklebank on his maiden speech. I look forward to many a happy joust with him on the subject of fishing over the next four years, or however long he may last.
In the opinion of the Scottish ministers, the circumstance that gives rise to the orders is that scallops in the designated area may be affected by the toxin that causes shellfish poisoning in human beings and so may create a hazard to human health if they are consumed. That goes straight to the nub of the issue. Indeed, there is considerable ambiguity in the European regulations. The original directive—91/492/EEC—was, interestingly, based on an official's visit to Japan, where he saw a different kind of scallop being used and prepared in an entirely different way.
The later directive—97/79/EC—under which the order is being made, does not seem to require the kind of testing that we are considering for shucked scallops, for example. The directive has, of course, enabled the introduction of a new regime with tiered testing. However, as the then Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care, Mrs Mary Mulligan, told the Rural Development Committee in a letter of 23 December 2002, that regime is not mandatory. I hope, indeed, that it will not be mandatory and that it will simply not be introduced.
There has been no incidence of any kind of illness from scallops in Scotland. Two illnesses can arise from the consumption of scallops that are contaminated by domoic acid: gastrointestinal difficulties and loss of memory. I think that the latter happens occasionally in the chamber, so perhaps there is a real problem after all—perhaps the minister can tell us whether he eats scallops and from where he got them.
I regret that the minister did not take as many interventions during his opening remarks as might have enabled the large number of outstanding questions to be responded to. I hope that he will view his future contributions in a different light. I will just suggest to him a few of the questions that he might address in his closing remarks.
What timetable is there for research into scallop portions? Reference was made to correspondence between the FSA and various European institutions, but have the European institutions made any substantive response following the meeting of the Rural Development Committee on 19 November 2002, which was some six months ago? It is important that we significantly influence the European approach to the whole issue, which is not so much about health as about the problems created for the industry by an over-rigid, over-regimented approach to risks to human health.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr Stevenson, my apologies to you for not giving you notice that you were in your final minute, but you are now over time.
Stewart Stevenson: I am obliged. I know that you are always very tolerant towards my contributions, Presiding Officer.
I have one final question that I would like the minister to address. Exactly what research has been going on since the Rural Development Committee's various meetings on the subject last year? How much of the research is being funded by the financial instrument for fisheries guidance? I ask that because I believe that the Europeans, who are inflicting the directive on us, should bear some of the financial burden of the research that we have to undertake.

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