05 June 2003

S2M-103 Young People

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-103, in the name of Peter Peacock, on young people. There are three amendments to the motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Margaret Mitchell on her debut on the Conservative's front bench and I welcome Peter Peacock to his new job. I notice that Margaret Mitchell's initials are MM, Peter Peacock's are PP and mine are SS. There is a message there somewhere.
One of the interesting things about our having a debate on young children is that we are all experts because, I hope, we were all children and young people at some point. The difference between some members and others is that some remember what it was like to be a young person, whereas others are no longer capable of that. I ask Jamie McGrigor to stop looking at me like that. I know that he is in the latter category, although he has a mischievous look—perhaps he oscillates between the two.
I will pick up on one thing that Margaret Mitchell said. The issue to which I refer is sending youngsters to youth courts, family courts—as we would advocate—or children's panels versus sending them to the main courts. It would be broadly accepted that many young offenders who are sent to the adult court view that as a badge of pride and promotion, which is not something that we should encourage among our young folk.
Parents look forward to the birth of their children with great enthusiasm. My colleague, Shona Robison, has told me that she certainly looks forward to the birth of her child in about a month's time. We need to help parents convert that enthusiasm for birth into positive support for their children and for giving them positive help to make their own choices in the future. The clever parents will learn from their children, who will pick and choose what they want to learn.
Susan Deacon asked us to support parents, but it would be rather surprising if any member were to suggest that we should oppose parents. That goes to the nub of some of the difficulties around a debate of this kind. The debate is consensual, which is great, but does it lead us anywhere? Let us see where it takes us.
My father was a country general practitioner, and used to have a particular way of dealing with senior primary school children when they were about to get an injection. Just as he came up to them with the syringe, he would ask them, "Are you married?" While they were giggling at that, they got their jag—it was a bit of distraction therapy. I wonder whether, in doing that, he created a psychological link between getting a jag and being married, which perhaps accounts for part of the reduction in the number of married people in society today. That illustrates that communication between adults and the young can in fact have serious long-term effects.
Peter Peacock said that we should engage and listen. All of us would pride ourselves on our listening skills, which are a necessary attribute for politicians. In considering our responses to what we hear, however, I am drawn to the conclusion that many of us are not so much hard of hearing, which comes with age, but hard of heeding, which comes from indifference and a lack of preparedness to respond genuinely to what people have to say.
I turn now to the role of children in society and to the activities in which they engage. Like other members, I receive many invitations to get involved in events that are driven by and involve children, and which are for children. I very much enjoy and welcome the opportunity to attend such events. I recently attended the Scottish heat of the Global Rock Challenge event in Aberdeen. It involved several thousand children putting together music-based pieces of entertainment in competition with other schools. It is a great disappointment that that particular event nearly folded because it depended largely on commercial sponsorship that was withdrawn at the last moment. It is fortunate that the public sector, including the police and the local authorities, filled the gap, but it is still an illustration of the vulnerability of provision for children when the private sector is brought in; we cannot always get private sector bodies locked in.
Pauline McNeill referred to low-frequency radio in Glasgow, I think meaning low-powered radio. That is an excellent way of joining children in one place to others elsewhere via a modern medium, and allows them to gain new skills. I welcome and encourage that.
I regret the fact that, despite my intervention suggesting that he say some positive things about children because he was some way through his speech, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton did not find himself able to do that. However, other Conservative colleagues did so in their speeches.
Robert Brown brought a most intriguing idea to us—that there should be midnight football games for youngsters. I would be happy to play football with youngsters at midnight, if that is a way of diverting them from less salubrious and desirable activities late at night. Robert is on to a winner.
My colleague Fiona Hyslop asked when the children's commissioner would be appointed. I hope that the minister is listening so that he can give his response to that question. Fiona Hyslop illustrated perfectly the dangers to which Patricia Ferguson is currently exposed by the extension of her period as business manager, because she actually asked when the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill would be passed. If someone is shut in a smoky back room, they forget that certain things have happened. I know that Fiona Hyslop meant to ask when the commissioner would be appointed.
Rosie Kane brought emotion and knowledge to the debate. She described with passion some of the problems that young people experience. I cannot in any way criticise her analysis, although I must—given their absence during the winding-up speeches—criticise her stamina and that of her colleagues in a debate in which I thought they would wish to be fully involved. I cannot support her nostrums and solutions, for the simple reason that she gave none. She seems to be obsessed by labels at the expense of behaviour. Let us guide our young people away from unacceptable behaviour and create the facilities to reward good behaviour. The SSP has a long way to go before it makes progress on that issue.
Scott Barrie asked about the low birth rate. Scotland's birth rate is declining faster than that of any other country in the European Union. Alone among countries in the European Union, we have a shrinking population. I do not have a magic answer to that problem—I am infertile, so I cannot contribute to the solution. I hope that others who are not so constrained will play their part.
Rob Gibson spoke about the benefits of exposing our children to live music. As a nine-year-old, inspired by Lonnie Donegan, I used to play a tea box with a hole cut out the back into which I put my foot, a single string and a broomstick. That did more to put children off music than anything else, but standards of musical performance have improved considerably.
I hope that during the recent election politicians have all been exposed to some of the views of young children. Far and away the best contribution to political debate in Banff and Buchan was made by a primary-school age pupil who spoke up at an evening hustings organised by New Deer community association. She expressed forcefully and in a focused and proper way what she and her colleagues wanted for her community. The best hustings overall was that which was held at Peterhead Academy.
Young children deserve to be listened to; they have much to say to us. However, there are hard issues. We must recognise that much of the relationship between adults and the young is based on trust and understanding: we do not understand them and they do not trust us. If we have done anything today, I hope that we have started on a road towards building trust and understanding between young people and us.
David Davidson referred to mental health, for which we need better provision.
I will close by asking a few questions and making some comments. How many older people trust young people today? We must break out of the cycle of mistrust. Too many of us fail to judge our young by what they do, too many of us fail to judge our young by what they think and too many of us judge our young by what we think they do. Our young learn their failings from us, so it is time that we changed our ways and learned the valued virtues of enthusiasm, energy and commitment from the great mass of our young who possess them.
I support the amendment in the name of Fiona Hyslop.

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