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.


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