23 December 2004

S2M-2179 Budget Process 2005-06

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Budget Process 2005-06

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2179, in the name of Des McNulty, on the 8th report in 2004 of the Finance Committee, "Report on Stage 2 of the 2005-06 Budget Process".


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will play the grumpy old man to Wendy Alexander's spirit of Christmas. After all, when I were a lad, Christmas was a working day. My general practitioner father's sole concession to Christmas was that he held no evening surgery on Christmas day.

In answer to Wendy Alexander's accusation that the SNP has not cared about cutting costs, I have already given one example, but I will give two more, since she suggested that my first example was the only one. First, earlier this year, I opposed the blanket increase in planning fees that were to be implemented by local authorities because, if we manage the pennies, we will look after the pounds. Secondly, as far back as when Richard Simpson was a minister, I opposed the Scottish statutory instrument that increased the fees for licensing bingo halls and casinos. Now, that is something to be cheerful about. Therefore, I am no Johnny-come-lately to the cost-cutting agenda; I have been promoting that agenda since I came to the Parliament. However, where is Wendy Alexander's zero-sum budgeting today?

Mr Monteith rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Oh, come on. Earlier, Brian Monteith claimed:

"I am not proposing anything today".

Is he about to start doing so?

Mr Monteith: No, I am not about to start proposing anything. I simply want to ask Stewart Stevenson whether he can explain how a council not increasing its planning charges would be an efficiency gain. Would that not simply be a reduction in the revenue that the council receives?

Stewart Stevenson: I suggest that Brian Monteith read the Official Report of the relevant committee meeting to see the interesting response that I received from the minister. I argued that, given that we had passed a power of well-being to councils, we should not tell them what to charge for planning applications but allow them to set the charges for themselves. In that way, the efficient councils would deal with such applications more cheaply and efficiently, whereas the inefficient ones would lose by charging more. The response from the then Deputy Minister for Communities, Mary Mulligan, was that we cannot have councils competing with each other. The SNP stands for a competitive Scotland that can compete with its neighbours. That is what we will always stand for.

As one who spent his working life in business, I sometimes feel that I entered something of a time warp in coming to Parliament. The way in which we deal with our numbers here is at least—to be generous—a decade behind business practices when I retired five years ago. Accountability is one example. I remember going to the Bank of Scotland's board to get some £25 million for a project. At the end of the board's discussion—which did not last long, as people had been briefed—the chairman said, "Stewart, can you deliver?" I was required to say the one important word: "Yes." That meant that, notwithstanding the fact that I am a computery person who was introducing a computer project, I had to achieve the savings in the operational parts of the bank that would justify the expenditure on the computer system. The boundaries between departments were of no relevance to whether I was judged a success or failure.

One difficulty that I find in what we do in government is that while I can see the political accountability, I cannot see the operational accountability. Even ministers tell me privately that they have difficulties in getting civil servants to say, "I personally carry the responsibility for implementing your plan, minister, and I will be judged on my success or failure." We will move forward when there is accountability not just of ministers, but of civil servants.

There is something else missing from the way in which we examine our numbers: assets and liabilities. It is all very well having a statement that indicates the revenue picture year on year—indeed, for years into the future—but if we do not see the assets and liabilities we cannot make a judgment on whether we are sweating our public assets. One or two of the accounts deal honestly with some of those issues. I am not often in the position of praising the Scottish Prison Service, but the service was at least honest in including a contingent liability in its accounts for the issue of slopping out and certain court cases to which I will not refer directly. However, we do not see much more of that.

Another issue is long-term planning. I have asked parliamentary questions about how many dentists we will need in 10 years' time, but the Executive does not know. If we do not know what the world in the public services will look like in 10 years, how the heck will we get there? It takes 10 years to persuade someone to go through all the necessary training and to come out as a dentist. That is only one example.

We can manage the pennies in committees and the Parliament. When we do so, we manage the pounds. I have made a start as an individual member; other colleagues have done the same. In the coming years, we will challenge at every opportunity when the Executive is not getting value for money for the public pursue. We cannot rely on members from other parties to do that, as they have no suggestions. Only the SNP will stand up for the interests of Scotland and Scotland's people.


16 December 2004

S2M-2038 Knife Crime in Glasgow

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

… … …

Knife Crime in Glasgow

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2038, in the name of Frank McAveety, on knife crime in Glasgow. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the unacceptable number of incidents involving knife crime in Scotland and particularly in the east end of Glasgow; believes that the Scottish Executive, Strathclyde police and other key agencies need to work more effectively to tackle this problem; considers that a range of measures to deal with knife crime are required, and believes that the Executive should consider measures such as restricting access to the purchase of knives, ensuring appropriate programmes are in place to educate young people on the dangers and consequences of carrying and using knives, speedier and effective sentencing for those convicted of knife crime and ensuring that the police have effective powers to deal with those who carry and use knives.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I first visited Glasgow at the age of 32, for the 1978 Garscadden by-election at which Donald Dewar returned to parliamentary politics. I found the people of Glasgow warm and welcoming and I thank Glasgow MSPs for their courtesy in allowing me to join them in this debate, which reminds me of how Glasgow people welcomed me in 1978. Even political opponents were friendly in Glasgow. They were focused, but they were friendly.

I will take apart a couple of things that Frank McAveety usefully states in his motion and focus on them as the most important matters. The motion refers to

"ensuring appropriate programmes are in place to educate young people on the dangers and consequences of carrying and using knives".

I must draw an important point to members' attention: we can talk about knives as both weapons and tools.

As a young lad in the country, I carried a 9in, double-edged knife, but I never realised that it was a weapon; it was a tool to be used for a variety of purposes. I was far from being alone in my attitude towards knives. A good pal, who is now dead—for reasons that had nothing to do with knives—used to go to the front of the class in secondary school to sharpen his pencil with his flick-knife. Nobody thought anything about it; it was just another knife being used as a tool in an appropriate context.

I will support, in principle, the Executive's planned measures on knives and the control of their sale, which will be a useful move, but we should not imagine that cutting off the supply of knives will cut off the desire in the people who currently use them as weapons to have a weapon of some kind. If we take knives away from them, there is a real danger that they will find another weapon to use instead. That is why the motion's point about educating young people about the consequences of carrying knives is the most important one. The issue is about people's attitudes to other people and their willingness to enforce their point of view on them through violence. Such people happen to use knives in far too many instances.

I am slightly surprised that members have so far not made the link between drugs and knives. The knife is the preferred weapon for a frightener in the drugs industry. A knife to the buttock is a standard warning in the drugs industry. I would have thought that Glasgow MSPs had met that practice in Glasgow, as I have done in the north-east—we got it from Glasgow. There was a grave misfortune in my constituency: one of my constituents died from being stabbed in the buttock. The knife went too far in and severed the femoral artery. My constituent was dead in 20 seconds.

It is important for us to educate our youngsters about the consequences of knife use. It is not simply bravado to carry a knife; consequences may follow from doing so. Of course, Glasgow has the unenviable reputation of being a city in which the proportion of knife crime per 100,000 of the population exceeds the total murder rate per 100,000 people in London, which is a city that we do not always think of as being one of the safest in the world.

Robert Brown was correct to say that there is no single solution. Just because I say that we should not get too wound up about knives, because the problem will move on, does not mean that I do not support Robert Brown's important point. I welcome Tommy Sheridan's view on sentencing up to a point, because I do not think that mandatory sentences are the right thing way to go. However, I certainly think that it is vital that fiscals, in considering charges and the courts to which they will take them, and sheriffs and district magistrates in considering sentences, take the context into account. In particular, I would like the severest sentences to be given for the use of such weapons in the drugs business. That is a hidden crime that is rarely reported to the police. Members might be surprised at how prevalent it is.

I congratulate Frank McAveety on securing the debate and thank him for his hospitality in allowing me to speak in it.


S2M-2158 Reoffending

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

… … …


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2158, in the name of Annabel Goldie, on justice issues with specific relevance to reoffending, and three amendments to the motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Let us start with a nice consensual point that can stretch across the Parliament. The title of the motion is relevant and important—"Justice Issues with Specific Relevance to Reoffending"—so no disagreement there.

Donald Gorrie spoke about illiteracy, but perhaps the real issue is innumeracy. On that issue, the Tories will clearly be in the dog-house and in jail for some time, because this morning they have relied on the straw-man approach to debating. Bill Aitken claimed that the rate of reoffending was only 2 per cent less for people on community service orders compared with those who had been in prison, but he could not provide us with any numbers. My numbers are 60 per cent and 42 per cent, which others who have consulted parliamentary sources may also have.

I asked Annabel Goldie about the figures for reoffending under the Tories, because she was trying to persuade us that it was axiomatic that the figures were better than they are now. However, she could give us no numbers. The reality is that the debate is based around a myth of a golden age under the Tories, which is not supported by any sensible examination of the issue.

Phil Gallie: I made the point that the incidence of offences after early release went up under the Tories, but only after we introduced automatic remission.

Stewart Stevenson: I was going to praise Phil Gallie and I take this opportunity to do so, but one honest Tory on the benches does not an honest Tory party make.

Reference was made to Fairbridge. Like others, I recently visited that project. Only 20 per cent of its graduates appear to reoffend. Such projects are well worth the effort that goes into them. With the Justice 1 Committee, I visited the 218 project in Glasgow, which works with many people who have been involved in prostitution and are in a cycle of incarceration, which it is to be hoped will be broken.

In its response to the Justice 1 Committee's inquiry into reoffending, Aberdeenshire Council said:

"By its very nature, the prison environment cannot of itself ... be conductive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending."

The majority of parties in the chamber have reiterated that view today. I quote from the Executive's "Re:duce, Re:habilitate, Re:form" in-street interviews, which go to the nub of what people are saying on the street:

"I think the minimum prison sentences are actually a waste of money. I think prison is a last resort for people who really are a danger to the public."

We welcome moves by the Executive to improve local relationships between criminal justice social workers and the Prison Service. Prison is part of a justice system that must address retribution, reform and rehabilitation, but the greatest of those is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation starts in prison, but must finish in the community. We must have a seamless way of connecting the good work that is done in prisons with the programmes to which offenders will connect once they leave prison. To do otherwise is to spend large sums of money to deliver little. I am happy to say that I will be supporting—as the opportunity arises—the Executive's amendment.


15 December 2004

S2M-2155 NHS Scotland

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 15 December 2004

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

… … …

NHS Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2155, in the name of Andy Kerr, on "Fair to All, Personal to Each: The next steps for NHSScotland" and four amendments to the motion.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by welcoming some frank honesty on the part of the Executive. Paragraph 1.2 of "Fair to All, Personal to Each", which I received during the debate, states:

"While health is improving for the vast majority of Scotland's people, it is improving fastest for those who are most affluent."

That is the issue on which Duncan McNeil touched when referring to his constituents. It is an issue about which, after seven years of Labour Government, we should express concern.

In paragraph 1.8, the minister states:

"Services should be as local as possible, and as specialised as necessary."

I suspect that those sentiments will gain wide support. Whether the Executive's plans and practices deliver on them is another issue.

Paragraph 3.18 is about clearer and more consistent definitions and paragraph 3.19 states:

"Patients who fail to turn up for an appointment or admission without prior warning will return to the start of the waiting queue".

We have heard about the welcome abolition of availability status codes, but there is a real difficulty, which I will illustrate with an example from one of my constituents. An elderly frail lady who lives in Fraserburgh was given an appointment in Aberdeen for an afternoon clinic in August. The lady had no transport of her own, so she inquired at patient transport services, only to discover that they could not give her a return trip for an afternoon clinic. Her son—her carer—does not work and has an income in the order of £70 a week. It was suggested that they should take a taxi home and claim the cost back later. On their income, that is not possible. The effect is that, as of this date in December, we still do not know what patient transport might be offered to that lady for which she and her son would not have to pay in advance. She is now off the waiting list.

Mr Kerr rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way, as the minister is itching to comment.

Mr Kerr: The situation that the member describes is unacceptable. That is why I have asked the health service to work harder on patient-focused booking systems. Good examples exist throughout the country, but they are not widespread enough. I hope that that addresses his constituent's concern.

Stewart Stevenson: Nonetheless, that lady has lost her place on the waiting list. That is an important point. However, I am glad to hear that the Executive is addressing the problem. I do not disregard the fact that the minister shares with many in the chamber a commitment to improve the health service. We criticise what the Executive does and ask whether it achieves improvements. [Interruption.] I see Mike Rumbles making some remark from a sedentary position. He should listen up.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: No. I do not have time, but if the member keeps listening I might take an intervention from him later.

A little Cinderella has disappeared from the document more or less altogether. Page 5 contains two references to dentistry in a table, but the rest of the document contains not a single word about it. It is a curious fact that, if someone wishes to have dental treatment, the only place where they will have it with reasonable effectiveness is Scotland's prisons, where the average wait is one week. In much of Scotland, the wait is interminable and the document says nothing much more about it.

At the end of the document, we read something of better IT for the health service, but no numbers for the investment in e-health are quoted. It was claimed that we are ahead of the rest of the UK. The health service in England and Wales is spending £8 billion to improve its IT. It is time that we considered whether we can piggyback on what colleagues that deal with many culturally similar issues in the health service are doing. They are making changes in advance, so that the health service is prepared for other initiatives. Too many initiatives that the Executive has taken have reduced the health service's efficiency. That is why we do not see a return for the money that is being provided.

Mike Rumbles: What would the member do?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order.

Stewart Stevenson: NHS 24 is an example of such an initiative. Trained nurses are sitting at phone banks to do triage. That takes on average 20 minutes. They use American software that is not even culturally appropriate for many issues here. For example, the third question that is to be asked of someone who has a sore throat—I will turn it into technical language—is whether they have recently indulged in fellatio.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member please tell us what the SNP wants to do?

Stewart Stevenson: I will. However, Mr Rumbles should remember that the debate is about the minister's announcements.

By the same token, under out-of-hours cover, we have more people going to places that have no record of their health. That reduces the health service's overall efficiency, which is why we must put money into IT. The Executive is to do that after the event, not before. It is paying the price of inefficiency when we need greater efficiency.

Private health care is a source of potential inefficiency. In a transfer from one consultant to another in the private sector, an additional consultation is involved or continuity is lost with the person to whom a patient originally presented. Alternatively, the same consultant is used in the private sector. How is that a good idea?

I will describe what we would do—as I promised Mr Rumbles—in the 40 seconds that remain for my speech. We would expand diagnostic and treatment centres. In England, 20 centres operate. It is interesting that that major contribution comes from within the health service. The private sector has made a minimal contribution of two centres so far. That shows what the health service can do.

The debate is entitled "Fair to All, Personal to Each". That is a good title. However, it is not fair to all to waste money on the private sector or personal to each to close hospitals in local communities throughout Scotland. I support the amendment lodged by my colleague Shona Robison.


09 December 2004

S2M-2129 Fisheries

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2129, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries, and three amendments to the motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start, almost as Alex Johnstone ended, by congratulating Ross Finnie. If on nothing else, I congratulate him on his stamina, as he is the longest-serving member of the Executive to have had the same ministerial responsibility. The vicissitudes of his particularly challenging office have dimmed neither his energy nor his engagement. I acknowledge happily and gladly that his knowledge has continued to grow—may that continue for some time. Furthermore, he alone carries the burden of both opening and closing for his point of view in today's debate. Would that the rest of his could share his energy. However, Mr Bradshaw is quite another thing. He is a politician who is passing through. As a politician with ambition, he has no engagement with or knowledge of his subject.

I thank Mr Morrison heartily for his ringing endorsement of the merits, skills and talents of my colleague Mr Lochhead. Realising the significant impact that he always has when he engages in fishing matters, I rather hope that he will be present in Brussels to support the efforts of the man—Ross Finnie—who must do his best to represent Scotland.

Let me pick up what was said in the debate. Mr Baker claimed that it is not possible to operate a conservation policy outwith the CFP. For his Christmas, I promise to send Richard Baker a little map of Europe, on which I will highlight—he will not mind if I ink it in for him—those countries outwith the CFP that are successfully managing their stocks. Today's debate has probably covered the issue reasonably well: the CFP and conservation are strange bedfellows. After 30 years of the CFP, there can be little doubt of that.

On whether we should be within the CFP, the arguments have been well rehearsed. The Tories know our position on how they got us to where we are today, but there is no point in pursuing that at this stage. There are three key strands to Europe: the customs union, the common commercial policy, and the common monetary policy. The UK Government is happy to accept the benefits of the customs union—and I agree with it. It is happy to accept the benefits of a common commercial policy—and I agree with it. However, it rejects a common monetary policy because it believes that that is not in the UK's interests. I and my colleagues resist the CFP on exactly the same basis: we feel that it is not in Scotland's interests.

However, that is a lesser matter than the overriding matter of the common monetary policy. As a result, in rejecting a part of European policy and practice—the CFP—we are taking a substantially lesser step than the UK Government's rejection of the common monetary policy.

Richard Baker: What the member says is a very nice fiction. I should point out that the European Commission has stated in a letter to Catherine Stihler MEP that one cannot be a member of the EU and withdraw from the CFP. I have simply stated the current position. Is the member saying that he would sacrifice all the benefits of EU membership just to withdraw from the CFP?

Stewart Stevenson: One of the very interesting distinctions between the position of the Tories and the SNP on this matter is that we continue to campaign with vigour and commitment for an independent Scotland that would be an independent member of the EU. Scotland would then be able to negotiate its relationship with the EU at that point. Is it conceivable that we would not be able to secure an appropriate deal for our fishermen when we are Europe's energy capital? We can lay vital assets and interests on the table and use them in negotiations. It is inconceivable that we could not do that.

If Europe is not much interested in Scotland, Westminster has even less interest in us. The Prime Minister's strategy unit could not even count the Scottish white-fish fleet. Moreover, despite the fact that he has so far asked the Prime Minister some 200 questions, the Tory leader has yet to ask him a question about fishing. The Tories were not interested in 1971 or in 1983.

Mr Brocklebank: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry; I no longer have the time.

In his speech, Jamie McGrigor got confused about the words "won't" and "want" today, just as he got confused at yesterday's decision time about "yes" and "no" in the vote on Caledonian MacBrayne. I hope that he votes the right way and supports our amendment tonight.

In a debate last week, Ben Bradshaw talked up the RACs and said:

"I see no reason why they should not develop into real bodies for regional management."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 2 December 2004; Vol 428, c 834.]

Alas, in his written submission to the European Parliament's hearing on this matter, the then commissioner-designate, Joe Borg, said:

"The Commission could not take this on board as fisheries management has to remain compatible with the legal and institutional framework of the Treaty."

Basically, he says that it is not possible for us to evolve to regional management under the treaty.

I will close with a brief comment on scientific data. We all have to accept such data, but we should understand that, in science, it is possible to interpret them in different ways. That is not to disagree with scientists; after all, they disagree with one another. The Faroese pursue stocks to protect ecological balance; they have come to a different conclusion from the same data and have achieved different success outwith the CFP.

I support my colleague's amendment.


S2M-2132 Iraq

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]


The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2132, in the name of Carolyn Leckie, on Iraq, and five amendments to the motion.

.. ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a truism to say that those who know nothing of history are condemned to repeat it. In his book, "A Mad World, My Masters", John Simpson tells of going to downtown Belgrade on 12 April 1999 to interview locals about the NATO-led action against the dictator, Milosevic. An angry crowd gathers, shouting their views at the BBC man. Spit lands on Simpson's face. The crowd said:

"We used to like everything from West. Now we hate you ... We are all for Milošević now, even if we didn't like him before ... You British are"—excuse me, Presiding Officer—

"the 'eff-ing' slaves of 'eff-ing' America."

Simpson talks to the crowd and finds that they do not really hate us at all, but that they are frightened and resentful of the bombing. When people are bombed by those who they think are their friends, it is hard for them to love them. Democracy does not come from the barrel of a gun.

In Iraq, the actions of the US-UK coalition are teaching us that lesson again. We have increased the number of friends of Saddam Hussein, and we have increased the ferocity of the animus that is felt for us by the friends of Saddam Hussein. We have drawn into an already unstable middle east the dangerous and deranged zealots of extremist religious beliefs from around the world, and we have made extremists and enemies of those who could have been our friends.

When ordinary people are imprisoned in the grip of a ferocious dictator, there is a practical necessity and moral imperative for us to do all we can to help them. My father worked for a period in the late 1930s out of a bookshop in Brussels. He was there as part of a Christian mission to help the Jews, who we knew even then were being oppressed by the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler. The Gestapo came to arrest my father and his companion on the steps of Cologne cathedral. He escaped and I am here; his companion did not and the sons he might have had are not here. Throughout Iraq, Saddam Hussein removed the future generation of mothers' sons who might have opposed him, but it hardly helps those who are left that we now, in substantially smaller but still significant measure, cull the remainder through carelessness or indifference. The course of action that is being pursued in Iraq mirrors that in Afghanistan.

Helen Eadie: What is the SNP's view on genocide and on Kofi Annan's report, which states:

"in cases of major breaches of humanitarian law, such as genocide in Rwanda or ethnic cleansing in Kosovo"—

nation states

"have the responsibility"—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr Stevenson has got the point, Ms Eadie.

Stewart Stevenson: I have got the point. I would be astonished if there were a single person in the chamber who supports genocide. I do not; I am implacably imposed to it and members should not rise to suggest that things are otherwise on the SNP benches.

What is happening in Iraq shows again that elections alone do not a democracy make. In Afghanistan, the Taliban's mascaraed, nail-polished and golden-sandaled soldiers have gone from Afghani power but not from Afghani life. Post the election we have a dangerous and increasingly unstable centre for the production of opium, the battle on which is being fought on our streets.

I want to say something good about George Bush and I wish I could say the same about the Prime Minister. The student politics of attacking George Bush for being

"not one of the world's great linguists"

must not hide the fact that he has at least been big enough to admit some of his personal errors in making his case for war.

In September 2003 that radical left-wing magazine, The Economist, carried a photo of the PM on its cover with the words "In the dock" as its banner. Today the Prime Minister remains in the dock, because he cannot do what Bush has done in part and admit his errors. Errors denied means remedy denied.

Where are we now? If we simply withdraw our troops, as the motion demands, we will succumb to a selfish desire to protect our own. From a party that trudges dank left-wing extremist meetings around the world, supposedly in the cause of international working-class solidarity, that is an act of breathtaking hypocrisy. That party would cast off ordinary Iraqis, but we dare not do so.

I support the amendment in Alex Neil's name.


02 December 2004

S2M-2055 Domestic Abuse Services

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

… … …

Domestic Abuse Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2055, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on domestic abuse services for all victims.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the very serious and totally unacceptable problem of domestic violence in Scottish society; notes in particular that all victims, whether they be women, men or children, need to be supported, and therefore considers that the Scottish Executive should provide practical help and assistance to all such victims.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I find myself in a rather curious position, not because of my solitary presence on the SNP benches—a by-election is attracting the attention of many of my colleagues who are elsewhere—but because I find myself wanting to stand and defend the Executive against someone who has risen frequently to defend it, but who on this occasion, in the deployment of his argument and in his speech, is in essence attacking it.

We will not be voting on the motion, but we would find it easy to vote for if we were—indeed a number of my colleagues have signed it—because its terms are fair and proper. However, the picture that Mike Rumbles paints for us is one of a new Boudicca coming across the horizon with the scimitars attached to the wheels of her chariot to cut the legs off any man foolish enough to stand in her way.

Of course I accept that the test of a real civilisation is not how it treats its majority—although it must respect and respond to the wishes of the majority—but how it supports and respects the rights of minorities. I am far from convinced that there is merit in Mike Rumbles's case. He has to acknowledge that he is talking about a significantly small minority and he is doing his case no justice with his rather spurious manipulation of statistics, based on small percentages, from which it is unwise to extrapolate.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I really do not have time.

Before coming to the chamber, I put two phrases into the Google search engine to get a feel for the issue. I put in "female violence against men" and "male violence against women". The hits were 98 per cent for "male violence against women" and 2 per cent for "female violence against men". Of course that does not tell us about the incidence of the violence, but it does tell us how big a problem it is perceived to be by the people who are engaged in that technology, who are predominantly men. The oldest paper that I could find on female violence against men dates from 1975. It is not as if the issue has surfaced suddenly; it has been around for 30 years, but it has yet to make the kind of impact that, quite properly, male violence against women has made.

The figures that the Executive uses in its papers suggest that there are more than 10 times as many victims recorded where the perpetrator is male than there are where the perpetrator is female. That gives us the scale. It takes nothing away from men to support women.

Mike Rumbles made a rather curious argument, which I suspect the minister will address. He appeared to suggest that even though the Executive provided a grant for one purpose—protecting women—it would be okay to pretend in a Nelsonian manner that we were not seeing that it was being misused for other purposes. It is vital that we ensure that there is support for all people affected by domestic violence—women, children and men—but men are not being neglected just because we are giving women the support that they deserve and need.


S2M-2096 Aquaculture

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-2096, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on a sustainable aquaculture industry, and three amendments to the motion.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome this debate, which is on a subject that is important to many communities in Scotland. Fish farms are vital for many rural areas that have few other options. In my constituency, they provide the high-quality raw material that processors in Fraserburgh and Peterhead convert to the products that we see with so much pleasure on our supermarket shelves. My face lights up when I go home at the weekend and open the fridge to find that my wife has been to Downie's to get one of its fish pies, which are like Scotch pies, except that they are filled with fish. They are just wonderful for the palate but even better for the health of the people who eat them. I welcome the presence of salmon on our Parliament menus, as does my colleague Fergus Ewing. It is just a shame that today coley, rather than salmon, is on the menu.

I worked as a water bailiff when I was a student in 1968—one of the many industries of which I have experience. Even then, on the east coast, the catches of salmon had dropped catastrophically, long before any interaction with our salmon farms could have been of influence.

Robin Harper: That is the case, but do we kick a man when he is down? Do we say that stocks have dropped to the point at which it does not matter what we do, because they are going to disappear anyway, or do we do everything that we can to conserve them?

Stewart Stevenson: Of course we have to conserve the stocks. There is no division in the Parliament about that; the division is about the means and the influences that are affecting adversely or beneficially our ability to do so. There is no substantial proven link between the escapes from fish farms and the depletion of the natural stock. I would be interested to hear of academic studies that show different. I will say more about the academic world later, but I wish to make an important point in which to anchor much of what I am going to say: our salmon is safe. In fact, I am probably at greater risk from the contaminants that reside on the skin of the slice of lemon that sits on top of my smoked salmon than I am from the salmon.

The way in which the media deal with science illustrates the problem. To get into the press, a scientific story has to be about something new. It has to contain an element of conflict, otherwise it is just a good-news story and will get a few column inches inside. It has to have an element of public interest, with a threat or a malign influence.

Alex Johnstone: Does the member agree that the bad-news story about salmon became news only when it found a supporter in the Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that that certainly gave legs to a story that should have died on the first day.

I ask members to think about some of the stories that get into the press. The Raelian cult claimed to have cloned humans and the story went on for two weeks. There is a wonderful website that has been—I hesitate to use the vernacular, so I will not—criticising our salmon industry. On another page, it claims that a seafood diet is

"A Sure Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis".

It says:

"No one needs to suffer from arthritis ... In three months of the daily seafood diet, you'll be rid of your arthritis."

That is a ludicrous claim, although I would love to believe that it was true.

Of course, many environmental groups are anything but environmental. For example, the United States Postal Service has shown that Greenpeace and the Sierra Club account for nearly half of the 4 million kilograms of tossed-out junk mail that environmental groups distribute each year.

In the brief time that remains, I turn to the report that was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report starts with a clue to the poverty of its scientific method. In the abstract, it says:

"the potential human ... risks of farmed salmon consumption have not been examined rigorously."

That is its claim, but none of the 32 references that it provides goes back more than three years. As a piece of reference research, the report is condemned out of its own mouth on that point alone. Had it been properly refereed, that sort of thing would have been flushed out and dealt with. Even that paper has to concede that

"Individual contaminant concentrations in farmed and wild salmon do not exceed U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action or tolerance levels".

The key thing is that the paper does not compare farmed salmon with other foodstuffs. The reality is that it is basically much the same, although, yes, there is a problem with polychlorinated biphenyls, which has to be addressed.

I have confidence in the industry to the extent that I ate the food that a fish farm was feeding to its fish when the Environment and Rural Development Committee visited Lochaber—Jamie McGrigor will attest to that. My trust in the industry goes beyond just eating the fish.


01 December 2004

S2M-2006 St Andrew's Day

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 1 December 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

… … …

St Andrew's Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2006, in the name of Dennis Canavan, on St Andrew's day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that St Andrew's Day should be recognised as Scotland's National Day with a nationwide celebration of Scotland's diversity of cultures, faiths and ethnic origins.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It should come as no surprise that Dennis Canavan is asking for St Andrew's day to be recognised as Scotland's national day. After all, St Andrew is not only the patron saint of Scotland, Greece, Russia and Romania; he is also the patron saint of anglers—angling being a subject that I know is close to Dennis's heart. Of course, St Andrew is also the patron saint of fish dealers, fishmongers and fishermen, which is a matter of considerable constituency interest to me.

According to history, St Regulus brought St Andrew's relics to Scotland because an angel instructed him to take them to the edge of the world. I hope that moving 30 November to centre stage will move us a little nearer to the centre of the world.

I want to highlight a few curious paradoxes about public holidays, bank holidays and so on. I know that other members have already pointed out the number of such holidays that we get.

However, if we are talking about bank holidays—which Mr Canavan refers to in his bill—members will be interested to learn that Scottish bank holidays are not quite what they seem. For example, a Scottish bank holiday does not tell us whether a bank is open, while a Scottish non-bank holiday does not tell us whether a bank is closed. In fact, banks are not required to observe any of the statutory bank holidays one way or the other.

Indeed, there is a sense in which Scotland does not have any bank holidays whatever; we have them only by habit and repute. Indeed, when I were a lad and worked in the Post Office, it used to be my very great regret that I was paid off on Christmas eve, because it meant that I could not work on Christmas day and get the tips that the regular postmen got. I feel that it is legitimate to debate the question of what holidays actually are.

The fact that our need for a national day—which would be most appropriately embodied in St Andrew—has not yet been publicly recognised is certainly a subject for debate, so I very much support all Dennis Canavan's efforts in the matter. In his consultation document, he points out that all the countries in the Americas have national days. I think that it is time for Scotland to have a national day, so I congratulate Dennis on securing the debate and support him in all his endeavours.


25 November 2004

S2M-2059 Violence Against Women

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 25 November 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Violence Against Women

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2059, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on violence against women, and one amendment to that motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To talk of violence against women is not to deny the existence of violence against others. Indeed, failure to highlight violence against women—which makes up the largest part of the various discriminatory forms of violence—would be failure to support all victims of violence by showing indifference to the largest affected group. I say that as a man.

Violence against women is hardly new. The new king of a tribe of lions goes through a series of actions on taking over power in that group. There is the massacre of the young to destroy the previous gene stock, the fertilisation of the females to introduce his gene stock and, of course, the on-going suppression of the females in the group. In many ways, that is how humans have behaved over successive invasions: the Vikings, Genghis Khan and Hitler's Nazis followed the same course. In most of Scotland and much of the world we now know better. However, in significant areas of the world the culture has changed little from that of Genghis Khan—the model of the tribe of lions continues. That is why is important to make reference to a wider picture.

Modern technology has provided us with new ways of introducing our impressionable young people to distorting influences and views of the society in which they will take part. Computer games focus disproportionately on violence as entertainment. Violence admired and engaged with at second hand is the first step towards real engagement with violence. In many instances, violence is the response of the weak and inarticulate to those whom they see as even weaker and more subservient than they. Too often, women are seen as the weakest in our society. Many women—thankfully, a declining number—share that vision.

The 2000 Scottish crime survey had some interesting things to say. For example, it demonstrated that twice as many women as men experienced incidents of domestic violence each week. That reinforces the importance of talking about women. However, in this context we are talking about violence, rather than crime. Forty-three per cent of incidents recorded by the police did not lead to the recording of an offence or a conviction. Many more incidents are not even recorded, because victims have comparatively low confidence that what they say will be taken seriously. They are victims each week of repeated violence and cannot see a way out of the cycle of despair. At the high-tariff end of the problem, to which Donald Gorrie referred, a tiny minority of prosecutions and rape charges lead to someone being banged up and locked away from the target of their violence.

I will comment on a couple of points that have been made. I say to Donald Gorrie and the Executive that there is one measure that has been tried against kerb crawling that does not need legislation. We might encourage the police, simply in the interests of good public order, to supervise tightly areas in which kerb crawling is likely to be an issue, to photograph the vehicles that are involved and to make the appropriate inquiries at the homes of the perpetrators. Social pressure is as effective as pressure directly from the criminal justice system. It has been applied elsewhere and appears to work.

Essentially, this debate focuses on women as victims. We must provide adequate support after the event and ensure that such events happen much less often. The numbers tell us why. I refer to the types of violent crime experienced by men and women in 1999. Among male victims, 38 per cent of violent crimes were committed by a stranger, 42 per cent were committed by an acquaintance and 5 per cent were domestic. However, for women, 64 per cent of violent crimes—two out of three—were domestic. Therefore, we can tell that those are abusive situations that are based on a relationship, whatever it may be. It is violence against women because they are women and it is the least acceptable kind of violence.

The good news is that the report also tells us that in the lower age groups, particularly the 25 to 44 group, we are seeing much more reporting than in older age groups. That is a good sign that women may be standing up for themselves, which is part of the problem, but only a tiny part. I support my colleague's amendment.


S2M-2056 Food (Supermarkets)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 25 November 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

Food (Supermarkets)

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2056, in the name of Shiona Baird, on supermarkets and the Scottish food chain, and three amendments to the motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will begin by posing a few questions. Instead of going to the fridge in the morning for my milk, should I walk a mile down the road to the field and personally milk the cow, a task for which, having never tried it, I am ill-fitted?

Christine May: Is there something that the member has not done?

Stewart Stevenson: I always start with confessions, because it might get the audience on my side.

Should I drink that milk unpasteurised? Should I really go back to basics and drink the milk from a cow that has not been tuberculin tested? Not even the Greens are suggesting that we roll the clock back that much. I see that my colleagues are also relieved about that.

We all accept that processing food has benefits for public safety and convenience. As a result, I hope that no one in the debate yearns for a return to subsistence farming and only local production and consumption. The world is simply not like that.

That said, we need to have some view of the world that we want before we can decide on the nostrums that will deliver it. I believe that people want one-stop shopping, and we have proven that by going to the places where such shopping is easy. They want decent quality and make discriminating choices both between supermarkets and between supermarkets and other alternatives.

Increasingly, people want year-round availability. When I was a bairn, fruit and vegetables were seasonal, but consumers no longer want such seasonality. They also want convenient products that free up personal time, which is why pre-prepared food dominates so many of our supermarket shelves. In fact, such a concept is not particularly new: the Cornish pasty is a convenience food that the worker used to take to the field. It was designed particularly for that purpose, with a crust that the worker's grubby hand could hold while he ate the rest of it.

Consumers want free parking, but they also want fewer supermarkets. We have to try to resolve the contradictions in what the public want.

Shiona Baird: The member's Cornish pasty would have been home-made from fresh ingredients. Does the member agree that, in that regard, there would be a significant difference between the nutritional benefits of what is being offered for sale now and those of the food that was eaten then?

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that there were Cornish pasties that could poison people and Cornish pasties that would be excellent for them. There is merit in having consistency in delivered products and a processing system that supports public safety. That said, the supermarkets are not free from criticism.

Although supermarkets dominate the market, the biggest buyer is the Government. As Richard Lochhead has advocated in the SNP amendment, the Government not only has a role in drawing the supermarkets into a debate in the hope that we might bang heads together for the benefit of consumers, producers and our communities but should be doing more to support our primary producers.

In that respect, I make no apology for returning to the subject of pork. Although our welfare standards for pork production are incredibly high, standards in the rest of the EU—the free market within which we operate—are not so high. What happens? Because produce is cheaper in other countries, the Government and others buy from there. The Government needs to address that matter.

My constituency contains primary producers and producers of processed foods, both of which are important to my constituents. Indeed, most of the salmon, beef and chicken in supermarkets comes from factories in my constituency. It is a shame that people cannot always tell that that is the case. One would have to know the three-digit code on a Tesco label that identifies the supplier. I hope that, when the Government speaks to the supermarkets, it persuades them to break the code to let us find out which produce is local.

It would also be worth discussing the issue of transport with the supermarkets. Although the Tesco supermarket in Fraserburgh sells fish that is caught and landed in the north-east, that fish has come via the north-east of England. It does not even use local suppliers.

We have free choice. When I go to my local butcher, John Stewart—I will give him a name check, because he is worth it—he tells me which field the beef has come from. The meat is also cheaper than it is at Tesco. I have—and I make—that choice. However, supermarkets have many advantages, particularly with regard to business rates, and I invite the minister to tell us what he plans to do about that.

I am happy to support Richard Lochhead's amendment.


24 November 2004

S2M-2003 Lung Cancer

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 24 November 2004

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

… … …

Lung Cancer

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2003, in the name of Irene Oldfather, on lung cancer awareness month. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the Macmillan Cancer Relief and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation's month-long campaign to raise awareness of lung cancer and highlight the message that early diagnosis saves lives; recognises that lung cancer is now the United Kingdom's biggest cancer killer with 94 people a day dying from the disease; recognises that people are 40 times more likely to survive if the disease is detected early on; congratulates NHS Ayrshire and Arran on its innovative Smoking in Schools scheme whereby health advisers visit secondary schools across North Ayrshire to educate them on the dangers of tobacco smoke and to offer cessation services for young people who have already taken up the habit; recognises the importance of educating our young people on the dangers of tobacco smoking; looks forward to the future development of this scheme, and welcomes the Scottish Executive's plans to increase support for those wishing to stop smoking and to ban smoking in public places, which will help reduce cases of lung cancer in Scotland.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Irene Oldfather for providing the opportunity for members to speak on such an important subject.

I want to tell members about an ambition that I have, which I think that we would say that we all share, if we were being honest. I have an ambition to die healthy. That means that I want to go suddenly and to live an absolutely healthy life up to the end. I knew a 80-year-old lady who had had barely a day's illness in her life. She was climbing a Munro with a group of friends and dropped dead from her first illness in a couple of decades—she had not even had a cold in that time. That was a perfect way to go. People who are afflicted by the addiction that is tobacco can rarely choose when to die.

I have made some positive choices. I do not smoke now, although, like many others, I used to do so. When I was 51, my blood pressure was 140 over 90. Earlier this month, at age 58, it was 128 over 60, which is not too bad and is heading the right way. Coming to the Parliament has therefore been good for me, if not necessarily for anyone else. I also eat lots of fruit, as the Executive implores me to do.

When I was 17 and 18 and between school and university, I worked in a psychiatric hospital. I worked in the hospital ward, where the physically ill psychiatric patients came. During that time, I sat with someone who was dying of lung cancer. Believe me, there can be no greater spur to wanting to die healthy than my experience of 40 years ago.

Lung cancer in Scotland is, of course, a continuing concern. According to the statistics, its incidence is decreasing in males—we are slowly starting to get the message. The incidence of smoking and, with it, the incidence of lung cancer is falling over time. However, the statistics for females are rising. I think that that is partly because young females are beginning to act like young males used to act. They are beginning to be more assertive and to challenge the norms more, and they are more prepared to ignore warnings and make their own decisions.

The statistics also show that, although there have been improvements in one-year survival rates for younger patients, survival rates at five years have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. Of course, Scotland's health record is among the worst in Europe.

Mike Rumbles referred to his constituency. There is little doubt that an element of deprivation is involved in the figures. Of course, it might be that the amount of tobacco smoking by smokers also varies as the number of smokers varies, but I do not think that there are good numbers on that matter—that is, there are some numbers, but it is not clear whether we can trust them. However, there is a good correlation between a person smoking more and their being more at risk.

I looked up the general numbers for health for my constituency and for a Glasgow constituency that has a lot of deprivation—I will not name it, as that is not the point. Using a standardised population, my constituency has a quarter of the alcohol-related admissions to hospital of the Glasgow constituency and under a quarter of its drugs misuse admissions. The figure for the percentage of data zones in the most deprived decile of the health domain in my constituency is 0 per cent. The figure for the other constituency is 66.23 per cent. The difference that deprivation makes can be seen.

The international comparisons that I have almost invariably show Scotland at the top of the table. Only Belgium beats our lung cancer incidence rates for males and nobody beats our rates for females. Sweden's figure is approaching a quarter of our figure. We are also at the top for mortality rates. Even countries such as Spain—or Greece, which is not normally thought of as a particularly wealthy country—are doing much better than we are. Factors other than deprivation are therefore at work. In addition, we can see that the issues arise in the Greater Glasgow NHS Board, Lanarkshire NHS Board, Argyll and Clyde NHS Board and, to a lesser extent, Lothian NHS Board areas.

I have one or two slightly off-the-wall comments to make to close my remarks. One of the poorest countries in the world is Bhutan. In Bhutan, only 1 per cent of the population smoke. Because of that, Bhutan was able to make tobacco illegal about 10 years ago, and the incidence of lung cancer there is almost nil. However, we must be cautious about drawing conclusions from that, as the diagnostic facilities are more limited there than they are here.

I have quoted James VI in other debates on smoking, and I shall do so again. James VI got it absolutely right 400 years ago when he took over the Crown and raised the tax on tobacco to a rate that today would be £30,000 per pound of tobacco. The fiscal option is certainly one that I would like the Executive ministers to encourage their colleagues at Westminster to rack up to an even greater extent.

Some years ago in India, I saw an advertising poster for a local brand of tobacco that used a slogan that encapsulates the problem. I do not think that the manufacturer saw the irony of the slogan, which was "The final choice". For too many people, smoking is the final choice.

I close with one suggestion that the Executive might take up. We had the finest medical schools in the world in Edinburgh because of the huge morbidity in the cess pit that was the old town. We may have a similar opportunity, because of our poor health and our high lung cancer rate, to invest more in understanding the problem not only for our own benefit, but for the creation of an industry related to that and for delivering a benefit through improved health care for people who suffer from lung cancer in countries throughout the world. That would be to our economic benefit, to our social benefit and to the benefit of everyone around the world.


18 November 2004

S2M-1837 Diabetes

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 18 November 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-1837, in the name of Karen Whitefield, on diabetes in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the rising numbers of people with diabetes in Scotland as evidenced in the recent report from Diabetes UK Scotland, Diabetes in Scotland and the UK 2004, which shows that there are 148,000 people in Scotland diagnosed with diabetes, a rise of 28,000 since 1996; is concerned that at least 65,000 people in Scotland are undiagnosed, as highlighted in the report, and that this number is rising year-on-year; recognises that diabetes is associated with chronic ill-health, disability and premature mortality and that long-term complications, including heart disease, strokes, blindness, kidney disease and amputations, make the greatest contribution to the costs of diabetes care, and believes that many of these long-term effects could be avoided with earlier identification and more effective treatment.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I add my congratulations to Karen Whitefield on securing the debate on this important topic.

As far as I am aware, I am not related to anyone who has diabetes. One of my nephews-in-law, who is a professor of immunology, works in the field of type 1 diabetes. He hopes soon to bring forward for human trials a vaccine that will prevent the development of certain types of type 1 diabetes. Although his contribution is of great value, it is unfortunate that it will be of value only to a proportion of the 10 to 15 per cent of our population who suffer from type 1 diabetes. I am sure that it will be welcome, nonetheless.

We have heard a little about the role of targeted screening in early detection of diabetes, which is universally acknowledged as being important. It was interesting to hear of Mike Pringle's experience at Lloyds Pharmacy. Because I fly, I have to have a medical every year, which includes a test for diabetes—so far, so good. However, many people do not have that opportunity. Because of the Executive's munificence, free dental checks for people over 60 will start in 2006, which by coincidence is the year that I will become 60, so I thank the Minister for Health and Community Care very much. However, it is curious that we do not test universally for diabetes, although it is simple to do so with a urine test. I am slightly surprised that that has not yet appeared on the agenda, so I encourage the minister to include it.

David Davidson mentioned that 6 million days at work are lost every year as a result of diabetes, which means, when that is added to the £320 million that it costs the national health service to deal with diagnosed diabetics, that the total cost in Scotland of diabetes may be £1 billion a year. Undoubtedly, it is worth investing in the problem. With the potential that more than one in four adults will be obese by 2010, we can see that the problem will grow.

I want to touch on an aspect that no one has yet mentioned: mental health, which is an issue about which I speak from time to time. Long-term illness has mental health implications. The association with early erectile dysfunction and the relative paucity of services in the health service for addressing it means that we end up with men of advancing years who have significant problems that the present system does not really address.

I will end with a message from the "Scottish Diabetes Framework", which states:

"'You shouldn't have to tell your history over and over again.'"

It is time that we did something about patient records to ensure that every part of the health service has access to basic information about patients who present.


S2M-1960 Fire (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1960, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the general principles of the Fire (Scotland) Bill be agreed to, and two amendments to the motion.
... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): As a loyal member of Amicus, I find myself in the same trade union as four of the members who are sitting on the Labour benches. As a loyal trade unionist, I thought that I should start with a quotation from the Fire Brigades Union's response to the consultation. It is a quotation with which I suspect there will be universal agreement. The FBU said that it is clearly

"on record and ... is clear that the only societal tolerable rate for all fire deaths that is acceptable to the inhabitants of Scotland is zero".

Whatever else we might disagree about in the debate today, or in the subsequent debates at stages 2 and 3, I am confident that we all want an effective fire service in Scotland that protects public safety and takes responsibility for communities.

My contribution to the debate will be made in a slightly different vein to that which speakers before me have taken. The bill that is before us today has some worrying aspects; they run across measures that the Executive has previously sought to implement and for which it has gained support from the Scottish National Party benches. I speak specifically about the power of well-being. The phrase is, of course, shorthand for saying that we expect more of our councils: we expect them to take more responsibility for what they do for their communities. The expectation that they will do so is reinforced by the steps that are being taken to provide councillors with better support and to give them the opportunity to professionalise. There is a real danger that, if many of the proposals in the bill are brought into force, they will diminish the role of local government in its ability to provide the kind of services that we all wish to see delivered effectively throughout Scotland.

The minister's role in this—as per the roles of ministers who are responsible for other areas that the Executive seeks to promote and has promoted in the past—is to consider whether we are using the opportunity that the bill gives us to re-empower and reinvigorate local government, or using it to say, "We do not trust you. We need to take charge." I will illustrate my concern with one tiny example that came before the Communities Committee, and which was related to a piece of secondary legislation to fix new rates for planning. Why not let councils do that? In the case of the bill, as in the case of the planning instrument, the Executive is placing duties and responsibilities on councils in a uniform way. That is neither consistent with good local democracy nor with the need to trust that the electorate will take account of the successes and failures of its local councils.

I turn to specific responses that the Executive received to its consultation. The Highlands and Islands fire board commented on control rooms—a subject that many members have referred to this morning. The board

"considers the retention of Control in Highland and Islands to be essential ... The Board would urge that the additional specialisms of our control room staff, and the special needs of our diverse communities, are all taken into account."

Another comment that Highlands and Islands fire board made touched on the centralising tendencies of the bill and in particular on the common fire services agency. It expressed considerable scepticism about the benefit of central procurement in respect of intermediate technology, procurement, finance and human resources. All of those are matters that the white paper identified as topics for the common fire services agency; the Highlands and Islands fire board thinks otherwise.

Grampian fire board, which is responsible for the area that I have the privilege to represent, said:

"The Board is not persuaded of the need to take general reserve powers of direction with respect to national service delivery and national resilience ... The Board has, it believes a strong record of supporting the Executive in developing on its national fire priorities. It sees no justification in developing statutory powers to formalise this situation."

Quite properly, Grampian fire board welcomed some aspects of the proposals, but it touched on an important issue when it discussed the role of commercial call centres, which load on to the fire service in Grampian a large number of calls that result from alarms, 95 per cent of which turn out to be spurious. There is a message in that about the disconnection among the people who deal with calls in the commercial sector and effects on the delivery of a public service. That disconnection illustrates the more general point about the difficulties that would exist if we were to disconnect control rooms from communities.

I want to give the minister a test on locality and localisation, which I think might appeal to John Farquhar Munro, who raised the subject. If all the members of a particular control room have read The Press and Journal in the morning, they will know what is going on in their communities, because that is the national paper that delivers local news par excellence. If a call comes in from Turriff about an incident in the swimming pool there, how much more effectively will the control room operators respond if they are aware that they must take into account the 30,000 people who are in the park immediately next door for a pipe band contest? Local knowledge is a moving phenomenon; it is not static and cannot be captured forever in a database.

The FBU raised other points. It appears that, yet again, the Executive has decided to take powers to the centre while claiming to improve local accountability and democracy. Section 14 is on training. One point on which national intervention might be really useful is in setting training standards and qualifications which, with local diversity of implementation, would allow fire and rescue workers to work consistently throughout Scotland.

I am happy to support my colleague Kenny MacAskill's amendment.


10 November 2004

Statement & Debate: Smoking

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a statement by Jack McConnell on smoking. The First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement, therefore there should be no interventions.... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That concludes questions. My regrets go to the seven members whom I have not been able to call, but I must go to the next item, which is a debate on the ministerial statement on smoking. No question will be put at the end of the debate.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To seek an improvement in the health of Scotland's people is to seek something that no one in the chamber opposes. If there is any surprise in public life, it is that generations of politicians have dithered before engaging with the single measure that can deliver an unambiguous uplift in the quality of life of our people.

We lost more people to smoking in the 20th century than we did to all the wars of that century—more than a million people died from smoking. A successful public health policy would deliver a Scotland prepared for a competitive 21st century. The elimination of smoking in the long term is the single biggest gift that we can bequeath to future generations of Scots.

Helping those who have become trapped by their nicotine addiction is a health challenge. Protecting those who remain free from the scourge of that addiction is a moral imperative. Therefore, even if the Executive has taken a significant step today—and it deserves the heartiest congratulations on its announcement—it is but the first major step on a long and difficult journey.

Being a monarch need not separate the individual from common sense, intellectual achievement or scientific endeavour. Some 400 years ago, Scotland's James VI illustrated that well. For example, he said that because some smokers suffered no visible ill-effects from tobacco use, the illnesses of the majority could not therefore be due to smoking. He made his case through logic then; today we can examine the scientific evidence.

There are 400 separate chemicals in tobacco smoke, including—I inform Mike Rumbles—polonium-210, or radon. In 1989, the surgeon general of the United States identified more than 40 of those chemicals as carcinogens, and the number is rising. Few of the remaining chemicals have ever been demonstrated to be safe in the way that they are used; they have merely not yet been shown to be unsafe.

The effects of the chemicals are various. Besides the 40 or more carcinogens, there are many mutagens—substances that promote genetic changes in cells. Others are developmental toxicants—substances that interfere with normal cell development. The taking of that potent mixture has uncertain specific effects in individuals but a catastrophic effect on the population as a whole.

The debate is primarily about environmental tobacco smoke, half of which comes from the smoke of cigarettes left to smoulder between puffs and half from exhaled air. Let us be clear: we can each choose our own personal road to hell. Smokers are held captive by their addiction and they must not be personally stigmatised. As James VI said, man

"by custome is piece and piece allured".

We must support smokers' efforts to break free from the best efforts of the evil parasites that are today's tobacco companies.

The inhaler of smoke by accident must also be protected. David Davidson asked for evidence. He has obviously never put the arguments into the Google search engine. If he did so, he would find more than 1 million hits on the subject. I choose but a single example, from the United States. In 1986, a study was carried out there that unanimously had the scientists, who had been appointed by the US Government, deciding that second-hand smoke was a group A carcinogen.

We must do what we can. That does not mean that we are saying that we are not doing enough, although we have to do more. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that we can legislate on the matter in the Scottish Parliament, and therefore we must.

There will be no Tory gerrymandering of the proposal, because we will not let them do that. The illusion of choice is actually the denial of choice for those whose health is being affected by second-hand smoke.

James VI ends "A Counter-blaste to Tobacco" in a way that remains appropriate 400 years later. He said that smoking was

"A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse."

We must end the scourge of smoking now.


04 November 2004

S2M-1943 Domestic Abuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1943, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on domestic abuse services, and three amendments to that motion.
... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is important to think about what domestic abuse is. I suggest that it is anything that damages anyone in mind or body, or which through repetition might do so in the future. At the core of our consideration of domestic abuse must be the victim's view. The initial presumption must be that there is truth in a victim's claim of domestic abuse. We must not be diverted by the difficulty that, for example, 48 per cent of young children in refuges are apparently suffering from mental illness. We should not assume that, because people are mentally ill, they are unable to describe and relate the conditions in which they are living.

I want to talk about the support agencies that exist and their strengths and weaknesses, as well as about some of the things that we can do. To Maureen Macmillan, I say that we are some considerable distance away from having a refuge on every street. I suspect that to be as true in her constituency as it is in mine.

There are individual examples that we will all see in our constituency lives of people being let down due to individual failures. For example, I met a wife who was separated from her husband but who still lived in the matrimonial home. There was an interdict on her husband to keep away, but he broke that interdict. I saw the photographs of what he did to that woman, and it was anything but nice. The court fined that man £100 and patted him gently on the head. We have got to do more. That was an individual failing, not a failing of anyone in this room.

In his introductory croak—I hope that he gets better soon—the minister focused on the essence of the issue. I welcome the news that we are getting Executive support for the domestic abuse helpline. I note that there is a degree of independence in the report that has been prepared on the helpline, as it states that it does not necessarily reflect the views of ministers. I ask the minister to see whether we can get the helpline to operate 24 hours a day. One of the graphs in the report shows something that our personal experience might confirm: that the number of out-of-hours calls rises rapidly from 6 am to 9 am. We are not all good humoured when we get out of our bed in the morning, but the helpline does not open until 10 am. That is a key issue to which the minister might turn his thoughts.

It is great that Thus has sponsored the 0800 number that is used for the helpline. However, many people who have had to leave their matrimonial home will be using a mobile phone, from which 0800 numbers are not free. That is a particular problem for people with pay-as-you-go phones. That is a difficult issue to deal with, but it is a point to note.

I conclude by mentioning briefly mediation services and the family mediation service that operates in my constituency and a little bit beyond. Like many agencies that support victims of domestic abuse and children in particular, they experience difficulty in sustaining the funding stream that enables them to do their work. That is an issue to which we must turn our minds.


27 October 2004

S2M-1882 Drugs Misuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1882, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on tackling drugs misuse and protecting Scotland's communities. There are three amendments to the motion.
… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will start on a consensual note: we share an ambition—throughout the chamber, I hope—to address the ill effects of addiction.

Addiction is a feature of human behaviour and, realistically, it cannot be eliminated. However, addictions can be benign or they can be harmful. When they cause harm to others, there is a role for society to act. When the harm is solely to the addict, it might seem that there is no duty to intervene. The defining characteristic of an addiction is that it removes choice from the addict. The addiction defines and dominates the plans, goals and future of an addict, rather than the characteristics of the individual as a human being that should be in control.

The minister used the phrase "chaotic lifestyle", as we all often do, to describe the lives of addicts. It has been put to me, and I have some sympathy with this, that that is an inaccurate description. The addict's lifestyle is chaotic for the rest of us, but the reality is that addicts are very organised and adept at managing their lives to get the next fix. The trick is to turn that organisational skill and that commitment to achievement into a commitment to get out of a life of addiction and crime.

We support measures to reduce the harmful effects of smoking by tobacco addicts; we are not talking only about the criminal justice system. The issue for addicts, tobacco addicts among others, is not just choice. The driver is addictive compulsion. Information is very important in understanding addiction. Some of the debate has already focused on whether appropriate information is available on the know the score website. We cannot know too much about drugs and about the ways in which people use them and seek to conceal their use.

Mr Duncan McNeil (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): Stewart Stevenson claims that we cannot know enough about drugs. However, does he agree that some of the information that is available contains a great deal of harm? For example, on one top search engine, I found a cannabis cookbook, discovered how to grow cannabis or make LSD in my kitchen and was offered the complete guide to manufacturing ecstasy. I had only to push a button. Is it not about time that we worked with our UK colleagues to ensure that these sites are not accessible and do not put our young people in harm?

Stewart Stevenson: Duncan McNeil makes a fair point. However, as someone who has spent 30 years in technology, I have to say that in reality we cannot do what he suggests.

I want to focus briefly on the know the score website, which contains some information that has caused concern. I believe that if parents are informed about and understand how their children might operate within the drugs business, they can ensure that their children are safe. I suspect that we will hear more about that issue during the debate.

This debate focuses on the illegal misuse of drugs. I want to go to a high level and lay out what I think are the ultimate goals of a successful public policy. Such a policy would eliminate the ill effects of addiction on non-addicts and, in particular, would end offending behaviour. It would enable addicts to regain control of their lives away from addiction, prevent and inhibit the recruitment of new addicts, and end the misuse of drugs in our society. I suspect that we could all sign up to such a policy. As the saying goes, it is better to aim for an unattainable goal and fail than it is to aim for a mediocre achievement and succeed. However difficult things get—and they will get difficult—we must keep these distant goals at the forefront of our thinking and test all our plans to establish whether they move us forward towards them.

Is it worth the effort? Of course it is. Scotland has 50,000 heroin users and 43,000 people who might suffer from hepatitis C as a result of drug abuse. Partners, children and parents are damaged and in despair and a tidal wave of crime is blighting many of our poorest communities. This is a social exclusion issue par excellence. After all, heroin is the scourge of the most disadvantaged in our society.

Some have suggested that the NHS should provide pure heroin to all registered addicts. However, the Swiss experience suggests that that approach might benefit 5 per cent of users and might cost as much as 10 times more than other strategies. As a result, we do not accept that it would make a big difference.

A more fundamental point is that such an approach fails to acknowledge the circumstances in which 12 and 13-year-olds take up drug habits. They are recruited in a place called boredom. The spur is the repetitive tedium of the street corner. The cure is supported purposeful activity. Yesterday, I heard about the twilight basketball initiative, which has been organised by Scottish Sports Futures and has been successful in redirecting youngsters who might take up drugs.

Mr Raffan: Earlier, Mr Stevenson mentioned heroin-assisted treatment. I do not know whether he attended the meeting of the cross-party group on drug and alcohol misuse at which we received an interesting presentation on that very matter from Switzerland. Am I right in thinking that the Scottish National Party's view now matches the outcome of the group's discussion that heroin-assisted treatment can act as a last resort when other treatments have failed?

Stewart Stevenson: I want the minister and the Executive to undertake research to find out whether such an approach would work and provide a benefit in Scotland. The Swiss example has a different context. We must be careful not to act like a drowning man with a lifebelt and grab at solutions that seem to work elsewhere before we have established whether they will work here. However, I certainly do not discount that that could be something for future strategy.

Yesterday, Professor Neil McKeganey highlighted that drug treatment in prison has substantially less successful outcomes than has drug treatment in the community. Boredom in prisons fosters the use of drugs. Also yesterday, Clive Fairweather said that most of us would need something stronger than a Polo mint to survive a prison weekend. I think that I understood where he was coming from.

Prisons work well in keeping prisoners in, but the boundaries are porous. For example, tennis balls filled with heroin were thrown over the fence at Craiginches prison last week. The warders caught some, but others disappeared. Fifty vehicles a day enter Barlinnie prison, but Clive Fairweather tells me that it takes two days to search a single vehicle comprehensively. We cannot eliminate drugs from prisons, much as we might wish to do so. Therefore, we must consider whether we are doing the right things.

Mr Swinney: The member has much experience from his own constituency of the drugs position in Peterhead prison. Does he feel, as I do, that there has been a deterioration in the management of drugs issues within prisons and, in fact, that there is a greater inability in the Prison Service to reform individuals' behaviour and their drug addiction because of the lack of intervention services within prisons?

Stewart Stevenson: My colleague makes a valid point. The cutting of prison governors' budgets by Prison Service management by 5 per cent a year is certainly making the job more difficult.

Today's announcements by the Executive have to be welcomed, by and large. However, there are difficulties that the Deputy Minister for Justice may care to address in summing up. Is the Executive taking over the role of directing and controlling the drug and alcohol action teams? There may well be a case for doing that, but the case should be made so that we understand what is happening. Gaps in service provision, particularly between prison and community, are of concern. Typically, when someone comes out of prison, they go straight back to drugs because they cannot get on a community programme.

Let me make some comments about the Executive's current targets. We talked about a 10 per cent increase in the number of addicts entering treatment and about £1 saving £3 and perhaps £9, but the reality is that the drugs problem in Scotland may cost us £1 billion a year. However, none of the budget's 12 priorities for NHS Scotland says anything on drugs. Today's announcement may move us forward in that. We are looking for an increase in the disruption of criminal networks, but we have abandoned specific targets for the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency.

So what are some of the things that the Executive might care to do? One is to end the scandal of addicts being parked for years on methadone programmes. That is one of the big sources of criticism of methadone. Too many people who get on the programme do not get looked at further. The Executive could consider the New Jersey model in which a drugs counsellor is attached to every addict throughout their history, with the funds to address their addictive behaviour.

Our amendments do not commend the Executive; we merely agree with the Executive. It must do more to earn our commendation. We stress the need for programmes to be available when people need them. That disnae mean on their first day, but it should be within a period rather less than the existing six months.

I move amendment S2M-1882.1, to leave out from "commends" to end and insert:

"agrees that an integrated approach to reducing the supply of drugs, protecting communities from drug-related offending and improving education and information about the risks from drugs is required and that this must provide an increased range and effectiveness of local drug treatment and rehabilitation services to help people to become free from drug dependence which is available at the time each service user takes the step of acknowledging the need for help."


30 September 2004

S2M-1079 Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1079, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the general principles of the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill.
… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Bruce McFee and I are very much looking forward to serving on the Justice 1 Committee during stage 2 of the bill. I have been allowed a bit over a year of time off from the committee for good behaviour; Bruce McFee, being the novice that he is, is a first offender. Please be gentle with him during stage 2.

From my reading of the bill—I have, of course, not had the opportunity of studying it to the same depth as other Justice 1 Committee members—the question that goes to the heart of the matter is this: why do we wish to protect emergency workers? The question why is key to understanding whether we should do something, and what it is that we should do. The answer in this case is straightforward: it is because emergency workers protect those whom they assist. The existence of emergency workers, and the work that they do, serves a broader public purpose, which is of broader benefit.

The bill seeks to protect a relatively small number of people for the benefit of a very large number of people—the public as a whole. That goes to the nub of the matter, in that we are seeking to deliver a benefit to a large number of people. We are seeking to help the general population—all of us—when we are in extremis. The aim is to save life and to mitigate the effects of emergencies.

The partnership agreement says:

"We will protect emergency workers from assault and obstruction."

I contend that achieving that, and serving the purpose that we all share in this respect, does not require us to define who emergency workers are, but rather to define what an emergency situation is and what an individual, whatever their qualification, rank or employment—indeed, it could be a volunteer—is doing. If the bill were to be amended at stage 2 so as to delete subsections (1), (2) and (3) of section 1, which deal with the definition of "emergency worker" and so as to open with what is currently subsection (5), which defines emergency circumstances—that is the nub of the bill, as nothing matters unless emergency circumstances exist—we could move on to identifying whether a person is responding to an emergency, but without having to specify that person.

Margaret Mitchell: Does the member appreciate that that is the nub of the problem?

Just as it is difficult to define, by second-guessing any situation, who could potentially be an emergency worker, it is even more difficult to define and second-guess what circumstances could arise to constitute an emergency. That is why we must consider the individual circumstances of each case and use the common law, with all the increased powers of the Lord Advocate under the aggravated—

Stewart Stevenson: I think that we have got it. Curiously enough, I do not necessarily disagree with Margaret Mitchell's analysis, but I disagree with her conclusion.

There is scope for improving the law in this regard. After all, we are talking about relatively low-end offences. However, before talking about the law—I do not have much time—there are practical things that we should consider doing. For example, how much would it contribute to the safe operation of accident and emergency departments if we excluded non-patients where drink had been taken? Should we breathalyse people as they come into the department on a Friday or Saturday night? Funnily enough, that might deliver a huge benefit.

The minister responded to a question about the Loch Lomond Rescue Boat—a voluntary organisation, of which there are many. I am concerned that if we keep focusing on defining the people, we will exclude many of those whom we would wish to include.

Tommy Sheridan led us into slightly murky waters by talking about public service workers. I argue that that would include us—at least that is the way in which I seek to discharge my duties—so there would be difficulties with that.

The present definitions create problems. Let us envisage a situation in which somebody comes into an accident and emergency department with a double-barrelled shotgun and a doctor and his secretary are at reception, standing back to back. The secretary is there from another department to talk about the Christmas party with some of the people in the department. The double-barrelled shotgun injures both the doctor and the secretary, but one of them comes under the bill's remit and the other does not. If, on the other hand, they were standing face to face discussing an issue relating to the work of the department, the bill would apply to both. That is because at present the bill defines the people rather than the actions to which it applies.

There has been discussion about solemn procedure versus summary procedure.

Tommy Sheridan: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I am in my last minute. I am summing up.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You can take an intervention if you wish.

Stewart Stevenson: In that case, I will.

Tommy Sheridan: It will be short. Surely the example that Stewart Stevenson gave is not that helpful, because in the circumstances that he described, the person would be charged with attempted murder. We are talking about extra protection, so I am not sure that the example was illuminating.

Stewart Stevenson: Let us suppose, instead, that the person in the example throws paint over the doctor and secretary. The general point is illustrated in broad terms—the bill makes distinctions between people that are not related to their actions in emergency situations, which I think is unhelpful.

I say to Annabel Goldie that in considering the bill we are not, as she appeared to suggest, required to agree with it as it is presently framed.

Miss Goldie: That is the difficulty. The question is whether the bill is in a form in which it can be made good. Our submission is that it cannot be made good; it is fundamentally flawed.

Stewart Stevenson: It will be for the convener of the Justice 1 Committee at stage 2 and the Presiding Officer at stage 3 to determine whether amendments will enable us to maintain and sustain the general principles of the bill. The long title of the bill allows us to see what they are likely to conclude. It is:

"An Act of the Scottish Parliament to make it an offence to assault or impede persons who are providing emergency services; and for connected purposes."

That does not require us to define those people as medically qualified, nurses or doctors. All sorts of issues of definition might cause us real difficulties. One of the curious issues relates to my personal life. Paragraph 165 of the Justice 1 Committee's stage 1 report suggests that only police constables have powers of arrest. That of course is not true. Nearly 40 years ago, I spent an enjoyable summer with a warrant card in my pocket when I was a water bailiff under the salmon fisheries acts. I do not imagine that we would want to respond to that fact by extending the definitions to cover my summer job as a water bailiff. By the way, I admit that purely on the basis that it will be excluded from the Official Report, in case people get to know about it.

We are, I hope, all seeking to solve a problem of which we have a common understanding. I suspect that that is the case. The bill—imperfect as it is—is our best opportunity to do so. I hope that all members will find it possible to accept the general principles so that we can move forward to an improved act derived from the bill at stage 2.


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