15 December 2005

S2M-3628 Family Law (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 December 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Family Law (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3628, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Family Law (Scotland) Bill be passed.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): At this stage in the progress of a bill, it is always interesting to look around the chamber to see who are the few hardy chiels who have managed to survive, awake and engaged.

I conclude from today's debate and from debates in committee and elsewhere that no one in the Parliament wishes to do anything that would damage relationships of whatever nature or adversely affect the children of Scotland. At our core, each and every one of us shares a common set of values. We continue to differ on the detail and on whether the bill supports or degrades progress in that respect. However, we are likely to pass a bill tonight, and I will vote for it. We have heard that not all my colleagues will necessarily do so, and we may hear from them later.

I will start with matters outside the bill, to which the minister made reference, by paying tribute to the work that former sheriff Alan Finlayson did on the parenting agreement. It is a most impressive document that was produced by a very impressive process. Alan Finlayson's engagement with the committee and his willingness to interact, respond and adapt as a result of that interaction is an interesting model for extra-legislative ways of dealing with some of the complex issues that arise when one deals with matters such as those that the Family Law (Scotland) Bill encompasses.

I welcome the abolition of marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute and its replacement with something that I hope will be rather clearer and which provides a range of objective tests, although there remains some disagreement about their nature.

We have reformed the waiting times for no-fault divorces. Everyone in the Parliament accepted that we had to reduce by some degree some of the waiting periods under that heading. Anyone outside the Parliament who suggests that members were holding a line and seeking to abolish divorce or to restrict access to it by obstructionism is entirely mistaken. We have differed in degree and in detail, but not, by and large, in principle.

We have addressed an historic wrong in relation to the power of some Jewish men—a very small number—over Jewish wives, and that is welcome.

We have addressed the issue of contact orders to some degree. The minister must continue to work with members to convince us that contact orders will be complied with, given that there are cases in which severe hurt is inflicted through what appears to be wilful disregard of the judgment that the court hands down. By the same token, the minister made some useful moves on support services, but she should not take her hand out of her wallet yet. There is more to do and we will be watching her carefully.

I continue to regret that the Parliament did not respond to my invitation to ensure that information is made available to people about the effects of the various choices—and, indeed, about the effects of their not making certain choices, particularly when children are involved.

We have changed the law of succession in Scotland, but I am worried that we have done so in a relatively non-systematic way that might have unintended consequences. For many years, under a number of Administrations, there has been a desire to reform the law of succession more generally. That is one of the most difficult and technically complex projects that we could consider, but that must not be a reason for further delay. I am worried about the matter and I know that others are too.

We have been told that children are at the core of the bill, but I have to say that it mentions children relatively infrequently and its effects on children are rather imprecise. Nonetheless, I have been persuaded that there will be benefits to children and to vulnerable people who leave a relationship or whose relationship ends due to a death, so I will support the bill.


14 December 2005

S2M-3633 Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 14 December 2005

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

… … …

Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3633, in the name of Brian Adam, on the general principles of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I speak in this debate in a personal rather than a party capacity. There are a few points in particular that I welcome. I welcome the introduction of the prejudice test, including the appearance of prejudice, which, ultimately, is as important as the fact of prejudice.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the bill, if passed, will apply after the next election. Therefore, new members will come to the Parliament with an understanding of the rules that cover their being here. I am slightly surprised by the faint suggestion that spouses do not make a joint choice when one of them decides to stand for the Parliament. In the interests of marital, cohabitive and civil partnership harmony, I encourage spouses to make joint decisions on that matter. That will help.

I worked for 30 years in the financial services industry and my wife worked as a stockbroker for another company in the industry. My brother, who, like me, is a computery person, worked for a third financial services company. For 20 years, we were required under legislation to declare to each other our shareholdings and when we bought and sold them. Thousands of people across the country—I mean Scotland when I say that—have to operate under those rules. It is not draconian for MSPs to have to consider something similar for ourselves.

Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): Surely those declarations are for one specific purpose—to prevent insider trading. Can that possibly apply to us?

Stewart Stevenson: The issue is about the ability to use information in a way that advantages one party without that information being available to others for scrutiny. That, in a sense, is at the core of what we are talking about today. I recognise that I am probably in a minority on that provision in the bill and I suspect that we will not proceed with it, but I merely make the point.

There is a strange discrepancy in the bill in relation to declarable interests. We have to declare registrable interests, but we do not have to declare interests that we have registered voluntarily. We should look at that. Tommy Sheridan, who has participated in the debate, declares in the register of interests that he writes for the Scottish Daily Mirror and that he receives no funds for that—it has done the Scottish Daily Mirror a lot of good, I notice. That is a voluntary registration. Quite properly, therefore, in his motion referring to the closure of the Scottish Daily Mirror, Tommy Sheridan has not had to indicate that as a registered interest. I think that he should have done so and that the rules should require him to do so. However, he has not had to do so at this stage. That is an example of where there is a slightly unfortunate crossover.

On the market value of shares, I have registered my shareholdings for some time—

Tommy Sheridan: Will Stewart Stevenson take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: I have run out of time.

Tommy Sheridan: It will just be a short one.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, quickly.

Tommy Sheridan: I ask Stewart Stevenson, who mentioned the Scottish Daily Mirror, to join me in condemning Trinity Mirror's decision to close down that newspaper. As a Scottish nationalist, I am sure that he will join me in that.

Stewart Stevenson: Tommy Sheridan will see that I have signed one of the motions on the subject.

The market value of shares is the important thing, rather than their nominal value. I welcome the fact that the rule on that has changed. I have registered the market value of the significant shareholdings that I have—it was about 40 per cent of what I needed to declare in terms of nominal value. It is not clear, however, whether the bill relates to members' total shareholdings—I have shareholdings in probably more than a dozen companies—or to each individual shareholding. We need further clarity on that point, but I am sure that we will hear about it when Brian Adam sums up. The bill refers to outside activity. I welcome the recognition that, when we MSPs are speaking or writing outside the Parliament, we should, properly, make reference to our interests.

Given our roles as politicians, I wonder whether the bill should require us to say whether we are in default of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I mention that in relation to the fact that Tommy Sheridan resigned as the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party on 11 November last year. If he had left it three hours later, it would have been the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, but that would have meant peace breaking out—which it obviously has not. The socialists are now five and a half months in default of section 42 of the 2000 act and they will surely be subjected to fines under section 147, as they have yet to submit their accounts for two years ago. The SSP gets Short money—in the party's 2003 accounts, its Short money came to around £25,500. Where is the accounting, the transparency and the declaration of what the socialists have spent that on? I say to Tommy Sheridan that it is rich of him to come here and accuse us of hypocrisy and a lack of transparency when he and his party are incapable of obeying the legislation and rules of this country.


08 December 2005

Subject Debate: Criminal Justice Plan

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 8 December 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Criminal Justice Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on the first anniversary of the criminal justice plan.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In my remarks, I will focus on Scotland's drug abuse problem. At the outset, I emphasise the obvious fact that I do not bring an eight-minute solution. My speech cannot deliver that, just as the minister said in her speech that the plan is very much a work in progress and that, after 12 months, it is far from complete. The most complex problems—which are precisely what we have in the criminal justice system—cannot be solved by quick fixes, simplistic solutions or political knee-jerk actions.

I welcome the fact that the Solicitor General has done us the courtesy of being with us throughout the debate and listening to what we have said. I know that members who addressed issues about the court system will welcome the fact that the Solicitor General was in the chamber to hear their remarks.

I see that Miss Goldie has, at last, returned and I welcome her back to justice debates and engagement with justice policy. I note that since the beginning of the summer recess she has asked only two questions on criminal justice, compared with 25 questions from her justice spokesperson. My colleague Kenny MacAskill has asked 26 and I have asked 67, so we know where the real action on criminal justice is taking place. Indeed, the minister has answered more than 360 questions on criminal justice during that period. The issue of criminal justice engages people throughout the Parliament—even Tommy Sheridan has asked two questions on it during that period, and his colleague Rosemary Byrne has asked six.

There is much with which we agree in chapter 2 of the criminal justice plan, which was published more than a year ago. There are little chinks of light here and there. Paragraph 2.2 of the plan reported that there were 56,000 injecting heroin users. After a year, that appears to have reduced to 51,000. However, that is perhaps one area in which we seem to have some understanding in a near-vacuum of knowledge in the field. The minister said that the plan was not a 12-month plan and that we should judge the Executive by its actions.

On rebuilding respect and confidence, 84 drugs networks were smashed, which is excellent because it strengthens the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. The minister deserves two gold stars; it is exactly the right thing to be doing.

On the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, it is always welcome to get a penny out of a drug baron's pocket, but I have compared the amount that is being recovered and found that it is less than the fines that have been levied by Aberdeen sheriff court alone, which puts our modest achievements in context. Recovering that money is difficult and more effort is required. More resources for the SDEA will be very welcome and we in the SNP will support that.

In my questions during the past few months, I have asked about a number of issues about which we have a disturbing knowledge vacuum. I will compare and contrast what the Executive says with—it is unusual for me to commend this source—what is coming out of the strategy unit at 10 Downing Street. The strategy unit publishes an annual report of more than 100 pages that explains the situation south of the border and makes some tangential reference to what happens in Scotland.

There is some good news in the answers to my questions. The Executive is, through the Home Office drugs strategy delivery group, working to involve foreign Governments and other organisations to identify ways in which we can reduce the supply of illegal drugs. That is very welcome, difficult, long-term action that illustrates perfectly that drug problems in Scotland do not stand apart from those in the wider world.

Jeremy Purvis: I am sure that the member has seen the HMIC report. Table 12 on page 96 of that report shows the positive effect. In 1996-97, the police recorded 39 offences of illegal importation. In 2004-05, there was one offence.

Stewart Stevenson: Of course that is what the table shows. However, the strategy unit's 2003 estimates show that the annual profits of an importer are, on average, £2.5 million. A distributor will earn £1 million and so it goes on. We can therefore see that there is a very significant problem.

It is also estimated that 34 tonnes of heroin and about 30 tonnes of cocaine are brought into the UK annually. According to the strategy unit, seizures in the UK are at around 10 per cent.

Let us consider the profit margins in the drugs sector. Gucci, a hugely high-margin retailer, has a profit margin of 30 per cent. The strategy unit estimates the profit margin of the drugs industry to be at around 58 per cent.

When compared to the strategy unit's information, the information that we have in Scotland is extremely modest. I asked the Scottish Executive whether it had been contacted by people who are willing to conduct research on the drugs trade. When it came down to it, the answer was "Mebbe aye, but we're nae doin' it."

I asked what contacts we had had with the Home Office to determine the size of the UK drug trade. The answer was, "Yes, it has been in touch," but that was about it.

I asked for an estimate of the size of the illegal drugs trade in Scotland, but there are no current plans to compile one. However, the strategy unit south of the border provides precisely such an estimate: it is approximately £16 billion—the range is £12 billion to £20 billion. In such an information vacuum, we are unlikely to raise the issue up the agenda in the way in which that is required. It must rise up the agenda.

We recognise that about 1,200 youngsters in Scotland are at the root of the antisocial behaviour on which this Parliament has spent so much time. Sceptical as we in the SNP were, we supported the bill on that subject. However, the reality is that there are 50,000 drug users across Scotland, and they are responsible for three quarters of crime. Let us put the drug problem into context. It is much bigger than the problem of antisocial behaviour and touches every community. The size of the industry makes it comparable to, if slightly smaller than, the size of the tourism industry in Scotland. I hope that, over the coming year, we will see someone really engage with that. I say that in an entirely non-partisan way. We will work with the minister. She knows that I can work with her on subjects in which we have a common interest. Everyone in the chamber and everyone in Scotland has a common interest in this subject and we must work together to remove the problem.


01 December 2005

S2M-3657 Fisheries

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 1 December 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3657, in the name of Ross Finnie, on sea fisheries.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will begin by delineating a number of areas where there is fairly clear agreement. I can find something to agree with in each of the propositions that have been put forward by the various political parties. In particular, I highlight Ross Finnie's commendation of the FRS scientists. That illustrates something very important: that we have the skills, the talent and the ability to deploy research scientists for the benefit of the industry and of the natural environment. I will come back to that later.

Phil Gallie, unexpectedly, showed me that we have something very important in common. If I understood him correctly, our maiden speeches were both on fishing. I made my maiden speech 1,645 days ago on 14 June 2001. I worked that out during those parts of the debate that have been a little tedious. However, I have risen to the challenge and I intend to change the tone.

Ted Brocklebank's amendment is largely sensible, but he spoils it at the end by moving on to matters beyond the Parliament's remit—I am surprised that, as a unionist, he does that. The amendment talks about local control of UK waters, over which we have no influence whatever and over which SNP members do not particularly wish to have influence. That is a shame about the amendment, but there we are.

Now freed from the burdens of office, Jim Wallace made a particularly interesting contribution when he spoke of the crucial role of the Norway-EU negotiations, which significantly determine our fishermen's access to the haddocks in the North sea. He may of course wish to consider that that perfectly illustrates the point that another model is available for how countries with significant fishing interests interact with the European Union in ensuring that their national interest is progressed.

On balance, we cannot support the Greens' amendment, but it nonetheless addresses a vital issue—discards. Frankly, that the European Union and countries in the common fisheries policy have failed meaningfully to engage on that issue over the years is a shame with which we are all tainted, because that involves a key distinction between how the European Union seeks to manage fish stocks through the common fisheries policy and the approach of the small nations to our north—Iceland and the Faroes. The Greens make a valid point by bringing discards to the debate, albeit in a context with which we disagree.

There is heartening news on something that I have, since I first spoke on fishing, banged on about, as have others—the industrial fisheries, which are prosecuted largely by the Danes. We are seeing some retrenchment from the predations of the more than 1 million tonnes that they had as a quota in the not too distant past to a situation in which the effect of their industrial fishery is felt so strongly that, at last, the food that cod and haddocks eat—sprats, sand eels and pouts—are protected because they are scarce. That is because the ecology of the North sea—like that of all seas—interacts at every point of action with other points. The relative withdrawal of the Danish industrials is a welcome development that I think will be commended throughout the chamber.

At the core of the debate is a difficult and fundamental clash, to which Tommy Sheridan referred, between science, the interests of science, the objectivity of scientists and communities' needs. Until we find a way to join communities' interests to scientists' discussions, we will probably have a more sterile debate than that which we must have if we are to act responsibly and create a sustainable future for our communities.

Robin Harper: The member mentioned the interests of scientists. What does he mean by that?

Stewart Stevenson: If I said that, I meant the objectivity of scientists—I am obliged if I used the wrong word—because objectivity is the point. Communities have an economic and emotional response to the problems—that is a proper interest—whereas scientists respond objectively. However, the science has a difficulty. We are like somebody prospecting for oil: we drill a few oil wells in the hope of discovering something about what is at the bottom of the hole, but we never understand the whole system. We see only a very small amount of what is going on. Scientists are challengeable.

Phil Gallie: Would the member say that the evidence of fishermen in the Clyde over the past 10 years, and more recent evidence from fishermen in the North sea about haddock, has been much more reliable than the scientific evidence?

Stewart Stevenson: The voice of practitioners who are engaging with the ecology and the stock must be heard. That is precisely why we made the point that fishermen, with their experience and understanding, should be much closer to the decision-making process. We welcome the minister's response to a point that we have made repeatedly, as have others. We are grateful that we have had a response.

I turn to costs more generally. I have a note that shows that in December 2003 a litre of fuel was 15.7p, currently it is 28p and last month it was 32.1p. The Spaniards are over-subsidising by more than six pence a litre. They will be slapped down by the European Union and the Spanish Government will be fined, but the fishermen have had and will retain the economic advantage that has come from something that their Government should probably not be doing.

I will end with a quote from a fisherman, who said:

"This year will be remembered as the year when most white-fish boats improved their top line gross, but finished with less profit, no profit, or with the feeling that it's time to get out—and not because of lack of fish on the grounds. The ever-increasing price of fuel, and poor TACs that have been cut continually over the past year, have created the situation of buying quota, leasing quota and, unbelievably, buying days to work."

We need change now and we hope that the minister can move the game up the park.


30 November 2005

S2M-3627 Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 30 November 2005

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

… … …

Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3627, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the general principles of the Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is worth stating the obvious: attitudes to this subject vary both within families and beyond. One side of my family has an entirely different attitude to this from the other. One of my relatives opted for medical research. The post-mortem cadaver went to four different locations for four different sets of students. That person's spouse expressed a similar wish later in life although, for a variety of reasons, we were unable to deliver on those wishes.

However, someone on the other side of my family, although being a recipient of organ donation—in this case a cornea, which is not quite what we are talking about—had an instinctive revulsion to their remains being used post mortem for the benefit of others. We have to recognise and understand people's views. In considering the subject further, we have to accommodate that diversity of views while ensuring that we educate people and talk to them before difficult decisions have to be made. We must also do that in the hope of persuading more people to support others post mortem.

All the Scottish National Party members have donor cards or have registered to say that our organs can be used post mortem. From the speeches of other members, it appears that that is broadly the case for them too. Curiously enough—and I hope that my party leader will forgive me for saying this—the one good argument for identification cards is that such information could be carried on them. It is a matter of regret that the Identity Cards Bill specifically excludes carrying medical information on ID cards. The minister might bring that up with colleagues south of the border the next time he is talking to them. That is not a commitment to supporting ID cards—

Carolyn Leckie: Will SNP MPs move an amendment to that effect?

Stewart Stevenson: I rather doubt it. I am expressing an entirely personal opinion, as indeed I said at the outset. I only expressed the view that it is passing strange that medical information is excluded.

It is important that we have mechanisms to allow us to understand people's views at a point when we can no longer ask them. Of course, family and loved ones have a role, but we must put the interests of the person who has died at the core.

Children are quite capable of making informed decisions on this matter. I am sure that, as the bill proceeds, that will continue to be debated. I am not certain that people with incapacities should automatically be ruled out. For example, people with a degree of mental incapacity or learning difficulties are on the electoral register and make decisions about which of us come here and go elsewhere. Are we to deny people with that sort of influence the right to say in an informed way what should happen to their body parts post mortem? Questions remain, as it is difficult to find the right dividing line.

There will be challenges in years to come that we are not ready to incorporate in the bill. As medical technology progresses, we will increasingly be able to retain all the bodily functions of life beyond the point of death. The blurring of that distinction between life and death already challenges the work that is done in intensive care units, where people are on life-support systems. That distinction will become even more challenging in future. Indeed, there will be even more debate over the question whether it is morally, ethically and societally proper to keep the body functioning in order to preserve organs against the possibility that they might be of value.

At this stage, we cannot anticipate some future difficulties. Interestingly, when organ donations first began, no one could have conceived of the now relatively common beating-heart donation.

On organ trafficking, I have looked at section 17 and read what the committee report has to say on the subject. I am not certain of the bill's approach to the cost of providing organs—as distinct from the buying and selling of organs—particularly with regard to the substantial costs that are associated with the international movement of organs. Of course, need and the ability to donate recognise no international boundaries, and we do not want to do anything that might make things more difficult.

Several members referred to domino transplants. Again, as medical technology is likely to increase the opportunities for and the number of such transplants and to affect their character, we should be careful not to do anything in the bill that might make it difficult to carry them out in future. That said, we cannot foresee the future entirely.

In paragraphs 48, 84 and 98, the committee recommends that the Executive advertise the changes in the bill and inform the public, especially decision makers who might be asked for consent post mortem, of the implications. As members know, I am not a great advocate of Executive advertising, but perhaps just this once I might generously suggest that the Executive should advertise.

Before concluding, I take slight issue with the earlier suggestion that there is a social divide in this matter and that more articulate people are likely to donate organs. I happen to think that people of every social class and educational background are perfectly capable of making proper decisions on this matter and we do no one in our society any favours by denigrating that ability.

One thing that we can be certain of is that we are all born to die. The Parliament will do a noble thing if it creates an opportunity for the dead to contribute to the lives of those who follow them. However, we commit evil if we presume to know the views of the dead. As the bill progresses through Parliament, striking the correct balance will be the challenge for the Executive—and, indeed, for all of us.


24 November 2005

S2M-3415 Television Licence and Digital Reception

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 24 November 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Television Licence and Digital Reception

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3415, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the television licence and digital reception. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that there are still many areas in Scotland, including parts of Perthshire, where digital television reception is not possible; notes with concern the desire by the BBC to increase the television licence fee by 2.3% above inflation, and believes that, until such time as the BBC's entire broadcast output is available to all licence payers, a differential should be introduced into the licence fee to ensure that people who are not receiving a full service do not pay the same licence fee as those who do.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We have not had much technical stuff tonight, so I shall fill that vacancy. I point particularly to a decision that was made three years ago by the Independent Television Commission, which allows two different standards. There are six multiplexes or channels that cover many different TV stations. Three use one standard—64 quadratic amplitude modulation—and the other three use 16 quadratic amplitude modulation. Does that matter? Actually it does, because the 64QAM is a much less effective carrier of signals to the receiver, particularly for people who are relatively distant from the transmitter.

The website that has been referred to suggests that to receive BBC 1 and BBC 2 at my home address, I should turn my aerial to the south and point it at the transmitter at Durris, which is approximately 40 miles away. If I want to watch Grampian, I have no options. If I want to get BBC 4, I must turn my aerial to the north, towards the Rumster forest transmitter, which is 65 miles away. The reality is that I get some of the multiplexes, but not others. The 64QAM multiplexes, in particular, are very difficult to get.

We must realise that, at present, there are 1,160 analogue transmitters in the United Kingdom. When the crossover to digital is complete, it is planned that there will be 80 digital transmitters. That represents a huge reduction in the number of aerials—

Mr McGrigor: Does the member know how many transmitters there are in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: Alas, I do not, but I am confident that, pro rata, the reduction will be even greater because of our terrain.

Some of the options that are referred to from time to time, such as satellite, are not available to everyone. In the Moray firth, for example, there are a number of communities that live to the north of a cliff, which means that they are unable to see the satellite, which is at an angle of approximately 46° to the horizon. In other communities, planning restrictions mean that residents are not permitted to put up satellite dishes. There are some quite serious problems out there.

Other members have spoken about the cost to people of updating their aerials. It is estimated that, across the UK, that will cost £400 million, so we can perhaps infer that the cost to Scots will be £35 million. Through Ofcom, the Government has said that 35,000 to 40,000 households, most of which will be in remote rural areas such as the Scottish islands, will fall outside the coverage.

Another point that is worth making is that with digital the signal strength is greatly reduced. My Rumster forest analogue signal is transmitted at 500kW, whereas the digital signal is transmitted at a mere 8kW. That is good in that it saves electricity, but it is not so good in that it makes it much more difficult for me to receive the signal.

The figure of 95 per cent coverage for Freeview sounds okay, but according to Ofcom:

"the 95 per cent Freeview coverage would resemble a 'swiss cheese', reducing faith in the service, and switchover generally".

One way or another, there are both technical and societal issues to deal with. Digital reception is a social inclusion issue for the Parliament. There is a big difference between switch-over and switch-off. Just because analogue will be switched off, that does not mean that we will be able to switch over. Curiously, the south-east of England faces the biggest problems because of interference from the continent. People who live there will be the last to switch, so the changeover might be another poll tax on air—we will go first and suffer.


17 November 2005

S2M-3400 Aboyne Maternity Unit

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 November 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

… … …

Aboyne Maternity Unit

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3400, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Aboyne maternity unit. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the excellent work carried out by staff at Aboyne Hospital's maternity unit; notes that the number of mothers giving birth at Aboyne is increasing, with the number of deliveries rising from 34 in 2003 to 60 in 2004, and notes that the number of bookings has increased by 71 per cent for the coming year; agrees that the unit is an excellent example of health services being delivered locally as advocated by Professor David Kerr in his report, Building a Health Service Fit for the Future; further agrees that expectant mothers should have the option of giving birth locally, at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary or in the home; notes with concern the possibility of the unit being closed, and considers that NHS Grampian should work with local people to ensure that the unit remains open.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the mums and the products of their efforts and, of course, the efforts of Aboyne maternity unit. I thank Mike Rumbles for the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

I come to the debate as an Opposition politician to speak in support of Executive policy, because it is clear what Executive policy is and it is clear that we support that policy, which has been articulated on many occasions. A year ago, the draft budget stated that, in the health service,

"investment priorities and service redesign will be matters for frontline staff in partnership with patients."

I know that the front-line staff and the patients at Aboyne are, as is the case at the other four maternity units, in favour of retaining the unit and developing and building on its success. Three of the other units—the ones in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banff—are in my constituency and they, too, sit under the black cloud of uncertainty that has been created by Grampian NHS Board.

This is a rural issue par excellence, but it is not only a rural issue par excellence. Fraserburgh is, in fact, a non-rural area with a population of 15,000; it is the biggest town in Scotland more than an hour away from an acute services unit. The issue goes right down and right through the implementation of health policy in the north-east.

Mike Rumbles gets it spot on in the motion:

"NHS Grampian should work with local people to ensure that the unit remains open."

That is also true of the units in my constituency. We have heard that 500 people were out on the street in Aboyne, 600 were out in Fraserburgh and a couple of hundred were out in Banff. Frankly, when we energise the women of the north-east, we men should take cover. I have little doubt about the ultimate success of the campaigns.

The Scottish National Party would, of course, make health boards more responsive to what is going on by including on them some elected members, but I do not expect the minister to respond to that point tonight.

Andy Kerr, in the debate on 27 October, re-emphasised the Executive's policy for

"health care to focus more on preventive and continuous care in local communities and to target our resources at those who are at the greatest risk of ill health."—[Official Report, 27 October; c 20029.]

I agree with that policy. If we transfer maternity services away from midwife-led units, we potentially increase the costs, as we will deploy more expensive and more specialised skills and resources at the centre to no purpose.

One of the principles of the report to which members have referred—"A Framework for maternity services in Scotland"—is that

"The consultation processes should involve ... users of services, and the general public."

Involvement is not the end of the story; we have to respond to the needs of

"users of services, and the general public."

There are supposed to be maternity services liaison committees. I must confess that I am not personally aware of one, although there may well be such committees. However, I have not yet seen them come to the table with any great passion.

I will close with a little saying from a guru called Bernard Cox:

"The British Civil Servant ... cannot be bribed to do wrong nor persuaded to do right."

On this occasion, persuasion must triumph and the civil servants must respond to public need and to mothers' and children's needs.


S2M-3584 Dentistry

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 November 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): Good morning. The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-3584, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on dentistry. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One of the dangers in such debates is that we oversimplify the issue. We all have to concede that it is immensely complex.

In an especially interesting and relevant contribution, Des McNulty referred to the underachievement in oral health in his constituency. I accept his points; they were absolutely true. Nonetheless, in the greater Glasgow area, there are 7.48 dentists for each 10,000 of population—the highest ratio in Scotland. The issue is much more complex than taking a simple measure of the number of dentists. However, we cannae do it without dentists, so it is important that we talk about the numbers.

In the area that I represent—Grampian—we have just over half the number of dentists for each 10,000 of population that people in the greater Glasgow area have. Our figure is 3.9. Elaine Murray's concerns over the issue are graphically illustrated by the fact that her area is at the very bottom of the table, with a figure of 3.46. In areas where there are few dentists, it is clear that too many people cannot access dental services. That applies both to private and to NHS services in certain areas, including, for a time, one of the large towns in my constituency. Simple nostrums do not deliver the answers to complex problems. On that basis, we welcome the debate that the Parliament has had today.

There is nothing so glad to the heart as a sinner who repenteth. I welcome the additional resources and the setting of priorities. I need only look back to the "Draft Budget 2005-06", which is about a year old, to find that there is only one reference—in what is a very large document—to dental services, on page 56. None of the targets and objectives for the health service refers to dentistry and the proposals for the years up to 2008 show a flatlining budget for general dental services for four years in a row from 2004-05. The response by the Executive and the changes that it has made are most welcome, but they are comparatively recent. That illustrates the value of sustained parliamentary pressure from members of all parties—I include in that members of the Executive parties, some of whom have had a Damascene conversion.

When he opened the debate, the Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care said that the Executive's measures were good news for dentists and patients. I would prefer him to have said that they were good news for patients and dentists. Although the difference is subtle, the change of emphasis is not trivial. Let us not talk about dentists, except in so far as they meet patients' needs. My colleague Tricia Marwick made the fine point that we need a degree of clarity on what "patients" actually means; I am sure that the minister will be able to give us that clarity. Unless it means all the people in Scotland who wish to access NHS dentists, we will be missing a trick. I hope that we will get reassurance on that.

The minister said that we must encourage dentists to rejoin the health service, but that might require a lot of courage on their part, given that there will be no substantial economic benefit to them as individuals. Dentists can make quite a lot of money in the private sector, although I would not seek to suggest that dentists in the NHS sector are impoverished. However, dentists who have gone to work in the private sector find that they can spend more time with their patients for similar money and feel that they provide a much higher quality of service. That is one of the fundamental difficulties that we face in recovering from the neglect of dental services that was started during the Tory years. I believe that dentists want to do a good job in delivering good oral health for the people of Scotland.

The minister said that we must have patience. That is certainly true in the sense that there is no quick fix that will deliver a solution overnight but, as Mao Tse-Tung said, a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. We have made slightly more than a single step; we are on the case and we will continue to watch what gets delivered, as distinct from what gets done. The two are quite different—action is no substitute for achievement.

It is true that the dental health of our five-year-olds is the best ever, which is good, but NHS boards will continue not to move dentistry as high up the agenda as I and colleagues would wish it to be until there is a statutory duty on them to deliver NHS dental health services. I do not propose a date by which that duty should be imposed, because that would be for me to succumb to simplistic, knee-jerk reactions, but I think that we should say that we will have a statutory duty in the future, when the resources are in place and we have a plan that sustains that approach. That will give confidence to dentists and—more to the point—patients.

Richard Baker let down the tone of the debate when he attacked some dentists' conflict of interests. On conflict of interests, I need only refer to some of the member's Labour colleagues. Eight days after ceasing to be a Government minister, Baroness Symons became a director of British Airways. Alan Milburn, a former Secretary of State for Health, is now a consultant to Alliance Medical, which has big contracts with the NHS. The former UK energy minister, Brian Wilson, works for AMEC Nuclear and, within months of being Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine was working as a consultant for Hutchison Whampoa, which wants £77 million from the Government. I ask Richard Baker to think again on conflict of interests.

We can discuss the past ad nauseam, but we cannot change it, so the SNP will make common cause with the Executive to tackle Scotland's oral health deficit. We now need the Executive to make common cause with the dentists.


03 November 2005

S2M-3436 Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 3 November 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3436, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill be passed.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): One of the first things that happens to a prisoner upon reception is a test of numeracy and literacy. Would that such tests were applied to Conservative party members before they took their seats in Parliament. It is entirely against Scottish National Party policy, of course, for me to assist the Tories in any way, but occasionally one has to break the rules.

Let me just flesh out and illustrate the numbers that I gave previously by reference to Peterhead prison, where all prisoners serve a minimum of four years. There are 296 prisoners there and if we abolish early release, which I accept in principle, we have a capital expenditure of £30 to £35 million and a revenue expenditure against our budget of £60 million, which gives something like £100 million. Now, of course, if the Tories argue that that is good expenditure, I will listen to them. However, they have not actually given any numbers.

The argument is about what else that £100 million could be spent on. For example, it could be more police, more social workers or more education for people who are in prison to prevent them from reoffending. To be blunt, the Tories are the economic illiterates of Parliament. They do not even recognise numbers when they see them.

I congratulate the minister on reaching her 31st birthday today, as calculated by the hexadecimal system; by that system, I shall reach 40 in five years.

The Tories also show that they are illiterate through their continuing mantra that a benefit is to be derived from locking up people for a long time. I direct members to the United States' experience. All the states have their own legal, penal and criminological systems. Some have the death penalty; some do not. Not one shred of academic evidence shows a correlation between sentencing policy and outcomes. Indeed, with one exception, the states where the death penalty prevails have the highest murder rates per head of population. We must take the Tories' mantras on the matter with a very large pinch of salt.

I join others in wishing Miss Goldie all the best in a personal sense with the poisoned chalice that she is about to accept and with a lame duck second-in-command who did not have the courage of his convictions to put his proposition to his party. I continue to have as much political ill will for her party as I have good will for her.


02 November 2005

Subject Debate: Freedom of Information

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 2 November 2005

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

… … …

Freedom of Information

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on freedom of information.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This is my 215th speech in the Parliament.

Ms Curran: It seems like much more.

Stewart Stevenson: My 23rd speech was made during stage 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, some 18 months after that bill was passed, to find that speech of mine being quoted in Executive literature. It had been kept secret from me that the Executive was using parts of my speech from 17 January 2002 as part of the training material for civil servants. Well, at least I have done something useful while I have been here. I share that honour with Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Donald Gorrie and one or two other members. Donald, of course, spoke about a muttered conversation with Jim Wallace. I demand that that muttered conversation be published in the interests of freedom of information.

I always mine "Yes Minister" when I want to think about what goes on in the hallowed corridors of power to which we are so seldom admitted. I remember the episode quite early in the first series when Sir Humphrey was talking to his boss the cabinet secretary about the cabinet secretary's upcoming retirement. The cabinet secretary ran through the things that he expected to do after retirement, and said, "I'm taking up a position as the chairman of the campaign for freedom of information." That was written in 1981. Already it was satire and parody. We have been talking about freedom of information for a long time.

Of course, the interesting thing was the expression of horror on Sir Humphrey's face when the cabinet secretary said that. Then, of course, the cabinet secretary explained that he was taking the position so that the exercise of freedom could be responsibly discharged. That is precisely what the Tories sought to do in 1994—to create an environment not where the public determined the information that was brought into public gaze, but where Government ministers and civil servants exercised a "responsible attitude" to freedom of information.

I welcome the passing of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Notwithstanding some of the wrinkles that have emerged subsequently, on balance it is very much in the public interest and in the interest of parliamentarians in all parties.

Phil Gallie, a representative of the Tories, suggested that much of the information could have been released. That is perfectly true, but there is a huge difference—albeit of one letter, but huge in sentiment—between could and would. Could did not mean would. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 under which we now operate has made a world of difference.

I was slightly surprised that Bill Aitken appeared to forget that the information commissioner is a creature of this Parliament, not of the Executive. We should remember that fact.

I give members the words that the Executive plucked from my previous speech:

"A desire to keep information is always an expression of someone's self-interest".—[Official Report, 17 January 2002; c 5499.]

Self-interest has now been laid at the door of public interest, which is welcome.

There is a lot more work to do to see how things operate. I point in particular to section 6 of the 2002 act, on publicly owned companies. Section 6(2) states that a company is publicly owned if it is

"wholly owned ... by the Scottish Ministers"


"if it has no members except ... persons acting on behalf of the Scottish Ministers or of such companies".

That touches upon PFI—private companies, single purpose, totally at the work of Scottish ministers.

We must be much better at opening the dirty raincoat and seeing what is going on.

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): We will not be quoting that.

Stewart Stevenson: I see that Mr Finnie has a particularly capacious dirty raincoat about which he is worried.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Please wind up, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: I used "sensitive" in my speech three years ago in the generally understood sense. Sensitive information is precisely the information that should now be being disclosed.


29 September 2005

S2M-3317 Youth Justice

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 September 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Youth Justice

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3317, in the name of Miss Annabel Goldie, on behalf of the Justice 2 Committee, on its 9th report in 2005, "Inquiry into Youth Justice". ... ... ...


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I come to the debate as a grumpy old man.

Hugh Henry: Hear, hear.

Stewart Stevenson: Thank you, Hugh. That is because I, too, had my travel interrupted. I left Linlithgow at 6.02 am and got here at 7.40 am, so perhaps the disruption did not intrude too much.

Reading the Justice 2 Committee's report, I am reminded of a quotation from Barnett Cocks:

"A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled."

Let me illustrate my grumpiness on that. When I looked at the summary of conclusions and recommendations, I played the game that I often play when I want to get a quick sense of what is in front of me: hunt the verb. Among the various recommendations, I see one on coterminosity. It says:

"effective planning ... must therefore be developed."

That is not too bad. Another recommendation is on the role of local authorities. It uses the phrase:

"we invite the Executive to consider".

The recommendation on the involvement of the voluntary sector says:

"We recommend that the Executive asks each ... group to explain".

For the role and remit of strategy groups, the wording is:

"we suggest that the Executive considers".

We read that:

"education services have a critical role".

That is good. Under the heading "Multi-agency delivery arrangements", the report says:

"We invite the Scottish Executive to undertake some evaluation".

And so it goes on. That is a bit light on solutions, although there are a lot of suggestions for new work for the Executive. That will make the Deputy Minister for Justice very happy because, of course, he is underemployed and needs such suggestions.

I return to the point that my colleague Kenny MacAskill made. The challenges are genuinely difficult. What the Justice 2 Committee has come up with reflects that difficulty, which we all face.

Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which was signed on 2 December 2000 in Nice, is on the rights of the child. Paragraph 2 states:

"In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child's best interests must be a primary consideration."

I should also mention article 15, which is headed "Freedom to choose an occupation and right to engage in work". In many respects, we are all failing our children in relation to meeting our duties under the charter and our obligations to wider society. In fulfilling those duties, we benefit—we benefit from children who are engaged.

The numbers are interesting. I am slightly surprised that other members, particularly the minister, have not already cited them, because they contain some good news. The number of prison receptions went down by 22 per cent in the period from 1996 to 2004 and the decline was continuous. The figures for young offenders are even better: over the same period, the number fell by 38 per cent, to 1,908 from 3,058. Interestingly enough, receptions for drug offences are down by nearly half. Therefore, there is good news out there. Even receptions for fine defaults are down by 40 per cent for adults and by 61 per cent for under-21s in that period. That is something to build on. However, the average numbers in prison have gone up—we are putting more serious people away for longer. That is against the background of the suggestion on page 27 of the report that there are perhaps half a million no-offence referrals, in which children touch the system. Others have mentioned the need to act at that point.

I agree with what Margaret Mitchell said about the need to address people's literacy and numeracy when they come into contact with the justice system. I think that the issue should be addressed earlier, because it is clear that low levels of literacy and numeracy will cause problems for children later.

The national standards for Scotland's youth justice services, which were developed and published in the minister's name, illustrate much of the problem of multi-agency working, because they include long lists of targets and of the interactions that there have to be between the police, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, social work, the reporter again, the children's hearings system and the council.

The danger is that, by looking at things in that way, we might lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with a young person. The key thing that we lose sight of is responsibility. We lose sight of who is responsible, who has to do what and who has to deliver to support our young people and to ensure that they do not get into trouble. We also lose sight of what that costs us to do and, equally important, what it will cost us as a society and in our budget if we do nothing—the problem, as well as the solution, has a cost. I am not terribly clear what the balance between those costs is.

I smell something of the classic comment from The Economist 10 years ago:

"The British Civil Servant - a man"—

or woman—

"who cannot be bribed to do wrong nor persuaded to do right."

I believe that the report is somewhat symptomatic of that approach. I do not know who gets fired if things do not work. Political accountability is clear, but the minister does not run things; he sets the strategy, but who gets fired if things do not work on the ground? I am still no clearer.


15 September 2005

S2M-3233 Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 September 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3233, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the general principles of the Family Law (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Today we debate the role of the state in supporting families and family structures in modern Scotland. Stability and comfort come through enduring relationships, with the finance and the leisure time with which to enjoy them. Our communities as a whole share the benefits derived by individuals in such stable and comfortable relationships. By contrast, chaos and lack of stability in families lead to lack of social cohesion and of shared purpose in our communities, and damage far too many beyond the problem family with difficulties. A bill that aims to increase stability without compromising individual freedom ought to be one that gains wide support.

We should prefer the enabling that is implicit in a well-designed, well-structured, liberal family law bill. That is entirely consistent with the discomfort of many members at the previous focus on punitive control measures—antisocial behaviour orders and the like—designed to deal with the failures in too many families. Therefore, we welcome the move to positive support for families and, to some extent, away from punitive measures to address issues with families and offspring.

Children are at the heart of almost all couples' aspirations, so I welcome the emphasis on children in Hugh Henry's comments today. However, the first thing that I must say is that the proposals in the bill are strangely silent about children. We can glimpse the effects on their lives in some of the proposals—in the area of relationships post break-up, for example—but the core policy intentions for children, which have been articulated fairly clearly, are far from clear in the bill. However, the bill in its current form is the basis on which we can address and resolve those matters in subsequent stages of our consideration.

The Executive is in a hurry. Across the political parties, committee members have felt under considerable and perhaps unnecessary pressure to complete consideration of the bill. Indeed, we hear that the Executive would like stage 3 to happen before the end of the year, which is ambitious. I do not criticise the Executive for being ambitious, but is that unrealistic? Will it devalue and debase the bill that we ultimately pass? The distant sound of the tambours of election war already clamours in the Government's ears, to judge from the indecent haste with which the—as I shall argue—ill-developed legislation is being pursued. The consultation on which the bill is founded stretches back over a decade, so why there should be so many areas of uncertainty, continuing debate and change in the bill is a little bit of a mystery.

I will attempt to answer three questions. First, is the bill needed? Secondly, are the changes proposed necessary, sufficient and beneficial to—in order of priority—children, couples, society and the state? Thirdly, are the risks of the proposed changes high enough to sound alarm bells that we should take notice of?

Clearly, the bill touches on issues of personal morality, belief, religion and lifestyle, so the Scottish National Party will not be applying a party whip and I expect that the contributions from our benches on some of the proposals will reflect a range of views. I hope that my colleagues will largely support the onward passage of the bill, and I speak in the belief that most, and perhaps all, of them will do so, but I also speak from a position of personal involvement with the issues through the committee and elsewhere.

It was appropriate that Hugh Henry acknowledged that there will not be a universal welcome for the bill. Cardinal Keith O'Brien's submission to the committee restated the Catholic Church's position, stating that the

"Church opposes divorce in principle".

Of course, the cardinal is therefore unhappy with the proposed reduction in the periods required for divorce. He quoted Pope John Paul II as saying:

"What is missing in non-marital cohabitation is trusting openness to a future life together".

That is not a view that I hold, but it is one that will be important in our future consideration of the bill. We must take account of all views.

The minister will know that I have suggested that we should respond to lobbying from the Catholic Church by ensuring, for example, that when unmarried couples are registering their first child they are made fully aware of the options for building on and strengthening their relationship for the benefit of the child. Perhaps the state could make that information available to people in the hope that more people will enter into civil partnerships or progress to marriage to protect the future of the child. We would have to make people aware of the range of options.

I turn to some of the detailed comments that the committee has made. We certainly share the minister's concerns about the uncertainty surrounding marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute, in so far as it may exist. We support the idea of an informational campaign and recognise the need after the bill is passed—which I assume will happen—to raise awareness of the effects of its provisions. At the same time, we must ensure that marriage is also explained to the general public.

The minister will know that family support services are something in which I have taken an interest in the past, and I welcome what he has said about the Executive's objective of building capacity in the services that support family relationships, notably counselling and mediation. The reference to independent local voluntary bodies is entirely appropriate, and I would counsel that we need more support for them and perhaps less focus on the national bodies. That is of concern to my local bodies, which are already working together, collaborating and sharing premises, and are showing good practice for elsewhere. Local authorities have a role, but we must not let that role be to suppress the initiatives that are taken in the voluntary sector.

The minister's comments on the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001 are welcome. The committee and I consider that that is a good basis for consolidating an increasingly confusing use of interdicts to protect people in relationships. The bill contains good, helpful provisions on parental responsibilities and rights. There are some difficulties with cohabitation. The Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981 already gave a definition of cohabitation, and we now have a new, different definition. As we move forward we might consider whether, by considering the definition within the context of a family law bill, we might be excluding some people who have relationships that are not familial in the conventional sense. For example, brothers who are bachelors and who live together might have similar interrelationships to the ones that are described and might reasonably expect to have similar protections. There are other examples. In other words, sex is not the only important factor and determinant.

We welcome the focus on long-term and enduring relationships. Financial interdependence, which the Executive is now focusing on, is a useful clarification of where we are going and how we should recognise cohabitation. On page 17 of the minister's response to the Justice 1 Committee's report, he talks of a couple who have given their energies and emotional and financial resources to a relationship and whose choices, particularly self-denying choices, are driven by expectations of a joint life. That is a useful clarification and one that I welcome.

Despite the clarifications about the distribution of assets at the termination of a cohabitation through death or break-up of the relationship, I continue to have concerns that the new way in which the fixed pot of money is to be redistributed in some circumstances will disadvantage children. The minister has pointed to some flaws in the committee's working on that issue but we must continue to watch it with great care.

I said that there were three important questions. Is the bill needed? Yes, I believe that it is needed and that it is time for an update. Are the proposed changes necessary, sufficient and so on? For children, the changes may be necessary and, to some degree, sufficient, although not necessarily to all degrees; for couples, they are necessary and, to some degree, sufficient, but the risk remains, particularly in reducing the time to divorce, that we may inadvertently be devaluing and destabilising relationships and attacking marriage, although I accept that that is not what we are trying to do. Society will benefit from greater clarity on and the extension of protections to people who are cohabiting, so the state and all the people in it will benefit. Therefore, I will support the bill at decision time. I hope that many members across the chamber will join me in doing so.


07 September 2005

Subject Debate: Scottish Executive's Programme

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 7 September 2005

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

Scottish Executive's Programme

Resumed debate.

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. This morning we continue the debate on the Scottish Executive's programme.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The First Minister made justice and respect the watchwords for his Government's programme for the coming year. However, across the chamber and throughout the debate, today's theme has clearly and properly been children. That is the thread that links almost all of today's speeches. The SNP entirely agrees with that emphasis. It does the Parliament credit that we look to those who will live in our future and dwell less on the past. Aims, objectives and targets for the future—as we can see them—are the essence of today's discussion because our future depends on how well children are prepared for their future. However, much of the programme is little more than a palimpsest—a writing over of much that has gone before.

As ever when he speaks on children, Scott Barrie made an interesting, engaging and widely enjoyed speech. I hope that he continues to do that, because he has knowledge and experience that few members share.

Peter Peacock, as ever, struck a balance between selling the programme and conceding that there are areas in which challenges remain. In particular, I focus on his statement that the gap between rich and poor remains too great. Everything that he and his colleagues do to close that gap will have support from SNP members. We encourage him to make the greatest possible efforts in that area.

I was especially pleased by the reference to mental health, an important issue in which Adam Ingram, who is sitting behind me, and I take a particular interest.

Euan Robson came up with a useful catchphrase that we should retain—hidden talent. He spoke with real passion about those, particularly among our young, who are currently excluded from making a contribution to our society. We must focus on them, as they are the people whom we must re-engage. Doing so will take money, but it will also take much more: engagement on our part. The Executive has some way to go to convince us that we are on track.

Duncan McNeil, the most improved speaker of recent times—it is a double-edged sword—made an impressive bid to be recognised as the boilermaker's Jacob Bronowski. I wish him well in his future endeavours in that regard.

I turn to one or two issues that are not included in what is before us and that are signal omissions on which we should focus. The First Minister's statement is but a keyhole view of what is planned. The draft budget for 2006-07 gave us a broader picture. Mike Rumbles will be particularly interested to note that there are eight targets for health and community care but that, for the fourth year in a row, there is no target for dentistry. Not only that, but there are a mere 120 words—a single paragraph—relating to the subject, on page 79 of a substantial document. If we doubt the Executive's commitment to making a real difference on dentistry, we have the evidence in front of us.

Many of the changes that have been made in the health service over the past year are probably well intentioned, but flawed in implementation. I see no word anywhere about NHS 24. I say to Mr Kerr that the idea has merit. However, in the absence of an electronic patient record that is available whenever a patient contacts the health service, to inform and guide efficiently staff of NHS 24 in particular, the introduction of NHS 24 in its present form has made the health service less efficient, although it may be more effective. The paragraph in the draft budget for 2006-07 on the single patient record—it appears on page 80—is even shorter than that on dentistry.

I close by stating the obvious. The Executive's programme has been well and truly rumbled. Mike Rumbles adumbrated a Liberal-free Government in future. I come from a Liberal family. My father's cousin was in Lloyd George's Cabinet in 1916. My great-uncle was Lord Provost of Edinburgh 75 years ago and my father was Lloyd George's election agent when he stood for rector of the University of Edinburgh. I have arranged for a membership application to be posted to Mike Rumbles, so that he can cross this way as well.


06 September 2005

S2M-2712 Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Scottish Parliament

Tuesday 6 September 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:30]

… … …

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2712, in the name of Karen Gillon, on autistic spectrum disorder. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that, according to the latest census publication, Pupils in Scotland, 2004, there are 3,090 pupils diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder who have a Record of Needs and/or an Individualised Educational Programme in primary, secondary and special schools in Scotland; further notes that, as it is a spectrum condition, children with autistic spectrum disorders have a range of abilities with some having complex needs; believes that a range of provision is required to meet the needs of each child appropriately and that this may include support from other agencies, and considers that the Scottish Executive should ensure that the needs of children with autistic spectrum disorders are appropriately met so that they can benefit from education and learning.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is excellent that so many members signed Karen Gillon's motion—I congratulate her on her efforts. We must focus on the needs of those with the condition and, more critically in many instances, on the needs of their families. When someone does not get the support that they need, that has a wide effect. I am sure that I am far from being the only member who has had people at surgeries seeking to have the needs of their offspring met. There is more than a passing suspicion that, in the system, support is constrained by finance rather than determined by the needs of the person with the condition.

In particular, people with the condition require stability and are upset and set back even by small changes. Three-year funding cycles often exist in the voluntary sector, which means that, at the end of the three years, the way in which support is delivered from the voluntary sector may change, which creates the real risk that someone with the condition may be set right back to the beginning, or perhaps even further back. I hope that the Executive will give thought to that issue.

The Deputy Minister for Education and Young People (Robert Brown): On the resource issue, does Stewart Stevenson accept that about £200 million extra has gone into special needs education, on top of the approximately £4 billion that has gone into education resource generally in the past two years?

Stewart Stevenson: That is true—credit where credit is due—but the money is not necessarily reaching all the people that it should. People with the condition often have intensive and expensive needs. Some of the decisions that have been made in my constituency and in other members' suggest that there are issues at the front line in getting the money to people with particularly intensive needs.

Another issue that Karen Gillon touched on and which will echo with all members is that of achieving the right balance between exclusion and inclusion. An issue arises for those among whom someone with a condition is included. When a primary school class has added to it someone with the condition, we must ensure that all the pupils have the right support. It is beneficial to children to see the condition and the needs of someone who is less fortunate than they are and to learn how to deal with that. However, equally, we should not push people with the condition into situations in which they will simply go backwards because the change is too great.

There are no magic answers, but I am interested to hear what the minister has to say in response to the debate.


Subject Debate: Scottish Executive's Programme

Scottish Parliament

Tuesday 6 September 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:30]

… … …

Scottish Executive's Programme

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on the Scottish Executive's programme.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is easy for members to agree that there should be justice and respect. However, I am reminded of the first substantial piece of legislation with which Jim Hacker had to deal when he came to office. Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Woolley were discussing the freedom of information bill that was to be brought before the Parliament in Jim Hacker's name, and Bernard Woolley asked Sir Humphrey why the bill was called a freedom of information bill. The answer was that getting the difficult bits out of the way in the title means that nothing has to be done about them in the detail. As I have listened to the debate and to what the Executive has said in it, I have wondered whether justice and respect—which underpin the First Minister's programme—will map into actions on policy, legislation and funding that will deliver anything remotely like justice and respect. Sir Humphrey Appleby has much to teach us. I suspect that he is still alive and well.

The issue of sex offenders has run as a distasteful thread through the debate and will continue to challenge members in all parties in the chamber. There are no easy answers to the problem—anyone who tells me that there are does not understand it.

I want to draw on my experience from three years ago, when I visited Bapaume prison, which is some 50 miles north of Paris. Initially, I was told that the French prison service thought that there was a sexual component to the crimes of more than 50 per cent of male prisoners. The figure here is under 10 per cent. I challenged the French justice system on the matter on a couple of occasions and received entirely consistent responses. Are the figures explained by the French being more successful at finding sex offenders than we are? Is their culture totally different from ours, or is the power ratio between men and women different in France from that in our society? The reason for the difference in the figures may partly lie in such things or in none of them, but the difference tells us that the issue is probably not well understood by us and possibly not by the French.

We talk about offenders. Paul Martin referred to the horrendous crime that Stuart Leggate committed in his constituency. Essentially, that crime sprung from inadequate supervision of a sex offender who was released into society after completing their sentence. We can do much more about such matters as supervision and we can do better.

We should not let what I say blind us to there being probably ten times as many sex offenders whose names we do not know. So far, we have not sought to help children to detect and avoid paedophiles, but we must start to consider doing so. I am the son of a general practitioner who was—I suspect—rather enlightened. My father told me about such things when I was a primary schoolkid and I knew the people in my town whom my father thought were a potential danger. They were nowhere near the criminal justice system and were unlikely ever to be near it.

Children can protect children. We must help them to do that. That is one of a number of glaring omissions in the proposals before us today.

Another omission can be found in the draft budget for 2006-07, where we see that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has a flat-line budget of £28.4 million. By contrast, the Scottish Prison Service is putting aside £44 million for potential claims and for compensating prisoners for the conditions under which they are held. That sits uneasily with the public, as it does with me and with many members in the chamber. We can respond to that discomfort by taking steps to ensure that, if money is to go into a prisoner's bank account, it is ring fenced while an opportunity for the prisoner's victims to take action to sue the prisoner for the money is put in place. If the money goes through to the victims, where appropriate and where the courts decide so, that would have broad support, and I am saddened that the Executive's proposals have nothing to say on the subject.

Rosemary Byrne commented on the lack of rehabilitation for drug users, and I entirely agreed with the general point that she made. However, she focused particularly on harm reduction and seemed to say that that is far more useful than abstinence.

Tommy Sheridan: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time.

Professor Neil McKeganey has just done a piece of research on the views of addicts who seek help. More than 50 per cent of them say that they want to move to abstinence; less than 5 per cent say that they want to maintain a safe level of drug use. That is not the whole story, but it certainly tells us that we must be wary of thinking that methadone is the only way of dealing with the issue.

We look forward with interest to, and potentially will support, many of the measures that the Executive will introduce. I have highlighted some of the gaps.

We have heard the old chestnut from the Tories—that if we lock up more people there will be less crime.

David McLetchie: True.

Stewart Stevenson: If the Tories can show me the research that proves that view, and how the documents issued on prison statistics and the people we lock up support it, I will believe them. The documents contain an international table and we can see that there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever. There is no sustainable argument for that view.

I close by saying that I am deeply disappointed not to have had George Burns, our own dear Deputy Minister for Justice, telling Gracie Allen, the lead in the show, "Say goodnight, Gracie."


30 June 2005

S2M-2985 Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 30 June 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2985, in the name of Andy Kerr, that the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill be passed.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This is not the end and it is not the beginning of the end, but it might just be the end of the beginning in eliminating the evil trade of the tobacco barons.

People who are called Stewart obviously have a particular view on the subject of tobacco. My colleague Stewart Maxwell is, in comparison with me, a moderate on the issue. I commend him for bringing the issue into play through his previous member's bill and I congratulate the Executive on responding to it and bringing forward wider measures. All are to be praised to the skies for that.

As an extremist on the subject, I have of course studied it in some detail. The cigarette came to these islands during the Crimean war, when our soldiers saw the French and the Turks smoking this new device. War has proved to be a remarkably effective platform for the evil people in the tobacco companies to broaden the franchise for this pernicious addiction. During the second world war, the proud boast of the tobacco companies was that they provided two packs of cigarettes for every soldier, as a treat for our brave fighting men. That laid the foundations of the addiction that afflicts our society.

A wide range of health conditions are derived from the use of tobacco in a variety of delivery mechanisms and many famous people have died as a result of their addiction. Jackie Kennedy lost a child two days after that child was born, entirely because she had smoked during her pregnancy. She died of lung cancer, but she is far from alone. I have with me 13 pages of names of well known people: Gracie Allen, Louis Armstrong, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Tallulah Bankhead, Leonard Bernstein, Neville Brand, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Brinegar, Yul Brynner, Rory Calhoun, John Candy, Jack Cassidy, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole—have members noticed that many of those people might have been smoking in public for entertainment purposes? I have a dozen more pages of names.

Of course, we are not here to protect the great and the good; we are here to protect the ordinary people of Scotland. By passing the bill we will take a great step forward and we will set an example for others, as our friends across the Irish sea did. Yesterday, Shaun Woodward, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for health, made an announcement that relates to our debate. People in Northern Ireland have responded in huge numbers—some 70,000—to a consultation on smoking. Of that huge number of respondents, 91 per cent said that Northern Ireland should follow the example that Ireland has set and which Scotland is following. They have said that because they could see what was happening across the border.

I will paraphrase Tom Nairn. Scotland's people will not be free of the health scourge that we have been debating until the last tobacco share certificate has been wrapped around the last ounce of tobacco and smoked by the last tobacco addict—given his current form, perhaps that will be Brian Monteith.


S2M-3031 Economic Development (Cross-cutting Expenditure Review)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 30 June 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Economic Development
(Cross-cutting Expenditure Review)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3031, in the name of Des McNulty, on behalf of the Finance Committee, on its second report of 2005, entitled "Cross-cutting Expenditure Review of Economic Development".


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I feel that we are beginning to get into quite an interesting debate, in which we should have the liberty to put forward some new ideas rather than unduly pursuing partisan positions—so I will not, although my colleagues will.

The word "growth" has come up one or two times during the debate. According to my count—which the Official Report will confirm tomorrow—Des McNulty used it 15 times. It occurs 22 times in the report, which means that, in percentage terms, Des McNulty used it three or four times as much as the report did. The report uses other interesting words. The word "expenditure" occurs 61 times, but the word "benefit" is used only 11 times and the word "return" only twice. The phrase "rate of return on investment" does not occur at all and neither does the word "competition" or its derivatives such as "competitive". The word "asset" does not appear, but "infrastructure" occurs nine times and "comparative" or "compare" four times. "Succeed" and "fail" do not appear at all.

What does that tell us? It tells us something about the emphasis of the report and about the real difficulty that the committee had in engaging with the issue. We do not know how we are doing or what bangs we are getting for our bucks, so inevitably the committee focused on the bucks. I do not unduly criticise the committee for doing that, but that approach limits the effectiveness of the analysis in the report and tells us something about the challenges that will face the committee—and all of us, as parliamentarians—in the future.

We have already heard some spurious comparisons between the public and private sectors. I say that they are spurious because, of course, the public sector is a major contributor to economic activity and is not simply a drain on the public purse. The public sector is capable of delivering services more cost effectively than the private sector and in many instances it does so. I ask members to consider the cost of health care as a share of GDP in the United States and in this country. The cost in the US is twice the cost here. Not only that, but child mortality is higher in the US and its figures on many other health measures are also worse than those for the UK. The comparison between the public and private sectors is spurious. It is not the case that one is good and one is bad. We must look at things analytically.

The problem is largely down to us. The public sector has a major millstone around its neck. We expect the public sector to be more risk averse than the private sector. When we have a risk-averse sector trying to encourage a risk-taking sector, however, there is a mismatch in expectation. The report does not entirely develop that point. I meet small businessmen—after all, almost all our entrepreneurs are in small businesses—whose major problem in growing their businesses is access to risk capital. That is undoubtedly a subject to which we should return.

One of the difficulties with the statement that the rural third gets two thirds of the economic support is that a lot of that support is not economic support. There is a miscategorisation. In many cases, it is social support and I defend it on that basis. We must be careful—fishing and farming account for 2 per cent of economic activity, but they create the environment within which large amounts of manufacturing can take place. The interactions between different parts of our economy—public and private—are much more subtle than this debate allows us to recognise.

Perhaps we are in a cul-de-sac, but perhaps we are in a laager of our own making. We are boxing ourselves in. We must not artificially pose social responsibilities against economic ones. The reality is that we need economic development so that we can pay for our social objectives.


23 June 2005

S2M-3012 Legal Aid Reform

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 June 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Legal Aid Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3012, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on legal aid reform.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Well, this is like being back in school. I thought that the exams were over, but here we have a question paper with 40 questions on it. Unlike in most school exams, though, it appears that we are required to answer all 40 questions. I will return to the consultation document in a minute or two.

I thank the minister very sincerely indeed for giving MSPs the opportunity to discuss the lives of a group of people—namely, lawyers—who are considerably less popular than even we are. In the States, anti-vivisectionists who campaign to stop the use of rats in laboratories have said that they have no objection to lawyers being used instead, as there are more lawyers than rats and the lawyers are less popular.

That said, let me be absolutely candid in saying that my personal experience of lawyers is that they are impeccable. In my business life, when I worked in the bank, I found that the lawyers with whom I had to draw up contracts were, frankly, the best people to deal with, because they came back rapidly and they responded to my needs. In my civil life, my personal, family lawyer is disappointed to have been moved down from his previous position at the top of the Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers list to the halfway point. I have known him for 50 years and I think that he is a great guy. Even though he is a Tory—and therefore I fundamentally disagree with him politically—he has served the needs of my father, my mother, myself and my siblings. Lawyers fulfil a key role in our society and, by and large, they do so well. They have a public relations problem, but it is not my job to fix that one way or the other.

One interesting little thing might be derived from Kenny MacAskill's contribution, if I may reinterpret some of what he said. It was said yesterday that it costs the United Kingdom £37 million to have the royal family. Of course, prosecutions are made in the name of the Crown—we have the Crown Prosecution Service and, in Scotland, the Crown Office—because the monarch used to be the source of justice. King Solomon was asked to decide who was the mother of a child, and he said, "I will divide this child." Of course, one mother—the real mother—stepped forward and said, "Don't! Give it to the other woman." Justice was served by going to the king. Kenny MacAskill's call for an individual who could resolve small criminal issues as well as civil issues would return us, perhaps, to a tradition that is thousands of years old. I suspect that he did not have that in mind, but nonetheless I ask him to consider, when making his speeches, how others, including myself, might interpret them.

There are sources of legal advice other than lawyers. As an MSP, I find that I almost never have a surgery without saying to somebody, "My experience suggests that this is likely to be how the law works, but if you want to act on it, don't take my word for it. I'm not a lawyer. You'll have to see a lawyer." I suspect that that is true for other members, too. Many people come to see MSPs with legal problems, because they have already paid for us. We are on the public purse and there is no price to pay at the door.

The CABx are excellent organisations, but there are not all that many of them in the north of Scotland. I have one in my parliamentary constituency, but where I live is more than an hour's travel away from it, and many of my constituents are not nearly so well off in that regard. The minister has indicated a willingness to open her mind and the minds of her colleagues in the Executive to new ways of looking at things, and I very much welcome her willingness to use, as it were, barefoot lawyers.

Let us consider the consultation document. Our amendment turns on the document and on what we would wish to do in the longer term. The document contains 40 questions. Who is going to answer the questions? It will be the people who select themselves to do so and choose to respond to consultations—the usual suspects. If we open up the document, we discover that it is not immediately accessible to the general public and laymen, because it does not have a codified explanation of the terms that are used. Almost all of them are explained at some point in the text, but question 13 refers to

"an enhanced rate for solicitors undertaking civil A&A work".

That is fine, but where is "A&A" defined? It is defined on page 4, right back at the beginning of the document, embedded in a footnote. Like many consultation documents, the document is designed for those who already know the system and who are probably already interacting with the Government on public policy formulation.

The commission would be a different animal. It would have to be proactive and to go out and look at what there is elsewhere in the world. It would have to talk to ordinary people who have had life-changing experiences of the legal system, civil or criminal.

Miss Goldie: Will Mr Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am really running out of time. I would have accepted an intervention had it been made earlier.

Talking to ordinary people is one of the things that a commission can do. It will take longer—and we must not avoid making changes while it is doing its work—but if we do not have it, we will be back here in five years' time making further changes to the legal aid system. We are quite content to support the Executive's motion—with which there is no problem; we simply think that it can be added to.

There are things that we could do that might lower the cost of law in Scotland. For example, codifying the legal system would make it more accessible. That would be a long-term project, because the law is scattered all over the place. I am not saying that that proposal is SNP policy, and certain lawyers are not necessarily in favour of it. The point is that we must think radically because we have a serious problem. If we do not engage and consider such possibilities at this stage, we will not make the progress that we need to make.

Justice is not delivered in a court; it is delivered when victim and defender are reconciled to each other's actions and their effects. We can use lawyers to deliver justice, but we can often deliver it without them.

I support my colleague's amendment.


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