20 December 2006

S2M-5224 Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 20 December 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:00]

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Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5224, in the name of Ross Finnie, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have constituents who are closely tied to the success of our distant water fishing fleet, but I also have many constituents who work onshore and are highly dependent on aquaculture. Few supermarkets do not have farmed fish on their shelves that have had value added by factories in my constituency that fit between farmer and retailer. We should not fail to understand the importance of such work to the economy of my constituency and of other parts of Scotland that also process the products of our fish farms.

I have one or two concerns about the bill, although I come at it from the outside, not having been involved in the consideration of the bill so far. When she sums up, the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development might be able to clarify a point about the use of the Fisheries Research Services in inspections. I can see the value in avoiding setting up another agency, but I wonder there might be a conflict of interests between the FRS's research responsibilities and its enforcement responsibilities, which have a different character. However, I am sure that a separation of responsibilities within the FRS can be managed—although I would welcome the minister's comments.

I have some slight concerns about taking the strict liability route, but I understand the tension between anglers—who are interested in the preservation of the gene stock of our existing native fish—and farmers.

The committee's report on the bill refers to the code of practice. I hope that the code will be aspirational, rather than one that sets out minimum standards. However, if it is the latter, we will have to be careful about the duties that are placed on fish farms. Those duties will have to be able to be implemented in practice.

The Planning etc (Scotland) Bill will lead for the first time to a proper planning framework for fish farms. I welcome that, but I hope that the framework will be flexible and that, under planning regulations, there will be sufficient allowance for fallow periods so that areas of Scotland that are used for fish farming can recover.

I turn to angling. As a young country lad, I was a brown trout fisherman. The world was very different then: there were many more fish in our burns and they were much bigger than they are today. As a student, I also worked—

Mr Brocklebank: How big?

Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): This big?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, I thought they were waiting for that, and very enjoyable it was too. As I was saying, I also worked for the Tay Salmon Fisheries Board.
The world has changed dramatically. The cost of fishing has risen hugely, and we must not lose sight of the economic contribution of fishing to the remote parts of Scotland in particular. In my constituency, and in that of my colleague Richard Lochhead, we are developing a tourism industry that depends on there being fish in our rivers.

Paragraph 149 of the committee's report on the bill says that the minister has written to the committee on the subject of fishing opportunities for people on low incomes and for children. At the end of last week, I met the Ugie Angling Association in my constituency in relation to the sale of that fishery. I hope that we will be able to ensure that we do not lose those fishing opportunities for the population as a whole.

There are some concerns over section 28, which contains the sentence:

"A person who commits an offence under this section may be convicted on the evidence of one witness."

I understand the reasons for that, but I would like to hear the minister's justification for the breach of what is a fundamental principle of Scots law—corroboration. What might the implications of that be?


13 December 2006

S2M-5303 Fisheries

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 13 December 2006
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]
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The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5303, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Let me start by trying to identify some of the things that all those who have participated today, and colleagues who have not, can agree on.

The first clear point is that—to use the words that Richard Baker used—we all want a successful, sustainable industry. We may differ about the route to that and about some of the difficulties that we face in delivering that, but let us at least nail the fact that we all share that objective and let us not have name calling and the setting up of straw men simply to attack the bona fides of other members in relation to that objective.

Secondly, we could possibly agree that Ross Finnie is the best man for the job in the coming negotiations in Brussels. I have to accept that part of my reason for that is that we do not have any choice, so he is the best man of the one available. However, he is a bit better than that, because he has experience. He is a pretty knowledgeable fisheries minister, he is relatively articulate and he deserves success on his valedictory visit to the December fisheries council. We will all give a loud hurrah if he delivers on the agenda that we share. We wish Ross Finnie well in every possible respect.

The third point on which we might reasonably be said to agree is that, from every political persuasion in the Parliament today, we have heard specific criticisms of the practice of the CFP. We may be divided on whether the CFP can be amended to be fit for purpose or whether it should be scrapped and replaced, but we have all agreed that there is a serious problem in how the CFP works.

I want to say a few words about science, because we misrepresent both scientists and the scientific process by some of the simplifications that we use. We must all acknowledge, as scientists would, that there is a limit to our knowledge of what goes on in the complex ecostructure that is our oceans. There are variations in the scientific interpretation that is derived from the shared data that we have, and there is a difference in the responses that we draw from the interpretations in different jurisdictions. In a sense, the ICES document represents an average view, which conceals a wide range of scientific conclusions based on shared data. We cannot materially improve knowledge quickly, but we can look at other jurisdictions to see the different policies that are implemented based on the same data.

The Faroes have been mentioned. The Faroes had serious difficulties but, because they could make their decisions as quickly as they wanted to, and as close to their own fishermen as they were able to, they were able to develop, incrementally, a resolution to the difficulties that they faced. There is huge value in local control. We might disagree about the variety of local control that we want to deliver, and the pace at which we want to deliver it, but we are all saying that there is huge value in local control.

We have to remember that even those of us in the Parliament with scientific experience are now somewhat distant from the practical application of it. We should therefore be very cautious in drawing scientific conclusions for ourselves. However, it is our job to be critical and then to promote policies that respond to the scientific knowledge that is available.

The process by which decisions are taken in Europe is farcical in the extreme. The proposed regulation that I have in my hand is dated 5 December. It has 212 pages, it describes 90 fish stocks and it addresses the needs of 20 fisheries. It came out at the beginning of December and for three days politicians, in a time-boxed way, have to make political decisions on it. The time that is available to consider the proposals is so limited that, in essence, science goes out the window and we have realpolitik and politics, and very little more. The process is inflexible and no longer fit for purpose. The minister himself has criticised much that has happened, but he has given us some good news.

Ted Brocklebank referred to landings at Aberdeen and I will expand slightly on what he said. We were told by processors that on one day in Aberdeen half a box of fish was landed, and that on the following day three boxes were landed. That is a measure of the difficulties that occur from time to time.

Mark Ruskell is one of the brightest of our young MSPs but, from some of the things that he said, I think that his analysis runs somewhat ahead of his knowledge.

Alasdair Morrison, of the labourist party, is just a relic of Eilean an Iar. I think that I can dismiss him with no further reference whatsoever.

Richard Lochhead: He is not here.

Stewart Stevenson: No, he is not here—because he does not like to hear what people have to say.

I say to Iain Smith that we simply do not have a proper management system in the common fisheries policy. It is proper that we continue to debate whether the CFP can be changed to provide a proper management system, or whether it cannot. We are the pessimists; Mr Smith is among the optimists.

Iain Smith rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I am in my last minute.

In Scotland, we have 25 per cent of the European Union's seas, 68 per cent of the UK's landings and 74 per cent of the UK's tonnage. That is why these issues matter to us on this side of the chamber, and why they matter to Scotland.

If the present state of cod stocks and other vulnerable stocks in the North sea is a measure of the success of the CFP, I certainly would not like to deal with failure. It is time to change the medicine.


06 December 2006

S2M-4876 Rural Post Offices

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 6 December 2006

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

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4876, in the name of John Swinney, on a threat to the rural post office network in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the public concern over the future of the rural post office network in Perthshire, Angus and other parts of rural Scotland; notes that the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provides a subsidy to the rural post office network in Scotland that is scheduled to be removed in 18 months' time; notes that, while the DTI provides this subsidy, other UK government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are taking decisions that reduce the volume and value of transactions that can be undertaken at post offices, thereby damaging the profitability of these post offices; recognises that if the rural post office network is not supported there will be severe economic loss and loss of amenity in countless communities in Perthshire, Angus and rural Scotland, and considers that the Scottish Executive should make representations to the UK Government to provide a stable level of support that guarantees the viability of the rural post office network.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Rural communities are at the heart of the debate. I have the privilege of representing one of the three parliamentary constituencies in Aberdeenshire, where some 57 per cent of people live in a rural setting, which is the highest rate of any mainland council area in Scotland. My constituency is not as remote as Jamie Stone's, but it is more rural than the Highland Council area, by 2 per cent. The debate therefore reflects absolutely the concerns of my constituents.

We have vibrant local communities. There are 32 community council areas in my constituency and communities in my constituency have won the Calor Scottish community of the year award twice in the past five years. There is a huge sense of community in the area. The first place to win the award was Whitehills. During my annual summer tour, I dropped in on the local post office at Whitehills to talk to Annette Addison, who is the postmistress there—I am sure that members know her well. In a community of 1,000, she gathered 900 signatures in an attempt to save the Post Office card account, which graphically indicates the value that the community of Whitehills places on the post office and the services that it delivers.

That happened when post offices had just lost the business of TV Licensing. It is worth putting that in context: in my constituency there are 42 local post offices, but Paypoint plc has only 28 terminals—a significant numerical difference. The situation is worse than members might think: only 10 of the Paypoint terminals are located outside towns that have a population of more than 10,000. The loss of TV Licensing has led to a dramatic drop in the service that is provided to our communities.

In New Deer—a community of just 500 people, which won the Calor Scottish community of the year award this year—an energetic local businessman, Mark Kindness, employs 60 people in a bakery. He has bought and invested in the post office in the adjacent village of Maud. He has done that because he thinks he can just about break even and because he sees the value of community, which is vital throughout Scotland. My constituency is a net contributor to the economy and the post offices are part of the infrastructure that makes our economy and sense of community work. To deprive communities of their post offices is like shutting down the railways in London, which are supported by the public purse as part of community infrastructure—a role which our equally vital post offices also have.


29 November 2006

S2M-5172 Child Poverty

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 29 November 2006

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

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5172, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on ending child poverty in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament agrees that it is unacceptable that children living in severe poverty in Scotland are missing out on basic necessities such as fresh, nutritious food, new clothes and shoes and having a warm home in the winter; welcomes Save the Children's campaign to end child poverty, which highlights the effects for children and their families of living in severe and persistent poverty; acknowledges the progress made by the Scottish Executive in lifting 100,000 children in Scotland out of poverty and helping children in the Dumbarton constituency and across Scotland to improve their life chances, and believes that more needs to be done and that the Executive should prioritise the needs of the very poorest children and continue to work with the UK Government in implementing solutions, such as child seasonal grants, proposed as part of the Save the Children campaign.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate, which Jackie Baillie has secured. The number of Scottish National Party members in the chamber is a clear indication of the priority that we in the SNP place on the issue. Of course, the facts provided by various pieces of research reinforce the need to engage with the subject.

Figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicate that, in the most deprived ward in my parliamentary constituency, 44.4 per cent of children aged between zero and 15 are dependent on the workless, which is one definition of poverty. Although the overall figure for the Aberdeenshire Council area is 10.5 per cent, a significant number of wards are in serious difficulties. In the City of Edinburgh Council area, which by that definition has twice the overall level of poverty of the rural area of Aberdeenshire, the figure for the most deprived ward is 59.6 per cent, so three out of every five children meet the test of being dependent on the workless. In Glasgow, where the overall figure is a startling 39.4 per cent, the figure for Parkhead, the most deprived ward, is 63.4 per cent. At the other end of the scale in Glasgow, the figure for Jordanhill is 4.2 per cent. The localisation of deprivation is one of the key challenges for Governments—here and at Westminster—and local authorities, whatever their complexion.

In Jackie Baillie's constituency, the percentage of children aged between zero and 15 who are dependent on the workless is 28.8 per cent overall and 44.1 per cent in the most deprived ward. The reason why she perhaps brought the debate to Parliament is that the figure for the least deprived ward is 10.1 per cent, which is the overall figure for the whole of Aberdeenshire, which tells us a little bit about something. The issue should engage MSPs and should be debated.
I am glad that, in the past couple of weeks, Gordon Brown has appeared on GMTV to nail his colours to the mast. Of course, I remain sceptical until I hear what he has to say, but he is a man of good will—I hope. However, if he decides to introduce seasonal grants, as requested by the campaign that will be launched immediately after the debate, he must not rob Peter to pay Paul but add new money to the pot of support for the neediest families in our society.

In the 25-country European Union, the United Kingdom is ranked 21st in the league table of child poverty. Of the long list of countries that escaped from the Soviet Union in the 1990s—hardly an economically successful group—only Slovakia and Poland are ranked lower. All the other such countries, which had to struggle out of serious deprivation, are doing better than the UK. That shows how far we still have to come and the steps that we must take to get to where we need to be.

At the moment, the website is running a poll on whether child poverty can be beaten. Although only 70 people had voted when I looked at the site, 70 per cent of them thought that, with proper investment, the problem could be solved. Let us do so—and soon.


23 November 2006

S2M-4833 School Bus Safety

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 November 2006

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

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School Bus Safety

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business tonight is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4833, in the name of Alex Neil, on school bus safety. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that in certain local authority areas in Ayrshire and elsewhere there is a concern about the need to tighten up the rules and guidelines regarding the safety of buses carrying children to school and, in particular, believes that the regulations should be changed so that it is mandatory for a supervising adult to accompany primary school children travelling on a school bus whether the bus is a single or double decker.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Contrary to Robert Brown's sedentary remark, I have never a driven a school bus. Indeed, I will go further than that and inform members that I have never used a school bus to travel to school—although as someone who was a member of many sports teams when I was at school, I used buses to travel to many away events.

I congratulate Alex Neil on securing a debate on an important topic that has universal application. Every member of the Parliament should be concerned about safety on school buses; would that every party were represented in the chamber to take part in the debate.

Of course, school pupils use other means of transport that we might address on other occasions. Many kids commute to school by train or—in Glasgow—subway. In the Western Isles, ferries are used for inter-island transfer and in Orkney, in particular, a number of kids commute to secondary school by air. As we are comparing public and private modes of transport, I wonder whether we might reduce the number of kids who are ferried to school by their parents if we required a responsible adult other than the driver to be present in private vehicles—I leave that thought pinned to the wall.

At the core of the debate is safety, both of the kids on the bus and of the kids in the vicinity of the bus, either as they wait for it or after they have got off it—the importance of which an example in my parliamentary constituency has well illustrated. There is action that we can take. Dave Petrie mentioned that school buses in America have external signs that prevent overtaking. We could not introduce that measure because the Parliament does not have the necessary powers, but we could put advisory flashing signs on the backs of buses that said, "Please do not overtake." The "Please" could be in small print and the "do not overtake" in very large print.

Such a warning would certainly have saved the grief and pain of one of my constituents, whose child ran out from behind the bus and was hit and brain damaged by a passing car. All of us will be aware of stories of a similar nature. Although we cannot ban overtaking as has been done in the States, we could require councils to put into the contract for the provision of school bus services that the buses should have appropriate designations at the back and elsewhere. We should certainly consider taking such action, which would fall within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

In Aberdeenshire, there are already a number of yellow buses. The fact that they are distinctively different means that they contribute to improved safety, which I welcome. We are probably some way off being able to light every road along which kids walk. Aberdeenshire is the most rural council area in Scotland—57 per cent of its population live in the country, which is 2 per cent higher than is the case in Highland. Many of the roads in Aberdeenshire that kids use are single carriageway and there is no prospect of their being lit, so training and more buses to the door are essential.

Aberdeenshire Council gets only one quarter of the money that it has to spend on school transport. Glasgow City Council, by contrast, gets three times what it spends on school transport as part of its annual funding allocation. That issue should be part of a wider review of how we fund our councils—a process that leaves Aberdeenshire at the bottom of the per capita league.

I congratulate Alex Neil again on securing the debate and hope that the absent members on the coalition benches will read the debate and hang their heads in shame for their absence.


15 November 2006

S2M-5099 World Diabetes Day

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 15 November 2006

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

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World Diabetes Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5099, in the name of David Davidson, on world diabetes day 2006. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament expresses its support for World Diabetes Day 2006 on 14 November and the launch of the year-long campaign to raise awareness of the impact of diabetes among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups; notes the campaign's message that every person with diabetes, or at risk of diabetes, deserves the best quality of education, prevention and care that is possible; is concerned that people on the lowest incomes are around twice as likely as those on the highest incomes to develop type 2 diabetes and that the prevalence of diabetes in the most deprived areas is over two-thirds higher than in the most affluent; further notes that black and minority ethnic groups are at least five times more likely to develop diabetes than their Caucasian counterparts and are more likely to live in more deprived areas; recognises the developing epidemic of diabetes in young people in Scotland, and believes that the Scottish Executive should ensure that the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups are fully addressed in the roll-out of the Scottish Diabetes Framework: Action Plan and that resources for diabetes awareness, screening and early intervention treatment to reduce long-term costs to the NHS are made available to all of Scotland's NHS boards.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate David Davidson on securing a debate on this important subject. I frequently disagree with him on political matters, but on this occasion I pay tribute to him as a practical example of longevity in a diabetic, which serves as a model of what can be achieved. He also illustrates perfectly some of the points that he made. Although I disagree with him, he is articulate and able to engage with his condition, understand it and ensure that he is managing it. The best way to manage a lifelong condition is for the person who is subject to it to be a key part of the management. That illustrates why there are difficulties in more disadvantaged communities in which people have less capability.

Like Eleanor Scott, I have examined the figures. Having had a brief exchange with her, I think we agree that the prevalence of type 1 diabetes is higher in the Highlands than it is anywhere else in Scotland but, paradoxically, the prevalence of diabetes overall is lower in the Highlands than it is in many other parts of Scotland. That means that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the Highlands is low compared with the rest of Scotland. The reason for that is that people who live in a rural area such as the Highlands are much healthier and fitter psychologically, physically and dietetically, even though there is deprivation in rural areas. City deprivation, in particular, is a problem.

About one in 25 of our population has diabetes. The interesting question to pose is what proportion of people with diabetes have intrinsically avoidable diabetes. The answer is that a very high proportion of people with diabetes have essentially avoidable diabetes, because type 2 diabetes is environmental and diet based.

I have been doing my bit to constrain the further development of diabetes. I will name names. When I found Jamie Stone and Frank McAveety eating chips in the members' lounge during the stage 3 process that we started today, I pointed out the health risks that they were running and told them that they were in conflict with the Executive's policies and practices, which I support. Perhaps the minister will have a reinforcing word with them.

As David Davidson said, diabetes is a worldwide problem—but we should consider some uniquely Scottish aspects of the issue. Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to have a world-class medical school, which was located in Edinburgh. The huge morbidity on the doorstep of the medical school in the old town of Edinburgh provided a climate in which people could study the conditions that were engaging practitioners in medicine in the middle ages.

As various genetic links are associated with type 1 diabetes and as, with record-keeping that is superior to that of many other developed countries, we have a very good understanding of the genetic mix of the people in this country, we have a key opportunity to take a lead in research into how we can prevent the development of type 1 diabetes and continue, support and reinforce a primarily diet-focused approach to dealing with type 2 diabetes.

Of course, we also have to engage with the psychology of people whose behaviour, as far as diabetes is concerned, is not good for their health. As other members have pointed out, diabetes is accompanied by a wide range of other conditions that not only damage people's quality of life but incur substantial public costs. That should give us a clue about where we should look for the money to invest in world-class research that would benefit the people of Scotland and make a contribution to the rest of the world.

By the way, coming to the Parliament might be one solution. My blood pressure is 30 points lower, which helps a wee bit. That said, my diet might not be any better for being here.

We certainly have to engage with the problem. I congratulate David Davidson on securing this debate and am interested in hearing what the minister has to say.

18:21 Categories [Health and Community Care]

09 November 2006

S2M-5109 Violence Against Women

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 November 2006

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

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Violence Against Women

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5109, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on violence against women.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The experience of this man—I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate—as an MSP is probably, alas, not dissimilar to that of others. I think of one instance of a woman sitting across the desk from me at my constituency surgery, shaking from the stress of telling me of her experience: I face a woman to whom I cannot offer a physical hand to hold because, as a man, I may too closely represent the source of her legitimate fears. She shows me photographs of the bruises and cuts that cover her torso and limbs, but which do not cover her face, because the violent man in domestic circumstances is too clever to beat his partner where it will show.

As other members can justifiably be, I am proud to have been party to some of the legal changes that Parliament has made that go some way towards helping with what happens in public. I will quote another politician—my namesake Adlai Stevenson, the late US Secretary of State—who said:

"Laws are never as effective as habits".

The public policy that we are discussing intersects with private practice, because violence against women is largely a secret vice that is conducted behind a front door and is observed by no one other than the violent man, the beaten woman and perhaps by a wide-eyed and mystified child, whose immature mind may be imprinted with the idea that violence is normal as a model for their future behaviour in another generation as a dominant male or as a female who is expected to be submissive.

When children watch television or play video games on a computer, violence is increasingly a large part of the experience. The reason for that is encompassed in Alfred Hitchcock's comment that

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out".

In a sense, that is the reason for the temptation for too much drama and too many video and computer games to be violent—the dull bits have been cut out. Too much drama passively absorbed with too little engagement, as a contrast to positive energy-consuming activity, reinforces the adverse experiences to which too many of our children are exposed.

Figures that I have used previously suggest that less than half of all the violent incidents that are reported to the police lead to an offence being recorded or a conviction. Private violence, which includes sexual violence, violent shouting and bullying in all its forms, is the least likely type of violence to be reported because people are much less confident that cases involving such violence will be successfully pursued. A public fight at a pub door, by contrast, may have been witnessed by people and people might know that witnesses exist; the injured party will then be confident that the matter can be dealt with.

Violence against women is a huge problem, and I say to Cathy Peattie that it should shame all men. Some 40 per cent of members who are present for this debate are men. If we take into account the total number of members who are men, perhaps pro rata not as many men are present as we might wish for, but we are not doing too badly. For the first time, I commend the Tories—their team today is all male.

I particularly welcome something that not everyone may have noticed. Recently, in considering a bill, we decided to criminalise men who use 16 or 17-year-old prostitutes. I hope that we will move the burden of illegality away from providers of sexual services to users of sexual services because sexual abuse is at the heart of much of what we are discussing.

The last time I participated in a debate on violence against women was on 25 November 2004. The title of that debate was exactly the same as the title of this debate and the same member moved the motion—even the source of one of the amendments was the same—but there has been a different emphasis in this debate. I hope that I will not participate in many more such debates as a result of the need for them diminishing as the scourge of violence against women is eliminated from the too many households in which it takes place. However, I am not overoptimistic about that and should not hold my breath until it happens.

I close by quoting Molière, who said:

"The greater the obstacle, the more the glory in overcoming it."

There is much glory to be earned by all of us in tackling violence against women, but earning that glory is, as yet, a distant prospect.


03 November 2006

S2M-4920 Scottish Commission for Human Rights Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 November 2006

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

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Scottish Commission for Human Rights Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4920, in the name of Robert Brown, that the Parliament agrees that the Scottish Commission for Human Rights Bill be passed. ... ... ...


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Des McNulty's amendment to the Executive's motion was not selected for debate—members can read it in the Business Bulletin. That amendment sought to restrict the amount of money for the Scottish commission for human rights in relation to functional costs. I do not want to worry about whether we should be debating that amendment, but I hope that if the bill is passed at 6 o'clock, we will find a way of controlling the balance of the commission's expenditure.

Following all the work that has been done and the considerable period in which the proposal has been considered, we are left with a fundamental dichotomy that I cannot solve. The bill is about the promotion of human rights within public institutions, but Scottish National Party members want a bill that protects the individual human rights of the citizens of Scotland.

That is a very different thing. Human rights can be compromised by, for example, commercial companies. On other occasions, human rights can actually be promoted and supported by commercial companies. For example, one of our major banks flouts the law that requires people who open bank accounts to have an address. The bank opens accounts for the sellers of The Big Issue, who are, by definition, homeless. My point is that human rights issues go far beyond simply the public bodies, and the effects can be positive or negative.

Individuals should be at the heart of our concerns in relation to human rights, but this bill simply does not focus on individuals. Public institutions already have duties in relation to human rights. The case has been made that they are not properly exercising those duties, and we have heard a number of Government speakers criticising the performance of public bodies—be they local authorities, parts of the health service, or whatever.

We are in a curious position. We are seeking to create a bill whose purpose is to compensate for the human rights deficiencies of public bodies; however, the overall human rights performance of those public bodies is probably better than that of private bodies and companies, and that of public companies and individuals. We should instead be focusing on the human rights of individuals. If we had put the people of Scotland at the heart of the bill, SNP members would have been able to support the bill at 6 o'clock. However, as it stands, the bill is not worth salvaging. It will simply create a post for someone who will book advertising space and go into public authorities of one sort or another around Scotland to try to persuade them to up their game.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Does the member acknowledge that, out there in civic Scotland, people across the entire human rights field support the creation of the commission? Even though they share some of Mr Stevenson's concerns about the bill's limitations, they see that it has value.

Stewart Stevenson: In so far as they have contacted me—and quite a number have done so—my constituents have entirely different concerns from those who are employed in the business and who have campaigned for the commission. I say that as someone who has been a member of Amnesty International. Through inadvertence, I do not happen to be a member at the moment, but that is not because I do not support the work that Amnesty International does. I do support it, and other human rights bodies have had my support as well.

There is a fundamental difficulty about putting a bill on the statute book that does not deliver what is on the title of the tin. We have to go back and think again. I and my colleagues do not expect to support the bill at 6 o'clock.


01 November 2006

S2M-4648 Wind Farms (Public Inquiries)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 1 November 2006

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

... ... ...

Wind Farms (Public Inquiries)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4648, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on public inquiries into wind farm proposals in the Ochil hills. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the large number of planning applications to construct wind farms in the Ochil Hills, with six consecutive public inquiries scheduled between October 2006 and March 2007; considers that all appropriate expert evidence must be made available to such public inquiries; notes the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development's parliamentary answer on 8 June 2006 confirming that both Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have adequate resources to make representations to public local inquiries, and considers that SNH, SEPA and Historic Scotland should provide witnesses to all pertinent public inquiries so that the burden of providing evidence to such inquiries does not fall disproportionately on communities.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by drawing members' attention to my voluntary entry in the register of members' interests declaring shares in a wind farm co-operative in my constituency. I am the only member who has made such a declaration—others may hold shares, but they do not require to make a declaration.

My remarks will focus on the part of the motion that refers to ensuring that

"the burden of providing evidence to such inquiries does not fall disproportionately on communities."

That issue extends beyond the Ochils. The best public inquiry is, of course, the one that does not take place at all because the proposal has been developed so as to bring the community along with it each step of the way.

Andrew Arbuckle mentioned the wind farm in Gigha. That example is a little bit special in that the community owns the site as well as being the instigator of the wind farm. It will be an excellent model for what can happen in many areas, but I am not sure that it can apply in the Ochils.

In my constituency, the proposal was for the development on a brownfield site—a derelict airfield quite closely adjacent to a community—of a seven-turbine, 14MW wind farm. The whole approach of the developer seems to have been quite different from that adopted in Perthshire and the Ochils in particular. Perthshire might learn something from the approach.

Before any public declaration of interest in the development was made, engagement took place with all the elected representatives of the area at all levels—councillors, MSPs and the MP. That engagement enabled the developer to lay out its stall as to how it might work with the community, and it allowed the developer to receive some advice as to how it might proceed—although it was its responsibility to work out the details. That approach led to there being not a single adverse letter in the local press and not a single objection from the local community.

Mr Ruskell: I accept Mr Stevenson's point that it is better to do front-end development work and not to go instantly to a public inquiry. However, does he agree that it is inappropriate for MSPs such as Murdo Fraser to try to drive every single wind farm application, good or bad, to a public inquiry? Such an approach burns out local communities, wastes taxpayers' money and stifles economic development.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that Mr Fraser takes the member's point.

I will point to some of the attributes of a successful development, which could apply to the proposed developments in the Ochils in Perthshire. The local community can benefit substantially financially, even though it does not own the site. For example, a site in Ayrshire delivers £45,000 per annum to its owner. A similar amount goes to the community in my constituency, to whose members shares were made available. Preference was given to local people. Of the 5 per cent of the capital investment that was made available as shares, 95 per cent of the take-up was by people such as me, who can see the turbines. There are some people who do not like the development post hoc, but they are few in number.

I will close by giving an example of a good practical idea that helped to diffuse some early comments about the proposal in my constituency. Six months before it submitted a planning application, the developer put up on the site a pole that was the same height as the proposed turbines. That meant that people from miles around could get an idea of where the development could be seen from. It was an excellent idea.

I close by repeating my opening remark: the best public inquiry is the one that disnae happen. I suspect that SNH and SEPA might just agree, but does the minister?


26 October 2006

S2M-4999 Young People and Families

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 October 2006

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

Young People and Families

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4999, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on young people and families.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Today's debate is an opportunity to examine the chasm between Executive rhetoric and delivery. It allows us to focus on young people as guardians of our nation's future and not as the cause of our present problems. It suits too many on the Executive benches to characterise young people as dark creatures of the night. Mike Rumbles may gesticulate, but that serves only to confirm the correctness of the reference.

I turn to the motion and the amendments and the intention behind them. The Executive amendment retains but four words from the Green party's substantive motion. It seeks to delete

"acknowledges that families and young people need support from time to time"

and insert

"reiterates the determination of this Parliament to stand up to antisocial behaviour".

It seems that every time we discuss our youth, the Executive seeks to insert negative references to antisocial behaviour. It is as if youth and antisocial behaviour are partners in the same dance. As long as that continues to happen, we are sending unhelpful messages to our youth: we are telling them that they should be disconnected from the mainstream of Scottish society and life.

I respect Robert Brown's championing of youth issues, but he does our youth a disservice and reveals his inner convictions about the merits of youth by the words that he gets sucked into using, perhaps by his Labour partners or, more simply, as the result of drafting by civil servants who are not sufficiently sensitive to what needs to be done.

The way we deal with antisocial behaviour is ambiguous. At the heart of the ambiguity is the sense that we view the whole issue as essentially a criminal justice issue but, by virtue of the way in which charges relating to antisocial behaviour have been incorporated into law, in essence antisocial behaviour is dealt with by the civil and not the criminal law. If people commit crimes, we should use the criminal law to address that. Our use of the civil law fudges the whole issue.

What has been missing from the debate so far is the issue of children as victims. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of actions that come under the charge of antisocial behaviour are perpetrated by adults, not children. I refer to antisocial behaviour that results from drinking, drug taking, deprivation and violence. The BBC has on its website a helpful discussion under the unhelpful heading "Are Scotland's young people demonised?" Dave from Glasgow comments:

"In some areas we are into the 3rd generation without +ve family role models. As a voluntary youth worker in inner city Glasgow I have known and worked with kids whose parents (& grandparents) set an awful example ... If this is the environment for people in their 'impressionable years' then what hope is there."

The answer to parliamentary question S2W-28897, which I received yesterday, reinforces the real difficulties that kids experience. My question was

"how many people have been found guilty of committing an offence specifically involving child victims in each year since 1999",

which is the year the Executive came to power. It may surprise members to hear that the latest figure was 545, which is 50 per cent higher than the figure for 1999, which was 368. There has been a steady increase year on year. We do ourselves no justice—and we do youth no justice—if we do not accept that children as victims should be at the core of the debate. Children should not be demonised as the cause of the antisocial behaviour difficulties in society.

Robert Brown said that the debate

"is based on a fallacy."

Of course, many of the things that the Executive does to invest in and support young people have the support of the SNP, but I say to the minister that we have to judge the Executive not by what it does but by what it achieves. On the measure of the answer to my parliamentary question, we are not achieving nearly enough.

The present relationship between the Executive and youth can be characterised as one that is based on trust and understanding: the Executive does not understand youth and youth do not trust the Executive.


25 October 2006

Subject Debate: Scotland International

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 25 October 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:00]

… … …

Scotland International

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid):
The next item of business is an independents group debate on Scotland international.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The minister referred to the unstinting support from United Kingdom embassies and consulates around the world. I hope that, at a later stage in the debate, he can tell us how many Scottish events—say in the past 12 months—have been organised in those embassies. I suspect that the answer will be rather disappointing.

Mr McCabe: I cannot give a specific number at the moment, but I can tell the member that our embassies and consulates promote Scotland at every opportunity. From my experience of travelling on behalf of the Executive, I know that this country receives tremendous and enthusiastic support from the embassies and consulates throughout the world. In a few weeks' time, I will travel to Poland, in conjunction with our embassy, to help to celebrate St Andrew's day.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister and hope that at a later stage we will get the figures that he does not currently have. I am sure that they will inform a continuing debate on the subject.

I begin by making an obvious remark, which is that Scotland touches the world and the world touches Scotland. Indeed, six days ago, a family in my constituency feared that it had lost one of its number to Nigerian bandits. Thankfully, today that family is complete again. However, the two Banff and Buchan oilmen who were held hostage knew that while Scotland touches the world—which, with the world's largest offshore oil base at Peterhead in my constituency, it frequently does—the world's touch on Scotland is not always a comfortable one. It is an interesting place out there, in all possible senses of the word. Of course, the difficulties that are experienced from time to time by individuals and by initiatives should in no sense discourage us from persisting.

To my certain knowledge and experience, Scotland has been engaged with the world for at least a millennium—more or less from the point at which Scotland became an identifiable country in its own right. As others have done—and as I am sure later speakers will too—I draw on some personal experience. During a visit to the west bank town of Hebron, I found a firm echo of Scotland's engagement with the world. A thousand years ago, the Scots crusaders travelled to the holy land to fight for their faith, rather like Scotland's football supporters make forays to countries throughout the world today. Some of those football supporters like it so much that they do not bother to come home. So it was with the crusaders in the middle east. As one walks down the street in Hebron, if one looks carefully enough, one will be struck by the number of red-haired, freckle-faced Muslim Arabs striding the streets of that west bank town. The reason is of course that the Scottish genes continue to survive a thousand years after our uninvited visit to another land.

A personal interest of mine is family history, so I find that example of the persistence of a connection that is based on genealogy and genes fascinating. I have about 2,000 names in my family tree and they perfectly illustrate—as will be the case for other families—the diaspora that is Scotland. I have hundreds of relatives in Canada and the United States of America. I have others in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and I have one or two in each of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Lebanon, Egypt and India. One of my cousins died in China. Politically, I find connections as well. I have a cousin who was an MP in the New South Wales Parliament, another cousin who was a senator in Canada and even—I say this with some hesitation—an English cousin who is a member of the House of Lords.

I want to do something slightly unusual in this debate without a motion, which means that we do not have to divide the Parliament or the people in it, and congratulate a Government agency—the General Registers of Scotland. The GROS is an important administrative part of the Government, which looks after records that go back to the middle of the 17th century. Its record keeping is some of the best in the world. It, more than any other agency or department of the Scottish Government, is most closely engaged with the Scottish diaspora—nowadays via the internet. It provides excellent services for genealogists across the globe. Such people are so committed to being engaged with Scotland that they pay for the privilege; we are not having to lay out our money to pay them. We should perhaps consider upping the ante with people who are interested in Scotland and persuade them to visit us and represent us wherever they are.

My calculation based on information from the Executive's website is that there are 58 consuls in Scotland. We have a strong brand, which is recognised throughout the world. We must be careful to reinforce it and not devalue it. Show anyone in the world a kilt and they will pretty certainly recognise it as being from Scotland. Show them a bottle of whisky from Scotland and we have a friend.

Scotland is a country with a terrific international reputation, but it does not have the position in the world that many other countries have and is limited in the way in which it can engage with the world. We are doing decent work in Malawi and other countries, which my colleagues and I support. However, it is time that we joined the family of nations. SNP members will continue to strive to achieve that.


04 October 2006

S2M-4884 Food Supply Chain

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 4 October 2006

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

… … …
Food Supply Chain

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4884, in the name of Sarah Boyack, on the Environment and Rural Development Committee's eighth report of 2006, which is on the committee's inquiry into the food chain.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw members' attention to my entry in the register of members' interests.

In the helpful briefing that it issued in advance of this debate, the Federation of Small Businesses reminds us that three quarters of our land mass is under agriculture and that the landscape that we love to see is in the stewardship of our farmers, crofters and growers. The industry produces £2 billion a year, which is about 2 per cent of our gross domestic product and, with whisky, represents £2.4 billion in exports. Some 70,000 people are employed in agriculture in Scotland, which is approaching 10 per cent of our rural workforce. We know that it is important.

Ugly fruit and vegetables have been talked about. I am fortunate in that I am able to go to a shop in Longside in my constituency and buy, from a co-operative, ugly but deliciously tasty fruit. However, there is only one such co-operative in my large constituency and there is none in adjacent constituencies. Next week, when I come down for our party conference, I will be bringing beef from my constituency to my friend who has the great misfortune to live in the central belt. I will be doing so because, of course, the quality of the beef transcends the quality that is associated with the extremely local purchasing that is, perhaps, not sufficient to sustain our industries.

I will pose a few questions about how Governments behave. First, does the Italian Government buy Parma ham or Danish bacon? Secondly, does the French Government buy champagne or cava? I think that we know the answer to those questions. Thirdly, when the First Minister is stocking the drinks cupboard in Charlotte Square, does he buy Vat 69 or does he import that well known Indian whisky, Cat 69? Of course he does not buy the Indian whisky. In other words, there are ways in which one can specify something that is particularly local when one wants to buy it. Some things are within the rules because they come only from a local area. With regard to the Parliament, I propose that, the next time that Frank McAveety wants a scotch pie, he is able to order an Arbroath smokie scotch pie, because Arbroath smokies can come only from Arbroath. That will mean that he will be assured of a quality Scottish product that will meet his every need.

Ross Finnie: Does the member agree that, given that, as well as Arbroath smokies, certain sorts of lamb and beef also have protected geographical indicator status, a scotch pie might be more clearly identified by using the right product?

Stewart Stevenson: I direct the minister to Downies of Whitehills, that excellent fish processor in my constituency, where he may buy and enjoy precisely the product that I have described.

The minister makes precisely the point that I am making. Where there is a designation, there is a way in which we can use that designation to control the sources from which a contract may be fulfilled. The bottom line is that we need to use imagination and energy to promote local sourcing within the rules of the European Union. I have given only some examples, of course. I look forward to Scottish venison receiving a designation and, with that in mind, say that if kids want to eat burgers in schools, perhaps they should be given venison burgers because they are healthier than some of the stuff that they currently eat.

Some health products are food related. For example, yesterday I was told that growing bog myrtle will yield £750 per hectare, yet the Executive offers farmers no support to diversify into that crop. There is a range of imaginative things that we can do. Indeed, they are the kind of things that political colleagues of our Government in Scotland have been seeking to do in Wales in order to promote the value of Welsh food and sustain and support local procurement. The committee makes the point quite forcibly in its report. Paragraph 28 reads:

"The Committee believes that the Executive must think creatively about procurement".

I do not expect all my remarks to be taken seriously or literally, but I make those points in order to engage the minds and sentiments of members with the issue and in the hope that that will encourage them to be similarly creative in thinking of ways in which we can proceed.

It is certainly a huge disgrace that so much waste comes from our supermarkets. They chuck food into the bin to the extent that, in parts of these islands, the freegan movement is operating, whereby people live solely by scavenging from supermarket bins. That tells us something about the waste that is intrinsic in the supermarket system.

I close on the subject of red tape and unnecessary costs for producers by highlighting once again some of the unhelpful activities of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that put unnecessary costs on farmers. There have been fights over the use of tallow. That fight has been won, but the fights over road planings continue. Better co-ordination between producers, processors in the food chain and Government would certainly help.

Categories [Environment and Rural Development]

14 September 2006

S2M-4590 Local Food is Miles Better Campaign

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 September 2006

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

... ... ...

Local Food is Miles Better Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4590, in the name of John Scott, on the Farmers Weekly local food is miles better campaign.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports the Farmers Weekly's Local Food is Miles Better campaign; believes that buying locally grown food is an excellent way for consumers to reconnect with farmers and develop a better understanding of where their food comes from; recognises that producing and buying food locally from farmers' markets and farm shops can help the environment, boost the local economy and restore trust in food production; further recognises that locally produced food is likely to be fresher, healthier and have higher vitamin levels, and considers that all food retail outlets, in Ayrshire and throughout Scotland, should promote, label and stock more locally produced food to cut food miles and carbon emissions in order to protect our environment and support our farmers.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw members' attention to the voluntary entry in my register of interests. That is relevant, because my neighbour, who keeps some sheep in my field, passes me some of the fruits of his labours. That food travels approximately 50m from the field to my plate, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

That is a model for the excellent work that John Scott kicked off very early doors in promoting Scottish farmers markets. Indeed, it is likely that I first met John Scott in person during the Ayr by-election—I was with our candidate, who was Jim Mather—at the farmers market, where John Scott worked with his late wife, who we miss. She was a charming lady.

In my constituency, there are many primary food producers who are required to interact with supermarkets. For example, white fish is landed at Peterhead, the biggest white-fish port in Europe, and pelagic fish is landed at Fraserburgh. It costs £700 for a lorry to take the fish down to the supermarkets' distribution centres in the north of England, only for that fish to be returned to Tesco's store in Fraserburgh. Yes, the fish is transported all the way down to the north of England and back again. That is quite absurd. That money could be invested in supporting quality local producers without in any sense putting a penny on the price of food on the plate.

My face lights up whenever my wife, in discussing the coming week's food consumption, asks, "Would you like mince?" Mince is a staple of the Scottish diet.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Mince is also a staple of this Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: However, mince is under threat from European regulations, which will require that it be produced within a day of slaughter. I hope that the minister can do something about that.

I am gravely concerned about one aspect of the Tories' attitude to this subject. I feel that they have been undermining the food producers. The loss of some 9 stone from the Tory benches is, if translated into steak, equivalent to approximately £1,000 in revenue that Mr Johnstone has taken out of local butchers.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con) rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time to give way to Mr Johnstone but, in all seriousness, I congratulate him on a spectacular achievement. I hope that he now eats locally produced vegetables, such as lettuce from Kettle Produce in Fife, to sustain his spectacular reduction.

However, the fillet steak was a bigger revenue earner for the local butcher, so you never know.


S2M-4712 Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 September 2006

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

... ... ...

Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4712, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the general principles of the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is not for Parliament or MSPs to micromanage the criminal justice system, but it is for us to create the environment in which effective management can operate and to hold the Government accountable for what happens in the system. The Scottish National Party will support the bill at 5 o'clock because we want to help summary justice to do its business.

The widely welcomed and successful Bonomy reforms of the solemn justice system have delivered, by and large. The McInnes reforms, as moderated by the Government's views and refined by the Justice 1 Committee and the Parliament at the bill's later stages, must deliver similarly beneficial changes for court cases that are dealt with via the summary justice system before a sheriff or a justice of the peace, which are the huge majority of court cases. I expect that we will hear from MSPs who are former JPs—I am not one—at later stages of the debate.

The bail system is the subject that more than anything else in the bill is debated in the pubs, clubs, streets and homes of Scotland, but it is the system's defects rather than its successes—or rather its perceived defects and failures—that form the subject of common debate. The successes are rarely talked about and are not particularly easy to find. However, individual failures or perceptions of failures too often touch on the subject to which the minister referred, which is that of public safety. I welcome the minister's indication that she will respond to the committee's view that although public interest encompasses public safety, "public safety" is the phrase and the sentiment that we have to bring to the forefront so that the people outside the chamber understand that we are taking things seriously.

Phil Gallie: The member has quite rightly highlighted perceived deficiencies in the bail system, but I can assure him that it has actual deficiencies, too. Does he regret the fact that his party supported the Labour-Liberal Administration's hasty reform of the bail laws, which was supposedly undertaken to ensure compliance with the European convention on human rights? Does he agree that the changes that have now been proposed demonstrate that there was no need for such reform?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that the member will know that among SNP members and, I suspect, members of all parties, apart from that to which Mr Gallie and his colleagues belong, there is firm support for the principle of human rights. For everyone who may be subject to the bail system, there must be a rule that allows them to demonstrate before the court and the sheriff that there is a case for bail. The bill will draw much tighter the mesh of the net through which serious criminals or those people who have been accused of serious offences might escape temporary incarceration in advance of their trial. I am sure that that measure will receive a broad welcome; we certainly welcome it.

It is worth returning to the subject of public interest versus public safety. In the 1700s, John Locke said:

"They who would advance in knowledge ... should not take words for real entities."

Although we agonise about the words that appear in legislation, outside the Parliament public safety is what people are thinking about.

We welcome subsection (3) of new section 23D of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which clarifies that bail will be granted only in exceptional circumstances when the accused has a previous conviction for drug trafficking. There might be further debate to be had about that because there will be circumstances in which although someone has no previous conviction, orders have been imposed on them that might lead us to conclude that it would be appropriate not to grant bail and to keep them locked up.

The key aspect of the bail proposals that will engage the general public relates to the perception—which is too often the reality—that too many people at the lower tariff end of offences flout bail and fail to adhere to the conditions that the court imposed when it granted bail. When the committee went to Glasgow sheriff court, we found out about a number of people who had committed a long list of bail breaches. In cases in which someone has a track record of bail breaches, bail should not be granted.

The bill will do something to help people who have genuine difficulties understanding what they have been told. We hope that it will ensure that accused persons receive greater explanation and are given a written record of their bail conditions and of when they must appear in court. We support the proposed increases in the penalty for breaching bail from three months to 12 months in summary cases and from two years to five years in solemn cases. We are in favour of the increased emphasis on ensuring that people who are bailed have a better understanding of the conditions to which they are subject.

The speaking-time clock has just jumped forward by five minutes, but I am sure that the Presiding Officer will ensure that I am on time. We welcome the greater use of liberation on undertaking, although the effect that it will have on police resourcing is not clear. We will monitor that as the bill progresses. More details need to be provided to allow us to understand what will happen.

We welcome the idea that more will be done on intermediate diets, although we do not know exactly how that will work, and we must consider whether consequential reforms of legal aid will be necessary.

Finally, I come to fiscal fines and fiscal compensation orders and the presumption of acceptance. Fiscal fines have a role to play. They are already used, but the bill will extend their use and increase the fine limit. That is probably a good idea because it will mean that many cases can be taken out of court. The minister mentioned that a person who was offered a fiscal fine would have the option of going to court—yes, but no: given the presumption of acceptance, if someone does not go back to the fiscal and say, "I reject your offer," they will not have the opportunity to go to court to clear the issue. Further thinking will have to be done on the matter.

I remain somewhat concerned about fiscal compensation orders. Although I do not come home drunk on a Saturday night and kick in a window, rich gits like me could afford to pay the fiscal compensation order, whereas someone who is financially less well set up could not.

In their contributions, my colleagues will develop our position on other aspects of the bill. The SNP will support the motion at decision time, but—and this is critical to our position—we will also seek to improve it at stage 2.


07 September 2006

S2M-4713 Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 September 2006

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

... ... ...

Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4713, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We should not imagine that this issue of principle has arisen in recent times. Some 2,000 years ago, the Romans asked the question, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"—who guards the guards? In essence, that is the principle that we are discussing today. As it has taken 2,000 years to get to where we are, it is likely that we will not fully resolve the issue.

Nonetheless, an effort has been made. It is an effort that we in the SNP commend, while continuing to be engaged in addressing the details. I particularly welcome Hugh Henry's comments in his opening remarks, which addressed many of the core concerns from practitioners that, like other constituency members, I have had in my in-tray. In particular, I received a letter in the past week from the dean of the faculty of procurators for Peterhead and Fraserburgh. He pointed out that in that area—which is a substantial part of my constituency, although not quite all of it—only two firms currently do civil legal aid cases and that any reduction in that number would be pretty catastrophic to the provision of services.

Like other members I have a constant stream, if not a flood, of people coming to my office because they have the fallacious idea that because I occasionally indulge in legal fisticuffs in the committee room with the Deputy Minister for Justice—who, like me, is not legally qualified—I can give them free legal advice. They are half right, as I do not charge for the privilege, but the other half is highly dubious, and I am always careful to point that out to them. Equally, I often find myself being asked to find someone a lawyer. Of course, that is dangerous. I am always careful to give people at least three options so that they make the choice. I do not tell them which one to go for, because sure as hell they would be back to blame me at the end of the day. The relationships between the legal professions and their clients are complex, and I hope that we will develop and improve them.

Like others, I recognise that not all complaints are well founded. For a period, my family lawyer was top of the list that Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers compiles. I did not understand that, but I felt disappointed as he moved down the list and was eventually relegated from it, because the list provided an excellent opportunity to tease a highly professional man whose integrity I utterly respect—as I do almost all the lawyers whom I meet. However, I have met lawyers who must be dealt with, and we need a process for that.

Like John Swinney, I am concerned about the difficulty of teasing out a complaint and stuffing it in one box rather than another. As members, we inevitably have constituents at our surgeries who say, at the end of what we think is the case that they are putting, "And another thing," so that the case moves into another domain. Alternatively, when we examine the needs of someone who is elderly and infirm, we find that they relate to council activity, Scottish Parliament care obligations and social security, which is Westminster's responsibility.

Problems do not fit into boxes just because we have created boxes, so for the customer—the person with the complaint—we must deal with their complaint in a way that does not make it a problem for them, whatever box they try to put it in. The customer must feel that their problem is being dealt with justly.

Jeremy Purvis: Does the member agree that what matters is having the correct processes? If a complaint is about service from the police, it goes to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but if the complaint relates to the police and criminal activity, it is right for it to go to the Procurator Fiscal Service. That should not confuse the public, because the system is correct.

Stewart Stevenson: Jeremy Purvis is correct. In paragraph 45 of its report, the Justice 2 Committee highlights the issues related to pursuing potential criminal activity by lawyers, so such considerations apply in the context of lawyers, too. The work is not easy; if it were, it would have been done a heck of a long time ago.

The minister's announcement on levies will be welcomed by my constituents and is extremely helpful. It is a tribute to him that he has responded so promptly to what the committee said.

I—and, I suspect, others—do not really understand how the right of third parties to complain will work. In my mind, that will be like a prisoner who jumps over a prison wall and is knocked down by a bus while running across the road suing the prison officer who failed to keep him in prison. We appear to be creating such indirectness. I hope that we are not making a rod for our own back.

Paragraph 28 of the Justice 2 Committee's report concerns some difficulties that sole practitioners might experience in dealing with complaints that come to their door in the first instance. I encourage the legal profession to think hard about that and the Executive to respond to any inputs from that source, because in rural areas such as that which I represent that is and will be an issue.


S2M-4755 Education

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 September 2006

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


The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4755, in the name of Peter Peacock, on education first.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Executive's motion starts with the words:

"That the Parliament welcomes the priority given to improving education standards".


Members will understand the position that the SNP is coming from if they care to dip into the Scottish neighbourhood statistics and compare my constituency of Banff and Buchan with that of Motherwell and Wishaw. It is interesting that the average tariff score for all pupils on the S4 roll is 10 per cent worse in Motherwell and Wishaw. The percentage of the S4 cohort that attained level 3 or better in the Scottish credit and qualifications framework is worse in Motherwell and Wishaw. Similarly, if we move on to other matters, we can see that reported admissions for drug misuse in Motherwell and Wishaw are 18 per cent higher than in Banff and Buchan. Finally, the estimated percentage of the population in the First Minister's constituency who have been prescribed drugs for anxiety, depression or psychosis is 46 per cent higher than in my constituency. Perhaps we can understand why the First Minister is worried.

Mr McAveety: If the member wants to draw those kinds of parallels, would it not be appropriate to do as most teachers would do and judge one constituency with a comparable constituency? The idea that Banff and Buchan can be compared to Motherwell and Wishaw is a misjudgment. It is not appropriate for making an assessment.

Stewart Stevenson: It is interesting to compare urban areas that the SNP represents with urban areas that the Labour Party represents. If the member goes through those constituency by constituency, he will find that the Labour Party faces the bigger challenge on the ground. If the First Minister is putting education at the centre of his future commitments and is being driven by the experience of his constituency to do so, I welcome that—it is good news. However, my central question is, is the Labour Party sincere?

In his opening speech, the minister said:

"We have given education top priority ... For me and my colleagues, education comes first."

Colleagues know that the internet is home from home for me. Naturally, I thought that I would look up what Labour parliamentarians had to say on the subject of education. I started in the north-east, driven from the Labour Party's website via some interesting byroads. For example, the party's home page states:

"Bloggers4Labour brings hundreds of Labour-related blogs under one roof, offering a wide range of intelligent and incisive views on a wide range of topics."

That sounds encouraging.

We then move to the core of Bloggers4Labour. I confess that I cannot cite the concluding remarks in the first article, as standing orders do not permit me to provide the four-letter word, starting with F, that refers intelligently and incisively to an opponent of Labour. However, I was directed to Marlyn Glen's website. I printed out her blog, in which nothing about education was to be found. However, let us put that to one side.

Marlyn Glen's website gave me the opportunity to click on a button to see what there might be elsewhere. There may be some technical deficiencies in the site, because I received the response "nothing found". I then decided to look at the websites of the members for the Highlands and Islands, Maureen Macmillan and Peter Peacock, the Minister for Education and Young People. I do not know how recently the minister has looked at his website. I looked thoroughly at every page of it and found a single reference to education. That reference is in the Highlands and Islands survey, in which he asks the question:

"What change would do most to improve education in your area?"

In other words, the only reference to education on the minister's website is a question to his constituents, which asks them what he should do about it. I hope that when they tell him, he will listen to whatever they choose to say. The proposition that education is central to the Labour Party's future programme does not stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab): I wonder whether the member has looked at my website, where he would find references to all the speeches that I have made on education, the questions that I have asked about it and the press releases that I have issued on it.

Stewart Stevenson: I very much look forward to the member's return to office and hope that Peter Peacock has a worthy successor in the brief period during which the Labour Party fills that post.

I am largely an autodidact. In the several dozen speeches that I have made on the subject of education, I draw on my own investigation, rather than the education that I received from my teachers. The fault for that lies in my domain, rather than someone else's. My responsibilities for the SNP include prisons policy. One issue that is fundamental to this debate is the fact that 85 per cent of people in prison are functionally illiterate. That shows us once again the absolutely clear connection between the failure to learn and achieve and ending up at the bottom of the social pile. The words "Arbeit macht frei"—"Work will make you free"—appeared above the entrances to the camps in Nazi Germany. Education will make our generation free, but the Executive has yet to prove its commitment in the real world.


29 June 2006

Subject Debate: International Development and Co-operation with Malawi

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 June 2006

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

... ... ...

International Development and Co-operation with Malawi

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on international development and co-operation with Malawi.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We can take great pride in the institutional links that are now working between our country and Malawi. I quote the First Minister, Jack McConnell, with approbation. He said:

"If we are not part of the solution in Africa ... we exacerbate the problem." —[Official Report, 1 June 2005; c 17383.]

I agree, and I suspect that everyone else does.

However, it is the personal links that disperse the value of our connections throughout society both in our country and in Malawi. Those links entrench the value beyond the period in office of a single Government and beyond a single session of Parliament.

In my case, the links are twofold. Dr Hastings Banda won his first election here in Edinburgh. He stood for, and won a seat on, the council of the University of Edinburgh union when my father was the president of that body. I have to say that they learned different lessons from their experience. Hastings Banda learned to be captivated by the power of elected position and became a vicious despot. My father was rather different. He was always conscious of duty over power. That is a lesson that we must all learn with humility while in office. It is a gey hard task that has to be learned by each new generation of politicians. We can say with honesty that there are encouraging signs of that approach taking root in Malawi.

My other personal connection—a relatively small one—is through a gentleman called Dr Wilson, who was my father's locum. My father was a general practitioner in Fife and Dr Wilson came for a few weeks in the summer each year so that my father could get away. Dr Wilson happened to be Livingstone's grandson, so occasionally we talked about life in Africa.

I turn to the challenges and the new responses that we have to think about. First, it is a myth that trade solves all the problems. The Department for International Development in London states on its website:

"A 'successful' outcome to the World Trade Organisation ... round is likely to result in Malawi losing 11% of its export earnings. Malawi has lost its preferential access for sugar to the European Union ... Malawi's main export is tobacco whose market is vulnerable to increasingly widespread health concerns."

Progress brings challenges, and we must not assume that simple-minded knee-jerk reactions will be the solution. The absence of trade is of course a problem, but it is also an opportunity. The imposition of a perfect free market is a bigger challenge than steady, careful progress.

Another myth is that money solves the problem. Used wrongly, money can make the problem a great deal worse by separating those who have in society even further from those who have not. In local manufacturing, money is often used to import products—often engineering products—that could more appropriately be produced locally, which would build capacity and be sustainable in the long term.

There are other myths about money. One of the great myths played a part in one of the great lost opportunities for the banking industry. When apartheid ended in South Africa, none of the banks would go into Khayelitsha or the other squatter camps and lend people money for houses. They thought that that was a no-no. The reality was that people who had not used credit before were always desperate to repay loans that were made to them, and the indigenous banks that sprung up have been successful. The microcredit movement, which exists throughout the world, is the way forward for money in less developed economies. I commend it—and any support that we can give it—to the minister. Although money is valuable, our individual time is invaluable by comparison.

Another myth is the idea that we in the west innovate and people in the less developed world do not. I point to the honeybee network, which began in India, primarily in Gujarat province, but is spreading outside India. It is a network of village innovators who produce simple innovations. The network is designed to ensure that the lessons that are learned in one village are passed on to others. It is being mentored, led and supported by some of the top profs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By using the modern communications that are available, they need not visit Malawi to mentor and support innovation in villages.

I will give examples of what has happened. A power-free water cooler has been developed and is being sold abroad. A motorcycle has been adapted to create a tractor from almost no money, simply by recycling. A new design of pulley makes it possible to draw water from a well in a way that is more effective and involves less effort.

The third world has much to teach us. Perhaps one point is that we must stop calling it the third world, because it will overtake us by avoiding some of the mistakes that we have made. We must support it in that journey. Only a few of us will make the journey to Malawi in body, but we can all connect in our minds and in our spirit, and we must do that.


28 June 2006

S2M-4337 James Clerk Maxwell

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 28 June 2006

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

... ... ...

James Clerk Maxwell

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4337, in the name of Alex Fergusson, on the anniversary of the birth of James Clerk Maxwell. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the 175th anniversary of the birth of James Clerk Maxwell on 13 June 2006; recognises his great achievement in discovering the nature of electromagnetic waves which opened the way to the invention of television, radio, radar and the mobile phone; applauds his work on colour perception which enabled the successful development of colour television and colour photography, and believes that he is worthy of greater recognition throughout Scotland, given the acknowledgement of Albert Einstein, who said that "the special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell's equations of the electromagnetic field", and of Ivan Tolstoy, who wrote "Maxwell's importance in the history of scientific thought is comparable to Einstein's (whom he inspired) and to Newton's (whose influence he curtailed)".


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Alex Fergusson on bringing this topic for debate, but I must correct his initial statement that it would be impossible to put all the material into the time available. The point is that Clerk Maxwell laid the basis for Einstein's later work, which of course showed that to get the material into the time available one only needs to move close to the speed of light. Therefore, Alex Fergusson was entirely wrong, thanks to Clerk Maxwell.

There are many interesting aspects to the subjects of natural philosophy and mathematics. I remember the excitement and enjoyment I felt, as a spotty-faced young lad at secondary school, on being charged up by the Van der Graaf generator and going along the corridor and shaking hands with the first victim I found. That was the sort of primitive piece of science that engages the mind and starts to make young people think about the world around them.

Clerk Maxwell's contribution to the world was to explain some of the phenomena that we can see and experience. He attended Marischal college in the University of Aberdeen, where I went as a student. I was an extremely indifferent student, so when I finally graduated my mother gave my girlfriend a present because she knew that the fact that I had finally graduated was nothing to do with me. When I was at the university, the professor of natural philosophy was R V Jones, who said that Clerk Maxwell made

"one of the greatest leaps ever achieved in human thought."

R V Jones was, of course, famed for his work on radar during the second world war, which depended utterly on Clerk Maxwell's earlier thinking.

Natural philosophy it was when I was at Aberdeen. My studies were in the arts faculty rather than the science faculty because it is about thinking and a philosophy with which to see the world. I think that that is important.

It has also been said that Clerk Maxwell's contribution was that he curbed Newton's influence. He certainly avoided descending into the sequence that Newton did at the end of his life, when he spent some 10 years pursuing the chimera of alchemy and thus in many ways devalued his contribution to world thinking.

The reality is that we now understand that what we can see and touch is perhaps only 4 per cent of the universe; another 24 per cent is said to be dark matter; and the rest is energy, which is far and away the biggest part of the universe. We have today, through the work of Clerk Maxwell, an explanation that covers much of the universe that we are unable to see.

The Scottish Parliament is perhaps particularly fortunate in that all the major parties, with the exception of the Liberals, have mathematicians represented here—even the First Minister is one. We now have five mathematicians in the Parliament. Therefore, I hope that the Parliament is a great place in which we can do thinking well. Clerk Maxwell changed the world by pure thought, which was an important contribution to the modern world.


21 June 2006

S2M-4515 Highland Transport Links

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 21 June 2006

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

… … ...

Highland Transport Links

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4515, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on main road and rail transport links to the Highlands. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,
That the Parliament believes that the main trunk roads connections to the Highlands of Scotland, namely the A9 from Inverness to Perth, the A96 from Inverness to Aberdeen and the A82 from Inverness to Glasgow, should be the subject of major improvements, to be carried out in accordance with a long-term transport projects plan; believes that the rail links to Inverness are inadequate and should be improved; considers that a national consensus should be established to agree these objectives, and, in the case of the A96 and the A9, believes that the ultimate objective should be to dual these trunk routes.

… … ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I hope that the Presiding Officer will also allow me to go 68 seconds over the allotted time.

I am the only member—bar one—who has no railway in his constituency. The Minister for Transport has at least five licensed airports and I have none of those either. I say to Eleanor Scott that I also do not have a cinema in my constituency. Even though the roads mentioned in the motion do not come to my constituency, they are nonetheless of vital interest to my constituents and to me. My wife used to commute on the McBraynes bus to Inverness along the A82. The road might have been resurfaced since she used to make that journey, but it certainly has not been straightened.

The A96 is an important road for my constituents as it links us to Inverness. Aberdeenshire is statistically 2 per cent more rural than the Highlands and Inverness is an important hub to which many of my constituents travel. The A9 is an important road when one wants to avoid Aberdeen. We are waiting for the bypass; we will get it eventually. Indeed, I come to the Parliament by the A9 from time to time.

There are 107.49 miles of A9 between Inverness and Perth; 26.09 miles of that is dual carriageway, which is just over a quarter. If the remaining 81.4 miles of the A9 were dualled, that would have some interesting effects. The speed that a heavy goods vehicle can travel at rises from 40mph to 50mph on dual carriageways and the speed at which a smaller goods vehicle can travel rises from 50mph to 60mph. That means that, in the same time, an HGV can travel 15 miles further. The important point is that that extends how far a commercial driver can travel within the time limits. It reduces the number of overnight stops and increases the distances that buses and lorries driven by commercial drivers can go. That is one illustration of the important commercial benefits—besides all the safety benefits—of dualling our roads. The dualling of the road would benefit towns north of Inverness as well as, in my case, towns to the east of Inverness.

Ultimately, I hope that I am currying favour with those more fortunate. I say to the minister that I hope that we get the dualling of those routes into the programme. Then we can start to negotiate about the needs of other parts of Scotland, which include, of course, not a dual carriageway to Fraserburgh, but a motorway.


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