30 March 2006

S2M-4101 Post Office Card Accounts

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 30 March 2006

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

… … …

Post Office Card Accounts

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4101, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on Post Office card accounts. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the recent announcement that Post Office card accounts are to be phased out by 2010; notes that this news has come as a shock to pension and benefits claimants in north-east Scotland, many of whom rely on the service especially where there are no local bank branches, as well as to Post Office staff who view the scheme as a vital service; believes that the phasing out of this service could put the future of some rural post offices in severe jeopardy and lead to many of these lifeline services being lost to communities already being stripped of other vital services; supports the National Federation of SubPostmasters campaign to have Post Office card accounts retained, and considers that the Scottish Executive should make appropriate representations to the UK Government on behalf of Post Office card account users in Scotland.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Richard Lochhead on securing this timely debate.

It is interesting that most members' speeches have focused on rural areas. I think that that is a mistake, because this is not only a rural issue; it is also an issue for people who live in urban areas. I will explain why. In rural areas, the Post Office card account has an important role in supporting the post office network and preserving a lynchpin source of economic and retail activity in communities, but for its users it is an important instrument by which people can manage their money.

One of the great paradoxes in our society is that we expect the most sophisticated money management of the people who have least money. If I or other members here run out of money and realise that we will have to spend a little bit more, we will go to a cash machine, stick our card in and get the money out. We will not think too much about it. If we do, it might be a momentary twinge that we may have to account to our spouse when he or she does the accounts at the end of the month. I do that, even if colleagues do not.

For people with less money, however, basic accounting and the management of money is a constant and enduring challenge. In the old days, for people without much money, the most effective way of accounting was jam-jar accounting. People had a set of jam jars on the sideboard and they put money in the jam jar for the rent, for the tallyman, for the insurance policy and so on. They could see what they were doing.

The principle of jam-jar accounting is the one that the Post Office card account supports. People know that, each month, there will be a certain amount of money in the electronic jam jar and that they can spend it in the way that they plan. That is the value of this instrument: it helps people to manage their money. The important point is that the money is not in one big pot—they can think of it as being in different little pots that they can use for different purposes.

The POCA is one example—it is by no means the only one—of the Government approaching something in the wrong way. It had an open tender among financial organisations to establish the infrastructure for the POCA. An American bank won the contract, but it was not one of the major banks that already supply bank accounts to people the length and breadth of the British isles that could, at a relatively small marginal cost, have provided the service within the context of their overall computer processing systems.

The contract went to a US bank that had no track record of providing processing services in the United Kingdom. The cost of providing the service was substantially higher than it would have been if the Government had sat round the table with the existing banks and co-operatively got them to provide a service. That is one reason why the Government has, almost perversely, sought to make it difficult for people to have the accounts—so the accounts wither on the vine and the Government does not have to provide economic support for them.

As I represent a rural area, I join colleagues in saying that in rural areas we value the post office above almost any other high street activity. We must make every effort to aggregate remaining economic activity into post offices. Banks will continue to close. I know that one branch of a bank closed because it was doing only 20 transactions a week. Other branches are doing a similarly low number of transactions. The post office remains important and this card remains important to many people. I hope that the minister can find a way, within the limits of the powers of this Parliament, to help people to preserve this card.


29 March 2006

S2M-4068 Duke of Edinburgh's Award

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 29 March 2006

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

… … …

Duke of Edinburgh's Award
(50th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4068, in the name of Karen Whitefield, on the 50th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh's award. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in its 50th anniversary year; recognises the contribution made by the organisations that operate the award and the exceptional number of hours of volunteering undertaken by leaders in supporting over 20,000 young people each year in Scotland; further recognises the efforts of participants in the volunteering section of the award and its wider benefits to communities across Scotland and across the world; acknowledges the contribution the award makes to promoting a healthy lifestyle to young people; recognises the benefits in terms of skills development, enterprise, teamwork and personal and social development; acknowledges the findings of recent research which indicated the tremendous value placed by employers on the award programme, and looks forward to welcoming the International Forum and UK General Council to Edinburgh in November 2006.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It was interesting to hear Robin Harper's comments on the immense value of outdoor education. Some years ago, I calculated that I have spent more than two years of my life under canvas, so I must be due to reach perfection shortly.

Donald Gorrie talked about the value of confession. I am sure that he will remember the old phrase, "Be sure your sins will find you out." I have never heard a bad word spoken about Donald, which must speak volumes about his purity of thought, his integrity of action and the certainty of his aim.

Like Karen Whitefield, whom I congratulate on bringing this debate to the Parliament, I have had an encounter with the mountain rescue services. I think that it was in 1967, at about Easter, at the bottom of Sgurr nan Gillean on Skye. I was there on a geological expedition. The Inverness police mountain rescue team was on the hill, but it got lost and we were invited to go and look for it.

Fortunately, we were not required to deliver, as the team appeared within two minutes of the request—or perhaps I should say suggestion—being made, but we were ready to volunteer. The whole point of the debate is the value of volunteering not only to the person or persons who volunteer but to the wider community. Indeed, that is why I broadly support the Executive's volunteering strategy—in which context it is appropriate to speak about the Duke of Edinburgh's award—and absolutely agree with its statement that

"Volunteering is a fundamental building block of civil society."

As members have said, some might not be aware that a wider social mix is now participating in the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme. Dr Andrew McLellan, the chief inspector of prisons, presented a report that showed that it can play a significant role in reducing offending rates among young people. The scheme is an excellent opportunity for integrating people who have become disconnected from mainstream society with those who remain within it.

The scheme also allows companies to make their contribution. I note that, for example, the list of charter members of the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme includes the Bank of Scotland, Scottish Airports Ltd and Slater Menswear. That said, I should point out that the scheme is slightly different from the uniformed activities that I took part in when I was in the boy scouts. Activities in the Duke of Edinburgh's award do not require a uniform, although, interestingly, most of the uniformed youth organisations have integrated the scheme's work into what they do and help their members to participate in it and to gain the award. That shows the high regard in which this non-partisan scheme is held by many youth organisations.

One organisation that participates in the scheme is the Sea Cadets. I note that, in a press release put out on 6 March, three Peterhead sea cadets, one of whom is participating in the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme, managed to help someone who was injured and to ensure that they received support. That kind of activity will be repeated across much of Scotland.

I want to close by highlighting a point that arose at the Justice 1 Committee meeting today. As we know, Disclosure Scotland is becoming more important in ensuring the safety of the supervision and support that adults provide to youth organisations. However, I was slightly alarmed to discover that on Friday—and with comparatively little notice—the fee for Disclosure Scotland applications will increase 50 per cent from £13.60 to £20. I hope that, among the many issues that the minister will address in his closing remarks, he will touch on the support that we can give voluntary organisations, especially youth organisations, to offset the not unreasonable impositions that Government and Parliament place on them to meet high standards, not least through Disclosure Scotland.


16 March 2006

S2M-4088 European Commission Green Papers (Divorce and Succession and Wills)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 March 2006

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

... ... ...

European Commission Green Papers (Divorce and Succession and Wills)

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4088, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on behalf of the Justice 1 Committee, on European Commission green papers on applicable law in divorce and succession and wills.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Justice 1 Committee brought this matter to the attention of the Parliament, because green papers have a habit of changing colour. There is little doubt that acting at an early point in the European legislative process increases dramatically the likelihood that one can influence the outcome. We have seen too often, when intervening at a late stage, that when a proposal has achieved a degree of momentum it can be difficult to dislodge.

The debate can be summed up in one simple phrase. Parliament is saying clearly and unambiguously to the European Union and its officials, "Get your tanks off our lawn; we're nae having it."

A number of members have raised the issue of the internationality of Scotland and the people in it and reference was made to some of my constituency work, which touched on that. It is worth saying that in the past couple of years a widow of a member of the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe has sought my help—her brother and her husband were both murdered by Robert Mugabe's men; I have heard from a Chinese acupuncturist who had residency problems; and I have spent something of the order of £500 on translation fees in seeking to help a Latvian father whose daughter had the misfortune to die in my constituency. I do not imagine that any member has had nothing of a similar nature in their constituency work.

The world is international; we cannot roll that back. That is not even a recent development. My great, great grandfather William Stewart emigrated to the United States, but did not like it much and came back. My great, great uncle Alexander Berrie went to Australia; he did like it, stayed there and became a multimillionaire. A rather distant cousin of mine, James Jeffrey, died in Shanghai in 1870 at the age of 33, thus cutting off his potential before it could be fully realised. In all the weddings that I have attended in the past 15 or 20 years, there have been six different nationalities among one or other of the partners. I am one quarter English, so I am used to cross-jurisdictional marriages.

I take particular interest in internationality because Banff and Buchan is the most cosmopolitan constituency in Scotland, which is reflected by the fact that we have three consulates. That might surprise some members.

There is little doubt that few if any of us have been approached by our constituents or by anyone else saying that the law that touches on international private affairs in either divorce or testamentary affairs requires to be changed. I have not met anyone who has been so approached. The reason for that is straightforward: by and large, the law works as well as it is possible for such things to work. None of us wishes ever to encounter either circumstance, but the reality is that death is inevitable and divorce is all too common. It is important that we have a well-founded, well-understood and well-established system for dealing with those matters. In Scotland, as in the majority of the countries in the European Union, there are well-established processes that mean that the law works pretty damn well.

Why are we considering change? Cynically, I say that it is perhaps because idle hands are looking for work to do. It would be proper for us to consider change that provides mutual benefit to people throughout the European Union, where there is a genuine, identifiable problem that requires it. We should make such changes by mutual decision making, which would ensure that the distinctive Scottish system was represented in whatever way was appropriate at the time. In that way, we would have mutual laws and practices. However, if there is no need for change, change should not be driven by officials.

We are clear that there is absolutely no blank cheque for EU proposals in this area. I do not believe that any political party, in the Parliament or beyond, wishes us to act in the way that the green paper suggests.

Under Scots law, it is straightforward to establish jurisdiction in divorce and testamentary matters. If we reach the position where people can shop for jurisdictions, applicable law will get really complicated. Recognition and enforcement work quite well at the moment.

Think of this: if the law were to change, fewer people might go to another country to marry. I am neither for nor agin that, but the people in Gretna might regret it if their business went down a bit because of potential complications for people who want to travel to another jurisdiction to marry.

The freedoms of people throughout Europe are protected by the status quo; the freedoms of people in Scotland are served adequately by existing Scots law. I hope that the minister either in her ministerial capacity or, if that is not possible, in her private capacity, will ensure that a copy of today's Official Report is delivered to the appropriate people in Brussels. I add my support to the motion.


15 March 2006

S2M-3882 Community Transport (Banff and Buchan)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 15 March 2006

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

... ... ...

Community Transport
(Banff and Buchan)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3882, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Banffshire Partnership Ltd and Buchan Dial-a-Community Bus. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Banffshire Partnership and the Buchan Dial-a-Community Bus, who provide an essential transport service in areas with virtually no public transport; notes that transport problems faced by many people in rural communities lead to many forms of exclusion; further notes that at present the national concessionary travel scheme does not encompass transport outwith conventional services, and hopes that the formation of Transport Scotland will enable new ideas to be implemented to tackle the problem of rural transport.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This is my first members' business debate in this session of Parliament. I do not make extensive use of the facility, so when I do so it is because there is a subject about which I feel passionately and which I think it is important for us to discuss. Some aspects of community transport have perhaps been subsumed by other issues, so I thank colleagues who have added their names in support of my motion.

As we all know, community transport plays a vital role in our constituencies throughout Scotland. In Banff and Buchan, which I represent, people's transport needs are particularly acute. My constituency may soon be the only one in Scotland without either a railway or an airport—that possibility is contingent upon the Borders rail link proceeding. The land area of my constituency is approximately 455 square miles. In common with the rest of Scotland, it is—because of rising fuel costs—now substantially more expensive there than it used to be to get from A to B.

The 2005 edition of the "Scottish Transport Statistics" publication states that in a constituency such as mine—Aberdeenshire is the most rural council area in Scotland—44 per cent of passengers have to wait more than 64 minutes for a bus, while another 15 per cent of passengers have to walk for more than 14 minutes to get to the nearest bus stop. It can be impossible for elderly or disabled people to walk such a distance.

In rural Scotland generally, the number of key facilities—shops, post offices, schools and so on—has fallen by about a third in the past 25 years. The shrinking of the numbers of such facilities makes it even more difficult for people to reach their ever more distant facilities.

Despite Banff and Buchan's rural character, we have the greatest proportion of households—a quarter—in Aberdeenshire with no car. Even when people own a car, they have to share it with other drivers and do not necessarily have ready access to it. That illustrates the need for a coherent community transport programme. I congratulate the Banffshire Partnership and Buchan Dial-a-Community Bus, which offer a lifeline to people in my constituency who do not have access to other forms of transport. There are many similar examples in other parts of Scotland, under the umbrella of the Community Transport Association.

Over the years, the Executive has supported the services in my constituency morally—by appearing for photo shoots—and financially. People such as Clare Mather and Rachel Milne, who work in the two services to which I have referred, have the determination and spirit to fight for the people who need transport most. They now need our continued support.

The dial-a-bus service runs five days a week and takes customers from all over rural Buchan to shopping centres and back to their homes. The service supports disabled and frail people with wheelchairs, walking aids and volunteer escorts so that they can have a little independence rather than their having to rely on family or friends for help. The buses are fully adapted, everyone in the local community can access them and their services are reasonably priced because of the support that they are given. In November 2001, the service achieved investors-in-people status and was successfully reassessed for that three years later. Four thousand people a year use the service.

Banffshire Partnership Ltd has been going as long as the Parliament has and it runs a bus service from 6 am until sometimes almost midnight. It supports 1,000 rurally isolated individuals and perhaps as many as 66 community groups. It got a grant from the Big Lottery Fund to purchase a minibus and to cover salary costs. The partnership also operates a community car scheme in which volunteers drive their own cars and are compensated for that. However, like many such organisations, it is running out of money because it is a victim of its own success. Perhaps it is also a victim of the Executive's recent focus on prioritising the free national bus scheme.

Two issues in particular have been highlighted, but I want first to welcome the national concessionary bus scheme, not simply because I will qualify for it later this year but because a focus on rural needs is embedded at its heart. However, the scheme should be extended to include community transport. If a bus service gets a service operator's grant, surely it should be possible to incorporate the service in the national concessionary scheme. Currently, the scheme is open only to scheduled bus services, which hurts people whom conventional transport currently does not support. We in Parliament must not fail those people.

Commercial services quite properly cherry-pick routes on which they can make money and, where routes are sub-economic, commercial services are often given support. Community transport, by contrast, makes the most difficult journeys and may get only 40 per cent of what commercial companies receive. Charities have to come in to fill that funding gap, but that involves a lot of paperwork. It can be heartbreaking, when there is not enough money, to turn down people who want trips.

The previous Minister for Transport and Telecommunications, who has been elevated to greater heights, got it right when he said:

"Good, affordable transport services are vital to the quality of life of everyone in rural Scotland".

However, that sentiment has received a lukewarm response because of recent developments.

Let us be fair: the rural community transport initiative has funding of £2.8 million, which is welcome. That is on top of the £18 million that has been provided since 1998. However, that funding takes place in the context of a transport budget of £3 billion, so we are not talking about a big share of the money. We are left in a position in which local authorities essentially pick up the tab. They have the discretion to do that, which is fair. The situation is so far, so good in Aberdeenshire and in other places across Scotland, but that is an uncertain foundation for enabling such services to flourish in the future. We need a new and redefined partnership between the Executive, councils and various community transport organisations. We want to grant to many disadvantaged people in our society the independence and freedom that we who are able-bodied take for granted. When we support community transport, we do that.

I inform the minister that I looked at the Transport Scotland website today before coming to this debate and it states—in relation to the free bus service—that

"People aged sixty or over and disabled people will be able to travel free on ANY local bus".

The word "ANY" is in capitals, but that statement is not true when the local bus is a community transport bus.

The minister can correct that oversight. It would take merely a bit of time, a bit of money and a willingness to respond flexibly. Tavish Scott should get his civil servants on the case tomorrow. If he does, he will earn the gratitude of many people throughout Scotland in town and country. My focus has been on rural services, but important community transport initiatives exist in urban areas as well.

A nationwide bus scheme means little if the disabled or older rural dweller cannot gain any benefit from it. No benefit can be gained if there is no bus.


09 March 2006

S2M-4081 Agriculture

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 March 2006

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

… … …


The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4081, in the name of Ross Finnie, on the agriculture strategy.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Perhaps I may respond to Mr Arbuckle's comments at the outset. I confess that one of my sins of omission as a pupil at Bell Baxter high school was my failure to cross the road to Elmwood College for the course on potato roguing, which would have equipped my purse with sufficient money to do more things than I was able to do as someone who could howk but could not rogue. I stand corrected by Mr Arbuckle who is a fellow Bell Baxter alumnus—as is Mr Smith who represents that part of Fife.

I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests.

It must be acknowledged that farming practice is affected by nature as well as by the actions of the Scottish ministers and others in other jurisdictions. When I left home in rural Banffshire on Monday, the snow was above my eyeline on both sides of the road as I sat in the driving seat of the four-by-four. The vehicle in front, which had had to be scraped off the edge of a snowdrift, had lost its front bumper and number plate. But the first of the season's lambs were already in the fields. Not everything is under the control of the minister, so I will not attempt to blame him any more than farmers would for some things that directly and critically affect farming, although the rules that come from other jurisdictions can often hit us much harder.

Whereas weather changes are part of the usual cycle of things, the rules that come from the minister and from other jurisdictions—no matter how daft those rules might be—seem to be incapable of being dislodged. That point is illustrated by an e-mail communication that I received last night at 6.43 pm. The e-mail highlights the difficulties that one farmer in my constituency is experiencing.

Before I read the e-mail and put the matter that it contains to the minister, I draw his attention to the forward strategy's action number 21, which states that the Executive will

"Encourage farmers to make greater use of electronic information sources and on-line facilities for communication with SEERAD."

The fact that this correspondence was delivered by e-mail perhaps illustrates the rather different characteristics of broadband in rural areas.

I will read from the e-mail. I have, of course, passed a copy to the minister. I hope that, when he puts a response on the record, it will not be as intemperate as the one he gave me in the coffee lounge. Anyway, the farmer writes:

"The chiels at DEFRA ur suddenly and maist unexpectintly siccin tae withdraa the eese o' Cypermetherin sheep dip. He is awaar that there micht huv been a wee bit o' a clamjaffrey fin some o't fun' its wye intae a wee bit burnie in Wales - bit that did'na get a' the wye there fae the Buchan - as ye micht hiv jelused fur yersel. The scunner is that there is a gye shortage o alternative efficacious medicaments for the dousing o' scabby yowes - the ither being organo-phosphates and they're real coorse buggers - far waar nor cypermetherin."

I will leave a bit out there. [Laughter.] He continues:

"there's nae muckle by wye o' chemist billies tryin tae concoct ither options forbye - which leaves injectin' - bit aat's rael fichery syne, an nae muckle eese uvva."

He goes on to say that he

"his nae doot ataa that Ross Funnie 'ill nae be ower hard tae persuade that withdraan cypermetherin wis a gey ill-tricket thing tae dae - in fact, it wis doonright feel".

I hope that the minister will be able to respond in the appropriate way later in the debate, or perhaps the Highland origins of the deputy minister will allow her to do so. Of course, that is precisely the sort of language that farmers use in their local dialect when something happens out of the blue, intemperately and without consultation. That happens far too often.

Ted Brocklebank made the valid point that the median age of farmers is now 60—an age at which they will receive their bus pass from the Executive, which will be a blessed relief, I am sure. That illustrates the big problem with getting youngsters into farming and the significant barriers that prevent young people from working in the industry. I know that the minister agrees that the age profile of the agriculture industry is simply far too high.

Other countries have schemes to help new entrants to go into farming. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland launched such a scheme on 5 June 2005. It supports the establishment of young farmers under 40 by providing an interest rate subsidy on loans. In my submission to the rural development consultation, I made the point that the minister has an opportunity to address the age profile of the agriculture industry in Scotland. I hope that the matter is still on the agenda, notwithstanding the fact that no scheme has been introduced yet.

The issue of local produce should undoubtedly be mentioned again. The Executive, in its many arms, buys a lot of food. It buys food for civil service canteens and for the 7,000 prisoners whom it houses. It can make a significant contribution both financially and by setting an example. It can show other institutions and commercial ventures that there is value in buying locally. After all, as commercial operations, the supermarkets can hardly be criticised for not buying locally and not supporting local suppliers if the Government does not do that. The minister should address that point in his future deliberations.

Agriculture continues to be at the core of the local economy in much of Scotland. Rural areas are defined as local authority areas where the population is less than 1 person per hectare. In those areas, agriculture accounts for 5 per cent of the economy, but, of course, many hamlets and small villages depend on agriculture for their survival. Too many communities become commuter shells or holiday-home shells when people have no realistic opportunity to work in agriculture. That affects agricultural engineers, veterinarians, the smithy, the mart staff and so on.

Support for agriculture is vital. It will preserve rural life, which many people who live in towns value highly. It is their countryside as well as the countryside of farmers, but the countryside of people in towns will not exist in a form that they recognise and appreciate unless we support farmers to the maximum degree. I hope that the amendment in my colleague's name will attract widespread support come decision time and I look forward to hearing more about the Executive's response to cypermetherin.


S2M-4073 Drug Abuse

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 March 2006

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

… … …

Drug Abuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): We ended the previous debate 12 minutes behind schedule, which has inevitable consequences for whom I can call in this debate. I also have a note of four points of order, which could impact on the debate if they are made. They all concern the same point, so it might make more sense to deal with them now.

All the points relate to the amendment in the name of Hugh Henry to the motion in the name of Annabel Goldie, on drug abuse. The amendment contains a typographical error. It says,

"leave out from 'calls on'"

but should read "leave out from 'notes'". Members can be assured that the fact that the amendment was selected means that it was competent. The minister is not responsible for the typographical error and members will vote on the amendment as it should read, rather than as it is printed in the Business Bulletin.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The content of the amendment in my name does not diverge widely from that of the Executive's amendment. I had hoped, therefore, that the Presiding Officer would adjudicate and not accept the Executive's amendment so that the Executive could support my amendment, but that did not happen. That is life. Ho hum.

It is important to consider three strands in the debate on drugs. First, we must help to move addicts towards a drug-free future. I do not think that any member would object to that statement. More controversially, however, it must be said that not every addict will complete that journey—it is simply not possible for every addict to do so—but we should continue to offer those who cannot complete it every form of help that we can to move further along it and look after them as addicts, and possibly addicts who still use drugs, which they might remain. However, that is a long-stop second-best option.

Secondly, we must stop as many people as possible being captured as addicts. That strategy matters for our young people in particular, and my colleague Fiona Hyslop will say more about it.

Margo MacDonald (Lothians) (Ind): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I cannot, as I have only four minutes.

Fundamentally, we must change the whole environment in which drug barons make immense profits. Number 10's policy unit, the Cabinet Office, has suggested that the profit margin in the illegal drugs industry is one of the highest margins for industries in the United Kingdom. Until we make progress towards reducing the profit levels and eliminating the pull for drug barons to turn to such an occupation, we will not change the environment. Reducing such profit levels ain't easy—indeed, if any member claims that they know how they can be reduced tomorrow, they simply do not understand the problem, or they are gratuitously misrepresenting it.

I want to mention a few details. There are around 51,000 heroin addicts—there used to be 55,000, so the figure is slightly down. As Neil McKeganey has said, more than half the number of addicts would like to get off drugs altogether and around 5 per cent of them want harm reduction. Are we helping them? We must provide residential programmes. Methadone is merely a bridge to abstinence and to greater help. In 2003-04, there were only around 1,200 placements on residential programmes. If that figure is set against the number of addicts, we can conclude that it will be 25 years before today's addicts are treated. That is a huge problem.

I recognise that more money has been made available. In 1999, there was £11.3 million for residential programmes, but more than twice that amount of money is now available. Therefore, some of the right things are being done, but we should not pretend that what is being done will solve the problem overnight. Incidentally, despite the Tories' protestations, I know where all the clinics for drug users are because they are listed in the Executive's research document, "Residential detoxification and rehabilitation services for drug users: A review." As usual, the Tories would rather go for soundbites than sound research.

We can debate the size of the industry, but it is worth in the range of £1.5 billion to as much as £5 billion. If it is worth £5 billion, it is the same size as our tourism industry. That is why we must focus on it and why we support every possible effort that the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency is making to tackle the drug barons head-on. Until we succeed in tackling them, we will not solve the problem.

I move amendment S2M-4073.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:

"acknowledges that drug abuse creates feelings of hopelessness, despair and low self-worth in individuals and communities; recognises that drug misusers are individuals who will vary widely as to the best approach to address their addictions and therefore dismisses single dogmatic solutions to this complex problem; believes that the Scottish Executive should focus resources on appropriate support and child protection measures for children in drug misusing families; notes that access to support for addicts varies widely across Scotland; recommends that substantial additional resources are focused on addiction services and on recovering profits from illegal drugs trade barons, and calls on all in public life to make common cause in the fight against drug misuse."


08 March 2006

S2M-4063 International Women's Day

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 8 March 2006

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

… … …

International Women's Day

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4063, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on international

… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I rise with considerable trepidation, as the sixth speaker in the debate and, of course, the first man—subject to the jury's confirmation.

Nora Radcliffe: We will take it on trust.

Stewart Stevenson: I am so glad that the member trusts that verdict.

Women's one dramatic failure—the fact that they have yet to persuade men of their equal worth—rests uneasy on any thinking man's shoulder. If I may refer to Mary Scanlon's excellent speech, I will give her just a little guidance on some of the challenges that the Tory party faces. The Scottish Tories' own website, in listing those who speak for that party on the various different subjects in the Parliament, describes the three female persons as "spokesmen". Perhaps, in this Cameronesque era, we might see rapid change on that as a result of my remarks today.

In many ways, it is interesting to note how blind we are, particularly us men, to the gaps through which women have not yet infiltrated. In preparing for the debate, I turned my mind to some of the areas in which I am not conscious of women being engaged. When I fly, for example, there is frequently an all-woman crew on the flight deck. When I travel by bus, it is not infrequent for a woman to be driving it. I also get in taxis that are driven by women. As far as I am aware, however, I have never been on a train driven by a woman.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): We have all been there. He has been on the wrong trains.

Stewart Stevenson: There we are. The point that I am making—and I blame myself for my blindness—is that, despite a comparative degree of engagement in this issue on my part, and of course on the part of my colleague, Alasdair Morgan, who is behind me, I have never seen a woman drive a train, even though my train might have been driven by a woman.

Nora Radcliffe: The train drivers' boss is now a woman.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, I—

Christine Grahame: Stop digging.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed—we have seen some improvements in the service since she took over. Let us absolutely accept that that is the case. Grovel, grovel, grovel.

Too many young women whom I meet and talk to when I go to schools—as we all do—are still limited in their aspirations. They still see role models who, if they follow them, will not lead them to the maximum extent of their potential. The media have a role to play in that, as do we.

I, like one or two others, remember much less-enlightened times. I remember the Equal Pay Act 1970 coming into force in 1975. At the time, I worked for the Bank of Scotland and I remember that that was the first time that women got access to the cheap mortgages that one could get when one worked at a bank. Prior to that, women had to be 25 to access them, but men had only to be 21. We were only a few years on from the time when employees had to get permission to marry from their manager. That applied to men and women, but, in practice, the women were much more likely to have permission denied.

Rape has been mentioned in the debate. Probably the biggest shame in our public system is that we have not found a way of successfully prosecuting men who inflict the horrible, sexual, violent crime of rape on women—and, for that matter, on men. I do not think that anyone has the perfect answer yet and we have to spend much more time considering that.

In the 19th century, women fought at Trafalgar and at the battle of Waterloo and qualified as doctors. However, in each case they had to do so dressed as men, denying that they were women. We have made progress, but there are still issues to address in public life. In my constituency and Mike Rumbles's constituency, NHS Grampian is seeking to close midwife-led maternity units. That is a key issue for women in our constituencies, but the decisions will be made by the male-dominated board of NHS Grampian. That is of course repeated throughout Scotland.

In politics, we in this Parliament have made substantial progress, but the Westminster Parliament stands 50th and the United States stands 69th in the list of 150 countries in relation to female representation. It is interesting that the top 13 countries, in which women are successfully breaking through the political glass ceiling, are countries with comparatively recent Parliaments that have proportional voting systems, which, to some extent, diminish the confrontational nature of the process by which people arrive in parliament. That is not in itself an argument for proportional representation, but it is an interesting test.

The key test of a society that is fair to all its members is how the strong support the weak. Therefore, in a society where the men remain strong relative to women—too strong—there is an absolute duty on all men to support the weak and promote equality actively.


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