25 May 2006

S2M-4268 Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 25 May 2006

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

... ... ...

Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4268, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill be passed.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I wish to dwell only on amendments 204 and 205. The provisions in amendment 204 will apply where

"the Principal Reporter is satisfied—

(i) that the ground specified ... is established; and

(ii) that an offence committed by the child causing that ground to be satisfied is a relevant sexual offence".

It is rather rich of the Executive to persuade the Parliament that antisocial behaviour orders are relevant to children—no guilt, civil process, civil standard of proof—

Jeremy Purvis: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: No.

ASBOs are relevant to children, but a child can be a sexual predator just as an adult can. A child who is a sexual predator needs to be protected and needs to be looked after within the children's panel system. That is self-evident, but there are victims of children as well. We have heard talk of victims; Marilyn Livingstone referred to the victims of sexual abuse. Someone can be abused by a child. Keeping the DNA of an innocent child who has admitted a sexual offence is hardly a greater problem of principle than Jeremy Purvis voting for keeping the DNA of absolutely innocent people who have appeared in court and immediately been identified as not being the right Paul Martin, Stewart Stevenson, Bill Aitken or whoever. In the realpolitik of Scotland, the first time a juvenile sexual offender reoffends undetected because the police did not have access to the DNA of that child from the previous offence, the political price for Jeremy Purvis and his colleagues will be significant and terminal.


18 May 2006

S2M-4091 Reduced Ignition Potential Cigarettes

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 18 May 2006

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

... ... ...

Reduced Ignition Potential Cigarettes

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4091, in the name of Stewart Maxwell, on reduced ignition potential cigarettes. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that deaths resulting from fires, of which there were 99 in 2004, are a major concern in Scotland; recognises that they are significantly higher in Scotland than the rest of the United Kingdom and that the majority of fire deaths in Scotland occur in the West of Scotland; notes with concern that smoking materials are one of the leading causes of fires in Scotland and that 50% of all smoking-related fire deaths occur in the West of Scotland; believes that the Scottish Parliament should commit to actively pursuing policies aimed at reducing the number of fire deaths in the West of Scotland and within Scotland as a whole; recognises the role that Reduced Ignition Potential (RIP) cigarettes, commonly referred to as fire-safe cigarettes, could play in reducing damage to property as well as the overall number of fires, fire injuries and fire deaths; supports the implementation of a new fire safety law that would require all cigarettes sold in Scotland to be RIP cigarettes; welcomes the decision of the Chief Fire Officers' Association in Scotland to support the call for the introduction of fire-safe cigarettes; congratulates Canada and New York for introducing such laws and recognises that the introduction of fire-safe cigarettes would have a significant and positive impact on the number of fire fatalities in Scotland, and believes that the Scottish government should bring forward legislation to introduce this fire safety measure as soon as possible in the hope that Scotland can truly say RIP to fires caused by cigarettes.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It gives me much pleasure to lock horns once again with Brian Monteith on the subject of smoking. I suspect that, as in the past, we will remain implacable opponents of each other's point of view.

Throughout their history, tobacco companies have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to serve the public good, and I am not all that surprised to find that nothing has changed in that regard. As for the suggestion that they should receive tax incentives for introducing reduced ignition potential cigarettes, I note that, in the most recent quarter, British American Tobacco's profits were £688 million—a £42 million increase on the corresponding quarter in the previous year. Companies that trade in public misery can be persuaded by the law, if not by public opinion, to serve the public good and to produce RIP cigarettes.

Actually, this is not a new invention. The first patent for a self-extinguishing cigarette was taken out in the United States in 1854, and a considerable number of similar patents have been taken out since then.

In 1984, the US Congress enacted a bill that sought to progress the technical, economic and commercial feasibility of such cigarettes. We have talked for long enough. In this legislature, as elsewhere, we must find out what opportunities exist to do something. The Canadians, who often have a lot of good sense, have taken the necessary steps. On 30 March 2004, they introduced legislation that was intended to make fire-safe cigarettes mandatory by the end of 2004.

I accept one thing that Brian Monteith said: the greatest risk is to people who are alone at home. A report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of fire services for Scotland showed that 90.2 per cent of fire injuries—not deaths—took place in dwellings and that 68.9 per cent of people who died in fires lived alone. That illustrates the value that there would be to smokers who cannot kick the pernicious habit of smoking of being assisted by the material that they smoke extinguishing itself in a much shorter time than might otherwise be the case. Such assistance would be important because there would be no one else in the house to protect them from the folly of smoking and the difficulties that might arise from their falling asleep with a cigarette in their hand. Furthermore, the statistics show that that value would be skewed towards older people.

I do not often commend what comes from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but it has at least carried out research from which it is clear that it is possible to reduce the length of a cigarette's burn quite substantially when the cigarette is unattended or not being sucked. The ODPM's investigation was conclusive: there would be significant benefits.

What can the Scottish Parliament do without passing primary legislation? There are several provisions in the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 that the minister could act on in a short space of time. For example, I refer to section 55 of that act, which is on fire safety measures. Under section 55(3)(d), people must take cognisance of "technical progress", which might lead ministers to require by an order that is approved by the Parliament that prisoners can smoke only safe cigarettes, if such things can be said to exist.

Similarly, section 57 of the 2005 act, which is entitled "Risk assessments: power to make regulations", states:

"Scottish ministers may make regulations about the carrying out of assessments and reviews".

In particular, the regulations may make provision for or in connection with

"specifying matters which persons must take into account when carrying out assessments and reviews in relation to substances specified in the regulations".

There are things that the minister can do in that respect.

I congratulate my colleague Stewart Maxwell on returning to the fray in raising the issue of the concomitant dangers for human beings of using tobacco and commend his motion to the minister, from whom we are about to hear. I suspect that he will broadly agree with the motion, but I am particularly interested—as others will be—in any particular actions that he thinks we can pursue in the short term. I wish every speed to the introduction of reduced ignition potential cigarettes, pending our no longer smoking cigarettes of any kind.


17 May 2006

S2M-4270 Planning etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 17 May 2006

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

... ... ...

Planning etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4270, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the general principles of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I apologise to my erstwhile colleagues on the Communities Committee that my party removed me from the committee precisely at the point that it started to engage in planning issues. However, I see that the deputy minister's enthusiasm for that move was substantial.

The last time this subject was considered and Mr Chisholm's card was stuck in the console and the request-to-speak button was pressed, some very fine words were said:

"My point is about the failure to recommend a third-party right of appeal."

They were said on 29 October 2005. As the Deputy Presiding Officer, Murray Tosh, may recall, he advised the speaker:

"I ... see which MSP's name attaches to the cards that you have been given. George Butler has the card for Malcolm Chisholm".

Thus, when Malcolm Chisholm's card was last used to speak on this subject in the chamber, the speaker in question took a rather different line. That is somewhat ironic.

At that event, which was an excellent innovation by the Communities Committee, my constituent, Mr James Buchan, spoke about a planning error in Peterhead: a fish store refrigeration plant had been built 5m higher than it should have been. That example illustrates perfectly the very real effect that planning can have on people's lives. In the case of Mr Buchan and his neighbours, the effect was quite substantial. Therefore, I am pleased to see that paragraph 127 of the committee's report states:

"The Committee is content with Part 6 - Correction of Errors."

However, correcting errors in planning often involves much more substantial work than correcting errors in paperwork.

In the limited time available, I want to turn my attention to the second motion before us today, which is the financial resolution. I remind members that, under the resolution, the Scottish Parliament

"agrees to any expenditure or increase in expenditure ... arising in consequence of the Act."

We do not take financial memoranda as seriously as we might. This is and needs to be a complicated bill. The Finance Committee has made substantial criticisms of it and the Executive has produced additional information that shows that its initial estimates of the costs associated with the bill were not sufficiently developed. The bill will be changed substantially at stage 2 and, as a consequence, its costs will change substantially. It would, therefore, be entirely precipitate of us to give our support to the financial resolution today—whatever we think, on the balance of argument, about the bill. The financial resolution is a kind of blank cheque.

There is a more general issue in respect of financial resolutions and complex bills, which extends beyond the bill that is before us today. A range of bodies and individuals have commented on the financial provisions of the bill. When asked about the financial implications of the bill, the Cairngorms National Park Authority pointed out that it is funded by the Executive and that

"Higher fees will not cover cost of neighbour notification as we only receive 50% of fee from local authority."

In its calculation, the City of Edinburgh Council suggests that neighbour notification will cost £93.57 per application, which is outwith the range that is provided elsewhere. In commenting on the financial implications of the bill, COSLA states that it

"cannot begin to achieve the culture change proposed by the Planning Etc. (Scotland) Bill, unless the resources identified in the Financial Memorandum, at the very least, are made available"

to it. History suggests that we should be sceptical on that front.

In the Finance Committee's report, Bruce Crawford suggested that we should not support part 9 of the bill, which relates to BID, because the financial side of that has not been sorted out. In paragraph 23 of its report, the Finance Committee stated:

"the Committee is seriously concerned that the existing shortage of qualified staff will stifle the effective implementation of the Bill, requiring a longer transition period than anticipated and higher costs (including contracting increasing numbers of private sector planners)."

Going to the private sector is not a panacea. The Communities Committee says that

"some of the figures contained in the Financial Memorandum are inadequate"

and that

"there are other costs that have not been included."

When we look at the financial side of the bill, we must exercise considerable caution.

It is strange that, although across Scotland people are finding that applications for planning permission for houses are being turned back because we cannot dispose of our sewage, there is nothing in the bill that will mean that we can refuse nuclear power stations because they cannot dispose of their waste. That issue should perplex us all for some time to come.


11 May 2006

S2M-4370 Drugs and Hidden Harm

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 11 May 2006

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

... ... ...

Drugs and Hidden Harm

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4370, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on drugs and hidden harm.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Like many members, I found the debate illuminating and interesting. However, one voice that was missing from the debate was the voice of the child him or herself.

In looking over the motion and amendments, I note that the word "children" appears only in the fourth line of the Executive motion. That criticism applies equally to the SNP, because in our amendment the word comes even further down. That point was prompted by what I heard in the debate. It was an aftersight, which is further exemplified by "Hidden Harm—Next Steps: Supporting Children—Working With Parents." On reading the progress report in annex 1 to that document, nowhere do I see that children were asked to tell us about their experiences. Elsewhere in the report, I found reference to a small episode in which children were listened to.

The reality is that no child is in the chamber. I do not know that there is an addict in the chamber, but I know that there are parents, and members who are social workers and who have indirectly been exposed to the experience of the hidden harm that is done to children by substance misuse. We should not imagine that children are unable to articulate their experience and deliver it to us. The absence of children from the report and the chamber is the big hole in the middle of the Polo mint that is the debate. We should all take that fact away from the debate and consider it further.

The SNP has put up a cross-cutting team for the debate—I have the justice portfolio and my colleague Fiona Hyslop is responsible for children's issues. I am glad that the Executive front bench is now populated by representatives of all three departments that have signed up to the report. It was excellent that members of each of the relevant committees from various political parties—the Education Committee, the justice committees and the Health Committee—have participated in the debate.

In her opening remarks, the minister said that the document contains a clear programme for action. I raised that point with the minister at the time; I ask her to forgive me, but I do not see it that way. I do not find anything harmful or to which I object in the report. Some new money has been announced and there are one or two references to timetables but, by and large, the report does not fit the description of a programme for action. I simply cannot get away from an objective that says that the Executive will "ensure that" certain people respond to "requests for assurances". To be fair, that is the worst example, but much of the report is about stuff that is happening anyway. The report does not do justice, as a follow-up, to the Executive's initial response to the "Hidden Harm" report, which had substantially more merit and was more focused.

The speeches have been varied. I regret that Ms MacDonald did not mention children once in her speech—I listened carefully for that. I may not be the only member who experienced drug addicts coming to the house in which I lived for their prescribed heroin fix. My father was a general practitioner and, in the 1950s, GPs dealt with that scheme. I must say that I saw no outcomes that justify particular enthusiasm for a return to the system. The Swiss find that fewer than 5 per cent of addicts benefit from the scheme. On that basis, I cannot be persuaded to support Ms MacDonald's amendment, now that she has explained what the words are meant to imply.

Other members spoke about children—Euan Robson had some useful comments in that regard, although Patrick Harvie did not speak particularly about children. As always, Rosemary Byrne spoke a great deal of sense and I respect her comments. Kenny MacAskill said that we must be tolerant of mistakes. The issue is one on which it is easy to make knee-jerk reactions. For example, on a related issue, Mr Blair, the Prime Minister, came to Glasgow on 18 February 2001 and committed to having a drug dealers register that every convicted drug dealer would have to sign. Earlier today, I asked the House of Commons library to update me on that and was told that no such register exists and no progress has been made.

The love between parents and children has been touched on and is an important point to bear in mind. A child will love a parent. My father once said in a speech about someone else that he was the person's friend because of his many virtues, although my father felt that the person was his friend despite my father's many failings. Relationships between drug addict parents and children are often thus. We must always support the children above the parents.


03 May 2006

S2M-3908 Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 May 2006

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

... ... ...

Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3908, in the name of Robert Brown, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by telling the minister that there are no sceptics of any kind on the SNP benches when it comes to the importance of human rights. The consensus to which the minister referred was genuine, based on the statement that I have just made. However, only the title of the bill that we have before us today—if we are to be cynical about it—relates to that previous consensus. The content is the issue that we are discussing today, and it was the content and detail of the bill that exercised the Justice 1 Committee—other members of which will no doubt express their views during the debate—when, for the first time since the Parliament was reconvened in 1999, the committee failed to recommend to Parliament that an Executive bill be supported. The committee has not, of course, said that the bill should be voted down, because we hope that the minister can rescue the bill from the sloppy thinking that currently characterises it.

Some of my SNP colleagues do not take the softly, softly approach that I have just outlined, as they see little merit in the bill. However, we must move forward. The SNP will not support the bill at decision time. We will abstain and wait to see whether the minister can construct a bill that is worthy of support. One million pounds or so is allocated for the bill, but we see little value in what it is intended to spend that money on, so we will not support the financial resolution either.

We have several concerns. First, much of what we think the bill will do appears to be the job of members of this Parliament. The minister referred to people trafficking and land rights, subjects with which this Parliament has engaged and which touch on human rights.

The "Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament" places upon us as parliamentarians a public duty

"to act in the interests of the Scottish people and their Parliament".

That is but one of the duties. The fourth paragraph in the key principles of our code of conduct outlines our "Duty as a Representative". In that regard one of our roles is to assist people to exercise their human rights.

A challenge that the minister faces as the bill goes through the parliamentary process is to persuade members of the Parliament that he is not simply trying to take a burden off our shoulders and place it on another's so that our life as MSPs is simpler and less involved with human rights. It is fundamental to what we do as members of the Parliament that we carry the burden of human rights on behalf of our constituents and others.

Mr Jim Wallace (Orkney) (LD): I appreciate that Stewart Stevenson was not in the Parliament at the time, but he might recall that the first legislation ever presented to it was the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Bill, to block a loophole in mental health legislation. I was responsible for that bill. We had to be careful, given the nature of the legislation, that it was ECHR compliant. I remember that representations came from his party about the fact that there was not an independent body to which it could go to check whether the Executive's claim that the bill was compliant with human rights was accurate. Does the member not think that a human rights commission could be a useful resource that would enable the Parliament to improve and enhance its work rather than, as Stewart Stevenson suggests, substitute for it?

Stewart Stevenson: I understand why Jim Wallace might say that, but I am not at all clear that that is the purpose of the bill. The commission is being created to book advertising space and to guide and mentor public authorities. Incidentally, it will not guide and mentor private authorities and private companies, although they may arguably be responsible for more human rights abuses than public services, which generally achieve high standards.

Mr Swinney: Will the member give way?

Phil Gallie (South of Scotland) (Con): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: John Swinney asked first, but I will come back to Phil Gallie.

Mr Swinney: In response to Mr Wallace's point, will Mr Stevenson reflect on the fact that our own Presiding Officer has a responsibility, in respect of the Parliament's legislative process, to guarantee that all our legislation is ECHR compliant? Does that not give us an assurance with regard to our legislation of which we should not only be proud but should vigorously defend?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Swinney makes a good point. Of course, our Presiding Officer bases his decisions on the legal advice that he receives.

Phil Gallie: I want to make a point similar to John Swinney's. The fact is that the legislation to which Mr Wallace referred is still with us. It was shown to be compliant without the need for a human rights commissioner.

Stewart Stevenson: One of the interesting things that the minister said in his opening remarks was that the courts are the first recourse. The Justice 1 Committee also comments on that in its report. With European developments, 38 Scottish cases have touched on the matter of human rights since 1999.

I wish to pose a genuine question. What are human rights? That is perhaps not yet fully understood. A variety of people have commented that one of the roles of the human rights commissioner—or the commission as it now appears to be—might be to disabuse the public of its belief that certain things are human rights. One example that has been much debated recently is the "human right" to smoke in a pub, and thus contaminate the air breathed by people who are not smokers. To talk in terms of the commission or commissioner downplaying what people think of as their human rights is perhaps to turn the argument on its head. It would be useful to hear more of the positive advantages of such a body. In paragraph 90, the committee talks about the promotional and awareness-raising role, saying:

"Members of the Committee have concerns that the laudable aims which lie behind the Bill may be outweighed, in practice, by a number of unwelcome consequences."

That is what I have been talking about. What is this human rights culture? The public simply does not know what human rights they have.

There is also the difference between what Westminster is doing and what is happening in the bill. For a variety of reasons, the two will be unhappy bedfellows. Getting our commission and the Westminster commissioner located in the same building will be a useful way of moving forward and of ensuring that we at least have some good working relationships.

The minister said that at the core of the bill is support and assistance in policies and practices for public authorities. If that is all that we are doing, we are simply not lifting our eyes high enough or being ambitious enough. A million pounds' worth of advertising will not change the human rights culture in Scotland; it will not make a real difference, if the Executive believes that we have to make one. The Scottish National Party is withholding its support from the bill in its present form. The minister has every opportunity to lodge amendments that will cause us to support it at a later date but he has a long road to travel before that happens.


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