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]

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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.


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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]

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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)".


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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]

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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.


08 June 2006

S2M-4228 Muscular Dystrophy

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 8 June 2006

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

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Muscular Dystrophy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4228, in the name of Cathie Craigie, on the muscular dystrophy my life campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that there are 3,000 people in Scotland with inherited neuromuscular disorders and muscular dystrophy; is concerned that in Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, whilst some constituents tell of good provision of electric wheelchairs and praise the staff delivering social services care, some have never received a full needs assessment of their home environment and can only experience care services delivered via an inflexible system weighted towards older people that does not accommodate the lifestyle that other young people are able to enjoy; notes that this is an example of the variation in standards and availability of care, service and equipment provision across Scotland; supports the work of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign in pioneering the search for treatments and cures for over 40 years, whilst also providing practical, professional and emotional support for people affected by neuromuscular conditions; in particular, supports the Muscular Dystrophy "My Life" campaign and its work in Scotland to encourage a co-ordinated approach by local authorities and NHS boards when assessing individuals' needs and requirements, and considers the findings of the "My Life" expert group to be a model for future delivery of services to people affected by neuromuscular conditions.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the member on securing the debate. More to the point, I congratulate the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign—as I am sure other members will—on articulating the needs of people with muscular dystrophy, as exemplified in the my life campaign. That articulation makes muscular dystrophy accessible and understandable to people who have perhaps only remotely been touched by the condition—perhaps I should more properly refer to a range of conditions.

We have heard a fair bit about mobility. In my constituency work, the first thank you letter that I received after I was elected as a member of the Scottish Parliament was from a person for whom I had expedited the getting of an appropriate wheelchair. It is clear that there have been difficulties with the provision of wheelchairs for people with muscular dystrophy, as there have been for people with a range of other conditions. The wheelchair in question was for an old person. Cathie Craigie spoke movingly and relevantly about the real difficulties that young people experience—there is the disconnection from their peer group, their inability to participate and, of course, things no longer fitting when they turn up following delays. Mobility is a key strand of the campaign.

Many of us will have met in our constituencies people who have difficulties in obtaining appropriate and timely adaptions to the house in which they live. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign has provided numbers that suggest that Scottish councils keep applicants waiting for 93 days if they live in council accommodation and for 226 days if they live in private accommodation. I am sure that that is not deliberate discrimination—I do not wish to suggest that it is—but the figures suggest that we need better policies to ensure that we deal with people's needs equitably.

In my experience, the waiting times for adaptions that cause the most distress are those relating to washing and toilet. Of course, you cannae wait for either of those. That is not to say that it is going to be much fun for a person not to be able to go out of their own front door because a ramp has not been put in; and it is not to say that it is going to be much fun for a person to be denied access to their own back garden—especially on a day like today when the sun is out—because a ramp has not been put in. It is just that washing and toilet are absolutely central to life. Washing and toilet are the third strand of independence for people who suffer from this condition.

I have had experience of the condition in my close family; I have watched the progressive degeneration of a person who was older but who would reasonably—without the condition—have expected to live for another 20 or 30 years. It is distressing to see someone in the fullness of their life struck down by a condition and then slowly, with full awareness, deteriorate into someone who has to be cared for all the time. A progressive illness is a cruel illness, whatever it is. Muscular dystrophy is one of them.

I will end by returning to a theme that I have raised a couple of times before. Scotland has a good understanding of its genetic mix. Of all the countries in the world, we are perhaps best placed to do research that might help muscular dystrophy sufferers across the world as well as here at home. It may be that we can do something.


S2M-4218 Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 8 June 2006

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

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Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4218, in the name of Brian Adam, that the Parliament agrees that the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill be passed. Bill Butler has seven minutes in which to speak to and move the motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by thanking Margaret Jamieson for her courtesy in extending thanks to other members of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Bill Committee, on which I served. Of course, my period of service on that committee was not a happy one, given that Margaret Ewing was then extremely frail. The last parliamentary action in relation to Margaret was her election as the convener of the committee, but alas she was unable to attend any of its meetings.

As much as Margaret Ewing was a politician, she was a parliamentarian above all else. What we debate today is a bill about parliamentary activity. It is a debate for which no party in the Parliament is whipped—apart, perhaps, from the party whose members are absent from the back benches—and in relation to which we will have to exercise our judgment individually when we come to decision time. However, it is clear that what our collective judgment will be has been established and that we will support the proposed changes.

We must consider both the bill and the whole system that is implicit in it in a particular way. The bill is a legal document that will lay down legal requirements on members of the Parliament. However, that is not enough—that is the minimum standard that we must achieve. The bill uses words that make it clear that we will continue to have to exercise judgment; it does not represent a simple tick list or formula that we can apply.

When we look at the prejudice test, it is clear that we must exercise judgment. The bill states:

"An interest meets the prejudice test if, after taking into account all the circumstances, that interest is reasonably considered to prejudice, or to give the appearance of prejudicing, the ability of the member to participate in a disinterested manner in any proceedings of the Parliament."

That is a very high test, which we, as members, must apply for ourselves. At the point at which we have to exercise that judgment, the interest in question may be known only to us and to no one else. Although it may, of course, emerge at a later stage, that will be no justification for our failure to apply proper judgment at the point at which we should have put it on the register of interests.

However, there is an extent to which we will have to have psychic powers. Although the Parliament is constrained with regard to what it may legislate on, we are not constrained with regard to what we may debate. If I had a nephew who lived in Australia in a town where the Commonwealth games were to be held and who intended to lease his house during the games, I would have a familial interest in the profit that would be made from that. If the Parliament was then to debate the Commonwealth games, would that interest meet the test? Only I would be able to make that judgment. We can all come up with examples. The bottom line is that the bill will not relieve us of individual responsibility.

There are other difficulties that we must consider. From the outset, I concluded that the way in which the members' interests order dealt with shares was inadequate, because its test relates only to the nominal value of shares, which often bears little relation to their actual market value. Voluntarily, I have registered most but not all of my shareholdings. The shareholdings that I have not registered are quite small—they have a value of a few hundred pounds. For example, I am in the process of acquiring shares in a co-operative that operates a wind farm in my constituency. I expect to invest £500. As drafted, the bill will catch that because what it says about shares makes it clear—to me, at least—that it is the aggregate total of my shareholdings that matters, not the individual value of an individual shareholding in an individual company. I agree with that provision.

I will now be mischievous by attempting to wind up anyone who wants to be wound up. We may not have excluded the requirement to register the interests of our partners. I use that word very carefully, because in the schedule the bill makes it clear that we must register gifts

"Where ... a partnership of which the member is a partner"—

it does not say a legal partnership—

"receives, or has received, a gift of heritable or moveable property or a gift of a benefit in kind"

and the value of the gift on that date exceeds the amount specified.

Mike Rumbles: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: It is easy to wind him up.

Mike Rumbles: Stewart Stevenson missed out part of the quotation. The bill states that gifts that are received by

"a member or a company in which the member has a controlling interest or a partnership of which the member is a partner"

are to be registered. It is quite clear.

Stewart Stevenson: I view my relationship with my dearly beloved as a partnership of equals. That is my point. My comments are intended merely to illustrate that we must read the bill and ensure that we understand exactly what it says.

It gets even more complicated, because there may be some shares that pay no dividends. I have held shares in a number of companies that do not pay dividends. Microsoft, one of the biggest companies in the world, does not pay dividends. Capital appreciation may be postponed to a far-distant point, but there are still issues. The prejudice test is the key. It is good that that is spelled out in the bill.

It is somewhat ironic that we are concluding the parliamentary process on the bill on the very day that the Parliament has probably—I do not make the claim absolutely—become the first Parliament to publish all the receipts for members' expenses, albeit that we have more to publish. That bespeaks our openness and preparedness to be accountable, as does the bill. I notice that the public gallery is rather sparsely populated and that the press gallery is entirely empty. I am sure that the press are fair cumsnuggered as they look through the 15,000 receipts that have been published. It will keep them out of mischief for at least three hours.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to participate in the work of the committee. There is no hiding place in a five-person committee. We had genuinely engaged and serious discussions about some of the issues. I did not agree with all the conclusions, but that is all right. The bill that is before us reflects the sweat, work and intellectual endeavours of two generations of parliamentarians. Like almost all other members—certainly all members of good common sense—I will support the bill at decision time.


07 June 2006

S2M-3971 Deaf and Deafblind People (Mental Health)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 7 June 2006

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

… … …

Deaf and Deafblind People (Mental Health)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3971, in the name of Adam Ingram, on mental health and deaf and deafblind people.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges and supports the campaign by the Scottish Council on Deafness (SCoD) for equal access to mainstream and specialist mental health services for deaf and deafblind people in Scotland; notes the widespread lack of provision for deaf and deafblind people who have specific language and communication needs and that presently their rights under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Scotland Act 2003 and Disability Discrimination Act 2005 are not being met, leading to misdiagnosis and unsuitable treatments being applied; further notes with concern the complete lack of consultant psychiatrists in Scotland who are trained and experienced to work with deaf and deafblind people who have mental health problems and that the nearest available specialist mental health service for deaf and deafblind inpatients is Manchester whose outreach service, which is currently used by Scots deaf and deafblind people, is now under threat of closure; endorses the campaign for a specialist mental health service for deaf and deafblind people in Scotland, funded through the NHS, and SCoD's aim of providing support for training and recruiting of deaf and deafblind people to enable them to work with deaf and deafblind patients; backs SCoD's call for additional resourcing for mainstream psychiatric services in both hospital and community settings which would lead to greater accessibility for deaf and deafblind people with mental health problems, and recommends the establishment of a specialist Scottish centre for deaf and deafblind people with mental health problems in the south of Scotland or other suitable region.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Adam Ingram on bringing the debate to the Parliament and note that the Scottish Council on Deafness suggested that the subject should be raised here. I hope that the debate will advance the cause of deaf and blind people throughout Scotland, who suffer from very severe handicaps compared with those from which the rest of us suffer. Adam Ingram suffered from a substantial handicap when he was speaking. I think that I am allowed to say that one of his teeth fell out during his speech. It is a tribute to him that he was not deflected from his task by that inconvenience, which was very minor in comparison with the substantial difficulties that deaf and blind people face. I will make no comment on mobile phones.

I have read a range of material on the subject. The Scottish Council on Deafness's leaflet "Advice for GPs on Counselling Deaf and Deafblind Patients" states:

"40% of deaf people compared with 25% of hearing people have a mental health problem at some point in their life".

The focus of the debate is therefore extremely relevant and important. The leaflet also states:

"The average length of stay for a hearing mental health patient in psychiatric hospitals is 148 days; deaf mental health patients spend an average of 19.5 years"

in mental health hospitals. We can see the relationship between the social isolation that is associated with people with dual sensory deprivation and the increased risk of suffering from mental ill health. More critically, there is the reduced capacity of the NHS and wider social support to respond to mental ill health in people who suffer from dual sensory deprivation. Therefore, the campaign is an excellent start. I hope that the minister will say something of value in that context.

For various reasons, I have a medical every year and can see from my annual reports over the past 15 years the deterioration that age has brought in my hearing and indeed in my sight, with my move from single-capacity specs to bifocals—I am now thinking about trifocals. Figures that are before me suggest that a million people in Scotland have difficulty hearing whispers or faint speech and some 2,000 deaf people use sign language. A wide range of hearing disabilities exists.

On communicating with the health service, 15 per cent of people with the problem said that they would avoid going to see their general practitioner—the figure doubles for sign language users. Almost no GPs are sign language users or interpreters. I once knew around three sign language symbols simply because my Sunday school taught them to me, but I have forgotten everything else that I was taught about sign language. Not many of us know much about sign language.

A high proportion of severely or profoundly deaf people have other disabilities. Among those who are under 60, 45 per cent—nearly half—have other disadvantages.

I feel this personally. In 1964, when I was 17 and worked in a psychiatric hospital, one patient in the ward in which I worked was deafblind. My training was limited and the only communication that I had with that person was when I touched a spoon on their lip. They would then open their mouth so that I could feed them.

A test of our ability to call our society civilised lies in our support for those who are least able to support themselves. I say to the minister let us hear about more action.


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