17 March 2011

S3M-8177 Bus Services Regulation

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business this morning is a Labour Party debate on motion S3M-8177, in the name of Charlie Gordon, on transport.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Let me declare a personal interest in the debate: I am a bus card holder. I note that the only bus card holders who are likely to participate in the debate appear to be on the SNP benches.

Mr Gordon is clearly destined for great things in the Labour Party. He is almost unique as a front-bench spokesperson, as he is the only one who has not been kicked in a tender part of his anatomy by a forced U-turn in policy.

Of course, questions arise over the issue of re-regulating the bus industry. Sarah Boyack was the transport minister when the previous legislation went through, but she is absent today so we cannot ask her about the decisions made and about why some of the constraints are what they are. However, let us explore them. Statutory bus partnerships are likely to be at the very edge of what is legally possible under the Scotland Act 1998. The renationalisation of the bus network, via the imposition of regulation, is unlikely to come within the legal powers of this Parliament.

The Labour Party has a track record on such issues. It wishes to reduce the VAT on fuel from 20 to 17.5 per cent—entirely and blissfully unaware of European law that means that only three VAT rates may be operated within a state. The three VAT rates that already exist are 0, 5 and 20 per cent. It is simply not legal to reduce a single element of the 20 per cent VAT to 17.5 per cent. There is not the legal power to do it. However, there is the legal power to overturn the fuel duty increases that are hitting the bus industry—increases that were introduced by Labour. But of course, Labour has not joined the consensus that wants to do something about that. The Labour Party should do its research properly. It has manifestly and demonstrably failed to do that.

Let us consider the position of the bus companies. We have some regulated bus services in the United Kingdom, most notably those that are operated by Transport for London. Let me pose a question that has a rather awkward answer. We are talking about a convenient policy hitting an inconvenient fact. In a regime in which there is regulation, are the returns for bus companies higher or lower than in an unregulated regime? Curiously enough, they are higher. The bus companies would probably be quite happy with such a policy.

Furthermore, because it would in effect remove a private right from commercial interests, we would have to pay the bus companies for loss of right to operate services. What figure should be put on that? The normal rule of thumb in such circumstances is one year’s turnover. To renationalise bus services in Scotland would cost—admittedly only once—£750 million. Even for the Labour Party, that is a breathtaking financial commitment, of which it has said nothing in the debate thus far. If the Transport for London model is anything to go by, Labour would find itself paying more for bus services. I am sure that Brian Souter would be giving his money to the Labour Party if it were to implement such a policy.

Let us consider the amendments. I say in all candour that they all have some merit. Alison McInnes conceded that the abolition of the bus route development scheme has perhaps not yet happened. It is a matter for local authorities, which makes that issue a problem.

In the current environment, local bus services’ mileage has gone up by 3.8 per cent, in part because the BSOG has been increased. The BSOG has also been environmentalised. In addition, the average fare has dropped by 2.5 per cent. “If you want to get on Labour’s bus, we’re going your way”—I do not think so, any time soon.

If we nationalise bus services, we can forget local decision making. Someone will be sitting in Edinburgh, deciding which local bus services we want. That is how it will work. At the moment, the decision making is close to the point of application.

There is support for bus services. I have used them hundreds of times. I highlight the 308 from Aberchirder to Inverurie. On the most recent occasion I used the service, on the whole route I was the only passenger. I admit that it was a Sunday afternoon. Services such as the 308 are essential services that are surviving with the support of the council in Aberdeenshire—a Liberal-led council—and of course through the Government’s support for the BSOG. Yes, there is a challenge to do more in buses, but the Labour Party should not deceive the people of Scotland by imagining that what it is saying today is anything other than a £750 million commitment, no defined outcomes, 100 per cent focus on process and nothing for passengers.


16 March 2011

S3M-8126 Certification of Death (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8126, in the name of Shona Robison, on the Certification of Death (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have a few observations to make, some of which pick up points that others have made and some of which are new. Dr Ian McKee talked about the importance of death certification feeding into health care planning. That is correct, but we must not fail to take account of the need for death certification to feed into immediate response to possible epidemics. Professor Stewart Fleming did not make reference to that in his definition of the three aims of the certification process.

Ian McKee also talked—absolutely correctly—about folie à deux. It is worth saying that in aviation some 20 years ago we had precisely that situation in the cockpit, when a very senior captain would often not be told by a very junior but recently trained and high-quality first officer that they were getting it wrong. In designing the relationship between different players in the system, we must be aware of the influence that respect for experience and seniority has and must ensure that a junior person can point out freely and frankly to a more senior person that they are not up to the standard that is required. Folie à deux was killing people in aviation 20 years ago, but training has changed and it is not killing people now.

Last week, I had the very great pleasure to be in Giffnock synagogue to launch a Jewish education project on the internet. On that occasion, I received representations on the particular issues surrounding Jewish burial practice, which are equally applicable to people of the Muslim faith. It is important that we take account of the fact that those faiths use burial rather than cremation and make sure that we acknowledge that and preserve those traditions.

Rhoda Grant talked about testing. It is worth observing that testing has more limitations than one might imagine. About 30 years ago, IBM produced a computer that turned out to incorrectly multiply 10 by 10,000,008. Every other calculation appeared to be correct, but it was established that to use testing to see whether they were correct would require every model of that computer that had ever been produced to run through exhaustive tests for more than 1,000 years. It is important to get the design of the system correct.

We have heard some discussions about computers and I want to make some observations, of which members might or might not be aware, that indicate the need for some caution. For the registration of births, Registers of Scotland provides 200 characters for forenames and 50 characters for surnames. Approximately 19 per cent of current registrations are for people who have three or more forenames, so that issue is not insignificant because people have more complex names than they once had. Until a few months ago, I was refusing to take my parliamentary payslip—I was still taking the pay, of course—because my name was not right on the payslip. I am James Alexander Stewart Stevenson and the system provided for only two initials, thus omitting the initial that I use.

Joining computer systems together is often complex when we look at the metadata, to use the technical term, that are associated with information. I say that in the context of my genealogical researches on my great-grandfather who was a coal miner in Bannockburn. He first appears in the record in the 1841 census. The difficulty is that he is one of 328 Stevensons who were working in coal mining in Bannockburn in that year. Having the ability to distinguish names is very important indeed.

Equally, even if we impose rigorous standards for data collection and entry, there might be difficulties. When I worked in the Bank of Scotland, financial services legislation was introduced that required that we collect people’s dates of birth. Our tellers found themselves inhibited in asking ladies of a certain age what their date of birth was, but they had to put in a date so they just chose a random date. We ended up with something like 9 per cent of dates being 1 January. A further 2 per cent turned out to be the teller’s own birthday and, for a further small proportion, the teller simply entered that day’s date and discounted the number of years. Computer systems are not just mechanical systems; they have to interact with the human effects that often surround the collection of data.

If time permits, Presiding Officer—no; I see that you are signalling to me to wind up.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That would be a sensible idea.

Stewart Stevenson: In that case, I will close. Clive James’s autobiography contains the wonderful phrase,

“Don’t take life seriously; you won’t get out of it alive anyway.”

Today, we take death seriously and we are entirely correct to do so.


S3M-8127 Local Electoral Administration (Scotland) Bill

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is the stage 3 debate on the Local Electoral Administration (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The debate is perhaps an opportunity to look at the changing nature of how we run elections. If we go back to the UK election that took place in 1832, which is the earliest one for which I have been able to find records, 658 members of the House of Commons were elected and 827,776 people cast votes, so the number of votes per member of Parliament was just a wee bit over 1,000. That was a very different environment from the one in which we live now. Indeed, fewer votes were cast for each MP than we would now expect to be cast for each member of a local authority.

If we fast-forward to the Westminster election of 1945, we had multimember seats and seats for which the alternative vote or the STV system was used. We are looking at changing the electoral system for Westminster elections, but the Conservatives, in particular, will not be in favour of the multimember first-past-the-post system that Brian Donohoe proposed yesterday in a House of Commons debate as a replacement for the list system for Scottish Parliament elections because, of course, in 1922, when Churchill stood for re-election in Dundee, he came third in a two-member seat. He was defeated by a Scottish prohibitionist, Edwin Scrymgeour and by the Labour candidate. The results are not always what we expect.

In 1945, when three members were elected to the Combined Scottish Universities seat by STV, a form of alternative voting, the third person who was elected on the second ballot obtained only 4.15 per cent of the first preference votes and was elected despite losing their deposit. Therefore, the systems that we have had over the years can lead to various differences.

Moving forward to the general election of October 1974, the turnout in Scotland was 74.81 per cent. That was a highly memorable election. After it, Westminster had more nationalist members than it had Liberal members.

Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Shame!

Stewart Stevenson: There were 13 Liberal members and 14 nationalist members, including three Plaid Cymru members and others. It is clear that, over the piece, there were changes in the way things were done. In 1945, it was a fortnight after the election before the results were known because, in days before the advent of the internet, the service vote took some logistical organisation.

I add to the commendation that there will be for Duncan McNeil’s contribution on the subject in October 2008, when he reported to Parliament on his committee’s deliberations. The committee’s work was vital in underpinning what we are discussing. Its report highlighted a general point that I and my colleagues and, I think, some others would make, which is that having different bodies and different parliamentarians responsible for the rules for different elections is a potential source of difficulty. It is certainly the case that in 2007 the Scotland Office did not cover itself in glory.

Even though a vote on the use of AV for Westminster elections is coming up shortly, it has not led to a single question from an elector to me so far. The SNP has just completed two days in Glasgow at our party conference. In my hearing, the subject never arose, although it may have arisen in other people’s hearing.

We have heard about some of the difficulties in 2007. It is certainly important that the Electoral Commission should report on how elections have gone. An illustration of when a report by the Electoral Commission might have been useful is the referendum that was held on 1 March 1979. I was at the count in Lothian. Members who are old enough to remember the campaign may remember that the “no” campaign bought lots of poster space. The posters had a picture of the ballot paper with the words “yes” and “no” on it. Opposite the word “no”, instead of an X, the word “no” was written. More than 2,000 electors in Lothian chose to write the word “no” opposite the “no” option.

We might think that that was fair enough. Most of us here might think that the electors’ intentions were relatively clear, and that is the normal test. However, on that occasion, the returning officer decided that, because the electors had written “no” opposite the word “no”, those votes should count as a “yes”. Being a campaigner for the “yes” campaign, I was not greatly upset by that decision, although I was astonished by it. On appeal, the returning officer of that count agreed that those votes would be counted as spoilt papers. That is an example to show that it was not just in 2007 that we have had difficulties; there have been previous occasions on which it would have been right and proper to examine what went on.

When we have complex elections, it is important that the electors know what is going on. One of the rules in the forthcoming election, as in all previous elections, prohibits election communications from referring to other elections, which might help people to understand the nature of other, simultaneous elections. That prohibition might be thought to be unhelpful and the Electoral Commission might have to look at that.

As someone who spent 30 years in computers, I will make a wee reference to the nature of some of the difficulties that might arise with computer systems. We computery people always used to apply a rule of thumb when we were given numbers relating to the throughput of a computer system. The rule of thumb was that marketing people always get estimates wrong by a factor of 10. It was the computer people’s job to work out whether to divide or multiply. In some ways, that is exactly what part of the problem was in 2007. We did not anticipate that more than 20 people would be standing on some of the lists, and there was a limitation in the software. In Lothian, the number standing on the list exceeded that limit so there was a last-minute ad hoc redesign of the ballot form that caused the computer systems great difficulties. I hope that the stress testing that will take place in the autumn will focus on some of the more unlikely boundary conditions that might occur, because that is where computer systems almost invariably fail.

I am pleased to see the legislation coming through Parliament. I sniff not a whiff of dissent and I hope that the motion will be carried unanimously at decision time.


10 March 2011

S3M-8114 Scotland Bill

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8114, in the name of Iain Gray, on the Scotland Bill, which is United Kingdom legislation.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Bad news: we have had Wendy Alexander’s last speech in the Parliament, although I do not expect that this will be mine, which is the second part of the bad news. I, too, congratulate Wendy Alexander on what has been a distinguished and often interesting—sometimes for the wrong reasons—career. I also extend my congratulations to Cathy Jamieson on leaving this place. They are two of the six female members who will voluntarily stand down at the end of the session.

It is worth saying that the committee has turned out better than I feared but has achieved less than I had hoped. Murdo Fraser and Linda Fabiani have discussed the committee’s approach. In that regard, the 2,000-year-old Latin phrase, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”—who will guard the guards?—shows that that is not a new issue for politicians.

Robert Brown suggested that this is the last major debate of the session—I note that we are not packed to the rafters—and said that we strengthen a federal structure for the UK. On Tuesday night, I was at a dinner in Newcastle, sitting with many of the Liberal Democrat politicians who run that city. I will not name names, as what they told me was unattributable, but it was clear from that discussion that the asymmetric federal structure that we have, if we have one at all, leaves those Liberal Democrats much less excited than their colleagues in this chamber.

Wendy Alexander said that the committee was the first specialist committee to study a bill—I think that she meant that it was the first specialist committee to study a UK bill—and reminded us that the UK Government has announced that EYF will be clawed back. Does that not precisely illustrate the difficulties that arise from being in continual thrall to the Treasury?

Peter Peacock talked about states. States across the world have many ranges of power. In the United States of America, they have power over sales tax, corporation tax and so on. There have been talks about income tax, but I do not think that we have seen much in the way of proposals about how the UK Government might implement what is in the bill.

I am always wary of geeks bearing gifts, when they are Labour Party geeks. However, Guido Fawkes, one of the most prominent bloggers, has today reported that the Labour Party itself is £36 million in debt.

The committee’s substantial report contains 225 paragraphs of conclusions and recommendations. Three of them are on Antarctica—I will say little more about that. However, insolvency and health regulation receive only four paragraphs each. I think that they are more important than those eight paragraphs suggest. Scotland has a different approach to bankruptcy and a different set of terminology for the various stages of financial difficulties that individuals and companies can experience. We have absolutely no guarantee that the UK insolvency service will be able to adapt its processes and resource itself to take over what is done by the Accountant in Bankruptcy in Scotland. There is little doubt that the case for that has not been made.

Robert Brown: Has Mr Stevenson read the letter from the Law Society of Scotland, who should know a little bit about this matter? It takes the opposite view, because of the technical difficulties of the current situation.

Stewart Stevenson: There are many technical difficulties that cross boundaries. The question is, is it possible to work within them and are there distinct advantages to having our own system, which is capable of being adapted more rapidly than it would be if the powers were returned to Westminster? We can work rapidly when we require to do so; it is more difficult otherwise.

With regard to the regulation of health professions, the General Pharmaceutical Council believes that having displaced powers in that regard creates no problem. It does not believe that there is any need to centralise the powers in London.

Jeremy Purvis talked of Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign. When I heard Gladstone speak in Midlothian—well, not quite. However, my Liberal family discussed the Midlothian campaign at lunch once. I recall that the issue of Irish home rule split the Liberal party and that most of its members joined the Tories. Plus ça change? Perhaps.

In relation to the parliamentary question that Jeremy Purvis referred to, he should of course have informed the chamber that there will be no effect on projects that are being funded by the Scottish Government and that the issue is simply one of getting the money out of Europe and into Scottish hands.

This has been a debate about principle, on which there is, fundamentally, broad agreement. On the issue of tactics, however, there is much less agreement.

Today’s debate is not the end of the matter; we all wish to debate the issues further at a later date. We certainly hope that that debate will lead to something that suits Scotland’s needs even better.


09 March 2011

S3M-8110 Reservoirs (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8110, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the Reservoirs (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a great pleasure to have returned to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee. I previously served on the Rural Development Committee under your benevolent dictatorship, Presiding Officer. Your performance in that role was so impressive that I was delighted that you expanded your convenership by taking control of the Parliament.

As a late joiner in relation to the bill, I missed the early discussions and the clearly significant engineering contributions that John Scott and others made.

Those members who were in Malawi and missed some of the proceedings should not feel in the slightest bit guilty about it because there the issue of water has a much different character. It is about getting clean, wholesome water in adequate volume to many of the communities in that country. In Scotland, we are fortunate to have sufficient water and simply to have to apply the technical solutions to ensure that we deliver that water to our communities and, through our dams and reservoirs, provide a significant contribution to the amenity of Scotland and the recreation of its inhabitants.

It is worth observing that the extension of the regulation on dams will slightly less than double the number of dams that are covered but, simultaneously, just under one third of those that are currently affected will experience reduced regulation. The bill strikes a proper balance on that.

Deciding that the amount of water that is held in a reservoir that comes under the bill should be 10,000m3 rather than 25,000m3 is quite difficult for the layperson to grasp. To do a little thinking about it, a single cubic metre—1m long by 1m wide by 1m high—is approximately 1 ton in weight because 1 gallon of water weighs 10lb. If 1m3 of water were to be flung over the top of a dam and fall something like 120ft, it would be travelling at 60mph or 70mph by the time it got to the bottom. Members should imagine 1m3 of water hitting an individual: it would be like stepping on to a motorway and being hit by a car.

John Scott rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that we will get the exact figures from John Scott.

John Scott: Would Stewart Stevenson expect that water to have reached its terminal velocity over that distance, given the gravitational effect on it?

Stewart Stevenson: Let us have a really technical discussion. If it were ice, its terminal velocity in that shape would be approximately 120mph. On the other hand, it is travelling as a liquid, so it will of course disperse and to some extent become aerated. It is a complex issue. Does that not touch upon the very complexities of water? I speak, by the way, as someone who has undertaken parachuting, so I know about terminal velocity and all that sort of thing—it is quite exciting, I have to say.

At 10,000m3, we are looking at holding back something of the order of 10,000 tonnes of water.

Climate change is an important part of the future of not just Scotland but countries around the world. We will see dams that are overfilled because of increased rainfall; as atmospheric temperature rises, that will be one of the consequences. Equally, there will be periods of drought, when there is less water behind the dam.

Concrete is a very old material; the Romans used it 2,000 years ago. Many of our dams are constructed of concrete. As Barnes Wallis discovered when he designed the bouncing bomb, concrete is very strong in pressure but very weak in tension. If you take away the water from behind an elderly dam, there is a risk—although not a huge risk—that the dam might collapse backwards towards the water that previously held it in place. There are a range of risks to which some of our older dams can be exposed. The explosive effect of the bouncing bomb—taking the water suddenly away from behind the dam—is of course what caused the concrete to fall backwards and the water to come forward.

Water is essential for human life. It is worth saying that the well-nourished member of this Parliament could probably survive without food for a couple of months but would survive without water for something less than a week. In paying attention to Scotland’s natural resource that is water, we do something very important indeed.

This is a bill of considerable technical complexity that is simple in its purpose. It is fit for purpose and we should all support it at decision time.


03 March 2011

S3M-8058 Scottish Parliament Elections

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8058, in the name of Alex Salmond, on the 2015 election. Time for speeches is tight.

... ... ...
The Presiding Officer: I call Stewart Stevenson. You may make speech number 401, but you have only three minutes, Mr Stevenson.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

When I consider the signatories to the motion and what I have heard in the debate thus far, I suspect that there will be a degree of unanimity at decision time.

When we look at the processes of democracy it is always useful to consider history and experience elsewhere. The President of Iceland, for example, is elected for a single year and he or she may not stand again for a further 10 years after one term of office, because the presidency is a symbolic role. In Australia, at Prime Minister’s question time, each question is timed out after seven minutes, whether or not the participants have finished.

Perhaps the example that touches most vividly on the issue that is before us comes from the United States, where people are faced with a vast array of propositions, which might be associated with presidential or state elections. It is worth considering the effect of such an approach. As is the case here, in the US there is space in the media for debate about only one essential election, which is generally the presidential election, the gubernatorial election or the elections to the Senate. The propositions—we would call them referenda—receive scant attention.

There is a real danger when a series of unrelated decisions that an elector has to make are drawn together to be dealt with in a single visit to the polling booth. I apply that not only to the co-incidence of a UK Parliament election and a Scottish Parliament election but, of course, to the forthcoming referendum on the alternative vote, about which there has been no public hubbub and little comment. Not a single constituent has raised it with me.

Let us not imagine that we are introducing something new with AV. We used to have multimember, single transferable vote seats in the Westminster Parliament. The last general election in which that was the case was 1945. We saw the ludicrous situation of Graham Kerr, a Conservative who received 1,361 votes in the first ballot in an overall vote of 32,786—4.15 per cent of the first-preference votes—nonetheless getting elected on the second ballot.

Perhaps the Conservatives will support the AV referendum after all, because it certainly can lead to results for them. However, we need to have the debate, and we can do that only if there is time for it.

It is a great pleasure to speak on the motion. I, of course, will support the unanimity that I expect to see at 5 o’clock and I hope that everyone else will do so as well.


02 March 2011

S3M-8032 Fuel Duty

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-8032, in the name of Keith Brown, on fuel duty.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

It is a great pleasure to speak on the subject of fuel duty. In my first contribution in the Parliament in 2001, I spoke about fishing, which is a vital interest for my constituents. Therefore, it is a great pleasure as I make my 400th speech today to speak about something of equal importance. [Applause.] I thank members for that kind applause. It is richly deserved—for those who have had to listen to my 400 speeches.
Jackson Carlaw (Conservative): I will start with the most outstanding speech in the debate, which was from the former minister Stewart Stevenson
I will be serious. The fair fuel price campaign featured in the middle of the newsletter that I distributed in 2001 for my first election to the Parliament. Fair fuel prices were an issue then, and they remain an issue today for rural constituencies such as mine. In 1997, the price of a litre of petrol was 61p. Alison McInnes referred to the price of diesel in Banff. I understand that the price of petrol in Banff today is 134.9p a litre. When I had my first car, I could fill up its tank, take the four people in the car for a fish supper, go to the cinema, and get change from a pound.

The world has changed, but the Labour Party’s inability to engage on the subject has not. When it debated it in April last year, parties were able to coalesce around a shared belief that we had to take action, but the Labour Party—the 36 members of it who turned up to vote, that is; 10 were missing—was on the wrong side of the argument, and the indications are that it will be on the wrong side of the argument today.

Charlie Gordon: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will do so later.

Charlie Gordon said in that debate that he remembered lager being half a crown a pint, so I know that he is of a similar age to me.

Those staggering increases in the cost of fuel affect everyone, not simply motorists. If businesses face higher fuel costs, those costs are in turn passed on to consumers and we all pay more for the things that we buy. The case for a fuel duty regulator to halt the constant fuel price increases that people face has never been more urgent.

I do not have an intrinsic difficulty with the idea of reversing the recent VAT increase on fuel that the Labour Party proposes in its amendment; my fundamental difficulty is that although that would give some relief, it would be a one-time hit, whereas what the Labour Party seeks to delete from the motion is a proposal that would provide a long-term, permanent solution to smooth out the price of fuel. The one thing that really affects business and individuals is erratic changes in prices. A study of the graph that the House of Commons has provided in its research shows that pricing has become much more erratic in nature.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): The member describes a fuel duty regulator as a permanent solution to the problem of volatility. Surely he accepts that it is not a permanent solution to fuel price rises, which, at present, are not being driven by taxation.

Stewart Stevenson: I absolutely accept that if the intrinsic price of the underlying raw material is to change over a long period of time—I think we all accept that it is—we cannot beat the system, but we must give business the certainty of understanding what its costs will be.

Charlie Gordon rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am coming to Charlie Gordon in a minute.

We must also give rural constituents such as mine the opportunity to do their budgeting, as well as giving them some relief in the meantime.

Charlie Gordon: As an aside, can I say that I yearn for the days when I was younger and better looking than the former transport minister?

I have explained that the Government’s own advisory body says that a regulator would not work. I have made it clear that we are being practical: cutting back the VAT on fuel is a practical measure that can be taken this month. If the member checks the Official Report of the debate that we had a year ago, he will see that I left the door open, as I did earlier this evening, on the concept of some limited derogation for very remote rural parts of Scotland.
Liam McArthur (Liberal Democrat): I had the privilege of being invited to bear witness to Stewart Stevenson’s 400th oration
Stewart Stevenson: If the door is capable of being opened, the three parties who are on the other side of the argument in the debate are handing the Labour Party the key. It should take it, turn the key and go through the door. A fuel duty regulator is a process by which we can give certainty and use the huge sums that the Treasury has—it has £1 billion in tax more than it anticipated having—to fund relief for people in rural areas who simply do not have alternative means of transport and who have to use their cars to go to work or to the shops, and to undertake social, educational or medical journeys. It is extremely important that we focus on that.
Charlie Gordon (Labour): It was good to debate with Stewart Stevenson again. Once again, I found him to be a conscientious adversary
I welcome the fact that it appears that our island communities are to receive some relief, but many mainland communities are equally remote and equally affected by fuel prices. A fuel duty regulator would be a way of controlling price, and I hope that members will coalesce behind the Government’s motion and unite in sending a message to the Government at Westminster.


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