27 September 2012

S4M-04263 Common Agricultural Policy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-04263, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the common agricultural policy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
I start by drawing members’ attention to my ownership of a registered agricultural holding. It is of a mere 3 acres and it is used intermittently by a farming neighbour for his sheep. I derive no income or grant as a result of my owning it.

David Stewart: Shame.

Stewart Stevenson: It is a shame, but there we are.

I thank members for their kind words. I noted Jim Hume’s and David Stewart’s remarks, and I particularly value Graeme Pearson’s description of me as having “style and commitment”, although it runs second to what Bill Aitken said of me in October 2006. Some humour is so good that it is written down and preserved. Bill was getting frustrated with me and he said that Stewart Stevenson is a very special person as he can trace his ancestry all the way back to his mother. [Laughter.] If there are any more of these humorous insults, they too will get into my memoirs.

A number of members throughout the chamber mentioned the broader impact of CAP reform and indeed of agriculture. CAP reform is not simply a narrow sectional interest. It is of substantial interest to many of my farming constituents and to farmers across Scotland, but there is also a substantial economic multiplier associated with farming. There is a supply chain for equipment, labour, advice services, fertiliser, abattoirs, markets, veterinary services and so much more. The whole of Scotland depends on the environment of which our farmers are the custodians.

The visible countryside is little to do with nature and almost entirely to do with active, intelligent land management, and the common agricultural policy of the European Union underpins land managers’ ability to do their job. However, it is often seen as running counter to good land management, which has been informed in local, specific circumstances by long experience.

Jim Hume’s amendment captures something important. He might not have realised that it could be interpreted in the way in which I am about to interpret it. It

“urges Scottish ministers to engage fully in negotiations to secure a sufficient transition period and a good deal for Scotland under a new CAP”.

All Scottish ministers who operate in Europe have substantial engagement. Indeed, I have done a wee sum during the debate and worked out that, from May last year until the end of my period as a minister, I spoke to ministers in 17 of the 27 European Union member states. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment would exceed that if he did a similar sum, and that is true across the board.

Just to correct Claire Baker, there are 28 countries involved in the CAP negotiations and not 27—although only 27 will vote—because Croatia, which will join the European Union in the next year, is already sitting at the table. Would that the 29th place was occupied by Scotland. That would increase the number of votes and influence that the British isles as a whole have over the process, and it would lead to better outcomes for everyone.

In his amendment, Jim Hume captures perfectly that Scotland should be at the top table and should be fully engaged in the negotiations. Of course, after the first election of a sovereign Scottish Government in 2016, we will be fully engaged in the corridors of power and able to vote as part of the decision making.

The SCVO has made an interesting comment that supports that point. It said that farming is about

“social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development.”

The debate is wide ranging.

Of course, the CAP has been with us for some 50 years. In 1962, we had the Cuban missile crisis and we thought that we were on the brink of nuclear war. That is when the CAP started. At that time, the then European Economic Community had only six countries. The body is now a different animal in a different economic, social and climatic environment.

Climate change has not been adequately woven into the negotiations so far. The European Union has an opportunity to step up even to the modest objective that it has set itself of a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. That is not good enough, and we want the EU to go to 30 per cent. Farming and revision of the CAP could provide a key way in which to make significant differences. For example, we could focus more on forestry. We have said little about it in the debate, but it provides a huge way of sequestering carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. We could also do more about peatlands, which are one of the biggest sinks for carbon dioxide across Europe.

Dave Stewart mentioned the Brahan seer, who was condemned to death on Chanonry Point. The Brahan seer made a prediction on the subject:

“The large farmers will be like sportful birds ... There’s a blessing in handsome honesty”.

Perhaps we should look at the medium and small farmers and not quite so much at the large farmers.

I very much welcome the debate and I look forward to supporting the Government at 5 o’clock.


25 September 2012

S4M-04234 Reforming Scots Criminal Law and Practice (Public Consultation)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04234, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on the public consultation on the Carloway report, “Reforming Scots Criminal Law and Practice”. We can be generous if members take interventions.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
In the debate in December, the cabinet secretary said:

“The status quo is not tenable. We have to make changes and it is therefore important that we set the tone by showing, as we have done today, that this is about having a discussion and debate with the legal profession and with the general public.”—[Official Report, 1 December 2011; c 4249.]

Today’s wide-ranging debate has maintained the proper tone to help us all to be better informed as we move to further discussions on the subject.

I very much welcome the opportunity to return to justice debates. In session 1 I served on the Justice 2 Committee, and in session 2 I served on the Justice 1 Committee. Having a major prison in my constituency, I have taken a close interest in the penal system and have visited Peterhead, Porterfield and Saughton prisons. I have also visited Polmont young offenders institution, la Bapaume, near Paris, and Parc prison in Wales. I have visited sheriff courts in Dornoch and Glasgow, and I served on a jury 30 years ago at Linlithgow sheriff court. On one occasion, I visited the hospital for the criminally insane at Carstairs. However, none of that makes me an expert. I am surrounded by a lawyer, a policeman, a Queen’s counsel and another lawyer, all of whom have spoken in the debate and have expertise to which I am not going to try to aspire. Just as Rumpole of the Bailey might have been an Old Bailey hack, I am an old Parliament hack, in such matters.

We know that justice operates very differently in other countries. In 2006, I was in Georgia, in the Caucasus, on two occasions under the sponsorship of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, running courses for local political parties on how democracy works. I had the opportunity to meet the Georgian justice minister, whose great claim to fame was that he had put 3,000 more people in prison and had reduced the time that people had to queue to visit their relatives in prison from a week to three days. That was a very different environment from the one that we face today.

It is obvious that not every customer of the system is entirely satisfied. I say that from the point of view of both the victims and those who are being prosecuted. When I was coming down to Parliament on the train yesterday, I heard an animated conversation in the seat behind me. One person was clearly a criminal; he had just broken the terms of his parole and thought that he was going down for four years. However, his chum trumped him, as he was up on an attempted murder charge and out on bail. I did not attempt to engage them to get more details; I thought that that might not be the thing to do.

On another occasion, I was in a cell in Saughton with six murderers—as a day visitor—and I was hearing their stories. One of them complained to me that, although he had served his life sentence and been released, he had been recalled simply because he had been present at another murder. He had not committed it—he had only been present, so he thought that it should not have counted.

Those stories show that we can probably discount significantly some of the things we hear about the criminal justice system and its operation. However, we should not imagine that we have a perfect system, and it is necessary that we examine the system and seek ways of improving it.

Several members have mentioned ways—such as television—of allowing people to appear in court before a sheriff without necessarily being physically present. That is important, as many of the current processes are done very much by rote and do not obviously contribute to justice.

I once visited Glasgow sheriff court with the Justice 1 Committee on a Monday morning. We were in the court for an hour sitting in the jury box, which was not being used. We saw 59 appearances being dealt with in a single hour, and we were left pretty baffled as to how any of that process contributed to justice. We should certainly consider any ways in which we can avoid, by using modern technology, having to aggregate a lot of people in one location.

Thinking back to my appearance as a juror at Linlithgow sheriff court some 30 years ago, and listening to our discussion today of the issues around corroboration and evidence, it strikes me that evidence is now a much more complex and diverse matter than it was 100 or 150 years ago. In the two-day trial on which I was a juror, I found that the sheriff was first class in summing up, explaining what was expected of the jury and outlining the tests that we might apply to the evidence in considering the guilt or innocence of the two accused in front of us, and which verdicts we should come to.

However, I cannot help but imagine that, given the increased complexity of evidence, the sheriff might usefully have told us about the sort of tests that we might want to think about as we heard the evidence and before we considered it.

In a two-day trial, one can think back to the start, but I had a professional colleague who was once on a trial that lasted for four months. I cannot even remember what happened last week most of the time, let alone what happened three months ago; I know that I am not alone among those of us who are of a certain age.

I will bring my remarks a conclusion as soon as the Presiding Officer nods more vigorously.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have one minute.

Stewart Stevenson: Thank you. That is helpful.

About 150 years ago, we were looking very much at remembered evidence, and the evidence of what people saw was reported in court. Now, we are often looking at evidence that is recorded. Technology has provided the evidence, so the character of it and, therefore, how we should judge it, are quite different.

It is 110 years since the first person was a victim in the criminal justice system of the benefits of dactyloscopy, which is the science of fingerprint recognition. From that point onwards, science became part of the evidence base, and we may not have fully caught up with everything that has come along since.

I am interested in Michael McMahon’s efforts on the three verdicts, but we should abolish the not guilty verdict and keep the not proven verdict, because that is the older of the two. Incidentally, in my experience in the sheriff court, there were, out of the 14 charges, seven not proven verdicts, five not guilty verdicts and two guilty verdicts. Juries are quite capable of dealing with such matters when they have the evidence.


20 September 2012

S4M-04179 Community Sport Inquiry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04179, in the name of Duncan McNeil, on the Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into support for community sport. We are very tight for time and I call on Duncan McNeil to speak to and move the motion in a tight 10 minutes.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
I congratulate the committee on securing this excellent debate on community sport.

It is worth remembering that, 100 years ago, mortality in life was infection based; today, it is based largely on chronic disease. Underpinning the chronic disease that kills so many in our society is obesity and lack of physical activity. I am grateful to my party whips for putting me in my new office on the fifth floor of the MSP block, which has meant that I am fitter because I do not use the lift. I will be monitoring the activities of everybody in the chamber and beyond because 90 per cent of us could use the stairs, and we should be doing so and setting an example by exploiting the opportunities that we have to become fitter.

As a minister, I walked 550 miles. That sounds a hell of a lot, but that was over the course of five years. I can compare that with the training schedule of the elite athlete in my family, who has twice been a world orienteering champion, which is 160 miles a week. That neatly leads me into something that I have not heard mentioned at all in the debate, which is the natural asset that is on our doorstep and which we have in abundance in Scotland—a rural environment where many sports can be undertaken, access is easy and the cost is often modest. Orienteering is an excellent example of that; all that is needed is a pair of running shoes, the open countryside and a few people to organise things. It is not an elite sport—it is not in the Commonwealth games or the Olympics—but it is one that engages huge numbers of people across Scotland, and it can be entered at every level of fitness and age. There are string events for children in primary 1 and 2, and there are people in their 90s who are still participating in the sport.

Age—I am the second oldest person to speak in the debate—should not be, and is not, a barrier to fitness. In Australia 30 years ago, I happened to see on morning television in the hotel that I was staying in somebody being interviewed who, for the fortieth consecutive year, had won the over-40s marathon. The man was over 90 and he was as fit as a 40-year-old. That opportunity exists for us all, and we should encourage people to use recreation as a gateway to sport, because sport is, of course, about competing. If we compete with people, we get engaged and reinforced and there are social benefits.

Speaking of social benefits—to diverge on to a seemingly quite different subject—I see that, according to a report published today, 703 pubs have shut in Scotland in the past five years. “Oh good—we’re much fitter,” you might say, but some of the more successful pubs that have survived as community pubs are now getting their own sports teams. It is sometimes the case that quite unlikely places can be a spur to getting people engaged in physical activity and community sport. Let us be innovative: let us look to the countryside and even to our pubs for opportunities.

Perhaps the convener of the Health and Sport Committee was unwise to quote Mark Twain, who, of course, was one of the least fit people. He said, “Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it thousands of times.” That is not the example that we want to encourage.


13 September 2012

S4M-04082 Electricity Market Reform

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04082, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on electricity market reform.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
Unlike Charles Hendry, I am definitely not a retreatee. I very much welcome the opportunity to engage in a wider range of subjects.

Electricity market reform is both necessary and urgent. For Scotland, a reformed market in these islands and across Europe must create the conditions for the creation of a physical and economic infrastructure that allows the export of a key product from our fastest growing 21st century industry: renewable energy.

History tells us that economic development is driven by access to energy. The most important factor for us over the past few hundred years has been access to coal and oil—and, of course, an education system that gave us the engineers to drive new industries based on access to energy. Some of this ain’t new. The first wind turbines were in operation in 200 BC and the first wind turbine in the world to generate electricity was installed in Marykirk 135 years ago, in July 1887, by the Scottish academic James Blyth.

Unlike the previous source of energy on which we relied, modern renewable energy is kind to the environment. We now have power generation in which the environmental costs are exceeded by the benefits, that does not result in workers and residents inhaling particulates pollution and that does not create the oxides of sulphur and nitrogen that damage lungs and plants or the CO2 that warms the planet. However, because investment in power generation is investment for the long term, investors need long-term confidence about the fiscal environment within which they will operate. After all, they cannot easily transfer generating equipment to another part of the world if the Government changes the rules. In that respect, power generation is quite different from other manufacturing industries. Manufacturing power is locked to local sites and gives us long-term economic benefit if we provide long-term certainty.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which was unanimously passed by Parliament, is one of the underpinnings that has given the renewables industry the confidence to invest. Whatever the political vicissitudes that might affect any party in a democracy, or whatever the nature of future Governments in Scotland, we made a shared commitment that others now rely on and from which our economy gains.

We can already see the effect of reneging on deals. The Kyoto protocol represented an international agreement to create what was essentially a carbon market and ensure that the environmental cost of human activity carried an associated economic cost. When the United States resiled from its international obligations under Kyoto, the international carbon market all but collapsed. The European emissions trading scheme has taken up some of the slack but for a number of European countries, notably Poland, the loss of Kyoto revenue not unreasonably makes it difficult to strengthen targets in Europe while others turn their back on duty.

Indeed, I was leading the UK delegation in Durban for the 17th Conference of the Parties meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change when the United States spoke to plenary. Such was the hostility to the US delegate that he had to shorten his speech and leave the podium much earlier than anticipated. When we sacrifice long-term necessities by trimming to short-term needs, we sacrifice trust; trust that it can take a lifetime to build can be sacrificed in a second.

I welcome the positive collaboration on this agenda between the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government and, indeed, the international engagement that our ministers are having with countries across Europe.

What are my personal tests to measure success in EMR? First, consensus across jurisdictions and political parties—long-term stability. Secondly, equal access to networks, which was usefully highlighted by the Labour amendment today—supporting community and industrial-scale generation. Thirdly, progressing the carbon reduction agenda and supporting the climate change acts in Scotland and Westminster—saving the planet. Fourthly, delivering affordable energy—tackling fuel poverty, as John Wilson and Rhoda Grant mentioned. Fifthly, building our economy—gaining reward for effort.

However, there are signs of difficulty. Westminster has an unhealthy focus on gas. Yes, the CO2 from gas generation is much less than that from coal, but without carbon capture and storage the emissions remain too high. John Selwyn Gummer, now Lord Deben, chairs the UK Committee on Climate Change. His committee has just written to the Westminster Government to make clear that a focus on gas is a focus on climate failure. Let us hope that he maintains close relations with his political colleagues and gets that message across.

Carbon capture and storage is not the long-term answer; we shall have to do more. However, it can deliver substantial intermediate-term benefits. China is not normally regarded as a climate champion, but it is building better wind turbines by using its access to rare earths to cast better magnets. In my constituency, we are ready to follow its lead. It has seven carbon capture plants that are already operational.

Martina Navratilova once said:

“It’s not how I play when I’m at my best that means I win; it’s how I play when I’m at my worst that makes me a champion.”

Similarly, on the climate agenda, it is how we respond when the economic, social and environmental challenge is at its greatest that will determine our success or failure in combating global warming.

I am delighted to support the Government’s motion and the Labour Party’s amendment.


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