17 December 2013

S4M-08484 Moray Library Closures

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-08484, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on Moray library closures. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns Moray Council’s decision to remove a mobile library from service and close the libraries in Findochty, Hopeman, Portknockie and Rothes; believes that the decision to close four of its 15 libraries could have an adverse impact on families with young children and both older and disabled people; believes that libraries play a valuable role in communities and that the proposed closures would have a detrimental impact on education and learning and restrict access in rural communities to information technology services; further believes that this is particularly concerning as, it understands, the UK Government is increasingly making access to many services online only; notes that the Scottish Library and Information Council has commissioned a review of the Public Library Quality Improvement Matrix, which examines the quality of such services, and recognises the work of the Save our Libraries Moray campaign and others, which aims to bring together the communities affected by the council’s decision.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It is thought that the oldest library in the world was that at Ebla in Syria and that it was founded more than 4,500 years ago. It was based in what was then and is again a turbulent area of the world. After its destruction it remained unknown until the discovery of the text of an international treaty, inscribed on a clay tablet, in what people later realised was a library. Today it is a derelict archaeological site.

Today’s changes for libraries in Moray are less dramatic, but the effects of closure can be profound for the communities of Findochty, Hopeman, Portknockie and Rothes. Closure removes a source of knowledge, diminishes opportunities for learning and reduces access to vital infrastructure such as the internet.

The initial proposals, which were passed by the Tory and independent councillors who run Moray Council, were to be even more draconian and were in clear breach of equalities legislation. Thankfully, some sense was restored when the legal consequences became more obvious to administration councillors. A vigorous community-led campaign, represented in the public gallery this evening by members of the save our libraries Moray campaign, showed just how disconnected the council had become from some of the communities that it must serve.

Lord Wellington, a Tory Prime Minister until he lost office over reform in 1830, was strongly opposed to education for all as he feared the consequences of knowledge. I absolutely do not suggest that today’s Tories hold his views, but the effects of their cuts carry the risk of a journey to increased ignorance—just, perhaps, what Wellington might have wished.

For a party of business there are also practical effects to deplore. In rural Scotland, access to broadband can be limited or absent. For businesses big enough to pay VAT, and now required to submit their accounts online, loss of access to the internet via their local library is more than a mere inconvenience. When they have to travel further to access a terminal in a library, it takes time out of running a business, increases costs and risks default on tight HM Revenue & Customs rules.

For the unemployed, access to the internet is vital to get access to the benefits to which they are entitled. Of course, the unemployed are much less likely to have access to the internet in their own home. Moray Council itself relies on the internet: people who want to get a council house use that means of accessing that council service in increasing numbers. Libraries are not simply about books.

In my constituency, the communities of Findochty and Portknockie now have no library. My colleague Richard Lochhead, who is in Brussels tonight, texted me to share his similar concern about the communities of Hopeman and Rothes in the area that he represents.

The closures are driven by the need to manage the council’s costs. When the Opposition in this place demands more money to mitigate the effects of cuts from the Tory-Lib Dem Westminster Government, we on the Government benches always ask from where that money should come. I will avoid the trap of proposing more expenditure without proposing from where it should come.

The council has proposals for a link road in Moray. Not to proceed with that would be an easy cut for the council to make. It would save much more than is needed to keep the libraries open and it would open for the council a wide range of other options that their current spending plans deny it. It would respond to genuine and significant public concern about the proposed route for the new road, and cancellation would protect important parts of the local environment.

Richard Lochhead and I joined road and library campaigners on the march and rally in Elgin on 12 October. It was abundantly clear that the council’s current choices are not popular with a significant part of the Moray community.

For the cabinet secretary who will respond to tonight’s debate, it is easier than it sometimes is, because it is not for her to direct Moray Council’s policy on libraries. I do not expect to hear that she will change her approach to that. However, it might be useful to hear what value and benefits the Scottish Government thinks are delivered by libraries.

Is it not appropriate that we are having this debate on a day when, in our Parliament, we have an exhibition concerning a person who might be the patron saint of libraries, Andrew Carnegie, who, of course, was responsible for many libraries across Scotland?

On independence day, 4 July 1962, John F Kennedy said:

“to govern is to choose.”

The responsibilities and opportunities of Moray Council are, of course, substantially less than those of JFK, but the council’s politicians share with him a duty to serve. Making the right decision can enhance the lustre and reputation of those who make it—even though, in this case, doing the right thing will make it even more difficult for me to challenge my political opponents in future.

In governing, I suggest to Moray Council that it is time to choose libraries rather than roads.


11 December 2013

S4M-08551 Finance

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a Conservative debate on motion S4M-08551, in the name of Gavin Brown, on finance.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I agree with Gavin Brown’s opening remark that there is a long way to go. One of the difficulties in setting out on a journey is the need for a road on which to travel. If capital spending is cut, that road is not built. That is what the Conservatives have inflicted on us.

I congratulate the Conservatives on exploiting a Scottish invention to a degree that was previously unthought of. Scotland invented the overdraft, and boy are the Tories exploiting it. We have moved from the overdraft to the credit card as the UK’s credit rating has been cut from AAA to AA+. Of course, when credit ratings are cut, interest rates increase, so the outlook is not necessarily good.

The point of a debate such as this is not about the numbers. We can trade them all day long and choose our own numbers, but do people outside here understand what they mean? What does £197 billion of new borrowing physically look like? It works out at something over £5,000 per household in the UK. That sounds like quite a lot of money.

What does £5,000 look like? If we made a pile of 5,000 pound coins, it would reach the ceiling; alternatively, it would go all the way horizontally from me to my colleague Alex Fergusson. That is a big lot of money. People would know what it meant if they saw it sitting somewhere, waiting to be spent. That is only the increase in debt and not the amount of debt.

What does the £5,000 compare with? The increase in debt for every household is more than we pay a pensioner in state pension every year.

One of the jobs that we as politicians must do is turn such abstract arguments into something that Joe Public can relate to—something physical—because £197 billion is just an awfully big number. It happens to have 12 digits or, in binary, 38 digits.

People who deal with big numbers get desensitised to them. Thirty years ago, I was in the Bank of Scotland’s London dealing room, where we settled up with the Bank of England in about 30 minutes at the end of the day by trading excess money to other banks that were short or vice versa. That was done with paper and pencil, and I was there to see whether we could automate the process.

At the end of the day, when the numbers were added up for the various corrections that had been made and the trades that had been done with other banks, it was found that the numbers were £56 million adrift. The interesting thing is that the people there said, “It disnae matter,” and they went to the pub. People who deal with big numbers get desensitised to them. The figure of £197 billion, which is not the debt but the increase in debt, is so vast that none of us here has any conception of what it means.

Sam Goldwyn said that predictions are a risky business, especially when they are about the future. The OBR has given new meaning to that comment with its flaky predictions of growth, which have been halved, and of borrowing, which has more than doubled. When we rely on figures from a source such as the OBR, we rely on a chimera and on something that is provably of little worth.

With the terms of the debate, the Conservatives have given us insight into precisely how we cannot rely on the numbers that we get from such independent people. The OBR does not have a track record that we can rely on. We must be careful to illustrate to people what the numbers look like in bread and butter terms. I hope that my example has given my dear colleagues something on which to engage with their constituents.


10 December 2013

S4M-08016 YouthLink Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-08016, in the name of George Adam, on YouthLink Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates YouthLink Scotland on the publication of what it considers the very positive recent inspection report by Education Scotland; notes the recognition in the report of the high quality contribution that YouthLink Scotland and its member organisations make to the achievement of Scottish Government outcomes; recognises the work that it undertakes in local authority areas such as Renfrewshire, where it considers the YMCA, the Scouts and Play the Game make an important difference on a daily basis to the lives of the young people of Paisley, Renfrew and Johnstone by working with particularly vulnerable groups of young people to provide them with opportunities to undertake new challenges and adventures and, as a consequence, help them toward recognising and fulfilling their potential as individuals and as active members of society, and considers that YouthLink Scotland and its member organisations from the voluntary sector, uniformed youth organisations and local authority youth services across Scotland that apply the principles and values of youth work, have been very successful in their engagement with young people through encouraging them to use a range of life skills, assisting them in their journey to adulthood and successful futures and making Scotland the best place in the world in which to grow up as a successful learner, a confident individual, an effective contributor and a responsible citizen.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It is not insignificant that the debate follows a debate on sport, because sport is, of course, very important for youngsters in our society.

This debate is led by George Adam, so in homage to him I have my Paisley patterned galluses holding my breeks up. I thank him for the opportunity to participate in this important debate.

YouthLink is an important part of the infrastructure that exists to support our youngsters—not just in Paisley, but across Scotland.

The motion refers to a number of other organisations and, in particular, to the scouts. I spent probably something of the order of a year of my life under boy-scout canvas. If I benefited from that it is to the credit of the scouts; my faults are entirely my own. I acquired important skills in the boy scouts; I learned how to burn baked potatoes, which I did instead of chasing girls, so it probably was not a terribly bad thing to be doing at the appropriate age. Certainly my mother preferred me to be burning potatoes to carrying out other activities in which I might have indulged.

Alex Johnstone and I visited the conclave of the great and the good in the scouting movement in the north-east of Scotland recently, which was quite an illuminating experience. They had in the room a wide range of projects. Some were outdoor projects to do with self-development, such as the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, for which people were working. Others were community-based projects in which the young people were learning to support people in their communities. I thought that it was a very good mix of projects indeed.

Alex Johnstone and I both left very much enthused by what we had seen but—this is important—there was clearly a lack of people who wanted to step forward and provide the administrative leadership that is necessary to make that infrastructure of grass-roots volunteers work. There is a clear role for organisations such as YouthLink that operate at national level and which can think about how we do that sort of thing.

In the town of Buckie in my constituency we have what is probably Scotland’s biggest Boys Brigade group, with 250 members, so it is not just the boy scouts that are doing well in the north-east.

YouthLink also organises its own interventions, in particular among those who are in areas of significant disadvantage, and—as the inspection report confirms—it does well.

When I was a youngster—I will not be alone in this—I wanted desperately to be an adult, but now that I am an adult I wish that I was a youngster again. There is not much chance of that happening. However, if YouthLink and other organisations can tap into adult experience—good and bad, as it will inevitably be—to aid today’s youngsters to make a successful transition to adulthood, it will absolutely deserve all the plaudits that we can give it.

George Adam talked about engaging young people in community decision making and Kezia Dugdale talked about civic activism. I will give a small example of something that happened in the little village of Maud, which was in my constituency for the best part of 10 years, until the boundary change took it out. A “planning for real” exercise on how the village would be regenerated was structured in order to allow eight-year-olds whom I saw there to go up to stick on a map of the village little Post-it notes with the things that they thought could happen. Old people—people who would not speak at a public meeting in a month of Sundays—were also able to participate. We can often learn ways to do things that we can take to others, especially to help the young. That is very important because, after all, today’s youngsters will decide how I am looked after in my dotage, which some say is coming rather more rapidly than I would wish.


S4M-08540 Fisheries Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08540, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the end-year fisheries negotiations.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

PG Wodehouse used to have Bertie Wooster insist that Jeeves had some fish when a particularly knotty problem had to be dealt with, so I naturally had fish for my dinner today in the canteen, in preparation for the debate.

This is the most exciting time of the year for me, not because of the fisheries debate but because, in a few short weeks, that most beautiful product of the sea—cod roe—will appear. My wife does not like it—she prefers herring roe—but we share the belief that nothing beats scallop roe, which is often taken off the scallop. We also share the belief that what comes out of the sea is good for us. So obvious are the benefits that people have known that for years, without the assistance of scientists.

Scottish fishermen are the arch conservationists, because they depend on a natural resource. They know that how they treat that resource determines their future success. They are competitive and innovative in everything that they do. Central control via the CFP sits uneasily with our fishermen’s entrepreneurial spirit and generations of detailed experience.

Our fishermen are gifted with significant problems. Having a mixed fishery creates difficulties when we seek to protect one species and catch another. One fisherman’s bycatch is another’s target species, so there is often debate in the industry.

Our fishermen’s efforts in recent years in experimenting with selective gear are very much to be commended. We have not yet developed the perfect selective gear, but we are making the progress that we need to make.

The cabinet secretary referred to a key problem with developing that gear, which is having the quota available to test it. If fishermen have no quota for cod and they know where a lot of the cod are, they will avoid those areas. However, when they need to test a selective-gear net that is designed to go into an area with cod and not catch cod, they must go into a cod area and take the risk that their net—whose selectivity is not yet perfect—might catch cod. Fishermen are burning up their quota quickly by experimenting with selective gear. We need more support and more quota for that valuable work, which is being done voluntarily by many of our fishermen. We must not move to the position that we have seen in the whaling industry, which lives off the back of so-called scientific research, but we need a little more help.

Our fishermen, conservationists that they are, work with other environmentalists such as WWF Scotland. That absolutely shows that they are prepared to be driven by good science and to work with others using their local knowledge and experience. Only 14 months ago, in September 2012, a headline in The Daily Telegraph stated that there were 100 cod left in the North Sea. The author of that absurdity now says that there will be no brown crab left. That wonderful Radio 4 programme about statistics, “More or Less”, described that as

“the worst wrong number that we have ever reported”,

the correct number being 21 million cod.

I know someone who is learning Icelandic and I have a nephew who is fluent in Danish because he lives there. We will have to engage with some difficult people in difficult times through difficult negotiations. I hope that the minister can do his bit for Scotland’s fishermen.


03 December 2013

S4M-07776 Local Development Trusts and Community Initiatives

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07776, in the name of Christine Grahame, in praise of local development trusts and other community initiatives. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the significance and professionalism of the many local development trusts and community initiatives across Midlothian and the Borders and Scotland at large, the many individuals who give up their time, skill and energy to improving their communities such as Auchendinny, Gorebridge, Lamancha and Newlands, community hubs, Penicuik, Silverburn and Eddleston with projects such as The Lost Garden of Penicuik, Silverburn Community Garden and Hall, The Great Polish Map of Scotland at Eddleston and many more community initiatives; considers that these are solid testimony to their efforts, and notes their encouragement for other communities to dip their toes in trust waters.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The motion is some 103 words—it would take nearly a minute to read it out if someone were to do so—but fortunately there are four words in it that are “and Scotland at large”. I am at large, speaking on behalf of some of the people in the north-east of Scotland who, like those in Midlothian and the Borders, are heavily engaged in trust work.

In Peterhead, we have Peterhead Projects Ltd, which is working on community woodland. That is about developing people as much as it is about putting up buildings. In Banff and Macduff, we have the Princess Royal Sports and Community Trust. It of course has buildings—it has gyms and it is making sure that people get fitter—but, more fundamentally, it is going out and engaging with schools and with young people to show the value of physical exercise.

In Portsoy, the Scottish traditional boat festival has grown under the local trust’s aegis from the first year, when it attracted 200 people, to a festival to which a five-figure number of people come. People come from Australia and New Zealand each year to participate in that festival. It has taken on the salmon bothy and the PORT’s boatshed. It is into buildings.

The Boyndie Trust just along the coast from Portsoy runs a cafe and a community bus service. It provides training for 70 people who would otherwise find it very difficult to get into employment and, in the cafe, it procures from local sources, supporting its own community.

On the borders of my constituency on the other side is the Huntly Development Trust. There is also a development trust in Keith. In Buckie, the football club there, through the Highland league and its work, is reaching out, using its facilities to reach others and ensure that their attributes are deployed and that people are getting fitter.

Of course, we have little community harbour trusts in many of the communities round the coast, some of which have been extremely successful in bringing very old facilities back into use.

I want to talk in particular about Fraserburgh Development Trust. Fraserburgh is a town of some 15,000 people where probably more than 20 languages are spoken. People have come to Fraserburgh from all over Europe and the world. The town earns its living the hard way—in the fishing industry, both onshore and offshore. It has seen some pretty tough times, but it is definitely on the way up, and Fraserburgh Development Trust is an important part of that. It has been running community markets, or super Saturdays, to ensure that people know what is good about Fraserburgh. It is not simply the place with the mainland Scotland wind speed record of well over 100 miles an hour; it is a warm and friendly place, even if in the middle of winter it is far from feeling like that.

The trust is involved in the community garden and is trying to set up a renewables project, which will help the town to go green and, fundamentally, will help the trust to have a regular funding stream. The trust is working with Social Firms Scotland to consider taking over a local bakery, which will save jobs and create the opportunity to provide others with locally sourced food of good quality. The trust is working in the town centre and with a community health development officer. Fundamentally, as Christine Grahame said, the trust works through and with volunteers. Unlike Boris Johnson, who says that the top per cent of earners in London should get knighthoods, I think that the volunteers in our community trusts should get knighthoods.


S4M-08461 Scotland’s Census

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08461, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on Scotland’s census.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The Labour amendment states that

“the census demonstrates that Scotland’s population is ageing faster than that of the rest of the UK”.

Numbers are funny things. Table 4 in the registrar general’s report shows that in 2012 we had 59 people per 100 in dependency, that in 2017 the number will drop to 58 and that in 2022 it will drop to 57. Rod Campbell was right to point to the difficulties with the way in which we calculate the figure, because the way in which it is calculated means that I am considered to be in dependency, as is my good friend Gil Paterson. It is done simply by age, not by whether we are still working and in employment. That is equally true for the rest of the UK—I am not saying that Scotland is any different—and it shows that we need to be careful about the numbers.

Two members have claimed that there have been 23 censuses in Scotland, but I think that there have been 21, because there have been 22 periods of 10 years since 1801 and there was no census in 1941. That is, unless we count the Dál Riata census of approximately 670 AD, which was conducted in part of Scotland by the Irish. In England, of course, the first census was the Domesday book of 1086. However, in modern times, there have probably been 21 censuses in Scotland.

I felt so uncomfortable with what Patricia Ferguson said about cars that I popped out to get the up-to-date numbers. I can tell the chamber that the number of cars per household is substantially lower in London than in Glasgow. The reason for that is not economic; it is that London has a first-class public transport system. Someone who lives in London would probably not want to own a car, and I suspect that I would not, either. The figure for Beijing is higher than that for any city in Scotland, and it is higher than the figure for London. We need to be careful with numbers.

The interesting thing for me is that the figures in table 6 in the registrar general’s report show that I am in a cohort of 137,000 people. In 10 years’ time, should I be spared, I will be in a cohort of 104,000, and five years later I will be in a cohort of 82,000.

As part of my preparation for the debate, I went on to the ScotlandsPeople website and ended up very puzzled. According to the website, in 2012 there were 133,322 registrations, which is so far adrift from the numbers in the report that I had to find out why. To my immense bafflement—I have not yet worked out why this should be the case—a number of births appear multiple times in the registrations. I even found someone in the city of Edinburgh—because they are still living, I will not make specific reference to them—who has been registered three times with three different names. There are quite a lot of examples of that, so we need to be careful. One of my wife’s relatives appears twice in the census because they were counted both at home and while they were away somewhere else.

In my constituency, at least 19 languages are used in the local school in Peterhead. My nephews and nieces are in eight countries around the world. Presiding Officer, migration is an essential part of the modern world and censuses help to measure what is going on.


28 November 2013

S4M-08422 Independent Expert Review of Opioid Replacement Therapies

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08422, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the independent expert review of opioid replacement therapies in Scotland. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now, or as soon as possible, and to locate their microphones effectively, remembering that they are directional microphones. I call the minister—when she is ready—to speak to and move the motion in her name. You have 14 minutes, minister—as soon as you are ready to proceed.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I am very glad that Graeme Pearson has had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. When I was a member of the former Justice 1 Committee, which Pauline McNeill convened, I first met Graeme Pearson over dinner in Glasgow to discuss drug problems. The dinner was excellent, but the message was compellingly disturbing.

I recall that on that occasion Graeme Pearson told us of a drug dealer in Glasgow who had gone into a showroom with cash and bought a brand new Bentley. He told us that that same individual had bought a fleet of cars for his private hire taxi company. He told us that this is a social problem as well as an economic problem, costing perhaps 1.5 to 5 per cent of our gross domestic product. If we were to look at it just in economic terms, that is a loss of tax take of between £0.5 billion and £1.5 billion for Scotland alone.

The reality is that the finance is not really the issue. I first spoke in the Parliament in a drugs debate on 27 October 2004. At that point I said:

“Addiction is a feature of human behaviour and, realistically, it cannot be eliminated.”—[Official Report, 27 October 2004; c 11150.]

In “A Counter-blaste to Tobacco”, which was written 400 years ago, James VI said that the smoker

“by custome is piece and piece allured.”

The whole issue of addiction is very far from new.

It is perhaps worth saying that in the 1890s, Sears and Roebuck, a well-known American retailer, had in the catalogue that it distributed to millions of homes across the United States a syringe and cocaine that could be bought for $1.50.

Attitudes have changed and the impact of addiction has changed. However, it was recognised 100 years ago that it was a major issue. The first international drug control treaty was the international opium convention of 1912, which came out of a conference that was held in Shanghai.

From the 1950s, of course, we started to see a relatively small group of morphine addicts being looked after by general practitioners. My father, who was a GP, looked after a tiny handful. Even then, the impact of criminality could be seen. In 1951, a single drug addict broke into a dispensary on the outskirts of London; a decade later, it was discovered that, from that single criminal act, 60 addicts had been created, who suffered problems. It is all too easy for little acts to have huge consequences in the area.

In the 1960s, it was, of course, thought that there were relatively few addicts. In fact, in 1964, the Home Office reported that there were 753 addicts in the UK as a whole. I think that that was questioned at the time; it was also questionable. It certainly led, with greater understanding, to the dangerous drugs legislation. However, it was thought at that time that the problem was so limited in Scotland that no provision whatsoever was made for Scotland. By the late 1970s, boy we knew that we had a problem.

We now have an excellent report that shows what we are doing to deal with that problem. We certainly cannot undo our position simply by reversing the actions that got us here. We must be proactive.

Originally, we sought simply to support the addicts and deal with their addiction medically. Now, of course, addiction has a huge reach into criminality. It is also a public health and infection issue that has to be dealt with.

Let us not forget, either, that opioid addiction, which is the subject of the debate, is part of a whole series of addictions. We have in our society alcohol, gambling and nicotine addictions. A member of staff who worked for me—among the hundreds who did so—was even addicted to a proprietary nasal spray. He consumed 20 bottles of it a day, although it did not seem to affect his life.

The illegal drugs that we are talking about and the issues with which we have to deal in that context are in part related to the free cigarettes that were dispensed to servicemen during the second world war. That desensitised us to the idea that addiction should be avoided.

In closing, it is worth welcoming very much the consensual nature of this debate. It has brought together different points of view, experiences and inputs, but they all point in the same direction. I think that Willie Rennie referred to that.

Two examples of how things can be mishandled are perhaps worth going back to.

Derek Hatton, who was the Labour deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, wanted to attack Margaret Thatcher. I might be up for that, but he did so by designating Liverpool as “smack city”. We are still living on the back of that.

In my constituency, a now-deceased GP, Sandy Wisely, quite unnecessarily and unjustifiably talked up a drug problem in Fraserburgh. We are still dealing with that today in reputational terms.

We have had a good, balanced debate. Let us hope that that continues.

I very much support the essence of what Labour’s amendment says, but very much support the Government’s motion.


20 November 2013

S4M-08348 Defence Industry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08348, in the name of Johann Lamont, on the future of the defence industry in Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Members might be rather sceptical about the idea, but there has been substantial consensus on some important things in the debate. The Labour motion mentions the skills of people in Scotland who are employed in the defence industries, and that aspect has attracted unanimity across the chamber. We have spoken about the need to consider diversification, and a recognition has been shared in speeches from across the chamber that relying simply and forever on defence alone is unlikely to be good enough.

Many of the issues that we are debating today are very far from new. I refer in particular to a decision that the UK Cabinet made on 19 May 1920 in relation to diversification in the defence industry. The Cabinet gave the Government’s own Woolwich arsenal permission to take on private work, because the defence industry was no longer sufficient to keep employment there at its previous level. The Government paid off 1,500 workers—which might sound familiar—and it sought to diversify the factories concerned.

We have heard references to sovereign capability, specifically by Willie Rennie and indirectly, albeit without using those words, by Murdo Fraser, as well as by Michael McMahon. Let us examine the reality of the record. I start with the Fairey Rotodyne, which was an innovative UK project to build new vertical take-off bulk-carrying transport. Ultimately, that project was cancelled in 1962 by the UK Government. What did it buy instead? It bought Boeing Chinooks.

Willie Rennie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I have lots more. I might come to Willie Rennie later.

Those Chinooks were to be deployed on the front line. Willie Rennie spoke about fixed-wing aircraft, and I will come to those as well, so he need not worry.

The Blue Streak missile was to be the missile to carry the independent nuclear deterrent for the UK. That proved to be unsupported by the Government of the day, and we now buy the missiles—rather, we lease them—from the United States, and we are not allowed to launch them against anyone without getting the codes enabling us to do so on each specific occasion. Sovereign capability? I doubt it.

Let me also mention the TSR-2, a fixed-wing aircraft that led the way in technology and capability. Once again, it was cancelled in the 1960s by the UK Government, which sought to buy American F-111s instead—although ultimately, of course, that is not what it bought. Incidentally, until it fell out of use 10 years ago, the F-111 had the unenviable nickname of “The Widowmaker”, which it had been given by the Luftwaffe and the United States air force. That was the aircraft that the UK Government wished to operate.

Finally, of course, there is the Harrier jump-jet, which was a gem and a piece of leading edge technology. It is no longer manufactured here but is bought from elsewhere by the UK Government.

Willie Rennie: Mr Stevenson might be educating us about various items of equipment, but I have to point out that no one has ever said that all equipment must be bought in-country. The Labour Government’s defence industry strategy and the defence and security policy that has been developed under the current UK Government have determined what the sovereign capability is, and it is the four areas that I identified in my speech.

Does the member not recognise that no British complex warships have been built outside the UK since the second world war?

Stewart Stevenson: I invite the member to examine the Official Report after the debate because he will find that he very specifically linked sovereign capability to fixed-wing aircraft such as the TSR-2, the Harrier GR5A and so on. It is absolutely clear that sovereign capability does not determine the purchasing decisions of the MOD and the UK Government; it all comes down to the best place to get the best equipment, and Scotland will remain the best place to get much of the equipment that the UK Government and indeed Scotland will require in future.

The Scottish defence industry is a feisty industry full of feisty people. We have heard quotes from a wide range of them, including the MOD itself and the workers whose voices must be heard in this debate. Those people have skills; indeed, I find it interesting that Michael McMahon chose to talk about Motherwell Bridge and how in a short space of time after it was closed down the same skills dissipated and could not be reconstituted. My friends in Portsmouth know that all too well in advance of the same fate being visited upon them. They certainly will not be in the same place that Scotland will be, whether under independence or not, to support the orders that there are.

Whatever the result of the referendum, I will support everyone on the Clyde—and everyone else must do likewise.


07 November 2013

S4M-08145 Tribunals (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08145, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Tribunals (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Some of us had forgotten that political debates are over not when everything has been said but when everyone has said it, the most recent of whom was Gordon MacDonald. However, I hope to avoid that particular trap.

It is worth going way back to where tribunals came from—the tribuni plebis. Following a battle in 494 BC, the legionaries refused to go out and fight for Rome. To buy them off, the plebs were given the right to elect plebeian tribunes, who were made sacrosanct while they held office. The tribune was the principal and guarantor of the civil liberties of the Roman citizens against arbitrary state power. That is a pretty good basis for what tribunals are.

Willie Coffey talked about the rights of the public. Let us zoom forward a couple of thousand years to the College of Justice Act 1532, which reads:

“And thir persounes to be sworne to minister Justice equaly to all persouns in sic causis as sall happin tocum before thaim with sic vther rewlis and statutis as sall pleise the kingis grace”.

That is how the constitution worked in those days, so a lot of what we are discussing today just ain’t new—we have looked at it many times over hundreds of years.

In the 1600s, there was considerable debate about the divine right of kings versus the power of the people. In an attempt to reassert the divine right of kings, the Crown Appointments Act 1661 declared:

“That it is an inherent Priveledge of the Croun ... to have the sole choise and appointment of the Officers of Estate”—


“and privy Councellors and the nomination of the Lords of the Session”.

Fortunately, we have moved on from that.

Christine Grahame: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I want to try to fill my six minutes.

Christine Grahame: It is to challenge your history.

Stewart Stevenson: Briefly, then.

Christine Grahame: I may blunder, but I was not aware that the divine right of kings pertained to the Scottish kings. I thought that it was an English concept and that Scottish kings were appointed by leave of the Scottish people following the declaration of Arbroath. Lewis Macdonald is nodding, so I have an ally.

Stewart Stevenson: I simply remind the member that the Crown Appointments Act 1661 was the sixth act of 1661 by the estates of the Scots Parliament, so things were probably not quite as clear-cut as she suggests. That approach was certainly tried, but whether it succeeded is a debate for another day.

The briefing from the Scottish Parliament information centre draws our attention to concerns about whether tribunals’ lack of independence from Government—whether perceived or otherwise—is in contravention of article 6 of the European convention on human rights. The bill that we are considering today, and which we will continue to consider in times to come, will be an opportunity to provide a pretty rigid statement that our tribunals are independent.

I will turn to the provisions in the bill. I have already made reference, on the back of Rod Campbell’s comments, to the duties that the bill will place on members of the Scottish Parliament to uphold the independence of the members of Scottish tribunals. That is quite an interesting issue, because the bill does not directly prescribe what would happen if a member, or members collectively, of the Scottish Parliament failed to uphold that independence. I suspect that the matter may be covered by the “Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament”, paragraph 3.1.3 of which requires that

“Members should uphold the law”.

However, I suspect that there may be some ambiguity there, which the committee and the Parliament may want to look at.

Of course, we have not entirely failed to look at the issue of tribunals before. Willie Coffey referred to David McLetchie, who in March 2004 led a debate on the Fraser inquiry. One issue that that inquiry faced was that it was unable to have access to powers that would have been available to a Westminster inquiry held under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Under that act, a tribunal can be given the power to command witnesses to appear before it and to produce the necessary evidence. We have therefore been here before, but we have perhaps overlooked the fact that there are some significant potential effects from our not having all the powers that we might seek.

When, as a minister, I took the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012 through Parliament, I had to refer to tribunals in the stage 1 debate because tribunals play an important part in judging the value of land, which is a central issue in such matters.

As the time when I should wind up is approaching, I will say just a little about the Mental Health Tribunal. As a tribunal, the Mental Health Tribunal is special and different in the distinct sense that it is about deciding on the deprivation of liberty of a citizen. That is quite an unusual function for a tribunal, albeit that it is in the interests of the citizen that the decision is taken. I certainly want to ensure that we protect the rights of the citizen.

For me, this is an interesting speech because it is the 500th speech that I have made here—

Christine Grahame: It feels like it, too.

Stewart Stevenson: And 500 is a special round number. However, it may feel like more than 500, if that is what the convener of the committee is saying.

Let me close by quoting from the College of Justice Act 1532, which says that the Scots Parliament intends

“to Institute ane college of cunning and wise men”.

That might be the kind of people that we want involved in our tribunals—

Roseanna Cunningham: Although the majority on the front bench today are women.

Stewart Stevenson: The 1532 act goes on to require

“thir persounes to be sworne to minister Justice equaly to all persouns in sic causis as sall happin tocum before thaim”.

Let us extend that to women, in this modern age, as the minister has urged me to do.


S4M-07731 Best Buildings in Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07731, in the name of Mike MacKenzie, on the best buildings in Scotland.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the 12 winners of the 2013 Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) awards who make up the shortlist for the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award, which will be presented on 7 November 2013 at the Parliament; understands that there were 75 submissions for the RIAS awards, ranging from £0 to over £30 million in contract value; commends the quality, ingenuity and innovation of the projects on the shortlist for the award throughout Scotland; recognises the contribution that both Scottish and international architects make to the quality of the built environment in the Highlands and Islands and across the country and the international contribution that Scotland’s architects make, and considers that RIAS and the architectural profession stand ready to help design and build a better and more prosperous future for Scotland, ensuring a higher quality built and natural environment.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Mike MacKenzie the builder—Mike the builder, not Bob the builder—for the opportunity to debate this important subject. In describing himself as a builder, perhaps he underrates his profession’s contribution to the fine buildings that we have around Scotland. Somebody has to design them, yes, but at the end of the day, it is the builders of Scotland who deliver them.

The history of our buildings progressed for a very long time without the emergence of a separately identified profession of architecture. Yet architects’ skills are clearly present when you look at many buildings around Scotland. I was privileged to attend the University of Aberdeen and went to both Marischal and King’s colleges there, which are quite distinct from each other. Centuries apart, they represent the epitome of good design—of architecture—of their times.

It is, as Jean Urquhart said, an absolute privilege for us to be here, not simply because we achieved the support of a necessary part of the electorate, but more fundamentally because we work in one of the iconic buildings of modern Scotland, created by architects and delivered by builders, which is important.

A number of different things make a good building: its material, its locality and its function, all of which are drawn together by the skills of the architect to create something that is appropriate to its environment, that is distinctive and effective and which will endure.

The skills of our architects in Scotland stem from our historical alignment with the need for education. Builders must be able to do calculations in order to work out the number of bricks or stones they will need to get the proportions correct, and an architect takes all that to another level. We need think only of the number of places around the world that we remember for not just the people we meet there, but the buildings that we see.

I congratulate Annabel Goldie on her forthcoming elevation to the fellowship of the RIAS to add to the lustre of her deputy lieutenancy. At this stage, I have yet to be invited to be anything, if we do not include the far less distinguished award that Alan Cochrane wanted to give me in his low abuse of me last month.

I will be invidious and single out the Sir Duncan Rice library, which, in the context of Old Aberdeen, is a quite stunning building. Turning the corner from King’s college in Old Aberdeen, one suddenly looks up a slight rise at a narrowing vista and is surprised by the sight of a wonderful building glistening in the sun—facing, as it does, to the south-east. Inside, the space and grace that it provides to the students studying there some 50 years after me exemplifies all that is good in modern architecture. I certainly know that it is too late to have any influence on the judges, given that the awards are tonight—indeed, I am sure that the name has already been engraved on the trophy—but if there is a chance for a late change of mind, should it be necessary, I encourage it to take place.

Architects show ambition and it is a time for ambition in Scotland. I wish every one of the 12 finalists all the very best. Whoever wins, the building will be an exemplar for modern Scotland.


06 November 2013

S4M-08173 Glasgow Airport Rail Link

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08173, in the name of James Kelly, on transport.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It was an American President who once said that, when he came into office, all the things that he had been saying were bad turned out to be much worse. That, perhaps, was the case with the GARL project.

The Labour Party motion rather unwisely invites Parliament to agree to an “audit of all transactions”. The word “transaction” is, of course, defined in “Webster’s Dictionary” as “a business deal”. It is not just about finance, so let us look at some of the transactions and delve deep into the Official Report of the Parliament.

We will look first at 3 October 2006, when the Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee was meeting and John Halliday, the assistant chief executive of SPT, was before the committee. He made the position clear:

“SPT was the architect of the agreements and we negotiated the terms.”—[Official Report, Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, 3 October 2006; c 300.]

We know where it started: with SPT.

We heard from a number of members that there was “a strong economic case” for GARL. James Kelly said it in his opening speech, and Mary Fee said that

“the viability of the project was never questioned”.

However, in paragraph 32 of the committee’s preliminary stage report, Glasgow Airport Ltd is reported as saying:

“As the bill stands, we think that it is as likely to have an adverse effect on the airport as it is to have a positive effect”.—[Official Report, Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, 8 May 2006; c 57.]

Right at the outset, even the airport operator was unconvinced.

Patricia Ferguson said that the rail link would take “cars off the road”. Well, at paragraph 38 of the report, we read about

“reductions of 0.5% and 0.8% in total M8 traffic flows by 2030.”

We are talking about single-figure numbers of cars being taken off the motorway. At paragraph 40, we read that the bus operators expected the number of people who would use the bus to double. Therefore, GARL would hardly be displacing anything.

The committee recorded its slight scepticism about the claimed economic benefits at paragraph 26. In paragraph 17, it said:

“patronage figures are low.”

Looking further, according to paragraph 221 of the consideration stage report, it was certainly possible that the project could cost as much as £210 million.

From paragraph 34 of the consideration stage report, it is clear that not all the evidence was available to Parliament. Commercial confidentiality prevented negotiations with the airport from being fully revealed to Parliament, so we made the decision in some ignorance. Paragraph 36 of the report says that

“The Committee remains extremely disappointed”

by that.

The costs on the airport campus were to be £5 million but ended up at £70 million. In the detailed costings that were brought to Parliament, not a single line item approaches the figure of £70 million.

I supported the project initially, but it was ill conceived in its detail. The reason for that lies at the door of parliamentary colleagues in the Labour Party and their allies in SPT.


31 October 2013

S4M-07713 Folic Acid Awareness Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07713, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the folic acid awareness campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Scottish Spina Bifida Association on its work in providing advice, advocacy and support for people who were born with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus and for their families and carers; understands with concern that, in Scotland, 52% of women are not aware of how they could help prevent spina bifida; welcomes the National Folic Acid Awareness campaign, Are You Getting Enough?, which will be launched by the association on World Spina Bifida Day on 25 October 2013; hopes that, in order to help prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects, the campaign will encourage a greater number of women in Edinburgh Northern and Leith and throughout Scotland to learn about the importance of taking folic acid prior to pregnancy, and supports the association in its aim of ensuring that folic acid awareness should be part of family planning education throughout Scotland.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I offer hearty congratulations to Malcolm Chisholm for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important topic. He suggested—I cannot rebut this—that this is the first time that the subject of spina bifida has been debated in the Scottish Parliament.

Malcolm Chisholm’s motion focuses—as did his speech—on the need to ensure that women are better informed. I suggest that there may be a marginal benefit in ensuring also that men are better informed, despite their comparatively modest role in bringing children into the world. Partnerships are the best environment in which children come into the world, and I hope that the presence of men in the public gallery and in the debate shows that we, too, are interested.

In bringing the debate to the chamber, Malcolm Chisholm has forced me to consider the matter in a material way for the first time, and to look at the Scottish Spina Bifida Association’s website. I found the website to be engaging, interesting and informative, because of its focus on the “Are you getting enough?” campaign to raise women’s awareness, which is absolutely excellent.

The website mentions the role that diet can play in increasing the amount of folic acid that we all—women in particular—take. Looking at the list of foods that help us in that way, I found nothing but things that I am rather keen to eat. The list includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, liver—not everyone’s favourite, but I love it—spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals. Indeed, I went away and got a wee recipe for chickpea curry from Nigella Lawson’s website; I am now feeling hungry just thinking about it. Furthermore, a quick calculation has shown me that it costs about £1.20 per serving to make a chickpea curry, so it is not only good for you but economically effective too, which is important in these straitened times.

Even more important is that the list mentions fortified breakfast cereals. One cereal that delivers a wide range of benefits is, of course, porridge. If porridge is made from oats that are not overprocessed, it contains a decent amount of folic acid. For pregnant women, porridge is an excellent way to start the day, because it apparently reduces the risk of constipation, which is one of the side-effects of pregnancy. It will always top up the body’s folic acids, and it is a natural weight loss agent because it fills you up and makes you less hungry. I commend porridge as one of the ways forward.

Food helps, but it is not in and of itself the complete answer; we also need supplements to ensure that we have appropriate folic acid input. I have seen a complex range of figures for people with different pre-existing conditions, and there is some indication that overconsumption of folic acid could cause problems in relation to the suppression of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Advice from professionals is important, and the motion focuses on how advice can be given as part of contraceptive and birth control advice. That is an excellent basis on which to deal with the problem.


29 October 2013

S4M-08040 Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08040, in the name of John Swinney, on the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will certainly not be the only member in the chamber who is grateful to the landfill tax for paying for some community facilities. In particular, within the boundaries of my previous constituency, the proceeds of the tax built a new hall at Longhaven. The boundaries have changed and a certain Mr Salmond now has that hall within his constituency; I no longer do.

It is also interesting to hear that we are talking about something like 600,000 tonnes of CO2 being emitted. That is a substantial figure indeed.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about whether we might have waste tourism. I thought about that before coming to the chamber and looked at a paper that was produced in 2012 for the European Environment Agency by the European topic centre on sustainable consumption and production. It is a big paper—96 pages—and, in essence, considers how the landfill tax in all its multifarious forms works in the countries of the European economic area. There is a wide variation, but the one thing in the paper that is interesting is that there is little suggestion that small differences could promote big tourism, notwithstanding the fact that, as Gavin Brown reminded us, the committee was told that they might. Therefore, we must avoid coming to an early conclusion on that.

In the UK, landfill has gone down to less than half of what it was over the 12 years from 1998 and we expect it to go down further.

Hanzala Malik: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Briefly, please.

Hanzala Malik: My interventions are usually brief. Stewart Stevenson has talked a lot about the past, which is helpful, but I will take him to the future, in which landfill will be used less and less. I draw his attention to the landfill communities fund. Where will such funding for community groups come from as the proceeds of the landfill tax reduce?

Stewart Stevenson: That is a perfectly fair and good question. Arguing from the constitutional position that I do, I find it unfortunate that we are being given a tax that is declining—which we want to decline—without having the full range of taxation powers to do something about that within the overall tax system. I hope that even those who do not travel as far as I do constitutionally might support the idea that the Parliament should be responsible for all the taxes that are applied in Scotland, whatever the future constitutional arrangements might be. Therein lies some of the answer.

I will touch on a few disconnected things. I will go again to the European Council directive 1999/31/EC and, in particular, consider what we charge for landfill. Article 10 of that directive is about the requirement to ensure that landfill site operators charge enough to ensure that they are able to look after the site for 30 years after they have taken waste material. We have recent experience of difficulties in remediation in coal fields, where there have been business failures. I wonder whether, looking to the longer term, it might not be appropriate for Governments to take in that money from operators so that it is certainly around. There appears to be less and less opportunity to get insurance cover. I do not think that we should be looking at that now; it is for the future.

The bottom line is that this is, above all, about recycling. Recycling is not new. During the second world war there was a huge amount of recycling and the world into which I was born immediately after the war was recycling focused: paper, aluminium, jam jars and lots of other things were recycled. The focus on recycling that there was in the 1940s, 50s and perhaps early 60s vanished and I am delighted that we are getting back to it. I hope that we do more of it. In that world, we also used our resources more effectively and our eating habits were much better.

Jenny Marra: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I do not have time now.

One of the interesting things is that under rationing in the war infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased, even after taking account of war casualties.

I will talk briefly about a couple of wee things. I commend the use of provisional negative instruments so that ministers can act rapidly—immediately, in fact—but, nonetheless, the Parliament can review what is going on, which is good.

I have a genuine question about taxable disposals. We are going to tax disposals of taxable disposals that are made illegally, but if it is not a taxable disposal, can we tax it? There are things disposed of that are not taxable disposals.

I have a tiny point about pet cemeteries, for which Jim Murphy legislated in 2005. The bill currently says that the disposal material has to be entirely of the remains of dead domestic pets. I hope that we might slacken that slightly to allow a container in which the dead domestic pet can be disposed of.

A week ago today Christiana Figueres, who is the executive secretary of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, was moved to tears when she came out to speak to the BBC after a Chatham House event that she attended. She said, in respect of climate change, that we are condemning future generations before they are even born. Landfill is part of an extremely important agenda. If I agree with anybody in the recent past, it is Christiana Figueres.


10 October 2013

S4M-07974 Carbon Capture and Storage

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07974, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on carbon capture and storage.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As the constituency member for the area in which Peterhead power station is based, I have a particular and long-term interest in the Peterhead project. It is disappointing that previous attempts to move ahead with carbon capture at Peterhead have come to naught, but we look forward with optimism to where we are now going.

A number of people, including the minister, have referred to Professor Stuart Haszeldine and it is worth quoting what he says:

“The Peterhead carbon capture and storage project is a visionary opportunity for Scotland and the UK—it is the first step towards opening up the North Sea as a global hub for the carbon storage industry, and will bring investment and long-term growth to the region.”

I cannot disagree with a single word.

We should not imagine, of course, that there are no carbon capture and storage projects around the world. There is one in Inner Mongolia and several others in China, and there are some in Canada and the United States. There is a lignite-based one in Poland.

What makes Peterhead unique is that there is as yet no gas-based carbon capture and storage project in operation. For Peterhead, that is a key opportunity. In the context—whatever we may feel about it—of an increased focus on gas extraction by unconventional means in many other countries—possibly in Scotland but probably not—there will be a bigger market for the technologies related to carbon capture and storage from gas plants.

We have particular advantages in Scotland and at Peterhead. At Peterhead, you are within spitting distance, near enough—approximately 4 or 5km—of the St Fergus terminal, where the carbon dioxide from Peterhead will be transported, liquefied, purified and pumped out over existing pipelines to now unused oilfields in the North Sea. The infrastructure is in place. With a pipeline from St Fergus all the way down to Mossmorran in Fife, the connection between Longannet and that pipeline, or that route, is not a huge technical challenge. It is of a different character and I will not say a great deal about that.

Pumping the CO2 into subsea reservoirs addresses several issues. First, it gives us a new way to exploit an asset that we have. Yes, it enables us to get more oil out of the oilfields, and in North America there exists a carbon capture and storage system that is designed to repressurise a field and extract more oil. We know that that works. However, oil is not simply something to put into our cars and buses for transport. It will in the long term be of continuing importance as a feedstock for our chemical industries, long after we have found the technologies to move totally away from it in the transport network. It is important that we get more oil out of our fields.

The £1 billion of Government money that we believe is required to start this industry on its road to success is much less than the tax take that there will be from repressurising oilfields to get more oil out. With the tax on that you will get your money back. Of course you have to pay now and get the benefit later and there are challenges in that. In China, there are six carbon capture projects already working. Interestingly, they are in a range of areas; there are projects either already running or being planned in the thermal, coal, chemical, cement and steel sectors, but not in gas. The opportunity is there for us.

We have a network of pipes throughout the North Sea, which means that we will be able to take CO2, and carbonic acid from a range of countries. Public opinion in Poland, for example, is not very keen on the idea of storing the CO2 under a place where people stay. I happen to think that the evidence for that is not particularly material, but we can solve that problem for the Poles by taking the CO2 away and storing it under the sea.

We have unique advantages in that we have a well-understood geology, and we know where all the holes that have been drilled into that geology are because we have good records from the exploitation of the oilfields. We have a good network of pipes. They are the biggest risk to releasing CO2, but we understand the pipes and we understand the valve technology. We have lots of companies that have worked in this industry.

By the way, in China, CO2 from carbon capture is even being used in the food industry, in baking and the making of fizzy drinks.

One of the most exciting things that might come and that plays to Scotland’s strength in the bio sector is that, in Australia, there are algal synthesis facilities in which CO2 from carbon capture is used to feed algae to produce fuel. There is therefore a series of opportunities. We are taking just the first steps, and there is a huge opportunity that will extend to many different areas.

Many jobs in my constituency and across Scotland are in the bio sector. There is more oil than we can afford to burn, but we need it for other purposes. I have stood on the top of the pile at Torness, and nuclear has no fear for me but, on the other hand, nobody will commercially pick up the whole-life risk for nuclear. In carbon capture, we have a good prospect of commercial success whereas, after decades, nuclear remains entirely unproven.


08 October 2013

S4M-07036 Energy Action Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07036, in the name of Nigel Don, on Energy Action Scotland marks its 30th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that the national fuel poverty charity, Energy Action Scotland, marks its 30th anniversary in 2013; understands that the charity campaigns for warm, dry homes that are affordable to heat; believes that, during its 30 years of campaigning in Angus North and Mearns and across the country, much progress has been made in tackling the major causes of fuel poverty; understands that Energy Action Scotland estimates that there are 900,000 fuel poor households in Scotland, and, while it considers that much has still to be done if the statutory duty of eradicating fuel poverty by 2016 is to be achieved, welcomes what it sees as the positive moves by successive Scottish administrations to tackle fuel poverty.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Nigel Don for the opportunity to debate this important subject.

It is not often that the chamber comes together in unanimity with the objective of increasing unemployment in Scotland, but we all want Norrie Kerr and the rest of his group to be entirely superfluous, unrequired and out of work. However, we should weep no tears if we succeed in that because there are plenty of other opportunities for which a formidable campaigner such as Norrie and a team like his would deploy their skills.

For rural dwellers such as those whom I represent, Energy Action Scotland, which was created 30 years ago, focuses on key rural issues. It looks for effective solutions, hounds Government and searches for private investment. We should all hold that national charity dear to our hearts in the present environment because, when we address fuel poverty, we also address employment and climate change.

In my constituency, as elsewhere, about 31 per cent of rural dwellers spend more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel alone. Largely, they, like me, live in off-grid circumstances. In a country as wealthy as ours, that really is an unacceptable situation.

The Government is clear in the financial commitments that it is making to deal with that. Some £250 million has been allocated to fuel poverty and energy efficiency in the current spending period. That is a good step in the right direction.

I am not so sure that colleagues south of the border—who are faced with a less pressing problem from geography, of course—are as keen on supporting low-income families in particular. The minister, from whom we will hear at the end of the debate, has previously assured me that, in an independent Scotland, an expert committee would consider energy regulation. I will continue to work to allow her that opportunity.

Energy efficiency is really a rather simple measure. A number of members referred to home insulation. We have been lucky enough to get our loft insulation from 200mm up to 600mm. We are just going into the first winter in which we will get the full benefit, but it has already been so effective that my wife thought that the outside meter on our oil tank had stopped working. She sent me to get the ladder to go and look in the top of the tank to see what the actual level of fuel was because she felt that it should be much lower than the meter said it was. The meter was correct.

That simple intervention has made a dramatic difference for us, as it will do for others, so I hope that the installation programme continues to offer people in rural areas in particular the opportunity to save on their energy.

One of the issues of living in a rural setting is that people pay more for their fuel. I hope that Mike Weir, my MP colleague in Westminster, is successful in persuading the members there that we should advance winter fuel payments so that the less-well-off in rural settings can buy fuel earlier in the year when it is cheaper and easier to deliver because there is no snow on the ground to prevent the lorries from getting to their fuel tanks.

I gently chide my colleague Murdo Fraser, because I am not sure that green energy is more expensive than other forms. The above-the-line costs that appear in budgets are certainly reflected but the tax breaks that other forms of energy—in particular, nuclear energy—are given are below the line and it is generally accepted that green energy is cheaper than, for example, nuclear.

It has been an excellent debate.


01 October 2013

S4M-07867 Rehabilitation of Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07867, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on the rehabilitation of offenders.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

What we once thought of as criminal, we no longer see in that way; Rod Campbell talked about that change over time. One of my interests is genealogy, and if I go back some 250 years to a parish record that I have read, a poor wean is burdened to this day by a description in the record that says:

“The wean was conceived in antenuptual fornication.”

That was thought to be a high criminal offence. She was never rehabilitated because no mechanism existed for that to happen.

Thankfully, we have a different environment today. Let me start by rather didactically laying out what is a good scheme for rehabilitation. It is one that can be understood by the offender in the long term, that can be understood and operated by employers and which can command general public understanding and broad—if not necessarily universal—support. Good decisions are objective and proportionate and encourage offenders’ positive re-engagement with society. Good penalties protect society, are cost effective and minimise damage to the innocent—as Mary Fee mentioned—in that they protect families from unduly bearing the cost of offending relatives.

Peterhead prison in my constituency opened in 1888—which is the same year as Celtic Football Club was founded; I do not think that that is necessarily a coincidence—and many of my constituents have worked in the criminal justice system to very good effect. As a result of a collaboration between the then justice minister James Douglas-Home and Alex Salmond, who was then the local MP, we ended up with Peterhead moving from being the hard-man’s prison to being Scotland’s serious sex offenders prison. It is worth my while to quote what was said to the Justice 1 Committee in 2001—when closure of Peterhead prison was being contemplated—about the achievements of my constituents in that prison through the programme of rehabilitation.

“Since the programme commenced in 1993, it has had a total of 244 participants. One hundred and sixty-two of those prisoners have been liberated, 69 are still in custody, 173 prisoners completed the programme and 71 failed to finish it. Six have been reconvicted of a sexual offence and four have been recalled because of a breach of licence conditions.”—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 13 November 2001; c 2752.]

That is a pretty impressive record for what is a specialist form of rehabilitation—I absolutely accept that—and for a crime in which it is much more difficult to detect reoffending. Nonetheless, it gives us some insight into the value of rehabilitation.

How do the staff who work in Peterhead prison and who deal with those difficult prisoners—serious sex offenders who have been sentenced to four years and more—feel about working in that establishment? At the time when there was a threat to close it, an officer who had been there for 12 years said:

“I have been through its troubled times with hostage taking and prisoner unrest. I survived these and carried on my duties ... Although the above was not the ideal day to day employment, we persevered and eventually the prison, after some readjustment, became the Centre of Excellence for the treatment of sex offenders ... we are now regarded as one of the top three prisons in the world in this field.

The prisoners here are classified as long term vulnerable ... if returned to the mainstream prison system, they will revert back in their shells and all the excellent work done ... will have been for nothing.”

In my constituency, I have something that has an economic value of maybe £15 million a year to the local economy, but it is something that has also delivered added value, as prisons across Scotland and elsewhere do when they tackle the difficult people in our society and offer rehabilitation.

Mary Fee mentioned families. In the serious sex offenders prison, very few offenders received visits, because in many cases the offences were committed against their families. There are serious difficulties with which we need to engage.

Many really gifted people have engaged with the subject of sex offenders. When the late Clive Fairweather was Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, he was very much a reformer—notwithstanding the fact that he came from the Special Air Service, which one would not think was the natural breeding ground for prison reformers, but which I think gave him terrific insight. He engaged particularly with Peterhead prison to huge benefit.

I want to highlight another minister. This time, it is Richard Simpson, who at the time when there was a threat to close Peterhead prison was a junior justice minister in the then Scottish Executive. He made absolutely common cause with me, as the constituency member, to try to address the issues that were faced by the crumbling Victorian institution, which was still slopping out and did not meet modern standards. The physical environment made it difficult to run the kind of programmes that would successfully rehabilitate prisoners.

Christine Grahame: It is a long time ago, but I think I convened the Justice 1 Committee during that period, which also supported and recognised the value of the specialist facilities at Peterhead.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed. I recall that the committee conducted evidence sessions across the wires to Canada and played a very significant and non-partisan role in saving the prison.

I spent 977 days working for Kenny MacAskill as the shadow deputy justice minister with responsibility for prisons and drug policy. [Interruption.] I always know the number. I am sorry about that—I just count things. I had the great privilege to get involved in lots of interesting things. When I was running workshops in the Caucasus I talked to the Georgian justice minister about prison policy there. His proud achievement was that since coming into office he had halved the waiting time for the queue for visiting one’s relatives in prison—it was down to only three days. If we think that we are not doing as well as we might, we should remember that the challenges are somewhat greater elsewhere.

I visited Bapaume prison, which is north of Paris, to see how it treated sex offenders, which was interesting. This comes back to a point that Maureen Watt made; the prison had a manufacturing facility that made switches for Peugeot cars, so people all over the world are driving Peugeots with parts that have been produced by prisoners in Bapaume. In the women’s part of the prison was a call centre. It was not a dummy call centre, but a call centre that was actually making outwards calls to people. In that prison, they were very effectively training women for real life after prison. There was also a mother-and-baby unit, so in the women’s wing, which housed about 120 prisoners, they had youngsters no older than 2 in with their mothers. That did not half transform the atmosphere in the women’s wing, because every woman in it was a mother to the four bairns there.

There are many opportunities for doing things differently to help to rehabilitate prisoners. Bapaume prison also had a prison kayaking team, which was going to participate in the national championships shortly after I was there.

When I visited Saughton prison, I was in a cell with six murderers. The prison staff were out of earshot and one of the men complained to me that he had been out on licence but had been recalled entirely unfairly, he thought, simply because he had been present when another murder had taken place. Not every prisoner will be successfully rehabilitated and not every prisoner will understand the requirements on them.

I will conclude with an observation. When John Vine was chief constable of Tayside Police, he told me that offending behaviour in one part of someone’s life is likely to indicate that they will offend in another part and that it is always worth inquiring of people who park in disabled parking spaces illegally, because they are four times as likely as other people to commit other crimes.

John Finnie and Graeme Pearson touched on the issue on which I want to close: whether judges could take over some of this responsibility. Three headings apply to that. A judge can suggest for how long somebody should be in rehabilitation before their conviction is spent. He should also suggest the tests that must be satisfied before a conviction is spent and, perhaps, the tasks that must successfully be completed, because we cannae see all the way into the future to know whether rehabilitation will be successful. Judges have a key role to play; perhaps that means that we should legislate less prescriptively, but empower them to play that key role.


26 September 2013

S4M-07808 Ryder Cup 2014

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07808, in the name of Shona Robison, on one year to go until the Ryder cup.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I was slightly surprised that Neil Findlay did not claim Samuel Ryder as a working-class hero. Samuel Ryder was born in relatively humble circumstances—his father was a gardener and his mother was a dressmaker—and he built his business from his little shed at the end of the garden behind his terraced house. He was the first person to send out penny packets of seeds, which he posted on a Friday to ensure that his working-class clients, having received them on Saturday morning, could use their time off on Saturday afternoon to work in their allotments. He built his fortune, which led to his endowing the Ryder cup, from an entirely working-class background. I hope that, when Mr Findlay reads the Official Report of today’s debate, he will tak tent of that background.

Of course, perhaps one reason why Mr Findlay did not speak about Samuel Ryder is that Samuel Ryder was also a politician. I was surprised that Tavish Scott did not make reference to the fact that Samuel Ryder got elected to St Alban’s town council in 1903, became the lord mayor in 1905 and continued to serve on the council until 1916. As a Liberal, he was extremely critical of his predecessors in office, who were also Liberals, so perhaps that explains why Tavish Scott said little about him.

In our country, golf is par excellence a sport that is broadly open to all. In the 1980s, my wife had staff in Tokyo, who told her that to join a golf club cost in excess of not 1 million yen but £1 million. Furthermore, the golf clubs in Tokyo were only driving ranges. They were not golf clubs with 18 holes of grass around which it would be possible to play the game that we associate with golf.

In many other countries, golf is a sport of the elite but, in Scotland, every town and village has some engagement with it. It is a very different kind of sport for us. That is why it is important not only internationally, but for all the people of Scotland that we are host to the Ryder cup. It is a sport for the masses in a way that it may not so readily be elsewhere.

Tavish Scott also mentioned Colin Montgomerie. He was the victorious Ryder cup captain in 2010 and played in the cup on five occasions. He says on the VisitScotland website:

Scotland, for me, is home.

Like other members, my golfing experience is more limited than I would wish. However, I will make a unique claim as the only member speaking in the debate whose average score on championship courses is par.

I should explain that, in the mid 1990s, I flew my pals Laurence and Tom across to play the Machrie course on Islay. I walked round with them and we came into the 10th hole—the Machrie burn hole. It is a formidable hole with a water hazard to the left, another to the right and some standing stones that the ball could bounce off. However, it was par 3 and it was only 110m. I was handed a club, fluked the ball on to the edge of the green, fluked it within 6in of the hole, and parred that championship hole. I handed the golf club back because I did not want to compromise my average score of par on a championship course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I hope that, when time permits in future, I will return to golf.

Golf is an important business as well as an important recreation. The north-east of Scotland probably underperforms to some extent on tourism. However, one of the big draws that we have is our local golf courses and I hope that the Ryder cup will introduce them to a wider audience.

I will start with the Duff House royal golf course. It was redesigned in 1923 by Dr Alister Mackenzie who went on to design the world-famous Augusta national course. It is an excellent course—a classic links course—and the club has a wide social membership because the 19th hole is as famous as the other 18.

There is also Fraserburgh golf course. A well-known politician—the First Minister—plays on it from time to time. Let me give a little advice to members who have not played with the First Minister. He does not play a great deal and has no handicap but members should not be deceived. He will exploit that lack of handicap at the outset. Members should not let him con them. He is much better than many golfers who do not have a handicap.

The club itself describes the course in challenging terms as having

undulating fairways … wonderful views … spectacular holes

and being

a true links adventure from start to finish.

Peterhead has a golf course as well. Buckie has Strathlene Buckie golf course. It is not an immensely long golf course—it is some 6,000 yards—but it is a cliff-top course that may see golfers being as friendly as they can be on a golf course and to golf balls by not striking the ball very often because it goes off and makes its own way in life.

Cullen golf course is described as one of the top 100 in the world. It was designed by Tom Morris. Our connections in the north-east with golf greats are quite substantial.

Perhaps one of the reasons why I did not get terribly engaged with golf is that, although my father—like me—was essentially right-handed, for some reason unknown to me, he played golf left-handed. Therefore, his golf clubs were left-handed golf clubs, which made it rather difficult for me. If I have not been as engaged with golf as I might be, I entirely blame him.

One of my interests is aviation. I exercised that interest when I flew my pals to Islay. At Edinburgh airport, light aircraft used to fly in to their own runway. That is no longer available—the airport has got too busy and the space is needed for other things. We used to fly over Turnhouse golf course. On our approach to the runway, we would occasionally get hit by golf balls. I am not quite sure whether that alarmed the pilots more than the golfers, but at least when someone skied a drive, we were there to knock it back on to the fairway. A number of our aircraft ended up with dents.

I will leave members with one little fact. There are very few sizes of golf clubs, and there is a good reason for that. If you stand beside someone whose height is 1 foot different from yours, you will find that your knuckles are the same height off the ground as theirs are—within 3 inches. Golf is accessible to all because everyone can use the same set of golf clubs.


24 September 2013

S4M-07188 Al-Anon Family Groups

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07188, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on Al-Anon Family Groups, supporting families with alcohol-related issues. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that Al-Anon Family Groups, a charity that receives no external financial support, has only one focus, which is to help and support families and friends of problem drinkers; believes that for every problem drinker it is estimated that at least five other people are adversely affected; understands that there are over 120 Al-Anon Family Group meetings in Scotland, including in Edinburgh, for people who are or have been affected by someone else’s drinking to meet and gain understanding and support in order to resolve their common problems, and commends the work of Al-Anon Family Groups over the last 60 years in supporting families dealing with alcohol-related issues.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Al-Anon for creating the opportunity for the debate and Gordon MacDonald for bringing the topic to the chamber.

Alcohol is an unusual drug—because that is what it is—in that its effect on people is quite varied. For some people, the lowering of inhibitions and the increase in confidence leads to an increase in creativity; for others, that lowering of inhibitions and increase in confidence leads into far less productive areas. Of course, excess use of alcohol—leading in due course to addiction—is destructive of family life, of relationships and, ultimately it is destructive of the addicts themselves.

My father was a country GP and, like all general practitioners, he had his catalogue of alcoholics. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he never felt that he had the remedies at his disposal that delivered the results that he sought. When I was old enough to drive, I provided some pastoral support to some of his alcoholics and others in the family did the same, but the outcomes were not particularly good.

When I became a manager of staff—some hundreds of staff—in the 1970s, 1980s and onwards, I, of course, once again met people who were suffering from the consequences of alcohol misuse. However, by that time the existence of support groups such as Al-Anon and the professional support that was available had transformed the outcomes for those who were affected by alcohol. I can say that the majority of people whom we were able to refer to professional services and connect to support groups had substantially better outcomes. We understand addictions better now than we used to. They come in many forms and alcohol is merely one of them.

Of course, let us not imagine that this is a new problem. The Canadian historian T C Smout, in his social history of Scotland, describes how in the mid-1800s, in a village in East Lothian, there was one pub for every 14 inhabitants. That tells you something about the place of alcohol in that community.

At about that time, it was recognised in the Swedish town of Gothenburg that the evils of drink were affecting wider society. The community in Gothenburg got together and opened its own pub, so that the profits from the trade could be recycled into more useful activities. To this day, in various towns across Scotland one can still see pubs called “The Goth”, which comes from the Gothenburg experiment that came from Sweden.

Drink has probably resulted in genetic changes—particularly in England, where beer was a substitute for water because many cities did not have good supplies of potable water—and tolerance of alcohol has grown. However, the trouble is that, as others who are less adapted have used alcohol, we have seen a disproportionate effect from that.

Relationships are affected by not just the immediate consumption of alcohol, but the change in people’s behaviours. People become secretive about their addiction, and that cuts them off from their families and friends. Groups such as Al-Anon are vital to preserving and growing relationships and for supporting people with addiction. I hope that such groups continue to support communities across Scotland and beyond.


S4M-07787 New Learning Disabilities Strategy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07787, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the new learning disabilities strategy, “The keys to life”.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I apologise for my absence towards the end of the opening speeches. I was called away unexpectedly, but I am glad to be back and to participate in this important debate.

When the debate is led by the Minister for Public Health and key speakers are people who have a long-standing engagement in health, the matter is in danger of being viewed as a health issue. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It is a quality-of-life issue. Health is an issue within that, as are access to culture and recreation, and the emotional life of those who are disadvantaged. Dennis Robertson in particular focused on the issue of generating respect for people whom we may regard as different to ourselves. However, people with learning difficulties see themselves as normal and us as deviating from their normality. We should never forget that that is the case. To the people who are the subject of the debate, we are the oddballs, not them.

Nearly 50 years ago—in 1964—I spent the time between school and university working in a locked ward in Stratheden hospital in Fife. I was 17. We had 32 beds there. As members of staff, we worked a 108-hour fortnight. We used to work double shifts Saturday and Sunday and then get the other weekend off.

We were chronically understaffed. We should have had six members of staff but there was one weekend when there were two of us. From time to time, I was in charge of the ward. I was 17 years old and had had not a single day of formal training.

What kind of people did we used to have in ward M2 in Stratheden hospital? We had a couple of people who were former Carstairs patients. We had people suffering catatonia. We had people suffering the general paralysis of the insane from alcohol or tertiary syphilis. We had severely paranoid people. We had a gentleman from Poland who had spent time in a gulag in the Soviet Union and his mental ill health came from that.

In that environment, we also had people who are the subject of the debate. It was an environment as far removed from what would be suitable to meet their needs as it is possible to imagine.

I will speak about one of them in particular. I will call him Willie—that was his name, but I am sure he is no longer with us so I can speak about him. He was quite competent. He could go to the shop and buy things for us. He could interact with visitors in the hospital grounds. However, 50 years ago, Willie and the likes of him and his friends throughout Scotland were in locked wards in psychiatric hospitals.

Things have got better. Let us not kid ourselves about that.

Dennis Robertson: Does the member accept that there is a vast difference between mental ill health and learning disabilities? We must be careful that we do not stray into mental health issues rather than focusing on learning disabilities.

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes my point for me. In the past, we treated something that is very far from a mental ill health problem as if it was one, and I hope that we never return to those days.

In the seven months in which I worked in that 32-bed ward, we had a single visitor. People were entirely isolated from the world.

How many people with learning disabilities do we have? We have heard various numbers. We have heard that it is one in 100 and that it might be one in 40.

What kind of things are accessible to almost everyone in our society, including people with learning disabilities? That is the interesting question.

When I was a minister, I filled in for one of my colleagues at a GIRFEC event in Aberdeen. Before I went on to do my little bit, we saw a film of a one-hour-old infant responding to music—waving its hand in time with the beat of music. Others might have seen this miracle, but I am not a dad, so I have not, and I was fascinated by it. It reminded me that, when I have been with people with learning disability, I have seen that music is one of the things to which they can respond and contribute in a decisive and important way. We must not forget the importance of access to culture and the opportunities to contribute to culture.

On the related issue of autism, we have the autism strategy, which was launched nearly two years ago. It is interesting, because it has something that I do not clearly see in what is before us today. Yes, the new learning disabilities strategy has around 52 recommendations, but it does not have the sort of single, cohesive, integrated aim that the autism strategy has.

I propose that our aim should be to deliver to people with learning disabilities the best available quality of life that is attainable with their individual needs and opportunities, to do so in a way that does not require support, where possible, and to provide support when it is required. Rather than having everybody who is engaged in this issue having to remember 52 recommendations, let us get to a position in which everybody has a single thing on their mind that they can carry forward.

Today’s debate is part of a continuity of effort that has gone on from the very resumption of this Parliament in 1999. Our predecessors in office did a lot, and we build on that. That is as it should be.

My wife frequently goes to the Boyndie centre in my constituency for afternoon coffee. It is an excellent venue and provides employment and opportunities to socialise for many people with learning difficulties. I am sure that all members have similar good examples in their constituencies.

This has been an excellent debate. I congratulate the minister on giving us this opportunity to discuss these issues.


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