28 March 2013

S4M-06038 High Hedges (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06038, in the name of Mark McDonald, on the High Hedges (Scotland) Bill.

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

As I am sure that other members will do, I congratulate Mark McDonald on bringing home this important bill. To that, I add my congratulations to Scothedge. We are employed to legislate, but the volunteers in Scothedge who have campaigned on high hedges over a long period exemplify the strength and depth that there is in Scotland, beyond the small number of people who are in the Parliament, to engage in the political process in a way that ultimately delivers for the public good. I commend the members of Scothedge, whose campaign is an excellent example of a voluntary campaign and who have persisted over a long period to see their objective delivered.

I say that as someone who, as a north-east MSP, has never been approached on the subject of high hedges during my time in the Parliament. For climatic reasons and because of the relatively large areas of land on which houses are built in a rural area, high hedges have not—to my knowledge—been as much of an issue in my area as they have been in other parts of Scotland. However, through the work of Scothedge and others, we have heard compelling evidence about the utter misery that is caused to many people across Scotland by the issue that we are discussing.

I was delighted to hear Mark McDonald say that a consultation response from the Forestry Commission Scotland has identified one of the things that I previously raised in relation to urban woodland as an issue that can be addressed.

As a member of the committee that dealt with this issue, I should remind members of some of the things that that committee said. Paragraph 67 of our stage 1 report remains as true now, in relation to the amended bill, as it was when we wrote it. It says:

“The Committee believes it is desirable that the application of the Bill seeks to resolve as many disputes as possible, but considers it unrealistic to expect any single piece of legislation in this area to resolve 100% of cases. This Bill is the simplest way of addressing the majority of cases relating to disputes over high hedges.”

Of course, following the extension of the definition, we might say that it will address the overwhelming majority of cases. Apart from that, I think that that comment stands the test of time.

One or two things have emerged during the passage of the bill that I think are useful. We have clarified that it is perfectly possible for action to be taken against a local authority, even though local authorities are responsible for guarding the principles and practices that are encompassed in the bill. We included national parks—I am delighted that Mark McDonald saw fit to lodge amendments on that. Further, we learned many things of which we were previously ignorant. I congratulate Christine Grahame on the horticultural explanations that the committee received. I have now heard of Russian vine and clematis montana rubens. I remain relatively ignorant about what any of that means, but I am sure that members of the committee who are more engaged in these matters might be better informed.

I have flicked through the stage 1 report while sitting in the chamber this afternoon, and I believe that almost every recommendation that the committee made appears to have been addressed, which is unusual—I assume that Kevin Stewart will touch on that when he speaks. It is a model of good parliamentary process, and I commend the bill to all my colleagues.


27 March 2013

S4M-05547 David Livingstone Bicentenary

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): I am sure that members will wish to join me in welcoming to the gallery the special envoy for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Scotland branch, Annie Lennox OBE. [Applause.]

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05547, in the name of James Kelly, on celebrations of the bicentenary of Dr David Livingstone’s birth. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commemorates the life and legacy of Dr David Livingstone, considered Blantyre’s most famous son and Scotland’s greatest explorer and missionary; understands that, at the age of 10, Dr Livingstone began working in the Blantyre Cotton Mill as a piecer and, despite working a 14-hour day, he persevered with his studies and, after qualifying as a doctor, became a missionary and explorer in Africa, where he played a key role in ending slavery, especially in Malawi, which continues to have strong links to Scotland; applauds Dr Livingstone’s contributions in Africa generally and Malawi specifically and considers that, during his 30 years in Africa, he contributed enormously in the fields of education, healthcare, trade and commerce; notes that the bicentenary celebrations in Blantyre are being supported by funding from the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Government, South Lanarkshire Council and the Scotland–Malawi Partnership, which promotes links between the two countries; believes that the 200th anniversary of Dr Livingstone will give people the opportunity to learn of the explorer’s early home life in Blantyre and encourage further interest in his achievements and explorations; considers that Scotland enjoys important links with Malawi and reaffirms its commitment to the cooperation agreement between the countries that was signed in 2005 by Lord McConnell and President Mutharika, which pledges engagement on “civic governance and society, sustainable economic development, health and education”, and looks forward to what it hopes will be a series of successful events in honour of a man whom it believes to be one of Scotland’s greatest figures and whose legacy continues to have a positive impact on the people of Malawi.

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

I thank James Kelly for creating the opportunity to have the debate.

It is appropriate that I acknowledge the achievements of Jack McConnell. He will be remembered on two fronts over the long term. First, he will be remembered for the anti-smoking legislation for which as an asthmatic I am grateful, and secondly—and fundamentally—he will be remembered for creating the formal links with Malawi. Tavish Scott was correct to talk about that as something for the long run that will endure the vicissitudes that inevitably accompany political elections. When I was a minister, I was delighted to play a small part—as many others have—in developing the relationship with Malawi.

James Kelly’s motion is well crafted and comprehensive and it contains a number of important points that I want to address. Fundamental are David Livingstone’s part in the anti-slavery movement, his contribution to bringing modern medicine to Africa and his focus on education and trade. Those were all key parts of his life in Africa.

Of course, David Livingstone’s life in Scotland illustrates that he was genuinely a man of the people. He was not privileged, he moved from being a worker to being a professional and, in gaining his qualifications, he had a much harder road to travel than those of us in the modern era who went to university largely funded by the state, and certainly not with competing interests or holding a day job while we undertook serious intellectual study. He must have been a fine intellect indeed, as well as a hard worker. Of course, he benefited from the broad base that was provided by the Scottish education system.

The monument to David Livingstone in Malawi is inscribed “Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation.” In some ways, that misses the point. In Victorian times, we probably failed to recognise adequately that civilisation existed before the white man came along; rather, it was a different civilisation, and one from which we should learn in the modern era.

David Livingstone saw commerce as being a key part of displacing the slave trade and he believed that finding a new commerce was the way to get the slave trade under control. His efforts were recognised through his appointment as the United Kingdom consul for East Africa.

I thought that James Kelly might want to pair up with Malawi’s Blantyre MPs, so I had a look to see who they were. I found out that they are Felix Njawala and Jeffrey Ntelemuka. Interestingly, one of them has just crossed the floor, and the rules of Parliament there mean that a member who does that is automatically ejected from the Parliament because it is necessary for members there to stay with the party of which they were a member when they were elected. That is probably not a system that we would copy, but it is interesting for all that.

Blantyre in Malawi is a memorial to David Livingstone: it has a population of three quarters of a million people and is home to the Malawi Stock Exchange, the college of medicine, the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and the Malawi Supreme Court.

I conclude by putting Livingstone in an international context. When Henry Morton Stanley said, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”, he was, of course, representing The New York Times. The interest in Livingstone was no parochial interest; he was an internationalist who attracted international attention.


20 March 2013

S4M-05988 Trident

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05988, in the name of Keith Brown, on Trident.

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

The debate has engaged people who, though they have a variety of views, are united in the common belief that the Trident missile system has served any purpose that it may once have had.

The argument that I want to develop is that investing in Trident kills our servicemen and women. Having been engaged in this subject since I first became a member of CND, almost from the outset in the 1960s, I suggest that we look at what the UK Government has to say about Trident. The UK Government says that Trident is the “ultimate guarantee” of our national security against nuclear adversaries. Perhaps a case can be made for that, as the Tories will continue to argue, but politics is about making choices. First, Trident is not a weapon that the UK Government is able to control, as the US decides when, where, how and whether such weapons can be used.

More fundamentally, as a defence strategy, Trident fails utterly. The real threats to Scotland—and, for that matter, the UK—are not now from nuclear nations. That is not the paramount issue. The threats come entirely from elsewhere and are the kind of threats that need to be dealt with by soldiers and by boots on the ground. When we spend money on nuclear weapons, we take money away from capability for those who put boots on the ground.

As the minister highlighted in his opening remarks, there are effects from the defence choices that we make. In Kosovo, it was reported that many of the soldiers could not get their mark 4 radios to work effectively in the mountainous terrain. Fortunately, the mobile phone network worked reasonably well, so soldiers paid for their own calls on their own telephones to tell headquarters what was happening on the front line. That lack of investment in modern equipment put troops in danger.

In Iraq, the very simple problem is that it is a bit hot, but the MOD did not seem to know that. Reports were that the rubber in the soles of the soldiers’ boots was melting. Many of the soldiers used the internet to order leather-soled boots so that they could march across the deserts of Iraq. A choice was made to spend on Trident and a choice was made to provide inadequate equipment to our military in areas of threat.

Afghanistan illustrates the point even more. I choose a particular point in time, when there were 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand, who experienced a casualty rate of 3 per cent. There were 9,000 UK troops in Afghanistan at the same time, with a casualty rate of 4.9 per cent—a 60 per cent higher casualty rate among UK soldiers. Why was that? The reason was captured by United States defence secretary Robert Gates. It was all down to helicopters—having them or not. Initially, the US did not have enough helicopters in Afghanistan. Robert Gates reported that no double amputees were surviving battlefield injury. Once the US put in helicopters—and they now have a large number of them—the helicopters could not only scoop up the injured and get them back to the hospital, where they now largely survive; they could also transport troops to areas of difficulty in comparative safety, free from interventions from roadside improvised explosive devices.

The UK has very few helicopters in Afghanistan. What is the effect for our soldiers of that difference in investment in equipment? The effect is that difference in the casualty rate. That is 177 soldiers, whose families do not have them now. The people of Wootton Bassett, to their eternal credit, have turned out on each occasion that a coffin comes back. They would not have wanted those 177 soldiers to be returned and marched down their street, and neither would I. The price of Trident is bodies, when we do not equip our soldiers to undertake that most difficult mission that we ask of them. I do not deploy any argument about the conflicts themselves. I utterly support the soldiers and demand that we divert the money away from that weapon which cannot and will not ever be used, into properly equipping our soldiers so that they can defend our interests.

This is not something that I have felt passionate about in the last five minutes: I have always felt passionate about it. I remember, during the Cuban missile crisis, a friend being sick at the side of the rugby pitch when a black cloud appeared, because he thought that it was a nuclear cloud. This is something that engages real people in real concerns. Trident must go.


13 March 2013

S4M-05898 Common Agricultural Policy Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05898, in the name of Tavish Scott, on common agricultural policy reform.

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

Just for safety, I declare that I have a registered farm holding of three acres. I get no income from it; my neighbour keeps some sheep on it.

Perhaps, like others, Alex Fergusson should read more and more often: the 28th member of the European Union will, of course, be Croatia very shortly. The Croatians have been attending various council meetings for something like a year.

The debate is important and I congratulate the Liberals on securing time for it. If anything, it illustrates that the time allocated is not sufficient to cover all the issues in sufficient detail. However, it is better than not talking about the matter at all: it is better to discuss the subject without deciding than to decide the subject without discussing.

Our focus is on appropriate support for farmers and for the communities of which they are part. A rather unhelpful part of the debate in Europe, to which the UK in particular but not alone has contributed, has concerned the cost of supporting farming communities throughout the EU. The reality is that—I know that members across the chamber will agree—significant benefits derive from supporting our farmers and the communities in which they are embedded.

The Scottish Government has undertaken significant consultation and has a programme of significant engagement. The key point is that we are very different. That is simply a matter of geography, not a matter of politics. Therefore, we need different solutions—we need a different approach.

One thing that emerged from the consultation is broad support for the principle of greening. Of course, the principle of greening is one thing. After all, farmers, by their nature, are engaged in green issues, understand them and depend on the quality of the environment in which they operate. When I was Minister for Environment and Climate Change, it was a delight to visit a climate change demonstrator farm to see some of the real hands-on action that is taking place. However, there is a danger that inappropriate use of greening can damage the interests of some of our farmers, so the matter needs to be treated with great caution.

Almost every speaker has said that Scotland is different. I hope that what I have said reinforces that point. Clare Baker said that 85 per cent or thereabouts of our land is classified as less-favoured area. That is quite different from elsewhere in these islands. It is precisely because we are different—rem acu tetigisti, or touching the point—that we need our cabinet secretary not simply to be part of the UK delegation but to be able to participate directly in the debates in the environment council and elsewhere. We get to influence, but we do not get to contribute to the decisions.

The difficult issue of capping payments seemed to have some support in the consultation. As there is a mix of very large and very small farming businesses in the north-east, I will watch that subject with great interest indeed.

There is absolute certainty on the current EU rules. If we were independent, we would have more under the existing rules than we do at the moment.

I will track this reform with considerable interest.


12 March 2013

S4M-05892 Food Policy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05892, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on Scottish Government food policy.

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

As RenĂ© Descartes said in 1637, “Cogito ergo sum”—“I think, therefore I am.” Perhaps the motto for this debate and for Scotland should be, “I eat, therefore I am.” Like all of us in the chamber, I am what I eat. When I was a youngster, what I ate was very different from what I eat now. Much of it was gathered in at our own hands. We foraged for wild raspberries, wild strawberries, brambles, blaeberries, crab apples, sloes and rosehips. We gathered nettles, dandelions, wild garlic and mushrooms. We hunted for and ate—

Neil Findlay: Since the member was that busy, when did he have time to invent the computer?

Stewart Stevenson: The computer was necessary, of course, to manage the complexity of life in a foraging environment.

We hunted for and ate rabbits, pigeons, crows and the occasional hare. We were given bits of venison—roe deer, largely—and pheasants. We had trout—the sea trout all being caught below the high tide mark, of course. We grew apples, plums, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, onions, potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers, cabbage, lettuce and beetroot. My father was a country doctor and, very fortunately, barely a day would go by without his returning with a brown paper bag full of eggs, a pat of butter, a tub of crowdie or some home-made cheese. The link between supplier and consumer was extremely short for us in our family.

There was virtually no sugar in our diet, as it was rationed until I was six years old—even though in Cupar, where I was brought up, there was a huge British Sugar Corporation factory, which turned sugar beet into sugar.

Other members have used their speaking time to talk about local opportunities and I will do much the same. In my constituency, the Rockfish cafe in Whitehills gets its fish from its own trawler—none of that Faroese or Icelandic stuff, although the trawler may have been up that way to get some of the fish. We also have one of the great adaptations of Scottish cuisine: the Scotch pie, filled not with meat but with Cullen skink, which one can get from Downie’s, priced £1.60. When my wife says, “I’m going to Johnnie’s. What do you want?”, she is not going to John Stewart Quality Butcher; she is going to a friend called Johnnie, who happens to be the butcher. He will tell us the field that the beef came from and the name of the farmer who provided it. He has cut the supply chain; he has cut out lots of the people in the middle who take money out of what is going on. We have taken Nigel Don’s advice and gone to the farmers market in Macduff, which is held once a month in the old covered fishing market.

I do not despise television chefs as much as some. It was Delia Smith who, rather than concentrating on presentation on telly, actually showed us how to cook things. To this day, I use her recipe for cooking rice—be it cheap rice or expensive rice, it works.

Food is a matter of debate. Why are we at such a pass with the source of some of our processed meat? There are many and complex reasons for that. One of the ways of looking at errors in systems that the American Federal Aviation Administration uses has nine headings for failures. I would like briefly to highlight two of them: one is inadequate leadership, and the other is lack of assertiveness. The FAA found that most of the mechanical causes of air crashes have been eliminated. Planes were getting much more reliable and what was left was two human beings at the front of the plane causing an increasing proportion of the accidents: a greybeard captain with 20,000 or 30,000 flying hours behind him, and a junior officer beside him. The junior officer was more recently trained and better able to fly the plane but was unable to challenge the old greybeard. A system of cockpit resource management was introduced, which provided a better balance.

One of the things that we are missing in our food industry line in particular is a reliance on the people who are at the front. Jim Mather, the former minister, gave a presentation in 2005 at which one of the quotes that he used—which I think he took from Seddon—was:

“Make the worker the inspector.”

The person on the front line knows what is going on, and it is important that they do.

The Food Standards Agency’s original goal, which was to minimise risk to public health, should be turned into a more collaborative, positive goal: work with the food industry to increase progressively the volume and value of safe, healthy, nutritious food to improve public health and wellbeing. We must move away from imagining that simply inspecting a process to death will lead to the outcomes that we need. Yes, we need the inspection—of course we do—but we should ensure that those who understand the objectives are equipped to contribute to them and that the people who are working in the industry at every level know why their industry is there. The people on the front line are the people who understand what is going on and can really contribute to improving the industry.

It is certainly the case that if we can shorten the chain we will cut the cost and improve the product.

I end by quoting Rumpole of the Bailey, because today is about quotes: “If you want the recipe for steak pie, don’t ask a vegetarian.” Let us get the people on the front line to be the people who actually improve our industry.


05 March 2013

S4M-05765 “Demographic change and an ageing population”

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05765, in the name of Kenneth Gibson on behalf of the Finance Committee, on the committee’s report on “Demographic change and an ageing population”.

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

Willie Rennie talked about a crisis. I am that crisis. According to the table in paragraph 40 of the committee’s report, I have another seven years of healthy life expectancy, with nine years of total misery thereafter. I will be deid in 16 years and aff yer hands.

Sixteen years looks a good deal shorter than the life expectancy of any other member who is likely to speak in the debate—or at least any member who was here when I wrote my notes—but that life expectancy is somewhat higher than the mean and the median age at death for my ancestors, over four generations. That is the point. It is projected that I will outlive those who went before me in my family, which is typical of society as a whole.

There are exceptions, however. When my great-great-grandfather Archibald Stewart died in 1877, he was a few weeks short of his 100th birthday. That is quite encouraging, although he is wholly exceptional in our family. For his time, he was a stand-out person of substantial age.

The committee looked at the many challenges that are presented by the sharp upward trend in mean age in our society, which is being driven by our living longer and breeding less. The cabinet secretary talked about the positive impact of demographic change and in paragraph 8 the committee recognised the potential of the older part of our population to make a positive economic and social contribution. Third sector volunteers from the over-65s can bring enormous experience and knowledge to their age peers and to the young. I note that Age Scotland contributed to the committee’s inquiry. I will focus on the positive and suggest ways in which we can enable our older citizens to be fitter in body and in mind.

My great-great-grandfather Archibald Stewart was born in Stirlingshire and died in Ontario, Canada. He emigrated to Canada with his family in 1853, at the age of 75, and appears to have returned to Scotland on a number of occasions. It seems that the last time he came to Scotland he was in his 90s—still making what in the Victorian era was a substantial journey. Perhaps the lesson is that the more active we remain, the more we will remain active.

Let us think about what happens as we age. More of us will live as singletons as partners die, and social disconnect is one outcome of that. We know that the ability to acquire new friends diminishes with age, so simple things that help to maintain social contact are likely to help. Everyone will then benefit.

Appropriate physical activity is important. In the 1980s, I saw the winner of the over-40s marathon in Australia being interviewed on television. It was the 40th consecutive year in which he had won that marathon. He was over 90, and he was still beating people in their 40s. If we start fit and keep fit, we will be fit in our old age.

What could we support that might make a contribution? We might look at the contribution that the Ramblers can make, especially entry-level activity, such as urban rambling for the relatively unfit. Rambling contributes to physical wellbeing.

Cooking classes are simple and cheap, and they can deliver many benefits, especially when they are cross-generational.

I remember engaging on bingo licensing with Richard Simpson when he was a minister. Bingo is a great social activity for the old; it also significantly increases mental activity. I have seen old folk sitting with eight cards in front of them and marking them all off in a way that I would find utterly challenging. Bingo promotes social and mental wellbeing. Reading groups and creative writing groups also help mental health.

Perhaps there could even be engagement in political parties. In the Scottish National Party in my constituency, we have three leafleters who are in their 90s, and they are as fit as fleas. We have many youngsters, as well.

Those people do not only participate in our political debates; they do their share of the leafleting, which is absolutely great.

When my father was 65, he was a single-handed general practitioner. He had worked nights and weekends, but gave up working nights at 65. At 70, he gave up working weekends, and from the age of 70, he worked a 9 to 5 week—except that he went out at 7.30 in the morning and came back at 8.30 at night. He retired at 75 and, being active, remained fit. At the age of 75, he was still doing single-handed dinghy sailing, until mother bullied him into stopping that.

Let us talk about the positives of age and the recycling of experience and knowledge. Let us talk up the contributions that older people can make and create opportunities for those contributions to be made.

I gently disagree with Sandra White. We do not want a parliament for the old; we want the old to be in the Parliament. I am speaking entirely personally.

We want to ensure that we do not park our old people in a ghetto that is solely for the old. If the old are isolated from the rest of our community, that will cost us money and deny us the opportunity to learn from them.

I very much welcome all the contributions to this important debate. I have been fascinated by them, and I am sure that there are more such contributions to come.


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