26 June 2013

S4M-06389 ASH Scotland’s 40th Anniversary

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06389, in the name of Duncan McNeil, on the 40th anniversary of Action on Smoking & Health (Scotland). The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the founding of ASH Scotland; notes that the health charity works with a wide range of partners in pursuit of “a healthier Scotland, free from the harm and inequality caused by tobacco”; understands that, during this time, the smoking rate among adults in Scotland has halved to 23.3%; believes that this has brought huge benefits, with one million people having greatly reduced risk of contracting cancer, heart disease, stroke and other conditions; believes that preventing children from taking up smoking, protecting people from second-hand smoke and supporting smokers who want to quit is crucial to further improving health in Greenock and Inverclyde and across the country, and looks forward to a time when the only people who smoke are the small number of adults who actively choose to do so.

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

I start by congratulating Duncan McNeil on giving me another opportunity to be less than moderate on a subject that I am passionate about. I register once again my absolute admiration for the political courage of a Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, when, building on the work of Stewart Maxwell, he put his personal credibility on the line to make the smoking legislation happen. Those were brave acts that should be congratulated.

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Please forgive me, but I really do not have time.

As I have said, I am no moderate on the subject. When others suggest that tobacco companies are murderers, I can summon no counter-argument. Every 30 minutes, a Scot dies as a consequence of tobacco; during this short debate, someone will die because tobacco companies choose that that is the case.

ASH has done a great deal in the 40 years since it was founded to raise the issue in the public consciousness and in legislative fora. I was a fresh-faced 26-year-old when it was founded. I do not see that person in the mirror today; I see a very different Scotland in the mirror today.

Smoking is not a new issue. I will provide members with some quotes. First,

“smoking is dangerous to the lungs.”

Secondly, it is

“Hurtfull and dangerous to youth.”

Thirdly, it is

“very pernicious to the heart.”

Those quotations were published respectively in 1604, 1606 and 1637 by James VI. In my family, that takes me 10 generations back to my eight-times great-grandfather, Andrew Berry.

James VI wrote in “A Counter-blaste to Tobacco”:

“This filthy smoke makes a kitchen oftentimes in the inward parts of men, soiling and infecting them with an unctuous and oily kinde of soote, as hath bene found ... That after their death were opened.”

He attended post-mortems and saw, 400 years ago, the effects of tobacco. We still grapple with that issue.

One of the first acts of James VI in 1603, when he became the king of the United Kingdom, was to raise the taxation on a pound of tobacco from tuppence to £6 and 10 shillings, so this guy got it right. In today’s terms, by the way, that would be equivalent to a tax of £40,000 on a pound of tobacco. That shows that we have understood the problem for a very long time, yet we still allow the pernicious tobacco companies to kill people in our society.

In the 20th century, more people in the UK were lost to the consequences of smoking than have been lost in all the wars in which we have been involved—I include civilian and military casualties. More people have been killed by smoking. Therefore, when we talk about smoking prevention and ASH’s role in it, we talk about an extremely important subject.

Ireland is a good model in one way, but there are still ashtrays in the bar behind the Dáil—there is a special, informal exception for members of the Dáil. Thank goodness we have not followed them down that road.


18 June 2013

S4M-06551 Parkinson’s Nurses

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06551, in the name of James Kelly, on Parkinson’s nurses in Scotland providing effective, safe, person-centred care. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the report, Parkinson’s nurses in Scotland: providing effective, safe, person-centred care, which outlines what it considers the central role of Scotland’s Parkinson’s nurses in helping people with Parkinson’s to manage their condition; understands that these specialist nurses make financial savings to the NHS by preventing unnecessary hospital and care home admissions, reducing waiting times, improving symptom control and medication management and supporting people to manage their own condition; understands that there are about 10,000 people with Parkinson’s in Scotland and that this number is expected to increase over the coming years; supports the Healthcare Improvement Scotland clinical standards for neurological health services, which state that everyone with Parkinson’s should have access to a Parkinson’s nurse from the point of diagnosis onwards; understands that Parkinson’s UK has made significant investment in providing pump-prime funding to develop Parkinson’s nurse posts across Scotland; welcomes the progress that NHS boards have made and continue to make in providing access to Parkinson’s nurses, with recent appointments in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, NHS Borders, NHS Dumfries and Galloway, NHS Grampian and NHS Lothian and active negotiations underway in NHS Highland and NHS Western Isles; understands that, despite this progress, there are some areas of Scotland where it is difficult or impossible to access a Parkinson’s nurse, and looks forward to a future where everyone with Parkinson’s has ongoing access to a Parkinson’s nurse, no matter where they live.

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

Let me start by congratulating James Kelly on giving us the opportunity to have the debate tonight. I have not signed the motion; that is down to pure inadvertence and was certainly not deliberate. Because I was speaking in another debate in the chamber this afternoon, I was unable to hear Harry Hay and the many other people in the gallery, but I am absolutely sure that they put their points across extremely well.

I congratulate Parkinson’s nurses throughout Scotland. Neither of my predecessors in the debate made reference to the service to the carers of those who suffer from Parkinson’s, which is part of the service that is delivered by those nurses. As with many long-term conditions, it is unlikely that Parkinson’s is something that a person suffers alone; it is shared with many others around them.

In NHS Grampian, which is the health board that covers my constituency, we are relatively fortunate in having four Parkinson’s nurses. James Kelly highlighted the briefing by Parkinson’s UK for his work with NHS Lanarkshire, and I hope that he continues with that.

We meet Parkinson’s in many different circumstances, and of course not all tremors are Parkinson’s related, and not all Parkinson’s sufferers suffer from a single disease.

The effects of the disease were brought home vividly to me on a nine-hour flight when I was sitting beside someone who I believe probably had Parkinson’s—they certainly had a tremor that continued for nine hours. I did not get to sleep, but I thought about how lucky I was to have only nine hours of mild inconvenience, whereas the person sitting beside me had a substantial difficulty that he would experience for a long time.

There are many causes of Parkinson’s. My father, who was a GP, always worried that my mother would develop it as a by-product of having had diphtheria when she was a child. Many of the causes are not so obviously connected to something like that. Research is comparatively modest, compared to other areas, perhaps because there does not seem to be too great a prospect of financial benefit to the pharmaceutical companies from curing the disease or developing Parkinson’s-specific drugs. There are lots of treatments for the symptoms, which vary from person to person, but not a lot is spent on considering bigger and bolder interventions that might make a real difference to the people who are represented in the gallery today.

I have always taken an interest in mental health in particular; in a significant proportion of cases, diseases such as Parkinson’s are accompanied by mental ill-health. When people are struck from out of the blue by a disease, at the age of 50 or 60—or younger, when they still expect many years of productive life—there can be a mental impact as well as a physical one. I hope and believe that the Parkinson’s nurses will address that as well.

On carers, I hope that we will hear in the debate that carers are an important part of the support that can be given to Parkinson’s sufferers.

I end by once again congratulating James Kelly and Parkinson’s nurses on the work that they have done.


S4M-07024 Hydro Power

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07024, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on hydro power in Scotland.

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

Water is important to us. That is a self-evident truth, not least because each and every one of us is made up of about 80 per cent water. Without water, there is no human being or human race.

The only chemical formula that many people will probably know is that of water. When H2O is mentioned, the light goes on, even for people who know nothing of chemistry; they know that it means water.

Water is absolutely central to us. Too much of it and a person will drown and die; too little, and a person will wither and die. If people have the right amount of water, they prosper. It is important however one looks at it.

Ken Macintosh referred to Fort Augustus and the first hydro power station that was built there. In 1896, the aluminium factory had what is described as—at least in Wikipedia, so it must be true—

“the first large-scale commercial hydro-electric”


Ken Macintosh also made reference to Sir James Henderson-Stewart and some of the remarks that he made in Parliament during the war years. I was quite astonished that he did not pick up on some of the important linkages between that man and other events. For example, the 1961 by-election that followed Sir James Henderson-Stewart’s death, was the first parliamentary election in which I had a role. Perhaps more crucial to Ken Macintosh is that that by-election was the first parliamentary outing for John Smith—the subsequent UK Labour Party leader. He received 8,882 votes, which was some 26 per cent of the poll. He managed to move the Labour Party up to second place, so he did pretty decently. He did not sustain that in the 1964 election, moved on elsewhere and was eventually elected in 1970.

Water is a great reservoir—I think that that is the right word—of innovation. Its use led to engineering innovation in irrigation thousands of years ago. The Archimedes screw that we are familiar with today almost certainly should not be called the Archimedes screw because it probably predates him by 500 years. It is thought that it came from the time of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, around 700 BC. It was originally a device for lifting water, and was turned by hand, but it became one of the very first sources of generating hydro power by water being allowed to fall through it. It was particularly effective where there was waste material and the water was contaminated because the screw was free flowing—it did not get jammed up in unfavourable conditions.

That brings us to an essential point about water in relation to the debate—1m3 of water weighs 998 kilograms, which is about 1 tonne. Therefore, one can see the power of water that moves horizontally or vertically. An early example is the undershot method, in which the power of the water flowing under a waterwheel is extracted from flow and not from fall, whereas an overshot waterwheel is a combination of underflow and overflow, in which the power is also extracted from the weight of the falling water.

It is worth saying that there is a formula—I am sure that I have it somewhere in my notes. It basically states that 1m3 of water falling 1 foot every second produces something like 96MW. That gives an insight into the power that there is in water. I hope that that formula is right; I simply cannot find the note that I had written it on.

Water has resulted in innovation in lots of other ways. The first combustion engines were dependent on water, the first of which was constructed in the first century AD, when the Greek engineer Hero produced a machine called the aeolipile. The aeolipile was basically a drum that contained water. When the drum was heated, the water heated up, steam came out of vents and the drum spun on an axle. Incidentally, 2,000 years ago, Hero was also the inventor of the first coin-operated dispenser, which dispensed—yes, you have guessed it—water.

Electricity is one of the great benefits from our use of water in Scotland, but transmission of it is a significant problem. We have talked about some of the problems around the network, which we are far from solving. It takes a long time to create the right kind of infrastructure, and transmission was probably the most challenging aspect of the development of hydro power in Scotland. The question was not just how to generate the electricity but how to get it to consumers.

My wife was brought up in a council house on the shores of Loch Ness, at the opposite corner from where, 60 years earlier, the first electricity from hydro power had been generated, but she was in secondary school before electricity reached her. To this day, the brass paraffin lamp beside which she studied when she was a youngster sits in our living room, as a reminder that in her lifetime and mine—and in the lifetimes of one or two other members—the world was very different and electricity was not something that was delivered to all but a few homes.

There are other ways of transmitting power from water. In some places that is done by compressed air. I say to Mary Scanlon that that is a more mechanically efficient approach, because the power from water energy can be transferred to another location without using moving parts of any kind—hence there are no mechanical losses associated with such transmission.

It is worth saying that water is a strategic asset for countries. We need only consider Nasser’s building of the Aswan dam, for irrigation and for hydro power, and the current debate—I think that “debate” is the right word—between Sudan and Egypt, as Sudan seeks to dam the Nile.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Mr Stevenson, will you begin to conclude, please?

Stewart Stevenson: I will certainly think about doing so, Presiding Officer. [Laughter.]

Our hydro schemes have attracted tourism—members need only think of the salmon ladder at Pitlochry, which is associated with hydro power.

I have been invited to conclude, so I do so by saying that what Tom Johnston created lives with us today and is not just a supplier of power but something to which people in the north of Scotland have an emotional attachment. The brand “SSE” might be on the side of the vans these days, but generally people still talk about “the Hydro.”


05 June 2013

S4M-06845 Land Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06845, in the name of Claire Baker, on land reform.

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

I am delighted that we are debating land reform, and I am delighted that the Labour Party has moved on from many of the positions that it adopted 10 years ago. For example, during consideration of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Bill, the SNP brought forward the idea that a compulsory right to buy might be a good idea, and one of those who voted against it was, strangely enough, Rhoda Grant. That was at stage 2 in committee. John Farquhar Munro joined the SNP members and Mike Rumbles voted against.

I do not mind the Labour Party changing its mind. On the contrary, I welcome the fact that some of the things that I said during the passage of previous legislation have now become even more timely. For example, on 23 January 2003, I said that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was timid because it left

“much of Scotland’s land—that held by companies, trusts and enduring partnerships—beyond the reach of the right to buy that is provided under the bill.”—[Official Report, 23 January 2003; c 14465.]

In reality, it is only the relatively small minority of land that is in private ownership that is available to be bought.

I hope that we can explore, through the reform group, what kind of constraints are created by that fact. We do not necessarily have the legislative power here to deal with it but, either through voting yes in 2014 or with the enthusiastic support of a Tory Prime Minister who says that he is willing to help, we might see a way of unpicking the trust law that is far too often—in the whole of the UK, but particularly in Scotland—used to conceal beneficial ownership and prevent legal transfers of land because it is the interest in the trust and not the interest in the land that transfers.

I hope that we will see that there is a coalition of interest—a coalition of the willing—that might pick up the significant challenge that exists with the structure of land ownership. In this place, we have limited powers in the area. We certainly have no powers over company law and we have little power over the way in which trusts operate.

I have previous on this. I moved amendment 207 at stage 3 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill on 23 January 2003, which sought to make some provisions to tackle avoidance. In particular, I drew attention to the fact that landlords were scuttling all round the place, taking cover and hiding things so that it would be difficult for us to know what was actually happening. I am afraid that, on that occasion, I was unable to persuade the then Government to support my amendment. Apparently, some of the Tories said in a sedentary intervention that trusts are very good indeed.

Rhoda Grant rightly talked about the Pairc estate. I absolutely share her discontent that part 3 of the 2003 act has, as yet, not delivered a single purchase. I know that the minister will not be able to respond to what is a legal issue that is still in play, but I regret that we have had years and years of legal process that has been deliberately used to thwart community interests. I hope that we will have opportunities to fix that at some time in the future.


04 June 2013

S4M-06782 Underemployment

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06782, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on behalf of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, on underemployment in Scotland.

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

I am not a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, so it is my delight to say words that are so seldom heard in this Parliament: “Congratulations to Murdo Fraser.” I congratulate him and the other members of his committee on an interesting and engaging report. It raises more questions than it gives answers. At this stage of the consideration of the subject, that is not too surprising.

Today is my last day as the deputy convener of the Subordinate Legislation Committee—indeed, it is the last day of the Subordinate Legislation Committee, but we rise, phoenix-like tomorrow as the delegated powers and law reform committee, and I will be suitably translated into my new position as its deputy convener. Now John Mason knows at least what ex-ministers are equipped to do, since I make no claim to be underemployed or underskilled for the job that I have.

The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee gave the game away with regard to the complexity of the subject that is before us when it found it necessary to spend an entire A4 page discussing what it means by underemployment. It took a good shot at the issue, but I think that the committee would agree that we probably have not nailed that down firmly, because we are not absolutely clear about what underemployment is.

We basically rely on statistics that are gathered by asking individuals for their view of their own situation, and different people will view their own situation differently. In the first job that I had when I left school in 1964, when I was employed as a nurse before I went to university, I worked 108-hour fortnights—12 days on, two days off. If I were to use that as a test, almost anything would look like underemployment. The statistics will, therefore, likely include imprecision.

Notwithstanding that point, it is relatively clear that there is significant underemployment. Kezia Dugdale gave the game away by suggesting that underemployment was significant in 2008, and it is true that, in the UK, probably 2 million people were underemployed at that point. Of course, she said that that had nothing to do with the fact that Labour had been in power for 11 years. She might be right in saying that, because, of course, the statistics do not go far enough back to justify a robust conclusion. However, the numbers are going up, so it is right that we consider the matter.

The committee has asked the Scottish Government to improve the quality of statistics and to consider how labour market statistics can be adapted to take account of developing trends and, in particular, underemployment. That request is equally applicable to the UK Government. The Office for National Statistics serves both Governments. Perhaps it should therefore be asked to do some work on how we can better understand the nature and the quantum of underemployment.

We know that employment is rising. For 16 to 64-year-olds—which excludes me and, indeed, Mr Brodie, who is chuckling in the margins—we are now up to 71.8 per cent employment. Nonetheless, whenever people want to work and cannot work, that is an issue that we properly engage with. Many have referred to the fact that women are disproportionately affected. That, too, is important for us to consider.

The trends are probably reasonably informative, but even they are not robust. Laurence Pomeroy, who was the chief engineer of Vauxhall Motors in the 1930s, said, “If you have to measure an improvement, you probably haven’t made one.” We should not get too fixated about our inability to measure underemployment, because it is probably sufficiently significant for us to be able to see it without needing to have the confidence to say that underemployment is this number rather than that number—it is a big enough issue, although I think that it was Deming who said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Certainly, as we respond to the challenge of underemployment, we have to have better numbers in front of us. Professor Fred P Brooks, who wrote a book called “The Mythical Man-Month”, posed the question, “How does a project get late?” and the answer is, “One day at a time.” Unemployment and underemployment are very similar. They happen in little slices and eventually we realise that the whole sausage has disappeared. Therefore, the difficulties involved in measuring it should not prevent us from considering underemployment to be a real problem.

Skills use is a real corker of a question because, of course, I do not necessarily want to use all of the manifest skills that I have built up over my long life—[Laughter]—and indeed that anyone of my age may have built up—I make no exclusive claims in that regard, although I acknowledge the plaudits from other members in the chamber. The bottom line is that we all gain huge amounts of experience as we go through life and we are very unlikely ever to have a job in which we can use every skill that we have. Equally, if there are skills that are of economic value that we ought to be able to deploy in the workplace and we are unable to find employment that helps us to do that, that is certainly an issue to which public policy should respond.

Ken Macintosh said a lot that I agreed with but, in relation to the balance between the benefits system and employment, I say to him in particular—and I suspect that he would agree with me on this—that rather than follow the UK Government’s current strategy, which is to try to make unemployment less attractive, we need to have a strategy that makes employment more rewarding. There will probably be a consensus on that—

Bob Doris: Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: I will.

Bob Doris: Like Mr Stevenson, I do not sit on the committee that produced the report but, as a former deputy convener of the Subordinate Legislation Committee, I feel Mr Stevenson’s pain in relation to the meetings of that committee.

As regards incentivising people into employment, I have not yet heard anyone mention reforms to the tax credit system. A lot has been said about gender inequalities in relation to underemployment. Does Mr Stevenson think that reforms to the tax credit system in particular have disadvantaged a lot of women who work part-time but would like to do more hours, and that that is something that—while the power sits at Westminster and not with this Parliament—the UK Government should consider?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a very good point. One of the arguments for child benefits was always that they went straight to the mother and therefore gave at least a modest bit of security to the mother. There are some difficulties with the tax credit system.

I will close by talking a little about zero-hours contracts. One of the difficulties is that I am not sure that they are contracts. A contract has an offer, an acceptance and something of value delivered, and I am not sure that the latter qualification is met. I suspect that, at some point, the zero-hours contract will be legally challenged.

We must be careful about imagining that skills will always find a home. That will not always be the case, and we must not get locked into the idea that we need to preserve all the skills that we once had—we simply will not succeed in that.

On taxation, here is a suggestion for Westminster: directors of companies should receive no bonuses if they would be more than 5 per cent of the profits of the company that they work for. The trick is that, if there are no profits, there are no bonuses. Maybe that would mean that there are profits in the UK, and we will then be able to collect some of the tax from them. That is just a little incomplete thought, which I have not fully thought out.


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