26 March 2014

S4M-09225 Poverty (Scotland’s Outlook Campaign)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-09225, in the name of James Dornan, on Scotland’s outlook. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch of Scotland’s Outlook, a joint third sector campaign that aims to raise awareness of the scale and impact of poverty in Scotland; recognises that the campaign uses a weather analogy with the aim of sharing meaningful examples of Scotland’s poverty outlook to inform and educate people about what living in poverty means and to help them appreciate that anyone can find themselves living in poverty; understands that there are 870,000 people living in poverty in Scotland, that a fifth of Scotland’s children are living below the breadline and that poverty is currently the biggest issue for the third sector in Scotland; notes that the Scotland’s Outlook website provides a range of materials to allow people to see the future forecast for poverty and test their knowledge of poverty in Scotland; believes that this campaign, which has been developed by third sector partners including SCVO, Macmillan Cancer Care, Shelter Scotland, Oxfam Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland, CHAS, CPAG and the Poverty Alliance, is an excellent way to highlight the challenge of poverty, and hopes that, as a result of the campaign, more people throughout Scotland, including in Glasgow Cathcart, will understand the realities of poverty and be inspired to get involved in helping to tackle poverty in their communities.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): We in the Scottish Parliament and members in Parliaments across the world should remember that we are immensely privileged: we are privileged to be parliamentarians and we are economically privileged. Very few of us will think about the amount of money that we have at our disposal when we undertake any of our day-to-day expenditure. We will be constrained simply by the fact that we do not have quite enough money in our wallet because we did not go to the cash dispenser. Too many families across Scotland do not have the luxury of being able to make the kind of choices that are available to us.

My wife has just filled up our fuel tank after the winter. She has put 1,800 litres of oil in it, the cost of which came to more than £1,000. She could do that without thinking too much about it. Too many families in rural Scotland do not have the opportunity to make the choice to fill their tanks to the brim. They buy in smaller quantities because they have less money. When you buy in smaller quantities, you pay more. As part of that procurement exercise, my wife phoned seven companies. She found that the difference between the top bid and the bottom bid on the fuel for her tank came to around 7p a litre. People who buy small amounts pay substantially more.

My constituency is not one in which the numbers suggest that we have a major problem. In the various areas of my constituency, the percentage of children in poverty ranges from a peak of 17 per cent in Fraserburgh and district to a bottom figure of 8 per cent. Not a single area of Glasgow, including its prosperous areas, has a child poverty figure that is as low as the highest figure in my constituency. The lowest figure for an area of Glasgow is 18 per cent, whereas the highest in my constituency is 17 per cent.

We know that there is huge disparity across Scotland, but in rural areas, which constitute a great deal of my constituency, there is hidden poverty. There are people who live in rural areas where public transport is relatively poor, where fuel oil—an expensive form of heating—is relied on and where children are suffering accordingly.

Some of the figures that are cited in the arguments on poverty are quite staggering. The fact that five families in the United Kingdom—that is the number of fingers on my hand—have the same amount of money as one fifth of the UK’s population shows how skewed the distribution of economic resources is.

If we become disconnected from the concerns of our constituents and the concerns of the poorer people in Scotland, we make poor decisions. I think that there are too many poor parents involved in parliamentary decision making. When I say “poor parents”, I mean parents who outsource their responsibility for the education of their children to schools such as Eton and Harrow. To me, that is poor parenting. The people who come out of that process are not necessarily to be blamed, but they have little understanding of the reality of the lives of too many ordinary people. We need more people who are connected with and grounded in real life to be in a position to make the kind of decisions that will support people.

I congratulate those who have been involved in the launch of the Scotland’s outlook website. As politicians, part of our job is to articulate complex subjects in simple and accessible ways. By presenting the impact of poverty in the form of a weather chart and a simple-to-use website, a familiar model—one that people see on the telly every night—has been used to carry a complex message to a wide audience. I warmly congratulate all the organisations involved—and James Dornan, for bringing the debate to the chamber.


25 March 2014

S4M-09447 Young and Novice Drivers and Graduated Driver Licensing

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09447, in the name of Keith Brown, on young and novice drivers and graduated driver licensing.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I declare an interest: I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I first took my IAM test in 1972, and I took it again more recently, in 2008.

The IAM’s credo is:

“We passionately believe that our roads can be made a safer place by improving the standards of the people who are using them.”

That is a good place for this debate to be and every contributor so far has sought to take us there. I am delighted that David Stewart is here to take part in the debate. I know that he is passionately in favour of improving standards on our roads and I admire everything that he has done in this area.

Let us have a look at the context. When I first passed my test in a car, 51 years ago in 1963, a Mini Cooper S cost £777 and it had 70 brake horsepower and a top speed of 95mph. Today, a Mini Cooper S costs £21,000—which is almost exactly the same amount relative to average earnings—but it now has 184bhp and is capable of 143mph. So, the simple and straightforward test that I passed in 1963 is not necessarily the test that I should pass to drive the much more powerful and potentially much more dangerous cars that we have today.

The first car that I owned a share in was a 1928 Austin 7, with a top speed of 28mph—it could not even break the town’s speed limit. It cost £5, by the way, and came complete with a spare engine. Like Alex Johnstone, I drove that car around unlicensed and uninsured and off the public road—or at least that is what I am telling you here. I started driving as a 12-year-old and acquired the skills very rapidly, but I did not have the experience to allow me to engage with what goes on on the public highway.

The Transport Research Laboratory, which works with over 100 countries, suggests that there could be quite a wide range of savings from GDL—from as few as 2,200 casualties to as high as nearly 9,000, so more work needs to be done. It suggests 100 hours of supervised learning over 12 months.

Let me compare flying with driving. As a private pilot, I went solo after 12 hours of instruction, and 40 hours of instruction was necessary to get my licence. That did not allow me to fly at night or out of sight of the ground, and one has to do training for complex equipment. One needs five hours for a night rating, 15 hours for an instrument rating and a further five hours for a multi-engine rating. There is graduated experience and training. I am not allowed to carry passengers unless I have done three landings and take-offs in the past 90 days, and I have a medical every year and an electrocardiogram every two years. It is tightly regulated. I do not think that people would want to fly with a pilot who did not perform to such standards. By the way, one can start flying as a 12-year-old, so I think that Alex Johnstone’s point about starting to drive at an earlier age has some merit.

It is worth considering, however, what kind of risks one is exposed to when flying. One will very rarely bump into another aircraft—there are not all that many of them. In the UK, it would be an unusual occurrence for there to be more than 600 aircraft in the air at any one time. On the roads, if one travels at 70mph on the dual carriageway, one passes within feet—at a closing speed of 140mph—of other drivers, and one wants them to be well trained and well equipped to deal with conditions on the roads.

For flying, the blood alcohol limit is one quarter of what it is on the roads. In addition, one is not allowed to fly until eight hours after one’s last drink. There are measures that we could look at in relation to driving.

I close by quoting Marilyn Monroe, who said:

“If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best.”

That leads me to something for this debate. The issue is not about raising the standards that our best drivers can achieve; it is about raising the floor below which our least proficient drivers never fall.


18 March 2014

S4M-08971 Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-08971, in the name of John Wilson, on Down’s syndrome awareness week 2014. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 21 March 2014 is the UN World Down’s Syndrome Day that aims to raise awareness of the condition caused by extra material in chromosome 21; understands that Down’s syndrome is the most frequently recognised cause of learning disability; considers that World Down’s Syndrome Day and Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week, 17 to 23 March 2014, are opportunities for people throughout Scotland, including Central Scotland, to reflect on the value of people with learning difficulties in Scottish society; understands that Down’s Syndrome Scotland’s vision is that society fully accepts and includes people with Down’s syndrome; considers that the charity supports its members with Down’s syndrome to achieve their full potential; welcomes the Communication Skills Project currently run by Down’s Syndrome Scotland and being evaluated by the University of Strathclyde; understands that this pilot project aims to help children from 12 months to improve their communication skills and upskill parents in supporting their children’s speech and language, complementing speech and language therapy sessions; acknowledges the wide range of issues likely to affect people with Down’s syndrome at different stages in their lives, including screening, education, employment, independent living or dementia, and recognises the importance of early intervention to ensure the best quality of life for people with Down’s syndrome.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I add my congratulations to John Wilson on creating the opportunity for us to debate this important subject.

It is particularly interesting that, when I was a youngster, if someone was a Down’s child they were institutionalised or they stayed with their family; they were written off at the outset. The assumption was that there was nothing there worth worrying about. Now, in the modern age, we know that we have consistently underrated the potential of children with Down’s syndrome. Indeed, it is worth looking at the range of achievements of many with Down’s syndrome, which is probably nearly as great as it is for people without Down’s syndrome. There is considerable overlap. Many people with Down’s syndrome achieve at higher levels than many who have no measurable impairment of any kind, which is to be welcomed.

My mother was a visitor at the local psychiatric hospital, Stratheden hospital. Like many hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, it had people in it who were there because they had been abandoned by their families, which included people with Down’s syndrome. Each fortnight my mother took a couple of people from Stratheden out for tea, one of whom was a Down’s syndrome patient. In the modern context “patient” is the wrong word, because being a patient means that you are being treated, whereas the reality was that the woman concerned had been dumped in an entirely inappropriate setting. We have to be very grateful for the changes that have meant that the way in which people with Down’s syndrome are treated is now different.

Another difference is that when my mother did that, 50 years ago, someone with Down’s syndrome might have reasonably expected to live into their 30s. Now very often they live into their 60s. That is great news, of course, but it can also be a source of worry that did not previously exist for parents. Children with Down’s syndrome are living beyond their parents’ lifespan and their parents quite properly have many concerns about their children’s ability to survive independently in the world after they have departed it. However, if we diagnose and support children with Down’s syndrome we can create an independent capability in them.

We have heard reference to people with Down’s syndrome acting. The earliest example of that that I remember was in an episode of “A Touch Of Frost”, the theme of which focused on society’s inappropriate view of the capabilities of someone with Down’s syndrome. I welcome the fact that the mainstream media is providing opportunities for people with Down’s syndrome to be part of theatre and also using theatre and television drama as a way of communicating widely to the world that Down’s syndrome is not a lifetime incapacitation.

There are issues that we still need to tak tent of. The English website on Down’s syndrome suggests that 18 health conditions need to be monitored carefully throughout the life of a person with Down’s syndrome.

Dr Milne has stolen my thunder about Aberdeen, so I will talk about Inverness instead. “Six Percent” is a combined book and photographic exhibition that Down’s Syndrome Scotland has developed in partnership with photographer Graham Miller. It is running in Inverness for most of this month. The exhibition has quotes from families and illustrates the full and rich life that people with Down’s syndrome can live.

I very much hope that we will all be able to go away from this debate with a better understanding of the potential of people with Down’s syndrome and a preparedness to help those who are affected by it.


S4M-09355 National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09355, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the Scottish Government’s third national planning framework and the review of Scottish planning policy.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I am very pleased to use my local constituency as a window on to this important Government proposal. Top of my list must be energy and the impact of proposal 3, which relates to carbon capture and storage.

Peterhead, which is referred to as Boddam on page 51 of the NPF document, can make three significant contributions to Scotland and beyond. First, as an intermediate technology, carbon capture and storage can assist in addressing climate change until we are 100 per cent renewable in all forms of energy. Secondly, carbon capture and storage can create jobs. If we set the pace on carbon dioxide capture from gas production, our expertise becomes saleable and more well-paid jobs are a result. Finally, pumping the resulting carbonic acid into quasi-derelict oilfields creates value that is perhaps similar or greater than the actual cost of investment in carbon capture. Oil will remain a vital chemical feedstock even as we eliminate it as an energy source. It will remain of very substantial value.

The harbours in my constituency are mentioned in the national planning framework: Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Buckie. They form part of the plan in relation to offshore renewable energy and each has its own individual but significant opportunities to contribute to mitigating climate change and to job creation. In addition, supporting the harbours will lead to the creation of a broader infrastructure that will be of value beyond those issues.

I differ from some previous contributors to the debate because I think that the national planning framework, which focuses on projects and practice, and the Scottish planning policy, which focuses on policy, work to different timelines and that there would be dangers in merging them into a single document. The SPP evolves relatively slowly to give planning certainty; the national planning framework responds to more short-term issues and opportunities. We must not allow them to become disconnected, because that would be very dangerous indeed. When we produce a national planning framework, we should revisit the Scottish planning policy to make sure that they are properly aligned.

We should remind ourselves that projects have three attributes: a beginning, a middle and an end, and that the end is the most important part of a project because that is when the benefits are delivered. However, policies have a beginning and then endure over the long term, with no determinate end, so they are rather different things.

I very much welcome a relook at separation standards for onshore wind. It is time that my local council in Aberdeenshire looked at its own standards, which are a little bit different from those of neighbouring councils. That creates pressures not only on the council, from a planning point of view, but on some of the communities in Aberdeenshire.

I also welcome the reference in the document to regeneration in Peterhead and Fraserburgh. That is important.

However, I depart from the approach that the document takes in being anchored in city regions. I am not a great fan of cities. The culture of the north-east does not live in the city; it lives in rural areas and filters reluctantly into the city.

Broadband is an area in which we can create advantage for rural areas where there is, as yet, a great deal of unrealised potential, although the current plans for broadband may deliver less than we hope for. Investment is planned to go where the line speed is under 2 Mbps, but line speed does not really matter. We could build a railway line with a 100mph speed limit on it, but if we put too many trains on it, they will be able to run at only 20mph. The same is true of broadband—it is the throughput on lines that matters. I have a line speed of over 2 Mbps at home but I rarely cross 250 Kbps throughput. In fact, my terminal at the Parliament is 250 times faster than my terminal at home; yet, my line at home is not on the schedule for upgrade. We should look at that matter. The point is made on page 39 of the NPF.

The NPF says that regional transport partnerships have a crucial role to play. We must have good connections across Scotland—that is certainly true. In the north-east, my local regional transport partnership, Nestrans—which Alison McInnes was a very effective chair of, if I recall correctly—is worth keeping. However, the verdict on the rest of them is, at best, not proven. It is time that we had a look at what they really contribute.

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce commends the Scottish Government for its

“ambition to use planning system to drive economic growth across Scotland”.

Others will welcome the document. I very much welcome the wide-ranging debate and look forward to seeing the NPF in its final form when it arrives in due course.


06 March 2014

S4M-09239 District Heating and Decarbonising Heating

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-09239, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on maximising the opportunities for Scotland from district heating and decarbonising the heat system.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I have lived in Scotland all my life. I suppose I take heat for granted now, but when I was a youngster I was brought up in a very large, draughty, old Victorian house with no central heating. We woke up in the morning to ice on the inside of the window and slept under eight blankets, not because we could not afford heating but because the technology just was not there. So, in one sense, we were lucky.

However, all over Scotland, citizens are struggling with fuel poverty. Indeed, even in an area of relative success and substantial wealth compared with the rest of Scotland—Aberdeen—a survey has suggested that up to 70 per cent of residents might struggle to afford the heat that they need. If that is the case in Aberdeen, how much worse is it likely to be elsewhere? The cost of heating is substantial. It has been suggested that it might be around £2.6 billion a year in Scotland for heating and cooling. So, the economics as well as the climate impacts are quite substantial.

Of course, we exist here at all because of energy. At the very beginning of the universe, before the big bang happened, there was nothing but energy. There was no clock, because there was no mass; but when energy started to convert into mass, the clock started. So, from energy we have sprung. A sustained change from energy to mass is what has caused our expanding universe to be present. Probably it required that energy to behave in a coherent way. I make that point in reference to the way in which lasers work.

Similarly, in today’s debate, we need coherence, which I think we have heard from all parts of the chamber.

In context terms, we are talking about climate change. Recent weather events have probably started to persuade even the most reluctant accepters of climate change, who know little and understand less of scientific method and knowledge, that there is actually a problem to be solved. We have seen flooding wrecking people’s lives, mostly in England but in Scotland as well; we have seen a harsh winter on the east coast of the United States that has killed older and vulnerable people; and only this week we have seen it reported that a 30,000-year-old virus has been brought back to life as the permafrost in the tundra areas of Siberia has receded, allowing it to be rediscovered. There may be a biological time bomb just waiting to wipe us out, perhaps overnight.

Climate change is a substantial problem. Because heat represents half of our energy use, decarbonising it is an important part of how we can help the world to deal with the problem. However, we have to up the ante, and the consultation that the minister has published this week is a substantial contribution to that. Our power industry has dramatically reduced its emissions, but because it is part of the European emissions trading scheme, that is barely reflected in the actual numbers that we use to count our climate change emissions. However, that is no excuse for not doing it—it is a good thing to do.

As we have heard from a number of members—and it is rather obvious—heat does not travel great distances very effectively. It is a bulky thing to carry. Water is usually the medium, and a cubic metre of water weighs a tonne, so we can see why moving it can be expensive.

We have a variety of different ways to deal with heat. By way of a side reference, I am extremely glad that at Peterhead in my constituency we are now seeing the carbon capture project moving ahead, which will help. It would be awfie nice if we could find some way of getting the heat out of the power station to heat most of Peterhead as well, so we will keep an eye on that.

There was reference by Colin Beattie to what goes on in Iceland. I was slightly surprised that he did not develop that a little further. At Hveragerdi, which is the main volcanic region, something happens that has not been touched on in this debate, which is that the thermal energy that comes out of the ground is used to grow crops in greenhouses. We have not heard anything in this debate so far about how we might exploit our heat sources to support agriculture. When we go into supermarkets at this time of year, we see strawberries from Morocco, Mexico or Egypt. It would be awfie nice if they could come from Aberdeenshire, where we have thermal energy embedded in the granite. If we could just bring it up, we could grow our own. It is the high-value elements of food that it might be useful to produce in that way. Agriculture is the third biggest cause of climate change emissions, so if we can use heat to address some of the issues, that is likely to be a good thing.

When I visited Iceland 40 years ago, the road into Reykjavik from Hveragerdi was a big pipe that carried hot water. It kept ice off the road and heated the whole of Reykjavik, and then the warm water was discharged into the sea at Reykjavik, where people had year-round swimming in warm water. That was a truly integrated approach to heat. Question 16 in the consultation, which asks for

“further evidence on thermal storage”,

might be a useful way of going into such things.

The bottom line is that this work is urgent and necessary, and the consultation paper is welcome. I hope that recent events convince the declining number of people who do not see climate change as a priority that it is something with which we must engage. We are engaged with it here, and we are basically united on it. Let us now go forward and do what is necessary.


05 March 2014

S4M-09222 NHS Scotland (2020 Vision)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09222, in the name of Alex Neil, on an update on delivering the 2020 vision in NHS Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I started my employment in computers in the 1960s, and have spent an awful lot of money on technology over the years, but I come to this debate not as an evangelist but as an iconoclast, and I will disagree with a vast amount of what has been said—I hope in a constructive way.

I will start with something on which I suspect members will agree. Let us imagine a person called Shona, who lives in a remote, rural location. She is well stricken in years and a bit overweight; she has a sedentary lifestyle and she has had a heart attack. If Shona were near a hospital, she might get treatment in one way, but she is not. If we can create helpful connections between her and her medical advisers, that is great.

The telephone was first demonstrated in 1876 and, today, we can use that same piece of copper wire that might have been in Shona’s house for 100 years to do much more, using the internet and technologies such as Skype that cost her nothing and build on existing infrastructure, to connect her to people who can help her. That is great. If a specialist somewhere in Scotland or elsewhere—New Zealand was suggested, but I think that that is a little extreme—is able to talk to her about her experience, that is likely to be helpful to her and cost-effective for the health service. However, that specialist needs access to her medication records, her previous medical history and information about her positive and negative reactions to various drugs if they are to give good advice.

I am just a simple soul. I would get the Lloyd George envelope out of the cabinet and just scan the files in. I would not interpret them or convert them; I would just get an image. Once that has been done, it would not matter where the information was and, if someone went to the wrong hospital, it could still be read. I would do simple things like that, and forget all this complicated techy stuff.

Shona needs a little bit of technology. That is probably something that she can manage. If she has some way of recording what she is eating and the exercise that she is taking, and she is getting advice based on that that can help her to move to a healthier lifestyle, that will be good. That is the kind of technology that is worth investing in.

Of course, Shona might live in a remote, rural location without broadband. Plenty of places in Scotland do not have broadband, but 999 houses out of 1,000 can get satellite broadband for £35 a month. It costs £70 to put someone on a treadmill to test their cardiac response and their breathing so, from the health service’s point of view, it could be well worth putting in that satellite connection. Talk to the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, get some money out of that budget and just do it.

Of course, many treatments are cheap, but even to send a GP to Shona’s door for a single visit is probably the cost of a couple of months of broadband connection. We should just do it and be very simple. If Shona gets good advice, she will eat better, take more exercise and get fitter, but she will also feel involved in the management of her condition. At the end of the day, that is the most important thing.

At the health service end, we need some of the big technology and infrastructure that makes it work. We have heard reference to the disaster of the NHS communications network down south; 20 years ago, there was a huge disaster in the London Ambulance Service when an attempt was made to put radio location in and it made things worse, not better. The bottom line is that, if we contract a company to deliver technology, we should not be surprised if it delivers technology. We need to contract companies to deliver health benefits and pay them only if they do.

If we are going to have a project, it must be a multiphase project because, as a project develops, the specification changes. If it does not change, the people who are using it are disengaged from the project because, as we engage in our project, we learn more and change our view of what we need. Therefore, we always have to have a phase 2 in which we put all the change. We accept no change in phase 1, unless we displace something from phase 1 to phase 2.

The one thing that we must do in projects is manage the relationship between the time, the effort and what is delivered. If we fix the time, everything else will work in. If that means taking function out to fix the time as we go along, we should do so and put it into the second part of the project.

Innovation and failure are necessary bedfellows because, when we innovate, we are doing something that we have not done before and we cannot be certain of outcomes. Let us stop being afraid of failure and let us not go for the uniform solution at the outset. If we are innovating, let us innovate small scale so that we can detect failure, fix it and limit the damage. We will get to the point of deploying it big scale later.

Let us also avoid ISO standards like the plague. They reflect yesterday’s needs and constrain future innovation. Do not do it. They are about processes, not outcomes.

Shona wants us to have IT project managers who get a modest wage for turning up and get paid only when the health benefits are delivered. We must let Shona decide whether they have been.


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