17 December 2015

S4M-15201 Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill - Closing Speech

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on S4M-15201, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill.

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

Let me start with the point that Mary Scanlon has made, which is a fair and proper one, by addressing the example that she gives of any of us being out to dinner with someone who wishes to put a point to us. That is not caught by the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill unless the dinner is provided on condition that we take an action. It is that conditionality that is important.

Parliament will be likely to be returning to the broader issue that Mary Scanlon has captured when we discuss the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill, because that may well be a matter of lobbying that is caught, and the people who are lobbying would be likely to have to register under the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill. That is for another day but, in response to Mary Scanlon’s point, I say that it is the conditionality that is important. We can still go out to dinner. I am going out tonight, although I think that I am paying, so that certainly will not be caught.

Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP): Are we all invited?

Stewart Stevenson: Invitations are now closed.

Mary Fee dealt more than adequately with the subject of the sanctions that are being introduced and with the broad sanction regime. In particular, she addressed the issue of a motion of censure, so I do not propose to say anything more that is material about that.

I do, however, want to talk about the removal of dual reporting. Although we will be passing a bill today, it cannot proceed as a new part of our law and our procedures until the Electoral Commission is satisfied that the information in the register of interests will be sufficient to meet its needs. The clerks to the committee have been working with the Electoral Commission to ensure that the provisions in the bill are satisfactory, and I, like other members, thank officials in the Parliament and at the Electoral Commission for their assistance in that matter.

The current framework for ending dual reporting in the Electoral Administration Act 2006 does not extend to independent MSPs, and I want to say a word or two about that. As that act stands, dual reporting can be ended only for members of registered political parties, and not for independent members. Our bill contains an amendment to that act that will allow dual reporting to be ended for all MSPs, and I am pleased to have been able to work with each of the independent members in this Parliament to ensure that the provisions in that regard are understood and agreed. Indeed, I saw Margo MacDonald towards the end of her life; I had a three-minute discussion on this subject and an hour of updates on what was going on in Parliament. I will not reveal what I told her about what everyone was up to, as that would be a breach of confidence beyond what would be proper.

In closing, I am pleased that the committee has been able to bring forward this committee bill, which I believe will streamline processes for dealing with financial interests, increase transparency and ensure that we have robust sanctions. I encourage all colleague to support this change in the next few minutes.

S4M-15201 Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill - Opening Speech

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on S4M-15201, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill.


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

There is always a benefit in reviewing, with a critical eye, the regimes that govern our work and that of individual members here in Parliament.

The bill’s proposals seek to improve the public accessibility of information reported by MSPs, allowing for effective public scrutiny. The bill will also ensure that a wide range of parliamentary sanctions are available and will broaden the definition of the serious criminal offence of paid advocacy.

Due to partial overlaps in the reporting requirements on MSPs under the Parliament’s register of interests and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—otherwise known as PPERA—certain financial interests must be reported to both the Electoral Commission and to the Parliament. That is known as dual reporting. The PPERA requirements are defined in terms of donations to political activities, which include parliamentary activities, whereas the Parliament is interested solely in financial interests that could be perceived to influence MSPs in carrying out their parliamentary duties.

The two regimes have different criteria for registration, which can make the system complex. There are also two separate complaints processes depending on whether an MSP is reported to the Electoral Commission or to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland for failure to register a financial interest.

Removing dual reporting will provide for simpler reporting requirements for financial interests overall for MSPs and greater transparency and accountability to the public than is the case at present. That will make details of MSPs’ financial interests more transparent, as they will be more easily accessible in a single place, on our Parliament’s website; the means of pursuing a complaint in relation to a financial interest will also be streamlined for the public.

The bill makes the necessary adjustments to the categories of registrable interest to enable the Electoral Commission to draw all the information that it needs from the Parliament’s register.

When dual reporting ends, the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland will take on sole responsibility for investigating breaches of those PPERA requirements that are currently investigated by the Electoral Commission. The bill will incorporate that into our revised register of categories. It will broaden the commissioner’s remit and simplify the process for the public, providing one place to direct complaints.

The group of states against corruption—GRECO—published a report in 2013 that recommended that consideration be given to lowering the thresholds for registering gifts. At present, members must register gifts over the value of 1 per cent of a member’s salary at the start of the parliamentary session. That makes the current figure £570. The qualification is that it excludes gifts that do not meet the prejudice test, for example, gifts between members of the MSP’s family.

Other jurisdictions have lower levels of registration. The House of Commons proposes to lower the threshold to £300, the House of Lords will go to £140, and the threshold in the Northern Ireland Assembly is £240. With those developments in mind, and the desire to increase transparency of members’ interests in this place, the committee decided to include a measure in the bill to lower the threshold for registering gifts to 0.5% of a member’s salary, rounded down to the nearest £10, at the beginning of the current parliamentary session. That would presently be £280.

I turn to the paid advocacy provisions. Paid advocacy is where an individual uses their position as an MSP to advocate a particular matter in return for payment, including a benefit in kind, or to urge any other MSP to do so. It is a criminal offence and a breach of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 for an MSP to undertake paid advocacy.

As I have stated in previous debates—we first debated the subject in April—no MSP has ever been found to be in breach of the paid advocacy provisions. Given the gravity with which paid advocacy should be treated, the committee is very clear that there is a case for increasing the scope of the criminal offence. To that end, the bill amends the existing paid advocacy offence to ensure greater consistency with the Bribery Act 2010. The paid advocacy offence currently requires actual receipt of an inducement by an MSP or an MSP’s partner where that results in some benefit to the MSP. The Bribery Act 2010 goes further than that: it does not require an individual actually to receive inducements in order to commit an offence; they must only agree to receive such inducements.

The committee considers that if an MSP is found to have agreed to undertake advocacy for financial gain or to have encouraged a fellow MSP to do so, they should be considered to be guilty of an offence regardless of whether inducements have actually been received. During the stage 1 debate, Tavish Scott asked me whether that would cover a scenario in which a member requested an inducement for advocating a cause. I took the opportunity to amend the bill at stage 2 to put beyond doubt that that scenario, too, should be covered by the paid advocacy offence.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill be passed.

15 December 2015

S4M-15172 Redesigning Primary Care

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15172, in the name of Shona Robison, on redesigning primary care for Scotland’s communities.

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

I am almost certainly the third speaker in the debate whose naissance predates the founding of the health service. When we are talking about redesigning primary care, it is as well to think about the process of change that there has been.

Family tree research is one of my interests so I regularly see death certificates from the 1880s and 1890s and, under cause of death, they simply say “old age”, “senility”, “decline”, “decay” and “no medical attendant”. Access to medical advice and doctors has come in relatively recently. In 1908, Lloyd George set in process the legislation that ended up as the National Insurance Act 1911, which meant that a little contribution was taken from each wage packet to pay for healthcare. Indeed, to this day, my records, and those of many other people, are kept in medical folders that some of the older GPs still call Lloyd Georges because that is when they were introduced.

In the 1930s, the Highland health service set the pattern for much of the health service; post war, the Labour Government’s greatest achievement was the establishment of universal healthcare free at the point of supply. My father was a GP in that service; he retired in his 70s in the 1970s.

The world has changed dramatically since my father was a doctor. In those days, it is interesting that we had only doctors, hospitals, nurses, dentists, chemists and opticians; we did not have urgent care centres, primary care emergency centres and community unscheduled care nurses. There are a whole plethora of other definitions, which are confusing to patients when they are exposed to them. The world—and care—would be rather better if we used simple titles for people. Page 64 of the report mentions

“Knowledge of who to turn to, what to do in the event of feeling unwell when the doctor’s surgery is closed and which service to turn to first”

as a “common theme” in feedback from local discussion groups. There is considerable confusion because of the complexity that is presented to patients. Although we might need complexity under the surface to deliver the care service, we should look for simplicity in how we deliver it and talk to patients about our health service.

When my father was a doctor, it was incredibly easy. You just needed to know one telephone number, which was Cupar 3182. As luck would have it, the cottage hospital was Cupar 3128, so if you got the numbers muddled, you got one or the other and that was okay.

The world was, of course, different in all sorts of ways. My father used to write his prescriptions in Latin, so it was “ter in die” rather than “three times a day”. The quantities were written in Greek in minims, so you had “deka minims” of whatever it was. Fortunately the pharmacist also spoke Greek.

My father was a rural doctor, and to this day rural issues remain a key problem for the health service. I am fortunate not to know the name of my GP because I have no need of contact with them, but in rural areas GPs are often distant from their patients and are isolated from the kind of help that many doctors in urban areas have. We must look at that further.

Out-of-hours provision, which has been referred to repeatedly throughout today’s debate, is more complex for the patient. I have only discovered while reading the material for this debate that the phone number for NHS 24 is 111. I did not know that; I have never had to use it or to consider what the number was. Previously I would have just looked it up in the phone book. At least I now know that.

Out-of-hours care is the area of the health service with the lowest satisfaction rating. Perhaps that should not be surprising, because when someone wants out-of-hours care, it is related to a crisis in their personal health. They are at a point where they are less likely to be tolerant and more likely to be critical. They feel a sense of urgency.

Technology is helping doctors and patients. Nowadays the health service is asking us all to do some health checks. I have just completed one of the regular health checks for those of us of my age, and I got the all-clear again, which is good news. My watch can tell me what my heartbeat is, and I checked it just before this debate. It was sitting pretty much where it should be, and the data is already being stored on a server in California so that it can be available to others.

However, the report says that information about people’s health history is not broadly available. Perhaps we should do something very simple: just take all the handwritten notes and scan them in. We are focusing on doing difficult things such as translating them into words and interpreting them, but there are other things that we perhaps ought to do.

Presiding Officer, in the last 10 seconds that you might grant me, I will say that I think that we are doing very well. The quality of care is incomparably better than it was 50 years ago, and when I was born. We can always do better, and as us old wrinklies get older, we will demand more. That is inescapable, but it is just one of the challenges that we are going to have to rise to.


03 December 2015

S4M-15031 Fisheries Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is the annual debate on fisheries negotiations. We will debate motion S4M-15031, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

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

It is fair to say that our attachment to the fishing industry is in part emotional. The occupation of being a fisherman, besides its biblical connections, is one of the earliest identified occupations that the human race got itself involved in. Today, the fishing industry survives as one of the last hunter-gatherer industries, so it speaks to something quite deep.

That places special obligations, responsibilities, duties and difficulties in the way of the successful prosecution of the trade, because the stock is much less managed than sheep or cows on a farm or crops that are sown. Our fishermen are absolutely to be commended for the way in which they have risen to the challenge of stock management, often in the face of total misunderstandings of science and totally ineffective and uninterpretable regulation. Nonetheless, our fishermen have found a way to rebuild an industry. Stocks of cod are at three times their level in the relatively recent past, and this valuable stock is exploited.

I cannot speak in a fisheries debate without referring to the estimable Jamie McGrigor. When I first spoke in a fishing debate, in June 2001—a single day after I was sworn in to this Parliament—he was there. He was not alone—others were there, although I think from looking round the chamber that he might be the only member here who was in the Parliament at that time. Even though I seldom find myself agreeing with everything that he says, I always listen to him with close attention, if only to know what the contrary arguments are.

If I may speak directly to Jamie rather than through the chair, I say to him, on behalf of myself and I suspect many others, “We shall miss you, Jamie, for your wit, your humour and your engagement in this important issue.” I hope that his successor is not nearly so successful on the Tory benches as he has been, but that is a political comment.

It is worth expanding that point and saying that the fact that members might be in different political parties does not mean that we cannot make common cause and have friendships. I get on extremely well with the fisherman who stood against me for the Conservative cause at the 2011 election in Banffshire and Buchan Coast. We have secret assignations under cover of darkness, when I manage to get most of the cod roe that he has landed, because that is absolutely my favourite food from our sea. I am going to work to keep that relationship going well.

We have an issue not just in catching fish and the regimes that surround that but in fish consumption levels, which are pretty static. We have not seen much increase in fish consumption, despite the fact that our processing and catching industries continue to grow and become a more valuable component of our economy. We have to address that issue. In other debates and other places, we have referred to the UK body Seafish, which we have to keep an eye on.

When I was a minister, I was tangentially involved in marine protected areas. For east coast fishermen, those areas do not seem to have been the issue that they have been for the west coast and small communities. To be frank, I would welcome more targeted and specific information about that.

Speaking about information, I last met Roddy McColl, the secretary of the Fishermen’s Association Ltd, on a train, when we had an excellent discussion. I am obliged to FAL for the 16-page newsletter that arrived in my inbox this week, which covers a wide range of subjects. I will not pretend that I agree with every word in FAL’s newsletter, but that will not come as news to FAL, to Roddy McColl, to my constituent Tom Hay or to others.

Some very good things are in the newsletter. In particular, it draws attention to the imminent prospect of our cod stocks being awarded MSC status. That is a huge step forward that will rebuild consumer attitudes to North Sea cod that is caught by our fishermen. Much of the comment about lack of sustainability has been ill informed and inappropriate, so I hope that MSC status is awarded in early course.

Fishing does not stand alone. When the fleet shrank, we saw butchers closing in rural Banffshire, because they had been supplying food to boats. Such effects are replicated across a whole economic ecology that depends on sea fishing. When we stopped dumping sewage at sea, we saw a reduction in seabird populations. I hope that we monitor what happens when there is a reduction in the dumping of fish in the sea.

If the SFF wants to meet me, it should give me an invitation. I am entirely happy to meet it. We can kiss and make up any time it likes.


01 December 2015

S4M-15003 Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15003, in the name of Maureen Watt, on the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Bill.

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

I will nail my colours unambiguously to the mast, as I have done in previous debates on tobacco. In the 20th century, more people were killed by smoking tobacco than died in all the wars of that century. It is a vile trade that should not exist in the 21st century. However, those who are, to quote James VI 400 years ago,

“by custome ... piece and piece allured”

to depend upon tobacco for relief from the stresses of daily life are not the people we should attack in the debate, and I do not seek to do that. They are the victims, not the cause of our problem.

The bill that is before us addresses the advertising and promotion of nicotine vapour products. I welcome restrictions on those products because, although they are certainly known not to carry many of the chemicals that are present in cigarettes and that cause ill health and death, they have nonetheless not yet been shown to be entirely safe to be sold.

A report by the US surgeon general in 1989 identified 400 separate chemicals in cigarettes, at least 40 of which were carcinogens and many of which were mutagens and developmental toxicants. At this stage, it simply is not clear whether we have the level of knowledge about vapour products to understand whether we have similar problems with the chemicals in them, either individually or in combination and, perhaps more critically, when subjected to heat. James Kelly quoted ASH. Another quote from ASH in the committee’s report points out that butterscotch, with diacetyl, and cinnamon, when heated to high temperatures, can be another factor in creating harm. When we heat what might be innocuous chemicals, we can end up with something that is quite toxic.

However, if NVPs reduce harm and enable people to move away from the well-known and well-understood problems that are associated with nicotine addiction, that is fair enough and, for the time being, I am prepared to accept them.

I will talk a fair bit about the duty of candour provisions. I am going to get all techie about the way in which the bill is drafted, because there is considerable confusion about who “persons” are. The first words in relation to the duty of candour are:

“A responsible person must follow the duty of candour”.

However, when one finds the definition of “responsible person”, one discovers that the one thing that it is not is a person. The definition has six paragraphs, and it includes a health board,

“a person (other than an individual) who has entered into a contract”

and so on. However, none of the things in the definition is capable of being a real person. Therefore, it might be useful if a different term were used—“responsible entity” might be an alternative definition.

I am not just trying to pick at this for the sake of it. The point is that the word “person” is used for three other purposes in part 2. For example, section 21(2) says:

“This subsection applies to a person”

to whom something has happened. Then, section 21(3) suddenly switches and, instead of saying “person” it says “individual”, when it is clearly talking about the person who is referred to in section 21(2).

Section 22, on the duty of candour procedure, sets out the actions that are to be taken by the responsible person, but we then get a “relevant person”, who appears to be a real person who is an individual and not a “responsible person” who is not an individual. In section 22(2)(c), the responsible person has to

“offer and arrange a meeting with the relevant person”,

which is highly confusing.

It gets even more confusing when we move down to section 22(2)(g), which states:

“the responsible person is to make available, or provide information about, support to persons”

in the plural—

“affected by the incident”.

However, it is not entirely clear who those persons, plural, might be. Are they individuals or responsible persons?

Even more confusingly, another provision mentions

“training to be undertaken by a responsible person”,

but a responsible person is specifically defined not to be an individual, and how can an entity that is not an individual undertake training? I am not at all certain about that.

That was a little rant about that subject, but I will move on to what is perhaps the more significant issue of reporting and monitoring. Where there have been failures, a report has to be produced. Under section 24(3)(b), a report cannot

“contain any information which, in the responsible person’s opinion”

I wonder about that—

“is likely to identify any individual.”

I am genuinely uncertain about how that can sensibly be done because we will probably be looking to describe in such reports a comparatively small number of incidents, and of a particular kind. I am very uncertain that it will be possible to produce a report—which must be published—that will not lead to it being possible for a person to be identified. In general, in statistical analysis across Government, we do not report where fewer than five people are involved to avoid that particular duty. By the way, the “responsible person”—even though the offences can cover an individual—is not included elsewhere.

In conclusion, I will go back to 2004, when the then First Minister issued a statement on tobacco—it was quite the best thing that he and his Administration ever did, unambiguously, and I continue to praise them to the hilt for that. During that 2004 debate, I quoted James VI, who said of tobacco that it was

“A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.”—[Official Report, 10 November 2004; c 11696.]

We have known that tobacco is an evil, poisonous material for 400 years. Why are we still debating the subject now?


24 November 2015

S4M-14930 Violence Against Women

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14930, in the name of Margaret Burgess, on violence against women: 16 days of activism.

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

I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the Labour amendment, which gives us the opportunity at 5 o’clock to speak from the chamber with a single voice that leaves no ambiguity as to our shared view on the subject. Violence against women does not simply endanger women, although it clearly does so; it demeans men, who are the primary source of that violence.

Laws are one way in which we can tackle the problem, and there are areas where we need to legislate. I welcome the Government’s actions in bringing forward new laws, but the fear of prosecution in those who perpetrate violence against women is likely to have a substantially lesser influence in leading to change than the other kind of measures that we need. Gathering evidence is a difficult task for the justice system to undertake, particularly when a lot of the violence is psychological as much as physical and when much of it takes place out of sight of witnesses. There is nothing much that we can do to address that issue.

The change that will make the greatest difference will not be a legislative change, necessary though that is in certain areas; it will come when we find ways to change men’s minds. Alison McInnes is correct that focusing on female victims feeds a reinforcement, through females seeing themselves as potential victims and, more importantly in relation to men, by showing to men that females are victims, inferior and something to be dominated. There are dangers in a gender-based approach to risk management in relation to that kind of violence. Males’ stereotypes of women can be reinforced if we do not take great care.

There are wider societal benefits from tackling male attitudes and behaviours that lead to the abuse of women and girls. A man who uses what he perceives as his relative power in fact demonstrates his weakness. A strong man or woman is one who is able to share their power—to stand back and let someone else have the space to be themselves. The man who has to enforce his will on women and use his power to abuse them is weak.

Using power to abuse women sets a pattern of behaviour among men that is likely to lead to such men also abusing people of different races, sexual orientation, faith and political views, and it perhaps even means—I have no evidence but I instinctively feel that it is likely to be the case—that they are more likely to be cruel to animals. That is because the disposition—the mental set—of people who perpetrate violence against women is likely to lead them into behaviours that go beyond that. Therefore, there is a much wider benefit if we can change men’s minds.

The question is how we change men because, if we do not do that, we do not deliver much. First, and quite obviously, we must help the next generations of men grow up with different attitudes. I see some progress in that regard.

Recently, my four-year-old goddaughter, following a visit to Our Dynamic Earth, explained to me how the universe started. It was really quite a good scientific explanation from a four-year-old. She asked me, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” and we debated that. Of course, she also asked how the universe came into being when there was nothing there. It was terrific that she was getting engaged in pursuits that, 20 years ago, were thought to be essentially male pursuits. When I saw her again a week ago, we did a little scientific experiment together that involved dissolving crystals of salt in water. We saw them disappear and then we boiled the water off and saw the salt reappear. I gather that she went along to nursery school two days later and explained that to all her fellow pupils.

There is a wider issue about equalising our attitudes to people in society that are quite independent of their gender. However, men are today’s problem.

We want to challenge attitudes and beliefs, which is extremely difficult. The psychological phenomenon that is called confirmation bias—the unconscious filtering out of information that is at odds with our established beliefs and learned behaviours—is a substantial barrier to change. If we are to persuade people to change their attitudes and thinking, we need to engage intensively. Much of that work must be one to one, and we can do that only with the people whose behaviours most severely affect other people in society. That is a limited approach and likely to be costly, so the alternative approach that we must take is to focus on corralling and restricting the unacceptable behaviours. That means shifting wide community attitudes.

I am an optimist by nature. I think that we might reach the tipping point on the matter in the relatively near future, similar to the one that we reached with drink driving. When I first started drinking, drinking and driving was basically just one of the things that happened—nobody bothered about it that much—but now it is viewed very differently in society. We must get to that position on violence against women.

I do not want the equality that could flow from women adopting the male behaviours that we have spent the afternoon criticising. The society that I want and that I hope we all want is based on mutual respect, changing behaviours and safety for all citizens in Scotland and throughout the world.


19 November 2015

S4M-14879 Community Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14879, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on stage 1 of the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill.

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

When I got elected to Parliament in 2001, one of the biggest issues in my in-tray was the plan to close the prison in Peterhead. That prison had been opened in 1888—the only other thing that I know about 1888 is that it was the year that Celtic Football Club started. It was built at a cost of £57,400 and the land on which it was built cost £5,000. I am delighted that, after a long community-based campaign, which I was very happy to support and contribute to, we now have a community-facing prison—at a rather more substantial cost than the £57,400 that the original prison cost. It is already showing signs that it will contribute materially to the way in which things operate in criminal justice in the north-east.

The staff at Peterhead prison are what make or break what goes on there, and the same is true of prisons elsewhere. In the whole community justice space and in dealing with offenders and people who look as if they might end up being offenders, we need good people in place, and I think that, by and large, that is exactly what we have.

However, prisons ain’t the answer. Pure economics tells us that. The cost of keeping someone in prison can be as much as £40,000 a year. We know that, as well as being more successful in achieving its aim, treating people outside prison so that they are less likely to reoffend is likely to cost a quarter of that. Therefore, what people who say, “Bang them up, put them in prison and throw away the key,” are actually saying is that we should take money away from socially useful ways of spending money and waste it on something that will not deliver anything very meaningful at all.

I see that Margaret Mitchell is just coming into the chamber. She and I spoke in the chamber on victims and witnesses in 2005. We have not heard an awful lot about victims in the debate; I hope that we will hear a little bit more because, at the end of the day, the victims are the most important people in any consideration of criminal justice. They are the ones who, frankly, are often marginalised in the process, much as we have tried to do more for them.

Our incarceration rates are far too high, that is for sure. The rates in Scandinavian countries are about a third of what they are here. The good news is that the rate in the United States is four times our rate, so I suppose that we are considerably better than some countries. However, we are not as good as we need to be.

In a consultation in 2004, the then Scottish Executive used the headings “Reduce, Rehabilitate, Reform”, and I think that that is an excellent way of looking at the activities that we must undertake.

Even the Prisons Act 1835 had as a central purpose the intention to reform criminals. Reforming criminals is not a new idea, although it would be fair to say that punishment was probably also pretty central in 1835.

The Justice 1 Committee carried out an inquiry into reoffending in 2004. Aberdeenshire Council, in its submission to that inquiry, said:

“the prison environment cannot of itself … be conducive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending.”

I do not think that anyone in today’s debate has said otherwise.

Clive Fairweather, the late, lamented HM chief inspector of prisons, was a great supporter of out-of-prison rehabilitation. We miss him and his sage advice. He was not a man with whom I agreed on every political matter, I hasten to add, but on this matter he was very clear.

We have heard a little about the definition of community justice in the bill. I, and the rest of us, should be heartened slightly by the Government’s document “Future Model for Community Justice in Scotland”, which came out in September 2015. The definition of community justice begins thus:

“The collection of agencies and services in Scotland that individually and in partnership work to manage offenders”


“prevent offending”.

That is crucial, and I hope that those words from the Government in a document that it has published will be roughly similar to those that we end up seeing in the bill.

Section 17 of the bill refers to the outcomes improvement plan. First, I am heartened by the use of the word “outcomes”, because it anchors what the plan must be about. We should not be unduly prescriptive about methods—we should focus on outcomes. The structure of the bill provides an opportunity for those plans to address the issue of preventative spend to reduce offending, because that ought above all to be the outcome that we seek.

I am always reluctant to add another layer to any organisation. I have yet to be convinced—I have not engaged on the issue as the bill has gone through committee—that adding another layer will, in and of itself, help very much. It may well help, and it can help, but I instinctively need to be persuaded.

Similarly, on the whole process of planning, it is clear that the plans must come from the community planning partnerships up to national level. However, when a plan is produced by person A but must be implemented by person B, one runs the risk of there not being buy-in. I am hugely enthusiastic about plans where they come from the grass roots and reflect the experience of people at that level, as there is more chance that they will be successful.


17 November 2015

S4M-14820 “Changing Relationships: Parliamentary Scrutiny of Intergovernmental Relations”

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on S4M-14820, in the name of Bruce Crawford, on “Changing Relationships: Parliamentary Scrutiny of Intergovernmental Relations”... ... ...

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

In this week of all weeks, we know that Governments in these islands can and do work together. Tavish Scott talked about the First Minister’s reference to participating in COBRA meetings. I did that when I was a minister—certainly on one occasion and, I think, more than that. I still have the UK transport minister’s mobile number in my mobile telephone from when I was transport minister here. In practice, co-working is perfectly possible and is perhaps a little more common than is sometimes imagined. Sometimes, ministers are happy to bypass the civil servants to make things move that little bit faster than others might want.

Some co-decision making is already embedded in law. The former British Waterways Board was a cross-border authority that required Scottish and UK ministers to sign off decisions that ministers were required to make. Thus, when I was responsible for canals, I found myself signing of a decision that related entirely to a transaction in Birmingham. The deal was that I would do what the UK minister wanted to do in England and he would sign off anything that we wanted in Scotland. Crucially, that co-decision making enabled us to protect canals in the public sector in Scotland when, south of the border, the authorities wanted to travel in a fundamentally different direction. That shows that it can be done.

Similarly, appointments to the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change are jointly made by the Northern Irish, Welsh, Scottish and UK ministers and require unanimity. On one occasion, when there was a serious discussion on the matter, I conducted the interviews with the candidates for a vacancy on the committee and, thereafter, we were able to achieve the unanimity that had not initially existed.

There are already some legislated areas of co-decision making. They are tiny, but the point is that they show that we have already accepted the principle of legislating for co-decision making. Practical experience shows that it can be done.

On finance, it would be particularly dangerous to imagine that there is no scope for legally embedding co-decision making, but equally, as others have said, there needs to be respect between individuals of different political parties, Parliaments and Governments who carry different objectives.

Baroness Goldie is correct in saying that one cannot legislate for everything, but there are some things that we could do differently unilaterally that would deliver shared benefit. There has been reference made to that already. The Government that most promptly publishes details of intergovernmental meetings and the subjects that are discussed will create the opportunity for both Parliaments to engage in their proper process of oversight. The laggard loses: that is a message to the Governments in Edinburgh and London. Neither Government is, perhaps, as rapid as it could be in publishing such information. Indeed, that is a message to those in Belfast and Cardiff as well.

I note from the report that Professor McHarg said that

“parliamentary scrutiny has been one of the areas in which the current system has not worked.”

That must be corrected. A shared acceptance of the need to legislate on intergovernmental relations is vital; we cannot simply leave it to a memorandum of understanding. There are old arguments that flexibility delivers benefit. It does, but I suggest that it provides substantially less flexibility to Governments.

Professor McEwen floats the idea of an additional parliamentary committee on intergovernmental relations. Others have made other suggestions for new parliamentary committees. Also, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s inquiry into our committee structures has almost universally attracted comments to the effect that we have too many committees and that too many members are on too many committees: some are on three committees. Who knows? The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee might suggest that MSPs should be members of only a single permanent committee. Note that there is a little weasel word in there, so there might be a way out.

On negotiations between Governments, the Scotwork process is the standard that is used in most commercial negotiations. It is called LIM-it—like, intend, must. In other words, one goes in with three lists. It is perfectly possible to publish in advance the “must”—in other words, what I need to get for my side when I go into the negotiations. I suspect that it is not possible to publish the “like” and “intend”, which are the dice that are played as negotiations play out, but there is more scope to publish the “must” intentions of various Governments.

I am one of the former ministers. There is nothing more ex than an ex-minister, but I did not realise how much power ministers had until I became one. I suspect that I share that with others.

However, there are opportunities for Parliament to take more interest. In my concluding remarks, I will refer to a couple of things that are coming to us.

Supermajorities are coming, and we will have to look at that. We have the opportunity in the debate and beyond to think about doing things differently. Perhaps ex-ministers, at least among SNP members, untrammelled by the prospect of offending anyone and not being appointed to the House of Lords, can be quite radical, where others might be more cautious.


11 November 2015

S4M-14440 Energy Storage Network

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14440, in the name of Mike MacKenzie, on the energy storage network. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch by Scottish Renewables of its new storage network and its publication of a briefing paper, Energy Storage: The Basics; understands that the technologies covered in the paper include hydrogen fuel cells, large-scale heat storage and supercapacitors and that the purpose of the network is to bring together people and organisations with an interest in the energy storage sector, which it believes is growing rapidly; notes reports that it is estimated that the global market for large-scale energy storage will be worth around £20 billion by 2022; understands that Scotland has already taken a lead in the development of technologies such as grid-scale batteries, and notes the view that it is of vital importance to the future of the renewable energy sector in the Highlands and Islands and across the country that Scotland continues to develop a strong energy storage sector.

... ... ...

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

Other members have mentioned Tom Johnston, but one key aspiration that he had has not yet been referred to. He imagined that, with the building of hydroelectric schemes, we would get to a position where no charge was made for the electricity that was supplied, because there was no cost in the energy source from which it came. That sounds like fantasy, except that it is now happening in Texas.

In reading The New York Times on Sunday, I spotted that TXU Energy of Texas, which is the state in the United States with the highest proportion of installed wind energy, is now supplying to its customers at no charge whatsoever all the electricity that they can use between 9 o’clock at night and 6 o’clock in the morning. There is a future out there, if we get the infrastructure in the right place, that will enable us to do things that are both environmentally and practically favourable to energy consumers.

Of course, the electricity is free overnight because that is not when most people want it. That brings us neatly to the whole point of storage. I declare that I am a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. It has a monthly magazine that covers up-to-date projects, and the October edition described what is a very exciting project. It involves a lithium-oxygen battery that uses graphene—that is, single atom level graphite carbon—to protect the electrodes from corrosion in the pure oxygen environment that is required in such batteries. A demonstrator is working in the lab, which means that in 10 years’ time, the technology might be available to us as consumers.

Weight for weight and volume for volume, that battery can store the same amount of energy as a tankful of petrol, and it is theoretically already able—in demonstrator mode—to enable us to travel 650km between Edinburgh and London for one fifth of the cost of present technology and one fifth of the weight. In other words, it is a direct and genuine competitor with the petrol and diesel engines that we have in our cars today. We cannot guarantee that it will come out of the lab and end up as a commercial product, but the portents are really quite encouraging.

We have seen enormous changes taking place in the technology of batteries. The point is that, if someone has local generation—a turbine on their roof—and they can charge their car overnight and get a normal tankful of energy, that is pretty good, because the transmission cost is nil, they are in control of what is going on and there are huge environmental benefits.

I contrast that with what the Financial Times reported on Tuesday last week. It told us that the energy supply in the United Kingdom has been so ill managed that the UK Government is having to contract for diesel power stations. We now like diesel a lot less than we did a few months ago, before Volkswagen revealed to us how polluting it is, but the Government is going to spend £436 million to provide excess diesel capacity at precisely the point at which it is shutting down renewables. That disnae make sense.

This has been an excellent debate and I say well done to Mike MacKenzie. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say.


S4M-14768 Succession (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14768, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on the Succession (Scotland) Bill.

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

This is an interesting bill, which we have been dealing with in the DPLR Committee. I will address my remarks to the rectification provisions in sections 3 and 4.

In particular, I note that the minister said, as reported in paragraph 73 of the committee’s report, that we are looking at the grounds for rectification being only when what the testator has wanted and has clearly expressed as being wanted is not reflected in the will.

The minister also said:

“We will continue to reflect on whether software could be considered as constituting a third party.”—[Official Report, Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, 29 September 2015; c 7.]

That refers to where software contributes to the misrepresentation in a resulting will of the intentions that were clearly stated by the testator. The important point is that we have to consider what is done with software, which is quite different from using electronic means to fill in the blanks in a template with one’s intentions. In that case, the intention of the testator is directly keyed, through the keyboard, into the resulting document without any intermediate computer, computer programmer or computer program operation.

Thinking about the matter further, I note that there is clearly a third party when a computer program is involved, because there is the programmer who produced the program. All computer programs are similar in that it is impossible to guarantee a computer program, however simple it may be, to be free from potential error under some circumstances. Even though the testator might have keyed only, “I wish to leave all my assets to my spouse”, for example, it is still perfectly possible for a computer program to scramble that and misspell “spouse”, for the sake of argument. The resulting document would therefore require rectification in order to give effect to the testator’s intention. I think that we have to take account of that.

The difficulty that a court is likely to have to wrestle with is whether there is something that would give clear insight into what the testator’s intentions were. If the testator just keys some data into a computer program, there will be no clear record of the testator’s intentions unless what is keyed in is preserved for examination at a later date.

One of the aspects that we might address that is outwith the legislation but related to it is seeking to provide advice to those who produce automated systems for producing wills that are drawn up by computer programs about the need to preserve directly the testator’s input so that it is possible to examine whether the operation of the computer program has taken the testator’s stated intentions as expressed through the keyboard and produced a will that is different from those intentions.

I think that that lies at the heart of what we would almost certainly need to do. The Government could help those who draw up such programs by making that point and perhaps setting it down as the test that the courts might apply.

It has been an interesting bill to scrutinise. In particular, there is the fiction in section 12—on forfeiture—that means that, if someone murders the person from whom they are due to inherit, that “offender”, although physically still living, is legally dead. That is an exciting and engaging prospect. I look forward to the subsequent stages of the bill.


03 November 2015

S4M-14681 Trident

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14681, in the name of Keith Brown, on Trident, welfare or warfare.

... ... ...

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

On the side of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, the founder of the US social security system is quoted as saying:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

We simply cannot discount the fact that, when we choose to spend vast amounts of money on a particular item of defence, we choose to take money away from those in our society with the greatest need. I am not simply talking about radical social reformers such as FDR. Winston Churchill spoke of the tragedy of poverty and the tyranny of war. In Liverpool in 1951, he said:

“Evils can be created much quicker than they can be cured.”

That absolutely touches on today’s issue.

Like others, I very much welcome Labour members supporting an anti-Trident motion 48 hours ago. That was not the first time that Scottish members have done so, of course. I wish them well and give them every encouragement in capturing their whole party for their position, although the portents are not particularly encouraging. Perhaps too many parliamentarians south of the border are taking up entrenched positions before they have heard the arguments from the Labour Party’s Scottish conference. However, I wish those Labour members well.

Neil Findlay perhaps overegged the pudding a little when he talked about members’ freedom to choose the debate at the Labour conference. In something that I read today, he is quoted as saying that there is no debate in the SNP. I can tell him that SNP members choose the subject of our debates and have debated weapons of mass destruction on nine occasions since 2000, condemning WMD every time. However, it is not a competition. Every debate that takes the argument forward is worth having, wherever it takes place.

As we heard from the minister, Scotland’s share of the expenditure on Trident is £13.8 billion, and we hear that the overall cost will be £167 billion over the life of the system. In her speech on Sunday, Jackie Baillie suggested that 13,000 jobs depend on Trident. The MOD disagrees and says that the number is 520, but for the purposes of the argument—and solely for those purposes—I am prepared to accept Jackie Baillie’s numbers. I dispute Jackie Baillie’s numbers, but if we accept them, we must accept that the cost of providing a job in the Trident industry is more than 10 times the cost of providing a similarly high-skilled job in another area of the economy.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Stewart Stevenson keeps referring to “Jackie Baillie’s numbers”. They are the MOD’s numbers, obtained through a freedom of information request. They are numbers that established economists came up with in relation to the local supply chain and the local economic multiplier effect. They are not my numbers; they are the numbers of credible organisations, as, I am sure, he agrees.

Stewart Stevenson: On the same generous basis, I hope that the member agrees that when we divide one number by the other, we end up with jobs that are 10 times as expensive to provide as the jobs that the highly qualified and gifted engineers who work in the nuclear industry could do in other areas.

The Conservative motion says:

“in an increasingly dangerous world, having a nuclear deterrent protects against both foreseen and unforeseen threats”.

A series of questions arise from that. Have our missiles—or, more properly, the United States’ missiles, which are carried on our submarines—been directed away from the former Soviet Union and towards new targets? Have the missiles deterred the Taliban, in their Afghan mountain fastnesses, from taking action? Were they a deterrent to Saddam Hussein, in his bunker in Iraq? Are they a deterrent to Daesh in Syria and Iraq?

Of course, the questions answer themselves. The missiles are no deterrent of any kind to the threats that exist in today’s world. They are merely a Potemkin village of a defence provision, which has nothing behind it that contributes to defence.

The difference between the Conservatives and the SNP is that the Conservatives would spend any sum of money, or so John Lamont tells us. I would not spend my last penny on something that delivers nothing and in any event is immoral, as other members argued.

Our nuclear weapons are not targeted at our enemies and never will be. They do not attack the military capabilities of those who would attack us. They are by design focused on civilian populations over the horizon—beyond our view, beyond our ken and beyond our care. They are focused, often, on people in totalitarian regimes, who have made no contribution whatever to decisions about peace or war.

I return to Churchill’s dichotomy. When we choose to spend our money on weapons of mass destruction we address neither the tyranny of war nor the tragedy of poverty.


27 October 2015

Standing Orders Rule Changes (Scottish Rate of Income Tax, Consolidation Bills and References to Printed and Published)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is consideration of three motions, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, on various changes to standing orders.


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

The proposed rule changes to standing orders come from three separate reports by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. I shall deal with each of them in turn.

The first set of proposals for change arises from the Finance Committee’s request that the SPPA Committee consider how the provisions in the Scotland Act 2012 on the Scottish rate of income tax should be translated into standing orders. We propose some changes to standing orders to update the Finance Committee’s remit to delete the reference to consideration of “tax-varying resolutions” and insert a new reference to the Scottish rate of income tax. We also propose to delete references to motions for “tax-varying resolutions” in standing orders and insert new references to Scottish rate resolutions.

We propose a revision to rule 9.16.7, which currently states that if a budget bill depends on a tax-varying resolution and the Parliament rejects the motion for the resolution, the bill falls. The new rule 9.16.7 provides that stage 3 of a budget bill may not start until any associated Scottish rate resolution has been made by the Parliament. We have taken that approach because there is considerable interdependence between the Scottish rate resolution and the budget bill. If the Parliament rejected the motion for a rate resolution, there would be a chance for the Government to propose a fresh motion and amend the budget bill accordingly. Finally, under this heading, we propose a procedure for the cancellation of a Scottish rate resolution if that should ever be required.

The second set of changes relates to how we handle consolidation bills. Those bills take existing pieces of legislation and consolidate them into a single bill that does not change the substance of the law. The Minister for Parliamentary Business asked the SPPA Committee to look at changing the rules so that the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, rather than a specifically established consolidation committee, could consider consolidation bills.

We considered whether to recommend that change. One advantage is that considering consolidation bills would link to the law reform element of the DPLR Committee’s work, and the DPLR Committee is used to considering legislation purely from a technical perspective rather than considering the policy behind the law. Another potential advantage is that a separate committee would no longer need to be established. We therefore concluded that there should be a new option to refer a consolidation bill to the DPLR Committee, but that the option of referral to a consolidation committee should be retained.

The proposed standing orders allow the Parliamentary Bureau to decide which option for referral would be most appropriate on a case-by-case basis. For example, if the bureau decided that a consolidation bill should be scrutinised by a committee that shares a member with the relevant subject committee, it might be appropriate to refer the bill to a consolidation committee rather than to the DPLR Committee.

Finally, we looked at the current requirements in standing orders to “print”, “publish” or “print and publish” various parliamentary documents. Some of those terms are used inconsistently. For example, there are requirements to print motions in the Business Bulletin, but there is only a requirement to publish the Business Bulletin itself.

The important point about those references is that the term “publish” could refer to publishing by electronic means, whereas the term “printed” requires the production of a hard copy. In addressing those inconsistencies, the committee became aware of a number of instances in which there is no requirement to publish marshalled lists and groupings at all, while Presiding Officer determinations in most cases require only to be notified. The committee therefore decided to take the opportunity to address those anomalies, too.

As an additional tidying-up exercise, we propose that the multiple references to “notified” in chapter 9A of standing orders, which relates to private bill procedures, are replaced with a single duty to notify and publish all the determinations under that chapter heading.

I should make it clear that the changes are designed purely to bring consistency and clarity to the rules and do not dictate or encourage any changes to the current practice of publishing a range of documents in hard copy, since the term “publish” applies to either format.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 8th Report 2015 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes – Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SP Paper 813), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 30 October 2015.

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 9th Report 2015 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes – Consolidation Bills (SP Paper 814), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 30 October 2015.

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 10th Report 2015 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes – printed and published (SP Paper 815), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 30 October 2015.


06 October 2015

S4M-14448 Island Communities

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14448, in the name of Derek Mackay, on empowering Scotland’s island communities.

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

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport—public transport is a subject that I expect to cover in my speech.

I was thinking about when I first went to an island. It appears to have been at Easter 1965, when I first went to Skye. It has been my very great pleasure to have visited islands all around Scotland.

We have talked a good deal about aviation. I have, so far, flown into 13 island airports. I flew the plane on four of those occasions; the other times I was flown commercially.

The islands are part of my and my family’s heritage. My grandfather was appointed as a schoolmaster in Lewis in the 1880s. He was an Anglophone Scot who was married to an English lady. It was not the most obvious appointment in what was a wholly Gaelic-speaking community, but that is precisely part of the disrespect that was shown to island traditions. Abolition of Gaelic was almost public policy in those days, and I regret that my grandfather played a little role in that.

Mike Russell may have missed a little trick. We are talking about islands and island authorities, but parts of mainland Scotland are almost islands in terms of their accessibility. I am particularly thinking of the Mull of Kintyre. By contrast, one could almost suggest that Skye is no longer an island, now that it is connected to the mainland, but let us pass on that issue.

I know that Dave Thompson is going to talk about air services to Skye in his speech, so I will talk a little bit about how we could change the regulatory regime to make air services cheaper, easier and more pervasive. First—I pursued this matter as a minister, but without much success—we require commercial flights in the UK to be operated by twin-engine aircraft. That is not the case in Finland, France, Greece, Spain or Norway, where single-engine aircraft can operate many of the thin routes, which reduces costs and increases frequency.

When Lord King was asked why he flew in a 747 whenever he could, he said, “Because it’s got four engines and they don’t make any six-engine planes.” What is the reliability and accident record of single-engine compared with multi-engine planes? Interestingly, the accident rate in the United States for single-engine turboprop planes is 1.99 per 100,000 flight hours, but for twin-engine planes it is 2.37 per 100,000 flight hours. In other words, it is 15 per cent higher for planes with more than one engine. Why? It is because flying a multi-engine plane with one engine not working is more complex than dealing with total failure of the engine of a single-engine plane. Fatalities are similarly greater in multi-engine light aircraft than they are in single-engine light aircraft. We should look at others’ experience and continue to lobby the Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Government.

Secondly, we should consider whether we have the right approach mechanisms. This is a technical issue, but it matters. We are talking about the reliability of air services in Scotland, so the weather has quite a lot to do with things. I was reading an incident report about a Loganair flight that had been severely affected by icing and in which there had been no injuries—indeed, the passengers may not have even been aware of the incident. Fog and low cloud are issues at our airports. In the UK we have, as far as I am aware, one airport that is using modern global positioning system technology to allow aircraft to make their approach—that airport happens to be Shoreham airport.

The United States now has 1,800 airports at which pilots can make their approach in single-engine aircraft using GPS. For example, the pilots’ chart for Provo in Utah shows that they can descend using GPS through a cloud base of 200ft, but for Wick in Scotland, which does not have that facility, we are talking about a higher cloud base of 366ft.

Of course, GPS is also very cheap. An instrument landing system costs £1 million, but putting in GPS costs the airport almost nothing and costs the operators only quite modest amounts. It is time that the CAA and others allowed matters to move on so that we can simultaneously reduce costs and improve reliability. I know that such improvements are not necessarily in the gift of the minister, except in so far as he can lobby others elsewhere, including European authorities, and not only UK authorities.

I will close by touching on something that has not yet come up in the debate, which is universal services for the islands—in particular, for delivery and collection of goods. Too many of our island communities and relatively remote mainland communities are disadvantaged by excess delivery charges by commercial operators. It is high time that that was tackled by legislation, if necessary and possible, but certainly by exposing the rip-off merchants for what they are and by seeking to persuade them that equity is required if we are going to support people in all the islands, but particularly in the three islands council communities of the Western Isles, the Orkneys and the Shetlands. They have a range of problems, but also a range of opportunities.


29 September 2015

S4M-14375 Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill: Stage 1 - Closing Speech

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14375, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill.

... ... ...

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

We as a Parliament pride ourselves on openness and accountability in relation to the behaviour of all our MSPs. The question is, of course, whether we could do more to build public trust and ensure that we have a regime that is fit for purpose. Robust standards are essential to ensure that, if wrongdoing should occur, there are sufficient checks and balances to hold MSPs to account.

The bill seeks to increase transparency and accessibility. The matters that it deals with are important, and the Parliament must always keep them under review and make improvements where the opportunity arises.

I thank the Parliament for establishing a committee to take the bill forward, provided that the bill receives members’ support at 5 o’clock tonight. I thank those who have participated in the debate for engaging with a topic that is so important for our future probity and reputation.

I turn to some of the points that have been raised in the debate. The minister mentioned the reduction in the gifts threshold from 1 per cent to 0.5 per cent of a member’s salary. We first discussed that subject in committee on 10 October 2013; it stems from the establishment of the groupe d’états contre la corruption, which is a development that we are following.

The minister referred to the Electoral Commission, from which we have received a helpful briefing that makes clear that the commission is satisfied with what we are doing. In particular, the commission is satisfied that it will be able to obtain the necessary information that it requires from the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee clerks in the Parliament to meet its future publication, compliance and enforcement obligation.

I welcome the fact that Tavish Scott has come along to the debate and brought his considerable experience to bear on the subject. I will pick up a couple of the points that he made in a moment.

The minister has already indicated that ministers will be caught by the legislation—I was going to raise that point, but the bill will certainly apply in respect of their behaviour as MSPs.

Tavish Scott made an interesting point with regard to soliciting. Section 9 of the bill introduces the phrase, “or agreeing to receive”. We certainly intend that provision to catch soliciting, but I will take further advice from the clerks to see whether any further amendments could be made to clarify it beyond misapprehension. It is clear that soliciting would be as unacceptable to any of us as “agreeing to receive” would be.

With regard to political parties funding members’ activities in their constituencies and elsewhere, we are seeking to catch the whole issue of the funding of political activities by members with some of the amendments that we have lodged. However, in relation to elections in particular, the Electoral Commission’s requirements on reporting by political parties already catch such activity, and parties’ responses are published on the commission’s website. Equally, the bill refers to the period of election in which financial returns must be made, and it makes provision for when money that is solicited for that purpose is not spent within 35 days of an election.

I want to say a little bit more about one or two points that have arisen. I promised that I would say something about the motion of censure. It would serve as a useful middle ground when the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee found a member to be in breach but did not consider the breach to be sufficiently serious to justify a sanction such as exclusion or removal of other parliamentary privileges. Such a motion could be debated, which would provide the MSP who was the subject of the motion with a public opportunity to apologise in person. A motion of censure would be a useful addition to the Parliament’s toolkit of sanctions.

I also mentioned the bill’s provisions for the retention of members’ registers and we heard a great deal about that from Mary Fee. Keeping the register for 10 years as opposed to five years will be particularly useful in general, and specifically when members have what might be termed as broken service and come back to the Parliament. There are practical reasons for extending the time period, in that it will allow members to see what they said previously. The change will also increase transparency overall. The current five-year term was set in relation to the time for which members were elected but it is reasonable to extend it. Additional transparency for the public has to be good news and keeping the register for longer will help with that by letting the public see what is going on.

At the moment, all the information that we are referring to is on the Parliament’s website and held by the Electoral Commission. However, depending on the nature of the interest, the bill will mean that people will be able to come to one place much more readily. It will also help members to comply with the two regimes. Most of us have comparatively modest operations that involve the Electoral Commission but when it occurs, we will be unfamiliar with it and we do not have sources of advice in the Parliament. That will change.

As other members have said, we have never seen the rules on paid advocacy breached. The changes that we want to make today are important because they signal to everyone how important the rules are but, at the end of the day, it is down the personal probity of each and every one of us, not just to the rules that appear in the book. The provisions in the bill will ensure that we are in both places and that is a comfortable place to be.

I am delighted to close the debate and that we have had the opportunity to take the bill through stage 1. I confirm that I seek the Parliament’s agreement on the general principles of this committee bill. As the minister suggested, I hope that we might see a greater number of committee bills in future sessions, not all of which will be related to our internal business.

The bill is an important one that increases transparency and ensures that our procedures will remain robust.


S4M-14375 Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill: Stage 1 - Opening Speech

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14375, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill. I call Stewart Stevenson to speak to and move the motion on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.


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

Back in April, the Parliament agreed to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s proposal for a committee bill to amend the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006. The bill and its accompanying documents were introduced on 27 May. I am very pleased to come to the chamber to invite the Parliament to agree to the bill’s general principles.

The bill’s overall aim is to amend the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 to ensure that information about MSPs’ financial interests is transparent and accessible. The bill combines two existing reporting processes to assist MSPs in complying with requirements to report donations. The proposals in the bill will also strengthen the sanctions available to the Parliament to deal with any breaches of the rules set out in the legislation, widen the scope of the offence of paid advocacy and extend the length of time that the Parliament may retain members’ registers of interest. I will speak about that aspect of the bill in my closing remarks.

First, I turn to the proposals to eliminate dual reporting. MSPs currently have to report financial interests to two places: to the Electoral Commission, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, otherwise known as PPERA; and to the Parliament. There is an overlap between the two regimes, which results in the dual reporting of certain financial interests. The bill makes the necessary changes to the Parliament’s register so that dual reporting can be ended, bringing the reporting requirements for MSPs into a single place. That will make information about MSPs’ financial interests more easily available to the public. It will also be beneficial for a number of reasons: information on MSPs’ financial interests will be found in one place, on the Parliament’s website, which is where one would expect to find it; MSPs will have to register in only one place, and will be able to receive advice on all their interests from parliamentary officials; and all complaints about an MSP not meeting the reporting requirements will be dealt with in a single way, by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. That will make the process easier to navigate, for the public, for MSPs and for anyone with an interest in the process. There will be a single process for all MSPs, for complaints and for compliance.

The approach in the bill has been to leave the Parliament’s existing regime as undisturbed as possible while incorporating the donations and transactions that are currently reportable under PPERA. However, the changes in the bill that will bring the two regimes together in one place make the legislation much more complex.

The bill will adjust the definitions of “gift” and “overseas visit”, and a new category will be added for loans and certain other transactions. The bill also provides for an additional layer of rules on the aggregation of interests with a combined value of more than £1,500. The overall approach has been to limit the proposed changes, wherever possible, to interests with a single or combined value in excess of the £1,500 threshold, which comes from PPERA.

The current framework for ending dual reporting in the Electoral Administration Act 2006 does not extend to independent MSPs. As that act stands, dual reporting can be ended only for members of registered political parties, and not for independent members. The bill will amend the Electoral Administration Act 2006 to allow dual reporting to be ended for all MSPs. The committee included such a provision so that all MSPs would be treated in the same way—I know that you feel strongly about that, Presiding Officer.

As convener of the SPPA Committee, I have talked to all members in the current parliamentary session who are affected. Indeed, my last meeting with the late Margo MacDonald MSP, when I visited her at home a month before she died, was precisely to discuss the effect of what we are proposing. I have to say that Margo was in remarkably good spirits and my three minutes on the proposal extended to a full hour of discussions of current political topics—no surprise there. It would be unfair to require independent members to continue with dual reporting when the system has been streamlined for MSPs who are members of political parties.

I move on to the bill’s provisions on sanctions. The Scotland Act 2012 amended section 39 of the Scotland Act 1998 to give the Parliament greater flexibility in determining what sanctions are appropriate for breaches of the members’ interests regime and the paid advocacy prohibition. The bill largely restates the existing criminal offence. The provisions on parliamentary sanctions in the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 are currently limited to excluding a member from proceedings in the Parliament or restricting participation in proceedings on matters in relation to which there has been a breach.

The bill makes it clear that a full range of parliamentary sanctions will be available if an MSP fails to register or declare an interest or undertakes paid advocacy. It makes provision for a range of parliamentary sanctions that are broadly equivalent to some of the measures that are available to the Parliament when it withdraws a member’s rights and privileges, for example in respect of a breach of the code of conduct. The approach ensures consistency with section 39, which envisages further provision on sanctions being made in or under an act of the Scottish Parliament.

The committee thought it vital that a wide range of sanctions should be available to the Parliament when dealing with breaches of the interests legislation and the code of conduct for MSPs. The available sanctions must be sufficiently stringent to enable the Parliament to respond effectively to breaches of the rules—and to discourage such breaches in the first place.

The bill will ensure that a broad range of sanctions is available to the Parliament, including the potential removal of all allowances or salary. That change will demonstrate that the Parliament has the tools to deal effectively with breaches of the legislation.

Paid advocacy is where an individual uses their position as an MSP to advocate for a particular matter in return for payment, including a benefit in kind, or urges any other MSP to do so. It is a criminal offence and a breach of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 for an MSP to undertake paid advocacy, although no MSP has ever been found to have breached those rules.

The committee is very clear, given the gravity with which paid advocacy should be treated, that the criminal offence for paid advocacy is appropriate. Our consultation paper proposed that the definition of paid advocacy should be amended for greater consistency with the Bribery Act 2010. Of particular note to the committee was the incorporation of the act of agreeing to receive inducements within the offence of being bribed under section 2 of the Bribery Act 2010. The paid advocacy offence currently requires actual receipt; it does not incorporate payments or benefits in kind that a member agrees to receive. Our bill amends the definition of paid advocacy so that agreeing to receive inducements, as well as actually receiving them, will be an offence and a breach of the interests legislation.

The bill introduces a new sanction—that the Parliament should be able to agree a motion of censure. I will say more about that in my closing remarks.

I believe that the provisions of the bill will increase transparency for the public, make it easier for members to ensure that they comply with the rules and create a more robust standards regime.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Bill.


22 September 2015

S4M-14311 Education

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14311, in the name of Angela Constance, on building on Scotland’s educational success.

... ... ...

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

Feasgar math, Presiding Officer. I hope that one member of the front-bench team recognises that I said, “Good afternoon.” “Math” is a very important word in not only English but Gaelic, in which it means “good”. I am delighted that the cabinet secretary said right at the start of her speech that there needs to be greater public enthusiasm for maths. I see that my Gaelic pronunciation has clearly amused the Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages—entirely justifiably, I am sure.

Both the Conservative amendment and the Liberal Democrat amendment seek to delete all reference to maths from the Government’s motion. Mary Scanlon emphasised the importance of maths, but her amendment would delete all reference to it, replacing it with numeracy. Numeracy is important, but it is in the motion in the first place. Perhaps that tells us that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats simply do not count in this debate. However, they are far from being the worst of legislators when it comes to their ability to deal with maths.

I draw members’ attention to the Indiana pi bill—Indiana House Bill 246—of 1897, which sought to define in law a value for pi. It sought to define that value to be 3.2 rather than the 3.1416 et cetera—it is a transcendental number and cannot be defined in the real number system—that we all know it to be. That bill was passed on 6 February 1897. Fortunately, the Indiana Senate had another look at it after it went to the temperance committee. That might tell us something about the mood of the representatives who passed the bill in the first place. If we get things wrong here, there is always the comfort that others get it even more wrong elsewhere when it comes to maths.

The making maths count initiative is a very important one. As the cabinet secretary said in her press release on 3 September,

“Maths has a vital place at the heart of our curriculum”.

When I was a school student, our deputy head was Doc Inglis, a Lancastrian and a mathematician. His duty was to impart enthusiasm for maths among his pupils, so the first thing that he used to do with each class—my class was one of those with which he did this—was send it round the school to search for infinity. We looked in the dustbins, we took the blackboards down and we even went out to the sports field to contemplate infinity. The point is that, 55 years on, that is still imprinted in my memory. In the sixth year, he brought his tax return to the class and did that with us—either to tell us how little he got paid for trying to impart mathematical principles and practices to us, or to show us that there was some modest value in being able to add up numbers and minimise the tax that we pay.

Perhaps we most admired Doc Inglis as an inspirational teacher for his celebration of our headteacher’s appointment. He had gone for the job and not got it, and on the anniversary of the headteacher’s appointment, he would always come in wearing a black tie.

The motion talks about mathematics and numeracy. A great deal can be said on that subject. Much of what can be said to enthuse our schools students can be found in quite unlikely places. In particular, I commend “The Simpsons”, which is written by a team of writers of whom most are mathematicians. Almost every episode of “The Simpsons” has within it a mathematical conundrum.

For example, one episode made a sideways reference to Fermat’s last theorem just after it had been solved: four numbers expressed to the power of 12 on a blackboard in one of the scenes. Of course calculators show that Fermat’s theorem has been solved, but the reality—the trick—is that there is a digit about 17 points across to the right that shows that it has not actually been solved. It might be useful for us to contemplate encouraging teachers to introduce things such as watching “The Simpsons” as part of teaching mathematics in the classroom. If we make mathematics relevant to real life, we make mathematics a matter of enthusiasm for our kids.

Mathematics takes part in literature as well. Fiona McLeod has just spoken about literacy, and Dante’s “Inferno” refers to hell; one of the keepers of the gates of hell is Belphegor, who has his own special prime number. It was named after him and is 1000000000000066600000000000001—31 digits in total.

It is symmetric, and we can see other interesting things when we add up the digits.

There is also mathematics in religion. For example, Hindus are guided by the Vedic texts, which discuss what Hindus believe are the five types of infinity—the infinity of point, of line, of area, of volume and, of course, of time—and introduce the concepts of 1 and 0.

There are many places in our culture and in our lives where mathematics can be used to make maths relevant to people, which is the important thing.

Perhaps the great internet Mersenne prime study is the best of all. The largest Mersenne prime is, of course, 257,885,161-1. That is a really fascinating number to be getting on with.


15 September 2015

S4M-14245 Refugees

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14245, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on responding to the global refugee crisis.

... ... ...

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

The origins of the catastrophe that faces us today lie with Governments, but the most effective response to what has happened has been with individuals, and that has often been the case down the paths of history. In 1898, Émile Zola, a French literary giant, took on the power of his Government when injustice was done to someone in the army. His efforts were recognised by two consecutive nominations for the Nobel prize for literature and he eventually overcame, but posthumously. In 1968, we saw Jan Palach immolate himself in Wenceslas Square in Prague as part of the Prague spring, which eventually led to change in his country and indeed in the Soviet bloc, and in 1989, in Tiananmen Square, we saw a single individual stand in front of the tanks. Those people did not do that for personal glory or for any reward from anyone else. In fact, to this day we do not even know the name of the man who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square.

When we look at the Scottish response to the situation, we look at the response of the individuals in our community, which has been excellent. The same is true throughout the United Kingdom and in countries across Europe. People from our countries have historically been welcomed to other countries. It is now our turn to welcome those in their extremity to our shores and to our support. I welcome the launch of the website; I see an excellent contribution there from the Scottish Refugee Council on fundraising and how practical help might be given. I hope that many people will look at that.

It is worth looking at our own situation in Europe. We are the home of colonising nations, benefiting enormously over hundreds of years from countries around the world. Now, in their extremity, it is our turn to help those who actually helped us to build the wealth that we depend on today.

Of course, the whole thing is not just about money, although money is the most important thing that many of us will be able to contribute. In fact, it is hardly about money at all. As Sandra White said, it is a moral issue. No man, woman or child stands alone in the world. In the palm of our hands is the future of desperate people around the world. Their very lives depend on us. Physical threats drive people from countries, as do violence, lack of shelter, lack of food and lack of water. None of those is new, but the scale of the problem today is, alas, very different from what happened previously.

In the late 1930s, we supported Jewish children in particular out of the hands of the Nazis. There were tens of thousands then, but the numbers are orders of magnitude greater now. Forty years ago, I visited a refugee camp in the West Bank and I remain moved by just thinking about that visit. I know that others in this Parliament have visited refugees in many places around the world.

It was only towards the very end of my father’s life that I discovered that he had briefly worked with a Christian charity and had been based in an office in Brussels getting Jewish children out of Germany in the late 1930s. Indeed, he told me that he was arrested by the Gestapo in Cologne in 1938. Being my father, he talked his way out of the situation, but today’s refugees cannot simply talk their way out of their extremity. They need us to speak for them.

The Conservative amendment talks about underlying causes. Those are not simple; they are diverse and there will be future challenges to our morality and our practicality. As the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through the Parliament, I return to that subject as something that will cause huge problems in the future. As the climate changes and we benefit, people around the world will find themselves migrating.

In recent times, we have seen many other examples of migration in Europe. One of my friends has just spent many months out in Bosnia, working with people who were affected by the war there. Let me remind the chamber that Syria and the adjacent areas are important to our history and where we are today. Sumeria, which is part of Lebanon that is adjacent to Syria, was the origin of money as the transition from a herdsman culture to an agrarian culture gave rise to the need for money. Our number system comes from there, as do many of the intellectual underpinnings of our society, while Damascus is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world. The Poles came here in the 1940s and 1950s, but the Scots went to Poland in the 1830s.

We do not demand action because it is easy; we demand action because life is incomparably more difficult for refugees if they are denied help. More than ever, it is for us to provide that help in the refugees’ extremity.


08 September 2015

S4M-14156 Scottish Economy (Progress)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14156, in the name of John Swinney, on progress in the Scottish economy.


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

Whenever Jackie Baillie lodges an amendment to a Government motion it is interesting to look at what she wants to delete. The first thing that she wants to delete is that we are in the

“longest period of ... economic growth”.

Obviously, the Labour Party does not want to celebrate that. I diverge dramatically from Jackie Baillie’s position in that regard. However, I agree with her that it is important that we look at educational inequality. It is a proper moral and practical thing for us to invest in people who are not performing so well and who have unrealised potential. Educating people who need additional help will create additional jobs—that is good. It will bring those people to the job market and make them more effective contributors to our economy and society. That is good, too. What it will not do in the short term is improve productivity in our economy. However, it is something that we most certainly should do.

We have to think about what kind of jobs there will be in the future and how our economy, and employment in it, will look—not just this year, next year or in five years, but in 20 years.

A range of issues have not yet come up in the debate. There are inhibitors in the way that public policy works that will, if they are allowed to continue unchecked, make things more difficult. For example, many businesses in my part of Scotland find it difficult to get deliveries via parcel services and so on because there is no adequate universal service provision. I heard of someone who could not get something delivered by Amazon to Aberdeen. The material concerned was potentially flammable and Amazon said that it would have to cross water to get to Aberdeen. Delivery services can inhibit receipt of goods and services in many areas of Scotland. It is a significant issue. In the opposite direction, companies’ being unable to have their goods collected from their premises inhibits economic growth and development.

We might think about some good and underexploited issues. I have a Betamax tape. It is only 25 years old and I can no longer watch it, but I have a piece of family paperwork from more than 200 years ago that I can read. The National Library of Scotland is taking a leading role in protecting the records of our country from obsolescence through technological change. It is developing ways in which electronic databases can be migrated over time. Paper has historically looked after itself, but in the modern world, with our storage of information being largely electronic, there is a huge risk that we will lose lots of that information. The Government should be encouraged to support the National Library of Scotland. That work will create a specialist skill in Scotland that will be of great benefit all over the country and all over the world, and will create commercial opportunities.

We have to improve delivery of electronic services to everyone in our country. We have to come up with technological solutions and investment to support the 5 per cent of us, in which I include myself—and I speak with a heartfelt plea—who are on exchange-only lines that cannot be connected to fibre optic cable. I see that Alex Johnstone is in similar difficulty.

Yesterday I had lunch at Hergés on the Loch in Tweedbank, for which I say thank you to Borders rail. I now want to move to our building the case for Buchan rail, because Fraserburgh, with a population of 15,000, is 37 miles from the nearest railway station, and Peterhead, with a population of 19,000, is 32 miles from the nearest railway station. That is the next big rail project: I hope that the Government looks at it in early course.


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