28 April 2015

S4M-13023 Scotland’s Future Employability Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-13023, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on Scotland’s future employability services. I call the cabinet secretary to speak to and move the motion.

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

It is interesting that, on the broad sweep of policy, we can make common cause with our colleagues in the Labour Party. I very much welcome that. I see words in the amendment that the Government might pick at and so on but, when we put the people of Scotland who have the category of problems that we are debating into the mix, it is right and proper that we try to build consensus, and I will try to do that.

We should think about labels. Quite a lot of labels have been kicking around in the debate. We talk about young people and disabled people although, funnily enough, we have not talked about old people. I speak as the third-oldest person in the debate. I will be 70 next year, although someone recently told me that I will be a very young 70, so maybe I am both young and old simultaneously—I simply do not know.

There are a number of groups that we have not talked about. Richard Simpson, Siobhan McMahon and my colleague Nigel Don talked about people who suffer degrees of mental ill health. As well as people with mental ill health, we have people who are recovering from addictions, people who have come out of the criminal justice system, people who have literacy and numeracy problems and people who, for whatever reason, are not comfortable with modern technology, perhaps because of disability or a lack of access. There is a wide range of issues.

That brings us to the heart of the matter: we are talking not about categories but about individuals. We will solve the problems that face us in this area of public policy one person at a time and we must ensure that we develop what is appropriate to help each person.

Work is an important part of most people’s lives not because it provides economic security—although it must do that—but because it puts a value in the mind of people who work. It says that they are valued and are making a contribution. Work has a purpose, but it is not to build a stronger economy or increase taxation; it is to help the individuals. It is about ensuring that they have a sense of purpose.

People who have been out of work for a considerable time bring to re-engaging with work or engaging with it for the first time all sorts of issues in their minds and which they may create in others’ minds. We must deal with those. For example, although one woman in three and one man in four will suffer some mental ill health at some time in their lives, it is somehow seen as a tiny minority issue that does not affect us and, whenever someone has had mental ill health—as people will from time to time—they are stuck with a label for the rest of their lives. Employers will get a great deal out of drawing in people with a wide range of issues that I have delineated and having people who can contribute from their experience, adverse though it might be, to improve the operation of workplaces.

The Presiding Officer said that there would be room for inventions and I will take him at his word. As an older person among others, I suggest that we are perhaps missing a trick in relation to how we use older people to bring in younger people with less experience of work.

As older people reach the end of their working careers—which, through choice rather than necessity, is later than it might have been for many—we have a core of people who can be the mentors of the new. They might wish to work fewer hours but feel that there is a good social purpose in bringing in people who have particular barriers to getting into the world of work that, with their experience, they might be able to help with.

I wonder whether it is time that we collectively turned our mind to how we might make that work because, as one gets older, one might wish to work fewer hours. My father, who was a general practitioner, gave up working nights when he was 65. When he was 70, he gave up working weekends so, from the age of 70, he started to work what he thought was a normal working week. He was a bit different from the generality, but we increasingly see the pattern of people reducing their workloads.

That is an opportunity to engage people and give them a sense of worth and perhaps a tiny skill that enables them to get in through the front door and become depended on. Nothing gives people more sense of worth than the idea that what they are doing is necessary to support other people with much greater experience and far greater skills. The old lags such as me and others might be the key to unlocking that.

Something that we have talked about that is relevant in my area of the country is gender gaps. We have talked about how there is a huge skew, with few women going into many of the traditionally male-dominated industries. I welcome the fact that, when I go to what is now North East Scotland College—previously Banff and Buchan College—there is always a decent number of women on the oil and engineering courses. It is not yet enough, but a decent number of women can see ahead of them a career that is intellectually and economically rewarding and will engage their mental faculties. However, that pattern is not repeated over enough of Scotland. Women are not challenging men for places in what is a traditionally male industry.

I spent 30 years of my life in information technology. When I started, roughly equivalent numbers of men and women were doing the technical jobs, which is quite interesting. Of course, that is because nobody knew about computers then—I am talking about the 1960s—and they were viewed as not quite being a legitimate area, so the men did not automatically take over. Things have gone downhill since then, and men now dominate the industry.

We have to find new models and new ways of mentoring people, including women, people with mental ill health and—with regard to Richard Simpson’s slightly sideways reference—people who have the ability and desire to recover from addictions. That means helping companies that are prepared to make the effort to support ex-offenders who have, while in prison, improved their literacy and numeracy skills and who now need to add employment to their portfolio.

There has been a large amount of agreement in today’s debate. The Labour amendment, which talks about wider reforms of employment policy to deliver a more socially just Scotland, is spot on. It captures the whole point of what we are doing.

The amendment also talks about industrial injury. We have moved on a great deal from 1836, when my great-great-grandfather died as a serf in the coal mining industry. He was so low down the pecking order that there is no record of his death.

We can make progress. I hope that this debate contributes to the on-going debate about how we can do that.


23 April 2015

S4M-12994 Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-12994, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill.

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

I think that it is appropriate for me to report, before I start my speech, that I am a member of the Banff Town and County Club, which is a licensed premises such as are referred to in the bill. I do not intend to speak on that part of the bill.

This is an interesting debate. One of the things that we perhaps ought to think about is that the problem of alcohol abuse and licensing and controlling alcohol is hardly new. Christopher Smout, the renowned historian who wrote the book “Century of the Scottish People: 1830-1950”—he is essentially a social historian—spoke of a village in East Lothian that had one public house for every 14 occupants. There were special circumstances: it was a village to which many people came seasonally to work in agriculture. The problem is not exactly a new one.

The problem also existed when the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915 was passed. I have a personal interest in that act, because my father’s cousin was responsible for it. Lloyd George had wanted to ban the sale of alcohol altogether, because of the effect that alcohol had on the munitions factories and the military towns around the UK during the first world war. James Stevenson persuaded the Government that it might be more effective simply to prohibit the sale of immature spirits. That is why whisky is kept in bond for three years. The aim was not to improve the quality of the whisky—although it had that secondary effect—but to restrict its supply, because there was seen to be an issue at that time. The improvement of the brand that is Scotch whisky that flowed from the 1915 act was an incidental benefit for whisky, because it meant that there was no longer poor-quality stuff on the market and whisky could be trusted as a quality product.

We can move forward to the reforms of the 1960s. Before then, there were one or two things to do with licensing in Scotland that we have totally forgotten about. For example, there was the veto poll. Teddy Taylor, the Tory MP for Cathcart for many years, was a very strong exponent of that. I think—subject to confirmation—that Cathcart was the last area in Glasgow where there was a total veto. The population had requisitioned a poll under the appropriate legislation and voted to have no licensed premises in their area. That was the provision that applied after the war, up to the reform in the early 1960s.

A licence granted for sale of alcohol on a Sunday had to be for a hotel. The definition of “hotel” meant that, if someone was going to sell drink on a Sunday, somebody had to be resident in the hotel. Therefore, across Scotland were hotels that advertised seven-day licences that had one room where somebody lived permanently at a discounted rate so that the licence was not discontinued. I happened to know one poor unfortunate, now deceased, called John Dalrymple, who got thrown out of the home that he had lived in for 30 years when the legislation was reformed in the 1960s. We should not imagine that any generation of politicians has been able to identify all the perfect solutions to what is quite a substantial problem.

I admit that I first entered a pub and consumed drink on 21 March 1959. It was in the Register Tap in Edinburgh, following a 3-3 draw in the Calcutta cup at Murrayfield, and there was a need for consolation. Members are probably able to work out that I may not have been fully of age. Indeed, the barman asked me to sit behind the door in case a policeman popped his head round—things were a lot more lax in the old days. The provisions that are before us now are much better. Of course, my grandfather would not have approved at all, because he was a member of the society of Rechabites, who went around trying to get people to sign the pledge. He was against drinking in all its forms.

I used to have an airgun when I was a kid. It was not the kind of airgun that people can get now. It struggled to propel its .177mm lead pellet more than about 30 feet—the guns that we have now are more significant. If I wanted to carry it in a public place, I needed a licence, but that was simply a question of going to the post office, handing over 10 bob and getting one. It was really just a way of recording who had the licences, and it seemed to be utterly pointless.

I commend the policy position that Cara Hilton has taken. I have enormous sympathy for what she expressed regarding sexualisation of the female image. I absolutely agree on that. I caution her, however: she appeared to suggest that she would lodge at stage 2 amendments to do with the media and the internet. They would not, of course, fall within the powers that we have in this Parliament. I thought that it would be useful to spell out why that would be a risky thing to do. When bills are introduced, the Presiding Officer’s office has to say that they are intra vires—in other words, that they are within the powers of the Parliament. As amendments are lodged at stage 2, it is up to the lead committee convener to come to a view. At stage 3, it is up to the Presiding Officer to select—or not to select—amendments.

Of course, we can pass legislation that is ultra vires. However, when it goes for royal assent, if it is judged by the palace’s legal advisers to be ultra vires, royal assent will not be given. It is not simply a matter of the little bit of the bill that is ultra vires being struck out—although it could be at a later date if there is a dispute—because that would cause the whole bill to fall.

Although I utterly sympathise and agree with what has been said, including what was said by Rhoda Grant and others, I simply advise that because there is no policy difference among us, we must be very careful to take good advice. If that advice is that we can do what is proposed, I would be utterly content and I would be behind any such amendments, but we must be very careful on such matters.

It is appropriate that I record our gratitude to Sandra White for her work over a significant period on sexual entertainment venues. She has not been the only person articulating the argument, but she has been the one who has utterly stuck with it. It is to her eternal credit that we see in the bill her not inconsiderably small hand writ large.

I wish the bill every success as it passes through its subsequent stages in Parliament.


S4M-12801 DG Food and Drink

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12801, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on DG food and drink. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands the importance of food and drink to the Scottish economy; believes that the Year of Food and Drink 2015 is a chance to spotlight, celebrate and promote Scotland’s natural produce; considers that food and drink are an important part of Scottish cultural identity and heritage and are key strengths in promoting Scotland as a holiday destination; recognises as an example of best practice the collaborative activities between food businesses, organisations and the public sector across Dumfries and Galloway to raise awareness of the economic importance of food and drink production in the region; congratulates DG Food and Drink and Dumfries and Galloway Council on developing and launching Scotland’s Artisan Food Trail, a new tourism trail to encourage food tourism during the Year of Food and Drink and beyond; congratulates the food and drink industry in Dumfries and Galloway for embracing the opportunities presented by the Year of Food and Drink, and looks forward to seeing Dumfries and Galloway increasingly recognised across Scotland and beyond as a food tourism destination.

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

I am sure that Graeme Dey will be answerable at a later stage for referring to the cabinet secretary’s profile.

I join other members in congratulating Joan McAlpine on extolling the virtues of Dumfries and Galloway and the food that is produced there and on giving those of us from elsewhere in Scotland the opportunity to talk about the important cultural Scottish identity and heritage that come from food and drink across Scotland.

Scottish food and drink has even joined the current election campaign. I saw in one of today’s papers that apparently someone in the south-west of England was complaining that the Scots were taking over the full English breakfast down in Devon, where haggis has become part of the meal. I think that that is great because haggis is wonderful food—and I suppose that even in south-west England it is probably optional.

There are bigger success stories in our food and drink industry. Reports have come out in the past 24 hours that, for the first time, the value of our farmed salmon exports has crossed £500 million mark. I think that there will be very few members of this Parliament who have not eaten salmon products that come from processing facilities in my constituency.

There are small successes as well. The Barra snail is now the connoisseur’s snail of choice in French restaurants, not only in France but in Scotland. The addition of virgin rapeseed oil is improving the quality of cooking and salads throughout Scotland and internationally—that started in the north-east of Scotland. We now have garlic farms in the cabinet secretary’s constituency.

Food is an important part of tourism, and tourism is a very important industry for us. Food will bring people to Scotland and, of course, if we do not get it right, it will make sure that they do not come back. When we talk about food, we are not necessarily talking about Michelin-starred outlets, although those are excellent and greater in number than they were in decades past; we are perhaps talking about simple things such as the quality of food in local fish and chip shops. I am delighted that, when I go to my local outlet for fish and chips, I generally have the choice of six or eight different kinds of fish, all locally sourced and all absolutely excellent. I have previously referred to the fact that Dumfries and Galloway was where I very first had yoghurt, in the 1960s. I continue to have fond memories of that.

The point about the industry is that two thirds of our food and drink businesses reckon that they are going to increase their staff over the next four years. A significant number of areas are entering the sustainable food cities scheme. We expect that, by 2016, more than 50 areas across the United Kingdom will have entered that scheme.

One thing that we dealt with at First Minister’s questions was food banks, and that raises the issue of food being available to people with limited resources. It also raises the issue of food and diet. The obesity problems we have now are because of the preparation of much of our good-quality food. If we have good-quality food, we can prepare it better and deliver it to address that agenda as well.

I will close by mentioning one dish that is available in my constituency—a modest enough dish that costs about £1. It is Downies of Whitehills Cullen skink Scotch pie: the most wonderful Scotch pie in the world. Good food can be very affordable indeed, and I hope that Downies continues to produce that Scotch pie to entertain my palate and digestive system and those of people throughout Scotland.


22 April 2015

S4M-12951 Members’ Interests Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12951, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the proposal for a members’ interests 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):

The role of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is to keep the Parliament’s procedures and processes under constant review. The Scotland Act 2012 gave the Parliament some extra flexibility to manage our members’ interests regime, and the committee has used that opportunity to take a fresh look at how we operate our standards.

The committee now presents the Parliament with a proposal for a committee bill, under rule 9.15 of the standing orders, which has two aims: to make the register of interests more transparent and to make the standards regime even more robust. I will first address the proposals for increased transparency.

Under the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, members have to register certain financial interests that are then published in the Parliament’s register of members’ interests. The register is principally concerned with interests that might prejudice or appear to prejudice a member’s ability to participate in the parliamentary proceedings in a disinterested way. The public deserve to know about a member’s financial interests, so that they can judge whether the member might be influenced by them.

Separately, members also have to register donations or loans for political activities with the Electoral Commission. The commission has its own rules and thresholds for what needs to be registered, which are different from the Parliament’s rules, and it publishes its own register. That is known as dual reporting. It means that the public have to look in two places for information about a member’s interests and that members have to register financial interests in two separate places under two separate sets of rules. The draft bill that we are bringing forward aims to end dual reporting. Members would have to register financial interests in only one place and, more important, the public would have to look in only one place to find information about a member’s financial interests.

Under our proposals, the Parliament’s existing registration requirements will continue to apply. We have been careful to leave the existing regime as undisturbed as possible. However, there will be an additional layer of reporting requirements imported from the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2000—PPERA, as it is known—which is the legislation that governs the Electoral Commission’s regime.

PPERA is quite a complicated set of rules. In summary, members must register donations or loans of more than £1,500 that have been received for political activities. That might be a single donation or it might be several donations of more than £500 from the same person in the same calendar year.

As its name suggests, PPERA is concerned with members of political parties but, of course, we also have independent members here. We are proposing specific changes to deal with the position of independent members. In her closing remarks, Margaret McDougall, the deputy convener, will speak about that in more detail and about other matters that I will not have time to deal with.

The bill’s proposals have been discussed in depth with the Electoral Commission. It must be satisfied that the Parliament’s register will give it all the information that it needs before it can agree to the ending of dual reporting. The commission has told us that our proposals, along with the changes that we will propose to the code of conduct, should meet its requirements. As PPERA is reserved legislation, the United Kingdom Parliament must pass a commencement order to exempt members from the PPERA reporting requirements.

I will put on record my appreciation of the commission’s help in getting the bill to this stage. Between last year’s referendum and this year’s general election, although the commission is clearly busy, it has always been helpful to us in navigating our way through its complex regime.

We are proposing an important reform, which will keep our Parliament in step with the UK Parliament. Dual reporting has ended for Westminster MPs, and we understand that the other devolved institutions are also considering changes.

The draft bill builds PPERA’s requirements into the Parliament’s interests act. I am the first to admit that the bill that we are to introduce will look complex. However, the changes can be boiled down to a number of key questions that members must ask themselves. Has anyone given them a gift or donation of money, goods or services? Has anyone funded an overseas visit for them? Have they been paid for any work that they have done outside Parliament? Do they own shares or property, apart from their own home? In all those cases, there could be a registrable interest.

As convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, and not simply in an effort to reduce the committee’s workload, my advice is simple: members should always ask the standards clerks for advice if they think that there is any possibility that they have acquired a new interest or that the nature of an interest that they already hold has changed, for example if the value of shares has risen above the threshold without the individual member having taken any action. The clerks can navigate the complexities of the existing legislation and the new provisions. The bottom line is that members must approach them within 30 days of acquiring a new interest; they must also look at the value of their shares annually.

The committee will propose changes to the members’ code of conduct, which relate to the changes that I am explaining. At the start of each new session, particularly the next one, the standards clerks and Electoral Commission officials will arrange briefing sessions for members on the new rules.

Our proposals will mean a more streamlined system for members. They will have to seek advice in only one place—from our standards clerks here in Parliament; they will have to register interests in only one place—here in the Parliament; and the public will be able to find all a member’s interests in only one place—the parliamentary register.

By increasing transparency, the proposals chime with other developments on the horizon, not least the proposal for a lobbying register, which we expect the Government to introduce soon.

One more benefit of ending dual reporting is that complaints about failing to register will all be dealt with by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland. At the moment, a complaint could be investigated by the commission, by the Electoral Commission or even by both at the same time. That can be confusing for the public to navigate; it could also result in a member having to deal with two separate investigations into what is essentially the same complaint. The committee’s proposals would streamline the process so that all complaints are dealt with by the commission.

To sum up our proposals for the ending of dual reporting, information about a member’s financial interests will be available to the public in one place, members will have a one-stop shop for advice on registering interests and we will streamline the process for dealing with complaints.

In addition, in the light of the Council of Europe’s group of states against corruption—GRECO—report, we propose to lower the threshold for registering gifts from 1 per cent of a member’s salary at the start of the session to 0.5 per cent. Responding to the GRECO report in that way will bring us into line with legislators elsewhere.

I said that the second aim of our proposed bill is to make the Parliament’s standards regime more robust. We already have a very robust regime. In the whole parliamentary session, we have had to deal with only one, relatively minor breach of the interests act by a member. It is a criminal offence when a member fails to register or declare an interest, or undertakes paid advocacy, which is not the case in the House of Commons. We should be proud of our existing regime, but we are not resting on our laurels. The committee believes that we can go further.

First, the bill will extend the sanctions that are available to the Parliament for dealing with breaches of the interests act. The power to withdraw rights and privileges is already available, but when it comes to breaches of the interests act, the Scotland Act 2012 requires us to set out specific sanctions in legislation. The bill will make sure that the widest range of sanctions are available for breaches of the interests act. Those sanctions will include excluding a member from the premises of the Parliament, withdrawing a member’s right to use the facilities and services that are provided by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, and withdrawing salary and allowances when a member is excluded.

To that end, the committee has included in its draft bill a new sanction—a motion of censure, which would allow the Parliament to draw attention to a breach in a debate in the chamber and would give the member the opportunity to comment and apologise, as appropriate. Members will appreciate that that is not a trivial sanction. For some breaches, it might be more appropriate than withdrawing pay or access.

The committee’s proposal will increase the transparency of information about our financial interests and will make the standards regime that we have even more robust. I commend the committee’s proposal to the Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the proposal for a Committee Bill, under Rule 9.15, contained in the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 2nd Report, 2015 (Session 4), Members’ Interests Bill (SP Paper 681).


21 April 2015

S4M-12958 Culture, Visitor Attractions and Events (Contribution to Economy and Society)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12958, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on the contribution of culture, visitor attractions and events to Scotland’s economy and society.

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

Presiding Officer,

Fit like loon?
Chavin doon!
Far ye ging?
Aff te sing!
Foo’s te hear?
Aw foo’s aer!
Fan’s it ower?
Ae see a glower!

That is my imperfect attempt at poetry, which is not something that we have heard anything of in the debate thus far. It is also poetry that uses the language of the north-east, the Doric.

Poetry is something for which Scotland is known worldwide, through the great poems of Robert Burns. Outside the Canongate kirk, however, there is a nice new statute of Robert Fergusson, who was the fellow Robert Burns wrote an obituary of in which he referred to Fergusson as his elder brother in the muse. We see tourists being photographed alongside the statue of Robert Fergusson without, I suspect, any great sense of who he was except for the fact, which is inscribed beneath the statue, that he died in Bedlam—which was not the best place to die if one was going to die in Edinburgh.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): I thank the member for raising the issue of Robert Fergusson. Does he agree that the poet would perhaps be better known among Scots if the national portrait gallery had not hidden his portrait away in the vaults instead of putting it on permanent display?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You may answer as a poet, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: I find extemporising poetry even more difficult than putting words on a bit of paper, Presiding Officer, so I will resist that temptation.

What I have just heard is news to me, and I am minded to agree with what the member says.

Words, literature and poetry are an important part of our connection with the world and our gift to the world. We are fortunate that our neighbours to the south of us in this island have given us one of the richest languages on the earth, English, with a huge vocabulary, great opportunities to write and many things for us to read. I hope that that becomes an important part of what we do. The Wigtown book festival is a good example of a small town having created a niche in cultural and tourist terms that can be copied elsewhere. I also feel that there is room for a food town in the north-east of Scotland, and I would like to think that we might do something about that. Joan McAlpine has secured a debate on food on Thursday.

We have lots of locations that people visit because of family connections. Richard Simpson mentioned genealogy. I have been studying the genealogy of my family for over 50 years, and it helps me to connect with history. My grandfather was born when Abraham Lincoln was the President, and all my grandparents were born before the first secret ballot in a parliamentary election—that took place in Pontefract on 15 August 1872. When we study our family, we connect with our history, our antecedents and the diaspora of 40 million or 50 million Scots around the world.

I meet those people when they come here to study their family history. Members of my wife’s family recently came across from New Zealand. Their forebears had travelled from Scotland to Canada and had eventually ended up in New Zealand. We did not know that they existed, but they came specifically to study their family history. The Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society has thousands of members and a huge building full of information that people come to see. I am never in there but I hear the voices of people who have travelled halfway round the globe to research their family history.

We also have many places from today’s literature and films that attract tourists. Pennan, in my constituency, has a year-round population of some 24. Yet, more than 30 years after “Local Hero” was filmed there, people still come to Pennan to look at the phone box. It needs a bit of TLC at the moment—my colleague Eilidh Whiteford is on that particular case—but the mark of a film more than three decades old is still there. The Oxford bar, in Edinburgh, is home to the fictional Detective Inspector Rebus. Ian Rankin chose it as the locale for his drinking because he could not make it up—real life is even better—and it is a place that tourists visit on the back of that.

When I first came to Edinburgh more than 40 years ago, the publican there was a guy called Willie Ross, who was so antipathetic to the Edinburgh festival that he used to shut the bar for three weeks during the festival and put up a notice in the window saying, “Shut due to festival”—that was very much the exception.

Last week I had a coffee in the Elephant House on George IV Bridge, where the Harry Potter novels had their genesis. We have a huge amount in all our cities and areas of Scotland that drags people from across the world.

We have heard talk of the national museum, laying the foundation stone of which was the very last public act of Prince Albert before he died in the 1860s. I went there when I was a youngster. I can still remember things that I saw there. Let us hope that the cultural heritage for those who come to Scotland today is as rich as I feel that mine is.


02 April 2015

S4M-12878 Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12878, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

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

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this important subject. We all know that control over the release of prisoners is a subject that has needed to be addressed for some time. In session 2, I had the privilege to serve as shadow deputy justice minister, with special responsibility for prisons. I ended up visiting a lot of prisons, including Saughton, Inverness and, of course, Peterhead, which is in my constituency. I was in there more often than I would have wished to be. I also visited a prison in Wales and a prison in France. When I was in Georgia, I met the Georgian Minister of Justice and talked to him about prison policies. It is clear that different jurisdictions take a wide range of approaches.

It is also clear that we need to careful about some of the broad-brush assumptions that we may have been making. The first obvious thing to say is that each prisoner is an individual, and we need to be careful to consider each prisoner as an individual. It is therefore important that the Parole Board is particularly well resourced on the back of the reforms that we are considering. The figures that are provided in the financial memorandum accompanying the bill say that the number of cases that the Parole Board deals with will rise by 230 by 2029, which is a fair distance out. We need to have the resources in place for that.

We have been talking quite a lot about sex offenders. It is important to remind ourselves that there are two kinds of sex offender. There are those who are essentially violent criminals, who express their violence through sexual offences—rape or violence in a sexual relationship. The more insidious cases involve paedophiles and those who groom the people they are going to subject to sexual abuse. We say that reconviction among sex offenders is lower. That is factually correct. However, we must not confuse that—reconviction is lower, but reoffending may or may not be lower. It is substantially more difficult to detect many sexual offences.

Where sex offenders are concerned, we have to be particularly careful. We must ensure that the Parole Board and the other relevant bodies are well resourced to deal with that particular category of offender. The average IQ of a paedophile is a bit higher than that of somebody who is in prison for other offences. They are more cunning, they are more dangerous and they carry greater risk. We need to be careful to address that. I have confidence that we in the Parliament wish to do that, and I have confidence in the Prison Service.

In the end, our objectives in dealing with people who are serious offenders are threefold. First, there is the element of retribution—giving to the person who has offended a real sense of the opprobrium that comes from their having committed an offence against another member of society. The person who has been subject to the offence would certainly wish to see that, and that is right and proper.

Secondly, there is rehabilitation. We have talked quite a lot about rehabilitation, which is the moral thing for us to do, and it is also an economic thing for us to do. It is very expensive to put people in prison, as we know. Every time that we effectively turn someone’s life round and stop them coming back to prison, there is a huge economic benefit.

The third objective is restitution, which I have not heard mentioned in the debate, although it has been mentioned in justice debates in the past. The use of restitution is relatively limited. However, after my mother-in-law had her purse stolen, the court ordered the two individuals who were responsible to repay her the money. That is a proper part of sentencing policy. We have to be very flexible, and we must allow our judges to look at the circumstances and apply flexibility.

Not all prisoners get it. One of the visits that I made as shadow deputy justice minister was to Saughton prison. I found myself in a cell with six lifers, who were in for murder. The prison chaplain stood at the open door so that he could summon the staff if things got too heated. One of the offenders had been released on licence and had been recalled—in his view, entirely unjustifiably so. He said that he had been recalled just because he happened to be with a group of people when another murder took place—he had nothing to do with the murder; he just happened to be there. When we deal with prisoners whose attitude is thus, we realise that it is in the nature of things that it is impossible to get it right all the time. I did not feel uncomfortable about that recall, and I do not think that many other people would.

The bill could restore public confidence in how sentencing works, which is an important point. It takes the first steps, but we will have to go down the whole road in due course. We have to make sure that we have the resources when people come out and that the new arrangements for access to health, housing and other services are in place for prisoners.

I was very impressed by Saughton prison when I visited a few years ago. Peterhead, with a very different category of prisoners, did its own thing. HMP Grampian has a very good approach to working with prisoners. We now have young offenders, women prisoners and a more general prison population all on one prison campus for the first time; it is expensive to do, but it is expensive not to do it properly.

I look forward to working with HMP Grampian. It will be more challenging for the community to have to interact with prisoners as they adjust to going back out than it used to be when we had all Scotland’s serious sex offenders locked behind the walls, entirely disconnected and discharged back to communities elsewhere. That is a price worth paying and I am sure that the staff in the Prison Service will do well with that facility. What happens in HMP Grampian will inform what should happen elsewhere. It will lead to improvements in our programmes and in outcomes.

This is a good, useful one-page bill, which takes us forward on the road that we need to be travelling. I congratulate the cabinet secretary and the Government on the progress that they have made, but I, along with others, will continue to challenge the Government to do substantially more when it is able to do so.


S4M-12203 Greenock Morton Community Trust

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12203, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on congratulating Greenock Morton Community Trust. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Greenock Morton Community Trust (GMCT) on receiving £106,029 from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund; understands that the group will use the grant to promote lower carbon lifestyle choices in Inverclyde, including a sports kit and footwear recycling initiative; notes GMCT’s role in educating school children and providing them with equipment to participate in sport; considers that football clubs across Scotland have an important role in their local communities, and praises all involved at GMCT and Greenock Morton Football Club for the growing community work that they do in Inverclyde.

... ... ...

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

I thank Stuart McMillan for the opportunity, as his motion says, to consider “football clubs across Scotland”. Of course, in the north-east we are somewhat distant from the activities of Greenock Morton. It has been interesting and valuable to hear about what it is doing, but it is worth saying that, with four senior clubs in my constituency—in Buckie, Banff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead—I must be absolutely neutral in anything that I say about support for football clubs.

I have a second reason for not being too particularly addicted to any club. In the 1920s, my father played for Ross County, and I always say to people that that accounts for my knowing very little about football. Of course, Ross County has made substantial progress since my father stopped playing for them. He also had a trial for Queen’s Park, but that got him absolutely nowhere.

Football, like any other participative sport, delivers a great deal to those who play it, and much enjoyment to those who support it. It provides health benefits, musculoskeletal flexibility through taking good-quality exercise and is likely, providing one does not head the ball too often, to lead to a longer life.

At the core of the motion before us is an award of money from the Scottish Government’s climate challenge fund. It is an interesting fund, which has doled out quite a lot of money over a long period of time.

One of the central things about awards from that fund to communities such as the Greenock Morton Community Trust is that there must be genuine innovation in the proposal that is submitted to the fund. In other words, if applicants are just repeating something that has been done, they will not get the money. That is where the Greenock Morton Community Trust has really ticked the right boxes; it is doing some things that have not been done elsewhere and it is taking forward ideas that may or may not work to the extent that the bid suggests.

When I was a minister, I found myself appearing before a parliamentary committee to be questioned about the activities of the climate challenge fund, and I was asked, “But, minister, how do you know all these projects are going to work?” I somewhat confused the committee by replying, “I know that they won’t all work.” Even if an award is made and does not work, we will learn something from that. I welcome what the Greenock Morton Community Trust is doing, and it looks as if the elements of its activity of which I have been made aware have every chance of being successful.

I have community trusts in my constituency, in particular the Princess Royal Sports and Community Trust, where Alan Still exhibits significant leadership, bringing people into Deveronvale’s facility to support activity, and engaging with four-figure numbers of people across our communities through four full-time coaches. Along the coast a little bit, near Portsoy, the Boyndie Trust runs a cafe and community bus service. Trusts come in all shapes and sizes and provide employment for many people. There is also the Banffshire educational trust, which is administered by Moray Council. A lot is going on in my constituency that will be replicated by community trusts elsewhere.

I congratulate Greenock on the success of its bid and I wish it well in delivering what it has promised to tackle. I hope that if Greenock is playing any of my teams it will have great success in doing so, although that hope of success is moderated by belief that it would be much better if my teams won.


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