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.

... ... ...

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.

... ... ...

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?


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