28 January 2016

S4M-15440 Succession (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15440, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on the Succession (Scotland) Bill.

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

I am glad that extending the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s remit has created additional parliamentary capacity for dealing with bills that come from the Scottish Law Commission. By their nature, SLC bills address matters on which the SLC has established that there is broad agreement on remedies for errors or omissions or updating existing legislation.

Our taking of evidence and our discussions on the Succession (Scotland) Bill have been interesting and informative, for me at least. Given that we will all die, I am sure that the bill will ultimately touch us all in the disposal of our assets or debts. Even those who have no assets and no debts cannot be assured that they will escape the bill’s provisions.

The complexity of and lack of agreement on some succession issues are the reasons why a future Government will have to grasp the nettle of a much more wide-ranging restatement and reform. If Elaine Murray is in Parliament in the next session and is again a member of the Justice Committee to do that, I am sure that she can look forward to that pleasure.

Personal circumstances illustrate things for me. My great-grandfather wrote his will—it was handwritten—in a mere 22 words. It said:

“I David Berry do appoint my granddaughter Helen Mary Berry McGregor my executor and bequeath to her my whole means and estate”.

Wills can be that simple. The only trouble was that, when he wrote his will, my mother—his granddaughter—whom he named, was one, and when he died, she was three. Therefore, she was not legally capable; she was legally incapable. However, the process meant that her father, who was administrator in law, became the executor dative to replace my mother, who had been the executor nominate. He was appointed. Things can be done in that particular way.

I have been touched by the winding up of estates in another way. Just over 10 years ago, a relative’s small estate had to be wound up. No house was owned; there were simply some moveable effects. She had written a little will that said that her two daughters were equally to receive the proceeds. That was simply done informally and there was no confirmation.

Through the passage of the bill, I can say that I will have apparently become, and will remain, a vicious intromitter. That means that, because we did not go through the formal process, I will remain liable for the rest of my natural life for any errors that I committed in winding up that little estate and not getting confirmation. The vast majority of small estates are dealt with on that basis. That illustrates some things that may be engaged the next time we look at this very complex area.

I am delighted that we are getting rid of the Parricide Act 1594, which is quite specific—it refers to fathers and sons. We have invented the legal fiction in the courts that, if someone is responsible for the death of the person from whom they will inherit, they are deemed—not withstanding that they are still breathing and consuming food, and so on and so forth—to have become legally dead before the person for whose death they were responsible. That works in proper terms, but it is a bit cack-handed, so it is a good idea to do something about it.

We had a huge and interesting discussion about common calamities and sequencing of death. The important thing is that we worked out a way in which we can be certain that we are uncertain, in which case the rules of uncertainty can be applied—but of course, only when we are certain that we are uncertain.


19 January 2016

S4M-15343 Public Petitions Process Review

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15343, in the name of Michael McMahon, on a review of the public petitions process.

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

I congratulate the minister on his brevity, which allows much more time for the backbenchers to express their views on a committee that is, in essence, a creature of the backbenchers. It is not attached to a particular minister; it represents the people whom we represent in a way and to an extent that no other committee does.

I have been a member of the Scottish Parliament since 2001 and, from the very outset, I have found myself engaged with the Public Petitions Committee, sitting alongside many of my constituents. I cannot think that a single one of them who has come here has been other than delighted with the opportunity to put their case to Parliament, if not always equally delighted with the outcome. When the Public Petitions Committee gets a case, the odds are that it is a hard case. Everything else has been tried and the petitioner has come to Parliament as a last resort. That is not universally true, but it is certainly true of many of the cases that come before the committee.

Jackson Carlaw talked about debates in Parliament being pedestrian. A quick look at the dictionary shows that one could apply 41 alternative descriptions. We beat ourselves up an awful lot. In the Public Petitions Committee, there is lively debate and discussion, often initiated by the people who bring their concerns to that committee. We should look at that as a model of what we can do.

It is one way, but not the only way in which our constituents can engage with us. We are not typical of the people of Scotland. We are captured and held hostage in Edinburgh for three days a week, 36 weeks a year—about a third of the year—so we are, to some extent, disconnected from the day-to-day concerns that constituents and others bring to the Public Petitions Committee and to us in our surgeries, our correspondence, on our websites, in our Twitter feeds and so on.

Today’s debate has focused on the people who submit petitions. That is good, because there is always a danger, when we are looking at our processes, that we will focus on our internal view of how successful they are in a parliamentary context, whereas the reality is that we should look at such processes from an external point of view and ask, “How does this serve the people of Scotland?” In relation to the population of our country, the number of petitions is infinitesimal. It is 3 per cent of 1 per cent of the population—a tiny wee fraction.

When, having exhausted all options, I say to my constituents, “Why don’t we think about a petition to Parliament?”—I did that only on Friday, at a surgery—they have never heard of the petitions system. I think that that will be true of the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland. We will have to be more cute about how we open the doors of Parliament and make people realise that the doors are open. The role of weekly newspapers and the national daily press is much diminished, compared to what it used to be. Perhaps there should be a weekly slot on one of the television programmes, even if it is one of the local TV stations that are popping up all over Scotland. We should bid to get some space on there to tell people what goes on.

There is much that we could say about the committee. However, I end by saying one particular thing, about which there has been some reference, which is the role of clerks. We cannot overestimate the value of the clerks in helping people who approach the committee with an idea for a petition. The clerks help to turn those ideas into something that enables a petitioner to come before the committee and speak to their petition with confidence, knowing that it is properly constructed and proposes something that the Parliament can do. It is entirely appropriate that we thank the clerks, on behalf of the people of Scotland, for the superb work that they do. This is the most valuable committee in Parliament. Abolish Parliament if you wish, but keep this committee.


12 January 2016

S4M-15282 Education

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15282, in the name of Angela Constance, on delivering a world-class education system.

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

We will continue to be challenged as individuals and as an educational system by the youngsters of today. Most youngsters do not carry a pen or a pencil. That is very different from my time as a youngster. However, most have an intelligent phone and are perhaps more adept at operating the on-screen keyboard on that than they are at using a pen or a pencil.

The modern world is very different from the world in which my grandfather started teaching 135 years ago, and it will keep changing. In 1881, my grandfather was a pupil-teacher in Bo’ness. By 1890 he was a schoolteacher in Eyemouth, and in 1900 he had his own school in a rural location in the Black Isle. The school photograph for that year shows that the majority of pupils were barefoot. At lunch time, they depended on my grandmother preparing soup for the school lunch, which was made from the vegetables that the pupils took to school.

When my grandfather retired from teaching in 1926, he had achieved the lofty heights of a fellowship of the Educational Institute of Scotland. The experience of teachers and pupils in my grandfather’s school was very different from the experience today.

Today, other members of my family are teachers. My niece Morag teaches in England. She has taught in the public and private sectors, and she looks with some envy at aspects of the Scottish system. My nephew Jamie is based in Denmark and is married to a Dane, with a Danish family. The educational system there is also very different, and it is not without its difficulties. Because of a dispute with the unions, the Government in Denmark chose to lock out all the teachers for more than a month. My nephew did not enjoy that much.

I will give another illustration of how things change. When I was a student studying mathematics in the 1960s, in my intermediate honours year, one of my digs landlady’s friends sent their 12-year-old to get help with his maths. He was studying topology at school, but we at university had yet to reach that subject. We cannot expect the past to be repeated in the future.

Although the OECD report is about the formal education system, we should not imagine that all education takes place in school. It is important that parents and relatives are equally equipped to answer the intelligent questions that our youngsters inevitably come up with. A couple of months ago, I did a little experiment with my four-year-old goddaughter. She asked about a rock crystal that we had, and I explained crystals by showing her salt crystals, dissolving them in water and then evaporating the water on the stove. She was fascinated by that and we had a discussion. I hope that that is typical of discussions that are going on across Scotland.

One point in the OECD report that I was taken with, particularly because of my parliamentary constituency, is the comment that

“Scotland enjoys one of the smallest proportions of low performers among its immigrant students.”

That is important to me because, on average, the four secondary schools in my constituency have 20 languages spoken in them. At Peterhead academy, the number has just become 28, with the addition of Hungarian. It is not new in the north-east of Scotland that we interact with the rest of the world and that language is an issue. As long ago as 1853, the post office directory listed three foreign consulates in Peterhead.

Of course, that is both a challenge and an opportunity. In some of our schools, I have seen immigrants successfully passing on aspects of their culture and, more critically, their language to the local population. In return, the locals have taught those who have come to our community how to speak Doric—only a minority of the people who are in the chamber are likely to be able to do that. Education is and will always remain a work in progress. Informal learning is important, and it is important to provide opportunities for it.

The OECD report refers to international examples, including the Ontario teacher leadership and learning programme and the Alberta initiative for school improvement. That gives a fascinating insight into what can be done elsewhere. We have to accept that there is no single answer and that, actually, the most important thing is that those who are engaged in education are committed to picking up and trying new ideas.

There is no single idea. If there was a magic bullet, somebody would have found it and we would be applying it. Equally, we have to be slightly conscious of the Hawthorne effect, whose name comes from a factory in the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s. The idea is that the mere intervention of change can deliver short-term value. There is excellent work in the OECD report that leads us to where we are.

I again say to the minister that it would be good to use the Trachtenberg system. Speaking from the lofty heights of my many years, I think that it would be worth using the experience of older people and getting them into schools to impart their knowledge and experience to our students. We have to be adaptable.

The OECD report is a good interim report. There is more to do, but I am confident that the Government is willing and able to do it and is actually doing it.


07 January 2016

S4M-15220 Lobbying (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15220, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick.

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

The term “lobbying” can, for some people at least, conjure up images of dubious characters loitering in the corridors of power, attempting to gain unfair advantage over the ordinary citizen. Indeed, the origins of the term lie in the Willard hotel in Washington, where Ulysses S Grant, President of the United States, used to retire for his brandy and cigars in the evening and would be accosted in the hotel lobby by people who were seeking to influence public policy. Lobbying was originally face to face—there were no telephones in the 1820s.

The committee has, however, had a long-term view that modern lobbying is a positive and necessary part of any democracy that equips decision makers with valuable information and, more important, allows individuals, firms and organisations to engage with and influence policy makers, as they have every right to do.

The bill aims to bring a perfectly legitimate activity out into the open. If everyone can see who has contributed to the decision-making process, those decisions should have greater legitimacy and be more representative, and it ought to be easier to hold decision makers to account—outcomes that I think are broadly supported across the Parliament.

Equally, we are aware of the danger of creating barriers or the appearance of barriers for smaller organisations and for individuals whom we wish to see engage with Parliament. Vitally, MSPs and our constituents must still be able to interact with one another on matters of local interest.

The committee’s work in this area goes back some time, as the minister outlined. Following Neil Findlay MSP’s proposal for a member’s bill on lobbying transparency in 2012, the committee held an inquiry to look into the question whether there needed to be more information available to the public about who lobbies the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. We produced a report in February 2015, which set out a series of proposals. Those proposals have, to a large extent, informed the Government’s approach to its bill.

Nevertheless, in light of the evidence that we heard during our stage 1 inquiry, we think that there are further issues to consider. The bill, as currently drafted, will only require lobbyists to register if they have face-to-face meetings with MSPs and ministers.

Chic Brodie (South Scotland) (SNP): Warren Buffet once said that the contribution of people, particularly those in public service, requires integrity, intellect and energy, and without the first one, the other two are useless.

I think that the member would agree that we should seek to retain all those characteristics and my evidence today is that they are endemic in this Parliament. I am therefore concerned—even sure—that the consequence of the bill may be, in the long run, the very opposite of what is intended, in that those characteristics may well be damaged. Does the member accept that, should the bill go ahead, the committee must ensure that there will be no exceptions for different types of lobbyist?

Stewart Stevenson: The committee’s view is that we need to seek to differentiate between lobbyists who lobby as part of their paid activity and those individuals and organisations that are working in a voluntary context in which people receive no financial or similar reward. We think that that distinction is a good one.

The member referred to integrity, intellect and energy. I cannot speak for the committee because we did not discuss the issue in quite those terms but I suspect that the committee would view having a register of lobbyists and shining a light into what goes on in regard to lobbying as providing an excellent opportunity for us all to demonstrate those three attributes of integrity, intellect and energy.

The committee understands that the definition of registrable lobbying in the bill is designed to capture the most meaningful interactions and that a line was drawn in an effort to produce a light-touch regime. Nevertheless, in thinking about it since our original report, we feel that that approach may be too narrow and could create the impression of there being options open to organisations that wish to avoid scrutiny. We have therefore recommended that consideration be given to widening the definition of registrable lobbying to include all forms of communication.

We have not looked directly at the potential effects of that widening of the definition and hence ask the Government to do that. In practice, my personal experience—I stress that it is my personal experience—does not suggest that such an extension of the definition would significantly increase the number of registrants.

My personal reflection is that we must test to see whether such an extension would inhibit communication between MSPs and constituents. That is one of the essential tests. We must not overburden organisations, in particular small organisations that are pursuing legitimate campaigns, by creating an administrative headache for them—or for Parliament, although the former are the more important consideration.

During the bill’s progress we will not, of course, decide what the proposed register’s contents will be—Parliament will come to that matter after the bill’s passage. However, at this stage, it is worth saying that the committee is not suggesting that the details of every phone call and email should appear in the register; we suggest that it should contain merely the fact that there have been such communications and what their purpose has been. To include all the details would generate a great deal of repetitive information and possibly render the register less useful and accessible to citizens by burying the relevant information.

Neil Findlay: Having read the committee’s stage 1 report, I understand that it rejected thresholds for registration. That was an error. Having thresholds would have meant that incidental and small-scale lobbying would not be captured. Will the member elaborate on why the committee rejected thresholds?

Stewart Stevenson: There was an element of judgment; there is no absolute certainty in this. However, the test of including only people who receive reward for their lobbying is a simple and objective one, while the test of having a threshold, which the committee discussed at some length, is a more difficult one in terms of coming up with a watertight definition. As the bill progresses to stages 2 and 3, I am sure that we can return to that issue and debate it further. I think that I am correct in reporting the committee’s considerations in those terms and in saying that that is why we came to our conclusion. As I said, it was a judgment call.

The bottom line is that we have asked the Government to find a way, as the bill progresses, to demonstrate that any alteration of the definition of lobbying will leave acceptably modest administrative burdens for those lobbying while delivering a useful and accessible register.

I take it that I have a little flexibility in time, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have nine minutes, Mr Stevenson, but there is a little flexibility.

Stewart Stevenson: Thank you—that is helpful.

We looked at the distinction that the bill makes between paid and unpaid lobbying. We basically endorsed the Government’s approach in that regard. It is right that any citizen can lend their voice to a cause or support an organisation in an unpaid capacity without having to register.

We also agreed that the distinction that has been made elsewhere between professional lobbyists—whatever they are—and in-house lobbyists is not one that we would want to see echoed here.

Under the bill as currently drafted, a person would not be required to register following a meeting with a minister or an MSP provided that the minister or MSP had initiated the meeting. We understand and accept the rationale behind the exception, which was designed to ensure that there were no restraints on MSPs and ministers entering into discourse with stakeholders, experts and representative groups that may have particular skills or knowledge that allow them to make a valuable contribution to policy or otherwise challenge proposals.

We share the view that MSPs and ministers should be able to have such interactions with specialists without those specialists then having to register. However, in practice, we have concerns. If matters are discussed during a chance meeting, a dinner or an event, who initiated the meeting and how can that be demonstrated? That could be difficult, and we therefore ask the Government to look at its approach and see whether there are ways of offering greater clarity and certainty.

When it comes to the subjects of lobbying, we were persuaded by those who gave evidence that restricting the bill to MSPs and ministers was too narrow. Although we accept the argument that ministers are responsible for decisions, other office-holders are clearly involved in their inception. Importantly, the lobbying organisations that we spoke to considered such interactions to be of equal value to meetings with ministers. Accordingly, we have asked the Government to consider introducing amendments to broaden the definition to include communications with other public officials, such as civil servants, special advisers and senior staff.

We heard arguments that expenditure on lobbying should be disclosed. I return to the point that that is a matter that Parliament can consider further when we look at the orders that we will make after the bill’s passage.

The Parliament was founded on the principles of openness, accessibility and participation. If we get it right, the bill will promote those values and allow everyone to participate on an equal footing.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Government on any changes that it introduces. I am happy to say that the committee endorses the view that the Parliament should adopt the bill’s general principles.


S4M-15221 Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon, everyone. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-15221, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on the Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill.

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

I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. I hope that the Minister for Parliamentary Business did not create a hostage to fortune when he said that this is a “short and straightforward” bill. He should be absolutely aware that my committee and Parliament as a whole will subject the bill to exactly the high standards of scrutiny that he would expect. There being a mere 200 words in the bill, it would be rather difficult for any defects to hide in the detail. We will do the job that we are always required to do. In fact, if one thinks about it, those 200 words are approximately one quarter of the number of words that I would expect to speak in the six minutes that the Presiding Officer has allowed me, which focuses us precisely on how concise the bill is. Its main purpose is to move the elections to the Scottish Parliament to a date that does not clash with other elections.

The committee had a pretty tight schedule to consider the bill. However, given the high degree of consensus in favour of the bill, our being designated as the lead committee on 25 November and completing our report just 19 days later, on 14 December, was a proportionate response. Like the bill itself, our report is quite brief—24 paragraphs and just over 1,000 words. I am told by my clerks that Salvador Dali once told a press conference:

“I shall be so brief that I have already finished.”

Although I am not quite in that category, I will not say too much about the bill.

The committee considered carefully whether to take oral evidence on the bill but, given that the Government had consulted widely—including COSLA and the Electoral Commission, where it established that there was unanimity in favour of the bill—we concluded that there was no need to reconsult. We restricted our oral evidence taking to a light grilling for the minister, which we thought was a proportionate approach. As the minister said, we explored why a five-year term rather than a three-year term was appropriate. I think that we were broadly satisfied with the answers that we heard. Three years would be short and, for any Government of whatever political complexion, that is a relatively limited period in which to develop major policy initiatives and get moving on them. Of course, the other Administrations in these islands have already aligned themselves on a five-year cycle. There is a pretty universal consensus that the timetable is sensible.

The committee was content with the policy memorandum and costs. Moving the election back one year does not, in and of itself, create any new costs, and it postpones the costs that are associated with an election by a year. In financial terms, there is little to say.

We wrote to all MSPs to give them the opportunity to input. The minister has referred to Dr Richard Simpson’s interesting contribution. As politicians, we can get very tied up in the process of politics. It is not as if reform and change of parliamentary process is something new. The great reform act of 1832 perhaps started the reforming motion. As people sometimes forget, that was the act that deprived women of the vote, while purporting to be a great reform of parliamentary procedures. It was quite a long time before women got the vote back. In 1872, which was in the life of all my grandparents, it was the first time that there were secret ballots. In many ways, every few years we will continue to see a reform. This is part of a wide process that is probably not complete with this bill because, I imagine, we are likely to come back to making permanent changes when we have the power to do so. However, that is a matter for another day and not one on which we should dwell today.

The Scottish Elections (Dates) Bill is indeed a short bill. It has very specific objectives. I expect a flood of amendments at stage 2—perhaps not—or even at stage 3. Given the broad consensus that has emerged thus far, I suspect that the bill will make its way through the parliamentary system and that it will do so with proper scrutiny but appropriate rapidity. It is certainly desirable to avoid a clash between the 2020 Scottish Parliament elections currently scheduled and the next UK Parliament elections scheduled for the same year.

We support the approach in the bill that the next Scottish Parliament session should last five years rather than three. We also felt it to be appropriate that a decision on permanent changes should be taken in the next session, once powers on that are given to the Parliament. That will allow time for a fuller discussion about the length of future Scottish parliamentary sessions. In the meantime, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is happy to recommend that Parliament should agree to the general principles of this short but important bill.


06 January 2016

S4M-15198 Age and Social Isolation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15198, in the name of Margaret McCulloch, on the Equal Opportunities Committee’s report on age and social isolation.

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

In her contribution, Johann Lamont said something very important indeed, on which I want to anchor my remarks: we must start with the individual.

In its response to the committee’s report, the Government says that the report

“usefully acknowledges the responsibility of citizens, public services and the Scottish Government in taking any action forward.”

That is pretty much self-evident.

I will say one or two things about the approach that the committee has taken, but before I do, I say that because it is the first parliamentary report on such a subject, we have no point of comparison with predecessor reports. It is clearly an excellent piece of work; it is thorough in its scope and analysis and in its drawing of conclusions. However, for next time, there are one or two things that we might think of doing.

Annabel Goldie: When does Mr Stevenson think the next time will occur?

Stewart Stevenson: As Winston Churchill and others have said, predicting the future is particularly difficult, so I will not try to do it. That is a matter for committees.

I say seriously that it is in many ways a first-class report, but let us look at who gave evidence to the committee. Of the written evidence, slightly less than 10 per cent came from individuals, and every single person who gave oral evidence represented an organisation and had a job title. I recognise absolutely that when the committee went out and engaged communities, it talked to what I might call “real people”—which may sound patronising, although I do not intend it to be. It is a fundamental challenge for us in Parliament and in committees to get beyond the institutions and to talk to the people who are actually involved. I want to talk a little about that.

In the 13 recommendations that the committee made, the word “people” occurs only twice. It occurs properly but it occurs—

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will come back to John Finnie if I may, but I want to develop my point. One recommendation says that the Scottish Government should identify a

“typical profile of people who are at risk”

which I think would be entirely right. The last recommendation talks about technology and people.

The reason why I use people as an anchor is that I am one of the older participants in the debate—I will be 70 later this year—and a number of my friends from a long time ago are now affected by the very issues in the report. It is a great report in that it will equip corporate Scotland, the third sector, the Government and councils to respond even better to the problem. However, I am not sure that it reaches the point of empowering individuals who have no status other than being, for example, the friend of someone whose mental capacity is diminishing. One thing that is absolutely necessary in interacting with a person who is still able to communicate but is suffering from the early stages of dementia, is knowing how to interact and how to give them something from the experience, when one visits them. I have a small circle of friends whom I visit who have some degree of mental incapacity. One of the key things to do, for example, is to talk about things that happened 30 or 40 years ago, because generally such memories endure, while short-term memory is often the part that decays. Perhaps I am privileged, because I come from a medical background through my father, to have that understanding, while others may not. We need to be sure with our responses that we equip people to do that.

I intervened on Annabel Goldie on social isolation versus being alone. I think that people find it more difficult to make friends as they get older. It is easier to keep or to refresh the friends that one has, and one way of doing that is through technology. Some of the old technologies can be quite good. This year I decided not to send Christmas cards and instead sent letters; each letter was personalised. There were quite a few people of my age with whom I have been exchanging Christmas cards for the past 25 years without our necessarily ever meeting. That was a pretty purposeless interaction, to be blunt. I have been amazed to suddenly get responses by writing just a couple of sentences on the back of a circular letter. There are things that we could be doing as individuals and as corporate Scotland to help others to understand the sort of things that can be done.

As people’s mental faculties decline and their memory becomes less effective, we need to focus on their partners, because they are socially isolated in their own homes and often find it difficult to live all the time with the person to whom they have been married, or with whom they have lived, for decades. They, too, need support.

On social interaction, I have previously talked about reducing taxation on bingo, and I make another plea to the Government to do that, because there is medical evidence that bingo is one way of keeping people mentally alert.

In rural Aberdeenshire—and, I believe, in Dumfries and Galloway—there is a particular problem in getting high-speed broadband to individual homes because of the technology that phones in those areas use to connect to exchanges: the use of exchange-only lines means that a big proportion of homes cannot get connected to fibre directly. The social inclusion that results from using Skype, for example, and from being connected electronically would help. That is another little thing that could be done.

The report is excellent and I commend the committee for it, but next time we should perhaps move on to look at what individuals can do, rather than at the corporate response.


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