22 March 2016

S4M-15996 Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15996, in the name of Maureen Watt, on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill.

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

Like others, I welcome the bill and anticipate its passage come decision time.

Burials and cremations are, of course, a very important part of most people’s lives. We will make individual decisions about what we want to happen after our own deaths, but it is for those who come after to discharge what we have decided. For my part, I hope that there is neither a burial nor, in particular, a cremation. It would be awfully nice if my pals got together and celebrated a little bit of my life, but I am in the tiny minority who wish their remains to be disposed of for the benefit of anyone who can find anything useful to do with them.

Different societies make different decisions. In 1972, I visited the remains of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in Red Square, and in 1978, I visited the embalmed remains of Mao Zedong in Beijing. In our culture, burials have been important with cremations following on rather later. The important point seems to be that we should give those who are left behind to grieve a sense of connection to a place. That is why it is important that part of the bill places a legal duty on local authorities to publish where people are buried, because it enables that sense of connection to be continued through the generations if that is what we want.

Through the genealogical research that I have done during the past 50 years, I am still discovering connections to place. It is only three years since I discovered that one of my father’s cousins died in Queensberry House in 1970; it was a nursing home then, so that was not particularly unreasonable. I have that connection and I find it interesting. In the past year, I have discovered that three members of my extended family are buried in the new Calton kirkyard out the back. That sense of connection is what we are discussing in the bill.

In looking at the issue of ashes, particularly those of youngsters or those who did not survive to be born, there is a particular poignancy around those remains, their disposal and the feeling of connection for those who have experienced the loss to where the remains will end up. The bill does a great deal to set out a future in which people will not suffer the emotional turmoil that has been suffered in the past.

I congratulate Lesley Brennan, the most recent member of the Parliament, on persuading the Government to accept her amendment. Having spent quite a few years in opposition, I know that that is not the easiest of things to achieve, so she deserves our congratulations. It simply illustrates that, if sensible propositions are made, the option is always there to persuade people.

At the other end of the scale, the mother of the house departs shortly. I have sat beside Nanette Milne at many occasions when she has not felt at her most comfortable, particularly when she has deputised for Alex Johnstone at farmers’ events. I see that she is nodding slightly, so that is certainly true. The fact that she has done so shows how she never shrank from undertaking the duties that come with elected office. As others have done, I wish her well in what we will describe as retirement but I suspect should more properly be described as simply another part of her life.

At an earlier stage of the bill, I referred to something that we have to deal with when we consider succession. One of the enduring mysteries for me in all this is the fact that I can decide how my house, the money in my bank account and my possessions are to be disposed of but, as the person who might be newly deceased, I will have no say over the disposal of my remains. That is left completely to my relatives. That is unfinished business in this area of policy, although we always need checks and balances and there will be difficulties to be considered.


15 March 2016

S4M-15867 Standing Orders Rule Changes (Admissibility of Petitions and Minor Changes)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is consideration of motion S4M-15867, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on standing order rule changes: admissibility of petitions and minor rule changes.


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

The Public Petitions Committee recently wrote to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee about the rules on admissibility of petitions. The Public Petitions Committee wished to formalise in standing orders certain long-standing practices that it has adopted, which are currently set out in guidance.

First, the Public Petitions Committee proposed new rules that a petition should not breach any law or refer to any matter in relation to which legal proceedings are active. It also proposed that a petition that is making a request that is clearly frivolous should be inadmissible.

We noted that those proposed changes would be relatively technical. They are designed to rule as inadmissible petitions that breach the law or are clearly frivolous. The changes seemed to the SPPA Committee to be sensible and appropriate.

The Public Petitions Committee also proposed that a petition calling for the same, or substantially similar, action within a year of closure of a previous petition on the issue should be inadmissible. It also proposed that a petition that fails to raise an issue of national policy or practice should be inadmissible.

We noted that those rules would restrict certain types of petitions from being considered by the Public Petitions Committee. However, in practice, the Public Petitions Committee already does not consider those types of petitions. The rule simply translates into standing orders the long-standing working habits of that committee.

We proposed in our report some rule changes to give effect to those changes. We think that changing standing orders should make the rules clearer and more transparent for people who wish to lodge petitions.

The report also covered some other minor rule changes. First, we propose that a cross-reference in the rules on consolidation bills should be tidied up.

Secondly, we propose some minor rule changes that arise from the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Act 2016. The act introduces some new sanctions for breaching the act, including exclusion of a member from the Parliament, withdrawal of a member’s right to use the facilities and services of the Parliament, and withdrawal of salaries and allowances. The procedure for imposing such sanctions is the lodging of a motion by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, followed by a debate and a vote in the chamber. The procedure is provided for in the proposed new rules.

We also propose a rule to allow for the new sanction of “motion of censure”.

I am pleased to move motion S4M-15867, which stands in my name,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 3rd Report 2016 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes - Admissibility of Petitions and Minor Rule Changes (SP Paper 904), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexe A of the report be made with effect from 22 April 2016.


S4M-15868 Standing Orders Rule Changes (Legislation)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is consideration of motion S4M-15868, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on standing orders rule changes: legislation.


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

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is proposing two sets of rule changes relating to legislation procedures.

The first set of changes is to implement some of the committee’s recommendations from its inquiry into legislation procedures. Many of our recommendations do not require changes to the Parliament’s rules, but better information about legislation procedures should be made available to encourage the public to engage with us. The committee will monitor how the recommendations have been implemented to ensure progress is made.

Certain other recommendations require changes to standing orders. First, we recommend a rule change to bring forward the deadline for lodging amendments at stage 2 by one day, making it four sitting days. We also recommend a similar change at stage 3, to bring forward the deadline from four to five sitting days. The purpose of the changes is to allow more time for MSPs and others to understand the amendments before a decision is taken on them.

We propose a rule change to require a wider range of delegated powers to be explained in the delegated powers memorandum. We recommend changing the rules to require all public bills containing delegated powers, and not simply Scottish Government bills, to be accompanied by a delegated powers memorandum.

We also propose to change the deadlines for producing revised or supplementary delegated powers memorandums and revised or supplementary financial memorandums. The proposed new rules mean more time will be protected for committees to scrutinise revised documents but, crucially, neither the member in charge of the bill nor the committees will be any worse off under the new rules. The rule changes will also help to improve the accessibility of the legislation process and protect more time for scrutiny.

We recommend that our successor committee monitors how the rules work in practice to ensure that they are operating as intended.

We also recommend rule changes to hybrid and private bills that affect third parties. The current rules state that any amendment to a hybrid bill that affects a private interest is not admissible if the holder of that interest has not had the opportunity to comment on it. That is based on identifying the need to consult new affected parties when an individual amendment is lodged and its admissibility is being determined. That simply is not always practical within the time available for lodging amendments.

We propose that there be a single deadline for all amendments at stage 2 of hybrid or private bills. The committee will reach a view on whether any amendments lodged adversely affect private interests. If the hybrid or private bill committee decides that one or more amendments adversely affect private interests, the committee will decide whether the amendments have merit. If it decides that they have such merit, the process of debating and deciding on amendments would be put on hold until those affected have had an opportunity to lodge objections to, and give evidence on, those amendments. If the committee decides that an amendment does not have merit, the amendment will fall at that point.

The advantage of that approach would be that, if there are several amendments that adversely affect private interests, they will all be identified at one point and consulted on at the same time, thus minimising the delay in the progress of the bill.

I am pleased to move motion S4M-15868, which stands in my name,

That the Parliament notes the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s 4th Report 2016 (Session 4), Standing Order Rule Changes - Legislation (SP Paper 927), and agrees that the changes to Standing Orders set out in Annexes A and C of the report be made with effect from 22 April 2016.


10 March 2016

S4M-15870 Lobbying (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15870, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill.

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

Several references to Helen Eadie have already been made in this debate, and I think that it is a mark of the affection in which she is held that only today a number of us were reminiscing over lunch about her contributions to the Parliament and wider political debate. Perhaps those of us on the yes side in the European Union campaign, in particular, will miss her enthusiastic Europeanism.

Before I get to the substance of my speech, I want to report the result of the extensive research—approximately 75 seconds of it—that I have undertaken since Mr Findlay spoke. I can tell him that, far from employing fewer than 10 people, the CBI employs 14 directors alone—and that is before we get to any other employees. If Mr Findlay is asserting, as he did in his speech, that the CBI will be excluded because it employs fewer than 10 people, he is factually wrong; the web address, which he can check to get the list of names, is I think that that example characterises many of the untested assertions that have been made this afternoon.

On a number of occasions during the debate on the amendments, Mr Findlay suggested that we reject certain Government amendments on the basis that, in the bill’s development through the parliamentary process—and I note that, at each stage, we learn more and should respond as such—the committee did not take any evidence on the issue in question. However, that did not inhibit Mr Findlay from lodging a whole series of amendments on issues such as offences and sanctions that fell well outside the information that the committee engaged with during its research. However, let us not get into that in too much detail.

I very much welcome the bill. Of course, Mr Findlay was correct in saying that, at a seminar at the University of Stirling, an American professor said that the bill scored two out of 10. However, Mr Findlay failed to inform colleagues in the Parliament that, when I interacted with the professor in question, I discovered that his understanding of the bill was substantially incomplete, and he accepted that the two out of 10 mark was based entirely on a misunderstanding of where the bill was coming from.

I think that a couple of things in the bill are worth looking at and putting on the record. First, we have not made the mistake in the bill of looking at registering lobbyists; instead, we have looked at lobbying and the people who undertake it. Perhaps in looking at the registration of consultant lobbyists Westminster has missed the proper target. This bill focuses on the activity of lobbying, which I think is all well and good.

One of the very useful gems in the bill is voluntary registration, which allows bodies that are uncertain about engaging or which expect to engage in substantial lobbying activity in future to choose to register, even though there is no objective evidence at the time of registration that they are required to do so. That is a very strong part of the bill.

Another very good aspect of the bill is that people can lobby first and register afterwards. In many instances, the interaction between someone who is lobbying and the person being lobbied will not initially have the character of lobbying, which develops during the discussion. In that respect, the 30-day period is a very welcome provision.

Although I welcome the bill, the issue is, for me, not that huge, although I appreciate that it is not insubstantial. I estimate that, between now and the dissolution of Parliament, I will have four interactions that I might categorise as my being lobbied by someone. The bill sets out a very substantial way forward. The Parliament will look forward to exercising the powers under section 15 to draw up the details of the register, which is what our successors in office will be doing in the next session of Parliament.


01 March 2016

S4M-15758 Social Security

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15758, in the name of Alex Neil, on social security.

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

I offer some respect to Hugh Henry. If that was his valedictory address to us, there is no better subject that he could have been speaking about. He is not someone with whom I have agreed on every detail, but I absolutely share his commitment, which I acknowledge, to trying to make the lives of people in Scotland better—even if sometimes we differ on the methods of doing that. By saying that, I think that I have addressed dignity, fairness and respect, on which the cabinet secretary quite properly anchored the debate.

Sir William Beveridge’s report underpinned much of what we are engaging with today. Social security has evolved a lot since the Beveridge report was started in 1941 with a survey, but nonetheless the approach that was taken then is one with which we live today.

Perhaps an important question to think about is: what is the society of which we are a part and what is the society of which we wish to be a part in the future? We would all accept that we can all contribute to society. However, I am not certain that the Conservatives would agree with my assertion that we do not have to be a worker to contribute to society. The Conservative amendment anchors social security and support on being in employment. Lots of people contribute to society without being in employment, or without being able or willing to be in employment. We must separate the needs of people in our society from their ability to be part of our society financially. Many people simply cannot be that, and I fundamentally disagree with Conservative colleagues.

Quite a lot of the debate has been about mechanical issues. Inevitably, the cabinet secretary talked a great deal about how we will do this. In his budget for his proposed system, Beveridge interestingly capped the administration costs at 5 per cent. That is a pretty good starting place that the cabinet secretary could perhaps think about. In the modern, efficient world, with good-quality computer systems, we might do rather better.

It is also worth thinking that smaller uplifts in how much we expend could perhaps have bigger impacts than we think. Beveridge’s system increased expenditure on social services by only 50 per cent. One would have thought for the radical transformation that it effected that it would have been much more than that. More fundamental, the changes refocused what we were doing. The system that had preceded it for the previous 30 years came, of course, from Lloyd George, who introduced the Old Age Pension Act 1908. The House of Lords had vigorously opposed the bill and, in 1911, its sails were trimmed, so that its powers to block legislation were reduced.

I fear that we are back in the position of the House of Lords having undue influence over public policy—the Tories plan to add members to it to that end—but we will see. The bottom line is that we must focus on people.

The original system was the Chelsea pensioner system, which was introduced in 1689 by King William and Queen Mary. My great-great-grandfather was a Chelsea pensioner from 1818 because he was an army pensioner.

Today, we are in a different position. We must ensure that we are able to afford what we do, but we must focus—first, middle and bottom—on the people whom we are trying to support. I am sure that we will do that.


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