27 April 2017

S5M-05290 Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): I am moving straight on, as time is tight in this debate as well. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05290, in the name of Annabelle Ewing, on the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

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

Like others, I welcome the bill, although I take no pleasure in the fact that we have had to come to a legislative solution to such a problem.

Some survivors that we spoke to made the point that not all of them are looking for a court solution and that there are some for whom there is no resolution. The issue is not just about institutional abuse, because the bill covers abuse by individuals perpetrated on individual children and in some cases the abuser is simply no longer around—they have died—and such closure cannot be given. I am grateful to the person in that position who came to tell their story. That was very emotional for the person concerned and for those of us who heard it because in such cases we cannot provide any way forward through legislation.

The courts are one way in which to get peace after suffering abuse. The Jersey process, which went farther back than 1964, but in very limited and different circumstances, was of interest to the committee because it provided a quicker way of dealing with some things and was perhaps a less stressful approach. There is scope for considering whether there are ways in which we can assist people through pre-action protocols and other non-court approaches. We should not yet discount such ways of helping people.

During our committee consideration I made a very brief reference to an issue that I have subsequently thought further about, which is whether there is further scope for our thinking about what is a child. A child is someone who has not reached the capacity of someone of more than 18 years old, but the description may also be held to reasonably apply to people whose calendar age is in excess of 18, but who have not got the capacity of an adult. I wonder whether there is an opportunity to ensure that we capture people of a greater age, but a more limited capacity, who have suffered exactly the same kind of abuse.

Paragraph (2) of proposed new section 17A of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 simply defines “child” as

“an individual under the age of 18.”

There might be scope for looking again at that. It is not something that the committee has considered in detail, so I will understand if we cannot see how we might move forward on that.

As we discussed in the committee, the bill is structured so as to make it clear that we must look at the circumstances of the abuse in the light of the legal and practical position at the point when the abuse took place. That is, of course, a difficult issue, because it almost means that we are endorsing abuse that we would now castigate in law, in practice and in our moral code, because it might not have been so castigated at the point when the abuse took place—post-1964, which is the period that is covered by the bill. I see no resolution that would enable us properly to address that.

There is also the issue to do with cases in which a nugatory financial settlement was made—perhaps £1, although it is fair to say that there seems to be no evidence of such nugatory settlements, so perhaps that is an academic issue. On the principal point, which is that there would be risks to the bill’s legitimacy as a whole if provision were made to reopen cases in which a financial settlement had been made, I think that I have ultimately been convinced—I was not initially convinced—that the bill is cast in the right way.

The bill is very simple, in that it covers two sides of paper, but the complex legal issues that it covers are much more substantial than is suggested by the limited number of words in it.

Members mentioned the financial memorandum and the uncertainty about the number of people who are involved. I think that the minister’s response to the committee was simply that there are other views, which is correct. All the views that can be expressed by various people are no more than that—views. No one actually knows.

We must rise above a rather pointless debate about numbers and say that this is a principled matter and that we wish to support people who have suffered childhood abuse. We simply have to deal with the practical effects of that when we come to them, while making proper initial provision to cover what we think is a middle-point estimate. Let us not imagine that we can keep looking at the numbers and find a magic, certain answer—I am convinced, as I think others are, that there ain’t one to find. We do this as a matter of principle, not as a matter of money.


20 April 2017

S5M-05185 Defence Basing Reforms

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S5M-05185, in the name of Keith Brown, on defence basing reforms and their impact on Scotland.

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

I have a personal interest in this debate, as Richard Lochhead and I are the constituency members who represent Moray in this place. For Moray, defence is an important issue, both for employment and for its wider economic effect. For my own part, I have little in the way of personal connection with matters military. My great-great-grandfather was a driver in the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers and was demobbed in 1819 because he had become deaf, and my great-great-great-grandfather left HMS Medway in August 1782, and that is about it as far as my family is concerned.

Christine Grahame: Thank goodness.

Jackson Carlaw: Surely not. There must be more.

Stewart Stevenson: That is, apart from the other six people that I am being encouraged to talk about.

Seriously, though, the proposed closure of the defence bases will have, and the previous closures of defence facilities such as the RAF presence at Kinloss have had, a huge, disruptive and negative impact on the communities and families that have been part of the bases and interacted with them. However, defence estates represent a much wider problem. In tumultuous times in the world, defence is needed and must be mobilised in the fight against today’s threats. It is no good continuing to invest in defence facilities that represent a response to the nuclear stand-off of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I am amazed to have heard Jackson Carlaw talking indirectly about the £205 billion for Trident as an almost nugatory amount of money, when I consider what other things might be done with such a sum.

Today, the threats that we face as a country and as the western part of the world are fewer from states and more from non-state actors such as ideologically and radically based groups that are not attached to particular countries but which want to break down our values of freedom and democracy through violence, fear and hateful rhetoric. Nuclear weapons have not deterred a single person in ISIS. They have not deterred North Korea, which Jackson Carlaw referred to. At the end of the day, we must look not only at the effect on the bases here but at the underlying military principles that are driving the proposals, as well as the dark hand of the UK Treasury.

We need effective defence—of course we do—but cutting bases simply to save money does not address the issue of defence in the modern world. We have got to make changes. Reference was made to the battle of Waterloo, in the aftermath of which the Army was cut to a third of its size in the three or four years after the battle. That was disastrous because of some of the things that happened thereafter. It certainly left the UK much less able to respond to threats that emerged in the Indies and the colonies.

Jackson Carlaw: That is simply not true.

Stewart Stevenson: I will take an intervention if Mr Carlaw wishes.

Jackson Carlaw: I am prepared to accept that Mr Stevenson may have been at Waterloo, but to suggest that a reduction in the armed forces after Napoleon was defeated led to some immediate crisis for Britain’s influence across the world is nonsense. It was 50 years before the threats to which Mr Stevenson is alluding emerged. Of course it was the right thing to do. Defence forces must meet the threat. Although he talks about ISIS today, he cannot know what the threats in the next 40 years are going to be.

Stewart Stevenson: I am glad that Mr Carlaw has read “The Art of War”, which contains the wonderful adage that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. I agree with Jackson Carlaw that we do not know what the threat might be next week, next year or in five years’ time. That is why we need flexibility and diversity in our defence provision, which is obviated by our committing huge proportions of our defence expenditure to a weapon that is incapable of being deployed—Trident.

In the modern world, the kind of threats to which we are subject require physical presence adjacent to local threats and a mobile force that can move to where international threats are.

In the north of Scotland, in the past five or six years, we have twice seen the Kuznetsov, the biggest military ship in the Russian navy, in the Moray Firth. It was moored so close off Banff that we could see people with the naked eye—I usually wear glasses, but I could see them without them—walking on the aircraft carrier deck. It took more than 24 hours for any UK military presence to arrive to see what the Kuznetsov was up to and to protect our interests.

It is that failure to respond to today’s defence challenges that underpins the failures that we see in the basing review. If money is simply spent on Trident, money is not spent on what we need. The Tories in particular constantly complain about business, education and healthcare budgets, but those budgets are dwarfed by the amount of money that they want us to spend on Trident.

Furthermore, the money that is spent on people in our Army and on bases has a wider economic benefit in a way that sending vast amounts of money to the United States for the equipment that is associated with Trident does not—and, by the way, we do not even receive the codes that enable us to independently decide to use it. That is hardly supportive of the economic interests of this country or the UK as a whole.

We in Scotland have particular maritime interests. We have substantial fishing interests out to 200 miles and we have substantial oil and gas interests. Despite having all the UK’s submarines based in Scotland, they are not suitable or useful for responding to the maritime threats to our interests. Therefore, we must look at what happens in navy bases. Even the Irish have seven vessels specially built for that purpose based around their coastline. That country is smaller than Scotland. Those vessels, in addition to its two maritime surveillance aircraft, are perfectly illustrative of what even small countries can do with more limited resources.

Let me return to what the previous speaker, Maurice Golden, said—

The member said that good defence is based on people. I agree. We need more personnel located in Scotland, contributing to our economy and giving stability to their families and friends.


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