29 November 2017

S5M-07806 Small Business Saturday 2017

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07806, in the name of Ash Denham, on small business Saturday 2017. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 2 December 2017 will mark the fifth Small Business Saturday, which is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign that aims to highlight small business success and to encourage consumers to “shop local”; understands that, in 2016, customers in Edinburgh and across the country spent £717 million with small businesses on the awareness day, which was a 15% increase on 2015; understands that over 80% of local authorities across the UK actively support the campaign in a variety of ways, from networking events to offering free parking, which means that, for everyone, Small Business Saturday will be happening nearby, and notes the calls on Members to share their support for the campaign on social media, visit small businesses in their area, with media engagement to help raise local consumer awareness, and for them to encourage small businesses to get involved and register on the website,

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

First, I thank Ash Denham for the opportunity to talk about small businesses. I was immediately jealous of her access to a sweetie shop. I was six years old before I could go to the sweetie shop without my ration card. [Laughter.] There are four of us in the Parliament for whom that would be true.

As other members do, I use small businesses. On my journey down here this week, I travelled from the station at Inverurie in Gillian Martin’s constituency and dropped in at the Coco Works cafe to have my lunch. I had a lovely toastie with salad and a latte: it was absolutely excellent. It is a tiny little business that serves a real local need—if only in terms of my digestion.

There are other wonderful examples in the north-east of Scotland. I have in my constituency a relatively small fish processing business that smokes salmon. There is nothing uncommon about that, but it buys old whisky barrels from the distilleries and uses the wood from them to smoke the salmon. It is actually possible to tell what brand of whisky the barrels contained on tasting the smoked salmon. That is an excellent initiative.

On Monday, I also visited Granny Bakes on Straight Path in Banff, which has opened only in the past few weeks, to buy éclairs for Gary who works for me in my office in Peterhead. The éclairs will be on his desk tomorrow for his birthday. Those are just some examples. Every one of us will have examples of wonderful entrepreneurship and innovation.

Of course, small business Saturday is not just a one-off: this is the fifth year of the initiative. It is the culmination of efforts by the FSB and others to promote small businesses around the UK. Another part of the programme is the small biz 100—a list of 100 small businesses, one of which is featured in each of the 100 days leading up to the main event. There are many examples of such businesses. My assistant has identified a haberdashery and fabric store in Fochabers in Richard Lochhead’s constituency that is participating.

As we have heard, running a small business is a challenge; it is not an easy thing to do, and it is not something that I have ever done or even contemplated. When I meet small businesspeople, I find that their experience is not such that I would be sucked in. However, small businesses are a vital part of the social and economic infrastructure of many of our communities in the north-east and across Scotland. They are vital cogs in supporting local commerce. The people who work in them are committed to customer service, because if they ain’t, it ain’t gonna work. In the modern world, where so much of our interaction with businesses is relatively abstract or online—there is no human involved—that commitment to customer service makes a real difference.

That said, small businesses, too, are going online. Granny Bakes might have been started only a few weeks ago, but it will go online in the new year. I wish it every success, just as I wish everyone who participates in small business Saturday every success.


16 November 2017

S5M-08218 Incontinence

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08218, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, on incontinence in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that incontinence has the potential to affect everyone at some point and that the condition can arise as a symptom of a range of varied medical conditions, such as obesity, traumatic childbirth and muscle weakness; believes that 20% of women between 17 and 30 will experience so-called giggle incontinence, which has the potential to lead to greater complications in later life, in particular the need for surgical interventions, including transvaginal mesh implants; understands that the only country to have calculated the costs associated with this is Australia, which estimates these to be around $43 billion (£25 billion) per year as they go beyond the provision of sanitary wear, medication and surgery, and include the cost of dealing with the depression and anxiety that can arise; recognises what it sees as the importance of physiotherapy in alleviating the symptoms, and notes that, when provided early, this has reportedly proved effective in 80% of cases; understands that there is no formal training around basic incontinence prevention in Scotland for the midwifery, health visitor or physiotherapist workforce; acknowledges the taboo around the subject, which, it believes, suppresses an open discussion about it and often prevents people experiencing the condition from seeking help, and notes the view that the case for a national incontinence strategy is compelling, as it would be important to improving the life quality of hundreds of thousands of people in Edinburgh and across the country and would be of benefit to the public purse.

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

In essence, this debate is about the competition and tension between social embarrassment about talking about the functions of our bowels and bladders and the underlying medical urgency that might be associated with dysfunction in that regard. If social embarrassment wins, there is a risk that we delay engagement with the medical assistance and advice that might well be necessary to protect us from the severe impacts of underlying conditions that need urgent attention.

I often learn things in members’ business debates that I had not previously been aware of. It had never occurred to me that the issue that we are considering had a gender aspect to it. Members might forgive me, given my age, for being a little fixated on the future operation of the older gentleman’s prostate and for neglecting to understand issues that are associated with pregnancy and incontinence in females. We have heard that the problem is bigger for the female than it is for the male. I have learned something.

I am grateful to Alex Cole-Hamilton for securing this debate, which I hope will, more broadly, enable people to feel a little more comfortable about talking about issues that are rarely discussed at the dinner table.

The issue is important. Glasgow Caledonian University reports that 30 to 40 per cent of people over 65 who live in their own homes and 70 per cent of frail older people who live in care homes struggle with incontinence—so it is not a trivial matter.

Despite what Alison Johnstone said—I will look out some of the references that she cited—I had not previously thought that incontinence was a matter of humour. However, if humour can be used as a vehicle that allows us to talk about and recognise the condition, that is very much to be welcomed.

A lot is expected of healthcare professionals. I hope that practice nurses, who will often be the ones to be consulted on the condition rather than general practitioners, have the appropriate training and the sensitivity to raise with patients something that may be of considerable embarrassment to them. Patients often go to their primary health provider for a reason other than incontinence, and the condition may emerge as a secondary issue, or it may simply be that questions about general health reveal an incontinence problem that is part of their deterioration in health.

I hope that midwives, health visitors, physiotherapists, practice nurses and GPs are, in future, better equipped for, and more comfortable with, raising difficult issues about incontinence. As the Australian numbers illustrate, the key point is that if we tackle incontinence early, there is an economic saving in addition to the benefit to the quality of life of sufferers. Sustained and regular exercise is important and helpful, with the caveats that I have just heard about from Alison Johnstone.

We have the potential to alleviate unnecessary pain, anxiety and aggravation, and to improve the quality of mental health of incontinence sufferers. The topic has been neglected for too long. This debate is a contribution, but not the end of the story in improving matters for incontinence sufferers.


09 November 2017

S5M-08706 Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08706, in the name of Gillian Martin, on stage 3 of the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill. I call Gillian Martin, the member in charge of the bill, to speak to and move the motion.

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

As Neil Bibby did, I congratulate Gillian Martin on introducing the bill and getting it to this stage—at which we may now reasonably anticipate that it will be passed later today. It is no small matter to promote a bill. I have taken five bills through Parliament thus far, but none of them was a member’s bill. With a member’s bill, the member has to do much of the work: for the four bills that I took forward in my capacity as a Government minister, I had a vast team to do all the heavy lifting for me, and when I introduced a committee bill in the previous session of Parliament, the team of clerks did the work. However, for a member introducing a member’s bill, the burden is substantially greater, and greater understanding and attention to detail are required. Therefore, Gillian Martin deserves very substantial thanks.

One part of the system that has not been mentioned so far, but that it is proper to mention, is the Public Petitions Committee. Over a long period, a considerable number of petitions on matters in the general area that we are dealing with today have been submitted and then considered in great detail. UK Government ministers have appeared at the Public Petitions Committee on such matters. That committee has played a significant part in digging the soil and putting in the manure where the crop that we have today has grown.

Travelling in a vehicle that is fitted with a seat belt but not using it is rather like jumping out of a plane without a parachute—it is briefly exciting, but ultimately disastrous. The one thing that we are unable to do is enforce the wearing of seat belts. Like others, I travel on buses—I am of that age: I think that I am now on my fourth bus pass, which shows how old I have got—but I do not recall ever being on a bus on which anyone bar me was wearing a seat belt.

I acknowledge and thank colleagues at Westminster for providing us with the powers to do what we are doing today. That is very welcome and it is good cross-parliamentary working. It would be affa nice if they found the time and the method to create enforcement. It is not a Scottish issue. If enforcement was created such that people would be required to wear a seat belt if the vehicle on which they are travelling has seat belts—it is that simple; that is all we need to say—that would be of equal benefit to people throughout the whole United Kingdom. I encourage colleagues of whatever political persuasion or Government to consider whether they might support such legislation being dealt with at Westminster. That would mean that it would catch up with what Wales has done and with what we expect to do this afternoon.

Briefly and finally, I note that we have had a wee bit of a debate about costs. That is so trivial that I am not prepared to join it. In matters of safety, we just do it. I will be delighted to press my button at decision time today to just do it. I say, “Well done” to Gillian Martin.


07 November 2017

S5M-07924 Respect for Shopworkers Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07924, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on respect for shopworkers week, 13 to 19 November. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Respect for Shopworkers Week, which is organised by USDAW’s Freedom From Fear campaign, runs from 13 to 19 November 2017; further notes that the week highlights the violence and abuse faced by shopworkers; recognises that the Retail Crime Survey, published in February 2017, concluded that “retail staff continue to suffer unacceptable levels of violence and abuse”, rising by 40% since 2015-16; is concerned that alcohol sales and the legal requirement of the Challenge 25 scheme can often act as a trigger-point for the outbreak of violence or abuse against workers, and considers that the abuse experienced by simply doing their job is of continued distress to shopworkers; celebrates the week’s vital role in raising awareness of the violence and abuse faced by shopworkers, and notes calls on both the Scottish and UK governments to act so that all public-facing workers can benefit from further protection from violence, abuse, and threats when at work.

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

I thank Daniel Johnson for the opportunity to discuss this subject tonight. He has referred to the bill that he proposes to introduce, and a members’ debate is often a useful way of introducing the subject of a prospective member’s bill to Parliament and to ramp up discussion about it. I shall look with interest at the proposals that he seeks to introduce. I certainly support the principles that he has described, although I do not yet know whether I will ultimately be able to support the detailed implementation of his bill.

That is noises off; what is important and central to the debate is those who are on the front line of retail, who meet the public in all their diverse forms, from the old man—the regular—who goes to the convenience shop on the corner and builds a personal relationship with the shop staff at one end of the spectrum to those who cause serious incidents at the other.

This morning, as I travelled to Edinburgh by train, I read in the Metro a timely but unfortunate article about a shopworker who was attacked on Sunday in East Ayrshire and who is now, the paper reports, critically ill in hospital. That illustrates precisely the problems that Daniel Johnson asks us to engage with today, and which USDAW is making a more general point about on behalf of all retail workers. In the most stark way, that story illustrates the nature of the problem. It is too common and it has to be dealt with. We will assess whether legal protections of the nature of those that are to be proposed will help.

Respect for shopworkers week is an easy and proper thing to support. Without retail, we would be impoverished in many ways. It is important as one of our biggest industries, but it is also a personal industry that delivers to us. Too often, the police are called to incidents that happen in shops, particularly in relatively small shops. In larger shops, it is perhaps easier for those who are of ill intent to be observed, and they know it, so it is the little corner shop that is open at 10 o’clock at night or at 6 o’clock in the morning that is most commonly on the front line.

USDAW forms an important backstop to support people who have been subjected to unacceptable behaviour, and shopworkers deserve our support for what they do. It is not part of the job spec of someone who stands behind a counter that they should take whatever comes in their direction. They should have respect from all those who visit shops, and good citizens should look out for shopworkers and should be part of a society that protects them from those who do not show the right attitude. I certainly hope that the person who was attacked in East Ayrshire recovers and is able to resume her work, if she wishes to do so.

There are many parts of society where people face the public in all its multifarious forms. Shopworkers are important. On another occasion, we might think about others who have to engage with the public in sometimes difficult circumstances.

I am happy to support the motion.


S5M-08677 Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08677, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on stage 1 of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill.

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

The cabinet secretary took us back to the origins of the Forestry Commission in the 1919 bill, but I want to take us 400 years further back because, of course, the product of forestry is a strategic material. When James IV built the Great Michael, with its 10-foot-thick Scottish oak hull, that required that all the trees of Fife be cleared. Also, then, as now, we had to import wood from France and the Baltic states, and to use wood from forests across Scotland. Wood has been a strategic material for a long time. Indeed, when Henry VIII saw what James IV had done, he decided that he would build a boat that was even bigger than the Great Michael, and which, at 1,000 tons, was the biggest boat in the world. Flodden cut short the ambitions for use of the Great Michael, of course.

In 1919, we were responding to the strategic imperative to have wood for the trenches of the first world war, but it was clear that there was insufficient wood. Wood was recognised as an important strategic part of military operations.

However, as Peter Chapman reminded us, forestry is also of economic value. It might constitute but 1 per cent of our gross domestic product, but where that 1 per cent lies, it is very important to the communities that plant and sustain our forests, and to the sawmills that depend on predictable long-term access to wood. As it was in the 1500s, so it is in the 2000s.

Indeed, forestry is a very personal thing for many people. One of my late councillor colleagues—my good friend, Councillor Mitchell Burnett—who knew he was dying from a carcinoma, held on long enough to ensure that he got permission from Aberdeenshire Council for his grave to be on the edge of the forest that he was bequeathing to his daughter.

Forestry is the kind of long-term business whose interests we have to protect. The issue of sustainable forest management has come up several times already in the debate: it is important that what we do with land is sustainable. The debate around the meaning of “sustainable” is such that it will mean slightly different things in slightly different contexts. That is why it is proper that the meaning is not defined in the bill but is expressed clearly and unambiguously elsewhere so that we can discuss and challenge it.

The committee divided on the matter of compulsory purchase. Indeed, it is worth reminding members that the committees of this Parliament are rather freer from the strictures of the whip system than other parts of our operation perhaps are. When committees are working well, they seek to look objectively at the evidence that is before them so that individual committee members can come to their conclusions. The committee’s Scottish National Party group, because it is not a group, divided such that two were on one side of the argument and two were on the other side.

Edward Mountain: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will, in a minute.

Fulton MacGregor and I joined Rhoda Grant and John Finnie in suggesting that extension of the compulsory purchase orders, which might never be used, would take people to decisions a bit faster. Mr Mountain might have come to a different view.

Edward Mountain: No—this is not a political point, but just a point. I think that there might be a member of the committee within the SNP group that Mr Stevenson has ignored. I think that there are five people in his group, not four. However, as Mr Stevenson was at the meeting concerned, I am sure that he will be able to comment on that, on reflection.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: It is unlike Stewart Stevenson to make a factual error.

Stewart Stevenson: No, Presiding Officer—I am constantly told by colleagues and even by friends that I am a larger-than-life character, so I count as one and a half and thus, when I add Fulton MacGregor to me, that is two and a half out of five. I jest. Edward Mountain, our ever-diligent convener, is of course correct. As a mere mathematician, I am arithmetically challenged by his intervention, which I accept because it is entirely correct.

I welcome the attention to the definition of “felling” in the bill, because it is important that we get that right. It is worth reminding ourselves that nature fells woods, as well. Where my wife and I have stayed for the past 14 years, we are surrounded on three sides by about 40 hectares of forest that appears to have been all but abandoned, and nature is busily felling what appears to me to be a mature forest. It is important that some aspects of that are addressed as we progress the bill.

I was delighted to hear the cabinet secretary referring to Abriachan, of which I have fond memories. I visited there when I was about three or four years old, as we went up in an old American ex-army jeep to Claude McLennan’s croft at the top of Abriachan, which at that time was a very primitive place indeed. The community there having the opportunity to take some control of its own destiny will be a way in which Abriachan will have fundamentally changed since I visited it in—I think—the late 1940s.

The important thing in the bill that I welcome, but which others have mixed views on, is what is essentially the separation between policy and operation. That will lead us to a clearer way in which to take matters forward.

It was my delight previously to be the minister who was responsible for the Forestry Commission Scotland and, in particular, to see the highly automated sawmill at Nairn, in the cabinet secretary’s constituency, which illustrates how the forestry industry is a high-tech industry of economic and environmental importance to Scotland. I support what is proposed in the bill.


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