18 December 2018

S5M-15169 Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Repayments) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15169, in the name of Ash Denham, on the Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

I have not been involved with the bill thus far, but I want to develop a number of its aspects; Jackie Baillie has touched on them already.

The committee’s convener, Gordon Lindhurst, mentioned the balance between pursuer and defender and the different views that can be taken. It is worth saying that the phrase “hypothetical investor” is a good one, because most people who will be in receipt of the kind of compensation that we are talking about are not knowingly investors in anything. They are often investors through their pensions without realising it. Many people have industrial life insurance, which was traditionally sold door to door and for which the money was collected every week, or they might have a life policy.

I had a life policy that I took out in 1975 and took the money out of 31 years later—that is almost exactly the period that we are talking about. I have just done the sums, and the discount rate was just under 6 per cent, but I have not taken account of the value of the insurance part of that, which would make the discount rate a little bit higher. That was before the crash, of course, and discount rates now look rather different. The bottom line is that the hypothetical investor about whom we are talking is a pretty cautious beast, and rightly so.

Jackie Baillie used the phrase “no faith” when she was talking about periodical payments, and that was a fair observation. The bill says:

“A court may not make an order for periodical payments unless it is satisfied that the continuity of payment under such an order would be reasonably secure.”

It then goes on to say that the payment must be assumed to be secure when it is a Government that is paying the money out. The one thing that is not in the bill, and which might usefully be added, is that when the court decides that it is satisfied about the continuity of payment, it should explain why it is satisfied, so that, if there is a different view, that view can be challenged. That is a technical point that protects the person who is in receipt of the compensation payment.

There has been some discussion about the costs of tax and investment advice. I am a bit dubious about the 0.5 per cent deduction. I have the feeling that the costs might be a bit higher than that in the real world, so I am not sure that 0.5 per cent is adequate to cover them. I do not speak with certainty, but it is a question that would usefully bear some—

John Mason
: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way to somebody who knows more than I do about that matter.

John Mason: The committee received evidence—I do not know whether the member would agree with it—that perhaps the investment cost would be higher at the beginning and lower later on.

Stewart Stevenson: I am absolutely sure that the member is correct, but that goes to the heart of how the compensation is provided: whether it is paid in a lump sum up front or in periodical payments. The actuarial risks associated with the two are fundamentally different. When Dean Lockhart said that a longer period of investment would increase the discount rate, I did not agree. I think that the discount rate is what it is, and that is the actuary’s view. The discount cost goes up as the period increases—rather obviously, because there are more years over which the discount will apply.

Jackie Baillie: I will helpfully supply Stewart Stevenson with the discount rate that he was looking for. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers supplied us with it: it is between 1.5 and 2 per cent per annum.

Stewart Stevenson: That is broadly what I would have expected, so I am obliged to the member for that.

Investors come in all shapes and forms. Over the years, with my wife, I have been an equity investor. We have twice lost all our money on an investment, and in 2008, my bank investment dropped by 96 per cent. Being in the equities market carries a substantial risk. Ultimately, investors in equities are the last creditors to get paid and they may find themselves paying in if the shares are not paid up in value.

The bill strikes a measured balance between the various options. I looked at it for the first time in the past 36 hours. It strikes me as a sensible piece of legislation, which I shall be happy to support.


12 December 2018

S5M-14921 Ultrasound Scanner (60th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14921, in the name of Angela Constance, on the 60th anniversary of the ultrasound scanner, invented in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the pioneering innovation, the obstetric ultrasound scanner, following the publication in 1958 of the seminal paper by Donald, MacVicar and Brown, which brought about its development; commends Professor Dugald Cameron who, when he was a final year student that year at The Glasgow School of Art, designed the prototype and worked with a young engineer, Tom Brown, to develop the production version, which was the first of its kind in the world; understands that, since its invention in Scotland, this globally-significant breakthrough has been used to perform over 8.7 million scans annually in the UK, with women in particular benefiting from this safe and non-invasive imaging technique; believes that the scanner has grown in stature, not only as a vital medical tool for the care of pregnant women, but in offering essential diagnosis for a plethora of conditions in men, women and children; acknowledges that it has also expanded into certain therapeutic areas; lauds the late Professor Ian Donald of the University of Glasgow who, after serving as an RAF medical officer in the Second World War, used the concept of adapting radar and sonar technology for medical use to invent this revolutionary technique; recognises the essential contribution of Tom Brown, whose creative technical expertise and collaboration with Donald and others made it possible for this application of ultrasound to be developed, and notes the calls for the Scottish Government to support efforts to encourage the country’s museums and others in Almond Valley and across the country in recognising the importance of the obstetric ultrasound scanner and its place in the nation’s industrial design, invention and innovation history and heritage.

... ... ...

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

As members know, I often speak about my own experiences and people in my family. My father, too, invented something for understanding what was going on in the womb. Being a general practitioner, he had an aluminium ear trumpet thing that he could use to listen to what was going on. His patients found it terribly cold and uncomfortable on their bellies, so my father, with his whittling knife and a bit of wood, made a wooden version of it that was much more comfortable for his patients. That was his contribution to solving that particular problem, but it hardly bears any comparison whatsoever to the deployment of electronics and ultrasound to understand what is going on in the womb.

My mother, who gave birth to me long before the establishment of the national health service, had an ectopic pregnancy before I was born and, therefore, when I was born, had only one fallopian tube. Therefore, the whole issue of the maternity services that my father gave was an important part of what he found himself doing.

In a sense, that is relatively unimportant. The more important thing is what the invention that we are discussing has contributed to safe pregnancy and to the health of women and their offspring. The sonar background came from the war, as did the radar technology—my professor of natural philosophy when I was at university was RV Jones, who is the guy who was responsible for the UK’s radar programme, which sprung from the same kind of stable.

Along with the ability to see what is going on in the womb and to gather a lot of information about a child before it is born, we are presented with some ethical problems. One of the great things about the medical profession is that we have seen the development of an ethical framework that makes sure that we use that information in an appropriate way that helps the youngsters and their mothers.

Of course, it is often the case that the ultrasound procedure reveals how many children are in the womb. Often, the little black-and-white fuzzy photographs are the first indication that members of the family have that there will be another one joining them. It is an absolutely fabulous thing. There is supposed to be an X-ray of me in my mother’s womb—given her history, that is not surprising—but, unfortunately, I have never seen it, and it will have long since gone.

It is a delight that we have with us in the public gallery today some people who are responsible for the development of ultrasound. Inventors, designers and artists are people with whom I feel a lot of sympathy, given my background. If only I had invented something that was as useful as ultrasound.

We have heard that the design of the machine was adapted to make it more friendly for the pregnant mother. That is important because we are sometimes accused of overmedicalising pregnancy. A piece of equipment that looks like a bit of engineering kit is hardly going to help the peace of mind of the mother. Therefore, designing something that looks friendly and might be the right colours, for example, is a good thing.

Of course, the technology of ultrasound is now used for many other conditions beyond pregnancy, including heart issues, which might be an area that is important to me as I gain in age, and issues affecting many of the organs of the body, so men, too, are benefiting from ultrasound.

It is simply a bit of a sadness that Glasgow did not manage to hang on to ultrasound, but we had our own stake in inventing and starting it, and I congratulate all those in the public gallery who were involved in its development. Of course, I also congratulate my colleague on bringing the debate to the chamber tonight.


11 December 2018

S5M-15096 Fisheries Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15096, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-of-year negotiations.

... ... ...

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

I did a quick sum before the debate: I think that this is my 11th or 12th speech on fisheries negotiations since becoming a member. Each year’s negotiations have their own individual tempo and issues. The enduring feature is that the fishermen’s representatives, whether the SFF, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association or others, do not support any political party. In fact, they want all of us to be their allies in the fisheries negotiations and throughout the year. I am certainly up for that.

I first attended a fisheries council as a backbencher with our shadow fisheries minister, Richard Lochhead, in 2002. The commissioner at the time was Franz Fischler, who is from Austria, which is—and this perfectly illustrates the issue—a country that has no coast whatsoever and no interest in the common fisheries policy. We met his assistant and adviser, Maja Kirchner, who was a lawyer, not a fishing scientist or a fishing person. That, too, neatly captures the problems with the way that the EU deals with fishing.

I remind members that I brought the first and, so far, only debate that we have had in the Parliament on the SFF’s sea of opportunity, which received support from across the chamber. We do not need to argue about whether we agree about the sea of opportunity: we clearly do, and we should not create false barriers to suggest otherwise.

Fishermen are certainly hunters, but they are also conservationists, because they know that, if they do not leave fish in the sea this year, there will be none to hunt next year, and none for their sons, their grandsons and their communities to hunt in future. We should listen to our fishermen.

In the form in which it has come from Europe, the landing obligation has presented a substantial problem that has been referred to already. In the briefing that it sent me, the SFF refers to choke species, which is a big issue that rightly comes up at every single meeting of the north-east fisheries development partnership, whose meetings I attend almost all of—I have missed one or two in the past 10 years.

I make a wee passing comment in response to what Peter Chapman said about business rates. Seafish’s briefing shows that the rateable value per square foot in Peterhead is virtually the same as that is in Grimsby; it is actually lower in Fraserburgh. It is as well to remember that there are complex reasons for the structure of the processing industry being as it is.

Peter Chapman quoted at length from the Scottish White Fish Producers Association’s briefing. The key point is that it now seems that other member states and third countries have exhausted their own stocks and are encroaching north. As the SWFPA highlights, that is precisely the challenge that we have with the common fisheries policy—we give away access and get very little in return.

The SWFPA also highlights the issue of non-European Economic Area crew. It is as well to footnote that, once we leave the EU, that will potentially be an issue for EU crew as well.

We have heard mention of the new fish market at Peterhead. I know of no one who has not supported it, and I was delighted to help the board there with one or two issues that it had during the market’s construction. We were delighted that the Duke of Rothesay came up, not only to open the fish market but to see fish gutting and eat some of the wonderful fish that are landed at Peterhead and elsewhere.

In 2017, I talked about the need to get

“100 per cent control over our waters out to 200 miles.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2017; c 71.]

I continue to support that to this day.

In 2016, I quoted myself—always a good source—when I, in turn, quoted evidence to our European Committee in 2001 that we should

“speak with one voice ... There are tensions that should be buried for the common good.”—[Official Report, European Committee, 30 January 2001; c 946.]

I hope that we will continue to tak tent of that advice, all that time ago, to our own parliamentary committee.

In 2015, Jamie McGrigor was still a member—he was always an excellent contributor to our debates. We talked about cod; my favourite thing out of the sea is cod roe, so I hope that we come on to that.

The Faroes were talked about in 2014. The difficulty with the Faroes is that they can kind of just wait because, with the change in temperature, the fish move north into their waters. Negotiations with the Faroes will always be difficult but need to be prosecuted with considerable vigour.

In 2006, I said that we need

“a successful sustainable industry. We may differ about the route to that and about some of the difficulties that we face in delivering that”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2006; c 30421.]

That could be said today, and it could be said every year.

In 2004, I talked about ICES. It is as well to remember that ICES has been around for more than 100 years. It is an important source of information about stocks, and one that we should depend on. Tavish Scott suggested that ICES advice should be peer reviewed. I think that it probably is, but we can never over peer review, so I have some sympathy with his suggestion.

Fishing is an important industry. Nearly 5,000 people are employed on Scotland-based vessels, but many more onshore depend on the industry. We have to learn from the Scottish Government’s experience over the years of sitting outside the council chamber that we can still influence what happens inside it. I hope that, next year, the UK Government will not go there too pessimistic about being outside the core decision making, but will work with the Scottish Government—as it always has done, to reasonable if not perfect effect—and learn how to get what we need when not sitting in the council chamber.


05 December 2018

S5M-15032 European Union Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15032, in the name of Michael Russell, on protecting our interests: Scotland’s response to the United Kingdom Government and European Union withdrawal agreement and political declaration.

... ... ...

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

There was nothing unreasonable about fishermen who voted to leave the common fisheries policy in 2016. When I came here in 2001, the EU was halving the number of Scottish fishing boats, while simultaneously funding Spaniards to expand their fleet with our money.

We now see a rise in the amount of foreign vessels’ catches in our water. They make up a huge proportion—more than half. It is one of many reasons to be outwith the common fisheries policy, an arrangement that the SNP has opposed from the very outset to the present day.

On 17 January 2017, Theresa May spoke about her plan for Britain, addressing what she thought should happen after the referendum. It had a single mention of fishing—a mention of Spanish fishermen. There was no mention of English fishermen, Irish fishermen, Welsh fishermen or Scottish fishermen. There was only a mention of Spanish fishermen, tucked away right at the end, immediately before the conclusion of her speech.

That continues a line that stretches from the Tory sell-out of fishermen on entry to the European Economic Community to today, and to section 75 in the political declaration, which reads:

“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”

We know from that that a fisheries agreement is contingent on an economic partnership. A trade-off is going to be made against fishing rights. Optimists believe—against all the evidence so far—that UK Tories will abandon an economic partnership in favour of fishing, or will show some miraculous adoption of a negotiating strategy that is far superior to anything that we have seen to date. They simply do not encourage me, and if members track what has been happening on social media, they will know that many fishermen are not buying it either.

History also gives us much to say about what has happened. Mike Rumbles quoted Edmund Burke, and he did so appropriately. The Gettysburg address, given by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, made clear what happens when a country fights itself. The same is true when a political party fights itself, as the Conservatives are now doing. It is not a war that can be won without casualties; indeed, it is probably not a war that can be won at all.

Ross Greer talked about the dying days of a Tory Government, but I think that he was wrong. We are actually facing something more serious for democracy and my many friends on the Conservative benches here and elsewhere: we are potentially witnessing the death of the Conservative Party. It went through huge trauma in 1846, when Robert Peel addressed the issues of the corn laws. The Tory party fissured, and it took many decades—and lives—before it came together again. This time, one cannot be certain in any way, shape or form that the Tory party will survive at all. Politics is diminished if we do not have a diversity of voices, and one of the losers in this whole sorry farrago is the democratic system itself.

Why do I think that the Tories are dying as a party? I have before me advice for people who work in a hospice on how to recognise death. It says:

“Someone who is dying usually begins to withdraw more and more into his ... own world.”

That sounds like the Tories.

“She/he is still conscious and able to communicate but various behaviours may appear—restlessness, disinterest in people or activities previously enjoyed ... There is a decreased ability to grasp ideas.”

Again, that sounds like the Tories.

“All the senses decline, even hearing.”

If there is one sense that the Tories are losing, it is the ability to hear what is being said in the public and political domain. Ultimately, we hear the death rattle of a party that is on its last legs and heading for the grave.

Willie Rennie: Before the member gets any more morose, I want to bring him back to the present day. How does he think that we are going to get out of this situation? Is a people’s vote gaining traction? Does he think that it could happen, and will he really get behind that proposal so that we can win it?

Stewart Stevenson: We have heard about that subject already. For my part, I would prefer to have the same relationship with the EU as Norway has. It would be economically valuable, and it would get us out of the CFP.

I am very obliged for the opportunity to speak. Fishing will remain a dominant issue for me and many of my constituents, and we will continue to hold the Tories to account. You cannae trust them on fishing.


04 December 2018

S5M-15016 Veterans

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15016, in the name of Graeme Dey, on a strategy for our veterans: taking it forward in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I was pleased in this session of Parliament to respond positively to an invitation to become a member of the Highland Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, which means that I have that limited connection with many former servicemen.

Of course, for most servicemen, the transition to civilian life from active duty largely goes without event. My best man served for several decades in the Army.

In 1991, I happened to be on a flight from Sydney to Auckland and found myself sitting beside Les Munro, who was one of the dambuster pilots and who had clearly prospered in civilian life. My great-great-grandfather Andrew Barlow, who served with the royal corps of transport between 1813 and 1818—although he does not appear to have been at Waterloo—seems to have come out of it okay. My great-great-great-grandfather David Berry, who was in the Royal Navy from 1780 to 1782, similarly seems to have prospered.

I presume that, like many of our servicemen today, those men found wonderful, welcoming families and communities that they could draw on for support as they returned to civilian life. Not all are so fortunate. Indeed, even during the walk from Waverley station to Parliament, which I do six times a week, I pass some less fortunate ex-servicemen. There is one, in particular, whom I regularly have a chat with. He is doing well, but he is sitting on the pavement with a little bowl in front of him, and when I have change he gets my change. It is little enough, but it is something that I would wish to do. Judging by the conversations that I have had with him, he has been failed by the system, and I am uncertain what would help him.

He is perhaps the exception. As far as I am aware, he is not suffering from PTSD. That is, at least, an identifiable condition, and we can support those who suffer from it. People with the condition often experience frustration and aggression and are subject to bouts of violence, which leads to difficulties in employment, relationships and so on. Mental health support is often one of the most important things required by the minority of ex-service personnel who have that kind of issue.

The support that is available across Scotland is variable. Mike Rumbles’s reference in his amendment to the need to ensure that there is access to the right kind of services is proper and timely.

We have a lot going on in Scotland to be proud of—we have 50-plus veterans organisations. The last time we debated the subject, there was a little debate about the number and Maurice Corry suggested that it was rather higher than 50. I am sure that he is correct. We all know about Poppyscotland—we have just been wearing poppies on our lapels. It is a great tribute to Poppyscotland that, 100 years after the poppy became a symbol of remembrance, we continue to use it to this day.

Everywhere we go, there are memorials to those who have lost their lives. In the old Calton cemetery, there is the memorial to the Scots who lost their lives in the American civil war; there is the Boer war memorial on North Bridge; and in every town, village and hamlet there are memorials to those who fell in the two great wars of the 20th century. In West Lothian, I am aware of a memorial to the Korean war. However, we now have a duty towards those who live on and need our continuing support. I am sure that we will all wish to give it.


28 November 2018

S5M-14782 Bank of Scotland (Branch Closures)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14782, in the name of Sandra White, on planned Bank of Scotland branch closures. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns the Bank of Scotland’s intention to close seven branches across the country; understands that thousands of Bank of Scotland customers who depend on branches in Burnside, Dundee, Keith, Kirriemuir, Lossiemouth, Paisley, Stonehouse and Glasgow St George’s Cross in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency will be negatively affected by the closures; considers that there is a need for a continued face-to-face banking service in local communities for those who remain reliant on high street branches, and believes that national banks have a duty to fully consult their customers before making such critical decisions.

... ... ...

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

This is one of those occasions when I feel grateful that I am more than a sword’s length from any of my colleagues in the chamber, as I declare that I am a shareholder in the Bank of Scotland—of course, as a result of my 30 years of employment, which ceased nearly 20 years ago.

I start with a few facts about what is going on. The Scottish Parliament information centre tells us that a third of bank branches in Scotland closed in the past 10 years. Which? found that 78 per cent of consumers in the two lowest-income household groups rely on cash—indeed, 26 per cent of respondents in those groups said that they never use card payments—and that 80 per cent of over-65s rely on cash. Research by Reuters showed that 90 per cent of the bank branch closures in the past year occurred in areas where the median household income is below the national average.

Those statistics tell us that bank branch closures are adversely affecting the people who are least able to cope with them. Branch closure is a socially discriminatory activity, and we will all pay the price if it continues at the current rate.

ATMs are closing across the UK at a rate of 250 a month. I make a little observation about ATMs in Scotland: they should not be closing as fast. Because the Scottish banks issue their own bank notes, they can fill cash dispensers at no cost, beyond the cost of printing the money, whereas in England the banks have to pay a pound for every pound that they put in the cash dispenser. It is much cheaper to run ATMs in Scotland, so we should not see the same rate of closure. Scottish banks pay later when the cash is paid out. Typically, there will be £40,000 in a cash dispenser.

Banking is a simple business, although the bankers make it look difficult. Banks take money in and then they reward the people who deposit the money; they lend money out and they charge people. A transaction system sits in the middle. To make banking work, they just need to get the two sides of the equation to work.

Why did bank branches develop in the way that they did? The answer is that, typically, people deposited money in the rural branches; in the city branches, the banks lent the money out. That was the traditional banking model—in particular, for the Trustee Savings Bank—in which the banks funded the lending from their depositors. That was a safe model for banking. One of the contributing factors to the bank crash in 2008 was that banks had increasingly gone to the wholesale markets to get money and that they had moved away from keeping the two sides of banking in balance. That didnae help.

In my previous constituency—before the boundaries were changed in 2011—the Clydesdale Bank announced that it was going to shut the branch in New Deer. That community of some 600 people was outraged by the announcement. Those people got together and bought the bank branch. They then persuaded the Royal Bank of Scotland to move in and run the bank branch. It is still there today in the face of all the closures. That was largely down to a dear and now departed colleague, Councillor Norma Thomson; she was one of a range of people in the community who were involved. My point is that there is potential scope for community action and making banks responsive to the communities in which they operate.

A particular example of the risk that banks take in disconnecting themselves from communities comes from South Africa in the early 1990s. In the townships of Soweto, Khayelitsha and elsewhere, people who had informally built their houses wanted to regularise their position and engage in the formal banking system. The traditional banks would have nothing to do with those people, because of their situation. Subsequently, the people set up their own banks and deserted the traditional banks. That is what could happen to the traditional banks here—Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Today, the population of Soweto is 1.27 million people; therefore, it is not a trivial matter that those people deserted the traditional banks and took their banking fates into their own hands. The same sort of thing could happen in Scotland. Those so-called commercial decisions can ultimately be to the commercial disinterest of the organisations that are devastating so many communities—particularly those that are most affected by the closure of banks, because they are the communities that already have least in our society.


21 November 2018

S5M-14822 Scottish Crown Estate Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14822, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill.

... ... ...

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

The cabinet secretary has said that this is the first time that we have legislated on the Crown Estate. I am sure that that is true, but it is certainly not the first time that we have debated the issue. As Tavish Scott has just reminded us, he had a members’ business debate on the matter on 1 November 2007, as had David Stewart on 18 April 2012. There will be other instances—I have the 2012 debate on file, simply because I happened to be the minister who responded to it. This is therefore not a subject that we have not debated or discussed before on the floor of the chamber or in the corridors of Parliament.

Andy Wightman took us back to the 900s in his speech. I had not realised that the matter went quite that far back; I found the Auditor of the Exchequer in Scotland, which was established as a court in the 1500s to look after what is now the Crown estate. There is a very long history to this.

With regard to the bill, which we are likely to pass soon, one section that has not attracted any significant amendment—it was amended a little bit at stage 2—is section 11, which sets out the duty to obtain market value. It picks up existing provisions in saying:

“The manager of a Scottish Crown Estate asset must not make any of the following transactions ... for consideration of less than market value”

but goes on to qualify that by making it clear that a manager can consider less than market value if they are

“satisfied that the relevant transaction is likely to contribute to the promotion or the improvement in Scotland of ... economic development, ... regeneration, ... social wellbeing, ... environmental wellbeing, ... sustainable development.”

Frankly, that is a breakthrough provision, because it recognises that these assets, which we are managing or allowing others to manage, should be managed for the common good, not simply to deliver an economic asset that flows into the structures of government at its various levels. I am particularly pleased with that section of the bill, although I would also highlight the duty in section 7 to maintain and enhance value.

The Crown Estate has a long history. I have been here a fair while—although not as long as everybody; John Scott, who is sitting looking around the chamber, was here before me, as was Tavish Scott—but I do not think that we can really say that in the Parliament’s earlier days the Crown Estate engaged with the members of this place to very useful purpose. In a long-standing constituency case, I had to persuade it to do something about a harbour at Crovie. It took something like five or six years before we finally concluded that that matter was actually its responsibility—and a good deal longer before it actually did anything about it.

If anything, the Crown Estate was passively malign or passively neglectful. It was slightly better than other people—

John Scott
: I object to the member’s use of the word “malign”. I objected to Mr Wightman’s use of the word, too, when he described the Crown estate managers hitherto, who were doing their jobs as they best saw fit and within the confines of the law. I know many of these people directly—I declare that interest—and they are men and women of honour. I particularly object to the use of the word “malign” in that regard and in respect of those individuals.

I am sorry to be awkward about it again, but I have already raised the point with Mr Wightman and I am annoyed that I need to raise it again.

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Scott is perfectly entitled to make the point. However, I was pointing at the organisation, rather than the individuals, with whom I have always had the best of relationships; I have felt, as Mr Scott does, that as individuals they were doing their best. The framework that constrained them did not allow them to do anything other, in many instances, than to act in a way that one could describe as malign. However, let us not fall out about a single word—it is simply not worth the hassle.

There were private landowners around Scotland who were much worse. We used to go on holiday to Sutherland and the Vesteys, who were domiciled in Argentina, never paid a penny in tax in decades and were much more adverse in the way that they dealt with things.

I realise that I must conclude. The bill is part of returning power to our communities. In David Stewart’s debate in April 2012, we all talked about Peter Peacock and Community Land Scotland, and of transfers that were made. This is part of a process of restoring to the people of Scotland some of the assets that are rightly theirs and the control over them. We have not completed the journey, but the bill is a useful and helpful start.


20 November 2018

S5M-14466 Offshore Wind Week 2018

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14466, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on offshore wind week 2018.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the contribution that Scotland has made to offshore wind since planning permission was granted in 2003 for the development of Scotland’s first offshore wind farm, Robin Rigg, in the Solway Firth; considers that Scotland has benefited from many other offshore wind projects in recent years, including Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay, which has been built with the support of EU funding to create and test new offshore wind technologies, Hywind Scotland, a floating wind farm developed by Equinor off Peterhead, which started power generation in October 2017, and the Kincardine Offshore Floating Wind Farm off the coast of Stonehaven, which is expected to be the largest floating wind farm in the world when it is completed in 2020; understands that the contributions made by these and other projects will be recognised and celebrated during Offshore Wind Week 2018, which runs from 19 to 23 November and is an annual event supported by Scottish Renewables; notes the hope that a pipeline of successful projects can be secured in future leasing rounds by ensuring an adequate provision of shallow and deep water sites; further notes the view that government at all levels needs to support the offshore wind sector to ensure that its success continues, particularly beyond 2030, and looks forward to more offshore wind farms being developed in the coming years, contributing to Scotland’s energy mix.

... ... ...

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

I start by declaring that I am a shareholder in SSE and in the Boyndie Wind Farm Co-op, which is a wind farm close to where I stay.

This is an excellent opportunity—thanks to Lewis Macdonald—to celebrate offshore wind week 2018 and the contribution that offshore wind makes to our economy, employment in local communities and of course the climate change agenda. It was only a couple of years ago that the then President of the French Republic, François Hollande, offered his plea that we work together against climate change:

“The time is past when humankind thought it could selfishly draw on exhaustible resources. We know now the world is not a commodity”.

With Scotland, as we have heard, being the windiest place in Europe, we have something that shows no sign of being an exhaustible resource. The development of offshore wind has been a terrific contribution to the climate change agenda.

I have two wind farms near where I stay. I only have to go a few hundred metres to the east and at night I can look out over the Moray Firth and see the Beatrice wind turbines that were put up as the first offshore wind trial in the area. More significant, though, is the Hywind Scotland offshore development, floating off Peterhead, which has been referred to by a number of members and in the motion. The development is truly groundbreaking, water-breaking technology, and it opens the door to deployment of that technology in shallow coastal areas around the world.

Offshore wind is not particularly new. There has been a wind farm next to the Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden for a considerable period. However, the Hywind technology and the technologies that we are seeing developed off our coasts are much higher capacity and have much higher outputs, partly because of developments in China and the use of rare earths in new magnets to increase what can come from ahead.

In the past couple of weeks, I visited a firm in Peterhead called Survitec, which is one of many firms that are developing new technologies. Flashover fires can happen in a matter of seconds, so Survitec has developed a rapid-escape technology for people who are at the top of a wind turbine. I wish the company extremely well—it certainly deserves to get wide market acceptance. However, it will not be alone in exploiting the opportunities that come from having such sources of offshore wind close to some of our communities. Service vessels will go out to service them, and a number of the harbours in my constituency—Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Buckie—look forward to opportunities to service wind farms. I understand that in Caithness, Wick will look to get its share of the business. We will see how that develops, because healthy competition between harbours is not at all a bad thing.

The First Minister visited the Hywind wind farm pilot project, which underlines the potential of Scotland’s huge offshore wind resource. Right at the top of Government it is recognised how important offshore wind is. I wish it well and repeat my thanks to Lewis Macdonald for providing the opportunity to congratulate everyone who is involved in offshore wind and, more to the point, those who will be in the future.


S5M-14807 Digital Industries

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14807, in the name of Kate Forbes, on developing Scotland’s digital industries for our economic future.

... ... ...

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

I will start by declaring that I am a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery. As far as history is concerned, the Association for Computing Machinery is perhaps the most important of those organisations, because at a meeting of the ACM on 9 December 1968, Douglas Engelbart demonstrated a system that, as well as having windows, hypertext, graphics and videoconferencing, showed the first mouse in action. There is a video of that demonstration that can be viewed on the internet.

The Government’s motion talks about the need to harness the public sector and the private sector, so it is worth revisiting the history of how we got here. The public sector played a very important part in the digital developments that we benefit from today. Tommy Flowers, who was an engineer at the Post Office’s Dollis Hill laboratory during the second world war, used his own money to develop the first electronic computer. He scrounged a huge number of electronic valves and produced a computer for use at Bletchley Park, against the recommendation of the person who was running the place. In doing so, he contributed enormously to the war effort. The commercial company that was J Lyons and Co tea shops produced the first commercial computer, which ran its first transactions in 1951. The history that is encompassed by the motion has involved the public and the private sectors working together on a long-standing basis.

Digital ways of expressing data have been around for a very long time. It was Leibniz who, in 1679, came up with the binary system, and it was George Boole who, in 1847, introduced Boolean algebra, which underlies much of the work in this area. The first digital electronic circuit was installed in Edinburgh in 1868—it was a telegraph circuit that connected the Bank of Scotland’s head office in Edinburgh to its office in London. Incidentally, the bank installed its first telephone in 1881; the board said that that could be done only on the strict understanding that it would not be used to conduct business.

I hope that the line of the Government’s motion that says that

“a combined focus by government, the wider public sector and private sector is the most effective way of improving the digital capabilities”

is relevant to some of the remarks that I have made so far.

However, let us move on to today and the important things that we must do to deliver the modern world in which everyone can benefit from the adoption of digital technologies.

We know that about 2 per cent of our workforce are employed in the digital economy. We heard from James Kelly about the gender discrepancy that exists in the industry. Although he was right to say that, it is interesting that when I started in it in 1969, the balance was more or less 50:50. What seems to have happened is that, when the BBC Micro computer was launched in 1981, parents gave it to the sons in the family. We can see from the graph that, a couple of years after that, the gender bias moved dramatically towards men. Sometimes there are cultural issues at play, as well as Government policies. However, women will be very welcome in the industry, and I hope that they will join the more than 60,000 people who are working in computing in Scotland today.

The important thing is to get the infrastructure in place. However, Mike Rumbles wants us to cut the Government’s implementation period for the R100 programme from 549 days to 334 days—the delivery schedule that Mike Rumbles wants. That would be quite a substantial downdrop. We cannot simply squeeze projects into smaller spaces, without taking risks. The non-commutativity of time and effort applies to the project.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will just finish this wee bit, then I will take an intervention.

If it takes six hours for a gravedigger to dig a grave, that does not mean that six gravediggers can do it in one hour.

Edward Mountain: I am somewhat confused. It was quite clear in the Government’s programme that R100 would be delivered by the next election. That is what the Scottish National Party stood on at the most recent election. In fact, that is what the First Minister was saying until January this year. It was not until Fergus Ewing changed his position, which happened in about March, that the First Minister changed her position, which was in about July, if I remember rightly. I think that people in Scotland are expecting R100 to be rolled out by May 2021, as we were originally promised. I do not understand what the obfuscation is about. Perhaps Stewart Stevenson can explain it to me.

Stewart Stevenson: Edward Mountain should consider that it is better to set a realistic timescale in the light—

Mike Rumbles: You were elected based on it.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that colleagues will forgive me: I am not rebutting a single word that Edward Mountain said about previous intentions. I am making the substantial point that rolling out to the last 5 per cent is a huge programme to undertake and we need the right amount of time to get it right. Any Government that fails to deliver on a project that it has set out will quite properly find itself in a difficult position.

Presiding Officer, you have generously given me a little time back, but I will not overegg the pudding. There are 120,000 or so homes in Scotland to which we must deliver R100, but it has correctly been said that the infrastructure of communication is merely the scaffolding upon which we can build the propositions that deliver value. Getting people who are not digitally capable up to a different place in society through libraries, public spaces and the education system, and converting private and Government business to digital delivery are also part of what we must do.

I look forward to my superfast broadband being delivered by fibre. If the last 5 per cent is by fibre—as, I guess, it will be—we will be ahead of the cities for the first time. Fingers crossed.


15 November 2018

S5M-14749 Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14749, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on physical activity, diet and healthy weight. I call Joe FitzPatrick to move the motion and speak to it for up to—and no more than—13 minutes.

... ... ...

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

I very much welcome the fact that Philip Sim is watching the debate, because I know how much he enjoys my contributions. I say to Bruce Crawford that, in 1945, the ration for cheese was 2 ounces a week, so there would be little prospect of having macaroni cheese very often. Indeed, research that was done in 1939, at the beginning of the war, showed that one could live and thrive on 1 pound of meat a week, a quarter of a pint of milk a day, 4 ounces of margarine and as much potatoes, vegetables and bread as one could eat.

That is all that people need to survive, although the experiment reported that there was a substantial increase in flatulence. Speaking of which, I will give way to David Stewart.

David Stewart: What was the member’s experience of living through the Boer war?

Stewart Stevenson: I am never bored by any debate on the subject of food.

Realistically, for many of us, food has become a hobby rather than a way of living our lives. I am a little older than every other member in the chamber at the moment, apart from one. I see that members are looking the wrong way—he is over there on the Conservative benches. I remember the ending of sugar rationing in February 1953, when I was six years old. The ration for sweeties at that point was 11g a day. To translate that into something meaningful in today’s terms, that means that people could have in total one Mars bar every five days and nothing more—that was it. The sugar content of the 1953 ration was the equivalent of one can of Coke every three days.

We were actually a great deal healthier when our food intake was controlled by the state. I do not advocate a return to that, but that illustrates how much of our food intake is optional or voluntary and unnecessary. I and others of my generation probably have less of a sweet tooth, and I hope that that is reflected in my health. I am about a kilogram over the weight that I should be, although I am working on it. My heartbeat and respiration rate are okay. I had my blood pressure tested here in the Parliament just last week, and I am within the acceptable limits—I am below 140 and the difference between systolic and diastolic is about 60. However, that is not true of everybody in our society, and people suffer because of that.

On exercise, we do not all have to be Brian Whittle, who is a world-class athlete. I am nowhere near that, and I have never been near his historic achievements, but at least I and all of us can walk in our normal days. My watch tells me that I have walked 2.5 miles today. From looking at my diary, I expect to do about 4.5 miles tomorrow. I normally walk around 20 to 30 miles a week, just simply doing my normal business and avoiding taking taxis. That is a great help to my personal physical and mental wellbeing. Walking is a great activity to undertake if we want to think through the issues that we have.

Diabetes is one major consequence of our being overweight. To again return to the period after the war, type 2 diabetes in particular barely existed then, and type 1 was uncommon. However, we need to be cautious about that, because the diagnostic tools were pretty poor, so I suspect that there was a huge amount of undiagnosed diabetes. According to my father, basically it was diagnosed by smelling acetone on the patient’s breath. However, by the time that that could be done, people were severely diabetic and their life was at severe risk.

Sport in schools is not what it used to be. I went to a very large school and on the peak day, a Saturday, a grand total of 490 pupils would participate in competitive sport in the rugby, football, hockey and cross-country teams. That is not the case today. The restoration of sport in our schools would definitely help.

I very much welcome the debate and the focus on being healthy, taking exercise and good food.


13 November 2018

S5M-14704 Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-14704, in the name of Maree Todd, on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

My arithmetic says that I have about 17 minutes, Presiding Officer, but I am sure that you will haul me up at the appropriate point.

It is as well to think about how children develop. I am not a dad, so I have not personally been through this, but psychologists give us a guideline. Before coming to that, I will mention a GIRFEC conference at which I spoke on behalf of the then Minister for Children and Early Years, Adam Ingram, as he was not at the right location. Immediately before I spoke, a wonderful film of a one-hour-old child was shown. Music was being played to the child, who waved its arms in time to the beat. When the music stopped, the child stopped waving its arms; when the music started again, it waved its arms. In other words, children start to interact with their environment from the very point of birth—perhaps even before. Psychologists say that in the first year we recognise human faces; in year three, we start to acknowledge the past to interpret present events; at year seven, we start to tell jokes—some people have not moved on from that stage—and at 11, we start to be more conscious of our moral code. However, our personal development is varied and it is unique to us.

Children who have been raised in less than ideal conditions—as a result of poverty, missing parents or other circumstances—may well have developed at a much slower rate. I agree with members in many parts of the chamber who have said that, whatever their maturity, prison is no place for a child. That is why our children’s hearings system is a beacon to the world as to how we should treat those who are in difficulties. As an MSP, I have had the great privilege of being able to sit in on a children’s hearing; I cannot of course tell members anything about the detail of what went on, but the key point is that it was child centred. That is absolutely correct and members would need to work very hard to persuade me otherwise.

We have talked a lot about numbers during the debate. People might think that one plus one equals two, but as a mathematician I can say that there are five alternative answers in the one-plus-one philosophy. If time permits, I will explain what they are at the end of my speech. Just as in mathematics, so in this debate.

Margaret Mitchell very usefully gave us quite a long and interesting list of rights that people acquire at the age of 12—I certainly heard things of which I had not been aware. There is a series of ages at which people are allowed to do certain things. It is worth saying that someone can get a firearms certificate at the age of 14. Someone can get a shotgun certificate at any age—there is no age qualification, but someone under the age of 15 is required to be supervised with a shotgun when they are exercising their rights. Someone can fly an aircraft at the age of 14, and someone can drive on a public highway in a car at the age of 17.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: The member is describing the range of ages for different activities, the majority of which relate to physical limitations or physical capacities. Does he recognise that the chamber only very recently extended the franchise to 16-year-olds? We have credited 16-year-olds with sufficient judgment to decide on the right Government for them. Should we not be raising the age of criminal responsibility further? If we recognise that people have the capacity to have political judgment only at 16, what does that say about their actions and their ability to tell right from wrong at the ages preceding 16?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a good point, which I will simply pass on. I will say that the bill makes interesting comments at sections 39 and 43, when it refers to taking account

“of the child’s age and maturity”.

That makes an important point. I stopped growing when I was 12 years old because I was given a hormone treatment for a particular condition that I have, although the treatment did not help the condition. Children mature physically and mentally at varying rates. Whatever we do, we need to take account of that, and I am pleased that the bill provides for that at different points.

I am also pleased about something rather obvious: the Justice Committee is not the lead committee for the bill. It could have been, if we think about it, and there are references to the Justice Committee’s activities, but the lead committee is the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. That is entirely appropriate.

With regard to age, we are adults at 18 for most purposes but not all, because sometimes the age is 21. There is no age restriction on opening a bank account; someone can open one as soon as they can sign anything. However, they cannot have bank credit until they are 18.

There is a wee issue with the bill in that there is an assumption that there is certainty about when people are 12. Bashir Ahmad, our late member and friend in this chamber, did not know when his birthday was. Many people who come to Scotland from other jurisdictions are in the same position. He was given a birthday by the legal system—if someone looks up the records, they will see something there—but there was no certainty about it. Apparently, when asked when he was born, his mother said, “Spring.” That was all that there was to know. In a number of parts of the bill—possibly at section 23, for example—we might say that a constable “reasonably believes” somebody to be under 12, because there cannot always be certainty.

I turn to the detail in the bill—I am alert to the Presiding Officer’s guidance that I should head towards a conclusion. There are a couple of wee things. I make my usual comment: section 28(7) says that the definition of “‘vehicle’ includes a vessel”—in that case, it should include aircraft, too, although it might be ultra vires to do so; I am not entirely certain about that.

We have heard about a child’s right to refuse to answer questions. I see that that is covered at section 46(2) and section 42, so I am not quite clear on what more we might have to do.

I conclude with the committee’s report, on which I congratulate it, and come back to the question of what a place of safety is. In coming to a conclusion on that, it might be helpful to document, or to see a document about, where there are places of safety across Scotland so that we can assess whether there are enough of them.

Presiding Officer, I am obliged to you for your indulgence.


08 November 2018

S5M-14123 Care Homes (South Lanarkshire)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14123, in the name of Monica Lennon, on “South Lanarkshire Care Homes Under Threat”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that South Lanarkshire Council plans to reduce the number of its care home facilities; notes that the first phase of these plans includes the closure of McWhirter House in Larkhall and Kirkton House in Blantyre; considers that the proposed new community hub facility at the St Joseph’s site in Blantyre is not a like-for-like replacement and that this will result in a reduction in the number of long-term residential beds; understands that the closure of McWhirter House will leave Larkhall with no council-run care facilities for older people; believes that council-run care provision must remain a vital part of the delivery of residential care for older people and that the ageing population requires a shift in the model of care in South Lanarkshire and the Central Scotland region; recognises that the reliance of the older population on care is likely to increase in coming decades; acknowledges calls that this should be achieved without a reduction in the availability of long-term council care beds and with the support of the community; is concerned at reports that there has not been meaningful consultation with care home staff, trade unions or the communities that are affected by the plans; acknowledges in particular the concerns raised by the GMB, and notes the calls for the SNP administration in South Lanarkshire to halt the planned closures.

... ... ...

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

I am glad of the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank Monica Lennon for providing the opportunity for us to have a broader-based discussion about how we support older people in our community. I do that from the perspective of being the only person in the chamber who is in his eighth decade. I am, therefore, perhaps most directly thinking about what my future may be in the event of my health deteriorating to the point that I need that kind of care.

I will make a few points of common cause with Monica Lennon at the outset, to show that we need not focus simply on what might divide us, but on what might unite us. It is entirely proper that Monica Lennon should bring forward a matter of constituency interest; I do not agree with all those members who might have suggested otherwise. She was also entirely correct to raise the issue of a 92-year-old with dementia. There are some very special needs for people with dementia that it is worth considering for a second or two. They are—in general terms, because dementia comes in many forms—people who are relatively intolerant of any change, however small it may be. They are people who require a regular routine and certainty and whose ability to understand change—however well intentioned it may be—is more limited. Therefore, it is correct to refer in the debate to individuals who may be affected by change.

Claudia Beamish said, quite correctly, that we need to look at longer visits by carers—I think that that is a Scottish issue—and more care at home. I fundamentally agree with her on that, and on the need to look at Scotland as a whole.

We need to give a bit of context to this, and the context is undoubtedly that we are making progress. If I recall the number correctly, there has been a 37 per cent reduction in what is commonly called bed blocking, which means that we have an opportunity to look at matters in a different way. In the context of the existing care homes being criticised by the care commission for their provision, the option to do nothing is not available to the council, as it would similarly not be available to councils across Scotland.

I will close my short contribution by saying that the difficult matters that affect those individuals in our community who are in the greatest need are best conducted by building coalitions of interest. I worked with Tam Dalyell—a man with whom I had fundamental disagreements on a wide range of issues, but with whom I had an excellent personal relationship—many times on matters of joint interest. For example, Tam and I worked together when someone was about to be thrown out of the UK by the Home Office in 1999 and that person is still in the UK. That is because we were able to put our political differences to one side and put the needs of our constituents at the heart of our concerns.

In conducting the debate and taking the issue forward, I encourage us all to focus less on our differences than on the commonalities, which may help in the constituencies of Monica Lennon, James Kelly and other MSPs who represent the area. The issue is difficult but it needs attention, and we will have to make change and adapt to changing needs, changing responsibilities and different models of care.


30 October 2018

S5M-14509 Digital Inclusion

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh):
Our next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14509, in the name of Kate Forbes, on a digital society for all: working together to maximise the benefits of digital inclusion.

... ... ...

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

I declare that I am a member of the Association for Computing Machinery, a member at the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, all of which have interests in digital inclusion.

The history of the subject goes back a very long way. The Romans communicated digitally across their empire nearly 2,000 years ago, via a system of hilltop signalling. We are now in the electronic world, but some of the things that we are interested in today go back a lot further than we might think. I go back beyond the birth dates of two of the participants in the debate so far, to 1964, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology artificial intelligence laboratory. People think that artificial intelligence is modern, but 54 years ago Joseph Weizenbaum produced a programme called Eliza that was designed to answer questions in such a way that the user could not tell whether it was a human or a computer that was answering them, and very successfully he did that, too.

From that point onwards, we have always said that it will be five years before artificial intelligence takes over from us, and it is still five years away today. In computing, things can take a good deal longer than we would sometimes imagine or like.

Picking up on what Donald Cameron said, I have gone to the Audit Scotland report and the exact words are not as he suggested. Audit Scotland says:

“The Scottish Government achieved its initial target to provide fibre ... access to 95 per cent of premises. Its more recent ‘Reaching 100 per cent’ ambition will be more difficult to realise.”

I acknowledge that that is certainly going to be true.

Audit Scotland also says that it might cost more than £600 million, but of course we will see how it turns out.

Mike Rumbles is not wholly wrong when he talks about some of the difficulties in Aberdeenshire. There and in Dumfriesshire, we have a huge number of exchange-only lines, which, with the current programme of technology, means that they cannot readily be attached to fibre.

Nearly 40 years ago, I said that the triumph of computers will be achieved when we no longer realise that we are using them—in other words, when we speak to them and they just do what we ask them. We will reach that point probably in my lifetime, and at that point digital exclusion will become a different animal. Many people cannot work keyboards and many people find the complexities of particular interactions with computers difficult to achieve. Right across Scotland, we absolutely need people to help them to achieve the access to the internet that matters to them, particularly those who are over 75, as 70 per cent of them do not use the internet, which is triple the Scottish average.

It matters economically, because it is estimated that when people use modern systems for their daily lives they save nearly £600 a year. Communication with friends and relatives in other villages, other parts of the island that we live on and other places around the world is now very electronic, too, and if people are denied that opportunity it is a huge loss in their lives.

For people with particular disadvantages, be they physical, mental or whatever, the computer can be a way out of those difficulties. I and two pals, Alasdair Macpherson and Robert Davidson, built the first home computer in Scotland in 1975, and a couple of years later we were able to adapt an Apple II computer for a quadriplegic ex-soldier who had had an accident in the tank that he commanded and was left totally crippled. All that he could move was his head. We were able to rig up a bit of kit, change the way the keyboard worked and develop something that he could hold in his mouth to tap at the keyboard. Within two months, he was writing programs that he was selling. I felt terrific about that. Unfortunately, his health problems eventually overwhelmed him.

Today, we have much more powerful computers that can do so much more for us, so the exclusion can become wider than it was when there were only little computers. Those who master the new technology can stride off over the horizon and are much further away from those who have not been able to do so. We should recognise that the phones and computers that we use are vital to our world.

A couple of years ago, the computer firm Unisys said that it takes people an average of 26 hours to report a lost wallet, but only 68 minutes to report a lost cellphone. That tells us something about how important technology now is in our lives.

I think that Jamie Greene referred to 20 per cent of adults; it is 20 per cent of adults in the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of areas in Scotland who do not use the internet. For a host of reasons, those people are deprived of many things that the rest of us take for granted. We need to have people in libraries and other public spaces who can help others to access publicly available computers. I hope that, when the Government looks at the comments in the debate and at the opportunities from digital roll-out, it will consider such an approach for the future.


24 October 2018

S5M-13681 Deaths Abroad (Support for Families)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-13681, in the name of Angela Constance, on support for families of loved ones killed abroad. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the BBC documentary, Killed Abroad, which was recently aired in Scotland and highlighted the tragic death of Kirsty Maxwell, who was from Livingston; believes that this demonstrated what it sees as the unacceptable obstacles that families face in seeking information and support in such tragic circumstances; recognises the profound impact that this has on those who have lost loved ones abroad; notes the calls for the Scottish Government to urge the UK Government to take meaningful action to address what it considers to be the failings and gaps in support and procedures provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to families of those affected; commends the work of the UK All-party Parliamentary Group on Deaths Abroad and Consular Services in highlighting these issues, and notes its call for an urgent review into the support provided for bereaved families and for a closer look into devolved services so that grieving families having to deal with multiple agencies are not faced with insurmountable barriers in their fight for information on the most basic facts about the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths.

... ... ...

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

When we go into another country, we present our passport. The inside cover of the passport says:

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and”

this is the important part for this debate—

“to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

When that country accepts the holder of that passport across its border, it is, in essence, entering into a contract with us that it will honour that request from Her Majesty. Of course, the debate is about whether the support that we get from our institutions in working with foreign jurisdictions meets the requirements, and whether people are getting the assistance that they need.

Before I move into the substance of my speech, I want to give a vote of thanks to Chloe Henderson, who is a pupil at Fraserburgh academy. She has been on placement with me this week and has done the research and written the notes for this speech. She has done very well.

Like constituents of other members, people in my constituency have experienced difficulties with people dying abroad. However, I want to speak about a case that has a slightly happier outcome but which nonetheless demonstrates the need for appropriate support.

I acknowledge that people need access to information and support at times of bereavement abroad and that they encounter endless obstacles and unanswered questions from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the foreign jurisdiction. There are many logistical challenges that are made harder by potential language barriers, including contacting local authorities, funeral directors and caseworkers. I want to talk for a minute or two about my constituent, Alan Wright, who is from Portsoy and whom my MP colleague, Eilidh Whiteford, supported. His family, in the north-east of Scotland, needed consular assistance after he was taken hostage while working in an Algerian oil field in 2013.

What he thought was a power cut turned out to be a terrorist attack by militants on the In Amenas oil field. Mr Wright and a colleague were forced to hide in a room with only a satellite phone to connect them to the outside world. In a television interview, Mr Wright, aged 37—half my age—recounted the nine terrifying hours that he and colleagues spent trying to remain hidden. Others who were subject to the attack were not as fortunate as he was and were killed.

Mr Wright had to make an emotional call to his family at home, not knowing whether it would be his last. He chose not to speak to his two daughters as he did not want them to remember their last phone call over a crackly line. He said:

“You fear the worst, you can’t put into words how bad you feel.”

That is the environment in which we expect the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Scottish Government and local jurisdictions to respond to the needs of those such as Mr Wright, as well as to the needs of those like his colleagues who were killed. Although there was a happy ending for my constituent, his case illustrates a general point.

Relatives who are looking for help often simply do not know what questions they should be asking, far less what answers they need. That is not a matter simply for a couple of people in my constituency or the scattered constituencies represented by members in this evening’s debate. A 2015 survey sent to 150 families found that they did not feel supported in their experience of trying to bring a loved one home after their death abroad, and more than half said that the FCO was not at all helpful.

In times of grief, there are many unpredictable factors. The people who are grieving are vulnerable and need a special kind of help and support, which must be tailored to their individual needs.

I hope that this debate will play its role in alerting the Scottish Administration, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and jurisdictions abroad to the need to provide enhanced and more relevant support to those who lose people abroad.


03 October 2018

Justice Committee: Remand

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a Justice Committee debate on remand.

... ... ...

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

I was previously the SNP shadow deputy justice minister, between September 2004 and May 2007, and as such I was responsible in particular for prisons. I am fortunate to have visited prisons in four countries, and I found that they work to very different patterns.

My parliamentary constituency, from the point at which I was elected, included Peterhead prison, which originally opened in 1888. It was a classic Victorian prison that was long overdue for replacement. Now, we have the modern HMP Grampian, which serves very different purposes and is much more of a local prison for a mixed prison population, including remand prisoners.

It is worth making the point that the committee’s report, which is wide in scope, makes many interesting and useful recommendations that have led us to today’s useful debate. I want to start with a few observations on statistics, on which almost every contributor this afternoon has made comment.

In the course of the 270-plus justice committee meetings that I have attended since being elected—it feels like even more at times, Presiding Officer—we have made visits to many different places, and one that I remember in particular was a Monday visit to Glasgow sheriff court. There were eight courts running in parallel, and the court that we were visiting was dealing with the weekend incarcerations. There were 59 appearances in the hour for which we were in that court, and a fair number of them ended up as remands. We have to ask ourselves how much consideration was given to the remand process when the time that was being spent per case was about one minute. That is a good and valid question that we should properly ask ourselves.

It is also worth making the point—this is my judgment, and that is all, although it was shared by other members who were present at the time—that there was not a newcomer among the 59 people. They all knew the system, so I could see where the judge was coming from.

However, I would like to focus on the proportion of people who are subsequently convicted, having been remanded, but are not imprisoned thereafter. That is the part of the issue that might be most susceptible, if it were to be studied in depth, of giving us information. If we were to look at a case in which a judge decided, for whatever reason, that remand was the proper thing to do—part of that reason would, I presume, be the consideration that imprisonment might be the ultimate end—we should be able to see why there appears to be a mismatch between the judgment that was made at remand and the ultimate outcome. That might particularly inform us, and perhaps the judicial system, about remand decisions. The Government might consider getting an academic to look at an appropriate number of cases that fit those criteria.

The committee report, at paragraph 154, discusses what informs a remand decision, and a series of things is listed, but it makes the comment that

“decisions are usually made under significant time pressures”.

I have seen that and I think that the report is spot on. Similarly, the report mentions the fact that there is some data and that some courts have a tick list to record it. As the committee recommends, that could be more widely done.

In evidence, the Sheriffs Association said that

“written reasons for refusal of bail are provided if an appeal is taken”,

but only then. Most of the reasons are given orally.

I have been in court and watched witnesses and accused persons hear a rapid oral delivery of various information about bail conditions and so forth, and it is perfectly clear that people do not absorb all that information. There is a danger that justice is not being served if we do not write information down and ensure that the prisoner and their lawyer get it and know exactly what is happening.

In the short time that I have remaining, I will make a comment or two about health. The committee noted in paragraph 84 that even when remand is someone’s only experience of prison, the mark of prison is left on the person, which carries considerable risk.

In paragraph 98, the committee said:

“The Committee considers that procedures should be in place to ensure that, where appropriate, remand prisoners retain access to prescribed medication”.

I am picking at the committee’s choice of words: I do not know what “where appropriate” means in that context. I would have thought that there would be almost no occasion when a prisoner should be denied access to medication that had been prescribed by a qualified practitioner from elsewhere.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab): A few years ago, the Government decided that the NHS would take over health services in prisons. Does the member share my concern that there appears not to be more seamless provision between health services outside prison and services inside prison as a result of the change?

Stewart Stevenson: With the NHS supporting people in the community and in prison, one might imagine that sharing data would be easier than it would be if other arrangements were in place. That is certainly something that we should look at. I think that there are general issues to do with medical data, which sometimes get in the way of what health professionals do.

On the immediate needs referral, which is being piloted, the Government said in its response to the committee’s report:

“Whilst there is no statutory obligation, where local resources permit, establishments may extend this model to include those on remand.”

I encourage the Government to act on that worthy thought.

The whole issue of the NHS, on which I have just taken an intervention, is covered in the Government’s response.

The report is useful. The Government is listening—I see the minister has been making extensive notes during the debate, and I am sure that she will read the Official Report. I hope that the finance secretary will also read it.


27 September 2018

S5M-14094 Veterans and the Armed Forces Community (Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14094, in the name of Clare Haughey, on Scottish Government support for veterans and the armed forces community in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I declare that I am a northern area committee member of the Highland Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, and in that role I am happy to support reservists, many of whom are former servicemen. I noted James Dornan’s reference to the cadets, who play a valuable role, often under the leadership of former service personnel and who work with young people across Scotland and the UK.

The Highland RFCA covers approximately one quarter of the landmass of the United Kingdom, extending north from the Forth and Clyde valley to encompass the whole of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of meeting the Defence Medical Welfare Service, which Brian Whittle referred to. That is a fantastic organisation that, since 1943, has given support to more than 1 million patients and their families. I was greatly impressed by the work that has been done by that organisation and by many others. It was a privilege to hear many of its stories on Tuesday.

The backdrop to all this was well illustrated when, in May 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” after witnessing the death of his friend the day before:

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

That illustrates the experience of service personnel and it should be no surprise that that experience can lead to people having needs after they have served in the forces; we are addressing those needs today and will have to address them for a long time. The poem has echoed down the 100-plus years since it was written, and is the reason why we wear a little red poppy on armistice day. As I said in my intervention on the minister, we approach the 100-year anniversary of the armistice, not the end of the conflict, and we should celebrate that. We have seen many memorial services and preparations to honour those who fought in that great conflict, and the great sacrifices that they made.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to travel to many corners of the world, in many of which one sees the imperial war graves. When I was in Burma, some 40 years ago, the only thing that seemed to work effectively was the graveyard outside of Rangoon, where every blade of grass was within a millimetre of its neighbour, where the book of remembrance was pristine and where the memorial was excellent. Nothing else in that country worked properly, so it was great to see such dedication.

A week ago in my constituency, the community came together for the re-dedication of a memorial marking the commencement of the war. Bands played, prayers were given, and scriptures and poems were recited, including the poem that I just quoted. The Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, Clare Russell, said:

“The dedication will in no way glorify war or mark any kind of celebration of what was one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind. Rather it will be an occasion for people to remember and to work for peace.”

It was a truly inter-generational tribute, as members of the Royal British Legion stood alongside uniformed youth organisations. That happened around Scotland, which indicates the respect and regard that we have for our veterans.

I am proud that we have taken the steps that we have in Scotland. Other nations in these islands equally respect our veterans, but they support them in different ways and they could learn a little bit from the way that we do it.

Gordon MacDonald referred to the Scottish veterans fund, which has supported 19 projects in the past year and continues to be an important support that is provided to veterans.

The motion before us refers to Eric Fraser, the former veterans commissioner—many members have referred to him, too—and to Colonel Charlie Wallace, our new veterans commissioner. The commissioner’s role is important, because there are something like 400,000 veterans in Scotland who have served in our armed forces at some point in their lives. Further, about 20,000 people in the UK leave our armed forces every year, and the transition to civilian life can be quite difficult for some people.

There are more than 50 veterans organisations in Scotland, which are part of the 300-plus charities that Maurice Corry referred to. Poppy Scotland is well known to us, as is veterans first point. Those organisations, often working with the Scottish Government, are integral to what we do.

The Scottish veterans commissioner’s report described testimony from John Johnston, a veteran and a research project officer at Borders general hospital, who was helped by veterans first point. John stated:

“The whole ethos of veterans first point is that they go the extra mile for everyone who accesses the service. They helped me get out of the house and meet with like-minded people which ultimately is the reason I am still here today.

“Even once you’ve finished treatment or completed a programme ... it never closes its doors on you.”

My personal connections are modest. I inform James Dornan that my father knew Lloyd George. He was his election agent when he stood for the rectorship of Edinburgh university. And his cousin James Stevenson was in Lloyd George’s Government during the first world war and was ennobled by Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s.


19 September 2018

S5M-13945 Primary 1 Tests

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13945, in the name of Liz Smith, on primary 1 tests.

... ... ...

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

I am afraid that, of all the speakers so far, I probably bring to the debate the least amount of relevant life experience. Three years of lecturing postgraduate students does not qualify me as a teacher—that is for sure—and I am not a dad, so I have nothing to offer in those respects. On the other hand, I have nine great-nieces and great-nephews, a goddaughter and seven nephews and nieces, so I have had some exposure to the issue.

I will pick up on what Daniel Johnson said about multiple-choice tests being stressful. I found it quite stressful to stand beside my goddaughter with a Portsoy Ice Cream gift voucher in her hand—she was not yet three years old—as we experienced the multiple choice of 32 flavours of ice cream. That illustrates the general point that developing skills starts early. I think that by the time they get to five, every child has gone through many multiple-choice examinations; it is just that none of them has been in the academic sector. There is nothing unfamiliar to them in being presented with choices. That is an illustration of how we might all be guilty of overplaying some of the issues.

In the early stages of the debate—this was remedied later, in particular by Alison Harris—members made comparatively little mention of children, but we should put children, rather than teachers, at the centre of the debate. However, teachers are clearly not unimportant and neither are parents. That is for sure.

The real thing in the debate is that the Conservatives have changed their minds: they are entitled so to do. I have occasionally changed my mind, and my political colleagues have occasionally changed theirs. There is nothing wrong with that. If new information comes along, new conclusions can, reasonably, be reached.

However, the question is on what the overall Tory position is on testing, which takes me back to my intervention on Liz Smith, during the first speech in the debate. South of the border, the Tories are moving in a very different direction. From September 2020, the new reception baseline assessment will be statutory for all pupils in England. That is for the reception class or, in other words, kindergarten—before pupils get to primary school. That will be coupled with testing in the first and second years of primary school.

The National Foundation for Educational Research said:

“Our experience in producing a reception baseline assessment in 2015 demonstrated that it is possible to undertake a robust assessment of children’s language, literacy and numeracy skills at this age.”

In other words, at age four, five or six. We should hold on to that expert advice. It is vitally important to lasting and significant change that parents and teachers be provided with transparent and consistent information. That is what the Tories are introducing in England. They have bluntly tried to disconnect the Tories in Scotland from that and take a different position, but there is one Tory party, so I am not at all clear on what basis we should properly look—

Liz Smith: I have to say that there is a lot of opposition and concern about what is happening south of border for exactly the same reasons as there are concerns up here.

Stewart Stevenson: I think that we had a confession there that the Tories are getting it wrong, which is quite interesting. If they are getting it wrong in England, it is perfectly possible for us to consider that they might be getting it wrong in Scotland. [Applause.]

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con): It is interesting that we would take a different position from the one that has been taken down south. Will Mr Stevenson concede that the SNP might be getting it wrong up here?

Stewart Stevenson: I am rarely accused of getting it wrong and I never admit to it. That is not true.

I always look at evidence, but the evidence in this case is that, as has been the case for Maureen Watt, not one constituent has contacted me on the subject. It is simply not the talk of the steamie among those for whom it matters—the pupils and the parents. That is the kind of evidence that is driving me.

It has been said that children at age four, five or six should not be exposed to computers. I spent 30 years working in computers, but I find that most six-year-olds are more adept at working a tablet than I am. Therefore, that is not a particularly credible argument.

Even in Denmark, local government wants to introduce statutory testing for three-year-olds in kindergarten. There are many different ways of looking at the problem. I am very happy to support the Scottish Government’s approach.

Finally, testing is important. Would we let a driver on the road without their having passed the driving test?


13 September 2018

S5M-13876 Food and Drink

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13876, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on celebrating Scotland’s food and drink success story.

... ... ...

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

It is interesting to hear a Tory member talk about the Chequers plan and demand that the SNP gets behind it. I will be interested to hear when the Conservative Party gets behind it—it has at least six different views on the Chequers plan. However, I am not going to waste time on the Conservative Party’s internal difficulties, which at every turn it tries to deflect on to others who are trying to do the right thing for Scotland.

Our food and drink fortnight is an excellent example of Scotland coming together—mostly, members have done that in this afternoon’s debate—to promote the great-quality food that we produce in our country. I agree with Mr Chapman about the importance of salmon farming, although it is by no means the only food and drink export that we have, as we have heard from others.

The vision of Scotland as a good food nation is one that, in this year of young people, we should relate to the contribution of future generations, in particular. James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:

“Now is an exciting time to be involved in the sector in Scotland and the opportunity for the next generation to raise the bar even higher is hugely compelling.”

I absolutely agree.

On Tuesday this week, Austin Wilkins from the United States joined me as a new intern. He has told me that, at secondary school, he participated in the Future Farmers of America, which is an organisation that seeks to educate people on where their food comes from and to help them to value their food better. When it surveyed a group, one person asked whether only brown cows could make chocolate milk. That is a classic, albeit humorous, example of the disconnect between people’s understanding of food and the real importance of food.

Scotland has almost 20,000 food businesses that employ well over 100,000 people, but whatever the outcome of Brexit will be, it is currently overhanging our industry and its success. I need only cite the example of live langoustines, the premium product that comes largely from the north-east. They go on the buggy to Boulogne-sur-Mer market once a week. If they arrive at 8 o’clock in the morning, they get the price that they command by virtue of their quality, but if they are delayed only until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they get half the price that they would have got at 8 o’clock in the morning. The challenge lies in how long they will have to wait in the queues to get into France and reach Boulogne-sur-Mer. That is an example of the practical risks that we face if we do not get Brexit right.

Geographical indication status is very important to many of our great Scottish products, particularly Scotch whisky, which has been well regarded around the world for more than a century. Since the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, for which my cousin was responsible in Parliament, the whisky has been kept in bond, which has improved its quality. Previously, I referred to the American whisky industry’s desire to have us abandon that three-year storage and go down to one year, to level the playing field.

Whisky has challenges around the world. Many years ago, when I first went to Nepal and walked down Khatmandu’s main street, the Durbar Marg, in the windows was something that looked superficially like Vat 69 whisky. However, it was Kat 69, with the “K” carefully drawn to obscure the fact that it was Nepalese whisky. We are copied all over the place: India has a huge second-hand market in Johnnie Walker bottles; and when I asked for whisky in Burma 40 years ago, what I received was purported to be Scotch whisky but had the faint flavour of paraffin—it had been made out the back the night before.

A great industry in my constituency that sounds as if it is simple is seed potatoes, but it is an eight-figure-a-year industry. It is one of many. Let us support them all.


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