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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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