28 February 2019

S5M-16038 Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1


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

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Some invitations are more welcome than others, and that is one of them.

I have not been part of the consideration of the bill until now. I am a data user of censuses, but I am also a user of censuses. In other words, my interest in genealogy means that I read a census every week, but the censuses that I read are all 100 years old. That is of some, limited interest to today’s debate.

The Scottish Parliament information centre tells us:

“The information on equality groups in the Census can be used to monitor discrimination and to plan public services.”

That is, of course, correct, but during the debate we need to bear in mind that the census is a statistical survey. It is not about identifying the responses and needs of individuals; it is about identifying the needs of communities—often quite small communities—to ensure that public services are provided appropriately.

SPICe also says:

“The information collected must be ‘authoritative, accurate and comparable’ for all parts of Scotland”.

There is a difficulty in that description of what we are trying to do. The information should certainly be authoritative, it should perhaps be accurate and it should almost certainly be comparable. Retaining the question on whether someone’s birth identity is male or female helps with comparability, but we must remember that, at birth, the parent registers the birth and the gender of the infant.

I have an example from exactly 150 years ago. A child called Keith—I will not use the second name, because there will be living descendants—was registered, as we would expect, as a male, but in the census three years later and in every subsequent census, Keith was shown as female. In 1905, Keith married a man and gave birth to children. An error was probably made in 1869, when Keith was born. When someone dies, there needs to be medical information on their death certificate, but there is no medical requirement to provide information about gender to someone who is registering a birth. Therefore, there are some difficulties with the authoritative aspect of the census information. As the example that I have given shows, it is possible for someone to have something on their birth certificate and to put something else on the census. There has always been that possibility.

Who fills out the census? In broad terms, it is the head of the household. I welcome the indication that there will be a way for individuals to provide information that they might not want to share with the head of the household at that point. However, the question is voluntary, so we will not get the information from everybody for whom there might be a particular answer, and we will not necessarily get an answer from people who do not choose to use the separate system that allows them to respond individually.

That opens up a much broader question—for which I have no direct answer—of how, statistically, we can rely on information from a self-selected group, using a self-selected description. It is possible to deal with that, but I hope that the National Records of Scotland finds out, perhaps through sampling, how the answers that we get represent the underlying reality, because the statistics that come from the census are important for the planning of services.

Voluntary questions were introduced in the 1891 census, when for the first time there was a question about whether someone spoke Gaelic, which they did not have to answer. There is nothing new about a voluntary question, and we can do that in the bill, as we did then.

I trust my colleagues as we take the bill forward—I will not be playing any part in it. It is important that there is a clear distinction between physical sex and how people wish to be recognised and treated. The human right in our society to be able to choose how one is treated goes to the heart of this debate, and I very much welcome the fact that a tiny legal provision—it is really only a couple of lines in a very small bill—will leverage big consequences for quite a lot of people in our society. It is right and proper that we take this forward in the way that we are planning to and that we continue to engage to make sure that the questions that we ask give us answers that, statistically, help us to respond to a wide range of diverse needs that we did not recognise and certainly did not talk about in the past.


20 February 2019

S5M-15617 Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15617, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on the Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

The primary task of the committee was to consider whether the bill is a private one. We have thought about that and have looked at the definition that is in the Parliament’s standing orders, and we have concluded that it is. In doing so, the committee is merely following the long history to which Kezia Dugdale referred, from 1639 via the 1872 act, which, although it was not technically based on a private bill, clearly served private purposes. As the bill that is before the Parliament today is a private one, it is part of the continuum of support that has been given to people in Glasgow.

The promoter had considered whether it could use alternative ways of dealing with the issue that confronted it, such as the charity reorganisation provisions that are set out in chapter 5 of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which are available to charities in certain defined circumstances. However, there appeared to be a lack of clarity as to whether the Royal Incorporation of Hutchesons’ Hospital in the City of Glasgow would meet the criteria for applying those provisions.

To test that, the committee sought advice from an academic and a Queen’s counsel, which is set out in considerable detail in the committee’s report. The advice is more fascinating than might be imagined, and I encourage all members to read it. However, the bottom line is that it drew the committee towards the conclusion to which the promoter of the bill had come, which is that it could not reliably use the provisions of the 2005 act without the prospect of legal challenge. Therefore, instead, it has pursued the private bill that is before us today.

The consequences of a legal challenge, were one to arise, could be both financially and practically quite challenging, so I think that the safe option that they have adopted, which the committee is happy to endorse, is to bring forward a private bill.

Of course, that leads to an issue for the Scottish Government, which we deal with in our report. It is that the legislation that I mentioned—the 2005 act—should perhaps be revisited to see whether we can provide greater clarity.

Having said that, the Scottish Government has published in the past month a consultation on Scottish charity law with a view to possible update of the 2005 act, and it includes a question that relates to the matter that I have just been referring to. Preparation of the consultation would have been well advanced but, nonetheless, the Hutchesons’ committee was quite right to bring the bill forward in early course.

The other option was that it could have hobbled on with the 1872 legislation and the 95 largely indifferent people who were on the committee. There was some suggestion that many of them were not even aware that they were on the committee, including as it does all of Glasgow’s councillors and many ministers of religion who, simply because of their office, end up legally and formally being on the committee.

We came to the conclusion that doing nothing did not make sense, because the trustees made a pretty cogent argument that we should look at updating and modernising the 1872 arrangements and bringing them into the world that we now have, with the oversight of OSCR and an SCIO. Having considered the alternatives, we are content with the promoter’s conclusion that a private bill is most appropriate and best available method of achieving the aims.

We are left with one question alone, which is how we will adjudge the success of the parliamentary process. I think the key test is that the beneficiaries of the trust see no difference whatsoever and it continues to provide the support that they have enjoyed for some time. The support was described in the 1872 act, which was based on the mortification of George Hutcheson of 1639. It says:

“aiget, decrippet men may be enterit and placet yrin”.

I am “aiget” but hopefully not “decrippet”, but I was particularly excited by the provision that there be

“foure shillingis Scottis money”

every day, and every year

“ane gowne of convenient cullor”.

Before we get too excited, I note that, although four shillings sounds a lot of money, in today’s money, because it was Scots pounds and not English pounds and because of decimalisation, that would be tuppence. I know that the beneficiaries get a little bit more than that today. The parliamentary process should, and I believe will, enable them to continue to receive the benefits in proper legal form.


06 February 2019

S5M-15677 Salmon Farming

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15677, in the name of Edward Mountain, on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on the committee’s inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland.

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

I start by thanking Tavish Scott’s constituents for the excellent products that they produce at their salmon farms; indeed, I thank constituents all round Scotland for that. That produce supports industries in my constituency—Sutherlands Of Portsoy, for example, has been smoking salmon for a hundred years. It originally smoked wild salmon, but now we have the salted salmon being smoked with shavings from whisky casks to produce that marriage made in heaven that is the taste of whisky on smoked salmon, which I so enjoy—particularly if it is anCnoc, Glen Deveron or Glenglassaugh whisky from my constituency.

Fiction has been running through the debate a lot—the fiction that the producers of farmed salmon like sea lice on their fish. No: if there are lice on the fish, its commercial value goes down because it looks ugly in the fishmonger’s display. There is a fiction that the fish farmers are indifferent to mortality, but every time a salmon dies on a fish farm, that is income lost to the salmon farmer. We must not pretend that the industry does not want to engage on the genuine and properly expressed challenges that it meets.

Donald Cameron referred to Loch Fyne in an attempt to show a link between fish farms and reduced salmon runs. Martin Jaffa’s book refers to Loch Fyne in relation to sea trout, which is essentially the same species. Of the three rivers that run into Loch Fyne, the one in which there has been the greatest reduction is the one in which the fish have not swum past the fish farms. The river in which the fish have to swim past all the fish farms has had the smallest reduction.

There are many causes of reductions in numbers of salmon in the wild environment, and many things affect both salmon farms and the wild environment. When my brother and I were water bailiffs for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board in 1968, the talk of that and previous seasons was the reduction in fish. Why did it happen? There was illegal exploitation: as bailiffs, we experienced dynamiting, hangnets and sniggering. I arrested somebody for sniggering, which is an illegal method of catching fish, on the island in Perth.

We had the Klondikers from Russia sitting in their vessels in Loch Broom catching salmon offshore. That was when the limits were 3 miles and 12 miles, rather than the 200 miles that we have today. We had predation from, for example, seals. The closure in the 1970s of Wee Bankie, which was a sprat fishery out in the North Sea, caused quadrupling of the number of seals in the North Sea. Guess what? Seals like eating salmon.

It is not just one thing that causes reductions in salmon numbers, but a complex environment of different things. I first saw sea lice in the 1950s. While standing on the bank trying to catch salmon with rod and line, I, unlike Jamie Greene, look in the mirror when trying to find the cause for my failures. I am an indifferent fisherman; my failure is not because there are no fish in the river. I have never seen Jamie Greene fishing, so I cannot judge his confidence. However, I saw sea lice in the 1950s.

In our rivers, we have crayfish that consume almost anything in the river, and there are some rivers in which there is nothing left but crayfish. We have acidification of rivers from the artificial fertilisers that run off our farm land. We have rising temperatures in rivers. We have the clearing of vegetation from the edge of rivers, which allows pollution and cattle—and what they produce—to go into the rivers. There is dredging of rivers, which makes it more difficult for salmon.

There are good examples, too; there are dams and weirs. There is the Pitlochry fish ladder, which is famous for supporting proper up-river passage of salmon. There are other examples elsewhere.

Let us not turn this into a simple-minded battle between the fish farms and the wild fish industry, because the issue is much more complex than that.

I wish our industry every success in the future. I will continue to enjoy eating the industry’s products and I will watch with interest as we regulate in an appropriate way.


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