Scotland's Needs and Aspirations

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 9:30 am, 13th April 2005

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2619, in the name of Margo MacDonald, on meeting the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland. Given the diverse interests of the independents group, this debate will cover a wide range of topics. In order to provide structure, I have attempted, as far as is possible, to group the issues that will be covered in terms of their subject matter. After opening speeches, we will move to speeches on justice to be followed by health, education and sport, communities, planning and finance, and finally enterprise, economy and transport.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 9:35 am, 13th April 2005

I have to say that my best idea was not to have this debate—although that was not a bad one—but to invite the Rev Bob Brown to lead time for reflection. I and, I think, most members in the chamber thoroughly appreciated it.

I thank the Presiding Officer, his staff, the business team and the business managers, who have all helped the independent members to organise this debate. As everyone knows, we are attempting to introduce an experimental style of debate; I hope that everyone will find it to be something of a respite from the politicking that is going on outside these walls.

We have tried to structure this morning's proceedings to enable more free-flowing debate, in which all members will have the same amount of time for their speeches and are encouraged to speak on issues of their own choosing. Although Tavish Scott is on the front bench in his ministerial capacity—and will no doubt do whatever ministers do with the information that they glean from debates—I hope that he, too, will be able to participate actively, should he be moved to do so, even if the subject matter is not part of his portfolio. I also hope that other ministers—such as Margaret Curran, who has joined him on the front bench—will be able to make it into the chamber for the segment of this morning's proceedings that covers their particular areas of responsibility or interest, should those two aspects not coincide.

I hope that although ministers will not be expected to give Executive statements, they might be able to participate in the debate. Of course, I am in your hands, Presiding Officer, because you will decide which members will be called, when they will be called and for how long they will be able to speak. We hope that everyone will be able to speak for an equal length of time. I certainly do not intend to take up the usual time in my opening speech; I would prefer it by far that that time be left for the exchange of information in the debate.

I assume that the Presiding Officer will inform members of the approximate timings that have been allocated to each subject. That is all that I want to say in opening the debate.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that its members' primary function is to reflect and address the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Thank you. Margo MacDonald will make her substantive speech later. I call Tavish Scott to speak for the Executive. He has eight minutes.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 9:38 am, 13th April 2005

I am grateful for that clarification. To avoid doubt, I had better stick to the ministerial script. Margaret Curran is here to make sure that I do not speak my mind on a number of issues.

As a Liberal Democrat, it seems appropriate to start by wishing my good friend and colleague, Charles Kennedy, and his wife, Sarah, congratulations on the birth of Donald James yesterday. They will be ecstatic to know that they will shortly receive a minute from my parliamentary colleagues to congratulate them on the birth. I am sure that that is just what they have always looked forward to at this joyous moment in their lives.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Not a bunch of flowers, but a minute. After all, we are Liberals.

Today's debate is about the future of Scotland. Margo MacDonald introduced the topic today by suggesting that we can be innovative and possibly even experimental in our style. I encourage and welcome suggestions on any new ways in which we could consider the issues that confront us as a Parliament and a devolved Government. There have been immediate successes by this young and evolving Parliament, which was elected by proportional representation—by fair votes—with scrutiny of the Executive by Parliament and its committees, which have real teeth.

We have legislated to improve the quality of health care, education and transport, to tackle violence and inequality and to protect our children and vulnerable people in society. We have created Scottish policy solutions to Scottish needs, such as free personal care for the elderly, the abolition of tuition fees and the proposed ban on smoking in public places.

In today's debate for the future, I will address two themes. First is the need for a long-term perspective in addressing Scotland's future, although that might be a bit difficult in the middle of a general election campaign. The second theme is not just what we in Parliament and Government can do, but what other people can do wherever they live or whatever their circumstances. Devolution has given us the opportunity to take decisions in Scotland for Scotland. We are determined to make the changes now that will mean that Scotland is a better place in 10, 20 or 30 years' time.

The state of the nation's health will play a massive part in determining Scotland's long-term future, so our investment in our health service and health promotion is crucial. We are promoting safer, healthier lifestyles and healthier eating, particularly in our schools. The future of Scotland depends on our children and young people; encouraging them to eat more healthily will help to ensure that the future is, indeed, healthy. We have ensured that our youngest children receive free fruit in school and we have delivered dramatic improvements in the nutritional standards of Scotland's meals, some of which have even appeared in recent television programmes hosted by famous chefs.

We are tackling two of the biggest health-related factors in our society—smoking and alcohol. They are time bombs that have long-term impacts that we must address now. Smoking is the single largest cause of preventable premature death in Scotland. Some 13,000 families a year in Scotland lose a loved one through smoking-related death and 1,000 of those are associated with passive smoking. Some 35,000 Scots are treated every year for smoking-related diseases. Each and every year we see among lifelong non-smokers 865 deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory conditions that are related to passive smoking. Statistics show that non-smokers who work in a pub where smoking is allowed are at least 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than other non-smokers.

We cannot accept such statistics in modern Scotland; we have to act now and for the long term, which is why this devolved Government has committed itself to introducing a comprehensive ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces in order to reduce smoking, save lives and help to transform Scotland's national health.

We also need to tackle the problem that alcohol poses in our society. Too many people in Scotland drink to excess; that is why we have introduced the Licensing (Scotland) Bill to reform Scotland's licensing laws. This year's bill will crack down on irresponsible drinks promotions that encourage binge drinking—drinking too much too quickly and its inevitable consequences. The national health service in Scotland spends £100 million every year on treating misuse of alcohol, so we as a country must ask ourselves some hard questions: Is Scotland serious about alcohol? Do we care that getting drunk at a young age is a rite of passage for both sexes? Why are more and more young women drinking too much?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We all agree with those sentiments about alcohol, but can the minister reconcile them with the current proposals to remove limitations on opening hours to enable 24-hour opening? How does that square with the sentiments that he expressed?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Mr Ewing should read the bill and the explanatory memorandum—there is a presumption in the bill against 24-hour opening. I state that for the record here and now and I will do so again when we begin consideration of the bill and when we launch it. Mr Ewing chooses simply to misinterpret and to make uneconomical statements about the position of the bill. I would respect Mr Ewing's position on alcohol a lot more if he were being straight about what we said instead of just making things up.

A bill alone will not change Scotland's long-held convictions on alcohol. Reform of the nation's licensing laws must go hand in hand with health promotion and educating the next generation to think responsibly about how much alcohol they consume. That will bring a long-term improvement in the nation's health.

There are other long-term issues, such as growing Scotland's economy. We are investing in transport to get Scotland's people moving and Scotland's goods to market. We have set out a 10-year transport investment plan with a £3 billion transport capital programme over the period. We are investing in road, sea and air connections and 70 per cent of that budget will be invested in public transport.

We are investing substantially in quality housing that will be available for the long term. In the most recent spending review, we committed £1.2 billion over the next three years and we are increasing our affordable housing targets from 18,000 to 21,500 homes. Nearly 5,000 of those homes will be developed for low-cost ownership; we on the Executive benches think that that is a good thing, even if the Scottish National Party does not.

We will help more people to take that vital first step on the property ladder. We know how important that first step is to people, which is why we have announced the new homestake initiative, which is a shared equity scheme to help would-be home owners who are on low incomes and who cannot afford to pay the full price of a house. By 2008, we expect about 1,000 homestake houses a year to be funded throughout Scotland. That will make a long-term difference for this country.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I hate to be a party pooper; that was an impressive list of objectives and perhaps even half-achievements. However, why does the Executive think so many young Scots want to leave Scotland?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I was going to come to exactly that point. Growing the economy is this Government's number 1 objective. When I look at the statistics for the number of graduates who are graduating and staying in Scotland, I see that numbers are increasing—I will get the precise figure before we finish today's debate. The number of Scots who graduate, stay and pursue careers in Scotland is rising, which I am sure Parliament agrees is not only an important step, but an important stage upon which we must build.

If Government is to make a real difference, we need people to consider their lives, futures and responsibilities and to make choices. A healthy and prosperous Scotland will come about only if people make the right choices; for example, to drink less, not to smoke, to eat more healthily and to pursue their aspirations in education. We cannot legislate to make people take those choices, but we can assist them through education by ensuring that our schools provide comprehensive health education, including education on drugs and sexual health. We can assist in that progress.

Education is not just about health; we also need to help people to become financially literate and to end financial exclusion. Today in Scotland, 11 per cent of our population and as many as 18 per cent of people who are on low incomes have no bank account. Some 37 per cent of Scottish households have no savings and for many, credit is the only option for making large purchases. We have announced support for three separate financial education projects over the next two years, which will help people to make better and more informed decisions about which products best meet their needs, thereby helping them to plan for their futures and to ensure that they do not enter unmanageable debt.

Politicians have responsibilities to the people but, in turn, people have responsibilities to themselves and to their communities. That is a long-term approach to this country's needs and it is one manner in which the motion could be taken forward.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 9:48 am, 13th April 2005

I have been critical in the past of Executive motions that have lacked a substantive point around which debate can pivot. The last such debate about which I could make that comment was on the prosecution service. It would therefore be remiss of me not to make the same comments when such a motion is lodged by the independents group. When I look at the wording of today's motion, it is clear that no one could possibly dispute the position

"That the Parliament agrees that its members' primary function is to reflect and address the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland."

Unless one believes in an oligarchy or dictatorship, everybody in the chamber subscribes to that view no matter to which party they belong—or whether they belong to no party. However, what do we seek to debate and where are we going to take it?

Other organisations exist in Scotland besides the Parliament and we are required to accept that the Scottish Parliament is not the sole font of knowledge in Scotland. We have a particular purpose, but other organisations play extremely important parts in the democratic process and are equally valid as we make progress.

I and other members subscribe to participative democracy, so we accept that we are at the legislative sharp end of delivery—the Executive delivers policy, the judiciary addresses legal matters and then there is civic Scotland. If we are to have a broader debate, organisations such as the Scottish Civic Forum might be better placed to take a general position than we are here, when we have a time-limited opportunity to focus on what we want to do and to make some distinctive change. We also have the opportunity of having members' debates; we have had such debates on the Scottish Civic Forum.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that motions should have a beginning, a function and an end, and that there should be some tangible outcome; otherwise, we cannot make progress.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

Many people criticise the role of political parties, but political parties are important in the body politic because they provide cohesion and function. If we simply represented 129 separate views we would end up not knowing what we were debating and, with each member debating individually, there would be no cohesion or outcome. We on this side of the chamber may disagree on ideologies, certainly with those who represent the right of centre, but political parties provide focus and discipline and they place constraints. If we do not have that, debates tend to go all over the place.

However, this debate is in the independents' time, so we must focus on it. I do not disagree with many of the minister's points, but the Scottish National Party wishes to go further. The First Minister has said that we have to raise our game. To be fair, that has been taken on board by all members of all parties and of none. We acknowledge that the opening of this marvellous auditorium gives us a second chance, that we made many mistakes—individually and collectively—up at the Mound and that the game has been raised. However, there is still a considerable distance to go and every one of us must continue to strive to improve our game.

Mistakes have been made, and it is clear that devolution has disappointed people. However, we must take a phlegmatic view of matters and we must accept that that was perhaps always going to happen. One reason is the limited powers of this institution and the second is the legitimate aspirations of our people. We have to remember that Parliament was formed following a referendum after 18 years of Thatcherism, which scarred the people of Scotland and will not be forgotten when they go to the ballot box on 5 May. Those years resulted in people being bruised and grieved, and looking for something to change their lives dramatically. People voted not only for a Parliament to be re-established in Scotland but for a Parliament that has tax-raising powers. Even though those powers have not been invoked, we should always remember that.

However, people hoped—they may have been right and entitled to do so, even if their aspirations could never be delivered—not simply that the flowers would bloom and that the sun would shine perpetually in Scotland but, more important, that their granny would get a hip operation, that their son would get the job he needed, that their daughter would get the benefits she was entitled to and that they would have more money in their pocket and would pay less tax. Those are all things that people are entitled to and can legitimately expect to happen in their society. Clearly, some of those things could never be delivered, because we do not have the powers; others could never be delivered simply because, no matter which society they govern, Governments can only move so far and at such a pace. I am critical of the Executive and of the United Kingdom Government, but it should be recognised that there is a limit to what a Government can do in a globalised world and that change often has to come about slowly.

If we look back, we see that what has happened in Scotland is no different from what has happened in other countries. In post-Soviet Poland or post-Soviet Lithuania, people anticipated that life would be transformed—the yoke of Soviet domination ended and the opportunity for involvement in the capitalist system arose. However, what happened in Lithuania, for example, was that within one election, President Landsbergis and the people who had faced the tanks of the Soviet Red Army were booted out to be replaced summarily by the apparatchiks who had connived and conspired with the Soviet regime, because life did not change massively in post-Soviet Russia and people still faced unemployment and other difficulties. We must recognise that.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I have listened with interest to Mr MacAskill's speech. Is not he surely proving that the argument that he continually makes—that more powers and independence will cure all Scotland's ills—is not the case?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

If the member reads what I have said, he will see that I have never argued for powers and independence on their own. If we do not have the powers we cannot make any change, but we cannot do that with the powers on their own; they must be matched by a change in confidence. However, we could also argue that those things go together and that the constitutional powers would result in a change in confidence. Having read Carol Craig's book, I fully support her argument, and I accept that a change in confidence is necessary.

The transformation of the Republic of Ireland was not simply down to its being an independent nation state. I say to Mr Lyon that if the Republic of Ireland had not been an independent nation state, it could not have made the changes that were necessary to transform itself into the Celtic tiger. Had it not been a nation state, it could not have stayed out of the Iraq war. Had it not been a nation state, it could not have made the changes to corporation tax that have allowed it to become a far greater target of inward investment than Scotland can aspire to being. That is why, as well as seeking to have constitutional change, we require that confidence change. I do not know how that will be acquired.

There are mixed views about why the change occurred in the Republic of Ireland. Was it because of the election of Mary Robinson? Was it because of Jack Charlton and the success of the Irish football team? Whatever the reason, a mood swing came about in the Republic of Ireland that piggybacked on its constitutional powers, and the Republic of Ireland went from being a basket economy—almost a client state of Britain—to being a nation that is now a confident part of the European Union. The Republic of Ireland has a far better economy than Scotland and its citizens are wealthier than Scots. That has happened within one generation, and since Irish migration to Scotland. Parliament must go forward and it must accept that changes have to be delivered. We must accept that we should reflect and address the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. However, at the end of the day, that has to be focused on tangible aims and it has to result, ultimately, in decisions' being made, rather than in our simply agreeing to something while changing nothing.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 9:56 am, 13th April 2005

I like to think that the Conservatives can adopt a rather more constructive approach to the debate than that which was advanced by Mr MacAskill. The debate is, after all, on the independents' choice of topic. If we have to play the game by their rules today, it is surely not too much to ask that we do so reasonably constructively. The terms of the motion should be unanimously supported by all members; however, the motion provides us with an opportunity for a far-reaching discussion, while always being mindful that the aspirations of every member of Parliament must be to make a better life for the people of Scotland. I know that we all agree on that but there are, equally, genuine differences about how that can—and indeed must—be attained.

First, one basic thing should be recognised: freedom, choice and economic opportunity are what can make Scotland great. Unfortunately for all too many of our citizens, such choice and opportunity are being denied them. It should be recognised that extending economic opportunities to everyone in Scotland is the basis on which we can reduce poverty and social deprivation. At the moment, for far too many people, those opportunities are limited or non-existent: they are denied them in health provision, in education and above all in job opportunities. Enterprise seems to have vanished from the vocabulary of the Scottish Executive—a lexicon that appears to be dominated by "social inclusion" and "equality". That is all very well, but we require some jobs, some enterprise and some entrepreneurial ambition.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

As far as I am aware, every minister—from the First Minister on—has said that the economy is the number 1 priority of this Administration. Is that not good enough for Mr Aitken?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Of course, words are easy.

The Executive claims that economic growth is one of its top priorities; if that is the case, performance belies the statement. In 2004, gross domestic product in Scotland grew by only 1.8 per cent, as opposed to 3.2 per cent in the UK. New business start-ups fell by 660, manufacturing exports fell by 5.8 per cent and manufacturing output was down by 1.1 per cent. In terms of competitiveness, we are simply not at the races; we rank at number 36 in the International Institute for Management Development world competitiveness rankings, behind such economic giants as Chile, Luxembourg and Thailand. We need action, not talk.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The Scottish National Party agrees that we need to focus on economic growth—as Bill Aitken said—but is the Scottish Conservatives' way to achieve that to follow Teddy Taylor's advice and scrap the Parliament, or is it to follow Murdo Fraser's advice and increase Parliament's fiscal powers?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The Conservative group has made clear its commitment to the Parliament and to making it work. Fiscal responsibility requires to be addressed and will be addressed in due course.

One practical thing that needs to happen is a reduction in business rates to the same level as rates elsewhere in the UK. For too long, Scotland has had to labour against the double whammy of business rates that are more than 9 per cent higher than those elsewhere in the UK and water charges that adversely affect many businesses.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

No, I have to move on.

Scottish Water's performance has been abysmal by any standard, and its inability to provide an economical and satisfactory service to businesses is little short of scandalous. It is time for Mr Scott and his colleagues to bite the bullet and to recognise that the existing publicly owned water provider is simply not up to the mark and must be scrapped to enable Scottish businesses to benefit from the lower costs and better quality that their English counterparts enjoy.

The complaint that is most often repeated when one speaks to a business—particularly a small business—concerns red tape. Job provision in Scotland is too important for it to be hobbled by almost backbreaking bureaucracy. Every Executive department should review the statute books and bring to the Parliament for repeal all laws and regulations that have no proven worth.

We also need to examine our transport infrastructure. Not only are there too many accident black spots, but the central belt motorway network and various other upgrades are still incomplete, which also inhibits business.

The principal concern that faces us is that our record of high public sector spending can no longer be sustained in the long term unless we are prepared to make appropriate investments, and to ensure that jobs are available in the private sector and that industry is able to provide the funds for the public sector. Reform is vital—we must examine every aspect of what we do and change the approach.

I will deal with one matter that seriously affects the quality of life in Scotland and over which we have more direct and immediate control; that is our failure to combat increasing crime and disorder. As I have said before, we do not seek to exaggerate the situation. Although violent crime has increased significantly over the past six years, one's chances of being murdered in one's bed are still not high. However, the chances of suffering the effects of dishonesty and disorder are now very high indeed, and the Executive's failure to take the action that is necessary to protect society has resulted in a reduction in quality of life, particularly in some of our poorer communities.

Police establishments may be at a record high, but the number of police officers on the streets seems to be at a record low. It seems to take forever and a day to prosecute, and our court system is still open to exploitation by people who know how to play it to their advantage. The way in which the Executive has failed to make penalties bite is of the most serious import.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am sorry, but I am running out of time.

Instead of collecting fines by means of deduction from salaries or benefits, the Executive chooses to let them remain unpaid. In many cases, community service that is imposed as a direct alternative to custody is simply not carried out, and breaches of community service orders are seldom reported. Drugs are freely available in prisons. We will not get far until fines are paid, community service work is done and prisons become drug free. Above all, we must restore faith in our judicial system by ending the farce of early release and by ensuring honesty in sentencing. Only then will the public begin to respect the system.

Scotland is a fine country; it could be great, but it is necessary that the Executive revisit many of its entrenched ideas and recognise that there is a requirement for it to innovate, to become more enterprising in its outlook, to encourage business and to clamp down on disorder. Only when that happens can we look forward to the sort of future for the people of Scotland for which we are all anxious.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We come now to the open debate. The first speeches will be on justice. I intend to call two speakers on the subject: Margo MacDonald will be followed by Karen Whitefield.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 10:05 am, 13th April 2005

I would have liked to answer some of the charges that Mr MacAskill made, but we have tried to give all members an opportunity to speak on subjects on which they might seldom or never get the opportunity to do so, so I will concentrate on prostitution.

Prostitution must be attended to as quickly as possible. If the Parliament does that, it will meet a need in Scotland and will answer the requests that have been made of a number of members to tackle prostitution quickly. I recommend that the Executive put into effect the recommendations of the group of interested people and experts that, under the chairmanship of former assistant chief constable Sandra Hood, it appointed to investigate prostitution in Scotland.

Members might recall the bill that I introduced in the first session of the Parliament. It was called the Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill, which was a bit of a misnomer, but we all make mistakes. After that bill fell, it was felt that, in the course of its progress through the parliamentary system, we had uncovered a neglected area. Therefore, the Executive—to its credit—set up the expert group, which has taken a year to investigate in depth how prostitution is practised and how it is changing as a result of all sorts of social and economic changes.

The group impressed me with how it tackled its work, in that it was not content merely to consider the scene in Scotland, but travelled outside Scotland to learn from others. However, the group found that much of the work that is being done to tackle prostitution in cities in England derives from the information and expertise that have been built up in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, because Scotland has been ahead of the field in its local attempts to manage an enduring problem for many citizens who are unconnected with prostitution.

I commend the group's report, "Being Outside: Constructing a Response to Street Prostitution", which recommends that the law on prostitution should be changed. The present law potentially criminalises only the seller of sex—that is, the woman—because, although it should not be, our law is gender specific. In the first year of its work, the expert group did not consider male prostitution, which it intends to consider in another tranche of work, so I am referring to women for the moment.

The group recommended that the buyer and the seller of sex or sexual services should both be viewed in the same light and that, if they offended any member of the public or any group in society or caused such people alarm by their actions, they could be prosecuted for doing so. That is of interest to those in Glasgow who have called for the introduction of a law to deter kerb crawlers. If the offence was the creation of nuisance, alarm or annoyance, the kerb crawler would be caught by the same legislation as the prostitute who solicits in a way that causes offence or alarm. That proposal would equalise the law and would be a great improvement on the current law, which criminalises only the woman.

The expert group recommended that, even before we get to changing the law, a national strategic approach should be taken to this—not that we should have a huge policy and reams of well-meaning written work, but that the matter should be considered seriously. The group recommended that an overall approach should be taken to achieving the objectives of reducing the number of women who work as prostitutes; helping those who do so to exit that work; minimising the exploitation that—there is no doubt about it—goes along with prostitution; and minimising the potential for physical harm that is done to prostitutes. Those are all laudable objectives. The expert group also got it absolutely right in saying that, although the responsibility for drawing up a framework for achieving those objectives should lie with the Parliament, the implementation should be left to the local authorities through a local implementation plan, which would be subject to scrutiny by the Executive minister with responsibility, and so on.

We are not talking in a vacuum; this is not theory. We are talking about Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow—not even about Dundee, as there are so few women working as prostitutes in Dundee that we do not need a big policy there. The Dundee authorities say, "It ain't broke, so we're not going to fix it at the moment." They manage prostitution in their area and, although they had a problem with it a year or so ago, they have managed it. However, the City of Edinburgh Council has responded to Hugh Henry by saying that it welcomes the expert group's report, supports the comments of the officers groups and supports the proposed legislative changes, particularly the creation of a new offence that would penalise the purchaser of sexual services. The council executive also notes that the new offence is a replacement for soliciting and that it could help to manage the problem of street prostitution in more effective ways.

The City of Edinburgh Council also welcomes the recommendation of the establishment of a national strategic framework as well as the proposals for local authorities to formulate local plans. That is important. The pattern of prostitution is different in all the cities that I have mentioned, and the local people know best how to cope with it. That does not preclude delivery of the services that might be recommended under the national strategic plan—services for counselling, health support, and so on—being delivered via a local agency, such as there is in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Therefore, there might still be a red-light area in which it is known that prostitution will be encountered; however, it will be much better managed.

I commend to Parliament the recommendations of the expert group and I sincerely ask the minister to put those recommendations into effect as quickly as possible. If the Executive is prepared to introduce a bill, I will willingly withdraw my bill. If it is not, because it is short of time, I am willing to introduce another member's bill.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 10:13 am, 13th April 2005

I welcome the opportunity that the independents group has given me to highlight an issue that I believe reflects and addresses the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland—namely, the need to protect the rights of shop workers to spend time with their families and friends on Christmas day and new year's day. Some members may wonder why I am speaking about this in the justice section of the debate—it is because the issue falls within the remit of the Justice Department.

The results of the recently concluded consultation on my proposed bill overwhelmingly demonstrate that Scottish people support the right of shop workers to spend Christmas day and new year's day with their friends and families. More than 3,000 people signed petitions and more than 1,300 people sent in postcards in support of the proposed bill. Of the 93 individuals and organisations that completed the full consultation document, 83 were in favour of the proposals and six of the remaining respondents had no problem with the closing of stores on Christmas day. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied WorkersUSDAW—has clearly demonstrated that shop workers are overwhelmingly in favour of my proposals, and I take this opportunity to thank USDAW for its continued support.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Let us be clear. Is your proposal to close shops on Christmas day and new year's day, or is it just to ensure that people are not forced to work on those days?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

The proposal would prevent shops from opening on Christmas day and new year's day.

If, as Margo MacDonald's motion points out, the Parliament exists

"to reflect and address the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland", there can be no doubt that my proposed bill deserves the support of all members. Shop workers provide the people of Scotland with an invaluable service all year long. They are not highly paid and often have to endure verbal and physical abuse from unruly and antisocial customers. I do not believe that it is too much to ask that we create a law that ensures that they are not forced to work on those two special days—a law that safeguards their rights and provides them with two guaranteed holidays.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Although I support, in principle, any measure that allows people to spend more time with their families and friends at times of the year that are special to them, I ask why the proposal specifies Christmas day and new year's day. Why, for example, should a Muslim supermarket that serves a Muslim community be required to observe a Christian holiday?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

New year's day is not a Christian holiday; it is a Scottish festival and a recognised holiday. The reality is that this is what Scotland's shop workers want—this is what USDAW and shop workers throughout Scotland have campaigned for. Christmas is a particularly busy time for Scotland's shop workers, and they feel that they need Christmas day and new year's day off.

I do not believe that it is too much to ask that large retail outlets, such as Sainsbury's, should put the welfare of their staff before their desire for profit on those two days. Contrary to the scaremongering of the Scottish Retail Consortium, I do not believe that closing stores on those two days will result in the decimation of our tourism industry. That is a spurious argument. Large stores in Edinburgh have, until recently, remained closed on both days. Despite that, Edinburgh remains one of the world's top tourist destinations during the festive period, and Edinburgh's shops continue to pull in large profits during that period. In fact, it is the very workers whom my proposed bill seeks to protect who help to deliver large profits for many of the large retailers.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Obviously, there is a case for the proposal. However, can Karen Whitefield explain why shop workers should be exempted from working on the two days but not, for example, bar staff?

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

Bar workers often do not have to work seven days a week, round the clock, whereas many shops are increasing their opening hours. Shop workers have been campaigning for these rights and I do not think that it is excessive to support their campaign.

Some members have reservations about my proposed bill. They are concerned that the Parliament should not become over-regulatory or take steps that could damage the Scottish economy. I understand those concerns, and I do not want to do anything that could be seen to threaten the Scottish economy. However, I ask those members to consider my proposals realistically. Every one of them will spend Christmas day and new year's day with their families and friends. I urge them to ignore the hype of the Scottish Retail Consortium and take a rational look at the arguments. Did previous closures on Christmas day and new year's day damage our economy? Of course not. Did large retailers struggle to make a profit because they could not open on those days? Of course not. Is it too much to ask that we protect the right of our hard-working shop workers to spend those two days with their families and friends? In my opinion, of course it is not.

There are those who say that there is no need for my proposed bill, as retailers can and will regulate themselves voluntarily. I ask those people to consider the recent practice of Sainsbury's, which has opened on new year's day for the past two years. That places great pressure on other retailers to follow suit, even though many of them do not want to. One of the most interesting revelations to emerge from the consultation process for my proposed bill is the number of large retailers that support the aim of the bill. It seems to me that those retailers believe that in this instance the market should not be left to its own devices.

Margo MacDonald is correct: the work of the Parliament should reflect the needs and aspirations of all the people of Scotland. My proposed bill to prevent large retailers from trading on Christmas day and new year's day would meet the needs of many of the thousands of shop workers. Mr Rumbles had an opportunity to respond to the consultation document, so perhaps he should have read it rather than making snide points from a sedentary position; that way he would have some knowledge of the issue. The proposed bill is supported by the general public, Scottish churches, trade unions and businesses, all of which see the fairness and sense in the proposal. I hope that when it comes before the Parliament, members will support it too.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

We now move to health.

Photo of Dr Jean Turner Dr Jean Turner Independent 10:21 am, 13th April 2005

We expect our Parliament to be easily accessible, to be transparent and truthful in its actions and, equally important, to communicate with the people, which includes engaging in dialogue and taking on board the need to sustain communities and allow them to develop and prosper. This week the Parliament has gone a long way towards meeting those requirements.

Today we are having the independents group debate and on Monday we had the wonderful experience of a public debate organised by the Health Committee as part of its workforce planning inquiry. It was a great idea and the feedback from members of the public and representatives of health organisations to whom I spoke in the intervals was that it was a first on which to build, so other committees could use the idea.

People were pleased to be asked to speak on the record. Many felt that it was the first time that they had been listened to, despite having attended many organised public involvement sessions within their communities. One person reminded me about a public meeting in Glasgow on whether we should have two or three accident and emergency departments. They thought that three had been decided on, but by the time the decision went to the health board, it turned out that two had been decided on, not three.

Naturally, everyone thought that the public debate was a great idea, but they wondered what would be the outcome of the day. It is clear that there is a shortage in the national health service workforce. It is difficult for staff to cover the work; we need more staff on board. It is essential to keep morale up in order to retain and recruit staff. The people who are holding the NHS together have my admiration. Ways around problems can be found if we are open-minded.

Last year, Stobhill casualty department faced accelerated closure because of the lack of trained staff and consultant supervision. However, it was saved by rotating staff through the Western and Royal infirmaries and increasing the experience of junior accident and emergency staff. The other week I spoke to a nurse in charge who was enthusiastic about how successful the new arrangements were. Rotating staff like working in the hospital and spread to other colleagues the news about how good the working environment is. The upgrades to the waiting area in the department were not expensive, but have raised morale and have been worth every penny.

Staff rotation could work in many areas. Consultants could rotate to remote areas to cover midwife-led units. It would be good for patients and midwives to know that help was at hand on the few occasions when low-risk patients become high-risk patients in a short time.

On Monday the word downgrade was highlighted, which has different meanings for different people. I spoke to someone about it after the debate. It was stated that it was offensive to midwives to say that midwife-led units represented a downgrade, with which I agree. It is not a downgrade for a service to be midwife-led; midwives are highly trained and great at what they do. However, it is a downgrade when trouble arises and the nearest consultant-led service is 100 or 200 miles away; it is foolish not to have the consultants on board. People do not wish to live in areas where they cannot have general medical, surgical, obstetric and gynaecological services.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Jean Turner mentioned the health debate that was held in the chamber on Monday. Does she agree that the Kerr report should take on board the contribution from Dr David Sedgwick from the Belford hospital, advocating the model of a rural general hospital?

Photo of Dr Jean Turner Dr Jean Turner Independent

Absolutely. Any young doctor working with David Sedgwick would be inspired and would wish to work with him in rural areas. We need to upgrade general surgical services and other general aspects in rural areas.

We could consider having rotation of staff not only in cities and outlying communities but further afield. Having listened to the debate on Commonwealth week before the recess and the harrowing tales of the lack of medical services in Malawi, I was reminded that many Scottish doctors have worked in Africa relatively recently. Universities and hospitals in Glasgow, and royal colleges, have connections with Kenya and other places. We could help ourselves as well as helping others by building a hospital or hospitals in countries such as Malawi and rotating our staff for training through them. That way we could sort out the lack of experience in our hospitals that we are being told about. That would require long-term thinking; it would be a big project that would need to be well supervised to gain the best benefits, but it would be better than taking trained nurses from poor parts of the world and our staff would gain experience, which is lacking at present.

On Monday during the public debate, Sir John Temple talked about the need to train more people. However, our training colleges cannot cope with the increased capacity that is required, which needs to be attended to urgently. I hope that the Executive will come back to us about that.

Last Friday I met the parents of a young person who was one of many who had the entrance requirements for medical school, but could not gain entry to any of the four medical schools in Scotland. That was a heartbreak—she was not the only one. We are turning away many Scottish people from our universities. Of the 2,000 people who apply to the medical school at the University of Glasgow about 240 are accepted.

When posts become vacant, we should try to fill them. Time is short—the participants on Monday found out that it is difficult to fit a million things into four or six minutes of speech. I implore the Executive to consider the problems of student loans and debt and housing. How can students, especially the medical students with whom I have been in touch, start their lives with £19,000 to £20,000 of debt? How can they afford mortgages when the houses that are being built in most areas cost £225,000? We used to have houses for medical staff and we should get them cheap mortgages, which banks used to offer to police and those who worked in the fire service.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 10:28 am, 13th April 2005

I sincerely thank the independents for the opportunity for this debate. As people say in Phuket in Thailand, from whence I came last weekend, "Khawp khun kha".

The Parliament sits for 35 weeks in the year and back-bench members such as me might have the opportunity to bring a subject for debate only once in three years. That is why the opportunity with which the independents have provided us today is so important. My contribution is intended to raise the awareness of politicians, the media and the public of the importance of skin cancer prevention in reducing the risk of sunburn for us all, especially for school children.

Children should be taught about skin cancer prevention in school. Authorities in Fife and Tayside have piloted the keep yer shirt on initiative through nurseries and other care providers for two to five-year-olds. However, skin cancer is no respecter of age; it affects all ages.

The UK's national skin cancer prevention campaign—sunsmart—has a website that gives information on skin cancer and how people can protect themselves from it. I urge anyone who travels to hot lands such as Thailand, Spain or Florida—or wherever else people go for sunshine—to consider the code that the campaign has developed. Each letter of "smart" stands for something:

"Stay in the shade 11-3pm"; "Make sure you never burn"; "Always cover up"; "Remember to take extra care of children"; "Then use factor 15+ sunscreen".

There is some argument about whether the minimum level of protection for children should be factor 15 or factor 16.

In addition, the code advises:

"Also report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your doctor".

In seminars that I have organised in the Parliament over the past couple of years, leading speakers such as Professor James Ferguson from Dundee's Ninewells hospital photobiology unit have warned that skin cancer is the cancer with the fastest growing incidence. Over the past 25 years, Scotland has had a 300 per cent increase in the incidence of malignant melanoma, which causes the deaths of 100 constituents in each MSP's constituency each year. In Scotland, around 12,000 patients each year are diagnosed with skin cancer. In highlighting the skin cancer epidemic, Dr Colin Fleming urged that the principal thrust in preventing the disease should be public education about the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, both from the sun and from sunbeds.

Each year, 100 people die from using sunbeds—it is a shame that Tommy Sheridan is not in the chamber today.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

When I worked as a reporter years ago, I reported on the sad, sorry state of service provision and sunbeds. Is the member aware of whether there has been any improvement in the regulations on when the bulbs and tubes and so on need to be changed? They were absolutely lethal.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

The member makes a critical point about the need for controls, which is an issue that I will come to.

Plans to stop sunbeds being used by under-16s were agreed by the Sunbed Association and skin cancer experts from Cancer Research UK. At a recent summit, the two organisations discussed how the tanning industry can be encouraged to adhere to stricter self-regulation in the wake of concern over sunbed use. Both the charity and the association are keen to ban unmanned, coin-operated sunbed salons. They also want all tanning salons to be registered with the Sunbed Association and—this picks up Margo MacDonald's point—to use only approved sunbeds. Both organisations have called on salons to insist that sunbed users read information that offers advice to people with different skin types.

Sarah Hiom co-ordinates Cancer Research UK's sunsmart campaign, which is a joint initiative with the Government to raise awareness of skin cancer and to encourage people to protect their skin in the sun. She has welcomed the Sunbed Association's willingness to regulate the industry. She said:

"Cancer Research UK feels to call for a ban on sunbeds altogether would be unrealistic and not possible to police. It may even drive the industry 'underground' and result in only the least reputable tanning salons remaining.

We would certainly like to see clear and strict guidelines for use wherever sunbed facilities are offered. This should include a list of those groups of people most at risk from sunbed use and strongly advise them against it.

We would like to see an EU wide Code of Practice developed by a representative group of health professionals, scientists and members of the sunbed industry. We would also like to see all sunbeds manufactured and sold in Europe bearing a permanent statement warning of the risks associated with use."

I am sure that members will join me in making the strongest possible appeal to Scottish Executive ministers and to the members of the Parliament's European and External Relations Committee. We need to set a high priority on putting pressure on our colleagues in the European Parliament to achieve those aims.

The secretary of the Sunbed Association, Kathy Banks, has welcomed Cancer Research UK's support. She said:

"The Association is committed to self-regulation and responsible use of sunbeds. As part of our Code of Practice under-16s are not allowed to use sunbeds. We know there are non-member operators out there who ignore some or, even worse, all safety guidelines. Customers need to be given proper advice and information about using sunbeds responsibly."

The Scottish Executive could, and should, set that as a clear priority in its work plan. It should develop the priority in partnership with local authority environmental health officers.

I will skip much of what I had intended to say and come to my final important point. At the skin care conference that I organised in the Hub in Edinburgh last April, I persuaded my colleague Dennis Canavan—who was born in Cowdenbeath in my constituency—to speak about his son Paul, who died of malignant melanoma at the age of 16. Everyone who attended the conference was visibly moved when they heard Dennis speak about his and his family's loss. He was persuaded to speak once again a few weeks ago. I know how hard it has been for him to speak on each occasion, but I also know that he believes that more people might take heed of campaign warnings if they understood what such a loss has meant to him and how it came to happen. I passionately believe that the clear message must be that it is critical that we educate our young people on the risks and possible dangers that they face by not taking preventive action.

I thank members for allowing me to give an important message on a topic that will make a difference to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 10:36 am, 13th April 2005

I congratulate the independents group on its clear and concise motion, which gives us an opportunity to take stock of why we are here and what the people who put us here expect of us. We all agree that our primary role is to reflect and address the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people, but we differ on how we should set about trying to satisfy those demands.

I have spent most of my adult life in or around Scotland's national health service. During that time, I have seen enormous changes in lifestyle, diagnostics technology, drug treatments and surgical and non-invasive techniques. I have also seen changes in attitudes to health and in patients' expectations.

Today, people survive previously fatal diseases, thanks to chemotherapy, transplantation and advanced surgical and radiological procedures. The replacement of worn-out hip and knee joints is commonplace. Clogged-up arteries are opened up by angioplasty and bypass operations. Thanks to advances in drug treatments, many people live healthy lives despite having chronic diseases such as asthma or one of the host of auto-immune diseases. As a result, many more people survive into old age and are increasingly supported by the resources of the NHS.

Alongside those developments have come changes in lifestyles. Most women now work, as well as men. Convenience foods have largely taken over from home cooking. Our children are entertained by the computer rather than by outdoor play. Cars have replaced feet as a means of transport, even for short distances. We are also exposed to more chemicals than ever before in the air that we breathe and in the food that we eat. The pace of life brings stress and families are not the stable units that they used to be. Increasingly, alcohol and drugs are used to escape from the problems of life. As a result, we have seen a rise in the incidence of obesity, cirrhosis of the liver, allergies and type 2 diabetes—with all its complications—along with a multitude of other consequences of our modern way of life.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

Given the member's comments on the effects of pollution and car use on the nation's health, will she join me in opposing the construction of the M74 northern extension? Will she also support our free school meals bill to promote a better and healthier nation?

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

I agree that air pollution is a problem, but it can be dealt with by developments in modern cars. I believe that we need a transport infrastructure to maintain our economy, so I do not agree with the member on the M74.

The issues that I have highlighted put an enormous strain on our health service at a time when health professionals also want a modern lifestyle that includes leisure time, career breaks and early retirement packages that were unheard of even 20 years ago.

The NHS has been a wonderful institution for many years and has coped with demands that were unimaginable at the time of its inception. However, it is now creaking at the seams and cannot go on as it did in previous years. Its centrally driven, target-focused organisation swallows vast sums of the nation's resource—much of which disappears into the bureaucracy and administration that results from a target-driven culture—while patients wait longer and longer for the treatments that they need. No one can accuse the Executive of not putting money into the NHS, given the unprecedented sums that have been invested, but I am in no doubt that the present culture needs to change before we reap the benefits of that investment.

Targets should go. Health professionals, rather than politicians, should have the major say in running the service. NHS patients should have the right, in consultation with their general practitioners, to choose any NHS hospital for their treatment. We should be working to create a genuine partnership between the NHS and the independent sector. Health and community care should be brought together with a unified budget—ideally, within the NHS—and more power should be devolved to individual hospitals by giving them foundation status within the health service. By empowering the professionals and focusing on the needs of patients, we are much more likely to achieve our aspiration to have a health service that is available to everyone wherever they live, that is free at the point of need regardless of the ability to pay, that is of the highest quality and that puts the needs of patients first. Sadly, however, for many people in our poorest communities and for many people with chronic ill health, the reality is far removed from that ideal, with patchy provision of services and a postcode lottery of diagnosis and treatment.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The member has plenty of time.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I have listened to what Nanette Milne has said about the NHS but I wonder how her plans to cut the NHS budget to fund private patients will help the people about whom she is concerned.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

Mr Lyon has had this matter explained to him many times. We do not see the situation in the way that he describes it at all. We are not cutting the NHS budget.

Some of us were fortunate enough to be here on Monday for the public debate on reshaping the NHS, which was attended by patients, campaigners and health service professionals from across the spectrum. It was clear that people in this country aspire to have a safe, accessible and sustainable health service that is delivered locally wherever possible, with centralisation accepted as necessary for highly specialised treatments only. There is clearly a demand for more generalist physicians and surgeons, for increased numbers of the range of associated health professionals, for parity of esteem for those professionals and for more meaningful involvement of the public in the planning and organisation of services. There was also a strong plea for more efficient management and a reduction of waste in the NHS.

We heard a clear message on Monday. People want to retain their local services wherever possible, particularly in the more remote and rural areas, where facilities have developed over the years around communities. With more imaginative thinking, such as taking health professionals to patients instead of the other way round, and with greater use of techniques such as telemedicine, quite sophisticated treatments can be delivered safely at a local level to the satisfaction of patients and their families, in a way that will relieve pressure on the more centralised facilities.

There is a great willingness among all those with an interest in health to pull together to solve the problems that are currently facing the NHS. I hope that the Executive will listen to the voice of the people, as we heard it here on Monday, and work with them to achieve a health service that can respond to the needs of all who wish to use it and which will be the pride of Scotland, giving satisfaction to all who work within it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

We move now to the part of the debate that will focus on education and sport.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 10:43 am, 13th April 2005

I am delighted that Margo MacDonald and the other independent members decided on this form of debate. We have heard some interesting and informative speeches that should give us all pause for thought when we are deciding what we need to discuss in the ensuing weeks and months. That is why, as the education spokesperson for the Green party in the Parliament, I am happy to introduce some thoughts on education.

I was lucky enough to have my first teaching post in a small junior secondary school in Fife. The head teacher at that school was a man called R F Mackenzie—Bob, to his friends. The ethos and the values of that school challenged a lot that was going on in Scottish education at the time. Quite rightly, most people in Scotland felt that we had one of the best education systems in the world and in many ways, we did. However, we still had the belt. For the information of the young people in the public gallery, teachers in primary and secondary schools used to have the right to take a long, stiff strip of leather and assault their pupils with it whenever they were displeased with them. In some schools it was overused and in other schools—including Braehead, my first school—there were policies that discouraged its use. R F Mackenzie led the fight that ended in 1975 with the raising of the school leaving age, which was shortly followed by the abolition of the use of the belt in Scottish schools.

R F Mackenzie also challenged the education system's over-reliance on measuring its success through results, productivity and tests, tests, tests. At the same time—in the mid 1960s—the Newsom report, "Half our Future", came out. At that time, the school leaving age was 14, and half the young people in Scotland's schools were leaving without any form of certification. However, instead of people asking what education is for and why those young people left school at 14, it was decided simply to ensure that they got certificates. That is what drove educational development until the middle of the 1980s. Since then, of course, the education system has been modified and people have accepted that certification is not absolutely everything. However, I contend that we should still question the extent to which certification drives what happens in Scottish education.

For example, with regard to international competition, we measure only numeracy and literacy—that is it. We measure only how many people we get through those subjects and the standards that they have achieved, rather than what young people's qualities are when they leave school, whether they have empathy and are self-confident or whether their time at school has been a wonderful and expanding experience for them.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

As a former school teacher, I agree with much of what Robin Harper is saying. However, does he share my concern that we might be throwing babies out with the bathwater, in that some of our pupils have difficulties with literacy that pupils did not have in what Robin Harper might call the bad old days, when teaching methods delivered the ability to read, write and count?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

My memory of the children that I taught is that they had the same problems with literacy that children have now. I am sorry but, every decade, someone stands up and says that children are not as literate and numerate as they were in the previous decade. If that were the case, however—if those who have made that claim in each of the previous 10 decades were correct—by now, our country would be innumerate and totally illiterate.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I do not agree with that point entirely. It is true that the popular newspapers have dropped their average reading age. They know their readers' abilities.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

You have two minutes, Mr Harper.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

My goodness. I will be brief, in that case.

I have paid tribute to R F MacKenzie—I would love to be able to do so further in a full debate on education—and I also want to pay tribute to the late John Smyth. Resting on the Executive's shelves are several of his reports on sustainability in education. John Smyth made one of the greatest contributions to our thinking about sustainability in education—probably the greatest contribution in recent years. I implore the Executive to take down those reports. We are now entering the United Nations decade of sustainability in education. The Executive should try to find ways in which sustainability can be incorporated in the curriculum—in geography, history, modern studies and the sciences and in the ethos of schools. Great progress is already being made in relation to eco-schools. I will have to leave the debate early because I have been invited to join many other people at a primary school in Muirkirk to celebrate the building of an eco-greenhouse out of old plastic lemonade bottles. I am very excited about that and fully intend to be there.

As expected, I make a plea to the Executive on the subject of outdoor education and sport. One hundred and thirteen school playing fields have been built on since 1996; that is an appalling record. The problem did not start in 1996 but has being going on for decades. People have not been paying enough attention to the loss of green space in Scotland.

I make another plea on behalf of outdoor education: if we are going to question the ethos of education, we should recognise that outdoor education delivers self-confidence, empathy, team-working skills and the ability to communicate in ways that no other subject can deliver, yet it has been going downhill for the past 20 years. Perhaps we will come back with good answers—I think that we will be able to see some of the gaps that exist.

Why do the police use outdoor education? Until the Executive got rid of the Airborne project, why did the justice system use outdoor education and why do businesses use it?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Please wind up. You are a minute and a half over time, Mr Harper.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I am terribly sorry, Presiding Officer.

There are a lot of other things that I would love to throw into the debate. I plead for a more open debate on the purpose and ethos—rather than the nuts and bolts—of education in Scotland.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 10:51 am, 13th April 2005

I also welcome the opportunity given by the independent MSPs to take part in a debate on the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland.

One of the greatest hopes, if not one of the greatest aspirations, for people in Scotland is for national sporting success. I begin by congratulating the Scots who have led our celebrations in recent years, particularly our Olympic medallists and the future stars who took part in the recent Commonwealth youth games. I wish well the young Scots who will be taking part in the Special Olympics that are to be held in Glasgow in July. I am sure that they will do Scotland proud.

Sport is without doubt an essential part of Scottish life and I support the Executive when it says that progress has been made in increasing participation in physical activity. There are now 339 active school sports co-ordinators and 191 active primary school sports co-ordinators. An important point is that 211 special educational needs sports co-ordinators are also now working in local authorities.

The Executive has indicated its desire to move towards providing greater access to physical education and I would welcome comment from the Executive—perhaps in the future, if not in today's debate—as to how that work is being progressed, how the numbers of PE teachers are being increased and how the infrastructure of sport is to be developed to allow that progress to happen. However, I would go further than the Executive has done and ask it to reconsider the role of PE and physical activity in relation to our primary school pupils. I firmly believe that we should make physical activity a part of daily life as early on as possible, and there is a case for having some physical activity and sport in the curriculum from the earliest primary school years. I understand the difficulties of doing that but, in the long term, we have to consider such an approach.

The Executive must also consider how it works with parents to encourage them to take responsibility for increasing their children's participation in sport and physical activity. How do we get our children away from the PlayStation, out of the house and into the sports club? Parents have a role in supporting their children by taking them to activities and volunteering to work in sports clubs.

I move on to talk about team sports, because the country has begun to lose its focus on that area. The big two team sports—football and rugby—are at a crossroads in their development. I remember 1978—Kenny MacAskill probably remembers it better than I do—and the hope and vision that we had for Scotland. They did not lead to much success but there was a good feeling around. I am from the Borders, and Scotland winning the grand slam at Twickenham gave me a lift. We have lost that feeling, and Wales has shown us what can be done. I remember watching the Welsh team through the difficult years—and then I watched the team this year. The Welsh have shown what can be done through good organisation and work. The time has now come to stop the talking and to sort out the organisation of the big two sports. In that regard, I welcome the report on football from my colleague Richard Baker.

Looking down the food chain, if I may put it that way, there is a lack of quality information about who is participating in sport. When we ask for information about how many people are taking part in team or individual sports, the information does not exist. That gap must be plugged. We simply do not know how many of our children are participating in school sports, how they are making the transition into clubs and whether clubs are able to cope with increased numbers.

There are examples that show how a good structure has worked. In my constituency, 11 of the 15 members of Biggar rugby team came from Biggar High School, which shows what can be done with a good structure that moves people through primary and secondary school into community-based clubs. I ask the Executive to consider reviewing the existing provision of out-of-school sports, to ensure that the necessary co-ordination is done better and to report on the delivery of all out-of-hours school sport. If that is not done, we will miss an opportunity. I ask the Executive to give that suggestion positive consideration.

I go on to abuse the final minute of my speech. The area of education that I want to talk about is that of educating corporate Scotland about its responsibility to its employees and others. I ask the Executive to move more quickly than it has done to introduce a law on corporate culpable homicide. I understand the complexity and difficulty of that subject but I hope that the Executive will announce the membership of the expert group as a matter of urgency, that that expert group will report and that we will be able to get on with consulting and legislating. That would mean that by 2007, when the Parliament will be dissolved, the gap in the law will have been plugged and families will not have to face difficulties in holding to account those whom they believe have caused the deaths of their loved ones.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 10:57 am, 13th April 2005

It goes without saying that in addressing the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland we need to know exactly what those needs and aspirations are. Of course, the aspirations of MSPs should be to serve the people to the best of their ability at all times. The words on the mace contain aspirations, aims and purposes that are worthy and certainly should be implemented: justice, integrity, wisdom and compassion.

However, there are many other aims and aspirations and I agree entirely with Karen Gillon that national sporting success is an aim that we should endorse at all times. We recognise that sport, music and extra-curricular activities contribute greatly to the development of young persons. I am not sure that we would go along with her on corporate culpable homicide so readily, as the Health and Safety Executive can make recommendations for prosecutions, but the area is worthy of consideration to make certain that companies fulfil their moral responsibilities.

One of the needs and aspirations in which we believe strongly is providing an education that will be interesting, fascinating and of permanent value to all children. I start from the premise that education should be for all and that everyone should have his or her place in the sun, depending on his or her inclination, aptitude and needs. I had such thoughts in mind when some members of the Education Committee visited the smart young people project in Perth, which aims to assist young people who, for whatever reason, have become disengaged at school. That project, which is run by the YMCA, is particularly impressive and it is of considerable benefit that skills are being made available in an atmosphere that encourages learning and respect for those concerned. I mention that project because its hallmark is success and we should have the moral courage to build on such successes and extend them whenever and wherever appropriate.

I would, of course, commend the Executive for its dedication to the cause of education funding. However, some Scots schools are still failing some of our young people. The ideal of the comprehensive school is of pupils from all backgrounds and abilities being taught together in an ethos of common purpose. However, in spite of increased spending and the aspirations of parents for their children, half of Scots 14-year-olds do not meet the Government's standard for writing and a third do not meet the Government's standard for reading.

The inequality caused by comprehensive schools is demonstrated by the enormous gulf in attainment between the best and the least well performing state schools. In 2004, the top performing state school, Jordanhill School, achieved a 70 per cent pass rate for highers, while Wester Hailes Education Centre, for example, achieved a 0 per cent pass rate.

Under our proposals, choice would be considerably increased. Parents would be able to select the school best suited to the needs and talents of their child. We would expand the choice available to them by providing funding to increase the number of places. We would encourage more specialist schools and more faith schools, and provide a capital element in the payments to schools to enable popular schools to expand and new schools to open. Our direct funding of Scotland's schools system would, we believe, raise standards for all. We have to trust parents to choose what is right for their children.

It was the statesman Lord Brougham who said:

"Education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave."

I am glad that the Scots have traditionally been impossible to enslave and I am delighted that education in Scotland has always broadened people's horizons and provided a passport to jobs and fulfilment.

My hope for young Scots is that we will have an education system that provides greater opportunity and more choice, accompanied by higher standards, thus allowing all young people to fulfil their potential.

It was, I think, Cecil Rhodes who said on his death bed:

"So much to do, and so little time."

Happily, we are not in that situation. However, our commitment to education must be total, so that not only our children but our children's children and those of our countrymen and women should have much better opportunities than we had ourselves.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I rarely disagree with Lord James, but Cecil Rhodes was remarkably prescient: we do indeed have so much to do, and so little time. We are significantly behind the clock and I will have to cut some speakers from the debate, which will affect the party balance.

We move now to the communities, planning and finance section of the debate.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 11:03 am, 13th April 2005

This is the first time that a plenary meeting has been held on a Wednesday morning in our new Parliament. Our motion will, I hope, bring another first. It calls on the Parliament to consider and then meet

"the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland."

One of the aims of the motion is to encourage a proper debate on a range of issues that currently affect people in Scotland.

I formed the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party because I believed that none of the other political parties was attempting to address the concerns or meet the aspirations of senior citizens and pensioners in Scotland. People of my age are not a homogeneous group. The way earlier life has treated the members of my generation will have a major impact on their needs in later life. For many, a big concern may be their becoming ill or unfit and therefore unable to live independently in their own home after struggling to pay their mortgage for 25 years or more.

The recent Scottish Executive publication "Homes for Scotland's People" was a well-crafted production. In his foreword, the Minister for Communities, Malcolm Chisholm, encapsulated in one short sentence the aspiration of the whole nation. He said:

"Everyone has the right to a home—a space of their own where they can enjoy privacy and family life."

That is an aspiration of older people. My only criticism of the document was that it lacked the vision of the green paper in the name of Dr Stephen Ladyman MP—"The New Vision for Adult Social Care". That paper is currently out for consultation at Westminster.

Dr Ladyman is a huge admirer of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's pioneering Hartrigg Oaks development near York. That development is a continuing care retirement community and the first of its kind. It consists of 152 bungalows in 21 acres of land around a community block that includes a library, a spa, a restaurant, an information technology room, a hairdresser, and so on. Each house has access to home help and nursing care. There is also a 42-bed care home in the centre of the site if residents can no longer cope. Any retired person can apply to buy a bungalow and prices are set at local market values. Money is given back if residents leave or die.

Dr Ladyman's long-term vision of care for the elderly is a tiered system. First, as in Scotland, people can have their home adapted to enable them to stay there and can receive services to make them feel safe. Then, there is sheltered housing.

Dr Ladyman's next option is his innovative extra-care, super-sheltered flat, in which people would have their own front door and access to eating and care facilities, and a small and manageable garden. He says that, as more extra-care flats are built, economies of scale will lower costs, and he adds:

"In twenty years time, this will be seen as a better alternative to residential care homes, giving independence rather than dependence."

Seniors would be able to sell their existing home to finance the purchase of the extra-care flat. In the vast majority of cases, the flat would be much cheaper than a traditional home.

In the fullness of time, when people no longer required the flat, it would be bought back by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; thus it would be part of their estate and duly willed to their family. Councils would also be encouraged to purchase a number of these extra-care flats for leasing on a straightforward rental basis to people in their community.

Those ideas are light years ahead of the uncaring sale of a senior citizen's home, which they have paid for throughout their life, in order to pay for their residential care. Dr Ladyman is offering an acceptable alternative, which may address the housing needs of an aging population.

I have just accepted an invitation to speak at a conference hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University. The conference will attempt to address the barriers to sustainable housing for older people. I hope that the exchange between academics, representatives of the construction industry, voluntary sector service users and politicians will formulate new alternatives to the status quo.

The second issue that I would like to raise has a direct bearing on our new Parliament. Back in 1997, and earlier, Canon Kenyon Wright preached consensus. He spoke of the "new politics of consensus" that would prevail in this place with the introduction of devolution in Scotland. It is a magnificent concept but, sadly, it has been largely ignored by all parties.

In some parliamentary committees, consensus has been enjoyed. However, that is not enough. Consider health: sickness, injury and ill health know no political boundaries, but when our Minister for Health and Community Care is questioned by the Opposition parties, I guarantee that he will be quizzed on MRSA in hospitals and that we will hear the usual screams and screeches resounding through the chamber, demanding, "When will the minister resign?" It will be negativity and crass party politics at their very lowest ebb. Andy Kerr is, without question, working desperately hard to find solutions to MRSA and other problems. Now is the time, and here is the place, for consensus to kick in. He needs help, not barracking.

Every MSP in every party in Holyrood is capable of making a positive contribution to the health problems that confront our nation. There is no such thing as a Conservative cancer, Lib Dem ligaments, a Labour liver dialysis machine, or an SNP sickness of any form. Westminster yah-boo politics is not the solution to our health problems in Scotland. Why on earth can we not all start acting like adults and attack all the problems of the NHS on a consensus basis, free from the fear of party whips or political dogma?

We can all contribute to the success of our national health service in Scotland. Let us put party politics on the back burner and all work together on all health problems for the common good.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I call Margaret Ewing. I ask members to stick to six minutes.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party 11:09 am, 13th April 2005

I think that members are all having difficulty watching the clock this morning.

The independents rightly have the opportunity to hold a debate in the Parliament on a subject of their choice and to project their policies and ideas into the Parliament. I recognise such a debate as being part of the democratic process and I hope that it will not be an unusual occasion but will be built into the procedures of the Parliament.

However, I find the motion to be motherhood and apple pie. It is difficult to disagree with it. I do not think that any elected member, be they in the Parliament, at Westminster, in councils, in community councils or in any other aspect of public service, sees their role as being anything other than trying to meet the needs and aspirations of the people in their communities.

The Deputy Minister for Parliamentary Business noted how life, hopes and aspirations might change in 20 to 30 years. Perhaps the Executive is finally getting round to taking a strategic approach. Instead of a strategic viewpoint being taken on the various issues that have been highlighted by members, the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people have often been ignored and what we have seen is a focus on task forces, review groups, spin and today's headlines. The attitude that is adopted is that we should worry about tomorrow when it comes along because the election will be over then.

In my experience of more than 20 years of being an elected member in one guise or another—I think that I speak as the most experienced elected member in the chamber today—I have realised that there is no magic wand and that I will not change the world overnight. I believed that I could do that when I arrived in Westminster at the tender age of 28, until I picked up my first postbag and realised that I was dealing with potholes rather than the peace of the world.

I believe that the Parliament has an opportunity, which did not exist at Westminster, to develop a sense of maturity. We are in the midst of a general election and all the political anoraks and commentators are churning out statistics that are mind-boggling and seem to have more black holes in them than Dr Who's galaxies. People are being turned off. They are switching off and zapping out of the political dilemma that we face.

If we are to address people's needs and aspirations, we must question ourselves, but there has been very little of that in Parliament this morning. We have not questioned ourselves about the humility that we should show in our approach to those needs and aspirations. We can all adopt certain causes and many of those have been mentioned throughout the chamber today, but we know that it takes hard work, commitment and dedication over the long term to even chip away at some of the corners of existing regulation and legislation.

I have chipped away over the years on warm homes. I have to question myself because I have welcomed everything that has been done at Westminster and in Scotland on the issue, but last year there was an increase in the number of people who died from cold-related illnesses. In the UK, a 63-year-old man's body lay undiscovered in his council flat for nearly six years. We must address those issues and ensure that such circumstances do not arise again.

We must have the political will to eradicate many of the problems that have been addressed this morning. We have talked about issues relating to justice. Although the press gallery is currently empty, I am sure that people may be watching the debate on their monitors. People talk about yobs, but I want to mention a group of young people in my constituency who have their own tee-shirts, which say "yobs". I asked them about it and they said that they are "youth outside buildings". That is how they feel. They raised money to revamp their community hall, but they still feel that they are kept out of it. We must be very careful in the language that we use when we talk about the young people of Scotland. The huge majority of young people in Scotland are very committed to their communities and to doing things for them.

I think that Jean Turner is the only member who has mentioned international responsibilities, in respect of providing decent basic health to our friends in Africa and elsewhere on the planet. The Parliament has an international strategy and a budget to assist, albeit in a small way. However, there are seven ministers in Scotland who all have bits of responsibilities for international development.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I believe that we should have one dedicated minister and that we should not have to try to raise questions somewhere in general questions but should have specific opportunities to deal with European and external relations on behalf of the Parliament, because the young people of Scotland are hugely interested in international affairs.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

If we took a step in that direction we would reflect not only their aspirations but our own. I urge every member—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No. You must close now. I have cut your sound off. We must move on.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 11:16 am, 13th April 2005

Colleagues will not hitherto have realised what an important role I play in the Liberal party. The fact that our leader has seen fit to adopt my Christian name as that of his eldest son shows my importance in the hierarchy. However, today I am not speaking as a member of the hierarchy but merely putting forward a personal view.

I support the idea of having debates such as this in which members can put forward ideas. Ideas are in short supply and we should air any that we have. The idea that I will pursue is that we currently neglect the good grass under our own feet because we think that there is better grass on the other side of the fence. There are huge talents in our communities that we are not developing. We must address that issue much more seriously. Good work is going on in various places. Whether we call it community enterprise or the social economy, many good things are happening, but we must get a grip of the whole issue nationally and encourage such developments.

I have a habit of going on about the need to fund the voluntary sector properly through core funding and the funding of successful projects rather than compelling the sector always to dream up new projects. We can develop that idea and use the voluntary sector, but in a commercial way. There can be various combinations of commercial enterprise and grants. Different approaches are possible, but they all involve partnerships between the public sector, the commercial sector and the social enterprise sector.

An initiative such as futurebuilders is a good Government programme that tries to address the issue, but I think that there is not enough political drive behind the approach. Very small businesses are not seen as part of any particular portfolio and community development and the commercial aspect of trying to get communities to work together are not properly addressed.

I will give some examples. I am not saying that they are better than others, as there is a range of ways of doing things. The Sirolli Institute, which I know is speaking to ministers and officials, goes in for enterprise facilitation. The idea is that instead of going down and telling people what to do, it finds out what people in the community want to do, establishes what their dreams are and helps them to make those dreams a reality. They are given the necessary skill and support in the community so that we get genuine grass-roots, bottom-up development—that may sound like all the right clichés, but it actually happens. The guy who is involved has been doing it for 30 years and it works. That attitude could be adopted much more.

There are also groups such as the Scottish social enterprise coalition, which has developed ideas about public social partnerships. The approach is excellent and brings together local authorities and local voluntary groups to consider the gaps in the provision of community or social work in their areas and to work together in a co-ordinated way to fill the gaps. In some quarters, the view remains too much that there is enmity between the public and voluntary sectors, but the sectors must work together. There are activities that make good use of people who can work but need support to do so, which is illustrated by the work of the Shetland Soap Company—the minister knows about that—and the Soap Co Edinburgh. If members walk a quarter of a mile up the road from here they will be able to buy soap made by those good projects. We need far more such projects.

Near Dalkeith, McSense Community Business has built up a network of local, commercial organisations that are managed by a board of volunteer, unpaid directors. McSense's success has enabled it to let premises to people who do many good things, such as renovating furniture, and the organisation argues that we need a national community business network that would help and support local businesses of that type. It is regrettable that the English are doing that much better than we are and have better procurement arrangements. It is vital that national and local government procurement policy enables small businesses to secure their fair share of activity, which does not currently happen. There is a tendency to regard best value as being provided merely by the cheapest option, which is dangerous. We must take an enlightened approach to best value and consider the benefits to the community as well as the straight cash.

Recycling provides particular opportunities for community activity. People can work together to collect electrical goods, furniture or other items, discard things that do not work but mend, renovate and re-sell the good pieces. There is a huge sphere in which recycling can happen.

We must ensure that we put real political muscle into funding voluntary sector and community enterprises and into helping such enterprises to build up our communities from the bottom up.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP 11:22 am, 13th April 2005

Like other members, I welcome the independents' approach to the debate, which has provided an opportunity for us to consider an eclectic collection of themes that reflect the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people.

I will focus on one aspiration, which was highlighted this week when a BBC Scotland opinion poll revealed that 79 per cent of the population of Scotland support greater redistribution of wealth in the country. I share that aspiration and the Scottish Socialist Party's programme has been designed with that aim in mind. The poll clearly shows that more and more people think that there are obscene inequalities in the world, in Britain and in Scotland. I have no doubt that the tide of political opinion is more determined than ever that those inequalities should be addressed, as I think will be made clear in Edinburgh in July, when more than 200,000 people take to the streets to express that opinion. People are increasingly angry that it remains the case that one in six children in Africa dies before they are five years old, that 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and—as many members know—that one in three children in Britain lives in households in poverty.

Perhaps the only day of the year on which it is worth giving £1 to Rupert Murdoch is the day on which The Sunday Times publishes its rich list. Last Sunday the newspaper published the list, which showed that the money exists to eradicate such obscenities if there was the political will to use it. The list showed clearly that the rich are becoming richer than ever, while more people live in poverty than has ever been the case. Some 3 billion people live on an income that is less than that of the richest 300 people. Indeed, Britain's richest man, the Labour Party donor Lakshmi Mittal, has a personal fortune of £14 billion—more than half the Scottish Parliament's budget to cater for 5 million people. The top 10 richest people in Britain are worth £54 billion. All the statistics show that the gap between rich and poor has doubled in the past 40 years. We should highlight the fact that such inequalities are not natural disasters like tsunamis but are man made. The problem must be addressed and the solution involves redistribution and interventions to change current unfair mechanisms and practices.

Redistribution used to be part of the Labour credo. In 1997, when Labour came to power, the richest 1 per cent of the population was worth £355 billion, but by 2005 the figure had more than doubled, to £797 billion. I cannot help thinking that if Robin Hood was around today, new Labour would probably have him up on an antisocial behaviour order. Cathy Jamieson might ask, "Mr Hood, you have been caught taking from the rich and giving to the poor. How disgraceful. How do you plead?" I am sure that Robin Hood would say, "Not guilty," to which Cathy Jamieson would reply, "Not guilty? But you were caught red-handed by Strathclyde police in the middle of the forest, stealing from the rich and handing money out to the poor." Robin Hood was a sharp tack, so he would reply, "Aye, but they stole it fae us in the first place." Robin Hood had a sense of history and a sense of justice and this week's BBC Scotland poll proves that not a jury in the country would convict him on such a charge.

Yesterday, Tesco announced record profits of £2 billion. I cannot help thinking that the company amassed that fortune by charging us a fortune for our messages and paying suppliers and staff a pittance. The announcement followed announcements of record profits for BP, Shell, Esso and Texaco, which can perhaps be explained by the fact that petrol costs 86p per litre—yet we were told that the war was not about oil. The Royal Bank of Scotland also declared record profits recently. The bank charges us a fortune to get access to our own money and makes a tidy sum out of the national health service, because it owns Edinburgh's new royal infirmary—at least we know why it is called the royal infirmary.

The reality is that we must redistribute the wealth and profits of such corporations. When Mrs Thatcher was in power, corporation tax on profits was 52p in the pound; under Mr Blair, the figure is 40p. We should make the rich pay their share for a change. The programme for redistribution includes higher taxes for the rich, a national minimum wage of £8 per hour and a basic state pension of £160 per week. We must also abolish the council tax and ensure that there are jobs for all. We need such measures to end the inequality and poverty that exist in Scotland.

Last week I spoke at a meeting in Bellshill, not far from the birthplace of James Keir Hardie, who 100 years ago talked about such political change. At meetings in Bellshill and elsewhere he would say, "See thae Liberals? They don't give a monkey's about working people. We need a party of our own." If James Keir Hardie and the railway workers' and miners' unions that joined him in establishing the Labour Party were around today, they would say that the Labour Party appears not to give a monkey's about working people in poverty and that we need another party of our own that supports public ownership of industry, utilities and services in the economy, to ensure that national wealth is shared by all.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 11:29 am, 13th April 2005

I was interviewed yesterday by a student who is writing a thesis on the early years of the Scottish Parliament and in particular on one of the Parliament's founding principles: equality of opportunity. She asked me what we had done and could do to promote such equality, but I could not prise my thoughts from the blight of poverty. Equality of opportunity might be a founding principle of the Parliament, but people cannot begin to grasp opportunities if they live in the postcode poverty that predetermines their educational success, health, lifespan, home, home life and very happiness. I say to James Douglas-Hamilton that the answer is not Tory passports for people to buy their way out, but the eradication of the poverty that trapped them there in the first place.

The facts are that in Scotland one in five of our pensioners and one in three of our children lives in poverty. In parts of Glasgow, males have 10 years shaved off their lives simply because of where they live. A pensioner in Scotland on the basic state pension gets only £79.50 per week. Of course, there is always the pension credit, but unfortunately we have a ruthlessly cruel benefits system and at least a third of those who are entitled to claim pension credit do not do so. Some 50,000 pensioners in Scotland do not claim the benefit to which they are entitled. What Scottish pensioners want, to answer their needs and aspirations, is a decent basic state pension that is not means tested.

Some 58 per cent of our pensioners live in fuel poverty. In Scotland, three times more deaths are excess winter deaths than in England and Wales. It is estimated that in Scotland 3,000 people each year die from living in a cold home in an energy-rich country. Where is the equality of opportunity for people who live in a cold home, whose choice is between food and fuel?

Of course, the Parliament has some achievements. Margaret Ewing is quite right; the Parliament is chipping away, with free personal care and concessionary fares throughout Scotland, both of which were whole-heartedly supported here. However, we do not have the power to tackle systemic poverty. I am sure that I will bore members, but I return to the fact that without the powers of an independent Parliament we cannot touch the poverty that blights the lives of one in five of our pensioners and one in three of our children. During the election campaign, I watch Westminster politicians trample all over devolution when we should be trampling all over reserved issues. They talk, from Westminster and in the broadcast media, about policies on crime, justice, health and education as if they are UK policies, when in fact they are English policies. We must resist that and fight against the erosion of devolution. At present, we are not doing that, let alone eroding reserved matters.

I have a message for the pensioners, for those on low incomes and indeed for those who generate wealth, because without generating wealth we cannot redistribute it to those who are in need. They must realise that without the powers of a real national Parliament—powers to match this glamorous building—Scottish pensioners will continue to die prematurely from winter cold, and children in peripheral, decaying estates will continue to be born to fail. With independence, they have a chance to be born to succeed and to have the equality of opportunity that we should hold dear, which an independent Scotland with an empowered Parliament could deliver. Until then, I fear that the poor will always be with us. Perhaps not though. Thankfully, we discovered in a poll today that 46 per cent of the Scottish people support independence. That is the way to eradicate poverty in Scotland.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent 11:33 am, 13th April 2005

Presiding Officer, I am grateful that you were able to squeeze me into the debate. I am also grateful to my colleague Margo MacDonald, who gave up some of her time to allow me to make a contribution to the debate, in which we as MSPs raise the issues that our constituents have told us are of concern to them. That is the whole point of the motion; it is unfortunate that the lead speaker for the SNP did not understand that.

I ask ministers to consider whether it would be appropriate to change planning legislation to prevent development on playing fields. I will refer to a specific case in North Ayrshire that illustrates exactly what I am talking about.

We are all aware that in recent years there have been problems with playing fields being sold off to private developers, but we also have a new problem. In North Ayrshire, the local authority has proposals to build on playing fields. The Laighdykes playing fields are the only playing fields in Saltcoats and Ardrossan, yet North Ayrshire Council proposes to build a new school on them, which would obviously diminish the playing space that is available to the people of Saltcoats and Ardrossan.

I stress that the local people who have come together as Laighdykes residents group, who organised a public meeting that was attended by more than 500 people and a march through Saltcoats that was attended by 700 people, do not object to having a new school. They are quite happy about getting a new school, although they have concerns about the method of financing it. However, their main concern is about saving Laighdykes playing fields.

The reason why local people oppose the plan so strongly is that Laighdykes playing fields are, as I said, the only playing fields in Saltcoats and Ardrossan. Not so many years ago, I played football for an amateur team in Ardrossan and we had to play home games at Laighdykes playing fields. If the council's proposals go ahead, local football teams from Saltcoats and Ardrossan will have to play their home games at Stevenston, which is the next town on the Ayrshire coast. That might not sound too bad, but I will put the matter into a political perspective so that we can understand it better. It would mean local football teams from Saltcoats and Ardrossan playing their home games not only in a different parliamentary constituency but in a different parliamentary region: Stevenston is in the South of Scotland region and Saltcoats and Ardrossan are in the West of Scotland region. That shows exactly what the result will be if North Ayrshire Council goes ahead and builds on the only available playing fields.

The council fully intends to build the school. It has been granted outline planning permission despite the fact that the National Playing Fields Association recommends that a minimum of 6 acres of open space for playing fields should be available per 1,000 people in the population. In Saltcoats and Ardrossan there are about 23,000 people. That means that the minimum amount of open space that Saltcoats and Ardrossan should have at present is 138 acres. Laighdykes playing fields, which are the only playing fields, constitute 36 acres. We are nowhere near the minimum at present, yet the local authority wants to build on the available playing space, reducing it to just 24 acres. That is a disgrace, and the local authority should be made to see that it is nonsense. That is why I ask whether it would be appropriate to consider reviewing the planning legislation.

At the moment, North Ayrshire Council is the developer, the landowner who owns the land for the people of North Ayrshire, the education authority that wants to build a school on the playing fields, and the planning authority. It has given itself outline planning permission. There is a conflict of interest in that. I know that ministers will probably call in the planning application and I hope that they will refuse it. However, I ask whether ministers should insert into planning legislation a provision that puts the onus on local authorities to prove that there are exceptional circumstances when they propose a development that would encroach on playing fields. In other words, they would need to prove that there is no other available land on which they could build. In North Ayrshire, that is not the case; there are plenty of spaces in Saltcoats and Ardrossan where the school could go.

In such cases, the onus should be not on the people to oppose development but on the local authority to prove that there is nowhere else the development can go. Planning law should stipulate that in areas in which the National Playing Fields Association's minimum level has not been met, no development will be permitted.

On May 5 2004, in response to a parliamentary question on playing fields, the then responsible minister, Frank McAveety, stated:

"Primary responsibility for the protection of playing fields lie with local authorities".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 5 May 2004; S2W-7718.]

In Saltcoats and Ardrossan, it is the local authority that wants to build on the playing fields. I ask the Scottish Executive to consider whether there needs to be a change in planning law to prevent such things from happening.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We now come to the debate on enterprise, the economy and transport.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 11:39 am, 13th April 2005

Not so long ago, when we celebrated our final arrival here in the gathering place—the new Holyrood building—we were challenged to raise our game, to set our sights higher, to make greater speeches, to be more entertaining, to work harder, to create more consensus, to be funny, to make rabble-rousing speeches and to be original. That is a tall order, and I wonder how we are doing. I am sure that those members of the press who commented on that will never concede the progress that we have made.

Like others, I have reflected on my contribution to this institution. My fundamental beliefs and principles remain the same as they were on the day when I was selected, so raising my game is a longer term and harder task. I agree with the honest speech that Margaret Ewing made.

I continue to argue for social progress; fairness; more resources for Glasgow's poorest areas to prevent the poorest from dying young; ending the exploitation of women; targeting unemployment; equipping the unemployed with the skills to attain better-paid jobs; giving children a better start in life; and growing the economy with the purpose of redistributing wealth. I say to Mr Aitken that if those are entrenched policies, I make no apology.

As Margaret Ewing said, we are all in the game of arguing our case; influencing decisions; chipping away—if that is what happens; questioning the Executive; and spending hours in committee. That is a long game. Unlike Mr MacAskill, I believe in devolution and in what we are doing under our constitutional settlement. I campaigned for the settlement and believe that it is right for Scotland. I know that the majority of Scots prefer that settlement.

We were all elected as members of the Parliament in its early years, which we are still in. In being here, we have a responsibility to shape and refine the settlement. I remember stalwarts who campaigned for that settlement. Bob McLean will launch his book next month—I hope that that will happen in the Parliament. My contribution to his book talks about people such as Jim Ross, Alan Lawson, Jimmy Boyack and Brian Duncan. We do not hear about them, but they were involved in the early years of the campaign for the Scottish Parliament.

We should try not to be set in our ways and we should review constantly how we operate. I am not surprised that Mr MacAskill is disappointed by devolution, because it is not really the constitutional settlement in which he believes, but I firmly believe in it. I acknowledge the key role of civic Scotland and participatory democracy, which we have done quite well, but all of us are elected members and it is first and foremost our responsibility to lead and to deliver on the settlement.

In some ways, having no subject for the debate made deciding what to talk about harder, because I want to talk about many issues. Like others, I care deeply about the five-to-14 age group. We must have an alternative strategy on antisocial behaviour and we must consider that age group's needs. I ask Tavish Scott, the minister who is present, to suggest to his colleagues a focused debate on what we need to do for that age group. I also thought about discussing civil justice reform, which we need because civil justice is still too slow and too expensive.

Instead, I will talk about the subject on which I have been working, which is bus industry reform. For some time, I have argued that action needs to be taken to regulate the bus industry. My primary concern is that people whose only mode of transport is the bus cannot be guaranteed an adequate service in their area. Everything is left to the free market, with some public provision when it is shown to be necessary. When the private sector decides not to provide a service, limited public funds are used to finance a service.

My interest arises from my experience of listening to constituents in a part of Glasgow Kelvin who are frustrated that their bus services are altered or removed without their having any say. It would be unforgivable for the Transport (Scotland) Bill not to address that issue. The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 failed to have an impact. Quality partnerships and quality contracts rely on the will of bus companies and service providers. In 2005, we must conclude that that model will not deliver.

It is astonishing that the public have little say in bus service provision—in routes and services. No requirement to consult bus users exists. I give credit to the bus industry for modernising its approach and I do not support reregulating the market, but serious changes must take place and the public must have a more formal view.

I do not see why the new regional transport partnerships should not specify key routes that must be serviced regardless of the profit margin. Often, the most disadvantaged communities are not best served. That is unacceptable to me and, I hope, to other members. If the Transport (Scotland) Bill creates regional transport partnerships, they should as a first step be given additional powers to ensure public consultation and to establish bus routes where they are needed. Special account should be taken of elderly populations.

I welcome the debate, which has been good and positive.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 11:45 am, 13th April 2005

I congratulate Margo MacDonald on bringing to the Parliament the topic of meeting the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. That is the reason why we are here, not just today, but every day that the Parliament meets. The motion is right to say that MSPs were elected to meet the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. It does us no harm every now and again to step back from the detail of policy and legislation that we must—rightly—consider and to assess whether our work meets the needs that we were elected to address.

During the debate in 1997 on whether we should establish the Scottish Parliament, some people expressed fears that the Parliament would be for the people of central Scotland and that the voices of the people of the Highlands and Islands would have no better hearing in Edinburgh than they would in London. That has not been my experience. As I am a constituency MSP in the Highlands, it is my role to ensure that Edinburgh listens and acts.

We have achieved considerable success and, in doing so, we have delivered improvements for the people whom we represent. Members will not be surprised that I offer as a prime example the lifting of the Skye bridge tolls at the end of last year. Members will know that I pursued that issue for some time. I worked with my constituents, with my party colleagues, with other coalition colleagues and with our party's leader, Charles Kennedy. The campaign was long but, thanks to the strength of our case, we won through in the end. I am particularly delighted that when young Donald James Kennedy is taken for his first visit to Skye, his proud father will take him over a toll-free bridge.

The lifting of the tolls will not just benefit proud fathers who take their sons to Skye; the benefits will be far wider. The bridge has already experienced a 25 per cent increase in road traffic since tolls were abolished, which must be welcomed. The increase in the traffic volume must indicate an increase in economic activity in one of Scotland's most fragile areas.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not want to interrupt the ceilidh that will occur on the Skye bridge. Like the member, I rejoice that the tolls have been lifted. Having examined that buy-out of a private finance initiative, does the member believe that Inverness airport should be treated similarly? That, too, would have an impact on the economy and tourism in the Highlands.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

That is a continuing battle that has still to be won.

On the day when the Skye bridge tolls were lifted, Harbro, the agricultural products supplier, announced a reduction in the cost of its agricultural products to the island of £1 per tonne. That was quite significant. I do not doubt that it is a good indicator of an improving economic situation and I hope for significant growth in the summer tourist season.

I will move on to the more serious issue of the lack of affordable housing in rural Scotland. I recognise that the Scottish Executive has taken some useful initiatives. However, it must not rest on its laurels but must push ahead with those initiatives as quickly as possible. We need co-ordinated action from our planners—as members this morning have said—from housing associations and from Scottish Water, to ensure that new developments go ahead. Priority must be given to projects that are targeted at providing affordable housing. We need to devolve Scottish Water's role in local areas, because often the one-size-fits-all approach that might suit large conurbations does not work in small, isolated communities. Once houses are built, we need to ensure that young people and young families in need are given first refusal on tenancies and purchases. We need a demographic balance and, more important, family links, if we are to deliver secure, vibrant communities in remote areas.

As we hear regularly, Scotland has an aging population. We need to face the challenge of supporting our elderly. The state has an important role to play, but by far and away the best support that the elderly can receive is from their families. However, family members cannot give that support if they are forced to live miles away because of a lack of affordable housing in the area, which means that the state must assume much of the burden.

By focusing our attention on the important issues that I have highlighted, we will meet the needs and aspirations of people in Scotland, just as the motion suggests.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP 11:51 am, 13th April 2005

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this busy debate. I, too, thank the independent group for provoking what Margo MacDonald calls this experiment. I was a bit nervous earlier, when Donald Gorrie spoke about Charles Kennedy's child in relation to his name. I am glad that he was talking about the child being named Donald, rather than any gory details. I had to get that in, as I panicked a wee bit.

Margo MacDonald's motion is entitled "Meeting the Needs and Aspirations of people in Scotland". Surely that must be our primary function. In his opening speech, Tavish Scott talked about the proposal for a smoking ban, measures on alcohol abuse, the provision of free fruit for schoolchildren and the state of the nation's health. However, I cannot help but wonder where the M74 northern extension fits into that agenda. What is the point of the Executive proposing a smoking ban amid a blaze of publicity, claiming that there will be democracy and consultation and promising to clean up the lungs of the nation, when at the same time it is pushing both inside and outside the chamber—and possibly over certain dinner tables—for the construction of the M74 northern extension?

Photo of Janis Hughes Janis Hughes Labour

I am glad that I did not disappoint.

Does the member agree that meeting the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland includes meeting those of my constituents, as well as constituents in the wider west of Scotland and beyond, who will benefit from the M74 northern extension? My constituents, in particular, will benefit from the reduction in pollution in Rutherglen and Cambuslang that will result from the advent of the M74 northern extension and from the inward investment that will follow from the building of that road.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

Not only did I expect an intervention, but I expected the very intervention that Janis Hughes has made. I have put down the answer to her question on paper, so she should bear with me.

I described how the Executive is carrying out consultation and making promises in one area, while forging ahead in another—to hell with the hopes and aspirations of the people. I remind the chamber that the M74 motorway was conceived before most of us were. Consultation was conducted in the communities in 1965. At the time, concrete was king and the ill effects of increased car use had not yet been revealed to us. I say to Janis Hughes that we now have hindsight, which means that we know that increased motorway construction creates increased car use. That is bad for society, the planet and the member's community.

The M74 northern extension construction project has also been bad for democracy. It involves 5 miles of motorway and will be 50 feet high. It will have parapet lighting 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which will run through Janis Hughes's community. It will carry 110,000 car journeys per day through that community and urban Glasgow, yet there has been no proper consultation of those who live along the route.

I have voiced my opposition to the road all along, but I am not the only person to do so over the years. While it was in opposition, the Labour Party called for a moratorium on all motorway construction, including construction of this monster. The SNP now supports the superhighway and has caved in to the chambers of commerce, the Confederation of British Industry and the pro-car lobby, despite the fact that in the past it stood in election campaigns in opposition to the M74 northern extension. Frank McAveety, MSP for Shettleston, the sick old man of Britain—not Frank, Shettleston—was elected to Glasgow City Council on a manifesto that stated that the council regretted the construction of the M77 and would oppose that of the M74. However, the same council gave planning permission for that monster in the blink of an eye. I hope that, if I wanted to make a structural change to my home, I would receive a visit, but in this case the council did not even take the time to make a site visit.

To those members who tell us that the superhighway will boost the local economy I say a big fat, "It won't." The Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment has said that it will not. The local public inquiry, which the Executive has chosen to tear up and throw in the bin, has said clearly that it will not. If motorways help their local economy, why do Easterhouse and Pollok not have booming economies? Although big motorways cut swathes through both areas, both suffer from a great deal of poverty and have social inclusion partnership money pumped into them.

Businesses that set up alongside motorways are tin-shed businesses. They are grant grabbers—they come along, take what they can get and leave. They do not supply long-term skilled employment. The chamber should note that surveys carried out several years ago by Glasgow Development Agency along the proposed route found that businesses would set up along it regardless of whether a motorway was located there. Communication was what really mattered to them—goods coming in and out, and workers getting to work and home again. Ironically, the route of the M74 northern extension straddles a railway line for most of its length. A site visit might have helped to establish that.

The route is littered with toxic waste. Chromium, arsenic and lime are all over it. Glasgow City Council and others have noted some sites, but the locals say clearly that workers along the route know where other sites were, because up to 100 years ago there was fly-tipping for White's chemical works, which was opposed by Keir Hardie at the time. The chemicals are carcinogenic, and when the road is built they will be thrown up into the atmosphere. The sick old man of Britain will get sicker, and the Executive will be to blame.

The M74 northern extension will pollute the planet and local communities. No allowance has been made for democracy and compassion, and there is no environmental justice involved. The motorway and its construction fly in the face of the aspirations of the people of the world.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I record my thanks to Fergus Ewing, who withdrew from the debate and has allowed us to get back on time.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 11:58 am, 13th April 2005

I thank the independents for giving their time to this debate. Unfortunately, there was not much direction at the beginning, which resulted in the minister giving us a mini-litany of the Lib Dem-Labour wish list. However, it covered only certain issues. The minister mentioned health—eating, smoking, alcohol, sexual health and drugs education. He touched on affordable housing, a theme on which John Farquhar Munro expanded. He also mentioned financial literacy classes, for which I hope the Executive has signed up.

However, the real issue for debate is people's needs and aspirations. I say to the minister that it is worth our listing those—the issues about which people talk to all MSPs, regardless of party.

People talk about the economy, wealth creation, skill acquisition, high taxes, individual opportunity, personal responsibility, safer communities, waste in public service, infection in hospitals, shortages of NHS specialist staff—which will not be assisted by the changes to pension schemes—schools that have discipline, young people with hope, the shrinking population, care of older people, pensions, an efficient benefits system, affordable water, overburdening bureaucracy and high council tax. The list goes on and on. Other members have touched on the issue of accessible transport, especially in rural areas.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

It has to be said that Mr Davidson has given us a bit of a litany. How will privatising Scottish Water help with the provision of affordable water?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

That is simple. It will do so by bringing in competition, which worked in England. Members should look at the water charges there. The same opportunity has not been provided here. Water quality is higher in England, too, and fewer planning applications are rejected because of a lack of infrastructure.

Karen Whitefield talked about her proposal for a bill to prevent shops from opening on Christmas day and new year's day. I hope that the reduction in shoplifting that the passing of that bill would result in would mean that some members of our police force would get a day off to be with their families for a change.

Many serious issues have been mentioned, including skin cancer, health, sustainable education, planning, sporting success, access to sport, care homes for the elderly, poverty and transport. Perhaps I could give my own wish list. Six years on from devolution, I would like the Parliament to start to deliver. That will take the co-operation of everyone in the Parliament, not just the members of an individual parliamentary group.

There are some issues about which I feel strongly. In my view, the Parliament made a mistake when it decided to treat drug misuse as a justice issue; it is a health issue and a social issue. We must offer holistic treatment to the individuals who are affected by drug misuse and provide support for their families.

I want there to be genuine choice in health care, which means offering alternative medicines in addition to the treatments that are available through a stylised health service that is micromanaged from the centre. I want there to be genuine choice for all in education. Physical education is important. I am in favour of providing access to physical recreation in all communities, not just those in the cities, and for all age groups, including older people. I do not want tuition fees or the tax on graduation to continue. We must ensure that every individual in Scotland has access to education or training that is appropriate to their ability.

In the north-east of Scotland, special needs schools are a major issue. We cannot assume that everyone who has special needs can be mainstreamed. We must ensure that adequate provision is made for special needs education in every education authority.

In the first health debate in the Parliament's first session, I said that I was an interventionist on health. I am in favour of screening programmes in our communities, including screening for hearing and sight problems for children and screening for diabetes and cancer in later life. Early intervention will make a difference. The science is there. If we can screen and intervene early, we may cut off many of the problems that lead to waiting lists in our hospital system.

Many members have mentioned planning. If we are to have a planning review, we should start with a blank sheet of paper. We should not try to bolt on additional bits and pieces to an already failing and creaking system that is taking far too long to make decisions. Starting from scratch would give us the opportunity to speed up planning decision making and to allow the public to have an input at an earlier stage. We cannot bolt on third-party rights of appeal to the current system; that just will not work.

Industries such as the oil industry—in which there is a skills shortage—should be nurtured, not written off. There is a huge opportunity over many decades for business to be done and jobs to be created. We must move away from the Scottish tendency to attach stigma to people who fail in their attempts to build a business. I do not know why we do that; it is not done anywhere else. We have a highly negative approach to entrepreneurship.

One in four members of our population has a mental health problem at some point in their life. We need to examine the issue far more closely and not push it under the carpet. We must remove the stigma and provide appropriate care. We should get away from having mixed wards that treat different conditions, different age groups and different sexes. We must make a concerted effort on that because, in today's stressful world, more and more young people are experiencing mental health problems.

I have spoken about the need for competition in the water industry. We need better labelling of food. As well as indicating—for health reasons—the contents of food and the risks that it presents, labels should show its origin so that people know what they are buying and where it came from. We also need fair prices for our farmers.

I would like the Scottish people to reject any further intrusion by the European Union. After all, we have a Parliament and we should make our decisions here—and, where appropriate, in Westminster—without having the EU crawling over and interfering in everything. That is not democratic.

I want management to be decentralised. The First Minister talks about it all the time, but decentralising management in all our public services would work and, indeed, is what our councillors were elected to deliver. Such services should not be run non-stop from the centre.

When are we going to have a sensible debate about sustainable, renewable energy, including nuclear power? We cannot do without such power; after all, we already have dedicated sites, trained workforces and communities that are willing to continue with it. Why can we not simply find replacements until we can develop more renewable energy systems?

The issue of older people has been raised this morning. We must start treating them with some dignity and examine personal care and individuals' needs. In that respect, John Swinburne made a very good point about people who have to sell their houses to pay for care. Moreover, there must be a sensible review of pensions, and our older people must have affordable heating, never mind access to health care.

I want to finish on a fairly positive note. Like Donald Gorrie, I feel that we should nurture our voluntary sector and rebuild a caring society in which neighbours look after each other and children and old folk can walk about in safety.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 12:06 pm, 13th April 2005

The debate has certainly been wide-ranging, although "debate" is perhaps not the right word. We have had a series of very small debates that have covered a large number of topics that are of importance to the people of Scotland.

Some members have spoken about their aspirations for the health service in Scotland and the problems of public health in general. In particular, at the beginning of the debate, the minister highlighted the problems that are associated with alcohol and diet. I support many of the Executive's proposals and plans for introducing free fruit, trying to educate children in that area and improving the standard of school meals.

As far as public health is concerned, it will come as no surprise to anyone in the chamber that I believe that the proposal to ban smoking in public places will be seen in future years as a very enlightened public health measure and that I fully support its implementation. I was glad to hear David Davidson's comment that he is an interventionist on health matters, and I look forward to his support for the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill when it comes before the Parliament. I can think of no greater piece of interventionist public health legislation that this Parliament could make.

However, if we are truly to tackle widespread health problems in our society, we must concentrate not only on fixing problems after they occur—as Jean Turner highlighted in relation to acute services—but on being more proactive in identifying any problems early on. Like David Davidson, I agree that it is essential to invest in screening programmes, because they will allow us to identify people who have a health problem but who have not yet developed any symptoms. Such investment will reap rewards not only for the individual, but for society in general. That said, if we really want screening to succeed, we must take it to the people; we must take it out of medical centres and into shopping centres. Part of the problem is that people will not go to their local general practitioner or medical centre for screening. However, if such screening were available in the local supermarket or shopping mall that they use regularly, they might think "That's a good idea. I'll pop in and get my cholesterol or something else checked". That is a very useful approach.

A common thread runs through areas such as poverty, pensions and the economy, which have all been mentioned today. Members can have as many aspirations as they like about eradicating the poverty or benefits trap, and I believe that they have a genuine desire to tackle pensioner poverty or to grow Scotland's economy, which the Executive has told us is its number 1 priority. However, benefits, taxation, pensions and macroeconomic policy, to name but a few matters, are all reserved to Westminster, which means that we can do nothing meaningful about them.

Even with health and the proposed smoking ban, we are operating with one hand tied behind our backs. For example, Ireland introduced a comprehensive workplace ban on smoking; however, although many of the groups that campaign on that issue want such a ban here, we are not allowed to do that, because health and safety is a reserved matter. It does not matter what the ambitions and aspirations of politicians and the Scottish people are, because, while Westminster holds the purse-strings, they are boxed in and limited. If Westminster decides to slash public spending in England and Wales, we will suffer. As things stand, there is nothing that we can do about it.

I am sure that there is no disagreement in the chamber with the idea that people should have aspirations for themselves. In fact, having such aspirations and taking responsibility for oneself would be universally applauded. The reaction would be the same if we talked about having aspirations for our families or taking responsibility for our businesses and aspiring to make them grow and be successful. Those aspirations would be warmly welcomed and people with such ambitions would be heartily congratulated.

However, when it comes to people who have real ambition and aspirations for Scotland, many members in the chamber, instead of congratulating us, tell us that we must not have ambitions for our country. Ambition is applauded by the Labour and Liberal parties when it is for an individual, a family or a business, but not when it is for our country. Labour members, Liberals and Tories abandon logic when we start to talk about the self-same aspirations for Scotland that we all support for individuals, families or businesses. When those of us who support Scotland have aspirations and ambitions, or even when we talk about taking responsibility for our country, we are not applauded by members of those other parties; instead, childish abuse is hurled in our direction. A certain Labour member of Parliament said that those Scots who support independence are nothing more than sewer rats. That comment says more about Labour MPs than it does about those at whom the comment was aimed.

If the argument of those who oppose independence was consistent, perhaps their position could be respected, but there is no logic to it. They tell us why nationalism is wrong, why it is an outdated idea and why it is a policy of the 19th and 20th centuries, but apparently that argument applies only to Scotland and not to other countries around the world. Although they oppose the idea of the nation state for Scotland, they support it for everybody else. They argue fiercely for the continuation of the British nation state and for the creation of new nations around the world. The Tories loudly support the nationalists of countries such as Estonia. They applaud the get-up-and-go of the separatists of the Czech Republic.

The Labour Party has an enormous number of members who support the break-up of Britain, but only if it is Northern Ireland that leaves the UK to become part of a united Ireland. They have no problem with nationalism and they support it all over the world. They celebrated, as did we, when East Timor gained its independence from Indonesia, but they hurl abuse at those in Scotland who support independence for Scotland. They sing songs about those who struggle for independence and freedom across the globe and spit venom at those who support the self-same thing here.

Let us not forget that every member of the Parliament is a nationalist. As far as I am aware, nobody supports the abolition of all nations and the creation of a single world Government. The debate about Scotland's future will not be limited by the barriers that the supporters of the British state try to place on it. The aspirations of the Scottish people can and will be met only when Scotland rejoins the world community as an equal partner and the Scottish Parliament has all the normal powers of a normal independent nation.

Members have talked about their aspirations and the aspirations of their constituents. Many of those aspirations are laudable aims, but they cannot be met by this Parliament because we do not have the powers to achieve them. Independence on its own will not achieve those aspirations, but without it we can do nothing to deal with them. We can only tinker at the edges. [Interruption.] I ask Labour members, how will they tackle economic policy? How will they deal with pensions? What will they do about the poverty of pensioners? They will do nothing, because they have no power to tackle those matters.

Only with independence will the resources of Scotland be used for the benefit of all the people who live here. At the same time, unlike past UK Governments, we will live up to our international obligations to assist other people around the world to achieve their ambitions and aspirations by meeting in full the United Nations target for international aid. An independent and free Scotland would join the family of nations around the world to work together for the aspirations of our people. Without that independence, we cannot fully manage and progress this country to where it should be or the place that it should take in the international community of nations.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 12:14 pm, 13th April 2005

I seek to draw out some of the points that have emerged from what has been an informative morning, but not in a prepared speech. I accept Stewart Maxwell's absolute right to set out his arguments in favour of nationalism, but we are making wind-up speeches about the debate. In fairness, David Davidson did that. I did not agree with any of what he said, but I will come to that in a minute.

Overall, there has been a role for the debate. Margo MacDonald, who represents the independents group on the Parliamentary Bureau, and her independent colleagues, were entirely correct to have used their rights under the Parliament's standing orders to introduce the debate. The debate has allowed contributions across parties, and of no party, in areas that do not usually get an airing in the regular, more politicised atmosphere that permeates our discussions from week to week.

In that sense, today's innovation has been no bad thing. Even at this young stage in its life, a new and evolving institution such as the Parliament should be able to consider its procedures and should not become fossilised. I am happy to take back to ministerial colleagues the vast array of informative issues that have been raised. I cannot comment on—nor indeed do I know—the detail of many of those issues, whether they are Margo MacDonald's points on prostitution or Helen Eadie's powerful arguments on skin cancer. The point that I tried to make at the outset—possibly not that well—is that this generation of parliamentarians and politicians has an obligation to look to the long term. I agree with Margaret Ewing's central point that if we cannot do that in a new institution and, as Kenny MacAskill fairly said, in this building, that would be a missed opportunity. I was not, as David Davidson suggested, reading out a litany. I sought to set in context some of the measures—I cannot trot them all out in an eight-minute speech—that the Executive is trying to implement for the long term. It would be easy for me to stand up and demolish the Tory manifesto or any other party's manifesto, and for other parties to do the same to my party's manifesto, but we are better having speeches such as Helen Eadie's, and those of colleagues across the parties, on serious issues that we should consider not only today and tomorrow but over the next 10, 15 or 20 years. That is why Margo MacDonald was right to introduce today's debate. In that sense, Pauline McNeill was right to draw us back to the arguments that were made at the time by those of us who campaigned for this institution.

Karen Whitefield's speech may have shown the real value of the debate. Not only did she articulate what she is trying to achieve with her proposed member's bill, but she took interventions from right across the chamber—a real issue leading to some real debate.

Bill Aitken said that words do not matter, and that we should concentrate on our actions. Well, in unemployment and economic growth, words matter. Bill Aitken's party considered that 3 million unemployed was a price worth paying—we all remember those words. I utterly refute the charge that this Administration takes no responsibility for economic growth, for driving forward entrepreneurship and for the principle of decentralisation. This Government has taken forward decentralisation. This Government has pursued the relocation, for example, of civil service jobs. The Conservatives, when they had the power, never did that in the co-ordinated way in which we are now doing it, which, I would have thought, will be advantageous to all parts of Scotland.

Words matter, too, on water charges. The Conservatives' policy position is to privatise Scottish Water because, as Mr Davidson said, that would reduce our water charges below those of England. However, the average household charge in Scotland in 2005-06 will be £280. That compares, for example, with average bills of £283 from United Utilities and £296 from Southern Water. The suggestion that the Tories trot out as usual, that competition will be the master of all those problems, as usual does not stand up to scrutiny.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Will Mr Scott quote the figures in England from before competition was introduced?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Mr Davidson should remind us that the Conservative party did not write off the Scottish water industry's debt when it was in Government. Had it done so, we could compare like with like, but we are dealing with a situation that we inherited from the 18 discredited years of Tory economic mismanagement, rather than the position that Mr Davidson would like to employ in an ideological pipe dream.

Jean Turner made an informative and interesting speech on health and our international responsibilities, and members from all parties picked up on that latter point. Again, I take to task the Tories' argument that, under their proposals on health, all would be well whereas, by definition, everything is at death's door under the initiatives and action that we are taking. The investment that we are making will rise by £3.2 billion over the next five years, but the Tories have three kinds of health policy: uncosted, unfair and, more to the point, unbelievable. The Tories talk about choice—a subject that they were keen to trot out again today—but that means choice for the few and longer waits for the rest of us; it means subsidising private treatment for those who can afford it, which would cost the NHS £1.2 billion before a single extra operation had been performed. It is clear what the Tories' patient passport would do for real people who need real treatment and whom we are committed to assisting.

Robin Harper made a series of important points on education. As a member of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee in the previous parliamentary session, I remember that committee's report on lifelong learning, which picked up Robin Harper's point about balancing the vocational and academic routes into work for young people. That will be, and is being, built on by the Administration.

A variety of other points were made on enterprise in education and on education in general. I was somewhat taken aback by Mr Davidson's argument that the Conservatives were a decentralising party, that he valued councillors and the role that they play and that the Conservatives wanted to decentralise services because that was the right way forward. Of course, it is Conservative policy to remove education services from the local authorities' control, so it is beyond me how that argument hangs together.

The debate has been useful and informative and has allowed a wide variety of issues to be brought to the Parliament's attention. In that sense, it has raised the importance of attracting, and dealing with the needs and aspirations of, the people of Scotland.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 12:22 pm, 13th April 2005

I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. John Farquhar Munro got the idea of stepping back in the middle of an election campaign to try to look at the big picture. He did that, and he produced what I must call joined-up thinking, because he placed people's needs in the context of the policies that we can produce in the Parliament. I thank him for doing that, but others did it too.

When Jean Turner spoke, it was obvious that she did so out of expertise, but her speech had added value because she discussed international engagement and exercising responsibility to the rest of the world on the Scottish community's behalf. That is something to which the Parliament aspires and to which people in Scotland aspire, to judge by the response to the recent tsunami appeal, but, for a long time, perhaps we did not do it as much as we might have done. Jean Turner took our immediate needs and her knowledge and added them to what we might do internationally, so she got the idea as well and I give her three gold stars.

I wished that I could have got into the open debate on education, because I wanted to talk about the purpose of education and whether we are certificating ourselves out of it. I hope that Robin Harper has given some Executive members ideas about the holistic approach to education that we need. We know perfectly well that we have to prime our young people for an international—indeed, global—marketplace, but, for goodness' sake, we have to educate them to be citizens as well. The Parliament could spend more time considering that.

Karen Gillon touched on education and school sport—an area that I am particularly interested in. I did not intervene, even though she said that she would let me in if I wanted to speak. The debate went rather well, and when information was needed, it was given unsparingly. I thank members for their co-operation in ensuring that.

Campbell Martin raised the issue of playing fields. He referred to a local issue, but all members recognised it as something that we have to deal with—it is happening in Edinburgh, too. He has obviously built up knowledge of the subject from listening to people, and he knew exactly how many parents had been on the march. That is important, and it is important that the Parliament relays to people the message that we are doing that sort of thing. We have not done a great deal of such public relations work at ground level.

Helen Eadie, Rosie Kane and Karen Whitefield spoke passionately, but they spoke well and knew what they were talking about. We cannot ask anything more of members of the Parliament.

I think that Tavish Scott came prepared for something less than the debate turned out to be. Just when he needed them, he had the brief and the notes to rebut something that David Davidson had said. I congratulate the minister on rising above the normal hurly-burly of party-political, internecine strife. He showed that he had extracted from the debate some of the ideas and blue-skies thinking, which he has promised he will feed back into the Executive's thinking. That was all that we independents wanted from the debate. We just wanted to provide the opportunity for that to happen, and we thought that now was a good time to do that.

Nobody mentioned the black hole in the Tories' spending plans and in Labour's spending plans. We have had a full debate and that has not even been mentioned. Perhaps we are all too sensible and know that whoever gets in will raise taxes eventually. A bit of honesty could be read into what was not said in the debate as much as into what was said.

I regret the fact that the opening speaker for the SNP poured scorn on what we were trying to do, although I congratulate his colleagues on taking advantage of the opportunity that was afforded them. Some members will disagree with me, but I believe that we heard a fine speech from Stewart Maxwell. It seemed entirely relevant that we should talk about independence in the context of talking about the hopes and aspirations of people in Scotland.

I have good political friends who share much the same philosophical outlook as Labour members although we disagree, for the moment, on the constitutional question. Just as they opened their minds to changing their party's philosophy and policies because they accepted that the world had changed, I ask them to consider changing their view on the constitutional question if it can be proved that we live in a changing world and that our present constitutional arrangement does not best serve the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. I am asking only for an open mind on the subject.

It is great to sit on the independent benches, as we are allowed to have open minds and we do not need to have any set responses: we can go with the flow. I sincerely hope that, in providing the opportunity for a debate such as we have had today, we have given members on the other benches the idea that going with the flow is a good thing. Members do not always need to stand on the principle on which they were elected to the Parliament if things have changed around them. It is not so much the principle. We talk about principles, but we do not mean principles: we mean policies. Principles can stand, but policies can change. I hope that we can help that to happen as and when it is in keeping with the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland.

Meeting suspended until 14:30.

On resuming—