The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2841, in the name of John Swinburne, on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite those members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible.
That the Parliament welcomes the increased focus afforded specific groups within Scotland following the creation of the Parliament as a result of devolution; also notes the Parliament's inability to fully address the needs of groups such as senior citizens, and therefore believes that the time is now right to explore options for increasing the powers of the Scottish Parliament to properly address the needs of all Scottish citizens.
In 1999, when the universally respected Donald Dewar was asked about the possibility of the powers of the new Scottish Parliament being increased in the future, he replied along the lines that if that was the will of the Scottish people, so be it.
Scotland as a nation has now served its political apprenticeship. We have had six formative years since the referendum and devolution granted us a Parliament of our own. It is now time to look ahead and to try to anticipate the real needs of Scotland, not just for the next few years, but for decades still to come.
There will be countless problems to overcome, not least the demographic situation in the future. It is now that we should show foresight and start the groundwork to ensure that we will be able to cope with every eventuality and contingency that might arise in future.
The obvious key to the matter is control of finances. We must display greater faith and confidence in our ability to manage our financial affairs without having to rely on a block grant given to us by way of the Barnett formula.
To avoid any confusion, I declare that I am a unionist. It is as such that I say that there is something very demeaning about the current system that gives an unacceptable sense of subservience as our nation accepts financial crumbs from Britannia's table. We must rise above that level of financial inertia and negotiate with our friends at Westminster means whereby the common links of centuries are maintained, but with a new pride delivered to Scotland to help to drive us towards the First Minister's goal of making
Negotiations must start now to enable an amicable Treasury transfer from Westminster to Holyrood—on a Bosman ruling, of course—with no strings attached. That would be accepted here with supreme confidence because we would then be able to operate as an all-embracing, proper Parliament in which reference to Sewel motions, for example, would be confined to the embarrassing past. Certain aspects of governance would still prevail, such as the Ministry of Defence and possibly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—with an embassy in Edinburgh.
The improvement of all aspects of our nation and its people would become the driving force behind our emerging Parliament. The re-establishment of our worldwide reputation for educational excellence would be one of our initial targets. Health and the problems that are often associated with longevity would be another top priority, together with a genuine growing of the economy, including direct help with all aspects of manufacturing and industry to re-establish Scotland in that field. Another challenge would be Government support and backing for new active green methods of power generation—not by importing technology from abroad, but by investing in research and development to make Scotland the world leader in the field.
Scotland is a very rich country, fully capable of realising a national dream that would make us the envy of all. In this place we can all play our part as we help to force up standards at all levels throughout the country. Dare I suggest that Holyrood would then, at last, be in a position to give every senior citizen an acceptable pension of £160 per week, to eliminate means testing and to abolish council tax, which would allow elderly people in our society to enjoy, rather than have to endure, retirement?
Is it too much to expect that this productive and compact little country should at last be able to provide the best quality of health care for its people, from the cradle to the grave? Members of the Scottish Parliament should thrash out our many health problems in a consensual way, instead of having the sterile, confrontational, pathetic attempts at health debates with which we are currently afflicted. We should also strive for genuine full employment, which would include the over-50s. We could eliminate ageism. All we need is full financial control.
I ask members to imagine a scenario: Tony Blair loses a vote in the House of Commons on identity cards or another proposal in the Queen's speech. In frustration, he calls a snap election. The country returns a Conservative Government—a similar
I have nearly finished.
We should give control of our finances to Holyrood and make the Scottish Parliament a proper Parliament that has genuine powers. We must look ahead and demand those basic constitutional rights now.
The former manager of Motherwell Football Club and Rangers Football Club, big Jock Wallace, used to say to his players before they went on to the park, "Get out there and retaliate first!" Perhaps it is time for Holyrood to do likewise.
In conclusion, I will tell members what happened to me this morning. There is a Gideon's Bible in nearly all hotel rooms and the one in my room had fallen to the floor, where it lay open. Naturally, I picked it up and glanced down at the text, which was Isaiah, chapter 10. I read the opening verses, which I found to be extremely appropriate to the Parliament and also a wee bit scary:
"Woe to those who make unjust laws and to those who issue oppressive decrees ... to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do in the day of reckoning?"
Perhaps it is time that we got our act together.
Devolution has been a success to some extent. We have been able to hold the Executive coalition to account and scrutinise legislation. There has been too much legislation, but we have been able to pass decent laws, which would not have received parliamentary time at Westminster. During the six years since devolution, I have been a member of the Scottish Parliament and I have witnessed the maturing of the Parliament. I liken my MSP class of 1999 to a primary 7 class, whereas the class of 2005 is more like the sixth year. We have travelled a long way, individually and collectively, since 1999. In time, the shadow of the cost of the Holyrood building will disappear and we will be judged, as we should be judged, on our performance as politicians, individually and collectively. However, it is apparent that devolution
There are and always will be tensions between reserved and devolved matters. For example, energy is reserved, but the environment and planning are devolved, so there are tensions to do with nuclear power stations, which are not wanted by the people of this country. There are tensions to do with debt. Consumer credit is reserved, but we must pick up the pieces of freely available consumer credit. We have to deal with the bankruptcies, broken marriages and ill health of people who carry huge burdens of debt, but we can do nothing about the enticements of consumer credit that lead so many people into debt.
Scotland's population is increasingly elderly. We have more pensioners than we have primary and secondary schoolchildren and, thankfully, many people are living longer. That is reflected in the fact that we can buy 100th birthday cards in ordinary retail shops. There must be lots of 100-year-olds.
The demographic change will impact on our public services, such as health, housing and transport. The Parliament has done some good things. Free personal care had cross-party support, although we lost the £20 million that was saved in benefits. Westminster clawed that back—it did not come to this Parliament—so when we make savings we do not get the money to put into other areas. Free concessionary travel from 2006 for our older people and the central heating programme are both good initiatives.
However, we have no control over pensions, tax and benefits. One in five of our pensioners lives in poverty and 40 per cent of those who are entitled to the pension credit simply do not apply for it. Many of the pensioners who live in poverty are single women who are not even entitled to the shamefaced £79 per week basic state pension. There is no point in having heating installed through the central heating programme if people cannot put their heating on. This Parliament can do nothing about that.
It is as plain as a pikestaff that what England needs is its independence, which I would give it tomorrow, so that ridiculous and unjust political borders are removed and we become a true, normal Parliament that is responsible to the people and responsive to the people. We could deal with the big issues that are important to people, such as war, as well as the smaller ones. Would we have gone to Iraq if we had been an independent Parliament? I doubt it. We could deal with international affairs. On poverty, I welcome the First Minister's statement on Malawi, but, like Norway, we could do so much more as an independent nation. There is only one way
Before I respond to John Swinburne's motion, I will respond to his description of a Tory victory following a snap election, which was based on the example of a Conservative victory in 1951. It might be useful to remind members that there followed 13 years of Tory rule that rather quickly abolished ID cards, ended rationing and produced an economic situation that was generally referred to as a time when we had never had it so good. Perhaps the prospect of a Tory victory in a snap election is not as great a threat as he suggests.
Members know that I am attracted to the idea of this Parliament having more powers, in the sense that that would make it financially accountable, but I come at that idea from a completely different direction to that taken by Mr Swinburne. His example of unionism is not one that I or many unionists whom I know would easily recognise.
This Parliament has been a significant disappointment to many of its advocates. Let me give three examples. People in Scotland's cultural businesses, whom I meet regularly, have seen what happened to Scottish Opera. They saw how the Jonas report, which warned of a deficit crisis, was ignored—it was covered up, then its predictions came to pass. Now they fear greater centralisation of the arts, controlled through the Cultural Commission's recommendations. They are waiting to see what the Executive will do when it appoints a new director general for the national galleries. Centralisation through this Parliament is the fear.
In health, we have seen greater centralisation, with hospitals threatened with closure because of the changes made by this Parliament that take more powers away from local communities and direct them towards the centre. In education, there is greater central direction, not least in the latest move to remove the statutory right of representation for parents on school boards. When I hear of more powers for this Parliament, I am not immediately attracted to the suggestion.
The Parliament's budget has increased from £16 billion to £25 billion, but there has been no corresponding increase in accountability for spending. Because of that largesse, we regularly see underspends and carry-overs. None of the subjects that Mr Swinburne covered—education, health, direct help to industry and green energy technology—was an issue on which the
However, before we go down the road of discussing financial provision for the Parliament, we should consider that the percentage of old-age pensioners in Scotland is higher than in England and think carefully about the burden that that will create as a result of the future funding of pensions. Let us hear about that before we suggest having more powers.
John Swinburne has raised an important issue and it is probably time that the Parliament considered it. We have been going for six years now, during which time we have accumulated a lot of experience. I have some suggestions for the Deputy Minister for Parliamentary Business, of which I have given him no warning.
We should start assembling evidence on whether we should ask for greater powers for the Parliament. We have a lot of experience and we have gained considerable further powers, such as those over transport. In fact, the much-maligned Sewel motions have often involved Westminster giving us small bits of increased power. I ask Mr Scott to get his officials to trawl through all aspects of Government to identify issues on which the present situation is unsatisfactory and leaves wrinkles in the carpet. We could assemble all those issues and perhaps have a committee examine them to see what is really important and to come up with suggestions to put them right. One or two of the issues might be dealt with on a one-by-one basis, but others may need a full bill at Westminster, which would obviously be a big issue that we would have to take up with Westminster.
We should examine how we can make ourselves more effective. As Sewel motions arouse great heat, which is sometimes artificial and sometimes genuine, we need to deal with them better. We need a more thorough investigation by the relevant committee into whether the system is adequate. Given that we are pressed for time and that we over-legislate as it is, it is sometimes helpful for the Westminster Parliament to legislate for us. If that benefits us, we should be prepared to go along with it. It would be helpful to have an examination of the history of Sewel motions; what has gone right and wrong; and the issues on which we would like greater powers. Obviously, there are different political perspectives on how much power we wish to achieve, but, even on that issue, views have changed. Developments in Europe raise another front in the warfare about independence; recent
The minister should ponder the issue that John Swinburne raises and set his people in motion to start dealing with it. We should come up with a full list of issues on which there is reasonable agreement in the Parliament. We can then put that into the United Kingdom system and talk to our colleagues at Westminster, who may even talk to us—miracles never cease.
I hope that Donald Gorrie's shopping list can be extended and that whatever influence he has in his party, let alone in the Executive, might be put to good use between now and 2007. However, his preferred candidate is perhaps the less likely of the two to drive forward the agenda that he described.
In politics, there are always creative tensions—Christine Grahame referred to some—which can be quite constructive. I have no problem with that. One of the great disappointments in the Parliament is budget day. We have a budget day every year on which the budget is proclaimed throughout the land, in council chambers as well as in this chamber. Yet, in the headlines the following day—and politicians are always interested in the headlines—there is virtually no mention of the national budget and what we have decided to do, although there are headlines across the board about what is happening in our local communities. That is because we are not accountable in that way for the major amount of finance.
In that, I agree with Mr Monteith. There is nothing wrong with our arriving at the same conclusion from different perspectives. Financial accountability is very important and the day that we have headlines screaming about what is happening in the budget in Scotland will be a great day for democracy in Scotland. Financial accountability should be on whatever shopping list is being taken by the Scottish Government to the UK Government to expand the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
We have some significant problems—that was always going to be inevitable. There is much debate about Sewel motions and how the Executive has chosen to use them. It often uses them because it is running scared of the public reaction that there might be if it chose to exercise the powers that have been devolved. I was a little surprised that Mr Monteith did not highlight the fact that we have not used all the powers that we currently have; however, there was only so much that he could address in four minutes.
We have not heard, so far, about the paucity of times that the other part of the Scotland Act 1998
I welcome the fact that we are debating increasing the powers of the Parliament, as that is what the people want. It is certainly what the majority of MSPs want. I long for the day when that will happen, and I hope that it will be soon.
I thank John Swinburne for bringing this debate to the chamber and express my regret that every single Labour MSP is either washing their hair or walking their dog.
I will put my cards on the table—I am not a unionist, although my colleague John Swinburne is. I consider myself a citizen of the British isles. I am Scottish and, as such, I have something in common with everyone in the British isles, including those who live in the Republic of Ireland, which is a separate country. When my daughter lived and worked in Ireland, I was no further removed from her than I was from my sister who lives in Yorkshire, who was in the same state as me but in a different country. I believe that all three of us are members of the same social union. There is such a thing as a social union, as distinct from a political union. I would like to see an end of the political union in which we are held and the development of our social union; however, I believe that devolution militates against that.
The rumblings that we hear from the further reaches of the Tory party—and, it must be said, the Labour Party in England—about the embarrassment of the goings on in the Scottish Parliament are a product of devolution and are harming the social union that I happen to hold dear.
Independence and a sovereign Parliament would be good for us—just ask the Irish and the
The real powers that we do not have are easy to define, as they are listed in schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. It is a formidable list and it was calculated by its authors in Westminster to put the Parliament firmly inside a cage. We cannot decide on Scotland's constitutional relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. If, for example, we had to choose the Liberal Democrat position of a federal relationship, we could not implement it even if the Scottish people had voted on it and it was their proven desire. We are also denied a say in the critical economic area of international trade policy although we know how essential such a say is for small nations. Think of the Windward islands and the banana republic there, which has direct access to the World Trade Organisation. We cannot have such access as a devolved Parliament. Incidentally, we cannot have that access without a foreign office of our own, which is where I disagree with John Swinburne again. We must have a foreign office if we are to operate the sort of foreign policy that Scots support and that is suited to our status as a small European country.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to take fiscal autonomy to bits. Suffice it to say that it is an expression that covers a multitude of sins and I do not want to be associated in any way with sin. However, I agree with Donald Gorrie that the Parliament should set up a committee to examine the powers in schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 and identify which of them could be transferred to the Scottish Parliament in whole or in modified form. The rational way to proceed is through proper consideration with the assistance of experts, a dialogue with Scottish MPs—whose position in Westminster would obviously be further undermined by any further transfer of powers—and a discussion with the Government in London to determine how far we can develop devolution and how easily we can transfer to sovereignty.
I thank John Swinburne for bringing the topic to the Parliament for discussion, as it is important that the Parliament should debate its powers and Scotland's constitutional situation.
Several members have mentioned Sewel motions. I have been involved in the Procedures Committee's inquiry into Sewel motions and our discussions have reminded me with enormous clarity—although I knew it in theory—that we still have a sovereign Parliament at Westminster, which has chosen to devolve powers to this Parliament and not to legislate on devolved issues without our permission in a Sewel motion. I was particularly struck by the evidence that Henry McLeish, the former First Minister, gave to the committee, in which he highlighted the fact that there is no constitutional protection for the Scottish Parliament.
I got involved in politics as Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council despite the overwhelming opposition of the people of London to that move. She was able to abolish the GLC and change the local government settlement entirely because she had a majority in Westminster. In the same way, a majority in Westminster could wipe out the Scottish Parliament. I campaigned for the Parliament and millions of people in Scotland voted for it, but Westminster sovereignty—an absurd notion that goes back to the sovereignty of the monarch—could wipe it out. That is an absurdity.
I fully agree that Scotland is ruled by the people, as it should be, and that the sovereign represents the people. Sadly, that is not the way in which Westminster operates.
Whatever Scotland we have—whether it is the independent Scotland that I seek or whether the union continues in a different form, as John Swinburne proposes—we need the powers of every level of government and we need them enshrined in a proper written constitution, not the unwritten constitution with a sovereign Parliament that we have at the moment.
The Scottish Parliament needs more powers. I believe that it should be the independent Parliament of an independent Scotland but, whatever we do, there must be constitutional protection. Scotland is being held back by the Parliament's lack of powers. I seek integration of the tax and benefits system and the chance to bring in a citizens income to tackle pensioner poverty, the problems of endemic unemployment and underemployment and the huge disincentive in our current tax system. That disincentive means that moving from benefits into employment attracts some of the highest marginal rates of tax. We do not have the chance to discuss and debate those
Whether we have an independent Scotland or whether Scotland continues as part of the union, we need a proper constitution to enshrine the powers of this Parliament. If the Parliament is to achieve its aims and fulfil the aspirations of the people of Scotland, who voted for it, it needs powers to determine tax and benefits. It needs the full powers of a Parliament.
I thank John Swinburne for his motion and express my disappointment at the lack of members—particularly from the red benches—who are present to listen to and participate in the debate.
I, too, congratulate John Swinburne, not just on securing the debate, but on his unswerving support for more powers. I describe the position of open logic in which he has put himself as history proof. He is in good company. I am not referring to the fact that there are no Labour members present, because many of them have put themselves on the right side of history in the past. When Donald Dewar opened the Scottish Parliament in 1999, he said that the Parliament is not a means to an end, but a means to ends. Wendy Alexander wrote a book on the subject and Henry McLeish waxed lyrical on it.
Others have also made themselves history proof: Lord Steel, from the Liberal Democrat side of the Parliament; John Randall, the former registrar general for Scotland; and Robert Crawford, within 48 hours of resigning from Scottish Enterprise. Now, the two Liberal Democrat leadership candidates have put themselves in that position and on the Tory benches we have Murdo Fraser, with his fiscal autonomy proposition.
The majority is going in that direction. Even at the low point of the Fraser inquiry, 66 per cent of the population wanted more powers for the Parliament. In August last year, 46 per cent of the business community supported that position and a huge 26 per cent were neutral on the issue. As far back as October 2003, the majority of MSPs were seeking more powers.
The reason for that is that the need is there. Scotland has had perennial low growth for the past 30 years. Its working-age population of 3.1 million will drop to 2 million during the next two generations. Ireland's population was 2.8 million in
The need for more powers is driven by demographics, by incomes—particularly the low pensioner incomes for the current generation and future generations—and by life expectancy, which is the key value, or the crucible in which we burn everything off. Scotland has the lowest life expectancy of the 24 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, despite the fact that many people choose Scotland as their retirement destination. I echo John Swinburne's aspiration for pensioners in Scotland to get a fairer deal, with pensions that are comparable to those in other countries and that are linked to earnings.
I applaud pensioners' aspirations for a better Scotland—a country that grows rather than shrinks, that maintains Scotland's voice, culture and values, that can provide their children and grandchildren with opportunities and a rewarding life and that will boost self-esteem and well-being. Pensioners are under the obligation not to accept second best, because that would subject us to the risk of becoming second best.
Perhaps there is scope for us to learn from the American over-95 group that was interviewed by Anthony Campolo Jnr. He found three factors in their responses to the question, "What would you do differently if you were to live over again?" The first was that they would reflect more on life while they lived it—they would consider where they were and where they were going. We could well do that in Scotland. The second factor was that they would take more risks, as that would allow them to handle the danger of inertia and passivity. The third was that they would do something that lived on or created a worthwhile legacy.
I want our older and younger people to have a healthy attitude of enlightened self-interest and altruism. That is the normal combination in other countries and it is the great combination that could deliver a different Scotland. However, we need the powers. Once again, I say well done to John Swinburne for making the link between power and well-being in Scotland and in his community.
I thank John Swinburne for choosing such a wide subject. I tend to stick to what I know best.
I am open to persuasion that we could be an independent country. After going to the Baltic states and seeing small countries doing very well on their own, we have to ask why we should always be attached to Westminster. I had no hesitation in voting for a devolved Parliament
Many of us thought that our Scottish health service and education systems were not too bad until Westminster started to change them. In many ways, we felt that we were dragged down by what England felt that it had to do.
When I voted for the Parliament, I thought I was voting for a Parliament that would be closer to the people and more accessible; that might be true physically, but I was also thinking that we are a small country of only about 5 million people and I thought that there would be a clearer understanding of our needs in our own Parliament. Naturally we would inherit problems and have to take into account the varied geography of our nation, but those are not insurmountable problems. I expected that we would have to consider how we would sustain communities throughout Scotland and how we would supply adequate health cover, education systems, affordable housing, transport, and so on. However, I was horrified to find out that our health service was shrinking to provision in the five major cities, although I hope that in some ways we are managing to turn that around. That might be possible since the Kerr report, but a lot of work needs to be done.
I never thought that it would be easy and I knew that there would be problems. I thought that the people would be patient if they knew that Parliament was taking on board their hopes for the future. We thought that our opinions would matter in respect of the many changes that were proposed, for example, to our health services. However, it gradually appeared that our opinions were not heard—even submitting a petition to the Public Petitions Committee seemed to have no impact.
Some people think about other ways to be heard. One way is to vote for an independent candidate. Some members who are not here think that independent members are not relevant, but they should ask why the independent vote grows and why independent members have been voted in. Perhaps those members should ask what their electorates are saying to them. If they do not want to listen, they will never hear the answer.
I am here because people felt that their voices were not being heard. When perfectly good services were being dismantled and taken bit by bit from Stobhill hospital to other hospitals, the changes did not always mean that a better service was being provided. Change should be to something of the same quality or better.
Various groups might have been set up to gauge and take on board the opinions of the public but, if people on a forum decide, for example, that they want three accident and emergency units in Glasgow, it might come out as if they said they wanted two.
Two years ago, I was stunned by what I heard when I went to an event up the road at the Hub, which was attended by about 200 people who suffer from multiple sclerosis and all were also suffering from lack of services. I wandered through that overcrowded hall, and it consistently emerged that people did not have enough physiotherapy, that they did not have any hydrotherapy and that they had not seen their neurologist for years. There are not enough people to provide those services. We need to decide what we are going to do for people who suffer from chronic pain, epilepsy, asthma, autism and ME. Are we simply going to accept that the incidence of MS is growing in Scotland faster than in other places and ignore it? We have to find out why that is happening.
As a nation, we will be judged by how we treat our elderly people and those who are less fortunate and who do not enjoy good health. We cannot respect ourselves or be respected if we do not tackle those problems by spending money now in order to save money in the long term. More important is the need to relieve pain and hardship. We have made a good start in this Parliament, and I hope that we grow.
I thank Mr Swinburne for choosing a thoughtful subject for this evening and for taking a considered approach in what he said. Indeed, he initiated what has been a considered and thoughtful debate. The powers of Parliament is an area of considerable interest, which will bring different political persuasions to bear. In particular, it is an area of deep philosophical interest for those of us who enjoy the world of politics.
If I should say anything at the beginning of my remarks, it is that all of us in the world of politics must convince the public that the particular route that we advocate is the right and appropriate one. In 1997, and then in the election campaign in 1999, that spirit was epitomised, not least because there had been a referendum and the people of this country had endorsed the devolution settlement and the tax-varying powers that go with it. Although it was a debateable and argumentative point at the time, there was legitimacy to the process that was then undertaken.
John Swinburne has won debating time for an important issue. Members' business is highly valued and is best used—I speak as one who has benefited from it in the past—to raise important but invariably local issues in Parliament. He has raised an issue on behalf of the people who put him in this place. That is, of course, his right. I observe in passing that many of the issues that he has raised, while certainly being core to his party's manifesto, are reserved, which he mentioned in his speech. In some ways he might, as a unionist, be better to stand for election to Westminster. Perhaps he will, however, be so good as to recognise that it was the introduction of proportional representation that has given him and others the opportunity to be part of this Parliament.
It is right to reflect on the achievements of devolution after its first six years. I agree fully with the motion's implicit acceptance that devolution has been a success. In some ways, one might summarise the motion as calling for us to go forward, not back. I can see why some members might find that thought to be attractive.
I thank Tavish Scott for allowing me to intervene. Tavish has intervened on me in the past to comment on the absence of certain parties from the chamber. Given his comments on the importance of this issue, the wide range of political opinions and even "forward, not back", would he care to comment on the absence of some parties from this debate, during which their members could have heard the interesting speeches from all parts of the political spectrum—apart from one?
Thankfully, we live in a free world, a free democracy and a free Parliament. It is up to individual members whether they wish to attend. Perhaps the thought of my winding speech was enough to send many members to receptions that are taking place in Parliament this evening. For that, I can only sympathise and agree.
People who debate the powers of Parliament must do so from a basis of coherence. In the spirit of the debate, it is vital that we approach such subjects in a responsible and adult fashion. I do not agree with the contention that we cannot have a responsible adult debate about our policies until we are responsible for raising our taxes. Even this week—this is a small but significant example—Parliament debated the effectiveness of a previously passed transport bill. It is right to consider what has been achieved by the
One of the changes that has been made in the past six years is that our Minister for Transport is now no longer responsible just for roads but for railways. Would not it be appropriate for him also to be responsible for air travel? To add that to the shopping list that the minister's colleague suggested would be a creative means by which we could make progress. It would be interesting to hear the Executive's view on how we might make progress.
Mr Adam would accept that the Minister for Transport is responsible for public service obligations and the lifeline services to some of the Western Isles in the area that Mr Mather represents. It is a partnership agreement commitment that Mr Stephen will take forward proposals on Highlands and Islands air services generally. I do not accept the contention that he has no power in that area. Of course there is a live debate, such as we are having this evening, about what further powers might be gained in that regard.
I will deal quickly with the points about pensioners that John Swinburne and others, such as Christine Grahame, made this evening. Pensioners have benefited from the current devolution settlement. Christine Grahame was fair to point out that because of this Parliament, pensioners in Scotland have free personal nursing care, free national bus travel and the central heating initiative, which I believe is a particularly important policy and which I know from my constituents is immensely valuable to many people throughout Scotland.
I agree that it is not acceptable that 8 per cent of pensioners live in absolutely low-income households, but that figure is down from some 30 per cent in 1996-1997. That is surely progress on which we would all want to build, and is a demonstration of how the current devolved settlement works for the benefit of a key group of Scottish citizens.
The devolution settlement that was agreed in 1999 has not been fixed for all time: indeed, Mr Adam mentioned the additional powers in relation to railways that have arrived on Parliament's doorstep. I have no doubt that the settlement will continue to evolve. The challenge is to build on those developments. I note the following for the benefit of members who made speeches from their political perspectives—and rightly so—about nationalism and an independent Scotland. When I worked at Westminster, there was only one question time a month for Scottish ministers and one Scottish bill a year if we were lucky. Scottish
Ultimately, as with all such issues, it is right that the people decide.
Meeting closed at 18:23.