Speech: Strict Liability

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to give my speech in support of the introduction of Strict Liability during my colleague Alison Johnstone’s Members’ Business debate on October 29th. In the interests of transparency, I’ve reproduced my planned comments below:

I welcome the opportunity to speak during this member’s debate about the proposal to introduce stricter liability in Civil Law in order to protect those considered as vulnerable road users in Scotland.  I thank Alison Johnston for bringing the proposal to the chamber through her strict liability motion.  I, like members who’ve spoken before me today, believe that stricter liability would have a positive effect on the health, wellbeing and safety of Scotland’s cyclists and pedestrians.

Too many cyclists have already been killed or injured on Scotland’s roads.  In 2012, there were 901 cyclist casualties, up by 9% from 2011.  Of these casualties, 167 were seriously injured, and there were 9 deaths.  Both of these figures were up from 2011.  That indicates the scale of the problem, and the situation is clearly not improving with another 13 cyclist deaths this year.  The problem is one that affects the whole of Scotland, from Alison Johnston’s Lothian constituency to my own constituency in the Highlands and Islands.

We must look to support stricter liability and its underpinning philosophy to have the interests of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, given priority over drivers of motor vehicles.  In Scotland, and the in UK in general, we’ve fallen behind most of our European neighbours where drivers are already required to prove they were not at fault in civil cases.  In many European countries, the responsibility is on the driver, it is easier for cyclists and pedestrians hurt in collisions to receive compensation more quickly, and the roads are made safer for everyone involved.  This includes cyclists and pedestrians, who always come off worse from a collision with a motor vehicle.  Stricter liability would help cyclists and pedestrians to receive just recompense and therefore have access to rehabilitation schemes far quicker than at present, and it would foster a culture where the onus is on driver to keep a proper look out for vulnerable road users.  By improving cycle safety, Scotland could show itself to care about the safety of its citizens on the roads, and to have a mature and socially conscious response to the tragedy of death and injury in cycling incidents.

I believe that Scotland could, and should, work towards becoming a cycle-friendly nation.  The UK is one of only 5 countries in Europe that does not have stricter liability in Civil Law.  In Denmark for example, measures have been introduced to create a positive cycling culture.  There, all victims of motor vehicle accidents are entitled to compensation under the law, and anyone buying a car must also buy third party liability insurance which provides cover for strict liability in accordance with the law.  By following the examples of Denmark, France and the Netherlands, it would indicate to the rest of Europe that Scotland welcomes cyclists.  It would encourage more Scots to get out there and cycle for leisure, for health or for competition.  I acknowledge that the Scottish Government has already funded a number of national cycle safety initiatives, but believe that the government can do more and look to introduce stricter liability to protect Scotland’s vulnerable road users and to foster a ‘cyclist friendly’ culture.

There is support from a range of walking and cycling organisations for the introduction of stricter liability in Civil Law.  Notable supporters of stricter liability include Pedal on Parliament, SPOKES, CTC Scotland, celebrity chef Nick Nairn and Paralympic cyclist Karen Darke.  Before the summer recess of Parliament, I spoke with Brenda Mitchell of Cycle Law Scotland, who is doing excellent work in raising awareness amongst MSPs of the issues relating to strict liability.  Cycle Law Scotland have launched a Campaign called ‘Road Share’, which promotes stricter liability for the protection of cyclists and other vulnerable road users who are involved in road-traffic collisions.  Cycle Law Scotland has really driven forward the issue of stricter liability and I think that members should look to support to the work of that organisation if they’ve not done so already.

I, for one, will continue to support calls for stricter liability, and will work with MSPs, walking and cycling organisations, and individual citizens in doing so.  I support Alison Johnston’s motion and look forward to the day that cyclists and pedestrians have the protection that they need and deserve.  The Scottish Government can play a key role in working towards such a goal, and I look forward to proposals that further promote the protection of cyclists and pedestrians on Scotland’s roads and streets.

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Speech: Al-Anon Family Groups

On September 24th, I spoke in Gordon MacDonald’s Members’ Business debate on Al-Anon Family Groups. Below is a transcript of my contribution.

I thank Gordon MacDonald for securing the debate. This is a topic that should be debated in the Parliament again and again. Our relationship with alcohol is such a big issue that I hope that a debate on it is secured on at least an annual basis so that we can talk openly about Al-Anon.

Most folk in Scotland have relatives or friends who live abroad. Most of us also have an alcoholic in the family or within our circle of friends. At first, most of us do not understand the relationship with alcoholism, but we need to come to understand what is happening to the alcoholic, the symptoms of alcoholism and the effect that the condition has on other members of the family. I think that I am right in saying that, for every person suffering from alcohol addiction, another eight or 10 people are suffering all the symptoms. The madness, the irrationality and the extraordinary behaviour of the alcoholic are often reflected in what become the madness and the irrationality of the lives of those who are trying to live with that person. Al-Anon absolutely understands that.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Al-Anon is the friendships that are made when the alcoholic first comes to understand or realise that he or she is sick. The organisation that befriends and understands and is constantly there to remind the person suffering from the symptoms of alcoholism is a wonderful thing to be part of.

For the wives—and, increasingly, the husbands—who attend Al-Anon, there is the knowledge that they are part of not only a self-help group, which is literally what Al-Anon is, but an organisation that is truly international. As we have heard, AA started in Ohio in the United States, but the organisation is now international to the extent that, wherever one might go, there will be an Al-Anon meeting taking place, if not that night, the following night or the following morning. There are Al-Anon friends around the globe, because, as we know, every addict is a recovering—not a recovered—alcoholic.

Many of us have had the experience of living with alcoholism or someone who is recovering from alcoholism, and nothing settles it like an Al-Anon meeting. The genuine help from Al-Anon is to be welcomed, so I am delighted that Gordon MacDonald has raised the issue in the Parliament. We need to spread the word about Al-Anon to the many hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland who still do not know about it, as it brings incredible comfort. I thank Gordon MacDonald very much for bringing the debate to the Parliament, and I thank the members of Al-Anon who are in the public gallery for the work that they have done and continue to do to bring people to sobriety in Scotland.