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31 May 2012

(S4O-01061) Land Reform

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on land reform. (S4O-01061)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government is committed to supporting communities to purchase land and land assets. That is why I was delighted to be able to visit Machrihanish on Monday, where the community has just taken over the former Royal Air Force Machrihanish airbase by using community right-to-buy provisions, with sustained support from the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is also why the Scottish Government has committed £6 million to the Scottish land fund for the next three years. That will provide communities with the opportunity to take control of their future.

Jean Urquhart: I thank the minister for his response. I think that I asked about land reform, but that might be for another day. What can the minister say about applications to the Scottish land fund?

Stewart Stevenson: The Big Lottery Fund Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are already building up contacts with potential applicants to the Scottish land fund. They will ensure that groups are fully aware of the new programme and the application process at the time of the launch. It is an integral part of our wide-ranging approach to land reform.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): The minister referred to the interest that has been shown in the Scottish land fund, but we are now entering the third month of the first year of funding and there are still no details available about the precise criteria for use of the fund. When does the minister expect to announce those criteria, and when will the fund be open for business?

Stewart Stevenson: The Scottish land fund will be open for business before the summer recess.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): What assessment have Scottish ministers made of the effectiveness of the Scottish outdoor access code?

Stewart Stevenson: As Jamie McGrigor will recall, the Scottish outdoor access code engaged all the parties in Parliament. It has provided good guidance to people who make use of the access rights under Parliament’s legislation. We are still working our way through the core paths activity, but all the indications are that it is successful legislation, which we were happy to support in its passage through Parliament.

24 May 2012

(S4O-01031) Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961

Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government whether a scheme promoted under the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961, which does not yet have confirmed statutory consents, will be eligible for grant support, including beyond the current spending review period, and to a level of 80 per cent of eligible costs. (S4O-01031)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities agreed last year that the flooding component of the general capital grant for the spending review period would be distributed for large schemes and by application. The first round prioritised confirmed Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961 schemes with planning consent. An announcement regarding a further round of applications is likely to be made towards the end of this year.

Nigel Don: The minister will be well aware that my concern is about the flood prevention scheme in Brechin in my constituency. What assurances can the minister give that, as that scheme and the many others like it in Scotland get the appropriate consents, money will be available, subject to the 80 per cent limit and the availability of funds?

Stewart Stevenson: I need to be careful, because there is a planning issue. I understand that there is an objection to the flood prevention scheme to which the member refers and which the council in the area has submitted. It is important that, through that process and the planning system, we make progress towards a scheme that is implementable. I am willing to talk further when the process is complete and we have a scheme that can be implemented. Of course, it will be necessary for the scheme to demonstrate a positive cost benefit ratio, and the commencement of the scheme will have to be within the spending review period.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): In view of on-going concerns about flooding in parts of my region such as at Whitesands in Dumfries and in Peebles, can the minister give the Parliament details about Scottish Government research projects on flooding and say how those will help with flooding mitigation in the south of Scotland and more broadly in Scotland, and how that connects with the land-use strategy?

Stewart Stevenson
: For the first time we have a national picture of the distribution and potential effects of floods, which will help us to focus resources where they will be required and target our efforts on areas where the greatest benefit can be gained.

The member is correct to make a link to land use. Part of what we will do in that context is to look at the role of natural flooding to relieve water pressures on urban and developed areas that are affected by flooding. The natural systems that can help us will therefore form part of our consideration under the land-use heading.

17 May 2012

(S4O-01000) New Farming Entrants

Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made on increasing the number of new farming entrants. (S4O-01000)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Government has always put a high priority on encouraging new entrants to farming. We were the first Administration to introduce dedicated new entrant support which, so far, has delivered £1.1 million of support to 65 new entrants. Earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment announced a new advice package for new entrants that is now being developed by the Scottish Agricultural College. In addition, the cabinet secretary intends to make an announcement soon on plans to hold a new entrant summit and to set up a new entrant panel to determine what can be done under the future common agricultural policy to encourage new entrants.

Nanette Milne: I thank the minister for his response, although I am slightly puzzled by part of it. From my regular meetings with farming representatives, I know that they are very concerned at what is becoming an ageing industry and at the limited opportunities for newer young entrants into it. In the previous parliamentary session, ministers promised to introduce a £10 million year-on-year new entrant scheme; however, in reality, the Scottish National Party delivered only a £10 million programme over the course of the whole session of Parliament, which provided limited new opportunities for entrants. What steps does the Scottish Government plan to take in this session of Parliament to support new opportunities for the next generation of Scottish farmers? Will the minister agree to report back to Parliament on the number of new entrants who are being assisted as this session goes on?

Stewart Stevenson: I am unhappy to share Nanette Milne’s concern and to agree that the increasing age of farmers is an issue for the industry. From 2000 to 2007, the number of farmers aged under 45 fell and the number aged over 65 rose from 22 per cent to 27 per cent. A fundamental challenge that is in front of us is common agricultural policy reform, and the current proposals would inhibit our ability to support new entrants. It is very important that Scotland gets the support to address the issue of new entrants that it requires from the United Kingdom Government which, for the time being, has the lead in negotiating on the matter.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): Does the minister agree that, although the measures that he has identified are welcome, a fundamental issue for new entrants is access to farming land and tenancies? The tenant farming forum is identified as the body that will deal with such concerns, but does the minister accept that the recent Moonzie case and the lack of clarity about its consequences add greater tension to the discussions? How will he ensure that we can be confident that the tenant farming forum’s recommendations will be fair to all parties that are involved?

Stewart Stevenson: Presiding Officer, you will be aware that I cannot comment on a live case.

I am happy to say that we have been legislating to put into law the tenant farming forum’s recommendations. We will continue to work with that forum to ensure that we get increased access to new entrant opportunities. For example, Forestry Commission Scotland, for which I am responsible, has created new starter units. Right across Government, we will take every opportunity to create ways in for new entrants.

10 May 2012

(S4O-00992) Walking and Cycling to Work (Glasgow)

Humza Yousaf (Glasgow) (SNP): 4. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking by means of its climate challenge fund to promote walking and cycling to work initiatives in Glasgow. (S4O-00992)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I recently announced the successful projects to receive funding from round 9 of the climate challenge fund. That included four projects totalling over £1.5 million in Glasgow that contained an element of sustainable transport. Projects included an award to the Glasgow bike station of just under £450,000 over three years for their a better way to work Glasgow project.

Humza Yousaf: I thank the minister for his response and welcome the grants that are coming to Glasgow. I suppose that it is important that cycling and walking initiatives are supported. We know that their benefits are a boost to health and fitness, the reducing of stress and the saving of money, all three of which would probably benefit us all. Has the Government considered a cycle hire scheme with docks at train or subway stations, Commonwealth games venues or throughout the city to encourage more Glaswegians to get active and fit?

Stewart Stevenson: I have seen successful schemes of that kind in Brussels and London. It would be a matter for Glasgow City Council to pursue. During the next three years, we will invest more than £20 million in active travel projects and I would be happy for the Government to work with Glasgow City Council on that.

Anne McTaggart (Glasgow) (Lab): I applaud the Government’s work in creating the climate challenge fund. How much of the fund will be spent on plugging the gap that was created by the cuts to the active travel budget?

Stewart Stevenson: The climate challenge fund is about innovation and projects, so it is important that we focus on that. The example that was given in the original question is an example of real innovation. I cannot anticipate what the independent panel will recommend to ministers, but that sounds like the kind of project that should be pursued.

(S4O-00990) Salmon Farming (Sea Lice)

Graeme Pearson (South Scotland) (Lab): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take to meet the international goals agreed in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization “Guidance on Best Management Practices to address impacts of sea lice and escaped salmon on wild salmon stocks”. (S4O-00990)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I refer the member to written answer S4W-06830, which was published in the daily written answers report on 30 April 2012 and which states:

“The Scottish Government has supported, and continues to support, the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry and wild salmon and recreational fisheries in Scotland.

The draft report does not fully take into account the measures that the Scottish Government has taken, and continues to take, to address the issues highlighted. Examples include the continued work of the Improved Containment Working Group and proposals included in the recent Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill Consultation document. We are considering the way forward in light of responses to the bill consultation.”—[Official Report, Written Answers, 30 April 2012; S4W-06830.]

Graeme Pearson: As the minister will be aware, NASCO utilises four focus area reports in monitoring this issue and, according to its recent report,

“progress towards achieving the international goals for sea lice and containment”

had not been demonstrated in Scotland. Does the minister recognise that the reporting of lice levels on individual farms is fundamental in demonstrating progress towards achieving the international goals for sea lice?

Stewart Stevenson: In my time as minister responsible for wild salmon and recreational fisheries and, of course, aquaculture, I have sought to promote dialogue between the interests that have to share the same ecological space. I am therefore very pleased to report that as a result of a series of workshops that we have run, and because of the way in which we have worked, the different sectors are now talking to each other. For example, the wild salmon and recreational fisheries industry has sat down with the aquaculture industry to examine the sea lice data that is collected in considerable detail. That is a substantial step forward. That data is collected and published in aggregate, and I am optimistic that we will find the right balance that will enable us to continue to drive sea lice infestation down from what are, in world terms, already very low levels to even lower levels and ensure that there is even less interaction between wild salmon and the aquaculture industry.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): What is the Scottish Government doing to encourage an integrated system of fallowing of fin fish cage sites in sea lochs? Has it taken note of the fact that wild salmon and sea trout stocks in particular west coast areas are declining while east coast stocks appear to be rising?

Stewart Stevenson: Taking the second question first, I point out that the reduction in stocks is specific to specific rivers. Stocks are rising in some west coast areas and falling in others, but those trends are simply an extension of trends that were in evidence before any farms were established.

On the issue of fallowing, our recent consultation, responses to which we are now analysing, sought views on management areas for estuaries or lochs shared by a number of operators to ensure synchronised fallowing. In taking forward that proposal, we must work with the industry. As long as they serve the public good, I would very much like voluntary agreements to be reached in different areas—after all, they help us by keeping us out of the picture. Fallowing is certainly a very important part of the armoury in dealing with sea lice.

2 May 2012

(S4O-00947) Emergency Towing Vessel Service (Pentland Firth)

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): 9. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in light of the United Kingdom Government’s decision not to renew the contract for the emergency towing vessel service in the Pentland Firth and other northern waters. (S4O-00947)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Emergency towing vessels are crucial to protect mariners and the marine environment. We have urged the UK Government to continue to provide cover until a suitable alternative solution can be identified and put in place. Although we are pleased at the positive engagement that we have had with Oil and Gas UK on a potential solution for the northern isles, it is imperative that any transition to a new arrangement does not involve a gap in provision. The UK Government must also ensure that cover is in place for the Western Isles and the Minches.

Richard Lochhead recently wrote to Mike Penning MP on the issue, and will also raise it with David Mundell MP at the Scotland Office.

Jean Urquhart: Does the minister agree with me that, to understand precisely the service that is required, it will be necessary to fully consult all the other rescue services and the maritime industries, that that would be best done by the Scottish Government and that funding should be returned from Westminster to allow that to happen?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that it is essential that all maritime interests and industries are fully considered in any future proposals. The Scotland Office is leading on the issue and I assure members that the Scottish Government is engaged in the discussions.

The UK Government has consistently made it clear to us that the matter is reserved. We, in turn, have also been clear that if no commercial option is available, it is the UK Government’s responsibility to fund provision of the service.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD): Does the minister accept that the current contract for emergency vessels is a great deal for salvage companies but absolutely terrible for Scottish taxpayers? Does he therefore recognise that the pursuit of the shared use of an alternative vessel is a sensible and constructive way to keep the seas safe, as Lord Donaldson originally wished? Does the Scottish Government plan to work with Scottish local authorities, the UK Government and the oil and gas industry to ensure that we achieve that shared objective?

Stewart Stevenson: I am glad that Mr Scott referred to a shared objective because that is where we are. The situation that we are in and the vessels that we currently have, as well as the timescale that is pressing us, make it difficult to find a vessel that would be suitable for all purposes.

I hope that the UK Government continues to work with the industry in a meaningful way, and that the industry is also able to help us. I also hope that all levels of government get engaged in this important issue. However, I have to say to the member that, if we had the independent powers of a normal country, we would have solved the problem long since.

(S4O-00941) Agricultural Rent Reviews

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): 3. To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take as a result of the Court of Session judgment on the Moonzie Farm rent review case in relation to section 13 rent reviews to ensure that the views of tenant farmers and tenants are taken into consideration. (S4O-00941)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): My colleague, the cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead, has already given an undertaking to stakeholders that he will look at the issues raised by the Moonzie case and, if necessary, tackle any problems by introducing further legislation.

The Tenant Farming Forum has been asked to assist in reviewing the position. It is scheduled to meet at the end of May to finalise the remit and membership of the rent review expert working group. Among other things, the panel of experts will look at the statutory formula for rent reviews and consider whether any changes are necessary.

Claudia Beamish: I thank the minister for his clarification on that matter from the perspective of the Scottish Executive and the cabinet secretary.

The minister may be aware that The Scottish Farmer recently stated that

“tenants are now citing the whole protracted Moonzie guddle as proof positive that the current rent review system is ‘patently not fit for the 21st century’.”

I ask for further reassurance that the minister and the cabinet secretary will consider the issue so that there can be clarity for tenants and landlords in what has been an extremely protracted and expensive case.

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes some perfectly reasonable points. There is a substantial divergence of opinion among the stakeholders involved in the issue about how we should take it forward, which is why we are setting up an expert group to discuss it. We will have that established before the end of this month—unless some hiccup occurs, which I do not anticipate.

The issue is complex—the Moonzie case illustrates that if it illustrates anything. We are motivated to give greater certainty and ensure that tenants have a fair rent.

(S4O-00940) Agricultural Support (Map Scale)

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive what map scale is used to assess land eligible for agricultural support under the integrated administration and control system 2012. (S4O-00940)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The mapping scale used to assess land eligible for agricultural support under the integrated administration and control system 2012 is based on the Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap topography layer and is 1:2,500 in rural areas and 1:10,000 in mountain and moorland areas.

Tavish Scott: Is the minister aware that a Shetland farmer faces potential financial ruin because of the IACS penalty regime? The National Farmers Union Scotland has told me that that farmer is not alone, and the union is in active discussions on solutions to the issue. Will the minister ensure that his department and the industry agree on the scale of maps to be used on an individual farm or croft? Will the Scottish Government, until that agreement is in place, consider introducing a moratorium to stop the unfair and entirely disproportionate penalties hitting crofters and farmers, not just in Shetland, but across Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: We issue maps to other scales, where the original map may be to the scales that I have referred to. In relation to a series of ways in which individual farmers may mitigate the effects of errors, I am quite prepared—I am meeting the member this afternoon on another matter—to provide some further information to the member.

Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP): Will the minister explain whether there was any discussion by the previous Labour-Liberal Government, or the Scottish National Party Government, with Ordnance Survey on a process to ensure that accurate maps on every part of Scotland are available so that the current problems would not arise?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not in a position to have access to all the discussions that previous Administrations may have had. I am not aware of such discussions having taken place since the baseline nearly a decade ago.

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