25 October 2001

S1M-2279 Ocean Recovery

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 25 October 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Ocean Recovery

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-2279, in the name of Tavish Scott, on the Edinburgh declaration for ocean recovery.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the Edinburgh Declaration for Ocean Recovery to be put to WWF's Oceans Recovery Campaign conference on 23 October 2001; agrees that our seas are in urgent need of sensible and sensitive management if they are to support abundant fish stocks, viable populations of marine wildlife and thriving coastal communities, and calls on the Scottish Executive to work with Her Majesty's Government, devolved bodies and all stakeholders to develop a co-ordinated stewardship strategy for our seas.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Tavish Scott on initiating the debate.

Newton's third law says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If only the complex ecology of the oceans were so simple and we could see that one action had an identifiable side effect. Of course, the matter is not simple.

I share Tavish Scott's view that conservation of our coastal communities is an important objective, but paramount and underpinning a future for our planet is conservation of the oceans. For many years, we have heard our forests referred to as the earth's lungs. I suggest that our oceans have been used by the human race as the earth's kidneys and by industry as the earth's bowels, much to the oceans' disbenefit.

Bruce Crawford referred to Sellafield and the MOX plant. By coincidence, I brought a group of seven Norwegian teachers to the Parliament today. They sat in the VIP gallery during question time this afternoon. The first question that they asked me was on my reaction to the new Norwegian Government's intention, stated in today's press, to sue the UK Government over contamination of the North sea from Sellafield. I suspect that we in the Scottish public are playing catch-up with our Norwegian friends over our concerns for the ocean.

Occasionally, a bit of serendipity comes into play. During the recess, I had a pleasant visit to my local distillery—yes, it was very pleasant, Winnie. I discovered some interesting information. Whisky is the basis of an important rural industry—that I knew. Malt mash is a by-product of the brewing process that leads to the distillation of whisky—that I also knew. However, I did not know that malt mash is increasingly being converted into fish food. About 20 per cent of farmed salmon eats the waste product of Scotland's other excellent product, whisky. That is displacing the primary source of feeding for salmon in farms—fish-meal that is prepared from industrial fishing in the North sea, mainly for pout and sand eel. They are the food stocks on which cod depend.

Mr McGrigor rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am running out of time; I would love to give way.

The whisky industry is helping to save the cod. I say to Jamie McGrigor that I have been told that 5 tonnes of industrial fish yield only 1 tonne of salmon, so it is good that whisky by-products are being used. In the whole food chain, the malt that we grow for whisky helps to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Whisky and cod are helping each other.


03 October 2001

S1M-2278 A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 October 2001


[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

"A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture"

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Our next item of business is the debate on motion S1M-2278, in the name of Ross Finnie, on "A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture", and two amendments to the motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): "A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture" is a rattling good read: light, frothy and unchallenging. It might have come from the Mills & Boon school of strategy. As the minister highlighted, the report outlines 54 action points, although he asks us to read it as a whole. I suspect that I know why he does not want us to focus on the detail.

I have been responsible for strategy in a major company and I would apply a number of tests to assess the value of any strategy. Those tests are very simple. Will the strategy change anything? Does it give a timetable over which any change will take place? Does it provide resources for change? Does it allocate responsibility to the parties who must make the changes? Does it have agreement to action? On all those tests, the Executive's forward strategy, in so far as it may be described as a strategy at all, fails. The minister described it as a vision. Perhaps wisely, he avoided using the word "strategy" in many of his remarks.

The strategy reminds me of the reply that a hot-air balloon pilot got when, on descending through cloud, he asked a farmer in the field below, "Where am I?" The farmer replied, "You're 100ft above my field." In other words, it is accurate, but not much use. If only the Executive strategy was a mere 100ft away from the answer. We need less hot air, more action, a great deal more urgency and more relevance.

Let us consider some of the detail underpinning the Executive's strategy—the 54 action points. Five of them address beasts, four address sheep but none addresses pigs, fowl or crops. In fact, pigs are not mentioned until an annexe at page 49 of the 60 pages. Fourteen of the action points are for farmers to take, 15 indicate further reviews and 21 tell us that people and organisations other than the Executive will be taking action.

Most frightening, there are eight action points that I can categorise only as motherhood and apple pie. Let me give members an example. Action point 45 states:

"The farming, food and environment sectors must work together to identify new ways of protecting and enhancing our environment while ensuring the competitiveness of our farming businesses."

Even the SNP cannot disagree with that. However, the document contains no action, no resources and no timetable. It is motherhood, plain and simple. Those who are agin it should stand up now.

I concede that there is one action point with a date. Action point 41 would establish another working group, to report six months after having been set up. I am delighted by the minister's announcement that the group has now been set up and I expect its report to be delivered to us by the end of March.

Ross Finnie said that we must not merely focus on immediate problems. I agree. However, unless we can travel round the current problems we will not reach the future—there will be nae farms for the future. A vision for the future—which the document might just be, sometimes—provides only a context for a strategy. It does not deliver one.

In answer to Alex Fergusson, the minister stated that the Executive still had to develop detail on land management contracts. That is typical of the way in which the document deals with things.

I am delighted to hear that the minister will meet local enterprise companies tomorrow. In that area, at least, we are moving ahead.

We share the minister's objective of delivering a viable farming sector. I do not doubt his good faith, but I doubt that this document represents a strategy. I doubt that we know when it will deliver. The document does not suggest that action will be taken with the sense of urgency that the industry requires. To be kind—a word that the minister used—I wish that I could share the minister's optimism, but I cannot. Many people in the industry remain dispirited and downhearted.


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