19 December 2012

S4M-05229 Water Resources (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05229, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the Water Resources (Scotland) Bill.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Presiding Officer, as I stand before you, I am a mixture of natural chemicals. The most important of those, without which I would have no existence, is formed by two atoms of hydrogen in close embrace with one atom of oxygen: H2O or water. That constitutes some 57 per cent of my body—of all the chemicals that make up the essential me.

We can survive without food for many weeks, but we can survive without water for only a very few days. We can choose, but people in areas of substantial aridity have no choice whatsoever.

I am lucky so far: my body receives water of adequate quality, processes it with other inputs, retains enough for its needs and discharges water waste, all with adequate efficiency. That is a model for Scottish Water.

A key part of the bill relates to those who are less lucky. We need to embed the domestic success of Scottish Water—which is cheap, cheerful and effective in comparison with companies elsewhere in these islands—in the wider world. The bill addresses the hydro nation agenda, and we should ensure that, through our expertise, others gain the type of skills that we have in Scotland.

I have no objection whatsoever to a state-owned company in Scotland helping with and engaging in commercial and social activities in countries elsewhere. Alex Johnstone may care to consider whether DB Schenker should be thrown out of the rail network in the UK, or whether the Dutch post office should not get to undermine Royal Mail, but I suspect that that is not where he was going with his remarks.

Providing commercial services through Scottish Water’s expertise and working in conjunction with the 300 or so companies that constitute Scotland’s water industry is important in engaging internationally.

I particularly welcome the duty that the bill places on ministers at section 1(1)(b) in relation to ways that

“contribute to the sustainable use of”



The wider sustainability agenda is progressed through the climate justice fund, with which I have been pleased to be associated. Those two elements—economic and sustainable futures—march together. As the bill says, our water resources are to be used not just for economic benefit but for any other benefit, and I particularly welcome the cabinet secretary’s plans to make that much clearer.

I will focus a little on the international activities relating to water in which we can be involved. When I was in Rio as the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, I was pleased to meet a number of international organisations for which water was a key issue. While we have—too often, perhaps—a surfeit of water, increasing numbers of people around the world are in water deficit. Meeting people from around the world who come from countries that are in water deficit, and who have to deal with those problems from day to day, is a graphic way of engaging attention and making real what are otherwise only words on paper.

I am pleased that we have been able to work with Mary Robinson and others to create the climate justice fund and, through that, to support water initiatives. The Government has said—and I support this—that it wants to be

“the helpdesk to the world on water governance”,

which is very important.

Water and energy are closely connected. What do members think a tonne of water looks like? The answer is a cubic metre. Moving water around involves moving a heck of a lot of weight, and I welcome the fact that Scottish Water is now engaging in producing green power on its own estate. The bill gives certainty to Scottish Water’s ability to profit from doing that and to produce an economic and environmental benefit, rather than simply to use such activity for its own purposes.

That builds further expertise at the join between the economy and the environment, which I welcome. It is another opportunity for countries to learn from the developed world, and for us to support countries that are in greatest need where they cannot afford to pay for such skills as we have.

There have already been border disputes over water around the world, and it is not unlikely that, in the next 100 years, skirmishes and perhaps even wars will be fought over water. No asset in the modern world will be more important. We can contribute to world peace—and what higher objective could we serve?—by engaging with countries around the world whose populations are in water deficit. We must allow Scottish Water and other companies with expertise in the water industry in Scotland to engage internationally, to support those in greatest need and to contribute to world peace.

That is a pretty good day’s work. I congratulate the committee and the Government on what they have done so far, and I look forward to more of that in future.


Stewart Stevenson
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