27 October 2016

S5M-02125 Environment and Climate Change (European Union Referendum)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02125, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the environment and climate change—European Union referendum.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Here we are today with, still, no plan for Brexit nor even any definition of it, to echo Finlay Carson’s words. I will address the last topic that he covered. In 1968 I was a water bailiff for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, and as a minister I had the great privilege of having dinner with members of the fisheries board in Mr Carson’s constituency. At that time—I am uncertain as to whether it was 2008 or 2009—the board reported that, as a result of the environmental improvements that were made under the previous Labour-Liberal Administration and continued by the SNP Government, the number of wild fish in the River Nith had quadrupled. That is slightly at odds with what I am hearing today. Things may all have gone in the wrong direction since then, but I rather suspect that they have not.

As other members have done, I declare that I am a species champion; I think that someone with a sense of humour must have offered me the opportunity to be the champion for the European spiny lobster. I will address a couple of points that have arisen in the debate.

During the recent referendum campaign, Nigel Farage—who I accept is not the most reliable of sources for political facts—quoted research by the business for Britain campaign suggesting that the UK had been overruled by the EU Council of Ministers on 55 occasions. My research shows that that is entirely wrong—the number of such occasions was 56. However, to provide some context, there were 2,466 decisions on laws, so the number of occasions on which the UK failed to get its own way amounted to just over 1 per cent. The UK has chosen not to reject the overwhelming majority of laws and regulations that have come via the EU Council of Ministers. In our debates, it is always as well to base some of what we say on facts.

I will not claim that the UK said that all the laws that it supported were perfect in every detail; there is always compromise in such matters. As the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through Parliament, I had two hours and 25 minutes to speak on the subject at stage 3—members will be delighted to know that I have only six minutes or so today—and the Queen graciously granted royal assent for the act on my ruby wedding anniversary on 1 August 2009, to my wife’s immense delight.

I apologise unreservedly to Parliament for this Government’s having failed to meet its target: we promised that the reduction would be delivered in 2020, so I unreservedly apologise for our having delivered it in 2014. Similarly, I unreservedly apologise to Parliament for the Scottish Government’s being so far ahead on its renewable energy targets and beating out of the park all the targets that were set. Our failures are to be gloried in, not to be derided.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green): I acknowledge the Government’s strong record on electricity, given the difficult times with the subsidy cuts, but is not it the case that we are probably going to miss our 2020 target on heat?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not here to defend everything that the Government has or has not done. I am entirely happy to say that in 2009 we set ourselves, collectively and unanimously, a challenging set of targets across a range of areas. Heat is one of the more challenging areas in which there is clearly more work to be done.

I will pick up on a couple of other things. I direct Maurice Golden to the Scotland Act 1998, schedule 5, head E1, on transport. I find that we have no power whatever to legislate in relation to electric cars. We can provide electric charging points and we can subsidise councils and campaigns to encourage, but we have no powers whatever over electric cars.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): On electric vehicles, does Stewart Stevenson accept not just that there is a great deal more to be done on installation of the infrastructure, but that maintenance is proving to be a real problem for a lot of EV users across Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not personally aware of that problem, but I will not attempt to rebut it. I now have a little hybrid car, which is just terrific. It is five years old, and it sometimes does 100 miles per gallon, which I absolutely love. That illustrates a very important point about addressing environmental issues. I am not just benefiting the climate; my wallet is getting a wee handout as well. That is often something that the Tories fail to recognise.

Looking at the text that the Tories want to substitute into the motion, I see that it

“recognises the positive impact that being part of the UK has had on climate change”.

I await news of what that “positive impact” might be. I absolutely recognise the negative impacts of the interference on renewables support from the UK Government. That has not been a helpful situation to be in for a single second.

The environment is not simply the purview of a single legislature or a single state. It is an international issue—one that affects people across Europe and in the world beyond. That is why it is vital that we continue to have the kind of focus that the EU has encouraged us to have, and which has led the way for countries across our continent. That is why we need to continue to adhere to the highest possible standards. We must not sign up to the Tories’ intention to disconnect the peoples of the nations of the UK from international agreements that support the environment—that world that we will bequeath to the next generation who will follow us.


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