14 December 2016

S5M-02049 Climate Targets

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02049, in the name of Maree Todd, on Scotland’s climate targets. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the contribution made by the recently-published report, The Energy of Scotland: Heating, moving and powering our lives from now to 2030, to the debate about the future of Scotland’s energy; understands that the report, which was prepared by WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB Scotland, is based on technical analysis by the leading global technical consultancy, Ricardo Energy and Environment; notes its findings suggesting that producing 50% of all of Scotland’s energy across heat, transport and electricity from renewables by 2030 is achievable and necessary; recognises what it sees as the progress to date in deploying renewables across the electricity sector; understands that these generate the equivalent of more than half of the country’s demand and have brought economic benefits, especially in the Highlands and Islands, and notes the views regarding the work that now needs to be done to support renewables in the heat and transport sectors, which, it understands, together account for more than three-quarters of Scotland’s total energy consumption.

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

Presiding Officer, I wish you a happy birthday—it is always as well to get credit with the Presiding Officers; it is one of the rules in this place—and I thank Maree Todd for securing the debate.

I found myself agreeing with every word that Maurice Golden said in what was a very worthwhile contribution. In the light of that agreement, I gently encourage him and his Conservative colleagues to consider signing a motion from time to time, even if there is an SNP name on it. However, that is a political point that I do not want to stress.

The key point to make is that the report that is the subject of this evening’s debate makes many points that are critical to our economy, to renewable energy and—fundamentally—to climate change. Members will know of my personal engagement as the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through in 2009, which was a very challenging bill.

It is fair to acknowledge that an area that has already been the subject of debate—renewable heat—is one of the areas in which the challenge is greatest. Renewable heat is proving to be fundamentally more difficult to develop than we imagined in 2009 it would be. That does not mean that we should ignore it: on the contrary, it is the difficult things to which we must now turn our attention, but we will do so having had successes in other areas.

I accept that transport emissions remain a difficult area. I will tell members a little story about that. When I was minister, I went to a meeting of eco-congregations, which took place in a rural area and was attended by people from all over Scotland who were enthusiastic about making faith groups more ecologically friendly. I found ready ears for what I had to say, until I made the mistake of saying that, in transport, one of the things that people like me who live in rural areas might think about is co-ordinating with neighbours our visits to local towns to do our shopping. I can describe what happened only by saying that all Hades—I use the word carefully—broke loose, because it turned out that even among the most enthusiastic climate change adopters, that was for everyone else to do—not them. The big challenge lies with the people and in our persuading them to adopt new ways of working.

The UK has been doing reasonably well in the rankings, although it is going a bit backwards at the moment. Scotland accounts for one seven-hundredth of the world’s emissions and is widely recognised as being one of the leaders in tackling climate change—albeit that there are other areas of the world that are in certain respects doing better than we are. The leadership that we have displayed is being challenged by some of the UK Government’s policies on renewable energy.

However, I am hopeful, because there is economic benefit to be gained from addressing climate change. We create new jobs and reduce our long-term costs, because the raw material for renewable energy is, after all, all but free once we have made the capital investment. Those are areas that we can consider and in which we can, I hope, make progress. Scotland has engineering skills that we can leverage across from our oil and gas industry, in particular into new offshore renewable energy installations. First-mover advantage is still there for us to grasp.

I hope that the debate makes a useful contribution, just as the report that we are discussing and the work of WWF, Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB Scotland have made excellent contributions on climate change. I look forward to listening to my colleagues’ speeches.

I wish you a happy birthday, once again, Presiding Officer.


07 December 2016

S5M-02922 Sea Fisheries and End-year Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02922, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

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

I have great hopes for today’s debate, and in that spirit I start by congratulating colleagues on the Conservative benches on their candour in their amendment. Not everyone is prepared to acknowledge failures in negotiation. They are shared between the UK Government and perhaps the Scottish Government, but if we acknowledge where we are not succeeding, we have hope of going forward.

Fishermen in Scotland have indeed expressed their disappointment about the blue whiting catch allocation. Seven percentage points have been given away today, just as control over our waters was in 1983, at the end of the 10-year derogation. That leads me to say that we might usefully look at a little of the history that got us to where we are today, so that we do not repeat some of that history.

The original commitment to surrender our fishing rights out to 200 miles came in 1971. In effect, it was entrenched into law when Ted Heath signed the treaty of accession on 22 January 1972. This is the important point: only after that was the treaty published and subject to democratic scrutiny. The most objectionable part of the treaty was that fishing decisions could be made by majority, and sometimes by qualified majority. The issue of opening up the result of negotiations before we get committed to it, so that parliamentarians can look at it, is perhaps one that we will return to in another context at a later point.

The fisheries negotiations that we are talking about today are so unsatisfactory that even landlocked countries in the EU can essentially block our interests. The SNP has recognised all that from the very outset, and that is why we have opposed the common fisheries policy in all its forms from the beginning.

Hopefully, we are going to get to a position of a reasonable consensus in the chamber. In my very first speech here, in June 2001—strictly speaking, it was up the road from here—I quoted words from this Parliament’s European Committee, and they are equally relevant today. I said that we should try to get everyone

“to speak with one voice ... There are tensions that should be buried for the common good.”—[Official Report, European Committee, 30 January 2001; c 946.]

That was the advice from the Parliament’s European Committee in 2001. It is still good advice today and I hope that we are able to do that.

It is worth saying that my colleague Donald Stewart, who was the leader of the SNP in 1982, said of fisherman, on the record, in the Westminster debate that preceded the formation of the common fisheries policy in the current form:

“They have been betrayed. The result will be catastrophe.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 15 July 1982; Vol 27, c 1195.]

We see that that view was shared. Austin Mitchell, another great champion of fishing communities—I should perhaps have said that it was a Labour motion that was being debated—also spoke up in similar terms, as indeed did some but not a majority of Conservatives. Certainly, when the vote came at 7 o’clock at night, the Conservatives voted down a motion that would have given a proper sense of where we were at that point.

We have to grab hold of the fact that fisheries negotiations are not just a matter for those who catch fish. They are also a matter for our processors. In my constituency, processing is a major source of employment for many thousands of people, and people in that industry wait equally anxiously for the outcome of each year’s negotiation. It is no small matter for Peterhead and Fraserburgh, where the contribution from landings was more than £150 million last year. That is nearly £4,000 per head of population—a very substantial sum. However, it equally matters to constituents in the south of Scotland in Eyemouth, and of course to Tavish Scott’s constituents in the furthest north.

In 1997, my political colleague Dr Allan Macartney MEP published a considered proposal for reform of the CFP. We might take notice of a couple of things in it that throw some light on how we got to where we are. One thing that Allan Macartney, who was a linguist, highlighted was that the Spanish act of secession of 1985, which in essence eliminated the UK’s ability to veto results, arose in part because of a difference between the Spanish language and English language versions of the treaty. The Spanish language version missed out the word “solely”, and it was the one that was used when the decisions were made. Tavish Scott is nodding, so I see that he is familiar with that. Sometimes very simple little things can get us into difficulties.

The 1997 paper that Allan Macartney produced could form a useful basis for policy that we might adopt now, although others might take a different view. He said that we needed

“a new framework whereby coastal states with the greatest historical interests in specific fisheries would be able to take the key control and management decisions relating to the fisheries in the waters off their coasts”.

Of course, he was writing to get change in the CFP. It is quite clear that the dynamic in politics and practical affairs is somewhat different today, and therefore a particular opportunity may arise.

I know that other members will talk about choke species, which will continue to be a matter of importance to our communities. Another issue in the current arrangements is that not enough of the fish that are caught in our sector are landed for the benefit of our communities and the processors in our communities. It is not irrational for fishermen to get the highest price that they can—be that in Norway or elsewhere—but we must bear in mind that our quotas were given out at no cost, and if we get new quotas because of new opportunities, we must look at a new way of doing things.

Ultimately, fish is a delicious, healthy thing to eat. Across these islands there is a vast network of fish and chip shops that give us all access to fish. That is what I most enjoy about fishing. This debate is a key opportunity for us to join together and I hope that at 5 o’clock we can agree a common position to the benefit of fishing communities, fishermen, Scotland and the UK as a whole.

06 December 2016

S5M-02919 Renewables

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02919, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on support for Scotland’s renewables.

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

Jackie Baillie referred to the fact that David Cameron has not been very supportive of offshore wind. He is 100 per cent supportive of it—mind you, he is an SNP councillor in Aberdeen. That is perhaps not the David Cameron that Jackie Baillie had in mind.

Liam Kerr’s memory seems to be slightly shorter than mine. It was remembrance day when he and I were sitting round the table listening to Shell UK; I think that Lewis Macdonald was also there, and he might nod when I say that Shell indicated that it was considerably disappointed by the inadequate support that it was getting from the UK Government for many of the initiatives that it wished to pursue.

Another point that I would like to make to Liam Kerr is that Aberdeenshire has a higher concentration of onshore wind farms primarily because for many years the Conservative-led council there had a looser planning authority, which did not impose the same restrictions as the rest of Scotland on distance between wind turbines and communities, and I urged it to harmonise with others. Liam Kerr, who is new to us, is perhaps not as familiar with some of the history as others might be.

Some interesting things are said on the subject of renewable energy from time to time. Victoria Ayling was a Conservative Party candidate in the 2010 general election, when she nearly beat Austin Mitchell; she got within 714 votes of him. In 2015, when she was standing in the same constituency—Great Grimsby—for the UK Independence Party, she showed that startling insight that those on the right of politics sometimes do when she posed the question, “What happens when renewable energy runs out?” When it was drawn to her attention that that was perhaps not the most sensible thing to have said, there was a good deal of desperate back pedalling. On Thursday, she will make her third attempt to get to the UK Parliament when she stands in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, once again for UKIP. Appropriately enough, her name will appear on the ballot paper immediately following the Monster Raving Loony Party and immediately before Bus Pass Elvis, whose candidate appears to be a gentleman called David Bishop.

A lot of nonsense is talked on this general subject. Some of it is merely amusing, but some of it is really serious indeed. Some unexpected sources point us to the seriousness of climate change and why renewable energy has such an important part to play. I will quote no less a person than John Brennan, who is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. On 16 November 2015, he said that climate change was one of the “deeper causes” of instability. He identified it as one of a handful of key challenges that were creating the unstable world that his agency would have to engage with. That is why we should take this debate on renewables and the debate on the broader subject of climate change extremely seriously.

We have made progress in Scotland—that is for sure. Beating our climate change targets six years ahead of the date that we set in 2009 is absolutely terrific, but our emissions are but one seven-hundredth of the world’s emissions. We can set an example, but we are not the source of the entire problem.

The UK Government’s contribution to climate problems is much bigger, so it is bitterly disappointing to see that it fails to understand the best economic way of tackling the issues that are before us. Contracting a price that is twice the market rate for nuclear power from Hinkley Point is not only foolish in relying on a technology that is unproven—and from the early attempts to implement the technology that Hinkley Point C would depend on, looking to be unsuccessful—it is economically benighted and unhelpful. The money could much more usefully be installed in proven technologies for renewable energy. The low-carbon contracts company that I referred to in my earlier intervention is part of the quite complex infrastructure that surrounds contracts for difference—there are six significant parties to those contracts, which makes things far from easy. That company certainly did not give us in its contracts for difference booklet for 2016-17 any prior insight into the UK Government’s volte-face.

I hope that the UK Government will listen to this debate and, more to the point, that it will think of not just the investments that are being made in renewable energy and the value that is derived from those, but the key opportunity to re-exploit the huge skills that have been built up in Scotland, the north of England, East Anglia and throughout the UK in offshore gas and offshore oil, which Lewis Macdonald and other members referred to. Both industries have been around for decades, and we can make much of them in the future.


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