Devolution

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:11 pm on 3rd June 1999.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 3:11 pm, 3rd June 1999

Like some of the previous speakers-and much to my surprise-I, too, am addressing the border rivers order. I had thought that the other order would have attracted a lot more attention.

The border rivers order seeks to give a sensible framework to the regulation of the two cross-border rivers on either side of our country-the Tweed and the Esk. It may not be the most exciting statutory instrument that I have ever read, but it is certainly redolent of history. We have heard both the minister and Dr Murray mention the fact that paragraph 6(6) refers to the charter granted by James V to the burghers of Annan. The order shows that two different and legally separate jurisdictions can find an accommodation to deal with matters of common and mutual interest. That makes one wonder why some Conservative members believe that extending Scottish jurisdiction-which is what independence is, after all-would bring western civilisation as we know it to an end.

The order makes reference to other acts, which in turn refer to further acts, so reading it demands a great deal of attention. I would be glad if the minister would confirm one of my interpretations. He alluded to the duty of the Environment Agency to lay reports before the Scottish Parliament, but will he confirm that, under paragraph 4(2) of the order, the making of byelaws for the Upper Esk-which for the majority of its length, beginning not far north from Scotsdike, is an entirely Scottish river-cannot take place without the concurrence of a Scottish minister? The order does not make that clear.

I have one or two other questions of detail, which I am sure the minister will welcome. In the Lower Esk, the Environment Agency still has the power to grant licences to fish south of the medium filum. Medium filum means the middle; Brian Donohoe used it in a riveting adjournment debate in the House of Commons not long ago when he was talking about the fascinating subject of boundary walls. Can the minister confirm that the entire area north of the medium filum-that is, on the Scottish side-is allocated to existing legal rights to fish for salmon, and that there is no area north of the medium filum that is currently unallocated in respect of such rights?

Can he also explain for the benefit of the curious why, if I understand it correctly-the logic of this escapes me, but I am sure that there must be a good explanation-the only people who can fish for trout north of the medium filum on the Esk are those who have the right to fish for salmon? It seems to me that the two species could be separated.

Another subject that relates to the Esk, but is not directly dealt with in the order, is the shellfish fishery in the Solway. Recently, there has been a large increase in the number of people hand raking for mussels on the Solway. That practice attracts people from as far afield as Wales and Liverpool. There is some concern locally that the use of four-wheel drive vehicles is causing great damage to the foreshore and that the stocks of shellfish, particularly cockles, may be in jeopardy from that practice. Will the minister say whether he is considering a regulatory order for shellfish in the Solway?

Finally, will the minister be tackling the situation regarding migratory fish in the Solway by means of an order, as was suggested by the Environment Agency last year?

It is obviously sensible to have mutual arrangements for these rivers, which are very much a shared resource between the two nations of Scotland and England. We will not oppose this order, although we have some reservations about the fact that the vast length of the Esk will fall under the remit of the Environment Agency.