Devolution

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:18 pm on 3rd June 1999.

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Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour 3:18 pm, 3rd June 1999

I will do that, but I will respond to some of the points now.

Mr Gallie raised a concern about intrusive surveillance. The specific point was whether we have commissioners. Under the Police Act 1997, the Prime Minister appointed a chief commissioner and a number of commissioners to oversee the authorisation process, to give prior approval in certain sensitive cases to investigate complaints and to consider appeals. Both the chief commissioner and the commissioners require to be serving-or former-High Court judges under the terms of the judicial appointments act. The commissioners for Scotland are Lord Davidson and Lord Bonomy. A central support office, the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, supports the commissioners. There are support offices in London, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Scottish support office function is provided by the staff of the police division at the Scottish Office Home Department. If any further information is required, I will be happy to provide it.

Phil Gallie asked for reassurances about costs. I can assure him that the block will not be worse off as a consequence of anything that is happening here. This is about administration and structures. We have a devolution settlement and must define issues for the first time that we have not defined before, but I can reassure him that there is not a financial hit in relation to that.

I was going to say that I will deal with Dennis Canavan's points, but that might be ambitious as I know from experience at Westminster that Dennis Canavan has a great deal more knowledge of this subject than most. On the order affecting the Solway, I cannot promise a debate on the wider issues, because that is not a matter for me. To quote a Westminster phrase, I acknowledge the matter and will pass it to the appropriate minister-Mr John Home Robertson-who is also in the chamber today, so he will take cognisance of this debate.

Suffice it to say that under the section 111 order, the border remains the medium filum. However, the new offence is one of fishing without authority, wherever that fishing may have taken place. Scottish fishermen may fish from the north to the medium filum and English fishermen from the south, but now anyone fishing without authority-a legal right or written permission in Scotland, or a licence from the Environment Agency in England-is guilty of an offence and can be tried in court in Dumfries and Galloway, or in Cumbria. That in no way satisfies the other wider concerns raised by Dennis Canavan; I hope that they will be the subject of a more detailed response from the appropriate minister and department.

Robin Harper made a point about the EA and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The two organisations have different responsibilities. SEPA does not deal with fishing anywhere in Scotland. District salmon fisheries boards do that job.

I was grateful to my colleague Elaine Murray for her supportive comments; she represents one of the areas under discussion. We have tried to put conservation and the environment at the top of the agenda for this order. I hope that we have succeeded.

Alasdair Morgan has a much greater knowledge of these matters than I do. I was deeply impressed-so much so that I do not think that I can respond to any of the particular points that were raised. I hope that that is a distinction for Alasdair.

We have heard detailed questions surrounding an issue that is important to the members who raised them. There were questions on wider issues, but some of the details are germane to the upper and lower parts of the River Esk. I promise to have the appropriate department provide detailed answers to the questions.

I should like to think that this has been a constructive debate, and I hope that it has been a model of how to debate serious issues and technical orders. I am given hope by the fact that-as Michael Russell said at the start of the debate-the SNP will not oppose, because that will take us forward to 1 July. Everyone in this chamber is looking forward to the time when we are not in transition, but are dealing with the big issues that affect Scottish people. I think that all of us are up for that.