I am most grateful for the opportunity to move, under rule 8.2.6, that motion S1M-778, on the assisted areas map, be taken at 4.15 pm without notice.
I am indebted to the Presiding Officer for indicating that it is accepted that the matter meets the stringent criteria that govern such motions without notice.
That is correct. I have decided to accept the motion, which means that the Parliament itself will decide whether to debate that matter later this afternoon. Mr Ewing may introduce his motion now, in two minutes, and I will call Alasdair Morrison to respond for the Executive.
I am obliged, Presiding Officer. There are four reasons why the motion should be moved without notice—as is customary—and I apologise for any lack of courtesy and for any inconvenience that members have suffered in giving up other commitments to come here today.
First, I make no apology for arguing that the future lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in the Highlands and Islands will be at stake if the areas that were removed from the initial map—as submitted to the European Commission—are not reinstated. This comes at a time when more than 2,500 people are about to be made redundant at BARMAC. In proportionate terms, that is the biggest redundancy in the United Kingdom—the matter is vital to the Highlands and Islands.
Secondly, I was delighted yesterday to be able to secure all-party support for the motion. I was pleased to receive support from Mary Scanlon of the Conservatives, John Farquhar Munro of the Liberal Democrats and Maureen Macmillan of the Labour party. I believe that that cross-party approach—which I also pursued with the Westminster MP, David Stewart, in a joint press statement last week—is not only expected of all elected representatives in the Highlands, but is the approach that we were elected to pursue when that is appropriate. We were elected to pursue a common approach—albeit with robust arguments—but, none the less, in pursuit of a shared aim.
Thirdly, it has not been possible to introduce the matter before today. The announcement of the exclusion of Inverness, Nairn, Moray, and Badenoch and Strathspey from the assisted areas map as proposed to the European Commission,
Fourthly, this is an emergency in the sense that the consultation period, although it was announced during the recess, will conclude next Tuesday, on 2 May. Today, therefore, is the only opportunity for members of our Parliament to influence the consultation process. If the Parliament means anything, it means that members from all parties, who have expressed support for the motion, should have an opportunity to debate the subject, which is detailed and complicated, but which is, however, absolutely crucial to the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people throughout the Highlands and Islands.
That motion S1M-778 be taken at this meeting of the Parliament.
As Fergus Ewing outlined, the new assisted areas map proposals were announced by the Government on 10 April. This matter is reserved, but even the UK Government does not have full discretion in designating assisted areas, which must be approved by the European Commission.
As part of the proposals that were published in July 1999, all the Highlands and Islands area was put forward for inclusion on the basis of its overall population sparsity. However, the Commission would not accept inclusion of the whole area on that basis, and the Inverness area does not qualify as sparsely populated.
Mr Ewing referred to a period of consultation. There is such a period, which runs until 2 May, during which interested parties are invited to submit views on the revised proposals. A number of Highlands interests have already made representations and their views will be taken into account as part of the consultation process. Indeed, discussions about the proposals that were announced on 10 April took place last week between the chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the senior official who leads the Scottish side of the assisted areas map review. I understand that further such discussions are likely.
The member is correct. I am listening carefully to what the minister is saying, but he must stick to the point of whether we debate the motion this afternoon.
As I was saying, even with the proposed omission of the areas around Inverness, HIE has some 72 per cent population cover, compared with 48 per cent for Scotland as a whole and 29 per cent for the whole of the UK.
In response to some of Mr Ewing's points, as he well knows—or, in any case, he should—the revised proposals include the Ardersier area, which will clearly be a priority for local interests. [Interruption.]
If it is the same point of order, I am seized of it, and I ask the minister to return to whether we debate this afternoon the question that he is talking about.
No. We cannot debate the merits of motion S1M-778 now. We can debate only whether we hold a debate this afternoon. That is the issue to which the minister is responding.
This is a new procedure. I am listening carefully to both speeches, which are supposed to relate to whether we need to debate the issue this afternoon. Mr Ewing put the case as to why he thought that it should be debated this afternoon. The minister either agrees or disagrees with him, but that is what he should stick to.
I intend to use my three minutes, at the end of which I will make clear the Executive's position.
Mr Ewing wrote to Mr McLeish, seeking a meeting about the assisted areas map proposals, and I can confirm that Henry McLeish will, of course, meet him and other colleagues from the
An oral parliamentary question on the assisted areas map has been lodged, which is to be answered tomorrow. Fergus Ewing could, of course, have raised the matter in his capacity as a member of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, rather than seeking an emergency debate today. I ask Parliament to reject Mr Ewing's motion.
We must come to an immediate decision on the matter.
The question is, that the motion in the name of Fergus Ewing, that motion S1M-778 be taken at this meeting of the Parliament, be agreed to. Are we all agreed?
Division number 1
For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brown, Robert, Campbell, Colin, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Grant, Rhoda, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Macmillan, Maureen, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Munro, Mr John, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Mr Alex, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan