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Section 23 — Fixing of charges for water services

Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:45 pm on 29th January 2003.

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Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The purpose of amendment 83 is to ensure that a river basin management plan has been approved before ministers can make regulations for the fixing of charges for the provision of water services. It is only proper that no charges are fixed before the characterisation process for a river basin district has been completed; after all, the characterisation process means that a full analysis of the water environment will be undertaken, and also—crucially—that there will be a review of the impact of human activity and an economic analysis of water use.

It is proper that charges are fixed only after the full consultation process that is envisaged for the river basin management plans. After all, as part of the river basin management planning process, as described in schedule 1 to the bill as introduced, a

"summary of significant pressures, and the impact of human activity, on the status of surface water and groundwater within the district" will require to be included in every plan.

Amendment 83 seeks to ensure a pragmatic, stage-by-stage approach and serious analysis and full consultation before charges are fixed that might impact particularly on sensitive areas of the economy. That is what the bill seeks to achieve in most of the other areas of concern that it seeks to address. Why should the fixing of charges be treated differently?

One of the most sensitive industries in regard to the fixing of charges is the whisky industry. We should not forget that the whisky industry is a significant and strategic manufacturing industry, for Scotland and the United Kingdom. It has sales abroad of more than £2.5 billion—pounds not bottles—and a domestic consumption of £2 billion. The industry has 10,000 direct jobs and supports a further 30,000 in Scotland and 60,000 throughout the UK.

As it is constructed, the bill will allow abstraction charges to be applied at the whim of ministers through regulations. Amendment 83 seeks to ensure that before any charges are applied, an in-depth analysis is carried out and a full consultation process is entered into—as envisaged for all other areas of the bill. I seek to ensure that the whisky industry receives the same treatment as all other sectors that will be affected by the directive's intent.

In effect, my amendment would delay the fixing of charges until 2009. That would be perfectly adequate under the directive, as it is not until 2009 that programmes in relation to river basin districts must be established. I have used by way of evidence the report prepared for the Executive by CJC Consulting, "Evaluating the Economic Impact of Abstraction Controls on High and Medium Volume Water Users in Scotland". The report states:

"Because of limited information on groundwater status it was not possible to draw any general conclusions about the possible impacts of the Directive on sectors abstracting groundwater.

The issue is one of fairness and equity for one of Scotland's most important economic drivers—the whisky industry. It deserves to be treated on the same basis as all other industries. To treat it otherwise would be to do it an injustice and would bring into the bill a process that was not envisaged. There would be no in-depth analysis and there would be no full consultation—we have already agreed that full consultation is a good thing that we should try to achieve.

I move amendment 83.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is fair to say that we have some sympathy with the general direction from which Bruce Crawford is coming. However, the amendment raises a number of practical problems in terms of complying with the directive.

Bruce Crawford helpfully talked about the coincidence of what the directive requires between 2009 and 2010. He also helpfully made the point that, in the real world, one would hope that the two matters would be coincident; in other words, that the preparation of the plan would take place before the assessment.

I want to draw a distinction on two points. First, as Bruce Crawford says, the regulations are about how Scottish Water, or other suppliers, charge for services. The matter is not one of new licences or regulations; it is about making charges for water services that are necessary to protect the water environment. Neither the directive nor the bill forces any particular change. The practical difficulty that we have is that the directive does not make the link that Bruce Crawford seeks to make. He might want to do that, but it is not what the directive does. The directive does not make a link between the production of the river basin management plan and the arrangements for charging for water services.

Apart from its overall objective, the bill must transpose into domestic legislation the requirements under the directive. To link the two in the way in which Bruce Crawford suggests would mean that we might not be able to comply with the European directive's requirements. I understand Bruce Crawford's suggestion and I hope that it might become the case, but the bill must transpose the directive into domestic legislation. Given that, the absence of the link in the directive makes it impossible for me to accept amendment 83, which is why I ask Bruce Crawford to withdraw it.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for his explanation. I understand the point about the link, but if the production of the management plan and the charging arrangements are not linked as the minister wishes them to be linked, I suggest that there is a conflict in the way in which the directive was drawn up. We must make up our minds about whether that conflict should be resolved by full analysis and consultation. The directive suggests that we should have full analysis and consultation before charges are brought into being. I recognise that the production of the plan and the charging arrangements are not linked, but unless we go through the proper analysis and consultation—which we have agreed is important in other areas—we will bring the system of charges into disrepute. It is our job to resolve the conflict, which we can do by voting for amendment 83.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 83 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Russell, Michael, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeish, Henry, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 26, Against 80, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 83 disagreed to.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We are around 25 minutes ahead of time and I intend to proceed by beginning group 7, which is on planning permission for fish farming. We have time for the minister to speak to the amendments in the group, after which we will have the ministerial statement from Jim Wallace.