Responsibility for speaking on the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill was devolved to me because the committee lost its convener to the Scottish Executive—I congratulate Tom McCabe on that—and, even worse, it lost its deputy convener to the vagaries of the Scottish National Party's selection process. Some of us have greatness thrust upon us and that is what seems to have happened to me this afternoon. In that capacity, I will move amendment 3 and amendments 4, 5, 6 and 7 on behalf of the bill's promoters.
The amendments in group 1 would remove section 5 and schedules 2 and 3 from the bill. Members will expect a brief explanation of that rather drastic proposal. Section 5 and schedules 2 and 3 provide for an exclusion zone to prevent unauthorised navigation in the immediate vicinity
The Robin rigg site will be the first offshore wind farm site in the United Kingdom, so we are literally in uncharted legislative waters. With section 5, we were on the verge of creating a one-off, entirely novel form of maritime exclusion zone, which would have been difficult to explain through the normal channels of notification to mariners, difficult to enforce and whose provisions would have had to be frequently repeated for future wind farm sites around the coast. However, late in the proceedings, our colleagues at the Department for Transport in Whitehall came up with a far more satisfactory, alternative proposal that will provide for not only an exclusion zone at Robin rigg, but wider and clearer powers to establish exclusion zones around wind farms anywhere in the United Kingdom's internal and territorial waters, and, in due course, in the renewable energy zone around the UK coast.
Yesterday, I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport—who is, incidentally, also the Secretary of State for Scotland—that gave specific undertakings. It might be helpful to put the key parts of his letter on the record. Alistair Darling states:
"Whitehall Departments and the Scottish Executive have agreed to take the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation allowing the establishment of safety zones around windfarms which will make it a criminal offence for unauthorised vessels to operate or anchor within them."
"In the period before the establishment of safety zones at Robin Rigg, we will seek to rigorously enforce Section 58 (conduct endangering ships, structures or individuals) and the regulations pursuant to Section 85 (3) (k) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to prevent any collision involving a ship which is operating in the vicinity of the wind farm. Evidence of any contravention could be presented to ... the Procurator Fiscal, to consider prosecutions. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency would assist in this matter by passing evidence of possible offences to the relevant prosecution authorities and will also notify mariners once the construction of Robin Rigg commences that the vicinity of the works constitutes an "Area To Be Avoided." Safety zones would be put in place around all offshore windfarms, including Robin Rigg, as soon as the necessary generally applicable legislation is in place." Under the new circumstances, it would serve no useful purpose for us to create a unique statute for an exclusion zone at Robin rigg alone, when
The bill's promoters are satisfied that the procedure will be a better way to achieve the vital objective of safety in the waters around the wind farm.
I move amendment 3.
I am used to that particular confusion.
The bill as introduced had two main sections. The first provided authority for works obstructing navigation and fishing, and the second set up exclusion zones. As John Home Robertson indicated, amendment 3 is a rather drastic proposal to remove entirely the second main section of the bill as introduced.
The amendment would alter the bill significantly, after the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill Committee spent a great deal of time considering it. Much of that consideration was effective and added some good new sections to the bill that we will consider in the closing debate. Amendment 3 comes after the objectors to the bill spent considerable time giving evidence—much of it addressed to the section that the amendment would delete—and after considerable expense on the part of the promoters. Introducing a private bill is no cheap matter.
Are the promoters being perverse in seeking to have section 5 of the bill deleted? For some time, they have come up against obstruction from the Department for Transport in London. That is the subtext of the letter that John Home Robertson cited and of the discussions that have been taking place. Some people at the Department for Transport are annoyed by the fact that the Scottish Parliament is trespassing on what they see as their territory, but we are not on their territory. The bill committee addressed that issue in its preliminary stage report. An ultra vires objection was lodged at that stage, but in its report the committee stated that it was
"satisfied that the Bill falls within the competence of the
There is no legal problem with what we are doing, but there is a turf war among the promoters, the Parliament and some civil servants in London who do not want to relinquish a jot of their little empire.
What do they offer us instead of exclusion zones? Let us be clear: anyone who knows much about Westminster knows that when it talks about legislating at the first possible opportunity, that opportunity could be decades into the future. Do we have a Sewel motion to approve UK legislation? It is not even as good as that. We have a promise of legislation at an unspecified date in the future. In the interim, we have the use of existing legislation. No doubt a notice to mariners will be issued. Instead of the legally enforceable exclusion zone for which the bill makes provision, we will have advice issued by the Department for Transport.
The mover of the amendment said, in effect, that that is just as good. I beg to differ. In its consideration stage report the bill committee considered the matter in detail. The promoters gave evidence saying that advisory notices would not be sufficient. The committee considered points made by the promoters and others and agreed with them. It stated:
"The Committee takes the view that the three exclusion zones are required: to properly address the hazard to mariners and for the safety of those who are constructing the wind farm" and
"to help reduce the risk of collisions between vessels and the wind farm structures."
The last time the all-party Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) Scotland Bill Committee met in the previous session, it decided unanimously that exclusion zones were necessary on safety grounds and that existing provisions were not sufficient. Now, on the strength of a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport—who is also the Secretary of State for Scotland and who, in his spare time, thinks that this place is an Assembly—we are meant to believe that those safety grounds can be ignored.
Without further consultation with the committee or new evidence having been considered, we are asked to accept these radical changes, even though the provisions in the bill were examined at length and in the light of considerable evidence. The committee has met and deliberated. All objectors have been heard. Many points have been incorporated in the bill, and I dare say that all the lawyers and agents have been well paid. I do not believe that at final stage we should accept major changes to the bill on the strength of a letter from a UK minister, no matter how many jobs he has.
On other occasions, ministers take much delight in saying that devolution means that things are done differently in Scotland. I suggest that we do things differently on this occasion. There is no way that without much more mature consultation and consideration than we will be allowed in this short debate we should agree to this group of amendments.
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests: I have signed an options agreement with a wind farm development company.
For what is probably the first time, I find myself agreeing with Alasdair Morgan. I speak against amendment 3 and against the background that has led to its being lodged. This debate was supposed to take place two weeks ago and we were informed that it had been postponed to accommodate other business. That seemed fair enough at the time, but subsequent inquiries have led me to believe that the real reason for the postponement emanates not from the Scottish Parliament but from Westminster.
In particular I came to understand—and John Home Robertson has now confirmed this—that the Department for Transport had queried the competence of this Parliament to introduce exclusion zones, as set out in section 5. Indeed, the head of the shipping policy 2 division of the Department for Transport states in a letter to Babcock and Brown Ltd:
"We consider it would be wise to avoid establishing a precedent in that Bill"— in other words, this bill—
"which would appear to confuse or conflict with our future safety zone approach."
It seems to me that the Scottish Parliament committee that we established to deal with the bill—and let us remember that we are talking not about an Executive bill but about a private bill—stands accused by a Whitehall department of introducing a confusing and possibly conflicting section. The committee spent a great deal of time coming to the conclusion that it was important to have the power to create exclusion zones for the greater safety of everyone involved in the project. If it was so important to have that power, I simply fail to comprehend how the remaining members of the committee can now argue that it is not necessary, on the basis of the vague assurance that UK legislation will be introduced some time in the future to cover the exclusion zone issue.
That opens up the prospect of a vast project consisting of 60 90m-high turbines being erected
Why are we about to allow a project of this scale to proceed without sufficient safety measures in place to
"address the hazard to mariners and to those constructing the works"?
There is a perceived hazard.
Above all, why were members of this Parliament not informed of the true reason for the postponement of the debate two weeks ago? I contend that we have been held in contempt and that the whole issue is shrouded in shady deals between the Government in Westminster and the Scottish Executive. I urge members to vote against amendment 3 this afternoon, for those reasons, but principally because of the safety implications of proceeding without exclusion zones.
Mr Morgan and Mr Fergusson have said much of what I wish to say. I attended the two public meetings of the committee that were held in Dumfries and Kirkcudbright and, at that point, the procedures followed by the committee and in the public consultations were welcomed. Everybody came back to Parliament and said how well the committee had done and how well the process had been followed.
Extensive technical evidence was given to those of us who sat through those meetings. Now it seems that all that is to be brushed aside on the basis of a letter from the Department for Transport. I do not agree with John Home Robertson that the Department for Transport is somehow saying what a good job the committee has done and is following that up. If the committee's position now is what it believed before, why did it not take that position at the start? Why has so much time, money and public goodwill been used up over the months? The navigation issues around wind farms are self-evident.
If the Department for Transport has clear plans to introduce UK legislation, that should have been intimated right at the beginning of the process, before thousands of pounds were spent and before people went to hearings in good faith, thinking that their views were contributing to a parliamentary process. Agreeing to amendment 3 would show contempt for the process and for the public in Dumfries and Galloway who participated
I sat on the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill Committee and listened to a great deal of evidence regarding concerns about interference with navigation and fishing rights in the Solway, which is the whole point of the bill, so I am very surprised that an amendment that would remove section 5 should be lodged so late in the day, on behalf of the promoters, when those same people and the committee went to such lengths to ensure that the section, about exclusion zones, was put in the bill in the first place.
I have to say that I find the timing and the lack of consultation with the Parliament very unsatisfactory. I understand why the promoters now want section 5 to be removed—they see that it might prevent their bill from getting royal assent—but they agreed, as did the committee, that exclusion zones would be necessary during the possible construction of a wind farm in the Solway, especially for safety reasons. I point out that, in its consideration stage report, the committee stated that the exclusion zones were required
"to properly address the hazard to mariners and for the safety of those who are constructing the wind farm".
The committee also agreed to the promoters setting the minimum blade clearance at 18m, subject to there being an active management system in place. The point about that is that the active management system was there to ensure that people did not break the exclusion zones. If section 5 is removed, there will be no need for exclusion zones, so why should there be an active management system? John Home Robertson has had a letter, which he says has reassured him enough to change his position. I do not wish to be melodramatic, but Neville Chamberlain had a letter when he came back from Munich.
This is the Parliament's first private bill. It was scrutinised by a committee of the Parliament and that scrutiny should not be diminished by a last-minute compromise.
This is a private bill. It is the wish of the promoters that are promoting the private bill to remove section 5. As far as I am concerned, maritime safety is the issue that we are debating and nothing else. We are not debating constitutional issues or party-political bounce—maritime safety is the issue.
I speak as one of the three backbenchers who spent a great deal of time on the Robin Rigg Offshore Wind Farm (Navigation and Fishing) Scotland Bill Committee. We took a great deal of evidence. It was clear to the committee that
I have been a little disappointed by the tone of some of the speeches that we have heard. I am disappointed that the word "contempt" was used by David Mundell and, I am reminded, Alex Fergusson, who also talked about "shady deals" being done between the Scottish Executive and the UK Government. To cap it all, Jamie McGrigor talked about the Munich agreement and peace in our time. Frankly, that is bizarre.
Having sat on the committee that felt that it was so important to have safety zones—or exclusion zones; I do not mind what they are called—is Mike Rumbles content that a vast construction project of this nature should take place without having in place the safety measures that the committee recommended?
If that were the case, I would not be content, but it is not the case. Alex Fergusson misses the point.
We have already heard excerpts from the letter that was sent from the Department for Transport to Daniel Badger, the promoter of the bill. It states:
"Whitehall Departments and the Scottish Executive have agreed to take the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation allowing the establishment of safety zones around windfarms which will make it a criminal offence for unauthorised vessels to operate or anchor within them."
That is precisely what we were arguing for. The letter adds that the Department for Transport intends that the legislation will apply to all offshore wind farms, whether those are located in internal waters, territorial waters or the renewable energy zone.
Apart from the fact that it will be up to this Parliament to agree a Sewel motion before those measures apply to Scotland, there is no time scale given in the letter. There is no guarantee that such provisions will apply before the construction of the Robin rigg wind farm starts. Knowing Westminster, I think that it is unlikely that that will be the case.
Okay. That is a fair and valid point. However, let me counter that argument by referring to the same letter, which said that the Department for Transport shared the concern of the promoter and the bill committee about the safety of navigation. The letter continued:
"In the period before the establishment of safety zones at Robin Rigg"—
"we will seek to rigorously enforce Section 58 (conduct endangering ships, structures or individuals) and the regulations ... of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to prevent any collision involving a ship which is operating in the vicinity of the wind farm. Evidence of any contravention could be presented to ... the relevant prosecution authorities."
That would be the procurator fiscal in Scotland.
If Mr Rumbles is accepting that argument, he is asking us to accept that the consideration stage report of the Robin Rigg Offshore Windfarm (Navigation and Fishing) (Scotland) Bill Committee is wrong when it concludes that the existing legislative provision is inadequate.
No. I do not think that Alasdair Morgan appreciates all the evidence that we received and the conclusions that we came to. We agreed that if nothing further was being done and no legislation was on the way, we would have to do it ourselves. That is the fundamental point, which members are missing because they were not involved in the detail of the evidence taking or in the assessment of the evidence that was presented to the committee.
I agree entirely on that point. The problem was brought to the attention of members of the bill committee, of whom Mr McGrigor was one, that objections had been raised by the UK Government. There is no question about that. I do not really see the point that Mr McGrigor is making.
I am trying to emphasise the practical nature of what we are doing. There have been no shady deals. I am not interested in who passes the legislation. I am more concerned about maritime safety. The fact is that the practical measures have to be taken, and we now have a guarantee of UK-wide legislation. I would say this, but I think that the work of the bill committee has led the way, and that it has persuaded the Department for Transport to propose those measures for the whole of the UK, which will avoid their having to be implemented piecemeal.
The Executive supports the amendments that have been lodged and we believe that they are appropriate.
The assurances that John Home Robertson has received from the Department for Transport follow on from discussions between us and our UK Government colleagues, but I wish to respond to some of the comments that have been made in
Could the minister clarify his general position? Does he agree with this statement from Allan Wilson, who was then, as he is still is, the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development? He said:
"the bill is principally a matter for the Parliament and not for the Executive."—[Official Report, 9 January 2003; c 16830.]
Absolutely. I am simply giving the Executive's response to and comments on the debate. I believe that John Home Robertson will sum up on the amendments, as is appropriate. The bill is a private bill, and I am simply putting on the record various matters of fact that I think are important to the Parliament.
Far from that point hitting the bull's-eye, it was a million miles wide of the mark. The bill had to be discussed quickly and it has been discussed within a few days of the initial date for the debate, for reasons that have been explained. That was accomplished by the Parliamentary Bureau, which should be congratulated by those of Alex Fergusson's opinion, because the rescheduling of this debate has allowed a few more days for amendments to be lodged. Mr Fergusson did not take that opportunity, but what has happened has not in any way taken away from Parliament's ability to consider and discuss the bill properly.
The idea that an amendment being introduced at this stage in some way constitutes contempt for the process is simply bizarre. In my view, it is further evidence of the robust good health of the Scottish Parliament and its committee system. I will come on to that in a moment.
The committee that considered the bill has explored the key issues raised in the amendments, and it took the view that legislation was required. That is acknowledged on all sides.
Following the committee's taking that view, we held discussions with our United Kingdom colleagues and decided that legislation should be introduced as soon as possible.
I am, to some extent, a newcomer to this debate. I want to pick up on an issue that Mike Rumbles raised. He said that the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 covers the safety of maritime movements around rigs. If that is the case, why are we considering further legislation and, if that is not the case, what time scale is the minister putting on that legislation?
If Mr Gallie will have a little patience, I will come on to answer both his points. The important point about the bill and its implications for safety zones around marine installations is the one that John Home Robertson made in his introduction. The committee has highlighted the need to clarify the position not only at Robin rigg but wherever similar installations are put in place. That will require a development of the policy on safety zones around offshore installations of various kinds. Members should bear in mind the fact that the Robin rigg wind farm will physically be a much larger installation than the offshore oil and gas rigs that are covered by the Petroleum Act 1998. By highlighting those issues, the committee has made the case for legislation that will affect Robin rigg but not only Robin rigg. That is an important point. The Robin rigg committee has considered and highlighted the issues, following which we and our colleagues in the UK Government have acknowledged the need to make progress on the issue of safety zones round renewable energy installations of every kind. The benefit of the work of the committee will not be confined to this single case—important though that case is—but will be spread out over the offshore renewable energy industry as a whole.
Phil Gallie asked about existing legislation. John Home Robertson has been assured by the Department for Transport that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will enforce the existing legislation rigorously in the meantime, until safety zones are properly introduced.
One thing confuses me in what the minister and the mover of the amendment said. The section on exclusion zones was in the bill when it was first introduced. It did not appear as a result of the committee's deliberations but was put there by the promoters of the bill—I presume as a result of their legal advice and as a result of consultation with ministers. If it is shown that that advice was faulty, will the promoters—and perhaps even the Parliament—be able to recover the costs that have
Alasdair Morgan is missing the point entirely. The point is that consideration of the bill as first introduced has developed the case. I would be surprised if anyone who served on the bill committee did not take that view. As a result of the development of the case, we and our colleagues in the UK Government have recognised the need for a more wide-ranging legislative basis for similar safety zones for offshore renewable energy installations in general. Until that necessary legislative change is made, the MCA will enforce the existing regulations rigorously. That is not to say that the existing regulations are inadequate, but it is to say that we acknowledge that they need to be clarified and built on. The specific assurance that the existing regulations will be enforced in relation to Robin rigg will be welcomed by the promoters of the bill and by all concerned.
The question of enforcement, significant though it is, is one on which the developers have accepted the assurances of the Department for Transport. They regard that as an adequate basis on which to go forward.
I am coming to that matter, if the member can contain himself.
There is no doubt that we could enact section 5 if we wanted to, as the Presiding Officer received legal advice that that could be done and the bill was accordingly certified as it was originally printed. The point is that it would serve no useful purpose to do so, as we will get something that is far more effective and satisfactory and significantly safer. That will be done not on the basis of a vague assurance, as Alex Fergusson said, but on the basis of a specific undertaking from the Secretary of State for Transport.
Alasdair Morgan and David Mundell are a bit mischievous in referring to the committee's proceedings. David Mundell will recall that we received many representations from the Solway Yacht Club and the Royal Yachting Association asking us to take section 5 out of the bill. They did
I have an assurance in writing from the Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland. Andrew Welsh was a member of the House of Commons for almost as long as I was and he knows that nobody can give exact times, but it will be as soon as possible. In the meantime, other provisions under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 will be enforced, as the secretary of state has outlined.
That is the key point. Members know that I certainly cannot bind anyone to do anything at Westminster, but I have received a clear public undertaking—which has been given not just to me and the Parliament, but directly to the Executive—that things will be done at the earliest opportunity. However, the point that the member has raised is important because getting into a wrangle about the matter could delay progress, which would be unfortunate.
The assurance that John Home Robertson has received is based on discussions between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive. Therefore, we will seek the matter to be brought forward as soon as possible. If Chris Ballance is concerned in any way about the timetable, he may ask such questions again when we return to the chamber after the recess.
The fundamental point is that we will get something that is better and more effective. I fully realise that the SNP's main concern is to create constitutional aggravation, which is fair enough, as that is its job, but my concern is for the safety of mariners and people working on the wind farm. The debate has been a distraction. A better solution is available to us and I urge members to support amendment 3.
Division number 1
For: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Mr Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen
Against: Adam, Brian, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Rob, Grahame, Christine, Kane, Rosie, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Martin, Campbell, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Mr Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Neil, Alex, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Tosh, Murray, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra