Section 4 — Plans and programmes

Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:46 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:46 pm, 9th November 2005

Group 3 is on the application of the bill to defence and civil emergency plans and programmes. Amendment 12, in the name of Rob Gibson, is grouped with amendment 9. If amendment 12 is agreed to, amendment 9 will be pre-empted.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Amendment 12 would create a new subsection under which Scottish ministers would have the power to allow, by order, the Ministry of Defence not to publish a strategic environmental assessment of those plans and programmes that may be of national security importance. Therefore, our intention is to ensure that the MOD, when its activities take place in Scotland, meets the requirements of the bill.

Why would we want to do that? Scotland is not unique in having to deal with the MOD's plans and programmes, but some aspects of what is happening here are unique. At the top end, for example, the Government in London could well decide in the next few years to order a replacement for Trident nuclear missiles. In the case of an SEA on the impact in Scotland of the deployment of such a replacement, it would be important for us to have a handle on the matter, for our ministers to be involved with it and for the relevant structure to be within the powers of this Parliament.

It is also important that we recognise the MOD's impact on our environment at various other levels. An example that I raised at stage 2 is when the MOD marks on navigation charts, without any consultation, remarks such as "firing practice area" for lochs that contain, for example, oyster farms and fish farms. In a broad range of areas, the MOD is not making itself open to the kind of scrutiny that would require our Government to be involved behind the scenes. Currently, daily activities are impeded by decisions that are not up for consultation. We believe that it is essential to ensure that the MOD's activities in Scotland are subject to the letter of the bill and are not excluded from strategic environmental assessment. We ask the Parliament to agree to amendment 12 to ensure that that happens.

I move amendment 12.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

As Rob Gibson pointed out, the MOD has an impact on the environment. For example, radioactivity has recently been found at Forthside in Stirling and at Dalgety Bay. That has arisen because of mistakes that were made in the past, when we did not have SEAs. We must ensure that we do not make such mistakes in the future.

I am not saying that the MOD will always have a negative impact on the environment. It has made positive impacts, as I said at stage 2. For example, it was found that there was a lot of ecological regeneration of the sea-bed in a torpedo testing area on the west coast of Scotland. I am not here to judge the MOD, but it is extremely important that we should see the environmental impacts, whether positive or negative, of its activities. An SEA is not an alien concept to the MOD; it already carries out SEAs on some of its plans and programmes. Amendment 9 is about enshrining that best practice in legislation.

There is a debate about when we would not want to bother considering the environmental impacts of the MOD's activities. Such instances are outlined in the Westminster Government's definition of when it is not sensible to consider environmental impact, as I mentioned at stages 1 and 2. Before the summer, John Reid said in a policy statement:

"I will invoke any powers given to me to disapply legislation only on the grounds of national security when such action is absolutely essential to maintain operational capability."

That is a robust definition of when we would not want to consider environmental impact, although at stage 2 Maureen Macmillan described it as woolly. Well, that was the first time that I had heard John Reid being called woolly. At stage 2, the minister said that there was no legal basis for such an approach, despite the fact that there is a director of operational capability in the MOD.

An SEA does not make a decision; if there is an overriding interest, a decision can be made. However, it is important that we should look, in as many instances as is sensible, at the environmental impact of the MOD. I appreciate what Rob Gibson is proposing in his amendment 12, which I believe reflects the Canadian experience and the words in Canadian legislation. What I am saying is, "Let's stick to Labour Party policy at Westminster. Let's enshrine those words within our Scottish legislation."

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 3:00 pm, 9th November 2005

The exemptions in the bill are few in number and we have sought to ensure the widest possible coverage for SEA and the greatest possible transparency. In exempting plans and programmes the sole purpose of which—I emphasise "sole"—is to serve national defence and civil emergency, we are recognising that those are two exceptional areas of public policy. Expediency of implementation is often critical and it is simply not safe or reasonable to compromise either area of operation to any degree. Amendment 12 runs the risk of doing that.

I make it clear that the bill does not exempt the MOD; it exempts only certain clearly defined plans or programmes. We are talking about civil emergency, not long-term civil contingency plans. We are talking about, for example, urgent reactive plans to deal with genuine emergency situations such as natural disasters.

The policy statement by the Secretary of State for Defence, from which Mr Ruskell has taken the definition that he uses in amendment 9, helpfully sets out the policy on circumstances in which the secretary of state would seek to exercise his powers under the many exemptions in law that apply to the MOD. In addition, a published protocol between the MOD and Scottish ministers ensures that information is exchanged and that proper working arrangements are in place, including arrangements for plans and programmes such as the ones that we are discussing. Both those documents should reassure everyone that the exemption will be applied only when absolutely necessary. There are good examples of authorities that are engaged in national defence—for example, the MOD—carrying out environmental assessment of plans when it has proved possible and safe to do so. I see no reason to doubt that the MOD will continue to do that.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

The long title of the bill refers to directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and the European Council. Does the directive apply to the plans and programmes that the Executive proposes to exclude under section 3 of the bill?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Any plans that the MOD has in place are covered by the bill. In the exceptional areas of public policy, we are talking about civil emergency and not about long-term civil contingency plans. We are talking about reactive, urgent plans to deal with genuine emergency situations such as natural disasters. Of course, MOD plans would be covered. Both the documents that I referred to should reassure everyone that the exemption will be applied only when absolutely necessary. There are good examples, as I said, of authorities that are engaged in national defence carrying out environmental assessment of plans. Those authorities will continue to do so. Amendments 12 and 9 are not in the best interests of Scotland. The national defence and civil emergency exemptions are entirely necessary. The two amendments should be decisively resisted.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I intend to press amendment 12 because I have not heard a satisfactory answer from the minister about the way in which the bill will deal with MOD plans. She has tried to apply a narrow definition, referring only to civil emergencies and things that have to happen in a hurry. However, as Mark Ruskell said, the arrangements in Canada are slightly different. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces has a commitment to

"meet or exceed the letter and spirit of all federal environmental laws and, where appropriate, be compatible with municipal, provincial, territorial, and international standards."

Amendment 12 would allow the Scottish Government to set standards in such a spirit, rather than allow the MOD to continue to have its activities environmentally assessed under lesser rules.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 12 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Mitchell, Margaret, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Curran, Frances, Fox, Colin, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, MacDonald, Margo, Turner, Dr Jean

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 28, Against 72, Abstentions 6.

Amendment 12 disagreed to.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Mr Ruskell, do you want to move amendment 9?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I would like to move amendment 9. I think that the minister

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I think that you should sit down, Mr Ruskell. You have moved the amendment.

The question is, that amendment 9 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

There was definitely a no, albeit that it was slow in coming. There will be a division.

Division number 4

For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Mitchell, Margaret, 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, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 34, Against 72, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 9 disagreed to.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Group 4 is on the application of the bill to financial or budgetary plans and programmes. Amendment 5, in the name of Rosie Kane, is in a group on its own.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

We are extremely concerned about the exclusion of financial or budgetary plans and programmes from SEA under section 4(3)(b). Given that the Executive has clearly decided to extend the scope of the bill beyond the requirements of the directive, it is unclear why financial or budgetary plans, programmes and strategies should remain excluded from the SEA process.

The allocation of resources between sectors can have critical environmental implications and should be subject to the same screening provisions as other plans, programmes and strategies. Strategic environmental assessment would make the budgetary process more transparent to the Parliament and the public, thereby improving scrutiny and accountability. Using the widely accepted and recognised SEA approach could ensure that the Executive's commitment to incorporate sustainable development principles into its budgetary process is delivered in practice.

I move amendment 5.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

We had a lengthy discussion in committee at stage 2 about what comes first: the financial budget, or the plan or programme. I accept that if a plan or programme were to accompany a budget, we would not want to see that budget analysed as part of that process, as it would already have gone through screening.

However, there are situations in which we want to analyse financial budgets. Two examples of budgets for which we need to understand the environmental impacts are the £1.65 million that is spent on rail freight facilities and the £12.4 million that is to be spent under the route development fund. We could have a hell of a debate in the chamber as to whether positive or negative environmental benefits result from the fund. The important thing to remember is that we need to know the impacts of the financial plans and programmes. I support amendment 5.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The Executive's view remains as it was when the subject was debated at some considerable length at stage 2. In general terms, budgetary numbers are not practical items on which strategic environmental assessment can be carried out. It remains our view that it is much more appropriate to carry out strategic environmental assessment on the plans or programmes that lead to the provision of a financial amount or that arise from an allocation of funds.

On the examples that Mark Ruskell gave, there will be a policy statement on what a plan or programme seeks to achieve—that, rather than the money, is the issue. Of course, funding levels and budget provisions change over time and when such a change calls for the modification of a plan and that modification will have a significant environmental effect, a strategic environmental assessment will be required.

Strategic environmental assessment is targeted at plans and programmes that have significant environmental effects. I believe that targeting it in that way helps us to deal with the real issue and to target our resources on the import of the bill. If all the budget lines and financial provisions are included, as amendment 5 seeks to do, resources will be redirected in a way that will not achieve the bill's aims. Therefore, I urge Parliament to resist amendment 5.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Although she pressed her button late, I call Sarah Boyack.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I want only to make a brief point. We discussed the issue at great length at the Environment and Rural Development Committee, principally to air the discussion that has been put in front of the chamber today about when it is appropriate to carry out environmental assessment. Committee members wanted to reassure themselves that before something goes into a budget or when it is being considered as a project, there will be an SEA process. The majority of us thought that the applicability of the bill to plans, programmes and strategies adequately covered that point. The bill's measures did not slide through without scrutiny at stage 2 but were debated extensively.

The examples that Mark Ruskell gave, such as the rail freight grant, should be picked up through the development of the rail strategy for Scotland and the national transport strategy. We expect such things to be properly analysed under strategic environmental assessment. In addition, we expect the planning system to pick up individual projects and perform detailed environmental impact assessments on them. It is all about ensuring that the hierarchy works. For those reasons, the majority of us were persuaded that the amendment is not required.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

When budgetary decisions are made, they are not always attached to a plan. Mark Ruskell made a couple of points about that. If amendment 5 falls, a spending announcement about a reduction in funding for an energy-efficiency initiative or for organic farming, for example, that was not attached to a plan would not be scrutinised, despite the fact that there would obviously be environmental implications. When the bill was drafted, we asked that a safety net be put in place. We are taking a second opportunity to get the Parliament to support the amendment to ensure that everything is in place for the protection of the environment when we need it most, which is when budgetary and financial changes take place.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 5 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 5

For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNulty, Des, Mitchell, Margaret, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 34, Against 70, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 5 disagreed to.