I am grateful to the Environment and Rural Development Committee—and to Nora Radcliffe in particular—for raising the question of annual strategic environmental assessment reporting. At stage 2, we gave a commitment to consult the committee further before returning to the issue at stage 3 and we have done exactly that. We have given the matter due consideration and I believe that amendment 8 demonstrates our commitment to a sound basis of annual reporting.
Amendment 8 takes the matter even further than was discussed at stage 2. It states that Scottish ministers must
"prepare and publish a report on—
(i) the exercise of the functions of the Scottish Ministers under this Act; and
(ii) such other activities carried out in relation to environmental assessments as the Scottish Ministers consider appropriate".
That is a broad remit, which will enhance accountability and transparency by placing a reporting duty on Scottish ministers and ensuring that the report is laid before the Parliament.
As I said, that approach goes beyond simple reporting on compliance. I expect people to be interested in the inclusion in the report of any gateway functions or other activities. Further, the approach is practical. Reporting is new and the provisions need to respond to emerging needs. That is why amendment 8 requires consultation after five years on future arrangements, which will help to ensure that they are effective and appropriate.
Concerns have been expressed about whom we would consult. To avoid doubt, I guarantee that the Environment and Rural Development Committee would be consulted.
I believe that all members agree that the benefits are desirable. I hope very much that amendment 8, which will deliver those benefits to best effect, will receive wide support. As a result of the more comprehensive provision and the undertakings that I have just given, I hope that Nora Radcliffe will feel that she need not move amendment 10. As I said, she can take due credit for having raised the matter as a concern.
I will say a few words about amendment 8A and amendment 10A, which may be considered if amendment 10 is moved. The amendments, which have identical aims, would extend the contents of the annual report to include
"co-ordination of environmental assessment activities" and the "support, advice and guidance" that are provided to responsible authorities. To an extent, I understand where the amendments come from. That is what I said about Rosie Kane's amendments, but that does not necessarily mean that I agree with them—I merely understand perfectly why they have been lodged.
Amendments 8A and 10A would not be entirely workable, because the meaning of terms such as "co-ordination" and "advice", as expressed in the amendments, is unclear. Amendment 8 will provide the necessary clarity and flexibility without the additional amendment. We ask members to resist amendments 8A and 10A and we hope that we can persuade Nora Radcliffe not to move amendment 10.
I move amendment 8.
The bill is innovative. As a result, scrutiny of its effectiveness will be needed in parliamentary session 3. I am pleased that the Executive has responded to the committee's concerns and proposed an annual reporting structure that is quite robust. However, the committee is still concerned about the core functions of a gateway—especially the co-ordination of environmental assessments and the provision of the support, advice and guidance that need to follow the bill's implementation. We have debated whether those functions should be delivered by a gateway, an independent body or another organisation, but the important point is that they should be performed and we should not be in the same situation that arose after the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, when bodies that were established to support community planning withered away.
That is why I lodged amendment 8A. I acknowledge what the minister said about the gateway, but if the functions are to be performed and implementation of the bill is to be successful, it is important for the committee to be able in session 3 to scrutinise how the functions have been delivered, regardless of whether that happens through a gateway or another structure. I appeal again to the minister to take amendment 8A in the spirit of amendment 8. We need such a measure in order to scrutinise the effectiveness of this innovative bill. I ask the minister to accept amendment 8A, please.
I move amendment 8A.
I thank the minister for his kind remarks and welcome the Executive's acceptance that annual reporting is a good idea, at least for the first five years while everyone gets to grips with implementing the bill. There are slight differences between what the Executive and I propose. I will compare and contrast.
My aim was that a brief summary report that focuses on compliance should be laid before the Parliament once a year. That would enable parliamentary scrutiny and enable us to check implementation. It would also be an opportunity to follow up any concerns that had emerged. My amendment 10 includes Scottish ministers, the consultation authorities and responsible authorities, whereas the Scottish Executive's amendment 8 specifies Scottish ministers and undefined "other activities". We agree that there should be flexibility and a sunset clause, but my amendment would allow ministers to come back to the Parliament after five years and either modify or repeal by way of order the requirement for annual reporting. I thought that that proposal would fulfil the twin objectives of flexibility and guaranteed scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament.
If I have a criticism of the Executive's amendment, it is that it is a bit woollier than mine because it states that
"the Scottish Ministers must consult with such persons as they consider appropriate" on the reporting arrangements that should be continued after the five-year cut-off point. That proposal could be taken to slightly absurd extremes—Scottish ministers could, in effect, consult themselves and then decide to proceed. However, I am happy to accept that that is highly unlikely to happen.
In some ways, I prefer my amendment 10, but the Executive's amendment 8 meets—and in some respects exceeds—what I wanted. Therefore, I will be happy not to move amendment 10.
I will be brief.
I have made my view clear. The way in which we have expressed the broad remit that we have incorporated in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) in amendment 8 will extend the scope of the report much wider than the scope that was originally discussed in the committee. The amendment incorporates and encapsulates what Mark Ruskell has proposed. We do not necessarily agree about that, but I am sticking to the proposal and ask members to resist amendment 8A.
I am disappointed that the Executive has not entered into the spirit of my amendment 8A. The minister has not yet given me a form of words that has been recorded in the Official Report and which says that the annual reports that will be produced in the years between 2006 and 2010 will deal with the co-ordination of environmental assessment activities and how support, advice and guidance are being provided by the responsible authorities. If I had been given that commitment, I would have been prepared to seek to withdraw amendment 8A, but that has not happened. As a result, I will press amendment 8A.
Division number 10
For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, McFee, Mr Bruce, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Stevenson, Stewart, 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, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, 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, McConnell, Mr Jack, 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, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
I wish briefly to reiterate the assurance that I gave to Nora Radcliffe, who raised the possibility that ministers might simply consult themselves. For the avoidance of doubt—for the second time, but to be absolutely clear—I state for the Official Report that the Scottish Executive would include the Environment and Rural Development Committee in any such consultation.
Amendment 8 agreed to.
At an earlier stage, in the committee debates, we heard strong arguments for setting up a body that would act as the gateway for people to use to expedite the process. Safeguarding the gateway for up to five years
We have removed from the amendment that was discussed at stage 2 any suggestion that that body ought to be an arbiter. We think that the gateway is a suitable place to provide support and advice on best practice and to host the pre-screening register, which was discussed earlier. Co-ordination, support, advice and monitoring through the gateway will ensure that the standard of reporting and environmental assessment activities is consistent.
It was suggested, in early evidence to the committee, that monitoring the kind of assessments that are being done just now is an important function to get much better work done. We have argued, earlier in the debate, about the way in which bodies over which we have no control might well have an impact on the environment. There are many bodies that are within our control and we want to ensure that they follow best practice.
The Executive will have an overview and will be well placed to make recommendations through the gateway to ministers. That would be an obvious way of saying that the Executive considers this process to be up front and out there—a statement that strategic environmental assessment is something that it takes seriously and which will kick in before many of the decisions that are taken in future policy directions.
It is, therefore, the Scottish National Party's belief that a gateway of the sort that I propose in amendment 2 should be included in the bill. We look to the Executive to accept the amendment in the spirit in which we accepted its earlier arguments about pre-screening and the need to have quality and consistency.
I move amendment 2.
I thank Rob Gibson for enthusiastically resurrecting at stage 3 one of my amendments from stage 2. It is important that we get some security for the key functions of the gateway, especially in the early years after implementation of the act. If we are to ensure that our implementation of the directive is successful—if we are to show best practice across Europe—it is important that we have strong functions of co-ordination, support, advice and guidance.
As I said in the debate on the previous group of amendments, it is important that we learn the lessons of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 and ensure that the sort of support, advice and co-ordination that was required in that act for
Amendment 2 is very similar to one that was disagreed to following a considered debate by the Environment and Rural Development Committee at stage 2. At stage 2, we clearly stated our commitment to the gateway, saying that it is here to stay. Furthermore, we committed ourselves to go back to the committee if we were considering changing the arrangements. I am sure that amendment 8 on SEA reporting underlines our on-going commitment to SEA.
To operate effectively, the gateway must be dynamic in nature and it must be enabled to respond to needs that are, as yet, unknown. That will be done best and most flexibly through administrative provisions. Statutory provisions, on the other hand, might risk constraining the development of the gateway and prevent it from operating as effectively as it might.
Our commitment to the gateway is further demonstrated by the fact that it is already operational. A team of Scottish Executive civil servants is dedicated to SEA duties in support of Scottish ministers. That team is unique in the United Kingdom and it performs valuable functions such as the provision of advice; the development of SEA guidance, including user templates; the gathering of statistics; liaison with consultation authorities; and management of the review of SEA practices to develop good practice.
In suggesting an audit and monitoring role, amendment 2 seems partly to reflect concerns over quality control. I offer reassurance on that point, because quality control is already addressed in several ways. There are statutory provisions to ensure the publication of SEA documents and for consultation to allow for public and expert consultation authority scrutiny.
Statutory provisions will allow ministers to direct that an SEA be carried out, even after the plan has been adopted. There are also statutory provisions for monitoring the significant environmental effects of plans and programmes after adoption to enable responsible authorities to take remedial action should there be any unforeseen adverse effects. The gateway can assist quality control and the smooth operation of SEA by acting as the administrative hub for SEA.
We are whole-heartedly committed to effective administration, provision of support and quality control. We believe that those are best served by robust, practical and flexible administrative
The inclusion of a strategic environmental assessment gateway on the face of the bill, with the functions that I propose in amendment 2, would give a guarantee that the Executive was up front. I hear what the minister says about needing to be flexible, but amendment 2 would not inhibit flexibility. Instead, it would send a clear signal that the Scottish Government and Parliament believe that a gateway is essential to act as the main means of showing people that the way in which we operate is absolutely transparent, open and welcoming. Agreeing to amendment 2 would help that process and I hope that members will support it.
Division number 11
For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, 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, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, McFee, Mr Bruce, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Stevenson, Stewart, 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, Godman, Trish, 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, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Wallace, Mr Jim, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Swinburne, John