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.