Coastal and Marine National Parks

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 26th October 2006.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:15 pm, 26th October 2006

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5008, in the name of Ross Finnie, on coastal and marine national parks.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 2:57 pm, 26th October 2006

I am pleased that this debate on proposals that might lead to the establishment of Scotland's first coastal and marine national park is taking place. The Executive places great importance on the sustainable management of Scotland's marine environment. The national park proposal could form a key element of Scotland's coastal and marine strategy.

The Executive's consultation paper has been published and people can see for themselves what the proposals entail. Most important, we look to the people of Scotland to express their views. We want to know people's opinions and their ideas before we make decisions on the best way forward. The debate allows the Parliament to make its views known as part of the consultation process.

I make it clear from the start that no decisions have been taken on the location of a park or on the powers and functions that a park authority should have. Such matters will be determined only after the consultation period has ended. There is no question of our reaching pre-emptive conclusions.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does not a more basic question exist: should a park be created at all? In Scottish Field , the minister says:

"We can't give residents an absolute veto on a national park."

Does that mean that the Executive would impose national park status on residents in a designated area, even when the park did not have their consent or support?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I gave the interview and I know the extent of what I said in response to a long question. The issue was whether a national park was exclusively the provenance of a local area. I made it clear to the interviewer that if substantive local opposition existed, a national park could not be imposed, anywhere in Scotland. That is self-evident. I was trying to make the different point that a national park would not exclusively—

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Fergus Ewing and I are keen on consultation, but he wrote to me about the fact that he wanted a consultation on where the consultation should take place. Now he wants a referendum. God, we will be here for a year and a day. I hope that nobody on the Scottish National Party benches ends up in Government; if they do, we will never get anything done.

I want to move on. Scotland is blessed with some of the most outstanding marine areas in the world. I firmly believe that their status could be enhanced by establishing a national park if there is a consensus on that in the consultation. Such status would be enormously beneficial to areas.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No. I must make a little progress. I will take an intervention later.

The increased profile of a national park area would be beneficial for its economy, particularly as a result of potentially enhanced tourism activity. Experience from around the world shows that national parks provide an excellent mechanism for raising awareness of the special qualities of areas and for promoting access opportunities and opportunities for the sustainable management of nationally important resources.

There are three key principles behind designating any national park on land or water, and the Parliament debated them when it considered the National Parks (Scotland) Bill. They are the same principles that we intend to apply in this case. First, there should be a long-term commitment to protecting and enhancing the unique qualities of an area. Secondly, there is the principle of supporting, sustaining and developing economic and recreational uses. Thirdly, there is the principle of striking the right balance to achieve the sustainability of our environment and the communities that rely on it. Given that we have already debated those principles and that we have such outstanding scenic features in our coastal areas, I confess that I am surprised that, having accepted the principle behind terrestrial national parks, the Scottish nationalists are reluctant to extend the principles to cover some of our outstanding marine heritage.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I agree with what the minister has said about our marvellous marine and coastal environment, but does he agree that there is such an environment because of, rather than in spite of, management by local people in the past?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The member is not talking about the purpose of a national park. Local communities will not necessarily create a structure that will allow increased access for people to manage and control that environment properly and ensure that everyone in Scotland can enjoy its features.

A coastal and marine national park could deliver substantial benefits. Obviously, there would be the potential for increased tourism as a result of the improved profile that national park status would confer. There could be new opportunities for branding produce, additional local support and expertise for new inshore fisheries groups within the park area, better infrastructure for responsible access and stewardship of the environment, and the provision of new jobs in local economies.

However, a coastal and marine national park is not only about generating socioeconomic benefits; it is also about stewardship of our marine environment and the sustainable management of our natural and cultural heritage. Our coasts and seas are just as internationally renowned as the iconic loch-and-mountain landscapes that have rightly been the focus of attention in establishing our two existing terrestrial national parks. As the consultation document says, cultural and natural heritage considerations are important in identifying a suitable area, but I am clear that accessibility is an issue, as is the potential for a coastal and marine national park to contribute significant social, economic and environmental benefits.

Ten candidate locations have been identified. The extensive coastline of the Argyll islands contains an outstanding range of marine and coastal habitats, landscape features and important species. It is difficult to make a distinction between those landscapes and other landscapes on the Firth of Clyde, which can be divided into three distinct parts: the inner Firth of Clyde and its upper east coast, which are very much influenced by people and industry; the north-west, where the landscape is interspersed with sea lochs and hills; and Lochaber and the south Skye coast, which contain some of Scotland's finest Highland scenery. On the east coast, the Moray firth has long stretches of beaches and the world's most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins. The landscape of North Uist, the Sound of Harris and south Lewis is another outstanding candidate, as are Orkney and, separately, the Shetland Islands. In the south, the Solway area contains diverse coastal habitats and species and includes expansive sandflats and mudflats. The area around South Uist, the Sound of Barra and Barra is another outstanding candidate. We only have to look at Wester Ross and the north of Skye to see that Scotland has huge potential that should be given proper recognition.

We have identified three potential models for the park authority that would accompany the establishment of a park. I know that concerns have been expressed about restrictive controls that could impact on the livelihoods of coastal communities, but the favoured model—the park as planner and enabler—is proportionate and would not threaten those communities. The model is designed to ensure that the park authority works with other organisations. We do not propose that the park authority should become the single regulator for the park area. With its planning and enabling function, the authority should ensure not only that sustainable practices continue, but that the park is an important generator of additional socioeconomic benefits.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

By giving it the status and standing that the SNP was perfectly prepared to give to the terrestrial parks. Remember that John Swinney, who has left the chamber for the moment, is currently campaigning to extend the boundaries of those parks. The Scottish nationalists have not give a clear and coherent reason why they suddenly think that national parks are a bad idea when we want one that will deal with some of Scotland's outstanding scenic areas.

Of course, Mr Ewing is against these things. He has such a negative attitude to almost everything that he has almost turned it into an art form. We congratulate him on his consistency but, gosh, it is dull.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Yes, indeed, and I am sure that it will be duller than usual.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

In order to confound the minister's expectations of me, I ask whether it would not be better to spend the £4 million or £5 million per year that it might cost to staff and run an office and bureaucracy somewhere on the west coast on affordable housing or getting new people into farming or enabling young people stay in the west Highlands because they do not have to leave to find a job. Would that not be a better way to spend such a huge amount of taxpayers' money?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I have just thought up a slogan for the SNP: "Come to Scotland. Live in Scotland. But we don't want national parks. They would tell us how good Scotland is and point out how excellent our natural heritage is. We, the Scottish nationalists, do not want that. We want Scots to live against a dull and boring background." We have heard it all before. The SNP really ought to raise its sights and recognise that, internationally—

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The SNP is always telling us to look beyond Scotland. National parks are recognised internationally as making a major contribution in areas—[ Interruption. ] The SNP does not want to spend any money on the good things in Scotland. That is its policy, but it is not the Executive's policy. We want to provide a basis for improved co-ordination.

Jamie McGrigor has expressed concern about the management of inshore commercial fishing activity, but I have clearly indicated that that will continue to be led by the newly established inshore fisheries groups and that the creation of a park will not take over the role of those groups. A coastal and marine national park will be a driver for local sustainable development. There is no contradiction in inshore fisheries group management plans complementing the aims of a coastal and marine national park.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I heard what the minister said about planning. Under the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency was told that it would be the lead authority in river basin planning. We have to accept that what we do in the rivers will affect the seas. What will SEPA's role be in the planning process if it is not going to be the overall planning authority as far as the proposed national park is concerned?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Let us be clear about this: managing a river basin from the birth of the river or burn as it makes its way through very different land uses is not going to be superseded by managing the coastal and marine environment. It is not about what SEPA does or does not manage. It is perfectly clear. If we want to maintain and preserve the environment and water quality of a river from its source to its outflow, that clearly comes under the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003. There is no conflict at all.

The message to all who care about Scotland's marine and coastal environment is that this is our chance to help to shape the future, to get the balance right and to promote actively some of the most outstanding features of Scotland's natural heritage.

I move,

That the Parliament supports the Scottish Executive's commitment to manage Scotland's coastline and seas in a sustainable way; welcomes the Executive's public consultation on proposals to establish Scotland's first Coastal and Marine National Park, and notes that the Executive will take account of the views expressed in response to the consultation before taking decisions on how to progress the proposals.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:10 pm, 26th October 2006

The marine environment is moving up the political agenda. The European Union is consulting on its maritime strategy, the United Kingdom Government is preparing a marine bill, the Scottish Government's marine strategy is developing and there is now a proposal for a coastal and marine national park.

The whole chamber agrees that our marine environment should be taken extremely seriously, because Scotland is a marine nation. Scotland accounts for 25 per cent of Europe's waters. We have 10,000km of coastline, which represents 80 per cent of the UK's coastline. We have a superb marine environment that supports myriad species and habitats that we want to protect. Our marine environment represents 50 per cent of Scotland's biodiversity and it is part of the wonderful landscape of this country.

We need prosperous coastal communities and healthy seas because our economy relies heavily on the industries and activities around our coast. Traditionally, we have obtained food from our seas. Our fishermen make their living from the seas, as do the onshore fishing sectors—fish processors, harbour services and so on. In recent decades, we have used our seas for trade, transportation, recreation and extracting oil and gas to meet our energy needs. There are now new demands on the seas around Scotland: aquaculture, renewable energy production, marine wildlife tourism and many other opportunities. We continue to find new benefits from Scotland's marine environment. We must all agree that the Parliament has a prime duty to protect and promote our seas and coastal communities.

Although the SNP has no objection in principle to the concept of coastal and marine national parks, we do not believe that they have a role to play at this stage. The minister has failed to persuade us and the people of Scotland that there is a demand for coastal and marine national parks in Scotland, especially from the people who matter—those who live in our coastal communities. Given the minister's half-hearted consultation exercise and the wording of the motion, we are not convinced that even he is persuaded that there is a need for such parks at this stage. We believe that the minister should spend his time and energy on more pressing priorities that coastal communities in Scotland face. We also believe that, currently, the management of our marine resources is a dog's breakfast. The last thing that Scotland's coastal communities and our seas need is yet another layer of bureaucracy and yet another body with a say over our marine environment.

Let us consider the demand for coastal and marine parks. I looked at information sheet 1 of the minister's consultation document to find out from where in Scotland the demand for such parks is coming. Under the heading "Where has this proposal come from?" the minister states:

"This consultation took place during 2004 as part of the Scottish Executive's consultation on Developing a Strategic Framework for Scotland's Marine Environment. Taking into account the responses to this consultation, the Minister for Environment and Rural Development announced on 15 June 2005 the Executive's intention to proceed towards the establishment of Scotland's first Coastal and Marine National Park by 2008."

I asked the Parliament's research service to examine the responses to the consultation in 2004. There were 834 responses, of which 730 were postcard or e-mail contacts organised by WWF. There were 104 substantive responses, of which only 50 addressed the questions posed by ministers on coastal and marine national parks. Only 25 of the 50 people in Scotland who responded to those questions supported the establishment of coastal and marine national parks. Twenty-five out of 834 responses—3 per cent of the total—called for the establishment of such parks.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am interested in what the member is saying. I am also interested in the fact that in his amendment he prays in aid statistics provided by Scottish Environment LINK, from which the inference could be drawn that Scottish Environment LINK is opposed to marine national parks. The member will be aware that, during consideration of the National Parks (Scotland) Bill, that organisation lobbied all members with amendments to the bill to ensure that there would be provision to establish marine and coastal national parks, which it continues to support strongly. The membership of Scottish Environment LINK is much more substantial than any of the figures that Richard Lochhead quotes for those who are in favour of such parks.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I will come to that very point. I plan to refer to Scottish Environment LINK. The whole point of the debate, and the point that the SNP is trying to get across to the minister, is that, currently, other more pressing priorities face Scotland's coastal communities. Marine national parks are worthy and perhaps should be established in the future, but we are talking about the here and now.

As Fergus Ewing mentioned, plenty of priorities are brought to the attention of MSPs who represent coastal communities. I doubt that few, if any, of us have had people coming to our surgeries and demanding that the best way forward for their community is the establishment of marine national parks at this time. People come to talk to us about the rural housing crisis; the lack of dentists; rural health services closing down; the lack of transport links in rural communities; the fact that our fishing industry is fighting for its life on an annual basis, with talks taking place in Brussels in December, and the need to cope with the decline of that industry in some communities; and the importance of inshore fisheries. Two shadow inshore fisheries groups have been set up and 10 more are planned. Why cannot we give them time to settle in? People also come to our surgeries with concerns about the future of agriculture in rural Scotland. The average age of farmers in Scotland is above the EU average and we need to do more to encourage new entrants. People in rural and coastal communities bring plenty of pressing priorities to our surgeries.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

If the logic of that argument is correct, the SNP would not have supported the creation of terrestrial parks, but it did: it supported the National Parks (Scotland) Bill as it went through Parliament and the creation of both parks. The logic of the argument is identical.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

It is not, because coastal and marine national parks are different from terrestrial ones. Marine management in Scotland is currently a complete dog's breakfast. In 2006, seven years in to the Scottish Parliament, Scottish, United Kingdom and European international agreements and more than 85 acts of Parliament govern our waters. The first thing that we should do is review the governance of Scotland's marine environment before adding yet another body and applying another tier of bureaucracy.

The minister referred to Scottish Environment LINK, and I am happy to quote that organisation:

"Current management of the coasts and seas around Scotland is fragmented, outdated and unable to take account of local communities ... The system is failing people and our environment. It is time to deliver truly sustainable management of our seas."

That is why we believe that there are other priorities to consider. We have to sort out the dog's breakfast of the 85 acts of Parliament and the fact that European, UK and Scottish Government international agreements have more say over the future of our coastal communities and marine environment than do the people who live and work there. That is the key to the argument.

We must allow people who are directly affected by decisions taken in this Parliament to have a say in their own future. We need more bottom-up governance of our marine environment, not more bureaucracy, new bodies and dictation from ministers sitting in their offices in Edinburgh. The minister is out of touch with what is happening. There might be a place for coastal and marine parks in the future, but now we have to sort out the dog's breakfast that is marine management in Scotland and put democracy before bureaucracy.

I move amendment S2M-5008.2, to leave out from "supports" to end and insert:

"notes that coastal and marine national parks may have a role to play in the future but that at the present time there are many other more pressing priorities facing our coastal communities; further notes that, according to Scottish Environment Link, there are already over 85 Acts of Parliament that apply to Scotland's waters and yet a further layer of bureaucracy would not be helpful or popular and would only add to the existing complexity of marine and coastal management in Scotland; calls for a review of the governance of the marine environment before additional legislation is considered; believes that the creation of coastal and marine national parks should not be considered until other priorities are addressed and there is evidence that there is sufficient demand within local communities, and calls for the Scottish Parliament to have additional powers to help protect and promote our marine environment."

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 3:18 pm, 26th October 2006

Conservatives broadly support the concept of establishing a coastal and marine national park. Scotland has some of the most productive and diverse inshore waters around the European coastline. If we are serious about sustaining the natural environment, which the Conservatives are, we accept that there must be a proactive agenda for sustaining our inshore waters.

As ever, in seeking to conserve and sustain, we must be constantly mindful of those whose livelihoods depend on coastal waters, whether they are fishermen, aquaculturists, vessel operators of all types or those who are employed in aqua and other tourism. We must not impose a national concept of sustainability against the wishes and experience of those who understand and have worked the local coastal environment for generations. I was encouraged to hear the minister say that no community would have a coastal and marine national park enforced on it.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Is not the question, how does one assess people's views unless they are asked for them? Do the Conservatives believe that there is a strong case for a local referendum in which the electorate is the residents who live within the designated boundaries of the coastal and marine national park, so that their opinions can be ascertained? If not, how can they be ascertained?

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

As Fergus Ewing is aware, an exercise to seek the views of people in those areas around the coast that are possible sites for a park has already been carried out. As I understand it, that consultation will carry on as ministers and Parliament come to their decisions.

We fully believe that a coastal and marine national park could be used to promote marine conservation and the regeneration of inshore waters, to sustain the development of vital marine species. Such a national park should also bring benefits in securing local jobs and bringing new investment into rural areas, possibly in the field of offshore renewables. However, a park cannot be introduced at any cost. We must remember that this Parliament does not always know best. Close consultation every step of the way will be paramount.

I have no personal stake or constituency interest in any of the shortlisted sites. However, I do have knowledge, going back many years, of the fishing industry in the waters around the outer Hebrides, and of its struggle to break even, sometimes against overwhelming odds. I await with interest the views of Alasdair Morrison, the MSP for the area. There are sound reasons to believe that the waters of the north-west would not be the best test-bed for our first coastal and marine national park.

As for the other sites, I have no particular preference, although it is interesting to note that the Environment and Rural Development Committee recently took evidence from the organisation that is seeking to conserve an area of Lamlash bay as a kind of boutique marine national park. Several witnesses suggested that, although the area in question is perhaps too small to provide meaningful data, it could be a valuable research facility in a future marine park if Argyll's islands and coasts were selected.

It is no secret that my esteemed colleague Alex Fergusson regards the Solway firth as a candidate for a coastal and marine national park, and I have no doubt that he will expand on that in his speech. Argyllshire and the Solway have largish populations in the communities along their shorelines, and thus are perhaps better geared to developments in aquasports and tourism, as well as in renewables, given their access to the grid.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The Conservatives are always criticising bureaucracy. Do they not feel that we should sort out the existing bureaucracy that applies to Scotland's seas before we add another tier?

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I will come to bureaucracy in a minute. However, I have to say that SNP members show huge poverty of ambition. They cannot see the potential of these developments.

Argyllshire and the Solway might admirably fulfil one of the most significant criteria in the Executive's consultation document—that the area should be, or have the potential to be, generally accessible to the population of Scotland.

We welcome the Executive summaries on the progress made by the two land-based national parks. That evidence is valuable, particularly in terms of visitor number surveys. However, the management and development of a coastal and marine national park will clearly throw up far more diverse challenges and might require considerably enhanced annual budgets.

As part of the consultation process, it would seem logical to appoint Scottish Natural Heritage as the eventual reporter, particularly since that organisation was involved in seeking views from the various stakeholders. However, in coming to their decision, ministers must ensure that the consultation process is as wide-ranging and inclusive as possible.

I will now consider the bureaucracy. The Executive proposes three choices for the functions and powers of the national park authority. As Conservatives, we are attracted to the one that appears to represent the lightest touch and least regulation. Choice number 1 is for a planner and enabler model without management or regulatory responsibilities.

One of the most important functions of the park authority will be to work closely with the new inshore fisheries groups. The IFGs will continue to manage fisheries in the park area. Equally important will be maintaining relations with aquaculture interests, and in that regard we are attracted to the concept that the local authority and existing regulators will continue to manage aquaculture in the national park but be guided by the park plan.

We are at pains to stress that the eventual national park's success will depend on whether it has been able to take local stakeholders along with it. The concept will fail if it is seen as simply heaping another layer of bureaucracy on to those vulnerable and hard-pressed local communities that rely on coastal areas for their livelihoods. At a time when fishing communities in particular are reeling under successive blows against their prosperity inflicted largely by the Executive, it is essential that the development of a coastal and marine national park should not endanger their livelihoods further.

Today, we give a cautious welcome to the proposal before us and we encourage as many people as possible, especially local people, to respond to the consultation. The amendment in my name incorporates some of the specific concerns to which I have referred.

I move amendment S2M-5008.1, to insert at end:

"and, in particular, urges the Executive to carefully consider the impact of a Coastal and Marine National Park on local fishermen, the aquaculture industry and all whose livelihoods are directly dependent on the sea."

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green 3:24 pm, 26th October 2006

I and my party are in favour of coastal and marine national parks; they have been dear to my heart for some time. I could not very well say otherwise, as it was an amendment lodged by my colleague Robin Harper to the National Parks (Scotland) Bill in the first session of the Parliament that made marine national parks possible.

The Green party's attitude to national parks is that they should be beacons of good practice and models of community participation and sustainable land use. That applies equally to coastal and marine national parks, which include sustainable use of the marine environment.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Land use is obviously a planning matter. As I said to the minister, we have the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003. What in the proposals that are before us could not be dealt with under that act or amendments to that act? I am struggling to see where that is coming from.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

The proposal for the governance of a marine national park. We would favour the park taking the most responsibility possible so that local people would have the most control. SEPA would still have the role of monitoring—it does not manage water; it polices other people's management, and it would continue to police the management of the park authorities.

The Executive has stated that any area that is to be considered for a coastal and marine national park must meet the criteria that are laid out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. The act defines the purpose of the national park as:

"(a) to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area,

(b) to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area,

(c) to promote understanding and enjoyment ... of the special qualities of the area ... and

(d) to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area's communities."

In addition, the Executive has stated that the area must not be too remote. The minister knows that I have issues about that, to which I will return. The act also says that the designation should make a significant contribution to the social and economic development of an area.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

The Green party's amendment ends with the phrase,

"believes that location should not be a barrier to the siting of a marine national park."

Can Eleanor Scott explain that?

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

That is a reference to the remoteness issue, which I will come to. I could probably have worded the amendment a bit better—we were a bit pressed this week.

I have no real quarrel with any of the aims, except for the remoteness issue. However, communities need to know what all that means in practice. In the past, the minister has, rightly, reassured the chamber that designation as a coastal and marine national park is an accolade. It is not a designation like that of a site of special scientific interest or a special area of conservation, and it would not, of itself, restrict activity in the designated area. I concur with that. However, equally, if there is just to be business as usual, there is not much point in creating a coastal and marine national park. It may be that some activities will have to be modified while others will have to be actively encouraged and developed.

For example, on Mull, where there is cautious interest in a coastal and marine national park, the chamber of commerce has asked whether the designation would bring extra money—say, to employ more rangers to enhance the already-thriving wildlife tourism sector. It is perfectly reasonable for communities that could be eligible for the accolade to want to know what, frankly, they would get out of it. Communities' support is vital. This cannot be just a top-down exercise or it will not work. Communities must be involved. They must be more than just acquiescent; they must have their own vision of a coastal and marine national park. They must also be keen to take on responsibility, including the responsibility for regulation.

I hope that the roadshow that the Executive has going round the country to consult on the issue will be able to give communities real answers. My assistant went to the roadshow in Inverness and felt that she got more woulds and coulds than definite answers. There are communities that are already keen; there are communities that are interested but not yet convinced; and there are communities that are hostile to the idea, although some of the hostility may be due to unfounded concerns. Any coastal and marine national park must belong to its stakeholders, and all the stakeholders must be involved from the start—even those who have to be actively sought out and reminded that they are stakeholders. Ideally, there would be consensus within a community, but that may not always be achievable. It would certainly not be appropriate for the Executive, in the name of awaiting consensus, to allow one stakeholder to exercise an effective veto despite the views of others.

A keen host community will be one of the crucial elements in making any coastal and marine national park a success. This is where I return to the issue of remoteness. It has been clear, so far, that the Executive's preference is for Scotland's first coastal and marine national park to be easily accessible from the central belt. That would exclude Fair Isle, which cannot be described as easily accessible. I know that because I went there by boat from mainland Shetland this summer and, as a poor sailor, I found the three hours on the boat rather long—although, at £2.60 each way, it was the best value public transport that I have been on for a long time.

However, Fair Isle is increasingly visited by sea. With the rise in recreational sailing, it has a regular stream of visitors who are attracted by its natural heritage. The people of Fair Isle have a long and distinguished history of managing their land environment themselves to maximise its unique environmental features and wildlife while making the most of the opportunity to exploit them sustainably. They wish—the whole island's population is behind it—to have the same rights and responsibilities over their marine environment, and they should.

Fair Isle could become—dare I say it—the best small marine national park in the world. However, I do not say that it should be Scotland's only coastal and marine national park, because we should not have only one. Our coastal areas are so varied and each coastal and marine national park would be so different that there is no reason not to proceed with designating more than one. Many areas could have a great deal to offer as coastal and marine national parks and would have a great deal to gain from the accolade, so we should introduce it. I hear what other members say about consolidating marine legislation, and I agree that it is a dog's breakfast, but the establishment of our first coastal and marine national park need not await consolidation. We should go ahead with it.

I move amendment S2M-5008.3, to leave out from "and notes" to end and insert:

"expects the Executive to take account of all stakeholders' views with no one sector having primacy; recognises that very many livelihoods depend on our safeguarding our coastal and marine environment; expects local management of marine resources to underpin the organisation of any future coastal and marine national park, and believes that location should not be a barrier to the siting of a marine national park."

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 3:31 pm, 26th October 2006

I welcome the fact that the Executive has initiated the debate at this point in the process. It is entirely appropriate that we have an early debate on the topic because of all the issues that colleagues have raised so far.

In the first session of the Parliament, we addressed the big priorities that awaited devolution: land reform, community land buyouts and the establishment of the first national parks in Scotland. John Muir, the inventor of national parks, spent his life creating them around the world and we need to catch up in Scotland. I strongly support the establishment of a coastal and marine national park. It was in our previous manifesto and I welcome the progress that the Executive has made so far.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No; let me get into my stride.

When we established the national parks at Loch Lomond and in the Cairngorms, we had lengthy debates about the principles that underpinned them but, even though there was a clear expectation that they were the key areas that would require national park status, we had debates—which still continue—on the detail of their management and boundaries. That is why I welcome early engagement on coastal and marine national parks, on which we start, in effect, with a blank sheet.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I remind the Parliament that Sarah Boyack supports the introduction of a marine act for Scotland to streamline the existing 85 acts that apply to Scotland's waters. Would it not make sense to go down that road before we foist another tier of bureaucracy on our seas?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I will come to that later. The Parliament is capable of thinking about more than one topic at a time. A bit of joined-up thinking would do Richard Lochhead a lot of good.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Joined-up thinking is exactly what I am talking about.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Richard Lochhead has made his point.

Marine and coastal areas represent different challenges to land-based national parks, but they also represent different opportunities. Other colleagues have begun to talk about those. For a coastal and marine national park to be established in a particular area, it would have to bring demonstrable benefits to those who live and work in the area and to the management of its natural attractions. It would have to bring with it opportunities to enhance the understanding, enjoyment and care of the area.

I am grateful for Eleanor Scott's clarification of the access issues, but we all know that nature tourism in Scotland is expanding. There are new recreational opportunities in Scotland and new companies pop up all the time throughout the country. People want nature tourism. Whale watching alone now generates £11.8 million for the west coast economy, and WWF identifies a host of economic benefits from nature tourism.

That is where we are at the moment, but I ask members to think about where we could be if we learn from other countries that have set up marine national parks. The National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 was crafted to allow coastal and marine national parks to come afterwards, and I ask members to think about the social and economic benefits that national park status would bring with it—job creation and economic vitality for the fragile rural communities that they have talked about—and to examine best practice and innovation.

Surely we could concentrate on those things in the Parliament. That is an exciting agenda.

I always felt that national parks should be in warm areas of the world—Kenya, Australia, the Caribbean, Costa Rica and the Seychelles—but countries in colder parts of the world, such as Canada and Chile, have made marine national parks successful. We must learn from those experiences, because the establishment of coastal and marine national parks is not without difficulties.

The range of recreational opportunities that is already available in Scotland includes fishing activities and nature conservation, but nobody is pulling them together or looking at the further opportunities that exist. We can learn lessons from around the world about promoting both our economy and, crucially, the protection of our natural environment.

Consultation and participation must be a key principle of the process from the start. I support the work that SNH and the Scottish Executive are doing to raise the issue up the agenda. When I visited the stand in Fort William last week, I was impressed by the range of information that was available. One could not possibly expect the people who were staffing the stall to answer every question when we are still debating many of the principles and the location of any new marine national park.

Maureen Macmillan's speech will focus on the need for participation. I agree with others that participation is crucial. In places such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, not everybody agreed during the participation but we still needed significant buy-in. That is a responsibility on which we should all focus.

There are some key issues on which we need to focus to identify the location of a marine national park, but I will not follow colleagues by giving my best guess of where such a park should be. From my position as member for Edinburgh Central, I do not want to dictate that to the rest of the country. However, my constituents will want to visit the marine national park because they will want to appreciate its benefits. They will travel to other parts of Scotland, where they will spend money, enjoy recreation and enjoy nature conservation. The issue is how we do that in a controlled and structured way. We need proper integrated management.

The SNP amendment points out that we have 85 pieces of legislation on marine areas, but that is why I want the Environment and Rural Development Committee to get going on the discussions that will shape the proposals on marine legislation in the next Parliament. The UK Government is already active and we cannot afford to fall behind. However, that does not mean that we should stop considering issues such as marine national parks, the superb initiatives to bring together the fishing industry and nature conservation in Alasdair Morrison's constituency, or the proposed ship-to-ship transfers in the River Forth. A range of conservation issues needs to be considered, but a marine national park would be special and we need to get it right.

I hope that today's debate will show people that we in the Parliament are interested and prepared to listen and, crucially, that we see the big benefits of a marine national park. Those other countries around the world are not wrong, but we need to do things to suit our communities and our nature conservation opportunities in Scotland. Let us get on with it rather than be negative about the proposal. Let us take the comments that we have had from all parties in the chamber—with the exception, as ever, of the SNP—and let us think big and be constructive. Let us look at the opportunities. Let us not talk ourselves down. Let us go for it.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 3:37 pm, 26th October 2006

I am sure that all members will wish to welcome the large party of people in the public gallery who have come down from Lochaber to listen to today's debate. Over a period earlier this year, one of their number carried out a survey of visitors to Lochaber. English-speaking visitors were asked whether marine national park status would encourage them to visit the area. In summary, of the 10,204 people who were asked the question, 8,366 said no, 1,015 said yes and 723 were not sure.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Not just yet.

By contrast with that survey, which was conducted at no expense to the taxpayer by a citizen of Scotland who is genuinely motivated by a fear for the future of communities such as Mallaig and Arisaig, the supposed consultation that SNH carried out this week—which, incidentally, many of my constituents in places such as Lochaline could not find because it was not where it was supposed to be in Fort William—includes questions such as:

"What benefits do you think a Coastal and Marine National Park could bring?"

Many people feel that such a park would not bring any benefits, so that is a loaded question. A further question was:

"Which area would you like to see designated as Scotland's first Coastal and Marine National Park?"

Again, that is a loaded question, because many people do not wish to see an area so designated. More specifically, they would prefer taxpayers' money—their money—to be spent on the real priorities that face rural Scotland.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

First, the second consultation to which the member refers is being conducted not by SNH, but by the Executive. Secondly, the questions in the consultation are perfectly open and do not require respondents to say that they agree—in fact, they invite them to disagree.

I respect Fergus Ewing's constituent's interest in the matter. However, Fergus Ewing's attitude to the questions that the 10,204 people were asked is in contrast to his criticism of the Executive's consultation. How much information did the citizen provide so that an objective answer could be provided by the 10,204 people?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The question, which seems to me to have been perfectly open and fair, was whether marine national park status would encourage them to visit the area. The minister does not like the fact that the response from 82 per cent of a sample of 10,000, which is much larger than any sample that is used by MORI or other pollsters, signified clearly that the minister's main thesis—that the measure would help tourism—is flawed. Moreover, if it helped tourism in Lochaber, what about areas such as Argyll, the Western Isles and the Northern Isles? Would they lose out? Is that fair? The idea seems to me to be absurd.

As far as promoting access is concerned, in what way are people denied access now? The minister did not say. I do not believe that people are denied access. I spent a great deal of the summer in the west Highlands in my constituency. I was happy to travel on the Shearwater over to the small isles to visit the Morvern games and to be the chieftain of the Mallaig and Morar games—the first non-laird to be so. I had a marvellous time and nobody restricted my access to anywhere.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The member is concerned about the establishment of a coastal and marine national park and claims that it could damage tourism in other parts of Scotland. Is he calling for the closure of the Cairngorms national park, which is in his constituency?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not believe that taxpayers' money, which it is our duty to spend wisely and invest well, should be spent on what must be the most woolly, vague and ill-thought-out document that I have ever come across.

If the Executive wants to establish an office serving a marine national park, which I believe would cost £4 million or £5 million if it was similar to the Cairngorms national park—I am surprised that the Tories are willing to sign up to spending money in that way—it would be doing well to find houses in Mallaig or Fort William. There are no houses for local people, never mind for people who are bussed in from somewhere else.

How long do I have left, Presiding Officer?

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

About a minute and two seconds.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The fishermen and the communities in my constituency have looked after their fisheries for centuries. That sustainable management of resources is proven by the fact that last year there was at long last—as the minister knows—an increase in the nephrops quotas, for which I have argued for a long time. If those resources had not been sustainably managed, the scientific evidence that justified the increase in the quotas would not have been available. The argument that a coastal and marine national park is required for sustainable management therefore falls, as we already have that.

We have a huge responsibility to Scotland—the Scottish National Party believes this as the party that seeks to be the Government of this country in under a year's time—to spend taxpayers' money to address the real problems. The real problems on the west coast are the lack of affordable housing and the lack of ability to retain people who work as teachers in the area, who have to live in caravans and who stay for perhaps a year. Those are the real priorities. We are prepared to make that decision and not foist yet another bureaucracy on Scotland.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 3:44 pm, 26th October 2006

I hope that my speech is more measured and more grandmotherly than Mr Ewing's.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members' interests. I am a member of the strategy group of the Moray firth partnership, which seeks to promote integrated coastal zone management and sustainability from Wick to Fraserburgh. I note that the Moray firth is, deservedly, a possible candidate for coastal and marine national park status.

As I represent the whole of the Highlands and Islands I cannot show favouritism, but I endorse everything that is written in the consultation document about the beauty and the diversity of landscape and seascape from Kintyre to Moray, and about our great fortune to have such amazing biodiversity around our coasts.

However, I believe that it is important to think of national parks not only in terms of visual impact, stunning though our seascapes are, nor in terms only of the richness of our flora, fauna and undersea treasures, such as the maerl beds, but in terms of people's needs and of the benefits to the people who make a living from the marine environment. They need to be closely involved in the decisions that are made and in the management of any coastal or marine national park. The marine environment is a working environment. It provides a living for inshore fishermen, fish farmers, shellfish growers, scallop divers, recreational diving schools, recreational sea fishing businesses, whale and dolphin-watching operators, those who provide services to yachtsmen and women, seafood restaurateurs, fish processors and those who operate offshore wind turbines and, in future, I hope, wave and tidal energy devices.

Much of the negativity that has surrounded the consultation process, and which we have heard in the chamber today, has arisen because of fears in some areas that the creation of a coastal and marine national park would affect people's livelihoods and mean that the sea could not be worked and that people would be banned from earning a living. Those are the same fears and negative reactions that we experienced during the consultation on the Cairngorms national park back in 1999. Those fears were proven to be groundless then, but they are being fuelled by the same negative politicians who pander to those fears for their own reasons.

The fears are misplaced. The minister has said, and must say loudly and clearly again, that there is not a threat to fishermen, to tourism businesses or to others. On the contrary, there are enormous benefits to be gained from having a business in a national park. The rules of the park will guarantee the environmental sustainability of those businesses and will therefore give them an additional important selling point. That is important, because the discerning consumer is increasingly concerned about the provenance of food and about the impact of tourism on the natural environment. National park status will give a huge boost to those businesses.

Because we demand so much from the marine environment, we must protect it. Integrated coastal zone management and marine spatial planning have been spoken about for years, but little general progress has been made in delivering them. We need to plan where we want and do not want fishing, and where we want fish farmers—progress has been made in that area. We need to decide how many whale and dolphin-watching businesses are sustainable—the businesses themselves say that having too many operators puts too much pressure on the cetaceans—and where we will site our marine renewables. Some of those matters are being progressed, but I have the feeling that they are not being integrated yet.

I do not want to see a national park whose board is remote from local people; Eleanor Scott dealt with that point well. I want the boundaries of the park to include coastal communities. People have talked about the marine environment, but we must also consider the coast—the cliffs, the links and the coastal walks. I hope that money that is drawn down by the park authority can be used to regenerate coastal communities, particularly those with small harbours, to enhance their attraction for tourism. We must get the balance right between environmental, social and economic development, and we must always have regard to the needs of local people.

The Cairngorms national park has led to a huge demand for second homes in Badenoch and Strathspey, which has made it difficult for local first-time buyers to compete. The park authority is considering whether it will have to place restrictions on sales of new homes. I do not want to see the same thing happen in the coastal areas of the marine national park. We must plan housing from the outset. Sustainability must include housing, too.

With those caveats, I support the Executive's motion. I hope that my grandchildren will enjoy the sea environment, as I did as a child and as my children did. I mention my grandchildren because three of them—Tom, Rosie and Angus—are in the gallery this afternoon, and now have their names in the Official Report. I hope, Presiding Officer, that you will excuse my absence from part of the debate while I spend some time with them. [Applause.]

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I remind members of the public in the gallery that it is not appropriate to applaud.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 3:49 pm, 26th October 2006

In the lead-up to the 2003 elections, I pledged that, if successfully elected, I would campaign for Scotland's third national park to be the Galloway national park. I was successfully elected and I campaigned for a national park but, rather disappointingly, I found considerable coolness toward the proposal among local agencies, which should have been much more alive to the possibilities of a national park. I hold firmly to my belief that a strong case can be made for such a park. I was delighted when the recently launched strategy for the Galloway forest park was described as a work in progress. I remain convinced, and I suggested at that launch, that the progress that was mentioned should have one aim in mind and one alone: to make progress toward a Galloway national park.

The area fulfils the criteria for a national park and I have no doubt that the creation of such a park would provide the much sought-after incentive for northbound travellers on the M74 to turn left at Gretna and discover and enjoy the mystical beauty of Dumfries and Galloway. I am grateful for the debate if for no other reason than that it allows me to correct the statement that I made a few months ago in the Parliament that travellers should turn left at Carlisle to visit the south-west of Scotland. That was a slight slip of the tongue, but at least travellers who do so are led to a national park, albeit one in Cumbria. I hold firmly to my ambition that turning left at Gretna will lead to a similarly recognised designated area: a Galloway national park.

What could be better than the eventual linking of Scotland's third national park in Galloway to its first marine national park? Dr Elaine Murray and I have many political differences, but I am sure that we would agree that the Solway firth, which forms the southern boundary of our two constituencies, would be a completely worthy choice and thoroughly deserves to be the front-runner in what is in effect a competition to become Scotland's first marine national park. We would also agree that no other area is more deserving of the potential benefits to which the minister referred in his opening speech.

I welcomed the Executive's plans to consult those concerned and to take on board local people's views in assessing the suitability of the proposals. However, I am sorry to say that the most public part of the exercise got off to a singularly inauspicious start, at least in Dumfries and Galloway. Is it really acceptable that only three days' notice was given publicly that the marine parks consultation bus was to spend one day in Kirkcudbright? Dumfries and Galloway is more than 100 miles from east to west, but the bus spent only one day in Kirkcudbright, at disappointingly short notice. Is it really acceptable that the Drummore Harbour Trust, which is surely a statutory consultee in such exercises, was sent the relevant papers a week after the bus's appearance in Kirkcudbright, and only after the trust had inquired why it had not been included? Is it really acceptable that the Executive has given the impression that the consultation exercise, at least in relation to the Solway firth, was pretty much an afterthought and that minimal appearance would suffice in consulting those who are most immediately involved?

I cannot and do not believe that the minister wanted that to be the case for one minute, but that is the distinct impression that has been created locally. I hope that the minister, or the deputy minister, will address that matter in summing up the debate. In particular, I hope that ministers will outline what further steps the Executive will take to ensure that all interested parties, not just those who happened to be free and in Kirkcudbright on a recent Saturday, are engaged meaningfully in the exercise to determine which area receives the historic designation.

Unlike the Scottish National Party, which will no doubt spend much of the coming six months telling my constituents that their salvation lies in voting SNP, I want my constituents to benefit from the designation of a marine national park. Most of all, I want to ensure that my constituents' views get a fair hearing in the process. I regret to say that the impression that has been created thus far is that that may not be the case. I look forward to the minister, or the deputy minister, convincing me that I am wrong. I support my colleague Ted Brocklebank's amendment.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 3:54 pm, 26th October 2006

A week tomorrow, the Western Isles inshore fisheries group will have its first formal meeting, on the isle of Harris. The group is an example of real devolution; it is about empowering a community and particular stakeholders in it. The inshore fisheries group will in effect run and manage all marine activity around the Western Isles, initially in the seas extending to six miles from the shore, with a view to extending the range and competence to 12 miles from the shore. I commend the Executive ministers for realising that the establishment of such a body will improve greatly life and work for many people whose livelihoods or leisure time activities depend on the seas around the Western Isles. Since the creation of the Parliament, Ross Finnie has doggedly pursued that way of working. I was delighted when, some months' ago, he announced that the Western Isles was to be among the first in the country to have an inshore fisheries group.

Turning to the motion, I was particularly pleased to read that

"the Executive will take account of the views expressed in response to the consultation before taking decisions on how to progress the proposals."

I shall help Ross Finnie and Rhona Brankin to short-circuit that process of consultation by placing unambiguously on the record that I do not want any part of the Western Isles to be within any coastal and marine park at this time—I emphasise "at this time". No one questions the principle or the merits of a park; indeed, the principle has enjoyed support throughout the chamber, with the notable exception of the Scottish National Party.

I place on record the view of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The sustainable communities committee has spoken with one voice, as indeed has the whole council:

"We all appreciate the benefits, but at this time we do not have evidence and cannot appreciate the demonstrable benefits that would come our way."

I also put on record the views of the Western Isles Fishermen's Association. It, too, is opposed at this stage—again, I emphasise "at this stage".

We are saying no for a positive reason: we want to see the inshore fisheries group do its job. The minister well knows that the Western Isles Fishermen's Association is one of the most—if not the most—conservation-minded associations in Britain. It is ably led, and positively endorses meaningful conservation measures. Not only does it positively embrace conservation and traceability measures, but it regularly lobbies the Government to introduce such measures. Years ago, it led the way on the V-notching of berried lobsters. This year, we have seen the benefits, through the improvement in catches and landings. When he visited Stornoway last week, Ross Finnie would have seen that for himself.

At this stage, it would be an act of folly to include any part of my constituency in a national park. It is a part of Scotland that is just beginning to embrace the new inshore management system that I mentioned, in which fishermen, processors, scientists, shellfish farmers, fish farmers and environmentalists will convene and manage our fisheries and all other activities, initially up to six miles out, and I hope that the range will be extended to up to 12 miles out. That exciting initiative is recognised and promoted by the Executive, the United Kingdom Government and the European Commission.

I have never credited Richard Lochhead with having a sense of humour, but today he pleasantly surprised me. In the nationalists' amendment, he says that

"there are many other more pressing priorities facing our coastal communities".

Hand-wringing sanctimony must always be applauded, but I remind Richard Lochhead and his fellow nationalists of their betrayal of Western Isles fishermen when other members sought, successfully, to amend the Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 to reduce the number of dredges scallop boats are allowed to tow. The so-called Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson refused to support Western Isles fishermen and their families, and Fergus Ewing turned up to support him. However, Nora Radcliffe, Maureen Macmillan, Sarah Boyack and I all supported the families who depend on a thriving scallop industry. The nationalists ignored the Western Isles Fishermen's Association, but chose to listen to and act on the instruction of their London leader, Alex Salmond. While the platitudes come pouring forth from their mouths and pens, their actions demonstrate where their loyalty lies—not with the coastal communities of the Western Isles but with wee Eck and what he tells them to do.

Western Isles Council, the Western Isles Fishermen's Association and I have no difficulty with the concept of a coastal and marine national park; indeed, we actively endorse the principle and wish the minister and the Executive well in promoting it. However, right at this moment, we are all eager to allow the inshore fisheries group to establish itself. In future, we will be better placed to assess the need for a coastal and marine park in parts of—or indeed all of—the Western Isles.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 3:59 pm, 26th October 2006

I accept, as the SNP amendment says, that marine national parks may have a role to play. However, I will take some convincing that there are not, as the amendment says—if only Alasdair Morrison had read it correctly—"more pressing priorities" with which we should proceed. In particular, as Richard Lochhead has already outlined, there are a number of pieces of legislation that already affect the seas.

An interesting document from EnviroCentre and the WWF called "The Tangle of the Clyde" gives a good example of an area in which there is a real mess. The document states:

"Many shipping lanes pass through sensitive areas such as the Minch, representing a serious environmental risk. As navigation is a reserved matter, however, it is difficult for Scotland to address this risk."

That is applicable to lots of areas, and I will finish my speech by commenting on one particular area that is dear to my heart.

We heard from the Greens that a coastal and marine national park might appropriately be placed around Fair Isle, but the only link between Fair Isle and the proposals that are before us today is that the proposals are as woolly as a Fair Isle jersey. The Executive's question-and-answer document asks:

"What powers will the National Park have?"

The answer is:

"The Park Authority could make a significant contribution to the care and enjoyment of some of Scotland's outstanding coastal and marine natural heritage."

That is fine, but it continues:

"It could, for example, contribute to and enhance the local delivery of other national objectives on promoting Scottish food products and tourism."

I wonder what VisitScotland, Scotland's councils, the Food Standards Agency or SNH are doing in that regard. Are they failing so badly that a bit of joined-up government could not help them to deliver what the Executive is trying to achieve through the creation of additional bureaucracy? The same result could be achieved by existing organisations. Perhaps we need to re-examine what the Executive's document says and flesh out what the proposed organisation will actually do.

This afternoon's debate is about the marine and coastal environment so I make no apology for mentioning ship-to-ship oil transfers in the River Forth, which is a matter of great concern to MSPs of all parties. I accept that it is a complex matter that involves a number of pieces—10, I think—of both reserved and devolved legislation. However, in a briefing that was prepared for Alyn Smith MEP and me this month, SNH, which advises the minister on natural heritage matters, expressed the view that, where works are proposed that would affect European protected species or their shelter or breeding places, a licence is required from the licensing authority, which in this case is the Scottish Executive.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

The member is against a national park authority having greater regulatory powers. Does he agree that it would be better for such powers to be held by a park authority, rather than a public limited company such as Forth Ports plc, which operates within harbours, damages the environment and fails to uphold its regulatory duties?

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I want to see rationalisation of the legislation first to make sure that we get some real focus. I will come to the issue of Forth Ports later in my speech.

SNH's view is given further weight by a written answer that was given to my SNP colleague Mike Weir MP in the House of Commons on 25 July. Dr Ladyman, the Minister of State for Transport, stated:

"It is for Forth Ports, as the competent harbour authority, to decide whether to permit ship-to-ship transfers.

Furthermore, under regulation 44 of the Habitats Regulations, there is provision to license activities that could disturb a European protected species, or damage or destroy breeding sites or resting places. As this is for a devolved purpose, it is the responsibility of the Scottish Executive to determine whether a licence would be required for ship-to-ship transfers in the Firth of Forth."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 25 July 2006; Vol 449, c 1308W.]

I see both ministers nodding their heads in agreement, but they have not yet agreed that they will be required to license the operation.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

My comment is intended to be helpful. The point is that we have not come to that stage yet. I hope that Bruce Crawford will note that I and the Executive absolutely agree that regulation 44 is in play. That is why we invited SNH to review any proposal that comes from the port authority and advise us on whether it is consistent with the habitats directive. If it is not, we will take action, but we are not at that stage yet. The port authority, as the competent authority, is preparing the information. We have made it absolutely clear to the port authority that it must have the proposal reviewed and that it must comply with the habitats directive.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I am glad that the minister has clarified that. However, SNH has already said quite plainly that there will be an effect on whales, porpoises and dolphins, so I do not see why we need to delay in deciding whether the licensing process should be invoked.

One reason why we took the issue to and raised a complaint with the European Commission environment directorate-general was the situation with Forth Ports. It is not all the fault of the port authority, because the legislation created by the Tories to privatise that organisation left a private company to decide on an issue of public policy. The DG environment has agreed to investigate the matter, and there will be a meeting tomorrow with UK representatives. Will the Scottish Executive have a representative at that meeting? It was clear that European Commission staff expected that the Scottish Executive would have to approve the process followed by Forth Ports. They could not understand why a private company would be able to give the go-ahead without a final say from a public authority.

Photo of Mr Andrew Arbuckle Mr Andrew Arbuckle Liberal Democrat 4:06 pm, 26th October 2006

I welcome the arrival of the consultation on establishing a coastal and marine national park. As the Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs stated in his introductory speech, experience throughout the world shows that national parks create socioeconomic benefits, and Sarah Boyack reminded us of the international legacy of John Muir in creating national parks.

The minister was right to chastise the narrow nationalist view on this exciting project. Richard Lochhead asked from whence the proposal for a marine park came. I can tell him that, back in 2003, the Liberal Democrats made a commitment at their conference to establishing a marine park and, as such, ensured that the proposal was included in the 2003 partnership agreement.

The establishment of such a designated area also links in with the Scottish Executive's marine and coastal strategy, the intention of which is to ensure that not only we but future generations will be able to enjoy these areas. I am sure that the consultation will produce a diverse range of opinions, and I hope that areas so designated will see designation as an opportunity to increase economic activity rather than a move that will stifle local businesses.

Unfortunately, we have seen negativity and tunnel vision in the Scottish National Party's amendment to the motion. The SNP seems to believe that the setting up of a maritime park will do nothing other than cost money. As both the minister and deputy minister have pointed out, if the SNP cared to consider the existing situation with the Loch Lomond and Cairngorm national parks, it would see no damage to those areas. Indeed, there are benefits through more tourists visiting the areas, while biodiversity is being protected.

It is possible that the SNP is just ignoring the background in the consultation document, which lists the four main objectives of national parks. Every one is positive. Three out of the four talk of promotion and one includes economic development. Perhaps the SNP just has a funding gap called student grants to deal with.

I do not presume to predict the views that will arise from the consultation, but I hope that those who live and work in areas designated as national parks will see that designation as an important factor in ensuring their long-term sustainability and viability. It would be wrong if designation was seen as an added burden on local communities, especially if the burden involved more bureaucracy. However, I see no great evidence of additional paperwork in the consultation document or within existing land parks.

When the proposal is taken forward, it will be important to me and, I hope, to others that local residents and communities play a full role in any controls and management that are needed. To my mind, any management team should reflect local priorities, and I am pleased about the proposal for local voices to have a majority on the board.

I hope that, when the proposal comes to fruition, the percentage of local people on the park board will at least equal the 88 per cent achieved by the Cairngorm park board. Incidentally, the percentage of local representation on the Cairngorm board could be even higher if we moved the boundaries to a more sensible line and included a representative from Perth and Kinross Council.

The geology of Scotland dictates that the west coast provides more diverse and scenic land and seascapes than we enjoy in the east of the country, and that is reflected in the areas that are in the front line for consideration. Like Sarah Boyack, I will duck the question of where might be best, but to be a little parochial, I am disappointed that the Forth estuary was not promoted for designation. That estuary would have been a far more challenging prospect, given its wide sweep of interests. It is recognised internationally for its outstanding marine and coastal biodiversity. It has a wide range of wildlife, both on the coast and in its waters, and it combines a range of flora and fauna with strategic commercial activity. Ports in the Forth handle more shipping than any other location in Scotland, and the estuary hosts the fourth busiest port in the United Kingdom.

I am pleased about the minister's remarks on the latest position on the ship-to-ship transfer of oil. His remarks provide the country with hope of a possible stop to that operation. I hope that, by the time the first marine national park in Scotland becomes a reality, the proposal for ship-to-ship oil transfers has headed off to areas that are more suitable and less exposed to the elements. As Mark Ruskell pointed out, a marine park designation for the Forth might have been the ideal deterrent.

Aside from that, I support the concept of coastal and marine national parks, but I and others will remember the SNP's attitude to and words about the proposal.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 4:11 pm, 26th October 2006

I understand that the coastline of Scotland is about as long as that of France. The seas and coast of Scotland are extremely extensive assets. Recent experience shows that our seas and coastlines, with their harbours, coastal walkways and beaches, can be managed in ways that strike the right balance between environmental protection, public access and economic development.

In my patch are the Scottish Seabird Centre, the John Muir country park, which is named after a son of Dunbar who led the movement to establish national parks in North America, coastal footpaths and nature reserves. We also have interesting new activities such as diving, surfing and sea angling, all functioning side by side with the local prawn fishery. The coast of East Lothian is an important asset, which needs to be protected and developed. Good development can be compatible with the principles of conservation. I wish that people who claim to be conservationists would learn to work with local communities instead of indulging in knee-jerk opposition to everything from fish farms to wind turbines.

I am not going to join Andrew Arbuckle in suggesting that the Firth of Forth should be Scotland's first marine national park—that is a little implausible—although I will return to issues concerning the Firth of Forth later. Unlike the SNP, I support the proposal to establish marine national parks, presumably starting with one on the west coast. Fergus Ewing's suggestion that we should not proceed with that because there are other priorities is a recipe for total inertia. If we tried to deal with every single priority at once, we would never get anything done at all. Fergus Ewing's position is absurd.

If it is approached in the right way, the initiative could ensure better protection for marine habitats and species. It should create good opportunities for appropriate activities and eco-tourism, which could boost the local economy of the area concerned. However, as a former minister with responsibility for fisheries, I must make a plea for local fishermen and other local businesses. I am well aware that some fishermen carry a heavy responsibility for damage to fish stocks and the marine environment. Such damage has happened. However, fishermen are not all like that. In local communities, responsible fishermen must be genuine partners in planning for the management of marine national parks. The practice of appointing city-based quangos and employing graduates with big salaries to impose impossible constraints on people who are struggling to survive in remote areas must stop.

I look to the minister to ensure that fishermen and other local businesses are actively involved in the initiative. There should not just be the usual nominal consultation; there needs to be genuine participation. From my experience at the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department, as it was then, I suggest that the process will require some hands-on ministerial political involvement. I am looking to my colleague from Midlothian to provide just that.

I return to the Firth of Forth, specifically to the Scottish Seabird Centre. The Seabird Centre is one of the best millennium projects in Britain. The combination of a fabulous location in North Berwick and the centre's use of excellent remote technology is giving thousands of people direct access to watch real seabirds in real time on the Bass rock, Fidra and the Isle of May without disturbing the birds or their habitats in any way.

Wildlife tourism is already benefiting my constituency and is a growth industry for the whole of Scotland. I understand that Scotland has 45 per cent of Europe's seabirds, so we are very well placed to become a major global wildlife tourism destination. That brings me back to my point about the case for appropriate developments to enable remote communities to take advantage of the opportunities that can arise from good conservation. Plans for marine national parks must include plans for access to and enjoyment of those parks. That means hotels, guest houses, harbours, transport and the rest of the infrastructure that will be needed to enable people in the area to take advantage of the opportunities that should be created.

However, as other members have said, not all developments are good. I will not miss the opportunity to press the minister for help in dealing with the threat by Forth Ports to sanction transfers of Russian oil that is destined for other countries between foreign ships in the Firth of Forth. The firth is a busy seaway and we all support properly regulated shipping to carry cargo to and from Scotland. However, the proposed transhipments would be something else altogether. They would create a real risk and—just as important—a perceived threat of major oil pollution in sight of the Scottish Seabird Centre, without creating jobs in Scotland.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

Does the member agree that it would be totally inappropriate for a private company to make a decision of such a magnitude that affects many lives around the Firth of Forth?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

That is a problem. The private company that has an interest in the business that accrues from oil transfers also happens to be the statutory port authority, which is a difficult position. That is why I look to the Executive to use all its influence and powers to prevail on Forth Ports to resist the temptation of revenue from that trade and to have due regard to its public responsibilities as a statutory port authority.

The burgh of Dunbar is the birthplace of the man who invented the concept of national parks. John Muir is a major national figure in the United States and it has taken far too long to bring his ideas back to Scotland, but we are getting there. I welcome the progress that is being made on our first national parks on land and I strongly support the principle of taking the idea offshore. However, we should never underestimate the Scottish civil service's capacity to turn a good idea into a bureaucratic mess. I urge the minister to proceed with caution and to keep a close eye on Scottish Natural Heritage's conduct.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:17 pm, 26th October 2006

The minister has chosen to bring this subject to the Parliament at an early stage, while the initial consultation is in progress. It is therefore all the more surprising that the SNP has greeted the proposal with such hostility. It is surprising for me because I recognise much of the hostility that has been expressed, as Conservatives often expressed such views in the past when the Conservative Government resisted pressure to establish land-based national parks. I recognise the same arguments that were made against national parks in the past and which could still be made against terrestrial national parks today. It is surprising that all that hostility has come together at this time.

In the early days of the Scottish Parliament, when I was the convener of the Rural Affairs Committee and Sarah Boyack was the minister who introduced the National Parks (Scotland) Bill, it would not have surprised many if the Conservatives had opposed the proposal. However, we did not—we took a different tack. We chose to engage in the process across party lines with interested members of all political parties to work to ensure that economic interests were properly protected, that no group had the upper hand, that the position of those who sought legitimately to make their living in the new national parks would be protected from the start and that their position and that protection would be enshrined in the bill when passed. I think that all parties who were involved—the minister, the Executive, the committee and ordinary members alike—can claim a success.

There is still much to learn from the experience of the new national parks as they operate in practice, yet here we have a proposal, which does not surprise many of us, to establish the first marine national park. Perhaps we should regret that the opportunity has not been taken to carry out post-legislative scrutiny of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. However, that opportunity has passed and there is a proposal in front of us.

The Conservatives have made it clear that we are not opposed to the principle that we are discussing. That is important. We have also made the commitment that we will involve ourselves in the same process in which we involved ourselves in the past to ensure that we support people whose economic interests may be threatened by marine national parks. We will support them to ensure that the opportunities for economic advancement in a new marine national park will be protected, supported and promoted.

Several proposals have been made on where the first marine national park could be sited. Those proposals form a significant part of the consultation. Fergus Ewing has made it clear that his constituents do not want such a park; if that is the case and the consultation proves that they do not, I will fully support them in resisting a park. However, I do not believe that all the people in every area in which the consultation is taking place do not want a park.

We are at the start of a very long process that will, I suspect, result in the creation of Scotland's first marine national park. The Conservatives will not oppose such a park but will aim to ensure that it is established in a beneficial way. We must protect fishermen from potential interference but not prevent the potential investment that can be made if things are done properly and successfully in areas in which people want national parks. Once an area in which people want a marine national park is identified, we should not hesitate to go forward with and debate a bill that is based on the proposals.

As I have said, I am surprised at the hostility that SNP members have shown in the debate. I appeal to them to do what we are doing and what we did with the National Parks (Scotland) Bill seven years ago. They should accept that a marine national park is inevitable and take part in the process to ensure that it will not be an economic burden on the area in which it is established but will be a positive measure. They should ensure that we all work together so that the park is a benefit rather than a disadvantage to the communities that face the designation.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 4:22 pm, 26th October 2006

Like Alex Johnstone, I have been somewhat disappointed by the debate, as I thought that there would be a strong consensus in it. As Ted Brocklebank rightly said, the SNP has shown poverty of ambition.

I agree with Richard Lochhead that there are multiple uses of our marine environment, that it faces multiple pressures and that the current legislation is a dog's breakfast, but that is no excuse for inaction now. Ship-to-ship oil transfers were mentioned. Of course the situation is part of the dog's breakfast of regulation that exists and we must sort it out, but that does not mean that the Parliament does not have the power to stop oil transfers proceeding at the moment. The Green party and others are gathering data on protected species in the Forth; indeed, SNH already has some of the data. Stopping those transfers is possible. We do not need to wait for new marine legislation to take positive action.

More important, a marine national park could provide a test-bed for new ways of working that we need to adopt in the future. Work on it will directly feed into the work that we must do on a new marine act for Scotland. It is important to start integrated working right now. We should not wait for regulation; we should go ahead and start working with all the stakeholders. There is a lot of experience relating to marine national parks from around the world. In Australia, for example, people have tried zoning different activities. Such an attempt will not work if we work with only one group of stakeholders; everybody needs to be brought together. We can try out a new way of working right now.

Perhaps the SNP has spoken to only one set of interests—the fisheries interests, whose representatives are shouting loudest on the issue. That is wrong; we need to listen to all stakeholders, as Eleanor Scott said. As Sarah Boyack and Maureen Macmillan said, participation is important, as is involving all the stakeholders in the structuring of the park and the decision making. That is what happens in Australia, which has 25-year plans for the great barrier reef national park that involve 60 organisations. That is not just picking on one group of stakeholders; it is delivering a sustainable plan for that park. Any involvement of stakeholders has to be meaningful.

I was disappointed to hear from Alex Fergusson about some of the problems that he has encountered with some of the consultations that have taken place. I hope that the minister will listen to and reflect on that.

We have to start getting people participating right now. We also have to get the trust going between communities and the parks that might come out of the process. Crucial to that are the functions and powers of the proposed new park authority. Earlier in the debate, the minister said that he had not made a decision on the powers, functions or location of the park, but he then went on to say that he was ruling out the more regulatory functions as part of the model. I urge caution; we need to discuss the regulatory functions with the communities. If we are to build up trust with stakeholders, we need to give them some of the power and a cut of what is happening with the national parks. That is why I argue for broad regulatory powers. I also argue for the park boards to include more than just local councillors. Perhaps they should include some of those fisheries interests that are obviously lobbying Fergus Ewing and the SNP. We need to think creatively about how to bring all those people together to get genuine sustainable development.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the member list the people who have lobbied him calling for coastal marine parks in Scotland?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Many communities around the Firth of Forth are concerned about integrated management in the firth. The SNP wants to stop that because it does not want to test that management through a national park. [ Interruption. ] I represent Mid Scotland and Fife, as members know. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

We need to focus on involving the stakeholders and if we leave those stakeholders outside the process at this point, and take an isolationist view with them as the SNP is doing, particularly with the inshore fisheries groups, that will be a problem. We have to consider the advantages, particularly the economic advantages—Maureen Macmillan spelled out many of those.

Fergus Ewing's constituency survey asked the wrong question. We should be asking the people who do not already visit Lochaber whether they would be prepared to go to Lochaber if there were a marine national park there. We should ask some of the people in Sarah Boyack's constituency, for example. There is huge potential for domestic tourism. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to take a holiday. What would I do? Would I get a cheap flight to Prague, or would I holiday in Scotland? One of the draws to visiting Fergus Ewing's constituency was the existence of a national park. The park's integrated facilities and the fact that it is marketed effectively all persuaded me to make the journey to Fergus Ewing's constituency, to support its economy and to support the development of businesses there. I do not see why Fergus Ewing takes such a narrow view of the economic potential of national parks.

Marine national parks could be sustainable in economic, environmental and social terms, but we have to enable people to participate directly and, in doing so, we will change the culture and ways in which our seas and coastal areas are managed.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 4:29 pm, 26th October 2006

We are having the debate in the very early stages in the process of creating a coastal and marine national park. The consultation on every aspect, issue and concern relating to any such park—where it would be sited, how it would be run, the powers of the park authority, what it would to be called—is open for anyone to make their views and suggestions known until 10 January 2007. Along with others in the chamber, I urge everyone with an interest to make the effort to contribute to the consultation, because this is the stage at which concerns should be made known and issues should be aired. It is also the stage at which it is easiest to influence the shape of whatever coastal and marine national park emerges from the process.

From discussions with my colleague George Lyon, I know that many of his constituents in Argyll have concerns about how any national park designation will affect their businesses and livelihoods. They can take comfort from the way in which the 2000 act is framed, to make it crystal clear that social and economic factors are as important as environmental factors in how national parks operate. That has worked in practice in our two land-based national parks.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Were social and economic factors to be given the same weight as environmental factors, it would provide some relief to those who are presently opposed to coastal and marine national parks. However, that would require amendment of the 2000 act, which states plainly that the first aim—conservation—takes precedence, in accordance with the Sandford principle. Is the member proposing that primary legislation should be amended so that conservation is no longer given precedence?

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

The member has misinterpreted the 2000 act. As Alex Johnstone indicated, and as those of us who considered the bill understand, we worked very hard to strike a balance between the three principles. Fergus Ewing is misinterpreting entirely a great deal of hard work that went into getting the bill right.

It is vital that the people who live and work in those areas that are being considered for possible national parks should get involved in the discussions. They are the people who have intimate knowledge of the areas and who can flag up potential problems and suggest reasonable solutions that will work in a local context, which they probably understand better than anyone else. As Jamie McGrigor said, they have been the custodians thus far.

We can offer George Lyon's constituents and the residents of other areas that are under consideration many positive reasons for welcoming national park designation. A coastal and marine national park could play an important role in supporting activities in the area. Some will be dependent on the functions and powers of the park authority and on the location of the park, but it is a pretty safe bet that more people will want to go to a national park area as a result of its national and international status. That will underpin a number of possibilities—for a start, the growth of new sustainable tourism businesses.

There is bound to be enhanced provision of recreational activities. As John Home Robertson said, the development and promotion of visitor and recreational infrastructure will be key, as will accessibility. All that will be of benefit to local people, as well as to visitors. Production of and access to better information about the area will increase the enjoyment and understanding of Scotland's coastal and marine environment for local people and visitors alike. That could bring the less tangible benefit of increasing pride of place—pride in the unique and wonderful place that is home, seen through and valued in the eyes of the outside world—and boosting people's sense of self-worth and confidence.

There are other, more practical benefits that could accrue. In a national park there would be a more co-ordinated approach to considering economic, social and environmental issues. I see potential for new approaches to rural housing, for example, which I am certain will be welcomed with open arms. Businesses are likely to have clearer information about local operational requirements, with better co-ordination between regulators and the potential simplification of existing regulatory arrangements. I am sure that that, too, will be welcomed with open arms.

Much of what I am describing sounds very land based, but it is impossible to separate coastal and marine national parks from the land adjoining them; after all, most access will be across land. However, the focus will be on the coastal and marine environment. Understandably, fishing interests are a bit wary, but there could be more support for local fisheries and aquaculture, and the national park brand could bring commercial advantages.

I turn to the proposed amendments to the motion. The Conservative and Green amendments are entirely appropriate at this stage of the proceedings, as they flag up matters of concern. However, I found the SNP surprisingly disappointing. I do not see the creation of a marine national park as an additional layer of bureaucracy. Indeed, as I have said, there is scope within the proposal for rationalising and co-ordinating various bureaucratic strands in a helpful way. There is no doubt about the complexity of the law relating to the sea. The "Tangle of the Clyde", which was mentioned by Bruce Crawford, and the "Tangle of the Forth" amply demonstrate that. However, neither of those publications drew the conclusion that it should not be added to constructively. The subtitle of the Clyde document is "Why we must reform the management of Scotland's marine environment". Far from being unhelpful or unpopular, what is being carried forward by the Executive is eagerly sought.

There is no doubt that we have a fantastic marine resource, but there are huge gaps in our knowledge of what lies beneath the surface of our coastal waters. For all we know, in our ignorance, we might be doing enormous unseen damage. The sooner that we start to take a more careful and conscious interest, the better. Scotland's marine and estuarine environment contributes £14 billion to Scotland's £64 billion gross domestic product. The possibly competing interests must be balanced. I believe that we can do that. I believe that we are on the threshold of an extremely exciting achievement. We can pull it off in style if everyone works together. Let us go for it.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:35 pm, 26th October 2006

I echo the words of my colleague Ted Brocklebank, who emphasised the importance of preserving not only the environment and fisheries but the fishermen, processors and others who make their livelihoods from the coastal marine resource. Marine parks are, in fact, an old idea. Indeed, they long precede the more modern idea of marine spatial planning. That idea, which I believe is now the subject of discussions between fishery managers and the Executive relates to codes of good practice and management for all Scottish waters, not just one or two areas.

I remember Ross Finnie telling us in no uncertain terms in a fisheries debate that fish do not respect boundaries but move around the sea bed as they think fit. That suggests that it might be better to concentrate on marine spatial planning rather than emphasising a marine park too much. Why conserve only one area when we could instead ensure the better management of all areas?

There might develop a situation in which half of the people want to be in a national park and half do not. That would be a bit silly. However, in the interest of the areas that have been suggested—four of which lie in my region—I will try to be positive about any benefits that a marine park might bring.

SNH has shortlisted the five strongest candidates. I notice that they are all on the west coast. The east coast did not get any fish farms either. I feel a bit sorry for the east coast—why is it missing out on so much?

It is worth noting that the present legislation was designed for terrestrial parks not marine parks. As it would be unwise to suggest a terrestrial solution to a situation in a marine environment, it will be necessary to introduce special legislation that is a bit more appropriate.

As a marine park will be a new venture, it would be wise to consider any problems that have been experienced in the terrestrial parks. Some say that there is a difficult extra layer of bureaucracy and others are not so concerned. However, the bureaucracy can be disruptive to residents and I hope that that will not be the case in a marine park, where at present everyone has freedom of access and the definition of boundaries and ownership will be a bit more difficult. Will the price of boat moorings suddenly go whooshing up? Will there be restrictions on previous freedoms? That is what people want to know.

I know of pilot projects to do with marine spatial planning that are already taking place in the Argyll islands and coastal area. For example, there is the Scottish sustainable marine environment scheme in the Clyde estuary, which the minister will know about. There has also been a degree of co-operation between the Community of Arran Seabed Trust and the local fishermen with regard to Lamlash bay. Recently, fishermen in Loch Fyne and Loch Shira have agreed not to trawl within certain limits in order to help wild salmon and sea trout interests in the area. That sort of agreement is sensible for local stakeholders and does not require any input from civil servants.

The impression is being given that fisheries management will not be in the remit of the management of the marine national park. I am glad that the minister said that. However, that must be made absolutely clear. Although the marine park authority might not be able to define the gear or methods that fishermen may use, it will be able to decide whether any fishing can take place.

In the Firth of Lorn, 90 per cent of the area is now closed to scallop dredging even though there is no UK rule to prevent such dredging. The recent ban emanates from the European Union habitats directive of 1993. One person who is affected is a fisherman from Luing who has been fishing the area for 40 years. He makes the point that the coral reefs, which he has studiously avoided, are still there. He would not want to lose his gear by going too close to them. However, he has now lost his livelihood and has lost the means to support his family.

So far, I have spoken mainly of the water area. If a marine national park is to bring increased and sustainable tourism benefits to the terrestrial coastal area, we will certainly encourage that. However, that is surely a job that VisitScotland is meant to be doing already. I note that the two existing land-based national parks receive £10 million between them. I would be interested to know how much of that goes into supporting local enterprises and things that benefit rural communities.

I will also be interested in the results of the consultation. I am glad that the minister has said that he will not impose anything on a community that is totally against it. The jury is still out. It is all very well for those in ivory towers here and in Brussels to talk about conservation but, as my friend Ted Brocklebank has said, we will support a park only if it does not impose a national concept against the wishes of the people who have lived and worked in a local coastal environment for generations. After all, they are the people who, over generations, have created the environment that a marine national park is supposed to protect. They are the ones who know the local environment and who will continue to manage it best. I can think of many things that fishermen have done. Alasdair Morrison mentioned the V-notching and returning of female lobsters. There is also the modification of trawl gear and dredgers to lessen the impact on the sea bed.

I want to conserve the communities as well as the land that they live on. Any park will have to do that before it will get my support.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 4:42 pm, 26th October 2006

Our amendment has drawn a lot of fire from around the chamber, but it is important that members know what it says. It

"notes that coastal and marine national parks may have a role to play in the future but that at the present time there are many other more pressing priorities facing our coastal communities".

The amendment uses the plural "parks", referring to more than one national park, but the impression I get from the debate is that it is really important for the Government to have one trophy national park. The priority is not for all the communities around the Highlands and Islands that I represent, and all the communities around other parts of Scotland, to have a chance to share in a balanced and sustainable future for their coasts and inland waters, and that is the problem that my party has with the Executive's position. We will not agree to the terms of the current proposals.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am not yet into my speech, but I will give way in a minute or two.

Other people have quoted their party's manifesto, so I will quote the SNP's manifesto from 2003. We said that we would

"modernise legislation in the areas of wildlife, conservation and the seas."

We want to modernise the legislation because there is far too much legislation in far too many acts.

Elliot Morley outlined the UK marine policy at the beginning of January 2005. Discussing proposals for a marine bill, he talked about a role for a marine agency to streamline fisheries management, and about a range of other management issues to do with the marine environment. He talked about the bill creating a system for managing marine resources and creating sustainable development; about reducing the number of departments and organisations that deal with marine life; and about adopting a more holistic and overarching policy. I think that such proposals are a way forward for Scotland, and they fit in with the way in which the SNP has laid out its stall in this debate.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I am delighted to hear the SNP's fulsome support for the Labour Government at the UK level. Does the member not accept that it is not an either/or situation? We can have a much better managed marine environment—which we are beginning to debate here—and national park status, which is something special. That was accepted in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. We are talking not about things that cut across each other but about things that work together.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I think that we should get things sorted out first. I was not in the Parliament in 2000—I should explain that I did not stand for election then, before someone throws that jibe again. I have always been of the view that the whole of the Highlands should have been made a national park, rather than excluding many areas that are outside or on the boundary of the current organisations. That is the big problem. Who will look after those areas, many of which are as worthy as the trophy that the Executive wants to set up just now?

The European approach to the whole matter of maritime policy offers another, holistic approach. A proposed maritime policy would cut across numerous policy areas, including fisheries, transport, coastal policy, environment, energy, trade and research. At the moment, we have 85 UK acts that deal with this. Does the Executive not see the logic of getting that sorted out before we impose any further bureaucracy?

There is a lot of talk about support for a new national park, but Alasdair Morrison has stated that the fishermen of the Western Isles have no appetite for that. The consultation is out at present, and we shall see how many people respond to it. The fact is that many people around the country may wish to have some of the ideas but do not like the model that is proposed. The problem that we always have with the Executive is that it puts out the questions but ignores the answers that do not fit and that it does not want. We saw that with the Crofting Reform etc (Scotland) Bill, which we knew had to be scrapped. That is precisely how SEERAD works, and the minister knows that. We have been talking about bodies that already exist but that need to be co-ordinated and to work in a holistic fashion. A new national park would be just another body and, as far as I am concerned, it is not the kind of extra body that we require at this time.

I have followed and been involved in the discussions about the way in which SEERAD behaves towards communities that are interested in their local sea bed. The long story of COAST, which is still unfolding, has reached the committee of which I am a member, and does not show ministers and their department to have been terribly proactive in giving that community the say that it wants in managing its local piece of sea. If the Executive cannot come to an agreement on that, how will it deal with the massive competing and conflicting arrangements that there are in an area the size of the Firth of Lorn, the Moray firth, and so on? That is the problem. It is a great idea, but it is much more difficult to cut through to get something that will enhance people's lives and the environment.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I understand the COAST argument: it is well rehearsed. One of the difficulties with COAST's proposal—which Rob Gibson well knows—is in trying to fit it into some cohesive structure. Even Scottish Natural Heritage has said that the area is not large enough to produce the cohesion needed for the purposes of a national park. The SNP may want a whole raft of national parks, but the 2000 act sets out the conditions, which Lamlash bay does not meet.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am not for a moment suggesting that Lamlash bay should be a national park, but it is an example of totally flawed management of the sea bed by the authorities. The community there wants to do more, and other communities around the country want to have a say. I have mentioned those around Applecross in Wester Ross in past debates of this sort. However, at the moment, there are very few communities that want to do that sort of thing. Indeed, the Executive's proposals, which are based on the existing model for land-based national parks, will not really give local communities a big say. One of the commitments in the SNP's manifesto for the last election was to review the success of the different planning mechanisms that were used for the two national parks, and I might add to that the participation of communities.

The Firth of Forth will not be a trophy national park; it is another example of where we need to get the existing mechanisms working for the people there. The Executive's wish to have coastal and marine national parks cannot compare with the need to sort out the 85 acts that clog up the seas at the moment and which the SNP wants to be rationalised.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 4:50 pm, 26th October 2006

I start by welcoming our visitors from Mallaig and the west Highlands to the Parliament.

I have listened with interest to all the speeches in the debate. Some members expressed support for the proposals to establish Scotland's first coastal and marine national park, while others have highlighted concerns that they would like to be addressed and some—such as Jamie McGrigor, in contrast to his other Conservative colleagues—want to reserve judgment.

Those views reflect the range of opinion throughout Scotland and contrast with the preponderance of negative stories in the media in the run-up to the launch of the consultation. That negative coverage was based on assumptions of what might be contained in the Executive's consultation paper. I understand the concerns that led to those comments but, now that the consultation paper is available, I would like to encourage a real debate on the proposals so that we can take account of other views and adapt the proposals.

I turn to the concerns that have been expressed during the debate. It is not true that there is no support for a coastal and marine national park. As we have said, responses to the consultation have indicated support, and it is a bit of an insult to dismiss those people who have taken the trouble to send in postcards supporting the proposed national park. The SNP, which is opposed to a coastal and marine national park, supported the establishment of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park and the Cairngorms national park. I would be interested to hear whether the SNP members from the Highlands would like the Cairngorms national park to be wound up. John Swinney, who is in the SNP, likes it so much that he is campaigning for part of his constituency to be included in it.

Richard Lochhead and various other members of the SNP claimed that we are doing nothing other than consulting on the coastal and marine national park, and several of them made reference to the complex legislative arrangements that exist in the marine environment. However, it is not true to say that nothing else is happening. The Executive's publication "Seas the Opportunity: A Strategy for the Long Term Sustainability of Scotland's Coasts and Seas" set out our vision for clean, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environments that are managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people. It was not published in isolation, because the strategy is being taken forward through an advisory group on marine and coastal strategy—AGMACS—which Ross Finnie chairs and on which I sit. Indeed, Jamie McGrigor is aware of the work that is going on in the Scottish sustainable marine environment initiative. AGMACS includes fishermen's representatives, as well as representatives from aquaculture, renewable energy, Scottish Enterprise, natural heritage bodies and a range of different agencies, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Recently, there were media reports that the Scottish Executive wanted more powers over the marine environment to be transferred from Westminster to Holyrood. Will the minister confirm whether that is the case?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

As I said, AGMACS is meeting to discuss a range of issues and no definite conclusions have been reached yet. It is absolutely untrue to say that the proposed coastal and marine national park is a trophy national park and that the consultation is taking place in isolation. A huge amount is going on. We have created a framework for pilot management schemes and three pilot areas are up and running under the Scottish sustainable marine environment initiative.

Members have referred to several candidate areas. All the proposed areas are in the running as potential candidate areas, and I assure members that we are keen to hear consultees' views on all 10 of the areas that are identified in the consultation. Indeed, we have held open the possibility of consultees suggesting other areas, provided that they can give reasons to justify their designation. Eleanor Scott has suggested Fair Isle, but I suspect that she will probably agree that it might not be the first candidate.

The proposed light-touch approach for the park authority is not intended as a stalking-horse for more draconian measures in future. A light-touch approach would give existing regulators an incentive to make the current systems work better.

I want to give some reassurance to those who expressed concerns about the impact that a marine national park might have on local economies. We have clearly indicated that the newly established inshore fisheries groups will remain the mechanism for managing fisheries. I reassure Alasdair Morrison on that point. Likewise, we propose that local authorities and existing regulators will continue to manage aquaculture in the park area.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

On that point, I support inshore fisheries management, but paragraph 26 of section 3 of "SNH Advice on Coastal and Marine National Park—Advice to Ministers" advises that, in the event of a conflict between fishing interests and the park plan, the park plan should take precedence. Is that the Executive's view?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The importance of the park plan is that it contains the views and wishes of the people in the community. It is not true to say that that is not the case.

I see the national park as a driver for local sustainable development that will bring together all who have an interest in the economy, environment and communities of the park area. By way of reassurance, I suggest that those who are worried about the potential effects of a national park should talk to people in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park area and the Cairngorms national park area. Indeed, SNP members should talk to John Swinney, whose constituents are desperate to be included in the Cairngorms national park. I am sorry, but I just think that it is hypocritical of the SNP all of a sudden to change from its position of support for national parks.

Several members referred to ship-to-ship transfers in the Firth of Forth. The issue is complicated, but let me be clear that Forth Ports plc has a duty as the competent authority under European Union regulations. I reassure members that Scottish Executive officials will meet EU officials to discuss the matter and that I am well aware of members' concerns.

On governance, John Home Robertson mentioned the importance of engaging local people. Local people will be involved in the management of the park area and the park authority's board will include local people. That already happens in the existing national parks. We want to hear people's views about that.

In response to the Conservatives, it is not true to say that no one has visited the roadshow—1,200 people attended at Kirkcudbright and Oban and considerable interest has been shown in each leg of the tour—nor is it true to say that the roadshow is designed to sell a coastal and marine national park. The roadshow is intended to provide information on the proposals so that people can form their own views and submit their comments to the Executive. The roadshow provides one of many opportunities for people to participate in the consultation. In addition, we have sent out 600 copies of the consultation document, which can also be accessed on the Scottish Executive website.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I must finish, as I have only another two minutes.

A coastal and marine national park is about much more than simply safeguarding and protecting our natural heritage. It is about creating substantial local economic opportunities, delivering genuine social benefits to communities within the park's boundaries, planning and managing the unique and precious aspects of our coasts and becoming world leaders in marine research and best practice. National park status would provide a focus for increasing opportunities for recreation and enjoyment. The creation of a coastal and marine national park has potential for tourism benefits through the marketing of the park brand. More generally, a coastal and marine national park should be a national and international showcase that would bring greater national and international recognition to the area chosen.

Scotland has an important responsibility to ensure the well-being of our marine environment and it is right that we deliver Scottish solutions to do that. We are determined to manage our rich marine environment in a way that is based on the principles of sustainable development. That has underpinned our wider strategy for managing Scotland's coastal and marine environment and is a key principle underlying our proposal to establish Scotland's first coastal and marine national park. I urge members to support the motion.