Cairngorms National Park Boundary Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:33 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:33 pm, 21st March 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5758, in the name of John Swinney, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Cairngorms National Park Boundary Bill.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:41 pm, 21st March 2007

I thank the Environment and Rural Development Committee for the consideration that it has given the bill and for hosting an evidence session in my constituency, at Blair Atholl, to hear from a range of local organisations and representatives.

It is important to stress at the debate's outset that the committee heard from a wide cross-section of individuals and organisations that support the bill. They include local organisations such as the Pitlochry Partnership, the Blair Atholl area tourism association and Mount Blair community council; local authorities such as Perth and Kinross Council; and various national bodies such as the John Muir Trust and the Ramblers Association Scotland.

Of the submissions that were received, 24 were in favour of the bill, one was against it, one was in favour of neither the present nor the proposed boundary and two took no stance on the boundary. On any objective analysis, it is clear that support is strong for the proposition that I put to Parliament. No wonder: the issue has been around for a long time. In September 2000, ministers made a formal proposal under section 2 of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 to establish a national park in the Cairngorms. Scottish Natural Heritage undertook an extensive consultation that lasted 20 weeks and it listened carefully to interested parties' views. After due consideration, SNH recommended for the park area a designation that the Government decided not to follow. Principally, the Government decided not to extend the national park boundary to include the northern part of my constituency—the Angus glens and highland and east Perthshire.

However, after inquiry by the Rural Development Committee in the previous session of Parliament and much pressure from outside Parliament, the Government revised its proposals and provided in the Cairngorms National Park Designation, Transitional and Consequential Provisions (Scotland) Order 2003 (SSI 2003/1) for the inclusion of the Angus glens, but not highland and eastern Perthshire. At that stage, the Rural Development Committee faced a dilemma that faced everybody, in that the order was one that members could vote only for or against. I was not a member of that committee, although some of its members are in the chamber today, but I suspect that the committee voted with some reluctance in favour of the order, while making it clear that it felt that highland and east Perthshire should be included.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I am one of the members to whom John Swinney referred. I felt that the boundaries should not have excluded highland Perthshire and that to do so was wrong. I was forced to vote for the order, because if we had not done so, we would not have had the park.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I understand the dilemma that faces members when they deal with designation orders that are not well defined or well argued for, as with the order for the Cairngorms national park.

Since that frustrating position was reached, constituents of mine have tried to remedy the situation. The remedy that we have is the bill that I have introduced, which proposes an extension of the park's boundaries to take in highland and eastern Perthshire.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

As the convener of the Rural Development Committee in those days, I put it on record that although the committee was in a huge dilemma, as Mike Rumbles said, the committee's unanimous recommendation was that the Executive should adopt SNH's proposals.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mr Fergusson for that remark and for the way in which he has pursued the issue assiduously and supported efforts to remedy the situation over the years.

I turn to the Environment and Rural Development Committee's stage 1 report on the bill. At paragraph 94, the committee came to a strong conclusion that supports the central purpose of the bill. It states:

"the Committee agrees that there are persuasive arguments on geological and geographical grounds that the area is naturally part of the Cairngorms and that its inclusion would enhance the coherent identity of the Park, as required by the Act. The Committee heard powerful evidence that including the Perthshire hills and immediate glens would mean that the Park boundary would cover the natural southern topographical extent of the Cairngorms."

That is an absolutely appropriate remark for the committee to make.

The report then considers

"whether this Bill provides an appropriate and effective method of addressing the Park boundary."

However, in my view, it gets distracted by the possibility of changes to other parts of the boundary that have not been proposed or argued for as consistently as the change that the bill proposes. That argument is used to undermine the committee's taking immediate action to support the central purpose of the bill. The committee disagreed, by five votes to four, on the general principles of the bill.

Despite having rejected the bill by five votes to four, the committee goes on to say that it

"strongly and unanimously recommends that the Park boundary should be considered as part of the quinquennial review process."

I find that position to be more than a bit illogical. The committee hears compelling evidence for including the area, it presents no compelling evidence why the area should not be included, it rejects the bill and then goes on to say that the issue should be considered again in the quinquennial review in 2008. I do not think that the committee's decision was driven by evidence that it saw. If there was within the committee's report a convincing marshalling of evidence that said that the evidence that I had prepared was somehow wrong, inappropriate or inadequate, that would be a reasonable position to adopt. However, the committee has not accepted or presented any compelling evidence against the bill's provisions; it has accepted that there is compelling evidence in favour of extending the boundary but has chosen not to follow that compelling evidence. That leaves many members of the public genuinely questioning why the committee has come to such a conclusion.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Would Mr Swinney, as the SNP's finance spokesman, like to reflect on the value for money of the committee's decision? Parliament has spent a lot of time and money in considering the bill and taking evidence only to park the decision for a year. I presume that the whole process will have to be gone through again as part of the quinquennial review. Is not that a waste of taxpayers' money?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Fraser makes a reasonable point. Not only will the consultation have to be done again, but if we agree to extend the boundaries, that might involve relocation of some of the significant boundary markers that have not yet been installed at Drumochter pass, which would have to be moved south to somewhere near Blair Atholl at further cost to the public purse. The case has been made for the bill to be passed and the case has been made for public money to be saved as a result of taking the decision today, instead of delaying it. Accordingly, I invite Parliament to support that proposition.

In my concluding remarks, I turn to the quinquennial review that has been talked about. The quinquennial review is about governance and process but there is no obligation—in the quinquennial review or the arrangements for undertaking the quinquennial review—for the boundary issue to be re-examined. That will be done by the gift of ministers, but none of us knows who, in a few months' time, will be the ministers who will make the decision. There is no obligation on whoever is in office to take the boundary issue into account.

Even if the quinquennial review starts in September 2008, it will take a month to select and appoint an independent body to review the boundary of the national park. Another couple of months will pass while there is consultation on the boundary of the national park. It will take another five months for other organisations to be consulted, and it will then take another couple of months to analyse the responses. A report will have to be made to ministers and a designation order will have to be drafted, after which there will have to be consultation on the designation order. We will then have to have a statutory report on that and a draft order, followed by a period for consultation and further consideration by ministers. Finally, Parliament may be asked to review the order not in 2008—not after a delay of a year—but, more likely, in September 2010 or perhaps even later.

The proposition that parking the issue for a year and not taking action today would be a neat fix is unrealistic. If members decide not to support the bill's general principles today and we do not make progress on the matter, the issue will not be addressed for a considerable time.

Parliament should support the general principles of the bill because the people of highland and east Perthshire have waited long enough.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Cairngorms National Park Boundary Bill.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 3:50 pm, 21st March 2007

I thank the committee's clerks for their invaluable support and I thank all those who supplied written and oral evidence. In particular, I thank the people of Blair Atholl for their hospitality and the excellent evidence that they gave.

The Environment and Rural Development Committee was made aware that Scottish Natural Heritage recommended that highland and eastern Perthshire communities should be included in the original park boundaries, but the Executive decided not to include them. Mr Swinney is to be commended for seeking to right what communities in highland and eastern Perthshire and some bodies perceive to be a wrong.

The bill focuses on highland and eastern Perthshire; we could not consider possible boundary adjustments in other areas. The committee asked the Executive why parts of highland and eastern Perthshire had been excluded from the national park and we were told that they had been excluded for reasons of governance. In 2002, the Executive thought that the park might be too large to be effectively managed because the park authority was untried.

The committee took evidence in Blair Atholl, during which community representatives and interested organisations gave strong and persuasive views. They said that, geologically, geographically and economically, parts of highland and eastern Perthshire should be included in the park and that Blair Atholl was the historic southern gateway to the Cairngorms. Their evidence left a strong impression on the committee.

However, the committee also had to consider whether the process that the bill proposed was the right one to follow and what impact there could be on the current park, even supposing that we all agreed about the justice of extending the boundary along the line that is outlined in the bill—the rationale behind the boundary was debated. We had to consider whether boundary changes might be more appropriately dealt with in next year's quinquennial review and whether doing so would give the park authority more time to prepare. It was pointed out that the Cairngorms National Park Authority had just completed its draft park plan, which involved many months of consultation of stakeholders. In addition, the authority was finalising its local plan, which is a much more detailed document. Strategies and plans would therefore have to be unpicked and reconsulted on if Mr Swinney's bill were passed. We were told that that would have an adverse psychological effect on the current park stakeholders and that the detailed local plan would have to be redone under the recent new legislation rather than under the old legislation. Others strongly argued that it would be better to unpick plans now than to wait perhaps another 18 months to unpick them. There were also differences of opinion about the perceived financial implications of the bill, which centred mainly on the costs of moving boundary markers.

Highland Council was uneasy about Perth and Kinross Council being able to appoint a member to the Cairngorms National Park Authority, as a result of which Highland Council would lose one member of that authority, which would give it less than half the council representation on the authority, although two thirds of the park would be in the Highland Council area. Some thought that the bill would create problems for the directly elected element of the park authority, although Mr Swinney thinks that ministers could tackle that problem relatively simply were the bill to be enacted.

Mr Swinney and the Executive strongly disagreed about how much consequential legislation would be required in the wake of the bill. Mr Swinney thinks that a minimal amount would be required, but the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development believes that the process might not be any quicker than it would be if we waited for the quinquennial review.

Next year's quinquennial review is the alternative method for addressing the aspirations of highland and eastern Perthshire. Much depended on the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development's evidence about how she saw the remit of that review. Such reviews traditionally focus on governance, and concerns were expressed about whether a quinquennial review could include a boundary review. It was noted that parts of highland and eastern Perthshire were originally excluded from the park because of anxieties about governance. The boundary issue was therefore tied to the governance issue. The deputy minister said that she expected that the quinquennial review would include consideration of the boundaries.

The committee did not agree about the better process for progressing boundary changes. The arguments were finely balanced. Those who believed that a just case had been made and that loose ends and anomalies could be dealt with easily at a later date favoured the bill. Those who felt that the implications for the park had to be considered and that changing the boundaries of a national park through a member's bill might set an unwelcome precedent preferred that the whole issue be considered in the quinquennial review, especially given the minister's strong indication that the boundaries would be considered in the review. Having debated the merits of both pathways, the committee divided and voted narrowly not to recommend the general principles of the bill.

However, the committee strongly and unanimously recommended that the park boundaries be considered as part of the quinquennial review process. The committee urged the Executive to consider how the boundaries issue might be examined in or alongside the quinquennial review so as to avoid any undue delay, and to consider whether the review should be undertaken by an independent body. The committee also recommended that the review process include wide public consultation, which should not be confined only to the stakeholders and communities that are involved in the current park.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 3:56 pm, 21st March 2007

Since giving evidence to the Environment and Rural Development Committee, I have had exchanges with the committee and with John Swinney on the detail of his bill. Essentially, the Scottish Executive's lawyers and John Swinney's lawyers do not agree on whether using a member's bill for such an issue is straightforward and manageable. Given the legislative framework—the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 provides for the making of designation orders—we just do not agree on that issue. I want to acknowledge that at the outset.

For me, the crucial issue is whether changing the boundary just now is the right thing to do. That was the key issue for me at committee. I am strongly of the view that now is not the right time to make such a change.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No. I am in my first minute, so let me get going.

In my evidence to the committee, I was absolutely clear about three things. First, I was clear that the boundary that the Executive chose is the right one. Although it was not universally agreed on, the reasons for the boundary designation were given clearly at the time. Secondly, I gave evidence on why now is not the right time to change the boundaries. Thirdly, I highlighted the particular problems that John Swinney's bill would cause for elections and the representation of the councils on the national park authority. There are also concerns about dealing with detailed boundary issues at stage 2.

We argued over the boundary in the debate on the designation order in 2002. Mike Rumbles was absolutely correct to say that the issue was hotly debated. Members such as Mike Rumbles and Nora Radcliffe made strong representations about the boundary, but the Parliament approved the designation order by 100 votes to 20. Colleagues are right to say that the designation order was approved because people wanted to get on with the national park.

I understand the arguments that were made then, especially by non-governmental organisations, which wanted a much larger area for environmental management purposes. Their aspiration was for a much bigger park. However, at the time, we were creating the United Kingdom's largest national park. The Scottish Executive had also had to work extremely hard to win support in the Cairngorms—especially among the business community and the estates—for the national park.

Ministers at the time were strongly of the view that, to meet the national park's criteria as set out in the 2000 act, we had to prioritise those areas that required national park status for their effective protection and management. Ministers were concerned that delivering coherent and co-ordinated management would be a major challenge for the national park authority, given that it would need to deal with other national organisations, four local authorities and myriad local businesses and land managers. Crucially, the national park authority had to involve local communities, many of which had expressed concerns.

It is testament to the park's excellent work in community building that there is still such a strong demand, particularly from businesses in highland Perthshire, to join in its success. Because of that success, I strongly believe that the worst outcome at this point would be to disrupt the park's momentum. As Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, I have to take that on board seriously, which is why I approved the park plan for the Cairngorms national park last week. The park plan is the green light for action in the national park. It will let the park authority develop the core paths network and work to promote sustainable tourism in the national park area, which received the European sustainable tourism award in 2005.

Crucially, the green light has been given to prepare the Cairngorms national park's local plan, which is central to building the affordable housing that is desperately needed in the area. The national park's local plan will let the four planning authorities get on with the job of working with the national park authority and local communities to deliver rural housing. I am determined that we should not get in the way of that good work and the momentum that has been built up.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The minister has talked about affordable housing and the need to guarantee environmental protection for all the areas in the Cairngorms national park, which I accept. However, given that the area that I want to be included in the park faces the same issues and challenges as the areas that are already in the park, why would it be so disruptive to guarantee it the same protection and opportunities as the topographically and geographically identical areas that are already in the park?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I am happy to address that full on. This morning, I met the chair of the Cairngorms Chamber of Commerce—which, incidentally, did not exist when we started discussions on the Cairngorms national park. He made it absolutely clear that there is significant concern among local businesses and people within the existing boundaries that if we divert them from the process of implementing the national park plan it will be damaging to tourism and sustainable tourism management, to recreation and—crucially—to economic development. Strong concerns about that exist in the national park area.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

As the minister will be aware, I represent West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, which is on the other side of the boundary from the area that John Swinney represents, and this is the first time that I have heard concerns such as those that she has outlined. She was wrong about local representation—Andrew Thin, the previous chairman of the board of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, now says that having directly elected representatives on the board is the best thing that has happened to the park. The minister was wrong about the boundary when it was established and she is wrong now. Will she not change her mind, even at this late stage?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Let me be absolutely clear: as part of its considerations, evidence was presented to the Environment and Rural Development Committee specifically on business concerns.

I was about to give Mr Rumbles credit for the discussion that we had in the Parliament about the issue that he raises. He is right that I strongly resisted direct elections. At the time, national parks were an innovation, and we felt that we were already being innovative in the way in which the four key objectives were set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. Mr Rumbles persuaded the Parliament to accept the principle of direct elections to the board, and I give him credit for what is one of the strengths of the Cairngorms national park.

In committee, I expressed concern about the derailing effect that John Swinney's bill would have, because the nature of the present discussion means that 690 people in the Blair Atholl area would be excluded from the electoral process. It is not a question of being courageous, as John Swinney said it was in the newspapers this morning; it is a question of backing and not derailing the tremendous work that has been carried out in the three years since the park's establishment. As Maureen Macmillan said, that is why the committee backed the Executive's call not to support the bill.

I turn to the Environment and Rural Development Committee's unanimous conclusion that the park boundary be considered as part of the quinquennial review. Although we do not want to prejudge the outcome of that review—there will be other boundary issues that it would be wise for the review to consider—I am now actively considering how best to carry it out. I give a commitment to consider the committee's recommendation that there should be wide consultation, and the Executive will assess whether it would be best for that to be an integral part of the quinquennial review or whether we should commission an independent body to assist the process. John Swinney is right—future ministers cannot be bound by a commitment that I make today. However, I note that I am not the first minister who has reported to the Parliament that the issue needs to be re-examined.

I give credit to John Swinney for keeping the issue alive, but my fundamental point is that his bill would not be good for the health of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which the Parliament set up several years ago. Our first priority must be to continue that body's good work and not to divert or derail it or get in its way. That is why I strongly urge the Parliament to support the Executive and reject John Swinney's bill.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 4:04 pm, 21st March 2007

I begin by congratulating John Swinney, the local constituency member, for doggedly pursuing the campaign since 2003. I also pay tribute to his campaigning constituents who, likewise, have kept the issue on the agenda since the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 was passed.

I speak not only as my party's spokesperson but as a former member—like Mike Rumbles and Alex Fergusson—of the original Rural Affairs Committee. I also speak as a member of the current Environment and Rural Development Committee and as a constituency member who, like Mike Rumbles, represents part of the existing national park—in my case, upper Speyside.

Like Mike Rumbles, I have not received any representations from businesses or organisations in upper Speyside opposing the inclusion of highland Perthshire. I say that as a member who receives almost weekly letters from the local community, yet the issue has not been raised with me.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

As a point of accuracy, the serious concerns that are being raised are about changing the boundaries at this time. That is the key issue about which there are concerns among the Cairngorms business community.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am pointing out to the minister the extent to which representations are being made, given that two of the constituency members who have spoken in the debate who represent parts of the existing park have not received any representations that John Swinney's bill should not progress.

I turn to the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 and the previous Rural Development Committee, on which I sat. The stage 1 report on John Swinney's bill by the current Environment and Rural Development Committee refers to the previous committee's report. Paragraph 10 states that "That Committee"—the previous Rural Development Committee—

"reported to Ministers that, 'There appeared to the Committee to be almost unanimous dissatisfaction with the proposed boundary, along with a degree of bewilderment due to the fact that the Executive had not provided clear and transparent reasons for its departure from the recommendations of SNH'".

That was then, and the situation is exactly the same now. Paragraph 45 states that the existing committee found that

"The National Trust for Scotland stated that 'The consultation carried out by SNH in 2001 was exemplary'. SNH stated that the reasons that it put forward to include this area in the Park during the consultation process for the draft designation order remain valid."

Very little has changed over the years. Opinion is almost unanimous that the highland Perthshire area referred to in John Swinney's bill should be included within the boundary. The stage 1 report states:

"Evidence to the Committee indicated that the local communities and business organisations in the eastern and highland Perthshire area generally support the Bill. The Association of Cairngorms Community Councils stated, 'Moving the boundary in that way would, as far as the communities are concerned, be the natural completion of the park. It has been noted that there is currently a gap in the connections between communities.'"

The committee found itself in the strange position, when we went to Blair Atholl and took evidence from the local community, that witness after witness representing all the local sectors virtually gave us the same evidence, which was that they supported highland Perthshire being included within the boundaries of the national park. Almost all the evidence that the committee received during our inquiry gave us the same message, yet the majority of the committee—the Labour and Lib Dem members—voted against including highland Perthshire within the boundaries.

John Swinney referred to the conclusions of the Environment and Rural Development Committee's report, which lays out all the reasons why his proposal should be supported. The report refers to the powerful case put forward by John Swinney and the local constituency and the many reasons why the area should be included within the boundaries, yet the committee voted five to four in favour of rejecting the bill.

I turn briefly to some of the spurious arguments that were put forward against John Swinney's bill. We heard arguments from Labour members of the committee that we have to draw the boundary somewhere, so why should we accept an extension? However, we have heard time and again that the topography and natural character on both sides of the existing boundary are almost the same. We could easily extend the boundary to include the area that is currently outside the boundary, because the areas are very similar.

We also heard the argument from Labour members that the bill would just encourage other MSPs to bring forward bills to extend the boundaries even further. Can members believe that? That is part of the democratic process. It is the right of any MSP in the chamber to bring forward a member's bill to extend the park's boundaries, if they so wish. Parliament, through the democratic process and consultation, can make a decision. That is called democracy. For some reason, the Labour members of the committee do not like democracy. They do not think that people should have a say or that MSPs should make representations on behalf of their constituents.

There was also the spurious argument that our accepting the demand from this community might generate demand elsewhere. At the moment, there is no evidence of strong demand for any other community to be included in the park. Two members who represent parts of the current national park have indicated that they are not aware of strong demands in their constituencies for the park to be extended further into those areas. If there is such demand in the future, so be it—that is part of the democratic process.

Another spurious argument was that we would have to change the composition of the national park authority. So what? That could easily have been sorted out at stage 2, where any necessary tweaks or slight changes to the bill could have been made. That happens to any bill that goes through the Parliament. What was wrong with tweaking the bill at stage 2?

After eight years in the Parliament and having gone through this process in the first session, it was an incredible experience to go through it again. The same scenarios were outlined to us, and there was virtually unanimous support for one side of the argument, but the Environment and Rural Development Committee, of which I am a member, split five to four, with the coalition parties sticking together. I wish that Nora Radcliffe were here today. I am sure that she has a valid reason for not being here, but I would have loved to have heard her reasons for speaking throughout the process in favour of the bill and of including highland Perthshire within the boundaries of the park, but, when it came to a division in committee, voting with the Labour Party not to support the bill's general principles. That is fascinating. It is a pity that she is not here to explain herself, but I am sure that in due course she will be asked to do so to the people concerned.

Today we have an opportunity to right a wrong. I urge the Parliament to do a great service to democracy, to John Swinney, to the consultation process that took place and to John Swinney's constituents, who almost unanimously supported the inclusion of their area within the national park. Let us do the right thing and support the general principles of the bill.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 4:12 pm, 21st March 2007

John Swinney's member's bill is about righting a wrong. In that, it is fairly unusual. In my experience, much of the legislation that is passed by the Parliament has little to do with right and wrong and a lot to do with politics. However, here we have a bill that is approved of by virtually everybody who gave evidence to the Environment and Rural Development Committee.

John Swinney's bill proposes restoring the Cairngorms national park to the boundary that was originally recommended by SNH, by including Blair Atholl and parts of eastern Perthshire. As we all heard from Alex Fergusson, that was also the boundary that the Rural Development Committee unanimously recommended in 2002.

Alas, politics are never far away. How else are we to explain the fact that, although all members of the 2002 Rural Development Committee—including Labour members Alasdair Morrison and Elaine Smith, who are not here but for whom I have some regard—voted for the SNH boundary that included Blair Atholl, five years later members changed their minds and voted against it during stage 1 consideration in committee?

There is also the remarkable case of Nora Radcliffe. Nora has form as a caring and conscientious member. Few who heard it will forget her impassioned plea on behalf of lobsters during the passage of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill, when she argued that it was more humane to kill them by stabbing them between the eyes than by boiling them to death. However, when the vote came, Nora decided to boil them after all.

What does that have to do with the Cairngorms national park? Here is what Nora Radcliffe said about the park in John Swinney's members' debate on Wednesday 20 April 2005:

"I agree with every word of John Swinney's motion and I hope that the Scottish Executive will move at the first sensible opportunity"—

I ask members to note that phrase—

"to review the boundary and to adopt the one that was extensively consulted on and that won a high degree of consensus."—[Official Report, 20 April 2005; c 16218.]

So what does Nora do in committee when the first sensible opportunity to right the wrong comes along? Surprise, surprise, she votes to kick the bill into the long grass.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Does Ted Brocklebank understand that someone who arrived from planet Mars might wonder whether he is debating the merits of Nora Radcliffe or of the bill?

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I am not sure what that intervention meant, but it might have made more sense if Nora Radcliffe or the other members whom I have mentioned were here to respond to my comments. Why are Labour and the Lib Dems so hell-bent on kicking out John Swinney's bill?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Excuse me. The Lib Dems are not hell-bent on kicking out John Swinney's bill. I shall certainly support it at decision time.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I thank Mr Rumbles for keeping me right, but I am still not sure that the minister has given an adequate answer as to why the Executive as a whole appears to want to kick the bill out.

The committee's report was a model of its kind. It rightly concluded that there was an overwhelming case for the boundary to be extended south. The report's only failure—which was inevitable, in light of the committee voting along party lines—was to reject the Swinney bill in favour of waiting a year for the quinquennial review. In other words, legislation in 2007 was too soon, but legislation just a year later might be okay. I am grateful for the minister's commitment today that the issue will be discussed in the quinquennial review. However, as John Swinney has pointed out, any decision taken then could still take another three or four years to implement.

It is not that extending the boundary would cost more. John Swinney's bill would not require increased grant aid beyond the currently envisaged £4.5 million for 2007-08. The administrative cost of operating a slightly larger park could be absorbed within existing resources. It is not intended to locate any offices or staff in highland or eastern Perthshire. However, there could well be additional costs in erecting signs for the current park boundaries and then uprooting them if the decision is eventually taken to include Blair Atholl.

When I asked the minister about that in committee, she said that it did not make any sense to leave the granite pillars for signalling the entrance to the park, for example, at Drumochter, mouldering away in a shed somewhere. She said that it would be better to erect them now and then reposition them if Blair Atholl came into the park. What would be the cost of that double operation if the pillars had to be erected further south? A mere bagatelle of £87,000, that is all. Despite the Executive's economic logic, I do not think that there are any real financial concerns to do with extending the park as John Swinney proposes.

The Scottish Conservatives support the general principles of the Swinney bill. We believe that the Executive's opposition is based entirely on politics. We shall vote today for what is best for the park, its local communities, the local tourism sector and the economy of highland and eastern Perthshire. We shall vote to right what we see as a blatant wrong.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:17 pm, 21st March 2007

I am an assiduous watcher of "Yes, Minister" DVDs. Unfortunately, today I am in the position of the Sir Humphrey brigade, who often say, "Yes, of course I support this radical reform in principle," but then find all sorts of objections to it in practice. I find the position slightly uncomfortable. If the debate had terminated at the end of John Swinney's speech, I would have been even more uncomfortable, but it is an unfortunate fact of politics that one's problems are often with one's allies. Having listened to Messrs Lochhead and Brocklebank, I now find it far easier to oppose Mr Swinney's bill.

Timing is an issue. Virtually everyone agrees that the area of the park should be extended—I certainly thought that it should. However, we have to consider the timing when we consider a sensible way of proceeding. Mr Brocklebank spoke about "the first sensible opportunity". Surely the Executive's argument is that now is not a sensible opportunity and that it would be better to integrate consideration of an extension into the quinquennial review of the whole park set-up.

Mr Brocklebank managed to extend the delay by three or four years. I suppose that he thinks that Mr Swinney's bill could take effect tomorrow. In fact, it would be months before it could take effect.

Because of my involvement with procedures in the Parliament, I have particular views. I am not enthusiastic about members' bills being introduced on a timetable that means that they will not get through the process in the current session of Parliament and will have to be resumed in the next session of Parliament.

The timing issue can be resolved to some extent if the minister or her successor brings forward consideration of the park's boundaries, so that it happens before other aspects of the quinquennial review. I presume that the park's governance must reflect the boundaries as they will be, so it would be reasonable to agree the boundaries before agreeing other governance matters.

There are also democratic issues—members can pooh-pooh them if they like—and community issues, as well as financial issues, although those could be addressed. It might be that people are being slightly petty about councils' representation. However, putting an important organisation's nose out of joint unnecessarily is not a good way of governing a country.

There is an argument for reviewing the park's boundaries before other matters are considered as part of a coherent review. People might think that other areas should be included. Members might pooh-pooh that argument too, but Mr Swinney has focused on particular areas that he represents—and rightly so. He deserves great credit for pursuing his constituents' cause and I admire him for doing so, but on balance—the close vote in the committee shows that this is a matter of balance—and having talked to ministers, I am narrowly persuaded that the argument for taking action slightly later but in a more coherent fashion can be sustained. However, I wish Mr Swinney the best of luck in future in enlarging the park in a sensible manner.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 4:22 pm, 21st March 2007

I, too, remember the excellent work of the Rural Development Committee in the first session of the Scottish Parliament. At the time, I was not a member of the Parliament but a visiting member of the public. I listened to the strong cross-party consensus—which excluded Labour, of course—that the SNH boundary was the right one.

I campaigned on the issue for the Greens before the most recent Holyrood elections and witnessed the same strong cross-party unity on the hustings at Pitlochry. When I entered the Parliament as an MSP four years ago, I was again impressed by that strong cross-party unity. John Swinney, the constituency member; Murdo Fraser; Dennis Canavan; and Keith Raffan of the Liberal Democrats were all emphatically opposed to an illogical boundary decision that went against the results of the SNH consultation, which was widely regarded as well informed and fair.

During the past four years, discontent in highland Perthshire about the park's boundaries has grown. The Perthshire Alliance for the Real Cairngorms has done excellent work and is backed by a cross-party grouping. Local MSPs such as Murdo Fraser and me have been content to support John Swinney's member's bill and I am proud to have co-signed, along with Dennis Canavan and Murdo Fraser, the motion that we are considering. We have witnessed a long process of trying to right a wrong by including highland Perthshire in the park.

I am most disappointed by the position of the Lib Dems, with the notable exception of Mike Rumbles. As Ted Brocklebank pointed out, during the members' business debate on the Cairngorms national park that John Swinney secured in 2005, Nora Radcliffe said:

"I agree with every word of John Swinney's motion".—[Official Report, 20 April 2005; c 16218.]

Andrew Arbuckle, the Liberal Democrat member for Mid Scotland and Fife, who is absent from this debate, also supported John Swinney's motion. He said:

"I have no wish to see the continual revision of legislation, but when there are wide-ranging, non-controversial, sensible reasons for change, the Executive should be big enough to accede to such proposals. What the creator has put together, the Executive should not cast asunder."—[Official Report, 20 April 2005; c16222.]

The communities of highland Perthshire are feeling cast asunder once again by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. I am disappointed that Liberal Democrat members of the Environment and Rural Development Committee voted with Labour to recommend that the bill should not proceed.

Strong evidence in support of the bill was provided throughout stage 1. The only substantive argument made against the bill was that it would lead to some disruption of the current park board's plan. However, if we accept, as the committee did, that a boundary change is logical, the longer we put off the change the more the park will bed in and the more disruptive the change will be in future. For example, the granite signage at Drumochter that Ted Brocklebank mentioned is not yet in place; however, by this summer, it will be. If we do not agree to this motion, an additional £87,000 will have to be spent when—as I hope—the sign is eventually moved.

The Executive wants us to leave boundary changes to the quinquennial review. However, there is no certainty that the review will allow the rightful boundary to be established. Moreover, the review has no timescale. It could take three years for any recommendations to be decided. As a result, we could be many years—and many additional costs—down the line before this change is made.

The evidence against the bill is weak. My favourite line of argument came from Highland Council, which claimed that Dalwhinnie is a better gateway than Blair Atholl because it has a left turn off the A9 heading north. I know that the council wants holidaymakers to spend a long time in the Highlands, but at some point they will want to turn around and go home. One would hope that they would use the gateway and their right indicator before doing so.

The evidence that we heard in committee suggested that none of the communities in Badenoch and Strathspey is worried about highland Perthshire joining the national park. In any case, as those communities will have fewer councillors after 3 May, there is room on the national park board for a single Perthshire councillor—just as there is room for such a councillor on the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park board.

The right thing for the Parliament to do is to vote in support of the general principles of this member's bill. By doing so, we will correct a mistake from the first session and do the right thing for communities across the Cairngorms. I hope that all members will rise to that challenge.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 4:26 pm, 21st March 2007

A substantial part of the Cairngorms national park lies in my constituency and in that of Mike Rumbles. From the south at Dalwhinnie to the north at Cromdale, the park includes the settlements of Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore and Grantown-on-Spey. However, as members have pointed out, the park boundaries exclude the southern Cairngorms area. Alex Fergusson, Mike Rumbles and I were members of the Rural Development Committee when it considered the matter in great detail at various venues, including local meetings in Kingussie. I argued then—and argue now—that it is perverse to exclude the southern Cairngorms from the Cairngorms national park.

I say that as someone who spent his later youth and earlier middle age tramping through much of the Cairngorms. In fact, other than Bynack More and one or two others, I have been to the top of most of the Munros in the area, and I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone can argue that An Sgarsoch, which, at more than 1,000m, sits just south of the boundary, should be outwith the national park. For that matter, I cannot understand why Glen Tilt and Beinn A'Ghlo are not in the national park while Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Mount Keen and Lochnagar are. They are all part of the Cairngorms, so why are they not all included in the Cairngorms national park?

The arguments that we have heard today must be the thinnest from an Executive that likes to use anorexic arguments. First, the minister seemed to suggest that including in the national park the areas set out in my friend and colleague John Swinney's bill would lead to a loss of momentum. How would it? In fact, what does that mean? I respectfully suggest that that is simply an empty assertion.

There might well be a loss of momentum if the area that John Swinney has proposed for inclusion in the national park contained settlements of 10,000 or 15,000 people. However, only 690 people live there and there is only one major settlement—Blair Atholl.

Secondly, the Executive has argued that the proposal will cause disruption. However, would simply replacing one Highland councillor with a councillor from Perth and Kinross disrupt anything? Would it be the end of the world? Who, indeed, would notice?

The minister said that she received a letter from Duncan MacKellar, who is a friend of mine and someone whom I know extremely well. I have to say that, except for that letter from Mr MacKellar—who admittedly feels that the matter should be addressed later—I have received no letters from any of my 70,000 constituents.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It would be helpful if I clarified two points. First, the challenge is not the number of people in settlements—although I was concerned about their being excluded from the democratic opportunity to select a representative—but the land management of the area. Secondly, the disruption is to the work of the national park authority. The key issues on which there is great concern that there will be disruption are rural housing; the local plan; the core paths network; and training for local businesses.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not accept that that work would in any way be disrupted. Why should it? It would simply be supplemented in respect of an area with very few people and only one settlement area. As far as land management goes, Atholl Estates does a good job and, as a land manager, is well respected. Its efforts would enhance the national park.

Much reference has been made by members to other areas that would like to join the national park, although those members did not bother to specify which areas. There has been some talk about Dava moor joining the national park, but that is not because it wants to be in a national park per se. Dava moor does not want the area—including Glen Kirk, Cairn Duhie, Tom nan Clach, Berrieburn, Farr and Paul's Hill—to become one continuous wind farm. Dava moor is fed up with SNH not standing up for Scotland's heritage. SNH has objected to only one in four of the wind farm applications in Scotland, a matter that I pursued with it at a meeting on 9 March at the house of one of the protestors. So, I can scotch the myth that other areas want to join the national park. If the minister is going to pursue that particular canard, perhaps she could enlighten me as to which of the areas in my constituency are enthusiastic, eager and thrusting candidates to be included in the national park, because I have yet to be made aware of them.

I am delighted to support John Swinney's bill, but it is a shame that naked party politics from the Labour Party and its absent Lib Dem colleagues—with the exception of my friend Mike Rumbles—will do their dirty business later this afternoon.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 4:32 pm, 21st March 2007

I start by declaring an interest, as I did at the committee stages of the bill. I am a former member of the Cairngorms working party and was briefly a member of the Cairngorms Partnership, which preceded the establishment of the national park authority.

I pay proper recognition to the role played by John Swinney in keeping attention on the issue. I very much respect what he has done in picking up an issue that many people regard as unresolved business. He has presented what is undoubtedly the united view of those in the north part of his constituency about being part of the national park. He has used parliamentary procedure to its full effect to draw attention to the issue and to get it debated right through the stages of a bill and on to the floor of the chamber.

It would be churlish not to recognise that, in the evidence taken by the Environment and Rural Development Committee in Blair Atholl—and indeed in the written evidence that we received—we heard a united, powerful and passionate desire from the people of Blair Atholl to be in the park. We heard from mountaineers, ramblers and other non-Governmental organisations about their desire to see that part of John Swinney's constituency become part of the national park.

That said, I am the member of the committee who is perhaps least persuaded that I have heard convincing evidence for the need for a change in the park boundary, although I readily concede that I have heard passionate advocacy for it. Why do I say that? There are five reasons.

First, John Swinney's arguments are flawed in two key respects. He and others have argued in evidence that the current boundary is illogical for a variety of reasons, the principal one being that it cuts through mountain tops, which are not the right place for the boundary. The second major plank of his argument is that we should follow the boundary recommended by SNH—the same SNH that Fergus Ewing has just decried for not standing up for Scotland's natural heritage—for reasons that others have indicated in the debate. Other large sections of the Cairngorms national park boundary cut through mountain tops—the Monadhliath mountains are the principal example—but John Swinney has not argued that that is somehow illogical.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Mr Peacock misses the point. The point that I have made consistently is that there is a topographical similarity between areas that are currently excluded from the national park and areas that are included—in fact, those areas are identical in nature, not just similar. That is the illogical thing that I have challenged throughout the passage of the bill.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I will address that point in a second.

John Swinney has argued that, because SNH recommended that the area be included, it should be included. However, SNH also recommended that other areas be included, but he did not argue for them.

Secondly, I am not clear that the merits of the area that John Swinney is arguing for, on cost and management grounds, are greater than those of other areas that are also adjacent to the park. I cite the example of the Drumochter hills and Dava moor, notwithstanding what Fergus Ewing said. We heard evidence from mountaineers and ramblers that if the option were open to extend the boundary across the Drumochter hills, while not holding back progress elsewhere, they would argue for it.

Thirdly, the bill does not resolve all the democratic questions that others have raised, which I do not think can just be swept under the carpet, because they are important.

Fourthly, I believe that if the bill was approved, we would have to go back through the procedures for the local plan and the park plan, which would not be appropriate, because it would hold up the momentum of what is happening elsewhere in the park.

The fifth and final reason why I am less persuaded than others of the bill's merits is that, notwithstanding the merits of what John Swinney has done to keep attention on the issue, I do not think that using a member's bill to effect the change that he proposes is the best approach. That is not for any democratic reason—members are entirely entitled to use the member's bill process—but because I do not think that that approach is coherent. I could introduce a bill next year to extend the boundary on to the Dava moor; someone could introduce a bill the following year to extend on to the Drumochter hills; and someone could introduce a bill thereafter to include the other SNH areas—so to speak—that have been left out of the park. I do not believe that that would be the right approach.

The coming quinquennial review will be an appropriate occasion for the issue of boundaries around the whole park to be reviewed. The purpose of a quinquennial review is to review what is happening in the early stages of an organisation. I believe that the review should be comprehensive. The boundaries are linked to governance.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green

Will the member explain which of the first four of his five concerns will have disappeared after the quinquennial review?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

The quinquennial review will provide the opportunity to consider the case for including the Drumochter hills and Dava moor. It will not interfere with the local plan, which has now been agreed by the minister. It will consider the issue of boundaries comprehensively without using the member's bill route. A variety of concerns will disappear once we get to the review.

The minister has said that she expects the boundaries to be part of the subject of the quinquennial review and I welcome her assurance on that point. I also make it clear, as a member of the Environment and Rural Development Committee—I am not technically bound by this—that we expect ministers to pursue in future the points that we make in the Parliament.

When I was a member of the Cairngorms working party, we debated long and hard what would be the right boundaries for the then Cairngorms natural heritage area. It was almost impossible to agree, because there is not an absolutely right answer to what should be a national park boundary, particularly in the Highlands, which is so magnificent in the round. Where the boundary goes is ultimately a matter of judgment. I do not criticise ministers' original decision on the boundary, because there was clearly a concern about the scale of the park. I respect that decision and I will respect the decision following the quinquennial review, whatever it is.

I support the committee's report and recommendations and I hope that the Parliament does so too.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 4:39 pm, 21st March 2007

As we have heard, John Swinney's bill has a simple objective: it is about righting a wrong. When the boundaries of the Cairngorms national park were drawn up, they included parts of Inverness-shire, Moray, Aberdeenshire and a small part of Angus, but no part of Perth and Kinross, despite the fact that all objective views on the matter were that the northern part of highland Perthshire should be included.

Even the Government's own advisers on the matter—from Scottish Natural Heritage—said that the boundaries should include part of highland Perthshire. The only people who took a different view were the Scottish Executive, but ministers failed to marshal any objective evidence in support of their view. Clearly, the only conclusion that could have been reached at the time was that the decision was taken to exclude Perth and Kinross for political reasons, because it suited the Executive to have a majority of the councillors elected to the park board from the Highland Council area.

Mark Ruskell referred to the cross-party support for the bill from local representatives among the Scottish National Party, the Conservatives, the Greens and even the Liberal Democrats—as well as from the independent member, Dennis Canavan, who, I am very sorry to say, is clearly not able to join us for this afternoon's debate. It is perfectly clear from the evidence that was presented to the Environment and Rural Development Committee at stage 1 that there is overwhelming support for the bill's general principles.

Evidence was taken from bodies such as the Pitlochry partnership; from Bill Wright of the Perthshire Alliance for the Real Cairngorms; from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland; and from the Blair Atholl area tourism association. The John Muir Trust stated:

"the Cairngorms can definitely be defined. As I say, they define themselves. The logic is to have the national park boundary following the area that defines itself."—[Official Report, Environment and Rural Development Committee, 5 February 2007; c 4024.]

Like Fergus Ewing, I have climbed many, if not most, of the mountains in the Cairngorms, including many of those around Blair Atholl. It is immediately apparent to anyone standing on the top of Beinn A'Ghlo that it is at the heart of the Grampians and at the southernmost edge of the Cairngorms massif. Why should a mountain like Beinn A'Ghlo be treated to any less protection than Beinn Bhrotain or Ben Avon or any of the other mountains in the Cairngorms? Why should Glen Tilt be treated to any less protection than Glen Feshie? They are all equally part of the Cairngorms, and they should all be treated in the same way.

There is an important economic issue here for highland Perthshire. There is no doubt that, as far as many visitors are concerned, Blair Atholl is the natural southern gateway to the Cairngorms. At present, people enter the Cairngorms national park on the A9 at the Drumochter Pass. Apart from a lay-by beside a very busy main road with trucks rolling past at 60mph or more, there is no visitor experience there. Would it not make more sense to have Blair Atholl within the national park as a proper gateway centre?

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Would the member not say that the House of Bruar is quite a good visitor experience?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The House of Bruar is an excellent visitor experience, but it does not lie within the Cairngorms national park. The purpose of the bill is to extend its boundaries and bring the House of Bruar and Blair Atholl within them. That would solve the problem and would create a visitor experience at the southern end. There are good economic arguments for the inclusion of Blair Atholl and, on the other side, Spittal of Glenshee.

Let there be no doubt that opposition to the bill is driven purely by politics. It is a great shame that Nora Radcliffe of the Liberal Democrats is not here to defend her position. Nora was clear when she spoke in the members' business debate on the subject back in April 2005, as Ted Brocklebank mentioned. She said:

"I hope that the Scottish Executive will move at the first sensible opportunity to review the boundary and to adopt the one that was extensively consulted on and that won a high degree of consensus."—[Official Report, 20 April 2005; c 16218.]

We have reached that "sensible opportunity" but, unfortunately, Nora Radcliffe decided to vote against it in committee. To put it as gently as I can, that is a most disappointing U-turn on Nora Radcliffe's part, and it shows the contempt that members of the Liberal and Labour Executive parties have for the views of those in highland Perthshire and throughout Mid Scotland and Fife.

The current boundaries of the Cairngorms national park were a mistake by the Executive. The Cairngorms National Park Boundary Bill is about righting a wrong, and it is time to put matters right. We have great pleasure in supporting the general principles of the bill.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 4:44 pm, 21st March 2007

The debate has got to the heart of the conundrum that we are trying to solve today. The question is whether the bill is the correct vehicle for sorting out an historic wrong or whether the quinquennial review is an appropriate process for dealing with it. Mr Swinney's bill can capture the opportunity, taking into consideration the time that it has taken to prepare and to reach this stage. It can go further and can create the possibility of including highland Perthshire in the national park.

When it was announced that Mr Swinney's proposal was not going to have the support of all the members of the committee, The Press and Journal quoted Mr Swinney as saying that it was "utterly not the case" that his bill would need more legislation, apart from a possible technical measure for election arrangements. We understand that if a member tries to deal with a matter of this sort, they are unable to introduce the secondary legislation that would normally be required for a bill. However, lodging a bill, as Mr Swinney has done, is often the only way in which members can make progress on certain issues. Therefore, dumping the bill in the underhand way by which that will be done today—with the people who are going to vote it down not even coming to the chamber to listen to the arguments—is one of the nastiest parts of this little exercise.

It is interesting to note that the benefit of the topography of the Cairngorms and the Mounth is being thrown up in the air and out of the window in any consideration of how to deal with this issue. In Scottish terms—indeed, perhaps even in European terms—the Cairngorms national park's present boundaries are large. However, the bill would add only a small area to the park.

To speakers who have asked why John Swinney did not argue for the inclusion of other areas of land, I would point out that he is arguing for the inclusion of an area that he represents. The other parts that members mentioned have only a handful of residents, if any. In any case, I am sure that the MSPs who represent those areas would be arguing for their inclusion in the park if there were any demand for that.

The SNP supports John Swinney's approach because we think that it would be complementary to include highland Perthshire in the land management deliberations relating to the park, the core path network and the development of the park authority and that the sooner highland Perthshire is in, the better. However, we are faced with a Government that is not big enough to say that it made a bad decision at the time but that it will now change its decision and go along with the proposal. After all, the Government could take over the bill and progress it. In that regard, I say to Donald Gorrie that I am thankful that we have a Parliament in which we can start a bill in one session and carry it on in the next one. That is a big improvement on Westminster.

The issue that concerns me most is the fact that we are overlooking why a national park is a national park. That reason concerns the topography, the scenery and the wildlife. In that regard, I point out that the Mountaineering Council of Scotland asked the political parties:

"What would your party do to promote the increased protection of Scottish mountains during the next term of the Scottish Parliament, and what importance do you place on the people's appreciation of our finest mountain areas?"

It is interesting to note that the Scottish National Party, the Tories, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party sent in an answer but that the Labour Party and—I am sorry, Mr Rumbles—the Liberal Democrats sent in no answer. That shows the interest that the Labour Party has in the mountain areas of our country, particularly those relating to the Cairngorms national park.

Support John Swinney's bill; it is the sensible way forward.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 4:48 pm, 21st March 2007

We have to reflect on the impact of the bill and accept that there is a disagreement. I am disappointed that Rob Gibson has lowered the tenor of the debate. We just disagree. There is nothing nasty or bitter about it, from the Executive's perspective.

There are times when, with the benefit of hindsight and experience, we want to change our views. I am absolutely open in that regard. During the progress of the National Parks (Scotland) Bill, when I was a relatively new minister, I did not welcome the amendments to the bill that were moved by Mike Rumbles. I was defending an early piece of legislation of which I was passionately supportive, having supported the national parks principle in my former life as a town planner, particularly in relation to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. However, I am happy to give credit where it is due and acknowledge that the decision that the Parliament made to amend that bill was the right one. That has proved to be the case partly because of the quality of the management of the national park. I put on record that I think that the work that has been done by the first chair of the national park, Andrew Thin, and his chief executive, Jane Hope, has been exemplary. Many people thought that a 25-member management team was far too large. Other places get by with an awful lot fewer people, but we wanted to have an inclusive national park in the Cairngorms. We—in the Executive and in the chamber—worked hard to deliver that.

We set up the process. We debated the National Parks (Scotland) Bill endlessly with colleagues from the Cairngorms area and the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area. We decided that the key principles for the national parks would be set out in the act and that we would use designation orders to consult on the detail of the boundaries. I accept that colleagues were profoundly unhappy with the Executive's decision at the time and that they remain profoundly unhappy. I did not attack John Swinney for using the member's bill process to keep the issue alive. My main disagreement with him is that I believe that it is not the right process. We agreed a different process.

There was a consultation on the draft designation order. The Executive listened to the views that were expressed and agreed to accept into the park boundaries Glenlivet and Laggan parishes, the Dalwhinnie and Drumochter area, Glen Tromie, the Gaich forest, and the heads of the Angus glens. It is not true to say that the Executive did not listen. It just did not agree with all the representations that were made to it.

I return to the fact that the Executive made a legitimate decision. The ministers—Allan Wilson and Ross Finnie, as the Cabinet member— decided that they wanted to ensure that the park would be a success. There was a lot of scepticism from businesses and there were doubts about whether it was right to establish a Cairngorms national park. We had never had national parks in Scotland. England and Wales had had them for 50 years, but they were new to us. Establishing national parks in Scotland was an innovative step and people were concerned. Ministers decided that they would opt for a national park that was smaller than the one for which people had aspirations. I accept that, and I do not dispute that the environmental NGOs, in particular, were disappointed. However, the decision was made.

We are now three years into the national park and it is doing superbly well. As I said in evidence to the committee, I do not want to disrupt the process.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Let me continue.

I am particularly keen that the national park authority is not diverted from its task. There are many different communities in the national park area and a lot of good work has been done to bring them together. The destination management organisations that have been, and are being, set up cover specific areas, but they do not yet cover the whole national park. The business community has come together. I do not want to jeopardise that work. It is clear to me that much more needs to be done in the existing national park area.

Economic development in Perth and Kinross is a key issue that was raised both today and in discussions with the committee. When the committee asked me about signage, I said that I was keen for Transport Scotland to talk to Perth and Kinross Council to see whether they could hammer out an acceptable way forward. I understand that the first meeting has now been held and the council is reflecting on the options. I am keen that we get an agreement. There is nothing to stop businesses in Perth and Kinross working together and working with local estates to do more to promote tourism in the area. Let us not regard today's debate and our refusal to expand the park at present as a block to that activity.

There was much discussion during the debate about the process. Our process is not about denying democracy. It is about having a sensible approach. I say up front that I have concerns about using the process of a stage 2 debate to discuss lines on a map. It was difficult enough to get agreement and get the process done through the designation order, but the process is crafted to let us do that.

Let us have the debate about the boundary in the context of the debate about the boundaries of the whole national park and the effectiveness of the national park. I am committed to that, and I add my voice to those who support that. I cannot put it more clearly than that. The matter will need to be considered. John Swinney has the Executive's commitment that we will ensure that we work through the best way to deliver that. Many people regard the debate as unfinished, but so is the current management of the park, and I certainly do not want to jeopardise that.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 4:54 pm, 21st March 2007

I thank the members of all parties who have given such support to the Cairngorms National Park Boundary Bill, including Murdo Fraser, Mark Ruskell and particularly Dennis Canavan, who, obviously, is not with us today. I put on the record my thanks for the cross-party support for the bill.

The minister said at the beginning of her remarks that there were some fundamental disagreements between her legal advisers and my legal advisers about the requirement for additional primary legislation. I challenged the minister on that point because I fundamentally disagreed with the analysis that she had been given. What did the minister come back to me with? She said that there was a possible problem with the fractions that had been used for the calculation of the board membership. That was it—the fractions. I do not think that that was a credible argument.

Equally, many of the arguments that have been marshalled today could legitimately be pursued as stage 2 amendments in the Environment and Rural Development Committee by any member of the Parliament. They were certainly not arguments of such a strategic nature that they mean that the bill should not proceed beyond stage 1.

Ted Brocklebank quoted what Nora Radcliffe said about addressing the issue at "the first sensible opportunity". That point has been discussed, with comments also from Donald Gorrie. To me, this takes us to the heart of the process. When the draft designation order was discussed, the Parliament was given a proposal on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. There was no opportunity to go through a stage 2 process of changing lines on a map—we had to take it or leave it. That is not a robust process for us to undertake when there are issues of genuine concern to constituents. The bill gives us the opportunity to examine genuinely the question of the boundaries of the park in relation to Highland and eastern Perthshire. It also gives all members the opportunity to take part in the process, and not on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Mr Brocklebank also mentioned the cost of upheaval because of the boundary stones that would be put down. I do not want to sound cynical or sceptical, but I am sure that members can imagine a situation at the end of the quinquennial review, another three years down the track, when ministers marshal the argument that it would cost too much to make a change because the boundary markers have been put down—I am sure that these ministers would certainly try that. That is why we need to take action just now.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It is unfair of Mr Swinney to say that. We have given a commitment to the process, and I have already said that we do not prejudge it. It takes us seriously to the heart of the issue. We will consider the evidence at the time.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I hear what the minister says, but I do not think that many members will think that I am being overcynical in my analysis.

Mr Peacock said that he has had a long history of involvement with the issue as a member of the Cairngorms working party. He is right in that respect. However, Perth and Kinross Council, too, had a long involvement in the working party. Throughout the exercise of bringing together the Cairngorms groups in order to create a working environment that would lead to a national park, Perth and Kinross Council was one of the agencies around the table. It was involved in the process at every stage until, suddenly, at the last moment, it was excluded.

The minister and Mr Peacock both said that the bill is not the correct way for a change of such a magnitude to be undertaken. I am left wondering what the correct way is for such a change to be pursued. If members are not allowed to put forward the issues and concerns that their constituents have and to effect legislative changes, what on earth is the point of this institution?

I was pleased to hear the minister comment on the dialogue that is taking place on signage and I welcome the fact that there was a meeting on 7 March. However, Perth and Kinross Council is being told by Transport Scotland that the type of sign that it is proposing is outwith the traditional definitions over which Transport Scotland has control. Members will never guess which organisations need to have their heads banged together to make something happen—the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Executive. I hope that if the minister is committed to making progress on signage, she will ask her officials as a matter of absolute priority to instruct the changes to be made to the procedures and protocols to guarantee that some progress can be made.

I have listened to the debate over the years. I have sat through committee hearings, given evidence and listened to my constituents putting forward their points of view. I have read the reports saying that there is compelling and persuasive evidence behind my constituents' case and I have heard nothing today that jeopardises or questions the robust evidence that they have marshalled. For that reason alone, the Parliament should support my stage 1 motion and guarantee that the mistake that was made in 2003 can be rectified.