The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-00226, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on taking Scotland forward: environment, climate change and land reform.
We will take a few moments to clear the chamber. I call the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to speak to and move the motion in her name.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for that grace period of a couple of moments.
I expect that the creation of the new post of Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform took many by surprise. Having been the environment minister between 2009 and 2011, I certainly did not expect to find myself restored to many of the policy areas that I dealt with then. It will be interesting to see what has and has not changed.
What has not changed is my enthusiasm for the job—and what a job it is. We are not often blessed with a sustained spell of balmy, sunny weather in Scotland, but I will take every credit for it. There is no doubt that it shows our natural environment at its best.
With our land, our air, our seas, our climate, our flora and our fauna, there can be no doubt that our stunning natural environment is one of Scotland’s most precious assets. How we own, manage, control, conserve, promote, support and develop all those aspects individually and collectively matters hugely to the Government’s ambitions for our country. Put simply, they form the backbone on which a fairer Scotland and a strong and sustainable low-carbon economy can and should be built. How we harness the bounty that they offer now and in the future will help to determine the success of our ambitions for Scotland and her people.
I feel hugely privileged to be leading the Government’s work on the portfolio, and I am also proud of the work that began while I was the environment minister to develop the idea of the environment as a public good that we need to protect and grow. Our natural capital is a national asset and, as with any other asset, we must ensure that it remains in good condition now and for the future.
That approach is exemplified in our stance on fracking. The Government is deeply sceptical about fracking and, by putting in place a moratorium, we have ensured that no fracking can take place. We are undertaking thorough research, and we plan to consult the people of Scotland fully on the issue, so that any decision is based on both the evidence and public opinion.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the research that is being undertaken into underground coal gasification, which I understand will be reported on in the summer. Does that mean that the Government will be able to decide on the most controversial fracking technology this summer?
We are undertaking a programme of research, and the Government is commissioning work. The timescale for producing that is unlikely to be as early as this summer, but the decision will be for my colleague the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, who will close the debate. He might have more to say about those aspects.
We are protecting our water. Scottish Water has benefited from investment of £3.6 billion to deliver significant improvements to drinking water and waste water services for people the length and breadth of Scotland.
Scotland has established itself as a hydro nation, in recognition of our world-class ability to look after and maximise the value of our abundant water resources. We need to build on that experience—domestically and globally—by sharing our knowledge and expertise.
We must also focus on tackling flooding to make Scotland more resilient to that challenge. We are all aware of the terrible impact of flooding, which is devastating to the individuals and communities affected and which causes wider disruption. In December, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published the first suite of flood risk strategies, identifying the causes and consequences of flooding and key actions to reduce future risks. Next month, delivery plans will be published by local authorities, in partnership with agencies including Scottish Water, that will make a real difference to how we plan for future flooding.
Managing flood risk is not just about hard infrastructure; we need to invest in natural flood management as well, such as through peatland restoration and tree planting. That enables us to achieve benefits for communities prone to flooding and for biodiversity: working with nature helps us to build resilience in our environment and our communities. That ambition underpins the objectives of our second land use strategy, published on 22 March, on which I intended to deliver during this session of Parliament.
Working with nature is also at the core of our commitment to continuing action on biodiversity protection and habitat restoration. Scotland provides the major part of the United Kingdom’s contribution to Natura 2000, the European Union’s network of protected sites, with over 15 per cent of our land area designated for a wealth of habitats and species. Our country remains a stronghold for a number of species such as Atlantic salmon and freshwater pearl mussel. We have led the way in creating a statutory framework to prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species that are invasive, and we will continue to take action to protect our biodiversity, in line with our biodiversity strategy.
No natural asset presents a greater opportunity to fulfil our nation’s potential than our seas. They are home to more than 6,000 species and have around 25 per cent of the potential renewable energy resource in European waters. Unlocking that resource will help us to achieve our climate change targets and will contribute to our ambitions for growing the rural economy.
The Government published Scotland’s first national marine plan last year, marking an important step in the implementation of national and European legislation. The plan seeks to balance the competing interests of different marine industries with protecting the marine environment. We aim to complete the marine protected area network over the next two years and to ensure that it is well managed.
We must also manage and support land use and wildlife sustainably. The uplands are areas with challenges and—as we discussed during the passage of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016—we have hastened the 2016 review of deer management so that it will be completed by October. I will consider fully the findings from Lord Bonomy’s review of current measures to protect wild mammals, such as foxes, from being hunted with dogs. If those measures need to be improved and modernised, we will do that. I also intend to carry out a wider review of legislation and policy to address and prevent wildlife crime.
Perhaps the biggest threat to our social and economic ambitions comes from climate change. That is why the Government has worked to make Scotland a world leader on climate change, and we have a record of which we can be proud. However, we are ambitious to achieve more. I intend to work closely with ministerial colleagues to drive activity to meet our targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are on track to exceed our 2020 target for a 42 per cent reduction from baseline levels, and I look forward to presenting the next set of figures that cover emissions in 2014 to Parliament after their release on 14 June.
The historic agreement that was reached at the United Nations climate talks in Paris last year has, as we hoped and argued for, established certainty about the global low carbon future and presented Scotland with an opportunity to continue to lead the world. As the First Minister announced last week, we will establish a new and more testing target for 2020 of reducing actual Scottish emissions by at least 50 per cent. We will look for support from across the chamber for the actions that we will need to take to reach that target.
We also recognise the need to empower communities to adapt to meet future climate challenges. We will continue to support communities across Scotland to reduce their carbon emissions through our climate challenge fund by targeting projects that deliver the greatest reduction in carbon emissions.
Many of the projects supported by the climate challenge fund encourage the reuse of everyday items and the extension of their life through repair and maintenance. That is at the heart of our approach to create a more circular economy, in which we aim to keep valuable materials and products in circulation for as long as possible, preventing waste and reducing emissions while creating business and career opportunities in the food, drink, construction, energy and remanufacturing sectors. I also intend to lead activity to meet our new target to reduce food waste by one third by 2025—the first such target in Europe.
I think that I dealt with that in response to Mark Ruskell’s question. I have indicated what the Government’s position is. The member is aware that the energy minister will close the debate and will pick up on more of the specific issues.
Our new land reform act seeks to transform our relationship with the land while helping to create a fairer Scotland. As the First Minister set out last week, one of the key priorities in my portfolio will be to implement the act’s key measures, including the preparation of a land rights and responsibilities statement. That must be about enshrining fairness to all parties into public policy; my aim is for that statement to underpin future land reform. I will also prioritise establishing the Scottish land commission. The aim is to appoint commissioners by the end of this year, with the land commission in operation on 1 April 2017.
This Government is committed to making land ownership more transparent and inclusive through community ownership. One of our priorities for government is to introduce a mandatory public register of landowners’ controlling interests. I can announce today that consultation on that register will begin this summer. So that we can meet the very ambitious target of 1 million acres in community ownership by 2020, we will stimulate activity by increasing the Scottish land fund from £3 million to £10 million.
Of course, wise and productive use of our land is not just a rural concern but an urban one. Too often, it is our most deprived communities and the lives of all who live there that are most blighted by vacant and derelict land and poor-quality living, working, leisure and play environments. That is why we will continue to support the central Scotland green network, Europe’s largest greenspace project. Eighty-six per cent of Scotland’s severely deprived areas are within the CSGN, which equates to more than 600,000 residents living in areas that require dedicated support.
Having outlined some of the key priorities in government in my portfolio, I am clear that I will be busy in the coming years. I hope that other members will join me in being busy. We can all agree that Scotland’s stunning natural environment is one of our most precious assets. There is more, I hope, that we can find to agree on in the lifetime of this parliamentary session on how to use our country’s natural capital wisely and productively, on how to strive for and achieve our world-leading ambitions on climate change, and on how to empower communities by reforming land ownership and management.
I could not be more proud to be Scotland’s first ever Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. Those are issues that have long been close to my heart; indeed, I think that I was making speeches in the House of Commons in the 1990s on land reform. I see David Stewart nodding—he was probably there for some of them.
I promise to listen to all voices, ideas and views and to seek consensus where it can be found, which is, I think, in many places. However, I also promise to drive forward our priorities for government and to lead on the policies that I have outlined. This portfolio has a clear interest in Government policy on fracking, but the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy leads on it and will therefore, as I indicated, address the issue more fully in his closing speech.
Where we absolutely share a common interest is in our desire, our passion and our determination and drive to create a country that is cleaner and greener than it was when we came into government. I hope that that is an interest shared by all members.
That the Parliament agrees that Scotland’s stunning natural environment is one of its most precious assets; recognises that wise and productive use of the country’s natural capital is at the heart of a strong, sustainable, low-carbon economy; believes that both its ambition and its record make Scotland a world leader on climate change, and notes that empowering communities by reforming the way that land is owned and managed is vital to creating a fairer Scotland.
I want to bring the circular economy to the heart of the debate around this portfolio area. I acknowledge the consensual sentiments from the cabinet secretary. We will see how long they last—I hope for longer than just this debate.
For the Scottish Conservatives, this debate is about intertwining the needs of the economy and the environment—to paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s all about the economy.” I thank Kezia Dugdale for lending me her book of quotes from last week, if members recall.
We need to create more jobs, better jobs and jobs that survive the hollowing out of the labour market. For the Scottish Conservatives, in a circular economy the environment and climate change are paramount. We need economic growth, but we need that economic growth to be increasingly decoupled from any negative environmental externalities. We will still do things that causally do not help the environment but which do make our lives easier and better and recognise the technological advancements that we have made as a global community. Therefore, we will still take flights to be inspired by foreign cultures, or, in the case of Alex Salmond, he will take a flight to inspire them with his culture; we will still be slaves to fashion, some—Angela Constance—more than others; and we will still buy more food, electrical items and other products than we will ever need. However, we need to embrace the power of consumerism, to ensure that there is an advantage for both the environment and the economy, and make sensible Government interventions, to ensure that we both influence and change the market. We must deliver for this generation and for the next.
The Scottish economy is stagnant: unemployment is increasing and output is flatlining. That is why we must allow fracking, which will create jobs and boost the economy. According to Ernst & Young, fracking will generate up to £33 billion and create up to 64,000 jobs for the UK.
Does the member not recognise that fracking is an unwelcome diversion from the potential that we have in renewables in this country? I appreciate that the member’s Government is fixated on incredibly expensive nuclear power, but does he not think that he should be looking to the future, not backwards?
I say respectfully that although I did not refer to fracking in my amendment, I think that it is worth dealing with, given the other amendments that are on the table for the debate—that is why I am tackling it. I recognise that we need a mix of energy generation, but we must meet the needs of this generation and the next, which means getting as much of the investment and as many of the jobs in that as we possibly can in Scotland.
We are on fracking at the moment and I am sure that when my colleague discovers energy, we will move on to that.
I will go back to the matter at hand. [
.] I knew that the consensual sentiments expressed by Roseanna Cunningham earlier would not last for long, but I thought that we would get further than four minutes nine seconds in.
I say to the three amigos—the left-wing cabal of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party—that on fracking, they are out of step with the scientific evidence and with what consumers and businesses want and need. They need to stop playing politics and start standing up for Scottish jobs. How they can look unemployed oil and gas workers in the eye while refusing them new jobs is beyond me.
“The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves”.
The SNP needs to think about the long-term consequences of blocking an industry that has so much potential to create jobs and to increase security of supply. Of course fracking must be subject to local authority consent and the safest regulatory regime in the world but, from a global climate change point of view, it is worse to have swathes of supertankers traversing the world’s oceans to deliver shale gas to Grangemouth when we could have that production in Scotland.
Despite the Scottish Government’s talk—its talking up of Scotland in relation to climate change, which I welcome; today’s motion; and Roseanna Cunningham saying that she is incredibly proud—it has missed its interim climate change targets and recycling rate target for the past four years. In fact, the recycling rate in Scotland is the lowest in Britain—it is lower than that in England and far behind that in Wales. We need Scotland to set targets that are realistic, ambitious and linked to action.
I will focus on some areas for action. First, we need to send the right market signals. That means working with our finance sector to ensure that investment for circular economy business models and infrastructure is on similar terms to those for conventional investment.
We need to move away from using recycling rates as our only measure of success. After all, recycling is only the third best—or third worst—option on the waste hierarchy. We need to encourage waste prevention and reuse. We have a nationally accredited reuse brand in the revolve reuse quality standard and an increasingly professional third sector. We need to recognise those successes. We send the wrong signal if, when a local authority chooses to roll out an effective waste prevention campaign—such as the love food, hate waste campaign—and the food waste collected at the doorstep reduces as a result, the recycling rate is lower, because the local authority is doing the thing that we want it to do. Therefore, we need to consider other mechanisms for analysis, for example using carbon metrics, which have already been produced, or developing circular economy metrics.
We also need to represent design far more strongly than is done in “Making Things Last: A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland”. Politically, design sits with culture. Given that 80 per cent of a product’s lifetime environmental impact is decided at the design stage, we need to intervene then, which means aligning cultural and industry funding and ensuring that we not only produce the world’s greatest designers but retain them in Scotland. One solution would be to create a design hub that links academia with industry and ensures that we engage in product design, as well as business model and system design.
Somewhat tangentially, we must ensure that ownership is not the focus of the debate on land reform. Rather, we must use land more sustainably for the common good.
We need to create a circular economy for Scotland, and we need to ensure that we meet the needs of this generation and the next.
I move amendment S5M-00226.1, to leave out from “low-carbon” to end and insert:
“circular economy; considers that progress needs to be made for Scotland to meet its climate change targets, and believes that good and sustainable land use, rather than the way in which land is owned, is critical to ensuring a vibrant rural economy in Scotland.”
I congratulate the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform on her new role. I recognise the wealth of her experience. I look forward to working with all members in other parties who have responsibilities in the portfolio.
I pay tribute to Sarah Boyack, who worked for 17 years in the Parliament on sustainable development and much more. Her understanding of, and commitment to, renewable energy was ahead of its time. In my view, her towering intellect and grasp of planning and structural issues enabled her to be a fine minister and shadow cabinet secretary. I am sure that we all wish her well. [
Climate change and all other environmental issues are an incredible responsibility and bring many opportunities. I was pleased that the cabinet secretary stressed that she will work with those who are responsible for other portfolios, including transport, energy, housing and agriculture, because that is necessary if we are to forge action and legislation that protect future generations while creating new jobs and a better quality of life now. I therefore welcome the promotion of climate change to Cabinet level. The changes that are needed as we shift towards a low-carbon economy are not always easy to make for any political party. Although I will always hold the Scottish Government to account when necessary, I will work with the Government wherever possible.
An example of members working with the Government in the previous session of Parliament was when Alison Johnstone, Jim Eadie and I, as co-conveners of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on cycling, worked with Derek Mackay, then Minister for Transport and Islands, to bring about an award for an on-road segregated cycling scheme, which we had thought up and which was developed as the community links plus scheme. However, SNP plans to slash air passenger duty are fiscally and environmentally irresponsible, taking millions of pounds out of public services.
With our amendment, Scottish Labour asks the Scottish Government to support a ban on fracking and unconventional gas extraction. The science is clear that, to meet our climate change goals and protect our environment, we must say no to fracking. Labour is clear—no ifs, no buts, no fracking. Methane has been upgraded as a greenhouse gas for good reason, as it traps up to 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide in a five-year period. The last thing that Scotland needs as we shift towards a low-carbon economy is what some have called a transition fuel. Fracking provides just another fossil fuel and we do not need it.
No—not at the moment. I want to develop the argument.
The Government needs to make it clear that it will not issue any licences for fracking under the new powers that are coming from Westminster. Labour’s amendment provides members with a very clear choice. The divisions in the chamber are pretty clear, up to a point. Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems are opposed to fracking and, on the other side, as we have heard, are the Tories. However, things are less clear when we look at the SNP. In the run-up to last year’s general election, some SNP candidates could not shout loudly enough about their opposition to fracking, yet the SNP Government refuses to ban it.
Not at the moment.
Nicola Sturgeon claims to be a fracking sceptic, but she will not go further than a temporary freeze. Today, we will see once and for all which side of the fracking debate SNP members are really on. If they vote against our amendment, they will effectively say to people that they want to keep the door open to the possibility of fracking.
Only a vote for an outright ban—
No—not at the moment.
Only a vote for an outright ban would show beyond all doubt that the Parliament rejects fracking in Scotland.
SNP members have a choice between working with left-centre parties such as Labour to ban fracking and working with the Tories to push through fracking in Scotland. Will the Scottish Government support our call for a ban or not?
No—I am not going to take interventions, because I am very short of time. I am sure that the new Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy will highlight the issues from the SNP perspective in his closing remarks.
Many challenged communities on the coal belt in Scotland literally face untackled opencast restoration. I ask the cabinet secretary to address with urgency that environmental justice issue.
We need to further develop renewable energy ownership models, including community, co-operative and public models, to generate and supply our energy.
In 2014, 845,000 households were living in fuel poverty, including half of all pensioners. The SNP was late with its plans for a warm homes bill during the election campaign. The cabinet secretary now needs to show how Scotland will ramp up the adoption of affordable district and community renewable heating. I am sure that she will have much support from across the chamber on those issues.
Marine renewables hold immense possibilities for the future, but transferable skills are essential. I ask the cabinet secretary to work closely with the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills on initial and in-job skills development.
More broadly, environmental regulation must be right to enable sustainable development by land, sea and air. The implementation of the national marine plan and marine protected areas will be fundamental to our seas and those who depend on them for their livelihoods now and in the future. In that context, I pay respect to Richard Lochhead for his work on protecting the marine environment, which is perhaps less well known than other aspects of his work.
Biodiversity across our environment must be addressed and support will be needed for local authorities and communities. Support for behaviour change will be essential. Research budgets—for flooding, for instance, as discussed by the cabinet secretary—must be protected, and maintaining a robust interface and developing partnerships with non-governmental organisations, businesses and local authorities will be vital.
I recognise the contribution of Aileen McLeod to the land reform process. Now that we have the Land Reform Act 2016, the development of the land rights and responsibilities statement, the role of the Scottish Land Commission and the regulations themselves will be fundamental to progress. Scottish Labour stands ready to contribute to that.
I move amendment S5M-00226.4, to insert after “Parliament”:
“recognises that, to meet Scotland’s climate change goals and protect the environment, there must be an outright ban on fracking in Scotland;”.
It is a great honour and privilege to have been elected to Parliament and I thank all the parliamentary staff who made us new members feel so welcome in our first few days. I also thank my colleagues in the Scottish Green Party, who have given me incredible support and encouragement over the years; my family, for their support; and, most important, the voters of Lothian for putting their trust in Alison Johnstone and me.
I was particularly grateful to a veteran of this place who gave me the following three pieces of advice shortly after I arrived. First, be yourself and stick to your principles. Secondly, expect surprises every day. It is true that there are surprises every day.
For example, after decision time last Thursday, I returned to my office to find a parcel. I opened it and discovered a rather wonderful green knitted woolly hat. It is a gift from former MSP Mary Scanlon and it will be my first declaration of gifts in my entry in the register of interests. I know that I have many admirers on the Tory benches—particularly Mary’s successors on the Highland list. They do not need to wait until they retire to give me more gifts. The third piece of advice, which perhaps is the most significant one, is to remember why you are here and who put you here. That is all good advice, I suggest.
This Parliament has huge potential to transform the lives of people in Scotland. In relation to the challenges of climate change, the solutions increasingly lie in areas such as energy demand reduction in housing and transport, active travel, urban planning and a substantial programme of reforestation and ecological restoration. Transport is the sector that has seen least progress in terms of reducing carbon emissions and, as Stop Climate Chaos points out in its briefing, the focus on the use of the private car privileges men and higher earners disproportionately. The new cabinet secretary will face formidable vested interests when addressing some of the questions that will be put to her, and she will need all her experience and political skill to persuade her cabinet colleagues that they must work together to achieve such ambitions. She also has critical decisions to take in the short term, on topics such as wildlife crime and the future of beavers.
That brings me to land reform. I first met Roseanna Cunningham in the 1990s, when she was an MP and we were both part of a group campaigning against the abandonment of tenant farms by the owner of Blackford estate, which was owned then—as it is now—by a company registered in the secrecy jurisdiction of Liechtenstein.
Land reform is about the redistribution of legal, political and economic power over land and is a process at the heart of questions over the affordability of housing, the availability of land for housing, wealth inequality, food security, economic development, equitable taxation and how to govern public land, including Crown land. That is why the Scottish Greens, in our manifesto, outlined 18 distinct measures that could be taken to democratise land and ensure that it is owned and used in the public interest and for the common good, and why there must be a further land reform act in this parliamentary session. I look forward to discussions with others on how such an act might be framed.
As this is my first speech, I want to highlight two related issues that I believe are vital to address over the next five years.
The first is inequality. In the decade from 1997 to 2007, the share of total income among Scottish taxpayers that has gone to the top 1 per cent of earners has increased by more than all of the rest of the 99 per cent combined.
The Scottish Greens did not propose a 60 per cent top rate of tax because it would yield vast amounts of tax revenue; we proposed it because it would help to reduce income inequality by curbing excessive pay demands and by diverting funds to employ more people on more modest salaries.
Inequality is also a product of the way in which land and property are taxed. A week ago today, the First Minister talked about how the “clear progressive majority” in this Parliament could be harnessed to oppose “regressive Westminster policies”. What more regressive policy is there than the council tax? Designed in Westminster by a Tory Government, it remains the most regressive of all taxes in the UK and sees people in the lowest-value properties pay far more in relation to the value of their property and as a percentage of their income than those who live in the most expensive properties. That regressivity will remain, even after the tinkering that the SNP and the Tories propose.
We will continue to make the case for the abolition of council tax and its replacement with a modern, progressive system that provides a predictable source of finance for local government, stabilises and reduces house prices and helps growing numbers of young people to afford a home while reducing their exposure to volatile interest payments.
The second issue, which I will highlight continually over the course of this parliamentary session, is democracy itself. Last Thursday, Fiona Hyslop claimed that Scotland has
“one of the most politically engaged electorates in Europe.”—[
, 26 May 2016; c 1.]
However, 45 per cent of that electorate chose not to vote on 5 May. Why did so many people see no point in expressing any preference as to who should represent them for the next five years? If that engaged electorate cares little about Holyrood, it cares even less about local democracy, which is in a far more fragile state, with turnouts that should shame us all.
If people do not vote, political parties will increasingly present manifestos that favour those who do vote: the rich, the propertied and the elderly. The people who most need effective representation—the young, the poor and the vulnerable—will find themselves increasingly marginalised.
The solutions to climate change, to inequality and to voter apathy can be addressed only by a radical redistribution of economic and political power, for the benefit of all and for the planet as a whole. I look forward very much to the next five years and to the bold and transformative measures that we in the Scottish Greens believe are both possible and vital. Our amendment outlines that boldness, clarity and determination.
I move amendment S5M-00226.3, to leave out from “recognises” to end and insert:
“and reaffirms its commitment to protecting these natural assets for today and the future; believes that securing Scotland’s long-term prosperity requires the Scottish Government to have ambition, policy coherence and a focus on realising the benefits of a low-carbon economy for people in Scotland; supports ambitious action to end fuel poverty, safeguard biodiversity, deliver a step change in community-owned renewable energy; believes that fracking and other forms of unconventional gas extraction are incompatible with Scotland’s low-carbon ambitions; notes that land reform is a process of changing the legal, political, economic and fiscal relationship between society and land across urban, rural and marine Scotland, and believes that this relationship requires radical and ongoing reform to democratise land and ensure that it is owned and used in the public interest and for the common good.”
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and congratulations on your appointment. I also congratulate the cabinet secretary on her new remit.
Let me say how pleased I am that my first speech in the chamber in this session is on a number of subjects about which I care passionately. In the previous session of Parliament, I was closely involved with issues such as climate change, biodiversity, land reform and the circular economy—I was a member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for four years, and I was parliamentary liaison officer to cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead and environment secretaries Aileen McLeod and Paul Wheelhouse. That was a privilege, despite the many challenges that come with the rural affairs, climate change, food and environment brief, which have been evident over the past few weeks and months.
The decision to keep responsibility for climate change at senior cabinet secretary level is very welcome and will enable the Scottish Government to focus even more strongly on the issue. Some critics would have us believe that Scotland has been failing on climate change. Opposition parties, especially, repeat the mantra that we have missed our targets, and I am sure that we will hear more of that in today’s debate. However, the fact is that there has been a 38 per cent reduction in emissions since 1990, and figures show that Scotland continues to outperform the rest of the UK.
No. I am sorry, but I have no time—I have a lot to get in.
Let us not forget that, had it not been for successive increases in the baseline since the targets were established, Scotland would have met and exceeded its target last year and in the three previous years. It is extremely disingenuous of Opposition members to try to pin the blame on the Government when they know, or should know, that we are on track to reduce our carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2020. The latest statistics—for 2014—show that Scotland has already reduced its emissions by 38 per cent. The statistics for 2015 will come out later this month and, given our direction of travel, it would not surprise me if those statistics showed that we had met our 42 per cent target five years early. Even if they do not show that, it is now clear that Scotland will meet that world-leading target before the target date of 2020, which has prompted the increase in the target to 50 per cent.
Members might have noticed that Christina Figueres, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, visited Scotland in March. During her visit, she met the First Minster and Richard Lochhead, the then Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, to discuss Scotland’s leadership in tackling climate change. She also spoke publicly about what Scotland is achieving. Speaking on BBC Scotland, she said that Scotland is “exemplary”, “impressive” and “very committed” on climate change and renewable energy. She also said that Scotland’s leadership on climate change is “very important” and that she recognised our “huge political commitment” to continue that leadership. Although members would expect me to praise Scotland’s role in this area, one really cannot get higher praise on Scotland’s ambition and action than that which was received in early spring from the head of climate change at the UN, one of the key architects of the historic deal at last December’s Paris climate talks, which were attended by the First Minister and Aileen McLeod, the then Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.
There is no doubt that Scotland’s 42 per cent target was a stretch target. It certainly has not been easy, but the progress that we have made shows the excellent work that has been done by successive SNP climate change ministers. Prioritising climate change at cabinet secretary level highlights how committed this Government is to continuing to lead the world by example. The approach—including the manifesto commitment to bring forward a new climate change bill and a new target to reduce emissions by more than 50 per cent by 2020—shows the priority that the SNP and the Scottish Government give to tackling climate change.
There is no doubt that, to reach our goals on climate change, we need consensus in this chamber. Consensus has been shown before, in the development of the climate challenge fund, which continues to deliver. It supports excellent initiatives the length and breadth of the country and has given £75 million to 873 projects in 588 communities.
I was delighted that the First Minister used her visit to the Paris climate talks to announce a doubling of the Scottish Government’s climate justice fund to £3 million a year for the next four years. That money is used to help the world’s poorest communities in countries such as Malawi and Zambia to adapt to climate change. The initiative has been praised by former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It shows that our work on climate change is about not just reducing emissions here in Scotland, but helping others who are affected by our changing climate. Scotland continues to set a good example on climate change, and we continue our international leadership.
My time is running out, but I will touch briefly on fracking, which is an issue that affects my constituency. I am not sure whether Labour and the Green Party have noticed, but there is no fracking going on in Scotland. I—along with, I think it is fair to say, the majority of my colleagues in the SNP—am deeply sceptical about fracking, and the Scottish Government has put in place two separate moratoriums to ensure that no fracking or underground coal gasification can take place in Scotland. We have also put in place a thorough research programme and have set out plans for a public consultation so that any decision will be based on evidence and public opinion. Unless it can be proven beyond doubt that there is no risk to health, communities or the environment, there will be no fracking or UCG extraction in Scotland—it cannot get any clearer than that. That is a much more sensible approach to take than Labour’s cynical attempt to grab headlines by calling for an immediate outright ban that could result in a judicial review and a judge deciding whether fracking would go ahead in Scotland.
Today, each party sets a direction of travel for the next five years on a variety of subjects, and we have heard the cabinet secretary outline the Government’s position on the environment, climate change and land reform.
We note that the Government has missed its climate change targets for the past four years. It can only be described as brave for it to announce, in response to criticism on missing the targets and questions about how they are going to be met, that the targets will be increased, although, of course, we support the principle.
On land reform, which caused much dismay and hand wringing in the last parliamentary session and which may yet be challenged in law, rather than the Government reining back its ambitions, the cabinet secretary has announced—as have the Greens—that more land reform is necessary. That approach will again create further division and dissent where none existed before in rural Scotland.
My colleagues will deal with those matters later; I want to devote my time to fracking. Although that might be an issue that is on everyone’s lips, it is not necessarily one on which we are all likely to agree. As expected, the Labour Party has today categorically set its face against the fracking proposal, which would create jobs and build on and use the North Sea oil industry specialists’ experience to deliver a much-needed boost to jobs and our economy. That is a great pity, because the UK now imports about 70 per cent of its gas supply when, only a decade ago, we were a net exporter of gas. There is a huge need to address that gap.
Not at the moment, thank you.
My party sees it as its job to persuade not just the Labour Party but the Scottish Government and its advisers that fracking—using our own natural resources—is one of the ways forward for the Scottish economy.
The UK’s 50 years of experience in delivering and regulating the safe delivery of onshore oil and gas should—and would—ensure that fracking is conducted safely. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s own independent expert scientific panel concluded:
“Experience of onshore drilling elsewhere in the UK, and of the largely safe, routine management of gas throughout urban Scotland, suggests that none of the particular issues raised by unconventional gas developments would be insurmountable, given adequate planning and effective regulation.”
Furthermore, the benefits could be huge. As Maurice Golden said, Ernst & Young’s 2014 report found that fracking would create up to 64,000 jobs in the UK, with many of those being created in Scotland. The jobs at Ineos at Grangemouth would be not only safeguarded but built on. The need to tanker gas across the Atlantic from North America’s shale gas fields would be reduced and then removed, and our economy would benefit. North Sea jobs that have been lost could be replaced—in a far safer environment—if the industry could be developed properly and sensibly.
No, thank you.
The powers that will come to us under the Scotland Act 2016 will give us the opportunity to develop the industry in that way. In terms of planning, the relevant power should be passed to each local authority.
The Scottish Conservatives urge the SNP Government to be brave and practical. I do not mean that it should be brave in a romantic “Braveheart” sense, seeking to preserve in myth, song and Government a history that was, in reality, despairingly poor for the many short-lived generations of Scots who experienced it, my forbears among them. Instead of being afraid to take bold and practical steps to reduce our growing dependence on imported energy, we must grasp with both hands the opportunity that fracking presents. If we do not, future generations will ask us why we were so afraid.
Fracking is not a new industry. The pioneering work has been done elsewhere, with mistakes having been learned from. Timidity dressed up as caution must not characterise this Scottish Government as it characterised the last. The Labour Party is right when it says that the Government needs to be bold, and on that point we can make common cause. We can also take reassurance from our scientific communities, who provide the evidence that allows us to say that fracking presents us with a way forward that will enable us to once again grow our economy and recreate jobs.
We must move away from the growing mindset that doing anything new is too risky. Had such a mindset existed in recent times, we would not have built the railways that our Victorian ancestors built; the Greens, now such an influence on the SNP Government, would have kept every tonne of coal ever mined firmly in the ground; our great steel and shipbuilding industries would not have emerged; aeroplanes would not have flown; and nuclear power would not have been harnessed. The Governments of this Parliament have been so risk averse.
By that I meant that I still have a lot to say.
We must restore the can-do attitude that Scotland was once famous for, so today I urge the Scottish Government to take a big step to encourage investment and invention in our country by saying that Scotland is prepared to take part in the use of 21st century technology. I urge the Scottish Government to acknowledge and encourage our scientific and business communities instead of driving them away with policy proposals that are based on prejudice and timidity rather than evidence and science.
It is time, too, to be bold and practical on the issue of genetically modified crops, but I will leave that for another day, as I still hope to get out of the building in one piece.
I begin by welcoming the fact that we now have a Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. I think, along with stakeholders, that that represents a welcome statement of intent on the part of the Scottish Government. As others have done, I welcome Roseanna Cunningham to the post, and wish her luck in getting to grips with the huge range of portfolio responsibilities that go with it.
I do not intend my speech to be a whistle-stop tour, because even a whistle-stop tour of the cabinet secretary’s portfolio remit would take considerably longer than the six minutes that I have. Instead, I want to focus in detail on one specific and significant area, but before I do so, I want to refer briefly to fracking. I draw members’ attention to the briefing on a fracking ban that was produced by Friends of the Earth Scotland, which contains the statement:
“The Scottish Government would potentially be open to legal challenge if it were to put a ban in place before completing the research programme and holding the promised public consultation.”
It is not the Government that is saying that, but an independent organisation that does not want Scotland to go anywhere near exploiting unconventional gas extraction. The moratorium is in place, and I believe—in common with Friends of the Earth Scotland—that a full and thorough assessment of the public health, climate and environmental impacts of going down the fracking route will, in due course, lead to an outright and watertight ban.
Let us focus on issues that are more immediately before us. As I touched on in last week’s debate, in the coming year and perhaps the period well beyond that, Parliament’s environment, climate change and land reform committee will, I presume, be tasked with scrutinising many of—if not all—the 40-plus pieces of secondary legislation that flow from the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. Andy Wightman said that there might be a need for another land reform bill, but we still have to complete the work that is associated with the 2016 act. Multiple aspects of the primary legislation—transparency of land ownership, deer management, how sporting rates reliefs will work and the development of the land rights and responsibilities statement, to name but four—remain to be fleshed out as we continue the land reform journey in this new session of Parliament. It is important that we get those things right.
For example, the development of the register of ownership must sit within the competency of the Parliament and meet any European convention on human rights test, but it must also push the envelope. Sitting alongside, and interlinked with, the land rights and responsibilities statement is the refreshed “Getting The Best From Our Land: A Land Use Strategy For Scotland 2016-2021”. It is an impressive document that points the way forward in a reasoned and entirely sensible manner, and I look forward to its roll-out. I particularly welcome the plans within it to establish regional land use partnerships and, from that, potential regional land use frameworks. My only question is how those might operate in practice, because if they are to work effectively in the interests of biodiversity and our natural environment, and if they are to help to tackle the impacts of climate change, we must ensure that all relevant voices are heard—not just the loudest. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that there is a danger that well-resourced organisations such as RSPB Scotland or NFU Scotland could dominate the debate and, therefore, the development of those strategies.
Those and other stakeholders have every right to voice their opinions. Agriculture in particular must undoubtedly have a say, but in the very recent past we have seen how self-interest or entrenched positions can threaten to override the greater good, and thereby impact on the delivery of balanced land use. During the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s consideration of the common agricultural policy in the previous session of Parliament, the NFUS told members that, with a reduced pot to distribute, the Scottish Government should rebalance spend away from forestry and delivery on our planting targets, and that farmers could provide just as many environmental benefits as tree planting, although no substantive detail on how that would be achieved could be produced. That suggestion was made by an organisation that had, as a member of the woodland expansion advisory group, backed the tree-planting target that the group recommended: in fact, it issued a press release that welcomed the fact that the Scottish Government had accepted all 20 of the group’s recommendations, the first of which related to delivery of that planting target.
During the same parliamentary process, RSPB Scotland told us that we ought to be doing away with direct support for farming—that came from an organisation that itself pockets millions of pounds in CAP-related subsidy. Can members imagine the economic and environmental impact if Scotland’s farmers did not receive such financial support?
I have made those points not to have a dig at the NFUS or at RSPB Scotland, but to highlight the dangers of self-interest and, perhaps, of taking defensive positions. If we are to move towards more sustainable land use, we will do so only through genuine partnership that recognises that different approaches are now called for.
Of course, the role and remit of the land use partnerships will be influenced by the issues and challenges that are faced in their particular location, and relevant expertise will be needed. For example, I suspect that in many cases the farming community will have more to bring to the table than, say, the local authority. The principles of sustainable land use, as outlined in the strategy, also make it quite clear that where land is highly suitable for a primary use—be it food production, flood management, water-catchment management or carbon storage—that should be recognised in decision making. As a result, commonsense foundations will be in place.
However, we also need local communities to be involved and the voice of young people to be heard. Apart from anything else, a genuinely open forum has the potential to improve and widen the general public’s understanding of, for example, agriculture and the undoubted challenges that are faced by that industry. The rationale for, and potential of, land use frameworks are clear: better assessment of how changes in land use and land management can impact on a broad range of ecosystem services; the bringing together of stakeholders to improve understanding of competing interests; the involvement of communities in decisions about their local area; the provision of context for, and wider input to, a range of local authority responsibilities; and help in targeting the use of finite financial resources at where they will have most impact. Those are more than laudable ambitions; they are entirely necessary moves, if we are to make better use of Scotland’s land and respond to climate change.
With regard to bringing stakeholders together—
I, as others have, welcome the cabinet secretary to her post.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I want to address the specific issue of fracking, as outlined in the Labour amendment, in particular in relation to the environment and the empowerment of communities. The issue is really important to many people in my community—so much so that during the election campaign they organised a hustings on it in Chryston. However, the only candidates who turned up to discuss the issue were me for Labour and John Wilson of the Greens.
At this point, I will digress slightly. Although John Wilson and I have been rival candidates over the years, I want to say that he was a conscientious and committed parliamentarian. He is no longer a member of Parliament, and I want to wish him all the very best for the future.
In any case, given that no one from the SNP turned up at the hustings to debate fracking, I think it particularly important that the issue be raised this afternoon. I await with interest the cabinet secretary’s summing up on the matter.
When I was growing up, we, like many other working-class families in central Scotland, had our family holidays in Blackpool, and since then I have been back a few times with my wider family and our own children to let them experience what our holidays were like. As a result, when I heard that Blackpool had been hit by an earthquake, I was particularly shocked, and I empathised with local people. On 1 April 2011, there were reports of an earthquake with a magnitude of 2.3—and it was no April fool. It was followed on 27 May by a quake with a magnitude of 1.5. Both of them occurred at the Preese Hall drilling site near Blackpool, where Cuadrilla Resources was fracking to extract gas from the shale bed. Cuadrilla pulled out of its Blackpool operation in 2013, but the threat of fracking remains for all of us.
The worry is not just earth tremors—although I should say that that is a big worry in central Scotland, where there are so many mines below us and where there is the danger of subsidence. Experience in America has also raised worries and concerns that potentially carcinogenic chemicals could escape during the process and find their way into drinking water sources. Furthermore, the contamination of irrigation water would pollute the environment and lead to food supplies being affected, which would affect everyone.
As well as the immediate risks that are posed by fracking, it has—as I pointed out in my intervention on the cabinet secretary—wider implications for our attempts to tackle climate change. Friends of the Earth Scotland has highlighted that and said:
“The impact of ‘fugitive emissions’ through leakage, in addition to flaring and venting has led scientists to argue that the climate impact of unconventional gas is greater than that of conventional natural gas, and some to suggest it could be as bad as coal.”
Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
More recently, those concerns have been sharpened in our minds because of the decision in Ryedale in North Yorkshire, where the county council voted to allow fracking to go ahead in the area despite the overwhelming opposition of local residents. It seems that elected members there did not represent the wishes of their constituents and instead caved in to the interests of the fracking company.
It is difficult at the moment to know where some of our elected members stand on the issue. A moratorium is temporary; it is not a ban. Many of the meetings about fracking have taken place behind closed doors, and media reports have told us that the Scottish ministers have reassured big businesses, including Ineos, that they are not opposed to it. It is also curious that the Scottish Government commissioned research on how to clean up after fracking. I ask the cabinet secretary why that would be done.
If we are looking at the life-cycle costs, benefits and potential damage to the environment, we have to look at all parts of the process. It is entirely logical to look at decommissioning as part of that exercise.
It is not logical to look at something if we have no intention of doing it.
It is interesting that a motion calling for an outright ban on fracking did not get through at the SNP’s spring conference. That adds to the concerns about what side the SNP is on: that of big business or that of communities. There is a particular concern that, now that the election is over, the moratorium will cease and companies will be given the go-ahead for drilling—especially if the research that has been undertaken somehow claims that it is safe.
Although the SNP has been reticent to reveal the nature of conversations with drilling companies, Ineos has had no problems in publicly advocating for our land to be fracked, and it has advertised for senior staff to investigate and progress the process in central Scotland.
While big companies continue to press for fracking and the SNP continues to avoid the difficult decisions and instead to sit on the fence, community groups and local residents continue to organise and mobilise against fracking. In 2012, I was involved with a campaign to stop fracking in Moodiesburn. At that time, I was contacted by a vast number of constituents who were concerned. The community, which was led by the local Labour Party branch, fought against those plans, and I expressed my concern on behalf of my constituents to the landowner and the fracking company. I am thankful that people power prevailed at that time, and the plans did not go ahead.
In a recent newspaper article, Mhairi Black MP summed up well the proven risks and dangers of fracking, but rather than making it clear that the SNP Government has the power to block it, she bizarrely implied that Westminster might overrule the Scottish Government. We need some straight answers from the minister.
I will conclude. Let us be clear: we have in Scotland the devolved powers to stop fracking. The only thing that is lacking is the political will. What happened in Blackpool should be a lesson on the dangers of fracking. I hope that the minister will clearly tell us today that Scotland will be a frack-free zone. Fracking is banned in France, New York and other places. How much research do we need to show that it is dangerous?
Scottish Labour is not sceptical. We are quite clear on our policy: no ifs, no buts, no fracking.
Land has often been just as much about symbols of power as about the ground beneath our feet and, sadly, the debate on land reform has often had to feature the resolution of tensions between owners and tenants, between food producers and consumers, and between access and borders.
However, I want to talk about land’s potential for creating entrepreneurial ambition and aspiration for individuals, family units and communities.
To that end, it is crucial that more Scots have a stake and a say in land use. It is arguable that that is just as important as Scots having a stake and a say in the government of our country through regular elections. Democracy empowers a nation; it is an incubator of ambition, talent and economic activity. Ambition creates the economic opportunities that boost jobs, raise income levels and provide the state with revenue to plough back into our public services.
The land reform review group, in its report, stated:
“the concentration of private ownership in rural Scotland can often stifle entrepreneurial ambition, local aspirations and the ability to address identified community need.”
I want to talk about ambition and community need in the Highlands. I can give an exciting example from my constituency of what communities can do with ambition and land. GlenWyvis Distillery Ltd in Dingwall will be the world’s first community-owned distillery, and the second-biggest community shares project in the UK. It has the potential to put the metropolis of Dingwall firmly on the map.
Shares have been on sale since mid-April, and the project itself is halfway to meeting its finance target of £1.5 million. If additional funds are raised, there are plans to build a community centre with a cinema and exhibition centre. It will be powered entirely by renewable energy—which is no surprise given that the founder, the “Flying Farmer” John Mckenzie, was instrumental in establishing Dingwall’s first community-owned wind turbine. I encourage members to check out the project.
However, such projects are possible only when entrepreneurial thinkers have the ambition and the get-up-and-go determination, and when they have access to that all-important commodity: land. Land reform in and of itself is not the goal—it is simply one important means by which we empower people to turn dreams into reality, and fix many of the problems that rural and urban communities face.
One example is housing. I am no economist, but I know that prices are regulated by the ebb and flow of supply and demand. In the Highlands, the price of land, as a result of restricted availability and high demand, and the subsequent price of housing, are above the Scottish averages. If we relate that to the average household income in the Highlands, which is beneath the Scottish average, we start to get a picture of the pressures on families in the Highlands who want to get on the housing ladder. Of course there are additional pressures, with there being more and more holiday homes, but the Highland housing market could probably manage the high numbers of holiday homes better if land were more available and, therefore, cheaper.
Community ownership and buy-outs are not the only answer, although I support the Scottish Government’s target of 1 million acres of land being in community ownership by 2020. However, where a community can identify a need—for example, for affordable housing—and then purchase land, it can meet that need, as the Helmsdale and District Development Trust is doing by building affordable houses for the community.
It does not matter how healthy our economy is or how many new jobs are created: our people need somewhere to stay. Housing is a pressing need in urban areas, too. I am not given to romanticising historical narratives, but in a speech on land reform I must mention the historical context, because it is extremely pertinent to my constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch. Land reform started in the Highlands, sparked by tenants’ regular opposition to destructive decisions. The battle of the Braes on Skye and numerous other local conflicts were about economic security and opportunities, population retention and wise stewardship of a finite resource. The debate on land reform should still be about those things.
I, too, welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform to her role, which is a souped-up version of the role that she undertook as Minister for Environment and Climate Change from early February 2009. I remember the date, because that was when I stopped doing that job. We both agreed then—and I think we agree now—that it was the best job in Government; I am sure that it is now even better.
I will address two issues briefly before speaking mainly about land reform. The first issue is deer. There is no doubt that deer numbers are out of control in much—although, I accept, not all—of Scotland. The previous Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee got a commitment from the cabinet secretary’s predecessor, the much-missed Aileen McLeod, to undertake a review of deer management, and it is good to hear that Scottish Natural Heritage has already started work on that. It is vital that the review is objective and intensive, and that it presents solutions. There cannot be any whitewash, and there must be no bowing to special pleading. We will need sustained, long-term action to bring the deer population back under control.
Secondly, on climate change the minister is in a uniquely powerful position to lead in Government and to work with the new committee to lead in Parliament. There is much that has been done, but much more needs to be done. With first ministerial commitment now obvious, it is time to stretch targets, to meet them and to deliver.
Let me say more on the issue of land reform. It is helpful to remind ourselves why Scottish politics has returned to it again and again since 1999—a question that my friend John Scott asked. First, that is because virtually nothing was done in several generations before then. The issue was neglected—as Scotland was—by Westminster. There is good academic analysis by Ewen Cameron, among others, that indicates the patchy, inconsistent nature of such changes. There was nothing straight-line, progressive or even logical; change was incremental and often reactive.
Secondly, land reform is an issue of democracy—it is about democratising access to and usage of land. Andy Wightman is right to talk about the power structures. It is part of Scotland growing up as a society and looking to become more normal, with more normal relationships.
Thirdly—and at least this part needs some attention—we need to be clear as a society about what we want from land. Is it to grow food, or is it to provide an asset for earning for more people? Is it about leisure, access or wellbeing? Is it about strengthening communities? It is about all those things, and probably more too. We need to have a national debate about that and come to a national conclusion.
Having that national debate and coming to a clear mind about what we are trying to achieve might be one of the key issues in land reform for the coming session of Parliament. However, we have to fit that together with some other imperatives.
First, we must finish the work we that started in the last session. An enormous amount of secondary legislation—47 items, I think—is required as a result of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. One of the consistent objections to the bill when it was going through Parliament came from my old friend Alex Fergusson, who said that too much secondary legislation was required. I do not think that he was wrong. That has to come through—and fast. Key items will include the arrangements for a fully transparent land register; the establishment of the land commission; a statement of land rights and responsibilities; complex changes in agricultural tenancy, rent setting and assignation; the appointment of a tenant farming commissioner; and the institution of codes of practice. A huge amount of work will be required just to cover that.
The second imperative is the unfinished business that the 2016 act did not tackle. Rural housing is part of that. Excellent work done by Margaret Burgess, the former Minister for Housing and Welfare, helped a number of places in my constituency, including the island of Iona. Now we need a comprehensive look at rural housing, which is connected to the thorny issue of planning and to the issue of land values. Land is not simply for speculation, and the constant driving up of land values is one of the problems in this whole area.
The new body, land Scotland, needs to be put in place—that was an SNP manifesto commitment.
The third imperative is to look at what others are bringing to the Parliament, where there is not a majority Government. I fear that we are unlikely to find great common ground with the Conservatives—particularly after the speech of Mr Golden, who tried to persuade us that ownership is not the issue. Ownership is the issue, because power is the issue and ownership comes from power. Therefore we have to change the patterns of ownership. As the cabinet secretary said last week at the Scottish Land & Estates conference, there is an overconcentration of land in too few hands.
However, there is the possibility of collaboration with other parties. The Liberals have a long tradition of backing land reform, although not so much in the last session of Parliament. It would be good to see that renewed
I am happy to give credit to those on the Liberal benches, but there is only one of them there at the moment, which probably speaks volumes about what they have actually achieved in land reform. Of course, we should certainly work with the Liberals if we can.
Labour played a constructive and prominent role in the detail of land reform in the last session of Parliament. I greatly appreciated working with Sarah Boyack and Claudia Beamish, and we will miss Sarah Boyack’s voice in the debate. That potential for collaboration still exists.
There is the possibility of common cause with the Greens. Today, we heard very considerable expertise in the first speech from Andy Wightman. The Green manifesto commitments dovetail with much of what I have said today, but there are some differences, and discussion is needed.
It is important that conservation and climate change underpin the rural economy. They are not separate from it. Within that continuum, land reform must be seen as an enabler of a more successful rural economy with greater participation. It is land reform that can free the assets of Scotland for the benefit of Scotland. That is a huge prize, which we still have to grasp.
Before I start my maiden speech, I would like to declare my registrable interests. I own and manage property including agricultural, residential and commercial lettings, recreational and sporting usage and forestry. I own shares in a renewable energy company and I hold remunerated positions in companies related to those matters.
It is a privilege and an honour to have been elected as Aberdeenshire West’s MSP and I appreciate the support and trust that have been placed in me, especially by those who voted Scottish Conservative and Unionist for the first time. Like most members believe of their constituencies, I believe that Aberdeenshire West is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the United Kingdom. From the Cairngorms national park to royal Deeside and Donside, there is a range of attractions to enjoy all year round. I thoroughly recommend a visit, and members can be assured of a warm welcome.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Dennis Robertson. Over the years, he showed his commitment to public service and the constituents of Aberdeenshire West, and I am sure that we would like to whole-heartedly thank him and wish him well for the future. [
This year has not been easy for Aberdeenshire West. Communities along our rivers are still recovering from the devastation of storm Frank, which affected all parts from Kemnay to Kintore and Drumoak to Aboyne, but especially Ballater, where the generosity of spirit and determination in rebuilding are showing Scotland at its very best.
Continuing job losses in the oil and gas industry have affected many families right across Aberdeenshire, but particularly in Westhill, which is the heart of the subsea sector. I am under no illusion about the difficult challenges that lie ahead, as the north-east’s economy is in a fragile state. It has been affected by the delay in farm payments and the downturn in the global economy.
However, in relation to this debate, we need to plan for a life after oil and not one that is dependent on it. By background, I am a conservationist with a passion for sustainable development, particularly in renewable energy and environmental issues. Members can be assured that, from helping with peat bog restoration to protecting red squirrels, and from developing public access routes to building one of the UK’s largest biomass heat networks, I am a man of action. As my party’s new energy spokesman, I will take a keen interest in reducing demand, increasing efficiency, developing storage and expanding district heating, and I will always make sure that the Scottish Government is held to account.
I turn to the potentially divisive issue of land reform. I welcome the minister’s comments last week, which recognised the positive and valued contribution that landowners make to their communities and to the local and national economy. That is certainly my experience of the vast majority of landowners. Speaking personally, I am proud to have supported a large number of community projects over the years, such as Woodend Barn with its community theatre and allotments; the Milton of Crathes, which showcases local art and railway restoration; and the creation of pitches for Deeside Rugby Club, which now has teams of all ages and has seen the first XV promoted for the second season running—progress that was possibly related to my retirement.
Although such actions are sometimes difficult to quantify in detail, they are taking place across Scotland every day and are valued by many. To bring them to fruition takes the commitment and dedication of people from all walks of life. Land ownership has always come with community responsibility, and I put on the record my appreciation for landowners and their employees. They are often unrecognised in sustaining Scotland’s countryside as well as helping the Government to achieve its objectives across so many areas. Let the Parliament give credit where it is due and let us have an honest debate on how land is best used.
Before I draw my remarks to a close, I hope that members will forgive me for a quick reference to my family history in this place and beyond. My family has been rooted in Scotland for many centuries, earning our name from Robert Bruce, and we value the freedoms hard won by Scots over that time. It has been over 300 years since a Burnett of Leys last sat in a Scottish Parliament, and on that occasion he notoriously voted against the import of French wine. Members can be assured that I will not be making the same mistake.
Not far from here in Edinburgh, during the Scottish enlightenment, another ancestor—James Burnett of Monboddo—hosted his famous learned suppers. At his table dined such luminaries as David Hume, Dr Johnson, James Hutton, Adam Smith, Joseph Black, James Boswell and Robert Burns, who were making new discoveries about the universe and geology and even tracing the evolution of man and language. I am therefore pleased by the First Minister’s current focus on education, for we need a new Scottish enlightenment for the 21st century. I look forward to serving Aberdeenshire West to the very best of my abilities. [
I declare that I have a very small investment—I think that it is about £300—in a community wind farm at Boyndie, which is near where I live and is in my constituency.
I congratulate Andy Wightman on his first speech; we will listen with interest to his subsequent speeches. When I was a minister, the last time that I met and had a serious discussion with him was on an act of the Scottish Parliament—not an act of this Parliament but the Common Good Act 1491. That act was interacting with the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill, which Andy Wightman was interested in and which I as minister was taking through Parliament.
Similarly, I congratulate Mr Burnett on his first speech. I will listen with interest to his future contributions while having no great expectations of having major agreements with him on their content.
I will spend a bit of time on climate justice, which I have spoken about before. In 2012, we initiated what was then thought—and is still thought—to be the first parliamentary debate on climate justice anywhere in the world. We were very much inspired by the work of Mary Robinson, who is a former President of the Republic of Ireland. She is now a feisty campaigner for climate justice around the world. The Mary Robinson Foundation describes climate justice as something that
“links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly.”
That is an excellent place to start any analysis of the effects of climate change.
We have heard reference to the flooding that took place in north-east Scotland, but the flooding affected not simply the north-east—it affected the south of Scotland and many places across these islands. The losses that individuals experienced were of more than simply homes and furniture—entire lives were put on hold, health was affected and psychological and practical safety was eroded.
The Scottish Government responded well—£12 million was released in January to aid those who were affected by the floods. That was the correct response, but preventative measures are also important, because we must head off disasters before they happen. We cannot remain at the mercy of climate change.
For the rest of the world, the issue is even greater. In Scotland, the UK and the developed world as a whole, we have the resources to respond. However, in the Philippines between 2005 and 2016, for example, it is thought that $16 billion of damage arose from climate change as a result of the rising of the oceans and the intensification of typhoons. The 2014 “World Disasters Report” showed that nearly 2 billion people were affected by disasters over the 10 years to 2013. About 95 per cent of those who suffered were in medium-development or low-development countries. We who have benefited from the industries that have created the problem of climate change through anthropogenic effects are not the ones who are paying the cost.
Climate change is also a gender issue because—particularly in Africa—it is women who are differentially most adversely affected by it. They are often the gatherers of wood and the transporters of water; they are having to travel further to get those materials and that is an effect that is specific to gender. We in the developed world have to work collaboratively with people around the world on this issue, and I am delighted that we are doing so.
In the last part of my speech, I will turn to some of the things that John Scott and other Conservatives have said about how jobs can be created by fracking. Those comments are entirely hypocritical—we have seen a turning away from the prospect of jobs from carbon capture and storage at Peterhead in my constituency and in the north of England as well. We have seen a closing down of the future prospects for renewable energy sources—tidal, wind, offshore—by the changing of the regime. At the same time, we are prepared to engage Electricité de France to build Hinckley Point nuclear power station to generate electricity at many times the cost that we could do so with renewables.
Finally, I say gently to my colleagues in the Labour seats that, although I do not stand between them and their arguments against fracking—I am of course with them—the amendment that they invite us to support at 5 o’clock tonight is one which will bring fracking closer, not move it away. If we make a decision against fracking without subsequently being able to defend a judicial review in court based on evidence, we will bring forward the date at which companies can bring fracking to Scotland. That is why I will not be supporting the Labour amendment, although I will support the words that have been said by many of the members.
I am pleased to take part in this debate, and I welcome Roseanna Cunningham—who is temporarily not in the chamber—to her new role. I welcome a Cabinet role that is primarily focused on delivering our climate change targets, and I look forward to the anticipated legislation on the issue.
The Parliament shared the responsibility for setting ambitious and challenging climate change targets, but it is hugely disappointing that, every year, the Scottish Government has reported that Scotland has consistently failed to meet the interim annual targets. That has resulted in the release into our atmosphere of 17.5 million tonnes more CO2
I always endeavoured to work constructively with Paul Wheelhouse when he was environment minister. I did not doubt his commitment then and I welcome his unexpected contribution to the debate this afternoon. Every year when there was a failure to achieve the targets, Mr Wheelhouse had to defend the Scottish Government’s decisions on transport, infrastructure and economic development. Those are all areas that contributed to our lack of progress, yet he did not hold the decision-making power in any of them. This is not a job for one single minister and I welcome the fact that Ms Cunningham is now at the Cabinet table. I trust that she will take the opportunity to emphasise to all her colleagues the importance of making progress on achieving our climate change targets, and that she will turn the Government’s commitment into further progress and firm action.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to raise the bar on carbon reduction with the proposal to raise the target from 42 to 50 per cent by 2020. That is judged to be achievable, but we need to be honest about why it is achievable. The impact of the economic downturn and the closure of several large energy plants mask the lack of progress at domestic policy level. In its briefing for the debate, WWF describes the situation, saying:
“it remains hard to see the fingerprint of Scottish Government action across our emissions reductions to date. Much of our progress to date is a consequence of the combined efforts of accounting changes, the impact of EU emissions credit in our favour, economic restructuring and the policies of Europe, the UK and the Scottish Government.”
If we are to see transformational change in Parliament, we need to see greater policy ambition from the Scottish Government. All the evidence is there for the cabinet secretary to present a compelling case to her colleagues. Policies to cut climate change emissions will deliver multiple benefits. They will create greater employment opportunities and economic renewal and tackle fuel poverty, and they have the potential to improve people’s health and produce cleaner air.
I would like Parliament to make greater progress on improving air quality. Friends of the Earth Scotland warns that we will experience increased levels of particulate matter this weekend, with World Health Organization and Scottish regulatory safety standards expected to be breached in more than 20 council areas.
I welcome the low emission zones that we will see by 2018, but much more could be done to make progress in the area. Some of the solutions are simple and would have the broad support of the public, such as improving the energy efficiency of our homes and accelerating progress towards renewable and community heating.
A bigger challenge that is closely related to that of improving air quality is the need to reduce transport emissions. There has been only a 2 per cent reduction in transport emissions in comparison with 1990 levels. Transport emissions have been stubborn. WWF identifies greater support for demand-side measures in the transport sector as the solution, but how do we make public transport more attractive, more available and more accessible?
There must be more investment in rail infrastructure and increased options for bus use. Labour has consistently argued for the regulation of bus services. We should give more attention to bus routes and multimodal infrastructure. We should also promote and prioritise rail projects such as the Levenmouth rail project in Fife, which is a project that would support efforts on climate change as well as open up the area to greater employment and economic opportunities. Getting people out of their cars is a big challenge. New technology will make a contribution but we still need to try to make some real behavioural shifts.
Our energy policy is one key area where we can still make progress. We must see a continuing shift away from a fossil fuel economy to a low-carbon economy. That is one of the reasons why I do not support the introduction of fracking or UCG technology. As a Fife-based MSP, I have consistently raised questions and concerns in the Parliament over the deployment of the planning and licensing systems. I do not have confidence in the technology from an environmental perspective, and pushing ahead with that energy source will not help us to achieve our climate change ambitions. There are no guarantees that the disruption to communities from testing would lead to a viable energy source for Scotland, and there are risks to our environment and to public health. I urge members across the chamber who support those arguments to support our amendment at decision time.
If we in the developed world do not make progress, it is not just us who will have to deal with the consequences. The Paris climate talks that were held in December resulted in a groundbreaking international agreement. Countries will have to reduce emissions to avoid raising the global temperature by 2°C. The consequences of failing to do that will lead to global warming, which will cause devastation in many vulnerable countries through rising sea levels and droughts.
We already witness refugees from war-torn countries, but we will increasingly see environmental refugees—people who are unable to live in their homeland because of the lack of action from Governments and countries. We in the developed world must take seriously our responsibility to other nations, and Scotland’s climate justice fund is a good example of what we can do to help.
The Paris agreement has set the ambition. We must all—in this Parliament and around the world—work together to turn that ambition into reality.
I welcome Roseanna Cunningham to her new post. I am pleased to be speaking in this debate on the environment, climate change and land reform in my first speech since being returned as the member for Edinburgh Pentlands.
My constituency is, of course, named after the range of hills that lies to the south-west of the city and was described by Cameron McNeish as “Edinburgh’s lungs”. Every year, the hills provide outdoor recreation for more than 600,000 people, who undertake a range of sports including angling, hillwalking, mountain biking and skiing.
However, making use of this fantastic natural resource on Edinburgh’s doorstep requires the public to exercise a degree of environmental responsibility. I have assisted with litter picks organised by the Friends of the Pentlands, a group of volunteers who give up their time to regularly walk the hills—they also visit the Bonaly and Dreghorn car parks—picking up litter that the public could easily have taken home.
Then there are those individuals who, from time to time, descend on Clubbiedean reservoir and fish illegally, cut down trees and light bonfires. I have walked the area around the reservoir with members of Clubbiedean fishery and I have seen first hand the damage that some people do to the area when wild camping.
If the Pentland hills are Edinburgh’s lungs, we have to start looking after them and that must mean that we retain and fully fund a ranger service for that regional park.
Air quality is also an important issue in my constituency. I have raised the subject before in debate. The Calder Road and Lanark Road West are two of the four main commuter routes into the city from the west and, currently, they do not fail the air-quality standards. However, neither is properly monitored—the A71 in my constituency has no any kerbside measuring equipment along its length, and the equipment for the A70 is located more than 1,000 feet from the main road, behind a high school building.
At peak times, both roads—especially the Calder Road—suffer from major traffic congestion, and it would be no surprise to residents along either route if there were high pollutant levels at those times. The situation can only get worse, because more house building is under way in West Lothian, from Drumshoreland, East Calder and Broxburn across to Winchburgh, all commutable by car into Edinburgh.
The Scottish Government has rightly invested vast sums of money in our rail network. Increased electrification will help us to move towards our climate change targets. However, there is a problem: we need to ensure that the level of service on the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Shotts line and the Airdrie to Bathgate line is what people want and need to tempt them out of their cars.
Abellio does not always have enough carriages on the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Shotts line, which runs through my constituency. My constituents who want to travel in from Kirknewton, Curriehill, Wester Hailes or Kingsknowe stations have difficulty finding a seat or even getting on the train at peak times. That is after they have squeezed into a platform shelter out of the driving rain—although maybe not on a sunny day such as today, right enough.
In other areas that are served by both lines, the station car parks become full before 9 am, which forces people to take their cars into Edinburgh when they would prefer to take the train. We need more carriages and more parking at railway stations if we are to provide an alternative to the car that could result in reduced congestion and improved air quality in Edinburgh.
Scotland has made great strides in tackling climate change emissions. In 2009, the SNP Government set the world-leading target of reducing Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020. The most recent statistics show that, by 2013, Scotland had achieved a 38 per cent reduction. As Angus MacDonald stated, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, referred to that reduction on a recent visit to Scotland, stating:
“That is actually quite impressive.”
Scotland currently generates 50 per cent of its energy supplies from renewable sources. In 2015, 58 per cent of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption was generated from renewable sources, an achievement that represented 26 per cent of the total UK renewable generation. Let us compare that with the UK Government position: the renewable energy target for the UK of 15 per cent by 2020 is not expected to be achieved and progress currently stands at around 11 per cent.
Small community energy projects, such as Harlaw Hydro in my constituency, helped Scotland to achieve that 26 per cent. The scheme, which was opened by Fergus Ewing last year, will generate approximately 260,000kW hours of green electricity per year. That is enough for approximately 100 average houses. The Harlaw Hydro society was established in 2012 for the specific purpose of owning and operating a microhydro scheme, and a proportion of the income that is generated will benefit the community by contributing to other projects and initiatives in the local area through the Balerno Village Trust.
At the outset of my first speech to the Parliament, I declare an interest in a farm, ancillary houses and some fishings on the River Spey.
I will follow tradition and thank my predecessors, Jamie McGrigor and Mary Scanlon. They steadfastly served the Parliament and the people of the Highlands and Islands. They championed local issues and I understand that they will both be hard acts to follow. I want to take a moment to thank all those who work in the Parliament. Everyone is so willing to help and they offer that help with a relaxed ease that is truly exceptional.
I am very privileged to have been given the opportunity to serve my country on a number of occasions; I served it when I was in the Army and I am serving it again as a member of the Parliament. To stand in this chamber representing the people of the Highlands and Islands and of Scotland is to me not just a privilege but an honour. The oath that I made in 1980 to serve Queen and country was similar to the one that I made in the chamber a few weeks ago—both were solemn vows requiring commitment and dedication.
During the 12 years that I was in the Army, I was lucky enough to serve round the world, spending time in Germany, Cyprus, Egypt, Spain and Canada, to name just a few places. I was also lucky to serve with people of many different nationalities, including Danes, Austrians, Australians, Tanzanians and Ugandans. Many of my core values were shaped during my service in Uganda. The brutality demonstrated by Idi Amin was at that time still evident. Never before had I witnessed human life being treated with such little value, and I never will again. In those dark days, life was neither treasured nor protected as it should have been. That taught me a lot about where we are in this world and how lucky we are to be where we are now.
Today, I live by the values that I learned in the Army. I learned to say what I mean and to do what I say, to put the needs of those who I serve and who I lead before my own, never to desert my friends and to stand tall when difficult decisions have to be made. I believe that those are the values of a good politician, and I have learned those qualities the hard way, from real-life experience. They were my values during the election and the values that I said to the electorate that I would bring to the Parliament, and I intend fully to do so. They are the values and standards that I ask to be judged on.
I am particularly interested in the land reform debate, to which I bring some expertise. Those who watched “Have I Got News for You” the other day can relax, because I am not going to talk about the skills that were mentioned on that programme; rather, I am going to talk about the skills that I have learned as a farmer and a qualified surveyor working in the Highlands. I worked for more than two decades managing farms, rivers and wild land across the Highlands and Islands, which has given me a real insight into the fragile rural environments that will potentially be affected by land reform.
Parliament has to reconcile a huge number of views and groups across Scotland. Some discussions have become particularly entrenched or dogmatic, neither of which is helpful. Some seek, for their own benefit, to split those who use land into two groups: oppressed and oppressors. Others make the argument that ownership is blighted by huge estates, while not accepting that the economies of scale that they trumpet in other businesses are just as relevant there. I am clear that divisions never have served and never will serve Scotland truly.
I believe that we should try to find common ground. We should accept openness towards land ownership and encourage investment in our resources, which should not be limited by nationality. Fergus Ewing took that approach yesterday when he trumpeted the 3,300 foreign firms that are investing in Scotland. We should make land management inclusive, so that the hills are as much for the deer as for hillwalkers and so that eagles are as important as sportsmen.
We need to recognise that good tenants need good landlords, and that the way forward is to have tenancies with freedom of contract and good protections. We should understand that giving tenants an absolute right to buy destroys the letting market and that land ownership per se is far less important than really good land use.
To my mind, land reform must not only protect our environment but be inclusive. It is not about excluding those who live, work and invest in the countryside; it is about taking pride in what we can achieve if we work together. The promise that I made to the people who live in the Highlands and Islands remains: it is that I will always represent their views and ensure a balanced approach to the issues. We must drive land reform through inclusivity and not ideology. We need to look to the future without being driven by the past and we need to be pragmatic rather than being driven by political dogma. We should be imaginative rather than predictable. If required, we should be a strong Opposition to bad legislation.
I look forward to working with everyone to find solutions rather than problems. That way, we will ensure that Scotland is a place to be proud of and a place that attracts all kinds of investors, and we will ensure that it remains a great place for us all to live and work in. [
The Liberal Democrats lodged an amendment when we discovered the self-congratulatory tone of the Government’s motion. Although we fully understand that not every amendment can be selected for every debate, it would be helpful to outline our position. We wanted to highlight the fact that the Scottish Government has missed its statutory climate change target four years in a row—as the Conservatives pointed out in their opening speech—and that it chose to cut the climate change budget by 10 per cent and the fuel poverty budget by 13 per cent for this financial year.
According to the First Minister in her first speech in this session of Parliament, which she made last week, she intends to set new climate change targets for Scotland. It is easy, is it not? If you do not meet the current targets, you can just set new ones and hope that nobody notices.
If Scotland is to meet its climate ambitions, it will require additional investment in warmer homes and low-carbon transport; a shift to clean, green renewable energy; and new action to protect the natural environment. In that way, we can beat our climate change targets, improve people’s quality of life and strengthen the economy at the same time. What we do not need from the Scottish Government is self-congratulatory contributions to the debate when it is obviously failing to live up to its own hype.
Let us look at warm homes for just one example of that rhetoric. The Scottish Government has a duty to eradicate fuel poverty by November. It refuses to accept that that target will be missed, despite the fact that a third of households are in fuel poverty. In some rural and remote areas, the figure is two thirds. The Government’s statistics showed no real change in the rate of fuel poverty in 2014. However, I get it. The way in which this Government works is that if it is not going to meet its targets, it just decides to set new ones, which will mean that everything will be okay.
We all know that half of emissions come from heating homes and businesses. In the social housing sector, 30 per cent of dwellings fall below the energy efficient criterion of the Scottish housing quality standard. One would not think that that was the case from the Scottish Government’s self-congratulatory tone. If the climate change benefits of tackling fuel poverty are combined with the health benefit to our single pensioners in particular, it soon becomes obvious that tackling the issue effectively should be a no-brainer.
In the previous UK coalition Government, the Liberal Democrats invested £7 billion a year in renewable energy—doubling the amount of energy produced by renewables in just five years. What has the current UK Conservative Government done since then? I can see a lot of heads looking away. [
.] That is better. Now listen, folks. It has cut the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s budget by 22 per cent; scrapped the groundbreaking £1 billion carbon capture project that was planned for Peterhead, in my region of North East Scotland; ended the green deal and zero carbon homes schemes; and cut the renewables sector off at the knees—[
.] I am glad that Conservative members are laughing. It has cut the sector off at the knees through £130 million-worth of cuts to solar and wind energy, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk. That is the Conservative Government, acting alone, so I do not think for a moment that the Conservatives have one shred of credibility left on the environment, and we will not support their amendment.
I turn briefly to land reform.
From Mike Russell’s speech, we might think that land reform was not addressed in the first session of this Parliament, from 1999 to 2003. He said that the issue was neglected before the Scottish Parliament was established and then he jumped to the 2007 Scottish Government. I know that there are only about two dozen of us left in the Parliament who were members in 1999, but land reform was a big issue then. Mike Russell was there—
There is always a barb in an intervention from Mike Russell. I thank him for at least acknowledging that the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition of the first two sessions of the Scottish Parliament made great strides in the area. There is no doubt that much more needs to be done, but let us get the historical facts correct.
We are minded to support the other amendments, given that they advance the environmental cause.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. You will be delighted to know that I do not intend to take that much time.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate, and to congratulate the cabinet secretary and the minister on their appointments. It is noteworthy and laudable that climate change has been elevated to a Cabinet portfolio. Climate change is the defining issue of our age—not just in Scotland but across the globe.
I do not think that anyone would disagree with the Government motion where it says:
“Scotland’s stunning natural environment is one of its most precious assets”.
I want to take the opportunity to talk about some of the precious natural assets in my constituency of Renfrewshire South. There are many areas of environmental significance in the constituency, and one of the most significant—if not the most significant—is Lochwinnoch, which hosts the Castle Semple visitor centre. Lochwinnoch serves as the gateway to the Clyde Muirshiel regional park, which has one of the few wetlands left in the west of Scotland. The visitor centre and country park afford visitors the opportunity to enjoy fantastic waters, outdoor activities and environmental education.
The RSPB Lochwinnoch nature reserve, which is part of the regional park, is a site of special scientific interest. The reserve enjoys rich wetland biodiversity and is home to an array of birds and plants. It is close to Glasgow, with a railway station nearby and easy access on the national cycle network, and it attracts tens of thousands of visitors per year. The Castle Semple visitor centre and the RSPB Lochwinnoch reserve are models of how the natural capital of Renfrewshire South and Scotland can be at the heart of our local and national economies.
Just as communities such as Lochwinnoch can reap benefits from our natural capital, so can they play their part in working towards achieving our climate change goals. Neilston Community Wind Farm, which is also in my constituency, comprises four large turbines with a maximum output of 10MW—roughly double Neilston’s electricity consumption. The project, which was driven by the Neilston Development Trust, demonstrates how a partnership of community empowerment and renewables can play its part in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
It will therefore come as no surprise that I enthusiastically applaud the Government’s commitment to drive forward increases in community renewables projects.
I have been speaking for three minutes and 12 seconds, so on that note I will return to my seat.
Let me begin by congratulating Roseanna Cunningham on her new role as cabinet secretary, and by welcoming the elevation of climate change to the portfolio of a senior minister. I also welcome Mr Wheelhouse, who is riding shotgun on fracking in the debate.
This is a parliamentary session in which ambitions on climate change, the environment and land reform will run high. The prizes of tackling fuel and food poverty and of creating new livelihoods from the land and technologies of the future, while improving our communities as places where our health and wellbeing can thrive, are within our grasp. We have had interesting contributions on that from many members—in particular Kate Forbes, who gave us some grounded examples of how we can seize the opportunity.
It is a big agenda, but there are some simple actions, cabinet secretary, that you can commit to in the first few days of your new role. One action is to use your leadership to reconvene the Scottish biodiversity committee, which met just once under your predecessor. There is important work to do on biodiversity. Andy Wightman mentioned the need to double down on wildlife crime and to make a decision on the reintroduction of beavers. Claudia Beamish mentioned the importance of completing the network of marine protected areas.
Another critical action is to commit to reconvening the Cabinet subcommittee on climate change. I was a little disappointed, cabinet secretary, to receive your reply to my parliamentary question yesterday stating that no decision has been made to re-establish it. You give the impression of being someone who can knock heads together and get action—you are going to threaten to knock my head. At the heart of action on climate change is the need to ensure that there is coherency across Government. There is no point in taking two steps forward in one area of policy, only to take one step back in another area.
The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 has not led to the step change that was needed in either actions or results. Whether we have hit or missed targets has so far been largely determined by moving statistical baselines and by the weather, rather than by Government policy. That point was also emphasised by Claire Baker. For example, there has been only a 2 per cent cut in emissions in the transport sector. There were really no significant actions in the last climate action plan for how we can achieve modal shift or how we can reduce transport emissions. Claudia Beamish mentioned some exemplar schemes that have been worked on on a cross-party basis in Parliament. We need more of those and more investment in walking, cycling and modal shift.
Infrastructure is key, which was emphasised by Gordon MacDonald. Only 30 per cent of Scottish Government capital budgets is spent on low-carbon infrastructure. We need to flip that—we need 70 per cent of our capital budgets to be spent on low-carbon infrastructure. I make a plea to the Scottish Government that, nine years after I held my last members’ debate on reopening rail routes in Fife, it renew its ambition and ensure that the largest communities in Scotland that are still cut off from the rail network—Leven and Methil—are reconnected.
Perhaps Stewart Stevenson wants a debate about who has the most disaffected communities and who is the most economically disadvantaged. There is clearly work to be done and a need to invest our capital in infrastructure in order to provide communities with opportunities once again.
Energy efficiency is an important national infrastructure priority, and we need to be ambitious with it. Yes—it will cost £4.5 billion by 2025 to ensure that all existing homes reach category C in energy efficiency, but the return on that investment will be threefold. We will also get jobs on the back of that investment and cuts in fuel poverty.
Members have talked a bit about waste. Maurice Golden told us more about waste minimisation, and we have seen significant cuts in emissions in the waste sector. It would be good to get some feedback from the Scottish Government about its commitment to deposit-return schemes so that we can make progress on the circular economy.
We have had a good debate on land use, which is responsible for about a quarter of our emissions in Scotland. It was good to hear the cabinet secretary reaffirm that public subsidy needs to pay for public goods—on time, I hope, at least for farmers next year.
Mike Russell talked about freeing Scotland’s assets to deliver benefits for Scotland, and I welcome his commitment to many of the 18 land reforms that are going to be delivered boldly by Andy Wightman with the support of his colleagues in the chamber.
Energy strategy is critical, and I look forward to the Scottish Government’s energy strategy coming in the autumn. We have achieved a lot—a 30 per cent cut in emissions—in spite of the savage cuts to subsidies that have come from the Tories. That point was emphasised by Stewart Stevenson and Mike Rumbles.
We have made good progress on electricity, but we have made less progress on heat, so we welcome the warm homes bill. I am sure that Alexander Burnett’s experience will be useful in that regard.
I will turn briefly to fracking. It is crystal clear that a majority of MSPs want a ban on fracking. Tonight, members have another opportunity to support a ban. The voices of communities across Scotland need to be heard loud and clear. The potential risks to our environment from fracking are too much for too little reward.
The Scottish Government has many tools to keep in the ground the gas that we cannot afford to burn, and to deliver the will of this Parliament through licensing, to environmental regulation, and to planning and primary legislation.
We recognise that the Scottish Government has to work within the existing legal frameworks, but it also has to work to deliver the ambitions of the people of Scotland who demand a renewables future that is free from unconventional gas extraction. I urge members to be bold and to take the first step in turning a genuinely sustainable Scotland into a reality.
This has been a first-class debate, with impressive contributions across the parliamentary divide. I particularly single out those members who have passed the ordeal of making their first speech to Parliament today.
First, I have a confession to make: I am a great admirer of David Cameron. No, not that one, but the one from Harris who is the chairman of Community Land Scotland. In a recent speech, he called land reform “unfinished business” that is fundamental to greater social justice in Scotland. He said:
“Is it possible for Scots to conceive of a future Scotland that does not, explicitly, have greater social justice at its heart? I think not ... This is not about fighting battles of the past ... land reform remains a cause of the present and the future.”
Like other members, I congratulate the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform on her new post and on the general thrust of her remarks. I first met Roseanna Cunningham in 1997 when we both served in the House of Commons. I still remember her asking me, as I passed her in the aye lobby, to sign an early day motion about land reform on the Isle of Eigg. That was very admirable and I was happy to do that but, as I left the lobby, it occurred to me that the island was in my constituency. Her early dedication was admirable.
Claudia Beamish also deserves praise on her promotion. Her depth of knowledge on environmental issues shone through in her speech, as did her passion for opposing fracking. I echo her comments about Sarah Boyack and Aileen McLeod. The Parliament is the poorer for losing them.
I was particularly looking forward to a speech by a new member, Andy Wightman, who has great track record on land reform and ownership. I was not disappointed, but that is to be expected from the author of “The Poor Had No Lawyers”. His speech was thought-provoking and well researched. Clearly, Mr Wightman is a member to watch, particularly when he is wearing his new green headwear, which I understand that he got from Mary Scanlon.
Mike Rumbles, an original member of the class of 1999, was, I believe, very much missed during the last parliamentary session. I have to say to Mr Rumbles—through you, Presiding Officer—that it was certainly a much quieter Parliament over the past five years. The member gave a very good speech, which was well argued and knowledgeable, particularly around the topics of shifting to the low-carbon economy and investment in warmer homes.
I do not have time to mention all the first-class and well researched speeches, but I highlight those made by Angus MacDonald, Gordon MacDonald, John Scott and Graeme Dey. I thought that Elaine Smith’s anti-fracking speech was very passionate, and her comments on election hustings were very interesting. I join with her in praising the work that John Wilson carried out when he was a member of this Parliament.
Kate Forbes made an excellent speech. I met her during the election campaign and we shared at least one hustings. The fact that she was my wife’s opponent was a minor issue. I could just about agree with every word of her knowledgeable speech, which touched on the history of the battle of the Braes and the important role of land reform. I am sure that I will not agree with her every word over the next five years, but I echo her comments today.
Mike Russell made a very good speech. He was a first-class environment minister. He spoke about deer numbers and climate change. On land reform, I was particularly interested in the issues that he raised around what it is that we want from land and about the need to finish the work of the previous session, especially on land registration.
I also want to put on record the fact that Alexander Burnett’s first speech to Parliament was first class. In a wide-ranging contribution, he mentioned that he had ancestors in the first Scottish Parliament; not many of us can make that claim to fame.
Stewart Stevenson—who is another very good former environment minister—made some interesting arguments on climate change. I might not totally agree with my friend Mr Stevenson on fracking. Although I am not a lawyer, I know that any policy that is agreed to by the Parliament could face judicial review; the issue is making sure that we get it right, and that we get the science right.
Edward Mountain made a first-class speech. He and I were colleagues—if I can use that term loosely—as we both stood for the Inverness and Nairn seat. We did about seven or eight hustings together. I hope that I do not ruin his career by saying that I do not think that we had a wrong word on that issue. Mr Mountain is certainly a man to watch.
I believe that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 is not the last word but a small step on the endless road. A new chapter on land reform is ready to be opened. That will take political will and a commitment of public funds; above all, it will take an understanding that the issue, rather than being a hankering after some romantic rose-tinted past, is about a hard-headed appreciation of the very real social, economic and environmental benefits of community ownership of land. To quote Sir Walter Scott, what we need to succeed is
“The will to do and the soul to dare.”
I begin by declaring for the record that I am a farmer and that I own land and wind turbines.
I congratulate those members who made their maiden speeches today. It is clear that there is real talent among members across the political spectrum, and I again congratulate everyone who made their maiden speech today—the standard was first class. I also take the opportunity to welcome Roseanna Cunningham to her new post. I am confident that we can work together to ensure that our rural communities receive the support that they need in the months to come.
Scotland is rightly proud of its natural heritage, which is celebrated the world over. The truth of that can be seen in the thousands of tourists who arrive to see our beautiful scenery every year. In approaching this topic, we must be mindful of the great responsibility that we have in caring for this beautiful part of the world and ensuring that we can be proud of what we pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Many members have spoken about land reform. Andy Wightman said that he welcomes the land register. I, too, welcome the land register—we do not see any problem in knowing who owns the land. However, we have also made it clear that the Government needs to focus not on who owns the land but on how that land is used. Ministers must ensure that an ideological agenda is not holding our rural economy back.
The land reform proposals began, as most plans do, with the best of intentions. One of the aims of the recent Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was to increase the number of tenancies in the farming sector, but I believe that the Scottish Government has unintentionally erected more barriers for new tenants by putting landowners in a difficult situation. We need to strike a balance between tenants and landowners. Under the current proposals, some landowners believe that it is too risky to create new long-term tenancies while the possibility exists that they will lose their land to the right to buy. Until we strike that balance, it will become increasingly difficult for young, talented new farmers to get a start, and that is a great pity.
Although some members have raised the issue of the amount of land that is owned by individuals, few have made reference to the size of the businesses. An area of 10,000 acres of heather hill in the Highlands will not have the same productivity as 500 fertile acres in East Lothian.
I move on to fracking. Today, Labour members—led by Claudia Beamish and assisted by Elaine Smith—have done their very best to trash fracking. It is unfortunate that their fine words fly in the face of the scientific evidence. Rather than advocating for us to create jobs, grow our economy and harness Scotland’s natural resources, they would have us continue to import shale gas when we have shale gas right here at home. We must remember that 70 per cent of the gas that we burn at the moment is imported, so if we started fracking, we would only be replacing what we are bringing in anyway and there would be no effect on CO2 levels at all.
“I was opposed to plans for fracking in Canonbie. This would have been hugely misguided”?
Is it a case of, “What do we want? Fracking. Where do we want it? Everywhere but Conservative constituencies”?
I will. I cannot answer for every colleague—everyone has their own ideas. I can answer only for our benches with regard to what we believe to be right as a group.
John Scott explained it very well when he said that we needed more ability to take things forward. If we had acted in such a way in the past, that kind of timidity would have led to nothing being achieved.
I believe that providing fuel for our homes is an issue on which we should not shy away from the science, and it is vital that Government ministers take action and move forward with getting shale gas out of the ground. That said, local authorities must be part of the decision-making process, particularly when it comes to planning. We must, of course, ensure that things are carried out in a safe manner but, given this country’s 50-year history of safe oil and gas extraction, this is an area where I think we should have confidence in the professionals. We have the expertise of the thousands of people in the north-east who have been made redundant from the North Sea oil and gas sector, and this move would provide them with welcome employment.
In the words of Professor Paul Younger, who has previously been hailed by the SNP as an energy engineering expert, it would be a “flight from reason” to continue with the SNP’s maybe-aye, maybe-no approach. I think that, as Professor Young is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, we in the chamber should take his advice seriously.
In a country as diverse as Scotland, our Government cannot expect a one-size-fits-all model to work for our rural communities. My colleague Alexander Burnett has spoken with passion of the huge range of community activity that he supports. No two rural communities are the same, and ministers would do well to remember that such diversity is the strength of our rural economy and reconsider their moves for more centralised proposals. Mr Burnett also mentioned district heating, which is an example that we can take from Scandinavian countries, where wood-fuelled district heating plants are the norm rather than the exception.
Of course, creating energy to heat our homes is one thing, but we also need energy-efficient homes, which is why in our manifesto we called on the Scottish Government to increase its energy efficiency allocation in the capital budget to 10 per cent. That increase from £80 million to £340 million each year would lead, by 2020, to a cumulative £1 billion investment in our homes and our environment. Mike Rumbles understands that and spoke passionately about it, but he does not understand that the Conservative Government introduced a £1 billion tax cut for the oil and gas industry and a £250 million city region deal for Aberdeen. The policy that I have highlighted is the kind of policy that the SNP should adopt in order to hit climate change targets, instead of increasing the targets despite missing them time and again.
My shadow cabinet colleague Maurice Golden has rightly spoken of the importance of promoting a circular economy. We need a model in which we can promote economic success alongside protecting our environment for future generations; the two are not mutually exclusive. We cannot go green if we are in the red.
Transport is another example. As Mark Ruskell pointed out, in the nearly 30 years since 1990, CO2 emissions from transport have fallen only by 2 per cent. We can take real action on that if we encourage fewer short car journeys in cities, but to do that we need the infrastructure to ensure that urban families see cycling and walking as a safe prospect.
It is not often that members will hear a Government minister expressing disappointment at being involved in a debate. I am pleased to be involved with much of this debate but, as much as I welcome the opportunity to address issues that relate to unconventional oil and gas development, including, of course, hydraulic fracturing—for the sake of simplicity, I will subsequently call that “fracking”—and other unconventional gas techniques, I would rather have done so as part of an energy debate than in today’s debate.
I am somewhat surprised and disappointed that Labour thought it appropriate to ignore all the substance of the motion with its amendment. There was the potential with that motion to discuss a number of issues of great importance to the environment, as laid out by the cabinet secretary. In ignoring that, Labour could have reduced the debate around the environment and the wider needs of the environment to a bit of a sideshow, but thankfully a number of members across the chamber focused on that issue. I will return later to talk about their speeches.
To be clear, the SNP will abstain on the amendments that sought to make fracking front and central in the debate—above all else for that reason. Unlike the positions of all the other parties that are represented in the chamber, our position on fracking is clear, unequivocal, coherent and consistent. Above all else, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform underlined in her opening speech the significance of the clause in the Government’s motion that the
“natural environment is one of” our
“most precious assets” and how we intend to ensure that wise and productive use of Scotland’s natural capital is explored under an SNP Government. Quite simply, we do not take risks with our most precious assets, and it follows that we cannot and will not do that with the environment.
As the cabinet secretary made clear, the Government is deeply sceptical of fracking, and we have ensured that no fracking can take place in Scotland at this time through our moratorium. However, we have also set out the need to conduct a full research programme followed by a full consultation of people in Scotland so that any future decisions on fracking are informed fully by the scientific evidence and the views of the people who live and work here.
I would rather make progress, if I may. I may bring the members back in later.
Indeed, ours is the only approach that has clearly and consistently promised to engage with the evidence and the public on the issue. The Government is absolutely determined that the people of Scotland will have the benefit of the most substantial body of evidence on how hydraulic fracturing may impact on Scotland.
I ask the minister the same question about underground coal gasification that I asked the cabinet secretary. My understanding is that the work programme for the research on that is being conducted at a more rapid rate, so he will have the evidence to make a decision on that sooner. Can the minister give us detail on the timescales for that, please?
I will. I certainly recognise the point that Mark Ruskell fairly asked about at the beginning of the debate. As he may be aware, Professor Campbell Gemmell is undertaking that work. We expect that he will be able to report later this summer, and we hope that that will be published later on this year. However, there is another programme of work that the member will be aware of that will not conclude until later, as consultation with communities is being undertaken.
No, thank you.
We are delivering one of the world’s most comprehensive programmes of research into unconventional oil and gas. In February this year, we awarded five research projects to conduct independent and impartial research into a wide range of issues that relate to fracking, including environmental and economic impacts. That research is due to be completed this summer, and the Government will ensure that its results are made available to all and are shared with members across the chamber. I am happy to come back to Parliament to make a statement or lead a debate on that research at the appropriate juncture, once it has been published.
I will not at the moment, as I have some progress to make.
We need to award a further contract to examine the transport and community impacts, as that work has been delayed. Members may be aware of that. We will undertake that as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we will continue to meet and listen to the widest range of voices and listen to the widest range of views so that our consultation focuses on the issues that matter to communities and our stakeholders. That is the right approach to take.
We have put in place a range of additional measures to protect Scotland’s interests on the issue, not least in securing the devolution of powers to issue and manage onshore oil and gas licences in the Scotland Act 2016. Our actions ensured that the UK Government did not issue any licences for fracking in Scotland in the last licensing round. Moreover, we have made changes to planning policy. We have reviewed regulations to close any gaps that might have allowed the environmental regulations to be breached. The Government is standing up for Scotland’s interests on the issue not only in our words, but most especially by our deeds.
We are rightly being cautious, but no one can be in any doubt about this Government’s position on fracking. However, I will reiterate the Government’s position for the benefit of members of the parties opposite—who, I say to Lewis Macdonald, appear to be a little hard of hearing on the issue. There will be no fracking in Scotland unless it can be proven beyond all doubt that it will not harm the environment, communities or public health. If Parliament wishes to take a different view, we have no issue with that.
I have said no, Mr Findlay.
However, that will not deflect Government from following our clear, cogent and consistent pathway and the timetable that we have set out.
I turn to wider issues concerning the environment, because—as I said at the outset—those issues are important to the debate. I will pick up on some of the points that members have made.
Elaine Smith asked how fracking could co-exist with climate change targets. The purpose of the work that the UK Committee on Climate Change is undertaking is to establish exactly what the impact of such activity on climate change would be. Until we have that data, we should reserve our judgment, and then respond to the evidence in due course.
Maurice Golden spoke about trying to find consensus, and I welcome that assertion. However, he went on to give—if I may say so—quite a confrontational speech, in which he said that he regarded three of the five parties here as a “cabal”. That is not a good way to start building friendships in the chamber. He made some important points, but I caution him in some respects. He spoke about growth being decoupled from negative environmental externalities, and I agree that it is important to look at that area. However, we must wait to see the evidence. Rather than being gung-ho about fracking and pushing ahead with it, we should look at what the evidence suggests. If it proves that there is environmental damage, I would expect Maurice Golden to take that on board with regard to the point that he made in his speech.
A number of members across the chamber have criticised Scotland’s performance on climate change, but we, especially the members on the Conservative side of the chamber, should not forget that the ambition of this Government and this Parliament—united, as was the case when the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was passed—is far greater than that of the UK Government. We should not lose sight of that. As a number of members pointed out, we are performing comparatively well, with a 38 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions against the 1990 baseline.
It is important that I point out to Mike Rumbles—who actually made our argument for us—that, in criticising the Scottish Government’s performance, members should not forget the consequential impact of changes made by the UK Government in rolling back its green policies supporting energy investment and domestic energy efficiency. In short, while I appreciate that some of that happened after the UK election of 2015, I point out that the UK Government has slashed support for renewables. It has announced the early closure of the renewables obligation for large-scale onshore wind and solar photovoltaics projects, and it has cut support for small-scale renewables projects through the feed-in tariffs.
The Scottish Government maintains public sector support for energy investment and domestic energy efficiency measures. Meanwhile, the UK Government has axed the green deal home improvement—a decision that has had a detrimental impact on our ability to meet our climate change targets.
I thank Claudia Beamish for her kind words about Dr Aileen McLeod, and I share her sentiments about Sarah Boyack. Both departing members—as David Stewart acknowledged—will be badly missed in the chamber. I recognise the work that they have done, especially the work of my former colleague Dr McLeod, who I wish well.
We have an opportunity to work constructively, and I take on board the points that Claudia Beamish made. She discussed the merits of a moratorium versus a ban, and I hope that I have explained why we believe in maintaining the moratorium while we wait for scientific evidence to come forward, and why that position is justified.
I congratulate Andy Wightman and other members who made their first speeches today. I have no time left to mention all of them, but I will say in passing that Andy Wightman made a very thoughtful speech. He is very welcome in the chamber, and I look forward to hearing more speeches from him in due course. He referred to work on land reform and a further land reform bill. The cabinet secretary looks forward to engaging with Mr Wightman and other party spokespeople on the development on land reform policy, and I encourage Mr Wightman to engage with the cabinet secretary as we move forward. He made some good points about democracy too.
I am glad to see Angus MacDonald back in the chamber, given his very strong support for me, Dr McLeod and Richard Lochhead. He made some strong points in his speech, and noted Christiana Figueres’s support for the Scottish Government’s action on climate change. Later on, another colleague said that Christiana Figueres, in supporting Scotland’s action, had described it as being, in effect, quite good. She actually said that it is “exemplary”, and we need to reflect on that.
John Scott talked about fracking as well. I point out that Scotland is still a net exporter of electricity and a major contributor to the energy sector.
I see that my time is up, Presiding Officer. I encourage members to support the Government motion and reject the amendments that were lodged by the Opposition.