14 November 2002

(S1F-2262) Fishing

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Executive will respond to European Union announcements on fishing made on 11 November 2002. (S1F-2262)

The Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice (Mr Jim Wallace): I will repeat what has been said before. The protection of the industry and fishing communities across Scotland is of paramount importance. As Mr Stevenson will be aware, the European Commission was unable to publish its proposals on 11 November as anticipated. Commissioner Fischler appears to recognise that wholesale closure is not acceptable and efforts continue, in discussions with the industry and others, to identify suitable alternatives. I know that that approach has the overwhelming support of the Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the Deputy First Minister agree that at this time of crisis we need unity of purpose between fishing communities and the elected politicians of all parties? Will he join me in welcoming the Fraserburgh fishermen's wives' campaign in this regard?

In addition to speaking to the Secretary of State for Scotland, will the Deputy First Minister speak to the Prime Minister about having Mr Finnie appointed as a UK minister—I say this in a genuine cross-party spirit—so that the Prime Minister has the benefit of having a minister at his elbow who has at least been out listening to fishermen? That would avoid the Prime Minister, as at column 28 of Hansard yesterday, running up the white flag for fishing in these islands.

Mr Wallace: I agree that the issue should be approached on an all-party basis, as has been the case. The meeting that my colleague Ross Finnie—and, indeed, other colleagues present from all parties in the Parliament—attended in Aberdeen on Monday was indicative of that coming together not only of politicians, but of the community and of the fishing industry on the catching and processing sides.

I would welcome any positive contribution that the Fraserburgh fishermen's wives make. I am getting somewhat used to delegations of and representations from wives of those employed in the north-east of Scotland. I hope that the Fraserburgh wives are as effective in their campaign as the Peterhead wives were in theirs.

On Stewart Stevenson's other point, it might be taking coalition politics too far to suggest that Mr Finnie might replace Mrs Beckett. The industry and our fishing community need concerted effort to ensure that we get the right answers. They do not need navel gazing about who sits in which chair in the Council of Ministers.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): Does the Deputy First Minister accept that Franz Fischler's delphic mutterings on Monday were no great progress? Does he accept that the Scottish fishing industry needs a long-term recovery plan for stocks and for fishing communities, which will face considerable crisis if the European Commission's plans are allowed to proceed? Does he accept that that is a better way to approach the matter than is a policy that is based on the political virility of Herr Fischler, who fails to understand the realities of cod in a mixed fishery?

Mr Wallace: I would not want to dismiss gratuitously what Herr Fischler said. There may not have been a road-to-Damascus conversion, but a glint of light is some step towards the blinding flash that might yet come to him.

I agree with Tavish Scott that we need to develop a longer-term strategy for our fisheries. That is important. However, the more pressing need is to ensure a successful outcome for the current round of negotiations. I know that my colleague Ross Finnie is making every effort to that end. He is making extensive representations to try not only to take forward the argument among those at home, but to engage our European partners in that argument.

Tavish Scott is right about the importance of our fishing communities. The sustainability of the stocks and of the fishing communities is far more important than the fate of one European Union commissioner.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the Deputy First Minister try to ensure that, in 2003, technical and management measures are uniform in all areas of the North sea and west coast to stop the present discrimination against Scottish fishermen? When he speaks to the Prime Minister, will he tell him that we have 30 days to save our fishing industry and that the clock is now ticking?

Mr Wallace: Proper account should be taken of the steps that have already been taken in Scotland, not least the decommissioning of the white fish fleet and the developments in mesh sizes as technical conservation measures. It is vital that full and proper account is taken of those when discussions take place with regard to the kind of measures that will be introduced. I hope that what Jamie McGrigor said was consistent with the all-party consensus on trying to achieve a successful outcome.

Mr McGrigor indicated agreement.

Mr Wallace: Jamie McGrigor is indicating that it is. That is welcome.

Mr Alasdair Morrison (Western Isles) (Lab): Does the Deputy First Minister agree that, as a matter of urgency, we must strike a balance between fish stocks and catching capacity and that we must reduce the amount of immature fish that are being caught? Do he and his ministerial team believe that we could learn from our Faeroese and Icelandic colleagues, who are not reducing the number of boats that are going to sea, but are ensuring that their fishermen do not use catch-all nets? Does he agree that we must safeguard the west coast prawn fishery in constituencies such as the Western Isles from any mass diversion of effort from areas of the United Kingdom where restrictions are imposed on vessels that have been fishing for cod?

Mr Wallace: I accept that there has been a serious need for some time to address the mismatch between capacity and stocks. That is a structural problem, which we have been discussing within the context of the on-going review of the common fisheries policy. It is important that we get that right. Lessons can and should be learned from the experience of fisheries management not only within the EU, but elsewhere, as Alasdair Morrison indicated. As Ross Finnie has made clear, we believe, based on the health of the stocks, that the nephrops fishery is sustainable. We agree that that fishery needs to be protected from the impact of any cod recovery measures.

12 November 2002

(S1O-5505) Seaports, Harbours and Jetties

12. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has for the future development of seaports, harbours and jetties. (S1O-5505)

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Lewis Macdonald): The ports policy paper "Modern Ports: A UK Policy", which was produced jointly by the Scottish Executive and the UK Government, provides a clear strategy for the future development of ports and harbours in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that this week's The Buchan Observer contains a worrying indication that the disastrous aggregates tax may result in the loss of nearly half Peterhead Bay Authority's business? Will he note that SNP councillors have been joined by a representative of the parties that make up the coalition Executive in expressing concern about the matter? The sole Liberal Democrat councillor in my constituency said:

"Our key developments centre round the bay. It has always been our economic base."

Will the minister say what action he plans to take to offset the effect of the aggregates tax?

Lewis Macdonald: I am aware of the issues relating to the Peterhead Bay Authority. I am also aware that the authority has a very ambitious investment project. I would not expect that to be delayed or put off by relatively marginal costs. It is for the authority to produce a commercial plan that takes into account the existing tax framework. Like other commercial harbours around the country, Peterhead bay is expected to produce its own surplus for investment. It is not our policy to invest public money in commercial harbours—that position will not change.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): In the light of the successful timber-loading programme at Ardrishaig in Argyll, what action is the Scottish Executive taking to restore more piers throughout the Highlands and Islands? Such restoration would allow more timber to be carried by sea and prevent huge damage being caused to the Scottish road network.

Lewis Macdonald: Jamie McGrigor will be aware that we have a continuing programme for funding piers and harbours in the Highlands and Islands. They are supported differently to commercial harbours elsewhere in the country, because they provide lifeline services to local communities. We will continue to roll out our programme over the coming years.

27 June 2002

(S1O-5411) Fishing Rights

9. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to protect Scotland's historic fishing rights. (S1O-5411)

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): The Scottish Executive engages with the Commission at ministerial and official level and is an integral part of the United Kingdom negotiating team on fisheries. In those respective capacities, we are working to ensure that Scotland's interests are fully represented during the current review of the common fisheries policy.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the minister recall saying in the plenary debate on the CFP on 13 June:

"The Commission is not proposing to disrupt existing relative stability shares." —[Official Report, 13 June 2002; c 12718.]

Is the minister aware that on 19 June, John Farnell, speaking on behalf of the Commission, said at the European Parliament Fisheries Committee that although we have relative stability today, the Commission believes that one day we should not, and that the question was how and how quickly we got there? Is the minister not guilty of breathtaking complacency in not demanding the lead role in Europe on the UK's negotiations on the CFP in order to defend Scottish fishermen?

Ross Finnie: There was a lot of sound and fury there, but I do not know whether it added up to much. Mr Stevenson will recall that in that plenary fisheries debate I made clear the Executive's position, which I will repeat. We will defend relative stability, just as we will defend the interests of the Shetland box and the Hague preference. Those matters are all fundamental to Scotland's historical fishing rights. I made that clear during the debate and I repeat it. What John Farnell, the commissioner and others say is important. I do not dismiss it. However, the crucial issue is what the Commission finally decides on the document that will revise the CFP.

I cannot be clearer about where I and the Scottish Executive stand on those matters. We are absolutely committed to protecting Scotland's fishing interests.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): I agree with the minister's comments. However, will the minister reflect further on the deep frustration that local fishermen feel at the Commission's handling of deepwater species—particularly at the lack of science to back up the deal that the Commission negotiated with the Spanish presidency? Will he undertake to ensure that, in future negotiations on CFP reform, it will be at the heart of his agenda that science will underpin stock assessment details?

Ross Finnie: I could not agree more with what Tavish Scott said. One of the fundamental reasons why we voted against the compromise that the presidency suggested and that the Commission—regrettably—supported was that it was wholly unsupported by science. I say to Tavish Scott that I made that position very clear to the commissioner and his cabinet. I find it unacceptable that, when we are trying to have a rational debate on proceeding with CFP reform and on how we deal with the conservation of stocks, we do so other than on the basis of good scientific advice. Such advice must be at the heart of any CFP review proposals on how to deal with conservation.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Does the minister agree that total allowable catches and quotas are not the right tools with which to manage deepwater species? What is his comment on the fact that Scottish fishermen are left with 2 per cent of the quotas, whereas French fishermen apparently have 80 per cent of the quotas for those species?

Ross Finnie: As Jamie McGrigor ought to know, the Scottish Executive's position, which was endorsed by the UK, was that we were opposed to using TACs in deepwater fisheries. We made that position very clear to the Commission when the proposal was first debated. I can only repeat that I find the final settlement highly unacceptable and that that is why we voted against it.

Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West): Will the Executive protect Scotland's historical freshwater fishing rights by setting up a democratically constituted Scottish anglers trust to administer all freshwater fishing rights in Scotland and to ensure more opportunities for ordinary anglers instead of protecting the privileges of the big landowners?

Ross Finnie: I am not entirely sure that that forms part of the common fisheries policy review, Presiding Officer, and I am not entirely sure that Mr Canavan would wish the European Union's common fisheries policy review to extend that far.

Dennis Canavan: No.

Ross Finnie: I thought that we might be agreed on that at least.

I take Mr Canavan's point on the need to protect the freshwater fisheries. That is what the strategies that we are implementing seek to do and also what the legislation that we are promoting seeks to do. I assure Mr Canavan that the Executive is as concerned to protect our rights in freshwater fishing as it is concerned about sea fisheries.

The Presiding Officer: The question was about historical fishing rights. It was not confined to Europe. [Applause.] Order.

Maureen Macmillan (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): I believe that, for the first time, aquaculture will be included in the revised CFP. There is some anxiety among fish farmers about the amount of support that they can expect and the amount of protection from non-European Union producers that they will have. Will the minister make a commitment that all the stakeholders in the industry will be consulted on the aquaculture section of the revised CFP so that we can achieve an outcome that allows us to continue to develop that high quality industry of ours, but do so in an environmentally responsible manner?

Ross Finnie: While the Presiding Officer is contemplating whether aquaculture is a historical fishing right, I will leap in to answer the question. I assure Maureen Macmillan that the Commission's draft proposals contain an important section that highlights the significant and integrated role that aquaculture will play in the future of our fisheries policy. I assure her that, as the Scottish Executive will consult all fishing sectors before we come to a view on how to respond to the definite proposals on CFP reform, the aquaculture sector will be included in that wide consultation.

The Presiding Officer: The minister got his own back—aquaculture cannot be a historic fishing right.

13 June 2002

(S1O-5341) Anti-social Behaviour

7. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to address the issue of anti-social behaviour. (S1O-5341)

The Minister for Social Justice (Ms Margaret Curran): The Executive is taking a range of steps to address anti-social behaviour at the local level. We have introduced new legislative measures such as probationary tenancies and interim anti-social behaviour orders. We have also acted to identify and disseminate good practice and new approaches.

Karen Whitefield: Is the minister aware that North Lanarkshire Council has established a task force to tackle anti-social behaviour? How does the minister intend to promote good practice such as that at a local level? Does she agree that there is a need for interim anti-social behaviour orders, as was suggested during the progress of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, to allow councils to deal urgently with the problem?

Ms Curran: Those questions raise a number of issues. We are taking action across several fronts. We have made some £250,000 available for three years to promote good practice, which includes the work going on in North Lanarkshire. I intend to visit there in the near future to discuss housing issues and I will examine the issue of anti-social behaviour while I am there. We have funded the post of a social neighbourhoods co-ordinator, who is based in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. We have also funded Safeguarding Communities and Reducing Offending in Scotland, to promote and develop mediation services throughout Scotland. Interim anti-social behaviour orders will be addressed in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. That has happened because of what occurred during the passage of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In the light of what I believe is widespread ignorance among police, councils and communities about the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001, which helps individuals and communities to take action against certain types of anti-social behaviour, will the minister indicate whether she is willing to take steps to ensure greater knowledge of the act's potential?

Ms Curran: Yes, I am happy to give the assurance that we will take action and work with colleagues to ensure that knowledge of the 2001 act is disseminated. Mr Stevenson will know that the act began as a committee bill, but the Executive took responsibility for ensuring that the act was properly implemented.

Work is being undertaken on the sheriff court rules and Citizens Advice Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid are working to promote the act. I will happily promote the act as much as possible.

Phil Gallie (South of Scotland) (Con): Is the minister aware that, a few years ago, Dundee City Council had a policy of locating anti-social tenants in specific areas? Some might call that ghettoising. Does the minister approve of that move and, if so, will she encourage other authorities to do the same, to bring peace to the many responsible tenants who find anti-social tenants impossible to deal with?

Ms Curran: Mr Gallie must be referring to the Conservatives' policy of sin bins—

Phil Gallie: It was a Labour council.

Ms Curran: Bear with me; I will try to address the point. Phil Gallie's comments bear a striking similarity to Bill Aitken's proposal for sin bins, which he made during the passage of the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I accept Phil Gallie's point about Dundee City Council. The Executive is clear about the unacceptability of anti-social behaviour. We want to take decisive action to eradicate that behaviour and to ensure that there are proper penalties for those who engage in it. During the passage of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, we were not persuaded that sin bins are appropriate. I do not know the details of the scheme in Dundee, but I have been particularly impressed with the Dundee mediation project, which is making significant strides in tackling anti-social behaviour.

I guarantee members that we will take effective and decisive action to tackle anti-social behaviour, but it is not easy to do that—we cannot wave a magic wand and solve everything. The issue requires action on a number of fronts, which is what we are taking.

30 May 2002

(S1F-1932) Scottish Prison Service Estates Review

3. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister how many responses to the Scottish Prison Service estates review have been received by the service. (S1F-1932)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): Eighty-eight responses were received by 27 May 2002.

Stewart Stevenson: I take this opportunity to thank the First Minister, the Minister for Justice and Richard Simpson, the Deputy Minister for Justice, for their courtesy in giving up some of their time today to see the campaigners for Her Majesty's Prison Peterhead. I extend those thanks to members from all parties.

Eighty-eight is a substantial number of responses and we still have a little time to run. Do those responses indicate a range of options that we can set against those of the Scottish Prison Service? Will the First Minister be minded to consider seriously any alternatives to the current proposals?

The First Minister: I am serious about every consultation exercise that we engage in and I am absolutely committed to studying the outcome of the consultation on the prison estates, just as I am committed to studying the outcome of consultation on any other matter. We will indeed take on board the comments and suggestions that are made during the consultation and we will consider them carefully before coming to our conclusions.

Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): Is the First Minister aware that a number of Labour members have met representatives of the Prison Officers Association Scotland, who have made clear their willingness to be involved in progressing the reform and investment that is needed in our prison estate? Does he agree that, if the estates review is to deliver a prison estate that is fit for the 21st century, there must be full and genuine consultation between the SPS, the prison officers and the trade unions?

The First Minister: I certainly support full and genuine consultation in the Prison Service. I urge the POAS, if it believes that it has alternative proposals that can bridge the funding gap that we have identified, to make those proposals to us clearly. If the POAS is willing to make the reforms that might help to bridge the funding gap and to achieve the objectives that we have set, we will certainly be interested to hear from its representatives.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): The Executive took two and a half years to come up with the estates review but there were only 12 weeks for consultation. Will the minister consider extending the consultation period, within which the Justice 1 Committee is finding it difficult to work?

The First Minister: I believe that the fact that there was a long period between the initial suggestion of a review and the publication of the review means that people have a good idea of what they want to say during the consultation period. The consultation period of 12 weeks is normal for such an exercise. It is important for us to bring the matter to a conclusion. It is therefore important to complete the consultation period, to consider the consultation responses and to come to our decisions, as we intend to do.

Phil Gallie (South of Scotland) (Con): Have there been any responses from communities that are keen to have the sex offenders institution sited among them? If not, does not the First Minister think that the people of Peterhead's acceptance of the institution is valuable and that we should retain the institution there?

The First Minister: I do not know whether any of the responses that we have received have demanded to have a sex offenders institution in a town or community anywhere in Scotland. I am not aware of any such response having been submitted but, if one has been submitted, we will obviously consider it.

On Peterhead prison, detailed and serious consideration is needed of the merits of all the aspects of the case that has been made in the prison estates review. That is not just about the location. It is about the programmes that take place in the prison and about ensuring that the buildings are in a fit condition for the 21st century. I hope that those who are submitting responses are taking all those factors into account. I hope that they are making reasonable submissions that we can read with care. We will make our final decisions having listened to all those who have become involved.

Maureen Macmillan (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Is the First Minister aware of Aberdeenshire Council's proposals for rebuilding Peterhead prison on the same site through a private build, public operate option, which it discussed with members at a reception yesterday? The council believes that that option will be a viable alternative to refurbishing the existing prison. Will the First Minister ensure that those plans are given due consideration in the prison estates review?

The First Minister: I am happy to confirm that all serious submissions will be duly considered in the prison estates review.

(S1O-5257) Fishing (Seine Net)

14. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to encourage seine net fishing. (S1O-5257)

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): We are not specifically encouraging seine net fishing, nor are we discouraging it. The science shows that it has no particular conservation benefit and it is therefore essentially a commercial judgment for the fishermen concerned.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that a significant minority of skippers believe that seine net fishing has significant environmental advantages and delivers better quality fish? Will he consider supporting the training necessary to bring more skippers into the seine net fishing industry?

Ross Finnie: I do not wish to be disrespectful to the views of that minority, but I repeat that recent trials have been inconclusive about whether the use of seine nets makes any difference when the same cod end is used. Therefore, the environmental benefit has not been proven. The case for seine nets can be argued in terms of quality, because of the swifter nature of the catch, but the trials to date do not prove conclusively the range of environmental benefits that some fishermen have posited. It is essentially a commercial matter for the fishermen concerned.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): I agree with Stewart Stevenson that seine netting is a good form of fishing. It is nice to hear him talking about something sane for a change.

Does Ross Finnie accept that mesh size restrictions, which were proposed fundamentally with trawl nets in mind, will have a much more significant effect on seine net fishermen, whose nets are more static as they have mesh that does not close in the same way as that of a net pulled by a trawler? Has that point been taken into consideration when decisions have been taken about the mesh sizes of seine or purse nets? If not, will he please make that point?

Ross Finnie: That point is already taken into account. I assure Jamie McGrigor that in the trials that took place increased mesh sizes were fully taken into consideration. As I said, no significant difference was shown in the preliminary trials when the same cod end was used. The trials are continuing. There is no evidence to prove the benefits to which Jamie McGrigor and Stewart Stevenson refer.

Robin Harper (Lothians) (Green): Has the minister taken into account in his calculations the great damage that can be done to the sea bed by some of the more modern methods of trawling?

Ross Finnie: Yes. Those methods are taken into consideration and are under constant review. To produce sustainable fisheries, we must consider the methodology and the way in which nets are deployed.

21 March 2002

(S1O-4926) Rural Post Office Services

9. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will make representations to Her Majesty's Government on the possible impact on rural areas of any reorganisation of post office services. (S1O-4926)

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): Consignia, post offices and postal services are a reserved matter. However, the Scottish Executive is in regular contact with the UK Government on a range of issues that include postal services, as Mr Stevenson will know from yesterday's members' business debate.

Stewart Stevenson: In last night's debate, the minister said:

"the Executive has a real locus in the question of service provision in rural areas".—[Official Report, 20 March 2002; c 10461.]

Will he confirm that he meant that he and his colleagues in the Government will campaign vigorously to protect delivery of mail at an affordable and uniform cost to every door in Scotland every day?

Ross Finnie: I can certainly confirm that we have a real locus in the provision of services in rural areas. Yesterday evening, I also made it clear that, although the postal service is a reserved matter, we have a real interest in the provision of service delivery. In conjunction with Andy Kerr and the modernising government unit, we are looking closely at how we can embody some of the sensible suggestions that are coming from the "Your Guide" project. That might help in providing the framework that would assist the Post Office in the delivery of its services.

David Mundell (South of Scotland) (Con): Is the minister aware that many members who were present for last night's debate on post office services were disappointed with his response to the debate? As always, he expressed kind words, but he offered no practical resolution to the issue of the future of post offices. Will he make real positive proposals that will allow our post offices to continue to operate in rural and deprived areas?

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Hear, hear!

Ross Finnie: Anyone who says, "Hear, hear!" must believe that they are sitting in Westminster. The postal service is a reserved matter. To expect me to announce what Consignia will do is wholly unreasonable. I pointed out our commitment, which I will repeat, that Andy Kerr and our modernising government unit will consider whether brigading services would provide a foothold that would work and that would mean that post offices could survive. "Your Guide" offers another opportunity or link by which that can be done in Scotland. That is what Andy Kerr and I will work towards.

14 March 2002

(S1O-4891) Bus Transport (Aberdeenshire)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what the average cost to passengers per mile is for a bus journey in Aberdeenshire in comparison with the average cost in the city of Edinburgh. (S1O-4891)

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Lewis Macdonald): The information requested is not available centrally. However, the grant-aided expenditure, for which the Scottish Executive is responsible, for subsidised bus services amounts to £4.33 per head in Aberdeenshire and £4.32 per head in the city of Edinburgh.

Stewart Stevenson: I have a penny here, minister.

I thank the minister for his reply. Does he recall that, some time ago, the Executive's proposals for its integrated transport bill stated that it would take action on concessionary fares that would help pensioners stay in touch with family and friends? Is he aware that high fares in rural areas, limited services and his Executive's failure to exercise the full gamut of powers conferred by section 68 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 leaves the Executive trailing far behind the SNP's commitment to achieve a national concessionary scheme? Is it not time that the Executive moved over and made way so that the people who would implement that commitment could take control?

Lewis Macdonald: I wonder whether Mr Stevenson is the only person in Scotland who is unaware of our commitment to introduce free local off-peak travel for pensioners and disabled people from October of this year.

Mr Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will the minister confirm that local authorities have already received, as part of their allocations from the Executive, funds to provide the free concessionary transport for all senior citizens? Will he also confirm that councils such as Aberdeenshire Council have the mechanisms in place to implement the service when it is due to be implemented later this year?

Lewis Macdonald: I confirm both those points. I also confirm that Aberdeenshire Council is one of the councils that have taken further steps to take advantage of the powers under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001. Those steps include a pilot scheme on through-ticketing, which is already in place in Aberdeenshire and will be extended to a community in Mr Stevenson's constituency in due course if it proves to be successful. I am also aware that Aberdeenshire Council has an existing non-statutory quality partnership with Aberdeen City Council and the two main local bus operators to provide bus services. Mr Rumbles is right to highlight that Aberdeenshire Council is one authority that has taken advantage of the provisions that we made in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001.

7 March 2002

(S1O-4833) Transport (Budget)

2. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what transport projects would go ahead if the additional notional allocation of £84 million in the transport budget, outlined in the report "Is Enough Being Spent on Transport in Scotland?", were made available. (S1O-4833)

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Lewis Macdonald): The figure that is quoted is hypothetical. The Scottish Executive transport budget continues to increase year on year in real terms.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that spending per capita on transport has increased both in Wales since the establishment of the National Assembly and in Northern Ireland's domain? Is the minister aware that any further decline in per capita transport expenditure in Scotland, as adumbrated by the ministers' own transport adviser, Professor David Begg, will, especially in rural areas such as those beyond Aberdeen, further fuel the public's deep cynicism about the Executive's intention?

Is the minister aware that people are sick and tired of the dithering and dancing of the Executive, which is not making real progress on the ground? We do not need more studies; we need the people's priority, which is transport.

Lewis Macdonald: It is a great shame that Mr Stevenson has not read David Begg's report, to which he refers. Had he done so, he would be aware that Professor Begg does not suggest that there has been a decline in transport expenditure in Scotland. Quite the contrary: Professor Begg recognises that the task of comparing transport spend per head across different parts of the country is difficult. [Interruption.] Mr Stevenson may be pointing to the piece of paper in his hand, but I am afraid that that is no substitute for actually reading the report.

Bristow Muldoon (Livingston) (Lab): Does the minister agree that it would be a welcome development if the members in this Parliament who whinge about budget priorities produced some priorities of their own?

Lewis Macdonald: One of the great mysteries that face all of us who are engaged with transport spend is finding out what the Scottish National Party's transport priorities actually are. If that is the party to which Bristow Muldoon referred, I am sure that there will be opportunities to explore the matter further in the future.

At the time of the strategic roads review, the SNP's then transport spokesman, Kenny MacAskill—who has once again become the party's transport spokesman—said that all roads were a priority. That is clearly a bottomless-pit commitment, but the SNP will no doubt tell us how it intends to fund it in due course.

14 February 2002

(S1O-4709) Scottish Ambulance Service

4. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when the Scottish Ambulance Service will complete the introduction of a paramedic technician into every ambulance. (S1O-4709)

The Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care (Hugh Henry): The service plans to have a paramedic in every emergency front-line ambulance by the end of 2005.

Pauline McNeill: Does the minister agree that, as paramedics have additional training, investment in the programme, whose aim is to ensure that a paramedic is available for every 999 call, is crucial to our emergency services? Does the minister agree that ambulance technicians, who are at the front line in many emergencies, have a difficult job and that, to meet our targets for a full paramedic service, we must look after those staff, as they are the main source of recruitment for the paramedic service?

Hugh Henry: The Scottish Ambulance Service has received additional money for three years to train 225 technicians to paramedic level. The year-on-year uplifts to its allocations have enabled it to increase the overall complement of emergency ambulance staff. There are 200 more emergency ambulance staff in the front-line vehicles than there were 10 years ago. We value and appreciate the contribution of the staff. We will do everything possible to raise standards and to protect the staff's best interests.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Does the minister recall that Scotland's two busiest part-time ambulance stations are the ones in Peterhead and Fraserburgh? Is he aware that, at grave risk to the public, staff at those stations work excessive hours to cover a full-time requirement? Does he intend to provide the necessary funding to upgrade the stations to full-time operation in the coming year?

Hugh Henry: I am not familiar with staff hours in the locality that Stewart Stevenson mentioned and members would not expect me to be familiar with them—that issue is the responsibility of local managers. The Ambulance Service is formulating proposals to improve ambulance provision in Scotland. I am sure that, as part of that, it will consider Stewart Stevenson's comments.

Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): Does the minister accept that it is crucial that the Ambulance Service works in close collaboration with health boards, particularly given the background of the acute hospitals review and the reduction in the number of hospitals in some areas? Will he undertake to ensure that there is no halt in the funding regime that supports the increase in the number of paramedics and that the welcome funding that he announced will be safeguarded and, if necessary, ring-fenced to ensure that the increase is delivered?

Hugh Henry: As I said, the funding regime is intended to provide additional paramedics. The proposals to consider response services will improve the service that is available to the public. Robert Brown is correct that the Ambulance Service must ensure that it liaises closely with health boards. Those who rely on the provision of services in hospitals often depend on the Ambulance Service to get them there. We will ensure that close liaison will continue and, where necessary, that the liaison will improve.

10 January 2002

(S1O-4412) Fishing Industry (2002 Quotas)

13. Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment it has made of the likely economic impact on the fish catching and fish processing industries of the 2002 quotas for white fish and for pelagic fish landings and what action it plans to take to mitigate any detrimental effects. (S1O-4412)

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): The increases in quotas of key pelagic and white fish stocks will have a significant and, I hope, positive impact on the catching and processing sectors in Scotland. The economic return from increased landings for the United Kingdom is estimated to be between £10 and £12 million more than for the previous year. Scotland will be the major beneficiary of that. I believe that those outcomes have been welcomed by the industry.

Tavish Scott: I welcome the minister's answer and I welcome the additional quota allocations that have been secured for the Scottish fishing industry this year. However, does the minister accept that there are pressures on shore-based services in constituencies such as mine? Because of the welcome decommissioning programme, there are fewer boats to use engineering, electronics and other shore-based services. In that context, what assessment is being made of shore-based services? Does the minister have any proposals to tackle those problems?

Ross Finnie: There are two aspects to that question. The first aspect relates to the total amount of quotas. The member will be well aware that the fish processing action group continues to study the problems that beset the processing industry not only in Shetland but throughout Scotland. Those problems arise as a consequence of the recent cuts. We in Scotland continue to press the Commission for multi-annual settlements, which could give a degree of certainty about the amounts of fish that might be available for processing.

As for the problems that are consequent on decommissioning, we are looking closely at the impact that decommissioning might have on services. I am bound to say that, although we now know the numbers of vessels and the ports that they use, it is difficult to give an answer at this stage. In conjunction with other departments, we are assessing and keeping a careful watch on the impact that decommissioning might have. The member can be assured that we recognise that there are consequentials that flow from that step.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): What discussions have the minister and his colleagues had about providing support to people who worked on fishing vessels, given that only the owners will be compensated for decommissioning? Has an economic assessment been undertaken of the effect of decommissioning on the fish processing sector?

Ross Finnie: Let me take the latter question first. As Stewart Stevenson will be aware, the objective and great hope of the decommissioning scheme is that it will give greater sustainability to the whole industry. If the quotas are acquired within the producer organisations, decommissioning should not per se lead to a reduction in the amounts available to the processing industry. Greater sustainability has to be the earnest hope of us all.

The processing industry suffers because of uncertainty over the amounts that may be available. As I indicated to Tavish Scott, we in Scotland are keen to push the Commission in the direction of multi-annual settlements, which would, I believe, give greater certainty.

Dealing with the economic impact on those affected by decommissioning is, as Stewart Stevenson would acknowledge, slightly more difficult. The owners are being compensated, but we have not made a distinction—although we will as we go through the process—between those who have direct responsibility for the people who are employed and those who are not affected in that way and who will not, therefore, share in the benefits. We will watch the situation closely. We do not know the exact details, but we are cognisant of the problem.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Why, despite the acceptance that industrial fishing is detrimental to the marine food chain, has no significant cut been made in the quotas for that sector, especially in the fishing for Norway pout, which leads to a large bycatch of immature fish of other species?

Ross Finnie: The reason such a cut was not made is that we did not secure a sufficient majority in the Commission during recent discussions. The consistent position of the Scottish Executive—and, I hope, of the UK Government—has been to press for continuing cuts in those areas. We very much agree with Jamie McGrigor's point and we will continue to press for reductions in those quotas.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): Does the minister agree that one of the major problems facing the demersal sector in particular is the difficulty in finding crews for fishing vessels? Does he agree that the decommissioning of fishing boats might provide an opportunity for the skippers of vessels to take on qualified and experienced crew members?

Ross Finnie: Yes, I agree. The issue is linked to the one raised by Stewart Stevenson. The ramifications of decommissioning are more complex than simply saying that all those who lose their vessel as a result of decommissioning will necessarily lose their jobs. Rhona Brankin's point is valid.

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