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.

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