25.01.12: Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee
The committee met to hear evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, on the draft Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Scottish Inshore and Offshore Regions) Amendment Order 2012.
Lochhead said the draft order was designed to resolve three main issues that arose after the introduction of the new marine licensing regime in April 2011.
A new condition would be added to the exemption concerning the use of marine chemical and marine oil treatment substances so that no deposit may be made below the surface of the sea without the approval of the Scottish ministers.
The retrieval of objects from the sea bed that have been accidentally deposited there and removal activity that is carried out for the purpose of sediment sampling would be exempted from the licensing scheme.
Finally, the definition of a marine protected area would be extended to include historic marine protected areas which are “areas that are designated as such when Scottish ministers consider it to be desirable to do so in order to preserve marine historic assets that are of national importance”.
The proposed changes had been widely supported by industry bodies and third-sector groups in the consultation process, added Lochhead.
Annabelle Ewing (SNP), asked about the timescale of being awarded ministerial approval.
Anyone who wishes to carry out an activity that is covered by the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 must contact Marine Scotland and request a licence, explained Lochhead.
The Cabinet Secretary added that as the act has not been up and running for long, he could not offer statistics on how long the approvals process usually takes, but was happy to get back to the committee with figures. He continued: “For obvious reasons, we take as little time as possible. A lot of marine activity takes place and we do not want to hold things up, so issuing licences is a priority for us.” The Convener, Rob Gibson MSP (SNP), asked what environmental impact the chemical dispersants used to break up oil spills have.
Lochhead explained that the Scottish Government had decided that the use of dispersant chemicals did not require a ministerial licence because their environmental impact was low and because in the case of an oil slick it would be desirable to deploy them as quickly as possible. The measure, he added, “is about protecting the environment as well as being about removing needless bureaucracy”.
In a motion, the draft amendments were agreed to.
30.01.12: House of Commons debate: Civil Aviation Bill
The Commons met to read the Civil Aviation Bill for a second time.
The Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, opened by arguing that the bill is necessary because while “the industry has innovated and diversified, much of its regulatory framework has remained fixed and inflexible”.
The bill will devolve more responsibility to the specialist regulator for aviation and will “remove regulatory functions and unnecessary intervention by Government”. It will also ensure the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) “operates in a transparent and accountable manner”.
SNP MP Pete Wishart asked whether Greening thought the recent takeover of BMI by British Airways would improve the provision of air services to Scotland. What would the government do to ensure that slots at Heathrow will be protected for the purpose of transport between Scotland and the rest of the UK, he asked.
The issue is an important one, said Greening.
Airport operator BAA wants to stay competitive, with connections to new markets, and the government, including the Prime Minister, takes a keen interest in such matters.
Tom Harris (Lab) raised the likely scenario of a conflict of interests between passengers and airlines. Could the bill not state that “the CAA’s prime obligation is to passengers and that the airlines are specifically a secondary priority?” “I do not think we need to go that far,” replied Greening. It is enough that the bill clarified the CAA’s primary focus must be consumers, she added.
The bill was right to emphasise that increased competition would give consumers more choice, said Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz, but how would it address situations not relevant to competition, such as passengers facing long queues to get on and off planes?
“The bill cannot deliver absolutely everything in respect of the aviation industry,” admitted Greening.
But, she added, “Competition is working.” Greening continued: “We are seeing competition lead to far more investment on that side of airport operations. I have seen that development for myself, and I greatly welcome it.” Under the proposed changes, the CAA will give consumers the means to compare the different services on offer and to judge for ourselves which ones they want to buy. Finally, Greening said: “The CAA would arrange for consumer information to be published to help passengers and freight users make more informed choices about what is on offer, while having regard to the principle that the benefits of information should outweigh the cost.
Similarly, the CAA would publish information for the public about the environmental effects of civil aviation in the UK, and the measures taken to limit environmental harm.”
02.02.12: Green Investment Bank
Murdo Fraser (Con): Should Edinburgh’s bid be successful, would the First Minister be surprised if, pending the outcome of the referendum, the UK green investment bank signed only a short-term lease?
The First Minister: I can say a number of things to Murdo Fraser. We have just established the headquarters of the British-Irish Council in this capital city of Edinburgh, recognising that there will be shared interests across these islands after Scottish independence, which will be deployed. I am sure that green investment will be a shared interest across these islands because, only yesterday, I had a meeting with the chief executive of the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets, in which he expressed his fear that, without substantial quantities of marine electricity coming down into the English market from the west and possibly the east coast of Scotland, security of supply of electricity to the English grid would be a severe issue. That would seem to me to be a shared interest. The UK energy minister Charles Hendry has also been discussing that issue with the Republic of Ireland.