01.03.12: Schmallenberg Virus
Alex Fergusson (Con) asked the First Minister what steps had been taken to combat Schmallenberg virus in the event of its spread to Scotland. The disease causes often fatal deformities in lambs that can also force farmers to destroy ewes during lambing, and has recently spread to England from the continent.
Salmond recognised that it was an issue that rural Scotland was concerned about, and said: “It is important to emphasise that no cases of the virus have been reported in Scotland thus far. However, we remain vigilant. As soon as the Scottish Government became aware of the emerging disease, it alerted key stakeholders through a conference on 20 January and held a follow-up meeting on 27 January. The Scottish Agricultural College wrote to vets at the beginning of January to alert them to the disease’s symptoms and to encourage the reporting of suspicious cases. As Alex Fergusson is well aware, the Moredun Research Institute has been ready to test samples since 27 January.” Fergusson endorsed Salmond’s emphasis on early diagnosis and reporting of the virus, but went on to question plans to reduce the number of disease surveillance centres in Scotland. Last November, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment agreed to establish a strategic management board to oversee veterinary surveillance, which was a main recommendation of the Kinnaird report. Another of the report’s key recommendations was that the board should consider a phased reduction in the number of disease surveillance centres, “of which we have eight across the country,” Fergusson said.
“Can the First Minister ensure that no steps are taken to reduce the number of disease surveillance centres without the widest possible consultation and an absolute guarantee that the service’s speed and quality will not be adversely impacted by any changes, given the importance of early detection, diagnosis and reporting in combating Schmallenberg virus and other similar diseases?” Salmond said that he could give that guarantee.
“Alex Fergusson will appreciate that it is exactly to get that assurance that we are considering the review’s recommendations,” Salmond said. “He can be absolutely certain that we will ensure that adequate surveillance is in place and is retained for future needs.” The First Minister added: “This is perhaps an opportunity to get a wider audience for saying that farmers and vets are being encouraged to exercise vigilance and to report suspect cases voluntarily. Testing is provided free of charge by the Moredun Institute.
That approach is working well. At this early stage of the lambing season, three suspect cases have been reported, but the tests have all proved negative.”
01.03.12: Tyre dumping
Colin Beattie (SNP) asked Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, what steps were being taken to combat the dumping of tyres in rural areas.
Lochhead replied: “The Scottish Government works closely with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Zero Waste Scotland on the specific issue of waste tyres. Recent joint SEPA and local authority initiatives targeting illegal operators have resulted in significant reductions in the instances of illegal tyre dumping. For example, in 2010 in the North Lanarkshire and Glasgow areas, Operation Aspen resulted in a 71 per cent reduction in incidents.” In a follow-up question, Beattie suggested that “tracking of individual tyre disposal” might be needed to address the problem.
Linda Fabiani (SNP) also asked a question on the subject, claiming that SEPA regulations were “overly difficult” and made it more difficult for the public to recycle old tyres. Lochhead replied that he supported the polluter-pays principle, adding: “We must have regulations in place but, if they can be simplified, I will consider that.”
01.03.12: Climate Justice
Environment and Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson opened the debate – the first in any parliament in the world on climate justice – by praising the agreement reached at the Durban conference in 2011 on a second commitment period to the Kyoto Accord, and emphasising Scotland’s role as a “progressive” example of tough carbon reduction targets. He also set out his definition of climate justice as: “global justice for the many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten: the world’s poor, disempowered and marginalised. By the way, I should point out that that does not exclude people in our own communities. This is not simply an international issue.” Steveson continued: “Speaking in Edinburgh last September, Al Gore set out his belief that clear evidence from events in Pakistan, China, South Korea and Colombia shows that climate change is directly responsible for extreme and devastating floods, storms and droughts.” Stevenson then went on to outline the work of the Scottish Government to have climate justice reflected in the outcome of the Durban talks. “For the past two years, we have been strengthening Scotland’s support for developing countries on climate change,” said Stevenson. “The Scottish partnerships that were announced in Copenhagen and Cancún support developing countries on renewable and clean energy through, for example, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute. Our international development fund has supported the University of Strathclyde’s work on community solar power in Malawi.
“To coincide with the Durban conference, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs and I announced the next call for project proposals to the International Development Fund for renewable projects of a value of up to £1.3 million in the countries of Zambia, Rwanda and Tanzania. Most recently, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs announced a significant contribution to our efforts on climate justice—a £1.7 million programme of renewable energy activity in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, to help set it on the road to green growth.” Claudia Beamish (Lab) welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to climate justice, but said that it had to “get its own house in order”, and attacked a 40 per cent cut to the active travel budget, and raised concerns from WWF Scotland that carbon reduction targets might not be met.
Patrick Harvie (Green) also sounded a note of caution. “Before we live up to [these] aspirations, we have far more to do domestically on energy, transport, and food. Too often our priorities benefit those who are already doing OK, particularly when we look at how we spend our money in Scotland. They benefit those who are already able to consume the energy that they wish to consume, to eat the food that they wish to eat, and to travel in their chosen manner. We place a much lower priority on those who do not have those options.”