Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee
Meeting date: Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Draft Climate Change Plan (RPP3), Petitions
European Beavers (PE1601)
Item 3 is two petitions, which we will consider in turn, starting with PE1601, on European beavers in Scotland.
The committee considered the petition at its meeting on 25 October 2016 and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform about the timescale for the decision on the legal status of beavers. The decision to allow the beaver populations to remain in Scotland and to extend protection under the law to the beaver as a European protected species was intimated to the committee on 28 November 2016. The committee has followed up the issue by writing again to the cabinet secretary to ask when the protection will come into law and what interim measures are in place. The petitioner has indicated that he sees no reason for the petition to continue now that a decision has been taken, although he would like the committee to continue to scrutinise that work.
I refer members to the papers and invite any comments.
I would be content to close the petition, on the understanding that an order will come to this committee at some point. I would like early sight of the strategic environmental assessment that covers that order, so that we are aware of how the Government has considered the issue.
We could write to the Government along those lines, to indicate that we would like early sight before the instrument comes to the committee.
As no one else has any comments, are we content to close the petition, with the caveats that we have just discussed?
Members indicated agreement.
Game Bird Hunting (Licensing) (PE1615)
PE1615 is on a state-regulated licensing system for game bird hunting in Scotland. It has been referred to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee following scrutiny by the Public Petitions Committee, which took evidence on the issue from stakeholders. Paper 4 outlines the scrutiny by the Public Petitions Committee and suggests some of the options that are available to this committee. Members may of course wish to suggest alternative actions.
I refer members to the papers and additional evidence that we have received and invite comments on the issue.
I am in favour of inviting the petitioner to give evidence to the committee, with a view to the committee discussing whether we need to invite other stakeholders after that session.
I take a slightly different view from that of Kate Forbes. In view of the fact that we are awaiting information on the European research, it might be helpful to write to the cabinet secretary to ask when that will come. Once there has been a brief time for the petitioner and the range of stakeholders to consider that information, it might then be appropriate to invite the stakeholders and the petitioner to give evidence.
First, let me note my entry in the register of members’ interests relating to shooting.
The petition seeks to address wildlife crime. Given the number of on-going activities on that issue, I propose that we dismiss the petition until such time as those other activities are exhausted. We have still to report back on the wildlife crime report, particularly with regard to the effectiveness of current penalties and investigation protocols, and I also contend that those who shoot are already licensed by the extremely rigorous shotgun and firearms regime. Furthermore, vicarious liability, which was introduced just five years ago, extends responsibility to those who would require the state licences that are proposed by the petition. Unless the Scottish Government has plans to regulate in this area, I see no reason to consider the petition further. However, I support Claudia Beamish’s suggestion that we write to the cabinet secretary for clarification of any further intentions in this area.
To be clear, are you saying that we should dismiss the petition or delay consideration of it?
I think that the petition should be dismissed at this stage.
I certainly would not favour dismissing the petition, because I think that it considers multiple issues, with wildlife crime being only one narrow aspect. I back the call to write to the cabinet secretary to try to get more definition of the word “shortly” in his indication that international research on licensing will be produced “shortly”. In that letter, we need to identify an indicative timescale for when this committee will consider the petition. I would not like us to get hung up on the definition of “shortly”. For example, if we were ready to go on this in March, that would give the Government enough time to respond and, hopefully, issue the comparative study that will be important for our on-going understanding of how licensing systems can or cannot work.
I must say that I am tempted to go along with Mark Ruskell’s suggestion. Do other members have views?
I agree with Mark Ruskell’s suggestion and would be against dismissing the petition at this stage—that would seem to me to be extremely unfair. I agree that we should write to the cabinet secretary for further information.
You are, of course, a member of the Public Petitions Committee, which passed this petition to us.
Yes; I should have declared that.
I think that Mark Ruskell makes a fair point. I am totally opposed to closing the petition at this stage. It would be useful to write to the cabinet secretary along the lines that we have discussed.
We have a divergence of opinion in the committee, so I would like to hear some more views.
People have contacted me about issues around the matter that the petition is concerned with, so I am in favour of inviting the petitioner and/or other stakeholders to speak to the committee, so that we can explore the matter further.
The reason why I suggested that we invite people to speak to us in the committee is that I am keen to give the matter the attention that it deserves. However, I support the timeframe that Claudia Beamish has set out.
We have two proposals. One is to dismiss the petition completely at this stage; the other is to write to the Scottish Government to seek information and to invite the petitioner and, potentially, stakeholders to speak to the committee at a date that is not too far in the future.
Given the mood of the committee, it would be sensible for us to write to the cabinet secretary, as has been suggested, and consider further options once we have a response from the Scottish Government.
We should be sure that we highlight the need to receive the information from abroad as soon as possible. However, from my previous experience of issues such as concerns around goose numbers, I would say that we should not wait for every country to respond. I highlight that because we could end up being involved in quite a long process and I agree with Mark Ruskell’s point that we need to act quite quickly.
Are we content to proceed on the basis of what has been outlined?
Members indicated agreement.
To summarise, we will write to the cabinet secretary to seek the information that has been discussed, working to a timeframe whereby March is roughly when the committee will come to firmer conclusions on the action that it wishes to take.
Will that encompass information on how current legislation is working with regard to the outcomes that the petitioner is looking for? Will we get further evidence on what is already in place?
Do you mean the measures that Mr Burnett talked about? Are you suggesting that we ask about the Scottish Government’s views on how the other measures, such as general licensing, are working?
Yes. We should ask how the current legislation is being implemented.
Okay; that seems a reasonable point to make. I think that we have agreed a way forward on that.
At our next meeting, on 7 February, the committee will take evidence from stakeholders on the Scottish Government’s draft climate change plan, RPP3, with regard to resource use, the water industry, the public sector, peatlands and land use. The committee will also consider draft letters to the commission on parliamentary reform and to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.
As agreed earlier, we will now move into private session.12:01 Meeting continued in private until 12:51.
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