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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 26, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 26 October 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Disability Sport, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Strategy, Diet and Obesity Strategy, Hydro Nation, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


Hydro Nation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08378, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the hydro nation: maximising the abundant benefits of our water resources.

15:32  

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

As we all know, water is life. It is a vital part of Scotland’s natural capital that underpins everything that we do. Our economy, environment, health and wellbeing are all inextricably linked to water. With around 70 per cent of the area and 90 per cent of the volume of Britain’s inland surface water, Scotland is extremely fortunate to have such a critical resource in abundance.

As a resource that underpins key industries such as food and drink, water of course also presents opportunities—opportunities to develop its value, to understand and optimise its use, to harness its power to increase the productivity and efficiency of our industries, and to enjoy its aesthetic qualities and contribution to our health, wellbeing and leisure. We should demonstrate exemplary practice in managing all our natural resources, leading by example and sharing with the world the knowledge and expertise that we have acquired in water.

All those factors come together under the aims and objectives of hydro nation. Our vision of Scotland as a hydro nation recognises the critical importance of water as part of our national and international identity. Today, I will outline how we are developing the economic and non-economic value of our water resources to deliver on our ambition to be a world leader in its responsible management. The approach is ambitious, innovative and outward looking. It places the people of Scotland at its centre and recognises our duty to them and to the environment that sustains us all.

In a world where over a billion people do not have access to clean water and many more live without basic sanitation, we see a clear role for Scotland to help to make a difference. I will set out some of the groundbreaking international work that is being undertaken in the name of hydro nation that is already improving lives and underpinning the Government’s commitment to the United Nations sustainable development goals. However, I will begin closer to home.

In Scottish Water, we benefit from a world-class utility that provides water and sewerage services through a public ownership model for the benefit of the vast majority of people in Scotland. We can take great pride that, year on year, its levels of performance show what can be achieved by a well-managed and highly motivated public sector organisation.

Since its establishment, Scottish Water has reduced service costs by over 40 per cent, environmental incidents by 34 per cent and leakage by 50 per cent. Equally significantly, Scottish Water has reduced its carbon footprint by nearly a quarter since it first reported in 2006. This year, the company reached an important milestone by facilitating enough renewable generation to meet 100 per cent of its electricity requirements. I emphasise that all that is in the context of an average household charge that is £38 lower than in England and Wales.

As well as underpinning our economy as a whole, water is a key business sector in its own right. It has now been recognised as such by our enterprise and development agencies so that we can tailor and deliver the support that it needs to grow and flourish. Scottish Development International has recently published an updated capability statement that presents our key strengths, experience and expertise.

In terms of the breadth of business support, innovation is integral to our approach. The establishment of the hydro nation water innovation service means that the sector is now benefiting from targeted and dedicated specialist one-to-one support to help tackle the barriers that are faced by small and medium-sized businesses in bringing their products to market. That is supported by two full-scale testing facilities at operational Scottish Water sites: Gorthleck for water treatment and Bo’ness for waste water. During the summer, I visited the Gorthleck plant and saw for myself how it is helping innovative businesses to develop their products. It is also hosting technical trials to review the feasibility of employing decentralised water supplies for remote households, which are growing our understanding of the options for an alternative provision model for those on private supplies who are struggling to maintain their existing supply. We remain fully committed to the service and are at an advanced stage of preparing to procure its evolution.

Sitting alongside the industry, our academic and research sector is delivering groundbreaking research, including through CREW—Scotland’s centre of expertise for waters—and our innovative and challenging postgraduate hydro nation scholars programme. Funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by the James Hutton Institute, CREW provides a vital knowledge hub where calls for research are co-ordinated across academic institutions, Government and the water sector, which helps to improve the understanding of water in the environment, industry, pollution, resource management and technology. The scholars programme is designed to deliver the water leaders of the future, with a cohort of 19 talented PhD scholars studying a wide range of topics that have been identified as key to moving forward understanding and enhancing Scotland’s reputation as a centre for academic excellence. The programme delivered its first alumnus this summer.

Our industry is supported by a unique and internationally respected model of governance and regulation that reflects the sense of community and shared purpose that hydro nation has engendered. Our economic, environmental and drinking water quality regulators work closely and interconnectedly with Government and Scottish Water to improve performance and promote the sector’s interests. Their expertise and impact is increasingly recognised through demand for advisory services to address challenges in other jurisdictions.

We have recently established the hydro nation international theme to reach out to the world and share our academic excellence and expertise in water governance and water management technology. Our approach aims to bring better coherence, alignment and consistency to our international activity, including the management of collaborative research projects; to deliver more actively managed academic networks that can respond collectively to funding call opportunities; and to support other opportunities for the wider sector.

I must make special mention of Malawi, a country with which we enjoy a special relationship. We are committed to supporting Malawi through hydro nation’s contribution to the climate justice fund, with the aim of making the sustainable development goal 6 a reality. The programme has already delivered access to clean and safe water to more than 33,000 people, improved water resource management skills for more than 6,000 people, and resulted in more than 4,000 people using new irrigation techniques and conservation agriculture practices. We are building on those successes by extending the scope to include water pump technology enhancement trials, which will increase efficiency, and we are working with major United Kingdom retailers to secure in-country water sustainability for key export products such as tea and coffee.

We are also responding to the huge potential and need in India in relation to water resources by engaging with key Indian partners to introduce hydro nation and help build links between the scientific research and business communities. We are also exploring with our Indian partners the mechanisms for developing pilot technical projects with the potential to tackle some of India’s most pressing water issues.

In considering how hydro nation can make a significant global impact, we also recognise the public sector’s potential to provide commercial and advisory services relating to water. My officials are working with a number of bodies, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Water Industry Commission for Scotland and Scottish Water International to understand and develop the potential for cross-sectoral collaboration and the structures to support that.

In these remarks, I have set out how we are delivering across each of the themes that are set out in the hydro nation strategy that was agreed with the hydro nation forum, which I chair: supporting our domestic industry; maintaining and improving service and quality standards for customers; and driving down carbon impacts through innovative energy generation. For those on private supplies, we will continue to pursue suitable options for an alternative provision model.

We will build on our academic strengths to ensure Scotland’s place as a thought leader on water issues and continue to deliver on our commitment to the sustainable development goals through targeted international activity. We will develop and support new commercial opportunities for our businesses and public bodies, at home and overseas, developing our water economy and enhancing its contribution to a low-carbon economy that benefits all of Scotland.

I hope that, with these remarks, I have been able to bring home to members in the chamber who might not otherwise have been aware of the breadth of activity that goes on beneath the broad heading of hydro nation that Scotland is being recognised internationally as a country with expertise parallel to none, and I want to commend hydro nation to the chamber.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the importance of water to Scotland’s national and international identity, and supports action to develop the water economy, as promoted by the Hydro Nation agenda, which is helping to make Scotland a world-leader in the responsible management of water resources by developing economic and non-economic value through the high level of performance demonstrated by Scottish Water, supporting the wider water industry and international activity, which, together, make a contribution to the UN's sustainable development goals and Scotland’s low-carbon economy.

15:42  

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am delighted to open for the Scottish Conservatives in this important debate on Scotland’s water. Living about an hour away from Dalness in beautiful Glen Etive, which is Britain's wettest place, and in an area—the west Highlands—that is one of the wettest parts of western Europe, I have seen my fair share of water. As a result, though, I particularly appreciate the value of our water and the many means by which we can use it to benefit local communities and our economy. I am proud of the fact that the region that I represent here contributes such a significant and important natural resource, and I am upbeat about the progress that has been made in delivering the ultimate goal of making Scotland a hydro nation.

We on this side of the chamber welcome the publication of the Scottish Government’s hydro nation review report, and I thank the Scottish Government for publishing it well in advance of this debate. Indeed, we welcome the fact that the report was produced past the point at which reports are required by statute, and we hope that the Scottish Government will continue to provide Parliament with regular updates on the progress of the hydro nation agenda through the lifetime of this Parliament.

I am delighted that much progress is being made. Given that Scotland’s water is worth £1.8 billion per annum to the Scottish economy, it is vital that we continue to invest, improve and lead the way in building the water economy. We welcome the many areas of progress that are noted in the report, and at this point I pay tribute to the scholars programme which, as the report points out, has produced its first scholar, Dr Christopher Schulz, alongside 16 other PhD scholars who are immersed in the programme. I am also proud of the fact that, as we continue to build our own water industry and economy, we are sharing those practices internationally, in particular with developing countries such as Malawi—which I will come back to later—to help them develop a thriving water economy.

We also welcome the fact that, as a result of the focus on the water economy, new technologies are being brought to market that will help, over time, boost the economic benefit of Scotland’s water. In particular, we know that one of the goals of hydro nation is to deliver a low-carbon water nation and to ensure that we manage our water resource so that it reduces its carbon intensity. In that respect, it would have been interesting if the report had elaborated on what specifically is being done in that area, particularly the progress in delivering new technologies for treating waste water and producing clean drinking water, which, as we know, is very energy intensive. It will be interesting, nonetheless, to learn about the success of the new water treatment technologies that are currently being trialled at the Gorthleck innovation test centre, which the cabinet secretary mentioned.

We strongly welcome the work that is being done by the programme to support other countries to develop similar water programmes. I am encouraged by the strength of our continued relationship with Malawi and the manner in which that long-standing and historic connection has allowed us to share ideas, create new success stories for each other, and cement the positive impact that multination partnerships have on that state and its citizens. The report notes many positive steps in that relationship and how we are helping Malawi to develop its water economy, ensuring that its citizens can have the kind of access to water that we often take for granted. Furthermore, we are encouraged by the support that has been offered to India, and the best practice that is being shared with many developed states such as Ireland, Canada and Australia.

However, our global commitments to improve water resource will not be met simply through the action of one Government, which is why I strongly welcome the interventions of the UK Government and its excellent record in this sphere. The UK Government has committed to ensuring that another 60 million people are able to access clean water and sanitation by 2020. That is an ambitious target that will be met only through our continued commitment to international development. Between 2011 and 2015, the Department for International Development helped 64.5 million people gain access to clean water, improved sanitation or better hygiene conditions. DFID has built new wells, pumps, standpipes, toilets and sewerage systems, which is work that complements the work that has been done by the Scottish Government and by private sector organisations, charities and others here in Scotland.

Of course, the drive to improve global water access and treatment does not only involve the efforts of the Scottish or UK Governments, because our people have played a strong part in supporting water development abroad. Across Scotland, there are many individuals, small businesses, and charities that have set out to go further and support people whom the state has not yet been able to help. The Edinburgh-based beer firm Brewgooder is one good example of that. It was set up with a mission to donate 100 per cent of its profits to clean water charities and set a target of ensuring that 1 million people can get access to drinking water. So far, since 2016, it has helped 33,000 people and supported 60 different projects in Malawi, and I am sure that everyone in the chamber wishes it the best of luck as it strives to meet its overarching target.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I have a question that perhaps one of Mr Cameron’s colleagues can answer in their speech. The first part of the amendment talks about the recovery of phosphoros. I am interested to know whether that is for economic or environmental reasons because, of course, by the time the phosphorus from human waste is in waste water, it is extremely dilute, and I think that the recovery would not be economic. I would be interested to hear someone from the Conservative benches address that point.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is a technical question for you, Mr Cameron. Do you have the answer?

Donald Cameron

It is certainly an environmental point, if I can put it like that. Maurice Golden will go on to deal with the question—that is a hospital pass, if ever there was one.

There is a need to go further. Although the report sets out clear areas where there have been significant achievements, we on these benches feel that there are other important areas that have not been covered by the report. For example, there continues to be a concern over pharmaceutical pollution, which is largely caused by the improper disposal of medicines and human excreta. The non-profit organisation Health Care Without Harm states that many waste water treatment facilities are unable to completely filter our many of those pharmaceutical drugs and, as a result, those pollutants can impact land and other surface waters. Similarly, there are issues with the number of PCB—polychlorinated biphenyl—chemicals that are not able to be removed from waste water.

The cabinet secretary mentioned a local issue in my region that I am acutely aware of. I have dealt with several cases on behalf of my constituents concerning the difficulty that many people who live in remote communities have with getting their property connected to the mains water supply network. If they cannot have that done, they must rely on a private supply where the water quality and flow can often be an issue. I press the cabinet secretary to work hard for people in that position. Although there are obvious logistical and financial challenges, if we are to have a truly inclusive water economy, we should not forget the needs for everyone resident in Scotland when it comes to accessing a safe and reliable water supply

I will end by reiterating that, although there are some areas that need improvement, the Scottish Conservatives are confident that good progress is being made in a number of areas, and we commend the Scottish Government and its agencies for facilitating that progress.

I move amendment S5M-98378.1, to insert at the end:

“; recognises that the current level of phosphorus and priority substance recovery from waste water is not desirable; agrees that river basin management and flood-risk management could be improved in order to improve water quality and reduce the impact of flooding, and believes that the market for business customers is imperfect and needs to be more competitive”.

15:50  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the hydro nation update report. Our dramatic coastlines, glistening lochs, powerful rivers and peaceful canals are important to Scotland at a fundamental level. Water resources support numerous industries, bring in tourism, boost our health and wellbeing, and provide about a quarter of our renewable energy output—and, of course, we drink it.

The continued preservation of the purity of our water resources and the careful monitoring of our supply are deeply important. The beauty of water landscapes is a strong pull for many tourists visiting Scotland, and the variety of attractions that are provided to us both by nature and by innovative industries cater to many interests.

When people around the world think of Scotland, our whisky comes to the minds of many. This iconic industry absolutely relies on a pure and reliable water source. While an extremely refined palate might be needed to guess the source of the water used, clean water is used in the numerous vital stages of the whisky-making process.

Water is significant for our sense of wellbeing. I highlight our canal system, a public asset that has made progressive strides in diversifying its value thanks to the efforts of Scottish Canals. In Glasgow, a collaborative initiative, the metropolitan Glasgow strategic drainage partnership, is under way to alleviate flood risk—which is a very important aspect of the management of our water—and to regenerate the underused land along canal ways. In Maryhill in Glasgow, canal-side land is being developed for social housing. That is a high-quality placemaking initiative, and the canal holds special opportunities for further developments in recreation and tourism, active travel and environmental improvement.

Hydro power is one of our oldest forms of renewable energy, and my colleagues on these benches will say more about that. It is easy to visualise the harnessable energy from the power of a rushing river or burn. The capacity potential of hydro power is significant—enough, I understand, to power more than 1 million homes, but achieving that is complex and will require joined-up policy across all levels of government.

For communities with water sources nearby, small-scale hydro schemes are an exciting opportunity. In my South Scotland region, members of the Strathaven town mill have plans for a hydro scheme to generate electricity for the Strathaven Town Mill Arts and Heritage Centre, which is an example of a small charity dealing with big organisations and agencies such as Scottish Water, SEPA, the local authority and Scottish Power. With complex processes and contracts to negotiate, that is highly prohibitive for such organisations—except for the most determined applicants. Consideration should be given to allocating a project manager who can act as an overarching liaison on behalf of such community groups.

The nature of hydro energy means that output will fluctuate with the weather, which can make projecting an income difficult, yet funding requests require applicants to provide detailed forecasts. Furthermore, this year’s revaluation of business rates has left some small-scale hydro schemes facing rates increases of up to 650 per cent, I understand, which is completely unsustainable and unaccommodating.

We should be doing all we can to help such community-led initiatives stand on their own two feet, and to recognise the importance of the hydro power sector, at all scales, to Scotland’s energy future. If we truly want to support public initiatives and bolster community ownership, simplicity and flexibility are key.

In the context of sustainable development goal 6, to which the cabinet secretary has already referred, the Parliament of course recognises the daily and pervasive challenge of water safety and scarcity that many countries around the world face. The hydro nation’s targeted support through the climate justice fund is so important for the empowerment of communities in nations such as Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda. The cabinet secretary also highlighted the work that is being done in India. I know from having been on the cross-party group on Malawi until recently that policy coherence across the portfolios is really important in what the Scottish Government is doing in that regard.

Water is our most basic need, and the benefits of a reliable and clean water source permeate so many aspects of life.

Although there is much in the Tory amendment to support, especially on dealing more robustly with the waste water challenges, as well as recognising the need for further flood management, we are not in a position to support the amendment due to the possible implications of further privatisation of Scottish Water Business Stream, which would not be in the public interest.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The member is just closing.

Claudia Beamish

Sorry?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I said that you are just closing. I have given you a little bit of extra time, but I will give you another 30 seconds.

Claudia Beamish

Thank you.

We will support the Scottish Government motion.

I move amendment S5M-08378.3, to insert at end:

“reiterates the importance the Hydro Nation’s support through the targeted Climate Justice Fund to water-scarce nations such as Malawi; calls on the Scottish Government to address the devolved barriers to the development of new hydro schemes, and recognises the value that excellent water resources add to Scotland's tourism and food and drink industries.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate, with speeches of four minutes or thereabouts. There is a little bit of time in hand for interventions and members will get back their time.

15:56  

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

The Scottish Government’s ambition to build the nation of Scotland into a truly hydro nation is an inspiring approach to utilising our country’s world-renowned natural resource.

I will use my time in this short debate to share how the Stirling constituency that I represent contributes to one of the Scottish Government’s key objectives: promoting our water resources as a source of clean, green, economic benefit. At the same time, I will assess our relationship with our water resources in a wider context.

Members will be aware that the spectacular Loch Katrine is located in my constituency. The loch not only is the birthplace of Rob Roy MacGregor, but has been the primary source of water for much of the city of Glasgow and the surrounding area since the mid-1800s. The connecting infrastructure to Milngavie water treatment works was initially opened in 1859 by Queen Victoria; a second aqueduct was opened in 1901.

Today, Loch Katrine is owned by Scottish Water, which manages a system that can deliver almost half a billion litres of water a day—yes, half a billion—to more than 700,000 residents in the surrounding area. That is a hell of a lot of water for 700,000 residents right enough. [Laughter.]

The loch is famously the water source for one of Scotland’s most widely consumed pints: Tennent’s lager. Loch Katrine’s contribution to the local area does not stop at its impressive supply of quality consumable water; it is also an attraction for tourists from around the globe. The SS Sir Walter Scott steamboat has provided sailings on the loch for 117 years and it is still a huge hit with visitors.

Loch Katrine is an incredible asset to the local community. It encourages visitor support to local businesses and is a perfect example of a natural water resource being used to further the economic potential of the surrounding area.

Loch Katrine is nestled in the heart of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park—an area that I share with Jackie Baillie; occasionally, we have had ice cream alongside the water of Loch Lomond.

Members: Oh!

Bruce Crawford

The national park is home to 44 approved hydro schemes, of which 35 are in operation. The total output is 21.7MW, which is enough to power a staggering 15,400 homes, or almost half my constituency. One of the schemes, the Callander community hydro project, sells the energy produced, which creates a financial revenue stream for the entire community.

I was a bit surprised that Claudia Beamish picked up on the business rates issue, because my understanding from the hydro operators in my part of the world is that they are quite delighted with the discounted scheme that Derek Mackay, the finance secretary, introduced to deal with that issue.

Claudia Beamish

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You can, Mr Crawford, but you are staggering into your last minute.

Bruce Crawford

I will.

Claudia Beamish

My understanding from the community groups was that the business rates have been increased, so I will follow that up. I thank the member for making that point.

Bruce Crawford

I have shared a taste of what is happening in my constituency about our relationship with water and what can be taken to other parts of our country and around the globe. The Loch Katrine project was born out of a radical reform issue for the health of the city of Glasgow. If we could do that two centuries ago, just imagine what extra we could do around the globe today.

We need to be more imaginative about how we use our water resource. I would like to promote the idea that the A84, which connects my constituency to Oban, is a perfect route for numerous small hydro schemes to power charging points for electric vehicles. Such an approach would go some way to preparing our country for the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles. All that it would take is some out-of-the-box thinking. I will leave members with that thought on how best we can utilise the fantastic resource that is Scotland’s water.

16:00  

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to farming.

I thank those members whose opening speeches have highlighted the great water resources that we have here in Scotland and highlighted that today’s debate is a consensual one.

Scotland has the wettest climate in the United Kingdom, which many farmers are all too aware of after this season’s stop-start harvest. This has been one of the most difficult harvests for many years; I have to go back to 1985 to remember one as wet as this. It has meant combines stuck in fields, high grain-drying costs and real frustration for our farmers. However, while too much rain can be a nuisance, too little rain is a disaster. In a world that is constantly demanding more food and water, Scotland is in an enviable position, which means that Scotland is green, beautiful and agriculturally productive.

Because of our abundant and pure supplies, Scotland is one of Europe’s leaders in bottled water production—a real growth story, building successful businesses that are taking a big share of the ever-increasing demand for bottled water. Water is instrumental in the production of many of our key food and drink industries. The Scotch whisky industry, which is one of Scotland’s greatest assets, uses large quantities of water throughout the production process. Without adequate supplies of pure, clean water, the whole distilling industry could not survive. Scotch whisky is the top contributor to the UK balance of trade and Scotland’s largest export, and it contributes nearly £5 billion a year to the economy. The industry is built on our natural water resources and our fine malting barley.

I am proud to see that Scotland and the United Kingdom are doing so much internationally to share our knowledge and to help nations all over the world to access clean drinking water and better sanitation—something that we take for granted living in such a water-rich country. Hydro nation contributes to the climate justice fund, which supports work in Malawi, and is a good example of Scotland helping internationally. The UK Government’s Department for International Development is committed to matching the success of the 2011 to 2015 programme by helping at least another 60 million people to get access to clean water and sanitation by 2020. I am pleased to see that the first students who are participating in the hydro nation scholar programme are approaching the completion of their PhD studies. I wish them success for their futures and I hope that they can use their expertise to help with Scotland’s hydro nation future.

Scotland has a long and proud history of hydro power development. The technology is one of the oldest forms of renewable energy in Scotland, with roots going back more than half a century. Indeed, in the north of Scotland way back then, we did not speak about getting electricity installed—we called it “the hydro”.

Scotland also has huge capacity for pumped storage, which is a technology that can bring multiple benefits to the generation system by ensuring that power is always available when it is most needed; it provides power at peak demand and then uses cheap electric at night, when demand is low, to pump water back up to the high dam, ready to be released again the next day. Hydro power already provides around a quarter of Scotland’s renewable energy output, which is the equivalent of 12 per cent of our electricity needs. With significant untapped resources, that home-grown industry has potential to deliver even more.

I have mentioned some of the great benefits of Scotland’s abundant water supply, how we can maximise our potential and how we will continue to share our knowledge and expertise around the world. I welcome the Government’s ambition for Scotland to become a world-leading hydro nation.

16:05  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

In our living room at home, a large paraffin lamp sits to the right of the fireplace. The lamp is relevant to the debate because it is the lamp by which my wife used to do her school homework until the hydro delivered electricity to 14 Lochend, just outside Inverness. The history of Scotland is interwoven with the history of our use of water.

We in Scotland are fortunate. When we go out of this building at night and the rain is coming down, we curse gently and reach for our brollies or waterproof caps; in the Sahara, people would be dashing around to collect and preserve the precious resource. For many people in the world, access to water, and in particular to potable water, is increasingly difficult. It is undoubtedly the case that water is so precious that it has been the cause of wars and battles—and it might be again in the future.

Water is a naturally occurring chemical; H2O is probably the most highly recognised chemical formula in the world. It is known universally, even to people with no particular knowledge of chemistry.

Those of us who are fortunate owe a duty to those who are less fortunate. The distribution is maladroit; where there are huge communities of people around the world, there is often little water. We have the potential to show the way on technologies to do with water. We can show leadership.

Bruce Crawford talked about how our Victorian predecessors created the infrastructure on which we continue to depend. In those days there were great debates—particularly in Glasgow when waste water infrastructure was being put in—about whether it was economically or socially desirable to do that. I do not imagine there being any interest in having such a debate today.

Water delivers a public good in Scotland and around the world; it must also be delivered for the public good. Scottish Water is an exemplar of how Scottish Governments of all hues can use our resources in a way that benefits our communities. We can use our natural resources to generate power, and the excess of resource enables us to support others around the world.

Redundant assets in our infrastructure, such as disused sewage treatment works, could become modern recycling plants. There is the hint of a desire to recycle phosphorus—I am waiting to hear from Maurice Golden on that. Phosphorus was first discovered in human waste water in 1669. I do not know whether Maurice Golden will encourage us in that regard.

Climate change is causing an even bigger skew in the availability of water to people around the world. The Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which I am always happy to support, has made that a central plank of its campaign.

In Scotland, one of our most important exports is whisky, or uisge-beatha—the minister will no doubt criticise my pronunciation. “Uisge” means water; it is the essential ingredient of our national drink.

16:09  

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, particularly because I have hydro schemes in my constituency, which contribute a great deal to the local economy.

Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to harness electricity from its waters. As many members know, the Labour Party has a proud history of using hydro power to deliver social improvement. It was the late Tom Johnston—he was born in Kirkintilloch and was a Labour Secretary of State for Scotland—who was the driving force behind the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act 1943, which had the ambition to deliver power and social improvement to the people of the Highlands. The North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board was created following the act and is regarded as one of Tom Johnston’s greatest achievements. The board’s first hydroelectric scheme was in my constituency at Sloy dam, at the top of Loch Lomond; it was commissioned in 1950.

We are nothing if not parochial, so of course I argue that Loch Lomond rivals Loch Katrine. I also point out that Bruce Crawford and I did indeed share an ice cream on the campaign trail; I am duty bound to say that he did not pay for it.

Scotland’s hydro legacy is still visible. The hydro building programme of the 1950s and 1960s resulted in infrastructure that still produces electricity today; Sloy dam is still going strong. There are also new hydro power schemes at Luss in my area, and there are plans for a community-run scheme in Arrochar.

Hydro power supplies 12 per cent of Scottish energy at present, but there is huge untapped potential to develop more hydro schemes. In my area, I have found that smaller schemes are highly efficient, generally have fewer environmental concerns attached to them and create a number of new and highly skilled jobs. If it is to make the potential of the hydro power sector a reality, the Scottish Government must do everything in its power to create an environment in which businesses feel comfortable about making long-term investment decisions that will create and sustain jobs.

That takes me to a brief discussion of business rates. I very much welcome the finance secretary’s recent announcement that he will fast track valuation of hydro schemes and increase the upper threshold for relief to a rateable value of £5 million from 1 April 2018. That said, there is an absence of clarity about whether schemes to generate more than 1MW will be entitled to any rates relief at all, and those businesses are struggling with the huge increase in business rates now.

What I considered to be a small-scale hydro power plant in my constituency, with a size of 1.042MW, went from paying nothing in business rates up to April 2016 to paying more than £90,000 for this financial year alone. The operators receive no relief whatever despite being only 0.04MW over the limit. There is little that they can do to reduce their costs except restructure their business and, when businesses are restructured, there is the possibility of losing staff. That hydro scheme is not only producing renewable energy that is good for our environment; it is a business that creates good-quality jobs and contributes a great deal to the economy in my constituency.

I respectfully ask the Scottish Government to reconsider business rates relief for hydro projects; otherwise, many may struggle to survive and new projects will not proceed beyond the drawing board.

16:13  

Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I have said before that climate change is one of the defining issues of our age and, in the Highlands and Islands, loads of great work is being done to enable us to find low-carbon solutions to meet our energy needs. Harnessing our renewable energy potential could transform my region from a low-wage economy with a long history of migration to a high-wage economy that attracts people. I will illustrate that point with a couple of hydro and marine energy examples.

Water is an abundant resource where I come from. More than half Scotland’s hydroelectric schemes operate in the Highlands and Islands, and hydro power contributes about 12 per cent of Scotland’s electricity. We need to take the opportunities in my region and elsewhere in the country to expand our hydro power industry.

In Ullapool, where I grew up, the community has been working hard over the past few years to create its own successful hydro project. At the opening of Parliament last year, representatives from BroomPower were my local heroes. I am sure that the cabinet secretary and all my colleagues will join me in congratulating the volunteers on all their hard work and perseverance, which has now delivered the project on time and within budget.

The steep-sided glens in the Lael forest and the very reliable annual rainfall of 110cm make the burns just south of Ullapool pretty energetic, and the project has the Scottish Government’s backing. The opportunity arose from an invitation from Forestry Commission Scotland for communities to develop hydro projects on local, state-owned woodland through the national forest land scheme. Lochbroom Community Renewables raised funds to take forward the project with a community share offer that had the strapline, “Invest today, change tomorrow”. The project raised £900,000 from individuals and businesses last summer and, next month, Flo the turbine—that inspirational name was given by local schoolchildren—will be generating electricity. I look forward to going along to the switch-on in a few weeks.

The brilliant thing about BroomPower is not just that local folk who invested might make some money but that any surplus income from the scheme will be used for projects in the future. The community benefit fund will go on for the next 20 years.

Marine energy is another way in which the renewables industry in the Highlands and Islands can be a constructive part of the hydro nation. The Highlands and Islands are home to the Pentland Firth and the waters around Orkney, which has one of the most active tidal areas in the world. That area of sea off our north coast contains 50 per cent of the UK’s tidal resource and 25 per cent of Europe’s tidal resource, and it has an incredible potential for marine energy generation.

It is no wonder that Orkney is home to the world’s only grid-connected wave and tidal test site at the European Marine Energy Centre. We also have MeyGen in the Pentland Firth, which is a world leader in tidal energy deployment and set a new record in tidal stream power production earlier this year.

That is an exciting industry that has incredible potential. The abundant resource and the cross-fertilisation of private industry and academic research make Orkney a fine example of a living laboratory. The people who work there are ambassadors for Scottish marine energy worldwide.

We are so lucky in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland to have such potential in our natural resources and, without doubt, water is central to that potential. The Government’s hydro nation agenda will make an important contribution to fulfilling that potential, which is great news for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland.

16:17  

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I welcome the hydro nation debate. It has been particularly heartening to hear about the international development work that has been taking place. I went to Malawi a number of years ago and met people who are directly impacted by the issue. Whether people have access to irrigation and sanitation is hugely important and can be the difference between life and death.

I turn to Scotland. One of the most dramatic benefits to have come as a result of our membership of the European Union has been from the directives that have improved the quality of our water at every turn of the water cycle. From the tap to the treatment works, and from the rivers to the seas, EU directives have set standards that have protected the health of our bodies, our beaches and our watercourses. It is vital that EU directives remain as the solid base for our environmental standards, whatever our future relationship with the EU might be.

Without the backstop of the European Court of Justice to enforce standards, I remain concerned about future Scottish Governments rolling back good progress. In closing, perhaps the minister will tell us what will replace the ECJ, given that the Government has now rejected environmental courts.

Keeping Scottish Water in public hands is critical to delivering on public needs at a time when pressures for post-Brexit market liberalisation will only grow. Alan Sutherland, who is the chief executive of the Water Industry Commission for Scotland, said recently that, in his personal view, the introduction of competition for household water

“would be a derisory idea”.—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 12 September 2017; c 23.]

Scottish Water has done little analysis of the impact of the trade deal between the EU and Canada—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. However, if the public status of Scottish Water is not challenged under CETA, it certainly could be under future trade deals that are cobbled together as part of empire 2.0. There are risks that the Scottish Government should be mindful of as it seeks to further develop its position on trade.

We started the week with a debate about technologies from the past that have no future, so it is good to shift the debate to a technology that had a critical role in our past and will have such a role for centuries to come. Like Jackie Baillie, I am a big fan of Tom Johnston, a former West Stirlingshire MP. The Labour Party’s early work was, of course, always its best, and the post-war vision of the hydro board brought hope and power to the glens. I doubt whether all the projects would have got through today’s environmental regulations, but they delivered Scotland’s first renewables revolution.

I was privileged to meet Pat Agnew, who was an engineer, a pamphleteer and a Green Party energy spokesperson in Scotland for many years. He worked on the Cruachan project and many others during the Tom Johnston era. Some 30 years ago, he envisaged a second renewables revolution based on wind working with hydro. Sadly, Pat Agnew is no longer with us, but his vision is definitely still alive in the aspirations of the Government today.

In this century, communities are using hydro’s strong social licence to build new generation projects. I join Bruce Crawford in paying tribute to the Callander Community Development Trust, whose project on the Stank Glen fits seamlessly with the landscape while delivering great financial benefits to the town. There is huge potential with hydro capacity, but we have to look at how to add certainty and de-risk the development of projects.

The UK Government’s cut in support for renewables has been damaging—especially for hydro, given its high up-front capital costs. The constant tinkering with the subsidy regimes destroys certainty for projects that seek commercial finance. Dramatic increases in business rates, although they have been averted for the time being, grid capacity constraints and charging regimes that do not recognise the benefits that hydro brings to the energy system can combine to make projects collapse and, if we do not get projects, we do not get community profit sharing.

I appreciate that many of those issues are not within the Scottish Government’s direct control, but building a unified position in the Parliament to support the next chapter in our hydro nation story is certainly worth fighting for.

16:21  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

In four minutes, it is difficult to do justice to a topic of this magnitude. I was tempted to donate my four minutes to Bruce Crawford, if only to find out how the afternoon with Jackie Baillie on the banks of Loch Lomond was to develop. Jackie Baillie has put an end to such speculation.

As the MSP for Orkney, I need no persuading about the extent to which our identity is shaped by water. At this time of year, that shaping can be rather more robust and unremitting than we would like. Nevertheless, I strongly support the energy aspects of the Government’s motion, to which I would add, as Maree Todd did, wave and tidal energy. It is right that many members have focused on the significant potential in hydro power, which already plays a significant part in our renewables production. There is real potential to grow that. Jackie Baillie’s point about small-scale projects is one that is worth holding on to.

Through pumped storage, there is also an opportunity to address security of supply. That needs routes to market, so I associate myself with the comments that Mark Ruskell made in relation to the challenges that face the sector.

I will concentrate on international activity. As the co-convener of the cross-party group on Malawi, I was delighted to see Claudia Beamish’s amendment highlighting the climate justice fund and the work that is being done specifically in relation to Malawi. I will talk about a couple of projects, one of which was alluded to by the cabinet secretary in her opening remarks.

I pay tribute to the University of Strathclyde, which is heavily involved in a wide range of projects in Malawi. One is to widen access to safe drinking water, and has been enabled through the climate justice fund water futures programme. Professor Kalin challenged his students to come up with a device that could be retrofitted to the almost ubiquitous hand pumps in Malawi. Benjamin McIntosh-Michaelis and his colleagues rose to that challenge. The Afridev Hi-Lift now provides the ability to deliver water well beyond the pump, to premises such as clinics, in a way that was not possible before, when water had to be delivered by hand, usually by women and children, and often over very large distances. I have failed to do the project justice, but there is more information in a recent article in The Scotsman from last month, courtesy of David Hope-Jones, who provides the secretariat to the cross-party group on Malawi.

The other project is by Tearfund Scotland; it is also supported through the climate justice fund. It deals with food security and the availability of clean and safe water, through better management of water resources. One of the initiatives in that project is being delivered in Salima district, where the community is taking back control. I received earlier this week from Charlie Bevan, who works for Tearfund Scotland, an email that brought home the significant impact that the project is having on that community by delivering safe and clean water.

We are undoubtedly a hydro nation. Exploiting that is a logical step for us to take because it plays to our strengths. That is not just to the benefit of Scots; it is—as the two projects that I mentioned, and others, demonstrate—to the real and tangible benefit of citizens across the world, in some of its most impoverished nations.

16:25  

Ben Macpherson (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)

I am glad to support the Scottish Government’s commitment to making Scotland a hydro nation. Water is fundamental to Scotland’s economy, health, social wellbeing and environment. Our reputation as a hydro nation is growing. Our water resource is significant and, in a world in which demand for food and water is ever increasing, there is good reason to nurture our water to ensure its long-term sustainable use.

From the Water of Leith today to the maritime heritage of Leith and Granton harbours, the use, management and quality of water resources in my constituency have always been extremely important. I pay tribute to all those who work in our water industry and who contributed to Scotland’s water heritage in the past. William Kinnimond Burton, for example, was an engineer who was born and educated in Edinburgh, and designed the water and sewerage systems in Japan and Taiwan in the 19th century, which helped to defeat outbreaks of cholera in Japan by providing safer and cleaner water. He is rightly revered there. He did his apprenticeship at Brown Brothers and Co—a firm of hydraulic and mechanical engineers—which was previously based in my constituency.

Today, it is the public servants of Scottish Water, and others in our water industry, whose efforts and contributions we should all highlight and value. In my constituency, that is particularly true when it comes to the Seafield waste water treatment works. It is an important facility in the city, which has a growing population. The performance of the treatment works is extremely important to the long-term sustainability of our water network.

I thank the cabinet secretary for the constructive work that she has done with me so far, and for her engagement with the communities that I represent in commissioning a strategic review of Seafield, which I am sure will make a significant difference. Tomorrow, its initial findings will be shared with the stakeholders group; I look forward to working collaboratively with the cabinet secretary thereafter to see what progress needs to be made.

One of the great strengths of the Seafield works so far is that, as part of its waste water treatment, it generates a significant amount of electricity on the site, which makes the plant more sustainable.

That leads to another area that I want to emphasise—utilisation of our hydro capacity through innovative energy generation, as part of our journey to becoming a low-carbon economy. Many members mentioned Scotland’s significant hydroelectric capacity. I, like others, was disappointed that the United Kingdom Government decided to cut feed-in tariffs of up to 45 per cent in respect of the development of hydro power, which unfortunately curtailed hydro power development after a recent period of renaissance.

Marine energy has also been highlighted: I will highlight tidal energy, in particular. Despite the fact that there is no specific contract for difference from the UK Government in the subsidy arrangement for tidal power, Scotland’s tidal power industry is making significant progress, including by Nova Innovation Ltd, which is based in my constituency and has successfully delivered phase 1 of the world’s first off-shore tidal array in Shetland, with an 80 per cent Scottish supply chain.

In conclusion, from Leith to elsewhere in Scotland, making Scotland a hydro nation and nurturing our water resource sustainably in the long term are crucial, and the hydro economy provides huge opportunities for growth. As a hydro nation, it is right for us to reach out to the world to share our knowledge and expertise, just as William Kinnimond Burton did in the 19th century.

16:30  

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I declare an interest as a 100 per cent shareholder in Water Distribution and Energy Services Ltd, which, although registered, is not trading.

I welcome this Government debate on Scotland becoming a hydro nation, which is a strategy that was first launched in 2012. If any members have read Fred Pearce’s book, “When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out?”, they will appreciate what a precious resource water—especially our Scottish water—is in a world that is rapidly warming due to climate change, and where potable water is a declining world resource, as Stewart Stevenson said.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, late of this Parliament, warned in a previous debate of future wars being caused by drought and lack of usable water. Although, living in Scotland, we take the resource for granted, significant water shortages have already occurred in Europe, notably in Spain and Cyprus, and north African and middle eastern countries are also daily becoming more arid.

I therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to develop Scotland’s hydro economy sustainably in order to maximise the economic benefit of our water resources. I also support the aspiration to raise our international profile as a leader in water management and governance.

In addition, I note the intention to develop a water research centre, and suggest that it could, ideally, be located in Ayrshire, and preferably in my constituency, given the abundance of water and rainfall in our area—more of which later. [Laughter.]

Without doubt, with the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, with climate change now happening in front of our eyes, with temperature rises taking place and sea-level rises also becoming a reality, the need to manage fresh water more carefully has never been greater, in terms not only of direct human consumption but of food production.

Many members know that the issue is dear to my heart—again, I declare an interest as a food producer—but we should recognise the enormous resource that we have in Scotland in terms of available fresh water. Of course, identifying a resource, and harnessing and exploiting it, are two different things.

For example, we have, as Maree Todd mentioned, an enormous resource in wave energy and in tidal energy, which we have not yet been able to access or harness significantly. Fresh water, although it is more manageable, has not yet been fully appreciated or recognised in Scotland for the resource that it will become in the future.

That is why I am a supporter of Scottish Water, and especially of Scottish Water Horizons. Scottish Water has become one of the Scottish Parliament’s success stories. It was first set up under Ross Finnie’s leadership, and Scottish Water’s success and the sensible use of taxpayer’s money have, in large part, put Scotland in the position of being able to aspire to becoming a hydro nation, as well as creating Scottish Water International.

Of course, more remains to be done on further improving water quality and river-basin management, as well as flood risk management. It would be remiss of me not to mention the flooding issues in Prestwick, in my constituency, which I have been raising in Parliament for many years now. Although other countries suffer from a lack of rain, part of Prestwick floods because the local drainage and sewerage system is unable to cope with the volumes of water and sewage that are now being delivered into the system. The system lacks the capacity to adequately deal with higher rainfall events.

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record on the subject, which is of great concern to my Prestwick constituents, I again ask the Government to fund Scottish Water to rectify the problem of external sewer flooding in my constituency and elsewhere. It is a request that I first made to Roseanna Cunningham in September 2010, according to the Scottish Parliament information centre, and it is a request that one of my constituents raised very recently with her at the Scottish National Party conference, I believe.

I welcome the debate and look forward to Scotland developing as a hydro nation.

16:34  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

Scotland’s vast water resource is not something that we have only recently come to recognise and nor is exploiting it a recent phenomenon. Against that historical backdrop there is an opportunity to adapt the innovation and technology of hundreds of years ago in order to meet modern demand and play a part in green energy generation.

Perth College, as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands has undertaken research to ascertain the number of historical small-scale hydro sites in north-east and central Scotland, which are predominantly old water mills. The work was carried out in collaboration with four local authorities: Aberdeenshire, Angus, Fife, and Perth and Kinross. The aim was to restore micro-hydro schemes for modern use. In my constituency, the location identified as having the greatest potential is the picturesque Barry mill. Powered by the Barry burn, the mill is a category A listed building that is owned and operated by the National Trust for Scotland. Barry mill, which goes back to the time of Mary Queen of Scots—therefore trumping Bruce Crawford’s Victorian example—is without doubt one of the greatest historical treasures in my constituency.

Bruce Crawford

Liam McArthur is probably able to trump everyone. From what I understand, Skara Brae has the oldest existing water supply, which dates from 3,000 BC and incorporated a working toilet.

Graeme Dey

I stand corrected. Being one of only a handful of mills still powered by water, Barry mill is also probably the largest and finest example of its type remaining in working order. The mill continues to be a real tourist attraction in Angus South, where visitors can enjoy guided tours and witness first-hand the intricate process of a fully operational grain mill.

The historical hydro power project is an incredibly exciting proposal. The next stage is for those behind it to work with local authorities to carry out a feasibility study on the selected sites. That would include assessments on a range of criteria, such as potential power output, proximity to the grid, and the capacity for community involvement in the project.

In my patch, Angus Council’s green economy officer has already met with the National Trust and they are working collaboratively to assess the viability of the proposals for Barry mill. I am aware that Perth College UHI is also working with local authorities and local energy Scotland to put together an application to kick-start a pilot project as soon as possible. I hope that the proposal for a micro-hydro energy scheme at Barry mill will become a reality.

The Scottish Government is right to have recognised in the draft energy strategy the role that hydro power can play. I welcome the capping of business rate increases to 12.5 per cent for small-scale hydro schemes and the 100 per cent rate relief that was put in place for all renewable projects that offer a 0.5MW profit share for their local community. I raised the first issue with the Government on behalf of constituents.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution also took a positive step when he announced last month that the Barclay review of plant and machinery will fast-track the valuation of hydro schemes. It is absolutely vital that we continue in this vein, to encourage and support smaller scale innovation in Scotland as we move to cement our place as a global water leader of the future.

As a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I finish by paying tribute to the sympathetic way in which many of the new schemes are being constructed. I have visited three such schemes on the Invermark, Glen Prosen and Rottal estates—two of those are in my constituency and the other is in Aberdeenshire. In every case I was struck by just how well the schemes had been made to blend into the countryside. In some cases, from a distance you can barely make them out from the surrounding landscape. For me, that is a win-win.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

We now move to closing speeches.

16:38  

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

This has been a short but excellent debate on the hydro nation, with wide-ranging speeches from members such as Liam McArthur and Claudia Beamish, who focused on the international element. Donald Cameron discussed the very important issue of water quality and flood risk management. Jackie Baillie and Mark Ruskell spoke eloquently about Tom Johnston, who is one of my political heroes—the less said about the ice-cream the better, so I shall move on swiftly.

Members from across the parties focused on the three main aspects of the hydro nation: the development of hydro power to maximise economic benefits by reducing energy use, improving efficiency and creating a low-carbon nation; raising the international profile of Scotland as a leader in water management; and developing a water centre of excellence with international reach.

I would like to focus briefly on hydro power—as other members have done—as a case study of a hydro nation, not least because of its strong antecedents in my region, the Highlands and Islands.

We all know that hydro power is a key renewable that can help achieve our climate change targets, reduce reliance on imported gas and coal, and increase the diversity of our generation mix. We need to get our energy mix right. The lights might not be going out all over Edinburgh any time soon but, if we get the energy balance wrong in the next decade, we will be paying over a barrel or, indeed, over a therm of gas to countries with the political stability of Burma and the civil liberties record of Zimbabwe.

We all know that hydro power is the grand old man, if you like, of renewables in Scotland. The first public hydro power supply was in the Benedictine abbey in Fort Augustus, serving 800 inhabitants in 1890. In 1896, a hydro power station was built in Foyers by the British Aluminium Company. Around 1900, a large hydro power station was basically responsible for the development of the village of Kinlochleven. As members have quoted previously, Tom Johnston, Labour’s Secretary of State for Scotland under Winston Churchill, led the hydro revolution because in the 1940s he created a network of dams and transmission towers that produced electricity for poor Highlanders for the first time. When Tom Johnston left Parliament in 1945, he went off to chair the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board; and, just to complete the record, the Labour Government nationalised hydro power in its first term in 1945.

At that time, it was estimated that only one farm in six and one croft in 100 had electricity. Today, notwithstanding Donald Cameron’s point, virtually every home has mains electricity. After the second world war, workers came from all over the world to work in the Highland hydro schemes. Germans, Poles and Czechs in particular were famed as the tunnel tigers, who earned 10 times the weekly wage of local estate workers. However, by the 1960s, the Highlands had changed beyond all recognition due to new dams on larger lochs. Rivers were diverted through aqueducts and underground tunnels to direct power from the glens to remote crofts and farms. What was once a threat to tourism is now a tourist attraction. For example, the dam and fish ladder at Pitlochry—the dreaded venue for many a Sunday school outing—is now a major tourist attraction that is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Hydro power is not some bygone relic of a forgotten age. The Glendoe project, which I visited a few years ago and which is near the banks of Loch Ness, is the largest hydro power station for half a century. It provides clean renewable energy that is enough to light every house in Glasgow. A new £14 million hydro scheme is now up and running in Lochaber, in the hills above Kinlochleven, from which villagers will get substantial community benefit. However, as has been pointed out, the reduction in UK tariffs by the UK Government makes the economies of building new hydro schemes increasingly challenging. I believe, though, that there are opportunities for a new hydro revolution. However, there are some limiting factors: the cost of grid connections; the reduction and phasing out of feed-in tariff payments; and the consent process. Scottish Renewables has also raised concerns around the route to market and the lack of financial certainty for those investing in small-scale hydro, not least community groups.

Scotland has a proud record on hydro power, which in no small measure is due to the iconic status of Tom Johnston. There is still much more to achieve in, for example, pumped electricity storage, run-of-the-river developments and streamlining planning processes. We all know that the task is great, but Scotland has both the opportunities and the necessary skills. The sustainable development of hydro power can be a crucial contribution towards meeting our global climate change responsibilities. With the appropriate development, the right technology and the proven skills of our workforce, Scotland can take the lead in Europe and beyond.

16:43  

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests with respect to my work with Zero Waste Scotland on phosphorus and priority substance recovery.

I will begin by briefly highlighting the three parts of our amendment to the Scottish Government’s motion, which we support. The first relates to phosphorus and priority substance recovery, which is something that we must do in order to protect the environment and biodiversity. The second is about ensuring that our river basin management plans and flood risk management plans are more effective across the whole of Scotland. We have some great practice, but we need to spread it out and we need local authorities involved in that. The third is about improving the market for the business sector, which would ideally involve the introduction of a not-for-profit company that runs on the ESCO—energy service company—model and could share in the benefits of water efficiencies. That would be a useful introduction to the market.

I reaffirm my party’s commitment to protecting and harnessing the benefits of Scotland’s abundant water resources. Scotland has the potential to be the international lead in water management projects. We can and should provide expertise and research around the world by developing initiatives that will help people and tackle climate change. The hydro nation strategy is to be welcomed and we will seek to hold the SNP Government to account for its implementation. SNP members have spoken about their commitment to developing Scotland’s water sector and raising our international profile as a hydro nation, and that is something else that we welcome.

We heard a number of interesting and worthwhile contributions from across the chamber in what has largely been a consensual debate. The cabinet secretary mentioned in her opening remarks that we must optimise and understand water use and that we must demonstrate exemplary practice and share it with the world. I agree with that. Bruce Crawford spoke about the scenic attraction of Loch Katrine, as well as talking about sharing an ice cream on Loch Lomond with Jackie Baillie—who, in her remarks, highlighted issues around business rates for hydro schemes.

However, a top priority for Scotland should be to address the amount of pharmaceutical and chemical waste that is appearing in Scotland’s rivers, lochs and seas. I highlight the case of Lulu the whale, who was found dead on the Isle of Tiree. Her body contained shocking levels of PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl—I have been practising that all day. Chemicals take a long time to break down, so the estimated £75 million a year of pharmaceuticals that are dispensed but never used, which often end up in the natural environment, should be an additional concern. Researchers have found some traceable contents in drinking water. Water treatment plants cannot effectively recover these potentially harmful chemicals, and the potential long-term environmental and health risks of pharmaceutical residues in water are a matter of concern.

Health Care Without Harm is an organisation that works to transform healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a community anchor for sustainability and a leader in new technologies and practices. The use of a system such as the Swedish “Wise List”, which can be used to compare health outcomes with environmental impacts, would be a positive step forward for physicians prescribing new drugs, and I urge the SNP Government to look at that more closely.

Donald Cameron spoke about one of the goals of the hydro nation agenda being to create a low-carbon water nation where carbon intensity is reduced. Although I welcome Scottish Water’s progress on that, I would like it to go further.

Stewart Stevenson talked about the potential for water wars internationally in the future, and he was absolutely right about that. I refer him to the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization centre for water law, policy and science at the University of Dundee, of which I am an alumnus, with respect to its work on the application of a water hierarchy and use of the EU water framework directive as a dispute resolution management system for watercourses throughout the world.

I commend the international links that have been established with countries such as Malawi and India. Liam McArthur’s point in that regard was well made.

Donald Cameron highlighted the UK Government’s work to help 64.5 million people to gain access to clean water and sanitation and welcomed the target that a further 60 million will have access by 2020. That work complements the work of the Scottish Government.

Peter Chapman, not surprisingly, highlighted the issues that farmers are facing as a result of our having the wettest summer since 1985, and he stressed the importance of quality water to the whisky industry.

Indeed, as climate change continues to affect global weather patterns, Scotland becomes increasingly vulnerable to extreme flooding. That is why enhanced river basin management plans and flood risk management plans will be required. We must do more to protect communities.

The water market for business customers is currently imperfect and we believe that it needs reform. I recognise that deregulation has led to savings for Scottish businesses but, as with the consumer energy market, businesses need more information and advice to support the switch to companies to get the best deal. Bundling with other utilities is another way to drive down costs and improve service. Conservative members believe that the introduction of an ESCO to the market would be an improvement. A commercial not-for-profit business providing a broad range of solutions and sharing the benefits of efficiencies would be beneficial.

Claudia Beamish highlighted the issues around small-scale hydro and a community-led approach. The introduction of a project manager would be useful in facilitating such an approach.

I welcome the fact that Scotland is becoming an international leader. We need to take seriously the value of Scotland’s water for the sake of our climate, economy and international profile as a hydro nation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Alasdair Allan to close the debate. Will you take us up to just before 5, please, minister?

16:51  

The Minister for International Development and Europe (Dr Alasdair Allan)

I thank all members for their valued and considered contributions. This has been a very wide-ranging and constructive discussion, and members’ contributions have produced many unusual images. One image was more unusual than most. The revelation that Bruce Crawford went to Loch Lomond to share ice cream with Jackie Baillie will live long with us, not least because I understand that already the considerable forces of Twitter and Photoshop have come together to ensure that it now has a much wider audience than any that I could possibly give it.

I thank my colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, for setting out the impressive breadth of the Scottish Government’s hydro nation agenda. In particular, I thank her for the way in which she has allowed many members to point out and dwell upon the fundamental importance of water as a resource and its critical nature for life, which underpins everything that we do. It is right that we should take a systematic and wide-ranging approach to how we manage that resource and develop its value.

I reiterate our thanks to the hydro nation forum for its role in helping the Scottish Government to develop the hydro nation strategy. The strategy, which is tested and agreed by the forum at its biannual meetings chaired by the cabinet secretary, sets out actions and plans under four key heads or themes. The themes cover activity that is focused on national, international, knowledge and innovation aspects of water.

I will address some of the points that were raised in relation to the national theme, which sets out the key activities in the domestic agenda that are being delivered under the strategy. We heard about Scottish Water’s successful journey to becoming a world-class utility that delivers services to the majority of people in Scotland. Its success in meeting and, indeed, surpassing performance targets while reducing costs and environmental impact was rightly held up by many members as an example of how public ownership can deliver results across the board for people in Scotland. We also heard about on-going action under the hydro nation agenda to tackle the particular supply challenges that are faced by some of our most rural communities.

We heard about the need for innovation as a means of reducing costs for consumers, and about its contribution to lowering environmental impact, increasing energy efficiency and developing a flourishing water economy.

It is important that we had the chance to discuss the knowledge theme, which recognises the strength in our universities and research institutions in relation to water. The work of our researchers and academics is making a significant contribution to understanding and tackling key issues across a broad front.

Hydro nation is helping to demonstrate to the world where Scottish expertise is leading the way or contributing to better resource management, whether that be in relation to water scarcity, access to adequate safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation or the development of thinking and mechanisms to tackle globally significant transboundary legal issues.

We have heard how, in the fields of economic and non-economic regulation and governance, Scottish expertise is being increasingly acknowledged as an exemplar of best practice and is increasingly in demand. We have noted how the hydro nation international programme is building on the strengths of the established and respected CREW model to bring better alignment and consistency to outward-facing hydro nation activity. Not only that, but the initiative will develop stronger academic networks at home that can contribute to and support other strategic priorities.

As we have seen, and as Donald Cameron and many other members highlighted in the course of the debate, the hydro nation agenda is also an international one. Scotland recognises that, as a responsible nation in the world, it has a duty to contribute to solving global issues where it can bring its expertise to bear. The abundant water resources that we in Scotland benefit from undoubtedly contribute to the quality and distinctiveness of Scotland’s environment.

However, while we are enjoying access to excellent-quality drinking water and high standards of sanitation, many, many millions around the world are not so fortunate. Last year, I had the very humbling experience of meeting women in a Malawian village who pointed out the effects of what they themselves recognised as climate change. They explained the practical consequence of that for them, which was that they each had to walk several more miles a day just to get water.

I am proud that Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to publicly commit to the new sustainable development goals in September 2015, and it is heartening to see hydro nation’s direct contribution to the achievement of those goals in Malawi and other parts of the world. I am pleased that the Labour amendment, which the Government is happy to support, mentions Malawi, not only because of our on-going relationship with that country but because of hydro nation’s contribution to the climate justice fund, which has already ensured access to clean water for more than 30,000 people and supported many more.

I also want to mention the Scottish Government’s good and important work in India. For example, we are very happy to co-operate in the Ganga river health project, which is led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s centre for water law, policy and science.

With regard to one or two themes highlighted in the amendments, I think it important to say that I am not sure whether, after all the debate, we quite learned the thinking behind every aspect or intention of the Conservative amendment. There is much in it that is unobjectionable, but I would say that its last line fails to recognise the benefits that public ownership has brought to our water industry.

Maurice Golden

Is the SNP Government arguing that the market for business supply is perfect? Does the minister think that the market would benefit from the introduction of a not-for-profit ESCO sharing model as an offer to business customers in Scotland?

Dr Allan

Not only is the market properly competitive in the interest of customers but more important, with 87 per cent of our water bodies achieving good status classification by 2027, there is public support for the public ownership principle. I do not think that we need depart from it.

I should say that I am happy to support the Labour amendment, not least because of the support that, as I have mentioned, it expresses for people in the developing world and their right to enjoy a decent water supply.

Before I conclude, I note that Roseanna Cunningham has indicated to me that she is happy to meet John Scott about the constituency issues that he diligently raised.

The annual hydro nation report tells a story of how we are moving from a potential to a genuine opportunity to make a first-class, world-class contribution to the debate about water in the world. We can be proud of not only what we have achieved in Scotland, but what we can achieve in the wider world.