N E W S F E E D S >>>
MSP's Highland Index Political & Government

Scottish Government News & Links

Highland & Islands MSP's
Archived From Main MSP Pages 2006

23 November 06
Gibson calls for Street Football to tackle youth disorder

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has called for Northern Constabulary to implement a proven measure to tackle youth disorder.  Mr Gibson has written to Chief Constable Ian Latimer pointing out the success of a trial scheme implemented in Dyce by Grampian Police of Street Football has led to a 67% reduction in complaints against youth nuisance and disorder. Mr Gibson says that the scheme should be introduced in the Highlands. "The figures speak for themselves. The 67% reduction in reports of youth disorder, as happened in Dyce, shows that there are practical and viable alternatives to curbing disorder than simply issuing an ASBOS. One of the main complaints from young people is that there is nothing to do and as a result they act irresponsibly. However if there is something that they want to do then the chances are that the majority will stop acting that way." Mr Gibson said that the scheme would have many benefits. "This is not only an opportunity for safer communities it is could lead to a healthier society. Teen obesity and general poor health is a real issue and such a scheme would help tackle that throughout the region. Who knows the next Scottish footballing sensation could be unearthed by this project which would raise the spirits of the entire nation."

22 November 06

Local Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan is supporting a members' bill in the Scottish Parliament, which aims to crackdown on the abuse of disabled parking bays. The Highlands and Islands MSP has given her support to Labour colleague Jackie Baillie's Private Members' Bill which would make all disabled persons parking bays enforceable and mean those caught abusing them would face fines. At present, most disabled parking bays are courtesy only and therefore anyone can park in them without the risk of being penalised. A consultation seeking views on the proposals has been launched and Mrs Macmillan is urging Highland s and Islands residents with comments or views to take part in the consultation. Speaking about the launch of the consultation, she said, "Abusing disabled parking bays can cause real difficulty to disabled drivers. I know of cases where disabled drivers have been forced to wait hours to get into an accessible parking space at a local supermarket because an able-bodied driver has chosen to abuse a designated space. In an other example a disabled woman in Inverness wrote to me having problems with inconsiderate motorists who were parking in her bay on the roadway at her home. This type of abuse is unacceptable and disrespectful to disabled drivers. I would appeal to anyone who has or does abuse disabled parking spaces to think about the implications before they do so. Local residents or businesses with views on this issue should take part in the consultation. Anyone interested in participating should contact my office for a copy of the document or log onto the following web address."

16 November 06

Far North MSP Jamie Stone has welcomed the news that around forty new 'green' jobs will be created in Invergordon thanks to the development of a biomass project in the town.
Northern Irish based company Balcas Ltd is behind the £24million scheme, with investment from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The facility - which will be developed on the former Alcan smelter site - will include a combined heat and power plant generating green energy and be used to produce wooden pellets. It will be the largest biomass energy plant in the UK and will reduce carbon emissions by 170,000 tonnes per year.
Commenting today, Jamie Stone the constituency MSP for the area said: "This announcement is an early Christmas present for the people of Ross-shire. This project is bringing major new investment to the local economy and creating many jobs, while helping the environment at the same time.
"There are many positive benefits with the development of this facility. Aside from the clear economic benefits it will ensure a sustainable, clean and efficient supply of heat and power to be shared with local homes and businesses.
"It will use local supplies of lodgepole pine which is in plentiful supply in the Highlands but is hard to sell, so it will make good use of a natural local resource.
"The development will be the largest biomass renewable energy plant in the UK, reducing carbon emissions by 170,000 tonnes each year. Ross-shire will be leading the way in Scotland and the UK in terms of sustainable sources of energy.
"The company behind the facility employs more than 600 people in the UK directly and has a diverse range of forest product operations in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Estonia. It is at the forefront of the biomass industry and it is a very encouraging sign that the company has chosen Invergordon as the site for this exciting new project."

15 November 06
Gibson praises Network rail speedy opening of Far North Rail Line Highlands and Islands
SNP MSP Rob Gibson has praised the work carried out to reopen the Far North Rail Line and is confident that the Wick line will be opened as soon as possible. Mr Gibson was speaking after it was announced that Far North Line was to reopen after last months floods. Rob said the work teams had done a magnificent job...."The engineers had to deal with 104 separate incidents along the line and have done so in lightening quick time. They are a credit to themselves and Network rail."
Mr Gibson also played a part in the repairs by helping to negotiate a speedy road closure of the A9 to allow a giant crane to lift the line south of Helmsdale. "I was glad to play a small part in helping to speed the repairs. The rail line between Port Gower and Helmsdale was badly damaged and needed to be lifted the crane. I managed to persuade the powers that be that the crane was very important and it was there within two days of the flood."
Despite the reopening of the line Wick is still cut off due to the destruction of Watten bridge Mr Gibson said...."The situation is not ideal however I have every faith that Network rail engineers and work teams will be able to rectify the problem with Watten Bridge sooner rather than later. They have been hampered from doing so because the area is waterlogged. However I believe that they are to start work immediately and I confidently predict that the line will be open in full very soon."
He ended by saying that he hoped that Transerv Scotland could learn from those who carried out the work for Network rail and get the A9 up to scratch as soon as possible.

25 October 06
Gibson Speaks on Caithness Future

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has called for a Scottish Executive Minister to oversee the socio-economic future of Caithness.
His call came during a debate on the post Dounreay economy of Caithness in parliament. During the debate Mr Gibson said that he supported the broad outlines of the recently published strategy document for Caithness however he questioned how effective it would be. Unless a Minister could implement the changes necessary to allow the Far North to flourish..." The SNP sees this Strategy as one that is of far greater impact on Caithness than the closure of Ravenscraig had in Lanarkshire. I venture to say that Scottish Ministers should take the supremo role in promoting plans for the sustainable future of the Far North. But at present the split between the powers of the Scottish Government and London Government is a definite hindrance. "
He went onto to call for more credence to be given to the economic benefits that a faster railway would deliver to the far North. He called for UAEA And the NDA to come up with the money to fund a study into a Dornoch rail link which cut the journey time to the far substantially. Chastising the lack of investment in the far North by the transport Agency HITRANS he said..."I'm calling on the NDA and UKAEA to offer a mere £5,000 to back the £5,000 already raised by the Dornoch Link Action Group to secure the speedy commissioning of a modern rail consultant to end the negative jibes of the ' hopelessly uneconomic' variety. Hi-Trans who have given rail a low priority have virtually ignored the Far North Line. Like the Caithness strategy, the SNP say that it's time to think big."
He also stated that improvements to the rail could be carried out alongside improvements to the road such as places like the braes of Berridale. He said it isn't an either or situation.
Rob talked about the need for Caithness to think Global and to set up a world center of excellence in nuclear decommissioning as well as an center of excellence for renewable energy research and production....
"We need a commitment from HIE and the Enterprise Minister to back a Centre of Excellence based in Caithness for both the development and export of nuclear decommissioning skills and also to set up a major collaboration with the EMEC centre in Orkney to promote wave and tidal power in the Pentland Firth. I see that Aberdeen wants a centre of excellence for energy development; it is time to stake the far better claim in the Far North."
Speaking after the debate rob said, "When I think about post Dounreay Caithness, I see a land aching with potential, decommissioning skills, tidal power to name but two. However this can only happen if the Political will is there. What is needed is someone to be given powers to make it happen. The closure of Dounreay will cause major upheaval but it is how is dealt with will determine the future of the County. There must be a Minister with power who can be put in charge of the transition and help deliver a sustainable future and economy to the Far North."

18 October 06
Jamie McGrigor's speech on Crofting Bill
Crofting Reform Bill: Stage 1
Wednesday 27 September 2006
Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): "Crofting and crofters are very dear to me. Crofters have struggled for centuries to maintain a tough way of life, from which is derived much of our Highland culture-the music, the poetry and the song. Crofters' huge practical knowledge of livestock agriculture and of the biodiversity of their neighbourhoods is invaluable. They were important to our past and are important to the future. It would be a sad day if Scotland were to lose its crofters.

However, having experienced the recent debacle in Taynuilt-where the best land, in the middle of a crofting township, was used for the development of new housing, despite the fact that young crofters were queuing up for it-I have realised that crofting, left undefended against open market forces, would quickly be swept away and would become part of Scotland's history. It is extraordinary that, whereas on the day in question the developers appeared at the public hearing in Taynuilt with a notable Queen's counsel at their side, the Crofters Commission did not have its lawyer-or any other-with it, since apparently he was on loan to the Executive.

As a member of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on crofting, I have spent much time with members of the Scottish Crofting Foundation, individual crofters and crofting associations. For years, many have called for an evaluation of what crofting means and of what it should mean for the future. Surely that evaluation should have preceded the introduction of the bill. We must ask why it did not. If it had, we could have legislated sensibly to help crofting. It did not, so now we cannot. There was no evaluation, only a draft bill that few seemed to want and which no one would admit to having written or asked for. Alasdair Morrison has just told us who wrote the bill, but I cannot believe that he did it on his own. The member could have helped him, if he had so wished.

I have described the background to the Environment and Rural Development Committee's report on the bill, from which I will quote. Paragraph 325 states: "There has been criticism of what the Bill does not do, and a concern that it represents a 'hotch-potch' that does not seem to point to a vision for crofting. It has certainly not been able to command any sense of widespread support amongst those affected by it."

Paragraph 326 states: "The Scottish Crofting Foundation stated that the Bill's fundamental flaws outweigh its positives, and that new opportunities offered by the Bill should not be used to gloss over deficiencies."

It continues: "A significant portion of witnesses argued that the Bill should, therefore, be withdrawn-as proceeding with a Bill on the basis that it is better than nothing is not an acceptable approach."

I agree.

The conclusions of the good committee report would have been useful if we had had them before the bill was drafted. They would surely have been reached much earlier if the Executive had taken any notice of what Sir Crispin Agnew and John MacKintosh said in 1998. The Executive could have listened to Becky Shaw and the Scottish Crofting Foundation when the first white paper was published in 2002, but again, it did not. Nor does it appear that much attention was paid to the deliberations in 2005, before the bill was introduced. Rob Gibson was right to say that much time has been spent on false trails and that the true evidence seems to have been ignored. The bill in its current form is indeed a hotch-potch that is not worthy of the Parliament. We need practical solutions to practical crofting problems. We should not proceed with the bare remnants of a hotch-potch, as that would be dishonest. Instead, we should go back and start again.

We need practical solutions. That is why, two years ago, I instigated a members' business debate on the bull hire scheme, which is important to the crofting community. On that day, I was promised action by the honourable minister, Allan Wilson. Members can read what he said at the time. Those were good words but, in reality, the number of available bulls has dropped from 196 last year to 118 now. There are fewer bulls to choose from and they are far more expensive. If the Executive is supportive of crofting, why has that been allowed to happen? The extraordinary lack of vision with regard to the scheme will soon result in inferior cattle and even less income for crofters, who struggle to survive on the ludicrously low prices that their cattle and sheep fetch at auction markets. If I may say so, that is the main problem that crofters face.

We must keep the crofting counties agricultural grants scheme separate from the new land management contracts, or the money for crofters will disappear into bigger farmers' pockets. CCAGS grants may be a tiny part of the national agriculture budget, but they are hugely important to crofting townships.

Crofting land must be treated specially, or it will disappear. Housing development should be restricted heavily in the arable or inby areas, which are the best agricultural land, but it could be encouraged in the rougher common-grazing areas. That might mean a need to help crofters with access roads and water and electricity infrastructure to encourage new housing in areas that are away from main roads. Such measures would produce new houses, new crofts and new communities-the opposite of a Highland clearance-which would be real support for crofting. Glens that are full of ruins would be repopulated, which would indeed be a journey back from the other side of sorrow.

The committee's report brings a refreshing honesty to the political process in the Parliament, because it admits that great mistakes were made in the preparation of the bill. I agree with Eleanor Scott that the committee did its job well. Let us not proceed with the barely acceptable rump of a hotch-potch; let us go back to the drawing board to carry out a real evaluation of the needs of crofting in the 21st century, consider new suggestions and come back in the next session of Parliament with a bill that is genuinely useful to crofting".

11 October 06
The issue of the North economy as decommissioning at Dounreay proceeds and accelerates is to be discussed in the Scottish Parliament thanks to Far North MSP Jamie Stone. He has secured a Members' Debate in Holyrood about the matter for the beginning of November and hopes that this will kickstart action in terms of tackling the problems that will lie ahead for the area. Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Stone said:
"Dounreay has been the lynchpin of the Caithness economy for so many years, creating and supporting thousands of local jobs and generating new income. "We all know that the continuing decommissioning of the site presents the local area with huge economic and social challenges. "Building on the information we have gathered, an action plan must be agreed now - a plan that will ensure the future stability and prosperity of the local economy.
"It is important that the Scottish Executive works closely with the UK government, along with other key industry players, to consider the way forward for the North.
"I would expect that this work should include a costed and funded strategy to help ensure suitable replacement industries and jobs can be established for the years to come.
"This debate will be an important opportunity to raise these matters with the Scottish government which can in turn push the issue up the agenda of the UK government."
Motion From Jamie Stone MSP For Debate
S2M-04888 Mr Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): That the Parliament notes the severe economic and social challenges for the far north presented by the accelerated run-down and decommissioning at Dounreay and considers that the Scottish Executive should work with the UK Government and other key players to ensure that a costed and funded strategy is put in place as soon as possible so that suitable replacement industries and jobs can be established for the years to come.

11 October 06
Far North MSP Jamie Stone believes that Caithness would be the ideal location for the new UK National Energy Technologies Institute. Mr Stone believes that a very strong case can be made for basing the centre of excellence at Dounreay in the Far North and is calling on Scottish and UK ministers to give his proposal serious consideration. He has now lodged a motion on this issue in the Scottish Parliament. Commenting today, Mr Stone said: "The Far North of Scotland is already well established as a base of different energy technologies, skills and expertise. "I believe the location of the energy institute will be key to its success. I cannot imagine that there will be many other areas in Scotland, never mind the UK, that can match the Far North for either existing or potential energy expertise and generation.

"At Dounreay pioneering work in terms of nuclear decommission is being developed and vital research and development work in renewable energies is underway at the Environmental Research Institute of the North Highland College. "Another key factor in Caithness's favour is its geographic location. The Far North is on the doorstep of the Pentland Firth - widely recognised as a prime and unique site in the UK for tidal energy generation. Caithness is also adjacent to present and future oil production. "The benefits of bringing such an important facility to Scotland, and ultimately to the Far North, are clear. I urge Scottish ministers to give the strongest consideration to this suggestion and promote the benefits of the Far North to their counterparts at Westminster."

10 October 06
There will be no hiding place for the Liberal Democrats on their disastrous plans to hike car taxes in the Highlands and Islands – Labour MSP Peter Peacock has pledged.
He said, “Lib Dem car tax is nothing less than a raid on the incomes of hardworking families and small businesses across the Highlands and Islands – dressed up as a green tax.
The North MSP has attacked the plans as having their most damaging effect here within the Highlands and Islands, where the car is still essential for most families.
He added, “ The recently approved Liberal Democrat plans to raise car tax in the Highlands and Islands will have dire consequences for hardworking families and comes on top of their plans to raise the levels of income tax locally. They know their proposals will cause real hardship across the length and breadth of our region, yet they are determined to proceed.
Their car tax hike on a 2 litre Mondeo will lift it from £190 to £1,500 and on many a working farm vehicle from £215 to £2,000. Even on a small Vauxhall Astra sized vehicle the hike would be from £150 to £850. In percentage terms this means rises from a huge 250% to an astonishing 1,200%.”
Mr Peacock also criticised the Lib Dems so called discount for the Highlands and Islands. “The truth is that all family sized cars, like a VW Golf or 2 litre Ford Mondeo will face a rise – for some it will be a huge rise, for others a monumental rise – even after the discount is applied. No one should be in any doubt about that.”
He also pointed out the equivalent effect of their policy on petrol prices. He added, “The Lib Dems frequently criticize petrol prices, yet their own car tax plans are the equivalent of doubling the cost of fuel per mile in this area – nothing less than highway robbery. Their car tax increase is a blunt and indiscriminate tax - which will hit hardworking families and the business community.
And he promised the Lib Dems no hiding place as he and his colleagues intend to expose all the details of their highly damaging policy and the full costs to the population of the Highlands and Islands over the coming weeks and months.
He said, “There will be no hiding place for the Liberal Democrats on their car tax policy. Families will be asking themselves what other taxes will be coming from the Lib Dems after these car tax hikes and their plans to raise income tax locally.”
From The Papers
Liberal Democrats unveil plans for 'new home' and 'green' car tax - Daily Mail
Lib Dems Plan a £2000 Road Tax - BBC
Lib Dems plan £850 road tax - Telegraph
Car Tax should reflect environmental damage - Green Lib Dems
Lib Dems Plan £2000 Road Tax - Taxation Web

20 September 06
Gibson speaks out on local food

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has warned of a serious mismatch between the health message and food production support currently offered by the Scottish Government placing in jeopardy the ability of people to enjoy fresh locally produced food throughout Scotland.

During Thursday's debate on Local Food is Miles Better, Mr Gibson said that a lack of joined up government as only a fraction of farmers and crofters are receiving help in the Organic Aid Scheme and the crofters Bull Hire scheme compared to those interested in taking part.

He challenged the Rural Affairs Lib Dem Minister Ross Finnie to place healthy eating at the heart of a future agriculture policy. He also questioned what benefit the new changes to crofting legislation would make to crofters and how it would encourage local food production…."How do we help small producers? By strangling the crofters' interim Bull Hire scheme in red tape and greater expense and making elements of crofting grants that were easy to access in the past now part of complicated business plans that underpin the Land Management Contracts."

Mr Gibson said that government, if focused, could be the biggest agent of change in the diet of the nation and create a boom for local producers. However too many departments work at cross purposes. This means that fresh local food is not reaching the majority of people that it could... "Do the Rural Development Scheme, and the Scottish Diet Action Plan join up? Does the ERD Committee report on the food chain and our evidence to the Competition Commission here in Edinburgh last week show that the Scottish Executive has all the powers it needs? Are all the dots joined up to link healthy food to agricultural production and the food and drink industry in the country? I do not think it does."

"The Scottish Organic Action Plan was supposed to meet at least 70% by value of overall Scottish consumer demand for organic products which can be sourced in Scotland - how does a claim to support healthy food eating and the underpinning of the willing food producers? Immediate action is required to bring all these essential aims together. Our celebration of Local Food is Miles Better deserves some detailed explanation by the Minister."

Rob Gibson summed up the Problem by quoting the renowned organic beef producer, recent Food Standards Association member and now chair of the Scottish Salmon Producers Association Mike Gibson...  It is imperative that Government strategy is not allowed to pull itself apart due to different departmental priorities; so as not to unravel it must be truly crosscutting.'

20 September 06

Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has welcomed legislation that will give parents a stronger voice and encourage them to get more involved in their child’s education and school life.

The Highlands and Islands MSP was speaking as the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act came into force. The new legislation compels local authorities and schools to ensure parents are given information on how to help their child's learning at home and provide them with opportunities to contribute to the life of the school.

Under the new law, parents are also automatically made a member of the parent forum at their child's school, allowing them to get involved in setting up new parent councils to replace the current system of school boards in August 2007.

Speaking about the new legislation, Mrs Macmillan said, “"We know that children whose parents are involved in their education achieve better results and get more from their education that those whose parents don’t.

The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act aims to encourage parents to get more involved and forces schools to make parents feel more welcome.

A major part of the new law is the parent council system which will replace school boards next August. The councils will be much more flexible and accommodating to parents, allowing them to focus on the issues that matter to their school and child.”

Education Minister Peter Peacock commented, “There are major new opportunities for schools and parents in these new arrangements. Parents have the chance to build on the good work of their school boards, but with ever more freedom and flexibility to fashion the arrangements they want. The more parents are actually involved in their child’s education the better the outcomes – that is why we are creating more opportunities for that involvement.”

The Scottish Executive has published guidance on what the new law is about and a toolkit of practical resources to help parents and local authorities work in partnership, to make it easier for parents to be involved in their children's education.

18 September 06

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has welcomed an announcement by Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry which will lead to publicly employed solicitors being available to provide legal aid representation in court for civil law cases, in parts of Scotland where there may be unmet demand.

Mrs Macmillan commented, “I have previously received representations, on several occasions, from local Women’s Aid groups and Scottish Women’s Aid, who have raised their concern at the lack of access to civil legal aid representation in certain parts of the Highlands and Islands. At the moment women who for example need the support of the law to obtain an interdict to protect them from a violent ex-partner, are unable to access civil legal aid representation in some areas. If no local solicitor is available to represent clients in civil legal aid cases it is often impracticable for solicitors from further afield to travel to remoter parts of the Highlands, due the current regulations covering travel and reimbursement.

I had written to the Deputy Justice Minister on this issue, pointing out the hardship and difficulty this was causing women who had been the victims of domestic abuse or are undergoing a marital break-up. Yesterday, during a debate on the new Legal Aid Bill, presently going through parliament, I asked the Minister to consider piloting a service in the Highlands to provide a publicly funded civil legal aid practitioner. This would ensure that people have representation in courts where no private firm of solicitors is available. I was delighted when the Minister responded by announcing that the Scottish Legal Aid Board is to develop a network of publicly employed solicitors, similar to the existing public defender system, to provide extra help to the public in matters of civil law in parts of Scotland where there is a gap in civil legal aid provision.”

Mrs Macmillan added,”In those areas where previously no civil legal aid representation was available this new initiative will make a considerable difference. Many people in the Highlands, who currently cannot obtain civil legal aid representation will soon be able to access this new service. It is particularly important to those women who have been the victims of domestic violence and who are seeking protection from a former violent partner or access to their children, through civil legislation.” 

12 September 06
Gibson Calls for Crofting answer from EXEC
Rob Gibson has called for the First Stage debate on the Crofting Bill to be postponed if the Scottish Government does not give a response this week to concerns laid out by the Rural Development Committee. Mr Gibson says that the committee gave recommendations pertaining to local representation and accountability of the Crofters Commission to the Minister and Deputy Minister two months ago. However as yet no response has been forthcoming. Mr Gibson says that if nothing is heard from the Executive by the end of the week then the debate, which is scheduled to take place on the 27th of September should be postponed till after the October recess.  Mr Gibson says that in the light of recent events the issue of representation is of major importance….
"Since a new Chairman of the Crofting Commission will soon be required, this is an ideal chance to change the structure of the board and make it more representative of the crofters that it serves."
He continued… "It is established SNP policy to have the Crofters Commission board elected by the crofters, then they can elect their Chairman. This is an ideal opportunity to appoint an interim chairman until the chance to elect the board can be agreed by Government." "There is already a strong lobby in crofting circles for this to happen. It is encouraging to hear the support of John Farquhar Munro on the issue. Therefore I think it is time that the Minister come out and say where he stands on the issue of representation in the Crofters Commission."  Rob has also lodged a question with Ross Finnie asking him what skills will be sought from possible candidates in recruiting a new Chairman of the Crofters Commission.

12 September 06
Indiscipline in Highland schools "out of control", says McGrigor

Incidents of violence in local schools are spiralling out of control, according to Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor. With statistics obtained by the Scottish Conservatives showing a 45% increase in violence in Highland schools, the Conservative MSP accused the Scottish Executive of failing to get a grip of the problem and of trying to hide the figures. The Conservatives were forced to submit a Freedom of Information request to obtain the figures because the Scottish Executive no longer publishes annual statistics on violence in schools. Jamie McGrigor said "The Executive has decided not to make these figures available as standard and, with these shocking increases, it's not hard to see why! "With the total number of attacks on Highland school staff up 45% in a single year, and with incidents involving both physical violence and verbal abuse increasing by a truly horrific 223%, it appears that the Lib/Lab coalition is trying to cover up their failure to deal with indiscipline in our schools. "This is a growing problem and, if we really want to deal with it, then all the facts must be made public. With indiscipline in some schools spiralling out of control, the First Minister should give a commitment to publish this vital factual information, on an annual basis, however bad the figures are. "Perhaps then we will have the information we need to tackle the increasing indiscipline in Highland schools head on".

18 July 06
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan says vulnerable Highland residents will no longer have to pay council tax after the Scottish Executive amended an unfair loophole in current legislation.

The move was the result of an unintended consequence of new care legislation, which meant certain people who are in receipt of a housing support service and residing in certain defined shared dwellings were asked to pay council tax, when previously they had no local tax liability.

Legislation has now been laid in the Parliament which will close the loophole and exempt relevant properties from local taxation altogether. It is planned to come into force on October 1, 2006.

Mrs Macmillan also emphasised that Highland Council has been asked to write off any council tax debt to people affected - and to grant refunds to those who have already paid. Speaking about the move, she said, "I am extremely pleased the Scottish Executive managed to correct this unfair anomaly. Because of this loophole a number of Highland residents were faced with council tax bills they were unable to pay.

Now the legislation has been corrected, I hope those affected are reassured that if any money was paid out or bills are outstanding, the money is refunded or written off.

Ministers have now asked all Scottish local authorities to write-off any council tax debt due from residents with a tenancy agreement or license to only occupy part of a dwelling, and in receipt of a housing support service, and where the kitchen toilet or bathroom is shared. For those who have already paid their council tax bills a refund will be granted. All Housing Support providers have been informed of this decision and anyone who thinks they meet the definition should discuss this with their provider."

6 July 06
McGrigor: "Thurso Mart closure might not be last"
Responding to news that Thurso Mart is to close, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor said: "While there is still a market at Quoybrae, and Caithness Livestock Breeders run a collection service, this is a sad decision for Thurso which has a long and proud tradition as a livestock market town." "This decision is an example of the general malaise in farming since devolution and is resultant of the mismanagement of agriculture, and the rural community in general, by the Liberal Democrat/Labour partners. "Prices have continued to fall while farmers' costs have risen, and the Scottish Executive's only response has been to heap increased regulatory burdens on an already over-burdened farming sector. "I am also deeply nervous over the intentions of United Auctions' owners Elphinstone Land who, as a Glasgow-based development company, may not have the best interests of rural farming communities as a priority. "My fear is that this may not be the last local market that will be lost".

5 July 06
SNP Backs Scathing Crofting Report Says MSP Rob Gibson

Highlands and Islands SNP MSPRob Gibson has praised the ERD Committee's constructive critique of the Crofting Reform Bill that reveals the Scottish Government proposals as lacking in vision, clarity and a genuine commitment to the future of crofting.

He said, 'In contrast the SNP's long standing commitment is to promote sustainable crofting communities, but the current Crofting Bill has no vision for the future of crofting. Evidence to Parliament confirms that the shambolic and incomplete crofting register is a prime symptom of political failure by successive UK governments and for the last seven years by the LibDem Labour Executive. They have failed miserably to ensure the Crofters Commission has done its job laid down in law.

The SNP will resist the proposal to turn this part of SEERAD into another Quango. Crofters should elect the Commission and then elect its convener. Furthermore the positive elements of this complex Bill have to be carefully weighed up. These include creating new crofts that could well be set up at suitable locations across Scotland especially on Forestry Commission land.

Also Parliament must take new powers to disentangle the interposed leases scandal that was known about in the case of Pairc estate in Lewis long before the original Land Reform Law was made.

'The SNP is listening to crofters views and, I am glad to say,  so is the whole Environment and Rural Development Committee. Ministers have ignored many of the submissions they have received. They have the summer to reflect on this comprehensive report that believes in reinvigorated crofting communities as key to the future of the remoter Highlands and Islands.'

15 June 06
McGrigor: "New livestock market vital for West Highlands' agriculture

Highlands and Islands MSP and Argyll livestock farmer Jamie McGrigor has said a new livestock market in Stirling is vital to a successful future for agriculture in the West Highlands.

In a letter to Stirling Council's Principal Planning Officer Jay Dawson, the Conservative MSP gave his support to the project and said many smaller markets depended on the central market in Stirling.

Jamie McGrigor said "I give my full support for the proposed new livestock auction mart at Hill o' Drip in Stirling.

"Stirling has always been a major hub of the agricultural industry in Scotland and Kildean market has always been of vital importance to the livestock agricultural sector of Scotland.

"Many smaller markets, such Dalmally, Tiree, Lochboisdale, Islay, Huntly and even Perth, depend for their existence on the central market in Stirling. In Oban, there is a very important layerage facility belonging to United Actions without which many Highlands & Islands farmers would be severely disadvantaged. It is therefore vital that a replacement for Kildean goes ahead as soon as possible.

"I understand that the Hill o' Drip site was chosen out of 15 other sites and was chosen in conjunction with planning officials who considered it the best option. It is sensibly outside the city boundary which will keep tractors and HGV lorries away from the city centre.

"The new site is also next to the motorway and would therefore have excellent transport links. This is not only important on the business side but also extremely beneficial to animal welfare which is obviously a high priority.

"It is hard to underestimate the importance of this new and exciting project, which would not only benefit the City of Stirling, but also be a vital component to the future of the agricultural sector in the West of Scotland".

8 June 06

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan is supporting a photographic exhibition, located in the garden lobby area of the Scottish Parliament in connection with Carers Week (Monday 12th - Friday 16th June). Next weeks exhibition is being held by the Highlands Carers Project, which is a member of the Highland Community Care Forum and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers network.

Mrs Macmillan said, "The photographic exhibition has successfully toured nine community venues throughout the Highlands and depicts 16 images of carers showing them in various situations, not directly associated with caring. I had the pleasure of opening the first showing of the exhibition last December in Strathpeffer and was very impressed by the quality of the images and the range of subjects. The photographs were taken by the highly regarded photographer Fin Macrae and will be displayed in the garden lobby of the parliament.

Carers Week will raise the profile of all those who care for relatives and friends who have conditions and illnesses necessitating a high level of support. There is no doubt that the work of carers, across the Highlands, makes a considerable contribution to our communities and the economy. The exhibition, however, is a way of celebrating carers and avoids stereotypes. The carers featured are both young and old and depicted in a variety of situations within a Highland setting. Those pictured may be carers, but they also have lives outwith that role - as captured so well by Fin's photographs."

Mrs Macmillan continued, "If anyone from the Highlands has the opportunity to view the exhibition in the Scottish Parliament I would urge them to do so. Carers Weeks is partly about recognising and celebrating the contribution made by carers and Fin Macrae's photographs provide an insight into Highland carer's lives."

8 June 06
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has raised the issue of the level of support available for Highland pupils who suffer from autism.

Mrs Macmillan said, "I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned about the number of Advisory Autism Outreach Officers available to support pupils with autism in the Highland Council area. I understand that there are about 450 children in the Highlands who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and that the number of children identified with the syndrome has increased over the past few years. At present Highland Council employs three Advisory Autism Outreach Officers but my constituents have been informed that this number is being reduced to two - as part of a reorganisation process.

The parents of pupils with autism in the Highland area feel the service provided by the autism officers is invaluable, bridging the gap between parents and schools. The parents believe the officers do a tremendous job and feel the help and advice they provide second to none. My constituents are deeply concerned to hear of the proposals to cut one of the posts as they have to wait some weeks for an appointment at present - clearly if the number of posts is reduced, this timescale will increase accordingly."

Mrs Macmillan added,"I have written to the Chief Executive of Highland Council and to Health Minister Andy Kerr over this issue. There is no doubt that the service provided by the three Autism Outreach Officers in the Highland area is both necessary and appreciated. I see no valid reason for the cut in this support for parents. I have asked Highland Council why they are taking this action and expressed my disappointment over the situation to the Health Minister.

With the rise in the number of children displaying symptoms of autism an appropriate level of support must be in place to assist the parents of autistic children."

31 May 06

Far North MSP Jamie Stone is keeping up the pressure for action to improve road safety at the Berriedale Braes on the A9.
Mr Stone has received a positive reaction from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) about possible support for a flyover at Berriedale Braes and he has also secured a commitment from Scottish Transport Minister Tavish Scott for a site visit in the summer.
In a letter to Mr Stone, Dr Ian Roxburgh, Chief Executive of the NDA, has outlined that the authority may be prepared to consider supporting a flyover. Dr Roxburgh wrote: "I do need to emphasise, however, that the NDA does not have unlimited funds and the relative merits of this project will be assessed against those of others."
Speaking today, Jamie Stone said: "This is a positive response from the NDA which leaves the door open for further progress to be made on this matter.
"The Berriedale Braes is a particularly dangerous section of the A9. Accident statistics do not record the frequent 'near-misses' that occur nor the number of vehicles that require assistance from the local garage to be towed round.
"Given the difficulties in improving the existing road there is clearly a powerful case for a flyover at Berriedale. However, the cost of such a major construction project would be significant so it is important to explore all possible avenues of funding and support.
"The visit from the Transport Minister will be a crucial step in strengthening our case for action. It is vital that he sees, at first hand, the particular problems at Berriedale Braes and the need for improvement.
"This is a key issue for many of my constituents and I am determined to make further progress on this matter. It is important to keep up the pressure for action."

31 May 06

Far North MSP Jamie Stone is pressing Scottish ministers to reconsider the conditions of the water rates relief scheme for charities. Under current rules, charities can only claim relief if the premises that they occupy were eligible for rate relief as at 31 March 1999. Mr Stone is aware of at least two charities in Caithness - the Neurological Group in Thurso and the local branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society - which have to pay full water rates since the premises that they use do not meet the criteria. He has now lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness of the issue and is on the Scottish Executive to examine ways of assisting charities facing this difficulty.
Mr Stone said: "I am extremely concerned that there are charities in Caithness, and across Scotland, facing this unfair burden of full water charges.
"Many charities which have moved premises are now finding that they are no longer eligible for water rates relief. Every extra pound spent on water charges is one less to spend on good causes. "Many voluntary organisations and charities already operate in challenging financial circumstances. That is why it is important that we offer them as much positive support as possible. Schemes such as the water rates relief provide much needed assistance and we should ensure that they continue to help those who need it most.
"Ministers should take this opportunity to reconsider the eligibility criteria of the water rates relief scheme and examine ways of assisting charities that face the prospect of hefty bills.
"I have raised the matter in the Scottish Parliament and will be pressing ministers to revisit the current rules."


11 May 06
MSP demands a better deal for Northern Constabulary police

Commenting after today's reports that nearly two-thirds of Scotland's police stations no longer provide a round-the-clock manned service and that only 14 out of the 74 police stations in the Northern Constabulary area are manned 24hours, Conservative Highlands and Island MSP Jamie McGrigor said: "I appreciate that many of the remotest stations will not have a permanent police presence, however I would be interested to know what hours they are manned and what effect that has on local crime and anti-social behaviour levels.
"Communities across the Highlands and Islands want the reassurance of a local police presence in their area, especially when they've experienced crime amongst Highlands and Islands' 14-16year olds rise 24% , and total crime up in the Constabulary's area risen by 8%.
"The Northern Constabulary area already has the lowest number of police officers employed per 1,000 of population, with only 2.52 officers for every 1,000 people. With such a large and dispersed area, and with so many remote communities to cover, it is imperative that the Scottish provides the Northern Constabulary with the support its excellent officers need to do their difficult job.
"Crime and anti-social behaviour blights so many communities across the Highlands and Islands. It's time for the pretendy tough talk from the Liberal Democrat/Labour Executive in Edinburgh to stop, and the proper funding of our local police to start".

9 May 06
As a result of concerns raised over a recent court case in Dingwall, involving the appearance of a child witness, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has sought reassurances that the Highland courts were prepared for next years implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses Act in the Sheriff Courts.

Mrs Macmillan, who sits on the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament, said, "The present situation is that an application has to be made to the Sheriff for special measures to be put in place for child witnesses. In cases of Domestic Violence there is a presumption that the child will not be called as a witness, unless absolutely necessary.

When the new act comes into force children automatically will be offered special measures. The child will decide what is most appropriate. I raised concerns with the Justice Minister when the bill was going through committee that small Highland courts would not be able to offer the full range of necessary facilities.

Last week, I had an informal meeting with the Solicitor General, the Area Procurator Fiscal and the Area Business Manager of the Scottish Courts Service to find out what was available for child witnesses. All courts within the Highland have screens and Inverness Sheriff Court has a room with a video link to the court, within the Castle. In other courts there is a room available and if the witness wishes it, mobile equipment will be used to set up a video link to the court.

If the witness does not wish even to be in the same building, then another location can be used - either using the numerous video link facilities we already have around the Highlands and Islands or possibly a dedicated permanent venue set up by the Scottish Courts Service."

Mrs Macmillan continued, "I hope that this reassures that from next year there will no longer be any uncertainty over how child witnesses and other vulnerable witnesses will be supported by the courts. I trust that until then, sensitivity will continue to be used to minimise any distress to child witnesses."

3 May 06
Gibson calls on BBC to drop tune that venerates 'Butcher'
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament which calls on the BBC to drop music that venerates a man who nearly destroyed Highland society being used to introduce their World Cup football action.

Mr Gibson is objecting after it was revealed that the BBC announced that it plans to use a tune called "Sports Prepare" as their theme music for the football World Cup. "Sports Prepare" is adapted from "See the Conquering Hero Comes", a hymn which praises the Duke of Cumberland and which was used by composer George Fredrick Handel as part of the oratorio, "Judas Maccabaeus", celebrating the Hanoverian victory over the Jacobites in the rising of 1745-46.

However that defeat marked the beginning of the destruction of Highland society, as the language, customs and way of life were systematically degraded and marginalised. The process that started after Culloden eventually lead to the Highland Clearances. The Duke of Cumberland acquired the name the 'butcher Cumberland' in recognition of his brutal suppression and persecution during and after the '45 rebellion.

Mr Gibson says that if the BBC will not drop the song then it should be up to the Scottish Executive to remind them that that in a multicultural age appropriate music for world cup football coverage should not engender memories of oppression and destruction.

"The Butcher Cumberland is not revered in many parts of the Highlands and Islands as well as Scotland. It is galling to think that a song that venerates him and his actions will receive so much air time over the summer."

Mr Gibson says that he is bemused by the BBCs decision choose the music which is in praise of the 4th worse Briton in History.

"In a current poll on the BBCs History magazine website to find the worst Briton of the second millennia AD Cumberland is in 4th place behind King John, Thomas Becket and Jack the Ripper. Indeed he is obviously considered as the worst Briton of the 18th Centaury as he is the only choice. So it would be farcical is the BBC were to play music which was written for the 4th worst Britton in history and the worst in the 18th century."

"I appeal to the BBC for some clemency for the majority of Highlanders it is bad enough that Scotland are not in the World Cup and that we will have to put up with constant reminders of 1966 and all that without having to be reminded of 1746 and all that."

Mr Gibson says that there is a precedent for changing songs and lyrics which are deemed offensive ...

"In God Save the Queen they eventually dropped the verse which originally called for the crushing of Rebellious Scots (Jacobites) I hope that the BBC follow this line and will commission a with a new theme tune which is less offensive."

Mr Gibson will be writing to the head of the BBC Scotland as well as BBC and the first minister on the matter.

Link To BBC website poll 'Who was the worst Briton In History?'

Text of Rob Gibson's motion
S2M-4324 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP) : Replacement Theme Tune for BBC World Cup Football Coverage- That the Parliament calls on the BBC to commission new music to introduce their coverage of the 2006 World Cup football tournament in Germany; calls for the rejection of their recently announced choice, "Sports Prepare", which is adapted from "See the Conquering Hero Comes", a hymn in praise of the Duke of Cumberland, the victor at Culloden; notes that its composer, George Frederick Handel, included it in his oratorio, "Judas Maccabaeus", celebrating the Hanoverian victory over the Jacobites in the rising of 1745-46 which was followed by Cumberland's repression of the Highlanders, backed by his government, that nearly destroyed Gaelic society, language and customs and included near genocide in some areas along with the infliction of indiscriminate punishment against Hanoverian as well as Jacobite clans people, and therefore calls on the Scottish Executive to remind the BBC that in a multicultural age appropriate music for world cup football coverage should not engender memories of oppression and destruction of Gaelic Scotland which is only recovering in our times.  - Lodged on 02 May 2006

3 May 06

Highland MSPs John Farquhar Munro and Jamie Stone have welcomed the news that European officials have today lifted the export ban on British Beef.
The beef export trade was worth £130 million to Scotland before exports were banned in 1996 in response to the BSE crisis.  Reacting to the announcement, Far North MSP Jamie Stone said: "This is fantastic news. A most welcome shot in the arm for our farmers who have had to put up with impossibly hard circumstances."  "As we Scots know our beef is the best in the world and I'm confident Scotland's environment and farming standards can deliver a premium product to an EU consumer."  Ross, Skye and Inverness West MSP, John Farquhar Munro, added: "The lifting of the ban has taken a long time in coming - too long - but renewed access to EU markets is clearly very good news for all British and Highlands beef producers.  "It is now important that meat producers re-establish themselves in our lost markets. I am confident that the Scottish Executive and meat producers organisations will do all they can to ensure this goal is achieved."

Rob Gibson is an author and has written books about the Highlands and recently updated and reissued his book  "The Highland Clearances Trail"

4 April 06

Vulnerable Highland witnesses will now have the right to give evidence in court proceedings from behind a screen or by video link, thanks to new laws introduced this week. The measures, which cover witnesses with mental illness or those in a state of fear, have been made available as part of the phased introduction of the 2004 Vulnerable Witnesses Act.
The protection improvements are aimed at witnesses involved in High Court and Sheriff Court jury cases, as well as Children's Hearings court proceedings. Measures also include the use of a "supporter" who can sit beside the witness to help reassure them, and the use of a prior statement as the witness's main evidence.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan, who sits on the Justice 2 Committee commented, "All witnesses will now be able to play a full role in ensuring justice is done.
Giving evidence in court proceedings can be daunting for any witnesses but for the most vulnerable, including those with learning disabilities, mental illness or those who fear for their safety it can be an intimidating and frightening experience which affects a their ability to give evidence.
Allowing witnesses to give evidence through video link or behind screens will support them to provide the best possible evidence in court. Not only strengthening our justice system, but protecting our witnesses."
Mrs Macmillan added, "I appreciate that there may be logistical difficulties in providing the necessary equipment across a scattered rural area such as the Highlands but I am confident these can be overcome and this new support delivered to vulnerable witnesses in our area."

27 March 06
Press and Journal Sale.

Commenting on today's announcement that The Aberdeen Journals business, which includes The Press and Journal and Evening Express newspapers, is to be bought by DC Thomson owners of the Sunday Post and The Courier.  MSP Mary Scanlon said, "I am delighted that the ownership issue of The Press & Journal and the Aberdeen Evening Express has been settled, because I know that change can sometimes be difficult for staff. However, DC Thomson are well respected in the world of journalism. With the full range of DC Thomson publications I am sure they will help both papers go from strength to strength and make the most of the talents of their employees."

27 March 06

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has written to Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry over the difficulty in accessing civil legal aid being experienced by women in parts of the Highland, who have been the victims of domestic abuse or are undergoing a marital break-up. Mrs Macmillan said, "I have been approached by local Women's Aid groups and Scottish Women's Aid who have raised their concerns at the lack of access to civil legal aid in Skye & Lochalsh and to a certain extent in Caithness and Sutherland. I understand that at present there are no solicitors in the Skye and Lochalsh area offering civil legal aid work. At the moment, women, who for example need the support of the law to obtain an interdict to protect them from a violent ex-partner are unable to access civil legal aid representation. I believe that other organisations who support people in similar circumstances have also expressed the same disquiet as Women's Aid. This is clearly intolerable and makes a mockery of recent legislation, which has improved legal protection for the victims of domestic abuse.

Solicitors in Fort William and Inverness have been contacted by Women's Aid groups but find it impossible to take up cases since they cannot be reimbursed for travelling to Portree Sheriff Court. Inverness solicitors who specialise in Family Law are all too aware of the problem and are concerned that a good number of women and children are affected by the current legal aid regulations, which discourage solicitors from appearing in distant rural courts - where representation by local solicitors is not possible.
Mrs Macmillan added, "Legislation to reform legal aid is due to come before parliament shortly. I have both spoken and written to the Deputy Justice Minister urging him to ensure that the regulations on payments for travelling to courts such as Portree be changed as a matter of urgency. The whole question of remuneration for civil legal aid needs to be addressed.
It is vitally important that those escaping domestic abuse have all the support they need, including legal aid representation in civil courts. We must make sure that solicitors are available to undertake such civil legal aid work in all Highland courts and I will continue to press the Minister on this issue."
In Caithness Highland Law Practice based at Wick offer a criminal and civil legal aid service.  A spokesman for Young Robertson in Thurso said they only offer civil services but do not do matrimonial work.  Another firm of solicitors in Thurso, Macphersons and Co do take on civil Legal Aid work.  One problem highlighted was the position in a matrimonial dispute where one partner managed to access legal aid and the other could not and might have to try to get assistance from as far away as Inverness.

23 March 06
Gibson Presses Finnie over HomeAid Short-term Funding Problem

Highlands & Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has written to the Environment Minister Ross Finnie, asking that he provide interim funding to keep a important Caithness and Sutherland scheme running.
Mr Gibson has written to Mr Finne requesting that money be found for HomeAid based in Thurso.  HomeAid recycles essential goods such as electrical appliances and furniture and supplies them to low income and disadvantaged groups in the community.
However the service faces a cash short fall of around 8-6 weeks while it waits the outcome of it's bid for funding from the Highland Council.  Mr Gibson says that any funding short fall could be unsettling.  "HomeAid needs the money to that it can continue to collect the recycled goods from the centers so that it can supply the community. However without money this will stop which could be disastrous for the long term stability of the charity and detrimental to the vast numbers of people who are served by the charity."
"HomeAid helps reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill in Caithness and Sutherland as well as providing a service for large numbers of people. Therefore I am see no reason why the Scottish Government cannot keep this vital service running for a short period of time until the funding issue is resolved. Should the Liberal and Labour Government refuse to do so then it casts severe question marks over their commitment to remote and rural areas."

21 March 06
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan is welcoming the ban on smoking in enclosed public places in Scotland, which comes into force on Sunday 26th March.

Mrs Macmillan said," This is a highly significant piece of legislation which will make a tremendous difference to the health of Scotland. The facts make for stark reading - over 13,000 Scots die every year from smoking related diseases - the equivalent of 250 a week or 35 a day; non-smokers exposed to passive smoking in the home have a 25% increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer; more than 17,000 children under five are admitted to hospital in the UK every year because of the effects of passive smoking. The human toll of these premature and avoidable deaths and illnesses is considerable.

The banning of smoking in enclosed public places from 6am next Sunday will result in workplaces, pubs and restaurants all becoming smoke free. Quite simply, it is totally unacceptable that workers are exposed to passive smoking. The new law offers the opportunity for the biggest improvement in public health in Scotland for over a generation.

I have recently given up smoking my occasional cigarette and I realise only too well how addictive smoking is and empathise with those trying to give it up. I would recommend that anyone attempting to stop smoking considers seeking the assistance and support available through their local doctor's surgery.

I know that there is concern about the economic impact of the ban on licensed premises. However, in New York one year after a smoking ban was introduced in bars and restaurants, tax receipts are up, employment is up, openings are up, and the number of liquor licences are up. The number of regular adult smokers has fallen from 21.6% to 19.3% since the ban was introduced. In Ireland, where a ban was also introduced cigarettes sales have fallen by around 16% and in a survey undertaken three months after the ban visits to pubs were slightly up, due to increased non-smoker visits."

Mrs Macmillan added," I know the publicity surrounding the ban has made me take the decision to finally stop smoking and I hope others do the same. I have no doubt that in the future, as Scotland's health improves, the importance of the introduction next Sunday's smoking ban will be acknowledged."

19 March 06
Highland Labour MSP wins concessions in Animal Health & Welfare Bill

Highlands & Islands Labour MSP, Maureen Macmillan has persuaded Ministers to bring forward an amendment at Stage 3 of the Animal Health & Welfare Bill which will require the Executive, before exercising their power to slaughter animals to prevent the spread of disease, to publish a statement outlining the reasons for their decision.

Mrs Macmillan said, “It is important that Parliament, the farming industry and the general public know before the slaughter takes place why the Executive has made this decision. I would expect such a statement to refer to appropriate scientific and veterinary advice given, economic and other factors as appropriate to the circumstances.

“I also asked the Deputy Minister to consider whether protocols should not be put in place which would include the principal factors to be taken in to account in deciding whether to exercise the powers of slaughter and how any such decision might be reviewed. I am pleased to say the Deputy Minister has again agreed to look at how such protocols might sit with the Executive’s contingency planning proposals.”

Mrs Macmillan added, “I believe that it is important to have transparency in the way decisions on slaughter will be made, since such a decision will have a major impact on the communities affected by it.”
Animal Health And Welfare Bill Progress At Scottish  Parliament

7 March 06
MSP hopes new website will encourage people to "Get in Touch"

MSP Jamie McGrigor hopes his new website will mean more constituents will get in touch.  Launching www.jamiemcgrigormsp.com , the Conservative MSP said the site would make it easier for him to update people across the Highlands and Islands with his latest news, as well as making it easier for them to raise issues with him.

Jamie McGrigor said "It's so important that people feel they can contact their local representatives and I hope this new site encourages my constituents to get in touch.

"The new site is designed to make access to information as simple as possible. As well as holding all my latest news, it also has an online diary in which meetings and events I am attending will be published, making it easier for people to see the work I'm doing their area.

"Constituents can also register for Email Updates and this allows me to keep them up to date with the very latest news of what I'm doing and what's going on at Parliament in general. I'm also hoping to include an online surgery facility soon.

"I hope people will visit the site and contact me with any suggestions as to content and other services, and that this will help me better serve my constituents across the Highlands and Islands".


28 February 06

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has received confirmation from Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm that the successful Central Heating Programme for pensioners will continue beyond 2006.

Mrs Macmillan said,"The Minister has advised that the scheme will continue after the current programme is due to end next month. This is good news for those over 60 who qualify and have still not taken advantage of the programme; which provides insulation and new central heating systems free of charge.

Recently, I had written to Malcolm Chisholm and raised the need to consider alternative systems such as mini-wind turbines, LPG, wood pellet boilers or solar panels, in any new programme. I am very aware of the impact of high fuel costs in rural areas, particularly for the elderly and those on low incomes. Recent domestic fuel price increases have been substantial, particularly for domestic heating oil and gas. In his response to my correspondence the Minister had previously given me an undertaking to examine alternative fuel sources during a review then being carried out on the Central Heating Programme.

Micro-renewables have tremendous potential and ultimately offer lower costs to the consumer, whilst at the same time cutting CO2 emissions. An example of good practice in this area is Ormlie Housing Estate in Thurso, where amongst other innovations; solar panels were installed on local houses to help provide the hot water needs of householders. I have now been advised by the Communities Minister that a pilot scheme is to be run to test the viability of micro renewables as a part of the continuing Central Heating Programme."

Mrs Macmillan added, "Although further details on the continuing operation of the Central Heating Programme for certain groups over 60 have still to be announced, I am delighted that the future of the programme is secure; and that it will include a pilot scheme on renewables. There is a critical need to both address our CO2 emissions and secure less costly and more sustainable fuel sources and I look forward to hearing the Executive's proposals."

24 February 06
'More needs to be done to achieve a proper rail line to the far
north' - Gibson

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP has branded as derisory news of a new train service from Wick to Inverness which will be 15 minutes shorter. The new service will save 15 minutes on the journey by missing out certain stops on the way south. This time saving measure will mean that the journey from Wick to Inverness will be 4 hours. Mr Gibson says the move is far too timid....
"I can hardly see the people of the far North rejoicing in this announcement, the hard fact is that this move still makes it 4 hours by train from Wick to Inverness, so it will hardly bring in the crowds. The news of the two jobs is encouraging, however the question would have to be put how many extra jobs there would be if there was an even faster rail connection to Inverness."
He continued..."A root and branch reappraisal of the Far North Line and investment in and upgrading of the track will result in major time saving journey's. Adding a train which by passes by a few station is merely papering over the cracks of a line which is withering on the vine."
"If people involved in railways in the Highlands consider a 4 hour journey from Wick to Inverness a thing to crow about. While they will not seriously consider an alternative approach which would significantly reduce travel time then you have to question their judgment and commitment to transport infrastructure in the area."

23 February 06
Beauly to Denny Line Health Risks

Highland MSP Mary Scanlon has again highlighted the case for the under-grounding of the proposed Beauly to Denny Transmission Line upgrade.  Speaking in Parliamentary Members debate on the proposal, Mary said; "This has been a controversial issue for many reasons, not least the potential Health concerns.  "The case has been made for the under-grounding of the line on the basis of its harmful effects on the landscape of the area, on tourism and on local business. "The findings of the recent Report by Professor Draper, into the link between high voltage power lines concluded that levels of childhood leukaemia increased within 600 metres of a line. "Almost 900 homes could be affected by these proposed Mega-Pylons, considerably more than the number provided by Scottish and Southern energy in their environmental evaluation. "The Draper report's findings have been disputed, but whilst no evidence exists to prove conclusively that these lines cause no harmful effects, we must heed the warnings. "It is my understanding that a public enquiry into the line is almost inevitable, but the evidence of harmful effects of overhead transmission lines must be investigated by the Health Minister, and decisions made by him." Mary also raised the issue of the huge cluster of pylons and extended inter-connector required for Beauly, which should be examined for health effects.

21 February 06
Highland Students Lose out as Advanced Higher Scrapped
Commenting on the proposal of Highland Council to withdraw the option of Advanced Highers from Secondary Schools in the region, Mary Scanlon MSP said; "The loss of the opportunity to study for Advanced Highers will leave school students in the Highlands at a distinct disadvantage when they come to apply for University places.

"They will be unable to compete on a level playing field with other students from around Scotland, as well as English pupils applying to sit courses at Scottish Universities, and will be particularly disadvantaged when they apply to sit courses at Universities in England. Since the Advanced Higher is benchmarked on the English A Level, the scrapping of this option means that pupils in Highland would be unable to attain the same level of achievement as those in English schools."

Mary, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, continued; "The educational progression of all pupils will be badly affected, as the opportunity to further develop their studies and gain greater depth of knowledge in preferred subjects is lost, and they cannot learn the skills of self-motivation and autonomous study which are essential in preparation for University.

"The SQA states that the Advanced higher should be the fifth level on its Higher Still range of National Qualifications. The loss of this level may see many high-achieving students forced to leave school following Fifth year, as they are left with no more scope for attainment, and their chances of progressing into Higher Education badly affected.

Mary, Scottish Conservative Communities Spokesman, concluded; "I would hope that if all secondary schools in the Highland feel unable to offer the Advanced higher due to Executive cutbacks and low class numbers, then the Advanced higher could still be offered, perhaps in fewer and selected schools.

"They should not be scrapping the Advanced Higher without offering some kind of replacement."

17 February 06
'Listen fully to the crofters' - Gibson
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson has pressed the Scottish Executive to listen carefully to crofters before they publish the Crofting Reform Bill at the end of this month.   See Crofting Reform Bill Consultation - now closed.

M r Gibson has lodged a question with Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie after he became concerned that the Executive has so far ignored crofters responses to the Scottish Executive during consultation on the Bill because SEERAD has only published its views last December on submissions that directly answer the specific questions that were laid out in the consultation.

Mr Gibson says that to get a clear picture of where crofting is and where it should go, the Executive needs to listen to all of what the crofters have to say during the consultation and not just to the answers to certain predetermined questions it wanted to ask .

"Since SEERAD Ministers plan to publish the new draft Crofting Reform Bill around 28 February they must be pinned down to answer the helpful suggestions from many submissions that have been ignored in their response document published last December."

He continued... "I have waited patiently for such responses , so far in vain. Several area crofting organisations and individuals have suggested that the Crofters Commission should be elected by crofters and that the Commission should then elect its own chair. Needless to say this hasn't surfaced. Nor has any detailed discussion about area policies, their supervision and development."

"These are crucial to the removal of suspicion that the Crofters Commission does not have the interests of crofters and the crofting way of life at the heart of its reforms. Detailed regulation to encompass both tenanted and owner occupied crofts will be best delivered by a Commission that has the confidence of the crofting majority."

10 February 06
McGrigor anger as Labour play council tax blame game

Responding to today's news that average band D council tax bills are likely to rise significantly across the Highlands and Islands, MSP Jamie McGrigor said:
"The Labour/Liberal Scottish Executive blames the councils and the councils blame the Executive.
"While Labour and the Liberal Democrats play the blame game, local people are seeing more and more of their income go on paying the ever increasing council tax bill. Yet are we seeing improvements to levels of service?
"So far, all the increases announced are well above the 2.5% level the First Minister claims would be a reasonable increase. If Jack McConnell really wants to see increases kept low then he needs to cut back on his Executive's ring fencing of local government funding and allow local councils to determine the funding priorities in their areas.
"Until he does this, council tax levels will increase while services are lost and quality standards decrease. This is the legacy of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive - higher council tax bills and less service".

10 February 06
Scottish Executive Debate on Volunteering

Speaking in yesterday's Executive debate, Mary Scanlon MSP welcomed the chance to discuss the benefits of volunteering for communities across Scotland, and took the opportunity to highlight the work done by Mountain Rescue Teams in the Highlands.
Mary commented; "Last week, I met with the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, a highly trained professional team who are taken to the Cairngorm Mountains in all weathers, at all times of the day and night, and in all months of the year to rescue walkers and climbers in distress. All the Mountain Rescue teams in Scotland are highly trained, dedicated and undoubtedly fit for the purpose in every sense of the word. We must ask then why it is that even they must worry over where their funding is coming from.
"Their previous 3 year settlement is almost at an end, and uncertainty over future funding is already creeping in, therefore I would welcome Ministerial assurance over this situation."
Mary highlighted the voluntary sector's capability and suitability as a gatepost and advice centre for people who face drug or alcohol problems.
"I find it increasingly hard to advise people where to go when someone in their family has a drug or alcohol problem, and yet Highland Council is giving no uplift in funding to the voluntary sector in Highland. This is equivalent to another cutback and will severely affect smaller organisations.
"The voluntary sector could direct people to the best source of help. At the present time, there seems to be little co-ordination and partnership working across the agencies and across the Executives departments to address the ever growing problem in Scotland.
"There is no doubt that the two main problems faced by the voluntary sector are the lack of financial stability and the growing lack of volunteers.
"I am pleased that David Cameron has put volunteering high up on his political agenda, and that his initiative has been endorsed by the Chief Executive of Project Scotland, who has said that she is pleased to hear that the impact of the voluntary sector is being recognised across the UK.

9 February 06
Rob Gibson Supports John Thurso's Call For An Energy Study Centre
SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands Rob Gibson has welcomed Far North MP John Thurso's call for a energy study centre to be based in Caithness and has called on John Thurso's Lib Dem colleagues in Edinburgh to follow his lead.

Mr Gibson's comments follow Mr Thurso's submission to the Trade and Industry Committee in which he called for a national research facility into renewable energies to be sited on the former nuclear site at Dounreay...

Mr Gibson says that it is good to see a ground swell of support of such a development but says the prime movers have to be the Scottish Executive.....

"It has been a long standing policy of the SNP to site a renewable energy centre at Dounreay combined with selling decommissioning skills around the globe. So I welcome the support from Mr Thurso. However for this to happen there must be support from the Scottish Executive, in particular the Lib Dem Minister for renewable energy and Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen."

"Anyone who has an interest in the future prosperity of the Far North must see the potential that such a research hub would bring to the area. It would be exciting to think that cutting edge research on how best to harness our natural, free energy could be carried out on our door step. This would create long term highly skilled employment. "

"Therefore it is of the utmost importance that the backers of such a scheme press home the message to Government in Edinburgh and London that a renewable energy research facility is needed and wanted in the Far North."

See This Is north Scotland web site and add your comments to the article printed in the Press and Journal

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has questioned Nicol Stephen, the Minister with responsibility for Communications, on what steps the Scottish Executive is taking to provide solutions to the clusters of households that are still out of reach of broadband.

Mrs Macmillan said, "I have had regular contact from constituents who are still unable to access broadband technology and questioned the Minister, in parliament, on what solutions were being considered. In his response he pointed out that Scotland now has 99.7% access to broadband with broadband delivered to 378 remote and rural telephone exchanges. This is no consolation, however, for those still trying to receive the technology and I pressed the Minister on a timescale for delivering broadband to the remaining areas.

The problem with the areas still without broadband relates to the distance from the enabled exchanges and the limitations on the copper wires running to households, in terms of reach. The Minister said that the Executive are working with independent advisers to try and overcome the problems for individual households or groups of households and will try to get a strategy agreed by the spring. Some households still have significant problems, although improvements are being made weekly. The Executive has now allocated a budget for the remaining work, so that they can invest appropriate resources to resolve the problem."

Mrs Macmillan added, "I appreciate how frustrating the present situation is for those still trying to access broadband, particularly if they are involved in any type of business. The Minister's response was encouraging and hopefully matters will improve after the new broadband strategy for the remaining areas is implemented in the summer.

In the meantime, I would again encourage subscribers to keep applying for broadband provision, so that the clusters of subscribers still requiring the technology are apparent to BT."
Sam Knows -  A web site to check coverage and more

19 January 06
Gibson questions Lord Advocate over Skye Bridge Tolls

'An unsatisfactory response which will require more questions' was how Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson greeted the response to his question from the Scottish Executive on the Skye Bridge Tolls.
Mr Gibson (himself fined for non payment during the anti tolls campaign) asked Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC whether the legality of the Skye Bridge contract documents and subsequent prosecutions can be established beyond doubt, in light of recent comments by the former Procurator Fiscal at Dingwall.
In response the Lord Advocate swotted aside the comments from former Procurator Fiscal David Hingston, that despite prosecuting people for non payment of tolls he never actually saw the document which allowed for tolls to be collected.
Speaking after Mr Gibson said...."This is not the end of the issue there are many unanswered questions that still remain and evidence which can be found to prove conclusively that the Skye Bridge Tolls were always illegal. Mr Hingston's comment casts more dubious light on the legality of the tolls and the dismissive attitude from the Lord Advocate to his remarks is even more puzzling. "
He continued..."I want to know where the toll license is and whether it had the signature of either Ian Lang (the then secretary of State for Scotland) or his Minister Lord James Douglas Hamilton and what was actually written on it? The question for the Scottish Executive and Lord Advocate is; do they consider it justified that an unsigned draft tolling license is adequate for the prosecution of non-payment, without a reasonable excuse and beyond reasonable doubt, and the lawful collection of some £60 million in tolls? And why was the Procurator Fiscal at Dingwall not shown the proper documents which allowed the collecting of tolls?
He ended...
"These are answers which are sorely needed to clear the unjust charges that many people throughout Scotland have and a way of ending the saga of the Skye bridge tolls."

19 January 06
First Minister Questioned on NHS Dentistry

Mary Scanlon MSP today questioned the First Minister on the future of NHS dentistry funding.
With almost a third of dental practices failing to qualify for a new allowances scheme, the First Minister failed to provide assurance that he would intervene in order to ensure a new contract negotiated in the best interests of patients, declaring; 'no group has a veto over the decisions of the Parliament or this Executive.'
Mary commented; "It is unfortunate that the new measures were not negotiated with the British Dental Association, but, as I understand it, were determined unilaterally by the Scottish Executive.
"The result is that many dentists will not get the new allowances, despite the fact that they treat hundreds of children and adults who are exempt from charges, indeed our most vulnerable NHS patients.
"The First Minister did not answer the question asked, which could be very unfortunate and concerning for dentists who currently provide NHS treatment. Under the new proposals there is little incentive for existing NHS dentists to continue providing treatment, and this may have grave consequences for future access to dental care.

MSP Archive 2005