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31 July 2005

MSP ATTACKS BEEF IMPORTS ‘CULTURE’ OF MAJOR SUPERMARKETS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has hit out at what he has termed the ‘imports culture’ of the major supermarket chains and the damage this is causing to the home beef industry.

Reports indicate a significant proportion of beef on supermarket shelves is now imported from South America, where farmers claim it is not produced to the same high quality standards as Scottish beef.

Speaking at Turriff Show, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am extremely concerned by the current situation facing beef farmers in my constituency. Currently, farmers are receiving less for their cattle than they were in 1995. That simply cannot be right.

“Sainsbury’s, for example, has apparently doubled its intake of beef from South America. Indeed, beef imports from Brazil increased by 29% to over 11,000 tonnes in the first quarter of 2005.

“Our farmers have some of the highest quality standards and animal health welfare standards which they must comply with. Often, this has meant significant expenditure for them to comply with EU regulations. It is simply not acceptable that having spent thousands to produce a quality product to the highest welfare standards that the major supermarkets make a dive for cheap imports produced to lower standards when it looks like the price of home-produced beef is going to rise.

“The supermarket chains must act more responsibly and start living up to their claims that they support Scottish farmers.

“I give praise where praise is due and I must single out Morrisons who are deserving of a special mention for taking over and announcing an expansion of the former Kepak meat plant at Turriff.
“Their support of the local farming industry through their recent expansion announcement is welcome. I am sure that this will see an increase in the amount of quality North-east beef being sold and positive benefits accruing to the rural economy from it.”

28 July 2005

MSP AND MEP PLEDGE ACTION ON EU WASTE DIRECTIVE

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has shown concern for the Waste Incineration Directive which is due to be implemented throughout the European Union on 28 December 2005. The directive would introduce minimum technical requirements and stringent operating conditions on the disposal of waste through incineration and co-incineration.

Mr Stevenson highlighted the case of tallow, rendered fat, which when burned can be used as a clean and efficient biofuel. Under the Animal By-products Regulation which is currently in force, the tallow is burned in steam raising boilers. Tallow is classified as carbon neutral and is therefore more environmentally friendly than other high carbon-emitting fuels such as heavy fuel oil.

All of these concerns have been voiced by NFU Scotland and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.

Commenting on the proposals in the Directive and their implications, Mr Stevenson said:

“Unfortunately, under the new proposals, new operating conditions will be introduced for the disposal procedure. This would require those in the rendering industry to install expensive new equipment to monitor the disposal of the tallow. Instead of doing this, many in the industry are likely to revert to burning heavy fuel oil, which burns with a larger proportion of CO2 emissions. The average increase in costs is estimated at £25/tonne.

“In the short term, we would hope that tallow would be made exempt from the proposed Directive. If we want to solve the problem permanently, however, a suitable strategy would be to reclassify tallow as a product rather than waste.

“I have therefore written to the Scottish Executive regarding the implementation of the directive and have urged them to make representations to the European institutions.”

Speaking in Peterhead, SNP MEP Alyn Smith said:

“It is concerning to hear that yet again it seems one side of the European Commission does not know what the other side has been doing.

“Hopefully we will be able to raise this issue with the folks in Brussels in time to stop these unforeseen consequences occurring.

“Scotland could do so well out of renewable energy and that debate is not just about the well known sources like windfarms. The energy mix in Scotland would make other countries green with envy, we'll be making sure that this directive does not trip us up.”

20 July 2005

MSP’s CONCERNS THAT NEW WATER PLANS WILL COST FARMERS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has written to Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie with concerns that proposals from SEPA on water abstraction for agricultural purposes will mean increased costs for farmers.

Mr Stevenson wrote last year to NFU Scotland branches in his constituency with his concerns on the water abstraction proposals and invited feedback. NFU Scotland nationally made a submission to the Scottish Executive with detailed proposals for minimising the effects the planned regulations will have on farmers and Mr Stevenson has lent his support to this move.

Now, concerns have been raised that farmers abstracting more than 10 cubic metres of water per day will have to pay to be regulated by the new rules.

Mr Stevenson said:

“I said at the time that this seemed like yet another layer of administration that some farmers will be forced to deal with, and it seems I was unfortunately right.

“When I was first elected, I visited a farmer who raised the subject of ‘red tape’ and administration with me and I asked him to give me a practical example by showing me the paperwork relating to one animal. The paperwork he showed me took up the entire length of his kitchen table and ever since then, I have been very conscious of the amount of time our farmers have to spend on paperwork”.

“I support the NFUS view that it is fundamentally unfair to expect farmers to pay a registration fee so they can be bound by more red tape.

“The answer is for the Scottish Executive to properly fund SEPA to carry out its duties instead of SEPA having to soak farmers for these new registration fees.”

SNP: SCOTLAND'S FISHING INDUSTRY MUST HAVE MORE FINANCIAL SUPPORT

SNP Leader Alex Salmond MP and Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson today (Wednesday) backed the Scottish fishing industry's call for extra funding to help meet the strict European legislation by 2007, which will require many trawlers to install new engines estimated at around £300,000 per boat.

Many people in the fishing industry are already struggling to make ends meet and cannot afford to meet the cost themselves. At present, the European Commission has not committed to provide any extra aid for Scotland's fishermen.

Mr Salmond said:

"It is high time burdens were taken off the fishing industry, not put on. This is the latest in a long line of restrictions or costs on an industry that has real potential but has been undermined by successive UK governments and by almost endless rules from Brussels.

"I fully back the fishing industry's call for additional financial support, otherwise many skippers in my constituency will face a huge cost barrier to continuing in the industry.

"For every £1 earned by the catching sector a further £2.50 is generated in upstream industries, and for each full-time job at sea there are a further two full time jobs onshore. If we don't get this right the impact will be felt in businesses across the north and north east of Scotland."

Mr Stevenson added:

"This is precisely the wrong time for a new burden to be placed on Scotland's fishing industry, just when they are beginning to recover from the previous draconian cuts imposed by the EU's Common Fisheries Policy.

"The industry has lost 1,200 fishermen from the north east of Scotland in the last couple of years.

"This is another issue where we must get support from Europe to re-engineer our fleet if these regulations go ahead."

19 July 2005

MINISTER TELLS STEVENSON OF PRISON PLANS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the announcement from Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson that the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) are to consult on options for prison services in the North-east over the coming weeks.

The commitment from the Minister came in a Parliamentary Answer in response to a question tabled by the SNP MSP. Among the options being discussed, a new-build jail for Peterhead is considered to be the front runner.

Speaking in Peterhead today, Mr Stevenson said:

“I very much welcome this response from the Justice Minister. A new-build jail for Peterhead is very much the lead option.

“The staff at the prison have an excellent track record. Now they need the modern premises that will enable them to build on success and further ensure public safety.

“Peterhead Prison already provides hundreds of breadwinner jobs for the town and contributes around £12million to the local economy. A new jail will mean a substantial increase in employment and possibly worth £20million to the local economy.

Note: The Parliamentary Question and answer is as follows:

Stewart Stevenson (Banff & Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what progress it has made in updating its plans for the prison estate. (S2W-17707)

Cathy Jamieson: I asked the Scottish prison Service (SPS) to update its Prisons Estates Strategy in light of the Napier judgement and other developments since the Estates Review was completed in 2002. As part of that work, SPS will be discussing options for prison services in the North-east of Scotland with a range of local and national interests over the coming weeks. SPS will then report to me. I will thereafter decide on the way forward.

18 July 2005

Stevenson Welcomes Healthy Improvement to Local School Menus

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed news that new healthier menus will be introduced in local primary schools after the summer break. Previously each school devised its own menu along pre-determined guidelines but new standards under the Hungry for Success initiative have led the Council's Catering Services to adopt a new approach.

The new menus will meet nutritional recommendations set by the Scottish Executive in the Hungry for Success initiative, having been nutritionally analysed and balanced over each week. The selections featured on the new menus will have lower fat, salt and sugar content and provide sufficient iron, calcium and vitamins.

A standardised menu now covering all schools has been compiled, and the SNP MSP has written to Aberdeenshire Council’s Chief Executive, Alan Campbell, urging the council to use locally sourced produce, to ensure high quality and freshness.

Speaking from his constituency office, Mr Stevenson said:

“Providing our children with healthy and nutritious food at school is one of the most important contributions we can make to the future well-being of our nation. Here in the North-east we produce and harvest the finest of natural foods, and it therefore makes sense for schools to take advantage of this position.

“There is the potential for a double win, with local schools getting healthy, fresh, high quality foods, and the local economy also getting a boost from schools local sourcing. I have written to Aberdeenshire Council urging them to make use of this welcome opportunity.”

STEVENSON: POLICE MUST BE GIVEN POWERS TO TACKLE KNIFE CRIME PANDEMIC

SNP Depute Shadow Justice Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, today (Monday) called for Scottish police to be given additional resources to tackle the “scourge” of knife crime.

Mr Stevenson made the call following the release of new figures from Strathclyde Police, which showed that, since January, there had been 13 murders, 145 attempted murders and 1100 serious assaults in the area.

Mr Stevenson said:

“These are shocking figures which graphically show that Scotland is indeed in the grip of a knife pandemic.

“Police in Strathclyde and throughout Scotland must be given the resources and powers they need to tackle this growing problem. Anyone found carrying a knife should face the full force of the law.

“However, we must also do more to combat the underlying culture of acceptance towards knives in Scotland and the factors that contribute to cases of knife-related crime.

“The Executive must tackle the underlying causes of these crimes; drinks, drugs and deprivation.

“It must also be recognised that knives are not a means of protection against possible assault. They are lethal weapons and we must do all that we can to ensure everyone in Scotland views them as such.”

4 July 2005

FINNIE RESPONDS TO STEVENSON ON SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FARMERS

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson is urging farmers to respond to a Scottish Executive consultation in the coming months on the Scottish Rural Development Plan.

Mr Stevenson was speaking after receiving a response from Farming Minister Ross Finnie on support for new entrants to agriculture. The SNP MSP had queried why a support scheme existed in Northern Ireland for young farmers, but not in Scotland.

It emerged that the Department for Agriculture & Rural Development in Northern Ireland had launched such a scheme last month. The Northern Irish scheme supports the establishment of young farmers under 40 years of age by providing an interest subsidy on loans.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I know that there is support for such a scheme as the issue of support for young farmers is one which is raised with me frequently.

“I wrote to the Minister on the matter seeking to know when young farmers in the North-east will have access to the same support as their counterparts in Northern Ireland.

“Mr Finnie has responded that his department is starting to draw up plans for the new Scottish Rural Development Plan which is set to run from 2007 and a formal consultation will be undertaken in the coming months. The Minister recognises that the current age structure in farming is too high and I therefore hope that some positive measures will be forthcoming to secure the next generation of North-east farmers.”

Note: The Department for Agriculture & Rural Development for Northern Ireland (DARD) launched the new entrants scheme for young farmers on 6 June 2005.

Speaking at the launch, the Minister Jeff Rooker said: "The aim of the New Entrants Scheme is to support young, progressive farmers who are prepared to invest in innovative measures which will help make their new businesses genuinely competitive in the more market-focused environment that is emerging in the wake of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform."

The proposed scheme has a number of conditions attached which require applicants to achieve a minimum level of competence in farming, environmental and animal welfare practices.

The Minister continued: "Having the necessary skills base will be a vital factor for any farm business wishing to remain viable in the competitive markets that exist today and in the future. They are also part and parcel of what is now regarded as responsible farming practice. I am confident that these conditions will not be a barrier to applications from progressive, young farmers wishing to build a long term career in the Northern Ireland agricultural industry."

1 July 2005

STEVENSON: EXECUTIVE MUST END JAILING OF UNDER-16s

SNP Deputy Shadow Justice Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, today (Friday) called for the Executive to take immediate action to end the holding children at the Polmont Young Offenders Institute.

Mr Stevenson made the call after it emerged that 11 children had been held at the institute in the last year, more than 12 months after inspectors advised against the policy.

Mr Stevenson said:

“It totally unacceptable that children under the age of 16 are being held at the Polmont Young Offenders Institute and this shows the Executive’s assertion that it is providing more secure accommodation places for children up for the lie that it is.

“The UN states that a child must only be imprisoned 'as a last resort' and locking young children up in institutions like Polmont could cause incalculable harm.

“The best interests of these children must be the Executive’s primary consideration, and action must be taken immediately to stop young children being locked up.”
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