Forth oil plan may prompt new legislation

MINISTERS are considering changing the law to make sure the Scottish Parliament's views are taken into account over the controversial ship-to-ship oil transfer scheme for the Forth.

Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, revealed during the final Scotsman 300 debate in Edinburgh last night that the Scottish Executive was considering legislation to stop Forth Ports from having the sole decision-making role on the issue.

The debate, featuring party leaders and deputy leaders from all the main parties, was the culmination of a two-month series of events around the country to stimulate discussion on the issues facing Scotland today.

Shipping company SPT wants to start transferring oil from carriers into tankers in the Forth, a plan which has aroused fierce opposition on both sides of the firth amid fears of environmental damage. The decision rests with Forth Ports, a private company, not with the Scottish Parliament - something which has angered MSPs on all sides.

Forth Ports also stands to benefit financially from the deal, leading to demands that the rules be changed to give the Scottish Parliament and the Executive a say on whether it goes ahead.

Ms Jamieson said that ministers were considering this option but warned that, with parliament rising in less than a month, it would be difficult to do anything before the election.

She said that a solution would have to be worked out with Westminster.

Ms Jamieson said: "You can only intervene when you have the appropriate legislative powers."

And she added: "Ministers have already accepted that this issue has thrown up a number of grey areas in devolved and reserved matters for the Scottish Parliament and some of those areas potentially need to be looked at."

Ms Jamieson said emergency legislation would be difficult because of the proximity of the election.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament, SPT insisted that its transfer plans were safe - despite a serious oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 1995.

Holyrood's environment committee wrote to SPT after learning the company had been involved in the 35,000 gallon spillage - more than 800 barrels - and had neglected to tell the committee about it.

But Dermot Loughnane, the president and chief executive officer of SPT replied saying there had been no deliberate intention to conceal the spill.

He said that other than the Gulf of Mexico incident, in the past 26 years there had been only two other spills, amounting to four barrels worth, out of the six billion barrels transferred during that period.

However Linden Jarvis, a campaigner against the ship-to-ship transfer plans, said he did not believe the process was as safe as SPT claimed. He added: "It only takes a small spillage to do tremendous damage."

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