Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:18 pm on 3rd June 1999.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 3:18 pm, 3rd June 1999

The next item of business is the debate on motion S1M-19, in the name of Mr Ross Finnie, on the Scottish adjacent waters boundaries. Members will note that the amendment shown in the business bulletin in the name of Mr David Davidson has been withdrawn. In a moment, I shall ask Mr Finnie formally to move his motion and to speak on it. I will take the remaining two amendments to the motion in the order in which they appear in the business bulletin. I will then invite other members to speak. The debate will end at 5 pm; I ask members to keep their remarks reasonably short.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 3:32 pm, 3rd June 1999

I am pleased to have the opportunity to move the motion. Before I refer to the important issues that it raises, I should like to make a few general remarks on fisheries in this, my first speech in my present capacity.

I want to make it clear to the Parliament that I am aware of the importance of the fishing industry to the Scottish economy. Last year, landings in Scotland were valued at over £300 million, which represented nearly two thirds of the total value of landings in the United Kingdom. I also recognise that fishing is the economic mainstay of many fragile rural communities, especially in the Highlands and Islands. I want a modern, sustainable fishing industry in Scotland that will support those fishing communities.

I want to involve the Scottish fishing industry in achieving that goal. From the outset, I want to make clear the importance that I attach to involving the industry. If the whole episode over this order has taught us one thing, surely it is that we cannot-as a substitute for real consultation and dialogue-rely on indirect communication through the issue of press notices and the like. What passed for consultation at Westminster will not suffice in this Parliament. I want to give a positive assurance that-certainly on matters in my domain-that will be the case.

Furthermore, I do not have any difficulty with the principle that the Scottish Parliament should be able to request Westminster to reconsider a proposal that has already been before it. However, we should do so only when what is proposed, or has been proposed, by Westminster causes a material disadvantage to those affected by the proposal. In relation to the order, my difficulty is that reading of the facts indicates that they do not point to anyone having incurred a material disadvantage.

The subject of this debate is a key element of the devolution process. Members have heard a great deal about the Scottish Adjacent Water Boundaries Order, but I regret that much of what has been said has been misinformed. I want to take the next few moments to stick to the facts about what is set out in the order. An example of that misinformation is, as I read or heard somewhere, that the boundary begins at Carnoustie: that is simply not true. The exact distance due east from Carnoustie to the boundary line is nearly 93 miles, or-as I understand some members are keen that it be expressed both ways-81 nautical miles. At its nearest point to Carnoustie, the boundary is closer to north Sunderland.

The most important point is that it is also wrong to claim that a legally enforceable boundary line has been shifted. This is the first time that a fisheries boundary has been fixed in law. Before devolution, there were no Scottish fishing waters. There were only British fishing limits. The so-called existing line is simply part of an administrative arrangement within a UK-wide management regime. The boundary lines in the order are being drawn in accordance with international convention on such matters and-as members who have studied this matter will be aware-have involved the use of median lines.

The net effect of that approach is that every point on the boundary line is equidistant from Scotland and England. All the sea in the Scottish zone is closer to Scotland and all the sea south of the boundary is closer to England. I find that approach to be demonstrably fair, reasonable and legally defensible. We are talking about an aspect of the devolution settlement.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

I am trying to reconcile Mr Finnie's last statement about the arrangement being demonstrably fair, and so on, with his first statement about consulting the fishing industry. The industry does not regard the settlement as fair. Did Mr Finnie consult the industry before making his statement about that demonstrably fair system? If not, how does he reconcile that with his pledge about consultation before statements?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I understand that the industry has made no claim of unfairness in relation to its ability to fish. The important point is that we are establishing an administrative boundary that must be part of a devolution settlement. We are not talking about questions of independence. The result is that the Scottish Executive has exclusive jurisdiction over all the sea that is closest to Scotland. Ministers will have responsibility for dealing with the waters that are closest to them. That is fair and reasonable.

A third claim is that the fishing grounds have been handed over to England. That is not the case. The rights of fishermen are not altered by the order. After 1 July they will be able to fish exactly as they do today.

The facts are relatively straightforward. The establishment of a boundary within the British fisheries limits east and west of Scotland is essential. By fixing the boundary, we can be absolutely clear about the scope that this Parliament has to regulate sea fisheries. Before devolution, many of the functions of managing sea fisheries lay with the four fisheries ministries. Those jointly exercised powers apply throughout the United Kingdom; the effect of the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundary Order is that Scottish ministers in the Scottish Parliament can exercise exclusive powers over the zone, in the wider framework of the common fisheries policy. That means that the responsibility for regulating-I am told that this figure is absolutely accurate-the 127,231 nautical square miles has been transferred from the UK Government to the Scottish Parliament. I remind members that that relates to exclusive jurisdiction. It does not limit the ability of Scottish fishermen to fish within British fishing limits.

I understand the genuine concern expressed by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and other representatives. There is a worry that Scottish fishermen who are alleged to have committed an offence outwith the new Scottish zone and, in particular, within the area affected by the change, will be prosecuted in an English court.

For the benefit of members, let me put that concern into perspective. No prosecutions have arisen in that area in the past three years-none at all. Indeed, the area is relatively lightly patrolled by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency. I find it incredible to believe that the passing of the order will lead to an outbreak of illegality by Scottish fishermen, nor do we expect any change in that patrol pattern.

However, strong representations have been made to me on that point and strong feelings have been expressed by fishermen and their representatives. Accordingly, I intend to write to the appropriate ministers of the Crown, to explore with them whether any flexibility might be applied to prosecutions if any fishermen should change their habits of the past three years.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

This morning, on the radio, I heard a spokesperson for the Scottish fishing industry put forward the scenario of a collision between a fishing vessel and a North sea oil industry vessel in the North sea. His point was that the line of jurisdiction now seems to be different for the oil industry from that for the fishing industry. Which courts-English or Scottish-would be responsible for dealing with such a matter under criminal or civil law?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That is, as always, an interesting question. Mr Canavan has a fine record this afternoon of asking interesting questions. The issue that he raises is not a fisheries matter, nor a North sea oil matter, but a matter of accidents and would be covered by the existing legislation on accidents.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

It is a matter for Scottish fishermen.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is not a matter for them, because, as Mrs Ewing knows, the jurisdiction-in schedule 5 and section 126 of the Scotland Act 1998-deals explicitly with fisheries. Accidents are covered by existing legislation.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

Why then, in the remarks that he made before his reply to Mr Canavan, did the minister indicate that he was seeking clarification from United Kingdom ministers? Is not he asking our fishermen to accept what is, essentially-pardon the pun-a pig in a poke?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I do not think that my remarks are open to that construction, and I do not see how Mrs Ewing has come to that conclusion.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That will be unchanged in terms of the law of accidents. It would depend on where-

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is exactly the same, wherever it happens. The situation is unchanged.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No, I have dealt with that point.

The situation is clear. In relation to fisheries and the exclusion jurisdiction of this Parliament, the lines are defined as in the order. That is the power that is being passed to this Parliament.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Will the minister clarify the position in relation to drift-net salmon fishing, which is banned in Scotland, but not in England? Will such fishing now be legal in the new waters?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No. All the order does is to change the line of jurisdiction. It does not change that law.

I understand that there are concerns, such as that raised by Mr McGrigor and others in relation to oil and gas exploration. However, as I have clearly stated, the fact is that the order relates only to fisheries. North sea oil and gas remain reserved matters, so they are not covered by this legislation.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The minister has explained that the new line affects only fishing, but why was it necessary to have a different line for fishing? Why could we not stick with the existing line and apply it to fishing as well?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

There are two reasons for that. There was no existing jurisdiction line.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No, there was no existing jurisdiction line, only habit and repute.

The order is part of the devolved settlement. It was necessary to arrive at a line that established who had exclusive jurisdiction over Scottish fisheries and who was going to control what will now, in effect, become English fisheries. The line as I have described it means that all the water closest to Scotland will be under Scottish jurisdiction and all the water closest to England will be under the minister responsible for that fishing area. To me, that seems fair and reasonable. Oil and gas are reserved matters and are not covered by this legislation.

I urge members to support the motion. The Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999 defines the policy-making responsibilities of this Parliament and gives it authority in relation to regulating fisheries in accordance with the common fisheries policy within the newly created Scottish zone. It has no impact on the rights of fishermen to fish throughout the British fishery limits.

I commend the motion because it recognises the importance of consultation in the future management of fishing. In that regard, I am happy to accept the points made in Euan Robson's amendment. I am not making just an empty pledge. Mr Home Robertson and I will meet members of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation tomorrow, so that we can begin genuine dialogue not only on the concerns raised by the order, but on the wider future of the Scottish fishing industry.

I hope that this will be the start of an inclusive approach to fisheries management and, as I said at the outset, it is something to which I am committed. I invite the Parliament to join me in that commitment, and I commend the motion to members.

I move,

That the Parliament notes that - the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order (S.I.1999/1126) in no way alters or restricts the freedom of the Scottish fleet to fish consistently with the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union; from 1 July the Parliament will be charged with the responsibility of regulating fishing in the newly created Scottish zone of British Fishery Limits and fishing by all Scottish vessels no matter where they fish; consultation will be required with relevant bodies in the preparation of legislation relating to fishing in the Scottish zone.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I now call Richard Lochhead to speak to amendment S1M-19.2 and then to move it formally.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:47 pm, 3rd June 1999

I had at the ready a few remarks with which to demolish the minister elect's case, but my colleagues have done that before I have even opened my mouth.

I welcome Mr Finnie's remarks about the importance of the fishing industry to Scotland. It is appropriate that the first one-hour political debate in this Parliament is devoted to the fishing industry, which is a perfect example of an industry that is looking to the Scottish Parliament to echo its concerns and give it the voice it has been lacking for a long time.

Only days before the first meeting of this Parliament, an obscure piece of legislation was passed by an obscure committee in what is, of course, an obscure Parliament in Westminster delivering yet another blow to the Scottish fishing industry. The industry is now campaigning for that order, which is of course the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, to be reversed. I am delighted to see the leaders of the fishing industry in the public gallery to hear the Parliament speak out on their behalf.

The fishermen's case is simple: they want to retain the boundary that we all know. There is already a fishing boundary, which is known by every fisherman and mariner and Scotland. No one can find any reason why anyone anywhere should try to change it.

The boundary, which goes straight out east from Berwick, has been established by custom and practice. Generations of Scottish fishermen have fished those waters, the vast majority of fishing vessels to be found in those waters are from Scotland, the area is patrolled by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency and the area currently falls within Scottish jurisdiction.

There is also legal precedent. The latitude of 55° 50' marks the line used by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency and is on the map it uses. Scotland has a jurisdiction and the waters currently fall within it. The Civil Jurisdiction (Offshore Activities) Order 1987 follows a similar line and deals with offshore activities.

The Government's move at Westminster flies in the face of custom and practice. It throws up various anomalies. I, too, would like to quote the example that Hamish Morrison, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, is using in favour of the fishermen's case and which Dennis Canavan brought to our attention. If a fishing vessel in these waters collides with an oil vessel, they will now come under different jurisdictions-the fishing vessel will fall under English jurisdiction and the oil vessel will fall under Scottish jurisdiction. What sense does that make? How many boundaries do we need?

The outgoing fisheries minister-old Blackbeard himself, Lord Sewel-defends the theft of Scottish waters by asking what all the panic is about. The fishing industry's response is to ask why it is necessary to change the boundary if it is not going to make any difference. The reality is that the new boundary does make a difference: it means that Scottish fishermen would have to appear in English courts if they were pulled up for an infringement in that area of the sea. That would lead to massive inconvenience and massive additional expense because the fishermen would have to hire an English barrister to defend their case in an English court.

The order reduces the territory over which this Parliament will have a remit. With regard to implementing European Union fisheries policy, what happens if the Scottish Parliament decides to introduce square mesh? Will that decision apply to fishing in those waters? The common fisheries policy is currently being renegotiated by the European Union. Zonal management is a key idea arising from the negotiations. What will happen to that zone? Will it be a Scottish zone? Probably not. If this order is approved, the Scottish Parliament will have no say over what happens in that zone and we will have lost an area in which we could have implemented our zonal management policies.

The Government's case is riddled with confusion and contradictions. Lord Sewel's pathetic defence of the Government's decision has fallen apart and, as we have seen today, the Scottish Executive's defence of Westminster's decision is also falling apart. First, Lord Sewel told us that there was no fisheries boundary. That led to an outcry in the fishing industry. Then he retreated and said that there was a boundary and that the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency used it, but it was only an administrative boundary. His last line of defence is that the Government has relied on international conventions to draw up the new boundary. That claim has now been destroyed, because the SNP has commissioned a legal opinion, which was published this morning, from Dr Iain Scobbie, senior lecturer in international law at Glasgow University and the visiting professor at the University of Paris II. The seven-page legal opinion demolishes the Government's case for the new boundary. It is seven pages long, so I will not read it out now.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

In advancing the case that there are other opinions on how we might or might not address this matter, is Richard Lochhead suggesting that our methodology is unfair or inequitable? That is the important issue.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am not suggesting that. I have a seven-page legal opinion from an internationally renowned expert, which I would be delighted to make available to all members and to the Scottish Executive. I shall place copies in the information centre.

I shall quote from the last paragraph:

"It is clear that the position set out by the Government in relation to the Scottish Adjacent Waters Order is not in accordance with contemporary international law and practice. The claim that the delimitation employed in this Order reflects 'the normal international convention' simply cannot be sustained."

Would it not have been easier for Westminster to consult the fishing industry and this Parliament to avoid being in this enormous mess?

Lord Sewel-I hope this will not happen to the Scottish Executive-appears to be going round in circles. The Press and Journal editorial on 25 May said of the Government's arguments:

"Every one of them has a distinct whiff of someone scrabbling for straws to defend the indefensible".

It is appalling that we come here today and a member of the Scottish Executive is trying to defend the indefensible, as the Westminster spokespeople are doing.

This Parliament is seen by the people of Scotland and Scotland's industries as an opportunity to speak up for Scotland. Today, let us not take a decision to defend the indefensible-Westminster stealing 6,000 square miles of Scottish waters. I ask the Parliament to support the amendment.

I move, to leave out from "notes" where it appears first to end and add "calls upon Her Majesty's Government to amend the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order (S.I. 1999/1126) made under the Scotland Act 1998 so that the East Coast boundary is redrawn to a line of latitude due east of the termination point of land border between England and Scotland to re-establish the custom and practice of former years."

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I call Mr Euan Robson to speak to amendment S1M-19.3 and to move it formally.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 3:55 pm, 3rd June 1999

I hope that the amendment provides an appropriate way forward that will assist fishermen and their organisations. It has been a cause of some frustration to a number of us that it has not been possible for this Parliament to change the boundary order and that we can only seek to persuade Westminster to do so. The intention of my amendment is to back the fishermen's case. I welcome the fact that it is now generally recognised that the consultation that took place before the order was laid and debated at Westminster was completely inadequate. That is a clear lesson for us to bear in mind in our proceedings over the coming months.

It is particularly unfortunate that the lack of consultation affected the fishing industry, which feels that it has been badly neglected-almost ignored-for the past 20 years.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I cannot quite understand why there was a difficulty at Westminster. There were elected representatives from Scotland-Liberal Democrats and members of the Labour party-on the relevant committee, and there was no time limit on its deliberations. Why was the order so badly debated?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

If I may take a charitable view of what occurred, the answer is that the committee concentrated on how the line should be drawn, not why there should be a line. I have found no reference anywhere to lines of custom and practice, or to the line that is clearly set out-as Richard Lochhead explained-in the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's annual report.

With great respect to the minister, I believe that the practical implications of the new boundary are more serious than he has, perhaps, realised. I tend to prefer the view of the practitioners on the high seas to that of lawyers or civil servants. We have rehearsed quite fully the question of legal jurisdiction. That affects not only oil supply vessels, but ordinary vessels that are in transit through the area; it is my understanding that jurisdiction has been transferred for fishing vessels, but not for other forms of vessel.

Fishermen are understandably concerned that, once they have been transferred from the Scottish fisheries protection regime to another regime, there will be subtle differences in the interpretation of even common regulations. I am pleased that the minister has said that he will seek help in this area, listen to the views of the industry and discuss with other ministers of the Crown how those differences can be minimised. Frankly, they could be minimised by redrawing the line where it was in custom and practice.

I am advised-informally-by Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Company Ltd that there may be some difficulty with the lifting of wrecks, but that is a minor point. Another area of concern, particularly for my constituents, is the fact that in recent years it has been the custom and practice among the UK fishermen's federations that vessels out of Eyemouth carry out patrol or guard duty on oil installations. It is useful additional income for fishermen as it helps them to spread out quota across the year, but it could well be lost as a result of this order. I seek some assurances from the minister that he will address that issue with fishermen in Eyemouth. It would be difficult for them if they were to lose that income.

There are serious problems-which Richard Lochhead clearly identified-not with the present regulations, but with future regulations. If a division is made along the boundary line that is described in the new order, a line is pushed straight through the middle of the Berwick bank fishing ground. There is clear concern that, in future-not at the moment-different types of regulation may apply on the two sides of this notable fishery, which is fished predominantly by Scottish vessels. I have not yet had an answer to the question on dredging for marine aggregates-there may be consequences for that too, although I stand to be corrected if that is not so. I have great difficulty understanding why international law is used to draw a boundary line in this context.

Anyone who goes to Eyemouth will not find anybody who is in any doubt about where the boundary was, and I find it difficult that that was not appreciated and presented to the committee at Westminster.

I am grateful that Ross Finnie seems to accept a number of the points that have been made.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I know-that is why I am asking now.

The points that Mr Robson has made have been valid, constructive and helpful. Before he concludes his remarks, could he explain his and his colleagues' road to Damascus conversion, which led to the withdrawal of the amendment that Mr Lochhead moved and the substitution of the amendment to which Mr Robson is now speaking?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I am happy to explain. To use fishing terms, we have perhaps exceeded our quota of motions and amendments during this debate.

We have moved on. We have obtained some assurances from Mr Finnie and the case that he will take to UK ministers on behalf of the fishermen offers a practical way forward. I must make it clear to David McLetchie that I do not dissent from Richard Lochhead's motion, which was originally mine-I remember writing those words. I believe that the boundary should be drawn as it suggests. Perhaps that has clarified the position for David McLetchie.

I move, to insert at the end of the motion "and the Scottish fishing organisations have considerable concerns about the said Order; and calls upon the relevant Minister to (a) meet representatives of the Scottish fishing industry to discuss their concern and in particular their desire to re-establish the custom and practice of former years in regard to the east coast boundary and (b) convey such concerns to the Secretary of State for Scotland."

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The debate is now open for discussion.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 4:03 pm, 3rd June 1999

I welcome the Minister for Rural Affairs-and, indeed, his deputy-to his duties. I also welcome his declaration of consultation, which would be a new and welcome practice for the fishing industry of Scotland. We intend, of course, to hold him to his words. It would make a good start, therefore, if he responded to the certain representations made by the Scottish fishing industry more vigorously than he did in his opening remarks.

I have been a member of the Westminster Parliament for 12 years and I have attended and spoken in just about every fishing debate in the chamber of the House of Commons in that time. That puts me in a position to say that some things in the procedure that we are discussing are very good and very welcome. I cannot remember a fishing debate in those 12 years that was attended by more than about 20 people. We are usually called the usual suspects when we debate fishing subjects among ourselves, usually in November-

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes, December, which is when the annual fishing debate that we are allowed to have in Westminster takes place. First, seeing a full chamber today is very welcome. That is a departure from the Westminster practice. Secondly, it is good that this Parliament has been able to respond to an issue of current concern in the industry, as opposed to pigeon-holing it into an annual debate some months after the event. I would, however, have preferred the Parliamentary Bureau to have decided to take the motion as it originally stood in the business list, rather than the watered-down Executive version.

This is a good start in terms of the Parliament responding to the industry's concerns, but it would rather cloud things over if we did not follow through those concerns and make a firm declaration today on behalf of the people in the fishing industry, whom many of us represent.

The fishing industry wants to be regarded not as a few thousand fishermen or a matter for a few coastal constituencies, but as a major industry of Scotland that employs 20,000 people plus in terms of its total economic effect in our country.

The onshore and offshore fishing industry is 15 times more important to the Scottish economy than it is to the United Kingdom economy and it wants that level of importance to be reflected in our debates and proceedings. That has not happened at Westminster and it most certainly did not happen in the debate in the Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation on 23 March. I have read through the report of the debate and the kindest thing I can say about Mr McLeish's speech as the minister who introduced the order is that he was reading his brief. As soon as he was asked questions about it he sailed into trouble. He had the honesty to say:

"I realise that the order is just a mass of co-ordinates and that the boundary may be less specific than possible in relation to the size of the map".

In other words, the map provided for the members of the committee was too small for them to recognise where the boundary was about to be drawn. That was reflected in the debate. Mr Russell Brown, the member for Dumfries, was honest and disarming enough to say:

"When I picked up a copy of the order and looked at the co-ordinates . . . I was totally confused by some of it."-[Official Report, House of Commons, Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 23 March 1999; c 4,11.]

The nature of the debate in the committee did not reflect the seriousness of the subject or give due attention to it. Everyone who reads the account of that standing committee meeting will recognise that a blunder was made in terms of the scrutiny it should have given Mr McLeish's proposal.

I do not think that we should compound that felony today or try to cover up for the mistakes that were made at Westminster. We should make a clear parliamentary declaration to do something about it. Mr Finnie has tried to give the impression that none of this really matters. Some of the questions he was asked, particularly the one from Mr Canavan, indicated that it might well matter. Mr Robson's contribution indicated why it might well matter. It is not enough to wave it away and say that we will work out later whose jurisdiction any offences that take place might come under. An offence could take place tomorrow in that 6,000 square miles of Scottish water and the de minimis position is that somebody who is accused of an offence should at least know in which court they are going to have to defend themselves.

I represent the biggest fishing constituency in Scotland; my colleague Margaret Ewing represents the second biggest; and Mr Wallace represents a major fishing constituency, although in the Scottish Parliament he represents less than half of the fishing interests that he represents at Westminster. Some of our constituents are occasionally accused of infringements-these things happen from time to time. Many succeed in proving their case in court. There are some solicitors in Scotland who are well versed in fishing law and who often succeed in proving our constituents innocent, and justice takes its course. It would be very difficult for my constituents and those of other members if they had to defend themselves in an English court-there would be substantial expense, inconvenience and uncertainty, but the minister seems prepared to tolerate that. I think we should give short shrift to that this afternoon.

There is a further matter of importance, beyond the immediate issue of legal jurisdiction, that lies in the nature of fisheries policy. Not too many members will be well versed in this matter, but I will take a minute to explain why it could be of substantial, practical importance. It is simply not true, as the Executive claims in its motion, that the order will in no way restrict the freedom of Scottish fishermen in terms of the common fisheries policy. That policy is itself in a process of evolution. Many good ideas have emerged in the debates on fishing policy over the past few years. One, which came from the industry, was to ban discards-small dead fish thrown over the side of the boat-which is a waste and an obscenity in conservation terms.

The Scottish industry has been strongly in favour of an absolute ban on discards and argues that all fish caught should be landed so that they can be properly assessed. That is an attractive policy and it may well be an option that this Parliament will want to consider. As things stand, we could legislate for that option with effect on Scottish boats anywhere, but we could not legislate for other boats that are fishing in Scottish waters. Nothing undermines conservation policy in the fishing industry more than the feeling that regulations can be imposed on our fishermen but not on other boats that are fishing in our waters. The common fisheries policy is moving towards coastal state management-zonal management. That is how the policy has evolved and it has great support throughout the community.

The 6,000 square miles form a significant fishing ground that we do not want to slip out of Scottish jurisdiction and policy measures that we might want to impose. Mr Finnie should think very carefully before he says that the order is not relevant to practical fishing concerns. It is also untrue that there are no lines of jurisdiction at present. The Continental Shelf (Jurisdiction) Order (UK) 1968 set a legal boundary for the purpose of prosecution concerning oil rigs and platforms. As far as the fishing interest is concerned, there is a custom and practice line, as Mr Robson's excellent speech exemplified.

Probably the worst aspect of all this is that the practice that was followed in that Westminster committee did not follow international legal precedents. The opinion that my colleague Mr Richard Lochhead quoted from Dr Iain Scobbie-who is an acknowledged expert in such areas-makes that very clear. Dr Scobbie said:

"Equidistance is an accepted method in opposite delimitations, but not in those involving lateral adjacency."

In other words, if the boundary were between Scotland and Norway it would be correct to use the method of equidistance, but between states that are in lateral adjacency that method is not the common practice under international law. Dr Scobbie stated that two thirds of the cases under international law have not been settled using the method of equidistance. What prevails in those cases tends to be custom and practice.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Mr Salmond, could I ask you to wind up please?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

My final remark is addressed to Mr Robson. According to the procedures of this Parliament, the vote on amendment S1M-19.2, against motion S1M-19, will be taken first. He and his colleagues will have the opportunity to support that amendment. If it fails, he can return to his own amendment. In other words, he can support the amendment in which he believes without jeopardising his own. I suggest that, for the benefit of the industry and for the reputation of this Parliament, that is exactly what Mr Robson and his colleagues should do.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:13 pm, 3rd June 1999

I support amendment S1M-19.2. As the fisheries spokesman for the Scottish Conservative party, I have recently met many fishermen from the east coast and the west coast. They are all very angry men, and I do not blame them. Recent events have been a slap in the face for Scottish fishermen. The extraordinary failure of those in power at Westminster to consult has been perceived as a colossal insult to the representatives of one of our oldest and most valuable industries.

I recognise that the new boundary may be the median line between England and Scotland and that it has been drawn within the principles that govern the establishment of new sea boundaries between countries, but some thought must surely be given to centuries of history, convention and fishery practices. Scottish members at Westminster surely have a duty to protect the rights and interests of their constituents and, above all in this case, the members of the Scottish fishing industry. The statutory instrument that has caused all this bother was approved without the knowledge of, or consultation with, Scottish fishermen or their representatives or, for that matter, any English ones.

Why was there no consultation and what were the Westminster parliamentarians thinking about? Did they honestly think that the removal of 6,000 square miles of traditional Scottish fishings amounted simply to what Donald Dewar called the tidying-up of boundaries in accordance with international law? Is that an example of open government by the party that champions that slogan? Is it an example of consensual process? On a scale of one to 10, how would members rate that? A resounding vote of nul points is echoing around the chamber. If that is open government, what is the alternative like?

I know that the Scottish Labour party, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats were campaigning in the Scottish election-perhaps that is an excuse-but the Executive's motion is a smokescreen to hide the fact that it has sold Scottish fisheries and the fishermen down the river. Members of the Executive could not even manage to leak the information, which is odd for a party that is famous for its faulty plumbing. Is there some sinister reason why Labour is introducing a boundary that is based on international legal conventions when all that was needed was a clarification of the existing boundary?

Although there is clearly a need for a geographical boundary to define the Scottish Parliament's area of legislative and administrative competence, it should have been based on existing custom, practice and precedent, after consultation with the fishermen. The current boundary, which has been recognised for centuries, is used by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency in its annual report. It is also used, as has already been mentioned, in the Civil Jurisdiction (Offshore Activities) Order 1987.

The line runs due east from Marshall meadows. As we know, the proposed new English waters contain the prolific fishing grounds of Swallow hole and Berwick bank. Scottish fisherman can still fish them, but what happens if inshore waters regulations and EU directives are interpreted differently by the Scottish and English Parliaments? The new line bisects the Berwick field and a boat might have to change its gear halfway through a haul if it crossed the line. Ninety per cent of the boats that fish that area are Scottish but, if prosecuted for any misdemeanour or offence committed south of the line, they would have to face English courts and employ English lawyers.

Henry McLeish stated that the boundary has no significance for other matters at sea, such as oil and gas, which are reserved. Surely there must be some doubt about that. Please let us be positive now and use common sense between our two Parliaments to sort the matter out. Let us use our new, devolved politics to address this wrong and to purge this insult to Scottish fishermen. I ask that the pre-existing line on the east coast be restored and I call on the Liberal Democrats, who support that proposal, to follow their conscience and principles and to vote with us to protect the interests of Scottish fishermen.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

A number of members have indicated a desire to speak so, from now on, the time limit for speeches will be three minutes.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:19 pm, 3rd June 1999

As we are restricted to three minutes, I shall probably make only three points. First, I associate myself with the remarks made by Mr Lochhead and Mr Salmond in their introductions. They emphasised the importance of fisheries in Scotland and the opportunity that this Parliament will give the industry to raise issues that are crucial to my part of the world, Shetland, and to many other constituencies. It offers a chance for fisheries to get their point across and a chance for members to work with the industry to make a positive contribution to the future of a crucial Shetland and Scottish industry.

I was intrigued by Mr Gallie's earlier intervention about Westminster. When I worked there as a humble researcher to my colleague Jim Wallace, I sat on the researchers' bench in the public gallery and watched that same Tuesday night debate at half-past 10, when only 20 members were present. It was not edifying stuff, and it did not do much for the way in which fisheries was presented. There were fishermen there from all over Scotland on that night, and they werenae very impressed by it either. We need to do a heck of a lot better than that, and I welcome the fact that so many members are still here.

I understand and sympathise with the utter frustration that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the fishing organisations feel at the lack of consultation on this issue. I welcome the principle of full and proper consultation before processes such as proposed works and proposed legislation come into the public domain. I encourage the minister to maintain that principle. It is extremely important that that happens.

I agree with Mr Robson's case for the need to re-establish the east coast boundary in terms of custom and practice, and I will not rehearse his arguments or those of other members. I too heard the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation on "Good Morning Scotland" today. He raised the important point that the UK Government proposals establish a position where a Scottish fishing boat on oil contract work is under Scottish jurisdiction, but as soon as it shoots its nets it is under English jurisdiction. The suggestion was also made that if a Scottish boat were prosecuted while it was south of the new line but north of the old, it would be under a Scottish court's jurisdiction. That drives a proverbial trawler through a square mesh panel. Why bother with the line at all? I do not see the need for it in that context.

The suggestion was also made that this does not diminish Scottish fishing interests. Zonal regional management is a principle of Liberal Democrat fishing policy and that includes inshore regulating orders. It may be appropriate for other parts of Scotland to follow the good example of Shetland, where fishermen are working with conservation groups, environmental organisations and the local authority to build an inshore management regime. I hope that that model will be passed on to other parts of Scotland. In particular, that kind of regime might be appropriate to the part of Scotland that we are talking about today.

I support Mr Robson's amendment because it provides fishermen with an opportunity to be consulted and for progress to be made on this important issue.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 4:23 pm, 3rd June 1999

I wish to speak in support of amendment S1M-19.2. If this Parliament wants an example of how not to go about implementing a piece of legislation, this might be the perfect one. The order under discussion is illogical in its content and substance, and insensitive in the manner of its implementation. The current line that divides Scottish and English fisheries matters has effectively removed Scottish waters from the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament. This has been done by the inappropriate application of an international convention, with no regard to custom, practice or precedent-as we have heard.

How can it be argued that there has never been a recognised fishery boundary between Scotland and England? By custom and practice, which is a principle well recognised in Scots and English law, the fisheries boundary between the two countries has for generations been drawn off Berwick North. The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency and its English counterpart, the Royal Navy, have been operating to that line for years. Analysis of the usage of those waters shows that a preponderance of Scottish vessels operate in the area, which demonstrates Scotland's historic right to the fishing grounds in question.

As we have heard, there is also a legal precedent that establishes Scottish jurisdiction over the area in question. That has been fully demonstrated in that, although there have been few criminal prosecutions, they have been brought before Scottish courts and enacted under Scottish law. The line has been and must continue to be recognised. When challenged, the Government has advanced no good reason and has satisfied no one with its explanation about why the line has been moved 60 miles. The decision remains unjustified and unjustifiable.

The minister has claimed that, rather than lamenting the loss of 6,000 square miles, we should be celebrating the fact that 140,000 square miles have been transferred to Scottish jurisdiction. We may yet celebrate, because the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency has confirmed in writing that those 140,000 square miles include the 6,000 square miles in question. That could be confusing-perhaps Lord Sewel got his figures wrong. It could be that the order is the cruel joke all of Scotland hopes that it is, and that the 6,000 square miles were never transferred from Scottish to English jurisdiction.

Others have noted the future requirement for consultation with relevant bodies in the preparation of legislation relating to fishing in the Scottish zone. It would have been vastly preferable to have undertaken such a consultation exercise prior to formulating the order, when all the salient facts could have been clearly articulated, but there was no opportunity for that.

The people of Scotland recognise that this is an unfair order. They would want the Scottish Parliament to confirm that the 6,000 square miles of sea should remain as Scottish waters, and that the boundary line should be reinstated where it was for hundreds of years. Scotland's democratically elected Parliament has not been re-established to condone, or implement by proxy, legislation that is unnecessarily confusing, detrimental to the interests of Scotland, and which is contrary to established practice and precedent.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 4:27 pm, 3rd June 1999

In this new age of positive and consensual politics, will the minister, apart from addressing the many concerns and issues that have been raised in the chamber today, give us a clear outline of the benefits to the governance of Scotland's fishing industry that will arise from the new boundary?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 4:28 pm, 3rd June 1999

Thank you, deputy leader- [Laughter.] An excellent start.

I support some of the sentiments that have been expressed, especially those of Mr Lochhead. Last weekend I attended the Clyde fishermen's association lunch. It was long and it was liquid, but I can tell the Parliament that this issue is very important to the fishing industry. We must send a strong message not only to the fishing industry, but to rural Scotland and to the rural industries that have felt neglected, or in many cases ignored, by Westminster. Alex Salmond's classic example-that there is only one debate a year on the fishing industry-sums up the importance that Westminster attaches to fishing and agricultural interests. It is essential that we send a strong signal to rural Scotland and its industries, saying that their agenda is one of the Parliament's top priorities. That is the nub of the argument today. What makes the fishermen angry is the lack of consultation on the implications of moving the line. That is the issue that must be discussed with the fisheries representatives and I am glad that the minister recognised that.

The situation must change. The Scottish Parliament must today make it clear to the fisheries organisations that we will put their agenda at the top of our list of priorities. The new partnership Government must send out a clear signal that it believes that fishing, agriculture and all rural interests are indeed important.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I am sorry Alasdair, I have only three minutes, so I will not give way.

I believe that we should accept Euan Robson's amendment, which calls on the minister to meet the fishing leaders to discuss the issue in detail. Clearly, there are many differences of opinion on the implications of the new line. The minister must discuss the matter with the fishing leaders and listen to their concerns. Most important, if those leaders have genuine concerns, he must act as an advocate for the fishing industries and take the issue to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, in turn, should take it to Westminster for a debate on whether the line should be altered. If the line needs to be altered, the minister must stand up for the Scottish fishing industry.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 4:31 pm, 3rd June 1999

I agree with Alex Salmond that it is nice that the important issue of fisheries has the high profile that it deserves. I also agree with similar comments made by George Lyon.

Two kinds of concerns have been raised during the debate on the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order. First, there are concerns on the part of the Scottish boats that fish the Berwick bank, in particular about the alleged infringements that are being pursued in the English, rather than in the Scottish, courts and the likely expense that those cases might involve. Secondly, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation has raised reasonable issues-which were echoed by Dennis Canavan-about the different jurisdictions that apply when the oil and fishing industries share the same waters.

Those issues deserve to be addressed. The fishing industry is entitled to a voice and, when its direct material interests are involved, it should be consulted and informed. For those reasons, I welcome the minister's commitment to meet the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, to pursue these matters with UK ministers and to examine ways of addressing the concerns-some of which have been raised today-about the jurisdiction that affects Scottish fishermen.

Some of the rhetoric about piracy and theft that we have heard in recent weeks is less welcome. Even in the chamber today, we have heard that Westminster has stolen Scottish fishing waters from the Scottish fishing fleet. There is no shortage of serious and important issues that affect the Scottish fishing industry and there is no need to portray the important-but limited-issues that arise from this order as a matter of life and death for the industry. Of course, some people get excited about boundaries-regardless of whether those boundaries are on land or at sea or whether they affect the legislative competence of the Parliament-but to pretend that the whole matter is a gigantic conspiracy to run away with Scotland's fish does no favours to the Scottish fishing industry. There is something pretty bizarre about a nationalist party that objects to the use of an international convention, even if that party has the benefit of a last-minute legal opinion.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Does Lewis Macdonald accept that much of the concern is not just about jurisdiction, but about the fact that Westminster felt it necessary to shift the boundary in the first place?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The point that I throw back to Richard Lochhead is that the SNP, as a party that is committed to Scottish independence, comes before the Parliament and says, "Here is a boundary line, drawn up in accordance with international conventions on a median boundary"-[MEMBERS: "No, the Government says that."] The SNP produced a legal opinion but, until it is tested in court, it is only an opinion. I hope that the fishing boundary between Scotland and England is never tested in an international court, because that would do more damage to Scottish fishing than anything that we are discussing today.

I am interested to know whether the SNP's proposition is to revert to the line due east of Berwick and to continue to campaign for independence. The likely outcome of that would be that a median line such as the one that is now in force would be drawn.

We should listen to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and we should welcome the minister's offer to take this matter up at the appropriate level. We should also ask ministers to make a distinction between the real concerns of our fishing communities and the party political advantage that some people are trying to make.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Before calling Mr Murray Tosh, I remind members that they should indicate if they wish to intervene during another member's speech-that is the courtesy that we are trying to observe in this chamber.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:35 pm, 3rd June 1999

Like Mr Finnie, I am no expert on the fishing industry. However, I recognise a body of men who feel that they have a justifiable and substantial grievance.

As a South of Scotland member, I had the privilege some weeks ago of meeting a number of representatives of the Scottish fishermen. They put to us the practical points that have been ventilated by many members this afternoon on legal jurisdiction and on the lack of consultation of fishermen's organisations by the gas and oil industries and the various utilities that lay cables. They also told us that, in the 6,000 square miles, they may lose the subcontracting work with the oil and gas industries that is currently restricted to them because of a non-poaching agreement with their English counterparts.

Those were not party political points. They were the concerns and indignation of men who felt that their interests had been neglected and that they needed better representation. I submit that this Parliament should be treating those concerns with considerable respect.

The essential question is that the Scottish fishermen were not consulted. They were not even given the information properly once the decision had been made; they found out almost by accident. That shows gross contempt. Whether it was deliberate or accidental, the Westminster members are responsible for that humiliating failure to consult.

That poses some serious questions of this Parliament: what is our new Executive's commitment to the spirit of consultation that Mr Finnie mentioned at the beginning of this debate?

The best way in which ministers can demonstrate their sincerity is by taking forward Mr Finnie's free and full admission that this matter has been handled very badly. They should go forward now as a united body to the Westminster Parliament and say, "Look, we have fouled up. Someone got it very badly wrong. The fishermen have rumbled us and, as a united Parliament, we want to resolve the matter urgently before the new orders come into effect in a few weeks."

There is also a point of principle about how we approach the people of Scotland. This is the first real debate that we have had about people's concerns and indignation at how they have been treated. How are we handling it? We are going to have a wee chat with them and draw their concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is not good enough. How will we treat the complaints, petitions and protests of our countrymen? They want something more substantial than that. We and the Executive have to respond. If the Executive is not prepared to treat this issue with the urgency and the seriousness that the fishermen tell us it should be dealt with, a dreadful message will be sent to the people of Scotland. Forget the politicians; listen to the fishermen who were in the gallery and who came to put these points to us.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Please wind up now, Mr Tosh.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

This is also an important test of the politics of our new Government, which said that it wanted to be inclusive. Let us include the fishermen. It is also an important test of the resolve of Liberal members. Mr Robson spoke in favour of the amendment in Mr Salmond's name. No doubt Mr Robson's press release in his constituency next week will reflect what he said this afternoon. I tell Mr Robson that we will make sure that his constituents also know how he voted.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Please wind up now, Mr Tosh.

Several Members:

rose

-

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am sorry. I would have loved to debate the matter at greater length.

Mr Robson should be aware that there is a very important point of principle. He bravely laid his cards on the table.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I hope that Mr Robson and other members will vote as the fishermen want and send the matter back to Westminster to be reconsidered.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We are approaching the end of the debate. I ask members to stick to their three minutes. If they do not, I will have to switch off their microphones.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party 4:40 pm, 3rd June 1999

I used to be on Renfrewshire Council, so I am accustomed to having my microphone cut off.

The new boundary was, very strangely, set on the basis of international law, a fact that would have been exciting had our history been four or eight years down the line. It is quaint that that was the basis. The use of international law east to west across the North sea would be appropriate, but not north to south between England and Scotland.

On 26 March, Lord Sewel wrote to Richard Lochhead, saying-Ross Finnie reiterated it in his introductory speech-that "the use of median lines mean that every point on the boundary is equidistant to Scotland and to England".

That will fascinate members. Those who have doctorates in geography can explain to the others what this means: the line is a loxodromic line that is drawn on a Mercator projection. In a case between the UK and France on the continental shelf delimitation in 1977, the UK Government objected to those criteria being used to delineate territory between the French and the British, yet now it is using them in the UK.

Lord Sewel also made it clear to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and to Richard Lochhead that the boundaries were set by use of median lines. He stated unequivocally that the use of the median line is the normal international convention. That is not the case. I will précis our seven pages of legal opinion for those who will not read it. Charney and Alexander's "International Maritime Boundaries (1993)" establishes the fact that only 40 per cent of maritime boundaries follow the equidistance method.

In a 1982 continental shelf dispute between Libya and Tunisia, the International Court of Justice ruled that "equidistance is not either a mandatory legal principle or a method having some privileged status in relation to other methods."

Henry McLeish stated in committee that "the boundary has no significance for other matters . . . In particular, it has no relevance to the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production at sea".-[Official Report, House of Commons, Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 23 March 1999; c 5.]

Ross Finnie said the same thing-that the boundary has no significance for those matters because they relate to areas that are reserved to Westminster. For how long will that be the case? It is not the SNP's ambition to allow those matters to be left reserved.

Labour bases the boundary on international law, yet there is a trend in international law to have single boundaries for all purposes-for example, for oil exploration and for fisheries. The UK signed and is bound by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, yet it has departed from the convention's provisions in making this boundary change.

If one were into conspiracy theories-of course, being as innocent and pure as all other members in the chamber, I am not-one might suspect that, if the boundary change stands, its existence could be used as a precedent for other boundary changes relating to oil, gas and other matters that are of interest to the nations that make up the United Kingdom. That could happen, even though Henry McLeish has assured us that it will not.

The change is unnecessary, unwanted and sets dangerous precedents. To put it in terms that Ross Finnie-who is from the west of Scotland-will understand, it is a bit of a pauchle. Anyone who thinks that it is not has come up the Clyde on a banana skin.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 4:44 pm, 3rd June 1999

I may be the only member of the Parliament who has worked in a fish factory, so I have a slight knowledge of the industry.

Mr Hamish Morrison is not given to overstatement. He does not write letters simply for fun, and I take his points seriously. I should like to associate myself with the remarks of Mr Salmond and Mr Robson. We have a problem and we know it.

Time and again, fishermen have told me that they feel that we do not listen, that we neither know nor care about their problems. Today we have an opportunity, in supporting Mr Robson's amendment, to show that we shall listen and engage in a dialogue, and that we will start a new kind of inclusive politics in Scotland. I believe that we must take that step today. We must send out the message, loud and clear, that we understand what they are saying, that we will listen to them, that we will work with them and that we shall go on to sort out the problem.

This is an acid test on where we stand in relation to Westminster as a Parliament. If it is to be the case that we sit on our hands and never say boo to a goose, that is an unhappy message to send out to Scotland.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party 4:45 pm, 3rd June 1999

Most of the arguments have been made already, but I want to add that I feel sad that such reasonable men as the representatives of the fishing industry have been treated so unreasonably. They came here and met all the parties except the Labour party, which refused them a meeting. For them, that is another nail in the coffin. What has happened to open government?

When the First Minister was criticised about that earlier, he replied by saying that he had sent out a press release. That is a disgraceful justification. I should like a copy of that press release and its distribution list-it certainly was not distributed to the fishermen.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

I cannot give way because I have too much to say in too short a time.

To bring in the European dimension for a moment, for 20 years I served on the European Fisheries Committee. At the moment, I am-technically, and will be for another month-the only UK vice-president of the Fisheries Committee. The last act of the late Dr Allan Macartney was to set a proposal on the regionalisation of the common fisheries policy before the Parliament. That proposal was passed with an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament. Therefore, this statutory instrument is totally against the trend in Europe. The Parliament is at present talking about reforming the whole CFP. That alone would justify scrapping the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999 and restoring the status quo.

I am very proud to be a Scots lawyer. I am proud of Scots law, which is held in enormous repute throughout the world. I am proud that we have law officers of our own. Were the law officers asked to approve the order? Were they consulted; did they approve it? We are all entitled to an answer to that question. If the ministers who are present cannot answer it, perhaps we can get the answer later.

There is no doubt about the custom and practice. There is no doubt that private international law starts at the Scottish border. That is internationally recognised. The remit of our police does not run south of the border and the remit of the English police does not run north of it. Our remit runs into what has always been regarded as our Scottish waters. That is not just custom and practice; it is a matter of court cases.

We are the only European state with two distinct legal jurisdictions. If we are talking about applying international law, that simple fact must be taken into account, whatever lines are being drawn. It has not been taken into account. We have heard that two thirds of such disputes have not been settled by equidistance, and we have been given some interesting examples of that.

I also have a question about motive for the Deputy Minister for Rural Affairs. Westminster saw fit to annex 6,000 square miles off Scotland's coast with no credible explanation. Is the motive behind that a belief that Scotland will soon be independent; could that be the real motive behind the whole sordid mess?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I call Mr Richard Lochhead to sum up in no more than three minutes.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 4:49 pm, 3rd June 1999

The Liberal Democrat amendment does not give the people of Scotland and Scotland fishing communities, all of whom are watching today's events closely, what they want. They do not want the MSPs, the Scottish Parliament, to acknowledge that the fishing industry is concerned about what has happened in Westminster; they want to know our views. They want a declaration from the Scottish Parliament giving our view on what has happened in Westminster; do we want it reversed or do we not? It is a black and white issue, and it is simple. There is only one amendment that makes such a declaration and that is the one lodged by the SNP.

I should like to quote our esteemed First Minister elect, who in the introduction to a recent publication, "A Guide to the Scottish Parliament", said:

"The people of Scotland rightly have high hopes and expectations for their Parliament; they already feel a sense of ownership and of connection to it, and we must not let them down."

If we do not support the amendment, we are not just letting down the fishing communities; we are letting down the people of Scotland. I urge all members to support it.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I call Mr John Home Robertson to sum up.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 4:50 pm, 3rd June 1999

As a matter of interest, Madam Deputy Presiding Officer, how long do I have? It is rather complicated, as the clocks are set at different times.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am grateful.

The debate has raised some serious points, which will be treated seriously by the Administration. It has also raised some rather silly points, which will be treated accordingly by the fishing industry and by the chamber. I look forward to seeing Dr Scobbie's legal opinion, but I guarantee that, unlike the nationalists, he will not propose a direct line of latitude.

The fishing industry and the Scottish fishing communities are extremely important to the whole of Scotland. The Government motion is a formal acknowledgement of that fact, and of the fact that we intend to work closely with the industry for our fishing communities. That work will include proper consultation and proper dialogue, starting with a meeting between the Minister for Rural Affairs, myself and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation tomorrow, when we will get down to the serious business that must be addressed.

One or two points need to be nailed down fairly hard. On 8 March, our colleagues in the Scottish Office gave proper public notification about the background and the meaning of the new boundary line, and 57 copies of a news release were circulated to different organisations and to the press. I fully recognise that official press statements are not always the best way to get information into the public domain. It is often more effective to mark the information "confidential", and to leave it in a plain brown envelope in a pub. However, we understand that there is a serious point, and I agree with Mr Robson. We must have open and clear lines of communication and consultation with the industry. That will be the order of the day in future, and that is a specific undertaking.

The industry had an excuse for not noticing what was going on, and we will put that right. The SNP did not have that excuse. It has that £130,000 of Short money and researchers in Westminster. Why did SNP members not take the opportunity to turn up and to debate this matter on 23 March?

This matter is of particular interest to fishermen in Dunbar and Port Seton in my own constituency. If their interests were being undermined in any way, I can assure members that I would be taking a close interest in the matter. The order does not amend an existing boundary. All that we have had until now is an ad hoc arrangement between two United Kingdom fishery patrol agencies.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am sorry; I do not have time.

This new Parliament has distinct responsibilities, and that is why we now have a proper boundary line, set in accordance with fair and objective principles. The new line has no sinister implications and it does not impinge in any way on the rights of Scottish fishermen to fish in waters on either side of it.

I refer now to the Opposition. It was always going to be entertaining to see the new coalition between the nationalists and the Tories, and we have seen it today. We have heard some dramatic stuff about the wicked English stealing Scottish waters and lurid speculation about blameless fishermen from Carnoustie being dragged off to alien courts by the English navy. Frankly, such speculation is irresponsible nonsense. Fishermen are entitled to expect serious consideration, and they will get that from this Administration.

The most depressing feature of the debate has been the chorus of whingeing from nationalists who seem to want to use Scotland's Parliament as a platform for ritual girning about our neighbours south of the border. For goodness' sake, after 300 years we have at last achieved a Parliament with responsibility for the whole Scottish fishing industry and 140,000 square miles of our adjacent waters. We have access to all our fleet's traditional fishing grounds elsewhere and two thirds of the catch of the UK fishing fleet. We should be working together to set a positive agenda for this great industry, and that is what we propose to do.

What we have from Mr Salmond- [Interruption.] I see that he is digging, and we are all familiar with that. What we have from Mr Salmond is the parliamentary equivalent of a letter to The Scotsman complete with ludicrous conspiracy theories, signed by "Disgusted of Banff and Buchan" and endorsed by his new friends in the Conservative party.

Our fishermen deserve much, much better than that. This Administration will take the interests of our fishing communities very seriously indeed.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Presiding Officer. Today, we have heard time and again requests for moderate, temperate language in the debate; what we are getting from the minister is anything but.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I am always grateful to members who support the position of the Presiding Officer and his deputies, but we can usually cope on our own.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I never thought that I would be accused of intemperate language by Mr Gallie, of all people. The Opposition is trying to crank up a non-existent debate.

I give an undertaking to the industry and to fishing communities around Scotland that this Administration will take their concerns seriously. We will begin that job with them tomorrow.

Our fishermen deserve much better than they have had in this debate. This Administration will take the interests of our fishing communities very seriously indeed. I commend the Government motion to the chamber. I urge members to accept the amendment moved by Mr Robson and to reject the nationalists' whingeing amendment.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Before we move to decision time, I ask Henry McLeish to move formally motion S1M-29.

Motion moved,

That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Border Rivers) Order 1999, which was laid before the Parliament on 26 May, be approved.- [Henry McLeish.]