Fisheries 2003

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 12th December 2002.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 3:10 pm, 12th December 2002

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3700, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries 2003, and two amendments to that motion.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 3:32 pm, 12th December 2002

The past eight weeks have been a challenging time for everybody who is engaged in the fishing industry. However, the next eight days could perhaps be the most challenging of all. Scotland's white-fish industry is under unprecedented pressure. The negotiations next week could determine the future of the white-fish fishery in Scotland.

In theory, there are three things to be decided at the European Union fisheries council next week: the reform of the common fisheries policy; a new cod and hake recovery plan; and the total allowable catches and quotas for next year. We will also receive the reports on the outcome of the EU-Norway talks. That is a monumental agenda, but we must engage actively and responsibly in all three aspects of the process.

There are those who, even now, call on us to halt the process and declare that we cannot conclude all that business. We are under considerable pressure. I do not believe that everything will necessarily be decided next week; some decisions on common fisheries policy reform may have to be postponed until next year. Nevertheless, we must all be aware that the decisions on total allowable catches and quotas and on a cod and hake recovery plan pose a real problem for us, as the European Commission has the power to impose emergency regulations if we do not engage with it. It is my judgment that, unless we are at least actively engaging with the Commission, it could introduce emergency regulations that would seriously damage the interests of the Scottish fishing industry.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister accepts that not everything can be concluded at next week's talks. Would not it make more sense, therefore, to decide on the new CFP reforms next week and to allow the North sea states to produce their recovery plan in a few months' time? That would allow them to make the decisions in the cold light of day rather than as part of an overcrowded agenda. If that is his belief, why does he not try to speak to other states and get them to agree to that?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I do not think that Mr Lochhead is listening. The important point is that a regulation must be in place from 1 January 2003 for the catching of quotas. The risk is that, unless we engage in the process, we will not be able to indicate to the Commission that it does not need to impose draconian measures because we are all, collectively and individually, prepared to engage with it to find a sensible solution. If we do not reach such a solution, at least we will have made our point to the Commission that imposing draconian measures is unnecessary.

I will deal first with CFP reform. The Commission's proposals have three key features, whose thrust we generally support. First, the Commission wants better conservation through better planning, an end to the distorting subsidies for fleet renewal, a better balance between catching capacity and stocks, and multi-annual management plans to encourage longer-term economic planning. Secondly, the Commission proposes that several important arrangements on access to resources should continue, including relative stability, the current 6 and 12-mile zone arrangements and the Shetland box. Thirdly, the Commission's proposals address the extremely important issue of governance and advocate the strengthening of the CFP's regional dimension by involving stakeholders more directly.

We welcome those proposals and some of the textual changes, but we still have concerns about some matters, to which we will have to be very alive and alert during the negotiations next week. We hope that we will secure multi-annual arrangements on conservation. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that the so-called friends of fisheries will resist those efforts and our efforts to end the distorting subsidies for new build mainly in the southern member states. I have to concede that that resistance will be a major stumbling block on the road to reform. However, the nonsense of subsidised overfishing must be tackled head on.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I agree with what the minister just said. However, does he share my worry about what Franz Fischler wrote in his open letter to fishermen, which was published earlier in the week? Mr Fischler said:

"If the Council does not come to a decision on the reforms this December, then I cannot allocate any more resources to fleet subsidies from 1 January 2003 onward."

How are those statements compatible?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Fortunately, I am not responsible for writing Commissioner Fischler's letters—having read that letter two days ago, I am relieved about that. Tavish Scott is right to suggest that the statements are not compatible. What Mr Fischler said is most unfortunate. It would have been preferable if he had stuck to the essential point of simply stating categorically that the Commission will press for an ending of fleet subsidies. Having referred to that issue in one paragraph, he did not need two or three paragraphs later to introduce the confused statement that Tavish Scott quoted. We want to resist fleet subsidies.

On access to resources, we hope to secure a reaffirmation of relative stability and the Hague preference. The Commission wants a fundamental review next year. We want those two fundamental arrangements to continue, so we are negotiating to ensure that they are recognised in the new framework of regulation now and do not have to be reviewed next year.

The Commission also wants to review the Shetland box and other conservation boxes next year. We have argued successfully that the Shetland box should not lapse and, indeed, should now be explicitly referred to in the regulation. We are trying to address fisheries management throughout Europe in a way that provides for sustainable development of stocks and fishing communities. I can think of few more striking examples of how to achieve that than the current arrangements in the Shetland box. We will try to ensure that the current wording, which is a substantial improvement, will also be secured. We hope to get the Shetland box exempted from the general review for 2003.

On governance, I want to see real stakeholder involvement so that regional advisory councils can play a meaningful role in fisheries management. We must get the membership of the councils right so that those most affected—the fishing industry representatives—have the leading role. We have been arguing for that and the text of the regulation has recently moved in our direction by placing much greater emphasis on the central role of fishermen on such councils.

I turn to the cod and hake recovery plans. This year, the scientific evidence was not that surprising, but the scientific advice came as a real shock. We knew that many stocks were outside safe biological limits, but we did not quite know how bad the situation was. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea said that the only way of ensuring that stocks of cod recovered was to operate a complete moratorium, with severe restrictions on associated stocks and other fisheries where cod was taken as a bycatch. However, the problem is not just about cod. Despite current evidence of a strong year class, the scientists assure us that, if we continue to fish at the current rate, haddock could move outside safe biological limits within two years.

The Executive has agonised over that science. We have quizzed the scientists, listened to the fishermen and fishermen's representatives whom we have met in the past few weeks, considered the Canadian experience and tried to balance the biological realities and the social actualities. We have taken the view that the science is imprecise but that its message could not be clearer: the trends are not reversing; the problems are real; and we must find a way of squaring the biological and social circle before it is too late. I therefore have to go to Brussels with alternative proposals, not just tactical ploys.

Let us consider our options. We cannot stand aside and watch the inevitable biological and economic decline. We have to take action to modify current fishing practices if we want to give our white-fish sector a sustainable future.

I made it clear to the Commission at the outset that the total closure of our mixed fishery is totally unacceptable—it is not an option.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

In a moment.

Apparently, the Commission has acknowledged that that is not an option, but I have to say that effort reduction of up to 80 per cent of the white-fish fishery is not far off closure. Such cuts would still spell disaster for the Scottish industry.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Does the minister also accept that 80 per cent cuts are unacceptable?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That is what I just said. Mr McGrigor really must try to listen while he is in the sedentary or half-sedentary position.

We have to take the Commission's position as a starting point for negotiation. The Commission placed its faith in effort control, which is generally measured in the number of days at sea. We have been arguing for a much more balanced mix of measures that can deliver stock recovery equitably and proportionately across the member states involved. All fisheries that impact on cod must bear the burden of recovery measures, whether in the northern or the southern part of the North sea. The mix of measures might include effort control and further technical measures to increase the selectivity of fishing gears. It must also emphatically take account of measures that the Scottish industry has introduced this year and last year. Taken as a package, that might offer the prospect of stock recovery without the wanton destruction of our industry.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I acknowledge that the minister has paid tribute to the effort reduction that has been undertaken specifically by the Scottish fleet over many years. However, on the percentage reduction that is being considered—ranging from 100 per cent to 80 per cent to 66 per cent—what is his negotiation figure?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

If I am going to have a negotiating figure, the one thing that I should not do is reveal it in advance. I hope that members will understand that. The 66 per cent figure is not one that we or anyone else has ever put to the Commission, although I know that it has appeared in the press.

The guiding principle in our negotiations is that there must be equity and sustainable development. We cannot dodge the conservation problem, because to do so is also the road to economic ruin. Sustainable development means less intensive fishery but equity means finding reasonable ways of managing such change and assuring a future for the fishing industry in Scotland.

The third strand of our negotiation involves agreeing the fishing opportunities for 2003. Much of that will be non-contentious. The prospects are good for our pelagic and nephrops fishermen. However, the contentious elements are highly contentious because they are fundamentally linked to the discussions surrounding the recovery plan for cod and hake. Here, again, we must employ the guiding principle of sustainable development.

The three processes in which we are about to engage—the reform of the CFP, the cod and hake recovery plan and the setting of TACs and quotas for 2003—will be running in parallel. I regret to say that some member states will seek to attach conditionality to each and every one of those elements, which will further confuse the process.

We have our work cut out for us, but we also have a clear goal: to safeguard our fisheries infrastructure; to promote stock recovery; and to give our white-fish sector in particular a sustainable economic platform.

The negotiation process will be complex and I recognise that the stakes are high. We need to recognise that there is a real possibility that a failure to agree could lead to emergency Commission regulation. I am conscious that we must deploy credible alternatives next week. That is why I am grateful for the support of the Scottish industry—and, I hope, members of the Parliament—in the past few weeks and the next few days in helping us to sustain the momentum as we pilot our way through that difficult task.

I am also conscious that the negotiations will almost certainly continue beyond the start of our parliamentary recess. It is my intention and the Executive's to discuss with you, Presiding Officer, how we can report on the outcome of the negotiations at the earliest opportunity.

I move,

That the Parliament supports the Scottish Executive in its efforts to negotiate an outcome from the Fisheries Council meeting in December 2002 that reflects both the best achievable deal for the Scottish fishing industry and the fishing communities that depend on it and the need to preserve stocks for the long term.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 12th December 2002

It seems that, at about this time every year, we say that we are in the run-up to the most important fisheries talks in living memory. This year, that is no exaggeration. Our fishing communities and the 40,000 people who depend on fishing for their employment await more deals behind closed doors next week in Brussels as the politicians and unelected officials get together to determine their fate.

Anyone who saw the coverage of the protests yesterday throughout Europe, witnessed last week's march and rally in Edinburgh or looked at the size of the 40,000-signature petition that our fishing communities handed to the Parliament can be in no doubt that those communities are determined to prevent the axe from falling next week. No one in the fishing industry will let anyone devastate their industry and way of life with the stroke of a pen in Brussels.

The industry is fed up with backroom deals. It stands outside the smoke-filled rooms while the politicians inside come up with their usual deals. Families who are dependent on the industry for income sit at home wondering whether they will be able to pay the bills in the year ahead. Time and again, successive Labour and Tory Governments have sold out the industry at such negotiations. A memo that was released last year under the 30-year rule showed that, even all those years ago, Whitehall considered fishing expendable in the pursuit of wider European objectives.

Despite all that, the fishing industry is still crucial to Scotland. It is responsible for generating £250 million for the Scottish economy each year and employs more than 40,000 people. However, the industry is fed up with bending over backwards and getting no credit for it at all. All the new measures that have been introduced—the decommissioning scheme and new mesh sizes—have been ignored. All those measures were taken to conserve white-fish stocks, but the fishermen still have to fish alongside other fleets that do not use those measures and that use smaller mesh sizes.

Our fishermen also still have to fish alongside the industrial fisheries fleet in the North sea. Is the minister aware that four Danish vessels were arrested yesterday? The illegal white-fish bycatch from those vessels alone could keep a number of Scottish vessels going for the whole year. A few days ago, two other Danish vessels were caught with an illegal white-fish bycatch. That, too, could have kept several Scottish vessels going for a year. Those Danish vessels turn all their catch into soup, while our fishing industry bends over backwards to conserve fish stocks for human consumption. Indeed, 12 Danish boats are still waiting to go to court in Denmark for huge illegal white-fish bycatches.

Our fishing industry is fed up with playing by the rules while other fishing industries throughout Europe do not. If they are unlucky, those other fishing industries get a slap on the wrist and are perhaps told to tie up for a month or so. We are the good guys and our ministers are always the good guys, but, at Brussels, our industry has to play by the rules. The figures that Europe released last week show that United Kingdom vessels committed only 1 per cent of the infringements in 2001, whereas Spanish vessels committed 46 per cent of the infringements. We are still miles away from a level playing field in Europe.

What is the Scottish industry's reward for all that sacrifice? We know that Europe has ignored the conservation measures that the Scottish industry has adopted and that the industrial fishery TAC for 2003 will not be reduced by any significant amount, but Franz Fischler tells people in our industry that their livelihoods will have to end to save the cod. Franz Fischler betrayed Scotland over the deepwater fishery, which continues to be an issue. We get only 2 per cent of the quota for stocks off Scotland's shore. Franz Fischler is hell-bent on destroying the Scottish industry.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Will Richard Lochhead join me in condemning those who suggest that the cod do not matter? Does he agree that doing nothing is not an option? Will he share with us exactly what cuts in quotas the Scottish National Party will support?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The SNP has never suggested doing nothing. I am coming on to the SNP view on the way forward.

The industry in Scotland has been told that it will have to end, although the scientists' figures indicate that haddock is at its highest level for 30 years. The figures also indicate that saith biomass is at a 20-year high, whiting is at a 10-year high, prawn stocks are robust and even cod biomass is up by 25 per cent. No account whatever has been taken of Scotland's mixed fishery.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does Richard Lochhead accept the evidence that the figure for the haddock stock is from one year class? Other evidence shows that haddock stocks are not being replaced in subsequent year classes. As the minister said, within two to three years, we are likely to have a severely depleted haddock stock.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

If Robin Harper will wait a few moments, I will address that issue.

In his ridiculous open letter to the European fishing industry, Franz Fischler admitted that even scientists get it wrong. Indeed, in 2000, the scientists proposed a zero TAC for blue whiting and yet this year they are setting a TAC of 700,000 tonnes. The scientists know that they got it wrong in 2000.

Most of the outrage that is felt in the industry has been caused by management advice, rather than by scientific findings. No assessment has been made of the measures that the Scottish industry has taken or of other factors including climate change. The arguments that have been rehearsed in recent weeks on those subjects have not been taken into account.

It is a scandal that there has been no economic assessment of the Commission's proposals. When the SNP met Commission officials in Brussels last week, we asked them what economic assessment they had made of their proposals. They said that they had made none. They also said that they had had one week to put together a 170-page proposal about the future of European stocks. That sums up how the CFP is entirely failing Scotland. The way in which the Commission is making decisions is absolutely appalling.

What we need for next week's talks is a strategy. That is why it was appalling to hear what Labour MEP Catherine Stihler said last Wednesday in the European Parliament. She said:

"At present there is no specific UK/Scottish counter-proposal to what the Commission is proposing."

I repeat that that statement was made as recently as last Wednesday.

There is a way out of all this. There are fish in the sea and there are ways in which we can take appropriate action over the coming weeks to conserve fish stocks and fishing communities. We know that a rushed decision next week would be the wrong decision. The history of the CFP is a history of rushed decisions. That is why we are in this position in the first place. It is also why the CFP will be reformed next week. The strategy should not be to go to Brussels and simply barter down the 80 per cent cuts to 30 per cent or 40 per cent. We need time. The industry is calling for time, as are Scotland's local authorities that have fishing-dependent communities.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I ask Mike Rumbles to let me finish the point, as I am sure that he wants to ask me about it.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

We need time to address the measures that have been taken and the impact that they are making on stocks. We need time to put together carefully considered and prepared management proposals such as those that have been put forward by the North sea states that are concerned about the stocks.

We need to split the CFP discussions next week from the cod and hake recovery plan discussions. We know that there is no way in which both issues can be dealt with sufficiently on one agenda at the one series of talks. We have an opportunity next week to introduce zonal management, to set quotas and to let the fleet go back to sea. We could invite the North sea and Irish sea states to introduce their considered management proposals in a few months, once they have had time to consider and assess all the measures that have been taken so far.

We are facing a crisis. We need extraordinary responses. Members are shaking their heads and saying, as the minister did in his opening remarks, that we cannot do what I am proposing.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister said that that was not possible, but it is possible. Other states are doing it as we speak.

As the SNP told the minister in a meeting today, anchovy stocks were made the subject of an interim quota in 1999. There is a precedent for interim quotas. Not only was that interim quota set for anchovies, but the proposals that the Commission published yesterday set another precedent for that stock.

We need to look at what the Spanish have achieved. I refer members to the Commission's proposals, which are published on its website. Members will see that a 19,800 tonne TAC has been set for anchovies. The footnote to the figure shows that the situation is unique. It says:

"This TAC will be reviewed during 2003 in the light of new scientific advice".

In the past, interim quotas have been set. As we speak, the Spanish have reached a deal in Brussels with the Commission. It is perfectly possible to pursue that strategy. That is why the North East Scotland Fisheries Partnership, which comprises all industry representatives and local authorities, supports such a proposal.

When we put the proposal to the Commission, we were told that the idea was refreshing but that it would have to be proposed by a member state. I repeat that, if the proposal is made by a member state, the Commission will consider it, because it is a new, fresh idea. That is why it is so important that Ross Finnie should officially lead the UK delegation in Brussels next week.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I will just conclude on this point, Presiding Officer. The First Minister says that Scotland will lead in appropriate circumstances. Scotland has led the delegations for education and health in the past and we cannot think of a more appropriate circumstance than now, at the height of a fishing crisis in Scotland, for the Scottish ministers to lead for the whole UK. They should take charge, lead from the front and deliver a deal to secure the future of Scotland's fishing communities at next week's talks.

I move amendment S1M-3700.2, to leave out from "supports" to end and insert:

"urges the Scottish Executive to officially lead the UK delegation at next week's Fisheries Council with a view to opposing vigorously any draconian cuts in fishing opportunities; calls on the Executive to propose that viable quotas be set that will allow the fleet to return to sea in the new year, providing the opportunity for states with a direct interest in the North Sea and the Irish Sea to bring forward management plans later in 2003 that promote fisheries conservation and secure a future for our fisheries communities, and further calls on the Minister for Environment and Rural Development to engage directly with other EU states and Norway to achieve this objective."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 3:55 pm, 12th December 2002

On November 14, at First Minister's question time, I asked the Deputy First Minister to pass on to the First Minister and Tony Blair the fact

"that we have 30 days to save our fishing industry and that the clock is now ticking".—[Official Report, 14 November 2002; c 15425.]

The clock is still ticking, louder and louder. The fishermen are protesting strongly and are standing up for their industry, but when will their political leaders do the same? Will Tony Blair and Elliot Morley kowtow to Franz Fischler and his unthinkable plan, which will close an industry that supports upwards of 40,000 jobs and that is the mainstay of many Scottish fishing communities?

The awful thing is that it appears that that may be the case. I watched the Prime Minister answer a question on fishing in the House of Commons yesterday. He implied that all our fisheries stocks were in a bad way. That shows ignorance of the real state of play. Haddock, which is the main fish caught by the Scottish fleet, is more plentiful than at any time since 1971 and stocks of other fish are also on an upward curve. The only stock that seems depleted is cod, which are plentiful further north and indeed in some areas of the north North sea.

The North sea has warmed up. Cod do not like warm water; in fact, they do not feed in water that is warmer than 9 deg C. That is probably why they are not in abundance in the central North sea, but it is certainly no reason to stop Scottish fishermen catching haddock and whiting. After all, Scottish fishermen have done all in their power—often unilaterally—to accept conservation measures and the cod recovery plan in order to help the cod stock.

The ICES scientific data were collected in 2001, before stringent conservation measures were put in place, so the benefits of those measures have not yet been assessed. Scottish fishermen extended their net mesh sizes to up to 120mm and fitted square-mesh panels to help the young fish to escape. Last spring, the fishermen suffered the 12-week closure of 40,000 square miles of cod spawning grounds in the North sea without compensation and the decommissioning of 170 fishing vessels. All that left many thousands of tonnes of fish swimming in the sea that would otherwise have been caught.

There are recorded precedents of failures of fish stocks in our waters. In the 1920s, cod stocks were in a similar situation. In the late 1950s, the sea was virtually devoid of haddock. That species recovered within six years, despite the fact that there was no haddock recovery plan.

In May this year, the UK fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, assured fishermen that the Scottish fleet would escape further cuts. What has happened to that promise? What is Mr Morley saying or doing now to avert the calamity? He has been nowhere near Scotland's fishermen to offer them any help or support, which seems extraordinary.

After visiting fishermen in the north-east last week, Iain Duncan Smith wrote to the Prime Minister, saying:

"You have an opportunity at Copenhagen this week to make it clear that there is no justification for these proposals ... I believe that you should take personal charge of this vital issue. To do so would illustrate the Government's commitment to our fishermen."

Mr Blair's response, which I have before me, was to say:

"I believe that to raise the issue at the European Council would be a mistake."

He went on to wriggle away from responsibility, hiding behind outdated science.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Jamie McGrigor did not particularly listen to what I had to say and he was obviously not listening to what the First Minister said at question time this afternoon. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he intends to raise the plight of the Scottish fishing industry at the Danish talks, as the First Minister said this afternoon. If Jamie McGrigor had been listening during First Minister's question time, he would not have made his rather silly statement now.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

That is an historic about-turn because, in his letter dated 11 December 2002, the Prime Minister said precisely the opposite.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

As Phil Gallie says, I have it in writing.

It is unbelievable that the Scottish fishing fleet, which has done more for conservation than any other, should have to accept the blame and penalties for a situation that has been caused by years of bungling and mismanagement of the CFP by unelected Brussels bureaucrats. I regret to say that the management of the CFP has been on the poor side of appalling. It is time that the unfortunate experiment of collective harvesting of a common resource came to an end, before it exterminates a fishing industry that has benefited Scotland for 1,000 years.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I do not have time to take an intervention.

If ever there were a monument to failure, the CFP is that monument. It should be scrapped and replaced by a system that combines local and national management with science and fisheries expertise. In the CFP reform proposals, the Commission calls for an approach that will bring EU fleet capacity into balance with available fisheries resources. However, in Scotland's case, it has totally abandoned that principle. Its proposals would wipe out the entire Scottish white-fish fleet, despite the fact that there is an abundance of haddock, whiting, plaice, saith and, of course, prawns.

Quota cuts of 80 per cent would amount to a total closure. In that situation, the fishermen would not fish, the processors would not be supplied and the whole Scottish fishing industry would go down the tubes. Scottish fishermen were expecting a rise in quotas or, at the very least, the maintenance of the status quo. The plain truth is that any further cuts will make the industry unviable.

We saw Herr Fischler's duplicity over the allocation of quotas for deepwater stocks, which ended up with Scotland getting a paltry 2 per cent of the quota for those species. This is the same Herr Fischler who awards an industrial fishing allocation to the Scandinavians of 1,020,000 tonnes. That means their catching accidentally 204,000 tonnes of baby whiting, haddock and cod, which they turn into pig feed. That is nearly three times the allocation of those species for the entire UK fleet. What kind of conservation is that? Herr Fischler has isolated the UK position by allocating reasonable quotas of plaice and sole to Belgium and Holland to placate them, while calling for catastrophic cuts in the haddock quota, which is important only to Scotland.

This is crisis time for the Scottish fishing industry. I wish Ross Finnie and his team a successful outcome to their mission, but I tell him that there must be no backing down in the face of what is an obscene threat to one of Scotland's most important industries. Politicians must unite behind the fishing industry. They must say no—no to Fischler and no to the end of Scottish fishing.

I move amendment S1M-3700.1, to leave out from "supports" to end and insert:

"recognises the importance of sustainable fisheries for the well-being of the Scottish fishing industry and fishing communities and therefore strongly rejects any advice that would close Scotland's mixed fishery; believes that more time is required to assess truly the current state of fish stocks and the effects of the conservation measures already taken by Scottish fishermen; believes that elected MEPs should have the opportunity to debate and vote on any new quota cuts before they are implemented; urges fisheries ministers Ross Finnie and Elliot Morley to ensure that they do not preside over the decimation of Scotland's fishing industry but instead achieve an outcome that is fair and equitable to Scottish fishermen, and ultimately believes that the Common Fisheries Policy of collective management has failed and therefore should be scrapped and replaced by national and local control and management of European waters as the only way to ensure future sustainability of fish stocks and thus the fishing industry."

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour 4:02 pm, 12th December 2002

I welcome today's debate, as it is our last chance to debate the issue before the crucial negotiations in the Council of Ministers. It is right that the Parliament should clearly express its views on this issue.

I do not believe that the claims that the fishing industry has made in recent weeks have been overstated. Fishermen are fighting for their very survival—for the survival of the fishing industry, for their livelihoods and for the survival of their communities. It is right that fishermen should take every opportunity to state their case and to register their fears for the future should the proposals go ahead.

The debate has moved on since October, when we last discussed this in the chamber. Then there was disbelief that the Commission was proposing a total closure of fishing grounds. Now we have the prospect of major quota cuts. The Commission probably believed that by presenting the worst-case scenario first, it would make quota cuts more acceptable. Unfortunately for the industry, there is no worst-case scenario, as both total closure of grounds and massive quota cuts mean one thing only—a major change in the industry and the communities that depend on it. As the Prime Minister made clear recently in the Daily Record, an 80 per cut is too much for the Scottish fisherman to bear and is unfair because it ignores the steps that have been taken in Scotland in the past two years to tackle overcapacity in the fishing industry.

I want first to talk about nephrops. It is very important that we protect the nephrop fishery. During the previous debate, Ross Finnie made it clear that nephrops do not affect cod stocks, as the way in which they are fished does not result in material bycatches. The argument that cuts in the nephrops quota are necessary to protect cod stocks does not apply. We must be careful about displacement if other quotas are cut drastically. The nephrops fishery is very important to small communities on the west coast and must be protected.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am pleased to hear that. Does the member agree that there could be displacement in places such as Eyemouth, which is also dependent on the nephrops fishery? I am glad that the member acknowledges the dangers of displacement and of driving prices down. We should emphasise that collectively to the minister.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I agree with that. We must be careful of displacement. At this point, our attention must be on ensuring that quotas are not slashed, but in the long term we must be sure that there is not displacement that could leave other fisheries in the same situation. Therefore it is important that, after the negotiations, the Executive takes decisions that lead to a sustainable industry.

The industry has implemented technical measures that are making a difference to stocks, but we need to go further. When we last debated the subject, I talked about the role of separation panels, which can cut cod mortality by 90 per cent. The industry is leading and needs to continue to lead the debate on conservation methods, because it is in its interests first and foremost to ensure that alternatives to quota cuts and closures are put forward.

There is still, however, a problem with black fish landings by a small minority in the industry. Such activities add nothing to the industry's case. It is important that those landings are stamped out and the industry must take the lead in that. People who flout the law to line their own pockets are taking the food out of the mouths of their colleagues and their colleagues' families and make the Government's case more difficult to advance. The industry must be at the forefront of policing those activities in order to protect their future. All fishermen should guard against black fish landings and should report them where necessary. A commitment to do that would be welcome.

It is also important that there is consistency throughout the European Union for technical measures. I can understand the frustration of fishermen who have introduced larger mesh sizes only to find out that fishermen from other European countries are continuing to use nets with smaller mesh sizes. It is essential that the minister continues to work with the industry to achieve the best possible solution that avoids the draconian proposals put forward. It is likely that a major change will be difficult to avoid. However, the minister must do everything that he can to achieve the best outcome for the Scottish fishing fleet.

Finally, I have a word of caution. It is important that all politicians act in a way that maximises cross-party support for the industry and that presents a fair and reasonable case to the Commission. I was surprised to hear Alex Salmond describe Commissioner Fischler as a thug and an ignoramus. Such comments are not helpful and could do damage. There is a lot at stake, but making such a personal attack serves only to harm our cause rather than to support the fishing industry. In a way, that gives us an understanding of the SNP motion and why it would prefer Ross Finnie to lead the talks. The SNP cannot trust its Westminster colleagues to build a reasonable case. I reassure SNP members that we can trust ours to do so.

The minister deserves credit for the position that he has taken. On behalf of the Labour party, I wish him well as he works towards a sustainable solution to the fishing industry's problems.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We move to open debate for at least the next four speakers. I will allow speakers five minutes, plus time for interventions.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 4:08 pm, 12th December 2002

I start on a consensual basis and thank the minister for seeing my SNP colleagues and me this morning for an hour. It gave us a useful insight into his thinking and his approach. I refer to the debate on 31 October, when I said to the minister that I wanted him to get out of the chamber and over to Brussels to build alliances not just at meetings, but before meetings.—[Official Report, 31 October 2002; c 14286.]

I acknowledge that the minister has indeed taken my advice—I dare say that it was in his mind in any event. It is important that the minister gets out and about to meet people in the corridors and I believe that he has been doing that. It is a matter of regret that that did not happen for many years, particularly, to be blunt, in the years when there was huge antagonism between the Tory Government and Europe as a whole.

So far, so good. I take no responsibility for what Mr Salmond might say about Mr Fischler, although I have to say that I have heard considerably worse said of him by people throughout Europe, not simply at Westminster. Even some Labour members have been heard to make the odd intemperate remark in recent times.

I want to develop some of the points that Richard Lochhead made about industrial fishing. In each of the past four years, Denmark has had 75.4 per cent, 72.1 per cent, 74.4 per cent and 75 per cent successively of the industrial fisheries. Jamie McGrigor underestimated the industrial fishing figure for Denmark in 2002—it is 1.485 million tonnes, which is a lot more than the figure of 1 million tonnes that he quoted.

Numeracy is not Jamie McGrigor's best stroke, because in his motion he regrets the possible decimation of the Scottish fleet. He fails to recognise that it has been nearly double decimated in the current year, as a result of a decommissioning of almost 20 per cent. That is simply a matter of debate.

Although Spain, which has 90 per cent of the anchovy allocation, is facing a 40 per cent cut in its quota, it will get the opportunity to have that quota revised later in the year.

I want to focus on industrial fishing. I have some translated summaries from Danish newspapers of 10 December. Jyllands-Posten reports that Jørgen Fredsted, the Danish director of fisheries, said that the Danish authorities have done much to defend the industrial fishermen, but have then seen the fishermen themselves endanger their own livelihood.

Jørgen Fredsted said that because, almost a year later, 12 skippers from Esbjerg are still waiting for a final verdict on an illegal landing that is alleged to have taken place in January. One of the skippers who was charged in January has again been caught with a huge illegal bycatch of herring, haddock and whiting. That bycatch, which made up 40 per cent of the total catch, was found in the hold of one of the largest trawlers in Esbjerg. Another newspaper, Jydske Vestkysten, reports Jørgen Fredsted as saying that it seems stupid and thoughtless that the industrial fishermen should carry on as they do. The leading article in Jydske Vestkysten calls for the illegalities to stop, because what the fishermen are up to is "simply too stupid".

We must address the huge disparity in enforcement in Europe. A fisherman in Ireland is being stung for €12,000, whereas a Finnish counterpart has been fined only £84 for a similar offence. That state of affairs is simply unsustainable. Making money available to other countries to build new boats at a time when effort must be reduced is also unsustainable.

We can discuss the technicalities for as long as we wish. The industry is about fishing and communities. I always come back to the people who are involved in the industry. As Jamie McGrigor said, we are dealing with a thousand years of history; we are also dealing with a thousand years of our future. We must address today's problems for the long term and we must ensure that our fishermen are able to sustain themselves until the stocks have recovered.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 4:13 pm, 12th December 2002

This autumn, it is clear that the Scottish fishing industry is facing its most difficult situation in years. Its future lies in the hands of the Council of Ministers and the results of the forthcoming talks in Europe.

The Scottish minister, the UK minister and the Prime Minister have made it clear that the original EU proposals for a total ban and the subsequent proposals for an 80 per cent cut in fishing are quite unacceptable. Those ministers should be strongly supported in their endeavours to achieve the best possible settlement in Europe for a sustainable Scottish fishery.

Rhoda Grant is right to say that name calling and undermining Scottish and UK ministers, not to mention referring to Franz Fischler as a thug, is not in the best interests of the Scottish fishing industry.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Elaine Thomson said that she expects our ministers to get the best possible deal. Does she believe that there is a minimum settlement that they should be prepared to accept? Does she accept that perhaps our ministers should say, "This far and no further," if the deal does not go their way?

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

Negotiations will go on and I am confident that our ministers will be fighting for the best possible deal that they can achieve. At the moment, they should be putting forward the strongest possible case, but they should be supported by as wide a consensus as possible. Richard Lochhead's constant fixation on who leads the delegation is not productive.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

No. I have given way once.

Some people are calling for delays, but I do not believe that that is in the best interests of the industry. It has been made quite clear that, if agreement is not achieved over the next few days, at least in some areas, emergency EU powers could be used to close down the whole of the North sea fishery. That would be even more detrimental to the fishing industry, both onshore and offshore.

There has also been much questioning of the science on which the recommendations have been based, but the long-term trends are extremely clear. The cod stocks are in a desperate state. The minister said that we had a good haddock year in 1999, but the long-term trend for haddock is also extremely poor.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I thank Elaine Thomson very much for giving way. Does she support the views of Aberdeen City Council, which is part of the North East Scotland Fisheries Partnership and which believes that no draconian cuts should be implemented at next week's talks and that no decision on any new recovery plans should be taken? The council believes that instead there should be a breathing space so that everyone can consider those measures that have already been adopted and so that, in a few months time, a carefully prepared management plan for the North sea can be brought forward. Does Elaine Thomson agree with her local authority?

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

The minister has probably considered very carefully the plan proposed by the north-east of Scotland partnership, but he will need to make the best judgment on the way forward. As I said, there is a real risk that emergency EU powers will be used and the whole fishery closed down right now.

Haddock is a vital fish for Scotland. We eat more haddock than anything else and it is the mainstay of many of the fish processors in Aberdeen. We must ensure that we take action now to ensure not only that we look after the cod stocks, but that we stave off some of what is forecast for haddock in the next year or two. It is essential that we start to build a long-term sustainable fishery that looks after fish stocks and ensures that those in the fishing industry—both processors and catchers—have an economic livelihood.

Politicians, scientists, the European Union itself and the fishing industry have agreed that the current CFP has entirely failed in its objectives of protecting fish stocks and sustaining an economically viable fishing industry.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

No. I have already given way quite adequately.

Reforming the CFP gives us the opportunity to replace it with many of the things that we want, such as more regional management that involves people from the fishing industry. It is likely, however, that tough decisions will have to be taken, some of which will probably result in effort limitation. That will have a great impact on the whole industry, but I want to focus on the fish processing side of things, which supports some 1,600 people in Aberdeen alone. I ask the minister to continue to work closely with fish catchers and also with fish processors, with a view to maintaining a viable industry and giving it maximum support.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:19 pm, 12th December 2002

Each year we gather here in the hope that we can give our minister something to take away to argue with and about. I think that we have got the argument fair enough—we are talking about the survival of large parts of our Scottish communities, particularly in the north-east, but also in other parts of Scotland.

This is a UK issue, because the nature of it involves dealing with Europe. We cannot escape that and there is no point in having a discussion about dealing with it in any other way. That is the process that we have to engage in. The Westminster Government should recognise fully the importance of fishing to Scotland in comparison with the fishing industry in other parts of the UK. I would like the minister to go to Brussels with the knowledge and confidence that the Parliament is supporting him, provided that he will indicate in his wind-up speech that he acknowledges some of the offers that have been made to him.

I considered some of the comments that the minister made at the beginning of his speech about the science being imprecise. I will come back to that. He also talked about a proportionate share of cuts. During several fishing debates in the chamber I can recall suggesting that since the Scots fleet had led the way in conservation measures and effort reduction, and taken on board the decommissioning scheme, those measures ought to be mirrored by others who fish the same waters. It is out of order to suggest that that is not the first thing that we have to get across when the ministers go to Europe.

The sea is a common resource, regardless of where the boundaries happen to be and how the management plan evolves. Fish swim about. The drift of temperature and the northwards drift of species cannot be regulated against. It is important that the minister takes with him the message that the Scots have led the way. We have taken it on the chin. Enough is enough. Our economies cannot cope with a drastic switching off of the tap.

Elaine Thomson talked about the fish processors, but there are other on-shore jobs—harbours, net manufacturers, and the list goes on. The industry is crucial to Scotland. It is important that the message gets across that Scotland cannot take any more without similar effects being accepted in other parts of Europe.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Is it not the case that if the proposals are accepted there might be conservation, but at the end of it, there would be no fishermen left in Scotland to catch those fish?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Absolutely, although Franz Fischler's letter said that any Spanish fishermen in trouble because of the oil slick would be paid to stay at home. It is interesting that we have not had that offer in the past.

Although Conservative Governments were castigated in the past, we sent out the top people. We sent leaders of Government to deal with European issues. It is fine to send out the minister who is technically responsible for the issue as part of a team, and it is nice to know that Tony Blair is going to be saying something in Copenhagen this week. If we were going to deal with the issue as a European issue, would it not be right for him and Jack McConnell to attend the talks? At least they should participate in part of the talks. That would send a clear signal that the UK Government, along with the Scottish Executive, is resolved to get the message across.

The minister also talked about credible alternatives. If we consider the science and the measurements that were taken before the conservation measures were introduced, there is no measurement whatsoever of what has resulted from those measures. That information is not even a part of what is going on.

Surely we need some time to get the results of those measures. I am assuming that the minister has something up his sleeve and that he does not want to show his cards at such an early stage. Surely the minister must go to Brussels with firm figures to demonstrate the results of the sacrifices that the Scottish fleet has made for conservation. That is crucial if the minister is to retain the confidence of the fishing industry in Scotland. They have made the effort. People have lost their boats; jobs have been lost all over the place; economies are being hammered in parts of the north of Scotland.

If that has to be our sacrifice for the saving of the North sea fishing industry in Scotland and across Europe, then the results of the measures that we have taken must be available. If they are not available, the minister must ask for time so that those measurements can be made and all the schemes that are being proposed can be properly measured in terms of conservation. As a scientist, I know that it is a fact of life that we take snapshots of instants in time. That is not enough. We need to have far more trend analysis and more rational arguments.

I wish the minister every success when he goes to Brussels.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:25 pm, 12th December 2002

The minister referred in his opening remarks to agonising over science. There are many days when I agonise over Europe. I am instinctively pro-European—philosophically and because of the ties that my constituency has to Europe—but the common fisheries policy has failed. It must be profoundly illiberal for a process of management under the auspices of democratic government now to be undermined by the ability of an unaccountable bureaucracy to impose a solution without regard to the people that it will affect. That is what I agonise over at this time.

I welcome the commitment of the minister and the Executive, and the fact that the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and many other ministers were here for the opening exchanges of the debate. Next week is economic and social life or death for the white-fish industry. The crews of the boats will be in the front line but, as others have mentioned, then come engineers, net makers, agents, the ports, processors and all who may feel the financial wind of change.

The Scottish industry needs a minister who will fight its corner with skill, determination and tactical ability. Ross Finnie certainly illustrated that when he came to Shetland a few days ago to have talks with the Shetland industry. He heard about the industry's utter frustration at the failures of the common fisheries policy and, to be blunt, the view that cod have become more important than individual communities and people's livelihoods. There are certainly problems with cod levels in certain parts of the North sea—that is not disputed—but that is not true of the entire North sea. The one-size-fits-all policy of the commissioner and the Commission is a mistake.

I hope that the minister will accept that at this time the industry is principally concerned with the quota allocations, and not so much with the common fisheries policy. Not that that is unimportant, but it is a simple fact that there will not be much point in a common fisheries policy if there is not a blinking fishing fleet to prosecute it.

I bring to the attention of the chamber research done by the Shetland Ocean Alliance—SHOAL—which shows that the total value of the white-fish industry to the Shetland economy is 25 per cent of the productive economy of my constituency. I emphasise that point: one quarter of Shetland's economy depends on the white-fish fleet and all the businesses that support it. I do not accept the argument that nothing has changed in recent times. Over the last 10 years in Shetland alone, fleet turnover is down by 15 per cent, fleet numbers are down by 41 per cent and overall employment in the industry is down by 26 per cent. We have had enough pain. As SHOAL states:

"If the fleet is reduced any further then the critical mass will be lost and many essential services may no longer be available to local boats."

Eighty per cent of Shetland's white-fish landings are bought for markets in Aberdeen and the north-east. Those members who have mentioned the processing industry in the north-east are right to do so. The Commission's proposals would have a devastating impact on that, but also on Scotland in a wider context. I say to Labour colleagues who represent constituencies across the central belt that many jobs in their constituencies will be affected if the proposals go through. Many engineering jobs and the turnover of many businesses will be impacted if the proposals go through. It will not be just Shetland and it will not be just the north-east; it will be Scotland as a whole. However, Shetland, with one quarter of its economy dependent on the demersal sector, has most to lose. The livelihoods of 500 men and women are at risk next week.

The minister has a tough job in Brussels. He must overcome the megaphone diplomacy of Commissioner Fischler. To my way of thinking, Commissioner Fischler's open letter to fishermen this week in no way helps. It contains phrases such as:

"We are not forcing anyone to scrap their boats or to give up fishing."

You could have fooled me. Neither do his threats of emergency action and his tactics in buying off the Spanish help. I asked the minister in an intervention about the sentence in Commissioner Fischler's letter—and one has to presume that it is his view, because it is in an open letter—that clearly states that he will not allocate resources to fleet subsidies from 1 January next year unless the Council comes to a decision on the current proposals. If that is not a threat to Spain that says, "Support my proposals or else," I do not know what in heaven's name it is.

The minister must stick to his guns and hold the United Kingdom Government to the commitment given by the Secretary of State for Scotland that the UK will vote against any proposal that would effectively close the Scottish white-fish industry. There can be no reneging on that commitment.

The minister is not going to Brussels unarmed. He takes with him good arguments on science, technical measures and the steps already taken by the Scottish industry, as other colleagues rightly mentioned, through decommissioning and gear changes. The minister has received constructive proposals from the Scottish industry, not least from the Shetland Ocean Alliance. Shetland has given the minister some bullets; next week the Shetland economy depends on the minister's being able to fire them.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party 4:30 pm, 12th December 2002

I thank the minister for meeting us this morning. We sensed much of the agony that he must be going through as he tries to take this horrible situation on board. We discussed the point about timing, which was made by Richard Lochhead and is in our amendment. He did not agree with us and told us why, but I reiterate that we agree about the enormous complexity of the decisions that have to be made.

The situation seems to have got worse rather than better since my time in Europe. The Norwegian negotiations have been added and now take place at the same time, when they used to be held separately. With respect, I ask whether it is sensible to make the decisions now, and I support Richard Lochhead's comments about giving the fishermen time. All the figures are out of date and take no account of our conservation measures.

We seem to be bashed over the head all the time. We do everything right, have strict enforcement and hardly any infringements. The Spanish fishery inspectors who were appointed during my time in Europe lived in Madrid. Against the rules, small fish are sold openly in supermarkets all over Spain, and somehow the Spanish get away with all the infringements and piracies in the sea that they constantly commit.

It is clear to me that Spain's priority in Europe is fish, which come before everything else. However, in Britain, fish are no priority at all, never mind a top priority. That is plain to see from successive Governments' treatment of the industry.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Does the member agree that it is obvious that the priority in Spain is not fish if one can find undersized fish sold in supermarkets all over that country?

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

We agree with each other that the Spanish are behaving badly—they are pirates and have always behaved badly. They do not attempt to enforce and would not agree to sensible measures about the powers of our fisheries inspectors. At the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries, UK representatives moved that the fisheries inspectors should have roving enforcement powers not only in UK waters but in all European waters, and to visit without warning. Spain did not agree with that suggestion, and it got away with not agreeing and not enforcing.

The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has put one or two questions to us, and some are worth repeating. Two months ago, we had a phased and balanced cod recovery plan, but now we have panic. Why has that happened? Why panic now? The fishermen are demanding an explanation for that and have asked about the involvement of the fishing industry. I have spent many weary hours in Brussels hotels, sitting with delegations while they waited hopefully for a crumb of information to come out from the long negotiations that were taking place. It seemed so strange that the real experts on what was going on in the sea were sitting outside while the bureaucrats were inside.

The coalition parties and the other Opposition party think that it is ridiculous that we care about who leads the delegation. However, Henry McLeish openly made a commitment about that at a meeting of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee held in the Lord Provost's accommodation in Edinburgh. Lawyers from throughout Europe were questioning Mr McLeish about devolution, and we heard him assure everyone that the Scottish minister would automatically lead if Scottish interests dominated. If we harp on about that, it is because I heard that commitment with my own ears. I told him, "Henry, I'm writing that down, because I'll probably want to quote it from time to time." Indeed, that is what I have been doing.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member cannot give way. She is very short of time now, I am sorry to say.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

Well, I have a lot more to say.

I gave poor Mr Finnie another piece of paper to read. It was a copy of the speech made at the rally by Brian Phillips, who has dared to challenge the scientific evidence in basic ways. I know that the minister has a lot of papers to read, but I would really be obliged if he could spend a few minutes on that paper to find out how devastating Mr Phillips's criticisms are. In effect, he concludes that the amount of fish for human consumption in the catch is negligible compared with the amount that salmon and seals eat and industrial fishing removes.

That said, industrial fishing is receiving an increase in its quotas. The Danes seems to be able to negotiate very well in their own interests. However, such fishing does not make any sense; it is totally anti-conservationist.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I must ask the member to come to a close.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

I must stop there. I am getting into bad habits.

I fought for 24 years, often alone, against Spain—Britain gave in time after time. Frankly, it has broken my heart to see that the situation is not improving.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:36 pm, 12th December 2002

I agree with various comments that have been made this afternoon. Yes, the Danes and the Spanish are little better than pirates; yes, the pain of the new policies must be shared as they develop; and yes, the minister must try to secure more than our present measly 7 per cent share of subsidies.

However, before I reach the main body of my speech, I should point out that one or two unhelpful remarks have been made. Tavish Scott should not have apostrophised the EC as an unaccountable bureaucracy. The problem is that it has been accountable. Every year it comes up with plans to reduce the pressure on fish stocks, and every year politicians from all over Europe descend on it and beat it about the ears, saying, "That's politically unacceptable. We can't reduce the fish stocks; we need to take more fish out."

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

No, I will not.

At the same time, all the Spanish do is seek more money to build more and bigger boats.

Richard Lochhead also unhelpfully suggested that Fischler is hell-bent on destroying the Scottish fishing industry. However, Fischler says that people are quite wrong to accuse the Commission of wanting to destroy jobs. He also said:

"Anyone who ignores the warning signs and still claims that it is in the fishermen's interests to continue as before—merely setting catch quotas and encouraging the development of an already oversized fishing fleet with millions in grants—is no friend of fishermen, or of our fisheries.

"Inadequate management of fish stocks, lack of policing, failure to involve the industry, and a misguided aid policy have meant that over-fishing, as in recent years, gradually undermined the livelihood of the fishing industry."

Our minister can work with such attitudes and statements.

Stock has been declining for 30 years and not one of the dozens of measures that have been taken has reduced the pressure effectively. In fact, many of the subsidy measures have increased pressures. Members have already mentioned many of them, particularly in connection with Spain. We need to stop over-fishing, or fishing will soon be over.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Over recent years, prawn quotas have been continually reduced while prawn stocks have continually increased. Why will controls not lead to the benefits that Robin Harper seeks?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

It was generous of you to allow that intervention, Mr Harper. You have very little time.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

If what Mr Gallie says is the case, the position of prawn stocks varies significantly from what has been happening elsewhere.

I suggest that, at the very least, the following policies must be put in place as soon as possible. First, there must be a reduction in industrial fishing for sandeels and a continuation of the closure of the sandeel fishery on the east coast of Scotland, otherwise known as the Wee Bankie. We must achieve a targeted reduction in sandeel take by identifying other areas for closure to sandeel fishing.

Secondly, we must significantly increase decommissioning funds. Thirdly, we must target further funds to support fishing communities that are hit by the severe reduction in fishing—or the temporary total closures that I believe are inevitable. Fourthly, a long-term plan must be produced that will restore the cod and haddock fisheries to the point at which a sustainable quota, well above the existing quota, could be set. Fifthly, we must secure a much larger proportion of EU fishing subsidies for Scotland. Sixthly, we must remove the ridiculous and contrary funding for modernisation that is being given to Spain and apply a large proportion of those funds to provide support for Scottish communities.

Underlying the SNP amendment is the fact that the SNP still supports the Scottish fishermen's policy of fish now and pay later. I have read the Scottish Fishermen's Federation analysis and the accompanying paper from a Danish scientist. I remain entirely unconvinced by their attempts to undermine and discredit the conclusions of ICES and the Fisheries Research Services. If we want to save the North sea fisheries, we must start with the realisation that we are in an emergency and that emergency measures must be taken.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We are running late, so I ask the closing speakers to be tight on their allocations.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 4:41 pm, 12th December 2002

It is a pleasure to follow a very animated Robin Harper.

We have had an important and well-informed debate. I was particularly pleased to hear the minister bring us up to date on his and Elliot Morley's preparations before they go to the crucial talks in Brussels. It was encouraging to see the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and every member of the Scottish Cabinet stay in the chamber to listen to Mr Finnie's opening speech.

My Highland colleague, Rhoda Grant, touched on several important areas. She was right to highlight the fact that Ross Finnie and Elliot Morley are firmly engaged in the fight for the survival of our fishing industry and the survival and viability of fishing communities, fishermen and processors throughout Scotland. Every right-thinking person should accept that their efforts should be focused and coherent and that we must move the debate forward in a constructive manner.

A number of members placed importance on the prawn fisheries. As several members said, we must safeguard that fishery and ensure that there is no mass diversion to it by fishermen from other parts of the United Kingdom. From a constituency perspective—a Western Isles perspective—the Western Isles fishermen and prawn fishery are enjoying the best fishing in 35 years; a similar story can be told about the lobster fishery. That is proof positive that when an industry takes tough decisions and puts in place tough, well-meaning conservation measures, the fleet will continue to enjoy rewarding fishing.

In the previous debate on this matter, I referred to the turnaround in the fortunes of the fishing industry of our friends in Iceland and the Faroes. I make no apology for referring again to the measures that they put in place. Many years ago, their fishing industry faced certain obliteration, but they implemented tough conservation measures. They did not reduce the number of boats going to sea but ensured that boats used nets that did not catch everything in the sea. I appreciate that Scottish fishermen have been moving down that line. I also appreciate their frustration that they are using nets of a greater mesh size when boats from other EU member states are using nets of a smaller mesh size. That ludicrous situation must be sorted out.

Rhoda Grant was also right to touch on the important matter of black fish landings. The industry must take the lead and ensure that such practices are eliminated from fishing.

During First Minister's question time, I was encouraged to hear that earlier today Jack McConnell and Tony Blair discussed the Scottish fishing industry and the Copenhagen summit, during which Tony Blair will raise the issue, fight Scotland's corner and make representations to his colleagues in Copenhagen. He will reflect the fact that £343 million of sea fish was landed by Scotland-based vessels in 2001 and that, in 1999, sea fish landings represented 0.5 per cent of the Scottish gross domestic product. I am certain that the Prime Minister will make those points to his colleagues at the summit.

I have to say that I rarely agree with Winnie Ewing, but I certainly agree with her about the details of Spanish fishing practices and enforcement abuses that she shared with the chamber. She was correct to do so.

Other members referred to the outrageous and ludicrous language used by Alex Salmond, who was formerly of this parish. It is a disgrace that Alex Salmond described Commissioner Fischler as a thug and an ignoramus. That is an example of the worst type of low-grade politics, which is synonymous with the Scottish National Party; its reputation for such politics was enhanced earlier today. The fishing industry is a serious issue that requires serious, grown-up politicians to engage with it positively.

Mr Finnie enjoys Labour members' confidence. I wish him and Elliot Morley the best in the talks, which are crucial to the future of our fishing industry.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I express my regrets to the two members whom I was unable to call in the open part of the debate.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:45 pm, 12th December 2002

We have become used to an annual debate on fishing. I hope that such debates are not consigned to the dustbin of history along with the fishing industry, which might happen if we do not get things right in the next few days.

Conservation is a much over-used word. In so far as it applies to Scottish fish stocks, we should all agree that the most active conservationists of all are the Scottish fishermen. The Scottish fleet has already gone down the road of bigger mesh sizes and square mesh panels. The fleet has endured decommissioning and a programme is in hand to introduce further technical measures to preserve stocks in the North sea. What reward have the fishermen had for those measures? They must have some reward from the coming negotiations. If the measures that have been taken are ignored completely, the message will go out to fishermen throughout Europe—perhaps even throughout the world—that, ultimately, those who conserve will be penalised.

We cannot afford that, especially when no attempt is being made to limit the industrial fishery in the North sea, which is one of the most wasteful and non-conservation minded practices. We must address that irony, because the industrial fishery is a significant part of the problem. However, we must accept some responsibility for that, as well as understanding the needs of that fishery. Although much of the protein that it produces goes to pigs and hens, a substantial part of it comes back to the aquaculture industry in Scotland. The industrial fishery is not the black-and-white issue that some members suggest.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Is Alex Johnstone aware that the Scottish salmon farming industry and fishmeal companies are looking elsewhere for their sources because they want to support the white fish industry? The problem that Alex Johnstone raised is becoming less of a factor.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am aware of that.

In its short life, the Parliament has spent a lot of time on fishing, both in committees and in meetings of the full Parliament. There have been high points, such as the Parliament's enthusiastic endorsement of the EU green paper on fisheries in March 2001. We have now come to a low point and are staring catastrophe in the face. In recent years, we have had to endure the growing trend of politicians saying that we must trust science and not allow politicians to get in its way. That argument has advantages, because it permits a great deal of buck-passing and sounds like a legitimate defence. We must face facts: in fishing matters, the science is not flawed, but the conclusions that have been drawn from the science are. To deal with the problem, we must support the industry's demands.

A moratorium on fisheries is not a solution to any of the problems that face white fish stocks. In fact, a moratorium would be an abdication of responsibilities. The fishery must be worked because a simple moratorium would allow the species that are dominant today to continue their dominance or to become more dominant. There is no guarantee that cod would recover if there were a fishing moratorium.

Everyone is of the view that the CFP has failed. Perhaps only the Conservatives are prepared to go the extra mile and say that it needs to be ended and replaced with national or local management, to guarantee the future of our industry. Members of all parties regard the future of the fishing industry as one of their highest priorities, and it is our duty to support the minister and send him off to Brussels once again with our support ringing in his ears—although, on this occasion, also with the dire message that if he does not make progress against the proposals, he should not bother coming back.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 4:50 pm, 12th December 2002

Yesterday afternoon, we received our customary briefing from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. Ian Duncan said two practical and important things that we would be wise to bear in mind. First, he said that fishermen will need to be able to go to sea on 1 January. Secondly, he said that there will need to be a mid-year review next year to ensure that the fishermen can continue to go to sea.

The starkness of the crisis that faces the industry is set out well in a paper from the North East Scotland Fisheries Development Partnership. As the minister will know, the paper was prepared with the input of a former head of the Fisheries Research Services and should be taken seriously. The paper states that it is estimated that, if the profit is reduced by as little as 10 per cent, more than two thirds of the whole of the white-fish fleet will become unprofitable and will face financial catastrophe sooner rather than later. In the limited time that is available to me, I shall do what I did last year and the year before, which is to make some constructive suggestions, some of which we have had the chance to discuss with the minister today.

First, we should take on board the suggestions that have been put forward by the industry. Those suggestions have not been taken on board and the European Commission has simply not taken account of the effort that has been made so far in the cod recovery programme, nor of future measures that have been mooted, such as real-time closures, seasonal closures and the use of new technical gear. Robin Harper is totally wrong and does not understand how much the fishing industry has done. The members who have spoken in the debate who represent fishing constituencies are aware of what has been done. Tavish Scott is nodding.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

No, I will not.

We must have regard to the fact that the fishing industry has made suggestions that have resulted in the cod stocks rising from 30,000 tonnes to 38,000 tonnes—a fact that Mr Fischler appears to have taken no account of.

As my colleague Richard Lochhead pointed out, the Spanish have already secured the guarantee of a mid-year review for the proposed massive reduction in anchovy stocks. That is stated in the Commission's document. The Spanish have managed to obtain a guarantee that there will be a mid-term review, but have we? Have we asked? Will that be part of the negotiation? The minister informed us today that, in order to get the guarantee of a mid-year review, it is necessary to get the agreement of other EU states. Is not it therefore necessary to make that a condition of the forthcoming negotiations? Whatever deal is struck in the four days next week, part of it should be a guarantee that there will be a review, provided that scientific evidence can be produced to show that the existing measures are working, and that the new measures should also be given time to work.

Winnie Ewing asked how much regard has been paid to the argument made by many people in the fishing world that, of the proportion of fish that are predated, only 10 per cent is accounted for by human consumption. What about the other 90 per cent? What about those figures? Is not it the case that the seal population has become unsustainable? Is it any surprise that there is a serious problem with phocine distemper virus when stocks have become unsustainable? Why has there been virtually no research into those matters?

I turn to measures that have been taken on the west coast. I know that the minister has received detailed representations from Robert Stevenson and Hugh Allan. The truth is that, of total stocks landed there in the past year, 1,200 tonnes were nephrops and only 4 tonnes were cod. Therefore, the cod bycatch is not material because it is almost zero. Under the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea rules, the bycatch's being near zero is the trigger for programmes' being considered. I hope that the minister will take account of the specific and detailed measures that the Mallaig and North West Fishermen's Association have proposed, which are constructive. Again, the fishing industry has proposed conservation measures that we should give time to work.

The question of who leads the negotiations is more serious than it was previously. Jack McConnell was reported in The Herald on 1 November this year as saying that Scottish Executive ministers lead the UK delegation when it is appropriate and that UK ministers lead the delegation when that is appropriate. Scotland has 75 per cent of the UK industry, so if ever there was a case during the history of Scotland's relationship with the UK for its being appropriate for Scotland to lead the negotiations, this is it—this is when Mr Finnie should lead. That is not just my party's view; it is the view of fishing leaders such as George Macrae and Hamish Morrison. In our Scottish Parliament we always offer our full support for the minister in trying to get the best possible deal. That is a statement of the obvious and we all, as democrats, must do that. Mr Finnie must lead in the negotiations, because I have little confidence that Elliot Morley will, or can be trusted to, do that necessary job next week for Scotland.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 4:56 pm, 12th December 2002

The debate was largely constructive and productive in addressing one of the most serious situations to face the Scottish white-fish industry for some time. However, a couple of members are missing the plot, if I might say so, and are engaging in a political dialogue that is profoundly unhelpful. It seems to me to be rather odd for Mr Ewing to suggest that I should be fully engaged in the UK negotiation and, indeed, that I should lead it, and for him then to insult the other minister who will be present at the negotiation. I am bound to say that that is not a helpful attitude for Mr Ewing to adopt.

Before I move to the substantive points that most members raised, I must comment on the most astonishing contribution that the opening speaker for the Tory party made. It was as well that Mr David Davidson and Mr Alex Johnstone intervened because the Tory's opening speaker, if I heard him correctly, told members to ignore not only the science and the reality that the discussions will take place next week, but the common fisheries policy. As we will all know, if we have read our newspapers recently, he also proposes that we should ignore the rule of law. That is not a constructive contribution to this or to any other serious debate in the chamber.

In terms of the question of timing and whether we should seek closures or postponements, we should understand clearly that even in the case of anchovies, which Richard Lochhead cited, the decision by the Spanish to seek a postponement was taken after they had engaged in the process. We, too, must engage in the process no matter how complex it is because if we get to the end of the week—

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will just finish my point before I take an intervention from Mr Lochhead.

If we get to the end of the week and put the matter in the hands of the Commission because of our failure to reach agreement and thereby induce the Commission to introduce emergency measures, no one would think that that would be anything other than very damaging to the Scottish fishing industry.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for giving way. Can we take it from the minister's comments that he does not rule out pursuing an interim quota that will allow a more considered management plan to be developed in the near future by the states that are directly concerned with each fishery?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Before the minister answers, I appeal for order in the chamber.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will pursue the negotiations next week and at the end of the week we will have to decide whether the decision that has been taken is or is not in the best interests of the Scottish fishing industry.

I am grateful to many who also raised the question of the nephrops industry and the problems of displacement that might be caused by any measure that reduced effort in the white-fish fleet. That is something that was put firmly to us by the industry. The question of displacement is high on our agenda in terms of finalising measures that must be adopted. I am grateful to Tavish Scott in particular for his plea that we do not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.

In trying to put together measures that make sense, we should use a range of measures that are most appropriate in whatever part of the sea we apply them. That deals particularly with the question that was raised by Fergus Ewing, who has a particular interest in the west coast.

Most members agreed that the complexity of the issue is slightly baffling.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

Will the minister confirm that the Scottish Executive's position remains that any cut in the nephrops quota is unacceptable, that there is no scientific basis for a cut and that the proposal for a 5 per cent cut, which is contained in the Commission's document, is unacceptable? Will he resist any attempt to reopen the sand eel fishery on the Wee Bankie?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Both of those points are part of the UK delegation's negotiating position. We are certainly opposed to any reduction in the nephrops fishery and, clearly, the opening of the Wee Bankie would be a great mistake.

I am grateful to members of the Scottish Parliament for their contributions this afternoon. I also want to put on record my thanks to all those who, in this difficult time, have been prepared to engage with the Executive and all of us who have been trying to put together a constructive alternative proposal to the measures proposed in Europe. I pay particular tribute to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, to all the producers organisations who came to see me, to the fish processing organisations, to Shetland Ocean Alliance, to the leaders of the Fraserburgh community group who visited me last week, to the North East Scotland Fisheries Development Partnership, to people from Pittenweem and Eyemouth who visited me and to the representatives of the west coast organisations. That engagement with MSPs and a wide range of industry groupings in Scotland has been enormously helpful.

Our objective, as always, is to obtain the best possible deal for the Scottish fishing industry. In the common fisheries policy reform, we are committed to ensuring that the document contains the clear and precise wording that we need to secure relative stability, the continuation of the Hague preference and of the six and 12-mile limits and the security of the Shetland box. We also want to ensure that cod and hake recovery measures are based on serious measures that will include some form of effort limitation, but we will do everything that we can to impress on the Commission the fact that it is perfectly possible to square the circle of conserving stocks and securing a sustainable industry in Scotland.

The measures that had previously been embarked on by the Scottish fishing industry must be acknowledged and they must be part of the measurement that the Commission uses. Our best estimate is that the effort reduction due to decommissioning, the use of square-mesh panels and so on will amount to about 20 per cent of effort reduction. That has to be included in any deal that is struck next week. I want to assure all of the members who raised that matter today of that.

We seek measures that are equitable and which address the concerns of many that the measures should be applied equally to other member states. If there are to be changes in mesh sizes, those changes must apply to the other member states and industrial fishing must bear its fair share of cuts if it is operating in a cod fishery.

All those matters are important to us and I assure members that the Executive is committed to them in the long and difficult negotiations that I am disturbed to see are likely to last until next Saturday, by which time the Parliament will have risen for the Christmas recess. I am sure that members will be thinking of me when I am engaged in those discussions.

They will be a difficult set of negotiations and I do not think that they will conclude entirely next week. However, I hope that I have the support of the Scottish Parliament in proceeding with the negotiations and in seeking to engage with the Commission and the other member states in a constructive dialogue that will result, I hope, in a settlement that is good for Scottish fishing and for the conservation of our stocks, and that will leave us with a sustainable Scottish fishing industry.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Will you confirm that amendment S1M-3202.1, in the name of Alex Fergusson, is a personal amendment and was not lodged on behalf of the Rural Development Committee? Will you also confirm whether it is in order for Alex Fergusson to promote that amendment when he and his Conservative colleague failed to support motion S1M-3621 at the Rural Development Committee on Tuesday morning, which means that the designation order was approved by nine votes to two? Is that political posturing by Alex Fergusson?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

On the first question—[ Interruption. ] Order. The first questions that Elaine Smith addressed to me were a point of order. The answer is that it is in order for Alex Fergusson to promote the amendment. It is in his name and on his behalf. The last question was not part of a point of order at all.