Fisheries

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:34 am on 19th February 2003.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 9:34 am, 19th February 2003

We move to the debate on motion S1M-3914, in the name of Ross Finnie. I invite members who wish to take part in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 9:36 am, 19th February 2003

Members are aware that, to give effect to the various decisions that were taken during and after the December agriculture and fisheries council, the Executive has had to lay a number of statutory instruments. I want to stress that I considered it to be important that Parliament was in possession of those instruments before we had the debate, which is why I sought postponement of the debate until today. There will be further opportunities to discuss the detail of those statutory instruments.

In the debate, my aim will be to restate the underlying circumstances that we must address and which give rise to the need for the instruments. In laying out the principles behind each instrument, I will also explain why we think that the approach that we have adopted represents the best prospect for securing a sustainable white-fish sector for Scotland and for achieving sustainable fishing communities.

We must not forget the starting point. The scientific evidence shows that cod stocks are well below their safe biological limit and that haddock stocks, although they are in a better state than cod stocks, are nonetheless in poor condition. That scientific evidence led the European agriculture and fisheries council to adopt draconian interim measures that were aimed at conserving cod stocks. That is the background. I will now deal with the statutory instruments one by one.

First, there are the two restriction on days-at-sea orders, which are designed to give effect to the famous annexe 17 of the total allowable catch and quota regulations. Annexe 17 imposes limitations on the amount of time that fishermen can spend at sea. Our statutory instrument, which transposes a binding piece of EU legislation into domestic regulation, has been designed to set out the practical management arrangements that are necessary to enable fishermen to comply with the regulation and Scottish Ministers to have the powers to enforce it. We have not sought to gold-plate the EU regulation; on the contrary, we have tried to be as sympathetic as possible, while remaining true to its underlying spirit.

I am on record as saying that I am far from happy with the content of annexe 17, which I believe has a significant number of flaws. In particular, it does not allow sufficient commercial and economic flexibility and might have insufficient regard for safety.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for giving way. Yesterday, Ross Finnie and Elliot Morley said that they had achieved their objectives for the negotiations at the December council meeting. In the light of what the minister has just said, does he believe that he achieved the objectives that are necessary for the survival of the Scottish demersal fleet?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

At this early stage, I do not want to get into a disputatious argument. We did not say that we were content with the outcome of the white-fish talks. We said that, in large part, we had reached our objectives in relation to the negotiations on the common fisheries policy. That was made quite explicit.

Annexe 17 is intended to provide an interim regime. The political understanding was that it would be replaced by a substantive regime that would take effect at the beginning of July. With that in mind, we have been in continuing discussion with the Commission about the flaws in annexe 17. The Commission is committed to introducing some early changes to that regime, but it is not yet clear what form those changes might take. Although it seems to be likely that, initially, the changes will consist of amendments to annexe 17, the Commission has also restated its intention to introduce proposals for a substantive new regime.

What matters is the nature of the changes and their impact on our fishermen, rather than the way in which they are framed. Therefore, I acknowledge that, because annexe 17 has some flaws, the implementation order is less than ideal. I stress that modifications to the regime are likely to be proposed and that we will continue to press the Commission to make changes in some of the most obvious areas.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Should Parliament therefore reject the Sea Fishing (Restriction on Days at Sea) (Scotland) Order 2003 (SSI 2003/56) until the changes have been introduced by the European Commission? Given the Commission's track record on breaking its word, surely we should not trust it in this matter.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Parliament should absolutely not reject the order because—as I said in my carefully worded introductory two or three paragraphs—the regulation is, as it stands, a binding obligation on us to implement the regulation under the Scotland Act 1998. The fact that we are having discussions on subsequent regulations that will have to be adopted is different from our blatantly flouting the law.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No.

I turn to the two domestic initiatives that constitute our response to the severe quota reductions and the days-at-sea regime. Those are also subject to Parliament's approval and to EC state aid approval. As members know, our response comprises two elements: a decommissioning scheme and a transitional support scheme. We have said that we are willing to spend up to £50 million on those initiatives, of which up to £40 million would be for decommissioning and up to £10 million for transitional support. I will say something about the rationale of that approach, the rationale for the balance of expenditure that we have suggested and the specific objectives of the two schemes. There will be further opportunities to debate the details of the two statutory instruments.

We have tried hard to take a long-term view and to marry that with some necessary crisis management. The long-term view is informed by the state of the stocks and the industry—it is important that we recognise and respond to the underlying biological and economic realities. As far as the stocks are concerned, it seems to us to be likely that there will, especially in relation to cod, be no rapid increase in quotas, which will pose some difficulties. The difficulties that the industry faces might persist for some time, but we have taken seriously the need to implement the scientific advice that there should be a reduction in fishing effort on the stocks. I make that point to illustrate that this is not only a discussion about the state of cod stocks but is—inevitably—a discussion about the scale of fishing activity more generally.

There are about 500 Scottish boats in the over-10-metre category which, to varying degrees, catch cod and haddock. Over the years, the number of boats has decreased to 500, but we must acknowledge that although that has happened, the boats' aggregate power, their efficiency and the amount of time that they spend at sea have all increased. We must therefore consider further reducing that amount of effort in order to safeguard our fisheries.

Given those choices, our view is that decommissioning is a rational economic response. Not only will a smaller fleet have the opportunity to survive in such conditions, decommissioning will mean the opportunities for those fishermen are enhanced. Conservation and economics suggest that decommissioning is one of the routes to pursue. I do not pretend that decommissioning will have no adverse impact. We are trying to secure rational and ordered, rather than chaotic, change. We want change that occurs before, rather than as a result of, stock collapse. Against that background, our decommissioning target is to reduce by some 15 per cent the Scottish fleet's fishing effort on cod stocks. We agreed that scale of reduction with the Commission as part of the December negotiations and we are now taking the steps to implement it.

We spent £25 million in our 2001 decommissioning scheme, which removed approximately 10 per cent of the fishing effort. We cannot do accurate calculations until we see the level of bids from those who might wish to decommission, but simple arithmetic suggests that another £40 million is likely to be required in order to remove a further 15 per cent of our fishing effort from those stocks.

In devising the scheme, we have set the eligibility criteria as widely as we can, which we hope will enable the widest range of bids. The scheme permits flexibility in the choice of vessels that can be approved and will also ensure that we can meet the reduction target, which is—as opposed to the decommissioning of a predetermined number of vessels—the key. The process of evaluating bids will subsequently ensure that we try to get that balance. I have no doubt that those who are engaged in the process will also try to ensure that the inherent flexibility in the scheme will allow them to make rational choices.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Will the minister comment on the revelation by John Farnell yesterday that there has been an application for €32 million for an emergency scrapping fund? Elliot Morley said yesterday that Scotland should not go cap in hand to Europe. Does that mean that the Scottish Executive will not apply for funding from the €32 million, although Scotland appears to be one of only three countries that would, given the 25 per cent reduction criteria, be eligible?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

As I understand it, the €32 million scheme has not been approved; that is part of an overall sum for which the agriculture and fisheries council has applied but has not received approval. If such a scheme were approved, the United Kingdom would consider the terms of that scheme and would apply if appropriate. No one has suggested otherwise.

I return to the decommissioning scheme. We do not have a predetermined number: the 2001 scheme achieved its objectives, so we are building largely on that model. We have made some changes; for example, we propose that vessels that are under 10 years old, some of which have been hit very hard and are in difficult circumstances, should be eligible. We also plan to ensure that those who will be worst hit by the days-at-sea restriction—whose effort must be reduced by 25 per cent or more—will be able to take advantage of the new changes to the regulation, namely the 27 per cent premium on decommissioning that will be permitted by the amended regulation. We propose to make 50 per cent of the aid available to those who plan to decommission their vessels immediately, on their ceasing to fish and surrendering their fishing licences. It is hoped that that will put some decommissioning money into fishermen's hands much earlier than would have been the case under the previous scheme.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister's comments are extremely worrying. I am sure that he is aware that there is unanimous opposition to the Scottish fisheries minister's spending £40 million on destroying the Scottish fleet. If there is to be any kind of decommissioning scheme, will the minister explain to the Parliament what will happen to the quota, given that it is the birthright of our fishing communities? Will he guarantee today that that quota will be taken back into the ownership of the Government and redistributed around the fleet, which is committed to the future of the industry, and that it will not fall into the hands of foreign owners?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

There were at least four questions there. The answer to the first question is that we are not proposing, as part of the decommissioning scheme, to include the purchase of quota. The purchase of quota is a matter that is dealt with purely on commercial terms, and it would not be prudent for the Government to do that. However, we are looking carefully at the rules and regulations that govern the transfer of quota—Richard Lochhead will be aware that those rules and regulations are complex and require a potential buyer from a non-UK source to have acquired licences. I understand that there are difficulties in that. We continue to monitor the market. We had discussions with other people in the industry about how that might be facilitated, but there is also the fundamental question of state aid support, and we await somewhat anxiously the ruling on the scheme that was previously operated in Shetland.

I move now to the third statutory instrument. We are providing up to £10 million for six months to those who will be worst affected by the changes. Once again, the detail of the instrument will be debated separately. It is a transitional measure, the aim of which is to allow the industry necessary breathing space so that individual owners can undertake rational economic planning. We were most concerned that they would, without any aid, be forced into impossible choices. We hope that the statutory instrument will also allow those who do not wish to decommission not only to assess and adjust their businesses, but to retain their crews. It will allow some flow of money to those who own the boats. In all of those respects, we hope that what we are offering will help to underpin the prospects of our fisheries-dependent communities.

We are still considering the varied responses to the consultation exercise that we undertook at rather short notice, but there is wide support for the general thrust of what we suggest. We consulted on how eligibility might be determined on the basis of a given level of dependency for vessel income on white-fish landings, and how aid might be distributed on the basis of vessel capacity units—VCUs—plus an amount for lost days.

We want to review and refine our approach in response to points that were made during the consultation exercise. In particular, we want to consider whether we have the balance right between the various ports, and in respect of particular fleets and individual vessels. We want to decide the level of targeting of the scheme and how tightly the eligibility parameters will be drawn; based on the consultation exercise, I think that we are inclined towards the introduction of a fairly tight approach. Finally, we want to decide the basis for the distribution of aid. We are thinking about a payment per VCU day and about combining separate elements, as I said.

I want to make it clear that conditions will be attached to the scheme. For example, we will clearly expect those who receive such support to restrict their fishing days in keeping with the days-at-sea order. We will not pay transitional support to those who choose to fish additional days in the unregulated area, for example, nor will we pay transitional support to those who seek to diversify into other fisheries. We do not want to see a large diversion of fishing effort into nephrops or shellfish fisheries, for example.

We recognise that the downturn in the white-fish sector will also present difficulties for the onshore infrastructure. Therefore, for a transitional period of six months, we are prepared to fund 95 per cent—as opposed to the normal 75 per cent—of the costs to local authorities of providing emergency rates relief to affected fisheries harbours. We shall discuss the details of those arrangements with the relevant local authorities.

We have also asked the fish-processing sector to update the processors' action plan in order to build on achievements to date. More generally, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise already have in place in each area that is affected a range of initiatives to stimulate business growth and employment. Furthermore, local enterprise companies whose areas include affected fishing communities are urgently assessing the economic impacts of the cuts and will draw up local plans to ensure a viable future for the worst-affected individuals and communities. In the next few days, we will firm up the detailed transitional aid proposals and begin preparation of the detailed guidance and documentation that will be required for the scheme.

The two schemes—the decommissioning scheme and transitional support scheme—must be seen as a package. Our clear underlying policy objectives are to conserve stocks and to facilitate sensible restructuring of the industry, which cannot be achieved unless the main emphasis is on looking at both sides of the equation. The transitional support element is designed to complement decommissioning—it is not intended to undermine it by offering the prospect of continuing subsidy. That is not the policy objective and we hope that, through such an approach, the industry can make the sensible choices in each port.

I do not pretend that circumstances are not exceptionally difficult. Unwelcome uncertainty surrounds the whole programme, because we do not know what will ultimately emerge from on-going negotiations in Brussels. The Executive's clear aim is to negotiate a successor regime and amendments to annexe 17 as quickly as possible.

Unless we take the necessary steps to secure a recovery in fish stocks, the industry will have to adapt to significantly lower quotas for a number of years; I am sure that none of us wants that. The economic prospects will be significantly better if we take the short-term opportunity to restructure, which is why the Executive is providing a £50 million package. We hope that, in co-operation and collaboration with the industry, the necessary degree of restructuring will be promoted through decommissioning, and that the package will inject significant liquidity into the sector and provide the short-term transitional support that will enable those who are most affected to adjust to the changed situation. In conservation and economic terms, such things need to happen. Annexe 17 has forced the issue in an unwelcome manner, but I hope that the remedies that we propose are sensible in respect of conservation of our fishing stocks and, just as important, in respect of our fishing communities.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the Executive's commitment of up to £50 million in aid to assist fishermen, on-shore fisheries businesses and fishing communities throughout Scotland as a very substantial response to the outcome of the EU Fisheries Council in December 2002; welcomes the result of quota negotiations in the nephrops fishery and the progress made in reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy at that Council; endorses the need for sustainable economic development of Scotland's fishing industry and communities; recognises this can best be achieved through healthier fish stocks; acknowledges this implies further restructuring of the white fish sector; welcomes the provision of up to £40 million for further decommissioning; welcomes the provision of up to £10 million in transitional support to facilitate rational economic planning and adjustment by those who wish to remain in the sector; notes that such transitional support will be conditional upon, for example, non-diversification into other valuable fisheries, such as the west coast and North Sea nephrops fisheries, and supports the Executive in its negotiations to secure a more economically realistic EU legal framework initially through amendment to the current interim EU regulation and thereafter through a successor regime.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 9:54 am, 19th February 2003

I welcome this long-overdue debate. For the past few weeks, Scotland's fishing industry and the white-fish sector in particular have had to come to terms with the most serious crisis that has befallen our fishing communities in living memory. Draconian quota cuts and an unworkable and dangerous days-at-sea scheme have been foisted on the industry. Our fishermen never imagined such a combination in their worst nightmares. Even the Scottish fisheries minister himself has described the measures as pernicious, inequitable, unfair and crude.

The deal that the UK Government supported at the tail-end of last year is anti-conservation, anti-fishing and most certainly anti-Scottish. We were told that Scotland need not worry about who led the UK delegation and that we need not be concerned that Scots fishermen did not have their own voice at the top table because our interests would be safeguarded by big influential team UK.

A few hours after the First Minister promised Scotland victory, we were left to pick up the pieces following yet another spectacular capitulation by the UK in Brussels. The UK's sell-out in the fisheries negotiations was but the latest in a long line that stretches back over the past 30 years of the common fisheries policy.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

What quota cuts would team Lochhead have accepted for the Scottish fishing industry?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I give the champion of positive contributions to debates my reassurance that the SNP would not have accepted this deal, the effect of which will be to destroy a large part of our fishing industry.

A couple of weeks after the deal, Ross Finnie came back to the chamber to defend the agreement. He told us how countries such as Denmark simply could not be shifted and that Scotland had, as usual, to take the brunt of the pain of the cutbacks in the North sea. Every other country except Scotland managed to get a deal that it could live with, despite the fact that Scotland is the most fisheries-dependent country in western Europe.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Let me continue a wee while.

Scotland's vital white-fish quotas were halved; Denmark managed to save its industrial fishery quota in the same week that some of its vessels were being arrested for illegal bycatches. Danish boats won 23 days at sea per month, whereas the Scottish white-fish fleet, which is the fleet that uses the biggest mesh in the North sea, was told that it would get nine days.

The predicted economic consequences for our fishing communities are dire. Buchan and Shetland in particular face massive economic blows. The west coast ports are extremely concerned about the potentially devastating impact of displacement on the prawn fishery. With prices already at a 20-year low, the last thing that the sector needs is more prawns being landed by displaced vessels.

Vessels that were frozen out of the deep-water fishery in their own backyards following last year's decision to hand stocks west of Scotland to the French are staring bankruptcy in the face now that their white-fish quotas have also been cut. In some form or another, the whole industry and every port is feeling the impact of the measures.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Richard Lochhead said that he would have rejected the deal, but how would he have built a qualified majority to overturn it? Even if he had built a qualified minority, the Commission would have taken emergency powers with the result that we would have had 80 per cent cuts right now.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The difference between the policy of the SNP and that of the Liberal Democrats is that Scotland would have had a champion at the top table not only at December's fisheries council but at every council over the past 30 years. Scotland would have had its own champion if we had been independent.

The reasons that I have laid out illustrate why it is so important that the Scottish Executive deliver an effective and appropriate aid package, but the Executive has been unable to get even that right. Ross Finnie compounded matters by announcing an aid package that offers little aid to our fishing communities and, if unchallenged by Parliament today, will simply aid the demise of Scotland's fishing industry.

In many debates in the chamber, MSPs from all parties have spent a lot of time informing the minister about the importance of the onshore sector, which includes not just fish processors but the service sector. However, it is difficult to identify any new cash for that sector in the package that has been announced. The minister said that he was listening, but it is clear that all our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Let me continue.

So far, there are few new significant measures for the processing sector. Without appropriate help, that sector will lose valuable supplies and skills and will struggle to cope with the costs of insurance and the sea fish levy. There is nothing for the hundreds of businesses that rely on servicing the white-fish fleet, which will be tied up for two weeks every month until July and may be decommissioned by the minister. At the very least, we should give all those businesses emergency rates relief.

The minister's decision to allocate up to 80 per cent of the package to destroying Scottish fishing vessels beggars belief. Other fisheries ministers help their fleets to weather the storm when times are tough; our minister fails to defend his industry during vital negotiations. His answer is to inflict two decommissioning schemes on our fleet in as many years. Other fisheries ministers returned from Brussels in December having seen off a threat to stop them from using European cash—our cash is being used to build new vessels for their fleets. Our minister returned to Scotland and announced that he wanted to use our cash to destroy vessels and kick our industry when it is down.

To rub salt into the wounds, the European Commission and the UK, which were the architects of the fisheries deal, are set to get off scot free because the £50 million aid package that the minister has announced is to be wholly funded from the hard-pressed Scottish budget. We have been taken for mugs—our European competitors must be laughing all the way to the EU bank. Why is it that, when other nations faced unprecedented fishing crises, Europe's purse-strings suddenly loosened?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Does the member understand that all money, from whichever Government source it comes, is taxpayers' money? The Scottish Executive is using taxpayers' money in the most effective way to deal with the real crisis that is on our doorstep.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister has hit the nail on the head. The point is that European cash is our taxpayers' money, which is why we should be getting it to help our fleet. Other states benefit from our taxpayers' money, but Scotland does not.

When the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement collapsed in 1999 and a large part of the Spanish fleet was left with nowhere to go, the Spanish Government applied for and secured a €197 million emergency aid package from Europe. That package was to help 450 boats in Spain. Today, €150 million is available from the same emergency fund. Why do the minister and his counterpart in London not apply, as the Spanish did, for some of that money to help Scotland?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Mr Lochhead said that our money goes into Europe. Given that Britain is one of three nations that contribute positively to Europe, does he agree that it is ironic that we do not receive support when we need it?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am happy to agree with that important point.

Elliot Morley came to the Parliament yesterday. He is clearly not only a dismal fisheries minister, but completely and utterly ignorant. He accuses Scotland of wanting to support a begging bowl culture by applying for money that is rightly ours. This man Morley is not the slightest bit interested in saving Scotland's fishing industry. Scotland's fishing communities deserve what they are entitled to. Ross Finnie must leave no stone unturned and demand the funding that Scots taxpayers sent to Europe in the first place.

The emergency aid should be devoted to a recovery plan, not to the redundancy package that the minister has produced. The decommissioning of a huge number of white-fish vessels will turn fishing ports into ghost towns. The minister must get the package right. Last week in Aberdeen, an economist from the Sea Fish Industry Authority told the Rural Development Committee:

"without intervention, many vessels simply will not be able to remain in business with a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in throughput, and so could not survive the impact of the short-term recovery measures."

He went on to say:

"it is clear that the recovery measures will result in thousands of job losses around the coast of Scotland and millions—if not hundreds of millions of pounds—of output being removed from the Scottish economy."—[Official Report, Rural Development Committee, 11 February 2003; c 4256.]

Yesterday, a representative from Eyemouth community council told the Rural Development Committee that the decommissioning of one more vessel in Eyemouth would be devastating for the town. Only a few years ago, Eyemouth had 60 boats, each with a crew of six, but today it has 35 boats, each with a crew of three.

If the minister gets his aid package wrong, those predictions will become reality. We must maintain a critical mass, both in the onshore sector and in the fleet. The service sector will be hit hard if the £40 million-worth of decommissioning proceeds—the minister's package will end up doing more long-term harm than good.

There might be a case for a decommissioning scheme, but only a limited, voluntary one. The industry and communities throughout Scotland are united in opposition to decommissioning on the scale proposed. There is also a real concern about what will happen to the quotas if the scheme goes ahead because the vessels, the licences and the fishing entitlements must be surrendered in one package. Ministers must produce proposals to prevent our quotas from falling into the hands of foreign companies and to ensure that only fishermen who are committed to the industry enjoy the benefits of the package. The right to fish Scotland's waters is the birthright of our fishing communities; no one must be allowed to stand in the way of that right.

The package is one part of the jigsaw. The other part is negotiating a better deal and ensuring that a proper cod recovery plan is produced to replace the devastating interim measures. We have to secure more quota for our fleet. The minister has to persuade the Commission to separate the management of cod from that of other white-fish stocks so that the haddock and whiting quotas can be increased.

When the minister comes to negotiate, let him—for goodness' sake—learn lessons from December's fisheries council. Never again should we allow Elliot Morley, the UK fisheries minister, to lead on behalf of Scotland in negotiations. At the forthcoming important negotiations, Ross Finnie must take the lead. Elliot Morley can mislead and misrepresent as much as he wants, and as he did last night in the media when he said that the devolution settlement does not allow Scotland to lead European negotiations. He is wrong; he is misinformed; he is misleading the people of Scotland. The devolution settlement does allow Ross Finnie to lead negotiations. This Parliament has led negotiations in Brussels before, on education and health, so surely the man who is responsible for 70 per cent of the UK fishing industry should lead negotiations during the next few months to ensure that we save the future of Scotland's fishing industry.

I urge Parliament to support the SNP's amendment, and to support a recovery plan for Scotland's fishing communities and not the redundancy plan put forward by the minister today.

I move amendment S1M-3914.1, to leave out from first "welcomes" to end and insert:

"condemns the deal supported by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at December's EU Fisheries Council; agrees with the Minister for Environment and Rural Development that the deal is "inequitable, unfair and even crude"; rejects the scale of the decommissioning element of the Scottish Executive's subsequent aid package and calls on ministers to agree with industry representatives a recovery plan that includes appropriate assistance for the catching, processing and service sectors and ensures as far as possible that the industry remains intact; believes that Her Majesty's Government and the European Commission should provide funding towards such a recovery plan; demands that the Executive and Her Majesty's Government renegotiate immediately the days at sea and quota cuts with a view to replacing these measures at the earliest opportunity with a management regime that promotes sustainability and protects the future of our fishing communities; urges ministers to ensure that Scotland's quota allocations only benefit active fishermen in Scotland, and recognises that the Common Fisheries Policy must be replaced by a policy that returns genuine control of our fishing grounds to the Parliament."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 10:06 am, 19th February 2003

In the Scottish Executive's motion, the word "welcomes" is repeated at least four times, but it is the wrong word—"laments" would be more appropriate. If it said that the Executive "laments the destruction of our once-proud Scottish fishing industry", it would be more apt. During the four years of the Parliament's existence, we have watched the fishing industry lurch from one crisis to another—crises not of the industry's making, but caused by the appalling common fisheries policy management which, as I have said before, hides behind scientists and blames the work force. Any other management that did the same would have been sacked long ago and replaced by something that managed the Scottish fishing industry properly. That is what must happen if the Scottish fleet is to have a future.

We cannot allow micromanagement from Brussels to continue. It has failed to protect fish stocks and fishing fleets. If ever there was an example of bad governance by Europe, the common fisheries policy is it.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

Could the member clarify whether the Tory party is proposing an immediate withdrawal from the European Union?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Certainly not. I did not mention withdrawal. We should like to see national control by all member states of their own waters.

The Scottish white-fish fleet which, despite doing more to adopt conservation measures than any other fleet in Europe, is being driven into the ground as the prime scapegoat for the collapse of the cod stock to satisfy Franz Fischler's obsession with his cod recovery plan—a plan that was simply a footnote to his common agricultural policy plans. The deep-sea species fiasco should have been a warning. Franz Fischler said that total allowable catches and quotas were the wrong way in which to manage the industry. Two days later, he introduced TACs and quotas that left Scotland with about 2 per cent of the deep-sea species in their waters; he gave 80 per cent to the French.

Yesterday's Rural Development Committee meeting, in which we questioned the UK fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, gave me no reassurance at all. It rather deepened the gloom, because he, too, seems hidebound by science and is obviously more impressed by European institutions than by any of the inside knowledge and practical experience that he would benefit from if he only listened to people in Scottish fishing communities.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

In a moment.

It was interesting yesterday to hear John Farnell—one of Fischler's chief assistants—saying that TACs and quotas are possibly not the right way in which to produce a sustainable fishing industry. It has taken 30 years to work that one out.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Mr McGrigor is obviously suggesting that we should ignore the science—

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea includes our own scientists at Aberdeen. Is the member also suggesting that there is something inherently wrong with what they are doing?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

In his evidence to the Rural Development Committee the other day, Professor Tony Hawkins did not seem to respect much of the science that had been carried out. Indeed, it is a question of how the science is interpreted. However, I will address that point later when I talk about the hake recovery plan.

The fishermen themselves are turning against TACs and quotas. After all, although the Scottish demersal sector has a very good percentage of quotas in haddock, cod and whiting, there is no point in having them if the fishermen are not allowed to catch the fish. Furthermore, there is no point in Mr Morley and Mr Finnie congratulating themselves on having secured another 10-year derogation for six and 12-mile limits, relative stability and the Hague preference if no decent Scottish fleet is left to take advantage of them.

I welcome the Scottish Executive's £50 million aid package; however, four fifths of it is targeted at decommissioning, which is a gross imbalance by any standards. Fishermen want to fish. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation is appalled by the proposal, and Elliot Morley would not answer my question about the number of vessels that he expected the Commission would want to be decommissioned in return for extra days at sea.

The Commission itself acknowledges that the practical operation of the days-at-sea scheme is flawed. It is compromising safety, making working conditions hell, and not giving the fishermen time to catch their very limited quotas. The Executive must call on the Commission to entertain claims for time lost due to bad weather. Moreover, time lost during long transit passages should be refunded to vessels that are able to demonstrate that their gear was not used during the passage. Less powerful vessels should be permitted to transfer their days at sea to more powerful vessels based on kilowatt days.

However, despite all the arguments over days at sea, the main problems lie with the quotas. Vessels will have to increase their income in order to survive, which can be done only through taking on other vessels' quotas. Will the minister tell us what has happened to the quotas that belonged to vessels that were decommissioned in 2002 and whether those quotas can be used now? Even if vessels receive a larger quota, they must be allowed the time to catch it safely, and a scheme must be evolved that allows them to do so.

As it appears that the so-called interim measures might go on well beyond July, the minister must tell us about his contingency plans if that happens. For example, is it possible to increase the allowable catch for haddock and whiting by fishing in areas that have very few cod?

As for the science, it would appear that it is interpreted in different ways to suit different people. Draconian measures have been brought in for cod, but why has there been an 11 per cent increase in the TAC for hake when the science suggested that there should be a virtual moratorium on catching that stock? Is it because the Spanish like catching hake? Indeed, what has happened to the hake recovery plan?

Scotland seems to have been singled out to carry the can for the failure of the CFP. That is simply not good enough. It is time for members to stand up for our fleet and to stop giving tacit support to bad decisions that are made miles away in Brussels. Geographically, Scotland might not lie in the heart of Europe, but Peterhead and Fraserburgh sit in the heart of Europe's richest fishing grounds. It is time to realise that only with the national and local management of UK waters can we save the Scottish fishing industry and the people who depend on it.

I move amendment S1M-3914.2, to leave out from first "welcomes" to end and insert:

"recognises that the results of the EU Fisheries Council in December were disastrous for Scotland; notes the severity of the crisis now facing the Scottish fishing industry; believes that the effects of the conservation measures already taken by Scottish fishermen have not been taken into full consideration; further notes the Scottish Executive's £50 million aid package but questions the balance of allocation between decommissioning and transitional funding, and notes that the Common Fisheries Policy of collective management has been disastrous for the Scottish fishing industry and must be replaced and that only a move to national and local control will bring sustainability to the Scottish fishing industry in the future."

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 10:14 am, 19th February 2003

The solitary point of agreement between Richard Lochhead and me is that the white-fish industry is undoubtedly facing its greatest crisis for a generation. However, there we part company. It is clear that any decisions that are made now must focus on ensuring that the Scottish fishing industry can survive and be sustainable in the long term. However, that cannot be done by ducking hard decisions or even by denying the science, which is something that those who oppose the EU's harsh but necessary decisions often appear to do.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

No—I am not even out of my first minute yet.

Once again, the SNP has come to the chamber with no real answers and the same old arguments about the constitution and who leads the delegation. What is really at stake is the future of the Scottish fishing industry, and that is what we should be concentrating on. It is clear that white-fish stocks have been in a long-term downward trend for many years. It is uncertain whether North sea fish stocks will ever recover. No one particularly wanted the recent EU settlement, but drastic action had to be taken to ensure a long-term viable, sustainable North sea fishery.

Currently, there is high cod mortality because the cod are often caught before they are mature enough to spawn. That situation is not sustainable. The marine laboratory in Aberdeen indicates that only one in 20 cod will survive to maturity at the age of four. John Farnell, of the European Commission fisheries directorate-general, made it clear in evidence to the Rural Development Committee yesterday that the new regime, which cuts fishing effort by only 65 per cent, is a higher risk one than that which is sought.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Elaine Thomson said that it is important that the white-fish fleet survives. How will the fleet survive if every time a minister does badly in negotiations in Europe he comes back with a decommissioning scheme that will destroy part of the fleet?

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

I am just going to move on to what really happened at the European negotiations, which was made clear to Mr Lochhead and others who attended the Rural Development Committee meeting yesterday. Mr Lochhead has accused Scotland and the UK of being unable to win over enough EU countries to support our position. One answer to that accusation is that European countries such as Sweden and Germany wanted to adopt either the original European Commission proposal, which was to have a complete ban, or the next proposal, which was to have an 80 per cent cut in fishing effort. Scottish ministers opposed, correctly, both those positions.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Elaine Thomson referred to Sweden and Germany. Can she advise me what fishing stocks those countries have and what has happened to their stocks?

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

Both those countries are involved in fishing and, as they are part of the EU, they have a right to be involved in discussions on fishing. The proposals for a complete ban or an 80 per cent cut were opposed by both UK and Scottish ministers because they would undoubtedly guarantee the end of the Scottish white-fish industry, which would have consequent devastating effects on fishing communities around Scotland. The Executive has given clear support to the fishing industry to ensure that it has a long-term future. The further decommissioning and transitional aid, which will be supported by the £50 million, will allow those who remain in the industry to work for 15 days a month as opposed to the original proposal—

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

No. I am running out of time.

The original proposal would have allowed fishing for only eight days a month. It was also made clear yesterday that the European Commission is willing to work with the Scottish Executive and others to modify and make more flexible the days-at-sea rules, so that consideration can be given to boats being in port for safety reasons.

Overfishing is the main reason for the current crisis, but that has undoubtedly been made worse by decades of failed fisheries management under the previous CFP. The new CFP contains almost everything that the Scottish fishing industry, the Executive and the Parliament seek and it should be welcomed. In particular, we should welcome the opportunity for increased local control, with regional advisory councils.

The fishing industry consists not only of boats at sea, but of fish processing and other ancillary industries, which employ thousands of people. About 1,600 people work in fish processing in Aberdeen alone. Danny Cooper and Robert Milne, who are in the public gallery, have often said that when the herring fishing closed in the 1970s, fish processing was given no support, so it collapsed. The result was that markets and businesses were lost and to this day we do not eat much herring, which is the kind of fish that forms part of the healthy eating lifestyle that the First Minister urges us to adopt.

I ask the minister to ensure that urgent attention is given to how best to support the onshore processors. They, too, are part of a sustainable fishing industry. As part of that, we need to concentrate on maximising the value of fish products and on ensuring their quality. Recently, I learned that one of the UK's largest supermarkets buys fish from a north-east fish processor. That is fine, but it insists on using imported fish because the quality of Scottish fish is poor and inconsistent. That is a ridiculous situation and I ask the minister to consider what we can do to raise the quality of our fish and support the fish processors and skippers who want to deliver that step change in quality.

The Labour party believes that the Scottish fish industry has a sustainable future, welcomes the Executive's commitment and support for that industry and supports the motion.

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

This debate has to end at 11.30 and the two opening speakers were well over time because they were both generous in giving way. I must therefore be strict on timing if everyone is to get a chance to speak in what is an important debate for the people whom the members represent.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 10:21 am, 19th February 2003

When I first came to Parliament, on 13 June 2001, it was to stage 3 of the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I made my first speech the following day, in a debate on the subject of fishing, and said:

"Taking too many boats out of the industry now will benefit only other countries' fishing industries."—[Official Report, 14 June 2001; c 1670.]

Today, our money is building Spanish boats and destroying our boats. Yesterday, Elliot Morley claimed as a victory the fact that the money being spent by the Spaniards must be spent by 2004 whereas, previously, they had to spend it by 2006. There is no reduction in the money, however, which means that Elliot Morley claimed as a victory the fact that the Spaniards must build their fishing fleet up even faster. The extremity of the situation in which our industry is in is perfectly illustrated by that difficulty.

There might be many ports around Scotland in which fishermen are happy with the EU result—I know of some—but the disastrous operation of the CFP will ensure only that their turn for misery has been postponed. We must not indulge in triumphalism because some local interests have a temporary victory. Ministers claim success in the renegotiation of the CFP and it is true that relative stability has been preserved, the Shetland box has been maintained and the Hague preference is continuing, but that is the case only for the time being. There are no guarantees and there is no permanence. The CFP remains absolutely and fundamentally flawed.

In 1975, I campaigned against our entry into Europe on the terms that condemned us to policies such as the CFP and, today, I believe that the CFP must be ended and that we must be out of it.

We must not allow ourselves to be blinded by science. As I said to Elliot Morley yesterday in the Rural Development Committee, there are many sources of science. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is the paramount source, and Scotland contributes to it. National fishing reports provide evidence to the EU but, in many cases, that evidence is flawed—as we know, the Danes' industrial fisheries bycatches report grossly under-reported the white-fish bycatch as it was based only on the evidence of arrests in the last three months of the year. We must bear in mind the fact that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a report that showed that stocks of cod and haddock are separated to an adequate degree in the North sea.

We have to acknowledge that our view of the sea's ecology is akin to the knowledge of a room's contents that would be gained by looking through the keyhole. We have an incomplete understanding of what is going on. Our data are incomplete. To question the science is to question whether it can predict what will be, not to quarrel with what is seen. We must open the debate about the nature of extrapolation from the data that are known and about an environment with imperfect data and hidden variables. The Icelanders and Faeroese have used science differently and with huge success.

On 14 June 2001, I said:

"fishing is not just another industry. It is a way of life and a staple for many communities".—[Official Report, 14 June 2001; c 1670.]

Responsibility for fishery management must be delivered to those communities, which will then succeed or fail on their own efforts. The CFP has failed and must be ended in its present form.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 10:25 am, 19th February 2003

The appalling, unfair and discriminatory outcome of the December fisheries council is already hitting the fishing industry in my constituency very hard indeed. Grotesque uncertainty exists about the present position. Crews, agents and local fisheries managers are trying to run an industry for which there are few details and less hope. For many Shetland fishermen, after a promising 2002, the outcome of the fisheries council in December was a body blow.

I welcome the Minister for Environment and Rural Development's work in meeting fishermen from my constituency and the fact that the First Minister met the fishing industry on Monday in Scalloway. However, current fisheries policy, which is forever being micromanaged from Brussels, gives fishermen an impossible choice: bankruptcy or breaking the law. That is the reality of the present position, and why I oppose the arbitrary and artificial balance to the £50 million package that has been announced. I recognise a change of position, in that fishermen will be compensated through tie-up moneys where Europe has imposed a mandatory period in port. That is welcome, but it will not be enough unless the support is of sufficient value that boats will actually use it.

I suggest a simple formula that targets those boats and crews that are most in need and most disadvantaged by the present appalling position. Unless enough resources are applied to transitional support, boats will not take it and the results will be threefold.

First, those who are unfortunate to be decommissioned will face bankruptcy.

Secondly, many will fish regardless of the rules. They will fish north of the 61 deg line, but there will also be displacement. I agree with the remarks on displacement that have been made by Alasdair Morrison and George Lyon. We need to seek to avoid it, but there can be no doubt that it will happen unless the transitional support is adequate. To argue that there will be no displacement under the current package shows a fundamental misunderstanding.

Thirdly, imports of fish, which Elaine Thomson mentioned, will increase. Prices will remain as depressed as they have been in recent weeks around Scotland's fish markets. A Whalsay skipper who spoke to me on Saturday said that 300 boxes of good fish that were caught this week and landed into Lerwick on Friday were worth a gross of some £11,000. A week before Christmas, the same quantity of fish landed into the Lerwick market grossed £16,000. There are some serious issues with imports and the situation will get worse.

I fear that too many bureaucrats have no idea about the reality of the position that fishing communities around Scotland face.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I listened with interest to Tavish Scott's radio interview yesterday morning, during which he acknowledged that the pre and post-negotiation processes in Europe were part of the problem with getting the best deal for Scotland. Does he not acknowledge that Scotland could get the best deal by leading in the negotiations in its own right—with its own people in the process from the beginning, negotiating hard all the way beside colleagues in Europe?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I am really not interested in the Scottish National Party's constitutional nonsense. I am interested in finding the best deal for the Scottish and Shetland fishing industry. I am sick to death of wasting time on facts that do not matter. I am interested in finding a common fisheries policy that works, because the present one does not work. If the SNP had been leading in the fisheries council, it would have achieved nothing more than an 80 per cent cut in quotas. I will take no lectures from that lot on the issue.

The choice is stark: enforced bankruptcy or breaking the law. The director of conservation policy in the European Commission's fisheries directorate-general yesterday told the Rural Development Committee that the common fisheries policy had failed. However, the European Commission wants to continue to micromanage the industry. Yesterday, the Commission suggested six detailed points of change to the interim measures so as to alter the draconian days-at-sea rules. They are more of the same, however, and the policy is still to micromanage. That must change.

Unless decisions are made locally and quickly, fishermen will increasingly ask, as they are asking now, "Why are we in the common fisheries policy?" I am not prepared to accept the outcome as it stands at the moment; I trust that the Government is not either.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 10:30 am, 19th February 2003

As I have said before, I come from a fishing family. Some members of my family went to sea—some were skippers; others were fish buyers; others were processors; one had the ice plant in Aberdeen. A community is at stake. This is not just about those who go to sea. What about those on land who support them? We must consider the issue in a more holistic manner, and we should not get bogged down in silly constitutional squabbling. We need firm, sustainable action. We must ensure that we have a sustainable fleet that will secure jobs onshore in a sustainable manner. That is what the focus of the debate should be at this time.

Forty-four thousand jobs are involved in the sector, and they are not all at sea. Once again, I was disappointed to receive in the form of a parliamentary written answer this week a rejection of a plea to have a task force go in and examine the economies involved. I have asked five ministers now, and I have had five rejections, although one minister at least took things part of the way, and a scheme led by the local enterprise company and involving local businessmen was set up. However, that scheme failed at the last minute.

We must start considering not just the arguments over the nonsense arising from the European fisheries policy and how Europe is meddling in the industry, but what we in the Scottish Parliament are doing to support our fishing communities. That is a large part of the debate; it is not just about the days-at-sea rule and the fact that policing is uneven. Our people are well disciplined, and we are sending out another fishery protection vessel. What will that vessel be doing, however? Does the contract that governs it enable it to sort out the foreign fishermen? I am not so sure about that. Is the vessel just another stick with which to beat our own crews?

EU aid is being allocated in several different forms, and I cannot believe that the Government down south in Westminster has not got the courage to take back some of our taxpayers' money to help the fishing communities. This is not just about helping fishermen or fish processors; it is about helping communities. If ever there was a need for the European Union to deliver, it is in the form of community support. Members have asked about rates relief. That, too, is not just for the fish processors; it is for all the businesses that are involved in this temporary situation.

The minister did not make much comment on the iniquitous industrial fishing. It is scandalous that that is allowed to go on—that has been mentioned in debate after debate—yet it is still not viewed as an issue. Elaine Thomson mentioned the quality of fish, which is an interesting point. A lot of work is being done on that, and quality is improving, but will we have any markets left to handle fish and to encourage landings anyway?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

Mr Davidson mentions industrial fishing. No wonder the Danes could walk away from the fisheries council talking about valuable results. The fish are starving because of industrial fishing, which is why their quality is reduced.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

My first members' business debate after Her Majesty opened the Parliament was on the fish processing industry, and I will finish by making some points on behalf of that industry, which is vital to the economy of the north-east of Scotland.

The fish processors need transitional aid. They need assistance with rates; employment grants at times of fish shortage to retain skilled staff, who are hard to come by; help to insure premises, as the new insulation with composite panelling gives rise to increased fire risk; increases to the financial instrument for fisheries guidance—FIFG—funding for premises and plant; and help to downsize and move from larger to smaller premises, so that they may be sustained, as it is not possible to operate a small-turnover business in large premises. If fish processors are to restructure, we cannot leave them out of our considerations. I have not yet heard anything firm from the minister, other than, "Let the marketplace prevail." That is not good enough for the fish-processing sector, which is vital for jobs onshore.

We need a more holistic approach to this exercise, which is not just about those who go to sea; it is about those who support them and those who work onshore, and all the other industries that are based in their communities. It is about time that the debate took note of that.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour 10:35 am, 19th February 2003

Thank you for allowing the representative of a southern, land-locked constituency to express views about the on-going fisheries debate.

The fact that no fishing fleet sails from Kilmarnock—the Kilmarnock water is too small even for a rowing boat—does not mean that my constituents or I cannot have a view on the current state of the fishing industry. Indeed, I may be able to view the matter more clearly because my constituents' livelihoods are not at stake. Fish is also a major part of the diet of people throughout Scotland. Today Cathy Jamieson, the Minister for Education and Young People, is seeking to ensure that every child has access to fish at school at least once a week.

Clearly, the changes to sea fisheries are problematic. The Minister for Environment and Rural Development has made clear the Executive's commitment to help the communities that are affected by quota changes to adjust to the new realities. However, we must now proceed to examine how our fishing industry can be improved and made more valuable. There is no point in the Opposition attacking what happened at Brussels or elsewhere while failing—as usual—to come up with an alternative to progress the fishing industry in Scotland. We must reconsider our market targets and move away from a high-volume fishery to develop an even higher-quality fishery.

My statement that I have no direct constituency interest in the matter was not quite accurate. Earlier this week, I met representatives of a small-to-medium-sized Kilmarnock-based company, OWL Water Solutions Ltd, which drew my attention to problems that fishermen face in maintaining the freshness of their catch. I am advised that, on a 10-day trip, the fish caught on day 1 are much less valuable than the fish caught on day 9, because their quality deteriorates in the fishing boat's hold during the trip.

OWL Water Solutions has developed a product that has EU approval for use in drinking water and as a biocide. Early trials with the product have shown that it can maintain the freshness of the catch throughout the trip. As a result, fishermen may get the same high price for their entire catch. Later this year more extended trials, supported by Seafood Scotland, will take place.

There are some regulatory problems with the French—when are there not? However, using the new system there is the prospect of increasing substantially the value of the Scottish catch, which would go some way towards offsetting the loss of income that is caused by the decrease in quotas.

I am talking about a Scottish product, developed by a Kilmarnock company, which is being manufactured in Greenhills in Beith—in the constituency of the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development. It has the prospect of assisting the painful regeneration of the Scottish fishing industry.

I call on the minister to investigate this and other projects that have the potential to improve and aid the industry. Ministers should consider ensuring that trials are accelerated, to see whether the system could be made available to the whole fleet. They should hold discussions with their Westminster colleagues to ensure that the Scottish fleet is not further penalised by spurious rules that create export hurdles in specific countries that are substantially higher than those that the European Community sets.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party 10:39 am, 19th February 2003

Having been the elected member for Moray since 1987, either at Westminster or in the Scottish Parliament, I do not come from a land-locked constituency. I want to talk from the heart about the implications of this deal for fishing constituencies.

Every year, in November and December, we go through the ritual of preparing for the December fisheries council. I have been through many bad times in those debates at Westminster, knowing that our fishermen would end up with a bad deal in their Christmas stockings. However, this deal is the worst that I have seen in all the years that I have represented my constituency.

I draw attention to a point that was made by the North East Scotland Fisheries Partnership in written evidence given to the Rural Development Committee yesterday. It said

"There is no doubt that the latest proposals from the Commission spell economic disaster for the North East of Scotland."

The partnership also mentioned what the scientific, technical and economic committee for fisheries has done. It said

"The experimental nature of this work combined with the lack of robust economic data on the North Sea demersal fleet undoubtedly raises serious questions regarding the reliability of the economic analysis. The economic advice available to the Commission is incomplete and out of date."

It is an insult to our fleet to use incomplete data.

If environmental impact assessments are done for many of the issues that come before Parliament, why should not a social and economic investigation be undertaken into the realities of what is facing our fishing communities? The deal has created such anger in our communities. The fleet in Europe that has done the most for conservation is bearing the brunt of the penalties that are being brought in by Europe.

In my area, women have formed their own version of the Cod Crusaders. In Moray Makes Waves, those women are showing the anger and frustration of their communities. We must remember that they are concerned not just about the present, but about the future. We must take into account the fact that young men in my area follow not only in their fathers' footsteps but in those of their great-grandfathers. They operate small family businesses and we owe them a great debt and should show our loyalty to them.

We are not prepared to turn our coastal communities into an industrial heritage museum trail. One of the biggest tourist attractions in Moray is watching the fleet plying to and fro. The highlight for many people was to turn up at midnight when large numbers of boats were coming in and to see what it was like when the fishermen came home and were greeted by their families.

I ask Ross Finnie—as I did yesterday at the Rural Development Committee—whether, in the March council, he will again raise the issue of fixed quota allowances, because it is important to retain FQAs in Scotland. Will the minister also pursue the issue of whether national quotas will remain in force? Mr Farnell said that they would remain for the foreseeable future. That needs to be clarified.

I want more progress to be made on the issue of industrial fishing, which is a disgrace. Industrial fishing is destroying the food chain and that impacts on all our stocks.

The minister said that the deal was pernicious and that means that we must get rid of the common fisheries policy.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 10:43 am, 19th February 2003

I am keen to ensure that a west coast perspective is given in this morning's debate. We are all agreed that the CFP is fundamentally flawed. We also appreciate what Ross Finnie and Elliot Morley are now doing within the new and emerging structures. They are trying to work within those new structures to ensure the best deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom. We all appreciate that the old way of doing business—the annual bun-fight in Brussels—was not in the best interests of the Scottish fishing industry, and certainly not in the interests of those of us who genuinely want to support our fishing industries.

I am always amused when I come to the chamber for fishing debates and listen to a politician who portrays himself as the foremost authority on fishing not only in the Scottish National Party but right across the political spectrum—Mr Lochhead. A week ago yesterday, at an interesting, informative and constructive evidence-taking session in Aberdeen, Mr Lochhead started berating a witness, telling him that he represented a Government-sponsored agency. The bemused witness responded that the industry sponsors his agency and pays for research and wages. How can we possibly take Mr Lochhead seriously when he does not have a grasp of the basic details of the industry?

This cannot be an easy debate for the nationalists, who, for months, have been berating Ross Finnie and Elliot Morley. Both ministers sat in this chamber yesterday and were cross-examined for two hours. Answer after answer showed the flaw in the nationalists' infantile posturing. The nationalists are bereft of ideas and bereft of policies. Yesterday was an interesting lesson.

I turn to the west coast of Scotland. Over the years, the Western Isles fishing industry has diversified in relation to the stock and marketing opportunities that are available. Our fleet of 320 vessels, which employs around 700 people at sea and a further 200 in the processing sector, will largely be unaffected by the decisions that were taken at the crucial talks at the end of last year, but although we are not directly affected by the outcome of those talks, there are other matters that could lead to the destruction of our conservation-led fisheries.

I was grateful and relieved that the Scottish and UK fisheries ministers recognised yesterday the importance of putting in place a number of measures to protect our nephrops fisheries from potentially ruinous methods of exploitation. I urge Ross Finnie to put those methods in place as soon as possible, because the one great concern on the west coast is that we will see the displacement of fishing effort from other parts of the United Kingdom and from the north-east of Scotland.

When we talk about protecting our fragile fishing communities, we must ensure that our actions target the fragile fishing stocks, because without such action we will have no communities, workers, fishermen or processors to protect.

There is another issue that I want to raise in relation to decommissioning. The clearly stated view on the west coast is that the scheme must take out those who have the greatest impact on the white-fish sector, with the emphasis being placed firmly on effort rather than capacity. We know from bitter experience that in previous decommissioning schemes, vessels that had a low or negligible impact were removed. We all appreciate that that did not represent value for money, nor did it represent a favourable outcome in relation to the amount of fishing effort that was left in the sea.

In conclusion, and from a west coast perspective, I believe firmly that we must learn lessons from the disastrous management of our white-fish stocks over the years. We must take note of early warnings. As was stated at the Rural Development Committee yesterday by a number of witnesses, the time to put in place good management measures is when things are going reasonably well. In relation to the west-coast fishery, that is now. If we do not do that, we will create problems for the communities that we represent.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 10:47 am, 19th February 2003

I was elected to the House of Commons in 1992. My maiden speech in that chamber, following failure to get into a debate on Europe and Maastricht, was in a fisheries debate. At that time, my interest was in prawn fishing because it affected fishermen on the west coast, and in particular on the Clyde estuary. Then, we were arguing against scientific evidence that suggested that prawn stocks were in decline. We had that argument continually over the years that I was in Parliament. Each time, we found that quotas were cut initially then restored before the end of the year.

We found that the evidence from the fishermen was the best scientific evidence that was available. The fishermen knew that prawn stocks were okay and they were able to monitor them. They were able to self-regulate, which they did in a number of ways. In the Clyde estuary, they did it by establishing a block on weekend fishing and by changing net sizes. They did that in co-operation with the Government.

Alasdair Morrison said that it is good to see a change. It was also stated that this settlement is perhaps the best settlement that we could get. Over the period in which I have been involved and have shown interest in the fishing industry, this is the worst settlement that we have had. Quite honestly, it is unsustainable for the Scottish fleet.

Jamie McGrigor talked about the scientific evidence. It seems to me that scientific evidence is always time based; it is always based on past findings, not on the present. It is astounding that when we examine the scientific evidence we see that the scientists have not even recognised the importance of the feedstock to the cod stock in the North sea. For goodness' sake, if the fish are to recover, surely we should protect their feedstock, yet the European Commission and the agreement that ministers have signed up to have not allowed that to happen.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I am sorry; I do not have time.

In the past, the industry showed that once it had signed up to such agreements, it stuck to them. It implemented agreements through regulation and the use of our fishery officers. In his term in office, the minister has presided over a 25 per cent cut in the fleet's size. A week or two ago, I asked the minister whether he would cut the number of regulatory officers. There are fewer British fishermen to regulate, so why do we need to maintain the number of fishery officers? The answer was that the Executive had no intention of cutting the number. Why do we need those officers? They seem to over-regulate our own fishermen.

If the draconian measures go ahead, I have no doubt that some stock will be preserved, but the Scottish fleet will be destroyed. The people who will gain from our preserving the cod stock will be the Spanish, who have built their fleet on British taxpayers' money. That must end. I go along with Jamie McGrigor's suggestion that it is time for national and local control of our fishery waters.

Change must take place in Europe. The Labour Government was elected on the basis that it would be at the centre of Europe, but we are now very much on the periphery of Europe. That must change. Perhaps the only way to change the situation would be to take a stand, as the French did by challenging the lifting of the beef ban in the European courts. Perhaps we should step back from immediate compliance and delay implementation until the measures have been tested in the European courts.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 10:52 am, 19th February 2003

Like Alasdair Morrison, I speak on behalf of the west coast fishing industry. I make clear its appreciation of the minister's efforts in Brussels on its behalf. The proposed 5 per cent cut in the prawn quota was fought off and the 25-days-at-sea rule leaves the industry in my constituency largely unaffected by the deal.

However, prawn fishermen on the west coast have two major concerns. Alasdair Morrison touched on one: displacement. There is huge worry that unless the short-term transitional relief scheme keeps boats tied to piers, white-fish boats will massively overfish prawns with unused quotas held by producer organisations. I already hear reports from Kenny MacNab of the Clyde Fishermen's Association and others of up to a week's delay in getting prawns into processors because of the quantity of prawns on the marketplace.

The worry is that displacement is happening as we speak, so it is vital that the transitional aid scheme delivers boats that are against piers rather than fishing prawns in our waters. It is vital that the transitional aid scheme works and that the west coast prawn fleet does not end up paying the price for the measures targeted at the white-fish fleet.

As the minister said in his speech, a rapid increase in the quota for cod or haddock is unlikely, so it is vital for the long-term sustainability of the whole Scottish fleet—which includes west coast and east coast fishermen, and not just the white-fish sector—that the Executive's decommissioning scheme works. We need to ensure a better balance between effort and stocks. Unlike Mr Lochhead, west coast fishermen fully support decommissioning. He did not speak for the whole fishing industry when he said that it was unanimously against decommissioning.

Another concern among my prawn fishermen is the anomaly that has resulted in twin-rig prawn trawlers being caught by the 15-days-at-sea rule. That was never the European Commission's intention and I understand that that has been formally acknowledged. I welcome the minister's consultation on a solution to the anomaly and I urge him to choose option B—the administrative solution—which is the right way to proceed.

I will now deal with the SNP's position. This morning, we sat and listened to Richard Lochhead in the hope that we would hear something constructive or even something sensible, but we heard neither. He said that he would have rejected the deal, in the very unlikely event that he would ever represent the Scottish fishing fleet, and would have voted with the Swedes and the Germans, who, by the way, were opposed to the deal because the measures did not go far enough—they wanted the cod fishing effort completely shut down. He would have voted with them, thereby allowing the Commission to take emergency powers and to implement its original proposals, which were an 80 per cent cut in quotas and only seven days at sea. That would be the reality if Richard Lochhead had been representing the industry in Europe. That is what the SNP policy really means.

The SNP also says that it would refuse to implement the decommissioning scheme. We all know what that would result in. It would trigger another 15 per cent cut in days at sea—another two days off the allowable days at sea. The SNP's policy would mean further cuts in effort for the Scottish fleet.

The coalition Executive has backed the sustainable future of our fishing industry with £50 million. What is the SNP policy? Not a penny more. So much for fishing being at the heart of SNP policy. Is it any wonder that the fishing industry is putting up a fishing candidate against Mr Lochhead?

I have attended many agricultural council meetings in my time and never before have I witnessed an Opposition spokesman, whether Tory, Labour or Liberal Democrat, turn up at a council meeting in Brussels and proceed to undermine and stab in the back a minister battling hard for the future of our fishing communities. I know that Mr Swinney is not in the chamber, but I say to him that it is time that he decommissioned his fishing spokesperson, because he is a disgrace to his party and a disgrace to Scotland.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Before I call Christine Grahame, I point out that the two remaining speeches from her and from Mr Smith should be about three minutes.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 10:56 am, 19th February 2003

That last speech rather reminds me of the phrase:

"full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing."

I will quote from Franz Fischler's open letter to the fishing industry. He said to the fishermen:

"We are not forcing anyone to scrap their boats or to give up fishing. We are making an offer to those fishermen who can no longer make a reasonable living from fishing to leave the industry, in dignity and with appropriate ... support."

He went on to say:

"I am convinced that it makes no sense to spend money with one hand for scrapping vessels and with the other to finance new ones."

Well, well. He finishes the letter by saying "Best regards". That man had no regard for the fishing industry.

I have some other quotes. As Margaret Ewing said, communities are being destroyed. In Eyemouth, two years ago, £5 million was spent on the harbour and an ice plant. A recent report from the Liberal Democrat-led Scottish Borders Council said that, on that basis, between 500 and 600 jobs are being threatened by the recent draconian proposals that are being proposed as part of the CFP.

I will quote what fishermen and the people working there said in an article in the Daily Mail on Saturday 25 January. Robert Mitchell, boat welder, said:

"These latest cuts are bound to affect boat building, and what really gets to me is the way we let all the foreign trawlers into our waters.

My wife packs prawns and she makes more money than I do but, of course, her job will be affected too."

Robbie Walker, fish auctioneer, said:

"My hair is going to turn grey very quickly this year, because it's make or break now."

Robin Aitchison, ice plant boss, said:

"The ice factory is owned by a co-op of fishermen and was built about the same time as the new harbour two years ago. The cuts are going to devastate the whole thing. The boats will keep taking ice as long as they go to sea but will it be worth while to keep this going. I was a deep-sea fisherman for 12 years. It runs right through my life."

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

No. I have only three minutes.

Graham Dench, charity worker, said:

"Scots fishermen tend to be different from English; they have a lot of pride here and a determination to sort their own problems out.

Men have been going to sea for seven days and coming home to find they've lost money and are further in debt."

The quotations go on and on. Johnny Johnston, harbour master, said:

"The harbour is the hub of the community and if nothing's happening there, nothing's happening in the town."

We are talking about the destruction of Scottish communities. Elliot Morley suggested yesterday in the Rural Development Committee that we should treat the situation as just another major industry closure. It is that, but it is more; it is a fatal blow to our sea-coast communities and their way of life. The Executive does not understand that.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 11:00 am, 19th February 2003

Like my colleague George Lyon, I will say a few words about the prawn industry. The prawn industry is vital to the fishermen in Pittenweem in my constituency.

There is no doubt that the EU regulations that we are required to implement are illogical, inconsistent and, in some cases, anti-conservation. There are good conservation reasons for a nephrops fisherman to use 100mm mesh rather than 80mm mesh. The fact that the larger mesh allows more juvenile fish to escape will enable him to produce a product that is of better quality and higher value and will allow him to conserve his limited quota. It makes no sense that a nephrops fisherman should be penalised for such a practice by having fewer days at sea to fish. The regulations should be about what is fished, not how it is fished.

Like George Lyon, I welcome the Scottish Executive's efforts to find a way round the problem through its consultation paper. Even at this stage, the European Commission should recognise its folly and change the regulation in question. If a boat goes out from 5 in the morning until 5 at night, that counts as one day at sea, but if it goes out from 5 in the evening until 5 the next morning, that counts as two days at sea. That regime will have an impact on the prawn fishery, which tends to fish overnight. The system of measuring time from midnight instead of considering logically the number of hours that are spent fishing means that the prawn fishery will lose a day at sea per week. I hope that the EU will reassess that nonsense rule.

My main concern for the fishery in Pittenweem relates to displacement, which has been mentioned. There has already been an impact on the price of prawns as a result of displacement. That will affect the income that is available to the fishermen in my communities, who will not be able to get such good value for their product. In addition to the issue of using up existing quota, there is a genuine threat of illegal fishing for prawns. There is a serious danger of black fish being landed. Although the EU was warned about that being a side effect of its regulations, it seems to have ignored the warning. I hope that the issue will be addressed.

Quota will be used up early. When the quota that is unused by some of the producer organisations is used up, less quota will be available to the fishermen in my area, who do not have an allocated quota. They use up what is available. They will lose out towards the end of the year.

There will also be an impact on onshore industries, such as engineering, marketing and processing. Most of the processors require white fish from somewhere in Scotland. I hope that the Government will consider extending the emergency business rates relief scheme. Such a scheme was used during the foot-and-mouth crisis. That would help businesses that suffer from severe financial difficulties as a result of the regulations.

Scottish Enterprise and the local enterprise companies are beginning a local economic impact study of the effect of the EU rules. They must be told to get a move on with that. If a study is produced in six months' time, that will be too late. Businesses that needed support will have gone to the wall.

I welcome the extra £50 million in support that Liberal Democrat ministers in the Executive have secured for the fishing industry. We must ensure that there is an appropriate balance between funding decommissioning and providing transitional relief. It is no use having decommissioning or transitional relief schemes if no one takes them up because the balance is not right.

Let us be clear—without Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland, there would have been no £50 million package and there would have been no £10 million to support transition.

I support the motion.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We move to winding-up speeches. We must reach the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill by 11.30, so speakers should stick to their designated times.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 11:03 am, 19th February 2003

There can be no fishing industry if there are no fish. We can blame the situation on the common fisheries policy, as the Tories do, even though they signed up to it. We can blame it on the fishermen's reluctance to sign up to conservation measures in the past, as the environmentalists do. We can blame it on the scientists, as the Tories do. We can blame it on the foreigners, as the Tories and the SNP do. We can blame it on the minister for not announcing on his return from Brussels that he had negotiated another 100,000 tonnes of cod for the North sea, which would be swimming past Peterhead at any moment. That is what the SNP's position seems to be.

The minister and his UK counterpart did all that was possible at the time. The initial European Commission proposal would have closed down the fishery, but they clawed back significant concessions.

We have a last chance to save our fish stocks and, therefore, our fishing industry.

First, it is important to ensure that there is a fishing fleet left to grow and develop when the fish stocks have recovered, and I ask the minister to address that. We must also do our utmost to preserve unused quota entitlement in Scotland. It is a tradeable asset, which Highland Council, for example, would like to acquire for future times. I am aware that the Executive is pursuing in Europe whether it is possible to organise such schemes.

Secondly, we must have unanimity of purpose between fishermen's organisations and the scientists. They must get round the table together and work out the way forward for the industry.

Thirdly, we must have financial support for fishing communities in this dire time for them. That financial support should not be for the owners of the boats alone, but for the crews, the support industries that supply fishing gear, the quayside workers and the fish processors who have to find other suppliers. For fishing communities, the situation is the equivalent of the closures at Motorola, Ardersier and the Jaeger factory in Campbeltown.

We must also ensure that cutbacks in the white-fish catch do not mean that there is displacement pressure to the detriment of the fragile inshore fisheries on the west coast, as Alasdair Morrison pointed out.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Thank you, but no. I have very little time.

I am pleased to see in the Executive's motion that support packages will be conditional on avoiding the situation I described. We do not want one sector of the industry to survive at the expense of another, and I ask the minister to keep a close eye on what happens there.

I make a special plea for the processors, who have often been neglected in the equation. I have raised the matter in debate before. As Elaine Thomson said, they are considerable employers in the north-east of Scotland, and they might need transitional help until they find new sources of fish from abroad.

We all pray that the stocks will recover and that we will still have a fleet to fish them. However, I end by offering my congratulations to a Wester Ross community that has received a prestigious international marine conservation award, never before won in this country. The award is for the prawn creelers of Loch Torridon, who came to an arrangement with the prawn trawlermen whereby the creelers fished the loch and the trawlers worked further out. The scheme has meant the preservation of young prawns and egg-bearing females. The whole fishing industry should take a lesson from that extremely important initiative on the west coast of Scotland, because it represents the way forward.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 11:08 am, 19th February 2003

In opening, it is appropriate to refer once again to the fact that the debate takes place rather later than many of us would have liked.

When the minister made his opening statement, it seemed obvious that he regards the debate as something of a pre-debate on the statutory instruments that he has introduced to implement the cuts that were negotiated in Europe. I am disappointed that that has been allowed to happen. Some six weeks ago, a statement was made in the chamber, and members should have been allowed to debate the matter then. At that stage, views from every corner of the chamber could have been expressed when there was still an opportunity—to some extent—to influence the drafting and ultimate implementation of the regulations.

I am disappointed that the minister seeks to talk about the statutory instruments when we have so much more to talk about in relation to the fishing industry, as we will have in the months and years to come. I am also disappointed, because the fishing industry, above all else, used to bring about consensus in the chamber. We all knew what the problems were and how difficult they were to face, but there was always a willingness to concede and to find consensus across the political divides. Today, we have witnessed the first manifestation of the polarisation of political argument, with the unfortunate results that that has for the fishing industry. We can no longer deliver what we want to deliver.

I mention in passing that the fishermen have decided to seek direct representation in the chamber, and have formed their own organisation to stand candidates at the Scottish election. I quote briefly Dr George Geddes, vice-chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association:

"It may well be time to put people into the parliament that will actually deal with these issues. There has got to be a stand against this because this parliament is letting us down badly in all areas. When this parliament was set up, I honestly believed it was going to be a positive thing for Scotland. But the fishing has been let down tremendously badly by this parliament, and the people in the Scottish Parliament, I honestly believe, lack the knowledge about the fishing industry."

Unfortunately, I must criticise Mr Geddes for criticising the Parliament directly; many of the actions at which he expresses dismay are not the Parliament's but the Executive's.

The Opposition has been consistent in its defence of the fishing industry, but it has become ineffective. That is partly due to the necessity for party-political posturing. The election is just around the corner, which is why we see the spectacle of the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, leading delegations and marches along the street outside. [Interruption.] It is interesting to hear calls from members on the SNP benches that he is not the leader. It is they who continually and repeatedly raise the issue of who leads delegations to the European Union.

They should concern themselves with who leads delegations to the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that Alex Salmond represents the most fisheries-dependent constituency in the whole of the UK, not just Scotland? It used to be a Conservative constituency, but the Conservatives were chucked out because they betrayed the Scottish fishing industry in Banff and Buchan year upon year.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Indeed, Alex Salmond represents his constituency and the fishing industry very effectively—more effectively, perhaps, than Richard Lochhead, who has consistently worked himself into a position in which he becomes difficult to believe and hard to understand.

A party that says that it believes in the EU and in independence in Europe deems that its policy on fishing matters is for Richard Lochhead to go to the EU and behave towards Europe in a way in which we have only ever seen Margaret Thatcher behave. I support that mission, but the image of Richard Lochhead smashing his way round the EU with a handbag does not appeal to me at all. I do not think that it appeals to many in the Scottish fishing industry either.

The real problem is that, when Margaret Thatcher used her muscle in Europe, she had the support and authority of the whole of the United Kingdom. It looks silly for someone such as Richard Lochhead, representing Scotland alone, to attempt to use that type of bullying tactic, and I suggest that it would have got us rather less out of Europe than even the minister has done for us.

The Conservatives are convinced that there is no longer a future in the current common fisheries policy. It must be renegotiated and it must deliver local and national control, or we have no future within it.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 11:13 am, 19th February 2003

I am still not entirely sure from Alex Johnstone's speech whether he intended the comparison of Richard Lochhead to Margaret Thatcher as a compliment or an insult. Perhaps we will hear about that later.

There is no doubt that the Scottish fishing industry faces its greatest-ever crisis. This should be a serious debate and, from time to time, there have been serious contributions. When I came into the chamber yesterday before the Rural Development Committee meeting, I met one of the skippers who are looking bankruptcy in the face, not next year but this year, unless we can do something to ameliorate what the minister has admitted is a disastrous deal for the white-fish fleet. There are two questions that we should be asking in this debate: first, what assistance is required to secure the survival of the industry; and, secondly, how the December deal can be improved in a way that works towards that end. I wish to address those two serious matters in a considered fashion.

It is absolutely clear from the responses to the Executive's proposals that the industry does not back the split between social measures and decommissioning, which is weighted far too much towards decommissioning. I cannot think of any organisation that has supported the measures. When the minister winds up the debate, will he say whether he will proceed with the scheme despite the overwhelming opposition of the industry, or will he follow the excellent advice of the lady who spoke at time for reflection and admit that mistakes can be made? Does he believe that it behoves us to improve matters while we still can?

Looking at the wider scene, even if the decommissioning goes ahead, will not we be using money from Scotland—perhaps also from Europe—to destroy our fleet, while European money is being used to create a second armada for Spain? Richard Lochhead mentioned that problem, which was not ended by the current council, but was merely deferred to 2004, by which time the money must be used. The Spanish are building boats twice as quickly as they previously were. It is no surprise that, on 22 December 2002, Le Monde quoted the French fisheries minister, Hervé Gaymard, as saying during a press conference that the French fleet is practically unaffected. Are we really saying that we will proceed with a plan that everyone in the industry seriously believes puts the Scottish fleet's survival in jeopardy? I implore the minister to think about that.

The second serious matter is days at sea. Carol MacDonald, who is one of the Cod Crusaders, has given evidence to the Rural Development Committee. I think that she speaks for many people. She said:

"God forbid, but with the weather that they have to endure, a vessel and its crew might fall prey to unexpected storms at sea. However, they would have no time to dodge such a storm because of days-at-sea restrictions."——[Official Report, Rural Development Committee, 11 Feb 2003; c 4272.]

I have mentioned in every fishing debate in which I have spoken that fishing, unlike virtually every other industry, is a profession in which people's lives are at risk every day. Every day, wives wait to hear whether their husbands are okay. Are we going to create further risks with days-at-sea restrictions? The Scottish Fishermen's Federation and others have made many excellent suggestions as to how things can be at least ameliorated. Even if one does not wish to say that all of us here may have blood on our hands, which is what people feel, it is absolutely essential that the days-at-sea proposals are—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Does Fergus Ewing recall that, back in the early 1990s, a Conservative Government came up with a days-at-sea restriction plan? The Labour party, the Liberals and nationalists spoke against it, as other Conservatives and I did. The Tories backed off because of issues relating to health, safety and impracticality, to which Fergus Ewing has referred. Why should not we back off now?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not remember that plan, but I am pleased that the Tories backed off.

I want to turn to the serious issue of European finance—I am afraid that the minister dodged that issue. I understand that the figure of €300 million, which John Farnell quoted yesterday, is wrong—the figure should be €200 million, of which some €150 million is available. From research, we know that when the Spanish fleet was prevented from fishing in Morocco, it received €197 million and that 32 per cent of that deal was used for the social fund, rather than the 20 per cent that the minister mentioned. In his closing remarks, will the minister say whether the Scottish Executive will apply for some of that money—yes or no? He said that he would consider doing so, but that is not good enough. If we do not apply for it, the whole £50 million will come from the Scottish Executive's budget, even when money is available from Europe and when it seems extremely likely that the budget line will be approved—I refer to the emergency scrapping fund—which Mr Farnell confirmed to me yesterday. He also confirmed that Scotland would be one of the few countries that would be eligible because of the 25 per cent reduction criteria.

There has been much, rather simplistic, talk about the science, but it is clear from the evidence that Tony Hawkins gave to the Rural Development Committee that particular aspects of the science can be called into question. He told us that

"the evidence on which the Commission based the ranking of the different fisheries was poor and uncertain."—[Official Report, Rural Development Committee, 11 February 2003; c 4260-1.]

Tony Hawkins was the head of Fisheries Research Services when Mr Finnie took up his job as a minister. Given the fact that the ultimate authority has said that the evidence can be questioned, I believe that we should do so by seeking extra quota for haddock and whiting. That is what we need to do but has the minister done it? If not, when will he do so?

Let me conclude. The Prime Minister intervened in the negotiations at the stroke of midnight. Why did he not intervene before? Had he done as his counterparts throughout Europe did, I do not believe that we would be in the sorry state that we are in now. I simply do not believe that the Prime Minister has a heartfelt commitment to the Scottish fishing industry.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 11:21 am, 19th February 2003

Today's debate has at times been interesting. Some contributions have been valuable and others less so. Phil Gallie admitted that he had not been allowed to speak in a Maastricht debate but had spoken in the next debate. I am still puzzled as to whether he gave us that old speech. However, let us move on.

The two issues that we need to get to grips with have been rehearsed in different measures and in different ways by those who have contributed to the debate. The first issue concerns the science. We have heard that different people, including the most recent head of the Fisheries Research Services laboratory in Aberdeen, take different views. However, the fact remains that the investigation into cod stocks in the North sea is—in a science that all the scientists agree is difficult to pursue—one of the longest pieces of investigation into any stock in the North sea.

I do not say that the science is perfect, but we must face up to the reality. When an internationally accredited body using internationally accredited procedures makes a recommendation based on evidence that shows that the cod stock is below its biological limit, we cannot credibly say that we are taking our ecological responsibilities seriously if we seek simply to dismiss that evidence.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will take an intervention after I have made one further point.

One of the most alarming features of the recent debate has been the disconnection between the scientists and our fishermen. We must recognise that it is not good enough simply to try to trade off one against the other. We cannot, as some members have suggested, simply substitute the scientists for the fishermen, because the European Commission and others would simply say, "They would say that, wouldn't they?" There is a need for us to bridge that gap. We need to bring the scientists and the fishermen more into line and get them to co-operate so that the decisions and the scientific advice can be better informed than may have been the case in the past.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I absolutely agree with what the minister has said. However, does he understand the frustration of fishermen, who see that although they return information on discards to his department, which sends it on to Brussels, people in other EU member states do not?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I wholly agree. I am perhaps even more concerned that there may be a slight assumption that we are the largest contributor to the discard problem. However, that is not the point that I want to make.

We run a serious risk of arguing a false case unless we build and improve on the science. We cannot play ducks and drakes with the science and say that of course we realise that it is important but then proceed to advocate a case that tends to ignore that science. That is an important point.

The second issue that we are dealing with is the reality of annexe 17, which emanated from the fisheries council. Many members have mentioned the need to improve annexe 17 and to get rid of its most serious anomalies. Fergus Ewing mentioned safety at sea; I hope that the Commission is honest and earnest on that matter. When the Commission created the wording of annexe 17, it knew exactly what it was doing. The concerns about safety at sea as a result of the inflexibility of the days-at-sea policy, which puts serious constraints on fishermen, were raised with the Commission during the five-day negotiations. I am sorry that it has taken the Commission the time since the negotiations to recognise that argument's validity.

We must face up to the body of scientific evidence and to annexe 17. That takes us back to the fundamental problem, which, if we are honest, we all face: we must try to square the circle of achieving sustainable fish stocks and sustainable fishing communities. The Executive's response recognises that, if we are serious about tackling the difficulties of stock recovery, any package of measures must have an element of decommissioning. I do not back away from that, but I do not suggest that we must destroy the whole fleet or even half the fleet; I suggest that we must see the decommissioning scheme as part of the conservation measures to reduce fishing effort and the fishing mortality rate for cod by 15 per cent. That does not represent a 50 per cent reduction; nor does it represent the destruction of the fleet.

I hope that the way in which we have structured the arrangements will allow the widest possible range of vessels to be considered. We have extended the decommissioning arrangements to cover vessels that are under 10 years old and we have extended the premium for vessels whose effort will be reduced by 25 per cent or more. That is a sensible response to the conservation element of this two-sided equation—we must deal with conservation and the needs of our communities.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the minister confirm that the decommissioning scheme is not about conserving fish stocks, but is an economic measure to help fleets through difficult times? Does he accept that there are ways of helping fleets through difficult times other than destroying them? Destroying the fleet means that, when stocks recover, there will be no fleet to take advantage of that?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I do not accept the basic proposition. We cannot ignore the internationally recognised calculation that reducing effort increases stocks. With due respect to Mr Lochhead, he is in danger of ignoring the scientific evidence on cod stocks.

The other element of our response is the transitional aid scheme, which is a substantial package that is aimed at supporting the greatest number of people. Alasdair Morrison, George Lyon and Iain Smith raised the issue of displacement into the nephrops fishery. I can only repeat that we intend to put conditions in the transitional relief scheme that will act as a disincentive to people who seek to move into that fishery.

Much mention has been made of the processors, who have, in recent years, rightly been the major recipients of the FIFG moneys—the industry has received about £30 million in the past six years. Curiously, the industry did not expend all the money that was available to it through the white-fish processors action plan. Last summer, I made the offer—which I have repeated—that, if the processors produce further proposals, we will build on that action plan.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister is determined to use the bulk of his aid package for decommissioning, but he has also said that it is unlikely that there will be new fishing opportunities for the Scottish fleet after 1 July. Will his package result in the Scottish fleet going bankrupt after 1 July?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I do not accept that. We are offering a balanced proposal that tries to meet the realities of the situation. We have tried to address the various elements of the industry, as well as to focus aid on the fish catching sector. That ensures that fisheries crews are retained and that there is a spin-off effect for the wider communities in which those fisheries are located.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No.

We must take the issue seriously, and it is not credible for the SNP to talk about being concerned about the science and then effectively to ignore scientific advice when it makes proposals. It is not credible for the SNP to compare our position with that of other countries and to try to pretend that it could get us a better deal. The only country with scientific evidence for the closure of the North sea was the United Kingdom—the SNP should square up to that fact, and not be dishonest about it. It is not credible for the SNP to recite a litany of problems facing the industry. We all understand and recognise the problems. It is not credible for the SNP not to make one single concession to the need for a sustainable fishery and sustainable fishing communities.

The issue is very difficult. It starts with the state of our stocks in the North sea and it impacts hugely across all our fishing communities. The Executive's response of providing a package of up to £50 million is credible and realistic and recognises the need to take the issues of conservation and supporting vital fishing communities seriously. I support motion S1M-3914.