Subordinate Legislation — Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) (Scotland) Scheme 2003 — Sea Fishing (Transitional Support) (Scotland) (No 2) Scheme 2003

Introduction – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:52 am on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 10:52 am, 5th March 2003

In the short time that the Presiding Officer's announcement gave me, I added a little theological content to my speech, so that members will not feel deprived.

I invite the Parliament to approve the statutory instruments, which will enable the Scottish ministers to launch a decommissioning scheme and a transitional support scheme for the Scottish white-fish sector. Before I deal with the instruments, I will make preliminary remarks on two matters.

First, it is important for members to be informed that progress is being made on negotiating more flexible arrangements than those that are contained in the now infamous annexe XVII of the total allowable catch and quota regulation. Members will recall that when John Farnell of the European Commission gave evidence to the Rural Development Committee, he made it clear that the Commission would propose amendments to the annexe and that it would make proposals—we hope that it will do so later this month—for a more sensible successor regime.

We have worked hard with the Commission and made it clear that greater economic and commercial flexibility is needed. We hope that adjustments to annexe XVII will emerge later this month. We understand from our most recent discussions that they will include some additional flexibilities for which we have asked—particularly on the key issue of vessel safety, which I debated yesterday with Fergus Ewing and about which we have all been most concerned. We also expect to hear about the Commission's thinking on a successor regime at a seminar that it has organised for 11 March.

This morning, there is no point in speculating about the detail of either potential proposal, but they are at least a start and indicate that the Commission understands the need for greater economic and commercial flexibility. That is directly relevant to the debate. Under annexe XVII, the benefits of decommissioning are partly frustrated by the industry's limited ability to acquire additional days at sea from other boats. The signal is that the Commission is beginning to understand that. There is a real prospect of securing more sensible arrangements.

The policy context for our decommissioning and transitional support schemes might change for the better in the next few months. However, we should not put the negotiating process at risk by failing to follow through on the commitment that further decommissioning is necessary.

My second introductory point is a longer-term observation. Although flexibility is critical to individual businesses, restructuring remains essential and is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. On one side of the equation, we are trying to introduce sufficient conservation measures to retain sustainable fisheries. With the other measure, we are seeking to support communities so that we have sustainable fishing communities.

We have to be clear that processing businesses, onshore suppliers and all other related businesses are ultimately dependent on healthier fish stocks. There is no way of avoiding that basic fact. Without stock recovery, there can be no prospect of our being able to sustain an industry that proves to be fundamentally unsustainable.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The minister used the word "restructuring", but is it not the case that we are talking about destructuring, given the extent of decommissioning that he expects? Is it not the case that, after the decommissioning, the question whether there are fish will not really interest many of the people who currently form the Scottish fleet?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That is a highly excitable and, if I might say so, wholly unfounded intervention. We are talking about decommissioning to the extent of 15 per cent of effort for cod. If one ignores the science, one is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. We cannot proceed on the basis that we do not recognise the need to have both elements in the equation.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I shall make a little progress and then I shall take another intervention.

I turn to the two instruments for debate, beginning with the Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) (Scotland) Scheme 2003 and then moving on to the Sea Fishing (Transitional Support) (Scotland) (No 2) Scheme 2003. The approach of the decommissioning scheme is generally the same as that of the scheme that operated successfully in 2001. On the basis of that experience, we seek to decommission vessels that account for 15 to 20 per cent of the Scottish fishing effort on cod. The scheme has deliberately wide eligibility criteria and the pool of potential applicants exceeds 500 vessels. It is also deliberately permissive, as it allows the Scottish ministers to make informed decisions about the number and balance of vessels to be taken out of the fleet, once applications have been received and decommissioning bids have been evaluated.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister will recall that the last time that a decommissioning scheme went through the Parliament, there was huge concern about the fact that many of the boats' skippers were unable to settle their debts with onshore businesses. There were no built-in measures to ensure support for the crews. Will the minister tell us how he intends to address those two issues this time?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I shall come on to the detail of that. In general terms, let us be absolutely clear that, essentially, there has to be a contract between the Executive and the vessel owner. Therefore, it would be irresponsible for the vessel owner to submit a bid if they were not able to discharge existing debts. That is a difficult issue. During the Rural Development Committee's meeting yesterday, Fergus Ewing raised the question of preferential creditors. Last time, it was clear to us that those preferential creditors took action to attach the sums, and the debts were discharged before any payment was made to the owner. I will come back to that issue, as I want to move on.

There has been a lot of speculation over the number of vessels to be removed and the impact on the long-term viability of the white-fish fleet. There is no prescriptive target on numbers of vessels. The numbers will depend entirely on which vessels are involved and from which ports they emerge. It is perfectly possible for the number to be well below 100 but, depending on the mix and class of vessels, the number might be greater and might exceed 500. We will decide on the mix that will best allow us to meet our fishing effort reduction target.

We introduced three novel provisions to reflect discussions with the industry. We have extended eligibility to vessels under 10 years old; we have allowed access to the 20 per cent grant premium for vessels that are subject to the cod recovery measures and which have to reduce their fishing effort by 25 per cent or more; and we have made an allowance for advance payments before decommissioning occurs, subject to surrender of the associated fishing licence.

Although those new provisions are likely to increase the unit cost of decommissioning, they will have other benefits. They will allow us to consider for grant the vessels that do most in relation to cod effort; they will give us more flexibility in the choice of vessels to be decommissioned; they will give the ports and owners more flexibility; and they will provide a more realistic level of grant for the vessels concerned. Allowing those who receive those moneys to adjust to the flexibilities within the scheme seems to give them more prospect of considering how to discharge any of the debts and obligations that they have.

The transitional aid proposals are entirely novel. I am conscious that they have been introduced in some haste, in response to the December council. I am grateful for the industry's help in scoping the options in such a difficult package.

The transitional support scheme is also largely permissive. Some of the detail of the scheme is not set out in the statutory instrument. The Scottish ministers are deliberately afforded flexibility in relation to the arrangements. That will have the benefit of enabling us to make adjustments in the light of experience and on-going negotiations with the Commission.

Over six months, we will provide some £10 million to those who are worst affected in the crisis. The aim is to offset a proportion of the fixed costs that are borne by vessels that are unable to put to sea for the days on which the days-at-sea restrictions require them to tie up. The aim is to concentrate on those who are worst affected by annexe XVII, rather than to provide more general compensation.

The compensation formula that is set out in the criteria—

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister talks about transitional aid to get the industry through the difficult period ahead. The signs that we are getting from the European Commission are that the difficult period could last for a long time if the current emergency measures are not lifted on 1 July. How does he intend to support the fleet and the onshore sector in the coming months, given that they might face the possibility of going bankrupt if they do not get help?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

We must address the question that is before us today. We have introduced a package, we have discussed it and we have allocated funds for it. We are in danger of speculating about the next problem before we have dealt with the current problem. We do not have the facts. The proposed scheme must get under way because, if it does not, we will not be able to pay the money even to those who are most affected.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No. I will make one more point.

It is important that, as set out in SSI 2003/116, the compensation formula will reflect vessels' historic activity. As I explained to the Rural Development Committee yesterday, we have sought to strip out those whose economic circumstances have been most affected by the white-fish restrictions and those who are most affected by the annexe XVII provisions because of the rig and gear regulations. We have sought to use that combination to arrive at a formula that directs the aid to those who are most affected.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We all understand and agree with the objectives that the minister has described. Does he accept that there is almost unanimous agreement in the industry that the proportion of the total of £50 million that is going to transitional financial support is inadequate? Is not the answer to apply for the £20 million European Union fund that is available specifically for decommissioning? Will the UK Government apply for that funding?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The member said that the funding "is available", but that is not accurate, as it has not yet been approved by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. As I have indicated before, if such aid becomes available, it would be perfectly proper for Government ministers to make such an application. Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have confirmed that. However, that money is not yet available.

In relation to the balance of the package, I accept that decommissioning is a costly measure. Account must be taken of the fact that the objective is to decommission vessels that account for 15 per cent of effort. In arithmetic terms, it is very difficult to arrive at—

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

In relation to the European scheme, what have the Scottish Executive and the Westminster Government done to ensure that support is given to the budget-line application?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

All I know is that we have indicated that if such a scheme were available, we would be genuinely interested in it. It is for the UK ministers to pursue the matter. The announcement has not even gone to the Council as yet. That is how we will have to proceed.

I make it clear that the scheme will have conditions attached for those who receive transitional support to restrict their fishing days and keep within the order concerning days at sea. We will not pay transitional support to those who choose to fish on additional days—for example, in unregulated seas—nor will we pay transitional support to those who diversify into other fisheries. That is an important point. Therefore, if people choose to engage in displacement, they will come under the regulation.

The two schemes that we propose will require state-aid approval—we cannot pay out the money until that is achieved. I reiterate that we are proposing a package. Both schemes are needed because, as I said at the outset, we need to balance the needs of stocks and the needs of our communities. That is why we are providing the £15 million package. We hope that it will help to promote and assist those who wish to take the opportunity to decommission. We also hope that it injects sufficient liquidity into the sector and that it provides short-term transitional support to enable those affected to adjust their business plans. In conservation and economic terms, both must happen.

Annexe XVII has forced the issue in an unwelcome manner, but the remedies that we propose are sensible in both conservation and economic terms. I invite Parliament to approve both the decommissioning scheme and the transitional scheme.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Fishing Vessels (Decommissioning) (Scotland) Scheme 2003 (SSI 2003/87) be approved.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Amendments S1M-3958.1 and S1M-3959.1 are in the name of Richard Lochhead.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 11:06 am, 5th March 2003

This morning's events certainly reinforce the Scottish National Party's view that the Parliament does not have appropriate powers to deliver for Scotland's fishing communities.

I take the opportunity to welcome back to the SNP benches my colleague, Winnie Ewing. [Applause.] No doubt, she will make a heartfelt contribution later in the debate.

Within days of the Parliament being elected in May 1999, we debated sea fisheries and Westminster's decision to shift the fishing boundary in England's favour. Here we are, four years later in the final month of the parliamentary session, debating sea fisheries once more.

Today, in May 1999, and in just about every fishing debate in between, there has been a common theme: our fishing communities and, indeed, the Opposition parties have stood united against the policies of the Lib-Lab coalition. Those policies are clearly meant to manage the decline of one of Scotland's most valuable industries. In the face of unprecedented, draconian measures imposed by Brussels, today is the last chance to make Ross Finnie see sense and convert his redundancy package for our fishing communities into a recovery package.

I have had the privilege of speaking to many meetings at ports the length and breadth of mainland Scotland in recent weeks in connection with the current crisis. The message to the Parliament from each and every person who attended those meetings was loud and clear: "Do not let Ross Finnie and Jack McConnell destroy their own fishing industry. Do not let the Government make the industry pay the price for the Government's failure to negotiate a good deal for Scotland in Brussels. Do not let the Government play into the European Commission's hands or the hands of the other fishing nations that have their eyes on Scotland's rich fishing grounds." Their plea is for an aid package that provides support for our fishing communities to see them through the coming months until the unjust and damaging measures concerning the number of days at sea and the quota cuts are lifted and replaced with a sensible and logical management regime for the North sea.

The message from the catching sector, the service sector and the fish processors is to keep any decommissioning scheme to a minimum and to ensure that the emphasis of any aid package is on recovery, not redundancy.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Is not Richard Lochhead's amendment somewhat disingenuous? I know for a fact that he misrepresents the views of members of the Rural Development Committee. How many other views does he misrepresent when he says that there was overwhelming evidence that the aid package should concentrate on transitional aid rather than decommissioning? The Rural Development Committee said that it strongly backed the Scottish Executive's further consideration of the balance between the support measures. Will he answer that point? He misrepresents the views of the committee; who else does he misrepresent?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You are repeating yourself, Mr Rumbles.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

If that is the best that the member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine can come up with, I suggest that he sit on his backside for the rest of the debate.

If we want a fishing industry that continues to employ 44,000 people—mostly in our fragile coastal communities—and which supplies healthy food for our table, we have to help it through the coming months.

Ross Finnie must be the only fishing minister in Europe to contemplate spending 80 per cent of his aid package on destroying his fishing vessels. Other countries are building new fishing vessels; our minister wants to spend £40 million of taxpayers' cash writing off his own fishing fleet.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The member said that other countries were building new vessels. If the SNP were in power, would it subsidise fishermen to do that at this juncture?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

One thing that the SNP would not do is destroy the vast bulk of our own fishing fleet.

Over the past three years, the Executive has introduced two aid packages for fishing communities in Scotland: the first was for £27 million, and the second—this one—is for £50 million. In that time, 85 per cent of the aid advanced by the Executive has been devoted to destroying fishing vessels. Our industry does not need enemies when it has friends like Ross Finnie. Once again, ministers simply turn to their favourite policy—consigning the white-fish fleet to the scrap heap.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Would it not be more accurate to say that we have actually spent 85 per cent trying to conserve stocks so that there is a sustainable fishing industry?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

One does not conserve the fishing industry by destroying it.

The minister says that he needs to scrap vessels in order to secure two of the 15 days a month at sea that the white-fish fleet has, for the next five months. However, he continues to ignore the long-term damage that he will inflict on the industry. There is no real reason on earth why, if he refuses to stand up to the Commission, we cannot deliver a smaller decommissioning scheme and examine other ways of reducing effort.

In an answer to a written parliamentary question a couple of weeks ago, the minister told me about reduced capacity due to the transfer of white-fish licences to other sectors. We know that licences have been transferred to other sectors, but 11 pelagic boats are on the order books in Scotland, and all will require a further aggregation of licences. Has he measured the reduction in white-fish capacity that that has brought about? He has not. He says that that would take "some time and resources", probably at "disproportionate cost". He is not willing even to look for alternatives to the destruction of his own fleet.

Further, it is not only the fleet that will suffer but the onshore sector, such as the ship painters, engineering companies and ice factories—the scores of businesses that congregate around harbours and depend on thriving fishing ports for business. Local fish processors who depend on local supplies of white fish will also suffer. The minister should listen to their voices. He has received submissions to his consultation exercise, but has not made them public. However, we know that every organisation in Scotland that has made public comment opposes the minister's policies. He should listen to the Rural Development Committee, which has called on the minister to rebalance his package.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Despite what Mike Rumbles says, it is there in black and white in the committee's report, which was published last week.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I want to continue with my speech.

The SNP's amendment on the decommissioning scheme would ensure that any such scheme would be sensible. The minister must do all that he can to ensure that it is not just the banks that benefit from decommissioning. We cannot neglect the interests of the crews. That happened last time, and we must address that issue this time. We must ensure that all the debts to the onshore sector are paid—they were not covered last time, either. We should also ensure that any boats that are decommissioned are available for conversion purposes to help to give onshore businesses more business.

We must examine the issue of quota. We must ensure that we protect the birthright of our fishing communities for the sake of the future of the industry. Last month, the minister said in the chamber that he was

"looking carefully at the rules and regulations that govern the transfer of quota".—[Official Report, 19 February 2003; c 18288.]

He should have said today what progress he has made, because that is a crucial issue. In that debate on 19 February, he also told the chamber that

"our view is that decommissioning is a rational economic response."—[Official Report, 19 February 2003; c 18286.]

He then went on to talk about the enhanced opportunities for fishermen who remain in the industry.

Yesterday, the minister told the Rural Development Committee that decommissioning would increase the profitability of the remaining vessels, but he never once—either during the previous debate or at yesterday's committee meeting—got round to explaining how the vessels that choose to remain in the industry would get to enjoy the quota from the decommissioned vessels. Even if they did get that quota, he cannot explain how they would get more days to allow them to fish that quota. The real fear is that the £40 million earmarked by the minister will take out virtually all the 180 remaining dedicated white-fish vessels. However, the quota will remain with the boat owners and will not benefit the remaining vessels in the industry.

The minister keeps sending out mixed messages. Are we honestly to believe that a crisis that has arisen out of plans to save the cod will lead him to choose prawn boats for decommissioning, when prawn stocks are healthy?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

On what basis does the member tell us that the 180 dedicated white-fish vessels amount to only 15 per cent of Scotland's fishing effort on cod?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

If the minister dedicates £40 million to decommissioning and gives no alternative to the fleet but bankruptcy, there will be applications for decommissioning. If the money is to target boats that catch cod, it is clear that a large section of the white-fish fleet may be forced into decommissioning—there will be no alternative. He must accept the reality. If he emphasised the provision of short-term aid, that would ease the pressure on prawn stocks, for example, and displacement would become less of a problem.

Of course, we must use the mid-term scientific review that is coming up to ensure that there are more catching opportunities for white-fish stocks for the Scottish fleet. However, the European Commission is already sending out worrying signals that on 1 July, any new regime will be just as painful as the existing regime. That begs a question for the minister: what will happen between 1 July and the end of the year, given that the Commission has the legal powers to keep the current regime in place until then? If he puts all his eggs in one basket, he is saying, in effect, that there will be no cash for short-term aid after the six months is over and the fleet can just go to the wall. If the fleet goes to the wall, the harbours will go to the wall. If the harbours go to the wall, the onshore businesses will go to the wall, local fish processors will close down and he will have succeeded in decimating Scotland's fishing industry. There is no doubt that boats will queue up for the decommissioning cash if there is no alternative but bankruptcy, but skippers do not want to do so because they know that that is not in the long-term interests of the industry. We must emphasise transitional and short-term aid.

The SNP calls on members of all parties to give hope for the future and hope to the tens of thousands of families whose incomes are dependent on fishing that the Parliament is on their side. The issue is not about ignoring the science. The current crisis largely arose from political decisions, not from scientific decisions. Those political decisions were based on out-of-date and incomplete science, as even the minister has said. The crisis also follows the United Kingdom minister's failure to stand up for Scotland in Brussels.

Ross Finnie described the measures imposed on Scotland by Brussels and the UK fisheries minister as

"Inequitable, unfair and even crude"—[Official Report, 8 January 2003; c 16679.]

Quite rightly, Ross Finnie did not return from Brussels and say that the proposals were logical and scientifically sound—they were not.

We must ensure that there is light at the end of the tunnel for Scotland's fishing communities, that the necessary support is available and that the industry emerges from the crisis intact, as far as possible. Scotland's fishing communities will not give up without a fight. Too many livelihoods and a way of life are at stake. If the Labour party and the Liberal party, which run this country, are not interested in saving the fishing industry, I have no doubt that the whole of Scotland will be unforgiving on 1 May. Scotland will get behind the SNP, as the SNP will deliver recovery, not redundancy, for our fishing communities.

I move amendment S1M-3959.1, to insert at end:

"but, in doing so, supports the views of the fishing industry, fishing communities and the Rural Development Committee that the overwhelming emphasis of any Scottish Executive aid package should be on transitional aid for the fleet and onshore sectors rather than the decommissioning of vessels, and urges ministers to respond positively to the proposals by industry representatives on how this can be best achieved."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 11:18 am, 5th March 2003

In Ross Finnie's statement on fisheries on 30 October 2002, he stated:

"Let me make it clear from the outset that neither I nor the Scottish Executive has any intention of presiding over the destruction of the Scottish fishing industry. That is why, two weeks ago, I gave an undertaking to the industry, which I reiterate today, that we will work with it to ensure a sustainable Scottish fishing industry."—[Official Report, 30 Oct 2002; c 14707.]

On the same day, in the Daily Record, there was a picture of Ross Finnie and Franz Fischler apparently sharing a joke. The headline quotes Ross Finnie saying that he would work every hour to save the Scottish fishing industry.

What has happened to Mr Finnie's pledge? It appears that his clock has stopped working, even if he has not. The package that he has presented to us and on which we must vote is nothing less than a poisoned chalice for Scotland's fishing industry. The decommissioning package is wrongly balanced. Although the £50 million would be welcome transitional funding towards compensating for the temporary cessation of fishing—which is perfectly allowable under the financial instrument for fisheries guidance regulation—the fact that £40 million, or four fifths, is dedicated to decommissioning makes it nothing short of a redundancy package. That is not what fishermen want and is not in the interests of the Scottish economy. It is like giving an army officer a pistol and telling him that one does not want to see him again.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Would Jamie McGrigor's analogy not be more accurate if the officer were given a pistol that has no bullets? What he proposes would not conserve the fish in the sea.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

There is currently more haddock in the North sea than there has been for 30 years. The fractions of the package are that £10 million will be put towards the industry's future and £40 million will be used to bury the industry's past; £40 million will take far too many boats out of the industry and £10 million is not nearly enough to help with the transitional funding, especially if the new cod recovery plan does not start in July. The package might mean not the decommissioning of some boats in the white-fish fleet, but the decommissioning of almost the whole white-fish fleet.

Mr Finnie says that he is working with the industry to save it. I do not know who he is speaking to, because the members of the fishing industry that I speak to tell me that they want to go on fishing and do not want to be redundant. If Mr Finnie is talking to the industry—I mean fishermen and processors—he will know that what is needed is restructuring; he has just said that he wants restructuring.

The industry employs thousands of people in different sectors. We cannot have a successful industry unless we have modern boats and modern equipment. Modernisation of the processing sector is also required. Decommissioning will not achieve that; the decommissioning of vessels under 10 years old will certainly not achieve that. All that decommissioning does is prohibit fishing and shrink the white-fish industry. I cannot believe that the minister has consulted the industry on the formation of his package. I therefore ask the minister to reverse the package, so that £40 million goes to the future and £10 million goes to the past. That would be a much closer reflection of what the fishing industry needs and wants.

The Scottish white-fish fleet has bent over backwards to accept every conservation rule that has been hurled at it. A hundred vessels have recently been decommissioned; that greatly lowered effort in the North sea. We have had closed areas, bigger mesh sizes, quota cuts and huge decommissioning. Why has time not been allowed for scientists to assess the results of those extra conservation measures and the enormous fall in fishing effort before this new, draconian, unnecessary and inexplicable measure is allowed to ruin Scottish fishing? If one were to ask the scientists what will be the result of all the conservation measures and the huge drop in effort, they would say that they do not know. Is it wise, if the scientists do not know, to bring in measures that might destroy the Scottish industry before they know the answers? It is not wise; it is thoroughly stupid. It would be better to wait until the scientists know.

Why is the days-at-sea scheme necessary when the quotas have already been halved? The loss of quota is the worst problem that the industry currently faces. If the new round of decommissioning is taken up by 100 vessels, which would only have been allowed to fish for nine days at sea per month, that will equate to 900 fishing days being lost to the Scottish fishing industry. If, as some people predict, 80 boats are left in the white-fish fleet they will gain 160 days. The agreement that Elliot Morley and Ross Finnie achieved in Brussels in December will have the effect of losing 740 fishing days to an industry that is already hanging on by its fingertips.

The situation reminds me of Jack, who sold his family cow for a handful of beans. Messrs Morley and Finnie are selling the Scottish fishing industry for a handful of days, but in this scenario the beanstalk does not grow. However, there is an Austrian giant who stomps around shouting, "Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a Scottish fisherman".

The soul of the Scottish fishing industry is being torn apart. The massive problem is the 50 per cent cut in quota. It does not matter how many days a boat can fish if it is not allowed to catch the fish. It is a double whammy against the Scottish fishing industry. The package, if it remains as it is, might sound the death knell for a way of life that has supported the people in Scotland's fishing communities for hundreds of years. What would the Executive put in its place? There can be only so many call centres in Stornoway, Peterhead and Lerwick. Who will help the processors and all the people they employ? Who will help the fishermen to look after their families in areas that are heavily dependent on fishing? Who will help those who are involved in the nephrops industry when displacement of effort lowers the price of their prawns even more? That sector also faces huge problems. The weighting of the package so heavily in favour of decommissioning shows that the Government has no faith in the future of fishing. That is perhaps the saddest thing of all.

What hope does the Scottish fishing industry have if even the fisheries minister does not believe in its future? What hope does it have when the Austrian bureaucrat who is in charge is obsessed with his cod recovery plan? The kite that that man flew for the total closure of the Scottish fishing waters was always intended to produce a draconian effort-limitation scheme, which was the only element that the cod recovery plan lacked. He has succeeded and his dream of a single European fishing fleet draws ever nearer. Let us not sacrifice the future of the Scottish fishing industry for a handful of days and a pocketful of broken promises.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour 11:25 am, 5th March 2003

On behalf of the Labour party, I, too, welcome Winnie Ewing back to the chamber—it is good to see her here.

It goes without saying that we did not choose the position that we find ourselves in. However, we are where we are and we must protect our fishing industry. I support decommissioning because we must take steps to protect the days at sea that we have secured. The minister stated that he hopes that the £40 million will cover the decommissioning of 15 per cent of our fishing effort on cod. No one is happy with the situation, but we in the Labour party know that we must work to protect the fishing industry and to provide a viable and secure fishery for future generations.

I am disappointed that the decommissioning scheme does not include moneys to be paid directly to crews, but, as the minister explained, such a measure would make the scheme extremely complex and might lead to delays. Yesterday, the minister made it clear to the Rural Development Committee that the only feasible way in which to make payments is through vessel owners, who can then make payments to crews. That system is wholly dependent on the good will of the owners, whom I urge to take the point on board and ensure that crews receive money in lieu of redundancy pay. The money will cushion the blow and, I hope, provide crews with a breathing space in which to find alternative employment or to reskill. As the future of the work force is dependent on those payments, I plead with the vessel owners to make them.

The same situation arises with fishing-dependent onshore businesses. After the previous decommissioning scheme, some businesses were left with unpaid debts, which can lead to businesses becoming unviable and create problems for the communities in which they work because of the loss of jobs and skills. The present decommissioning scheme is different from the previous one—hence the larger amount of money that has been put aside—but I plead with the minister to ensure that, if funding remains from the decommissioning scheme when the desired level is reached, that money is made available in transitional aid, not only for the fishing sector, but for the crews and dependent onshore industries.

The Labour party welcomes the transitional support scheme, which will ensure that fishing vessels that are dependent on cod will receive assistance to tide them over the difficult times. The money is essential for ensuring a viable fishing industry—it will ensure that vessels that do not decommission will have access to Government support. The scheme shows the Executive's commitment to the industry. However, the money will again go to vessels and crews and onshore businesses will be dependent on the good will of the owners for their share of it.

I welcome Elliot Morley's commitment to consider benefits for self-employed crew members. Because of the days-at-sea restrictions, such people's income will fall dramatically, so it is important to find ways of supporting them through the hard times. The same is true of the onshore industries.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Given that we will vote on the two statutory instruments, will the member advise me where they mention the people to whom she has referred receiving help?

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

As I made clear, the Rural Development Committee questioned the minister on that yesterday. He argued that to include payments for onshore businesses and crews would make the schemes extremely complex, but that does not prevent the boat owners from giving money to crews and onshore businesses. Indeed, they have an obligation to do so; they should formulate their bids for funding in a way that ensures that they receive money to enable them to do that. I plead with them to take that point on board.

The Rural Development Committee asked for a rates relief scheme for these businesses. We also need to ensure that the enterprise network is geared to support the businesses, to ensure that they remain viable. They need assistance to diversify and use the skills that they have to attract new types of business; however, they cannot do that alone. The enterprise network has a crucial part to play in all this. We believe in adding value. The communities into which fish are landed should process the catches, adding value locally and keeping the benefit of those catches in the local community. If we lose those businesses, we lose the chance of adding value when stocks recover. We need to help those businesses.

Displacement must also be dealt with. I am pleased that the minister has taken that on board and intends to make transitional aid dependent on there being no displacement. If displacement is allowed, other fisheries will come under stress. The long-term effects could be devastating and lead to every fishery being in the position that the cod fishery is now. Even if stocks could withstand displacement, oversupply would affect the profitability of the other fisheries and lead to a financial crisis for all our fishing communities. I welcome the minister's announcement and I hope that he will take further steps to ensure that displacement does not happen.

Another issue of concern to me is the attitude of the Commission. It was put to the members of the Rural Development Committee that one of the reasons for the North sea's being targeted with such stringent measures is the fact that we supply data on bycatches, whereas that is not the case in other countries. I am concerned that those who avoid providing the data that are required to make scientific decisions are being rewarded. If the data are not available, the fisheries do not face the same restrictions that we do. I asked John Farnell, the director of conservation policy in the European Commission's Fisheries Directorate-General, about this and he said:

"On bycatches and the question of fishermen being penalised, there is a great deal of knowledge about what happens in the UK fishery and less about what happens in other areas. I can say only that we share the concern that has been expressed about that."

It appears that, by not providing the required data, fisheries can avoid the restrictions. That has huge implications for other fisheries that do provide the data. If we do not have the information, we cannot look scientifically at what is happening in other fisheries. I urge the minister to take that matter up with the Commission.

Finally, I press the case for crews and onshore businesses. In asking that crews be supported, we are not speaking just about individuals; the support is crucial to the communities in which they live. Their income is spent locally and supports shops and other businesses. If they have to leave those communities to seek work, that has a knock-on effect on schools, shops and post offices; it can affect the survival of small communities. I make a plea to the vessel owners not to forget their obligations when they receive decommissioning and transitional aid money.

We must also protect the onshore businesses that are partially or wholly dependent on the fishing industry. Those businesses that supply gear, men and boats or that process catches are easily identifiable as they are wholly dependent on fishing. However, many other dependent businesses, such as shops that provide supplies for boats, and accountants who balance the books, are much more difficult to identify. I urge the Executive to ensure that the enterprise network works hard to identify all those businesses and offer them support.

Today, like yesterday, we find the SNP posturing, not saying what it would do and criticising the Executive for the sake of it. Its amendments, if they were agreed to, would not change anything. In the Rural Development Committee yesterday, Richard Lochhead appeared to urge the minister to put additional days at sea at risk by not introducing this decommissioning package. He then moved a motion against the days-at-sea instrument—a motion that even he could not support. With no decommissioning, the industry would downsize, but the hard way, through bankruptcy. That is not something that I want to see.

The SNP's action is irresponsible. If it succeeds, it will destroy our fishing industry. Again, we see political posturing that puts the livelihoods of our constituents at risk. The SNP does not care about the fishing industry; all that it is interested in is tomorrow's headlines. I will not support the SNP's amendments.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 11:34 am, 5th March 2003

Today we are required to pass into our legislative system a law from Europe, which is an everyday occurrence for us in the Scottish Parliament. However, let us not pretend that we will do that today with a glad heart. Oh, no, we will not. We should agree with our European Committee's position as described in its convener's report of a meeting with the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain. On the proposed constitutional treaty, the report states:

"It was noted that Article 11(1) of the Treaty proposed that the management of marine biological resources under the CFP should be an exclusive competence of the Union."

The European Committee expressed great reservations about that proposal. The word "competence" simply does not fit with the concept of EU management of fish stocks or fisheries; more fitting words for that management are "incompetence", "mismanagement" and "disaster"—a disaster for fishing communities all round Scotland.

The disaster is not just for communities that are dependent on fishing white fish. Last year our pelagic sector was shafted on the issue of quotas; this year our white-fish industries pay the price of EU incompetence. Our prawn fleet suffers from low prices and might yet suffer from effort diversion. Who is in line for extirpation next year? That will happen only if we roll over and supinely submit. We must move away from the centralised view of the world dictated by Brussels, because that view has failed. Control of marine resources must be repatriated to the communities that will stand or fall by how successfully they manage the resources. Such communities must share responsibility, ad libitum, for marine resources with adjacent communities in other countries.

The Scottish statutory instruments that we consider today simply put lipstick on a pig. That will make the pig feel and look better for a while. However, the lipstick will soon wear away and will need to be reapplied. We should look a little further afield—for example, to the Faroes, Iceland and Norway. We must listen to the likes of Jón Kristjánsson of Iceland, to whom I spoke on Saturday, who brings a different scientific perspective to the issue of fishing management. His success with controlled and directed fishing in the Faroes fisheries lights a beacon for us and for our fisheries.

The SNP's amendments draw together the importance of people, communities and industries beyond those that have direct investments in the white-fish catching sector. We cannot have an overhang of unsecured bad debt crippling onshore support industries. A package that helps only banks is not worth having. We cannot have crews paid off without redundancy payments and the heart of our communities ripped out because of neglect of their interests.

The Minister and his colleagues in the coalition can, by accepting the SNP's amendments, signal to Scotland's diverse coastal communities that they are on their side. If the Executive rejects the amendments, that will indicate that it is ignoring those communities. The minister will do so at his peril. We are here today because the EU has made a pig's ear of fishing management. I apologise to pigs everywhere for that analogy. I urge members to support our amendments at five o'clock.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 11:38 am, 5th March 2003

I make no apology for starting my speech by drawing attention to the threats to our prawn fishery from the displacement of white-fish boats into that industry. The price of prawns has hit rock bottom and there is a glut of prawns on the market because many boats have diverted—legally and illegally—to prawn fishing. That diversion is causing major problems that will continue. Not only are prawn prices low and the value of the traditional prawn fishermen's catches falling, but the overfishing will threaten both the stocks and this year's quota. The quota will be used up by displaced boats, which could leave our fishermen with nothing to fish later in the year. It is important that the minister takes urgent action to ensure that the displacement ends and that our traditional prawn fishing boats in areas such as Pittenweem are protected during the present crisis.

I would like to draw the Parliament's attention to the Rural Development Committee's balanced report on the fishing crisis. While it does not claim the things that Richard Lochhead says that it does, it raises important issues. There is clearly a need to ensure that the balance between fishing effort and fishing stocks is brought into line. Even the Scottish Fishermen's Federation accepts that.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

About two weeks ago, I spoke at a public meeting in Iain Smith's constituency, which was attended by about 60 of his constituents who work in the local fishing industry. Not one of them supported the minister's policy that is before the Scottish Parliament today. Will the member tell us whether, at decision time, he is going to support his constituents or the minister?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I always support my constituents and their interests. I will not support the SNP's amendments as they do not support my constituents' interests.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am absolutely clear about whose side I am on.

We have heard yet another desperate speech from Richard Lochhead this morning. Since last November, we have waited in vain for the SNP's promised recovery plan for the Scottish fishing industry and we are still waiting. Richard Lochhead should recognise that "recovery not redundancy" is a slogan, not a plan. I have read the SNP's document and have found no proposals that tell us how the SNP would save the Scottish fishing fleet. Where are the SNP's proposals to preserve stocks? Without preserving stocks, it is impossible to preserve the Scottish fishing industry. There is no point in having the same number of boats chasing fewer and fewer fish. That is unsustainable and something has to be done to deal with that.

Richard Lochhead says that the minister's plans will result in the fishing sector being destroyed. However, they do not mean that at all. All that is proposed is that 15 per cent of the fleet would be decommissioned—that is what will be funded. That action would be taken to protect the remaining 85 per cent. What steps is Richard Lochhead proposing to protect any of the fishing industry, apart from slogans? Nothing. If we do not do what the minister is proposing, the EU would effect a total closure of our fishing industry. How would that protect jobs in our fishing industry and the onshore sector? It would not. Richard Lochhead has no plan that would result in the EU allowing the Scottish fishing industry to continue to fish, if we do not follow the minister's proposals.

We need sensible and realistic policies in the Scottish Parliament and we have to introduce a sensible set of alternatives for the fishing industry. I agree with the Rural Development Committee that there might be a need to rebalance the package when the details are worked out. That is sensible. However, the Rural Development Committee does not say that the overwhelming emphasis of any Scottish Executive aid package should be on transitional aid for the fleet. If Richard Lochhead can find that view anywhere in the committee's report, I will withdraw my comment, but I doubt that he will. It is misleading, inaccurate and untruthful for the SNP to claim that the committee says that.

Richard Lochhead's playground language this morning is unhelpful to the debate. He has made no useful contribution to the fishing industry in Scotland.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 11:43 am, 5th March 2003

Today we are debating—almost certainly for the last time in this Parliament—the second major disaster that has befallen rural Scotland during the past four years. The first was the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. While I fully accept that the causes do not bear comparison—although one or two of my colleagues might think of the EU as a form of virus—the differences in approach to the crises certainly do.

The most striking difference is that, before, during and after foot-and-mouth disease, the producers, through the National Farmers Union of Scotland, were involved in the decision-making process to such a degree that some people would claim that they were driving the process. The result of that involvement was that the scientific advice—which was by no means always unanimously agreed by the scientific community—was often tempered and enhanced by the practical aspects that the producers could input.

Compare that to the impending disaster that faces the Scottish white-fish fleet today. The decisions that have led up to it have been made in offices in Brussels and Strasbourg, based only on scientific advice that is cloaked in doubt and is looked on with distrust by those who prosecute the industry, the fishermen themselves.

Members do not have to take my word for that. In an excellent, evidence-taking meeting of the Rural Development Committee in Aberdeen on 11 February, the former head of the marine laboratory, Professor Tony Hawkins, said on behalf of the North Sea Commission Fisheries Partnership, which was set up specifically to deal with the conflict between fishermen and scientists:

"The core problem is that fishermen are not sufficiently involved in management. The European Commission rarely listens to them, and they are in effect excluded from the process of deciding on management measures. In essence, the form of governance that we have in the EU is the authoritarian Commission, which has enormous powers and, above that, the political haggling that occurs every December. Those strong draconian powers linked to the political haggling that occurs over a short time are an awful combination. The fish stocks in the North sea and the fishermen deserve something better than that."—[Official Report, Rural Development Committee, 11 February 2003; c 4258-4259.]

He goes on to say in response to a question from Alasdair Morrison:

"The situation is fairly unusual. Few people who are involved in industry find that, every December, a group of scientists has given advice to the European Commission that will determine how those people will operate over the coming year, how much they will earn and the difficulties that they will be in. In a sense, such a system over-rates the ability of scientists, who are just normal human beings, like everybody else. It is a mistake for the Commission to rely so closely only on advice from scientists."—[Official Report, Rural Development Committee, 11 February 2003; c 4263.]

On top of that, a briefing paper from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation points out that

"Of the four major crises in cod fisheries in the North Atlantic the only one that has failed to recover is the Grand Banks of Newfoundland", a fishery that was

"subjected to total closure for three years to permit recovery of the stock."

Ten years on, there is no sign of any such recovery, but total closure is the advisory committee on fisheries management's preferred prescription.

Members should contrast that with the drastic action taken in the three other countries to which Stewart Stevenson referred—Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes. Those are fishing-dependent countries that have, in close conjunction with their fleets, turned to innovative measures and secured apparently sustainable futures for their white-fish fisheries.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

I am in my last minute. I am sorry: I cannot give way.

If nothing else comes out of the situation, there must be a new relationship between the EU the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Scottish Executive environment and rural affairs department, the scientists and, above all, the fishermen themselves.

The answer lies in the Rural Development Committee's report, which was agreed unanimously, and the future role of the regional advisory councils, which should become far more than advisory councils only. They should have decision-making powers over how best to manage the available fish stocks to provide a sustainable industry for Scotland's fleet, which is what we should all be about.

I commend the Rural Development Committee's report to Parliament. I also commend the reasoned amendments that have been moved today, despite Richard Lochhead's somewhat liberal interpretation of the Rural Development Committee's findings.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 11:48 am, 5th March 2003

On the way to the Parliament this morning, I spoke to several people who, on hearing that we were debating fishing this morning, all said the same thing: "If there aren't enough fish, we have to cut back on fishing." The statutory instruments that we are debating are harsh. They are not what we would wish in an ideal world. However, if we want to have a sustainable fishing industry and healthy stocks in the North sea, action to reduce fishing effort must be taken. If the Scottish fishing fleet is to get the opportunity to fish for 15 days a month, rather than the original nine days, fishing effort must be reduced by 15 per cent to 20 per cent. That means decommissioning.

The fishing industry, whether offshore or onshore, is not being abandoned. Substantial resources are going into and have gone into trying to support the industry—the original £27 million package of 18 months ago and the £50 million package that is proposed today. To support the industry to the tune of £77 million, plus the FIFG money, is not the act of a Westminster or Edinburgh Government that does not care about fishing.

Danny Couper, conservation officer for the Scottish Fish Merchants Federation is right when he says that, although the reduction of fishing effort is necessary, it should have been phased in over the past few years. That has not happened and we are where we are. I hope that when the minister returns to Brussels, he will be able to negotiate more flexibility and a more sophisticated system around the current regulations so that he can introduce such measures as kilowatt days, rather than the current days-at-sea system, along with various other measures. I am pleased to hear that progress is already being made on that.

The SNP is once again arguing in favour of delay and of keeping boats tied up for what might be an indefinite period of time, instead of taking the action that is required. In a recent parliamentary newsletter, Richard Lochhead states that the SNP would

"In Week 1 of an SNP Executive, move immediately to renegotiate the current deal and insist a Scottish Minister lead the UK delegation".

When the UK says no and the European Commission says no, what then? Is the SNP planning to declare independence immediately and pull out of Europe at the same time, in what would be not so much independence in Europe as independence from Europe? That is not real politics and the fishing industry knows it. The formation of the fishermen's party by some skippers clearly underlines that point.

I would mention to the fishing industry an old socialist slogan, "Unity is strength". The fishing industry—catchers, processors and associated industries—needs to work together. It is clear from yesterday's edition of The Scotsman that the newly formed Scottish Fishing Services Association is unhappy with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation's proposals. The Scottish Fish Merchants Federation has publicly distanced itself from the formation of a new political party.

Urgent support must be given to processors who have the particular skills to process North sea fish, so that they and their skills survive and the market for Scottish fish, landed by Scottish fishermen, is retained. I hope that the Minister for Environment and Rural Development will pay close attention to the second stage of the action plan put forward by representatives of the fish processing sector.

The needs of any deck hands who become redundant should be considered. The UK Labour Government has paid out nearly £40 million over the past year or two to the fishermen who used to fish off Iceland who lost out when the Tories came to power. They have waited more than 20 years for redundancy money. I know that many of my constituents in Aberdeen North have now benefited from that. That is an act of a Labour Government that cares about the fishing industry.

I would like to think that we can manage the situation better this time, that everyone in the industry can be supported and that we are continuing to take steps to ensure that a sustainable Scottish fishing industry is maintained for the future.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party 11:52 am, 5th March 2003

I begin by recording my genuine thanks to all the members from all parties who wrote to me on the death of my husband. I found great comfort in those letters.

I remind the Minister for Environment and Rural Development that, before he went to Brussels for the fisheries council, he got my genuine good wishes for success in those negotiations. He will agree that that is the case. I am disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations, as I am sure he must be, too.

I am sorry that Henry McLeish has just left the chamber, because this point—although I have made it often—concerns him. He said a few years ago that, when the Scottish interest dominated, the Scottish minister would lead the delegation. Henry McLeish said that on the record, and I have quoted him quite a few times. Some of the other parties do not seem to think that that matters. If, however, the results of a negotiation are that we are fishing on terms less favourable than those for other EU states, we have to remind the minister that he should seek to lead the UK delegation when fishing is involved, as we have two thirds of the UK fleet.

I support the idea that we should not spend whatever money we have on so many redundancies. They are redundancies, because fishermen do not go to do some other suitable jobs—that is a figment of the imagination. Fishermen are fishermen, and they like to pass on the tradition to their families. Now, links that go back over seven generations are to be broken. Think what that does to the fishing communities that I represented for 24 years in the European Parliament, when I was speaking for Scottish fishing interests pretty well alone.

There were four Brits on the Fisheries Committee at the time that I am thinking of—none were Liberals—and they all voted with Spain, time after time and crisis after crisis. It will not surprise members to know that those four lost their seats, because although not everyone represents fishermen, everyone has an enormous fondness for the courage of the men who go out to get our fish suppers. I found it astonishing that the other members from both the big parties should vote with Spain, and the Liberal group, which the Liberal Democrats subsequently joined, was no better.

People have talked about asking skippers to please be kind to the crew, but that is not quite the same as laying down in law a requirement that the crew be included in the package.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

No. I have a lot to say.

I find it amusing that my party and I should be attacked by Rhoda Grant for not being sincere. I have been in three Parliaments—I am happy and proud to be in this one—and I know that that is not the case. My party is known the length and breadth of fishing ports, from Eyemouth up to Shetland, as being totally committed and sincere. No amount of name-calling can undo that hard fact. Go and talk to any crew member. I have probably met most of them during my life, although I may not know some of the younger ones—if there are any younger ones left.

I want to ask one or two questions about flexibility on days at sea. The minister indicated that some flexibility might be coming, but will we have flexibility on steaming between ports, on landing at designated ports when there is a nearer port, on steaming for repairs, on steaming for rescue operations and on tidal harbour barriers?

In my long career of trying to help fishermen, I have been faced with horrible disasters. Two of those were definitely due to the days-at-sea restrictions, which meant that people went out in severe storms. I fear that that is what faces us again. Can the days not be rolled over as part of that flexibility?

Does the minister agree that there is a critical mass in the number of boats that go to sea? If the number goes below the critical mass of what is sustainable, everything is affected. All the dependent industries will be affected as well as the boats and crew—who may get nothing from the proposed decommissioning scheme. The minister should answer that question.

On quotas, I agree with what has been said. Under the previous decommissioning scheme, the skippers were allowed to dispose of the quotas by selling or leasing them. That must be changed. In the words of the various fishing organisations, the quotas must go back to the industry.

I hope that the minister will not take offence at what I have said. I am genuinely of the view that, unless we negotiate as Scotland for Scotland, we will be faced with the demise of a wonderful industry.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 11:58 am, 5th March 2003

I certainly do not question Winnie Ewing's sincerity. I doubt that anybody in the chamber would question her track record and sincerity in fighting for the interests of Scotland's fishing industry.

However, I must say that Winnie Ewing has been terribly let down by her party's official spokesperson for the fishing industry. If the so-called shadow deputy minister for environment and rural development ever gets to be Minister for Environment and Rural Development and proceeds in the way that he is currently proceeding, we will have something great to fear.

I refer to Richard Lochhead's amendment, which makes an outrageous misrepresentation, to which I object. The amendment states that the Parliament

"supports the views of the fishing industry, fishing communities and the Rural Development Committee that the overwhelming emphasis of any Scottish Executive aid package should be on transitional aid— that is, a tie-up scheme—

"for the fleet and onshore sectors rather than the decommissioning of vessels".

The amendment is a gross and irresponsible misrepresentation of what the Rural Development Committee said. The committee was unanimous in its view. Members can check what I say by reading the report and by looking at the results of tonight's vote, in which the majority of the committee's members will again vote to dismiss the actions of the SNP spokesperson.

We said:

"the Committee strongly urges the Scottish Executive to consider further the balance of the support package between decommissioning and transitional aid."

In the committee we talked about the £10 million to £12 million bracket.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In the Official Report , if the leader of the SNP reads it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Is it the report that we are talking about?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That approach is disreputable, disingenuous, dishonest and ultimately dangerous for Scotland's fishing industry.

I take members' minds back to the decommissioning scheme of two years ago. I was unpopular for being a critic of that decommissioning scheme because it did not contain transitional measures. I voted against the scheme.

Now we have a £10 million tie-up scheme before us. I have heard nothing from the SNP about those proposals. We hear that it is not against the decommissioning scheme, but it will not tell us the details of its proposals.

What is the purpose of the actions of the SNP, led by its fisheries spokesman? Yesterday, in the Rural Development Committee, Richard Lochhead forced a debate on the issue. He allegedly felt so strongly about it that he forced a vote. What did he do? He abstained. That is political posturing at its worst.

I return to some of the evidence that the Rural Development Committee received. John Farnell of the European Commission talked about €32 million of aid. However, when Mr Elliot Morley gave evidence, he did not seem to know anything about that €32 million, and I asked him whether he would pursue that. It is worth putting on the record that Scottish ministers should also pursue that issue with Elliot Morley so that we can get our rightful share of that aid.

I need only a moment to discuss the Conservatives' proposal. They would not have a decommissioning scheme. We heard that from Jamie McGrigor today and that is a grossly irresponsible way of protecting our fish stocks.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, the member is in his final minute.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Unfortunately I do not have time.

The fishing industry is so concerned about the SNP's ineffective position that the new fishing party is putting up a candidate in the north-east regional list in order to knock Richard Lochhead out of the list.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, I am not having a bidding process for additional time. Members are well aware that Mr Rumbles is in his final minute.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I look forward to the new political party knocking Richard Lochhead out of the list.

The industry cannot rely on the SNP or the Tories. The Scottish Executive—Labour and Liberal Democrats together—is fighting the Scottish fishing industry's corner and has produced an incredibly good financial package, especially when it is compared with what was available two years ago.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 12:03 pm, 5th March 2003

It is really disappointing to follow Mike Rumbles. He spoke for three minutes and 28 seconds and all he did was criticise Richard Lochhead. This debate is very important to the future of our fishing industry. For a member to spend so much time slagging off another member is ludicrous.

During the previous debate on this issue, Ross Finnie suggested that my speech was rather dated and that it could have been one that I used 10 years ago. He is perceptive because that is the point that I was trying to make. Over the years, the fishing industry has faced crisis after crisis and stock control has been one of those crises. Ten years ago, the problem was prawns. That problem was rectified. The prawn stock is now healthy, but where did the solution come from? It did not come from listening to the scientists and going along with European diktats. The solution lay in the hands of the fishermen themselves, for example, with the weekend ban in the Clyde estuary, changes in net sizes and different fishing techniques.

The SSIs disappoint me because we seem to be ignoring the fishing communities' pleas. The SSIs undermine the fishing industry and sound the death knell for white-fish fishing as we have known it over the centuries, particularly in the north-east. There must be changes. To some degree, the SSIs could be seen as an SOS for the fishing industry—save our stocks. In fact, when what decommissioning means in practice is analysed, they can be understood to be saying, "Sink our ships." If we consider the preservation of stocks, the decimation of our fishing fleet and the fact that—whether we like it or not—the Spanish are building new vessels with our taxpayers' money, we must recognise that something is wrong. We must also recognise that saving our stocks is liable to benefit others in wider Europe rather than us in Scotland or Britain.

I want to offer something constructive. Richard Lochhead's amendment offers a method of providing a logical way ahead. It offers movement between the decommissioning money that has been laid aside and the money that will be used for transitional purposes.

I shall draw on my own past practical experience in the power industry. At the beginning of the 1990s, that industry was sadly obliged to mothball a major power station. If the situation ever turns, the methods that were used and the preservation steps that were taken to mothball that power station will allow it to come back and its major elements to be put to good use again.

In the same way, transitional payments in the fishing industry could also be put to good use by allowing some of our fishing vessels to be laid up and preserved in the longer term. That would have other benefits, as business for the back-up industry would be provided to the men who go to sea. Such a method would have merit and give hope for the future, particularly if we ever recognise that the cod stocks have grown again. We could then take boats out of preservation and put them back to sea.

The money could be better spent. Although £50 million is of value to the industry and it would be hard for any member to vote today against taking that cash, we ask the minister to reconsider the way in which he intends to spend it. Although I do not belong to the same party as Richard Lochhead, I recommend his amendment, which contains constructive proposals.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 12:08 pm, 5th March 2003

I am delighted to see Winnie Ewing back with us today. That may seem an odd thing to say in a pre-election phase, but like Mike Rumbles I believe that no one can doubt Winnie's commitment to the fishing industry in Scotland. I do not know whether Dr Ewing's speech was the last that she will make in the Parliament—I hope not—but I will miss hearing her speeches. I may not agree with her on many points, such as independence for Scotland, but I know quality when I see it.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

Perhaps we will agree when we debate the Gaelic (Scotland) Bill tomorrow.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

We shall see.

I am sorry that Tavish Scott, who was due to speak in today's debate, is not with us today. Because of the vagaries of air transportation and breakdowns, he is stuck in Shetland, so I am replacing him.

This morning I took a telephone call from Mr William Calder, whom Dr Ewing may know. Mr Calder runs a thriving, successful fish business in Scrabster that employs some 20 people; I admire everything that he does. He has again urged that there should be flexibility in the amounts allocated to transitional support and decommissioning—£10 million and £40 million.

I associate myself with the remarks that Iain Smith made about displacement and with Dr Ewing's argument for buying back Scottish quota, so that it remains Scottish quota. We should consider that.

I will make a slightly personal point about the community of Kinlochbervie in the county of Sutherland. I stress to the minister that a light touch is essential in providing transitional support to different communities, because different communities have different weaknesses and strengths. Kinlochbervie can be contrasted with Lochinver, which does well from the French and Spanish boats, and with Scrabster, which benefits from Faroese landings. As Kinlochbervie relies on the home fleet, it is particularly at risk.

There is not much else in the way of jobs in Kinlochbervie and its school roll is falling. If we are not careful, we could put a community such as Kinlochbervie into fatal decline. I ask the minister to encourage his officials to consider the variety of our communities and to consider different solutions for different communities.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Does the member agree that it is scandalous that some fishermen from Kinlochbervie have been left with 2 per cent of the deep-sea species quota?

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

The situation is difficult in Kinlochbervie. My colleague John Thurso MP and I have written to the minister to stress the necessity of addressing Kinlochbervie's interest, which I have outlined. That community has not much else.

In some communities where fish landings have declined to almost zero, such as Wick, problems have been dealt with through extra money. I make no apologies for flagging up the community of Helmsdale in my constituency. The harbour there is in a sorry state and the day when it is closed might not be far off. Regardless of whether a tie-up scheme or decommissioning is undertaken, Helmsdale might have almost nothing. I ask the minister, in implementing the transitional support scheme, to work closely with the local enterprise network and with everyone whom he can, including Highland Council, to deal with Helmsdale's problems. In that way, the minister might add to his £10 million.

I repeat what Mr William Calder said to me. I acknowledge the minister's offer of flexibility and I would be grateful if he continued with that line.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party 12:12 pm, 5th March 2003

I join others in welcoming my mother-in-law back to the chamber. As the minister has said, no fishing debate seems complete without Winnie Ewing on her feet. She has a reputation that is second to none for fighting for the fishing industry, for the fisherfolk and for communities not only in the Highlands and Islands, which she has represented, but the length and breadth of Scotland. It is much appreciated that people have recognised that.

Winnie Ewing's speech contrasted severely with some of the rudeness from other members, many of whom have left the chamber. They made personal attacks on our SNP front-bench spokesperson on the fishing industry. I live in a fishing community and I know that rudeness is not part of the psyche of fisherfolk. They want a fair deal.

In the weeks over which the Rural Development Committee has taken evidence—I have been a visiting member on Alex Fergusson's committee—and in all the fishing debates in which I have spoken, we in the official Opposition have emphasised constructive ideas to get us out of the agreement with which the minister returned from Brussels. We have emphasised that we are not against the concept of decommissioning, but the package is wrong. It puts too much emphasis on redundancy. That is why we have published a consultation document called "Recovery, not Redundancy", which is circulating in our fishing communities. That is what we ask the Executive and the Government in Westminster to focus their ideas on.

The minister has consistently said that the 2001 decommissioning scheme was effective and successful. It might well have taken many vessels out of the fleet. I will give the minister some statistics that were produced for me by one of my skippers from Hopeman in Moray. They are in a document called "Fish on Dummy Vessels" and relate to the quota issue that I have raised several times with the minister. The dummy vessels have more than £7 million worth of white fish because the quotas have not been transferred. It seems that nothing is being done about that. Unless we address the quota issue and ensure that quotas are kept here in Scotland, we will continue to see more "slipper skippers", as they are known. The issue of quotas is vital.

I turn to the money for transitional aid. Like others, I have been visiting my coastal communities regularly, discussing the issue with the chandlers, the bakers, the butchers, the fruit-mongers—the list is endless. There is a concern about whether the network of enterprise companies will be effective enough in distributing any transitional aid available in areas such as my area of Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey. What criteria have been applied to the transitional aid? I am not speaking to people who want to learn how to play with computers; I am learning about people who want to retain their skills and pass them on in their communities. I believe that the criteria must be set out much more firmly to ensure that the skills are retained in our fishing communities.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 12:16 pm, 5th March 2003

I join other colleagues in their tributes and welcome to Winnie Ewing. I seem to remember that when first I went to the House of Commons in 1978 I heard her speak in a fisheries debate; she is still at it and we are delighted to see her here today. I endorse what she said about the fact that people throughout Scotland have high regard for fishermen and special respect and affection for our fishing communities. My main concern is for my constituents who fish the Firth of Forth and the North sea from Port Seton, Dunbar and Eyemouth. The respect of the people and the concerns that have been expressed in the debate underline the case for the further commitment of £50 million to assist fishermen and to provide for the necessary decommissioning and support for fishing communities at this critical time.

We know that Ross Finnie had a very difficult time at the fisheries council in December, at which he had to negotiate the "least worst" deal for Scotland. I know from experience what a difficult forum the fisheries council can be. I think that Hamish Morrison went so far as to compare Ross Finnie to the archangel Gabriel. I would not necessarily go quite that far, but I think that he had a difficult task to do and that he achieved as much as could be achieved under the circumstances.

I remind members that politics at every level is the art of the possible and that diplomacy can sometimes achieve a little bit more. I am not sure that the members on the nationalist and Conservative benches have really grasped that point: blustering and name-calling, of which we heard quite a bit from Jamie McGrigor and Richard Lochhead, might get a few cheers on the pier head, but do not help to get a better deal for the future.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Is the member aware that Denmark, a nation that is roughly the size of Scotland and which was successful in the recent negotiations, had 148 officials in Brussels? Would he care to tell us how many represented Scotland?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I was not there, so I cannot possibly answer that question. My point stands: If we want to succeed in negotiations we have to win friends and influence people, and calling people names does not really help very much. Everybody who has spoken in the debate cares passionately about fishermen and fishing communities and wants to achieve a secure future for the fleet and the processors. Everybody who has spoken has made those points eloquently—I refer in particular to my colleagues Rhoda Grant and Elaine Thomson; I have already referred to Winnie Ewing's comments There is one inescapable consideration that any fishing minister of any party must face up to—none of us can ignore the clear scientific evidence on the depletion of important fish stocks. It is difficult to think of anything more short sighted than knowingly to permit the irrevocable destruction of valuable fish species.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

No. I am a little short of time, I am afraid.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am still in a position to compensate for interventions.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I thank the Presiding Officer and John Home Robertson. Given the scientific evidence that exists, I cannot understand how our European colleagues—to whom we must be nice and with whom we must negotiate—can possibly sustain industrial fishing of the North sea, which takes the feed stock of the cod. If Ross Finnie had had that acknowledged, we would all have a little more respect for the decision that was taken.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I would not disagree with anything that Phil Gallie said on that point. I cannot comprehend how such an industrial fishery can possibly be sustainable—the Commission must return to that issue.

My key point relates to white fish and cod. Somewhere in Canada, there is a retired fisherman who killed the last breeding cod on the Grand banks. The purpose of the proposed measures is to ensure that the last cod in the North sea does not end up in a fish box somewhere. That is what we are trying to address.

I pay tribute to Scottish fishermen for their enthusiasm for technical conservation measures, such as square-mesh panels. However, there has been far too much evidence of misreporting and black fish landings in previous years, and far too many fish are still being discarded at sea. We can blame the common fisheries policy, the European Commission, foreigners or even our politicians as much as we like, but the fact is that fish stocks are under pressure because of overfishing by fishermen from a number of countries, including Scotland.

The present round of further decommissioning, reduced total allowable catches and fewer days at sea is painful for the industry, especially for crews and processors. The purpose of the £40 million decommissioning scheme is to buy up the vessels that must come out of the fleet to bring its capacity into line with the fish stocks that are likely to be available for sustainable fishing; Richard Lochhead needs to understand that point. There is no point in talking about boat numbers; the crucial factor in the consideration of fisheries is fish stocks and the availability of fish for harvesting from the sea.

In recent years, there has been a tendency for restructuring to concentrate an even greater proportion of the fleet in the north-east of Scotland. I urge the minister to be careful to ensure that smaller ports on the west coast, on the Firth of Forth and on the islands can keep enough boats to secure a future for the industry in those areas.

The second statutory instrument will provide £10 million for transitional support. That represents an important demonstration of the Executive's commitment to helping the industry to survive and develop a future for sea fishing in Scotland. Sea fishing has great potential and we want to develop it. The transitional support package is a substantial commitment of hard cash to help fishing communities to cope with hard times after a grim fisheries council. We all hope that it will mark the beginning of the end of a long downward spiral for the fishing industry. The statutory instruments we are considering represent a clear demonstration of the Executive's commitment; the Labour party welcomes them. I am delighted that Andy Kerr, the Minister for Finance and Public Services, has been able to make available a £50 million package for fishing communities in Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I call Alex Johnstone to close for the Conservatives. You have six minutes, but you do not need to take it all.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 12:23 pm, 5th March 2003

Six minutes is more than I expected. Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I mean that with all my heart.

At the outset, it is essential that I associate the Conservative party with the remarks that have been made by members of all parties about the welcome return of Winnie Ewing. It is an appropriate day for her to return, because we might be discussing fisheries issues for the last time in this session of Parliament. Such issues exercised Parliament in its formative days four years ago, and have continued to exercise it throughout the four years of its first session. Winnie Ewing has brought her experience to the debate; it must be a matter of regret to her that she has seen brewing throughout her political career the situation that we are discussing.

It is a matter of enormous regret that we find ourselves in a situation in which the white-fish stocks in the North sea have necessitated a move towards the type of solution that we are considering today. In previous debates, we have often discussed the science that lies behind decisions on fisheries. Although few of us would dispute the science, many of us would dispute the interpretation of that science. However, it is unequivocally and undeniably the case that we must act to deal with the situation that we are in, which is why I must give a reluctant welcome to the fact that the minister has been able to introduce proposals for two schemes that are designed to give transitional support during a difficult period, and to introduce decommissioning to reduce the catching effort all around Scotland, particularly of white fish in the North sea.

The problem that we have with the schemes is their proportionality, one to the other, which makes it difficult for us to give the Executive the support that it wants at decision time tonight. We have heard from Iain Smith and Rhoda Grant among others, that there is concern throughout the chamber about the balance between the two schemes. To dedicate £40 million to decommissioning and £10 million to the transitional scheme could cause distortion. I welcome the minister's promise that he will include measures to ensure that there will be no movement of effort from white fish to nephrops, but had the scheme been properly balanced in the first place, that would not have been a problem. It is essential that we avoid that displacement, particularly to the small ports about which concern was expressed by people such as John Home Robertson and members from the Highlands and Islands.

Stewart Stevenson introduced an element to the debate that makes us less able to find the unanimity we need today, when he brought us back once again to the old SNP policy of supporting everything that Europe decides to support except where that relates to the fishing industry. As an aside, Stewart Stevenson mentioned one or two countries that he newly wants to compare Scotland to. He praised the Faroes, Iceland and Norway for the way in which they handled their fisheries, but I remind Stewart that none of those countries is a member of the European Union. That is why we welcome members on SNP benches who have been converted to our view that it is high time that Scotland's fisheries were Scotland's responsibility.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I would like the member to clarify whether his party's policy is now that control of Scotland's fishing grounds should come to the Scottish Parliament and not to the Westminster Parliament, as was its previous policy until today.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

We have not changed our policy. We believe that national and local control over fisheries is essential. We accept that fisheries are a devolved issue, by and large, and that the responsibility to return them to national control lies with the minister who is accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that the time has come for the UK Government to seek the same status for the Scottish fishing industry and Scottish fishing waters as Spain negotiated for the Canary Islands?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

It would take rather longer than the time that is available to me to compare Scotland's situation to the Canary Islands' situation. However, it is unlikely that we would be able to consider that matter during a debate in which we are discussing relevant statutory instruments. At this point, we can leave that matter for discussion later.

At the end of the day, it is difficult for the Conservatives to vote against measures that will provide the promised £50 million of support. I would like to hear in the minister's closing remarks an explanation of what could be done to satisfy demands from the Conservatives, the Scottish National Party and from many members on his back benches, that more of that £50 million should go into transitional support and less to decommissioning. If our industry is to have a future and if it is to be able to survive on the stocks once they have recovered as a result of the proposed plans, we must have an industry. Too many of us are concerned that the balance of the measures will result in our having no industry. I ask the minister to explain what flexibility he has.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 12:29 pm, 5th March 2003

The underlying theme of the debate is whether the documents that are before us amount to a package that is a survival kit or disaster relief. Members who have argued for the survival-kit option do not seem to have predicted confidently that we have before us an option that is likely to secure the survival of the white-fish fleet. There seems to be a lack of confidence that the proposals will achieve that objective, so I want to try to be constructive.

The Rural Development Committee produced a report that has much to commend it. The report urged the Executive to explore all possible means of providing decommissioning funds that would reach crews and unsecured shoreside creditors. It is disappointing that the minister has not taken up that suggestion and although I do not wish to suggest that skippers will not be willing to assist their crews—I am sure that the vast majority will—it is insufficient simply to ask and hope that they be generous.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

That was somewhat reluctant.

Does Fergus Ewing think that skippers, as employers, should have no responsibility for the people whom they employ? Does he think that that should extend to other industries? He should make that perfectly clear.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

No 1; I am afraid that skippers are generally not employers because, by and large, crew members are self-employed, so the premise of the first question was wrong. No 2, I have just pointed out that the Rural Development Committee said that crews should get help; I said that the committee asked the minister to explore the means through which they might receive get help, and to find those means through legislation. The minister declined to do so and has ruled it out because it is too difficult. He said that yesterday afternoon.

The committee also strongly urged the Executive to consider further the balance between decommissioning and transitional aid in the support package. Mike Rumbles spent his whole speech attacking Mr Lochhead—Mr Rumbles's whole speech seemed to me to be irrelevant. He is not in the chamber now, but I hope that he never appears on the Radio 4 programme, "Just a Minute", because every time he opened his gob he would be ruled out automatically for deviation—[Interruption.]—never mind for repetition, as I hear some of my colleagues point out.

Balance is at the roots of the debate. Every single representative body of which I am aware in the industry has said that the package is not properly balanced. I believe that the SFF has suggested that a 50:50 balance would have been more appropriate, or that £25 million for decommissioning would have been sufficient. I am surprised that the industry's detailed submissions have not resulted in some movement from the Executive. Of course, the instruments do not specify the amounts of aid, so there is hope that there can still be movement from the minister. I do not believe that his responses yesterday to the Rural Development Committee—in which he dismissed the arguments that have been put by the whole industry—cut the mustard. I hope that the representatives who are here today will make further attempts to bring about a change.

Justification for the deal, which the minister himself described as crude, inequitable and unfair, has been given by many members, including Elaine Thomson and John Home Robertson. John Home Robertson referred to the fact that we have what he called "clear scientific evidence". I argue—I am sure that Tavish Scott would have argued the same had he been able to be here today—is that there is nothing "clear" about the science. That is the point.

We should listen to the remarks of Professor Tony Hawkins, the former director of the Government's Fisheries Research Services. He is the man who advised the minister at the beginning of the Parliament, but he no longer occupies that role and is able to speak out. When he spoke out, what did he say? He said that the science about separation of stocks is "poor and uncertain". He did not say that it is clear and unequivocal information that we must automatically accept, act upon and implement in every single circumstance; he said quite the opposite. He said that the science is "poor and uncertain"—it is "poor and uncertain" in relation to the separation of stocks.

The element of the deal that is most objectionable is the fact that the cuts for cod were replicated pro rata on other white-fish species. I want to hear in the minister's summing up what efforts he is making and what input he will make to the April review of evidence. I want to know what efforts he is making, following the SFF representations, to ensure that we decouple the haddock and other white-fish species quota reductions from those for cod. Does the minister accept that there are now more haddock in the North sea than there have been for three decades? Will he go to the Commission and argue for an increase in the quota? I fear that he will not, although I hope to be proved wrong. I ask him to answer those questions.

That brings us back to a point that the minister made, which was that it is intended that the £10 million is to be spent over six months. What will happen when the six months are over? If quotas are not increased, skippers will not be able to go to sea and will be forced into decommissioning or—if they do not qualify for decommissioning—bankruptcy. There is no guarantee that every skipper who applies for decommissioning will meet the criteria. I hope that the minister will address that issue in his concluding remarks.

There has been much talk about SNP members in the debate and the Fishermen's Party has been mentioned. The convener of that party has said—in respect of the SNP's role and its good faith—that the SNP has fought harder than any other party for the fishing industry and that it should be congratulated for doing so. It is churlish and unconvincing to suggest that we do not speak for the fishing industry, as some members have suggested. Over many years, all SNP members have tried to do their best.

What we need is simple—we need a Scottish Executive that will fight for Scotland in Europe, build diplomatic alliances and send a sufficient number of civil servants to negotiations, as Denmark does—Stewart Stevenson mentioned that. We need a Scottish Executive that regards fishing representatives as friends and allies and equivalent to advisers and civil servants, and that will use their advice and expertise in negotiations, rather than allow the French to tell our representatives what is going on at negotiations. In short, we need a Scottish minister who is not hampered by Mr Eliot Morley—in whom we have little or no confidence—or by a Prime Minister who does not even know how many jobs there are in the fishing industry. He said that there were 14,000 jobs in the industry, but there are 44,000—perhaps he should take a little time off from dealing with the inevitable war with Iraq and spend more time standing up for the Scottish fishing industry. We need a Scottish minister who will represent our industry; very soon, there will be an excellent opportunity to ensure that that is what the Scottish fishing industry has.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 12:37 pm, 5th March 2003

I am glad that the debate has raised some broader issues and issues of genuine concern—in particular, I refer to the issues that Winnie Ewing mentioned. At the previous debate on fisheries, I expressed our sadness at her singular absence in awful circumstances.

Winnie Ewing raised two safety issues and discussed the definition of a day—which relates to harbour and tidal issues—and flexibilities that are required for safety. Fergus Ewing has recently raised those matters with me in the Rural Development Committee and we are trying to address them.

Alex Fergusson, Iain Smith, John Home Robertson and other members raised broader issues, including wider fisheries management issues. We all understand that we can discuss matters relating to the powers of regional advisory committees and whether treaty changes are required to give them powers. We must focus on the way forward and we must be clear about what we are trying to do.

However, we must—regrettably—focus today not on those important broader issues, but on the two instruments that are before us. It is imperative that we secure amendments to annexe XVII as it stands and I have told members about the progress that we hope to make in that regard. To answer Fergus Ewing partially on long-term revision of annexe XVII, I am absolutely determined that we give priority to trying to put proper proposals on the table for long-term revision to be discussed. However, if we are going to succeed in getting proposals on the table in Europe, and if we are going to build new bridges, we must be clear what our negotiating stance is. We must be clear what we are saying to the Commission and to other member states about our attitude, not just to the fishing industry, but to the important matter of conservation. I shall return to that.

First, on decommissioning, I have spoken to many fishermen and organisations in the past few weeks and I understand that if we ask the simple question, "Do you want decommissioning?" the answer is—not entirely surprisingly—"No. Well, maybe a little, but not a lot". That is an understandable reaction. However, the job of the Government is to do what we have consistently tried to do, which is to consider both sides of the equation. We must take steps that will ensure conservation of our fishing stocks and we must have measures in place for a sustainable fishing industry.

It is difficult to decide to respond positively to the action that is required by the scientific evidence. Of course one does not want excessive decommissioning and I must stress that we are seeking to decommission 15 per cent of the fleet. I do not find it helpful when Phil Gallie talks about different varieties of SOS or when Fergus Ewing says that on the one hand we are talking about a "survival kit" and on the other the destruction of the fleet. There is no intention to destroy the fleet, but we must face up to the harsh reality, which is a difficult issue for Government. We have to take hard decisions and we have had to take one in relation to decommissioning.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

At yesterday's Rural Development Committee, the minister said that decommissioning would increase the profitability of vessels that continue to fish. Will the minister explain how that can be the case, given that he has no plans to take the quota from the decommissioned boats back into the national pool?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The member knows well that trading of quotas was established by the fishing industry. He also knows well that proportions of quotas have been traded. Those quotas will continue to be traded and will become available.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I do not control the market—I am trying to make a proposal on the difficult matter of trying to secure the maintenance of the stocks, which are ultimately the key factor in whether there is a profitable industry.

On transitional aid, it is not just a question of the difficulty of assessing each individual business; transitional aid of this nature must satisfy the tests of state-aid rules. It must do so in direct relation to the impact on the fishing fleet by reference to the fleet's historic record, by reference to its dependence on white fish and by reference to its use of the gear that is specified in annexe XVII. That clear method brings that support within the rules of state aid and makes it more likely that we will be able to give it quickly, effectively and efficiently.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I ask the minister, in a constructive way, whether he has considered mothballing or preservation as opposed to decommissioning?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

The cost of long-term mothballing and the provision of long-term permanent support are a different proposition. The member might wish to expand on whether that is his policy. What we are trying to do is clear: we are giving transitional support to assist people to make decisions. On the stock issue, reducing fishing effort is absolutely imperative.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No. Let me move on.

On the amounts of money, it is not just about the Executive having made available £50 million in this particular package. The Executive is committed to spending £70 million of FIFG-related funds between 2001 and 2006. It has previously committed to its other assistance package. In other words, the Executive has committed to spending £140 million in total, which is a substantial commitment to the measures.

Members were much concerned about displacement. I can only repeat that, in giving transitional aid, there will have to be the prospect either of not granting aid or of removing aid from people who break certain conditions.

Jamie McGrigor suggested that we should approach Europe with a 3 per cent decommissioning scheme, but that would be laughed out of court because of the evidence on stocks. If we did that, we would not regain credibility in Europe nor would we be able to progress our argument in any way. Jamie McGrigor must be careful in taking the grandstanding position of saying, "It's dead easy—we won't have any decommissioning and we'll just give all the money to fishermen." Mr McGrigor does not face up to the reality, which is that we must deal with the conservation issues.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

There has been no consideration of the fact that 100 vessels were decommissioned last year.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Of course there has. The figures take account of the previous decommissioning, although the calculation was regrettable and was not done in the way that I would have liked.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the minister consider the impact of the transfer of licences from the white-fish sector to other sectors such as the pelagic sector, and of the likely forthcoming transfers, given the ordering of 11 new pelagic boats for the Scottish fleet? Will the minister measure that impact and not be put off by the so-called disproportionate costs of that measurement?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will take account of that impact and of any disproportionate costs. However, the transfer is not an alternative to our policy, as Mr Lochhead suggested in his earlier remarks; it is an issue that might be taken into account.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is not an alternative. The factor must be taken into account as and when it occurs.

Other issues were raised. We have dealt with displacement, which caused trouble. Margaret Ewing mentioned tradability of quotas. As I have said previously, we must accept that the evidence shows that the industry continues to trade quotas. With due respect to Margaret Ewing, the present evidence does not suggest that slipper skippers are impeding movement in that regard.

We are in a difficult position and we have to make difficult decisions—we must decide what to do to respond immediately to the situation that faces us. I put it to members that, given that yesterday we were given the power to implement the days-at-sea regulation, it is absolutely imperative that we demonstrate clearly that we are serious about squaring the circle of conservation effort and providing long-term sustainability for our fishermen.

We should not use silly phrases. Of course the measures will directly affect a huge number of people in the white-fish sector, but we should not talk down the whole industry. To use the figure of 44,000 people is to envisage the total collapse of the nephrops, pelagic and demersal sectors—we must be careful that we do not talk down the whole industry.

Fergus Ewing struck a positive note to start with, but we must not get into the issue of how many officials were present at the negotiations, when the Danes happened to have the presidency. I suspect that if we had had the presidency, we might have taken more officials. We should not go down to that level, but stick to the high-level issues and try to elevate the debate so that it is about the importance of the fishing industry, of giving a conservation boost and of providing interim support. Those are the issues on which we should focus; we must not get dragged down into peripheral issues that are irrelevant to the debate. We must instead consider seriously what the Executive is doing. We have made a fundamental commitment to the industry, which is backed up by hard cash. I invite the Parliament to support both motions.

Motion S1M-3959 moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Sea Fishing (Transitional Support) (Scotland) (No.2) Scheme 2003 (SSI 2003/116) be approved.—[Ross Finnie.]

Amendment S1M-3959.1 moved, to insert at end:

"but, in doing so, supports the views of the fishing industry, fishing communities and the Rural Development Committee that the overwhelming emphasis of any Scottish Executive aid package should be on transitional aid for the fleet and onshore sectors rather than the decommissioning of vessels, and urges ministers to respond positively to the proposals by industry representatives on how this can be best achieved."—[Richard Lochhead.]