Fisheries (December Council)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:56 am on 22nd January 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 10:56 am, 22nd January 2004

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-798, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the fisheries council in December 2003, and two amendments to that motion.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 11:03 am, 22nd January 2004

I begin by welcoming Allan Wilson to his new role, which he will carry out for the next few months. We are delighted to hear that Ross Finnie is recovering from his operation.

Given the brighter outlook before December's talks, we all expected to be here early in 2004 finally sailing into calmer waters, yet ministers once again find themselves in the middle of a storm. Only a few weeks ago, things were looking up and our fishing communities were poised to turn the corner after so many disappointing fishing deals. The troubled cod stocks were recovering, haddock stocks were at record levels, other stocks were robust and we had a much smaller fleet. Despite that, ministers managed to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory in Brussels.

At some ungodly hour, the United Kingdom signed an agreement that blatantly discriminated against its fishing industry and left the white-fish sector fighting for survival. Industry representatives from every sector have united in their appeals to the courts for justice. Fishing communities in Buchan, the Western Isles, Shetland and around Scotland's coast have denounced the deal. Many have called it worse than the notorious 2002 deal. The SNP calls on ministers to stop defending the indefensible, to reopen the negotiations in Brussels and to demand that the UK Government gets behind Scotland or gets out of the way.

The deal that is set to come into force in less than 10 days' time is not only unjust, it is unworkable. It is the most complex deal ever, which is saying something when we are talking about the common fisheries policy. The producer organisations that manage the quota for the fleet are tearing their hair out, because they do not know how they will be able to implement the new regime that has been foisted on them. Ministers still claim that the deal is good for Scotland, perhaps believing that, if they repeat it often enough, people will begin to believe them. That view insults the intelligence of the fishing industry and shows nothing but contempt for our fishing communities.

Ministers point to increased quotas in the North sea, particularly for haddock, but they ignore the fact that the industry has been denied the time and space at sea to catch that quota. The opposite is the case on the west coast of Scotland, where the fishermen have enough time at sea but have been denied the quota to catch. The deal also imposes new restrictions on Scottish vessels in Scotland's traditional fishing grounds that other fleets fishing the same waters for the same stocks have escaped. At least the minister and the European Commission have moved from a position of outright denial to accepting that there are "unintended consequences" that require "technical adjustment".

Parts of the deal require urgent renegotiation. Does the minister accept that the industry cannot live on 15 days a month at sea? Ross Finnie told Parliament that at the council in Brussels last month he argued for more days for the Scottish fleet. He understood the importance of getting more days, but he did not get them because, apparently, he lost the arguments. Perhaps when Allan Wilson is on his feet he will confirm that the fleet cannot survive on 15 days a month.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

The agreement last year was for 15 days. Can Richard Lochhead explain how the fleet managed to cope last year?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

My next paragraph will answer exactly that question. The two pillars that allowed the fleet to survive throughout 2003 have been removed. The first pillar was the areas of the sea in which the fishing fleet faced no restrictions—the fleet could go to those areas and fish over and above their 15 days in the restricted areas. The second pillar was the aid package delivered by the Scottish Executive. There is no new aid package. Those two pillars have been removed, which is why, if nothing is changed, the fishing fleet faces bankruptcy.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does Richard Lochhead acknowledge that many fishing-based businesses survived because they borrowed more and cut deeper into the flesh, thereby coming closer to bankruptcy?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am happy to agree with that point.

The size of the cod protection zone must be renegotiated. It includes Scotland's key haddock grounds and represents about 40 per cent of the northern North sea. It is obscene to prevent the Scots from catching more than 20 per cent of their haddock quota in their key fishery while allowing other fleets to catch their whole quota in that fishery. The result negotiated by ministers means that other fleets can catch up to three times the amount of haddock that Scotland's fleet can catch in Scotland's traditional fishery.

Many members may think that fishermen in the prawn sector have got off scot free, but I ask them to bear in mind the fact that those fishermen also catch haddock and that, no matter where they catch it in the North sea, it will count as if it was caught in the restricted area, which means that the haddock quota in the cod recovery zone will be exhausted in a matter of months. At that point, the prawn boats will have to dump any haddock that they catch—good-quality, mature haddock will be dumped overboard. That is the first reason why the deal is bad for fisheries conservation.

Another reason is that, because vessels are being forced to catch 80 per cent of their haddock quota outside their main fishery, they will have no choice but to target the valuable cod quota. The whole regime was designed to protect cod but, as vessels will not be allowed to catch haddock, they will be forced to catch cod.

The deal delivers a hammer blow to fisheries conservation, but it gets worse. The permit system has to be scrapped. When we heard that a permit system had been created, we all assumed that it would be for the cod stocks, which were apparently in trouble. However, the permit system is not for cod; it is for haddock, which is at record levels. The permit has many conditions attached to it—17 at the last count—and is unworkable. To call it draconian would be an understatement. According to fishermen in Shetland, the permit system will kill their fishery. If fishermen take a permit, they will have to throw away cod, even though they have a cod quota, because they are allowed only a 5 per cent bycatch. If they do not take a permit, they will end up throwing haddock overboard, because they are not allowed to catch it. That is a catch-22 situation, which will kill the Shetland fleet.

The minister must agree to pursue the following objectives. He must remove the haddock fishery from the cod zone, allow the fleet access to the full haddock quota, give our much-reduced fleet more days at sea outside the cod zones and scrap the unworkable permit system. He must also ensure that, as long as we are signed up to the disastrous common fisheries policy, there is a level playing field for all the fleets in the North sea and that any new restrictions apply across the board.

The minister must deliver an aid package for all the communities and all the sectors concerned. There is a cast-iron case for that. The deal this year is worse than last year's deal and there was an aid package last year. This year, so far, there has been no aid package. The minister must reward the fishing fleet, which has been decommissioned to only half the size that it was two years ago. It was promised better times if it decommissioned. There are only 120 white-fish boats left. There are no better times ahead; there is perhaps bankruptcy ahead, which is why the minister must wake up to the situation.

If the minister wants to save the fishing industry and keep it afloat this year and beyond, he must start fighting for Scotland's fishing communities. If he does not deliver, we will have plenty of fish in the North sea, but we will not have a fishing industry in Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that the fisheries agreement signed in December 2003 discriminates against Scotland and as a result is unworkable and unjust and therefore calls upon the Scottish and UK governments to seek an urgent renegotiation of the agreement to ensure the survival of our fishing communities.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 11:11 am, 22nd January 2004

We have just heard some strong words from Richard Lochhead, as we have from the official Opposition over the past week, when it has proposed that the Executive should tear up the deal agreed in December. I want to explain why, as the Executive amendment says, the agreement is a balanced outcome and why it is a good deal for Scotland's fishermen and for Scotland. I also want to explain in some detail the scope for further technical adjustments, to which Richard Lochhead referred.

Why does the Executive think that the agreement is a good deal? Let us consider the alternatives. First, we could hand back the quotas that we secured, which would mean fewer mackerel, fewer herring, fewer prawns and fewer haddock. Secondly, we could abandon our commitment to sustainable development and give up on the short-term measures that will secure longer-term benefits for our fishermen and their communities. Thirdly, we could tell the Commission that we no longer care about an equitable approach to fisheries management throughout the EU, which is more or less what Richard Lochhead said. Fourthly, we could give up the credit for the decommissioning that we undertook in 2002-03. We could let the Commission take back the five extra days a month that were granted to our white-fish fishermen. They could have the 10 days that are stipulated in the regulation instead.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister talks about a credit for decommissioning. Will he explain how the outcome of 15 days for the Scottish fleet was calculated, because the fishermen have not yet been told? Will he also explain to the chamber and to our fishing communities why, when there are more fish in the sea and fewer Scottish boats to catch them, we get less time at sea?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

As I have just explained, the 10 days that are available to other member states were added to by the five extra days that took into account the decommissioning since 2002-03. If that explanation is not simple enough for Richard Lochhead, perhaps we can meet on the margins of the Parliament to go into it in more detail.

Fifthly, we could abandon the hard-won concept of spatial management and the principle of decoupling, which enabled us to secure an increase in the haddock and nephrops total allowable catches to which the member referred. We could give up on all those concepts, which were specifically advocated by the Scottish Executive and the Scottish fishing industry—and supported by the Scottish National Party before the fisheries council in Brussels. I have negotiated throughout my working life; whenever someone enters into negotiations, they have to understand that they must give up something in order to secure something else. The same applies if they want to renegotiate.

Finally, we could abandon our attempts to improve and strengthen control and enforcement. We could treat with disdain the Commission pre-infraction letter and risk the Commission intervening directly to close down certain fisheries or ports.

I do not say that to try to be facetious. I am trying to illustrate what was achieved at the December council. We achieved significant quota increases, linked to longer-term management initiatives, spatial management initiatives and improved control and enforcement. Those hang together as a package and we cannot cherry pick from them.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

If the minister has achieved so many great things in the fisheries council, why is every fisheries organisation saying that the deal is disastrous for the future of the fishing industry? Why are the people whom I met in Tavish Scott's constituency on Friday in such despair about the future and about the appalling nature of the deal?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I share the concern about the sustainable future of our fishing communities. I will return in more detail to the technical adjustments. As John Swinney knows, negotiations are continuing as we speak and we await the outcome of the negotiations between the EU and Norway. I am conscious of the concern, but not all fisheries organisations take the position that John Swinney describes. Mr Scott is perfectly able to speak about his own area.

The special arrangements, which will ensure cod protection, are proportionate and reasonable. First, we have 78 per cent of the EU quota for haddock. Secondly, the other member states tend, in practice, not to fish much of their haddock quota. Thirdly, the other member states tend to catch their haddock elsewhere. Overall, we have perhaps 90 per cent of the haddock catches.

There is a separate issue about whether additional haddock can be caught within the new constraints. Ross Finnie has spoken about that in the chamber and elsewhere.

The other key concern is the number of days at sea. I appreciate that the regime will be difficult for some white-fish vessels. As long as the scientific advice is that cod conservation is required, there will be difficulties. We cannot avoid that, but the Executive has monitored, and will continue to monitor, the socioeconomic impact and will act accordingly. This year, the scope for additional haddock will reduce those difficulties. The scientific advice is that abundant haddock can be caught this year in the same time as for last year's catch.

Looking to the future, I appreciate the need for greater flexibility in our effort management arrangements. I agree with Richard Lochhead that a flat-rate allocation of days to all vessels is not the most sensible approach. The Commission has made a declaration in support of a more flexible approach. I am sure that Richard Lochhead will agree that that is welcome.

We are still negotiating on some specific details that must be agreed with Norway tomorrow. Norway's position will be crucial, but our aim is to ensure that our fishermen can genuinely access their increased quotas and the increased value that goes with them. We consider the package to be balanced and to promote a genuinely sustainable agenda without compromising the immediate needs of the fishing industry.

I move amendment S2M-798.4, to leave out from "recognises" to end and insert:

"supports the more balanced outcome negotiated by ministers at the December Fisheries Council; welcomes the fact that this will benefit many sections of the Scottish fishing industry while ensuring conservation of key stocks on which the long-term viability of the industry depends; deplores the calls by the SNP leader for fishermen to break the law; recognises that there are elements of the detailed agreement which are the subject of further technical discussion with the European Commission; supports the efforts made by the Scottish Executive to address these, and further supports the willingness of Scottish Ministers to monitor the socio-economic impact on fishermen, ports and communities following the conclusions of the technical discussions and EU negotiations with Norway with a view to taking appropriate action if necessary."

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 11:17 am, 22nd January 2004

When Mr Finnie returned with his brave new Brussels deal in December, he claimed that it would boost the Scottish fishing industry by £20 million a year. As we have heard, the minister has since admitted that the deal will have unintended consequences. However, irrespective of whether the consequences were intended or unintended, the outcome is that Ross Finnie's vaunted agreement looks like sending another 50 Scottish white-fish boats to the breaker's yard. That is in addition to the 170 vessels that accepted decommissioning last year. In effect, it will mean that the 300-strong white-fish fleet of just over a year ago could be reduced to less than a third of that size by the end of 2004.

The restricted boxes to the east and west of Scotland and the 15 days a month sea time made a nonsense of the minister's trumpeted 53 per cent increase in haddock quotas. There are neither the days nor the available fishing grounds to catch the extra haddock. Pandora's box contained fewer horrors than the restricted haddock boxes to which Mr Finnie signed up. Although we are told that there might be some relaxation on the size of the box, the 15 days at sea are said to be non-negotiable. Much as Richard Lochhead may plead for an urgent renegotiation of the December deal, the fact is that, under the Commission's rules, it is possible only to tidy up the existing agreement. A legal challenge to the agreement is the appropriate action. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the Fishermen's Association Ltd are to be commended for uniting to challenge the deal through the courts.

Our fishermen should challenge the agreement not only on the days at sea and the restricted boxes. Lost in the small print of the deal were a number of anomalies that are only now coming to the surface. Yesterday, I had a call from skipper Bill Watt of Macduff. He wanted to express his bafflement at yet another example of the Executive's forelock tugging at the Commission's nonsensical regulations. Faced with the 15-day rule, Skipper Watt planned to fish in the unrestricted area west of 4˚ west—the so-called French saithe line—off the Scottish west coast. He was informed that that would be legal only if his vessel, the Fertile, was fitted with a tamper-proof satellite monitoring system. The only problem is that no such system exists. A company is currently designing one, but it is unlikely to be in production until July. Talk about catch-22.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I am afraid that, with only four minutes for my speech, I cannot give way. If I have time later, I will do.

Elsewhere, 14 Pittenweem prawn vessels should have been able to fish without days-at-sea restrictions under the cod recovery plan, provided that they applied for a permit. However, local manager Billy Hughes told me this morning that he was staggered to discover that, under item IV of the permit, the Pittenweem fleet will not be allowed to take haddock as a bycatch, because they all use gear of less than 100mm mesh size. Will they be given a derogation to carry on fishing? Apparently, nobody in the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department could give him the answer. Is that another unintended consequence of the brave new Brussels deal?

I wish the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and FAL every good fortune in their legal attempts to overturn what has turned out to be a dud deal. Legal action takes time, however, and will not compensate anxious fishermen in the short term. I call on the deputy minister as a matter of urgency to roll over the special funding that was introduced last year so as to enable fishermen who have been forced to tie up because of a lack of days at sea to pay their bills and to take care of their families and crews in the short term. They should not have to suffer because of the unintended consequences of the December agreement.

I move amendment S2M-798.1, to leave out from "discriminates" to end and insert:

"is unjust and discriminates against Scottish fishermen and has produced, in the words of Ross Finnie, 'unintended consequences' which further reduce the catching powers of the white fish fleet; commends the efforts of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and Fishermen's Association Ltd to mount legal challenges to the agreement, and seeks urgent clarification from the European Commission on the technical adjustments to no-go areas."

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 11:21 am, 22nd January 2004

I very much welcome the contribution of the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development to the debate, because there is a need to bring some balance to the discussion about the outcome of the deal that was secured in Brussels. We should look at the totality of the package, rather than focus only on the white-fish sector, in relation to which, as the minister said, there is a real recognition of the problems with the deal as it was negotiated.

The industry called for a new management approach: spatial management. It also called for the decoupling of cod from other species. Both those key objectives have been met. According to the list of objectives that my friend Richard Lochhead published, he, too, backed those objectives. I think, therefore, that that part of the deal was a success.

The industry also called for increased quotas, which were justified by the scientific evidence that was presented by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. That increase has been achieved: the status quo has been maintained for cod in the face of scientific advice calling for a complete closure of the cod fisheries; there has been a 66 per cent increase in the haddock quota; the pelagic fleet has secured a 15 per cent increase in North sea herring quotas; there has been a 95 per cent increase in blue whiting quotas; and the North sea prawn fleet has secured a 30 per cent increase in its quota. In the west of Scotland, a roll-over reflected the fact that landings last year were below the level of last year's TAC. I understand that SEERAD will be progressing that matter through the coming year.

As has been recognised in the debate, the real pain has been brought about through the changes relating to effort control and the new spatial management arrangements. However, the deal is estimated to be worth a total of £20 million to the Scottish fleet in the coming year. That, too, must be recognised.

The new rules that have been introduced to clamp down on black-fish landings—which, according to some in the fishing industry, were widespread last year—taken with the new spatial management arrangements, are causing significant difficulties. There are a number of factors that I would like the minister to consider. I would like him to try to secure changes at a technical level to take away some of the unintended consequences and mitigate the sheer folly of one or two of the details of the deal.

I fully accept that there must be changes. There needs to be a redrawing of the line for the cod-sensitive box in the North sea to below 59°30'. The box must either be taken out or shifted to another part of the North sea, so as to allow access to one of the most prolific areas in which haddock might be fished for. There need to be adjustments to the percentage of allowable catches, both inside and outside the boxes. I hope that the minister will closely consider that and that officials will take the matter up at a technical level.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You have one minute left, Mr Lyon.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Although the 15-day limit is supposedly non-negotiable, I think that, if we are to encourage the fleet to fish further afield, outside the cod-sensitive boxes, there must be an allowance, in the form of extra steaming days, for them to get to and return from those areas. That must be coupled with proper enforcement. We should be able to support that kind of change.

As Ted Brocklebank mentioned, fishermen who wish to take advantage of the extended number of days available in the deepwater fishing grounds off the west of Scotland are being told that the gear that they need to allow them to gain that access is not available until July. That must be sorted out as quickly as possible. There is an argument for giving further help to sustain the white-fish industry through the difficult times ahead and I would certainly support that.

In winding up, I would like to deal with the official Opposition party's response to the fishing industry's concerns.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I have to hurry you, Mr Lyon. Time is very short.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I was disappointed to see that the leader of the official Opposition party, Mr Swinney, has been quoted by many newspapers as having said, in response to fishermen's threats to break the law, that it does not strike him as wrong to break the law.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Mr Swinney should either withdraw that remark or step down as leader of the official Opposition party.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Members really should not introduce new material after their time has expired. The remaining time for debate is very short and the remaining speakers must stick to their four-minute allocations.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 11:25 am, 22nd January 2004

Although I accept some of the detailed points that the Conservatives and the SNP have made, I remind them that the real fight is not for more fishing, but for resources and support for our fishing communities in the recovery of their livelihoods: the fish stocks. On those grounds, the Greens reject the SNP motion. Implicit in it is a challenge to the findings of ICES. Fish stocks are in crisis. Cod stocks have not recovered; any recovery is embryonic. The stocks were at an all-time low and the increase has been only very small. The stocks are still way below safe biological limits.

Haddock may be more numerous, but we must recall that people have been depending on a single year class: the 1999 year class. The stocks in the classes on either side of that are perilously low.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Is the member aware that there are numerous conditions in the deal that mean that cod and haddock stocks, especially juvenile haddock stocks, will be damaged, because boats will be forced to fish where the juvenile stocks rather than the mature haddock are?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I am still totally perplexed by such insistence on the part of the fishing industry: that sounds more like a threat than a promise. ICES repeatedly warns of the dangers of overfishing haddock and my party would not like the Executive to go any further in negotiating further increases in the amount of haddock that may be harvested. We should recognise the importance of regenerating the haddock stocks outside the 1999 year class. I believe that arguing for more pressure to be put on stocks is irresponsible.

The big political question that we face is how to support the communities and the fragile economies concerned. Of the €3.7 billion available from the EU to support fish recovery plans, only 3 per cent has so far been taken up by member states for socioeconomic aid. Even worse, according to my figures, Scotland is not drawing down any of that money. That is entirely unacceptable. We need to put pressure on the Executive and the Treasury, not on the fish. The EU has called on member states to review their use of fisheries money and I want to know what the Executive's response to that call has been. Figures that I have just received suggest that the Executive still has £30 million that has been drawn down but remains uncommitted. In the future, the required investment in communities will be offset by tax revenues from a healthy industry. If the fish stocks are allowed to recover, we will have a healthier fishing industry. That is the prize that we should be reaching for.

The idea of discrimination against Scotland has been discussed. Other countries are suffering, too. The Dutch plaice fishery and the southern hake fishery are to suffer closed areas and the Iberian nephrops fishery is also experiencing difficulties. We are not alone. We should remember that, if we had not already made commitments on reducing fishing effort, we would have got only 10 days a month at sea, not 15. The question should not be how many more fish we can catch or for how much longer people can be out fishing; the question should be how much the Executive is prepared to support the industry and the communities that are dependent on it, so that the regeneration of the stocks can get under way. That is where our energies must be directed.

For the sake of the communities, the industry, the fish and the marine environment, let us deal with the real issues and get on with the job with which we are entrusted. Remember the Grand banks. The Canadians put off taking measures time and again. If we look at the history of that time, we see that the arguments that were made then were similar to those that we have heard over the past six to 10 years. The Canadians put off making the inevitable decision to fish less and to think more about investing in the future. Their cod stocks completely disappeared and there was a lasting collapse of what was the richest cod fishery in the world. We do not want that to happen here.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 11:29 am, 22nd January 2004

I will return to reality. I commend the speeches that we heard from Richard Lochhead and Ted Brocklebank for spelling out the appalling consequences of the deal and the bleak future that our fishermen face. I will talk about the problems that the west-coast fishermen face.

For the third year running, west-coast fishermen have seen the total failure of the Executive to win back the 10 per cent cut in the nephrops quota. That is despite the fact that over the past five years during which I have represented Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, Ross Finnie has acknowledged repeatedly—

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have hardly started.

Ross Finnie has acknowledged repeatedly that prawns are in plentiful supply and that the cod bycatch is minimal—some would say negligible. Therefore, the justification for cutting the prawn quota does not exist. He has stated repeatedly his desire to see a fair deal for the west coast, but for the third successive year, he has come back with nothing. This year, when he did not answer a question from Mr Morrison about why he failed to win a proper deal for the prawn fishermen, he came up with a new reason, which is that it was difficult to argue to increase the west-coast nephrops quota by 10 per cent, because the quota was not used up this year. When an intelligent man—which Ross Finnie patently is—uses an argument that is patently absurd, one has to ask what he has to hide.

Mr Finnie knows fine well the argument that Robert Stevenson has made that non-active quota held by people who are not fishing will, by definition, not be taken up. There is a huge amount of non-active quota, so it is obvious that there is no chance whatever that the quota on the west coast could be used up. So, for the third year running, Robert Stevenson, Hugh Allan and every other fishing leader is asking the same questions. Did Mr Finnie, as Mr Bradshaw's junior, ask for an increase? If so, did he press for an increase, or was that just a bargaining chip that was thrown away at some point in the negotiations, about which, incidentally, we hear little or nothing.

I refer to comments that fishing representatives have made. Alex Smith said that the deal is "totally unmanageable." Hamish Morrison said, "It is fundamentally flawed." Mike Park said:

"This is a black day for the industry."

Robert Stevenson said:

"'A good deal', 'A successful outcome'?—nothing could be further from the truth."

John Hermse said:

"This is the final straw."

I have spent much of my life representing people who have been made bankrupt. It destroys people's lives, it destroys their spirit and often they lose their home. Is the Executive going to be responsible for putting some of the most successful, proud and law-abiding people into a situation in which they are forced into the plight of bankruptcy by the law and by the Executive's incompetence and duplicity?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 11:33 am, 22nd January 2004

The minister was absolutely correct to outline in his opening contribution exactly what the deal that was negotiated in December means for Scotland's fishermen. The deal was a balanced one and it will benefit many sectors of the Scottish fishing community, while putting in place important measures that will ensure that stocks are conserved and protected properly. With those measures, we will ensure the viability of fishing communities for many years to come. No one is denying that the next few years will be challenging for our fishing communities, but in my view the position adopted and negotiated by Ross Finnie and Ben Bradshaw was absolutely the correct position to adopt. It is also worth noting, as George Lyon said, that the deal that was secured two months ago realised an additional £20 million for our fisherman—a small detail that many members overlook.

I will focus on the prawn quota. I do not doubt that the prawn fishermen on the east coast will welcome and benefit from the quota increase that was secured and which was fought for on the basis of credible scientific evidence. It is unfortunate that there was no such increase for west-coast fishermen. However, in a few weeks' time, scientists from the marine laboratory in Aberdeen are to meet the Western Isles Fishermen's Association in Stornoway, when they will outline details of the up-to-date scientific analysis of the west-coast prawn stocks, which will be a valuable exercise. If the evidence presented demonstrates clearly that the stocks are in a healthier state than the evidence presented in Brussels suggested last December, that would allow us to go back to Brussels and argue why the current quota should be increased.

That is the way to negotiate sustainable increases in quota, rather than conducting cynical sloganising about withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. I noted with interest that Richard Lochhead failed in his contribution to mention withdrawing from the CFP. Perhaps to Richard Lochhead's credit, he now appreciates that that is a completely unrealistic proposition. I welcome Allan Wilson's commitment to sending senior Scottish Executive officials to the meetings in the Western Isles.

I turn to the posturing of the Scottish nationalist party. Last week, the leader of the Scottish nationalist party, John Swinney, urged fishermen to go to sea and break the law—an absolutely irresponsible and outrageous statement for any party leader to make. Mr Swinney simply does not know where to turn on the issues of fishing and fish stocks, so he debases politics and resorts to low-grade political rhetoric, stupidly ignoring scientific evidence, which is highly irresponsible.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I would give way, but I have only one minute left. Mr Swinney is a reasonable man and I am a charitable individual and I want to save him from himself.

If the SNP was a mature and grown-up political party, there would have been an outcry in Scotland about its leader encouraging citizens to break the law. Under normal circumstances, we would of course ask Mr Swinney to consider his position. However, we do not have to do that; we just have to look to the members sitting behind him. Of course, there is the small detail of Alex Salmond's intention to return to the Scottish Parliament. In effect, Mr Swinney is working his notice.

I wish Allan Wilson the very best as he continues his discussions on matters relating to technical issues. As long as I represent the fishing communities of the Western Isles, I will never tell fishermen to go to sea and break the law. We will argue cogently and maturely. We know that sloganising does nothing for the communities that we serve. The fishermen whom I represent understand clearly the process of negotiation and we will engage positively in that process.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 11:38 am, 22nd January 2004

I am increasingly saddened by debates in the chamber and I am particularly saddened by those who think that it is right to come to the chamber and accuse those who are doing their best to fight for the interests of the Scottish fishing industry of somehow trying to stab the industry in the back. It is simply not true that Ross Finnie has done anything to stab the Scottish fishing industry in the back. He has fought tooth and nail to try to ensure that there is a Scottish fishing industry and he continues to do so.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I have only two minutes, so Richard Lochhead can forget it.

Ross Finnie goes to Brussels to try to get the best deal available on the basis of reality, not on the basis of making up slogans and claims that we can withdraw from the common fisheries policy and achieve things that are unachievable. He does not just do that at the fisheries council in December; throughout the past year, he and his officials have been trying to get fundamental changes in how Europe considers fisheries issues in Scotland. Those changes mean getting into spatial management, which the fishing industry wanted, and getting into decoupling the stocks of cod and haddock from prawns, which he has achieved. The prawn issue is important for my community in Pittenweem. It was absolutely essential that we got that decoupling and we now have the increased quota for prawns.

As Ross Finnie said right from the start, there might be unintended consequences of the deal, which the Scottish Executive will continue to investigate and which it will negotiate with the European Commission to address. I want any unintended consequences that make it difficult for my fishermen in Pittenweem to go out and fish the extra quota to be dealt with, and I am confident that Ross Finnie will do that. I do not think that our fishermen in Pittenweem need to threaten to break the law to do that and they certainly do not need support from politicians to break the law.

I support legal methods of campaigning. I am confident that, even in the absence of Ross Finnie, who is in hospital, the Scottish Executive will continue to negotiate to ensure that my fishermen can fish for the extra prawn quota that was successfully achieved in December.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 11:40 am, 22nd January 2004

Members of the Executive parties realise that we have to strike a balance between the sustainability of fish stocks and the aspirations of fishermen. We realise that it would be impossible to satisfy the fishermen's aspiration to be allowed to fish on their own terms. I am well aware of the considerable anxieties of fishing communities whose livelihoods depend on the fishing industry, directly or indirectly—from the crews to the suppliers and the processors. Along with other members, I recognise that they need support in these difficult times. They need better support than the Tories gave to the mining communities or to Easter Ross when the smelter was closed. We have done a lot more to help the fishing communities to get over this difficult time in their existence than the Tories ever bothered to do for those other communities.

We acknowledge the fact that the common fisheries policy was deeply flawed from the start, and we know which party signed up to it. We recognise that, as a result, many fishermen have sought to circumvent it by landing black fish.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Given the fact that the member is closing the debate for the Labour party, I ask her please to address the substance of the debate, which is the new restrictions that apply only to Scotland and which mean that the Scottish fleet will not be able to catch the quota that has been given to us. Will the member please address the substance of the debate?

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I will address that later on.

The problem of black fish being landed has led to infraction procedures. It did not help the fishermen's cause to have a double-page spread in a Scottish newspaper in which the fishermen boasted about their black-fish exploits. It was totally irresponsible of the fishermen and the newspaper to publish that. How do they think that the negotiations were influenced when that information landed on Franz Fischler's desk?

What I find most frustrating is the fact that the scientists and the fishermen put forward totally opposing analyses of the state of the fish stocks. Fishermen have said to me that they do not think that the cod is endangered, and Richard Lochhead says that cod is only in trouble, apparently. Either there is a difficulty with the fish stocks or there is not, and I do not think that anyone should slide over the sustainability of the stocks. The fishermen think that the ecosystem has changed and that the fish have moved inshore, but the scientists do not agree with them. Our fishing policy must be based on scientific advice. We cannot negotiate on the basis of anecdote or gut feeling; we must negotiate on the basis of what the scientists tell us and get the best possible deal in the light of the scientific evidence of the state of the fish stocks.

It is noteworthy that we hear the Tories and the SNP competing again for the fishermen's votes by trying to outdo each other with their anti-European credentials, safe in the knowledge that they will never be in a position to put their money where their mouths are. They raise false hopes for fishermen by calling for renegotiations that cannot happen; they confuse technical adjustments with renegotiation; and they encourage the fishermen to defy European Community law by ignoring the cap on the number of permitted days at sea. The number of permitted days at sea is tightly drawn because the Commission wants to minimise our opportunity for irresponsibility in the interest of cod-stock protection. The Commission has warned us specifically about breaking the rules because we have a reputation for breaking the rules. The action that the fishermen propose to take, egged on by John Swinney, will not further the fishermen's cause but will confirm to the Commission the fact that we care nothing for conservation and will tell against us in the next round of negotiations.

We all want to preserve the fish stocks and to have a fishing industry. The fishermen and the scientists must build bridges with each other, and we must show that we are serious about protecting the fish stocks.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 11:44 am, 22nd January 2004

Since Mr Finnie's statement of 7 January, we have heard a lot about unintended consequences that have been damaging to Scottish fishermen, but what is the intended consequence—the consequence that Mr Franz Fischler and his pals intended? I think that the intended consequence is that the Scottish white-fish fleet will be reduced to a mere 50 vessels—a fraction of its proud, former self—in order to fit neatly into a European fishing fleet that is dominated numerically by Spain and other EU countries. The EU is saying that the UK and Scotland are too advanced, in socioeconomic terms, to be hunter-gatherers any more. A Labour MEP said recently that the fishermen should come ashore and work with computers instead.

The evidence is quite clear that the fleet—which has bent over backwards to adopt more conservation measures than any other fleet in Europe—is still having to bear the brunt of the pain. I am talking about the Scottish fleet, which has been fatally let down by its political representatives once again.

On 7 January, I asked Mr Finnie several questions concerning west-coast fish stocks and the particular problems that are faced by the fishermen on the north-west coast, west of 4° west. His only reply was that cod stocks had shown less recovery on the west coast than on the east coast, which was why there had been quota cuts rather than increases. However, he did not explain why, despite a surplus of monkfish, there has been a savage cut of 73 per cent over the past three years in the monkfish TAC in area VIa—an area that is vital to Scottish fishermen—whereas next door, in area VII, where the Spanish fish, the TAC is up by 32 per cent. He did not explain why, despite the fact that the fattest, bonniest haddocks ever are now being seen around Rockall, there has been a 17 per cent drop in the haddock quota for area VIa whereas, in area VII, where the Spanish fish, the TAC has risen by 156 per cent.

The figures for bycatch for Scottish vessels that fish both in the North sea and off the west coast are misleading. For example, one boat, the Adventurer 2, caught a total of 6.1 per cent cod bycatch in 2002, but the west-coast component of that was only 3.8 per cent. There are separate TACs for the east and west coasts; nevertheless, the vessel was judged to have taken a 6.1 per cent cod bycatch from its fishing activity off the west coast. That is utterly unfair. What makes it worse is the fact that, because the Adventurer 2 was classified as having a cod bycatch of more than 5 per cent in 2002, she will be limited to 15 days' fishing in the waters off the west coast and will have to go into the deep-sea waters beyond the French saithe line.

I ask the minister to do something about the tamper-proof box issue that Ted Brocklebank spoke about. It is vital that the Scottish fleet should continue to fish the deep-sea waters outside the French saithe line according to the same rules as the French fleet—as an open area with no days' restriction—otherwise big, new boats will become bankrupt and communities such as Kinlochbervie will be wiped out.

The present west-coast TACs are so small that they could be taken within five months. What are the fishermen to do for the rest of the year to maintain their boats and the people who depend on them? Despite my previous entreaty to Mr Finnie, I am told that the 100 square miles south of Sule skerry are to be closed for the whole year. That is a massive blow to the Scottish fishermen. Previously, the area was closed for only eight weeks, as it was seen as a cod spawning area, but this year there will be a long closure even though the scientists have said that those eight weeks were a waste of time.

As I have said before, all these disadvantages to the Scottish fleet are aimed at making it small enough to squeeze into the European sardine tin. The only way for us to save our proud fleet is to regain control and management of our waters.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 11:48 am, 22nd January 2004

It is important to identify what some would regard as a cynical exercise by Opposition members, who suggest that achieving technical change and looking closely at the technical regulations are the same as achieving a renegotiation of the entire package. Mr Lochhead should think carefully about the language that he uses, but I suspect that he does not do that. To suggest that the entire package should be renegotiated, rather than concentrate on the specific issues of the white-fish industry is to do a disservice to the business and economic prosperity of the entire fishing industry in Scotland.

This devolved Government is determined to fight for both the short-term and the long-term future of fishing. It is in Scotland's economic interests to have a financially viable fishing industry. As Allan Wilson said, Parliament should not accept the contention that the entire Scottish fishing industry wants the outcome of the December fisheries council to be completely renegotiated. I would not want to tell the pelagic and prawn sectors that we have no agreement on quotas for 2004. I suspect that if Mr Swinney listened to Mr Stevenson's constituents, who are pelagic skippers, they would tell him the same thing.

Ministers understand that the technical regulations as they stand create difficulties in some areas and will cause some white-fish boats financial problems, and that the increase in the haddock quota will be difficult for some parts of the fleet to access, but the devolved Government is addressing those issues in the current talks between the EU and Norway, as Mr Wilson said. Those talks continue as we speak.

Members made some technical points. Ted Brocklebank, Jamie McGrigor and George Lyon talked about the area west of 4° west and the tamper-proof satellite system. Allan Wilson is happy to examine closely those issues, in particular George Lyon's point about the availability of gear.

Richard Lochhead intervened on Robin Harper to talk about juvenile haddock and the fishing of areas of the sea that have been known traditionally as spawning areas. That argument is being used in relation to the geographical boundaries of the cod-sensitive area and the point is significant.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I want to make progress on the technical points.

In discussions and before and during the council, Ross Finnie pressed for an increase for west-coast prawns, and Allan Wilson was part of those discussions. I do not accept Mr Ewing's attack on Ross Finnie's integrity on that point. Mr Ewing should raise his game when talking about how hard Ross Finnie fights for west-coast fishermen and others. Alasdair Morrison was right about that. Alasdair Morrison was also right to say that it is important for science to underpin decisions about that fishery. The Executive will seek to ensure that.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Does Tavish Scott think that Alasdair Morrison was right to say that there is no alternative to the common fisheries policy?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Mr Brocklebank can go on and on about that matter, but I will deal with the issues that I was asked in the debate to address. I am happy to debate those other issues with him any time.

Some problems that relate to the technical measures are likely to remain and ministers will address those issues in the assessment of the socioeconomic impact on ports, fishing communities and fishermen. I give that assurance to George Lyon, Maureen Macmillan, Robin Harper and other members.

I say to Mr Swinney that fishermen do not want to break the law. They want the unintended consequences—those were Iain Smith's words—to be dealt with. From speaking regularly—not just on one Friday, but every week—to fishermen in my constituency, I know that their arguments are based not on politics, but on finance and business viability. The Administration understands those arguments, which apply as much to the processing and shore-side sectors as they do to fishermen and the fish-catching sector.

All fishermen and fishing communities—not just those in Shetland—understand the difference between political posturing and the reality of business decision making. They want to have a viable fishing business, not to be used as a political football.

Last Saturday in Lerwick, I was asked whether the Government wants a fishing industry. Yes was my answer, and yes is the answer of the entire Administration. We will fight for a healthy, financially viable white-fish sector in every port from Shetland to Ayrshire on the west and Eyemouth on the east. As Allan Wilson said, we want an industry in which Scotland's fishermen can genuinely access the increased quota. That is our commitment, on which we will not back down.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 11:53 am, 22nd January 2004

I listened with interest to the debate that preceded this fisheries debate, during which Mike Watson was spot on when he said:

"the SNP has lots of ideas".

We have lots of ideas to support our fishermen and to ensure that there is a fishing industry in years to come.

In a year when haddock stocks are increasing dramatically and an initial recovery has been seen in cod stocks, whose biomass is 30 per cent up from last year, the restrictions on our industry's ability to catch its life-blood in the North sea—fish—are baffling. Even more baffling is the complexity of the fisheries council's decisions.

Gary Masson of the Northern Producers Organisation Ltd gave members of his organisation guidance from which I will quote. He described several examples that it would be worth while to share with members. He gives the example of a white-fish vessel with a 100mm gear that

"intends to fish round the Fair Isle", which is outside the cod protection area. He says:

"It may only do so if it carries a permit on board."

Otherwise, any haddocks that are caught in that area will count against the 20 per cent of the quota that is permitted to be caught in the cod protection area.

If that vessel needed to sail east to catch fish, it would have to sail through the CPA. However, a vessel is not permitted in the CPA if it is carrying a permit, so it must return to Orkney or Shetland where the fisherman can offload his permit before he makes his way to the other fishing grounds. If, on his return, he wishes to fish in the vicinity of the Fair Isle, he must once again collect his permit. That would mean a minimum of half a day wasted in steaming time and would be highly dependent on the presence of a fishery officer.

Gary Masson observes that, by default, all vessels that fish in the North sea will be subject to the permit system. A fisherman must not have a permit on board if he plans to fish inside the cod protection area, even if he catches only monkfish or dogfish. If a fisherman fishes outside the cod protection area, he must have a permit on board, even if he keeps a single box of haddocks, because otherwise, those haddocks must be dumped. Members will understand the perplexity of many fishermen at such complex and difficult regulations.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

That was a wonderful exposition of the permit system. Does the member agree that whether the permit is to fish within or without the cod protection zone, the effect is the same, as the effort is limited within the cod protection zone?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

The problem is that when many of the vessels that do not require or have a permit to catch haddocks, that counts not against the 80 per cent of the quota that is permitted to be caught outside the CPA, but against the 20 per cent that is allowed to be caught in the CPA. I am sure that the minister understands that.

Such a situation leads to discards. We have—rightly—heard the word "conservation" in the debate from many members across the parties. Fishermen are conservationists par excellence. They know that if they do not conserve stocks, their sons and grandsons will have no fish to catch.

The permits are bafflingly complex and require counterintuitive and counterproductive measures. For example, a vessel may not at any time retain on board cod in excess of a limit of 5 per cent. If a vessel fishing for haddocks in the CPA had a first catch of a decent number of cod, that could not be kept against haddocks that would be caught later in the trip. The cod would have to be discarded. That runs counter to the conservation that we earnestly seek.

I will refer briefly to some members' speeches. George Lyon asked for better enforcement. On 6 December, the European Commission congratulated the UK on its enforcement efforts. In fact, Peterhead has more fishery officers than policemen, such is the measure of our effort.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

One is Jim McMurdo.

There is no dispute about stocks, but it is interesting that although the logbook must be used for some legal purposes in connection with the permit, fishermen are not allowed to use the logbook as evidence of what is happening in the catching sector.

Mr Morrison suggested that Mr Swinney was on notice. Mr Morrison had his notice some time ago. He is on the back benches, where he deserves to be. One move more and we will get what we need.

Mr Scott referred to my pelagic fishermen in Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Where was he when they needed a track record to obtain what they needed? He was absolutely nowhere.

I close with an observation on the fishermen's statement that they will break the regulations. If they choose to do so, it is because they have little choice. If we support them in doing so, the reason why is clear. If the choice is between supporting the Executive's shabby deal and supporting fishermen, we will support fishermen every time.