– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 9th December 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:00 pm, 9th December 2004

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2129, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries, and three amendments to the motion.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 3:02 pm, 9th December 2004

In two weeks' time, I will be in Brussels for the annual December fisheries council. There are still some uncertainties. Yesterday, the Commission proposed some radical measures, such as closed areas and fewer days at sea off the west of Scotland. However, the council is a negotiation and, with the support of the new North sea regional advisory council, we can deal with those uncertainties and secure better outcomes for the year ahead. Those outcomes will be better for the marine environment, better for our fishing businesses and better for our fishing communities.

The delayed appointment of Commissioner Borg has caused some problems, but on most issues the Commission has engaged much better and much earlier with all our stakeholders this year. We held workshops with all stakeholders around the country over the summer and into early autumn, and I have consulted a wide variety of Scottish interests. I have intensified effort in the past few weeks by consulting all areas of the industry, by holding a conference in Glasgow, by visiting Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen for a meeting of the north-east Scotland fisheries development partnership, and by meeting west of Scotland fishing interests. I shall also be in Shetland on Monday. The North sea regional advisory council already plays a full and active part in the development of the Commission's proposals and I am delighted that it has been able to engage with the process so quickly and effectively.

I turn to the three Scottish issues for the December council, which are the debate about closed areas, amendments to the effort control regime and—at the top of the agenda—next year's total allowable catches and quotas. My key message is this: despite talk of large closed areas, the general prognosis is much better than was the case in the past two years. We have already secured our objectives in the European Union-Norway talks. Closed areas are unlikely to find support and we expect positive TAC outcomes at the council.

I begin with the proposed closed areas in the North sea and west of Scotland. I make it clear today that my starting point is not the same as the Commission's—I do not accept the scientific rationale on which it has based its proposal. When the Commission first suggested that we would have to choose between fewer days at sea and closed areas, the proposal was based on raw data on cod mortality for 2003 from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas. However, the Commission's scientific advisers have since exposed flaws in those data. We know that the position in 2004 will prove to be much better, not least because of significant Scottish decommissioning in 2003. Therefore, the rationale that underpinned the Commission's proposal when it was made some weeks ago no longer holds good. We do not expect the proposal on closed areas to survive.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Will the minister say how much better he expects the position to be, particularly in relation to cod, given that cod stocks are assessed as being two thirds below the sustainable limit?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will make two points in response to Robin Harper. I oppose the proposal on closed areas specifically because of the location of the areas and the scientific evidence in relation to those areas. As I said to Mr Harper's colleague yesterday at the meeting of the Environment and Rural Development Committee, I am not opposed in principle to restricted or closed areas—nor is the North sea regional advisory council—because we must protect cod. However, I am not prepared to accept a measure whose basis is wrong. I want that to be absolutely clear to members.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I will be happy to give way when I have made a little more progress.

We remain fully committed to cod recovery. Through two rounds of decommissioning, support for effort management and the adoption of technical measures to conserve cod, the Scottish Executive and the Scottish fleet have led the way in reducing pressure on threatened stocks. We should be clear about the fact that more measures might be required. If that is the case, we will act in consultation with the industry and wider stakeholders. The significantly reduced fishing mortality in relation to haddock suggests that the Scottish fishery has come close to the target that was set for it and that large-scale closures are not the answer to bridging the gap that remains.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution also advocates closures. Although I welcome the commission's advocacy of more broadly based marine management, I cannot support a proposal to close an area that represents 30 per cent of the North sea, is unspecific and appears to ignore the international dimension of the fisheries.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

The minister thinks that the proposals on closures no longer hold good. Does he know what other EU member states will do about the matter?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

My view is based primarily on the scientific evidence, but I have had meetings with the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in the Netherlands Government, Cees Veerman, and the relevant Danish minister, who do not—for reasons that are identical to mine—support the proposal as it was presented.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for taking both interventions. Is he aware that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will lobby the European Commission in Brussels this week on its flawed report? Will the minister take action to ensure that European officials are aware of the flaws in the report?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I anticipate that I will be able to compensate you entirely for any time that you give up in interventions, minister.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am obliged to you.

I have made my position clear. We will engage with the European Commission throughout the next two weeks, well before the December fisheries council meeting. We do not object to the principle behind what the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution says, but I repeat that we are concerned about its recommendation on closure of an unspecific area of 30 per cent of the North sea, which ignores the international dimension of the fisheries. We will make our position very clear.

On effort management, the science suggests that incremental change is more appropriate than radical changes such as have been proposed. Further improvements on control and enforcement and perhaps some form of management arrangement can deliver further reductions in cod mortality and keep our white-fish fleet afloat.

The Commission wants to do away with various derogations that lack scientific bases and it wants to introduce administrative sanctions, which would have real-time consequences for people who break the rules and would take an approach similar to that of this year's haddock management regime. We are willing to support such approaches, provided that they are proportionate, deliver the additional days at sea that we secured in the past and introduce additional commonsense flexibilities, such as incentives for fishermen to prosecute sustainable non-cod fishing opportunities and more sensible force majeure provisions.

Such measures have a bearing on the future of our haddock permit regime. Largely because of the proposal on closed areas, the Commission has not proposed continuation of that regime or the associated two extra days at sea. I do not accept that there is a case for cutting the extra days, so we are talking to the industry about whether it wants a successor regime of some sort to help to secure the extra days. Although the details of this year's regime were unpopular, they have been improved and could be improved further.

I turn to TACs and quotas. Our key aspiration is to secure good outcomes on haddock, monkfish and nephrops. On white fish, there are tentative signs of improvement in the North sea cod stock, but it is still well below its safe biological limit and cod stocks to the west of Scotland show no signs of improvement. However, the large reduction in fishing mortality among haddock—an essentially Scottish fishery—demonstrates beyond doubt that we are seeing the benefits of our decommissioning and effort-management initiatives.

On some stocks, we have already delivered. The EU-Norway fisheries agreement, which was concluded last month, envisages no change in the TAC for cod, a 75 per cent increase on whiting, but a 15 per cent reduction on haddock, given that we are now past the high point of the class of 1999. The haddock stock is large but has passed its peak. Norway and other coastal states suggested a cut of some 26 per cent, but the smaller reduction that we agreed balances the short-term financial needs of the industry with prudent harvesting of the stock in the medium term.

On nephrops, the stocks are in good shape and the Commission proposes a welcome increase but, as Fergus Ewing pointed out in his earlier question, we continue to prosecute the case that we have produced evidence that reflects the strong scientific argument by our Fisheries Research Services scientists during the past two years.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I think that the point that I sought to make during questions on the environment and rural development might have been misunderstood. There is some cod bycatch in most types of nephrops fishery, although I argue that it is negligible. However, the concept of the so-called cod association has been introduced into the negotiations and it bases the bycatch on cod that are caught rather on measurement of the total stocks. The association therefore seems to me to be misleading, worthless and inimical to the successful outcome of the negotiations that the minister is entrusted to pursue.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I do not think that we are talking about different problems, although we may be using different words. A year ago, we successfully persuaded the Commission on one-to-one relationships, particularly between cod and haddock, and we have also managed to persuade it that there is not necessarily a direct association. On that issue, we are agreed. What I referred to in my answer during question time—I am sorry if I confused the issue—is the report that is specifically on the west of Scotland, which tried to prove that there is no association. There is no doubt that in much of that area that association is as low as 2.1 per cent, but in certain areas the cod bycatch is as high as 7 per cent. I was simply suggesting that although I am happy to prosecute the case that there is no direct relationship, I cannot entirely ignore science that shows that there is an association of as much as 7 per cent.

On angler fish, we are confident that an increase will be achievable in the North sea and the west of Scotland, but to achieve the optimum increase we must be able to link the TAC increase to better scientific monitoring and management measures in order to prevent an increase in fishing effort on that slow-maturing fish. We are working closely with the industry to develop such measures and we hope to table them at the council.

For the pelagic sector, a 23 per cent reduction in the mackerel TAC for next year was agreed in the EU-Norway talks, but we have successfully negotiated a compensatory increase in the North sea herring TAC and we have successfully resisted Norwegian demands for a higher share of the mackerel fishery. No one welcomes a reduction, but our pelagic fishermen understand that the scientific evidence points in that direction. Problems remain with agreement on long-term management of the blue whiting fishery with all relevant coastal states, but we can also expect an increase in that TAC.

On deep-sea species, scientific advice tells us that many stocks are below their safe limits. The proposal that is on the table is for a number of cuts to TACs. In the long term, we favour effort management in those fisheries, but at council we will need to consider the merits of the short-term management arrangements that are on the table and negotiate accordingly.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Will the minister explain how on earth the Baltic states that joined the EU recently managed to secure quotas for deep-sea species in waters that have traditionally been fished by Scottish vessels, despite the fact that our industry was assured that that would never happen?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

As the member will know, the United Kingdom did not support those allocations. The issue was the amount of allocation that was being brought by the new members, which traditionally would have come from within EU waters. The principle objection by most member states was that the reference period would have given a singular advantage to the new Baltic states; that was then removed. Although all member states have achieved improvements in those Baltic waters, there have been recommendations for substantial reductions in the TACs in those areas; therefore, the impact on the Scottish industry will be minimal.

The emerging council advice tells us that TAC benefits are possible, but I make no apology for repeating that as long as we have a problem with cod stocks, the discussions will always be complex and complicated. They will involve us in interrelated approaches, and we must take account of the interrelated negotiations that have already taken place in Norway and that also take place with states outside the EU. The range of options on the table may be complex and, in the case of closed areas, ill founded, but it offers scope for developing a regime that best suits our twin objectives of stock recovery and sustainable profit in fishing. We have secured a fair deal with Norway, well ahead of schedule. That offers a degree of certainty for our fishermen about the forthcoming council negotiations, which was not present last year.

When we consider the complexity of the issue, and the number of options that do not involve a single member state and that have to be discussed in respect of an international fishery, we see that it is an illusion that repatriating fishing to Britain will be the solution to all the ills. We require to solve the problem of conservation of the marine biological resource on an international basis in order to take account of the way those fisheries are prosecuted and the way the stocks spawn in different parts of the North sea and the Atlantic.

There are difficult issues still to be resolved, but the initiatives of the past few years are beginning to bear fruit. I hope that we are therefore moving into less troubled waters. I assure Parliament that I will do my best to secure the best possible deal for our fishing communities, which will protect our environment while giving our fishermen the opportunity to prosecute stocks in a way that can provide viability to them and their communities.

I urge Parliament to support the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament supports the Scottish Executive in its efforts to negotiate the best possible outcome from the EU Fisheries Council in December 2004, an outcome that delivers sustainable fisheries, sustainable fishing businesses and sustainable fishing communities based on Total Allowable Catches and management controls that are both fair and effective.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 3:18 pm, 9th December 2004

Those of us who represent fishing communities have watched painfully the misery that has been heaped upon Scotland's fishing communities over the past few years. Perhaps one of the most illustrative explanations of the impact that that has had came in answer to the recent parliamentary question that my colleague Rob Gibson asked Mr Finnie. Mr Finnie said that the reduction in the catching sector in Scotland since 1999, when the Government took over fishing, has been 22 per cent, and that the reduction in fish-processing related employment since 1999 has been a massive 54 per cent. That is a stark illustration of the impact that the policies have had on our fishing communities.

Over the past two years, half of our white-fish fleet has been sent by the minister to scrapyards in Denmark. The fleet's time at sea has been cut in half over that period, while successive madcap policies emanating from Brussels have made life impossible for many of our fishermen and have been anti-conservation. Thousands of livelihoods throughout Scotland still depend on fishing, including livelihoods in the catching sector, the processing sector and the onshore sectors. Those people are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the 72 hours of horse-trading that they are in line for in the run-up to Christmas this year. For the first time ever, 25 states will get around the table at the fishing talks. Many of those states are landlocked, and have no fishermen and no real interest in the future of EU fishing policy. However, those countries have more say over the future of our western waters or the North sea than our fishing communities in Scotland have. Neither MSPs nor anyone else in Scotland believes that that is a sensible way to run the fishing industry. It is certainly not the right way to treat those who put their lives at risk at sea to bring food to our tables.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Might not the tax bases of those land-locked states be useful in providing financial support for Scotland's fishing communities?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I would be amazed if the member could point to tax money that comes from those countries to help Scottish fishermen, given that our tax money helps to build new boats for other fleets while we scrap ours. The member should do some research into fishing policy.

We certainly hope that the minister's optimism, which appears to be genuine, bears fruit and is justified, but we remember what happened last year. After last year's talks, the minister triumphantly waved a piece of paper that he said had secured a good deal for Scotland, but he had then to return twice to Brussels with his tail between his legs to renegotiate the deal that he had secured because it had so many strings attached to it that the industry was tied in knots and was unable to take advantage of it. The deal did not give the industry the time or the space at sea to catch the increased quota that the minister claimed to have secured. This year, there must be no unintended consequences of the talks in Brussels. Indeed, it is payback time. Our industry deserves a reward for all the sacrifices that it has made in recent years but which have not been demanded of other fleets that fish for the same stocks in the same waters.

Two conflicting pictures of the state of stocks in the North sea have been painted, so we should put on record the true picture. A picture of doom and gloom has emanated from several reports from so-called authorities. For example, the Downing Street strategy unit, which is Tony Blair's own private unit, not only filled its report with flaws—such as its count of the number of white-fish boats in Scotland—but proposed that the white-fish fleet be cut by another 13 per cent and that 30 per cent of the fleet be tied up for several years without compensation. That would kill the fleet stone dead, so the minister must reject that report.

Another report that has dominated the headlines over the past couple of days is the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report, which is full of sweeping generalisations and out-of-date science. The minister must ensure that Europe is aware that the royal commission's report is full of flaws. It is disgraceful that the report's authors are in Brussels this week to persuade the European Commission to close 30 per cent of Scotland's seas. To play politics in that way with the livelihoods of so many Scots should be condemned by every party in Parliament.

The real picture is actually quite rosy. We must rectify the public perception about fish stocks and give hope to the industry.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Of course I will. The figures are quite clear. Of the 13 common stocks in the North sea, only four are fully fishable. For two, the situation is evens. The others are overfished. In the area that ICES surveyed, the proportion of stocks that remain within safe biological limits fell from 26 per cent to only 16 per cent. In other words, only 16 per cent of stocks are within safe biological limits. Does the member reject the ICES findings? Does he say that ICES has no expertise whatever?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Of course we must take the ICES evidence into account, but the ICES advice is rejected not only by the SNP but by the minister, who said that he questions the figures and that they might be flawed. Even the European Commission has rejected the ICES advice after carrying out its own audit of it. The member should give accurate information so that the people of Scotland have the right perception of the situation in the North sea.

The situation is that haddock stocks are at record levels. The staple white-fish stock for the Scots fleet is at a 30-year high, but only 120 Scottish boats are left in the North sea. All the other boats come from other countries. Prawn stocks are also robust. We need an increase in the prawn quota, given that the minister's scientists and others have proven that the fishery involves a low cod bycatch. The monkfish quota must also be increased dramatically. As we speak, Europe's ludicrous policy makes our fishermen off the west coast and in the North sea throw dead monkfish overboard, despite the fact that it is one of the most valuable species at this time of year—the run-up to Christmas. That is perhaps one of the biggest indictments of the common fisheries policy.

The state of pelagic stocks is also good. We regret the cut in the mackerel catch; indeed, we cannot quite understand why that has happened. Many people in the pelagic sector think that it is a bit of a blow. Generally speaking, those extremely valuable stocks are healthy.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I understand the member's wish to paint a glowing picture, but no one—not even the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries—is saying that we should not take into account the raw data that have been produced by ICES. The Commission asks the committee to review data over a number of years. I accept the STECF report and I also think that Robin Harper is entirely correct. If Richard Lochhead is surprised by the cut in the mackerel catch, it is because he is not reading any of the scientific research that makes it clear that the stock might be under threat. To be frank, his position is untenable. He must acknowledge, particularly with regard to the mixed and white-fish fisheries, that it is very dangerous simply to pick certain fish because there is no connection. That is not what the scientists are saying.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I simply point out to the minister that pelagic stocks are generally healthy, which is why there was a small cut in one quota and an increase in this year's herring quota. I appeal to the minister to ensure that any increase in quota that is secured at the forthcoming talks must go to active sea-going fishermen who make their livelihoods out of fishing the North sea and the waters off the west of Scotland, not to people on-shore who will not go to sea and will simply hold their quota.

As far as fishing management is concerned, all other fish in the North sea appear to be subservient to cod. In that respect, we welcome the rollover in the cod quota, because that is vital for a mixed fishery and to progress in decoupling cod management from other stocks. However, I must point out that some fishermen in the southern North sea who are using 80mm mesh and catching tons and tons of juvenile cod as a bycatch have not been hit by the same draconian measures that our fleet, which uses the biggest—120mm—mesh in the North sea, has been subject to. I hope that, when he winds up, the minister will explain why he has not tackled that issue. Indeed, when I spoke to his senior scientist this morning, he acknowledged that juvenile cod is caught as a bycatch in the southern North sea but could not explain why nothing had been done about it. Given that our fleet has been expected to take all the pain in the northern North sea, that situation is disgraceful.

Although climate change and industrial fishing must be addressed, we have to put the issue of closed areas on the back burner. We cannot have the situation that we had last year. Because ministers wanted to go home early for Christmas, the names of some closed areas in the North sea were written on the back of an envelope and presented to them. The minister fell into that trap last year when he failed to speak to the fishermen who were nervously pacing the corridors outside Parliament and wondering what was going to happen to their livelihoods. He signed on the dotted line and presented those fishermen with an unjustifiable set of closed areas that had to be renegotiated. [Interruption.]

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Closed areas lead to displacement at other points. We have to sit down with the industry, discuss various measures such as real-time closures and reach agreement.

Finally, the minister, who is responsible for 70 per cent of the UK fishing industry, should lead the talks on behalf of the UK in two weeks' time. Too much is at risk for Scotland. He should officially lead that delegation—at the moment he is not even mentioned in the minutes that are produced after each council meeting. Three Belgian ministers and two Danish ministers are acknowledged and only the UK minister appears in the minutes in the list of attendees at the Council of Ministers. This country is western Europe's biggest fishing nation. The situation is a scandal and has to change. Scotland needs to have its own voice at the top table in order to secure a good deal for its fishing communities.

I move amendment S2M-2129.2, to insert at end,

"; recognises the healthy abundance of many stocks vitally important to Scotland, including nephrops, monkfish and the record haddock stocks, and calls for a management regime that provides adequate fishing opportunities for the fleet in light of this encouraging situation; notes that the general state of stocks in Scottish waters demands proper examination in light of up-to-date science and the views of the fishing industry before any further drastic and unworkable management measures are foisted on the fleet; believes that recent events further illustrate the flaws in a Common Fisheries Policy in which many Scots who support sustainable fishing policies have lost faith, and therefore calls for control over our fishing grounds to be returned to Scotland."

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Before I proceed, I want to pass on advice from the sound engineer that even though mobile phones and pagers may be switched to mute they will still cause feedback if they are too near the microphone at which someone is speaking. We believe that that is probably why there was a degree of interference with the sound during Mr Lochhead's speech. Mobile phones should be switched off.


It was the minister.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, I think that it had to be someone who was reasonably close to Mr Lochhead.



Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 3:29 pm, 9th December 2004

I will come on to the motion before Parliament today, but first we must address the context in which the year-end summit is being held. Few less efficient ways of managing a successful and sustainable fishing industry can ever have been conceived than the common fisheries policy. Once again, ministers find themselves facing marathon negotiations into the wee small hours in the dog days of December to try to win for Scotland's fishermen the basic right to earn their living for another year.

There can be few industry analysts anywhere in Europe who do not accept that the CFP is irredeemably flawed. The management system that has presided over the decline and imminent collapse of the UK and Scottish fishing industries has manifestly failed: it has failed scientifically and it has failed in its primary duty to conserve the stock. The CFP has nothing to do with conservation but everything to do with politics. Surely not even Ross Finnie, after all the humiliating climbdowns that he has endured over the years, still believes that the CFP has anything to do with conserving stocks. Any fishing policy that allows the votes of ministers from non-involved and land-locked countries to be cast against the interests of the relevant maritime nations is about politics. Those are the politics of Tammany Hall. What goes on at the December summit in the halls of the Justus Lipsius edifice in Brussels borders on the corrupt.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I know that Ted Brocklebank has been a close attender at those meetings in Brussels over many years. Can he tell me how many land-locked nations have made serious contributions to discussion of any fisheries policy over the past five years? More important, in relation to conservation, given that the cod problem has been with us since 1992, can he outline in detail the active steps that the Conservatives took from 1992 onwards to deal with the problem? The answer is that they did nothing.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I will answer both those questions. First, the situation is that the votes of the land-locked countries automatically go back to the Commission so, whatever is voted on, their votes are with the Commission. Ultimately, their votes work against the countries that have a direct interest.

Secondly, on what the Conservatives managed to achieve after 1992, in all our attempts to take action we were hamstrung by the CFP, which Ross Finnie tries to defend.

The Conservatives cannot repeat too often that the only hope of restoring British fishing grounds to commercial viability, in the interests of all fishermen, including those in the foreign fleets, lies in returning control to the United Kingdom Government and to the Scottish Executive and in the introduction of new management regimes.

Potentially the richest fishing grounds in the northern hemisphere lie around the coast of Scotland. The Scottish sector, even in its sadly reduced state, represents two thirds of the UK fishing industry, but year after year our fishery minister has to trail along on the coat tails of his Westminster counterpart. His undignified role is to beg an unelected dictatorship in Brussels to grant Scottish fishermen the right to earn a living from their own coastal waters. Could anything be more degrading?

As our fishing fleet continues to be broken up, the fleets of our competitors continue to grow. In the period from 2000 to 2006 the Spaniards will have received €367 million to build up their fleet, which is already bigger than those of all the other member states put together. That is happening at the same time as the Scottish white-fish fleet is being cut in half. Could anything be more unfair?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Is Ted Brocklebank seriously suggesting that when the Scottish entitlement to white-fish catching in the North sea—which is also associated with the endangered cod stock—is 70 per cent, the Conservatives would continue to allow the Scottish fleet to fish and fish and build more boats, although cod stocks are under so much threat?

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

The minister's question is a fair one. I accept some of the logic of what he says but the hard fact is that for fairly spurious reasons, based on fairly spurious scientific advice—let us not call that advice spurious; let us call it narrow—we have gone down a road that has led to communities throughout the north-east of Scotland being brought to the edge of bankruptcy.

The Conservatives wish the minister all success in achieving the best possible outcome for Scotland's fishermen at this year's talks—I hope that the outcome includes an increase in days at sea. We note his public statements that the proposed swingeing cuts in cod fisheries and total closure of key North sea grounds will be opposed "unreservedly", and I am delighted to hear the further assurances that he has given today. However, does such bluster not give us a sense of déjà vu? Have we not been down the same road many times before? Are we not seeing the same ritual dance that we see year after year, as agency upon agency bombards us with negative statistics in the weeks running up to the summit? Year after year, suitably softened up, our negotiators emerge from the ruins of another December summit clutching a few minor concessions that they then parade as victory in our time.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

No, I do not think so.

A couple of weeks ago, the leader of our biggest fishery association told me that he thought that this year's talks would be non-confrontational—a bit of a damp squib—that the new commissioner, Joe Borg, would want to play himself in and that we could look forward to the best settlement in years.

As we have heard, there is every reason to expect a good settlement this year, especially in light of the fact that the fleet is now only half its original size. The three main species that the Scottish fleet pursues are in robust health. Nephrops are now the most valuable catch. The numbers of haddock, the mainstay of the white-fish fleet, are at record highs. Monks, too, are in abundance. Only cod—according to science that the minister accepts is dated—still causes some concern. As it is difficult to target other species without also taking cod, yet again argument at this year's summit will rage round the question whether some of the North sea's most productive areas for those other species should be restricted to safeguard cod.

The hard fact is that any decisions that relate to cod in the North sea are of direct interest to only two member countries—the United Kingdom and Denmark—but the final decisions will be voted on by ministers whose countries have no direct interest in those stocks. What is worse, the ministers of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg and Slovakia will be involved in that process.

Last year, the industry was forced to accept a ludicrous permit system, which meant that our fishermen were forced to waste precious days at sea steaming back and forth to obtain permits whenever they proposed to enter the restricted cod zones. Now we hear that a similar system is proposed for nephrops. It is little wonder that the fishermen of Pittenweem and other ports that must now rely entirely on the prawn fishery feel beleaguered and bewildered. The minister has indicated that some areas might get a 12.5 per cent increase in quota, but the stocks could probably sustain a 25 per cent increase. The real problem is that, with restrictive and pointless permits, prawners may well be prevented from catching the new quota.

One of what the minister described as the unintended consequences of last year's settlement was that the haddock quota simply could not be caught, because there were not enough days at sea to allow it to be caught.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You are in your last minute, Mr Brocklebank.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I am glad that the minister accepts that haddock permits must go. He must resist any attempts to introduce prawn permits.

Although the minister says that he will fight this year's proposed cuts "unreservedly", the truth is that he and Ben Bradshaw can talk themselves hoarse at the December summit, but the final deal will be cut in time-honoured EU fashion, by ministerial horse-trading—probably over matters that have nothing to do with fisheries—as the clock ticks away towards Christmas eve.

That is not the way that things have to be. The three most successful fishery nations in the northern hemisphere have one thing in common: Norway, Iceland and the Faroes do not belong to the CFP. I have met their representatives and they tell me that they would never consider joining it. Before 1972, the UK had no problems at all in managing a sustainable fishery. Things could be that way again.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, I have already called his last minute.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

The Labour and Liberal parties refuse to take us out of a discredited management system; the SNP cannot. The only party that can achieve withdrawal from the CFP is the Conservative party. Let there be no doubt that, sooner rather than later, that is precisely what we will do.

I move amendment S2M-2129.1, to leave out from "an outcome" to end and insert:

"urges the Minister for Environment and Rural Development to secure higher quotas and more days at sea to secure a future for our fishermen and their coastal communities, accompanied by an end to the discredited haddock permit scheme with no new restrictions for the nephrops sector, and calls on the Executive to support the view of the vast majority of Scottish fishermen that it is time to end the discredited Common Fisheries Policy and to regain national control of UK waters".

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 3:39 pm, 9th December 2004

I start with a quotation:

"Fish stocks must be maintained within safe biological limits ... we must protect and, if possible, enhance fish stocks in order to secure the long-term future of the industry."

That statement was made by the Executive. On this occasion we will be supporting ministers, although we have lodged an amendment in which we ask them to go further.

Fishing represents one of the clearest sustainability tests of this century. If fish stocks collapse, fishing communities collapse and our economy collapses. That delicate house of cards is continually undermined by politicians fishing for votes.

If we cannot sort out fishing, God help us when we come to tackle climate change. For more than 20 years, politicians throughout Europe have consistently ignored scientific recommendations and annually approved more fishing than can be sustained. Politics is failing the environment and the people who depend on it. The obvious solution is to rebuild the natural resource, take the pressure off the fish and provide adequate support for communities during the recovery period. Those are the issues that we should be debating.

Scottish fishermen have made great strides in pioneering conservation measures. The North sea regional advisory council is showing how the new CFP is changing and how power is being devolved. I am heartened by the statement to MSPs last week that, in principle, the RAC is open to the idea of closed areas, which is a good step forward.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member said that power has been devolved under the CFP. Will he say how that has happened, because there is no evidence for it?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Is Richard Lochhead honestly saying that he does not welcome the RAC? The creation of that body is an extremely important move. For the coming year, the RAC has adopted the priority of considering closed areas, which we should welcome. Fishermen make up 66 per cent of the composition of the RAC—it is an example of power being given back to the fishermen through reform of the CFP. We will not reform the CFP by leaving it.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Sorry, but I need to make progress.

Closed areas have worked elsewhere. Some were initially opposed by fishing communities but then won their support because of the increased catches near the boundaries. However, closed areas would have to be part of an integrated package of measures, especially ones that aim to manage displaced fishing effort. Closed areas are not a panacea, but they are an important tool in the box and one that we need to learn how to use fast. We do not have to look to the other side of the world; closer to home, the UK's first statutory no-take zone, which is off Lundy, has been a huge success. However, the Minister for Environment and Rural Development has stated that he will oppose the European Commission's proposed closed area "unreservedly". He is clearly not saying that there is no evidence that stocks are in trouble, but is he saying that there is no evidence that closed areas benefit the fishing industry? The closure of the North sea cod fishery in 2001 led ICES to conclude that the area needed to be larger and in place for longer. Surely that is clear evidence that we need to revisit the idea, not throw it overboard.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I ask the member not to misrepresent what I said; I said that the European Commission's specific proposal on a particular closed area—the scale and location of which is not supported by the scientific evidence—is inappropriate and will not be supported. I have never said that I would close my mind to the sort of policies that Mark Ruskell mentioned.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I thank the minister for that clarification of the word "unreservedly". I hope that he will work constructively with the North sea RAC in the coming year on its priority of re-examining specific areas that could be closed, which is the way forward.

The monitoring and policing of fisheries is critical if we are to support conservation efforts. We would like on-board observers on the spectrum of boats that fish in European waters, not only on Scottish boats. The white-fish fleet has said that it is willing to carry independent observers. We should support the minister in, and hold him to, his statement from last year, when he said:

"I do not want in any way to underestimate the importance of effective and consistent enforcement across the European Union."—[Official Report, 10 December 2003; c 4066.]

As well as satellite monitoring, we need real-time observers. With a bycatch quota, we could take a step away from discard madness and start to reduce illegal landings, while enabling fishermen to improve their catch and the price that they receive for it. Once again, monitoring and policing would be a crucial part of such a measure.

Fishing communities need money to shelter them from the storm while the stocks recover fully. They must have a bigger support package, which means that the Scottish ministers must argue hard with HM Treasury to draw down more of the cash that is available for socioeconomic support for communities. Whether that affects the UK rebate is a side issue. Political will and commitment are needed. For example, it may just be possible to use moneys from the financial instrument for fisheries guidance or future European fisheries fund moneys on a Europe-wide basis. We should explore and argue for that option.

The Executive has so far resisted the despicable short-termist approach to fishing of the SNP and the Tories. I urge the minister to hold a firm course and move rapidly towards adopting all the measures that will give the people and the seas a future.

I move amendment S2M-2129.3, to leave out from "based" to end and insert:

"; notes the North Sea Regional Advisory Council's opinion that 'the concept of a partially closed or restricted access area in the North Sea is not ruled out in principle', and calls on the Executive to make proportionate use of closed areas, on-board observers and bycatch quotas in addition to existing management controls in furtherance of its aim to maintain the sustainability of fish stocks at the heart of the strategic agenda for fisheries, as stated in the Strategic Framework for the Scottish Sea Fishing Industry and, with UK and European counterparts, to seek the necessary resources and investment required to support these measures and fishery-dependent communities while fish stocks recover."

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 3:45 pm, 9th December 2004

Every year at this time, we gather in the chamber to wish the Minister well in his negotiations in Brussels on next year's fishing quota—at least, that is what most of us do, if with differing levels of enthusiasm—and every year it seems that that year's negotiations are particularly crucial. However, in the context of the controversial debate about the sustainability of stocks and of the particularly radical measures being proposed by the European Commission, it is clear this year's negotiations are especially key.

For the north-east of Scotland, it is vital that the industry's future is secured, not just from the point of view of the economic viability of the industry, but because of the social impact that it has. Nine of the 10 areas with the most deprivation in Aberdeenshire are places that are dependent on fisheries. Fish processors in the city of Aberdeen, who face particularly challenging market conditions, will also be looking keenly for ministers to achieve the right outcomes from these negotiations. That is why it is essential for the positive signs of stock recovery in some key fisheries to be accounted for in the new quotas. That is also why I was heartened to see the statement yesterday by the minister in which he restated the Executive's opposition to closing to fishing activity areas of the North sea in which there is no evidence of conservation benefit.

The minister is right to state that proposals on closed areas have already been overtaken by the advice from the Commission's technical advisers and that they fly in the face of representations by the newly formed North sea regional advisory council.

I am pleased that it is from this position that the minister goes into the negotiations because, as always, the Commission's proposals are only a starting point. Of course, some of the proposals are not unhelpful, particularly the proposal on increases in the whiting and herring quota. I am pleased to see that the minister will be pressing the case for increased quotas on monkfish and prawns. Other sensible measures include the controls in mixed fishing grounds to avoid the taking of cod as a bycatch. Indeed, progress on minimising bycatch is another reason why closing off grounds is not necessary.

Sensible measures to ensure that stocks are kept at sustainable levels are, of course, not only justified but necessary. Those measures have been painful but have been aimed at securing a long-term future for the fishing industry.

I want to stress that such measures have to be taken while preserving the viability of the industry, which is why I welcome Ben Bradshaw's response to the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. He made it clear that he does not agree with all of its proposals for closures and argued that more time should be given to allow the measures that have already been imposed to have an impact. There should be a shared view that we need to balance the conservation and recovery of stocks with the maintenance of a viable industry following the reduction in effort that the industry has already had to undergo.

Once again, it is members on the Executive benches who have taken that approach while others, for a variety of political motivations, have taken views at the extreme ends of the spectrum in the debate. Yet again, the SNP has managed to contradict itself in the space of one amendment. It says that it supports sustainable fishing policies but opposes the CFP, when achieving that is exactly what the CFP seeks to do, and constantly goes out of its way to ignore scientific advice.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Can the member explain how the CFP policy that was implemented in 2001, when the cod area was closed and the Scottish fleet was forced to capture the immature haddock stocks, was a pro-conservation policy? If the fleet had not voluntarily tied up in 2001, we would not have the bumper haddock stock that we have today.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Mr Lochhead is distorting the reality of the situation. The SNP has no proposals that will provide a framework for the sustainable management of fisheries. The CFP is the best solution—in fact, it is the only workable solution—to the problem of creating sustainability in the market.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I am interested that Richard Baker portrays the CFP as being the only game in town. Is that realistic? The three most successful fishing countries in the northern hemisphere are all outwith the CFP. The complaint that we have about the CFP is that it has failed in the very thing that it was set up to do. Over 30 years, it has failed to conserve the stocks.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

I do not agree with Mr Brocklebank. We are saying that reform of the CFP is the only show in town because it is the only way in which we can create a viable industry in the future. Having a free-for-all in the North sea will kill off the industry, which will do nothing to help the people that Mr Brocklebank pretends to represent in the chamber.

The Tories, who, if anything, have an even more reckless approach to sustainability and the future of the industry, now advocate withdrawal from the CFP, but on this occasion their original position was the correct one. Their new-found opposition to the CFP is based on opportunism and anti-Europeanism rather than on creating a sustainable fishing industry; it is an utterly unrealistic policy that would require our withdrawal from the European Union, which no doubt would please some of their members. However, it is disappointing and staggering to see them now aided and abetted by the SNP in that agenda, under which the parties would oppose the new constitution on the basis that it simply confirms Europe's existing powers on fishing policy.

Towards the other end of the spectrum, there were a lot of positive things in Mark Ruskell's speech. However, I sound a note of caution: when we consider further proposals we must always balance measures for faster stock recovery with ensuring that we can sustain a viable fleet, so that when stocks have recovered, there is a fleet to fish them. It is important to strike the right balance, which I think the Executive has done. I welcome the support that Mark Ruskell said that the Greens would give the Executive motion.

The Executive is taking the rational position in this debate by working for the best deal for fishermen, which will come through the CFP. The framework enables us to take the measures needed to ensure that we have a thriving fishing industry in generations to come. Of course, the framework can be improved; that is what we are working towards and what the Executive is doing by successfully arguing for greater local management of fisheries. We have now had the first, successful meetings of the regional advisory councils. I hope they have an influence on decision making. What they said recently will influence the decisions in Brussels in December, which would undoubtedly bolster the minister's arguments in the negotiations.

From what we have heard this afternoon it is clear that the minister has exactly the right aims and approach to the negotiations as he sets out to get the best deal for the Scottish fishing industry. Of course success in the talks in Brussels is crucial. I offer best wishes to the minister as he embarks upon them and I commend his motion to Parliament.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 3:52 pm, 9th December 2004

I want to make three brief points about the importance of the fishing industry to my constituency, the realities of the 2004 management regime and the need for change and improvement in the regime following the fisheries council that will take place a week on Monday.

Despite the massive economic change in Shetland in recent years, it is still highly dependent on fishing. The islands retain an economic and, importantly, social belief in the industry, and in a diversified economy they need a financially viable inshore, white-fish and pelagic fleet. On the pelagic side, in the past three to four years, £100 million of private capital has been invested locally in the renewal of the pelagic fleet and processing industry, principally at the Shetland Catch factory. That is a sign of confidence and sends the simple message that fishing can be sustainable and financially viable. However, it must be built on a solid and positive relationship between industry and Government—an industry that has the confidence to invest in its renewal and a Government that provides the environment in which it can prosper. That is the approach that I want for all sectors, not just in the Shetland industry but in the industry throughout Scotland.

I need look no further than Norway. The minister mentioned in his opening remarks the EU-Norway negotiations that have just concluded. Scotland's industry-Government relationship must always recognise that the Norwegians' approach is focused totally on the commercial interests of their catching and processing sectors. It is a hard commercial approach that supports the industry. The recent Norwegian prosecution, which the minister mentioned, of the blue whiting species in international waters has not been based on conservation but on the construction of an international track record based on the needs of the Norwegian catching and processing sectors.

The proposed 23 per cent cut in the mackerel quota could be extremely serious for the Shetland pelagic industry. I can only speculate as to why the Norwegians proposed even further cuts in the quota for 2005. For pelagic quotas, just as with white-fish quotas, there is an overwhelming case for a longer-term approach to quota management, say over a three-year period. That would be better for boats, processors and fishery managers, and there is surely a role in that for the North sea regional advisory council, which a number of members have mentioned. Therefore I strongly suggest to our ministers that, particularly on the pelagic front, we understand the hard-nosed commercial reality of the Norwegian negotiating position and of everything that the Norwegians do in their approach to the industry.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

Does that not underline the argument that the Conservatives make? Norway has the luxury of being able to manage its own stocks; it can look ahead.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Norway has to negotiate with all member states and with the European Union on fishing matters. The idea that, as Mr Lochhead and Mr Brocklebank seem to believe, after complete constitutional change, all would be well and everything would naturally fall into our hearts and, more to the point, our fishing nets is a fallacy.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

No, I will not give way on that point. The reality is that, in international waters, EU waters or even in the inshore sector, such matters still need to be negotiated. To suggest that those negotiations would just finish is an absolute nonsense, but that is the fallacy that Mr Brocklebank and Mr Lochhead continually try to represent to the fishing industry in Scotland.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

No, I will not give way. Mr Lochhead has had his say, and he did not have much to contribute to the debate if his most damning criticism of Ross Finnie today was that the minister's name was not in the minutes of the Council of Ministers meetings.

Shetland is at the heart of the northern North sea's fishing grounds and must have—indeed, needs—the right to prosecute those fisheries. The 2004 regime, which is based on days at sea and the haddock permit scheme, has been all but impossible for the local fleet in the northern isles. Shetland boats are in the bizarre circumstances of achieving higher gross earnings during 2004 but even worse net financial positions than before. Because of the permit scheme, local boats have had to lease in entitlement to fish and entitlement to go to sea. It is therefore important that the permit scheme has no future and will not exist in 2005.

Ross Finnie's important role a week on Monday is to secure the best possible outcome in the EU fisheries council, and he has my whole-hearted support in achieving that objective. I know that he understands the Shetland fleet's needs—indeed, he will be in Shetland on Monday—but the important point is that Shetland must not be picked out, however unintentionally, by a botched management regime that hits the local boats' financial viability. Therefore, before Christmas, we need quota levels—particularly on monkfish—that can assist in ensuring financial viability in 2005, a regime that allows Shetland boats to fish without unreasonable and disproportionate regulations and a package that gives the men and those who depend on them a reason to look forward to 2005 with confidence.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 3:58 pm, 9th December 2004

I make no apology for addressing solely the nephrops fishery on the west coast of Scotland. Yesterday, the Commission's opening position was revealed and, under that position, the nephrops quota for the west coast would rise by 12.4 per cent. I hope that the minister will tell us why it would rise by that percentage, because the fishermen do not know and they need to know. However, that increase would simply take us back to the TAC of 2000, before the 10 per cent reduction, which should be reinstated—we have argued every year—on the basis of the facts, because the science shows that prawns are in plentiful supply.

The Mallaig and North West Fishermen's Association has asked me to ask Ross Finnie to build on the opening position and seek a further increase, which it believes to be fully justified by the science. Mallaig is a community in which almost nine out of 10 people depend on fishing, and prawns are now the most valuable fishing stock in Scotland, but they do not receive the attention that white fish receives. Of course, we are concerned about fishing interests everywhere, but there has been a misunderstanding and the Commission has taken a flawed approach. That must be addressed in the negotiations. I am confident that the minister will seek to address that and I make my remarks in the hope that they will be taken as an entirely positive contribution to that effort.

In November, I attended with John Hermse and a representative from the Clyde Fishermen's Association a meeting with Ken Patterson of the Commission—I gather that John Farnell was ill that day. It emerged that the Commission has been too quick to accept the advice of ICES on the west of Scotland stock. I suppose that the Commission has been effective in reducing fishing effort on stocks that it considers to be in danger, but healthier stocks have been subject to unjust restrictions that are not required by the science or the facts.

Where have the flaws occurred? The most recent evidence on the level of stocks on the west coast, which was taken by camera, showed that nephrops stocks have increased by 30 per cent—not the 12.4 per cent increase that has been granted in the quota. That camera evidence was rejected for the west coast, but I am told that for Fladden in the North sea last year, the same method of taking evidence was accepted. If it was valid last year, why is it said to be unsafe this year? I hope that we can get to the bottom of that, as we need to. If prawn stocks have increased by about one third, the Commission's approach has no justification.

My main point is that a serious misunderstanding of the bycatch issue has occurred. As the minister knows, there are two types of nephrops fishery: the inshore directed creel fishery, which has no cod bycatch whatever, and trawlers, which account for 75 per cent of the nephrops stock and have a cod bycatch of 2 per cent, as the minister said. However, boats that seek white fish also have a nephrops bycatch. Therefore, the fundamental flaw for me and Robert Stevenson of the West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation is that the Commission assumes that the nephrops fishery is mixed, which it is not. That flaw has led to the difficulty—to which the minister referred—of the bycatch rate being regarded in some areas as much higher than is the true bycatch of the nephrops sector.

I hope that I have explained that properly. The issue may seem technical and I know that not everybody here necessarily spends all day studying such matters. As members can imagine, it took me some time to understand it. If, as Robert Stevenson of the West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation argued, a simple misunderstanding of the nephrops fishery has occurred and if, as ICES should accept, the size of the nephrops fishery has increased by 24 per cent, surely it is time for the minister to argue in his negotiations from the standpoint of the fishermen's representatives. I hope and imagine that he will. I am afraid to say that I have more confidence if he, rather than Mr Bradshaw, leads the negotiations.

I invite the minister to consider seriously those points, which Robert Stevenson and I have made in writing. I hope that we will receive an answer before the negotiations take place, if that is possible. Most important of all, fishermen do not want subsidies. That is the non-solution that Mr Ruskell proposed. Fishermen want to fish. When it is right to fish and the science says that no threats to fish stock exist, they should fish.

I urge the minister to listen carefully—as I know he will—to the good counsel, solid advice and actual knowledge and experience of Robert Stevenson and of John Hermse and his ilk, who represent Scotland's fishermen. If he does so, I am confident that we will have a better deal for the west coast of Scotland, because the case is based on science, fact and argument. The Greens' comments about the approach of politicians do only themselves a disservice.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:04 pm, 9th December 2004

During yesterday's Environment and Rural Development Committee meeting, I asked Mr Finnie why Iceland and the Faroes have such healthy fishing industries while our fishing industry is in such an unhappy state. He told me that my synopsis was untrue, as the Scottish pelagic industry was doing well. If I may say so, that answer was a red herring. We all know that the pelagic fleet fishes shoals of herring and mackerel all over the oceans—they have a vast scope of fishing territory. Moreover, the CFP management system of TACs and quotas works okay for pelagic fish, which swim in shoals, but it is a disastrous way of managing a mixed white-fish fishery in which different species swim together. I was referring to our white-fish, bottom-trawled industry, which is vital to the people in the north-east and the people of Scotland as a whole.

We and Scottish fishermen do not believe that overfishing has been the main reason for the decline in cod stocks. A list of predators of fish stocks shows that other fish are the most prolific predators, and whales, cetaceans and seals come second. Seabirds such as gannets and cormorants take by far the greatest quantity of biomass. Fishermen take a small percentage in comparison. Why were those figures not included in the astonishing report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which painted Scottish fishermen in a poor light? Why did not that commission concentrate its efforts on the genuine problems from pollution from the Rhine and the Ruhr, which is pouring into the south of the North sea? That pollution may well be a factor in driving cod further north. Why did it not make more of the high quota for industrial fishing? For days, the media have concentrated on that damning report, which is not so much about conservation, but seems to follow a political agenda to ban fishing altogether. At this particular time, the report will severely reduce Ross Finnie's case if he is to support our fishing industry in Brussels.

The report actually suggests that people should stop eating fish. The UK consumes upwards of 150,000 tonnes of cod every year, but less than 5 per cent of that is taken in British waters—the rest comes from Iceland, Norway and the Faroes. I point out to anybody who is worried about a world shortage of cod that Faroes cod catches are up nearly 40 per cent. Of course, the Faroes have never been affected by a common fisheries policy. Are not they lucky?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Not just yet.

Mr Finnie attempts to ridicule the idea that a Conservative Government could withdraw from the CFP and Richard Baker says that we would have to leave the European Union if we did so. That is another red herring. European countries with specific core interests that are being damaged sometimes have to flex their muscles. For example, France and Germany have consistently breached the growth and stability pact, which is a core European treaty requirement. They have not been expelled from the EU and neither would we be if we stood up for our fishing industry and pointed out to the rest of Europe that our fishing industry is a core industry that is being devastated by the wrong system of management.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

No, not now.

How does Mr Finnie think that Iceland managed to achieve its territorial waters? It stood up for itself against mighty opponents, just as David stood against Goliath. I do not need to remind members who won those contests. The fact is that Labour and the Liberals want to take us out of the CFP.



Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I am sorry. The fact is that Labour and the Liberals won't take us out of the CFP. The SNP cannot take us out of the CFP, but the Conservatives can and will take us out of it. We should not be timid and scared about standing up for our fishing industry. We should tell the truth about the real reasons for the industry's problems and set about tackling the root cause without further delay.

Mr Finnie's motion mentions

"management controls that are ... fair".

Will he please do something about the unfair situation that is faced by fishermen who fish the west of four area, whose quotas—especially for monkfish—have been unfairly slashed although the stocks appear to be perfectly healthy? Does he know that the Apollo Creed, which is Scotland's newest fishing vessel, was recently forced to fish 240 miles to the west of Ireland because she had used up her pathetic quota and had nowhere else to fish? In those far-offshore and highly dangerous waters, she was hit by a gigantic wave and sustained more than £500,000 worth of damage. Members of the crew were lucky not to lose their lives. That they had nowhere else to fish and that they should be forced into danger is not fair, especially when one considers that the monkfish quota in area 7—which, incidentally, the Spanish fish—had been greatly increased.

When Mr Finnie is in Brussels, will he or Mr Bradshaw kindly point out that the 11.5 per cent increase—or 12,700 tonnes—in the prawn quota that is suggested by the fisheries research service is the minimum increase and that there is ample science to show that we could allow for an increase of at least 15,000 tonnes? Will Mr Finnie demand that increase? While he is about it, will he point out that the derogation that applies to the west coast and North sea prawn vessels that caught less than 5 per cent of cod, sole and plaice has astonishingly disappeared from the regulation? It was there in 2004 and now it has gone without any explanation. That is a scandal.

It will be interesting to see whether Mr Joe Borg takes any notice of the opposition of the North sea regional advisory council to the Commission's proposals for a number of closed areas. That will be a test of the effectiveness of regional advisory councils. At least Mr Borg comes from Malta, an island community, and it is to be hoped that he will understand the fishing industry better than did his predecessor Mr Fischler, whose fanatical obsession with the cod recovery plan damaged our fishermen so much.

I wish Mr Finnie the greatest possible good fortune in his pilgrimage to Brussels. I remind him that Mr Borg will probably know more about lampuki than he will about haddock, but anything will be better than more red herrings.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 4:11 pm, 9th December 2004

If today's debate shows anything, it shows the extent to which we should be examining some of the science and engaging with the difficult issues in front of us.

Scientific analysis is difficult, because we must ensure that we are not just looking at a snapshot from two or three years ago. We need to look for a long-term, sustained approach. If we are to take the precautionary approach—it is difficult to deny that that is the right way—we must get the science right. That will lead to difficult discussions among people who are much more expert than some of us on exactly what is happening to our fish stocks.

I accept that it is hard to get the balance right and to know which parts of the scientific advice are the most important in a given year so that we can decide how to take a long-term approach. Richard Baker made some thoughtful comments about the need to juggle our economic interests, the interests of the fishing sector and the interests of the different geographical areas that some members round the chamber have talked about. Fergus Ewing made comments about the north-west and Richard Baker talked about the north-east. The ministers have different issues to juggle up.

The other perspective is biodiversity and the marine interests in the North sea.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No; I am just getting started.

Our challenge is that it is quite complex to work out what is happening. It is clear that progress is being made in the stocks of haddocks, saith and prawns. Cod is beginning to recover, but it has not yet recovered. At the same time, there is some very bad news out there, on which members have not focused so much.

One of the issues that the Environment and Rural Development Committee considered this week was the impact of industrial fisheries on sand eels. Although those industries have quotas, they are nowhere near being able to fish those quotas because the sand eels are not there. I am almost trying to lower the temperature of the debate, but when we examine the real problem, we see that it is not just overfishing and heavy industrial fishing. The scientists are beginning to identify that rising sea temperatures are hampering the recovery of stocks.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Does the member share my grave concern at the huge over-catching of other species, particularly cod, by the Danish industrial fishery, which is far in excess of that which we are permitted to catch legally?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

That is an interesting point. We are focusing on the responsibility of our fishing industry to abide by the measures to which Ross Finnie signs up, when we should be considering what other fishing nations are doing. We should be critical if they are going beyond the targets that have been set, whether they are Norwegians or Danes. There is a need for transparency and fairness in the process.

That takes me to my next point, which is about negotiations in Europe. I have sat through the debate in the same way as other members have done. The process is not perfect and the outcomes are often not perfect either, particularly from our perspective. However, I do not see that there is a serious alternative to that kind of negotiation. It does not matter to me whether the discussions are held in December or June; at a certain point in the meetings, someone has to draw a halt. A decision has to be made and the challenge that faces Ross Finnie and Ben Bradshaw is to argue our case as effectively as possible. To call the process unfair and to say that it is a ridiculous diversion is totally unrealistic. The alternative proposition that has been put to us today by the SNP is to remove us from the CFP and have a Scottish management regime. The Tories would remove us from the CFP and have a British regime.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I will not give way. Ted Brocklebank has had an opportunity to speak.

Neither the SNP nor the Tories have gone into the issue in detail and told us exactly how different the regime that they propose would be. There is no way that we could take a responsible international approach without talking to other countries. At least the CFP allows us to sit down to discuss and hammer out the issues. The challenge for the chamber is to be clear that changing the nature of, and the players in, the negotiations would not absolve us from having to work with our fishing industries and communities to ensure that, when measures are imposed, they have the ability to implement them, and that, crucially, other nation states are doing the same and acting fairly.

As Mark Ruskell and the minister indicated, part of the solution is the long-term development of the regional advisory councils. The councils allow us to have input from communities that are involved in fishing and to have detailed debates with those who carry out monitoring.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No. I am in my last minute and must conclude.

Today's debate has shown us that in some ways we are poles apart. If we let the constitutional issue get in the way of discussing what is happening in our oceans, we will get headlines and great soundbites. However, that will help neither the fishing industries nor the communities that depend on them. Nor will it address the fact that we know that difficult things are happening to stocks in the North sea. Some stocks are getting better because of past effort, but some are still getting worse. One of the problems with the evidence is that it does not give us easy answers or solutions.

I wish Ross Finnie and Ben Bradshaw all the best in the negotiations. I hope that when they return we will receive a report from the minister, either in the chamber or in the Environment and Rural Development Committee, and that we will be able to examine the solutions that have been identified this year. This is a difficult question. Focusing solely on the constitutional issue is an abdication of responsibility for dealing with the real difficulties that the debate throws up.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:17 pm, 9th December 2004

This is the third fishing debate in which I have taken part. Each time there are the same worries and the same threats to our fishing communities, reaching their annual peak just before Christmas. I do not agree with Sarah Boyack that the constitutional issue is a distraction. It is at the heart of why Scotland is impotent in protecting its fishing industry.

The CFP is a cyclical disaster. It has been operational since 1983 and is an anachronism. I am sorry that Ted Brocklebank is not here, because jurisdiction and sole competency over fishing was signed away in 1971 by the Tories. A recent civil service minute released under the 30-year rule made it plain that Scotland's fishing industry was "expendable". That has been proved true, and shame on the Tories. Still, a sinner who repenteth is to be welcomed.

It remains an anomaly that this one resource should be managed in such a fashion. If it is appropriate for us to opt out of the common monetary policy, it must follow that we can opt out of the common fisheries policy, if cause is shown. As other members have said, there is slim chance that Norway, Iceland or the Faroes will join the EU if it tries to sustain exclusive competence over fisheries. I was interested to hear Tavish Scott's speech. He lauded Norway's negotiating capabilities, but refused to admit that Norway's independent status gives it its political punch. It is disingenuous of him to do that. Indeed, it is dancing on the head of the proverbial pin.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

How many tough decisions have the independent countries to which the member refers had to take to bring their fishing to a more sustainable level?

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am taking up the point that Tavish Scott made about how Norway, the Faroes and Iceland—very big fishing countries—are able to negotiate for their benefit and the conservation of stocks. However, countries need the power to do that. Seventy per cent of the UK fishing industry is located in Scotland, but the minister with responsibility for fishing, whom we all know is a good minister—informed, able, determined, committed and passionate about fishing communities—cannot go to the top table and open his mouth on behalf of this country.

The exclusive competence that the Tories signed away is making life tenuous for fishing communities such as Eyemouth, which has a population of 5,000, 500 of whom rely principally on nephrops and other fish catch. The effect on those 500 people ripples out to the entire community because as fishing jobs go, so do the local shops, the pub and the working people. Those are the real-life consequences of the CFP.

It has been said in the debate that nephrops are in a healthy state. I press the minister to argue for a substantial quota to be awarded. Fergus Ewing argued—it was a miracle that I understood him, because the argument was quite technical—that because no management regime will be in place for the bycatch of cod, those nephrops quotas are not secure. Will the minister say when he sums up whether there is any prospect of increasing the nephrops catch without those management measures?

Today I spoke to the secretary of the Anglo-Scottish Fishermen's Association, which is located in Eyemouth. In his view, the ridiculously low quota for prawns is not justified, as has been said throughout the chamber. The quota must be increased and there is no reason why it cannot be increased now.

The minister knows that the operation of the CFP is flawed and I rely on him to keep his word. He said in a press release:

"Early indications suggest that the Commission's Scientific Technical and Economic Committee (STECF) agree with us that the evidence on some stocks is inconclusive."

That is ministerial speak for "not persuaded by the scientific evidence". The quality of the scientific evidence is at the core of the matter.

It is ironic that the CFP is counterproductive to marine conservation, which we all want and which the fishermen of Scotland want most of all. They are the last people who want the seas to be fished dry. However, for every measure that is taken in one area of the sea—the proposed closed areas—there are knock-on effects on other fish stocks that we all know about. Even the protection of one species can be at the expense, or to the benefit of, another. More nephrops mean fewer juvenile cod to eat them. The sea is not simple; it is a complicated eco-system that needs complex and subtle solutions.

The CFP is a rough and ready tool, which is often politicised and which damages that which it should protect. Its operation is autocratic and without each fishing nation having democratic ownership of decisions about the stewardship of the common seas, its decisions and directions will be skewed and not obtempered. Fishermen will buy into decisions only when they have had a hand in making them. It is time that the CFP, rather than more of our fishing communities, was made redundant.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:22 pm, 9th December 2004

It has been an interesting debate and even more so sometimes for the lack of convincing figures. Richard Lochhead said at the beginning of the debate that the condition of our stocks is generally rosy. I will give him a brief resumé of what ICES says: cod should have zero quota; sole is overfished; Norway pout should not be fished; a 60 per cent cut in effort is needed for sand eel; there should be no fishing of horse mackerel and mackerel in certain parts of the North sea; and plaice is overfished by 55 per cent.

Even if the science is 100 per cent out in those estimates, we cannot carry on fishing in some areas.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

There is no great disagreement between me and the member. Members have mentioned the stocks that are fished by Norway, Sweden, France, Germany and England. We are, of course, talking about the Scottish stocks in this debate. The two most crucial Scottish stocks for the white-fish and shellfish fleets are prawns and haddock, which are robust according to the scientists.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

And I am talking about all the other stocks in the North sea that the member said were generally rosy.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I accept that, but this is a Scottish debate.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

In that case, if the member accepts the figures I quoted, he should have made it clear in the first place. [ Interruption. ] I ask Mr Lochhead to let me answer.

No increase in quota is recommended for whiting and haddock. The minister rightly underlined that although haddock has a higher biomass, it is still dependent on the 1999 class and that class is going. The minimum recommended stock size for cod in the North sea—our area—is 150,000 tonnes, but the estimated stock size in 2004 is 46,000 tonnes. However much doubt members want to cast on the science, it is highly unlikely that those figures are 100 per cent out and even if they were 100 per cent out, stocks in the North sea would still be 40 per cent below the safe biological limit. There is no point in casting doubt on the science. It is incontrovertible that cod is severely threatened throughout the North sea.

Ted Brocklebank said that fishermen have a

"basic right to earn their living".

Everybody has a basic right to earn their living, but fishermen do not have a basic right to fish out North sea stocks to a point from which they will never recover, which is what we are talking about.

Ted Brocklebank and Christine Grahame talked about the politicisation of the CFP. Every year during the past 20 years, the Commission has come up with sound proposals on TACs, quotas and changes in fishing gear, but every year politicians from countries throughout the EU—and I am not talking about the land-locked countries—descend on Brussels and undermine the Commission's proposals. Every year, the Commission's proposals are watered down and made completely ineffective and other proposals are made, such as the Spanish proposal to expand the Spanish fleet beyond the bounds of imagination, which undermine all the restrictions that are being proposed.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I must get on. I will come back to the member if I have time.

Richard Baker, like other good constituency and list MSPs, spoke up for the fishermen in the area that he represents. However, he clearly supports the general line that the Executive is taking and I am glad of that.

There is a very strong argument for designating closed areas, but let us be clear about what a closed area is: it is a fisheries management tool that closes a sea area to certain fishing gear or vessel sizes or to fishing for certain species. We must not confuse a closed area with a no-take zone, although there would be considerable advantages to considering the designation of no-take zones in addition to closed areas in the North sea in due course.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You have one minute left.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

There is clear evidence that the closure of sea areas such as spawning and nursery areas is an effective means of assisting the recovery of fish stocks, including stocks of mobile fish such as white fish. I urge the minister seriously to consider the measure and I say to Tavish Scott that seasonal area closure should be closely explored for the purposes of the recovery of North sea stocks in relation to the area to the west of Orkney and Shetland that was closed briefly in 2001. That closure might not have worked well, probably because the closed area was too small. Scientists have concluded that if the box is extended in space and time, the closure will be more effective and fisherman in the area will eventually benefit enormously. Examples from New Zealand prove that.

Members might know what happened in the Gulf of Castellammare in the Mediterranean in 1990, when the Sicilian regional assembly implemented a year-round trawl ban over an area of 2,000 km2. As a result, within four years there was a 700 per cent increase in the fishable stocks in the area. Closed areas work.

Do I have time to make a final point?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 4:29 pm, 9th December 2004

I wish Ross Finnie and Ben Bradshaw the very best for the talks that will take place in two weeks' time, which will be crucial for the Scottish fishing fleets.

I make a plea on behalf of Western Isles prawn fishermen. We all appreciate that prawn stocks are in a good state and I welcome the Commission's statement yesterday, which reflected that reality. We need an increase in the prawn quota. That plea is based not on emotion or on a parochial constituency interest but on the healthy state of prawn stocks, which has been established by sound scientific evidence.

I find myself agreeing with Fergus Ewing for the second week in a row. He almost—I stress, almost—sounded statesmanlike in his generous remarks on Ross Finnie, although I did not subscribe to his comments about our good friend Ben Bradshaw. As Fergus Ewing should know, Ben Bradshaw and Ross Finnie are a good team and they do their very best on behalf of Scotland and the United Kingdom. Everyone in this part of the chamber recognises that Ross Finnie will, of course, be able to lead for the UK when he is required to do so. I am sure that he will raise the flag—I believe that that is the technical term—for the UK to the best of his ability.

I urge the minister to ensure that we use the new technology that is being developed, particularly the video evidence system to assess stocks—I have raised that matter with him before, and Fergus Ewing mentioned it today. That system must be fast tracked and used. Everyone appreciates that it will have to be subject to proper scrutiny and its reliability will have to be proved, but if that new method of analysing stocks is adopted, I am sure that the minister will be able to go to Brussels and campaign for a further increase in the prawn quota. I look forward to hearing from him in that regard.

I also urge the minister to examine with some urgency the west coast quota and the impact of the deep-sea prawn fishing that happens hundreds of miles west of the Hebrides. As he knows, the boats in my constituency are inshore vessels, but prawn that are caught in the waters many miles west of their fishing grounds are included in the west coast quota, which is unfair. If the two very different fisheries were divorced, that would fairly reflect the fact that small boats in the Western Isles can access only certain fisheries. I am sure that the minister and all members will agree that it is far from equitable for their quota to be reduced by large boats from other parts of the UK that fish in waters that the small boats cannot access for obvious reasons.

Tavish Scott reflected his constituency interest; his contribution was firmly rooted in reality and in a world where if we balance conservation, we can realise economic renewal. That certainly seems to be the case in his constituency. Sarah Boyack focused on the importance of science and exposed the nonsense that is the nationalists' and Tories' position on withdrawal from the CFP.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

My point is purely on the science; I tried to make the same point to Sarah Boyack. Does the member accept that if there was independent scrutiny of our scientific data, as happens in New England and Canada, that would help to make us more confident in our science?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

We have independent scrutiny. In recent years, we have seen how good, sound science helps to benefit fishing grounds and various stocks. Of course it should be subject to renewal and evaluation. That is why I and other members press for the adoption of new methods of assessing, for example, prawn stocks.

Richard Baker gave us a good critique of the challenges that face fishing communities in the north-east of Scotland.

I turn briefly to Ted Brocklebank and the Tories' amendment, which urges the minister

"to secure higher quotas and more days at sea to secure a future for our fishermen and their coastal communities".

I will not bother reading out the rest of the amendment. The position that the Tories have adopted is wholly irresponsible and it merits no further comment. They would simply have more boats chasing fewer fish.

As members know, in recent years I have had my differences with the Green party on matters that relate to fishing. However, in a bout of ecological solidarity, I will not mention scallops, because in the context it would be gratuitous to do so. I recognise Mark Ruskell and Robin Harper's sincerity, which was reflected in their speeches, and they were both right to emphasise that one cannot reform the CFP by leaving it. We know that those who make that claim generally do not believe it.

The nationalists' amendment is a rambling nonsense and the product of an addled brain. In one line, Richard Lochhead's amendment refers to

"the healthy abundance of many stocks", but in another clause the amendment

"demands proper examination in light of up-to-date science ... before any further drastic and unworkable management measures are foisted on the fleet".

The amendment is inconsistent, rambling nonsense. However, Richard Lochhead is right to refer in the amendment to the healthy stocks of prawns, monkfish and haddock. The abundance of those types of fish, and of shellfish, is determined by the best science available. All rational MSPs recognise and base their work on such developments.

We also recognise that some stocks are, unfortunately, not in such a healthy state. If the nationalists want to delude themselves, they can go away and exist happily in their parallel universe. However, they should not come to the chamber and traverse the country to try to delude the honest men and women in our fishing communities with their vacuous and dishonest rhetoric. Measures must be taken to conserve some stocks. Discussions on that are based on the latest scientific research.

While I am on the subject of the nationalists, I plead with Richard Lochhead to stay at home and not to go anywhere near Brussels. There is no room there for toytown nationalists, but there is plenty of room for pragmatic, realistic, honest politicians and I wish Ross Finnie and Ben Bradshaw the very best.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:36 pm, 9th December 2004

This has been a sound debate, but it has also been one in which old views have been expressed and members have resorted to the same old rhetoric that we have had to put up with in the past.

I suppose that it is my responsibility to deal with one or two of the accusations that have been made against me. I was surprised to discover that I was personally responsible for signing away the rights to Scotland's fishing industry. I can defend myself against that accusation by informing members that I was only 10 years old when I was supposed to have signed away the rights, so I could not personally have been responsible.

However, we must deal with the accusations that have been made. I was too young at the time of the cod war to be aware of it, so I have had to read the history. My understanding is that, at the time of the cod war, Britain claimed responsibility for fisheries only up to the 12-mile limit. We could not claim up to the 200-mile limit, of course, because we were disputing that limit with the Icelanders. When we joined the common market, we negotiated a derogation that gave us back the rights to our own fisheries. Our fishermen would not have stood for anything less. Consequently, the Conservatives' hands are clean on that issue. In fact, it was under the prime ministership of Jim Callaghan that progress was made towards the situation that we suffer today.

We may be seeing again that kind of reinterpretation of history in the accusation that the Conservatives and, to a significant extent, the SNP are taking an irresponsible position in our suggestion that we could be better off if we were outside the CFP. In defence of that position, I must point out to several members who have spoken in the debate—Mark Ruskell, Richard Baker and Tavish Scott—that they do not understand what we are talking about. Their simplistic interpretation of our position is more likely to arise from political opportunism than from an honest misunderstanding. We believe that we must act in the long-term interests of our fishermen, under the advice of our scientists and the control of our politicians.

Time and again, successive Governments have represented us in Europe, having in hand all our valuable information and the opportunity that it presented, only to find themselves undermined by the political manoeuvrings of the Europeans and the European Commission. We do not suggest that our strategy should be different, although we might have a different policy. We suggest that we trust our scientists, our fishing industry and our minister to make the decisions. That would mean that we would have a range of options ahead of us. We do not suggest that we abandon the management of our fisheries and it is wholly irresponsible or dangerously naive to believe that we do so.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Is it the logic of the member's argument that we should leave the European Community altogether?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I have argued consistently for Britain's inclusion and involvement in the European Community because we share common interests with other EC countries on many issues. However, fisheries cannot be one of them.

The European green paper on fisheries was published in spring 2001. The paper held out the opportunity of having regional management committees, which would take devolved control of regional fisheries and make decisions—largely on the basis that I have suggested—outside the direct control of the EC.

Unfortunately, once the paper was implemented, we were left with a watered-down proposal for toothless regional advisory councils, which are of no value in the defence of our industry. The current situation has led me to the view that we can no longer co-operate with the European Union on fisheries matters. As a consequence of the EU's failure to deliver devolved management of fisheries to the regions, we can no longer continue with the common fisheries policy.

On the other issues in the debate, I was pleased to hear the minister set out the position that he did. Although he will probably suffer the same indignities when he goes to Europe as he has endured on previous occasions, I believe that he now knows what provisions are necessary for our industry. I commend the minister for his refusal to accept either the Commission's rationale for many of its proposals or its proposals for closed areas. He also set himself very much against the views of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. However, we must guarantee that Ross Finnie is listened to. The Parliament must stand behind him as he goes once more to negotiate on behalf of our industry. As I have said many times before, the minister has my full support and I wish him the very best of luck.

Sadly, this is one more year in which the industry would have been better served had it had a minister whose hands were not bound by the European Union.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 4:41 pm, 9th December 2004

I start, almost as Alex Johnstone ended, by congratulating Ross Finnie. If on nothing else, I congratulate him on his stamina, as he is the longest-serving member of the Executive to have had the same ministerial responsibility. The vicissitudes of his particularly challenging office have dimmed neither his energy nor his engagement. I acknowledge happily and gladly that his knowledge has continued to grow—may that continue for some time. Furthermore, he alone carries the burden of both opening and closing for his point of view in today's debate. Would that the rest of his could share his energy. However, Mr Bradshaw is quite another thing. He is a politician who is passing through. As a politician with ambition, he has no engagement with or knowledge of his subject.

I thank Mr Morrison heartily for his ringing endorsement of the merits, skills and talents of my colleague Mr Lochhead. Realising the significant impact that he always has when he engages in fishing matters, I rather hope that he will be present in Brussels to support the efforts of the man—Ross Finnie—who must do his best to represent Scotland.

Let me pick up what was said in the debate. Mr Baker claimed that it is not possible to operate a conservation policy outwith the CFP. For his Christmas, I promise to send Richard Baker a little map of Europe, on which I will highlight—he will not mind if I ink it in for him—those countries outwith the CFP that are successfully managing their stocks. Today's debate has probably covered the issue reasonably well: the CFP and conservation are strange bedfellows. After 30 years of the CFP, there can be little doubt of that.

On whether we should be within the CFP, the arguments have been well rehearsed. The Tories know our position on how they got us to where we are today, but there is no point in pursuing that at this stage. There are three key strands to Europe: the customs union, the common commercial policy, and the common monetary policy. The UK Government is happy to accept the benefits of the customs union—and I agree with it. It is happy to accept the benefits of a common commercial policy—and I agree with it. However, it rejects a common monetary policy because it believes that that is not in the UK's interests. I and my colleagues resist the CFP on exactly the same basis: we feel that it is not in Scotland's interests.

However, that is a lesser matter than the overriding matter of the common monetary policy. As a result, in rejecting a part of European policy and practice—the CFP—we are taking a substantially lesser step than the UK Government's rejection of the common monetary policy.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

What the member says is a very nice fiction. I should point out that the European Commission has stated in a letter to Catherine Stihler MEP that one cannot be a member of the EU and withdraw from the CFP. I have simply stated the current position. Is the member saying that he would sacrifice all the benefits of EU membership just to withdraw from the CFP?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

One of the very interesting distinctions between the position of the Tories and the SNP on this matter is that we continue to campaign with vigour and commitment for an independent Scotland that would be an independent member of the EU. Scotland would then be able to negotiate its relationship with the EU at that point. Is it conceivable that we would not be able to secure an appropriate deal for our fishermen when we are Europe's energy capital? We can lay vital assets and interests on the table and use them in negotiations. It is inconceivable that we could not do that.

If Europe is not much interested in Scotland, Westminster has even less interest in us. The Prime Minister's strategy unit could not even count the Scottish white-fish fleet. Moreover, despite the fact that he has so far asked the Prime Minister some 200 questions, the Tory leader has yet to ask him a question about fishing. The Tories were not interested in 1971 or in 1983.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I no longer have the time.

In his speech, Jamie McGrigor got confused about the words "won't" and "want" today, just as he got confused at yesterday's decision time about "yes" and "no" in the vote on Caledonian MacBrayne. I hope that he votes the right way and supports our amendment tonight.

In a debate last week, Ben Bradshaw talked up the RACs and said:

"I see no reason why they should not develop into real bodies for regional management."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 2 December 2004; Vol 428, c 834.]

Alas, in his written submission to the European Parliament's hearing on this matter, the then commissioner-designate, Joe Borg, said:

"The Commission could not take this on board as fisheries management has to remain compatible with the legal and institutional framework of the Treaty."

Basically, he says that it is not possible for us to evolve to regional management under the treaty.

I will close with a brief comment on scientific data. We all have to accept such data, but we should understand that, in science, it is possible to interpret them in different ways. That is not to disagree with scientists; after all, they disagree with one another. The Faroese pursue stocks to protect ecological balance; they have come to a different conclusion from the same data and have achieved different success outwith the CFP.

I support my colleague's amendment.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 4:49 pm, 9th December 2004

At least we can say that the debate has been wide ranging. Some of it has concentrated on the negotiations that will take place in two weeks' time and some of it, largely because of the position that the Conservatives and the SNP have taken, has focused on the removal of, or our exit from, the CFP. Let me try, before I come to the central issues, to deal with some of the matters that have been raised.

I am grateful to Tavish Scott for pointing out, as members would expect him to, the difficulties that impact on Shetland. I will make two points on the issues that he raises. First, it is necessary to underline that if there is—and there is—a problem with cod stocks because we have 70 per cent of the fishing rights to those stocks, their geographical location means that they are crucial not only to Shetland. Measures to conserve cod stocks impact proportionately more on Shetland than on any other place but, by definition, the measures impact on Scottish fishing grounds more than they do on those of any other nation that fishes in the North sea. That in itself is extraordinarily important.

I am also grateful to Richard Baker and Sarah Boyack, who concentrated on some of the serious environmental issues associated with fisheries management. Those issues are of extreme importance and should not be dismissed. I am grateful to Sarah Boyack for mentioning the need for us to support—as I have done in the past few years and will continue to do—any call for a reduction in the allocation of both quota and effort in industrial fisheries.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I fully accept the minister's comments about supporting a reduction in industrial fisheries. Does he agree with the proposed reduction of only 14 per cent in sand-eel catches in the forthcoming year? Should the reduction not be infinitely higher than that in order to preserve that vital bottom-of-the-line stock?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is interesting to note that under Conservative policy we would have no control at all over that fishery. The Conservatives might want to reflect on that in their policy statement on Monday, which we are all, of course, anxiously looking forward to. I make it clear that I will pursue the maximum reduction in the sand-eel fishery.

Fergus Ewing made several valuable points about science and I am happy to examine further some of the issues that he raised. I am grateful to members who understood his contribution this afternoon—I know that his letter is even more detailed. One point that I will make to Fergus Ewing is that some of the photographic data refer to total biomass. There is an issue about confusing total biomass with mature stock. There is not a one-to-one relationship—even in photographic data—that means that because there is an increase in fishing there is an equivalent change in stocks. I am sure that Fergus Ewing would accept that, but I will respond in more detail to his letter.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

No. I must move on. I will respond to the member in writing.

Like most members, I worry when I receive a compliment from Christine Grahame. That is not in any way intended to give offence, but to reflect my nervous disposition when I respond to a debate. Christine Grahame talked about my not opening my mouth. Let me assure her that the vast majority of the negotiations in respect of the December council do not happen around the council table; rather, they are conducted in bilaterals between the Commission and member states. I assure her that there is no prospect of my remaining silent on matters that affect Scotland.

I wish that Jamie McGrigor would accept an intervention occasionally, because I could have helped him. No removal of the derogation from the days at sea exists in the current proposals. We should remember that they are, after all, still proposals.

I am grateful to Alasdair Morrison for getting down to the serious issues that affect us, particularly in relation to the west coast.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is a bit much for someone who takes not a single intervention to seek to intervene on another member.

I come to the essential matter of what we will do in December and where we stand in respect of the CFP.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Please pause for a moment. There is far too much talking in the chamber—members should pay attention to summing-up speeches.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I was extremely interested to note that Ted Brocklebank again referred to the work of ICES as "narrow scientific advice". The advice is of course fully supported by the FRS in Aberdeen. Ted Brocklebank ought to acknowledge, but never does, that ICES and the FRS probably have the longest track record of investigating the stocks in the North sea and off the west coast. It is too much for him to dismiss the scientific advice of ICES as being narrow and then to make it clear in his proposals that he would totally ignore scientific advice. That will not do. He ought to have listened to some of the remarks that were made by his party's closing speaker, who said that the Conservatives would listen to advice. The Tory party should sort that out.

The examples that people cite of countries outside the CFP that have better conservation agendas are interesting. Tavish Scott properly pointed out the Norwegians' commercial agenda. No one could think that the Norwegians were pursuing a conservation agenda by supporting the disgraceful commercial exploitation of the blue whiting stock. If that is the example that Ted Brocklebank wants to use, that tells us a lot about how the Conservatives would prosecute fisheries in the absence of science.

Mr Brocklebank also mentioned the Faroes as another good example. The Faroese may tell us how good their practice is, but the ICES advice recommends the imposition on the Faroese of a 65 per cent precautionary cut in effort and a 50 per cent reduction for compliance with the management of cod and haddock. That is entirely consistent with the fact that the Faroese have failed to achieve a rate that is consistent with reducing their fish mortality.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Mr Brocklebank used the Faroese to make his point. I want him to answer a simple question. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Order, Mr Brocklebank.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Those are the examples that Mr Brocklebank quoted. It is instructive that that is the kind of irresponsible policy that Mr Brocklebank would pursue if our country were to take control of its own fisheries.

If we are to take seriously conservation of the marine biological resource, it is illusory to believe that we could do so as a single nation or a single member state. In the North sea, for example, we would still have to engage with other countries, given that seven of the North sea fish stocks are jointly managed. In his speech, Alex Johnstone said,

"we can no longer co-operate with the European Union on fisheries matters."

We would have to go to seven sets of negotiations on the North sea stocks. I do not think that we would have much luck. [Interruption.] We would be asking to negotiate after we had gone outside the tent; we would be in serious trouble. We would also have to engage with the EU on the pelagic stocks. It is nonsense to suggest that we could go outside the tent but still have control over many of the spawning stocks that have a critical effect on our white-fish stocks. The Tories' claim that we would have better control over those stocks is a fallacy. Withdrawal from the CFP would not solve the fundamental problem of low fish stocks. Tough conservation measures are required to restore those stocks to a healthy state.

I am interested in the rhetoric of the SNP and the Conservatives, but they must understand that if we want to take measures that seriously address the scientific evidence, that will require any sensible Government to take hard decisions. It is simply not good enough to say to fishermen that they can have anything they want, whenever and wherever they want it. That is the stance that Mr Brocklebank takes. At least Richard Lochhead and Stewart Stevenson had the good grace to acknowledge that measures need to be taken. I do not pretend that effective measures could be taken if we came out of the CFP and had to negotiate with people with whom we had said we did not wish to deal.

In the important, complex and difficult talks that will take place on 20, 21 and 22 December and in the coming three weeks, we will seek to resolve the perennial problem of achieving an equitable balance between taking seriously the science that demonstrates the imperative need for us to contribute to recovery of the cod stock, and backing management and other technical measures that will allow our fishermen to prosecute the much healthier stocks. I am confident that we can make progress with our argument and therefore I support the motion in my name.