I welcome the opportunity to debate this significant topic and highlight that we in the Conservative Party in this Parliament have a positive, forward-looking plan for a more prosperous United Kingdom and Scottish fishing industry following our departure from the European Union. Our positive and optimistic plan is in stark contrast to that of the Scottish National Party, which, once more, has adopted its standard pessimistic and defeatist approach. We are the party that understands the wishes and aspirations of the vast majority of the people in the fishing industry in Scotland, be they skippers, deck hands, processors or merchants, and we have a positive vision of a prosperous, sustainable, expanding and environmentally friendly industry going forward.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
It is a system that has resulted in persistent failure and has caused nothing but frustration, resentment and distress for those involved.
Let us be clear about what the industry wants and expects from our politicians. I voted to remain in the European Union in the referendum, and I have made no secret of that fact. Indeed, I took some criticism from skippers in the north-east for my stance because, almost to a man, they voted to come out of the EU. They want out of the EU and the CFP, and they want control over our exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles from our shores.
Given that the EU single market has 500 million people in it and is a key export market for our seafood, with seafood exports being worth £601 million, does Mr Chapman believe that we should continue to have access to that market?
I totally agree. We will have access to it. Our fish is in huge demand in Europe, and the buyers want that to continue.
Skippers want out of the EU and the CFP, and they want control over our exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles from our shores. Those are three very clear and simple elements that we in the Conservative party intend to deliver. What can the SNP deliver for our fishing communities? We know that it is desperately trying to engineer a second independence referendum—
Not at the moment.
SNP members seem to be denying that they want another independence referendum. Thankfully, it looks increasingly unlikely that the SNP would win that but, should that happen, the SNP would immediately reapply to join the European Union, taking us straight back into the detested CFP. However, the SNP has failed to make that clear in its amendment. [
Out of touch though the SNP is with fishing communities, even it knows that rejoining the CFP would be hugely unpopular, so what does it do? It spins a line that, on the way in, it would renegotiate the CFP and somehow get a better and fairer deal. Not a chance. I have a letter from the EU fishing commissioner Karmenu Vella, which clearly states that any new country accessing the EU must accept the CFP in its entirety. There is no way that the SNP will be able to influence or opt out of that treaty—no ifs, no buts, no renegotiation.
Where does the SNP go from here? All that it can do now is smear and scaremonger and suggest that the UK Government will sell out the fishing industry during exit negotiations. The First Minister tried that tactic just last week. After getting her hands on a private letter from Andrea Leadsom to the leader of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Bertie Armstrong, she deliberately tried to confuse and misconstrue the content of the letter, tweeting joyfully that here was the evidence of a sell-out. Of course, it backfired spectacularly when the man the letter was written to—the said Bertie Armstrong—retorted that he was perfectly satisfied with the UK’s negotiating stance and indeed believed that the letter, if read in its entirety, was very robust and explicit in stating that the UK will come out of the CFP and will have control out to 200 miles. [
I totally agree.
That was game, set and match to Ms Leadsom, and it left Nicola Sturgeon looking desperate, misleading and downright wrong. The way forward is clear. As an independent country out of the EU, the UK, under international law passed in 1982 and backed by a United Nations convention, can take control of its waters out to 200 miles.
Now, that does not mean that foreign boats will never fish our waters again. However, it means that they will fish under our rules and regulations, and that we will be in control—and that is a huge prize.
That is the sea of opportunity that our fishermen welcome. It will address the unjust situation that exists at the moment, whereby 60 per cent of the fish that are caught in UK waters are caught by foreign vessels. Some 650,000 tonnes of fish, worth £400 million, are caught by EU boats in our waters every year. In comparison, our boats catch only 90,000 tonnes of fish in other EU waters, worth a mere £100 million. To put it another way, between 2012 and 2014, EU boats caught half the demersal fish, two thirds of the pelagic fish and almost all the industrial fish that were caught in our 200-mile exclusive zone. No one can argue that that is a fair division.
The other strand of the disaster story that the SNP tries to spin is that we will lose the EU markets for our fish. We have heard it already. Yes, the EU market is important, and we obviously want to keep it. However, I have spoken to numerous fish processors in Peterhead and Fraserburgh who are very relaxed about keeping their markets. They argue, quite rightly, that their fish are in great demand in Europe—indeed, buyers are queueing up to get the top-quality fish that we supply, which is often unavailable elsewhere.
It is also a fact that our stance in the Brexit negotiations is to get a comprehensive free trade deal. Why should we not get a free trade deal, given that such a deal is as much to the Europeans’ benefit as it is to ours?
Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009 but withdrew its application in 2015, mainly because it would have had to join the CFP and it did not like what it saw. In June 2016, just a year ago, the Icelandic fisheries minister said:
“I would never join the European Union ... There is a life outside it, as we have proven. We have one of the biggest and one of the strongest fisheries in the world that is sustainable without any subsidies from the state. We don’t have to share this decision-making with anyone else. It would be difficult for Icelanders to control their economic and fisheries sector having the obligation to discuss it with 27 or 28 other countries.”
That is the kind of future that awaits our fishing industry when we leave the outdated, bureaucratic and unreformable European common fisheries policy. I, for one, welcome that future. [
That the Parliament believes that the Scottish fishing industry is vital to Scotland’s culture and economy, and is a bedrock of many communities across the country; recognises the opportunity that leaving the EU offers to create a fit-for-purpose and tailor-made fisheries management regime that better suits the needs of Scottish fishing; acknowledges the potential to restore control of access to UK waters, enabling a fairer distribution of fishing opportunities in the future, and believes that Scotland must not return to the common fisheries policy.
When we joined the EU, a Scottish Office paper was written, which remained hidden for 30 years under the UK Official Secrets Act. What the paper said was:
“‘in the wider UK context they’—the fishermen—‘must be regarded as expendable.’”—[
, 25 January 2001; Vol 361, c 1138.]
That remark was first referred to in Parliament in Westminster by Alex Salmond in 2001. I was quoting from
In a moment, after I have made this point. That was the true view of the UK Government when we joined the EU: that the interests of Scotland’s fishermen were expendable. It was never intended that that view would be made public, because the document was an official secret, which became public only 30 years later.
We have heard about something that happened 47 years ago, and it was not even a Government minister who said it. It is far more effective to look at what is going on now: Andrea Leadsom’s letter says that we will take back all of our waters to 200 miles. That is much more significant than quoting something that was said 47 years ago by a junior official.
I am sorry; please sit down for a minute, cabinet secretary. I had people be quiet for Mr Chapman, and people will be quiet for the cabinet secretary. I do not want to hear banging on desks; members can applaud, which is much more reasonable, if they wish—although I certainly do not expect you all to be applauding the cabinet secretary.
They can bang on the desks, but they cannot undo history. They do not have the guts to apologise for something that they must know was wrong—that is the interesting thing.
Let us move forward and provide a little bit of rudimentary education. Under Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s, the UK Government signed us up to the original doomed common fisheries policy. It was the Conservatives’ heroine who took us into the common fisheries policy. [
.] Perhaps she is not their heroine? If she is not, let me know. The Conservatives say that she is—we have that clear, then.
That was the first thing in the history lesson. John Major’s Tories then signed us up to a revised CFP in the 1990s. What did it have at its heart? It scrapped vessels and decimated livelihoods, destroying the economy and wellbeing in many of our coastal communities. Those facts are why feeling about the CFP is so strong. It is not what happened yesterday, last year or the year before—it is what has happened for decades.
At least they have stopped banging the desks.
In this century, the Tories have attempted to enshrine the CFP in the European treaties. That is the fourth adminicle of evidence, which shows that the Tories, time and again, have not only supported the CFP, but taken us into it, kept us in it and then had it enshrined in the law. That is what the record is.
Let us move forward to the current time, during my period as cabinet secretary over the past year, and look at the monkfish swap issue. Last year, the UK authorities blocked for three months an international swap that would have brought in 200 tonnes—a significant amount of monkfish quota that was worth millions of pounds to many Scottish fishermen. The deal was blocked under instruction from George Eustice, a reasonable and intelligent man, because it swapped out a tiny amount of skate quota targeted by some inshore vessels in England. It took months and my personal intervention to get it through. A deal that should have taken two days took three months, during which fishermen had no choice but to dump high-value catches of monkfish.
In the EU-Norway negotiations, the UK has regularly voted for a swap package that has disadvantaged Scotland, because Scottish blue whiting quota is primarily used to secure an inward transfer of Arctic cod from Norway, of which the UK receives 47 per cent but Scotland receives zero. In 2017, for example, Scotland forfeited more than 20,000 tonnes of blue whiting to swaps worth around £4 million at 2016 prices, but gained no benefit—not even a single kilo of the Arctic cod came back.
The cabinet secretary has used a large part of his speech to explain why the common fisheries policy is so bad. Will he now explain why his party wants to remain inside the common fisheries policy rather than respect the view of the people in coastal communities who voted to leave it and who want to stay out of it?
That is a political assertion; it is not the reality of the matter. I have just described two examples of how, over the past year—not 30 or 40 years ago—I have sought to negotiate with George Eustice, who is a not unreasonable guy with whom I try to have a constructive relationship. On each occasion, Scotland’s interests have been betrayed. Those deals were nothing to do with the EU; they were matters entirely within the UK Government’s control.
The UK Government says that this will all change once we are outwith the EU. The Conservatives say that we will have total control, but what did George Eustice say? Back in April 2016, he said that everything would be put back on the table for discussion, including access rights. Let me quote Mr Mundell. I presume that the Conservatives support what Mr Mundell says, but I will check. He said:
“I would say the idea we would go back to a position where we were entirely in control of our own fishing is not one that is realistic.”
That is the guy whom the Conservatives want to be the secretary of state, and he says that controlling our own fishing is not a realistic scenario.
I think that my time is coming to an end. Is it too much to ask that, during the debate—if it is to be more than just knockabout—one of the Conservatives will say whether David Mundell is right? Or are they devoting this episode to the same political rhetoric and the same treachery of their track record over the past decades, which proves that they cannot be trusted with the future of Scotland?
I move amendment S5M-05603.3, to leave out from “recognises” to end and insert:
“notes that the present common fisheries policy is not delivering a sustainable fishing industry in Scotland; is disappointed at the lack of clarity from the UK Government on future funding to replace the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), its failure to guarantee tariff and customs-free exports to the EU single market and to provide assurances that EU nationals and their families working in the fishing sector may remain in Scotland; regrets that the UK Government’s White Paper makes clear its intention to allow EU boats access to Scotland's waters as of right, which would be detrimental to Scottish fishing interests; recognises the need to put sustainable development and a science-led, ecosystem approach at the heart of all marine and fisheries policies to create a viable future for fishing in Scottish waters to enable coastal communities and the marine environment to thrive, whatever the future holds; notes that fisheries are best managed at a level closest to citizens and communities, and agrees that all powers on fisheries should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament to enable the design of a management framework best suited to Scottish needs and the interests of Scotland’s fishing industry and sector, including through the commitment to a Fisheries Bill.”
In the circumstances of this very heated debate, we should all be mindful of the language that we use and of our behaviour. For the public outside who are watching this debate on a serious issue, it behoves nobody in the chamber to have a rammy going on, with shouting, thumping of desks and so on. That does members no credit and it is often reported to me when I am out and about. I give you all that caution regarding your language and behaviour. I know that you are all passionate, but that does not excuse bad behaviour.
The motion acknowledges that the fishing community see Brexit as providing them with an opportunity. The common fisheries policy has always been a bone of contention for them, with annual negotiations based on horse trading rather than on sensible policies to manage our fishery for future generations. There is now the opportunity to devise a policy to do that. However, fishing is still a political football, as we have seen this afternoon.
The SNP are looking both ways at once, promising to rejoin the EU but come out of the CFP. That is nonsense. If we were ever to rejoin the European Union, either as part of the UK or as a separate Scotland, we would not get a pick-and-mix membership; we would be told to take it or leave it. It has proved impossible to negotiate a better CFP from within the EU, and it would be foolish to think that we could do that while begging to get back in. It is also wrong for the Conservatives to say that a hard Brexit would lead to a free trade agreement with the EU—that simply would not be the case.
Although I do not agree with Brexit, I understand the wishes of the fishing community to come out of the EU. Nevertheless, it would be wrong not to highlight the risks of leaving as well as the potential benefits. Being in the EU means that our fish can be sold in Europe without any trade tariffs or red tape. That means that it can be sold fresh in EU markets. We know that the blockades at Calais meant delays and huge losses of fish that was no longer marketable. Any delay in exporting fresh fish puts the market at risk, and I sincerely hope that such delays will not happen with Brexit.
It is clear from the Prime Minister’s statements that she understands that the EU will want access to UK fishing grounds as part of our future relationship with the EU. Our fishing grounds will become one element of a negotiation that will have lasting ramifications for the fishing industry. The future holds dangers for our fishing community, so while we talk up the opportunities, we must be alive to the risks.
We believe that, after the UK leaves the EU, repatriated responsibility for fisheries should be devolved to Scotland. That will mean negotiating fishing rights and the management of fishing stocks with other countries. Fish do not recognise borders, so we need to work collaboratively to ensure that we have a sustainable fishery. We will still be subject to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which demands the use of quotas and sustainable management. That will require us to negotiate with the EU just as we currently negotiate with non-EU countries.
Access to the single market is also necessary. The fishing community fears bureaucracy more than it fears trade tariffs because bureaucracy could delay exports, meaning that the fresh-fish market could become unreliable. That is an issue for not only our catching sector but our fish farm sector, which is often overlooked when we talk about fish supplies.
When we consider fisheries and Brexit, we would be wrong to consider the catching sector alone; we also need to consider the onshore jobs that depend on a vibrant fishing industry. Many of those jobs are in rural Scotland, where they contribute to fragile local economies. The jobs range from fish sellers and processors throughout the food chain to jobs that provide services to fishing communities—in chandleries and port infrastructure, for example. Not only are those jobs essential to local economies but they provide services to our growing sea-going tourism industry, and, without fishing, those services would disappear from our ports, making catering for the growing leisure boat market more difficult.
It is not just rural communities that will be affected. Many of our fish processing jobs—especially those that add value—are based in more urban communities that are often in areas of high deprivation. Losing that source of employment would be devastating for those communities, too.
Those urban and rural communities also need inward migration to help staff the food processing industry and keep it alive. Migrant labour is also essential for the parts of the industry that are seasonal, and being out of the EU will impact on the supply of that workforce. If it becomes onerous for those workers to gain work permits, they might go where they are more welcome, which again would impact on our industry.
We need to stop the political posturing that turns our fishing communities into pawns in a game. We need politicians to listen to the concerns of fishing communities and seize opportunities from Brexit. We need to make sure that the opportunities are realised, but we also need to guard against the pitfalls.
I move amendment S5M-05603.2, to insert at end:
“; believes that there are challenges to be overcome in order to allow Scotland's fish to be sold in European markets, including the need to ensure that import controls are not bureaucratic in order to allow them to be sold fresh into that market; understands that Scotland must also continue to negotiate management of its seas with the EU, Norway, the Faroes and Iceland to ensure that the whole of the fishery is managed sustainably, as fish know no borders, and believes that repatriated powers should be devolved.”
The fishing industry is vital to our culture and our economy, and it is the bedrock of many communities across the country. The United Kingdom leaving the European Union offers us a real opportunity to get fishing right and to create a fisheries management regime that better suits the needs of fishermen in the UK and in Scotland. We have the opportunity to level the playing field so that more of the fish that are caught in Scottish waters are caught by Scottish fishing vessels and processed in Scottish factories, benefiting our rural communities and the wider economy.
We can stop the endless bureaucracy from Brussels and start to work more closely with our fishermen and processors towards a successful and prosperous industry that is fit for purpose and fit for the future. As elected representatives, it is our responsibility to recognise and take hold of those opportunities and use the levers of government to create an environment that works in the best interests of the fishing industry.
What is wrong with the CFP? The fishermen are absolutely right to want out of the CFP, because it lacks any proper regional control and fails to take local factors into account when policy is determined. Its excessive bureaucracy and red tape make fishing an increasingly difficult industry to be a part of. Most important, the way in which quota is calculated is fundamentally unfair because it is based on historical catch figures that do not represent the current situation.
A recent report by Ian Napier
of Scotland’s north Atlantic fisheries college marine centre revealed the stark reality of fishing opportunities in the North Sea, stating that EU
“boats landed seven times more fish”
in UK waters than UK boats caught in EU waters. That equates to around 650,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, which is worth more than £400 million each year. We now have the opportunity to redress that balance.
There is absolutely no question of negotiating from within the CFP. That has not worked up until now and I have zero confidence that it would work in the future. The truth is that the SNP has chosen not to use the little influence that it has in Brussels. Recently, the Conservatives’ EU spokesman on fisheries, Ian Duncan, has been responsible for representing his political group on a number of significant reports, including reports on the landing obligation, the cod plan, deep-sea fisheries, the drift-net ban and technical conservation measures. Meanwhile, the SNP fisheries spokesman, Ian Hudghton, has not looked after a single report.
The SNP and Greens are partners in crime not only in Holyrood but in Europe, where SNP MEPs sit with the Greens, who want to ban fishing in huge swathes of European waters and who continuously look for greater restrictions on fishermen.
Is the member aware that, at the negotiations that I attended in Brussels in December, all the leaders of the Scottish fishing representative organisations recognised that, thanks to our excellent team of negotiators and our hard work, the Scottish Government achieved a very good deal? What would the Scottish Conservatives do post-Brexit to replace the £33 million from the European maritime and fisheries fund, which has been so invaluable to our fishing communities?
Even though that funding is very welcome, it is only worth 4 per cent of total landings at Scottish ports, and the Scottish fishing industry does not rely on handouts.
Just last month, I met a group of concerned pelagic fishermen. They are worried that Fergus Ewing has held back 12 per cent of the 2017 mackerel quota in a dispute with fishermen over the number of landings at Scotland’s ports. At 30 per cent of the total value of Scottish landings, mackerel is the most valuable fishery to Scotland.
I fully support the ambition to see more fish landed and processed in Scotland. However, holding fishermen to ransom is not the way to achieve that. Instead, the Government should look at why so many fish are landed abroad and at how we can work with the industry to increase landings in Scotland. All that we have seen from this SNP Government is bully-boy tactics.
There has been more flip-flopping from the SNP on its fishing position than from a North Sea haddock. It could be compared to a dog’s dinner or, more appropriately, a fish supper. It is misleading, disingenuous and—frankly—insulting to everybody in Scotland with an interest in seeing our fisheries prosper.
Now means now. Please sit down.
Because of members’ bad behaviour, we have lost a lot of time. Speeches will all have to be kept to a very tight four minutes, but that is all members’ own fault.
The industry of catching wild fish has been consistently let down by Tory policy and practice over the decades. The contrast with this SNP Government could not be more stark—then, as now. In paragraph 14a, a 1970s SNP policy leaflet talks about
“the right to impose an exclusive 100 mile limit”.
The only change that we have made has been to make it a 200-mile limit.
We are the only party to have consistently, always and invariably opposed the common fisheries policy. Donald Stewart, the then leader of the SNP, spoke in the House of Commons in 1983 against the common fisheries policy when it was a matter for debate. Alan McCartney wrote an excellent paper in the 1990s on the precise point that Finlay Carson addressed—regional control. The SNP has been engaged in those issues from the outset, and it remains engaged.
On 17 January I brought a members’ business debate to the chamber supporting the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s sea of opportunity campaign. The motion said, among other things, that it
“considers that full control over fishing in the offshore economic zone represents an opportunity to reinvigorate coastal communities”.
Two Tory actions on that day showed them once again in all their ambivalence towards our fishermen: no Tory signed the motion supporting the campaign, and Tory Prime Minister May made a speech entitled “The government’s negotiating objectives for exiting the EU”. It contained only a single reference to fishing—a reference to Spanish fishermen. There was nothing about our fishermen and nothing about our fishing industries.
On 2 February, the Tories’ white paper stated at paragraph 8.16 that it is
“in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU’s fishing communities.”
That is a signal in the most unambiguous language possible that there is a deal for fishermen from other jurisdictions: we are being sold out again. At six minutes and 27 seconds into his speech, Peter Chapman confirmed that it is Tory policy that foreign vessels will continue to fish in our waters. The clear opportunity that is available, as we leave the CFP, to reclaim fishing rights in our waters is being traded away again.
If an advantage is being denied to our fishermen, there is an even graver and more disadvantageous impact looming for our processors, much of which Rhoda Grant very eloquently articulated. I will simply quote from the UK Government’s Treasury analysis of 23 May 2016, which says, at paragraph 1.15, that
“businesses that trade with the EU would be uncertain about the UK’s access to the Single Market, not knowing what restrictions could be put on their ability to trade, including tariffs, customs costs or non-tariff barriers”.
Crucially, it goes on to say that
“those that currently benefit from EU funding would not know what support if any they would receive after the UK left ... This includes ... fishermen”.
That is important for small communities around Scotland.
Just when we thought that we had escaped from the CFP, we will be hit by a Tory Government that trades away our advantage and sees trade and fiscal barriers erected. Ms Leadsom’s letter does not take any opportunity to rebut what has previously been said.
I hope that I get my 10 seconds back.
When we talk of stakeholders in the marine environment, we are being indiscriminate. Although fishermen, coastal communities and environmentalists lead the conversation, we are all affected by the health of our marine environment. I hope that we all share the aim of having sustainable and productive fisheries in healthy and biologically diverse seas.
It would be a significant failing in the negotiations for the post-Brexit UK if our fishing regulations were left in a weakened state. The current EU commitments for fisheries management, following the 2013 reform, have sustainability, with measurable results, at their core. Since 2007, the percentage of overfished stocks has fallen by a quarter, from 72 per cent to 47 per cent. Whatever the future arrangements, there must be strong structures for liaison with relevant countries and partner organisations. It is very concerning to imagine our marine resources as a pawn in negotiations, and the sector deserves reassurances.
There are significant issues to be addressed: mechanisms for shared management, sufficient resourcing for data collection and monitoring, and—as Scottish Labour’s amendment states—access to European markets. The longevity of our fisheries truly depends on the scientific foundations on which decisions are based.
Catch limits and quotas must be developed using up-to-date and robust scientific advice, and improvements to technical measures should be supported. That principle is especially important with regard to the discard ban. The estimate from 2005 was that 7 million tonnes of fish were discarded globally. Scotland has made considerable progress, thanks to the efforts of Scottish fishermen: only 16 per cent of all whitefish catches from the North Sea were discarded in 2016. The Scottish Government must—as, I am sure, it will—support continued progress towards banning that wasteful practice. I ask the cabinet secretary to set out details of how that work is developing.
Scottish Government figures report a drop in the number of boats using remote electronic monitoring since the introduction and tightening of landing obligations. In 2014, 32 boats used cameras to monitor their catches, but that number recently dropped to 15. Will the cabinet secretary comment on that in his closing remarks?
Sustainable development, proper resourcing and clear processes for engagement by stakeholders are absolutely vital for the future. It is immensely important that legislators recognise the level of expertise in the industry, in the science community and in non-governmental organisations, as well as in communities.
It was fantastic to learn of a recently developed Scottish project to tackle entanglement. Alistair Sinclair of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Association instigated a partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, British Divers Marine Life Rescue and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to prevent large marine life getting stuck in fishing gear, which is an all-too-common problem that can result in the death of majestic marine creatures such as whales and basking sharks, as well as the destruction of fishermen’s equipment. The project has established new protocols and guidance for creel fishermen. It is a shining example of the power of knowledge sharing and co-operation based on science.
Scotland has a proud reputation for spectacular seafood, which will only be enhanced by a robust plan for sustainable fisheries management to bring future work to the range of sectors in the fishing industry and onshore processing, which often support fragile communities. Such sustainable development will also ensure that protection of our marine biodiversity and fragile features and tackling climate change are addressed. I hope that everyone in the chamber and beyond will agree that sustainable management creates a virtuous circle that will facilitate future generations of fishermen and sustain our seas far into the future.
Our national marine plan talks about having
“clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse ... seas” being managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people. Rhoda Grant and Stewart Stevenson referred to the EU nationals and their families who work in the fishing sector. It is our earnest wish that they are able to remain in Scotland contributing positively; they are often in our more fragile communities.
Scotland is a fishing nation. There is consensus that the common fisheries policy is not delivering a sustainable fishing industry in Scotland, which affects our coastal communities. European Greens have suggested reforming the common fisheries policy. Fundamentally, we believe that a whole-ecosystem approach to fisheries management is required. Fish stocks will recover for the long term only if we also protect spawning and nursery grounds, which will, as members have said, require designating large areas of water—between 20 and 40 per cent of EU marine areas—as out of bounds to fishing.
We are also keen to see restraint in the expansion of aquaculture. As someone who represents the Highlands and Islands, I recognise the valuable role that aquaculture plays in communities, but it is not the solution to the problem of overfishing the oceans. Greens demand high environmental and health protection standards for aquaculture production, including organic aquaculture, because we believe that aquaculture can be more environmentally damaging than exploiting wild fisheries.
The Government amendment states that:
Whatever happens, fishing nations will experience long-term benefits only by adopting ecosystem-based management approaches. Fish are not concerned about our structures, whether they are EU, UK or common fisheries policy structures. There must be shared management and co-operation within the UK and neighbouring countries, because we must be custodians of our resources and give due regard to science. That involves understanding the risks that fishing has posed and putting in place mechanisms to ameliorate them.
I am concerned at some of the things that I have heard—not necessarily in the chamber today—about the free-for-all bonanza that we will have once we get out of the EU. Overfishing poses a significant risk—discards have been mentioned, in that regard. One anticipated benefit of the discard ban is the potential to increase fisheries revenue and resilience, which is to be welcomed. That will mean more fish remaining in the sea due to improved selectivity in terms of how and where fishing is undertaken.
However, without sensible management, there is no realistic future for fishing at all, and sensible management means setting sustainable levels in order to restore biomass to above minimum safe yield. That will be relevant with regard to the challenge to the choke species. All vessels must have selective gear and be able to fish in the most selective way in order to avoid choking. That has been touched on in the debate.
In the period 2014 to 2020, Scotland was due to get 46 per cent of the UK allocation from the European maritime fisheries fund—€111 million over seven years. That will be a significant loss.
All powers over fisheries should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That will require co-operation, however we do things. It will involve protection of spawning and nursery grounds. A whole-ecosystem approach to fisheries management is absolutely required and, as was touched on eloquently by Colin Beattie, we need robust monitoring, as well as robust enforcement.
I thank Peter Chapman for bringing the motion to the chamber, because there can be no doubt that, as it says,
“the Scottish fishing industry is vital to Scotland’s culture and economy, and is a bedrock of many communities across the country”.
The Liberal Democrats have long criticised the European Union’s common fisheries policy as being remote, overly centralised and bureaucratic. We believe that the industry and other stakeholders must be involved in developing a plan for sustainable fisheries that works for our Scottish fishermen. That is why we lodged an amendment to the Conservative motion. The amendment was not accepted for debate but, if it had been, members would have seen that it would not have taken anything out of the Conservative motion. Instead, it would have added at the end of the motion the point that I just made in order to strengthen the motion where it needs to be strengthened. The Labour amendment seeks to do a similar thing, so we shall support it.
That does not mean that we are not critical of the Conservative Party’s decision to put at risk our access to the markets that our fish processing businesses dearly need. Taking us out of the European single market and the customs union—that is the important one—will, if Mrs May has her way, threaten the markets that our fishing industry heavily relies on. I will give just one example. If we are taken out of the customs union, our fish processing businesses may face tariff barriers at our borders.
However, the financial barrier is not the main barrier that our fish processors face. They have coped remarkably well with the fall in the value of the pound against the euro as a consequence of the vote last summer. Although no one likes to pay more taxes, our fish exporting businesses have coped with a fluctuating price for their goods and could cope similarly well with increased costs at the border if they have to. What really worries them is the delay that will occur at the border if they have to go through added bureaucracy and consequent delays as their goods are processed through customs. We are talking about worries about delays in getting fresh produce to markets.
That question indicates that the Conservatives are not really concerned about the European markets that are so important to our fishing industry. I am sure that Peter Chapman realises that all the markets are important to us and that to threaten our exports with added delays and bureaucracy in relation to one of them is just not on, to be frank.
In recent years, we have all seen on our TV screens the long lines of lorries parked up on motorways in the south of England because of ferry delays or Channel tunnel blockages. Do our fish exporters have worries about being outside the customs union? You bet they do.
I am conscious of the time. I turn to what seems to be the main point of conflict between the Conservatives and the SNP in the debate—I have listened carefully to the barracking, the shouting and the exchanges. The fishing rights of our Scottish fishermen must not be traded away against other policy issues. It is right to take part in negotiations with our neighbours in the European Union, but those negotiations must be about fishing and access to markets. They must not be about using our fishermen as a bargaining chip in more general European negotiations.
Our fishing industry is a vital part of the Scottish economy. As someone who grew up in Ullapool, which is still one of Scotland’s busiest fishing ports, I understand and value the cultural contribution that fishing communities make to Scotland. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Conservative motion recognised that; it is unusual for me to find anything to agree with in Conservative motions.
It is plainly obvious—and has been so for a long time—that the common fisheries policy is not fit for purpose; it is not a good deal for our fishing industry. That is why the SNP has consistently argued for it to be scrapped or fundamentally reformed. That is our party’s record on standing up for fishing and it goes a long way back.
We can contrast that with the position of the Tory party, which took Scotland into the EU and described the fishing industry as “expendable” as it did so. I find it astonishing that the Tories have the audacity to bring the debate to the chamber, given their appalling record on Scotland’s fishing industry. Their signalling on the issue so far indicates that they are preparing to barter again.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said last year before the EU vote that Brexit would not lead to an end of UK involvement in or with the CFP. In her first major Brexit speech, in Lancaster house, Theresa May said:
“I do not believe that the EU’s leaders will seriously tell German exporters, French farmers, Spanish fishermen, the young unemployed of the Eurozone, and millions of others, that they want to make them poorer, just to punish Britain and make a political point.”
In the Brexit white paper, the Tories made it clear that fishing will be just a negotiating chip in the Brexit talks. The paper says:
“Given the heavy reliance on UK waters of the EU fishing industry and the importance of EU waters to the UK, it is in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU’s fishing communities.”
Let us continue. More recently, the letter from the Tory environment secretary Andrea Leadsom to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation signalled that the UK Government is preparing to reach a deal over the CFP. It reads:
“No decision has yet been made on the extent to which the EU legislation governing the Common Fisheries Policy will be incorporated into domestic law.”
The letter also states that the UK Government
“are committed to ongoing co-operation with other countries over management of shared stocks ... and ... ending discards”.
It seems that the much-hated common fisheries policy could be the only EU policy to survive the Tories’ hard Brexit.
We know that the Tories called the fishing industry “expendable” on our way into Europe. When I worked in psychiatry, we used to say that the best predictor of the future is what has happened in the past. Folk in our fishing communities are not daft.
When it comes to fisheries, the Scottish National Party claims to have a new vision for the future of Scotland that will be beneficial for all. Sadly, that vision is based on destroying the best from the past while clinging to the discredited EU policies over which the UK has had little control. The SNP’s position on the common fisheries policy epitomises that vision. It is a muddy position that is delivered with the slipperiness of a fresh fish and the glazed, dull and unseeing eyes of a fish that is not quite so fresh.
Last year, the UK democratically voted to leave the EU. As parliamentarians, we should accept that decision and focus our energies on implementing the changes that will come as a result. I do not often quote Socrates, but he said:
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
That is what we should do when it comes to our fishing policy; we should not pretend that the only way is to cling on to the old common fisheries policy and unrealistically claim that Scotland can single-handedly change it.
Post-Brexit, Scotland will be in the interesting position of negotiating with the rest of the UK to come up with a strategy that suits us all. The Scottish Government has constantly called for that, but now it seems to want to reject that approach.
As Maree Todd said, the UK Government has, via Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice, made it clear that Scotland will be fully included in the discussions about the new policy but, for the SNP, the appropriate saying appears to be, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” It is time for the SNP to stop playing politics with spin and to engage with the UK Government on the future, instead of clinging to the past.
As we heard from John Finnie, the UK’s policy must be based on sustainability and collaboration. We need to talk to the EU about how to manage universal stocks from their breeding grounds to the place where they are captured.
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
That is not only good and sensible management; accepting that will bring, as Bertie Armstrong has said, a sea of opportunity. That is not visionary, but simple common sense.
When the UK leaves the EU, we will regain control of our coastal waters to the 200-mile limit. We can say who does what, where, when and how. [
.] Cabinet secretary, you do not allow me to interrupt you when you are in committee, so please do not interrupt me now.
Taking back the levers of power might be another SNP clarion call when it comes to the UK Government but apparently it is not one when it comes to the EU, for it is clear that, as the EU fisheries commissioner has said, those who are in the EU are in the common fisheries policy. It is not possible to be in and out, which is the view that Whiteford and Weir peddle. That is a truly disingenuous flip-flop.
No one doubts the importance of fishing to the UK and especially to Scotland, but it could be worth so much more. Currently, EU boats land from UK waters a catch that is worth £400 million. That represents 58 per cent of the total catch. Something tells me that we are being short changed.
I will focus briefly on the Highlands, where fishing is an important industry for us. In rural areas, it creates jobs that are often critical to the local economy. I know that the Presiding Officer will press me to keep to my time, but I mention that the fisheries sector in Ullapool, Lochinver, Kishorn and Scrabster is important not only to fishermen but to the services that support them.
For the reasons that I have given, I support the motion and call on the SNP Government to do the same. There is no flip-flopping on the Conservative side of the chamber when it comes to fishing, and it is time for the Government’s slippery approach to come to a halt and for it to support our fishermen.
For all their professions of support for our fishing industry, I am surprised that it has taken the Tories 40 long years to recognise how vital fishing is to our culture, economy and communities.
My constituency covers both coasts—east and west—and I unequivocally assure the Conservatives that they signed up for, and have presided over, a common fisheries policy that has been damaging to our fishermen and our coastal communities.
Peter Chapman said that history is irrelevant, but it is totally relevant when it highlights the hypocrisy and the empty rhetoric of Mr Chapman’s party. It was a Conservative leader who signed us up to the CFP, knowing full well that it would lead to a
“weaker and less efficient national fleet”.
All the predictions in the secret briefings of the 1970s and 1980s have come true: we have weaker fleets; small-boat fishing has been damaged; and there are fewer fishermen.
The Tories knew it then—and they pressed ahead. They claim to know it now, but we cannot even get an assurance from the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, that we will be in control of our own fishing after Brexit.
I will remind Conservative members of the much-needed history lesson from Fergus Ewing. On the Conservatives’ watch, fishermen were deemed non-essential under a Tory leader in the 1970s, sold out to the original CFP by a Tory leader in the 1980s and betrayed by a revised CFP under a Tory leader in the 1990s.
Leaving history behind, now we have a Tory leader whose first major Brexit speech mentioned the potential plight of Spanish fishermen, but nothing about Scottish fishermen. Mrs May talks a lot about deals with Europe that are “mutually beneficial” for the UK and for the EU’s fishing communities, but she cannot give us any detail on how much of the CFP will still apply after Brexit. She can give us no clarity on future funding to replace the European maritime and fisheries fund, no guarantees on tariff-free and customs-free exports to the EU single market and no assurance that EU nationals and their families working in the fishing sector can remain in Scotland. That is not political spin; that is what I have heard by speaking to fishermen on the east and west coasts of my constituency. The Conservatives claim that they are standing up for the fishing industry; but they have had 30 years to do so, and they have failed.
In sharp contrast, the SNP has been utterly consistent and vociferous in condemning the CFP and pressing the UK Government to negotiate a better deal for our fishermen. That is not a new vision, as Edward Mountain said, but a longstanding commitment to end the CFP.
As evidence of that, in 2007, our manifesto pledged to
“continue to work for withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy”.
In 2011, our manifesto stated:
“The CFP is well past its sell-by date”.
In our paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, which was published in December 2016 and dismissed by the Conservatives in Westminster, we stated that our preference was that
“we would not remain within the Common Fisheries Policy”.
Today, Fergus Ewing’s amendment notes that again.
What I recognise is that the Conservatives have had ample opportunity to negotiate a better deal for our fishermen but have failed to do so. Rhetoric is one thing, but the Tories have had decades in which to support our fishing industry. Only when it becomes politically expedient to do so do we see them lift a finger for it.
So far, this debate has contained more heat than light and political posturing has played a large part in that. However, we all agree on some points, one of which is about access to the European single market. In his opening statement, Peter Chapman suggested that it would be quite simple to get a free-trade deal with the rest of Europe. However, that is not in keeping with a hard Brexit, because Europe will want something back. If we are not going to trade with it at all, it is very unlikely that it will give us a free-trade deal for our fish. Therefore, it is very important that we work with the EU to find a deal that suits it and also suits us and our fishing community.
We also need to be wary of the red tape that surrounds imports to the EU. As Mike Rumbles and, indeed, the fishing community have made clear in the past, that is the community’s biggest fear. If it is difficult to import, regardless of the tariffs that are in place, access to the market will be damaged, which will make things very difficult for our community and, indeed, for those who might want access to our fish in that market as well.
There has been a lot of talk about the CFP, but again it has given off more heat than light. I understand the concerns that have been expressed and the need to rebalance, but the fact is that if we leave the EU, we will not be subject to the CFP, unless we agree some access to the market.
Stewart Stevenson gave us a history lesson about the CFP, quoting a leaflet from back in the 1970s in which the SNP made it clear that it did not agree with the policy. I have to say that he makes my point: he and his party have been arguing against the CFP since the 1970s and where are we? We are still in it. Given that anything that the SNP has done has been an absolute failure, how on earth is it going to negotiate changes to the CFP from outwith the EU when we could not do so when we were in it? Maree Todd made the same argument as him, but I am afraid to say that if we are in the European Union, we will be in the CFP—that is why the fishing community voted out. Those outwith the fishing community are looking for a more balanced response, but I do not know how on earth we can get back into the European Union without going back into the CFP.
Others have made the point that not everything is wrong with the CFP. I note the concerns about access to our fishing grounds, but other aspects of the policy such as management and protection of stocks and the environment will, as everyone agrees and as John Finnie, Mike Rumbles and Claudia Beamish have mentioned, need to be replicated in domestic policy. Claudia Beamish went a wee bit further, alluding to other issues such as the science and the shared expertise that we gain from the EU and which we stand to lose if we cannot work with it in the future. Of course, the EU itself stands to lose our expertise in technical measures, which are something that our fishing community has led on.
We cannot simply say, “CFP bad”; we need to ensure that some of the good things in it are replicated in future and that we keep them as part of our local management. After all, we have to protect things such as the shared spawning grounds that John Finnie and Edward Mountain talked about. I think that all of us agree that repatriated powers should be devolved, but that does not mean that we should not work with others. We have to do so in order to make that a reality.
I know that we are short of time, Presiding Officer, so I will conclude by saying that we have to protect our fishing industry, our stocks and our marine environment. That is what we should be looking at and it is, I think, something that we can agree on and unite around.
There is no doubt that, in comparison with its importance to the UK, the Scottish fishing industry is much more important to the Scottish economy and Scottish life; indeed, it is much more important than the English fishing industry’s relative importance to England. As a result, I want very briefly to quote three things that indicate some words that are missing from this debate.
The first quotation is from the Tory motion, which
“acknowledges the potential to restore control of access to UK waters”.
The word “potential” is interesting, as it is not a word of commitment; and I also note that there is no mention of Scottish waters. The person who has been talking to the SFF about Scottish waters and Scottish control is not a Tory, but the cabinet secretary beside me.
The second quotation that I want to highlight is from Theresa May herself, in her Lancaster house speech, in which she talks about “Spanish fishermen”—not Scottish fishermen—in the context of guaranteeing income and access.
The third interesting Tory quotation is from the Brexit white paper, which says:
“Given the heavy reliance on UK waters of the EU fishing industry ... it is in ... our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal”.
At the outset, Mr Chapman said that the key issue was control, citing Iceland. I agree with him; who will have control? It will not be Scotland, the Scottish Parliament or Scottish fishermen; it will be the UK. This is about UK Tory interests, not Scottish fishermen’s interests. I see the Tories acknowledging that and agreeing. That is what they have said—this is about UK Tory interests.
The reality is that, like agriculture, fishing will, if we allow it to happen—
No, but I will come to Mr Chapman’s role in this in a moment.
If we allow it to happen, fishing will be grabbed by the UK and traded away.
The reality is that that has happened for the past 40 years and will go on happening. The Tories have always traded away, and will always trade away, Scottish assets for their profit.
Alas, the reality is that Mr Chapman understands little of that. [
.] I am only going on the evidence of his speech. For Brexit, the UK needs things to trade. Fishing access will be the key ask from some EU partners, so it will be needed to trade. It is interesting—Mr Chapman might want to note this—that the key ask in non-EU countries will be agricultural access. There is Brazilian beef, for example. I predict that Mr Chapman will have a lot of explaining to do to his farming friends in future months as they realise what is happening. Holding on to agriculture and fisheries is about holding on to assets at Westminster in order to trade them away.
The second thing about Brexit that is not understood by the Tories is that Scottish membership of the EU will be a matter of negotiation and priorities, and the Scottish fishing industry is much more important to Scotland than it is to the UK.
No, I will not. We have heard too much on these matters from the Tories that is, unfortunately, not accurate. It is important that we put on the record the reality of what is happening, and the reality is that the Scottish fishing industry is important to Scotland and will be an important part of our negotiation.
Thirdly, the Tories have ignored the role of the European Parliament, which will have a yes/no vote on Brexit. The historic rights of other countries have already been referred to in the European Parliament’s initial motion, and the reality is that the people who will vote on the matter in the end have already declared their position. What is about to happen is that the Tories will be destroyed by that—they will trade away those rights.
We have a list of seven points on which the Tories are wrong. They are wrong on the history. Unfortunately, the fishing industry was sold out by the Tories at the beginning, and it is still sold out. The Tories are wrong about the CFP. As Stewart Stevenson pointed out, the SNP has opposed the CFP again and again. The Tories are wrong about access to markets, and Scottish fish processors will suffer from their attitude, just as inshore fishermen will. I represent a considerable number of inshore fishermen who know that that is the truth. The Tories are also wrong about the future prospects for Scotland negotiating reform or changes to the CFP. It is ironic that the people who tell us what Europe will do are the ones who want to get out of it.
The Tory position is wrong on the Brexit processes and the UK intentions, as the Tories will sell out the fishing industry. The Tory position is wrong in its politics, as the Tories should be apologising, not exploiting. Finally, it is wrong for Scottish fishing.
I say to the Scottish fishermen: do not be fooled by the Tories—they are wrong in every regard.
I know that, for many people, the EU referendum vote last June was a difficult one. The United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave and, in my own area of Moray, we came closer than any other part of Scotland to voting leave. Much of that vote came from the coastal communities—from Burghead across to Cullen and everything in between. Those communities have a rich history of fishing and still fish today, even if the number of boats and of those directly involved in the industry has reduced.
I have had a lot of conversations with local people since the vote last June. Those from the fishing community who supported leaving the EU did so because of the opportunity to leave the common fisheries policy—that is what persuaded them to vote to come out of the EU.
Leaving the European Union and the common fisheries policy will mean that the Scottish fishing industry has a bright future ahead of it. Control over Scotland’s waters will be restored, the Scottish fishing industry can be rebuilt and our many coastal communities can be revived. We can create a fishing regime that best suits the needs of the fishing industry only when Scotland and the UK are back in control. Peter Chapman was right to point out that such a vision of prosperity is not possible under the current constraints of the CFP.
I will come on to some other points from SNP members in a moment. The most recent letter from Andrea Leadsom, which the SNP has tried to portray as being against the fishermen and against our coming out of the CFP, has been supported by the fishing industry. The industry is happy with what the Conservative UK Government is doing and unhappy with what the SNP is doing.
We have heard from many members on the Conservative and SNP benches that the CFP is unfair and works against the interests of the Scottish fishing industry. I will take an intervention from any SNP MSP who will stand up and say that they will support the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation sea of opportunity pledge, which I and other Conservatives have supported. Will any SNP MSP support the pledge that Eilidh Whiteford and Mike Weir have supported?
The question was clear: will any SNP member stand up and say that they have signed the pledge that the SFF is asking all general election candidates to sign? None of them has signed it, which is telling, both for this Parliament and for the fishing communities.
Our fishing communities know that the Scottish Conservatives have a positive vision for a prosperous, sustainable and environmentally friendly Scottish fishing industry. We are committed to leaving the EU and the CFP and taking back control of the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. That is the message that our fishing communities in Moray and across Scotland want to hear. They know that the Scottish Conservatives are backing them and that—as we have just seen—the SNP is not. The SFF is right to highlight the sea of opportunity that awaits the Scottish fishing industry once the UK exits the European Union.
Moray fishermen will benefit if we break from the constraints of the common fisheries policy—[
.] Moray’s coastal communities know that the fishing industry will thrive without the straitjacket of the CFP.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Finally, as Finlay Carson pointed out, the SNP has not done enough to support the fishing industry. In recent weeks, the SNP’s position on the CFP has become ever more confusing, and the contributions from SNP members today have made that very clear.
The First Minister has demanded a second independence referendum and has said that that is at the heart of her general election campaign. If the SNP is successful in separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom, its policy is for Scotland to join the EU as an independent state. As we have heard, the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has made the position of Brussels absolutely clear on the matter: a new country that joins the EU cannot opt out of the CFP. There are no halfway measures—the SNP would take Scottish fishermen straight back into the common fisheries policy.
Exiting the common fisheries policy is incompatible with the Scottish National Party’s commitment to EU membership. The Scottish Conservatives are unequivocal in our support for Scottish fishermen and their desire to exit the common fisheries policy.
Our motion makes it clear that we recognise the importance of the fishing industry in Scotland and the crucial role that fishing plays as
“a bedrock of many communities”.
Brexit offers an opportunity to leave behind the CFP and provide Scotland with a fit-for-purpose and tailor-made fishing policy. Perhaps most important of all, it provides an opportunity to deliver what the sector wants.
At decision time, MSPs can stand with the fishing communities in Moray and across Scotland and vote for a positive future for Scottish fishing by supporting the Conservative motion, or they can vote with the SNP, cast off the benefits of leaving the CFP and support an independent Scotland going straight back into the EU. I urge members to vote for a bright future for Scottish fishing and to reject the SNP’s dangerous plans for Scotland to be taken out of the United Kingdom only to go straight back into the European Union.