Fishing Communities (Compensation)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

1. With your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I thank my constituent who has just given our time for reflection.

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding compensation for fishing communities, in light of the disruption at ports since the end of the European Union exit transition period. (S5T-02617)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

No substantive discussion on a compensation scheme for Scottish fishing communities has taken place, and it is simply unacceptable for the UK Government to launch such a scheme without consulting the Scottish Government. The deal that was reached with the EU demonstrated the UK Government’s profound lack of knowledge of, or concern for, Scottish seafood interests. The industry will rightly be concerned that delivery of the compensation scheme will be in the same vein. However, this Government will continue to stand up for Scottish fishing, and we will do everything that we can to ensure that the compensation scheme reflects the real and lasting damage that has been done to the Scottish seafood sector.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Right now, shellfish exports are being spoiled beyond usefulness because barriers exist where there were none a month ago. When does the cabinet secretary, or when do his colleagues, expect to have interaction with the UK Government about proper compensation funds from that body, which would keep afloat the many small businesses that are vital part of distant coastal communities?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

On several occasions, in representing the Scottish Government at the EU exit operations committee, I have made it clear that the UK Government—having sought Brexit, delivered it in a cack-handed way and ignored the advice of the Scottish Government and of industry to seek a grace period—is now responsible, and solely so, for the losses that have arisen as a result of its failings. I have made it clear that compensation is required, including early last week at an XO meeting. I have repeated that call when attending other XO meetings on behalf of the Scottish Government.

To date, the UK Government has not given the Scottish Government any details of the package. Yesterday, in an apparently off-the-cuff remark, the Prime Minister indicated that the package for the whole UK industry might be as little as £23 million. To put that in perspective, I point out that last year the Scottish Government delivered to the Scottish sector alone Covid compensation and support of £23.5 million.

However, I expect that the UK Government will need to start communicating with us on the matter, and I have called upon it so to do.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Today in Peterhead, there were but a few hundred boxes of fish in a market that was built to process 10,000 boxes each day. The quotas for the next six years involve no meaningful expansion of catching opportunity—indeed, they include some critical reductions. That is due in no small part to Westminster incompetence and deliberately chosen trade-offs. What options exist to remedy that for fishermen in the north-east, across Scotland and, for that matter, across the UK?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The reduced prices and reduced availability of fish at market are, sadly, direct results of the

Brexit boorach. I stress that my imperative—my number 1 priority—is to make sure that we in Scotland, working with local authorities, with Food Standards Scotland and with DFDS and other hubs, resolve the difficulties as far as is within our power. I have had detailed discussions, of course, with the leading stakeholders in the fishing sector across the whole of Scotland, and will continue to do so.

It is difficult for me to see that the problems can accurately be described as “teething problems”, which is the phrase that UK ministers use. I fear that the problems are more serious and deep seated. Indeed, there are so many of them—57 varieties, as I told the XO committee last week—that it seems to me that the UK should seek a derogation from the EU in relation to the requirements. Probably the only reason why it does not do so is that the request might be rejected because the UK Government has forfeited goodwill in the EU.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

The UK Government has taken responsibility for its share of the problem that the sector has faced over the past few weeks and has stepped up with a £23 million compensation fund. It is clear that the Scottish Government was not prepared for the end of the transition period. Can the cabinet secretary state unequivocally whether the delays that were caused by Food Standards Scotland—an agency for which he is responsible—have now been sorted out?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am sorry that the Scottish Conservative representative is making that serious allegation, on which Mr Halcro Johnston has not provided me with a shred of evidence to back it up. It is quite astonishing that a member of this Parliament should make such allegations without checking the facts.

The facts are that the Scottish Government was working flat-out in the run-up to Brexit and for years before it, and that it joined the industry in asking for a derogation period. That was not because problems have arisen through there being insufficient staff in FSS and local authorities, but because the UK Government decided not to take, from me and from the industry in Scotland and elsewhere, the advice that it should seek a necessary period in which to try a wholly untested system, in order to ensure that the difficulties and huge complexities arising therefrom could be addressed, and so that the plethora of public bodies involved could successfully work together to navigate that system.

I find it extraordinary that the Scottish Tories do not accept responsibility for the Brexit boorach that they have created, and that not one of them has yet had the guts to admit that the deal is a bad deal for Scottish fishing.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

The fishing industry has been used as a political football and there is anger in the Shetland fleet. It is just a month since I was told by Michael Gove that the Government would

“ensure that, in Kent, we do not have the type of traffic disruption that some have feared.”—[

Official Report

,

Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee

, 15 December 2020; c 13.]

However, that is precisely what has happened.

My colleague Alistair Carmichael led an urgent debate on the matter at Westminster last week. It is time that politicians and all parties and Governments worked together to find the solution. Will the cabinet secretary push for real focus across Government, so that short-term disruption does not turn into long-term loss for parts of our fishing industry?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I assure Beatrice Wishart that over the past five years—and especially during the past two years—Scottish Government officials and I have worked tirelessly to impress on UK colleagues just how important it was to be prepared for the disruption that Brexit would cause, with an estimated 150,000 export health certificates being required. We worked tirelessly and ceaselessly to prepare; now we are doing the same to resolve the difficulties.

As I made clear, the first priority is to get things started. The sad thing is that, because we are not an independent country that has full control of all such matters, we are dependent on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—UK customs—which does not recognise types of Scottish fish, to do the job for us. Sadly, It has been found wanting.

It is only because of the pressure that the Scottish Government has brought to bear over the past week that the Prime Minister has been shamed into making off-the-cuff remarks about making compensation payments. That could—to be frank—have been avoided, had the UK Government done its job properly in the first place.