13 December 2001

S1M-2546 Sea Fisheries

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 December 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Sea Fisheries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2546, in the name of Ross Finnie, on sea fisheries, and on the two amendments to that motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I hope that Elaine Thomson did not suggest—as I thought that she did—that we will not get good fish stocks until we solve the problem of global warming. That would mean that we would have to wait a wee while.

I am sure that Rhona Brankin remembers the first speech that I made in Parliament on 14 June. [MEMBERS: "No."] She will remember it, because I will remind her. I spoke about fishing and the excellent work of my predecessor as member for Banff and Buchan. I note that he and many others spoke in the debate in the Palace of Westminster last Thursday, which started at 2.13 pm and finished at 7 pm. It is a matter of regret that our debate will be a mere 90 minutes—in fact, it will be less than that—when the industry is much more important in Scotland than it is down there.

There was good news in the Westminster debate. Elliot Morley said that he has "close and friendly contacts with the Scottish Executive".—[Official Report, House of Commons, 6 December 2001; Vol 376, c 561.]

I hope that Mr Morley will put flesh on those sentiments and that our minister gains leadership in the forthcoming negotiations. I say to Elaine Thomson that I am sure that Mr Morley would trust Mr Finnie with all UK votes. If not, why should Scotland and Mr Finnie trust Mr Morley with ours? There is a strong case.

Rhona Brankin: Does the member accept that if the SNP had its way and Scotland left the rest of the UK, Scotland would have less influence on fishing matters than even land-locked Austria, which has 10 votes?

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the former minister for that. I am aware—as she is—that an independent Scotland would have more votes in the European Union than it currently has as part of the delegation. Furthermore, those votes would always be cast in the Scottish interest. Many small countries in Europe are in a similar position.

Before I turn to my main point, I would like to mention an important matter to which the minister will be happy to respond—the west coast herring fishery. Since 1997, the quota has shrunk by 56.5 per cent and proposals for this year would mean a further year-on-year reduction of 17.5 per cent. That, like a number of other issues that have been raised in the debate, is apparently unjustified by the published science.

Will the minister give an assurance that he will fight that cut on the grounds of weak science? If it proves necessary, will he invoke the Hague preference? The skippers are unanimous that the stock is in good condition.

It would be a sorry occasion if I did not say something about the decommissioning scheme. There has been a 100 per cent over-subscription of the scheme—197 boats. Of those, 108 will get their money. There will be a lot of disappointment. That tells us a lot about morale in the industry.

Distributing the available quota over fewer boats will help—that must be given a modest welcome—but it is certainly not a conservation measure, despite what Mrs Winterton, the Tory spokeswoman in Westminster, thought. It is critical to long-term sustainability that we address conservation. Juvenile haddocks are out there in great numbers and if we do not have a fleet to catch them, we will not have a viable industry.

Elaine Thomson: Will the member give way?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is closing.

Stewart Stevenson: I am out of time. The EU is indicating increased support for compensated tie-up schemes. We must have scientific results so that we can consult fishermen, argue the case here and elsewhere and bid for funds. Conservation is about conserving communities and fishermen as much as it is about conserving fish. I ask the ministers to go for it, to take the lead in Europe and to stand up for Scotland.


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