31 October 2002

S1M-3511 Fishing

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is Fishing.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): When I was elected to the Parliament some 500 days ago, my first speech was about fishing. When I returned from my first week in Parliament, my first constituency engagement was at the fishermen's mission in Peterhead. The Royal Humane Society presented a medal and a certificate to a fisherman who had selflessly gone over the side of his boat in January at something like 62 deg north to rescue a man who had gone overboard.

That neatly illustrates the danger of the fishing industry. It also illustrates the interdependence of people in that industry. All the fishing communities of Scotland depend on fishing offshore, inshore and deep into the countryside. Theirs is a shared interest and a shared past and it must be a shared future.

In their summing up, I ask the Tories to apologise to fishermen for the disgraceful remarks made by Brian Monteith, who suggested that the proposed closure of cod fisheries is not an important topic. However, I acknowledge that Jamie McGrigor's remarks have done much to offset those suggestions.

The future of communities is at the core of the debate. It is not an arid, sterile debate about European, Westminster or Scottish Parliament processes. The debate is about people. If 20,000 people were to lose their jobs as a result of the closure of the white fisheries, it would represent the biggest job losses in recent Scottish history. That is unacceptable, and that view is shared throughout the chamber.

Fishing is an historic industry and we require it to have a future. By its actions, the fishing industry makes a contribution to our understanding of community. It makes a contribution to health, through the delivery of a first-class food. Through times of difficulty, it has shown many others in Scotland how to manage.

Our approach is based on practicality and not on sentiment. Fishermen want a future for their industry and they want fish to be in the sea in the future. I ask the minister to break rules—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): But not the one-minute rule, as that is all that remains of your speaking time.

Stewart Stevenson: I do not ask the minister to break laws—although I would do that, were it necessary—but certainly to break rules. It is fine to debate whether the minister is leading a negotiating team.
I have my views and members know what they are. However, I want the minister to get out of the chamber and over to Brussels to build alliances not just at meetings, but before meetings. Decisions are not taken at meetings; they are predicated by what happens before meetings. It is important that we do not leave everything to officials. If the minister offends people in Westminster or Brussels by networking, persuading and twisting arms, I ask the minister please to do so.

We will only win if we have a common purpose and determination. The consensus that is beginning to emerge in the chamber will help the minister in his progress. Let us not descend into trying to score petty party points. We are not making constitutional points, we are making practical points about ministers breaking the rules and taking the initiative and that is the only way to save the Scottish fishing industry.


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