10 December 2003

S2M-715 Fisheries

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-715, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries 2004, and on three amendments to the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP):

"One of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do was to stand up ... on 19 December last year, six days before Christmas, and face more than 100 skippers and crew members. I had to try and explain the bad, corrupt and downright deceitful deal foisted on them by people in Brussels. It was a vicious deal, and they were its victims. They were staring ruin in the face—that is the human cost of the decisions taken last year. I do not believe for one second that Franz Fischler could have been a party to that deal if he had had to stand where I had to stand on that day. That is why I say that the remoteness of Brussels in respect of fishing cannot be overstated."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 2003; Vol 415, c 1024.]

Those were not my words but the words that Mr Alistair Carmichael used in the debate at Westminster last night. He was speaking about the speech that he made in the Lerwick mission hall, but every member in this chamber who has any connection with the fishing industry could have articulated well the angst, difficulty and pain that they experience when faced with the impossible task of explaining to fishermen why they are treated as they are.

The minister said that there are signs of stock recovery and quoted ICES as stating that fishing for white fish other than cod would be okay if—and only if—there were negligible or zero cod bycatch. The good news is that John Rutherford, the chief executive of the Sea Fish Industry Authority, told the Westminster cross-party fisheries group that haddock can be caught with under 3 per cent bycatch. In the past week, Eric Crockart, of BBC Aberdeen, braved the elements and went out on a trawler and filmed precisely that happening. The nets were cast and drawn: nae cod, plenty of haddock.

Ross Finnie: Would Stewart Stevenson agree that, at the pre-debate briefing, John Rutherford told MPs that the process was still very much in the preliminary stages?

Stewart Stevenson: I entirely agree that that is the case. However, when Napoleon said to his generals as he marched through Europe that he needed trees to shade his soldiers from the sun and was told that it would take 30 years before the trees were high enough, he said, "There is no time to waste." I say to the minister that there is no time to waste in this regard, either. It is a matter of urgency that we proceed with matters relating to cod.

The industrial fisheries, which are essentially untouched in their operation by the proposals, have a bycatch of cod of 5 per cent—nearly double the bycatch that we are now seeing in the experiments in relation to haddock.

In the debate in Westminster yesterday, Mr Bradshaw was generous enough to say:

"I shall be happy to take with me that extremely useful piece of information from the all-party fisheries group".—Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 2003; Vol 415, c 984.]

He was, of course, referring to that piece of information from John Rutherford that I mentioned earlier. I hope that Mr Bradshaw will have Mr Finnie's full and unequivocal support as he pursues the interests of the haddock fishery in Scotland.

Phil Gallie said that he was worried about the falling price of nephrops and I have to say that his colleague Nanette Milne was somewhat foxed by a timely and useful intervention from the leader of the Green party. The issue is that we are landing more nephrops and, because the market does not have the capacity to absorb them, prices have fallen. We warned that that sort of thing could happen. The diversion of effort away from certain fisheries has inevitable consequences, of which the falling price of nephrops is one.

Referring to today's debate and previous debates on this matter, Robin Harper said that this kind of politics is what harms our interests. I say to him that the pork-barrel politics that allow Austria and other non-fishing nations to trade their fishing votes against their other interests are why those nations that have a direct interest in fishing have to retain control of fishing.

Des McNulty: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time, but I will speak about Des McNulty so that he does not feel left out. He made the quite proper link between the devastation in Clydebank from industrial closures and what can happen in areas that are dependent on fishing. However, he seemed not to have read what ICES had to say about the state of haddock stocks. Its graphs and other information show that there has been a steady rise over a number of years. His suggestion that people should not buy Scottish haddock was quite disgraceful.

Out of courtesy, I shall confirm for Jamie McGrigor that the SNP—along with everyone in the chamber—sends its best wishes to Hugh Allan.

Richard Baker equated withdrawing from the CFP with a North sea free-for-all. On the contrary, it would put the North sea nations on their mettle to negotiate and work together.

We welcome the minister's confirmation that 2001 will be the baseline for future negotiations. He should stick to that, as it is vital to the Scottish interest. We can support the motion, although we believe that it would be improved by adding our amendment.

I want colleagues to beware. The Tories are using their policy as a stalking horse for their broader anti-European agenda, and we should not forget that. [Interruption.]

All right, minister—a stalking cart-horse. For our part, we oppose the CFP as a means to restore EU credibility and remove fishing as an area of contention and as something that does down the reputation of the EU. I am happy to support our amendment.


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