20 December 2006

S2M-5224 Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 20 December 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 10:00]

… … …

Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5224, in the name of Ross Finnie, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have constituents who are closely tied to the success of our distant water fishing fleet, but I also have many constituents who work onshore and are highly dependent on aquaculture. Few supermarkets do not have farmed fish on their shelves that have had value added by factories in my constituency that fit between farmer and retailer. We should not fail to understand the importance of such work to the economy of my constituency and of other parts of Scotland that also process the products of our fish farms.

I have one or two concerns about the bill, although I come at it from the outside, not having been involved in the consideration of the bill so far. When she sums up, the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development might be able to clarify a point about the use of the Fisheries Research Services in inspections. I can see the value in avoiding setting up another agency, but I wonder there might be a conflict of interests between the FRS's research responsibilities and its enforcement responsibilities, which have a different character. However, I am sure that a separation of responsibilities within the FRS can be managed—although I would welcome the minister's comments.

I have some slight concerns about taking the strict liability route, but I understand the tension between anglers—who are interested in the preservation of the gene stock of our existing native fish—and farmers.

The committee's report on the bill refers to the code of practice. I hope that the code will be aspirational, rather than one that sets out minimum standards. However, if it is the latter, we will have to be careful about the duties that are placed on fish farms. Those duties will have to be able to be implemented in practice.

The Planning etc (Scotland) Bill will lead for the first time to a proper planning framework for fish farms. I welcome that, but I hope that the framework will be flexible and that, under planning regulations, there will be sufficient allowance for fallow periods so that areas of Scotland that are used for fish farming can recover.

I turn to angling. As a young country lad, I was a brown trout fisherman. The world was very different then: there were many more fish in our burns and they were much bigger than they are today. As a student, I also worked—

Mr Brocklebank: How big?

Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): This big?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, I thought they were waiting for that, and very enjoyable it was too. As I was saying, I also worked for the Tay Salmon Fisheries Board.
The world has changed dramatically. The cost of fishing has risen hugely, and we must not lose sight of the economic contribution of fishing to the remote parts of Scotland in particular. In my constituency, and in that of my colleague Richard Lochhead, we are developing a tourism industry that depends on there being fish in our rivers.

Paragraph 149 of the committee's report on the bill says that the minister has written to the committee on the subject of fishing opportunities for people on low incomes and for children. At the end of last week, I met the Ugie Angling Association in my constituency in relation to the sale of that fishery. I hope that we will be able to ensure that we do not lose those fishing opportunities for the population as a whole.

There are some concerns over section 28, which contains the sentence:

"A person who commits an offence under this section may be convicted on the evidence of one witness."

I understand the reasons for that, but I would like to hear the minister's justification for the breach of what is a fundamental principle of Scots law—corroboration. What might the implications of that be?


13 December 2006

S2M-5303 Fisheries

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 13 December 2006
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]
… … …


The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5303, in the name of Ross Finnie, on fisheries.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Let me start by trying to identify some of the things that all those who have participated today, and colleagues who have not, can agree on.

The first clear point is that—to use the words that Richard Baker used—we all want a successful, sustainable industry. We may differ about the route to that and about some of the difficulties that we face in delivering that, but let us at least nail the fact that we all share that objective and let us not have name calling and the setting up of straw men simply to attack the bona fides of other members in relation to that objective.

Secondly, we could possibly agree that Ross Finnie is the best man for the job in the coming negotiations in Brussels. I have to accept that part of my reason for that is that we do not have any choice, so he is the best man of the one available. However, he is a bit better than that, because he has experience. He is a pretty knowledgeable fisheries minister, he is relatively articulate and he deserves success on his valedictory visit to the December fisheries council. We will all give a loud hurrah if he delivers on the agenda that we share. We wish Ross Finnie well in every possible respect.

The third point on which we might reasonably be said to agree is that, from every political persuasion in the Parliament today, we have heard specific criticisms of the practice of the CFP. We may be divided on whether the CFP can be amended to be fit for purpose or whether it should be scrapped and replaced, but we have all agreed that there is a serious problem in how the CFP works.

I want to say a few words about science, because we misrepresent both scientists and the scientific process by some of the simplifications that we use. We must all acknowledge, as scientists would, that there is a limit to our knowledge of what goes on in the complex ecostructure that is our oceans. There are variations in the scientific interpretation that is derived from the shared data that we have, and there is a difference in the responses that we draw from the interpretations in different jurisdictions. In a sense, the ICES document represents an average view, which conceals a wide range of scientific conclusions based on shared data. We cannot materially improve knowledge quickly, but we can look at other jurisdictions to see the different policies that are implemented based on the same data.

The Faroes have been mentioned. The Faroes had serious difficulties but, because they could make their decisions as quickly as they wanted to, and as close to their own fishermen as they were able to, they were able to develop, incrementally, a resolution to the difficulties that they faced. There is huge value in local control. We might disagree about the variety of local control that we want to deliver, and the pace at which we want to deliver it, but we are all saying that there is huge value in local control.

We have to remember that even those of us in the Parliament with scientific experience are now somewhat distant from the practical application of it. We should therefore be very cautious in drawing scientific conclusions for ourselves. However, it is our job to be critical and then to promote policies that respond to the scientific knowledge that is available.

The process by which decisions are taken in Europe is farcical in the extreme. The proposed regulation that I have in my hand is dated 5 December. It has 212 pages, it describes 90 fish stocks and it addresses the needs of 20 fisheries. It came out at the beginning of December and for three days politicians, in a time-boxed way, have to make political decisions on it. The time that is available to consider the proposals is so limited that, in essence, science goes out the window and we have realpolitik and politics, and very little more. The process is inflexible and no longer fit for purpose. The minister himself has criticised much that has happened, but he has given us some good news.

Ted Brocklebank referred to landings at Aberdeen and I will expand slightly on what he said. We were told by processors that on one day in Aberdeen half a box of fish was landed, and that on the following day three boxes were landed. That is a measure of the difficulties that occur from time to time.

Mark Ruskell is one of the brightest of our young MSPs but, from some of the things that he said, I think that his analysis runs somewhat ahead of his knowledge.

Alasdair Morrison, of the labourist party, is just a relic of Eilean an Iar. I think that I can dismiss him with no further reference whatsoever.

Richard Lochhead: He is not here.

Stewart Stevenson: No, he is not here—because he does not like to hear what people have to say.

I say to Iain Smith that we simply do not have a proper management system in the common fisheries policy. It is proper that we continue to debate whether the CFP can be changed to provide a proper management system, or whether it cannot. We are the pessimists; Mr Smith is among the optimists.

Iain Smith rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I am in my last minute.

In Scotland, we have 25 per cent of the European Union's seas, 68 per cent of the UK's landings and 74 per cent of the UK's tonnage. That is why these issues matter to us on this side of the chamber, and why they matter to Scotland.

If the present state of cod stocks and other vulnerable stocks in the North sea is a measure of the success of the CFP, I certainly would not like to deal with failure. It is time to change the medicine.


06 December 2006

S2M-4876 Rural Post Offices

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 6 December 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
… … …

Rural Post Offices

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4876, in the name of John Swinney, on a threat to the rural post office network in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the public concern over the future of the rural post office network in Perthshire, Angus and other parts of rural Scotland; notes that the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provides a subsidy to the rural post office network in Scotland that is scheduled to be removed in 18 months' time; notes that, while the DTI provides this subsidy, other UK government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are taking decisions that reduce the volume and value of transactions that can be undertaken at post offices, thereby damaging the profitability of these post offices; recognises that if the rural post office network is not supported there will be severe economic loss and loss of amenity in countless communities in Perthshire, Angus and rural Scotland, and considers that the Scottish Executive should make representations to the UK Government to provide a stable level of support that guarantees the viability of the rural post office network.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Rural communities are at the heart of the debate. I have the privilege of representing one of the three parliamentary constituencies in Aberdeenshire, where some 57 per cent of people live in a rural setting, which is the highest rate of any mainland council area in Scotland. My constituency is not as remote as Jamie Stone's, but it is more rural than the Highland Council area, by 2 per cent. The debate therefore reflects absolutely the concerns of my constituents.

We have vibrant local communities. There are 32 community council areas in my constituency and communities in my constituency have won the Calor Scottish community of the year award twice in the past five years. There is a huge sense of community in the area. The first place to win the award was Whitehills. During my annual summer tour, I dropped in on the local post office at Whitehills to talk to Annette Addison, who is the postmistress there—I am sure that members know her well. In a community of 1,000, she gathered 900 signatures in an attempt to save the Post Office card account, which graphically indicates the value that the community of Whitehills places on the post office and the services that it delivers.

That happened when post offices had just lost the business of TV Licensing. It is worth putting that in context: in my constituency there are 42 local post offices, but Paypoint plc has only 28 terminals—a significant numerical difference. The situation is worse than members might think: only 10 of the Paypoint terminals are located outside towns that have a population of more than 10,000. The loss of TV Licensing has led to a dramatic drop in the service that is provided to our communities.

In New Deer—a community of just 500 people, which won the Calor Scottish community of the year award this year—an energetic local businessman, Mark Kindness, employs 60 people in a bakery. He has bought and invested in the post office in the adjacent village of Maud. He has done that because he thinks he can just about break even and because he sees the value of community, which is vital throughout Scotland. My constituency is a net contributor to the economy and the post offices are part of the infrastructure that makes our economy and sense of community work. To deprive communities of their post offices is like shutting down the railways in London, which are supported by the public purse as part of community infrastructure—a role which our equally vital post offices also have.


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