13 December 2006

S2M-5303 Fisheries

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

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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.


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