12 December 2012

S4M-05172 Fisheries Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05172, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the annual European Union fisheries negotiations.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

When I rose to my feet to speak on 14 June 2001 at 11 minutes past 4, it was my second day in this Parliament and the subject was the CFP. This is my 442nd speech in Parliament and yet so much remains the same. Jamie McGrigor and Tavish Scott spoke on that day. Absent are the late Margaret Ewing, and also absent are Ross Finnie and Rhona Brankin, who were ministers. The motion that day was moved by the convener of the European Committee, Hugh Henry. Richard Lochhead was the first member to speak after Mr Henry. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—or, as Angus MacDonald said, we are having “that déjà vu feeling”.

In 2001, I referred to Allan Macartney, who, for some years prior to that, had been an active proponent of regional management—locality management—of our natural fishing stock. It is good news that that is now, in essence, an orthodoxy in the debate and it is very much to be welcomed. On that day in 2001, Jamie McGrigor spoke of more local control. We could see the beginnings then of the consensus that we are hearing in today’s debate. I certainly welcome that.

On that day, I referred not only to the economic issues around fishing but to the human issues that are involved in what is the most dangerous industry in these islands. Tavish Scott and I, who represent the constituencies that have probably the most substantial fishing interests in the country, have too often had to engage with the consequences of that danger.

The cabinet secretary spoke of legal bickering. That is nothing new. When I first visited fisheries negotiations at the end of 2002, the commissioner was Franz Fischler—I see the nodding heads of those who remember—who was a small country’s commissioner. He was from a country with no coast, no fishermen and absolutely nothing at stake. He was, of course, an Austrian. The person whom I and the then shadow fishing minister, Richard Lochhead, met that day was Maja Kirchner, who was the commissioner’s assistant and—yes—a lawyer. The lawyers have been around this issue for some considerable time, to the benefit of no one apart from perhaps themselves, due to their funding receipts.

A year later, in an article for my local paper, I wrote of Tavish Scott’s difficulties as a minister as a result of the way in which the Executive’s dithering on the subject was hanging over him. Mr Scott’s colleague in Westminster, Alistair Carmichael, described the 2003 deal as

“bad, corrupt and downright deceitful.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 2003; c 1024.]

Tavish Scott: That is typical of Alistair Carmichael.

Stewart Stevenson: As I said, nothing changes—including Alistair Carmichael.

In 2004, the real effects of the cuts in our fishing fleet started to be seen onshore and offshore. Painters who were based around harbours closed as a result of there being fewer boats to paint and we even saw butchers’ shops closing, which had been the main source of food supplies for the fishing fleet.

In 2006, Jim Wallace, who is now out of ministerial office, reminded us of a speech that he made in Westminster in 1988, in which he referred to

“drastic cuts in the total allowable catch, particularly those for cod and haddock.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 1 December 1988; c 912.]

The lawyers have not been helping, but our fishermen have been rising to the challenge. They have designed new nets that enable them to be highly discriminating in terms of the species that they catch. Our fishermen are hugely more effective conservationists than is any lawyer in any office anywhere in the EU.

The right to catch has to be viewed as a basic human right—not a right that is for sale, but one that is held in trust for future generations of our fishermen. It gars me grue that, as has been referred to, Spanish fishermen are fishing in some of the deep holes off Peterhead from which our fishermen are banned for good conservation reasons. In a single haul of a net, they can lift years of future catch that is barred to our fishermen. We simply have to get away from that being the way in which we work.

We need our ministers speaking for our fishing interests at the top table in Europe. As I said all those years ago, even Ross Finnie would make better decisions than Franz Fischler.

Tavish Scott: Praise, indeed.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed.

Richard Lochhead has done well. We have managed to negotiate something that is appropriate to our circumstances, but he could do even better if we had the powers of a normal country.

I agree with Tavish Scott about the necessity of dealing with the issue for the sake of our pelagic fleets. It is absolutely appalling that we have not been able to resolve the issue. I do not know how to—which is not a sentence that is heard often in Parliament. However, we must—for heaven’s sake—get together and find out the answer because we need it, and we need it now.


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