09 December 2014

S4M-11825 Fisheries Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11825, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the end-of-year fish negotiations.

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

When I came to Parliament in June 2001, my very first speech was on fisheries. In that speech I harked back to the work of Allan Macartney, a member of the European Parliament, in relation to localities management. It was he who championed the change of approach that we see a little of in the progress that is being made in European fisheries policy. On that basis, I very much welcome the call in Labour’s amendment for “greater flexibility and regionalisation”. That focuses on some important things.

The very least that I can say is that all three Opposition parties have been unwise in proposing to delete what the Government motion says about our fisheries minister, the most experienced in Europe, leading the UK delegation

“where it is clearly appropriate to do so”.

The motion is not seeking an absolute right; it proposes only that the minister leads when appropriate.

Let us consider the issues for fisherman in other parts of the UK besides Scotland. It helps them to have the most experienced minister at the table. The issue is not simply about, as the Tory motion says, benefiting from

“the UK’s negotiating strength in Europe”,

but about the UK benefiting from the strength of experience that a Scottish fisheries minister would bring to the table.

I do not know the member of the House of Lords who led the UK delegation. He may be an excellent person. We address only the issue of his inexperience and the fact that he works in a very different brief. As far as I could see in my research, his sole parliamentary contact with fishing had been to answer three written questions on it on the same day in October 2013. I rather guess—as I former minister I might say this—that civil servants wrote the answers and did not draw on the minister’s knowledge. No doubt we will return to that matter on another occasion.

The SFF has provided us with a briefing, which I very much welcome and which highlights the adverse interaction between old, unreformed and as yet not abandoned legislation and the new schemes that seek to eliminate discards. It is in precisely that kind of area that an experienced fisheries minister will always sacrifice an inexperienced one.

We have heard some of the difficulties that the pelagic fleet faces, less from biological factors and much more fundamentally from political decisions vis-à-vis the relationship between the Faroes and the EU and, of course, the developing difficulties for the industry in relation to trade with Russia.

The Scottish Pelagic Processors Association points out that restrictive legislation from Tórshavn seems to be designed to distort the market and is adding burdens to our industry. Fish caught in Scottish waters by Faroese boats are required, in essence, to be landed in the Faroes. That is probably not much in the interest of Faroese fishermen because it restricts their market opportunities. More fundamentally, it is potentially restricting our processing industry’s opportunities.

We have seen many years of sacrifice in our fishing industry. The number of boats has come down, although that decline has more or less stabilised, and total allowable catches are going up this year, which is very good news. That is because of our fishermen’s sacrifices. However, where previously that quota might have been used usefully to increase economically valuable landings, it is quite likely that a lot of the quota will have to be allocated to fish that might have been discarded. Therefore, it is not clear that we have a system under the EU rules that will be of value to our fishermen to the extent that a better-thought-out fishing quota system would be.

Of course the catching sector is very important, but even bigger is the processing sector. Many people are employed in processing, packaging and promoting our food. In my constituency there are thousands of such people.

I recently attended a Seafish presentation. I was very impressed by the interaction that those who retail our fish, either as wet fish or in our restaurants, have with Scotland. We want to get more Scots eating this good-quality product, for their health but also for the health of our industry.

The SFF welcomes what has happened in the negotiations with the EU and Norway this year, which is good. The SPPA is much less happy about the Faroese tax position. Seeing cod quota and haddock quota rising is absolutely first class.

The price of fishing for the fishermen at sea is high. My very first constituency event in 2001 was to see a bravery award presented to a fisherman, who in January of that year went overboard near Greenland to fish out one of his colleagues. He said that he was more frightened going up and speaking to the audience in the fishermen’s mission at Peterhead than he was diving off the boat. Little he knows—one is easy and the other one is difficult.

I share my apologies with members here. A rather urgent matter will take me away and I will not necessarily be here for the next two speeches, but I will return for the closing speeches.


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