14 September 2016

S5M-01412 European Union Referendum

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01412, in the name of Michael Russell, on the implications of the European Union referendum result and the United Kingdom’s negotiated position.

... ... ...

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

The common fisheries policy of the EEC and EU has hung over the fish catchers in my constituency ever since the Tory Government sold out our interests when they took us in.

You will not find a single occasion when I have stated that it was good for us. I agree with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s helpfully concise briefing, which says that we need

“fairer and more appropriate shares of catching opportunities for the Scottish fishing industry within our own waters”.

It is worth saying, parenthetically, that the establishment of the 200-mile limit did not necessarily extinguish access for countries which fished in those waters prior to its establishment, and it is not clear whether leaving the CFP will deliver all these waters to Scotland—but that is for another day.

My first speech on the CFP was here in 2001, on the day after I was sworn in to Parliament. I was able to say then:

“I am happy to agree with Jamie McGrigor”

—who was then a Tory MSP—

“who spoke yesterday of the need for more local control. We in the SNP have advocated that for many years.” —[Official Report, 14 June 2001; c 1670.]

I go further in two respects. One of the most frustrating aspects of the common fisheries policy for our fishermen lies in our ability to suspend fishing rights in an area of our interest but only to apply to our own boats. Other nations’ boats can continue to fish in areas where our boats cannot. That must end.

Secondly, the right to fish is essentially provided by a grant of quota from government, and at no cost to fishermen. Therefore, I suggest, any value associated with quota must remain a public asset. We must look for ways to make it an asset from which local fishing communities as a whole can benefit. Equally, we need to find a way to be fair to fishermen who have paid for quota in good faith. If we need any knowledge of Tory thinking on that subject, we need look no further than Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs. He writes on the Conservative Home website:

“The solution is to establish property rights in sea fisheries”.

and goes on to suggest an international trade in these rights. That is absolutely opposed by our fishermen and runs entirely counter to broader community demands for local control—once again, it is an indication that the Tories wish to sell out the interests of our fishing communities. In doing so, the Tories are departing from former Tory MSP Jamie McGrigor’s position, with which I was able to agree in 2001.

As the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and others acknowledge, we need a new fisheries management system and—as in Iceland, the Faroes and Norway—our fishermen need to be inside the room while the local detail is determined.

Fundamentally, that means that control of fisheries in our waters cannot be left to Westminster, which took us into the CFP and has a track record of selling us out when negotiations on fishing take place. Fisheries must instead be controlled here, in this Parliament, but with significant local decision-making by local communities embedded in the process.

Of course, fishing is not about catching alone. The economically larger part, as well as larger by employment, is fish processing. Its interests require the free movement of people and unfettered access to the very large market that is the EU single market.

I was interested that Mr Tomkins appeared to suggest that Brexit means leaving the EU single market. I thought that the question on the ballot paper was about leaving the EU. It did not commit us to leaving the EU single market.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con): My view is that Brexit requires us to ask, what kind of access to the single market is now in the national interest?

Stewart Stevenson: The national interest is clearly expressed as access to all the rights and privileges of being able—without visas, paperwork or costs—to continue to sell into the market and to engage people from across the EU in our industries.

In my constituency, in the fish processing industry, it has proved impossible to rely solely on local labour. Factories in my constituency, even after local lay-offs, continue to have vacancies. Secondary schools in Fraserburgh and Peterhead illustrate the point, with a couple of dozen languages being spoken in each of them.

Leaving the single market could cut us off from all that. Merely having access could mean that all those barriers are likely to be created and we would damage the interests of Scotland and indeed the wider UK.

I will just say a word or two about what the Tories appear to want today. From the Government motion, they wish to delete

“agreed UK approach”,

meaning that they want Westminster to decide. They wish to delete the objective

“for Scotland ... to remain inside the EU Single Market”,

meaning that they want to damage our exports. They also wish to delete

“protects ... social protection”,

meaning that they want to remove safety nets for the vulnerable.

Finally, I understand that many of my constituents used June’s vote to get out of the CFP, albeit that the leave vote in my constituency was only 1,000 more than in East Aberdeenshire. Scotland now has important interests to look after. We should, for example, lead on fishing negotiations for the UK as a whole; we should not delegate decisions to Westminster—but I am not holding my breath.


Stewart Stevenson
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