19 November 2019

S5M-19922 Fisheries Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on S5M-19922, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

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

My throat might mean that I will sit down early, which I am sure that you will welcome, Presiding Officer.

Just to pick up on the points that Finlay Carson made, I think that his comments are an abuse of parliamentary privilege and I will explain why. We are granted privilege to protect us from the legal consequences of what we say for very particular purposes. The vote that Mr Carson referred to never took place in the form that he set out. The reason why is that the clerks at the European Parliament recorded the SNP votes incorrectly: that was corrected within hours of its being drawn to their attention. Therefore, anyone who asserts otherwise is abusing the privileges of this Parliament.

Having said that, let me congratulate Finlay Carson. I join with him on this, and I shake hands with him across the chamber, having said what I have said: when he refers to our “brave” fishermen, there will be no one in the chamber who disagrees with that. We see that in the Government’s motion, and we have heard that from Colin Smyth. We unite in that.

My very first constituency activity after being elected in 2001 was to attend the Fishermen’s Mission in Peterhead for the presentation of a Royal Humane Society medal to a fisherman. He had been on a vessel off the coast of Greenland in January or February, when there was ice on the superstructure of the fishing vessel, and one of the crew members got swept overboard. This gentleman leapt into the sea, where the survival time was a matter of a few minutes, rescued the other fisherman and brought him back to safety. As my very first activity in my constituency, that reinforced my previous understanding of the risks to which fishermen expose themselves and of the bravery that they are prepared to show. Incidentally, the fisherman who won the award said that he was much more concerned about speaking to the audience who were there to see him receive his medal. I sort of understand that.

Now to the matter in hand and the end-of-year negotiations. Unusually, there are some particular and acknowledged difficulties with the scientific information this year. There is also a long-run problem with some of the baselines for the scientific information, which I think that it is time for the scientists to do something about. They acknowledge the difficulties. The science is not an exact one—let us not pretend that it is—but, this year, we are hearing of particular problems.

It is a great delight that Fergus Ewing has such a high regard for George Eustice, his opposite number in the UK Government, but I hope that in the aftermath of the election we will see Fergus Ewing taking the lead if George Eustice is not available—or, more to the point, if he cannot get any guidance from the new UK Government.

Where are we in the whole thing? Conservative colleagues are focusing on but one aspect of the industry—that of the catchers. I led a members’ business debate on the sea of opportunity campaign, and I welcome the sea of opportunity for our catchers. However, that cannot be disconnected from the seafood sector and the need for wider coastal communities to benefit, should it be the case that more fish can be caught by our fishermen—and, fundamentally, landed in Scotland to be processed.

Leaving the customs union and the single market presents immense challenges for the processing sector, however. That sector does not just involve the big processors in my constituency; there are also the wee smokehouses on the west coast, which are a vital part of very small communities there. Like my constituents, people there might employ one or two EU workers, who are vital to making that local enterprise work. We are already seeing that workers are not so willing to come to the north-east and elsewhere in Scotland as they once were, partly because of the devaluation of the pound but also because of the hostile immigration environment that is promulgated and operated by the UK Tory Government.

The notion of thousands of new jobs in processing is utterly fictional, at a time when we have record vacancies in the industry in the north-east. If the industry cannot process, we have to have the same rights and privileges that our friends and colleagues across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland are being given: they are allowed to stay in the single market and the customs union—so our competitors and our rivals are potentially undermining our industry.

I end with a word about how well prepared the Tory Government is for this sea of opportunity and everything that goes with it. Two days before the end of October, the UK Government still could not tell fish processors what labels to print to put on the side of fish exports. That tells us something about the shambles of this Tory Government’s approach to fishing.


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