14 November 2002

(S1F-2262) Fishing

4. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Executive will respond to European Union announcements on fishing made on 11 November 2002. (S1F-2262)

The Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice (Mr Jim Wallace): I will repeat what has been said before. The protection of the industry and fishing communities across Scotland is of paramount importance. As Mr Stevenson will be aware, the European Commission was unable to publish its proposals on 11 November as anticipated. Commissioner Fischler appears to recognise that wholesale closure is not acceptable and efforts continue, in discussions with the industry and others, to identify suitable alternatives. I know that that approach has the overwhelming support of the Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: Does the Deputy First Minister agree that at this time of crisis we need unity of purpose between fishing communities and the elected politicians of all parties? Will he join me in welcoming the Fraserburgh fishermen's wives' campaign in this regard?

In addition to speaking to the Secretary of State for Scotland, will the Deputy First Minister speak to the Prime Minister about having Mr Finnie appointed as a UK minister—I say this in a genuine cross-party spirit—so that the Prime Minister has the benefit of having a minister at his elbow who has at least been out listening to fishermen? That would avoid the Prime Minister, as at column 28 of Hansard yesterday, running up the white flag for fishing in these islands.

Mr Wallace: I agree that the issue should be approached on an all-party basis, as has been the case. The meeting that my colleague Ross Finnie—and, indeed, other colleagues present from all parties in the Parliament—attended in Aberdeen on Monday was indicative of that coming together not only of politicians, but of the community and of the fishing industry on the catching and processing sides.

I would welcome any positive contribution that the Fraserburgh fishermen's wives make. I am getting somewhat used to delegations of and representations from wives of those employed in the north-east of Scotland. I hope that the Fraserburgh wives are as effective in their campaign as the Peterhead wives were in theirs.

On Stewart Stevenson's other point, it might be taking coalition politics too far to suggest that Mr Finnie might replace Mrs Beckett. The industry and our fishing community need concerted effort to ensure that we get the right answers. They do not need navel gazing about who sits in which chair in the Council of Ministers.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): Does the Deputy First Minister accept that Franz Fischler's delphic mutterings on Monday were no great progress? Does he accept that the Scottish fishing industry needs a long-term recovery plan for stocks and for fishing communities, which will face considerable crisis if the European Commission's plans are allowed to proceed? Does he accept that that is a better way to approach the matter than is a policy that is based on the political virility of Herr Fischler, who fails to understand the realities of cod in a mixed fishery?

Mr Wallace: I would not want to dismiss gratuitously what Herr Fischler said. There may not have been a road-to-Damascus conversion, but a glint of light is some step towards the blinding flash that might yet come to him.

I agree with Tavish Scott that we need to develop a longer-term strategy for our fisheries. That is important. However, the more pressing need is to ensure a successful outcome for the current round of negotiations. I know that my colleague Ross Finnie is making every effort to that end. He is making extensive representations to try not only to take forward the argument among those at home, but to engage our European partners in that argument.

Tavish Scott is right about the importance of our fishing communities. The sustainability of the stocks and of the fishing communities is far more important than the fate of one European Union commissioner.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the Deputy First Minister try to ensure that, in 2003, technical and management measures are uniform in all areas of the North sea and west coast to stop the present discrimination against Scottish fishermen? When he speaks to the Prime Minister, will he tell him that we have 30 days to save our fishing industry and that the clock is now ticking?

Mr Wallace: Proper account should be taken of the steps that have already been taken in Scotland, not least the decommissioning of the white fish fleet and the developments in mesh sizes as technical conservation measures. It is vital that full and proper account is taken of those when discussions take place with regard to the kind of measures that will be introduced. I hope that what Jamie McGrigor said was consistent with the all-party consensus on trying to achieve a successful outcome.

Mr McGrigor indicated agreement.

Mr Wallace: Jamie McGrigor is indicating that it is. That is welcome.

Mr Alasdair Morrison (Western Isles) (Lab): Does the Deputy First Minister agree that, as a matter of urgency, we must strike a balance between fish stocks and catching capacity and that we must reduce the amount of immature fish that are being caught? Do he and his ministerial team believe that we could learn from our Faeroese and Icelandic colleagues, who are not reducing the number of boats that are going to sea, but are ensuring that their fishermen do not use catch-all nets? Does he agree that we must safeguard the west coast prawn fishery in constituencies such as the Western Isles from any mass diversion of effort from areas of the United Kingdom where restrictions are imposed on vessels that have been fishing for cod?

Mr Wallace: I accept that there has been a serious need for some time to address the mismatch between capacity and stocks. That is a structural problem, which we have been discussing within the context of the on-going review of the common fisheries policy. It is important that we get that right. Lessons can and should be learned from the experience of fisheries management not only within the EU, but elsewhere, as Alasdair Morrison indicated. As Ross Finnie has made clear, we believe, based on the health of the stocks, that the nephrops fishery is sustainable. We agree that that fishery needs to be protected from the impact of any cod recovery measures.

12 November 2002

(S1O-5505) Seaports, Harbours and Jetties

12. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has for the future development of seaports, harbours and jetties. (S1O-5505)

The Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Lewis Macdonald): The ports policy paper "Modern Ports: A UK Policy", which was produced jointly by the Scottish Executive and the UK Government, provides a clear strategy for the future development of ports and harbours in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that this week's The Buchan Observer contains a worrying indication that the disastrous aggregates tax may result in the loss of nearly half Peterhead Bay Authority's business? Will he note that SNP councillors have been joined by a representative of the parties that make up the coalition Executive in expressing concern about the matter? The sole Liberal Democrat councillor in my constituency said:

"Our key developments centre round the bay. It has always been our economic base."

Will the minister say what action he plans to take to offset the effect of the aggregates tax?

Lewis Macdonald: I am aware of the issues relating to the Peterhead Bay Authority. I am also aware that the authority has a very ambitious investment project. I would not expect that to be delayed or put off by relatively marginal costs. It is for the authority to produce a commercial plan that takes into account the existing tax framework. Like other commercial harbours around the country, Peterhead bay is expected to produce its own surplus for investment. It is not our policy to invest public money in commercial harbours—that position will not change.

Mr Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): In the light of the successful timber-loading programme at Ardrishaig in Argyll, what action is the Scottish Executive taking to restore more piers throughout the Highlands and Islands? Such restoration would allow more timber to be carried by sea and prevent huge damage being caused to the Scottish road network.

Lewis Macdonald: Jamie McGrigor will be aware that we have a continuing programme for funding piers and harbours in the Highlands and Islands. They are supported differently to commercial harbours elsewhere in the country, because they provide lifeline services to local communities. We will continue to roll out our programme over the coming years.

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