HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc656-8
4. Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

When he last met representatives of the Scottish fishing industry to discuss the Scottish fishing industry. [146394]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

I regularly meet representatives of a wide range of organisations in Scotland, and I keep in close touch with developments affecting the Scottish fishing industry.

Mr. Salmond

We all wish the Scottish Fisheries Minister, Ross Finnie, well in his present medical condition. Last Thursday, however, he said that the fishing deal in Brussels had an "unintended consequence" and he might have to go back to Brussels to change parts of it. The deal is vital for the survival of the white fish fleet in Scotland, so can the Minister tell us whether the Secretary of State for Scotland will give Mr. Finnie his full support as a Cabinet Minister and participate in those discussions?

Mrs. McGuire

I echo the hon. Gentleman in wishing Ross Finnie well for his forthcoming operation. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House send him their best wishes.

My understanding is that Ross Finnie said that he was prepared to look with the fishing industry at the issues that it raised about the Fisheries Council decision and that, where possible, he would consider ways of investigating some of the issues that it raised about the practicality of the new fishing regime. The Fisheries Council decision gave Scottish fisheries in particular an increased quota, which the hon. Gentleman has been demanding of our negotiations for many months. In fact, we now have an increase in the haddock quota of 66 per cent. It is disappointing that, in making what may be valid representations on behalf of his constituents, he has not welcomed the fact that we came out of tough negotiations with an increased haddock quota—the very thing that he has been demanding for months.

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles) (Lab)

It is correct that there was a significant and welcome increase in the haddock quota and a breakthrough establishing the twin principles of decoupling and spatial management. The Minister will know that there is some concern about the operation of the cod box, which is a designated area north of the Hebrides in which cod fishing is banned. However, we have ended up with a ban on all fishing in that area, including pelagic fishing and the potting of crab. The Minister will know from her own family experience of the crab industry that it is not particularly easy to catch a cod in a crab pot, so the cod box may need to be adjusted. Will she take that on board and raise it in discussions with her colleague, the Scottish Fisheries Minister?

Mrs. McGuire

I should say for the sake of clarification that I do not moonlight as a lobster or crab fisherman, but my hon. Friend is right that I have some knowledge from family associations of the fishing industry and the difficulties experienced by fishermen who go out in all kinds of weather to catch the fish that we like to eat. I accept the point that he made, and I am sure that similar representations were made last week to Ross Finnie, who has given a commitment to look at such issues.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con)

Will the Minister confirm one positive benefit to Scots fishermen accruing from 30 years' membership of the common fisheries policy?

Mrs. McGuire

If that is a coded question about whether I think we should withdraw from the European Union, I am afraid that I am not going to fall for that bait no matter how attractively it is packaged. I remind the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues and people who criticise the common fisheries policy—we all have our criticisms of the CFP—that had it not been in place, we would have had to reach an international agreement about how we manage fishery stocks, particularly in the North sea and around our coast. I hope that he at least has the courtesy to recognise that we came out of those negotiations with a better deal than anything that was ever negotiated by his party.

Mr. Duncan

We did not do very well with that question. Is the Minister aware of comments by the Scottish Executive, who said that the objectives of the December Council had been achieved, including better outcomes for fishing businesses and better outcomes for fishing communities"? Does she recognise those outcomes and, given her family acquaintance with the subject, would she invest in a fishing boat today?

Mrs. McGuire

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not willing to face the reality. The difficulty that must be balanced by our Fisheries Ministers at Westminster and in Scotland and the European Union is that there is a conservation issue, as well as a fishing issue. I am deeply sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not willing to recognise that one of the challenges that we face in managing our fisheries is how we conserve them so that there will be a future for the fishing industry and for fishing communities, including members of my own family, across the whole of Scotland.