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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): Colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Scottish Executive and the Northern Ireland Office worked very closely in the run-up to and during the Fisheries Council in December. The deal they secured is a good one for Scottish fishermen. The Departments are working together and with the industry to implement the agreement. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), has joined us on the Front Bench.
Angus Robertson: I thank the Minister for her answer. She will be aware that past and current EU restrictions have led to the decommissioning and scrapping of sea-worthy boats. Do the UK Government agree that it makes little sense to scrap boats when they have been offered to tsunami-hit fishing communities in south-east Asia? Commissioner Borg has said that emergency legislation could be brought before the Council of Ministers in the near future to fund the transfer of vessels and gear. Will the UK Government support that?
Mrs. McGuire: I congratulate the white fish producers' initiative on offering aid to the disaster area in south-east Asia. I give the hon. Gentleman every assurance that we will do all that we can to support that initiative.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)
(Lab): What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the enhanced
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cod recovery programme? What difference will that make to ensuring the sustainability of the Scottish fishing fleet?
Mrs. McGuire: We must all recogniseI hope all hon. Members agree with this, although I have a niggling suspicion that the official Opposition may notthat the recovery programmes and the recent negotiations offer a sustainable future for our fishing communities. The House does not need to listen to me on this. Those in the industry have made a series of comments, including:
Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles) (Lab): On behalf of west coast fishermen, may I express my appreciation to the Fisheries Minister for achieving for, I believe, the first time an increase in the west coast prawn quota, which is the bedrock of the west coast industry? I hope that that will be the first step towards further enhancements of that quota at future Brussels meetings.
Will my hon. Friend congratulate the west coast fishermen's association on the way in which it worked with marine laboratory scientists to develop new techniques to research the state of the west coast prawn stocks? That should be seen as a model of co-operation between scientists and fishermen in the future.
Mrs. McGuire: I am only too delighted to offer my congratulations. As some Members know, I take a great interest in the west coast prawn stocks. They did very well over Christmas, and made a lovely accompaniment to turkey and cranberry sauce at a Christmas dinner not very far from where my hon. Friend stays.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con): Given the Minister's family interest in the issue, has she asked her colleagues for their views on why the fishing fleets of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are successful and are expanding while the Scots fleet has been decimated?
Mrs. McGuire: I suppose that the hon. Gentleman is still on a learning curve on fishing. There are different circumstances in different countries, but I also want to draw to the attention of the House the fact that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Conservative party in Scotland announced yesterday that it intends to withdraw from the common fisheries policy. The hon. Gentleman said that that is "not some silly proposal", but it is. If the Conservatives withdrew from the CFP, they would have to negotiate with a range of countries. Fish in the sea do not swim around with little flags saying "I'm a British fish" or "I'm a Norwegian fish". The Conservative party must get real about fisheries policy.
The Minister must accept that the problem is that we do not have any fish swimming around, as the CFP has emptied our seas of fish. The
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problems faced by Scotland's fishermen are almost exclusively the result of the CFP itself. The Scotland Office has a poor track record in standing up for Scotland's interest. Will it now do so, and recommend either to the Prime Minister or to the Chancellor, whoever is in charge this week, that he return fisheries policy to local and national control?
Mrs. McGuire: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not accept that fish stocks have stabilised, although some stock levels are still critical. The conservation measures adopted in the various packages are beginning to work. Not only did the hon. Gentleman say that withdrawing from the CFP is not a silly proposal but he accused it of emptying the seas. If ever something was foolish, it is the way in which the Conservative party allows its Euroscepticism to undermine the good negotiations on fisheries policy and their outcomes, which have been accepted and applauded by the industry.
Mr. Duncan: I am glad that the Minister has become excited again during our annual exchange on fisheries. She is rightwe will return our fisheries to local and national control, we will withdraw from the CFP, and Scotland's fishermen will be the better for it. Does she agree that the people best placed to manage Scotland's fisheries are fishermen themselves, not politicians in Edinburgh, London or Brussels?
Mrs. McGuire: The way to manage our fisheries stocks across Europe is to make sure that we have a balance between conservation and fishing. We must work together to ensure that the North sea continues to provide fishing communities across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom with a living, but the reality is that the hon. Gentleman's policy would do neither.
Mr. Foulkes: But has the Secretary of State noticed that the people who are now objecting to renewable energy sources such as wind farms are exactly the same people who object to nuclear power and opencast mining, and are supported by Scottish National party MPs and MSPs? Is it not true that if they had their way, there would no sources for electricity generation and the lights would go out all over Scotland?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the logic of the nationalists' position is that the lights would go out in Scotland, as they are against nuclear power, wind farms and opencast coal mining. It is difficult to see where the electricity would come from. Dare I say that perhaps they would import it from the hated England? Nationalist policy is nonsense and, as I have said in the House before, it is important that we
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have a balanced energy policy and that we can draw electricity from a number of sources. Renewable energy from wind farms is an important strand of that policy, but we must also pay regard to the important role played by nuclear power, as my right hon. Friend knows, given that he represents a seat in Ayrshire.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware that the balanced energy mix will require significant growth in renewable generation. Allied to that, it is important that we get the regime right for transmission charging. The third proposal by the National Grid Company for renewable projects in the mainland highlands has caused serious concern about the viability of generation there, and we still do not have any proposals at all for projects in the western or northern isles. Will the Secretary of State pursue that with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the chairman of Ofgem as a matter of urgency so that we in the isles are not excluded from the benefits of renewable generation?
Mr. Darling: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. The new scheme has the advantage of removing interconnector charges between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That will bring large benefits, which will also go to Scottish consumers.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we should not disadvantage generators. In particular, we should not disadvantage proposals for wind farms or wave power generation on the islands. Ofgem will reach a decision in February. I hope that it takes on board the legitimate concerns of generators and others in Scotland. We must ensure that electricity generation in Scotland can compete on fair terms with electricity generation in other parts of the United Kingdom.
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