Tuesday, 21 April 2015

‘Massive snub’ as Tory peer is chosen for EU fisheries talks

AN SNP minister says Westminster has snubbed Scotland in key European Union fisheries talks due to take place in Brussels today.

The Scottish fleet with boats like the Lapwing and Budding Rose make up the largest proportion of UK fish caught in EU waters.

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said Scotland had been stopped from having a direct voice at the talks – despite the Smith Commission pledge Scotland should lead when it has the “predominant policy interest”, and even though the UK minister for the marine environment, George Eustice, was unable to attend.

Lochhead had demanded Scotland lead for the UK in the talks at the EU’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

However, in a letter to the minister, the UK Government has confirmed an unelected Tory peer with no involvement with fisheries – Lord Rupert Ponsonby de Mauley – will lead for the UK.

The council is due to consider the Baltic Multi-annual Plan which has been described as “critical” for Scotland’s future fishing interests.

It is likely to establish legal and technical precedents which could carry over into the related North Sea Multi-annual Plan which, in turn, would underpin the long-term management of a number of North Sea key stocks in which Scotland has the dominant interest.

The SNP sees the move as breaching the terms of the Smith Commission agreement, which stated a presumption “a devolved administration minister can speak on behalf of the UK at a meeting of the Council of Ministers according to an agreed UK negotiating line where the devolved administration minister holds the predominant policy interest across the UK and where the relevant lead UK government minister is unable to attend all or part of a meeting”.

Last year, following pressure from the then First Minister Alex Salmond, the Prime Minister agreed to overrule a decision that would have seen Scotland’s fisheries interests represented by a junior farming minister.

Lochhead said: “This is a massive Tory snub to Scotland.

“It is disgraceful that the interests of our fishing fleet are being represented by an unelected Tory peer who has no involvement with the industry, especially as its clear Lord Rupert Ponsonby de Mauley has been drafted in so the UK fisheries ministers can go off electioneering.”

He added: “The confirmation that a peer with no involvement in fisheries is to lead these talks exposes the Tories’ real attitude to Scotland – it makes a mockery of the so-called respect agenda and previous agreements that the Scottish government is able to lead on the area of fisheries policy.”

In his November letter to David Cameron, Salmond wrote: “In 2010 both you and the foreign secretary agreed that it is reasonable, given Scotland’s overwhelming interests in fisheries, that Scottish ministers could speak for the UK delegation.

“The memorandum of understanding agreed between our governments in 2013 also makes provision for Scottish ministers to lead discussions in the council where an issue is of greater relevance to Scotland than the UK as a whole.

“It is true that the agreement you made has been breached by your ministers more often than it has been honoured. This is an opportunity for you to see that it is fulfilled and to demonstrate the commitment to the UK as a partnership of nations that you set out during the closing stages of the referendum campaign.”

Lord de Mauley is parliamentary under secretary for natural environment and science and is responsible for the business of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the Lords.