Fisheries leaders and politicians have hit out after Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead was refused permission to take the lead in vital European talks last week.
Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford was one of many Scottish MPS to condemn the UK Government for its decision to refuse Mr Lochhead the opportunity to speak at the critical EU talks on discards.
Mr Lochhead, who has been in post for seven years, put in the request to the UK Government to speak in the talks. However, Conservative Lord deMauley was instead chosen to represent the UK in the discussions.
Matters being discussed at the EU Council included the landing obligation, or ‘discards ban’, which fishing industry leaders have warned could be disastrous for Scottish fishing if key concessions are not won.
Commenting from Brussels, Mr Lochhead said: “Today we found ourselves in the crazy position of un-elected Lord Rupert Ponsonby, 7th Baron de Mauley, representing the UK Government and making the briefest of interventions – after being passed a note by an official – on a crucial discussion on the issue of fish discards - an issue the Scots industry tell me is one of the most important they face.”
Mr Lochhead said the farcical situation should surely now be addressed head-on by the Smith Commission.
“This is a matter the Smith Commission simply must address. We cannot have a situation arise again in future where Scottish interests are not given the strongest voice because of Whitehall protocols, and unelected peers are drafted in at the last minute to take the place of experienced Scottish Ministers,” he said.
“What on earth possessed the UK Government to send over an unelected peer to take part in a discussion that was new to him? And this against the backdrop of an agreement that the Scottish Minister can speak at Councils in appropriate circumstances. This could not have been more appropriate given I was there and the item being discussed was very relevant to Scotland.”
Dr Whiteford, whose constituency hosts Europe’s largest fishing port, added her voice to the condemnation: “. “With the discards ban looming large on the horizon, we need the strongest voice for our fishermen. Instead, Scotland’s interests were completely frozen out of these critical talks.”