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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 09:16 GMT
Minister in fish talks dispute
Fishing Boat at sunset
Ross Finnie vowed to opposed the "ruinous" plans
Scotland's fisheries minister has moved to clarify the role he will play in crucial fishing talks with the European Union.

The Scottish National Party had accused Ross Finnie of misleading Scotland's fishing communities by giving the impression he would lead the UK delegation to Brussels in December.

Officials in London said the UK Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley would take that position.

But Mr Finnie insisted he would take a key role in negotiations.

Richard Lochhead
Richard Lochhead: "Misled parliament"

He said: "The constitutional position is that the head of the UK delegation is the UK minister."

"The question I was asked was whether I could lead in negotiations.

"These negotiations take place at the Council of Ministers.

"The Council of Ministers discuss these matters and I will have a role to lead in discussions."

Britain is fighting plans by the EU Commission to completely ban cod fishing in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and off the west coast of Scotland to save cod stocks which are in catastrophic decline.

'Economically ruinous'

The recommendation from European Union scientists could result in up to 20,000 job losses in the UK fishing industry, the vast majority in Scotland.

Mr Finnie told the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday that the recommendation was "politically unacceptable and economically ruinous".

And he said he was committed to finding "viable alternatives" to a complete ban on fishing for cod.

He told MSPs there were occasions "when the Scottish Executive will lead" in fishing talks in Europe.

'Misled parliament'

But in London, the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted it was the UK minister, Eliot Morley, who led negotiations.

SNP fisheries spokesman Richard Lochhead said: "Ross Finnie misled parliament by claiming he could lead the UK delegation on fishing.

"The reality is that there is no prospect of him leading, despite the crisis in the fishing industry.

"He is trying to con the parliament, the people of Scotland and Scots fishermen."

See also:

30 Oct 02 | Scotland
28 Oct 02 | Europe
23 Oct 02 | Europe
25 Oct 02 | N Ireland
25 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
24 May 02 | UK
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