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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 08:40 GMT
Row over fish cuts compensation
Cod
Cod catches will be cut by 45% from next month
An appeal for European Union compensation for Scottish fishermen hit by quota cuts was blocked by the Foreign Office, according to a Scottish National Party MEP.

Ian Hudghton, who sits on the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee, claimed that UK Foreign Office officials persuaded ministers not to chase compensation.

He said that they feared the cash would be taken from the UK's annual rebate from the European Union.

The Scottish Executive has denied there was any interference from Whitehall.

Ian Hudghton
Ian Hudghton: Sent document

A spokeswoman said: "There is no truth in suggestions that the executive was influenced on the issue of considering support for Scotland's fishing industry."

Scottish Fisheries Minister Ross Finnie has already said that help for the industry will come from the executive's budget.

Intense negotiations over fish quotas took place last month with other member states after scientists warned cod stocks faced extinction.

Under the deal, white fish quotas will be halved to conserve stocks.

The cuts will mean more than 100 Scottish boats will have to decommission, according to the executive.

Push for compensation

Mr Hudghton said he had been sent a copy of the document in early December, before cuts were agreed by European ministers.

It was from a senior official warning that EC cash aid would not be sought.

"It was a sort of confirmation of what we have long known about the UK situation, namely that they don't even apply for EU funding in many circumstances because it would have an affect on the UK rebate," Mr Hudghton said.

"The civil servant confirmed that the chances were that if it came to a push for compensation then our own resources would be used.

They don't even apply for EU funding in many circumstances because it would have an affect on the UK rebate

Ian Hudghton
SNP MEP
"That would not be a great problem if Westminster and Holyrood came up with massive funding but my guess is that the usual will apply."

The UK's budget rebate, which was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, was intended to make up the shortfall between what the UK paid into the EU and what it got back.

Although it varies from year-to-year, two years ago it was worth 2.8bn.

Meanwhile, MSPs want the opportunity to question the European fisheries commissioner over cuts to catches.

Holyrood rural development committee is calling Franz Fischler to appear before an inquiry into the fishing industry.

It is not yet clear whether he will accept.


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