By a Newsnet Reporter
The row over Scottish representation at European Union fisheries talks intensified tonight as First Minister Alex Salmond continued to press the UK Government for an explanation of the decision to draft in a Tory peer to lead its delegation in Brussels.
The Scottish government was incensed when it chose the inexperienced Lord de Mauley to stand in for UK Environment Secretary Liz Truss, who cannot attend the talks.
It was agreed in 2010 that, where the Scottish Government had a strong interest in an area of policy, an appropriate representative could be chosen in such circumstances.
The First Minister believes that Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, who is in Brussels for the talks, would have been a more appropriate delegation leader.
Scotland represents around 70 per cent of UK fishing interests.
Mr Salmond wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron at the weekend urging him to switch the nomination to lead the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting today.
Tonight he has written again, describing the move as “absurd”.
The Brussels talks focus on the key quotas for deep sea stocks, an issue that effects more fishermen in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.
Mr Lochhead said that he was asked to brief Lord de Mauley, and would not be allowed to participate directly in negotiations.
Lord de Mauley is parliamentary under secretary of state for natural environment and science, responsible for the business of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the House of Lords. He has no direct experience in EU fisheries’ negotiations.
Mr Lochhead, who has been Scottish fishing minister for seven years, said that last year Scottish boats had landed 95% of the quotas under discussion at Brussels, adding: “You couldn’t have a more Scottish issue. The Scottish minister is here, the circumstances are very appropriate and yet the UK government is taking this ridiculous decision to draft in an unelected member of the House of Lords.”
Mr Salmond told Mr Cameron in his weekend letter: “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.”
Notably, the Scottish Government position is being supported by Labour fisheries spokeswoman Claire Baker MSP. Downing Street has indicated that it does not intend to change the substitution.
Mr Lochhead led the delegation in similar circumstances previously in 2010, reportedly after the direct intervention of David Cameron.