The issues generally being discussed at today’s EU Council are vitally important to Scotland’s fishing and agriculture sectors and it must always be the case that the most appropriate person takes the chair and speaks.
Commenting from Brussels, Mr Lochhead – who is Europe’s longest serving Fishing Minister – said: “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.
“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. Other member states made detailed and impassioned pleas but the UK Minister, for perfectly understandable reasons, needed an urgent note from his officials to read out.
“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.
“At EU talks we should not be relying on real-time briefing in the middle of important talks, to make the most basic of interventions.
“Those speaking need to do so with authority and have working knowledge of the history as well as the impact of the crucial elements that are being discussed. And I am sure Scotland’s fishing fleet and hard-working fishermen will be aghast to learn of the shambolic and unjustifiable approach taken by the UK Government to this Council meeting.
“The previous agreement that Scottish Ministers can speak at fish talks is clearly not worth the paper it was written on.
“However, even though I was prevented from speaking in Council, I was pleased to be able to meet the new Environment & Fisheries Commissioner to discuss Scotland's priorities and also to meet the Luxembourg delegation who will be taking over the EU Presidency next year. The Council is also set to agree the deep water quotas that a number of Scottish vessels require as a by-catch."