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Mr. Gill: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Harris: No, because I am pressed for time. I am sorry. I hope that my hon. Friend will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The danger is that, with the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy, which has to be done by 2002, we might have to face true open access and the abolition of all the fishing rights that we now have. That would mean the end of the fishing industry as we know it.

The first thing to do--I have been pleading with Ministers about this behind the scenes for a long time-- is, as part of the intergovernmental conference, to make a

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determined attempt to restore the national veto. I know that the Liberal Democrats want to abolish the national veto. We must make a serious and determined attempt and we must make it a sticking point that we restore the national veto on the final outcome of the renegotiations of the common fisheries policy in 2002. That is the most practical and urgent task we can set ourselves. It is also the most important. There are many other things that we could do, but I do not have time to go into them now.

I plead with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, as I have pleaded, dare I say it, from the top of the Government down, that that task should be our objective. If we do not succeed in that objective and if we end up with a common fisheries policy that allows open access, our fishing industry will never forgive the House.

10.21 am

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): I endorse the congratulations to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who has done the House a great service by introducing this debate. It adds to the number of fisheries debates that we have in the year and it addresses an issue that raises considerable interest. Those of us who, over the years, have regularly attended fisheries debates welcome the interest that is now being taken by hon. Members who represent non-fishing constituencies in the common fisheries policy.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood conceded that he supported the terms of accession in 1971. I suspect that he did not then speak up for the fishing industry, which was making representations that it did not believe that the arrangements were fair. The renegotiations by Harold Wilson's Government did not take the fishing industry's interest into account either. We have suffered from the fact that, by its nature, the fishing industry is scattered around the coastal areas of the United Kingdom. It has not had the collective clout to put fishing issues to the top of the agenda. That is a historical matter. If we had a Scottish Parliament and regional assemblies in England, fisheries would loom far larger in the economies of those areas and would be an issue that Governments could not ignore as readily as they have.

I cannot accept that the simple solution proposed by the hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)--that with one bound we are free from the common fisheries policy--is tenable, for many of the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). We can leave the common fisheries policy either by agreement or by a unilateral measure. I do not see for the life of me how by leaving the CFP we could get a better deal than by staying in it and seeking reform. A unilateral decision would have industrial consequences, which the hon. Member for St. Ives mentioned, legal consequences and political consequences. If nations in the European Union that have entered into treaty agreements start picking and choosing the ones with which they will continue and those which they will abrogate, it will be the start of the collapse of the European Union as we know it. If the Conservative Members who argue for that were open enough to say that that is what they want, the intellectual credibility of their argument would be greatly enhanced.

Some say that we should move towards the abandonment of the common fisheries policy. I do not believe that that is a solution either. It has already been

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said the fishing industries of countries with 200-mile limits have not prospered--one needs only to read the large section in this month's National Geographic on the perilous state of fish stocks in many parts of the world or Newsweek of 25 April 1994 to realise that. The article says that with the increase in territorial seas from 12 miles to 200 miles,

    "The hope was that coastal states, angry at overfishing by foreign factory ships, would take a protective interest in the fishing grounds under their vastly expanded domain. Instead, they rushed to plunder the saltwater bounty, offering generous subsidies and tax breaks for new fishing vessels."
The article then points out:

    "In Atlantic Canada, the collapse of cod now threatens the survival of hundreds of fishing villages . . . More than 500 small villages on Russia's Pacific coast are similarly threatened by overfishing of pollock."
Earlier, the article states that even where there are 200-mile limits

    "every valuable fish that straddles or migrates across this border has been hit hard by foreign fleets".

Mr. Austin Mitchell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wallace: No; I shall allow more hon. Members to speak if I restrict my remarks.

Increasing national limits is not a guarantee of success in containing overfishing.

If we abandoned the CFP, fisheries policies would be in the hands of the United Kingdom Government. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) made an interesting intervention in which he pointed out to the hon. Member for St. Ives that the fish processing industry in his area had disappeared and had gone to the Netherlands because the Dutch Government were more vigilant in looking after their interests than were the United Kingdom Government. The Netherlands is, of course, within the common fisheries policy and is subject to the same rules. That suggests to me that we should make a clear distinction between what, at times, are problems of the common fisheries policy and what, at other times, are problems caused by a lack of vigilance and a lack of proper attention to fisheries over many years by our Government.

The fishing industry was not very happy with the days at sea legislation proposed by our Government. Sir George Younger, who was Secretary of State for Scotland when the CFP was being negotiated in 1983, advised fishermen in my constituency that, in addition to the Shetland box, special regard would be given to the representations made by the Shetland Fishermen's Association and the Orkney Fishermen's Association when framing inshore fisheries legislation. The legislation, however, proposed a limit of six miles, to which the inshore fisheries legislation applies and which is purely in the hands of the United Kingdom Government. The recommendations from my local fishermen's associations were ignored. There is no guarantee that repatriation will deliver any better a deal for fishermen than we have seen in recent times.

We must adopt a much more vigorous approach on behalf of the fishing industry. To be fair, the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), took a greater interest in fisheries than any of his predecessors,

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and the present Minister seems to take such an interest as well. Fisheries are an important issue on the agenda of the House and on the agenda for negotiations in Europe.

I suggest that we look forward to fundamental reform within the European Union. We should appreciate and accept that the negotiated deal on relative stability was, in many respects, good for the United Kingdom. It has been undermined by the flagging out of vessels and we have not fully understood how many other countries have managed to avoid the same loss of fishing vessels. We have fishing vessels that fly the British flag, but which, de facto, belong to other nations. It is always difficult to say that one is right after the event, but if the advice of those of us who advocated a regional system of licensing to try to ensure that licences remained with communities dependent on the fishing industry had been heeded when licensing was introduced in 1984 or 1985, some of the problems might not have arisen.

Some of the present arrangements are almost contrary to the principle of relative stability. In many respects, the hon. Member for St. Ives used the right word. The Factortame judgment was perverse and it does not sit alongside the principle of relative stability.

In any reform, we want to ensure that those principles of relative stability are retained. We also want some clear assurances that the derogation from equal access will be extended. With my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), I visited the Commission in Brussels last week. We had discussions with Mr. Alain Laurec and others. Our impression was that no country has actually pushed for or raised the idea of abandoning that derogation. If Ministers could give an early confirmation of that, the industry would be greatly reassured.

Perhaps we should take a more regional approach to fisheries. The example has been given of the Clyde herring fishery, which is 100 per cent.--or at least 98 per cent.--operated by British vessels. In many respects, there is no reason why decisions affecting that fishery should go to Brussels for approval when they affect only United Kingdom fishermen. We should examine the possibility of decisions on Mediterranean fisheries being made by member states with Mediterranean interests, and the same for the Baltic and the North sea.

A more regional dimension to the common fisheries policy would mean that management decisions affecting an area of 12 to 200 miles would involve the fishermen and member states of those fishing vessels that have historic fishing rights in those areas. Land-locked Austria would not then make decisions on such detailed matters.

We must face the fact that as we move to the next round of multi-annual guidance programmes, Britain will still not have reached the targets set by the present one. In such a short debate we cannot go over the history of why decommissioning was not introduced earlier, and with more money. At this point, we would like to know what the Government's attitude is to the fact that the European Union is providing very little funding to build new vessels. I understand that from the European Union's perspective, as we have not reached our present target, the allocation of more money would be difficult to justify, but the aggregation of licences might allow for new vessels on a scrap-and-build basis so that our fleet does not grow older and less efficient.

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Technical conservation measures must have a place. Square mesh panels, which have been the subject matter of many debates in the House, seem to have taken a back seat in discussions on conservation.

I welcome the announcement that the Minister made last week on the involvement of fishermen in the discussions that will lead to the setting of TACs for next year. In last year's European elections, I put forward a policy paper that suggested that fishermen, scientists and Government officials should be involved. Any system that involves fishermen in setting TACs is more likely to command consent and respect.

The common fisheries policy should comprise a host of other detailed matters. I welcome the review group and look forward with interest to the outcome. The year 2002 will come upon us sooner than we think, and we must begin to put in place the measures that we want to see by then.

The IGC has been mentioned, and my colleague the Member of the European Parliament for Cornwall and Plymouth West has argued for the common fisheries policy to be on the agenda. He has not had much support from Conservative or Labour Members of the European Parliament. The key issues that are worrying many countries must be tackled in the next seven or eight years and should be highlighted as early as possible.

Those of us who represent fishing communities recognise that, in some parts of the world, fishing is one of the few opportunities for economic activity. The common fisheries policy should be much more oriented towards sustaining fishing communities, which provide important employment; not just offshore in the catching fleet, but onshore in processing and, ultimately, in marketing.

Proposals to abandon the common fisheries policy are politically dangerous and naive, but much more needs to be done to reform it substantially. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Great Grimsby may laugh, but there is a fundamental difference between abandonment and reform. We can go forward with confidence only within the European Union, because fish do not recognise international boundaries.

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