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Mr. Gill: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morley: If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I have little time. I do not want to take time from the Minister, who wishes to respond to the debate.

I want to mention a few aspects of the way in which members of the Labour party regard the CFP and ways in which we believe that it can be reformed and made more workable in the present structure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) recognised and analysed succinctly some of the problems in the CFP and the way in which it has affected the industry. The hon. Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) made some good arguments about the need to take a practical approach to the CFP.

It is important to tackle certain things, such as industrial fishing, which is primarily pursued by the Danes. We cannot tackle the problem of industrial fishing, which I believe should be prevented in the North sea, unless we do so by negotiation through an organisation such as that surrounding the CFP. There is no other way of doing it.

The CFP has certain advantages in ensuring proper management of our fish stocks. We need to protect our six and 12-mile limits and it would be desirable to negotiate, if possible, a small extension to give greater protection to local fleets on a regional basis.

The key to CFP reform is for member states to have greater autonomy in applying their own management. There is no reason why that cannot be done in the CFP. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's opinion on that. As long as it is applied on the basis of non-discrimination, there is no reason why we, as a member state, should not argue for such things as compulsory square mesh panels and certain closed areas at times of spawning in our own waters, which would apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters. We can have that autonomy in the structure of the CFP on a non-discriminatory basis.

We should review the way in which the quota management system works because of the problem of discards, but that problem is not unique to the CFP quota management system. There is a serious problem with discards in, for example, the northern mixed fishery method, which we need to tackle.

We cannot argue that we in this country have an absolutely clean record on fisheries enforcement. There have been problems in the United Kingdom which we need to tackle. With good will and with some commitment from the Government, we can enjoy the advantages of national control within a European and international fisheries management scheme, based on a reformed CFP. The overriding priority for the future of our fishing fleet and the environment of our seas must be a sustainable and properly managed fishing industry. That aim can be achieved within the present structure and we should not argue for an untenable position.

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10.50 am

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Tony Baldry): It is customary in such Adjournment debates for the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and congratulate the hon. Member involved on succeeding in obtaining the debate. I do so today and, moreover, I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) for initiating today's debate as it provides me with a welcome opportunity to place on record my approach to the CFP. It also provides a welcome opportunity to clear up, once and for all, a number of misconceptions about the CFP that appear to have arisen recently. I also welcome the support on the Front Bench of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), who is the Scottish Fisheries Minister.

As the United Kingdom's Fisheries Minister, I have only one purpose and aim: to represent and promote the best interests of the UK fishing industry and of UK fishermen. I hold no brief for the European Union and I certainly hold no brief for the European Commission or the European Parliament. My concerns are solely for the well-being of the UK fishing industry.

Since moving to the job in July, I have spent much time visiting fishing ports up and down the country and I have had the opportunity to listen at first hand to the concerns of the industry, both locally and nationally. There is no doubt that the fishing industry feels itself to be vulnerable, threatened and under pressure, and finds it difficult to see where its future lies. But the threat to the UK fishing industry does not come from foreigners; the real threat to it, as to fishing industries throughout the world, comes from dwindling and depleted stocks of fish around our shores, as was made clear in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). The biggest recent blow to the UK's fishing fleet came not when we joined the Common Market but when, in the 1970s, we lost access to the distant waters and fishing off Iceland and elsewhere.

I want the UK fishing industry to be stable and sustainable so that those involved in it have the confidence to make investment decisions for the future. I want an industry that has a clear purpose and direction as we approach and enter the 21st century. I am sure that the industry recognises, as do most sensible commentators, that to have a sustainable fishing industry it is necessary to match fishing effort--the effort taken to catch fish-- more closely with the fish available in our seas. That requirement will result in a slimmer fleet, but I hope that it will be a more sustainable fleet that is able to invest for the future.

Some people suggest that any problems caused to the fishing industry occurred as a result of our membership of the European Union--particularly, our participation in the common fisheries policy--and that it would be in the best interests of the UK fishing industry for Britain unilaterally to seek to exit from the CFP. There are undoubtedly concerns about the workings of the existing CFP, which is why Ministers have set up a CFP review group with a view to examining in detail the present workings of the CFP and recommending how it can be improved to benefit our industry. That group has been working hard during the year and has received many submissions. It is drafting a report and I hope that it will be in a position to publish its report and its findings early next year.

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The UK has been a member of the European Union for nearly a quarter of a century. It is clear from reading the debates of the time that, when in 1971 the House debated the possibility of Britain's membership, hon. Members were perfectly well aware that if the UK joined the Common Market it would join not only a common agricultural policy but a common fisheries policy. That fact was made perfectly clear in the debates at the time and in article 38 of the treaty. In the event, the House decided, by a majority of 112 votes, that Britain should join the European Community.

In 1974, an incoming Labour Government--for the internal political necessity of the Labour party--promised to renegotiate our terms of entry and to have a subsequent referendum. During those renegotiations, not a word was mentioned about fishing policy. A referendum was held, during which time those concerned about the impact of our membership on UK fisheries undoubtedly put forward their views. But the country decided, by a clear and convincing majority, that it wanted to say yes to Europe.

For Britain to exit from the common fisheries policy would require the unanimous agreement of all our Community colleagues to the necessary treaty changes-- and they would have to be complex changes. Simply disapplying the fisheries provisions of the treaty would not be sufficient to exclude the UK fishing industry from the impact of general provisions of the treaty such as the requirements of non-discrimination and free movement-- the sort of requirements that caught us in the Factortame judgment. The complex range of changes that would be necessary would all require unanimous agreement.

We obtained a pretty good deal when quota shares and restrictions on access to areas such as the Shetland box and coastal waters were decided. It is politically unrealistic to imagine that a new deal can be done that will result in other countries in the European Union giving away fishing opportunities to the United Kingdom. It is disingenuous for any of us seriously to suggest that this or any other United Kingdom Government would unilaterally seek to exit from a key policy of the European Union.

Even if we sought and secured such agreement, what would have been achieved? I or any future Fisheries Minister would have to spend almost an entire Parliament negotiating new arrangements with the European Union to meet not just our needs but the historic interests of our neighbours such as Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands on subjects such as access and enforcement. We would still have to agree internationally to total allowable catches for fish stocks that straddle the areas within different fishery limits and we would still have to have a system of matching UK effort to available stocks.

In my attempts to be the best advocate for the fishing industry I have a duty to listen carefully to what the industry has to say. Like any good advocate, I also have a duty to tell the industry the facts as I see them. Suggestions that we could unilaterally abandon the CFP are not within the politics of the possible; they are a distraction.

Sir Richard Body: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baldry: I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way.

Moreover, such suggestions do not tackle the key problems facing the industry--balancing the need to

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maximise today's catch and the need to ensure sustainable levels of fish stocks to guarantee healthy catches next year and in subsequent years. We have to face up to not fear of foreigners but the straightforward fact that far too many fish stocks around the United Kingdom are seriously depleted or at a critical level. Of the main stocks in the waters that we fish, just over 40 per cent. are considered secure; the remainder are at risk of biological collapse, which means that they could not be fished economically--which is what happened to the cod of Canada. Nearer to home, that is what happened in the 1970s to herring and mackerel in the North sea.

It is important to pause to reflect carefully on why fish stocks are under such pressure. It is always tempting to try to blame someone, but the reality is more complex. If we do not make the effort to understand the reality, we will make an oversimplified diagnosis and seek the wrong solutions.

It is important to understand the role of fisheries science. It is a biological fact that the success rate of each year's spawning can vary massively. A mature female cod may yield 10 million eggs--their survival rate is tiny, as many are preyed on by other or the same species before they mature. Many factors influence the survival rate, including salinity, sea temperature and weather. As a result, in some years the survival rate can be much higher than the average. The peak years, when the so-called recruitment is good, constitute one reason why the scientists may advise that catches can be increased even against a background of poor stocks. That is why, against a general trend, the scientific advice is that we could catch more North sea cod next year. There has been one year of exceptional recruitment in that stock.

A salutary example of fishery science is provided by the Canadian experience. It is now generally accepted that one of the mistakes made in cod fisheries management was in placing too much reliance on the evidence of successful commercial fishermen. The scientific evidence showed that catching rates of research vessels were declining, but at the same time commercial catching rates were sustained at a reasonable level. Fishing was allowed to continue at too high a level and, ultimately, the stocks collapsed and the fishery was closed. With the benefit of hindsight, the commercial fishermen seem to have been successful because they were tracking down the limited numbers of remaining stocks.

The lesson is that fisheries management is difficult and is not an exact science. There is no answer that we can be sure is correct at any one time, but if we want to avoid disasters we must be ready to implement sensible and balanced precautions that may sometimes mean that fishermen are able to say after the event that we were too cautious. It is certainly misleading to pretend that the problems have nothing to do with our fishermen's activities, or that they are the fault of the Spanish when they have no access to fish stocks in the North sea or the Irish sea.

In the short time available to me, I hope that I have explained why I believe that it is disingenuous to suggest that departure from the CFP is the solution to all our problems. In subsequent debates between now and Christmas, I hope to respond to the House on the other points that were raised today--not least on how I believe that we may reform the CFP in the best interests of the United Kingdom fishing industry.

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Water Supply (West Yorkshire)

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