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Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Does the Minister accept that what we are engaged in is not a review of the common fisheries policy, but a report on the operation of the common fisheries policy to date? I gather that the report is to be published shortly, but in any case it has to be published by the end of this year. Is not the Minister misleading the House by again repeating the notion--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. First, interventions should be short; secondly, the hon. Gentleman ought to withdraw the suggestion that any Member would mislead the House.

Mr. Gill: I unreservedly withdraw any such imputation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think the Minister would accept, however, that there is a difference between the words "review" and "report". What we are getting is a report on how the industry has operated under the common fisheries

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policy. We are not being given an opportunity to change the fundamental principles of that policy, whatever the Minister or anyone else may say.

Mr. Morley: That is simply not correct. This is an opportunity for a full review of the common fisheries policy and for the introduction of changes, and there will be a debate. The Green Paper will present options, and although the report will to an extent specify how the policy has been operated, that is not to say that we cannot argue for changes in the United Kingdom--and we will argue for changes. I believe that there is support for the changes advocated by us and, indeed, by the fishing industry, and for the excellent joint proposals of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

I hope that this also serves as an opportunity for the Conservatives to explain just what their proposals are. We would be very interested to hear an explanation. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) is a decent man, with a balanced view of the common fisheries policy--although his heart is not always in what he says about it. I hope he will explain what the Conservatives mean by "national control". Will it mean, for example, that all European Union vessels will be excluded from UK waters? Will quota be confiscated for vessels that have fished in our waters for as long as we have? If so, how will it be distributed?

What will happen if the Council of Ministers, surprisingly, does not agree to proposals that must be agreed by a unanimous vote because they require a treaty change? In that event, would the Conservatives withdraw from the European Union? I know that there are sensible voices in the Conservative party--though not very many--that do not approve of the proposals. I was interested to read the comments of Struan Stevenson MEP, the UK Conservative spokesman for fisheries in the European Parliament--or perhaps he no longer holds that post, following the publication of his letter. It refers to contributors who

Is that Conservative party policy?

Struan Stevenson also says:

That, to me, seems not very far from what the Government and, indeed, the industry advocate.

If the Conservatives go for national control, what will happen to our vessels fishing outside our national waters? I urge Members to look at the map of the cod recovery programme, which shows that nearly all the principal areas of cod fishing in the spring--the most important areas for the cod-fishing industry--are outside our territorial waters, adjacent to Germany, Denmark, Norway and Belgium. I should be interested to hear an explanation of what "national control" means, and I think that the industry would as well.

Although much of the news has been bad, I believe that the fishing industry has cause for optimism. It is wrong to use the common fisheries policy as a scapegoat for all

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the industry's problems. It has its weaknesses, and there is a case for change, but if we use it simply as a stick to beat the European Union with and as an excuse for our industry's failings--and it must be said, for Government failings in the past--we do the industry a disservice. Worse than that, if decisions are taken that cannot withstand a challenge in the European Court, we shall end up in a situation similar to that resulting from the Factortame judgment. To date, the Government have had to spend £10 million in compensation for an illegal decision taken by the previous Administration.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Does the Minister really think it sufficient to describe an Act passed by this Parliament as some illegality that was struck down by Europe?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman's comments show the difficulty the Conservative party is in. He does not recognise the fact that the Conservative party signed up to the European Union and therefore has to accept the rules that go with that. Illegal decisions cannot be taken, because they have consequences. His party signed up to the treaties, so the least he can do is recognise that those treaties bring legal obligations.

The bright side of the current situation is that there has been unprecedented involvement of the industry in dealing with those conservation issues. There is a new realism in the fishing industry and in the Council of Ministers. There is real dialogue on conservation and sustainability of a kind that did not exist before, and that represents an opportunity for genuine change in fisheries management in this country and in Europe. Fisheries management should not be an issue for political knockabout.

In the past, Ministers have ducked tough decisions, but I have made it clear that I have always been prepared to be open and honest with the industry and the House. When tough decisions have to be taken, I will take them. However, I want the industry to be involved and I have made sure that it has been involved. We cannot go it alone on conservation in European waters when we share waters with so many countries and we need to manage so many fish stocks.

We need that co-operation, and I believe that co-operation is there to be fostered both in the Council of Ministers and with the fishing organisations of other member states. Let us build on that good will; let us build on what we have achieved so far in relation to the recovery programmes; let us face up to our responsibilities and our national responsibilities; let us stop looking for scapegoats. Finally, let us try to work together to give this country's fishing industry what it deserves: stability and a sustainable future for its prosperity and for the strength of our coastal communities.

2.12 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): I begin by offering our condolences to the families of those fishermen who have lost their lives at sea during the past year. I hope that the next year will be a lot safer for those who risk their lives every time they go to sea. I thank the Minister for honouring the commitment that he gave in European Standing Committee A: when we were

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discussing total allowable catch and quotas, he assured us that he would attempt to make room in the new year for the main annual fishing debate.

The Minister said that fishing was not a subject for political knockabout, but at the end of his speech that is exactly what he indulged in. It is nice to be called a decent chap and all that--[Hon. Members: "That was the knockabout!"] That was the knockabout, but fishing is incredibly important to many of our communities. Although it could be argued that it is not as important as many other industries in terms of percentage of gross domestic product, it is certainly paramount for those involved and for many coastal communities.

It is surprising that in a speech lasting almost an hour, the Minister hardly referred to the common fisheries policy. He hardly referred to the position in which we find ourselves only two years before fundamental changes may be made. I listened carefully, and not once did he refer to a plan to sustain our fishing fleet and fishing industries in their present form. The problems inherent in the CFP are indeed coming to a head, with the recent scientific advice on declining stocks in European Community waters and the recent decisions on the cod recovery programme in the North sea.

The European Commission Green Paper on the CFP review is due this spring, as the Minister said. Indeed, I understand that its publication is imminent. Under article 14 of the basic CFP regulation, the Commission is required to produce a report on the CFP by the end of the year. That will be the basis for the final decision on changing the CFP by December 2002. In that context, these are a crucial two years for the fishing industry in the United Kingdom.

The fishing industry throughout Europe faces considerable problems, some of which were alluded to by the Minister. Those problems occur not only in this country, but in other countries in Europe. Here, it seems that the industry receives precious little support, either financial or political, from the Government. Declining fish stocks and slashed quotas are not the only difficulties, important though they are. To those must be added the massive hike in fuel costs and the costs of regulation and red tape to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) alluded.

If the industry's spokesmen are to be believed, massive changes are on the horizon through job losses, tie-ups and bankruptcies. So serious is the industry's plight that many fear for its viability in the short term. Perhaps that is the game plan. Multi-annual guidance programme 4 failed to achieve reduced capacity, but that will indeed be achieved over the next year by the imposition of draconian cutbacks in TACs and quotas.

There is a real fear, backed by considerable evidence, that fleet reductions will be disproportionately higher in the UK than elsewhere in Europe. It seemed to me and to many others that the initial proposals from Brussels for the closed zone in the North sea under the cod recovery programme could not have been better designed to decimate the Scottish fleet if Brussels had started out with that aim in mind.

Against that backdrop, the House of Lords European Union Committee published its report entitled, "Unsustainable Fishing: What is to be done with the

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Common Fisheries Policy". It did not take the Committee long to answer its own question and identify the problem. One of the first paragraphs concludes:

Fishing effort has continued at an unsustainable rate despite repeated warnings from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas and reports from Committees of both Houses of Parliament.

The report continues:

It is interesting to note the choice of words that follows, because it represents a damning indictment. We are told that the policy has not "partially", "frequently" or even "usually" failed, but that it has "totally" failed to achieve its fundamental objective of matching effort to resource. That must indeed be the fundamental objective--otherwise why set the TACs and the quotas each year?

The words "lack of political will" sum up the problem. Of the 15 member states sitting round the Council table, two have votes but no fishing industry. Each national Minister is judged on how much he or she can squeeze out of the deal. I almost said "negotiations", but I thought better of it. Quotas are set artificially low, then Ministers return home in triumph as the limits are increased. We have all done that--Conservative Ministers as well as Labour--and the duplicity and disingenuousness has finally come home to roost. If the CFP has not got it right in 17 years, how much longer should we give it before we accept that it will never work in its present form?

The derogations will end in December 2002, so there is an opportunity to achieve a fundamental change. Change is definitely coming; it has to. On that, everyone is agreed, but that change might take a direction that runs counter to British fishing industry interests, much, I suggest, to the surprise and chagrin of those working for those interests.

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