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Mr. Morley: The dredging spoil on the Tamar, which has been dredged before, is being deposited in an area that is designated for dredging spoil. I am surprised that the fishermen in the area have not, to my knowledge, contacted MAFF to express their concern, because I would be only to willing to reassure them.
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman has promised £100 million every year for three years. I think that the House would be very interested to know whether he is making a firm £300 million commitment.
Mr. Moss: The Minister knows that I did not promise £300 million over three years. [Interruption.] No, I did not. I said that in correspondence with me, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation had said that by their calculations--[Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen more carefully. That is what the NFFO and the SFF said
Let me get back to the subject of the Tamar estuary. The Minister says that he has not had representations from fishermen. In fact, they wrote to him before Christmas and have not had a reply. This is yet another instance of fishermen's lives being put in jeopardy and their receiving no consideration or compensation from MAFF.
Mr. Moss: I wish to make some progress. One of the big ideas being floated at the moment as a way of managing the common fisheries policy in the near future is zonal or regional management. That policy is espoused by the Liberal Democrats. Although the Minister alludes to it now and again, he has not so far said, nor did he today, that it is the Government's policy.
The idea came from a study at Hull university, which was jointly commissioned by the NFFO and the SFF. It built on the idea of zonal management committees, originally put forward in 1998. What is proposed are regional councils, supported by advisory committees, whose proposed management measures would be rubber-stamped by the Fisheries Council. The advantages of the new model are said to be greater involvement by fishermen; greater flexibility to respond to stock levels; more rapid response on conservation measures; greater ownership of the hard conservation choices; and, with a greater vested interest in long-term resources, greater acceptance of more stringent enforcement measures. On balance, that looks like a sensible programme.
The proposal was examined in depth by MAFF officials and evaluated in the middle of last year in the internal paper to the Minister entitled "2002 Review of CFP: State of Play and Next Steps", which delivered a damning indictment of the proposals. Interestingly, the Minister has never communicated those conclusions to the House or to the industry in anything like such direct, clear-cut and honest terms. Yet the advice to the Minister in the document about zonal management is:
In describing the policy of the SFF and NFFO at the Tory party conference, the hon. Gentleman said that they were barking up the wrong tree. He clearly does not support what the industry is saying in this regard. We are quite capable of defending our own policy, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will at some stage tell us what on earth Conservative party policy is.
My point is that, according to MAFF's analysis, without treaty change the proposals are a non-starter. Are the Liberal Democrats in favour of treaty changes to attain this? I have yet to hear them say so.
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is being very selective in his presentation of the document. It is an internal memorandum from experts on the procedures of the European Union, commenting on a report drawn up by people who are not. I have always made it clear to the industry that some aspects of the proposals are more achievable than others. Aspects that would require a treaty change--which would require unanimous agreement--are clearly very difficult. There are no two ways about it. However, that is not to say that we cannot achieve much of what the industry is arguing for. Ultimately, this is advice given to me, and I make judgments on the basis of it.
The Minister has not shed a great deal more light on that policy, although he has said that treaty changes are not impossible. However, he has not come clean about the issue today, and he did not come clean about it in his evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on 25 October last year. Nor did he come clean in his response to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) in the fishing debate in European Standing Committee A in December.
Furthermore, there is no mention in MAFF's written evidence of the need for treaty changes. It says that a strengthening of the regional perspective, involving the stakeholders in fisheries management, can be achieved within the current EU legal and institutional framework. It cites the Irish Sea cod recovery programme as an example of such regional co-operation. However, enough has been said about that programme for us to realise that
As the ideas of the NFFO and the SFF on zonal management are non-starters, one is left querying what MAFF really meant by "strengthening the regional perspective". If truth be told, what MAFF and the Minister mean--he has not demurred--is that zonal management will simply be a talking shop that has no power whatever and will have a purely advisory and consultative role under the umbrella of the Fisheries Council. The final say--the real power--will remain with Brussels, as we witnessed only this week when that power was exercised over the cod recovery programme.
That is not reform of the CFP--and certainly not the radical steps hinted at by the Minister. The regional--or zonal--plan will do nothing to solve the problems of discards or of declining fish stocks. New conservation measures will not be facilitated if all decisions remain with the Council. The problems of equal access and non-discrimination post-December 2002 will not be addressed.
Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman relies heavily on MAFF officials. What is it about the performance and achievement rate of MAFF officials in fisheries negotiations over the past 20 years that convinces the hon. Gentleman that they are unerringly accurate? For example, did not MAFF officials advise the previous Conservative Government that the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 would be legal?
The NFFO and the SFF are not promoting ideas about zonal management solely for altruistic reasons. The proposals for each zone allow member states with quota in that zone to form the committee and to take decisions--the current share-out of total allowable catch under the principle of relative stability would be solely at the discretion of the members of that committee and would be a way of cementing the status quo.
How would such an arrangement get around the principle of non-discrimination--especially for Spain and Portugal? How would it stand up to a challenge in the European Court? How does it sit with the huge majority vote in the European Parliament only this week to end discrimination and allow equal access? That majority backed the equal access principle for the CFP post-December 2002.
What is more worrying is the fact that the Parliament threw out three important ingredients of the current arrangements: relative stability; an amendment on protected areas, such as the Shetland box; and the zonal management proposals. All those amendments were voted down. There was also a refusal to confirm the six and 12-mile limits that are so close to the hearts of the Minister, the Government and the Liberal Democrats.
I realise that that was not a vote of the Council--nor did the proposals come from the Commission or fishing industry interests as a whole--but it offers a significant pointer to the way things are going and must have come
Anyone who believes that MEPs from countries with a strong vested interest in promoting equal access--Spain and so on--were not lobbied and briefed by their respective Governments and fishing industries is living in cloud cuckoo land. Although that vote is the first real salvo, the impetus and momentum are clear; it may already be too late to change direction through rational argument.
There is unprecedented demoralisation in the fishing industry. Fishermen are looking down the barrel of the bankruptcy gun. Livelihoods have been ruined; families are under great tension; and the industry has a deep sense of grievance that yet again it has been hung out to dry--that it is an expendable force.
The Minister constantly denies that there is a crisis in the industry, but that is not what I hear on the ground. It is time the Government followed the advice of the House of Lords Committee report and admitted that the CFP is a complete failure and is in need of such fundamental reform that it would be wholly unrecognisable.
If the Government will not make radical proposals and if the Liberal Democrats will not produce workable proposals, we will. This is what the hon. Member for St. Ives has been waiting for so patiently. The only way to bring about those vital conservation measures--so necessary to yield a sustainable resource--is to have national control over our own waters. When we return to Government, we shall establish that control; that will effectively put an end to the current CFP arrangements. In our determination to achieve that goal, which has been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on more than one occasion--