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Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): The hon. Lady mentioned a time a decade ago. According to my maths, the Conservatives were in government then. Why did they not do anything about it then?

Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman is new and perhaps he does not understand the cause of the problem, which is the rigidity in the system. It is the Commission that runs the policy and it is for the Commission to enforce it. [Interruption.] I have just read him a bit from Fishing News. Perhaps he read it, or perhaps he would like to go to the Library and read it again. If he did, he would see who is to blame.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): The hon. Lady may have forgotten that there was a Conservative Government 10 years ago, but I hope that she has not forgotten that it was the Conservative Government who took us into the CFP in the first place.

Mrs. Winterton: No, how could I have forgotten that? I am not trying to make cheap party political points—[Interruption.] I am trying to get to the truth of why our fish stocks are as low as they are, why our fishermen are going out of business because it is too difficult for them to continue and what we will do, in this country and elsewhere, to encourage good environmental management and to ensure that the ecosystems in the sea can recover so that the fish stocks can recover. This is an important issue. Hon. Members on both sides might guffaw about it, but it is not they who go out fishing every week: they sit around in a comfortable, warm and safe place.

Mr. Doran rose

Mrs. Winterton: No, I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman because I am going to make progress with my speech.

Andrew George rose

Mrs. Winterton: I am not giving way to that hon. Gentleman either. Let him make his own speech and he can give way to me.

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On 1 January 1999, the Minister introduced a system of fixed quota allocations, on the basis that that was what the industry wanted—[Interruption.] Yes, a majority wanted it, although many indicated other views in their responses to the consultation paper. The introduction of that system has denied fishermen the opportunity to improve their businesses. They now have to pay money for the additional quota that they need to remain viable. Many fishermen have no financial means to do this and are being forced to leave the industry due to financial constraints.

Schemes using public funds for the benefit of some fishermen have been introduced. This time last week the Commission issued a press release:

That is a very serious situation and refers to a purchasing company supported by the Shetland and Orkney islands councils. When that project was formulated on the recommendation of John Goodlad, chief executive of the Shetland Fish Producers Organisation and also secretary of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, who is due to step down from those posts at the end of this month, certain Shetland fishermen suggested that the Commission's authorisation should be sought before proceeding.

In the fisheries debate on 15 December 1998, the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), whom I am delighted to see in her place this afternoon—

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): As usual.

Mrs. Winterton: Indeed. The hon. Lady is a keen attender of fisheries debates for the simple reason that she has a strong constituency interest. In the debate in 1998, she quoted from a letter the Minister wrote in the 4 December 1998 edition of Fishing News, which gave support to that kind of scheme. In fact, the Minister visited Shetland and when he appeared before the Agriculture Committee on 22 June 1999, he confirmed that he fully encouraged such schemes. The Liberal Democrats also encouraged that approach.

In the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 30 November 2001, John Goodlad is quoted as saying:

However, Shetland councillor, Drew Ratter, was quoted as saying:

In the same report, Alan Coghill, chief executive of the Orkney Fish Producers Organisation is quoted as saying that he suspects that

I understand that it was indeed a Member of the European Parliament who initially prompted that investigation. I believe that that MEP is a member of the Labour group. Indeed, I understand that it was Mr. Gordon Adam.

Mr. Carmichael: I am loth to interrupt the hon. Lady but she has now singled out no fewer than four

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constituents of mine for particular comment, all of whom are well respected in the fishing industry. With every moment of her speech I can feel the Tory vote in Orkney and Shetland ebbing away. Would the Conservative party be prepared to be as fulsome in its support of the Orkney and Shetland islands councils' position on the purchase and leasing of quota on commercial grounds as the Minister has been this afternoon?

Mrs. Winterton: Of course we would be equally supportive, as long as we know—I am sure that the Minister agrees with this point—that it has not broken any rules or regulations. I will shortly describe the procedure that must be followed, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to intervene later on that point. I am sure that he would not support knowingly breaking the rules, because that is not the way forward.

The establishment of a similar enterprise, the Duchy Fish Quota Company, which is backed by Cornwall county council, has been seriously affected by the investigation. Advice about setting up the scheme had been obtained from the organisers of the Shetland scheme. In the Western Morning News of 3 December, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, Nathan de Rozarieux—a good Cornish name—was quoted as saying that the Commission investigation was a shock and a setback that could cause up to two years of delays.

Unfortunately, the matter is far more serious and goes much further than the Commission's investigation. Applications for such schemes must be made in advance. When an application is received and approved by the Commission, notification of approval is published in the Official Journal. If that process is not completed, the Commission will open an investigation, as it has with the Orkney and Shetland scheme, that can take up to 18 months to finish.

Annual reports have to be submitted to the Commission for such approved schemes. Have any annual reports been filed for the Orkney and Shetland scheme? It is puzzling that the scheme should have been operating for some time, and one wonders whether the Commission has turned a blind eye to its existence. If Community rules are found to have been broken in respect of a scheme operated without the Commission's approval, the member state is charged with the responsibility of taking back the money given in state aid, plus interest.

It will not escape the House that if the Commission finds against a scheme, the amount of money involved is considerable. It will have been paid over several years and will run in advance for the 18 months or so that the investigation may last before it concludes. That is a serious issue for the fishermen concerned. If the Commission finds that the rules have been broken, it will expect the Government to take full responsibility. Indeed, they have a moral duty to do so, as in the past they have publicly supported the scheme.

Save Britain's Fish and the Fishermen's Association Ltd. have warned for years that the devil was in the detail, and attracted much scorn from all sides in the process. Those who support the common fisheries policy must base their judgments not on wishful thinking, but on fact.

I wanted to speak at length about the effort restrictions that apply to western waters and the Baltic, and to ask how many kilowatt days the United Kingdom is to lose

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next year. The Minister knows that we are exceeding the kilowatt days allocation, but how does he believe that vessels will obtain the necessary licences to rectify the under-declared overcapacity in engines by 2004? However, I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, so those matters will have to wait for another debate.

In fisheries debates, we often hear the cry that too many vessels are chasing too few fish, yet, in the name of conservation, we are told that vessels must be decommissioned. That is strange, given that the quota is left intact to be reused. The Government—except for the Treasury—do not support a tie-up scheme, because that is all about getting rid of British vessels, not conservation.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Will my hon. Friend throw some light on the practice of klondiking? We in land-locked Leominster would be grateful to know more about the process, which allows a vessel to unload its quota or catch on to other vessels and thus to continue to fish 24 hours a day.

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