Mrs. Winterton: The fishing industry has all sorts of wheezes to deploy in the system of quota management. My hon. Friend gave one example, and I could give him others. The important matter is how we can restore fish stocks sufficiently to allow a viable and sustainable fishing industry in the future.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): Does my hon. Friend accept that klondiking strips the seas of our fish stocks and so prevents recovery? In respect of reform of the CFP and other matters that will arise in the next year, should not the Government's policy be to prevent that and other practices, which are destroying our fish stocks?
The primary issue at stake is the development of sustainable policies to guard the marine environment and ecosystems, and thereby increase fish stocks. We know that different stocks are in flux as a result of global warming. The rigidity of the present quota system means that fishermen will catch species that are different from those specified in the 1974 to 1978 reference period. That problem will be exacerbated by the Minister fixing the quota for each vessel. As a result, catches will either be landed as black fish, or dumped.
The Minister has indicated his dislike of industrial fishing on numerous occasions. We share that dislike. I accept that he secured a restriction for the birds around Wee Bankie, but the three vessels allowed in for scientific purposes seem to have had a field day with sand eels and juvenile haddock. It is nothing short of a disgrace that the sand eel total allowable catch has been reduced by only 20 per cent., to 816,000 tonnes. I hope that he makes sure that that TAC is no more than 200,000 tonnes for the next year. The present proposals are an insult to the demersal fishermen, and we must remember that industrial trawlers are not even catching their quota. The potential for even more damage to fish stocks is therefore inherent in the system.
Industrial fishermen were even allowed into the areas closed for spawning cod earlier this year. To catch sand eels, they used nets through which it would be difficult to push a knitting needle. Moreover, the closed areas for cod were designated using British vessel log books and past records, but they did not match the spawning grounds and were applied only after half the cod had already spawned.
Where were the demersal vessels to go? They had no alternative other than to go to the very areas that the fishermen wanted to avoidthose with juvenile haddock stocks that needed to be conserved for the 2002 catch.
Parliament has allowed this system of integration in order to fulfil treaty obligations. It has resulted in fishermen being criminalised, and it has been the reason for decreasing fish stocks. It is no use our blaming European fishermen for making the most of every opportunity that is handed to them on a plate.
As we enter the final year of the integration process, I hope that the Minister will not continue to believe that a derogation permanently overrides a treaty. I trust that he fully understands the aces that nations such as Spain hold. The Government and the Liberal Democrat party would like the 12-mile derogation to be made permanent, but I challenge the Minister and the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for St. Ives to say how such permanency might be secured. Given that they want to make the 12-mile limit permanent, the Minister should also explain what happened to the 12 to 200 mile median-line limit established by the then Labour Government with the Fishery Limits Act 1976.
The problem for European marine stocks is political, stemming from the move for political integration to establish the superstate. The Prime Minister asserts that that will not happen, but page 34 of volume 1 of the Commission Green Paper refers to
Let me make very clear the difference between the political parties' policies. The Scottish nationalists cannot wait to sign up to the acquis communautaire, handing what they deem a Scottish living marine resource to the European Union, to be shared equally with all the present and future member states, including Austria and Luxembourg, which are landlocked countries.
Mr. Salmond: I do not believe that Austria poses a mortal threat to the Scottish fishing industry at present. Nor has the Scottish National party ever supported the acquis communautaire. We are strong supporters of relative stability, which I hope is being secured.
Can the hon. Lady confirm that it was a Conservative Government who, only six years ago, unnecessarily traded accelerated Spanish access to western waters in return for support from Spain on qualified majority voting on a matter that had nothing to do with fishing?
I have known the Minister for a number of years because we both served on the Agriculture Select Committee. I often think that he must feel uncomfortable in his present position because he is a tremendous environmentalist. I hope that he will hold his views to the fore and come round to a situation in which we can save the marine environment. My goodness, at the rate it is going, there will not be one left to save very shortly.
The Liberal Democrats fully support the acquis communautaire but think that they can break the common fisheries policy down into smaller chunks. That, in theory, could be achieved now and need not wait until 2003. Ensuring that competency is given to those regions is a different matter. The Government go along with the concept of reform, which is disingenuous. How can reform be achieved to benefit British fishermen when, by definition, it means disadvantaging other countries? Reform is a smokescreen for doing little but tinker at the edges.
The Conservative party believes in returning fisheries policy to national control to enable us to get to grips quickly with a very fluid conservation situation. We can achieve genuine co-operation among member states, for everyone's benefit, with reciprocal arrangements. That is the only way forward for the survival of not only the British fishing industry but of all the fishing fleets of other member states. Conservative policy has at its very heart the conservation and sustainability of fish stocks.
The present policy is a travesty under the guise of conservation and a prime example of the abuse of a valuable national resource. Such a sacrifice must not be allowed to continue. We have a duty to ensure that our national interest is protected with the restoration of competence to the place where it traditionally and rightfully belongs.
Andrew George: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her generosity in giving way. She is attempting to explain Conservative policy, after her rather vain attempt to rubbish the policies of others. Could she dwell a little longer on Tory policy as explained in the Conservative
Mrs. Winterton: I always believe that one good quote deserves another. How does the Liberal Democrat party propose to achieve its policy? I remember the hon. Gentleman speaking in a fishing policy debate on 23 July 1997. I wonder whether he has a selective memory. He said: