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Bob Spink: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Winterton: No, I intend to continue with my speech.

I want to look elsewhere in the world for a moment. Global warming moved the cod from Canadian waters, not overfishing—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for St. Ives listens, he might learn something. Because of the bloom of shrimp, scallop and crab, the landings there today are far greater than they ever were with the cod. The Canadians developed from a Norwegian idea the separator grid, which gave them a virtually clean fishery. The lessons to be learned from their experiences are that we have to move quickly with gear development for the changing global circumstances and not build vessels or processing plants that depend on one species alone.

The world's great success story is Namibia. Three years after gaining independence, the hake recovery was hailed as simply miraculous. That is an example of what national control can achieve.

I regret that the fisheries debate this year could not have been held after the Commission's report. I understand from the Minister that the basic fisheries conservation regulation is due to be introduced in January next year. It will be interesting to see, under article 43 of the treaty, whether the Commission recommends any further transitional derogations in the run-up to 1 January 2003, which is only a year away. I rather suspect that it will, and the ensuing horse trading—seahorse trading—will leave plenty of blood on the carpet.

The price of agreeing to renew the six and 12-mile limit derogation for a further period may be extremely high. It might even include Spain securing the right of a European Union-wide trading system for quota—with, of course, Gibraltar thrown in for good measure—leaving the Spanish industry in a predatory pole position to take over, for example, a further weakened Scottish fleet. After all, Spain always manages to gain financial advantages from European Union funds. It recently benefited from a further award of £122 million, so it has plenty of money with which to achieve its long-term aims.

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I trust that a further debate will be secured to consider the implications of this important matter so that the House does not fail Britain's interests. We wish the Minister well in his negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom in the coming weeks.

3.40 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): As someone who has attended and spoken in even more fishery debates than the 191 claimed by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn), and given my even more frequent attempts to become the Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to win his approval, I note that this annual fish fest occurs in a more difficult and uncertain atmosphere than ever before. Usually, the Minister attends the debate and then goes off to negotiate an agreement, but at present there are so many uncertainties that the situation has become extremely complicated.

Much attention has been devoted to the review of the common fisheries policy that will take place next year. That review opens up huge issues such as zonal management, which of course we all support, and relative stability. With regard to that, I draw my hon. Friend the Minister's attention to the problems of Spanish and Portuguese access. They will eventually have access to the North sea for non-quota stocks, but as there are bound to be by-catches, the fishing organisations are worried that the Spanish and Portuguese will establish a track record in quota stocks as by-catches to the quota stocks that they catch, thus giving them a foothold in that area. There are implications for the new entrants: for example, the Poles will eventually have access on the same basis as Spain and Portugal. We should consider that question.

There is also uncertainty because so many aspects have not yet been settled, largely due to the breakdown of the talks with Norway on blue whiting—a necessary form of currency for exchange with Norway. It is pointless to catch blue whiting merely for industrial purposes and to grind it into fishmeal. The fish is edible and can be used as a currency swop for cod—to obtain increased cod quota from Norway—which is vital for the big Humberside industry that we hope will be maintained. It is a shame that the talks have broken down and I hope that my hon. Friend can give us some reassurance about that. Will the 2.9 per cent. EC share of north-east Arctic cod—small though it is—be maintained? That, too, is crucial to the Humberside industry.

A further uncertainty is the conservation problem. We do not know what is happening. As yet, there has been no study of the effects of the cod and hake preservation plans. We are making decisions about TACs and quotas before we know about the reduction in the scale of the industry. Scotland generously allocated about £25 million for decommissioning while the English Government scraped together a pathetic £6 million for the English industry after emptying every piggy bank in DEFRA—and after foot and mouth, DEFRA does not have many piggy banks left. What effect will that have on the conservation problem?

What effect will the reduction in the fleet have on the multi-annual guidance programme? The industry is losing faith in that programme and it needs to be revised.

In addition, the Commission chucked a bombshell into all that uncertainty on 4 December. The industry had been looking forward to a minor increase in catches—certainly

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in the North sea—based on scientific advice. Although it was a small increase, it was helpful, but the Commission announced, in effect, that it was going to cut back on what had been recommended. I can see no reason for that, unless the Commission is anxious to safeguard its position by saying, "We are more virtuous. We are purer than pure, and if anything goes wrong we are not to blame because we recommended cutting back on what the scientists proposed." Why has that happened?

My hon. Friend said that he will oppose that cut. The whole industry will be grateful for that. We cannot have these unilateral excursions, whereby the Commission decides unilaterally to abandon scientific advice. We have taken great trouble to establish a proper working relationship between fishermen and the scientists. That is developing especially well in Scotland—the relationship is healthier there than in the rest of the country. Having gone to the trouble of developing that relationship, it is pointless for the Commission to torpedo the scientific recommendations. Some scientists say that that decision is nonsense. They will not say so publicly, unfortunately, but it is nonsense.

The Commission is moving to an ominous new basis for drawing up its management policy for fisheries. The basis for its judgments is now to be the optimum biological solution. That sounds good and indeed it is good—that is what we all want—but fishing is also an economic activity. We must emphasise that: it is an economic activity on which communities depend and which produces a living for fishermen all over the country. If it is to be viewed solely in terms of optimum biological solutions, it will be only one factor in a biological matrix. However, it must also be considered from the economic point of view. That is crucial. Unless the economic importance of fishing is recognised in the conservation measures, they will be circumvented.

A bankrupt or failing industry will not obey the rules—it will try to cheat. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations put that more politely in its submission to its members by noting that there would be "circumvented measures". That means that people will cheat. There will be black landings and illegal practices. Stocks will be damaged. Fishermen will be driven to those practices by their financial situation. We must acknowledge the importance of economic factors in keeping the industry going.

Conservation must take account of the economics of fishing. Any measures that the Government or the Commission adopt must be properly financed. For example, technical measures will be introduced next year as part of the cod and hake preservation plans. There will be an increase in mesh sizes. There will be regulations on the thickness of twine—we are getting down to details like that. There will be regulations on catch composition. All that will not only be difficult to enforce, it will inevitably mean a loss of marketable fish. If fishermen have to use a larger mesh size—as they should, because it is good practice—their catches will go down. The fish will be bigger and more marketable, but less will be caught.

The Scottish industry tells us that trials in Scotland have shown that the economic loss through those measures will be twice as much as the Commission has suggested. There must be financial support from the Government or from the Commission. The industry does not care where the money comes from as long as it comes.

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The industry needs that incentive to help it to implement and comply with the measures and to ensure effective enforcement.

If the industry does not receive help, it will be hit by the same double whammy that has been described over the years in all those 191 fishing debates. Measures are constantly imposed on the industry from Europe: cuts in quota; regulation of days at sea; attempts at reduction and various conservation measures. No doubt they are all important. However, it does not receive the financial help from the Government—it certainly did not under the Conservatives—that comparable European industries receive.

My hon. Friend referred to the ending of the Moroccan agreement. The Spanish industry will be generously compensated for that and we shall pay towards that compensation. If there was a similar rundown in the British industry, British fishermen would receive no compensation because the British Government will not pay out the money. Because of the problems of the Luxembourg agreement and the threat to the rebate—

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