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21 Nov 2002 : Column 819—continued

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: Talking of Orwell, I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, even for that accolade.

Is not it high time that we examined the CFP? It has been a disaster in every respect: for conservation, for employment in terms of the number of British boats and in respect of discards—the wasted fish that have to be put back. The Government should grasp the nettle, tear up the CFP and negotiate an entirely new fisheries policy with our partners.

Mr. Hayes: That lies at the nub of the problem. The House will admire my hon. Friend's stout defence of Cotswold fishermen. No one engaged in the fishing industry could fail to value his contribution. He is right: the CFP is at the centre of the problem.

However, there is a difference between Conservative Members, Labour Members, Liberal Democrat Members and minor party Members, although I share many of the concerns of the Liberal Democrats on this subject. The Liberal Democrats believe—we have yet to hear from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan—that the CFP can be shoehorned, twisted or amended to meet the challenges and the crisis. We have been told that time and again for 20 years. We have been told that with honour and decency—the Minister does not lack decency—but we no longer believe it and nor do the fishermen. Fishermen have been divided on the matter, but their position is hardening against the CFP because they can no longer believe that it can be adapted to meet their needs.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that for 15 of the 20 years he mentioned we had a Conservative Government. I realise that he is relatively new to his Front-Bench post, but he may recall that there were regular debates on fisheries during the last Parliament when some of the key points related to why the Conservative Government signed up to the CFP in 1972. They did not see the policy as important so they threw it away.

Mr. Hayes: I do not want to be seduced by the hon. Gentleman into discussion of the murky business of how the CFP began when we entered the EU, but in this debate I shall neither defend nor attack previous Governments for their role in those matters, as that is not relevant to us at present. We have a Government who have to deal with the CFP and they have been in power for many years. The Minister has been in his post man and boy. We have to deal with the current situation. That is the imperative.

The CFP has been a disaster for conservation and for the fishing industry. I do not want to cast too many doubts on science. There is always a tension between the

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fishing industry and science, as I remember from when we examined these matters in the Select Committee and visited the fishing industry in this country and abroad. Indeed, I remember my dalliance in Galicia with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), when we visited a fish market in northern Spain looking for small fish because we wanted to uncover some dreadful scandal. In my broken Spanish, I asked for the small fish and we were directed to another shed. We got quite excited. His camera was at the ready—as it always is—and we ended up looking at sardines. Our plot came to nothing. There is always a tension between the science and the fishermen.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): To complete the story, the hon. Gentleman should have added that I photographed some minute monkfish and other small fish that should never have been landed.

Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman makes an intelligent and serious point on the back of my anecdote. It cannot be emphasised too often that small fish are landed and sold. We know that there is a taste for small fish in southern Europe so there is a demand and a market for them. The idea that Xblack" fish are not marketed throughout Europe is nonsense, as he made clear.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) made an interesting and valuable point during Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time. He said that enthusiasm for the regulatory regime to control such fishing, and the willingness of inspectors to act, varies across the countries of Europe. In Peterhead, there are more people checking up on the fishing industry than there are policemen. There are more inspectors monitoring everything that our fishermen do than any other officials. Is that true in the fishing ports of southern Europe? I suspect not. That is what the hon. Gentleman was alluding to when he spoke earlier.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I agree about the importance of stopping black fishing and clamping down on it in foreign ports, but we should also acknowledge that we should check on it in our country, although that may not be popular. We constantly hear stories about it both from the catching and the processing sides. It is vital that we have the strictest possible standards and the greatest possible compliance and co-operation in our industry, because we are in crisis.

Mr. Hayes: Typically, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Of course, we have to be diligent and standards must be high. Inspection must be carried out openly, properly and fairly. No one would deny that. I was picking up on an earlier point: I am not confident that standards are universally applied with the same vigour, openness and straightforwardness as the hon. Gentleman advocates.

The arguments about science, are not about the analysis of declining white fish stocks, as I think we would all acknowledge. That decline is taking place in Norway and in other countries; even as far away as Canada there is a problem with cod stocks. The argument is about what the scientists are not taking into account: the measures that have already been taken.

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The Minister generously acknowledged that. However, until those things are taken into account, we cannot come to a balanced view about the likely factual and statistical outcome of the measures that are likely to implemented. Scientific analysis cannot be partial; it must be holistic and comprehensive or the industry is bound to question it. Indeed, it is bound to be invalid.

There has been no proper scientific analysis of the real effects of industrial fishing. Canada and Norway have reduced their cod quotas due to the problems with white fish. Incidentally, haddock quotas in Norway have risen by more than 80 per cent. during the past year. That would be a dream for our fishermen.

Until we have comprehensive, holistic, wide-ranging and believable science, which has integrity and can be trusted by the House and people involved in the industry, there will always be a tendency to distrust what we are being told. I refer to tension, and we must not increase that tension by producing a partial picture. We have been given no projection, no plan and no notional figures concerning the effect of further restrictions or decommissioning. The Minister said that the process will take a long time, but I want to see notional figures and good arguments based on comprehensive science.

Our fleet is at breaking point because it can do only so much restructuring—once the fleet has gone, that is it. One cannot restructure nothing. We know that there are exceptional numbers of codlings and young haddock in the North sea because this has been an unusual year, as the Minister will know. If we get rid of our fleet, it will not be able to take advantage of those fishing grounds when young fish grow to maturity and can be harvested.

In the meantime—I make no apology for returning to this issue—Norwegian and, in particular, Danish industrial fleets continue unabated to catch sandeels for fish food. It takes about 8lbs of wild fish to produce 1lb of farmed salmon. If we do not tackle industrial fishing, with its million tonne quota, these proposals will just be for show. Industrial fishing destroys the food source of mature fish and, via the bycatch of between 50,000 and 100,000 tonnes of cod and other species, it destroys mature and juvenile fish. As we know, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the latter are not always discarded. Without measures to curb that shameful situation, we cannot in all conscience expect our fishing industry to commit itself once again to changes recommended by Europe and, today, by the House. We want a degree of balance and fairness in our handling of this matter, and industrial fishing is neither balanced nor fair.

One of the deepest ironies is that because of the greater numbers of sandeels in Norwegian waters, cod stocks are migrating towards that area so that they can feed more easily. Are we really saying that we will stop British fishermen using their 120 mm nets while industrial fishermen continue to use their 16 mm or even 8 mm nets? We cannot do so with any pride or decency.

I am now going indulge in the Xirrational Euroscepticism" suggested by the Minister because I like to live up to my stereotype. I do not want to disappoint him, and I would not want anybody to say that I was not on top form. I shall set the matter in context. The European proposals are not principally about conservation, although there is concern about that. They are not even about fishing at all; they are

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about European integration and the subordination of our national interests to central direction. Competency for fishing lies within the Commission, and the proposals come not from our Ministers or the Government but from EU Commissioners through treaty obligations about which the Minister has little to say because he has little control over them. I do not blame the Minister for that because it is a simple fact of life.

The Prime Minister must take the lead on this. He must face up to our European partners. We are sending our second XI to the current fishing negotiations. The matter must be elevated. We should say that fishing matters. The Prime Minister should take it up personally and raise it in the corridors of power in Europe. Ultimately, we must have the courage to take control of these matters, but not through a regional or zonal system. That would simply create many common fishing policies. We would have a multiplicity of centrally directed, bureaucratic and insensitive policies.

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