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21 Nov 2002 : Column 838—continued

Vera Baird (Redcar): As my hon. Friend well knows, I represent the constituency immediately to the north of Scarborough and Whitby. Redcar has a very tiny fishing industry comprising small boats. In the scale of things—but I suppose that that is a silly word to use in a fishing debate; I shall start again. In terms of content, a minute quantity of cod is involved, and those in the industry now fear two things. The first is that they will not be able to catch cod any more, and the second is that their second catch, which consists of prawns but inevitably includes a small by-catch of cod, will also be stopped or severely restricted because of that minute—and, I would suggest, pretty inconsequential—by-catch. Can the Minister do anything to reassure them that they will not have to sustain a double collapse of their current means of living?

Lawrie Quinn: I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. and learned Friend put the argument far more succinctly than I could—but I am a mere simple engineer, whereas she obviously really is learned as well as honourable.

Mr. Morley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I might be able to help both him and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird). We have obviously been considering take-up and quotas in different parts of our fishery. The Thames inshore fleet accounts for only about 2 per cent. of the cod quota. In that respect, referring back to my

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comments about low impact sustainable fisheries, I want to see whether I can make special arrangements for those sectors, and I shall try to do so.

Lawrie Quinn: I am sure that all fisherman in north-east England will be grateful to hear that response so swiftly.

Secondly, I have a question about the situation of the netsmen and the people who go for salmon. The Minister and his officials have been helpful in terms of dialogue and the bridge that I have tried to build for licence holders and netsmen based in Whitby. As a result, considerable progress has been made in getting a sustainable result for this important industry. Will he maintain a strong personal interest in how that situation evolves, recognising that the fishermen concerned are also involved in the shellfish fishery? Will he also have regard to opportunities and development support work in marketing that important fishery?

I know that the Minister's officials have looked into the important contribution that species such as the velvet crab might make. That product is very marketable, especially in the Iberian sector. On the basis that most of the shellfish landed at the port of Whitby seem to be placed in refrigerated lorries and sent across the country to the fish markets of Paris and Barcelona, a strong contribution could be made in relation to my demand that the fishing industry and community be kept tightly knit together in Whitby. I hope that the Minister will consider that important point.

Finally, there are parallels between the fishing industry and the other major heavy production industries in the economy. The Minister will have recognised in his community of Scunthorpe the changes and the problems that the steel industry has faced. He knows that my background is in the railway industry, and he is aware of the changes that have occurred in transport engineering in the city of York and the north Yorkshire area. I am sure that he knows about the impact of that great change on coal mining communities. Will he use his best efforts to ensure that there is greater engagement, especially in the English regional development agencies, in recognition of the fact that those communities are on a knife edge? They are waiting for something to happen. They think that it will be awful; indeed, many Members here share their fears. Those communities need support and assistance from the Government to see them through some dark days. I hope that the Minister will make clear representations to Commissioner Fischler, and have regard to the fact that if the provision of social support for fishing communities is good enough for other European countries, we certainly want to see it in the United Kingdom—in Yorkshire, and in Scarborough and Whitby.

3.45 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton): This debate is being held at a critical time for the future of the United Kingdom fishing industry, which has perhaps finally realised that it is facing a cliff face. Those in the industry say that the matter is now becoming political and has nothing to do with common sense. In the few words that I am about to

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say, I hope that I can show them why they are right, how the matter is political and how that will adversely affect their future.

To understand the future, we need to look at the past. Thirty-one years ago, the House of Commons was misled during debates in which it was suggested that we were entering what was portrayed as a common market. Members of Parliament were assured that our fishing industry was safe and that our fishermen were protected by the British veto, when the true situation was quite the reverse. Seventeen years ago, the House of Commons was misled once again. During debates on the accession of Spain and Portugal, we were led to believe that the 1983 agreement sharing the stocks among member states was the common fisheries policy that we had signed up for. Spain was portrayed as having been successfully accommodated in the common fisheries policy with no future threat to our national fleet.

For the past 31 years—and, indeed, in today's debate—there has been little mention of the acquis communautaire that we originally accepted on taking up our membership, as do all new entrant countries to what is now called the European Union. The management system of 1983, which consisted of quota cuts and decommissioning, has not provided one successful fishery. Speaker after speaker has seconded that view. The real aim of that system was to enable the integration of the individual fishing fleets of the member states into a single European fleet operating in the already declared and accepted single European Union pond. If the industry does not understand that that is the core of the problem, no one will be able to prevent the eradication that will come.

The maritime cake comprises the available resources from all member states—the waters in their exclusive fishing zones plus any temporary agreements negotiated with third countries. Our nation, the United Kingdom, contributed the largest proportion to that maritime cake. It is surely obvious that, as other nations join, they will look to our slice and to United Kingdom waters for their equal share. The same applies when time-limited agreements with third countries are not renewed and the participating countries require a bigger slice of remaining resources. I hasten to add that that is always inevitably to the detriment of the United Kingdom. After all, the one basic principle of the common fisheries policy under the acquis communautaire is to provide

The cod situation has created the beneficial crisis needed to ensure that the Commission can achieve that goal. The cod and hake recovery programme containing the details of the new management system will be adopted: let there be no doubts or misunderstandings about that. Faced with a choice between total closure and greatly reduced effort, Ministers will accept the latter.

As John Farnell, Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Parliament, recently said to that Administration's Rural Development Committee,

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Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ann Winterton: Let me finish.

Several hon. Members rose—

Ann Winterton: If hon. Members sat quietly and listened—[Hon. Members: XWhat was his name?"] I intend to repeat not his name but his words. At least, I shall begin to repeat what he said. If hon. Members disagree with his views, they can let the House know that.

Mr. Salmond: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members should know that Mr. Farnell is a European Commission official, not a Fisheries Minister in the Scottish Parliament.

Ann Winterton: I beg the House's pardon if I am mistaken. I slipped up when reading my notes and I apologise for that. However, John Farnell's words constitute the vital point. He said:

He continued:

That majority will be the British, mainly the Scots. A trail of deprivation and social problems will ensue in our coastal communities.

It sickens me to the core to think that those years of deception, as European Union integration drove quietly and surreptitiously onwards, will result in the eradication of a way of life and of skills built up and passed down from generation to generation.

Before anyone asserts that we are protected by relative stability, let me emphasise the genuine difference between the principle and the application keys that were determined under it. Why do people imagine that successive British Governments signed designation orders for every member state, including Austria and Luxembourg, allowing them to catch all species outside the 12-mile limit? How will relative stability protect vessels with different quota allocations for cod, haddock or whiting when the Commission's proposal prevents any vessel that has exhausted the days allocated for cod from going to sea to catch other species, even if some of the quota remains?

John Farnell informed the Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament that allocation keys should be reviewed every five years,

The quota that British vessels were given in 1983 does not reflect the current structure of the fleet.

I am delighted that the important issue of the food source has been raised. The food chain continues to be broken by industrial fishing. Many people do not know that it takes 4 kg of fish to produce 1 kg of fish meal pellets. It takes 2 kg of pellets for a salmon to grow 1 kg in weight. Raising a farmed salmon that weighs 2 kg

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requires 16 kg of industrial species. Cod also rely on that food to survive in the wild. They are therefore deprived of the feed that they need to survive, grow and reproduce. If there is no food for the fish, is it surprising that they move to areas where they can find sustenance? After all, as has been said many times, the sea has no boundaries.

What do our fishermen face in January 2003? The relevant area covers almost the whole UK 200-mile limit. Fishermen face a restriction on their days at sea in the form of kilowatt days, a multiple of time at sea and engine size. Vessels that have no record of catching cod or hake will have to discard every single fish of those species that they find in their nets.

When days at sea are used up, the vessel will not be allowed to put to sea again in the relevant area. Any reduction in time at sea will destroy the whole white fish fleets in areas such as Shetland, Peterhead and the north-east, and the hake fleets from the south-west.

The Advisory Committee for Fisheries Management has proposed a complete ban on landing cod, haddock and whiting while promoting an increase in the total allowable catch for saithe or coley. Under the current relative stability keys for the UK, the share of the North sea quota is 47 per cent. of cod, 78 per cent. of haddock and 53 per cent. of whiting, but 17 per cent. of saithe. Most of the latter falls to France and Germany.

It is ironic that British fishermen have claimed for more than five years that the scientific advice on, and subsequent TAC for, saithe is not in line with what they were catching and discarding. Yet the scientists have decided to increase their assessment by more than 30 per cent. only now, when most British vessels will be tied up and unable to benefit from it. That provides more evidence, if it were needed, that British vessels are to be forced out of business to save the rest of the European fleet.

The only realistic answer is for the UK Parliament to assert its undoubted authority and restore fisheries policy to national control. Some of those who are listening may believe that that policy is extreme. A Liberal Democrat Member described it in precisely those terms on South West Television. However, in the early 1990s, a fishermen's leader from Senegal visited the south-west. He asked for help to prevent the CFP from destroying the lives of many artisanal fishermen who were run down in their open pirogues at night by vessels from the European Union that were permitted to fish Senegal's waters through a third country agreement.

An article in XClassic Boat" magazine in September stated that in 2000, 300 fishermen from Mauritania were drowned after the European boats sank their indigenous craft, often at night. Those responsible were fined a mere #3,500 and, in some circumstances, let off scot-free.

I therefore emphasise to Liberal Democrat Members that continuing to support the CFP in any form is to support an extreme regime that destroys fish stocks and the livelihoods of our fishermen. It has destroyed the lives of fishermen from the west African states that I mentioned.

Taking extreme action now is the only way in which to halt the extreme predicament of fishermen. They are staring disaster in the face because of the eradication of the white fish sector in the north-east and Shetland. The predicament is caused by the EU's pressing need to

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accommodate the Spanish fleet, which has waited 16 years for equal access to the common resource under the terms of its accession treaty. Other countries are waiting to join in 2004. Poland in particular has huge fisheries interests.

The way forward, if we had the political will, is to stop the impending disaster in its tracks by doing what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) attempted in 1996. I am glad that he is in his place today. He promoted a Bill to introduce national control. One of its sponsors was the current Leader of the Opposition, who was present earlier to listen to part of the debate.

The Fisheries Limits (Amendment) Bill sought to amend the European Communities Act 1972. European legislation can be incorporated in UK law only through that Act. Are the Government prepared to take that action? It would not mean that we had to leave the European Union.

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