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16 Jan 2003 : Column 873—continued

Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth): For quite some time, there has been concern about diversion of effort in coastal areas that are reliant on prawn fishing, but can the hon. Gentleman give the House an estimate of whether the pressure would have been greater had the Council gone for a cut in white fish of between 80 and 100 per cent?

Mr. Hayes: I shall deal with that matter in some detail later on. The Government claim that we achieved some sort of victory because we edged up the Commission's original proposal, but it was a pyrrhic victory. The

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arguments are hollow, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I am glad that he at least acknowledges that the displacement factors that I described are true. I am sure that he will also acknowledge that they will be exacerbated by the current arrangements.

Mr. Steen: We are exploring alternatives to quotas. Earlier, I suggested to the Minister that there should be an auction of quota limits for all fish. The Minister was helpful, as he normally is, but I am sure that my hon. Friend can be even more helpful. Has he considered the concept of such an auction?

Mr. Hayes: As my hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee studied those matters. Indeed, the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) will recall that, when I was a member of the Committee, we enjoyed many an evening discussing Europe and the United Kingdom and looked closely at issues such as the one raised by my hon. Friend. Such matters are worthy of consideration and further study—I put it no stronger than that—and he is right to raise them. I hope that the Minister will have the opportunity to deal with them when he sums up.

The open areas for the saithe fishery mean that larger vessels, in order to remain viable, will direct their effort to those fishing grounds that are not subject to effort control. Part of the saithe designated area appears to overlap with the 2001 cod area and other fishing vessels will undoubtedly take advantage of that north-east zone. Many believe that the sector received special treatment to please the French, as, two years ago, stocks were said to be in a perilous state. Perhaps that is another example of unfinished business. The Minister may speak of unfinished business; I speak of the finish of the businesses of fishermen around our coast in Scotland and England. That is the real story: the finish of our industry, our businesses, our fishermen.

The proposals that the Minister has now agreed are peppered with anomalies and inconsistencies. He will know of the anomalies in respect of the north channel, which is an important area. As Members who represent Scottish constituencies will know, many boats going out of the Clyde, some Ulster boats and some English boats fish extensively in the north channel. In the north-west Scotland zone, there are restrictions on carrying a 150 mm net on board. Cod stocks will not be replenished, as fishermen will be guilty if they carry their net across that zone. I regard that anomaly as a nonsense; it is certainly impossible to enforce or police.

Fishermen will not be guilty, however, if they travel without their net, pick it up in Norway, and then fish. The truth is that fishermen will not just be penalised for catching fish but for the potential to catch fish while they cross one of these zones. That is a nightmare, and it is foolish. The Minister must know that that is not practical or enforceable. Vessels operating out of ports on the east coast of England that fish in their traditional grounds in the North sea will be discriminated against because of their longer steaming time. No allowance is made for geography. The UK fleet has been uniquely disadvantaged by the deal, and the social and economic consequences will be severe.

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Perhaps the greatest scandal of all, which has been highlighted in several interventions, is the failure of European Ministers adequately to address the continuing nightmare of industrial fishing, practised principally by Denmark and Norway.

Mr. Peter Duncan: Has my hon. Friend considered the point that I made in an intervention on the Minister about the discrimination against long liners who are given some deal in Europe? There is total ignorance, however, about the scandal of the Danish boats creating soup from the North sea bed, which is totally unsustainable in terms of by-catch?

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters and defends the interests of his fishermen vigorously, will understand that there are two aspects to this. He is right about the effect on the food chain, which is profound. He is also aware of the considerable by-catch. The Minister suggested today that there is scientific evidence to support the claim that there is very little white fish by-catch from industrial fishing. As has been stated several times, however, two Danish boats were prosecuted—I think that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) mentioned a figure of about 65,000 tonnes out of 100,000 tonnes yearly. In practice, the one-month penalty was served over the Christmas and new year period.

The substantial by-catch from industrial fishing is incompatible with a cod recovery programme in the North sea. The Minister must know that: the whole House and fishermen and their representative organisations and their communities certainly know it well. I suspect that the Danes and the Norwegians know it, too. The Minister knows about the destruction of the food source by industrial fishing, as he secured a closure around the Isle of May and the firth of Forth for three years, and he knows that when he did so it was extended because of the birdlife. Fish stocks recovered. He knows very well that industrial fishing is a major issue. He has taken an honourable position on that point, but he has failed to do anything about it.

Mr. Morley: I have pointed out what I have done.

Mr. Hayes: The Minister says that he has pointed out what he has done, but he describes the prawn restrictions as negligible and as of no consequence, because prawn fishermen are allowed to fish for 25 days a month. However, industrial fishermen will be allowed to fish for 23 days a month, and he leads us to believe that that is a significant step forward and real progress. Presumably, that is what he has done.

How did this sorry situation come about? I come to the real charge that I make of the Minister. The situation came about because of the hesitation, prevarication and poor negotiating skills of our Government. He will know that the bullying and arm twisting of the EU—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but I have received a report that I hope he will investigate. I will not go into fine detail now, but I have a report that suggests that a senior official abused members of the UK delegation. They were told that they were wasting their time and that a deal had been done before they had even arrived

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at the meeting. I will be prepared to give him full details after the debate, so I hope that he will look into the matter.

Mr. Morley: I will give the hon. Gentleman the full details now. That is utter nonsense. I do not know where he gets such things from. Some people, including Richard Lochhead from the Scottish Parliament, were hanging round the bars at Brussels, and that may explain how such rumours get running. However, this one is complete and utter rubbish.

Mr. Hayes: Before the Minister says that things are rubbish, he should consider the full details. I will furnish him with them out of the context of the debate. He will then find that he may want, at the very least, to consider them carefully to see whether there is any truth in them.

It is certainly not rubbish to say that the Council of Ministers sent signals that there was no prospect of agreement on the Commission's proposals for the cod and hake recovery programme based on limits of time at sea. The Minister will know that that happened twice last year—in June and November. Had the Government worked with the other states who share a common interest in these matters, we could have done a very different deal. He knows very well that a conservation arrangement or a recovery programme could have been arranged around capacity reduction, closed areas and technical measures that excluded or, at least, limited the effort-control measures that we now face with such trepidation.

Angus Robertson: On the point about ministerial representation at Council of Ministers meetings, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the concern in Scotland at the quality of representation by the Scottish Minister responsible for fisheries. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Ross Finnie has bothered to attend only 26 per cent. of agricultural and fisheries meetings since he took responsibility for these issues in the Scottish Executive? He was not even recorded as being present at seven of the 10 meetings to which he turned up. Is that not perhaps a reflection of the quality of representation that we have in Scotland from a Liberal Democrat Minister for fishing?

Mr. Hayes: Once again, I suspect that it reflects the priority that the Government attach to fishing, which is not high on their agenda. When these matters are debated in Europe, we give most ground on fishing so as to gain ground on other issues. We all celebrate and are aware of the benefits of the European Union, and we may hear more about them in the debate. The fishing industry, however, has certainly not benefited from the negotiations.

Had the Minister taken the steps that he could have taken and seized the opportunity to bring together a coalition that would have agreed a very different recovery programme, I suspect that we would not be in this position. As we have already heard, the Commission seized on our failure to follow through the signals that were sent that it might be prepared to opt for something that would have been more agreeable to us and came out with the ludicrous proposals for seven days at sea each month. The Minister now asks us to accept that he did a good job by raising the proposed

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seven days to nine. He got us only two days extra; the Prime Minister, at the eleventh hour, having refused to raise the matter any earlier, stepped in and upped the nine days to 15 days at sea a month. The Minister acknowledged that the Prime Minister helped—I think that he made a passing reference to the assistance that the Prime Minister gave him.

What else did the Minister fail to secure, despite claiming that this was not a humiliation but a victory, a triumph, a real step forward and real progress? There is no redress over previous upgrades—the Spanish have banked their port and fleet upgrades and bolted the door behind them. They still have the most modern vessels and best facilities.

There is no urgent revision of the method for scientific monitoring. There is a pledge that they will consider it at some time in the future, but it remains distant from people's communities and experience. As the hon. Member for St. Ives said, there must be a partnership between fishermen and scientists drawing together all available expertise to deliver science that is trusted and enforceable.

No binding agreement was reached on the reform of scientific method in line with experiences elsewhere, such as landing all catch rather than discards. Good practice proposals seem to be the best that the Minister can come up with.

Why was industrial fishing not more severely restricted?

What was achieved by the red tape, regulation and bureaucracy that fishermen regularly face as they go about their business?

Will there be new guidelines for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials who work at ports?

Under the agreement, the derogation of the 12-mile limit has only been extended. If the 12-mile limit is so important to the Minister, why has it not been made a permanent arrangement? He said that some EU rule or convention meant that things were not done in that way. However, that is what we need and deserve.

The common fisheries policy has never delivered a viable fishing industry or the maintenance of fish stocks. Ironically, it has punished fishermen and fish simultaneously. In Britain, the fishing industry has steadily eroded. Places around our coast, once proud to be known as fishing towns and villages, have seen fishing reduced to a cottage industry. As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan reminded us, up to 40,000 people owe their employment to the Scottish fishing industry.

The figures are stark but worthy of examination. In 1980, there were 23,309 fishermen; by 2000, there were 15,121, and the figure is still falling. The CFP can never be made to work in the interests of British fishing, partly because fishing is given too low a priority by our Government, who have been complicit in a Commission-led plan to tie up boats. Other Governments fight for their fishing industry—ours do not.

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