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16 Jan 2003 : Column 877continued
Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said, we have been round this course many times. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who is a stalwart in these matters, knows it, as does the Minister, who has been stuck in this job for a very long time and has been involved in many of these debates.
We have been round the course too often. The CFP cannot be reformed to work in Britain's interests. All those who look at these matters objectively know that the CFP is intrinsically flawed. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said recently, it is rotten at its core. Those naive enough to maintain faith in the CFPmainly those on the Liberal and Labour Benchesmust surely realise that this aspect of the European dream has come to an end.
There is no better example of the contemptible nature of EU fishing politics than the sorry saga of quota hoppingthe DEFRA report came out on 18 December; surprise, surprise, in the Christmas holidayin respect of which Mr. Blair immediately dropped the Amsterdam negotiating veto of John Major unless the matter was resolved and then merely secured an exchange of letters on landing fish in one place and driving them by truck to another. The truth is that only by returning UK fishing to the control of the British people through their sovereign Parliament will a coherent strategy for the industry emerge. National control, with the local involvement of fishermen at every stage of policy development, is no longer an option; it is an imperative.
Let me be crystal clear on that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) invited me to be. I pledge that an incoming Conservative Government will restore national control of our fisheries. We fully understand the constitutional and political implications of that, and will take the necessary legislative steps to achieve it.
Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) knows how EU treaties have force of law in the House and what I mean by that pledge, as does the Minister, so there is no point in him crying out, XHow?" The difference between our parties is that we will do that and the Government will not.
Serious questions remain for the Minister to answer. Did the Commission use the most recent data, or are the suggestions that cod are still around but have moved north for climatic reasons accurate? Will the Government veto the convention proposal that there should be an integrated maritime agency to cover a maritime approach to such matters and to monitor fish? Does he agree with the statistic offered by the Commission that 28,000 fishermen will lose their jobs, and, if so, how many of those will be British? What extra moneys have been set aside for decommissioning, given the proviso that an extra 20 per cent. may be on offer above the usual rate?
Can the Minister clarify what final decision has been made on how the Commission will judge relative stability in respect of changes in national catches over time? Does Spain gain access in the North sea under the interpretation of historic access, or are its accession rights upheld? Will he assure the House that cuts will be a total percentage of all fleets rather than those fishing in home waters? Most of all, do the Government have any long-term projected plans for rebuilding the fleet after the crisis is over? Instead of decommissioning, they could offer support to allow the fleet to be maintained so that it can harvest the stocks once they have recovered. Does he concede that other Community vessels will move in?
Fishermen and their representatives have come to fear that the December betrayal is part of a long-term plan within the Commission and other countries to break up the established North sea fishing fleet. A determined island race with a proud maritime history will look to the Government's record on fishing with an unhappy mix of derision and despair. The Minister will be aware of the anger in Scotland and the English North sea ports at the horrendous injustices inflicted on them and other parts of the United Kingdom. They accuse him of leaving them in total despair after his debriefing meeting with them on 20 December following the Council of Ministers.
Fishing is about more than cold statistics and dry debating points. It is about more even than jobs. It is about lives, families and communities. Greater still, however, it is about culture, identity and a way of life that reaches across generations, which challenges and inspires. In the words of Eliot:
The sea is the land's edge also,
The sea has many voices, Many gods and many voices . . .
Pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended the voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them".
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): This is the second time in succession that I have followed the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) in a fisheries debate. His presentation is becoming interestingquite Churchillian in aspiration, although certainly not in content. Hearing the hon. Gentleman's espousal of Tory party policy towards the common fisheries policy gives new meaning to one of Churchill's famous phrases,
I welcome the reforms outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister and I am pleased that despite the industry's difficulties, those measures were welcomed also by the Scottish Fishermen's Federationparticularly the protection of the six and 12-mile limits, success with preserving the Shetland box, relative stability and the Hague preference. In these difficult times, all are extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that issues for the Scottish fleet will be the preserve of the Scottish Executive. It is important to emphasise the significance of the Scottish fleet not just to Scotland but to the whole UK fishing industry. The bulk of the white fish caught in the UK is landed in north-east Scotland, which is crucial to the whole industry. If we are forced to rely on imports, that will have serious consequences not just for the industry but for the consumer.
The industry faces dark times. One of the difficulties of making any assessmentor, indeed, any contribution to the debatelies in calculating how long the problems will be with us. The industry is familiar with the huge uncertainty that is the direct result of the European Union's decision. It is still a mystery to me that any industry can survive when the availability of its raw product is determined the week before the financial year begins. The sooner a multi-angled approach is taken, the better.
It is clear why the industry is concerned and fishermen are genuinely afraid for their future. One major problem is the availability of fish. The severe reductions in the total allowable catch seen this year emphasise the severity of the situation. Is my hon. Friend the Minister able to make an assessment of how long the current regime is likely to last? Now that the new arrangements are in place, what incentive is there for the European Commission and other member states to change them? The UK has come out of the negotiations worse than any other country. It would helpful to know how my hon. Friend sees the process moving forward.
Another major concern is the particular form of the control, which is effectively a tie-up. The industry faces the removal of half its working time and probably half its income. No matter how extensive and effective decommissioning may be, it will not help the boats that are still fishing, because they will be tied up and unable to catch fish. Everyone will be seriously affected. I accept that an egalitarian approach would spread the misery across the industry, but where is the hope for those who want to remain in the industry? I should be grateful if the Minister would address that.
There is a particular problem with the large white-fish vessels in the North sea. They will be subject to the same regime and a 15-day tie-up, but they are the vessels in which most investment is made, as regards quality, size and, in many cases, the acquisition of additional quota. Many of them need at least 300 days at sea just to break even and to continue to be able to pay the mortgage to the bank. Is any particular emphasis or assistance likely to be targeted on them?
I accept that the details of the scheme have to be worked out, but the industry faces other costs. From my discussions with the Minister, I know that the Department will look at having scientists on board vessels, although I accept that there are difficulties with that. Vessel operators have to meet other costs such as harbour dues and light dues. Such costs are relatively small, but every little bit of assistance helps. I should be grateful if that could be looked at.
As anyone who has listened to these debates and my contributions over the past few years will be aware, my major concern is the fish processing industry, where the bulk of jobs in my constituency are. I have heard it said that fish processors should not have too many problems because the bulk of fish that is processed is imported. That is not the case in the north of Scotland40 per cent. of such fish is imported, but 60 per cent. is dependent on the North sea catch. In my own area, many processors have a particular requirement for small haddock, which cannot easily be imported. I urge the Minister to make sure that that is taken into account.