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16 Jan 2003 : Column 886—continued

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reference to Trevose. It vividly demonstrates his central point that some people in the industry are doing their utmost to act as partners in conservation. Language is therefore important. The more people treat those in the industry as genuine partners, not potential perpetrators of steps to remove conservation measures, the more likely our chances of success.

Andrew George: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising that. The industry will present the proposal that I mentioned as soon as possible, before the establishment of the advisory councils, which should be set up as quickly as possible. The test for the Under-Secretary is the speed with which the advisory councils can implement the proposal. There is no justifiable argument against it, and it should have been implemented years ago. It should now be effected as quickly as possible.

If the advisory councils were regional management committees with genuine power to make decisions and implement them, they would be able to effect the proposal quickly. However, they are advisory councils and we need a mechanism to ensure that good and sensible proposals have a fast track to the Council of Ministers so that decisions are not only made but acted upon quickly.

Let us consider dolphins and the cetacean by-catch. I know that the Under-Secretary is worried and frustrated by the many dolphins that have been washed up as strandlings on the beaches in my part of the world. Bass pair trawlers are likely to be one of the main culprits, and the Department was planning to trial new separator grids this year. That is welcome, but I believe that the Under-Secretary's efforts have been frustrated by an accident. Many people in Cornwall, including those in the industry, are also upset by strandlings. Those in the industry believe that they are being blamed for them, when they are innocent.

Mr. Morley: I am deeply frustrated by the delay in the trials. The matter is beyond our control because the vessel is damaged. However, on the point about strandlings in Cornwall in the past month, no British pair trawlers have been operating in the vicinity. That shows that there is a European Union problem, and we are therefore pressing the matter. The CFP regulations acknowledged that we must deal with cetacean by-catch and devise a strategy to eliminate it.

Andrew George: I am grateful for the Under-Secretary's remarks. The majority of pair trawlers are French and he is right to say that we must look to a European Union solution to the problem. However, I shall press him further on that important issue.

My time is up and I have taken a certain amount of injury time, but I want to raise one final issue—the need for a recovery programme. The Minister said that there is of course money for decommissioning, and that it will be made available to assist the industry. Such money will

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be essential for the North sea. Government money is available to assist those communities facing structural decline, but it is clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland is discussing with her Treasury colleagues other ways of assisting the industry. It is important that we look seriously at a recovery programme and some transitional aid, rather than managed decline.

Three years ago, the Minister agreed with the Agriculture Committee that what we need is a clear British fishing policy to help direct the industry, and to help provide a clear guideline on the way forward. The Department has still not responded to that, and is still not producing the industry policy that we need. The setting up of the regional advisory councils will provide the framework that the industry requires to direct its future.

I am sorry that the Liberal Democrat motion, which the Minister might even have been tempted to support, was not selected. It addresses many of the issues arising from the Council meeting in December, and I hope that the Minister takes heed of the issues that have been raised.

4.31 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on a major success in these negotiations. I do so with a certain amount of grovelling servility, in that I am trying to use a nice cop, nasty cop routine within the confines of a single speech. It is certainly true that he was very effective in resisting what some people, including me, feared would be the consequences of renewing the common fisheries policy. To us, there seemed to be a threat of fishing up to the beaches, a threat to relative stability, a threat to ending The Hague preference, and a threat of a European fleet. All that has been averted, and in that regard I join in the congratulations that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations offered him.

However, the CFP has been extended, and we have to accept the fact that these cuts are directly attributable to the failures of the CFP. It is not a conservation policy; it has always been essentially political. The programme, which was foolishly accepted by a Conservative Government in 1972, is one of equal access to a common resource. That simply means doling out that common resource to other countries in the form of quotas, even though most of the waters—very fertile waters—to which access has been given are British. Such quotas constitute a very ineffective means of policing. That failure has culminated in the stark reality of the cuts that we now face. So there has to be a Xnasty guy" element in my speech.

I accept that my hon. Friend was put in a difficult position. The main threat was to the cod, haddock and white fish that are in our waters and caught by our vessels, and for that reason he was on the defensive. However, as Fishing News argues, it seems that other nations were bought off. It appears that concessions were made to them in order to impose the main sacrifices on Britain. The list of those nations is long, and it includes Ireland. I should say in passing how appalled I was to see Ireland among that crowd of greedy predators. The Irish describe themselves as the friends of fishing, but that is a major betrayal. Ireland got away

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with no limitation on days at sea in the Irish sea, with another two years of subsidies, and with more herring quota.

Hake was dropped from the Spanish stock recovery programme, which suited them. They, too, will enjoy two more years of subsidy and support for new investment in fishing, which will result in a lot of building in Spain during that period. France got the 80 mm mesh for saithe in the southern North sea, and 25 days at sea per month for vessels fishing with that mesh. They had already had a better deep-water deal than us.

Denmark, the home of industrial fishing, was given 25 days a month for the purpose. All who have spoken today have described that as a major cause of the problem, a view echoed by the industry. I have a document prepared by Grimsby fish producers organisation. I think that I sent the Minister a copy; if not, I will send it to his Department hot-foot—or hot-fish. It says that the Danish and Norwegian industrial fishing fleets account for 20 per cent. of fish mortality. It is well documented that, in the winter of 2001–02, industrial fishing by-catch varied from 21 per cent. haddock to as much as 97 per cent. herring, and all that was illegal. As others have said, boats in Denmark have incurred the minimal penalty of not being allowed to put to sea for a month. As it was Christmas, they were not going to put to sea anyway.

That was presumably a concession to the Danes. As for the Netherlands and Belgium, cuts in plaice and sole were reduced to 5 per cent. and 1 per cent. respectively. The result was that all those states could concur that the major cuts in fishing effort should be imposed on this country, which has left us in a messy situation. It has hit the vessels with the bigger mesh, which are the most effective for conservation purposes. Fishing effort will be diversified into smaller meshes when we want to increase mesh sizes. Vessels will rush out of ports and catch the maximum that they can catch as quickly as possible within their limited fishing period, and then belt back with little regard for conservation.

We all indulge in nostalgia. There is a syndrome in the fishing industry which I call NITDIMW, or XNot If They'd Done It My Way". Those of us who believe that ownership of a nation's waters is the best guarantor of the protection and development of that nation state's fishing industry and of proper conservation think that, if we had not thrown that away in 1972, we would not be in our present position. The Scottish nationalists clearly think that a better deal would have been negotiated by an independent Scotland. I doubt that, because Scotland would have experienced the same pressures that hit the British Government.

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is partly right. Of course there are pressures, and of course member states vote in different ways. Outcomes will be influenced by majority voting and blocking minorities. The situation is more complex, however. Some member states that have traditionally supported our view, such as Germany and Sweden, want a complete closure, while others—including Denmark—which have been hit just as hard as us on cod have supported the days-at-sea proposals. In regard to the Irish sea, for instance, we pressed for no effort control because our industry was arguing for that. As for saithe, we have a big interest in that on Humberside.

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What my hon. Friend described as concessions to other countries were actually measures that we wanted as well. The situation is not quite as simple as he suggests—although the way in which member states ally themselves of course has an influence.

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