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16 Jan 2003 : Column 896—continued

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman knows me very well, because we have debated these issues for many years. I think that he will recognise that my remarks have always been consistent. If we are arguing for change in the face of deep-rooted opposition from other countries who do not believe a word that we are saying, we must have the evidence for our case. My problem—I shall be quite open about it—is that the evidence is not as definitive as I would like it to be. Nevertheless, the case is still there for tackling industrial fishing and its long-term consequences on the marine environment.

Mr. Salmond: The only European Union country with a real interest in industrial fishing is the mighty state of Denmark, with its 5 million people. It attaches great priority to its fishing industry and was chair of the Council meeting. The mighty state of Denmark was able to resist all the other countries and sustain its interest in industrial fishing with the type of hair net that destroys the feedstock and the future of the fisheries.

Even if industrial fishing was directed and did not result in a by-catch—such a suggestion is laughable—it would still destroy the ecosystem. One cannot destroy 600,000 tonnes of feedstock and sand eels from any marine environment without depressing the stocks of other fish. What do the cod, the haddock and the other fish eat? They eat material at the bottom of the food chain. Removing the bottom of the food chain removes the fish at the top. We do not need a degree in fisheries science to know that.

As the Minister conceded, the pout fishery is not a directed fishery. The thousands of tonnes of small and tiny fish caught in the pout fishery represent millions upon millions of potential large fish. So 1,000 tonnes in the pout fishery is many thousands of tonnes in a human consumption fishery. It is unacceptable that in the human consumption fishery, fishing with 120 mm nets with square mesh panels should be limited to 15 days a month while in the same waters, a fishery used for

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pigfeed, poultryfeed and for drying pellets for animal consumption gets 23 days and virtually no restriction on quota. The Minister knew it 11 years ago and it is to his shame that he is not more forceful about it now, and that in his five and a half years as Fisheries Minister he has not demanded the research that gave him the base to argue for that at European Council meetings.

The Minister made an excellent speech 11 years ago and I recommend he read it again. He said:

The Scots fishing industry, using the largest mesh in the whole of Europe, does not get a special payment. We get a special deal of only 15 days a month if we are prepared to accept another 15 per cent. decommissioning on top of the 20 per cent. decommissioning that took place last year. That is certainly a special deal for the Scottish white fish industry, but not the right one. I hope that the Minister will read his speech again and find constructive ways in which to assist an industry that has been trying to pursue a conservation fishery.

Of course there will be difficult negotiations, but the Minister's central failure is clear: it was not to extract the whiting and haddock quotas from underneath the cod quota and the recommendation. He had the evidence to do it in the groundfish survey, DEFRA's major annual survey. Incidentally, Mr. Fischler told me in December that he had never seen it—he thought that it was produced by fishermen. The Commissioner actually thought that the major DEFRA survey on fish stocks in the North sea was produced by fishermen and therefore discounted it.

The DEFRA survey on spatial distribution shows no cod in many areas of the North sea but very substantial quantities of haddock and whiting. How on earth the grounds could not have been prepared to extract the haddock and whiting allocation and quota from the cod recovery plan or the emergency measures, goodness only knows. I say that it is because of lack of preparation, thought and concern.

Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the very good year class of haddock is based on the 1999 year class. The surveys since then, including the groundfish survey, show that recoupment has been very poor—in fact, some of the poorest on record. We must look at conserving the current haddock stocks and, in relation to mesh sizes, which the industry has agreed, minimising what has been an unacceptable discard rate, calculated at about 100,000 tonnes a year, of under-sized haddock.

Mr. Salmond: Yes, and the Minister sat with me when I asked DEFRA scientists whether they had been setting a haddock and whiting quota as a stand-alone measure. They agreed that it would have been about a 20 per cent. reduction in quota. How on earth did we arrive at a situation in which the cod quota was reduced by 45 per cent., with the stock under pressure, haddock by 50 per cent. and whiting by 60 per cent.? The Minister should listen and use the arguments adduced by his own scientists. It should have been possible to extract

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haddock and whiting by geography and by time of year out of the cod emergency measures, and the Minister knows it.

In addition, scientific voyages have taken place over the past year which, as the fishermen found out in November, had not even been presented as evidence to the European Commission at that stage. That research would have showed that, for whiting, up to 70 per cent. of escapes were of marketable quality. If fishermen are using 120 mm nets with square mesh panels, the haddock and whiting stocks are totally protected in that environment. The Minister is nodding. I hope that when he sums up he will be able to offer encouragement that trying to recover the ground that has been lost in terms of haddock and whiting will be a priority.

We have heard a fair bit of the history of the common fisheries policy. It is important to consider that. With due respect to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and his selective interpretation of it, the history tells us how we got where we are. It may even tell us how to get out of this situation. National control is an excellent idea. It would be far better than the current arrangements. The problem is how we achieve it. Unfortunately, the series of negotiations that started in 1971 make that difficult. The release of a 30-year-old document has allowed us to see that the fishing industry was considered to be expendable in the context of wider British European interests. In 1983, the great Lady Thatcher, that anti-European, signed up for the quota allocation policy. When the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government, the Maastricht treaty put the fisheries policy into treaty form. In 1994, the Spanish were allowed to rewrite their treaty of accession so that they could have early access to the west coast. The UK agreed to that on the basis of Spanish support for our opt-out from the single currency. On each and every occasion, fishing was traded away in pursuit of wider British European interests. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) did not satisfy us on how things would be different in the Conservative party of 2003.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was kind enough to explain that the evidence shows that if a country makes fishing a priority, it is able to extract concessions for their industry. Every other nation emerged from the Brussels talks with their industry intact although not totally undamaged. [Interruption.] I thank the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) for her charity in providing me with a glass of water. It is definitely not good Scottish water. Even fish would find it difficult to survive in it. However, it has done the job and cleared my throat.

Those countries in which fishing is a priority emerged from the negotiations with their industry protected. Only Britain emerged with our industry, or part of it, under mortal threat. The industry has to be offered the hope that something will be done to rebalance the disastrous package over the next few months, including in next month's negotiations on the more formulated cod recovery plan. The deal cannot be allowed to stand for any length of time. If it does, there will be no way around it. It will mean thousands of job losses and that is that. The industry must be given a sign from the Dispatch Box that there will be an attempt to salvage something from what is a total and utter disaster.

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In the meantime, a financial package should be provided to protect and keep intact the integrity of as much of the industry as possible. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) who said that decommissioning, even if it is a necessary tool of policy, does nothing for the economic fabric of the fishing areas. It does a great deal for the clearing banks, however. Most of the decommissioning money goes straight into them because they are the first line of credit. Some of it does not even pull the fishing businesses out of debt and often other creditors get no money at all.

If the Minister believes that it is a balanced package and there is hope for the future, he should try to keep the industry intact so that it benefits from the recovery in stocks. A mere decommissioning scheme is not the answer. New money from the Treasury must be forthcoming. It will not be enough to rebalance existing budgets. I do not know about Blackpool and Fleetwood, but there is no huge surfeit of money in the enterprise budgets in north-east Scotland to allow the transfer of substantial sums into the fishing industry. The money simply is not there. The Treasury has to provide new money to keep communities intact.

Fishing has been given low priority. The total number of UK jobs is not huge by comparison with many other industries. At the Scottish level, fishing has about 10 times that level of importance and jobs are concentrated in key areas. In Fraserburgh in my constituency, more than half the employment is dependent on fishing, In Peterhead the figure is pushing towards 30 per cent. The level is about the same in the constituency of at least one other hon. Member. Up the Moray coast, in Arbroath and down to Eyemouth, places that depend on the white fish fleet as a key part of their industry are gravely and totally in peril.

If the Government did not give the industry the required priority in negotiations, at least it should be given priority in terms of an assistance package to tide it over until a better deal can be done.

I have asked the Library about the common fisheries policy many times, over several years. I always get the answer that the only way we can get out of the CFP is to achieve unanimous agreement at a meeting of the Council of Ministers to renegotiate the treaty. There might be a strong argument for calling for national control, on the basis that it would put Commissioner Fischler into the position of having to make concessions. One concession might be to zone all management—a policy first advocated by the late Dr. Alan McCartney. No policy can survive when the country contributing the vast majority of its resource base is totally opposed to the policy's nature and direction.

Although the Minister was not really supported by the Prime Minister in December—

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