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16 Jan 2003 : Column 903—continued

Mr. Peter Duncan: My hon. Friend invites my intervention, which I am happy to supply him with. Does he share my concern that one of the important issues that we have to address in this debate has not been addressed by the Government? That is the targeting and direction of the aid package that is to be provided for fishermen in Scotland. Does he support the motion that is being proposed by Struan Stevenson, the Member of the European Parliament—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. This is rather long for an intervention.

Mr. Steen: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. He has made an important point and I am sure that the Minister will wish to say something about it. I shall wind down now; I have made my points and I want to give other parties an opportunity to make a contribution.

5.37 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I am immensely grateful to the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) for giving me three minutes in which to say something about an industry that, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has pointed out, is responsible for one third of the economic product of Shetland, which is half of my constituency.

I could say a great deal about the conduct of this debate and of last month's Fisheries Council. I shall restrict my comments on the latter to saying that it showed the old common fisheries policy at its very

16 Jan 2003 : Column 904

worst. It involved protracted negotiations at all hours of the day and night and the worst sort of horse-trading at the very end of the year. Would any other industry tolerate having its future determined in that way? Manifestly, the answer is no, and there is a good reason for that. It is because to do so is frankly crazy.

The Minister has already referred to the new, improved common fisheries policy, and I sincerely hope that it is improved. It is very much on probation as far as I and my constituents are concerned. I was particularly pleased to see the retention of the six to 12-mile limit, the Shetland box, relative stability and The Hague preference. I was also pleased by the establishment of regional advisory councils. I am not suggesting for a second that they are a proper substitute for what we really need, which is regional or zonal management, but I accept that they represent a foot in the door. The fact that the councils will be answerable directly to the Council, rather than the Commission, is important.

I hope that the Government will take a leading role in establishing the first of the regional advisory councils and ensure that they work, and that the industry is involved right at their heart. That is the basis on which the common fisheries policy will have to be built if it is to have any credibility. The councils must be able to ease the Commission out of its micro-management of fisheries, because that has been at the root of the failure. If ever there were a good example of that failure, it was last month's Council in Brussels, and the lead-up to it.

I want to say a few brief words about the financial situation from here on in. It was not lost on me or other hon. Members that the Minister was asked directly whether there would be more new money from the Treasury but did not answer. There has got to be more money, it has got to be new money and it has got to come from the Treasury. We are in a dire situation and that is of the UK's making, so the money has got to come from the UK Treasury.

How is the decommissioning going to be determined? In Shetland, there is a critical mass below which the community is no longer viable if we keep decommissioning. In a situation such as ours, once the fishing is lost, the people will be lost. Once they are lost, that is it—the whole economic fabric of the community will disintegrate. There has to be recognition that island communities have a particularly high dependency on fishing.

We have been promised long-term benefits, and I am prepared to accept that we will get them if the Minister will see us through the short-term difficulty. In concluding his speech, he said that what was important was a sustainable fisheries policy. What we have got is simply not sustainable. It will not sustain the communities that I represent and that is what he has must solve.

5.41 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and your office for extending this debate from the three hours that were allowed on the Order Paper until six o'clock? I hope that the Leader of the House will note that even more than four hours would be helpful in future fishing debates because of the sheer number of people who wish to contribute.

I feel some déjà vu in returning to the issue of fishing. As the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) mentioned, 10 years ago, I made my maiden speech on

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the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and indeed my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who intervened earlier and was the relevant Minister at the time, have pointed out that, in respect of the difficulties in which the Minister now finds himself, and on which he has been negotiating and responding so effectively to our concerns, he was arguing precisely the opposite 10 years ago.

I should also like to pray in aid the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), for Banff and Buchan and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood). I am sure that the latter has been involved in fishing debates for a very long time, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). All of us are very familiar with the arguments and hope that we will not have to repeat these debates for much longer, although we suspect that we shall.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I cannot comment on all their speeches. Many heartfelt contributions were made. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble)—I have noticed that Fleetwood is in Lancashire, not Yorkshire; some Scots do not understand geography—and the hon. Members for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) and for Hastings and Rye raised their concerns. I hope that the Minister got the message after an hour and two minutes. He is very generous with his time, and as somebody who has been doing the job for 10 years or more, he is certainly an expert and handled all the queries well. None the less, I hope that he got the message from everyone who has spoken about their worries on the crisis that is facing the fishing industry. The situation has been bad before, but after my experience on the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill, I never thought that I would say that an eight-day tie-up seemed very reasonable, as it does in comparison with a 15 or 16-day tie-up, which is what the fishing industry now faces.

Before I entered the Chamber, I read the amendments that the three Opposition parties had tabled and was intrigued by the similarity in tone between the Liberal Democrat and Scottish National party amendments. Both parties picked up on the hapless Ross Finnie's words—Xinequitable, crude and unfair"—but there are other similarities. In the Scottish Parliament today, the SNP tabled a motion on Iraq, and I am advised that the Liberal Democrat amendment is no different in substance. Perhaps a new coalition is emerging in Scotland between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. That means that the Labour party in Scotland could be in trouble, and we all look forward to that.

Hon. Members: Fish!

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Fish—and chips.

Mrs. Lait: The hon. Gentleman may have had his chips soon.

There have been many crises in the fishing industry in the past 10 years and many similar debates. The Minister has often responded to our anxieties about, for example, tie-ups and the need for conservation

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measures. He said that a proper package of conservation measures was needed and we have supported some of his proposals. Indeed, we argued for them for a long time.

The Minister said that there should be full consultation with the fishermen's organisations. After 10 years, the message is precisely the same. The fishermen's organisations continue to claim that whatever they say, the Government do something contrary to their interests.

Ten years ago, the Minister said that he supported greater co-operation between scientists and fishermen. Why, therefore, do such passionate disputes persist about the scientific facts? Today, he said that he believed that the need for such co-operation continued to exist. However, if one talks to fishermen—I spoke to the Scottish Fishermen's Federation today—they claim that they co-operate much more with scientists, especially in Aberdeen, than any other European fishing fleets. They find that science is quoted back at them and used politically against their best interests. It is sad that, after 10 years, the scientists and the fishermen still do not work together.

As other Conservative Members pointed out, there is a lack of urgency in the Minister's approach to fishing. There is no drive behind getting the science and fishing properly integrated and presenting a clear message to the Commission.

The debate has covered all the issues that affect fishing. There is much anxiety in all fishing communities and among almost all participants in respect of the package of help. We hope that a long-term conservation programme will allow the fleets to continue fishing. In the meantime, the Minister needs to make a genuine commitment to providing a package of help that will be in place from 1 February. Again, there was a lack of urgency before the Fisheries Council about preparing such a package.

Nobody has mentioned that, on 28 February in Brussels, a Scottish Conservative Member of the European Parliament is holding a summit on fishing. He is working with fish scientists throughout the Community, the fishing industry and the processors to devise a resolution to present to the Commission and hence to the Council, demanding #100 million from the EU in compensation. It is interesting that the Prime Minister has invited fishermen to No. 10 on precisely the same day. Is there some coincidence? [Interruption.] It is clearly deliberate sabotage of a helpful measure to get #100 million from the Commission into the fishing communities.

We have had an interesting debate, and I must agree that the Minister has been more than courteous in answering all our questions, but whether we are satisfied with those answers is another matter altogether. I doubt whether any of the fishing communities in Scotland, Lancashire or Yorkshire will be reassured by his saying that they have a future in the coming months.


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