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6.9 pm

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central) (Lab): I want to make a short contribution about the processing side of the industry and to address other issues that have been raised. My primary constituency concern is processing, because Aberdeen lost its main fishing fleet many years ago. A number of issues are of concern to the industry. The major one is that it has become increasingly difficult to secure regular supplies of fish. I think that, if the Minister answered that point directly, he would tell me that the fish processing industry has had quite a good year this year. That is true, but a lot of it has come on the back of imported fish. Most primary processors depend on regular supplies of locally caught white fish. That remains a concern and I ask him to keep himself fully apprised of it.

The industry is constantly struggling against the difficulties of regulation. Every time I get to my feet in the Chamber to talk about it, new problems seem to have been raised. At the moment, two issues are causing concern: animal by-products legislation and the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999, which is having serious cost implications for the industry. I will write to the Minister about particular concerns on that. There is another major issue. Some sections of the industry went through a difficult period at exactly the same time as the catching side but have not had the same help. There is a sense that it is a two-tier industry. I simply put that point on the record.

I will not labour the points, but I want to use the rest of the time available to me to pick up on what was said by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). The points he raised are important.

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Although I do not want to say that I have swallowed them hook, line and sinker—he would not expect me to do that—the way in which the Conservatives and the Scottish National party are addressing the issue sends a warning to the Government. It is important that we do not indulge in the usual political rhetoric and try to brush them off, because there are difficulties.

Before making my points, I want to say that I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He tried to persuade us all of the virtues of independence. The nationalists and the Tory party have always been close—we have known that in Scotland—and it was interesting to hear that being pointed out today. He picked a number of unfortunate examples that do not bear scrutiny, mentioning Norway, the Faroes and the Falklands.

The Norwegian industry is quite different from ours. Apart from its importance to a country the size of Norway, it has been heavily subsidised and modernised with the aid of oil money. The nationalists will say that we could do that in Scotland, but I am not going down that road. Those factors distinguish it from our industry. Its importance compared with that of the UK industry is different. The importance of the Faroese industry is similar, as fishing is the major industry there, as it is in Iceland. Apart from tourism and the possibility of oil, it is difficult to see what other major industry the Faroes might have. Therefore, we are talking about a completely different situation.

What amused me was the hon. Gentleman's reference to the Falklands. I have been there and seen its industry. There is virtually no indigenous fishing industry in the Falklands. There is no fishing fleet. The Falklanders sell their licences to foreign vessels, making £40 million to £50 million a year, which has transformed the Falklands economy. I think that there is an argument, although fish processors in my constituency do not want to hear it, for learning one lesson from the Falklands—I refer to the idea of selling licences each year. However, some fishermen have spent thousands of pounds in buying up licences for quota, so they would be greatly opposed to that idea.

On the basis of how the Scottish nationalists and the Conservatives are reacting and from what I know about my area, there are real problems with how the common fisheries policy is managed. It is important to see how the stakeholders are reacting to the management of the CFP. It suggests that we are at a fairly advanced stage in the breakdown of trust in the process. That means that we are in real difficulties. I do not need to go into the details, because the Minister has already heard the various interventions about those matters.

I always listen carefully to the fishermen in my constituency. I have been involved in these debates since I was first elected to this place in 1997. Throughout that period, mistrust in the Commission was never as strong as it is now. We have heard the word "contempt" used, but I believe that that is too strong because most people in the industry know that they depend on the Commission for their future. Nevertheless, serious concerns remain about the management of the CFP. Every year around December, there are a couple of months of panic as the scientists produce their report,

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the Commission produces its response and the various forces within the EU go into battle to deal with the issues.

Angus Robertson: Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern and that of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including members of the European Scrutiny Committee, that, with the entrenchment of the common fisheries policy and with fishing becoming an exclusive competence in the EU constitution, we are taking a dangerous step backwards? Will he urge his Front-Bench colleagues, in the few remaining weeks of the IGC, to turn that position around?

Mr. Doran: I am not going down that road. The hon. Gentleman knows that many issues, in which we have both been involved, remain open to negotiation. I hope that that is one of the issues that will be dealt with. The whole basis of the negotiations is of major concern. There is a major rift between the industry and the scientists. We all welcome the advice and we need hard facts. I looked, for example, at the briefing from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. It is a modest and serious briefing, throughout which there are constant challenges to the scientific evidence.

Mr. Carmichael rose—

Mr. Doran: I want to finish my points and I know that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

The industry has gone through two years of trauma, in which the Scottish fleet has been reduced by half. We heard this morning from the chief executive of the Sea Fish Industry Authority that the income of operators in the white fish catching side of the industry has decreased by another 30 per cent. this year. There are serious issues here. If the stakeholders are losing confidence in the process, the process will fail.

It is no accident that both the Conservatives and the nationalists have adopted withdrawal from the CFP as the main plank in their fisheries policy. I certainly do not support that policy, which is nonsense and populist and will be extremely damaging to our fishing industry. At the same time, however, the Government must pay attention to what is happening on the ground. Debates about the future of the industry have moved on immensely since the Government were elected in 1997. Everyone in the industry awaits the report from the strategy unit due in 2003, which will make an important contribution to the debate. Somehow or other, we must get the message across to the Commission that it must understand the growing problems created by the management of our industry.

6.19 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton): I wish to begin by genuinely wishing the Minister well in the forthcoming negotiations at the Council of Ministers. For him, it will be a baptism of fire, but it is essential for the actual survival of the industry that he is successful and salvages what he can for the UK fishing industry. It will not be a straightforward meeting at which the UK can make real progress, because the proposals come directly from the Commission and will already be cut and dried. It must also be recognised that the Council of Ministers cannot

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change the Commission's proposals other than by unanimity. The Commission is, after all, the guardian of the treaties and therefore works only within the confines of those treaties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) clearly and succinctly described to the House the policy espoused by the Conservative party, but I want to correct the impression that it is a recent policy. I remind the House that the former hon. Member for Teignbridge first introduced it, followed by myself—

Mr. Blizzard: He was sacked.

Ann Winterton: As was I. However, the policy will not be sacked, because it is right. The post was then held, with great distinction, by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who has not been sacked. Now we have my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, and I would put money on him not being sacked. He will stay and carry the policy through into government.

Mr. Blizzard: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ann Winterton: No. The hon. Gentleman has already intervened many times today. He should make his own speech, rather than trying to be reported in his local newspaper by intervening on other hon. Members.

Mr. Salmond: I would not dispute for a second the hon. Lady's consistency on this matter. When I referred to a recent policy, it was not the policy of withdrawal from the common fisheries policy, but the recent realisation that the European Convention provides the lever to bring about the fundamental renegotiation of fisheries policy. That is the recent conversion.

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