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Ann Winterton: I was actually addressing the point made by the Liberal Democrat spokesman. I am pleased to support the Bill of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). He has been converted rather late on the road to Damascus, but he is welcome to join those of us who support the policy of national control.

During a recent Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time, the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) asked:

The cruel hoax is being perpetrated not by the growing number of hon. Members who support national controls, because they put forward the truth, unpalatable as it is to some; it is being perpetrated by their accusers. The hon. Gentleman continued:

The Minister agreed with him, and by so doing displayed the breathtaking lack of knowledge and understanding that the original question exhibited. Frankly, it does not bode well for the forthcoming

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negotiations when the Minister and the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, who represents a south-west constituency, are either ignorant of the structure of the European Union and the rules within which we have to work or just do not want to know. No wonder fishermen in the UK industry are in such a desperate state. That solution is not credible.

First, if we wanted to scrap the centralised basis of the CFP, as confirmed by the Foreign Secretary on 22 October at column 389 in reply to the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing), we would have to scrap the terms of our accession to the EEC in 1973, which included the principle of equal access to a common resource without discrimination. In other words, we would have to withdraw from the CFP, which is exactly what the Conservative party have been saying for several years.

More often than not, the Liberal Democrats—with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who sensibly consulted his constituents and now supports national control—say different things to different constituencies throughout the United Kingdom. An obvious example, which was mentioned earlier, was provided by the MSP for Shetland, one Tavish Scott, who supports national control while he is in Shetland but who, as a Minister in the Scottish Executive, supports the Liberal Democrat party line of regional management. Something about trying to have one's cake and eat it springs to mind.

Do the Minister, the hon. Member for St. Ives and other Liberal Democrat Members realise that, with the support of new Labour, they are trying to scrap the CFP? Perhaps the penny has not dropped. If, as they said on 20 November, they want the CFP to be replaced by a robust, devolved, proper regional management structure, perhaps they can tell us how that will be achieved. Commissioner Fischler has already made it clear in relation to Baltic cod that the principle of subsidiarity does not apply to fisheries, so can the Minister or the hon. Member for St. Ives tell us how they will obtain the treaty changes necessary for the type of regional management they support, instead of our being fobbed off with toothless regional councils?

Andrew George: It would of course be churlish of me to point out Tory inconsistencies, although I understand that, on a number of occasions, the Conservative MEP in Scotland has taken a different view of fisheries matters from that of his party. If we assume that the Conservatives have adopted their policy with the best of intentions and that it is neither naked populism nor opposition for opposition's sake, will the hon. Lady at least accept that there is a question of interpretation? Will she keep an open mind as to the possibility technically of delivering a decentralised system, just as I am prepared to keep an open mind about the legality of her claim?

Ann Winterton: All the Scottish MEPs are in favour of national control. In fact, the hon. Gentleman has some questions to answer. I am posing questions to the

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Liberal Democrats about their party's policy; it is about time they stopped trying to play it both ways. The hon. Gentleman should tell the House precisely—

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

Ann Winterton: No, I am responding to the hon. Member for St. Ives. I want him to tell the House precisely how the Liberal Democrats will achieve those vital treaty changes and I suggest that he stop trying to deceive fishermen.

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

Ann Winterton: I have only three minutes left for my speech, so I intend to continue.

During the same oral questions to which I referred earlier, the Minister accused me of annoying countries with which we would have to negotiate reciprocal arrangements in the event of national control. Let me assure him that Iceland, the Faroes and Norway have made it perfectly clear that they would not even contemplate EU membership unless national control of fisheries was in place. Furthermore, those countries would rather negotiate with the United Kingdom than with the whole European Union.

What is also staggering is that on 20 November at column 972 of Hansard, the Leader of the House described the other place as unelected and undemocratic, yet the UK fisheries Minister considers it best to relinquish responsibility for the British nation's marine resources and for them to be controlled by an unelected, undemocratic and corrupt Commission. The Government have no principle and no consistency, and they are all over the place.

I can only say, to the repeated hollow cry that establishing national control will mean leaving the European Union, "What arrant nonsense!" I did not notice France or Germany at the exit door as they broke their treaty obligations on the stability pact; in fact, they seem to be in the driving seat, with the British whimpering at the sidelines.

On 11 November, during my Adjournment debate on the demise of cod in the British sector, the Minister threw down the gauntlet—he has repeated this twice today—challenging me to produce alternative science. I responded to that challenge by writing to him on 20 November—I have not yet received an acknowledgement or a reply—inviting him to chair a meeting to be held in the House of Commons in the spring, at which scientists of my choice will debate and challenge the scientists who advise him. I very much hope that he will agree to attend, although the meeting will take place anyway. If neither the Minister nor the scientists whom he nominates is present, a clear indication will be given to the fishing industry that the Government's actions cannot be defended, and they will stand condemned in the eyes of fishermen as a result.

When the Prime Minister recently entertained the President of the United States of America in Sedgefield, they lunched, we are told, in a rather nice pub, on cod, chips and mushy peas. That delectable dish is the hallmark of Save Britain's Fish fringe meetings at Conservative party conference, which always attract maximum attendance, although haddock is served,

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rather than cod. I am glad that haddock is so plentiful at the moment, and we very much hope that changes will be made so that more can be caught in the future. The cod eaten on that occasion at Sedgefield came from the constituency of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), and I hope there was nothing fishy about that.

The Prime Minister is on record as saying that he is very partial to fish and chips. What a pity his much-vaunted No. 10 strategy unit was not allowed to start examining fisheries policy with a clean sheet of paper, but was given specific orders: its remit was to stay within the bounds of the CFP. What a wasted opportunity and yet another piece of cruel deception and spin. The truth speaks louder than words, and it is not those who support national control who cruelly deceive but those who shine an imaginary light at the end of a very long tunnel of deception. United Kingdom fishermen will never prosper while policy remains in the CFP, and the fishing industry will suffer yet further emasculation. The only solution is national control based on—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady has had her time.

6.32 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): It is with some trepidation that I go from the global problems to the parochial problems of those fishermen in the Irish sea who fish off the County Down coast. The three most important fishing ports in Northern Ireland are on the County Down coast, and two of those are in my constituency. We have an added problem—I had hoped that it would not be a problem this year—in that our devolved institutions are suspended, and we have no local Minister responsible for fisheries to attend the Brussels negotiations. We are dependent on a no doubt able person to represent third hand the concerns and views of the Northern Ireland fishing industry.

Fishermen's observations regarding the Irish sea are usually criticised as self-interested, but we have evidence from independent scientists that the fishermen's assessment, in fact, has justification. I was rather disappointed during the early part of the Minister's introduction, when he called such scientists dissidents, as opposed to people with dissenting opinions. Those two terms have different meanings in my vocabulary. A scientist's credibility should always be taken on board and he should not be castigated in any way simply because he has a different or opposing view.

Leaving that aside, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is much more positive for 2004 in respect of the Irish sea than it has been for many years. In fact, the chairman of the fishery science group stated at a recent meeting that the positive signs from the Irish sea had to be emphasised. We shall look to see how that emphasis on the positive aspects is reflected in the outcome of the negotiations.

Those positive signs include the fact that cod stocks in the Irish sea have increased by a multiple of three—three times what was there before. In the past year alone, the availability of Irish sea cod has increased by 40 per cent. Those are not the opinions of dissident scientists—the ICES scientists are advisers to the Commission. They go on to say that one of the most important species now, nephrops, remains robust.

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Given that backcloth, the proposals coming out of Brussels indicate that that is not being taken on board. That is so desponding that it has driven the fishermen of Northern Ireland to the point where they, like many others, wish to withdraw from European fisheries policy. I am a committed European. In this instance, however, for serious, particular reasons, I would support a policy of withdrawal unless there is a meaningful, fair and alternative means of species preservation.

The Northern Ireland fishing fleet is very small. In the past 10 years, however, it has been halved. In the past three years, income right across the white fish industry has dropped by 76 per cent., and in relation to nephrops it has dropped by 40 per cent. The Northern Ireland fishing fleet has made a major contribution, suggested conservation measures, promoted them, participated in them and done a good deal more than its share. That should be taken on board.

When the measures in relation to closure of the Irish sea were introduced, the Northern Irish fishermen who had suffered since 2000 got no compensation. Yet when other UK fleet industries suffered the same fate, they received transitional aid.

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