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Mrs. Humble: Does my hon. Friend recognise that Fleetwood fishermen, who were part of that Irish sea community, received no compensation either? They have been working closely with their colleagues in the Northern Ireland fishing communities to make sure that the cod recovery programme works, without receiving any compensation.

Mr. McGrady: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Like me, she is fighting her corner of the Irish sea. I agree that the restricted days-at-sea efforts should be subject to some transitional aid. None was given in Northern Ireland, and none was given to the Fleetwood fleet. We envy the Scottish fishing industry, which, I understand, received some transitional aid, but it has the benefit of devolution.

If the 10 days per month at sea proposal is brought into effect in respect of the north Irish fleet, it will spell the death knell of that fleet. There is no doubt about that whatever. I remember reading back in 1991–92 a very special report from the European Community on the Irish sea. The report acknowledged the Irish sea's unique biomass and—of particular interest to me—the fact that the fishing communities of the east Down coast to which I refer were so dependent and so vulnerable to the ups and downs of the fishing industry that they required special consideration. I do not think that that report, which was accepted, was ever really put into practice. The specialness of the Irish sea's biomass and the total dependency of communities on fishing was never taken into account to facilitate its findings.

I could cite the views of several scientists that are much more optimistic than those mentioned by the Minister and give a degree of confidence about how things might go forward. Does the Minister realise that against scientific advice, there is a proposed reduction of the total allowable catch for Irish sea haddock stocks from 1,500 tonnes to 1,075 tonnes? Again against scientific advice, it has been suggested that the TAC for plaice should be reduced from the scientists'

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recommendation of 1,700 tonnes to 896 tonnes. We have heard about a 14 per cent. increase in the TAC for nephrops in the North sea, but although nephrops are one of the basic species fished in the Irish sea, it is proposed to reduce the TAC for nephrops by a further 340 tonnes.

We must take account of all those factors and the history of competition from fishermen from the Republic of Ireland. My constituency has a water border with the Republic of Ireland—Carlinford Lough. The restrictions on fishermen in the north of Ireland are not the same as those that apply two miles out at sea across an imaginary water border. The co-operation of these isles is vital if justice is to be done, so I ask the Minister to take on board some of the facts that I have presented tonight—albeit poorly. As someone said, politicians simply have to dip into a difficult science. I do not pretend to be an expert; I simply try to represent the views of my local fishermen and the communities that they sustain.

A separate Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development will not represent our fishing industry at the talks this year, unlike the last year, so I ask the Minister to give special consideration to his ministerial colleague who will represent Northern Ireland, and remember that he has three huge Northern Ireland Departments to run—it is difficult enough to deal with only this issue. I ask—I almost beg—for special consideration to be given to the facts and for representatives from the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland to be given a fair hearing.

6.42 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I used to think that there was a constancy to the personnel in fishing debates—indeed, I used to think that the only thing that changed from debate to debate was the Conservative fishing spokesperson. This year, however, not only the Conservative spokesperson, but the Minister with responsibility for fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland have changed. I do not present that to the new Fisheries Minister as a warning. I merely suggest that his performance at the Fisheries Council might be important for his future career prospects, especially as far as fisheries MPs are concerned.

The loss to fishing communities of the jobs on which they depend has been more important than the change of personnel to fisheries spokespersons. Some 50 per cent.—half—of our Scottish white fish fleet has disappeared and been decommissioned over the past three years. A few years ago, Ross Finnie, the Scottish Minister for Environment and Rural Development, said that he would not preside over the destruction of the Scottish fishing industry, yet he and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), are presiding over the destruction of the Scottish white fish fleet. That is not a forecast; it is what has happened.

The Scottish White Fish Producers Association and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation gave evidence to the all-party group on fisheries earlier today. They

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pointed out graphically that we are now in a situation in which every fishing boat in the North sea has 1,000 square miles in which to fish, which shows how few boats we have in our specialist white fish sector. Indeed, Michael Park, the chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, explained that his boat, the Denebula, had to sail 190 miles to help another fishing boat in distress this week because he was closest to it. That is the extent to which our boats and white fish sector have been denuded over the past three years. The industry is the lifeblood of our communities. The companies that depend on that white fish fleet for their orders—the engineers, ice factories, painters and carpenters—are under the most horrendous pressure and have been shamefully treated by the decommissioning scheme in Scotland.

If there were no fish in the sea, the situation would be regrettable, but perhaps nothing could be done. We are not in that situation, however. The sea is full of fish; it is just empty of fishermen. We heard that the herring and mackerel stocks are at high levels. Haddock stock is on a 32-year high in the North sea; indeed, we could walk to Norway on the haddock in that sea. Prawn stocks are in a robust condition. Cod stocks, although at a low level, are recovering. It might interest the Minister to know that monkfish in the North sea are assessed not on survey data, but purely on landing data. If the quota goes down, the landings go down and the quota is lowered again the following year. After the Minister's experience of monkfish stocks elsewhere, perhaps he will turn his attention to increasing the quota in the North sea, as any intelligent assessment would require and defend.

Mr. MacDonald: The hon. Gentleman's solution is unilateral withdrawal from the CFP, as set out in his private Member's Bill introduced at the end of the last Session. When I asked the House of Commons Library to evaluate his Bill, it said:

Surely his Bill and policy are a complete fraud and con on the fishing community.

Mr. Salmond: I relied heavily on two things in framing the Bill: the excellent Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and the advice of the House of Commons Clerks. The Bill was well founded. In a reply to a constituent of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) just a few months ago, the Government explained that the UK Parliament could withdraw from the European Act 1972 or any part of that Act. The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) should check with his colleagues and Government before he launches attacks on me.

Ann Winterton: May I back up the hon. Gentleman's point? In a written answer to me, the Minister for Europe said:

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It is this place that decides, not the House of Commons Library.

Mr. Salmond: As the hon. Lady and I discussed a few moments ago, the European Convention offers the Government a huge opportunity to force the issue, if they had the political will to do so.

I have three specific points to make on the negotiations. The first is that for all the badinage, they are vital. I told the Minister about the haddock quota and I think that I got a favourable reply on the information from Seafish about the cod by-catch and haddock fishing. If he cannot secure the bountiful quota that we should have in the North sea, he will have committed a cardinal failure.

I understand that the Prime Minister's strategy unit is complimentary about the Faroese fishing policy. If the Faroese were managing the North sea haddock fishery, this year's quota would be set at 150,000 tonnes as opposed to the 37,000 tonnes suggested by the European Commission. For marketing reasons, the fishing industry would not suggest that the quota should be set that high, but if it were doubled to 80,000 tonnes, that would be worth £40 million to the hard-pressed Scottish fishing industry. Haddock is not the only species that needs to be decoupled from cod, but that quota will be the benchmark on which we judge the success or otherwise of this Fisheries Minister.

My second point relates to days at sea. The Minister was asked—I think he took it on board—about the huge reduction in capacity absorbed by the Scottish fleet, and the English fleet to a lesser extent, over the past few years. It would be incredible if the Scottish fleet ended up with the same number of days at sea as the Irish or French fleets, which have increased in size. We must make sure, whether it comes out of annexe XVII or annexe V, that we do not end up, having decommissioned half our fleet, with no benefits accruing to the half that remains. The Minister should understand that the fishing entitlement of the decommissioned boats has not gone to the boats that remain. We are in the dreadful position that the people who are still in the industry are not getting the benefit from less fishing effort that has been applied in the North sea and elsewhere.

Thirdly—this is a point for the Government as well as for other interests—I am sick and tired of hearing arguments from celebrity chefs, environmental organisations, the Government and companies such as Birds Eye on which it is carelessly said that the North sea is denuded of fish, when that is not the case. That claim has been a significant factor, as Seafish told us today, in the reducing the demand for our excellent products over the past year.

Instead of arguing from that position, the Minister should be addressing the need for more money for Seafish to promote fish. He should be looking carefully at funding for the processing sector to enable it to move into higher value-added markets. He should be refuting, not encouraging, suggestions that there are no fish in the North sea and elsewhere.

I move on to the European Convention. I think that the Minister is missing the point, as all Fisheries Ministers on being relegated in importance within the Government are bound to miss, perhaps, that it offers a

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huge opportunity. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), the Labour representative on the Convention said today:

Professor Neil MacCormick, MEP, head of constitutional law at Edinburgh university for 20 years and the SNP representative on the Convention said:

Putting into the Convention, as an exclusive competence, a failed policy such as the common fisheries policy is a step backwards, or a step further into the mire into which successive Governments have taken the industry.

The question that fishing communities ask is, I suppose, the same question that was asked after the revelations that 30 years ago they were considered in the European negotiations as "expendable" in the light of Britain's wider interests. That is not something that those in the fishing community have made up—civil service documents released under the 30-year rule stated that the Government of the day regarded Scottish fishermen as "expendable" in the light of Britain's wider interests. We suspect that in common with Lord Owen, Lady Thatcher and John Major's Government, the present Government still regard those fishermen as expendable in the light of other negotiations.

Why cannot fishing be a red line issue? Why cannot fishing be the priority in negotiations? Why cannot the unanimity that is required within the European Convention and the intergovernmental conference be used to extract concessions and the dismantling of the common fisheries policy, which has caused so much damage to our fishing communities?

I do not doubt the good intentions of the Fisheries Minister, I merely say to him as gently as I can that whereas he has been in office for 180 days, I have been representing the Banff and Buchan fishing community for 16 years in this place. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby has been representing his constituents since before recorded parliamentary history in this place. What has drawn us and others to the conclusion that the CFP is fundamentally flawed and needs to be dismantled? It is not party political banter. It is not talking about who said what and when. It is the effect that the policy has had on once thriving fishing communities. It is the damage that the policy is still inflicting on the industry that we have left. It is the lost opportunity of a magnificent crop of haddock not being accessible to fishing boats, to fish processors and to the fishing support industry, which require it at a time when any rational policy would set out that that should be done. In a private meeting with the Minister last week I quoted remarks made by David Griffith, the head of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, in a radio debate that we had in late October. He said that if ICES had the information, it would have made the same recommendation as we have about the haddock

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stock. Instead of telling me that I was quoting David Griffith out of context, which I was not, the Minister should make sure that fishing opportunities are realised and, just once, ensure that the fishing industry and our communities are a priority for Westminster Government.

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