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In the short time available, I must point to the incredible situation in which not one Back-Bench contribution gave unqualified support for the common fisheries policy. It has been a striking attribute of the debate that not one person free of the Government's whipping stood up to defend that which is doubtless indefensible. Indeed, only the Government are out of step with public opinion in the communities and opinion in the House.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) rightly said that the debate is not about numbers or ships; it is about communities, people, families and family businesses. Yesterday and the day before, I was in Pittenweem, Peterhead and Fraserburgh. I learned there of the devastation of the industry. In Fraserburgh, 600 jobs have gone since 1997 and people cannot look with certainty towards a fishing industry course at the local college next year. That scale of devastation in the industry is truly one that we cannot contemplate, and I am pleased to reassure hon. Members that the Opposition will not countenance it for much longer. I was presented with a photograph that amply demonstrates the cost to the British taxpayer of tearing up Scottish fishing vessels, which we learn are being built elsewhere with that same UK taxpayers' money.
For the avoidance of doubt, the CFP has been an environmental, ecological, social, commercial and economic disaster that Her Majesty's Opposition will not tolerate for any longer than is necessary. The communities in Scotland and the UK as a whole that are affected will want to hear explicit confirmation of our plans. We will shortly commence work with industry representatives on our strategy for managing our fish resources once we return to national control. However, we must not equivocate. One of the first priorities for the next Conservative Government will be negotiating the return of national control of our fishing.
We do not underestimate the price that our fishing communities have paid, and unlike the Government and the Minister, we are not complacent about the price that will still be paid between now and the general election. Shortly after it, the political will required to remove us from the disaster of a CFP will be provided by Her Majesty's official Opposition when we return to government. The communities affected will not be disappointed by the priority that we give to this matter. For too longfor 30 years too longour communities have paid a high price. They will not pay that price for much longer.
Mr. Bradshaw: It may be helpful to tell hon. Membersit may save their knee jointsthat I am not going to take any interventions as I have only three or four minutes in which to speak. I think I was pretty generous in taking interventions during my opening remarks.
We have had a wide-ranging and mainly constructive debate that understandably concentrated on those parts of the fishing industry that are under pressure and highlighted concerns in advance of next week's all-important annual Fisheries Council. Before turning to those concerns, let me thank those Members in the Chamber who reminded the House that the fishing industry is more than the commercial white fish fleet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) rightly emphasised the importance of recreational fishing, which is worth £3 billion to the UK economy every year. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) emphasised the importance of the fish processing industry, which is doing well in many parts of the UK. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) stressed the health of the nephrops stocks off the west coast of Scotland. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who leads on fisheries for the Liberal Democrats, reminded the House that the crab and lobster fisheries in the south-west of England are thriving. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) spoke about the healthy state of the pelagic stocks, and, finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) made an important speech about the importance of safety in the fisheries industry. I associate myself entirely with his remarks about the sacrifice that fishermen make in a dangerous profession. He also rightly pointed to the importance of the forthcoming publication in the new year of the Prime Minister's strategy unit report on fisheries. I remind the House that this is the first time for 30 years that any Government of any political colour have had a proper long-term strategic look at the future of the fishing industry.
Let me turn to the matters that are at the forefront of most right hon. and hon. Members' minds: the forthcoming Council and the particular stocks that are under pressure. I am happy to give an assurance that I have listened to and will take into account the points made by individual Members in the debate this afternoon who admirably represented their own local industry interests.
My hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles asked about nephrops and a zonal approach off the west of Scotland. The special position of the Irish sea was highlighted by the hon. Members for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). I reassure them that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson), does an excellent job of representing Northern Ireland interests. I meet him regularly, just as I work closely with my colleague Ross Finnie and the Scottish Executive. We work in parallel, representing United Kingdom interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) made a case on behalf of her fishermen in Fleetwood. Scottish and North sea Members want, as I do, to see maximum decoupling between cod and other species whose stocks are healthy.
Those were all sensible and constructive suggestions about how to fight for the best possible deal for our fishing industry. We want to fight for fishing opportunities while ensuring that the stocks under threat are allowed to recover. Several hon. Members advocated a constructive working relationship with our
Conservative Front Benchers are deluding themselvesand, I am afraid, the Houseif they believe that all the problems of the UK fishing industry can be solved by a unilateral repatriation of fishing rights to the UK and a unilateral withdrawal from the common fisheries policy. Even if that were possible without leaving the EU as a wholeand anyone who knows anything about the matter knows that it is notit would leave an isolated UK having to renegotiate with the whole of the rest of the European Union and the other nations to which they referred in the debate from a position of weakness and isolation. The idea that they could get a better deal for this country under those circumstances is, I am afraid, a cruel deception on the UK fishing industry.
Shona McIsaac: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you explain why the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) was given 13 minutes to contribute to the debate? As far as I am aware, she does not represent a fishing community. I am such a representative, yet I was not called in the debate, so the voice of the fishing industry in Grimsby and Cleethorpes was not heard. What are the rules on time and constituency interest?
Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) was allotted the standard time allowed in debates. As to the other point mentioned by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), the fact that Mr. Speaker imposed a time limit on the debate demonstrated his wish to try to get as many Members as possible to contribute to it.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to point out that many hon. Members did not have an opportunity to contribute to the debate, even though there is a crisis in the fishing industry. I ask those who organise Government affairs to take that into account for future debates.