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Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): My hon. Friend mentioned the unintended consequences of last year's deal. Does he realise that they still have repercussions for our fishing communities? For example, it was discovered halfway through the period that the port of
 
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Arbroath was not a designated port for haddock landing. The Scottish Executive then said that it was designated, but it turned out that it had not been properly designated. That has caused utter confusion in the fishing industry, and the same applies to small ports throughout Scotland.

Mr. Salmond: I remember going with my hon. Friend to see the Fisheries Minister, and I know that he was keen to see the designation of a number of ports. I am unhappy to hear that Arbroath was not properly designated; it should have been. It is a vital port, and the industry that flows from the fresh haddock catch there is also important.

The unintended consequences illustrate the nature of the common fisheries policy. If the Minister goes to negotiations, as he did last year, and is suddenly confronted with a range of maps and devices—some of which had not been seen before and had certainly not been consulted on with the fishermen themselves—the negotiations are bound to produce unintended consequences, which is the euphemism for their effects on people trying make their living. For the communities that depend on the catches, they are a disaster.

That is no way to run a fisheries policy. The CFP is inherently flawed, because it does not confer a sense of ownership. Any resource policy needs a direct form of ownership, without which there is only a loose incentive for conservation. Any fleet under pressure will decide that if it does not catch the resource, another fleet will do so, and deplete the resource. The result is competition between fishermen in an essentially competitive industry, and competition between fleets. Without a common thread of ownership, fisheries policy is deeply flawed.

The CFP is the only attempt at common resource ownership in the European Union. I noted that, in the Chancellor's statement today, oil revenues came to the rescue, enabling him partly to fill the black hole in his calculations. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is busy spending that largesse on wars, and the Home Secretary wants to spend it on identity cards. None the less, oil has come to the rescue. Can hon. Members imagine what would happen to the Chancellor's already furrowed brow if the EU declared that oil was to be an exclusive competence of the European Commission? Instead of the revenues coming to the aid of the Chancellor, they would go to the aid of the Commission. There would be explosions at the Dispatch Box if such a suggestion were made about the oil resource, but that is what was given away in the resource of marine fisheries 30 years ago.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): That was disgraceful.

Mr. Salmond: Indeed. It was disgraceful that the Conservative party permitted it.

The modern Conservative party says that that was in the Heathite years of the past. Things are entirely different now, apparently, and fishing would merit a much higher priority. However, the Benches behind the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) are empty, so I wonder about that priority. I commend the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) for coming to the Chamber to hear me speak, but he should have been here to hear the hon. Member for North Shropshire, who gave an interesting speech.
 
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I have been doing my sums, and the leader of the Conservative party has had just over 200 opportunities to ask about fisheries policy at Prime Minister's questions, but he has not managed to ask any questions to date—not one. He will probably ask one next Wednesday, but it is remarkable that he has not yet done so. However, I do not doubt the honesty and integrity of hon. Member for North Shropshire, partly because the Deputy Speaker would not allow me to do so, but also because he has visited more fisheries ports and fisheries regimes than I have had fish suppers. However, the good intentions of many Opposition spokesmen and Fisheries Ministers have been laid to ruin, because when push comes to shove, they realise that fisheries policy in the United Kingdom does not have any priority—and never has had under successive Governments, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and I have realised in the fisheries debates that we have sat through. I can see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding freely.

David Burnside: Given the auld alliance between Scotland and France, can the hon. Gentleman extend that comparison? Presidents and Prime Ministers intervene on behalf of the French or Spanish interest in those discussions in December every year. That happened last year, but when was the last time a British Prime Minister intervened to back up his negotiating Minister?

Mr. Salmond: President Chirac, of course, threatened to go to the negotiations if the French did not get their way, but concessions were made. The Prime Minister made a phone call to Herr Fischler. I thought that I could recruit Rory Bremner to make half a dozen calls and make fisheries a much greater priority. However, there is a serious point to be made—no British Prime Minister or Government have made fisheries a priority. One remembers the chilling words of the civil service memo released under the 30-year rule:

the Scottish fishermen—

Incidentally, that was not a civil servant saying that Scottish fishermen should be expendable. It was a civil servant in the then Scottish Office commenting on the negotiations and bitterly assessing the attitude being adopted by the Prime Minister of the day, the negotiators and the Foreign Office. I believe that that remains the situation.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister has set up the strategy unit on fishing, which has now reported? This is the first time, perhaps for decades, that the fishing industry has had such a targeted approach from No. 10.

Mr. Salmond: Of course I am aware of that. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to a fisheries debate. If he came to more of them, he would know what I am aware of. The Prime Minister's strategy unit was somewhat flawed by its inability to count the vessels in the Scottish fishing fleet. We would have had more confidence in the strategy unit if it had been able to count the number of boats that we have, never mind forecast the decline, which it then projected forward. That caused huge irritation in Scotland.
 
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I was interested in the debate in the European Fisheries Committee, which by 24 votes to nil, with four abstentions, attacked the exclusive competence of the fisheries policy in the proposed European constitution as "anomalous and unjustified". Two of the Portuguese members of the Committee wanted to go further in their amendments. The impression given by the Government—that everybody else throughout the European Union is comfortable with the fisheries policy, and it would be an impossible negotiation to try to get something fundamental done about it—is misleading. There is deep dissatisfaction in many member states with that policy of despair for many, many fishing communities across Europe.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that one part of the debate that is often missed is the fact that the draft European constitution, with the exclusive competence on marine and biological resources under the CFP, could act as a disincentive for fishing nations now outside the EU to join? Does he believe that countries such as Norway and Iceland will ever join the EU if a constitution with such a provision is passed?

Mr. Salmond: The point is well made. I do not think there is any chance of Norway, Iceland or the Faroes joining the European Union if the Union tries to maintain exclusive competence over fisheries. If we look at the European constitution, we can see just how ridiculous the position is. There are four exclusive competences in the EU, in addition to the competition laws necessary for the single market to which Lady Thatcher signed us up. The first three are the customs union, which was the very foundation of the Common Market; common commercial policy, without which there could not be a European Union; and monetary policy, for member states whose currency is in it. The Government, who criticise others for wanting to opt out of the common fisheries policy, are happy to continue almost indefinitely opting out of monetary policy, which seems to me slightly more fundamental to the future of the EU than the fisheries policy. Lastly, there is the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy.

That is ridiculous. It is an anomaly from the past, dating from when the competence was signed away in 1971. There is massive dissatisfaction, and if there had been an ounce of political muscle in the negotiations, making fishing a priority, it could have been removed from the list of exclusive competences. The great benefit of that would be that when the Minister spoke about regional advisory committees becoming management committees he would have some basis for the argument, because even the doctrine of subsidiarity does not apply to the exclusive competences of the European Union under the constitution. We would be in a much better position.

I shall have many chances to argue those points further in connection with my Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill, which I intend to reintroduce. I am grateful to the many hon. Members who supported it, and I understand that more Conservative Members would have supported it if I had not argued for national control for the nations of the UK. I hope, however, that they will overlook that aspect and that there will be even more support for the Bill when I reintroduce it.
 
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I want to ask the Minister some pragmatic questions that are important to my constituents and those of other fisheries Members. We have heard from a number of hon. Members about the prawn fishery. The obvious conclusion that we must draw from the new scientific examination of the prawn stocks—in some ways, it is the first proper such examination—is that they are massively greater than has hitherto been suspected. The quota increases suggested could be called niggardly in comparison, and a fundamental re-evaluation is needed.

Of course, one of the reasons why prawn stocks are so healthy is that the cod are not eating the prawns. In a complex marine fishery, the interaction between fish and other marine species is of fundamental importance. The Minister kindly lent me a book on the history of cod—I have yet to return it, but I have read it and I shall give it back to him shortly. It is relevant in this context. We have a fisheries policy that Herr Fischler, at least, was trying to run as a cod policy in which it seemed that virtually every other species in the sea had to be subservient to cod; it was a case of the ultimate one-club golfer. Unfortunately, the results are disastrous. Instead of giving people other fishing opportunities to take the pressure off cod, they were denied such opportunities and efforts were relocated elsewhere, doing damage to other species.

The North sea is a mixed fishery, and the effort level applied in respect of the white fish fleet is a similar issue. If over-fishing explains the state of cod stocks, how can it be that we have low cod stocks in some areas, but record 30-year-high haddock stocks? There is a mixed fishery, with fish swimming in the same sea, pursued by many of the same boats, yet one stock is at a record high, while the other is low in certain areas. That tells us that there is another explanation—a deep environmental explanation—while the commissioner has refused to consider the matter seriously in any significant way.

Haddock are at a 30-year high. If the Faroese were running haddock policy in the North sea, the quota would be 150,000 tonnes. After the Norwegian talks, we are talking about a possible reduction of the quota.


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