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Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): It is clear to us all that the common fisheries policy has failed. It has failed to conserve key fish stocks—most obviously cod—and it has failed the remote communities where fishing has long been a mainstay of the local economy. That has happened because the policy is over-centralised and run from Brussels. Decisions are made in a secretive forum that is far too remote from those who are affected by them.

It is clear that the CFP must be reformed, and reform is the only viable option: although withdrawal might be tempting, it is not a serious option. The CFP is part of the original 1972 treaty of accession. To renegotiate that, Britain would need the agreement of all the other 24 members of the European Union. There is clearly no prospect of that. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) claimed that it was a matter of political will. He may personally have that will, but the empty Benches behind him—he is accompanied only by a Whip—show that the Tory party does not regard withdrawal as a top priority. There is therefore no demonstration of such political will.
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Negotiation and achieving unanimity among EU members for Britain's withdrawal from the CFP will not happen. If Britain wished to leave the CFP, it would have to leave the EU. Perhaps there is substantial political will on the part of some members of the Conservative party for that, but it would have major and damaging consequences for the country. It would adversely affect our exports to the EU and the impact would be felt in industrial and fishing communities alike. Many of the prawns that are caught and landed in my constituency are exported to other EU countries. Leaving the EU would also have an impact on the investment that many of our remote communities receive from European structural funds.

In addition, there is the problem that fish swim across national boundaries. British fishermen traditionally fish in other countries' waters, so withdrawal would have to be followed by negotiations with the EU, acting on behalf of those member states with which we had shared fisheries. We would also have to negotiate with other countries outside the EU, such as Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. That would mean ending up where we started, with annual horse-trading with the EU and other countries to reach a decision. That is exactly what happens now and what is wrong with the current system.

The reform that is required is giving genuine power to regional management committees instead of regional advisory councils.

Mr. Paterson: The hon. Gentleman raises the old canard about fish swimming over boundaries. The EU creates artificial boxes, for example, cod boxes and Irish boxes. I visited Norway this week, and it has vast areas, not only off its 200-mile exclusion zone. It has Jan Mayen island and Spitsbergen. It catches 80 per cent. of its fish in shared zones because it has borders with the EU, the Faroes, Greenland, Iceland and Russia, and that works satisfactorily. However, Norway has control. That is not the horse-trading that the hon. Gentleman described.

Mr. Reid: I simply do not follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. On the one hand, he says that Norway has control, and on the other he talks about shared zones and the need to negotiate. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) put the point well when he said that, if Britain left the CFP, Carlingford lough would be split between two jurisdictions and there would have to be further negotiations. Withdrawal from the CFP would not result in Britain's having control. We would have to negotiate with many other countries. That is what we do now. The Conservative party is arguing from a false perspective when it claims that leaving the EU would give us sole control.

Mr. Salmond: There is one difference that the hon. Gentleman might like to think about. Under that perspective, we would negotiate only with countries with fishing resources. In the current context, many countries with no fishing resources whatever technically have an equal say in the Council of Ministers over fisheries negotiations.
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Mr. Reid: Were the hon. Gentleman leading the negotiations for an independent Scotland, which he continually fantasises will happen, he would be in a very weak negotiating position trying to negotiate with all the other countries around the North sea.

Mr. Paterson: It is a perfectly sensible point. The land-locked countries that I named—Slovakia, Hungary and so on—will horse-trade their interest in fish to get benefits on agricultural matters in the Council. Norway is working closely with other maritime nations. To take the most dramatic example, the Falklands and Argentina were at war 20 years ago, but this year they worked closely together and closed down the fishery early, because the illex dropped off. That is what happens when maritime nations work together out of common interest.

Mr. Reid: But the hon. Gentleman has conceded that Britain would not have sole control and would still have to negotiate. Trying to sell the idea that Britain has sole control is just nonsense.

Mr. Bradshaw: I hesitate to reopen this debate, but the hon. Gentleman is making some important points. The UK would be negotiating not only from a position of isolation but from a position of having narked every other country with whom we were hoping to renegotiate, while at the same time not having any say whatever in the common fisheries policy that will govern many of the seas in which our fishermen have an interest.

Mr. Reid: The Minister makes a very important point.

I want to make some important points about my local fishery in the west of Scotland. The prawn fishery is now the most valuable fishery available to the Scottish fleet. There is universal scientific agreement that prawn stocks are healthy. It is true that, in certain areas, at certain times, there is a cod by-catch that is more than negligible. That cod by-catch should be avoided by area access restrictions at certain times of the year, rather than by quota restrictions, but as long as prawn fishing vessels avoid certain designated areas at certain times, the cod by-catch when fishing for prawns is only negligible.

The published scientific data show that the nephrops total allowable catch for the west of Scotland could be increased by 30 per cent. without any risk to stocks. The EU's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries has taken a cautious approach and advised that an 11 per cent. increase in TAC would have no adverse effect on either prawn or cod stocks. I urge the Minister, in the negotiations, to ensure that the Commission heeds the scientific advice and increases the west of Scotland nephrops TAC by at least the cautious 11 per cent. recommended by the committee.

Another problem that is being caused to fishermen in the west of Scotland relates to the annexe V restrictions, which apply to nephrops fishermen. The Clyde Fishermen's Association has pointed out to me that those regulations cause them a great deal of problems and inconvenience, yet the benefit of the regulations to cod stocks is miniscule. I urge the Minister to try to
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persuade the Commission that the west of Scotland's nephrops fishery should be exempted from the annexe V regulations, which achieve nothing and cause a great deal of problems.

In the long run, we need to move away from the annual negotiations and horse-trading in Brussels towards regional management committees, but for this year at least, we are struck with the horse-trading. The Clyde Fishermen's Association has asked me to pass on its appreciation of the interest that the Minister has taken in his consultations with the fishing community, and I hope that he will achieve in negotiations the nephrops quota increase and the lifting of the annexe V regulations. If those gains can be achieved, it will be a welcome relief to struggling fishing communities in the west of Scotland.

5.29 pm

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in what I realise is a truncated debate.

First, I want to say a big thank you to my hon. Friend the Minister, who like his predecessor has become in all respects the fisherman's friend. Only this week, my constituents in Rye were pleased to note that some £4.7 million had been invested in a new fishing quay. The work starts this week, and bulldozers are on the site. The quay will provide a secure and improved facility for the next 50 years or so.

Also, in both Hastings and Rye, my constituents who are employed in the under 10 m fleet in Hastings, the largest beach-launched fleet in Europe, are celebrating my hon. Friend's good sense in suspending the licensing conditions for the remainder of the year. That means that my hard-pressed constituents will have a rather happier Christmas than they might otherwise have had.

The sensitivity shown by my hon. Friend is commendable, although I must add that concern remains about the viability of the under 10 m fleet if the current limits are retained. The limitations imposed by the quota system within the CFP are understandable, but whatever the outcome for Britain in the quota negotiations, my constituents could benefit from a different approach to how these little boats are dealt with.

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