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Mr. Salmond: I was just about to agree with the hon. Gentleman that his own optimism might be exaggerated. What does he believe would be the consequences, intended or otherwise, if the Commission were to persist with a closed area map anything like the one that we were given earlier today? What would be the consequences for his fishermen, my fishermen and fishermen round the coast? What would happen to their opportunities and what about the dislocation of effort elsewhere?

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman refers to a map provided to us by members of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation at a briefing earlier today. As Hamish Morrison described it, closed areas would be the "worst-case scenario". Fishermen in my constituency have been disproportionately affected merely because of the geography of where they are based and the size and compass of the closed areas or permit areas that they have had to work with this year. I have no crystal ball, but I know that very few positives would emerge from that particular scenario. I cannot see that it would be workable and I hope that the Minister will hear that. He certainly got that message loud and clear when he visited Shetland during the course of the summer. I shall say
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more about it later, but it is not just a matter of the lines drawn on the map last year, as the byzantine regulations introduced to accompany them were also significant.

Andrew George: My hon. Friend would surely acknowledge that the industry nevertheless accepts the principle of establishing closed areas. It was the speed with which the decision was taken, the co-ordinates of the North sea areas and the lack of sufficient consultation that caused the problems. Does not my hon. Friend agree?

Mr. Carmichael: It is easy to accept things in principle. However, the experience has been that closed areas, because they come as part of an overall package, have been difficult for fishermen to operate. I have argued for the principle of closed areas. I think that just about everyone who has a fishing interest has done so in some way at some stage, but if closed areas come tied up with such—I have used the word already—byzantine regulations, they become a nonsense. We have had the nonsense of the haddock permit system that has my fishermen in Orkney and Shetland steaming in and out of port, changing gear, and having to notify fisheries protection officers in order to get the permit. Frankly, closed areas are dangerous.

Mr. Weir: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in small ports it is a particular problem because there are no fisheries protection officers and fishermen have to give notice for officers to come from other ports, which makes it even more difficult for them to change nets and go out again to catch available stocks?

Mr. Carmichael: The nonsense of that situation is self-evident. It brings me to one of the specific concerns that I wish to raise on behalf of my constituents today—the operation of the haddock permit system. The Minister has heard me before on this. Probably most hon. Members have heard more from me on this than they would ever want. I hope that this is the last occasion on which I have to speak about it.

I simply do not understand how one starts with the proposition of a cod protection zone and ends up with a system that requires fishermen to obtain permits to fish outside that zone for haddock. How one dreams up a scheme like that, even with the assistance of mind-altering substances, is beyond me. It has led to severe operational hardship for fishermen in my constituency. It is bureaucratic and unworkable. We have been able to cope with it only because the system was lacking in detail when it was created in December last year and it was into 2004 that it became a working proposition. Simply to roll the system over into next year would be a disaster for the industry in the northern isles.

The problem is that every time we come up with a system that is unworkable, we force fishermen into breaching it. That should be to no one's benefit. Any management system needs to be understandable and workable. Surely we should start out with a system whereby incentives can be given, for those who are able, not to catch cod. Surely that would be a much more sensible starting point.

On the question of days at sea, I will not get into the game of guessing how many there should be, but I want to discuss the general parameters within which the
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Minister should operate. The number of days obviously has to be sufficient to keep ports viable; it has to be sufficient to allow boats to catch the quota and it has to take account of the extra steaming days that will be a necessity especially for boats in the northern isles, if the Minister has regard to the map that we had to work with last year, because boats are displaced from their normal grounds.

I come back to the point raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). Closed areas within the current framework of the CFP will be problematic because the policy operates on a year-to-year basis and does not have the flexibility that is required to make closed areas work. It may be necessary to open and close areas from month to month if not week to week. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) spoke about the Conservatives closing some areas permanently. I would be very interested to hear exactly what areas would be closed permanently—

Mr. Salmond: Scotland.

Mr. Carmichael: That might be seen as vengeance, as Scotland nearly closed the Tory party permanently. I shall read the Conservatives' green paper with some care to see what the hon. Gentleman thinks would be achieved by such closures.

Mr. Paterson: I said that we advocate having permanent closed areas and temporary closed areas. For example, off New England, there is one central closed area on St. George's bank, which has had huge success in rebuilding the yellow flounder stock, and there is also an area that is changed throughout the season as the cod move north. That has been enormously successful and the western gulf of Maine now yields some cod as large as 100 lb. We would leave it to local councils, exactly as the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) suggested. It would not be me making the decisions, but the local councils.

Mr. Carmichael: We have had many fishermen pushed out of Orkney and Shetland, but I do not think that any of them have got as far as New England yet. I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's thinking on the issue. It is just the question of permanency that causes me some concern. I appreciate that some areas would be closed permanently and some temporarily and I do not dismiss the suggestion out of hand. I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman has at last come round to the idea of greater local involvement, something that the Conservatives in government were notable for resisting.

I wish now to revisit the hardy annual of the monkfish quota. We seem at last to have reached a stage where the Commission accepts that the science was not as robust as it might have been—a euphemism almost as big as speaking of unintended consequences. I hope that we have the opportunity to get back to the 1999 level of quota for the UK. Given that it is unlikely that any further effort will take place, because of the reductions in the size of the fleet and the quota restrictions, this is a real opportunity for the viability of the fleet to be improved. I enjoin the Minister to resist any suggestion that any permit arrangements should be attached to any quota. I suggest that there will be a need to leave the area
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to the west outside the cod recovery zone and to open an area in the north North sea, as was done in 2003, to enable vessels to catch the improved quota.

I also ask the Minister to strive for an improved quota for haddock in areas VIa and VIb, west of Scotland and Rockall. With regard to Rockall, it is essential that the European Union—perhaps the Minister could take a lead on this—meet the Russians and agree a quota that reflects the proper level of UK interest in that fishery. Otherwise, I very much fear that we will be squeezed out in that area as we were squeezed out of deep water fisheries a few years ago.

As other hon. Members have mentioned, there is also the unfinished business of the nephrops quota, for which so much was promised and so little unfortunately delivered last year. The Minister goes to the Council with the good wishes of all of us on both sides of the House. The departure of Franz Fischler as the Commissioner presents an opportunity to improve our fisheries management and how we are dealt with. I hope that the Minister is able to seize that opportunity with both hands.

5.54 pm

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). Normally in these debates I resist the temptation to take up the full time allowed to me and I often give up one or two minutes to him, so I am pleased that he has been able to make a full contribution today. We are continuing in a good tradition, as the penultimate and ultimate speakers before the ministerial response.

The hon. Gentleman is a great champion of his fishing community. I respect him for that, as do many people in my part of the fishing community. I associate myself wholly with his closing remarks and his best wishes to the Minister.

I shall outline briefly three issues that I should like the Minister to consider in his work at the forthcoming ministerial Council, but first I want to associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) about fishermen's missions. I am sure that everyone in the House would want to pay tribute, too, to the work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is a solid part of the fishing community, many of whom belong to the RNLI and go out to help members of not only their local community but the wider maritime community. They do tremendous work on a voluntary basis.

I want to single out my hon. Friend from down the coast, the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), for his chairmanship of the all-party fisheries group, which is persuaded to do many things. Recently, we heard the Canadian Fisheries Minister and only this morning we received extremely good briefings from fishermen's organisations. Regrettably, however, we have never had the opportunity to listen to the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), so I hope that when the Conservative party publishes its green paper—with costs, we hope—the group can have a friendly, comradely dialogue with him, to follow the good work done by my hon. Friend the Minister and, in
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the past, by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), now the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment, to engage not only with us in a parliamentary sense but also with the key stakeholders who represent the community.

Over the past year, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby has had a marked effect on the all-party group and has persuaded us to do many things to promote fish and the fishing industry. I do not know whether to say that I am glad or sad that a few months ago we were invited to enter a competition to display our culinary skills as part of a wonderful week for the promotion of sea fish. Regrettably, we came last, although my hon. Friend produced a remarkable concoction as a celebration of our right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister.

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