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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has been generous in accepting interventions. Does he agree that we can have all the agreements in the world, but we cannot do anything without policing to deal with foreign trawlers that fly different flags and use different names to land as many fish as they like on the same vessel? That is the big problem. Whatever fine words we use, we need to take action.

Mr. Breed: I agree. The implementation of the agreement and the way in which it is enforced are at the heart of many problems and cause frustration among fishermen who try as far as possible to keep within the regulations.

Given that the Minister will be chair the Council meeting, may I ask what the UK presidency has done in the past six months to ensure that TACs and quota decisions are made on the basis of sound science and in full consultation with the fishing industry? We hold a fisheries debate every year, and the Council meets every year so it is sensible for information to be made available over a reasonable period. However, at this time of year, things are squeezed into a few weeks, often resulting in some people being unable to provide the information that, quite properly, they want to contribute to the debate. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that a marine Bill will be introduced. It will be a significant piece of legislation for fishermen and will provide extremely important measures on use of the sea, including spatial planning and environmental degradation in some areas. We therefore hope that it will be introduced at the earliest opportunity. It would benefit significantly from pre-legislative scrutiny, as the Animal Welfare Bill has done.

I, too, think that we must not forget sea anglers. In Cornwall, sea angling contributes a great deal to seaside activity, as I am sure is the case in many resorts with significant recreational and commercial sea angling operations. As appears to be the case in other countries, sea anglers should be included in discussions so that they can play a role in the constructive governance of UK fishing. Once again, the Minister will have considerable responsibilities at the end of the month, and we wish him well. UK fishermen have responded to many challenges, including the recent hike in fuel charges and so on, that have been inflicted on them. However, I hope that he realises that there remains a genuine belief that other countries are less robust in their implementation of EU policy. We would not wish UK fishermen, particularly in the south-west—I know they are very much in the Minister's sights—to be penalised once again because of the inadequate enforcement by other European states of TACs and quotas, which constitute the only available framework to address both the environmental and commercial aspects of fishing.
 
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2.4 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): May I begin by joining criticism of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) for his unwarranted and unfair attack on Lawrie Quinn? As chairman of the all-party fisheries group, I can testify that Lawrie Quinn worked long and hard for the cause of fishing, particularly in his constituency. I accept that the hon. Gentleman would wish to welcome a new Member to the House—that election, however, was decided more on the issue of fox hunting than on fishing—but it is not legitimate to do so with an attack on the newcomer's predecessor, who is missed by Labour Members and who worked vigorously and diligently for the cause of fishing. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman was sincere when he withdrew the aspersions that he cast on Lawrie Quinn.

In the parliamentary life-cycle, it is traditional to hold a fisheries debate at Christmas, which could be regarded as a Christmas party—usually a depressing one—for the industry and MPs from fishing constituencies. To be fair, it is our only chance to say what we would like for the industry and to brief the Minister before he goes to Brussels for the Council meeting. On his return, he usually says that he could not secure what the industry wanted, but gained the best deal that he could from the negotiations. We always end up with less than we want.

This year, two factors complicated the position. First, timing has been a problem. Commissioner Borg adopted a new approach, and suggested that he would provide advance notification of what he wanted to achieve in December. Even though he was not required to provide figures, the general principles of such a statement would have provided a useful basis for discussions, particularly those with Norway that effectively set total allowable catches. After a suspension last year, those discussions were delayed this year so, in addition to the fact that Commissioner Borg's prediction has not been forthcoming, we have had to wait for a last-minute decision, which has put the industry and ourselves at a disadvantage.

Secondly, I fear that the British presidency has been a handicap in certain negotiations. We are so anxious to bend over backwards to secure an agreement and conciliate people that we do not assert our national demands and interests as vigorously as the Dutch did when they held the presidency. They used their position ruthlessly to gain what they wanted on fishing. Why do we not do the same? Our civil servants are brought up in the best tradition of British sportsmanship—probably in an arcane game such as cricket—and they always want to be fair to the poor continentals, particularly at a time when we have to show leadership. However, that is not what the industry wants or needs. We want a vigorous assertion of our demands and interests.

Mr. Salmond rose—

Mr. Mitchell: No doubt, that assertion is about to be made.

Mr. Salmond: Is the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the all-party fisheries group, saying that the Minister is not ruthless enough? Does he not recall that at a meeting of the group at the beginning of the presidency we
 
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instructed the Minister to be ruthless? Is he saying that he has disobeyed us and kowtowed to unreasonable demands elsewhere instead of ruthlessly asserting his position?

Mr. Mitchell: I am not up to the clever techniques of Scottish politics because I am a decent, inhibited English Member. I think that the Minister has done an extremely good job and been effective in pushing our demands, and particularly effective in maintaining close and continuous contact with the industry, to listen to what it wants. I am not criticising the Minister, but I am criticising a position which makes a British Government who are in a difficult situation in Europe more accommodating than they might otherwise be, because they have the presidency and want to show responsibility. It was certainly not a criticism of our Minister.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I understand the image that the hon. Gentleman is painting. The picture of the Minister as a sporting loser is about right, but is he not going into the conference chamber naked? Are his hands not tied? As the House can see, I am making the image more colourful by the moment. The truth is that the Government as a whole do not prioritise fishing. It is traded off against other countries that do prioritise it. We do not value fishing highly enough. Is that not the truth of the matter?

Mr. Mitchell: I shall not attempt to reply to that. The loser image was a description of my own position and sporting instincts. I was not saying that our Minister was a loser. I was saying that the difficulties of combining the presidency with arguing for national interests make the British Government more inhibited because of their instinct for fairness and conciliation. I go no further than that. I am not entering into the old in and out argument, as the hon. Gentleman may want me to.

I am sure that the new leader of the Conservative party does not want to recruit dinosaurs, and on this issue I am one. I believe that, from a fishing perspective, we would do better having national control over our own waters. That is a goal that I still support and work for. It is true that we would still need to co-operate, but we would co-operate and consult from a more powerful position if we had such control. We would act with more muscle.

As we are now arguing about the cash return on Europe, particularly the rebate, and asserting the fact that the common agricultural policy costs us dear and benefits France, it is important to point out that the common fisheries policy also costs us dear. The policy was stitched together at the last minute to get access to British waters. As the evidence produced from Scotland shows, civil servants were told to regard the fishing industry as disposable.

Mr. Salmond: Expendable.

Mr. Mitchell: Expendable. That was disgraceful, but it was accepted by the late Sir Edward Heath in his passionate desire to get into Europe. We got a worse deal than was justified. We made the biggest sacrifice.
 
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We have had the biggest loss of catches, and the total amount of fish taken out of British waters by European vessels will come to a huge total—measured in billions—added to which is the cost of the run-down of the British industry and the run-down of fishing communities. So there are very heavy costs which need to be taken into account in the financial argument that we are involved in.

The industry has been blighted by the common fisheries policy. The English industry has borne the brunt of the cuts—substantial cuts, more than we should have taken and more than have been necessary in any other country. I can become positively elegiac when I consider the position of Grimsby, which in the days of fishing in Icelandic waters and big fishing in Norwegian waters had a powerful fishing industry as Britain's and perhaps the world's premier fishing port, and I see the present shrunken state of the industry, with owners who have invested in the industry now asking why decommissioning money cannot be channelled to them because they cannot fish profitably and want to get out. That saddens me, but I have put their demands to the Minister.


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