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Mr. Salmond: Scotland is not a county; it is a country. Scotland already has control over its internal fisheries policy. What it does not have is the right to representation in international negotiations. Even if a Cabinet Minister is the Scottish Fisheries Minister, he will still be outranked by the Minister who is sitting by the Dispatch Box.
Our aim should be to localise control over fishing policy. I hope that, one day, I will take part in a debate much like this when a majority of hon. Members will agree that it is indeed time to leave the CFP and that we will vote to make that happen. I hope that we do so before it is too late and before we have finally ruined our fish stocks.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): First, I apologise for arriving late for the debate, but I was unavoidably detained. I did not wish any discourtesy to my hon. Friend the Minister or to the other hon. Members who have spoken. I want to say a few words about the common fisheries policy.
Luton, North is not a portnot too many trawlers ply the North sea from my constituencybut I work on the basis that an injury to one is an injury to all. Damage to colleagues who represent our fishing industry and those who work in it is damage to us as well, and we want to act in solidarity with them. The CFP has undoubtedly damaged the interests not only of the UK, but of all. Establishing a policy that leads to the
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depletion of fish stocks everywhere can benefit no one in the long run. With perhaps the largest fishing grounds in the EU, the UK has a role in preserving fish stocks and ensuring that they are maintained at proper levels for the benefit of not only the UK but everyone else in the EU and, indeed, elsewhere.
As fish stocks are depleted in EU fisheries, we go further afield and deplete fish stocks off the coast of Africa and elsewhere. That can benefit no one in the long run, so we must work collectively to ensure that fish stocks are preserved. However, that does not mean that opening fisheries to everyone would be the way forward. We should allow individual member states and countries to defend their fisheries so that they can ensure that their fishermen and economies benefit from them. Such an approach would benefit the world's fisheries in the long run.
We have undoubtedly lost jobs, fishing fleets and fish as a result of the common fisheries policy. Joining it was a mistake, so negotiating an opt-out, as we did with the single currency, would have been enormously beneficial to not only Britain and our economy, but the European Union in general.
I agreed strongly with much of what the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) said. Norway has large fisheries that go right up to the far north in the Barents sea and elsewhere. Norway has looked after its fish stocks. Although fish are capable of swimming from one area to anotherthey do not observe national boundariesif I were a cod or a herring, I would probably choose to stay in Norwegian waters rather than British waters because I would stand a chance of living longer before being eaten or made into fishmeal. Nevertheless, the Norwegians have defended their fisheries better than we have.
I often say to the minority of Norwegians who want to join the European Union, "Given that you have enormous fish stocks that are being well husbanded and oil as well, why do you want to join because there is no doubt that the European Union would want your oil and fish, and it would not last very long if you did join?" People might challenge my view, but I have not received a good answer to that question during my many discussions with Norwegian colleaguesI am vice-chair of the all-party group on Norway. Perhaps the rest of the North sea benefits from Norway because as fish swim over boundaries, some of the fish that we catch today might have swum out of Norwegian waters, where the fish are well looked after.
Mr. Paterson: It might help the hon. Gentleman's argument if I say that 80 per cent. of Norwegian fish are caught in cross-border areas that are covered by the straddling stocks agreement. That shows that bilateral agreements between sovereign countries to manage stocks work extremely well.
Only this week I was talking to friends from the Norwegian Government and the Norwegian embassy. They have had problems due to Spanish fishermen invading Norwegian waters. They have had to nudge the Spanish fishermen out of the waters to ensure that their
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fish stocks are not taken. Those fishermen know that there are good fish stocks in the area and that if they can trespass a little, they can get bigger catches.
The common fisheries policy is not sensible for anyone. We should not have joined it and it is most damaging to us. In the long run, I hope that we can withdraw from it and adopt a more sensible approach. I strongly believe that if individual member states were responsible for looking after their own fisheries and fish stocks, it would benefit not only those member states, but all the European Union and, indeed, all people who depend on having good fisheries. There will always be ups and downs if we carry on in such a way. I am pleased that there have been improvements in fish catches recently, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, but that is an increase from the low base that has arisen due to the common fisheries policy. Despite the increase, I suspect that we catch nowhere near the number of fish that we caught when stocks were plentiful.
I am not trying to put forward a nationalist or chauvinist view, but a sensible view. If we were responsible for our own fish stocks, it would benefit everyone in the European Union, including ourselves, our fishermen and our people who, like me, enjoy eating fish from time to timeregularly, in fact. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind the general view among hon. Members that the common fisheries policy was a mistake and that we should move towards a world in which we are responsible for our own stocks. A more sensible approach would benefit not only Britain, but the European Union as a whole.
Mr. Bradshaw: It may help if I remind hon. Members who were not in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate of one or two facts. Those in the Public Gallery and elsewhere who have listened to us might have the impressionthe wrong impression, as most hon. Members with a great depth of knowledge of the industry knowthat the industry as a whole is on its last legs and everything is a disaster. It is not. As I said, and as one or two hon. Members acknowledged, the nephrops sector, the processing sector, the shellfish sector and the pelagic sector are doing well. There are, of course, difficulties in some of those sectors where stocks have come under pressure, and I shall come on to that.
I start by addressing the comments of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), partly in recognition of the special and disproportionate importance of the fishing industry to Scotland. He and other hon. Members asked whether the role of the UK presidency will have a restraining effect on my ability, or that of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) and our officials, to negotiate in Brussels.
I think that the cricketing metaphors began before you were in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They related to how Ministers and officials negotiate in Brussels when they have the presidency. I can reassure the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who I gather is no cricket fan, that neither am I. However, I do play tennis and occasionally croquet. Perhaps that is why the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan described me as vigorous and ruthless, qualities that one may well associate with tennis on the one hand and croquet on the other.
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Let me reassure the House that the fact that the UK holds the presidency does not prevent us from making strong arguments on the UK's behalf and in the UK's interest. I was grateful for the remarks of those hon. Members who follow such matters closely when they acknowledged that we have got a couple of pretty good deals for the UK in the past two years. As I said to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), that is part of the reason why, despite problems in some sectors, the economics of the fishing industry have improved slightly.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and others raised the subject of grants and high fuel prices. As long as Labour are in power, the UK will not have short-term fixes for the problems of the fishing industry. We believe that the measures taken in France and Spain are illegal and we expect the Commission to take action against them. I can probably be more unpresidential about that in a month's time.
It will not be in the long-term interests of our fishing industry or the Irish fishing industryI have spoken to the Irish Minister about this and he shares my concernto allow some countries to develop what is undoubtedly an unlevel playing field. If we did not have a common fisheries policy, we would need to have lots of bilateral negotiations. One of the advantages of it is that we have a mechanism to enforce a level playing field. If the CFP is to retain its credibility, it is essential that that level playing field is enforced.
We are prepared to consider the suggestion by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan about modernising and helping the industry to develop engines that are more fuel efficient. There is no doubt that the likely long-term level of fuel price will have an impact on the industry. I am interested in long-term solutions, not short-term solutions that put off implementing more difficult solutions further down the road. I am sure that that is what France and Spain are harbouring up for themselves with the measures that they have taken.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and other Members have said about the review of the cod recovery plan. I do not want to add anything to what I said at the beginning of the debate on that issue. At this stage in the presidency, a couple of weeks before negotiation, I would not want to announce that that is a policy that I would favour, but it is something that I am prepared to think about. If we fail to reach any agreement in December, which is always a possibilitythe meeting is held in December in order to try to focus minds and to help to reach an agreementthere is always the possibility of a fall-back position, not only for us but for other member states and the Commission.
I hope that no one will think that there will be any simple and easy solutions to the stock of cod in the North sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) raised an important pointit has been raised with me by several other hon. Membersin asking whether climatic change may be having an impact. I sense that there is a temptation on the part of one or two Members who have taken part in the debate to believe that climate is playing a major role so that we can make the decision to abandon cod. I am not in the position yet where I am prepared to contemplate what some people have called a "sod the cod" policyI do not know whether that is unparliamentary language,
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Mr. Deputy Speaker. That would be a disaster for biodiversity in the sea. Some point to what has happened across the Atlantic off the grand banks of Newfoundland, where cod has pretty much disappeared and has been replaced by a valuable prawn fishery. The long-term impact of the big change in the ecosystem is unknown to anyone. All of us who care about sustainability and the marine ecosystem should be concerned to ensure, if it is at all possible, that we maintain that system as far as we can and protect it from harmful human activity.
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