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Mr. Salmond: I know that the Prime Minister's review, for instance, mentioned the background to individual transferable quotas approvingly, but before proceeding along those lines will the Minister consider the concentration of the industry that has resulted in just about every fishery where the system has been introduced? Will he reflect on whether it is compatible with the family-based companies that exist in many areas on the coastline?
That is an important point, and we will certainly include it in our discussions with the industry. The hon. Gentleman may wish to talk to officials about it, or bring others to discuss it with them. That need not happen, however. Iceland, for example, has introduced measures to protect small boats. In Iceland there has been consolidation between the big boats and the small boats; it is the boats in between that have tended to go. However, there are mechanisms to prevent the consolidation to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and to protect fishing in vulnerable communities. We have said repeatedly that those are two of our objectives. We do not want a system that resulted in a few big boats in small fishing ports that then died out.
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I take issue, slightly, with the way in which the hon. Gentleman reported what was going on in the Faroes. I am advised by officials that the official view of the Faroese Government is that the cod stock is not in very good shape at present. It is as low as it was before its collapse in 1990, and is considered to be "at risk of reduced reproduction". The official view of the Faroese Government is that effort has remained too high, and will have to be reduced.
I do not think that there are simple solutions to fisheries management. I think that there will always be difficulties and challenges, because there are difficulties and challenges in all systems. One aspect of the debate that I welcome is the fact that, by and large, it has been so informed, and that views have been expressed that can be fed into the Government's review of quota management. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will continue to show an interest.
I now come to the thorny issue of the common fisheries policy, which was raised by members of all parties, including mine. Unlike the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, I had hoped that a new Leader of the official Opposition committed to fighting the Government on the centre ground and to jettisoning eccentric policies based on dogmathe hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)would have taken the opportunity to send his fisheries spokesman to the House to announce a rethink. The hon. Member for North Shropshire did not quite do that. Like some of his hon. Friends, he repeated his party's official commitment to trying to withdraw the UK unilaterally from the CFP, a policy described by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) as "unwise and undeliverable". When the former Conservative party chairman Chris Patten was asked about it, his response was
However, I thought that the hon. Gentleman repeated his party's commitment in slightly less arduous and categorical terms than usual at the end of his speech. I hope that there is still room for movement.
I have studied the quotation from The Times to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and other comments that the new leader of his party has made about the issue. They are slightly different from a commitment to trying to negotiate unilateral withdrawal from the CFP. The hon. Member for Witney told Anatole Kaletsky that his party wanted to
I suggest that there is a significant difference between the two policies. It could be argued that regional advisory councils represent a partial reversal of control. I hope that that becomes more of a reversal.
The hon. Member for Witney said that he did not believe that the CFP had worked well. I do not think that any Member believes that it has worked well, but we do believe that it is reformable and should be reformed. As the environment editor of The Daily Telegraph wrote recently in an excellent book on
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fisheries, if the CFP did not exist something rather like it would have to be invented. The hon. Gentleman went on to say
Kelvin Hopkins: In a sense, my hon. Friend has half-answered the question that I was going to put. He elides the two issuesthe irrationality of the common fisheries policy, which is undoubted, as it is not a sensible policy, and the difficulty of withdrawing from it. That may be a politically serious problem but one cannot argue that the CFP was and is still a sensible policy.
Mr. Bradshaw: I just said that I did not think that anyone in the House would describe the CFP as having always been successful. It has got better. The reforms of 2002 have been a significant improvement. As I said, in the past two years, they have led to growth in the fishing industry in this country, to increased incomes, and to better landings for most species, but there is always room for improvement.
I do not think that the official Opposition's policy is sensible. I hope, and expect, if the hon. Member for Witney is serious, that they will review it. A policy that is futile is never a sensible policy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) acknowledged, it would not be possible to withdraw from the common fisheries policy without withdrawing from the European Union. We would have to persuade every other member of the EU to support usthe decision would require unanimity. Repeatedly, when we have asked the Opposition to name a single countrynot all of them, but a single onethat would support the UK's withdrawal from the CFP, they have not been able to do so. That indicates the futility of their policy. It is never sensible for a party that has ambitions to govern, as the official Opposition now apparently do, to hang on to futile and ridiculous policies.
Mr. MacNeil: Is not Norway a great example of how to deal with the common fisheries policy? I am dismayed to hear the Minister say that the CFP is not ideal but we are stuck, that is it and we are just going to accept it.
Mr. Bradshaw: I did not say that. I said that it is important that we reform the common fisheries policy. It is being reformed and it can be reformed further. I also quoted a gentleman who is not naturally a Labour supporter, who writes for The Daily Telegraph and who wrote an important book on fisheries a year or so ago. He went through all those arguments, listened carefully to the views of the official Opposition and concluded that, if the CFP did not exist, we would have to invent something like it and that, if we want to manage our fisheries sustainably off the north-western coast of Europe, with many nations with differing fishing interests in a complex mixed fishery, we have to have some institution where those deals can be made and enforced.
The hon. Gentleman generously, I think, given the position of his Government, has said that the common fisheries policy has not been a success and is in need of reform. How would he measure success? What criteria would he use to judge whether it had become
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successful? When does he expect it to become successful? Is success the regeneration of the British fishing industry, not to the degree that we have seen in the past couple of years, but to a significant degree? Is success a proper balance in the ecology of the North sea and the other seas around us? What is his measure of success and when does he expect to bring us the good news in a fisheries debate that it is a success?
Mr. Bradshaw: I am reluctant to give the hon. Gentleman a history lesson on the common fisheries policy but, briefly, the biggest mistake that it made was to coincide with the so-called "gadoid outburst". The hon. Gentleman nods, so he knows what I am talking about. That led to a massive expansion of the fishing fleet not just in this country but in all the EU countries, often, as hon. Members have pointed out, funded by the taxpayer. That was a huge strategic error. We have been paying the price for that ever since.
The reform that we agreed in 2002 was significant. It did not go as far as we would have liked. The UK constantly pushes for more reforms, but the ultimate test of whether the CFP is a success is to get our fisheries on to a sustainable level for the long term. That is the objective of this Government, and I do not think that having a futile debate about the legality of withdrawal from the CFP is the way to do it.
Sir Robert Smith: The Minister when he opened the debate recognised that there would be far more efficient management of this complex fishery if only those countries that had a direct interest in fishing in the North sea were involved in the final negotiations. However we reach it, that has to be the goalthat we manage the fishery in the North sea with those countries that have an interest in the North sea and not with countries that no longer have an interest.
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