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Being attacked by the Secretary of State for Scotland is like being savaged by Larry the Lamb, and he should move on and do something to which he is better suited.

What is the perception of those exchanges among our fishermen and fishing community? We are entitled to engage in political debate and banter—and I am as enthusiastic about doing so as anyone in the Chamber—but we must look at the underlying issue when we attack our opponents. I received a letter this morning from Mr. Tom Hay, the chairman of the Fishermen’s Association Ltd. Like me, he saw Scottish questions on television on Tuesday. He writes:

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Hon. Members, right hon. Members, even Scottish Secretaries should just occasionally attempt to answer the question and engage in the issue, as well as pursuing their own political points. In many of our debates, from various quarters of the House, and again by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, the question of the common fisheries policy has been raised. Those who argue, as an experienced Conservative—the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen)—did earlier, that the only thing wrong with the common fisheries policy was discards, and if that could be settled, the common fisheries policy might be satisfactory, misunderstand the basis of the problem.

The problem with the CFP is the common resource ownership and whether it is possible to run a satisfactory policy for a natural resource—a renewable resource—given common ownership. The underlying difficulty is clear, and was reflected in a number of the speeches made. If our fishermen believe that they, and they alone, are pursuing conservation measures effectively, but that other fishermen from other fleets are not pursuing those conservation measures, it is not just a question of adding to the problem. It is a question of undermining the incentive to conserve in the first place.

If conservation is to be effected so that the Spanish, the Dutch or any other fleet can benefit, the impact not just on our fishing fleet, but on the desire to conserve is fundamentally undermined. That is why, in principle, ownership—single national control—is somewhat more efficacious as a policy than the common fisheries policy will ever be. We need to understand the nature of the problem as we engage in these debates.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman did not interpret my remarks entirely accurately. However, what would he do if he discovered that the Minister’s comments were correct, and that it would be impossible for the Scottish National party, led by him as First Minister, to withdraw from the CFP? Would he stay within Europe or within the CFP?

Mr. Salmond: I would have to be a little more than First Minister for a devolved Scotland to engage in that. I would have to be Prime Minister of an independent Scotland. I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised the point. In fact, I was not criticising him. I was speaking about one of his Back Benchers, who seemed to be convinced by the CFP.

In many debates over the past few years, the Conservative party had a certainty on the issue. That certainty seems to have disappeared entirely. When
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Scotland becomes independent, we shall be within the European Union. We will inherit the same treaty obligations as this Government and previous Governments have signed. We will inherit the ones that we like, and we will inherit the ones that we dislike. That position has been confirmed by Lord Mackenzie-Stuart—in work commissioned by the Conservative party, incidentally. It has been confirmed by Emil Noel and MaĆ(r)tre De Roux—virtually every major authority on EU legislation.

The question is whether we can negotiate to reassert natural control in terms of the fisheries policy of the European Union. First, is that desirable? I say it is. The Conservatives used to say it is. They are currently in limbo. Secondly, can it be done? We would have to establish whether there was support from other Europeans for such a policy. I therefore turn to the proceedings of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament of 11 January 2005—a Committee across the member states, which overwhelmingly passed an amendment to remove exclusive competence over fisheries from the putative European constitution, indicating a substantial measure—a wave—of dissatisfaction with the results and consequences of the common fisheries policy across the European Union.

Shamefully, this Government have never chosen to make fisheries a priority so that we could base our negotiations on such a position; indeed, no British Government have done so. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) the former Conservative leader who now speaks so eloquently from the Back Benches, made that point well during the election campaign, assuring us that if he became Prime Minister, he would be prepared to veto the European constitution on the basis that fisheries would not be an exclusive competence. I hope that once the Conservatives’ policy committee finally comes to a conclusion, similar resolve is shown by the current Conservative leader as was shown by his predecessor.

Mr. Austin Mitchell: I share the hon. Gentleman’s hopes for the Conservative party and its education in these matters.

Why does the hon. Gentleman accept the legal opinion that Scotland inherits the obligations assumed by the British Government? Would not Scotland be a new member coming into the European Union, rather like Iceland or Norway, and therefore entitled to have a derogation from the common fisheries policy and to negotiate its own agreement on what the future of that policy should be in Scottish waters?

Mr. Salmond: I accept the legal opinion because that is the burden of legal advice that has been received. Lord Mackenzie-Stuart said that Scotland would be in exactly the same position as the rest of the UK with regard to each other and to the rest of the European Community, as it was then. We can negotiate a position, but we will have to do so from within the European Union.

I argue that giving a priority to fishing could work wonders in terms of this policy. When I look at the fisheries policies of countries outside the EU, such as Norway, Iceland, and the Faroes, and countries inside the EU—major fishing countries such as Spain, Denmark and the Dutch—I find that in their negotiations and
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conduct they have accorded a priority to fishing that has never been pursued or shared by any United Kingdom Government that I have experienced. We had substantial evidence for that, which sent shockwaves through the fishing community, when the 30-year rule unveiled documents from 1970 and 1971 about negotiations on going in the then European Community. A civil servant commenting on his own Government’s policy said that in light of Britain’s wider European interests, “they”—Scottish fishermen—“are expendable.” I can assure the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that when he seeks to establish residence and full nationality in Scotland after independence so as to continue his fight for the fishing communities, he will find a Government in Scotland who will never pursue a policy of regarding fishermen or fishing communities as expendable and will seek to assert national control as the most efficacious way of running our fisheries.

The Minister is known not only for his expertise in fishing but for a range of responsibilities. I said earlier that climate change had become a preoccupation of the Government. He will have been made aware of the situation in south-west Scotland whereby Scottish langoustine caught fresh in Scottish waters are being sent to Thailand to be packaged, returned to Scotland, and then sent to Europe and to other export markets. The company concerned is a well-known, substantial company with several interests across the fishing industry. I make no comment other than that it raises important questions in terms of reconciling policy on fishing with policy on climate change. After all, that round trip generates many hundreds of tonnes of apparently unnecessary carbon. Given the Minister’s interest in these issues, and the absence of the constituency MP for that area, has he examined that issue and come to any conclusions? Does he believe that other aspects of Government policy, for example on carbon trading, will help us to a position whereby we get the maximum value added out of our fresh fishery?

The change to “langoustines” was not made simply for the sake of changing a name. When I attended the fisheries exhibition in Brussels earlier this year, the matter was explained to me in enormous detail, with marketing charts, which proved the case that operating and trading as “Scottish langoustines” gained a perceptible increase in the perceived value of the product. The product was worth more when it was described as “langoustines” instead of “prawns”. “Scottish langoustines” gave it an even higher premium in the market. That is exactly the sort of route that the industry should follow to maximise the value added element of our products.

It would be unfortunate if, in that supply chain, we had to include a trip of more than halfway round the world and back between catching and finally sending the product to its destination.

Mr. Weir: My hon. Friend makes an interestin and important point. It has always struck me as a Scottish Member who loves a bit of haddock that although cod are supposedly in danger of extinction I can go into any supermarket in London and find freezers full of cod but little haddock. Is there not a wider point to make about changing eating habits to conserve various stocks?

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Mr. Salmond: Yes. Several organisations in Scotland and several Scottish fishermen—Mr. John Buchan of Fairline got a prize for making the point—have been anxious to convince many of the retail and fresh fish outlets in England that haddock is a wonderful species, infinitely preferable in many ways to cod when eaten in a fish supper. I know that the Minister will want to back up those efforts, too. Haddock is a much more sustainable species and should be a preferred choice in many areas, including Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

Mr. MacNeil: After hearing my hon. Friend’s pleas on behalf of Scottish langoustines and Scottish haddock, may I add a plea for the Scottish monkfish? Stocks are healthy this year. Indeed, in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association is especially keen on an increase in the quota of at least 10 and perhaps even 20 per cent. on the west coast.

Mr. Salmond: I agree. In last year’s debate, the Minister complimented me on providing evidence on that matter over the years. Perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas, he will repeat that, although it would upset the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Earlier, I asked about English ownership of the English industry and the importance of that. I was approached by an English fisherman who said, “Our pelagic industry is Dutch owned; much of our flatfish and roundfish industry is Dutch and Spanish owned. The French have major ownership.” He also said that, 30 years—almost to the day—after the Deputy Prime Minister declared victory in the cod war for Britain, an Icelandic company bought up the last remaining English deep-sea fishing rights. He was finding it difficult to get figures, but estimated that perhaps 20 per cent. of the English fishery remained in the hands of English companies or coastal communities.

The alarm bells rang because the position is much better in Scotland, where we own approximately 70 or 80 per cent. of the fishery. We want to maintain that. We do not want to be in a position whereby we not only lose historic rights but historic family businesses have their quotas removed. The route that the Minister appears to intend to take on individual transferable quotas would inevitably result in the concentration of the fishery in few hands. Given the respective power of much of the fisheries interests that have already swallowed up much of the English fishing entitlement, they are in a beneficial market position to accelerate swallowing up not only the rest of it but much of the Scottish fishing entitlement, too. I should like the Minister, who has always responded to my points reasonably over the years, to say that he understands that we are considering not only an industry but communities. Part of the vibrancy of the fishing industry is that its economic impact reverberates through local communities, because boats are family share-owned and companies are often locally owned. That is one of the great engines of growth in our rural communities. We have not had much of that growth in recent years, but if ownership was taken away, and if the structure was further undermined and destroyed, we would not have any at all. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that he understands that as he tries to find a way forward in his management policies.

I have spoken in these debates for 20 years, and today I have managed to mention most of the things
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that I have forgotten to mention in the previous 20 years. If this is my last contribution in this debate, I wish all fishing MPs well, and I certainly wish all fishing communities around the coastline well. Whatever position I am able to achieve, I will always regard myself as a fishing MP, and I believe that the interests of those communities will always be uppermost in my concerns and in my mind.

4.21 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I believe that I am the only Member likely to speak in the debate who does not represent a constituency close to the sea and have fishermen as constituents. I strongly believe, however, that the voice of people who do not live by the sea should be heard. We all own the sea, whether or not we live by the side of it, and people in my inner-city constituency feel strongly about the health of the sea. Some of them have been on holiday to the Mediterranean and have seen that it has few fish left. They do not want that to happen to the seas around our island.

The question is: what do we do? I have not been involved in this debate previously, and I was not very old during the cod wars, but one thing that I do know about the cod wars is that, whichever group is claimed to have won, one group that did not win is the cod. Over the years, without a doubt, our seas have contained fewer and fewer cod.

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Lady should consider the health of the Icelandic fishery, and examine not just how Iceland has handled its fishery but the formidable power that Icelandic companies have built up throughout the European food industry. Iceland has demonstrated the importance of controlling a natural resource and building an industry on the back of it. Unfortunately, no recent Government can claim that for this country.

Emily Thornberry: The hon. Gentleman and I are at completely cross purposes, and I think that that illustrates well what I am saying. Whichever people won the cod wars, the cod did not win, as there are so few cod left. In the great scheme of things, we all lose out if there are no cod left.

Apart from discussing the issue of cod, I want to give a voice to those people in my inner-city constituency, particularly children, who feel strongly about fish and the possibility that this generation might be the one that eats all the fish. They fear that, when they grow up, there will be few fish left off the coast of their island. They rely on us and this generation of politicians to do something about that: to be bold and brave, to stop just talking and discussing whether people in Iceland have done better than us, and to focus instead on ensuring that we have sustainable stocks of fish around our island.

As I understand it, in the past 15 years, instead of taking the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s scientific advice on what the quota should be, we have allowed quotas 30 per cent. above the recommended level. In the past five years, ICES has recommended a zero catch for cod in the North sea, the Irish sea and the west of Scottish waters. Fisheries Councils have repeatedly ignored that advice. I have
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great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who says that cod are not in danger of extinction, that he does not know whether cod stocks will recover, that global warming might have something to do with it, and that the cod might have gone north. However, nobody seems to be able to find the cod. One possibility is that we have caught them and eaten them. I am told that stocks have fallen in Greenland, so they are not hiding there. Wherever they are hiding, we do not seem to be able to catch them.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Could it be that the experts have just got it wrong? My fishermen tell me that there are heaps of cod and that they have no problem catching them. They are just going to waste.

Emily Thornberry: I am repeating scientific advice from the other side of the debate, which at times does not get a proper look-in in debates such as this. I hear that we have a larger number of small cod now appearing. Good; let us give them a chance to grow up before we catch them and put them in fish fingers.

Mr. Salmond: Does the hon. Lady believe that a stock like haddock, which over recent years has been at a 30-year high in terms of its spawning stock, should be restricted in terms of its optimum catch because of the position of the cod species? Yes or no?

Emily Thornberry: When people go out to catch haddock, far too often they are catching cod as well; that is the difficulty. Although there has been a recommendation on the amount of cod to be caught, only half has been landed officially; 10 per cent. was discarded and 40 per cent. was due to unaccounted removals, whatever that means. We have been catching twice as much cod as we are supposed to and chucking the rest into the sea.

Mr. Salmond: Given that the hon. Lady wants to follow scientific advice, does she advocate following the ICES advice on the basis of the argument that she has made and imposing a zero catch for cod and all related fisheries?

Emily Thornberry: I would, and I have no problem saying that. If we had a moratorium on fishing, we could ensure that the small cod had an opportunity to grow and reproduce before the hon. Gentleman’s constituents went and caught them all and stuck them in fish fingers.

Mr. Salmond: My constituents would still be there under the hon. Lady’s policies, but none of them would be engaged in the fishing industry. Would she not consider it a pity that record highs in nephrops and prawn fisheries, which are worth far more than the cod fishery, and record breeding stocks in haddock would go to waste as she destroyed an entire fishing industry because she wanted to pursue a zero cod catch? Would she not regret that in social and economic terms? Does she not think that fishing might be about communities and people as well as fish?

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