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Mr. Morley: That is all right then.

Mr. Moss: In our determination to achieve that goal, we shall not take "no" for an answer. In achieving our aims, we rule nothing in and nothing out. The CFP will no longer exist in its pure form once national control has been established. The policy will no longer be common to EU waters, nor will it retain the equal access principle at its heart.

At the beginning of the debate, the Minister made great play of the fact that he wanted to hear what our policy was. I refer to his words when he was in opposition. He said:

wait for it--

Will the Minister tell the House how his statements in 1996 differ markedly from what I just said?

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): The words of my hon. Friend the Minister cited by the hon. Gentleman

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seem perfectly consistent with the arguments for regional and zonal management. I have been pondering the Opposition's policy. Yesterday, Europe--which the hon. Gentleman seems to dislike intensely--made a decision to ban fishing in certain parts of the North sea for three months. His policy would ban it to UK boats for ever. Can he explain that?

Mr. Moss: That is not the policy. If the Minister meant what he said in 1996, national control must mean control principally by the nation state; there is thus, in effect, a veto on what happens within its fishery limits--however defined. In answer to some of the Minister's questions, we are not saying that, under a policy of national control, countries with historic fishing rights in those waters will not continue to have those rights. We are saying that they will fish under licences and regulations determined by the national Government. That is national control--it is not zonal management.

Mr. Doran: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to respond. The policy is still nonsense; if we assert national control, countries that allow our vessels to fish in their waters will do likewise unless we reach agreement about their vessels and our vessels--in which case, we are back to a CFP.

Mr. Moss: With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is complete nonsense. Decisions on the CFP are taken by the Council of Ministers in Brussels--that is where the final power lies. In 17 years, the CFP has proposed barely one sensible conservation measure. Fishing stocks in EU waters--if I can call them that--are in their current plight because the right decisions were not taken at the right time, under the voting powers of nation states--perhaps with a Mediterranean interest--which did not want the mesh size and technical gear changes that we now believe are so important. Not before time, the Scottish fleet has introduced square mesh panels and that is a step in the right direction. However, for 17 years, those sensible decisions have not been made under the CFP; now that there is a crisis in cod stocks, quotas are being slashed right across the board. That is because the right conservation measures were not introduced early enough. To come back to the hon. Gentleman's key point about co-operation, we would co-operate in the same way as we do with Norway now. We have a bilateral arrangement that works perfectly well. There is no reason why such arrangements should not be achieved in the future.

The zonal management idea has merit in terms of management, not control, of the fish stocks in areas such as the North sea. I can envisage co-operation between nation states with a vested interest. There may be well be agreements between the states to manage the zone in a sensible way. It is a question of where the real power lies. In the end, the power has to be vested--it seems to me and to my party--in the national Government. Although there could be co-operation and agreement, the veto would be important. If ideas were put forward with which a state did not go along, that state could veto them and adopt its own conservation measures under its own control.

Mr. Doran: So could other people.

Mr. Moss: That is true, but we are talking about conservation measures that have not yet been implemented.

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The crisis is upon us. It is no good the Minister saying that the CFP will solve the problems. It has had 17 years to do so and has patently failed.

Mr. Morley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Menzies Campbell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss: No, I shall finish now. The CFP has failed and must be replaced by a system that has at its heart the primary objective of conservation in order to secure a sustainable resource for future generations. We believe that our proposals stand the best chance of meeting that objective. How will future generations view us if we allow one of the richest sea resources in the world to be pillaged to extinction, all through a lack of political will? That, in our opinion, would be not only criminal but immoral.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. As the Minister has already said, a 15-minute limit will apply from now on to Back-Bench speeches.

2.52 pm

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): It is a triumph and an achievement to have our first full day's debate on fishing for many a year. It is a shame that so much of the time has been wasted with a 40-minute speech in which nothing was said at all. This, along with the debate in the European Standing Committee in December, is the best opportunity that we have had to discuss fishing for many years. It is a pity that fishing has had to come almost to the brink of extinction to give us that opportunity.

Today's debate is not just the regular discussion of the Council meeting and ministerial approaches to it. There is a crisis of survival in the industry. It has been identified in the documents that are pouring out from many sources. Fishing News has headlines such as "North sea madness!" and "Whole industry could disappear". The House of Lords Committee has conducted an inquiry into unsustainable fishing. Most telling is a World Wide Fund for Nature report entitled "Choose or Lose: A recovery plan for fish stocks and the UK fishing industry". I commend it to my hon. Friend the Minister. I know that he has already seen it, but it is the basis of a good, sustainable approach to developing fishing.

It is at this time that we see how we have reached crisis point as a result of the halting, inadequate response up to now of Governments of both parties and of the Commission. I do not intend to enter the argument about the common fisheries policy, much as I would like to. It is a diversion from our discussion this afternoon, but there is no doubt that we are in this situation as a result of its inadequacy. Although it proclaims itself as a conservation policy, it has not been effective in conserving fish stocks. It has involved deals, political negotiations between states, and doling out stocks that were not there. It is a political, not a conservation, policy. It has lurched from feast to famine. It is enforced by an inadequate system of quotas, and it is inadequately policed and controlled, especially at the ports of landing in Europe. I therefore have no confidence and the industry has little confidence in the CFP.

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The CFP also seems to favour the interests of some countries, especially Spain. It is interesting to note that when Spain does not have access to Moroccan fishing waters because the Moroccans want to develop them for themselves, the Spanish fishermen laid up in consequence are paid by a combination of Spanish Government funding and European funding, which we are financing. Such a benefit is never extended to British fishermen.

Mr. Salmond: I hope that the whole House is listening to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the Catalonian fleet. In the view of many of us, such an approach is absolutely necessary as a short-term measure before we go on to a longer-term structural approach.

Mr. Mitchell: I can only second that observation. That policy shows the way. It shows what a national Government determined to defend the interests of their fishing industry can achieve in negotiations, in contrast with what a Government can achieve when their fishing industry is not at the forefront of their concerns. In that sense, Scotland will be in a stronger position than the United Kingdom, where fishing represents a smaller part of the interests of which the Government must take account.

The stocks are now on the brink of collapse, and political failures are compounded by a natural conservation problem. I do not know about the effects of temperature changes on the migratory and breeding habits of cod, but they clearly have a part to play. They have been compounded by the inadequacies of the policy.

The United Kingdom brought the richest fishing grounds to the European pool. I do not wish to provoke the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), but we gave them away to a CFP. We have most to lose. Our stocks have been pushed below levels at which they can produce an economic return on a sustainable basis, which is what we should aim for.

Europe is not yet dealing adequately with the crisis. Yesterday's cod closure is welcome. I think that the proposal came from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. However, industrial fishing for sand eels is still allowed to go on, which must be destructive of the marine environment and the ecology in which cod breed. An increase in mesh sizes for hake in the Bay of Biscay has not been imposed because of the power of Spain and France in that area, yet hake stocks there are crucial to hake stocks everywhere else. That is damaging to the interests of fishermen in the south-west.

My hon. Friend the Minister told us that the pout fisheries will be excluded from the closed areas. I am delighted to hear that. The Commission proposed a mesh size of 140 mm. We have not accepted that, but it would be crazy if we had larger mesh sizes for cod and the vessels were competing with industrial boats with 20 mm meshes in the same waters. Although it will be excluded for the period of closure, pout fishing will come back after that period, with the same effects and the same damage.

The Commission also proposes to increase the allowance for industrial by-catches. My hon. Friend the Minister fought an effective fight against that, but it was insane to propose an increase in the industrial by-catch of fish caught for fish meal to be fed to pigs and for salmon farms when that fish could go for human consumption.

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That represents a distorted perspective that shows no concern for the well-being and development of the industry.

I second the proposals made by the SFF. We should have a complete ban on industrial fishing at this stage of the crisis. It is still damaging the ecological system and the food chain in our waters and we cannot have proper conservation without dealing with it.

The Commission should have adopted square mesh panels. It is a delight to see that the Scottish Executive have made them mandatory on Scottish vessels and English vessels fishing in Scottish waters, but they should be mandatory on all vessels. It should be a European policy. In Scotland, such action has substantially reduced the catch of juveniles. The SFF estimates that that catch has been reduced by 20 to 40 per cent. That is welcome, and the policy should be applied universally.

The problem is that the Commission and the Council deal with broadbrush measures. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has given his unremitting and consistent support to sectional, regional and zonal management measures. Such measures should involve all the stakeholders in those regions because they can work only if the regions co-operate with one another and have an interest in policing themselves.

The NFFO's and SFF's sensible views, about which the all-party fisheries group was told yesterday, represent the basis for moving forward. So how do we move forward? First, we must work with the industry. Interestingly, when oil prices increased, the Government set up a forum to deal with the road transport industry. The Scottish Executive have now set up a working party to deal with the industry, and such arrangements are needed in Britain. That is not a criticism of the Ministry or my hon. Friend because he has assiduously consulted the industry. He has listened, consulted and visited more than any Minister of whom I have had experience in a long association with fishing. However, structure is needed to bring in the industry's voice.

Secondly, finance is required. Again, my hon. Friend has been a Minister of maximum good will, but minimum money. MAFF has its own financial problems, but the cutting of fish safety grants was a very retrograde step, which destroyed people's faith in its perception of the importance of fishing. The real problem is not so much with MAFF, which has limited funds, but with the Treasury, which takes a negative approach and does not recognise the benefits of fishing.

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