Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.11 pm

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Given the prospect of an early general election, this may be my last opportunity to take part in a fisheries debate. At the risk of sounding somewhat immodest, I think that I can take some credit for having put the fisheries issue higher on the political agenda than it was at the beginning of the last Parliament. Hon. Members who follow these debates cannot pretend that they no longer know what the real issue is. The real issue is European integration.

The full implementation of the common fisheries policy--in other words, equal access--is an essential component of European integration. The consequence for British fishermen is that many more of them have to be driven off the water. The industry is facing its biggest-ever

25 Jan 2001 : Column 1152

crisis, but still Ministers and right hon. and hon. Members repeat the mantra of reform, which I have been at pains to explain in earlier contributions to fisheries debates is simply not available.

There has been time enough for change, but in point of fact very little has changed. Fisheries debates follow a regular pattern. The Commission proposes drastic quota cuts; the Council of Ministers dilutes the cuts; fisheries Ministers return to their countries claiming victory, just as our Minister claimed victory this afternoon when he said that he had achieved a 40,000 tonne reduction in the quota cuts. Year in, year out, that is the well-trodden path.

Let us be in no doubt where all this is leading. It is leading to the introduction of a permit system controlled from Brussels. The cardinal principle of the CFP is equal access to the common resource, and that principle will not change. It is enshrined in the treaties. Like other fundamental principles of the CFP, it will not be altered or amended by the report, often erroneously referred to as a review, due to be published shortly, but in any event not later than the end of the year.

At the heart of this issue lies the question, "To be or not to be?" Are we in favour of equal access or against it; in favour of the CFP or opposed to it? If sufficient hon. Members so wished, they could say no by amending or repealing in part or in whole the Acts of Parliament that have translated Community law into national law. Whatever hon. Members may think of that proposition, there is no escaping the fact that they and they alone, together with Members of Parliament who have gone before them, are responsible for the present situation. By their votes in this place, they have brought the British fishing industry to its knees. It is no excuse to say that the treaties were signed under royal prerogative so Parliament could do nothing about them.

What about the prerogative of Parliament itself? In fact, in the final analysis, the votes of parliamentarians caused the terms of the treaties to be put on to the British statute book. It is no use our railing against the outrageous dumping of more fish back into the sea dead than are landed, when it is the votes of right hon. and hon. Members, past and present, that have allowed that to happen. It is no use objecting to Spanish-flagged ships when the House has repeatedly voted to keep the CFP. It is no use criticising the Commission's latest proposals when hon. Members have, with few exceptions, voted to put the Commission in the driving seat and, indeed, to keep it there.

Throughout such debates, regardless of who has stood at the Dispatch Box, truth has been at a premium. Lest anyone should doubt my word, let them read the revelations in The Sunday Telegraph on 14 January in an article by Christopher Booker, written following his access to the papers relating to Britain's negotiations to join the EEC that were released recently under the 30-year rule. What hon. Members have imposed on the British fishing in the past 25 years is death by a thousand cuts.

Sadly, I can make little distinction between the parties. The honours--if that is what they are--are equally divided. The Minister is passionate about animal welfare, yet he presides over the most wanton and unnecessary holocaust that nature has ever experienced--the enforced dumping back dead into the sea of more fish, much of it perfectly saleable, than is landed. However, he is not alone in having on his conscience the guilt for endorsing a policy that, in its final form, will from 1 January 2003--this point was made

25 Jan 2001 : Column 1153

eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)--result in further cuts in the British fishing fleet and the creation of a single European fishing fleet, catching fish in European waters on European permits. That is not the accidental consequence of European policies; it is the deliberate intention of those policies. It is what the German Foreign Minister was talking about in London only yesterday--European integration.

Hon. Members with fishing constituencies are bound to argue about the detail of the CFP, but if we concentrate on the minutiae, we shall lose sight of the fact that, in the final analysis, it is a collectivist policy that has failed comprehensively. It has failed the fishermen and the processors. Above and beyond all else, it has failed to conserve fish stocks, as confirmed by the recent House of Lords report.

Hon. Members have a simple choice: either they believe that competence for this important industry should remain in Brussels; or they believe, as I do, that competence should be returned to the Westminster Parliament. That is the question, and it is high time that right hon. and hon. Members faced reality and told those in the fishing industry where they stand. I have no doubt that competence should be restored to the Westminster Parliament and that decisions on fisheries should be made by the fishermen's democratically elected representatives in the House. What we have now is not merely a democratic deficit, but a total denial of democracy. As the newly elected chairman of the Freedom Association, I find that totally unacceptable.

5.18 pm

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): The difficulties facing the catching and processing sides of our fishing industry have multiple causes, but with appropriate co-operation we can alleviate the present crisis. The crisis has multiple causes, but there can be no doubt about the main cause--the depletion of certain fishing stocks. There are many reasons why fish stocks have been depleted, but, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the main one is the over-fishing of specific species and some of the marine life forms lower down the food chain. The appropriate comments have been made about factory fishing. Black fishing has contributed to the problem in the past, but we have now successfully reduced it significantly.

There are other factors in the reduction of fishing stocks, including warmer waters--possibly as a result of global warming--the effect of predation and the common fisheries policy. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the policy is flawed. Indeed, I must agree with the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) on one issue--and one issue alone: it is an appalling waste to dump a scarce and precious resource back into the sea.

The reduction of fishing stocks is not the only problem. Fish offal is also a concern, especially the price of fishmeal and its possible contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls. There are additional costs for waste water and regulations. It has been recognised that there should be no reduction in regulation as far as quality and safety are concerned. We have all learned the terrible lessons of BSE. However, there is a desire to minimise bureaucracy, and we should do everything that we can to satisfy that. There are also worries about exchange rates, fuel prices and other matters that are not exclusive to the fishing industry.

25 Jan 2001 : Column 1154

The scale of the reduction in fishing stocks has to be recognised. The average tonnage per vessel decreased by approximately 28 per cent. in 1998-2000. It is estimated that for 1998-2001 there will be a reduction of more than 40 per cent. Catching has an immediate knock-on effect. It is reckoned that for every one job offshore, there are four jobs onshore. Reductions in fishing stocks will have a significant impact on the secondary fish processing industry and an even heavier impact on the primary processing industry. We need short-term measures to meet the crisis, but we also need a medium and long-term policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) said.

Some of the solutions need to be international. The Tory Front Bench's mixture of unilateralism and bilateralism is a little bizarre. At best, that would be a barren policy and, at worst--as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) so eloquently put it--it would be a policy for leaving the European Union altogether. Implicit in the intervention that the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) made on my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), and explicit in what the hon. Member for Ludlow said, was the idea that many Tory Members would like to leave the EU.

I am pessimistic about an international solution for climate change. It will take a long time for the changes that were agreed at Kyoto to take effect. They are--in many ways--too little, too late. What is worse is that there is a deep pessimism that the attitude of the President of the United States, his new Administration and Congress could be a terrible block to international progress on climate change. We must hope that they will engage in dialogue with the rest of the world.

I am much more positive about stock conservation. The cod recovery plan, which was agreed yesterday, is good. The decision to abandon the Banff and Buchan sausage and instead to fish in boxes in the eastern sector is a positive step. I also welcome the restriction of the spawning season. Those arrangements have partly been the product of the co-operative and positive attitude that has been taken by both sectors of the industry and the organisations that represent them, in co-operation with the Government and the Scottish Executive. That approach has had other positive effects.

Scotland's adoption of the square mesh panel has been mentioned. It is estimated that it has led to 20 to 40 per cent. less catch of juvenile fish stocks. That has to be good and we must encourage that system of fishing to spread to other countries.

Co-operation, dialogue and positive attitudes extend not just across industry, the Government and the Scottish Executive but, as has already been said, to non- governmental organisations, such as the WWF, and to other groups such as local councils. I pay particular tribute to Aberdeen city council, which, with other councils, has done a lot that is positive for the industry. I know that the processing industry is grateful for the assistance that the city council gave it to help to resolve the waste water problems that the industry had with the local water authority.

However, the basic point is that the amount of fishing will have to be reduced. I utterly agree with my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that, if the amount of

25 Jan 2001 : Column 1155

fishing is reduced, we should not concentrate on fish that are for human consumption. There must be a reduction in the amount of fish that goes into fishmeal and there is a strong argument for banning factory fishing in sensitive areas.

There will be massive reductions in the tonnages of fish caught. That means that there must be decommissioning. That can be done either through a reduction in the number of boats that fish or through a reduction in the number of licences that are held. However, I recognise that decommissioning will have an effect in my area and that there will be a reduction in the 200-odd vessels that operate off the north-east of Scotland.

The fish processing industry must also be restructured. I have already said that that is likely to affect the primary processors more than the secondary processors, although there will be an effect on both. Secondary processors can--and usually do--import materials that have also had primary processing work carried out on them. Although there will be reductions in both branches, we must retain sufficient capacity to allow for expansion if and when stocks improve.

Assistance should be provided for decommissioning, structural change and, where necessary in certain areas, with retraining and job creation. However, we should concentrate on giving aid to those vessels that have modernised and the processors who have invested to add value and to comply with market quality.

My hon. Friend the Minister asked whether the industry would want to be subsidised, and it gave a clear answer at a recent meeting. It said, "No, we don't want subsidy in the sense of continued subsidy, but we are looking for a one-off investment." It also used another powerful argument. It said that one of the arguments for subsidising farming--an industry that is heavily subsidised--was the need to preserve the countryside culture from which we all benefit. It argued that fishing is vital to maintaining our coastal culture, from which we all benefit and which is vital to the amenity, leisure and tourism facilities of this country.

Although I argue for financial investment, I am reluctant to specify exact sums. I notice the problems that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) got himself into. However, I am reluctant to add to his embarrassment because I owe him a great debt of gratitude. He was responsible for forwarding to me my mobile phone bills for several months.

The problem came about because my bills were happily being sent to Malcolm Savidge MP until the computer of the firm sending them decided that MP was my surname. It decided that the first letter of Savidge would be my middle initial, so it started to send bills to Malcolm S. Mp. When the bills were seen by the staff in the House of Commons Post Office, they decided that Malcolm S. Mp was more likely to be Malcolm Moss than Malcolm Savidge. The problem went on for several months, because it took a long time to persuade the staff and the computer to change their minds.

As I said, I do not want to add to the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment, but when he referred to the sums, he was almost as embarrassed as he was when he referred to national zones and the possibility or impossibility of treaty negotiations. However, he was certainly not as embarrassed as he was when he was devastatingly criticised by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley

25 Jan 2001 : Column 1156

and Sidcup. None the less, the hon. Gentleman was embarrassed when he said that the fishing industry should receive £300 million and someone asked whether that was another Conservative party election promise to add to the £16 billion that it has already promised.

Next Section

IndexHome Page