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Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): Unlike the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster), I have been present for most of the debate, although I missed the beginning. However, I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on a very interesting speech.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that this has been an interesting day. I am only sorry that I missed the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, but the grossly inconvenient rearrangement of the House's business on a Thursday means that one cannot both have lunch and hear the opening speeches in a debate at the same time. Given that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the leader of our august party, was speaking at a Press Gallery lunch today, I felt that that was where my priority lay. That meant that I have missed my slot until now, at 6.20 pm. I hope that the House will forgive me for not being here at the outset.

This has been a high-quality debate. Some regret was expressed that more Conservative Members were not in the House. However, the only point of putting in for a debate is if one is likely to be called. One can sit here, day after day, and never get called.

One problem is that of 529 Members of the English Parliament, 10 have spoken, but six of the 72 Members representing Scottish seats have spoken. It is constantly true in this House that when Scottish Members speak--many of them put in for a debate and three Members representing Aberdeen constituencies were called--English Members do not stand a good chance of being called to speak. That is why the Benches behind me are not full this evening.

Sir Robert Smith rose--

Mr. Steen: I would have given way to the hon. Gentleman, but bearing in mind that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) refused to give way to me a few minutes earlier, even though he had nine minutes left, I am sure that the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) will understand why, on this occasion, I will not give way.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman of course knows that it is always for the discretion of the hon. Member who is on his feet whether to give way.

Mr. Steen: That is why I am not giving way, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Sir Robert Smith: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It might be helpful to clarify that who is called in debates is a matter for the Chair and not for individual Members. If Members wish to speak in a debate, they should put in, take their chance and see if they are called. If more Scots Members put in to speak because English Members are at a lunch for their party leader, such a decision surely ties the Chair's hands.

Madam Deputy Speaker: It is for the discretion of the Chair as to who is called. The Chair will always try and ensure that there is a fair representation. It is also, of course, the responsibility of Members to set their order of priorities when it comes to attending their engagements outside the Chamber or being present in the Chamber.

Mr. Steen: That is why I have been here for the past four hours, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is why the hon.

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Member for Hastings and Rye saw his priority as being in Committee. I am sure that you will agree, however, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is not right for the Chair to decide what priorities Members have. We have many priorities, such as Select Committees and Standing Committees.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is now time for the hon. Gentleman to proceed with his contribution to the debate.

Mr. Steen: I am glad that you have reminded me that the House is waiting to hear what I have to say, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Every December for as long as I have been in the House, we have a debate on fish. Last December we did not, because the Government decided on a late Queen's Speech. I am sure that it was not organised in that way to avoid the fish debate in December. However, for years we have had a debate on fish before the Minister goes to Brussels. It centres on how much quota British fishermen should receive. The Minister waves goodbye, with a Union Jack, and fights for the highest quota for fish. Amazingly, every Minister I can remember comes back saying that he has done a wonderful job. The current Minister, who I think does a very good job, came back, like all former fisheries Ministers, saying that he had done a good job. He has carried on the tradition that the House expects from fisheries Ministers.

It is worth remembering that Britain has contributed 80 per cent. of fish resources and is allowed to catch only 13 per cent. of that amount. The waters around Devon and Cornwall support more than 2,000 fishermen, working on 875 boats of all sizes, catching £75 million worth of fish. Their activity, in turn, supports 8,000 ancillary jobs. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 12 per cent. fall in the amount of fish caught in Devon and Cornwall. Over the same period, the number of fishermen has dropped by 17 per cent. Enforcing regulations on the industry costs more than £45 million a year to British taxpayers.

I am sure that the House would like to be reminded that my constituency has the second largest fishing port in England and Wales--Brixham; that one of the most fruitful fishing grounds for crab and lobster lies off the south Devon coast; and that many people in my constituency are employed in the fishing industry.

Every year, we debate how much fish and which particular species we should be allowed to catch. Although 17,500 British fishermen--mostly in northern Scotland--catch most of the British cod quota, they manage to catch only 60 per cent. of the 81,000 tonnes allocated. I focus on cod as a benchmark of the damage caused to our country's fish stocks since we joined the CFP; it illustrates that the raw material is no longer available.

We are on the brink of an ecological disaster. The development of new technology for catching and storing fish--coupled with the use of huge diesel trawlers, powered with winches and wide nets--has contributed to the problem. Iceland realised that there was not only an ecological problem but an economic issue; that led to three cod wars--in 1958, 1973 and 1975. Iceland has unilaterally extended its territorial waters to protect its cod stocks.

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We have sophisticated sonar and satellite technology to pinpoint fish; high-tech, floating freezer factories scour our seabeds, hoovering up fish for processing. Cod symbolises what is happening in our seas. It is no longer simply a question of quotas when our Minister goes to Brussels--the fish are no longer in the seas to be caught. The question is how to sustain a fishing fleet, providing a living for British fishermen while also providing a living for the Spanish, the Belgians and the Dutch. That is what the debate is about. How do we look after English fishermen and how do we look after the Spanish, the Belgians and the Dutch? I hope that I am allowed to mention the Spanish, Belgians and Dutch even though they are not in the House.

It is only too evident that there are not enough fish to go round for our fishermen and for those of other European countries. We can argue that the scientists are right. Climate change, the environment, north Atlantic oscillation, the shift of the gulf stream, pollution, predation by seals and a host of factors have contributed to our vastly dwindling fish stocks. Industrial fishing of sand eels and species at the bottom of the food chain removes food for higher species, such as cod and haddock.

Alternatively, we can consider the unacceptable practice of other European fishermen--especially the Spanish, who insist on flooding the market with baby fish. Each netful of baby fish caught before maturity is enough to destroy a full month's quota for a Brixham crew.

Joining the CFP appears to have made matters worse for British fishermen, with laws declaring that the waters of member states--including British territorial waters--are regarded as common resources to be fished by all. Our waters contain 80 per cent. of western Europe's fish stock. In the 1980s, the European Union parcelled out new common resources by allocating quotas to each country, setting out how much of each species the fishermen of each member state were allowed to catch. Over-fishing has gone on for more than 20 years, aided by the development of increasingly sophisticated equipment.

The issue is embodied in the cod crisis. In 1992, the Canadian Government implemented a ban on cod fishing in Newfoundland, throwing 40,000 people out of work. Eight years later, cod stocks have still not returned to 1980s levels; hopes have fallen that they ever will. Cod has been superseded in the oceanic league tables by species such as skate and dogfish.

One way forward would be for the waters around the British coast to be repatriated so that Spanish, French and Dutch trawlermen are excluded and we could manage our own waters for our own fishermen. Another way would be to consider a moratorium similar to that in Canada--to replenish stocks by establishing the equivalent of a national park on the seabed. However, like the Canadians, we may find that it is too late to recover our stocks. Under the CFP we appear to have witnessed the slow death of the British fishing industry. We need now a radical and visionary approach to resuscitate the fishing industry and restore the ecological balance of the waters around our coast.

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