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2.58 pm

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I welcome the debate, although I do not know how many fishing debates the Under–Secretary has introduced and wound up. He seems to have been fisheries spokesman man and boy, in opposition and in government. He probably feels that way too.

Lawrie Quinn: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Winterton: I am delighted to give way so early in my speech.

Lawrie Quinn: I thank the hon. Lady. Perhaps I may offer some information. During a search on a website, I asked that very question and the answer is 191.

Mrs. Winterton: I am grateful for the information. The Minister looks very well on it: he is obviously eating a lot of fish, as I did at lunchtime.

Let me echo what the Minister said, and express our deepest sympathy for the families of the nine fishermen who lost their lives this year. We must also not forget those injured at sea during the past year.

As an island nation, we have a particular affinity with the sea and respect those

For centuries, fishermen have braved the elements around our shores and further afield, and pitted their skills against the harshest and most unpredictable of elements, the sea. We politicians have added to the stress that they experience, not least by imposing stifling European Union regulations. While it is difficult now to find a customs officer, a coastguard or even a policeman around our harbours, fisheries officers can be found checking boxes of fish. That contrasts with the situation in the Scottish fisheries department, which allows over-quota landings to be policed by the pelagic sector itself.

Mr. Salmond: I think that we missed the full import of the hon. Lady's attack on the Scottish pelagic sector, which is generally recognised to be one of the most successful management regimes ever, and the most responsible. Will she explain in more detail why she is developing this anti-Scottish attitude? I should have thought that her party was in enough trouble north of the border.

Mrs. Winterton: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that he is talking to someone who is half-Scottish. He will have to do a damn sight better than that. Perhaps I should remind him of the minutes of the meeting of the pelagic sub-committee of the Shetland Fishermen's Association, which took place on 21 September. I shall quote from

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them—and I am sure that, when I have done so, he will say how pleased he is to have been put right.

The section from which I shall quote is headed "Control and enforcement" and it states:

Will that do for the hon. Gentleman, or would he like me to quote more? There it is, in black and white.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Winterton: I want to make some progress. The hon. Gentleman will probably want to intervene later, when I start dealing with the part of the world that he represents. [Interruption.] I know that he represents Orkney and Shetland. I shall deal with issues relating to that area later: that is precisely what I meant a few minutes ago. I wish that Labour Members would not get so excited. They should settle down and do a bit of listening.

The fishing industry's problem was summed up in Fishing News a few weeks ago. The Minister asserted:

That is in the same vein as the Prime Minister's description of the European Union in a speech he made in Birmingham on 23 November. He said:

It appears to me, and to many others, that perhaps neither gentleman has studied existing European Union treaties, especially in relation to future fisheries integration.

The statement in Fishing News continues:

The permit system—or call it what you will—is already an obligation under the treaty of Corfu. It is required to be operating before the end of 2002. Spain—this answers a point raised by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) earlier—can veto any issue when a discriminatory transitional derogation is sought, which includes the six and 12-mile limits. The Minister expressed support for that.

The situation today is exactly the same as that which was clearly explained here, during debates in 1971 and 1972, by Labour Members—the now Lord Healey, and the late Lords Shore and Jay. The Commission's press release of 4 December confirms its intention to

That, and

will be controlled by special fishing permits.

The Prime Minister said:

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There is some truth in that statement—the Government do fail to see the reality of fisheries integration—but, as usual, what the Prime Minister says and what he does are opposites. The experience of fisheries integration over the past 19 years has created the greatest social and environmental disaster that mankind could devise, the price of which our fishermen pay every working day of their lives.

Mr. Morley: I shall not defend the workings of the current common fisheries policy, which certainly need to be changed. Let me put the hon. Lady right on one point, however. I refer to the assertion, well known in the fishing industry, that we will all have to have European fishing permits. The permits required by the treaty of Corfu are already in effect, and apply to western waters management. They have not been used to supersede national permits or control, and they will not be: there is no reason why they should be.

Another issue that often causes concern is coastal limits. It is not true that there is a veto. Unless anyone challenges them, coastal limits will automatically be "rolled over" after 2002. Even if they are challenged, qualified majority voting will be involved—and I have no doubt that a qualified majority is in favour of retaining coastal limits.

Mrs. Winterton: I am sure that the fishing industry will be glad of those assurances—assurances about a matter that is yet to be decided. The Minister referred to qualified majority voting; I am pleased that he is confident of obtaining support in the numbers he requires, but I must admit to remaining concerned about the position. I shall wait to see whether he can deliver what he says he can deliver, but I believe that the case that I have presented is absolutely correct.

The Prime Minister surely cannot believe that wiping out the British fishing industry and marine stocks is in Britain's interests. No wonder the Liberal Democrats' spokesman for environment, food and rural affairs challenged the Government to put the environment at the heart of policy in an article in the September edition of The Parliamentary Monitor. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrat policy proposes a lot of mini-CFPs. We can only conclude that both the Liberal Democrats and the Prime Minister indirectly support the dumping of dead prime fish back in the sea—which will cause pollution—the breaking of the marine food chain, and the marketing of baby fish in southern Europe.

The present quota system has one more year to run. The system, which is in itself a derogation from equal access to a common resource, will have run its course on 31 December 2002. Today's debate takes place just before the Minister goes to negotiate the new TACs, and other matters, at the Council of Fisheries Ministers. As he said, the Commission has already announced further devastating cuts to quotas as a basis for discussion—cuts that fall below even what scientists have recommended.

There is an established pattern to those negotiations, which means that whatever concessions the Minister can wring out on behalf of the UK will be considered to be an improvement on the worst case scenario. Let us not be fooled. The situation is dire and we are witnessing the slow death of our industry by a thousand cuts.

The Minister has told us in the past that fishermen have to accept the continuing cuts in quota in the name of conservation. How, therefore, can the Commission justify

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the cutting back of quota for dover sole by 40 per cent., or 320 tonnes, in area 7E of the south-west coast of England, while allowing an increase in plaice quota of 6 per cent., or 330 tonnes, for the same area of sea, in order to conserve fish? It is well known that the species are caught together in the beam trawling fishery, just as cod and coley are caught in single and twin demersal trawls.

The direct result of those quota decisions will be yet further dumping. That unhappy practice, together with juvenile discards, was highlighted more than a decade ago by the industry and included in the Commission's 1991 report. Since then, little progress has been made because of the rigidity of the system. I hope that the editorial comment in last week's Fishing News is correct and a more balanced view will be taken. The editorial stated:

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