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4.49 pm

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Given the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I shall try to represent the views of two organisations operating in the north-east Lincolnshire area, the Grimsby Fish Market and the Grimsby Fish Merchants Association. I thank both Martin Boyers, the chief executive of Grimsby Fish Market, for taking the time to give me his views on CFP reform, and Steve Norton, the chief executive of the association. They would like the Minister to take several messages, which I shall outline, to the Fisheries Council.

The two organisations feel that the industry itself will have to be much more involved in decision making on CFP reform. They also feel that the European Union has not taken sufficient action to protect fish stocks, and that that issue could be resolved if the industry were more involved in the decision-making process. They also feel that fleet over-capacity must be addressed because of the adverse effect on the marine environment.

The organisations also believe that in the current climate, the review must deal with stock conservation, which is the most important issue facing the CFP. They believe that the industry and other stakeholders will have to be involved in the decision-making process and that sustainable fisheries and environmental protection are aspects of that. The objective is an economically viable and self-sufficient fisheries sector.

The organisations feel that cuts in fleet size will have to be made sensitively and should not penalise those who depend for their living on the fishing industry. Not only should financial aid be sufficient to ensure that those leaving the industry are well compensated for loss of livelihood, it should be made available to address various educational issues.

Although compensation for those who lost their livelihood in the cod wars had been agreed, no payments were made until, I think, just before Christmas last year. In the past year, however, thousands of those men have been compensated. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for all that he did to support the campaign, which has helped the men to get justice. Although there are still a few problems to iron out, all of us who were involved in the campaign thank him for his help. The campaign has

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also highlighted the sensitivity of the compensation issue. We have been campaigning for compensation for those who were affected by the cod wars, but we do not want future generations of hon. Members to have to campaign to address compensation issues arising in today's industry. That is a particular fear.

Earlier this year, my hon. Friend announced assistance for fishing communities, which was much welcomed by hon. Members who represent fishing communities. However, as has been pointed out in some excellent research by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), there are concerns about how that money is allocated. If there is another such initiative, I hope that we will ensure that assistance goes to the fishing communities that are most affected by quota cuts.

The previous Government did not serve the fishing communities well on a related compensation issue, providing almost no assistance in the attempt to obtain compensation for those communities after the cod wars. Moreover, British taxpayers are still paying for the action that the Thatcher Government took against Spanish fishermen. That situation angered fishermen across the United Kingdom, and people should remember that it demonstrated that Conservative Members are no friends of the fishing industry.

The speech by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) did not reveal what the Opposition would do to assist Britain's fishing communities. The Tories did nothing to address quota hopping, which resulted in the payment of damages of, I think, more than £50 million—it was certainly millions of pounds. Indeed, I believe that they also illegally removed the UK fishing vessel register. What they did to the fishing community was scandalous. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister has done about quota hoppers. The problem now seems to be declining because of the action that the Government have taken.

On compensation and decommissioning money, we must consider all the small businesses such as fish producers and smokeries in Grimsby docks. Such businesses are also affected by the reduction of quotas and by decommissioning—issues that can have an severe knock-on effect in the community and on small businesses. That must be considered more. When we discuss fisheries, we talk far too often only about the men and boats, rather than about all the associated industries on which our communities depend for employment. I should also like fishing communities' local authorities to be regarded as stakeholders in these matters. They should be more involved in decision making and discussion. The other matter that the organisations in my area would like my hon. Friend to take to the Fisheries Council is industrial fishing. Anybody who looks at the evidence will see that the Danish industrial fisheries are doing particular damage and are probably undermining the cod and hake recovery programmes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) mentioned concern expressed by the Grimsby Fish Producers Organisation about climate and the fact that red mullet and swordfish have recently been found off the Lincolnshire coast. He said that that obviously related to global warming and climate change. There could be something in that suggestion. We must be very careful about climate change, especially with regard to the hydrodynamics of the ocean. If the ice caps melt and fresh water is released, salinity and water movements

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will be affected. The effect would be to switch off the gulf stream and the north Atlantic drift, to make waters here much colder—

Mr. Morley: And to drown Cleethorpes.

Shona McIsaac: Indeed, most of my constituency would probably disappear under the sea.

We must be very careful when talking about climate change. Grimsby's fish producers are not happy with the scientific research. They feel that it is flawed and that the vessels are returning to the same grids year after year, while the changing hydrodynamics, currents and temperature of the ocean mean that the fish are moving to different areas. They believe that we might be getting false data, so they would like the scientific research to be reconsidered.

I believe that changes in quota allocation and the reduction in quotas will probably not have a severe effect on Grimsby. I am sad to say that many fishermen are taking the opportunity to decommission their vessels. If all those who have applied to decommission do so, the changes will not have much of an effect on the fleet because it simply will not exist.

I should like quickly to mention two final points to my hon. Friend the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby mentioned by-catch, in relation to which I want to raise one specific issue: harbour porpoises. I think that 7,000 harbour porpoises are probably killed by the Danish fleet every year and 1,000 by our fishing vessels. I hope that the Minister will express concern about the matter when he attends the Fisheries Council, as there are EU regulations that relate to it. Perhaps measures such as the use of acoustic devices could be introduced to try to reduce unwanted by-catch.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to disregard totally the comments of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby about culling, shooting and decimating the seal population of our islands. The biggest consumers of young fish are other fish. The seals are visible, and therefore some people, like him, try to blame them.

5 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I say to the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) that I shall present some evidence on the migration of fish. She thought for a moment that I was going to talk about seals. I am sure that she will find the evidence interesting; I have already discussed it with the Minister, and I shall read out an extract. It is the first detailed evidence to support the view that cod stocks in particular have substantially moved and that that might undermine some of the methods of current scientific research.

First, I want to outline some of the politics of the industry. When I listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) about the Minister's longevity, I could not help thinking about the transience of Tory fishing spokesmen. They come and go and leave their speeches behind them. I have heard it all before. She speaks with some vigour, but as she developed her speech, I could not help reflecting that there was something to be said for the laid-back approach of her predecessor, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss).

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Conservative Members do not want to talk about the history of the common fisheries policy and their involvement in it. Given the vast expanse of green Benches with no Conservative Members to fill them, it would be unfair to put the boot in too hard. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] It will not stop me. Let us remember that the Conservative Government sold fishing down the river on entry into the then Common Market. In the words of the famous Scottish Office memo of the time, in the overall importance of the negotiations, fishermen were "expendable". For 18 years, not only did the Tory Government refuse to concede generally agreed sources of aid, which the EU would have accepted, for the fishing industry, but they traded its interests at every opportunity.

The hon. Member for Congleton said that horse trading—perhaps seahorse or horse mackerel trading—was part and parcel of the CFP. There was never any doubt in 18 years of government who was traded first. Time and again, the interests of the fishing industry in Scotland and elsewhere was subordinated to other policy objectives in the wider European structures.

If we consider other fishing nations, the lesson is not whether they are in or outwith the CFP, but the priority that they allocate to fishing, whatever structure they operate. Norway, outwith the EU, allocates a huge priority to its fishing industry. Year after year, it secures a good deal for its fishermen in the Europe-Norway negotiations. In the EU, Spain and Denmark accord a huge priority to fishing. Year after year, in aid or, in the case of Denmark, protection of the abomination of industrial fishing, they secure a good deal for their fishermen because of the priority that they attach to the industry.

The priority that the Conservative party accords to the fishing industry is shown by the vast expanse of green emptiness behind what remains of the Conservative Front Bench. With the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who has attended almost every fisheries debate—although perhaps not as many as the Minister—not one Conservative Member, let alone the party, expresses an avid interest in the industry.

Let me consider the Government briefly. The Minister knows that I admire him greatly, but my comments constitute a warning. He confirmed in a debate in Westminster Hall earlier this year that his previous boss had complained in a letter, which was leaked to The Herald, that he had been "holding the line" against allocating decommissioning grants across the fishing industry. He then wrote—[Interruption.] I am sure that the those on the Tory Front Bench would be interested to hear this. If they listened to it, they might be able to make better speeches on the industry.

The previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wrote:

I am glad that the mobilisation of the fishing industry in Scotland secured some sort of financial package, even if it was not the one that I would have chosen for the industry. I am equally glad that that motivated the Minister—or his former boss—to secure something for the fishing industry. Would it not be better, though, if we had Ministers who were prepared and able to secure a

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package for the industry without being embarrassed by the success of the campaign in Scotland, or who were prepared to listen to the industry as a priority?

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