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Common Fisheries Policy

9. Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): If she will make a statement on the forthcoming review of the common fisheries policy. [46518]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): The review is an important opportunity for the European Union to correct the faults of a policy which, as the Commission has acknowledged, has to a significant degree failed to fulfil its objectives.

We will argue for a policy that is environmentally and economically sustainable, offers stakeholders greater involvement in management decisions, commands their support, and offers them a viable long-term future.

Mr. Mitchell: As the Minister says, the 10-year term for the common fisheries policy is about to expire. As far as I am aware, there is no shred of evidence that it has had any real effect on the conservation of fish stocks. May I suggest, in a spirit of helpfulness, that now is the time to argue for the repatriation of fishing policy to nation states? If the Minister acts, perhaps we shall be able to conserve some of the British fishing industry while there is still time.

Mr. Morley: I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman means by repatriation to member states. Is he suggesting that we draw a line down the North sea and say, "Fish must not cross this line. You can follow certain

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rules on this side of the line, but not on the other side"? That would be ludicrous. We must have a European fisheries management policy.

There are weaknesses in the CFP, everyone realises that, but we are pleased that the Commission's Green Paper recognises the points being made by us in the United Kingdom and by our industry, and it is issues of this kind for which we shall be arguing.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I am sure that my hon. Friend considered the contribution from the very inland hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) to be important and timely, but is he aware that my constituents want to know what the Government and the European Union are thinking of doing in order to cultivate and train future fishermen, and to bring about the circumstances which we hope will result from reform of the fisheries policy?

Mr. Morley: The European Union, through structural funds, recognises that it is legitimate for member states to use funds to support a range of training initiatives. We are doing that in the United Kingdom, for example by providing free safety training for all fishermen. I am glad to announce that, tomorrow, at the fisheries exhibition in Glasgow, I will launch a new apprenticeship scheme designed to provide training for new entrants to the fishing industry. We believe that, despite the problems of management, the industry has a good long-term future. We need to consider how to attract crew and ensure that people have a professional, safe and long-term future in what could be a very good industry for this country.

Andrew George (St. Ives): Does the Minister agree that, although fish may not be that bright, we know that they are just about intelligent enough not to have hang-ups about their nationality? Seriously, does he agree that we should be concerned about the delay in the announcement of the route map for the review of the common fisheries policy? The fundamental reason why the policy has failed is over-centralisation. The main concern for the industry in this country is that any regional advisory committees that are set up should not be merely talking shops but should have real teeth and a real say in how policy is delivered in the fishing regions.

Mr. Morley: I agree. One of the problems of the common fisheries policy is that it has been too centralised, inflexible and bureaucratic. That is why we warmly welcome the proposals in the Green Paper and the indications that the Commission intends to propose regional management structures. How those will work will be a matter for discussion and debate, and it is likely to be an evolving, stepping-stone process, but we believe that it is right to involve the industry in decision making in that way, as well as having a more regional, flexible approach, recognising the whole range of different priorities in the fishing industry in Europe, and indeed in our own country.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a strong feeling in this country that the fishing industries in many other European countries have survived the current common fisheries policy in better shape than our own. I ask him again to consider setting up a Government-industry taskforce, so that we can work

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more closely with the fishing industry in a structured way, to work out, following the review process, how we may best survive what replaces the current common fisheries policy. We know that the Government cannot conjure up more fish in the sea, but I believe that we could work more closely with the industry and develop a plan for the future. We did it for the oil and gas industry—can we not do it for fishing?

Mr. Morley: I am glad to report that, yesterday, at the high-level fisheries meeting, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we had a presentation from the Fish Industry Forum on a strategy for the fishing industry. It was an excellent presentation and we agreed to hold meetings with the forum to develop its ideas in a joint working party, which certainly answers my hon. Friend's sensible proposals.

David Burnside (South Antrim): As a student of history, I am sure that the Minister will agree that records that have now become public show that the Heath Government's negotiations with the European Union, then the Common Market, were among the most incompetent and damaging negotiations on behalf of any industry in the United Kingdom. Those records are well worth reading. Will he give a commitment that this country will not sign up to a new fisheries policy that the industry predicts will lead to further decommissioning of British fishing vessels, which are essential to our economy, especially in ports such as Kilkeel in Northern Ireland, and others all around the United Kingdom?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that the hon. Gentleman is right, in that the records show that the fishing industry was sacrificed as part of a wider negotiating priority at that time, under a Conservative Government. I do not think that the Conservatives would dispute that.

Decommissioning is but one approach to dealing with effort control and management. I concede the point that decommissioning is a double-edged sword. It has benefits for the industry in making remaining vessels more viable, but I am very sensitive to its impact on regional ports. I cannot guarantee that there will never again be decommissioning, because that depends on circumstances, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I understand his points, which are serious, and that they will be taken into account.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): The Community has stated that

Does this not mean that within the new proposals, which I understand will now be considered by the College of Commissioners on 24 April, access to the living marine resource within Community waters shall be equal for all Community vessels, as set out in the basic principles of Community law?

Mr. Morley: They are part of the Community law which Britain was signed up to by the Conservative Government. However, before we start on the scare stories for the fishing industry, we should remember that the important factors are access to quota and relative stability. Enlargement of the European Union does not

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give new or existing member states the right to unlimited fishing in our waters because fishing is governed by the level of stability and access to quota which we do not intend to have changed or disrupted.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): Will my hon. Friend confirm my understanding that the only country in western Europe successfully to maintain its fishing stocks is Norway and that it is significant that, for obvious reasons, Norway is not part of the common fisheries policy? Would it not therefore be sensible for the European Union, and maritime member states such as Britain, to look to what Norway has done to conserve stocks? Finally, does my hon. Friend agree that it is possible that some of the fish that we are catching in the North sea were unwise enough to swim out of Norwegian waters?

Mr. Morley: Of course there are lessons to learn from other countries. We have discussions with Norway and Iceland about their fisheries management. However, their circumstances are different from ours as they are much more of a single-species fishery, which is easier to manage than a multi-species fishery such as ours in the North sea. I should also say that their fisheries management is not always perfect and that Norway has had problems in the past in relation to overfishing. The Norwegian position in the recent negotiations on deep water stocks was quite disgraceful; it was unsustainable and not worthy of a country that has always set high standards of conservation.

North Sea

11. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): If she will make a statement on the outcome of the fifth international conference on the protection of the North sea. [46520]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I represented the UK at the fifth North sea conference in Bergen, Norway, on 20 and 21 March. The outcome was an agreed declaration for further action to protect a whole range of aspects of the marine environment. I have placed copies of the declaration, together with copies of the report on progress made since the fourth North sea conference, in the Library of the House.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I should like to welcome the progress made at the conference. As my right hon. Friend is aware, one of the issues that was covered was the problem of the dumping of ballast water by shipping in the North sea which has major and damaging consequences for native species in the oceans and seas around Britain. What steps does he intend taking to implement the recommendations of the conference in respect of the dumping of ballast water?

Mr. Meacher: I recognise that this is a significant problem. I also attended the sixth conference of the parties to the convention on biological diversity in The Hague yesterday. I am glad to report to the House that we agreed a set of principles for international control of invasive alien species, many of which are inadvertently transferred through ships' ballast water. The UK has a major role

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in the International Maritime Organisation to develop the convention to control the transfer of harmful species in ballast water. The work is ongoing and very important. Chinese mitten crabs, which have been very destructive of species in estuaries and almost certainly came to this country from ballast water, are a good example. The results from the meeting in The Hague will have a major role for the UK in preventing this from happening in future.

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