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It is clear from the figures how successful that policy was. In 1970, there were 21,443 fishermen. In 1975, there were 22,134. By 1985, there were 22,224. That proves that what we did was right. It produced results. There can be no justifiable criticism of that. I am prepared to take responsibility for everything I did and the 10 years of fishing that we got, but I cannot be responsible for what happened after 1985, although Mrs. Thatcher negotiated and got almost the same arrangements for the next period.
More changes are now required. I do not question that; I rely on the wisdom of those people who have the power and authority to produce changes that will benefit us and the fishing industry, and that should satisfy the country. We must kill unjustified lying nonsense, which is continually poured on to the British people and the rest of the world.
Dr. Godman: I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that I had brothers fishing in Icelandic waters during the fisheries dispute between the United Kingdom and Iceland. The Icelanders always believed, and still do, that his Administration and the Wilson Administration behaved in a high-handed way towards them with regard to their very important fisheries stock. On the right hon. Gentleman's negotiations to enter the European Economic Community, a widespread belief still exists in the fishing communities that he and his officials did not pay enough attention to the concerns of the fishing communities.
Sir Edward Heath: Some people in Iceland might believe that we were tough, but we did not think so. I gave the Prime Minister of Iceland a good dinner, but he would not give me everything I wanted, so we had to put in the Navy. We finally reached an agreement and, fortunately, we did not lose much.
In the later period, deep-sea fishermen had lost out and the inshore fishermen saw their chance. They realised that they had to get everything that they wanted worked into an agreement. That was entirely understandable. I did not question it and we did our best to enable that to happen.
My close association with the sea, and my love for it and all those people who work on it, is unchangeable. I am proud of what we did for fishermen. It is monstrous to have articles, such as the one to which I referred, published week after week. They damn everything that we did and are based on lies. I am surprised that a respectable Sunday newspaper should publish such an article. I am glad that we are able to have the debate and I wish the Government well in what they do.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): I have to be in my constituency this evening, so I have advised my hon. Friend the Minister that I may not be here for the winding-up speeches. I apologise for that.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was valuable. I read the original articles, and he has illuminated some issues for me. That is one positive thing to have come out of the debate.
We normally have our annual debate on fishing just before, or in the middle of, our debates on Europe. Fishing debates always have a frantic quality and they have not been satisfying in all the years that I have attended them. We argue about the crisis that the industry is about to face because of the quota discussions, and we have the usual arguments about Europe, which have become a bit tired. The debates always follow that pattern.
The fact that we are having this debate about a month after the annual round of quota discussions is helpful. We are having a much more measured debate, which is exactly what the industry needs. It faces very difficult times, and it is important that we make a proper assessment of the issues without the usual pressures being placed on us. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the business managers for holding the debate at this time. Perhaps we could think about having it at this time of year in future.
Another interesting thing to come out of the debate is the further illumination of the Conservative party's policy on the fishing industry. I have already had a chance to have a go at the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), so I shall not say too much about its policy, particularly given the comments of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. Perhaps I should shut up and leave Conservative Members to deal with their own problems.
The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire tried to convey the fact that he was close to the industry: he has done a national tour, visiting ports and talking to fishermen. As far as I know, he has not been to Aberdeen yet, but he is very welcome to come at any time.
The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire is as aware as anyone that all sectors of the fishing industry--both the catching and the processing sides--face a crisis. The policy that he spelled out today would turn that crisis into a disaster. If the Tory party were to achieve a unilateral declaration of independence for the North sea fishing industry, a disaster is precisely what we would have. That fact, at least, has emerged and it is important that we and the fishing industry have heard it.
All those who speak in the debate will refer to the problems that the industry faces. Its biggest single problem is a shortage of fish. We could spend all day arguing about the possible reasons for that, but I doubt whether we would discover the true ones. There are a variety of reasons for the problem.
Yesterday, the European Commission announced an agreement on a cod recovery plan, which is important for several reasons. It will present the industry with further problems, because job losses will inevitably result from the restriction on fishing efforts. However, the plan recognises that this country and other European countries need to build a sustainable fishing industry. It is clear that we were not heading in that direction and that emergency action was necessary. We got that yesterday. It is important to see the plan as emergency action, because it is a short-term measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said that a long-term strategy was necessary for the industry's future.
It is important to avoid too much talk of a crisis. The industry has a good future so long as we put in place measures that will enable it to get over the immediate crisis and to develop sustainable fisheries. We should not talk down the industry.
It is also important to recognise that all sectors of the industry face problems. The main concern in my constituency is in the fish processing sector, which is struggling to deal with the reduced numbers of fish available. In north-east Scotland, two major processing firms have closed in the past few months with the loss of a couple of hundred jobs and we face more closures. That serious problem has several aspects, which we discussed in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall recently, so I shall not go into detail now. However, Members with an interest in fisheries know just how serious the problems are.
Every crisis and every difficulty present opportunities. People in the industry may find that comment a bit harsh and brutal, but I believe that the industry has opportunities now. I can see no better time than the present for tackling the industry's problems. Everyone accepts that our catching efforts far exceed the supply of fish and that rationalisation is needed. According to my politics, the word "rationalisation" is nasty--it usually means job losses. We have to face and accept that prospect, but the Government must accept that they have a responsibility to play a part.
The way ahead was set out by the Select Committee on Agriculture in its report of 1999. Its valuable survey of the industry and the direction in which it pointed us--it called for the development of a long-term strategy--are fundamental to the industry's future. No other business with which I have been connected has to cope with the fact that it does not know the supplies of raw material that it will have for the following year until the December of the previous year. The figures come out at the end of December and are implemented on 1 January. The industry must plan on that basis, and I do not know how any industry could cope with that. Something has to change.
I shall not set out specific ideas about what we could do, because the principle is important. We know that people will leave the industry anyway because of the crisis in supply, so we should take this opportunity to adopt a principle that will cushion the impact by introducing a long-term strategy.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Sea Fish Industry Authority has been asked to respond to the Select Committee's recommendations. We know that he will receive the response next week, but it is unfortunate that we did not get it before the debate as it would have made the debate much more worth while. I do not criticise my hon. Friend for that. As he told us in a European Standing Committee in December, the timetable was planned some time ago. It has not been a secret. None the less, having the response would have made the debate more meaningful.
We need to move on from examining the causes and effects of the crisis to considering how we shall deal with them. We have the short-term cod recovery plan; the next stage is to introduce a plan for zonal management that will provide a cushion for the industry.
The SFF contrasted that approach with the treatment that it received when a public scientific institution sent it a letter saying that the institution would be happy to involve the federation in research if it paid £50,000. Such a contrast is hurtful.