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Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman is new and perhaps he does not understand the cause of the problem, which is the rigidity in the system. It is the Commission that runs the policy and it is for the Commission to enforce it. [Interruption.] I have just read him a bit from Fishing News. Perhaps he read it, or perhaps he would like to go to the Library and read it again. If he did, he would see who is to blame.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): The hon. Lady may have forgotten that there was a Conservative Government 10 years ago, but I hope that she has not forgotten that it was the Conservative Government who took us into the CFP in the first place.
Mrs. Winterton: No, how could I have forgotten that? I am not trying to make cheap party political points[Interruption.] I am trying to get to the truth of why our fish stocks are as low as they are, why our fishermen are going out of business because it is too difficult for them to continue and what we will do, in this country and elsewhere, to encourage good environmental management and to ensure that the ecosystems in the sea can recover so that the fish stocks can recover. This is an important issue. Hon. Members on both sides might guffaw about it, but it is not they who go out fishing every week: they sit around in a comfortable, warm and safe place.
On 1 January 1999, the Minister introduced a system of fixed quota allocations, on the basis that that was what the industry wanted[Interruption.] Yes, a majority wanted it, although many indicated other views in their responses to the consultation paper. The introduction of that system has denied fishermen the opportunity to improve their businesses. They now have to pay money for the additional quota that they need to remain viable. Many fishermen have no financial means to do this and are being forced to leave the industry due to financial constraints.
Mrs. Winterton: Indeed. The hon. Lady is a keen attender of fisheries debates for the simple reason that she has a strong constituency interest. In the debate in 1998, she quoted from a letter the Minister wrote in the 4 December 1998 edition of Fishing News, which gave support to that kind of scheme. In fact, the Minister visited Shetland and when he appeared before the Agriculture Committee on 22 June 1999, he confirmed that he fully encouraged such schemes. The Liberal Democrats also encouraged that approach.
Mrs. Winterton: Of course we would be equally supportive, as long as we knowI am sure that the Minister agrees with this pointthat it has not broken any rules or regulations. I will shortly describe the procedure that must be followed, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to intervene later on that point. I am sure that he would not support knowingly breaking the rules, because that is not the way forward.
The establishment of a similar enterprise, the Duchy Fish Quota Company, which is backed by Cornwall county council, has been seriously affected by the investigation. Advice about setting up the scheme had been obtained from the organisers of the Shetland scheme. In the Western Morning News of 3 December, the chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, Nathan de Rozarieuxa good Cornish namewas quoted as saying that the Commission investigation was a shock and a setback that could cause up to two years of delays.
Unfortunately, the matter is far more serious and goes much further than the Commission's investigation. Applications for such schemes must be made in advance. When an application is received and approved by the Commission, notification of approval is published in the Official Journal. If that process is not completed, the Commission will open an investigation, as it has with the Orkney and Shetland scheme, that can take up to 18 months to finish.
Annual reports have to be submitted to the Commission for such approved schemes. Have any annual reports been filed for the Orkney and Shetland scheme? It is puzzling that the scheme should have been operating for some time, and one wonders whether the Commission has turned a blind eye to its existence. If Community rules are found to have been broken in respect of a scheme operated without the Commission's approval, the member state is charged with the responsibility of taking back the money given in state aid, plus interest.
It will not escape the House that if the Commission finds against a scheme, the amount of money involved is considerable. It will have been paid over several years and will run in advance for the 18 months or so that the investigation may last before it concludes. That is a serious issue for the fishermen concerned. If the Commission finds that the rules have been broken, it will expect the Government to take full responsibility. Indeed, they have a moral duty to do so, as in the past they have publicly supported the scheme.
Save Britain's Fish and the Fishermen's Association Ltd. have warned for years that the devil was in the detail, and attracted much scorn from all sides in the process. Those who support the common fisheries policy must base their judgments not on wishful thinking, but on fact.
In fisheries debates, we often hear the cry that too many vessels are chasing too few fish, yet, in the name of conservation, we are told that vessels must be decommissioned. That is strange, given that the quota is left intact to be reused. The Governmentexcept for the Treasurydo not support a tie-up scheme, because that is all about getting rid of British vessels, not conservation.
Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Will my hon. Friend throw some light on the practice of klondiking? We in land-locked Leominster would be grateful to know more about the process, which allows a vessel to unload its quota or catch on to other vessels and thus to continue to fish 24 hours a day.