HC Deb 11 November 2003 vol 413 cc255-68

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Ainger.]

5.44 pm
Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to draw to the House's attention the deep concern felt by members of the United Kingdom fishing industry. It should be said right at the outset of the debate that the so-called demise of cod stocks in the British sector is a clever way to disguise the implementation of European treaty obligations ratified by this Parliament and has little or nothing to do with conservation, which the Government always give as the excuse.

Eleven years ago in a speech given in Shetland, a senior representative of the European Commission, Ruth Albuquerque, warned the fishing industry that the way forward envisaged by the Commission for restructuring the industry would involve thousands of fishermen losing their jobs. That is indeed what happened, but we have to examine why, as at that time fish stocks were very healthy indeed. How could she predict with such confidence that so many jobs would be lost in the industry? The answer has everything to do with the Iberian expansion of the European Economic Community in January 1986.

A year ago, Struan Stevenson, Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries, stated categorically that the draconian proposals that are now a reality had nothing to do with conservation. He also said that they were part of a European federalist agenda to hand over the bulk of European fishing to Spain. The European Commission will exploit scientific recommendations to close down the British white fish sector as a golden opportunity to help it to meet its target capacity cuts in one fell swoop. Spain, which has the largest fleet, would therefore dominate the EU's fishing industry.

Last month, the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Franz Fischler, stated that as Spain and Portugal have been fully integrated in the common fisheries policy, all rules that could have been considered discriminatory have been abolished, and from now on EU measures will apply equitably to all member states.

On 20 October, the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House on the European Council and I was delighted to hear him, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) at column 389, clearly confirm that EU fisheries law was the basis on which the UK acceded to the EEC in 1973. That means the principle of equal access to a common resource without discrimination.

Furthermore, so that the Minister is aware of this if he is not already, the purpose of the EU fisheries management plan is to balance the EU resource, which includes the decreasing third-country agreements, to the EU fishing capacity without increasing fishing effort. That is as a result and as part of the Spanish treaty of accession. As other nations join and continue to join the EU, which have fishing capacity rather than fishing resource, how does the Minister expect the fundamental equation to be balanced?

The answer, I suggest, is very simple. Something has to be lost, and that something is the northern EU fleet, which is comprised mainly of the British fishing fleet. I hope the Minister has been following the extracts printed by the Daily Mail of the excellent new book by Christopher Booker and Richard North, "The Great Deception", which is to be published later this month. The Minister will note that the original EEC members suddenly agreed the principle of equal access to Community waters only hours before the UK formally lodged its application for membership and only after successfully stitching up the common agricultural policy against British interests.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

Is the hon. Lady aware that civil service documents released under the 30-year rule not only support her case, but state in detail that the UK Government maintained that the Scottish fishing industry and those in it were expendable?

Ann Winterton

I shall be using precisely that word shortly. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has intervened. I understand that the debate can go on for longer than we expected, and that we have the evening before us to deal with some of the issues that are so important in his part of the world.

What I have described was the start of a process that would lead to the eventual and deliberate destruction of our fishing industry as foreign boats invaded our traditional fishing grounds. Thanks to the rules of the father of the European Union, Jean Monnet, there was no way in which we could opt out, as the principle of equal access had been agreed before the United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community. The civil service memorandum that I mentioned revealed that the then Conservative Prime Minister's team were aware of the dangers, but believed that they could not afford to waste their limited negotiating capital on resisting. Their chosen policy was to avoid the subject of Britain's fisheries as much as possible, and to accept secretly that in the wider interest fishermen must be regarded as expendable.

From that moment, what the extracts in the Daily Mail describe as deliberate deception began. Monnet had succeeded in infecting Britain with his brand of devious and dishonest politics. It may be said that there is nothing new in that, as we know only too well today. Before the Government blame the Conservative Government of the day for the present situation, let us not forget that it was a Labour Administration who, on 1 January 1977, handed the European Union our 12-to200-mile median line fishing zone. The Fishery Limits Act 1976 created the zone, and immediately handed competence for fisheries to the EEC. Since then each successive Parliament has been to blame, and responsibility rests with this Parliament today.

Let me remind the Minister of a letter sent by his Department, on behalf of the Prime Minister, to a Shetland skipper, Mr. Magnus Stewart, who—like so many others—has had to leave fishing prematurely as a direct result of the throttling regulations introduced to achieve full integration of fishing policy. It stated: In domestic Law, the United Kingdom Parliament is indeed still Sovereign, and could repeal all or parts of the 1972 European Communities Act, through which legislation is given effect in the United Kingdom". I hope the phrase "still sovereign" does not indicate that the Government plan to reduce the competency of Parliament further.

I was heartened recently to receive a written answer from the Minister for Europe stating that the United Kingdom would honour its international treaty obligations until such time as Parliament decided to repeal the Acts that give effect to them. It is not just Parliament's power to repeal Acts that is important in this regard, because Parliament can also amend Acts. It has done so on numerous occasions, an example being the European Communities Act 1972 itself.

The crux of this environmental and social disaster rests entirely with the Government and indeed the Minister, who continually bases his case on "sound science". What science? The quota system introduced in 1983 was supposed to have been introduced for conservation reasons, but we now know that it was intended to be used as the tool of integration. It was and still is a destructive measure creating huge discards of mature fish. We are told by the scientists that there are few cod stocks in our seas at present, yet fishermen are still catching cod. What are they supposed to do with them—dump them over the side dead, or land them illegally? As the so-called sound science says that there is little or no cod, perhaps fishermen should deposit all the cod they catch over quota at the Minister's door, so that we can see how much there is; it is usually dumped unseen back into the sea to pollute it.

It is not surprising that scientists think that there are no cod when they use outdated modelling methods, testing in the same marine locations each year with antiquated and obsolete fishing gear, but that is all part of the game. As everyone knows, climate change has altered the characteristics of all marine species, with fish stocks continually moving. How convenient it is to use the so-called demise of cod to bring about, in the Monnet fashion, the extermination of another fine British industry. The No. 10 strategy unit never started with a completely clean sheet but was given orders to work within the common fisheries policy. I pose the question again: who gave those instructions in Downing street?

The Minister had a letter printed in Fishing News on 31 October defending the scientists. How successful have International Council for the Exploration of the Sea scientists been since they set themselves up 100 years ago to be the experts in managing the areas outside the territorial waters in the north Atlantic? They have failed miserably.

The proof is to be found in the Faroe Islands, which, since 1948, has been a self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark. The advice of ICES brought the Faroese people close to bankruptcy, but seven years ago they saw the light. The people of the Faroe Islands ignored the advice of ICES and introduced the exact opposite policy on fishing. They fished down their stock to match the then available food source. They then set about rebuilding the food source, and the stock was increased to match the increased food supply. As a result, they no longer face bankruptcy. They have built a thriving fishing and fish processing industry, with all the associated infrastructure and employment, and are experiencing a shortage of skilled labour because of the success of their fishing policy.

The recommendations of ICES are the exact opposite of that successful policy: fish down the food source and stop fishing for white fish to increase the mature stock, which in turn require additional food source that has been destroyed. It is rather like hon. Members saying that the strangers cafeteria has insufficient food to satisfy present demand, but that we shall keep it open to the general public. The result would be that we either all starved together or went elsewhere. People can move elsewhere and, as fish recognise no boundaries, that is exactly what they do: they go where the food source is strong.

I was delighted that, at Prime Minister's questions, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) asked about industrial fishing that destroys the food source. Back came to reply: we must convince the others"— other European Union member states— so that we get a majority behind our position at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council."—[Official Report, 22 October 2003; Vol. 411, c. 636.] The Prime Minister hopes that we can do just that. His position is the same as that of the Minister's predecessor, now the Minister for the Environment, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who was one of the most experienced Fisheries Ministers, holding that role both in opposition and in government. He told us year after year in debates in the Chamber of his concerns about industrial fishing. Unfortunately, all he succeeded in achieving was a temporary closure around the Isle of May in the firth of Forth, which was introduced in order to benefit bird life, so fishermen again were not helped by the measure. There is no hope that the UK can do anything with just 10 votes and the Prime Minister knows it.

This year's sand eel fishery was a disaster, mainly made up of sand eel fry, which are the size of matchsticks, and not the full-grown sand eels that are normally devoured by cod. They no longer exist, yet sand eel quotas have never fully been caught. Even cookery programmes on the television suggest that we should buy not wild cod, but farmed cod. That makes the situation far worse, as the wild cod's food is taken to feed the farmed cod, which need eight times more food in weight than wild cod. What utter madness.

The supposedly sound scientific advice is fatally flawed, but flawed for a good reason. It is used as a disguise to complete the integration process and comply with the treaties that the Government believe must be upheld for the wider benefits of our membership of the European Union, "wider benefits" being the excuse used by both a former Conservative Prime Minister and our present Prime Minister, with our fishermen and the marine resource considered expendable then and now.

Ten years ago, the then chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, Mr. Tom Hay—today, the chairman of the Fishermen's Association Ltd.—warned fishermen of the dangers of the contents of ICES's advisory committee on fisheries management report published in November 1993. He also warned the industry to be under no illusion as to the seriousness of the intended attack on its livelihood and the viability of UK vessels. ICES was saying the same then as it is today, and this has been going on or a long time. Frankly, it is a miracle that marine stocks have held up so well in the face of what I can only describe as a political slaughter. Sadly, as the House will know, the industry is disappearing at an ever-increasing rate before our very eyes.

The Fishermen's Association Ltd. last week asked scientists in Aberdeen how it is that fishing pressure must have been as great, if not greater, on haddock stock as it has been on cod; yet we are told by ICES that we have the largest haddock stock for 30 years, while the spawning stock biomass of cod is at an all-time low. There is constant fishing effort on haddock rather than cod, so why have haddock stocks not been destroyed? ICES believes that the white fishing vessels present a threat to the cod stocks within the British sector of Community waters, but there are hardly any UK vessels left in that fishery—so where are these vessels based?

Neither should the Minister go on about the so-called over-fishing of the Newfoundland grand banks. The true reason for cod's disappearance from the banks is climate change, as the cod move eastwards towards Greenland and Iceland and into the Barents sea due to colder water. The thawing ice pack is making ocean waters colder, which are drawn down the eastern seaboard of north America. To keep using this as an example of what could happen if ICES's advice is not followed is disingenuous to say the least. The same principle applies on this side of the Atlantic ocean; that is, using cod to hide political aspirations. It is time the truth came out so that people can judge for themselves.

There is only one answer: for national control over waters formerly established by old Labour, but apparently not wanted now by new Labour, to be returned to Parliament in Westminster. The central control of European Union fisheries is an environmental and social disaster, and it is no good saying either that regional advice councils will be the solution. Commissioner Fischler has already made it clear, in respect of the Baltic cod stocks, that fisheries management is exclusively within Community competence and that treaty revisions strengthening the principle of subsidiarity do not apply.

I accept—everyone would, for obvious reasons—that national control cannot solve climatic change, but it can at least run fisheries free of political interference, and, indeed, of integration within the EU, and can respond quickly to benefit whichever species is suitable for the changing British waters, thereby allowing stocks to prosper alongside a thriving fishing industry.

In an article entitled "No compromise on cod", last week's Fishing News quoted the Minister as saying that not all in the fishing industry want national control, and that some say privately that they do not support that policy at all. I should like the Minister to answer that point when he responds, because in my view those people should either put up, or shut up. He has a good opportunity to tell us today who those people are and to which organisations they belong. In doing what they are allegedly doing, they are undermining the prospect of any recovery in the fishing industry in the British sector.

6.6 pm

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)

I am grateful for the fact that we have some extra time, because it has given me the chance to speak in a debate that I had not intended to speak in. I apologise to the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) and to the Minister for not giving them prior notice of my wish to speak; it was only once the extra time became available that I realised that I could do so.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing a debate on this very important subject, but she will probably not be surprised to learn that I disagree with her proposed solution. Coming out of the common fisheries policy and achieving national control is not the solution. Although it is technically possible for Parliament to pass an amendment to European Community legislation so that we can come out of the CFP, it would not be possible to do so without leaving the EU entirely.

Ann Winterton

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman—I do so in what I hope is a pleasant way—but I have taken advice on this issue, and he is completely wrong: we do not have to come out of the European Union if we decide not to continue within the CFP.

Mr. Reid

My understanding is different, but if the hon. Lady sends me copies of the legal advice that she has received, I should certainly be interested in exploring the matter further.

The way forward is to establish regional management committees that have real power. The regional advisory committees that were agreed at last year's December Council are certainly a step in the right direction, but only a very short step—they have nothing like the correct powers that regional management committees should have. Fishing is best managed by those who work in, and have a stake in, the industry; moreover, scientists should also be involved. Power should be given to regional management committees, rather than such decisions being taken yearly through political machinations in Brussels. The hon. Lady is right: we should take the politicians out of the discussions and set up regional management committees that involve fishermen, the fish processing industry, and various other stakeholders and scientists. It is the people who have a stake in the survival of fish stocks in their own areas who should be taking the decisions.

Ann Winterton

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that these new councils will have no teeth whatever but will be mere talking shops, and that the CFP will continue as it has done for the past few years, because we have no power over the situation? Does he further accept that his own party is split on the issue of national control? His colleague, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), fully supports it, as does the Scottish National party.

Mr. Reid

I agree that the regional advisory councils set up in December have no teeth and are woefully inadequate in respect of the powers that they need. It was, as I said, a step, but only a very short step, in the right direction. What is needed is for management power to be devolved to regional management committees, which should not just be advisory councils. My party's policy is clear: we believe in fundamental reform of the common fisheries policy, but not through national control, which I believe is unachievable. Fundamental reform is required, but it will certainly take a long time to negotiate.

I want to turn to what will take place at this year's December Council. Cod stocks are clearly in a poor state, but other stocks in the North sea are, on the whole, doing very well. For example, the haddock stock is now at a 30-year high, the whiting stock continues to increase, saithe is clearly within safe biological limits and prawns are abundant. It is now definitely established that the cod by-catch from fishing for prawns is negligible, and there is no justification whatever for cutting back on fishing for prawns, because earlier arguments no longer apply: scientists have shown that the cod by-catch is negligible.

It is possible to separate the key cod grounds from the key fishing grounds for other species. I was sent a map by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, which shows the key cod grounds in the North sea. They represent only a small proportion of the North sea as a whole, and fishing for other species can continue in other parts without causing any risk to cod. Recovery measures should be focused in the key cod areas; in the remaining areas, where other species are abundant and there is barely any cod at all, fishing should be permitted for the other stocks. That is a plan that I hope the Minister will consider and pursue at the December Council.

The advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is very crude in simply saying, "Stop the fishing." Whether that would cause cod to recover, we certainly do not know, but we do know that it would mean the end of the Scottish fishing industry. Like most industries, fishing is not one that can simply be switched on and off. If fishing were to cease, fishermen would go bankrupt. The only way to avoid bankruptcy would be for the Government to pay more money for decommissioning. As well as fishermen going bankrupt, the fish processing industry would go out of business. Even if cod returned in years to come, the fishing industry could not simply be switched on again.

Ann Winterton

The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case about what will happen if we continue as we are. However, he tells us that his party wants fundamental reform of the common fisheries policy, so will lie tell the House how that will be achieved? Without unanimity, it will never be achieved, so it is whistling in the wind. Secondly, did he note what I said about the Faroe Islands, which did the opposite to what ICES advised and developed a vibrant fishing industry over the past few years? Would it not be better for this country to follow such a policy?

Mr. Reid

As I said, my party's policy is to have fundamental reform. We have to convince people and win the case in Europe. It does not require unanimity, because these matters are decided by qualified majority voting. It will be for the Minister when he goes to Brussels for the December Council to negotiate and seek to persuade our European partners that fundamental reform of the CFP is in the interest of the whole of Europe, and that powers to take decisions should be devolved to regional management committees.

Ann Winterton

How does the hon. Gentleman believe that such an outcome can be arrived at? What benefits Scottish fishermen will be an equal disbenefit to the Spanish. Are the Spanish likely to agree to such a proposal? I am sure that Spain has more clout in the Fisheries Council than we have.

Mr. Reid

I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that wiping out stocks of cod or any other fish will not benefit any country. I would hope that we could persuade other countries through the strength of our arguments.

Our scientific knowledge of what goes on under the sea is very limited. We do not know why cod stocks have declined in the North sea but appear to be prospering further north. Global warming may be responsible, but we simply do not know. To stop all fishing and cause the demise of the fishing industry is not the solution.

I commend to the Minister the proposal from the SFF, which was that the key cod grounds in the North sea should be identified and conservation measures adopted in those areas, but that fishing for other abundant stocks elsewhere in the North sea should be allowed to continue.

6.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) on securing this debate. Her constituency is landlocked, but she is a doughty fighter for UK fishermen. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), who took advantage of the extra time for the debate to make a speech that I know was based on his great local knowledge of his own constituency. His speech contained a lot of common sense.

The hon. Member for Congleton regaled us with her usual litany of criticisms of the common fisheries policy. She sees it as the source of all the difficulties that beset the UK fishing industry, but I have difficulties with that view. As I am sure she knows, fish stocks do not respect national boundaries; they are migratory by nature. Realistically, any regulatory system must be agreed among the countries whose fishermen exploit the fish stocks as they move around. Therefore, if there were no CFP, we would have to negotiate one—and a management system—with all the countries involved. We would have to negotiate and agree management measures for the stocks, and the extent to which the different fleets had access to the fishing grounds and the stocks. That would be no more or less than a common fisheries policy.

Of course, that is not to say that the CFP has no faults. On the contrary, it has been rightly criticised for failing, up until now, to deliver many of its key aims. For example, in many cases it has not ensured healthy fish stocks or a profitable fishing industry, and it has not always brought fishing capacity into line with fishing opportunities. However, it would be wrong to conclude from that that we would be better off without the CFP, or outside it.

What would be the point of pulling out of the CFP, even assuming—and I shall give the hon. Member for Congleton the benefit of the doubt on this—that the necessary treaty amendment could be negotiated? If that happened, it would be necessary immediately to set up negotiations—with the EU, and between the EU and Norway and the EU and Greenland and so on—on arrangements that cover precisely the same ground. The whole proposition is risible. On many occasions I have said that it is a cruel deception of UK fishermen to argue that proceeding in that way would bring about the sustainable future for our fishing industry that is, of course, our primary aim.

The hon. Lady asked a specific question, in which she quoted from a letter that I wrote to Fishing News last week. It is not for me to speak on behalf of individuals or organisations, as they can speak for themselves. However—and she may correct if I am wrong—I have not heard of any of the leading UK fishing organisations currently pressing for national control.

The truth is only too clear. The solution to the problem of an inadequate CFP is to negotiate one that is adequate. That is what we set out to do at the review of the CFP that was completed at the December 2002 Council of Ministers. We not only set out to do that, we achieved all our objectives in respect of the guiding principles and goals in what might be called the first phase of CFP reform—that is to say, the adoption of a new basic CFP regulation.

Ann Winterton

I like the Minister enormously but I cannot believe his complacency as he reads that speech from the Dispatch Box. We have had 30 years of the common fisheries policy, which has brought about the worst environmental disaster ever for our fishing industry; yet his only answer is to offer more of the same and to say that things will be better tomorrow when we have negotiated this or that. Is he not just a little bit—just a tad—concerned that things will not turn out as he expects?

Mr. Bradshaw

I am very concerned, and not at all complacent about the future of the UK fishery and our fishing industry. I was about to explain how we would address that. The hon. Lady's simple, neat solution—national control—is a cruel deception of our industry. We have to reform the CFP in a sustainable way that can guarantee future profitability for our industry.

We achieved all our objectives in December 2002. The new regulations include much more robust commitments from the Council of Ministers to conserve or, where necessary, recover commercial fish stocks in line with scientific advice. They put environmental considerations at the heart of the CFP and reiterate relative stability, the mechanism for dividing EU fishing opportunities among member state fleets in accordance with their historical track record. The hon. Lady ignored that important historical defence in her speech.

The regulations renew the rights of coastal member states at 12 miles. From the end of 2004, they require for all members the cessation of subsidies for the building of new fishing vessels, which the UK has not paid for many years. They also provide for the setting up of regional advisory councils to give fishermen and all parties with an interest in commercial fish stocks a more direct input into the process of setting policy and managing fish stocks. Those will not be merely talking shops. I agree with the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute that it is important that we develop those initiatives into proper regional management structures with teeth. That is certainly the Government's aspiration.

Not only does the new CFP give us a stronger basis for action, but we have already seen examples of such action. This year there has been the prompt development by the Commission of the proposals for regional advisory councils; the adoption by the Commission, at the UK's request, of emergency measures to protect against damage from fishing the unique cold-water coral formations known as the Darwin Mounds; and the adoption of an EU measure to restrict shark finning. We could not have achieved that important progress outside the CFP, nor could we have achieved through unilateral action many of our other vital aims for the conservation of fish stocks and the environment in which they live.

Ann Winterton

Can the Minister explain the Government's failure to restrict industrial fishing? Should not that be a priority?

Mr. Bradshaw

I share the hon. Lady's concern about industrial fishing. She will know well that for many years it has been the Government's policy to oppose industrial fishing, but we have lacked adequate scientific proof of our case. This year we have expended considerable sums of money to collect that evidence. We shall present it to the Commission, where we are already winning friends. I am sure that the hon. Lady has read carefully the latest International Council for the Exploration of the Sea scientific advice—although from what she says, I suspect that she will not take much notice of it—which recommends a cut in industrial fishing, and we shall press for that at the Council in December.

The depletion of key stocks of vital interest to UK fishermen is clearly, from a UK point of view, the most pressing problem to be addressed under the CFP. The scientific advice on cod is no better this year than last, and that alone highlights the urgency of the problems. However, that is further highlighted by the severity of the interim EU recovery measures—in the form of days-at-sea restrictions—that we introduced at last December's Council.

The hon. Lady's position seems to be that the measures introduced bear unfairly on the UK and are, in some way, designed to take fish away from the UK and give them to Spain and other member states. I can only describe that as a misconceived view. The UK fleet has the major share both of the depleted stocks and of many of the stocks caught with them in the mixed fishery.

If the permitted levels of fishing and catches have to be cut, relative stability protects our share of what is left, but the cuts inevitably bear heavily on us because of the extent of our involvement. The consequences are harsh for UK fishermen, but they are necessary to provide for the long-term sustainability of the industry, and they are not unfair in the way the hon. Lady claims. Throughout the UK, £60 million of public money has been made available this year, through decommissioning schemes and related measures, in recognition of that impact and to bring capacity more into line with opportunity.

We now have this year's ICES advice on the state of commercial fish stocks, and we are in the run-up to the all-important December Council, which will determine the catch levels and recovery measures to be applied in 2004. The advice does make generally bleak reading—it identifies some slight encouraging trends in key cod fisheries in the North sea and Irish sea, but does not consider those a robust basis to relax the push for recovery. As last year, zero catches are recommended for a number of stocks. However, the state of some other species—both hon. Members mentioned haddock—is assessed to be such as to permit healthy fishing opportunities, subject to the very considerable proviso that by-catch and discards of cod must be eliminated.

The hon. Gentleman said a lot of common-sense things about the problem of by-catch in a mixed fishery and drew attention to the very positive contribution made by the Scottish Fishermen's Association report on that. I have read that report and we will certainly bear it in mind when we enter the negotiations. My Scottish colleague, Ross Finnie, and I want whatever is recommended for cod to be decoupled, so far as is possible, from other fish stocks, and we are always keen to see evidence of where that decoupling is possible, either in the form of technical measures or areas where it is possible to fish for haddock without catching cod in large numbers as a by-catch. However, we must await the Commission's indication of what total allowable catches and quotas it now proposes to put alongside the proposals for a more permanent cod recovery plan, which it already has on the table.

Given the seriousness of the impact that possible outcomes will have on fishermen's activities, I can understand why people such as the hon. Lady are inclined to question the scientific advice and the integrity of the CFP under which such things are done. Although I acknowledge the uncertainty in parts of the scientific analysis, the science still fully justifies the recommendations for firm action. The CFP measures represent the best and, indeed, the only possible route to address the problems that we face.

The hon. Lady catalogued a litany of what she alleged were the failures of the ICES science, but I would say in return, especially in reference to what she said about the grand banks, that the decimation of stocks in that and the other examples that she cited has been the result not of scientific predictions, but of politicians not taking courageous and difficult decisions and ignoring scientific advice until it was too late. I have a challenge for her—she and her alternative scientists could always commission a piece of work and have it published and peer reviewed in a scientific journal. So far that has not happened, and I wonder why.

Ann Winterton

I must admit that the scientific papers that have been peer reviewed have not said anything that is worth listening to. The Minister makes no mention whatsoever of climatic changes in the seas off the grand banks. Why not? Why has he not answered the questions that I asked in my speech? Why have the Faroe Islands been successful, having totally ignored the so-called scientific advice? If it had followed it, it would now be out of fishing altogether.

Mr. Bradshaw

The point that I am trying to make is that, in one or two examples off the United States and Canada and in examples in our own CFP, some scientists and others would argue that one of the reasons why their advice has not brought success is that it has not been heeded. Indeed, the hon. Lady will know that the scientific advice last year was for a complete closure of the cod fishery around the United Kingdom, but we in the Council of Ministers did not agree to that. I am not saying—neither would the scientists, I think—that climate change plays no role in the movement of fish and in the state of fish stocks. Again, if the hon. Lady is keen to set up alternative fisheries scientific research and perhaps find someone to fund, carry out, publish and peer review that research, I should be extremely pleased to read whatever those scientists come up with. That has not happened so far, and I wonder why.

Ann Winterton

I can tell the hon. Gentleman why—because it is not necessary to go to those lengths. It is quite simple that if we destroy the food source, such as the sand eels and the tiny fish that are destroyed by industrial fishing, and we bring in a system in which more fish are dumped dead at sea than are landed, surely we know the reason why there are fewer cod in the sea. It is because of those two things. The scientists, with all their wisdom, their peer review and their great intelligence, apparently cannot say to the Minister that industrial fishing is one of the major causes of what is happening in our seas in the British sector at present. It seems to me as simple as that.

Mr. Bradshaw

I suggest that neither the hon. Lady nor I are the best people to make judgments on the reasons for the decline or otherwise of fish stocks. Every one of those eminent international marine biologists agrees on the basic correctness of the ICES advice. I repeat my challenge to her—

Ann Winterton

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw

No, I will not. I have been very generous. All I will say is that I hear all sorts of reasons given to me by members of the Conservative party and some people in the fishing industry as to why there has been a decline in cod stocks—climate change, the seals, the whales, ocean currents—but a consensus exists throughout international science that the single most important impact on our marine environment and on fishing is man. It is as simple as that.

Ann Winterton

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw

I will give way for one final time, and then we really must go home.

Ann Winterton

The Minister is very generous. May I suggest to him that he sends scientists to meet the marine biologists and scientists in Namibia, which repatriated its fishing waters on independence? It has successfully regenerated hake so that it now has a vibrant fishing industry and fish processing industry. What I have spoken about tonight has been done in Namibia, a supposedly third-world country. If the Minister sent his scientists down there, they might learn a thing or two.

Mr. Bradshaw

I am sure that my scientists are already well aware of what has happened in Namibia. They and I are keen to learn from the experience of successful fisheries management wherever it is in the world. I think that the hon. Lady will find, however, if she studies these matters in detail, that those examples of successful fisheries management are based on scientific advice in exactly the same way as ours.

We are therefore engaged in a process of examining the latest scientific advice, interpreting what it is telling us, and consulting affected UK interests so that we can agree on the UK line for the December Council. When I say "we", I of course mean the Fisheries Ministers of the whole United Kingdom. That UK line is to be formulated in the coming weeks, but I am sure that it will have the aim of achieving measures that respect the scientific advice, are aimed at bringing about the recovery of stocks when that is necessary, find ways of exploiting the more healthy stocks when that can be done without jeopardising recovery, and are equitable in the way that they impact on the different national fleets, fishing communities and member states with an interest in the stocks concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Seven o'clock.