HC Deb 20 November 2003 vol 413 cc937-8
3. Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

When she last met Scottish Executive Ministers to discuss the future of the Scottish fishing industry. [139830]

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

I discussed the future of the Scottish fishing industry extensively with my Scottish Executive colleague, Ross Finnie, before, during and after a Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels earlier this week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is holding a video conference with Mr. Finnie later today.

Mr. Weir

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that haddock stocks are at their highest level for 30 years. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has proposed seeking the decoupling of haddock and cod to preserve cod but allow the continued fishing of the more abundant stocks of other white fish species. Will the Minister take that point on board, reject any deal at the December Fisheries Council that includes cuts in haddock quotas and ensure that Scotland's fishermen can continue to catch Scotland's premier fish?

Mr. Bradshaw

Yes, I have already taken that point on board, as have my officials, and we raised it with the Commission and its officials in the run-up to the December Council. The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about haddock, but other stocks are also in good shape. One has to be cautious about one single year of haddock, but he is right. I do not want any decisions at the December council on cod, which are necessary because of the state of cod stocks, to have a negative impact on the ability of Scottish fishermen or, indeed, fishermen in the rest of the UK, to catch fish of which there are healthy stocks.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

May I wish my hon. Friend well in the arduous discussions that he is about to embark on? It is the first time that he has done this, and I hope that he finds time to buy his Christmas presents, because he may find that it is in short supply.

The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) mentioned the Scottish Fishermen's Federation submission. I had some contact with its representatives in Brussels, and they were getting negative responses from the Council officials, which is a matter of concern. It is important that the Minister takes that on board. Finally, I am conscious of the fact that there is no business statement today, so perhaps he can tell us when he expects the annual fisheries debate to take place this year.

Mr. Bradshaw

I spoke to my hon. Friend about that yesterday, and I am still awaiting an answer from the usual channels. I hope that the debate will be held in the normal way. As for his first question, the arguments are difficult, and are being made only now as a result of the dichotomy between the state of cod stocks and other fish caught in the mixed fishery. We have to carry on trying to persuade the Commission, and I appeal even at this stage for any more evidence of the ability through technical measures or special zonal measures to carry on fishing prawns and haddock without damaging cod stocks. We will continue to make that argument, and I hope that we will make it successfully when decisions are made at the December Council.

Andrew George (St. Ives)

Does the Minister agree that those who claim that we can unilaterally withdraw from the common fisheries policy are engaged in creating an irresponsible diversion and perpetrating a cruel hoax on desperate fishing communities? Does he agree that although we can all agree that the common fisheries policy has failed our fishermen, fishing communities and fish stocks, the most recent reforms were monumentally timid, and that we cannot wait another 20 years before we tackle this again? Does he therefore agree that the UK should now take the lead, grab the issue by the scruff of the neck, go back to the drawing board, and acknowledge that the centralised basis of the common fisheries policy should be scrapped and replaced with a robust, devolved, proper regional management structure?

Mr. Bradshaw

Yes. The hon. Gentleman is right and speaks with great expertise on such matters, representing as he does one of the major fishing areas in the south-west of England. He is right about the foolhardiness of the suggestion that we should leave the common fisheries policy. I am sorry that his view is not shared by all his Liberal Democrat colleagues or, indeed by the tartan Tories—the Scottish nationalists—or the real Conservatives. It would be disastrous not only for our fishing industry, but for the whole UK economy. I share his vision of the future that he mapped out for the fishing industry.

Ann Winterton (Congleton)

In his response to my recent Adjournment debate on the demise of the cod stocks in the British sector, the Minister stated: CFP measures represent the best and…only possible route to address the problems that we face."—[Official Report, 11 November 2003; Vol. 413, c. 265.] Does that mean that he is committed simply to increasing the dosage of past poisonous medicines, or is he prepared to look at successful alternative management systems such as those in the Faroe Islands?

Mr. Bradshaw

We are always keen to consider alternative management systems. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) suggested some constructive ones—it would help if the hon. Lady were occasionally to do the same. If she is repeating her call for our withdrawal from the common fisheries policy, that is a foolhardy suggestion, because she knows very well that that would mean our withdrawing from the European Union. If she thinks that she could renegotiate a better deal with all the countries that she had annoyed—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should let the Minister answer.

Mr. Bradshaw

I am afraid that if the hon. Lady and her colleagues seriously believe that they could tear up all the European Union treaties and renegotiate better deals with all those individual countries—and Iceland, the Faroes and Norway—they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

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