HC Deb 21 July 2004 vol 424 cc371-432 2.54 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union; to amend the Fisheries Limits Act 1976; to make provision about fishing and the discarding of fish; and for connected purposes.

Everybody knows that I am no Euro-fanatic. I have always been somewhat sceptical and am against further political integration. Nor do I see any merit in the constitution. I certainly do not suffer from Europe hysteria: I am perhaps more of a Euro-pragmatist and a Euro-realist. The Liberal Democrats would vote for the constitution and the euro, and they back a federal Europe. They do not favour referendums. That explains why the hon. Members for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) and for St. Ives (Andrew George)—I see the latter in his place—have declined to sponsor this measure.

My concern is the criminal destruction of the environment, the horrendous devastation of fish stocks, and the impact on the ecosystem, resulting in a distortion of the balance of nature in and around our waters. What kind of policy actively encourages catching millions of fish, only to throw 50 per cent. back dead? Eating more fish is essential for a healthy diet, but we are signed up to a policy that exhorts fishermen to destroy the very fish they catch—what madness in a world where millions go hungry!

Two thirds of Europe's main commercial fish stocks, such as cod, hake, plaice and sole, are on the verge of collapse, with undersized fish, which could have matured, being discarded and left dead to pollute the seabed. The largest fish at the top end of the food chain are caught en masse leaving smaller fish lower down multiplying at an increased rate. Such fish are swallowed by massive industrial fishing vessels to feed farmed fish, about which serious health questions have already been raised. The ecosystem has flipped over, with the fish that were formerly low down the chain now being at the top. The only living organism that is safe in the seas is plankton. I am told that the CFP has plans for them as well.

One hundred years ago, one acre of good North sea fishing ground produced a ton of fish a week; it now produces just a tenth of that. A 90 per cent. decrease in fish stocks around our shores inevitably has major repercussions. If wildlife on the plains of Africa were savaged in the way the seabed is, there would be a worldwide outcry. Although national game reserves have been created to protect animals and we have national parks to protect the environment, similar arrangements have not been made to protect underwater life.

If the CFP resulted in fish being caught to feed people, that would be one thing, but it does not: it is just a massive, indiscriminate destruction of underwater life. Among the victims are cetaceans such as dolphins, and it has been estimated that 10,000 dolphins and porpoises are mindlessly killed in the English channel and the Bay of Biscay each year, with ever-increasing numbers being washed up on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, the victims of the bass trawler nets. If in an attempt to maximise beef and lamb output we stretched mile-long nets across the European countryside, there would be utter devastation: homes, trees and whole landscapes—not to mention all the living animals—would be scooped up. Why, then, do we tolerate such devastation of the ancient landscapes of the seabed? The coral reefs in the English channel will take 100,000 years to grow back, having been destroyed by trawlers hoovering the sea bed.

Fish are not the only inhabitants of our seas, nor are dolphins. Thousands of birds die in fishermen's nets every year because they feed off live fish just below the surface. Dead fish that have been thrown overboard from fishing boats have caused a tenfold increase in scavenger birds, such as gulls. That is an extremely interesting fact.

Subsidised tuna-fattening operations in southern Europe have caused the overfishing of one of the ocean's most prized assets, the blue fin tuna, which I note is on the menu in the Adjournment restaurant in Portcullis house this week. I hope that colleagues will boycott that and go for the pork cutlet instead.

The basic problem with the common fisheries policy is the concept of "common" responsibility. The Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, which I piloted through Parliament, was designed to safeguard common land on Dartmoor from over-grazing. As no one owned the land, farmers took advantage of it; so, too, with water that is common—there is no sense of responsibility. People use it for individual gain and with no recognition that the activities of one fisherman impact on another. Again, the fact that fishermen from different nations are all involved in the plunder of the stock makes it a free for all—anything goes, any time, anywhere. The fisheries protection vessels never stand a chance.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union said—I paraphrase—that the problems of fisheries management are compounded by an interaction between biological and economic factors, which leads to the failure of the free market to deliver an acceptable solution. Such problems are overcome only when fishermen are given a long-term interest in the health of fish stocks, and the ecosystem on which they depend, by being allocated some form of property rights.

Existing tools for fisheries management, as far as Europe is concerned, are excessively reliant on total allowable catches and quotas, which have been demonstrated to be wholly ineffective. Furthermore, fisheries management in Europe has become excessively politicised, largely due to the haggling by the Council of Ministers when it renegotiates total allowable catches each year.

As the House of Lords Committee concluded, the widely supported proposals made by the Commission to reform the CFP have been emasculated and held hostage by some member states acting quite perversely in the short term, with the interests of their fishing constituents uppermost in their mind, rather than the long-term common good—the conservation of marine resources for the whole community.

As we go into the summer recess, the whole House should feel deeply uneasy that millions of fish will be slaughtered for no rhyme or reason, but simply due to a bureaucratic policy that has got tangled up with political expediency and European rules and regulations. The seas are a huge death trap. In this country, we are custodians of the sea bed and we should be responsible for conserving not only the fish but the ecosystem and the checks and balances that exist around our island.

The common fisheries policy prevents national and local control; its concept is a socialism of "common" sharing and "common" responsibility, and it does not work. It never has worked and it never will. The policy must be abandoned so that we can take back control of our fishing grounds—whether to the median line or to the 200-mile limit is a matter for debate. We are net contributors to the EU and major players in the EU. After 30 years, it is quite wrong that we should remain silent and accept the environmental devastation for which all in the House must bear responsibility.

I seek the leave of the House to bring in a Bill that will start a process of repair, regeneration and renewal.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Steen, Sir Michael Spicer, Sir Paul Beresford, Mr. Austin Mitchell. Mr. David Amess, Mr. Alex Salmond, Mr. Andrew Turner, Mr. Martin Salter, Peter Bottomley, Mr. James Clappison, Mr. John Horam and Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.

  2. cc374-428
  3. Devolution 28,299 words, 1 division
  4. c428
  6. c428
  8. cc428-32
  9. FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICES BILL (PROGRAMME) (NO. 2) 2,127 words, 1 division