HC Deb 04 February 1999 vol 324 cc1068-70
9. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

What meetings he has had recently with the representatives of the United Kingdom fishing industry to discuss reform of the common fisheries policy. [67804]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

I regularly meet members of the United Kingdom fishing industry when we discuss possible changes to the common fisheries policy.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Representatives of the United Kingdom fishing industry will have studied the fisheries debate that took place in the Chamber shortly before Christmas. Can my hon. Friend say what the industry's reaction was to the Tory party policy of declaring national territorial waters and fighting some sort of fish war, rather like the previous beef war? Do the fishermen think that that is a realistic and sensible policy? What is my hon. Friend's assessment of that approach to the common fisheries policy?

Madam Speaker

Order. That is nothing to do with the Minister. The hon. Gentleman is asking about the Opposition's policy. It is not a relevant question for the Minister and I shall move on.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

In the context of the negotiations about the common fisheries policy, can the Minister say what emphasis has been placed on the possibility of zonal management committees or councils, which would not go against the concept of the Hague preference, but would take account of the fragile nature of many of our coastal communities and the nature of the stocks in those areas?

Mr. Morley

That is a good point. We have been discussing ways of achieving a greater regional dimension within the common fisheries policy and a zonal approach is part of that. I am interested in those ideas, which are also formulated in a paper from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. That approach to reforming the CFP and making it better and more practical is far better than any unrealistic policy of reneging on treaty obligations. That is not seen as a credible option by the fishermen and, when espoused by the Conservative party, it is not seen as a credible option by many of its members.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

There is a sustained discussion going on about the need to reform the common agricultural policy before European Union enlargement. What about reform of the common fisheries policy, which is just as important to our fishing communities as is reform of the CAP to our farming communities? When will we see a ban on industrial fishing? What guarantees can my hon. Friend give to our fishing communities that, with enlargement, our fishermen and their communities will be protected against the possible incursion of large fleets that are owned and operated by some of the applicant nations? Let us have a statement on that.

Mr. Morley

I recognise my hon. Friend's point about industrial fishing. At the next Fisheries Council, the United Kingdom will be advocating new proposals for seasonal closed areas from the Orkneys down to the Humber, which we hope will recognise the concerns about the impact of such fishing, based on the precautionary principle.

My hon. Friend is right to say that enlargement issues concern our fishing industry and our national interest. It is because of that that the principle of relative stability, which guarantees our quota share and that of other member states, is an important principle that we intend to protect within the negotiations on the CFP post-2002. That will protect our fleet from the effects of enlargement and the potential entry of large Polish fleets, for example.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Is it not true that the Minister is nothing if not brazen? After all, before the election the Minister said that he was prepared to go to Amsterdam and say that there would be no progress on treaty negotiation unless quota hopping was dealt with. When he arrived, he threw in the towel the moment his plane touched down. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that our partners in Europe will willingly agree to our regaining control of our waters, which is what the fishing industry wants? Will he back us when we say that we should be as resolute in making and securing those demands as the noble Baroness Thatcher when she secured our original budget contribution? In a word, is the hon. Gentleman prepared to say on behalf of the British fishing industry that he is not prepared to take no for an answer?

Mr. Morley

First, may I correct the hon. Gentleman? Before the election, we said that we did not rule out any approach to deal with issues such as quota hoppers, for example. That was the line we followed. The previous Government had no support for any of the changes that they proposed. Now, after 18 years of supporting the common fisheries policy, during which time they could not resolve quota hopping, agreed to Spanish access to western waters, could not resolve fishing issues or take forward uniform enforcement across the European Union, they seem to be saying that, in some way, they could negotiate a withdrawal from the CFP and tear up treaties agreed by their Administration. It is not credible to do that. Neither is it credible to use the fishing industry as part of the agenda for a eurosceptic attack on the European Union.