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Fishing Industry

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

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3.

What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the fishing industry. [120186]

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

DEFRA Ministers meet ministerial colleagues, including those in the devolved Administrations, regularly to discuss the fishing industry.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am not sure whether I should congratulate or commiserate with him on becoming Minister with responsibility for fishing. In his discussions with colleagues, however, has he had a chance to discuss the clause in the new draft constitution of the European Union that would transfer full control of fisheries to Brussels? Such a move would be disastrous for Scottish fishing communities already reeling from the last Fisheries Council in December, and the clause has been opposed by both the Scottish Parliament and by the Scrutiny Committee on European Legislation in a report this week. Will the Government stand up for the fishing communities of Scotland and ensure that the clause is removed at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference?

Sadly, I have not yet had a chance to discuss that specific issue with colleagues, but I will be going straight from the Chamber to spend most of the afternoon in discussions with colleagues and interested parties from the fishing industry. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is right, however, because the Convention recommends no extension of EU powers or competencies over fishing. Marine biological resources have been the exclusive competence of the EU since 1979. Scotland's First Minister made that clear in his letter of clarification of 10 June to John Swinney, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has seen. If he has not seen it, I have a copy that he can have afterwards.

First, I add my congratulations to the Minister on taking up a post that is very important to my constituents in Fleetwood. They would want me to draw to his attention the special needs of the Irish sea as a mixed fishery, because they have serious concerns about some of the recent pronouncements from Brussels. I therefore take this opportunity to put in an early bid to the Minister to come to speak to the fishermen of Fleetwood so that he can hear directly not only their concerns but their positive attitude to joint working with Government scientists and to work across the Irish sea with other communities, both to safeguard the fish stocks and to develop a sustainable fishing industry.

I am grateful for that kind invitation from my hon. Friend, who is a doughty and effective fighter for her local fishing industry. I am going to try to get around to as many centres of our fishing industry as quickly as possible, as I am critically aware that I follow a Minister with up to 15 years' experience, and I have a lot to learn. I am sure that the concerns that she expressed, which we share, about the proposals as they would affect the Irish sea will be high on the agenda when I listen to what her fishermen have to say.

Congratulations to the Minister on taking control of the nation's fish. I only regret that there are so few fish left because of the disaster of the common fisheries policy. Does he agree that the time has now come to re-impose the 200-mile limit for this nation to take control again of its own fish resources, especially as his distinguished predecessor confirmed recently in the European Scrutiny Committee that that would be lawful?

No, I do not. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has said that he did not say that.

Withdrawal from the common fisheries policy would be neither practical nor sensible. It would entail negotiating a whole series of bilateral agreements with other EU members. I would have thought that there would be a consensus that we need a common European policy on fisheries because fish move around. The way to improve the common fisheries policy is to negotiate improvements, which the Government have an excellent record on doing.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new brief and give him a warm welcome. When he held discussions with ministerial colleagues, he probably noted that the former Parliamentary Secretary was regrettably unable to come to an engagement at the Whitby fishing school, which is at the heart of the North sea fishery. When he undertakes his tour of the coasts, will he come to Whitby and meet the fisher-people of the community of Whitby and Scarborough? I hope that he will prove to be as much of a fishermen's friend as his predecessor.

I do not promise to perform miracles where my predecessor did not manage to, but I am critically aware of the potential pitfalls of leaving anywhere out when I make my tour of the country to visit fishermen.

May I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position? He will already know that competence for UK fisheries policy lies entirely with the European Union. However, will he confirm that if competence for that policy were repatriated to the United Kingdom, it would require legislation in Parliament? If further devolution took place—for example the Scottish Executive being given responsibility for the Scottish industry—will he confirm that legislation would also be required in the House?

Forgive me, but I am not absolutely sure whether legislation would be required in the House.

Well, the hon. Lady says that I should say yes but I would rather be completely sure of my ground before doing that. However, there would have to be a change to a European Union treaty, which would require unanimous agreement.

May I, too, add my words of welcome to the Minister and tell him that he has a hard act to follow? When he starts his tour of fishing communities, I hope that he will start with those at the centre of fishing areas—those in Shetland, of course. Thereafter he may work out to the periphery. He will be aware that the European Commission recently gave an unhelpful ruling on schemes operating in my constituency and elsewhere regarding the purchase and leasing of quota. Will he assure me that he will speak to his colleagues in the Scottish Executive at an early stage as he comes to terms with his brief with a view to establishing from the Commission exactly what can be done to bring the schemes within state aid rules?

I am aware of the issue in the hon. Gentleman's constituency in which proposals have fallen foul of EU state aid rules. I shall examine the implications of that and discuss them with my colleagues in the Scottish Executive and interested parties in the industry. It sounds as though I shall be spending the summer on a grand tour.