Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:24 pm on 7th December 2005.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:24 pm, 7th December 2005

I should like to associate myself with some of the earlier comments about fishing and the attendant dangers. I have known several people who lost their lives fishing, including people with whom I was at school, and I am therefore well aware of the courage and drive of fishermen. That should not be underestimated.

I declare a slight interest in that I have been fishing. Ten years ago, I fished with static nets, west of Uist, in a boat called the Dawn Ann. Two years ago, I was lobster fishing, which Mr. Goodwill mentioned. When lobster fishing, if one sees a good lobster that is going to Spain and one knocks its claws off, it cannot be sold. We also fished brown crabs and the violent little velvet crab. I admire anybody who eats velvet crabs. I am sure that they are tasty and they should command a higher price. I hope that they will in the run-up to Christmas.

As I said, many friends of mine fish. Many are successful fishermen who were given the right chance at the right moment and found themselves in charge of boats at a young age. When given such an opportunity, many young island men have made a great success of it. I hope that the Under-Secretary is mindful of the need for continued support to ensure that, in future, we experience the same success.

On my island, the Isle of Barra, we have the tremendously successful company, Barratlantic, which employs many local people. Many people with whom I went to school work at Barratlantic. Fishing is therefore the bedrock and foundation of my island and my communities. It is interesting to note that many people have come over from the Czech Republic and Poland to work in our factory. It is especially encouraging to witness the good relations that have consequently been established. Many co-workers from the islands have been on holiday with their colleagues in the Czech Republic and Poland. I especially welcome that sort of development and friendship, and the way in which the island people work with those who come to work in their midst.

I welcome the increase in the nephrop-prawn quota in the coming year. The Western Isles fishermen are pleased with that. It means more jobs and, I hope, greater prosperity.

Scotland has approximately two thirds of UK fish landings. With population factored in, that makes fishing 20 times more important to Scotland. Scotland has around 127,000 square miles of the European seas. I am mindful of the comments of Mr. Mitchell, who said that smaller nations are more aware of their fishing and fishery needs. Mrs. Robinson highlighted that in practice, when she spoke about looking over the border to the Republic and seeing new boats at Killibegs and similar ports.

With 127,000 square miles of European waters, one imagines that Scotland would be a bigger player in Europe, but it is not and that is unfortunate. The negotiations have already been framed this year in the talks with Norway, which is a power to be envied. It is an independent nation with excellent relations with Westminster. However, Norway negotiates with the EU directly, and when Norway frowns, the EU trembles.

It is useful to highlight the problems that underpin our annual debates on fishing. Recently, the Prime Minister, while abandoning the rebate, has tried to attack and target the common agricultural policy. Perhaps he should have looked at the common fisheries policy. Have the Government looked seriously at the pros and cons of replacing the CFP, which has many problems, with other fishery structures? Of course, no one is saying that we should not have international negotiations on and co-operation between fisheries, but should it be on the current basis? Instead of this horse-trading, would it not be better for nations to be up-front with each other? For instance, why, west of the Hebrides, where there is no overlap, are France and Spain hoovering up many of our fish? I leave that with the Minister.

Consensus at this time of year is difficult to find and the consensus in the Chamber is that the run-up to Christmas is not the right time for such negotiations. I should not be surprised if after a tiring and pressing three days, Ministers make mistakes. As my hon. Friend Mr. Salmond said, their robustness and ruthlessness might decline somewhat by the end of such long negotiations.Consensus is also emerging on the cod recovery plan. It is not doing what it says on the tin—it is damaging other fisheries. It needs a public re-examination and cod needs to be separated from other fisheries.

When the plan fails, we go back for more of the same medicine from the same source of advice—even at a time when many feel that cod are migrating to colder seas. The demand for a 30 per cent. increase is unrealistic, and if it is not achieved, cuts will come into play for other species. Now is definitely the time for a full re-evaluation. The Minister might say that it is tactically the wrong time, but it is strategically the right time for fishermen. We need to do away with the annual emotional rollercoaster ride that is caused, in the main, by the failure of the CFP. This year, there are projected cuts of 15 per cent. for cod, 13 per cent. for haddock, 15 per cent. for saithe, 15 per cent. for whiting and 2.5 per cent. for plaice. The latter figure is attributable to the particular interest of the Dutch in plaice; they are lobbying quite fiercely in that regard. The CFP clearly has knock-on effects for many other fisheries.

I hope that our Government will push hard for the industry during the negotiations. I point out, particularly to the officials, that any reference to cricket should go. Given that we are in the driving seat—that we have the presidency of the EU—we should make absolutely sure that we are doing the best for our fishermen and getting the best deal. I want to be able to tell my communities that things are going well and that fishing will be looking up in the next few years, not down.

I am also concerned about the cut in pelagic fishing. I know the owner and crew of the pelagic vessel, the Prowess, which operates in the Outer Hebrides, and I hope that that cut will be offset by the increases that scientists say could be made in other areas overseas. I hope that the Minister will look at this issue and ensure that the pelagic cut is not as currently framed.

I wish the Minister well and I hope that the officials will be mindful of my earlier cricket reference. Would it not be better if the Minister were at the top table in Europe with the ally of an independent Scotland, rather than being without one?