HC Deb 07 December 1983 vol 50 cc368-419 6.40 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 7021/83, 8076/83, and 8076/63 Amendment 1 on 1983 total allowable catches, quotas and the conditions under which they may be taken, 7022/83, 7955/83 on technical conservation measures, 7973/83, 8126/83 on quota allocations for Norway, 10158/83 on 1984 fish guide prices, 10568/83 amending the provisional quota arrangements in respect of North Sea herring as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 22nd November 1983 on fixing the total allowable catch and quotas for the eastern saithe stock for 1983 and of the agreement reached in the Council of Ministers on 3rd and 4th October on technical conservation and structural measures and Norway quotas and on 15th November on eastern saithe and the provisional herring quotas; and urges Her Majesty's Government to secure such improvements to the remaining proposals as may be necessary to meet the needs of the United Kingdom fishing industry.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal party.

Mr. Jopling

It is now 10 months since my right hon. Friend and predecessor secured the approval of the House to the agreement reached on a revised common fisheries policy on 25 January. I welcome today's debate as providing the first suitable opportunity for the House to review in detail the developments which have taken place on the fisheries front since then as well as to consider the proposals recommended for the House's consideration by the Select Committee on European Legislation, to which we are, as ever, very grateful.

The Select Committee's recommendations were made immediately before the summer recess and in some cases thereafter. I am pleased it has proved possible for this debate to be held before the first meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers to take place since the House returned after the summer recess. This will be on. 14 December, next Wednesday. As I have already reported to the House, a number of the proposals have been adopted by the Council in the meantime.

I shall deal first with the 1983 total allowable catches and quotas. Throughout my speech I shall refer to the total allowable catches as TACs, the jargon of the fishing industry with which I think the House is becoming familiar.

The motion covers documents dealing with a variety of fisheries topics covering all aspects of the subject from the fisherman to the consumer. I should like to begin with the three documents — 7021/83, 8076/83 and 8076/83, amendment 1, on 1983 TACs and quotas for stocks within the waters of member states, since I expect the fixing of 1983 TACs and quotas to be a major item on the agenda for the Council on 14 December.

As the House knows, this is a subject which has been discussed by the Council on various occasions, but on which decisions have been delayed largely because of the as yet unresolved question of North sea herring. For many of the stocks the proposals for TACs raise no difficulty from the United Kingdom point of view and the quotas proposed faithfully reflect the percentage shares for each member state agreed in January of this year.

This is not to say, however, that the whole package of proposals is entirely satisfactory for us as it stands in these documents. It is not. There are a number of stocks, including some smaller ones of great importance to certain local fishing communities, on which we have been arguing for increases in the TACs and quotas over the level proposed by the Commission. I am pleased to report to the House that an outline of a possible compromise package on TACs and quotas has emerged in the negotiations which, if adopted, would meet the needs of our fishermen.

Some hon. Members may wonder what would now be the relevance of reaching agreement on 1983 TACs and quotas at all, since it is clear this could have little practical significance on fishing for the remainder of the year and ideally we should now be turning to the question of quotas for 1984. I have urged the Commission frequently to come forward as early as possible with proposals for 1984.

The main scientific recommendations for 1984 are now available and the Commission has begun discussions with Norway on the level of TACs for the joint stocks in the North sea. We can therefore hope to see Commission proposals for at least the main body of stocks later this month.

However, even if the North sea herring problem can be resolved on 14 December, it would be unrealistic to expect an immediate agreement on 1984 TACs and quotas, since member states, including the United Kingdom, will want to examine the Commission's proposals. We therefore need some legal basis on which fishing can continue after 31 December.

If 1983 quotas could be agreed by the Council in December—next week—these could form the basis for a roll-over provision for 1984 similar to that currently operating, but with the clear advantage of being more up to date from a conservation point of view.

North sea herring is, of course, in a different category from other stocks and requires our special attention this evening. This fishery was closed in 1978 as a result of previous over-fishing and it has only been possible to reopen it this year. The Commission's proposal for 1983 in document No. 8076/83 was explicitly put forward as an ad hoc allocation without prejudice to the future. However, other member states have, perhaps understandably, not been content to settle on an ad hoc basis and discussions at the Council's two meetings in October have been about a formula for allocating herring quotas, not just for the 1983 level of TAC, but for foreseeable future levels of the stock.

The negotiations have been very difficult. The five other member states concerned have all been determined, as I am, to secure a satisfactory share of this important stock for their fishermen at the various possible levels of TAC. The sum total of the various percentage shares demanded by various states has on occasion been well in excess of 100 per cent., but the gap has been narrowing and, although it will not be easy, I am confident that it will be possible in the end to reach a formula with which all concerned can live.

It would not be appropriate—and the House would not expect me to do so—for me to attempt to define in detail my negotiating position or to identify a so-called "bottom line", but I have consulted the industry closely at every stage in the negotiations and will continue to do so.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I agree that the Minister cannot define his final position, but will he bear in mind that one group of fishermen who are entitled to some part in the herring fishery are those who use the Longstone fishery from nearby areas such as Seahouses and Amble and who have been excluded from that fishery effectively because of the time during which it has been open? A group of fishermen who voluntarily accepted limitation even before there was a statutory limitation have not had access to the fishery which they have looked after in the past.

Mr. Jopling

I understand that there are problems, caused partly by the sprat box on that part of the Northumberland coast. As the hon. Gentleman will know, however, herring fishing is now taking place in the northern and central parts of the North sea. I shall return to that in a moment.

Pending a definitive settlement, herring fishing in the North sea has been governed, first, by the interim quotas adopted earlier in the summer and then by the rolled-over 1982 quotas for the southern part of the North sea which opened on 1 October.

Document No. 10568/83 deals with provisional arrangements in respect of North sea herring for the period up to the next Fisheries Council meeting. As a consequence of the adoption of this proposal, as a matter of urgency—here I take up the hon. Gentleman's point —on 15 November our fishermen were able to resume fishing once more in the northern and central North sea as well as in the southern North sea. The arrangement ensures a more rational exploitation of the stocks concerned, in line with scientific evidence, but without in any way prejudicing the outcome of the talks on long-term quotas. This arrangement has brought a welcome extra measure of flexibility for the pelagic sector of our industry, as did the recent Council decision adopted at our request to defer the closure of the west of Scotland mackerel fishery north of 58 deg. N from 1 November to 1 December 1983. I know that that was much welcomed by our industry.

Two further quota documents deal with allocations for Norway under the Community's reciprocal fishing agreement with Norway, which is of considerable importance to our white fish sector. Document No. 8126/83, concerning further interim fishing for North sea herring by Norwegian vessels, was one of the subjects of my statement to the House on 28 July reporting the outcome of the Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting on 25 and 26 July. Document No. 7973/83 embodies the full-year quotas agreed for Norway in 1983, the basis of which I also explained on 28 July. We agreed to this proposal at the Council on 4 October in the interests of maintaining good fisheries relations with Norway and only after the Council had agreed that the Commission should, in its future negotiations with Norway, seek to proceed on the basis of the relative ownership shares of North sea herring which we and the rest of the Community have hitherto considered appropriate.

The final quota item is described in our unnumbered memorandum of 22 November and deals with the saithe stock found in the eastern waters of the member states. This proposal was also adopted recently as a matter of urgency, setting the 1983 total allowable catches and quotas for this particular stock separately from the rest of the 1983 proposals at a level higher than for 1982. We have already fished slightly in excess of the level even of our 1983 quota, but the decision is advantageous to the United Kingdom as it reduces the extent of our over-quota fishing.

Documents Nos. 7022/83 and 7955/83 relate to technical conservation measures. This aspect of fisheries management becomes increasingly significant as pressure on stocks increases and the establishment of a framework of measures on a Community basis, applying to all member states' fishermen, is an important achievement of the CFP. It is therefore a matter of some satisfaction that the Council was able on 4 October to agree to a regulation amending the existing regulation adopted in January on the basis of the proposals contained in these documents, subject to certain amendments.

In particular, I think that the House will welcome the adoption of improved measures for the protection of the western mackerel stock, which is of considerable importance and value to our own industry. The increase in the size of the previous box in south-western waters and its extension throughout the year should provide greatly improved protection in an area in which the juvenile stock congregate.

The measures will run until 1 January 1987 but will be reviewed in 1986. I am glad to say that there are exemptions for handliners and gillnetters, which will be of benefit to the local small boats, and for those involved in bottom trawling, subject to certain mesh size requirements.

I am aware that there has been some criticism of the box, both from those who think that it is too restrictive and from those who think that it is not restrictive enough. I would just say that the measure is soundly based and will, I am sure, be of lasting benefit to the western mackerel fishery as a whole. We are taking some pains to enforce the new rules as effectively as possible and shall be keeping a careful watch on the results.

The Council also agreed certain changes in minimum mesh sizes in the North sea and in the Irish sea. These increases had been strongly recommended by fisheries scientists as a contribution to the long-term improvement of all the stocks. Some will say that the increases should have been introduced earlier, but I know that the fishermen involved will appreciate the time that they have been given to re-equip their nets, which can be a considerable short-term cost to them.

The Council also set a deadline by which it should consider and decide upon a possible increase in the mesh size for the English channel.

I am delighted also to say that the Community has now applied its collective mind to the important question of the shell fisheries. As a result of the decisions taken on 4 October, the Community conservation regulations for the first time now include general measures setting minimum landing sizes for lobsters, nephrops and some of the crabs, scallops and clams. More work needs to be done in improving the conservation and management of shell fisheries in the Community, but this is an important first step. Outline provisions have been made for other species which can be considered by the experts for later inclusion in the regulations. A further positive development at the Council on 4 October was the agreement on the detailed legislation needed to bring into effect the Community's "structures" policy. I shall tell the House now how that is being followed up.

Since agreement was reached in October we have carried further the programme of discussions with representatives of the main organisations representing the catching sector of the industry. Those meetings were very important to us in considering the detailed arrangements for implementing the various schemes contained in the structures package so as to enable our industry to use them to the best advantage.

I can now announce the most important of our decisions, although I must ask the House to await the statutory instrument, which we hope to lay before Christmas, for further details. I begin by reminding the House what is in the structures package.

First, there is provision for decommissioning grants. The aim is to reduce capacity in those sections of the fleet where total capacity exceeds our fishing opportunities. That makes sense for those who have been trying to operate vessels which were built for another era when we had access to grounds which are now closed to us. It could also provide help for the owners of vessels which are simply not viable in modern circumstances for any one of several reasons, and whose owners now wish to leave the industry. The benefit to the rest of the fleet will come from there being less pressure on our share of the stock if we have fewer vessels chasing a given amount of fish.

I have two key decisions to announce to the House tonight. First, the grant will be £400 per gross registered tonne. Secondly, the Community will help to fund payments for vessels only down to 12m long. Our industry pressed us to widen the coverage of the scheme, and we have decided to make the grant available to any vessels more than 10m long.

I want to make it clear that nobody is being forced out of the industry. The decision to stay in the fleet, or to apply for a grant and leave it, is for the owner of the vessel to take. It is for nobody else. All that we are doing is easing what will, for many, remain a difficult choice.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Will the Minister explain what obligations will be placed on those vessel owners after receiving the grant? Will people who crew and own the vessels not be allowed to come back into the industry?

Mr. Jopling

The rule is that the boat must leave the industry. However, I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to await the details of the statutory instrument, which we hope to lay before the House before the Christmas recess.

The second main element of the package comprises new grants to assist the industry by providing laying-up grants and support for exploratory voyages and joint ventures. They go together because they are made for vessels with a future, which their owners want to keep in the fleet, but which may need some short-term help.

One important point is that we propose to implement the schemes on the lines laid down in the Community legislation, with one important exception. Our laying-up grant scheme will cover not just the larger and newer vessels covered by the Community scheme, but any vessels over 10m long, irrespective of age. That was a point on which the industry organisations were very keen. I know that they will welcome our decision.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Fort Glasgow)

Will these exploratory voyages be confined to, say, large stern trawlers, which are at present mainly tied up in our major ports, or will the voyages be undertaken by both the large stern trawlers and the larger purse seiners?

Mr. Jopling

That is a matter which we shall be explaining in more detail when we lay the statutory instrument before the House. I shall just say that we have been asked whether it might be possible to have exploratory voyages to the Falkland Islands. [Interruption.] Subject to the Commission's agreement. It will be possible, in principle, to fund exploratory voyages off the Falkland Islands under the Community scheme. Any vessel owner who is interested in pursuing that possibility should contact us, so that we can discuss it further.

Mr. Beith

I should not wish the hilarity that arose on the official Opposition Front Bench on that point to blind the Minister to the genuine interest in several parts of the House in the fact that the substantial fisheries resources off the Falkland Islands are now being fished by east European countries, not by Britain.

Mr. Jopling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I ceased years ago to be amazed by what amuses Opposition Front Bench Members. This is an important point, which may cause a few people to consider what I have just announced.

The third piece of the jigsaw, and for many the most important, is the scheme of FEOGA aid for vessel building and modernisation. The same Community scheme also provides for the continuation of grants for fish farming. We have had interim schemes of FEOGA aid for some years, but now we have agreement that the scheme will be open in both 1984 and 1985 at least. Fishermen have welcomed the fact that there will no longer be a need to reopen the scheme every year, with all that that has meant in delays in being able to make applications between the end of one scheme and the beginning of the next. The application form has also been simplified.

It has been clearly established that priority under the Community vessel scheme will go to the replacement or modernisation of vessels more than 12 years old, which was very much our priority. Aid will be available to vessels between 9m and 33m long. The lower limit is an improvement on the 12m originally proposed.

The House should also know that our 25 per cent. grants will continue to be available through the Sea Fish Industry Authority in addition to FEOGA grants. Although we are budgeting for almost £43 million for expenditure in the United Kingdom arising directly from the implementation of the Community structures package, we have allocated a further £45 million during the next three years to the vessel-building grants and loans administered by the Sea Fish Industry Authority.

Together, those provisions represent a major package of support for the fishing industry from public funds. This shows our determination, at a time when Government expenditure must be tightly controlled, to give every possible encouragement to the process of renewal and improvement which is necessary if we are to develop and maintain an efficient fleet capable of effectively exploiting the fishing opportunities which are open to us.

The FEOGA scheme for building and modernisation grants is already open. The new schemes for decommissioning grants, laying-up grants and aids for joint ventures and exploratory voyages will be opened as soon as possible after we have laid the necessary statutory instrument, which we aim to do before Christmas. Making the order will mark a very important stage in the development of fisheries policy. It represents a key element in the full implementation of the common fisheries policy, and should be welcomed as such. It is even more to be welcomed because it will bring real benefits to our industry.

Document No. 10158/83 contains the Commission's proposals for guide prices in 1984. Guide prices must be determined by the Council every year. They are important because, once settled, they are used to calculate Community, or official, withdrawal prices. Those are the prices which members of fish producer organisations must defend by withdrawing fish from the human consumption market when markets are weak, in which case they receive compensation from FEOGA.

The Commission's proposal is divided into three annexes, the first of which is of the greatest interest because it covers the main species of commercial importance to United Kingdom fishermen, such as cod, plaice, herring and mackerel. For the species in this annex the Commission propose increases ranging from nil per cent. to 6 per cent.

The Government consider that, taking all the relevant factors into account, the Commission produced a set of proposals that were reasonably balanced in broad terms as between the different species and reflected the realities of the Community market. For some species, such as cod and plaice, the gap between withdrawal price levels and average market prices was sufficient to allow us to press for somewhat more substantial increases in the guide prices for next year than the Commission had proposed without risk of creating unreasonable demands on the Community budget.

This view was widely accepted among the other member states and I should advise the House that, following discussion of the Commission's proposals, there is general agreement that the guide price for plaice should be increased by two percentage points more than the Commission first proposed and that cod prices should increase by 6 per cent. rather than 5 per cent. These changes will be welcome to our own fishermen. At the same time, a number of other member states were worried about their markets for whiting and the proposal will, therefore, be amended to show a 5 per cent. increase rather than 6 per cent. as originally proposed.

Subject to the views of the House, we are now anxious to confirm our agreement to the guide price proposals for 1984. This is vital for all fishermen, because, unless agreement is reached at an early enough date in December, it becomes impossible to complete all the remaining stages in time for all the new official withdrawal prices, and other prices derived from the guide prices, to be applied from 1 January, the beginning of the fisheries marketing year.

I commend the Commission's proposals, revised in the ways that I have described, to the House as striking an appropriate balance between the needs of the fishing industry, consumer interests and the need to protect the EC budget from the effects of setting withdrawal prices at too high a level.

As I come to the end of my speech, I refer to the amendment that Mr. Speaker has selected. Although it has not yet been moved, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to comment on it. It covers a variety of points.

On herring quotas, I think tht I have made it clear my intention to continue to negotiate in the fullest consultation with the fishing industry. I have also made it clear that, while we want to see proposals for 1984 total allowable catches and quotas at the earliest possible date, it would be unrealistic to expect that we could reach immediate agreement on them; some roll-over arrangement will be inevitable. I am aware of the strong feeling in certain sections of the industry about the restrictions on sprat fishing in a number of areas off our coast. These are Community measures based on firm scientific recommendations designed primarily to protect juvenile North sea herring.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it is necessary to have a complete ban, winter and summer, on fishing for sprats in the Moray Firth and Firth of Forth? Is he aware that this is causing considerable hardship to a number of fishermen? Would it not be adequate to retain the by-catch regulations, which have been working well in recent years?

Mr. Jopling

I am coming to that.

These measures need to be kept under review, and I note the proposition in the amendment that boats less than 40ft long should be exempted. I am prepared to consider this next year, in the light of the up-to-date scientific advice, but it would be wrong for me to commit myself more firmly than that this evening. I give an undertaking that I shall look at this for next season, but we must consider the strong scientific advice.

On the Community fisheries inspectorate, I have maintained regular pressure on the Commission. At least six inspectors are already in post and I have been assured that the full complement of 13 will be in post by the end of the year. Given the inevitable need for economy in Commission manpower, I should prefer to reserve judgment on the need for an increase in complement until we have seen how the initial numbers get on. I am also continuing to press for the speedy introduction of log books.

If there are points which the industry wishes to take up with me on the minimum mesh size in the North sea and the minimum size of lobsters, I am, of course, happy to discuss these but I should not hold out any hope of going back on the important steps which have been taken in the interests of conservation.

I have dealt at some length with the amendment, and I hope that my words have been helpful to the House. I have hopes that, in the light of my remarks, the right hon. and hon. Members whose names are appended to the amendment will not press the itwhen we come to the end of the debate.

I have, I believe, covered the various items referred to in the motion but before concluding I shall pull the various strands together and put them in the perspective of the common fisheries policy as a whole. We have at various times over the past few months heard prophecies of doom and gloom from one quarter or another. Statements have been made to the effect that the CFP is on the verge of collapse. I hope that it is clear from what I have already said that this is far from the case. The basic framework, including the very important rules on access to fisheries within the 12-mile belt, has been firmly in place since 25 January.

Although the Council has yet to resolve certain very important issues, this has not prevented welcome progress in other areas. Conservation measures are in force and have been improved. Catch limitations are in operation based on the member states' percentage shares, as established in January. The arrangements for catch reporting and enforcement are being developed and refined. The new Community inspectorate has begun to work. Support to market prices continues, and funds are being made available for the necessary restructuring and modernisation of the fleet.

I therefore remain firmly of the view that the common fisheries policy, for all its teething problems, is a good policy for the Community and for this country. I shall continue, I hope with the support of the House, to negotiate on the various matters that I have mentioned tins evening, as I have done hitherto, with the aim of securing the improvements required to meet the needs of the United Kingdom fishing industry.

7.18 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I crave the indulgence of the House for beginning with what may be a rare measure of agreement between the two Front Benches. I put on record my congratulations to Willie Flay on his appointment to the Sea Fish Industry Authority. He will be a marvellous successor to Gilbert Buchan. For once, the Government have made a wise choice in an appointment.

Having said that, I move rapidly to demonstrate my disagreement with the Government's efforts to date in handling the common fisheries policy. When it was agreed, 10 months ago, I said that it was not a good agreement for the United Kingdom, and I remain of that opinion. The former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the present Secretary of State for Energy, said that he accepted the revised common fisheries policy only with the consent of the fishing industry. He carries about with him, almost as a talisman, a letter from the industry thanking him for his services. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I regarded that letter as a triumph of courtesy over common sense. I know, as does the Minister, that the industry was wearied to the point of exhaustion into acquiescence by the lengthy negotiating process.

In its heart of hearts, the industry knows that this is a bad deal. Acceptance by the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food — now the Secretary of State for Energy — had more to do with the need to get some form of agreement before the general election than with the needs of the industry. Whether we like or not, we are, for the moment, stuck with the common fisheries policy and we must get on with it. However, we must do something fast. The months cannot be allowed to slip by as fast as they have been doing as many problems must still be resolved.

The fishing industry's plea is fourfold. There are four questions that must be answered to provide some stability so that it can plan to overcome its problems. The questions are simple. What can it fish? How much can it fish? Where can it fish? When can it fish? The industry has been asking those questions for a long time. It is absurd that they cannot be answered even now. Moreover, even if some total allowable catches are agreed on 14 December, the industry is in no position to know where it stands.

The Opposition believe that it is wrong that the industry should be in such circumstances. Who would have believed that, 10 months later, we should not have TACs on many items? The uncertainties are causing anxiety in many sections of the industry and in many different geographical areas. Yesterday's edition of The Press and Journal carries an article entitled: Scots call for protection vessels in fish clash. We read of skippers from the north-east of Scotland who were fishing for mackerel off the south-west coast of England calling in fishery protection vessels to stop harassment by small Cornish vessels. I do not see any right hon. Member present who represents the Cornish fishermen.

Mr. David Harris. (St. Ives)

As a representative of the Cornish fishing industry, I hope to have an opportunity to speak later.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for identifying himself. I did not want to cast any aspersions on him.

The Cornish fishermen put forward a different point of view. They believe that the Scottish vessels are wreaking all sorts of havoc in what they regard as their fishery just as we regard the north-east of Scotland fishery as Scottish. Problems exist. We know that the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association has asked its president to open discussions in an attempt to resolve the areas of disagreement. I am sorry to hear that, until yesterday, those discussions had not been successful. I hope that reasonable agreement will be achieved.

Fishermen must accept that, from whatever ports they come, they have a stake in the industry. They must try to reach conclusions that are acceptable to everyone. In view of the difficulties facing the fishing industry, I am aware that there will be disagreements from time to time about who fishes where. However, that matter can properly be resolved.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever the broader anxieties might be, in the case to which he has referred, the Scottish fishermen were fishing legally and that the fisheries officers had been aboard their vessels and were satisfied of that? Is it not important that the fishing industry, which is as anxious about conservation as we all are, must stick to the rules?

Mr. Hughes

I do not know where the suggestion that the Scottish fishermen were fishing illegally came from. It certainly did not come from me. Until we achieve a settled future and fishermen know where they stand, such difficulties will occur from time to time.

Mr. Harris

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, as a general principle, fishermen can sometimes fish legally if there is a glaring loophole in a regulation? Does he accept that that sometimes happens?

Mr. Hughes

I accept that that sometimes happens, but I do not believe that the Scottish fishermen to whom I have referred were fishing through a legal loophole. I do not invest fishermen with the sanctity of angels. I come from a fishing family and know only too well how their nomadic spirit sometimes leads them to disregard the rules. I have seen fishermen fishing so close to the beach that I do not know how they manage to stay off the rocks. They are obviously masters at handling their vessels. I am not suggesting that all British fishermen are good guys and that all the bad guys come from the continent. As I said before, unless we settle the matter such incidents will arise from time to time.

I should like to deal with some of the representations that I have received from the industry in the past few days. It is not satisfied with regard to herring quotas. There have been about six meetings since the summer and there is still no agreement. The industry points out strongly that the latest offer on herring is only 24.2 per cent. of the TAC. It believes that the proportion should be nearer 35 per cent. Apparently, the Government's reply is that we must take into account the low percentage which, historically, we have been able to take. The fishermen respond to that quite fairly that we have historically taken less than we might because the fishery has been dormant. The British have respected the limitation of the fishery while many others have not. The industry believes that it must have a firm commitment. The Scottish Fishermen's Organisation Ltd says: The recent stop go approach to North Sea herring is most unsatisfactory. Proper marketing arrangements are very difficult to organise if a fishery is opened at only a few days notice as occurred recently in the case of herring. Nor does it make sense to close areas in which marketable quality of fish can be caught such as in the case of mackerel north of 50 deg. north. Despite the fact that the TAC was nowhere near being taken the existing Regulation would have closed this area. In the current year the closure was postponed for 1 month but this should be made a permanent arrangement. We therefore have disagreement about the quantity which can be taken and where it might be taken. We understand that scientists now recommend that there should be reductions in the TACs for the main species of white fish. The industry believes that it will not be able to withstand a sudden fall in the size of the TACs. It wants the TACs to be settled by 1 January. It also points out that the 1983 TAC has not yet been agreed. I agree with the industry's suggestion that the entire fleet has been living off its nerves for the past 12 months because it does not know where it stands with regard to TACs.

The Minister said that there were six inspectors in post. According to my information, there are seven. The difference is not significant. The point is that there are six or seven inspectors out of an establishment of 13. The industry believes that 13 is far too small a number and that it should be increased to a minimum of 30. I recall that it was only recently that the six or seven inspectors were appointed. The Minister will agree that there was difficulty in getting the money necessary to pay them. I do not have the details to hand, but I recall that the money was being used for another purpose, and it was only when strong representations were made that the money was produced.

The Minister said that he wants to press on with the establishment of log books and land documents. My information is that they are not likely to be available until the spring. If I can be permitted to talk in a fishing debate about a snail's pace, this snail's pace development from 10 months ago is no use. The Government must move faster.

There is the question of restructuring and decommissioning money, of which I shall say more later. We are glad that it has been agreed. I shall say more about the decommissioning grant later. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation wants a licensing system under which a boat can be licensed from day one. It wants an independent licensing authority to be established. I understand that the Government are not too keen on that idea, because they are generally opposed to quangos.

What are the Government doing about training? The training functions of the training council have now been handed over to the Sea Fish Industry Authority. Some agreements have been reached for the short-term, but there is great concern about the long-term funding of training. The Government provide money for training in agriculture. Why do they not make sufficient money available to the SFIA? It may be argued that funds are available for training from the European social fund, but I am told that that money will not be available until late next year.

The next issue is connected with restructuring the industry and decommissioning grants. I believe that the Minister should take the lead in dealing with compensation and redundancy payments for fishermen. Far too much money has gone to the owners. I do not object to them having money, except to the extent that it has not gone to the people who go to sea in ships. Working fishermen have had a raw deal. They have suffered more than anyone else. Of course, it is conventional for the Government to say — I know that legally it is true — that redundancy payments are the responsibility of the Department of Employment. Nevertheless, I believe that the Minister has an obligation to people who have devoted their lives to the industry. There should be a joint approach in dealing with the problems.

For as long as I can remember, trawlermen have been employed in various ports by the Fishing Vessel Owners Association, whether in Grimsby, Hull or Aberdeen. The men sign on, perhaps working on different vessels for different owners and companies. Almost everything to do with the port industry was done through the Fishing Vessel Owners Association. Holiday pay, sick pay, and discipline were dealt with through the association. Indeed, the trade unions were involved. The Transport and General Workers Union played a very active part in operating disciplinary procedures. In many cases, pension schemes were also run on a port industry basis. In Aberdeen, the organisation was closed down because it was no longer viable. I do not know how it can be said that there has been no continuity in employment when people have been employed through an umbrella organisation, and therefore they do not qualify for redundancy pay. The Government should do something about that very soon.

What is the Minister's decision on conditions of work for fishermen? He will know that on Friday last week there was a meeting in Europe of the joint committee on social problems in the sea fishing industry. I know that the Transport and General Workers Union—Mel Keenan in particular— has been trying for over 10 years to get proper conditions laid down. The French Government have submitted proposals to the Council of Ministers, and those proposals are supported by everyone except the owners. Certainly the workers' representatives agreed with the proposals. I hope that the Government will fully back them.

Concern has been expressed recently about mackerel being bought at £35 a tonne, processed into fishmeal, and then sold at the farm gate at £350 a tonne. I cannot believe that such a mark-up is justified. I do not expect the Minister to answer me today, but I hope that he will investigate what I believe is a rip-off.

I have just received a submission, which I have not had time to study in detail, from the Federation of North East Scotland Fish Merchants Associations. It is entitled: A May Day Call to Her Majesty's Government". The fact that fish merchants have approached the Government for financial aid shows how serious the position is. The merchants say that employment is declining in Aberdeen and elsewhere. In Aberdeen, there have been over 600 redundancies between 1979 and 1982. That may not seem a large number compared with the number of people who are unemployed, but it shows how the industry has declined. The merchants say that they each employ small numbers of people. Indeed, 145 companies employ fewer than 10 people each. They argue that the FEOGA grants that are available under regulation 355/77 are beyond their reach, because projects of less than £25,000 do not qualify.

The recommendations that the merchants make have been well thought out, and they apply to areas other than those from which they come. They suggest that where the industry is suffering from restructuring difficulties, payment of up to £500 per employee should be made to processors, and the money used to develop the business. They believe that money can be made available through section 8 of the Industry Act 1982, which can be used for various purposes, including the restructuring of industries experiencing temporary difficulties. They suggest that the SFIA should be instructed to instigate a grant and loan scheme for processors to develop their plant and machinery. Of course, the SFIA has no money of its own, so the merchants are asking that money should be made available to that body for that purpose. They want an investment scheme, similar to the regional development grants, to be made available to selected industries—for example, fish processors who have experienced devastating problems.

The Government should give serious consideration to those suggestions. I hope that they will make a positive response because, as I have already said, the suggestions apply to other areas apart from the north-east of Scotland.

I come next to the problems that face Hull. l visited Hull 10 days ago. I thought that I knew from my colleagues the serious situation of the fish catching side of the industry, but I confess that I was stunned by the devastation that I encountered in Hull. I do not detract in any way from the advocacy of my hon. Friends. I have been more concerned with the rundown of the Aberdeen trawling fleet, and perhaps was not as receptive as I might have been to the problems of Hull. If so, I apologise.

The facts are well known, but they are worth repeating for the record. When Britain joined the EC, the port of Hull had 69 wet fish trawlers with a gross registered tonnage of 52,134. The freezer fleet numbers 28, with a further 22 ordered or being built. Therefore, during the early days of our membership there were 50 freezers with a GRT of 84,000 tonnes. In other words, the total GRT of Hull trawlers — wet and freezers — was 136,661 tonnes. Today there remain eight freezer ships with a GRT of 10,000.

The excellent Sea Fish Industry Authority analysis of the Hull fishing industry — technical report No. 220 published in August 1983—gives the effect on landings. In 1970, landings in Hull were 197,000 tonnes—top of the table in the United Kingdom by far. By 1981, landings had slumped to 15,000 tonnes, and Hull ranked only 12th in the United Kingdom.

Similarly, Hull's share of United Kingdom fishing employment fell from 1,871, or 11 per cent., to 555, or only 3 per cent., between 1975 and 1981. The overall position has worsened since then, and Hull is now almost totally dependent on fish imports. For example, in 1982, 74 per cent. of all wet fish landings came from Icelandic vessels. Other sources of supply were obtained overland from Yorkshire and Scottish ports, even as far afield as Peterhead. That is a long way to transport fish. The analysis of the Sea Fish Industry Authority goes into greater detail than I am able to do this evening, but I have said enough to demonstrate the crisis facing the industry in Hull. I hope that the Government agree that something should and can be done. Perhaps the hard-faced monetarism—a philosophy that is all pervasive within the Government—leads to the conclusion that nothing can be done.

I welcome the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply to the debate. I hope that he will be able to reply to my points about Hull.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

My hon. Friend said that the companies in Hull were living off their nerves. In the light of the description that he has just given, would it not be better to say that the companies there are living off their bankers?

Mr. Hughes

I think I said that the whole catching industry was living off its nerves. There is no doubt that the position in Hull is extremely serious.

The Hull study suggests, among other things, that two complementary paths can be followed to deal with the problem of landings—first, the development of middle-water vessels, and, secondly, constructive attempts to encourage other vessels to land at the port.

I do not wish to make much comment on that, even in the absence of hon. Members who represent other ports, but I know that Grimsby is also facing problems. The study on Grimsby says that it needs to maintain and sustain its landing capacity. Other hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies will also argue that part of the problem is that fish is not processed in their ports but is transferred either to Hull or to Grimsby. Therefore, encouraging landings of vessels from other ports is not necessarily the way forward.

Grampian regional council — in which Aberdeen, Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Macduff, Whitehills, Buckie and umpteen other fishing ports are situated—is planning to develop the on-landing processing of fish and the added value production for that area. It goes without saying that the more processing that is developed in the Grampian area, the fewer fish will be transferred from Peterhead. Therefore, the most important thing for Hull is the building of a middle-water fleet.

The extent to which that can be done largely depends on the availability of the decommissioning grant, which is now extremely urgent. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he will lay the regulations before Christmas, but I do so with two reservations.

When I took over this portfolio, I was told that the only trouble with it was that there would be no work to do in the House and that my duties would be confined to asking boring questions on statements. This debate has arisen in my first week, and we can expect a statement on the Fisheries Council next week. I therefore doubt whether we shall have another fisheries debate on the Floor of the House in the near future.

Although the regulations will be published and laid before Christmas, when will the money be available? The Minister may have mentioned that, and I apologise if I did not hear it. However, I have no knowledge of when the money will be available. That is important if we are to back up the people in Hull who are facing difficulties. For reasons of commercial confidentiality — a phrase of which the Minister is fond — I shall not say which companies are facing difficulties.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)

Allowance will be made for the money in the winter Supplementary Estimates.

Mr. Hughes

I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful, but that does not help at all. The money may be in the Estimates, but when will it be available?

Mr. Jopling

It is there.

Mr. Hughes

There is a clear distinction between it being there and it being released. When will the money be available? How quickly will claims be processed?

Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)

The hon. Gentleman has said much about the problems of Hull and the deep-water fleet. He will appreciate that the real key is that the decommissioning money must be available this year as it is based on the 1982 catching capacity. If I understood correctly, that is exactly what the Minister said would be done.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I appreciate that the decommissioning will not only apply to Hull. Clearly, those entitled to the money must be told how quickly their claims can be processed as many wish to build other vessels.

I do not entirely agree that £400 per gross registered tonne is very generous. The Minister made the announcement with some flourish, but I understand that the rate of decommissioning grant was prescribed in a Council resolution of 25 January 1983. Yet only now have the regulations come before us. The proposal in January 1983 was that there should be a grant of £400 per gross registered tonne. I am anxious to draw a distinction between money being available and put on the table, or into the pockets of those who go into decline.

I believe that the decommissioning grants should be used to replace some of the lost fishing effort. The money will have no useful effect if it is put into another commercial venture that is not connectd with fishing. I do not know what the regulations will contain and I do not know whether they will include compelling measures to ensure that the money is ploughed back into the industry. However, if it proves possible, I hope that it will be done. There is a will and a desire to rechannel the money into the industry, but it will never replace the fishing effort or the jobs.

Even if new vessels are built for some of the ports, there may be problems about where they are to fish. If a fishing effort is developed in Hull, which has been dormant, there may be problems. However, the problems can be resolved if we implement a properly organised quota system.

The Hull study states that the most important need of all is a coherent long-term development strategy for the entire United Kingdom. Many hon. Members have heard me advocate from the Back Benches in previous fishing debates that a long-term strategy should be published in the form of a White Paper. That suggestion has always been refused on the ground that it would be wrong to produce a paper that would display and weaken our hand in renegotiating the common fisheries policy. That argument no longer holds. Our capacity to produce such a policy—it would be applicable to the catching and processing sectors and to the seldom mentioned consumer, who probably represents the most important sector of all — depends entirely on how well the Minister and his team can deliver enough fish for the industry to catch.

The common fisheries policy which is now extant—it is 10 months old—is beginning to show signs of having been developed from the sort of mish-mash that produced the original CFP. The original policy was cobbled together a few days before we joined the EC. I believe that the Government will have a chance to redeem themselves during the negotiations which are to take place on 14 December. The Opposition will be monitoring them with close interest. In so far as the Government are able to deliver, we shall give them our support. They must be aware that failure will accelerate the decline in a traditional and proud industry in which there is no possibility of replacing job opportunities. We shall not forgive the Government if they fail the industry yet again.

7.53 pm
Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

I am glad to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). He began by saying that he felt that we had reached a bad agreement on the common fisheries policy. I disagree with him. It was essential that we reached an agreement, and in the circumstances we came to a good one. Whether we were in the Common Market or whether we were not, we had to have an agreement that covered the North sea. The problem lies with implementing the agreement and not with the agreement itself. I welcomed the hon. Gentleman's constructive remark that an agreement that provides a successful future for the industry would be welcomed by both sides of the House. A degree of co-operation and a genuine willingness to consider the problems and their solutions is helpful to any Government who happen to be in office.

It is fortunate that we are having this debate at a time when the fishing industry is suffering most of all from a lack of confidence. It has uncertainty about the future but that is not to say that fishermen are not buying new vessels. They are doing so but with a great deal of anxiety and we must remove as much of that anxiety from them as quickly as possible. The remarks of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were especially helpful to the industry in that respect. He is doing his best, along with his team, to bring certainty and agreement into the fishing industry.

I should like to know how much consultation has taken place with the industry on the building and decommissioning grants. I understand that sections of the industry are not satisfied that there has been full consultation with them.

The fishermen to whom I have spoken have expressed concern about the 1983 quotas but the 1984 total allowable catch quotas have been in the forefront of their minds. There is a clear need to arrive at a resolution as quickly as possible. There is a fear that the proposals that are being advanced represent a decrease of about 26 per cent. I have been told firmly by the fishermen in my constituency that the English fleet could not exist if proposals of that sort were accepted. It seems that figures have been inflated in the past and that "paper fish" have been used to secure agreements on quotas that would be acceptable to all parties. If that practice has continued for several years, there is a danger that this year reality will have to be introduced. That might mean a reduction in quotas for Britain in weight of fish rather than in percentage terms. If that is so, I feel that there is great cause for concern for our fishermen. However, I hope that that will not be so.

Quotas are only as strong as the inspection system, and it is about that system that we hear grumbles. When we hear them, our own fishermen are whiter than white and everyone else is a rogue. That is natural but we must take it with a pinch of salt. I have no doubt that if we were in their position we would take the same attitude. The inspectorate system has produced 13 inspectors who will, in effect, be inspectors of inspectors. There still remains considerable worry, which derives from the fact that experience has shown that even if we managed to ensure that the system worked well — that is a big "if" — it might take several years of examining, taking cases to the Commission and going to court before the system began to work smoothly and the nations concerned accepted their responsibility in full. We have seen that happen in other areas of agriculture. If it occurs again, we could be fished out and our industry decimated. The problem causes considerable worry to the industry.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to the decommissioning grants and so on. The money that will be put at the disposal of the fishing industry, either by the Commission or by the Government, is limited. I want the money to be used to strengthen the future of the industry If the decommissioning grants are given—I am not clear about this matter from what has been said—to people who are pulling their boats out, or who have had them laid up for months and are getting out of the industry altogether, such support is wasted money for the fishing industry. It should be used to build up the industry. I hope that we shall hear further explanations of the uses to which the money can be put.

Digressing briefly, the Lancashire cotton industry was given money to put a hammer through its spindles. I saw mills full of spindles—I was in practice at that time—that had not been used for years and, by the grace of Clod, a hammer had not previously been put through them, so everyone subsequently made a fortune. That did not help the industry in the slightest, but it cost the taxpayer a large sum. I do not want the fishing industry to face that situation. We must do everything possible to build and sustain the fishing industry with the available funds.

Our inshore fishing fleet has a good future, and nowhere better than in Yorkshire. However, the confidence and skill of our fishermen must be matched by fair trading conditions. The landing charges in the Yorkshire area are 4.5 per cent., compared with 2.5 per cent. in Scotland. That is just not good enough. Prices are such that fish can be brought from the north and sold in competition with the fish from our ports. The problem must be examined.

The fishing ports must not be regarded as secondary to the tourist industry. Of course, the harbours and fishing boats look nice in pictures, but fishing ports must be properly run, with full and modern facilities for boats and merchants. If they are so run. they will prosper and at the same time provide a tourist attraction. Without proper facilities, the harbours will die, as will the industries. Needless to say, they will not be much use for tourism. We must accept that the fishing industry is vital and the amenities provided must be sustained nationally and locally.

The fishermen have plenty of confidence and are prepared to put their money with their confidence, but they must have proper support if they are to succeed.

8.3 pm

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I beg to move, at the end of the Question to add: including an agreement on herring quotas acceptable to the United Kingdom fishing fleet, an agreement on 1984 total allowable catches at the earliest possible date, and an immediate lifting of the ban on sprat fishing by boats less than 40 feet in length; and further calls upon the Government to seek an increase in the Community Fisheries Inspectorate and a speedy introduction of log books, and to undertake further discussion with the industry about the minimum mesh size applicable in the North Sea, and the regulations relating to the minimum size of lobsters. I welcome the debate, because the common fisheries policy has been in operation for 10 months and we have an opportunity to review the year, immediately prior to the Minister attending the next meeting of the EC Fisheries Ministers. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has judged the mood of the House and I hope that we shall strengthen his hand in the forthcoming negotiations.

When the motions for European debates are tabled, one is faced with a list of documents to examine. I do not believe that the image of the European Community is enhanced by such lists. In case the Europhobes wonder whether the EC, having made us go metric and decimalise, is now trying to interfere with time, I should reassure the House that amendment No. 1 in document 8076/83, which relates to Blackwater herring— Fishing is prohibited from the 1st March to the 31st April"— is a misprint.

The debate is taking place against a different background from that immediately following the conclusion of the common fisheries policy agreement in January. Although I was not a Member of Parliament at that time, I have looked not only at the exchanges following the ministerial statement, but at the debate in the subsequent week. It appears that the then Secretary of State was basking in an aura of euphoria and self-congratulation. He said: The agreement will last for 20 years and therefore will provide a very firm long-term basis for our fishing industry to take advantage of the substantial benefits it receives from it." —[Official Report, 26 January 1983; Vol. 35, c. 899.] At that time, the major national fishing associations welcomed the settlement, although the two fishermen's associations in my constituency viewed the agreement with some foreboding. The events of this year have proved their judgment to be more correct than that of the major national associations.

The best observation on the agreement came from my predecessor, now the noble Lord Grimond, who said: The test of the agreement lies in the future.—[Official Report, 31 January 1983; Vol. 36, c. 56.] The agreement this year has gone sour. There is no need to recount the various meetings which held out expectations which were subsequently dashed. That is a reflection of the way in which the policy has worked this year. Although we are two or three weeks from the end of the year, boats have been laid up for as long as six months. The North sea herring fishery grounds have been reopened, but unless we have good weather during the next two or three weeks, we may not fish our full quota this year. From discussions that I had earlier this week, it appears that our mackeral quota will not be fully taken up. When boats have had to lay up for a considerable time, that is a sad reflection on the policy.

Substantial sums of capital are invested in fishing boats, and unless our fishermen have a reasonable opportunity to earn a return on their capital, the policy must be reexamined. One hopes that we will gain more hope from any discussions that take place next year.

The common fisheries policy promised our fishermen certainty, to which would be linked enforcement. The then Secretary of State laid great emphasis on the enforcement provisions in the agreement of 25 January. Certainty is essential to the fishing industry because fishermen must be able to plan their activities, the species that they will catch and the fishing grounds that they will visit, so that they can have a sequence of fishing throughout the year.

We must have certainty so that our processing and marketing industries can adapt themselves to the fishing industry. Bearing in mind the history of herring fishing this year, we have been far removed from any certainty. The opening of the herring grounds in June was announced at short notice after a ban on fishing for five or six years in the North sea.

It is to the credit of our0 fishermen and the processing and marketing parts of the industry that the June and July fisheries went as well as they did. Even at short notice, many processing plants were able to respond to the challenge. This year, we have had uncertainty. Next year, we shall want certainty.

Herring were a glaring omission from the CFP settlement. Of course, herring loom large in the Scottish psyche. When I was at school, part of any geography lesson included discussion of the great Scottish herring fleets. Some of my constituents remember the days when it was virtually possible to walk across the herring boats in Lerwick harbour to the island of Bressay. Of course, the herring fleet is much smaller now, but the importance of the industry is widely recognised in Scotland.

There have been suspicions about the times when the herring grounds have been open during this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said in his intervention, fishermen in the north-east of England were gravely disappointed that they were not allowed to fish for herring off Longstone in August and September this year, at the time when it would have been most useful to fish those grounds. They view with suspicion the opening of herring grounds in the last weeks of the year. After all, herring and kippers are not usually associated with traditional Christmas fare. Our fishing fleet may not see this as a proper time, for processing and marketing reasons, to fish for herring, but the Danish industrial fleet may be able to take up its full quota and use the fish for fish meal. We must insist that the first priority is fish for human consumption.

Fishermen's associations have suggested a quota of about 35 per cent. for the United Kingdom. That is well in excess of what the British fleet was catching in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but there are good grounds for claiming such a high percentage.

The dates against which we measure our historical catch were times when our industry was undergoing considerable changes. The old drifters were being laid up and our fishermen were exercising voluntary conservation measures, while the Norwegian and Danish boats were stepping up their industrial fishing and taking vast catches from the North sea. In the end, the grounds had to be closed. It would be unfair if historical catch figures were based on the years when our fishermen wre observing conservation measures and the Danes and Norwegians were trying to scoop the pool.

The most recent Community proposals envisage a sliding scale of herring quotas for the United Kingdom, ranging from 28 per cent. to 22 or 23 per cent. as the total allowable catch increases. I agree with the Minister that it is not a good bargaining tactic to reveal our bottom line, but it is fair to point out that the bottom line of the latest proposals would not satisfy our industry.

The Minister may feel that he should not have his hands tied by fishermen's associations, but I hope that the mood of the House will convey to him the message that a quota of 22 or 23 per cent. would be regarded as inadequate. Many people had hoped that when herring quotas were allocated they would be provided for each of the three sectors of the North sea. It seems unlikely that that will be done. If a national quota is allocated, I hope that it will be subdivided between the three areas. Otherwise, one country may try to take its whole quota from the rich fishing grounds in the northern part of the North sea.

The Minister said that he hopes that it will be possible to hammer out a compromise on 1983 total allowable catches. One of the anomalies of the CFP is that only four or five weeks ago the British fishing industry was almost praying that 1983 TACs would not be agreed, because that might have halted fishing, yet as we come towards the end of the year there are great possible advantages in reaching an agreement.

I agree that a 1983 agreement for the purposes of 1984, while not as good as a 1984 agreement in itself, is better than nothing, bearing in mind the legal complexities that would arise if there were no agreement. It will probably be impossible to agree 1984 TACs at next week's meeting, but we urge the Minister to ensure that they are agreed at the earliest possible date. Only if we have such certainty will there be any possibility of arranging essential fisheries management. The fishing industry would like to think that in the early part of January it will be able to look ahead and have some idea of how much, where and when it will be able to fish.

Both sides of the House agree that the efforts of our fishery protection vessels in enforcing British waters are admirable. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) may have had different experiences, but I seldom go to Lerwick without seeing a fishery protection vessel that has brought in a recalcitrant foreign skipper. Certainly the Shetland Times regularly reports cases in the Lerwick sheriff court in which foreign skippers are fined.

However, suspicion remains. In the Minister's statement to the House after the meeting of fisheries Ministers in July, he asked for proof. None of us has proof, but the fear and suspicion in the industry cannot be overlooked. It is believed that British fishermen tend to play it by the book, but the fleets of many of our European partners do not.

When the CFP was agreed, we were led to believe that £500,000 had been allocated in the Commission's budget to pay for enforcement measures. We were told that about 30 inspectors would be appointed, but the number has been whittled away during the year and their date of appointment has been put back. It is only in the last two months of the year that six or seven inspectors have taken up their jobs.

One might ask what has happened to the £500,000. If that money was meant to run a Commission inspectorate of 30 for the best part of a year and we have had only six inspectors for two months, what has happened to the rest of the money?

The industry wishes to see log books introduced quickly. Their introduction has repeatedly been postponed. I understand that the books are at the printers, where they will no doubt be printed in multifarious languages. When does the Minister expect the log books to come into operation?

It is proposed to increase mesh sizes in the North sea from 80 mm to 90 mm. It is accepted that there must be proper conservation measures, and increased mesh sizes are part of the programme. However, many parts of the industry are worried that the increased mesh sizes will result in our fleet not being able to take up its full quota of whiting. Of course, what slips through the British nets will be picked up by the Danish industrial fishers. I understand that the proposal has been postponed until 1 January 1985 and I know that our industry would welcome further consultation about more effective methods of conservation.

I float that suggestion only as a possibility. I understand that mesh sizes were brought in as a means of conservation to back up minimum landing sizes. Increasing the minimum landing size might be a better means of enforcing conservation than increasing mesh sizes. If minimum landing sizes were increased, that might be the equivalent of cutting the quota by 10 per cent., and it would be the poorest 10 per cent. of the catch that would not be landed. When one increases mesh sizes or cuts a quota, it is often the fish with the greatest value that are not landed.

The Community should not be a centralised bureaucratic organisation, but one sensitive to the needs of different areas, and in particular the remote rural areas. The aspect of the settlement of the common fisheries policy that caused the greatest disappointment to my constituents was the fact that there was no proper regional management scheme to be implemented.

Some small matters are very important to small communities. The problem of sprats affects small fishing communities in Tyneside, the firth of Forth and the Moray firth. The Minister has told us that there is hard scientific evidence in favour of the ban from October to March. However, the 1972 Cameron report suggested that the summer months were the best months for a ban on sprats, for that is when they spawn The report suggested that if there was an effective ban then there would be no need for such strict measures during the winter months.

The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) has suggested that boats under 40 ft. tong could continue to catch sprats as a by-catch without there being a significant impact on the young herring that the measure aims to protect. I am glad that the Minister has said that he will review the position in the coming year. He gave us no undertaking, and we do not expect one at this stage, but I trust that he is well aware of the strong feeling on the matter.

There is also strong feeling about the minimum size for lobsters. The shell fishing industry is important in the Northern Isles and the Western Isles and along the north coast of Scotland. It is important not only to those who engage in it full time but also to the many small crofters in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), for example, who supplement their income by shell fishing. Those people fear that if the minimum size for landing is increased, the non-professionals who indulge in lobster fishing as a hobby will not be so strict in their observation of the regulations. Such people do not put back lobsters which are smaller than the minimum permitted size.

Mr. Beith

The skindivers who take lobsters as a weekend sport are subject to no landing restrictions. The lobsters are taken away in the boot of the car, and no conservation measures are applied.

Mr. Wallace

My hon. Friend understands the fear and suspicion felt by lobster fishermen. A proper licensing system should be introduced not only to establish whether there is a need for this conservation measure but to ensure a better form of policing. The Minister should not underestimate the strength of feeling among the lobster fishermen. They feel that there should be some fairness so that they can continue to earn their living.

The Minister mentioned the regulations that he intends to bring forward in connection with the decommissioning grants. They are welcome, although we shall wish to read the small print of the statutory instrument. I remind the Under-Secretary who is to reply that the decommissioning grants, construction and modernisation grants and exploratory voyages are only a small part of a restructuring package.

There is not often unanimity in the fishing industry, but the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association and the producers' organisations have achieved some unanimity in agreeing on some structural licensing. There is a fear that the Scottish Office has been dilatory in conducting consultations. When can we expect an announcement about this part of the restructuring package?

The Minister's comments on the amendment did not entirely satisfy us to hold to the bipartisan or tripartisan approach which is sometimes useful. In this connection, I congratulate Willie Hay on his appointment. We will not press the amendment to a vote this evening.

The fishing industry is vital for many remote areas. On the Skerries, for example, stuck out into the sea, a viable community is sustained by a small fishing fleet and a processing industry. The island of Westry in Orkney has a population of about 800. Unemployment there is very low because there is a fishing fleet and on-shore processing. Catching, processing and marketing go hand in hand, but these communities will continue to be viable only if the industry has the certainty and security that it needs. I hope that the Minister will meet his European counterparts in a spirit of resolve, will achieve a herring deal that is acceptable to the industry and will introduce some certainty into the common fisheries policy.

8.28 pm
Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)

At the beginning of his rather lengthy speech the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) pointed out that this debate would be important in relation to the meeting of Ministers on 12 December. That is true. My right hon. Friend has made many important statements tonight. I am sure that the distant water and in the inshore sections of the industry will both welcome them.

I should like to record our thanks to the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association, the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations and the Sea Fish Industry Authority which discussed these problems with the Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman. The Minister has indeed answered the basic points made by those important associations.

Conservation areas and TACs are vitally important but, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) pointed out, they have to be enforced. My hon. Friend also pointed out that the 13 inspectors are not just there to inspect themselves. They also have to inspect national inspectors of each of the EC countries. That is why there is no need for a large number. That point is not well understood. The inspectors have held exercises in the United Kingdom, France and Holland already. We are moving in the direction of proper inspection of catches.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned log books. I understand that they have been translated into various languages, are being printed, and will be available in the early spring. The Minister may be able to confirm that when he replies. I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) to deal with the worries of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations about the Irish sea. It feels that there should be more conservation in that area by introducing conservation areas or a licensing system. It is worried that foreign beam trawlers do not comply with the regulations.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West is not here at the moment. I know that he is interested in the Isle of Man extension to 12 miles. It has been pointed out that if that happened there would be a damaging 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. over-capacity in the rest of the Irish sea.

The point has been made by the NFFO—it was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland — that the Danes were using 8mm nets for industrial fishing. That damages immature fish. This point has been mentioned time and time again during fishery debates. The Danes are a problem with this and other matters. I hope that this debate will be studied in Copenhagen and that the Danes will restrict their industrial fishing to by-catches. Otherwise they are taking the mature fish which should be available for human consumption.

The NFFO also suggested that the increase in mesh sizes to 90mm, which will take place in January 1985, should be advanced a year. I am not sure that I can agree with that, and I do not think that my right hon. Friend does, because considerable time is needed to adapt to changes in mesh sizes.

Restructuring is vital for the Humber ports, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said. When we joined the EC the British deep-sea fleet—it used to be called the distant-water fleet — consisted of 250 vessels. As the hon. Member said, there are now 30 fewer operational deep-sea boats. When I first went to Hull 30 years ago, it was our country's major port. There are now eight vessels operating from there. Whose fault is that? I do not believe that anyone can be blamed; it is a result of the 200-mile limit. We all now have to fish in our own backyard. No effective use can be made of such magnificent vessels which cost up to £1.5 million each. They were important for supporting the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, they have more or less had their day. I say "more or less" because my right hon. Friend mentioned exploratory voyages and the Falkland Islands. I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his influence with the Foreign Office to see that the Falkland Islands limits are extended to 200 miles. I think that that measure would commend itself to both sides of the House. The Foreign Office have been pussy-footing on this issue.

Decommissioning grants are absolutely vital to the distant water fleet. I said during an intervention that they must be available this year so that we can count the 1982 catches otherwise we will be in an appalling mess; the banks will foreclose, and the distant-water fleet will virtually disappear.

The representatives of the Scottish and English inshore fleets have said that they want fuel subsidies, but fuel subsidies are out of order within the EC. However, they pointed out that the French still have fuel subsidies. I do not know whether the Minister, when he replies, can tell us why that happens. The French seem to get away with an awful lot. I gather that operational subsidies are also banned by the EC. Therefore, the decommissioning and lay-up schemes announced by my right hon. Friend are very important for the deep-sea fishing fleet. Suggestions have been made by the representatives of the fishing industry and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that there should be regional restructuring. I see the point of that, but I do not believe that it is acceptable. Restructuring has to be done nationally.

We now have building, modernisation, laying up and decommissioning grants. I understand that there are also grants available for modernising ports — we are not discussing that today—from various national and EC grant-aided sources. That is important.

Marketing and training have been mentioned briefly. I understand that the SFIA wants a pump-priming grant for its marketing approach which will be concentrated upon species of fish rather than fishing generally. There has also been some talk about an increase in levy. Increases in levy are never very popular in the catching community and I hope the SFIA will bear that in mind. Although advertising and marketing are important, there are limits to the amount of public money that can be spent.

The NFFO also claimed that there was inadequate training for the inshore fleet. There has been excellent training for the distant-water vessels. I understand that money is available next year for training for the inshore vessels and also that help is available from the Manpower Services Commission. I should welcome confirmation of that.

Finally, on training and safety, I want to make a point that has not so far been raised in the debate concerning the safety regulations which were discussed some years ago. Safety is very important, but the point was made in Committee time and again—I make it again now—that the expense of surveys is enormous. It was reckoned by the NFFO that it was £800 for a 55 ft boat survey. The Treasury is now demanding that the total sum should be paid by the company or the individual. Such a proposal would be a great strain on the finances of individual owners.

Turning to quotas, I understand that 88 species of fish are covered in the regulations of the EC. The only one still disputed is herring, in particular North sea herring. I hope that agreement will be reached on 12 December. The problem arises between the United Kingdom and the Danes and the Dutch and between the West Germans and the Danes over Greenland.

On the subject of North sea herring, I should like to read to the House a paragraph in a paper submitted by the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association concerning quotas relative to Scottish west coast herring: The UK was forced to settle for a 61 per cent. share despite the fact that its historical performance would have entitled it to 73.1 per cent. That we know. The association continued—I repeat it in the belief that it will help the Minister in his fight in the next battle— It is imperative UK Ministers do not detract from the position reached at the EEC Council Meeting held on 18th/19th October which considered a two-tier approach to the North sea herring total allowable catch whereby all herring caught up to 254,500 tonnes would be for the human consumption market and anything above that would be for fishmeal purposes. If this proposal was to apply from 1984 the UK would, after taking into account its Hague Preference tonnage, receive 22.4 per cent. at a Total Allowable Catch of 153,000 tonnes and 22.5 per cent. at a TAC of 254,000 tonnes. It would receive 17 per cent. of any TAC above that latter figure for fish meal purposes. The delegation from Scotland made the point very strongly that this was the absolute irreducible minimum. I hope the Minister will bear these figures in mind and ensure that the United Kingdom does not give any more away. He has stood up very firmly so far. I know that he is under a great deal of pressure and I hope he will make it clear that he is not prepared to give away any more to the Danes or Dutch because the United Kingdom has gone as far as it can.

I wish to say a word on klondikers as raised by the Scots and the representatives of the distant-water fleets. We hope that more licences will be available to klondikers, which are very important to the Scottish fleet and to the remains of the distant-water fleet. If the TACs are increased, I hope the Minister will bear in mind that the licences for klondikers should also be increased. I understand that so much was being landed locally in the south-west this year that land prices were depressed, so more klondiking could have been allowed.

Complaints have also been made, with which my hon. Friend will not agree, that the south-west England mackerel box is far too large and, of course, the same complaint comes also from the Scots and the distant-water boys. Can information be made available as early as possible when boxes or areas are closed? It is difficult for any section of the fishing industry to plan ahead when the areas in which they will be able to fish or the quotas they will be allowed to take are not known.

The SFIA made a point that I think is important, that fishing must be controlled by licensing and quotas, and each individual owner or company should be allowed a quota that will enable him to make a profit. Those owners or companies which decide to go out of business once such an agreement has been made should be able to sell their quota to someone else. I have not heard that proposal before and I put it to the House for consideration.

All sections of the fishing industry, particularly the Humberside ports, have gone through an extremely difficult period in the last five or more years. I repeat, the reason for that is not the actions of Conservative or Socialist Governments but because all countries have gone out to a 200-mile limit, and that has affected our industry very seriously.

However, a firm announcement has been made in the House that there is to be a restructuring of the industry and that grants are to be given, and we hope that in the near future there will be agreement on the herring quota for 1983–84. If that can be achieved, the common fisheries policy will be set on a reasonable course, and as we and Europe get used to it, we shall be able to conserve fish throughout Europe and enable all European fishermen, including all British fishermen, to make a profitable living and provide good fresh fish for our various populations.

8.42 pm
Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I take issue with the hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall), who said that with the common fisheries policy we are on a good course. I suggest that for British fishing we are on a disaster course. I was interested in his suggestion that we should maintain. a 200-mile limit off the Falkland Islands. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is in his place, because when I commented on that in a previous debate on fishing he had left the Chamber. I recall that at one stage he was saying that 50 miles was the least that British fishermen could accept, yet when the time came — I do not want to pillory him, because he took the same view as many of his hon. Friends—the agreement that was finally cobbled was accepted and Conservative Members described it as a good one.

On that point the Shetland Islands council said: Unfortunately, the events to date have not only shown that there was no cause to celebrate the settlement of the common fisheries policy, but the outcome to date has been far worse than anybody envisaged; the disillusionment of the Scottish fishermen in recent months is, for example, ample proof of that. The hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) said that, whether or not we were in the Common Market, we needed an agreement. I disagree totally. I accept that we are in the EC, but were we not in it there would be no need for an agreement because we would have a 200-mile limit. Who can argue against that?

Mr. Harris

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there are 200 miles between, say, the south-west of England and France?

Mr. Stewart

No, and I believe that my education, including my knowledge of geography, has been as good as that of the hon. Gentleman. Obviously, that sort of situation would have to be negotiated——

Mr. Harris


Mr. Stewart

—but legally the United Kingdom would be entitled to a 200-mile limit. Naturally, if that meant abutting another country, the position would have to be negotiated. That would be far better than the 6-mile limit that exists off my constituency, and if the hon. Gentleman has to face that state of affairs in Cornwall at some stage his fishermen will put him on the rack over it.

I have read the relevant documents, and although they are drafted in reasonably normal English I still feel like the judge who was addressed by Lord Birkenhead. When Birkenhead had finished his address the judge commented, "I am none the wiser", to which Birkenhead replied, "No, my Lord, but you are much better informed." Having read the documents, I do not even come into the second category.

The Minister said that the common fisheries policy was a good policy for Britain and the Community. My view is that their interests conflict. I do not believe that we can have a policy that is satisfactory for the Common Market and gives a fair deal to our fishermen. However, I am glad to know that the subject appears on the agenda for the meeting on 14 December. I am also pleased to be assured that the quotas that have been announced are not acceptable. One wonders at this stage what point there is in dealing with quotas for the year just passed.

If I may quote the Shetland Islands council again, it said on 26 September: failure to agree on quotas for all species for 1983, with only three months of the fishing year left is clearly absurd. So it is. One would hope that the negotiations will deal with the year ahead.

In the past year, after six years of a ban on herring fishing for our own vessels, they were kept out of areas where the Norwegians were allowed to fish for herring. So our fishermen had to suffer six years of restraint and being kept out of these areas to build up the stocks for the Norwegians to fish eventually. That shows the absurdity of Common Market policy.

I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that our aim should be that herring is sold for human consumption. I can remember in my home town of Stornaway hundreds of vessels, without exaggeration, from Lerwick down as far as Lowestoft and Yarmouth coming regularly to fish. Hundreds of thousands of tons were being taken from all the fishing ports around the British isles at that time, but the fish were being caught by drift nets, which meant that only mature herring were caught. There was never any danger to the stocks, although there were enormous catches in years like 1927. The immature fish got away and were able to grow up. The problem with herring has arisen because of the methods of fishing.

The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association has been quoted by the hon. Member for Beverley. Its chief executive, Mr. Robert Allan, said: We are becoming completely disenchanted with the common fisheries policy … Confidence in the CFP is at its lowest conceivable ebb. It is greatly to be regretted that the Minister did not use his right of veto in the last negotiations. If the Scottish industry had known that a bill was to be presented in 1983 for Danish overfishing and that it had to be paid mainly by the United Kingdom, it would not have agreed to the common fisheries policy in the first place.

It appears from the quotas that extra importance has been given to the needs of the German deep-sea fishing fleet rather than to the requirements of the Scottish fishing villages. The main beneficiary will be Denmark, which has been responsible for overfishing North sea herring in the past.

I note that it is proposed to reduce the quota for mackerel from 185,000 tonnes to 151,000 tonnes. What is the reason for that? The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be aware that every year for the past 10 years at least there have been 30 or 40 large vessels from eastern European countries in the port of Ullapool in the north-west of Scotland buying up mackerel. Surely an arrangement could be made for the mackerel to be processed ashore in the United Kingdom. Tremendous markets exist for that fish all over the world, yet we are letting them go by.

On the question of conservation, I sympathise fully with the feelings of Cornish fishermen about Scottish fishermen and others fishing there. It is a very good axiom that fishermen in an area should have the right to their own fishing ground. If the Government had the will, local management schemes would be possible and should be adopted for Shetland, the Western Isles, the Clyde and so on, and for Cornish fishermen as well.

I welcome the increase in the mesh size for fishing herring and the minimum landing size proposed for mackerel.

With regard to the inspectorate, I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that there are far too few officers. Six have been mentioned, but even 13 are not enough. I took issue with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland when he was speaking about protection—not, I hasten to say, that I do not think that the fisheries protection service is doing a good job, but because it is too thin on the ground. The Scottish Office should increase the fleet and ought not to use that fleet for fishery protection for salmon rivers. That is not the main purpose. It should be used against foreign vessels scooping up fish in United Kingdom waters.

I welcome the grants for renewal and improvement of vessels, although I believe that the proposals spell redundancy for many men in the industry. The Minister made great play of the amount of money involved. Although it is welcome, it is very minor compared with what the farming industry receives every year.

We can argue about all these problems in relation to the Common Market, but we must face the fact that the present position is very difficult. I appreciate, of course, that the present Minister took office only recently and is therefore not responsible for the situation except as part of general Government responsibility.

Spain has one of the largest fishing fleets in the world, if not the largest. When Spain joins the EEC it will demand its share. Our present problems will seem very minor when that stage is reached. That makes it even more important for the Government to ensure that our fishermen have a fair deal.

8.51 pm
Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) doubted whether he would be better informed, let alone wiser, through reading the documents before us. I have great sympathy with that view. Here we are, with about 15 shopping days to Christmas, discussing what should be the total allowable catches, quotas and the like for the year 1983. That is something of an irony and helps to create some of the confusion that arises as events take their course.

Document No. 7022 proposes to maintain the increase in minimum mesh size applicable in the North sea from 80 mm to 90 mm with effect from 1 January 1984. That document was published in May this year. I understand that since then the implementation date has been further postponed. Perhaps my hon. Friend will clarify that.

Mr. John MacKay

It has been postponed until 1 January 1985.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my Friend. I understood that it had been postponed, but the document before us implies that it will be implemented in 1984.

I do not go all the way with the right hon. Member for Western Isles on the Cornish question. He stressed the importance of recognising local fisheries interests. Although there are local fisheries, in many parts of the country there is also participation in other fisheries. There is often a knock-on effect right round the coast. Whatever the decisions about where to draw the lines, one thing must be clear. When an agreement is reached, based on conservation measures, negotiated agreements or whatever, all parties must adhere to it. If they do no like it, they should seek to change the basis of the agreement.

Mr. Donald Stewart

What I had in mind were the suggestions that local fishermen should have preference, not that fishermen from outside the area should be excluded.

Mr. Henderson

The mackerel fishery would not have the commercial potential that it has were it not for the way in which Scottish fishermen played a part in the development of the market for such fish.

What stirred up trouble and raised temperatures in Cornwall — we all agree that it was an unfortunate incident—was that Cornish fishermen believed that the arrangements for the box were different from what they in fact were. They believed that Scottish fishermen would be excluded from the box because of the practicalities of fishing methods. However, the Scottish fishermen discovered, by experiment and at risk to themselves, legitimate and legal methods of fishing there which met the conservation requirements. Therefore, they could fish in waters where Cornish fishermen had not expected to see them.

Mr. Harris

Does my hon. Friend accept that bulk catches inside the extended mackerel box, whether done legally by a technicality or not, were wholly contrary to the concept of the box as envisaged by the Government and by the Commission? Does he accept that the concept of the box was to prevent bulk catching?

Mr. Henderson

I shall not dispute with my hon. Friend the technicalities of the matter. The purpose of the box was conservation, which we all agree is important. None the less, the criteria that were deemed to be important for conservation in the box were clear and specific, and the Scottish fishermen accepted them. I should add that Scottish fishermen, before the box came into effect, had urged the Government to impose a quota to prevent over-fishing.

It was unfortunate that a Cornish fisherman wrote to Fishing News last week trying to stir up trouble and to raise temperatures, because at the weekend representatives of Scottish fishermen—it is not their custom to do business on a Sunday—went to Cornwall to discuss the matter with Cornish fishing interests and to cool temperatures, but they were given the brush-off. I hope that people will soon talk together to ensure that reasonable conditions prevail among seamen. Nothing should be done which in any way endangers life at sea or harms good 7elations among seafarers.

My right hon. Friend the Minister made some helpful announcements about restructuring. I hope that, in addition, he will examine the infrastructure of the industry, onshore facilities, the status of harbours, the handling of boats within them, and the processing and distribution of fish, which relates to the work of the Sea Fish Industry Authority. That, just as much as a restructuring of the fleet, will help to ensure a healthy fishing industry in future.

My right hon. Friend the Minister, who gave a perceptive analysis of the problems, told the House about the policies that he will pursue in trying to cope with them. His announcements were encouraging, and we look forward to hearing more details before the Christmas recess. Perhaps not least encouraging was the way in which he showed a clear understanding of the industry and its needs. I hope that he will continue to maintain close consultation with those who represent the interests of fishermen and of the industry generally. They have earned the right to confidence from his Department and Ministers through the responsibility that they have shown over a number of difficult years, and I believe that my right hon. Friend is earning their confidence now.

9 pm

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) on the way in which he brought to the attention of the House the problems that we have recently been experiencing in Hull. He managed to show vividly the scale of the devastation of Hull catches since we joined the European Community.

I propose to add to some of the figures that my hon. Friend presented to demonstrate the devastation. When we joined the EC, there were 69 wet fish trawlers, with a gross registered tonnage of 52,000 tonnes. In addition, 28 freezer trawlers were operational, and 22 freezer trawlers were either being built or on order. That meant a complement of 50 freezer trawlers, with a gross registered tonnage of 84,000 tonnes. A total of 119 vessels — a substantial fleet, which was mainly a deep water fleet—were bringing a substantial tonnage of fish into Hull. Now there are only eight freezer trawlers left, with a gross tonnage of only 10,000 tonnes. I hope that the House can see from these figures and my simple analysis the scale of the devastation that has resulted entirely from the loss of fishing opportunity.

If one talks to the owners who still remain in Hull, they say that that was the key factor — not lack of investment, not the long Humber estuary, not the dock or fuel charges, and not industrial relations. One owner told me yesterday that he feels that industrial relations in Hull are excellent. No factor caused this devastation other than the loss of fishing opportunity, and that was not under the control of the fishing people of Hull.

In addition, 126,000 tonnes of shipping have been decommissioned, and at no cost to the Government or the EC. In monetary terms, those 126,000 tonnes of lost shipping are roughly equivalent to between £40 million and £50 million. That figure can be used to illustrate the size of the disaster that has hit the port of Hull.

In addition to the loss of vessels and fishing opportunity, we have had enormous redundancy problems. Most of the discussion takes place on the replacement, restructuring and decommissioning of capital equipment, but the human problems have been immense. I and my other hon. Friends representing Hull have talked to the Minister of State, Department of Employment about redundancy payments, and he has admitted that 100 cases are being looked at now, presented to him by the Transport and General Workers Union. I hope that this Minister will get together with the Minister of State, Department of Employment to see whether some scheme can be pulled together to compensate the large number of fishermen for the loss of jobs that has resulted from the Government's policy. I also hope that some EC moneys can be used to finance such a scheme.

Sir Patrick Wall

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the difficulties is that of deciding how far back to go with the redundancy payments. As he said, the disaster for the port of Hull has extended over many years. If we considered redundancies up to seven years ago, the sum of money involved would be substantial.

Mr. Randall

I can understand the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, but I am sure he would agree that we must examine such a provision retrospectively. How far to go back would have to be considered carefully by the Government. Nevertheless, there would have to be a retrospective consideration.

The companies which remain in Hull are in extremely difficult circumstances. Some are under immense pressure. I have listened carefully to what has been said about the decommissioning grants. Although the Minister assured us about the moneys that are becoming available, we want to be absolutely clear that there will be no delay in their payment. We cannot tolerate delay, as it might have some serious consequences. Companies might fail as a result and irreparable damage, which would be disastrous for the industry, might be done.

Hull also has much land-based investment. If we lose the remainder of the catching fleet, investment in processing and the big cold stores and the Hull Fish Landing Company could be vulnerable. That would be almost the last straw. Hull has taken much stick from the Government. So far we have not had the money, although we have had some assurances today.

This week the Government announced the closure of the lorry research station at Hull. I was deeply worried when I heard that people who work there had not been given any official announcement that they were to be made redundant before they received a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food press release which gave them that information. That is a disgrace. Moreover, the employees have received no counselling as to what job opportunities will be available in Aberdeen or elsewhere when the research station closes.

Hull is anxious to establish a middle-water fleet. Will the Minister clarify the distinction between decommissioning and restructuring grants? As I see it, decommissioning grants will help companies in Hull to survive, but to what extent will they be enabled to finance the new vessels which will be required for the future? I understand that restructuring grants are intended to equip the British fishing industry with vessels to match the fishing opportunity. Hull does not have any vessels to meet the opportunity that has been given to it so far. I hope that the Minister will reassure the House, not only that the decommissioning grants will be available as soon as possible, but that there will be restructuring moneys to help us to rebuild the Hull fleet.

I end on that important note, and thank my hon. Friend for Aberdeen, North for bringing to the attention of the House the extremely serious situation in Hull.

9.10 pm
Sir Walter Clegg (Wyre)

I shall not take up what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) said, except to say that we in Fleetwood have also suffered a diminution of our deep-water fleet. In fact, we no longer have any deep-water vessels based on the port. So I understand the problems that he faces in Hull.

I shall address my remarks to Fleetwood. I listened carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend. It was an important speech, which we shall need to study before we can be sure of all its implications. Merely to hear what he said from the Dispatch Box is one thing; to realise the full implications of what he said is another.

It appears that my right hon. Friend has listened to the representations that were made by the NFFO, in that the length of vessels entitled to decommissioning grants and laying up grants is to be reduced. I understand, too, that the age limitation is more in line with what the NFFO wanted. If I seem cautious in my welcome for my right hon. Friend's remarks, it comes from listening to so many statements in the House when we seem to see a new dawn, but no new dawn came. It is therefore with some hesitation that I see the scene developing.

My right hon. Friend had the advantage of visiting Fleetwood in October. He met the people there, saw the facilities, and listened to the problems. In one small respect, the problems have abated since then, in that an industrial tribunal has found in favour of the inshore men being able to land their own vessels on the quays without the use of national dock labour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is a great advance for the port, and makes it more attractive to fishing vessels.

I appreciate that the package on restructuring that my right hon. Friend has presented this evening is important for the future of the industry, because it will try to match the fleet with the opportunities. That needs to be done. However, I am worried about the short-term situation in Fleetwood. It is now clear that the Government do not intend to give an operating subsidy. We were told that the last two were illegal. That is one of the problems. The other problem is that they were granted while the negotiations on the common fisheries policy were taking place. If the achievement of the CFP and its operation had led to better business for the fishermen of Fleetwood, and if those fishermen were any more economically viable than they were, I would say that perhaps the case for financial help, other than what we have heard in the package today, had not been made.

However, from my examination of the accounts of the best inshore vessels using the port, I am sure that this winter will be critical. Whether our fishermen can survive it and take advantage of these other opportunities, I do not know. They have been pessimistic in the talks that I have had with them. During the summer recess I spent hours with them discussing these matters. So I hope that my right hon. Friend will watch the situation carefully. I am more pessimistic than I usually am. I am not pessimistic by nature, but I see the problems ahead. Last year's frightful weather did not allow the fishermen to put to sea for long periods. Let us hope that we shall be luckier this time. The situation is, however, serious, and I would be neglecting my duty if I did not so inform the House.

The Minister heard from the fishermen's own lips about the problems of fishing in the Irish sea by the big Dutch beamers and trawlers. We have been harping on about that for years in debate after debate. There seems to be a difference of opinion between the scientists and the fishermen. The scientists say that these great beamers cause no harm by dredging up the sea bed, whereas the fishermen say they do. The fishermen told me in the autumn, "The fish are not there," and blame that on the beamers. I understand that a close period for sole in the Irish sea is under consideration by the scientists in Brussels, but I hope that the Minister takes more notice of the fishermen.

A problem peculiar to fishing ports on the west coast of the United Kingdom has arisen because of discharges from Sellafield into the Irish sea. Greenpeace has been operating off Sellafield, and I understand that over the weekend it put into Fleetwood. Only today I read that fishermen close to Sellafield were unable to sell their fish. It is only right that their apprehensions should be allayed.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the monitoring undertaken by his Department. Today I asked: if he will publish the results of the monitoring of fish and shellfish which his Department has carried out following the recent incident at Sellafield; and if he will make a statement. It is important that the statement should receive publicity. The written reply said: My Department's fisheries radiobiological laboratory has analysed samples of fish and shellfish collected in the Sellafield area. For fish the range of values obtained was consistent with the levels of radioactivity that would have been expected prior to the incident. The concentrations of caesium are in general less than those recently published for 1981 reflecting the reduction in 137Cs discharges from Sellafield. No other radionuclides were detected in fish. It is clear from these results that any additional exposure to members of the public resulting from the recent incident through the consumption of fish would be negligible. The message should go out from this House that people can safely eat the fish landed from fishing boats operating in the northern Irish sea. That will perhaps put an end to the scare, although I trust that my right hon. Friend's team will continue the monitoring as part of the larger problem of radiation from that plant.

There has been much talk about the setting up of the inspectorate. Like all other hon. Members, I believe that that is important. There have been too many examples in the past of overfishing, with absolutely dreadful results. I know that Nelson turned a blind eye in Copenhagen, but there is no reason why the Danes should follow his example. It is time that they stopped, and the sooner we get a fisheries inspector ashore in Danish fishing ports and others, the better. I understand that inspectors are already in France and I hope that Mr. Mitterrand is not getting at them.

Recently there was a large gathering at the House of the representatives of the British fisheries organisations, who came to see Members of all parties. I have every sympathy with their cause. It is galling for redundant fishermen to read and hear about men who have been made redundant in other industries and who have received large redundancy payments while they are left out in the cold because their pattern of work—shared fishing—has been different from that of others.

I realise, of course, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not directly responsible for redundant fishermen. If there had been fish available for them to catch I would not have so much sympathy for them, but their redundancies stem from the lack of fishing opportunities in deep-sea waters. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment is pursuing the interests of redundant fishermen. I hope that he will come to a successful conclusion.

In fisheries debates there is always a good deal of common ground between the parties. We wish the Minister well when he attends the next fisheries meeting. He knows that we think it essential that he obtains what he has told the House he is out to get. I wish him well in the talks.

9.22 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I do not have a direct constituency fishing interest, as there are now no fishing vessels sailing from Greenock and Port Glasgow. None has sailed from the two ports for a considerable time. However, some fine stern trawlers and side trawlers have been built at Fergusons Brothers (Port Glasgow) Limited. If we are to have a new mid-water fleet that is based at Hull, and I hope Fleetwood, I shall be pleased if the work comes to Fergusons of Port Glasgow and other Scottish shipyards. The Scottish-built fishing vessel is one of the finest vessels in the world. I can speak from experience, as I have sailed in them to the Arctic. That experience was short because it required only one north Atlantic gale to put me ashore for ever.

As a novice in this place, I find fisheries debates stimulating and good-natured. I am a member of a fishing family and I think that they reflect a fairly deep knowledge of the industry in all its ramifications.

I do not wish to comment upon the Scottish-Cornish fishermen's dispute. I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is no longer in his place for I wished to remind him of the long history of fisheries disputes. At the turn of the century, Shetlanders were encouraged by a bounty of £5—that was a great deal of money then—to report the illegal activities of the skippers of the new Aberdeen steam trawlers. In May 1901, 13 Aberdeen skippers were gaoled for their illegal activities in Icelandic waters. I do not want to suggest to Conservative Members who represent constituencies in the south-west that the Aberdeen fishermen of today behave in the same way as their great-grandfathers or grandfathers. However, I sometimes think that fishing and the management of fishing is too important a subject to be left to fishermen.

We need a radically different national fisheries regime throughout the United Kingdom. We have moved in that direction in an unplanned and inadvertent way because of the exclusion of British trawlers from Icelandic waters and other measures taken in the traditional north Atlantic fishing grounds. We now have an opportunity with the developments in the common fisheries policy—I have many criticisms of it—to develop a national fisheries regime. There is a need to restructure the fleet, especially in the areas of the large purse seiner, many of which do not spend more than 70 or 80 days at sea in any year. The same argument applies to the freezer trawlers. My brother is the mate on one of the biggest freezer trawlers in the United Kingdom. He spends much more time at home than he does at sea on his large stern freezer. The need to restructure is confined, to a considerable extent, to the pelagic fleet and the vessels that used to fish in distant waters.

The decommissioning of vessels has provided us with an opportunity to restructure the fleet, though I am not sure that a grant of £400 per GRT is over-generous. I shall be interested to hear more, as the Minister promised, about exploratory voyages. Opportunities may exist in the south Atlantic or elsewhere for some of our largely redundant stern trawlers. I hope that the Ministry has also considered joint ventures in countries that are just beginning to develop their sea fisheries industry. The Ministry should examine the possibility of exploratory voyages and joint ventures which could assist developing nations.

I have an interest in the industry, because I am a member of the Transport and General Workers Union. Members of my union sail on trawlers out of Aberdeen, Grimsby—not that there are many large trawlers sailing out of Grimsby — and Hull. The industry has been declining since the early 1970s when the Icelanders began—as one of their writers put it—to put up a wall around their coastline.

The work of fishermen is extremely hazardous and they work in a harsh environment. It is essential that the Government examine carefully the French document that proposes changes in this area.

An article in The Scotsman referred to a fatal accident inquiry held last week in Scotland. The inquiry was concerned with the foundering of a Scottish fishing vessel with the loss of the crew of five. The article said that the chief coastguard involved told the sheriff: there was no conclusive evidence as to what had happened, but he agreed with Sheriff Stewart that a feasible explanation would be that the man in the wheelhouse fell asleep and the boat went round in a wide circle before striking the shore. Those who know anything about the fishing industry are aware of the hours and the appalling conditions in which the men work. The report stated: 'It is just like a long-distance lorry driver having fallen asleep at the wheel', said the Sheriff. It may be that fishermen drive themselves so hard they should have proper rest perods like lorry drivers."' Given the varied nature of the fishing industry, it may be difficult to introduce firm rules for all fishing operations, but, as a member of the TGWU and a member of a fishing family, I believe that the Government should carefully examine the French document.

There used to be differences between the quality and quantity of training received by fishermen in the deep-sea industry and those employed in the inshore industry. Following the establishment of the sea fisheries training board, of which I was a member, changes were made in both sectors. Before the setting up of the board, about 50 per cent. of inshore fishermen received no training in survival and fire fighting. That was not true of the deep-sea fishermen at Aberdeen, North Shields, Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood. The differences have been narrowed and I hope that, following the abolition of the training board, the SFIA will maintain the training establishments and develop training in safety and survival.

Many fishermen have lost their jobs with trawler companies because of circumstances outwith their control and there have been difficulties about determining their length of service for redundancy purposes. Some help could be given by the Humber fishermen's pension fund. That would show how long fishermen at Grimsby and Hull had been employed by trawler companies. It should be possible to examine such records to determine the length of a man's service. Fishermen deserve generous payments for the tough working lives that they have led.

I find it a savage paradox that dock workers can receive up to £22,500 under their severance scheme, yet fishermen in my family have not received a penny in redundancy pay. That is a dreadful indictment of the present system. The Government should offer fishermen generous payments in return for their service to the British fishing industry.

9.33 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

This is the first time that I have caught your eye in this Parliament, Mr. Speaker, and it is, therefore, my first opportunity to pay tribute to the then hon. Member for the old Louth constituency, Mr. Michael Brotherton, part of whose former constituency I now represent.

Michael Brotherton was a dedicated Conservative and deeply loyal to Queen and country. His individual and forceful personality and his willingness to speak publicly on a wide range of subjects won him a reputation for outspokenness for which he was much admired. He was the essence of a patriot. I know that the House will wish him and his family well, especially as this has been a difficult year for him.

The subject matter of this debate has important consequences for the eastern part of my constituency around Cleethorpes. I represent many fishermen employed in Grimsby. I am not very familiar with the fishing industry, as I have represented Brigg and Cleethorpes only since 9 June. I hope that those with wider experience of the industry will accept that I have a great deal to learn. However, one does not need much common sense to recognise the problems of Grimsby and, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Bulmer) have pointed out, the problems of the fishing industry of Hull and Fleetwood. In the past few months I have become aware of the dire situation of the fishing industry in those ports.

I do not wish to belittle the achievement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and of my hon. Friend the Minister of State in bringing forward restructuring proposals. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest, I shall wish to digest the details in the cold light of morning. Until I have done so, I am hesitant about welcoming them.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have done a great deal of hard work in the past few months. They, like me, will have to get used to the byways of the fishing industry as they only recently acquired their new responsibilities. I therefore fully understand that they have had a lot of work to do. Dogged determination is probably the best description of their achievements over the past few months.

In addition to £46 million in aid, which the Government are bringing forward under the EC proposals, there is a further £40 million-plus package under the restructuring proposals. That is not far short of £100 million. I must place on record the gratitude of the fishing industry for that aspect of the restructuring proposals.

If the financial package is to have the maximum beneficial effect, we have to learn some lessons about the infrastructure of the industry. When I represented Brigg and Scunthorpe I dealt with the steel industry, which had modern machinery and methods. Any modern method more than a year or two old was outdated.

Grimsby and Cleethorpes are only 30 miles away. One need not know anything about the industry to notice the aging harbours and the fish markets. The on-land facilities in Hull, Fleetwood and Grimsby are a disgrace. A few weeks ago, with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), I visited the ports of Esjberg and Thyboren in Denmark to see the extent of the Danish Government's investment in the on-land infrastructure of the fishing industry.

We are on the verge of getting the price of fish right and of achieving the correct relationship between the international market and the common fisheries policy. We have to be patient. It is a tribute to our Ministers that the criticisms I hear from fishermen these days are directed not so much towards the quotas and the TACs as to the high cost of landing their fish at the ports of Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood.

The Department of Employment must contribute if we are to ensure that the fishing industry has a long-term future. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can negotiate until the cows come home in Brussels, and they can return with important announcements such as those made this evening, but they will come to nothing if the cost of landing fish is so high that the industry cannot make a reasonable profit. All the good work being done by Ministers is being undermined by the national dock labour scheme at Grimsby and Hull, and until recently at Fleetwood. I was not aware until my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) mentioned it that some progress had been made on the national dock labour scheme at Fleetwood. I hope that the Minister will use his influence with the Department of Employment to persuade it that some discussions should be started. I do not want any confrontation with the trade unions, because that would be the wrong way to proceed.

The trade unions, the TGWU in particular, have a responsibility towards their members who are employed in fishing. The TGWU must sit down and talk with the Department of Employment about some amendments—in Grimsby we call them "lumpers" — to the national dock labour scheme. There are problems in all the scheme ports which make it difficult for fishermen to have a fair crack of the whip.

There should be much greater consultation between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Employment and the TGWU to see whether it is possible to obtain an acknowledgement from the union that there must be some reform of the scheme at Hull and at Grimsby.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) spoke about his interest in fishing vessel safety. He mentioned the hard working lives of fishermen. That is something that we all acknowledge. He said that he was a member of the TGWU. If he has any influence with the fishermen who are members of the TGWU, he should go to the section of the union responsible for the national dock labour scheme. I do not complain about the scheme, because that union was looking after its members' interests. The TGWU, the Department of Employment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have an important role to play if fishing in Hull, Grimsby and Fleetwood is to have a future. There will have to be some amendments to the national dock labour scheme.

When I went to Denmark eight weeks ago. I was impressed by the fact that there seemed to be a national policy in favour of fishing. However many inspectors we have and however successful the United Kingdom is in drawing attention to the problem posed by Denmark within the EC, there will always be a successful fishing industry in Denmark. It is backed politically by the Government. I am not suggesting that this Government or the previous Labour Administration did not want a viable fishing industry. Both Governments have done a good job against a difficult background in trying to argue on behalf of the fishing industry. I have the impression, however, that the fishing industry's political clout in Denmark is much greater than it is here. If my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food want to see their hard work achieve some good, they must argue the fishing industry's corner not just in Europe but in the Cabinet. My hon. Friends should tell their fellow Ministers — in particular the Secretary of State for Employment — that if there is to be a viable fishing industry in this country, the Government must recognise that Denmark does so much better than the United Kingdom because the Danish fishing industry has political clout.

It is refreshing and encouraging that the House has heard contributions from hon. Members whose constituencies are not directly related to the fishing industry. That is an encouraging development, and it should be a warning to my hon. Friends that there is an increase in the political clout of the fishing lobby extending beyond those hon. Members who represent fishing constituencies.

Given the restructuring proposals and the work that is done inside the European Community on the common fisheries policy, there must be a recognition by national Governments that our ports are ancient and decrepit. In Grimsby there is a disgraceful and disgusting state of affairs. The Grimsby fishermen have to unload their fish against the backcloth of very high landing charges. That is caused partly by the fact that Grimsby is a national dock labour scheme port. Associated British Ports, which now runs Grimsby as the successor company to the old British Transport Docks Board, does not have clean hands in the way it imposes on the fishing industry. The port modernisation scheme in Grimsby was devised at the time of the deep water trawling industry, and that no longer exists. We all wish to see a modernisation scheme implemented in Grimsby, but nothing is happening. The port has a disgraceful fish market that is exposed to the elements. When I visited Esjberg and Thyboren a few weeks ago, the infrastructure, the closed-in fish market, was a sight for sore eyes. The fishermen bring in and unload their fish straight on to conveyor belts which carry it into the enclosed fish market. The result is better quality fish and better prices.

Bearing in mind the commercial discipline of Associated British Ports, the Government should recognise the role they can play in providing infrastructure assistance to the port of Grimsby. The fishing owners complain to me about the lack of infrastructure assistance. They acknowledge the excellent work that has been done by my right hon. and hon. Friends against a difficult European backdrop, but they do not wish to see that fine work come to nothing simply because the Department of Employment is not prepared to recognise its obligations.

Mention has been made of redundant fishermen. I add my voice to the voices of other hon. Members who have drawn the attention of the Minister to the problem. The Minister may rightly say it is a matter not for him but for the Department of Employment. It is incredible how often mention of the Department of Employment crops up in fishing debates. In future it would be a good idea if the Ministers of State, Department of Employment attended fishing debates as their responsibilities are so crucial to the fishing industry. The Minister of State, Department of Employment has a crucial responsibility which he cannot shirk by referring to the redundancy payments legislation of 1966, enacted by the previous Labour Administration, as restrictive. I do not intend to make a party political point.

The Minister of State must realise that he cannot get away with saying, "The redundancy payments legislation does not allow me to make provision for redundant fishermen." If one set of Ministers can come to the House tonight with £100 million just like that, their counterparts at the Department of Employment should similarly be prepared to come forward with amending legislation to redress the injustice to redundant fishermen, of whom there are many in my constituency. The British Fishermen's Association, which has headquarters in Cleethorpes, was responsible for organising the lobby of Parliament that was supported by hon. Members from all parts of the House two weeks ago.

I come to the fishing industry as a new Member in one sense, but I come with the same experience as the Ministers have had at the Department. They must recognise as quickly as I have the dire straits of the ports of Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood. I hope that the Minister will take on board the comments that I have made about the responsibility for the fishing industry that rests with the Department of Employment.

9.52 pm
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Odd though it may seem, I welcome the fact that I am probably the last Back-Bench speaker to take part in the debate. I welcome it because it gives me an opportunity to reply to various points regarding the Scots and the Cornish that have been made throughout the debate.

We must allow the common fisheries policy time to settle. After four and half years' experience of the European Parliament, I realise that we cannot do things quickly when 10 countries are concerned. Although most of us are critical of aspects of the common fisheries policy —I have deep reservations about the effectiveness of the policing as at present envisaged — I am firmly of the opinion that the choice is between a common policy of some sort or a free-for-all, and the latter would be disastrous for the fishermen, whether they come from Scotland or Cornwall.

We shall never get a perfect policy. Life is not like that, particularly in the fishing industry. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) hoped that there would be certainty. There cannot be certainty in fishing; fishing is not like that. What our fishermen want is some reasonable political certainty, or at least the removal of the dreadful political uncertainties that have bedevilled the industry for so long.

In addition to that, there will always be an element of conflict. Those of us with fishing ports know that there is often conflict between fishermen in the same port. There are conflicts between the fishing fleets of the Community countries. I regret to say that there are conflicts even now between the Cornish fishermen and some elements of the Scottish fleet. I say that with regret, because I should hate hon. Members to feel that there are bad relationships between the Cornish and Scottish fishermen.

With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson), the representative of one section of the Scottish fleet who spent the weekend in Cornwall was not given the brush-off by the leaders of the Cornish fishing industry. If such a gentleman comes to the area at short notice, he cannot expect to see everybody he would like to meet. I am afraid that he could not see me on Sunday, although he telephoned me and we had a long conversation. He was not given the brush-off and I know that the representatives of the Cornish fishermen are only too happy to meet that gentleman or any other representative who comes from Scotland to speak on the matter.

Anger is rising in Cornwall. The last thing that we want is a war with the Scottish fishermen. Tempers are rising because, as I tried to make clear in several interventions during the debate, the Cornish fishermen reckon that a dodge is going on, and I think they are right. The enlarged mackerel box off the south-west was introduced with one purpose only — to conserve stocks of immature mackerel. Anyone who has stood, for example, on Pendennis Head at the height of the bulk catching season in years gone past or even now and who has seen the fleet of factory ships — sometimes 40 and sometimes 60, mainly from Communist countries — can only ask himself, "What are they doing and how much mackerel are they handling?"

Of course, that fleet is not the cause of the problem. It is a manifestation of the over-fishing that has gone on in recent years. The stocks of mackerel have been brought to danger level, almost to commercial extinction. I have visited the constituencies of some Opposition Members in Scotland and have met their fishermen. As the evening has gone on and we have had a few drinks they have told me that they are doing to the mackerel off the south-west what they did to the herring off Scotland and that they will go on doing it until someone stops them. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) shakes his head, but that is what they have told me. He knows it is right because he knows that the catching capacity of the Scottish fleet, particularly the purse seining element, is huge. If it is to operate to full capacity or anything like full capacity it can and does devastate fish stocks. That is the root cause of the problem. I pay tribute to the Ministers who in previous years have at least tried to bring the problem under control.

I came to the conclusion some time ago that things had reached such a serious point that we had to have a box to control the activities not just of the Scottish fleet but also of our continental colleagues, to put it no higher than that, who where fishing beyond the 12-mile limit without any check or control. The box is a blunt instrument. I would much prefer a more sophisticated mechanism. I share the views of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland; I should like to see a move towards a regional approach, but because the scientists at long last recognised that the stock of mackerel was in a dire state the box had to be introduced.

What horrified Cornish fishermen and anyone who knew about the subject was the regulation which appeared. When they saw it they realised that there would be an exemption for bottom trawling. With respect to hon. Members who have taken up the interests of Scottish fishermen in the House tonight, they know, I know and everyone knows that the practice being indulged in by some Scottish fishermen is not bottom trawling. It is difficult to prove that it is not bottom trawling, but it is not, because mackerel are not caught by fishing and trawling at the bottom. It is as simple as that.

The regulation is defective in that regard. The Scottish fishermen and one or two Cornish fishermen have exploited the loophole. I would be prepared to turn a blind eye to that exploitation if I thought that things would remain as they are, but they will not. Now that some Scottish fishermen and one or two Cornish fishermen are getting away with it, what is there to stop bottom trawling by every other person who is interested in this? I can tell the House that a number of Cornish fishermen have said that they will not go bottom trawling but that they will do so if the exploitation of the loophole continues.

If it continues, not merely an ever-increasing number of Scots and more local boats but vessels from other EC countries will suddenly develop a keen interest in bottom trawling. If that happens, the box will be absolutely worthless. It would have been better not to introduce it if it is to fall into utter disrepute. That is the danger. That is why I have spoken with some passion and why I believe that the Government must take action.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for meeting the chairman and secretary of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, Mr. Michael Townsend and Mrs. Daphne Lawry, at short notice this evening, and for his assurance that this serious situation is being considered very carefully.

Let it not be thought that there are plenty of mackerel to be fished so it does not matter too much. I believe that representatives of the Scottish fishermen have suggested that the Ministry has underestimated the size of the southwest mackerel stock. Dr. John Sheperd who, I believe, is in charge of the Ministry research laboratory at Lowestoft has said—I have indirect permission to tell the House this — that the advice for conservation of immature mackerel in the present mackerel box should be for a total stop on trawling within the box and that the adjustment upwards of the scientists' estimate of the south-west mackerel stock as a result of a more refined basis of count in 1983 did not justify any relaxation of the conservation measures embodied in the box.

I therefore ask the Minister and the officials in Brussels with whom I have been in touch today, to examine carefully and put a stop to what I regard as the present abuse of the box. Otherwise, that whole system for conservation will collapse.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said at about mid-water and bottom trawling, but he is unlikely to get any satisfaction from the Government because the Scottish Office is in the process of preparing legislation which will make it legal to trawl right up to the coast. Previously, in the light of the court case in 1977, they were kept at least three miles out.

Mr. Harris

I did not quite follow that point, as there is a 12-mile limit around most of our coast—although, regrettably, in the south-west it is only six miles.

My right hon. Friend the Minister devoted a considerable part of his speech to restructuring. If we are honest about it, that is a euphemism for scrapping in some cases. I believe that that is necessary, especially in relation to some of the purse seiners mentioned earlier. It would, however, be the height of folly to scrap part of our fleet and reduce our catching capacity while allowing larger numbers of Spanish vessels into the waters around our coastline. Before I entered Parliament I was involved in a fight to deal with the abuse of Spanish flags of convenience, but that did not end the threat.

The total tonnage of Spanish vessels each weighing more than 100 gross registered tonnes each is 552,000 tonnes. The gross tonnage for that category of vessels in all 10 countries of the Community—I doubt whether Luxembourg has much of a fishing fleet—is only a little more than that at 575,000 tonnes. I fully endorse the remarks of Opposition Members that Spain poses a real threat in this regard. We must cope with that threat, and ensure that Spain does not increase its catching capacity, especially in the south-west. We must also ensure that Spain does not increase its capacity by stealth. I know that Ministers will watch this matter carefully in the months leading up to the detailed negotiations on Spain's accession to the Community.

10.5 pm

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

The Opposition welcome this debate, which has been wide-ranging. Your generosity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of your colleagues, in interpreting the wording of the documents enabled hon. Members to deal with many aspects of the common fisheries policy. It is fair to say that, after nearly 12 months of operation, it is appropriate now to examine the policy. Some might say that it has operated in fits and starts and has not operated fully. A representative of Scottish fishermen, who was in Brussels when the policy was finalised, said that the only thing that a Scotsman could celebrate on 25 January—the date on which the policy was agreed—was the birth of Robert Burns. He would certainly not celebrate the establishment of a common fisheries policy.

As there will be no vote on this debate, since there is little difference between the parties on the matter, I do not wish to be too churlish. However, I must say that there have been unconscionable delays in many aspects of the consideration of the CFP. The documents were produced late because the Commission took so long to reach agreement; the technical advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea was not provided until fairly late; and the figures for total available catches and catch quotas were not put before the Council until the end of May. Those figures were amended in July and again in November. We shall probably talk later of the Minister's expectations for the 14 December meeting.

Several hon. Members were gloomy about what might happen on 14 December. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), in his previous incarnation — I do not know whether he has left that area entirely—with some colleagues, wrote a booklet which said that the common fisheries policy was an enormous step forward. However, their euphoria was somewhat tempered by the elegant expression that there was a need for continual refinement. Many hon. Members believe that the policy needs substantial refinement; and hope springs eternal for some of the improvements that we would wish to have.

In April the previous Minister discussed restructuring and quota management policies, and he began consultations on the need to restructure restrictive licensing, decommissioning grants, laying-up premiums, and the construction and modernisation of vessels.

I hope that the Minister will not ignore what took place in the consultations between April and November. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made out a case for a plan for fish with wider considerations, and this should be a matter for urgency. We do not want extensive consultations, as in the intervening period since April the Ministry has been acquiring a great deal of information, in the form of opinions and representations from interested parties. It will not be helpful to the industry if we delay any longer than is necessary a clear statement of response to all of the points that I have made. I appreciate that the Minister has gone some way towards making the Government's views clear.

In April of this year we were expecting a quick statement on quotas. By May, the Government said that there was a prospect of conflict on 6 June. As we know, other things intervened about that time and the meeting was postponed. After the events of 9 June, a new Minister took over. We should like to think this somewhat unpleasant, disagreeable aspect of his activities — the continuing negotiations — will be completed by 14 December. However, there is probably more chance of us getting a white Christmas than that—in other words, it is not impossible but unlikely.

The total allowable catches must be resolved as quickly as possible, because pervading the whole debate have been the uncertainties surrounding the future of the industry. Many of us understand the point made by the hon. Member for St. Ives about which he obviously feels strongly, on the rights of the Cornish fishermen and the activities of a number of Scottish fleets. In many respects, the anxieties spring as much from the uncertainty and fragility of the industry at the moment as anything else.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), who is a regular participant in this debate, is not here because, in his usual pugnacious way, he would have probably defended his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) referred to The Press and Journal, and yesterday's addition which implied that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan would be here. With all due respect to those Scottish Members who tried to defend the Scottish fishermen, it is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan was not here this evening to do the job that some of the fishing people suggested in the newspaper that he would.

We must caution against the complacency and false optimism displayed by the Minister. We have had a procession of Ministers coming back from Brussels with some sort of half-baked scheme suggesting that all is well and the next meeting will clinch it. We are no longer, if we ever were, blind to the blandishments of the Minister. I shall quote from the Euro-fish report of 28 July, published about the same time as the Minister returned with one of his statements. Talking about the problems facing the industry and the Community it said: Hostilities between member states which should have been buried with the signing of the CFP were this week resurrected in all their former glory … The Danes were as ever branded as the root of all evil, the Dutch switched loyalties in mid-session, the French outmanoeuvred the British with a neat last-minute negotiating strategy, the Greeks made their bid for cash from an already under financed structural reform policy, and only the Germans seemed prepared to make any sacrifice for the sake of settlement, offering in vain a reduction in their own herring quota to smooth the way for acceptance by the other governments. I did not read that to make a party political point as much as to point out that that was the nature of the negotiations. We know that our EC partners are as tricky as a bag of monkeys in these matters. We should be foolish not to recognise that. It is important that the Minister does not try to kid us that the negotiations require only one more shove to be successful. We should like to think that. Nevertheless, we occasionally imagine that he endeavours to convey that impression, if only for the 35 minutes that he takes over a statement, until he can return to the redoubt of the Ministry.

It is significant that, on 28 July, we were given a clear expression by Mr. Bob Allan, who is a member of one of the Scottish organisations, that Scottish fishermen might have been less enthusiastic for, or sympathetic to, the common fisheries policy if they had known of some parts of the deal which were not given wide currency in the House. I refer to the agreement that allowed the Norwegians compensation at the expense of what Mr. Allan regarded as the right of Scottish fishermen. He believed that that would have changed the attitudes of some parties to the original deal.

We are not here to rewrite history. We recognise that we have a CFP of sorts — somebody called it an example of accidental integration. We do not wish to go over that point but we should like more clarity.

Mr. Henderson

With regard to the Norwegians, I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the negotiations between the Community and Norway are every bit as important for many Scottish fishermen as the arrangements within the Community. I support the hon. Gentleman in that regard.

Mr. O'Neill

It is not often that I receive support from the hon. Gentleman. I am thankful for small mercies. I must read the record tomorrow to ensure that what I am being offered is not a poisoned chalice.

We recognise people's sensitivities and sensibilities. The issues surrounding the southern approaches and mackerel spring from the uncertainty which the lack of clarity has created. We welcome the Minister beginning to become specific. We also welcome the assistance that he has offered today. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that we must ensure that we find means of keeping the money which is to be provided in the industry. We do not want people to leave the fishing industry and open a warehouse down the road with the money that they have received. We want it to be used to protect jobs in other sectors of the industry.

I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is living off puffs of smoke. If he wishes to clarify the issue I am happy to give way to him. I am patient enough to wait for him to do that during his winding-up speech. He is not without ingenuity and it should be within the bounds of his competence to devise schemes by which the objectives which right hon. and hon. Members have requested today can be achieved.

We welcome the decommissioning grants and the speed with which the promise of implementation was made. We could criticise the fact that that matter has been on the stocks for some time. We are now told, however, that the money is available. We have also been told that there will be simple application forms. I do not know what a civil servant means by simple application forms, but I look forward to seeing them.

On the joint venture to the Falklands and the expeditionary fishing forces going there, I can only say that the market that will be found there may be the troops who are now there. It has been suggested that it is uneconomic for some of the fleet to go to Newfoundland. Certainly, this offers new prospects, and we shall have to wait and see what happens.

The decommissioning of boats has been the subject of considerable debate this evening, but the men who worked on those boats live on. Virtually every Back-Bench Member who spoke this evening recognised the importance of looking again at the redundancy arrangements. It appears that the French Government are actively pursuing the matter. Perhaps a French Socialist Government will show a British Conservative Government a thing or two when it comes to redundancy payments, but I would like to think that someone somewhere will tackle the problem. We realise that the energy of the Minister of State, Department of Employment is considerable and that not much of it is being used at present in that Department, and is more likely to be extended in Smith square. However, perhaps he could earn his salary as a Minister of State and try to find a solution to the problem which would be to the satisfaction of all concerned.

The constructive suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about the status of information on pension funds is worth exploring. I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will undertake to look into that, or get his officials to contact the Department of Employment to do so.

As I said earlier, the French are displaying some ingenuity on redundancy payments. However, we all know that in the Community the French have exercised considerable ingenuity, pretty well since the Treaty of Rome was signed.

That brings me to the subject of inspectors. We hope that this proposal will be carried out as quickly as possible and that the full complement will be appointed. We hope, too, that the Minister will keep under constant review the representations that are made by the industry that the figure is far too low and that more people should be recruited as quickly as possible, if the Minister feels that they are needed. The Opposition do not feel that the burden of proof should rest on the industry. We feel that the Minister would be better to staff this service to the hilt at the outset. If there were insufficient work, the staff could be transferred elsewhere. However, we believe that it is important in gaining the confidence of the fishing industry that this side of the policing be carried out. although we accept that the Minister may say, in reply. that these people are simply inspectors of inspectors. In fact, that has already been said, and I do not deny it. Nevertheless, we want tangible proof of the Government's commitment to inspection of the CFP. We want the work to be done by a lot of people, and we suggest that the Minister has another look at the figure of 30 that has been suggested.

Mention has been made of log books and landing documents. I hope that the spring does not become summer, and the summer become autumn. I hope that this will be done as quickly as possible, and earlier rather than later.

The Opposition are not a million miles away from the Government on many of the issues that have been raised this evening. It is not appropriate for me to go over all the ports in the country and reiterate the pleadings made by hon. Members. Certainly, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) examined the plight of Hull at some length. For a Member representing Aberdeen to concern himself with the problems of Hull is a sacrifice that we all recognise.

The problem of catches must be resolved quickly. We recognise that the deal arrived at will enable the roll-over into 1984 to take place. We want to ensure that the assistance on decommissioning and restructuring will enable our fleet to perform as efficiently as possible, as soon as possible. We also want to ensure that former fishermen receive the same treatment as other people.

I represent a mining constituency. The latest round of redundancy arrangements offered to some of my constituents is commensurate with the dangers, skill and effort involved in the job, often over a lifetime. In many respects, the dangers, camaraderie and skills are similar in the fishing industry. The Common Market, which is the source of many of the improved redundancy arrangements for miners, should also be regarded as a possible source of funding for fishermen.

As my hon. Friend for Aberdeen, North said, we also need to ensure that the restructing of the industry will be accompanied by a labour force that is trained to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The Government must therefore take on board the points that have been made about training. We must have a highly skilled, well trained work force that is capable of working in the way envisaged by everyone who believes in the future good prospects for the industry.

We have heard some optimistic noises, perhaps not as many as we would like, but we recognise that the Government have begun to think in a way that strikes a chord with the Opposition. We shall not damn the Minister with faint praise. We simply say that this is a good start. We want it to continue and we want the improvement to accelerate. That should happen in a way that is fair to those working in the industry, to those who have served the industry and to the communities that over the years have successfully assisted the industry which is now in desperate need of our support.

10.28 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)

Rather than make a winding-up speech, I should perhaps leave my right hon. Friend with the quotes of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) ringing in his ears.

In my experience, debates on the fishing industry, particularly on the common fisheries policy, invariably result in a thoroughly lively exchange of views. This evening has proved to be no exception. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have the good fortune to be well acquainted with constituents who are fishermen. We all know them to be men of courage and skill who pursue a difficult and dangerous profession. When I get into my bed in London at midnight or thereabouts, listen to the shipping forecast and hear the usual gale warning for Malin and Hebrides, I think of some of the people I know who will be at sea in such weather. From what has been said, it is clear that we are genuinely concerned about the fortunes of our constituents and our traditional and important fishing industry. That was underlined by the presence of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who took part in the debate even though there is not a solitary fisherman in his constituency.

Fortunately, the fishing industry does not rely on history. It has shown great enterprise in adapting to the radically changed circumstances with which it has been faced over the past few years, not just from the common fisheries policy but from changes in technology, the way in which we fish and public taste.

The activity of some sectors has inevitably declined, but other sectors have shown increased efficiency and made maximum use of the opportunities available. The Government's policy is designed to foster that attitude and to secure a framework within which a modern industry can develop.

Since January we have listened to some strident criticisms of the common fisheries policy. Some of them have been echoed during the debate by Opposition Members, but I detected a slight muting of the stridency. It is sometimes convenient for hon. Members to forget what a milestone and an achievement the settlement of the CFP represented.

In the day-to-day problems that face the industry it would be easy to lose sight of the policy's significance. It is a policy for 20 years, which gives a real opportunity for the sort of stability and continuity that the industry has lacked in recent years. Fishermen may say that they are not entirely happy with the CFP, but the evidence of landings and investment do not entirely bear out the prophets of doom. We have heard about the restructuring package, the continuation of market support and the introduction of necessary conservation measures. We look forward to continuing development of the European Community control arrangements, with the introduction of the logbook next year. The inspectorate of inspectorates—a typically European title, if I may say so—for which the Government argued long and hard in Brussels has already started work. Several community inspectors have already visited some of our ports and, not surprisingly, they have been highly impressed by what they have seen.

There are other concrete signs which give us encouragement for the future. For example, for the first nine months of this year landings in Scotland alone were 5 per cent. greater in weight than in the same period last year and 15 per cent. up in value. That is a picture of a buoyant industry. Reports in the trade press and elsewhere in the industry show that about 30 new vessels may be joining the white fish fleet next year. Some of these are replacements for older vessels, but hard-headed fishermen will not make such investments unless they have confidence in the future and a prospect of good returns. Only today I was delighted with the announcement of a £700,000 order for an 85ft fishing boat to be built at the Campbeltown shipyard in my constituency. At the beginning of the debate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asked "What can the fishermen fish for? How much can they fish? Where can they fish? When can they fish?" Total allowable catches and quotas which were agreed in January 1982 have remained in force under what is described as the roll-over regulation. The regulation continues to apply while discussions on the 1983 quotas are progressing. The fishermen, therefore, know where to fish and how much to fish. There are regular discussions between the fisheries departments and the industry about when fisheries, especially those concerned with pelagic species, are to open and close.

I agree with the hon. Member for Clackmannan and other hon. Members that it is unsatisfactory that we have not yet seen the EC proposals for 1984 for some of the most important stocks. There will have to be talks with the Norwegians, and these are currently taking place. I have no reason to suppose that adequate arrangements will not be made for the total allowable catches and quotas for 1984.

I was asked quite a few questions about the restructuring programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir M. Shaw) asked about consultation. Written views were sought from all the organisations in the industry with any interest in the subject. The main organisations were invited to augment their written replies with meetings with officials and Ministers.

The restructuring policy has three main aims. The first aim is permanently to remove surplus capacity. It is sensible to help owners to take out of the fleet vessels that can no longer operate economically. In this financial year—of which about three months remain—there will be £4 million available for that purpose. That shows how serious we are. Other fishermen benefit from old vessels being taken out of the industry. The quotas come under less pressure and each remaining fisherman can have a larger share of the quota.

The second aim is to provide temporary assistance for laying-up grants. That is for boats that have a long-term future but face short-term difficulties.

The third leg is to develop a more modern fleet. That is why the bulk of the available money is to be devoted to grants for vessel building and modernisation. The aim, as my right hon. Friend said in opening, is to help the industry to develop a fleet that is well adapted to take advantage of the fishing opportunities open to us.

The hon. Members for Aberdeen North and for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) asked about Hull and Grimsby. My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley said that the 200-mile limit had had a far greater effect on the decline of that area than had the common fisheries policy.

Our overall aim must be to encourage the industry to develop a fleet that is structured to take the best advantage of the fishing opportunities open to us. I well understand the arguments for having a strong and effective middle-water fleet. Substantial aid will be available for worthwhile projects that take account of the opportunities and the possible economic viability of the vessels that may be built with the aid of grants.

We recognise that problems have arisen from the reopening of the North sea herring fishing grounds. The North sea herring fisheries this year have been disrupted by uncertainty about quotas at various times of the year. The summer North sea herring fishery was a success. The Shetland producers' organisation, based in the constituency of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), played a responsible and helpful role, as did the Scottish fishermen's organisation, in planning the fishery, as well as the market in an orderly manner.

I assure hon. Members that from the present negotiations we are determined to obtain a settlement on North sea herring that is fair to our fishermen and gives them good and continuing fishing opportunities. Provided the scientists make recommendations on an area basis, we shall aim for quotas to be managed on such a basis.

As we are in the middle of negotiations, my right hon. Friend appreciates the fact that hon. Members did not force us to expose our negotiating position in this difficult area. We have listened with care to what hon. Members have said. We shall be undertaking the negotiations with the interests of the fishing industry close to our hearts.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to objections by some sectors of the industry to the closure, for a large part of the summer, of the central and southern North sea herring grounds. I must inform the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. who thought that there was no market for herring at Christmas time, that a considerable market exists for salt herring at the new year because herring gives the average Scot that extra drouth which sees him through the festive season.

The Government must rely on the advice that they receive from scientists about the closure of the herring fishing grounds. We are aware of the problems that such closures cause. We shall keep under review the position that developed this year when considering what will happen next year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough expressed anxiety about the 1984 cod and haddock quotas in the North sea. Negotiations are taking place with the Norwegians. I assure hon. Members that we have made it abundantly clear to the Commission that we attach great importance to these stocks. We shall be examining critically the results of such negotiations when they are presented to the Council.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) asked about the reduced quotas for western mackerel for 1983. We are confident that a compromise can be negotiated that will ensure that the quota reduction is not as great as proposed. The latest figure suggested for the United Kingdom is 193,000 tonnes. That amount may prove adequate for our needs this year.

I am grateful for the acknowledgement by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North of the Government's success in negotiating a postponement of the mackerel closure north of 58 degrees north this year. The regulations in which the closure appears last for one year. Having established this year's position, we should be on good ground for maintaining the same date in future years. That is a good example of what the Government have achieved.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North mentioned mackerel being bought at a low price and sold at a much higher price. I was not aware of that practice. If he will supply Ministers with details, we shall be glad to look into it.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I was not speaking of mackerel being bought at £35 per tonne and sold at £350. It is the fish meal that is going at that price after being processed.

Mr. MacKay

I used shorthand expressions to the hon. Gentleman. We know what he meant. If he will give us details, we shall look into the matter.

We had an interesting discussion about the south west mackerel fishery. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) put the case for his fishermen, as I have heard other hon. Members from other parts of the coast put the case for their fishermen. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North mentioned the problem from the point of view of the Scottish fleet.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North used the problems as an example of the failure of the CFP. It is a bad example, because the problem arises between two groups of United Kingdom fishermen and has nothing to do with fishermen from other parts of the EC. The difficulties encountered by fishermen pursuing mackerel off south-west England are well-known to me and to the Ministers of State, Scottish Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They have had meetings today with the two sides in the argument.

The new box was designed to protect juvenile mackerel and was introduced with effect from 16 November. In the box, normal pelagic fishing methods — midwater trawling and purse seining—are prohibited, but bottom trawling for mackerel is taking place. There is broad agreement in the House and the industry about the need for sensible conservation, and the Government are monitoring the operation of the box. I assure those on both sides of the argument that we are aware of the problem and we shall watch it to see whether anything needs to be done.

Mr. O'Neill

In the absence of an ACAS for the fishing industry, will the Minister make available an official to mediate? We do not want the problem to get out of proportion.

Mr. MacKay

Officials of the Ministry in that part of the country are already attempting to mediate, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will continue.

On training, we look to the SFIA to develop training programmes. Our recent discussions with the authority suggest that, with some assistance from the Manpower Services Commission, the authority will be able to provide a satisfactory programme for next year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley mentioned the vexed question of the French fuel subsidy. I confirm that the French Government continue to operate a fuel subsidy. It has been ruled by the Commission to be incompatible with Community state aid rules, and the French Government have been asked to end it. Any failure to comply could result in their being taken to the European Court. We are watching developments very carefully.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to the attitude of the Shetland Fishermen's Organisation and the island council to the common fisheries policy. The organisation regularly expresses dissatisfaction with the CFP, claiming that it has been a disaster. However, it is interesting to note that human consumption landings by Shetland vessels show increases in the first 10 months of this year, compared with last year's figures, of 47 per cent. by weight and 42 per cent. by value — a rise from £3.9 million to £5.6 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Sir W. Clegg) might find that his fishermen would not regard such an increase as a disaster.

Mr. Wallace

What does the hon. Gentleman think that those figures prove? The increases may have been caused by the fact that there were more fish or that the men went out for more often. If there had been an agreed policy on herring, so that we had been able to fish throughout the year, the figures would have been even better.

Mr. MacKay

I have no doubt that the figures would have been even better, but they were very good in any case, and the predicted disaster has not taken place.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East referred to mesh sizes. The regulations on minimum mesh size provide for consideration of a derogation for certain species, including whiting. A decision is to be taken before 31 May 1984. As I explained to my hon. Friend, the date on which the regulations are to come into effect has been moved forward by a year to 1 January 1985.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives asked about the effect of Spanish accession. The common fisheries policy was worked out on the basis of historic fishing patterns. The same principle would be applied to Spain, so Spanish fishermen would be able to fish only where they could prove historic performance.

The conservation rules for lobsters are just as important as those for any other species, and have been known to the industry since 1981. A minimum of 85 mm was the scientific recommendation for the longer term. The regulation is being introduced in two stages, and the second stage, increasing the size from 83 to 85 mm, will not now take effect until May 1984.

My right hon. Friends and I are well aware that voices in the industry are calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme, but the matter is complex. We shall discuss the possibilities with the industry, but the problem should not be underestimated.

I hope that my right hon. Friend gave the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed and for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) a satisfactory answer about the sprat area closures. We have had scientific advice on the subject, but we are aware that many fishermen do not accept that it is correct. As my right hon. Friend said, we are keeping the measure under review in the light of the scientific advice, and, if there is any change, we shall be prepared to change the arrangements.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Wyre Forest (Mr. Bulmer), as well as the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, West, for Aberdeen, North and for Clackmannan, referred to matters which are more the concern of the Department of Employment. Redundancy payments for fishermen, for example, are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I will ensure that the various points made about the arrangements for redundant fishermen are brought to his attention. I am glad to see that he is in the Chamber. I have tried to be non-partisan, but I must now make a party political point. The previous Labour Government did not do very much about that problem, despite the fact that it existed then.

Many hon. Members felt that enforcement should be given top priority in the Community. It is important that each member state should retain responsibility for enforcement within its own fisheries limits. The key to effective enforcement in future will be full implementation of the requirements of EC control regulations and the early establishment of a European Commission inspectorate of inspectorates. The British Government, above all, have pushed for that inspectorate to be set up. We have also called for logbooks, and I am pleased to say that logbooks are expected to be introduced during the first half of 1984.

The Commission has assured us that its inspectorate, which was set up at our instigation, will be fully complemented by the turn of the year; that it has already begun its work; and that visits by teams of Community inspectors have been made recently to to a number of member states. The inspectorate is charged with ensuring that all member states apply the provisions of the common fisheries policy consistently and rigorously throughout the Community. The Commission considers that 13 inspectors should be sufficient. We shall be evaluating their effectiveness and will not hesitate to press for more if they appear to be necessary.

I began by commending the fishing industry's enterprise, and I referred to increased investment. That is healthy. Fishermen want, above all, a period of stability. They want to know in good time what opportunities will be available so that they can plan their activities accordingly. In essence, that is what the Government are trying to achieve. We know that the common fisheries policy is not perfect. We shall take such steps as we can to improve it. Our priority must be to ensure continuity of fishing opportunities and the best possible catches. I am sure that everyone who has the industry's welfare at heart must support those aims.

Mr. Wallace

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 7021/83, 8076/83, and 8076/83 Amendment I on 1983 total allowable catches, quotas and the conditions under which they may be taken, 7022/83, 7955/83 on technical conservation measures, 7973/83, 8126/83 on quota allocations for Norway, 10158/83 on 1984 fish guide prices, 10568/83 amending the provisional quota arrangements in respect of North Sea herring as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 22nd November 1983 on fixing the total allowable catch and quotas for the eastern saithe stock for 1983 and of the agreement reached in the Council of Ministers on 3rd and 4th October on technical conservation and structural measures and Norway quotas and on 15th November on eastern saithe and the provisional herring quotas; and urges Her Majesty's Government to secure such improvements to the remaining proposals as may be necessary to meet the needs of the United Kingdom fishing industry.

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