§ 8 pm
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Michael Jopling)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10171/84 and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1985 total allowable catches and quotas; of the unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1985 catch quotas in Greenland waters, and of the unnumbered explanatory memoranda on the fisheries agreements for 1985 between the European Community and Norway, the European Community and the Faroe Islands and the European Community and Spain; of European Community Documents Nos. 10697/84 on technical conservation measures and 10264/84 on 1985 fish guide prices; and welcomes and approves the provisional agreement reached on these arrangements for 1985 with the improvements obtained for the United Kingdom fishing industry.The motion before the House makes it clear that tonight's debate covers a number of documents on EC fisheries legislation, most of which are concerned with the fishing arrangements for 1985 under the common fisheries policy.
Those documents have been recommended for the further consideration of the House by the Select Committee on European Legislation. We are, as always, grateful to the Committee for its careful scrutiny of these matters, particularly on this occasion when, I understand, it held a meeting yesterday in addition to its planned programme in order to deal with some of the later documents which have come before us.
Before going into detail on the various documents, I should first explain that the complete proposals on total allowable catches and quotas and on the third country agreements were presented on 18 December for discussion at the Fisheries Council the very next day, and that, after lengthy negotiations, a compromise package emerged to which all the other member states were able to give their agreement.
I considered that that package was satisfactory for the United Kingdom, too, but, in view of the recommendation of the Select Committee, I entered a formal reservation on the adoption of the regulations for 1985, pending a debate in the House.
However, in order that fishing should not be interrupted, I agreed that the regulations should be adopted on an interim basis to 20 January only, pending clarification of the United Kingdom position following completion of the Parliamentary scrutiny procedures. Therefore, the position of the House is fully reserved.
I should also mention that the proposals on guide prices for 1985, which were considered by the Select Committee on 14 November, came before the Council for urgent adoption in a revised form on 4 December. Given the nature of the proposals, and the need for a number of detailed implementing measures to be taken before the new prices could take effect on 1 January, I judged that it would not be in our interest to hold up adoption.
Therefore, I subsequently wrote explaining this decision to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who is so assiduous about such matters, and I am glad to say that with his customary understanding he was able fully to accept my explanation.
969 Having dealt with these procedural questions, let me now deal with the substance of the measures involved. I shall deal first with the TACs and quotas for 1985 covered by document 10171/84 and the unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 4 January.
The annual fixing of TACs and quotas is of course one of the principal cornerstones of the common fisheries policy, determining as it does the opportunities for fishermen, and it is of particular concern to the United Kingdom given our major interest in most of the stocks concerned.
In 1984, agreement was reached on the TACs and quotas for the year at the end of January, but we and the other member states were determined this time to make every effort to settle TACs and quotas for 1985 before the beginning of the year, so as to give the industry a clear basis on which to plan. That we have now achieved, subject only to my own parliamentary reservation, and I see that as an important step forward in the development of the common fisheries policy as an effective instrument of fisheries regulation and management. I should also add that that was no easy achievement, given in particular the need for prior negotiations with a number of third countries, notably Norway.
Therefore, I think it right to pay tribute both to the Commission and to the Irish President of the council, that an acceptable compromise package was reached in the course of a single day's negotiations, particularly as a full set of proposals was not available until the day before the Council meeting.
I shall now outline the main elements of interest to the United Kingdom, starting with the North sea joint stocks. Here, there are increases in the availability of all white fish stocks, as agreed with Norway in the light of the latest scientific advice.
The higher United Kingdom quotas for cod, haddock and saithe in particular, representing increases of 15 per cent., 19.8 per cent. and 11.1 per cent. respectively, will be most welcome to our fishermen both north and south of the border.
In particular, it is gratifying that North sea cod, about which concern has been expressed in the House on a number of occasions, has shown enough signs of recovery to enable the TAC to be increased significantly for 1985.
It has not yet proved possible to reach agreement with Norway on the problem of the allocation of the North sea herring stock. But, without sacrificing our existing firm position on that issue, it has been agreed that negotiations will continue in the course of 1985.
In the meantime, both parties will regulate their herring fisheries independently on an interim basis in the light of the scientific advice. That involves a provisional TAC for the Community sector of 320,000 tonnes.
The United Kingdom quota in the northern and central zones—IV A and B—which is more important for us than the southern zone, IV C, is to be 58,490 tonnes, more than double our figures for 1984. For the southern zone, IV C, our quota has also increased to 9,700 tonnes, and the provision allowing the transfer of a part of this quantity in IV C to the central North sea, IV B has been increased from 20 to 25 per cent. So we could using that transfer mechanism, fish 60,915 tonnes in IV A and B and 7,275 in IV C.
That allocation between the three North sea areas therefore constitutes for the United Kingdom a considerable improvement over the Commission's original 970 proposal and I know that the fishing industry attaches great importance to the changes which were achieved in the negotiation.
The quantities of North sea mackerel available to the Community under the agreement with Norway have also been also increased. In previous years, the United Kingdom had not been awarded a quota for this stock, but in this year's package several member states, including the United Kingdom have been allocated a small quantity, of 330 tonnes, mainly intended to cover unavoidable by-catches of mackerel in the North sea herring fisheries.
I come to stocks which lie outside the North sea. The TACs for west of Scotland haddock and herring will be lower than in 1984 in the light of clear scientific advice on the state of these stocks. I was, however, able to ensure that the figures in the final package were significantly higher than those originally proposed by the Commission. This is particularly important for the west coast herring fishery.
The so-called Manx herring TAC is further increased for 1985 to 4,400 tonnes, which will be particularly welcome to the Northern Irish boats which mainly prosecute this fishery.
The TAC for western mackerel, a stock of great importance to the United Kingdom fishing industry, is to be reduced following firm scientific advice. However, as I believe our industry recognises, this reduction is clearly in the best interest of the long-term conservation of the stock, and it should not in practice restrict the activities of our fishermen, as the reduced United Kingdom quota for 1985, of 220,000 tonnes, is still higher than our expected catch, which was about 185,000 tonnes in 1984.
Before leaving the question of TACs, I should mention a group of small but locally important white fish stocks in area VII; that is, the Irish sea, Bristol channel, Western approaches and English channel. During 1984, the TACs for this group of stocks and the management of the United Kingdom quotas attracted a great deal of attention, and although we were able to get a number of the TACs increased and arrange quota swaps with other member states, it was unfortunately necessary to close certain of the sole and plaice fisheries at various stages in the year.
Despite this, the Commission's original proposals for 1985 would have meant reductions in the United Kingdom quota for some of these stocks, and I thus pressed strongly for these proposals to be reconsidered.
I am glad to report that the compromise package retains the quotas for all the area VII white fish stocks at least the 1984 level, while in the case of certain stocks of particular interest to our fishermen—notably, sole in both sections of the English channel and plaice both in the Irish sea and in the English channel — we have secured modest increases.
We shall of course continue to have to manage these, and, indeed, many of the other, quotas carefully, since the fishing opportunities they provide are by no means unlimited. Nevertheless, I can confidently state that the outcome of the Council's deliberations on the quotas for 1985 represents an exceedingly good package for the United Kingdom fishing industry, and it has been warmly welcomed by the fishermen's representatives, and I have no hesitation in commending it to the House.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
Do not the improvements in TACs and United Kingdom quotas place an additional responsibility on the 971 Sea Fish Industry Authority more effectively to promote the sale of fish throughout the United Kingdom? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the performance of that authority?
§ Mr. Jopling
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that important point. I am sure that he is pleased to know that the Community has agreed to a programme which facilitates this important work and I am sure that the House is grateful to him for drawing its attention to that point.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
We are glad that the TACs are in place for 1985 at such an early stage. Causing the industry some concern in the latter part of 1984 was the fact that for saithe in the North sea the Commission had a stoppage of fishing before France and Belgium had fully fished their quotas. Concern was expressed that at a future time there might be a premature stoppage of fishing of a particular species perhaps before we had fished our quota. Has that been discussed by the Council of Ministers, and may we have an assurance that there will not be such a premature stoppage at a future date?
§ Mr. Jopling
I cannot give an assurance that there will not be a stoppage of that sort. We have discussed this matter in the Council. The Community must look at the total amount of fish caught. It is possible that a situation could arise — the hon. Gentleman has drawn the attention of the House to such a situation — when, because of over-fishing by one nation, the fishery must be closed before all the other countries with a quota in the area have fished their quotas. This is an unsatisfactory matter. I will now deal with the point which the hon. Gentleman has raised. We have consistently stressed to the European Commission the need to ensure that the rules of the common fisheries policy are properly enforced by all member states.
It was largely as a result of our efforts that the Commission set up its own fisheries inspectorate to investigate the way in which the common fisheries policy rules are enforced by the Administrations of member states, and I am pleased to say that we saw a good deal of progress in 1984. I appreciate that, rightly, the House has been keenly interested in this issue during the last year.
The inspectorate carried out a programme of over 50 visits to member states in 1984, as a result of which a number of irregularities were uncovered. We have asked the Commission to produce a report on the first year's operation of the inspectorate and have made it clear that we shall be looking to the Commission to propose suitable penalties for any systematic overfishing of quotas which can be proven.
This relates to the intervention of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) because the key point is to spot at an early stage the moment when a nation has over-fished its quota, so that when the fishery is closed, other people do not have to suffer. We are alert to this difficult problem and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to work on the matter.
In 1985, further improvements in quota observance should result from the introduction of standard log books and landings returns, which are now expected to be 972 enforced throughout the Community by 1 April. This is welcome progress and it is a date which we extracted from the commissioner as a result of our own initiative.
I come to the various arrangements for fishing in third country waters and at Greenland, as well as the reciprocal arrangements for third country fishermen in member states' waters. In view of the potential interest of the House in these matters, I made my agreement to these proposals also subject to the parliamentary reservation which I have explained.
I start with Greenland. Because the treaty covering Greenland's withdrawal from the Community had not been ratified by all member states within the agreed timetable. Greenland now remains, legally speaking, a part of the Community, although the withdrawal treaty is expected to come into full force later this month.
The Council accordingly agreed, subject to my reservation, interim arrangements pending the entry into force of the withdrawal treaty and the associated fisheries agreement. These arrangements are described in the unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 3 January.
The quotas are, with one exception, at the level provided for in the protocol to the long-term fisheries agreement. The exception is for cod at west Greenland, where scientific advice has indicated that the stock is in a serious condition. In order to allow fishing to continue without prejudicing the decision which it will be for the Greenland authorities to take after withdrawal, German and United Kingdom vessels will be able to fish until 31 January against the balance of their quotas remaining uncaught from 1984—although I must make it clear that United Kingdom catches in Greenland waters in 1984 were in fact very low.
To move from Greenland's icy waters to those of Norway, I have already explained that agreement was eventually reached in mid-December with Norway on a reciprocal fisheries arrangement for 1985 on a basis that is very satisfactory for the United Kingdom. Apart from the increases already mentioned in the availabilities of the joint stocks, the agreement—which is described in the unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 21 December— maintains our white fish quotas at Norway, which constitute the major remaining fisheries of interest to our distant-water fleet, and reductions were secured—at our request in these negotiations — in the allocation to Norway of western mackerel and west of Scotland herring.
On North sea herring, there will be no Norwegian access to the Community zone, pending the conclusion of further negotiations on the allocation of the stock. I hope that it will be possible to reach agreement on this in the course of 1985, as there are clear dangers to the long-term conservation of the stock if joint management arrangements cannot be restored. However, it must be said that the two sides are still far apart, and agreement will be very difficult to achieve, even on an ad hoc basis for 1985, let alone on the zonal attachment which both sides agree in principle should form the basis of lasting arrangements, as is the case with the other main joint stocks in the North sea.
The agreement with the Faroe Islands, as described in the unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 21 December, is of little interest to the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, it contains certain improvements from our point of view, notably reductions in the allocation to the Faroes of western mackerel and west of Scotland herring, and an exchange of letters committing the Faroes to 973 negotiate constructively in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation in June on the level of its intercepting salmon fisheries.
The final third country agreement mentioned in the motion is that with Spain. Given Spain's impending accession to the Community, which is a matter somewhat beyond the scope of tonight's debate, it has been agreed that Spain should in principle retain the same fishing opportunities in Community waters in 1985 as she obtained in 1984, and I think that this is only right. The arrangements are described in the unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 21 December, and the only change over last year is that the number of licences for the Spanish hake fishery will be reduced from 118 to 106.
That concludes my review of the TACs and third country agreements for 1985, but I think that the House would expect me to say a brief word about two other items that are covered by tonight's motion.
First, there is document 10697/84, which contains two proposals to amend the technical conservation regulation. One is simply that a decision on an increase in the mesh size for nets used in the English channel, which was due to be taken by 31 December 1984, should be deferred until 1 July 1987. This follows the most recent scientific advice that it has not been possible to make reliable assessments of the effects of mesh size changes in the channel because of the lack of appropriate data. I regret that this is so, but the Commission is now fully aware of the need to ensure that appropriate data are gathered, and I am hopeful that a proper assessment will be possible before the new deadline in 1987.
The same document also contains proposals to amend rules which apply to vessels fishing with beam trawls within 12 miles of our coasts. The present rules, which exclude from the 12-mile belt beam trawlers over 70 gross registered tonnes or 300 brake horsepower, have, as many hon. Members will be aware, proved extremely difficult to enforce. These new proposals are a development of proposals put forward earlier last year and debated in this House on 3 July. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State explained then, further consideration was to be given to other criteria for identifying a vessel's size.
As a result, the Commission's latest proposals include a formula for defining size by the product of the beam of a vessel and its overall length. All vessels which on that basis exceeded 120 sq m would then be prohibited from fishing within 12 miles of coasts with beam trawls. The proposal also includes an attempt to define engine power more precisely and to overcome problems associated with the derating of engines.
We are concerned to improve the enforceability of the rules governing beam trawling, but we are not convinced that these proposals will achieve this, not least because they are too complicated and likely to be too restrictive. We are not, however, alone in having reservations about this matter, and before the meeting of the Council on 4 December, it was agreed that this matter needed further study in a working group. The United Kingdom will of course be participating in that group, and we shall be taking fully into account the views and interests of the industry.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)
My right hon. Friend will appreciate that there are those among us who think, for good fishery conservation reasons, that it would have been better if there had been no trawlers at all. 974 Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, particularly in that part of the North sea, the problems of British Telecom, as the beam trawlers fish up the telephone lines between here and Europe?
§ Mr. Jopling
I am glad to say that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry rather than me, although I am concerned to hear about it. Beam trawling is probably one of the most controversial matters in fishing, as my hon. Friend probably knows as well as I do. If he wishes to make speeches advocating that beam trawling should be banned altogether, I recommend him to go and to try his luck in Brixham, and see how that goes down.
The final document before the House is 10264/84, which contains the Commission's proposals for guide prices in 1985. The importance of these prices lies in the fact that they are used to calculate the withdrawal prices that members of the fish producers' organisations must observe if they are to receive compensation from FEOGA for fish which has to be withdrawn from the human consumption market, and the Commission's proposals are in three parts.
The first of these is of greatest importance because it covers the main species of commercial value to United Kingdom fishmen. These are cod, plaice, herring and mackerel, and in this part of the Commission's proposal there is provision for increases ranging from nil to 6 per cent. Taken as a whole, the proposal seemed to us to have been drawn up on a sensible basis.
Nevertheless, we managed in subsequent discussion to secure agreement that the guide prices for plaice should be increased by three percentage points for the first four months of the year and by two further percentage points for the rest of the year, and that the guide price for cod should be increased by 6 per cent. instead of the 5 per cent. proposed by the Commission. Conversely, and as a consequence of adjustments made to reflect the concerns of other member states, the proposed increase for haddock was reduced by one percentage point to 5 per cent.
Overall, however, the changes made to the Commission's proposals represented on balance an improvement which should be welcome to United Kingdom fishermen. As I explained earlier, it was important to reach agreement sufficiently early in December to allow all the other prices derived from the guide prices to be applied from the beginning of the new fishing year in January; otherwise fishermen would have lost the benefit of new and higher price levels for the first few weeks of the new year. For that reason, I hope that the House will understand why, at the Fisheries Council on 4 December, I agreed to the modified guide price proposals, which all other member states were also in a position to adopt.
This occasion provides me with the opportunity, however, to commend to the House the revised proposals and all those in the other documents before us tonight covering the many aspects of the common fisheries policy. I hope that what I have said will have been enough to convince the House that the arrangements for 1985 which we have been able to negotiate, including the improvements that we have obtained for the benefit of the United Kingdom fishing industry, are satisfactory. I have no hesitation in asking the House to approve these proposals.
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)
I might be breaking with protocol by starting with a series of thanks. I thank the Minister for arranging this debate, for putting in the reserve the request of the Select Committee on European Legislation and for enabling us, at the earliest opportunity after the recess, to have the debate for which the Opposition pressed. I am grateful to the Minister for his efforts in producing this debate. I pass on the thanks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, who is very grateful and who wishes his thanks for this debate to be relayed.
Somewhat unusually, I thank the Deliverer of the Vote and his staff because a vast stack of documents were becoming available only during the recess. I thank them for making those documents available to me and other hon. Members at the earliest opportunity. I thank them also for all the hard work they have done to ensure that this plethora of material has been made available for tonight's debate.
On behalf of the fishing industry I repeat the thanks that have been expressed to me by Scottish, English and Welsh fishermen that an agreement was reached before 1 January and that we did not have to go through the farce of acting as though 1 January did not exist. I am sure that the whole fishing industry, whatever the detailed arguments it has against little bits, is delighted and thanks the Council of Ministers in general and our Ministers in particular for what has been achieved. It is a marvellous achievement, after the years of uncertainty that have surrounded the fishing industry, to know when the fishing year starts. Regrettably, the fact that fishermen have not known for the past eight years when the year started was a symptom of the disasters they have faced.
I thank the Minister on behalf of the fishing industry for the 16,000 extra tonnes of North sea cod and the 20,000 extra tonnes of North sea haddock quotas. Along with many other hon. Members I have received a briefing note from the Scottish Fishermens Federation which states that North sea cod quotas will increase by approximately 16,000 tonnes. The federation states:there are also smaller increases in our Quotas of North Sea Whiting, Saithe and Plaice and all in all the outcome should ensure a good year's fishing for the White Fish Sector of the Scottish fleet and at the same time go some considerable way towards meeting the problems encountered by the Processing Side of the Industry in 1984.I convey to the Government also the thanks of the Scottish fishing industry and the Tyneside and Shields fishing industry for the strong stance the Government are taking in the negotiations with Norway. We are clearly in the lead, and the Government have the support of the east coast herring fishing industry totally and unequivocally. The demands made by the Norwegian Government are extravagant and unacceptable, and this Government will have the total support, and the thanks, of the British fishing industry, especially on the east coast, for their stand in negotiations with the Norwegians over these North sea stocks.
So much for the thanks. I now turn to a number of small questions, some of which were raised by the Minister. Did we fish any cod off the west coast of Greenland during 1984? Is it other than a paper transaction? I suspect that we have not fished that cod, that we have not wished to 976 fish it or have had the capacity to fish it. Therefore, to include this measure is nonsense and to pretend that it is a significant part of any package helps no one.
The exchange of notes and the letter received from the Chief Minister of the Faroes leads me to suspect that, before too long, there could be a Faroese salmon war unless we are careful. At long last, we may have picked someone of our own size in such matters with whom to have a fight. The relationship between the Faroese assault on north Atlantic salmon fisheries and that by Greenland is like the relationship between a gnat and a vulture. I am afraid that we are straining to reach an agreement on salmon catches with the Faroese while we are permitting catches to be made in Greenland waters with no apparent difficulty.
I should like the Minister to be clear about the relationship between the white fish and pelagic fisheries fished by the Faroese and the discussions occurring within the confines of the north Atlantic salmon fishing arrangements and the reserved position the Faroese Government have taken if those arrangements should fail. We appear to be getting fairly close to going to war with the Faroes over a few salmon while the vast quantity of Greenland salmon are left untouched. That would be unsatisfactory to the Faroese and wholly unsatisfactory to our salmon fisheries.
The Minister mentioned en passant the control of trawling within the 12-mile limit on certain parts of our coast. Having read the documents, I can only agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the present proposals on derating of engines and so forth are so complex as to be unintelligible to anyone other than a marine engineer. Unless one takes account of the hauling capacity of a beam trawler, its catching capacity cannot be measured adequately. What matters is not merely the size of a vessel but how hard it can plough its beam trawl through on its engine power.
I have great sympathy with the view that beam trawling is repugnant and should be banned as soon as possible. I hope that the Government will press—at least in the long term if they cannot achieve it immediately—for the total abandonment of beam trawling in Community waters. I accept that some species will be more difficult to catch without beam trawling but as there is no way to ensure effective policing by Community enforcement authorities or by national authorities I see no alternative to banning it altogether. I hope that the Minister will take that very seriously.
On the long-term joint North sea herring stock shared between Norway and the Community in areas IV A and IV B the Minister said that up to 60,900 tonnes could be caught, including swap arrangements with other areas. Again, may we have an assurance that these are not just paper fish and that that quantity of herring can actually be fished? Moreover, will it find a market at a price sufficient to recompense the fishermen for catching it so that this delicious, edible fish is not turned into fishmeal due to intervention prices? We have properly allowed for intervention, but in the past year there have been periods during which the landing price of herring was so low as not to recompense the fishermen. To increase the quota in those circumstances is an extraordinary exercise in marketing. If herring cannot be sold for human consumption, are the Government satisfied that there should be an increase in the quota and the minimum price?
§ Dr. Godman
I asked the Minister earlier whether he was satisfied with the performance of the Sea Fish Industry Authority in promoting commercial species, especially in view of the additional catches which may or may not exist. We all welcome the increased quotas, but in those circumstances the authority has a very important role in persuading the consumer to buy the fish at its real value.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree entirely. The difficulty is that after 10 years without herring the housewife has lost the appetite for it and in many cases has never learnt the skill of cooking it. It is regrettable, but people do not know how to put the oatmeal around the herring to dry it out, so there are technical difficulties in persuading the consumer. The Sea Fish Industry Authority and other bodies certainly have a major promotional and educational role to play in convincing people of the excellence of herring. My point, however, is that giving an extra quota of herring to be turned into fishmeal has a distinctly distasteful element. The British people should be educated to enjoy herring as real fish rather than as bacon and eggs put through a pig and a hen.
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) may wish to say something about the Manx fisheries. Are we satisfied with the arrangements for the policing and control of those fisheries? I appreciate that there are constitutional difficulties which it would not be appropriate to discuss today. Nevertheless, I have found that the size of kippers available on the Isle of Man is often considerably below the minimum size permitted for mainland herring catches. Is the Minister satisfied that catches of undersized herrings which would be illegal elsewhere in the United Kingdom are not being allowed on the Isle of Man?
As for the sole and plaice allocation in area VII, is the Minister satisfied that sufficient stock exists to be caught? I have been in touch with many ports on both sides of the southern Irish sea and many have stated that there is an absolute shortage of decent-sized sole and plaice in those waters. If the fish are not there to be caught, an increase in the quota means not real fish but phoney fish and a phoney deal.
The Minister referred to common enforcement and the inspectorate. It would be foolish to suggest that 1 April is a proper day to introduce standard logbooks. I regret to say that I still have little faith in the willingness of some of our Community partners to enforce the common fisheries policy with the rigour with which we have enforced it in this country. However much we welcome most of the proposals and however much we thank the Government on behalf of the British fishing industry, unless our industry can be assured that it is not being discriminated against as a result of differential enforcement regimes in different countries those thanks will have a hollow ring.
I urge the Government to come back to us as soon as there are more effective arrangements for the enforcement of total allowable catches and quotas so that all fishermen sailing from ports in these islands will know that they are being treated fairly and equally compared with their fellow fishermen from Belgium, Holland, France and Germany. At present, our fishermen still do not believe that that is the case. However much the House welcomes what has been achieved—I certainly would not wish to do other than assist the removal of the parliamentary reserve that the Minister properly put on — in another sense there 978 must still be a parliamentary reserve in that we enforce the common policies whereas many of our colleagues do not—and that rankles throughout our fishing industry.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)
There have been too many statesmanlike speeches from the Front Benches. The only point of comparison between my speech and those is that mine will be shorter.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on what has been achieved in establishing total allowable catches and quotas. Congratulations should go to the entire Council of Ministers, but there is no doubt that the contribution of those who are loosely described as the United Kingdom Fisheries Ministers has been substantial, and I was glad that the Opposition spokesman fully acknowleged that. The fact that the agreement has been reached in time for the start of the year is an achievement in itself.
All this bodes well for the future development of the common fisheries policy. I heard the president of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, hot-foot from Brussels after the agreement was reached, speaking at a substantial function for fishermen in Fife. He certainly recognised what had been achieved, and I am glad to see from the federation's brief that in the sober light of a January day it still supports the conclusions expressed by Willie Hay in Fife in December.
The anxiety that I heard among the fishermen in my constituency was not about quotas or total allowable catches. Their present anxiety is because they are experiencing difficulty in finding the fish. This gives me a slight shiver of anxiety in that I do hope that the scientists are right in their estimates of what are appropriate total allowable catches. They have been wrong before and I hope that the catches being agreed are appropriate in the present situation with regard to conservation.
There is deep anxiety in the fishing community in the east of Scotland about the way in which the Community has allowed the bycatch on Norway pout fishing to grow from 10 to 18 per cent. It is a large percentage anyway, but it is a fishery which tends to be carried out, as industrial fishery is, in pretty large tonnages. The amount of good fish that can be picked up in that kind of bycatch is bound to have some significant effect in the overall determination of what is an appropriate amount of fish to be caught over any particular period.
I understand that the Scottish Fishermen's Federation is planning an experimental voyage to prove its point that that amount of bycatch is too great. If that voyage proves the Federation's point, as it believes it will, I hope that my right hon. Friend will return to the question vigorously in due course in the Council of Ministers.
§ Dr. Godman
May I ask the hon. Gentleman how effective he thinks inspection is of these catches of, say, Norway pout, and how effective the inspectors can be in determining the level of the bycatch?
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman raises a good question which I would be happy to leave as a rhetorical one for the moment, but I accept the point which tie appears to make.
I wish next to draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the importance of achieving a sensible agreement between the European Community and Norway on a long-term 979 share of the catches of herring. I was glad to hear him emphasise in opening the debate that we remain strongly of the view that what Norway was suggesting earlier is unacceptable, but I think it is important in the long term that agreement be reached. It is not sensible to have two separate ways of handling these matters. It is a common resource and I hope that with goodwill between Europe and Norway for the future we will have a better arrangement for the management of this fishery.
Lastly, on the question of the on-shore processing and distribution of fish, I think that much needs to be done. If I may make a constituency point, something needs to be done about Pitten Weem harbour where Fife regional council, which owns it, has blown hot and cold for some time about necessary improvements to the harbour and developments of it. Having stripped out its budget provision for the work, it has now reinstated the provision, and I hope that the Scottish Office will encourage it to continue to pursue such improvements. It is necessary for safety and it is necessary if East Nuek is to continue to play its historic role in contributing to the effectiveness of the fishing industry on the east coast of Scotland. I hope that, among other things, the Scottish Office will discuss with the council the appropriateness of promoting a provisional order so that when harbour works are agreed they can be embarked upon speedily.
It is in the way in which we distribute and sell fish ultimately that we ensure a prosperous fishing industry, and the arrangements which have been made in Brussels recently give more encouragement for the future than has existed for some time.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
It is rare for those of us who usually gather on these Benches to praise Ministers rather than to bury them. I do not want to be quite as lavish in my praise as was my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) because his lavish praise makes my somewhat cooler offerings seem churlish by comparison, but I think that a certain amount of cool praise is appropriate in the situation in which we find ourselves with regard to these documents. This is the first debate in my recollection in which I do not feel totally justified in adopting a wholly hostile reaction to EEC documents. This is for two prime reasons.
As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson), this is an agreement for the year ahead which was settled in December of the previous year. That in itself is an achievement. It would seem that Irish logic applied to the EEC produces sense, and that is what we have in an agreement made in advance. These catches and our share of them hold out a better prospect for the industry in the year ahead. It is therefore right to give credit for that to Ministers. Too much praise might go to their heads too quickly and it is such an unusual event that we do not want to repeat it. However, in my view, it has been particularly difficult for the present incumbents in the Department to follow their predecessors whose team was essentially a public relations act rather than an act of real achievement — Ministers who got the glory and then moved on, leaving the present incumbents to tidy up the situation and to clear up the undoubted difficulties which in this instance I think have been successfully cleared up.
980 I do not want to go further because the praise would go to their heads, so I will praise with faint damns from this point onwards.
We have to recognise that this is an improvement from a very bad position, and a particularly bad position in Grimsby where the fishing industry and its catches reached depths last year that we do not wish to plumb again this year. That is why it is so important to have these documents presented to us. The industry has been hanging on by its fingertips and the improvement has been achieved from a very bad position.
These are quotas that we would have regarded and rejected as inadequate three to four years ago in the negotiations then taking place for what we thought, and still think, are Britain's rights. They are certainly far smaller than we would have achieved had we been in the stronger position of being able to control our own destinies and our own fishing grounds. They must be viewed in that context. Improvement is not a compensation for the harm that has been done to the industry over the past few years. However, the improvement is welcome. The improvement in the cod quota is particularly welcome for Grimsby because we are a cod port. It is particularly welcome for the British United Trawlers vessels in Grimsby and for the pair of fishers whose cod catches are much bigger than the rest and are crucial to our port. Our catches were substantially down last year and the British United Trawlers vessels were laid up for six weeks and resumed fishing only when they had a new allocation from the sectoral quota. They will be hard pushed, even now, not to catch what they are allocated but to catch economically at these levels. The improvement is still welcome for all that.
But even this improvement in the quotas other than for cod is achieved at some cost. The cod quota increase and the total allowable catch increase seem, on the evidence, justified, as there is undoubtedly a greater stock abundance. There was a good year class in 1979 and the new catches seem realistic. But the others are more doubtful. In the EEC, where everything is politicised and where it becomes a game of trying to increase the catches to keep everybody happy, I wonder whether the scientists are not being put under some pressure as a result, and whether political fish are not being created in order to satisfy the demands put on the stocks.
In particular, I wonder whether the increase in plaice is due to Dutch pressure to be allowed to take legally what they have been taking illegally until now in excess of their allowances. I also wonder whether the whiting improvement is a way of sweetening a disastrous decision to increase the Danish bycatches. The increase in bycatches was cut from 20 per cent. to 18 per cent. and the Minister may think that he fought a good fight, but I believe that we should have refused to accept any increase. The increase from 10 per cent. to 18 per cent. in bycatches was wrong on whatever terms, and is generally regarded as such. It was a straightforward political decision, and it means that an inviolate part of an agreed collective package has been unravelled for the convenience of one member state.
§ Dr. Godman
Am I not right in thinking that this derogation concerning the increase in the bycatch allowed to Danish fishermen fishing for Norway pout ends on 31 May 1985? Perhaps we should be seeking an assurance from the Minister that that increase will not be continued.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend is right and has taken the words out of my mouth. Even though the increase has been reduced from 20 per cent. to 18 per cent., we want an assurance from the Minister that it will not be maintained. It is a question of British national interest not to allow that increase in Danish bycatches. Even if we overruled and it was deemed not to be a question of national interest, our moral position in refusing to accept an increase from 10 per cent. is strong. The Danish case is opportunitistic to say the least. If the increase is sustained, the Danes will get away with it once again. That is the essence of what has happened.
While I am talking about the iniquities of Denmark, perhaps I can seek an assurance from the Minister. His predecessor assured us that the 2,000 tonnes of cod that the Danes were deliberately given over their total allowable catch for three years only would cease at the end of next year. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat that assurance?
Welcome as it is, there are problems with the settlement. The first problem is that of political fish. The second is that the policing system is still not adequate. The long-delayed log books are at last coming into being, although to some ridicule from the industry, which says that 1 April is an appropriate date. But it must realise that the log books are an essential part of any policing system. However, they must be combined with an adequate Common Market force for policing and an adequate system for penalising those who catch more than their allocations. What has happened with the Germans and the North sea saithe — it was their over-fishing that led to the closure of the joint stocks, to the fury of the French—shows the need for some sanction to stop that going on. The same thing has happened with the Dutch and the mackerel. There has not been, and there does not seem to be, an effective punishment.
If the system is to operate properly and the allocations are to be respected, and if we, who are not necessarily the most law-abiding but are the best policed fishing industry in the Common Market, are to have faith in the system, we must have an assurance that transgressions will be penalised.
The negotiations with Spain are hanging over the industry. Spain has a massive fishing fleet that would be introduced to the Common Market and would compete with the fishing effort which is already too large for the available stocks. That represents a danger from which no transitional arrangements can adequately protect Britain in particular and Common Market fishing in general.
It seems that there may be an eight-year derogation with negotiations for a further two years, and the possibility of a further five-year derogation, if those negotiations do not succeed. In other words, the Spanish fleet may be held back for 15 years. At the end of that period the principle of access to the common fisheries stocks, which was developed essentially by other member states to get their fishing vessels into British fishing grounds, will be used by the Spanish against the entire Common Market, especially against France.
Fifteen years is a short time in fishing, especially when one considers that stocks are already threatened by the massive fishing effort. At the end of that period there will be a threat to both the United Kingdom and the entire EC fishing effort. However, there is a more immediate problem. Will the Minister tell the House what is proposed in respect of disguised or flag of convenience fishing? The 982 Spaniards have already begun to use that. When Spain joins the EEC, we shall no longer have the protection of the requirement for 70 per cent. of crews in Spanish vessels which register in Britain to be EEC members because Spain will be an EEC member. That requirement is not being adequately enforced now, and when Spain joins the EEC it will be eliminated totally.
Because of unemployment in the fishing industry, a large number of skippers and crew members who know our grounds will be only too anxious to take jobs on Spanish vessels which will be free to register under a flag of convenience and to take advantage of British quotas by registering as British vessels. Therefore, what transitional arrangements will apply in respect of Spanish vessels registering in Britain when the 70 per cent. EEC requirement is no longer valid? What safeguards does the Minister propose?
The Spanish negotiations are being handled almost entirely by the Foreign Office. What input has MAFF into those negotiations? It seems that the Foreign Office is handling the negotiations in a closed and secretive fashion. As a representative of a fishing port and as someone who is not 100 per cent. enthusiastic about the Common Market, I am always suspicious of the Foreign Office handling negotiations that affect a vital national interest, which it can discount because of its Euro-enthusiasm, as, indeed, it discounted British fishing interests in the original entry negotiations.
To what extent is MAFF being consulted, and to what extent is the industry being consulted? What recognition is given to the industry's views in the negotiations? If the negotiations are handled by the Foreign Office without effective consultations with the industry, we have a formula for a further betrayal of our fishing industry.
In those circumstances, I am not prepared to welcome Spain to the joys of EEC membership — it has had ruinous consequences for Britain. We should use these negotiations to maintain an intransigent position to achieve better concessions and a firmer and more tolerable deal for our fishermen in the face of the threat from that massive fishing fleet.
My final point concerns only Grimsby. The fishing industry there has had a difficult and dangerous year, as I am sure the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) would agree. It has hung on by its fingertips. It is crucial to keep the industry going, and I believe that we have achieved that. The danger of the landing company collapsing has been averted, although I should have preferred the landing company to have been run by a co-operative of merchants, owners, lumpers and the town, so that all interests were integrated. However, we can still work towards that development. The important thing is that the landing company is still in operation and there is no danger of the port being closed.
The danger was averted by carrying out some drastic surgery. The lumper landing force, which used to be 123, has been reduced to 60. The remaining men have made a magnificent effort and have worked extremely hard to make the new system work. No vessel has been turned away, and there are far better prospects for the port, but the costs at Grimsby are still high. Associated British Ports has a major role to play in helping to reduce those costs. Grimsby dock charges represent 5 per cent. of grossings, whereas in Peterhead the figure is only 2 per cent. Grimsby's landing costs represent 9 per cent. of grossings, whereas at Cuxhaven the figure is about 4 per cent.
983 The integrated developments operations study which has just become available to Humberside Members was commissioned by the county council from Graham Moss Associates. It states:The National Dock Labour Board scheme is one reason for these high costs, but cost allocation by Associated British Ports is one of equal if not more importance.It adds that Associated British Ports is somewhat removed from the industry, and suggests that the company could write off all or part of the outstanding loan repayments presently levied on the port as a means of reducing the costs and helping to sustain the port's efforts to fight back.
The real threat to Grimsby lies in the problem of the British United Trawlers CAT class vessels. Although rather elderly, they are the last big, year-round vessels in Grimsby, and their catches are essential to keep the port going in winter and to provide the bulk catch which the seiner fleet cannot provide. These vessels were fishing profitably at the end of 1984, but their financial position is difficult and their fate is continually under review. It is being reviewed by the main board in London, but its perspectives are different from those in Grimsby. In London, the interests of a fishing port and the industry may not be as important as they are in Grimsby. Our nightmare, which is repeated month by month, if not week by week, is that that company will accept decommissioning grants for those vessels. It may take them out of fishing or lay them up. Lay-up would be a serious problem—almost a disaster—for Grimsby.
This matter is urgent because the terms of EEC aid to the fishing industry mean that those vessels do not qualify for FEOGA help for replacement or renewal. The cut-off point is 33 m, which is just more than 100 ft. Those vessels are 130 ft long—too big to qualify for FEOGA grants for the reconstruction or renovation that would allow them to continue fishing. They qualify for the 25 per cent. White Fish Authority grant, but they cannot obtain the further 25 per cent. FEOGA grant either for rebuilding or for refurbishment and modernisation. Unless some special inducement is held out to the firm to persuade it to rebuild those vessels, the decision will be taken on the strictly economic grounds of what will benefit the shareholders. That being so, the vessels are likely to be decommissioned while grants last—or taken off fishing. They would be difficult to replace even if they qualified for the FEOGA grant as well as the White Fish Authority grant. The vessels would cost £1.3 million to £1.5 million to replace. They are hugely expensive. However, fishing needs all-purpose vessels—CAT class or smaller—to enable us to fish all year round and to provide the basic cash to sustain the market and to pay the charges to keep the port going.
Without help additional to that currently provided, it is difficult to see how those vessels can be kept going or replaced. They are the linchpin of fishing in Grimsby, and they are threatened. The Minister should consider that problem. It is crucially important to concentrate the industry at focal points such as Grimsby where there is a concentration of facilities—not only the market but the ice, the engineering and the tradition of going to sea. To maintain that concentration, we need vessels such as the CAT class vessels. Yet the present financial arrangements do not permit us either to extend the life of those vessels or to replace them if they are decommissioned. That 984 cannot be done because the EEC grant is not available. The only alternative is some national supplement to the White Fish Authority grant.
The problem is urgent. The fate of the industry is decided from week to week and from month to month. Without a solution to this problem, all the Minister's efforts to win for us improved quotas and catches will be in vain in Grimsby. Without those vessels, the industry in Grimsby will fall back into the old trap of escalating costs pressing on a shrinking fleet. That is a formula for economic disaster, but it may well become a reality if the flagships of the fleet are knocked out.
When strict economics and the needs of fishing pull in different directions, as in this case, it is crucial that we remember that this is an interim period. The long-term prospects for fishing are good. Investment decisions will look very different in three, four or five years time, when catches and market returns are better. It is crucial that we should be enabled to survive until decisions can be taken in a more optimistic climate. Survival means help for the maintenance of the CAT class vessels in Grimsby until they can inherit better times. Without them, we shall hardly have a viable fishing industry to inherit those better times. That is the quandary of Grimsby. To a lesser extent, it is the quandary of fishing in general. The Minister has a responsibility not only to offer us better quotas—as he has done—but to help us to survive to inherit the better times that I hope lie ahead.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
I am grateful for your kindness, Mr. Speaker, in calling me twice today. I realise that I am pushing my luck. I do so on the grounds that, just as milk production is of vital importance to my constituency, fishing is still a major industry there, too, especially in the port of Newlyn.
I welcome the optimism with which the House looks forward to the future of the industry. I wish that I could share it. I fully appreciate the achievements that have been made on the administrative side, especially in the Commission and the Council of Ministers. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has played a major part in that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) reminded us, there is an absence of fish in many areas. My right hon. Friend referred to sole, especially in the Bristol channel. The shrinkage of the stock there is deeply worrying. My right hon. Friend also referred to the beam trawling activities of the Brixham fleet. I have watched the build-up of the Brixham beaming fleet with some anxiety. I wonder whether it has something to do with our old friend the flag of convenience. I wonder how many of the beamers that proudly sail from Brixham are in sole British ownership. That brings me to what is known as quota fishing—member states finding more ways in which to transfer shipping to other nations in the Community so that they gain access to that country's quotas.
In regard to flags of convenience, I fully share the apprehension of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) about Spain. It has recently developed the practice of flags of convenience, which practice has been swept out to sea by the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which lays down manning requirements. As he said, that legislation's effects will be swept away when Spain joins the European Community. People 985 in Cornwall are worried that the Government might have had second thoughts about amending the requirements on the registration of fishing boats as a means of tightening up the law to stop flag of convenience fishing. I urge my right hon. Friend to examine this matter carefully with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport with a view to the provisions of the merchant shipping Bill which is to be presented to the House.
My main worry is about Spain and its accession to the Community. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said, that poses an enourmous threat to our fishing fleet, nowhere greater than in my part of the world as I represent the constituency that is nearest to Spain. One has only to go off Lands End or around the Isles of Scilly to see Spanish boats fishing unlicensed. My right hon. Friend referred to the continuation of the interim agreement with Spain which allows that. I remember, however, an incident at the end of last year when a Spanish trawler which was fishing illegally off the Irish coast was sunk. We all know that Spanish vessels, whether licensed or unlicensed chance their arms and go in for illegal fishing. My plea to my right hon. Friend is to ensure that our vigilance in regard to illegal fishing is not lessened. I draw his attention to the vital importance of the Nimrod flights which monitor the activities of the Spanish fleet and try to weed out the boats which are fishing illegally.
Enforcement has been referred to by many hon. Members. Like them I am far from satisfied by the international community effort of the inspectorate. It made a good start. There have been gratifying results of its activities certainly in regard to Dutch overfishing. I thoroughly applaud what it is doing. As has been said on many occasions in the past in the House, that force is woefully inadequate in numbers to carry out the task which has been put on it by the Council of Ministers. The number of Community inspectors must be increased. Until there is a genuine attempt to apply the conservation measures there will be not just dissatisfaction but real anger among our fishermen.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I am glad to have the opportunity to debate these Community documents on fishery development and the common fisheries policy. I particularly welcome the fact that in a debate on 10 January we are able to discuss the total allowable catches which have already been agreed for 1985. They have been widely acknowledged as favourable for the industry. Therefore, it would be churlish of me not to give credit to the Minister, to his junior Minister, Lord Gray in the Scottish Office and to their European colleagues for having managed to get the TACs in place in time.
We should not go overboard in our praise for getting the common fisheries policy to work, as it was always intended that it should work. If possible, at the beginning of the fishing year the industry should know where it stands. It is a mark of the uncertainties that have dogged the industry over many years that it is with a sense of disbelief that we find that the policy works. That is why it is an occasion for mutual backslapping. Nevertheless, the industry is grateful for the work that has been done. That has been acknowledged and I join in the acknowledgment.
As the Minister said, not everything has yet been settled. Perhaps most importantly, there remains the vexed 986 question of agreement between the Community and Norway about the share-out of North Sea herring. There was great relief throughout the industry that no concession was made to the excessive Norwegian demands during the latter part of 1984. The industry has made well known its outright opposition to Norway's demands. The industry and Opposition Members are grateful for the fact that the Government have taken a firm stand. As the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) said, they led the way in taking a firm stand. We would encourage them to continue doing so if Norway persists in making extravagant claims.
Equally, the interim arrangements form no basis for a long-term solution. The fear must be that Norway will take out of its own sector a substantial amount of fish which, when taken with what comes out of the Community sector, will not be in the best long-term interests of conservation of the species. It was recognised in the record of the meeting on 13 December, which is attached to the explanatory memorandum of 21 December, that the parties would have to agree to discuss the matter further in 1985. The Minister has said fairly that the parties are far apart. My request would be that the discussions take place at the earliest possible date and that the matter is not left until the tail end of the year without agreement. There was some surprise within the industry that Norway did not use the bargaining counters which many people thought she would use with regard to the other species on which agreement had to be reached. We may speculate about why that was not done in 1984. However, an early start to the discussions on a long-term agreement for the herring share-out is important lest at the tail end of the year when a further agreement on other white fish species has to be reached, that bargaining counter is again put in Norway's hands.
§ Mr. Jopling
I should like to pin the hon. Gentleman down on what he has just said. Does he not agree that no agreement was better than a bad agreement?
§ Mr. Wallace
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear me, but I said at the beginning of my remarks that we are relieved that there was no agreement rather than a bad agreement. It is accepted on all sides that at some stage there must be an agreement, and the sooner we discuss the terms, the better. I do not dispute the fact that no agreement on the terms proposed by Norway was better than proceeding on that basis.
The Minister could not give an assurance that there would be no premature stoppage in the future when some countries had not fished their full quota. That will cause great concern within the industry. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, enforcement is one way of tackling that problem. If it can be proved that some countries have offended, unless there are penalties which can be enforced, there will be a danger that the whole common fisheries policy agreement will become unstitched. What will happen if it is established that a country has overfished a particular species, thereby depriving another country of fishing its full quota? The Minister did not say whether in the following year there would be a reallocation to deal with such a misdemeanour. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will say something about that in his reply.
In relation to TACs, I wish specifically to refer to the sprat fishery and the closures proposed on the Firth of 987 Forth and the Moray firth. These matters are important to the communities affected. When this was raised in an amendment tabled by my hon. Friends in a similar debate on 7 December 1983—we proposed that there should be an exemption from the prohibition for boats under 40 ft in length—the Minister said that he would consider that proposal in the ensuing year in the light of scientific advice. What scientific advice was made available to him?
The Government have been properly congratulated on getting TACs in place, but it is a matter of regret that we did not discuss what happened at the Council of Ministers in September. The hon. Members for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and for Great Grimsby have already referred to the increase in the bycatch of fish for human consumption within the Norway pout fishery from 10 per cent. to 18 per cent. That caused great resentment throughout the industry. Although the four months that have passed have allowed passions to cool, it is important to put on record the outrage and sense of betrayal which was marked by a dignified walk-out on the Minister of State by the representatives of the fishing industry who attended the Council meeting in Brussels.
Many of them felt that when the common fisheries policy was negotiated in January 1983, it contained many compromises and concessions. It was accepted by the industry, although one could scarcely say that it was welcomed. Indeed, many fishermen in my own constituency did not accept it. The agreement on the size of the pout box and bycatch was an important and significant aspect of the final deal. When it appeared that the Danes had sought to unstitch that particular and important aspect of the common fisheries policy and had succeeded in doing so, it was not surprising that there was such an outcry from the industry.
In my own constituency there is particular anger and fear that, because one of the more attractive areas for the Norway pout fishery is to the north-east of Unst the increased bycatch will, within a very short space of time, have an adverse effect upon the white fish stocks in an important fishing ground for the Shetland fleet. It has already been said with regard to the herring fishery that above all else we should be considering fishing for human consumption. It is important to note that we are putting in danger fishing for human consumption in order to promote industrial fishing by the Danes.
I am grateful to the Minister for the correspondence he has had with me. As has already been said, the percentage increase will apply only until 31 May. Tonight I should like to have an assurance from the Treasury bench that the Government will resist any extension of that increase beyond 31 May. It has already been said by the hon. Member for Fife, North-East that between now and the expiry of the experiment Scottish fishermen will be monitoring the situation. As well as scientific advice, I am sure that they will take into account the results of the monitoring exercise to be carried out by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.
I should also like to know whether the Minister believes, as has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that this is a matter of national importance to an important industry. Would the Minister be prepared to invoke the Luxembourg compromise? Indeed, is he able to say whether he can invoke it? In the briefing note from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation to 988 which reference has already been made, concern is expressed by the federation, based upon an interpretation of the Luxembourg compromise which it received from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland, that this is an area where the Luxembourg compromise may not be able to be invoked. We should welcome the Minister's clarification of this point.
With regard to beam trawling and the regulations which are before us, I share the views of those hon. Members who have already said that beam trawling is unacceptable. It ruins the seabed and disrupts the food chain. We note that the Government are not entirely satisfied about the efficiency of the proposals and that they will seek to improve them. I recall that beam trawling was the subject of discussion when the inshore fisheries legislation relating to Scotland was before the House during the last session. Under that legislation the Government have the power to ban beam trawling within six miles of the Scottish coast. As the Minister who is to reply is a Scottish Office Minister, he may be able to indicate whether the Government intend at an early stage to ban beam trawling within six miles of the Scottish coast.
On Spanish entry, I do not wish to add to the pertinent points that have been made by the hon. Members for Great Grimsby and for St. Ives (Mr. Harris). I shall look forward to the Minister's answers to those points. It is important that we should extend the Community and underpin democracy in Spain. However, we must not neglect the important fisheries aspect. That aspect was neglected when the United Kingdom entered the Community in 1973. We shall wish to give the closest attention to the particular arrangements which are made for the fishing industry.
Finally, I turn to a constituency point with regard to a possible amendment of the common fisheries policy. The preamble to the common fisheries policy, dated 25 January 1983, referred to the need tosafeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related industries.Article VII of that agreement set up the Orkney and Shetland or north of Scotland box to carry out the hope expressed in the preamble to safeguard the particular needs of that area.
There is restrictive licensing on vessels over 26 m in length which are fishing commercial species. France has allocated 52 licences, the United Kingdom 62, Germany 12 and Belgium 2. In a recent reply that I received, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) said that in the six months from April to October last year the total number of vessels from France was 57, from the United Kingdom 31, and from Belgium 2.
Quite apart from not controlling vessels under 26 m in length it has been maintained by the fishermen in Orkney and Shetland that, as a measure to give protection to a sensitive region, the number of licences was too high. That opinion, expressed at the time when the common fisheries policy was agreed, seems to have been borne out by the fact that we find that what the scheme allows is in excess of the actual level of fishing. Therefore, what is meant to be a protective licensing scheme in fact permits a greater level of fishing than has been taking place. Will the Government consider that matter again in the light of their experience and see what steps can be taken to reduce the number of licences in that area?
989 The fishing industry, often in peripheral parts of the country, provides an important part of the economic structure or backbone of the Community. Therefore, it is in all our interests that the fishing industry should thrive. We welcome the steps that have been taken to get certainty in the industry through the increase in TACs and through their being in place. However, several points still cause great concern and we should appreciate the Government's attention to them.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
It is a great pleasure to speak in a debate where there is a virtual unanimity of view. I, too, want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the tremendous work that they have done to bring before the House the excellent TACs.
I do not want to speak at great length or in great detail. Obviously, the health and welfare of the fishing industry of Great Grimsby has a great impact on my constituency. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has a far more detailed knowledge of the fishing industry in his constituency than I have, but I thought that he was a tiny bit churlish in what he had to say earlier. I know that he is deeply concerned about the tremendous problems, which I acknowledge exist in his constituency. I would be the first to recognise that the past year has been difficult for the fishing industry in his constituency. But my right hon. Friend is entitled to three unequivocal cheers for the TACs. Although the hon. Gentleman was unable to give my right hon. Friend those three cheers, his local paper was. It said:Grimsby welcomes deal. Bumper fishing catch!There is no doubt about the view of the local people in our area.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman may not have recognised the strangled cry that emitted from my lips at the beginning of my speech. It was one cheer.
§ Mr. Brown
In that case, the hon. Gentleman is not representing clearly the view of his constituents that appears in that headline. However, I take the point that he makes.
The fact is, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, that the new quota arrangements will be beneficial to the BUT fleet, which I know has been anxious over the past two or three years about the long-term future. Mr. Nigel Atkins, the representative of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations based in Grimsby said:This is certainly a favourable deal … Quotas are high enough to cause us no problems.It should be placed on record that the representative of Grimsby's seine fleet has also said that the deal gives owners a much greater freedom to operate their fleets.
Therefore, it is important for us to recognise what has been achieved. I, like the hon. Member for Grimsby, am no friend of the EEC and I was sceptical about what the common fisheries policy could achieve. I submit that it is not necessarily the common fisheries policy which is responsible for the excellent arrangements that are being placed before us for consideration today, but that that has much more to do with the negotiating skill of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It also has to do with a desire to reach a consensus on the part of the Council of Ministers, and, indeed, the European Commission. It is not very often that 990 one finds the desire to obtain an agreement. It does not have much to do with the common fisheries policy. It has much more to do with the desire and the will to make an arrangement that meets the approval of the fishing industry, not only in this country but in other countries in the Community.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby spoke of other problems that beset the fishing industry in south Humberside. He referred to the problem of high port charges. I appreciate that that falls outside the responsibility of Ministers in this debate. I mention it only because we have constantly pressed the Government on the issue, particularly in regard to the lumper force. I place on record the tremendous co-operation that came from the lumpers when the Grimsby fishing industry had to take a difficult decision over the landing company there. I am the second in the House tonight to acknowledge that the lumpers have co-operated tremendously in trying to ensure that there is a company so that fish can be landed in the port of Grimsby.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) spoke in an intervention about the role of the Sea Fish Industry Authority in the long term. I was privileged to attend a presentation by the authority shortly before Christmas and was greatly encouraged by the way in which it recognises that it has a responsibility to ensure that the marketing side of its operations are taken fully into account.
In that connection, I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Hughes), who said that it was important to have a campaign to ensure that the British housewife consumes more fish, and he was referring particularly to herring. I have great respect for the Sea Fish Industry Authority, which acknowledges that it has much to do on the marketing side.
Some difficult decisions will have to be taken by ports such as Grimsby in relation to modernisation. The Sea Fish Industry Authority is concerned to ensure that we in Britain have the same port facilities as exist on the other side of the North sea. About a year ago the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and I were privileged to visit the ports of Esbjerg and Thyboron in Denmark, where we were impressed by and envious of the investment that has taken place in the infrastructure there. We should like to see such developments taking place in our ports, and I am sure that the Sea Fish Industry Authority is aware of the need to encourage port modernisation.
Viewing the situation facing Great Grimsby from the perspective of Cleethorpes — or perhaps I should say from the pier at Cleethorpes—I am far more optimistic about the future than I was a year ago. That is due in large measure to the skill and patience of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to whom I pay tribute for what they have done to give 1985 a good start for the south Humberside fishing industry. Despite other problems, we look to the future with some optimism. Optimism breeds confidence and confidence breeds success. The TACs that have been negotiated can breed the confidence for the future for which we have been looking.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I am delighted to take part in the debate, because it will give me the opportunity of putting to the House some of the 991 problems that the fishing industry in Hull faces, and to discuss the effect that these new quotas will have on the fishing industry in Hull.
A number of hon. Members have complimented the Minister on arriving at the TACs early on, and that is a good thing; so I, too, compliment the Minister. It must be good for the industry to know where it stands in terms of its catches, as that enables the industry to plan its future with more certainty. Tomorrow, I shall be having a meeting in Hull, and I shall visit the Hull docks. The people down there will ask me what this will mean to Hull in terms of jobs in the port and of retaining the processing and distribution industry in Hull, and the answer is that I do not know.
The morass of detail of these reports is quite impossible to interpret at a glance. I stand back from this, as I am rather bemused by the detail, and am therefore unaware what the effect will be. However, a report has come out, which I received a few minutes before coming into the Chamber. I hope that this report will provide the turning point for the port of Hull to go from the tremendous decline of the past 10 or 15 years to regeneration.
The decline of the port has emanated from the loss of fishing opportunity in the Icelandic waters, through the cod war, and from the common fisheries policy. We now have a male unemployment rate of over 20 per cent., which is a serious problem. The catching industry has been devastated, although the processing and distribution industry is strong and thriving.
I can give some figures to show the scale of the devastation. In 1970 we used to land about 140,000 tonnes in Hull, and that is now down to 8,000 tonnes, much of which is Icelandic container traffic, which brings in a lot of the fish. To bring in the 140,000 tonnes, we had about 120 large vessels, freezers and large trawlers; and that figure is down to 3. It is the effect of having all one's eggs in one basket, and when the Icelandic problems arose and the common fisheries policy started to evolve, we had the wrong kind of capacity to exploit the existing opportunities. Therefore, the quotas are crucial, as are vessel licences.
We have reached the trough in this decline. I fervently hope and, although I am not over-optimistic, believe, that we are at the point from which the port of Hull can start to revive. The formation of the Hull Fishing Landing Company recently is a great example of the way in which local authorities, the industry and the workers can get together to preserve their industry, in this case fish catching. In addition to the loss of much of the catching fleet, we have lost the Torry research station and there have been substantial cuts in the college of higher education courses in fishing. There has been a serious decline.
In Hull, people feel bitter about the way in which the owners of the vessels have received compensation for the loss of fishing opportunity, whereas the people who work in the industry have, to all intents and purposes, received nothing. Since I have been in the House, my attempts to persuade Ministers in both the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Employment to get something done to give these men, who have served the industry and their country so well, both in the last war and in the Falklands conflict, something for what they have done, have got nowhere.
992 I sent the Under-Secretary of State for Employment—the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley)—a list of the members of the British Fishermen's Association. The hon. Gentleman commented in the letter he sent back to me on the length of service of those men. The list showed that men who have spent 30, 40 or 45 years in the industry have not received any compensation. Is that the way to treat people who have worked in the industry for so long? I hope that the Minister will take an initiative and will press the Community to devise a financial scheme of income guarantees for redundant fishermen. That should not be done by adding levies per tonne of fish landed, because that would be the wrong way to go about it. Will the Minister get together with his colleagues in other Departments on this initiative?
Will the Minister investigate the possibility of providing a common state retirement pension policy for all fishermen at the age of 55? Fishing is one of the most dangerous industries in which to work. It is far more dangerous than the mining industry in terms of deaths and serious accidents. It is wrong to force men at the age of 55 to go to sea. Essentially, I am asking for the people who worked in this industry for so long to receive levels of compensation similar to those received by those who have worked in, for example, the steel industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who is no longer in the Chamber, said in a speech on European Community budgets:A brother of mine was given the princely sum of £385 by his firm after 19 years of service with it. The firm received £400 per gross registered tonne for each vessel that it decommissioned."—[Official Report, 11 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 978.]It seems that the Minister, the Government and the European Community believe that one gross registered tonne is more important than a man who has served the industry for 19 years. Many hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, have pressed the Government to introduce some form of compensation. My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) have introduced private Member's Bills on this subject. While I am a Member I shall press the Government continually to come up with some compensation for these men. They deserve compensation, and I believe that it is reasonable to demand it. At the moment those men are thrown on the scrap heap in the most despicable way. I am resentful of the Government for dealing with the matter in this fashion.
I congratulate the Humberside county council and the Hull city council in particular on the way in which they have taken the initiative to regenerate the industry in Hull and to ensure that the Hull and Humberside integration development operation study was commissioned. The study attempts to regenerate the regional economy and to create jobs. In brief, it proposes that there should be some additional catching capacity and a middle-water fleet, although not a large one—it will clearly never be so great as that which we had in the heyday of deep sea fishing from Hull — to support the processing and distribution industries in the area.
In addition, the study refers to the development of the dock area. Only a few months ago, Associated British Ports threatened to close the dock area, claiming that it was losing about £500,000 per annum, but negotiations between that organisation and the city and county councils now seem to be bearing fruit. It is perhaps too early to be 993 wisure, but we hope to come up with a fundable proposition. We envisage that the area will also be used for tourism and for industrial and housing development, all of which will provide a total revenue stream to make the dock area viable as we can no longer rely on big fishing catches to fund the port as we did in the old days.
If the Minister has seen the report, does he intend to back it; and how many jobs and what catching capacity are likely to ensue? If he has not yet seen the report, perhaps he will answer those questions in writing.
§ Mr. Randall
It was funded by the EEC and carried out by consultants, Graham Moss Associates. The aim was to see how we could tap into the the various EEC funds. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the European funding systems are extremely difficult to understand— that is why the report was needed — but we now have a blueprint on which we hope to build in the near future.
A study of that kind needs money. I understand that the Community has allocated £21 million for regional budgets for compensation for loss of fishing industries, of which about £8 million has been allocated to the Hull area. The Euro-Member for Humberside is on record in the local press as saying that that £8 million has now been allocated. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that is true and exactly what the position is.
The accession of Spain is a source of considerable worry in view of the practices of Spanish vessels in our waters, especially the illegal fishing reported to me by our fishermen and the appalling conditions on board the Spanish vessels. It is not just a matter of crews going to sea without food or toilet facilities — we are talking about vessels without logs or safety equipment and utterly unacceptable conditions.
I will not add to the other points that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby and the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) made. Nevertheless, the Spanish influence worries me. I greatly hope that the Government will take that up and that they will ensure that such practices cease. I also hope that we will provide reasonable conditions in which our seamen can work.
§ 10.4 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)
As we have come to expect on such occasions, this has been a most interesting and, I might say, wide-ranging debate on the various Community documents relating to fishing being considered by the House tonight. The knowledgeable contributions made by hon. Members amply reflect the importance of the fishing industry to the many parts of the country that they represent.
§ Mr. MacKay
I think that my constituency probably has many more fish swimming round it than that of the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes). I say that in reply to his sedentary intervention.
It is particularly gratifying to be able to take part in a debate on the fishing industry during which there has been such broad recognition of the highly satisfactory nature of the arrangements that we have been able to negotiate for 1985. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke almost glowingly about 994 our efforts, but I thought that his speech was to a certain extent dwarfed by some of the remarks of Opposition Members. I refer, in particular, to the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I even noted that towards the end of his speech the hon. Member for Great Grimsby appealed to British United Trawlers to look at the long term. He said that the long-term prospects for fishing were good. I think that there has been a fair measure of agreement about that tonight. There has certainly been a fair measure of agreement about the fact that that situation has been brought about by the successful negotiations carried out in the Community by my right hon. and hon. Friends, not only this year but during the past few years.
The arrangements have been warmly welcomed not only by the House but by the industry. I have said before when concluding fishery debates that our task now is to keep the common fisheries policy in good shape, so that fishermen may plan ahead with some confidence. Of course, improvements can always be made, and I hope that in 1985 we can consolidate the progress already made and concentrate on ensuring that the industry makes the most of its fishing opportunities.
In particular, I should like to highlight the useful experience gained in 1984 in developing quota management arrangements. Unlike certain other parties, our philosophy is that business men know best how to run their own affairs. More than most industries, the fishing industry has to learn to live with the consequences of actions taken by the European Commission and by the Council of Ministers.
We regularly consult the industry before decisions are taken on quota arrangements. At a domestic level it is right that the industry should play a greater role in organising its fishing patterns so as to meet market demands. The better prospects for the major stocks have allowed us to negotiate quotas that should facilitate the broader introduction of sectoral quotas, which allow the fishing organisations to assume day-to-day responsibility for the management of their members' quotas. In that way the industry can be given the best chance to meet the needs of the market and of the fishermen.
The hon. Member for City of Durham mentioned a number of points on the same theme when he expressed the hope that, in particular, the extra herring that we caught would find a ready market among consumers. I am sure that the whole House agrees with that. I just hope that we can perhaps pass on a message to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) that he should put herring on the menu in the various cafeterias in the House — [Interruption.] Perhaps he could ensure that it appears on the menu even more often than at present, although it appears pleasantly often. I recommend that my right hon. and hon. Friends sample it.
Among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes mentioned the Sea Fish Industry Authority. We have to look to that authority to encourage the British housewife to eat more fish, particularly herring. On 17 December the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), announced that the European Commission had given its approval to more than three quarters of the authority's development programme. This has enabled the authority to press ahead with its campaign to improve the marketing of fish in the United Kingdom for which the Government have pledged £7.9 million towards the authority's proposed spending of 995 over £14 million in the first three years. The authority is well aware of the problems of herring and is putting a special emphasis on marketing herring so that the housewife will go back to making herring part of the British diet.
It is difficult to be logical in a wind-up speech covering the wide range of issues that were raised and I will apologise in advance for the fact that on this occasion, to the surprise of all Opposition Members, I will be less logical than I usually am.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West all mentioned the problems of Spanish accession. We are very conscious of the size of the Spanish fleet and the potential impact that the uncontrolled upsurge of Spanish efforts after accession could have on the fishing industry in the United Kingdom. That is why we have pressed hard and long for satisfactory arrangements to be secured in the current enlargement negotiations. The agreed Community position endorsed by Heads of Government at the European Council meeting on 3 and 4 December 1984 was very satisfactory from our point of view. Negotiations are proceeding with speed. For obvious reasons, I cannot be too explicit with the House about the details of the Community position, but I can assure hon. Members that it fully safeguards the interests of the United Kingdom.
I deal next with another question which exercised a number of hon. Members—the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the question of Norway pout. I am well aware of the industry's concern over the decision to increase the bycatch limit for whiting in the Norway pout fishery in the North sea, but I hope that hon. Members will not get this out of perspective. The increases in the availability of the main white fish species in the North sea this year hardly suggest that the industrial fishing is damaging the stocks.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who represents Norfolk, South, informed the House in opening a debate on 3 July that he would use every available argument against the Commission's proposals. We did that. But every other member state was prepared to agree the proposals and, as the increased total allowable catches for 1985 indicate, the scientific arguments against the proposals were not conclusive. In these circumstances we had no alternative but to negotiate. As a result of the firm line that we took, we secured major improvements in the proposals. Instead of a permanent change as proposed by the Commission, the Council agreed a temporary derogation expiring on 31 May 1985. I think that answers one point that I was asked.
The bycatch limit for whiting went up from 10 per cent. to 18 per cent., not 20 per cent. as originally proposed, while the limit for other species was of course reduced to 8 per cent. as proposed.
We also secured the introduction of new monitoring arrangements which will ensure that for the first time we shall know what effect the bycatch provision is having. In addition, we got the Commission to introduce a permanent regulation on the procedure for sampling the white fish bycatch in all small net fisheries.
996 The Department in Scotland has intensified its surveillance of the Norway pout fishery and stepped up the level of inspection, and 45 vessels have been boarded since 1 October last year. In most cases so far the bycatch percentage has been under, or close to, the original 10 per cent. limit. The original 10 per cent. limit will come back into effect as from 1 June 1985 unless the Council, on a proposal by the Commission, decides otherwise. The Government will clearly be very reluctant to see any extension of the increased limit, but we shall have to consider the facts of the matter as they are revealed by the results of the monitoring exercise and the up-to-date scientific advice when it comes forward at that time.
I have just touched on the amount of inspection that we have been giving the Norway pout fishing. That takes me on to the whole question of the enforcement of the quotas, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for City of Durham and other hon. Members. The House knows that the Government in every negotiation have been very keen on insisting that the quotas are properly enforced. As we know that we do this, we expect our European partners to enforce the quotas in the same way.
The industry and the House can be assured that we shall continue to impress upon the Commission the need to ensure that the rules of the CFP are properly enforced by all member states. Largely as a result of our efforts, the Commission set up its own fishery inspectorate to investigate how the rules are enforced by the Administrations of each member state. We saw a good deal of progress in 1984. The inspectorate carried out a programme of more than 50 visits to member states, during which many irregularities were uncovered.
At the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 4 December my right hon. Friend asked the Commission to produce a report on the first year's operation of the inspectorate. He also made it clear that we should look to the Commission to propose suitable penalties for systematic overfishing of quotas which is substantiated. Further improvements in the quota observance should result from the introduction of standard logbooks and landing returns which are now expected to be enforced in the Community by 1 April.
The hon. Member for City of Durham asked me about the policing and control of the Manx fisheries. We are satisfied with the control of the Manx herring fishery, which is largely prosecuted by Northern Irish vessels. We maintain a fishery protection vessel on station in that fishery, and the minimum landing sizes enforced on the Isle of Man are the same as for elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby asked about the 2,000 tonnes of cod for Denmark which were granted outside the total allowable catch. I confirm that the council agreed the 2,000 tonnes of cod for Denmark outside the TAC on the basis that this was the third year of an agreement reached in 1983. My right hon. Friend made it clear that we did not want to see that repeated next year.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives asked about Spanish vessels using the United Kingdom flag. Perhaps I should have mentioned that when I spoke about the Spanish accession problem. The legislation we introduced in 1983 has largely solved the problem of ex-Spanish vessels for the time being, but we are aware that the solution will not apply when Spain is a member of the Community. We are actively pursuing alternative solutions in our discussion 997 with the Commission and other member states. We are mindful of the problem that could occur when Spain joins the Community.
I was asked about the west Greenland cod. It was suggested that that was an imaginary fish, but we caught a small quantity of cod in west Greenland in 1984—about 10 tonnes. Fishing conditions were poor and are likely to be so again this year.
A small but important issue for my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East is the question of Pittenweem harbour. If and when the harbour board introduces a proposal for development, it will be carefully considered by my right hon. Friend. All major expenditure on harbour work has to pass the test of investment appraisal as part of that consideration. My hon. Friend will welcome the news just given that the firm, M. Stewart and Sons Ltd., fish processors in Pittenweem, has just received a grant of £11,000 from the EC under the second round.
Many hon. Members touched on the difficult question of beam trawling. It was suggested that those hon. Members who opposed it should try airing their opposition in Brixham, but they did not all rush from the Chamber to do so.
§ Mr. MacKay
How nice! The current regulations prohibit beam trawling for sole or plaice within 12 miles of the coast by vessels over 70 gross registered tonnes or 300 brake horsepower. The need to protect inshore fishing grounds on which smaller fishermen are dependent from the impact of large beam trawlers is widely recognised, but the precise terms of the regulations present problems, especially for enforcement. The 300 bhp restriction is difficult to enforce, because in many cases the engine power of a vessel is not known and is not easy to measure. The practice of derating engines also presents a problem. The Commission's latest proposal attempts to define engine power in terms which it will be possible to apply at least to the range of engines in common use, and it provides that derating can be recognised only if it is carried out and certified by a competent authority. That might go some, but not all of the way to solving the enforcement problems.
The Commission has proposed deleting the tonnage criterion, since methods of establishing registered tonnage are not uniform among member states. That has given rise to legal problems. It proposes replacing the tonnage by a new formula of overall length of the vessel multiplied by the maximum beam, but that would be impossible to measure with great safety at sea, unless it was a calm day, and it is not clear that existing measurements of length of beam are always recorded on the certificates normally carried on board and that they would be the same measurements for each member state. That also poses a problem.
The fairest and most readily enforceable way of restricting the effective fishing power of beam trawlers within the 12-mile belt would be to return to the rule which Britain applied before 25 January 1983—a restriction on the overall length of fishing beams. There is widespread industry support for that, and we shall continue to press it, but I must tell the House that there is opposition within the Community, especially from the Netherlands.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland asked me whether I intended to introduce a ban on beam trawling, 998 as I was urged to do during the Committee stage of the Inshore Fisheries (Scotland) Act 1984. The Government are considering the various propositions before them for action under the Act, but we believe that there is not enough scientific evidence for such a blanket prohibition, and I am sceptical of the need for such a measure. I hope that the revised proposals for inshore legislation will soon be issued to the industry for comment. Those who wish to comment on the presence or absence of anything about beam trawling will have the opportunity to do so.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also asked me about Norway. He was worried—I understand his anxiety—that the Norwegians may take an excessive amount of herring from their portion of the North sea. All that I can say by way of reassurance is that Norway has given an undertaking to take account of the available biological advice in managing that fishery. Of course, we want negotiations with Norway to start as soon as possible, but as my right hon. Friend the Minister said, we must be sure that the negotiations are conducted on a proper basis and that the result is satisfactory to the British Government and to the fishing industry.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, with other hon. Members, asked me whether fisheries would be closed if the total allowable catches were met but some member country—he was especially worried about the United Kingdom—had some quota left. My right hon. Friend the Minister responded to that point, but perhaps I can repeat that we are aware of the anxiety in the industry about this possibility, and we have made the Commission aware that we are worried about it. It is unfair that in circumstances where Britain had tried to apportion its fishing catch throughout the year to give its fishing industry a year's work, we should discover towards the end of that year, when we had some quota remaining, that other countries had overfished, the total allowable catch had been exceeded, and the fishery was closed. We are discussing that matter with the Community.
§ Mr. Henderson
Does my hon. Friend accept the point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that the countries which suffered from that clampdown did not include Britain? I believe that France and Belgium suffered. To that extent, it would show our good faith if anxiety was expressed on the general principle, which is all the more reason why the Commission should regard our proposal in a reasonable way.
§ Mr. MacKay
Yes, we told the Commission that we thought it wrong that the French, who still had some quota to take up, had suffered the ban as well as the countries that had exceeded their quota.
I was asked about the sprat boxes. The closure of the various boxes—areas off Denmark and off the coasts of Scotland and England — will be reviewed by the Commission in the coming months with appropriate scientific advice. Sometimes scientific advice is welcome to our fishermen, and sometimes it is not. We must take it into consideration at all times, and not just when it suits us. The scientific advice will play an important part in our decision on the matter.
Our records of sightings of foreign vessels in the north of Scotland box last year suggest that fishing activity was at about the same level as in previous years.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland considers that the common fisheries policy should be amenable to 999 renegotiation in the case of the north of Scotland box. However, with reference to the Norwegian pout, the hon. Gentleman told us that certain other aspects of the CFP are not amenable to renegotiation.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West referred to the question of redundancy for fishermen. Perhaps I should also point out that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who made one or two interventions, had also intended to speak, but he had to go home because he has a back problem that was beginning to play him up. I know that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow is also interested in this question.
Fisheries debates tend to be attended by a sub-group of the House of Commons. Almost every hon. Member who is here has attended such debates in the past, and knows that these matters have been fully discussed. There was an Adjournment debate on 13 April. The Secretary of State for Employment, who is responsible under the 1978 Act for statutory redundancy and who therefore deals with employment matters in all sectors of industry, replied to that debate. Also, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food explained in a written answer on 2 March that the fisheries Ministers had concluded that it would not be appropriate to introduce a special redundancy scheme for the fishing industry at this late stage in the process of change which the industry has undergone under successive Governments. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West will not be surprised by that answer, though he will be disappointed.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell
A manifest injustice faces those made redundant in the past who see people made redundant by Hamlings, for instance, who, although their conditions of work and length of service had been similar, are now receiving compensation because the law is being interpreted differently. That is a serious anomaly.
Secondly, I wonder whether Ministers are urging within the EEC that Europe has a responsibility? An organisation that compensates owners for decommissioning or laying up vessels should also compensate the fishermen made redundant in that process.
§ Mr. MacKay
If we were to change anything now, we would be doing so at the end of a long period of time in which many people have had to leave the industry. Those people would feel that they had been unfairly treated if some new measure were introduced at the tail end of such major changes.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby was not present when I alluded to his statement that the long-term prospects for the industry are good. I can even pray the hon. Gentleman himself in aid.
§ Mr. Randall
Is it not illogical to compensate the owners of the vessels that have lost the opportunity to fish and yet to give nothing to the deck hands and others who have worked in the industry?
§ Mr. MacKay
First, it was the owners who had made the investment. Secondly, we were attempting to slim the industry to a size that we thought would match the catching capacity.
§ Mr. MacKay
Opposition Members are entitled to have a go at me, but I must remind them that the Labour Government did not accept the arguments that were advanced either. If we changed our view now, we should be doing so at the tail end of the process. We have no intention of doing that.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby would not think it fair of me if I did not make some passing comment on a major part of his speech about Grimsby and British United Trawlers. I shall not comment, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister listened carefully to what he said. I am pretty certain from my hearing of the hon. Member that he would not have expected me to say anything other than that. With regard to Grimsby and Humberside, perhaps I might draw attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend is to meet the Humberside authorities on Monday 28 January to discuss the report that has been mentioned. Rather than enter into correspondence before the meeting, I assure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West that probably more issues than he could have pursued will be dealt with at that meeting.
The debate has been a useful opportunity to hear the House's views on these matters and others that go wider of the documents but which are still concerned with the fishing industry. As my right hon. Friend has explained, circumstances prevented the House from being able to consider these documents before the Fisheries Council met on 19 December. Nevertheless, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the negotiations conducted by my right hon. Friends and my hon. Friend have led to a satisfactory conclusion for the United Kingdom fishing industry.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10171/84 and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1985 total allowable catches and quotas; of the unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1985 catch quotas in Greenland waters, and of the unnumbered explanatory memoranda on the fisheries agreements for 1985 between the European Community and Norway, the European Community and the Faroe Islands and the European Community and Spain; of European Community Documents Nos. 10697/84 on technical conservation measures and 10264/84 on 1985 fish guide prices; and welcomes and approves the provisional agreement reached on these arrangements for 1985 with the improvements obtained for the United Kingdom fishing industry.