HC Deb 06 March 1986 vol 93 cc433-5
6. Mr. Terry Lewis

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many boardings by United Kingdom fishery protection vessels took place in the month of January.

Mr. Gummer

During January 1986, 115 vessels were boarded by United Kingdom fishery protection vessels.

Mr. Lewis

Does the Minister accept that those figures include only 17 boardings of Spanish vessels, but 56 boardings of British vessels? Does that not give the impression that British fishing is not being adequately protected by the Minister, despite all the promises that he has made?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman, who relies on such an impression, has not looked at the facts. The system that we have imposed is widely accepted by fishermen as being extremely effective. One of the fishing vessels which was boarded and found guilty was fined heavily. The French give us information about every boat that passes through their waters, so that we can track them extremely carefully. There is no doubt in my mind that we can control the entry of Spanish fishing vessels into our waters, and that the common fisheries policy is a major success.

Mr. Harris

I applaud the attitude of my right hon. Friend in trying to clamp down on illegal Spanish fishing, especially off Cornwall, but will he confirm my impression that there has been a sharp decrease in the number of arrests during the past few weeks, and give an assurance that there will be no let-up in the drive against illegal fishing by Spain in the south-west?

Mr. Gummer

There will be no let-up whatsoever. That is why we have increased the number of surveillances and the amount of resources available. My hon. Friend has pressed me on the matter, and I continue to say that. The fact is that if people keep the rules and we have tight rules, and if our system works closely with that of our French and Irish colleagues, we can stop ships breaking the law and bring them to court. That is what has been happening.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Is the Minister aware of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee report on fishery protection, which recommends that Scottish courts should punish illegal fishing with the same severity as the Norwegian courts do? What does he think about that recommendation as applied to English courts?

Mr. Gummer

If the hon. Gentleman studies recent fines imposed by English courts, especially in the southwest, he will see that they have been exemplary and heavy and have caused a decline in the amount of illegal fishing. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) will agree on that. I cannot comment on the effects in the Scottish courts, because that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Wigley

In view of the importance of fishery patrols, can the Minister give an assurance that with the disappearance of the metropolitan authorities, either bodies such as the Lancashire and North-Western Sea Fisheries will receive alternative funds, or there will be alternative structures to safeguard their activity?

Mr. Gummer

It is for members of the body to decide whether they wish to continue on it. We have examined the activities of that body carefully, and, we will ensure that none of the necessary activities for the proper control of fisheries will fall into desuetude if they are not covered elsewhere.

Dr. Godman

Is the Minister aware that one of the recommendations in the Scottish Affairs Select Committee report on fisheries protection refers to the replacement of the fisheries protection vessel Noma? Will the Minister urge on his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the advisability of that replacement vessel being built by Ferguson Ailsa in Port Glasgow?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will have to make up his mind on that, and that it is not an area in which I can make recommendations to him.

Mr. Kennedy

When the Minister considers his Department's response to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee report which was published yesterday, will he, in particular, adopt the practice in Norway, so that third country vessels must notify the DAFS direct, instead of simply notifying Brussels, so that a more efficient, but not over-bureaucratic, scheme can monitor foreign vessels near our shores?

Mr. Gummer

I will look at that point. I remind the hon. Gentleman that European Community vessels, including Spanish vessels, have to give direct information as they pass into the British sector from the French sector, and they provide similar information to the French. In that way we have been able to keep very close control over their movements. I will certainly examine the matter closely.

Mr. Randall

Does the Minister agree that his attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) was totally unjustified, as the figures that my hon. Friend quoted were given to me by the Minister in a written answer on 24 February? Will he confirm that the number of boardings of United Kingdom vessels in January was comparable to the number of boardings of the rest of the EEC fleet put together? Should the Minister not be directing his attention and efforts towards the countries which have a track record of abuse, rather than bashing British fishermen?

Mr. Gummer

My answer and the figures were absolutely correct. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's presence today. He was absent from the debate on salmon fishing earlier in the week, which appeared to have been hi-jacked by the Scots. There are two ways of ensuring that we are successful in our policing. The first is to bring large numbers of people before the courts. Alternatively, people should obey the law. I was right to tell the hon. Gentleman that his impression was wrong and that he does not know the facts.